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 322,000 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:
►Another 3,401 U.S. deaths were recorded Wednesday, the second highest total on record, according to Johns Hopkins University data. It's the fifth time the death toll has surpassed 3,000 in one day, and all five times were this month. The U.S. for the first time reported more than 19,000 dead of COVID-19 in seven-day period.
►Germany, with about one-quarter the population of the U.S., reported a one-day record of 962 deaths despite recent restrictions that shut most stores, tightened the rules on social contacts and urged people not to visit relatives over Christmas.
►Pfizer and BioNTech announced a second agreement with the U.S. government to supply an additional 100 million doses of the companies’ vaccine. This agreement brings the total number of doses to be delivered to the U.S. by July 31 to 200 million. Here's the latest experts have to say about vaccine distribution.
►President Donald Trump denounced a sweeping COVID-19 relief package he had been expected to sign, asking Congress to increase the "ridiculously low" $600 to $2,000. It was not immediately clear whether he would veto the bipartisan deal.
►California is on the brink of surpassing 2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus. With 1.95 million infections, recording a half-million in just two weeks, officials said the state could see 100,000 hospitalizations in January. As of Tuesday, the state has a 1.4% ICU capacity and 22,900 deaths.
►Arkansas will build two facilities that will provide over 100 additional hospital beds in case the state runs out of capacity in the near future, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday. "We have to be ready for whatever comes in January," the governor said of a possible spike following the Christmas holiday.
►Long-term care facilities are preparing to distribute the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to its residents as early as next week as part of a partnership between the CDC and CVS Health, Hawaii Public Radio reported. CVS Health began vaccinating long-term care facility staff and residents on Monday in 12 states. The pharmacy plans to extend its plan to 36 more states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
? Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 18.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 322,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. It was only eight days ago the country reached 300,000 COVID fatalities. The global totals: More than 78.1 million cases and 1.71 million deaths.
Here's a closer look at today's top stories:
Cruise passengers, along with the industry officials and health authorities, are voicing confidence in a return to the high seas as vaccines are being distributed around the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains vaccines could help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships, which haven't sailed in U.S. waters since March after multiple outbreaks on ships at the pandemic's onset.
Adam Goldstein, global chair of Cruise Lines International Association, the leading industry organization, said the vaccine is an "incredible achievement of human knowledge and science. It's a boon to everybody, and the cruise industry will clearly be a beneficiary."
– Morgan Hines
The federal government has agreed to pay $1.95 billion for a second round of 100 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and partner BioNTech. The deal brought the total number of doses to be delivered to the U.S. to 200 million by July 31, 2021. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that the latest deal can give people confidence “that we will have enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants it by June 2021.”
Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to gain authorization for emergency use from the Food and Drug Administration, and health care workers are already being vaccinated. A second vaccine developed by Moderna in cooperation with scientists from the National Institutes of Health also is now in use.
Failing grads have surged in school districts across the nation, with the F’s tending to be concentrated among low-income students of color, those who are still learning to speak English and those with disabilities. Students whose grades are plummeting, including seniors whose graduation prospects are at stake, may not have the chance to recover. Some experts say grades should not even be issued because of the pandemic.
“The idea of failing students right now seems pointless," said Tanji Reed Marshall, of Ed Trust, a national nonprofit that seeks to close opportunity gaps in schools. "Particularly if a student's ... 'lack of attendance' is due to no fault of their own.”
– Alia Wong
Don't expect vaccines to become widely available until late spring or early summer – assuming no production problems and the authorization of two additional vaccines by sometime in February – a dozen experts interviewed by USA TODAY over the past several days warn. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar this week suggested a timeline more like February or March for wide distribution, with all who want a vaccination getting it by June. Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education at the Immunization Action Coalition, says the federal government should under-promise and over-deliver.
"Projecting concrete dates that we cannot know risks setting the public up for needless frustration and disappointment," she said.
– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise
Managers at New Jersey's veterans homes not only barred employees from wearing protective masks during the first weeks of the outbreak, they devised a series of penalties with the help of Gov. Phil Murphy's office against nurses who wore the homes’ masks without permission.
More than 190 residents have died from COVID-19 in the state's veterans homes. Emails obtained by The Record and NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network, show that at least one worker had to return home because management wouldn't let him wear a mask – even though he had a doctor's note saying he suffered from asthma.
“If they had done just the bare minimum, they could have saved lives,” said Tony Agosto, CEO of Virgo Medical Services. “They could have stopped a lot of this."
– Scott Fallon, NorthJersey.com
Congress has passed a COVID-19 relief bill that could provide a second round of stimulus checks to millions of Americans as soon as next week. But the truly rich won't get richer off these checks. Individuals earning up to $75,000, and couples making less than $150,000 will receive the full amount – currently $600. But President Donald Trump is pushing for more. The plan calls for the check to drop by $5 for every $100 of income above those income thresholds. It will phase out completely at $87,000 for individuals and $174,000 for couples.
Many students also don't qualify, and neither do immigrants who don’t have a Social Security number. Some elderly and disabled people won’t get a check either.
– Jessica Menton
For months, the hundreds of scientists and researchers who live in Antarctica have inhabited the only continent in the world without a reported case of COVID-19. But now the virus has reached even there.
Three dozen people at a Chilean base have tested positive, the country's army announced Monday. On Tuesday, a regional health minister in Chile said there are 21 infections involving people aboard the Chilean navy's Sargento Aldea supply vessel. Passengers on that ship, which sailed to Chile from the Antarctic Peninsula, tested positive for COVID-19, the Chilean Antarctic Institute informed The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs on Friday, according to a statement emailed to USA TODAY.
Another case has been reported at an Antarctic village where that ship docked, according to regional health secretary Eduardo Castillo. No other country with a presence in Antarctica has yet publicly reported cases.
– Joel Shannon
Contributing: The Associated Press