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.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday offered a new road map for safely reopening schools, many of which have been shuttered since the pandemic spread widely throughout the United States last spring. The agency said that schools can safely reopen provided a range of precautions are followed and advised prioritizing vaccinating teachers if possible.

Outside the United States, the pandemic has forced new restrictions in the Australian territory of Melbourne and border closures in Germany. Officials announced Friday the German border would close to the Czech Republic and at least one region in Austria where authorities say infection rates involving variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa are high.

Here are some significant developments:
  • Hungary will bypass E.U. regulators to become first member country to administer Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
  • Health officials in D.C., Illinois and North Carolina announced the first known cases of the variant first identified in South Africa. As of this week, more than 30 states have reported cases of the variant that emerged in the U.K.
  • The Biden administration says it has secured enough vaccine doses from U.S. drugmakers to cover every American adult by the end of July, in a deal set to boost supply by 50 percent in the United States.
  • At least 35.5 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the United States, which has recorded more than 27.3 million coronavirus infections and nearly 474,000 deaths.
4:45 a.m.
Link copied

In Sri Lanka, forced cremations are unique pandemic trauma

In his grief, Mohamed Niyas cannot bring himself to tell his wife the truth.

She knows that their 2-month-old boy, who was born with a serious heart condition, died in January after being rushed to the hospital in their seaside town in Sri Lanka.

But he has not found the words to explain what happened next: Their son’s body was put into a small box wrapped in yellow plastic and cremated — against the family’s wishes — because doctors said the baby had tested positive for the coronavirus.

At the crematorium, a handful of relatives wept as they chanted a funeral prayer, overcome by the loss of the child and the added trauma of being unable to bury him according to Islamic tradition.

Such cremations have been a matter of official policy in Sri Lanka since March 2020, making it a global outlier in the pandemic. Guidelines from the World Health Organization say it is safe to bury victims of covid-19, but Sri Lanka nevertheless banned the practice, citing a risk to the water supply.

4:20 a.m.
Link copied

Virginia to launch new statewide system to register for vaccines

Virginia is shifting to a statewide system for people to register for the coronavirus vaccine after weeks of confusion as people tried to navigate sign-up systems in individual health districts.

Residents who already have preregistered with their health district will be rolled over into the new statewide system, officials said. But no one else will be able to register from 5 p.m. Friday until Tuesday, as existing waiting lists are imported to the new system.

Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest jurisdiction, said Friday it is opting out of the new system and would continue to register eligible residents of the county, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, and the towns of Vienna, Herndon and Clifton through the local health district system.

4:00 a.m.
Link copied

Amid pandemic, volunteers distribute food that would otherwise be thrown away

Abigail Goody’s 8-month-old daughter, Sailor, picked up the coronavirus in January from her day-care center in Woodbridge, Va.

Goody, 29, and her husband, Bobby Hawkes, 28, a self-employed remodeling contractor, soon had covid-19, too. They all had relatively mild symptoms, said Goody, but the couple quickly realized they had a looming problem.

“We had about a week’s worth of food in the fridge,” said Goody, who works as a hairstylist at a salon that is now closed. “I was thinking of things I’d have to do to stretch our meals.”

With no income, the couple were relieved when the health department referred them to Prince William Food Rescue, a group that collects food that would otherwise be thrown away by restaurants and grocery stores because it’s close to expiring.

“I was really surprised when I learned that they’d bring us some groceries and everything was free,” Goody said.

3:16 a.m.
Link copied

These teachers find vaccine appointments for strangers

Maisie Lynch, an avid Facebook user, posted tips about how to secure a coronavirus vaccine appointment after successfully booking them for both her mother and herself. It didn’t take long for people to begin reaching out to her for help.

She answered their calls. But the volume soon grew overwhelming.

“Can you help me?” Lynch, 47, texted a group of six friends, all Montgomery County Public School teachers, like she is. The response was a resounding yes.

The friends named themselves the Vaccine Hunters (in Spanish, it’s Las Caza Vacunas, which translates as The Vaccine Hunt). They have since helped more than 350 elderly people, mostly in Montgomery County, get vaccinated.

2:14 a.m.
Link copied

In D.C., only two restaurant east of Anacostia River have implemented outdoor dining program

Busboys and Poets is placing 10 tables on the street outside its Ward 8 location, making it just the second restaurant east of the Anacostia River to successfully implement the District’s special outdoor dining program.

More than 700 restaurants have applied for a temporary streatery permit, which allows restaurants to expand seating during the coronavirus pandemic by placing tables in nearby alleys, sidewalks and parking lanes.

