June 15, 2024


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California prepares for onslaught of covid-19 deaths as second vaccine nears approval

California’s governor said Tuesday that the state has ordered thousands of body bags in the face of soaring covid-19 deaths — echoing grim messages from leaders nationwide as a massive vaccination effort begins in the coronavirus pandemic’s darkest days. The country is breaking records for new daily deaths and hospitalizations.

The coronavirus vaccine is here. Now the race is on for more glass and ice



The Food and Drug Administration is likely to authorize another vaccine candidate as soon as Friday, but experts say the fast-tracked vaccines will come too late to prevent a deadly winter wave.

Here are some significant developments:

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11:45 PM: Bowl season during the coronavirus: More teams are opting out of already diminished festivities

Like its regular season counterpart, college football’s bowl season has seen its fair share of atrophy because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ten bowl games have been canceled so far, with another two moved to different cities. That leaves 33 still standing. (See below for the full schedule, a list of canceled games and teams that have opted out of the postseason.)

The games will feel different, too, and not just because fan attendance will be either prohibited or severely curtailed.

Scott Ramsey, president and chief executive of the Music City Bowl in Nashville, said organizers of this year’s bowl games will focus on teams that will not need to travel far.

“You’re going to see forecasting of teams that are going to stay in their region as much as possible,” Ramsey told the Tennessean. “And for us that obviously would lead you to look at Tennessee or Kentucky. You could also have Missouri or Ole Miss or Auburn. It would be teams that are kind of a half-day drive or a short flight to get their teams in and out in a short period of time for less cost.

Read full story here

By: Matt Bonesteel

11:00 PM: Sandals in Grenada forces a partial island lockdown after 26 covid-19 cases are linked to the resort

A cluster of 26 new cases of the coronavirus on the Caribbean island of Grenada has been linked to a Sandals resort, Grenada’s Ministry of Health said in a statement Sunday. Sandals Grenada is closed to all new guests while officials test and contact trace resort guests and employees. Grenada officials moved on Monday to impose a partial lockdown amid the island’s new rise in cases.

Before the weekend spike of coronavirus cases, the nation had recorded a total of 45 confirmed cases since March. The island’s previous peak for a daily total was six cases, according to the World Health Organization.

The 26 positive cases linked to the resort “include guests and employees, as well as their contacts,” the Health Ministry statement said. “The discovery was made following proactive testing of employees and guests on Friday and Saturday, as part of the Ministry’s continuous testing of front-line staff in sectors directly related to tourism, travel and health.”

Read the full story here.

By: Shannon McMahon

10:15 PM: Biden will arrive in office amid a pandemic. It will be his biggest challenge — but also an opportunity.

As President-elect Joe Biden and his team devise a governing strategy to defeat the coronavirus pandemic — the incoming administration’s most urgent priority — they have become centrally focused on instilling broad, bipartisan faith in vaccines.

With the first vaccine against the virus, developed by Pfizer and a German biotech firm, now allowed for public use, the president-elect regards it as imperative to “deweaponize” attitudes toward immunization among his political adversaries, as one member of his coronavirus advisory board put it, speaking on the condition of anonymity about internal matters without permission to discuss them openly.

“We can’t have a repeat of masks,” the member said, referring to the intense partisan polarization over wearing face coverings that President Trump fostered and that public health experts bemoan as one reason the United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths.

Biden has not spoken publicly about behind-the-scenes concern that leading Republicans might foment opposition to the shots, which are expected to slow the virus’s spread significantly if enough people receive them.

Yet he has talked with increasing frequency about vaccines’ capacity to tamp down the virus’s transmission only “if they’re injected into an arm of people, especially those most at risk,” as he said last week at an event in his hometown of Wilmington, Del. And the idea of conquering Republicans’ reluctance about vaccination is one way to understand his oft-stated desire to be “a president for all the people.”

Health policy experts say Biden’s capacity to mold bipartisan receptivity to being vaccinated has implications for his broader agenda to expand health coverage and access to affordable care. “If you can’t do this one, you are not going to be able to get buy-in on universal coverage,” said Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University who studies public opinion about health care.

Read full story here

By: Amy Goldstein

9:30 PM: Europe wanted to keep schools open this winter. Coronavirus surges have disrupted those plans.

BERLIN — Surging coronavirus outbreaks in a number of nations are forcing governments to close schools, despite initial promises to keep them open this winter.

The latest country to change course is Germany, where most schools will move to distance learning Wednesday as part of tougher new lockdown rules. Widening outbreaks have also triggered the closure of schools in the Netherlands and in Asia, where the South Korean capital, Seoul, opted for similar measures this week.

The school closures in Germany and the Netherlands mark a notable turnaround in Europe, where governments said this fall that keeping schools open would be a priority, arguing that they aren’t significant drivers of coronavirus outbreaks.

Read the full story here.

By: Rick Noack

9:00 PM: Biden makes tackling racial, ethnic inequities during coronavirus pandemic a priority

Long before Yale researcher Marcella Nunez-Smith began to study racial inequities in health care, she lived them.

She grew up on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a place, she said, “where people too often die too young from preventable conditions.”

“I learned there was a term for what we were: an ‘underserved community,’ marginalized by place and by race,” she said last week when President-elect Joe Biden chose her to lead a new federal task force on racial disparities and the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s announcement of Nunez-Smith’s appointment came as he revealed his picks to lead the Department of Heath and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and named his surgeon general and Anthony S. Fauci as his chief medical adviser on the pandemic. The timing signaled that racial and ethnic disparities would be a major priority, rather than an afterthought, for his administration.

Read the full story here.

By: Ariana Eunjung Cha

8:30 PM: Chef’s quarantine videos go viral thanks to unsettling use of hotel room appliances

During the pandemic, many people have wondered whether it is safe to visit a hotel. Is one kind of hotel safer than another? Does the hotel’s ventilation system matter? Has someone been cooking eggs in the coffee maker?

