Coronavirus live updates: 300K dead; Health care workers across US get first COVID-19 vaccine doses – USA TODAY

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The United States now marks a wrenching 300,000 deaths from COVID-19

And the once-unthinkable threshold is expected to rise, as experts fear the country is hurtling nonstop toward the next milestone of surpassing the total of American fatalities in World War II – even as vaccines come to distribution sites across the country.

A weeks-long surge in coronavirus transmission, leading to an average of more than 210,000 new infections and nearly 2,500 deaths a day this month, has public health experts considering the next major round number practically inevitable.

Despite the positive news on the vaccine front, the U.S. is still battling overcrowded hospitals and record-breaking daily case count as the nation nears another sad milestone, 300,000 deaths, the most of any country. The first vaccine doses were given out Monday.

Health care workers across the United States were receiving the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, a landmark step in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

A nurse in New York City became that state’s first – and likely the nation’s – to receive the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It’s the first authorized in the country to combat the coronavirus.

“I feel hopeful today,” said Sandra Lindsay, the critical care nurse at New York’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center, after she received the shot.

Vaccinations also occurred in North Carolina, Rhode Island, Florida, Ohio and other states. A total of 145 sites will receive vaccines Monday, 125 Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday at a briefing call.

The first vaccinations come, however, as the United States was on the brink of 300,000 deaths from COVID-19. The country is still battling overcrowded hospitals and record-breaking daily case count.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 16.2 million cases and 299,192 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 72.1 million cases and 1.61 million deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: We’re answering your questions about the vaccine, like: What are the side effects? Can you still get sick? Is it safe during pregnancy? Get the answers here.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

More than 300K dead from COVID-19 in the US

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned the country could reach 450,000 fatalities before Feb. 1, days short of the one-year anniversary of the first known COVID-19 death in the USA. The U.S. tragically marked 300,000 deaths on Monday, even as vaccines began being distributed across the nation.

An influential model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts more than 460,000 deaths by March 1, with or without the planned rapid vaccine rollout. By comparison, about 405,000 American service members perished in World War II over nearly four years.

“The way the number of infections has been growing so fast, it’s hard to believe we won’t be at half a million deaths,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, a professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California-Berkeley.

– Jorge Ortiz

More vaccines coming soon, Operation Warp Speed says

Operation Warp Speed officials alluded to a highly likely FDA authorization of a second COVID-19 vaccine soon, from Moderna, though HHS Secretary Alex Azar reiterated at a Monday briefing that it would only be authorized “if it meets FDA’s rigorous standards.”

Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed’s science advisor, said that “this week, possibly Tuesday, the packet of technical information about the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be made public.

The Moderna vaccine showed almost 95% efficacy against disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease, Slaoui said.

The information will be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration’s external advisory committee, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, or VRBPAC, on Thursday. That meeting will potentially be followed by authorization and distribution of the vaccine, Slaoui said.

He also noted that there are two other COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials.

The U.S. has enough vaccines already purchased to meet the goal of vaccinating every American who wants it by the end of the second quarter of 2021, so by June, Azar said. 

– Elizabeth Weise

People should get vaccinated, officials say

Vaccination is what will stop COVID-19, emphasized Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed’s science advisor, at a Monday briefing. Americans must listen to real scientific and medical experts as they explain the data now available showing the efficacy of these vaccines, he said.

“Vaccines on the shelf are useless,” he said. “Unless the majority of us get vaccinated, we will not be able to control this pandemic.”

HHS Secretary Alex Azar urged Americans to continue to socially distance and wear masks.

“Every sacrifice you make in the coming months will help save lives and ensure that we emerge from this pandemic as soon as possible. Each vaccine administered in these coming days is a tribute to the generosity and genius of this country. The achievements that every American who made Operation Warp Speed possible should be a point of pride for us all. Our war against the virus is not over yet, but this week we’re taking a major step,” he said. 

