Congress Passes Pandemic Economic Relief Package

TUESDAY, Dec. 22, 2020 (Healthday News) — As Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package on Monday, U.S. experts warned that a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus recently discovered in Britain may already be circulating in this country.

The relief bill will authorize direct payments of $600 to any American who made less than $75,000 in the last tax year, the Washington Post reported, with checks arriving as early as next week. Enhanced unemployment benefits will also be extended, and businesses will benefit from $325 billion in economic relief under the bill.

Seeking to reassure a troubled nation, President-Elect Joe Biden received the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. He did so live on television at ChristianaCare Hospital in Newark, Del.

Biden said, “I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine,” the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, health experts worried that a troubling variant of the coronavirus that has cropped up in Britain may already be in the United States, the Post reported.

“We don’t know that for absolutely certain, but it is reasonable to assume that is going on,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday. “It very well might be here for all we know.”

Some infectious disease experts said Monday the variant may not have even originated in Britain, the Post reported. Instead, it may have been identified there first because the British government has a strong monitoring system that has tracked tens of thousands of genomic sequences of virus samples. The United States does not have nearly the same level of virus surveillance, the newspaper said.

“It may very well be here. It may have even started here. The sequencing in the U.S. is so sporadic,” Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told the Post.

“It makes sense that it was detected first in the U.K. because they have probably the world’s best surveillance program. It would not shock me at all to find out that it also is circulating in the U.S.,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, in Washington, D.C.

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