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Dec. 15 Coronavirus updates: Health care workers among first to receive vaccine

Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that the U.S. could achieve herd immunity by "the end of the second quarter 2021."
Image: People walk across the almost deserted market square with decorated Christmas tree in Leipzig, eastern Germany
People walk across a nearly deserted market square decorated for Christmas in Leipzig, Germany on Monday.Jens Schlueter / AFP - Getty Images

Live coverage on this blog has ended, please click here for NBC News' latest coverage of Covid-19.

Health care workers across the United States were among the first Americans to get the federally approved coronavirus vaccine, marking a critical moment in the fight against Covid-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top disease expert, predicted that after vaccines are more widely deployed the country could achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 by "the end of the second quarter 2021."

The beginning of this new phase in fighting the virus came as the U.S. death toll passed 300,000, and recorded more than 200,000 infections in one day.

MacKenzie Scott gives away $4.1B in pandemic charity spree

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist and author, has announced that she has given away $4.1 billion in the past four months to hundreds of organizations as part of a giving pledge she announced last year.

Scott announced her pandemic-era philanthropy in a Medium post Tuesday, The Seattle Times reported. She described the coronavirus pandemic as “a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” and noted it has been worse for women, people of color and those living in poverty.

“Meanwhile,” Scott, who divorced Jeff Bezos in 2019, wrote, “it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

After donating $1.68 billion to 116 nonprofits, universities, community development groups and legal organizations last July, Scott asked a team of advisers to help her “accelerate” her 2020 giving with immediate help to those financially gutted by the pandemic.

Read the full story here. 

DeSantis defends decision to keep Florida restaurants open

California orders thousands of body bags, refrigerated storage

California has purchased thousands of body bags and has dozens of refrigerated storage units on standby as it prepares to deal with a growing death toll from Covid-19.

The orders for 5,000 body bags and 60 53-foot-long refrigerated units to have ready for counties and hospitals should be a sobering statistic, the governor said.

Although vaccines have begun to arrive, the crisis is far from over, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel," Newsom said at a news conference Tuesday. "And that means we're going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic."

Read the full story here. 

China begins Covid test trials on children as young as 3

Kansas mayor resigns over mask mandate threats

The Associated Press

A western Kansas mayor announced Tuesday that she is resigning, effective immediately, because of threats she has received after she publicly supported a mask mandate.

Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw said she was concerned about her safety after being met with aggression, including threats via phone and email, after she was quoted on a USA Today article on Friday supporting the mandate, The Dodge City Globe reported.

“I understand people are under a lot of pressure from various things that are happening around society like the pandemic, the politics, the economy, so on and so forth, but I also believe that during these times people are acting not as they normally would,” Warshaw said.

The commission voted 4-1 on Nov. 16 to impose a mask mandate, with several exceptions.

Ford County, where Dodge City is located, has recorded 4,914 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to the state health department. The county has about 33,600 residents.

Vote on Boise mask mandate fails as hundreds protest

The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — A proposed public health order that would have included a mask mandate for Idaho’s most populated region was voted down on Tuesday as hundreds of protesters again gathered outside the Central District Health building in Boise.

A previous attempt to vote on the order was abruptly halted last week after Boise city police asked the board to end the meeting early amid protest-related safety fears.

During Tuesday’s meeting, three board members from Elmore, Valley and Boise counties — the more rural counties in the region — all voted against the mask mandate, saying they’d heard from constituents who were deeply opposed to the rule. But three board members from Ada County — the most populated county in the state — were in favor of the mask mandate, noting that Boise-area hospitals are reaching capacity because of an influx of COVID-19 patients, including many who are coming from neighboring counties.

The order lacked the required majority to pass.

CDC predicts 60,000 more deaths by January

Maryland activates National Guard to help with vaccine distribution

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan reactivated the state National Guard on Tuesday to help officials distribute the Covid-19 vaccine. 

The guard will help provide logistical support as more inoculations become available to create mobile clinics, the governor's office said. Maryland has been given an initial allocation of 155,000 doses of vaccines, which will be dedicated to health care workers in hospitals and nursing home residents and staff.

"I want to assure the people of Maryland that we will get through this together and that every single day, as we vaccinate more and more people and we continue to fight this virus with everything we’ve got, will bring us that much closer to victory over this deadly virus," Hogan said.

Watch: National Cathedral tolls bell 300 times for 300,000 Covid victims

State Department to receive first Covid vaccines this week

Abigail Williams

Josh Lederman

Abigail Williams and Josh Lederman

WASHINGTON — The State Department will be receiving its first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine this week, according to internal agency communications obtained by NBC News. 

