December 23 coronavirus news

By James Griffiths, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, Eoin McSweeney, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 24, 2020
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4:56 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Ohio says teachers and school staffers will be in the next round of vaccines

From CNN's Jennifer Henderson

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during a press conference in Cedarville, Ohio, on December 23.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during a press conference in Cedarville, Ohio, on December 23. The Ohio Channel

Ohio teachers and school staff — including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians and clerical workers, along with anyone else working at a school who comes in contact with the children at that school — will be in the next group of people to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced during his press conference today.

DeWine said the goal is to start those Covid-19 vaccinations mid-January and to offer them to all schools that want to continue in-person learning or want to begin in-person learning, he said in the press conference. 

DeWine hopes vaccinating teachers and staff will help get students back in school faster. Currently, 45% of all Ohio students are fully remote and 26% of students are in a hybrid model, or partially remote, DeWine said. 

Two other groups of people will be included in the next round of vaccinations: those "younger than 65 with severe inherited or developmental disorders" such as sickle-cell anemia or down syndrome and people over the age of 65 which accounts for 87% of all Covid-19 deaths in Ohio, DeWine added.

4:25 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

These Americans are frustrated over Covid-19 relief stimulus: "It’s a slap in the face"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

The US Capitol is seen on December 21 in Washington, DC. 
The US Capitol is seen on December 21 in Washington, DC.  Cheriss May/Getty Images

Congress passed a Covid-19 stimulus relief package on Monday after months of negotiations. CNN asked you, our viewers and readers, for your thoughts on the latest bill. Many expressed frustration over the direct payment of $600.

Emily, a single mother from Iowa, said she’s barely scraping by and that she’s nearly a month behind on rent.

“I get $1200 for myself and my daughter to catch up… It’s a slap in the face. Americans voted these people in charge to serve our best interests, and they can’t give families a check that covers even one month of rent for a [two bedroom] apartment in this country? I’m disgusted,” she wrote to CNN.

Emily added she thinks the system needs an overhaul. “My tax dollars pay your salary, Mr. and Ms. Congressperson and senators. Be humble,” she added.

Tony, from Baltimore, Maryland, shared similar sentiments.

Tony said that he was out of work for months during the original shutdowns. He said the stimulus check he received in the first round of Covid-19 relief went to rent and feels that this latest $600 is a “slap in the face,” especially since it took so long to pass.

“I've paid a lot of taxes in my life. I even have paid penalties and yet this is how the leaders of our country help in return,” he told CNN.

“This was just a power struggle between Republicans and Democrats. Meanwhile the people of America are suffering. I find it disheartening to see that they passed their spending bill which is larger than the stimulus bill,” Tony explained.

Simone from Brooklyn, New York, said the pandemic has impacted her ability to provide for herself and her daughter. “I can’t work because of the lack of childcare. I currently receive $190 a week from unemployment,” Simone told CNN.  

She said she’s currently behind on her rent and utility bills. “Thankfully, I don’t have to face my electricity going out, however, I have to choose between feeding us, and paying rent over my utility bill and it’s just going to pile up. $1200 is absolutely not enough for me and my daughter. Funding should target a larger stimulus check,” Simone said.

On Tuesday night, President Trump said that he wanted the direct payments to increase to $2,000, casting uncertainty on whether the President would sign the current bill into law or veto it.

Democrats have seized on President Trump's latest demand and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will move to pass legislation for $2,000 direct payments by unanimous consent.

How has the pandemic and the uncertainty behind a relief package impacted you? We want to hear your thoughts.

4:19 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

No evidence new Covid-19 variants have a different impact on people, says Operation Warp Speed official

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

There is no evidence to suggest that the new Covid-19 variants discovered in the UK and South Africa have a different impact on people, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed said Wednesday.

“While there is data suggesting but not demonstrating that these variants may be more infectious,” there is no evidence that their pathogenesis or impact on people is any different than the strains that have been circulating, Slaoui said during a media briefing.

4:07 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Where other vaccine candidates stand, according to the Operation Warp Speed chief

From CNN’s Andrea Kane

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser for the Defense Department's Project Warp Speed, speaks during an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit at the White House in Washington, D.C., on December 8.
Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser for the Defense Department's Project Warp Speed, speaks during an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit at the White House in Washington, D.C., on December 8. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the other vaccines in Operation Warp Speed’s portfolio are making progress. 

In a Wednesday’s press briefing, Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific advisor for OWS, provided an update on other vaccine candidate candidates currently in trials. 

“The J&J, Johnson vaccine program continues to progress very well. We told you on Monday that the trial... had closed,” he said, adding that OWS is working with the company diligently “with the hope that we will be able to file for the EUA late in January, or more likely early in February and have vaccine doses available and approved for use in the US population as of the month of February.” 

Slaoui said that the AstraZeneca Phase 3 program in the US is also progressing very well, almost reaching full enrollment. More than 27,000 subjects are already recruited in this trial of 30,00 adults, so recruitment is expected to close soon. Trials are also taking place in the UK and Brazil. 

Slaoui said that the Novovax vaccine is “gearing up to start the Phase 3 trial anytime,” and that OWS is in discussion with Sanofi on the design of its vaccine’s Phase 2b trial.

