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Dec. 16 Coronavirus updates: Fauci predicts U.S. herd immunity by mid-2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that the U.S. could achieve herd immunity by "the end of the second quarter 2021."
Image: A sailor assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), vaccinates a volunteering service member
A sailor assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), vaccinates a volunteering service member, on Tuesday.U.S. Navy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jasmin Fiorini / AP

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

As vaccine rollouts continue across the United States and other economically advanced nations, health leaders are sounding the alarm for the developing world, which could have to wait months or years for enough shots to achieve herd immunity.

The U.S. death toll has now passed 300,000, while more than 200,000 infections have been recorded in one day.

771d ago / 7:48 PM UTC

Two tech groups say they’ll merge efforts on digital vaccine cards

Two groups of technologists said Wednesday they were combining their work to speed up the development of digital vaccine cards, so that people may eventually be able to use a smartphone app to prove they’ve gotten a Covid-19 vaccine. 

Digital vaccine certificates, or passports, are expected to be in demand next year as a possible requirement for international air travel or in-person gatherings. They would be an electronic version of the paper-based “yellow cards” that have been around for decades, but they’re not a reality yet because of complications around privacy and interoperability. 

One of the tech groups, the Linux Foundation Public Health, was involved in earlier efforts to roll out pandemic-related apps that alert users when they’ve been exposed to someone who’s tested positive for the coronavirus. The foundation said it would host the work of the other group, the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, which sprung up this year specifically to work on digital vaccine cards. 

The two groups plan to work with public health authorities on challenges including the ethics of digital vaccine cards, said Lucy Yang, co-lead of the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative.

771d ago / 7:40 PM UTC

Twitter to remove false vaccine conspiracy theory tweets

Twitter announced on Wednesday it would remove false or misleading claims about Covid-19 vaccines. The move follows similar actions by YouTube in October and Facebook in December. 

Twitter said it would remove tweets that advance “harmful or misleading narratives,” including false claims about the vaccines that have been “widely debunked about the adverse impacts of receiving vaccinations” and false claims that Covid-19 is “not real or not serious.”

The changes will begin until next week, and the company will also ban tweets about global conspiracy theories that suggest vaccines are “used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations.”

Conspiracy theories around Covid-19 vaccines have spread unabated on social media since the summer, according to a recent report from First Draft, a global nonprofit organization that researches online misinformation. Vaccine-related conspiracy content accounted for some 10 percent of total vaccine posts, according to the report.

Anti-vaccination groups have created organized campaigns since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, some claiming outlandish global conspiracies about secret societies and microchips. The conspiracy theories have gone wildly viral on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, including the repeatedly debunked viral video “Plandemic,” which took off due to coordinated cross-promotion by anti-vaccine groups that existed well before the pandemic.

771d ago / 7:26 PM UTC
771d ago / 6:17 PM UTC

'Don't be afraid': In Puerto Rico, respiratory therapist gets first Covid vaccine

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico— A respiratory therapist who treated the first two COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Puerto Rico became the first person in the U.S. territory to be vaccinated against the virus on Tuesday.

Yahaira Alicea had treated an Italian couple who visited the island aboard a cruise ship in March. The woman later died. Alicea said it was a fearful moment for her that wore her down physically and emotionally as she urged everyone to get vaccinated.

“This is what we want, for this pandemic to end,” Alicea said. “Don’t be afraid.”

A health official approached Alicea with the needle as both smiled: “Let’s make history.”

Click here to read the full story.

771d ago / 5:51 PM UTC

California police department held superspreader event, community groups say

California police agency after dozens of its maskless officers gathered under one roof and stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna and other top department brass "knowingly and willfully" organized "a super spreader event," the People of Long Beach and Long Beach Reform Coalition said in a complaint to the city's Citizen Police Complaint Commission.

"Not only was the assembly a violation of Health Department mandates but also a direct contradiction and demonstration of impunity that countered Mayor Robert Garcia's pleas" for "all persons, including city employees to practice social distancing and wear masks," according to the groups' complaint, filed on Monday.

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771d ago / 5:13 PM UTC

Direct cash payments under consideration as lawmakers near Covid aid deal

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders and the White House are nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that will likely include a new round of direct payments, three sources familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday.

The emerging package will include enhanced federal jobless benefits, small business funding and money to distribute Covid-19 vaccines. The dollar amount of the stimulus payments has not yet been determined — some aides said it could be $600-per-person while others said it may be higher.

