WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris aim to take their oaths of office outside the U.S. Capitol building as inauguration planners seek to craft an event that captures the traditional grandeur of the historic ceremony while complying with COVID-19 protocols.

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President Trump delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in as the 45th president on Jan. 20, 2017. Next month’s inauguration of Joe Biden will likely look different because of coronavirus restrictions. Associated Press/Patrick Semansky

Biden’s team released some broad details for the Jan. 20 event on Tuesday. One big unknown: Will President Trump participate?

The president, who continues to make unproven claims of widespread voter fraud, has not yet told current and former White House aides whether he will attend Biden’s inauguration. While many had assumed he would skip the event after his loss, some now do expect him to make an appearance for the sake of tradition, even if he tries to overshadow the event by, perhaps, announcing the launch of his 2024 campaign just before.

Despite this week’s rollout of the new vaccine, its availability to the general public is still months away. So Biden’s team is urging supporters not to come to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the inauguration.

Biden said Friday that a “gigantic inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue” is unlikely, although a big reviewing stand is being constructed in front of the White House.

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In hopeful sign, Midwestern states see drop in new virus cases

After a punishing fall that left hospitals struggling, some Midwestern states are seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases. But the signs of improvement are offset by the infection’s accelerating spread on both coasts.

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Registered nurse Shelly Girardin, left, is illuminated by the glow of a computer monitor as Dr. Shane Wilson examines a COVID-19 patient at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo., last month. After a punishing fall that left hospital struggling, some Midwestern states are seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases. Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

States including Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska have seen decreases in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 over the past couple of weeks. All, however, are still experiencing an alarming number of deaths and hospitalizations because of the earlier surge of cases.

With winter weather driving people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, there’s no guarantee the improving dynamic can be maintained, doctors and public health officials say.

“We have a vaccine rolling out, but that doesn’t change the overall picture,” Dr. James Lawler with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security told the Omaha World-Herald. “Things could still turn south pretty easily.”

But he and others are encouraged by the figures. In Iowa, for example, the number of new virus cases reported daily has declined over the past two weeks from nearly 1,800 to about 1,250. In Nebraska, it has gone from about 1,800 a day to a little under 1,300.

“I am fingers crossed right now,” said Dr. Stacey Marlow, an emergency room physician at UnityPoint Allen Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa. “The COVID patients that I am seeing are very, very sick. But there are … less of them.”

Deaths from the virus in Iowa have continued to rise sharply, to an average of 79 a day, up from 28 two weeks ago.

The hope, of course, is that the drop in infections will translate into a decline in deaths, but that could take a few weeks. Many of those now dying of COVID-19 may have been infected weeks ago.

Nationwide, the death toll has topped 300,000, with more than 16 million confirmed infections. On average, the U.S. is seeing about 2,400 deaths and over 215,000 new cases per day. An influential model from the University of Washington says deaths could total 502,000 by April 1, even with a vaccine.

Lawler said more Nebraska residents appear to be following warnings to limit dining out and wear masks in public. It helps that a number of Nebraska cities recently passed mask mandates, he said.

Canada getting 168,000 Moderna vaccine doses before year end

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada is contracted to receive up to 168,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December, pending approval by Canada’s health regulator.

Trudeau said deliveries could begin within 48 hours of regulatory approval and health officials said they expect to approve use of the Moderna vaccine soon.

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The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are delivered to the Maimonides CHSLD, in Montreal, Canada Monday, Dec. 14. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP, File

Canadians began receiving vaccine shots developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday and Trudeau said Canada expects to receive about 200,000 doses from Pfizer next week. Canada received an initial batch of 30,000 this week.

Trudeau said they will have 70 sites ready to administer these doses next week, up from 14 sites this week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said its preliminary analysis confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, bringing it to the cusp of U.S. authorization. A panel of outside U.S. experts is expected to vote to recommend the vaccine on Thursday, with a final FDA decision coming soon thereafter.

Moderna’s vaccine is the same type as Pfizer’s, made with the same technology. In scrutinizing early results of a 30,000-person study, the FDA found it also worked just about the same.

The Moderna vaccine was more than 94% effective overall at preventing COVID-19 illness, and 86% effective in people 65 and older. The FDA uncovered no major safety issues.

Hopes for a ‘normal’ Christmas fade as pandemic rages in Europe and North America

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 Nov. 5, as he announced a four-week lockdown.

The reassurance, after a tough year when many families had already spent special occasions in isolation, served as motivation to put up with short-term restrictions.

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.

In Germany, where officials spent weeks deciding whether to offer a Christmas reprieve from restrictions, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Sunday that the country would return to strict measures like those it had imposed at the start of the pandemic.

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Christmas lights shine over a virtually empty shopping street in the old town of Duesseldorf, Germany, on Monday afternoon, Dec. 14. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country’s lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases. AP Photo/Martin Meissner

The Dutch government announced Monday that it would install its toughest restrictions yet over the holiday season, through Jan 19. “We realize just how far-reaching this decision is,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in an evening address to the nation. “This has been a year of sadness and mourning for many.”

