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The United States set a pair of alarming coronavirus records Wednesday, surpassing 200,000 new infections and topping 100,000 covid-19 patients hospitalized — the first time the country has reached either metric in a single day.

And Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the worst might still be ahead. He predicted that the U.S. covid-19 death toll could reach 450,000 by February, and he warned that this winter could be “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

Here are some significant developments:

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4:45 a.m.
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Thinking about escaping to Mexico for the winter? Think again, CDC says.

By Hannah Sampson

Mexico may seem like the perfect winter getaway for U.S. travelers. The weather is warm and health requirements during the pandemic are lax relative to other tropical destinations.

Unlike many other popular travel spots, Mexico’s rules for visitors arriving by air are not onerous, according to the U.S. Embassy. While they may be subject to health screenings, tourists from the United States do not need to show proof of a negative test or undergo quarantine if they fly into the country. Nonessential travel by land, including tourism, is not allowed at least through Dec. 21.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said recently that citizens should avoid all travel to the country, citing the “very high level” of coronavirus.

4:15 a.m.
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Pelosi, Schumer say $908 billion economic relief package should be starting point for talks

By Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim

The top Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday embraced a $908 billion coronavirus relief framework — a massive concession meant to prod President Trump and Senate Republicans into accepting a compromise as cases spike and the economic recovery shows signs of faltering ahead of the holiday.

And potentially building even more momentum behind the plan, at least one new Republican senator offered measured support for the idea.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that “we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”

3:30 a.m.
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U.K. coronavirus vaccine authorization prompts grumbling by countries taking slower approach

By Rick Noack, Michael Birnbaum and Ruby Mellen

BERLIN — Britain’s decision to grant emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccine for the coronavirus was met with a skeptical reaction in much of Europe on Wednesday.

Some foreign officials complained about a sense of British patriotism and accomplishment over a product by two non-British companies. European Union lawmakers cautioned against a “hasty” rollout.

Despite concerns that the U.K. emergency authorization could put pressure on regulators in the United States and Europe to speed up their own approval processes, there were no immediate signs of that on Wednesday.

The European Union’s drug regulator offered cautious criticism of the British move, saying its own process was the “most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency.”

3:05 a.m.
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Contradicting Hogan, health official says first batch of Korean virus tests were never used

By Steve Thompson

A Maryland official acknowledged publicly Wednesday, for the first time, that none of the 500,000 coronavirus tests the state purchased from South Korea in April were used to diagnose whether people had the virus.

More than 496,000 of the tests were handed back to the manufacturer as part of a deal for replacement tests, acting health secretary Dennis Schrader told the Board of Public Works. About 3,500 were used as lab workers tried to validate them.

His statement contradicted assertions by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last month after The Washington Post reported that none of the original tests had been used. Asked by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd about that specific Post finding, Hogan said: “They worked great. They were using them all over the country. We were using them.”

2:45 a.m.
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CDC says 2-week coronavirus quarantines can be cut to 10 or 7 days

By Joel Achenbach

The standard 14-day coronavirus quarantines potentially can be shortened to 10 days or even seven, according to revised guidance issued Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to boost compliance with one of the most important tools for limiting spread of the virus.

The move reflects the agency’s recognition that the two-week quarantine rule is onerous for many people and that most of the public health benefit from quarantining people exposed to the virus can be gained with a more flexible approach.

The CDC acknowledges that this new guidance involves a trade-off. The existing 14-day recommendation reflects the ability of the virus to incubate for a long period before symptoms appear. But lack of compliance — for example, among people who are reluctant to talk to contact tracers because they fear they or their friends or family members could lose a job or two weeks of income — can undermine the public health benefit from that standard.

2:23 a.m.
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Biden transition advisers emerge as top contenders to run covid-19 response

By Amy Goldstein and Toluse Olorunnipa

As President-elect Joe Biden makes fighting the raging coronavirus his most-urgent mission when he takes office next month, two figures already playing central roles in his transition are emerging as the most likely possibilities to preside over the new White House’s pandemic response.

One contender for Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, envisioned as a powerful role in setting the agenda and orchestrating the work of federal agencies, is Jeff Zients, a co-chairman of the Biden transition team who led the Obama administration’s National Economic Council. Another is Vivek H. Murthy, a co-chair of the transition’s covid-19 advisory board and a former U.S. Surgeon General.

Within Biden’s camp, the thinking appears to be evolving as to who should lead the Department of Health and Human Services, a sprawling department with moving parts crucial to bringing the pandemic under control.

2:00 a.m.
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Moderna quietly publishes plan to test its vaccine on children. But the timeline may mean kids can’t get the vaccine by the school year.

By Meryl Kornfield

Two weeks after announcing its potential coronavirus vaccine is 95 percent effective, Moderna, with significantly less fanfare, disclosed the design of a trial to test the vaccine on children 12 and up.

