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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11:13 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Dr. Fauci and US health secretary Azar receive Covid-19 vaccine

Dr. Anthony Fauci receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, December 22 in Bethesda, Maryland.
Dr. Anthony Fauci receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, December 22 in Bethesda, Maryland. Pool

Dr. Anthony Fauci is getting the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Bethesda, Maryland.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and six other NIH frontline workers are also receiving the vaccine this morning.

As he received the vaccine, Fauci explained why he believed it was important for him to get it.

"As a symbol to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine, and I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so we can have a veil of protection over this country that would end this pandemic," Fauci said.

Speaking at the beginning of the event Tuesday, Fauci said he considered it "an honor to be part of this process."

"What we're seeing now is the culmination of years of research which have led to a phenomenon that has truly been unprecedented," Fauci added, saying that he is also honored to be a member of the NIH, a place where these developments got started.

Azar called this vaccine an "extraordinary" scientific achievement. As he sat to receive the vaccine, he said he had "complete confidence" in the safety of the vaccine. Azar also thanked NIH for their efforts.

"We've all said it is nothing short of miraculous to have a safe and effective vaccine within one year of a novel virus becoming known to the world," he said.

Watch the moment Dr. Fauci received the Covid-19 vaccine:

11:14 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

SOON: Fauci will receive the Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe, Holly Yan and Steve Almasy

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks before receiving a Covid-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 22.
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks before receiving a Covid-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 22. Pool

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine this morning.

In short remarks at the beginning of the event, Fauci said it was "an honor" to be a part of this process.

Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said on Twitter yesterday hat he will receive Moderna's vaccine, alongside Azar, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other NIH frontline workers.

As of this morning, here have been at least 4,624,325 vaccine doses delivered across the US and 614,117 vaccine doses administered according to the CDC

Most Americans will have to wait months before getting their inoculations.

On Monday, the country reported about 191,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths, as more than 115,000 people were hospitalized — a new record.

The US has had more than 18 million cases and more than 319,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

9:54 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Covid-19 cases surge in the US as the vaccine roll out continues. Here's a look at the latest figures.

From CNN's Haley Brink 

As more people in the United States receive a Covid-19 vaccine, the US is still seeing a surge of new Covid-19 cases, causing a strain on hospital systems.

Pfizer and Moderna meanwhile are testing their coronavirus vaccines to see if they work against the mutated version of the virus found in the United Kingdom and other countries, the companies said.

Here's a look at where things stand in the US:

Vaccinations

  • So far this morning, there have been at least 4,624,325 vaccine doses delivered across the US.
  • Of those, 614,117 doses have been administered according to the CDC

New cases

  • The US surpassed 18 million total Covid-19 cases yesterday. It took just 4 days for the country to hit this million marker. So far, the US has reached the last 4 "million milestones" every 4 to 5 days – meaning if this growth continues, there could be 20 million cases by the new year.
  • The US is averaging about 215,429 Covid-19 cases per day.
  • California reported nearly 40,000 daily new cases yesterday and both Texas and Florida reported over 10,000 daily new case yesterday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Deaths

  • The nation is averaging at least 2,655 reported deaths a day, according to JHU. This is the highest that this metric has ever been. 
  • Deaths are rising in 21 states compared to this time last week, according to JHU.

Hospitalizations

  • The US reported at least 115,351 hospitalizations on Monday – that is a record high, according to CTP data.
  • The US is now averaging about 113,912 hospitalizations over the last 7 days, this is up 4.48% from last week.  
10:13 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

"It’s a disaster right now," California nursing officer says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Nancy Blake, chief nursing officer at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, speaks with CNN's Sara Sidner. 
Nancy Blake, chief nursing officer at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, speaks with CNN's Sara Sidner.  CNN

California hospital workers are sounding the alarm as a coronavirus surge in the state is pushing hospitals to breaking point.

"It's a disaster right now for our staff. The patients are extremely sick; this is a horrible disease. … It's been 10 months of this, and we are inundated," said Nancy Blake, chief nursing officer at Harbor UCLA Medical Center.

Blake said her staff is mentally and physically exhausted. 

"At the very beginning…people were, you know, saying ‘nurses are heroes’ and ‘great job,’ and now they're not listening to us," she told CNN’s Sara Sidner. 

"I’ve been a nurse for 40 years, and it's the worst I’ve ever seen," she added. 

There are no more intensive care unit beds in the hospital, and vast portions of the state are seeing zero ICU bed capacity.

"It really is like a never-ending struggle," nurse Cliff Resurreccion said.

CNN goes inside a California hospital running out of beds:

9:47 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

US stocks open mixed after Congress passes stimulus bill

From CNN's Anneken Tappe 

Noam Galai/Getty Images
Noam Galai/Getty Images

It was a mixed bag for Wall Street Tuesday after Congress passed a long-awaited second pandemic stimulus bill.

However, economists worry that the effort has come too late. Meanwhile, investors are also worried about the new coronavirus variant that shut down UK travel over the past days.

Here's where things stood at opening:

  • The Dow opened down 0.1%, or 40 points.
  • The S&P 500 opened flat.
  • The Nasdaq Composite rose 0.3%.

It is a shortened trading week ahead of Christmas, ending at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday.

9:02 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Nepal bans passengers flying from UK 

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel

Nepal has become the latest country to ban airline passengers originating from or transiting through the UK from entering into the country, its aviation authority announced Tuesday. 

The restriction will go into effect from midnight Wednesday local time and will stay until further notice, according to a statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN).

CAAN said that it has issued a circular to all international airlines to ensure that aircraft inbound to Nepal "shall not board the passengers originating from or transit through" the UK "due to the severe contagion of new strain of Covid-19" in the country. 

#UK Variant##

9:20 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

BioNTech CEO tells CNN the vaccine could be adjusted to better combat new Covid-19 variant

From CNN’s Fred Pleitgen

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for front-line health care workers on December 19 in Torrance, California.
A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for front-line health care workers on December 19 in Torrance, California. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could be adjusted to better combat the new variant of the Coronavirus, BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in an interview on Tuesday.  

"We should not forget that we have still the opportunity, if required, to adjust the vaccine exactly to this new virus variant, if this is needed," Sahin said.

"I don't think that this is needed. But if it would be needed, there's a technical possibility to do that." 

Sahin told CNN that BioNTech is currently evaluating how effective the vaccine is against the recently discovered variant of the virus, which has caused dozens of countries to shut down travel to the United Kingdom. Sahin said he has "scientific confidence" that the vaccine will still work.  

"There's a high likelihood that the vaccine response will be able also to inactivate this virus, because you have to consider that even though nine amino acids are changed in this protein, 99 percent of the protein is not changed," Sahin said, adding that BioNTech has already detected part of the immune response was not affected by the mutation.  

"What we already did is we evaluated the sites where we have observed T cell responses against spike protein, and we see that almost all sites that we have seen T cell responses are still conserved. And so that is a good message. That means at least one component of the immune system will not be affected by this mutation," Sahin added. 

On Monday Pfizer/BioNTech received approval for their vaccine from the EU’s regulatory body, the European Medicines Agency. Sahin told CNN the vaccine would be rolled out ASAP and that the companies are already working on ways to speed up production.  

"We are evaluating if we could intensify the production at the Pfizer sites and intensify the production at the Mainz sites. So there are multiple things, which are ongoing."

Watch CNN's interview with BioNTech CEO:

9:03 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Fauci on new Covid-19 variant: "Assume that it's here already"

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

It's "certainly possible" that the new variant of coronavirus in the UK is already in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an interview on ABC's Good Morning America on Tuesday.

"That's certainly possible I mean, when you have this amount of spread within a place like the UK, that you really need to assume that it's here already, and certainly is not the dominant strain, but I would not be surprised at all if it is already here," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Furthermore, Fauci said that he doesn't think a travel ban is something that we could see happening. 

A travel ban "is really a rather dramatic step so, that's not that's not really in the cards right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the requirement of testing is something that is being actively considered right now," Fauci said, referring to testing travelers before they arrive in the United States.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a scientific brief posted on its website Tuesday the UK coronavirus variant has not been identified through sequencing efforts in the United States, but only about 51,000 of 17 million US cases it has tallied have been sequenced — less than half a percent.

Here's what we know about the UK coronavirus variant.

Watch Dr. Fauci discuss new variant:

8:47 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Congress approved a long-awaited Covid-19 rescue package last night. Here's what is in the relief bill.  

From CNN's Clare Foran and Manu Raju

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Congress voted Monday evening to approve a far-reaching $900 billion Covid relief package that promises to accelerate vaccine distribution and deliver much-needed aid to small businesses hit hard by the pandemic, Americans who have lost their jobs during the economic upheaval and health care workers on the front lines of the crisis.

The White House has said that President Donald Trump will sign the legislation once it reaches his desk.

Here are key provisions that will be included as part of the agreement, according to summaries of the legislation released by Democratic and GOP leadership:

  • Direct payment checks of up to $600 per adult and child
  • Aid for struggling small businesses, including more than $284 billion for forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans and $15 billion "in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions"
  • $300 per week for enhanced unemployment insurance benefits
  • $20 billion to buy vaccines and make "the vaccine available at no charge for anyone who needs it" and $8 billion for vaccine distribution
  • $20 billion for coronavirus testing efforts
  • $25 billion for rental assistance and an eviction moratorium extension
  • $82 billion for education providers like schools and colleges, including aid to help reopen classrooms safely and $10 billion for child care assistance
  • The deal will rescind "$429 billion in unused funds provided by the CARES Act for the Federal Reserve's emergency lending facilities"
  • $13 billion in increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and child nutrition benefits
  • $7 billion to bolster broadband access to help Americans connect remotely during the pandemic
  • $45 billion to support transportation services, including $2 billion for airports, $1 billion for Amtrak and $16 billion for "another round of airline employee and contractor payroll support"
  • A tax credit "to support employers offering paid sick leave"