December 22 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020
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8:55 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

Medical staff members work to extract muscle sample from a patient for muscle biopsy examination in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 22, in Houston, Texas.
Medical staff members work to extract muscle sample from a patient for muscle biopsy examination in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 22, in Houston, Texas. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

The United States reported 117,777 current Covid-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the 21st consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations.

The highest hospitalization numbers according to CTP data are:

  1. Dec. 22: 117,777
  2. Dec. 21: 115,351
  3. Dec. 17: 114,459
  4. Dec. 18: 113,955
  5. Dec. 19: 113,929

At least 18,202,019 cases of coronavirus and 322,345 deaths have been reported in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

8:34 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Cayman Islands reduces prison sentence for US teen who broke quarantine rules

From CNN’s Jonny Hallam in Atlanta

Skylar Mack, an 18-year-old college student from Georgia, has been sentenced to two months in prison after breaking Covid-19 protocol in the Cayman Islands.
Skylar Mack, an 18-year-old college student from Georgia, has been sentenced to two months in prison after breaking Covid-19 protocol in the Cayman Islands. Jeanne Mack

The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal has reduced the prison sentences of a US teen and her boyfriend after she broke the British Caribbean territory’s quarantine rules by going to watch him take part in a jet ski competition, her attorney said.

Skylar Mack, 18, from Georgia and her boyfriend Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, had their prison terms reduced to two months after the court agreed the original term of four months was not appropriate in the circumstances of this case.

Mack left for the Islands on November 27 after testing negative for Covid-19 at home. When Mack landed, she was given another Covid-19 test, which came back negative and she was told to remain in isolation for two weeks. Instead, she decided to attend Ramgeet's jet ski competition two days later.

"In her mind, as long as she stayed away from everybody, she would be OK to go watch her friend's race, it was their big national finals race, the last race of the year, big deal," her grandmother told CNN last week.

Race attendees, who knew Mack, reported her breach of isolation and officials arrested her. She was initially sentenced to four months in prison, as was Ramgeet for "abetting" her offence.

In a statement to CNN, attorney Jonathon Hughes said "whilst it was our hope that Skylar would be able to return home to resume her studies in January, we accept the decision of the court."

"Ms. Mack and Mr. Ramgeet continue to express remorse for their actions and ask for the forgiveness of the people of the Cayman Islands," he said.

8:16 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Trump calls on Congress to "amend" Covid relief bill

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal, Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond

President Donald Trump speaks at an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit at the White House on December 8.
President Donald Trump speaks at an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit at the White House on December 8. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

US President Donald Trump signaled he will not sign the coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress unless it amends the massive spending legislation.

“Send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package and maybe that administration will be me and we will get it done,” he said in a video released on Twitter.

The extraordinary message came after Trump largely left negotiations over the measure to lawmakers and his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. It leaves the future of the $900 billion stimulus package and its accompanying government funding measure in question.

Trump did not explicitly threaten to veto the bill, but said he was dissatisfied with its final state.

The statement was filmed by the White House and was not open to the media. Reporters did not have a chance to ask the President questions. It’s unclear when the message was recorded.

“I’m asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 per couple,” Trump said. “I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items in this legislation or to send me a suitable bill.”

The President has in the past said he would sign the bill, and earlier Tuesday the White House publicly defended the proposal. But many of his allies have spoken out against the agreement passed by Congress.

7:01 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Arkansas sees record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN's Gisela Crespo

Arkansas reported on Tuesday 1,103 people are currently hospitalized for Covid-19, the highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a news briefing.

Hutchinson announced the state is partnering with Baptist Health Systems to add 124 additional hospital beds in Little Rock and Van Buren to accommodate Covid-19 patients.

The governor explained that while the state's health care system has been able to manage the current caseload, "we don't know what the rest of December is going to be like."

"We don't know what January is going to be like because we don't know what Christmas is going to be like... If we're not successful, then we're going to see another spike after Christmas and we have to be prepared for it," Hutchinson said. 

Note: These numbers were released by the Arkansas Department of Health and may not line up exactly in real-time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project. 

7:01 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Fauci warns of a "superimposed" surge on top of the current surge if people travel for the holidays

From CNN’s Shelby Lin Erdman

CNN
CNN

If Americans disregard the dire situation already underway as the coronavirus rages across many regions of the country and travel for the holidays anyway, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is warning of a “difficult” time next month. 

“As you might imagine, it's quite concerning to me,” Fauci told CNN on Tuesday.

The Transportation Security Administration is reporting record-high pandemic travel and said that it screened more than 4 million air travelers between Friday and Monday.

“This type of travel is risky,” he said, “particularly if people start congregating when they get to their destination in large crowds, in indoor settings.”

