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Dec. 6 Covid news and updates on latest with vaccines

Millions of people in the U.S. and across the world could be vaccinated this month.
Image: Backstage at San Diego Ballet's performance of \"The Nutcracker\" in a parking lot in San Diego
San Diego Ballet School students wear protective masks backstage during a performance of "The Nutcracker" on Saturday.BING GUAN / Reuters

Live update on this blog has ended, please click here for NBC News' latest coverage of Covid-19

Countries across the world are preparing to begin giving citizens Covid-19 vaccines, as cases continue to rise across the United States amid social restrictions.

Southern California came under stricter pandemic safety measures Saturday after its intensive care unit capacity dropped to dangerous levels because of the national spike in coronavirus cases, state health officials said.

A CDC panel this week agreed how Covid-19 vaccines should be distributed but it is unclear when they will be available in the U.S. There are expected to be enough doses to immunize 20 million people by the end of the month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday at a briefing for Operation Warp Speed, the government's effort to fast-track a vaccine.

Covid vaccine could be airlifted to U.K. if Brexit snarls ports, minister says

Millions of doses of a Covid-19 vaccine could be airlifted to Britain if ports are snarled up because Britain fails to agree a trade deal with the European Union when the Brexit transition period ends, a junior foreign office minister said on Monday.

"We have extensive plans in place to ensure the protection of our vaccines, that is absolutely the priority product," James Cleverly told Sky News. "We've looked at the use of non-commercial flights, we have border arrangements in place."

Britain is preparing to become the first country to roll out the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine this week, initially making the shot available at hospitals for care workers and the most vulnerable before distributing stocks to doctors' clinics.

Supplies have started to arrive in Britain from Pfizer's manufacturing site in Belgium. In total, Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20 million people. About 800,000 doses are expected to be available within the first week.

Transport between Britain and mainland Europe is likely to be severely disrupted if a trade deal with the European Union is not agreed before transitional arrangements expire at the end of the year.

Seoul now a 'Covid-19 war zone,' South Korea's Health Minister says

Image: Empty ticket lines are seen at the Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, South Korea
Empty ticket lines are seen at the Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, South Korea. The country's Health Minister said Monday that the Seoul metropolitan area is now a "Covid-19 war zone," as the country reported another 615 new infections and the virus appeared to be spreading faster.Ahn Young-joon / AP

Bipartisan lawmakers unlikely to meet Monday deadline on relief bill

Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) talk in the Capitol Rotunda.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk in the Capitol Rotunda.J. Scott Applewhite / Getty Images file

A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers negotiating a $908 billion Covid-19 relief bill is unlikely to meet a self-imposed Monday deadline to release the bill's text, sources told NBC News on Sunday.

Instead, the group is aiming to release a more detailed outline Monday and is working to complete bill text for Tuesday, according to three sources familiar with the discussions. 

The sources said the complicated issue of liability protections, a priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, remain unresolved.

State and local funding, a priority for Democrats, is also not settled, though the sources said the issue is less complex than liability protections. 

The group met for more than two hours Friday and regrouped again Sunday morning.

Masks adorn healing trees in updated pagan rite

Image: Masks hang on trees in northern France to banish COVID-19

HASNON, France — It is a ritual steeped in pagan mystery, updated for the coronavirus age.

Sick people in northern France occasionally leave garments in healing trees or "arbres à loques" in the hope of a cure, following a tradition that persists since pre-Roman times.

But locals who pay attention have noticed a recent change.

"The new development in 2020 is Covid masks," said Bertrand Bosio, who runs Nord Fantastique, a Facebook page devoted to the region's ancient sites and lore.

Tied to the branches of the healing tree in Hasnon, southeast of Lille, surgical masks can be clearly seen among items of clothing that range from socks to underwear - often left, Bosio said, by people suffering from fertility problems.

In another departure from ritual, the votive masks are hung "preventatively," Bosio believes, rather than by Covid-19 sufferers who ought to be self-isolating.

California reports 30K new cases, regions drop below ICU threshold and stay-at-home orders enacted

As the state reported over 30,000 new coronavirus cases in one day, stay-at-home orders will go into effect for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley after both regions fell under the 15 percent intensive-care unit capacity benchmark on Sunday. 

