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After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced he would end the state’s mask mandate, saying that “Texas is open 100%,” some major chains and retailers are saying: Not so fast.

Target, Starbucks, CVS and Kroger are among the retailers — some of the largest in the nation — that will continue to require that customers in Texas wear masks inside stores. Others, such as Albertsons, will drop the requirement but continue to encourage people to wear facial coverings. President Biden has criticized some governors’ decisions to lift mask mandates as “the last thing we need” and “Neanderthal thinking.”

Here are some significant developments:
4:30 a.m.
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As the pandemic prompts eco-awareness, the travel industry responds to shifting customer priorities

The past year has changed people’s priorities in many aspects of their lives, but one of the biggest pendulum swings could involve travel. Previously, many found their itineraries at the intersection of affordability and bragging rights. But after the events of 2020, a growing number of wanderers are instead seeking opportunities that help them be better stewards of the Earth.

“I think the pandemic has given people time to consider travel and sustainability and how they want to do things differently going forward,” said Louree Maya, founder of Kynder, a website that aggregates eco-friendly and ethical hotels and eateries in Europe and the United States.

Maya’s impression isn’t just anecdotal. Booking.com recently released the findings of a global research report in which analysts asked travelers if and how they planned to travel differently when borders reopen. The report found that 53 percent of global travelers wanted “to travel more sustainably in the future as Coronavirus has opened their eyes to humans’ impact on the environment.” Another 69 percent of respondents said they expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options.

3:50 a.m.
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WNBA players are educating themselves and fans on vaccines

Elizabeth Williams watched from her apartment in Turkey. Breanna Stewart logged in from the industrial heartland of Russia, resting her head on a table as she listened. Alysha Clark joined from a charter bus rolling through the French countryside, framed by her sun-drenched window seat.

Scattered across international time zones Tuesday, several WNBA players gathered on Zoom not to discuss basketball but their next mission as activists: learning as much as possible about coronavirus vaccines and then sharing that knowledge with fans.

The 2020 WNBA season was defined by the players’ off-the-court actions: a Say Her Name campaign to bring attention to the police killing of Breonna Taylor and a crusade to oust a team owner, Kelly Loeffler, from the U.S. Senate and then the league.

2:50 a.m.
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Judging humanity’s performance against the coronavirus

On the wooded site of a former golf course in suburban Washington, archivists are building a global time capsule of the pandemic. The digital repository — to be housed at the National Library of Medicine, a Cold War-era fortress appropriately built for fearful times — holds 30 million documents from 9,000 sources, with links to similar troves from Beijing to Paris.

Reading like a great international scrapbook, the archive also serves as a warning. Its podcasts, photographs, videos, health documents, website captures, news stories and social media posts will reveal to future generations what we did wrong in 2020.

Some things, they’ll learn, went surprisingly right, particularly in east Asia, Australia and New Zealand. But the graduate students of the 22nd century — like some of the archive’s researchers today — might be most struck by our colossal failures.

1:50 a.m.
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Airlines are adding flight routes. Here’s what it means for summer travel and beyond.

When air travel numbers plummeted last year, airlines slashed routes to account for the massive drop in demand. But now not only are passenger numbers increasing, but also interest in flying again is soaring.

“Kayak’s flight search data set a record high since the pandemic began this past Thursday, only to see that record then broken Friday, only to see that record then broken on Saturday,” says Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

As we start to plan trips again, airlines are adding routes to accommodate our gradual return to the skies. Scott Laurence, head of revenue and planning at JetBlue, says the airline has adapted at a pace like never before, pivoting routes to changing customer interest. Last year, the airline added more than 80 routes as a result.

12:50 a.m.
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Americans are getting fewer coronavirus tests. Here’s why that’s bad.

Coronavirus testing sites in Los Angeles County were overrun in January. Within minutes of opening online, appointments for the entire day would be fully booked. The lines outside testing sites stretched for blocks.