– Elizabeth Weise

New York nurse receives COVID-19 vaccine

A critical care nurse in New York City received the what was likely the nation’s first shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning with other health care workers cheering and Gov. Andrew Cuomo watching via livestream.

“I’m ready. Let’s do this,” Sandra Lindsay said before she received the shot after 9 a.m. in Queens. Those in the room applauded after Lindsay was given the shot.

The nurse said she felt “relieved” and that she wanted to “instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.”

“I hope this marks the beginning to the end of a very painful time in our history,” Lindsay said.

Dr. Michelle Chester of Northwell Health, who administered the shot, added: “Everything went perfectly.”

Dr. Yves Duroseau, the chairman of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, became the second health care professional in New York to receive the vaccine about an hour later.

Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse, receives the very first COVID-19 vaccine administered in New York state. The shot took place at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens; Dec. 14, 2020.

COVID-19 vaccine will not arrive at Tennessee hospitals until Thursday

Tennessee officials say the first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine won’t arrive at hospitals until Thursday, days after some facilities expected to being vaccination, as Tennessee falls behind other states in a race to protect health care workers from the virus.

The Tennessee Department of Health announced the very first allotment of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine — an early shipment of 975 doses — arrived Monday and will be held in reserve as a “backup supply.” The state’s primary supply of about 56,000 more doses will ship Wednesday and arrive at “28 sites covering 74 Tennessee hospitals” on Thursday, according to a news release from the health department.

Many area hospitals were prepared to begin administering the vaccine on Tuesday, in hopes they could begin earlier. Vaccinations began Monday in some smaller southern cities like Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Jackson, Mississippi.

Craig Boener, a spokesman for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the hospital had prepared to start vaccinations on Tuesday “at the earliest” but had been instructed to plan for a Thursday delivery.  Ascension-Saint Thomas, which has about 10 hospitals in Middle Tennessee, planned to start vaccinations at three facilities on Wednesday afternoon, said spokeswoman Michelle Heard. TriStar hospitals also planned for the possibility of vaccinations beginning on Wednesday.

– Brett Kelman, Nashville Tennessean

In Ohio, rows of health care workers vaccinated

The first six Ohioans were injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center following a celebratory countdown.

The first doses of the vaccine arrived in a brown UPS truck at the medical center around 9:15 a.m., and Gov. Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine waited outside the loading docks for the truck’s arrival.

The medical center set up rows of tables inside its Biomedical Research Tower as vaccine recipients were seated at each table and injected with the vaccine as workers moved down the rows.

The medical center immunized around 30 high-risk frontline healthcare workers Monday morning, and, in total, Ohio State received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Monday.

– Max Filby, The Columbus Dispatch

Canada begins vaccine rollout, too

The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Canada on Monday as the country joined the U.S. and U.K. as the first Western nations to begin vaccinations.

Anita Quidangen, a worker at a long-term home, received the first shot in Toronto as front-line workers were first in line to receive the vaccine. Ontario received 6,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday night.

In Quebec, residents of two long-term care homes will be the first to receive the vaccine.

Canada is expected to receive more of its initial 30,000 doses of the vaccine on Monday, too.

Louisiana doctor calls getting vaccine ‘an honor and a privilege’

Louisiana rolled out its vaccinations by delivering shots to health care workers  at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans Monday morning. 

“It is a great day. It’s a day that we have been preparing for planning for and praying for, for about nine months now,” Governor John Bel Edwards said at the hospital.

Dr. Leo Seoane, Ochsner’s Chief Academic Officer, was among the first to get the Pfizer vaccine at Ochsner’s New Orleans Medical Center Monday morning, which he said was particularly meaningful as a Cuban-American given the virus’ disproportionate impact on African-Americans and people with Hispanic heritage. 

“It’s been an incredible morning, like everyone says it is historic,” Seoane said. “As a Cuban-American and a first generation immigrant to this country, it’s really an honor and a privilege to be part of the solution for something that we know has been so impactful for Hispanic community.”