Negotiators have not yet settled on an income cap for the direct payments, as was done for the previous round of payments approved in March.

The proposal, which is still being finalized and does not have leadership agreement, is not expected to include liability protections for employers or state or local funding, two sticking points in negotiations that prevented Congress from passing meaningful Covid-19 legislation for months.

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771d ago / 5:04 PM UTC
771d ago / 4:53 PM UTC

Operation Warp Speed: Covid-19 vaccine deliveries on track

An additional 886 shipments of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine are scheduled for delivery to health care systems nationwide on Thursday and Friday, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, Army Gen. Gustave Perna, said during a media briefing Wednesday.

Together with deliveries that have already been distributed, a total of 1,522 shipments of the vaccine will have been shipped in the first week. Each shipment contains about 1,000 doses. 

Because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures, each shipment has a temperature monitoring system. Perna said that while most shipments have gone smoothly, a few boxes sent to California and Alabama arrived at the incorrect temperature. Those boxes were removed from distribution before any shots could be given and replaced.

The first doses of the vaccine have gone to health care workers. Several states are now starting vaccinations in long-term care facilities, or will be doing so imminently. They are Connecticut, Florida, Ohio and West Virginia. By Monday, 1,110 long-term care facilities are anticipated to have the vaccine, with thousands more long-term care facilities added daily, Perna said.

771d ago / 3:35 PM UTC

Pompeo in quarantine after close contact with Covid-positive person


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in quarantine after he came into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid, a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday. 

"For reasons of privacy we can’t identify that individual," the spokesperson said. "The Secretary has been tested and is negative. In accordance with CDC guidelines, he will be in quarantine."

Pompeo has come under scrutiny for hosting indoor holiday parties at the State Department, flouting CDC guidelines about limiting gatherings due to the pandemic. He had previously been expected to host similar such receptions on Tuesday and Wednesday, though it's unclear if those were canceled.

The spokesperson said Pompeo is being closely monitored by the department's medical team. 

771d ago / 3:12 PM UTC

Covid-19 vaccines are being hoarded by rich countries — poor ones are missing out

LONDON — Lost among the jubilation of America's vaccine rollout this week is an uncomfortable reality: The world's poorest countries will have to wait months and possibly years to see any doses at all.

The U.S., Canada, Britain and the European Union have pre-ordered enough Covid-19 shots to inoculate their populations several times over, subject to regulatory approvals.

In this critical game of medicine logistics — where supply is small but demand immediate and universal — campaigners and some officials accuse these wealthy nations of snapping up orders and hoarding more than they need.

The People's Vaccine Alliance, a collaboration between several aid groups including Oxfam and Amnesty International, has said that unless drastic measures are taken nearly 70 poor countries will be unable to vaccinate 90 percent of their populations next year.

Click here to read the full story.

771d ago / 3:07 PM UTC
771d ago / 3:00 PM UTC

Restaurants worry bipartisan coronavirus deal is cutting them out


The White House and congressional leaders are nearing the finish line on a bipartisan Covid-19 relief deal. But they’re running up against objections from a coalition of restaurants who argue the emerging plan will leave them without enough aid to get through the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition, a group of chefs and owners formed to advocate for aid during the pandemic, has been decrying the emerging proposal throughout the last month as insufficient. Instead they’re urging Congress to pass the RESTAURANTS Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide $120 billion in grants to smaller bars and restaurants to make up revenue lost due to coronavirus.

On paper, their task should be easy. Lawmakers of both parties are eager to back aid for local bars and restaurants. The bill has 50 sponsors in the Senate and over 200 in the House. Over 160 members sent a letter to House and Senate leaders earlier this month, including other members of leadership like Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asking for it to be included in relief talks.

"If Mitch McConnell brought this to the floor this would pass easily,” Tom Colicchio, the Top Chef judge, restaurateur, and IRC co-founder, told NBC News. "Easily.”

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771d ago / 2:47 PM UTC

Retail sales plunged in November, as shoppers stayed home amid rising Covid cases

Retail sales fell for a second straight month in November, likely weighed down by raging new Covid-19 infections and decreasing household income, adding to growing signs of a slowdown in the economy's recovery from the pandemic recession.

Retail sales dropped 1.1 percent last month, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. Data for October was revised down to show sales falling 0.1 percent instead of climbing 0.3 percent as previously reported. October's decrease was the first since April, when stringent measures to control the first wave of coronavirus cases crippled the economy.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales declined 0.5 percent last month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

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771d ago / 1:41 PM UTC

Viral 'Dreams' TikTok star tests positive for Covid

Nathan Apodaca — the man who went viral on TikTok after skateboarding to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" — has tested positive for Covid-19.

