New York on Monday reported its first case of a U.K. variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious and has been reported in more than 30 countries. The news came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a third national lockdown for England amid a surging outbreak driven by the variant.
Here are some significant developments:
Several health experts have suggested delaying the second dose of vaccines to inoculate more people sooner.
Current coronavirus hospitalizations in the United States hit a new record Monday, jumping to more than 2,700 patients in one day to surpass 128,000.
The U.S. vaccine rollout is off to a rough start, with crashing reservation websites and elderly people camping out overnight to wait in line.
While cruising in the United States is still on hold, ships returned to the Mediterranean Sea in August. The limited restart came with new safety protocols, such as mandatory testing for crew and passengers, reduced capacity and masking in most public spaces. But cruise lines were quickly forced to cut back again in October as cases rose in Europe and eventually paused altogether in December.
Photographer Davide Bertuccio was aboard the MSC Grandiosa during the fall and captured the surreal scene as cruise passengers danced, swam and lounged in the sun.
The NCAA announced Monday that the entire 2021 men’s basketball tournament will be held in the Indianapolis area amid the coronavirus pandemic, an expected development after the organization had announced in November that the event would be held in one location to cut down on travel and allow teams to play in a bubblelike environment.
“This is a historic moment for NCAA members and the state of Indiana,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We have worked tirelessly to reimagine a tournament structure that maintains our unique championship opportunity for college athletes. The reality of today’s announcement was possible thanks to the tremendous leadership of our membership, local authorities and staff.”
Asked Monday if undocumented workers at meatpacking plants — known hot spots for coronavirus infections — would be included in vaccinations, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) sidestepped.
“Illegal immigrants are not permitted to work in those facilities, so I don’t think that will be a problem,” Ricketts said at a news conference.
Later in the day, with confusion mounting over undocumented immigrants’ place in a mass vaccination campaign, a spokesman for the governor expanded on Twitter: “while the federal government is expected to eventually make enough vaccine available for everyone in the country, Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants.”
Undocumented members of Nebraska’s heavily immigrant meatpacking labor force “will not be receiving the vaccine in that context,” spokesman Taylor Gage wrote.
Nebraska’s 36-page coronavirus vaccination plan makes no mention of citizenship. Now some worry that the governor has injected politics into the already fraught question of who should be first in line, undermining urgent public health efforts crafted to prioritize front-line workers and the elderly.
Many advocates for the undocumented were already concerned that people might avoid vaccines for fear of deportation, even as the virus takes a heavy toll on their communities.
“I think that the governor’s cryptic, confusing, perhaps hateful statement today will endanger all of our shared public health goals,” Danielle Conrad, the executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said in an interview. On Monday night, she was still uncertain about whether the statements could translate into actual policy, and the governor’s office did not respond to questions from The Washington Post.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the governor reach for a quick political pander instead of even following the plan from his own Department of Health and Human Services,” Conrad said.
She noted that Nebraska’s written vaccination plan makes a call to address “myths, cultural/historic mistrust, and/or product hesitancy,” saying that messaging should be “culturally diverse and available in multiple languages.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said immigration status should not keep someone from getting vaccinated and tried to assure people that medical information will not be used against them.
“No one should be denied a shot in the arm due to their documentation status,” he said recently on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
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House Democrats vow new effort on economic aid as 117th Congress begins
House Democrats vowed Monday to renew efforts on economic assistance — including state and local aid and potentially $2,000 checks to individuals — in the 117th Congress that is now getting underway.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said that the $2,000 checks amount to “unfinished business that should be continued as part of our effort to provide additional relief to the American people.”
Owais Durrani does not have a job, a predicament that would have been almost unthinkable for a doctor with his skills a year ago. At University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he is training in emergency medicine, Durrani has treated hundreds of covid-19 patients. He has dosed them with steroids, given them oxygen and carefully turned them onto their bellies to relieve respiratory distress.
“We have been seeing really, really sick people,” he said. He had firsthand experience with the novel coronavirus, too — he caught it in March and recovered after a few feverish days.
Despite all that, the 29-year-old doctor cannot find a company in his hometown of Houston ready to hire him when he graduates next year. Durrani has searched since the summer, “getting on calls with recruiters and hospitals and whatnot,” he said. “And I haven’t locked anything down.”
