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The Latest: US reaches nearly quarter million daily cases

December 19, 2020 GMT
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Nurse Cathy Pitts prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)
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Nurse Cathy Pitts prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

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

Health experts says 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.

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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.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

The United States reached a record of nearly a quarter million coronavirus cases reported in 24 hours. An additional 2,814 people died nationwide, pushing the death toll to more than 313,000. Some areas of California are “just right at that cusp of getting overrun,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

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

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State health officials say 2,711 COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered so far in Tennessee, the worst state in the country for new cases per capita.

The Tennessee Department of Health on Friday unveiled its online vaccination dashboard, which will be updated on Tuesdays and Fridays. Tennessee frontline hospital health care workers on Thursday began receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

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There were 1,640 new cases per 100,000 people in Tennessee in the past two weeks, which ranks first in the nation, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths rose from 50 on Dec. 4 to 74 on Friday.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has declined to require a mask order. Only a dozen other states lack a statewide mask requirement.

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PHOENIX – Arizona residents are being told to “shrink their circles” of personal contacts and gatherings to help the state’s health care system handle coronavirus cases.

Arizona reported a record 4,104 COVID-19 related hospitalizations. It also added more than 5,500 coronavirus cases on Friday.

State and local governments need to do more to reduce the coronavirus’ spread, because one of Banner Health’s hospitals is using a refrigerated truck trailer to augment its now full morgue, says Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the hospital chain’s chief clinical officer.

Only 8% of all beds and intensive care unit beds were available, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

The Department of Health Services reported 118 more deaths, increasing the statewide totals to 448,231 confirmed cases and 7,937 confirmed deaths.

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WASHINGTON — 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.

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WASHINGTON — An Army general in charge of COVID-19 vaccines apologized Saturday for “miscommunication” with states on the number of early doses delivered.

Gen. Gustave Perna’s remarks came a day after a second vaccine was added in the fight against the coronavirus. Governors in more than a dozen states says the federal government has told them next week’s shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be less than originally projected.

“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.”

Perna says the government now is on track to get approximately 20 million doses to states by the first week of January, a combination of the newly approved Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. He says 2.9 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses have been delivered so far.

The coronavirus has killed more than 313,000 people in the U.S., the highest death toll in the world.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Christmas gatherings can’t go ahead and non-essential shops must close in London and much of southern England.

Johnson announced the capital and other areas in southern England currently under Tier 3 will move to a stricter Tier 4 that requires non-essential shops, hairdressers and indoor leisure venues to close after the end of business hours Saturday.

Johnson says a planned five-day easing of socializing rules allowing up to three households to meet in “Christmas bubbles” will be canceled for Tier 4 areas. No mixing of households will be allowed except under limited conditions outside in public places.

For the rest of England, people can meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of Dec. 23-27.

U.K. officials reported another 28,507 confirmed cases on Friday and 489 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.

The U.K. has reported 1.9 million coronavirus cases. It has Europe’s second-highest confirmed COVID-19 death toll at 66,600 and sixth-highest overall.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — An Associated Press analysis shows states spent more than $7 billion this spring buying personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators.

California spent the most during the pandemic’s initial months, at least $1.5 billion in the AP’s data, followed by Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington. New York also spent several hundred million dollars on PPE and ventilators through November.

The data was obtained from states through open-records requests. State governments were scrambling for supplies at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Some states paid as much as $11 for individual N95 masks, which previously cost around 50 cents before the pandemic.

Supplies often went to the highest bidder, even if they’d already been promised to someone else. States set up their own fraud tests, rejecting masks that failed to meet safety specifications or lacked medical labeling.

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BERLIN — Switzerland has approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and German pharmaceutical company BioNTech.

The country’s health agency says the vaccine had been approved for the small Alpine country after a careful examination by expert teams. The agency did not say when vaccinations in Switzerland would begin.

The approval comes shortly after Britain, Canada, the United States and other countries allowed the use of the vaccine in their respective countries.

