December 15 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Kara Fox, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020
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12:29 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Here's Fauci's message to people concerned about vaccine's safety when it was developed so quickly

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House on November 19 in Washington, DC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House on November 19 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appearing on ABC this morning, was asked how people can be sure the Covid-19 vaccine is safe when it was developed so quickly.

“The speed was not at all at the sacrifice of safety. The speed was the reflection of extraordinary advances in the science of vaccine platform technology,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. 

Fauci said there was “extraordinary investment” in getting the vaccine ready to be distributed as soon as it was proven to be safe and effective. 

“So, people understandably are skeptical about the speed, but we have to keep emphasizing speed means the science was extraordinary that got us here,” he said. 

8:19 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Here’s the problem with skipping the line for the Covid-19 vaccine

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid -19 vaccine is seen at Hartford Hospital on December 14 in Hartford, Connecticut.
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid -19 vaccine is seen at Hartford Hospital on December 14 in Hartford, Connecticut. Jessica Hill/AP

Dr. Leana Wen breaks down the consequences of taking the coronavirus vaccine before priority groups, like health care and other essential workers.

7:53 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Structural inequalities have contributed to England's record Covid-19 death rate

From CNN's Mia Albert and Amy Cassidy

England has among the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in Europe not only because of the government's mishandling of the pandemic, but also as a result of its prior deteriorating health situation, especially among minorities, according to a new report.

"Pre-existing inequalities in health, employment, housing, and access to Universal Credit created a ‘perfect storm’ of factors which exacerbated the impact of coronavirus on BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] people," the Institute of Health Equity at University College London report, which was published today, said.

The mortality rate from Covid-19 in the most deprived areas was almost double that in the least deprived areas between March and July 2020, according to the report.

The document argues that the Covid-19 death rate has been higher in deprived neighborhoods that coincide with minority populations because they are more likely to be home to key workers "such as those working in health and social care and public transport."

As such, those key workers are more likely than white workers to be working outside their homes during lockdowns and "if they logged a safety complaint, they were more likely to be ignored than white British workers," the report said.

The report further says people from BAME backgrounds more often live in overcrowded households in deprived urban areas with higher rates of air pollution and are also more likely to have pre-existing health conditions.

"Structural racism means that some ethnic groups are more likely to be exposed to adverse social and economic conditions, in addition to the everyday experiences of discrimination -- causing a robbery of resilience," it said.

"The cumulative occupational, living and environmental conditions and low-income risks experienced by many BAME groups are largely responsible for the disproportionately high mortality rates from COVID-19 among these groups," it adds.

The report argues that existing inequalities prior to the pandemic create a cyclic unequal system, in which the same factors that contributed to a higher death rate among BAME groups will also result in higher rates of post-Covid health complications, as well as deeper social and educational inequalities in the future.

Caroline Nokes, who chairs the UK Parliament's Women and Equalities Committee, called for more than a dozen structural changes -- including improvements to housing conditions, resources to break down digital and language barriers, and changes to sick pay eligibility -- in response to the report.

The impact of coronavirus has sharpened the focus and highlighted the need for systemic changes in all these areas. With the vaccine being disseminated, we are at a turning point in the pandemic and we can begin to rebuild. Now is the time for the government to act and make this a turning point to tackle systemic inequalities and rebuild society in an equal, fairer way," Nokes said.

Ethnic groups across the UK also "experienced a worsening of their self-reported mental health" during the pandemic, according to a separate report by the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS).

"Financial resilience was lower among Black African or Other Black households before the pandemic, for example, which would explain why these groups found it harder to manage financially during lockdown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mental health deteriorated across most ethnic groups during lockdown but was most marked in the Indian group," said Glenn Everett, Deputy Director of ONS' Sustainability and Inequalities Division.

A separate report published in The Lancet Regional Health Europe journal on Tuesday, also linked poverty in Scotland to higher Covid-19 death rates in the country. The study found that 25% of patients admitted to care units across Scotland between March and June came from deprived areas, a higher proportion than those who came from the least deprived areas (13.6%).

