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Coronavirus updates: Covid cases rise and Moderna vaccine authorized

The authorization adds a second vaccine to the country's arsenal.

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

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration Friday, becoming the second vaccine in the country's arsenal to fight the pandemic.

"This is another crucial step in the fight against the global pandemic that is causing vast numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States every day," FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told a media briefing.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives Pfizer vaccine

CDC committee recommends emergency use for Moderna vaccine for adults

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee voted Saturday to recommend emergency use of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for Americans 18 years and older.

The 11-0 vote, with three recusals, followed Friday's Food and Drug Administration authorization of the vaccine for emergency use on adults.

The CDC panel approved emergency use "for persons 18 years of age and older in the US population under the FDA's Emergency Use Authorization," according to the centers.

Moderna's is the second vaccine to achieve federal emergency use authorization. Last week the FDA authorized Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for those ages 16 and older. That vaccine is being distributed to frontline healthcare workers.

"Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for the use of a licensed vaccine often are based on additional considerations, such as disease epidemiology, public acceptance, vaccine supply, and cost," an analysis published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 states.

United Airlines passengers possibly exposed to Covid-19 after man dies on flight

United Airlines is working with health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help them contact passengers who might have been exposed to Covid-19 after a man suffered "a medical emergency" during a flight this week and died, the airline said in a statement.

Shay Allen, a passenger on the flight, told NBC Los Angeles she saw the man board the plane with his head down and breathing heavily. Less than 20 minutes into the flight, a nurse and an emergency medical technician began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him, she said. Allen and other passengers indicated they overheard the man's wife say he had been experiencing Covid-like symptoms.

“At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans,” the airline said. "Now that the CDC has contacted us directly, we are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection."

The male passenger had filled out a required checklist before boarding the flight, saying he had not tested positive for Covid and did not have symptoms. But it's apparent that he "wrongly acknowledged this requirement,” the airline said.

The CDC said in a statement that they are in the "process of collecting information and proceeding according to our standard operating procedures to determine if further public health action is appropriate." 

Read the full story here.

New York, South Carolina, Alabama set single-day records with new Covid-19 cases

New York, South Carolina and Alabama set single-day records on Friday after the three states have been grappling with an uptick in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks.

New York reported 13,498 new Covid-19 cases, while Alabama and South Carolina reported 5,348  and 4,302 new cases respectively, according to NBC News' tally.

On Friday, 248,259 new Covid-19 cases and 2,873 Covid deaths were reported nationwide.

Nearly 18 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic and nearly 315,000 have been killed by the virus.

Contact tracers connect those exposed to crucial social services

Dominique Bruneau Saavedra spends endless hours on the phone as a Covid-19 contact tracer, informing people in San Miguel County, Colorado, that they have been exposed to the virus and tracking down their recent contacts.

But the work doesn’t stop there.

Saavedra works on a team of 15, but is just one of three contact tracers who speaks Spanish in the county’s Department of Health and Environment, which serves a mostly rural community largely supported by winter tourism. Increasingly, she spends her time telling people about food assistance programs or answering questions about getting affordable internet access.

Read the full story here.

General apologizes to states for miscommunication on vaccine shipments

An Army general in charge of Covid-19 vaccines apologized Saturday for “miscommunication” with states on the number of early doses delivered.

Gen. Gustave Perna’s remarks came a day after a second vaccine was added in the fight against the coronavirus. Governors in more than a dozen states says the federal government has told them next week’s shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be less than originally projected.

“I want to take personal responsibility for the miscommunication,” he said. “I know that’s not done much these days. But I am responsible. ... This is a herculean effort and we are not perfect.”

Perna says the government now is on track to get approximately 20 million doses to states by the first week of January, a combination of the newly approved Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. He says 2.9 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses have been delivered so far.

The coronavirus has killed more than 313,000 people in the U.S., the highest death toll in the world.

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'Like a war zone': Prison that freed Paul Manafort early now ravaged by Covid

Rodney Wyatt has lived more than a few lives in his 52 years.

There was his life in the drug trade more than a decade ago that landed him a 22-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and his life as a loving father and fiancé. There’s his life as a patient, in which he has suffered two heart attacks and endured 42 rounds of radiation treatments for prostate cancer.

And there’s his life now, as one of more than 620 prisoners at FCI Loretto in Pennsylvania who contracted Covid-19 in the last month in what was, by mid-December, the worst outbreak in the federal prison system.

Read the full story here.

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.