WASHINGTON — Joe Biden said Thursday that he will ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts as president, stopping just short of the nationwide mandate he’s pushed before to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The move marks a notable shift from President Trump, whose own skepticism of mask-wearing has contributed to a politicization of the issue. That’s made many people reticent to embrace a practice that public health experts say is one of the easiest ways to manage the pandemic, which has killed more than 275,000 Americans.

The president-elect has frequently emphasized mask-wearing as a “patriotic duty” and during the campaign floated the idea of instituting a nationwide mask mandate, which he later acknowledged would be beyond the ability of the president to enforce.

Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Biden said he would make the request of Americans on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

“On the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask – not forever, just 100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction” in the virus, Biden said.

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Stay-at-home order imminent for most of California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will likely order most of its businesses to close or limit capacity in the coming days, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, part of new rules triggered when fewer than 15 percent of beds are available in intensive care units for regional hospital networks.

Newsom said four of the state’s five regions – excluding the San Francisco Bay area – will meet that threshold within a day or two. When they do, the state will order the closure of all hair salons and barbershops; bars, breweries and distilleries; casinos and indoor and outdoor playgrounds.

Restaurants would be limited to takeout and delivery, while retailers would have to limit customers inside their stores to 20 percent capacity during the busy holiday shopping season.

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People walk near the Versace boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Monday. Most of California’s businesses will likely be ordered to close or limit capacity in the coming days.  Pamela Hassell/Associated Press

Once triggered, regions would have 48 hours to implement the rules, which must stay in effect at least three weeks. The rules don’t apply to public schools.

The rules signal a shift in strategy in the nation’s most populous state, which until now had based its coronavirus rules on county infection rates. Newsom previously ordered new restrictions in 51 of the state’s 58 counties, including asking people to cancel their holiday travel plans and imposing a nighttime curfew in those areas that include nearly all of the state’s 40 million residents.

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Facebook to remove misinformation about COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON — Facebook said Thursday it will start removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, in its latest move to counter a tide of coronavirus-related online misinformation.

In the coming weeks, the social network will begin taking down any Facebook or Instagram posts with false information about the vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts.

The U.S. tech giant is taking action as the first COVID-19 vaccines are set to be rolled out. Britain this week became the first country to give emergency authorization for a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, and innoculations could start within days. Regulators in the U.S., the European Union and Canada are also vetting vaccines.

Facebook said it’s applying a policy to remove virus misinformation that could lead to “imminent physical harm.”

Posts that fall afoul of the policy could include phony claims about vaccine safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects.

“For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list,” the company said in a blog post.

Conspiracy theories about the vaccines that are already known to be false will also be removed.

Facebook has taken other steps to try to stop the spread of vaccine and coronavirus-related misinformation on its platform. From March to October, it has removed 12 million posts with coronavirus-related misinformation. The deleted posts include one by President Donald Trump with a link to a Fox News video of him saying children are “virtually immune” to the virus.

In October, the company banned ads discouraging vaccinations, though it made an exception for advocacy ads about government vaccine policies. The company has also promoted articles debunking COVID-19 misinformation on an information center.

Fauci slams UK regulator for rushing Pfizer’s vaccine review

Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease specialist, slammed the U.K.’s drug regulator, saying that it rushed to clear the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.

The U.K. watchdog, called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said Wednesday that it had approved the Pfizer vaccine. That means the shot will likely be used in Britain before the U.S. and the European Union.

“They’re great, they’re good scientists,” Fauci said in an interview with CBS News, according to a transcript. “But they just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully (t)hey said, ‘OK, let’s approve it. That’s it.'”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been under fire from President Donald Trump because no COVID-19 vaccines were approved before the election in which he was defeated by President-elect Joe Biden. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and other health officials have said that a careful, transparent approval process is key to ensuring public trust in the vaccine that will be required for a successful immunization campaign.

The U.K. “kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile,” Fauci told CBS. “They really rushed through that approval.”

CDC forecasts up to 19,500 COVID-19 deaths the week of Christmas alone

The recent spate of good news about a vaccine was leavened by a sobering update released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that forecasts thousands of new COVID-19 deaths in the United States over the next four weeks, including an estimated 9,500 to 19,500 deaths the week of Christmas alone.

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Dr. Shane Wilson performs rounds in a portion of Scotland County Hospital set up to isolate and treat COVID-19 patients in Memphis, Mo. on Sept. 24. Across the U.S., the surge has swamped hospitals with patients and left nurses and other health care workers shorthanded and burned out. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The CDC’s National Ensemble Forecast, which aggregates models from 37 different groups, projects that by the end of December, the overall U.S. death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, could reach 303,000 on the low end and 329,000 on the high end.

