Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

Monday was another record-setting day inside U.S. hospitals, which reported more coronavirus inpatients than at any other time in the pandemic — continuing an ominous, nearly month-long streak of fast-rising numbers.

At least 85,700 people hospitalized were hospitalize on Monday with covid-19, according to data compiled and analyzed by The Washington Post. Concurrent increases in the numbers of coronavirus patients in intensive care units and on ventilators show that the most serious cases are also climbing at a dangerous clip.

Here are some significant developments:
4:49 a.m.
Link copied

Looming end to student loan payment moratorium raises fears among defaulted borrowers

The start of the new year weighs heavy on Elizabeth Barber.

The home health aide in Penfield, N.Y., has spent the past several months stretching the $12.89 an hour she earns to cover her mortgage and utilities. But as fewer families felt comfortable inviting a stranger into their homes during a pandemic, Barber lost clients, lost money.

Now with barely 25 hours of work a week and bills piling up, Barber, 60, worries the federal government will resume withholding 12 percent of her paycheck for a past-due student loan.

“I’m stressed out,” Barber said. “My work has changed dramatically in just the last two months. I’ve lost several cases. I’m still struggling. I can’t afford to lose more money.”

A wide variety of pandemic relief programs is set to expire Dec. 31, including measures that froze student loan payments and the collection of defaulted education debt by the federal government. Millions of Americans will be thrown back into repayment. Hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers, including Barber, stand to have their wages garnished just as a resurgence of the coronavirus threatens to create further economic disruptions.

4:12 a.m.
Link copied

D.C. adds tougher coronavirus restrictions as infection rates continue to rise

D.C. tightened restrictions Monday to confront rising coronavirus cases, a move that follows similar actions in neighboring jurisdictions and puts the entire Washington region under more strict pandemic protocols.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 10 people — including Thanksgiving dinners, since the order takes effect Wednesday — and outdoor groups of more than 25 people. The restrictions come as caseloads have spiked across the greater Washington region, where the seven-day average number of cases Monday hit a record for the 20th consecutive day.

Bowser’s order will ban live entertainment and indoor exercise classes, although gyms can stay open. Houses of worship can have up to 50 people, down from 100, although sanctuaries can’t be at more than 50 percent capacity.

The mayor’s order requires restaurants to close at midnight and to stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m. Bowser said inspectors have found that compliance with coronavirus rules tends to decline into the night.

3:32 a.m.
Link copied

TSA records its busiest travel weekend since March

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recorded its highest number of weekend passengers since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, with over 3 million people traveling in the past three days. The surge comes despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance advising against Thanksgiving travel because of mounting covid-19 cases across the nation.

Sunday was the busiest travel day since the beginning of the pandemic in March, according to TSA spokesman Daniel Velez, with 1,047,934 passengers. TSA screenings surpassed a now-rare amount of 1 million screenings on both Friday and Sunday; Friday was a slightly lower travel day with 1,019,836 travelers screened. On Saturday, TSA saw 984,369 travelers.

The new peak comes as U.S. coronavirus cases have also hit a new high, and just in time for Thanksgiving week — which typically brings the busiest travel day of the year on Wednesday.

2:59 a.m.
Link copied

Obama says vaccine distribution will be an ‘economic’ and ‘public messaging’ challenge

AstraZeneca on Monday became the third pharmaceutical company to announce a highly efficacious covid-19 vaccine. Former president Barack Obama says distribution of a vaccine will be a "logistical," "economic" and "public messaging" challenge," adding that challenge “has not been made easier by the fact that we've had an incoherent federal communication strategy." (Washington Post Live)
2:18 a.m.
Link copied

Despite covid-19 loss, ‘Thanksgiving Grandma’ celebrates with the young man she met by accidental text

Four years ago, Wanda Dench accidentally invited a teenage stranger to her Thanksgiving dinner over a text message. What began as a serendipitous encounter has since turned into a long-lasting and Internet-famous friendship that has only grown stronger over time. Each year, the pair celebrates that unlikely bond.

This year was supposed to be no different, except everything was.

Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving together in Mesa, Ariz., on Friday in a bittersweet reunion punctuated by the painful absence of Wanda’s husband Lonnie, who died to covid-10 complications back in April.

“I wasn’t looking forward to it at first because Lonnie wasn’t going to be there,” Dench told CNN.

But the reunion lifted everyone’s spirits and drew the attention of people across the country who have followed their story over the years.

