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The Pandemic

The Washington Post
Coronavirus Updates
Important developments in the pandemic.

The latest: 

Monday December 21, 2020

The federal government authorized a second coronavirus vaccine for public use on Friday, and the first shipments of Moderna’s shots were expected to arrive in states today.

Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine authorized earlier this month, Moderna’s version doesn't need to be kept at ultracold temperatures, which means it should be easier to transport. Its authorization doubles the number of people expected to get their first shot this year, to roughly 20 million. But Moncef Slaoui, the White House's chief science adviser to the program, warned those vaccines won't be enough to stop a deadly winter surge. “Unfortunately, it will get worse,” he told CNN.Despite warnings, pre-holiday travel around the U.S. over the weekend already set a new pandemic record.

Tennessee now leads the country in cases per capita, thanks in part to Thanksgiving gatherings that spread the virus. “If we have another surge over Christmas, it will break our hospitals,” the state's health commissioner warned Sunday. Nevertheless, Gov. Bill Lee (R) has refused to order a mask mandate. 


Congressional leaders managed to strike a last-minute deal for a $900 billion economic relief package, which will also prevent a government shutdown if it’s voted into law by midnight. The package includes $600 stimulus checks for many Americans — calculate how much you'll get — as well as other aid. Here's the full breakdown.

At least 40 countries have banned entry travel from Britain because a mutant version of the coronavirus appears to be spreading rapidly through the island — 70 percent faster than the original virus, according to British officials. American officials have not yet imposed travel restrictions, and U.S. health experts caution that there's still no evidence the mutation is any deadlier, or resistant to vaccines. (More details on this in the Q&A below)

The U.S. coronavirus toll stands at more than 318,000 deaths and nearly 18 million documented infections. The Post has published a reconstruction of how President Trump's “skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him” helped bring us to this dark point, based on interviews with 48 senior administration officials and other sources. You should read it.

Other important news

President-elect Joe Biden got his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Monday.


Officials at the National Institutes of Health are planning a study to find out why a small fraction of people have had severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine.

A federal advisory panel has recommended that starting next year, the next 49 million people to get vaccines should be essential workers including teachers, emergency responders and grocery store employees, as well as anyone 75 or older.

Meanwhile companies such as Amazon and Uber are lobbying officials to get their own workers on the vaccination priority list.

More than 3 million care home residents supposed to be getting shots this year could face delays as their facilities try to obtain consent.


Guide to the pandemic

Track deaths and confirmed cases in the U.S. and across the world. 

Post reporters are publishing live dispatches nearly 24 hours a day.

FAQ: Answering your vaccine questions.

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Your questions, answered

“Can you tell us more about the new strain of the virus in South London, and if the new vaccine is going to be effective with that strain?” —Poe in Wisconsin

On Saturday, officials in the United Kingdom said that the coronavirus variant first identified there was spreading 70 percent faster than versions of the virus. That news sparked a flurry of Google searches (and questions from readers!) about the variant and how concerned we should be.

The latest answer from U.S. officials appears to be “not very worried.”

Virus variants are common. WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged Monday that “the U.K. has reported that this new variant transmits more easily” but said that such mutations are to be expected. The way to combat that, he said, is to slow the spread entirely, which will give the virus less opportunity to change. 

There's still a lot we don't know about this particular variant, so experts are watching it closely.

Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, told CBS News over the weekend that while it does seem that this London variant is more contagious, it doesn't appear to be any more dangerous than the other strains that are currently circulating. It also shows no sign that it will be resistant to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

“I don’t think there should be any reason for alarm right now,” Adm. Brett Giroir, who has been in charge of testing, told ABC News on Sunday. He also said the virus has not been detected in the United States, but that officials are watching for additional developments in Britain.

More than 40 countries, including Canada, have announced travel bansfrom the United Kingdom because of the new strain. But it's not clear whether travel restrictions will be effective at slowing the spread of this particular strain. The BBC reported that the strain was also found in Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Read more: Here’s what we know about the new European coronavirus mutation


Today’s top reads

Find more stories, analysis and op-eds about the outbreak on our coronavirus page, including:

  • An investment firm snapped up nursing homes during the pandemic. Employees say care suffered.
  • U.S. Olympic officials have yet to decide if vaccinations will be mandatory for Tokyo
  • The college football bowl schedule is filled out, but it’s altered and diminished by the pandemic

Inoculated health-care workers are now ambassadors for the coronavirus vaccine

By Frances Stead Sellers ●  Read more »


How to reopen the economy safely? Immunity passports.

Opinion ●  By Aaron Schwid and Tom Frieden ●  Read more »


The Santa who sounded the alarm

By Brittany Shammas ●  Read more »