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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.



646d ago / 1:50 PM UTC
646d ago / 1:38 PM UTC

Biden aides weighing boosting vaccine production with Defense Production Act

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. 

646d ago / 1:34 PM UTC

Inside the chaotic first days of the effort to vaccinate America

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. 

646d ago / 11:41 AM UTC

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.

646d ago / 10:15 AM UTC

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.

646d ago / 5:24 AM UTC

Senate sends massive Covid relief package to Trump

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. 

646d ago / 4:34 AM UTC

Hospitals struggle with surge amid holiday travel

646d ago / 4:03 AM UTC

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. 

646d ago / 3:10 AM UTC

Your questions answered about the new coronavirus strain

646d ago / 2:36 AM UTC

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.”