The company — one of several firms racing to bring a coronavirus vaccine to market — has not yet opened the pediatric trial to participants, but the plan posted Wednesday on the National Institutes of Health website indicates about 3,000 children would be enrolled across seven locations in the randomized study. Moderna follows Pfizer’s similar announcement in November of testing its vaccine on about 100 children ages 12 to 15. However, experts fear these trials may come too late or take too long to guarantee children across all age groups are vaccinated in time for the new school year.

“It is good news and seems like a solid study design,” Andrew T. Pavia, the chief of the pediatric infectious-diseases division at the University of Utah, wrote in an email to The Post after reviewing the study. “My concern looking at the details is that they are enrolling 3,000 participants but have only 7 sites and anticipate finishing in the end of June.”

Pavia suggested that if the company hopes to share data with the Food and Drug Administration, which would approve the vaccine for children, before the school year, it may open more sites for its trial.

The company declined to respond to questions about the timeline, referring The Post to the NIH website.

The trial would evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine among adolescent participants. One group would get the vaccine, while a placebo group would receive a saline injection.

The NIH record said the company was not yet enrolling participants, and a website Moderna said would have more information was still under construction as of Wednesday evening.

1:15 a.m.
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Head of EPA in quarantine after possible exposure to the coronavirus

By Reis Thebault

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is quarantining after a possible exposure to the coronavirus, he disclosed Wednesday, as the virus continues to work its way through the upper echelons of the Trump administration.

Andrew Wheeler, who leads the EPA, said in a statement that he had been informed earlier in the day that he “experienced secondary exposure from an individual who tested positive for covid-19.”

“After consulting my doctor and out of an abundance of caution, I will quarantine until I’ve gone through the proper testing protocols,” Wheeler’s statement read.

If he does test positive, Wheeler would be one of more than 20 members of President Trump’s administration and inner circle to contract the virus — including Trump himself, his son, his chief of staff and a fellow Cabinet-level official, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. The White House has been infamously cavalier when it comes to mask-wearing and other precautions, most notably at the Rose Garden ceremony celebrating Trump’s newest Supreme Court appointee.

Wheeler was scheduled to attend an event Thursday celebrating the 50th anniversary of the EPA but will now participate virtually, he said.

12:37 a.m.
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McEnany’s husband doesn’t wear mask in the White House despite reporter telling him the rules also apply to him

By Meryl Kornfield

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s husband, Sean Gilmartin, seems to be the latest person to breathe new life into the controversy swirling around the lax adherence to mask-wearing in the White House.

Gilmartin, a pitcher who is currently a free agent, stood in the briefing room Wednesday afternoon sans face covering during the length of McEnany’s approximately 25-minute briefing, according to a pool report by Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson. Face coverings are required in White House press areas to help curb transmission of the coronavirus.

When his wife left the lectern, Gilmartin was reminded by New York Times photographer Doug Mills of the mask rule, Johnson reported, to which a White House staffer with Gilmartin asked incredulously, “Kayleigh’s husband?”

Mills responded that the mask rule applies to everyone, including Gilmartin, as the staffer and Gilmartin exited. Mills told Johnson that he wasn’t aware who Gilmartin was when he told him to wear a mask.

Several staffers who walked in with McEnany at the start of Wednesday’s briefing did not wear masks. Chad Gilmartin, a White House assistant press secretary who tested positive around the same time as McEnany, was also not wearing a mask Wednesday, Politico reported. He is a cousin of Sean Gilmartin.

McEnany began her briefing talking about hypocrisy, focusing on Democrats who broke coronavirus restrictions. She shared pictures and videos of elected officials who have encouraged others to social distance and wear masks but were caught not doing so themselves, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“These images behind me make clear Democrats’ mind-set: Rules for thee but not for me,” she said.

“We all know how to protect ourselves from covid-19,” she continued, “wash your hands, socially distance, wear a mask.”

McEnany is one of several White House officials who have been maskless around reporters. She held a press gaggle without wearing a mask days before announcing she tested positive for the virus in early October.

More than 20 people in Trump’s inner circle and at the White House have tested positive, according to a New York Times tracker.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Gilmartin’s maskless appearance Wednesday in the briefing room.

12:31 a.m.
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U.S. surpasses 200,000 daily infections, 100,000 current hospitalizations for the first time

By Meryl Kornfield and Jacqueline Dupree

The United States topped two grim milestones Wednesday: It counted more than 200,000 coronavirus cases in a day for the first time, while the number of people currently battling the virus in hospitals went over the 100,000 mark. This comes as the country is heading into what is predicted to be a difficult winter in the midst of the pandemic and flu season.

In total, the country counted 200,174 confirmed cases Wednesday, including 20,759 in California, the most reported by a state since its previous record of 18,350, set on Nov. 25. Closely following, Texas reported 19,049 new infections, its highest count since the start of the pandemic. Those states were among six, including Massachusetts, Mississippi, Alabama and Vermont, that recorded new highs for reported daily infections. The national surge in infections is affecting many states: Nineteen have reported an increase in daily cases in the past week.

Following a rise in cases in the Midwest, South Dakota, Nevada, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska have the highest number of patients per capita in hospital beds.

