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Dec. 10 Coronavirus updates: Weekly initial jobless claims surge to 853,000

More people in that U.S. have died from Covid-19 than were killed in World War II.
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The United States on Thursday again broke single-day Covid-19 records for both reported deaths and cases, according to an NBC News' count.

The country saw 229,928 new cases and 3,110 deaths. The previous single-day record was just on Wednesday. The rise in cases in large parts of the country has prompted dire warnings about hospital capacity and whether colder weather and the holiday season will help the virus spread.

On Thursday, Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine got the recommendation from an independent panel of experts that the FDA authorize it for emergency use. The FDA is not obligated to go along with the panel's recommendation, but it is widely expected to authorize the vaccine for emergency use promptly.

And in a grim statistic about the toll that the pandemic has taken in the country, NBC News data shows that more people in the United States have died this year from Covid-19 than were killed in four years of fighting on the battlefields during World War II.

More people in U.S. have died from Covid-19 than were killed in WWII

More people in the United States have died this year from Covid-19 than were killed in four years of fighting on the battlefields during World War II, according to the latest NBC News data.

The death toll from the pandemic as of Thursday afternoon was 292,098 and counting, the figures show.

By contrast, U.S. forces suffered 291,557 “battle deaths” during the Second World War, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The U.S. suffered another 113,842 “non-theater” deaths during that war, the VA stats show.

Over 3,000 Covid-19 deaths in a single day were reported for the first time on Wednesday, eclipsing the 2,977 killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The U.S. has been averaging 2,307 deaths due to the coronavirus in the past week, up from 1,603 a day the week before and 1,213 a day in the weeks before that, the NBC News data shows.

Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine receives key FDA panel recommendation

An independent panel of experts has overwhelmingly voted in favor of recommending that the Food and Drug Administration authorize Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in people ages 16 and older.

The vote Thursday afternoon was split 17 in favor of the authorization, four against, with one person abstaining from the vote.

Though the FDA is not obligated to go along with the panel's recommendation, it is widely anticipated that the regulatory agency will indeed authorize the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use, and do so promptly.

Click here to read the full story. 

Albuquerque mayor says ICU capacity at 118%, city 'maxed out' on health workers

Pennsylvania governor announces new statewide restrictions, closes indoor dining

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who revealed that he tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week, announced new statewide restrictions effective Saturday morning and lasting through the beginning of January. 

The restrictions, which he called "mitigation efforts," include limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 50 people maximum, reducing indoor capacity to 50 percent for all businesses serving the public and prohibiting indoor dining. Restaurants may remain open for takeout and delivery.

Faith institutions are exempt from the indoor capacity guidelines during religious services, however places of worship "are strongly encouraged to find alternative methods for worship, as in person gatherings pose a significant risk to participants at this time," Wolf said in a statement.

“With these measures in place, we hope to accomplish three goals: First, stop the devastating spread of Covid-19 in the commonwealth. Second, keep our hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed. And third, help Pennsylvanians get through the holiday season – and closer to a widely available vaccine – as safely as possible," Wolf said. "This is a bridge to a better future in Pennsylvania.”

The restrictions go into effect Saturday at 12:01 a.m. and expire at 8 a.m. on Jan. 4.

Wolf cited two university studies, one by Yale and another by Stanford, which show that restaurants accounted for a "significant amount" of new Covid-19 infections and that closing indoor dining reduced fatality rates.

Wolf's office also announced that the governor's wife tested negative for the coronavirus. Both will remain in quarantine at their home.

Boston commuter rail cuts service by more than half due to low ridership during pandemic

Because of the pandemic, getting to and from Boston by train during the holiday season is about to get a whole lot harder.

Starting Monday, MBTA Commuter Rail and Keolis Commuter Services, which operates the sixth-busiest commuter rail system in the country, is slashing by more than half the number of trains it runs during the work week, the NBC News affiliate in Boston reported. 

The reduced service schedule will remain in place until at least Dec. 27.

“Passengers are encouraged to check the Reduced Service Schedule in advance to plan their trip because there are changes in the weekday schedule,” Keolis CEO and General Manager David Scorey said in a statement.

The MBTA is temporarily reducing the number of trains it runs Monday through Friday from 541 to 246 because ridership is down due to the pandemic and because they have struggled to find enough engineers and conductors to staff the trains.

