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Congress passes coronavirus relief bill, but Trump criticizes deal

President Donald Trump had been expected to sign the bill in days, but he then called for bigger payments. He didn't directly say he would veto it.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading the Coronavirus liveblog from Dec. 23, 2020.

The United States on Tuesday saw more Covid-19 deaths than ever before, a grim milestone in a month that has seen records set and then surpassed.

Across the country, 3,350 Covid-19 deaths were reported, according to NBC News' tally. The previous highest number of deaths reported in a single day was Dec. 16.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump criticized a massive Covid-19 relief package that had just been passed by Congress.

Trump said in a video that he wanted the bill to be amended to increase the $600 direct payment to $2,000, as well as other changes. Trump didn't explicitly say he would veto it, but his remarks suggested that he might.

U.S. reports more Covid deaths than ever before

The United States on Tuesday saw the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in a single day, according to a count of reports by NBC News.

The 3,350 reported deaths break a previous single-day high that was set just last week, on Dec. 16.

In the last week, 18,980 people have died in the U.S. related to Covid-19, a faster rate than any other time during the pandemic, that NBC News tally shows.

There were 204,516 Covid-19 cases reported in the U.S. on Tuesday. The single-day record for reported cases was on Friday with 248,259 cases, according to NBC News' count.

Overall, the U.S. has seen more than 18.2 million cases of Covid-19 in the U.S., and more than 323,000 people have died, according to NBC News' count.


2020 timeline: The year of the Covid pandemic

Florida doctor encourages others to share 'feeling immune' snapshot

Dr. Omar Llaguna is a surgical oncologist in Miami, where he specializes in gastrointestinal tumors and skin cancers. Some days, he’s operating on patients, and others, he’s caring and consulting with them.  

The fear of contracting Covid-19 has grown as he's served his patients, and he's noticed his children have also grown more worried about him and his health.

“I have three daughters, and I thought that I could leave three children fatherless,” Llaguna, 46, told NBC News. “I think, as a parent, what’s been very stressful is seeing the emotional response and how this has affected my children. ... They really have a fear of the virus.”

To add to that anxiety, Llaguna’s mother was diagnosed and died from lung cancer during the pandemic. “I got to see from a patient standpoint how detrimental this pandemic has been to taking care of patients with cancer … as a care provider, to see my mom’s struggle with a disease and having to drop her off at the hospital and not be able to not have anyone with her while she was getting scans and imaging and bloodwork on, her stress about exposing herself in the hospital.”

Last week, he received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and shared his experience over Facebook and encouraged others to do the same.

“I’m hopeful that this virus in this pandemic will hopefully be coming to an end so no one has to go through that again,” he said.

House Dems say they'll try to pass separate bill for $2,000 direct relief payments

Dartunorro Clark

House Democrats, who had advocated higher direct checks only to encounter Republican resistance in the Senate, on Tuesday said they welcomed President Donald Trump's support for sending out more money.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tweeted that Democrats would attempt to pass a separate bill this week that would send out $2,000 direct payments. Because many members of the House are out of town, Hoyer said leaders would try to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but that means any single member can kill it.

The fate of such a bill is unclear in the Senate.

Read the full story here

Trump blasts Covid relief bill, calls for major changes to package

Dartunorro Clark

In surprising comments, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night shredded a just-passed massive Covid-19 relief package, saying the legislation contains measures that have nothing to do with the pandemic and is too stingy on payments to average Americans.

"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 (direct payment) to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple," Trump said in a video posted to Twitter of him speaking from the White House.

"I'm also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package."

He added, "And maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done."

Before the remarks, all signs and expectations had been that Trump intended to sign the Covid relief bill as soon as it lands on his desk, possibly later this week.

While Trump doesn't explicitly say he will veto the legislation, his remarks suggest that he might. If the president did, lawmakers may be able to override his veto.

Read the full story here.

