Coronavirus Pandemic

Virus Updates: General Sorry for Confusion Over Vaccine Shipments; Apple Closes Calif. Stores Amid Case Surge

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The United States added a record of nearly a quarter million coronavirus cases in the past day.

Health experts say the record could increase as cases surge in various parts of the country and health care systems struggle to keep up.

Along with 249,709 new cases, there were an additional 2,814 reported deaths nationwide in the past 24 hours. That pushed the confirmed U.S. death toll past 313,000, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

California led the case surge with 48,221 more infections. Almost 17,000 people are hospitalized in California and health officials are scrambling to find enough beds for patients. Texas, Florida, New York and Tennessee all registered more than 10,400 new cases.

The seven-day rolling average for new cases in the U.S. rose in the past two weeks from 183,787 to 219,324 on Friday, an increase of nearly 20%.

Health officials are concerned about future cases brought on by travel and gatherings during the holidays and New Year’s.

General Sorry for 'Miscommunication' Over Vaccine Shipments

The Army general in charge of getting COVID-19 vaccines across the United States apologized Saturday for “miscommunication” with states over the number of doses to be delivered in the early stages of distribution.

“I failed. I’m adjusting. I am fixing and we will move forward from there,” Gen. Gustave Perna told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Perna’s remarks came a day after a second vaccine was added in the fight against COVID-19, which has killed more than 312,000 people in the U.S. Governors in more than a dozen states have said the federal government has told them that next week’s shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be less than originally projected.

Perna acknowledged the criticism and accepted blame.

“I want to take personal responsibility for the miscommunication,” he said. “I know that’s not done much these days. But I am responsible. ... This is a Herculean effort and we are not perfect.”

The general said he made mistakes by citing numbers of doses that he believed would be ready.

“I am the one who approved forecast sheets. I’m the one who approved allocations,” Perna said. “There is no problem with the process. There is no problem with the Pfizer vaccine. There is no problem with the Moderna vaccine.”


Apple Temporarily Closes California Stores as Virus Cases Mount

Apple has temporarily closed all 53 of its retail stores in California after the number of coronavirus cases reached new daily records in its home state this week. A listing of stores on the phone maker's website reflects the change, which does not affect bordering states Arizona and Nevada.

The move shows how a major technology company is trying to reduce spread of the virus for employees and consumers, despite potential business impact.

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Health Officials Keeping Close Watch for Vaccine Side Effects

U.S. health officials closely tracking possible side effects of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine say they have seen six cases of severe allergic reaction out of more than a quarter million shots given.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 272,000 shots of the Pfizer vaccine were given nationwide as of Saturday morning. The half-dozen cases of allergic reaction were reported as of Friday night, and included one person with a history of vaccination reactions.

Health officials are keeping close watch for such side effects. The CDC's updated guidelines regarding COVID-19 vaccines and severe allergic reactions state that the health agency "has learned of reports that some people have experienced severe allergic reactions — also known as anaphylaxis — after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. As an example, an allergic reaction is considered severe when a person needs to be treated with epinephrine or EpiPen or if they must go to the hospital.

"If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC recommends that you should not get that specific vaccine. If you have had a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable therapies, you should ask your doctor if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor will help you decide if it is safe for you to get vaccinated," the CDC says.

U.S. vaccine recipients are supposed to hang around after their injections in case signs of an allergy appear. The CDC says all six reported cases occurred within the recommended observation window and were promptly treated.

The numbers were discussed at a meeting of a committee that advises the CDC on vaccines. The group on Saturday endorsed Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was granted emergency authorization on Friday.

Less severe side effects have also been rare. Among the first 215,000 people to get vaccinated in the U.S., fewer than 1.5% of them had problems that left them unable to perform their normal activities or required medical care.

Many vaccines can cause temporary discomfort, such as a sore arm or certain flu-like symptoms. COVID-19 vaccines tend to cause more of those reactions than a flu shot, and some hospitals are staggering the times their employees get vaccinated to avoid staffing problems.

CDC Advisory Committee Votes to Recommend Moderna COVID Vaccine

As the United States continues to roll out the Pfizer vaccine for health care workers and nursing home residents, government advisers endorsed a second vaccine on Thursday. The Moderna vaccine received emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

On Saturday, the CDC Meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, voted to recommend Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use "for persons 18 years of age and older in the US population under the FDA's Emergency Use Authorization." The vote was 11-0 in favor of the recommendation with 3 recusals.

Meanwhile, senior government officials began receiving first doses of the vaccine.

Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams publicly received a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday.

President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden will receive their vaccinations Monday, NBC News reports.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also received her first dose of the vaccine Friday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will also soon do so, according to CNBC.

President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden to Receive Vaccine Monday

On a weekly transition briefing, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden will receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday in Delaware.

The vaccinations will be done publicly.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will receive their first doses a week later.

