As authorities relax restrictions meant to curb the coronavirus and the race to vaccinate the public remains underway, experts say the United States sits at a potential inflection point, with highly contagious variants threatening an additional surge.
Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an adviser to President Biden’s coronavirus task force, said during a Sunday interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the nation is “in the eye of the hurricane.” Other epidemiologists cited concern over the looming spring break season, saying it could accelerate the spread of the new variants.
Here are some significant developments:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance on what fully vaccinated Americans can do, saying they can visit nearby grandchildren and dine with one another indoors.
House lawmakers could vote as soon as Tuesday on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, putting President Biden on track to sign it into law by the end of the week.
A little-known provision of Biden’s stimulus package will pay billions of dollars to disadvantaged farmers — a quarter of whom are Black — and experts say it is the most significant piece of legislation for Black farmers since the Civil Rights Act.
The stimulus bill also gives airlines, airports and public transit agencies billions of dollars in support to help avoid furloughs and make up for the sharp decreases in riders and fliers during the pandemic.
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, have tested positive for the coronavirus, his office announced Monday. Both are in stable condition, the statement said.
The equitable distribution of the coronavirus vaccine continued to preoccupy officials in the greater Washington region on Monday. The District prepared to launch a new vaccine registration website, and officials in Maryland questioned vaccine distribution across the state and whether some pharmacies and private providers are blocking access for underserved populations.
In Virginia, meanwhile, the first case of the so-called South African variant was detected, in a central Virginia resident with no history of travel while exposed to the virus, the Virginia Department of Health said. The variant, known as B.1.351, has been detected in 20 states or territories, including Maryland and the District, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Infection rates in Virginia, Maryland and the District have leveled off after a post-holiday surge, but are still slightly higher than they were in the summer and fall. Experts say mask-wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing remain critical, especially as the virus mutates, creating variants that may spread more easily than the base strain.
TEL AVIV — For generations, the iron grip of Orthodox rabbis on Israeli family law has meant that mixed couples, gay couples or even couples in which one partner is not deemed Jewish enough have been denied the right to marry within the country's borders. To circumvent the rabbis, thousands of Israelis jetted off each year to nearby countries like Cyprus or Greece for weddings that the government later recognized as civil unions.
But when the pandemic closed even that window, it also opened another: Zoom weddings, administered 7,000 miles away — in Utah.
At least 150 Israeli couples have already tied the virtual knot through this technological loophole, spurring a new battle in a national culture war that has long pitted Israel’s non-Orthodox Jewish majority against the politically entrenched Orthodox Jewish minority.
In her nearly six years as a travel nurse, Charlotte Loyd has carved out a life of adventure: working in places like Nantucket and the U.S. Virgin Islands, taking long road trips to new assignments with family, vacationing abroad with friends in the same profession between contracts.
“For this point in my life, it actually works great,” said Loyd, 51.
It’s the kind of life that agencies for traveling nurses, known as “travelers,” promote: postcard-worthy photos of destinations and the promise of new professional and personal experiences. “Pursue a career that moves you,” says the website of one staffing firm.
The job has gained more visibility over the past year, as understaffed hospitals have turned to travelers to fill crucial gaps during the pandemic.
The District will begin testing a random sampling of students learning in-person at public schools for the coronavirus every week — a strategy that D.C. officials say is aligned with CDC guidelines recommending frequent testing in schools as a way to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Health and education officials said they plan to test 10 percent of students attraditional public and charterschools. Parents must consent for their children to participate in the testing program.
The city currently tests students every other week if their families have opted into the asymptomatic testing program. Parents and teachers say that program has been marred by testing delays and inconsistencies, with the city’s health department not always dispatching adequate staffing to test students at each school.
The new testing program, which will begin on March 15, is similar to the one employed in New York City and would provide a snapshot of the infection rate in schools, raising red flags if the infection rate in a school is higher than the neighborhood that surrounds it.
BERLIN — Two lawmakers from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition resigned Monday in a scandal over pandemic profiteering, the latest blow to her party in a major election year as a once-lauded coronavirus response faces increasing criticism.
Nikolas Löbel, a member of parliament with Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said he would resign with immediate effect Monday after German media reported his company had earned the equivalent of $297,000 in commissions for mask contracts.
As the furor grew over the weekend, he initially said he would not stand for reelection in the September elections, admitting he had made a “mistake” in the way he had handled the commissions.
Stories of time lost: A girl, almost 9, who never felt like she got to be 8. A 102-year-old who lives in isolation. And everyone in between.
By Washington Post Staff
The coronavirus pandemic brought out stories of profound grief and heroic resolve.
These are not those stories.
Instead, at this one-year mark, Style reporters set out to note some of the other, countless emotions and personal losses: The almost-9-year-old who never felt like she got to be 8. The 102-year-old who lives in mandated isolation. The massage therapist and her customers who simply crave touch. The couple who postponed their big wedding — and may have to postpone it again. The single person losing her last sense of social contact. The DJ who spins for an empty room. The college freshman who has never set foot on campus. Shutdowns, lockdowns, quarantines — whatever you called this long and lost time, these stories acknowledge the persistent disconnect, all that absence, and what it feels like to live in a suspended state of mind.
