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Days after governors in Texas and Mississippi announced that their states would ease coronavirus restrictions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new research reaffirming that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus and that increased virus cases and deaths are associated with allowing dining at restaurants.

Researchers found that case counts and deaths “slowed significantly” within 20 days of putting mask mandates into place, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House news briefing Friday, reaffirming federal guidance that people should wear masks when they are in public and around others.

“I know the idea of relaxing mask-wearing and getting back to everyday activities is appealing, but we’re not there yet,” Walensky said. “And we have seen this movie before: When prevention measures like mask mandates are rolled back, cases go up.”

Here are some significant developments:
  • Top Democrats in the Senate reached an agreement to scale back unemployment payments in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan late Friday, ending a nine-hour standoff that threatened to derail action on the coronavirus relief bill.
  • Disneyland and other California theme parks were given the green light to reopen with limited capacity beginning April 1, the state’s Health Department announced Friday. Venues for outdoor sports and live performances can also allow in-person audiences beginning next month, but attendees cannot visit from out of state.
  • South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) said Friday he would ease face covering requirements for restaurants and state buildings, touting that he never implemented a comprehensive mask mandate during the pandemic.
  • All nine Supreme Court justices have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, a spokeswoman said Friday. The news comes after the court stopped holding in-person oral arguments about a year ago.
  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, made another appeal on Friday to waive some intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines to increase the global supply and to level out distribution between poor and rich countries.
  • Health Canada approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday, making it the fourth vaccine to be permitted in the nation.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration supports an independent review following reporting that New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) and his aides altered a nursing home report to conceal the real higher death toll.

4:45 a.m.
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First came fires. Then a pandemic. Now, domestic tourism is fueling Australia’s recovery.

Leanne King, who runs cultural walking tours through Yengo National Park in New South Wales and lives nearby, was out of state when not one, but two bush fires swept through the area in early December 2019.

By the time she returned at the end of January, both areas of the national park and half of the usually serene valley where her property lies had been reduced to a sparse, Mars-like landscape decorated only with a few stubborn gum trees. With the national park closed for four months, her tours came to a standstill, and there was barely any work for six to eight months, she says.

The past 18 months have been a roller coaster for Australia’s $122 billion tourism industry. First there were the bush fires that swept across the Australian continent over the summer of 2019-2020, which the Australian Tourism Export Council estimates cost the sector $4.5 billion. Then, in March 2020, the Australian government responded to the pandemic by shutting its borders to international travel, and preventing Australians from coming and going unless they applied for an exemption.

4:20 a.m.
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Analysis: Biden’s strong coronavirus numbers reinforce the folly of Trump’s approach

A new Associated Press-NORC poll shows a remarkable number of Americans support President Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic: Fully 70 percent of voters approve of it, including 44 percent of Republicans. These are numbers rarely seen for any president, on any issue, in any poll these days.

They come with two significant caveats. One is that Biden, as a new president, might still be benefiting from the honeymoon that many presidents enjoy in their earliest days. The other is that other polls haven’t shown his approval quite so high on the coronavirus.

But even considering those, Biden’s pandemic numbers reinforce how Americans prefer his more realistic approach to that of former president Donald Trump, in a way that Trump never seemed to grasp — and might well have cost him his reelection.

4:00 a.m.
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Analysis: While the Senate read the coronavirus relief bill, nearly 900 Americans may have died 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 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.) decided to force the chamber to read the 628-page bill in its entirety. The effect isn’t to change the outcome. Instead, it’s to delay the inevitable.

3:30 a.m.
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D.C. coronavirus vaccine registration website falters again, despite assurances

D.C.’s vaccine registration website once again sparked frustration for users on Friday, despite assurances from the city’s chief technology officer that issues related to heavy traffic to the portal were resolved.

On what was billed as the final day of the District’s first-come, first-serve sign-ups for the coronavirus vaccine, scores of residents took to social media to report delays in accessing appointments that were supposed to open at 9 a.m.

