Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

Amid a worsening coronavirus catastrophe in India, the World Health Organization said Monday that the variant first identified in the country is being classified as a variant of global concern, after research has indicated that it spreads more easily.

Scientists fear that the variant, known as B.1.617, has fueled the surging outbreak in India, which experts say is probably undercounted. The variant is the fourth to be designated as being of global concern, after variants were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India in October.

Officials are concerned about the variant given that it combines several mutations in the spike protein that could help the virus evade the human body’s immune system.

“There is some available information to suggest some increased transmissibility of B.1.617,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of the WHO’s coronavirus response, said at a news briefing Monday.

Van Kerkhove referred to a preprint that suggested that antibodies from vaccines or infections with other variants might not be quite as effective against B.1.617, adding that more research was needed.

“Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant and this lineage and all of the sub-lineages,” she said.

More information about the variant will be released in a report by the global health agency Tuesday, Van Kerkhove said.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The Food and Drug Administration said Monday children 12 to 15 years old can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on an emergency use basis ahead of the next school year.
  • The U.S. economy still has a way to go in its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic after a disappointing April jobs report, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.
  • Anthony S. Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious-disease expert, said people may decide to wear masks during certain seasons after the coronavirus pandemic has ended to help avoid spreading illnesses such as the flu.
  • The District will lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses and public venues by May 21, and bars and nightclubs, large entertainment venues and sports arenas by June 11, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced Monday.
  • A year after New York became the center of the U.S. pandemic, at least 750 bodies are still being stored in refrigerated trucks along the Brooklyn waterfront.
  • The Biden administration is being pushed by allies on the U.S. plan for “global leadership” on the pandemic, including sharing resources, know-how and its vaccine stockpile.
  • With the rollout of vaccines in Africa moving slowly, health officials on the continent are keeping a close eye on variants amid fears that an India-style resurgence could happen.
3:19 a.m.
Link copied
link

Analysis: Free beer? Free money? What data shows works on vaccine skeptics.

It has come to this — as it was perhaps always going to: Our growing national problem has led to free beer and free money.

Amid flagging vaccination rates across the country, the former reportedly led to the highest vaccination rate in Erie County, N.Y., last week and is also being tried in New Jersey and D.C., while the latter is catching on in states such as Connecticut and West Virginia.

Others have argued we need to relax federal guidelines on things such as masks and social distancing to provide an incentive.

2:17 a.m.
Link copied
link

Washingtonians start to emerge from isolation

The liberation of Richard McWalters was in full bloom as he strolled 14th Street NW the other day, his nose and jaw newly freed of the mask and constant worry that had shrouded him for more than a year.

McWalters, 64, a project manager who was recently vaccinated, said he felt a measure of guilt as he imagined passersby “looking at me, thinking I’m an idiot for not wearing a mask.”

But the pleasure — oh the pleasure! — of the spring sun warming his chin.

“It sure feels good,” he said. “It’s hard to believe we lived that way for so long.”

Step by tentative step, as vaccination rates rise, coronavirus cases fall and officials slowly ease restrictions across the Washington region, a discernible approximation of what is commonly known as normal is taking hold.

1:29 a.m.
Link copied
link

Vaccination drives at area mosques draw Muslims and non-Muslims alike

On Sunday, Rizwan Jaka walked around the prayer hall of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Ashburn mosque holding a mic talking about possible side effects after being vaccinated against the coronavirus. He was speaking to a room of people who sat in chairs six feet apart on floors covered with plastic sheets, some swinging their arms to prevent soreness from the shot they just got while others checked their phones and watches to count down the 15-minute waiting period. Behind Jaka, chairman of ADAMS’s board of trustees, volunteers filled out vaccination cards.

This was the second vaccination clinic at the mosque, held jointly with the neighboring synagogue, Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation, for people who had received their first dose at the same location weeks earlier on April 11.

Muslims fast during Ramadan, but Jaka encouraged people to prioritize their health by breaking the fast if they experienced any side effects. “Remember, you can make up a fasting day after Ramadan if you need to,” Jaka said, addressing the Muslims in the room. The first shot had been given the day before the holy month started, but the second shot came just days before the end of the observance.

12:17 a.m.
Link copied
link

Maker of latest experimental vaccine not expected to seek authorization until June at the earliest

A 34-year-old Maryland biotechnology company that has never successfully launched a vaccine faces a world impatient for more coronavirus shots to quell a pandemic — but the wait isn’t over.

Novavax, bolstered by $1.6 billion in federal funding, is unlikely to seek emergency-use authorization for its experimental coronavirus vaccine in the United States until June at the earliest, according to four people who have recently been briefed on the company’s plans.

