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Coronavirus mutations identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Nigeria may be provoking alarm, but infectious-disease experts are optimistic the new variants are still vulnerable to newly authorized vaccines, which could be rapidly reprogrammed to remain effective.

As of 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, more than 18.6 million coronavirus cases and 321,000 fatalities have been reported in the United States since February, according to Washington Post tracking data.

Here are some significant developments:
  • House Republicans blocked an effort by House Democrats to approve $2,000 stimulus payments for millions of Americans — a measure President Trump has demanded be added to an economic relief package before he will sign it.
  • The Trump administration and Pfizer have reached a deal for the pharmaceutical giant to provide 100 million additional coronavirus vaccine doses during the spring and summer, averting the possibility of a shortfall.
  • Although Americans were warned to avoid holiday travel, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 1.2 million people at airport checkpoints in the United States on Wednesday. That volume, officials say, marks the one-day high since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across the country in March.
  • China and Brazil joined dozens of other nations in suspending flights from Britain over a new variant of the coronavirus that health experts say is far more transmissible.
  • Mexico became the first country in Latin America to start vaccinating people against covid-19.
  • NORAD, which watches the airspace over the U.S. and Canada, says it’s tracking the movements of “Santa” for the 65th year.

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1:30 a.m.
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Conceived in a pandemic, born in a pandemic: The first quarantine babies are arriving

Katy Dobson and her family have taken to calling her 2-week-old boy, Atlas, a “coronial.” Atlas’s time in his mother’s womb coincided almost perfectly with the nine months that the United States has spent battling the coronavirus pandemic.

He was born Dec. 8 in Pensacola, Fla., 38 weeks into his mother’s pregnancy and almost 39 weeks after the surreal Wednesday in March when Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive, the NBA suspended its season because of transmission concerns, and the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

When shutdowns began in the United States back in March, almost immediately there were titters and murmurs of the baby boom that would materialize nine months later. All that free time for cohabitating couples to stay home alone together, surely, would result in overflowing maternity wards come December, the speculation went. At the same time, others wondered whether worries about the devastating effects of the pandemic would cause some couples to put their plans to conceive on hold, leading to a “baby bust” in December and January.

1:00 a.m.
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Museum of the Bible considers suing D.C. mayor over virus shutdown, citing religious freedom claims

Officials at the Museum of the Bible said Wednesday they are considering suing D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) over the city’s latest round of coronavirus restrictions, saying they prevent the museum’s employees from exercising their religious freedom and its visitors from possibly having a religious experience.

The plan to pursue legal action comes after an order by Bowser on Dec. 18 said museums and indoor dining in the District must close from Dec. 23 to Jan. 15, 2021, which includes the season of Advent and Christmas, a normally busy time for the museum. In a letter to Bowser, museum officials argue that the city is violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by not allowing the museum to exercise religion.

12:40 a.m.
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NFL’s Detroit Lions will play without their coach because of coronavirus

Darrell Bevell, the interim head coach of the Detroit Lions, will miss Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Detroit because of coronavirus-related issues.

He becomes the first NFL head coach to miss a game this season because of the league’s coronavirus protocols. Bevell was classified as a high-risk close contact and, as the protocols mandate, placed on a five-day quarantine, according to two people familiar with the situation.

The Lions announced that wide receivers coach Robert Prince will serve as the head coach for Saturday’s game. He becomes, in effect, the interim interim head coach, since Bevell had already replaced the fired Matt Patricia. Bevell, formerly offensive coordinator, said that defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and all the team’s defensive position coaches are ineligible to coach Saturday under the protocols.

12:20 a.m.
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An ICU nurse survived an eight-month fight with covid-19 that nearly killed her multiple times: ‘Don’t lose hope’

ICU nurse Merlin Pambuan left St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., on Dec. 21 after an eight-month battle with the novel coronavirus. (Reuters)

When Merlin Pambuan awoke in September after four months hooked up to a breathing machine that helped keep her alive through a battle with covid-19, the intensive care unit nurse was comforted knowing her life was in the hands of her colleagues, treated at the same hospital she had worked at for 40 years.

But she still could not feel her extremities. Her deep sedation had started in May, shortly after she had contracted the virus while treating covid-19 patients at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif. As first reported by Reuters, the nurse could not remember anything about a period in which she had come close to dying multiple times, according to her doctor.

This week, doctors and nurses who have been pushed to their limits in a part of Southern California ravaged by the pandemic received some rare good news: Pambuan had recovered from covid and was leaving the hospital after eight months.

12:00 a.m.
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From a laundromat owner to a wine buyer, these women work essential jobs that are often overlooked

The pandemic has marked a complete shift in how we work. Millions have lost their jobs. Some companies have moved completely online. Other workers have been carrying out essential jobs since March — and many of them have not had the “luxury” of staying home.