The Italian media has speculated that a similar lockdown is impending, while other European countries, including Greece, have imposed measures ahead of Christmas.

Last week in the United States, California announced its restrictions would run through the holiday.

Many global health experts have welcomed the restrictions and shutdowns. “The festive season is a time to relax and celebrate,” World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday, but it “can very quickly turn to sadness.”

Putting a damper on Christmas can be a tough decision. In Canada, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister grew emotional when he announced that strict rules for the province would continue over the holiday season. “I’m the guy who is stealing Christmas to keep you safe,” he said, his voice breaking.

Even restrictive measures might not be enough to keep the rate of transmission down over the holidays. On Tuesday, researchers from Imperial College London released a study suggesting that infections increased in London during the final weeks of the nationwide lockdown Johnson announced in November.

Read the full story here.

FDA says preliminary analysis confirms effectiveness, safety of Moderna vaccine

WASHINGTON — Hundreds more U.S. hospitals geared up to vaccinate their workers Tuesday as federal regulators issued a positive review of a second COVID-19 vaccine needed to boost the nation’s largest vaccination campaign.

The Food and Drug Administration said its preliminary analysis confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, bringing it to the cusp of U.S. authorization.

A panel of outside experts will offer their recommendation Thursday, with a final FDA decision expected soon thereafter.

The positive news comes as hospitals ramped up vaccinations with the shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which the FDA cleared last week.

Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will arrive at 400 additional hospitals and other distribution sites, one day after the nation’s death toll surpassed a staggering 300,000. The first 3 million shots are being strictly rationed to front-line health workers and elder-care patients, with hundreds of millions more shots needed over the coming months to protect most Americans.

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Colleen Teevan, system pharmacy clinical manager at Hartford HealthCare, administers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 to healthcare worker Connor Paleski outside of Hartford Hospital, Monday, Dec. 14, in Hartford, Conn. AP Photo/Jessica Hill

A second vaccine can’t come soon enough as the country’s daily death count continues to top 2,400 amid over 210,000 new daily cases, based on weekly averages of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The devastating toll is only expected to grow in coming weeks, fueled by holiday travel, family gatherings and lax adherence to basic public health measures.

The first vaccine deliveries have provided a measure of encouragement to exhausted doctors, nurses and hospital staffers around the country.

Johnnie Peoples, a 43-year-old survival flight nurse, was excited and a little nervous Monday afternoon as he unzipped his flight suit and stuck out his left arm to become the first person to receive the vaccine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

“Just to be a part of it is a good feeling,’’ he said.

Since March, he’s transported critically ill COVID-19 patients by jet from smaller hospitals around the state to the university medical center. It’s up-close-and-personal work that requires him to adjust ventilator settings and administer infusions to keep blood pressure from plummeting.

In Florida, government officials expect to have 100,000 doses of the vaccine by Tuesday at five hospitals across the state.

“This is 20,000 doses of hope,” said John Couris, president and chief executive officer, Tampa General Hospital, after the delivery of 3,900 vaccine vials on Monday. Each vial has five doses.

Read the full story here.

Boston joining other Massachusetts cities in again tightening restrictions

BOSTON — Boston is joining several other cities including Arlington, Brockton, Lynn, Newton, Somerville and Winthrop in again tightening restrictions in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which has again surged in Massachusetts.

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Lenora Kahn, her dog Bella, and Judith Albert dine outside of Marjoram Roux on Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Mass., on Friday. Even as the weather gets chilly, outdoor dining is safer than dining indoors at a restaurant. Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via Associated Press

Starting Wednesday, Boston will return to what Mayor Marty Walsh described as a modified version of phase two of the state’s reopening plan.

Walsh said the steps were needed following a steady climb in COVID-19 cases in the weeks following Thanksgiving.

“Unfortunately, we are at the point where we need to take stronger action to control COVID-19 in Boston,” Walsh said.

Under the tighter restrictions, several kinds of businesses will have to close their doors for at least three weeks beginning Wednesday including: movie theaters; museums; aquariums; indoor recreational and athletic facilities (exempting college and professional sports); sightseeing and tour buses including duck boats, harbor cruises and whale watching cruises; indoor historical sites; indoor and outdoor gaming arcades; bowling alleys; driving ranges; batting cages; and rock-climbing facilities.

Other industries may remain open in Boston with additional restrictions.

Offices can remain open at 40 percent capacity. Indoor dining in restaurants can stay open with restricted bar seating and with a 90-minute limit on meals strictly enforced. Activities such as pool tables, darts, trivia, etc. will be prohibited.

Outdoor event spaces used for gatherings and celebrations and outdoor theaters and outdoor performance venues may continue to operate with a 25-person capacity limit.

U.S. tops 300,000 dead of virus, as vaccinations roll out

When Brittany Palomo was hired as a nurse in March, her parents tried to talk her out of it, fearful of the fast-spreading coronavirus. All the more reason, she told them, to start the career that had been her long-held dream.

The pandemic, though, is a nightmare — one that has now claimed 300,000 lives in the U.S. and counting.

