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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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.
"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.”
“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.”