Coronavirus Updates The latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The novel coronavirus, first detected at the end of 2019, has caused a global pandemic.

Coronavirus Updates

Latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic

German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on her face mask after a news conference in Berlin last week. Germany has introduced new requirements for medical-grade masks to be worn on public transit and in shops. Michael Kappeler/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Michael Kappeler/AFP via Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on her face mask after a news conference in Berlin last week. Germany has introduced new requirements for medical-grade masks to be worn on public transit and in shops.

Michael Kappeler/AFP via Getty Images

A number of European countries have announced new mask recommendations and requirements, pushing aside fabric masks in favor of surgical masks or medical-grade respirators.

In Germany, the federal and state governments introduced measures last week making medical masks — identified as surgical masks or KN95 or FFP2 masks — mandatory in stores and on public transit. It also issued a recommendation that medical masks be worn whenever there is close or prolonged contact with other people, particularly in enclosed spaces.

FFP2 is a European standard promising filtration similar to that of N95 or KN95 respirators.

The government said that in light of the new coronavirus variants, medical masks "offer greater protection than normal cloth masks, which are not subject to any standards with regard to their effectiveness."

"We must take the danger posed by this variant very, very seriously, and we must slow the spread of this variant as far as possible," said Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The German state of Bavaria had already introduced rules requiring FFP2 masks on transit and in shops. The federal government earlier announced it would distribute millions of FFP2 masks to people over 60 and those with chronic conditions.

Austria put similar rules into effect on Monday, now requiring FFP2 masks or the equivalent in settings including transit, carpooling, businesses open to the public and indoor and outdoor markets. To ensure wide adoption of the new regulations, Austria said it would distribute 1.2 million free masks. Large supermarket chains will also hand out free masks in the first days of the new rules.

France's High Council for Public Health announced last Thursday that it is now recommending people wear surgical masks in public, on the basis that they offer better protection than fabric masks.

"The recommendation that I make to the French people is to no longer use fabric masks," said French Health Minister Olivier Véran, according to Reuters.

Véran said industrially made masks are preferable. "Artisanal masks that one makes at home, with the best intentions in the world ... do not necessarily offer all the necessary guarantees," Véran told France Inter last week.

The council now recommends that people wear Category 1 masks in public, rather than those from Category 2, which includes most cloth masks. Category 1 includes FFP2 masks, surgical masks and fabric masks that meet specific standards. Didier Lepelletier, co-president of the COVID-19 working group at the council, discouraged the general public from using FFP2 filter masks, though, warning that they are difficult to wear correctly, according to The Local France.

France's National Academy of Medicine questioned the wisdom of the move of recommending Category 1 masks, saying, "The effectiveness of 'general public' masks has never been faulted when they are correctly worn."

"Such a change in the recommendations concerning a practice with which the entire population had managed to become familiar risks creating misunderstanding and reviving doubts about the validity of the official recommendations," the National Academy wrote.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that the public use fabric masks, provided that they have at least two layers. The CDC discourages the public from using medical masks or N95 respirators, saying they should be conserved for health care workers. Nonmedical disposable masks are fine for the public to use, the CDC says.

The World Health Organization recommends medical masks for certain groups of people beyond health care workers. Among those groups are people over age 60 and people with underlying health conditions, including chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, as well as people with compromised immune systems.

The WHO says fabric masks are suitable for members of the general public who are under age 60 and don't have underlying health conditions.

Prekindergarten students listen as their teacher reads a story this month at Dawes Elementary School in Chicago. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Pool/Chicago Sun-Times via AP hide caption

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Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Pool/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Prekindergarten students listen as their teacher reads a story this month at Dawes Elementary School in Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Pool/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

A review of data from K-12 schools that reopened for in-person instruction in the fall has found little evidence that schools contributed meaningfully to the spread of COVID-19, according to a new article published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

The review from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, authored by three of its scientists, represents the clearest view yet of the facts behind what has become a heated debate over when and how schools should reopen.

Last spring and into fall, schools across the country closed — and many remain closed — out of fear that allowing students and staff to return to school buildings would drive communitywide spread of the virus, much as nursing homes and crowded bars have done.

The CDC report says data from reopened classrooms show that "the type of rapid spread that was frequently observed in congregate living facilities or high-density worksites has not been reported in education settings in schools."

Meanwhile, evidence mounts of the social, emotional and academic toll remote learning has taken on children, especially in already vulnerable, low-income communities.

Among the school systems cited in the review were 11 North Carolina districts serving more than 90,000 students and staff. During a nine-week period this fall, researchers found just 32 infections acquired in school — compared with 773 cases of students and staff infected outside school. None of those 32 in-school transmissions involved students infecting teachers or staff.

In another study, of 17 schools in rural Wisconsin, mask-wearing helped keep the COVID-19 incidence lower in schools than in the larger community.

While the researchers call the findings "reassuring," they make clear that much of the success schools have had in preventing transmission is the result of their embrace of safety precautions.

"All recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue: requiring universal face mask use, increasing physical distance ... increasing room air ventilation, and expanding screening testing to rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic infected individuals," the report says.

The CDC authors do single out a few school-based functions that can drive infections, namely indoor sports practices and events. They cite a pair of high school wrestling tournaments in Florida where 38 of the 54 participants who were tested, tested positive, some of whom brought the virus back to their families and friend circles. The report also serves as a reminder that schools do not operate in a vacuum. To keep COVID-19 out of classrooms, communities should be prepared to fight it elsewhere, including by restricting indoor dining.

The report comes at an inflection point for the U.S., where more than 420,000 people have died from the disease and communities have been bracing for the arrival of more contagious coronavirus variants. At the same time, the federal government has begun a massive, if plodding, vaccination rollout. Some states have prioritized inoculating educators and school staff as teachers unions in some communities have resisted a return to school for safety reasons.

President Biden has pledged to help the majority of schools reopen within his first 100 days. His administration has proposed sending $130 billion in relief to K-12 schools to help pay for the kinds of costly mitigation efforts the CDC recommends, including socially distanced classrooms and ventilation updates for aging buildings.

California Health Secretary On Lifting Stay-At-Home Orders And Vaccinations

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A field hospital tent stands outside the emergency department of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital earlier this month in Los Angeles. California is returning to a tiered restriction system. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

A field hospital tent stands outside the emergency department of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital earlier this month in Los Angeles. California is returning to a tiered restriction system.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

California lifted stay-at-home orders for all regions on Monday as the government said hospital intensive care unit capacity is expected to increase.

The stay-at-home orders applied to regions of the state where availability in ICUs had dropped below 15%. Southern California, the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley were still under the order when it was lifted.

Since early December in most of California, restaurants had been closed except for takeout, and hair and nail salons, movie theaters, museums and zoos had been closed. Now restaurants will be allowed back to outdoor dining, and other locations will reopen with modifications.

