Coronavirus Pandemic

Virus Updates: Over 1M First-Dose Vaccinations; US Secures More Pfizer Shots

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The United States has had its deadliest year ever, with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time — due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic. That's at least 400,000 more deaths than in 2019.

Meanwhile in the nation's capital, President Donald Trump is assailing a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package Congress approved and sent to him late Monday night. The bill would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans.

The U.S. has recorded more than 18 million coronavirus cases and over 326,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally by NBC News.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:

Louisiana’s Newest Member of Congress in ICU for COVID-19 Treatment

Louisiana's newest member of Congress is in intensive care with COVID-19.

Rep. Luke Letlow is receiving treatment at Ochsner LSU Health in Shreveport, according to his website and a post on his Twitter account. He had been treated previously at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe, the post noted.

“The Letlow family is deeply appreciative of the medical team at St. Francis Medical Center ... for their fantastic care, and is thankful for all of the prayers and support," Letlow's spokesman, Andrew Bautsch said in a written statement.

Bautsch didn’t elaborate on Letlow’s condition beyond the statement, news outlets reported.

Letlow is receiving Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, said LSU Health Sciences Center Chancellor G.E. Ghali.

Letlow, a Republican from Start, announced Friday that he had been infected by the coronavirus and was quarantining at his Richland Parish home. He was admitted to St. Francis Medical Center on Saturday and transferred to Ochsner late Tuesday.

Letlow won the 5th Congressional District seat with 62% of the vote in a Dec. 5 runoff election against fellow Republican, state Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria. He will succeed his former boss, Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican from Alto, who didn’t seek reelection. Letlow had been Abraham’s chief of staff. He is scheduled to be sworn in next month.

Studies Find Having COVID-19 May Protect Against Reinfection

Two new studies give encouraging evidence that having COVID-19 may offer some protection against future infections. Researchers found that people who made antibodies to the coronavirus were much less likely to test positive again for up to six months and maybe longer.

The results bode well for vaccines, which provoke the immune system to make antibodies — substances that attach to a virus and help it be eliminated.

Researchers found that people with antibodies from natural infections were “at much lower risk ... on the order of the same kind of protection you’d get from an effective vaccine,” of getting the virus again, said Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

To read the full story, click here.

CDC Director: Over 1M Received First Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said more than 1 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The milestone was reached 10 days after the rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was followed by the distribution of the Moderna vaccine a week later, according to director Robert Redfield.

"With cases of COVID-19 continuing to surge nationwide, this achievement comes at a critical time and will help to protect those on the frontlines – our healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients – as well as our most vulnerable: elder individuals living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities," Redfield said in a statement. "While we celebrate this historic milestone, we also acknowledge the challenging path ahead. There is currently a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., but supply will increase in the weeks and months to come."

US Layoffs Remain Elevated as 803,000 Seek Jobless Aid

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 89,000 last week to a still-elevated 803,000, evidence that the job market remains under stress nine months after the coronavirus outbreak sent the U.S. economy into recession and caused millions of layoffs.

The latest figure, released Wednesday by the Labor Department, shows that many employers are still cutting jobs as the pandemic tightens business restrictions and leads many consumers to stay home. Before the virus struck, applications typically numbered around 225,000 a week before shooting up to 6.9 million in early spring when the virus — and efforts to contain it — flattened the economy. It has since come down but remains at historically high levels.

The total number of people who are receiving traditional state unemployment benefits fell to 5.3 million for the week that ended Dec. 12 from a week earlier. That figure had peaked in early May at nearly 23 million. The steady decline since then means that some unemployed Americans are finding work and no longer receiving aid. But it also indicates that many of the unemployed have used up their state benefits, which typically expire after six months.

Pfizer to Supply US With Additional 100 Million Doses of Vaccine

The Trump administration has announced a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to purchase 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the second quarter of next year.

The U.S. had already purchased 100 million doses of the vaccine, which it began to administer to health care workers, nursing homes and select politicians last week.

Under the nearly $2 billion deal announced Wednesday, the companies will deliver at least 70 million of the additional doses by June 30, with the remaining 30 million doses to be delivered no later than July 31. The government also has the option to acquire up to an additional 400 million doses.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that the latest deal can give people confidence “that we will have enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants it by June 2021.”

Read the full story here.

US Sees Deadliest Day Since the Start of the Pandemic

The U.S. reported 3,350 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, according to an NBC News tally, setting a daily record for deaths since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Tuesday's number surpasses the national record set last Wednesday, December 16th, when the U.S. posted 3,293 deaths.

In the past week, 18,980 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19, a faster rate than any other time during the pandemic.

The U.S. also recorded 204,516 cases on Tuesday. A record 248,259 cases were reported on Friday, December 18th.

Associated Press/NBC
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