In January, Chinese media reported that packaging from a shipment of Chilean cherries had tested positive for the coronavirus. In the confusion that followed, Chinese retailers dumped cherry orders and consumers shunned the fruit.
Chinese health experts went on TV to say cherries were safe to eat if you washed them (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk from eating or handling food is “very low”), while Chile’s embassy said it hadn’t been confirmed that the tainted batch was from Chile. But it was too late: Prices collapsed as 288,000 tons of imported Chilean cherries approached their expiration date.
There are all sorts of ways to counter reluctance to get the coronavirus vaccine. There’s leading by example. There’s guilt. And there’s pure charm.
Dolly Parton went the latter route last week as she got her first shot, wearing a sparkly blue cold-shoulder dress for her Instagram PSA and crooning “Vaccine” to the tune of her signature “Jolene.”
Despite all this high-level persuasion, a big chunk of Americans — about 3 in 10 — remain hesitant, according to a new Pew Research survey.
The news media has a role to play — not in outright advocacy, but in relentlessly providing accurate, nuanced information and answering questions straightforwardly.
“There is a lot to be said for honestly reporting as much context as possible and knowing the terrain into which your sound bites and headlines will play,” said Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and restaurant owners faced difficult decisions, the Richards family that owns Picos, a Mexican restaurant in Houston, quickly adapted to continue sharing their Latin cuisine — from selling to-go margarita kits to stationing a mariachi band at the curbside pickup.
This week, after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he would rescind the statewide mask mandate while the vast majority of residents remain unvaccinated, the tough choice to enforce public health guidance fell to business owners, and Picos announced it would continue requiring masks. But, after such a challenging year, the reaction to their decision was disheartening, co-owner Monica Richards said: Several people sent hateful messages through social media and called the restaurant, threatening to report staffers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Federal health officials released guidance Monday that gives fully vaccinated Americans more freedom to socializeand pursue routine activities, providing a pandemic-weary nation a first glimpse of whata new normalmay look like in the months ahead.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are two weeks past their final shot face little risk if they visit indoors with unvaccinated members of a single household at low risk of severe disease, without wearing masks or distancing. That would free manyvaccinated grandparents who live near their unvaccinated children and grandchildren to gather for the first time in a year. The guidelines continue to discourage visits involving long-distance travel, however.
The CDC also said fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with those who are also fully vaccinated. And they do not need to quarantine, or be tested after exposure to the coronavirus, as long as they have no symptoms.
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — By almost every measurement, Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq was stunning. He went to a country no pope had visited before, at a time when few other global figures were traveling. He led prayer in the very place where, just seven years earlier, the Islamic State’s leader had proclaimed a caliphate that would “conquer Rome.” The crowds were adoring, ululating, sometimes crying. The theater was unbeatable.
And yet, amid all this, I kept thinking about the coronavirus.
Almost everywhere Francis went, there were crowds. Big crowds of unvaccinated people, shoulder-to-shoulder. Francis’s outdoor Mass in Irbil, capital of the semiautonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, had nearly the attendance of the Super Bowl, but in a dramatically smaller stadium; few were wearing masks. Most startling was an indoor Mass on Saturday night in Baghdad, in a packed church with people singing and almost no ventilation. I was a pool reporter for that service; it felt like standing in a coronavirus nuclear reactor.
SAN FRANCISCO — Like many parents just trying to get to the other side of a pandemic in one piece, Iris Lowenberg-Lin doesn’t have the bandwidth to micromanage screen time for her two older kids. By giving up some, but not all, control, she and other parents have been able to see firsthand the good and bad of letting kids lead the way with their own technology usage.
“Screen time” — as a concept to track meticulously, to fret and panic about, to measure parents’ worth in — is no longer considered a valid framework in a pandemic world, where the way we live our lives has been completely redefined.
Since schools in the United States began closing down roughly a year ago, the country’s children have been adapting, learning and getting creative with how they use technology. The realities of their day-to-day lives have varied wildly, as have their relationships with screens.
TOKYO — Japan’s coronavirus vaccination program is in disarray -- mostly from self-inflicted wounds.
Vaccinations are at a crawl, upending hopeful predictions that life could start to return to normal by the summer. Even before a third wave of infections is under control, many health experts are predicting another possible surge ahead of the summer’s Olympics.
Japan’s government boasts of its success in containing the worst of the pandemic. But medical experts tell a different story — a failure to meet the moment, and of a slow-moving government and bureaucracy struggling to adapt to a fast-moving pandemic.
It adds up to a jolting contrast as many other wealthy nations have their feet on the gas to accelerate and expand vaccinations. Japan’s very slow rollout also is likely to undermine support for beleaguered Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and delay Japan’s economic recovery.