The state is now returning to a color-coded tier system, which specifies varying restrictions based on case rates and test positivity in a particular county. Almost all residents will be in the strictest tier.

In an interview on NPR's Morning Edition, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly discussed the reasoning for the changes and problems with vaccine rollout. California trails most other states in vaccinations as a percentage of population. Here are excerpts:

Why lift restrictions now in California?

The regional stay-at-home order, the order we put into place on Dec. 3, was really around protecting our health care delivery system, our hospital system, with a laser focus on ICU beds. And when we look at what's happened over the last couple of weeks with transmission in our state — seeing dropping cases, dropping test positivity, overall drop in our effective transmission rate — our projections show that in four weeks that we will have improved our ICU capacity and gotten to a place where we feel like that system is solid and protected. So we built it around this, and that's why we're lifting it now.

Los Angeles is going to allow outdoor dining again, something that hasn't happened since November. You're comfortable with that?

Yeah, I mean, we know that events that happen outdoors, preferably with a mask on as much of the time as possible, are among the lower-risk events. And we prohibited it because any movement, any mixing outside of your home, was concerning when we had such tremendously high case rates. But as they've come down, of course, we must allow and really hope that people use their good judgment.

[The] new administration [of President Biden] is urging fresh focus on this to get through a terrible winter, urging 100 days of masking, for example. Is this the time to be lifting any restrictions at all?

Well, I mean, again, the call for 100 days of masking has been in place in California with a mask mandate for many, many months. So that's not new here. So what we've lifted is essentially even more significant restrictions than what I think the new federal administration has called for in other states. And I think the restrictions we have here in California have helped us — for a population of 40 million people, dense urban centers throughout our state — to continue to have per capita death rates that are still, even though they're rising, lower than many other states is really a point of exactly what we've been focused on, on saving lives.

California Gov. [Gavin] Newsom promised that there will very soon be a new, more statewide way of distributing vaccines in California because a lot of decisions have been left up to counties. What do you think has been going wrong?

I think that we have done a lot together and done right. We've learned that a decentralized model, although [it] works for many things, with something as operationally as complex as what we've seen this vaccine rollout to be, that centralization will help on a number of things.

First, it will make people's expectations consistent across the state. We have 58 counties — some very big, some very small — and they do things differently. Helping bring some consistency both to what people's expectations can be and what the vaccinators should expect in terms of accountability and measurement and data will we believe — and we're already starting to see some of the benefits of that — will help us do things much, much better, if you will. And focus on our three big things with vaccines: equity, safety and speed. And getting there for all Californians is key.

Elena Moore and Kelley Dickens produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the Web.

Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, said that in the future all companies producing COVID-19 vaccines in the EU "will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries." John Thys/POOL/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, said that in the future all companies producing COVID-19 vaccines in the EU "will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries."

John Thys/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

News that AstraZeneca's promised COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Europe will be delayed isn't sitting well with officials, who are pushing the company to honor the agreed-upon delivery schedule.

"Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first COVID-19 vaccines," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video statement Tuesday. "And now, the companies must deliver. They must honor their obligations."

On Friday, AstraZeneca told the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, that it will ship fewer doses to the bloc than originally agreed upon.

Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, called the news "not acceptable." She said subsequent discussions with the company provided no clear reasons for the reduction to what she called "considerably fewer doses."

"While there is no scheduled delay to the start of shipments of our vaccine should we receive approval in Europe, initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain," an AstraZeneca spokesperson told NPR on Tuesday.

The company did not specify precisely how much smaller the initial shipments would be than previously expected. It stressed it will still "be supplying tens of millions of doses in February and March to the European Union, as we continue to ramp up production volumes."

AstraZeneca's smaller supply is an especially bitter pill for Europe since Pfizer said this month it was also facing delays — proving a disastrous start for Europe's immunization campaign for COVID-19 that started a month ago.

Kyriakides said that in the future, all companies producing COVID-19 vaccines in the EU "will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries" outside the EU. The requirement would exclude humanitarian deliveries. She added that discussions on the vaccine delivery schedule will continue Wednesday.

AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine is in the final stages of the authorization process with the European Medicines Agency, which is responsible for evaluating medicines and vaccines. Authorization for the vaccine is expected by the end of the week.

The EU has spent 2.7 billion euros (more than $3.2 billion) on supporting the rapid production of COVID-19 vaccines.

Protesters threw fireworks and rocks at police, damaged storefronts and looted stores during demonstrations on Monday in the Netherlands. Marco De Swart/ANP/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Protesters threw fireworks and rocks at police, damaged storefronts and looted stores during demonstrations on Monday in the Netherlands.

Marco De Swart/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Dutch demonstrators again defied the country's new curfew to protest government restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Hundreds of people have been arrested in recent days as the protests turned violent with rioters attacking police.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte disputed the motivations of the rioters.

"What motivated these people has nothing to do with protesting," he told reporters Monday. "It's criminal violence and we will treat it as such."

Reports Monday of looted stores and street fires followed similar accounts from the weekend. Police reported that demonstrators threw fireworks and rocks at officers, who responded with force to dispel the groups in cities across the country including the capital, Amsterdam, as well as The Hague and Rotterdam.

Police and local media report that at least 150 people were arrested in the latest flare-up. Fires were lit on the streets of The Hague, and bicycles were again used to build barricades and then lit on fire or simply thrown at police.

In Rotterdam, police again used water cannons and tear gas to dispel crowds. Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb issued an emergency order Monday evening instructing residents in the town center to leave the area. He told reporters that at least 300 people took part in the demonstration.

Aboutaleb called protesters "a bunch of looters and thieves," according to local media reports.

Criminal investigation

Police in The Hague have opened an investigation. They said more than 200 people defied the 9 p.m. curfew after a call to demonstrate circulated on social media.

Officers were reportedly pelted with fireworks and stones and two cars were set on fire.

Much of the clash was filmed, photographed and posted online. Police in The Hague say they are looking at those photos and videos of the chaos as evidence to help identify participants.

Bars and restaurants in the country have been closed since October. Schools and nonessential shops were shut last month in an attempt to mitigate further spread of the virus.

At least 13,686 people in the Netherlands have died from the coronavirus as of Monday night, according to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center tracking global infection and death rates from the virus. There are more than 966,000 confirmed infections in the country.

A resident of the Minneapolis metro area became ill at the beginning of January. The patient had traveled to Brazil before the onset of symptoms. Stephen Maturen /AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Stephen Maturen /AFP via Getty Images

A resident of the Minneapolis metro area became ill at the beginning of January. The patient had traveled to Brazil before the onset of symptoms.

Stephen Maturen /AFP via Getty Images

A new variant of coronavirus first detected in Brazil has been confirmed in Minnesota. The variant was detected by the Minnesota Department of Health, which announced Monday that the new strain is thought to be more transmissible. This is the first documented case of the variant in the United States.

