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January 8 Covid updates: U.K. approves Moderna vaccine, U.S. records over 4,000 deaths in a day

A new record was set Thursday for both deaths and new cases of Covid-19 across the U.S. on Thursday.
Image: A man crosses a road next to a billboard calling for people to wear masks during a nationwide lockdown following the government's measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in Tel Aviv, Israel,
A billboard calling for people to wear masks during a nationwide lockdown in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Friday.Oded Balilty / AP

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

The U.S. recorded more than 4,000 daily Covid-19 deaths for the first time Thursday, the highest one-day total since the pandemic began.

There was also a record number of cases, 268,883, showing that the national outlook is worsening by the day.

That news came as a new mutant variant of the disease first identified in the U.K., which has been shown to be more infectious, has been detected across the country including in Pennsylvania, Texas and Connecticut.

Nearly 270,000 new Covid cases reported in U.S. on Friday

Austin Mullen

The U.S. has reported yet another record-breaking day of new coronavirus cases with 269,420 Covid-19 infections, according to an NBC News count.

The previous record was reported Thursday with 268,883 new cases and 4,110 deaths.

On Friday, 3,543 deaths Covid-related deaths were also reported.

Los Angeles County reports record number of deaths

Public health officials say Los Angeles County it set a one-day record for coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday: 318.

It came as the U.S. set a single-day record Thursday of 4,110 cases, according to an NBC News tally.

California also posted a one-day record Thursday with 604 deaths.

The U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force are deploying 150 medical personnel to four L.A.-area hospitals to help overburdened staff address the Covid-19 surge.

County health officials said there were 18,313 new daily cases Thursday. Since the start of the pandemic, Los Angeles County has recorded 889,405 cases and 11,863 deaths.

Biden to get second vaccination Monday

President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to receive a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine Monday, a transition official said Friday.

The completed vaccinations for Biden and later for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, would be done in front of cameras, said Jen Psaki, incoming White House press secretary, during a news conference.

"They’ll both do it publicly to continue to instill confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy," she said.

Biden received his first shot Dec. 21 and Harris on Dec. 29. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the Pfizer shots be administered 21 days apart. As many as 35 other members of the incoming Biden administration will be vaccinated before or near the inauguration, Psaki said. 

Symptoms can linger at least six months, Wuhan study finds

Symptoms of Covid-19 may linger for up to six months, according to research published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, which looked at some of the first people to be hospitalized with the disease.

The study focused on 1,733 people who were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Wuhan, China — where the coronavirus was first detected — from last January to May. Many were hospitalized before the illness even had a name.

Roughly three-quarters of the patients reported lingering symptoms six months after their initial diagnosis. Sixty-three percent said they still had fatigue or muscle weakness, 23 percent cited anxiety or depression, and 26 percent reported trouble sleeping.

Read the full story here. 

150 military medical personnel deploy to help Los Angeles-area hospitals

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force are deploying 150 medical personnel to four Southern California hospitals to help overburdened staff address the Covid-19 surge, which has infected more than 825,000 people in Los Angeles County alone. 

Another 40 U.S. Army Reserve medical personnel will be deployed to Arizona, and about 25 health care professionals will aid Navajo Nation relief efforts in New Mexico and Arizona.

The added support comes as public health officials across the country warn that the United States has not seen the full effects of holiday gatherings.

CDC has not seen emergence of a highly contagious U.S. variant of coronavirus

A White House coronavirus task force report said the explosive surge of coronavirus cases in the United States in recent months might be caused by a more contagious U.S. variant of the virus. But a separate statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its researchers had not seen the emergence of a U.S. variant.

“This fall/winter surge has been at nearly twice the rate of rise of cases as the spring and summer surges,” according to the White House task force document, which was sent to the states. “This acceleration suggests there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the U.K. variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50 percent more transmissible.”

The CDC statement, however, was far more skeptical about that possibility. It is likely that there are many variants of the coronavirus across the globe, the statement said, but "to date, neither researchers nor analysts at CDC have seen the emergence of a particular variant in the United States as has been seen with the emergence" of variants in the United Kingdom or South Africa.

Read the full story.

Florida launches new vaccination program at Publix Supermarkets

Kerry Sanders

Denise Chow and Kerry Sanders

Twenty-two Publix Supermarkets in Florida began administering coronavirus vaccines on Friday, marking the start of a pilot program that aims to ease some of the state’s bottlenecks in distributing the shots.

People aged 65 and older were able to receive their first dose of the Moderna vaccine by appointment at select Publix locations in Citrus County, Hernando County and Marion County.

Carmen Frongillo, a 65-year-old Florida resident who recovered from what he called a mild case of Covid-19, said he was eager to get the vaccine so that his life can return to normal. “I haven’t spent a holiday with my daughter since this whole pandemic came about,” he said Friday while receiving his shot in Brooksville, Florida. “I want to get my life back going. And I want to see my family.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the partnership with Publix on Jan. 5, saying that 15,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine would be distributed among the 22 supermarket locations. If successful, the program could expand to include all of Publix’s 764 locations across the state. 