Apodaca, who lives in Idaho, announced his positive diagnosis on Tuesday in an Instagram post, asking for prayers. The TikToker has been traveling to and from Los Angeles working on multiple projects since his rise to fame, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He followed up his announcement with a video of himself gleefully dancing to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."

771d ago / 1:15 PM UTC

U.S. dips below 200,000 cases for first time in a week

The U.S. recorded 176,668 Covid-19 cases Tuesday, dipping below 200,000 for the first time in a week with December's lowest case count.

The country reported 2,956 deaths, according to NBC News' tally. The CDC has predicted up to 60,000 Americans could die of the disease from now until the beginning of January.

These states reported single-day death records Tuesday:

  • Missouri, 240 dead
  • Oregon, 53 dead
  • West Virginia, 34 dead
771d ago / 1:09 PM UTC
771d ago / 12:46 PM UTC

Tom Cruise reportedly recorded berating 'Mission Impossible' crew over Covid protocols

LONDON — A recording has emerged apparently showing Tom Cruise delivering an expletive-laden rant to the crew of "Mission: Impossible 7".

British newspaper The Sun published leaked audio Wednesday that it said captured Cruise, 58, shouting on set. While the cause of the outburst is unclear, The Sun reports Cruise was addressing two crew members who he believed had breached Covid-19 protocols while filming near London.

NBC News has not confirmed the authenticity of the audio nor its context, but has reached out to Cruise's representatives, his lawyers and Paramount Pictures.

Click here for the full story.

771d ago / 12:10 PM UTC

Which winter sports are safest to play during the pandemic?

The best physical activities for limiting the risk of coronavirus infections are the ones you do alone or with members of your household, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Staying active during the pandemic is important for mental and physical health, says Dr. Michael Terry, who specializes in sports medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Winter activities that limit the risk of infection include individual sports such as skiing, snowshoeing and figure skating, he says.

With solo activities, such as running or skiing, Terry says to “be courteous” by wearing a mask and distancing yourself when you pass others.

There are also ways to mitigate risks if you choose an activity that involves other people, he says. Wear a mask, try to socially distance and wash your hands. Also, avoid sharing equipment, the CDC says.

For one-on-one sports like squash or basketball, limit who you play with, preferably to someone in your household.

Contact sports like hockey or wrestling with people who live outside of your household raise the possibility of spreading the virus.

771d ago / 11:14 AM UTC
771d ago / 11:08 AM UTC

Germany enters latest lockdown as virus deaths spike

Germany hit a new record number of coronavirus deaths as it entered its latest lockdown Wednesday, closing all-non essential shops and sending most children home from school. 

More than 27,700 news cases have been recorded in the country in the last 24 hours as well as 952 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute, a public body that safeguards public health in Germany. That is a record number of fatalities. 

Meanwhile, however, Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country was ready to start rolling out the vaccine and could begin vaccinations within days of European approval, which is currently scheduled for December 21.

"Even with the vaccine we still have to continue to take care of each other in the next weeks and months," he told Germany's ARD television.

"Just because we will start with vaccinations, does not mean that diseases and infections will be over."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

771d ago / 11:04 AM UTC

U.K. looks set to allow relaxation of restrictions over Christmas

The United Kingdom looked set Wednesday to allow the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions for five days over the Christmas period despite growing concern from experts and some politicians. 

The relaxation would allow up to three households to mix between December 23 and 27. 

Conservative lawmaker Steve Barclay, whose party is in power, told British broadcaster ITV News Tuesday that the government was sticking with the relaxations, because it recognized that it was important to enable families to come together over Christmas for people's wellbeing and mental health, among other reasons. 

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, however, is among those calling on the government to reconsider its approach to Christmas in order to avoid a potential national lockdown. 

“If we’re not careful we could be sleepwalking into a national lockdown in January,” he said in a TV interview.

771d ago / 11:03 AM UTC

South Korea reports record daily number of new coronavirus cases

South Korea reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday logging more than 1,070 new cases. 

This is only the second time it has reported new daily cases above the 1,000 mark, the first being on Dec. 13. 

As the number of new cases surges in South Korea there is mounting concern over the number of hospital beds available for those who are seriously ill. 

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 12 more deaths on Wednesday, a second day of double-digit fatalities.