Students thank professors in Zoom classes for 'keeping our spirits high' during pandemic

Students from The College of New Jersey, York University, and Chapman University surprised their professors during Zoom classes to thank them for their work during a challenging year.


i’m crying and you are. high key gonna miss him so much, he was so nice🥺 #fyp #professor #appreciationpost #university #education #crying

♬ original sound - Arielle

Prof. Mario Di Paolantonio of York University in Toronto, where he's been an educator for over 20 years, spent time reworking his in-person coursework for online learning due to the pandemic and found this surprise by his Educational Studies students to be "a real gift."

"I think there was this feeling of thanks, not just to me, but for the whole thing that we managed to do, that we we did something educational, in spite of it all," Di Paolantonio, 55, told NBC News. "Very difficult conditions, you know, with people being in their own homes, with some having childcare issues as well, and other things...but they committed they got through it, we got through it."

Kaitlyn Gong, a student at Chapman University in Southern California — taking classes remotely from Oakland — said learning virtually was "not easy at all" for her first semester. She credits Prof. James Brown for pushing her to succeed and was among the students who surprised him over his Zoom class to thank him. "And he's done such a great job at keeping our spirits high," Gong, 18, told NBC News

"Sometimes when you get to the end of the semester, and you give your last lecture, students will stand up and applaud or something like that," Brown, 71, told NBC News. "That's very moving too, but this is, you know, it's a different format for some who’ve been teaching in this format. And so holding up the signs, yeah, was unique."

Covid vaccine could be adjusted for mutations, BioNTech CEO says

Holiday church gathering in North Carolina leads to 97 Covid cases and counting

Maura Hohman

A holiday celebration at a church in a small town in North Carolina has led to 97 Covid-19 cases as of Tuesday morning, and this number is expected to grow in the coming days, a spokesperson for the local health department told TODAY.

The gathering took place at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, located south of Asheville, over the Dec. 5 weekend and was a multi-day event, according to a statement from the Henderson County Department of Public Health and its communications manager, Andrew Mundhenk. As of Dec. 17, the county had linked 75 cases to the event, and the health department is still working to identify close contacts of attendees.

Of the confirmed 97 cases, all are among attendees, Mundhenk said. The health department is not aware of any deaths at this time. However, "some cases" from the event have resulted in hospitalizations, Mundhenk said. The health department did not have specifics on how many.

Click here to read the full story. 

Biden assures his Covid relief plan will include more stimulus checks

Man who fell ill on United flight from Florida died of Covid-19, coroner confirms

Covid-19 caused the death of a traveler who fell ill aboard a flight from Florida to California last week, Louisiana authorities said Tuesday.

Jefferson Parish coroners listed "acute respiratory failure" and "Covid-19" as causes of death for Isaias Hernandez, a 69-year-old Los Angeles resident.

Hernandez had been aboard a westbound United Airlines flight from Orlando to Los Angeles last Monday. After falling ill, two fellow travelers — a nurse and EMT — performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him, witnesses said.

The flight was diverted to New Orleans and Hernandez died that night at a hospital in Kenner, Louisiana, according to the coroner's report.

Click here to read the full story.

What scientists still want to know about the new coronavirus variant in the U.K.

Akshay Syal

new variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom has sparked alarm across the globe, but scientists say there is still much to learn about whether these changes to the virus make it more infectious.

The variant, called B.1.1.7., has a handful of mutations in its genetic code. Some of these mutations slightly alter the virus’s so-called spike protein, which allows it to bind to and infect cells. These alterations to the spike protein could potentially make the virus spread easier.

But whether the new variant is in fact more transmissible is a major question for scientists.

Click here to read the full story.

Birx addresses reports about Thanksgiving travel, says she will retire soon

Jacob Gardenswartz

In a new interview with Newsy TV, White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx speaks out following an Associated Press report about her Thanksgiving travel.

Asked whether she intends to stay working in the government in the incoming Biden administration, Birx said that she will be “helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire.”

Though she didn’t name the AP report directly, Birx highlighted “what was done in the last week to my family.” She said that she intends to “be helpful through a period of time,” but added that “this experience has been a bit overwhelming, it’s been very difficult on my family.”

As the AP reported earlier this week, Birx, who had before the holidays urged Americans to limit celebrations to “your immediate household,” traveled to her Delaware vacation home over Thanksgiving weekend with several family members.

