WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say they are on track to deliver 20 million vaccine doses by the first week of January, but how quickly those shots will get into arms isn’t clear.
In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Operation Warp Speed official Gen. Gus Perna said states are administering doses at a “good pace” and are “immunizing quite a bit of people.” But the chief science adviser for the U.S. vaccine push added that vaccinating people is going “slower than we thought it would be.”
Data from the CDC says about 1 million doses had been administered as of Wednesday morning out of the 9.5 million doses delivered. However, Perna says there is a lag time in reporting the administration of shots.
The shipments are for vaccines made by Pfizer and partner BioNTech and Moderna.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Cheer will be in short supply this pandemic-stricken Christmas, as many face isolation, grief, job fears and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant.
No Christmas Day driving in Peru. Lebanon’s nightclubs are open, but no dancing. Such is the global mish-mash of coronavirus measures.
Freight from Britain and passengers have started arriving in France after the country eased a two-day blockade over a new virus variant.
France is springing elderly residents from care homes, but some families agonize if time with elderly relatives is worth the risk.
President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief package, demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Dozens of Tennessee hospitals have stopped taking transfer patients because they are overwhelmed during one of the nation’s worst recent outbreaks of COVID-19 cases.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Wednesday that hospitalizations and deaths continue to be at a “critical stage” as the state deals with a post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus infections.
Officials have pleaded with the public not to gather indoors with other households for Christmas and New Year’s and to wear masks, which is required in public in some counties at the discretion of local officials.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, there were 1,762 new coronavirus cases reported per 100,000 people in Tennessee over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 111 people in Tennessee tested positive in the past week.
PHOENIX — The top doctor for Arizona’s largest hospital chain says three Banner Health hospitals in the Phoenix area are operating above capacity as the state confronts a surge in coronavirus cases.
Dr. Marjorie Bessel said Wednesday that Banner’s Desert, Thunderbird and University hospitals have more patients than they’re typically licensed to handle.
Systemwide, Banner’s intensive care units are at 160% of their typical winter peak, and nearly six in 10 ICU patients have COVID-19. Non-emergency procedures such as cancer surgeries and hip replacements have been canceled at some hospitals to keep beds open for patients battling the coronavirus.
BELLINGHAM, Wash. — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen says he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantining in accordance with federal guidelines.
In a Tweet Wednesday the Democrat said he received word of the positive test the day before and is not experiencing any symptoms.
Larsen said he is “prepared to vote by proxy in the coming days if the House schedules votes.”
He represents Washington’s 2nd Congressional District, which is on the northwestern portion of the state and includes the San Juan Islands, Bellingham and Everett.
DENVER — Colorado has started vaccinating correctional workers as the state sees a surge of coronavirus cases in its prisons.
Department of Corrections spokesperson Annie Skinner says facility workers received COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday, with more staffers scheduled to receive initial doses on Wednesday. It wasn’t clear whether guards were among the workers being vaccinated yet or if medical workers were getting the shots.
Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander, says the doctors and nurses providing clinical care in correctional settings would be part of first phase of vaccine distribution. Bookman said distribution among phase 1A and 1B would be “fluid” as they update the plan with public health guidance.
BOSTON — Help is on the way for Massachusetts small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, with Gov. Charlie Baker announcing $668 million in new state funding.
Baker said Wednesday the state will begin rolling out assistance to businesses as soon as next week regardless of what happens with the federal COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress.
He says the state effort builds on a program run by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, which awarded nearly $49 million in grants to more than 1,100 small businesses earlier this week. Baker says thousands of applicants that sought but didn’t receive those initial funds will now be able to benefit from the new funding.
The $668 million will also be used to create a new program targeting industries hit hardest during the pandemic. Baker said the new program will provide grants of up to $75,000 to help businesses cover staffing costs, rent and mortgage payments and debt obligations.
PORTLAND, Maine — Public health authorities in Maine said Wednesday it’s impossible to know when coronavirus vaccines could reach inmates in the state’s prisons and jails because of the limited supply.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has called on the state to prioritize prisons, jails and detention facilities in its vaccine plans.
Maine is in the midst of rolling out coronavirus vaccines to front-line health workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the state has vaccinated more than 8,000 people so far, but supply constraints make it difficult to plan too far into the future.
Jails and prisons have been the site of coronavirus outbreaks in Maine. One, at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, sickened dozens of inmates.
NAIROBI, Kenya — South Africa’s health minister says the country has seen more than 14,000 confirmed new coronavirus cases in the past day, with a positivity rate of 26%, as overall cases edge toward 1 million.
Heath Minister Zwelini Mkhize says the “alarming rate of spread” of infections is much faster than during the first wave in midyear. His daily report doesn’t say how many of the new infections are attributed to the new variant of the virus in South Africa.
The country has more than 950,000 confirmed cases, including more than 25,000 deaths. More than 400 people have died in the past day.
