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Good evening. Here’s the latest.
1. An unusual deal between two pharmaceutical rivals could substantially ramp up the pace of vaccination in the U.S.
Merck & Co. will help manufacture the new Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in an arrangement brokered by the White House, several days after federal regulators granted emergency authorization for the third U.S. vaccine.
President Biden said the faster production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would help position the U.S. to have enough coronavirus vaccines for all Americans by the end of May.
Just how quickly Merck will be able to speed up production is unclear. At a minimum, it will take months for the company to convert its facilities to manufacture and package a vaccine that it did not invent, according to people familiar with Johnson & Johnson’s operations. But eventually Merck’s involvement could drastically boost the vaccine supply.
The next major flash point over coronavirus response will be vaccine passports: government-issued cards or smartphone badges offering proof of inoculation against the virus. But the ethical and practical risks are high, our Interpreter columnist writes.
2. Texas’ governor ended a statewide mask mandate and said businesses could fully reopen, despite federal warnings that states should not ease restrictions yet.
“To be clear, Covid has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “Covid still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe.” Even so, he said, “state mandates are no longer needed” because of the availability of advanced treatments, increased testing and vaccines.
Those positive developments, as well as a falling caseload, have moved local officials to lift restrictions across the country, including in South Carolina, above. States are reopening businesses and schools, prompting people to emerge from months of isolation despite uncertainty about the pandemic’s future. The U.S. is still reporting more than 65,000 new cases a day on average — comparable to the peak of last summer’s surge, according to a Times database.
Should your school be fully open? Only 4 percent of U.S. schoolchildren live in counties where transmission is low enough, based on federal guidelines.
3. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority signaled that it was ready to uphold two Arizona laws that restrict voting.
The hearing was the court’s first on the key remaining provision of the Voting Rights Act. The first restriction requires election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct and the other makes it a crime for people — like community activists and campaign workers — to collect absentee ballots for delivery.
Several conservative members of the court said the restrictions were sensible, commonplace and at least partly endorsed by bipartisan policymakers in a 2005 report. Democrats argue that these provisions disproportionately affect minority voters and thus violate the Voting Rights Act.
4. The U.S. accused Russia’s F.S.B. intelligence agency of orchestrating the poisoning of the dissident Aleksei Navalny, and imposed sanctions against the Russian government for his poisoning and imprisonment.
The sanctions closely mirrored a series of actions that European countries and Britain took last October and expanded on Monday. U.S. officials said it was part of an effort to demonstrate unity in the Biden administration’s first confrontations with the Kremlin.
In other news out of Washington, the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray, told senators that domestic terrorism is “metastasizing across the country.” He also insisted that the bureau issued repeated warnings about the siege of the U.S. Capitol in the months before it happened.
5. A third young woman has come forward to accuse Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York of unwanted advances.
Anna Ruch said Mr. Cuomo placed his hands on her face and asked to kiss her at a wedding in 2019, above. Shaken, Ms. Ruch said, she later had to ask a friend if Mr. Cuomo’s lips had made contact with her face as she pulled away. The governor had kissed her cheek, she was told.
“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” Ms. Ruch said.
Ms. Ruch’s account comes after two former aides accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment in the workplace, plunging his third term into turmoil as the governor’s defenders and Mr. Cuomo himself have strained to explain his behavior. Here’s how the attorney general’s investigation of Mr. Cuomo could play out.
6. At least 13 people were killed in an accident involving an S.U.V. and a tractor-trailer in Southern California, the authorities said.
The authorities said 25 people were in a Ford vehicle that had a maximum legal capacity of seven to eight people. Dr. Adolphe Edward, the chief executive of the El Centro Regional Medical Center, said he believed that the victims were undocumented migrants.
“This is a major accident with major trauma,” he said.
The crash took place near El Centro, Calif., a city about 42 miles west of the Arizona border and near the border with Mexico.
7. Vernon Jordan, a civil rights activist and Washington power broker, died at 85.
Mr. Jordan, who was selected to head the National Urban League while still in his 30s, counseled business leaders and presidents — most notably Bill Clinton. He used his successful career, first as a lawyer in the civil rights movement and then as a high-powered Washington attorney, to cultivate the next generation of younger Black leaders.
His friend, the historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., called Jordan a “lion” of the civil rights movement, boldly pioneering “the integration of the corporate board room, as surely as Rosa Parks and Dr. King integrated the buses in Montgomery.”
And Bunny Wailer, the reggae pioneer, died at 73. He was the last surviving original member of the Wailers, his trio with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
8. Take a visit to the grocery store of the mind.
The supermarket was once an oddly relaxing experience. And while you can still go to one, you can no longer lose yourself there, or, as our critic Amanda Hess puts it, luxuriate “in the mundane array of differentiated food brands.”
Enter collectible Mini Brands and the revived game show “Supermarket Sweep,” which help service a nostalgia for the very recent past. We had Velveeta the snail pose with some favorite Mini Brands.
The stir-crazy year upended the way people cook and think about food in fundamental ways. The best-selling cookbooks of 2020 show the ways that home cooking has changed, and what may lie ahead.
9. What might be Asia’s longest-missing bird just came out of hiding.
For the first time in 170 years, the black-browed babbler was found in an Indonesian forest. Ornithologists first described the bird around 1850, after the one and only known specimen of the species was collected. Then the enigmatic bird disappeared.
One conservationist said the discovery was “as shocking as rediscovering the passenger pigeon or Carolina parakeet.”
In other discoveries, a team of scientists reconstructed the outer and middle ear of Neanderthals and concluded that they listened to the world much like we do, adding a new piece to the puzzle of whether early humans could speak.
10. And finally, we’re daydreaming of Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
The perennially popular vacation corridor south of Cancún to Tulum draws legions of revelers to its white beaches. Its natural beauty — the lush jungle, the turquoise and green water-filled sinkholes called cenotes, above, that some Maya believed were portals to the underworld — offers a quieter side to the Mexican coastline.
Spring break may be on hold, but you can bring the Riviera Maya to you with virtual tours of ancient ruins, the flavors of the Yucatán Peninsula and Indigenous music. Suddenly, the Riviera Maya is only a book, recipe or playlist away. Take a break.
Have a restorative night.
Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.
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