“I'm afraid that if, in fact, we see this happen, we will have a surge that’s superimposed upon the difficult situation we are already in,” Fauci warned. “So, it could be a very difficult January coming up if these things happen.”

The United States is still handling the increased surge that occurred after Americans ignored public health officials’ advice on Thanksgiving travel and gatherings.

Watch here:

6:54 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Fauci says he feels fine after receiving Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman

CNN
CNN

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he feels fine after getting a Covid-19 vaccine Tuesday morning.

“Actually, I feel really fine. I feel very good. I feel perfectly normal,” Fauci told CNN this afternoon.

Fauci said he expects to develop some soreness in his arm.

“That's very common in any kind of vaccination so I'm anticipating that, but in general I feel fine,” he said.

Fauci, along with National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, all received the Moderna vaccine Tuesday.

Fauci said they didn’t choose the Moderna shot, but that it was simply the vaccine that was made available to them. 

Fauci, who will serve as chief medical adviser for the incoming Biden administration, said he has every confidence in the two vaccines now being administered across the country. 

Fauci said, even though the authorization process has been done quickly, “the speed will not sacrifice the integrity of the science nor did it sacrifice safety.”

“The speed was a reflection of the extraordinary advances that were made in the science of the vaccine platform technology,” he said. “On the basis of all of that, I feel very confident about what we're doing and that's the reason why I strongly recommend to everybody and everyone that when the vaccine becomes available to them to get vaccinated.”

“That is how we're going to put this pandemic behind us,” he added.

Watch the moment:

5:07 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Lousiana governor extends Covid-19 restrictions

From CNN's Gisela Crespo

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday announced he signed a proclamation extending the state's modified phase 2 restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking during a news briefing, Edwards said the restrictions, which include limits on gatherings and a mask mandate, will remain in place for another 21 days starting tomorrow. 

Edwards explained that while new data suggests the state is starting to plateau when it comes to new coronavirus cases, "we're plateauing at a very high level. That is concerning."

"It remains a very perilous situation for the state with respect to Covid," Edwards added. "Even if we're doing better, the caseload, the hospitalizations, the deaths are at a very high level." 

The restrictions were originally set to expire on Dec. 23.

4:35 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Pennsylvania reports nearly 8,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Sahar Akbarzai

A sign for free coronavirus testing is propped in the snow at the Montour-Delong Community Fairgrounds near Danville, Pennsylvania, on December 21.
A sign for free coronavirus testing is propped in the snow at the Montour-Delong Community Fairgrounds near Danville, Pennsylvania, on December 21. Paul Weaver/Sipa USA/AP

Pennsylvania reported 7,962 new positive Covid-19 cases and 231 additional deaths, according to a release by the Department of health.  

There are currently 6,090 hospitalizations in the state with 1,217 of those patients are in the intensive care unit.  

The hospitalizations are double the amount as the Covid-19 peak in the spring, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  

The positivity rate for the week of Dec. 11 -17 stood at 15.8% statewide, according to the department of health.  

There have now been 571,551 total cases of Covid-19 and 14,212 deaths related to coronavirus in the commonwealth since the pandemic began.  

From Dec.14- 21, Pennsylvania has received 127,755 doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, and 26,563 doses of those vaccine shipments have been administered, according to the department of health.  

NOTE: These numbers were released by the Pennsylvania dept of health and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.

3:48 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

UK scientists say new Covid-19 strain likely more transmissible and may impact children more than other variants

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in Glasgow, Zamira Rahim and Naomi Thomas

Scientists from the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) say they are now “highly confident” the new variant of coronavirus is more infectious than others, with a “hint” that it could be more transmissible in children. 

According to NERVTAG, the new variant — which is believed to have originated in southeast England — could be around 71% more transmissible than other variants. 

“As of last Friday, we felt we had moderate confidence because the data was coming in, but some of the analysis had been done very quickly,” Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University Oxford and chair of NERVTAG, said during a virtual press briefing on Monday.

“We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK,” he added. 

Speaking alongside Horby, Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London noted that there is a “hint” that this variant “has a higher propensity to infect children,” compared with earlier strains. But he cautioned that “we haven’t established any sort of causality on that, but we can see that in the data,” he added.  

Another NERVTAG member, Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said earlier strains of the virus may have had a “harder time” getting into human cells using a receptor called ACE2. Adults, who have a lot of this receptor in their noses and throats, are “easy targets” compared to children. But under this hypothesis, a virus that can more readily use this receptor to enter cells may make children just as susceptible to the virus as adults, she said. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some research suggests the UK strain may "bind more tightly” to the ACE2 receptor, but "it is unknown whether that tighter binding, if true, translates into any significant epidemiological or clinical differences.”