PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The deadliest month yet of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. drew to a close with certain signs of progress: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are plummeting, while vaccinations are picking up speed.

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Registered Nurse Rita Alba gives a patient the first dose of coronavirus vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site at the Bronx River Community Center on Sunday in New York City. The U.S. is averaging about 1.3 million shots a day. Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The question is whether the nation can stay ahead of the fast-spreading mutations of the virus.

The U.S. death toll has climbed past 440,000, with over 95,000 lives lost in January alone. Deaths are running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly by about 200 from their peak in mid-January.

But as the calendar turned to February on Monday, the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 fell below 100,000 for the first time in two months. New cases of infection are averaging about 148,000 day, falling from almost a quarter-million in mid-January. And cases are trending downward in all 50 states.

Deaths do not move in perfect lockstep up or down with the infection curve. They are a lagging indicator, because it can take a few weeks for people to get sick and die from COVID-19.

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U.S. won’t make immigration arrests at virus vaccination sites

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government says it won’t be making routine immigration enforcement arrests at COVID-19 vaccination sites.

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Drivers with a vaccine appointment enter a mega COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday. The federal government said it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to receive the vaccine when they are eligible. Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Vaccination sites will be considered “sensitive locations” and generally off limits for enforcement actions, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Monday.

It says arrests would only be carried out under “the most extraordinary of circumstances.”

It was the latest example of a softer tone on illegal immigration under President Joe Biden, whose administration has quickly moved to reverse major immigration policies of his predecessor.

In its statement, DHS said it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to receive the vaccine when they are eligible and that the agency and its federal partners “fully support equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants.”

DHS also oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is working with other parts of the federal government to set up vaccination sites around the country.

The U.S. government previously considered health clinics as well as schools and places of worship as sensitive locations where it would generally not carry out enforcement actions. Over the years, that prompted some people to take refuge in churches to avoid deportation.

A fast, at-home coronavirus test will be available to Americans this year

WASHINGTON — The White House announced Monday it is buying 8.5 million rapid coronavirus tests that can be taken at home without a prescription and that yield immediate results.

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This photo provided by Ellume shows a self-administered rapid coronavirus at-home test kit developed by Australian manufacturer Ellume. The test works with a smartphone app that can connect users to an online doctor consultation if they test positive. (AP) Ellume via Associated Press

The $231.8 million contract will allow the Australian company Ellume, which manufacturers the tests, to quickly scale up its production and create a manufacturing facility in the United States.

For the past year, many experts have called for the development of cheap, rapid home tests as a way to catch and stop viral transmission. But even as testing technology improved, the cost and availability of such tests lagged and remained prohibitive.

Ellume’s home coronavirus test was the first over-the-counter, rapid coronavirus home test to be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. It was approved Dec. 15. But the test was expected to be available only in limited quantities.

Andy Slavitt, President Biden’s senior adviser for COVID-19 response, acknowledged that the $30 price per Ellume test – while cheaper than many of the $100-$200 tests that need to be processed by a lab – is still too high for it to be used by many people.

The tests could be vital tools in the country’s fight against the virus – especially in the months before most Americans are vaccinated. Unlike previous home tests, the Ellume test does not require samples to be sent to a lab and can be taken without doctor’s orders by anyone older than 2.

Under the new contract, the company is expecting to ship 100,000 tests to the United States per month from February to July.

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New diabetes cases linked to COVID-19

Mihail Zilbermint is used to treating diabetes – he heads a special team that cares for patients with the metabolic disorder at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. But as the hospital admitted increasing numbers of patients with COVID-19, his caseload ballooned.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in patients who are newly diagnosed” with diabetes, said Mihail Zilbermint of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. Photo for The Washington Post by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

“Before, we used to manage maybe 18 patients per day,” he said. Now his team cares for as many as 30 daily.

Many of those patients had no prior history of diabetes. Some who developed elevated blood sugar while they had COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, returned to normal by the time they left the hospital. Others went home with a diagnosis of full-blown diabetes. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in patients who are newly diagnosed,” Zilbermint said.

Although COVID-19 often attacks the lungs, it is increasingly associated with a range of problems including blood clots, neurological disorders, and kidney and heart damage. Researchers say new-onset diabetes may soon be added to those complications – both Type 1, in which people cannot make the insulin needed to regulate their blood sugar, and Type 2, in which they make too little insulin or become resistant to their insulin, causing their blood sugar levels to rise. But scientists do not know whether COVID-19 might hasten already developing problems or actually cause them – or both.

As early as January 2020, doctors in Wuhan, China, noticed elevated blood sugar in patients with COVID-19. Physicians in Italy, another early hot spot, wondered whether diabetes diagnoses might follow, given the long-observed association between viral infections and the onset of diabetes. That association was seen in past outbreaks of other coronavirus illnesses such as influenza and SARS.

A year after the pandemic began, the precise nature and scope of the COVID-diabetes link remain a mystery.

Many of those who develop diabetes during or after COVID-19 have risk factors, such as obesity or a family history of the disease. Elevated blood glucose levels also are common among those taking dexamethasone, a steroid that is a front-line treatment for COVID-19. But cases also have occurred in patients with no known risk factors or prior health concerns. And some cases develop months after the body has cleared the virus.

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Many who have received the coronavirus vaccine wonder: What can I safely do?

Soon after Marc Wilson gets his second dose of coronavirus vaccine, he plans to resume one of his pre-pandemic joys: swimming laps with his friends. But most other activities – including volunteering at a food pantry and homeless shelter – will be off-limits until the outbreak is curbed and scientists know more about the threat of emerging variants.

