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Good morning. We give you an update on the pandemic, with three key points.
Last week’s attack on the Capitol has understandably dominated the news. But I want to take a few minutes this morning to focus on the other vital story right now — the pandemic.
Below is a three-point summary of where we are now, with help from my colleagues covering the story and from a couple of charts. I’ll warn you up front: The situation is not good.
1. The new variants are scary. Scientists are still learning about new versions of the coronavirus, including variants that emerged in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. The evidence so far indicates that they “are much more infectious than the Italian strain, which has been circulating here since February,” my colleague Donald G. McNeil Jr. told me. “That’s a game changer.”
Behavior that may once have been only moderately risky — say, airplane travel — may now be more so. The variants seem to be one reason cases worldwide are spiking:
2. The mass vaccination campaign in the U.S. is off to a terrible start. The Trump administration promised that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by Jan. 1. Instead, fewer than three million were — and only about nine million have now had their shots.
The Deep South has the country’s lowest vaccination rates. But this isn’t just a Republican failure: California, Virginia and some other Democratic-run states have also been slow. (Here’s data for every state.)
Vaccinations will probably accelerate in coming weeks, especially because President-elect Joe Biden and his team seem much more focused on the problem than President Trump. Goldman Sachs forecasts that about one quarter of Americans will have received their first shot by April 1, half by June 1 and three quarters by mid-autumn. The coming vaccination speedup is the one piece of good news right now.
3. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. The virus is spreading so rapidly that hospitals are struggling to keep up. About 130,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid symptoms, more than double the number two months ago. The strain on hospitals raises the possibility that many patients will not receive the best available treatments.
Los Angeles has recently had to ration oxygen. And Esteban Trejo, an executive at a company in El Paso, Texas, that provides oxygen to temporary hospitals, told Kaiser Health News, “It’s been nuts, absolutely nuts.”
The recent data on cases and deaths is noisy, because diagnoses artificially slowed during the holidays, says Mitch Smith, a Times reporter who follows the numbers. Still, deaths have already hit a record this week — more than 3,000 a day, on average — and the recent explosion of cases suggests they may be heading to above 3,500 and perhaps to 4,000.
The bottom line: Biden will be taking office next week during the nadir of the coronavirus crisis. His administration will need to both accelerate vaccine distribution and persuade more people to change their behavior — and the second goal is even more urgent than the first.
Unless Americans start wearing masks more often and spending less time together in cramped spaces, many more people are going to die.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
Who will be the next ‘Jeopardy!’ host?
My colleague Julia Jacobs points out that the longevity of “Jeopardy!” is “something of a marvel.” Its first iteration aired in 1964, before widespread color television, cable, the internet, smartphones or streaming.
Of course, its popularity for the past 36 years has stemmed partly from its host, Alex Trebek, who died in November and whose last episode aired last week. If the show’s producers can’t find the right replacement, they will endanger the franchise, Julia says. So who are the potential candidates?
Katie Couric. She will serve as a temporary host soon, The Los Angeles Times reported. Couric conveys some of the same warmth and intelligence that Trebek did, but she would also represent change: Few top game-show hosts are women.
Other T.V. hosts. Variety suggested that Anderson Cooper and George Stephanopoulos were possibilities. LeVar Burton, an actor and children’s-show host, has also been mentioned — and expressed enthusiasm.
Ken Jennings. He set records as a “Jeopardy!” champion and then became its highest-profile alumnus, narrating the audio version of Trebek’s memoir and serving as the first temporary host this month. But he doesn’t yet have the easy on-air charm that many hosts do.
Someone less famous. Trebek “was not a name-brand hire” in 1984, Claire McNear, who’s written a book about “Jeopardy!,” notes in The Ringer. When Trebek was recently asked about replacements, he mentioned Laura Coates, a radio host, and Alex Faust, a hockey announcer.
A comedian. This would mimic “The Price Is Right,” which has thrived with Drew Carey as host. Among the possibilities: Dane Cook; the actor Jane Lynch, who already hosts “The Weakest Link,” and said she would “do it in a New York minute”; or perhaps Betty White, who Trebek liked to say would replace him — and who turns 99 next week.