7:28 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

The "last responders" of morgues and funeral homes are battling a surge of US deaths

From Cindy Loose, Kaiser Health News

Acela Truck Co. has already sold hundreds of pull-behind refrigerated morgues created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Acela Truck Co. has already sold hundreds of pull-behind refrigerated morgues created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Amelia Anne Photography

As Covid-19 has spread from big cities to rural communities in the United States, it has stressed not only hospitals, but also what some euphemistically call "last responders."

The crush has overwhelmed morgues, funeral homes and religious leaders across the US, and has changed the rituals of honoring the dead.

Chad Towner, CEO of St. Joseph Health System, which has two hospitals in northern Indiana, said that there were recently four deaths in an afternoon.

"A priest approached me to say he'd been asked to provide last rites to three patients in one hour," Towner said, adding that moving bodies from the hospital morgue has been a slower process than usual.

Morticians and funeral homes are overflowing as well. Families that are sick or quarantined at the time of the loved one's death often can't work with us on a transfer, meaning bodies are here longer. The entire system is stressed to the tipping point," Towner said.

In Montana, the Billings Clinic -- which has just two morgue spaces -- has dealt with 80 Covid-19 deaths, including seven on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Chief Nursing Officer Laurie Smith said the hospital is at capacity, despite adding beds by converting office space and building an addition. The hospital, which currently has 335 beds, so far has handled the additional deaths through what she calls a "sad partnership," with funeral homes, which have been quickly picking up bodies the hospital cannot store.

The hospital does its best to allow relatives to say goodbye, but that often involves family members standing at an interior window outside the patient's room, using a computer tablet to communicate their last words.

Typical congregational hymns are pretty much gone, as are choirs. "We are using mostly recordings, sometimes a soloist," said Spitzer.

Funeral home directors who pride themselves on spending time comforting grieving families say they are so busy that some days they have to rush out from one funeral to begin the next one.

Families are being robbed of the whole funeral rite experience and losing the support of having friends and family around them," said Shauna Kjos-Miotke of Fiksdal Funeral Home in Webster, South Dakota.

Native communities have not only been among the hardest hit with Covid-19 illnesses and deaths, but their grieving rituals have been among the most seriously disrupted.

"Normally a funeral is a two- or three-day process with hundreds of people," said Josiah Hugs, a Crow tribal member who is the outreach coordinator for Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness Center.

"Now there is no time to tell stories about the person, not a lot of singing and praying. I've been to three recent Covid-19 funerals, and everything was at the burial site, with maybe 30 people sitting in their cars and not getting out."

Read the full story here.

7:02 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Medical journals urge the UK not to relax rules at Christmas

From CNN's Amy Cassidy, Luke McGee and Kara Fox

A woman walks past a sign showing Covid-19 precautions on December 14 in Cardiff, Wales.
A woman walks past a sign showing Covid-19 precautions on December 14 in Cardiff, Wales. Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The UK government should reverse its decision to relax Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas according to health experts, who warn hospitalizations at New Year could match that of the pandemic’s peak in April unless tighter measures are brought in. 

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Health Service Journal (HSJ) issued a rare joint plea -- only the second in more than 100 years -- on Tuesday, calling on the government to scrap its "rash decision" to allow household mixing for five days.

Members of the public can and should mitigate the impact of the third wave by being as careful as possible over the next few months. But many will see the lifting of restrictions over Christmas as permission to drop their guard."

Authors Alastair McLellan (HSJ) and Fiona Godlee (BMJ), said it was imperative that the government stops households from socializing in order to bring down infections and spare the UK's National Health Service (NHS) from struggling to cope with a third wave.  

"When government devised the current plans to allow household mixing over Christmas it had assumed the Covid-19 demand on the NHS would be decreasing. But it is not, it is rising, and the emergence of a new strain of the virus has introduced further potential jeopardy," it said.

They advised that rather than lifting restrictions over Christmas as currently planned, the UK should follow the more cautious examples of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Tiered restrictions should also be reviewed and strengthened as they are currently doing little to suppress the virus, the authors added.