The outdoor dining rooms have become a popular lifeline for restaurants at a time when indoor dining is severely restricted and offers increased risk of exposure to the virus. Last month, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) introduced legislation to extend the program into 2023.

At the time of that announcement, some business leaders pointed out that just one restaurant in Wards 7 or 8 had set up a streatery, bringing renewed attention to concerns about equity in neighborhoods that have been historically underserved.

1:15 a.m.
Link copied

Tips to finding vaccine appointments online

Being a computer whiz ought to be the last thing standing between the lifesaving coronavirus vaccine and eligible arms.

Yet wrestling with confusing, overlapping vaccine websites has become a major source of stress for American seniors and the family and friends helping them get shots. In places where supply is low, people are trying appointment sites 20 or 30 times, only to watch bookings vanish because they moved too slow.

After my tech column on strategies to master vaccine websites, I heard from hundreds of you, Washington Post readers, about your own experiences. Over email and through my Help Desk, you demonstrated a tremendous desire to help the most vulnerable conquer the tech hurdles. Some volunteer appointment finders and people who look for spare doses now call themselves “vaccine hunters.”

12:17 a.m.
Link copied

Despite scientists disputing unverified claims that China created the virus, theories went viral

Scientists from Johns Hopkins, Columbia and other leading American universities moved with rare speed when a Chinese virologist, Li-Meng Yan, published an explosive paper in September claiming that China had created the deadly coronavirus in a research lab.

The paper, the American scientists concluded, was deeply flawed. And a new online journal from MIT Press — created specifically to vet claims related to SARS-CoV-2 — reported Yan’s claims were “at times baseless and are not supported by the data” 10 days after she posted them.

But in an age when anyone can publish anything online with a few clicks, this response was not fast enough to keep Yan’s disputed allegations from going viral, reaching an audience in the millions on social media and Fox News. It was a development, according to experts on misinformation, that underscored how systems built to advance scientific understanding can be used to spread politically charged claims dramatically at odds with scientific consensus.

11:21 p.m.
Link copied

Tons of Saharan fossils remain unearthed because of pandemic closures

NIAMEY, Niger — In secret patches of the south-central Sahara, blankets of sand hide 20 tons of dinosaur bones.

There are flying reptiles. A creature that resembles an armored dog. Eleven species yet to be identified — all with long necks. They roamed the desert when it was still green, scientists concluded, as far back as 200 million years ago.

This is one of Africa’s biggest fossil caches, a prehistoric graveyard that sparked dreams of a world-class exhibition in Niger. The rare discovery is vulnerable to looters and collapsing dunes. But excavation must wait as the nation confronts a second wave of the coronavirus on top of escalating Islamist insurgencies.

“This is our cultural identity,” said Boubé Adamou, an archaeologist at the Institute for Research in Human Sciences in the capital, Niamey, who helped uncover the haul. “But saving the living comes first.”

10:18 p.m.
Link copied

Experts fear a spring surge if restrictions ease after deaths drop

The catastrophic winter wave of the coronavirus pandemic that was killing more than 20,000 people a week in the United States has subsided dramatically, giving a reprieve to stressed hospitals and in recent days driving new infection numbers below 100,000 for the first time since early November.

Still, infectious-disease experts caution that the virus remains a threat, with the pathogen circulating at high rates and killing more than 2,000 people a day. The fading dark days of this pandemic winter could yield to another wave of infections propelled by mutated variants of the virus that have taken root, with 997 infections attributed to them nationwide by Thursday night.

In this pivotal moment, government officials and the public again face decisions about whether to maintain pressure on the virus or try to return to something approaching normal life — easing the restrictions that can help limit the contagion. The scientific community is urging the public to stick with infection-slowing interventions — social distancing and mask-wearing — to try to stave off a spring surge.

9:03 p.m.
Link copied

FDA open to Moderna proposal to increase vaccine doses in vials

The Food and Drug Administration has told Moderna that it is open to allowing the biotech company to fill vials with additional doses of coronavirus vaccine — up to 14 from the current 10 — to increase throughput, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

However, the FDA has not officially approved the change. The company first must submit a proposed amendment to the agency’s emergency use authorization for the vaccine, which was issued Dec. 18. The agency is expected to quickly review it.

Moderna said earlier this month it would ask federal regulators for permission to fill vials with more doses in a bid to ease manufacturing bottlenecks and allow for more production. The company has said that a key capacity constraint is how many vials can be filled in a given period of time.

Moderna said in a statement Friday that it “continues to engage in discussions” with the FDA and other countries “about this potential increase in fill volumes, thus enabling extraction of additional doses from each vial delivered. The increased level of doses per vial would not require different vials than those being currently used.”

