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Nov. 22 Covid updates: G-20 leaders discuss post-coronavirus world as U.S. cases top 12 million

Leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies are holding a two-day virtual meeting via video-conference due to the pandemic.
A medical staff member takes nasal swabs at a school set up as a COvid-19 testing facility in Bolzano, northern Italy on Nov. 20, 2020.Antonio Calanni / AP

Leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies continued to discuss how to distribute vaccines, drugs and tests around the world on Sunday, so that poorer countries are not left out as nations look for ways to manage a post-coronavirus recovery.

The two-day virtual meeting via video-conference due to the pandemic began Saturday under the chairmanship of Saudi Arabia, which holds the rotating presidency of the G-20 until the end of November.

The United States topped 12 million Covid-19 cases on Saturday, according to NBC News' tally. The total number of deaths is 255,567.

The latest Covid-19 data and coverage:

AstraZeneca says its Covid-19 vaccine is 'highly effective' in late-stage trials

Image: The results of the AstraZeneca's vaccine trials are the third promising breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 1.4 million people and roiled the global economy.
The results of the AstraZeneca's vaccine trials are the third promising breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 1.4 million people and roiled the global economy. Dado Ruvic / Reuters file

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday late-stage trials of its Covid-19 vaccine have shown it to be “highly effective” in preventing disease.

The vaccine, developed in conjunction with U.K.'s University of Oxford, prevented 70 percent of people from developing the disease, the company said. Researchers have also found that if people were given a half dose followed by a full dose, rather than two full doses, protection rose to about 90 percent.

The results of the AstraZeneca's vaccine trials are the third promising breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 1.4 million people and roiled the global economy.

Earlier this month, Pfizer and Moderna reported preliminary results from late-stage trials, showing that their vaccine candidates were almost 95 percent effective.

Read the full story here.

Nevada tightens limits on casinos, restaurants; broadens mask mandate

Nevada's governor, diagnosed with Covid-19  earlier this month, said on Sunday he was tightening coronavirus restrictions on casinos, restaurants and bars, while imposing a broader statewide mandate for face-coverings over the next three weeks.

The new measures, effective on Tuesday, come as state and local government leaders around the country  have moved to reinstate a wide range of limits to tame an alarming surge of infections following a summertime lull in the pandemic.

"Whether you believe in the science of Covid or not, the reality is this — Covid is filling up our hospital beds, and that threatens all Nevadans," Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, said in announcing what he called a new "statewide pause."

The latest restrictions are likely to prove especially tough for a state whose economy, and the livelihood of its biggest city, Las Vegas, are largely dependent on tourism, gaming and the hospitality industry.

Restaurants and bars must reduce operations from 50 percent to 25 percent capacity, and casinos will likewise be capped at 25 percent capacity.

South Korea reports 255 new cases as tighter curbs to take effect

SEOUL — South Korea reported another daily rise of over 200 new coronavirus cases on Monday, a day before tighter social distancing rules aimed at blunting a third wave of infections take effect.

The daily tally of 255 new cases fell from 330 reported on Sunday after hovering above 300 for five straight days, a level not seen since August, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Officials have said the numbers tend to drop during the weekends due to less testing.

The government further strengthened distancing rules for Seoul and nearby regions on Sunday, three days after reimposing curbs before an annual national college entrance exam scheduled for Dec. 3.

The latest measure will close bars and nightclubs, limit religious gatherings and restrict on-site dining at restaurants and cafes from Tuesday.

Two GOP House members test positive for COVID-19

WASHINGTON — Two Republican House members announced Sunday that they tested positive for Covid-19, raising the number of Congressional representatives who have contracted the virus over the last 10 days to nine.

Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut and Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin said their positive results were returned Sunday.

Courtney said he’d been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus last week. After an initial test produced negative results, he began experiencing mild symptoms and took a second test that was positive.

Steil said he started feeling sick last week after working in Washington D.C.

“This experience reinforces my strong belief that right now, we need to be doing our part to help our communities by listening to the experts at the CDC — we’ve got to remain vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing, and the basic essentials like washing our hands frequently,” Courtney said.

Julie Tsirkin reported from Washington and Tim Stelloh from California.

