The Latest: California asking millions to stay home
LOS ANGELES — California authorities sent a cellphone text alert Tuesday to two major regions to tell millions of people that the novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly and asking them to stay home except for essential activities.
The noon blast to the state-designated 11-county Southern California region and 12-county San Joaquin Valley region was sent by the Office of Emergency Services.
The text also urged people to wear masks and physically distance.
Both regions came under increased restrictions this week after the capacity of hospital intensive care units dropped below 15%. The restrictions will remain in effect for at least three weeks.
The regions will be eligible to emerge from the order on Dec. 28 if ICU capacity projections for the following month are above or equal to 15%, the OES said.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April. The average cases per day has eclipsed 200,000 for the first time ahead of more holiday gatherings.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration says Pfizer’s vaccine is strongly protective against COVID-19 and appeared safe in the agency’s initial review, setting the stage for possible approval within days in the U.S.
— Britain rolls out COVID-19 vaccine shots; 90-year-old women gets first
— Studies suggest AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine safe
— 7-year-old girl in Chicago raises money for hospital’s pandemic gear
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper unveiled a modified stay-at-home order on Tuesday that requires the state’s roughly 10.5 million residents to remain off the streets between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The executive order set to take effect on Friday orders bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and personal care businesses closed by 10 p.m. Grocery chains and some retailers that sell groceries will be allowed to operate within the seven-hour window. Bars must end on-site alcohol sales must end by 9 p.m.
Travel to and from work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. is still permitted, as is travel to get food, gas, medical care or social services.
The order will remain in effect until Jan. 8.
Cooper hinted at further restrictions if spread does not slow.
North Carolina has hit new highs in current COVID-related hospitalizations for the sixth day in a row and 11 of the last 12 days. Data posted on Tuesday from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows nearly 2,400 people are hospitalized due to coronavirus. This represents a doubling of hospitalizations over the last month.
PHOENIX — Arizona set a new daily record with 12,314 confirmed coronavirus cases. The Department of Health Services says it eclipses the previous record of 10,322 cases set Dec. 1. That figure was inflated by delayed reporting over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Arizona’s case total increased to 378,157. The state reported 23 more deaths, increasing the confirmed total to 6,973.
Department officials before Thanksgiving warned that gatherings of more than one household would increase the spread. The state’s coronavirus dashboard indicates the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients is approaching the peak levels of last summer’s surge.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will extend restrictions on businesses and social gatherings through Jan. 4 to help lessen the strain on the state’s hospital system.
The current set of restrictions that took effect last month, including limiting restaurants and bars to to-go service and outdoor dining, were set to expire Dec. 14.
Inslee also announced $50 million in additional grants for businesses, on top of the $135 million in grants, loans and other assistance he announced two weeks ago to help businesses and workers impacted by the restrictions.
Restaurants were among the businesses forced to close their indoor services, including fitness facilities and gyms, bowling centers, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums. Retail stores, including grocery stores, must limit their indoor capacity to 25%.
WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says she plans to remain in government service after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, but it’s unclear if she’ll have a similar role in the administration.
Birx, speaking at a Wall Street Journal CEO’s conference on Tuesday, noted she’s served in every administration since President Ronald Reagan. But Birx, a career civil servant who temporarily stepped away from her job as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator to help lead the White House coronavirus response, has not heard from the Biden transition team.
Birx says she’ll “be in the government. It’s up to the new administration to decide if and when or how I can be utilized.”
Birx was cheered by some in the medical community early in the crisis as a voice of science who used cold data to steer Trump away from his desire to rapidly open the economy. But she has faced criticism from some public health experts and Democrats for not speaking up forcefully as Trump has downplayed the virus even as it has killed more than 284,000 Americans.
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says it has called off a plan for a nighttime curfew to contain a coronavirus outbreak during the upcoming Hanukkah holiday, citing legal issues surrounding the order.
In a statement, his office said it was searching for alternative plans to prevent public gatherings during the holiday season. The Cabinet is expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the matter.
The weeklong Hanukkah holiday, which begins at sundown Thursday, is a time when schoolchildren are on vacation and families often gather.
Israel has already imposed two lockdowns this year. Since easing the latest set of restrictions in October, the number of cases has steadily grown.
NEW YORK — Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April.
Cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis likely to get worse because of the fallout from gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
Nearly every state is reporting surges. A vaccine appears days away from getting approval in the U.S.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies, says: “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.”
The coronavirus has caused more than 284,000 confirmed deaths and nearly 15 million confirmed infections in the United States.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico plans to start vaccinations against COVID-19 near the end of December, starting with health workers.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says the vaccines will be “universal and free” and voluntary. He hopes all will be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
Officials says starting in February, those over 60 will receive vaccinations, followed by those over 50 in April and over 40 in May. They urged people with risk factors to get vaccinated first.
