December 21 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Steve George, Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020
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3:04 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Ecuador announces 30-day state of emergency and restrictions to control Covid-19 variant

From Stefano Pozzebon and Jaide Garcia

Ecuador's President Lenín Moreno attends a trade agreement signing on December 8 in Quito, Ecuador.
Ecuador's President Lenín Moreno attends a trade agreement signing on December 8 in Quito, Ecuador. Cristina Vega Rhor/AFP/Getty Images

Ecuador's President Lenín Moreno declared the start of a 30-day state of emergency and 15-day nationwide curfew during a video address to the nation on Monday. 

Bars and clubs will shut down in Ecuador during the holiday season, while hotels and restaurants will only be allowed to operate at 30% capacity, Moreno said. 

Following the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom, Moreno announced that visitors coming from the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and the European Union need to show negative PCR test results taken 10 days prior to arriving in the country, they must also take an antibody test that will be provided at international airports.

More details: Travelers who test negative for antibodies must quarantine in a hotel for five days, and travelers who test positive must quarantine for 10 days. 

1:43 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

The new coronavirus variant "doesn't change what we need to do," US surgeon general says 

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams speaks at George Washington University Hospital on December 14.
US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams speaks at George Washington University Hospital on December 14. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

During an interview with Fox News, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the new coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom "doesn't change what we need to do" in regards to staying protected. 

"It's important for your viewers to know viruses mutate, that's what they do. We've had dozens of mutations of this SARS-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19, this year alone," Adams said. "What's important for people to understand as this doesn't change what we need to do. We need to wear masks, wash hands, watch our distances and wait on gatherings, and we need to get vaccines, get vaccinated when those become available to us."

Additionally, Adams said that this new variant in the UK could be one "that was at a super spreader event" but they will have further discussion about this at a taskforce meeting later today. 

 

1:35 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

NYC to offer health screenings for all students in communities hit hardest by Covid-19

From CNN's Laura Ly

New York City will make social, emotional and academic behavior health screenings available for K-12 public school students in communities hit hardest by Covid-19, city officials announced Monday.

The initiative will begin in 27 communities that have been identified as suffering the highest case and death rates since the pandemic began. The city will also hire 150 additional social workers, and add a community school in each of the 27 neighborhoods. This first phase will serve approximately 380,000 students across approximately 830 schools, a press release from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office stated.

Chirlane McCray, de Blasio's wife, spearheaded the initiative, calling the additional screenings an “expanded health checkup for students.”

“Every New York city student will carry the experience of this past year in a different way,” McCray said, adding that no grades or labels will be used in the screenings. The aim will be to help adults offer the best mental health support to students who need it," McCray said.

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said that the initiative will allow officials to assess the general wellbeing of students and craft personalized care for them, with their guardians’ consent.

The effort will also involve expanding the school system’s partnership with the city’s healthcare providers to provide direct mental health resources to students, Carranza said.

1:26 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

More areas in England could go into stricter restrictions, official says

From CNN’s Sarah Dean

Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street on December 21 in London.
Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street on December 21 in London. Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images

More areas in England could be moved into the Tier 4 level of restrictions, akin to a lockdown, the UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has suggested.

When asked why the whole country is not in lockdown already, if the new variant is more transmissible, Vallance told a Downing Street press conference on Monday: “It is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country and I think it's likely, therefore, that measures will need to be increased in some places in due course, and not reduced.”

“I think it is the case that this will spread more,” Vallance added. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hopes children will still return to school in a “staggered way at the beginning of January” but the common sense thing to do is “follow the path of the epidemic keep things under constant review”.

Johnson said that with a vaccine now being administered, the UK can “look forward to a very different world from Easter onwards."

1:18 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Operation Warp Speed believes it will distribute 20 million vaccine doses this year, official says

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, speaks during a briefing on December 21.
Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, speaks during a briefing on December 21. HHS

Operation Warp Speed officials still feel “strongly” they will allocate 20 million vaccine doses to states by the end of the year, Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of OWS, said during a briefing on Monday, and they’ll be distributing “the end part of that vaccine no later than” the first week in January.