Despite most of the country under Tier 2 "high alert" or the "very high" Tier 3 restrictions, numbers of inpatients have started to rise again.

On Monday, Covid-19 bed occupancy at hospitals in England had climbed to 15,053.

The authors predict that hospitals in England will have just short of 19,000 coronavirus patients on New Year’s Eve, almost exactly the same as the 18,974 peak of the first wave of the pandemic on April 12.

At least 64,500 people in the UK have now died after contracting coronavirus.

6:16 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Socially distanced Santa could be the best thing to happen to Christmas

From CNN's Allison Hope

(From left) Mateo Johnson, 6, and Neah Johnson, 3, visit with Santa, who holds court in a snow globe December 6 in Seattle. Covid-19 safety measures have opened the door for rethinking how kids physically interact with Santa.
(From left) Mateo Johnson, 6, and Neah Johnson, 3, visit with Santa, who holds court in a snow globe December 6 in Seattle. Covid-19 safety measures have opened the door for rethinking how kids physically interact with Santa. David Ryder/Getty Images

We've long made light of the trauma that kids may face when placed on Santa's lap, turning their tear-stained faces into Christmas cards and jokes, even click-bait slideshows of upset children.

But the pandemic is giving us a time to rethink the counterintuitive and potentially traumatic practice of allowing strangers to touch our children for the sake of a laugh or the snap of a photo.

We reinforce all throughout our kid's childhoods to stay away from strangers and then we counterintuitively tell them it's OK to let this one stranger -- Santa -- touch you.

After all, 93% of sexual abuse perpetrators are people who are familiar to the child

Oliver Sindall, a clinical psychologist who specializes in children and adolescents says that how traumatized a child might be when forced to sit on Santa's lap against their will depends on the child's emotional security, which is largely contingent on whether the parents have secured a safe environment for their child.

Still, "being forced to do something they are frightened of can often be traumatic, or impact their understanding of consent, even if it is just sitting with Santa," Sindall said.

A virtual or socially distanced Santa visit can be the "first step in showing us that this new normal can be just as good or fun as the traditional sitting in Santa's lap," according to Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Jeglic, who studies child sexual abuse and trauma, underscores the importance of child bodily autonomy and the pitfalls of teaching them that it's OK for strangers to touch them even when it makes them uncomfortable.

This year "has changed a lot of our behaviors, there is no reason why sitting in Santa's lap cannot also change -- and probably for the better," she said.

With the new socially distanced Santa, a child can sit a safe distance from the stranger dressed in red and talk about their hopes and dreams and present-filled wish lists without fear of stranger danger.

Consent is magic. Distance is safer.

Read the full article here.

5:24 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

A man who pretended to have Covid-19 pleads guilty to defrauding his employer

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

Santwon Antonio Davis has been charged with defrauding his employer by allegedly faking a positive Covid-19 medical excuse letter.
Santwon Antonio Davis has been charged with defrauding his employer by allegedly faking a positive Covid-19 medical excuse letter. Fulton County Sheriff

A man pleaded guilty to defrauding his employer in May by falsely claiming he was infected with Covid-19, according to statement released by the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia on Monday.

Santwon Antonio Davis, 35, of Atlanta, falsely claimed to have contracted the virus and submitted a falsified medical record to his employer, the statement reads.

“In concern for its employees and customers, the corporation closed its facility for cleaning and paid its employees during the shutdown,” it continues.

That cost the corporation more than $100,000 and forced the unnecessary quarantine of several other employees, according to the US attorney's office.

“The defendant caused unnecessary economic loss to his employer and distress to his coworkers and their families,” said US Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “We will take quick action through the Georgia COVID-19 Task Force to put a stop to Coronavirus-related fraud schemes.”

During the Covid-19 fraud investigation, agents uncovered a previous incident in which Davis submitted fraudulent paperwork to obtain bereavement benefits from his employer for the death of his child -- a child that didn’t exist. Additionally, while on pretrial release in the original Covid-19 case against him, Davis submitted a mortgage application with numerous fraudulent statements, including a falsified earnings and employment history, the statement reads. The mortgage company discovered the fraud, in part, after seeing the news stories related to his original coronavirus charge.

