December 16 coronavirus news

By Kara Fox, Jessie Yeung and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT) December 17, 2020
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12:51 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Chile approves emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19

From CNN's Cristopher Ulloa and Mohammed Tawfeeq

The Chilean Public Health Institute (ISP) has unanimously approved the emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine for people age 16 years and older, ISP announced at a news conference on Wednesday. 

The panel of experts from ISP met virtually to review the approval request that was sent by the laboratories on November 27.

The director of the institute, Heriberto García, called it "a historic moment for Chile," saying that they "have done hard work for quite some time, many months to deliver this good news."

Chilean authorities announced earlier that they will start giving the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. The first group to receive it will be health officials and the population at risk, although, at the moment, there is no exact date.

The latest numbers: On Wednesday, Chile's health minister announced a total of at least 576,731 confirmed Covid-19 cases nationwide with approximately deaths related to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

12:40 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden says his team is working on a plan for him to get the vaccine

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at Biden's transition headquarters on December 16 in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at Biden's transition headquarters on December 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Kevin Lamarque/Pool/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden said today his team is working on a plan for him to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

Biden said he didn't want to cut to the "head of the line," but he wants to show Americans that it is "safe" to get the vaccine.

"I don't want to get to the head of the line, but I want to make sure that we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take. They are working on that plan right now."

Biden reiterated that he plans to take the vaccine "publicly." 

12:39 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Major CEOs support requiring employees to get Covid-19 vaccine, poll finds

From CNN's Matt Egan

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for injection on December 15 in Sacramento, California.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for injection on December 15 in Sacramento, California. Hector Amezcua/Pool/AP

Some business leaders are in favor of eventually requiring their employees to take Covid-19 vaccines. 

Seventy-two percent of current and former CEOs of major companies signaled an openness to Covid-19 vaccine mandates, according to a poll held Tuesday at a virtual summit by the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute. 

However, several CEOs indicated that no such mandate had yet been formulated at their companies, and that they want to see how early rounds of vaccinations go before making formal plans. Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine has received emergency use authorization by the FDA, but has not been approved by the agency. 

The Yale summit included business leaders from Walmart, Goldman Sachs, eBay, and other major companies. 

“There was a surprising amount of openness to the idea of mandates for vaccines,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, founder of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute. “No one said they were ready yet.”

Some context: Legal experts say companies can require their employees to get vaccinated. Some jobs already have similar requirements. For example, hospitals may require workers to get flu or hepatitis B vaccines. However, companies may need to grant exemptions to workers on medical or religious grounds.   

Still, Sonnenfeld said vaccine mandates can help companies promote a culture of safety.

“If a safe work environment is part of their culture and brand, more power to them,” he said.

Others think that vaccine mandates go a step too far. 

“Business has a huge role to play in helping set the tone on the importance of vaccines,” said Mark Weinberger, the former CEO of EY and a director at MetLife and Johnson & Johnson. “But to say you’re going to be fired if you’re scared to death to take a vaccine, that’s a difficult position for CEOs to take.”

12:13 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Schools should be used to distribute vaccine to communities, superintendent says

Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, speaks during an interview on December 16.
Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, speaks during an interview on December 16. CNN via Cisco Webex

Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, is recommending that health leaders consider schools as a site where people can get the Covid-19 vaccine.

"It will take this all-hands-on-deck effort," Beutner told CNN on Wednesday, referring to the the sheer number of people who will need to be vaccinated in the US.

"Within 10 square miles, quarter million people, 30 schools, three drugstores, two fire stations," he said, for example. "Begs to reason the place to provide the vaccine to students and their families is the place they trust the most, where they are almost every day, their local neighborhood school."

"Let's make sure we think of schools as part of the system to provide vaccine to children as was done for Polio," Beutner added.

Remember: Teachers and school staff probably won't get the vaccine until April. First in line for the vaccine will be two groups considered to be exceptionally high risk – health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

Depending on whether more vaccines have been approved, the second phase could begin by April. Phase 2 might include K-12 teachers and staff and other child care workers

Additionally, the Pfizer vaccine is not recommended for children yet because they were not part of phase three clinical trials.

On the topic of a second Covid-19 stimulus package, Beutner said that getting the economy back on track starts with children and school systems.

He told the story of a third grader in his district whose family is struggling.

"They've had someone in the family become gravely ill because of the virus. This child struggles to log on to a zoom because someone is missing in their household. Someone else in the household had lost work. I ask leadership, what can we do for that child?" he said.

"The answer is staring us right in the face – do all that we can to support schools, make them the priority. It builds the foundation for the economy to reopen, foundation of the future, opportunity for children, it's just the right thing. It has to be the priority," Beutner added.

12:18 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Despite confidence of imminent stimulus deal, many details still need to be sorted out and timing is unclear

From CNN's Manu Raju

The U.S. Capitol stands on December 11 in Washington, DC.
The U.S. Capitol stands on December 11 in Washington, DC. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Even as talks over more economic relief are moving in a positive direction towards a deal, congressional leaders are still trading offers and going back-and-forth this morning as they try to finalize a proposal and jam it through Congress in days, several sources said.

