An estimated 20 million health-care workers should get top priority for a vaccine to keep the nation’s hospitals and clinics functioning, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday.
Investigators at the Department of Homeland Security are bracing for a new wave of fraud attempts by criminal groups that officials expect will try to take advantage of the extraordinary demand for doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Pfizer and Moderna, the two drug companies that applied for emergency vaccine approval this week, have said they will produce enough doses for about 20 million people this month. Health-care employees, law enforcement personnel and other front-line workers are expected to be first in line.
Production will ramp up after that, but it will probably take several months for companies to make enough doses for the nation’s entire population of 330 million. Fraudsters looking to exploit that unmet demand are a concern for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that announced a new operation this week to stop them.
In the United States, authorities are bracing for a post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge within the surge. Public health experts warn that the trajectory of the current surge is pushing hospital systems to breaking points in many areas of the country, courting, in one analyst’s words, “humanitarian disaster.”
But for all the grimness of conditions in much of the United States, humanitarian organizations are more alarmed about developments elsewhere. In parts of the world where social safety nets are more meager — and the informal economy far more vast — people already accustomed to lives of precarity have slid into crisis. Those even more vulnerable, especially refugees, face even bleaker prospects.
A new joint report put out Monday by the U.N.’s refugee agency and the Norwegian Refugee Council found that millions of people may not receive the aid they need because of insufficient funding.
When European schools reopened their classrooms in the spring, after the first wave of the coronavirus had crested, some parents expressed concern their children were being used as “guinea pigs” in a dangerous experiment.
But to the extent that European schools have acted as laboratories for the world, the findings eight months later are largely positive. Most of Europe kept schools open even during a worst-on-the-planet second wave of infections this fall. And still, schools appear to be relatively safe environments, public health officials say. As long as they adhere to a now-established set of precautions — mask-wearing, handwashing, ventilation — schools are thought to have played only a limited role in accelerating coronavirus transmission in Europe.
Those conclusions contrast sharply with the prevailing wisdom in the United States, where public health officials have focused on low rates of positive coronavirus tests in the broader community as a prerequisite for in-person schooling. Some U.S. school districts recently announced they are going remote again, as coronavirus cases rise, and other districts have yet to reopen their classrooms at all.
BERLIN — A key political ally of right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has resigned after attending what local media outlets described as a “sex party” in the Belgian capital of Brussels on Friday night.
Jozsef Szajer, a founding member of Orban’s Fidesz party and a member of the European Parliament, confirmed in a statement Tuesday that he “was present” at a “private party in Brussels on Friday.”
He had abruptly resigned from his parliamentary position Sunday, citing “a long period of reflection.”
Szajer didn’t mention the event in his initial resignation statement Sunday. But after multiple media outlets in Belgium and Hungary began disclosing information about the party, Szajer on Tuesday confirmed that he was present when police officers disrupted the event, held in violation of Belgium’s coronavirus restrictions.
Across the country, state and local leaders have implored their residents to follow guidelines meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — then, in some places, those very same leaders have proceeded to break their own rules.
In the past week alone, politicians in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles County and Denver were implicated in incidents that transgressed best practices and government prohibitions.
While official hypocrisy is nothing new, some worry that when leaders flout their own public health guidance, it not only puts them at risk, but it also undermines the herculean effort of persuading people to follow rules that have them increasingly fatigued.
“I understand my obligation as a public official to provide exemplary compliance w/ public health orders, & not to ignore them,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a tweeted mea culpa Tuesday. “I commit to do better.”
The week before, Liccardo had convened a socially distanced Thanksgiving meal at his parents’ home, which brought together eight people from five households — three more than California’s health department regulations permitted. This after Liccardo had urged on Thanksgiving Eve: “Let’s cancel the big gatherings this year and focus on keeping each other safe.”
NBC Bay Area reported the lapse, and Liccardo apologized. He was far from the first caught in the act.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock advised residents to “Pass the potatoes, not COVID” and “Avoid travel, if you can” during the holiday week. Then, an hour later, he took a cross-country flight for Thanksgiving with his family.