Germany may start vaccine program in December

FRANKFURT, Germany — Germany could start administering shots of Covid-19 vaccines as soon as next month, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

"There is reason to be optimistic that there will be approval for a vaccine in Europe this year," Spahn said in an interview with publishing group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland. "And then we can start right away."

Spahn said he had asked Germany's federal states to have their vaccination centers ready by mid-December and that this was going well. "I would rather have a vaccination center ready a few days early than an approved vaccine that isn't being used immediately," he said.

Germany has secured more than 300 million vaccine doses via the European Commission, bilateral contracts and options, Spahn said, adding that this was more than enough and even left room to share with other countries.

Baylor basketball head coach Scott Drew tests positive

Los Angeles County halts indoor dining at bars, restaurants, breweries

Los Angeles County is halting indoor dining at restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars as Covid-19 cases continue to rise across Southern California, officials said Sunday.

The restrictions, which go into effect Wednesday, will last for at least three weeks, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement. The department reported nine deaths and more than 2,700 new cases Sunday.

The closures came after the county recorded a five-day average caseload of 4,097, the department said.

Just over 1,400 people are hospitalized with coronavirus in the county, a number that rose by 35 percent over the last week, the department said. Roughly one-quarter of those patients are in intensive care.

Family birthday party in Texas leads to 15 virus cases

Fifteen members of a Texas family tested positive for Covid-19 after gathering for a birthday party earlier this month.

Alexa Aragonez, 26, of Arlington, Texas, who did not attend the Nov. 1 party, said she wasn't concerned when she dropped off her 57-year-old mother, Enriqueta Aragonez, at her cousin’s house.

“We thought that we were not necessarily immune but taking greater precautions than the average person," Alexa Aragonez said. "Unfortunately, the one precaution that we didn’t take was attending a gathering in a closed area.” 

Three days later, all 12 family members who attended and three other attendees tested positive for Covid-19. Aragonez said she believes they contracted the virus from a cousin who felt unwell but attributed the symptoms to allergies. 

Aragonez's mother spent multiple days in two different hospitals after contracting pneumonia and struggling to breathe. Since her release, she continues to have lingering symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and fatigue, Aragonez said. 

“When my mother went to the hospital, our world was collapsing," she said. "She is the matriarch of our family, and seeing someone as strong as her succumb to the virus was quite, quite awful.”  

Her mother was the only one hospitalized, but it rattled family members who felt guilty about exposing her to the virus.

“My family was a family that thought we were doing everything right. We thought masks were enough. Washing your hands, disinfecting our homes, only going to the grocery store,” Aragonez said. “Please, if you can, stay apart during Thanksgiving and during the holiday season.”

U.S. Rhodes Scholars chosen virtually for first time

The U.S. Rhodes Scholars for 2021 were elected virtually this year for the first time amid the pandemic, though it didn't extinguish enthusiasm among the 32 students who won scholarships to Oxford University.

The Rhodes Trust announced the winners early Sunday, which include 22 students of color. Ten are Black, which ties the record for the most Black students elected in a single year.

Shera Avi-Yonah, 22, a Harvard University student, said she found out about her win Saturday night while sitting in her parents' basement in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

“A wave of gratitude washed over me,” Avi-Yonah said, adding that she ran upstairs to tell her parents. “I’m going to have a very happy Thanksgiving.”

The winners were chosen from a pool of more than 2,300 applicants — of which 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities to study at Oxford University in England.

Oklahoma mega-church changes 'Friendsgiving' plans, holds boxed food giveaway

Victory Church, the Oklahoma mega-church that had come under fire for hosting large, indoor events and had scheduled a "Friendsgiving" for Sunday, changed course and instead opted to hold a boxed food giveaway, according to a statement from the church.

"We did not have the Friendsgiving event today that we do every year. This year we changed it up and gave away boxed meals with turkeys, hams, and dry goods for those in need to take home and prepare for their families," Daniel Henshaw, director of operations for Victory Church, wrote in an email to NBC News.

It's unclear when the change was made and it appears up until recently, the church had advertised "Friendsgiving" on social media, telling members to bring a neighbor, according to multiple reports. 

