Here’s what’s happening Monday with the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:


— Coronavirus deaths and cases in the U.S. have dropped markedly over the past couple of weeks but are still running at alarmingly high levels. And the effort to snuff out COVID-19 is becoming an ever more urgent race between the vaccine and the mutating virus. Deaths are running at an average of just under 3,100 a day, down from more than 3,350 less than two weeks ago. New cases are averaging about 170,000 a day, after peaking at around 250,000. The country’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the improvements appear to be the result of a natural plateau after the holiday surge — not the effect of the vaccine. And he urges continued vigilance.

— Merck is giving up on two potential COVID-19 vaccines following poor results in early-stage studies. The drugmaker said Monday that it will focus instead on studying two possible treatments for the virus that also have yet to be approved by regulators. The company said its potential vaccines were well tolerated by patients, but they generated an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines. Merck entered the race to fight COVID-19 later than other top drugmakers.

— California has lifted regional stay-at-home orders statewide in response to improving coronavirus conditions. Public health officials said Monday that the state will return to a system of county-by-county restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus. Local officials could choose to continue stricter rules. The state is also lifting a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. The decision comes with improving trends in the rate of infections, hospitalizations, intensive care unit capacity and vaccinations. The lifting of the order is based on projections that the state says show improving ICU conditions. But officials have not disclosed the data behind the forecasts.

THE NUMBERS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 244,563.6 on Jan. 10 to 170,032.4 on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

DEATH TOLL: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 3,240.6 on Jan. 10 to 3,087.7 on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.


QUOTABLE: “Understanding the origin would really be important and we don’t know it now. It’s a big black box, which is awful. We’re over a year into it and we still don’t appreciate it.” — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infection diseases expert, speaking at a virtual Davos Agenda meeting of the World Economic Forum on Monday.

ICYMI: For emergency medical technicians, the coronavirus is constantly close. COVID-19 has become their biggest fear, riding with them in ambulances from 911 call to 911 call, from patient to patient. Many EMTs and paramedics on the front lines of the pandemic have lifelong goals of being first responders. But some now wonder if it’s worth risking their lives for a small paycheck and a dream. In Southern California, EMTs and paramedics are scrambling to help people in the national epicenter of the pandemic, where hospitals are bursting with patients after the holidays and ambulances are stuck waiting outside hospitals for hours until beds become available.

ON THE HORIZON: The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Monday that it would be reimbursing states, territories and tribal governments for the use of National Guard troops to respond to the pandemic. President Joe Biden last week directed FEMA to assist state and local governments with vaccination efforts that lagged under his predecessor.


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