Here’s what you need to know:
California is trying to speed up its vaccination efforts, which have lagged amid the state’s struggle with a weekslong deluge of coronavirus cases that has led to some of the most dire consequences in the country.
Emergency rooms have had to shut their doors to ambulances for hours at a time. Nearly one in 10 people has tested positive for the virus in Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous. And a surge of hospitalizations has caused problems for the oxygen delivery and supply system used by medical facilities.
Over the past week, an average of 480 people daily have died of Covid-19 in the state, according to a New York Times database.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday that California would employ an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to ramp up vaccinations.
The approach includes transforming Dodger Stadium from one of the nation’s biggest and most visible Covid-19 testing sites into a mass vaccination center. Petco Park, where the San Diego Padres play, and the state fairgrounds in Sacramento are also being set up as vaccination sites, the governor said.
The Orange County board of supervisors said on Monday that the county’s first of five planned “super” vaccination sites would open this week at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, which has been closed for much of the pandemic. Vaccinations will be available by appointment to everyone in “Phase 1a,” which includes frontline health care workers, paramedics, dentists and pharmacists.
Los Angeles County opened vaccine eligibility to a wider group of health care workers on Monday, allowing workers in facilities like primary care clinics, Covid-19 testing centers, laboratories, pharmacies and dental offices, as well as those who work with people who are homeless, to be vaccinated.
Previously, workers in hospitals and long-term-care facilities were prioritized. But as The Los Angeles Times reported, large numbers of health care workers in Los Angeles and Riverside Counties were declining to be inoculated.
And relatively few people in California have gotten vaccine doses, compared with other places: Only 2 percent of the state’s population has received a vaccine, according to a New York Times database; 782,638 doses out of the more than 2.8 million that the state has received have been administered.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said at a news conference on Monday that the state was working to distribute vaccines to those who need them and want them — without allowing wealthy people to cut the line.
Mr. Newsom said the state was allowing a broader range of workers to administer vaccines, including pharmacists and dentists, and was rolling out a public awareness campaign in 18 languages.
“People have said, ‘Well, what about sending in the National Guard?’” he said of the groups administering vaccines. “Well, we have the National Guard out there.”
He also said there were urgent efforts to “vaccinate the vaccinators.”
Two Democratic members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus, and say they believe their infections are linked to their time spent in a secure location with colleagues who did not wear masks during last week’s siege of the U.S. Capitol.
Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey announced her positive test result on Monday, followed by Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington.
“It angers me when they refuse to adhere to the directions about keeping their masks on,” Ms. Watson Coleman said in an interview. “It comes off to me as arrogance and defiance. And you can be both, but not at the expense of someone else.”
Ms. Jayapal said on Twitter that she had tested positive “after being locked down in a secured room at the Capitol where several Republicans not only cruelly refused to wear a mask but recklessly mocked colleagues and staff who offered them one.”
Lawmakers, aides, police officers and reporters who fled to secure locations during the siege have been warned that they might have been exposed to the virus while sheltering from the mob.
On Sunday, Representative Chuck Fleischmann, Republican of Tennessee, who was also in protective isolation at the Capitol during the siege, said that he had tested positive for the virus after being exposed to his roommate, Gus Bilirakis of Florida, also a Republican.
Mr. Fleischmann told the local news station WRCB that he was notified Wednesday that Mr. Bilirakis had tested positive, but did not receive the notification amid the riot. He said he did not know how many other lawmakers he had come in contact with.
Mr. Fleischmann and another Republican lawmaker who tested positive, Representative Jake LaTurner of Kansas, were both at the Capitol on Wednesday to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote.
It was not immediately clear whether Ms. Watson Coleman and Ms. Jayapal were sequestered with the Republicans who are now known to have been infected.
Ms. Jayapal, who said she had begun quarantining immediately after the siege on the Capitol, said that any member of Congress who did not wear a mask should be removed from the floor by the sergeant-at-arms and fined.
“This is not a joke,” she said in a statement. “Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy.”
Another new coronavirus variant has been detected in four people who traveled to Japan from Brazil.
Japan’s health ministry said that four people who arrived this month at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport had tested positive for the coronavirus and that it was a separate variant with similarities to those detected in Britain and South Africa.
Makoto Shimoaraiso, an official with Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat and Office for Covid-19 Preparedness and Response, said on Tuesday that the country was consulting with the World Health Organization about the virus. Mr. Shimoaraiso said that although the variant was first identified in Japan, he believed that there may be other cases and that it may have originated outside Japan, since the only cases to be detected were at the airport in arriving passengers.
He said epidemiologists were not sure whether this third variant was more infectious or likely to cause more severe illness.
According to Japan’s health ministry, one of the passengers infected with the new variant, a man in his 40s, was admitted to a hospital after having breathing difficulties. Of the other cases, a woman in her 30s and a teenage boy are experiencing sore throats and fever, and a teenage girl is asymptomatic.