But demand for testing has dropped so dramatically that anyone walking off the street nowadays can almost instantly get a test.

“It’s crazy how fast and far the drop in testing has been,” said Clemens Hong, a physician leading the county’s testing efforts. “It’s worrisome.”

11:50 p.m.
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Analysis: While the Senate reads the coronavirus relief bill, nearly 1,400 Americans may die from the virus

Shortly after Jan. 5, it became apparent that Congress was likely to pass legislation substantially bolstering economic relief provided in response to the coronavirus pandemic. What changed was that two Democrats won runoff races for the Senate in Georgia, giving the party and incoming President Biden enough votes to pass the bill Biden wanted to see.

It’s been nearly two months since that election and, after passing the House, the $1.9 trillion bill is now awaiting a vote in the Senate. But that won’t happen for a while yet, not because there aren’t the votes to pass it but, instead, because Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has decided to force the chamber to read the 628-page bill in its entirety. The effect isn’t to change the outcome. It’s meant to be a nuisance.

But, as CNN’s Brian Fung pointed out on Twitter, it carries an additional weight this time. Included in the funding bill is financial support for millions of Americans, as well as billions of dollars meant to bolster vaccine distribution and testing — tools which could bring the pandemic to an end more quickly.

10:50 p.m.
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Analysis: With the pandemic far from over, Texas leaders blame immigrants for spreading the virus

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Tex.) made a surprising announcement on Tuesday: His state would entirely scale back its restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus, including the mandate that Texans wear face coverings. Shortly afterward, Gov. Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) made a similar announcement.

Unsurprisingly, Biden was critical of the decisions, particularly given the imminent increase in vaccine supply.

“The last thing we need,” he said on Wednesday, “is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything is fine, take off your mask.”

In short order, Abbott attempted to blame Biden for the spread of the virus in his state. To do so, he made a tangential allegation.

“The Biden Administration is recklessly releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities,” Abbott wrote on Twitter. “The Biden Admin. must IMMEDIATELY end this callous act that exposes Texans & Americans to COVID.”

This assertion that immigrants to the United States are vectors for dangerous disease is a well-worn one. There’s been academic research about the way in which immigration was attacked through the lens of public health. In 2014, when a surge of minors arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border fleeing violence in Central America, the same refrain emerged in conservative media: the immigrants are bringing illness.

9:50 p.m.
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Senate votes to open debate on Biden $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill

The Senate voted Thursday to open debate on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, as Democrats moved forward with no GOP support after failing to win over a single Republican senator on the new president’s first major legislative initiative.

The vote was 51-50, with Vice President Harris breaking the 50-50 tie. GOP unity against the procedural motion all but guaranteed that no Republican will vote in favor of the legislation on final passage, which will come after hours of debate and an amendment free-for-all likely to drag into the weekend.

Once it passes the Senate, the legislation will have to go back to the House for final approval before being sent to Biden’s desk for his signature. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has guaranteed the House will pass the Senate’s version of the bill, despite some changes that liberals dislike, including narrowing eligibility for $1,400 relief checks and excluding a $15 minimum wage.

8:50 p.m.
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Vaccine sign-up in the D.C. region has been a mess. Experts say the problems could have been prevented.

With demand far outstripping supply, the initial weeks of the coronavirus vaccination effort practically guaranteed anxious waiting for millions of people.

But some of the problems that have plagued the District, Maryland and Virginia, from canceled appointments to crashing websites, could have been prevented, experts say.

Across the United States, a decentralized public health system created logistical challenges for vaccine delivery that countries like Israel and the United Kingdom were able to avoid. The federal government left the task of getting shots into arms to local and state bureaucracies, public health experts say, and failed to provide the necessary resources.

7:54 p.m.
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Asian American students are missing from classrooms as schools reopen

It’s happening in well-to-do Pakistani households in the suburbs of Washington and among Chinese restaurant workers in Philadelphia. It’s happening among weary Filipino nurses in Queens, Hmong refugee families in Minneapolis and in Silicon Valley’s Asian American community.

