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Latest on Covid vaccine distribution and second stimulus checks

Congressional leaders and the White House are nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal.
Dr. Karen Dahl, VP, Quality, Patient Safety & Medical Affairs, pediatric infectious disease specialist, holding a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 16, 2020 at Valley Childrens Hospital in Madera, Calif.Jeffrey SHerman / Valley Childrens Healthcare via AFP - Getty Images

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

Thursday was another record-breaking day in reported Covid-19 cases in the United States, the latest milestone in a month that has seen cases and deaths climb to unprecedented levels.

There were 243,645 Covid-19 cases reported across the nation on Thursday, according to NBC News' count of reports, and 3,288 deaths. On Wednesday, the U.S. broke daily records for both cases and deaths reported. Before that, the highest numbers for both reported in a day was on Dec. 10. Thursday's numbers eclipsed daily cases but not deaths.

Meanwhile, Congressional leaders and the White House were nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that will likely include a new round of direct payments.

Missouri grandma died from Covid: 'She was the mouse that could fight the lion'

Image: Han Sam Hildebrand
Han Sam Hildebrand.Courtesy Chris Peters

Right up to the evening of Nov. 29, when Han Sim Hildebrand died, her family felt certain she was going to beat Covid-19 and make her way back home.

The 71-year-old Korean immigrant, who had come from an impoverished childhood to grow a thriving vegetable business in Columbia, Missouri, had seemed to be winning her nearly two-month battle with the virus. Having been weaned off a ventilator and put on a less intrusive oxygen flow, Han Sim had seemed in good spirits when her husband, Jim Hildebrand, visited several hours before he received the phone call that his wife had gone into cardiac arrest.

"Within a couple of days (of being off the ventilator), she was awake, waving at us, smiling — it was a miracle," her son, Chris Peters, an active duty naval officer, said. "Even the nurses said, 'She's like a Houdini, we can't believe how fast she's come back.'

Read the full story here.

New bill aims to protect people from 'bad actor catering halls'

Dana and Grant Spoltore, both nurses, have treated Covid-19 patients throughout the pandemic and said they knew they'd be unable to host 238 guests and an 11-piece band at an indoor wedding reception at a country club near Atlantic City, where they'd planned to marry in October.

A general manager at the venue, Atlantic City Country Club, had promised in an email on July 31 that they'd be refunded the money they'd prepaid — less their deposit — if Covid-19 restrictions prevented the wedding and reception from taking place as contracted. But the couple haven't been refunded their $7,500.

Martell's Waters Edge, a waterfront venue in Bayville, where Joseph and Natalie Scarpitto planned to hold their wedding and reception in June, won't refund the more than $10,000 they paid toward their balance — even though the venue couldn't deliver the services promised because of state restrictions that banned large indoor gatherings, the couple said.

Read the full story here.

Sydney imposes lockdown on beach suburbs as cluster grows

SYDNEY — Around a quarter of a million people in Sydney's northern beach suburbs were ordered on Saturday into a strict lockdown until midnight Wednesday to contain a coronavirus cluster that officials fear could spread across the city.

Authorities will announced on Sunday whether further restrictions will be imposed on the rest of Sydney, Australia's most populous city.

"I want to make that clear, to say to greater Sydney, please, please, do not go out tonight or the next few days unless you really have to," New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a news conference on Saturday.

The outbreak on Sydney's northern beaches now totals 39 with two additional cases still under investigation. This up from five only two days ago, but authorities do not know the origin of the virus, which genome testing suggests is a U.S. strain.

Maryland, Virginia donate vaccine doses to Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Officials in the District of Columbia are accustomed to being short-changed in different ways.

There's the long-standing issue of its quest for statehood and proper representation in Congress. And when the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package was passed by Congress in March, Washington, D.C., was classified as a territory — a distinction that cost it $700 million in funding.

But when the latest shortfall hit the local allotment of new Covid-19 vaccine doses, Washington's neighboring states pitched in to help make up the difference. In a heartening demonstration of interstate collectivism, Maryland and Virginia are each sending 8,000 vaccine doses, more than tripling the amount available for health care workers in the nation's capital.

