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A day after a similar gesture by President Biden, on Tuesday evening congressional leaders from both parties held a moment of silence on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for the 500,000 lives lost to the coronavirus.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, called the U.S. death toll “stunning” and said “intense” political divisiveness contributed to the nation’s poor handling of the pandemic.

Here are some significant developments:
4:30 a.m.
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Analysis: Why vaccine distribution may not overlap with the pandemic’s worst-hit areas

New York City’s Health Department provides Zip code-level data on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the city. In particular, it shows how uneven the effects have been, both in terms of the spread of the virus and the city’s response.

For example, notice how light the coloring is on Manhattan on the map at left below. Manhattan is the long island near the center of the map, with Central Park indicated with a gray rectangle in its center. The number of cases as a function of population in that area — one of the wealthiest in the world — is far lower than, say, Queens or Brooklyn, the darker areas to the right of and below Manhattan.

But the city’s data also show that the areas by Central Park have unusually high levels of vaccination. It’s a bit jarring that a wealthy area relatively unaffected by the virus should be so quick to receive protection against it. Those maps don’t tell the whole story.

3:45 a.m.
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Australia’s zero-tolerance coronavirus strategy must end for travel to return, some experts say

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia has taken a hard-line approach to travel restrictions in its effort to contain covid-19. Effectively closing its borders, the nation banned nonessential entry and mandated strict quarantines and testing for anyone allowed to enter — requiring even returning Australian nationals to pay for two-week stays in quarantine hotels monitored by police.

But now that coronavirus vaccinations are underway worldwide, some health experts are signaling that a zero-tolerance approach will probably need to change if the country wants to restart travel.

Two public health experts from Australia’s University of Melbourne penned an op-ed this week suggesting that the country’s coronavirus strategy, which has focused on zero transmission, will need to shift to a “harm minimization approach” if the country wants to reopen its borders any time soon.

3:00 a.m.
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Video: McConnell warns against Democratic coronavirus relief bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Feb. 23 said that the Democratic coronavirus relief proposal would spend too much money and was not targeted. (The Washington Post)
2:12 a.m.
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The pandemic is upending how Oscar nominees are chosen

In any normal Hollywood year, winter is award season, a time when hundreds of screenings, ceremonies, panel discussions and upscale cocktail receptions pack the social calendars of film professionals in Los Angeles, London and New York.

At this dizzying barrage of events — this would normally be a particularly busy week ahead of the Golden Globes on Sunday and the start of Oscar-nominations voting next Friday — contenders smile, tell war stories and patiently repeat their process to the working professionals and retirees who decide their fate while holding glasses of wine and plates of finger food. The process helps winnow the field of competing films for upcoming awards shows, a kind of hive mind forming around the season’s leading contenders.

This year, that mind is looking blank.

1:13 a.m.
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Analysis: Putting 500,000 covid-19 deaths into perspective

We don’t actually know how many people have died of complications from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that likely arrived in the United States at some point last year. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the uncertainty around when the virus actually arrived.

We don’t know how many people may have died of covid-19 without the disease having been confirmed. We can compare the death toll with prior years and see that the United States recorded hundreds of thousands more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, but at this point we’re talking about a scale at which individual tragedies become blurry. To historians, the difference between 500,500 deaths and 499,500 deaths is a subtle one in the “a million deaths is a statistic” sense. In human terms, those 1,000 deaths are 1,000 people vanished from the Earth sooner than would otherwise have happened.

It’s also unclear how many deaths have occurred because the data we have are necessarily out of date, playing catch-up as deaths occur each day or are tallied from deaths in the past. Virginia, for example, is still logging deaths that occurred during the holidays. As the pandemic emerged, there was no real-time central clearinghouse of data on coronavirus deaths, leading media outlets to generate their own varying counts. Those are usually not in sync.

But even if we knew with certainty that the country’s 500,000th coronavirus death occurred this week, it’s a scale that’s simply beyond our ability to apprehend.

12:14 a.m.
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Vaccine registration glitch creates confusion in Virginia

A feature that was supposed to allow Virginia residents seeking vaccinations to check a list to confirm that they are registered has not been working, local officials said Tuesday.

That led to confusion and anxiety among residents who couldn’t confirm that their names were carried over from wait lists kept by their local health districts to Virginia’s new centralized system for appointments. Health officials in Northern Virginia on Tuesday assured residents that the names were successfully merged with the Vaccinate Virginia registration system, and said that the glitch has not affected their ability to continue registering residents for appointments.

“No one has lost their place in line as a result of the data migration challenges,” said Loudoun County spokesman Glen Barbour, adding that state health officials were working to fix the problem. “We continue to make appointments using our wait list, taking people in the order in which they submitted their preregistration forms and in accordance with the mandated priority groups.”

11:15 p.m.
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Global vaccine inequality runs deep. Some countries say intellectual property rights are part of the problem.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages, World Trade Organization representatives have periodically gathered around a virtual table and clashed over how to more equitably increase global access to vaccines.

