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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that people who have been vaccinated are no longer required to quarantine after exposure to someone with the coronavirus, as long as they have received both doses of the vaccine and at least two weeks have passed since the second shot.

CDC officials also recommended double masking — a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask — to improve protection from the threat of more contagious variants spreading across the United States.

Here are some significant developments:
  • The first known cases of the variant discovered in South Africa have been detected in California, one in Santa Clara Country and one in Alameda County, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Wednesday.
  • Two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied with how the coronavirus vaccine rollout is being handled, including 21 percent who are “very dissatisfied,” according to a Gallup poll. Yet nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population has so far received at least a first dose of the two-part coronavirus vaccines, CDC data shows.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a “medical breakthrough” to prevent infection and ensure good health, made of an extract of the herb thyme, as the country lags far behind in vaccine sourcing.
  • All of the coronavirus particles in the world would fit inside a single can of a soft drink, the British mathematician Christian Yates has estimated.
  • The Biden administration said Wednesday that it was partnering with officials in Texas to set up three new mass vaccination sites in the state, part of an effort to leverage federal resources to expand the delivery of coronavirus vaccines.
  • The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency-use authorization for a combination monoclonal antibody treatment, citing data showing that it reduces hospitalization and death among certain covid-19 patients.
3:47 a.m.
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Federal workers could get more paid leave if virus prevents them from working

Federal employees who exhaust their sick leave for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic could receive additional paid leave if those problems continue to prevent them from working, under a bill to be considered in a House committee on Friday.

Employees who meet certain eligibility criteria could receive as much as 600 hours — 15 workweeks — of extra leave time to be paid from a $570 million fund that the bill would create. The fund would apply to all agencies, including the semi-corporate U.S. Postal Service, and would operate through Sept. 30.

Under the proposal, federal employees would have to use up their regular sick leave before drawing from the fund. Full-time workers accrue 13 sick leave days per year with no limit on carrying unused leave year to year. Part-time workers get proportionate amounts of sick leave and would be eligible for a proportionate additional amount from the fund.

2:16 a.m.
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Denmark says it has British variant under control, for now

Denmark was among the first countries to sound the alarm about the difficulty of controlling the spread of the more transmissible variant of the novel coronavirus first identified in Britain. But new data suggests the country may have curbed this more contagious mutation, at least temporarily.

An estimate released by Danish authorities said that as of Feb. 1, officials thought every person infected with the British variant, called B.1.1.7, was passing it along to 0.99 other people. That would be a significant drop from previous estimates that suggested the strain was spreading among Danes at a rapid pace despite an extensive national lockdown.

The new estimate means Danish authorities think the prevalence of the strain has remained constant in early February, neither shrinking nor growing in the community.

12:53 a.m.
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Chicago reaches deal with teachers to reopen school buildings

Teachers in Chicago, home to the nation’s third-largest school district, are set to return to classrooms this week after reaching a deal with the city on health and safety standards, capping months of tense negotiations that raised the specter of a strike during a school year that has been disrupted repeatedly.

Chicago Teachers Union officials accepted the agreement begrudgingly after concluding that they would be unlikely to gain additional concessions from the city. Nearly 70 percent of members who cast ballots endorsed accepting the agreement, less than a day after union brass had passed a vote of no confidence in Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

11:31 p.m.
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Maduro touts miracle cure to mask massive problem: Venezuela can’t (or won’t) get vaccines

CARACAS, Venezuela — The president announced the “medical breakthrough” with a pitch that could school a QVC presenter.

Neutralize the coronavirus without a single side effect! No needle? No problem! Just a few drops of the magic liquid under the tongue every four hours, and it’s goodbye lockdown, hello good health.

“From Venezuela to the world,” Nicolás Maduro declared in a national address, unveiling two shimmering vials of Carvativir.

Venezuelan medical professionals now say that Maduro’s “miracle drops” — which he pledged would rapidly go into mass production — are actually an extract of the herb thyme, used in homeopathic therapies and ordinary cooking.

10:17 p.m.
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How a sluggish vaccination program could delay a return to normal and invite vaccine-resistant variants to emerge

The president-elect’s pledge had a certain ring to it: “at least 100 million covid vaccine shots” in 100 days. That was on Dec. 8, before Joe Biden took office. On the fifth day of his presidency, Biden appeared to aim higher, saying 1.5 million shots per day was within reach.

Less than a month into the Biden presidency, as the rate of vaccinations continues to increase, the country has nearly reached the pace needed to achieve that milestone, with 1.48 million shots per day administered over the past week.