Davis pleaded guilty to falsely representing he had Covid-19 and also to other fraud offenses that were uncovered during the investigation.

His case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with assistance from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General. 

CNN is attempting to determine whether Davis has legal representation. His sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

Read our previous coverage of this story here.

4:55 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Most Americans will likely get a Covid-19 vaccine, survey finds

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid and Annie Grayer

A medical worker prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a frontline worker at Hartford Hospital on Dec. 14 in Hartford, Connecticut.
A medical worker prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a frontline worker at Hartford Hospital on Dec. 14 in Hartford, Connecticut. Jessica Hill/AP

Some 71% of Americans say they will “definitely or probably” get a Covid-19 vaccine, according to a survey out Tuesday from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But Black Americans, people living in rural areas and Republicans are more hesitant about getting the shots.

A third of those surveyed said they want to get a vaccine “as soon as possible,” while 39% said they would “wait and see” how initial vaccination goes before getting a vaccine themselves. 

The non-profit health research group polled 1,676 adults for the survey, which the group is launching as the Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor and plans to update regularly.

About 15% of respondents said they would “definitely not” get a Covid-19 vaccine.

“This group is disproportionately made up of Republicans and of people with no more than a high-school level education,” Kaiser said in a statement.

Some 9% of those surveyed, mostly essential workers, reported they would get a vaccine only if it were required by work, school, or other parts of their lives.

The survey also looked at motivations behind vaccine hesitancy, and found that the groups that are the most vaccine hesitant are Republicans, 30-to-39-year-olds, rural Americans, and Black Americans. 

“Some Black adults are hesitant for reasons that could change with more information. For example: 71% of those who say they won’t get vaccinated say a major reason is that they are worried about possible side effects (which are expected to be mild) and half (50%) say they worry they could get COVID-19 from the vaccine,” KFF said.

For Republicans, 57% of those surveyed chose “the risks of Covid-19 are being exaggerated” as a major reason they definitely or probably would not get a vaccine.

“Many Americans who are hesitant are simply reserving judgment before they are ready to get vaccinated. However, nearly one in four Republicans don’t want to get vaccinated because they don’t believe COVID poses a serious threat,” said Mollyann Brodie, executive vice-president with the Kaiser Family Foundation. “It will be a real challenge to undo COVID denialism among this slice of President Trump’s political base.”

4:15 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Democrats may be forced to abandon state and local aid as leaders negotiate last-ditch relief plan

From CNN's Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

The US Capitol is photographed on Dec. 14 in Washington DC.
The US Capitol is photographed on Dec. 14 in Washington DC. Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Congressional leaders are engaged in last-ditch negotiations to secure a long-awaited Covid-19 relief deal, with expectations growing that Democrats will have to accept a more narrow agreement than they originally pushed for in order to get the package done.

With Capitol Hill leaders racing to finalize a massive spending bill to keep the government open past Friday, there were clear signs on Monday that Democrats would be forced to abandon a push for at least $160 billion in aid to cash-strapped states and cities in order to get a bipartisan agreement where some relief provisions could be added to the measure.

Democratic leaders: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer both refused to say that the aid was a red line for them in the talks. During a 22-minute phone call Monday evening, Pelosi told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the GOP insistence to include lawsuit protections for businesses and other entities "remain an obstacle" to getting an agreement on state and local aid -- since Republicans have demanded the two be tied together.

And two senior Democratic sources briefed on the talks told CNN that it appears unlikely that state and local aid will make it into a pandemic relief package.

Republicans will only accept state and local aid if it is paired with liability protections for businesses and others faced with potential lawsuits during the pandemic -- which Democrats have not wanted to support.

If the aid is ultimately dropped from the plan, it would amount to a major concession from Democrats, who had advanced roughly $1 trillion for aid to states and cities as part of a $3 trillion-plus plan that passed the House in May and that the Senate never considered.

Read the full story: