USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as a pair of vaccines join the U.S. fight against a virus that has killed more than 340,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates on vaccine distribution, including who is getting the shots and where, as well as other COVID-19 news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.
In the headlines:
►Increased stimulus payments championed by President Donald Trump and Democrats alike appear to be increasingly unlikely to pass the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insists the increase should be linked with other measures championed by Trump — ones that are unpopular with Democrats.
►A Wisconsin health care provider says an individual intentionally removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from a refrigerator, causing them to be discarded. “We are more than disappointed that this individual’s action will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine,” Advocate Aurora Health said in a statement.
►One day after Colorado confirmed the first known U.S. case of a new coronavirus strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said a case of that strain has also been reported in the nation’s most populous state. Meanwhile, Colorado officials said they were investigating a possible second case of the variant, which is believed to be more contagious but not more deadly.
►San Diego County officials say the new strain was confirmed in the county — news that comes as the region’s hospitals are already filling up with COVID-19 patients. All regular intensive-care beds are full in Southern California and the state’s hospitals are facing increasingly difficult decisions about which services to postpone amid a crushing load of patients.
►The United States on Tuesday reported a record 3,725 deaths, Johns Hopkins University data shows. That’s more than double the deaths reported a day earlier. Holidays have closed labs, government offices and testing sites, creating delays.
►China’s state-owned company Sinopharm said Wednesday that it has an efficacious coronavirus vaccine. Data from Phase III clinical trials shows the vaccine made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products is 79% efficacious, according to a press release.
►Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday extended a ban on indoor services and social gatherings for another week. Inslee on Twitter said he will announce details about the state’s reopening plan next week. The restrictions will expire Jan. 11.
►Britain on Wednesday authorized emergency use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.” Meanwhile, the British government has extended its highest tier of restrictions to three-quarters of England’s population, saying a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus has reached most of the country.
► Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died Tuesday with COVID-19. Letlow, 41, was admitted to a hospital on Dec. 19, a day after announcing he tested positive for the virus. He won the 5th Congressional District seat earlier this month in a runoff election against fellow Republican state Rep. Lance Harris.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 19.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 341,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 82 million cases and about 1.8 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: In New York, the nursing home death toll remains elusive, but it is certainly higher than the official total.
Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories:
More than 12.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have shipped to U.S. states, but just over 2.5 million people received shots as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials say the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations should pick up significantly in the coming weeks. For now, however, they point to a host of reasons for the lag, including vaccination systems still gearing up, federal funding that hasn’t yet been disbursed to states and a requirement that states set aside vaccine for long-term-care facilities.
“Here’s what I have confidence in: Every day, everybody gets better, and I believe that uptake will increase significantly as we go forward,” Operation Warp Speed’s Gen. Gustave Perna said at a briefing Wednesday. Two holidays and three major snowstorms also hurt the rollout, he said.
“There’s a learning curve in the system,” Moncef Slaoui — Operation Warp Speed science adviser — said. Read more.
— Elizabeth Weise
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again blocked quick passage of a bill to increase coronavirus stimulus payments to $2,000, arguing the measure has “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”
The Kentucky Republican said the only path forward is to combine the increased stimulus payments with two contentious policies that President Donald Trump also demanded Congress examine: Repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows certain legal protections for big tech companies, and establishing a commission to study the 2020 election after Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
McConnell’s push to combine the three provisions in one bill is a methodical strategy that likely ensures increased stimulus payments will not pass Congress, as Democrats and Republicans view big tech protections and Trump’s claims on the election very differently.
— Christal Hayes
Dawn Wells, the actress best known for her role as Mary Ann in the ’60s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died Wednesday from COVID-19 complications, her representative told USA TODAY. She was 82.
Wells died Wednesday morning at 7:30 in Los Angeles from “causes related to COVID,” representative Harlan Boll told USA TODAY in an email. He said she “passed peacefully . . . in no pain.”
Portrayed as a perky wholesome Kansas farm girl, Wells told USA TODAY in 2019 the series always provided some life lessons beyond the comedy.
“It was a fun, silly show that made you laugh and didn’t preach to the audience,” she said. “But there was an awful lot in the character of Mary Ann that kids could learn from today: She was fair, she pitched in to help, she had standards, she wasn’t worried about a $500 purse, and she would be your best friend you could trust.”
— Hannah Yasharoff
A long-delayed education campaign aimed at encouraging Americans to take the coronavirus vaccine will launch in January, federal health officials said Tuesday.
The new, science-based campaign will include TV, radio and print ads that officials say will emphasize the power of the vaccine to stop the spread of the virus and help communities.
The public information campaign lags behind the nation’s vaccination effort, which began on Dec. 14 with frontline health care workers. But managing expectations is a crucial part of guiding the program, officials said.
– Elizabeth Weise
Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon and his wife tested positive for COVID-19, he announced Wednesday “in the spirit of full transparency and accountability.” The announcement comes after Harmon received his first vaccination dose against the coronavirus alongside a bipartisan delegation in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday.
Harmon and his wife have mild symptoms, he said in a statement. He was possibly exposed shortly before or after taking the vaccine, Harmon said.
“While the timing of my positive test comes one day after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said in the statement, “I still have full faith in the vaccine itself, and the need for as many people to receive it as quickly as possible.”
It can take weeks for a person’s body to build up immunity after getting vaccinated, per the CDC, and “That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.”
– Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier Journal
The United States’ fall surge is not alone, with record numbers popping up around the world, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
Global COVID-19 deaths hit a record last week, with 81,693 people dying in the week ending Dec. 23, with someone dying on average every 7.4 seconds in the world. The U.S. share of the deaths at the time was 22.9% – nearly double what it had been less than two months earlier.
Global coronavirus cases peaked in the week ending Dec. 16, when 5,247,355 cases were reported – or nearly 9 cases every second. The European Union peaked in mid-November, but other areas with large populations are surging now, including the United Kingdom, Brazil and Russia.
In recent weeks, the U.S. has accounted for roughly 30% of the world’s cases, though it has about 4.3% of the world’s population.
– Mike Stucka
Will malls survive COVID-19?
In recent years, the future of shopping malls has been in doubt as online shopping gained steam and one-time anchor retailers like Sears and Macy’s struggled financially and shuttered stores. Then came COVID-19.
Now, as coronavirus vaccines roll out across the U.S., top-tier shopping centers are likely to bounce back in the new year, retail experts predict. But those that were in trouble before the COVID-19 crisis may disappear more quickly, as shoppers bypass them for malls offering a more upscale experience, or simply choose to click and shop online.
“In 2021, the good malls will continue to do well,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail consultancy GlobalData. “It’s the weaker ones that will suffer…The future of the mall isn’t doomed or completely redundant. It’s just that 2021 will be a year of reckoning for underperforming properties.”
– Charisse Jones and Kelly Tyko
Contributing: The Associated Press