After being vaccinated, Marc Wilson, 70, a retired accountant in Norman, Okla., plans to go back to some activities but not others. The Washington Post/Nick Oxford

“I can definitely broaden the things I do, but I still have to be quite cautious,” said Wilson, 70, a retired accountant in Norman, Okla., who has diabetes and other health problems. “When your doctor tells you, ‘If you get COVID, you’re dead,’ that gets your attention real good.”

The arrival of coronavirus vaccines is beginning to have an impact on everyday life, with millions of newly inoculated Americans eagerly anticipating a return to long-postponed activities and visits with sorely missed relatives and friends. But with Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warning that vaccinations are not a “pass,” the recently inoculated are engaged in a new round of complicated risk-benefit assessments. What can I safely do? Where can I go? And how do I interact with people who are not vaccinated?

The answers aren’t simple. In the meantime, the asymmetric nature of the rollout – with many older Americans and health-care workers receiving shots first, while tens of millions of others await their turns – is shifting relationships in families and in society more broadly. Grandparents who once hunkered down at home, most vulnerable to a virus that preys on the elderly, now are likely to be better protected than younger relatives who are waiting to be vaccinated.

Experts agree broadly on many issues people have questions about. But they differ on details and lack some important information. They still don’t know, for example, whether people who are vaccinated can get asymptomatic infections and pass them on to those who are not inoculated – which is why they urge people to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing even after receiving their shots.Scientists also are racing to determine how much protection vaccines offer against the highly transmissible variants popping up in the United States.

Read the full story here.

Winter storm disrupts Massachusetts COVID-19 vaccine rollout

BOSTON — The second phase of Massachusetts’ coronavirus vaccine rollout Monday is being disrupted by a winter storm that is causing schedule changes and at least one vaccination location shutdown.

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Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray holds an “I Got Vaccinated” button at a COVID-19 vaccine injection site set in a concession area at Fenway Park, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in Boston. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The Reggie Lewis Center in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, which was supposed to open Monday as a mass vaccination site for residents age 75 and over, will not open because of the storm, the Boston Public Health Commission announced.

Appointments that were scheduled for Monday will automatically be rescheduled for Feb. 8, the agency said in a tweet.

Mass vaccination sites at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park are open, but with some changes, according to CIC Health, which is operating both sites.

The Fenway Park site opened an hour early, and people with morning appointments were asked to show up an hour early. People with afternoon appointments were asked show up in the morning.

The Gillette Stadium site opened, but anyone with an appointment scheduled after 3 p.m. will receive an email to reschedule for later this week.

“In case of closures due to winter weather, vaccination locations will reach out to individuals with appointments to reschedule,” the state said in a statement. “If you cannot safely get to your appointment, you can reschedule.”

EU says crime gangs are forging negative test certificates

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The European Union’s police agency is warning nations to be on the lookout for fake COVID-19 test certificates, as crime gangs attempt to cash in on pandemic travel restrictions.

Many countries have introduced requirements for arriving passengers to show a negative COVID-19 test to slow the spread of the coronavirus brought in by people arriving from other nations.

French police officers patrol in the boarding hall at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on Feb. 1. Associated Press/Francois Mori

Europol said Monday that recent cases reported by EU member states include a forgery ring selling negative test results to passengers at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and a counterfeiter detained by Spanish police for selling fake test results.

British authorities also caught fraudsters selling COVID-19 documents for 100 pounds ($137) each.

Wisconsin pharmacist who destroyed more than 500 vaccine doses believes Earth is flat, FBI says

When a pharmacist discovered 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine left to spoil outside a Wisconsin clinic’s refrigerator in December, the worker immediately suspected a colleague who had spread false and outlandish claims, according to court records.

For months,

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Steven Brandenburg Ozaukee County Sheriff via Associated Press

Steven Brandenburg, the overnight pharmacist at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis., had said he thought the vaccine would harm people, make them infertile, and implant them with microchips.

Now, federal authorities say belief in debunked claims went beyond the vaccine. The pharmacist, who has agreed to plead guilty to charges of attempting trying to spoil the vaccine, also believes the Earth is flat and that the sky is not real, according to court documents.

His beliefs were revealed in a search of Brandenburg’s phone, computer and hard drive recently unsealed in court by the FBI. The documents include interviews with Brandenburg and Aurora Medical Center pharmacy technician Sarah Sticker, who told authorities that she discovered the unrefrigerated doses of the Moderna vaccine at around 3 a.m. on Dec. 26. The unsealed records were first reported by the Daily Beast.

“Brandenburg was very engaged in conspiracy theories,” Sticker told law enforcement, according to court records.

Read the full story here.

Australian city locked down after first COVID-19 case since April

PERTH, Australia — The city of Perth has been locked down for five days after Western Australia state’s first case of local COVID-19 infection in almost 10 months.

The city of 2 million people and coastal towns to the south were locked down from Sunday night until Friday night.

This followed a security guard who worked at a Perth quarantine hotel contracting a highly contagious British variant of the virus. Overseas travelers who arrive in Perth must isolate in hotel quarantine for 14 days.

The last previous known case of someone being infected with COVID-19 within Western Australia was on April 11.

Western Australia, Australia’s largest state by area, has remained virus-free for months by enforcing the nation’s toughest border restrictions in an elimination strategy. Those within the state have enjoyed some of Australia’s least restrictive pandemic measures.

Schools which were due to resume on Monday will remain closed for another week.


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