Okay, that last question is a new one — and you can thank TikTok creator Jago Randles, 23, for giving travelers this unique anxiety.

Randles’s TikTok cooking videos from his two-week quarantine stay at the Gec Granville Suites Hotel in Vancouver have gone viral thanks to their unsettling use of hotel room appliances. In what appears to be a typical budget room (there’s a laminate desktop; the phone looks like your standard Teledex), Randles cooks fresh, elaborate meals with the clothes iron and a Hamilton Beach Aroma coffee maker. He has made bacon cheeseburgers, a toasted Nutella and banana sandwich, and kebab wraps with hummus, among other specialties.

Read the full story here.

By: Natalie B. Compton

7:54 PM: Dozens of children went to see Santa. He may have exposed them to the coronavirus

a stuffed animal on a table: A French postal worker dressed as Santa reads letters from children.

© Francois Mori/AP
A French postal worker dressed as Santa reads letters from children.

Santa and Mrs. Claus weren’t feeling any symptoms the day they visited with dozens of children during an annual Christmas parade.

But four days after the Dec. 10 event in the small city of Ludowici, Ga., a local official took to Facebook with startling news: the Clauses had both tested positive for the coronavirus, raising the possibility that around 50 youngsters were exposed.

“I have personally known both ‘Santa’ and ‘Mrs. Claus’ my entire life and I can assure everyone that they would have never knowingly done anything to place any children in danger,” Long County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert D. Parker wrote in a message to the community.

Read the full story here.

By: Brittany Shammas and Antonia Noori Farzan

7:45 PM: The U.S.-Canada land border is closed. But Canadian RVers found a loophole to winter in the U.S.

Last week, Canadian border officials announced that the land border with the United States, which has been shuttered since March, will remain closed to nonessential travel until at least Jan. 21, 2021. The rule has barred both Canadian and American travelers from crossing since the spring, but only Americans have not been able to fly across the border.

Canadians can fly to the United States — which has a higher coronavirus case rate than Canada — at their own risk and must satisfy testing and quarantine requirements when they return home. The Canadian government has been unwilling to comment on the fly-only loophole since October, according to the CBC.

And now, with harsh winter weather returning to Canada, snowbirds who typically RV across the more temperate southwestern U.S. states during the winter months have found a way to still make the trip. Cross-border towing companies, which are considered essential businesses, can take the recreational vehicle across the border for them and meet the RVers (who fly across the border) on the other side.

Read the full story here.

By: Shannon McMahon

7:25 PM: Covid-19 killed an average of two people every minute on Tuesday

Every day, for more than 300 consecutive days, the coronavirus has killed in the United States. Some days it has taken hundreds, other days thousands. Lately, the death toll has risen faster than at any other time in the pandemic.

Covid-19 kills mothers, fathers, partners, children, friends and neighbors. It continues to disproportionately target the elderly, those with health problems and communities of color.

On Tuesday, nearly a week after the country set back-to-back single-day fatality records, another 2,886 infected people died. The staggering toll — not even the highest so far reported — averages out to two people dead every minute in the United States that day.

With infections still surging and hospitals in some places nearly overflowing, experts expect the numbers to get much worse before they get better.

One day earlier, the country recorded its 300,000th death, a number greater than the population of the largest city in many U.S. states. At Washington’s National Cathedral the following day, a 12-ton funeral bell rang 300 times, once for every 1,000 people dead. It lasted 30 minutes.

“I have grown weary of tolling this bell,” said the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of the cathedral. “I don’t want to toll this bell any more. I don’t want to lose any more lives. I don’t want us to think this is normal, or that it is just the price we must pay for living in a free society. God forgive us if we find ourselves tolling this bell again at 400,000 lives lost.”

At a chapel inside the cathedral, the walls are papered with remembrances of thousands of the pandemic’s victims. As the bell tolled, the light from a single candle in that room flickered, illuminating their names.

By: Reis Thebault

7:18 PM: Catholic Archdiocese of Washington sues D.C. to ease attendance caps for Christmas

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, asking the court to quickly take up its request to strike down the mayor’s strict attendance caps on houses of worship.

The request comes as a large suburban church in the archdiocese — St. Michael the Archangel, in Silver Spring — is shut down due to its pastor having the coronavirus. According to the parish’s Web site, Monsignor Eddie Tolentino tested positive Dec. 7, and, “it is possible that staff or parishioners were exposed to the virus prior” to that date.

The archdiocese includes the District and suburban Maryland.

Read the full story here.

By: Michelle Boorstein

6:29 PM: Pelosi says masks required in House hall; incoming GOP lawmaker responds ‘#MyBodyMyChoice’

a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Trump supporters protest his loss on Nov. 7 in Georgia. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

© Mike Stewart/AP
Trump supporters protest his loss on Nov. 7 in Georgia. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Masks will now be required at all times in the hall of the House of Representatives, including when lawmakers are recognized to speak, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.

“To be clear, members will not be recognized unless they are wearing a mask, and recognition will be withdrawn if they remove the mask while speaking,” Pelosi said.

Mask mandates have gained traction across party lines as an effective way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But the House rules could be tested by a vocal mask opponent elected in November: Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican perhaps best known as the first open supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory to win a seat in Congress.

Greene tweeted her displeasure at Pelosi’s mask announcement Tuesday: “Is this the Marjorie Mask Mandate, @SpeakerPelosi? An oppressive violation of my rights. #MyBodyMyChoice

Greene did not respond to The Post’s questions about whether she would follow the House rules. In a statement provided through a spokesman, she said The Post should ask Pelosi “when she is getting the vaccine” because then “she wouldn’t have a reason to force me to wear a mask.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) responded to Greene’s tweet by defending the mask mandate as an important protection for staff. Vaccinating the country is a massive logistical operation, and it will take months for vaccines to reach the general population.

“Masks protect people around you and you don’t have a special ‘right’ to endanger Congressional staff or Capitol Police officers,” Beyer tweeted.

