The United States on Friday surpassed 300,000 daily coronavirus cases, the second alarming record this week. The number, which roughly equates to the population of St. Louis, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati, comes about two months after the country reported 100,000 coronavirus cases a day for the first time, and one day after more than 4,000 people died from the virus, also a record.
The United States has reported 21.8 million infections and 367,458 deaths.
Scores of essential products for consumers and health-care workers were sold at inflated prices on Amazon during the pandemic, a watchdog report published found.
Moderna’s CEO said that the company’s vaccine is likely to provide protection “for a couple of years.” A separate study said the human body typically retains a robust immune response to the virus for at least eight months after infection.
Iran’s supreme leader said Friday that he was banning the import of U.S. and British coronavirus vaccines.
The greater Washington region tallied the highest number of coronavirus infections Friday since the start of the pandemic, as several health districts across Virginia planned to enter the next stage of the state’s vaccine distribution plan Monday and begin vaccinating people 75 and older and front-line essential workers.
Public health districts in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria, as well as Southwest Virginia west of Roanoke will move to the second phase of vaccine distribution gradually, the Virginia Department of Health said.
Danny Avula, the newly appointed coordinator for Virginia’s vaccine program, said the move is intended to ensure the state is not “holding anyone back” from administering doses.
The finish line is clearly in sight now for the NFL. It is four weekends of play away from becoming the first professional sports league in the United States to complete an uninterrupted season since the pandemic began. The 256-game regular season was concluded on time Sunday, coronavirus disruptions and all. Only 13 playoff games remain, including the Super Bowl next month in Tampa.
But no one within the sport is ready to take a victory lap just yet.
Fake IDs are apparently not just for liquor stores and bars anymore; some travelers have been using them to illegally gain free flights.
A Houston man who U.S. attorneys say manufactured, used and sold fraudulent airline-employee ID cards to gain free-flight privileges on Spirit Airlines was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 months in prison by a U.S. district judge in California. The man, a former Mesa Airlines employee who had legitimate access to the Spirit Airlines flight privileges as a work benefit until 2015, allegedly started the scam after Mesa Airlines terminated him in 2015.
Officials said Hubbard Bell, 32, made the fake Mesa Airlines credentials using actual employees’ personal information. The fake ID ring ran from early 2016 to late 2017, and it resulted in 1,953 known flight bookings reserved for someone whose name did not match the Mesa Airlines employee used to book the free flight. Personal information including employees’ names, dates of hire and employee identification numbers were allegedly sold in the scam.
The New Orleans Saints have enjoyed a distinct home-field advantage in playoff games under Sean Payton, winning seven at the Superdome while losing just two. On the road, it has been a different story, with the Saints posting a 1-5 postseason record under Payton.
This season, the second-seeded Saints have the chance to host two or possibly even three playoff games in New Orleans. The only problem is that, amid rising coronavirus rates, the team will have to make do with far fewer fans — just 3,000, per recent reports — at its normally raucous domed stadium.
Or will it? In a conference call Wednesday with media members, Payton revealed that he has proposed a plan in which the team quarantines 50,000 fans, tests them daily and brings them to the Superdome for the games.
He didn’t sound like he was joking, either.
“It can be done,” the 57-year-old coach told reporters.
This spring, amid a panic over a shortage of ventilators to treat the anticipated surge in coronavirus cases, the Pentagon announced the purchase of $84 million worth of breathing machines from four companies. One of the ventilators, the SAVe II+, made by a small Plano, Tex.-based company called AutoMedx, stood out from the rest.
Defense Department medical workers who had been told to use the existing SAVe II device on covid-19 patients quickly came to the conclusion that it was ill-suited for the coronavirus pandemic, and began to voice their consternation to each other in emails that were shared with The Washington Post. One of the workers, who had been instructed to use the device if there were a surge of coronavirus patients, described it as “awful and under-powered.” Another raised concerns that using an ill-suited ventilator would “kill [covid-19 patients] just as fast as no ventilator at all.”
The daily U.S. coronavirus total surpassed 300,000 for the first time Friday, adding the equivalent of the population of Pittsburgh or Cincinnati to the number of cases in a single day.
The milestone comes just 65 days after the country surpassed 100,000 infections a day, signaling an explosion of cases as the pandemic rages across the country.
Back in early December when the country topped 200,000 daily cases, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, warned the upcoming winter months could be “the most difficult in the public health history of this nation” due to the strain on the already overwhelmed health-care system.
