After weeks of surging infections and rising levels of virus hospitalizations, the United States recorded more than 3,000 covid-19 deaths in a single day, a pandemic record, according to a Washington Post analysis.
The harrowing milestone comes as two vaccine candidates appear to be on the verge of clearing the country’s final regulatory hurdles. Yet the new death record, as well as a new high of more than 106,000 covid-19 patients in hospitals, are grim reminders of the pandemic’s devastating toll.
Here are some significant developments:
Canada granted interim authorization to a vaccine made by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech.
BERLIN — German officials have placed one of the country’s most influential groups opposed to coronavirus restrictions under surveillance, citing its growing radicalization and ties to the far-right.
The Querdenken 711 group is considered one of the early driving forces behind the country’s nationwide demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions, which drew tens of thousands this year and have in recent months been accompanied by a growing violent undercurrent.
Tensions escalated in mid-November when thousands of protesters clashed with police in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Wednesday’s move is effectively a public warning to sympathizers and leaders of the group — which officials described as the “epicenter” of Germany’s coronavirus protests — but it falls short of banning the movement.
More than 9,000 nursing homes have been able to show progress in controlling the novel coronavirus infection, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and will share $523 million in incentive payments as a reward, starting Wednesday.
The emergency spending plan marks a departure for Medicare and Medicaid, which pay for the majority of nursing home residents, in tying financial incentives to infection control measures for the first time.
Over the years, the nursing home business has been shaped by extra fees for services performed – such as therapy, dialysis or care for diabetes – but with none for defending against infectious disease. Nursing home operators emphasized those services, often gaming the system to maximize income, while typically squeezing expenses devoted to standard nursing care. A Washington Post analysis last month found that this practice had left nursing homes acutely vulnerable to covid-19.
BERLIN — Hungary and Poland's decision to block $2.2 trillion in European Union funds — including emergency pandemic financial aid — has deepened an existential crisis in the 27-member block over the fundamental liberal values it is supposed to represent.
As leader of the E.U.'s rotating presidency, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been under pressure to find a solution that will persuade the populist leaders of the two countries to drop their vetoes and unlock the funding in time for an E.U. summit on Thursday.
The contention for Poland and Hungary is a clause that links the money to upholding the “rule of law” — judicial and political norms that underpin democracies — at a time when Brussels is censuring both for letting it slide.
As the sprint to manufacture, distribute and approve a coronavirus vaccine dominates the national conversation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data on Wednesday about the perennial push to inoculate Americans against a different virus: influenza.
The new CDC dashboard charts trends in flu vaccination, and preliminary data show that 188 million doses of the vaccine had been distributed in the United States as of Nov. 28, the most ever distributed in a single influenza season.
Yet even with the record-breaking numbers, many Americans have not yet been vaccinated. One survey found that as of early November, just half of all adults had received the flu vaccine — a slight improvement over last year, but still well short of what public health experts would like.
That poll, from NORC at the University of Chicago, also found that 35 percent of respondents said the coronavirus pandemic made them more likely to get a flu vaccine this year, while 11 percent said it made them less likely.
Meanwhile, among children, the data show a widening racial disparity in who is getting vaccinated. Last flu season at this time, about 49 percent of White children had received the vaccine, compared to 44 percent of Black children. But this year, the White-Black child vaccination gap has grown to 18 percent, with 51 percent of White children inoculated compared to 33 percent of Black children.
Even though flu activity is low now, it could increase in coming weeks, and experts say it’s vital — now more than ever — for as many people as possible to get the vaccine as it can help relieve the pressure on hospital systems currently overrun with covid-19 patients.
“In the context of the ongoing pandemic,” the CDC dashboard says, “flu vaccination is considered more important than ever to help ensure that influenza illnesses and hospitalizations do not further tax an already overburdened health care system.”
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Funeral homes adapted to the pandemic. The changes made grieving harder.
When retired Rear Adm. Paul H. Engel died of covid-related causes in May, his family hoped that the pandemic would be under control by the time his military funeral could take place in Arlington National Cemetery.
Instead, with the potentially lethal disease surging again, Engel’s family had to contend with last-minute directives by Virginia’s governor that reduced the size of public gatherings and resign themselves to a scaled-down ceremony that, though still moving, seemed insufficient for the officer and man they loved.
“You feel you almost got a little shortchanged — for the career that he had and the service he had for his country,” said his son Michael Engel, 60, of Park City, Utah.