Many scientific studies have found that new infections fell notably after leaders instructed people to consistently wear face coverings, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified before the Senate in September that masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” to fight the virus.

Over the summer, Pelosi had said that members of Congress could remove their masks temporarily when recognized to speak.

By: Hannah Knowles

6:00 PM: Florida basketball player shows signs of improvement; Gators postpone North Florida game

a man holding a football ball: FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2019, file photo, Florida forward Keyontae Johnson (11) looks on during during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Marshall in Gainesville, Fla. Johnson, the Southeastern Conference's preseason player of the year, collapsed coming out of a timeout against rival Florida State and needed emergency medical attention Saturday, Dec. 1`2, 2020. He was taken off the floor on a stretcher and rushed to Tallahassee Memorial for evaluation. The Gators had no immediate update on his condition. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey, File)

© Matt Stamey/AP
FILE – In this Nov. 29, 2019, file photo, Florida forward Keyontae Johnson (11) looks on during during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Marshall in Gainesville, Fla. Johnson, the Southeastern Conference’s preseason player of the year, collapsed coming out of a timeout against rival Florida State and needed emergency medical attention Saturday, Dec. 1`2, 2020. He was taken off the floor on a stretcher and rushed to Tallahassee Memorial for evaluation. The Gators had no immediate update on his condition. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey, File)

Three days after he collapsed during a game against Florida State on Saturday afternoon, Florida forward Keyontae Johnson is breathing on his own and speaking with family, friends and doctors, according to his parents, Marrecus and Sharnika Johnson.

They said he is in stable condition and FaceTimed with teammates on Tuesday.

“We feel so much love and support from everyone, and we’re beyond grateful for the care and attention that Keyontae has received throughout these past several days,” they said in a statement released by the school. “We will continue to share updates about Keyontae’s health and progress.”

Read the full story here.

By: Glynn A. Hill, Cindy Boren and Des Bieler

5:45 PM: Pence, other Republican leaders say they’re eager to take the coronavirus vaccine

a person in a suit standing in front of a screen: Vice President Pence bumps elbows with Alessandro Maselli, president and chief operating officer at Catalent, following a roundtable discussion Tuesday at Catalent Biologics in Bloomington, Ind.

© Darron Cummings/AP
Vice President Pence bumps elbows with Alessandro Maselli, president and chief operating officer at Catalent, following a roundtable discussion Tuesday at Catalent Biologics in Bloomington, Ind.

With distribution of the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine underway, leaders from both political parties are encouraging Americans to get inoculated when possible, seeking to bolster confidence in the drug by pledging to take it themselves.

Public polling suggests that Republicans are more skeptical of the vaccine than Democrats, but on Tuesday some of the nation’s top GOP officials began touting the shots and saying they would receive them.

“We have cut red tape, but we’ve cut no corners when it comes to the development of this vaccine,” Vice President Pence said after touring a vaccine production facility in Indiana. “I look forward in the days ahead to receiving the vaccine myself and do so without hesitation. The American people can be confident that while we moved faster than the FDA has ever moved, we’ve literally not compromised any standard of safety.”

Pence said persuading the public to take the vaccine will be one of “two great challenges” the country faces in coming months, along with reminding Americans that they should continue mask-wearing and social distancing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also said he is eager to get the vaccine and lamented that a portion of the population remains hesitant.

“As a polio survivor myself — unfortunately, the vaccine had not yet been developed — I’m a huge supporter of being vaccinated when you have a substance that, you know, work,” McConnell said. “And so whenever my turn comes, I’m going to be anxious to take a vaccine and to … do my part to reassure those who are doubtful about this that we really need to get the country vaccinated.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has said that President Trump, who tested positive for the virus in October, is “absolutely open to taking the vaccine” and will do so “as soon as his medical team determines it’s best.”

An Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday observed significant across-the-board increases in the number of respondents who say they will get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as it’s available — but still more Democrats than Republicans said they would.

An earlier poll, which AP-NORC published Dec. 9, showed that 60 percent of Democrats, compared with 40 percent of Republicans, said they plan on vaccinating against the coronavirus.

By: Reis Thebault

5:00 PM: With thousands of body bags and ‘mass fatality’ plan, California prepares for surging deaths

a person riding on the back of a car: Front-line health workers staff a drive-in coronavirus testing site in south Los Angeles.

© Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images
Front-line health workers staff a drive-in coronavirus testing site in south Los Angeles.

California is preparing for an unprecedented onslaught of covid-19 deaths.

Sixty 53-foot refrigerated storage units are on standby, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a news conference on Tuesday. The state just ordered 5,000 more body bags, as current covid-19 hospitalizations continue to climb. And officials have activated a mutual aid program for coroners, designed to help local authorities cope with “mass fatality.”

Newsom’s message Tuesday to Californians echoed many leaders’ nationwide, as a massive vaccination effort begins in the coronavirus pandemic’s grimmest days. The country is breaking records for daily new deaths and hospitalizations, and experts say that fast-tracked vaccines will come too late to prevent a deadly winter wave.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Newsom said, after describing efforts to distribute Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. “But we’re still in the tunnel. And that means we’re going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Remaining capacity in intensive care units statewide has dipped to 5.7 percent, Newsom said, with the San Joaquin Valley region hitting zero over the weekend, the point at which hospitals have to “surge” beyond their normal capacity. California has lost an average of 163 people per day to covid-19 over the past seven days, far higher than the average of 41 from a month ago.

“Think about if we continue down the path we’re on, what that January 14th number may look like, if we do not do what we need to do,” Newsom said. He urged people to keep wearing masks and social distancing as vaccines roll out.

California is among the states reenacting tough restrictions meant to curb the virus’s surge — measures that still have not been able to fend off the latest wave. Critically low room in ICUs triggered stay-at-home orders for millions of people in three regions up and down the state: the San Joaquin Valley, the greater Sacramento area and Southern California.

