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FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine

The authorization is "a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic," FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

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

The Food and Drug Administration said it had authorized the first Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the United States late Friday — the first major, tantalizing indication for Americans that the pandemic's days may be numbered.

A letter from the FDA to Pfizer reads that "the known and potential benefits of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID‑19 vaccine" outweigh its potential risks for people ages 16 and older.

FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn in a statement called the authorization "a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world."

Churches, synagogues reimagine holiday services — and their messages of faith

Martin Lally, a priest at Holy Family Catholic Church in Denver, said of this holiday season: "The message of the Scriptures is 'Hang in there, God is with us."Rachel Woolf / for NBC News

On the first night of Hanukkah, hundreds of people show up at Temple Micah for a latke cooking competition. Families bring their menorahs, light candles, feast on potato pancakes, award prizes and sing.

It should come as no surprise, as the coronavirus pandemic rages, that this year's celebration will be virtual. “We’ll have some people demonstrating latke cooking online,” said Rabbi Adam Morris. “I envision the Zoom screen with all the Hanukkah lights lit.”

For communities of faith, Covid-19 has upended traditions and placed annual festivities at churches and synagogues on hold, forcing rabbis, pastors and priests to reimagine Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations and rethink their messages to the faithful.

Read the full story here. 

Professional surfing contest in Hawaii suspended following outbreak

Hawaii's pro surfer Kalani Chapman surfs Banzai Pipeline ahead of the Pipe Masters on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii in December 2018.BRIAN BIELMANN / AFP - Getty Images

Hawaii's Pipe Masters professional surfing contest has been postponed after organizers and their CEO tested positive for the coronavirus.

The World Surf League said in a statement that CEO Erik Logan and an undisclosed number of staff members contracted the virus, leading it to postpone the annual event, part of a Holy Trinity of wave-riding competitions known as the Triple Crown of Surfing.

Top wave riders from around the world travel to Hawaii each winter to tap into strong north-swell waves and participate in the contests, with the Masters at Oahu's Pipeline being one of the most coveted events.

The state of Hawaii has imposed strict rules for travelers, including proof of a negative test result before arrival. Without that, a 14-day quarantine is mandatory.

"The WSL is committed to prioritizing the safety of the athletes, staff and surrounding community above all else, and is working closely and transparently with the Hawaii State Department of Health to determine the path forward," the league said.

Organizers said they don't believe any pro surfers have been exposed. Those with the virus are "self-isolating," the WSL said.

Singer Ashanti says she tested positive

Ashanti, shown in April 2019, says she has tested positive for Covid-19.NBC / NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Singer Ashanti said Saturday she has tested positive for Covid-19.

The 40-year-old, who lent her voice to major hip-hop hits in the early '2000s, announced her diagnosis on Instagram, saying, "Hey y'all I can't believe I'm saying this but I tested positive for COVID-19."

"I'm ok and not in any pain," she said.

The organizers of television's hip-hop and R&B showcase "Verzuz" subsequently said Ashanti's scheduled performance Saturday night with vocalist Keyshia Cole would be postponed to Jan. 9.

Ashanti insisted, however, she would be able to do it Saturday if given the chance. "I'm actually down to do the verzus from my house," she said on Instagram.

Tokyo sets record with 621 new cases Saturday

TOKYO — Tokyo reported 621 new coronavirus cases Saturday, setting a record in the capital where a lack of government measures triggered concerns about a surge during the holiday season.

Nationwide, Japan reported a total of 174,000 cases, with about 2,500 deaths since the pandemic began.

Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan task force say serious cases are on the rise, putting burdens on hospitals and forcing many of them to scale back on care for other patients.

Japan issued a non-binding state of emergency in the spring and has survived earlier infection peaks without a lockdown.

The coronavirus task force on Friday asked the national government to take tougher steps to slow social and economic activities, such as suspension of out-of-town trips and requesting shorter business hours in areas where infections are accelerating.

Latest data shows ongoing measures have been ineffective and the situation could worsen during the holiday season.

Italy close to overtaking U.K. for most deaths in Europe

ROME — Italy added another 649 coronavirus deaths Saturday, bringing its official total to 64,036 and just shy of Britain’s Europe-leading 64,123 dead.

Italy could overtake Britain despite having 6 million fewer people than the U.K.’s 66 million and trails only the much larger U.S., Brazil, India and Mexico, according to a tally Johns Hopkins University.

Italy has the most deaths per 100,000 population among the most affected countries. Italy has added nearly 29,000 dead since Sept. 1.

More than 1.8 million Italians have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic. Health experts say the numbers reflect an underfunded health care system with few ICU beds, government delays in imposing restrictions and an elderly population.

Global cases and death tolls are believed to greatly underestimated because of missed infections, limited testing and different counting criteria.

FAA says pilots may not fly for 48 hours after receiving vaccine

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration says pilots may receive the Covid-19 vaccine but may not fly for 48 hours.

The FAA says it is requiring the observation period “to maintain the highest level of safety” in the airspace it regulates. The 48-hour observation also applies to air traffic controllers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and shipments are expected in states on Monday. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses taken three weeks apart. The 48-hour period applies after both doses.

The FAA says it will monitor reaction to the vaccine. It requires similar waiting periods after aviation employees receive other vaccines, such tuberculosis and typhoid.

Carol Sutton, actor in ‘Steel Magnolias,’ ‘Queen Sugar,’ dies of virus

Actor Carol Sutton, who made appearances in “Steel Magnolias” and “Queen Sugar,” died Thursday night of complications from Covid-19. She was 76.

The actor spent her last months at the Touro Infirmary in her native New Orleans, where she was treated for the virus.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell confirmed Sutton’s death and remembered the late actor in a statement released on Friday.

Ava DuVernay, creator of the OWN series “Queen Sugar,” also celebrated the career of Sutton, tweeting, “It was our honor to welcome this veteran actress of stage and screen to our show as Aunt Martha in Episode 409, ‘Stare at the Same Fires.’ May she rise and rest in peace and power.”

Read the full story here.