The variant, called P.1, has been circulating in Manaus, Brazil, since at least December, Michaeleen Doucleff previously reported. Scientists have been concerned about this variant because it contains a cluster of worrying mutations. Some of the mutations make the virus spread more quickly. Others help the virus evade the body's immune system, which could make it easier for individuals to contract COVID-19 a second time and could hinder the efficacy of vaccines.

A resident of the Minneapolis metro area became ill at the beginning of January, and a specimen was collected Jan. 9, an MDH news release said. After testing positive for COVID-19, the patient then reported traveling to Brazil before the onset of symptoms.

"These cases illustrate why it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible," said state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield. "If you must travel, it is important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, follow public health guidance on getting tested prior to travel, use careful protective measures during travel, and quarantine and get tested after travel."

One of the eight gorillas in the troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California. Some of the gorillas contracted the coronavirus this month. One of the older gorillas received monoclonal antibody therapy as part of his treatment. Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global hide caption

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Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global

One of the eight gorillas in the troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California. Some of the gorillas contracted the coronavirus this month. One of the older gorillas received monoclonal antibody therapy as part of his treatment.

Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global

Updated on Tuesday at 9:41 p.m. ET

A gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, Calif., underwent monoclonal antibody therapy after contracting COVID-19 this month.

Winston, an elderly silverback gorilla, and two other troop members tested positive for the coronavirus after they had symptoms such as mild coughing. "The virus was confirmed in 3 gorillas and we assume they all were exposed," Nadine Lamberski, the zoo's chief conservation and wildlife health officer, told NPR in an email. She said all the troop members were managed accordingly.

Veterinary staff, concerned about Winston's age and underlying medical conditions, performed a diagnostic examination on him, a zoo statement said. He was found to have pneumonia and heart disease.

Zoo staff consulted with specialists before treating the gorilla with heart medications, antibiotics and monoclonal antibody therapy. A news release said the antibody treatment administered was not permitted for human use.

"Treatment with these synthetic versions of the body's natural defenses is thought to be effective in diminishing effects from the virus," the release said. "The veterinary team who treated Winston believe the antibodies may have contributed to his ability to overcome the virus."

Additionally, the veterinary staff was provided with a limited supply of a "recombinant purified spike protein vaccine" intended for protecting animals against the coronavirus — also not intended for human use. Zoo staff members have begun identifying animal candidates for the vaccine at the Safari Park as well as at their San Diego Zoo location.

The eight gorillas in the troop are doing well — eating, drinking and socially interacting their way toward a full recovery. But it was a team effort. The zoo worked with wildlife care specialists, public health experts and scientific leaders to tend to the troop. In hopes of helping additional wildlife, the lessons learned in treating the gorillas have been passed on to over 200 zoos worldwide.

South Dakota Health Leader On How The State Has Gotten Its Vaccine Out

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South Dakota has given out about 75% of the vaccine doses it's received, a high rate among states. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Pool/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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South Dakota has given out about 75% of the vaccine doses it's received, a high rate among states.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

A few months ago, South Dakota was in the news for its rising coronavirus case numbers and deaths. It's a rural, less populous state. But the disproportionately high caseload strained the health care system.

Now, as daily case numbers continue on a downward trend nationwide, the state is notable again, but for a different reason: the success of its vaccine rollout.

When it comes to getting the doses from distribution centers into people's arms, South Dakota is in the top handful of states. It's administered roughly 80,000 of the 106,000 doses it's received so far, or 75%. Nationwide, that number is about 53%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though to be clear, South Dakota has received far fewer total doses than almost every other state, so there has been less vaccine to get out.

Dr. Shankar Kurra is vice president of medical affairs at Monument Health Rapid City Hospital in Rapid City. The Monument Health system is responsible for distributing the vaccine for the entire western half of South Dakota. While centralization of the process did pose some logistical challenges, Kurra said, overall, the process — of distributing from a central point directly to vaccination sites — was key to getting doses out efficiently in his part of the state.

Centralization "made it simpler," he said, "because we then had from one place to dispense that and message it out and make sure people got it."

Kurra said Monument Health has been getting roughly 3,000 vaccines a week and by the end of the week is able to administer all of them. He said the state goal is for at least 80% of South Dakotans to get vaccinated, which at the current rate could happen in the late summer or fall.

In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Kurra discussed South Dakota's progress on vaccinations. Here are excerpts:

Do you think because people in South Dakota saw such a massive outbreak only back in November, it actually motivated many of them to get the vaccine as quickly as it was available to them?

I believe so. One of the things we noticed was this huge rise in numbers in November. Per capita-wise South Dakota was leading all the states, both in numbers of cases, number of hospitalizations, unfortunately, even in number of deaths. I think it made a significant impression on the collective memories of South Dakotans and really, in my opinion, led a lot of folks to say, "If the vaccine's out, I need it, and I will take it." And we also had folks leading up to the vaccine asking when it would be here. And once it got here, we got a lot of emails, texts, phone calls from everyone wanting to get the vaccine. So I think it played a role.

What have been the biggest hurdles so far in distribution?

I think not knowing what the number would be. So I'll give you a brief timeline on how we do this. ... Monday is when the state asks each health system — there are three in South Dakota, Monument being one of them — and they ask us: Hey, how's it going? Where do you think you need more numbers?

And we have to justify that, obviously. And then also ask us what [vaccination phase] we are in. So on Tuesday, the state actually allocates and sends it out. So by Wednesday, we've got a list drawn, schedules opened, and Thursday and Friday it really picks up steam. So it's kind of a slow start, but then you've got to get it all done.

Can you talk about any of the lessons that you've learned so far that you can offer to other states that are struggling a little more with distributing the vaccine?

I think the key is to educate, inform as you go. We made sure we have daily forums at 2 o'clock that educates folks about the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine. I think the lessons we learned quickly was, you know, our mission is to make sure those [vaccines] don't sit in this cold storage. So I think getting them quick, not worrying too much about, you know — if you give five doses and you have an extra dose, find someone. And so a little bit of that is: How quickly, how flexible, how agile is the decision-making at the point of delivering those vaccines? And I think it helps to have one vision or, if you will, organization that's driving this.

Jonaki Mehta and Christopher Intagliata produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the Web.

The Chicago Teachers Union voted on Sunday to continue remote work only, in defiance of the school district's plans for K-8 teachers and staff to return to classrooms this week. Here, a sign in front of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in September. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

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The Chicago Teachers Union voted on Sunday to continue remote work only, in defiance of the school district's plans for K-8 teachers and staff to return to classrooms this week. Here, a sign in front of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in September.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Updated at 4:33 p.m. ET

Teachers at Chicago Public Schools were slated to return to the classroom on Monday, in preparation for the return of students to the district's K-8 schools next week.

