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Latest on coronavirus stimulus package and new strain found

Countries around the world were shutting their doors to Great Britain after a possibly more infectious strain of the coronavirus was detected.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading the Coronavirus Liveblog from Dec. 22, 2020.

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.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom was increasingly isolated on Monday as countries around the world rushed to shut their doors to the island nation after a possibly more infectious strain of the coronavirus was detected there.

$900 billion Covid relief bill advances to Senate

The House on Monday passed a massive Covid-19 relief package and government funding bill, Congress' second effort this year to help Americans struggling during the pandemic.

The outcome had been all-but-assured after congressional leaders struck a deal late Sunday to provide $900 billion in aid, including a new round of stimulus checks and an extension of unemployment benefits for Americans.

The legislation passed the chamber 359 to 53 and now moves to the Senate, which is also expected to pass it.

Read the full story here

Biden to scientists, researchers: We owe you an awful lot

Congress to vote on second Covid-19 relief package

Congress is expected to vote later Monday on a massive Covid-19 relief package and government funding bill, its second effort to provide direct aid to Americans struggling during the pandemic.

Congressional leaders struck a deal on nearly $900 billion in Covid-19 relief late Sunday, including a new round of direct payments and unemployment benefits for Americans, families and businesses struggling in the pandemic.

The agreement includes stimulus checks of up to $600 per person for individuals earning $75,000 per year and married couples who earned up to $150,000, with an additional $600 for each dependent under 18 living in the same household.

Click here to read the full story. 

A new round of stimulus checks is coming. Here's what you can expect.

How much will I get?

Individuals who made up to $75,000 in 2019 will receive $600. Married couples who earned up to $150,000 will receive $1,200. Filers listed as "head of household" and who earned $112,500 or less will get $600. And families will receive an additional $600 — up from $500 in the spring — for each dependent under 18 in the household.

If your 2020 income qualifies you for a larger benefit than your 2019 filing, the difference in payment can be claimed on tax returns filed next year — a process that starts next month.

According to text of the legislation released Monday afternoon, the program is structured similarly to that of this past spring, with the checks getting smaller and eventually down to zero the further you get from $75,000 for individuals, $112,500 for heads of households and $150,000 for joint filers.

Click here to read the full story. 

U.S. coronavirus cases surpass 18 million, according to NBC News tally

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. have surpassed 18 million, according to an NBC News analysis of public health data.

The tally from NBC News, which is not a final aggregation for Monday's new case numbers, shows the country has added a million new cases since Thursday. America's pandemic death toll was an estimated 319,476, the data showed. 

News that two vaccines had been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration has inspired some optimism, but it will likely take months before inoculations are widely available.

As the country faces a record number of hospitalizations, cases and deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to continue social distancing and wearing masks. The agency also advised against travel, saying "the safest way to celebrate the winter holidays is to celebrate at home with people who live with you."

Covid-19 cases in kids hit record high last week

The U.S. logged a record high number of pediatric Covid-19 cases last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Last week alone, 182,018 new pediatric cases were reported. Since early December, cases in children have increased by 25 percent.

More than 1.8 million cases of Covid-19 had been diagnosed in children since the beginning of the pandemic. Kids represent 12.3 percent of all Covid-19 cases in the U.S., a percentage that has steadily increased in recent months.

Severe complications of Covid-19 in kids are rare, as are hospitalizations, the AAP reported. But studies have shown children can spread the virus as well as anyone else. 

Death from Covid-19 is also rare among children. A total of 172 kids in the U.S. have died from Covid-19, less than 1 percent of all deaths from the disease in the U.S.

Watch: Biden receives coronavirus vaccine

What's in the Covid relief bill? Democrats and Republicans in Congress claim wins

WASHINGTON — After more than seven months of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are on the cusp of passing a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill and both sides are claiming victory while blaming the other for the delays in getting additional relief to Americans.

Democrats are coming away with far less than the $3.3 trillion bill House Democrats passed in May, which included nearly $1 trillion in federal funding for state and local governments. The bill set to be voted on late Monday won’t include any funding for states, a top Democratic priority. It will also exclude the Republican priority of liability protection from Covid-19-related lawsuits for businesses.

The Covid-19 relief is part of a larger government funding bill.

Both parties are touting wins that play to their constituents.

Read the fully story here.

Day-to-day Covid decisions are a complicated balancing act. These two families show how.

