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For the second day in a row, the United States has reported a record number of covid-19 deaths, topping even the worst days of the spring surge.

The back-to-back records are dark reminders that, even as vaccines appear to hurtle toward approval, the country is still far from the pandemic’s end. By Thursday evening, the daily U.S. toll topped 3,300. The country recorded 3,140 deaths Wednesday. States in the South and the Midwest, along with California, are contributing most to the increase.

The steadily rising fatality numbers also come after weeks of soaring levels of infection and coronavirus patients in need of hospitalization. Public-health experts anticipate that the country will soon exceed the week’s death milestones nearly every day in the coming two to three months.

Here are some significant developments:

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4:30 a.m.
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Why testing won’t save the cruise industry from the coronavirus

The announcement sounded like every landlocked cruise fan’s dream: Tiny operator SeaDream Yacht Company was promising a safe, luxurious voyage from Barbados, a “much-needed escape” during a brutal year.

“The goal is to create a COVID-19 negative bubble, where guests can relax and enjoy the safety of the ship,” a news release said.

SeaDream’s bubble burst quickly; seven passengers and two crew tested positive despite multiple tests required before boarding the small ship, where they were not initially required to wear masks. The company canceled cruises for the rest of the year and issued a dejected update: “The company will now spend time to evaluate and see if it is possible to operate and have a high degree of certainty of not getting Covid.”

That’s the question the rest of the industry has been asking for the better part of a year, even before global cruising shut down in March. While voyages have restarted in other parts of the world with some success, no mainstream cruises have left from the United States — and probably won’t for many more months as operators and health authorities continue to hammer out plans for what coronavirus-era cruising will look like.

One thing has become clear: Pre-cruise testing does not guarantee a safe bubble.

4:00 a.m.
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Mnuchin defends controversial loan to private equity-backed firm in contentious Hill testimony

Republicans and Democrats in Congress grilled Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday over his agency’s $700 million loan to a troubled trucking company backed by a massive private equity company with White House ties.

The Treasury Department made the loan to YRC Worldwide in July under a program authorized by Congress to help companies critical to national security suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Congressional Oversight Commission, which is scrutinizing Treasury’s loans, has said the loan to YRC is suspect because the company is not critical to the nation’s defense and was struggling long before the pandemic.

YRC is backed by Apollo Global Management, a large private equity firm. One of its founders, Joshua Harris, advised the administration on infrastructure policy in 2017, the New York Times reported. Later that year, Apollo lent $184 million to the family real estate company of top White House official Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, to help it refinance its mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.

3:30 a.m.
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For some, the vaccine can’t come soon enough. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Maribel Martinez has no qualms about getting the coronavirus vaccine. She watched as covid-19 attacked and weakened her husband for days during the summer before he relented and went to the hospital.

He survived, but the experience so shook Martinez that she is determined to get the vaccine as soon as it is available. She said that puts her out of step with most of her friends and neighbors in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Baltimore where many are resistant to the idea of inoculation.

“We have a big problem,” said Martinez, 43. “The majority of the people around me are relying on what they hear from others, see on social media or their religious beliefs without knowing what it is to have the virus.”

Since the first indications that vaccine trials were successful, hope has grown that 2021 will bring an easing of the pandemic that has raged through 2020.

3:00 a.m.
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Britain to roll out mass virus testing for secondary school students in hard-hit areas

Britain said Thursday it would start rolling out mass testing for secondary schools in areas seeing spikes in coronavirus infections in children ages 11-18.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a news conference that in parts of London, Kent and Essex cases were rising “by far” fastest in children in that demographic, and that all those children would be tested.

“We need to do everything to stop the spread in school-age children now,” Hancock said, according to the BBC, adding more details would be released Friday. “We know from experience that a sharp rise in cases in younger people can lead to a rise among more vulnerable age groups later.”

Schools have been a flash point of the coronavirus debate with policymakers grappling with how to stem the spread of the virus without diminishing the quality of children’s education. Some European countries implemented second-wave lockdowns in the fall, but most schools stayed open, and proved to be relatively safe environments, especially among younger kids.

Hancock noted it was important to keep schools open. “We are therefore surging mobile testing units and will be working with schools and local authorities to encourage these children and their families to get tested over the coming days,” he said.

Wales on Thursday announced all secondary schooling would move to virtual learning beginning Monday as infection rates rise. Education Minister Kirsty Williams said the measures were part of a “national effort to reduce coronavirus transmission.”

2:15 a.m.
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CDC director allegedly ordered deletion of email that sought to interfere with coronavirus guidance

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allegedly ordered the destruction of an email written by a top Trump administration health official who was seeking changes in a scientific report on the coronavirus’s risk to children, the head of a Congressional oversight subcommittee charged Thursday.