Some saw error messages and webpages displaying information from the wrong date. Many reported trouble accessing the city’s call center, which is supposed to help those who don’t have computer or Internet access.

2:55 a.m.
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USDA watchdog launches probe into meatpacking plant inspections amid coronavirus

The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reviewing the agency’s handling of inspections at meatpacking plants amid the coronavirus pandemic, in part to determine how it protected front-line meat inspectors, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The review comes in response to a call from Senator Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who asked the inspectors general of the USDA and Labor Department in August to determine whether actions by the Trump administration helped spread the coronavirus among workers at the plants.

“Early in the pandemic, meat processing plants saw some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, harming a workforce predominantly comprised of immigrants, refugees, and people of color, and raising serious questions about any federal actions that may have contributed to the spread of the virus in these facilities,” Bennet said in a statement to The Post.

2:26 a.m.
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Virginia adds 900 uncounted coronavirus deaths to its toll due to computer glitch

RICHMOND — A wave of some 900 previously unreported deaths finished washing through Virginia's coronavirus statistics this week, inflating the daily numbers as authorities cleared up the computer glitch that had kept them from being counted.

Correcting the error sent the apparent daily death toll soaring into the triple digits for 11 days beginning Feb. 21, topping out at nearly 400 on Wednesday. But many of the deaths had actually happened in January, the result of a holiday season surge of coronavirus cases, according to the state health department.

The deaths were put into the daily totals in clumps as investigators tracked them down, which had the effect of boosting the numbers that came out each of those days, said Lilian Peake, Virginia’s state epidemiologist.

1:41 a.m.
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Senate Democrats announce unemployment benefits deal, allowing covid relief bill to move forward

Senate Democratic leaders reached an agreement over unemployment benefits with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) late Friday, ending a nine-hour standoff that threatened to derail action on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

The agreement would extend the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit through Sept. 6, as well as provide tax relief on benefits for households making under $150,000.

“The President has made it clear we will have enough vaccines for every American by the end of May and I am confident the economic recovery will follow. We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with unexpected tax bill next year,” Manchin said in a statement.

“Those making less than $150,000 and receiving unemployment will be eligible for a $10,200 tax break. Unemployment benefits will be extended through the end of August,” he added.

The deal came after action on Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill screeched to a halt Friday as an earlier 11th-hour compromise on unemployment insurance benefits appeared to unravel, leaving the entire effort in limbo and raising questions about Democrats’ ability to govern with a 50-50 Senate.

12:43 a.m.
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Disneyland, other California theme parks get okay to reopen as soon as April 1

Disneyland and other theme parks in California will be able to reopen for the first time in more than a year — at reduced capacity, and with mandatory masking — as early as April 1, under new guidelines released Friday by the California Department of Public Health.

In a news release, the department said the capacity allowed at amusement parks will be determined based on what tier they’re in, which is based on a series of health metrics. Those in the red tier will be able to open at only 15 percent capacity; that will increase to 25 percent in the orange tier and 35 percent in yellow.

Previously, counties had to be in the least-restrictive yellow tier for theme parks to reopen, according to the Los Angeles Times. Orange and Los Angeles counties, where Disneyland and University Studios Hollywood are located, are now in the most-restrictive purple tier. But according to news reports, both are close to moving up to red.

Only residents of California will be allowed to visit the parks.

Disneyland and Universal have opened some shops and restaurants in their retail areas to visitors, and both have announced ticketed food-festival-type events this month. But those did not include rides or other typical theme park attractions.

Disneyland did not immediately announce a reopening date Friday but acknowledged the state’s announcement. It and Walt Disney World in Florida closed in March of 2020; Disney World reopened in July.

“We are encouraged that theme parks now have a path toward reopening this spring, getting thousands of people back to work and greatly helping neighboring businesses and our entire community,” Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, said in a statement. “With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can’t wait to welcome our guests back and look forward to sharing an opening date soon.”