By: Hannah Knowles

4:18 PM: U.S. stocks soar on stimulus optimism

Wall Street snapped its losing streak Tuesday as investors cheered breakthroughs in congressional stimulus negotiations and the forthcoming approval of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed nearly 340 points, or 1.1 percent, to 30,200. The S&P 500 index rose nearly 1.3 percent to 3,694, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq advanced 1.2 percent to 12,595, a record-high close.

Senior congressional leaders were set to meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday as lawmakers attempt to quickly hammer out deals on spending legislation and emergency economic relief. A bipartisan group unveiled a two proposals on Monday to deliver new unemployment benefits, small-business aid and other relief to boost the country’s struggling economy.

Investors have gotten a stream of good news this week, despite the darkening backdrop of the pandemic as the country’s death toll rose above 300,000. Americans received the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday. Moderna’s vaccine is poised for regulatory clearance by scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and will probably be distributed in the coming week, The Washington Post has reported, raising hopes of a faster-than-expected return to normalcy.

Two in five Americans say their finances haven’t recovered from the pandemic’s impact, according to a survey last week from Bankrate.com, and about a third of Americans don’t feel financially prepared to ride out the pandemic’s economic effects, according to an Allianz Life Insurance quarterly market-perceptions study.

“We’ve watched as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on people’s financial and retirement strategies, whether that is from unexpected job loss or early withdrawal of retirement assets,” Aimee Johnson, vice president of Advanced Markets and Solutions at Allianz, said in a statement. “It’s clear that people remain nervous about market risks and how their finances will continue to be impacted not only in 2021, but for many years ahead.”

By: Taylor Telford

4:00 PM: Analysis: The false choice between the economy and containing the virus

A reporter for the Daily Caller recorded an interaction between the owner of a small restaurant in Ventura, Calif., and local health inspectors that captures a central dynamic of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the video, Anton Van Happen rails against the officials for enforcing a closure order against his restaurant after he failed to take required steps to remain open, steps designed to limit the spread of the virus. At the moment, more than 500 new cases are being recorded in Ventura County each day, by far the fastest rate of infection the county has seen this year.

“Are you going to pay my rent?” Van Happen asks, with one official responding that he won’t. “Well, if you’re not going to pay my rent, I’m not closing.”

The video has gone viral, including being favorited on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. The contrast between a small-business owner trying to keep his doors open and government officials demanding seemingly fungible standards for operation has been a common tension over the past nine months, encapsulating much of what conservatives dislike about government and seemingly reinforcing the idea that the pandemic is being used to constrain personal liberties.

Read the full story here.

By: Philip Bump

3:15 PM: First at-home, over-the-counter covid test gets FDA approval

The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the first over-the-counter coronavirus test on Tuesday, ensuring Americans will soon be able to get rapid test results at home.

Patients will not need a prescription for the antigen test, a nasal swab produced by Ellume, an Australian digital diagnostics company. The approval paves the way for a critical new diagnostic tool that will allow people to quarantine more quickly after becoming ill.

“By authorizing a test for over-the-counter use, the FDA allows it to be sold in places like drug stores, where a patient can buy it, swab their nose, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said in a statement. “As we continue to authorize additional tests for home use, we are helping expand Americans’ access to testing, reducing the burden on laboratories and test supplies, and giving Americans more testing options.”

The test can be used by people 16 or older or on children older than 2 if administered by an adult. The FDA approved a prescription version of a similar at-home test last month and plans to clear more soon.

The FDA warned that, as with any test, a small percentage of Ellume results may be false. Patients without symptoms who test positive should take a second test for confirmation and then quarantine.

“This test, like other antigen tests, is less sensitive and less specific than typical molecular tests run in a lab,” Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement. “However, the fact that it can be used completely at home and return results quickly means that it can play an important role in response to the pandemic.”

Ellume has already begun producing the tests and plans to ship over 100,000 tests per day starting next month. The company aims to manufacture and deliver 20 million tests in the first half of 2021.

By: Taylor Telford

2:30 PM: Florida’s ‘Grim Reaper’ lawyer sued Ron DeSantis over covid-19. Now the governor’s attorneys want him sanctioned.

Daniel Uhlfelder was so alarmed about the risks of Florida reopening its beaches during the coronavirus pandemic that he decided to haunt them. Dressed as a scythe-wielding Grim Reaper, the Walton County attorney toured around the state’s northwest coast in March, offering a dire warning that drew national attention.

Meanwhile, he was also taking it to the courts, suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and calling on judges to force him into issuing a statewide stay-at-home order and closing all beaches.

But after that case and an appeal were both dismissed earlier this year, the governor’s lawyers have recently urged an appeals court to sanction Uhlfelder. His lawsuit against DeSantis, they argue, was a form of “empty political posturing” that “warrants repercussions.”

Read the full story

By: Teo Armus

1:49 PM: Philippines requires face shields in addition to face masks as it braces for holiday surge

Residents of the Philippines are now required to wear a face shield in addition to a face mask when outside of their homes.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced the rule Tuesday, describing it as “an additional protection to avoid a surge” ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, Filipino media reported. Face shields were previously required only in malls and grocery stores, and on public transportation.

The fine for not wearing the additional protective gear will differ by local government. Although face shields have become increasingly popular as the pandemic persists, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specifically warned against using them as a substitute for masks.

“Face shields have large gaps below and alongside the face, where your respiratory droplets may escape and reach others around you,” according to the CDC. “At this time, we do not know how much protection a face shield provides to people around you.

“There is also limited data assessing the effectiveness of a face shield in addition to a face mask. Health care providers, for example, may use the combination when in close proximity to a patient’s face in order to protect their eyes and limit the transmission of droplets or secretions.”

By: Miriam Berger

1:05 PM: D.C. Council’s last chance to adjust pandemic-era rehiring bill

In its final meeting of its two-year legislative term on Tuesday, the D.C. Council may alter a bill requiring businesses to offer employees laid off during the coronavirus pandemic a chance to get their jobs back once hiring resumes.