Availability for ICU beds in Southern California was at 10.3 percent and San Joaquin Valley fell to 6.6 percent, according to new numbers from California's Department of Public Health. Under California Gov. Gavin Newsom's revised stay-at-home mandate, the regions must close non-essential businesses by 11:59 p.m. the following day and continue for a minimum of three weeks. 

Numbers in California are spiking in a dangerous new surge, with 30,075 new cases and 85 deaths reported on Sunday. The state's public health department warned that if the rates of cases and hospitalizations continue, California will be only a "few weeks away from reaching ICU capacity." 

The Bay Area was at 24.1 percent ICU capacity but a large portion of the region entered a voluntary stay-at-home order Sunday as a precautionary measure to avoid overwhelming hospitals. 

Texas doctor treating Covid-19 patients dies from coronavirus

A Texas doctor who was treating Covid-19 patients died last month after contracting the coronavirus. 

Dr. Carlos Araujo-Preza, 51, died on Nov. 30 after spending two weeks on a ventilator, his daughter Andrea Araujo told NBC News. She noted her father had no underlying health conditions. 

Araujo-Preza was most recently the critical care medical director at HCA Houston Healthcare Tomball in Tomball, Texas. He also owned the Woodlands Lung Center where he cared for patients on long term ventilators, according to a biography on the facility’s website.

Dr. Carlos Araujo-Preza.
Dr. Carlos Araujo-Preza.via Facebook

"We are saddened by the passing of Dr. Carlos Araujo-Preza,” HCA Houston Healthcare said in a statement to NBC News. “His clinical excellence, compassionate care and kindness will be greatly missed. Dr. Carlos Araujo-Preza touched so many of our lives and will always be remembered for his profound commitment to his patients. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and colleagues.”

Andrea Araujo said her father was "an incredible person, he was an amazing physician, a caring friend and above all a loving dad."

"He was beloved by his patients and colleagues in the medical community, said, He loved his job and loved waking up everyday to go practice medicine and help patients."

Texas has reported more than 1.2 million cases and more than 22,000 deaths from Covid-19. It is just one of three U.S. states that has reported more than one million cases, according to the CDC

Trump announces that lawyer Rudy Giuliani tests positive for Covid-19

President Donald Trump announced Sunday that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has led the president's efforts to overturn last month's election, has tested positive for Covid-19.

"Get better soon Rudy, we will carry on!!!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

Giuliani, serving as Trump's lawyer, has crisscrossed the country in recent days pushing his client’s still-unverified claims of voter fraud. He most recently appeared maskless during a meeting with Georgia lawmakers Thursday.

Click here to read the full story. 

France reports improving Covid-19 numbers

French health authorities reported 11,022 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, down from the 12,923 new infections detected the previous day.

The coronavirus death toll in French hospitals rose by 174, the health ministry said, a smaller increase than Saturday's 216. The number of COVID-19 patients rose by 223 to 26,293, while the number in intensive care declined by 10 to 3,220.

Portland coffee shop boosted by community amid Covid struggles

NYC bar manager allegedly hits deputy with car while fleeing arrest for breaking Covid rules

A Staten Island bar manager who violated Covid-19 restrictions was arrested early Sunday morning after he allegedly hit a sheriff’s deputy with his car while fleeing authorities attempting to take him into custody.

Danny Presti, 34, was arrested just after midnight when New York City sheriff's deputies came to Mac’s Public House after they said people were illegally dining inside, according to NBC New York.

Patrons were entering Mac’s — located in an area designated an Orange Zone by the state of New York, where indoor dining has been banned due to a recent Covid-19 spike — through an empty commercial space next door, the New York City Sheriff’s Office said.

After the deputies came to his bar, Presti allegedly fled, getting into his car and driving into one of the deputies, according to NBC New York. He allegedly continued driving while the deputy was holding onto the hood of his car. Officials were able to take Presti into custody and charges are pending.

Click here to read the full story. 

FBI raids New Jersey lab, urges new Covid-19 tests for people who went there

The FBI is urging people who got a “rapid finger prick” Covid-19 test at a New Jersey lab to be retested as soon as possible and to contact the agency.