12:29 a.m.
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How travel brought two coronavirus variants to the U.S., according to the CDC

On Dec. 29, 2020, the United States discovered its first known case of a highly contagious coronavirus variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, in a Colorado man with no travel history. The man’s lack of prior travel meant the more deadly version of the virus was already spreading in the United States, leaving Americans wondering how it got here.

“It didn’t teleport across the Atlantic,” William Hanage, a Harvard University epidemiologist, told the New York Times at the time.

And as news reports of the initial case of the variant (known as B.1.1.7) broke that week, a separate case of that variant boarded a flight from London to Dallas. We now know this because of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports released Wednesday about the first detected travel-linked cases of two coronavirus variants.

11:30 p.m.
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Has covid killed trade shows? Barcelona bets on a comeback.

Natalia Ruiz started realizing that the coronavirus was going to clobber her catering business when she was forced to discard a whole refrigerator of Jabugo ham, smoked salmon and foie gras.

It was roughly one year ago, on the eve of a giant technology conference that usually brings more than 100,000 visitors to Barcelona. Organizers spooked by the virus nixed the summit at the last minute, leaving hundreds of local suppliers in the lurch.

It was one of the first in a flood of event cancellations that soon spread around the world, from Singapore to Chicago, signaling the start of a global downturn. Now, as the global economy starts to emerge from the pandemic, Barcelona and other business destinations like it are wondering: Will thousands of people ever want to pack into a conference center again?

9:28 p.m.
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Vaccine sign-up in the D.C. region has been a mess. It didn’t have to be this way.

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 such as 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.

Regional leaders could also have prepared better-functioning registration websites and distribution networks.

8:39 p.m.
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In D.C., fewer restrictions for private schools mean middle and high schoolers get more in-person learning

The District’s top private schools are able to offer more classroom instruction in the upper grades than public schools because they are not bound by the same health guidelines, frustrating some public school parents whose children are not yet being offered in-person learning.

D.C. public schools are required to keep students with the same cohort of classmates every day, limit class sizes to 11 students and maintain six feet of distancing. The health protocols, among the strictest in the region, have made reopening middle and high schools complicated because students would normally take classes with different teachers and peers.

The result is that many public middle and high schools are bringing in fewer students and for just a few hours a week for one or two courses in person or help from a teacher.

7:18 p.m.
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WHO head pushes for waiver of some intellectual-property rights for coronavirus vaccines, in bid to broaden access

The director general of the World Health Organization on Friday renewed calls to waive some intellectual-property rights for coronavirus vaccines, a move he said is needed to boost global supply and ensure greater access for poorer countries — requisites for ending the coronavirus pandemic.

“Flexibilities in trade regulations exist for emergencies, and surely a global pandemic, which has forced many societies to shut down and caused so much harm to business — both large and small — qualifies,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in an op-ed in the Guardian published Friday, railing against “a me-first approach” to vaccination.

“We need to be on a war footing, and it’s important to be clear about what is needed,” he wrote.

6:31 p.m.
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Without mask requirements, essential workers in Texas and Mississippi say they feel more vulnerable than ever

After nearly a year on the front lines of the pandemic, retail and restaurant workers in Texas and Mississippi — where governors this week said they would ease a number of coronavirus-related restrictions, including mask requirements — say they feel especially vulnerable now. They’ve worked through shutdowns and watched colleagues fall ill and die of the virus.

The stakes, they say, feel even higher now. They’re not yet eligible for the vaccine even though they’re surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of customers a day. In interviews with more than a dozen workers, many said they’ve considered quitting.

“It’s like pulling the rug out from under essential workers — the very people who need our unambiguous support and protection — just as we’re turning a corner,” said David Abrams, professor of social and behavioral science at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “It puts people who are already in a precarious position in a terrible bind.”