In a letter to CDC Director Robert R. Redfield and his superior, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), expressed “my serious concern about what may be deliberate efforts by the Trump Administration to conceal and destroy evidence that senior political appointees interfered with career officials’ response to the coronavirus crisis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Clyburn cited an interview three days ago with the editor of the CDC’s most authoritative publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Charlotte Kent, editor in chief of that report, told investigators that while on vacation in August, she received instructions to delete the email written by Paul Alexander, a senior advisor to Azar.

1:30 a.m.
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Analysis: The Trump administration is delivering on a 2020 vaccine, but not at the levels the president suggested

The rapid development of coronavirus vaccines is an incontrovertible success story in the United States — and one that not everyone saw happening as quickly as it did.

During the Republican National Convention in August, President Trump’s promise to “produce a vaccine before the end of the year — or maybe even sooner” drew skepticism in some circles. Just over three months later, multiple vaccines are on the verge of receiving emergency authorizations in the United States.

But that was hardly the only promise Trump made about coronavirus vaccines. As with much of Trump’s presidency, he regularly over-promised on the efforts to combat the virus. That is especially true of how many people could be vaccinated by the end of the year, which Trump at one point said would be hundreds of millions. Now it is expected to be a fraction of that.

1:23 a.m.
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Biden welcomes FDA panel vote on Pfizer vaccine

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday praised news that a regulatory panel endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, calling the development a “bright light in a needlessly dark time.”

The group of independent advisers recommended that the Food and Drug Administration grant emergency use authorization for the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. Although agency approval has not yet been handed down, Biden’s statement inaccurately characterized the panel vote as “approval by the Food & Drug Administration.” A later version corrected that misstatement.

Biden also repeated a plan of the incoming administration to scale up the manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine, assuring 100 million shots are dispersed in the first 100 days in office. He thanked those behind the efforts to create a vaccine for the virus, while taking aim at the outgoing Trump administration because “it didn’t have to be this bad.”

“We are grateful to the scientists and researchers who developed this vaccine. And, we are grateful to the scientists and public health experts who evaluated the safety and efficacy of this vaccine free from political influence. The integrity of science led us to this point,” Biden said in the statement.

12:45 a.m.
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Covid may cause rashes and swelling. That doesn’t mean you’re ‘allergic,’ experts say.

When Morgan McElroy suddenly stopped being able to smell and taste earlier this month, she wasn’t all that surprised. Her mother, whom she lives with in Dayton, Ohio, had recently started showing symptoms of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and McElroy, 20, figured that she had also been infected.

What McElroy didn’t expect, though, was to find herself in the emergency room a day later — swollen and covered in a red, itchy, hivelike rash that was spreading all over her body.

“I’m allergic to covid,” McElroy said in a TikTok video documenting her dramatic experience that has been viewed more than 4.6 million times.

But while her symptoms looked like an allergic reaction, experts say it is “highly unlikely” that McElroy developed an actual allergy to the novel coronavirus.

12:06 a.m.
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U.S. surpasses 3,300 deaths in a day, a record

Exactly two weeks after Thanksgiving, the United States on Thursday tallied nearly 3,350 coronavirus-related deaths in a single day, a record.

The toll is the second time — after the harrowing high of 3,140 set Wednesday — deaths from the virus eclipsed the 2,977 lives lost to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Public health experts anticipate that the country will soon exceed that milestone nearly daily in the coming two to three months. The national seven-day average for daily deaths is 2,360, a pandemic record.

Also Thursday, California and Nevada reported records for daily death tolls from the pandemic, while California was one of nine states that recorded a high for the state’s seven-day average of daily death counts. In 37 states, deaths over the past week related to the virus rose from the week before.

Meanwhile, the national infection count has topped the 200,000 mark seven of the past nine days, when the nation first reached that milestone. Thursday’s reported case count was nearly 220,000.

11:23 p.m.
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China advises flight attendants to wear diapers to avoid coronavirus risks in lavatories

China’s transportation officials are recommending flight attendants wear disposable diapers and avoid restrooms at all costs on flights serving countries with high rates of coronavirus cases, according to documents from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The recommendation to use diapers and avoid in-flight bathrooms altogether applies on flights to and from countries with infection rates exceeding 500 cases per million people. The United States’ coronavirus case rate exceeded that limit as of Dec. 10, at more than 660 cases per million.

The guidance is part of a lengthy document detailing technical guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus in planes, which also states that flight and cabin crew should, on lower-risk flights, designate their own private lavatory and sanitize it before and after each use. The document was issued on Nov. 25, according to CNN.

10:54 p.m.
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Ohio GOP lawmaker faces criticism for returning to work after testing positive twice

A Republican member of Ohio’s House of Representatives is facing criticism for flouting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and returning to work despite twice testing positive for the coronavirus in one week, as the number of infected members of the Ohio Statehouse continues to climb.

