The nation set a record for covid-19 deaths Thursday for the second day in a row, surpassing 3,300. The death tally for Friday was 2,950, only slightly lower, bringing the U.S. death toll to nearly 295,000.
Here are some significant developments:
The United States reported 237,092 new infections and 108,507 coronavirus inpatients, both new highs.
Mexico has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus, health officials announced Friday.
The Trump administration said it will purchase an additional 100 million doses of a Moderna vaccine.
Within days, the United States will probably begin administering vaccines aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus that emerged last year. It will ramp up slowly, with states determining who receives immunization in what order. The goal is that the country eventually have a large enough population of individuals immune to the virus that it can’t spread easily, a goal that will take months to achieve.
In the meantime, how many more Americans will die?
In Philadelphia, public health officials think block captains may be more effective than football stars in persuading people to get coronavirus vaccines. Researchers in the Navajo Nation anticipate that directives about the shots will have to be reworded to resonate with Native people.
And in Atlanta, where a federally funded project has been working with community leaders to increase minority participation in clinical trials, physicians have a lesson to learn in how to talk to patients about vaccines.
Memo to docs? More empathy. Less authority.
These messaging strategies are aimed at winning over vaccine fence-sitters in much the way political campaigns target would-be voters. But in the life-or-death battle against the coronavirus, as much as 70 percent of the population must roll up their sleeves in the next few months to achieve herd immunity and stop the virus’s spread. And, unlike well-oiled political machines, public health officials say they are having to quickly rethink communications strategies that have long been hampered by a lack of funding. At this politically charged moment, they also face the formidable obstacles of introducing a new product to people who distrust science and are receiving competing narratives from anti-vaccination campaigns, which were seeding doubt in coronavirus shots before they were even developed.
TIBURON, Ca. — The pale blue is easy to spot among the dry-brown reeds.
People walk here along the northern coast of the San Francisco Bay, crowding a path that bends to the contour of the shore. At the small pebble beach near a park called Blackies Pasture, a surgical mask is tangled in the marsh at the edge of the Bay. A little farther on is another, then another on the other side of the path, waiting to be blown into the sea.
“I mean this is a high-wealth area and even here you see it,” said Peter Ottesen, a fit 74-year-old tossing the ball to his black lab, Addie, on a recent clear morning. “It’s now like cigarette butts or anything else. You see it on the sides of the path, the sides of the road, and if you don’t see it, you are not looking.”
There is the economic crash, the education gap, the depression of solitary life. Now another unwelcome and potentially enduring side effect of the coronavirus pandemic has emerged: the masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes and other items of “personal protective equipment” meant to save lives are also polluting the environment.
Mexico has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, health officials announced Friday.
Mexico is the fourth country to approve the vaccine, following Britain, Canada and Bahrain. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized shortly thereafter by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Frontline health workers will be the first to be offered immunization, Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, said Friday, according to the Associated Press. Mexico is expecting doses from Pfizer for 125,000 people.
Mexico has reported more than 1.2 million cases and 113,000 deaths. Deaths per capita from the coronavirus in Mexico are slightly lower than in the United States, while infections are five times fewer per 100,000 people. Forty-one percent of hospital beds are filled, Ramírez said.
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U.S. reports new highs in infections and hospitalizations
The United States reported 237,092 new infections of the coronavirus and 108,507 coronavirus inpatients Friday, setting records as officials worry about the winter months and distributions of vaccines.
States in the Upper Midwest and Plains regions of the country slowed infection rates, while California and and North Carolina seemingly struggle to grasp the spread of the virus.
Despite reinforced shutdown measures, California set another single-day new infection high with more than 35,400 cases reported, according to Washington Post data. California has had more than 1.4 million infections since the outset of the pandemic.
Covid-19 patients in California pushed the state toward other single-day records for hospitalizations and intensive care units. The state reported 12,940 people are hospitalized because of the virus and 2,773 are under critical care, according to Post data.
North Carolina also reached new, grim highs Friday by reporting more than 7,500 cases — its highest number of new infections in a single day since the outset of the pandemic, according to Post data. The Tar Heel state also logged 2,514 current hospitalizations, meaning 70 more people were hospitalized for covid-19 complications between Thursday and Friday.
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Federal judge rejects effort to end Pennsylvania mask mandate
A bid to pause Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s mask mandate and contact tracing program fell flat in a Harrisburg court Friday when a federal judge ruled against two couples who allege their civil rights are infringed upon by the coronavirus measures.
The couples, Chad Parker, Rebecca Kenwick-Parker and Mark and Donna Redman, claim the mask rule is “an attempt by the government to control the citizenry” and were so afraid of surveillance via contact tracing that they won’t let their children attend school in person. But the couples did not prove their fears could become a reality, Judge John E. Jones III of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania wrote in his ruling denying their preliminary injunction.
The Parkers and Redmans “have failed to establish that a future order from [the Department of Health] directing them to quarantine or self-isolate is likely,” Jones wrote. “To the contrary, this alleged injury rests almost entirely on conjecture and speculation.”
The couple’s lawsuit, filed in September against Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, is backed by the American Freedom Law Center, a Michigan-based conservative public interest law firm.
In their filing, they compare Wolf to a “king” for instituting public health measures.
More than 35 states have mandated facial coverings.
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A pastor needs the coronavirus vaccine. But his church is full of skeptics.
HOUSTON — Concerned someone from his own congregation could pass him the coronavirus, evangelical pastor Steve Bezner sneaks in a back door of his church to protect himself from his flock.
Before the pandemic, the 45-year-old minister, who normally leads nearly 2,000 people, would stand by the entrance to shake hands and offer hugs. Now, before services, he stays secluded in a room offstage until it is time to preach while an armed church member who works for Homeland Security watches the door.
