The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, Jenni Marsh and Tara John, CNN

Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT) December 21, 2020
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12:31 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

California reports more than 43,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Gisela Crespo

A long line of vehicles line up to take Covid-19 tests at Long Beach City College-Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach, California, on December 9.
A long line of vehicles line up to take Covid-19 tests at Long Beach City College-Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach, California, on December 9. Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California reported 43,608 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, according to the state's Department of Public Health.

The daily caseload "is slightly higher than normal as it includes some cases from previous days," the department noted.

The state also reported 272 new virus-related deaths on Saturday.

On Thursday, California reported 379 fatalities from Covid-19, the highest daily death toll since the pandemic started.

To date, California has reported a total of 1,807,982 coronavirus cases and 22,432 deaths, according to its health department

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. 

1:29 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Tennessee First Lady tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Carma Hassan

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, center, and his wife, Maria, leave the House Chamber after Lee gave his State of the State Address in Nashville, on February 3.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, center, and his wife, Maria, leave the House Chamber after Lee gave his State of the State Address in Nashville, on February 3. Mark Humphrey/AP

Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee has tested positive for Covid-19 and has mild symptoms of the virus, according to a statement from Republican Governor Bill Lee.

Gov. Lee says he is feeling well and has tested negative for Covid-19. He is quarantining at the Governor’s Residence, according to the statement. 

1:28 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Vaccines can be distributed before the FDA signs off on then, says US agency head

From CNN Health's John Bonifield

Pfizer and Moderna can distribute lots of Covid-19 vaccine without waiting for the US Food and Drug Administration to sign-off on quality control tests that are performed on each lot of vaccine, FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a post on Twitter Saturday.

"FDA is not requiring lot release for #COVID19 vaccine under EUA. The Conditions of Authorization require the companies to submit Certificates of Analysis for each lot at least 48 hrs prior to vaccine distribution and they can distribute without waiting for FDA’s ok," Hahn tweeted.

The FDA has authorized emergency use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. As a condition of the EUA, the companies are required to submit to the FDA the specifications and results of the quality control tests that are conducted on each lot of vaccine at least 48 hours prior to distribution. These submissions are referred to as Certificates of Analysis.

12:00 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Minnesota state senator dies after being diagnosed with Covid-19

From CNN's Hollie Silverman and Veronica Stracqualursi

Minnesota state Sen. Jerry Relph died Friday following his diagnosis of and hospitalization with Covid-19.

"I'm heartbroken to share that my husband, Jerry Relph, has passed away and entered his heavenly home," his wife Pegi Broker-Relph said in a statement. "Jerry was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather." The family did not elaborate on the cause of Relph's death. 

The 76-year-old, who represented the St. Cloud area, tested positive for Covid-19 on November 13, after discovering he was exposed to the virus at the Minnesota State Capitol, CNN's affiliate WCCO reported. Relph was admitted to an emergency room that weekend for his symptoms, according to WCCO. 

He was elected to a four-year term in the Minnesota state Senate in 2016, narrowing beating his Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party opponent Dan Wolgamott by over 100 votes in a recount. Relph lost reelection to his seat this fall.

Read the full story:

11:45 p.m. ET, December 19, 2020

Boris Johnson backtracks on relaxing Christmas rules after scientists warn new Covid-19 strain is spreading faster

From CNN's Amy Woodyatt, Lindsay Isaac, Luke McGee and Arnaud Siad

The hopes of millions of Britons that Covid-19 restrictions would be eased over Christmas were dashed on Saturday, after scientists warned a new strain of the virus is spreading more quickly than others.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of stricter coronavirus restrictions, tightening rules around household mixing that were due to be relaxed over Christmas in England, while leaders in Scotland and Wales also introduced more stringent measures. The UK has among the highest Covid death rates in Europe, with more than 67,000 fatalities, and over 2 million cases.

The PM broke the news that London, and large parts of southern and eastern England, where cases are surging, will enter Tier 4 restrictions, similar to a lockdown, on Sunday.

"The spread is being driven by the new variant of the virus," Johnson said in a hastily called press conference. "It appears to spread more easily and may be up to 70% more transmissable than the earlier strain."

England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned Saturday that a newly identified variant of Covid-19 "can spread more quickly" than previous strains of the virus.

"This is now spreading very fast," Johnson warned. "It is with a very heavy heart that I say we cannot continue with Christmas as planned."

Read the full story:

11:44 p.m. ET, December 19, 2020

FDA authorizes a second Covid-19 vaccine as US reports highest number of daily cases

From CNN's Dakin Andone and Christina Maxouris

Covid-19 continues to ravage the United States, even as a second coronavirus vaccine received a vote of recommendation from a committee at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization and Practices (ACIP) voted Saturday to recommend Moderna's vaccine candidate for people 18 and older, following the US Food and Drug Administration's decision a day earlier to authorize the vaccine for emergency use.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield must accept the group's recommendation, which would clear the way for vaccines to be administered and add a second vaccine to the country's arsenal at a crucial moment in the pandemic.

Surging cases: Over the past week, the US averaged more than 219,000 new Covid-19 infections a day, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. There were more than 249,000 infections reported on Friday alone — another record.

One of the recent cases is Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee. She tested positive for the virus and has mild symptoms, according to a statement Saturday from Gov. Bill Lee, who said he has tested negative and is quarantining.

Read the full story:

11:43 p.m. ET, December 19, 2020

Approximately 272,000 people have gotten the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, CDC says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Tom Clark said that as of Saturday, at least 272,001 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have been administered in the United States 

During a meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Clark said that the number was a “minimal estimate,” since there is a lag in reporting.

Providers are requested to report how many people have been given a vaccine within 72 hours to their local public health office. The public health office then has an additional 24 hours to report that number to the CDC.