D.C. health officials have complained for weeks that the initial allotment formula followed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided Washington with just under 7,000 doses — less than one-tenth of what would be needed for local health care workers.

Washington, D.C., bans indoor dining, other activities for three weeks

Indoor dining, museums and libraries will end in the District of Columbia starting next week amid a surge in coronavirus cases, according to an executive order issued Friday by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The executive order also shuts down a bus service that shuttles passengers around the National Mall. Nonessential businesses are instructed to allow employees to work remotely. Capacity will be limited inside big box stores, food retailers and other essential businesses serving the public. 

The restrictions go into effect Wednesday at 10 p.m. and will remain in place until 5 a.m. Jan. 15. 

Appeals court shuts down dining, strip clubs in San Diego

A California appeals court Friday overturned a lower court ruling that allowed San Diego County restaurants and strip clubs to stay open despite local and state shutdown orders.

Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil was weighing the clubs' challenge to county cease-and-desist orders Wednesday when he surprised local leaders by telling the county to back off not only on the clubs but any venues that serve food.

The ruling Wednesday bound the hands of county officials and had multiple eateries quickly setting up tables and setting out menus.

A three-judge appellate panel in San Diego, responding to the state's emergency application for temporary stay, granted the request Friday, overturning Wohlfeil's preliminary inunction. An attorney for the clubs, Jason P. Saccuzzo, said by email they plan to request the stay be lifted "so adult entertainment establishments and restaurants can reopen."

San Diego is part of a Southern California region under state stay-at-home orders that prohibit dining, limit essential retail stores to 20 percent capacity and keeps hair and nail salons closed. Restaurants can still offer delivery and to-go service.

The strip clubs, Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club and Pacers Showgirls International, challenged earlier county orders to close and stayed open past the state's Dec. 3 stay-at-home rules because an earlier ruling by Wohlfeil allowed it.

Google rolls out free, weekly at-home testing for U.S. employees

Alphabet Inc.'s Google said on Friday it is offering free, weekly at-home Covid-19 testing for all its U.S. employees and plans to expand the benefit globally during the next year.

A Google spokesman said the company had rolled out the benefit this week for all 90,000 U.S. employees, with the initiative guaranteeing them a weekly, at-home nasal swab and a lab analysis.

The company is recommending every staffer be tested weekly, although it is not mandatory, the spokesman said.

U.S. marks third straight day of record virus cases

For the third day in a row, a record number of coronavirus cases was recorded in the U.S. on Friday, according to an NBC News tally.

The count, which could grow by the end of the day, marked 246,914 cases, exceeding Thursday's record of 243,645 and Wednesday's national high of 232,086.

Friday's virus-related death toll of 2,856 is not the U.S. record. The pandemic's fatality high of 3,293 was reported on Wednesday.

Amid a national surge of Covid-19, the FDA on Friday authorized Moderna's vaccine for emergency use. It's the second vaccine—Prizer's was approved Saturday—to get the FDA's nod.

Nearly 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been earmarked for distribution, according to officials with the White House's Operation Warp Speed inoculation program. 

Stanford apologizes to doctors after protests over vaccine rollout

Protests erupted Friday at Stanford University Medical Center Hospital in California, where frontline medical residents and fellows staged a walkout in frustration over the hospital's botched Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

Demonstrators accused the medical center of prioritizing more senior doctors and other medical workers who don't directly interface with patients over employees at the highest risk of contracting Covid-19 from patients.

"We came out here after we learned that only seven out of 1,349 residents were selected for the first wave of vaccinations," Charles Marcus, a third-year resident, told NBC Bay Area.

In a letter to their colleagues, Stanford medical executives said they are "truly sorry" for the vaccine distribution plan and are working to develop a revised version.

"We recognize the disappointment and distress this has caused, and we appreciate those who brought these concerns to us," they said in the letter.

Read the full story here.