Bezner would be less fearful of his congregants if he and enough of them would get vaccinated for the coronavirus. But many of his Southern Baptist parishioners are skeptical of vaccines or completely opposed to getting inoculated, a reflection of broader suspicion of the coronavirus vaccines among many White evangelicals.
The Trump administration announced Friday that it will purchase an additional 100 million doses of a Moderna vaccine that will be issued to all Americans free of charge, when approved, upping the expected number of vaccines in the federal government’s arsenal to 300 million.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a news release that the new purchase expands the stock of doses as part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program for helping create a vaccine and distributing it as fast as possible.
“This new federal purchase can give Americans even greater confidence we will have enough supply to vaccinate all Americans who want it by the second quarter of 2021,” he said.
Moderna has applied for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, making it the second company to make the request after Pfizer-BioNTech, from which the Trump administration has ordered 100 million doses.
Pfizer has told U.S. officials it would be unable to provide additional doses of its vaccine until the summer because other countries raced to buy its supply, creating doubt that Operation Warp Speed could keep up with its aggressive schedule, The Washington Post reported.
The U.S. government passed on a deal that would’ve secured more doses of the vaccine, the New York Times first reported.
The FDA has scheduled a Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meeting for Dec. 17 to review Moderna’s request.
The government also has the option to buy an additional 300 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.
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New Hampshire’s GOP governor blasts anti-maskers after House speaker dies of covid-19
New Hampshire Republican state Rep. Dick Hinch wept as he accepted a nomination as speaker of the house at an outdoor swearing-in ceremony with hundreds of his peers, including dozens without masks.
“It is my honor to accept,” he said on Dec. 2 at the University of New Hampshire, his voice trembling as he tried to choke back tears. “I am humbled by your support.”
One week later, Hinch, 71, was found dead in his home. The state’s chief medical examiner found Hinch’s cause of death was covid-19, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald (R) announced Thursday.
Hinch’s death has left Democratic legislators demanding tests for representatives and their staff who attended last week’s ceremony, and some Republicans castigating their colleagues for not following basic public health guidelines.
MOSCOW — The staff at Moscow’s Polyclinic No. 5, syringes at the ready, waited for the expected flood of people as the first phase of mass coronavirus vaccinations rolled out this week. And waited. And waited some more. Rows of empty seats lined the waiting area. Staff members, with little to do, squabbled about where to put a small vase of dried pink flowers.
With Russia’s coronavirus cases rising sharply, authorities are banking on the country’s Sputnik V vaccine as the answer to the crisis — and opened the vaccine to the public even before it finishes Phase III trials. In the first group, health workers and teachers can start the two-dose treatment.
But there seemed to be more vaccine skeptics than takers in the first week across Russia, struggling with the fourth-highest number of cases at more than 2.5 million. The reasons tap into both Russia’s history of wariness about authority, and Internet-driven conspiracy theories and pandemic deniers — reflecting similar anti-vaccine rallying cries in the United States, Germany and elsewhere.
Photos from Walt Disney World rides are a well-known travel souvenir: At the most thrilling part of a roller coaster or similar Disney World experience, an automatic camera snaps a picture that is made available to the riders for purchase through PhotoPass. The result can be pretty hilarious.
But during the coronavirus pandemic and with a strict mask policy in place, Disney World created a new rule for riders who want to purchase an image of themselves mid-ride: no mask, no photo.
That rule was briefly bent when parkgoers began requesting to purchase their photo if their mask moved or slipped free on the ride, which they complained was occurring on fast rides through no fault of their own.
Hong Kong has temporarily banned three airlines from flying incoming routes after several of their passengers tested positive for the coronavirus upon their arrival.
Flights ending in Hong Kong operated by KLM Dutch Royal Airlines, Emirates and Nepal Airlines have been suspended for two weeks, officials said Friday, for failing to comply with public health measures to curb the spread of the virus. The flights, which embarked from Amsterdam, Dubai and Kathmandu, respectively, carried at least one passenger who was infected.
Inbound travelers to Hong Kong from high-risk countries are required to present a valid negative coronavirus test before boarding. And, effective this week, all passengers, except people from China, are required to have a 14-night hotel booking from the date they arrive in the city. It is unclear if the infected passengers on the routes did, in fact, test negative before boarding.
On Thursday, 219,544 new cases were reported in the United States, and the number of fatalities was nearly the highest, at 3,357. Over the past week, several major indicators that measure the severity of the pandemic have increased: Daily cases are up 16 percent, daily deaths rose 20 percent, and hospitalizations climbed 6 percent.
Coronavirus can travel farther and faster inside restaurants than previously thought, study suggests
Earlier this year, two diners at a South Korean restaurant were infected with novel coronavirus in a matter of minutes from a third patron who sat at least 15 feet away from them. The third patron was asymptomatic at the time. After dissecting that scene from June, South Korean researchers released a study last month in the Journal of Korean Medical Science that suggests the virus, under certain airflow conditions, travels farther than six feet and can infect others in as little as five minutes.
The study appears to be more bad news for restaurants, which have already been identified in research as a primary source for the spread of the virus. The Korean researchers recommend that public health authorities update safety guidelines based on their study, arguing that six feet of space between tables is not enough to protect diners from being infected.
The upside to wearing a mask at work was that at least it would curtail the harassment. As a server, Sandy Tran was used to unwanted comments on her appearance, but the coronavirus precautions enforced by her Dallas restaurant now required full-time face coverage — a literal barrier between Tran and creepy customers.
Then she heard the first iteration of what would become a refrain:
“Take off your mask,” the diner instructed her while she took his order one afternoon. “I want to see your beautiful smile.”