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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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Christmas tree delivery services see a boost

'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.

Read the full story here

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The medical license of an Oregon doctor who refused to wear a face mask despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been revoked weeks after a video surfaced of him dismissing Covid-19 as a "common cold."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

Bay Area adheres to stay-at-home orders before state mandates them

Five counties in California's Bay Area announced Friday they would impose regional shutdown orders ahead of an expected move by the state to do the same.

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties and the city of Berkeley said the measures, including closing bars, wineries, hair salons and other nonessential businesses, will begin Sunday in most areas.

In Alameda County, the limitations will start Monday, and in Marin, they will take effect Tuesday, Bay Area officials said. The orders are expected to remain in place until Jan. 4. They include an end to restaurant dining and 20 percent capacity for essential retail stores.

Officials said the region's intensive care capacity had not yet fallen below 15 percent, the trigger for the state's stricter stay-at-home orders announced Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. But Bay Area officials said in a statement that reaching threshold was "inevitable."

San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted Friday, "We're on pace to run out of hospital beds to care for patients the day after Christmas. We must turn this around now."

Los Angeles County rolls out rapid home test

Public health officials in Los Angeles County announced Friday that a rapid home test will be available by mail to qualified people.

The FDA-approved home test developed by Fulgent Genetics can be mailed to residents within two days of a request. After the test is taken, it can be dropped in a FedEx box and results returned by email in another two days, county officials said in a statement. The home test will be available through Jan. 15.

"It aims to help address the current surge in demand for testing and reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season when people may risk exposure," the county said.

Qualified individuals include those with Covid-19 symptoms, those recently in close contact with a coronavirus patient, or a senior or person with disabilities who might have been exposed but who can't easily get to a testing site.

The Department of Public Health recorded the highest daily number of new cases Tuesday: 7,854.

Families on the brink fear what’s next as pandemic benefits expire

The pandemic has pushed millions of Americans to the cliff’s edge, with the ground crumbling at year’s end without further stimulus action by Congress.

When federal emergency coronavirus relief protections expire, some as soon as the day after Christmas, 13 million Americans will lose their jobless benefits. Many more face eviction, or will find student debt has come due.

Nine months in to the pandemic, the latest jobs report showed the economy in November gained a paltry 245,000 jobs out of the 10 million yet to be recovered, underscoring the need for swift remedy.

Relief can’t come soon enough for millions of families.

Kelly Ann Hotchkin from Hamilton, New Jersey, was out of work for 7 months and went back to work for a month and a half, only to be furloughed again. Her husband is out of work too. They have four kids from ages 2 to 13. She only gets $231 a week in unemployment.

“We've gone through every penny of our savings, my husband is going through the appeals process for unemployment now,” Hotchkin told NBC News in an online message. “I have zero ability to provide even one gift for our kids' Christmas this year and apparently the government’s gift to us is to completely screw us the day after Christmas.”

Baltimore families connect homes with holiday lights in place of in-person gatherings

A group of Baltimore families is using lights in place of in-person gatherings to connect with each other this holiday season. 

Leabe Commisso said her block usually throws Christmas and New Year’s parties but had to call off that tradition this year due to the pandemic. Instead, families who live in the neighborhood have connected their homes by stringing Christmas lights together, with a sign on the street that says, “Love lives here.” 

A group of Baltimore families have strung their holiday lights together to connect symbolically during the pandemic.
A group of Baltimore families have strung their holiday lights together to connect symbolically during the pandemic.300 Block of Dunkirk

“You start off thinking you’re going to put lights up across the street and then everyone else starts doing it,” Commisso told NBC News. “Then you find yourself spending an entire weekend watching all the people you live with and love engineer the most beautiful experience ever. And then you realize you’re connected. Literally and figuratively.”

N.J. Gov. Murphy calls Florida congressman "fool," bans him from Garden State over maskless party

The governor of New Jersey called Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz a “fool” and a “putz” for taking part in a gathering of the New York Young Republicans Club in Jersey City where there appeared to be little mask-wearing or social distancing.

“It is beyond the pale that anyone would willingly endanger people in another state,” Murphy tweeted. “Jersey City law enforcement is investigating this matter.”

Murphy also tweeted that Gaetz, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, was no longer welcome in the Garden State.