“Wake up, my little girl, wake up!” Palomo’s mother, Maria Palomo Salinas, screamed, her grief echoing through a Harlingen, Texas, hospital, when her daughter died of COVID-19 complications around 2 a.m. on a Saturday in late November.

Palomo was 27 and, as a health care worker, was probably weeks away from getting the new vaccine that could have protected her from the virus. Instead, she became yet another victim of the relentless outbreak whose U.S. toll is accelerating as it eclipses another round-number mark.

“The numbers are staggering — the most impactful respiratory pandemic that we have experienced in over 102 years, since the iconic 1918 Spanish flu,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said days before the U.S. reached the milestone.

The U.S. crossed the 300,000 threshold on the same it day it launched the biggest vaccination campaign in American history, with health care workers rolling up their sleeves for COVID-19 shots Monday.

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Physician assistant Nicole Thomas conducts a COVID-19 examination in the parking lot at Primary Health Medical Group’s clinic in Boise, Idaho in November. AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger, File

The death toll was reported by Johns Hopkins University from data supplied by health authorities across the U.S. The real number of lives lost is believed to be much higher, in part because of deaths that were not accurately recorded as coronavirus-related during the early stages of the crisis.

It took four months for the virus to claim its first 100,000 American lives. But with cold weather driving people inside, where the virus spreads more easily, months of reluctance in many states to require masks, and an increase in gatherings over the holidays, some public health experts project 100,000 more could die before the end of January.

“It can certainly feel like you’re standing on the beach and sandbagging a tsunami,” said Dr. Leon Kelly, who attends to both the dead and the living as coroner for El Paso County, Colorado, and deputy medical director of its public health department.

Already, the number of dead in the U.S. rivals the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. The toll is equivalent to repeating a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina every day for 5 1/2 months.

Read the full story here.

White House official recovering from COVID after 3 months in hospital, foot and lower leg amputation

A White House official who fell ill with COVID-19 in September is recovering after three months in the hospital, though he lost his right foot and lower leg in his battle against the virus, according to a friend.

Crede Bailey, the director of the White House security office, was the most severely ill among dozens of COVID-19 cases known to be connected to the White House. Bailey’s family has asked the White House not to publicize his condition, and President Donald Trump has never publicly acknowledged his illness.

Bailey’s friends have raised more than $30,000 for his rehabilitation through a GoFundMe account. The White House declined to say whether Trump has contributed to the effort.

“Crede beat COVID-19 but it came at a significant cost: his big toe on his left foot as well as his right foot and lower leg had to be amputated,” Dawn McCrobie, who organized the GoFundMe effort for Bailey, wrote Dec. 7.

Bailey is now at a rehabilitation center and will be fitted for a prosthetic leg in the coming months, she wrote.

“His family has staggering medical bills from a hospital stay of 2+ months and still counting in the ICU and a long road ahead in rehab before he can go home,” McCrobie wrote Nov. 13, when she created the account. “When he does make it home there will be major changes necessary to deal with his new, and permanent, disability.”

McCrobie did not respond to messages and White House spokespeople declined to comment. Efforts to reach Bailey and multiple members of his family by phone, email and social media have been unsuccessful.

Bailey’s office handles credentialing for access to the White House complex and works closely with the U.S. Secret Service on security measures. Bailey was known on the compound as a strong Trump supporter.

The president has repeatedly minimized the risk from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, both before and after he was hospitalized with the disease Oct. 2-5.

Doctors are still learning about the extent to which the coronavirus can damage the body, but loss of blood flow is one possible consequence. The virus is known to attack the vascular system and can cause deadly blood clots.

Crunch time for COVID-19 relief as bipartisan bills unveiled

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers was unveiling a detailed COVID-19 aid proposal Monday as Congress labored toward a final agreement on a new round of virus relief.

Progress was being reported on other fronts, too, as lawmakers cobbled together a year-end catchall funding package that will be the basis for the last significant legislation of the Trump presidency.

The dozen or so lawmakers sealed agreement on their COVID relief plan over the weekend and decided to offer two bills. One is a $748 billion aid package containing money for struggling businesses, the unemployed, schools, and for vaccine distribution. The other bill proposes a $160 billion aid package for state and local governments and provisions shielding businesses from COVID-related lawsuits, a dynamic favored by Senate Republicans.

The path forward for their proposals — and for COVID-19 aid more generally — remains unclear. Parallel negotiations over virus relief and government funding are proceeding on the leadership level involving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remains central to any agreement. Outstanding issues include a potential second round of direct payments to individuals, a plan for $300 bonus unemployment benefits, state and local aid, and the GOP-sought liability shield against lawsuits.

There’s a hoped-for deadline of midnight Friday to deliver the completed package to President Donald Trump, which is when a partial government shutdown would arrive with the expiration of last week’s temporary funding bill. But there’s no guarantee that the massive year-end measure will be completed in time. If the talks drag, further temporary bills could be needed.

Meanwhile, negotiations on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill are “essentially finished,” said a congressional aide participating in the talks. While details are closely held, “the status quo is prevailing.” That means Trump would get another $1.4 billion or so for a final installment to continue construction of his long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Read the full story here.


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