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Dec. 17 Coronavirus updates: Total reported U.S. cases top 17 million

Congressional leaders and the White House near agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal.
Image: A medical worker reads a poem to Daniel Kim, 48, as he leaves St. Jude Medical Center after five months after surviving the coronavirus disease in Fullerton
A medical worker reads a poem to Daniel Kim, 48, as he leaves St. Jude Medical Center after five months hospitalized with Covid-19 in Fullerton, California on Wednesday.Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

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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.

It comes as the U.S. experienced the deadliest day of the pandemic yet, with nearly 3,300 deaths. The country also set a record for the highest number of recorded cases in one day with 232,086 Covid-19 cases recorded.

Early Thursday, the total number of cases reported in the U.S. topped 17 million, according to NBC News' count. More than 308,000 people have died.



Mitch McConnell says he will get Covid vaccine in coming days

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Thursday that he will get the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days. 

“As a polio survivor, I know both the fear of a disease and the extraordinary promise of hope that vaccines bring," McConnell said. "I truly hope all Kentuckians and Americans will heed this advice and accept this safe and effective vaccine."

McConnell said he was dismayed to find polls showing a concerning number of America expressing skepticism about receiving the vaccine. 

“The only way to beat this pandemic is for us to follow the advice of our nation’s health care professionals: get vaccinated and continue to follow CDC guidelines," McConnell said. 

McConnell is the latest high-profile lawmaker to express their intention to get vaccinated. Vice President Mike Pence is slated to get publicly vaccinated on Friday morning and President-elect Biden is expected to get a shot as soon as next week. All of the living former presidents have also said they would get vaccinated. 

Some states say Pfizer vaccine allotments cut for next week

O'FALLON, Mo. — Several states say they have been told to expect far fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in its second week of distribution, prompting worries about potential delays in shots for health care workers and long-term care residents.

But senior Trump administration officials on Thursday downplayed the risk of delays, citing a confusion over semantics, while Pfizer said its production levels have not changed.

The first U.S. doses were administered Monday, and already this week, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly health care workers, have been vaccinated. The pace is expected to increase next week, assuming Moderna gets federal authorization for its vaccine.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, incoming senior advisor for Biden White House, tests positive for Covid

The Biden transition team announced in a statement Thursday that Rep. Cedric Richmond tested positive for Covid-19. 

Richmond, a Biden ally, is slated to be an incoming White House senior advisor and Director of the Office of Public Engagement. Biden's team said the Louisiana lawmaker was not in close contact with the President-elect, took a PCR test which came back negative on Thursday.

This news comes as Biden is expected to publicly take the coronavirus vaccine as soon as next week

Richmond traveled to Georgia on Tuesday for a campaign event for the Democratic candidates running for Senate. Richmond developed symptoms on Wednesday and took a rapid test, which came back positive. On Thursday, he took a PCR test, which was also positive, the team said. 

Richmond was not in close contact with the candidates, the campaign said, and he interacted with the President-elect in the open air while wearing a mask and totaled less than 15 consecutive minutes. The transition teams said it conducted contact tracing protocols "immediately" and found two individuals — both drivers during the event in Georgia — who were in close contact with Richmond. Both will quarantine. 

Richmond will quarantine for 14 days and take two PCR tests before returning to in-person work in Congress and with the transition team, the statement said.

Microsoft to give $110 million to Washington state’s recovery effort

Microsoft Corp. will spend $110 million to help support Washington state’s Covid-19 recovery, president Brad Smith said Thursday.

In a blog post, Smith said Microsoft Corp., based in Redmond, Washington, will help fund nonprofits across the state and continue to pay hourly workers on its corporate campuses.

The software giant also urged an accelerated opening of elementary schools and will donate personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and technology to track and report Covid-19 data to help schools reopen safely. 

“While this week with high infection rates is clearly not the right moment to restart in-person learning, the science now tells us that it is the right time to accelerate the planning for kindergarten through 5th Grade classes to reopen in February if the correct safety measures are put in place," Smith said in the post. 

Southern California ICU beds at 0 percent capacity

Intensive care unit bed capacity is down to 0 percent in Southern California, the state's most populous region, public health officials warned Thursday. 

ICU capacity in the San Joaquin Valley is also down to dangerously low levels - 0.7 percent as of Thursday. In Northern California, about 25 percent of ICU beds are open. In the Bay Area, where capacity is at 13 percent. 

State public health officials also announced that California is steadily creeping towards 2 million cases as the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the state. It currently has 1,723,362 confirmed cases.

Coca-Cola slashes U.S. workforce 12%

The Coca-Cola Co. is cutting 2,200 jobs globally, including 1,200 in the U.S and 500 in their home state of Georgia, a spokesperson confirmed to NBC News.

The Atlanta-based company which began the year with over 86,000 employees also expects to reduce nearly 50 percent of its brands.  

 

“The pandemic was not a cause for these changes, but is has been a catalyst for the company to move faster,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told NBC News.

The reductions affect both corporate and operating unit positions, but not employees of its bottlers.

Washington state Covid-19 vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week, governor says

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday that the state's Covid-19 vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed Washington officials of the downsize in coronavirus vaccines without any explanation, according to Inslee who called it "disruptive and frustrating."

"Our state remains committed to getting all doses we are allocated out to healthcare providers and into the arms of Washingtonians. While we push for answers, that commitment will not change," Inslee said on Twitter. 

Front-line workers in Phoenix receive Covid-19 vaccine at drive-thru location

Health care workers and first responders started to receive Covid-19 vaccines at a drive-thru location in Phoenix on Thursday. HonorHealth Medical, a nonprofit hospital system, is organizing the rollout and has the capacity to vaccinate 1,000 people a day. In 21 days, the front-line workers will return to the site to receive their second dose. 

“This is quite a collaboration among healthcare organizations and state and local health agencies to identify the right health care workers and first responders, and get thousands of people signed up,” said Dr. Richard Gray, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Empty stores in New Jersey to be used as vaccination centers

Empty Kmart and Sears stores in New Jersey will be converted into vaccination centers when the vaccine arrives in the state, according to the Essex County Executive office.

A vacant Sears store at the Livingston Mall and A Kmart store in West Orange are among five sites in Essex County that have been designated as vaccine distribution centers.

The Sears store at Livingston Mall, which is owned by Simon Property, closed earlier this year. The West Orange Kmart closed in February. Transformco, which owns both Sears and Kmart, did not respond to an NBC News request for comment.

Amazon asks CDC to prioritize vaccines for many of its workers

Amazon, the country’s second largest employer, is pushing for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize its workers for receiving the coronavirus vaccine.

The e-commerce giant requested its fulfillment center, data center and Whole Foods Markets workers receive the vaccine “at the earliest appropriate time,” according to a letter sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

Amazon is one of dozens of companies, including DoorDash and Uber, who are lobbying for their employee ranks to be among the first to receive the vaccine.

Lord Speaker of U.K. House of Lords gets vaccinated