The “very limited number,” of the vaccines received by the department in the first tranche will be administered to a small prioritized group of staff undertaking “mission critical” work, according to an email sent to employees Tuesday by Under Secretary of State Brian Bulatao. He did not say how many doses would be immediately available to diplomats, but noted more would arrive “incrementally over the next several months.”

Frontline medical personnel are among those first to receive the vaccine as well as State Department employees serving on the frontlines in Kabul, Afghanistan; Baghdad, Iraq and Mogadishu, Somalia, where poor healthcare systems put them even more at risk. Diplomatic Security agents in Washington, D.C. performing critical operations and coming into close contact with the Secretary of State will also be a priority for vaccinations.

Read more at 

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says father, who is a doctor in FL, received Covid-19 vaccination

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, shared a photo Tuesday of her father, a doctor, receiving his Covid-19 vaccination at his Florida hospital. 

Sandberg shared her father's post, in which he said he had tears in his eyes when he walked in for his appointment as he hoped for "the beginning of the end of this pandemic." Her father is a doctor with Florida's Memorial Hospital System.

The Facebook executive shared her own emotional response to the moment. 

"As my father writes, vaccinations are the only hope to protect all of us," Sandberg wrote. "I hope and pray that people will understand this and take the steps they need — including vaccination — to protect themselves and everyone else so this pandemic will come to an end."

Pelosi says masks mandatory while in US House chamber

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is vowing to muzzle any member who isn’t wearing a mask.

“Members will not be recognized if they are not wearing a mask and recognition will be withdrawn if they remove the mask when speaking,” the House Press Gallery reported Tuesday on its Twitter account.

Pelosi mandated in July that all Members don masks while on the floor after Rep. Louie Gohmert, an outspoken conservative Republican who refused to wear one, tested positive for Covid 19.

While President Donald Trump politicized the wearing of masks by mostly refusing to wear one in public, the California Democrat has amassed a collection of brightly-colored masks and has turned them into both a silent rebuttal of the commander in chief as well as a fashion accessory. 

McConnell says Senate will not leave until Covid aid is passed

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that the Senate would not leave Washington for the holidays until a coronavirus aid package is passed, adding he supports waiting until next year to tackle the most divisive components in order to reach a deal.

McConnell's comments come as lawmakers are trying to hammer out an agreement by Friday when Congress hits the deadline to pass legislation to keep the government funded. Leaders from both parties hope to attach the Covid-19 aid package to the government funding bill.

"We're not leaving, I assure you, we're not leaving until we finish this package," McConnell promised on Tuesday.

Read more at 

Washington town hosts large anti-mask rally

Hundreds of people came to the city of Mossyrock, Washington last weekend to protest against coronavirus public health restrictions, according to NBC affiliate KING.

The city of 820 people and its mayor, Randall Sasser, have attracted attention for defying state health orders designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Mayor Sasser told radio station KIRO that he believes some of these measures are designed to "get us accustomed to always following what they say" for, he believes, "something bigger that they have planned to keep us under their thumb," referencing gun control and monetary policy.

The Saturday gathering was organized by Patriot Prayer, a far-right group that has hosted pro-President Donald Trump and pro-gun rallies.

Read the full story here.

Pence likely to get vaccinated by end of week

Vice President Mike Pence is likely to receive a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the week, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Both sources say it is possible Pence, who is the head of the coronavirus task force, will get the vaccine on-camera but nothing has been finalized.

Pence signaled he would get the vaccine soon during a roundtable in Indiana earlier Tuesday: "I look forward in the days ahead to receiving the vaccine myself, and [I’ll] do so without hesitation."  

As for President Trump, the timing is still unclear. During Tuesday's briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president "is absolutely open to taking the vaccine. He's been emphatic about that to me privately, and to you all publicly. But he did recently recover from Covid, he has the continued protective effects of the monoclonal antibody cocktail." 

FDA authorizes first at-home, over-the-counter Covid test

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the first test for Covid-19 that can be purchased at drug stores without a prescription and taken at home.

The test, developed by the Australian digital diagnostics company Ellume, received emergency use authorization from the FDA. The test does not require sending samples to a lab, similar to how at-home pregnancy tests work.

The Ellume Covid-19 Home Test is an antigen test, which is designed to detect fragments of viral proteins that trigger an immune response in the body. Results are delivered via a smartphone app in as little as 20 minutes, according to the company.

The test involves collecting a sample with a nasal swab that users then place into a Bluetooth-connected analyzer that syncs with a smartphone app. Results are delivered through the app and can be shared with health care professionals, according to Ellume.

