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 343,000 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:
► Republican Sen. David Perdue announced Thursday that he was quarantining after coming into contact with someone on his campaign who tested positive for COVID-19, a striking development just five days before voters decide his political fate in a runoff race in Georgia. Perdue’s campaign said the Georgia Republican and his wife both tested negative for the virus Thursday but were going to quarantine.
► California on Thursday surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, the third state to do so after New York and Texas, health officials said. New York has nearly 38,000 deaths and Texas has more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
► Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday blocked quick passage of increasing stimulus checks to $2,000 for the third time, calling the proposal – a key demand of President Donald Trump – “socialism for rich people.”
► Public health restrictions at restaurants and gyms will be eased across much of Colorado starting next week despite the state confirming the first known U.S. case of a more contagious COVID variant first uncovered in Britain. Gov. Jared Polis cited sustained improvement, including intensive care units operating below capacity.
►The West Virginia National Guard says it accidentally injected 42 people with Regeneron Antibody instead of a Moderna coronavirus vaccine. Medical experts with the Joint Interagency Task Force said they don't believer there is a "risk of harm." The antibody is used in treating some cases of the virus. Major General James Hoyer said the guard "immediately reviewed and strengthened our protocols."
► German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to keep up their discipline in fighting the coronavirus pandemic well into 2021, even as vaccinations fuel new hope. In a televised New Year’s message, Merkel said facing the pandemic “was and is a political, social and economic task of the century.” Merkel's get-tough policies to curb the outbreak have drawn positive polling numbers.
► Chinese health regulators said Thursday that they have given conditional approval to a coronavirus vaccine developed by state-owned Sinopharm. The two-dose vaccine is the first approved for general use in China. The go-ahead comes as the country has begun to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday in February.
►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. Local police announced the arrest of the male suspect Thursday night, but did not identify him. He is charged with recklessly endangering safety.
? Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 19.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 343,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 82.8 million cases and 1.8 million deaths.
? What we're reading: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order that allowed people 65 and older to jump ahead of essential workers while many health care workers wait for their shot and hospitals scramble to meet demand. Could the state's vaccine rollout be a lesson?
COVID-19 kills 9 nuns at New York convent within a month
Nine nuns have died of causes related to COVID-19 at an upstate New York convent in just over a month, county officials said. Albany County is aware of the deaths among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham, county spokesperson Mary Rozak said in a statement emailed to the Times Union on behalf of county Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen. The convent is home to 140 nuns, according to its website.
“Four of the deaths associated with the congregation had been previously reported earlier this month by the hospitals,” Whalen said in the statement. “The other five were not reported to the Albany County Department of Health by the facility.”
– The Associated Press
Coronavirus variant found in Florida
The more contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus found in the United Kingdom is now in Florida, state health officials announced Thursday.
"Florida has evidence of the first identified case of the UK COVID-19 variant in Martin County," the Florida Department of Health said in a tweet. Martin County located on the state's southeast coast.
The Department of Health added: ""The individual is a male in his 20s with no history of travel," it added. "The Department is working with the CDC on this investigation. We encourage all to continue practicing COVID-19 mitigation."
– Treasure Coast Newspapers
Stimulus payments from the most recent COVID-19 relief package are starting to arrive in bank accounts and should land in mailboxes in the near future. This fifth round of COVID-19 stimulus that President Donald Trump signed into law Sunday resembles March's $2.2 billion CARES Act, but it's not nearly as generous. Calls by Trump and Democrats to increase the checks to $2,000 appear unlikely after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell linked the checks to two unrelated issues Democrats won't support. The $920 billion price tag is a third of the bill House Democrats passed for earlier this year. Most people who qualify will receive checks for about $600.
– Jim Sergent and Ledyard King
A team of experts led by allergists at Massachusetts General Hospital has determined that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can be administered safely even to people with food or medication allergies. Several adverse reactions have been reported, first in Britain and later in the U.S. The group’s review, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, notes that allergic reactions to vaccines are rare, with a rate of about 1.3 per 1 million people. Aleena Banerji, MD, clinical director of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Unit at the hospital, along with her co-authors, recommends that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to an injectable drug speak with their allergists before being vaccinated.
"We want to encourage vaccination by reassuring the public that both FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe," Banerji said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he was troubled by the relatively low numbers of nursing home workers who have elected to take the vaccine and warned that the opportunity may not return for sometime. Nursing homes will get three visits for the vaccine, DeWine said. After the initial stop, nursing homes will be hit again to administer second doses for anyone who received the vaccine the first time and to give an initial dose to anyone else who wants it. After that, only second doses will be distributed, he said.
“Everyone makes their own choice about this, but we want to make it clear that opportunity may not come back for a while," he said.
– Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch
Teachers should be among the essential workers next in line for a COVID-19 vaccine, an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week. And some states plan to push for those vaccinations as a way to fast-track school reopenings. The problem: The vaccine's rollout has faced delays across the nation, raising the question of whether teachers will be able to get the shot in time to make a difference in the current school year. Not all states are waiting for teachers to be protected before bringing back in-classroom learning.
"We staunchly advocate for schools being open prior to teachers being vaccinated," Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Wednesday. "We have almost nine, 10 months of data that shows that schools are not a primary or even a significant place of a transmission."
– Elinor Aspegren
Wisconsin health care provider Advocate Aurora Health says a now-fired employee intentionally removed 57 vials of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine from a refrigerator last weekend, causing them to become ineffective and be discarded. Each vial contains enough vaccine for 10 vaccinations. Initially, Aurora was "led to believe" the removal was an error. But Wednesday, an employee "acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration," according to a statement from the health care provider. The employee was fired, and Aurora said it notified "appropriate authorities for further investigation."
New York City police will be doing some unusual work on New Year's Eve this year. They are preventing crowds of any size from gathering in Times Square. Citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, police closed the Crossroads of the World to vehicles and pedestrians at midnight and said they would disperse any onlookers venturing into a so-called “frozen zone" – the blocks surrounding the ball that historically draw shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. Revelers bound for Times Square won't be permitted past police lines.
“If you think you’re going to be able to stand there and watch the ball, you’re mistaken," Chief of Department Terence Monahan said, referring to the glittering, crystal ball that descends over Times Square each New Year's Eve to mark the stroke of midnight.
Contributing: The Associated Press