Infinity Diagnostic Laboratory, a lab located in Ventnor, was named by the agency in a public service announcement issued by the FBI’s Newark branch on Friday. The location was allegedly offering antibody and active virus testing, calling it "rapid 10-minute testing” on a sign that was taken down Friday, according to NBC Philadelphia.

FBI agents raided the location Thursday but the bureau did not explain why, NBC Philadelphia confirmed.

Click here to read the full story. 

Biden to meet with Operation Warp Speed chief vaccine adviser this week

Operation Warp Speed’s top scientist Moncef Slaoui will meet with President-elect Joe Biden this week about the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the researcher said Sunday.

The meeting is a critical next step in the transition process, which President Donald Trump administration delayed for weeks while falsely claiming that the election he lost was rigged.

“We haven't had any meetings yet. I know we have a meeting this coming week and we really look forward to it because actually things have been really very appropriately planned,” Slaoui said on CBS' “Face the Nation."

Click here to read the full story. 

White House task force doctor says health officials still fighting 'myths' about pandemic

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, sounded a dire alarm on Sunday amid spiking Covid-19 cases across America as she expressed frustration with government officials who ignore public health guidance as caseloads and deaths rise.

Speaking during an exclusive interview with NBC News' “Meet the Press,” Birx said that it’s especially frustrating to see governors and local officials refuse to enact the same mitigation strategies they used to successfully curb the virus’ spread in the summer.

“Right now, across the Sunbelt, we have governors and mayors who have cases equivalent to what they had in the summertime, yet aren’t putting in the same policies and mitigations that they put in the summer that they know changed the course of this pandemic,” Birx said.

Click here to read the full story. 

Pope Francis says Christmas is a 'sign of hope' during pandemic

Pope Francis said the Christmas season provides a "sign of hope" in this “difficult time” at his Sunday blessing, referring to the struggles associated with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Pointing to the Vatican’s Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square, Francis urged his followers to remember the meaning of the holiday and to reach out to those in need. “There's no pandemic, there's no crisis that can extinguish this light," he said. 

The Vatican hasn't yet released the pope's Christmas schedule, although he usually celebrates a Christmas Eve Mass and then offers a blessing on Christmas Day. The Vatican's liturgical services are being held without the general public present because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Schools in southwest Ohio kept out Covid. But they couldn't keep the buses running.

Centerville school district.
Driscoll Elementary third-grade teacher Kelly Gartz prepares her classroom on ct. 14, in Ohio's Centerville school districtCenterville School District

CENTERVILLE, Ohio — Like many public school districts around the country, Centerville City Schools near Dayton started the year off remotely for the 8,000 kids it serves. Based on recommendations from local public health officials, the district didn't resume in-person classes until mid-October.

It didn't last. By late October, Superintendent Tom Henderson said the district was scrambling every day to find teachers for 90 to 115 classrooms, competing with other districts for substitutes. At one point, Henderson and his team were filling in teacher gaps hour by hour when substitutes and full-time teachers had planning periods. Crucial support staff members were also tough to find. Some days, they didn't have enough school bus drivers.

Too many people had either caught Covid-19 or had recently come into contact with someone who had it.

Read the full story here.

Alaska, New Jersey, Virginia, D.C. set daily Covid case records; U.S. records more than 200,000 infections

The U.S. recorded more than 200,000 Covid-19 cases Saturday, for the fourth day in a row, reporting 206,491 new infections and 2,261 deaths according to NBC News' count.

More than 280,000 have died from the coronavirus in the U.S. since the pandemic began. 

In the past week the U.S. has averaged 189,882 cases per day and 2,144 deaths per day, up from an average 145,381 cases and 1,128 deaths per day four weeks ago.

Several places set single-day records for Covid cases and deaths:

  • Alaska, 945 cases
  • D.C., 392 cases
  • New Jersey, 5,605 cases
  • South Carolina, 3,222 cases
  • Virginia, 3,793 cases
  • West Virginia, 1,400 cases and 30 deaths

Daily virus infections in Russia hit record high

Russia hit its highest daily spike of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic on Sunday, as 29,039 new cases were confirmed by the country’s health authorities.