Families in mourning are still struggling to adjust to the pandemic’s impact on an experience that is deeply wrenching under the best of circumstances. Funeral directors, bracing for a second wave of covid-19 deaths, said they are better prepared than they were in the early days of the pandemic but just as unsettled by the disease’s effect on the way people mourn.
The number of known coronavirus cases in the greater Washington region climbed past 500,000 on Tuesday, a milestone that is forcing leaders to consider tightening restrictions on a population already weary from the pandemic’s emotional and economic toll.
Officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia say they are considering stricter limits on businesses and public interactions as the weather turns colder and holidays lure residents to gatherings.
But unlike the blanket restrictions of the spring, which were partially coordinated across both states and D.C., the limits now being weighed would be aimed at particular behaviors and might vary among jurisdictions.
The pandemic has posed challenges for health officials simply by dragging on so long. Public resolve has grown strained, the federal government has not renewed supports for a shattered economy, and the promise of a vaccine has ignited hope that the crisis is winding down, even as it gets worse.
The State Department hosted roughly 200 guests Tuesday night at the presidential guesthouse despite the concerns of public health experts and a new positive coronavirus case on the premises since last week, according to two U.S. officials.
The party included a tour of the White House’s holiday decor, followed by a self-guided tour across the street at Blair House, where foreign diplomats, their families, U.S. staffers, and friends and acquaintances of the State Department’s chief of protocol convened. About 200 guests attended, among them the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Egypt, South Korea and Guatemala, officials said.
A State Department spokesman said the “Holiday Cheer” reception that typically follows the tour was canceled this year because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus, but two bars were set up in the guesthouse as the face-shield-wearing catering staff poured drinks into holiday-themed paper cups. Guests unmasked to consume the beverages, congregating and creating occasional choke points, the two officials told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Colleges and universities that taught students in person this fall found no evidence that the novel coronavirus spread in any significant way in classrooms, laboratories and lecture halls, according to numerous school leaders, easing what had been one of their greatest fears during a deadly pandemic.
A far larger public health problem for higher education, these leaders and other experts say, arose in the off-campus student housing and social scene. Trouble emerged wherever students mingled without protective distance and masks, and faced less peer pressure to curb unsafe behavior.
“What’s utterly clear is that we have no evidence of transmission inside the classroom,” said Daniel Diermeier, chancellor of Vanderbilt University, which invited all students to its Nashville campus and provided a large share of classes face to face. He said dormitories at the 13,000-student school also weathered the challenge.
The pandemic has made Santa Claus a public health hazard. Against the explicit advice of the health officials, he visits homes and malls that put him in contact with many people.
That long beard probably renders any mask porous and ineffective. His workshop is full of elves making toys in close quarters. Though spry, he is elderly, putting him at personal risk of developing a severe case (8 out of 10 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have been adults ages 65 and older). His body mass index has been described as “a bowl full of jelly” (researchers have found an association between a BMI over 40 and higher covid-19 death rates, particularly among men).
“Santa’s safe,” Mitch Allen has been telling families. Allen, a Santa Claus performer and owner of HireSanta.com, a Santa staffing agency, explains that St. Nick has been “quarantining at the North Pole.”
Okay. But with coronavirus cases and deaths persisting at jaw-dropping levels, children who want to convey their Christmas wishes directly (who can rely on the mail these days, anyway?), but don’t want to kill Santa or be infected by him, will have to do so through a plexiglass divider, or an inflatable plastic bubble, or a computer screen.
Five pollsters that have recently tracked how Americans feel about a coronavirus vaccine have found a mixed willingness to receive one, with a range of 45 to 61 percent of the public saying they will or are likely to get the injections.
The seven surveys, conducted by five firms since Nov. 1, illustrate the possible challenges that may await public health officials as they seek to inoculate Americans against a virus that has sickened more than 15 million and killed nearly 290,000.
Pfizer and Moderna, the companies behind the two vaccine front-runners, have said their drugs are safe and effective. But many of those who are unwilling or unsure about coronavirus vaccination say they are not very confident in the safety of the development and approval process or in the federal government’s ability to oversee it, the polls found.
In a Quinnipiac University poll published Wednesday, 6 in 10 registered voters said they’re willing to get a vaccine “if it is approved by government health officials.” But 37 percent said they would take the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them, while 41 percent said they would “wait a few months.”
“When it comes time to roll up the sleeve, will Americans put their trust in the vaccine? The answer is yes, but as far as timing, there will be no rush to be first in line,” Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac polling analyst, said in a statement.
