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FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine

The authorization is "a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic," FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading Covid-19 news from Dec. 20, 2020.

The Food and Drug Administration said it had authorized the first Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the United States late Friday — 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" outweigh its potential risks for people ages 16 and older.

FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn in a statement called the authorization "a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world."

Churches, synagogues reimagine holiday services — and their messages of faith

Vicky Collins

Image: Father Martin Lally
Martin Lally, a priest at Holy Family Catholic Church in Denver, said of this holiday season: "The message of the Scriptures is 'Hang in there, God is with us."Rachel Woolf / for NBC News

On the first night of Hanukkah, hundreds of people show up at Temple Micah for a latke cooking competition. Families bring their menorahs, light candles, feast on potato pancakes, award prizes and sing.

It should come as no surprise, as the coronavirus pandemic rages, that this year's celebration will be virtual. “We’ll have some people demonstrating latke cooking online,” said Rabbi Adam Morris. “I envision the Zoom screen with all the Hanukkah lights lit.”

For communities of faith, Covid-19 has upended traditions and placed annual festivities at churches and synagogues on hold, forcing rabbis, pastors and priests to reimagine Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations and rethink their messages to the faithful.

Read the full story here. 

Professional surfing contest in Hawaii suspended following outbreak

Hawaii's pro surfer Kalani Chapman surfs Banzai Pipeline ahead of the Pipe Masters on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii in December 2018.BRIAN BIELMANN / AFP - Getty Images

Hawaii's Pipe Masters professional surfing contest has been postponed after organizers and their CEO tested positive for the coronavirus.

The World Surf League said in a statement that CEO Erik Logan and an undisclosed number of staff members contracted the virus, leading it to postpone the annual event, part of a Holy Trinity of wave-riding competitions known as the Triple Crown of Surfing.

Top wave riders from around the world travel to Hawaii each winter to tap into strong north-swell waves and participate in the contests, with the Masters at Oahu's Pipeline being one of the most coveted events.

The state of Hawaii has imposed strict rules for travelers, including proof of a negative test result before arrival. Without that, a 14-day quarantine is mandatory.

"The WSL is committed to prioritizing the safety of the athletes, staff and surrounding community above all else, and is working closely and transparently with the Hawaii State Department of Health to determine the path forward," the league said.

Organizers said they don't believe any pro surfers have been exposed. Those with the virus are "self-isolating," the WSL said.

Singer Ashanti says she tested positive

Image: Today - Season 68
Ashanti, shown in April 2019, says she has tested positive for Covid-19.NBC / NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Singer Ashanti said Saturday she has tested positive for Covid-19.

The 40-year-old, who lent her voice to major hip-hop hits in the early '2000s, announced her diagnosis on Instagram, saying, "Hey y'all I can't believe I'm saying this but I tested positive for COVID-19."

"I'm ok and not in any pain," she said.

The organizers of television's hip-hop and R&B showcase "Verzuz" subsequently said Ashanti's scheduled performance Saturday night with vocalist Keyshia Cole would be postponed to Jan. 9.

Ashanti insisted, however, she would be able to do it Saturday if given the chance. "I'm actually down to do the verzus from my house," she said on Instagram.

Tokyo sets record with 621 new cases Saturday

The Associated Press

TOKYO — Tokyo reported 621 new coronavirus cases Saturday, setting a record in the capital where a lack of government measures triggered concerns about a surge during the holiday season.

Nationwide, Japan reported a total of 174,000 cases, with about 2,500 deaths since the pandemic began.

Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan task force say serious cases are on the rise, putting burdens on hospitals and forcing many of them to scale back on care for other patients.

Japan issued a non-binding state of emergency in the spring and has survived earlier infection peaks without a lockdown.

The coronavirus task force on Friday asked the national government to take tougher steps to slow social and economic activities, such as suspension of out-of-town trips and requesting shorter business hours in areas where infections are accelerating.

Latest data shows ongoing measures have been ineffective and the situation could worsen during the holiday season.

Italy close to overtaking U.K. for most deaths in Europe

The Associated Press

ROME — Italy added another 649 coronavirus deaths Saturday, bringing its official total to 64,036 and just shy of Britain’s Europe-leading 64,123 dead.

Italy could overtake Britain despite having 6 million fewer people than the U.K.’s 66 million and trails only the much larger U.S., Brazil, India and Mexico, according to a tally Johns Hopkins University.

Italy has the most deaths per 100,000 population among the most affected countries. Italy has added nearly 29,000 dead since Sept. 1.

More than 1.8 million Italians have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic. Health experts say the numbers reflect an underfunded health care system with few ICU beds, government delays in imposing restrictions and an elderly population.

Global cases and death tolls are believed to greatly underestimated because of missed infections, limited testing and different counting criteria.

FAA says pilots may not fly for 48 hours after receiving vaccine

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration says pilots may receive the Covid-19 vaccine but may not fly for 48 hours.

