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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to lift the state’s mask requirement and increase the permitted capacity of all businesses to 100 percent prompted sharp criticism Tuesday from health experts and government officials who deemed it irresponsible and premature.

The announcement by Abbot (R) came at a moment when public health officials are warning that new, more transmissible variants could be taking hold.

A steady decline in new cases stalled this week across the United States, and cases actually increased slightly in Texas, the second-most-populous state. More than 6,000 people were hospitalized with covid-19 in Texas on Tuesday. More than 1,700 of those patients were in intensive care units.

On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) also lifted his state’s mask mandate, saying that hospitalizations in the state have “plummeted” and that cases have declined dramatically.

Here are some significant developments:
  • President Biden said Tuesday that the United States will have enough vaccine doses for every adult by the end of May, moving up the target date. He also announced plans to vaccinate all K-12 teachers and child-care workers with their first shot by the end of March.
  • Biden announced that pharmaceutical giant Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine in an unusual pact between competitors that could boost the supply of the new single-shot vaccine.
  • The White House announced that states will receive another increase in the weekly supply of coronavirus vaccine doses. The output of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will increase from 14.5 million to 15.2 million doses, according to press secretary Jen Psaki.
  • As states such as Texas and Mississippi begin to roll back coronavirus restrictions such as mask mandates, Biden cautioned that the fight against the virus “is far from over.”
  • The White House’s senior adviser for the coronavirus response, Andy Slavitt, told CNN that the White House thinks “it’s a mistake” to rescind restrictions too early and called on Abbott to rethink his decision to lift Texas’s mask mandate.
  • Brazil recorded the highest number of covid-19 deaths in a single day with 1,641 new deaths in the past 24 hours, surpassing last week’s previous record of about 1,541 coronavirus-related deaths, official data shows.

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3:23 a.m.
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Maryland to prioritize vaccines for health departments quickly administering doses

Maryland health departments that do not administer all of their coronavirus vaccine doses within one week might see their allotments given to other providers, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday.

The new policy is intended to encourage local health departments, which focus on the highest priority recipients, to schedule appointments for each available dose. Health departments with speedier delivery could see an increases in doses at the expense of those administering vaccinations at a slower pace, said Hogan.

Hogan (R) also announced Tuesday that three new mass vaccination sites will open in Maryland this month, bringing the total to six across the state.

2:05 a.m.
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Texas, other states, drop coronavirus restrictions

States and municipalities nationwide have started abandoning coronavirus restrictions this week, allowing pandemic-weary Americans to shun masks, eat at restaurants without capacity limits and go to entertainment venues, despite federal officials’ warnings that the population should remain cautious.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Tuesday lifted the state’s mask mandate and allowed all businesses to operate at full capacity; Mississippi also lifted most restrictions Tuesday. Governors in numerous states, including Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia, loosened restrictions this week.

Abbott’s announcement drew immediate condemnation by officials in Houston, Austin and other cities. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) was in a city council meeting when he was bombarded with text messages about the governor’s actions.

Turner said there was no medical or scientific reason to repeal the mask mandate and lift business restrictions. He noted that hospitalizations in Houston remain high, as does the percentage of people testing positive for the virus.

“Let me just say, this is the wrong direction for the state of Texas, okay?” he said. “And this decision needs to be criticized and condemned by every corner of this state.”

Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) cited vaccination efforts and declining case numbers as reasons to lift restrictions, saying government mandates were no longer needed.

“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” Abbott said during a chamber of commerce event, drawing cheers and applause.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who last week lifted nearly all restrictions on businesses, said his state’s mask mandate probably will be rescinded March 31. The public now knows how to reduce the spread of the virus, he said during a Friday news conference, and can make those judgments without the state enforcing them.

1:56 a.m.
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Biden promises enough coronavirus vaccine for ‘every adult in America’ by the end of May

Biden, facing mounting pressure on various fronts to gain control of the coronavirus pandemic, placed even more of his administration’s hopes in a “stepped-up” vaccine process, promising Tuesday that there will be enough coronavirus vaccine doses for “every adult in America” by the end of May — a two-month acceleration of his previous projection of July.

Biden said pharmaceutical giant Merck will help produce Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot coronavirus vaccine, adding that at the administration’s urging, Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing facilities will now “operate 24/7.” In the same remarks, the president also said he would use federal authority to offer vaccinations to K-12 teachers and child-care workers, with the aim of getting at least the first shot administered to all educators by the end of March.