The armed forces will distribute them to vaccination sites, initially in Mexico City and the northern border state of Coahuila.
Assistant Secretary Hugo López-Gatell says Mexico’s health regulatory agency is expected to approve the vaccine on Dec. 11, a day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to do so.
López-Gatell says the pace of vaccination could be accelerated as more vaccines are approved and arrive. This week, Mexico plans to sign a deal to purchase 35 million doses of the CanSino vaccine from China.
Mexico, with a population of 126 million, has reported 1.18 million confirmed cases. Its registered at least 110,074 deaths, the fourth-highest death toll in the world.
NEW DELHI — India officials are outlining a plan to immunize an initial 300 million people, saying some COVID-19 vaccines are likely to receive licenses in the next few weeks.
Health officials say three vaccine companies have applied for early approval for emergency use in India. The country plans to rely on its existing immunization programs, which are among the largest in the world, for the COVID-19 vaccines.
But there are challenges. Even before the pandemic, vaccine coverage for children was patchy. Health officials will need to ensure that the emphasis on coronavirus vaccines doesn’t disrupt the existing immunization programs, and more people will need to be trained to administer vaccines.
India has reported 9.7 million confirmed cases, second highest in the world. The country of 1.3 billion people has more than 140,000 confirmed deaths.
WASHINGTON — 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.
Partial results from tests of the vaccine in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa were published Tuesday by the medical journal Lancet.
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.
Researchers claim the vaccine protected against disease in 62% of those given two full doses and in 90% of those initially given the half dose. However, independent experts have said the second group was too small — 2,741 people — to judge the possible value of that approach and more testing is needed.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says social distancing measures will be tightened as cases of the coronavirus continue to surge, with a ban on nighttime dining and more businesses ordered to close.
Lam says there will be a ban on dine-in services at restaurants after 6 p.m., and venues such as massage parlors, beauty salons and gyms will be closed temporarily. She did not specify when the measures will take effect.
Hong Kong is grappling with the latest surge of coronavirus infections, with nearly 1,200 new cases in the last two weeks after a three-month lull.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip’s Hamas authorities are tightening restrictions in the Palestinian enclave to curb a surge in coronavirus infections.
The ruling militant group says it will impose total weekend curfews each Friday and Saturday starting this week. Schools and mosques were shut this week and businesses ordered to close at 6 p.m. The restrictions will ban journalists and news crews from moving during curfews.
A nighttime curfew has been in place since the first cases of local transmissions were confirmed in August. On Tuesday, the central lab resumed testing after a two-day halt due to lack of testing materials. The World Health Organization delivered enough testing kits for eight days, Gaza’s Health Ministry says.
The Palestinian territory has reported nearly 26,000 cases and 155 confirmed deaths.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says Pfizer’s vaccine is strongly protective against COVID-19 and appeared safe in the agency’s initial review.
The positive review from FDA scientists sets the stage for a decision allowing the vaccine’s initial use within days. The analysis also offers the world the first detailed look at the evidence behind the shots.
On Thursday, the FDA will convene a panel of outside experts to review the government findings and recommend whether the vaccine appears safe and effective enough for millions of Americans. That public vetting process is key to bolstering confidence in the shots ahead what would be the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history.
The FDA typically follows the committee’s advice, though it’s not required to do so. If the FDA gives the green light, the first recipients would be health care workers and nursing home residents.
LANSING, Mich. — Nonpublic schools sued after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration extended a coronavirus order that prevents in-person instruction at Michigan high schools, saying it violates the First Amendment right to practice religion.
The federal lawsuit, filed in Michigan’s Western District late Monday, was brought by a group representing more than 400 nonpublic schools across the state, as well as three Catholic high schools and 11 parents. The state health department on Monday lengthened COVID-19 restrictions by 12 days, through Dec. 20. The order took effect Nov. 18 and applies to public high schools and all colleges and universities.
The plaintiffs include Lansing Catholic High School, Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor and Everest Collegiate Academy in Clarkston. They say they can safely provide face-to-face learning and sought an injunction to block enforcement of the order.
WASHINGTON —- 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.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel expects the first coronavirus vaccine to become available in the country early next year.
The European Medicines Agency set a meeting to discuss approval for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine for Dec. 29.
In an Monday interview with Metropol FM, a Berlin radio station aimed at Germany’s Turkish community, Merkel says the vaccine “will probably be available and approved in Europe from the beginning of 2021, according to everything we now know.”
Last month, German officials thought vaccination centers would be ready next week. Britain’s regulator became the first worldwide last week to allow emergency use of the vaccine, and immunization began Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the governor of Germany’s eastern state of Saxony has announced schools and most stores will close starting Monday until Jan. 10 after a spike in coronavirus infections. Official figures show the state has more than twice the number of infections per capita in the past week as the national average.