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Coronavirus updates: Covid cases rise and Moderna vaccine authorized

The authorization adds a second vaccine to the country's arsenal.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading Covid-19 news from Dec. 20, 2020.

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration Friday, becoming the second vaccine in the country's arsenal to fight the pandemic.

"This is another crucial step in the fight against the global pandemic that is causing vast numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States every day," FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told a media briefing.

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

Rose Bowl loses college football semifinal over region's surge

A college football semifinal scheduled to take place Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, has been moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Rose Bowl officials announced Saturday night.

The move was the result of the region's surge in coronavirus cases, the venue said. Los Angeles County health officials Saturday said they have counted more than 600,000 cases since the pandemic began. State pandemic restrictions include 20 percent capacity at essential retailers and no dining.

The city of Pasadena is in Los Angeles County but has its own health department that keeps a separate tally of cases. On Saturday it recorded 5,497 cases since the pandemic started.

The Rose Bowl cited a regional strain on "medical resources" as well as "word late this week that the State of California would not make a special exception for player guests at the game," according to a statement.

"The decision to move the game is based on the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Southern California along with the inability to host player and coach guests at any game in California," the Rose Bowl said.

Outbreak in Sydney's beach suburbs grows to 70 cases


SYDNEY — Sydney's coronavirus outbreak grew to around 70 on Sunday, forcing authorities to introduce stricter social distancing rules across the city and more states to close borders or impose quarantine measures on its residents.

The neighboring state of Victoria will close its border to Sydney from midnight Sunday. South Australia state introduced a 14-day quarantine for all Sydney arrivals on Sunday and banned travelers from the affected suburbs.

The island state of Tasmania took a similar step on Saturday, while Western Australia state imposed a hard border closure. About a quarter of a million people in Sydney's northern beach suburbs, where the outbreak has occurred, have been put into a strict lockdown until Christmas Eve.

Winter travel raises more fears of viral spread

The Associated Press

Tens of millions of people are expected to travel to family gatherings or winter vacations over Christmas, despite pleas by public health experts who fear the result could be another surge in Covid-19 cases.

In the U.S., AAA predicts that about 85 million people will travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, most of them by car. If true, that would be a drop of nearly one-third from a year ago, but still a massive movement of people in the middle of a pandemic.

Jordan Ford, 24, who was laid off as a guest-relations worker at Disneyland in March, said he plans to visit both his and his boyfriend’s families in Virginia and Arkansas over Christmas.

“It is pretty safe — everyone is wearing a mask, they clean the cabin thoroughly,” said Ford, who has traveled almost weekly in recent months from his home in Anaheim, California, and gets tested frequently. “After you get over that first trip since the pandemic started, I think you’ll feel comfortable no matter what.”

Experts worry that Christmas and New Year’s will turn into super-spreader events because many people are letting down their guard — either out of pandemic fatigue or the hopeful news that vaccines are starting to be distributed.

“Early on in the pandemic, people didn’t travel because they didn’t know what was to come,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, “but there is a feeling now that, ‘If I get it, it will be mild, it’s like a cold.’”

L.A. County records over 100,000 cases in eight days

Los Angeles County has recorded more than 100,000 Covid-19 cases since Dec. 11, public health officials announced on Saturday. New cases are accelerating at a faster rate than at any previous point during the pandemic. 

The county has recorded more than 610,000 cases to date. California has more than 1.8 million cases, according to NBC News counts.

The sobering data come as beds in intensive care units in Southern California hospitals remain at 0 percent capacity.

“Our hearts go out to everyone grieving the loss of a loved one due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are so sorry for your loss,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of public health. “We are bearing witness every day to the terrible suffering caused by a virus that is spreading out of control throughout the county."

Holiday travelers pack London trains after lockdown announcement

Trains were packed at St. Pancras station in London on Saturday after new Covid-19 restrictions were announced.
Trains were packed at St. Pancras station in London on Saturday after new Covid-19 restrictions were announced.Rebecca Nind

Travelers packed a central London train station Saturday before strict lockdown measures take effect Sunday to try to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The "Tier 4" measures announced by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday mean millions in London and southeast England will be forced to cancel traditional Christmas gatherings. The two-week restrictions include business closures and a one-person limit for outdoor-only meetings with those from outside a household.

The announcement prompted many Londoners to rush to get out of town and closer to loved ones before the limits take effect. Images of crowds at St. Pancras International train station in Camden revealed the very behavior, including lack of social distancing, Johnson was hoping to prevent.

Traveler Rebecca Nind, 33, of London said she was trying to get to Leeds to see her sister for Christmas but decided against a ride on a crowded train car at St. Pancras.

"I was not willing to stand squashed in the corridor between the carriages very close to so many other people for three hours given Covid, so I got off the train," she said.

In a tweet to her Saturday, East Midlands Railway acknowledged the crowding. "We've seen an unprecedented increase in demand since the government's announcement," it said.

CDC advises on severe allergic reactions to vaccines

Jay Varela

Jay Varela and Dennis Romero

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Saturday issued advice on how to approach the possibility of severe allergic reactions to Covid-19 vaccination.

It said anyone who has such a reaction should call 911 and seek emergency medical care. Those who have had severe allergic reactions to ingredients in either of the two vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration "should not get that specific vaccine," the CDC said in a guidance statement.

Americans who have had such a reaction to other vaccines or injections should consult a doctor before getting a Covid-19 vaccine, it said, and people who have severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injections "may" be inoculated. That's also the case regarding oral medications, a family history of severe allergic reactions and milder reactions to other vaccines, the CDC said.