"They've tried to be supportive, but to drag my family into this, when it's my daughter hasn’t left that house in 10 months, my parents have been isolated for 10 months ... These are all very difficult things," she told Newsy.

European Union throws isolated Britain a lifeline over coronavirus border closures


BRUSSELS — The European Union executive threw Britain a lifeline on Tuesday after it became stranded in Covid-19 isolation, recommending that E.U. members roll-back sweeping border closures to allow freight to resume and people to return home for Christmas.

Much of the world shut their borders to Britain after a mutated variant of the coronavirus was discovered spreading swiftly across southern England, halting a chunk of trade with the rest of Europe and leaving truckers stranded.

With lines of trucks snaking to the horizon in Kent, England, and supermarket shelves stripped just days before Christmas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrambled to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift a ban on freight from Britain.

Johnson and his advisers said the mutated variant of the virus, which could be up to 70 percent more transmissible, was spreading rapidly but that it had been identified because British scientists were efficient at genomic surveillance.

Click here to read the full story.

Massachusetts implements stricter Covid-19 rules

Governor Charlie Baker announced additional Covid-19 restrictions in Massachusetts on Tuesday as the state continues to fight a rising case load.

The new rules, which go into effect the day after Christmas, limit indoor capacity at restaurants, performance venues, gyms, personal services, and other businesses to 25 percent. Indoor gatherings will also be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

The governor also announced further guidelines on elective surgeries, telling hospitals "to postpone or cancel all nonessential inpatient elective invasive procedures in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity," beginning on Saturday.

Massachusetts has recorded more than 327,000 cases of Covid-19, including more than 11,700 deaths, according to an NBC News tally.

Antarctica sees first coronavirus cases after 36 people reportedly test positive

Antarctica, as of last week, was the only continent on the planet free of the coronavirus.

But that appears to have changed after 36 people stationed at a Chilean research base tested positive for the virus, according to local media reports.

Twenty-six members of the Chilean military and 10 maintenance workers stationed at the Base General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme in the Antarctic Peninsula tested positive, authorities told the Chilean news program 24 Horas.

The reports did not specify when coronavirus was detected in the 36 people.

The Chilean Antarctic Institute did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

South Carolina governor tests positive for Covid-19, experiencing 'mild symptoms'

South Carolina Governor Henry McCaster tested positive for Covid-19 Monday evening and is experiencing "mild symptoms," his office said Tuesday.

The governor underwent testing after "coming into close contact" with the virus. He currently has a cough and is fatigued, his office said. His wife, Peggy, is asymptomatic. 

The governor will also receive monoclonal antibody treatment based on advice from his physician.

Gov. McCaster is now one of the more than 275,000 South Carolinas to contract the virus, according to an NBC News tally. Almost 5,000 people in the state have died from Covid-19. 

Click here to follow the latest numbers.

Covid pandemic turned 2020 into deadliest year in U.S. history, CDC finds

The Associated Press

This is the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time — due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.

Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months. But preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year, or at least 400,000 more than in 2019.

U.S. deaths increase most years, so some annual rise in fatalities is expected. But the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15 percent, and could go higher once all the deaths from this month are counted.

That would mark the largest single-year percentage leap since 1918, when tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in a flu pandemic. Deaths rose 46 percent that year, compared with 1917.

Click here to read the full story.

L.A. County churches allowed to hold indoor services after ban is lifted

Places of worship in Los Angeles County can resume services inside their buildings after public health officials modified an order that previously banned indoor church gatherings.

The county's Department of Public Health Officer released the revised order on Saturday, which allows churches to host indoor and outdoor services "provided that strict physical distancing is followed, which requires a minimum of six feet between persons from different households."

"Face coverings or masks that cover both the nose and mouth must be worn at all times while on site," the order states.

The change was in response to the Supreme Court ordering lower courts in the state to reconsider restrictions on church services.

Click here to read more

Covid: Experts warn it's likely too late to stop more infectious variant of virus

LONDON — Dozens of countries have effectively tried to seal off the islands of the United Kingdom in a drastic attempt to halt the global spread of a new coronavirus variant.