Ellume said it expects to produce more than 3 million of the tests in January with a likely cost of $30 or less. They will be available in pharmacies, drug stores and online, the company told NBC News in an email.

Read the full story here.

Celebrity pastor Joel Osteen's megachurch received $4.4 million in PPP funds

Celebrity pastor Joel Osteen's megachurch received a $4.4 million loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, data released under FOIA shows.

The Lakewood Church, based in Houston, Texas, received the loan in July.

“Lakewood suspended its in-person services for more than seven months...impacting its ability to collect substantial donations during those services,” church spokesperson Andrea Davis told NBC News in an email.

With the PPP loan, the church “has been able to provide full salaries and benefits including health insurance coverage to all of its employees and their families,” covering 368 full and part-time workers.

Multimillionaire televangelist Joel Osteen and his pastor wife, Victoria, received no PPP funds and have not taken a salary since 2004, Davis said.

In an April letter to the Small Business Administration, which approved the loans, progressive religious organizations and advocacy groups argued that taxpayer funding of clergy payrolls was unconstitutional.

In total, over 90,000 religious groups received a combined sum of $7.3 billion in PPP loans, according to NBC News analysis, and five of the top 10 U.S. megachurches received PPP loans, including Osteen’s.

“As far as we are aware, this is the first time that the government has backstopped the payrolls of religious groups on this scale,” Maureen O'Leary, spokesperson for the Interfaith Alliance, one of the religious organizations that co-signed the letter, told NBC News in an email.

"While SBA does not comment on individual borrowers, SBA publicly announced that faith-based organizations were eligible for PPP and EIDL in April," agency spokesman Jim Billimoria said via email.

20 million Americans could be vaccinated by end of year, according to Operation Warp Speed doctor

If all goes as planned, 20 million Americans could be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of the this year, Operation Warp Speed’s top scientist said Tuesday.

“Between the two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, we expect to have immunized 20 million of our American people and keeping 20 million doses for their second immunization a few weeks later,” Dr. Moncef Slaoui told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. 

Slaoui also said the soon-to-be-authorized Moderna vaccine, like the Pfizer vaccine, has been shown to be extremely effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“My expectation is that prevention of disease by these vaccines will last quite long,” he said.

Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said earlier that after the federal Food and Drug Administration officially authorizes the Moderna vaccine nearly 6 million doses will be shipped to more than 3,000 locations across the country starting Monday.

Sick Santa and Mrs. Claus may have exposed 50 Georgia kids to Covid

A Santa parade and photo-op in Georgia last Thursday may have exposed up to 50 children to Covid-19 after Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus later tested positive for the virus.

Long County Board of Commissioners chairman Robert D. Parker confirmed the positive tests and downplayed the risk of the possibly dozens of exposures in a statement posted on the Board's website.

"While this is cause for concern, I feel that it is important to note that exposures happen every day as we go about our day to day lives, often without any knowledge," the statement said.

Click here for the full story

Over-the-counter home Covid test authorized by FDA

The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to an over-the-counter Covid-19 test Tuesday. 

The Ellume Covid-19 Home Test is an antigen test that provides results in as little as 20 minutes.

Users collect a sample using a nasal swab. The sample is analyzed with a device that connects to a smartphone, and results are provided on an app.

According to the FDA, the test correctly identified 96 percent of positive samples and 100 percent of negative samples in people with symptoms. The rates were slightly lower in people without symptoms. 

The tests will be available in January. 

Germany imposes new lockdown measures to last through the holidays

The German government is urging its citizens to not go Christmas shopping and to watch midnight mass online instead of going to church on Christmas Eve because of the pandemic.

The recommendation comes as new lockdown measures aimed at slowing the rapidly rising number of new Covid-19 cases were set to go into effect on Wednesday and stay in place through the holidays until at least Jan. 10, the Associated Press reported.

“I wish and I hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” the country’s Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”

Mirroring the pandemic restrictions its neighbor, the Netherlands, has put into place, Germany is closing all the schools and switching to online learning, and shuttering almost all non-grocery stores. Indoor restaurant dining is also banned for the holidays.


Supreme Court blocks New Jersey restrictions on religious institutions

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court issued a second ruling Tuesday, again limiting a state’s application of Covid-19 restrictions that apply to religious settings. 

It granted an injunction, sought by two New Jersey religious institutions — a church in North Caldwell, and a synagogue in Lakewood.