Like him, many in this class of emergency medicine physicians — young doctors, called residents, who are training in this specialty — are struggling to find full-time employment, even while they work on the front lines treating covid-19 patients.
A staff member dressed as a smiling, red-nosed Christmas tree strolled through the emergency department at a San Jose hospital on Christmas Day, hoping to provide holiday cheer.
Days later, a coronavirus outbreak swept through the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, eventually infecting 43 employees and killing one.
Hospital officials now say the “air-powered” Christmas costume is likely to blame for the 44 positive tests, all recorded between Dec. 27 and Friday. Experts said the fan inside the costume could have blown coronavirus-laden droplets throughout the department.
Bartender Josh Vaughn served the last drink at a Hilton hotel bar in Savannah on March 14. He was furloughed the next day. The company promptly filed paperwork for him to receive unemployment aid, yet nine months later, he’s still waiting for the money.
Vaughn is among more than 1.2 million Americans stuck waiting months for desperately needed aid as states struggle to catch up with backlogs of unemployment claims stretching back to March, a Post analysis showed.
In April, Vaughn received a letter saying he qualified for $320 a week, but then his file was put on hold until he proved his identity. The fraud check process took nearly six months to clear up. But Vaughn, who is now decorating cakes and stocking shelves at a grocery store, a job that pays about half what he made as a bartender, was still waiting in December for his unemployment benefits.
New York reported its first case of a new variant of the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday.
The Wadsworth lab in Albany confirmed the variant, known as B.1.1.7, in a man from Saratoga County, north of the capital, who had not traveled, Cuomo (D) said on Twitter.
Cuomo urged people who visited N. Fox Jewelers, a jewelry store where the man worked, from Dec. 18 to 24 to get tested, according to the New York Times.
The newly found cases of the coronavirus variant, first detected in the United Kingdom and believed to be more transmissive, have experts and government officials worried that it will further strain hospitals across the country that are already struggling to keep up with a deluge of cases after the holiday season.
“In 2021, we’re going to be focusing on controlling and defeating covid, and to do that we have two different goals we’re working on simultaneously — controlling the spread, and then putting a harpoon in the beast and actually defeating the virus thanks to the vaccine,” Cuomo said during a news briefing Monday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) of California said Monday that four people in San Diego have tested positive for the new strain of the virus and that one of them was hospitalized. In San Bernardino, two more cases had been detected, bringing the total of such cases in the state to six, which local health officials had previously reported.
The San Bernardino County Department of Public Health said Friday that the virus variant was found in two members of the same household. One of them had contact with a person who had traveled to Britain on Dec. 11.
Newsom said he anticipated that more people will be identified with the new variant after genomics testing results come back in the coming days. He added that contact tracing and disease investigation was underway and that it would help provide more details about the people who had tested positive for the new strain.
The governor also underlined that while the strain is believed to be spread more easily, there is no evidence that it causes a more severe cases of covid-19.
California logged 29,633 cases Monday, a slight increase from the previous day, and reported 97 deaths, with a seven-day average of 336 deaths.
“This is a deadly disease. This is a deadly pandemic,” Newsom said. “It remains more deadly today than at any point in the history of the pandemic.”
The first case of the new variant found in the United States was confirmed last week in Colorado, with a case also confirmed in Florida.
A Wisconsin pharmacist tried to spoil more than 500 doses of a coronavirus vaccine because he believed they were unsafe, a prosecutor said Monday, adding that was not clear whether they had actually been destroyed.
The allegations of tampering at a Milwaukee-area hospital sparked a furor last week as the United States has struggled to distribute shots to millions of Americans — falling far behind government goals — and has battled misinformation about vaccine safety.
Officials at Aurora Health Care said the employee removed vials of Moderna’s vaccine from refrigeration, seeking to sabotage limited supplies. Fifty-seven people got doses of the vaccine removed from refrigeration, health-care officials said. “While these doses may be rendered less effective or ineffective, Moderna has assured us that there is no evidence that the lack of refrigeration poses any harm to these individuals,” Aurora Health Care said in a statement.
Police in Grafton, Wis., arrested the pharmacist, Steven Brandenburg, on recommended charges of recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property.
But Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said in court Monday that the charges are in limbo, with more testing needed to determine the effect on those vaccine doses. If the vaccines are still viable, he said in video footage of the court hearing posted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there can be no charges of endangering safety — though Brandenburg could still face misdemeanor charges of attempted criminal damage to property.
