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Joe Biden began his presidency by marking a devastating milestone in the coronavirus pandemic. One month later, he presided over a somber memorial once again, leading the nation in the mourning of 500,000 American covid-19 deaths.

On Monday evening, as the official toll neared half a million, Biden held a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House, accompanied by Vice President Harris.

“That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth," Biden said. "But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived.”

The event recalled scenes from almost exactly a month ago, on the eve of Biden’s inauguration, when he and Harris convened a vigil for coronavirus victims at the Lincoln Memorial.

Earlier Monday, Biden ordered all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff for the remainder of the week, in remembrance of the lives lost. The Biden administration’s ongoing focus on the pandemic’s deadly impact strikes a sharp contrast to President Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the virus’s severity and appeared unwilling to lead Americans in grieving.

Here are some significant developments:
4:45 a.m.
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Maryland to launch a centralized vaccine registration system for mass clinics

After weeks of criticism of its decentralized vaccine distribution, Maryland will launch a single registration system for appointments at the state’s mass vaccination sites, which officials say will reduce competition for limited doses.

The centralized system falls short of the what the state’s federal delegation and many local leaders have requested, since it only applies to a limited number of locations. It will not automatically replace individual scheduling systems for local health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and health clinics that have so far distributed the vast majority of vaccine in Maryland.

Local health departments may choose to opt into the centralized system.

4:00 a.m.
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Tech companies try to raise awareness about virus-fighting smartphone tools

Tech titans are teaming up to remind Americans that their phones could be used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Apple, Google, nonprofit organizations, venture capitalists and others are funding the first national campaign to encourage people to turn on smartphone tools notifying them if they've been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus. The campaign could bring renewed attention to Apple and Google's virus-tracing system, which has not yet gained widespread U.S. traction.

The “Connect and Protect” ad campaign uses a combination of celebrities and local influencers to raise awareness about the availability of the tech tools, which are now available in 24 states, territories and D.C. The campaign is launching as more U.S. states are planning launch apps based on the Apple and Google tools and there is some evidence such tools have been more effective abroad where they were adopted more broadly.

3:20 a.m.
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Biden criticizes earlier roll out of PPP as his administration changes rules to help smaller businesses

The Treasury Department announced Monday that it will make targeted changes to its Paycheck Protection Program pandemic relief loans in an attempt to direct more funding toward the smallest of small businesses.

Among other changes to the loan program, businesses with more than 20 employees will be shut out of the PPP for a two-week period starting Wednesday, officials said.

The Biden administration has not said whether it will seek to extend the program after the current tranche of funding expires March 31. But Monday’s announcement signaled that the Treasury Department will continue to support the program at least in the short term, while instituting relatively minor changes designed to tame its excesses.

In a news conference Monday, President Biden criticized the PPP’s early rollout for privileging those with banking connections at the expense of the smallest borrowers.

2:30 a.m.
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Can covid herd immunity be reached without vaccinating kids? It’s complicated.

Amid a race to vaccinate as many people as possible against the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 28 million people and killed about 500,000 in the United States, the 10-year-old son of a Washington Post reader posed a pertinent question — one even experts are struggling to answer with any real certainty.

Is it possible for the United States to achieve herd immunity without vaccinating children?

It’s a complicated question, as health experts have differing ideas about what constitutes a herd immunity threshold for the coronavirus. Add to that the challenges with virus mutations, vaccine hesitancy and, of course, the current inability to vaccinate children and the answer becomes even murkier.

1:40 a.m.
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Attacks on Asian Americans during pandemic renew criticism that U.S. undercounts hate crimes

A spate of high-profile assaults on Asian Americans has renewed long-standing criticism from Democrats and civil rights groups that the U.S. government is vastly undercounting hate crimes, a problem that they say has grown more acute amid rising white nationalism and deepening racial strife.

The attacks — including several in Northern California over the past month that attracted national attention — followed months of warnings from advocates that anti-China rhetoric from former president Donald Trump over the coronavirus pandemic was contributing to a surge in anti-Asian slurs and violence.

Although President Biden last month signed an executive action banning the federal government from employing the sort of “inflammatory and xenophobic” language Trump used to describe the virus — such as “China plague” and “kung flu” — Asian American leaders said the recent attacks demonstrate a need for greater urgency in dealing with such threats.

Biden administration officials said they are working to address the problem, pointing to a section in the executive memo that instructed the Justice Department to expand its reporting, tracking and prosecutions of “hate incidents.” Officials said those efforts could go beyond hate crimes to include episodes of harassment and discrimination.

12:45 a.m.
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Biden marks 500,000th coronavirus death in the United States: ‘A truly grim, heartbreaking milestone’

In a somber address at the White House, Biden marked the passage of “a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone” -- the 500,000th death in the United States from covid-19.