Gaetz, who famously mocked the precautions his colleagues were taking by wearing a gas mask on the floor of Congress, fired back in a Tweet: “You’re gonna regret this tweet when you move to Florida like the rest of New Jersey.”Gavin Wax, president of the Young Republicans, insisted in a tweet that their gala “was held in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Some 65 people took part in the gathering Thursday inside the Maritime Parc at Liberty State Park that appeared to be held in violation of the Garden State’s Covid-19 restrictions, The New York Times reported.


NFL further limits player access to facilities amid recent outbreaks

The NFL is further limiting player access to team facilities as it attempts to enhance safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memo sent to the 32 clubs and obtained by The Associated Press, teams must close their facilities for two days after games, with some exceptions.

Beginning Monday, that all teams playing on a Sunday must close those facilities the next two days — except for clubs playing on the subsequent Thursday. Only players needing medical attention for injuries or in rehab programs may enter the team complex.

Coaches can access the facility but must work in their own offices and can't conduct meetings except virtually.

Speaker Pelosi says there is 'momentum' to reach Covid relief deal

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday that there is "momentum" on Capitol Hill to reach a deal on coronavirus relief, further optimism that legislation could be approved before the end of the year.

"There is momentum," Pelosi told reporters. "I am pleased that the tone of our conversation is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done."

The deal would provide for augmented unemployment payments through March but would not send another round of checks to the nation.

Pelosi said she spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday about attaching the Covid-19 relief to the government funding bill, which needs to be passed by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown. That means lawmakers negotiating another round of aid are working on a tight deadline after months of deadlocked negotiations.

Read more on 

'All hands on deck' as North Carolina hospital prepares for vaccine distribution

Lack of access, delayed results: Covid testing failures impede Covid fight

Allie Vruggink and her boyfriend, Jeremy Quillian, followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus guidelines fairly rigidly, so they isolated themselves in their home in Holland, Michigan, when they were told a friend may have exposed them to the virus.

They decided to get a test, but were able to get one quickly only because Quillian appeared to have symptoms: headaches, a cough and loss of taste. Since Vruggink works for a hospital, she was able to get a test that provided results within 24 hours. Even though Quillian, who works in construction, had symptoms, he was told his results would take longer — 48 to 72 hours.

But after 72 hours, Quillian didn’t have his results. He now felt fine, and because Vruggink's test came back negative, Quillian's boss asked him to come back to work. Unsure whether the couple could afford any more missed days of pay and believing their results would be the same since they lived together, Quillian returned to work.

Two days later, he got his results: positive for the coronavirus.

More than eight months into the pandemic, the United States' testing infrastructure is again being challenged. While there are tests available, the country's testing system is struggling to catch up to the worst public health emergency in modern history — even as experts have warned repeatedly that the winter would be a tremendous challenge. Now the U.S. is regularly reaching a record number of deaths and hospitalizations each day.

The lack of a coherent national strategy, experts said, is causing the wheels to fall off the system at large. 

Read the full story here.

Health official in Kansas target of anger, harassment over proposed Covid measures

FREDONIA, Kan. — In this rural town of 2,500 people, residents are used to pitching in and coming together in a crisis. This pandemic is different.

Throughout the state, politics and anger are infecting the public health discourse as health officials find that they're fighting not only Covid-19 but also threats and harassment from "anti-maskers" and others who refuse to follow safety guidelines.

Dr. Jennifer Bacani McKenney, the Wilson County health officer, a school board member and the wife of Fredonia Mayor Bob McKenney, was eager to lead her community's Covid-19 response. But nine months after the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in Kansas, she finishes many workdays in tears.

McKenney said community members have driven by her home and videotaped her, posted insulting messages about her on Facebook and pushed for her to lose her job.

"I think there's a lot of fear. And there's so much unknown," she said. "People want to blame something, and they can't blame a virus that is too small to be seen. So they blame people like me."

Click here to read full story

South Korea study highlights risks of indoor dining

A study conducted by scientists in South Korea traced the origins of one local outbreak and showed how the coronavirus spread in a restaurant between the individuals without close contact and at a greater distance than the 6 feet that is recommended for social distancing.

