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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.

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.”