Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

More than 1,000 active-duty military personnel are poised to support state vaccination sites, the White House said on Friday as the Biden administration continues to look for ways to ramp up the national inoculation effort.

New infections in the United States have dropped 17 percent over the past week, but the daily death toll remains high; in total, more than 454,000 people have died of covid complications nationwide. Public health officials have warned Americans to avoid large gatherings on Super Bowl Sunday.

Here are some significant developments:
  • The House approved budget plan Friday afternoon with the House Speaker guaranteeing the relief package will be passed before expiration of unemployment aid in mid-March.
  • The Senate approved a budget bill early Friday that paves the way for passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
  • The U.S. gained 49,000 jobs in January, a modest increase amid the labor market’s ongoing strain from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • About 35.2 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Johnson & Johnson applied to U.S. regulators for emergency-use authorization after its single-shot coronavirus vaccine proved to be “robustly effective” against illness in a global trial — and especially at preventing severe disease and death.

Sign up for our coronavirus newsletter | Mapping the spread of the coronavirus: Across the U.S. | Worldwide | Has someone close to you died of covid-19? Share your story with The Washington Post.

3:30 a.m.
Link copied
link

As Europe’s vaccination efforts falter, Russia and China are now seen as options

BERLIN — As the European Union's vaccination program stumbles, Russia and China are poised to fill the gap — with Moscow opening talks to produce vaccines in the heart of Europe and both building political cachet as they supply those scrambling for shots on the bloc's fringes.

Vaccines produced in Russia and China are already on the program in parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe outside the European Union.

Speaking to the Atlantic Council on Thursday, Macron called China’s vaccine efforts a “clear diplomatic success” which is “a little bit humiliating for us.” He and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressed their openness to using vaccines from Moscow and Beijing if E.U. regulatory approval is granted.

2:45 a.m.
Link copied
link

Online sexual predators see new chances to prey on children who are stuck at home and in front a computer amid the pandemic

In normal times, the 40-year-old living in his parents’ small Virginia home evoked plenty of suspicion.

Nathan Larson ran for Congress in 2018 extolling child pornography and marital incest. Because of his “infatuation with children and sex,” as a federal judge termed it, Larson was once ordered to have limited contact with minors.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, and it turned Larson into something even more dangerous, according to investigators.

“Guys like him are preying on kids stuck at home, on computers, and bored,” said Lt. Brandon Pursell of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office in California. “It’s absolutely terrifying.”

Pursell and federal authorities are now building a kidnapping and sexual exploitation case against Larson, whom they accuse of using social media to befriend a 12-year-old girl in California and spending two months manipulating her into agreeing to sneak off with him.

2:39 a.m.
Link copied
link

How long can you wait between coronavirus vaccine doses?

People have faced distressing delays to get their second shot of the coronavirus vaccine amid vaccine supply shortages and overwhelmed health-care systems.

The recommended time between doses is three or four weeks depending on the vaccine. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says patients may wait up to six weeks to receive a second dose.

The agency acknowledges there is “currently limited data on efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines administered beyond this window.” Given the lack of data, experts don’t agree about the risk posed in delaying the booster dose.

On one hand, making sure more people receive the first shot than fully vaccinating half that number protects people from the highly contagious variants.

“We get down the list faster if we do all those first doses,” Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told CNN. “My view is that the weight of the evidence suggests that we would probably save more lives by delaying second doses than by insisting on the schedule that was tested in the trials.”

However, others say the protection that a single dose offers is not necessarily enough to prevent infection, which can leave many people who have received a dose still vulnerable.

Not only is there no evidence that a single dose offers effective protection after 21 or 28 days, but there’s also “significant reason to think that efficacy observed at early time points will decline,” according to Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University.

“Prime-only vaccinated individuals may create a pool of millions of hosts with incomplete immunity that permit SARS-CoV-2 onward transmission, driving the selection of increasingly antibody resistant variants,” Bieniasz wrote in Oxford University’s Clinical Infectious Diseases journal last month.

2:00 a.m.
Link copied
link

Hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses unused by nursing homes redistributed, expanding vaccination to more people

The federal government allocated too much vaccine to elder-care facilities, and many states are now redistributing hundreds of thousands of the unused doses to others — a move expected to expand vaccinations to more people, more quickly, according to officials involved in the effort.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Thursday that he is redirecting 170,000 doses of unused vaccine intended for long-term-care facilities. In Texas, health officials said they would redistribute 126,750 doses. In Illinois, the state is redirecting about 97,000 doses. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) announced on Twitter last week that the state was reallocating 37,800 doses to vaccine providers. “These surplus vaccines should be made available to members of the general public right away rather than at the completion of the [long-term-care] program,” McMaster wrote.

In Maine, the state is initially taking about 4,000 doses from nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and other locations. “We’re not letting those doses go to waste,” said Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in a briefing for reporters.