The church had recently come under fire for not only the Friendsgiving event, but also for recent large, indoor gatherings. 

"As a church we will always help those in need the most, as this year alone we have given out over 13 million meals. Those in our community who rely on us the most always know they can find help here at Victory," Henshaw said.

In a separate statement, Henshaw said services continued this weekend but abided by Covid-19 guidelines. 

"We are holding our services this weekend, as we have done each weekend, in accordance with the guidelines of operating at 50% capacity of our sanctuary, signage for social distancing and mask, extra cleaning and disinfecting of our facilities, and hand sanitizing stations throughout," Henshaw said.

Oklahoma mega-church under fire for large indoor events amid Covid spikes

Victory Church, a Tulsa, Oklahoma,-based mega-church with a reported membership of approximately 13,000 people, has come under fire for holding large indoor events that appear to be maskless and don't appear to be socially distanced. 

On Sunday, the church hosted a "Friendsgiving," in which it encouraged members to bring a neighbor. 

"You should be ashamed of yourselves. People are going to die because you've prioritized making money at your little Jesus concerts over the lives of people in a global pandemic," one person tweeted, along with a photo of an event at the church.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended holding virtual Thanksgiving events when possible.

Covid-19 cases in Oklahoma have been on the rise, and this month, Tulsa has reported some of its highest daily case totals since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Kansas City Star

An executive order from Tulsa's mayor says gatherings of 500 or more people need to submit a Covid-19 safety plan for approval to the Tulsa Health Department two weeks in advance of the event. The Tulsa Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by NBC News.

It was unclear if Victory Church had submitted a safety plan to the department and what, if any, consequences it could face for hosting the recent large gatherings if it did not.

Victory Church and its pastor Paul Daugherty did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

NY Gov. Cuomo says he will prioritize keeping K-8 schools open

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday he will prioritize keeping kindergarten through eighth grade classes in-person open as Covid-19 cases rise in the state.

The governor said schools in the "red zone," which mandates they go remote, can reopen under a "test out" option, where the students are all tested and allowed to return to in-person instruction. He also said he would prioritize getting younger kids in school, saying high schoolers are "less responsible" and tend to have higher infection rates.

"Leading experts say keep K-8 schools open," Cuomo said. "It's safer for children to be in schools than in the community."

The governor also said that up to a three percent positivity rate, school districts can control what they do.

Incoming White House chief of staff says Biden planning scaled-back inauguration

Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday that Americans can expect to see a scaled-back inauguration on Jan. 20 due to the continued surge in Covid-19 cases across the U.S.

"I think it's going to definitely have to be changed," Klain said. "We started some consultations with House and Senate leadership on that. Obviously, this is not going to be the same kind of inauguration we had in the past."

Klain said President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are "going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of disease."

"I think we'll have some mix of those techniques, some mix of, you know, scaled-down versions of the existing traditions," Klain added. "People have a lot to celebrate on January 20th."

WHO Covid envoy fears third wave, calls Europe response 'incomplete'

A World Health Organization (WHO) special Covid-19 envoy predicted a third wave of the pandemic in Europe in early 2021, if governments repeat what he said was a failure to do what was needed to prevent the second wave of infections.

“They missed building up the necessary infrastructure during the summer months, after they brought the first wave under the control,” the WHO’s David Nabarro said in an interview with Swiss newspapers.

“Now we have the second wave. If they don’t build the necessary infrastructure, we’ll have a third wave early next year,” Nabarro said. 

Nabarro lauded the response of Asian countries like South Korea, where infections are now relatively low, saying Asia did not relax restrictions prematurely.

“You must wait until case numbers are low and stay low,” he said. “Europe’s reaction was incomplete.”

The joy of weddings is leading to the misery of coronavirus spread across America

The unholy union of weddings receptions and coronavirus has public health officers pleading with Americans to say "I don't" to pandemic nuptials.

Between the Pacific Northwest and forests of Maine, all across the country, joyous expressions of love have become Covid-19 superspreaders, fueling the fall season's deadly coronavirus spike.

"Weddings are so dangerous in this day and age, quite honestly you're just asking for trouble," said Ali H. Mokdad, chief strategy officer for Population Health at the University of Washington.

