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The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine appears to be highly effective against a more-contagious variant first discovered in Brazil, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, raising hopes that ongoing vaccination efforts will help curb its spread.

The study was conducted by scientists with the vaccine manufacturers — U.S. firm Pfizer and German partner BioNTech — and researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Researchers used the vaccines on viruses engineered to carry the mutations found in the Brazil strain, known as P.1, not the actual variant.

The findings have not been confirmed by real-world data, but they come as public-health experts warn that the more-transmissible variants could drive yet another surge in coronavirus cases, particularly as restrictions are lifted across the United States.

As health officials rush to get ahead of the variants, Congress is on track to pass pandemic relief legislation after months of debate, with the House set to begin consideration of the $1.9 trillion package at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Once passed, President Biden will sign the measure into law.

Here are some significant developments:
  • Alaska is the first state to remove eligibility requirements for the coronavirus vaccine, making immunization available to anyone 16 and older who lives or works in the state.
  • Some experts disagree with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines that discourage vaccinated people from traveling. One leading physician said the agency “is being far overly cautious in a way that defies common sense.”
  • Cybercriminals are flooding potential victims with scams using the pending coronavirus relief plan as bait, according to a report by researchers at cybersecurity firm Proofpoint.
  • The coronavirus began proliferating rapidly in the United States around this time last year. Now, infectious-disease experts are acknowledging how they underestimated the pathogen, especially in the critical early days of the crisis.
  • The seven-day average for new daily coronavirus cases in the United States has dropped below 58,000 for the first time since mid-October.
  • Nearly 32 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, a little less than 10 percent of the population. The nation is averaging about 2.1 million doses administered per day, up from about 1.5 million one month ago.

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4:45 a.m.
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Third round of coronavirus relief offers significant cash to parents

For parents, the next round of stimulus payments could deliver some serious cash.

The American Rescue Plan, expected to be approved and signed into law this week by President Biden, contains several provisions directly aimed at helping parents: Larger stimulus payments of $1,400 for each dependent, an increase in the child tax credit, and more money funneled through the tax credit to help parents offset work-related child-care expenses.

The bill was adopted by the Senate on Saturday and awaits a final vote from the House. Biden has said he will sign the measure into law.

“The provisions in the bill for parents are significant,” said former taxpayer advocate Nina Olson, who is now executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights. It “targets the assistance to families who are among those needing the greatest help, those who have so little income they do not have a tax liability.”

4:07 a.m.
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Watchdog groups laud proposals to ramp up patient care in nursing homes and call for additional reforms

Patient advocacy groups are praising two proposals by state and federal lawmakers aimed at improving infection-control protocols and financial transparency in America’s nursing homes, struck by a crushing stretch of deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The Covid-19 Nursing Home Protection Act, introduced by five U.S. senators late last month, would provide $750 million to states to fund local strike teams of health and emergency workers who would fill staffing shortages during coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes. The bill would also deliver $210 million to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help shore up practices meant to prevent or contain the spread of communicable diseases.

For years, the nursing home industry has faced criticism for failing to abide by federal infection-control standards, including proper hand-washing and the use of protective gear. As the coronavirus sickened or killed tens of thousands of residents, government inspectors continued to cite facilities for breakdowns.

3:07 a.m.
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Is it safe for vaccinated Americans to travel? The CDC says no — but some experts disagree.

Under new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccinated people can safely hold small indoor gatherings with other vaccinated people, without masks or distancing. They may also reasonably visit with low-risk unvaccinated individuals, such as children, without masks.

Travel, however, still is deemed inadvisable because of the potential for vaccinated people to carry and transmit coronavirus to others who are not vaccinated.

Yet officials in the health and travel industries disagree as to whether such caution is warranted at this point in the pandemic, as vaccinations in many countries ramp up but coronavirus variants continue to stir global concern.

Besides forgoing nonessential travel, the CDC guidance says both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans should continue to avoid medium- and large-sized gatherings and wear face masks and physically distance in public spaces.

Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, pushed back against the CDC in an appearance Monday on CNN, saying that the agency “is being far overly cautious in a way that defies common sense.”