Yet as the country faces a deadly pandemic made even bleaker by emerging and more infectious variants of the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, epidemiologists and public health experts say the Biden administration must set its sights even higher.

“The man on the moon is the kind of goal that we should be aiming for at this point,” said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. “Having this 1 million a day, or even 1.5 million vaccines a day, is just not aspirational.”

9:03 p.m.
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Germany extends lockdown for a month over variant fears

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of the country’s 16 states on Wednesday agreed to extend coronavirus lockdown measures for another month amid concerns about new variants.

The decision to keep restrictions until March 7 came even as new case numbers dropped significantly from their winter peak. The nationwide agreement released following a videoconference said that the political leadership was “very grateful” to citizens for reducing contacts and living with curbs on day-to-day life.

At the same time variants of the coronavirus are spreading, it cautioned, including some that are more contagious.

“Against the background of the virus mutations, opening steps must be cautious and be done gradually in order to successfully contain the infection chains,” the statement said. Restrictions in Germany mean that bars, nonessential stores and restaurants are closed, except for takeout. Hairdressers will be allowed to open from March 1, the statement said, while the biggest priority will be to open schools again.

Germany has a daily average of 80 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. While in the past it has put its target for openings at 50 per 100,000, with concerns about mutants it says it wants to see a level of 35 per 100,000 before the next stage of retail openings.

7:45 p.m.
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WHO backs AstraZeneca vaccine amid concern over variants

The World Health Organization has recommended use of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, saying it is “highly effective and safe.”

Those comments came after concerns grew that the vaccine might not be as effective against new variants of the virus. Officials in South Africa suspended its use after researchers there found it offered “minimal protection” against mild to moderate infections caused by the new variant first detected in that country. The rollout is being paused while scientists assess the data, which is preliminary.

The guidelines released Tuesday by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization recommend the vaccine for prevention of the coronavirus in adults 18 and up, in two doses given in an eight- to 12-week interval. The group also said it is “safe and likely to be efficacious in older adults.” Countries including France advised against its use in people over 65 following criticism over a lack of data on its effectiveness in that age group.

Because it is relatively cheap and can be stored in a traditional refrigerator, the vaccine is viewed as what the BBC described as the “vaccine for the world.”

The vaccine developers cheered the WHO’s comments.

“It is excellent news that the WHO has recommended use of the SARS CoV-2 vaccine first produced in Oxford,” Sarah Gilbert, a vaccinology professor and chief investigator for the Oxford vaccine trial, said in a statement. “This decision paves the way to more widespread use of the vaccine to protect people against COVID-19 and gain control of the pandemic.”

6:54 p.m.
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White House lays out goal of health equity task force and its 12 members

The White House on Wednesday announced the 12 members of its covid-19 Health Equity Task Force. The advisory board is charged with issuing a range of recommendations on everything from the allocation of relief funds to effective outreach and communication to inform and guide the federal government’s response to a pandemic that has unduly burdened communities of color.

Task force members represent a diversity of expertise and backgrounds, including the president of a historically Black medical school, a disability rights lawyer, an Alaska Native tribal leader, and a high school student activist.

The task force will be chaired by Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine. She co-chaired Biden’s covid-19 advisory board during the presidential transition.

At a Wednesday news conference, Nunez-Smith said sharp disparities have plagued the country throughout the pandemic. They include who has been able to access testing and new covid-19 treatments and which communities are seeing the most hospitalizations and deaths.

The most recent wrinkle in disparities, she said, was the lopsided percentage of White Americans getting the vaccine compared with all other Americans.

Nunez-Smith said she plans to convene “listening sessions” with affected communities.

Representatives from six federal agencies will also sit on the task force: the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice and Labor.

The task force will issue recommendations to inform the Biden administration’s covid-19 response. The group’s work will end once it issues a final report to the White House’s covid-19 response coordinator documenting “the drivers of observed COVID-19 inequities, the potential for ongoing disparities faced by COVID-19 survivors, and actions to ensure that future pandemic responses do not ignore or exacerbate health inequities,” according to a statement.

The task force members are: Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership; James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College; Andrew Imparato, executive director of Disability Rights California; Victor Joseph, former chief/chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference; Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive; Octavio Martinez, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin; Tim Putnam, president of Margaret Mary Health; Vincent Toranzo, a student from Broward County, Fla.; Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association union; Homer Venters, a physician and epidemiologist; G. Robert “Bobby” Watts, chief executive officer of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council; and Haeyoung Yoon, senior policy director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

6:11 p.m.
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Federally supported mass vaccination sites coming next to Texas, after launch in California

The Biden administration said Wednesday that it was partnering with officials in Texas to set up three new mass vaccination sites in the state, part of an effort to leverage federal resources to expand the delivery of coronavirus shots.