As school buildings start to reopen, Asian and Asian American families are choosing to keep their children learning from home at disproportionately high rates. They say they are worried about elderly parents in cramped, multigenerational households, distrustful of promised safety measures and afraid their children will face racist harassment at school. On the flip side, some are pleased with online learning and see no reason to risk the health of their family.

7:16 p.m.
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Psaki says Biden is frustrated with GOP governors lifting mask mandates

White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden’s comparison of governors who have lifted all mask mandates to “Neanderthals,” saying the president was speaking out of “frustration and exasperation.”

“He believes that with more than half a million Americans lives lost, with families that continue to suffer, that it’s imperative that people listen across the country, whether they live in a red state or blue state, to the guidance of public health experts,” she said during the daily news briefing.

Psaki said Biden has not reached out to GOP Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas or Tate Reeves of Mississippi to try to convince them to back mask-wearing for a few more months while vaccine supply is ramped up.

“I don’t think his view on mask-wearing is a secret. They’re certainly familiar with it. He’s talked about it many, many times,” Psaki said. “And I’m certain when he speaks with them next, he will convey that directly.”

6:57 p.m.
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Analysis: About half of U.S. seniors still need a coronavirus vaccine shot

The past week has brought encouraging vaccine news, with the approval of a third shot and promises from the White House that there will be enough doses for every American adult by the spring.

But there’s still a way to go in vaccinating seniors, a group that accounts for 81 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the United States.

About half of seniors have yet to receive a single shot of a coronavirus vaccine.

The still-unvaccinated population includes 36 percent of people older than 75 and 54 percent of people ages 65 to 75, according to data shared Wednesday by President Biden’s coronavirus task force.

6:19 p.m.
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Questions arise in Florida over whether vaccine doses are being directed to wealthy political contributors

Last week, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R) was inspired to donate a quarter-million dollars to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign war chest.

The hefty donation came about a month after Rauner’s ultrawealthy and exclusive community on the northern tip of Key Largo received enough coronavirus vaccine doses for 1,200 residents over age 65, according to a Miami Herald report Wednesday evening.

That vaccine access — at a time when many other elderly Floridians struggled to find doses — combined with donations to DeSantis by Rauner and more than a dozen other residents in the Ocean Reef Club have raised new concerns among critics of the Republican governor’s handling of the pandemic.

“This is wrong on so many levels,” state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County, said in a tweet Wednesday night.

6:01 p.m.
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Target, Starbucks to keep mask rules in place as Texas lifts mandate

Many of the largest retailers in the country will continue to require customers in Texas to wear masks inside their stores, maintaining basic safety measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, even as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is lifting a statewide mandate for face coverings.

Target, Starbucks, CVS and Kroger are among the companies that will keep their mask rules in place. Some retailers, however, including Albertsons, plan to drop the requirement for patrons but will encourage them to wear masks. H-E-B, the state’s largest supermarket chain, said it will request that shoppers wear masks, but will continue to require its employees and vendors to wear them.

While face coverings serve as a foundational safeguard to prevent the spread of coronavirus, retailers have in many ways become the de facto enforcers of public health measures — to protect front-line workers, customers and their communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks in any public setting. The agency requires commuters and travelers to wear face masks on public transit and at transportation hubs nationwide.

Contrary to public health guidance designed to halt new infections, many Republican leaders have railed against mask mandates. Texas imposed statewide masking eight months ago, but earlier this week, Abbot declared the mandate would be rolled back, boasting on Twitter that “Texas is OPEN 100%.”

Abbot’s decision has drawn widespread criticism, including from Biden, as health officials plead with states to keep up safety measures as more transmissible variants could endanger progress that’s been made.

Health experts and government officials say getting rid of mask mandates as the vaccine effort is just getting underway is irresponsible and premature. While new cases in the past week are down overall for the country, infections have risen by 16 percent in Texas.