They asked for an injunction allowing them “to host indoor, in-person religious worship for their respective congregations on the same terms and conditions allowed for comparable secular activities. That is, either the 100% of capacity afforded ‘essential’ non-retail businesses or, in the alternative, the 50% of capacity allowed for “essential” retail businesses, with the same health and safety protocols and exemptions applicable to comparable secular activities.”

There were no noted dissents on this one.

Former CDC head warned the vaccine is "not gonna get us through the winter.”

The former head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday the “vaccine is extremely exciting, but it's not gonna get us through the winter.”

“What's gonna help during this winter and what's gonna help get us to the point so people get vaccinated is Congress stepping up and providing resources,” Dr. Richard Besser, who is currently the president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. “They have let us down as a nation.”

Besser was referring to Congress’ ongoing struggle to hammer together a Covid-19 relief package to aid millions of hard-pressed Americans.

When asked who will get the vaccine after health care workers and nursing home residents, Besser said “each state is gonna have to make tough decisions.”

“We'll be looking to the CDC to make recommendations in terms of which groups are vaccinated first,” Besser said. “But it's gonna be really hard until there's enough vaccine for everybody.”

As for the vaccine refuseniks, Besser said “we're not gonna get there by pressuring people.”

“It's gonna be individual one on one encounters that increase the level of safety and confidence,” he said.

Besser spoke out a day after front line workers became the first in the United States to receive the long-awaited first doses of the new Covid-19 vaccine – and after the U.S. eclipsed more than 300,000 deaths due to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine documents accessed in EMA cyberattack


Moderna said on Monday it was informed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) certain documents related to pre-submission talks of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate were unlawfully accessed in a cyberattack on the medicines regulator.

The EMA, which assesses medicines and vaccines for the European Union, said earlier this month that it had been targeted in a cyberattack, which also gave hackers access to documents related to the development of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

Moderna said its submission to the EMA did not include any information identifying individual study participants and there is no information at present that any participants had been identified in any way.

Moderna's vaccine is highly effective, FDA says, clearing way for second vaccine

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine is 94 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness and appears to prevent the spread of the virus as well, according to documents released Tuesday.

The findings set the Moderna vaccine up for FDA emergency use authorization by the end of this week, meaning Americans could soon have two highly effective Covid-19 vaccines.

The high efficacy was noted after two doses of the vaccine, given 28 days apart. This is about the same level of effectiveness as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first shots of which were given to health care workers on Monday.

Click here to read the full story.

‘It’s an economic war’ — Warren Buffett urges Congress to extend PPP

Fred Imbert, CNBC

Warren Buffett, the legendary investor and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, on Tuesday urged Congress to extend aid to small businesses as they continue to struggle through the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s an economic war,” Buffett told CNBC. Small businesses have become "collateral damage in a war that our country needed to fight," he said.

Specifically, he urged lawmakers to extend the Paycheck Protection Program.

“I think the country owes it to the millions of small-business people … just renew the PPP and get us to the end of the tunnel,” Buffett said. “When we went into World War II, a lot of industries were shut down; everything went to the defense production. Well, we’ve shut down a lot of people in this particular induced recession and others are prospering.”

Fauci says Biden, Harris should receive coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that he thinks President-elect Joe Biden should receive a Covid-19 vaccination as soon as possible for security reasons. 

When asked in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" whether he thinks Biden should receive the vaccine right away, Fauci said, "I believe so."

"I mean, this is a person who will very soon be the president of the United States. ...Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will very soon be the Vice President of the United States. For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can. You want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January, so that would be my strong recommendation."

A transition official said Monday that Biden is consulting with Fauci on the vaccine and plans to take it in public when Fauci recommends he should do so.

U.S. records another 200,000-plus Covid cases, California sets another new daily record

The U.S. counted more than 200,000 Covid-19 cases Monday, reporting 261,250 cases, according to NBC News' tally.

The high total was partially due to a backlog of nearly 50,000 probable cases reported in Texas. The country also reported 1,642 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the death toll to more than 301,000.

As of Monday, at least 1 in 20 in the U.S. have had the disease.

The outbreaks are shifting: In the past two weeks Rhode Island, Indiana and Tennessee have had the highest per-capita rate of infections. Two weeks ago, it was North Dakota, Wyoming and South Dakota.

These states set single-day records:

  • California, 39,541 cases
  • Rhode Island, 46 dead

Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises

The Associated Press

NEW DELHI — With Americans, Britons and Canadians rolling up their sleeves to receive coronavirus vaccines, the route out of the pandemic now seems clear to many in the West, even if the rollout will take many months. But for poorer countries, the road will be far longer and rougher.