Congress stumbles over Covid-19 relief

WASHINGTON — Congress hit a new stumbling block that prevented leaders from approving a coronavirus aid deal on Friday as lawmakers raced to avert a government shutdown at midnight.

The House voted 320-60 to pass a two-day funding extension, sending it to the Senate, which quickly approved it by a voice vote. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it, setting up a new Sunday midnight deadline and giving negotiators the weekend to sort out their differences on Covid-19 relief.

"Alas, we are not there yet," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling the stopgap bill an effort to prevent a "pointless lapse" in funding while negotiations continued.

Read the full story.

FDA grants emergency authorization to Moderna vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use Friday, adding a second vaccine to the country's arsenal to fight the pandemic.

The United States is the first country to greenlight use of Moderna's vaccine, which was developed in part with the National Institutes of Health.

"I've never been more hopeful that we will eventually turn the corner on this pandemic," said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and current president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nearly 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been earmarked for distribution and are expected to be shipped to 3,285 locations across the country, according to officials with Operation Warp Speed, which partially funded the Moderna work.

Read the full story.

Health care workers celebrate vaccinations on social media

After nine months on the front lines, many health care workers are first in line to get the recently approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Over the past few days, frontline health care workers have taken to Twitter and Instagram to share photos of themselves getting vaccinated with the hashtag #righttobarearms.

Boston Medical Center shared photos on Facebook Wednesday of the first staff members to receive the vaccine, calling it a "historic morning." Cheryl Tull, the hospital's associate chief nursing officer, received the vaccine earlier this week.

"It didn't hurt much at all, no more than any other vaccine that you get. And to be honest, it was really a proud and humbling moment for me to be able to receive that," she said.

Click here to read the full story.

HHS says vaccine doses were not reduced after governors complain they are being short-changed

Confronted with accusations from angry governors that they’re being short-changed on Covid-19 vaccines, the federal Department of Health and Human Services denied again Friday that it has reduced the number of Pfizer doses that will be distributed in the coming weeks.

“There was some confusion between planning and training numbers provided in mid-November and actual official weekly allocations, which are only locked in the week prior to distribution because they are based on the number of releasable vaccine doses available,” the new HHS statement read. “We are working on clearing up any misunderstanding up (sic) with the governors and jurisdictions.”

The HHS statement came a day after NBC News reported that that several governors had complained that half as many Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots as expected were going to be delivered to their states in the next few weeks and that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, suggested that the pharma giant was having manufacturing problems.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said they don’t have production problems and are waiting for the government to tell them when, where and how many doses they should ship out.

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore has run out of ICU beds

A teaching hospital connected to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, which has been running a world class tally of Covid-19 cases and deaths, has run out of intensive care unit bed to take care of its own infected patients, a nurse at the hospital claimed Friday.

“We have ZERO available ICU beds at my hospital today,” Katie Capano at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore tweeted.

When asked about Capano’s assertion, a hospital spokesperson did not answer directly but said that the facility is “opening additional treatment spaces dedicated to caring for patients with Covid-19 as well as safely rescheduling some elective surgical procedures and redeploying staff.”

Pressed for a more specific answer, the hospital spokesperson said “it would be inappropriate to say we are at ICU capacity.”

“The system is working well, and we are ready to care for more patients.”

Third allergic reaction to Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine reported in Alaska

A third health care worker in Alaska has experienced an allergic reaction after receiving Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine.

According to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, a female employee's tongue started to swell about 10 minutes after her shot and she developed shortness of breath. 

She went to the hospital's emergency department, where she received two doses of emergency epinephrine, which is usually used to treat a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Six hours later, the woman was well enough to be discharged, the hospital said.

"Allergic reactions, though uncommon, can occur with injections of medications and vaccines," Dr. Angelique Ramirez, the hospital's chief medical officer, said in a media statement. "This is why our staff is trained and prepared to respond to any symptoms of anaphylaxis. Our employee is doing well and was able to go home."

Two other allergic reactions linked to the Pfizer vaccine were reported this week, also in Alaska. One worker's reaction was so severe that she needed to be hospitalized; the other worker's reaction was milder. 

