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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.



California: More than 1,000 virus deaths in last 5 days

LOS ANGELES — Health officials in California announced a one-day record Thursday of 379 deaths and a two-day total of nearly 106,000 newly confirmed cases.

The nation's most populous state has recorded more than 1,000 deaths in the last five days. Its overall case total now tops 1.7 million, a figure nearly equal to Spain's and only surpassed by eight countries. The state's overall death toll has reached 21,860.

Many of California's hospitals are running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, and the situation is complicating care for non-Covid-19 patients.

Maryland governor declares Santa exempt from testing, quarantine rules

Santa chats with a visiting child on December 6, 2020 in Seattle, Wash. Known as the Seattle Santa, he is usually booked for private events but is set up this year in a socially-distanced snow globe for public visits during the COovid19 pandemic.David Ryder / Getty Images

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued an order Thursday declaring that Santa Claus, his elves and reindeer are exempt from traveler testing and quarantine requirements.

The order only applies to the real Santa Claus and not to his related associates, including Mall Santas.

Logan noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said Santa Claus “has a lot of good innate immunity” from COVID-19;

Wife of HHS Secretary Azar tests positive

WASHINGTON — The wife of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has tested positive for the coronavirus illness, Covid-19, he said in an email to colleagues.

Azar said he and his family learned Thursday that his wife, Jennifer, had tested positive and that she is isolating with mild symptoms and doing well. Azar said he and their children have tested negative.

Azar said in the email that his wife began isolating at home "from the moment of her first symptoms," even after an instant test came back negative. A PCR test, which takes longer but is considered more accurate, then came back positive.

New York City public hospitals suspend elective surgeries as Covid-19 cases rise

The director of New York City's public hospital system said Thursday that elective surgeries have been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals said in a video briefing that elective procedures had been suspended as of Tuesday.

"We're doing the necessary surgeries and the emergency surgeries, but we have, consistent with the governor's request, we have canceled elective procedures and we do have the extra 25 percent capacity the state has asked us for," Katz said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed that hospitals increase capacity to prepare for a surge in Covid-19 cases, which have been increasing in the city, along with hospitalizations and deaths.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the percentage of city residents testing positive over a seven-day rolling average is 6 percent. "That's an unacceptable number," de Blasio said. "We need to get under five, and keep going down from there."

Los Angeles mayor quarantines after daughter, 9, tests positive

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti said he and other family members will quarantine after his 9-year-old daughter, Maya, tested positive for Covid-19 this week.

"Maya's doing fine, and her symptoms are mild," Garcetti said, adding that he and his wife were both tested and the results were negative. But Maya will isolate, and they will quarantine as the mayor works remotely.

Garcetti said his family is going through what many others have around the U.S. and the world. He said he did not know how Maya, who turned 9 over the weekend, contracted the illness and that the family has been strict on coronavirus safety.

Los Angeles County has seen a large increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths, and officials have warned that hospitals could be overwhelmed. Intensive care units in Southern California were at 0 percent capacity on Thursday, public health officials said. The county health department reported 14,418 new cases and 102 new deaths on Thursday. Garcetti pleaded with residents to cancel plans, to wear masks and to take other steps to slow the virus spread.

FDA advisers recommend Moderna's vaccine

An independent panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration overwhelmingly recommended that the agency authorize Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use on Thursday.

The recommendation brings the United States one step closer to adding a second vaccine to its toolkit in fighting the pandemic.

The FDA is expected to agree with the committee's recommendation, and an emergency use authorization could come as soon as Thursday evening or Friday.

The FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week. Vaccination shots began Monday.

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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.