In recent weeks, scientists have raised concerns about a coronavirus variant first detected in December in South Africa, noting that this version of the virus may spread more quickly than its cousins, and perhaps be harder to quash with current vaccines.
Their worries are compounded by skyrocketing Covid-19 cases in the United States and another highly infectious new variant that is driving a surge in Britain.
Scientists still have a lot to learn about these variants, but experts are concerned enough to warn people to be extra-vigilant in masking and social distancing. Here’s what you need to know:
The British variant has been found in about 50 countries, including the United States, where dozens of cases have been identified. The South African variant has spread to about 10 countries but has yet to be detected in the United States.
Both variants carry genetic changes in the virus’s spike protein — the molecule used to unlock and enter human cells — that could make it easier to establish an infection. Researchers estimate that the British variant is about 50 percent more transmissible than its predecessors. Julian Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester, said that researchers didn’t yet have a good estimate for how much more contagious the South African variant is.
There is no evidence that any of the new variants are more deadly on their own, but an uptick in the spread of any virus creates ripple effects as more people become infected and ill. That can strain already overstretched health care systems and undoubtedly lead to more deaths.
It is unlikely that either variant will completely evade the protective effects of the new Covid vaccines. A recent study, not yet published in a scientific journal, found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is still effective against a virus carrying a mutation common to both new variants.
The South African variant does carry genetic changes that could make vaccines less effective: One mutation appears to make it harder for antibodies produced by the immune system to recognize the coronavirus, which means they may be less effective at stopping the variant. But it is “important to note that doesn’t mean vaccines won’t be functionally protective,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist affiliated with Georgetown University.
Vaccines use multifaceted immune responses, and while some antibodies may be confused by the variant, others probably won’t be. In addition, antibodies are only one sliver of the complex cavalry of immune cells and molecules that battle infectious invaders.
Also, if the virus accumulates more genetic changes, many of the authorized vaccines, including Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, can be adjusted fairly quickly.
America’s greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industry plummeted more than 10 percent last year, reaching their lowest levels in at least three decades as the pandemic slammed the brakes on the nation’s economy, according to an estimate published Tuesday by the Rhodium Group.
The steep drop was the result of extraordinary circumstances, however, and experts say the United States still faces enormous challenges in getting its planet-warming pollution under control.
“The most significant reductions last year were around transportation, which remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels,” said Kate Larsen, a director at Rhodium Group, a research and consulting firm. “But as vaccines become more prevalent, and depending on how quickly people feel comfortable enough to drive and fly again, we’d expect emissions to rebound unless there are major policy changes put in place.”
Transportation, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases, saw a 14.7 percent decline in emissions in 2020 as millions of people stopped driving to work and airlines canceled flights. Although travel started picking up again in the second half of the year as states relaxed lockdowns, Americans drove 15 percent fewer miles last year than in 2019.
Over all, the fall in emissions nationwide was the largest one-year decline since at least World War II, the Rhodium Group said. It put the United States within striking distance of one of the major goals of the Paris climate agreement, a global pact by nearly 200 governments to address climate change.
As part of that agreement, President Barack Obama had pledged that U.S. emissions would fall 17 percent below 2005 levels by last year. President Trump withdrew the country from the Paris accord, and before last year, it appeared that the United States would miss the emissions target. But America’s industrial emissions are now roughly 21.5 percent below 2005 levels.
Scientists say that even a big one-year drop is not enough to stop climate change. Until humanity’s emissions are essentially zeroed out and nations are no longer adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the planet will continue to heat up. As if to underscore that warning, European researchers announced last week that 2020 was probably tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record.
Malaysia’s king declared a national state of emergency on Tuesday to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, suspending Parliament, closing nonessential businesses and locking down several states and territories, including the largest city, Kuala Lumpur.
The emergency declaration could last until Aug. 1, and some critics said the main beneficiary would be the prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, the head of an unelected government who for months has barely maintained his hold on power.
Mr. Muhyiddin, who asked the king to issue the declaration, went on television to assert that the emergency measure was necessary to contain the virus — and that it was not about extending his political career.
“Let me assure you, the civilian government will continue to function,” he said. “The emergency proclaimed by the king is not a military coup.”
Mr. Muhyiddin promised to hold a general election after the virus was brought under control.
Malaysia was mostly successful in containing the virus for much of last year, but the number of infections began rising in October and reached a daily peak of more than 3,000 new cases on Thursday. The surge was caused in part by an election campaign in the state of Sabah and by an outbreak among migrant workers. The government reported a total of more than 141,000 cases and 559 deaths as of Tuesday.
Mr. Muhyiddin came to power in March after the previous government collapsed. He formed a new coalition and the king appointed him prime minister without a parliamentary vote. Opponents have since questioned whether he has the support of a majority of Parliament’s 222 members.
Now, the king’s declaration means that no parliamentary vote or general election can be held for more than six months, as long as the virus persists.
