The Latest: S Koreans line up for virus tests as cases surge
SEOUL, South Korea — Long lines are snaking from coronavirus testing sites in the South Korean capital of Seoul on Saturday as the country reports 1,053 more confirmed cases, the fourth straight day over 1,000.
Thousands are taking advantage of free tests being offered temporarily in the capital area. The government is struggling to decide whether to increase social distancing to maximum levels, which officials fear would further shock the economy.
The new cases brought the national caseload to 48,570. Nearly 7,000 of those cases have been added over the past week.
Fourteen COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours to bring the death toll to 659. There are concerns fatalities will continue to rise because of a shortage of intensive care beds in the Seoul area, which is being hit hardest by the virus.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
The FDA is evaluating a coronavirus shot developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. A decision could clear the way for its use as early as Monday. Extra doses from a second vaccine are urgently needed as U.S. deaths hit all-time highs and some hospitals are running out of beds.
The Pentagon has authorized nearly 50 top civilian and military leaders to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks to prove to the shots are safe and effective. Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others got the vaccine.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan has lifted a ban on in-person instruction at high schools and says movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen with capacity restrictions following a decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Under the changes announced Friday, universities and colleges can let students return to campus next month, but are being asked to wait until Jan. 18 to restart face-to-face classes.
Indoor restaurant dining will continue to be barred under the new state health department order that takes effect Monday. Indoor sports and outdoor contact sports also will still be prohibited unless there is rigorous testing like there is at the pro and NCAA levels.
Bowling alleys, casinos and other entertainment businesses that reopen must close drink and food concessions.
LOS ANGELES — Doctors in California say increasingly desperate hospitals are being crushed by soaring coronavirus infections.
One Los Angeles emergency room doctor is predicting that rationing of care is imminent.
Hospitals are on the brink of filling up and many emergency rooms already have been using outdoor tents to make more space. Hospitals in both Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have no more ICU beds available for coronavirus patients.
The state’s death toll, meanwhile, topped 22,000 Friday. The most populous state reported more than 41,000 new coronavirus infections and 300 more deaths related to COVID-19, bring the toll for the pandemic to 22,160.
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Alaska officials say a second health care worker in the state has experienced a severe reaction after receiving the coronavirus vaccine.
In the latest, a worker identified only as a female clinician began experiencing probable anaphylactic symptoms about 10 minutes after receiving the shot Thursday in Fairbanks. Symptoms included tongue swelling, hoarse voice and difficulty breathing.
She received two doses of epinephrine at the emergency department at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and was discharged about six hours later.
The hospital’s chief medial officer says that “allergic reactions, though uncommon, can occur with injections of medications and vaccines.”
A statement from the unidentified woman encourages everyone to get the vaccine. She says she has seen firsthand the suffering and death of COVID-19 patients, and her adverse reaction pales in comparison to that.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The more than 33,000 initial doses of the coronavirus vaccine sent to Oklahoma have now been delivered across the state and more than 2,200 people have been vaccinated with no significant side effects reported.
The deputy state health commissioner says that “we’re not aware of anything so far that has fallen into those categories we were told to watch for and be concerned about,” such as allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The state health department said on its website Friday that a total of 2,253 vaccine doses have been administered
The health department reported 251,760 total virus cases and 2,161 deaths since the pandemic began, increases of 3,556 cases and 17 more deaths than reported Thursday.
WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Alex Azar continues to test negative for COVID-19 after his wife contracted the coronavirus.
Azar told HHS staffers in an email Thursday that his wife Jennifer has mild symptoms, but overall is doing well and self-isolating at home. He and their children have tested negative.
Azar continues to work, after consulting with Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as his own physician.
“I will be carrying out the duties of my office while strictly adhering to CDC guidelines for essential workers, continuing to practice social distancing, wearing a mask, and monitoring for any symptoms,” Azar said in the email. He’ll be retested every day until the incubation period for the virus is over.
Jennifer Azar began isolating after experiencing her first symptoms, a sense of achiness. An initial instant COVID test was negative. But a more precise PCR test came back positive on Thursday.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina first lady Peggy McMaster has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The governor’s office announced that the 73-year-old McMaster took a “precautionary, routine test” Thursday and learned Friday morning the results were positive. Officials said she was not experiencing any symptoms.
Gov. Henry McMaster was tested at the same time, with a negative result. His office says the governor will follow official guidelines for “close contacts” and quarantine for a week while testing regularly and continuing his official duties. His wife will isolate for 10 days.