The orderly flow on the first day of the pilot program stands in contrast to the chaos and confusion that have dogged Florida’s vaccine implementation program. Elsewhere in the state, people have been frustrated by long lines and crashed registration websites.

Sylvia Baker, 66, said her attempts to register for a vaccine through websites set up by the state. “I couldn’t get into the sites they were all crashed,” she said, adding that she was able to register for a shot at Publix in Brooksville “within a short period of time of trying.”

CDC director says Capitol riots likely a 'surge event'

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield on Friday described the Capitol riots as a "surge event" that would lead to "significant spreading" of Covid-19.

Redfield, speaking to the McClatchy news organization, said the mob scene Wednesday when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed Congress, is likely to spread coronavirus across the nation anew.

"I do think you have to anticipate this this is another surge event. You had largely unmasked individuals in a non-distanced fashion, who were all through the Capitol," he said. "Then these individuals all are going in cars and trains and planes going home all across the country right now."

The U.S. has reported more than 21 million cases and over 350,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

The White House coronavirus task force this week warned of "significant continued deterioration" and "aggressive community spread" from an unprecedented surge linked to holiday gatherings and travel.

“We haven’t hit the peak of the current surge,” Redfield told McClatchy.

White House task force warns states of 'aggressive community spread'

The White House coronavirus task force warned states Friday of worsening pandemic conditions.

The latest report to states issued Sunday and obtained Friday by NBC News warned of "significant continued deterioration" and "aggressive community spread" from an unprecedented surge linked to holiday gatherings and travel.

The spike in cases "from California across the Sunbelt and up into the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, despite low testing rates during the holidays" is nearly twice the rate of spring and summer surges, the report said, calling for "aggressive mitigation."

As the federal government has struggled to get Americans vaccinated, the task force urged haste: "Do not delay the rapid immunization of those over 65 and vulnerable to severe disease." 

On Sunday, Trump called the number of U.S. deaths related to Covid-19 "exaggerated."

New York diverts Covid-19 vaccine doses after local plan to vaccinate teachers

The New York Department of Health said Friday it was reallocating Covid-19 vaccine doses from a hospital in New Rochelle after a local plan sought to vaccinate teachers and city workers, which would violate state guidelines. 

The state health department “is investigating this egregious violation of the state’s clearly defined guidelines for the COVID-19 vaccine,” department spokesperson Jonah Bruno said in an email. “The facility is facing potential sanctions and penalties for these violations and its vaccine supply will be reallocated to the County Health Department.” 

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson told a local news outlet, The Journal News, that Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital had “misinterpreted the state guidelines” with a plan to vaccinate school and city employees. The guidelines from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, limit vaccine eligibility to certain groups including health care workers and seniors in nursing homes. 

Bramson and Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

U.K. reports highest daily death toll since pandemic began

Britain's government reported a record 1,325 new coronavirus deaths on Friday — the highest number reported on a single day since the pandemic began.

However, not all the deaths occurred on the same day and they include people who died within 28 days of a positive test.  

It brings U.K.'s official death toll from the coronavirus to 79,833, the highest in Europe.

Separate figures published by the U.K.'s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 95,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the country.

As U.K. variant spreads in U.S., scientists warn that country isn't doing enough to track Covid strains

Lauren Dunn

As more cases of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus are detected in the United States, there's growing concern among scientists that the country hasn't been doing enough to track genetic changes in the virus, leaving Americans in the dark about the emergence of potentially dangerous new strains.

So far, at least 50 cases of the coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom have been identified in the U.S. In the U.K., rapid spread of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, sent the country into strict lockdown this week as cases surged.

Now scientists in the U.S. are playing catch-up, racing to figure out just how widespread the U.K. variant is in America.

Click here to read the full story.

Head of NYPD tests positive for Covid

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who oversees the 54,000 member police department, has tested positive for Covid-19.

A spokesperson says Shea is feeling fine and working from home.

Ex-FDA head: Best case next winter is 'tens of thousands' of deaths

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under the Trump administration, warned Friday that even as more Americans get vaccinated this year against Covid-19, the coronavirus will still remain deadly next winter — although how bad will depend on the success of the nation's vaccination efforts.

"I think the best-case scenario is it looks like a really bad flu season where we don't have hundreds of thousands of Covid deaths, but there will be tens of thousands," Gottlieb said on CNBC. "We won't fully extinguish this, and I also don't think we'll get the vaccination rates up where we need to be. We need to start understanding it's going to be hard to vaccinate the public."

Public health officials have grappled with convincing more Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19 while health agencies are struggling with rolling out vaccination plans as doses are delivered, hamstrung in part by inadequate state and federal coordination.

"Right now, there's more demand than supply," said Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer, which manufactured one of the vaccines. "But at some point, and probably sooner than later, there's going to be more supply than demand and we're going to really have to work at it."