In Los Angeles last week, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted to ban outdoor dining, calling the practice a “most dangerous situation” and saying it was “a bit of magical thinking” to believe restaurant staffers were able to stay six feet away from diners as health experts recommend.
Then, just hours later, she was spotted eating outside at one of her favorite Italian restaurants.
Four hundred miles and three Michelin stars away, the lure of fine dining also created public relations headaches for two of California’s most prominent politicians.
On consecutive evenings, Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed traveled to Napa Valley for birthday dinners at the French Laundry, a venerable and pricey eatery where reservations are famously hard-won.
The dinners occurred in early November, a time when Napa County allowed indoor dining and did not specify a cap on the number of households that could gather. However, state guidelines discouraged such gatherings and limited them to three households, a boundary that Newsom’s party of 12 appeared to breach. It was less clear how many households were involved in Breed’s eight-person party, which a spokesperson called a “small family birthday dinner.” The gathering was revealed only on Tuesday.
The San Francisco Chronicle first reported bothstories.
“I made a bad mistake,” Newsom said at a news conference after the report surfaced. “Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back out to my car.”
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Alaska governor’s outreach director tells people to go out and ‘party like it’s New Year’s Eve’
Ahead of the city of Anchorage’s order to close indoor bars and restaurants, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s outreach director encouraged others to go out, flouting calls from his boss to avoid gathering indoors to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“Monday night, go to your favorite bar and party like it’s New Years Eve,” David Stieren wrote the same day as the order was announced. “Dress up. Uber. Whatever. Do it.” The city’s restrictions on bars and other nonessential businesses began Monday.
Stieren, a former conservative radio host, later amended his posting, adding “or pay a tab that you’d have IF you would go out,” according to the Anchorage Daily News, which first reported on the post. Stieren’s Facebook page was set to private as of Tuesday evening.
Dunleavy’s office later dismissed the post by Stieren as a comment made on a private page when asked by the Daily News.
“Dave Stieren’s comments were made on his personal social media accounts and are his own personal opinions. Those comments do not reflect the policies of the Dunleavy administration regarding COVID-19,” the governor’s spokesperson Jeff Turner told the newspaper.
Turner didn’t immediately respond to The Washington Post’s questions about Stieren’s job status. Stieren did not reply to requests for comment from The Post or Daily News.
Stieren’s post directly contrasts with messaging from the governor who called on Alaskans to avoid gathering indoors as infections have surged. Hospitalizations for covid-19 have soared to their highest counts in the past week in the state since the start of the pandemic. More Alaskans tested positive for the virus in November than any month prior.
“For the next three weeks, I’m asking you as the governor of Alaska that we do everything possible to reduce these cases and bend this trend downward,” Dunleavy (R) said in a video message posted in mid-November.
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Analysis: GOP suspends its lunches because of pandemic, and senators wonder if it’s another leadership power grab
The Senate is, above all else, an institution of tradition and customs.
One of which came to an end Tuesday, as Republicans halted their in-person policy lunches as a safety precaution amid the surging coronavirus pandemic.
A practice that began more than 60 years ago gave way to the reality of a disease that has left seven GOP senators with positive tests for the coronavirus, and a few dozen others who had to quarantine after being exposed to someone with covid-19.
The move left the ritualistic senators both confused on basic levels and also worried that it would further ingrain the already top-down structure of an institution whose hallmark was supposed to be widespread debate.
“No, no, no, no, Tuesday lunches are not canceled,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters early in the day, calling the setup “weird” as she discussed food options that had been so standard for the last 18 years. “What am I going to do for lunch? I got to feed myself.”
With vaccines on the horizon, three leading U.S. medical associations released an open letter Tuesday backing a science-based authorization process and urging Americans to continue taking public health precautions.
The letter, issued by the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association, said it remains essential that the public follows measures including wearing masks, maintaining distance and hand washing until the U.S. population has been “broadly immunized.” Noting that more than 260,000 Americans have died of covid-19, the groups said they “know that vaccines will save lives and help us turn the page on this virus.”
“Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, nearly eliminated chickenpox and polio, and minimized the impact of countless other diseases,” the letter continued. "To achieve a similar result from COVID-19 vaccines requires trust in the process to develop, distribute and administer a safe and effective vaccine and broad willingness to get vaccinated."
The associations pledged to support the rigorous scientific and regulatory process for the approval and use of covid-19 vaccines. They said they will also establish safe processes for the vaccine’s administration and make important information about it available as Americans decide whether to be vaccinated.
“Know that your health and safety continues to remain our top priority and we will get through this together,” the letter concludes.
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Nevada governor condemns Trump’s ‘unconscionable’ retweet suggesting a covid-19 hospital site is ‘fake’
Trump’s tendency to retweet unsubstantiated claims has once again landed him in hot water after sharing a tweet Tuesday that suggested that a Reno doctor’s selfie in his hospital’s overflow coronavirus site staged in a parking garage was “fake.”
Trump shared from a post by a conservative lifestyle blog that falsely claimed that a photo of an emergency room physician in the Renown Hospital’s care site for coronavirus overflow patients was not real, adding, “Fake election results in Nevada, also!” Trump lost Nevada by more than two percentage points.
After the president’s remark, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and other state leaders retorted that Trump was discounting courageous, hard-working health-care workers by baselessly denying that they are real.
“His consistent misleading rhetoric on COVID-19 is dangerous and reckless, and today’s implication that Renown’s alternate care site is a ‘fake hospital’ is among the worst examples we’ve seen,” Sisolak wrote in a statement that called on other elected leaders to condemn Trump’s tweet.
Several did, including U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who wrote: “We owe a debt of gratitude to our frontline workers in Nevada. They’ve gone above and beyond to protect our health during this pandemic. I stand with them in the face of this irresponsible attack by the President.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Trump’s post.
The blog had called the photo into question because there were no patients pictured, sharing outdated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that showed that the state had available hospital beds two years ago. The state and Washoe County, home to Reno, are experiencing a surge in hospitalizations, according to November data that the Nevada Hospital Association shared with The Post. More than 85 percent of the county’s staffed hospital beds are occupied.
Renown Hospital had opened the extra space in a parking garage in mid-November to offer greater capacity, staffing it with ICU doctors, including Jacob Keeperman, who took the photo during his first week working in the unit.
Keeperman had to pronounce five covid-19 patients dead that week, he told the Los Vegas Review Journal. He said there weren’t patients in his photo because he wouldn’t post personal information about his patients online.
“I thought that my initial tweet was intended to truly be a thank you to all the health-care workers, all of my teammates,” Keeperman told the newspaper.
In 13-1 vote, panel recommends coronavirus vaccines should first go to these two groups
The first doses of a coronavirus vaccine should be given to an estimated 21 million health-care workers and three million residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, a federal advisory panel recommended Tuesday afternoon.
These groups were deemed the highest priority by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, because the vaccine will initially be in extremely short supply after it is cleared by federal regulators. Health-care personnel are a top priority because of their exposure to the virus and their critical role keeping the nation’s hospitals and clinics functioning.
The committee voted 13 to 1 to prioritize the two groups. Helen Keipp Talbot, an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, was the sole dissenting vote. Unease over the recommendations centered on the inclusion of long-term care residents, with several panel members saying there was insufficient vaccine safety and efficacy data to support immunizing that population right away.
The recommendations for the highest priority groups, known as phase 1a, will be sent to CDC Director Robert Redfield, who also informs Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. If the recommendations are approved, they will become official CDC recommendations on immunization in the United States and provide guidance to state officials, who are scrambling to meet a Friday deadline for vaccine distribution planning.
Florida joined an exclusive club of dubious distinction Tuesday: a state with more than 1 million recorded cases of the coronavirus.
Florida’s case count is now higher than the total population of its largest city, Jacksonville. It would be as if everyone in Miami, Orlando and Tallahassee had tested positive — and then some.
Only California and Texas have reported more infections, and those states’ populations outstrip Florida’s by several million.
