Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

As Americans focus their attention on the fallout from the Capitol siege and the debate over another presidential impeachment, the pandemic is reaching what only a few months ago was considered a nightmare scenario.

Yesterday’s death count — at least 4,406 people — set another daily record, and represents at least 1,597 more people than those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. death toll, already the highest in the world by a wide margin, is soaring toward 400,000 — only one month after the country crossed the 300,000 threshold.

From the beginning, the country’s coronavirus strategy relied heavily on quickly making a vaccine. Multiple candidates were developed in record time, and if given out quickly, could rein in the pandemic and save thousands of lives. But so far the rollout has been slow, and riddled with challenges.

After the federal government yesterday abruptly reversed course and cleared vaccinations for people over 65 and adults with certain medical conditions, states have been scrambling to meet a surge in demand for doses.

Local officials have struggled to set up phone and online sign-up systems. Many of the oldest Americans, who are most vulnerable to the disease, are encountering byzantine online registration sites, error messages and crashing servers. Appointments are snatched up as soon as they become available, and some in the highest priority group have only managed to book their shots weeks from now.

As of this morning, the federal government has delivered almost 30 million doses, and more than 10 million have been administered. The Trump administration originally said that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by Jan. 1.

In Georgia, a man spoke to Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News about how he had repeatedly called his county’s hotline to try to make an appointment for his mother.

“No one’s ever picking up,” Eric Moore said. “I promise you, I called 134 times.”

It apparently started with a small outbreak at a village wedding party.

After a handful of coronavirus cases emerged this month in a province surrounding Beijing, the Chinese authorities locked down more than 17 million people in two cities, Shijiazhuang and Xingtai.

The new rules froze transportation and canceled weddings, funerals and a Communist Party conference. The government also ordered the testing of every resident there, which was wrapped up in a few days.

This week the restrictions were expanded to Langfang, a city on the edge of Beijing, and to some districts inside Beijing, the Chinese capital. They now apply to 22 million people, more than twice as many as the lockdown in Wuhan last January.

The move comes at a time when the Chinese economy was surging back after last year’s slump and when residents, many who felt like the pandemic was a thing of the past, were getting used to something close to normal life. China, a country of 1.4 billion people, has reported an average of 109 new cases a day over the past week. (For some perspective, the U.S. is averaging a quarter-million a day.)

Since the outbreak in Wuhan, Chinese authorities have created a playbook for outbreaks that includes sealing off neighborhoods, conducting widespread testing and quarantining large groups — measures that were seen as extraordinary when they were applied in Wuhan last year.

Officials have appeared especially worried about Beijing, home of the Communist Party’s central leadership. After a taxi driver there tested positive over the weekend, the authorities tracked down 144 passengers for additional tests, according to The Global Times, a state tabloid. Now anyone getting in a taxi or car service in Beijing has to scan a QR code from their phone, allowing the government to quickly trace them.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

I have adopted what I call my Jane Austen hour. In the spirit of the Victorian-era tradition of “morning correspondence,” each day I spend an hour writing emails or texts to friends and family, many of whom I haven’t been in touch with for years. I have reconnected with old college roommates, high school friends, long-lost cousins, and all sorts of acquaintances I had lost touch with. I just send a short note saying that I was thinking about them and hoping they were managing OK in these crazy times, and then I share a treasured memory about them. The resulting reconnection and renewed correspondence has been a great antidote to pandemic isolation.

— Shelley Hammond Hoffmire, Oxford, U.K.

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