Perna said they’re aiming for a regular cadence: Allocations will go out every Tuesday and they’ll be “unlocked and releasable for ordering” on Thursday, allowing for “micro-planning” on the state level. Following the release, Perna said the doses will be delivered Monday through Friday of the next week. 

The plan “really allows the states and the governors to execute their plans in a good rhythmic, consistent basis to ensure that we get the right vaccine quantities to the right places, so that it is most effectively used inside of the governors’ strategies and plans,” Perna said.

1:01 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

European Commission authorizes Pfizer vaccine

From CNN’s James Frater

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement in Brussels on December 21.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement in Brussels on December 21. Johanna Geron/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The European Commission has granted a conditional marketing authorization (CMA) for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, making it the first Covid-19 vaccine authorized in the European Union.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called it “an important chapter” in the EU’s fight against Covid-19.

The authorization comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) granted the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine a conditional marketing authorization, greenlighting the drug for distribution, earlier on Monday.

Von der Leyen said at a press briefing on Monday: “The European medicines agency assessed this vaccine thoroughly, and it concluded that it is safe and effective against Covid-19.”

“As we have promised, this vaccine will be available for all EU countries, at the same time, on the same conditions,” she added. “The first batches of this vaccine will be shipped from Pfizer’s manufacturing site here in Belgium within the next days. I've always said during this pandemic that we are in this together. So vaccination can start at the same time, during the European Union vaccination days on December 27th 28th and 29th." 

“This is our first vaccine, more will be approved soon if they prove to be safe and effective. EMA will issue its opinion on the second vaccine, that of Moderna on the 6th of January," she said.

12:59 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Houston doctor as he opens up vaccine box: “It’s like having gold”

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, said that receiving a box of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine signaled a “light at the end of the tunnel.” 

“It is hopefully the beginning of: number one, making sure the people that work here don't get sick any more, and number two, the start of the end of the pandemic,” Varon told CNN’s Miguel Marquez before he opened the box.

“It’s like having gold … more than having any amount of money in your hands,” he said while holding the box. 

Varon, who has been working for 277 consecutive days, said the box contained 300 doses. They will likely all be used to vaccinate frontline health care workers today, he said. 

“I don't cry, but I am very close to,” Varon said. “…Do you know how many lives we can save with this? Not only the lives that you’re giving it to, but the prevention of the virus being spread to anyone else. I mean, it’s exponential.” 

Watch:

12:54 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Pennsylvania expecting to receive nearly 200k Moderna vaccine doses this week

From CNN’s Taylor Romine

Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20.
Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20. Paul Sancya/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Approximately 198,000 doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine have been allocated for state health care workers, and that distribution will begin sometime this week, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday.  

Additionally, 17,700 health care workers received the Pfizer vaccine last week, and the state anticipates that an additional 30,225 Pfizer vaccines will be distributed this week, Levine said.

What the numbers look like: While the news of vaccination is promising, the state reported 7,745 new cases and 57 additional deaths on Monday and 7,355 new cases and 99 deaths on Sunday, Levine said.

Hospitals continued to be strained with 6,074 patients currently hospitalized, 1,230 in intensive care and 720 people currently on ventilators, she continued. 

Vaccination rollout for nursing homes will start next Monday, Levine said, but said there are no new updates on specific strategies for this grouping. More information is likely to come throughout the week as the state has more conversations with Operation Warp Speed and the distributing pharmacies. Levine emphasized that it will be "some months" until the vaccine is available to the public.

12:50 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

NYC mayor wants a temporary ban on travelers from Europe

From CNN's Laura LY

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press briefing in New York on December 21.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press briefing in New York on December 21. NYC Media

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he believes that a temporary travel ban on travelers from Europe should be instituted in light of a new Covid-19 variant having been discovered in southeast England, echoing sentiments expressed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over the weekend. 

"Here you have a new strain, apparently even more infectious…I think the best solution is at least a temporary travel ban from all incoming flights from Europe and the UK to protect us against an exacerbation of a second wave," De Blasio said Monday, adding that at the very least, a requirement for a negative Covid-19 test before boarding a plane should be established.

De Blasio said the authority to institute travel restrictions lies with the federal government.

"I do not believe we have the independent ability, unfortunately, to turn people back or I would be doing it right this minute," de Blasio said.