The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, Adam Renton, Kara Fox and Harry Clarke-Ezzidio, CNN

Updated 8:51 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020
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1:12 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Shorter quarantines carry some risk for further Covid-19 spread, CDC says

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seen in Atlanta on December 10.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seen in Atlanta on December 10. Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

Earlier this month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance to shorten the 14-day Covid-19 quarantine to seven to 10 days. However, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC concludes that this move "carries a risk" to further spread the virus, particularly the risk posed by household contacts.

Interim data from a CDC-supported study of household transmission of Covid-19, showed that among 185 people who lived in households with someone who was sick with Covid-19, 109 of them ended up getting Covid-19 themselves.

Of those 109 people, 76% tested positive within seven days after the person they were living with first felt sick, and 86% tested positive within 10 days after the person they were living with first felt sick. This shows that there is a potential for transmission of the virus from household contacts released from quarantine before 14 days, according to the report.

Household contacts who tested negative for the virus and were without symptoms through day seven had an 81% chance of remaining symptom free and testing negative through day 14.

But that means one in five people still became symptomatic or received a positive Covid-19, suggesting that "reducing quarantine to less than 14 days might decrease but not eliminate the risk for spreading" the virus, the report said.

1:03 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

France confirms first case of new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa

From Benjamin Berteau in Paris

A case of the new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa in mid-December has been identified in France, the French health ministry confirmed Thursday. 

According to a statement, a man living in the area of Haut-Rhin, near the border with Switzerland, tested positive for the new variant of coronavirus “after a stay in South Africa, and following symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 that appeared a few days after his return.”

The health ministry has confirmed that the patient “immediately isolated himself at home” after experiencing symptoms and “has now recovered and is in good health.”

French health authorities proceeded to search for people who may have come into prolonged contact with the patient, but later confirmed that “none were identified,” the health ministry added. 

Following the identification of a new variant of coronavirus in South Africa, the French government announced that laboratories would be required to send all positive coronavirus test results from residents who have recently returned from South Africa to the French National Research Center. 

“A system for the detection and surveillance of possible cases of infection or carrier of the variant has been set up,” the French health ministry added.

 

12:43 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

China confirms first case of UK Covid-19 variant in country

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel

China has confirmed its first case of the new Covid-19 variant — first identified in England — in a returning student from the UK, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report published on Wednesday.

The patient — a 23-year-old female — returned to Shanghai from Britain on Dec. 14.

"Several control measures have been implemented in the response to this case. The patient has been transferred to the designated medical institution for isolation and treatment," the Chinese CDC said.

"Due to the closed-loop management upon passenger’s arrival at the airport, close contact investigation has been initiated," it added.

The discovery of the case "poses a great potential threat to the prevention and control of Covid-19 in China," the health authority said.

12:40 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

McConnell blasts House-passed $2,000 stimulus checks as "socialism for rich people"

From CNN’s Ali Zaslav and Lauren Fox

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on the Senate floor in Washington, DC, on December 31.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on the Senate floor in Washington, DC, on December 31. Senate TV

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday blasted the House bill increasing stimulus payments to $2,000, which President Trump has pushed alongside Democratic leaders, saying it’s not targeted enough.

McConnell argued giving $2,000 checks to high earning households who haven’t faced job loss is “socialism for rich people”… “a terrible way to help the American families that are actually struggling.”

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer asked for the Senate to take up the House-passed bill to increase stimulus checks to $2,000, but McConnell objected.

“I will once again ask consent that the Senate set a time for a vote on the House bill to provide $2,000 checks to the American people,” Schumer said.

Schumer argued that the Senate should pass the House bill to increase stimulus checks to $2,000, saying, “There is one way and only one way to pass $2,000 checks before the end of the year and that’s to pass the House bill … Either the Senate takes up and passes the House bill or struggling Americans will not get $2,000 checks during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

“The Republican leader has invented an excuse to prevent a clean, up or down, yes or no, vote on $2,000 checks coming to the floor,” he said, adding, that McConnell’s maneuver to combine the direct payments with other unrelated issues “is intended to kill the possibility of $2,000 checks ever becoming law.”

McConnell, on Tuesday, introduced legislation that combined three Trump priorities — expanded stimulus checks, a full repeal of online liability protections and an investigation into alleged voter fraud — each a prerequisite for Trump signing the Covid relief and spending package earlier this week. Trump himself has never specified that those three items should be tied together.

