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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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. 

Watch:

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.