It also said it would take two to three months to implement the change after approval from regulators.

It is not clear how the change would affect the supply Moderna will provide to the United States and elsewhere. President Biden said Thursday that his administration had finalized deals to buy an additional 100 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, giving the country enough vaccine by the end of July to cover every American adult. Those transactions are in addition to previously bought supplies of 200 million doses each from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which are being delivered earlier.

8:03 p.m.
Link copied

Hotel quarantine for air travelers to Canada to begin Feb. 22

TORONTO — Nonessential air travelers arriving in Canada will have to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense beginning Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Canadian officials announced the new testing and quarantine requirements several weeks ago, but had not indicated when they would be implemented. They will require nonessential air travelers to be tested for the coronavirus upon their arrival and to await their results in a government-approved hotel for up to three days.

Those who test negative for the coronavirus will complete the rest of their mandatory 14-day quarantine at home. Those who test positive for the virus will be transferred to a different facility for the rest of their quarantine. The cost could exceed $1,500 per person.

The measures are being imposed amid concerns about the spread of new coronavirus variants. Their purpose, Trudeau told reporters, was not to “punish” people, but to discourage discretionary travel.

Nonessential travelers entering Canada by land are excluded from the hotel quarantine, but they will have to present a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours or a positive coronavirus test taken 14 to 90 days before their arrival or face fines and other penalties. Air travelers are also required to present a negative coronavirus test before boarding.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since March, but Canadians have still been able to fly to the United States for discretionary purposes. Ottawa has long advised against nonessential travel, but it is not banned.

The measures have irritated many Canadian snowbirds, who traveled to balmier destinations this year. The Canadian Snowbird Association wrote to Canada’s transport minister this month saying that it supports coronavirus testing at airports and land crossings but is “firmly opposed” to a mandatory hotel quarantine.

6:19 p.m.
Link copied

Health experts discourage taking antibody test post-vaccination

With more than 30 million people in the United States at least partially vaccinated against covid-19, you may wonder whether the shot has done its duty, arming your immune system to fight off infection. Or whether the vaccine is needed at all, particularly if you have had the coronavirus.

But health experts say antibody tests — the tests designed to detect proteins created by the immune system that protect against the virus — are not necessary and can be unreliable.

“Don’t try to second-guess the vaccine. Just get vaccinated,” said Sarah Fortune, chair of the department of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

5:18 p.m.
Link copied

Alaska cruise season was devastated by 2020 cancellations. A repeat could spell doom for the local industry.

The news spread quickly around Alaska’s port cities last week, through texts and emails and calls. After all the shocks of 2020, this still managed to sting: Canada was banning cruise ships again — not for another few months as expected, but until February 2022.

“I just went, ‘Oh no,’ ” said Patti Mackey, the president and CEO of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.

Because of U.S. federal law, cruise ships that come to Alaska have to also visit a foreign port, which is where Canada comes in. The government’s decision on Feb. 4 means Alaska, which got about 60 percent of its summer visitors in 2019 from cruise ships, will almost certainly miss out on another crucial cruise season, barring a waiver of the law or a change of Canadian heart.

Now, destinations and businesses that were hoping to finally scrape together a few months of revenue after the last ships departed in 2019 are left to figure out once again how to survive.

“I think we’re still in shock, to be honest; I think right now we’re all scrambling,” said Tracy LaBarge, owner of Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau. “This is two years going with 95 percent of your business cut out.”

4:31 p.m.
Link copied

New lockdown took effect at Australian Open, forcing fans to miss last set of Djokovic-Fritz showdown

The Australian state of Victoria has entered a five-day coronavirus lockdown to curb a local outbreak of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain. The restrictions began at 11:59 p.m. local time Friday (7:59 a.m. Friday Eastern time) right as Novak Djokovic was entering the fifth set of his third-round Australian Open match against Taylor Fritz.

And so we were left with the peculiar sight of fans being forced to depart Rod Laver Arena before a taut match could be decided between the world’s No. 1 player, who was laboring through an injury, and an up-and-coming American.

Australia, in particular Melbourne and the surrounding state of Victoria, had reached a level of normalcy unseen in most other places around the globe thanks to a strict lockdown that kept the city’s residents in their homes for 23 hours per day over a 111-day stretch last year. The city had effectively snuffed out the virus, allowing for what Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said would be a “covid-normal summer”: While some restrictions still were in effect, restaurants were allowed to reopen for in-person dining, bars and clubs started welcoming partygoers and concerts were able to resume.