Washington Monument closes after staffers asked to quarantine

The Washington Monument has been forced to close because a number of staffers are now in quarantine after a recent visit by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who tested positive this week for Covid-19.

“In working with our public officials and out of an abundance of caution, a couple of employees have quarantined resulting in a temporary workforce reduction at the monument and its temporary closure,” Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin said in an email to Reuters.

Bernhardt, a former energy industry lobbyist and lawyer, tested positive on Wednesday shortly before he was supposed to attend a cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump.

A prime tourist attraction, the Washington Monument was closed at the start of the pandemic and reopened in October with restrictions on how many people would be allowed inside. 

Bernhardt, who is just the latest Trump official to get infected with Covid-19, often led private tours of the monument after hours, The Washington Post reported.

Twins on front lines contract Covid; only one survives

In Iowa, two frontline medical workers, who are also twin sisters, had two very different outcomes after both contracting Covid-19.  

Cynthia Racanati, 47, is mourning the loss of her identical twin Michele Racanati, who died from coronavirus related complications. The sisters were living together and working at the same hospital in Oelwein, Iowa when they each contracted the virus in early November – first Cynthia with only mild symptoms and then Michele with a more severe case. 

“You could tell that she was really sick,” Cynthia told NBC News. “Sometimes, she'd be sleeping all day. She didn't want to get up, she wouldn't feel good.” 

As Michele’s breathing grew more difficult, Cynthia decided to take her sister to the ER. By then, Michele could barely walk and had to be put in a wheelchair. Within hours, she was put onto a ventilator and declared brain dead. Eventually, Michele would be taken off life support, her sister overcome with grief and survivor’s guilt.

Click here to read the full story.

Frontline Stanford Medical School residents, fellows stage protest over vaccine distribution

Frontline medical residents and fellows at Stanford University School of Medicine staged a walkout Friday to protest the university's distribution of the Coronavirus vaccine. 

"First in the room! Back of the line!" they shouted, according to a video posted to Twitter.

NBC News Bay Area reporter Candace Nguyen tweeted that Stanford Medical School sources told her that non-emergency medical workers "like weight loss surgery employees & dermatologists" were offered the new vaccine before the more than 1,300 residents and fellows who, while still in training, work directly with Covid-19 patients at California's overfilled emergency rooms and intensive care units.

In a statement Stanford told Nguyen that their "intent was to roll out an ethical and equitable plan" but admitted "flaws" that "we are actively working to repair."

Michigan Gov. wants White House to explain reduction in vaccine doses to states

Michigan’s governor demanded Friday that the White House explain why her state and others are reportedly not going to get all the doses of the new Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine they had been promised.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke out while she mourned the death of her friend, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who died on Thursday of complications from the coronavirus.

“We have Michigan hospitals and nursing homes ready to administer this vaccine and the bottleneck appears to be the White House and I can’t get an answer why,” an emotional Whitmer said.

“Where are our doses?” she asked. “What is holding them up.”

There was no immediate response from the White House, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services has denied that the number of Pfizer vaccine doses have been reduced.

Whitmer has been among the fiercest critics of President Donald Trump and his pandemic response.

NBC News reported on Thursday that several governors had complained that half as many Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots as expected were going to be delivered to their states in the next few weeks and that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, suggested that the pharma giant was having manufacturing problems.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said they don’t have production problems and are waiting for the government to tell them when, where and how many doses they should ship out.

But Michigan’s allotment is shrinking next week by 29 percent from 84,000 does to 60,000 even though Pfizer’s main manufacturing plant and distribution center is located just outside of Kalamazoo, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services has said.

France's Macron blames his Covid on negligence, bad luck

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday blamed his Covid-19 on a combination of negligence and bad luck, urging his compatriots to stay safe as critics called out slip-ups in his behavior to prevent infection, from a close-quarters handshake to repeated big-group meals over the past week.

In what looked like a self-shot video from the presidential retreat in Versailles where he was isolating, Macron said he was experiencing symptoms that included headaches, fatigue and a dry cough. He promised to give daily updates and be “totally transparent” about the evolution of his illness.