“We laughed, we had a great time, we reminisced about the past. It was so good for all of us,” she added.

2:13 a.m.
Link copied

Federal death row inmate gets new execution date after lawyers contract coronavirus

The federal government has rescheduled the execution of Lisa Montgomery after her lawyers contracted the coronavirus.

Montgomery is the first woman to face a federal death penalty in decades. She was originally scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Indiana on Dec. 8. She was convicted in 2007 of strangling a woman who was eight months pregnant and kidnapping her unborn baby, who survived the attack.

Montgomery will be executed on Jan. 12, according to attorneys at Cornell Law School’s International Human Rights Policy Advocacy Clinic. Cornell lawyers filed a complaint earlier this month seeking to delay Montgomery’s execution after her defense team caught the coronavirus while traveling to defend her.

Federal public defenders Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell flew from Nashville to Texas late last month to prepare Montgomery’s request to commute her sentence to life in prison. Each round trip involved two flights, hotels and interactions with prison guards and airline passengers. Soon afterward, both women tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the filing.

Prisons and jails throughout the country have become public health threats during the pandemic, according to advocates. The federal women’s prison in Fort Worth, where Montgomery is held, has seen one of the nation’s largest outbreaks, with more than 520 inmates testing positive — about 1 in 4 held there — and six dying since April.

The Justice Department also recently scheduled three more executions for inmates convicted of murder. Alfred Bourgeois will be executed on Dec. 11, Cory Johnson will be executed on Jan. 14, and Dustin John Higgs will be executed on Jan. 15.

1:39 a.m.
Link copied

Covid-19 deaths are likely to keep getting worse even after cases peak

The United States is heading into the holiday season as coronavirus cases rise at their fastest rate ever. More than 150,000 new cases were reported each day last week, and experts worry that indoor gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday will cause case counts to surge even higher. But even once numbers in this “third wave” finally peak, deaths will continue to rise for several weeks.

A third wave of coronavirus cases in the county took off in September, and cases have been rising faster ever since. The second wave, which peaked in July, was significantly smaller, but followed the same pattern: Cases rose first, then hospitalizations, then deaths.

The second wave began in mid-June, when cases began to rise a few weeks after Memorial Day. About 10 days later, hospitalization numbers started to go up, followed by a rise in deaths about two weeks after that. The data from the beginning of the third wave shows a similar trend.

12:59 a.m.
Link copied

Trump officials gave a finance firm millions to supply food to the poor. Democrats are raising questions about where the money went.

One of the largest awardees in a key Trump pandemic relief operation redirected $3 million to its own nonprofit organization despite its lack of track record or capacity in delivering food to people in need, House Democrats have alleged.

Yegg Inc., a California firm that offers business finance solutions, was awarded $16.6 million to supply milk and dairy boxes for the Farmers to Families Food Box program May 8.

In a letter Sunday, James E. Clyburn, chairman of the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, asked George Egbuonu, president of Yegg, to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the food box program.

The letter alleged that rather than providing food boxes to major food banks across 10 counties in Southern California, as contracted, Yegg instead delivered almost $3 million in food boxes to an organization called Helping Feet, also owned by Egbuonu.

12:46 a.m.
Link copied

Hospitalizations continue to soar to record levels, with impact most acute in Plains and Midwest states

Monday was another record-setting day inside U.S. hospitals, which reported more coronavirus inpatients than at any other time in the pandemic — continuing an ominous, nearly month-long streak of fast-rising numbers.

Facilities across the country reported at least 85,700 people hospitalized with covid-19, according to data compiled and analyzed by The Washington Post. Concurrent increases in the numbers of coronavirus patients in intensive care units and on ventilators show that the most serious cases are also climbing at a dangerous clip.

These numbers are all rising at a potentially perilous time for Americans. Even as the virus spreads, more people are traveling and planning to spend winter holidays with family or friends outside their immediate circles, increasing the potential of further spread.

The crisis is most acute in the Plains states and the Upper Midwest, where on-the-ground accounts and the data tell a dire story. The Dakotas, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Montana lead the nation in people hospitalized per capita, according to The Post’s analysis.

Many of those same states also lead the country in new virus deaths per capita — the fatal conclusion of progressing trends that epidemiologists have warned about for months: First the cases rise, then hospitalizations follow and, finally, an increase in deaths.