Ending the pandemic has been Biden’s top priority since before he took office, and his announcements Tuesday came as his administration is facing myriad setbacks and challenges in combating the virus — and the U.S. pandemic is at an inflection point.

1:54 a.m.
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U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says avoid Johnson & Johnson vaccine if possible

On Tuesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged Catholics to avoid taking the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine and to choose alternatives from Pfizer or Moderna instead because Johnson & Johnson used cells derived decades ago from an abortion to create the vaccine.

The bishops’ recommendation follows a similar one from the Archdiocese of New Orleans ahead of a Food and Drug Administration expert panel’s approval of the Johnson & Johnson shot over the weekend. “The archdiocese must instruct Catholics that the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing,” the Archdiocese of New Orleans said in a statement Friday.

12:56 a.m.
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The flu killed nearly 200 children last season. This time, one has died.

In the shadow of the past year’s coronavirus surge came a less noticeable but more positive infectious-disease trend: Influenza and other common viruses have nearly disappeared.

The flu is circulating at such low levels that officials know of only one child in the United States who has died of it this flu season, a striking deviation from the dozens of pediatric deaths in other recent years.

This season’s death toll is a marked decline from the 2019-2020 flu season, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 195 children died of the flu. While influenza typically keeps circulating in March and April, experts say a combination of coronavirus precautions and existing immunity has nearly eradicated infection levels and, by extension, deaths.

12:05 a.m.
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Biden prioritizes vaccine for teachers, child-care workers, with goal of one dose for all educators by end of March

President Biden said Tuesday that he would use federal authority to offer coronavirus vaccinations to all K-12 teachers and child-care workers, with an aim of getting the first shot administered to all educators in March.

The goal is to remove one of the major barriers to reopening schools. Teachers, who have resisted going back in many communities, have said that they would be much more willing to return to in-person teaching if they are vaccinated first. More than half the states have already put teachers into a high-priority bucket in their vaccination programs, but others have not.

“Today I’m using the full authority of the federal government. I’m directing every state to do the same,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “My challenge to all states, territories and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member, child-care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March.”

He said that starting next week, the federal government will use its pharmacy program to prioritize educators, allowing them to sign up for vaccination appointments.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that teachers be prioritized, suggesting that they be the second group eligible for vaccination, behind only health-care workers and those in nursing homes and other senior settings. But the CDC did not mandate it. And in its guidance for school districts, it said teacher vaccination is not a prerequisite for schools to reopen.

11:10 p.m.
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How does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine work? When is it available? What to know about the new shot.

U.S. regulators have approved a third coronavirus vaccine, giving the country another badly needed tool at a critical time in the pandemic.

The newest greenlit vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, requires only a single shot. It’s easy to use, ship and store, and it did not cause any serious side effects during clinical trials. The nation’s leading medical experts cheered its authorization and urged people to take whichever coronavirus vaccine is available to them.

“You now have three highly efficacious vaccines, for sure, there’s no doubt about that,” Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said the day after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

With the rollout starting soon, here’s what you need to know.

10:14 p.m.
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Biden says there will be enough vaccine doses for every adult in the country by end of May

Biden has moved up the timeline for vaccinating Americans, saying the United States will have enough supply for the entire country by the end of May.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May. Let me say that again. When we came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America,” he said.

Biden said his administration immediately went to work procuring more doses with a goal of having enough by the end of July. But increased production and a third vaccine has sped up that timeline to the end of May.

Biden cautioned that it still won’t be easy to get shots into everyone’s arms because of vaccine skepticism and access issues. He said the federal government is “working with states to set up hundreds of mass vaccination centers in places like stadiums, community centers, parking lots that vaccinate thousands of people per day.”

As he did last week, Biden warned against prematurely declaring victory over the virus even with this optimistic news.

“Now there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable,” he said. “We must remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively, and look out for one another. That’s how we’re going to get ahead of this virus, get our economy going again and get back to our loved ones.”

9:16 p.m.
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Two stage directors scour the globe for how America can reopen its theaters

Like thousands of other theater artists across the country, directors Sammi Cannold and Rebecca Aparicio were in the dark about how Broadway and the rest of their industry were going to get back onstage. So in their search for answers, they turned to other nations that have surpassed this country in engineering a return.

The result is “The Comeback Project,” discussions beginning Thursday with theatermakers and others around the world who have been grappling with reopening performance spaces. To various degrees they have succeeded, partly because they have pursued national strategies in ways the United States has not.