After hearing complaints from employers, especially in the restaurant industry, Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the council would consider exempting some businesses with 50 or fewer employees, rather than 35; giving laid-off workers less time to decide whether they want their jobs back; clarifying that employees are only eligible to return to a “substantially similar” job; and ending the requirement in June 2024 instead of December of that year.

Mendelson said he was tabling a proposal that he had asked the council to vote on Tuesday that would end the city’s moratorium on utility shut-offs during the pandemic-related health emergency.

The legislation drew numerous complaints from advocacy groups, which said it would be cruel and dangerous to turn off electrical power, water or gas for residents struggling during the pandemic and unable to pay their bills.

Read the full story

By: Julie Zauzmer

12:26 PM: Supreme Court ruled for churches objecting to limits on attendance in Colorado and New Jersey

The Supreme Court sided Tuesday with churches challenging pandemic-related restrictions on worship attendance in Colorado and New Jersey, respectively.

The court sent back the cases to lower courts, which had ruled for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Both Democrats had imposed several restrictions on capacity as coronavirus outbreaks worsened.

Although the court did not provide reasoning in either case, it said the lower courts should reconsider their decisions in light of the Supreme Court’s Thanksgiving Eve order that blocked similar restrictions in New York. That order said the restrictions violated religious rights, because limits were not as severe on some businesses and other entities. Previously, the court told a lower court in California to reconsider its approval of restrictions there.

There were no noted dissents in the New Jersey case. But the court’s three liberals objected to the majority’s action in the Colorado case, brought by High Plains Harvest Church, because the governor already has rescinded the restrictions.

“This case is moot,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

“The state has explained that it took that action in response to this court’s recent decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo,” Kagan wrote. “Absent our issuing different guidance, there is no reason to think Colorado will reverse course — and so no reason to think Harvest Church will again face capacity limits.”

The church had disputed the idea that the case was moot, because the state could act again. “There is absolutely nothing preventing it from changing the PHO [public health order] tomorrow to reimpose unconstitutional restrictions,” the church said in its petition.

By: Robert Barnes

10:53 AM: U.S. stocks tick upward on stimulus proposal, Moderna news

U.S. markets opened higher Tuesday as investors applauded a new bipartisan relief package proposal and the impending emergency use approval of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine.

After several consecutive days of losses, the Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 0.6 percent after the opening bell before giving up some gains. Around 10 a.m., the Dow was up 0.3 percent at 29, 945. The S&P 500 climbed 0.6 percent to 3,670. The tech-heavy Nasdaq built on Monday’s gains, climbing 0.8 percent to 12,542.

Investors have received a stream of good news this week, despite the darkening backdrop of the pandemic as the U.S. death toll surged past 300,000. Americans got the first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine Monday. Moderna’s vaccine is poised for emergency regulatory clearance by Food and Drug Administration scientists and is likely to be distributed in the coming week, The Post has reported.

Also on Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a two-bill proposal to deliver new unemployment benefits, small-business aid and other relief to boost the country’s struggling economy. Two in 5 Americans say their finances still haven’t recovered from the pandemic’s impact, according to a survey last week from Bankrate.com.

The Federal Reserve kicks off its final meeting of the year Tuesday, and investors are awaiting the central bank’s take on how the economy is faring in the pandemic’s second wave.

“Fed policy depends on the economy, and the economy depends on the course of the virus,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, said in commentary emailed to The Post. “We expect overall monetary policy from the Federal Reserve to remain fully supportive of the economy in 2021, and no change is expected with millions and millions of Americans out of work.”

By: Taylor Telford

10:13 AM: Germany ramps up pressure on E.U., saying vaccine should be approved before Christmas

a group of people walking on a city street: Christmas lights shine over a virtually empty shopping street in the town of Düsseldorf, Germany, on Monday afternoon.

© Martin Meissner/AP
Christmas lights shine over a virtually empty shopping street in the town of Düsseldorf, Germany, on Monday afternoon.

Germany rushed to build hundreds of vaccination centers in a matter of weeks — and is now insisting that the European Union hurry up and approve a vaccine so that they can be put to use.

“Our goal is an approval before Christmas so that we can still start vaccinating this year,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said late Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Though the Pfizer vaccine that’s been approved in several countries was developed in partnership with the German company BioNTech and funded in part by the German government, it can’t yet be administered to German citizens because the E.U.’s regulatory agency has yet to give it the green light. Meanwhile, Germany has reported record numbers of coronavirus-related fatalities in recent days, and hospital officials have warned that some parts of the country face a shortage of intensive care unit beds.

Though Spahn said last week that it was better to have vaccination centers ready and no vaccine, rather than the other way around, he expressed frustration with the delay through tweets on Sunday.

“This is also about the trust of the citizens in the European Union’s capacity to act,” Spahn wrote, demanding that the European Medicines Agency work faster and not wait until its scheduled Dec. 29 meeting to grant approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. His remarks came as Chancellor Angela Merkel announced strict new lockdown measures — including bans on in-person Christmas shopping, outdoor drinking and fireworks — that will remain in effect through the start of the new year.

Emer Cooke, the agency’s head, pushed back on Monday, telling the Associated Press that regulators were already “working around the clock” and that citizens valued a “thorough evaluation” over a fast approval.

But by midday Tuesday, the agency did appear to be responding to pressure when it announced a new timeline: “Following receipt yesterday evening of additional data,” it said in a statement, the EMA would now meet on Dec. 21 to discuss authorizing the vaccine. The agency added that it will also maintain the Dec. 29 meeting date as a precaution.

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

9:53 AM: USPS ‘gridlocked’ as historic crush of holiday packages sparks delays

A historic crush of e-commerce packages is threatening to overwhelm U.S. Postal Service operations just weeks before Christmas and Senate runoff elections in Georgia, according to agency employees and postal industry tracking firms.

As Americans increasingly shop online because of the coronavirus pandemic, private express carriers FedEx and UPS have cut off delivery service for some retailers, sending massive volumes of packages to the Postal Service.

