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Congressional leaders and the White House are nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that will likely include a new round of direct payments.
It comes as the U.S. experienced the deadliest day of the pandemic yet, with nearly 3,300 deaths. The country also set a record for the highest number of recorded cases in one day with 232,086 Covid-19 cases recorded.
Early Thursday, the total number of cases reported in the U.S. topped 17 million, according to NBC News' count. More than 308,000 people have died.
- Map of U.S. hot spots and worldwide Covid-19 cases.
- Tracking surges in states across the country this winter.
- Map of travel restrictions and which states have a mask mandate.
- Click here for more of NBC News' Covid-19 coverage.
Spain's Supreme Court orders probe into nursing home Covid-19 deaths
MADRID — Spain's Supreme Court on Friday ordered an investigation into the deaths of elderly people in nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of protective gear for health workers.
Magistrates were asked to find out if deaths at nursing homes "were associated with political, administrative or management decisions and whether those decisions are criminally reproachable."
Spain has been one of the countries in Europe hardest-hit by the pandemic, both in terms of disease and the economic impact. A total of 48,777 people have died from the coronavirus, with the toll climbing by 181 over the last 24 hours.
More than 20,000 people died of Covid-19 or suspected Covid-19 in nursing homes in Spain during the first coronavirus wave, according to preliminary official data reported by El Pais newspaper and broadcaster RTVE.
The Supreme Court also asked the lower courts to look into the possible misuse of public funds to purchase flawed or fraudulent equipment to fight the pandemic.
However, it rejected about 50 cases that specifically targeted the government for its management of the pandemic, arguing that the complaints were not detailed enough to charge any high-ranking officials.
Another record-breaking number of reported Covid-19 cases in U.S.
Thursday was another record-breaking day in reported Covid-19 cases in the United States, the latest milestone in a month that has seen cases and deaths continue to climb.
There were 243,645 Covid-19 cases reported across the nation on Thursday, according to NBC News' count of reports, and 3,288 deaths.
On Wednesday the U.S. broke daily records for both cases and deaths reported, according to NBC News' count. Before that, the highest numbers for both reported in a day was on Dec. 10. Thursday's numbers eclipsed daily cases but not deaths.
On Thursday the total number of cases reported in the U.S. topped 17 million, according to NBC News' count. There have been more than 311,000 deaths.
Last inmate scheduled to die under Trump administration tests positive
The final federal prisoner scheduled to be executed under the Trump administration's resumption of the practice has tested positive for Covid-19, his lawyer said Thursday.
Dustin Higgs is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15 after being convicted of murder and other counts in the 1996 kidnapping and killing of three women in Maryland. Higgs drove the women to a secluded area, but did not shoot them. Instead, he gave the gun to someone who did, telling the person to make sure they were dead, the Justice Department has said.
Higgs' attorney, Shawn Nolan, said the Covid-19 positive test "is surely the result of the super spreader executions that the government has rushed to undertake in the heart of a global pandemic." The federal government resumed executions after a nearly 17-year hiatus
Nolan's attorneys say Higgs was prosecuted on a theory that he ordered the killings, which rested on the testimony of a co-defendant who got a deal in exchange, and that the person who actually shot them received a life sentence and not death.
"We have asked the government to withdraw the execution date, and we will ask the courts to intervene if they do not," Nolan said. The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed inmates at the unit which houses those sentenced to death have tested positive for Covid-19, but declined to provide more details citing legal and privacy issues. The execution is scheduled for five days before Joe Biden is sworn in as president.
Four charged in alleged Covid-19 relief fraud scheme
Arizona prosecutors this week filed federal charges against four people they say fraudulently received more than $400,000 in aid designed to help small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
A criminal complaint filed Monday charged the four with wire fraud and conspiracy, and one of them faces an additional count of money laundering.
The scheme involved fake employee and wage information to get loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, which was part of a huge federal aid package called the CARES Act, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona said in a statement.
They applied for $3.5 million but only got around $450,000, some of which was spent on a Mercedes E400, which was seized, prosecutors said. U.S. Attorney Michael Bailey called it "reprehensible" that people would defraud the program.
California: More than 1,000 virus deaths in last 5 days
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Health officials in California announced a one-day record Thursday of 379 deaths and a two-day total of nearly 106,000 newly confirmed cases.
The nation's most populous state has recorded more than 1,000 deaths in the last five days. Its overall case total now tops 1.7 million, a figure nearly equal to Spain's and only surpassed by eight countries. The state's overall death toll has reached 21,860.
