As countries around the world begin to ring in the New Year, the coronavirus continues to surge, with authorities announcing that a variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has appeared in several areas in the United States.
Meanwhile, in more hopeful news, China authorized its first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine for general use Thursday, allowing it to be supplied more broadly at home and moving Beijing closer to being able to ship it abroad. The preliminary data from last-stage trials had shown the Sinopharm vaccine to be 79.3% effective, according to the announcement.
Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:
New Strain of COVID-19 Reported in Florida
Florida has identified its first case of the new and more infectious strain of COVID-19, NBC South Florida reported.
The patient is a man in his 20s from Martin County, according to the Florida Department of Health. He has no history of travel.
Health officials in California identified the state's first case of the new strain on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Colorado health officials confirmed the nation's first case of the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant that was initially discovered in the United Kingdom.
US Surpasses 20 Million COVID-19 Cases
The United States is now reporting over 20 million coronavirus cases, according to a count by NBC News.
In addition, there were 345,699 deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States as 2020 drew to a close.
WHO Clears COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use
The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.
Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.
The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”
The U.N. health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.
“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible.”
Perdue Quarantines After Close Contact With COVID-Positive Person
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, one of two GOP senators facing runoff elections in Georgia next week that will determine which party controls the Senate, is in quarantine, his campaign said Thursday.
His campaign released this statement: "This morning, Senator Perdue was notified that he came into close contact with someone on the campaign who tested positive for COVID-19. Both Senator Perdue and his wife tested negative today, but following his doctor's recommendations and in accordance with CDC guidelines, they will quarantine."
Perdue is trying to fend off Democrat Jon Ossoff in Tuesday's runoff. The statement did not say how long Perdue would be in quarantine.
NYC Wants to Vaccinate 1 Million Residents in Jan.
New York City officials want to inoculate 1 million residents against Covid-19 in January, saying the federal government and drugmakers need to speed up the production and distribution of the vaccine.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city will use schools, pop-up clinics and "whatever it takes" to reach 1 million people within the month.
It's an ambitious goal considering the city has received just 390,425 vaccine doses and has been able to administer only about 78,000 shots, according to city data.
Read the full story here.
China Approves 1st Homegrown Vaccine
China has authorized its first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine for general use on Thursday, adding another shot that could see wide use in poorer countries.
The Sinopharm vaccine has already been given to groups such as health care professionals and essential workers under emergency-use guidelines as part of China’s program to inoculate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday in February. But the go-ahead Thursday should allow it to be supplied more broadly at home and moves Beijing closer to being able to ship it abroad.
The greenlight came a day after the state-owned company announced that preliminary data from last-stage trials had shown it to be 79.3% effective. That announcement did not detail the size of the control group, how many people were vaccinated and at what point the efficacy rate was reached after injection, and experts have cautioned that trial data needs to be shared.
Officials have said the vaccine standards were developed in “close cooperation” with the World Health Organization.
Officials Investigate 'Intentional' Spoiling of 500 COVID Vaccine Doses
Police and federal authorities are investigating after a Wisconsin health system said an employee admitted to deliberately spoiling 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine.
Aurora Medical Center first reported that the doses has been spoiled on Saturday, saying they had been accidentally left out unrefrigerated overnight by an employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. The health system said Wednesday that the doses of vaccine now appear to have been deliberately spoiled.
In a statement late Wednesday, Aurora said the employee involved “acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration.”
Memorial for Victims of COVID-19 to Be Held in DC on Eve of Biden Inauguration
A memorial will be held in Washington, D.C., the night before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration to honor the lives of those who have died from complications from COVID-19, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said in a statement Thursday morning.
The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in the nation’s capitol will be lit at 5:30 p.m. on January 19.
“It will be the first-ever lighting around the Reflecting Pool to memorialize American lives lost,” the committee said.
The committee said that cities and towns around the country will be invited to light up their buildings and ring church bells at 5:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 19 in a "national moment of unity and remembrance."
'Lower Than We Hoped': Trump Officials Ask for Patience on Vaccine
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed blamed a variety of factors including snowstorms, the holidays, storage challenges and general inexperience for the slower-than-expected rollout of COVID-19 vaccines this month, NBC News reports.
“There is a learning curve,” Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
As of Wednesday, about 2.6 million people — most of them front-line health care workers and some nursing home residents — have received their first shots of the 14 million doses that were delivered this month, according to the administration. A review by NBC News of earlier data Tuesday found that at the current rate, it would take almost 10 years to inoculate enough Americans to get the pandemic under control.
The administration in September vowed that 100 million doses would be shipped by the end of the year. This month, Slaoui cut the projection to 20 million.
Read the full story on NBCNews.com
In Potential Reopening Blueprint, New York to Allow Fans at NFL Game
A first-in-the-nation pilot plan with the NFL's Buffalo Bills is on -- and may serve as a blueprint for potentially reopening Broadway and other large venues before wide-scale vaccination, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
With indoor dining still closed for the second time in New York City, cluster zone areas restricted elsewhere, and large, revenue-generating events seemingly off the table for the foreseeable future, Cuomo first hinted of the pilot last week, NBC New York reports.
Cuomo's objective is to find out what happens in terms of viral spread if a set number of fans (the Bills agreed to 6,700) provide a negative COVID test pre-game, go into the stadium and the state conducts contact tracing afterward.
Coronavirus precautions do apply. Fans will be ejected from the stadium if they refuse to wear masks, the Bills have agreed. The team has also agreed to close off sections of the stadium to ensure social distancing. Fans will be seated in pods to keep them with members of their own groups. Tailgating is still banned.
If the approach works, and viral spread related to the game is statistically insignificant, the plan could theoretically be applied to Broadway theaters, NBA games at Barclays Center or concerts at Madison Square Garden, in theory.
Read the full story here