December 8 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Nada Bashir, Luke McGee, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 9, 2020
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5:02 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

US will likely have a third Covid-19 vaccine in February, Operation Warp Speed official says

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed
Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed Pool

The United States will likely have a third Covid-19 vaccine in February, Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday.

“We are likely to have a third vaccine somewhere in February hopefully, if the appropriate efficacy and safety profile of course are achieved,” Slaoui said at a White House briefing.

The Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines could both be authorized for emergency use before the end of December. The US Food and Drug Administration's Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet on Thursday to discuss Pfizer's application for emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine candidate.

A similar meeting is scheduled next week for Moderna's vaccine candidate.

Slaoui noted that other vaccines are in development, including Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which is in Phase 3 trials and requires only one dose. Slaoui said that a one-shot vaccine is “a major advantage,” especially in the context of a pandemic. 

“That vaccine is likely to complete its efficacy trial, in terms of assessing efficacy of the vaccine, probably early in the month of January, and hopefully would file for emergency use authorization either late in January or early in February,” Slaoui said.

He added that AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which uses similar technology, is also in Phase 3 trials.

“We project that efficacy may be achieved somewhere in the end of January or early February, and maybe by late February or early March, that vaccine could become available, if approved by the FDA,” he said.

4:30 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Pentagon planning to prioritize medical personnel in coronavirus vaccine rollout

From CNN's Ryan Browne

The Pentagon has drafted a list of the groups that it will provide the coronavirus vaccine to first. It is prioritizing health care workers and then "critical national capabilities," which will include the country’s nuclear forces, elite military units and senior Pentagon leaders, according to two defense officials familiar with the list.

Officials have said that the Defense Department will receive a tranche of the vaccine and has been delegated responsibility to decide who will receive it. 

The military is expected to initially receive significantly fewer vaccine doses than there are military and civilian personnel working for the US Department of Defense, meaning they have to prioritize who will get the initial doses.

The list of senior leaders to receive the vaccine will likely include acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The senior leaders are being prioritized due to their seniority but they are also at higher risk from the virus because they are older than the average military service member. Miller is 55 and Milley is 62.

It was not clear whether the list of priority recipients had been finalized, but the draft seen by CNN Tuesday has been widely circulated within the Defense Department. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on the draft.

The vaccine rollout could begin in the next few days with the US Food and Drug Administration due to meet on Thursday to consider approving the authorization of Pfizer's vaccine.

The Pentagon list is divided into three "phases," and several sub-phases, according to the defense official familiar with the list.

The first phase will involve the vaccination of "health care providers, health care support, emergency services and public safety personnel." Personnel working in intensive care units, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and first responders such as emergency medical services, police, search and rescue, and firefighters will be among the first to receive the vaccine. Residents in Armed Forces retirement homes will also fall into this first category. The coronavirus has proven deadly to nursing home communities.

The next priority group will include inpatient health care and support personnel as identified by their institutions. 

National Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty supporting Covid response efforts, patient care, Urban Augmentation Military Task Forces supporting civilian hospitals, and administering of the vaccines or testing will be next to receive the vaccine.

Thousands of National Guard and Reserve personnel have been called up to support virus response efforts across the country.

After the vaccination of military health care workers, the next high priority group — designated Phase 1b.1 — will include "Critical National Capabilities" such as strategic and nuclear deterrence forces, homeland defense forces, "national leadership/senior staff as defined by Joint and Service staff principals," the Special Operations Command national mission force, and the Cyber Command national mission force.

After senior leaders and elite units are vaccinated, the next group to receive the vaccine will include personnel preparing to deploy within the next three months, including military, civilian and contractors who would normally receive Defense Department vaccines in pre-deployment.

The next group to receive the vaccine will include "other critical and essential defense department personnel," including select members of the military, staff working in Defense Department schools, child and youth services, and food handlers on military installations. 

Phase 2 will include "high risk" beneficiaries, and Phase 3 healthy uniformed military personnel.

4:21 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Covid-19 deaths in California top 20,000

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Drivers with appointments wait in line to get a free COVID-19 self-test at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Tuesday, December 1.
Drivers with appointments wait in line to get a free COVID-19 self-test at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Tuesday, December 1. Damian Dovarganes/AP

California reached a grim milestone Tuesday, recording more than 20,000 deaths as the result of Covid-19 infections.

