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Some state officials mused aloud about the possibility of a fresh round of shutdowns, measures that health experts said could be avoided with widespread use of face coverings and stronger social distancing habits.

The warning came as the United States set new highs for cases and hospitalizations, with more than 152,000 daily infections and 66,000 hospitalizations, according to The Post’s latest data.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Governors for Illinois, Maryland and Washington said Thursday that they have not ruled out ramping up restrictions or enforcement, even if that means forcing businesses to close to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • The record-breaking surge in cases is being driven to a significant degree by casual occasions that may feel deceptively safe, officials and scientists warn.
  • Congressional Democratic leaders accused Republicans of refusing to confront the dramatically worsening pandemic.
  • The Ivy League is the first Division I college athletics conference to cancel its winter sports seasons.
  • As Georgia starts its laborious audit of the presidential race, its secretary of state entered quarantine Thursday after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus.
4:50 a.m.
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Royal Caribbean is seeking volunteers for mock voyages. 10,000 joined their Facebook group in hours.

Cruise lines in the United States aren’t able to sail U.S. waters with passengers, but they could be allowed soon if they rehearse passenger voyages with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety protocols in place. In the first public effort to acquire potential passengers for those mock cruises, Royal Caribbean International is now seeking volunteers older than 18.

Royal Caribbean has created a Volunteer of the Seas sign-up form for interested cruisers to apply to participate on future mock voyages. A Facebook group dedicated to updates on the mock cruises was created Wednesday night, and more than 10,000 people had joined by 12:30 p.m. the next day.

No timeline has been set for the simulated cruises, but Royal Caribbean said cruisers eager to return to the high seas have been reaching out en masse to inquire about volunteering for the CDC-required mock voyages. The cruise line said via email on Thursday that it had received more than “5,000 emails, not including tweets, comments and messages across social media” this week before the form was created.

4:20 a.m.
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Germany’s protests against coronavirus restrictions are becoming increasingly radical

BERLIN — Around 9:30 on a quiet Sunday morning late last month, a crudely made explosive device went off with a small bang and a flash in central Berlin near the building of an association of German scientific institutes.

A note found nearby demanded the end to coronavirus restrictions.

Just a few hours earlier, molotov cocktails had been tossed at the front of the Robert Koch Institute, the German federal agency responsible for controlling the virus.

The incidents come against the backdrop of a growing violent undercurrent at large-scale street demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions, including one attended by 20,000 people Saturday in Leipzig. The developments point to an increasingly radicalized movement of virus skeptics in Germany, embraced by the country’s far-right extremist groups and energized by global conspiracy theories, notably those put forth by the U.S.-born QAnon movement.

4:10 a.m.
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Disney’s profits plummet as coronavirus keeps its core businesses flailing

A year ago this month Disney was riding high as it revealed it had racked up nearly $70 billion in revenue and $15 billion in operating income for fiscal 2019 while also celebrating the launch of Disney Plus.

On Thursday, the company announced darker news for 2020: amid the coronavirus, it saw operating income drop 45 percent for the year to just $8.1 billion, and a whopping 82 percent for the fourth quarter to just $600 million. Once taxes are factored in, the company lost $700 million during the quarter, which encompassed the July-September period.

The company has been battered by the pandemic, which has kept it from attracting large numbers to its theme parks and from opening new movies in theaters. Both realms are usually very popular in the summer.

3:28 a.m.
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Mississippi governor says he doesn’t support a national lockdown. Biden’s covid adviser says that’s not an option anyway.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said his state would not lock down if it were asked to by the White House, calling the closing of businesses “totally and completely unreasonable.”

He made the comments after reports that Michael Osterholm, a member of Biden’s covid-19 advisory board, said the country should lock down for four to six weeks to curb the spread of the virus. But Osterholm told The Washington Post such a plan is not feasible, and the group of experts tasked with proposing Biden’s approach to the pandemic is still forming a set of national guidelines.

Osterholm said the current piecemeal measures enacted by state and local leaders “at best, would have a marginal impact.” National restrictions will be necessary to halt the spread of the coronavirus, said the epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“I’m smart enough to know when something is not going to happen,” he said of a national lockdown. “All I can do is hold it out there. It is going to be, mark my words, the only thing that will stop this runaway train.”

The goal should be to get to less than one new case per 100,000 people per day, Osterholm suggested in a New York Times editorial in August.

The country is currently reporting 285 cases per day per 100,000, according to a data analysis of the past seven days’ counts.

Governors who have implemented harsher restrictions, however, may back a universal plan, especially if it keeps their own infection numbers from surging.

Pointing to neighboring states that have not successfully enacted stringent coronavirus regulations, including Iowa and Wisconsin, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) on Thursday said the alarming positivity rates in some of those hot spots “is why we needed a new president” and “a national strategy.”

