• Tue. Jan 19th, 2021

What Happened Today in the Coronavirus Pandemic


Jan 14, 2021

As Americans focus their attention on the fallout from the Capitol siege and the debate over another presidential impeachment, the pandemic is reaching what only a few months ago was considered a nightmare scenario.

Yesterday’s death count — at least 4,406 people — set another daily record, and represents at least 1,597 more people than those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. death toll, already the highest in the world by a wide margin, is soaring toward 400,000 — only one month after the country crossed the 300,000 threshold.

From the beginning, the country’s coronavirus strategy relied heavily on quickly making a vaccine. Multiple candidates were developed in record time, and if given out quickly, could rein in the pandemic and save thousands of lives. But so far the rollout has been slow, and riddled with challenges.

After the federal government yesterday abruptly reversed course and cleared vaccinations for people over 65 and adults with certain medical conditions, states have been scrambling to meet a surge in demand for doses.

Local officials have struggled to set up phone and online sign-up systems. Many of the oldest Americans, who are most vulnerable to the disease, are encountering byzantine online registration sites, error messages and crashing servers. Appointments are snatched up as soon as they become available, and some in the highest priority group have only managed to book their shots weeks from now.

As of this morning, the federal government has delivered almost 30 million doses, and more than 10 million have been administered. The Trump administration originally said that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by Jan. 1.

In Georgia, a man spoke to Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News about how he had repeatedly called his county’s hotline to try to make an appointment for his mother.

“No one’s ever picking up,” Eric Moore said. “I promise you, I called 134 times.”

It apparently started with a small outbreak at a village wedding party.

After a handful of coronavirus cases emerged this month in a province surrounding Beijing, the Chinese authorities locked down more than 17 million people in two cities, Shijiazhuang and Xingtai.

The new rules froze transportation and canceled weddings, funerals and a Communist Party conference. The government also ordered the testing of every resident there, which was wrapped up in a few days.

Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

This week the restrictions were expanded to Langfang, a city on the edge of Beijing, and to some districts inside Beijing, the Chinese capital. They now apply to 22 million people, more than twice as many as the lockdown in Wuhan last January.

The move comes at a time when the Chinese economy was surging back after last year’s slump and when residents, many who felt like the pandemic was a thing of the past, were getting used to something close to normal life. China, a country of 1.4 billion people, has reported an average of 109 new cases a day over the past week. (For some perspective, the U.S. is averaging a quarter-million a day.)

Since the outbreak in Wuhan, Chinese authorities have created a playbook for outbreaks that includes sealing off neighborhoods, conducting widespread testing and quarantining large groups — measures that were seen as extraordinary when they were applied in Wuhan last year.

Officials have appeared especially worried about Beijing, home of the Communist Party’s central leadership. After a taxi driver there tested positive over the weekend, the authorities tracked down 144 passengers for additional tests, according to The Global Times, a state tabloid. Now anyone getting in a taxi or car service in Beijing has to scan a QR code from their phone, allowing the government to quickly trace them.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

I have adopted what I call my Jane Austen hour. In the spirit of the Victorian-era tradition of “morning correspondence,” each day I spend an hour writing emails or texts to friends and family, many of whom I haven’t been in touch with for years. I have reconnected with old college roommates, high school friends, long-lost cousins, and all sorts of acquaintances I had lost touch with. I just send a short note saying that I was thinking about them and hoping they were managing OK in these crazy times, and then I share a treasured memory about them. The resulting reconnection and renewed correspondence has been a great antidote to pandemic isolation.

— Shelley Hammond Hoffmire, Oxford, U.K.

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