The FAA says it is requiring the observation period “to maintain the highest level of safety” in the airspace it regulates. The 48-hour observation also applies to air traffic controllers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and shipments are expected in states on Monday. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses taken three weeks apart. The 48-hour period applies after both doses.

The FAA says it will monitor reaction to the vaccine. It requires similar waiting periods after aviation employees receive other vaccines, such tuberculosis and typhoid.

Carol Sutton, actor in ‘Steel Magnolias,’ ‘Queen Sugar,’ dies of virus


Actor Carol Sutton, who made appearances in “Steel Magnolias” and “Queen Sugar,” died Thursday night of complications from Covid-19. She was 76.

The actor spent her last months at the Touro Infirmary in her native New Orleans, where she was treated for the virus.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell confirmed Sutton’s death and remembered the late actor in a statement released on Friday.

Ava DuVernay, creator of the OWN series “Queen Sugar,” also celebrated the career of Sutton, tweeting, “It was our honor to welcome this veteran actress of stage and screen to our show as Aunt Martha in Episode 409, ‘Stare at the Same Fires.’ May she rise and rest in peace and power.”

Read the full story here.

FDA Commissioner: 'I will absolutely take this Covid-19 vaccine'

The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said he will "absolutely" take the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Commissioner Stephen Hahn held a news conference Saturday following the FDA's authorizing Pfizer's vaccine for emergency use in the United States

Hahn explained that in order for an emergency use authorization to be issued, the agency's career scientists must conduct a "rigorous evaluation of currently available scientific evidence about a medical product."

"The FDA must determine that the product's known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks," he said. "For vaccines that have the potential to be given to millions of healthy Americans, we at the FDA have set high expectations."

He said that Pfizer's vaccine was approved after a "fast but incredibly thorough review" of the pharmaceutical company's EUA request. 

"I know the meticulousness of the review that the FDA has done," Hahn said. "I will absolutely take this Covid-19 vaccine, pending availability and distribution, because I have complete trust and confidence in the FDA's career staff's evaluation." 

The vaccine, made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, is expected to be delivered to hospital systems nationwide as early as Monday. It's earmarked for frontline health care workers, as well as staff working at long-term care facilities. Those two groups represent about 24 million people. 

Dry ice demand surges following new vaccine approval

Big and small companies selling dry ice are scrambling to keep up with increasing demand after the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, putting the nation’s supply chain to the test.

Pfizer expects to ship close to 100 million doses by the end of March, but the vaccines need to be stored in ultracold temperatures, at around 80 degrees below zero, for them to be effective.

Each vaccine tray carries approximately 975 doses that need to be put into thermal containers with about 50 pounds of dry ice pellets. Each container can store the doses for up to 30 days, but only if they get dry ice refills every five days.

Pandemic forcing NYC's historic 21 Club to close

New York City's historic 21 Club is closing, becoming the latest business to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"In light of the ongoing global crisis and anticipated extended recovery period for the hospitality industry, the difficult decision was made that it will not be feasible to reopen the 21 Club in its current form for the foreseeable future," a spokesperson said Saturday.

21 Club has been closed since March after Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down all bars and restaurants due to the virus.

Read the full story.

Washington State-Cal football game canceled after player gets virus

Saturday's football game between Washington State University and UC Berkeley was canceled before play could get underway in Pullman, Washington, because a player tested positive for coronavirus.

The Pac-12 conference said in a statement that UC Berkeley, known in college football as Cal, did not have the minimum number of scholarship athletes needed to take the field at kickoff after an unidentified player tested positive today.

The test resulted in "isolation of additional student-athletes under contact tracing protocols," the Pac-12 said. "Under Conference policy, the game will be declared a no contest."

Another anticipated Pac-12 game, USC versus crosstown rival UCLA, was scheduled to take place as scheduled, at 4:30 p.m.

Puerto Rico announces vaccine rollout plan after setting new single-day record

Puerto Rico is set to receive its first shipment of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines by the end of December, Gov. Wanda Vázquez said Saturday, one day after the U.S. territory set a new single-day record with 2,741 new coronavirus cases.

About 205,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive to Puerto Rico in upcoming weeks. The island's Health Department and the National Guard will be in charge of distributing the vaccines in phases, Vázquez said.

First in line are frontline workers such as doctors, nurses and other health care workers as well as nursing-home residents and employees.

"These are the most vulnerable and represent the largest amount of deaths related to the virus," Vázquez said in Spanish during a press conference Saturday.

Public-school employees, public officials, police officers and other essential workers are next in line. It's estimated that the general population won't have access to a vaccine until the summer, Vázquez said.

"We want to have a peaceful Christmas, so we must continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing, and use hand sanitizer," she said. "Strict coronavirus restrictions will remain in place... All citizens must do their part and acknowledge how deadly this virus is in order to avoid another uptick."

Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccines expected to begin arriving Monday

Hospital systems nationwide should expect the first shipments of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine to arrive Monday, Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said during a media briefing Saturday.

"Boxes are being packed and loaded with vaccine with emphasis on quality control," Perna said. Within the next 24 hours, he said, those boxes will move from Pfizer's manufacturing facility to UPS and FedEx hubs, where they will be delivered to 636 predetermined locations nationwide.