But on Sunday, a majority of the Chicago Teachers Union's membership voted in favor of a resolution to continue to work remotely. The union said 71% of its voting members had voted to conduct remote work only, with 86% voter participation.

The Chicago Board of Education, which is appointed by the mayor, had ordered teachers and support staff for kindergarten through eighth grade appear in person on Monday in the country's third-largest school district.

After the union vote, the district said it had pushed back the return of K-8 teachers and staff until Wednesday to "ensure we reach a resolution without a disruption to student learning."

The district and the union "now agree on far more than we disagree, but our discussions remain ongoing," Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson and Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said in a statement Sunday.

The union said the district made that move unilaterally.

The district has pointed to Catholic schools in the city that have been open for months.

CPS released figures last week that showed only 19% of students eligible for in-person learning have returned to classrooms – just half of what the district said in December it expected, NPR member station WBEZ reported.

The union says those numbers show that the "district doesn't need anywhere near all of our membership to return to meet that need."

The union argues that the return of teachers and staff to classrooms should be phased in as staff receive the coronavirus vaccine. School staff are eligible for vaccination beginning Monday, but it could take months to vaccinate everyone. CPS expects to receive supplies to conduct vaccinations directly starting in mid-February.

Also at issue are accommodations for staff who themselves are at high risk for severe COVID-19 infection, or live with someone who is at high risk. The district says it has made accommodations for all those who have high-risk medical conditions. But the union is frustrated that accommodations have not been made for all staff who have someone high-risk in their households.

President Biden has made reopening schools a priority. He was asked by a reporter about the Chicago schools dispute on Monday afternoon, but he declined to take a firm stance on whether the city's teachers should return to schools now.

"I believe that we should make school classrooms safe and secure for the students, for the teachers, and for the help that's in those schools, maintaining the facilities," he replied. "We need new ventilation systems in those schools, we need testing for people coming in and out of the classes, we need testing for teachers as well as students, and we need the capacity, the capacity to know that the circumstance in the school is safe and secure for everyone."

"It's not so much about the idea teachers aren't going to work – the teachers I know want to work. They just want to work in a safe environment," Biden said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the battles with the teachers union has led parents to consider moving to other school districts.

"Here's what I'm hearing from residents all around the city and from parents in particular: If we don't have stability in the public school system, why should we stay in Chicago? If we have to worry about lockouts and strikes, particularly after a historic contract where everyone thought we had bought labor peace for five years, people vote with their feet," Lightfoot told the Chicago Tribune.

Thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students in Chicago Public Schools returned to in-person learning earlier this month. Pre-kindergarten teacher Angela Panush reads a story to her students at Dawes Elementary on January 11. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/AP hide caption

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Ashlee Rezin Garcia/AP

Thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students in Chicago Public Schools returned to in-person learning earlier this month. Pre-kindergarten teacher Angela Panush reads a story to her students at Dawes Elementary on January 11.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/AP

The union retweeted staff and parents who said Lightfoot's remarks showed her to be primarily concerned for wealthy families who have the ability to move.

In 2019, a 15-day strike resulted in increased pay for teachers, $35 million to reduce overcrowded classrooms, and the district adding a nurse and a social worker at each school within five years.

Jackson, the district CEO, says CPS has spent more than $100 million on measures to reopen safely, including the purchase of more than 25,000 HEPA air purifiers.

Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students returned to classrooms earlier this month, alongside teachers and staff. About a third of those teachers and staff initially did not report for work in-person, Reuters notes, and as of mid-January, 87 of them remain locked out of their virtual classrooms by the district for failing to report for work.

The district has not announced when high schoolers will return for in-person instruction.

Clinicians care for COVID-19 patients last week in a makeshift intensive care unit at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif. California is lifting regional stay-at-home orders, but county and local authorities can keep other restrictions in place. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

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Clinicians care for COVID-19 patients last week in a makeshift intensive care unit at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif. California is lifting regional stay-at-home orders, but county and local authorities can keep other restrictions in place.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

California is lifting stay-at-home orders for all regions in the state, including Southern California, the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley — the three regions that had still been under the order — citing a drop in intensive care unit projections. But health officials warn that most counties still need to follow strict guidelines.

"COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it's important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner," said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state's public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health.

More than 40 million people live in the 54 California counties where the state deems COVID-19 risk to be "widespread," according to the latest official assessment. Only four counties, with a population a bit more than 35,000, are currently in lower-risk tiers. Still, for many businesses, the new change is good news.

"The lifting of regional closures is welcome relief to restaurants that can resume outdoor dining, and businesses such as gyms, hair and nail salons that can now reopen with modifications," NPR's Eric Westervelt reported.

"But county and local officials can still maintain closures and other restrictions, as several are likely to do. Los Angeles County, in particular, remains in a tough spot despite a drop in new cases," he added.

California announced its regional stay-at-home order in early December, saying it would apply to any region where ICU availability is projected to fall below 15%. The Sacramento region exited the order earlier this month; the Northern California region was never affected by it.

California has emerged as a new epicenter in the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., reporting more than 3.1 million cases and nearly 37,000 deaths in its most recent bulletin. Well over half of the state's cases were found in people ages 18 to 49.

As COVID-19 patients overwhelmed emergency rooms, California recently took the extraordinary step of overriding its own law that puts a limit on the number of patients each nurse can be assigned to look after.

"California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we've been hoping for," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state's Health and Human Services Agency.

Ghaly credited Californians with heeding an "urgent message to stay home when possible," which he said helped to minimize a surge that many states expected to see after the holiday season.

California has been trying to boost its COVID-19 vaccination effort, which currently ranks as one of the worst in the U.S. in two key metrics.

The state has administered 2,199,908 vaccine doses – the most in the country. But that's far less than half the 4,906,525 doses it has received, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Per capita, the number of doses California received is on par with or higher than many other states. But its rate of doses administered per capita is much lower than in other highly populous states such as Florida, Texas and New York — and it's less than half the rates seen in the best-performing states.

Moderna will test new COVID-19 vaccine booster doses, saying that while its vaccine should protect against variants found in the U.K. and South Africa, it isn't as effective against the South African strain. Here, a bus in London carries a sign telling people, "Act Like You've Got It" — to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Thomas Krych/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images hide caption

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Thomas Krych/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Moderna will test new COVID-19 vaccine booster doses, saying that while its vaccine should protect against variants found in the U.K. and South Africa, it isn't as effective against the South African strain. Here, a bus in London carries a sign telling people, "Act Like You've Got It" — to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Thomas Krych/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Moderna says tests show that its COVID-19 vaccine offers protection against new variants of the coronavirus but that the vaccine is more effective against the variant first identified in the U.K. than the one found in South Africa. As a result, Moderna will test booster doses of its vaccine, including one that would be tailored to fight strains that have recently emerged.