Public health and other officials use the ensemble forecast to gauge the range for best- and worst-case scenarios in the days ahead; the wide margin between the most conservative and most aggressive forecasts is tied to what behavioral assumptions each group uses in its calculation, such as whether people’s social distancing behavior will maintain, erode or intensify.

As of Thursday, at least 272,693 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States since February, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

Momentum builds for bipartisan $908 billion stimulus package as more GOP senators express support

WASHINGTON – Several senior Republicans expressed interest in the bipartisan coronavirus relief package on Thursday, joining Democratic leaders who have also said the $908 billion proposal should be used as the starting point for urgent negotiations.

Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., signaled their openness to the package, which had been unveiled by a group of moderate Republican and Democratic senators on Tuesday. The measure is more than what Senate Republicans had originally offered but less than what House Democrats had wanted, but it is designed to try and provide immediate relief to some parts of the economy as the pandemic enters a dangerous and increasingly deadly phase.

The two top congressional Democrats – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – on Wednesday called the bipartisan offer an appropriate basis for stimulus negotiations, a significant retreat from their previous demands for a much large stimulus package. President-elect Joe Biden has also urged lawmakers to come together on an interim deal during the lame duck session of Congress.

President Donald Trump on Thursday also backed quick approval of a stimulus package. A White House spokesman clarified that Trump was speaking in support of the narrow measure introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., not the bipartisan stimulus plan.

“I think we are getting very close. I want it to happen,” Trump told reporters.

On Thursday, Ernst and Cornyn expressed measured support for the developing talks. Ernst, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, did not dismiss the viability of the $908 billion framework despite expressing concerns about some of its policy provisions. Cornyn also said senior Democrats’ embrace of the bipartisan plan “represents progress.”

“I think it’s moving in the right direction,” Cornyn said, adding he remained concerned about the structure of state and local funding.

Grassley, the chair of the Senate finance committee, also signaled he’d be willing to accept the bipartisan framework if the details are right. “It’s a little high for me but more important for me are the things that are in it. And if everything in it has bipartisan support … the figure might not be the biggest thing,” he said.

Cramer, an ally of the president’s, also sounded a positive note about the push: “I like the effort. It strikes the right balance of compromise, and it’s a number that’s doable.”

The growing interest in a bipartisan relief package comes as coronavirus cases surge across the U.S. and concerns intensify about the potential economic fall-out. Congress also faces a series of rapidly approaching economic deadlines, with aid programs for jobless Americans and renters set to expire before the end of the year.

With talks between congressional leaders stalled for months, a bipartisan group led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., unveiled the compromise measure on Tuesday aimed to restart negotiations. The plan would devote close to $300 billion in another round of small business aid; $160 billion for state and local governments; fund federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week; and devote tens of billions of dollars to other priorities, such as childcare, hunger, and vaccine distribution.

It also includes a temporary liability shield to insulate firms and other entities from coronavirus-related lawsuits, a measure Democrats strongly oppose, although lawmakers were still hashing out details of that policy and others. The bipartisan proposal would not, however, include a new round of stimulus checks.

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Fauci says he’s staying on in new administration, will meet with Biden transition team

Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, said Thursday that he plans to stay on in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after the Biden administration takes office.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House in April. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

In an interview with CBS News’s Major Garrett, Fauci said that he has already spoken several times with Ronald A. Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, and that he will meet by teleconference later Thursday with the entire Biden “landing team,” a group that facilitates the presidential transition.

“Today will be the first day where there will be substantive discussions about the … transition, between me and the Biden team,” Fauci said during a podcast interview with Garrett.

Before Trump gave the go-ahead to the General Services Administration to allow the transition to proceed, Biden had warned that the delay meant that his team would potentially be weeks or months behind in planning its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 273,000 people in the United States.

U.S. Supreme Court orders review of California virus rules for churches

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a lower federal court to reexamine California restrictions on indoor religious services in areas hard hit by the coronavirus in light of the justices’ recent ruling in favor of churches and synagogues in New York.

The high court’s unsigned order, with no noted dissent, leaves the California restrictions in place for now. But it throws out a federal district court ruling that rejected a challenge to the limits from Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

Last week, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in holding that New York could not enforce certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues.

With a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has put most of the state under heightened restrictions, which include a ban on indoor singing and chanting.