"Weddings are very dangerous at this time especially as the infection rate is higher and weddings now are happening indoors and not outdoors," Mokdad told NBC News.

"And you hug your friend, you hug your family members, you do that. In many cultures, we kiss. We kiss each other. You come close to them, especially people you haven't seen in a long time. You want to catch up. You're laughing, you're joking and yes, you're spreading the virus more than ever."

Read the full story here.

France to start easing lockdown rules in three steps

France will start easing coronavirus lockdown rules in coming weeks, carrying out the process in three stages so as to avoid a new flareup in the pandemic, the government said Sunday.

“There will be three steps to (lockdown) easing in view of the health situation and of risks tied to some businesses: a first step around Dec. 1, then before the year-end holidays, and then from January 2021,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Le Journal Du Dimanche.

With recent data showing France on track to rein in a surge in coronavirus infections, the government is under pressure from shops and businesses to ease restrictions in time for the Christmas shopping season.

President Emmanuel Macron has said that France’s second national lockdown, which started on Oct. 30, would last at least four weeks. He is expected to announce a partial relaxation of restrictions on Tuesday. 

Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler quarantining after inconclusive test results

Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler is quarantining after receiving inconclusive Covid-19 test results following multiple campaign appearances earlier this week, her campaign said Saturday.

The news comes one day after Loeffler, a Republican locked in a competitive runoff race that could determine the balance of power in Congress, attended two campaign events on Friday alongside Vice President Mike Pence.

In photos shared on Twitter, neither Loeffler nor Pence appeared to be wearing masks.

According to her campaign, Loeffler took two rapid tests Friday morning before the events. The results came back negative. She was later informed that her PCR test, considered the gold standard in detecting genetic material specific to the coronavirus, was positive.

She was retested Saturday after consulting with medical officials and that result was inconclusive, Loeffler campaign spokesperson Stephen Lawson said in a statement. Loeffler remains asymptotic and will remain in quarantine until receiving conclusive test results, Lawson added.

Pence's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read the full story.

California pub tries to keep calm, carry on with virus rules

A waitress serves beer to patrons at Ye Olde King's Head on Thursday in Santa Monica, Calif. The British restaurant and bar has been battered the past nine months.Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — By most measures of what keeps a pub afloat, the coronavirus pandemic should already have Ye Olde King's Head on its last kegs.

The British restaurant and bar in Southern California has been battered the past nine months. The mock Tudor fixture near the beach weathered a lengthy shutdown in the spring, a destructive ransacking during police protests in May and public health orders that have required constant adaptation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom placed most California businesses under the most severe restrictions on Monday and on Thursday added a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for residents that takes effect Saturday.

“It’s like every week there’s a different rule to follow,” said operations manager Lisa Powers, who has guided the 46-year-old institution through an ever-changing set of public health orders.

When the pandemic hit, the King's Head had to offer its traditional British fare — everything from bangers and mash and fish and chips to traditional Sunday roast — for takeout. It's now reopened as is the adjoining gift “shoppe” offering imported tea, biscuits, Marmite spread and British newspapers.

Ben Carson says he's 'out of the woods' after battling virus

Image: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin And HUD Secretary Carson Testify Before The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee
Housing Secretary Ben Carson testifies during a Senate hearing last year.Zach Gibson / Getty Images file

STERLING, Va. — Housing Secretary Ben Carson is crediting unapproved, experimental treatments with saving his life after he became “desperately ill” following his infection with the coronavirus.

There is no medical evidence that the treatments Carson cited worked.

A retired neurosurgeon, Carson said Friday that he believes he's “out of the woods." He disclosed that his wife, Candy, also had COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes. Carson tested positive earlier this month.

Most people recover from the disease, which has killed more than 250,000 Americans and sickened nearly 12 million, including President Donald Trump and members of his family.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Carson said he was “extremely sick” but saw “dramatic improvement” after taking a botanical treatment derived from the oleander plant. Carson said he has underlying conditions, which he did not specify, “and after a brief period when I only experienced minor discomfort, the symptoms accelerated and I became desperately ill.”