Many of California's hospitals are running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, and the situation is complicating care for non-Covid-19 patients.
Maryland governor declares Santa exempt from testing, quarantine rules
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued an order Thursday declaring that Santa Claus, his elves and reindeer are exempt from traveler testing and quarantine requirements.
The order only applies to the real Santa Claus and not to his related associates, including Mall Santas.
Logan noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said Santa Claus “has a lot of good innate immunity” from COVID-19;
Wife of HHS Secretary Azar tests positive
WASHINGTON — The wife of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has tested positive for the coronavirus illness, Covid-19, he said in an email to colleagues.
Azar said he and his family learned Thursday that his wife, Jennifer, had tested positive and that she is isolating with mild symptoms and doing well. Azar said he and their children have tested negative.
Azar said in the email that his wife began isolating at home "from the moment of her first symptoms," even after an instant test came back negative. A PCR test, which takes longer but is considered more accurate, then came back positive.
New York City public hospitals suspend elective surgeries as Covid-19 cases rise
The director of New York City's public hospital system said Thursday that elective surgeries have been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals said in a video briefing that elective procedures had been suspended as of Tuesday.
"We're doing the necessary surgeries and the emergency surgeries, but we have, consistent with the governor's request, we have canceled elective procedures and we do have the extra 25 percent capacity the state has asked us for," Katz said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the percentage of city residents testing positive over a seven-day rolling average is 6 percent. "That's an unacceptable number," de Blasio said. "We need to get under five, and keep going down from there."
Los Angeles mayor quarantines after daughter, 9, tests positive
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti said he and other family members will quarantine after his 9-year-old daughter, Maya, tested positive for Covid-19 this week.
"Maya's doing fine, and her symptoms are mild," Garcetti said, adding that he and his wife were both tested and the results were negative. But Maya will isolate, and they will quarantine as the mayor works remotely.
Garcetti said his family is going through what many others have around the U.S. and the world. He said he did not know how Maya, who turned 9 over the weekend, contracted the illness and that the family has been strict on coronavirus safety.
Los Angeles County has seen a large increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths, and officials have warned that hospitals could be overwhelmed. Intensive care units in Southern California were at 0 percent capacity on Thursday, public health officials said. The county health department reported 14,418 new cases and 102 new deaths on Thursday. Garcetti pleaded with residents to cancel plans, to wear masks and to take other steps to slow the virus spread.
FDA advisers recommend Moderna's vaccine
An independent panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration overwhelmingly recommended that the agency authorize Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use on Thursday.
The recommendation brings the United States one step closer to adding a second vaccine to its toolkit in fighting the pandemic.
The FDA is expected to agree with the committee's recommendation, and an emergency use authorization could come as soon as Thursday evening or Friday.
Mitch McConnell says he will get Covid vaccine in coming days
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Thursday that he will get the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days.
“As a polio survivor, I know both the fear of a disease and the extraordinary promise of hope that vaccines bring," McConnell said. "I truly hope all Kentuckians and Americans will heed this advice and accept this safe and effective vaccine."
McConnell said he was dismayed to find polls showing a concerning number of America expressing skepticism about receiving the vaccine.
“The only way to beat this pandemic is for us to follow the advice of our nation’s health care professionals: get vaccinated and continue to follow CDC guidelines," McConnell said.
McConnell is the latest high-profile lawmaker to express their intention to get vaccinated. Vice President Mike Pence is slated to get publicly vaccinated on Friday morning and President-elect Biden is expected to get a shot as soon as next week. All of the living former presidents have also said they would get vaccinated.
Some states say Pfizer vaccine allotments cut for next week
The Associated Press
O'FALLON, Mo. — Several states say they have been told to expect far fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in its second week of distribution, prompting worries about potential delays in shots for health care workers and long-term care residents.
But senior Trump administration officials on Thursday downplayed the risk of delays, citing a confusion over semantics, while Pfizer said its production levels have not changed.
The first U.S. doses were administered Monday, and already this week, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly health care workers, have been vaccinated. The pace is expected to increase next week, assuming Moderna gets federal authorization for its vaccine.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, incoming senior advisor for Biden White House, tests positive for Covid
The Biden transition team announced in a statement Thursday that Rep. Cedric Richmond tested positive for Covid-19.
Richmond, a Biden ally, is slated to be an incoming White House senior advisor and Director of the Office of Public Engagement. Biden's team said the Louisiana lawmaker was not in close contact with the President-elect, took a PCR test which came back negative on Thursday.