The ambitious initiative known as COVAX created to ensure the entire world has access to COVID-19 vaccines has secured only a fraction of the 2 billion doses it hopes to buy over the next year, has yet to confirm any actual deals to ship out vaccines and is short on cash.

The virus that has killed more than 1.6 million people has exposed vast inequities between countries, as fragile health systems and smaller economies were often hit harder. COVAX was set up by the World Health Organization, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a global coalition to fight epidemics, to avoid the international stampede for vaccines that has accompanied past outbreaks and would reinforce those imbalances.

But now some experts say the chances that coronavirus shots will be shared fairly between rich nations and the rest are fading fast. With vaccine supplies currently limited, developed countries, some of which helped fund the research with taxpayer money, are under tremendous pressure to protect their own populations and are buying up shots. Meanwhile, some poorer countries that signed up to the initiative are looking for alternatives because of fears it won't deliver.

U.K. government's Christmas Covid plan 'will cost many lives,' medical journals warn

Two of the U.K.’s leading medical journals delivered a stark warning to the government on Tuesday: Do not relax coronavirus restrictions for Christmas.

In a joint editorial, only the second the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal have written together in more than 100 years, the editors warned that the government is “about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives.” 

The British government has said that it would relax restrictions between Dec. 23 and 27, and allow up to three families to form a “bubble” so they can spend the holiday together. However, cases are rising and on Monday the government announced London would face the harshest level of restrictions, with restaurants and pubs banned from serving food and gym classes prohibited.

Criticizing the government’s delay in implementing the first lockdown in the spring, the editors called on the government to “reverse its rash decision” for the holiday relaxation and impose new restrictions over the holiday period to bring numbers down ahead of a likely third wave.

'Great British Bake Off' judge Prue Leith gets vaccinated

A judge on "The Great British Bake Off" joined the first wave of Britains who received a clinically approved Covid-19 vaccine.

Prue Leith, 80, shared a photo of a nurse injecting the vaccine into her arm on Twitter. The news came a week after Britain administered the first Covid-19 vaccine in the world.

"Who wouldn't want immunity from #Covid19 with a painless jab?" she said on Tuesday.

Santa's 'immune' to Covid-19 and will still be coming to town, WHO says

There may be a pandemic, but Santa Claus is still coming to town, according to the World Health Organization.

“I understand the concern for Santa because he is of older age,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, at a press conference on Monday. “I can tell you that Santa Claus is immune to this virus.”

Despite the travel restrictions in place around the globe, world leaders have relaxed measures just for him, she said, adding that both he and his wife, Mrs. Claus, are doing well during their busy season.

In her message to kids, she did get in a health warning, mentioning the importance of Covid-19 precautions — one that will likely be music to parents' ears.  

Physical distancing by Santa Claus and of the children themselves must be strictly enforced, so it is really important that the children of the world still listen to their moms and dads and guardians and make sure they go to bed early on Christmas Eve,” she said.

German officials pressure E.U. to approve Covid vaccine

The Associated Press

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has increased his pressure on the European Union’s regulatory agency and demanded that a coronavirus vaccine will be approved before Christmas.

The news agency dpa reported Tuesday that health minister Jens Spahn said “our goal is an approval before Christmas so that we can still start vaccinating this year, also in Germany.”

Spahn is pushing for a quick approval of a new vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer that has already been authorized for use in Britain, the United States and other countries. But Germany cannot use it because it is still waiting for approval by the European Medicines Agency, or EMA.

Image: People demonstrate outside the Torentje, the office of prime minister, during his speech announcing a five-week national lockdown in The Hague.
People demonstrate outside the Torentje, the office of prime minister, during his speech announcing a five-week national lockdown on Monday in The Hague.Bart Maat / AFP - Getty Images

People demonstrate outside the Torentje, the office of prime minister, during his speech announcing a five-week lockdown, on Monday in The Hague.

Hospital's workers get their groove on to celebrate vaccine arrival

Health care workers in Boston said they felt “good as hell” as they danced to celebrate the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday.

With masks on, the front-line workers stepped outside and boogied to the popular Lizzo song in a TikTok posted by Boston Medical Center CEO Kate Walsh.

The hospital was among the first in Massachusetts to get the vaccine, receiving 1,950 doses, Jenny Eriksen Leary, a BMC spokeswoman told NBC Boston. Doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit, emergency department and on floors that treat COVID-19 patients, will be among the first to receive the doses, she said.

It’s not the first time that the hospital’s health care workers have put on their dancing shoes. On Friday, the surgical ICU team got their groove on celebrating the discharge of one of their patients to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.”