December 26 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Brett McKeehan, Zamira Rahim, Ed Upright and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 4:15 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020
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3:31 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

1 in 1,000 Americans have died from Covid-19

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

Medical staff members treat a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 22, in Houston.
Medical staff members treat a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 22, in Houston. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

A total of 331,116 Americans have died from Covid-19 as of 3 p.m. ET Saturday, according to the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 data tracker.

The US population is currently 330,753,142, according to

JHU recorded the first death from Covid-19 on Feb. 29 in Washington state. Two earlier deaths in California were posthumously confirmed to be from Covid-19 later in the Spring.

Here is a breakdown of how the death toll has progressed since then:

  • The US reported 1,000 total deaths on March 24
  • The US reported 10,000 total deaths on April 4
  • Later that month, the US reported 50,000 total deaths on April 23
  • 84 days after the first death, the US surpassed 100,000 deaths on May 23
  • 121 days later, the US surpassed 200,000 deaths on Sept. 21
  • 84 days later, the US surpassed 300,000 deaths on Dec. 14
  • 11 days later, the US surpassed 330,747 total deaths on Dec. 26 – marking 1 in 1,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19.

Meanwhile, a total of 9,547,925 vaccine doses have distributed and 1,944,585 first doses have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccine tracking website.

4:15 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

CDC publishes new Covid-19 vaccination guidance for people with certain underlying conditions

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday posted new guidance for people with certain underlying medical conditions who are at increased risk for more severe Covid-19.

Here are some key points from the guidance:

  • The guidance addresses people with weakened immune systems, people with autoimmune conditions and those who have previously had Guillain-Barre syndrome and Bell’s palsy.
  • All of these groups “may receive an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine” according to the recommendations, provided they have not had a severe allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine.
  • People with HIV and those with weakened immune systems due to other illnesses or medication should be aware of “limited safety data” on the use of Covid-19 vaccinations in those populations, and that they may experience a weakened immune response to a vaccine.
  • The guidance says there have been no reports of Guillain-Barre following Covid-19 vaccination. 
  • And while cases of Bell’s palsy have been reported after mRNA Covid-19 vaccination, “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider these to be above the rate expected in the general population,” the CDC said. “They have not concluded these cases were caused by vaccination.”

The CDC also says that people who get vaccinated should continue to practice Covid-19 prevention measures until it is known whether the vaccine prevents the spread of the virus.

4:00 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

NFL's Cleveland Browns player tests positive for Covid-19 and team's flight is delayed for contact tracing

From CNN's Jacob Lev

National Football League's Cleveland Browns announced on Saturday that a player has tested positive for Covid-19, and the team's flight to New Jersey has been delayed due to contact tracing being conducted.

The team's facility has been closed, and the team is holding meetings remotely. 

The Browns are scheduled to play the New York Jets on Sunday.

The team's full statement can be found here.

3:01 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

Southern California and San Joaquin Valley region have 0% ICU capacity

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

A clinician cares for a Covid-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Mary Medical Center on December 23,  in Apple Valley, California.
A clinician cares for a Covid-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Mary Medical Center on December 23, in Apple Valley, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions both have 0% intensive care unit capacity, a news release from the California Department of Public Health said Saturday. 

Both regions, along with the Greater Sacramento and Bay Area region, remain under the Regional Stay at Home Order, according to the release.

A total of 30,375 new cases were reported Friday for a total of 2,072,665 cases statewide since the pandemic began, the release said.

The state's seven-day positivity rate is 11.3% while the 14-day positivity rate is 12.1%, according to the release.

At least 379,681 new tests were reported Saturday for a total of 31,446,542 tests statewide, the release said. 

At least 23,983 people have died from Covid-19, according to the release.

2:53 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

What we know about the UK coronavirus variant

From CNN's Zamira Rahim and Kara Fox

Dozens of countries have banned travel from the UK in an effort to contain a new Covid-19 variant first reported in England.

In a statement on Saturday, the Japanese foreign ministry said the country will ban foreign nationals from entering the country starting Monday through the end of January after several cases of Covid-19 variant were recorded in the country.

The new mutation is being called VUI-202012/01 — the first "Variant Under Investigation" in the UK in December 2020. While scientists hunt for more information about the variant, its impact is already being felt, with dozens of countries imposing restrictions on travelers from the UK.

