USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as vaccines begin to roll out nationwide. Just this week, the U.S. marked the stark milestone of more than 300,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. 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:
►Vaccine distribution update: The leaders of the government’s Operation Warp Speed said Wednesday that 2 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine are set to be delivered next week. And starting as soon as Friday in Ohio and Connecticut, residents of long-term care facilities will also begin vaccinations, said Gen. Gus Perna, who is heading the logistics of the vaccine distribution efforts.
►Lawmakers are closing in on a roughly $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus deal that may include another round of stimulus checks and other much-needed benefits, according to a source familiar with negotiations not authorized to speak on the record. Read more.
►Texas has become the second state to surpass 1.5 million COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins data. Only 10 countries have topped that somber milestone.
►The other state with more than 1.5 million cases, California, hasordered an additional 5,000 body bags and stationed mobile morgues to hospitals in the hardest-hit counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.
►The New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources, that the Trump administration was negotiating a deal that would free up more raw materials for Pfizer to produce tens of millions of additional doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.
►Coronavirus cases have declined in the past few weeks in some Midwestern states, including Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska. Hospitalizations and deaths, however, are still on the rise due to an earlier surge of positive COVID-19 cases.
►COVID-19 vaccine trials report cases of brief facial paralysis: Four people in Pfizer-BioNTech trials and three people in the Moderna trials developed Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles. While it may sound scary, experts say Bell’s palsy is more common and less severe than people think. Read more here.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 16.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 304,000 deaths. The global totals: More than 73.6 million cases and 1.6 million deaths.
Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories:
The leaders of Operation Warp Speed on Wednesday addressed a report in the New York Times that the Trump administration didn’t secure more doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine when the option was available to them.
“It wouldn’t make sense whatsoever to preorder more from one vaccine manufacturer than any other one before we knew a vaccine works,” said Moncef Slaoui, who leads Operation Warp Speed.
Meanwhile, Pfizer has come up about half short of what the company expected to produce this year, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
Azar said that Pfizer is working at “maximum capacity” to deliver the 100 million doses it is contracted to supply to the U.S., and that the government is looking to expand the contract in the second quarter.
The government’s relationship with Pfizer is contractually different compared to the ones with the other vaccine makers, Azar said.
“On the other five (vaccine makers), we are more intimately engaged in the support of the development and manufacturing of their product on an ongoing basis, whereas the relationship with Pfizer wanted with Operation Warp Speed was the guaranteed purchase of vaccine if approved by the FDA,” Azar said. “That means that to date, we have had less visibility into their manufacturing processes, their manufacturing capacity, their locations and its supplies, raw materials issues, (and) supply chain management that we do with, say, a Moderna or an AstraZeneca or a Johnson & Johnson.”
The rollout of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has gone smoothly, with few hiccups, and 2 million more are set to be delivered next week, the leaders of the government’s Operation Warp Speed said in an update Wednesday.
“This is a momentous week,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “To have a 94%-plus vaccine, safe and effective, approved within 11 months of a novel pathogen hitting our shores being distributed in the supplies of the millions to protect our health care workers and to protect our most vulnerable citizens. And then within days, we hope that with another 94%-plus safe and effective vaccine added to our arsenal, with tens of millions of doses, hundreds of millions of doses coming in the months ahead, is truly something historic.”
On Thursday, 886 more deliveries will be made to locations across the United States as the country continues “a steady drumbeat cadence of deliveries of vaccine out to American people,” said Gen. Gus Perna, who is heading the logistics of the vaccine distribution efforts.
Starting as soon as Friday in Ohio and Connecticut, residents of long-term care facilities will also begin vaccinations, Perna said. The efforts in long-term care centers, which house some of the most vulnerable Americans, will expand to more than 1,100 facilities by Monday and then increase by thousands a day from there, he added.
Perna also described the efforts to increase distribution of the vaccine at pharmacies around the country, with 19 chains partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through those partnerships, Perna said he expects a gradual roll-out starting in mid-January that will cover 37,000 brick-and-mortar facilities.
Perna said there were four trays of vaccine, two in California and two in Alabama, that dropped below the required storage temperatures when being transported. Perna said officials at the command center were able to identify those trays immediately and that they never left the trucks. The doses were sent back to Pfizer, which along with the FDA will determine whether they are still safe and effective.
Dr. Lester Morehead, a hospitalist in the COVID-19 unit at Queen’s Medical Center, was “honored” to be the first person in Hawaii to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. “My biggest fear is that people won’t get the vaccine,” he said.
Ronald Begay was one of the first health care workers on the Navajo Nation to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility on Monday. Navajo Area Indian Health Service officials distributed 3,900 doses of the vaccine to several health care facilities.
While many believe that COVID-19 is a disease that only kills the elderly, a study found that the virus also contributed to excess death in adults between the ages of 25 and 44.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that 76,000 Americans in this age range died from March through July, nearly 12,000 more than expected based on prior seasonal trends, according to the research letter published Wednesday in JAMA.
On average, about 38% of those deaths were attributed directly to COVID-19. In some regions like New York and New Jersey, about 80% of excess deaths were attributed to the disease.
In some regions that experienced substantial surges, COVID-19 deaths “equaled or exceeded the number of deaths caused by unintentional opioid overdoses in 2018,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, lead author and ER physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“In these regions, COVID-19 appears to have temporarily rivaled or surpassed the usual leading cause of death among U.S. adults ages 25-44.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the nation’s first home COVID-19 test that doesn’t need a lab or medical provider’s prescription. The test, made by Australia-based Ellume, can deliver results in about 15 minutes and will cost about $30.
The FDA authorized the Ellume tests for people age 2 and up, with or without symptoms. Ellume’s rapid antigen test includes a nasal swab for users to collect a sample and place into a cartridge. A smartphone app instructs consumers how to use the test and displays results. It allows results to be shared with a health provider.
The Australian company, which signed a $30 million National Institutes of Health contract to develop the test, said it will deliver 20 million home tests to the United States through June 2021.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Ellume’s home test is “a major breakthrough for Americans’ ever-expanding access to convenient COVID-19 testing options.”
– Ken Alltucker
Two young, former Republican political appointees to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described in New York Times’ interviews how the Trump administration meddled in the agency’s science and corroded trust in the once apolitical institution of public health.
“Everyone wants to describe the day that the light switch flipped and the CDC was sidelined. It didn’t happen that way,” Kyle McGowan, former CDC chief of staff, told the Times. “It was more of like a hand grasping something, and it slowly closes, closes, closes, closes until you realize that, middle of the summer, it has a complete grasp on everything at the CDC.”
McGowan and former deputy chief of staff Amanda Campbell, who both left CDC in August, depicted episodes of the Trump White House injecting politics the agency’s guidance, briefings and Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a noted public health publication.
“It wasn’t until something was in the M.M.W.R. that was in contradiction to what message the White House and H.H.S. were trying to put forward that they became scrutinized,” Campbell told the Times.
Contributing: The Associated Press