The plights of some of these workers have been well-documented: Health-care workers, including doctors, nurses, assistants, environmental services and security personnel, for example, have been working on the front lines to combat covid-19 directly. The majority of these health-care providers are women.

At the end of a year that has been unlike any other, The Lily caught up with some essential workers in lesser-known industries about what it’s been like to work through this time.

11:40 p.m.
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Covid-19 patient killed by hospital roommate who hit him with an oxygen tank for praying, California police say

About a week before Christmas, an 82-year-old Hispanic man sickened with the coronavirus leaned on his Catholic faith and began to pray in his Southern California hospital room.

For reasons that remain unclear to authorities, this act angered his 37-year-old roommate, Jesse Martinez, who was also being treated for covid-19 at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, Calif. Moments later on the morning of Dec. 17, Martinez allegedly grabbed an oxygen tank and bludgeoned the elderly man, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The man died the next day, not from a virus that’s killed more than 325,000 Americans but from a fellow covid patient in his own hospital room.

11:22 p.m.
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New coronavirus variant found in Nigeria

A new variant of the novel coronavirus has been found in Nigeria, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Reuters reported.

“It’s a separate lineage from the U.K. and the South African lineages,” Nkengasong said Thursday during an online news conference from Addis Ababa, warning that Nigeria doesn’t perform genomic surveillance at the same level as the United Kingdom, the outlet reported.

The United Kingdom and South Africa recently reported variants of the virus that have been linked to an alarming spread and which some researchers have said is more transmissible. Experts told The Washington Post that the approved vaccines will work against the variants.

New variants found in Nigeria and South Africa caused the Africa CDC to hold an emergency meeting amid rising cases in both nations, Reuters reported.

There’s no proof that the new variant found in Nigeria is related to the rise in cases in the country, Nkengasong told reporters, according to Reuters.

11:00 p.m.
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As Trump administration claims credit for vaccine development, supporters are undermining it

President Trump and his allies have spent years stoking disinformation and doubt in official accounts about the election, the coronavirus, and other topics. Now those efforts are making it harder to rally support around his administration’s vaccine push.

Even as Vice President Pence took the vaccine on TV on Friday and the White House called the efforts to speedily produce a vaccine “historic,” Trump supporters have become forceful proponents of conspiracies about the vaccine on Twitter and Fox. Some of Trump’s most high-profile allies, including his former attorney Sidney Powell, for example, have pushed misleading claims that the government will force people to receive a vaccination or use the vaccine to conduct surveillance of the population.

Candace Owens, a prominent Trump ally, tweeted on Dec. 9 that “the same people that are out here yelling ‘my body my choice’ will be telling you that the government has a right to force vaccinate you for a virus that has a 99% survival rate.” Twitter spokeswoman Lauren Alexander said the tweets did not violate the company’s misinformation rules, which specifically prohibit false statements saying the vaccine could be used to harm or control populations.

10:30 p.m.
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Washington hospital at forefront of coronavirus fight gets first vaccines

The Washington hospital at the forefront of fighting the novel coronavirus outbreak early in the pandemic received its first round of vaccines this week, The Seattle Times reported.

EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, where medical staff identified the first known outbreak in the United States in a local nursing home, began administering injections against the virus from a supply of 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, the newspaper reported.

Francis Riedo, medical director of infectious disease at EvergreenHealth, told the outlet that the hospital leaders intend to dole out the rest of its vaccines over the next 10 days with about 20 percent of their stock reserved for first responders.

The hospital was supposed to receive the Pfizer vaccine last week, but confusion over how much of the vaccine would be allotted to the state of Washington fumbled that roll out.

Riedo told The Seattle Times that the Pfizer vaccine mix up was difficult and added to uncertainty about when the hospital would receive doses.

“It seemed like no one had information,” he told the paper.

Kirkland, Wash. was the epicenter of the virus after it claimed the lives of nursing home residents, leaving EvergreenHealth Medical Center to tackle the first rush of covid patients in the United States.

Washington has reported more than 230,000 coronavirus infections and 3,100 deaths since the start of the year, according to Washington Post data.

10:14 p.m.
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Vaccines likely to work against new variants in U.K. and South Africa, experts say

Coronavirus mutations identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa may be provoking alarm, but infectious-disease experts are optimistic the new variants are still vulnerable to the powerful hammer of newly authorized vaccines. Even if the virus were to mutate further, the experts say, the vaccines could be rapidly reprogrammed to remain effective against new variants.

Such a tweaking of the vaccines could be done “in minutes,” said Drew Weissman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and one of the inventors of the messenger RNA technology that powers both vaccines.

“It’s very easy,” Weissman added.

This reassurance comes at a jittery moment, when the first two approved vaccines are offering hope that the beginning of the end of this global health emergency is at hand, even as the virus offers disquieting reminders that it is not static.