2:07 a.m.
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White House: President Biden’s name will not appear on $1,400 stimulus payments

The White House said Tuesday that President Biden’s name would not appear on the $1,400 stimulus payments set to be sent out to millions of American families as part of the administration’s relief package, a reversal from the precedent set under President Trump.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the payments approved under Biden would instead by signed by a career official at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, an office within the Department of Treasury. The House is expected to vote on the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan as soon as Wednesday, putting it on course to be signed into law by Biden next week.

The decision marks a reversal from the Trump administration. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin included Trump’s signature on the memo line of the payments approved in March last year, as well as a gushing letter signed by Trump taking credit for the benefit.

1:06 a.m.
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A quarter of Americans — and a third of Republicans — say they don’t plan to get the coronavirus vaccine

For months and months, President Donald Trump and his allies in conservative media — chief among them the prime-time hosts on Fox News — found it politically useful to disparage government entities combating the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump needed someone to blame for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who had died, a total that by the time he left office was nearly twice the upper limit he had predicted last March. He needed to encourage economic activity to return to normal levels as his reelection loomed, so he disparaged experts’ calls for containment measures. All the while, the pandemic raged, with total cases and deaths in the United States worse as a function of population than nearly anywhere else in the world.

Since Trump left office, the inclination of his media allies to offer skepticism about the government response has not waned. The country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, is still a focus of opprobrium, as he was last year when he had the temerity to suggest that perhaps Trump’s approach to the pandemic was not ideal. Even vaccines — one area in which the government’s efforts last year were an unqualified success — are continually a target of skepticism.

12:06 a.m.
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Maryland governor lifts caps on dining, retail and religious establishments

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday said he will lift capacity limits on indoor and outdoor dining, retail businesses, fitness centers and religious establishments — the most dramatic steps taken toward reopening in the region since the winter surge in coronavirus cases.

The executive order from Hogan (R), to take effect at 5 p.m. Friday, also allows large venues such as concert halls and theaters to return to 50 percent capacity and for adult day-care centers to reopen. Quarantine requirements for out-of-state travel are also being lifted.

“Each day brings us closer to seeing a light at the end of this very long tunnel,” Hogan said in announcing the new rules.

Hogan said the new policies follow a weeks-long decline in case rates statewide and the vaccination of more than 1 million residents. As of this week, the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized in Maryland was equivalent to the level it was in early November but higher than it was during the summer peak.

11:06 p.m.
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Analysis: Biden kicks off new ‘rescue’ messaging with prime-time speech

As President Biden ramps up a messaging campaign advocating for his $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, he may have an easier time of it than President Barack Obama had 12 years ago in justifying his $787 billion stimulus.

With passage of the plan this week all but assured, Biden plans to escalate his administration’s outreach to Americans over the coming weeks to defend the measure and lay out other priorities. It starts with his first prime-time address.

Biden’s remarks on Thursday aren’t the starting gun for a new communications campaign — for weeks, aides have done scores of interviews with national, local, and specialized media in an effort to muscle the legislation to the Resolute Desk.

But they will mark a new, more intense phase, including the president’s first formal press conference, sometime this month, which White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced on Friday.

10:13 p.m.
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Covid art, vaccine vials to be part of Library of Congress, Smithsonian collections

In Toni Lane’s drawing, red and blue coronavirus particles tumble from the mouth of a patient whose face is half green and half blue. A doctor in white frowns as he washes his hands. A wary nurse in blue scrubs stands by.

It’s early in the pandemic. In hospitals, nobody is sure what’s going on. Outside, fear and isolation are everywhere. “The whole thing scared me,” Lane recalled. “I had to express how I felt.”

Lane’s surreal drawing is part of the trove of physical and digital artifacts being gathered at places like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution to capture for posterity what the great coronavirus pandemic was like.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History said Tuesday that it has acquired the empty vial of the vaccine dose given to the first post-trial U.S. recipient, New York nurse Sandra Lindsay, along with her hospital ID badge, socks, pants and top.

9:17 p.m.
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Fact check: The hyped-up claims about who’s getting stimulus checks

“Dylann Roof murdered nine people. He’s on federal death row. He’ll be getting a $1,400 stimulus check as part of the Democrats’ ‘COVID relief’ bill.”

— Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), in a tweet, March 6

“With this bill, they’re going to people in prison, they’re going to people who are illegal immigrants.”

— Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” March 7

Every Senate bill that proceeds on a fast-track process known as reconciliation features a strange ritual called “vote-a-rama,” as lawmakers race through a number of votes on amendments. If you are in the minority, as Republicans are now, it’s a moment when you can offer finely tuned amendments that are destined to fail but will serve up red meat for voters in later elections.

These quotes are an example of this process in action, with Cotton tweeting a talking point just hours after the coronavirus stimulus bill was approved. Cotton isn’t shy about his intentions either. On March 8, he tweeted that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, would also get benefits and declared, “Get ready for campaign ads.”

But for all the hype, there’s less to these claims than one might imagine — particularly because the previous stimulus bills passed last year under GOP control also did not bar payments to prisoners and the small subset of undocumented immigrants referenced by Barrasso.

8:15 p.m.
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Being obese can mean getting a vaccine, but some have mixed feelings about it

In late February, Claire DiYenno opened her inbox to discover the golden ticket: An email from her doctor’s office with a subject line telling her that she was now eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine. It was welcome news, but unexpected.

Then she opened the email and found out the reason: Her body mass index, or BMI, was considered to be in the “obese” category.

“It was kind of like, shot-and-chaser,” she says. “Like, oh, here’s this great thing, that I’m eligible to get the vaccine, but the fact that it’s because I’m fat — I didn’t know how I felt about it.”

There are a lot of ways for people in the obese/eligible category to feel about it: Grateful to be getting the vaccine. Resentful that BMI — long known to be a flawed measurement of health — is the reason. Ambivalent about fatphobia in medicine working in their favor, for once.

7:07 p.m.
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Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill nears finish line in Congress

The House is poised to approve a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and send it to President Biden to sign, a major early legislative victory for the new president and the Democrats who control Congress.

A vote by the full House is set for Wednesday, after consideration by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Despite united GOP opposition and a narrow Democratic majority, House Democratic leaders expressed confidence Tuesday that they will have the votes to approve the plan. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said he was “110 percent confident” of success.

6:04 p.m.
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The outbreak in Brazil poses a threat far beyond its borders

RIO DE JANEIRO — The people started queuing up before first light. The line of cars soon stretched for miles .

The mayor of Duque de Caxias, a working-class suburb of Rio de Janeiro, announced last week that anyone over the age of 60 was eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. But there was a problem. More than 80,000 people fit that age bracket — but the city had only 6,100 doses.

The question in Brazil, which has suffered more coronavirus deaths than any country outside of the United States, is no longer how it got into this mess. Under the chaotic leadership of President Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s largest country long ago succumbed to denialism, disorganization, apathy, hedonism and medical quackery — and buried more than 265,000 people along the way.

The question is whether the failure to control the virus poses an international threat that will undermine the hard-won gains other countries have made against the virus.

5:09 p.m.
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House to vote on covid relief bill’s final passage Wednesday morning

The House will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday to begin consideration of the Senate-passed coronavirus relief bill. Once passed, President Biden will sign the long-awaited legislative package into law.

Although the Senate bill took out some popular liberal priorities such as raising the minimum wage, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said during a news conference that he is “110 percent confident” that the Democrats have the votes to pass the $1.9 trillion measure.

Jeffries said he hoped that would include some Republican votes, but he did not know if there would be any, slamming the GOP as the party of “fake outrage over Dr. Seuss.”

The bill is “transformative because that’s what the moment requires,” he said.

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar (Calif.), who also spoke at the briefing, called the bill “the boldest action taken on behalf of the American people since the Great Depression.”

4:51 p.m.
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Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine may be made in Italy as Europe seeks to expand options

MOSCOW — The backers of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine signed a deal Tuesday that could pave the way for production in Italy, a potential major step in Moscow's efforts to expand its vaccine reach in the West.

The deal was announced by the Italian-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Russia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which supported Sputnik V's development.

But the vaccine still has to win regulatory approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and Italian regulatory authorities before production can go ahead.