“That’s more Americans who’ve died in one year in this pandemic than in World War One or Two and the Vietnam War combined,” Biden said. "That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth.”

Biden’s remarks were deeply personal at times, as he spoke of “the survivor’s remorse, the anger, the questions of faith in your soul” for those who have lost a loved one. The president has spoken often of his grief after losing his wife and infant daughter in a car crash shortly before he entered the Senate in 1972, and after he later lost his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

“I know that when you stare at that empty chair around the kitchen table, it brings it all back, no matter how long ago it happened -- as if it just happened that moment, when you look at that empty chair,” he said.

He spoke of “the birthdays, the anniversaries, the holidays without them," as well as "the small things, the tiny things that you miss the most.”

“That scent when you open the closet," Biden said. “That park you go by that you used to stroll in. That movie theater where you met. The morning coffee you shared together. The bend in his smile. The perfect pitch to her laugh.”

After his remarks, Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, went out to the South Portico of the White House where they held a brief candle lighting ceremony. Five hundred candles were lit on the steps, one for every 1,000 people in the United States dead from covid-19.

Biden made the sign of the cross as he and the first lady stood in silence, marking the solemn milestone at the same venue where former president Trump returned from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and took off his face mask last fall after his own bout with the deadly disease.

12:19 a.m.
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White House flags lowered to half-staff to honor 500,000 dead from covid

Ahead of remarks to the nation recognizing the 500,000 lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed much of the country for nearly a year, President Biden ordered the White House flags lowered to half-staff at 5 p.m. Monday. They will stay lowered for the rest of the week.

As the White House lowered its flags, the Washington National Cathedral tolled its bells 500 times in honor of the 500,000 dead.

“On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind. We, as a Nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one Nation to defeat this pandemic,” Biden said in a proclamation ordering the flags lowered.

The president will also lead the nation in a moment of silence at 6:15 p.m.

Biden’s acknowledgment of the coronavirus’s tragic toll on so many American families is a dramatic departure from former president Donald Trump, who often downplayed the severity of the virus and rarely spoke of the lives lost to it.

11:40 p.m.
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Misinformation drives vaccine doubts in women of childbearing age

As the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine ramps up across the United States, women of childbearing age have emerged as a surprising roadblock to efforts to halt the pandemic by achieving herd immunity.

Officials have encountered hesitancy among other groups, including some Black and Hispanic adults and those who believe the pandemic is a hoax. But the reluctance of women in their 20s and 30s — largely around disinformation spread on Facebook, Twitter and other social media — has been more unexpected. With such women making up a large share of the health-care workforce, vaccine uptake at nursing homes and hospitals has been as low as 20 to 50 percent in some places — a far cry from the 70 to 85 percent population target that health officials say may be needed to stop the virus.

“I’m worried, frankly,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. “There are stories out there on the Internet about how vaccination can lead to infertility. There’s absolutely nothing to that. But when we look at people who are expressing hesitancy, in many instances those are women of childbearing age.”

10:30 p.m.
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Pelosi presides over moment of silence marking 500,000 covid deaths, pledges passage of relief bill this week

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led her chamber in a moment of silence Monday to mark the expected milestone of 500,000 deaths in the United States and pledged that the House would pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package this week.

The moment of silence was observed before the adjournment of a pro forma session over which Pelosi presided.

Immediately afterward, her office distributed a statement calling the milestone of 500,000 deaths a “horrific human toll of staggering proportions and incomprehensible sadness.”

“Members of Congress join Americans in prayer for the lives lost or devastated by this vicious virus,” she said. “As we pray, we must act swiftly to put an end to this pandemic and to stem the suffering felt by so many millions. With the passage of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan this week, the American people will know that Help Is On The Way.”

The House budget committee is scheduled to consider Biden’s relief package Monday afternoon.

9:40 p.m.
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Biden says Trump let down small businesses, pledges loan program for those with under 20 employees

On Feb. 22, President Biden announced changes to the Paycheck Protection Program, a subsidized loan program for small businesses. (The Washington Post)

Biden on Monday criticized the Paycheck Protection Program created at the start of the coronavirus pandemic under the Trump administration because small businesses struggled to get subsidized loans that instead went to larger companies with more resources.

“When the Paycheck Protection Program was passed, a lot of these mom-and-pop businesses got muscled out of the way by bigger companies who jumped in front of the line,” Biden said, as he announced a 14-day exclusive loan program using PPP funds for businesses with under 20 employees to apply for financial assistance.

“Four hundred thousand small businesses have closed, 400,000, and millions more are hanging by a thread,” he said.

Biden also urged Congress to pass the $1.9 trillion covid relief bill, chastising those who say it’s too much money.