This news comes as Biden is expected to publicly take the coronavirus vaccine as soon as next week.
Richmond traveled to Georgia on Tuesday for a campaign event for the Democratic candidates running for Senate. Richmond developed symptoms on Wednesday and took a rapid test, which came back positive. On Thursday, he took a PCR test, which was also positive, the team said.
Richmond was not in close contact with the candidates, the campaign said, and he interacted with the President-elect in the open air while wearing a mask and totaled less than 15 consecutive minutes. The transition teams said it conducted contact tracing protocols "immediately" and found two individuals — both drivers during the event in Georgia — who were in close contact with Richmond. Both will quarantine.
Richmond will quarantine for 14 days and take two PCR tests before returning to in-person work in Congress and with the transition team, the statement said.
Microsoft to give $110 million to Washington state’s recovery effort
Microsoft Corp. will spend $110 million to help support Washington state’s Covid-19 recovery, president Brad Smith said Thursday.
In a blog post, Smith said Microsoft Corp., based in Redmond, Washington, will help fund nonprofits across the state and continue to pay hourly workers on its corporate campuses.
The software giant also urged an accelerated opening of elementary schools and will donate personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and technology to track and report Covid-19 data to help schools reopen safely.
“While this week with high infection rates is clearly not the right moment to restart in-person learning, the science now tells us that it is the right time to accelerate the planning for kindergarten through 5th Grade classes to reopen in February if the correct safety measures are put in place," Smith said in the post.
Southern California ICU beds at 0 percent capacity
Intensive care unit bed capacity is down to 0 percent in Southern California, the state's most populous region, public health officials warned Thursday.
ICU capacity in the San Joaquin Valley is also down to dangerously low levels - 0.7 percent as of Thursday. In Northern California, about 25 percent of ICU beds are open. In the Bay Area, where capacity is at 13 percent.
State public health officials also announced that California is steadily creeping towards 2 million cases as the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the state. It currently has 1,723,362 confirmed cases.
Coca-Cola slashes U.S. workforce 12%
The Coca-Cola Co. is cutting 2,200 jobs globally, including 1,200 in the U.S and 500 in their home state of Georgia, a spokesperson confirmed to NBC News.
The Atlanta-based company which began the year with over 86,000 employees also expects to reduce nearly 50 percent of its brands.
“The pandemic was not a cause for these changes, but is has been a catalyst for the company to move faster,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told NBC News.
The reductions affect both corporate and operating unit positions, but not employees of its bottlers.
Washington state Covid-19 vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week, governor says
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday that the state's Covid-19 vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed Washington officials of the downsize in coronavirus vaccines without any explanation, according to Inslee who called it "disruptive and frustrating."
"Our state remains committed to getting all doses we are allocated out to healthcare providers and into the arms of Washingtonians. While we push for answers, that commitment will not change," Inslee said on Twitter.
.@CDCgov has informed us that WA’s vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week — and that all states are seeing similar cuts.— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) December 17, 2020
This is disruptive and frustrating. We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success.
No explanation was given.
Front-line workers in Phoenix receive Covid-19 vaccine at drive-thru location
Health care workers and first responders started to receive Covid-19 vaccines at a drive-thru location in Phoenix on Thursday. HonorHealth Medical, a nonprofit hospital system, is organizing the rollout and has the capacity to vaccinate 1,000 people a day. In 21 days, the front-line workers will return to the site to receive their second dose.
“This is quite a collaboration among healthcare organizations and state and local health agencies to identify the right health care workers and first responders, and get thousands of people signed up,” said Dr. Richard Gray, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
Right now in Phoenix, AZ, healthcare workers and first responders are arriving to a drive thru location to get their COVID-19 vaccine. In 2 weeks, 15,000 ppl are expected to be vaccinated here. We’re following a doctor through the process and will be live on @MSNBC pic.twitter.com/kK74wkxkjb— Meagan Fitzgerald (@MeaganNBC) December 17, 2020
Empty stores in New Jersey to be used as vaccination centers
Empty Kmart and Sears stores in New Jersey will be converted into vaccination centers when the vaccine arrives in the state, according to the Essex County Executive office.
A vacant Sears store at the Livingston Mall and A Kmart store in West Orange are among five sites in Essex County that have been designated as vaccine distribution centers.
The Sears store at Livingston Mall, which is owned by Simon Property, closed earlier this year. The West Orange Kmart closed in February. Transformco, which owns both Sears and Kmart, did not respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Amazon asks CDC to prioritize vaccines for many of its workers
Amazon, the country’s second largest employer, is pushing for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize its workers for receiving the coronavirus vaccine.