James Chin, professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, said the declaration gave Mr. Muhyiddin extraordinary powers, including the authority to pass laws that override existing ones and to use the military for police work.
“Politically he will benefit the most from this Covid emergency,” he said. “This will give him what he wants without any scrutiny from Parliament.”
Other global developments:
Taiwan on Tuesday reported two locally transmitted coronavirus infections: a doctor and a nurse at a hospital in the northern part of the island that treats coronavirus patients. They are Taiwan’s first locally transmitted cases since Dec. 22, when it reported the first such case since April.
The European Union’s top drug regulator said it would assess the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University “under an accelerated timeline,” after receiving an application for emergency authorization of the drug.
The leader of the German state of Bavaria has urged health care workers to do their “civic duty” by getting vaccinated, and called on the government to consider making coronavirus vaccinations for medical personnel mandatory in some cases. And about half of the staff at Charité, Germany’s largest research hospital, has refused to receive vaccine shots, according to Dr. Andrej Trampuz, a department head at the facility.
Because of high infection numbers, Berlin residents will be restricted from traveling more than about 9 miles outside the city, under new rules agreed to by German lawmakers. The distance of travel within Berlin is not being limited.
A couple who were out walking on Saturday night in Sherbrooke, Quebec, told the police that they were in compliance with a new overnight curfew because the wife was walking her crawling husband on a leash like a dog, CTV News reported. People walking their dogs are excluded from the province’s curfew, which is in effect from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., as are essential workers and those seeking medical care. The pair were fined 1,500 Canadian dollars each. The province’s leader, François Legault, said on Monday that 740 people were fined over the weekend for violating the curfew, the first of its kind in Canada.
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard, has been nominated by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to be director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a column for The New York Times Opinion section, excerpted here, she writes about her plans for the agency.
On Jan. 20, I will begin leading the C.D.C., which was founded in 1946 to meet precisely the kinds of challenges posed by this pandemic. I agreed to serve as C.D.C. director because I believe in the agency’s mission and commitment to knowledge, statistics and guidance. I will do so by leading with facts, science and integrity — and being accountable for them, as the C.D.C. has done since its founding 75 years ago.
I acknowledge that our team of scientists will have to work very hard to restore public trust in the C.D.C., at home and abroad, because it has been undermined over the last year. In that time, numerous reports stated that White House officials interfered with official guidance issued by the C.D.C.
As chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, I and many others found these reports to be extremely disturbing. The C.D.C.’s science — the gold standard for the nation’s public health — has been tarnished. Hospitals, doctors, state health officials and others rely on the guidance of the C.D.C., not just for Covid-19 policies around quarantine, isolation, testing and vaccination, but also for staying healthy while traveling, strategies to prevent obesity, information on food safety and more.
Restoring the public’s trust in the C.D.C. is crucial. Hospitals and health care providers are beyond tired, beyond stretched. I know because I have stood among them, on the front lines of the Covid-19 response in Massachusetts. We also face the need for the largest public health operation in a century, vaccinating the population — twice — to protect ourselves and each other from a surging pandemic. Because the impact of Covid-19 does not fall equally on everyone, we must redouble our efforts to reach every corner of the U.S. population.
The research and guidance provided by the civil servants at the C.D.C. should continue regardless of what political party is in power. Novel scientific breakthroughs do not follow four-year terms. As I start my new duties, I will tell the president, Congress and the public what we know when we know it, and I will do so even when the news is bleak, or when the information may not be what those in the administration want to hear.
Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming what federal officials say are the first known apes in the United States to be infected.
Zoo officials said on Monday that they believed the gorillas were infected by an asymptomatic staff member who had been following safety recommendations, including wearing personal protective equipment when near animals.
Veterinarians are closely monitoring the troop, which is made up of eight western lowland gorillas. The infected animals are expected to make a full recovery, officials said.
“Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Lisa Peterson, the Safari Park’s executive director, said in a statement.
Three animals are exhibiting symptoms, officials said. And because gorillas live together in troops, “we have to assume,” the zoo said, “that all members of the family group have been exposed.”
The total number of western lowland gorillas, which can be found in central Africa, has declined more than 60 percent over the past two decades, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Zoo officials learned that at least two gorillas had been infected with the coronavirus after the animals were observed on Wednesday “coughing and showing other mild symptoms,” the zoo said in the statement.
The zoo’s Safari Park has been closed since Dec. 6 amid a lockdown, and the primate habitat where the gorillas are housed poses “no public health risk,” officials said. Last year, as the pandemic spread across the country, the zoo installed additional barriers to ensure that more than six feet of space separated visitors from “susceptible species,” officials said.
The gorillas are among the latest animals in the country to become infected with the coronavirus. In April, the first case of human-to-cat transmission was detected in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. In August, minks on two farms in Utah tested positive. In December, a coronavirus infection in a snow leopard was detected at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky.