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Hello. We give you an update on the pandemic, with three key points.
Last week’s attack on Capitol Hill naturally dominated the news. But I want to take a few minutes this morning to focus on the other vital story right now – the pandemic.
Below is a three-point summary of where we are today, with help from my colleagues covering the story and from some graphics. I warn you straight away: the situation is not good.
1. The new variants are scary. Scientists are still learning about new versions of the coronavirus, including variants that have emerged in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. Evidence so far indicates that they “are much more contagious than the Italian strain, which has been circulating here since February,” my colleague Donald G. McNeil Jr. told me. “It’s a game-changer.”
Behavior that was once perhaps only moderately risky – say, traveling by plane – can now be more so. Variants seem to be one of the reasons why cases around the world are on the increase:
2. The mass vaccination campaign in the United States has got off to a bad start. The Trump administration has promised 20 million Americans will be vaccinated by January 1. Instead, less than three million have been – and only about nine million have now received their vaccine.
The Deep South has the lowest vaccination rates in the country. But it’s not just a Republican failure: California, Virginia, and some other Democratic-led states have been slow as well. (Here is the data for each state.)
Vaccinations are likely to accelerate in the coming weeks, especially as President-elect Joe Biden and his team appear to be much more focused on the problem than President Trump. Goldman Sachs predicts that about a quarter of Americans will have their first injection by April 1, half by June 1 and three quarters by mid-fall. The acceleration of the upcoming vaccination is the only good news at the moment.
3. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. The virus is spreading so quickly that hospitals are struggling to keep up. About 130,000 Americans are hospitalized with symptoms of Covid, more than double the number two months ago. The pressure on hospitals raises the possibility that many patients will not receive the best treatments available.
Los Angeles recently had to ration oxygen. And Esteban Trejo, an executive at an El Paso, Texas company that supplies oxygen to temporary hospitals, told Kaiser Health News, “It’s been crazy, absolutely crazy.
Recent data on cases and deaths is noisy, as diagnoses artificially slow down during the holidays, says Mitch Smith, a Times reporter who tracks the numbers. Still, deaths have already hit a record this week – over 3,000 a day, on average – and the recent explosion of cases suggests they could be heading for more than 3,500 and possibly as many as 4,000.
The bottom line: Biden will take office next week at the low of the coronavirus crisis. Its administration will have to both speed up vaccine delivery and persuade more people to change their behavior – and the second goal is even more urgent than the first.
Unless Americans start wearing masks more often and spending less time together in cramped spaces, many more people will die.
THE LAST NEWS
A morning reading: Stefan Thomas has two more guesses to remember an old password. If he can’t, he’s lost $ 220 million.
From the review: Unless Congress takes action, the pandemic puts many Americans at risk of deportation, this video explains.
Lives lived: Barry Goldsmith was a Holocaust survivor with essential American impetus for self-invention and reinvention. “He went from the Ivy League, to being a hippie, to being an Orthodox Jew,” his wife said. Goldsmith died of complications from Covid-19, aged 82.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Who will be the next “Jeopardy!” host?
My colleague Julia Jacobs points out that the longevity of “Jeopardy!” is “a wonder”. Its first iteration aired in 1964, before color television, cable, the Internet, smartphones, or streaming.
Of course, part of its popularity over the past 36 years is due to its host, Alex Trebek, who died in November and whose last episode aired last week. If the show’s producers can’t find the right replacement, they’ll put the franchise at risk, says Julia. So who are the potential candidates?
Katie Couric. She will soon serve as a temporary host, the Los Angeles Times reported. Couric conveys some of the same warmth and intelligence as Trebek, but she would also represent change – few game show hosts are women.
Other television hosts. Variety suggested that Anderson Cooper and George Stephanopoulos were possibilities. LeVar Burton, actor and host of children’s shows, was also mentioned – and expressed enthusiasm.
Ken Jennings. He set records as “Jeopardy!” champion, then became his most prominent alumnus, recounting the audio version of Trebek’s memoir and serving as the first temporary host this month. But it doesn’t yet have the easy on-air charm that many hosts do.
Someone less famous. Trebek “wasn’t a big name” in 1984, notes Claire McNear, who wrote a book on “Jeopardy !,” in The Ringer. When Trebek was recently asked about the substitutes, he mentioned Laura Coates, radio host, and Alex Faust, hockey host.
A humorist. It would emulate “The Price Is Right,” which flourished with Drew Carey as the host. Among the possibilities: Dane Cook; actor Jane Lynch, who already hosts “The Weakest Link”, and said she “will do it in New York in a minute”; or maybe Betty White, who Trebek liked to say would replace him – and who turns 99 next week.