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Covid live updates: Latest on rising cases and the Covid-19 stimulus package

The relief deal struck Sunday includes checks of up to $600 a person based on income,

Congress struck a deal Sunday on a nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package that includes a new round of direct payments and help for jobless Americans, families and businesses struggling in the pandemic.

The agreement includes stimulus checks of up to $600 a person based on income, a federal unemployment insurance bonus of $300 per week, over $284 billion more in loans for businesses struggling to pay rent and workers, vaccine distribution funds and $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools. It also includes the Democrats' priority of $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium.

The agreement was expected to be reached earlier in the week but hit a roadblock after some Republicans demanded an end to Federal Reserve authorities over emergency lending. Democrats pushed back, accusing the GOP of seeking to sabotage the economy overseen by incoming President Joe Biden.

Despite Covid-19 eviction ban, tenants still being thrown out

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium was supposed to protect renters in all 50 states through the end of the year. Keeping Covid-affected renters in their apartments, the CDC said, would reduce the potential for virus transmission likely to occur as displaced people were forced to move in with family or friends or into homeless shelters.

But nationwide adherence to the moratorium has been spotty, housing experts say. Some judges are rejecting the moratorium outright, while others are evicting based on landlord-friendly state regulations or disputed claims about tenants violating their leases.

Evictions processed while the moratorium is still in place are a preview of what some experts predict will be a wave of homelessness when the CDC moratorium expires on Dec. 31. Access to Congressional funds earmarked for rental assistance also ends then, programs that have helped landlords as well as renters.

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Mental health care resources stretched thin during pandemic

In a year of more than 300,000 deaths from a pandemic, job insecurity, a looming eviction crisis and a renewed focus on racial injustice, mental health has been pushed into the public discourse across the country.

Politicians have implemented new strategies to acknowledge disparities in quality of care for people seeking health providers and have attempted to address mental health through policy. But questions remain as to whether systems will change enough to normalize mental health care following a year of collective trauma.

In June, an estimated 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with some form of mental health or substance abuse issues, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in August. There was a threefold increase in adults reporting anxiety and four times the reports of feelings of depression compared to the same time the year before, the CDC found.

Read the full story.

More European Union nations ban travel from U.K.

BERLIN — A growing list of European Union nations barred travel from the U.K. on Sunday and others were considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading to the continent.

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on U.K. travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be canceled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

Johnson immediately placed those regions under a strict new Tier 4 restriction level, upending Christmas plans for millions.

France banned all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours from midnight Sunday, including trucks carrying freight through the tunnel under the English Channel or from the port of Dover on England's south coast.

French officials said the pause would buy time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat, but it threw the busy cross-channel route used by thousands of trucks a day into chaos.

Hospital staffs stretched thin during California virus surge

LOS ANGELES — Medical staffing is stretched increasingly thin as California hospitals scramble to find beds for patients amid an explosion of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm the state's emergency care system.

On Sunday, more than 16,840 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 infections — more than double the previous peak reached in July. A state model that uses current data to forecast future trends shows the number could reach 75,000 by mid-January.

More than 3,610 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units. All of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley to the north have exhausted their regular ICU capacity, and some hospitals have begun using “surge” space. Overall, the state’s ICU capacity was just 2.1% on Sunday.

The enormous crush of cases in the last six weeks has California’s death toll spiraling ever higher. An additional o 161 fatalities were reported Sunday for a total of 22,593.

Many hospitals are preparing for the possibility of rationing care. A document recently circulated among doctors at the four hospitals run by Los Angeles County calls for them to shift strategy: Instead of trying everything to save a life, their goal during the crisis is to save as many patients as possible. That means those less likely to survive won’t get the same kind of care offered in normal times.

Congress reaches deal on $900 billion Covid-19 relief package

WASHINGTON — After months of stalemate, Congress struck a deal on a nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package that includes a new round of direct payments and help for jobless Americans, families and businesses struggling in the pandemic.

"More help is on the way," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday evening on the Senate floor. "Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and the House finalized an agreement."

The agreement includes more stimulus checks, a federal unemployment insurance bonus, more money for businesses struggling to pay rent and workers, vaccine distribution funds and funding for schools.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the package beginning later Sunday or Monday.

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CDC advisory group: Older adults, frontline essential workers to get Covid vaccine next

People ages 75 and up and frontline essential workers will be next in line to receive Covid-19 vaccines, according to recommendations from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee.

On Sunday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted in favor of the recommendations, which will go on to the CDC for final sign off.

The new proposal comes less than a week after the first Covid-19 vaccines went out to health care workers and those living in long-term care facilities across the country. That group is referred to as phase 1a. The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to two Covid-19 vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

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What scientists know about the coronavirus variant spreading in the U.K.

Several European countries have banned flights from the U.K. over fears about new coronavirus variant that has forced millions of people in Britain to cancel their Christmas plans.

Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy all announced restrictions on U.K. travel. Others will likely follow suit as scientists warned the new strain spread more quickly than its predecessor.