The state’s Department of Public Health added 112 fatalities Tuesday, bringing the total to 20,047 since the pandemic hit the Golden State. 

Daily case counts have more than doubled in the past two weeks. Today, 23,272 new infections were reported statewide. California has seen a 55% increase in test positivity rate over the past two weeks, which currently stands at 8.7%.

“The fact is that transmission is now so widespread across our state that most all nonessential activities create a serious risk for transmission,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a news conference Tuesday.

That surge in cases continues to haunt the state’s health care system. A record high of 10,500 admitted patients are receiving treatment today, Ghaly said. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations are up 71%, with new intensive care admissions close behind with a 68.7% increase. Ghaly expressed concern that highly trained health care workers will “not be able to provide the kind of care Californians have come to expect.”

As intensive care unit capacity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley has dipped below 15%, residents in those areas are under a new stay-at-home order. Much of the Bay Area joined the order, despite not falling under the same threshold. Restrictions will remain in place for at least three weeks. Intensive care unit capacity in Southern California is 10.1%, and only 5.6% in the San Joaquin Valley.

Under the order, residents can still go to doctor visits, buy groceries and worship outdoors. Retail is still open as well. California is still under a travel advisory, and Ghaly is urging people to cancel all travel with the exception of that which is deemed essential. 

“Together we can stop the surge. “I know that you’re all tired I know that it’s exhausting. I certainly share some of that exhaustion, as well," he said.

Note: These numbers were released by the California Department of Public Health and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project. 

4:12 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

White House task force warns states that vaccines will not reduce spread until late spring

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Donald Trump speaks at the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit on Tuesday, December 08, in Washington, DC.
US President Donald Trump speaks at the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit on Tuesday, December 08, in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The White House coronavirus task force is warning states that current vaccination plans won't reduce the spread of the disease until at least the late spring.

Even as President Trump said Tuesday the US vaccination plan would "quickly and dramatically reduce deaths and hospitalizations and within a short period of time, I think we want to get back to normal," his task force told states in a weekly report that mitigation measures were still essential to preventing further contagion.

"The current vaccine implementation will not substantially reduce viral spread, hospitalizations, or fatalities until the 100 million Americans with comorbidities can be fully immunized, which will take until the late spring," the report, obtained by CNN, read. "Behavioral change and aggressive mitigation policies are the only widespread prevention tools that we have to address this winter surge."

The reports, which are distributed to states on a weekly basis, said that while the "imminent arrival of vaccines provides hope," the effect of the effort would takes months to materialize.

"Large-scale benefits of lower deaths and hospitalizations will only come after months of immunization," the report said. "Difficult but temporary changes in personal behavior are key to limiting disease and death until we bring the pandemic to an end with immunization; this messaging must be delivered frequently and by all effective modalities."

The report said the current surge was continuing in "every corner of the US, from small towns to large cities, from farms to beach communities."

"This surge is the most rapid increase in cases; the widest spread of intense transmission, with more than 2,000 counties in COVID red zones; and the longest duration of rapid increase, now entering its 8th week, that we have experienced," the report stated.

It went on to lament that "many state and local governments are not implementing the same mitigation policies that stemmed the tide of the summer surge; that must happen now."

It said mitigation efforts in Europe had resulted in "clear improvement" but warned "the majority of the United States is not mitigating similarly."

4:08 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

North Carolina announces new stay-at-home order as Covid-19 cases spike in the state

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper State of North Carolina

Effective on Friday, North Carolina is entering into a modified stay-at-home order, Gov. Roy Cooper announced today during a news conference.

The modified order will be from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time. All residents must stay at home. 

Cooper said that all businesses and most retail stores must also be closed by 10 p.m. local time.

“Our new modified stay at home order aims to limit gatherings and get people home where they are safer, especially during the holidays. It’s also a reminder that we must be vigilant the rest of the day,” Cooper said. 

“We will do more if our trends do not improve,” he said.

The state's latest numbers: North Carolina has reported 404,032 cases and 5,605 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The state is also seeing the highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

Note: These numbers were released by the state’s health agency and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.

4:04 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Switzerland plans to ban public events and limit private gatherings as coronavirus infections rise

From Sandrine Amiel, Stephanie Halasz, and Lauren Kent

A view of the market with the town hall in the old town of Saxony, Pirna, Switzerland on Monday, December 7.
A view of the market with the town hall in the old town of Saxony, Pirna, Switzerland on Monday, December 7. Robert Michael/picture alliance/Getty Images

Switzerland plans to ban nearly all public events and place further restrictions on private gatherings starting Saturday, as coronavirus infections rise, the Swiss government announced Tuesday.

The new measures follow the Swiss government's announcement last week that ski resorts can remain open for domestic tourism but stricter Covid-19 restrictions would be imposed. 

Starting Dec. 12 to Jan. 20, the government plans to halt all public events, except church services and legislative meetings, and will order restaurants, shops, markets, and sports facilities to close at 7 p.m. local time.

The government also plans to restrict private household meetings to five people from two households, apart from on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year's Eve, when a maximum of 10 people can meet for the holidays. 

Meanwhile, each local cantonal authority can authorize ski resorts to open, according to the Federal Department of Home Affairs last Friday. 

"The corona situation is noticeably deteriorating. The number of infections is rising again, the intensive care units are very busy and the health workers are exhausted," Swiss Government spokesperson André Simonazzi said in a series of tweets Tuesday. "The Federal Council therefore wants to tighten the national measures."

Switzerland's 26 cantons will now consult with the federal government on the proposed measures, with the final decision to implement them taking place on Friday.

The new restrictions come as the Federal Office of Public Health recorded 92 more deaths in Switzerland and neighboring country Liechtenstein Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 5,116. Health authorities also recorded 4,262 new Covid-19 infections Tuesday, bringing the total cases to 358,568 since the pandemic began.  

"If the situation worsens next week, the Federal Council plans to take additional measures on December 18, such as the closure of restaurants and shops," said Simonazzi. "Compensation measures for businesses that are most affected by the restrictions are under consideration."

Swiss Confederation President Simonetta Sommaruga added, "With this package, we want to create clarity and planning security. And we want to provide security in these uncertain times."

3:43 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Washington state governor extends Covid-19 restrictions through the new year

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday a three-week extension of the state's current restrictions, which include bans on indoor dining and social gatherings.

The restrictions were originally imposed by Inslee on Nov. 15 and were set to last until Dec. 14. This new extension means Washington will be under tightened restriction through the holiday season and New Year's Eve celebrations. 

"This is because we remain concerned about Covid activity and we still do not have a clear picture of the situation following the Thanksgiving weekend," Inslee said at a news conference.

Inslee also announced an additional $50 million in economic support for businesses and more safeguards for workers impacted by the pandemic.

3:09 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

California sends regional text alerts asking residents to stay home

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

More than two thirds of California residents will soon receive emergency text alerts from the state’s Emergency Operations Services asking them to stay at home and abide by the newly enacted health orders, according to a tweet from CalOES.

Those living in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley – about 27 million people – will be asked to stay home with the exception of seeking essential services.

The alerts will be sent starting today at noon local time.

Both regions found themselves under the new health order Sunday night as intensive care unit capacity in each fell under the 15% threshold set by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

3:06 p.m. ET, December 8, 2020

US has to overcome Covid-19 denial and pull together, Fauci says 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

WSJ CEO Council Summit
WSJ CEO Council Summit

Speaking at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council summit on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that uniform wearing of masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowds and congregate settings can prevent or turn around surges in Covid-19 cases – and people need to pull together to implement those measures.

The fact that they aren’t being done uniformly is “really extraordinarily frustrating, because we feel strongly that we will be able to have a significant impact,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

With the country coming out of Thanksgiving and entering Christmas season, “we’re in for a very challenging period,” he said. 

“The only way we’re going to counter that is by a consistent, uniform implementation and adherence to public health measures.”

However, “trouble is, you go to different parts of the country, and even when the outbreak is clear and hospitals are on the verge of being overrun, there are a substantial proportion of the people who still think that this is not real, that it’s fake news or that it’s a hoax.” 

Fauci said that this was extraordinary, and he had never really seen anything like it. 

“We’ve got to overcome that and pull together as a nation uniformly with adhering to these public health measures,” he said.