The Atlantic Daily: The Battle to Contain the Pandemic Enters a New Phase

American flags decorate the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol in the early morning ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, on January 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Stephanie Keith / Getty

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President Joe Biden delivered his inaugural address to a field of flags. And it was before those 190,000-some flags—stand-ins to represent the Americans unable to attend in person—that he pledged to guide the country through a pandemic that’s claimed 400,000 lives in the United States alone.

The incoming administration wasted no time: Today, the president signed a batch of executive orders aimed at curbing the outbreak.

Biden inherits a country divided in many ways, one of the most profound of which is physical. Though COVID-19 cases appear to be easing ever so slightly, much work needs to be done before Americans can gather again.

Pandemic numbers are finally tiptoeing in the right direction.

Here’s the weekly update from our COVID Tracking Project: “We are seeing early indications that the rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are easing, though some areas are still reporting dangerously high case and hospitalization levels and wrenching death rates.”

Kids will likely be key to reaching herd immunity.

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“The U.S. will have a hard time reaching [it] otherwise,” Sarah Zhang reports. Vaccines are currently being tested on children as young as 12.

The coronavirus’s mutations have a troubling pattern.

“Anytime when you have mutations that come up independently of each other in multiple places, it’s really a sign,” one coronavirus researcher told Sarah.

A reliable source of pandemic data is at risk because of an intragovernmental squabble.

Alexis C. Madrigal, one of the founders of our COVID Tracking Project, urges the incoming administration to stick to the current system, rather than try to overhaul it.

A portrait of Brontez Purnell with colored triangles
MELISSA DALE NEAL

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved isolation activity:

Read Brontez Purnell’s darkly funny new short story about an actor who has come to hate his job: Here’s “Early Retirement.” We also spoke with Purnell on writing fiction from a theater background.

Today’s break from the news:

Throw out your checklist for success. Our happiness columnist wants you to stop keeping score.


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