That has led to widespread delays and pushed the nation’s mail agency to the brink. Postal employees are reporting mail and package backlogs across the country, and working vast amounts of overtime hours that have depleted morale during another surge of coronavirus infections nationwide.

“We’re really gridlocked all over the place,” said a Postal Service transportation manager in Ohio, who like others in this report spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “It’s bad. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

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By: Hannah Denham and Jacob Bogage

9:15 AM: The African roots of inoculation in America: Saving lives for three centuries

The image was powerful: two Black women, both medical professionals, on either end of a syringe Monday, as one administered to the other one of the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine available to the American public.

It was powerful because it showed who is on front lines fighting the pandemic, and because many Black Americans have a justified suspicion of the medical community. Several decades ago, the government experimented on Black men without their knowledge in the Tuskegee study, and the “father of gynecology,” J. Marion Sims, performed dozens of operations without anesthesia on enslaved Black women.

But go back three centuries, and one finds this: The concept of inoculation arrived in America from Africa. In fact, in the 1700s, Africans taught their technique for protecting themselves against smallpox to the very European settlers who enslaved them.

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By: Gillian Brockell

8:30 AM: WHO in talks with Pfizer to make vaccine more affordable for poorer nations

a close up of a device: Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine are seen during a vaccination clinic on Dec. 15 in Stratford, England.

© Leon Neal/Getty Images
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine are seen during a vaccination clinic on Dec. 15 in Stratford, England.

The World Health Organization is in talks with Pfizer to include its vaccine in a global initiative to distribute shots to poorer nations, a senior official said Tuesday, even as richer countries move to snap up remaining doses to inoculate their own populations.

Reuters quoted Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the WHO, as saying he saw a “strong commitment” on the part of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to help make the vaccine more affordable so it could be distributed more widely around the globe. He said he expected more pharmaceutical manufacturers to join the organization’s Covax vaccine facility in the coming weeks, Reuters reported.

The WHO helped launch the Covax initiative to ensure equitable access to treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1.6 million people worldwide. The organization said it would facilitate the purchase of some 2 billion vaccine doses for 2021.

Pfizer’s vaccine is one of two that so far appear to be the most effective in protecting against covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The other one was developed by Moderna but has not yet been approved for emergency use in the United States.

Covax has not yet secured doses of either vaccine, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, adding that the initiative is also short on cash.

“Covax has not secured enough doses, and the way the situation may unfold is they will probably only get these doses fairly late,” said Arnaud Bernaert, head of global health at the World Economic Forum, the AP reported.

By: Erin Cunningham

8:01 AM: Fauci recommends vaccination for Biden ‘as soon as we possibly can’

Anthony S. Fauci wearing a suit and tie: Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House briefing last month.

© Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House briefing last month.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, publicly recommended Tuesday that President-elect Joe Biden be vaccinated against the coronavirus “as soon as we possibly can.”

Fauci, who is advising the current administration and plans to serve as Biden’s chief medical adviser on the pandemic, said it is important for both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris to move quickly for “security reasons.”

It is important for Biden to be “fully protected as he enters the presidency in January,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “So that would be my strong recommendation.”

Biden aides have said that the president-elect plans to take the vaccine in public when Fauci recommends he do so.

During Tuesday’s interview, Fauci also recommended that both Trump and Vice President Pence also be vaccinated soon.

“You still want to protect people who are very important to our country right now,” he said.

Trump, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus in early October, probably has antibodies, Fauci said. But, he added: “We’re not sure how long that protection lasts.”

By: John Wagner

7:30 AM: Hopes for a ‘normal’ Christmas fade as pandemic rages

When governments in Europe announced new shutdowns amid surging coronavirus cases last month, some world leaders floated a tantalizing light at the end of the tunnel.

“I have no doubt that people will be able to have as normal a Christmas as possible,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a news conference on Nov. 5, as he announced a four-week lockdown.

The reassurance, after a tough year that had already seen many families spend special occasions in isolation, served as motivation to put up with short-term restrictions in the hope they would pay off.

But with coronavirus cases surging again as the holiday season approaches, and vaccine rollouts in stages too early to make a dent, hope for a Christmas miracle has come to look like a mirage.

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By: Adam Taylor

7:03 AM: Singapore to launch quarantine-free lane for some business travelers

a view of an airport tarmac: Singapore Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore Dec. 8, 2020.

© Edgar Su/Reuters
Singapore Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore Dec. 8, 2020.

Singapore in January will begin accepting business travelers for short-term stays without the need to quarantine, the government said Tuesday.

All travelers were previously required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the new initiative would allow “business, official and high economic value travelers from all countries” to enter Singapore through a segregated travel lane, the English-language Straits Times reported.

The passengers would be transferred from the airport to dedicated facilities where business executives could meet with their local counterparts through airtight glass panels. To qualify for entry, travelers must be visiting for fewer than 14 days.

“Global business travel has been severely affected by the need for quarantine measures,” the Straits Times quoted Singapore’s minister of trade and industry, Chan Shun Sing, as saying.

“Dedicated facilities can allow Singaporeans to meet [business] travelers from elsewhere. They can also allow [business] travelers from elsewhere to meet each other,” he said.

About 15 percent of travelers arriving at Singapore’s Changi Airport before the coronavirus were there for business-related reasons, local media reported. Singapore on Tuesday reported one new case of local transmission of the coronavirus. The country’s total death toll from the pandemic stands at just 29.

Travelers would be tested before departure, on arrival and regularly throughout their stay, officials said.

By: Erin Cunningham

6:00 AM: Maine senator suggests keeping people home during the holidays with free movies and TV shows

a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine, arrives at the Capitol on Friday.

© Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images
Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine, arrives at the Capitol on Friday.

Wouldn’t more people stay safely ensconced in their own homes over the holidays if they had access to free Hulu, HBO Max and Netflix?