The centers will be in Dallas, Houston and Arlington, said Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force — places he identified as hit especially hard by the pandemic. Together, the sites will be able to support the administration of more than 10,000 shots a day, Zients said, and will begin operations the week of Feb. 22.

The sites are NRG Stadium in Houston, AT&T Stadium in Arlington and Ferris Plaza Park in Dallas.

Last week, the administration said it was helping set up two such mass vaccination sites in California, one in Oakland and the other in Los Angeles. In addition to personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 1,100 active-duty troops will be deployed to support vaccination infrastructure, starting in California.

As part of his national strategy announced in his first days in office, President Biden promised to set up 100 new federally supported vaccination sites in 30 days. The administration is in conversations with additional states, such as Colorado, about possible locations for centers equipped to administer as many as 6,000 shots a day, according to two people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

“Anything that brings more vaccine and gives people more options for receiving it is a good thing,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

4:52 p.m.
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Health officials emphasize proper mask fit to protect against coronavirus variants, urging double masks in some cases

Federal health officials on Wednesday urged Americans to consider wearing two masks as one of several strategies to better protect themselves against the threat of more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

“We know that universal masking works,” said John T. Brooks, medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s covid-19 response. “And now these variants are circulating … whatever we can do to improve the fit of a mask to make it work better, the faster we can end this pandemic.”

Two methods substantially boost fit and protection, according to a CDC report and guidance released Wednesday. One is wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask. The second is improving the fit of a single surgical mask by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides close to the face to prevent air from leaking out around the edges and to form a closer fit.

3:58 p.m.
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As WHO coronavirus mission leaves empty-handed, China claims propaganda win

TAIPEI, Taiwan — World Health Organization officials declared Tuesday their mission to Wuhan to seek the origins of the coronavirus was inconclusive. In Beijing, the outcome was treated as something certain: vindication and triumph.

The WHO’s headline announcement — that it would rule out the possibility the virus accidentally leaked from a Wuhan lab — finally “put an American conspiracy theory to rest,” China’s Global Times newspaper said on Wednesday. The WHO visit showcased China’s “positive, scientific, cooperative attitude,” said the official Reference News. Other locations in the world, particularly U.S. labs, must be investigated next, said Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control, because “historically the United States … launched biological and chemical warfare.”

As the WHO mission leaves China this week, it has yielded scant new public information about the pandemic’s origins but plenty of ammunition for a Chinese government that has long argued that the source was probably not its markets — and certainly not its labs.

2:30 p.m.
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One of the world’s oldest living people just beat covid

In the weeks leading up to her 117th birthday, Sister André spent her days isolated in her room at the Sainte Catherine Labouré retirement home in the southern French city of Toulon. The nun was one of dozens of residents at the home who tested positive for coronavirus.

But on Tuesday, Sister André was declared recovered from the virus, a spokesman from her retirement home told Reuters, allowing her to hold onto her title as the oldest living European and second-oldest person in the world, according to Gerontology Research Group’s “World Supercentenarian Rankings List.”

Ten others at the retirement home died of covid-19, Le Parisien reported, after 81 of the 88 residents tested positive in January. There have been more than 3.4 million cases in France and more than 80,000 deaths, according to The Washington Post’s covid tracker.

2:08 p.m.
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The guide to mastering the vaccine-appointment website

The process feels like something between trying to nab highly sought-after Beyoncé tickets and gladiatorial combat.

Scheduling coronavirus vaccine shots online is causing panic for eligible Americans and the children and grandchildren helping them. That includes me and my parents, hunting for scraps of information on supply and pressing reload at all hours on poorly designed websites. By the time you type in all the required information, available appointments have vanished.

2021 has made being a computer whiz a matter of life and death. Shame on America for asking seniors to beta test bad vaccine logistics software.

We designed this guide to help. There are ways to get assistance if you need it, and strategies to conquer the process if you’re persistent.

1:45 p.m.
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Biden meets with business executives on coronavirus relief plan as House pushes it forward

President Biden met at the White House on Tuesday with JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon and other leading business executives to discuss the administration’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package, as Democrats work to speed the plan through Congress.

The meeting also included Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart; Sonia Syngal, chief executive of Gap; Marvin Ellison, chief executive of Lowe’s; and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Vice President Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also took part.

The meeting with the business executives came as the White House accelerates its push for Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief proposal amid increasing opposition from congressional Republicans. House Democrats have unveiled key portions of the legislation and on Tuesday began holding what will be a lengthy series of committee meetings this week to vote on various portions of the package, leading up to the final House passage later this month.