Now, critics say the plan is too big. Let me ask the rhetorical question: ‘What would you have me cut? What would you leave out?’ Biden said, adding that his plan directs $50 billion to the hardest hit small businesses.

Would you not help invest in that?” he asked “Would you let them continue to go under if you leave them out again like the previous administration did?”

8:53 p.m.
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First real-world coronavirus vaccine data in Britain show decline in infections, hospitalizations after first dose

LONDON — In the first study to describe the nationwide effectiveness of two vaccines, researchers in Scotland reported Monday that both the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots greatly reduced hospital admissions from covid-19 among the elderly — by up to 85 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

British public heath officials hailed the results from the “real-world” studies showing that the vaccines are beginning to have a positive impact in the coronavirus pandemic. Arne Akbar, president of the British Society for Immunology, called the initial data “extremely promising.”

The Scottish researchers analyzed a data set covering the entire Scottish population of 5.4 million, of which 1.1 million people — about 20 percent of the population — have received a first dose of the Pfizer or Oxford vaccine. Then they compared the vaccinated against the unvaccinated, and they saw strong evidence of protection.

7:51 p.m.
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FDA says coronavirus vaccines updated for variants do not have to be tested in large trials

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday said vaccine makers that want to modify their coronavirus vaccines to deal with variants can skip large clinical trials designed to test their shots’ effectiveness.

Instead, the agency is looking for earlier-stage data that measures the immune responses of the individuals who receive the modified vaccine — and to see how they compare to the immune responses elicited by the original vaccine.

The new advice to vaccine makers is part of a set of policies the FDA issued Monday to manufacturers of coronavirus vaccines, drugs and tests that want to alter or update their products to deal with variants.

FDA officials said the goal was to spell out procedures under which companies can modify their products to outflank potential variants and quickly gain FDA clearance.

“We want the American public to know that we are using every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts,” Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the agency, said in a statement.

There are no immediate plans to change vaccines. Studies have shown that the existing vaccines appear effective against the variant first detected in the United Kingdom, which may become dominant in the United States in March or April. Another variant, first detected in South Africa, appears to diminish the effectiveness of the vaccines, but scientists say they still may offer adequate protection. Manufacturers of those vaccines, as well as others in late-stage trials, say they are preparing booster shots or other strategies to deal with the variant first found in South Africa or others.

The document did not address how officials and companies will determine when vaccines might have to be altered. The FDA officials said those decisions would be made after consulting with other regulatory authorities around the globe.

7:44 p.m.
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WHO calls on wealthy nations to do more to stop vaccine inequality; Fauci won’t say if U.S. will donate doses

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged wealthy countries on Monday to do more in support of Covax, a WHO-backed initiative to ensure equitable vaccine distribution worldwide.

He said that although additional funding announced last week was welcome, money is “not the only challenge we face.”

“If there are no vaccines to buy, money is irrelevant,” Tedros said during a news briefing from Geneva. “Currently, some high-income countries are entering contracts with vaccine manufacturers that undermine the deals that Covax has in place, and reduce the number of doses Covax can buy.”

U.S. officials were present at the briefing — a notable appearance shift from the Trump era, when they kept their distance after President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the United Nations agency because of its relationship with China. The Biden administration reversed the pullout and pledged funding to Covax.

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was noncommittal when a reporter asked whether the United States would consider donating some of the vaccine doses it has already ordered.

“I’ll have to get back to you, because there will be discussions about what else, if anything, will be done,” Fauci said, referring to a $4 billion pledge in funding for Covax that was announced last week.

French President Emmanuel Macron pitched the idea of donating already-ordered doses ahead of a virtual Group of Seven meeting last week. He said that wealthy nations should commit up to 5 percent of their doses to poorer nations and that France will do so. Tedros said he welcomed that commitment.

Both WHO and U.S. officials spoke about the importance of vaccine development and equitable distribution in future pandemics. Fauci said new schemes that consider intellectual property rights but allow for more widespread distribution should be considered, pointing to models used for some HIV drugs.

“We have some precedent” for it, Fauci said.

7:00 p.m.
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Nearly 400 million vaccine doses are being made in virus-ravaged Baltimore — and then shipped elsewhere

BALTIMORE — In a city battered by the coronavirus, one biomedical plant is churning out enough vaccine doses to inoculate every resident hundreds of times over.

The lifesaving medicine is brewed in stainless steel vats and bottled at subfreezing temperatures — then loaded into trucks that carry the vaccines hundreds of miles away. Most will never return.

At the eastern edge of Baltimore, Emergent BioSolutions is manufacturing almost all of the yet-to-be approved Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines for the U.S. population — an anticipated hundreds of millions of doses in the coming months. But in a sign of the complexities in a global supply chain that is struggling beneath the weight of demand, most of those doses will not go to residents of this city, or even the state of Maryland.