The director of Swissmedic said “Thanks to the rolling process and our flexible teams we could quickly decide and fully accommodate the three most important requirements security, efficacy and quality.”

Raimund Bruhin added that, “The safety of the patients is a required condition especially regarding the approval of vaccines.”

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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have agreed to a $465 million pandemic spending plan, including relief payments to businesses and workers struggling to stay afloat because of the coronavirus and government restrictions to curb its spread.

The legislation received overwhelming Senate support late Friday and is expected to win House passage on Monday before legislators adjourn for the year. Nearly half of the funding would be used to continue, through March, a maximum 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in a year instead of 20 weeks.

The bill would provide $45 million in assistance to employees who have been laid off or seen their hours cut due to restrictions under a state health department order that has prohibited indoor restaurant dining and closed entertainment venues. A worker could get up to $1,650.

Small businesses affected by the recent orders would receive $55 million in grants — up to $20,000 if they had to close, $15,000 if they partially closed. Certain concert and other live-entertainment sites could qualify for $40,000 as part of a separate $3.5 million grant program.

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BOSTON -- Massachusetts expects to receive 20% fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this year after the federal government reduced its allotment, state officials say.

The state joins more than a dozen others that have been told their vaccine shipments will be smaller than planned in coming weeks. Instead of receiving 180,000, Massachusetts now expects to get 145,000.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he hasn’t received an explanation for the cutback.

“We’re certainly frustrated,” Baker said at a COVID-19 briefing on Friday. “We’re working to get clarity on what this means, what happened and how that bump will be dealt with along the way.”

Baker said he expects to get more answers during a call with federal officials next week. Despite the reduced allotment, Baker said he expects the state to have “more than enough” doses in the first months of 2021.

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NEWARK — New Jersey will start to vaccinate its nursing homes a week later than other states because the state missed a deadline by a day with Operation Warp Speed, the state’s top heath official said Friday.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the “sheer volume” of information required for over 650 facilities led the state to miss a Dec. 7 deadline. That means New Jersey won’t begin vaccinations at its long-term care centers until Dec. 28, she said.

New Jersey’s COVID-19 outbreak has ravaged nursing homes, with 7,430 deaths, including residents and staff. That’s about 46% of the overall death toll in the state.

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ISLAMABAD — Health authorities in Pakistan reported 87 new deaths and 3,297 cases of coronavirus on Saturday amid partial or complete lockdowns in many neighbourhoods.

With new deaths, the country’s tally reached 9,250. The government says its coronavirus vaccination program will likely begin by March and frontline health workers and people who are above 60 years will get priority for the free shots.

The national body for controlling the virus urged people to keep social distancing and wearing masks.

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BEIJING — China says it will soon begin coronavirus inoculations for workers in health care, transport and border control.

The vice minister of the National Health Commission says the government is prioritizing those most at risk. Workers in logistics and in markets selling fresh meat and seafood would also be placed higher on the list of those receiving vaccines, along with the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

Vaccines produced by Chinese companies are now pending approval in Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil, as manufacturers continue testing the vaccines in more than a dozen countries including Russia, Egypt and Mexico.

The United Arab Emirates last week announced the vaccine was 86% effective in the first public release of such information.

Even before final market approval, more than a million people have received vaccine shots in a program critics say has not been transparent about safety, efficacy or scientific merit.

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NEW DELHI —I ndia’s coronavirus cases have crossed 10 million with new infections dipping to their lowest levels in three months, as the country prepares for a massive COVID-19 vaccination in the new year.

Additional cases in the past 24 hours dropped to 25,152 from a peak of nearly 100,000 in mid-September. The epidemic has infected nearly 1% of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, second to the worst-hit United States.

A government health expert says India is keeping its fingers crossed as the cases tend to increase in winter months.

India is home to some of the world’s biggest vaccine-makers and there are five vaccine candidates under different phases of trial in the country. India aims to provide vaccines to 250 million people by July 2021.

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