As the pandemic rages, local newspapers try to break through to readers

Grace Juarez knows people are tired of newspaper stories about the pandemic.

One of two reporters for The Lufkin Daily News, which serves 35,000 residents in East Texas, she's heard from community members and officials who either don't take Covid-19 seriously or are battling coronavirus fatigue. And she's seen how readers react: Many responses are supportive and thankful of health care workers and the journalists covering the pandemic — but about two-thirds contain messages either denying the reality of the pandemic or calling it misinformation.

“We are committed to showing this no matter what political or religious or whatever beliefs we hold personally," Juarez said. "This is our reality in East Texas. This is what’s going on."

Lufkin, like many communities in the U.S., is dealing with a surge of Covid-19 cases that have led to increased hospitalizations and deaths.

Click here to read the full story.

Walmart announces it will be distributing Covid vaccine

Walmart said it is getting ready to start distributing the Covid-19 as soon as it's approved, the retail giant’s chief medical officer said.

“We have been on quite a journey the last several months, from entering into agreements with the federal government to distribute the vaccine, to preparing our operations and clinical services, all to get ready to be one of the places our customers and associates can receive the vaccine,” Dr. Tom Van Gilder said in a statement. 

To that end, Van Gilder said, they are making sure the 5,000 plus Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies have freezers and enough dry ice to store the doses, nailing down agreements with the states “to be able to support vaccinations where needed,” putting in place a procedure for informing people when they can receive their first and second doses, and making sure employees know all the facts so “they will understand and be ready to receive the vaccine if they choose.”

New Hampshire's new House Speaker dies of Covid-19 a week after being sworn in

Newly elected New Hampshire Speaker of the House Richard "Dick" Hinch died of Covid-19 Wednesday, just a week after he was sworn in. 

The 71-year-old Republican lawmaker’s death was announced by the Attorney General’s Office Thursday. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jennie V. Duval determined the cause of death was Covid-19 following an autopsy. 

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu ordered all flags on public buildings and grounds to fly at half-staff Wednesday.

“Speaker Hinch was a fierce defender of the New Hampshire Advantage, a close friend, and a respected public servant,” Sununu said. “His loss will be greatly felt by the people of this state, and I ask Granite Staters to join me in praying for his family during this incredibly difficult time.”

Hinch started his seventh term as a state representative in November. 

Shipping executives to Senate panel: We're ready to ship

Executives from major U.S. shipping companies testified Thursday before a Senate panel convened to discuss preparation for the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, expressing confidence that they are ready to the challenges ahead.

“We’re all watching the packages, all day long,” said Wesley Wheeler, president of global health care at UPS.

Wheeler said packages carrying the vaccine will not only get priority shipping labels, but trucks carrying them will be outfitted with a special GPS device that monitors temperature, light exposure and motion.

While the executives touted their company’s preparedness, they also acknowledged the many logistical challenges expected in the process, such as distribution into rural areas, adhering to specific packaging and handling regulations, and the potential breakdown in coordination between their private companies and federal entities. 

“Our healthcare team has been able to leverage this experience, flex our comprehensive network and work with various stakeholders to build customized solutions to achieve our collective goal — moving Covid-19 vaccine shipments as safely, securely, and as quickly as possible,” said Richard Smith, regional president of the Americas and executive vice president at FedEx Express.

Rhode Island Gov. extends economic "pause" through Dec. 20

With Rhode Island currently leading the nation in the number of new Covid-19 cases per capita, Gov. Gina Raimondo has extended the state’s economic “pause” for another week through Dec. 20.

That means bars, gyms and recreational venues will remain closed and restaurants will continue to operate but at reduced capacity, Raimondo said.

Public health officials had hoped that by shuttering or placing restrictions on these businesses they would be able to slow the expected spike in infections after Thanksgiving. And while the data shows that this has reduced the “mobility” of Rhode Islanders, it’s still not at a rate health officials are comfortable with.

“It would be hard to not keep us in some kind of pause, just in light of the data,” Raimondo said earlier this week.

Raimondo said that when the pause lifts on Dec. 21, bar areas will still be closed and “social gatherings involving people from different households will remain prohibited.” Houses of worship will continue to be limited to 25 percent capacity or a maximum of 125 people.

Gyms and indoor sports facilities will be allowed to reopen, but with a limit of one person per 150 square feet. And while restaurant capacity will increase from 33 percent to 50 percent for indoor dining, only people from the same household will be allowed to sit together.