State Rep. Stephen Hambley tested positive Nov. 22 and again Nov. 28, he told the Ohio Capital Journal. Days after his second positive test, Hambley attended a House Finance Committee meeting in person. Four lawmakers who attended that meeting have since tested positive.

Hambley announced his diagnosis in a Dec. 6 Facebook post and said he was exposed while at the Ohio Statehouse on Nov. 17, where he had worked with an aide who later tested positive.

“Upon being informed of an aide who tested positive and before I developed symptoms, I followed CDC and House recommended protocols and quarantined,” Hambley wrote. The 66-year-old lawmaker said he isolated 10 days after developing symptoms.

Despite his claims to have followed all necessary guidelines, he continued to work after he was alerted that he had been exposed to his covid-19-positive aide and after testing positive himself days later. He can be seen in footage of meetings and hearings not wearing a mask.

Oho House Democrats said they were kept in the dark about Hambley’s diagnosis.

“There continues to be no communication from the Speaker’s office and the majority leadership alerting members or staff to the situation or how it is being handled,” Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D) said in a Dec. 7 email.

Sykes condemned Hambley’s decision to continue working among his colleague while infected as “incomprehensible.” On Twitter on Thursday, she said such behavior “shows a complete lack of respect for every person who enters into the Peoples House.”

10:31 p.m.
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More Americans are stealing food to survive

Early in the pandemic, Joo Park noticed a worrisome shift at the market he manages near downtown Washington: At least once a day, he’d spot someone slipping a package of meat, a bag of rice or other food into a shirt or under a jacket.

Since then, he said, thefts have more than doubled at Capitol Supermarket — even though he now stations more employees at the entrance, asks shoppers to leave backpacks up front.

“It’s become much harder during the pandemic,” he said. “People will say, ‘I was just hungry.’ And then what do you do?”

The coronavirus recession has been a relentless churn of high unemployment and economic uncertainty. The government stimulus that kept millions of Americans from falling into poverty earlier in the pandemic is long gone, and new aid is still a dot on the horizon after months of congressional inaction. Hunger is chronic, at levels not seen in decades.

10:09 p.m.
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New Hampshire House speaker dies of covid-19 one week after being sworn in

New Hampshire state Rep. Dick Hinch (R) has died of covid-19 one week after being sworn in as House speaker.

Hinch, 71, was found dead in his home Wednesday. With the permission of Hinch’s family, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald announced Thursday that the state’s chief medical examiner determined that the cause of death was covid-19.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R), in a statement issued after Hinch’s death, praised him as “a close friend, and a respected public servant.”

“His loss will be greatly felt by the people of this state, and I ask Granite Staters to join me in praying for his family during this incredibly difficult time,” Sununu said.

Several New Hampshire House Republicans had tested positive for the coronavirus in the days leading up to the Dec. 2 meeting of the full 400-member House — at which Hinch was sworn in to his new leadership role. He drew the ire of state Democrats for not disclosing before the event how many members of the Republican caucus were infected and in attendance.

At the time, Hinch was dismissive of their concerns, arguing that infections were inevitable among a group comprising mostly older retirees.

“We are experiencing higher than usual rates of infections in our state, and the Legislature and its members are not immune from that,” Hinch said at the time, according to the Concord Monitor. “We are a citizen legislature, and it can be expected that our legislators are at the same risk as the citizens we represent.”

After the attorney general announced the cause of death, Rep. William Marsh (R), a retired ophthalmologist, rebuked fellow Republicans who had opposed health guidelines such as mask-wearing.

“Those in our caucus who refused to take precautions are responsible for Dick Hinch’s death,” Marsh said via Twitter.

9:46 p.m.
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CDC director: Daily deaths tolls will exceed 9/11 for the next two to three months

The daily death toll from the coronavirus in the United States for the next two to three months will be greater than the toll of terrorist attacks on 9/11, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield acknowledged Thursday.

The staggering loss of life anticipated this winter, roughly 180,000 to 270,000 additional deaths by that metric, will not be affected by the pending coronavirus vaccine approval, Redfield said in a virtual meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations. More than 291,000 people have died in the United States thus far.

“This is why we are really asking people to double down on the mitigation steps that we know work,” Redfield said, hinting at but not naming elected officials who have resisted calls to implement mask mandates. Transmission of the virus through gatherings in homes has surged, Redfield also said, warning that Americans should be more vigilant as the holidays loom.

The nation surpassed the toll from 9/11 — 2,977 deaths — Wednesday with 3,140 deaths related to the virus, according to Washington Post analysis.

Redfield said the nation’s lack of health equity and the population’s disproportionate comorbidities has contributed to the country’s grim death count. The United States is ranked No. 13 among countries with the highest mortality rates per capita.

Redfield had not previously compared the toll to 9/11 publicly but has forecast a brutal winter in the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic and flu season.

“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” Redfield, said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event last week. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

Reis Thebault contributed to this report.