The office says both McMasters tested negative for the virus before attending a Christmas event at the White House on Dec. 14. They also had negative tests before a Dec. 10 meeting in Greenville with Vice President Mike Pence, who was in the state for an update on the pandemic.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is expressing little concern over a smaller-than-expected second shipment of a coronavirus vaccine for the state.
Kelly said Friday that the reduction in the state’s second shipment of a vaccine made by Pfizer is “more of a smoothing process” by the federal government to make sure health care workers who received the first of two doses this week can get the second in January. At least a dozen states have reported they will receive fewer doses next week than anticipated.
The governor’s comments came as the state Department of Health and Environment reported that Kansas has surpassed 200,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases for the pandemic, or about one for every 15 of its 2.9 million residents. The state also reported total 2,341 COVID-19 deaths, adding 88 to the tally since Wednesday.
GENEVA — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization says a team of international experts looking into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic will travel to China the first week of January.
Dr. Michael Ryan says there will be quarantine arrangements for the team, which will visit the suspected site of the outbreak in the city of Wuhan.
He says the team will work “with our Chinese colleagues,” but will not be “supervised by Chinese officials.”
Ryan says the world should celebrate the arrival of vaccines, but the “next three to six months are going to be tough.”
He seemed to allude to the Americas, which is home to roughly three-fourths of the global cases. He says it is likely transmission will intensify in countries already dealing with surges in cases.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has authorized nearly 50 top civilian and military leaders to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks to prove to the shots are safe and effective.
In a memo to senior leaders, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist laid out specific vaccine allowances for the heads of the military services and combatant commands around the world.
The memo signed Thursday said department leaders may receive what he called “show of confidence” vaccines as a “strategic messaging tool” between now and Jan. 15.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller got his vaccine Monday, the day it was first rolled out. Frontline health care workers at military installations have started getting vaccines. Other senior leaders who will get the vaccine are Norquist, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as his vice chairman, Gen. John Hyten, and Senior Enlisted Advisor Ramón Colón-López.
TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will be getting 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in January.
Vaccinations started this week in Canada, a country among the first to approve and distribute the Pfizer vaccine. Trudeau expects 125,000 doses of the vaccine next week and 249,500 this month.
Trudeau says he also expects to get 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine before the end of December, pending approval that is expected soon.
Trudeau says Canada has the most vaccines secured per capita and the most diverse portfolio of vaccine options in the world. But most Canadians are not expected to get the shot until well into 2021.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says its program to help get COVID-19 vaccines to all countries in need, whether rich or poor, has gained access to nearly 2 billion doses of several vaccine candidates.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the agreements mean that some 190 countries and economies participating in the COVAX program will have access to vaccines “during the first half of next year.”
The arrangements bring together pharmaceutical makers including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and the Serum Institute of India.
He says the message is “vaccines will complement, not replace, the existing effective tools we have for suppressing transmission and saving lives.”
BERLIN — The German government says the country faces difficult months ahead, despite the upcoming arrival of a coronavirus vaccine.
Official figures Friday show 33,777 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus and 813 additional deaths in the past day.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says the expected regulatory approval of a vaccine “naturally gives us hope, but obviously it won’t solve the problem.”
He says January and February will be the “hardest that we have in this pandemic.”
Germany had contained the coronavirus early in the pandemic before a recent surge. There have been 1.4 million confirmed cases (12th highest in the world) and more than 25,000 confirmed deaths (14th), according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
BERN — The Swiss government is ordering the closure of restaurants, bars, cultural venues and sports facilities next week because of increasing coronavirus cases.
The government says the closures, which start Tuesday, are necessary as “hospitals and health care workers have been under extreme pressure for weeks and the festive period increases the risk of an even more rapid rise in cases.”
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Switzerland has risen over the past two weeks from 43 cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 3 to 50 on Thursday.
The government is restricting the number of people who can be in stores, which must close after 7 p.m. and on Sundays and public holidays.
The federal government left it to Switzerland’s 26 cantons (states) to decide whether to close ski facilities. Their operation has raised concerns in some of Switzerland’s neighboring countries.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The announcement Friday came a day after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive. Both leaders attended an EU summit in Brussels last week.
The prime minister’s office says Matovic was tested on Thursday and has cancelled all his events. Members of Matovic’s coalition government are in quarantine after he led the government’s last session on Wednesday.
Slovakia is imposing an around the clock curfew on Saturday to response to a recent surge of coronavirus infections, which reached a record 3,991 cases on Thursday.
The government has urged people to isolate at least seven days or get tested before they see relatives during Christmas holidays.
The country of 5.4 million had 146,124 confirmed cases with 1,440 confirmed deaths.