That’s the argument being put forward by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who on Monday urged six major streaming services to consider making shows and movies available to nonsubscribers as a “public service.”

“We believe that your companies are in a unique position to help families cope with the effects of this health emergency on typical holiday traditions,” King wrote in a letter to top executives at Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Apple and Warner Brothers. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The pandemic has led to widespread financial distress, he noted, and there’s also a pressing need to offer incentives for following public health guidance.

Plenty of people have already turned to binge-watching as a safe alternative to movie theaters, concert venues and sports arenas, King acknowledged. “Yet as the weather grows colder across much of the country and safe outdoor recreation options are further restricted, Americans are faced with even further social isolation — and increased free time — during the holidays,” he added. “This is a risk; it could also be an opportunity for creative, socially responsible thinking.”

Temporarily lifting paywalls would give streaming platforms a chance “to encourage people to make responsible choices and safely navigate this holiday season,” King suggested in his message to executives. In a Monday interview with Yahoo Finance, he argued that essentially offering a free trial over the holidays could end up being a good business decision as well as a way of boosting the national morale.

“I suspect if they had millions of new people on their services, some of those people would say, ‘Hey, this service is pretty good. I’d like to continue it and sign up,’ ” King said.

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

5:45 AM: Infection rates in London actually increased during the final weeks of lockdown, influential study shows

a group of people walking in front of a building: A municipal worker cleans a London street amid a nationwide lockdown that ended in the first week of December.

© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
A municipal worker cleans a London street amid a nationwide lockdown that ended in the first week of December.

Coronavirus infections increased in London during the final weeks of a nationwide lockdown, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, researchers said Tuesday — a potentially frustrating development that comes as other European nations like Germany and the Netherlands impose strict new rules for the Christmas season.

“We need to understand why the effectiveness of lockdown appears to be uneven so that future strategies can be better tailored to the evolving epidemic,” Steven Riley, an author of Imperial College London’s React-1 study, said in a statement.

The influential study, which tests 150,000 randomly chosen participants around the country for the coronavirus every two weeks, is believed to be the most accurate gauge of how widely coronavirus infections are spreading across England at any given time. The most recent data, based on more than 168,181 tests conducted between Nov. 13 and Dec. 3, showed overall infection rates dropping by about 30 percent.

In London, however, the prevalence of infections grew from 0.98 percent in mid-November to 1.21 percent at the start of December, just as the nationwide lockdown ended and was replaced with a tiered system of restrictions that vary from region to region.

In their latest report, the Imperial College researchers suggest one possible explanation: Before the lockdown, parts of Northern England were subject to the toughest level of restrictions under the tiered system, and their success at reducing infection rates “may therefore reflect the combination of these prior measures and lockdown.”

Though the rise of infections in London during lockdown raises questions about how effective it was to close most businesses and ban most activities outside the home, the researchers point out that the city and southern region of England saw a rapid rise in infections in September and October that never resulted in prevalence rates as high as those reported in the north, “suggesting that, in the absence of lockdown, rates may have gone much higher.”

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

4:15 AM: Managing kids’ expectations without turning into the Grinch

The holiday tradition 15-year-old Jake Miller is going to miss the most is visiting his grandparents’ farm in Wisconsin. “That means I’ll miss out on rifle shooting practice with my cousins and my grandma’s home-baked pies and cookies,” he says. For Christine Buttigieg’s 6- and 9-year-olds, it’s the “Polar Express” train they take every year near their New York home.

Across the country, families are finding the normally jolly holiday season feels anywhere from boring to a bummer, with parties, large shared meals, travel and busy religious services off the table because of coronavirus risks. Gone for many is the chance to sit on Santa’s lap, bake with grandparents and take part in other beloved traditions that have been canceled amid a surge of new virus cases across the country.

If you’re looking for ideas to help your children manage their holiday expectations amid so much loss and change, here are a few.

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By: Jennifer Davis

3:45 AM: NCAA women’s basketball tournament to be held in one area, likely San Antonio

The NCAA announced Monday that this season’s Division I women’s basketball tournament will be held in one geographic area and that it has begun “preliminary talks with San Antonio and the surrounding region” about holding the entire tournament there.

Dates and venues are still being finalized, the NCAA said in a statement, though the tournament is expected to occur in late March and early April. The Alamodome in San Antonio already had been selected as the site of this season’s Final Four and national championship game.

With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, the NCAA decided to hold the tournament in one locale to cut down on travel and ensure a bubblelike environment.

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By: Matt Bonesteel

3:15 AM: D.C. region rolls out vaccine amid push to reach priority groups

The first doses of a coronavirus vaccine were administered Monday in the Washington region, marking the start of a massive logistical undertaking that officials hope will halt a virus that has killed more than 10,000 in the area.

Governments and hospitals are hosting events this week to show residents getting vaccinated as part of an effort to foster public trust in the vaccine. D.C., Maryland and Virginia are reserving the first shipments for health-care workers, first responders and nursing home residents.

Members of the public, officials said, probably will have to wait until spring. The rollout comes as the seven-day average of new infections approaches 7,000 across the greater Washington region — the most since the start of the pandemic.

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By: Rebecca Tan, Michael Brice-Saddler and Lola Fadulu

2:45 AM: Video: Surgeon General describes the dangers of vaccine hesitancy for communities of color

As George Washington University Hospital administered its first coronavirus vaccines, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams addressed a lack of trust in government health programs for communities of color.

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By: Washington Post Staff

1:45 AM: Theodore Mann, lawyer and influential voice on Jewish affairs, dies at 92

Theodore R. Mann, a lawyer and activist who worked on landmark First Amendment cases, led major American Jewish organizations and became an early and outspoken advocate for a two-state solution in the Middle East, died Dec. 12 at a hospital in Philadelphia. He was 92.

The cause was covid-19, said his daughter Julie Mann. He had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus about two weeks earlier, she said.

