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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.

Florida launches new vaccination program at Publix Supermarkets

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

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

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.”

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