Russia has so far reported over 2 million infections, behind only the United States, India and Brazil. Russia also reported 43,141 virus-related deaths as of Sunday. The country is now facing a resurgence of the virus with daily infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. Even so, Russian authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown, according to the Associated Press.

Last week, President Vladimir Putin ordered the start of a “large-scale” Covid-19 inoculation of the domestically-developed Sputnik V vaccine. While it has yet to complete advanced studies needed to ensure its effectiveness and safety, doctors and teachers will be first in line to receive the shots, Putin said.

Australian state prepares for 'Covid safe summer'

Australia’s Victoria state eased Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday for the holiday season, after the country’s pandemic hotspot has recorded no new coronavirus infections for more than a month. 

“Our new ‘COVID Safe Summer’ will be in place until at least the end of January, giving Victorians a bit more certainty about what the next couple of months will look like,” Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement. 

From midnight on Sunday, indoor household gatherings of up to 30 and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people will be permitted, while 50 percent of office workers will be able to return to workplaces, Andrews said. While the country has all but eliminated the virus through strict quarantine measures—particularly in Victoria—mask-wearing will still be required in certain retail and public transport settings.

China prepares vaccine rollout, as India seeks emergency approval

Provincial governments across China are placing orders for experimental, domestically made Covid-19 vaccines, as developers ramp up final testing, the Chinese foreign minister said during a U.N. meeting last week.

This comes as Britain recently approved emergency use of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine candidate, although Chinese health officials have yet to say how well the vaccines work or how they will be distributed to the country’s 1.4 billion people.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc. has applied for emergency use authorization of its vaccine in India, local media reported on Sunday according to Reuters. India has the world’s second-highest number of infections, behind only the United States.

South Korea to consider new curbs as cases hit nine-month high

SEOUL — South Korea on Sunday reported 631 new coronavirus cases, the highest in nine months, ahead of an expected government decision on whether to further tighten social distancing curbs as health authorities struggle to contain a third wave of outbreaks.

After implementing tighter restrictions on Saturday, the government is to decide on Sunday whether to impose new measures in a country that had seen initial success through aggressive contact tracing and other steps.

The new cases bring the country's tally to 37,546, with 545 deaths, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported.

Many of the recent cases have been centered in the capital city of Seoul, which on Saturday launched unprecedented curfews, shuttering most establishments and shops at 9 p.m. for two weeks and cutting back public transportation operations by 30 percent in the evenings.

Christmas tree-lighting in Bethlehem a muted, virtual event

Bethlehem lit up its Christmas tree Saturday night but without the usual crowds, as Covid-19 restrictions put a damper on the start of Christmas festivities in the holy city. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP - Getty Images

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Only a few dozen people attended the lighting of the Christmas tree in the biblical city of Bethlehem on Saturday night, as coronavirus restrictions scaled back the annual event that is normally attended by thousands.

A small group of residents and religious leaders participated in the tree-lighting ceremony at Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born. Others watched it virtually due to restrictions prompted by the virus pandemic.

Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said Christmas is being observed this year in ways like no time before.

“We resorted to modern technology and to the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree, wishing hope and optimism would flutter upon Palestine and the world,” Salman said.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists typically visit Bethlehem, fill hotels and dine at restaurants during the Christmas season, bringing the area a much-needed injection of cash.

California sheriff says he won't enforce new stay-at-home rules

The sheriff in Orange County, California, said Saturday that his deputies would not enforce stricter stay-at-home rules scheduled to go into effect across Southern California Sunday night.

Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement that his pandemic policy has been "consistent."

"Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement," he said. "Orange County Sheriff's deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings, or stay-at-home orders only."

On Saturday. California health officials announced that stricter stay-at-home measures for regions including the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California would be imposed at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The measures include the closure of hair and nail salons, a ban on eatery dining, even outdoors, and 20 percent capacity for essential retailers.

Barnes isn't the only sheriff who has bristled at the new rules. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a video address Friday that while his deputies would "expect" residents to follow the regulations, "These closures and stay-at-home orders are flat out ridiculous."

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has assigned four teams, each composed of two deputies, to accompany health inspectors as they deliver cease-and-desist orders to noncompliant businesses.