3:54 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

New Covid-19 variant reaches Northern Ireland

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

The newly identified Covid-19 variant, which has been spreading through London and parts of Southeast of England, has been detected in Northern Ireland.

“This is sadly the confirmation we had been expecting,” the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said in a statement on Wednesday. “We all have to redouble our efforts to stop the virus spreading. We know how to do this – cut down our contacts with others, ensure strict social distancing, wash our hands regularly and thoroughly, and wear a face covering.”

“I would urge everyone to review their plans for Christmas and to err on the side of caution,” Swann added. “Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you have to.”

Health authorities in the nation went on to say it is “increasingly likely” that the new variant has established itself across the UK and Ireland.

“While virus mutation is not uncommon, the potential of this new strain to spread rapidly is cause for serious concern,” the Northern Ireland Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said, according to the statement. “I would advise the public to act on the assumption that it is already well established in Northern Ireland and that the person they pass in the street or stand next to in a queue may have it.”

“We protect ourselves and others from this new strain through taking the same vital steps and using the same methods we have been using since the start of the pandemic.”

4:03 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Merck signs $356 million deal to supply US with investigational Covid-19 drug

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

A Merck sign stands in front of the company's building on October 2, 2013, in Summit, New Jersey.
A Merck sign stands in front of the company's building on October 2, 2013, in Summit, New Jersey. Kena Betancur/Getty Images

The Department of the Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) on Wednesday jointly announced an agreement with Merck & Co. to obtain an investigational Covid-19 drug known as MK-7110, which the pharmaceutical company is developing to treat severely or critically ill patients.

According to a press release from the HHS, the US government will provide about $356 million to Merck for the development of MK-7110.

This funding will go toward completing the requirements needed to request Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and for delivery of up to 100,000 doses by June 30, 2021. 

"With this approach, doses will be packaged and ready to ship in the first half of 2021, in the event FDA determines MK-7110 meets the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA," according to the press release. If approved for EUA, MK-7110 will be made available at no cost to patients.  

Additionally, the HHS says that even though the study is still ongoing, interim data suggests that patients who received a single dose were 60% more likely to recover than those receiving a placebo, and that the treatment could reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death by a 50%.

 

2:13 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Louisiana congressman-elect transferred to ICU for Covid-19

From CNN's Kay Jones

Congressman-elect Luke Letlow speaks on July 22.
Congressman-elect Luke Letlow speaks on July 22. Greg Hilburn/USA Today Network

A recently elected Louisiana congressman is now in the ICU for Covid-19, according to a statement from his office.

Congressman-elect Luke Letlow was transferred from a hospital in Monroe to the Intensive Care Unit at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport Academic Medical Center, a statement from his representative, Andrew Bautsch, said. 

The statement said the Letlow is in stable condition and is being treated with Remdesivir and steroids.

Letlow announced his diagnosis on Twitter last Friday and posted on Monday that he was undergoing treatment in Monroe at St. Francis Hospital. 

Letlow won a runoff election on Dec. 5 with 62% of the vote to represent Louisiana's 5th Congressional District. 

2:04 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

More than 3,800 people are hospitalized with Covid-19 in New Jersey, governor says

From CNN’s Lauren del Valle

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a press briefing in Trenton, New Jersey, on December 23.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a press briefing in Trenton, New Jersey, on December 23. Pool/News 12 NJ

New Jersey recorded the highest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations since May 13, Gov. Phil Murphy said at a news conference Wednesday.

At least 3,841 patients are currently in New Jersey hospitals with Covid-19-related complications, he said.

The state recorded 4,919 new Covid-19 cases and 103 deaths Wednesday. 

The statewide positivity rate is 12.97% as of Saturday, Murphy said. 

At least 27,730 healthcare workers have received the first dose of a Covid-10 vaccine so far, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced at the press conference.

Note: These numbers released by the state of New Jersey may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project

2:00 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Covid-19 vaccine should protect against the new variants, infectious disease scientist says

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared prior to a vaccine event at Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center on December 17 in Washington, DC.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared prior to a vaccine event at Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center on December 17 in Washington, DC. Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, says preliminary data shows the Covid-19 vaccine will offer protection against new variants of the virus.

"It's important to remember that a vaccine doesn't create one type of antibodies, it creates a whole host of antibodies and it's very hard for a virus to escape all of those, especially when it's happening so fast – meaning this mutation is rather new. It's not something that's been evolving for some time," Adalja told CNN on Wednesday.

Some background: Scientist say that a new variant of Covid-19 was first detected in the United Kingdom and can likely spread faster than others.

The variant has also been detected in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, according to the World Health Organization. In South Africa, a different coronavirus variant has been reported, the WHO's technical lead for Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said Monday.

Adalja said vaccines also stimulate other parts of your immune system that are important to fighting off viruses.

"I don't think there's any worry at this point," he said. "Moderna, Pfizer, they're doing tests to make sure, but everything that we're seeing so far is really reassuring that these vaccines will be able to take this strain out just like they take out... the prior, older strains."

Adalja added that the concept of virus mutations is not uncommon.

"Viruses like this, coronaviruses that have RNA genetic material, they mutate a lot," he said.