VIRUS TODAY: Officials urge vigilance; failing grades soar

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

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

— Top health officials warned Americans not to let their guard down, as a COVID-19 vaccine is perhaps just days away from being available in the U.S. With an epic, coast-to-coast surge under way, authorities are urging people anew to wear masks, practice social distancing and follow other basic measures. Most of California, meanwhile, is heading back into lockdown Sunday night.

— Health experts are hoping Joe Biden’s administration will put in place something Donald Trump’s has not — a comprehensive national testing strategy. Some experts say the lack of such a system is one reason for the current national explosion in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Many experts say rapid and at-home tests should be used so Americans can check themselves and stay away from others if they test positive.

— Schools around the country are confronting “off the rails” numbers of failing grades amid the pandemic. School districts have reported the number of students failing classes has risen by as many as two or three times — a sign of the struggles many students are having with distance learning, particularly English language learners, those with disabilities and other disadvantaged students.

THE NUMBERS: The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 attributable deaths in the U.S. is 2,163. There have been more than 280,000 virus-related deaths in the U.S. over the course of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

QUOTABLE: “Unfortunately, in the U.S., COVID has been politicized far more than in any other country.” — Jessica Vitak, an associate professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies, on the lack of interest Americans have shown for new smartphone tools designed to notify people who might have been exposed to the coronavirus

ICYMI: Portraying Santa Claus in the Coronavirus Age requires many precautions. Being over 60 and chunky might make for a perfect Santa, but could also signal the kinds of underlying physical conditions that lead to serious complications from the virus.

ON THE HORIZON: Shipments of the coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech were delivered Sunday in the U.K. in super-cold containers, two days before it goes public in an immunization program that is being closely watched around the world.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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