The son of Jewish immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Mr. Mann co-founded a law firm in Philadelphia, where he specialized in complex commercial litigation while taking pro bono cases through the ACLU and American Jewish Congress. Four years into his legal career, he handled the early phases of a 1963 Supreme Court case, Abington School District v. Schempp, in which the justices ruled 8 to 1 that school-sponsored Bible readings were unconstitutional.

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By: Harrison Smith

1:45 AM: More Northern Virginia school systems revert to online-only learning

More Northern Virginia school systems are sending children back to fully online learning, citing unacceptable levels of community transmission of the novel coronavirus, as cases and deaths continue to rise in the Washington region and nationally.

Over the weekend, Fairfax County Public Schools — whose 186,000 students make it the largest school system in the state — announced that it was returning thousands of children to virtual learning on Monday. Likewise, Fauquier County Public Schools, a neighboring district of roughly 10,000 students, said last week that it would return to remote schooling starting Monday.

“The start of the increase . . . appears to be temporally related to Halloween when residents gathered in groups and ignored public health mitigation strategies,” April Achter, a population health coordinator in the Fauquier County area, said in a statement. “We are now observing a post-Thanksgiving spike in cases as well.”

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By: Hannah Natanson

1:15 AM: Brazil unlikely to begin mass vaccination program until March, top health expert says

A medical worker treats a covid-19 patient in an intensive care in Niteroi, Brazil on Friday.

© Lucas Dumphreys/AP
A medical worker treats a covid-19 patient in an intensive care in Niteroi, Brazil on Friday.

Brazil, home to one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, is unlikely to begin a large-scale vaccination rollout until March, a leading public health expert told Reuters on Monday.

The South American nation hedged its bets by entering an agreement to purchase more than 200 million doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which appeared to be the front-runner when the deal was announced in summer. But that vaccine has not yet received regulatory approval — and Brazil is just now moving to secure 70 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that has already been approved in the United States and Britain, while anticipating that only 2 million doses will arrive in the first three months of 2021.

Marco Krieger, the vice president of health production and innovation at the Fiocruz institute, told Reuters that a mass vaccination campaign will rely on the AstraZeneca shot. “We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel,” he said, predicting that 30 to 40 percent of the population could be immunized by the middle of 2021.

Over the weekend, Brazil’s health authorities released a vaccination plan that was quickly criticized for the fact that it only accounted for enough shots to immunize a quarter of the population, and did not list a start date. The document also suggested that social distancing measures might have to stay in place for as many as two more years.

Brazil has reported more than 181,000 coronavirus-related fatalities, more than any country besides the United States, and nearly 7 million coronavirus infections, the third-highest tally worldwide.

By: Antonia Noori Farzan

12:45 AM: California accuses Amazon of hampering warehouse probe

SEATTLE — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed suit against Amazon on Monday, accusing the e-commerce giant of months of foot-dragging as the state seeks information about the outbreak of coronavirus cases and safety measures at warehouses in the state.

Becerra has pressed Amazon since May to provide information about the number of warehouse workers who have contracted the virus as well as information about steps the company has taken to protect those employees, according to the lawsuit.

But the state has received only cursory replies, the lawsuit alleges. Becerra, whom President-elect Joe Biden has chosen to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, claims that Amazon’s obstinacy is preventing the state from protecting its citizens.

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By: Jay Greene

12:16 AM: ‘The weapon that will end the war’: First coronavirus vaccine shots given outside trials in U.S.

NEW YORK — With a quick jab to a nurse’s left deltoid, America entered a new phase in its fight against the coronavirus on Monday.

The injection to Sandra Lindsay’s arm at Long Island Jewish Medical Center made her the first American to receive the coronavirus vaccine outside a clinical trial. The small dose of mRNA represented a giant leap in efforts to beat back the virus, a moonshot worth of hope amid a pandemic that has infected more than 16 million and killed more than 300,000 nationwide.

Vaccinations rolled out across the country Monday, with doctors and nurses at hospitals nationwide injecting one another as part of a federal plan to prioritize front-line health-care workers. Some said they had dedicated the experience to the patients they had lost, or to family members they had seldom seen as they battled around-the-clock to save others.

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By: Ben Guarino, Ariana Eunjung Cha, Josh Wood and Griff Witte

12:12 AM: Catholic parishioners gave more money to churches that went online during quarantine than to those that did not

The coronavirus shutdown is affecting giving to Catholic parishes around the country in dramatically different ways, data shows, with some expected to see their offertory — parishioners’ donations, typically given at weekly services — down 50 percent, while others have had an increase. A study says a big factor is whether parishes switched to online services or decided to wait the virus out.

How restrictions on indoor gatherings will affect U.S. houses of worship of all kinds has been a question from the start of the pandemic, and with limits on the size of services and reopen dates varying by region, it has been hard to see a clear trend. However, many faith leaders worry that Americans who get out of the habit of attending regular in-person worship will simply stop altogether. That’s especially a concern for Catholics, who more than other faiths depend on in-person, pass-the-basket donations. Other experts see spikes in Americans experimenting and becoming connected virtually to new services and believe that could drive interest — and money — into religious institutions in the future.

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By: Michelle Boorstein

12:11 AM: Momentum grows on Capitol Hill for economic relief package as bipartisan group releases two bills

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday released two bills they said would provide the nation with emergency economic relief as senior congressional officials sounded more hopeful about the odds of approving new relief than they have in weeks.

The bipartisan group unveiled one $748 billion package that includes new unemployment benefits, small business aid and other programs that received broad bipartisan support. The second bill includes the two provisions most divisive among lawmakers — liability protections for firms and roughly $160 billion in aid for state and local governments — with the expectation that both could be excluded from a final deal to secure passage of the most popular provisions. This second bill could end up falling out of the final deal if lawmakers don’t rally around it amid broad opposition among Democrats to approving the liability shield.

The progress in the bipartisan group’s work comes as congressional leaders indicated momentum for quickly approving some sort of economic relief package before lawmakers leave for Christmas recess.

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By: Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim

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