With U.K. infection levels rising rapidly, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a Saturday news conference that London and the U.K.'s southeast would be put under the strictest lockdown rules, known as "Tier 4."

As a result, nonessential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks, while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

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Sen. McConnell: 'We appear to be just hours away' from Covid relief bill

Thailand to test over 10,000 people after record COVID-19 surge

Thailand plans to test more than 10,000 people after a record daily surge in coronavirus cases to over 500, most of which were among migrant workers linked to a shrimp market near the capital, an official said on Sunday.

By Wednesday the authorities aim to conduct 10,300 tests in the southwest province of Samut Sakhon, where the outbreak appeared, and other nearby provinces, a spokesman for Thailand's Covid-19 taskforce, told a news conference.

"Active case findings will continue in several provinces, actually across the country," he said.

Thailand, the first country outside China to report coronavirus infections, has largely kept the outbreak under control with 4,907 cases and 60 deaths.

Fauci tells kids not to worry, he gave Santa Claus the Covid-19 vaccine

Worried children can rest easy after the nation’s leading infectious disease expert assured them on Saturday that Santa Claus has gotten a Covid-19 vaccine.

The world’s most famed gift-giver will be safe to travel around the world on Christmas Eve, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci was answering questions from children during a Sesame Street town hall with CNN when the concern arose.

“Will Santa still be able to visit me in coronavirus this season,” 6-year-old Paxton from Illinois asked. “What if he can’t go to anyone’s house or near his reindeer?”

“I took a trip up there to the North Pole,” Fauci said. “I went there and I vaccinated Santa Claus myself. I measured his level of immunity, and he is good to go...Santa Claus is good to go.”

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First shipments of Moderna vaccine roll out, a new weapon in U.S. Covid-19 response

Distribution for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine began on Sunday, just two days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized it for emergency use.

Moderna’s vaccine distribution means the U.S. now has two vaccines in its arsenal to fight the pandemic that has infected more than 17.7 million Americans and claimed more than 317,000 lives.

McKesson, a healthcare supply chain management company, is shipping the vaccine around the country from its distribution centers in Olive Branch, Mississippi, and outside of Louisville, Kentucky.

It began filling its first orders on Sunday, including the vaccine and ancillary supply kits needed to administer the shot. The company said their initial deliveries, at the U.S. government's direction, should arrive by Monday.

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White House testing czar says Trump should get Covid vaccine

Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration's Covid testing czar, on Sunday urged President Donald Trump to get vaccinated, saying that the move would "inspire confidence" about the vaccine's safety and effectiveness.

"I think any leader who is influential over groups of individuals should have the vaccine," Giroir, the assistant secretary for health and human services, said during an interview on ABC's "This Week," adding, "I think leadership like the vice president, the surgeon general, you know, should get vaccines because they will inspire confidence in — with the people who believe in them and trust them."

"And again, we have every reason to believe that this vaccine, these two vaccines, are very effective and they are safe," he continued. "So, you know, I would encourage the president to get a vaccine for his own health and safety and also to generate more confidence among the people who follow him so closely."

Other top administration officials like Vice President Mike Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams have taken vaccine shots publicly. Biden and incoming first lady Jill Biden will receive the vaccine on Monday, with Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, set to receive it the following week. 

Last week, Trump, who battled Covid-19 earlier this year, tweeted he is "not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time."

Mistrust, disinformation among Latinos on Covid vaccine worries Hispanic doctors

As vaccinations against the coronavirus begin to roll out across the country, Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo says he's been getting many questions from his predominantly Latino patients, including whether the vaccine contains the virus and whether there are side effects to taking it.

“People are not sure what’s in the vaccines. They want to know,” said Carrasquillo, the chief of general internal medicine at the University of Miami and one of the principal investigators for the Janssen vaccine trial.

Covid-19 has hit U.S. Latinos disproportionately hard in many areas of the U.S., making vaccinations a crucial public health mission. But doctors like Carrasquillo are hearing skepticism about the vaccines because of the lack of reliable information, especially in Spanish, coupled with disinformation that has been circulating.

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European neighbors restrict travel to U.K. as new virus strain spreads

Several European countries placed new travel restrictions on the United Kingdom on Sunday amid concern over a new strain of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly in the country's capital and the southeast of England.

In an effort to prevent the new variant from spreading across country lines, Belgium said it would close its borders to trains and planes coming from the U.K. and the Netherlands also suspended flights. Italy's foreign minister indicated his government was planning a similar ban.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and scientists announced on Saturday that the new virus strain, which is 70 percent more transmissible than existing strains, had led to spiraling infection numbers.

The U.K. government subsequently tightened its Covid-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas, disrupting the Christmas holiday plans of millions of people.

Monoclonal antibodies divide overwhelmed Covid doctors

Dr. Michael Saag cannot get enough monoclonal antibodies to treat Covid-19.

They're not for him, personally; he still has natural antibodies to the coronavirus since recovering from the illness this past March.

But Saag, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said he would take the monoclonal antibodies — made in a lab to mirror the body's natural immune response to the virus — "in a heartbeat" if he were to be infected a second time.

Read more here.

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

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.’”