The newly identified strains have caused alarm, as health officials in the U.K. and South Africa say the strains appear to spread more easily than older variants of the coronavirus. They emerged in recent months, even as vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech raised hopes in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moderna says that at current dosage levels, its COVID-19 vaccine regimen "is expected to be protective against emerging strains detected to date." But the company also says that when its vaccine was used against the variant initially found in South Africa, known as B.1.351, the vaccine produced levels of virus-fighting antibody titers that were around sixfold less than when it's used against other variants.

"These lower titers may suggest a potential risk of earlier waning of immunity to the new B.1.351 strains," Moderna said.

As for the variant found in the U.K., known as B.1.1.7, the company says it found "no significant impact on neutralizing titers against the B.1.1.7 variant relative to prior variants."

The findings result from lab studies in which Moderna scientists tested the ability of samples of blood serum from eight vaccine clinical trial participants to fight off the coronavirus. The studies also used samples of serum from nonhuman primates.

Moderna says that out of "an abundance of caution," it will launch at least two clinical efforts seeking to boost immunity to emerging coronavirus variants.

The first step relies on the same messenger RNA vaccine that the Food and Drug Administration formally authorized last month. But in a new round of tests, the company wants to see if an additional booster dose of the vaccine will ramp up defenses against emerging strains beyond what the current regimen provides.

In the second part of the company's plan, it's developing a new booster vaccine candidate that it will put into a phase 1 study in the U.S. "to evaluate the immunological benefit of boosting with strain-specific spike proteins."

Moderna believes its booster candidate could add protections against the coronavirus when used "with all of the leading vaccine candidates," not just its own vaccine.

"As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement about the plan. "We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants."

Both the variants found in the U.K. and South Africa have mutations that set them apart from the original SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. But the one first seen in South Africa has caused particular alarm. That strain has more mutations in its spike protein than the one from the United Kingdom. It also "may be capable of evading the body's immune system" — raising the risk of reinfection, as NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff recently reported.

Several mutations that were found in the South African strain are also present in a variant that was identified this month in Brazil.

Pharmaceutical company Merck says it is shelving its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, saying that the results of clinical trials fell short of its goals. Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images hide caption

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Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pharmaceutical company Merck says it is shelving its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, saying that the results of clinical trials fell short of its goals.

Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Merck is halting development of its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, saying that while the drugs seemed to be safe, they didn't generate enough of an immune response to effectively protect people against the coronavirus.

Results of Phase 1 clinical studies showed that the two vaccine candidates — known as V590 and V591 — "were generally well tolerated, but the immune responses were inferior to those seen following natural infection and those reported for other SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines," Merck said in a statement about its decision.

Merck is one of dozens of drugmakers worldwide that have put COVID-19 vaccine candidates into clinical trials in the worldwide race to produce a vaccine. Others include Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech — both of which now have U.S.-authorized vaccines — along with AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Novavax and Sanofi.

While Merck is shelving both of its vaccine candidates, the company says it will keep working on two therapeutic drugs, including one that aims to protect the body's respiratory system from the coronavirus's ravaging effects. Last month, the company signed a deal with the U.S. government agreeing to supply up to 100,000 doses of one of those drugs for about $356 million.

Merck had been hoping to duplicate its recent success in quickly creating a vaccine for another deadly disease. Its Ebola vaccine won U.S. regulators' approval in 2019.

In both cases, Merck's core strategy involved creating a "replicating viral vector" vaccine — different from the messenger RNA approach used by Pfizer, Moderna and Sanofi. The replicating viral vector method is known to take longer to develop, but the resulting vaccine can also give patients a long-lasting immunity after a single dose.

Such vaccines "can continue to pump out coronavirus proteins," as NPR's Joe Palca reported, "thereby keeping the immune system primed and ready to respond should the coronavirus turn up."

Thanking the volunteers who took the drug during clinical trials, Dr. Dean Y. Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said, "We are resolute in our commitment to contribute to the global effort to relieve the burden of this pandemic on patients, health care systems and communities."

Protesters of new lockdown measures in the Netherlands burned cars and coronavirus testing sites and fought with police. Rob Engelaar/ANP/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Rob Engelaar/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Protesters of new lockdown measures in the Netherlands burned cars and coronavirus testing sites and fought with police.

Rob Engelaar/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Protesters opposed to coronavirus lockdowns in several Dutch cities clashed with police over the weekend after new restrictions went into effect.

Videos of the demonstrations posted online show large crowds of people — many not wearing masks — using bicycles to build barricades along city streets, and hurling rocks at officers and passing police vans. Shops were broken into and looted.

Hoping to slow the spread of COVID-19 variants in the Netherlands, the government imposed new lockdown measures throughout the country. But the rules, such as an 8:30 p.m. curfew and limiting visitors to one per household per day, drew the ire of many residents.

The Netherlands has also restricted international travel — banning travel abroad until March 31 — and limited flights from the U.K. and several South American countries. Travel from outside the European Union has been blocked since March.

In the city of Urk, northeast of Amsterdam, police reported that protesters torched a COVID-19 testing center. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said in a translated tweet that employees of that center are "gutted" by the destruction.

For a second weekend in a row, young protesters filled a major square in Amsterdam but were dispersed by police, who fired water cannons and tear gas. Police say they arrested more than 100 people.

Police reported that as of Saturday, officers wrote more than 3,600 tickets for violations of the new curfew. Twenty-five people were arrested in various locations because they refused to disperse or were caught committing "open violence."

President Biden is expected to sign off on new travel restrictions on non-U.S. travelers from South Africa, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden is expected to sign off on new travel restrictions on non-U.S. travelers from South Africa, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will reimpose a ban on many non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the country. The move is an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 and contain new variants of the disease that have cropped up in several countries around the globe, according to media reports Sunday.

The ban, expected to start Monday, would prohibit travelers from the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders, called the Schengen Area, according to Reuters. It will also block entry to travelers from Brazil and South Africa, where researchers discovered new variants of the virus.

Former President Donald Trump imposed similar restrictions on travelers from Brazil and Europe but ordered that those bans be lifted two days before his term ended.

Biden's order rescinds that decision, marking the new administration's approach to coronavirus policies moving forward. It also follows early signs that Biden planned to turn back Trump's attempts to open U.S. borders to foreign travelers amid the still-raging pandemic.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki criticized Trump's announcement to lift travel restrictions, writing in a tweet last week, "With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel. We plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

New threats

Just over a year after the first U.S.-based coronavirus case was detected, the nation surpassed a harrowing pandemic milestone on Sunday: 25 million confirmed cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.

A U.K.-based variant of the virus, first discovered in the U.S. in late December, is believed to be more infectious than the main strain. Other new variants have been found in South Africa and Brazil that could also be more infectious and may also decrease the efficacy of vaccines.

The variant found in South Africa drove a decision by U.S. health officials to add that country to the travel ban list.

"We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa," Dr. Anne Schuchat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's principal deputy director, told Reuters.

Tests before flying

The CDC said that starting Tuesday it would also require all travelers flying to the U.S. from abroad to show proof of a negative coronavirus test before getting on a plane.

The CDC is declining to consider temporary waivers requested by U.S. airlines that would exempt some travelers coming from countries with limited testing, Reuters reports.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC's new director, will sign a separate order Monday requiring passengers 2 years and older to wear masks on all airplanes, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles, Reuters said.

New global restrictions

Countries around the world are implementing new lockdown measures to combat the pandemic's spread.

Israel announced it would close its only international airport, Ben Gurion International Airport, for one week to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The only exemptions would be cargo flights, medical evacuations and firefighting flights, according to The Washington Post.

Australia said it would suspend New Zealand's "green zone travel status" for three days after a woman acquired the coronavirus variant found in South Africa while in hotel quarantine.

Passengers arriving in Australia on green safe travel zone flights are exempt from a requirement that travelers be tested for the coronavirus at least 72 hours before leaving their country of origin.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, pictured during a daily press conference at National Palace in Mexico City last week, says he's tested positive for the coronavirus. Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images hide caption

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Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, pictured during a daily press conference at National Palace in Mexico City last week, says he's tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he has tested positive for COVID-19.

His symptoms are mild and he's already started receiving medical treatment, he said in a tweet announcing the news on Sunday evening.

"As always, I am optimistic," he wrote. "We will all move forward."

López Obrador, 67, has resisted lockdowns and repeatedly dismissed the health risks of the virus.

"Pandemics won't do anything to us," he asserted in March. In late July, as the country crossed 46,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, the president told reporters he wouldn't wear a mask until Mexico had eliminated corruption: "Then I'll put on a mask and I'll stop talking."

Mexico is approaching 150,000 coronavirus-related deaths — the world's fourth largest death toll — with over 1.75 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. With little testing done, the actual case numbers are likely far higher, according to health officials.

López Obrador was elected in 2018, lifted by a large base of wide-working class supporters, after campaigning on the fight against domestic corruption and violence. Now, between Mexico's deepening economic recession and the pandemic, the country's poorest citizens are bearing the brunt of dueling crises.

In December, Mexico became the first Latin American country to kick off a vaccination effort upon receiving an initial batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Mexico has administered more than 600,000 doses so far.

López Obrador plans to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, he said on Twitter, to discuss Mexico's acquisition of the Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

"Regardless of friendly relations," he wrote in Spanish, "there is a possibility that they will send us the Sputnik V vaccine."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, arrives for an event on the coronavirus with President Biden at the White House on Thursday. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

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Alex Brandon/AP

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, arrives for an event on the coronavirus with President Biden at the White House on Thursday.

Alex Brandon/AP

Almost exactly one year after the first case of the coronavirus was detected in the United States, the country has now reached 25 million confirmed infections. As it has for months, the U.S. remains by far the most coronavirus-riddled country in the world.

Data from Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center showed the U.S. passing the tragic marker as of Sunday morning. The true number of cases, however, is likely far higher: Many people become infected but never get tested, so they aren't reflected in the count.

The U.S. has more than twice as many confirmed cases as the nation with the second highest count — India, a country with 10 million cases and a population that is four times larger.

Nearly 420,000 people in the U.S. have now died from the virus. That's almost double the number of the next highest country, Brazil, which is closing in on 220,000 deaths.

The existence of a more infectious variant of the virus could make matters worse, top health officials say. The variant has swept through large parts of the U.K. in recent weeks and was identified for the first time in the U.S. in late December with a case in Colorado.

Although U.K. scientists originally said the new variant is no more deadly, new data appear to suggest a more worrisome picture.

Americans "need to assume now that what has been circulating dominantly in the U.K. does have a certain degree increase in what we call virulence: namely, the power of the virus to cause more damage, including death," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday.

While former President Donald Trump repeatedly downplayed the virus — proclaiming, for instance, that it would disappear with the changing weather — President Biden has focused much of his first week in office warning of the severity of the virus and introducing new measures intended to bring the pandemic under control. The president has promised 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days, and on Thursday he signed 10 executive orders and directives that the White House says will boost testing, vaccinations, supplies and treatments.

Still, experts caution that it will take several months before the pandemic is under control, and Biden himself has acknowledged that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

"A lot of America is hurting. The virus is surging. We're 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000," Biden said Friday. "Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted. Job losses are mounting again. We need to act. No matter how you look at it, we need to act."

"This is a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues and that this is a tricky virus," New Zealand's director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said Sunday. Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images hide caption

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Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

"This is a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues and that this is a tricky virus," New Zealand's director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said Sunday.

Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand has kept its community spread of the coronavirus low by keeping tight border controls, but on Sunday the country of 5 million reported its first suspected community case since November. And officials say it might involve a more transmissible variant of the virus.

A 56-year-old woman, who had traveled to Spain and the Netherlands for work late last year, has tested positive for the coronavirus after being in managed isolation for the required 14 days upon her return to New Zealand, the country's Ministry of Health said.

She had tested negative twice — on Jan. 2 and Jan. 10 — but began developing symptoms on Jan. 15. Because she tested positive several days after leaving managed isolation, officials suspect her case is a community case.

"Further testing is needed, including a serology blood test, to confirm whether the case is new or historical," the ministry said. But it said the initial test results suggest "that it is new and we are treating it as such."

Health officials are investigating "to see if there's a match to other cases in the managed isolation facility" or whether the woman has one of the more transmissible variants that have cropped up around the world, the ministry said. It said that while she was in the Netherlands, the woman "was in contact with family members, who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19."

"We are working under the assumptions that this is a positive case and that it is a more transmissible variant, either the one identified first in South Africa or the U.K., or potentially Brazil — or another transmissible variant," Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's director-general of health, said at a news conference, according to Reuters.

The woman had been at about 30 locations in the Northland region of New Zealand's North Island since she left isolation. She lives with one other person, who has not shown symptoms. That person has been tested and is also isolating while awaiting results. A few of the woman's other close contacts are also being tested and are required to isolate for 14 days.

Health officials praised the woman's vigilance in using a COVID-19 tracing app to record her movements.

New Zealand has reported 1,927 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. There are 79 active cases in the country. Most of the country's residents are not expected to be vaccinated for COVID-19 until the second half of the year.

The remote island nation's ability to keep the coronavirus in check through strict lockdowns has lifted spirits around the world. But every few months a few new cases crop up.

"This is a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues and that this is a tricky virus," Bloomfield said.

