US sets new record for daily COVID-19 deaths with over 3,800

The United States set another record for the most coronavirus deaths in a day on Wednesday, with 3,865, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The death toll is only mounting as cases and hospitalizations also rise. Over 132,000 Americans are in the hospital with COVID-19, also a record, as the number keeps climbing, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The country is averaging more than 200,000 new cases every day.

A staggering total of more than 361,000 Americans have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins.

Many Americans are fatigued with pandemic restrictions, despite the urgings of public health officials to maintain them. President Trump has been largely silent on the crisis as he focuses on reversing the election outcome and as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Wednesday.

Many governors also have been reluctant to impose new restrictions.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines, but the distribution effort is off to a slow start as Trump administration officials say they are working to speed it up.

But with months until the vaccine becomes widely available, a new strain of the coronavirus is posing an even greater threat, given that it is thought to be more contagious, though not more lethal.

That strain has already been found in multiple states, and experts say it will clearly become much more prominent given that it is easier to spread.

Even without the new strain being dominant yet in the U.S., hospitals in some areas are already overwhelmed, particularly in Los Angeles. Ambulance crews there were recently instructed not to transport some patients with a low chance of survival to hospitals because of capacity problems.


De Blasio slams Cuomo’s ‘arrogance’ amid criticism over COVID-19 vaccine fine threats

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday slammed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to fine hospitals as a means of speeding up the state’s highly criticized slow vaccine rollout.

“That’s just arrogance,” de Blasio said in an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis of Cuomo’s claims that the monetary penalties could speed up the process.

Hizzoner went on to defend the city’s healthcare workers and told Cuomo to lay off the threats.

“Does he think that our healthcare professionals are uninterested in vaccinating people? How about trusting the people who have been our heroes?” de Blasio said.

“Help them, support them, don’t fine them, don’t threaten them, respect them and help them.”

Cuomo earlier Monday deflected blame on the state’s sluggish inoculation effort — which has seen large quantities of the vaccine supply unused — to local leaders, including de Blasio.

The governor also specifically argued the Big Apple’s city-run Health and Hospitals system have not carried their weight.

De Blasio said on Monday night that instead of issuing threats, the state should implement new rules to foster faster vaccine delivery.

“We need rules that maximize the pace, that help us speed up and reach the people who are available, who are a priority and who are ready, willing and able, it’s common sense,” the mayor said.

“So, the state can help us here. Stop threatening people.”

The state Department of Health on Sunday sent a letter establishing a use-it-or-lose-it position, Cuomo said, requiring providers to use the supplies they’ve thus far been allocated by week’s end or face fines of up to $100,000.

Moving forward, they must use all vaccines within seven days of receipt or face fines — and risk being cut off from future shipments of the vaccine.

Public and private hospitals statewide have used only about 46 percent of the coronavirus vaccines they have been provided, according to stats Cuomo cited Monday.

While the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System has led the way, with about 99 percent of its allotted shots administered, by contrast, the city’s Health and Hospitals network has used just 31 percent.

But De Blasio Monday night called Cuomo’s analysis of the city-run hospitals “blatantly inaccurate, arguing their vaccine supply was inflated since much of the inventory was merely a day old.

“What he said about Health and Hospitals was just blatantly inaccurate. A lot of that delivery to Health and Hospitals came in in the last 24 hours, they weren’t even in the position to turn around and use it. It’d just got there,” the mayor said.


Nashville Bombing Suspect Anthony Warner’s Possible Ties to 5G Conspiracy Theory Investigated

The FBI are investigating whether the suspect at the center of the Nashville Christmas Day bombing was connected to 5G conspiracy theories, according to reports.

Steve Fridrich, a real estate agent based in Nashville, contacted the FBI to tell them that he previously worked with a man named Tony Warner. Investigators think a man named Anthony Quinn Warner to be a person of interest in the camper van explosion outside an AT&T building that injured three people on the morning of December 25.

Fridrich said agents asked him if the man he worked with had paranoia about 5G technology and conspiracy theories about it being used to spy on Americans.

Fridrich told the man he worked with doing information technology was a “nice guy”, but they did not have a relationship beyond him contacting Warner to work on internet issues.

“You know, he was a techie guy—don’t mean anything negative about that. He would do this thing and leave. He didn’t bother anybody. He did his thing and leave,” Fridrich said.