That means it's quite uncertain when Congress will vote — and whether they will be able to tie the roughly $900 billion relief plan to a massive $1.4 trillion spending bill that Congress is trying to pass by the time government runs out of money Friday night. Whether Congress will have to pass another stop-gap measure to keep agencies afloat remains to be seen.

The top four leaders are expected to talk this morning by phone.

On a conference call with House Democrats this morning, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi signaled that the deal isn't final yet but offered the general outlines of the proposal. There wasn't a lot of pushback on the call, and sources described the atmosphere on the call as positive.

Pelosi blamed GOP insistence on lawsuit protections for businesses and others as a reason why state and local aid was not included in the proposal. She did point to other areas of the emerging proposal — school funding, vaccine distribution transportation projects — where states and localities would get money. She contended that Democrats will push again for state and local aid when Joe Biden assumes the presidency.

One Democrat, Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois, urged the leadership to bring a stand-alone bill to fund state and local governments to show where Democrats stand, a source on the call said.

11:54 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Two trays of vaccine were sent back to Pfizer because they weren't at the right temperature

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said they discovered two trays carrying Pfizer vaccines were not at the recommended temperature needed for storage and had to send them back to Pfizer.  

"We had two trays of Pfizer vaccine that arrived in California at two separate places. As we were tracking the temperature, we noted that the temperature actually got colder than minus 80, went to minus 92 (Celsius)," Perna said Wednesday during a virtual briefing by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense.

"We locked those trays down, Pfizer and OWS working with FedEx and UPS, they never left the truck. And we returned them immediately back to Pfizer and we sent immediate shipments to replace those two trays," Perna added.

Perna also said that they saw the same situation in Alabama, where two trays were at minus 92 degrees Celsius, and like in California, they were able to stop delivery of trays and get a second shipment immediately to the state. 

Additionally, Perna said that they are working with the FDA, CDC and Pfizer to determine if that anomaly is safe or not.

11:53 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

“Vaccine confidence is surging,” US health secretary says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A syringe is filled with the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 at Backus Hospital in Norwich, Connecticut, on December 15.
A syringe is filled with the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 at Backus Hospital in Norwich, Connecticut, on December 15. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

During an Operation Warp Speed briefing Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he's heartened to see that Americans vaccine confidence is "rising substantially.” 

Azar cited an ABC poll this week which said more than 8 in 10 Americans say they plan to take the vaccine, and an announcement from Kaiser saying more than 70% of Americans "definitely or probably" will take the vaccine.

 “So just — vaccine confidence is surging,” Azar said.  

Azar said that there is still much work to do to ensure that all Americans understand the value of the vaccines, “but it’s clear that many Americans are learning that these vaccines are safe and extraordinarily effective.” 

He said he expects vaccine confidence to increase as more people get vaccinated. 

“As the word gets out, as they talk to their friends, their colleagues, their neighbors, vaccine confidence in the United States will just increase by word of mouth, by trusted sources, every single day," he said.

11:38 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Top Senate Democrat says "the finish line is in sight" on Covid-19 relief agreement

From CNN's Sarah Fortinsky

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 8 in Washington, DC.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 8 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said "the finish line is in sight" on Covid-19 relief talks, and that the four Congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are "very close" to coming together on a deal.

"And as we race the clock to reach a final accord before the end of the year, we are close to an agreement. It's not a done deal yet, but we are very close," Schumer said in his floor remarks Wednesday morning.

Schumer said that he, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have been using the bipartisan framework as "the basis of discussions" and that they have been working with Mnuchin, who's been negotiating on behalf of the White House.

Schumer made clear that the agreement is insufficient for Democrats, but that "right now, we must address this emergency over the short-term."

"We're on the precipice of achieving these goals. We Democrats would have liked to go considerably further, but this won't be the last time Congress speaks on Covid relief. Right now, we must address this emergency over the short term. But make no mistake, we will work in the future to provide additional relief as the country requires, but we need to provide a platform to build on, we need to address this emergency right now," he said.

"The finish line is in sight. everyone wants to get this done. Let's push through the few final meters and deliver the outcome that the American people very much need," Schumer added.

Read up on the latest on stimulus negotiations here.

11:24 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

GOP senator says a stimulus deal could come by Friday

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Daniella Diaz

Sen. John Thune speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 15 in Washington, DC.
Sen. John Thune speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 15 in Washington, DC. Rod Lamkey/Pool/Getty Images

Senate Majority Whip John Thune told reporters moments ago he's hopeful a deal can come by Friday on Covid-19 economic relief.

He added he thinks $600 to $700 is under discussion for stimulus checks and then "double that for family and kids."

He also added he thinks there will be $300 for unemployment benefits per week.

"I feel more optimistic I think that there's been a lot of progress made by the so called Big Four that are discussing and negotiating this out and things are getting written up," he said. "Be able to get on it and get it done in time on Friday to meet the deadline."