“I am doing well,” the 42-year-old French leader said, speaking softly with a bottle of gel on the desk behind him and dressed casually in a turtleneck top. 

Macron said his infection "shows that the virus really can touch everyone, because I am very protected and am very careful."

“Despite everything I caught this virus — perhaps, doubtless, a moment of negligence, a moment of bad luck, too," he said.

In France, Macron faced criticism for actions that were seen as setting a bad example as the country sees a new uptick in cases and doctors warn families to take precautions this holiday season — especially at the dinner table.

Macron usually wears a mask and adheres to social distancing rules, and has insisted that his virus strategy is driven by science. But he has been captured on camera in recent days violating France’s virus-control guidelines.

McConnell receives Covid-19 vaccine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was administered the Covid-19 vaccine on Friday. 

"Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus," he tweeted.

Rhode Island's "pause" to end Sunday

Biden to receive coronavirus vaccine in public on Monday

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, will receive coronavirus vaccinations in public on Monday, according to incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are expected to receive vaccinations the following week.

Rupert Murdoch gets Covid vaccine in UK

Right wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who has been isolating in Britain with his former model wife Jerry Hall Murdoch, announced Friday that he has gotten the Covid-19 vaccine from his local doctor.

Murdoch, who is 89, also praised the country’s National Health Service workers for their handling of the pandemic.

“I would like to thank the keyworkers and the NHS staff who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic, and the amazing scientists who have made this vaccine possible,” Murdoch said in a statement. “I strongly encourage people around the world to get the vaccine as it becomes available.”

Murdoch’s media empire includes Fox News, which has led the charge against Obamacare and frequently features commentary and editorials against so-called “Socialized medicine” systems that Britain and numerous other countries have.


Iowa Hawkeyes football coach Kirk Ferentz sidelined by coronavirus

Image: University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz
University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.Orlando Ramirez / AP file

University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz tested positive for Covid-19 and will remain at home until after Christmas, the school announced on Friday.

Iowa was supposed to play Michigan on Saturday but that game was cancelled earlier this week due to coronavirus cases in the Wolverines program. 

Ferentz is asymptomatic and will be in quarantine at home until Dec. 27, officials said. The Hawkeyes, winners of six in a row and ranked No. 18 in the latest AP poll, are expected to receive a bowl invitation on Sunday. 

“We have been fortunate this season to have played eight games and to have very few positive cases,“  Ferentz, 65, said in a statement released through the school. “When the team returns to practice on Tuesday, I will participate via Zoom and our collective focus will be on preparing for the bowl game.”

Pelosi receives coronavirus vaccine

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., received a vaccination for the coronavirus Friday at around noon ET. The vaccine was administered by Congress' attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan. 

Pelosi said in a statement Thursday that congressional leadership had been informed by Monahan's office that members of the House and Senate were eligible to receive the vaccine because of government continuity guidelines. 

California activates 'mass fatality' program due to rise in Covid cases, deaths

California activated its "mass fatality" program as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise, leading to the state purchasing thousands of extra body bags.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference Tuesday that he was activating the program in response to "sobering" Covid-19 data.

"This is a deadly disease, a deadly pandemic and we're in the middle of it right now," he said. "We're near the end, but we're in the middle of the most acute peak as it relates to what we refer to as the third wave."

The mass fatality program is designed to provide an "essential resource" to local agencies as deaths rise, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.

Click here to read the full story.

Congress hits a new snag on Covid relief bill as shutdown deadline looms

WASHINGTON — Congress hit a new stumbling block in negotiating a coronavirus aid deal, the latest in a final turbulent stretch to end the year as party leaders race against a Friday midnight deadline.

Congressional leaders had settled on a $900 billion framework mid-week that is expected to include a $300 federal unemployment bonus, a new round of direct payments, small business funding and money to distribute Covid-19 vaccines.

Negotiators already dropped two contentious provisions that were holding up an agreement — liability protections for employers and funding for state and local governments.