A Hawaii couple knew they had coronavirus. They boarded a flight anyway.

Before Wesley Moribe and Courtney Peterson boarded their flight from San Francisco to Hawaii on Sunday, the couple knew they had already tested positive for coronavirus. But when the time came for their trip home with their 4-year-old child, the couple ignored the advice of airport officials who instructed them not to travel and walked onto the United Airlines plane with both their luggage and a virus that’s already killed at least 272,000 Americans.

The couple was arrested shortly after landing at Lihue Airport and now face second-degree reckless endangerment charges, a spokesperson with the Kauai Police Department told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“They knowingly boarded a flight aware of their positive COVID-19 test results, placing the passengers of the flight in danger of death,” the spokesperson Coco Zickos said.

If convicted, Moribe, 41, and Peterson, 46, could face up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Police said a preliminary report by the San Francisco International Airport’s quarantine station revealed that the couple was asked to isolate and not to board a plane to Hawaii on Sunday following their positive test results. The couple ignored the advice and boarded the 757 for the nearly six-hour flight with their young child, police said.

Once they landed at Lihue Airport, police who had been alerted about the couple took them into custody, authorities said. The couple’s 4-year-old child was released to a family member, police added. The couple has since been released after posting the $1,000 bail set for each.

Phishing ploy targets COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort

BOSTON — IBM security researchers say they have detected a cyberespionage effort using targeted phishing emails to try to collect vital information on the World Health Organization’s initiative for distributing COVID-19 vaccine to developing countries.The researchers said they could not be sure who was behind the campaign, which began in September, or if it was successful. But the precision targeting and careful efforts to leave no tracks bore “the potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft,” they said in a blog post Thursday.

The campaign’s targets, in countries including Germany, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan, are likely associated with the development of the “cold chain” needed to ensure coronavirus vaccines get the nonstop sterile refrigeration they need to be effective for the nearly 3 billion people who live where temperature-controlled storage is insufficient, IBM said.

Read the full story here.

U.S. reports more than 200,000 new cases and 100,000 hospitalizations for first time

The United States set two disturbing records on Wednesday: More than 200,000 new coronavirus infections were reported nationwide, and 100,000 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts the country is about to go through “the most difficult time in the public health history of the nation.”

Dr. Robert Redfield made the comment during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation webcast Wednesday.

Redfield says earlier surges in COVID-19 illnesses were concentrated in one area of the country or another, and health care workers and equipment could be shifted from one place to another to deal with it. But now, he says, all parts of the country are seeing rising infections and illnesses.

In Redfield’s words: “The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

California new cases shatter record

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus case, shattering the state’s previous one-day record of 18,350 as Gov. Gavin Newsom — himself quarantined at home after his family was exposed — considers a new stay-at-home order.

Following an early summer surge that prompted a new round of restrictions, California’s cases plummeted in August and September and the state relaxed restrictions, allowing more businesses to operate, indoor religious services to resume and many schools to reopen for classroom instruction.

But new cases have exploded in recent weeks. A record 8,500 people are in hospitals, including more than 2,000 in intensive care units.

Coalition of colleges urges Congress to pass relief bill

BOSTON — A coalition of U.S. colleges and universities is urging Congress to pass a new coronavirus relief bill with at least $120 billion for higher education, saying the sector faces a crisis of “almost unimaginable” scale.

The letter signed by the American Council on Education and 100 other groups says financial losses caused by the pandemic are far worse than schools had expected. Colleges have laid off thousands of workers to cut costs, but the letter says the pared-down operations will unsustainable without additional federal help.

Colleges have had to increase financial aid to help students who are struggling to pay tuition, and schools have lost revenue from closed dorms and dining halls.

Enrollments have also decreased amid the pandemic, with a 13% drop in freshmen across all U.S. institutions. At the same time, many states have cut their higher education budgets.

Austin mayor goes to Mexican resort after urging residents to stay home

AUSTIN, Texas — The mayor of Austin, Texas, is apologizing for taking a family vacation to Mexico in November at the same time he was telling residents to stay home because of a worsening surge in coronavirus cases.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Wednesday that his trip to Cabo San Lucas “set a bad example.” The apology came hours after the Austin American-Statesman published a story revealing the vacation, which Adler had previously never mentioned publicly.

At one point during the trip to Mexico, Adler even posted a video on Facebook telling people in Austin that now was “not the time to relax” and urging them to stay home.

Texas this week surpassed 9,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 for the first time since summer.

The mayor has been among the state’s most vocal politicians in pleading for vigilance during the pandemic.


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