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Latest on Covid vaccine distribution and second stimulus checks

Congressional leaders and the White House are nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal.
Dr. Karen Dahl, VP, Quality, Patient Safety & Medical Affairs, pediatric infectious disease specialist, holding a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 16, 2020 at Valley Childrens Hospital in Madera, Calif.Jeffrey SHerman / Valley Childrens Healthcare via AFP - Getty Images

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

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 climb to unprecedented levels.

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. Before that, the highest numbers for both reported in a day was on Dec. 10. Thursday's numbers eclipsed daily cases but not deaths.

Meanwhile, Congressional leaders and the White House were nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that will likely include a new round of direct payments.

Missouri grandma died from Covid: 'She was the mouse that could fight the lion'

Han Sam Hildebrand.Courtesy Chris Peters

Right up to the evening of Nov. 29, when Han Sim Hildebrand died, her family felt certain she was going to beat Covid-19 and make her way back home.

The 71-year-old Korean immigrant, who had come from an impoverished childhood to grow a thriving vegetable business in Columbia, Missouri, had seemed to be winning her nearly two-month battle with the virus. Having been weaned off a ventilator and put on a less intrusive oxygen flow, Han Sim had seemed in good spirits when her husband, Jim Hildebrand, visited several hours before he received the phone call that his wife had gone into cardiac arrest.

"Within a couple of days (of being off the ventilator), she was awake, waving at us, smiling — it was a miracle," her son, Chris Peters, an active duty naval officer, said. "Even the nurses said, 'She's like a Houdini, we can't believe how fast she's come back.'

Read the full story here.

New bill aims to protect people from 'bad actor catering halls'

Dana and Grant Spoltore, both nurses, have treated Covid-19 patients throughout the pandemic and said they knew they'd be unable to host 238 guests and an 11-piece band at an indoor wedding reception at a country club near Atlantic City, where they'd planned to marry in October.

A general manager at the venue, Atlantic City Country Club, had promised in an email on July 31 that they'd be refunded the money they'd prepaid — less their deposit — if Covid-19 restrictions prevented the wedding and reception from taking place as contracted. But the couple haven't been refunded their $7,500.

Martell's Waters Edge, a waterfront venue in Bayville, where Joseph and Natalie Scarpitto planned to hold their wedding and reception in June, won't refund the more than $10,000 they paid toward their balance — even though the venue couldn't deliver the services promised because of state restrictions that banned large indoor gatherings, the couple said.

Read the full story here.

Sydney imposes lockdown on beach suburbs as cluster grows

SYDNEY — Around a quarter of a million people in Sydney's northern beach suburbs were ordered on Saturday into a strict lockdown until midnight Wednesday to contain a coronavirus cluster that officials fear could spread across the city.

Authorities will announced on Sunday whether further restrictions will be imposed on the rest of Sydney, Australia's most populous city.

"I want to make that clear, to say to greater Sydney, please, please, do not go out tonight or the next few days unless you really have to," New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a news conference on Saturday.

The outbreak on Sydney's northern beaches now totals 39 with two additional cases still under investigation. This up from five only two days ago, but authorities do not know the origin of the virus, which genome testing suggests is a U.S. strain.

Maryland, Virginia donate vaccine doses to Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Officials in the District of Columbia are accustomed to being short-changed in different ways.

There's the long-standing issue of its quest for statehood and proper representation in Congress. And when the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package was passed by Congress in March, Washington, D.C., was classified as a territory — a distinction that cost it $700 million in funding.

But when the latest shortfall hit the local allotment of new Covid-19 vaccine doses, Washington's neighboring states pitched in to help make up the difference. In a heartening demonstration of interstate collectivism, Maryland and Virginia are each sending 8,000 vaccine doses, more than tripling the amount available for health care workers in the nation's capital.

D.C. health officials have complained for weeks that the initial allotment formula followed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided Washington with just under 7,000 doses — less than one-tenth of what would be needed for local health care workers.

Washington, D.C., bans indoor dining, other activities for three weeks

Indoor dining, museums and libraries will end in the District of Columbia starting next week amid a surge in coronavirus cases, according to an executive order issued Friday by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The executive order also shuts down a bus service that shuttles passengers around the National Mall. Nonessential businesses are instructed to allow employees to work remotely. Capacity will be limited inside big box stores, food retailers and other essential businesses serving the public. 