But leaders had hit a new roadblock as Democrats on Friday accused Republicans, led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., of seeking to hamstring the incoming Biden administration by cutting off Federal Reserve emergency lending facilities created by the CARES Act to protect the fragile economy.

Democrats want to extend that authority into the new year, describing it as an important tool to respond to an economic crisis.

Click here to read the full story.

Texas doctors in rural hotspots left out in cold on vaccine

LAMESA, Texas — Running in between patients, Dr. Eileen Sprys pauses to catch her breath, tries to gather herself, but cannot mask her frustration: The health care workers in her COVID-besieged West Texas hospital were left out of the first shipment of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, and they have no idea when they may get it.

Not a single rural hospital in this state that prides itself on its country roots received any doses of the vaccine this week, despite such medical outposts serving around 20 percent of the state's population, or 3 million people.

Even before the pandemic, rural hospitals in Texas and many other states were operating on "skin and bones" staffing and budgets, Sprys said.

"We're all exposed all the time," she said. "We don't have an isolated COVID wing or staff only dedicated to COVID unlike in larger hospitals. To not be included in the first shipment of vaccines is just so upsetting."

Click here to read the full story.

U.K.'s Boris Johnson worries experts with his Christmas Covid respite

Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging across the United Kingdom. But unlike elsewhere in Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is sticking with his plan to relax restrictions for five days around Christmas.

Right now, 38 million Britons are under severe social restrictions, meaning groups small can mix only in public spaces, not in homes or private gardens, and bars and restaurants must close except for deliveries.

But for five days starting Dec. 23 people in England will be able to mix indoors with an unlimited number from two other households. That's worried many doctors and scientists, who say the increased festive mingling will likely lead to an even greater rise in cases — followed inevitably by hospitalizations and deaths.

"The government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring and again in the autumn. It should now reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing," the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal said in a rarer joint editorial this week.

Supporters of Johnson's policy say that many people would be willing to accept the risks of spending Christmas with their families after a bleak year. They argue that to U-turn at the last minute would also cause mayhem for many families, who have already booked rental cars and train tickets.

Read the full story here.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Gottlieb says federal government "throttling" vaccine distribution

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a member of Pfizer’s board of directors, said Friday the federal government has deliberately “throttled” the release of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the states.

“They’re holding back doses,” Gottlieb told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. “In part they say they want to hold back a second dose for everyone who receives a first dose. I think that that’s not the right decision. I think they should be leaning forward and trying to get more doses in people now and have some confidence that the manufacturing’s going to keep up.”

Gottlieb spoke out a day after NBC News reported that several governors had complained that half as many Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots as expected were going to be delivered to their states in the next few weeks and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested that the pharma giant was having manufacturing problems.

Pfizer is not having production problems, Gottlieb said. “The 25 million doses that the company’s promised for December have largely been manufactured,” he said. 

But with record numbers of Americans getting infected and dying from Covid-19, the sooner people get vaccinated the better, Gottlieb said.

“And if we can get more protective immunity in people more quickly over the next week, that could have an impact on the pandemic,” Gottlieb said earlier on CNBC. “Three, four weeks from now if we vaccinate more people it’s not going to have the same level of impact.”

There was no immediate response to Gottlieb’s remarks from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. But in a statement Thursday, the HHS said “reports that jurisdictions’ allocations are being reduced are incorrect.”

8 nuns at Wisconsin convent die of Covid in past week, 4 on same day

Eight nuns died from Covid-19 complications in the past week at a Wisconsin convent — four of whom died on the same day.

The convent, School Sisters of Notre Dame of Elm Grove, about 10 miles west of Milwaukee, said there were confirmed cases among the 88 sisters living at the facility, but did not specify the number, NBC affiliate TMJ4 reported.

Debra Sciano, provincial leader of the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific, told the station the eight sisters were all educators and “role models” who dedicated their lives to the community.

“For me, these are wisdom figures — women I have known for all of my 40 plus years in the community,” she said. “Every one of our sisters is really important, not only to us but feel they have touched a lot of lives we'll never be aware of.”