As supplies of three authorized coronavirus vaccines have increased in the United States, the role of the Novavax vaccine domestically remains unclear. But the company’s shots, shown to be about 90 percent effective in a 15,000-person trial in the United Kingdom, could fill an urgent global need — an easy-to-store vaccine that could help bolster strained supplies as the pandemic rages. But that depends on the company earning regulatory clearance and scaling up manufacturing.

11:09 p.m.
Link copied
link

Cancún’s coronavirus cases rise as tourism continues to grow

Throughout the pandemic, Mexico has remained one of the most popular travel destinations for Americans. According to flight-booking data from Skyscanner, at the heart of that interest is Cancún, which regularly ranks as a top destination. Its main airport, Cancún International, reported more than 692,000 passenger arrivals in March — exceeding its March 2019 traffic by 5 percent.

But as interest in Cancún stays strong, the city and surrounding regions of the state, Quintana Roo, have reinstated coronavirus restrictions in response to a recent rise in cases.

On May 3, Gov. Carlos Joaquín moved Quintana Roo from medium-risk yellow to high-risk orange on the state government’s four-tier Traffic Light Monitoring System, matching its standing on the federal stoplight map, Mexico News Daily reported.

9:27 p.m.
Link copied
link

DC to lift capacity restrictions on all businesses starting June 11

As drug companies expand coronavirus vaccine access to children, officials are working to persuade people who are skeptical or unwilling to get vaccinated. (Luis Velarde, Jonathan Baran, Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the District will lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses and public venues by May 21, a decision that comes as coronavirus cases and deaths are plummeting and residents and business are demanding more freedom.

Restrictions on bars and nightclubs, large entertainment venues and sports arenas will remain in place another three weeks, but will be lifted June 11, Bowser said at a news conference.

Masks will still be required indoors.

7:33 p.m.
Link copied
link

Poll shows Biden’s approval at 63 percent, buoyed by pandemic response

Sixty-three percent of Americans now approve of Biden’s overall job performance, according to a new poll, which also finds an uptick in the percentage of those who think the country is on the right track.

Biden’s approval rating is buoyed by his handling of the pandemic, according to the poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll finds that 63 percent of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s overall performance, while 36 percent disapprove.

That finding is somewhat more favorable to Biden than other recent polls, including one by The Washington Post and ABC News last month that found 52 percent approved of Biden’s overall job performance, while 42 percent disapproved.

The surveys have been generally consistent in finding strong approval for Biden’s handling of the pandemic and weaker marks for his handling of immigration issues.

In the AP-NORC poll, 71 percent approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, and 27 percent disapprove. On immigration, 43 percent approve, while 54 percent disapprove.

Biden’s approval is in positive territory on several other issues, including foreign policy (54 percent), health care (62 percent) and the economy (57 percent).

Americans are more evenly divided on his handling of gun control, with 48 percent voicing approval and 49 percent voicing disapproval.

The AP-NORC survey also shows an uptick in overall optimism about the country. Fifty-four percent say the United States is on the right track, higher than at any point in AP-NORC polls conducted since 2017; 44 percent think the nation is on the wrong track.

6:45 p.m.
Link copied
link

Analysis: Pandemic prompts reassessment of work in America

From Wall Street to the White House, expectations were high for a hiring surge in April with potentially a million Americans returning to work. Instead, the world learned Friday that just 266,000 jobs were added, a massive disappointment that raises questions about whether the recovery is on track.

One way to make sense of this weak jobs report is to do what Wall Street did and shrug it off as an anomaly. Stocks still rose Friday as investors saw this as a blip. They think there is just a lag in hiring and more people will return to work as they get vaccinated.

But another way to look at this is that there is a great reassessment going on in the U.S. economy. It’s happening on a lot of different levels. At the most basic level, people are still hesitant to return to work until they are fully vaccinated and their children are back in school and day care full time.

5:59 p.m.
Link copied
link

WHO chief says global cases are plateauing but ‘perilous situation’ remains

The head of the World Health Organization said Monday that coronavirus cases and deaths are plateauing in most regions of the world, but at an “unacceptably high” level.

More than 5.4 million new cases and nearly 90,000 deaths were reported last week, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing, adding that the southeast Asia region continues to experience increasing cases and deaths.

“Globally, we are still in a perilous situation,” Tedros said. “The spread of variants, increased social mixing, the relaxation of public health and social measures and inequitable vaccination are all driving transmission.”

He noted that vaccines are reducing severe disease and illness and early results suggest that they might drive down transmission. But, he said, the global imbalance in access to the shots continues to be a hurdle.