CENTERVILLE, Ohio — The families of Lauren Brinkman and Dr. Kelly Carr share many similarities.

The two women both work in health care and have children of similar ages. They're separated by a two-hour drive down Interstate 71 in Ohio. And they're both trying to stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Like millions of other people, Brinkman and Carr are making near-constant calculations about their daily activities. Every soccer practice, patient appointment and gym session now goes into a mental map that tests their personal risk tolerances against their mental and emotional capacities.

"You think you can buckle down and just stay holed up in your house," Carr said. "Telling people day after day that they need to stay within their household is just brutal."

There are differences, too. Carr and her husband each operate their own small business. Brinkman's husband works in the restaurant industry, which has been hammered by the pandemic. Carr lost a close friend to Covid-19. Brinkman has known people who have had only mild cases.

Together, the differences illustrate how people in seemingly similar circumstances can make different choices. Brinkman's kids are still attending school and day care. Carr's aren't. Brinkman's family still occasionally dines indoors. Carr's doesn't.

"We're doing semi-normal things, but at the same time, our awareness is much more heightened," Brinkman said.

Read the full story here.

WHO says no need for major alarm over new coronavirus strain

The World Health Organization cautioned against major alarm over a new, highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain, saying this was a normal part of a pandemic’s evolution.

WHO officials even put a positive light on the discovery of the new strains that prompted a slew of alarmed countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain and South Africa, saying new tools to track the virus were working.

“We have to find a balance. It’s very important to have transparency, it’s very important to tell the public the way it is, but it’s also important to get across that this is a normal part of virus evolution,” WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told an online briefing.

Citing data from Britain, WHO officials said they had no evidence that the variant made people sicker or was more deadly than existing strains of Covid-19, although it did seem to spread more easily.

Countries imposing travel curbs were acting out of an abundance of caution while they assess risks, Ryan said, adding: “That is prudent. But it is also important that everyone recognizes that this happens, these variants occur.”

WHO officials said coronavirus mutations had so far been much slower than with influenza and that even the new U.K. variant remained much less transmissible than other diseases like mumps. They said vaccines developed to combat Covid-19 should handle the new variants as well, although checks were under way to ensure this was the case.

The WHO said it expects to get more detail within days or weeks on the potential impact of the highly transmissible new coronavirus strain.

Pennsylvania student said she suffered heart failure at age 20 after mild case of Covid

A Temple University student says she experienced a life-threatening heart condition weeks after recovering from a mild case of Covid-19.

In a Facebook post from Dec. 8, Madie Neville writes that she returned to her family home for the Thanksgiving holiday following a diagnosis of Covid-19 in late October.

"I was feeling completely normal and was able to put my COVID experience behind me," Neville wrote. "After all, I am a twenty year old girl in good health. I am the subset of the population that is supposed to be best equipped to able to handle COVID."

Click here to read the full story.

British Airways to require Covid test for N.Y.-bound flights, Cuomo says

Beginning Tuesday, British Airways will require passengers on flights to New York from the United Kingdom to test negative for Covid-19 before departure, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted.

He said Monday that the state was also in conversations with Delta and Virgin Atlantic to do the same. British Airways did not immediately comment about Cuomo's tweet.

The announcement comes as the U.K. grapples with how to respond to a new mutant coronavirus strain and keep it from spreading worldwide. Experts estimate the variant could be 70 percent more transmissible than other earlier versions of the virus.

Excess Covid-19 deaths in CA hit older adults, Black and Latino residents the hardest, study shows

From March through August, excess deaths in California were highest among older adults and Black and Latino residents, a study in JAMA Network Open finds.

The study released Monday classified excess deaths as the numbers of expected deaths subtracted from the total amount of observed deaths. 

While the study showed older adults had the greatest quantity of excess deaths, it was younger adults who saw the greatest increase in excess deaths, “with rates more than doubling between the shutdown and reopening.” 

The rates also changed as different Covid-19 policies were put in place.

“Following the statewide shelter-in-place, Latino residents and those without a high school degree/GED had the greatest increase in excess per capita mortality, with rates more than tripling after reopening,” the study said. “We hypothesize that this pattern reflects the risk of COVID-19 death faced by low-wage, essential workers and their social networks owing to occupational exposure, crowded housing, and inadequate access to testing or treatments.