FBI said they could not comment because of the pending investigation.

Earlier this year, conspiracy theories about the implementation of 5G, including that the technology somehow helps spread or is even the cause of coronavirus, were widely shared and believed by some.

The baseless theories resulted in people attacking 5G mobile phone masts in the U.K as misinformation spread on social media.


California purchases thousands of body bags as death toll grows due to Covid

California has purchased thousands of body bags and has dozens of refrigerated storage units ready as it prepares to tackle with rising death toll from Covid-19.

The orders for 5,000 body bags and 60 53-foot-long refrigerated units to have ready for counties and hospitals should be a sobering statistic, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Although vaccines have arrived, the crisis is not over, Newsom said.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “And that means we’re going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Newsom, a Democrat, said there is a ray of optimism: Vaccines began being administered Monday, and the state expects to have 2.1 million doses by the end of December.

He requested people across the state to wear masks, keep distance from others and take other steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“I want to remind folks: It’s not the flu. This is not something to trifle with,” Newsom said. “This is a deadly disease, a deadly pandemic, and we’re in the middle of it right now.” Large parts of the state are under stay-at-home orders.

Roughly 32,300 new Covid-19 cases are reported across the state each day, a number Newsom said was historic, and the positivity rate had risen from 6.9 percent at the beginning of the month to more than 10 percent Monday.

The number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 in California rose from around 8,500 on Dec. 1 to around 14,200 on Monday, he said.

And the state’s intensive care unit capacity averages around 5.7 percent statewide, Newsom said. The lowest capacities are in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

There are more than 21,000 deaths from Covid-19 in California, as per the state health department.

The average number of deaths from the disease in the state was 163 a day as of Monday, Newsom said, using a seven-day average. On Nov. 14, the average daily number was 41.

A national ensemble forecast to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention predicts that the Covid-19 death toll could be 362,000 by Jan. 2.

More than 16.7 million cases had been reported in the United States by Tuesday evening, and more than 304,000 people have died, as per the reports.


Putin congratulates Biden on US election victory

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the US presidential election Tuesday, when the Electoral College officially affirmed Biden’s win.

While many world leaders already congratulated President-elect Biden, the Kremlin said at the time that it deemed it “correct” to wait for the official affirmation before Putin congratulated the winner.

“Vladimir Putin wished the President-elect every success and expressed confidence that Russia and the United States, which bear special responsibility for global security and stability, despite their differences can truly contribute to solving many problems and challenges that the world is currently facing,” a Kremlin readout said on Tuesday.

Putin said that “Russian-American cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual respect would meet the interests of people in both countries as well as the entire international community.”

“For my part, I am ready for cooperation and contacts with you,” the Russian President said.

It’s contrast to 2016, when the Kremlin congratulated US President Donald Trump within hours of the race being called, Biden’s administration will have a very different thought towards Russia.

Biden had called Russia “the main threat” to US national security in an interview. Kremlin spokesman Peskov responded by saying that such rhetoric amplified “hatred towards the Russian Federation.”

Due to the election, the two countries did not reach a deal to extend a key arms reduction treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, which the Trump administration wanted ahead of election day.


Cuomo, de Blasio warn NYC to prepare for ‘full shutdown’

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday said that the city could soon be facing a “full shutdown” and that the city needed to “get ready” for such an event as COVID-19 spread is high.

In a press conference with reporters, he referenced remarks by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who warned that a new shutdown could be coming.

“The governor said in a New York Times interview over the weekend that we should prepare for the possibility of a full shutdown,” de Blasio said. “I agree with that, we need to recognize that that may be coming and we’ve got to get ready for that now because we cannot let this virus keep growing especially at a moment we are finally getting the vaccine and can turn the corner.

On Sunday, the mayor’s office announced that there had been 206 hospitalizations, above the city’s 200 threshold, while there were 2,209 new cases and a seven-day average positivity rate of 5.53%.

On Friday, Cuomo had pointed recent growth in metrics and said, “If you extrapolate out at this rate of growth, you could be looking at the shutdown of New York City within a month.”

De Blasio spoke as a new shutdown of indoor dining in the city, announced by Cuomo last week and backed by the mayor, went into effect. Restaurants had been permitted to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity on Sept. 30 after months of being shut down, but that was ended on Monday with no indication they would reopen in near future.