Researchers examined the chain of transmission from a June 17 outbreak in a restaurant in the city of Jeonju, in western South Korea. Three Covid-19 infections resulted from the incident. In their study, the scientists demonstrated that the virus was likely spread through long-distance droplet transmission, which occurs when virus-filled particles are ejected from the mouth or nose as a person speaks, coughs or sneezes.

In the recent study, published online Nov. 23 in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, the scientists showed how airflow in the restaurant from “ceiling-type air conditioners” enabled droplet transmission at distances of more than 21 feet. In one case, the infected person overlapped with a diner for only five minutes who later tested positive, according to the study.

The results show the potential risk of dining inside restaurants and attending other indoor gatherings, and also demonstrate the limitations of social distancing guidelines from the CDC and WHO. “We share these investigation results as a reference to update guidelines involving prevention, tracing, and quarantine for control of this pandemic infectious disease,” the scientists wrote in the study.

Kansas Covid obituary excoriates mask deniers

A Kansas son's obituary paying tribute to his father who died of Covid-19 is going viral for excoriating mask refusers.

In the death notice, Courtney Farr, the son of the late Dr. Marvin J. Farr, who died December 1 at Park Lane Nursing Home in Scott City, Kansas, wrote that his father was "preceded in death by more than 260,000 Americans infected with Covid-19."

Describing his late father as a man born into the Great Depression and having survived World War II amidst great sacrifice, Courtney Farr said Marvin "died in a world where many of his fellow Americans refuse to wear a piece of cloth on their face to protect one another."

"He died in a room not his own, being cared for by people dressed in confusing and frightening ways. He died with Covid-19, and his final days were harder, scarier and lonelier than necessary. He was not surrounded by friends and family."

Read the full story here.

Brace for post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge in 2-3 weeks, Fauci warns

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the surge in coronavirus cases related to gatherings and travel over the Thanksgiving holiday may not be felt for weeks and could run right into the Christmas season.

"May be a little bit of blip (right now), but we don't expect to see the full brunt of it between two and three weeks following Thanksgiving, so I think we have not yet seen the post-Thanksgiving peak," Fauci told Savannah Guthrie on "TODAY" Friday. "That's the concerning thing because the numbers in and of themselves are alarming, and then you realize that it is likely we'll see more of a surge as we get two to three weeks past the Thanksgiving holiday."

Click here to read the full story.

U.S. economy gains just 245,000 jobs in final report of 2020 as recovery stalls with Covid surging

The U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, as the unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists had predicted the economy would gain around 440,000 jobs.

Amid a fresh surge in coronavirus cases and a new round of shutdowns, Friday's figure represents the fifth straight month of slowing job gains. The sharp decline represents the lowest monthly total since the economy started its halting recovery.

BLS unemployment data is collected on or around the 12th of the month, but more recent metrics underscore how vulnerable the economy is to a “super-surge” of coronavirus infections around the holidays that could send people back into their homes and shutter businesses.

Although the promise of a vaccine has raised the hopes of investors, public health officials warn that a large-scale rollout sufficient to protect much of the population could still be months away.

“It's hard to see exactly when the recovery can really start,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at “The start of vaccination is not enough. We need people to feel totally safe gathering in large numbers."

Second day of 200,000-plus Covid cases in the U.S.

The U.S. counted more than 200,000 Covid-19 cases for the second day in a row with a record 219,394 cases Thursday. The current death count is 276,874, which includes Thursday's 2,802 deaths, the most since 2,892 were reported dead May 6, according to NBC News' tally.

The U.S. is averaging 179,171 cases and 1,826 deaths per day the past week. Four weeks ago, the U.S. averaged 133,824 cases and 1,073 deaths per day. 

These states set single-day records Thursday:

  • Alaska, 763 cases
  • Arkansas, 2,789 cases
  • Delaware, 758 cases
  • Indiana, 8,460 cases
  • Iowa, 73 dead
  • Kentucky, 71 dead
  • Massachusetts, 6,675 cases
  • Nevada, 48 dead
  • New Mexico, 44 dead
  • North Carolina, 73 dead
  • Tennessee, 93 dead
  • Wyoming, 27 dead

Fauci accepts Biden's offer to serve as chief medical adviser

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that he accepted President-elect Joe Biden's offer to serve as his chief medical adviser.

Asked in an interview on NBC's "TODAY" show whether he would do it, Fauci said, "Oh absolutely. I said yes right on the spot, yeah."

Fauci will also stay in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after Biden asked him to continue in his administration. 

Do 'self-cleaning' elevator buttons really work?

Do “self-cleaning” elevator buttons really work?

Without rigorous independent studies, experts say it’s hard to verify claims of “self-cleaning” or “antiviral" surfaces that have popped up during the pandemic.

But they also say you shouldn’t worry too much about how well such features really work.

COVID-19 is an airborne disease. Research suggests it would be difficult to catch the virus from surfaces like an elevator button.

“You get it through what you breathe, not through what you touch,” said Emanuel Goldman, who studies viruses at Rutgers University.

Studies showing the virus can survive several hours on plastic or metal surfaces do not mimic real-life conditions, said Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care.

Delaware governor issues stay-at-home order

DOVER, Del. — Delaware’s governor is issuing a stay-at-home advisory and implementing a universal mask mandate requiring people to wear cloth face coverings even in their own homes if someone outside the immediate household is present.

Gov. John Carney on Thursday also recommended that schools suspend in-person instruction from Dec. 14 to Jan. 8 and resume hybrid learning on Jan. 11. Winter sports competitions will be prohibited during that period.

The mask mandate will require all Delawareans to wear cloth face coverings anytime they are indoors with anyone outside their immediate household. Delaware has had a public mask mandate since April 28 requiring use of face coverings in public settings where social distancing is not possible.

A spokesman for the governor says officials are relying on voluntary compliance with the mask mandate.

Racial disparities create obstacles for Covid-19 vaccine rollout

Despite the potential for a vaccine within weeks, distrust of the medical community by Black andLatino people, who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, remains high as elected leaders and public health professionals work to prioritize its distribution.

Fueled by a dark history of medical experimentation and unequal access to care, people in Black and Latino communities struggling with high Covid-19 rates are among those least likely to get vaccinated, health advocates say. Overcoming systemic racism and the collective trauma associated with it will be paramount as officials rush to distribute vaccines to hard-hit communities, they warn.

"The people who need it the most are the same who don't trust it," said Sernah Essien of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, an international advocacy group working to ensure equitable vaccine access. "Without considering racial equity, we deepen the cracks that systemic racism has already created in our health care system."

The message is being heard at the highest levels.

Read full article here.

After first round of vaccine distributions, bulk of planning remains unfinished

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.

Yet beyond the guidelines advising states about how to deploy their vaccines — and a large Defense Department operation to deliver them — the Trump administration hasn't prepared for a major federal role, a lack of planning that is causing significant anxiety among state and local health officials.

The significant checklist of unmet federal responsibilities underscores the challenges ahead for President-elect Joe Biden, who inherits most of the burden for executing a successful nationwide campaign to vaccinate all Americans, potentially without the billions of dollars in additional funding that will be needed.

Read full article here.

More than 2,800 in U.S. reported dead Thursday

The U.S. on Thursday again surpassed its record for coronavirus-related deaths when more than 2,800 people were confirmed dead from Covid-19, according to an NBC News tally.

The previous record came just one day earlier when the county also saw the highest number of new infections and hospitalizations.  

Thursday was the third straight day the U.S. reported more than 2,000 deaths in a day. More than 276,700 people in the U.S. have died from the virus since the pandemic began. 

Navajo Nation headed for lockdown amid 'major health care crisis'

A stay-at-home lockdown was announced Thursday in the Navajo Nation as officials there say its hospitals are grappling with a "major health care crisis."

In a statement, the office of the president and vice president ordered residents in the nation, which has a population of roughly 172,000 people and is spread across 27,000 square miles in three southwestern states, to stay at home for non-essential activities beginning Monday.

Weekend curfews will begin Dec. 11 and continue through the end of the month.

“We have been in a state of emergency since the pandemic began here on the Navajo Nation, but that has now elevated to a major health care crisis,” said Dr. Loretta Christensen, Chief Medical Officer for Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

“Our health care experts are now saying that the current wave or surge is far more severe and troublesome than the wave that we saw in April and May, perhaps four or five times larger according to projections,” she said.

Christensen said there is already a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen supplies and medical personnel.

More than 17,000 Navajo have been infected, or nearly 10 percent of the population. Six hundred and sixty-three people have died.