Click here to read the full story.

Doctors blame right-wing media for eroding trust during pandemic

Doctors say they’re facing increased skepticism and pushback from patients over Covid-19 treatments. They and researchers attribute this to skeptical and misinformed coverage of the pandemic, which often amplified President Trump's misstatements.

“The right-wing media and President Trump eroded faith and trust in scientists and in actual data during this pandemic, so now we’re left at the end of December with this terrible surge in hospitalizations," Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in treating HIV, told NBC News.

One published academic analysis found that from Feb. 1 to March 23, right-leaning outlets had published nearly 4,000 stories with misinformation about Covid-19 compared with mainstream outlets, which had about 1,500. The researchers also found that "right-leaning media viewers are more than twice as likely to endorse Covid-related misinformation."

As a result, based on polling data, these misinformed individuals are "significantly more likely to believe that the CDC is exaggerating the health risks of the virus," the researchers wrote.

Click here to read the full story.

Wayne County, Michigan, sheriff dies from Covid-19 complications

Benny Napoleon after casting his vote on Election Day in 2013 in Detroit.
Benny Napoleon after casting his vote on Election Day in 2013 in Detroit.Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon died Thursday, following a weeks-long battle with Covid-19, Michigan authorities and family members said.

Napoleon, a 65-year-old former Detroit police chief, died at Henry Ford Hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in mid-November.

"I am heartbroken at the news of my dear friend Benny’s passing," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement late Thursday night. "Sheriff Napoleon’s love for the people he served was returned many times over. His quick laugh, eager partnership, and candid counsel is what I will miss most."

Sweden's king says 'we have failed' over Covid-19, as deaths mount

STOCKHOLM — Sweden's king said his country had failed in its handling of Covid-19, in a sharp criticism of a pandemic policy partly blamed for a high death toll among the elderly.

"I believe we have failed," the king said in an excerpt from a programme broadcast by SVT on Wednesday. The full show airs on Dec. 21.

Carl XVI Gustaf, whose son and daughter-in-law tested positive last month, used an annual royal Christmas TV special to highlight the growing impact of the virus, in a rare intervention from a monarch whose duties are largely ceremonial.

Sweden has stood out from most countries by shunning lockdowns and face masks, leaving schools, restaurants and businesses largely open and relying mainly on voluntary social distancing and hygiene recommendations to slow the spread.

Click here to read the full story.

'Nothing to fix': HHS Secretary Alex Azar responds to Covid-19 vaccine shipment confusion

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar responded to governors on Friday amid confusion over when and how many doses will be distributed in the upcoming weeks.

In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Azar said the number of allocations was determined by Pfizer, who he said told his agency that two million doses of the vaccine would be allocated this week.

"There's nothing actually to fix," he said. "There was some misunderstanding from certain of our governors."

Azar said there would be 20 million doses available for the month of December, including 5.9 million Moderna vaccines, which is expected to be granted emergency use authorization as soon as today.

Azar added that his wife was recovering and following Center for Disease Control and Prevention protocols after testing positive for Covid-19, while he continues to test negative.

Fauci predicts Moderna shots to start 'within a few days'

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday predicted that injections of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine will begin "very soon — literally within a few days."

Moderna's shot on Thursday became the second vaccine to receive a recommendation of authorization from a panel of advisers to the FDA.

Fauci reiterated his earlier prediction that Covid-19 vaccines could be widely available to the public by spring 2021, describing the possible date range as between February and April. 

"It really is going to depend on how effectively and successfully we roll out the higher priorities, because as you know, the advisory committee on immunization practices at the CDC has put together a priority list — once you get through the priority list, then you could say its sort of open season for anyone who’s not necessarily on a priority list, like the normal man or woman on the street who has no underlying condition," Fauci said. 

Fauci, who is the nation's top infectious disease doctor, added that Moderna's vaccine is also expected to prevent asymptomatic infection.

"If you also even prevent a person from actually getting infected," Fauci explained, "that would mean you are prevented from passing the infection on to someone else, and that kind of interferes with the chain of transmission."