Florida passed the milestone when officials reported nearly 9,000 new cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total infections to 1,008,166, according to data tracked and analyzed by The Washington Post, a metric that does not include the innumerable amount of undetected and untested illness. The state’s recent average of new cases reported each day is the fifth highest in the country and is climbing.
The state also reported 82 new virus deaths, continuing a trend of steadily rising daily fatalities.
Yet Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, continues to be one of the most outspoken critics of proven public health measures. Last week, he extended an executive order that prevents local governments from enforcing mask ordinances or limiting restaurant and bar capacity to less than 50 percent.
On Tuesday, at his first news conference in weeks, DeSantis reiterated his opposition to mask mandates.
“I don’t think they work,” DeSantis said of mask mandates, offering no evidence and contradicting research that shows such ordinances save lives. “People in Florida wear them when they go out, they don’t have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it.”
Harvard University plans to invite about 3,100 undergraduates to its campus in Massachusetts for the spring semester, roughly double the number that lived there this fall under the extraordinary public health limits tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under a plan released Tuesday afternoon, all seniors would get priority for housing as well as juniors who were enrolled in the fall and certain other groups with special circumstances. Among them are students who live in time zones four or more hours removed from Eastern time.
This fall, about 1,500 students lived on the campus in Cambridge, mostly freshmen. All of Harvard’s undergraduate courses are being taught remotely throughout the school year.
The S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq soared to new highs Tuesday, extending last month’s monstrous rally and putting Wall Street on pace for a merry December.
The unveiling of a $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief package helped boost sentiments among investors Tuesday. Congress has faced increasing pressure to approve additional economic relief since talks between the White House and House Democrats collapsed, first over the summer and then again in the fall ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.
The S&P 500 advanced 1.1 percent to 3,662, and is up more than 13 percent for the year. The Nasdaq gained almost 1.3 percent to reach 12,355, and has swollen nearly 38 percent in 2020 as investors bet big on tech in the remote-everything era. The Dow Jones industrial average added 0.6 percent to reach 29,823 after bagging its best monthly performance since 1987.
Markets have been on the upswing since news outlets declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election, creating political clarity even as President Trump pressed baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and refused to concede. Then came several announcements indicating the effectiveness of multiple coronavirus vaccine candidates. The recent formal launch of the White House transition lifted Wall Street’s optimism further, notching double-digit growth and cementing November’s broad-based rally as one of the best performances in more than 90 years.
“Whether that optimism can continue into the end of the year is another thing,” Craig Erlam, senior market analyst with OANDA, said in comments emailed to The Post on Tuesday. “A lot of good news is now priced in and many countries are navigating through a complex second wave of Covid-19. Some with more success than others.”
White House intensifies pressure on FDA about vaccine
The White House on Tuesday stepped up its pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to quickly authorize Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine — which the agency already seemed likely to do in the next two weeks or so without prodding from above.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows summoned FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to a meeting to demand an explanation for why the agency was not moving faster on clearing the vaccine, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the issue.
Pfizer filed its application with the agency on Nov. 20.
Meadows had been told that Hahn had taken a vacation last month in North Carolina, the official said. He added that the president remains angry at Hahn and the FDA for not delivering a vaccine before the election and thinks there is an effort to delay it so that Biden, not Trump, gets the credit. Axios first reported about the Meadows-Hahn meeting.
Hahn, in a statement issued before the meeting, said, “We want to move quickly because this is a national emergency, but we will make sure that our scientists take the time they need to make an appropriate decision. It is our job to get this right and make the correct decision regarding vaccine safety and efficacy.”
An FDA spokesperson said the agency is reviewing thousands of pages of technical information in preparation for a Dec. 10 meeting with outside advisers. The official added Hahn had not been on vacation but had been quarantining “in a remote location” following a potential coronavirus exposure at FDA headquarters. “Dr. Hahn has worked every single day of this pandemic, including weekends, holidays and more,” the spokesperson said.
Former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan said he doesn’t expect any changes to the FDA’s vaccine-review schedule as a result of the meeting. But he added that, assuming the Dec. 10 session goes well, White House officials “probably just want to make sure [authorization] won’t be much longer after the 10th.”