9:41 p.m.
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Man charged with hitting bar employee with glass after being asked to wear a mask, Houston police say

An employee at the Grand Prize Bar in Houston was struck in the head with a glass by a customer who was repeatedly asked to wear a mask as he walked around the bar, authorities said.

Around 9:50 p.m. local time, an employee at the bar repeatedly asked Patrick Kelly, 32, to put on a face mask while walking inside the bar, according to Houston police. Customers can take masks off while seated but have to put masks on while walking around, said police spokesman John Cannon.

When Kelly returned from a trip to the men’s room, he was confronted again about wearing a mask. That’s when he struck the employee on the head with an empty glass, Cannon said, adding that the glass did not shatter.

Police were called to the scene, but Kelly had left the bar, Cannon said. Police announced Thursday that he had been arrested and charged in the assault.

Grand Prize Bar posted an image on its Instagram page of a bloodied bandage wrapped around the employee’s head, calling the incident part of the “realities of running a business during COVID.”

“The only thing our employees did was ask a human to put on a mask,” the post reads. “This human proceeded to smash a glass on our employees head for asking him to wear mask.”

In a separate Instagram post, the venue said the employee is “doing as well as he can but did get 10 stitches in his head.”

In a tweet before the arrest, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) referred to the incident and urged: “Enough with this foolishness.” Turner wrote, “Put on your mask or stay home.”

The incident is the latest example of mask-related disputes since the beginning of the pandemic. In October, two men fired rounds at the outside of a gentleman’s club in California after they were kicked out for not following the state’s coronavirus restrictions, leaving three people hospitalized.

8:33 p.m.
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More than 1 million passengers traveled through U.S. airports Wednesday, TSA reports

Despite federal and health officials’ guidance for Americans to stay home for the holidays, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 1.2 million people at airport checkpoints in the United States on Wednesday, the most travelers screened in one day since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the country in March.

Wednesday’s number, 1,191,123 passengers, is a 38.5 percent dip from checkpoint volume on the same day a year ago, when TSA reported screening 1,937,235 people.

The holiday rush comes with concerns that travelers could transmit the virus, causing a surge in infections. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein wrote in a tweet that Wednesday’s number was the highest checkpoint volume since March 16.

“If you choose to travel this holiday, please wear a mask,” Farbstein said.

Eleven TSA employees and a screening contractor have died of complications from the coronavirus, according to the agency. Nearly 750 TSA employees are currently infected, bringing the total reported cases since March among workers to 4,576.

7:56 p.m.
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Delta and United will require travelers from U.K. to show proof of a negative coronavirus test

United and Delta Air Lines will require passengers traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States to present proof of a negative coronavirus test, the airlines announced on Thursday. Delta will begin enforcing the rule Wednesday, and United will begin the requirement Monday.

“In [an] effort to strengthen existing travel protocols with our partners at United, beginning Monday, December 28, all United customers with flights originating in the U.K. will be required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of departure for incoming flights to Newark Liberty International Airport,” United said in a statement.

Delta will also require the test result be less than 72 hours old. Passengers flying from the U.K. to the United States, or transiting through, will be required to show the test before boarding, a Delta spokesperson wrote in an email.

On its website, Delta states that passengers who are not traveling from the U.K. and only transiting through the U.K. on a layover will be exempt.

The changes come after British officials imposed lockdowns and banned holiday gatherings earlier this week because of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus. Canada and some nations in Europe have moved to ban travel from England altogether.

7:44 p.m.
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Iran says it obtained funds for coronavirus vaccines in the face of U.S. sanctions

Iran announced Thursday that it had obtained funds to buy coronavirus vaccines in the face of U.S. sanctions, which experts warned could still inhibit vaccine distribution in the Middle East’s worst-affected country.

Abdolnaser Hemmati, the head of the Central Bank of Iran, said in an Instagram post that the country had received a pledge of $244 million toward the vaccine campaign from a bank he did not identify.

He added that in addition to the steps taken to transfer currency for purchasing the vaccine, the government is following up on the need to ensure that money is available for buying equipment for domestic vaccine production.

Iran, a member of Covax, the World Health Organization-designed initiative to distribute vaccines more equitably, previously said that the Trump administration’s sanctions on its economy were inhibiting its ability to contribute to the effort.

Covax told The Post in early December that Iran had received an exemption from the U.S. government for vaccine-related funds, but analysts warned that the sanctions could still pose problems for Iran’s vaccine distribution.

Even with legal exemptions, a “culture of over-compliance and a culture of fear” means that “foreign banks don’t know how to or don’t want to handle Iranian money, even for permissible trade,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder and publisher of Bourse & Bazaar, a media company supporting business diplomacy between Europe and Iran.

Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, confirming more than 1.1 million cases and 54,000 deaths.