While Pritzker didn’t specifically mention a universal shutdown of the country, he argued that interstate travel has allowed the virus to continue to spread to states like his that have enacted shutdowns or similar measures.

“The truth is we don’t have fences around our states,” Pritzker said. “We don’t want them. We want to make sure that we all have similar or exactly the same mitigations, so we can keep the numbers down.”

2:52 a.m.
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Their coronavirus vaccine candidate has made them billionaires. This modest German Turkish couple doesn’t own a car.

BERLIN — At 8 p.m. Sunday evening, the phone rang with the call Ugur Sahin, chief executive of the German medical start-up BioNTech, had been anxiously awaiting.

“Are you sitting down?” Pfizer chief Albert Bourla asked him.

The news that followed was better than Sahin had hoped: Preliminary analysis from Phase 3 trials of his company’s coronavirus vaccine showed 90 percent protection.

“I was more than excited,” said Sahin, speaking to The Washington Post over video call from his home in the western German city of Mainz.

2:27 a.m.
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Shutdowns possible in Illinois, Maryland, Washington state as governors weigh more restrictions

Governors for Illinois, Maryland and Washington said Thursday that they have not ruled out ramping up restrictions or enforcement, even if that means forcing businesses to close to reduce the spread of the virus. Illinois and Maryland topped their highs Thursday for their seven-day averages of new cases, while Washington state had not yet reported its daily total.

On the same day Illinois tallied its most reported coronavirus infections in a day, 12,702 cases, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said it was “certainly likely if the numbers continue going in the wrong direction that we may take more-stringent action” — including another statewide shutdown.

“Right now that seems where we are headed,” he said of the possibility of a stay-at-home order being issued in the next 30 days.

Pritzker praised Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) for issuing an advisory Thursday encouraging residents to stay home if possible, and he admonished other local officials in Illinois who were not enforcing rules or were pushing baseless claims.

In Maryland, where 1,477 new cases were reported, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was asked about the possibility of a second shutdown. He said that while the state never fully locked down during the beginning of the pandemic, all options were being considered during this recent nationwide surge.

“Might we have to take more restrictive actions over the coming weeks and months? Absolutely we might,” he said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said he was “strongly considering” additional shutdowns and would be making an announcement Monday.

State officials across the country are monitoring coronavirus infections and hospitalization rates as numbers rise to concerning levels, sparking some to warn the shutdowns may loom.

1:39 a.m.
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‘Covid-hell.’ ‘Humanitarian disaster.’ Experts sound the alarm about U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

Public health experts are sounding the alarm about the trajectory of the pandemic in the United States as the coronavirus spreads through the country largely unabated and officials muse aloud about the possibility of fresh lockdowns.

The experts use different language to underscore the situation’s urgency: Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden said the nation is experiencing a “dangerous time.” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta called the crisis a “humanitarian disaster.” Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who was recently named to President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force, described the situation bluntly as “covid-hell.”

Their warnings come amid widespread fatigue with restrictions, even as the virus is nowhere near finished rampaging across the country. While several states implemented new mitigation measures this week, many people have been letting down their guards or, in some cases, vowing outright to ignore the rules.

1:32 a.m.
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Pandemic dictates masks, social distancing at orientation for House’s incoming freshman class

The House’s next class of lawmakers arrived under unprecedented conditions Thursday for freshman orientation — most members-elect and their staff wore masks, walked up to check in at a desk set up outdoors and manned by people also wearing masks.

Through the windows of a Capitol Hill hotel, reporters could see signs propped up throughout the venue advising that face coverings were required. Congress’s attending physician, Brian P. Monahan, arrived there early in the day.

The pandemic is raging, with the latest all-time daily high of more than 150,000 coronavirus cases reported Thursday. The metrics are mostly trending in the wrong direction.

The circumstances dictated that this orientation for the Republicans and Democrats elected last week bore little resemblance to previous sessions of introductions and briefings marked by plenty of glad-handing.

12:38 a.m.
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Some top tech firms are laying off their blue-collar service workers, report says

Silicon Valley tech giants were among the first companies to encourage white-collar employees to work from home at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to public scrutiny following their high-profile announcements, top tech firms also pledged to maintain pay and benefits for the army of blue-collar contractors, who are predominantly Black and Latino, who serve as cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors and security officers on their corporate campuses.

In recent months, however, some companies have reversed the decision. Yahoo, which is owned by Verizon, laid off 120 cafeteria workers in September at its headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. Since March, NBC News reports that LinkedIn, Salesforce, Electronic Arts, Nvidia and other Bay Area companies ended contracts with transportation providers, which led to driver layoffs.

If this trend continues, it would cut off a lifeline for service workers, according to a report released Thursday by Silicon Valley Rising, a labor advocacy campaign led by the community organizing group Working Partnerships USA. The report estimates that 12,000 workers could lose health insurance coverage and 6,500 families with children could be unable to pay rent, further exacerbating stark racial inequities.