Here's what we know so far about the Covid-19 variant:

What is a variant and why are officials concerned about this one? A variant occurs when the genetic structure of a virus changes. All viruses mutate over time and new variants are common, including for the novel coronavirus.

Like other variants, this one carries a genetic fingerprint that makes it easy to track, and it happens to be one that is now widespread in southeast England. That alone does not necessarily mean a variant is more contagious or dangerous.

But scientists advising the UK government have estimated that this variant could be up to 70% more effective at spreading than others. Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said Monday that experts "now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage" over other variants.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the changes to the variant include 14 key mutations, and that some of them "may influence the transmissibility of the virus in humans," though it added that further laboratory investigations were needed.

Where did the variant originate and how has it taken hold? The new variant is believed to have originated in southeast England, according to the WHO. Public Health England (PHE) says backwards tracing, using genetic evidence, suggests the variant first emerged in England in September. It then circulated in very low levels until mid-November.

Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said Saturday the variant was responsible for 60% of new infections in London, which have nearly doubled in the last week alone.

Multiple experts have also suggested that this new variant could have been amplified because of a superspreader event, meaning the current spike in cases could also have been caused by human behavior.

Is the new variant more deadly? There is no evidence as of now to suggest that the new variant is more deadly, according to Whitty and the WHO, though it is too early to tell.

Several experts have noted that in some cases, virus mutations that increase transmissibility are accompanied by a drop in virulence and mortality rates.

"As viruses are transmitted, those that allow for increased virological 'success' can be selected for, which changes the properties of the virus over time. This typically leads to more transmission and less virulence," Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told the SMC.

Learn more about the UK coronavirus variant here.

2:05 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

The US has administered nearly 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses, according to CDC

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Nearly 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC Covid Data Tracker says that as of 9 a.m. Saturday, 9,547,925 vaccine doses have been distributed and 1,944,585 doses have been administered. 

Totals of distributed doses and administered doses now include both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines.

In an update on Wednesday, the CDC said at least 9,465,725 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 1,008,025 doses of the vaccine have been administered.

Federal officials have said the number of people who have received their first vaccine dose is likely higher, and there are a number of reasons why doses distributed appears to be outpacing doses administered.

There are lags in data reporting, and while doses are considered distributed as soon as they leave a facility, administration doesn’t happen all at once.

Many hospitals are just setting up their vaccine processes, and are staggering vaccinations among staff and the federal effort to vaccinate people in long-term care facilities is only just getting underway.

1:59 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

Here's why health officials are bracing for a Covid-19 surge in the US after the Christmas holiday

From CNN's Dakin Andone

With Christmas in the rear view mirror, public health experts are bracing for yet another surge in Covid-19 cases, similar to those seen after other US holidays in recent months.

"We've just seen these amplification events, and that's what's happened at the end of this year in the US," said Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

"We had Thanksgiving, we had Labor Day, we had Halloween, and each one of these events brought lots of people together and just gave the virus more fuel to move through the population," Bromage said. "Christmas is going to do a similar thing."

Despite warnings by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to postpone travel and stay home, more than 7.1 million people were screened at TSA checkpoints over the last week, according to the agency's numbers.

Nearly 1.2 million people were screened at airports on Wednesday alone, an air travel record for the pandemic. While the number of travelers screened on Christmas Day — 616,469 people — represents just 23% of the total screened on the same day a year ago, the figure remains worrying for officials because it doesn't signal the end of the holiday travel rush, but a lull before travelers begin to return home.

For weeks, health experts and officials have urged Americans to be safe this holiday season, and that guidance extends to New Year's Eve, with the CDC urging revelers to celebrate at home or virtually. If they host an in-person celebration, the agency suggests staying outside, limiting the numbers of guests, making extra masks available and keeping background music low to avoid shouting.

Read the full story here.

1:36 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

These are the CDC's recommendations for celebrating a safe New Year's Eve 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

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.

1:08 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

More than 330,300 people have died from coronavirus in the US

From CNN's Melissa Alonso 

There have been at least 18,771,885 cases of coronavirus in the US and at least 330,345 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally of cases.

So far today, Johns Hopkins has reported 15,525 new cases and 99 reported deaths. 

At least 9,465,725 vaccine doses have been distributed 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 the states with the highest number of cases: