Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have topped 26 million, and 440,000 deaths. Hospitalizations fell below 100,000 this weekend for the first time in nearly two months. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered masks to be worn on almost all forms of public transportation, including airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares, starting from midnight today. This comes as experts warn new variants of coronavirus could soon outnumber the original in the U.S. The variant first identified in South Africa has now been reported in two states: Maryland and South Carolina. Top epidemiologist Michael Osterholm warns a “hurricane” is coming, with major surges expected in the next six to 14 weeks, and urges rushing the first dose of the vaccine into as many arms as possible. The White House’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the variants should be a “wake-up call,” and also pushed the goal of vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Getting people vaccinated as quickly and as efficiently as you possibly can will always be the best way to prevent the further evolution of any mutant, because when you do that, you prevent replication, and replication is essential for mutation.”
Dr. Fauci also said the U.S. is likely to start vaccinating children by late spring or early summer.
Johnson & Johnson is seeking emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine after a large clinical trial showed it was 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe disease four weeks after vaccination. The vaccine’s efficacy appeared to rise over time, with no cases of severe disease reported in recipients seven weeks after their shots. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires a single dose and doesn’t require ultra-cold storage, making it easier to distribute than vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer. It’s also less expensive to produce. Johnson & Johnson says it’s ready to ship 100 million doses to the U.S. through June.
More data is emerging showing major racial disparities in who is receiving vaccinations. In New York City, just 11% of shots so far went to Black people, who represent 24% of the population, and 15% went to Latinx people, who make up 29% of the city’s population — even in predominantly Latinx neighborhoods like Washington Heights, where vaccination sites reported high numbers of white people from outside the community getting the shot.
In Los Angeles, the number of Latinx patients dying daily from COVID-19 has shot up by over 1,000% since November. Latinx people are now succumbing to the disease at a rate over one-and-a-half times that of all Los Angeles residents.
In other news from L.A., Dodger Stadium’s COVID-19 vaccination center — one of the largest vaccination sites in the country — was forced to shut down briefly Saturday after anti-vaccination and far-right protesters blocked its entrance.
President Biden is meeting today with 10 Republican senators who are proposing a roughly $600 billion coronavirus relief compromise bill they say could pass with bipartisan support, as an alternative to Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus. The plan, backed by Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Rob Portman and others, includes $160 billion for vaccine development and delivery, COVID-19 testing, treatment, and the production of personal protective equipment. It also includes an extension of enhanced unemployment benefits and direct payments starting at $1,000 for those they say are most in need. Senator Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said Sunday he believes Democrats can pass the larger $1.9 trillion bill through reconciliation even without any Republican support.
Burma’s military seized power in an early-morning coup d’état Monday, cutting internet access, canceling flights and detaining de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other top officials. Military rulers have declared a state of emergency for one year, ending a power-sharing agreement with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy that followed elections in 2016. The coup unfolded hours before lawmakers were to take their seats in the opening of parliament, following a November election in which the military made unsubstantiated claims of fraud. Suu Kyi said in a statement the military had put Burma — which the military calls Myanmar — back under dictatorship, and urged people to protest. Suu Kyi spent years fighting against the Burmese military, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts. But in recent years she has been condemned for presiding over a campaign of violence by Burma’s military against the minority Rohingya Muslim community, which saw over 1 million Rohingya flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
In Syria, a pair of car bomb blasts tore through parts of northern Aleppo on Sunday, killing at least a dozen people and leaving 29 others wounded. The explosions took place in an area controlled by anti-government rebels backed by Turkey.
Elsewhere, Kurdish forces opened fire on a pro-government demonstration in the city of Hasaka Sunday, killing a protester and injuring three others.
United Nations officials are calling on countries to repatriate 27,000 children trapped in a camp in northeastern Syria. Many of the children’s parents were members of the Islamic State who fled to the al-Hol camp after the group lost its last territory in Syria in 2019.
In Somalia, at least nine people were killed Sunday in an attack on a hotel in the capital Mogadishu claimed by the al-Shabab armed group. The attackers crashed a car bomb into the hotel’s front gate before gunmen invaded and opened fire on patrons inside. Among the dead was a former military general.
Back in the U.S., Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was fatally wounded on January 6 by a violent mob incited by President Trump, will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda this week. This comes as the FBI is uncovering more evidence the January 6 attack was coordinated in advance. Jessica Marie Watkins, a member of the Oath Keepers, sent messages to potential recruits for her own militia-style group asking them to be “fighting fit” by Inauguration Day. Meanwhile, two members of the far-right Proud Boys were charged in New York Friday night with conspiracy.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal is reporting far-right conspiracy theorist and media figure Alex Jones donated $50,000 to help fund the rally that preceded the riot, while Julie Fancelli, heir to the Publix grocery store, gave $300,000.
In immigration news, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., is allowing the government to continue deporting unaccompanied children without a court hearing or asylum interview. The court on Friday overturned a previous ruling that had blocked a Trump-era policy which stripped asylum seekers of due process, citing public health concerns around the pandemic. Some 13,000 unaccompanied children were deported between March and November of 2020 before the practice was halted. All three judges on the court’s panel who reinstated the policy were appointed by Trump.
In more immigration news, a survivor of the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart was deported to Mexico last week. The woman — identified only as Rosa — had been cooperating in the investigation into the shooting. Local outlets report she was apprehended after a traffic stop for a broken brake light.
In Georgia, BuzzFeed reports a 57-year-old man from Mexico has died after contracting COVID-19. The man had been imprisoned at Stewart Detention Center. He’s at least the second person to die in ICE custody since October. Twenty-one people died in ICE custody last fiscal year, which ended in September — the highest number since 2005.
In northern Minnesota, Congressmember Ilhan Omar met with Indigenous leaders this weekend who are fighting to stop construction on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. Water and land protectors are calling on President Biden to halt Line 3 and all other pipelines, after he ordered the Keystone XL pipeline to shut down on his first day in office. On Friday, water defenders climbed into the pipeline’s trenches before they were arrested, while two others locked themselves to barrels of concrete. This is Indigenous activist and lawyer Tara Houska speaking from the site of Friday’s protest.
Tara Houska: “Right now in this moment, as we sit in a pandemic that shut down the whole world, and something like this. We actually have a choice, and we’re choosing the wrong path. Anishinaabe people talked about this time that we would be in, where we’d have to choose: the path of greed and destruction or the path of brother and sisterhood and human life?”