High- and upper-income countries, which represent 53 percent of the world’s population, have secured 83 percent of the world’s supply of vaccines, the WHO chief said. Low- and lower-income countries, meanwhile, make up 47 percent of the population and have received just 17 percent of the vaccine supply.

“The shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic,” Tedros said.

He stressed that social distancing and other public health measures remain crucial even as vaccines become more widely available. Leaders should “use every tool at your disposal to drive transmission down right now,” he said, calling for the development of comprehensive and cohesive national plans.

“How quickly we end the pandemic and how many sisters and brothers we lose along the way depends on how quickly and how fairly we vaccinate a significant proportion of the global population,” Tedros said, “and how consistently we all follow proven public health measures.”

5:06 p.m.
Link copied
link

Bodies of covid-19 victims are still being stored in refrigerated trucks in New York

As New York emerged as the center of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, the overwhelmed city began storing the bodies of victims in refrigerated trucks along the Brooklyn waterfront.

More than a year later, hundreds remain in the makeshift morgues on the 39th Street Pier in Sunset Park.

In a report to a city council health committee last week, officials with the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner acknowledged that the remains of about 750 covid-19 victims are still being stored inside the trucks, according to the City, the nonprofit news website. Officials said during a Wednesday committee meeting that they will try to lower the number soon.

Dina Maniotis, executive deputy commissioner with the medical examiner’s office, said most of the bodies could end up on Hart Island, off the Bronx, where the has city buried its poor and unclaimed for more than a century.

4:05 p.m.
Link copied
link

Dozens of bodies feared to be covid-19 victims found floating in India’s Ganges River

About 30 bodies were found floating in India’s Ganges River on Monday, an official said, amid a devastating surge in coronavirus cases.

The decomposing bodies were discovered in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, near steps leading down to the river in the district of Buxar.

Aman Samir, a senior district official, said in a news release that about 30 bodies had been removed from the river. Postmortems would be conducted to determine the cause of death, it said.

Deaths from covid-19 have soared in India over the past month. The country is recording about 4,000 such fatalities a day, but the figure appears to be a vast undercount. Crematoriums and graveyards across a large swath of India are being overwhelmed.

Samir told reporters that the bodies were several days old and had drifted downriver from the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. He denied reports that the poor were dumping bodies in the river out of desperation or because of a shortage of wood to conduct cremations.

He said local authorities would begin patrolling the river and would deploy officials to monitor cremation grounds. The final rites for the bodies recovered from the river would be performed at the government’s expense, Samir added.

3:01 p.m.
Link copied
link

Bees could be part of a new way to do rapid coronavirus testing

The fight against the coronavirus pandemic has scientists tapping an unlikely resource: the finely tuned olfactory sense of bees.

Dutch researchers on Monday said they have trained honeybees to stick out their tongues when presented with the virus’ unique scent, acting as a kind of rapid test.

Although it’s a less conventional method than lab tests, the scientists said teaching bees to diagnose the coronavirus could help fill a gap in low-income countries with limited access to more sophisticated technology, like materials for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

“Not all laboratories have that, especially in smaller-income countries,” said Wim van der Poel, a professor at Wageningen University, which led the research. “Bees are everywhere, and the apparatus is not very complicated.”

2:06 p.m.
Link copied
link

With vaccines and new guidelines, the mask-faithful navigate a ‘weird gray area’

When David Díaz went for a recent five-mile run in Iowa City, he took along a partner he has depended on for more than a year: his face mask.

Díaz, 29, knew he did not have to. He’s fully vaccinated, and recent federal guidance says unmasked, outdoor exercise is safe.

Some Americans never fully embraced face masks, those swaths of fabric that became one of the seminal flash points of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic. But for many across the nation who did, rising vaccination rates and shifting public health advice are forcing a recalibration of a relationship with an accessory that has served as a shield against a deadly pathogen, a security blanket during a crisis, and a symbol — of regard for the common good, liberal politics or belief in science.

1:22 p.m.
Link copied
link

Graduates return for in-person ceremonies after a year spent online

The ceremony was far from traditional — no shouts from parents in the stands, no tearful professors, cap-tossing or speeches.

Still, it was the closest thing to normal that many in the Class of 2021 have had in more than a year.

American University held a small, quiet ceremony Saturday afternoon for graduates of the schools of communication and education. It was the first in-person ceremony in a series of commencements that will span three weekends.

This weekend, roughly 1,450 AU graduates are expected to cross the stage. About 600 former students from the Class of 2020 will participate in makeup ceremonies next weekend, and exercises for 400 law students will take place May 23.

The Saturday event provided a glimpse into the inner workings of a pandemic graduation, where universities provide school-branded face masks and students share hand sanitizer.