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President-elect Biden speaks in Wilmington on Nov. 24. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

A dim, gloomy scene seems increasingly set for Joe Biden's debut as president.

The state of play: He'll address — virtually — a virus-weary nation, with record-high daily coronavirus deaths, a flu season near its peak, restaurants and small businesses shuttered by wintertime sickness and spread.

  • He'll ask all 330 million Americans to wear masks, avoid crowds, trust the grim science, and wait patiently for vaccination.

Why it matters: I hate to be such a drag on a Saturday. But the data coming in is bleak — and worthy of clear-eyed anticipation, preparation and reaction. 

  • The vaccine offers a clear North Star of hope. But the journey there, sadly, will be harder and deadlier than those darkest days of March, officials are screaming to us.

 The CDC has this flu projection: "There is about a 70% chance that the highest flu activity for this season will occur by the end of January and a greater than 95% chance that the highest flu activity will occur by the end of February."

  • Robert Redfield, President Trump's CDC director, predicted this week that December through February will "be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation."

U.S. deaths, now at 279,000, are forecast to pass 500,000 during Biden's first 100 days, even with a rapid vaccine rollout.

  • It's what Anthony Fauci, who'll be back in the White House inner circle as President Biden's chief medical adviser, warned about as Americans continued to gather and travel for Thanksgiving: "a surge up on a surge."
  • Average daily COVID deaths, nearly 2,000 now, are projected to get as bad as 3,000 a day.

Reality check: It's now clear that the tiniest percentage of Americans will have access to the COVID vaccine as Biden takes office.

  • N.Y. Times Opinion posted a clever calculator (subscription), "Find Your Place in the Vaccine Line," taking into account age, location, occupation and health.
  • The message for virtually everyone: It's going to be a while.
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Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

J&J says its one-shot vaccine is 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID

Photo: Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that its single-shot coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective in protecting against moderate to severe COVID-19 disease in Phase 3 trials, which was comprised of nearly 44,000 participants across eight countries.

Between the lines: The vaccine was 72% effective in the U.S., but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a more contagious variant has been spreading. It prevented 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths, according to the company.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.