Dr. Birx travels, family visits highlight pandemic safety perils

WASHINGTON — As Covid-19 cases skyrocketed before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, warned Americans to “be vigilant” and limit celebrations to “your immediate household.”

For many Americans that guidance has been difficult to abide, including for Birx herself.

The day after Thanksgiving, she traveled to one of her vacation properties on Fenwick Island in Delaware. She was accompanied by three generations of her family from two households. Birx, her husband Paige Reffe, a daughter, son-in-law and two young grandchildren were present.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked Americans not to travel over the holidays and discourages indoor activity involving members of different households. “People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households.”

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State Department rolls back to Phase 1 in DC Region

The State Department said Monday it will be regressing to Phase 1 effectively immediately in the DC area as Covid-19 surges in the region, according to a memo obtained by NBC News. 

"The move to Phase 1 limits official travel to mission critical movements only and adds additional restrictions to visitor access, size of gatherings, and public facing Consular operations, on top of the maximum telework posture we adopted in November," the department said.

Phase 1 will end on Monday, January 18, just two days before Inauguration.

Washington D.C. has recorded more than 26,600 cases of the coronavirus, including 737 deaths.

Israel closes its airspace for almost all visitors in response to new coronavirus strain

In response to the new coronavirus strain spreading in Europe, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he would "close the skies of Israel" — banning almost all travel into the country.

Israelis arriving in the next 48 hours must go into solitary confinement at home, and anyone after that would have to do the same in a hotel, he said. Some exceptions, such as diplomats, would also be allowed entry.

"We currently have a new epidemic that is spreading, with a virus that we still cannot know its nature," Netanyahu said during a tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem with Jared Kushner, adviser and son-in-law to President Donald Trump. "This mutation could also be corona-two."

Israel is one of dozens of countries to impose new restrictions on travel following the identification of a new coronavirus strain in the United Kingdom. The strain appears to be more infections but scientists do not yet know if it's more or less deadly than those variants already in circulation.

UPS delivers first Moderna vaccine to Mass. town

UPS delivered the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Monday to a site in Burlington, Massachusetts.

The delivery arrived at 6:17 a.m., the company said, a day after Moderna began distributing the vaccine across the country.

McKesson, a healthcare supply chain management company, began filling the initial orders for the shot from its distribution centers in Olive Branch, Mississippi, and outside of Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday, now the second vaccine the U.S. in the fight against the virus that has killed more than 317,000 Americans.

Are new coronavirus strains cause for concern?

Health experts in the U.K. and U.S. said the strain seems to infect more easily than others, but there is no evidence yet it is more deadly.

Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said that the strain “moves fast and is becoming the dominant variant,” causing over 60 percent of infections in London by December.

The strain is also concerning because it has so many mutations — nearly two dozen — and some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. That spike is what current vaccines target.

Read the full story here.

European regulator clears way for use of Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

AMSTERDAM — Europe's medicines regulator on Monday approved the use of the Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by the U.S.'s Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, putting Europe on course to start inoculations within a week.

European Union countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from Dec. 27 as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and Britain, where inoculations began earlier this month.

Having gained the green light from the European Medicines Agency, or EMA, the final step is approval by the European Commission, which is expected later on Monday.

"Now we will act fast. I expect a European Commission decision by this evening," Commission head Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

Von der Leyen had already targeted the start of vaccinations over the Dec. 27-29 period.

Preparations for the vaccine rollout come as the identification of a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus in Britain caused chaos across the region, with countries shutting off travel ties with the U.K. and disrupting trade ahead of the Christmas holiday.

EMA officials told a news briefing that it was highly likely the vaccine would work against the new variant of the coronavirus.

December poised to become the most infectious month of the pandemic

The U.S. recorded 1,803 deaths and 201,828 Covid-19 cases Sunday, as monthly totals in both categories inched toward making December the deadliest and the most infectious month of the pandemic in the U.S.

With 4,330,000-plus cases in the month already, December will likely break the record 4,389,678 cases counted in November Monday. With 49,000-plus reported deaths in the month, it will take longer to surpass April's toll of 58,960 dead.

Apple temporarily closes California stores as virus cases mount

Apple has temporarily closed all 53 of its retail stores in California after the number of coronavirus cases reached new daily records in its home state this week. A listing of stores on the phone maker’s website reflects the change, which does not affect bordering states Arizona and Nevada.

