The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, Adam Renton, Tamara Qiblawi and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT) December 24, 2020
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12:26 p.m. ET, December 24, 2020

Arizona's Covid-19 hospitalizations set record for the second day in a row

from CNN's Hollie Silverman

Arizona reported the highest day of hospitalizations for the second day in a row, a graph tweeted by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey shows.

The number of inpatient Covid-19 patients hospitalized in Arizona increased to at least 4,221 from 4,163 yesterday, the governor said in a tweet Thursday.

Intensive care unit beds in use by Covid-19 patients decreased Thursday from 972 to 965 and the number of ventilators in use decreased to 620 from 673, Ducey said in a tweet.

The percentage of patients with Covid-like illness seen in Arizona hospitals is now at 16.6%, the governor tweeted.

There were at least 7,046 new Covid-19 cases and 115 new deaths reported Thursday for a total of 480,319 cases and 8,294 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Arizona Department of Health Service dashboard.

A total of 3,107,007 Covid-19 tests have been reported in the state of Arizona, with 23,378 of those test results being reported Thursday, the ADHS website shows.

12:28 p.m. ET, December 24, 2020

The safest way to celebrate New Year’s Eve is with your household or virtually, CDC says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A 2021 sign is seen in Times Square on December 23 in New York City.
A 2021 sign is seen in Times Square on December 23 in New York City. Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

The safest way to celebrate the new year during the pandemic is at home with the people you live with, or online with friends and family, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance posted to its website on Wednesday.

“Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” it says, echoing guidance for other winter holidays.

For those that host a celebration, CDC suggests staying outside, limiting the number of guests, making extra masks available and keeping background music low to avoid shouting. 

When attending a celebration, the agency says masks should be worn indoors and outdoors and alcohol and drugs that can alter judgement should be avoided. 

“While it is possible that some people may receive COVID-19 vaccines before New Year’s Eve, continue taking steps to protect yourself and others for some time to come,” the CDC says.

CDC also suggests other activities, such as having a virtual celebration with loved ones, planning a New Year’s party for the people who live in a household, reaching out to friends, family and neighbors, watching live streamed fireworks or planning an outdoor activity. 

“It’s okay if you decide to postpone or cancel your gathering. Do what’s best for you,” the guidance says.

If celebrating with people outside of your household, CDC suggests wearing a mask – even under a scarf when outside – and staying at least 6 feet apart, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, washing hands, staying home if sick and getting a flu shot as soon as possible. 

Holiday travel may also increase a person’s chance of getting and spreading Covid-19, and CDC continues to recommend postponing travel.

12:09 p.m. ET, December 24, 2020

Lebanon reports highest Covid-19 daily increase for two consecutive days

From CNN's Ghazi Balkiz

Lebanon reported at least 2,708 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, which is the highest number of daily infections recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, the country's Ministry of Public Health said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Lebanon set a previous record of 2,246 new cases.

The country now has a total of 165,934 cases. There were also 20 new deaths recorded in the past 24 hours, raising the national death toll to 1,353, the ministry added.

12:00 p.m. ET, December 24, 2020

Italy surpasses 2 million Covid-19 cases

From Livia Borghese

A medical worker in Rome administers a Covid-19 swab test on December 19.
A medical worker in Rome administers a Covid-19 swab test on December 19. Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

On Christmas Eve, Italy surpassed 2 million coronavirus cases.

The country reported at least 18,040 new cases bringing the total to 2,009,317, according to the health ministry.

There were an additional 505 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 70,900 deaths.

There are at least 2,589 people in intensive care — that's down from 35 patients the previous day.

12:08 p.m. ET, December 24, 2020

For the first time all season, an NFL coach will miss a game due to Covid-19 protocols

From CNN’s Dan Kamal

Darrell Bevell, interim head coach of the Detroit Lions, looks on before a game on December 13 in Detroit.
Darrell Bevell, interim head coach of the Detroit Lions, looks on before a game on December 13 in Detroit. Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Players, assistant coaches and coordinators have all missed National Football League games this season under league Covid-19 protocols, but never has a head coach been absent from the sidelines.

But – according to a statement from the Detroit Lions Thursday – that will change this weekend when the team’s interim head coach Darrell Bevell will be forced to sit out Detroit’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because he is a close contact of someone who tested positive for Covid-19.

In addition to the team’s head coach, the Lions also announced four other coaches – defensive coordinator Cory Undlin, defensive line coach Bo Davis, defensive backs coach Steve Gregory and linebackers coach Ty McKenzie – will also miss the game due to NFL Covid-19 protocols.

The 5-9 Lions host the 9-5 Buccaneers Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

10:54 a.m. ET, December 24, 2020

More than 326,400 people have died from coronavirus in the US

From CNN's Brink Haley

There have been at least 18,479,054 cases of coronavirus in the US and least 326,495 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally.

So far today, Johns Hopkins has reported 20,681 new cases and 371 reported deaths.

With regards to vaccines, at least 9,465,725 doses have been distributed across the country and at least 1,008,025 doses of the vaccine have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases. 