But there are key differences among the surveys that tell a more complicated story.
Another poll released Wednesday, from AP-NORC, found that just under half — 47 percent — currently plan to get the vaccine when it becomes available. An additional 26 percent said they don’t plan on vaccinating, while 27 percent are unsure. That last category is crucial.
The AP-NORC results contrast with three of the other recent surveys, including those by Pew Research Center and Gallup, which show a clear majority of the public is inclined to get the vaccine. But the AP-NORC poll offered a response option others did not: “not sure,” which more than a quarter of respondents chose.
While the AP-NORC survey found a lower percentage of people who said they would get a vaccine, it also found a lower percentage of people who said they wouldn’t get one: 26 percent.
The Quinnipiac survey found 33 percent of people were not willing. An Axios-Ipsos poll also released this week found 47 percent of people were not likely to get the vaccine, and a Pew Research Center survey released last week found that 39 percent said they would not get it.
Both Pew and Gallup polls show vaccine interest has rebounded after a significant drop in September, but it is unclear how Americans’ attitudes toward the vaccines will change as time passes, final regulatory hurdles are cleared and they are actually presented with the opportunity to be inoculated.
Military health personnel, senior officials will be first in line to get Defense Department’s initial vaccine doses
The Defense Department expects to administer nearly 44,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine within 48 hours of approval by scientists advising the U.S. government, directing the initial doses to military health-care workers and a small set of top defense leaders.
Officials on Wednesday unveiled plans for the pilot phase of distribution of the vaccine from Pfizer, which will take place at 16 military sites in the United States and overseas, based on an allotment from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eventually, the Pentagon plans to offer a vaccine to all 11 million individuals designated as part of the Defense Department community, including troops, their families, retirees, civilian employees and some contractors.
A federal judge has denied a lawsuit from two non-death-row prisoners who had sought to delay a pair of executions scheduled this week after the revelation that several members of the execution team who would be reentering the facility had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Neither prisoner who filed the lawsuit is housed in the death-row unit, but they argued they are at increased risk of contracting the virus because the government is holding a mass gathering at the facility: For federal executions, as many as 125 people, including out-of-state federal prison staffers, members of the media, families of the condemned and witnesses from the public come together indoors.
The prisoners argued that cases within the federal correctional institution in Terre Haute, Ind., increased after executions that were carried out in August and September. After Orlando Hall was put to death on Nov. 19, at least six federal Bureau of Prison staffers working the execution, along with Hall’s spiritual adviser, tested positive.
News that potentially still-infected staffers would be inside the facility again for a pair of executions scheduled for Thursday and Friday came to light only after the federal government disclosed it in a footnote from a court document filed Saturday.
While U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s decision issued Tuesday was not in the plaintiffs’ favor, she made the effort to note the court did not necessarily disregard their concerns: “The Court makes no finding that the conduct of the executions will not create a substantial additional risk to the health of the other participants in the execution,” she wrote.
The federal government has intensified its push to execute prisoners in the waning days of President Trump’s term, despite criticisms that executions create an unnecessary health and safety risk amid the pandemic. President-elect Joe Biden has said he would not continue federal executions once in office and supports ending the death penalty.
GOP lawyer appointed by Florida governor resigns in protest over raid on ousted data scientist’s home
A Republican lawyer resigned Tuesday from a Florida judicial panel in objection to police raiding the home of a data scientist. That scientist was previously ousted from the state health department in what she has characterized as retribution for objecting to unethical requests during the pandemic.
Ron Filipkowski, who served on a nominating commission for the state’s 12th Circuit, wrote in a pointed resignation letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s general counsel that he considered the search warrant executed on Rebekah Jones’s home “unconscionable.” He also said it was indicative of the state’s “reckless and irresponsible” handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It just seems like it’s not really about any kind of criminal investigation,” Filipkowski told The Washington Post. “It’s about intimidation of her and sending a message to people currently working in state government that ‘This could be you.’ ”
Hackers accessed documents related to Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, Germany’s BioNTech reported in a news release.
The documents were stolen from a server belonging to the European Medicines Agency, which held regulatory documents about the vaccine. BioNTech and Pfizer’s systems were not breached in connection with the incident, according to the news release.
The EMA confirmed that it was the subject of a cyberattack but did not provide details. The agency said it is investigating the attack and is working with law enforcement.
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have warned that Russian and Chinese hackers are targeting companies and research institutions working on a coronavirus vaccine. Both countries deny the allegations.