Fauci Relishes A 'Hallelujah' Moment

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Dr. Anthony Fauci laughs while speaking at a White House briefing on Thursday. Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19, says he rejoiced when the new president declared that "science and truth" would guide the nation's policies toward the pandemic. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

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Dr. Anthony Fauci laughs while speaking at a White House briefing on Thursday. Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19, says he rejoiced when the new president declared that "science and truth" would guide the nation's policies toward the pandemic.

Alex Brandon/AP

Dr. Anthony Fauci says letting the science speak on the pandemic got him "into a little bit of trouble" during the Trump administration. President Donald Trump had called the nation's top infectious disease expert part of a group of "idiots" and a "disaster" and suggested that he might fire Fauci after the election, which Trump ended up losing.

So, Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19, says he rejoiced when the new president declared that "science and truth" would guide the nation's policies on the pandemic.

"I said, 'Hallelujah,' you know?" Fauci told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on Friday.

"That's a very liberating feeling, where people don't have to be worried about when you're saying something that you're going to get pushback from your own team," he says. "There never will be pushback on scientific data. The president himself has told us that he wants nothing but the truth based on science and good evidence."

Fauci, 80, who was appointed director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984, said that he felt free to talk about the science of the disease under Trump, but others didn't.

"I said exactly what the science spoke in the last administration," Fauci said. "It got me into a little bit of trouble — not really trouble because it didn't bother me.

"But it did get a bit of pushback from people in the White House, including the president. When I spoke — and I didn't change anything I would have done — I have always spoken according to what the scientific data and the scientific evidence allowed me to say. But that wasn't always the case for everybody else."

It was a big comeback week for Fauci, who had become noticeably absent from White House briefings after publicly contradicting Trump.

In addition to White House briefings, Fauci revealed Friday that he had been blocked from going on The Rachel Maddow Show for months, despite him wanting to appear and the show requesting him. The Trump administration "didn't like the way you handle things and they didn't want me on there," Fauci told Maddow.

The White House had blocked Fauci from appearing on various television shows throughout the past year.

Fauci told Maddow the Biden administration would not have a "deliberate holding back of good people when the press asks for them."

At a White House briefing on Thursday — his first under Biden — Fauci said that under Trump, "it was very clear that there were things that were said — be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that — that really was uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact."

And earlier that day, Fauci said he was "honored" to announce that the United States would remain a member of the World Health Organization. That was a reversal of Trump's move to leave the United Nations health agency. Trump had complained about the organization's moves early in the pandemic and accused the WHO of bowing to pressure from China.

NPR's James Doubek contributed to this article.

The cast of No Time to Die — Léa Seydoux (from left), Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Naomie Harris and Lashana Lynch — on location in Oracabessa, Jamaica, in 2019. The film's theatrical release is now set for Oct. 8. Leo Hudson/AP hide caption

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Leo Hudson/AP

The cast of No Time to Die — Léa Seydoux (from left), Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Naomie Harris and Lashana Lynch — on location in Oracabessa, Jamaica, in 2019. The film's theatrical release is now set for Oct. 8.

Leo Hudson/AP

Trailers for the latest 007 movie, No Time to Die, have been all over the Internet since late 2019. Its theatrical release has slipped from April, to November, to April 2021. And MGM says it will now slip again, to Oct. 8, a year and a half past the film's first scheduled premiere.

The delay is yet another consequence of the pandemic, which has closed public entertainment venues around the world. The film industry has been struggling with the calculus of whether to release films to a reduced number of theaters with fewer patrons, or put them on streaming services, or not to release them at all until life returns to some sort of normalcy.

For studio blockbusters — which with marketing expenses can cost hundreds of millions of dollars — the decision of when to release is especially fraught and sales strategies have varied.

Audience members in their cars drive past still photos from the Netflix film The Trial of the Chicago 7 at its drive-in premiere in Pasadena, Calif., in October. Studios have withheld some films from indoor theatrical release as a result of the pandemic. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP hide caption

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Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Pixar's Soul skipped theaters entirely and debuted Christmas Day on the Disney Plus subscription streaming service. The industry newspaper Variety reported that Soul was the top-rated streamed show Christmas week.

Warner Bros. chose to release Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day, both in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

But the 25th installment of the James Bond saga is being held for a happier time. So, too, is Dune from Warner Bros., now scheduled for release Oct. 1, a week before No Time to Die.

While some theaters have stayed open, hundreds have closed, notably more than 500 U.S. theaters of Regal Cinemas, which shut down temporarily starting Oct. 9. In addition to awaiting a relaxation of local regulations intended to mitigate the spread of the pandemic, Regal said reopening will depend on when "studios are able to bring their pipeline of major releases back to the big screen."

'Until Everyone Is Safe, No One Is Safe': Africa Awaits The COVID-19 Vaccine

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A volunteer receives a shot as part of a COVID-19 vaccine trial at Soweto's Chris Sani Baragwanath Hospital outside Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 30, 2020. Jerome Delay/AP hide caption

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A volunteer receives a shot as part of a COVID-19 vaccine trial at Soweto's Chris Sani Baragwanath Hospital outside Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 30, 2020.

Jerome Delay/AP

As slow as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has been in the United States, some estimates say billions of people around the world won't be vaccinated for COVID-19 until 2022 or 2023.

Bloomberg has been publishing a map that shows the level of vaccine distribution in different countries and virtually the entire continent of Africa — more than 50 nations — is blank.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Liberia, says much of Africa may be left out until next year.

Sirleaf recalls the Ebola outbreak, which hit her country, among others, in West Africa in 2015. Last year, she was asked to co-chair a review of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. And, in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, she says Africa is in danger of being left behind.

"In Africa, we don't have the resources. It's as simple as that," Sirleaf says "Unless vaccine is seen as a free good on the basis that until everyone is safe, no one is safe — when it's seen in that context, then perhaps the wealthier nations of the world will come up with a formula that says, how can we share the vaccine with those countries that are under resourced?"


Interview Highlights

Vaccination at this speed, on this scale is unprecedented. And even the United States has discovered logistical problems. It's very hard to get millions of doses to millions of people in a very short time. Are there even greater logistical challenges in parts of Africa?

We will face logistical challenges, no doubt. But I'd like to point out the case of Ebola. When Africa put up a platform to ensure that the medications and the responses to Ebola were made available through support of African countries, that this platform was used to ensure equitable distribution among those African countries in need. Of course, there were limited countries at that time because Ebola affected the three neighboring countries in West Africa. So maybe distribution was easier as our population in those countries are much smaller than others. It would be more complicated if you have all of African countries.

We should recall that Ebola was an extreme stress on the societies of a number of countries. What were some of the ways that you learned to address public anxiety and to get genuine medical care to people?

