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Pfizer vaccine nears authorization for use

The U.S. registered 229,928 new cases and 3,110 deaths on Thursday — new single-day records.
Image: Registered nurse Tamara Jones dresses in PPE outside an isolation room in the intensive care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the South Side of Chicago
Registered nurse Tamara Jones dresses in PPE outside an isolation room in the intensive care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the South Side of Chicago. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading Covid-19 news from Dec. 12, 2020.

More people in the United States have died this year from Covid-19 than were killed in four years of fighting on the battlefields during World War II, NBC News data shows.

On Thursday, the U.S. again broke single-day Covid-19 records for both reported deaths and cases. The country saw 229,928 new cases and 3,110 deaths. The previous single-day record was just on Wednesday. The rise in cases in large parts of the country has prompted dire warnings about hospital capacity and whether colder weather and the holiday season will help the virus spread.

On Thursday, Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine got the recommendation from an independent panel of experts that the FDA authorize it for emergency use. The FDA is not obligated to go along with the panel's recommendation, but it is widely expected to authorize the vaccine for emergency use promptly.

Bassam Saba, prominent figure in Arabic music, dies from Covid complications

Bassam Saba, a notable figure in Arabic music and once a part of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road artists and Global Musician Workshop faculty, died from complications from COVID-19 on Dec. 4.

He was transferred to the non-Covid ICU in the American University of Beirut Medical Center after he was no longer deemed infectious. Days later, he was intubated after going through septic shock from contracting a superbug, and later died, his wife Dr. Diala Jaber said from the couple's home in Northport, New York.

“He had overcome the hard part of the COVID, but his lungs of course were very weakened by the Covid ... and then when he got the bacteria, his immune system was too low to fight the bacteria even though he was put on the proper antibiotics for the bacteria and his septic shock was too strong,” Jaber said.

A multi-instrumentalist and teaching artist, Saba, a Lebanese American who lived in Northport with his wife and daughter Mariana for almost 30 years, played the nay, oud and violin, among other instruments, and also directed the New York Arabic Orchestra with fellow musician April Centrone and had his own ensemble. 

Read the full story here.

Case reported in Hawaii county thought to be last without Covid

HONOLULU — A county on a Hawaii island believed to be the last one in the U.S. without any coronavirus cases has reported its first resident testing positive.

The Hawaii Department of Health on Thursday reported the case in Kalawao County on the island of Molokai. The health department says an adult resident tested positive after returning to the island on a local flight.

The person is in self-isolation and currently doesn’t have virus symptoms. The health department says contact tracing was conducted and all other passengers on the flight are in self-quarantine.

First Covid-19 vaccine gets FDA's OK

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday said it had authorized the first Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the United States — the first major, tantalizing indication for Americans that the pandemic's days may be numbered.

A letter from the FDA to Pfizer reads that "the known and potential benefits of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID‑19 vaccine" outweight its potential risks for people ages 16 and older.

The vaccine, made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, is expected to be shipped nationwide as soon as this weekend, earmarked for front-line health care workers, as well as staff working at long-term care facilities.

Read the full story here

Mexico approves emergency use of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government’s medical safety commission approved the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine Friday, making Mexico the fourth country to do so.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said Mexico’s approval came after Britain, Canada and Bahrain.

Mexico is set to receive 250,000 doses of the vaccine, enough for 125,000 people, because each person requires two shots. López-Gatell has said that front-line health workers will get the shots first.

Vaccinations are expected to begin as soon as next week. López-Gatell said the approval “is of course a reason for hope,” though the initial rounds of shots are not nearly enough for Mexico’s coronavirus cases Friday, for a total of 1,229,379 infections during the pandemic.

States get tracing apps that allow phones to 'talk to each other'

RALEIGH, N.C — As coronavirus exposure notification technology slowly rolls out across the country, every resident in 17 states and the District of Columbia will now be able to send and receive alerts beyond their home state if they've tested positive for the coronavirus or come into contact with someone who has.

On Friday, Virginia joined Washington, D.C., and 16 other states that have been using the Association of Public Health Laboratories’ National Key Server, which allows phones to “talk to each other” across state borders. This means users in these 18 areas won’t have to download a separate app in places they are visiting.

“This is especially important considering added travel during the holiday season,” said a statement from Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s state health commissioner.

Apple and Google co-created the technology that uses Bluetooth wireless signals to anonymously detect when two phones have been in close proximity. A user who tests positive for the virus can have their phone trigger a notification to other people they’ve spent time near.

The states beyond Virginia are Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, ​Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wyoming.

Newsom reveals card that vaccinated Californians will get

Trump administration secures 100 million more vaccine doses

Three days after the federal government was criticized for rejecting an option to secure millions of additional doses of a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, White House officials said they will purchase another 100 million doses from pharmaceutical company Moderna.

The mRNA-1237 vaccine doesn't have the recommendation a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel gave the Pfizer vaccine Thursday, but Moderna has applied for the same endorsement.

"If authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use as outlined in agency guidance, doses of the vaccine will begin shipping immediately," the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement. "The vaccine would be provided at no cost to Americans."

Anticipating approval, Moderna will rapidly produce its vaccine, the department said.

"This strategy will help meet the anticipated demand for mRNA-1273 and safely accelerate the delivery schedule for the 200 million doses the U.S. government is purchasing," it said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in the statement that the purchase should give U.S. residents confidence the federal government can vaccinate all "who want it" by the end of spring.

Mississippi has run out of ICU beds as cases soar, health official says

Mississippi's leading health official said the state has run out of intensive care unit beds as new Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have soared in recent weeks, requiring a need for new restrictions. 

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a briefing on Friday that the hospitals are full and that the "average daily numbers are really frightening," especially as about 10 percent of new infections require people to go to the hospital. 

The state, he said, will have to delay all elective procedures that require hospitalization until at least Dec. 23, beginning on Tuesday. 

"We filled up the cup and the cup runneth over, and so we’re going to have to do some things," Dobbs said.

In the last two weeks, Mississippi has seen 25,000 new cases of coronavirus. Two weeks prior to that it was 14,000 — a trend that health officials called "mind boggling."

Dobbs noted that there is a glimmer of hope with the anticipated arrival of the vaccine in Mississippi on Monday, but state officials warned that the number of vaccines they receive could change and health care providers will be the first to get shots in arms.

That will be followed by nursing home workers and residents, as approximately 144 nursing homes have seen outbreaks in recent weeks. 

"Things are going to be moving fast," one official said. "We’re having to be pretty flexible and are doing some planning as we go."

Outbreaks at 2 Washington nursing homes after staff attended wedding

Washington state health officials are investigating coronavirus outbreaks that occurred at two nursing home facilities after some staff attended a 300-person wedding.

Between the two Grant County facilities — Lake Ridge Center and Columbia Crest Center — officials have reported 23 deaths.

One additional death that "can be directly linked to an attendee of the wedding" was reported at a nursing home facility in Ephrata, the Grant County Health District said in a press release Thursday.

Health officials said three longterm care facility staff members self-identified as guests at a Nov. 7 wedding in Ritzville, about 59 miles southwest of Spokane.

The staff — two who work at Lake Ridge and a third who works at the Ephrata center — worked while contagious but did not know they had the virus, health officials said.

Read the full story here.