But it may be too late, some experts warn.

The new variant — apparently so infectious it prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to effectively cancel Christmas for millions — has already been detected in places as far flung as Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Iceland and Australia.

A similar variant, which emerged separately but shares the same mutation in its spike protein, has been detected in South Africa, according to Nextstrain, an open-source project that tracks genetic codes in real time.

Click here to read the full story.

Ireland faces weeks-long shutdown amid 'enormous' Covid-19 concern


Ireland will shut restaurants, pubs and some shops on Christmas Eve and they may not open again until early March amid “enormous concern” for older people from a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases, the government said on Tuesday.

“One of the real concerns that we have is that unlike the second wave, the virus seems to be affecting older people in quite high numbers and that is causing us enormous concern,” Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told a news conference. 

“Because what is very likely to happen over the next couple of days is that younger people who have been out socializing, perhaps carrying the virus, will then mix with older people over Christmas and that is a recipe for disaster," Varadkar said. 

The measures will be reviewed on Jan. 12, but Varadkar said shuttered business should operate on the assumption they will be closed until the end of February or early March when a critical mass of the population should be vaccinated.

More in the U.S. have contracted Covid-19 in December than in any other month

Monday, as the U.S. crossed the 18 million mark, the country also set a record for most cases recorded in a month when it surpassed November's record 4.3 million cases.

As of Tuesday more than 4.5 million cases have been recorded in December, according to NBC News' tally. Close to 52,000 deaths have been counted in the month.

The country reported 183,538 cases and 1,712 deaths Monday.

Fauci, other top health officials to receive Moderna vaccine on camera

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top government health officials will receive the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will receive the shot around 10 a.m. ET at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

The other people who are also being vaccinated include Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, NIH Director Francis Collins, NIH Office of Research Services Director Colleen A. McGowan and six health care workers from the clinical center.

They will receive the Moderna vaccine from the agency's first shipment of 100 doses.

Click here to read the full story.

Biden aides weighing boosting vaccine production with Defense Production Act

Heidi Przybyla

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisory team consulted scientists and supply chain experts about whether he should invoke a wartime production law to help produce and administer more Covid-19 vaccines, two advisers familiar with the discussions said.

President Donald Trump has already invoked the Defense Production Act, or DPA, to speed the production of medical supplies and components to test for the coronavirus, and he has raised the possibility of using the law again for vaccines. Manufacturers have said there could be a shortage of components to make the vaccines.

The DPA was enacted during the Korean War to allow the federal government to compel manufacturing production for national defense. Biden's team has explored using it soon after he takes office next month to try to meet the goal of mass vaccination by summer, the advisers said.

Biden's aides have already begun to warn that the Trump administration's timeline projecting mass vaccination in the spring may be too optimistic, carrying the risk that Biden will be blamed when expectations aren't met. Whether to invoke the DPA to speed production could be an early test for Biden.

Read the full story here. 

Inside the chaotic first days of the effort to vaccinate America

Rachana Pradhan, Lauren Weber and Jay Hancock | Kaiser Health News

One tray of Covid-19 vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer contains 975 doses — way too many for a rural hospital in Arkansas.

But with the logistical gymnastics required to safely get the Pfizer vaccine to rural health care workers, splitting the trays into smaller shipments has its own dangers. Once out of the freezer that keeps it at 94 degrees below zero, the vaccine lasts only five days and must be refrigerated in transit.

In Arkansas — where over 40 percent of its counties are rural and Covid-19 infections are climbing — solving this distribution puzzle is urgently critical, said Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the state’s epidemiologist.

“If their providers come down with Covid-19,” Dillaha said, “there’s no one there to take care of the patients.”

Such quandaries resonate with officials in Georgia, Kentucky, Utah, Indiana, Wisconsin and Colorado. The first push of the nation’s mass Covid-19 vaccination effort has been chaotic, marked by a lack of guidance and miscommunication from the federal level.