On one side are the United States and other mainly wealthy Western democracies, where the major pharmaceutical companies developing key vaccines and related medical technologies are based. They want to maintain the status quo, in which the trade secrets of their vaccines — i.e. intellectual property — remain in their hands to preserve profits and the incentive for future development.

On the other side are South Africa and India, leading the charge on behalf of the vast number of countries without any — or a limited supply of — vaccine doses and other equipment for fighting the virus. They argue that the rest of the world cannot keep waiting for the lifesaving shots, which Western countries have monopolized by buying up existing supplies and pre-purchasing future rounds.

10:30 p.m.
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Coronavirus medical mystery: Baby with high viral load puzzles researchers

Among the more than 2,000 youngsters treated at Children’s National Hospital in D.C. for the coronavirus, one newborn was unusual. The baby was very sick, for one. Most infected kids barely show symptoms and even the hospitalized ones tend to have mild cases.

But the real surprise came when doctors measured the infant’s viral load. It was 51,418 times the median of other pediatric patients. And when they sequenced the virus in the baby recently, they found a variant they hadn’t seen before.

Roberta DeBiasi, chief of infectious disease for the hospital, knew she couldn’t conclude anything from one case. But it set off alarm bells. And as the researchers delved further into the mystery, they found evidence that a variant with a mutation called N679S may be circulating in the Mid-Atlantic region.

9:45 p.m.
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Tom Vilsack confirmed to lead Agriculture Department at a time of growing food insecurity due to pandemic

The Senate voted Tuesday to approve President Biden’s nomination of Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary.

Vilsack had been expected to have a smooth path to confirmation after the Senate Agriculture Committee voted unanimously earlier this month to advance his nomination.

Still, Vilsack had faced intense criticism from civil rights activists saying he did not go far enough to eradicate racial discrimination at the agency or support farmers of color during his first stint in the role.

He will head the agency at a time of rising food insecurity because of the pandemic. An estimated 50 million Americans are food insecure and food banks and pantries around the country are running low on food.

9:00 p.m.
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School exams still on, but there will be flexibility, says Education Department

The Education Department told states Monday they are still required to administer annual exams to students, part of the national schools accountability program, though the agency offered flexibility in how the tests are given.

States may seek permission to move assessments to the fall, administer tests remotely and/or shorten the exam, the agency said. But the Biden administration rejected calls to allow states to skip the tests altogether, which they were allowed to do last year.

“State assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity,” Ian Rosenblum, an official with the federal department, wrote in a letter Monday to state school chiefs. “At the same time, it is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-2021 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing.”

8:20 p.m.
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Virginia’s legislature moves closer to mandating a return to full time in-person schooling

RICHMOND — Democrats who control the House of Delegates moved closer Monday to requiring that public schools across Virginia offer full-time in-person instruction as soon as this summer, advancing a bipartisan bill as Republicans turned up political pressure.

The bill goes significantly further than a version Democrats introduced last week that would have required schools to offer an in-person option but did not mandate a full weekly schedule as communities wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the new language, schools would have to provide in-person instruction “for at least the minimum number of required instructional hours.” The bill would require school boards to come up with a plan that follows health guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to the maximum extent practicable.”

7:37 p.m.
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Economic recovery still has a long way to go, Federal Reserve chair tells lawmakers

The economic recovery is uneven, far from complete and depends largely on controlling the pandemic, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell told Congress on Tuesday morning.

“The resurgence in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in recent months is causing great hardship for millions of Americans and is weighing on economic activity and job creation,” Powell was to tell the Senate Banking Committee, according to written testimony.

His testimony came as congressional leaders debate the design and passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal.

6:52 p.m.
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‘Several’ at Maryland State House test positive for coronavirus

The president of the Maryland Senate announced “several positive rapid test results” among lawmakers or staff on Tuesday, and a number of senators missed the in-person floor session — apparently because they were either infected or quarantining.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said the tests were part of the surveillance testing program the General Assembly began last month, at the start of the legislative session. Senators are tested twice a week, and staff is tested weekly.

Ferguson spokesman Jake Weissmann declined to identify who had tested positive, citing privacy concerns. Ferguson said contact-tracing had taken place, and those who tested positive with the rapid tests were awaiting results from the more reliable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Six of the 47 senators were absent when the floor session ended Tuesday.

6:07 p.m.
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Biden to travel to Houston after storm, will visit health center where vaccine is distributed

President Biden plans to travel to Houston on Friday in the wake of a winter storm last week that killed dozens of people, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Tuesday.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden will meet with state and local leaders to discuss storm relief efforts. He will also visit a health center where coronavirus vaccine is being distributed. More than 50 people died as a result of the bitterly cold weather in Texas and surrounding states.

Weather-related power outages affected more than 4 million people, leading to deaths from hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires resulting from people’s efforts to stay warm.