Some of the hardest-hit states — the same that led the fall surge — have seen a recent and slight decline in new infections. This is a possible signal that cases there may be beginning to level off, though it is unclear how holiday travel and interaction will affect the numbers.

12:22 a.m.
Link copied

Fauci urges caution with holiday travel and gatherings

Anthony S. Fauci, the highest-ranking public health expert on viruses, discussed the risk of small gatherings indoors during an interview on Nov. 23. (The Washington Post)
11:43 p.m.
Link copied

What it’s going to take to get vaccines to Americans?

Riverside Health System in Virginia has ordered a specialized freezer for each of its five hospitals to keep precious vials of coronavirus vaccine as cold as a deep Antarctic freeze.

Public health officials in Nashville and Baltimore are revamping routine flu clinics to test delivery methods for coronavirus vaccinations.

And in Maine, top health official Nirav Shah spends sleepless nights devising drive-through immunization facilities where vaccinators won’t have to wear winter parkas in addition to their personal protective gear.

Shah’s solution? Fire stations and carwashes.

Those venues are heated “so you have shelter from the snow and cold,” he said. “We haven’t inked any of those agreements yet, but that’s where our head is at.”

Buoyed by promising results from major clinical trials of two coronavirus vaccines, public health officials are preparing for the daunting task ahead of delivering those shots to tens of millions of Americans.

11:02 p.m.
Link copied

A birthday lunch left 15 relatives battling covid-19

Enriqueta Aragonez reclined on a hospital bed in Arlington, Tex., with plastic tubes snaking from her nose and pneumonia in both of her lungs. The 57-year-old had a message for everyone doubting the need for covid-19 restrictions.

“I went to my nephew’s house and loved seeing my family but now, I’m fighting against covid-19,” Aragonez said in a video message. “Please protect yourself. It’s real.”

Aragonez is one of 15 family members who contracted the coronavirus after a small indoor birthday celebration earlier this month where no one wore masks. Weeks later, in an emotional video shared by the City of Arlington, the family is begging others to avoid gathering with anyone outside their immediate household.

10:36 p.m.
Link copied

Americans will spend big this holiday season, retail trade group projects

Despite the coronavirus recession and historically high unemployment, the nation’s largest retail trade group expects to see a healthy jump in holiday spending — 3.6 to 5.2 percent higher than last year — thanks to a strong stock market, rising home values and record savings rates.

The National Retail Federation’s forecast exceeds the average holiday sales growth of 3.5 percent recorded the past five years. The estimate suggests that Americans will spend $755 billion to $767 billion on gifts, entertaining and other holiday festivities.

“Consumers have experienced a difficult year but will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago,” Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the NRF, said in a statement. “As long as consumers remain confident and upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season.”

Online sales are expected to grow as much as 30 percent from last year, to $218 billion, as more Americans look for ways to shop from home.

The lobbying group’s rosy forecast comes after a particularly grueling year for retailers. More than a dozen major chains, including J.Crew and J.C. Penney, have filed for bankruptcy since April, and analysts say more could follow early next year if they can’t shore up sales during the holiday season.

Many consumers are facing their own financial uncertainties. More than 20 million Americans are collecting some form of unemployment benefits. Even so, Kleinhenz says, some families will be spending more on gifts this year because they’ve had to cut back on travel, dining out and other leisure activities.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend,” he said. “But with the economy improving, most have the ability to spend.”

10:02 p.m.
Link copied

With Britain’s lockdown lifting Dec. 2, Johnson lays out three-tier reopening plan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his plan for reopening the country when Britain’s four-week national lockdown to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus ends Dec. 2.

Speaking to Parliament on Monday, the prime minister presented a three-tiered plan to be implemented until the end of March, in which regions would undergo different stages of reopening depending on infection rates and the area’s health-care capacity. Under the regulations, all nonessential shops would be allowed to reopen, as would gyms and hair dressers. Johnson also said he hoped households would be able to mix over the Christmas holiday, but urged caution.

“This virus, obviously, is not going to grant a Christmas truce. It doesn’t know it’s Christmas, and families will need to make a careful judgment about the risk of visiting elderly relatives,” he said.

Britain has seen a decline in new confirmed coronavirus cases since the country went into lockdown in early November. Like much of Europe, the country had seen a devastating second wave of the virus that pushed leaders to impose restrictions on gatherings and movement.

France, which imposed a nationwide lockdown at the end of October, is expected to announce the lifting of some restrictions Tuesday after seeing a significant drop in new cases and hospitalizations.