De Blasio described the vaccine being administered in NYC, as a “shot of hope.” Sandra Lindsay, RN, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center was the first to receive the shot.

The vaccines will go to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities before the country enters the next phases of distribution.

“We are not done yet with the coronavirus. So let’s celebrate today. Let’s be hopeful. It is a shot of hope. Let’s be clear. It’s not just a shot in the medical sense. It’s a shot of hope,” he said. “But we have to keep fighting this virus in the meantime. So we remain vigilant. We’re going to have a tough December, a tough January.”


Stacey Abrams rejects comparison between her refusal to concede and Trump

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams rejected charges from Georgia’s secretary of State comparing her refusal to concede after her 2018 defeat to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to President Trump‘s refusal to do the same.

In an interview, Abrams responded to an op-ed penned by Brad Raffensperger (R), in The Wall Street Journal calling Trump’s refusal to concede to President-elect Joe Biden straight out of “the Stacey Abrams playbook.”

In his op-ed, Raffensperger said that Abrams had “refused to concede, announced that she would launch major litigation against Georgia’s election system, and began collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from donors convinced the election had been stolen from her” following her defeat to Kemp.

Abrams pushed back against that assertion, noting that hundreds of thousands of voters were purged from state voter rolls before her race went to the ballot box.

“First and foremost, he’s never listened to what I said,” Abrams said of Raffensperger’s argument.  “I said that the election was stolen from Georgia voters because, under the previous secretary of state, Brian Kemp, millions of voters were…1.4 million voters were purged from the rolls, thousands of voters were denied the right to vote because of [voter registration processes].”

Abrams went on to dismiss any comparison between herself and the president, who she argued was working to disqualify voters from having their voices heard. Her own efforts, she argued, were centered around voter registration efforts in Georgia and fighting against Republican efforts to purge voter rolls.

“There is absolutely nothing commensurate between what I have done and what Donald Trump is trying to do,” said Abrams. “My mission has been very clear since I was 17. And that is expanding access to the right to vote for those who are entitled to vote in our country, and especially in the state of Georgia. What Donald Trump is arguing is that he only wants to count the votes that he likes. He wants to restrict access to the right to vote and restrict who gets to be heard in our country. That is not at all what I’m pushing for.”


F.D.A. clears Pfizer vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization on Friday night of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has set in motion the most ambitious vaccination campaign in the nation’s history. This weekend, 2.9 million doses of the vaccine are to begin traveling by plane and guarded truck from Pfizer facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin to  chosen locations, mostly hospitals, in all 50 states.

The first injections are expected to be given by Monday to high-risk health care workers, the initial step toward the goal of inoculating enough Americans by spring to finally stop the spread of a virus that has killed nearly 300,000, sickened millions and faltered the country’s economy, education system and daily life.

The fast development of the vaccine, and its authorization based on data showing it to be 95 percent effective, has been a victory of medical science, but much in this complex next stage could go wrong.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, and the special boxes it is being shipped in can be opened no more than twice a day, in order to maintain the deep freeze. Side effects, like achiness or headache, could cause some of the nurses, doctors and others who are first in line for the vaccine to miss a day or two of work, challenging overburdened hospitals.

States say they have only a fraction of the funding they need from the federal government for staffing to administer the shot, for tracking who has received both doses of the vaccine a booster is needed three weeks after the initial injection and for other crucial pieces of the effort.

“Our teams are on standby, ready to pivot,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. Most of the state’s allocation will be delivered to a central location and then flown in small amounts, often in tiny planes, to far-flung hospitals and clinics that will need to quickly administer it.

Preparations for this moment have been months in the making. Military planners have looked at a range of potential obstacles, from large-scale protests that could disrupt traffic to poor weather conditions. In an emergency, officials are prepared to use military airplanes and helicopters to deliver vaccines to remote locations.

FedEx and UPS will transport the vaccine throughout most of the country, and each delivery will be followed by shipments of extra dry ice a day later. Pfizer designed special containers, with trackers and enough dry ice to keep the doses sufficiently cold for up to 10 days. Every truck carrying the containers will have a device that tracks its location, temperature, light exposure and motion.

