SWC’s Fast Five

Get a cup of coffee and settle in. This explainer how we got the vaccines so quickly is a stunner. Also, about the emerging mutations, what’s happening with people who already have mortgages while the housing market stays as hot as ever, and then taxes and death, in that order.

So, here’s this week’s Fast Five:

1 The back story on how a COVID-19 vaccine was developed in record time

Moderna’s experimental vaccine, first tested 75 days after news broke on unexplained cases of pneumonia, was the culmination of years of research by a handful of scientists who, by virtue of incredible luck and foresight, were prepared for one virus more than almost any other: a coronavirus. Had this virus come 10 years earlier – or even five – science would not have been ready.

2 Coronavirus mutations – the three variants to watch

A mutation early in the pandemic fueled the spread of the virus around the world, but there had been no notable changes since – until those that recently emerged from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil. The variants are linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread, another reason experts continue to stress mask wearing and social distancing.

3 Fewer borrowers are resuming mortgage payments

The proportion of homeowners postponing mortgage payments had been falling steadily from June to November, an indication that people were returning to work and the economy was beginning to recover. But the decrease has largely flattened since November, when the current wave of coronavirus cases surged.

4 Taxes – still due April 15

The I.R.S. has struggled in recent years with reduced budgets, fewer workers and outdated computer systems. As of Dec. 25, there were still nearly seven million unprocessed individual returns from tax year 2019, according to the I.R.S. website. Even so, the I.R.S. said most taxpayers due a refund for the 2020 tax year will get it within three weeks if they file electronically and have the money deposited directly into their bank account. The I.R.S. will start processing returns February 12.

5 Remember the Doomsday Clock?

We’re still doomed but no more than the previous year. In its annual update, scientists announced the Doomsday Clock – a symbol that represents the likelihood of man-made global catastrophe – would be kept at 100 seconds to midnight.