The restrictions go into effect Wednesday at 10 p.m. and will remain in place until 5 a.m. Jan. 15. 

Appeals court shuts down dining, strip clubs in San Diego

A California appeals court Friday overturned a lower court ruling that allowed San Diego County restaurants and strip clubs to stay open despite local and state shutdown orders.

Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil was weighing the clubs' challenge to county cease-and-desist orders Wednesday when he surprised local leaders by telling the county to back off not only on the clubs but any venues that serve food.

The ruling Wednesday bound the hands of county officials and had multiple eateries quickly setting up tables and setting out menus.

A three-judge appellate panel in San Diego, responding to the state's emergency application for temporary stay, granted the request Friday, overturning Wohlfeil's preliminary inunction. An attorney for the clubs, Jason P. Saccuzzo, said by email they plan to request the stay be lifted "so adult entertainment establishments and restaurants can reopen."

San Diego is part of a Southern California region under state stay-at-home orders that prohibit dining, limit essential retail stores to 20 percent capacity and keeps hair and nail salons closed. Restaurants can still offer delivery and to-go service.

The strip clubs, Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club and Pacers Showgirls International, challenged earlier county orders to close and stayed open past the state's Dec. 3 stay-at-home rules because an earlier ruling by Wohlfeil allowed it.

Google rolls out free, weekly at-home testing for U.S. employees

Alphabet Inc.'s Google said on Friday it is offering free, weekly at-home Covid-19 testing for all its U.S. employees and plans to expand the benefit globally during the next year.

A Google spokesman said the company had rolled out the benefit this week for all 90,000 U.S. employees, with the initiative guaranteeing them a weekly, at-home nasal swab and a lab analysis.

The company is recommending every staffer be tested weekly, although it is not mandatory, the spokesman said.

U.S. marks third straight day of record virus cases

For the third day in a row, a record number of coronavirus cases was recorded in the U.S. on Friday, according to an NBC News tally.

The count, which could grow by the end of the day, marked 246,914 cases, exceeding Thursday's record of 243,645 and Wednesday's national high of 232,086.

Friday's virus-related death toll of 2,856 is not the U.S. record. The pandemic's fatality high of 3,293 was reported on Wednesday.

Amid a national surge of Covid-19, the FDA on Friday authorized Moderna's vaccine for emergency use. It's the second vaccine—Prizer's was approved Saturday—to get the FDA's nod.

Nearly 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been earmarked for distribution, according to officials with the White House's Operation Warp Speed inoculation program. 

Stanford apologizes to doctors after protests over vaccine rollout

Protests erupted Friday at Stanford University Medical Center Hospital in California, where frontline medical residents and fellows staged a walkout in frustration over the hospital's botched Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

Demonstrators accused the medical center of prioritizing more senior doctors and other medical workers who don't directly interface with patients over employees at the highest risk of contracting Covid-19 from patients.

"We came out here after we learned that only seven out of 1,349 residents were selected for the first wave of vaccinations," Charles Marcus, a third-year resident, told NBC Bay Area.

In a letter to their colleagues, Stanford medical executives said they are "truly sorry" for the vaccine distribution plan and are working to develop a revised version.

"We recognize the disappointment and distress this has caused, and we appreciate those who brought these concerns to us," they said in the letter.

Read the full story here.

Congress stumbles over Covid-19 relief

WASHINGTON — Congress hit a new stumbling block that prevented leaders from approving a coronavirus aid deal on Friday as lawmakers raced to avert a government shutdown at midnight.

The House voted 320-60 to pass a two-day funding extension, sending it to the Senate, which quickly approved it by a voice vote. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it, setting up a new Sunday midnight deadline and giving negotiators the weekend to sort out their differences on Covid-19 relief.

"Alas, we are not there yet," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling the stopgap bill an effort to prevent a "pointless lapse" in funding while negotiations continued.

Read the full story.

FDA grants emergency authorization to Moderna vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use Friday, adding a second vaccine to the country's arsenal to fight the pandemic.

The United States is the first country to greenlight use of Moderna's vaccine, which was developed in part with the National Institutes of Health.

"I've never been more hopeful that we will eventually turn the corner on this pandemic," said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and current president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nearly 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been earmarked for distribution and are expected to be shipped to 3,285 locations across the country, according to officials with Operation Warp Speed, which partially funded the Moderna work.

Read the full story.