Mkhize says COVID-19 is “unrelenting” and urges South Africans to not be complacent as they enter the holiday season, and he warns that the government will have to review restrictions meant to limit the spread of the virus and “consider further measures.”
More than a quarter of the country’s infections are in Gauteng province, home of commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Around 15,000 residents previously ineligible for pandemic stimulus checks have started receiving payments from the state. The group includes immigrants in the country without work authorization.
Officials with the New Mexico Human Services Department said the $465 relief payments began arriving this week via direct deposit or checks.
The Legislature allocated $5 million to the fund for those who hadn’t received federal payments in April. Agency officials say they were able to identify an additional $2 million on top of that.
COVID-19 cases have been declining in New Mexico, but the economic fallout from the pandemic continues.
TRENTON, N.J. — With apologies to Don Henley, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has a message for state residents reminiscent of the Eagles holiday classic song: Please stay home for Christmas.
The Democratic governor on Wednesday used his final coronavirus briefing before the holiday to urge residents in New Jersey not to gather with extended family as a means of limiting the spread of the virus.
Murphy spoke as New Jersey recorded its first instance since May of back-to-back days when the state death toll from the virus exceeded 100.
MADRID — Health Minister Salvador Illa said that, beginning Saturday, Spain will receive 4.5 million Pfizer vaccine doses over the next 12 weeks, enough to vaccinate some 2.3 million people.
Illa said on Wednesday that the first batch would arrive in the central province of Guadalajara and be distributed around Spain from there so that vaccination could begin as planned on Sunday.
The ministry reported 12,386 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 11,079 on Tuesday, for a total of 1.8 million. There were 178 new confirmed deaths, down from 260 on Tuesday.
The 14-day cumulative index, closely watched by epidemiologists, rose to 254 per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 236 a day earlier but still down from the second-wave high of 529 on Nov. 9.
LONDON — The U.K. has recorded its most coronavirus virus-related deaths since April.
In its daily update, the British government said another 744 people have died 28 days after testing positive for COVID-19, the highest level since April 29.
That takes the U.K.’s total up to 69,051, Europe’s second-highest behind Italy. If current trends continue, the U.K. looks set to overtake Italy to once again become Europe’s worst-hit country.
It also said another 39,237 new infections have been identified, the most recorded. However, comparisons with the early days of the pandemic are difficult as testing for the virus then was negligible.
Many of these new infections are said to be related to a new variant of the coronavirus that has been identified around London and southeast England and which scientists say is more virulent.
Lockdown restrictions have been tightened across the four nations of the U.K. in recent days. On Wednesday, more areas of England were put into the highest level of restrictions with a “stay-at-home” message in force.
MILAN — Italy recorded another 14,522 new positive coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the last day before more severe restrictions take effect for the Christmas holidays.
Despite measures that have been in place since late October, Italy has yet to successfully flatten the curve of the fall resurgence.
The Health Ministry said about 8% of COVID-19 tests are turning up positives and the death toll grew by 553, 75 fewer than a day earlier. More than 200 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care, while 402 fewer were hospitalized in other wards.
Starting Thursday, Italians will have to fill out declarations of their reasons for leaving home, just like during the strict 10-week lockdown in the spring. The holiday restrictions, running through Jan. 6, give some leeway for visiting friends and relatives in the same region.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Health Ministry says it has detected the country’s first known cases of the new variant of the coronavirus.
The ministry announced Wednesday that it found the variant in three people who are in government-run quarantine hotels after returning from the U.K. The source of a fourth case is still under investigation.
Israel this week tightened its restrictions on entering the country, barring nearly all foreigners and requiring all returning Israelis to isolate in state-run hotels for 10 to 14 days. Flights from the U.K., Denmark and South Africa have been banned altogether.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the country is pressing ahead with a vaccination campaign it kicked off this week, while also weighing further lockdown restrictions.
MEXICO CITY — The first formally approved COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Latin America on Wednesday.
A DHL flight touched down at Mexico City’s international airport and ground crew unloaded the first batches of ultra-cold vaccines produced by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech.
The first vaccines were due to be given to health workers in Mexico City and the northern city of Saltillo starting on Thursday. Officials didn’t say how many doses were in the first shipment, which was meant to test logistics procedures.
Shipments of the Pflizer vaccine are scheduled to arrive in some other Latin American nations this week and vaccine candidates from other producers have already arrived in some other nations pending formal approval by their health authorities.
Mexico expects to receive 1.4 million doses of the Pflizer-BioNTech product by the end of January.
NEW YORK — New York City will send sheriff’s deputies to the homes or hotel rooms of all travelers coming from the U.K. to ensure they comply with the city’s two-week coronavirus quarantine requirement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the enforcement action Wednesday amid concern about a new, fast-spreading strain of the virus that has been detected in the U.K.
Airlines flying from London to New York agreed this week to test passengers before they board. All travelers to New York are required to fill out forms with contact information and where they’ll be staying, regardless of where they’re arriving from. They will then be sent a quarantine order by certified mail.