December now the second-deadliest month of the pandemic

With close to 43,000 reported Covid-19 deaths, December has become the second-deadliest month of the pandemic in the U.S., according to NBC News' count.

April was the deadliest month, with 58,960 people killed. 

December’s toll was driven by death counts in Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and California. More than 3,000 people were reported dead Thursday, the fourth day of the month with 3,000-plus deaths.

More than 3.7 million people have been infected with Covid-19 this month, the second-most of any month. 

Thursday, these states set single-day records:

  • Arkansas, 3,039 cases
  • Maine, 590 cases
  • North Carolina, 101 dead
  • Tennessee, 177 dead
  • Utah, 30 dead
  • West Virginia, 1,636 cases

Homeless and doubled up, families living with other households may fall into aid blind spot

To avoid staying at a homeless shelter, Kristie Filippello and her three children have been sleeping on the floor of a relative's one-bedroom apartment for nearly two months.

Filippello, 32, left her home after the pandemic caused her housecleaning business to go under and the financial stress of unpaid bills led to abuse from her boyfriend of two years with whom she lived.

With nowhere to go, she and her kids, 6,8 and 11, spent two months at a homeless shelter in Florida before moving to Cincinnati to stay with relatives after getting relocation money from a domestic violence victim's compensation fund in October.

Homelessness is poised to surge in the coming weeks and months as Americans face continued economic turbulence and a pandemic-inspired eviction moratorium expires later this month. But vital housing assistance may not be fully available to families that don’t meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of "homeless," including those who, like Filippello, have had to double up with other households.

Doubling up is when an individual or family lives with another household temporarily or shuffles indefinitely between homes often because of economic need. People who are doubled up are not considered homeless by HUD, and not allotted certain assistance such as rapid rehousing, housing experts said.

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Paul McCartney, 78, wants to get Covid vaccine

LONDON — Paul McCartney says he’s keen to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

In an interview Friday with the BBC, the ex-Beatle also downplayed the likelihood he’d go on tour next year to support his latest album released this week, “McCartney III,” saying it depends on how successful virus countermeasures are.

When asked if he would get a coronavirus vaccine, the 78-year-old McCartney said, “Yeah, I will yeah. And I’d like to encourage people to get it too, because with this it’s much more serious, and yeah, if I’m allowed to get it, I will.”

He said he’d love to play at Britain’s Glastonbury music festival in 2021, though he was skeptical organizers could stage it, noting that it would likely involve 100,000 people closely packed together, with no masks. “You know, talk about a superspreader,” he said.

Supreme Court justices being provided vaccine doses

WASHINGTON — The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are being provided with doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

That is according to a letter by Capitol Physician Brian Monahan, which says the court, along with Congress and executive branch agencies are being given a limited supply of doses “for continuity of government operations.”

The doses are being provided under a directive by President Donald Trump that established continuity of government as a reason for vaccine prioritization. The Supreme Court and the other branches of government are supposed to be treated “in parallel.”

Spain's Supreme Court orders probe into nursing home Covid-19 deaths

MADRID — Spain's Supreme Court on Friday ordered an investigation into the deaths of elderly people in nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of protective gear for health workers.

Magistrates were asked to find out if deaths at nursing homes "were associated with political, administrative or management decisions and whether those decisions are criminally reproachable."

Spain has been one of the countries in Europe hardest-hit by the pandemic, both in terms of disease and the economic impact. A total of 48,777 people have died from the coronavirus, with the toll climbing by 181 over the last 24 hours.

More than 20,000 people died of Covid-19 or suspected Covid-19 in nursing homes in Spain during the first coronavirus wave, according to preliminary official data reported by El Pais newspaper and broadcaster RTVE.

The Supreme Court also asked the lower courts to look into the possible misuse of public funds to purchase flawed or fraudulent equipment to fight the pandemic.

However, it rejected about 50 cases that specifically targeted the government for its management of the pandemic, arguing that the complaints were not detailed enough to charge any high-ranking officials.