Redfield’s somber forecast appears to have crystallized on Friday, as the nation reached a record of 303,373 cases in a single day, and it set yet another record of seven-day average cases 244,793 — surpassing Thursday’s average of 228,316, which had been the highest so far, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.
The country has reached consecutive alarming records this week. Thursday was the deadliest day since the pandemic started with more than 4,000 deaths reported on a single day for the first time.
Since February, 21.8 million coronavirus infections and 367,020 deaths have been reported.
Redfield, along with other health experts, has warned the total tally of coronavirus-related deaths in the United States could near 450,000 by February if people didn’t follow precautionary measures such as strict use of face coverings, avoid travel and social distancing.
In recent days, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that based on the rate of daily infections, hospitalizations and deaths the country is experiencing, and following Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, he anticipated “things could get worse over the next couple of weeks or at least maintain this very terribly high level of infections and deaths that we’re seeing.”
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Cruise lines face more than a year without U.S. sailings
When cruise lines first announced they would stop sailing in response to the pandemic in mid-March, companies called it a “voluntary and temporary pause” that was initially expected to last 30 days.
It’s still a question when cruising, at least in North America, will resume, but one thing is clear: That once-temporary pause will stretch over more than a year as operators work to meet public health requirements and mobilize a global workforce.
“If I was planning a 2021 sailing, I would wait,” said Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry observer and CEO of the site cruiseguy.com. “Because I don’t know which ships are going where, when and for how long.”
This week, three large cruise lines announced a fresh batch of canceled cruises.
The U.S. economy shed 140,000 jobs in December — the first month of decline since the earliest months of the pandemic, as the recovery makes a U-turn after months of surging infections and delayed congressional action.
The unemployment rate stayed level at 6.7 percent.
The report showed the havoc that the pandemic continues to wreak on the economy as the country struggles to control the level of infections.
Employment in leisure and hospitality industries declined by 498,000, the majority of that at restaurants, bars and other food service establishments, which have struggled amid limitations from cold weather and a new round of restrictions across the country.
Employment in another tourism-related category — amusements, gambling and recreation — fell by 92,000. Government employment declined by 42,000. These declines offset modest gains in other sectors, such as professional and business services, retail and construction.
The data, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday morning, points to the significant economic challenges facing President-elect Joe Biden as he inherits one of the weakest labor markets in years from President Trump, with the end of the pandemic still out of sight and political crisis consuming Washington yet again.
“It’s a damaged labor market,” said Augustine Faucher, chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group. “But it is a labor market that is poised for recovery, given the fact that we are seeing the vaccine. With support from the federal government and support from the Federal Reserve, it could see a strong rebound over the next few years.”
Trump will leave office with one of the worst performances on jobs of any president in decades; the economy shed 22 million jobs between February and April with the onset of the pandemic and has regained just over half.
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Storming of Capitol was textbook potential covid-19 superspreader, experts say
Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol did not just overshadow one of the deadliest days of the coronavirus pandemic — it could have contributed to the crisis as a textbook potential superspreader, health experts warn.
Thousands of Trump supporters dismissive of the virus’s threat packed together with few face coverings — shouting, jostling and forcing their way indoors to halt certification of the election results, many converging from out of town at the president’s urging. Police rushed hundreds of members of Congress to crowded quarters where legislators say some of their colleagues refused to wear masks as well.
“This was in some many ways an extraordinarily dangerous event yesterday, not only from the security aspects but from the public health aspects, and there will be a fair amount of disease that comes from it,” said Eric Toner, senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Wall Street extended its record-breaking run Friday to close off 2021’s first week of trading, even as December’s jobs report flashed a worrying signal for the economy.
All three major U.S. indexes snagged their second straight day of record high closes. The Dow Jones industrial average inched up more than 55 points to 31,097, and the S&P 500 advanced 0.55 percent to 3,824. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index gained more than 1 percent to close at 13,201.
Stocks have been on a record-breaking tear even as the pandemic worsens and threatens the economic recovery. The U.S. economy shed 140,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department reported Friday, breaking an eight-month streak of jobs growth as the pandemic’s surge weighed on businesses and households. Nearly a half million jobs were lost in leisure and hospitality, the majority in restaurants as soaring cases provoked renewed business restrictions.
“The economic reality stands in stark contrast to the markets’ view of the world,” Chris Zacarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance, said Friday in comments emailed to The Washington Post. “We are all living in the present, with a badly damaged economy, while the market is living in the future, expecting a post-Covid or at least post-vaccine world.”