1:15 a.m.
Link copied
link

Canada defending decision to draw vaccines from program aimed at low- and middle-income countries

TORONTO — Canadian officials are defending a decision to accept coronavirus vaccines from a program aimed primarily at helping low- and middle-income countries, saying that drawing doses from the Covax facility was always part of its strategy.

“Our government will never apologize for doing everything in our power to get Canadians vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week. “We’re focused on getting Canadians vaccinated, while making sure the rest of the world is vaccinated, too.”

Her remarks Thursday came after the Covax Facility, a global effort to source and equitably distribute coronavirus vaccines, announced its first country-by-country projections. The estimate suggested Canada could receive 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by summer.

12:30 a.m.
Link copied
link

Companies are increasingly tacking on hidden ‘covid fees’ -- and it may be illegal

Nearly a year into the pandemic’s gutting of the economy, businesses across the country are increasingly charging coronavirus-related fees, ranging from a $5 disinfection charge in a hair salon to $1,200 for extra food and cleaning in a senior living center, which are often undisclosed until the customer gets a bill.

According to a survey by The Washington Post of attorney general offices and financial departments in 52 states and territories, U.S. consumers in 29 states have filed 510 complaints of coronavirus-related surcharges at dentist offices, senior living facilities, hair salons and restaurants.

Hidden fees are a legitimate concern for consumers, especially for economically vulnerable Americans or senior citizens without income, but not every state protects consumers from them. While medical insurance law in some states requires health-care providers to offer refunds to patients who have been unfairly charged for personal protective equipment, other states allow for businesses to tack on extra fees, as long as they’re disclosed upfront.

12:15 a.m.
Link copied
link

Kroger to pay $100 to workers who get vaccinated

Supermarket giant Kroger announced Friday that workers who get vaccinated for the coronavirus will be given $100, joining a growing list of U.S. retailers incentivizing employees to get inoculated against the virus.

Other companies, including Dollar General, Instacart and Trader Joe’s, have taken similar steps to encourage workers to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.

Kroger, which owns more than a dozen grocery chains, also announced a $50 million investment in rewards for associates, including a $100 store credit and 1,000 fuel points for hourly workers. The announcement comes after the chain had disclosed plans to close two Southern California stores in response to a local “hero pay” measure requiring a $4-an-hour increase for grocery workers.

“The irreparable harm that will come to employees and local citizens is a direct result of the City of Long Beach’s attempt to pick winners and losers, is deeply unfortunate,” the company said in a statement. “We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council’s actions.”

On Friday, the company that operates in 35 states listed how it has supported its employees during the public health crisis, including instances it provided additional pay and such resources as coronavirus tests. The company says its average wage rate is more than $15 per hour and it has hired more than 100,000 new associates.

“As we move into a new phase of the pandemic, we’re increasing our investment to not only recognize our associates’ contributions, but also encourage them to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available to them to optimize their well-being as well as the community’s,” Tim Massa, Kroger’s chief people officer, said in the statement.

11:41 p.m.
Link copied
link

China’s coronavirus rules throw Lunar New Year into chaos

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In the six years since Du Zini left home, she has never missed Lunar New Year. Du, who works at a forestry company in Nanning, more than 700 miles from her hometown in China's Jiangxi province, spends all year looking forward to those two weeks at home when she is doted on by her parents.

“I sleep until I wake up, and when I wake up, there’s food to eat. When I’m done eating, I go out. Every day is carefree and easy,” the 28-year-old said.

Last week, Du canceled her plane ticket back, deterred by the myriad pandemic restrictions for those traveling home for the mid-February holiday. Her mother, worried Du will be lonely, has sent her ingredients for a traditional dish of smoked pork and luhao, a crunchy, reed-like vegetable common in southern China.

For the second year in a row, millions like Du are missing out on the most important holiday of the year — a time for family reunions, lavish meals, fireworks and catching up with friends — as authorities try to control new coronavirus outbreaks.

10:31 p.m.
Link copied
link

When Black restaurant server enforced mask rules, they faced retaliation with fewer tips, study finds

Black food service workers whose incomes largely derive from tips have earned less during the coronavirus pandemic than their White counterparts and are more likely to experience retaliation for enforcing social distancing and mask rules, according to a new report by One Fair Wage, a national worker-advocacy group.

Black restaurant workers also fared worse on other measures amid a recession that has especially devastated communities of color, with Black unemployment reaching nearly 10 percent. They were more likely to contract covid-19 or know someone who died of the disease, and were less able to obtain unemployment insurance, the report said.

The findings resulted from a survey that One Fair Wage conducted of tipped service workers who received aid from a relief fund that the organization started last March. About 4,000 out of 40,000 workers in New York, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., responded to the emailed survey.

