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New lockdowns and restrictions sweep across the country as Covid-19 cases continue to rise

In other coronavirus news: Moderna announces its vaccine, WHO staffers are infected and swingers swing in New Orleans despite the pandemic.
Image: US-health-virus-epidemic
People stand in line at an urgent care facility offering Covid-19 tests in New York on Monday.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

The wave of Covid-19 infections sweeping across the United States was followed Monday by a spate of new lockdowns and calls to reimpose restrictions after a week when more than a million new cases were reported.

With two promising vaccines still months away from the start of widespread distribution and President Donald Trump slowing the transition by refusing to concede his apparent election loss to Joe Biden, mayors and governors were battening down the hatches and not counting on guidance from Washington.

In Chicago, a sweeping stay-at-home advisory to slow the spread of the virus was scheduled to go into effect Monday.

In Philadelphia, new restrictions were expected to be announced later Monday as the numbers of new cases soared and the holidays loomed.

And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that public schools will stay open for now but that if the positive testing rate goes over 3 percent — and it has been edging ever closer to that —- he would be forced to close the country's largest public school system and resume remote learning.

Over the weekend, the governors of several Northeastern states that were hit the hardest early on in the pandemic held a summit in which they discussed, in particular, the private gatherings that have been fueling the Covid-19 spread and sending the hospitalization rate back up.

"Please, God, it doesn't get to the levels that we saw in the spring," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I think our peak hospitalization in the spring was 8,300. We are now at about 1,900, 2,000. So, thank God, we're not at those levels, but it's going to get worse. So we are both pleading with people to remember their personal responsibilities, especially when they are in private settings."

In other coronavirus news:

  • Drug giant Moderna announced that its latest trials show that its Covid-19 vaccine candidate is 94.5 percent effective at preventing the illness. "The results of this trial are truly striking," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • President-elect Joe Biden said that he wouldn't hesitate to take the vaccine if Fauci and other experts said it was safe but that front-line workers should get it first, NBC News' Andrea Mitchell reported.
  • More than 1 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Covid-19, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, which used state health department data to track pediatric cases nationwide.
  • Over 100 inmates and five staff members at a Virginia jail have tested positive for the virus.
  • Even the World Health Organization hasn't been spared, The Associated Press reported, as 65 staffers at its headquarters in Geneva have been infected.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose infection landed him in intensive care this year, was back in quarantine after he was exposed to the virus again.
  • New Orleans was the setting over the weekend for a swingers convention, local media reported. Some 250 people attended the "Naughty in N'awlins" gathering despite the pandemic. "That's really quite mind-boggling," said Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University. But City Hall appeared to sign off on it. "Masks are the new condoms," organizer Bob Hannaford said.

Trump has been harshly criticized for downplaying the dangers of a health crisis that has resulted in a world-leading 11 million-plus infections and more than 247,000 deaths and for sidelining infectious disease experts in favor of conservative ideologues who cast doubt on proven safety measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and lockdowns.

Covid-19 case numbers were on the rise Monday in 49 states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, according to the latest NBC News data.

In 11 of those states — Maine, Vermont, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Ohio, Kansas, Connecticut, Michigan and New York — infections spiked in the last two weeks, meaning there has been a 100 percent or more increase in confirmed cases over 14 days.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a frequent Trump target, took aim Monday at one of the president's top Covid-19 advisers, Dr. Scott Atlas, after Atlas said Sunday on Twitter that Michigan residents should "rise up" against any new restriction measures.

"With the vacuum of leadership in Washington, D.C., it's on the states' governors to do what we can to save lives," Whitmer, who also appeared on "Morning Joe," said Monday.

Atlas, who is a radiologist and not an infectious diseases expert, has been criticized for, among other things, making false claims about the effectiveness of masks at stopping the spread of Covid-19 and for peddling misinformation about herd immunity.

"I totally disagree with him," Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said of Atlas on NBC's "TODAY" show. "I totally disagree with the stand he takes. I just do, period."

But even the leaders of Republican-dominated states who have marched in lockstep with Trump and his Covid-19 advisers have been reluctantly imposing mandates and restrictions as the case numbers have jumped and the avalanche of infected patients has overwhelmed their hospital systems.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Friday that "the State Health Officer, with my full support, has issued an order requiring face coverings to be worn in all indoor businesses and public settings and outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn't possible."

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who, like Burgum, is a Republican and a Trump loyalist, has ordered that all state workers wear masks and that tables in restaurants be 6 feet apart, and he has instituted an 11 p.m. closing time for all bars and eateries.

While Stitt is still only "encouraging" Oklahomans to wear masks, he is also the governor who in March tweeted a photo of his family dining in a "packed" Oklahoma City restaurant as the virus was spreading. He tested positive in July, the first governor known to have done so.

It has been months since Trump attended a meeting of the White House coronavirus task force, which is led by Vice President Mike Pence, NBC News has confirmed. And while Biden has already assembled a team to take on the pandemic, Trump's continued refusal to concede could complicate the transition.

"It's almost like passing a baton in a race," Fauci said Sunday on CNN. "You don't want to stop and then give it to somebody. You want to just essentially keep going."

Dr. Eric Goosby, a member of the Biden transition team's Covid-19 advisory board, said Monday on "MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson" that what the board knows about the Trump administration's plans for distributing a Covid-19 vaccine was learned "through newspaper reporting and informal back and forth with people at the state and local level."

"What we haven't had is the kind of higher-level orchestration aspect of where they think they are in their current plans for rolling out a vaccine and where their problem areas are for access and distribution," Goosby said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has clashed repeatedly with Trump over his pandemic response, said Trump's team has no effective plan to distribute the vaccines.

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"They have no idea what they're talking about with vaccinations," Cuomo said Monday on "Morning Joe." Trump "thinks he's going to have drugstores deliver it and hospitals deliver it. I'll tell you what that's going to do: That's going to leave out the Black and brown community, which the death rate among Blacks is twice what it was among whites."

"We're headed for another operational disaster with his plan," Cuomo said.

There was no immediate response Monday from Trump. Instead, Trump touted the big jump in the stock market after the Moderna announcement.

Another pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, announced last week that its vaccine candidate was more than 90 percent effective, raising hopes that a nation weary of wearing masks and quarantines might be able to return to normal life sometime next year.

But first, we have to get through what's likely to be a long and difficult winter, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

"The gains we have made this past year have been the result of our willingness to work together," she said in a statement. "Even in this difficult moment, we will continue to unite as we always have for our city in order to halt the rise we're seeing, shake out of the fatigue we've been experiencing, and make the crucial difference in what our future is going to look like."

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