Here's a look at how the US' figures compare to other countries:

11:25 a.m. ET, December 24, 2020

Why some communities in the US may have trouble receiving the Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Nicquel Terry Ellis, Nathaniel Meyersohn and Omar Jimenez

Workers talk residents through a Covid-19 self-administered test on June 23 at a mobile testing site set up on a vacant lot in Chicago's Austin neighborhood.
Workers talk residents through a Covid-19 self-administered test on June 23 at a mobile testing site set up on a vacant lot in Chicago's Austin neighborhood. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicago is among the cities across the country that could face roadblocks to vaccine access due to a lack of major pharmacy and grocery chains in their poorest Black and brown neighborhoods.

Public health experts identify these communities as "pharmacy deserts" — areas where a substantial number of residents have limited access to retail or independent pharmacies. The problem is largely found in areas with low income residents who have barriers to transportation.

Civil rights leaders and health advocates fear the disparity could leave underserved communities scrambling to figure out how to vaccinate everyone as the federal government says pharmacies will play a key role in vaccine distribution.

"It's going to be a mad scramble particularly if this vaccine is seen as safe and effective," said Rev. Marshall Elijah Hatch Sr., of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's west side. "It's very difficult to imagine that there's going to be some kind of egalitarian distribution. We are going to have to fight."

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Nov. 12 that the US government was partnering with large chain pharmacies and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains to expand access to future Covid-19 vaccines.

The list of pharmacies included CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and large grocery chains with pharmacies such as Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Publix.

"Pharmacy vaccinators are crucial public health partners for increasing access and convenience of Covid-19 vaccines," HHS said in a news release. "By working with these partners, the federal government will rapidly expand access to Covid-19 vaccines."

But relying on pharmacies to expand vaccine access could be challenging.

A study from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014 showed that pharmacy deserts — which were defined as a low-income community that either has low-vehicle access and is more than half a mile from a pharmacy or is more than a mile from a pharmacy regardless of vehicle access — were more prevalent in predominately Black neighborhoods in Chicago than in White ones.

Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 20% increase in the number of pharmacies in White communities, with no expansion in minority communities, the study found.

Read the full story here.


10:49 a.m. ET, December 24, 2020

House Majority Leader says talks continue between Pelosi and Mnuchin over Covid-19 relief bill

From CNN's Suzanne Malveaux

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attends a news conference in Washington, DC, on November 18.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attends a news conference in Washington, DC, on November 18. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

At a news conference following the House’s adjournment until Dec. 28th, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are still engaged in ongoing discussions over the Covid-19 relief package — despite the fact that Mnuchin helped negotiate the very deal that President Trump surprisingly, and publicly, threw into doubt earlier this week.

Hoyer said he did not think it was a mistake to tie the Covid-19 relief package to the $1.4 trillion spending bill. Hoyer added that the only “mistake” they made was believing Trump would sign the bipartisan passed legislation.

Hoyer also called it “an anomaly," citing previous examples of Pelosi/Mnuchin brokered budget deals that were signed by the President.

Hoyer also noted that Trump “did not say I’m going to veto the bill.”

In response to CNN’s Kristin Wilson’s question regarding what could be accomplished, Hoyer punted to Monday, when the full House returns, as an opportunity to get all members on the record on Covid-19 stimulus direct checks.

Hoyer noted that because today was a “pro forma” session, not a legislative session, all he could do was ask for unanimous consent to get something done, which was quickly shot down by his Republican colleague.

“We can only do what we can do,” Hoyer said.

11:13 a.m. ET, December 24, 2020

House fails to pass measure to increase Covid-19 stimulus checks to $2,000

From CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, Phil Mattingly and Clare Foran

Dusk falls over the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 21.
Dusk falls over the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 21. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The House of Representatives on Thursday failed to advance a measure that would increase direct payments to Americans under a certain income level to $2,000 — up from the $600 level passed earlier this week — bringing lawmakers back to square one as they search for a way to appease President Trump's demands.

House Democrats tried to quickly pass the bill by a unanimous consent request Thursday morning, but Republicans rejected the move, leaving the future of the $900 billion stimulus package — and whether any changes will be added to it — in doubt.

That stimulus package was attached to a spending bill for the entire federal government, and a deadline for government funding expires Monday at midnight.

What comes next: Democrats will now move to pass the bill on the floor with a full up-or-down vote on Dec. 28, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced.

"Hopefully by then the President will have already signed the bipartisan and bicameral legislation to keep government open and to deliver coronavirus relief," Pelosi said in a statement.

Some context: Earlier this week, Congress passed the massive Covid-19 relief bill, which included up to $600 payments to all Americans making under certain income levels.

Single people who earn up to $75,000 would receive the full $600 direct payment, and couples earning up to $150,000 would receive $1,200.

But on Tuesday, Trump signaled he wouldn't sign the bill if Congress doesn't amend the legislation and raise the "ridiculously low" $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 or $4,000 per couple.

"If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction," Pelosi said.

Republicans countered the Democratic effort Thursday with a proposal to strip out a piece of the spending package that included foreign aid — an area Trump attacked after Congress cleared the bill. Those provisions, however, were largely in line with Trump's own budget request and were supported by the vast majority of Republicans. That effort was rejected by Democrats.