Well, the first thing you need [is] to get proper information, reliable information on the state of the disease so that proper communication is given to citizens. So that they don't have to guess, they don't have to speculate as to the extent of the effect of the disease. And one has to have coordination. You can't have different entities involved in the health sector or involved in the financial sector. That's the only way you can win the confidence of citizens to ensure that even if you have the means to address it, that they take the medication or they adhere to the protocol, whether it's a mask or whether it's social distancing. And of course, in a case of Ebola, again, strong partnerships because there, too, the three affected countries did not have the resources to get the medication and to get the kind of support that was necessary. But they had good partners.

In the U.S., there are a lot of people who have expressed skepticism about masking and social distancing. They've declined to participate. And there's also a very widespread skepticism of vaccines. Does that all sound familiar to you?

Yes, it does. I mean, Liberia faced the same thing in the early days of Ebola, but we were able to overcome it through strong government action. And leaders have to be able to convey this, the severity of this disease to their lives and to their livelihoods in very clear terms with very clear action and strong commitment not only to formulate those measures, but to find a means to ensure their citizens understand and are willing to comply for their own safety.

Were you surprised that this virus got out of control in a way that Ebola did not?

Yes, because of the failure to carry out the measures to address the virus. I must say, in the case of Ebola, I said initially we face the same problem — the problem of confidence that people who thought maybe this was, you know, somebody trying to limit their ability to move about, their rights to freedom. Those are the kinds of concerns that citizens have. But it's up to leaders to address those fears and those concerns and to make sure that they overcome them.

Jeevika Verma, William Jones and Jan Johnson produced and edited the audio version of this story. Avie Schneider produced for the Web.

The NFL is inviting about 7,500 healthcare workers to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Fla.'s Raymond James Stadium, shown here in 2009. Charlie Riedel/Associated Press hide caption

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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The NFL is inviting about 7,500 healthcare workers to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Fla.'s Raymond James Stadium, shown here in 2009.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

When Super Bowl LV kicks off next month in Tampa Bay, Fla., some special guests will be in attendance – thousands of health care workers from around the country.

The NFL said it is inviting some 7,500 vaccinated health care workers to the game on Feb. 7., "to thank and honor them for their continued extraordinary service during the pandemic." The NFL said in a press release that most of the tickets will go to health care workers in the central Florida area who have received both doses of the vaccine. but all of the NFL's 32 clubs will pick workers from their communities to receive free tickets to the sport's biggest game.

They'll join an additional 14,500 fans at Raymond James Stadium, which will fill the venue to about a third of its capacity, to facilitate social distancing.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell surprised a group of healthcare workers in a video call posted on Twitter, inviting them to the game. The workers from Sarasota Memorial Hospital, some wearing hospital scrubs, broke out into cheers as he made the announcement.

"We can't thank you enough and we hope that this program will be a small way to celebrate you, honor you, and most importantly thank you," Goodell said.

Fan attendance at NFL games has varied widely by state over the course of the season, reflecting differences in states' approaches to coronavirus safety protocols. As ESPN reported last month, "some teams are allowing fans into stadiums, while others are still playing games without anyone in attendance."

The health care workers don't know yet who will be playing in the Super Bowl. The host city's home team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will have to beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday to clinch a spot in the game. The second team will be the winner of Sunday's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

A pedestrian walks past an official Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games banner hanging on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building on Friday. Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

A pedestrian walks past an official Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games banner hanging on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building on Friday.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

Japanese officials are swatting away rumors and reports that the government has concluded that, with the Tokyo Olympics 151 days away and much of the country in a COVID-19 state of emergency, the games cannot be held.

They dismissed an anonymously sourced report by the British newspaper The Times that there is a growing consensus within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that this summer's games must be scrapped and that Japan should bid for the next available slot in 2032.

"We would like to fully deny (the report) by saying there is no such fact," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai told reporters.

In March, 2020, Japan abruptly announced the games' postponement by a year after doggedly insisting for weeks that such a move was impossible.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told parliament Friday that he was determined to make the games happen this time and that authorities are "considering specific anti-virus measures" to ensure the Olympic events can be held safely.

On Thursday, International Olympic Committee Chief Thomas Bach kept in lockstep with Tokyo, telling the Kyodo News Agency that there is no "plan B" for the games, which are scheduled to be held from July 23 to Aug. 8.

At the moment, Japan's biggest cities — Tokyo and Osaka, along with several other prefectures — are under a state of emergency aimed at halting a third wave of coronavirus infections. The emergency will last until at least Feb. 7.

If Japan fails to flatten the curve, the emergency could be extended, possibly sealing the fate of the games. Some decision will likely have to be made before the Olympic Torch Relay is scheduled to begin on March 25.

The government is "pushing the games forward without really understanding the critical situation our health care system is in," argued Dr. Jin Kuramochi, who runs a clinic outside Tokyo. "They're not beating the virus, and they are not ready for the Olympics," he warned.

The official façade of confidence has been showing cracks following expressions of doubt from political and sports heavyweights.

Senior IOC member Dick Pound recently said he "can't be certain" about the games "because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus."

"I should say anything is possible," admitted Taro Kono, Japan's Cabinet minister in charge of anti-COVID-19 vaccinations.

Yoshiro Mori, head of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, told a meeting this month that he can't afford to publicly express any doubt about the event.

"If I begin to feel even slightly unsure at this stage, it will affect everything," he said. "We should definitely push ahead, as that is the only option for us."

Author Ryu Honma, one of the games' most vocal critics, likened the current official attitude to the fatalistic mindset of World War II Japanese generals, specifically those who prosecuted the disastrous Imphal campaign in northeast India in 1944.

"Everyone knew it could never succeed but kept pushing anyway," he said in a phone interview. "Eventually, more than 50,000 soldiers were killed, and the commander took no responsibility."

"This operation is well known in Japan. The Tokyo Olympics is just like it," he added.

Officials might be putting off the decision in hopes that the pandemic situation will suddenly improve. But Honma argued that, more likely, they are waiting until they have no other choice.

"They will continue to insist that the Olympics will be held, but officials will secretly make a decision and then suddenly announce that the games have been canceled," he predicted.

The prime minister has said that the games must be held to send the message that mankind has triumphed over the virus.

He has seen his approval ratings fizzle over the perception that he has bungled the response to the pandemic, prioritizing politics and corporate profits over people's health. They may take a further hit if he defies public opinion about the games.

A poll this month by national broadcaster NHK found that nearly 80% of Japanese think the games should be canceled or postponed again, although organizers say another postponement is not an option.

Japan certainly does not relish the possibility that the opportunity to celebrate victory over COVID-19 may fall to Beijing, the host of next year's Winter Games.

Athletes, meanwhile, continue to train for the Summer Games as they await clarification from the organizers and the IOC.

"We have not received any information suggesting the Games will not happen as planned," the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a tweet, "and our focus remains on the health and preparedness of Team USA athletes ahead of the Games this summer."

Chie Kobayashi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

The novel coronavirus, first detected at the end of 2019, has caused a global pandemic.

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