Virus Updates: Biden Unveils COVID Priorities; Deaths Reach Record

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With the United States facing what could be a catastrophic winter, top government officials renewed calls over the weekend to wear masks, practice social distancing and follow other basic measures.

In California, officials issued a stay-at-home order for millions of people and introduced a smartphone tool to trace cases. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Massachusetts has reopened a COVID field hospital for the first time since June.

On Capitol Hill, Congress continues negotiations on a $908 billion coronavirus relief bill as millions of hungry Americans turn to food banks for the first time.

100M Shots in First 100 Days: Biden Unveils COVID-19 Priorities, Introduces Health Team

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday promised that his administration would oversee the injection of 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots within his first 100 days as president and vowed to reopen a “majority” of schools across the nation in the same time frame.

Biden, who spoke from Wilmington, Delaware, at an event in which he also announced the top members of his health care team, promised that educators, along with health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, would be among the targets for the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations.

In addition, Biden reiterated that he would call on Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration, adding that he would sign an executive order on his first day in office to mandate mask use where he could “under the law,” such as in federal buildings and during interstate travel on planes trains and buses.

"Masking, vaccinations, opening schools,” Biden said. “These are the three key goals of my first 100 days.”

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Trump Vows to Invoke Defense Production Act for Vaccine Distribution

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to prioritize Americans for coronavirus vaccines procured by the federal government as the administration is coming under new scrutiny after failing to lock in a chance to buy millions of additional doses of Pfizer’s vaccine last summer. 

The order would restrict the government from delivering doses to other nations until there is excess supply to meet domestic demand, but it was not immediately clear what the practical impact would be.

Speaking at an event celebrating “Operation Warp Speed,” Trump said he'll invoke the Defense Production Act if there are any "problems" with vaccine production or if companies don't prioritize getting vaccines to Americans first.

The Trump administration insists that between the Pfizer vaccine, another vaccine from drugmaker Moderna and others in the pipeline, the U.S. will be able to accommodate any American who wants to be vaccinated by the end of the second quarter of 2021.

The decision not to secure additional Pfizer purchases last summer was first reported by The New York Times. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told NBC the administration is "continuing to work across manufacturers to expand the availability of releasable, of FDA-approved vaccine as quickly as possible. … We do still have that option for an additional 500 million doses.”

While Trump took credit for the record pace of vaccine development, much of the groundwork was laid over the last decade, amid new research into messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines — of the sort developed by both Pfizer and Moderna.

'Quite Frankly Shocking': US Virus Deaths Hit Record Levels

Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse because of the fallout from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

Virtually every state is reporting surges just as a vaccine appears days away from getting the go-ahead in the U.S.

“The epidemic in the U.S. is punishing. It’s widespread. It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S. — a country with a wonderful, strong health system, amazing technological capacities,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies.

The virus is blamed for more than 285,000 deaths and over 15 million confirmed infections in the United States.

Stephanie Ruhle Opens Up About Family's COVID-19 Diagnosis: 'Be Prepared'

NBC correspondent Stephanie Ruhle has preparation advice for the public after she and her entire family recently experienced firsthand what it's like to test positive for COVID-19.

Ruhle's husband tested positive a day before Thanksgiving and then Ruhle and her three children, ages 14, 11 and 7, also tested positive.

She told Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on TODAY Tuesday that they have all recovered, but the experience shook her after she and her husband had to quarantine in separate homes and leave their children to take care of themselves for a week.

"I definitely think now everybody should have essentially a game plan," Ruhle said. "This is a time when you want to make sure you know all your neighbors because you're probably going to need your neighbors to be dropping food off. You can't run out to the store, so be prepared."

Ruhle suggested keeping a piece of paper handy with the address of a local testing site and your primary doctor's contact number, as well as a go bag with a mask and ibuprofen.

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Studies Suggest AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine 70% Effective and Safe

New results on a possible COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca suggest it is safe and about 70% effective. Some experts say that shows it is likely to win approval.

But questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55. That's a key concern for a vaccine that health officials hope to rely on around the world because of its low cost, availability and ease of use. Partial results were published Tuesday by the medical journal Lancet.

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Trump Adviser Explains Pass on More Pfizer Doses

The leader of Operation Warp Speed says the Trump administration was looking at several different vaccines during the summer when it had the option to lock in additional Pfizer vaccine doses.

Chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui told ABC on Tuesday “no one reasonably would buy more from any one of those vaccines because we didn’t know which one would work and which one would be better than the other.”

The administration is coming under scrutiny for failing to lock in a chance to buy millions of additional Pfizer doses. That decision could delay the delivery of a second batch of U.S. doses until Pfizer fulfills other international contracts.

Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir says the situation with Pfizer doesn’t change the timeline for vaccinating “any American who wants it” by “late spring and early summer.” He tells CBS, “We will be able to vaccinate about 20 million people this month and another 20 million to 25 million in January and another 20 to 25 million in February.”

Those numbers assume FDA authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

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Flight Map Shows Thousands Flew to and From COVID-19 Hotspots Thanksgiving Week

Note: The map shows domestic passenger flights from Nov. 23 to 29. The arrows are sized according to number of flights and colored according to the average incidence rate of all counties within 25 miles of the departure airport. The risk level for those areas was determined using a system devised by the Harvard Global Health Institute. Source: Flightradar24; Johns Hopkins University; U.S. Census Bureau
Amy O’Kruk/NBC

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Trump to Hold COVID Vaccine Summit at White House

President Donald Trump will host a White House summit aimed at celebrating the expected approval of the first coronavirus vaccine later this week.

The “Operation Warp Speed” summit will feature Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a host of government experts, state leaders and business executives, as the White House looks to explain that the vaccine is safe and lay out the administration’s plans to bring it to the American people.

Officials with Pfizer and Moderna declined an invitation to attend the event, citing concerns about contributing to the politicization of the vaccine development process and potentially further inhibiting public confidence in the drugs, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump is set to kick off the event with remarks aiming to “celebrate" vaccine development, according to an official who previewed the event. Trump also will sign an executive order to prioritize Americans for coronavirus vaccines procured by the federal government. An official said the order would restrict the U.S. government from donating doses to other nations until there is excess supply to meet domestic demand.

90-Year-Old Woman, William Shakespeare Among First to Get Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine

A 90-year-old former shop clerk and a man named William Shakespeare were the first two people in the United Kingdom to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

A retired British shop clerk received the first shot in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program Tuesday, signaling the start of a global immunization effort intended to offer a route out of a pandemic that has killed 1.5 million.

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, got the shot at 6:31 a.m. on what public health officials have dubbed “V-Day.” She was first in line at University Hospital Coventry, one of several hospitals around the country that are handling the initial phase of the United Kingdom’s program. As luck would have it, the second injection went to a man named William Shakespeare, an 81-year-old who hails from Warwickshire, the county where the bard was born.

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Keenan, who wore a surgical mask and a blue Merry Christmas T-shirt decorated with a cartoon penguin wearing a Santa hat. “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

The U.K. is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program after British regulators last week authorized the use of a COVID-19 shot developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. U.S. and European Union regulators may approve the vaccine in coming days, fueling a global immunization effort.

US Surpasses 15 Million COVID Cases

The United States has recorded more than 15 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally by NBC News. The grim milestone came just days after the country surpassed 14 million cases.

The U.S. also reported 1,789 COVID-related deaths on Monday, bringing the total death count close to 285,000 people, according to the tally. The country logged nearly 187,000 new cases of COVID-19 on the same day.

The country registered almost 102,000 hospitalizations nationwide, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

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