With Washington punting most vaccination decisions, each state and county is left to weigh where to send vaccines first and which of two vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use makes the most sense for each nursing home, hospital, local health department and even school. And after state officials warned for months they lacked the resources to distribute vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is only now set to receive a major bump in funding — $8.75 billion in Congress’ latest relief bill, which lawmakers are likely to pass this week.

Read the full story here. 

BioNTech-Pfizer says testing vaccine effectiveness against new highly infectious strain


BioNTech is testing the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer against a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus as it prepares to send 12.5 million doses to EU countries by the end of year.

The European Union is gearing up for a vaccination campaign of unprecedented scale following regulatory approval for the shot on Monday.

The EU deliveries amount to more than half the 20 million doses expected to be available in the United States before the end of the year, BioNTech's chief business officer, Sean Marett, told a briefing.

With two shots administered three weeks apart, the supplies are enough to vaccinate 6.25 million people in the bloc.

Preparations for the roll-out come as the identification of a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus in Britain causes chaos across the region, with countries shutting off travel ties with the United Kingdom and disrupting trade ahead of the Christmas holiday.

BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said the company is testing whether the vaccine is effective against the variant strain and expects results in the next two weeks.

"There is no reason to be concerned or worried until we get the data," he said.

South Korea shuts ski resorts, winter tourism to curb Covid spread


South Korea on Tuesday moved to shut down all ski resorts and winter tourist spots in a bid to stop the coronavirus spreading as a third wave of the pandemic proves much tougher to contain in the densely populated region around the capital city.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government will close ski facilities, ice rinks and tourist attractions from Dec. 24 to Jan. 3. Gatherings of more than four people will be banned while tighter anti-virus curbs will be imposed on restaurants to tamp down infections, he said in a televised briefing.

The announcement comes after Seoul and surrounding areas banned gatherings of more than four people over the Christmas and New Year holidays as the country recording its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus on Monday.

South Korea reported 869 new coronavirus cases as of Monday midnight, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Tuesday, down from the daily record of 1,097 reported over the weekend.

Along with the nationwide curbs in place on winter sports facilities, all hotels and resorts are restricted to booking 50 percent of available rooms, KDCA deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing.

Senate sends massive Covid relief package to Trump

Dartunorro Clark

Hours after House lawmakers passed a massive Covid-19 relief package and government funding bill, their Senate counterparts did the same late Monday night. 

The legislation easily passed in the House — 359 to 53 — before breezing through the Senate shortly before midnight in a 92-6 vote.

The nearly $900 billion package, which includes a new round of stimulus checks, an extension of unemployment benefits and more money for vaccines and education.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill in the coming days. However, because the 5,600-page bill is one of the largest, and government funding runs out at midnight, lawmakers attached a separate bill to avoid a government shutdown for seven days.

Read the full story here. 

Hospitals struggle with surge amid holiday travel

Data scientist who says she was ousted over Covid numbers sues Florida

The Florida data scientist who says state officials fired her for refusing to change coronavirus numbers sued authorities Monday, alleging that a police raid on her home earlier this month was an illegal act of retaliation.

In a 19-page complaint filed in Tallahassee circuit court, lawyers for Rebekah Jones argued that officials with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement carried out the Dec. 7 raid to “silence” her online speech and curry favor with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has criticized Jones and whose office said she was fired in May for repeated “insubordination.”

Jones, who helped develop the state’s coronavirus dashboard, attributed her ouster to her refusal to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

Read the full story here. 

Your questions answered about the new coronavirus strain

Amid surge in cases, Los Angeles schools will remain closed after winter break

The country’s second-largest school district will not reopen campuses when students return next month from winter break as coronavirus infections continue to surge across Southern California, the head of Los Angeles Unified School District said Monday.

Calling Los Angeles the virus' “epicenter," Superintendent Austin Beutner said data shows that Los Angeles is recording cases at a rate more than triple that of New York City and San Francisco. The number of infections in the county is 15 times the level state health authorities have set for safely reopening schools, he said.

“It’s heart-wrenching to see the devastating impact this is having,” Beutner said.

Beutner didn’t say when he believed students might be able to return, noting that the district’s front door has a “Covid-19 lock” on it.

“Schools don’t have the key,” he said. “Local and state health authorities do.”