12:31 a.m.
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JetBlue Airways to return to full-capacity seating in January

JetBlue Airways will phase back into full-capacity seating on Jan. 8, 2021, no longer blocking middle seats.

JetBlue president and chief operating officer Joanna Geraghty said in a blog post Thursday that the airline will limit onboard capacity to 85 percent from Dec. 2 through Jan. 7, then make all seats available after the busy holiday season.

“We’ve had two priorities since the start of this crisis — the first is the safety of our Crewmembers and Customers. The second is maintaining our financial security so we can preserve Crewmember jobs,” Geraghty said. “When we started blocking middle seats, Crewmembers were quick to point out that it would not be financially sustainable over the long term.”

Geraghty cited a recent Harvard research study that found that the cabin air system and HEPA filters, coupled with the airline’s requirement for face coverings, reduces the risk of transmitting the coronavirus below that of a grocery store or indoor dining.

JetBlue initially blocked middle seats as a precautionary measure to distance passengers but now joins other airlines in returning to increased capacity given the pandemic’s hit to the industry. Since Oct. 15, JetBlue’s onboard capacity has been bumped to 70 percent, without guarantee of empty middle or adjacent seats during travel.

11:43 p.m.
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Ivy League cancels winter sports as coronavius pandemic worsens

The Ivy League is canceling its winter sports seasons, becoming the first Division I college athletics conference to do so, the conference announced Thursday.

The league — composed of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale — made its decision amid an unprecedented spike in the pandemic nationally. New coronavirus cases in the United States reached a record total of 145,835 on Wednesday, a number that was on track to be topped Thursday.

“Consistent with its commitment to safeguard the health and well-being of student-athletes, the greater campus community and general public, the Ivy League Council of Presidents has decided that league schools will not conduct intercollegiate athletics competition in winter sports during the 2020-21 season. In addition, the Ivy League will not conduct competition for fall sports during the upcoming spring semester. Lastly, intercollegiate athletics competition for spring sports is postponed through at least the end of February 2021,” the conference announced.

11:30 p.m.
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Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young, dean of the House, tests positive for covid

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the dean of the House as its longest-serving member, revealed in a tweet that he had contracted coronavirus.

“I have tested positive for COVID-19. I am feeling strong, following proper protocols, working from home in Alaska, and ask for privacy at this time. May God Bless Alaska,” Young tweeted.

Young, known for his salty and gruff demeanor, is also the oldest member of the House at 87 years old, putting him at high risk for covid complications.

The octogenarian was reelected to a 25th term in Congress last week. Young was for a time the chairman of the once powerful House Transportation Committee, earmarking money for projects back home, perhaps most famously one connecting mainland Alaska to a small island of 50 people and an airport that became dubbed “the Bridge to Nowhere."

Young downplayed the coronavirus in its early days, calling it the “beer virus,” a seeming reference to Corona beer.

“It attacks us senior citizens. I’m one of you. I still say we have to as a nation and state go forth with everyday activities,” he said in March.

After the virus spread to Alaska, however, Young no longer mocked it, but he still held in-person fundraising events and didn’t require attendees to wear masks.

“I don’t require anything,” he told Alaska Public Media in September. “If you want to wear a mask when they come to my campaign events, that’s their business. That’s self-responsibility. Our nation should be responsible for one’s actions.”

10:57 p.m.
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At least eight Republican National Committee staffers have contracted covid-19, officials say

At least eight Republican National Committee staffers have contracted the coronavirus, officials said Thursday. The officials said the staffers were spread out between Washington and some of the committee’s field offices in states like Pennsylvania.

Earlier on Thursday, the RNC disclosed that Richard Walters, the chief of staff for the party, had the virus.

Officials said the committee was contact tracing individual cases, but many staffers were still being tested. About a dozen White House officials have contracted the virus in the last 10 days, officials said

10:24 p.m.
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Passengers show ‘assumptive’ positive coronavirus test results aboard first cruise in Caribbean

A cruising yacht that was set to be the first passenger ship to cruise the Caribbean since March has halted its journey “after guests’ tests for Covid-19 returned assumptive positive results” on Wednesday, yachting company SeaDream said in a news release.

The ship, the SeaDream I, returned to port in Barbados on Wednesday after administering rapid tests to all passengers as part of its routine testing protocol, which requires testing before and during the journey.

“Immediately after performing the preliminary rapid Covid test onboard and receiving the assumptive positive results, SeaDream advised local health authorities and set in motion its Covid response protocols to protect guests and crew,” SeaDream said in a statement. “The ship’s medical staff has tested all crew members and all tests have come back negative. SeaDream is currently re-testing all guests.”

The Barbados Ministry of Health told The Washington Post in an email that “the Prime Minister and/or the Minister of Health and Wellness will be making an official statement on this matter.”