The e-commerce giant requested its fulfillment center, data center and Whole Foods Markets workers receive the vaccine “at the earliest appropriate time,” according to a letter sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.
Amazon is one of dozens of companies, including DoorDash and Uber, who are lobbying for their employee ranks to be among the first to receive the vaccine.
Lord Speaker of U.K. House of Lords gets vaccinated
I just got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination at @GSTTnhs given to me by wonderful senior staff nurse, Gill.— Lord Speaker (@LordSpeaker) December 17, 2020
I applaud the work of all those who have been working night and day in our @NHSEngland and those who have moved heaven and earth to make this vaccine possible. pic.twitter.com/Pn40mt80Wj
Giants offensive coordinator sidelined by positive Covid-19 test
New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss the team's next game, the football club announced on Thursday.
The team also said it is contract tracing and will not practice on Thursday: "At this point, there appear to be no high risk close contacts. We are awaiting confirmation from the league. Out of an abundance of caution, the Giants will meet remotely and will not practice today."
Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens will call plays Sunday when the Giants host the Cleveland Browns in a prime time game televised by NBC.
The CDC banned evictions for those affected by Covid. Why are tenants being thrown out on the street?
The day before Thanksgiving, Steve Cowley, a beverage salesman, was at home in Pensacola, Florida, when someone started pounding on the front door. It was the county sheriff serving an eviction notice.
Cowley, 36, had nowhere to go. Out of work because of Covid-19 and behind on his rent, he was doing his best to survive on $275-a-week unemployment checks. His car had been repossessed, he said, so he could not live in it, a common refuge for evicted tenants.
The sheriff's visit surprised Cowley because he'd provided the county court with documentation required under the federal eviction moratorium issued in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ban aimed to let renters affected by Covid stay in their homes, even if they couldn’t pay their landlords.
But Patricia Kinsey, the only judge hearing eviction cases in Escambia County, where Pensacola sits, ordered Cowley out of his home, documents show. Kinsey sided with a lawyer for Cowley's landlord, a big Canadian company that owns 19,000 rental units in North America, who’d argued that the CDC order was unconstitutional. Agreeing with the landlord’s lawyer, Kinsey ruled that the CDC moratorium represented an "unlawful taking" by the U.S. government of landlords’ private property — rental income.
Covid job losses devastate domestic workers, who are largely unseen
Judith Bautista found out she was out of a job in June when a moving truck pulled into the home of the family she worked for during the past eight years.
“They tell me they buy a mansion in another state,” Bautista said, “and from one day to another one, they say ‘that's it, you don't have a job.'"
Bautista, 36, the family's nanny, has been a domestic worker in New York City ever since she immigrated from Puebla, Mexico, at the age of 17. She specializes in caring for children and teens with special needs.
Like many other domestic workers, her job came to an end when her employer decided to move out of the city due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Poland to enter national quarantine on Dec. 28
Poland will enter a nationwide quarantine at the end of the month to help halt the spread of the coronavirus, according to Polish officials. The lockdown be in place from Dec. 28 to Jan. 17, and all hotels, ski slopes, and shopping malls will be closed.
"I call on every Pole to be responsible for themselves and their loved ones. But I know that calls won't help," Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said at a news conference on Thursday.
Pfizer vaccine vials hold some extra doses — experts say that's normal
The small glass vials used to transport Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine hold more than the expected five doses — and that's OK.
The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday night that it was aware of reports that vials were yielding six and sometimes seven doses, and that it was acceptable to use all full doses from each vial.
"At this time, given the public health emergency, FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue," the agency said in a tweet.
U.S. sets records in Covid cases, deaths; infection count surpasses 17 million
The U.S. set Covid-19 records for cases and reported deaths Wednesday, counting 3,293 dead and 232,086 cases.
According to NBC News' tally, six states registered more than 10,000 cases apiece Wednesday: California, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, New York and Pennsylvania.
The case count in the country surpassed 17 million Thursday morning.
These states set single-day records:
- California, 51,437 cases
- Kansas, 144 dead
- Maine, 551 cases
- Nevada, 57 dead
- New Hampshire, 21 dead
- Tennessee, 11,410 cases
- Vermont, 5 dead
Jobless claims rise to 885,000
Weekly initial jobless claims rose to 885,000, defying economists predictions they would fall to 790,000.
The number, a measure of how many workers are filing for unemployment benefits for the first time, reflects renewed business closures and lockdowns, a pullback in retail spending, and the impending cutoff for federal support for borrowers and unemployed.