For all the planning, and contingencies, there is still a good deal of confusion. States are receiving initial allocations according to a federal formula based strictly on their adult population. But many hospitals say they still don’t know exactly how much they will get or when the shipments will arrive.

“It’s really been a lot of the unknowns about the logistics,” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Smith, the chief operating officer for Cedars-Sinai, noting that the medical center was also treating the highest number of Covid-19 patients it had seen since the pandemic began in March.

Other hospital systems are reeling from the news that their initial allocations will be much smaller than they had hoped. The Cleveland Clinic, one of the 10 hospital groups in Ohio that are receiving the first batch of vaccines, is expecting only 975 doses in an initial shipment, even though it has more than 40,000 employees around the state.


Congress to pass shutdown-averting bill to continue coronavirus stimulus talks

Congress is poised to pass a stopgap funding measure that will avert a government shutdown and provide lawmakers more time to negotiate an emergency coronavirus stimulus legislation amid deepening economic pain.

Negotiations over a $1.4tn catch-all spending package are playing out alongside bipartisan efforts to pass long-delayed Covid-19 economic relief.

Congressional leaders hope to attach the stimulus bill to the must-pass spending bill, though several key sticking points remain.

On Monday, the Democratic House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, said that the House would vote on Wednesday on a one-week spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to avoid a government shutdown while lawmakers race to reach an agreement. Government funding for federal agencies is due to expire on Friday.

Hoyer had initially told lawmakers that the House would finalize its end-of-year business this week, allowing lawmakers to leave Washington for the year, but negotiations over the omnibus spending bill were proceeding more slowly than he had hoped.

“I am disappointed that we have not yet reached agreement on government funding,” Hoyer wrote on Twitter. “The House will vote on Wednesday on a one-week CR to keep government open while negotiations continue.”

A bipartisan group of senators expressed optimism about a $908bn aid proposal to help alleviate the financial disaster facing millions of American families and businesses as a rise in coronavirus cases threatens the labor market, which has struggled to fully recover from the economic downturn that followed the pandemic’s arrival in March.

But their plan, the details of which could be released as early as Monday, remains hung up over provisions to aid states and localities, a Democratic priority, and liability protections for businesses from Covid-related lawsuits, which Republicans want.

The proposal is less than half of the $2.2tn relief package passed by the Democratic-controlled House in October and does not include the direct payments to Americans that Trump sought before the election.

Yet the senators’ plan is nearly double the $500bn package proposed by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who advocated a list of “targeted” relief provisions he said the president would sign.

Lawmakers quickly enacted a $3tn aid package to salvage the economy earlier this year, but they have been deadlocked for months over whether to approve another stimulus plan.

President-elect Joe Biden has urged Congress to act immediately and endorsed the senators’ bipartisan framework, calling it a “down payment” that would provide immediate relief to those suffering the economic consequences of the virus. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, also tentatively expressed support, saying they would use the plan as a “framework” for their negotiations with Republican leaders, which are proceeding on a different track from the talks with the senators.

On Monday, the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the Trump administration and Congress were nearing an agreement on aid.

“We are moving in the right direction, I think,” Kudlow said in an online interview with the Washington Post. “We are getting closer.”

The US Chamber of Commerce said in a new memo to Congress that failure to enact relief would risk a “double-dip recession” – which occurs when a recession is followed by a brief recovery and then another recession – that would permanently shutter small businesses and leave millions of Americans with no means of support.

The same issues have blocked coronavirus relief legislation for months, leading to mounting frustrations among business owners, unions, state and local government officials, and ordinary Americans.

Considering the weakening of the economy coupled with a surge in Covid-19 cases at a time when previously approved relief mechanisms are due to expire, it would be “stupidity on steroids if Congress doesn’t act”, said the Democratic senator Mark Warner, a member of the bipartisan group that wrote the proposal, to CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.

A group of emergency aid programs implemented in response to the pandemic, including additional unemployment benefits and a moratorium on renter evictions, is due to expire at the end of December.

With US coronavirus deaths topping 283,000 and pressure mounting for aid to a fragile economy, the new package is expected to include fresh emergency assistance for small businesses, unemployment benefits, and funding for Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

“We have to get something done for the American people,” Schumer said in a floor speech on Monday, “before the end of the year.”