The move shows how a major technology company is trying to reduce spread of the virus for employees and consumers, despite potential business impact.

“Due to current Covid-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas,” an Apple spokesperson told CNBC in an email. “We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible.”

Customers can still pick up existing orders and products the Genius Bar has repaired over the next few days, the spokesperson said.

Click here to read the full story.

Biden and wife Jill to receive Covid-19 vaccine on Monday

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, are scheduled to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday in Wilmington, Delaware, and it will be recorded on live video.

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

The Biden transition team told reporters during a Friday briefing call that staggering their vaccinations was "consistent with security and medical protocols" and it was recommended by medical and health experts. Asked for the reasoning for that recommendation, incoming press secretary Jen Psaki declined to go into further detail.

Read full story here.

Covid-19 vaccination drive heads to nursing homes

The U.S. government and two of the nation's largest pharmacy chains kick off a nationwide campaign to vaccinate nursing home residents against Covic-19 on Monday, a week after the first vaccines authorized in the country began being administered to healthcare workers.

The program is the latest effort to control a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people in the country and is straining the capacity of healthcare systems in some states.

The United States has two authorized vaccines against the virus, one developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech, which was cleared for use on Dec. 11, and one by Moderna that was approved on Friday.

Some 2.9 million shots of the Pfizer vaccine were distributed last week and mostly given to healthcare workers. The first Moderna injections are expected to begin being administered on Monday. About 7.9 million doses of the two shots are being distributed nationwide this week.

The government is urging states to prioritize those at greatest risk from the virus because vaccine supplies remain limited. 

U.K. Drivers warned: 'Routes to France closed, stay home'

Image: A sign on a highway in southeastern England warns drivers: "Routes to France closed, stay home." Countries, including France, moved to cut off Britain after a new and possibly more infectious strain of Covid-19 was identified.
A sign on a highway in southeastern England warns drivers: "Routes to France closed, stay home." Countries, including France, moved to cut off Britain after a new and possibly more infectious strain of Covid-19 was identified. Paul Ellis / AFP - Getty Images

Britain cut off by Canada and others as new Covid strain spreads

The United Kingdom was increasingly isolated on Monday as countries around the world shut their doors to the island nation after a possibly more infectious strain of the coronavirus was detected.

Almost two dozen countries including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Iran, Colombia and Morocco have suspended flights from the U.K. for 48 hours or more. Saudi Arabia has closed its borders and suspended all flights regardless of destination or origin.

Crisis meetings were scheduled in London and Brussels as officials grappled with how to respond to the variant, which experts estimate is 70 percent more transmissible than others in circulation.

At England's main port of Dover, already gridlocked before this weekend as a symptom of the country's imminent uncoupling with the European Union, freight officials warned that the new travel bans could wreak havoc on supply chains of food and goods days before Christmas.

Over the weekend, there was chaos at train stations and grocery stores, as people packed on to trains to avoid new domestic restrictions announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and stocked up on essentials in fear of possible shortages.

Read full story here.

French national road haulage federation: U.K. situation becoming catastrophic

PARIS — The situation regarding truck drivers currently stuck in the United Kingdom after European countries cut transport ties due to new COVID fears is becoming catastrophic, said a spokeswoman for the French national road haulage federation.

"They are stuck in lorry parks with no toilets - it's becoming a catastrophe. No driver wants to deliver to the UK now, so the UK is going to see its freight supply dry up," said Vanessa Ibarlucea, spokeswoman for France's FNTR national road haulage federation.

The United Kingdom on Monday became shut off from the rest of Europe after its closest allies cut transport ties due to fears about a new coronavirus strain, sowing chaos for families and companies just days before it exits the European Union's orbit. 

Biden to receive vaccine

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will receive his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.

Monday's event will come the same day that a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, will start arriving in states, joining Pfizer's in the nation's arsenal against the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 317,000 people in the United States and upended life around the globe.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take," Biden has said of his decision. Biden and his wife, Jill, will also thank health care workers at the facility where they receive the shots, his incoming press secretary has said.

Woman, 87, exposed to virus, stops near Christmas tree

Image: Paramedics prepare to transport an 87-year-old woman who had been exposed to the COVID-19 in Meeker
Paramedics prepare to transport an 87-year-old woman who had been exposed to Covid-19 and was experiencing symptoms in Meeker, Oklahoma, on Sunday.NICK OXFORD / Reuters