Brandenburg’s attorney declined Monday to comment Monday. Aurora Health Care has dismissed Brandenburg.
The pharmacist was released from jail on bond and ordered not to work in health care while his case is pending.
Brandenburg gave a “full confession” to police, Gerol said. The pharmacist said he removed vials from refrigeration on two occasions because he distrusted the mRNA technology behind the vaccines, according to Gerol.
A review by the Food and Drug Administration found that Moderna’s vaccine was “highly effective” in a trial and did not pose serious safety issues.
Rep. Kay Granger is in self-quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus, a spokeswoman for the Texas Republican confirmed Monday, a day after lawmakers convened in Washington for the 117th Congress to be sworn in.
The 77-year-old congresswoman was tested in December after arriving in D.C. and later received the first dose of a vaccine, along with other members of Congress, as part of a government continuity plan, spokeswoman Sarah Flaim said. Granger immediately self-quarantined after being notified of her positive result, Flaim said.
It takes at least 10 days for patients to build up an immune response after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It is unclear whether Granger contracted the virus before she was vaccinated or after, but her office suggested the shot may have thwarted symptoms.
“Having received the vaccine in December, she is asymptomatic and feeling great,” Flaim said in a statement, adding that Granger would remain under the care of her doctor.
2021’s first day of trading got off to a rocky start Monday, as renewed lockdowns in Europe threatened to throw a wrench into the economic recovery.
England and Scotland introduced new lockdowns Monday as the United Kingdom tries to contain a fast-spreading coronavirus variant. Germany also extended its lockdown through the end of January.
After closing at record highs to end 2020, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 index brushed further highs after opening bell Monday, before turning sharply negative. The Dow lost nearly 375 points, or 1.25 percent, and fell to 30,223, dragged down by Boeing and Coca-Cola, which shed 5 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.
The S&P 500 sank 1.48 percent to 3,700, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 1.47 percent to 12,698.
Oil prices were pummeled as the wave of lockdowns sparked fears that travel would again grind to a halt after rebounding during the holidays. Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, slid 0.86 percent to trade at $50.65 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. oil benchmark, fell 2.5 percent to $47.27.
“It wasn’t an easy year for the economy in 2020 with the steepest downturn since the Great Depression,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, said in commentary emailed to The Washington Post. “And the economy won’t be going anywhere in 2021 if we can’t get the virus under control.”
Despite the fierce volatility and economic carnage unleashed by the pandemic, 2020 was a monster year for equities: the tech-heavy Nasdaq, home to many heroes of the remote-everything landscape, closed up more than 43 percent for the year, its biggest annual gain in over a decade. The S&P 500 ended 2020 up 16 percent, and the Dow gained more than 7 percent.
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered a third national lockdown for England amid a surging coronavirus outbreak driven by a U.K. variant that appears to be more contagious and may have greater implications for children.
In a televised address to the nation on Monday evening, Johnson said the new variant was 50 percent to 70 percent more transmissible, spreading at a rate he called “frustrating and alarming.”
“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out,” he said. “In England, we must, therefore, go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.”
Holy Cross Health, one of the largest hospital systems in Maryland, canceled thousands of coronavirus vaccine appointments after a sign-up email intended for health-care workers made its way into the inboxes of people ineligible for the shot.
The internal email sent last week reminded health-care workers to sign up for an upcoming clinic and contained a link to Maryland’s vaccine clinic registration system. But some of those workers appeared to have forwarded those emails to friends and family, leading to more than 2,000 ineligible people signing up for slots.
The health system is working with the state to cancel those clinics and appointments. Leaders are still encouraging health-care workers to get vaccinated and are asking that everyone else be patient.
“We understand and are grateful for the eagerness of the community to be vaccinated,” Kristin Feliciano, the chief strategy officer at Holy Cross Health, wrote in a statement on Saturday. “We are working with county and state officials to support that vaccination when the time comes.”
Just a handful of ineligible people visited Holy Cross Hospital on Monday in hopes of getting vaccinated, Feliciano said in an email. They were disappointed that they could not get a vaccine, but eventually understood they signed up for a clinic that was not meant for them.
Maryland hospitals and health systems are currently vaccinating their staff, while states and localities have partnered with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate nursing home residents and staff.