– Andrew Capps, Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Dr. Leo Seoane, chief academic officer for Ochsner Health System, becomes among the first Louisianans to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as Louisiana's frontline health care workers begin to receive the first COVID-19 vaccinations in the state on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

Kentucky doctor ‘volunteered to go first’ to show vaccine is safe, effective

Dr. Jason Smith, the chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health, became the first person in Kentucky on Monday to receive a dose of the new COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Andy Beshear was on hand to watch as Smith, who is a trauma surgeon, two nurses and two other doctors prepared to receive the vaccine that had arrived at University of Louisville about an hour earlier.

Smith said he hopes people will be willing to take the vaccine as it becomes available.

“I fully believe this is a safe and effective vaccine,” he said. “I volunteered to go first because of that.”

– Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal

Florida nurse gets vaccine

A nurse at Tampa General Hospital in Florida was the state’s first person to receive the vaccine Monday.

Dr. Charles Lockwood, Dean of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, said this was an exciting, historic moment.

The only thing he could think of that came close was when watching astronaut Neil Armstrong step on the moon. “This is our magical Neil Armstrong moment,” Lockwood said.

– Jeffrey Schweers

Health care workers in Connecticut get vaccines

Vaccinations began in Connecticut on Monday as two health care workers received the first shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Hartford HealthCare’s Dr. Ajay Kumar and Keith Grant, senior system director for infection prevention, both received their vaccines before 11 a.m., the Hartford Courant reported.

“This is a momentous time for all of us. We’ve been working very hard to contain and manage the pandemic so far, and this is one more huge and significant step forward,” Kumar said, per the newspaper.

Vaccines arriving across the country

States and local hospital administrations confirmed Monday they were receiving COVID-19 vaccines.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said 19,500 doses of the vaccine were headed to four sites in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.

Iowa, Nevada and South Dakota also confirmed they had received their shipments. Here’s where else the vaccine has been delivered:

  • In Wisconsin, UW Health said its first doses were in ultra-cold storage freezers and would be administered to employees Monday afternoon.
  • Colorado received its first doses Monday morning as a FedEx driver delivered 975 vials, with Gov. Jared Polis signing for the package.
  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz was also present to see his state’s first vaccines being delivered.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he “had the privilege” to sign for his state’s FedEx package of the first 20,000 Pfizer doses.
  • Hospitals in Maine and Massachusetts said they had received their vaccines as well. 

How women can help swing momentum with vaccine skepticism in communities of color

Jessica Ross, a 23-year-old Black woman in Atlanta, said she — and many other Black women in her circle — are nervous to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

From the Tuskegee Syphilis Study on Black men that did not provide them with treatment to cure the disease, to Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were used for research without her or her family’s permission, many have cultivated distrust in public health systems. “A lot of them are nervous about, is this going to be … tested out on minority groups,” Ross said about her friends and family.

Several polls have shown the ambivalence surrounding the vaccine among people of color, and a recent survey has found Black women like Ross and Latino women, more than men, are most reluctant to take the vaccine.

Experts and members of these communities aren’t surprised. The country’s history of unethical testing and experimentation on Black men and women colors the community’s lack of trust. But as the coronavirus continues to threaten people of color most, medical experts say dispelling skepticism is essential, and women of color could be the key.

– Nada Hassanein

NYC indoor dining ban takes effect, full shutdown may come soon

A renewed ban on indoor dining took effect in New York City on Monday as officials try to slow the spread of the virus in what was once the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the restriction last week as New York City and the surrounding area have seen a steady uptick in new cases over the fall. The ban limits the already beleaguered restaurant industry to takeout and outdoor dining only.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also said Monday that “a full shutdown” could be on the horizon in the coming weeks if cases put a strain on the city’s hospitals.

“This kind of momentum that the disease has right now, we’ve got to stop it before it causes too much damage, too much pain,” de Blasio said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Role-playing, planning for earthquakes: Health care centers prep for vaccine arrival

Hospitals and medical centers spent Sunday preparing for the first COVID-19 vaccine to arrive Monday morning, a massive undertaking that began when a caravan of semis guarded by unmarked police cars pulled out of the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, just after dawn. 