Perna said 145 of those sites should receive the vaccine Monday, with the others trickling in through Wednesday. The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine late Friday night.

An estimated 2.9 million doses are expected to be distributed within the first week. That number could ramp up significantly in the coming weeks, to as much as 40 million doses by the end of 2020.

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5 science-backed reasons that you shouldn't be skeptical about the Covid-19 vaccine

Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD

It’s exciting news that Pfizer—the maker of one of the new vaccines for Covid 19 — has received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA. And Moderna, which has a similar vaccine, has already submitted their application for EUA and isn’t far behind. Across the country, states are poised to start administering it.

While much of the population is ready to get vaccinated when it’s available to them, there’s still a fair amount of skepticism by some about the safety of the vaccine.

Why? Misinformation about vaccines (in general) has been circulating for almost two decades, making some people suspicious about the whole process, including during this pandemic.

It’s important to set the record straight, and use the science to support smart decision making. After all, your life — and those you care about —could depend on it.

To read about the five reasons, click here

Anti-gay nonprofits and businesses received millions in Covid-19 aid

A number of organizations, schools and businesses with either a history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy or policies that explicitly discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals have received millions in pandemic relief funding, according to an NBC News analysis of data released last week by the Small Business Administration.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — which was intended to help small businesses amid the Covid-19 crisis — gave nearly $5.3 billion in the potentially forgivable loans to 5,160,000 recipients, with the average loan being $101,409.

Seven of the organizations that received funding — the American College of PediatriciansAmerican Family Association, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), Church Militant/St. Michael’s MediaLiberty CounselPacific Justice Institute and Ruth Institute — have been designated as “anti-LGBTQ hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) due to their alleged vilification of queer people.

These seven groups received nearly $2.5 million combined.

Read the fully story here. 

Image: Rainbow flags on the eve of Madrid's WorldPride on June 23, 2017.
Rainbow flags on the eve of Madrid's World Pride in 2017.Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP/Getty Images file

Black Chicagoans anxious about Covid-19 vaccine as historic hospital set to close

Antonia Hylton

Emily Berk

Antonia Hylton and Emily Berk

CHICAGO — Like many Black people in Chicago, Etta Davis is afraid of catching Covid-19. She has a heart condition and diabetes and tries hard to wear her mask and stay safe. Yet, she doesn't place much hope in the coming vaccine.

She hears city leaders say her community will be prioritized, but as a lower-income, Black woman on the South Side, she says she has good reason to doubt them.

"We're not gonna get it first, we know this," she said. "I'm just keeping it real. Money talks to the people with the money. They're going to get it first."

The city of Chicago is gearing up to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine as early as next week, and officials are emphasizing that the process will be free and equitable. But many Black people, who are the most likely to die from the coronavirus, do not believe what they are hearing.

Read the full story here.

Image: Etta Davis
Etta Davis in Chicago.MSNBC

Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee set single-day Covid records; U.S. tops 2,000 deaths

The U.S. reported more than 2,000 Covid-19 deaths Friday, according to NBC News figures.

The tally showed 2,890 people died and 226,024 new infections were recorded.

Since the pandemic began, close to 16 million have been infected in the U.S. and more than 296,000 have died.

In the last week the U.S. has averaged 211,324 cases and 2,381 deaths per day, up from 168,493 cases and 1,419 deaths four weeks ago

These states and territories set single-day records Friday:

  • Kansas reported 131 deaths
  • New Hampshire, 1,187 cases
  • Puerto Rico, 2,741 cases
  • South Carolina, 3,540 cases
  • Tennessee, 147 deaths

Estonians plunge into icy water to ward off coronavirus blues


More than 500 people swam in the near-freezing waters off Tallinn port in Estonia's capital, in a giant winter swimming relay designed to counter the tedium of coronavirus restrictions.

Attired with funny hats, the swimmers ranged from a nine-year old boy to an 83-year old woman, and included a pregnant woman who joked her effort should be counted for two.

Dozens of spectators cheered along the course, as participants swam in a country that has seen the sport grow in popularity since Estonia first went into a coronavirus lockdown in spring.

Image: Woman wearing a Christmas decorations headwear swims during a largest winter swimming relay in Tallinn
A woman wearing Christmas-themed headwear swims during a winter swimming relay in Estonia's capital Tallinn.JANIS LAIZANS / Reuters

Tokyo sets case record as government criticized

The Associated Press

Japan's capital, Tokyo, set a new record on Saturday, reporting 621 new coronavirus cases, as government measures face criticism ahead of the holiday season.

Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan task force say serious cases are on the rise, putting burdens on hospitals. The task force on Friday asked the national government to take tougher steps to slow social and economic activities in areas where infections are accelerating.

Nationwide, Japan reported a total of 174,000 cases, with about 2,500 deaths since the pandemic began.

Japan issued a non-binding state of emergency in the spring and has survived earlier infection peaks without a lockdown.

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

The Associated Press

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

The Associated Press

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.