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Dec. 4 Coronavirus updates: Pelosi offers optimism for deadlocked relief deal

Amid the latest Covid surge, California Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a new stay-at-home order. Meanwhile, the first coronavirus vaccines could reach the public as early as next week.
Image: Coronavirus Greece
Pallbearers in personal protective equipment carry the coffin of a patient who died from Covid-19 in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Friday.Alexandros Avramidis / Reuters

The U.S. neared its record on Thursday for coronavirus-related deaths when more than 2,800 people were confirmed dead from Covid-19, according to an NBC News tally. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. A panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week announced its guidelines for the first phase of the most ambitious national vaccination campaign in modern history.

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'So-called pandemic' a communist plot, Wyoming health official says

CASPER, Wyo. — A Wyoming Department of Health official involved in the state's response to the coronavirus questioned the legitimacy of the pandemic and described a forthcoming vaccine as a biological weapon at a recent event.

The “so-called pandemic” and efforts to develop a vaccine are plots by Russia and China to spread communism worldwide, department readiness and countermeasures manager Igor Shepherd said at the Nov. 10 event held by the group Keep Colorado Free and Open.

Shepherd was introduced as and talked about being a Wyoming Department of Health employee in the hour-plus presentation in Loveland, Colorado.

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Strained health care workers plead for Americans to wear masks

Oregon doctor's license revoked over refusal to wear mask

The medical license of an Oregon doctor who refused to wear a face mask despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been revoked weeks after a video surfaced of him dismissing Covid-19 as a "common cold."

Steven LaTulippe made the comments Nov. 7 during a "Stop the Steal" rally in support of President Donald Trump outside the State Capitol in Salem.

Less than a month later, on Dec. 3, the Oregon Medical Board issued an emergency suspension after finding that LaTulippe "engaged in unprofessional conduct or dishonorable conduct," online records show.

The medical board ruled that LaTulippe "constitutes an immediate danger to the public, and presents a serious danger to the public health and safety."

Read the full story here.

Covid now leading cause of death in U.S., researchers say

Covid-19 is now the leading cause of death in the United States, researchers at the University of Washington said Friday.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said in a briefing that the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the last week, 11,820, "makes COVID-19 the No. 1 cause of death in the United States of America this week."

The virus topped the nation's perennial No. 1 killer, ischemic heart disease, which was said to be responsible for 10,724 deaths in the last week, according to the Washington team.

For the year, Covid-19 was projected to end up in second place, behind ischemic heart disease, researchers said. Tracheal, bronchus and lung cancer was in third place.

The institute said it estimates 15 percent of Americans have been infected. The United States recorded 2,802 virus-related deaths Thursday and 279,224 since the pandemic began, according to an NBC News tally.

"Our model projects 539,000 cumulative deaths on April 1, 2021," the briefing states. "Daily deaths will peak at 3,000 in mid-January."

CDC emphasizes 'universal mask use' — even indoors

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday emphasized that Americans should wear masks everywhere and anywhere — even indoors.

The advice came in a "Summary of Guidance" that addresses how the United States can fight back against a deadly December spike in Covid-19 cases.

"Face mask use is most important in indoor spaces and outdoors when physical distance of [plus or minus] 6 feet cannot be maintained," the CDC said Friday. "Within households, face masks should be used when a member of the household is infected or has had recent potential COVID-19 exposure."

CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes said the guidance didn't represent new advice, but he admitted its emphasis on indoor use could be novel for many Americans.

"We’ve been urging universal mask use since July," he said.

Schools turn to Covid saliva tests to keep kids in classrooms

Puerto Rico seeks to arrest mainland tourist who refused mask

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A judge on Friday ordered the arrest of a tourist from the U.S. mainland who is accused of attacking a National Guard trooper at Puerto Rico’s airport after refusing to wear a face mask as required under pandemic restrictions.

The suspect was identified as 31-year-old Adrien Williams. He faces charges including assault in the Nov. 28 incident caught on video that went viral.

Brenda Quijano, a spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice, said that Williams lives in Lake Elsinore, California, but was born in South Carolina. His current whereabouts were not known.

The incident angered many Puerto Ricans who have repeatedly complained about tourists refusing to wear face masks as the U.S. territory faces a record number of coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths, burdening an already fragile health system. The island of 3.2 million people has reported more than 51,600 confirmed cases and more than 1,100 deaths.

China poised to deliver 600 million vaccine doses, state media says

Chinese state media claimed Friday that the government could deliver 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the month.

Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told China's Global Times that the country is likely to have more vaccine production lines than the United States and that it has already switched some influenza vaccine facilities to Covid-19 labs.

"There should be no supply shortage on the industrial chain of vaccine production in China," added Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based expert on vaccine and immunology.

China's claim to progress comes as the United States braces for distribution challenges.  "We have never done anything like this," Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that 20 million Americans, out of a population of 330 million, could be vaccinated by the end of the month.

DeVos extends student loan forgiveness through January

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is extending student loan forgiveness through Jan. 31, 2021, her office announced Friday.

Interest accrual will also be paused during this period. Federal student loan borrowers will still have the option of paying down debt if they chose and will benefit from a 0 percent interest charge. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for many students and borrowers, and this temporary pause in payments will help those who have been impacted,” DeVos said in a statement. “The added time also allows Congress to do its job and determine what measures it believes are necessary and appropriate. The Congress, not the Executive Branch, is in charge of student loan policy.”