Providers spent the weekend running through every possible contingency that could get in the way, from earthquakes to power outages. The run-throughs and tabletop exercises and hours and hours of Zoom calls are necessary because dealing with the Pfizer vaccine takes training and great organization.

“We did our final run-through exercise today,” said Dr. Nasim Afsar, chief operating officer for UCI Health in Orange, California. The team role-played the entire process, from vaccine arriving at the loading dock to an injection being given.

“One person would say, ‘I’ve got the vaccine, I’m walking to the clinic. This is the path I’m going to take.’ And then another would be a sample patient and someone would bring them into the room and we’d walk through the entire process of getting them vaccinated,” she said.

– Elizabeth Weise

Pfizer CEO: 100M vaccine doses will be distributed by end of the first quarter

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Monday that, like many others, he was planning to get his company’s groundbreaking vaccine. “People will believe much more in the vaccine if the CEO is getting vaccinated,” he told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta.

By the end of the year, the company will have manufactured 50 million doses, half of which will go to U.S. sites with the remaining doses given out globally. By the end of the first quarter of 2021, 100 million doses will have been distributed across the nation, he said. The federal government has already requested an additional 100 million doses, he said.

“This year, we will have around 50 million doses available. Most of them have already been manufactured, so they are already there. Next year, we will do 1.3 billion doses,” Bourla said, but noted that not all those vaccinations were destined to the United States. “We are working very diligently to increase this number as we understand the demand is very high.”

White House, Congress, SCOTUS will get early vaccine access

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will be among the top office-holders offered coronavirus vaccines in the next week to 10 days to guard against an outbreak that could cripple the functions of government, officials said Sunday.

However, Trump said in a tweet Sunday night that those working in the White House should be immunized later in the program “unless specifically necessary.” He noted he was not “scheduled” to take the vaccine but indicated he would be inoculated at some point. The president was diagnosed with and recovered from the virus in October.

The shots will be offered to officials across all three branches of government, including leaders at the White House, in Congress and on the Supreme Court. White House staff members who work in close proximity to Trump are also expected to get early vaccines. The White House has been the site of several outbreaks during the pandemic, with Trump, his chief of staff and several aides among those infected. 

– David Jackson

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are loaded Sunday onto a truck for shipping at the Pfizer Global Supply manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich.

California hospital pleads with residents to follow COVID protocols

With zero percent hospital capacity left, Providence St. Mary Medical Center officials are now pleading with local residents to follow coronavirus protocol. 

The situation at the California hospital isn’t unique. Across the country, health centers are reaching their breaking points, crammed with coronavirus patients and running out of resources, including staff. But Providence St. Mary directors and front-line health care workers are asking for the support of citizens to help slow the spread locally.

“In the last three, four weeks we’ve been a case study for what happens when people don’t social distance, when people don’t wear masks,” said Bryan Kawasaki, the hospital’s spokesman. “We hope that people will learn and help alleviate the stress off the hospital systems in the High Desert.”

– Martin Estacio and Matthew Cabe, Victorville Daily Press

Some Florida hospitals won’t require COVID-19 vaccinations

Some of Florida’s top hospitals, including those expected to soon get the first shipments of vaccines to prevent COVID-19, won’t require medical and support staff to get the shots even though they require inoculations against the far-less-deadly flu virus.

Five Florida hospitals are slated to get the initial distribution of 100,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine between Monday and next Sunday, according to state Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz. Those hospitals are in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami and Hollywood.

The state’s vaccine distribution plan calls for health care workers, other “essential personnel,” the elderly and those with health problems putting them at high risk for COVID-19 complications to receive priority in getting access to the vaccine.But not even all of the Florida hospitals getting the first doses will require their staff to be immunized. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the federal government will provide the state with 179,400 doses of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.

– Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY 

Contributing: Associated Press

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