The surprise bad news will likely add pressure to stimulus talks inching forward in Washington.
Wales fails to report 11,000 coronavirus infections after computer error
Wales in the United Kingdom failed to report 11,000 positive coronavirus cases in its public health figures, its public health body said Thursday.
According to Public Health Wales, the error happened between Friday and Saturday as the laboratory computer systems went through scheduled maintenance.
The missed cases in the reported numbers will be released from Thursday, and will send Wales’ coronavirus numbers up significantly. The public health body said the error did not affect people receiving positive test results.
Wales, one of the four countries that makes up the United Kingdom, has had a total of 103,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and nearly 3,000 deaths.
WHO investigators to go to China, unclear if Wuhan visit allowed
The Associated Press
China has strongly opposed calls for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, saying such calls are anti-China, but has been open to a WHO-led investigation.
However, it was unclear whether the WHO investigators will travel to the city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected, with discussions on the itinerary ongoing.
"WHO continues to contact China and to discuss the international team and the places they visit," Babatunde Olowokure, the WHO's regional emergencies director in the Western Pacific, told a news conference on Thursday.
Italy to begin Covid vaccinations on Dec. 27, health officials say
ROME — Italy will begin Covid-19 vaccinations on Dec. 27, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, provided both European and national drug authorities give their approval to the Pfizer shot according to schedule.
Italy is set to receive an initial 1.83 million shots from Pfizer. The first inoculations will be administered to health workers, a statement said.
On Tuesday, Germany, France, Italy and five other European states announced they would coordinate the start of their vaccinations.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to give its green light to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a meeting scheduled for Dec. 21.
Anti-vaccination groups target local media after social media crackdowns
With online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube cracking down on misinformation around Covid-19 vaccines, some anti-vaccination activists are pivoting to sparsely-attended real-world events and looking to local news outlets to amplify their message and give them a chance to raise money through donations. That tactic, known to experts as information laundering, appears to be gaining some traction.
From California to Maine, local news stations that had largely stopped covering childhood immunization opponents have been highlighting the anti-vaccination movement’s response to Covid-19 restrictions and solutions by covering their protests and giving activists a microphone to spread misinformation.
Experts have warned that credulous coverage of fringe and misleading anti-vaccine misinformation — coverage that doesn’t explicitly state that the information is false — can cause real-world harm, including a hesitancy among some people to get vaccinated that threatens to undermine the pandemic response. Local television news is a particularly important source of information about the pandemic, as it’s consistently the most popular source Americans turn to for news, according to the Pew Research Center.
Local media coverage is all part of the plan, said Joshua Coleman, a California anti-vaccine activist who has spent the last couple of years organizing and documenting anti-vaccine events. Coleman confirmed what social media data suggests — that the pandemic has led to a growth in anti-vaccine communities, and said that anti-lockdown protests offered a way to introduce the cause to a new audience. But he’s also felt the sting from efforts by online platforms to reduce the spread of misinformation about vaccines.
The United States tops 17 million Covid cases after setting two records
The United States surpassed 17 million Covid-19 cases early Thursday as the country set two records, the highest number of daily deaths and new infections since the pandemic began.
The U.S. recorded nearly 3,300 deaths related to coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total death count to more than 308,000 people, according to NBC News' tally. The country logged nearly 232,086 new cases of Covid-19 on the same day.
Meanwhile, the country has recorded its highest number of current hospitalizations with more than 113,000 people, according to The Covid Tracking Project.
Will children be able to get Covid vaccines?
The Associated Press
Not until there’s enough data from studies in different age groups, which will stretch well into next year.
The Pfizer vaccine authorized in the U.S. this month is for people 16 and older. Testing began in October in children as young as 12 and is expected to take several more months. The Food and Drug Administration will have to decide when there’s enough data to allow emergency use in this age group.
Depending on the results, younger children may be enrolled for study as well.
Moderna, which is expected to become the second Covid-19 vaccine greenlit in the U.S., began enrolling study participants ages 12 to 17 this month and will track them for a year. Testing in children younger than 12 is expected to start in early 2021.
It is uncertain if the results on younger children will come in time for vaccinations to begin before the next school year.
Positive outcomes in adult studies are reassuring and suggest it is safe to proceed in testing kids, said Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University and director of its vaccine research program.
France's Macron tests positive for coronavirus
The Élysée Palace, Macron's official residence, confirmed the news in a statement that said he was tested as soon as his symptoms appeared. All his planned trips have been cancelled, including a trip to Lebanon.