coronavirus crisis
March 2, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday that effective next Wednesday, "all businesses of any type" in the Lone Star state will be allowed to fully reopen. Additionally, he's ending the statewide mask mandate.

Those in the room where Abbott broke the news applauded the decision, but plenty of skeptics took note, as well. Coronavirus cases have receded greatly across the country over the last several weeks, but it's unclear if that decline is now plateauing. On a related note, Houston, Texas' largest city, is the one city in the United States to have reported finding at least one case of every known variant of the coronavirus, which are believed to be more transmissible and have experts on the alert for another uptick in cases as they become the dominant sources of infection. It's unlikely Houston is actually alone in this regard, but it's still cause for concern.

Texas is also lagging behind in vaccinating its population, which is the second largest in the nation. Only Utah and Georgia have slower per capita vaccination rates.

Abbott, it turns out, wasn't the only governor to ease restrictions Tuesday — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) actually beat him to the punch, announcing that businesses can operate at full capacity and county mask mandates will be lifted starting Wednesday. Tim O'Donnell

February 16, 2021

President Biden will sign an executive order Tuesday aimed at helping Americans facing foreclosure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden's Cabinet departments will organize to extend the current moratorium on foreclosure and extend the window for people to apply for mortgage forbearance, the White House detailed in a Tuesday preview of the order. The move comes as millions of Americans remain unemployed and 12 percent of homeowners with mortgages have missed payments, CBS News reports via Census Bureau figures.

The measure will allow anyone with a federally guaranteed mortgage apply for a pause or reduction in their payments until June 30. It will also add six months of forbearance for anyone who applied for the benefit on or before June 30 of last year. Anyone with a federally backed mortgage will also be exempt from foreclosure under the extension. These measures will cover 70 percent of existing single-family home mortgages, the White House said.

Biden has issued 30 executive orders throughout the first month of his presidency, with several aimed at tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects. The Trump administration first paused foreclosures and evictions last March, and Biden extended the pause most recently on the first day of his presidency. But the eviction moratorium is still set to expire March 31, and this order makes no mention of it. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 10, 2021

Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, infections, deaths, and economic effects continue to hit people of color harder than white people.

President Biden acknowledged the virus' disproportionate toll, particularly on Black and Latino people, when taking office, pledging to put equity at the forefront of vaccine distribution efforts. But after two months of vaccine distribution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't have enough data to know if it's actually achieving that goal, The New York Times reports.

So far, the CDC has gathered race and ethnicity data for just 52 percent of COVID-19 vaccine recipients, a report issued last week indicated. Some states prevent the collection or sharing of this kind of data, while other times, those fields are just left blank when people sign up to receive the vaccine. Epidemiologists have since been forced to begin "filling in the gaps by cross-referencing against secondary sources," Arkansas' health secretary Dr. José Romero told the Times.

The Biden administration has prioritized sending vaccines to underserved areas, including with a shipment of vaccines headed to federally funded clinics next week. But former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen said the typical "first-come, first-served" method of distribution still favors the "privileged." And it's not just an "empathy issue," Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told the Times. Identifying groups "most likely to get affected and die" is the best way to control disease spread in the first place, he said.

The lack of data is sure to complicate an already slow distribution process. As two senior Biden administration officials tell The Daily Beast, the U.S. seems unlikely to reach herd immunity until after Thanksgiving thanks to supply issues and concerning variants driving up transmission. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 6, 2021

After Vice President Kamala Harris received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in a televised event at the National Institutes of Health in January, Rep. Joyce Beatty's (D-Ohio) phone lit up with calls from constituents who were "newly curious" about getting vaccinated themselves, she told The New York Times.

As Beatty explained, watching a Black woman receive the vaccine "gave people hope and gave people education." Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to die from the coronavirus, the Times notes, but they are far less likely to be inoculated, in large part because of a lack of access, but also, some experts have pointed out, because of longstanding wariness about government-driven health programs.