“We are in a position to learn from those who have come back before us,” said Cannold, a Stanford- and Harvard-educated director with Broadway and off-Broadway experience. “Some have opened and been able to stay open. Some have opened and had to close again. I think there’s a lot to be learned from both.”

7:03 p.m.
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White House announces another boost in vaccine doses flowing to states

The White House told the nation’s governors Tuesday that they will receive another increase in the weekly supply of coronavirus vaccine doses, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The output of Moderna and Pfizer vaccine will increase from 14.5 million to 15.2 million doses, she said. In addition, states will receive 2.8 million doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Psaki said.

“So they are receiving a total of 18 million doses,” said Psaki, who also noted that Biden plans later Tuesday afternoon to deliver remarks on the status of “our covid-19 response.”

That will include details of a deal brokered by the White House under which Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine, a pact between competitors that could sharply boost the supply.

6:33 p.m.
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Many Republicans don’t want the coronavirus vaccines. Trump could change that.

In the campaign to get Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus, especially those aimed at populations skeptical of getting inoculated, Donald Trump has missed his chance to be Elvis Presley.

The former president quietly got vaccinated in January before leaving the White House instead of getting his shot in public — as Presley did in 1956 to encourage people to take what was then the relatively new polio vaccine.

But Trump’s rock star status among Republicans could still help overcome deep GOP skepticism about immunizations.

5:06 p.m.
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Deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s and other dementias rose in 2020, report says

Kathy Cochran, 68, had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2012, but she was functioning well and enjoying herself, which her husband of 48 years attributed to regular exercise and an active and varied social life.

That crashed to a halt when the coronavirus hit. The couple stopped going to restaurants, visiting friends or seeing their adult children.

The changes put her into a tailspin. “It was just like the bottom dropped out,” Marc Cochran said. In the ensuing months, her cognitive function declined so precipitously that she was moved to a memory-care facility, and she died in September.

If the pandemic did accelerate Kathy Cochran’s decline and death, she is probably not alone. Preliminary reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate there were at least 42,000 more deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2020 compared with the average of the five years prior, according to a report released Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association. This was approximately 16 percent more than expected.

3:59 p.m.
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Republican physicians in Congress call for review of two-dose vaccination strategy

Seven GOP physicians in Congress on Tuesday urged the Health and Human Services Department to review its long-held two-dose vaccination strategy, asserting that shifting to a one-shot plan could save tens of thousands of lives by ensuring partial protection.

“[A]nything we can do to help prevent further tragedy — to further protect the public health and safety of the American people — should be fully employed,” the lawmakers wrote to acting HHS secretary Norris Cochran, in a letter shared with The Washington Post.

The Republicans are the latest to call on policymakers to reconsider whether millions of doses intended as second shots in Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-dose regimen could be distributed as first doses instead.

The letter was led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and joined by six other Republican physicians, including Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).

The lawmakers cite evidence that a single shot can significantly reduce hospitalizations, severe diseases and deaths linked with the coronavirus. They add that public health experts have urged similar reviews of the strategy, noting that the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy — led by Michael Osterholm, who served on Biden’s covid-19 advisory board — has issued its own call to reconsider the two-shot plan.

Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.) on Monday also called for the Biden administration to inoculate Americans with a single dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to ensure more people get some protection before a possible spring surge of cases.

The Democrats said they weren’t advocating for a solely single-dose regimen but believe that using second doses to cover some first doses “would be the most societally beneficial choice.”

Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, reiterated on Monday that the nation would stick to its two-dose plan for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“There’s risks on either side,” Fauci told The Post, warning that shifting to a single-dose strategy for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could leave people less protected, enable variants to spread and possibly boost skepticism among Americans already hesitant to get the shots.

3:55 p.m.
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Johnson & Johnson vaccine is ‘morally compromised’ says New Orleans Archdiocese

On Friday, as a Food and Drug Administration expert panel recommended approving the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, the Archdiocese of New Orleans offered a differing opinion. Taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Archdiocese said, would be immoral.

“The archdiocese must instruct Catholics that the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing,” the Archdiocese of New Orleans said in a statement on Friday.

The decision could put the archdiocese in conflict with the Vatican and Pope Francis, who have been aggressively pro-vaccine. Last December, the Vatican approved the use of vaccines “that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” adding that it’s “morally acceptable,” although the Pope has yet to specifically address the Johnson & Johnson shot.