Those whose bodies react severely to an initial shot—both the FDA-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses three weeks to nearly a month apart—should not get a second, the centers said.

The centers, which said it's monitoring reports of severe allergic reactions to the vaccines, advised that those being inoculated should be monitored for initial response, that medical care providers have appropriate medications and equipment to treat such reactions at the ready and that health care providers be prepared to ask for emergency medical aid.

French president in 'stable' condition after contracting coronavirus

Nancy Ing

Isobel van Hagen

Nancy Ing and Isobel van Hagen

French President Emmanuel Macron's is in stable condition and the results of a medical examination are reassuring, the Élysée Palace, Macron's official residence, said in a statement on Saturday in an update on his bout of coronavirus.

"The President of the Republic is showing a stable state of health compared to Friday," the statement said. 

Macron said on Friday he was doing fine a day after testing positive, but was working at a slower pace than usual outside Paris. On Thursday, Macron became the latest world leader to contract the virus, as countries across Europe struggle to suppress a spike in infections in the run-up to the holiday period.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives Pfizer vaccine

CDC committee recommends emergency use for Moderna vaccine for adults

Josh Cradduck

Josh Cradduck and Dennis Romero

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee voted Saturday to recommend emergency use of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for Americans 18 years and older.

The 11-0 vote, with three recusals, followed Friday's Food and Drug Administration authorization of the vaccine for emergency use on adults.

The CDC panel approved emergency use "for persons 18 years of age and older in the US population under the FDA's Emergency Use Authorization," according to the centers.

Moderna's is the second vaccine to achieve federal emergency use authorization. Last week the FDA authorized Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for those ages 16 and older. That vaccine is being distributed to frontline healthcare workers.

"Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for the use of a licensed vaccine often are based on additional considerations, such as disease epidemiology, public acceptance, vaccine supply, and cost," an analysis published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 states.

United Airlines passengers possibly exposed to Covid-19 after man dies on flight

United Airlines is working with health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help them contact passengers who might have been exposed to Covid-19 after a man suffered "a medical emergency" during a flight this week and died, the airline said in a statement.

Shay Allen, a passenger on the flight, told NBC Los Angeles she saw the man board the plane with his head down and breathing heavily. Less than 20 minutes into the flight, a nurse and an emergency medical technician began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him, she said. Allen and other passengers indicated they overheard the man's wife say he had been experiencing Covid-like symptoms.

“At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans,” the airline said. "Now that the CDC has contacted us directly, we are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection."

The male passenger had filled out a required checklist before boarding the flight, saying he had not tested positive for Covid and did not have symptoms. But it's apparent that he "wrongly acknowledged this requirement,” the airline said.

The CDC said in a statement that they are in the "process of collecting information and proceeding according to our standard operating procedures to determine if further public health action is appropriate." 

Read the full story here.

New York, South Carolina, Alabama set single-day records with new Covid-19 cases

New York, South Carolina and Alabama set single-day records on Friday after the three states have been grappling with an uptick in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks.

New York reported 13,498 new Covid-19 cases, while Alabama and South Carolina reported 5,348  and 4,302 new cases respectively, according to NBC News' tally.

On Friday, 248,259 new Covid-19 cases and 2,873 Covid deaths were reported nationwide.

Nearly 18 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic and nearly 315,000 have been killed by the virus.

Contact tracers connect those exposed to crucial social services


Dan Corey

Ludwig Hurtado

Dan Corey, Maura Barrett and Ludwig Hurtado

Dominique Bruneau Saavedra spends endless hours on the phone as a Covid-19 contact tracer, informing people in San Miguel County, Colorado, that they have been exposed to the virus and tracking down their recent contacts.

But the work doesn’t stop there.

Saavedra works on a team of 15, but is just one of three contact tracers who speaks Spanish in the county’s Department of Health and Environment, which serves a mostly rural community largely supported by winter tourism. Increasingly, she spends her time telling people about food assistance programs or answering questions about getting affordable internet access.

Read the full story here.

General apologizes to states for miscommunication on vaccine shipments

The Associated Press

An Army general in charge of Covid-19 vaccines apologized Saturday for “miscommunication” with states on the number of early doses delivered.

Gen. Gustave Perna’s remarks came a day after a second vaccine was added in the fight against the coronavirus. Governors in more than a dozen states says the federal government has told them next week’s shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be less than originally projected.

“I want to take personal responsibility for the miscommunication,” he said. “I know that’s not done much these days. But I am responsible. ... This is a herculean effort and we are not perfect.”

Perna says the government now is on track to get approximately 20 million doses to states by the first week of January, a combination of the newly approved Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. He says 2.9 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses have been delivered so far.

The coronavirus has killed more than 313,000 people in the U.S., the highest death toll in the world.

Read the full story here.

'Like a war zone': Prison that freed Paul Manafort early now ravaged by Covid

Lisa Riordan Seville

Rodney Wyatt has lived more than a few lives in his 52 years.

There was his life in the drug trade more than a decade ago that landed him a 22-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and his life as a loving father and fiancé. There’s his life as a patient, in which he has suffered two heart attacks and endured 42 rounds of radiation treatments for prostate cancer.

And there’s his life now, as one of more than 620 prisoners at FCI Loretto in Pennsylvania who contracted Covid-19 in the last month in what was, by mid-December, the worst outbreak in the federal prison system.

Read the full story here.

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

Ethan Sacks

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.

The Associated Press

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.