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Dec. 17 Coronavirus updates: Total reported U.S. cases top 17 million

Congressional leaders and the White House near agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal.
Image: A medical worker reads a poem to Daniel Kim, 48, as he leaves St. Jude Medical Center after five months after surviving the coronavirus disease in Fullerton
A medical worker reads a poem to Daniel Kim, 48, as he leaves St. Jude Medical Center after five months hospitalized with Covid-19 in Fullerton, California on Wednesday.Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Live coverage has ended here, please click here for NBC News' latest coverage of Covid-19.

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.

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

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

Santa chats with a visiting child on December 6, 2020 in Seattle, Wash. Known as the Seattle Santa, he is usually booked for private events but is set up this year in a socially-distanced snow globe for public visits during the COovid19 pandemic.David Ryder / Getty Images

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.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed that hospitals increase capacity to prepare for a surge in Covid-19 cases, which have been increasing in the city, along with hospitalizations and deaths.

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.

The FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week. Vaccination shots began Monday.

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