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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2:15 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

The Fed keeps rates near zero and acknowledges fragile US recovery from Covid-19 pandemic

From CNN's Paul R. La Monica

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a hearing on in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, on December 2.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a hearing on in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, on December 2. Greg Nash/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve, as widely expected, left interest rates near zero following its latest policy meeting Wednesday.

The Fed cut rates to that level in March and has maintained that they are likely to remain there for several years as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Fed has launched several lending programs and other stimulus efforts in addition to slashing interest rates this year to support the economy during the coronavirus crisis.

But Fed chair Jerome Powell has continued to stress that the Fed (as well as Congress and the White House) may need to do more to help struggling American consumers and businesses.

There are growing hopes that a new round of fiscal stimulus may be coming soon from politicians in Washington — and perhaps more will be done once President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.


2:02 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Pfizer working to get details of reported allergic reaction to vaccination in Alaska, company says

From CNN’s Jacqueline Howard and Maggie Fox

Pfizer is working to find out more about a report that a health worker in Alaska suffered an allergic reaction to its vaccine Wednesday.

“We don’t yet have all the details of the report from Alaska about a potential serious allergic reactions but are actively working with local health authorities to assess,” a Pfizer spokesperson told CNN.

“We will closely monitor all reports suggestive of serious allergic reactions following vaccination and update labeling language if needed,” she added. “The prescribing information has a clear warning/precaution that appropriate medical treatment and supervision should always be readily available in case of a rare anaphylactic event following the administration of the vaccine.”

When British health authorities rolled out the vaccine there earlier this month, at least two recipients had allergic reactions but they recovered quickly. The New York Times first reported that a health care worker in Alaska suffered a reaction.

“Participants in our Phase 3 trial were excluded if they had a history of severe adverse reaction associated with a vaccine and/or severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) to any component of the investigational vaccine,” the Pfizer spokesperson told CNN.

“Overall, there were no safety signals of concern identified in our clinical trials, including no signal of serious allergic reactions associated with vaccine. However, reports of adverse events outside of clinical studies are a very important component to our pharmacovigilance activities and we will review all available information on this case and all reports of adverse events following vaccination," she added.

1:59 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

McConnell tells GOP senators to be ready for weekend votes on stimulus bill

From CNN's Manu Raju

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to open up the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on December 16 in Washington, DC.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to open up the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on December 16 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

On a conference call on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that votes on final passage of a stimulus deal could slip into the weekend, and he prepared his members to be ready for that possibility. 

If votes do extend into the weekend, it's possible there could be a temporary government shutdown until final passage of a bill since government funding runs out Friday night.

Congress may have to pass a short-term stop-gap measure to prevent that from happening, but they are planning on tying a second Covid-19 relief package to the funding bill.

McConnell walked his members through the outlines of the deal, indicating that direct payments would likely be included in the final proposal. He indicated that President Trump has been strongly advocating for direct checks.

The struggle to get the stimulus package done also looms over the Georgia Senate runoff races that will determine which party controls the chamber next Congress. During the call with GOP senators, McConnell noted that direct payments for individuals and families have become a major issue in the race. 

"Kelly and David are getting hammered" on the issue, he said, according to a source who heard his remarks.

1:57 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Iowa governor lifts bar and restaurant curfews and removes social gathering limitations

From CNN's Kay Jones

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a press briefing in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 16.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a press briefing in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 16. Iowa Governor's Office

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced today that she is lifting all curfews for bars and restaurants and is removing limitations for social gatherings. 

During a news conference on Wednesday morning, Reynolds said that the curfew and restrictions will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. local time on Thursday. Bars and restaurants will be able to resume normal operations as long as customers are seated when eating or drinking, wear masks when not seated, and are 6 feet away from other groups with no more than 8 people per group.  

Gathering limitations will be lifted, but 6 feet of distance is still required between groups.  

She said that there is an overall decline in Iowa of new cases since mid-December. She said numbers have stabilized over the past week. The statewide positivity rate over the past 14 days is 13.8%, she said. Only one county in Iowa is at 20%, she said, with 44 counties between 10-15% positivity and 42 counties have positivity rates below 15%. 

