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Two stories of viruses

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There are two very different coronavirus stories happening right now.

The first story is dark: around the world, the virus is spreading faster than at any other time. The United States and Europe are both setting records for new confirmed cases, while South America, North Africa, India and other regions face severe outbreaks.

The spread is bad enough that severe measures – such as once again closing some restaurants or banning indoor gatherings – may be needed to bring it under control. Much of Europe has taken such steps in recent weeks. President Trump opposed it. But President-elect Joe Biden, yesterday appointing a 13-member virus task force, stressed he would take a radically different approach and base his policy on the advice of scientists.

“They are some of the smartest people in the infectious disease field,” my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, science journalist, said of the members of the task force. Biden, who has been wearing a mask in public for months, may also be able to increase mask wear by delivering a more consistent message about it than Trump did, Apoorva added. Yesterday Biden pleaded with Americans to wear masks, saying, “Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor.

Either way, much of the world will likely face serious epidemics – and thousands more deaths every day – in the months to come.

The second story is much more encouraging. It’s the rapid progress medical researchers are making on both potential vaccines and treatments that may alleviate the virus’s worst symptoms.

Pfizer announced yesterday that the first data showed that its vaccine prevented Covid-19 in more than 90% of the volunteers in the trial. Other companies, including Moderna and Novavax, have also reported encouraging news regarding their vaccines. (The Times’ Carl Zimmer and Katie Thomas answer some common vaccine questions here.)

Even before a vaccine becomes widely available, treatment for the virus is already improving, thanks to previous diagnoses and drugs like dexamethasone and remdesivir. The Food and Drug Administration yesterday granted emergency clearance for an Eli Lilly treatment that doctors recently gave to Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey.

The improvement in the quality of treatment is evident in the death rate: only around 1.5% of diagnosed cases have been fatal in recent weeks, compared to 1.7% in late July and early August, and 7% during the outbreak. initial virus in early spring.

As these charts show, deaths in the United States have remained within a narrow range – albeit at a terrifyingly high level – even though cases have been increasing since September:

The full image, via Ashish jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University: “We all need to keep in mind two seemingly contradictory facts: 1. We are entering the most difficult days of the pandemic. The next two months will see a lot of infections and deaths; 2. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Today that light has become a little brighter.

  • At least three people who attended a White House election party last week have tested positive for the virus, including Ben Carson, Trump’s housing secretary, and David Bossie, who is leading the effort to challenge the results elections.

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio has warned New York is “dangerously close” to a second wave, and the Governor of New Jersey has announced new restrictions on indoor dining. The rate of spread in the area had been very low for months.

  • Utah will require all residents to wear a mask, as its hospitals are near crisis levels.

An epic drumbeat: Nandi Bushell, a 10-year-old Briton, has found an audience with her impressive drumming performances on YouTube. But it was her challenge to Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl that propelled her to stardom.

From the review: The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Father Gluck, a law professor at Yale, argues the case is a test of whether the court is ready to leave political decisions to elected branches of government.

Lives lived: During World War II, Viola Smith wrote an essay asking, “Why not let the girls play in big groups?” Her plea went unheeded, but she then played out at President Harry Truman’s inauguration. She died at 107.


The first volume of Barack Obama’s presidential memoir, “A Promised Land,” will be published next week. To prepare you for the attention he will receive, we have prepared a short guide to briefs, presidential and otherwise.

Can M. equal, or surpass, Mme? The best-selling print brief in the United States is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” according to the NPD Group, which began tracking data in 2004. No. 2 on the list is “Becoming,” from Michelle Obama (who, of course, has been available for fewer years than “Eat, Pray, Love”.)

Analysts expect “A Promised Land” to be at the top of the list as well. The book’s publisher, Penguin Random House, ordered a first printing in the United States of three million copies – of which about one million are due to be printed in Germany due to a lack of printing capacity in the United States .

The top 10 memoir list also includes: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; “The Magnolia Story” from former HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines; and “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed.

What will the critics say? Many presidential briefs are scrutinized or receive mixed reviews, in part because former presidents are often unwilling to be completely honest about their disappointments, grievances, and more. Two exceptions – considered among the best memoirs by presidents – are those of Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses S. Grant, as Allen Barra explains in The Daily Beast.

Last year, The Times book reviewers published a list of the top 50 memoir of any kind in the past 50 years, including those by Gore Vidal and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Not his first book. Obama, like Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, is on the short list of presidents who were published authors before they were well-known politicians. Obama’s two previous books, “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope,” were both bestsellers, although the first did not become a bestseller until after its stellar turn as as a speaker at the 2004 Democratic convention.

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was beatific. Today’s puzzle is above – or you can play it online if you have a Games membership.

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