DC Bans Indoor Dining Starting Next Week

With coronavirus numbers setting new daily records, the nation’s capital is temporarily suspending all indoor dining in restaurants over the holidays.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an executive order Friday night banning indoor dining for three weeks, starting Wednesday at 10 p.m. and extending through Jan. 15.

The District of Columbia will remain in phase two of its reopening plan, and the government described the move as a “holiday pause.”

The order also extends Washington’s public health emergency through March 31 and orders all museums to close. The entire Smithsonian network of museums, which includes the National Zoo, already shut down voluntarily in late November.

Stimulus Talks Hit New Snag With Protections Set to Expire

Congress hit a new stumbling block in negotiating a coronavirus aid deal, the latest in a final turbulent stretch to end the year as party leaders race against a Friday midnight deadline, NBC News reports.

Congressional leaders had settled on a $900 billion framework mid-week that is expected to include a $300 federal unemployment bonus, a new round of direct payments, small business funding and money to distribute Covid-19 vaccines.

But leaders had hit a new roadblock as Democrats on Friday accused Republicans, led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., of seeking to hamstring the incoming Biden administration by cutting off Federal Reserve emergency lending facilities created by the CARES Act to protect the fragile economy.

Fauci Says Moderna's Vaccine May Prevent Asymptomatic Infection, Anticipates Jabs 'Early Next Week'

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, says data from Moderna's vaccine trial suggests it not only prevents symptomatic disease, but may also prevent asymptomatic infection.

"If you also even prevent a person from actually getting infected, that would mean you are prevented from passing the infection on to someone else, and that kind of interferes with the chain of transmission," Fauci explained to NBC's Savannah Gutherie on the TODAY show.

Fauci predicted that injections of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, which approved for emergency use by the FDA on Friday, will begin "very soon — literally within a few days."

The second coronavirus vaccine can't come soon enough, as the country reported a single-day record of 243,645 cases on Thursday, according to an NBC News tally. There also were 3,288 deaths, just five shy of Wednesday's single-day record of 3,293 deaths.

Fauci reiterated his earlier prediction that vaccines could be widely available to the public by spring 2021, describing the possible date range as between February and April. 

Pence, Wife Karen, Publicly Receive COVID-19 Vaccine to Boost Public Confidence

The vice president addressed the media on Friday after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.

Vice President Mike Pence received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on live television Friday morning as part of a federal effort to build public confidence in the vaccine's safety and efficacy.

"I didn't feel a thing," Pence said after getting his shot.

Second lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams were also vaccinated in an office suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building from three medical technicians from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

President Donald Trump's administration helped deliver vaccinations against the coronavirus earlier than even some in his administration thought possible, launching Operation Warp Speed — the government campaign to help swiftly develop and distribute vaccines — this spring with great fanfare in the White House Rose Garden.

The White House has not said when or whether Trump will be vaccinated. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be vaccinated as soon as next week and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both said Thursday that they will get vaccinated in the next few days.

Biden Adviser Cedric Richmond Tests Positive for Coronavirus

One of President-elect Joe Biden’s closest advisers tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, according to his transition team.

Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, who is set to resign from Congress to join the incoming Biden administration as a senior adviser, tested positive two days after traveling to Atlanta to attend a campaign rally that Biden headlined for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Biden transition spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

Bedingfield said Richmond was not in close contact with Biden, Ossoff or Warnock, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She added that Biden underwent COVID-19 testing on Thursday, and the virus was not detected.

Richmond, 47, first began experiencing symptoms on Wednesday, the transition said.

US Tops Record Daily Cases With 240K Reported Thursday

The United States reported 243,645 cases on Thursday, setting a record for the second day in a row, according to an NBC News tally.

Thursday also saw 3,288 deaths recorded, five shy of Wednesday's record count.

California: More Than 1,000 Virus Deaths in Last 5 Days

Health officials in California announced a one-day record Thursday of 379 deaths and a two-day total of nearly 106,000 newly confirmed cases.

The nation's most populous state has recorded more than 1,000 deaths in the last five days. Its overall case total now tops 1.7 million, a figure nearly equal to Spain's and only surpassed by eight countries. The state's overall death toll has reached 21,860.

Many of California's hospitals are running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, and the situation is complicating care for non-COVID-19 patients.

Wife of HHS Secretary Azar Tests Positive

The wife of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has tested positive for the coronavirus illness, COVID-19, he said in an email to colleagues.

Azar said he and his family learned Thursday that his wife, Jennifer, had tested positive and that she is isolating with mild symptoms and doing well. Azar said he and their children have tested negative.

Azar said in the email that his wife began isolating at home "from the moment of her first symptoms," even after an instant test came back negative. A PCR test, which takes longer but is considered more accurate, then came back positive.

The Associated Press/NBC
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