Hospitalizations are half of the mid-November peak of 1,500, she said. 

"This doesn't mean that our work is done, but it's proof that we have the tools necessary to effectively manage the virus while balancing the activities of our daily lives," Reynolds said. 

1:42 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

New Jersey remains above 13% positivity for Covid-19, governor says

From CNN’s Mirna Alsharif

People come to be tested for COVID-19 at a test site at Bergen Community College on December 3 in Paramus, New Jersey.
People come to be tested for COVID-19 at a test site at Bergen Community College on December 3 in Paramus, New Jersey. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

New Jersey's positivity rate has been 13.08% since Saturday but its rate of transmission is down slightly to 1.08% as of Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said at his press conference on Wednesday.

The state reports at least 5,803 new Covid-19 cases and at least 91 deaths, he said.

Murphy reported 489 new Covid-19 hospitalizations in the state. As of now, the state's hospitals are treating 3,672 Covid-19 patients; 3,462 are Covid-19 positive and 210 are awaiting confirmation. There are 721 patients in the ICU, and 482 of them on ventilators.

Murphy reminded residents that the while there's "a vaccine in our midst," they cannot let their guards down.

"That should harden our resolve, not lessen it, but harden our resolve to continue with things like social distancing, wearing our masks, washing our hands and doing everything we can to protect our families and our communities," said Murphy.

1:37 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Pennsylvania reports 278 more deaths from Covid-19

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

Pennsylvania broke its record again for highest number of deaths added in a single day, marking 278 additional deaths in Wednesday’s report.

The state added more than 10,000 cases, according to the Pennsylvania Health Department. 

More than 6,000 patients are hospitalized with more than 1,000 of those in the ICU with Covid-19.

1:13 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Facebook to notify users who engaged with false Covid-19 material

From CNN’s Brian Fung

The logo for Facebook is displayed on a smartphone.
The logo for Facebook is displayed on a smartphone. Gabby Jones/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Facebook is now proactively notifying users after they interact with misinformation about the coronavirus that has been removed from the platform.

The social media giant said Tuesday that users will receive a notification in their feeds that displays a thumbnail of the removed post. The notification will inform users that the posts contained false claims. The notices will also explain to users where they first encountered the posts and how they engaged with it, according to a blog post

The new notifications are an update to an existing coronavirus misinformation policy, and reflect how Facebook is moving more aggressively to combat coronavirus misinformation as the vaccine rollout begins. 

12:49 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

How one doctor is advocating for the vaccine to the Black community she serves

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Dr. Brittani James, left, speaks during an interview on December 16.
Dr. Brittani James, left, speaks during an interview on December 16. CNN

Dr. Brittani James serves a population in Chicago that is 100% Black, and she's trying to encourage her community to take the vaccine when it becomes available to them.

Covid-19 has disproportionately hit Black communities. Despite that, Black Americans remain among the groups that have the least confidence in the coronavirus vaccine, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Being a Black woman in medicine has made James "more concerned about the racism that's rampant in the field," she said.

"To simultaneously be trying to help other Black people, other women, and really feeling the weight of that systemic racism and sexism within my own field, it does something to your psyche. But it also allows me to see other things that my colleagues don't see as easily," she told CNN.

In her position, James said she's able to connect with her patients and advocate for the vaccine.

"I'm able to say, 'I understand your fears, and I was raised to have the same fears and mistrust.' But I'm able to use my own body, essentially, to say, 'I'm taking the vaccine, I believe it's safe. I personally reviewed the evidence and I know that it's safe," she said. "It's certainly stressful and certainly traumatic at times."

Bringing the community on board and getting them to vaccinate involves more than messaging. The community's vaccine hesitancy stems from their mistrust in the health care system, she said.

The message to take the vaccine needs to come from "community leaderships, Black church leaders, activists, non-profit organizers, who are already in the community," she said. "We need to convince them and allow them to spread the message because they have that credibility. 


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.