U.S. markets set closing records Thursday despite the chaos at the U.S. Capitol as investors focused on the likely priorities of the incoming Biden administration. Many investors worry that the Democratic-controlled Senate — secured this week by the party’s wins in two Georgia runoff elections — might ease the path for tax increases and regulatory changes. But flipping the chamber also increases the odds of more fiscal stimulus, boosting companies that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn.
London police seek man believed to have administered fake vaccine
London police are seeking information about a man suspected to have taken payment from an elderly woman while posing as a National Health Service medical worker and administering her a fake coronavirus vaccine.
The City of London’s police force issued a statement Friday seeking help from the public to identify the man, who visited a 92-year-old woman at her home on Dec. 30 and allegedly identified himself as working for the NHS.
“The victim allowed the man inside her home and was jabbed in the arm with what she described as a ‘dart like implement,’” the statement said.
The woman paid him about $215 for what she thought was the vaccine, the police said, after he allegedly told her she would later be reimbursed. He then visited her home again on Monday, requesting further payment.
Police said that it is not clear what substance was injected into the woman’s arm. They said she was examined at a hospital and had not exhibited any side effects since the encounter.
“This is a disgusting and totally unacceptable assault on a member of the public which won’t be tolerated,” detective inspector Kevin Ives, who works for the London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, said in a statement. “We are appealing to anyone who may have information that could assist us in identifying this man to get in touch. It is crucial we catch him as soon as possible as not only is he defrauding individuals of money, he may endanger people’s lives.”
London mayor declares ‘major incident,’ warns city could soon run out of beds
LONDON — London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Friday declared a “major incident” in the city as cases of the coronavirus continue to climb, while warning that London hospitals may soon run out of beds for patients if the spread of infection is not contained in the coming weeks.
“The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control,” Khan said in a statement.
“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our [National Health Service] could be overwhelmed and more people will die,” he warned.
With recent data showing that around 830 people are being admitted to London hospitals each day, up from an estimated 500 before the Christmas period, Khan urged Londoners so stay at home unless it was “absolutely necessary” to go outside.
The number of infections in the capital is now above 1,000 per 100,000 people, Khan said.
At least 78,633 people have lost their lives to the virus in the United Kingdom, with England currently under its third national lockdown with schools, gyms, bars and pubs closing their doors to the public once again.
Khan said Friday that he has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking him for the closure of places of worship, which may be contributing to the spread of the virus.
Past major incidents declared in the capital include the Grenfell Tower tragedy in which 72 people lost their lives after a high-rise apartment building caught fire in June 2017 and the terrorist attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market.
Iran’s Khamenei bans import of U.S. and U.K. coronavirus vaccines
Iran’s supreme leader said Friday that he had banned the import of U.S. and British-made coronavirus vaccines, a surprise move that contradicts his own government’s recent efforts to ensure the country’s access to safe and effective immunizations.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest political and religious authority, made the announcement in a televised address, calling the vaccines “forbidden.”
“They are completely untrustworthy,” he said. “If they were able to create a vaccine … why do they want to give it to us? Why don’t they use it themselves?”
He posted a tweet questioning the trustworthiness of the vaccines, which Twitter removed.
Khamenei singled out the vaccine developed in a joint venture between the U.S. pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, and Germany’s BioNTech. He said that he had already informed the relevant authorities of his decision but was now making it public.
Gov. Ralph Northam said he is considering year-round schooling in Virginia as an option following the impact that coronavirus safety measures have had on schools and learning.
“Our children have suffered from covid-19 as have our families,” Northam (D) said in a Wednesday briefing. “One of the things we’re entertaining is looking at perhaps year-round schooling for the next year, perhaps adding increased days this summer to really help our kids get caught up.”
Northam said he would like to see students back in safe classrooms, and he named teachers among a list of priority recipients for vaccination against the virus.
Talks about a longer school year are being discussed with education leaders, he said.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a Thursday virtual briefing that year-round schooling is indeed an option for the next school year. His school district has locked its doors for the remainder of this academic year as cases continue to rise in the city, WWBT reported.
Kamras said parents have expressed concern that there are learning gaps because of virtual learning and that he thinks extending the academic year could help some students rebound, the station reported.
“I do think it is critical to provide additional instruction to our students next year, and a year-round schedule is one way to approach that. So we are working on some options for what they would look like specifically, and working to build that into our budget proposal for next year,” he told the station.