Harris, it seems, was able to ease some of those concerns with her public vaccination, and she also has reportedly pressed President Biden and his advisers in private to focus on how their policies will ensure less advantaged people in both urban and rural settings are protected against the virus. "The vice president pushed us hard, in a very good way," Jeffrey Zients, Biden's coronavirus response coordinator, told the Times. "She pushed me on, 'Where are we on mobile vaccination units? How many are we going to have, in what period of time? Are they going to be able to reach rural communities and urban communities? How much progress have you made?" Read more about Harris' role in the Biden administration so far at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

January 25, 2021

President Biden has pledged to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Americans in his first 100 days in office. And when reporters asked Biden if that plan was ambitious enough last week, he doubled down on the original plan.

Even though the U.S. hasn't reached Biden's goal of giving 1 million vaccines each day, Biden still seemed ready to push forward on Monday. "I am quite confident that in the next three weeks or so," the U.S. will get that pace up to 1 million per day, and quickly after could make it to 1.5 million, the president said in a press conference. Every American who wants to get a vaccine will be able to do so by spring, Biden promised, though the COVID-19 pandemic itself could rage through summer and "early fall," he added. Immunologists meanwhile contend distributing only 1 million vaccines per day will drag the pandemic into 2022.

Biden is pushing to get Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill after signing a series of coronavirus-related executive orders last week. He declared "time is of the essence" when it comes to passing the bill, but wouldn't pull out specific pieces of the legislation to prioritize on Monday.

Biden also gave a confusing interpretation of his calls for unity, suggesting that a bill that doesn't have bipartisan support doesn't necessarily lack unity.

That comment comes as the Senate tries to work out a power-sharing agreement that's essentially at a standstill. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 26, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday released a statement criticizing President Trump for refusing to sign the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress earlier this week.

Biden warned "this abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences," noting that millions of Americans will lose enhanced unemployment benefits (which are set to expire Saturday), small businesses will go longer without federal aid, and eviction moratoriums will end next week unless Trump decides to sign the bill.

It's unclear whether Trump will relent, though he continued to criticize the package because it designates just $600 for stimulus checks for individuals. Democratic lawmakers seem to be on board with his call to push that figure up to $2,000 per person, but the GOP appears hesitant. Biden didn't address stimulus checks specifically in his latest statement, but he said that while Trump signing the current bill is "critical," it's a "first step and down payment on more action that we'll need to take" after he steps into the Oval Office. Tim O'Donnell

December 22, 2020

COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons may slow the Trump administration's plans to continue executing federal prisoners on death row.

Already this year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has executed 10 people on death row, and is slated to execute three more before President Trump leaves office. The uptick comes despite coronavirus outbreaks among death row inmates and execution workers, and amid a lawsuit from Indiana prisoners demanding the executions be paused to prevent further spread, The New York Times reports.

Before this year, a federal execution hadn't taken place in the U.S. in 17 years; State executions have fallen over the past several years as well. All 10 of those killed by the government this year happened at the Terre Haute prison in Indiana, where fewer than 50 of the prison's 1,239 inmates are on death row. A total of 252 prisoners at Terre Haute have tested positive for COVID-19, and 14 of them are on death row, the Bureau of Prisons has reported. Two of those with the virus are scheduled to be executed in December.

After the November 14 execution of Orlando Hall, the bureau also said eight people who had traveled to Terre Haute for the execution had contracted the virus. Five of those people were expected to return to Terre Haute in December for two more executions. In response, prisoners sued the Justice Department to contend the executions will only further spread the virus. The virus recently led to the postponement of the execution of a third person — Lisa Montgomery, who isn't held at Terre Haute and hasn't tested positive — until January.

A fifth of state and federal prisoners and a fifth of prison workers in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press revealed last week. In Indiana, one in ten prisoners have contracted the virus. Kathryn Krawczyk

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