The nation’s daily death toll was 2,798 — its highest since late April. Seven states and Puerto Rico tallied their highest death tolls in a day Wednesday.

The record-breaking numbers come as reporting was expected to slowly trickle in after Thanksgiving’s holiday break, raising concerns that the surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths will only get worse as the country approaches the two-week mark after the surge in travel prompted by the holiday.

12:19 a.m.
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CDC director says this winter will be ‘most difficult time’ in U.S. public health history

By Reis Thebault

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued perhaps his starkest warning yet about the dangerous months ahead for the United States, predicting that the covid-19 death toll could reach 450,000 by February.

“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” Robert Redfield, who leads the CDC, said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on Wednesday. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

Redfield has been sounding the alarm for months about a devastating surge of new infections during the fall and winter, predicting in April that the subsequent virus waves could be worse than the first. Now, with new coronavirus cases at record levels and reported deaths steadily increasing, Redfield’s dire prediction may be vindicated — and he says the worst is still to come.

“We’re in that range potentially now, starting to see 1,500 to 2,000 to 2,500 deaths a day from this virus,” Redfield said. “So, yeah, the mortality concerns are real, and I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans that have died from this virus.”

The United States has already reported more than 272,000 deaths, according to data tracked and analyzed by The Washington Post. And by early Wednesday evening, the country had already recorded nearly 2,700 fatalities, nearing the single-day record of 2,967 set in mid-April.

But, Redfield said, “It’s not a fait accompli. … We’re not defenseless.” He argued that social distancing and mask use are proven mitigation strategies, and he seemed to indirectly criticize President Trump for undermining their effectiveness.

“When you really want to get everybody on board, you’ve got to have clear, unified, reinforced messaging,” Redfield said, lamenting that “we were still arguing in the summer about whether masks work.”

11:37 p.m.
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Pompeo’s holiday party plans leave health expert 'flabbergasted’

By John Hudson

Following a sharp spike in coronavirus cases across the country, State Department leadership sent out a notice to employees one week ago recommending that “any non-mission critical events” be changed to “virtual events as opposed to in-person gatherings.”

That same week, U.S. event planners were told that the guidance did not apply to the upcoming functions they were working on: large indoor holiday parties hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan, on the eighth floor of the State Department involving hundreds of guests, food and drinks.

A copy of one invitation, obtained by The Washington Post, welcomes guests to a Dec. 15 event titled “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays” in the Benjamin Franklin Room, the department’s flagship reception space, which features cut-glass chandeliers and towering Corinthian columns. Invitations have already gone out to 900 people, said two U.S. officials familiar with the planning, raising concerns about a potential superspreader event.

“I’m flabbergasted,” said Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University. “An indoor event of this kind is dangerous on so many levels.”

9:38 p.m.
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Press secretary McEnany defends White House’s planned holiday parties

By Paulina Villegas

In a briefing Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the Trump administration’s coronavirus response and addressed pointed questions about the president’s leadership amid a dramatic surge in new infections.

McEnany said President Trump has “created the greatest testing system in the world,” and she praised Operation Warp Speed for delivering vaccines “in record time” — an extraordinary achievement, she said, that speaks to Trump’s leadership and willingness to tear down “bureaucratic barriers.”

“He’s been hard at work,” she added. “The work he has done speaks for itself.”

In another exchange, a journalist asked the press secretary whether the White House’s announced plans for an in-person holiday party were appropriate or responsible, considering top health officials’ recommendations that Americans forgo those kinds of celebrations to stem virus spread and hospitalizations, which have overwhelmed hospitals across the nation.

“If you can loot businesses, burn down buildings, engage in protests, you can also go to a Christmas party, you can celebrate the holiday of Christmas, and you can do it responsibly,” McEnany said, alluding to the demonstrations and unrest across the country this summer in protest of police brutality and racism.

McEnany confirmed that the White House will hold a Christmas celebration as well as a Hanukkah party and that the East Wing will have a smaller guest list.

“Masks will be available,” she said. “Social distancing is going to be encouraged.”

McEnany’s remarks came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans in a news conference to “postpone travel and stay home” in the winter holidays to keep families safe, and to consider getting tested twice, before and after, if they decide to travel.

9:30 p.m.
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New Orleans swingers event becomes ‘superspreader’ after 41 test positive

By Katie Shepherd

With no dance floor and strict, new coronavirus guidelines, attendees at the 2020 Naughty N’awlins swingers convention swayed in place at their tables and flirted behind face masks from a distance.

After being tested for coronavirus and agreeing to wear masks, about 250 people checked into a New Orleans hotel for the swingers convention on Nov. 14 to reconnect a community separated by the pandemic.

A little more than two weeks later, 41 attendees have tested positive for the virus, according to the event’s organizer, in an outbreak that led local officials to call the convention a “superspreader event.”

A spokesman for New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) said the event was a “very stark example of what can happen when you don’t obey the social distance guidelines.”