Gottlieb added that the public health crisis that the coronavirus has created remains a "race against time" as vaccinations must be ramped up ahead of mutations of the virus, such as ones first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa, spreading further across the globe and gaining "a strong foothold."

Iran's top leader bans vaccines from U.S., Britain

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran — Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Friday banned Iran from importing of American Pfizer-BioNTech and Britain’s Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccines, a reflection of mistrust toward the West.

In a televised speech, he said the import of American and British vaccines were “forbidden.”

Peter Jeary

London mayor declares 'major incident' as Covid threatens to overwhelm hospitals

London mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a "major incident" as the spread of coronavirus threatens to "overwhelm" the British capital's hospitals.

"The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control," Khan said in a statement

City Hall said Covid-19 cases in London had exceeded 1,000 per 100,000, while there are 35 percent more people in hospital with the virus than in the peak of the pandemic in April.

A major incident is defined as an event or situation with a range of serious consequences which requires special arrangements to be implemented by one or more emergency responder agency.

"The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April," Khan said.

"If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die," he added, referring to the publicly funded National Health Service. 

California, Arizona, New York set pandemic records for Covid cases, deaths

Thursday, as the country hit new highs in Covid-19 cases and deaths, several states also set one-day records.

California reported a record number of deaths Wednesday and then broke that record Thursday with 604 deaths, according to NBC News' tally.

New York, with a record 17,609 cases Thursday, has now set case records five of the past nine days.

These states also set single-day records:

  • Arizona, 297 dead
  • Delaware, 1,220 cases
  • Mississippi, 3,255 cases

Economy lost 140,000 jobs last month, in final report of Trump presidency

Martha C. White

The economy shed 140,000 jobs in December, a clear indication that the pandemic’s chokehold on economic activity strengthened in the final weeks of last year.

The unemployment rate held steady at 6.7 percent. 

In the final jobs report of 2020, Friday’s monthly employment snapshot from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a labor market teetering on the brink at the end of a tumultuous year.

Economists say the numbers lay bare the struggles facing American workers, and represent a mandate for President-elect Joe Biden's administration to accomplish two things: Address the immediate financial needs of these households, and develop a longer-term solution that fosters job growth and protects the workers most vulnerable to disenfranchisement.

U.K. approves Moderna vaccine

The United Kingdom's medical regulator said Friday it has recommended Moderna's vaccine for approval.

The British government touted the announcement as a win, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock heralding what he called "another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease."

In reality — as the U.K. rushes to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, with cases and hospitalizations surging across the country — the announcement of the move is largely symbolic. Though the U.K. has bought 17 million doses, no Moderna vaccines will be available in the U.K. until April, Hancock said last year.

Britain was the world's first country to approve a vaccine following full clinical trials, giving the green light to the one developed by BioNTech-Pfizer and then the Oxford University-AstraZeneca candidate last month.

Now, ravaged by a new, fast-spreading variant of the virus, its government has set itself an ambitious target of vaccinating some 15 million vulnerable people by mid-February.

Although only Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have vaccinated more people per capita, according to Oxford University data, the U.K. will still need to significantly increase its pace to get near this goal.

WHO approves delaying time between virus shots

The Associated Press

GENEVA — World Health Organization experts on Friday issued recommendations that the interval between administration of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus can be extended to up to six weeks.

WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, known as SAGE, formally published its advice after a full review of that vaccine, which is the first to get emergency approval from the U.N. health agency to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. It said an interval of 21 to 28 days between the doses is recommended.

But the U.N. health agency also noted that “a number of countries face exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden,” and said some have been considering delaying the administration of a second dose as a way to broaden initial coverage.

The agency said this “pragmatic approach” could be considered as a response to “exceptional epidemiological circumstances.”

E.U. secures 300M more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

The Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The European Commission has secured 300 million extra doses of the coronavirus Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Speaking during a news conference in Brussels on Friday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will double the number of doses ordered by the 27-nation bloc. The EU commission later said in a statement that the Commission has proposed to member states to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the vaccine, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.

“This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU. The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021,” the EU said.

Combined with the contract finalized with Moderna — the second vaccine authorized so far in the region — Von der Leyen said the EU has now the capacity to vaccinate 380 million people, more than 80 percent of the EU population.

A casket, marked with Covid is prepared to be incinerated at a crematorium in Ostrava, Czech Republic

Image: A casket, marked with COVID is prepared to be incinerated at a crematorium in Ostrava, Czech Republic
A casket, marked with COVID, is prepared to be incinerated at a crematorium in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Thursday.Petr David Josek / AP

Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant

The Associated Press

New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.

Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine's ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.

The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research.

Click to read full story

U.S. records more than 4,000 deaths in a single day

Colin Sheeley

The U.S. reported more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths Thursday, the most in a single day, according to an NBC News tally.

The exact number was 4,110 deaths, and there were 268,883 cases reported, breaking the record for both for the second consecutive day.

On Wednesday, the country set a near identical record of 268,840 cases and posted 3,920 deaths, the highest daily total before Thursday.

This week alone, 1,614,756 new cases and 19,230 deaths were logged.