9:39 p.m.
Link copied
link

Discounts, tax breaks and bonuses: How governments and employers are incentivizing coronavirus vaccination

Much of the world is still waiting for initial coronavirus vaccine doses. But in the countries with robust vaccination programs, hesitancy has already emerged as a key obstacle to their success.

Most governments are unlikely to mandate inoculation across populations in the near term, although some have raised plans to do so. The coronavirus vaccines have been approved for the most part on an emergency basis, while the science remains incomplete for populations such as pregnant women and children.

Instead, some countries, cities and companies around the world are using the carrot instead of the stick. Many places have offered free vaccinations and tried to make access easy, such as at drive-through sites. Some politicians in Britain, Hong Kong and elsewhere have floated the idea of direct payments to anyone who vaccinates. Other places have already begun to offer an array of material enticements.

8:47 p.m.
Link copied
link

U.S. military to help states with vaccine rollout, White House says

More than 1,000 active-duty military personnel are poised to support state vaccination sites, the White House said on Friday, part of enhanced federal deployments to assist the mass immunization effort.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s request for the assistance, said Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House’s coronavirus response team. He said the first contingent of the troops would arrive in California within the next 10 days, to begin operations around Feb. 15.

The military, Slavitt said, would help FEMA stand up as many as 100 mass vaccination sites capable of providing shots to thousands of people a day.

The White House announced Wednesday that the federal government was partnering with California to launch two new community vaccination centers — one on the east side of Los Angeles and one in East Oakland.

The federal partnerships and the deployment of federal personnel mark an effort by the Biden administration to provide greater coordination of inoculations as it seeks to return the country to normal by sometime this summer or fall.

8:18 p.m.
Link copied
link

‘I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now,’ Biden says, pledging to ‘act fast’ on pandemic relief with or without GOP

In remarks at the White House on Friday, Biden pledged to “act fast” to deliver relief to Americans who are struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, declaring that he is prepared to move ahead without Republicans if they do not agree to a large-scale package.

“I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help — to do our job, to not let them down,” Biden said. “So I’m going to act. I’m going to act fast. I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans. I’ve met with Republicans. There are some really fine people who want to get something done, but they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”

Biden said that while his preference is for a bipartisan deal, Democrats will act alone if necessary.

“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now,” he said.

Earlier, in remarks upon leaving the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said a stimulus deal would “absolutely” be completed by March 15 at the latest.

7:40 p.m.
Link copied
link

Experts worry Super Bowl could turn into a superspreader

Skip the parties that could turn Super Bowl Sunday into Superspreader Sunday, experts and government officials are pleading ahead of America’s biggest sports day.

This year’s matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers comes as the nation remains in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic and as new variants are spreading. On a weekend usually defined by packed gatherings in bars and living rooms, with fans screaming at televisions and sharing spreads of finger foods, authorities are urging smaller, quieter celebrations.

“I can’t say it seriously enough: I want everyone who is celebrating this Sunday’s game to be back next year, and that means not allowing 2,000 more Kansas Citians to die,” Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) said in an interview. “I’m a lifelong fan of the Chiefs, but I am more of a fan of people’s families sticking around and staying alive.”

6:50 p.m.
Link copied
link

Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine protects against virus variant dominant in the U.K., trial suggests

LONDON — The vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca protects against the highly transmissible coronavirus variant that is dominant in the United Kingdom, according to results from ongoing clinical trials in Britain.

Oxford researchers reported Friday that their vaccine was 75 percent effective against the new variant first detected in the U.K., known as B.1.1.7 — compared with 84 percent efficacy against the original strain that appeared here at the beginning of the pandemic. The study examined the nasal and throat swabs of participants in ongoing clinical trials in Britain to check for infections between Oct. 1 and Jan 14. Positive samples were then sequenced to learn which variant of the virus the participant was infected by.

Speaking via video call with science journalists, Andrew Pollard, the lead investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial, said because of the relatively small number of participants examined in the study, the precise percentages were not the most important finding.

Pollard said what was important was that the same vaccine provided “very similar” protection against the new variant and the original strain.

Asked specifically if the 10 percent difference was important, Pollard said, “we can’t actually say statistically if they are different. They are both in the high 70s or low 80s.”

The study was presented in a preprint and has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

June Raine, chief executive of the U.K. Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, called the findings “very reassuring,” and noted this is the first clinical data showing that the Oxford vaccine protects against the variant.

British health regulators have approved vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNtech and Oxford-AstraZeneca and both are being deployed in one of largest and fast-moving vaccination campaigns in the world. The British government has also approved the Moderna shot, but doses will not be available in the U.K. until the spring.

The new B.1.1.7 variant, which appeared in London and southeast England late last year, is estimated to be between 30 and 70 percent more transmissible, researchers say, and is now dominant across the United Kingdom.

The British variant has been spotted in more than 70 countries, including the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts it could become the dominant variant within two months.

Researchers have also seen preliminary evidence that it also may be more deadly.