But on Wednesday, McConnell said the House bill had "no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate," and said the Democratic-led effort ran astray of what Trump actually requested.

Where things stand: There are no votes scheduled on McConnell's bill, or the House-passed legislation, and GOP aides say it's likely the 116th Congress comes to an end without any action on increasing direct payments.

12:18 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

UK records more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases

From CNN's Nada Bashir

The United Kingdom has reported a further 55,892 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases recorded across the country to 2,488,780, the latest government data shows. 

A further 964 coronavirus-related deaths were also registered on Thursday, bringing the total national death toll to 73,512. 

According to the government’s latest health care data — as reported on Monday — there are currently 23,813 coronavirus patients in hospitals across the country, of which 1,847 have required mechanical ventilation beds.  

As of Sunday, a total of 944,539 people have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, data provided by NHS England shows. 

A surge in cases has led the British government to extend Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions to other parts of England – as announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday – with some 78% of the population to be placed under the strictest level of regulations, according to Downing Street.

The decision comes as pressure mounts on the National Health Service (NHS), with the new variant of coronavirus spreading across much of England, Hancock said.

12:15 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

This health agency is tweeting every 10 minutes to mark each Covid-19 death in L.A.

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Since midnight, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health has been tweeting at regular intervals to drive home the message that someone dies of Covid-19 every 10 minutes in the county.

So far, the health department has sent 53 tweets, with a brief description of a life lost, followed by a plea to stay home tonight, wear a face covering outside, and slow the spread.

“A mother.”

“A grandpa who marinated the Carne Asada with a Corona.”

“The friend who always fixed your resume.”

“The barber who got the lines right.”

These were some of the descriptions that health officials tweeted to drive the message home, as L.A. County finds itself the worldwide epicenter of concentrated Covid-19 cases.

 

Coronavirus cases surge: The average daily case count today is 10 times higher than it was just two months ago. On Thursday, Los Angeles County surpassed the grim milestone of 10,000 Covid-related deaths. The county, which has 10 million residents, has seen more than three-quarters of a million Covid-19 cases so far.

12:17 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Ecuador will receive 4 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

From Marlon Sorto and Sharif Paget

A vial with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is seen at the Robert Bosch hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, on December 27.
A vial with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is seen at the Robert Bosch hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, on December 27. Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images

Ecuador will receive four million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, according to a statement from the office of President Lenín Moreno on Wednesday.

The first 50,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive to the South American country next month and will be prioritized for health workers and people over the age of 65 living in long-term care facilities, according to the statement.  

In the second phase of the vaccination program, Ecuador aims to administer the vaccine to police, military, firefighters and teachers.

The government will inoculate people over the age of 18 in the third phase of the plan. 

Ecuador is looking to acquire a total of 18 million doses to help contain the outbreak. 

To date, Ecuador has reported a total of 211,512 Covid-19 cases and 14,023 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to country's health ministry. 

10:58 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

This New Mexico nurse treated her own father until he died of Covid-19

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

A New Mexico nurse cared for her 68-year-old father while he was a patient battling coronavirus.

Carolina Garcia said she was “very lucky” to be able to be at her father’s bedside before he died. She had coronavirus herself, she told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. 

“I did have two occasions where he was intubated and I would talk to him, and I [could] see tears come down his eyes. So I know my dad knew that we were there and my dad was not alone. So I was very happy that I can be there, but at the same time, seeing my father lay there was very heartbreaking, but that is my dad and I was going to be there with him” she said.

Garcia is survived by his wife of 50 years, nine children and 28 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her family visited him every day, watching him outside of a window, she said. 

“His kids, his family was his number one priority, always,” Garcia said. “… My dad has left us great memories, and I'm just very proud that I can call him my father.”

Watch her story:

12:27 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Vaccine expert says US government should be holding mass vaccination events to ramp up response

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, speaks during an interview on December 30.
Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, speaks during an interview on December 30. CNN via Webex Cisco

Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, said that the United States needs to step up its vaccination response.

While it is “remarkable what we've done over the past year,” Offit told CNN of the vaccination rollout requires a “Manhattan Project-like response.” 

More than 2.7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a long way from the 20 million vaccinations that officials had promised by the end of the year.

There should be mass vaccination events in the US, Offit said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“Do we have it in us to do these kind of mass vaccination campaign events? Of course we do. We just need to get it together to do that. And we do need money to do that. I mean, the federal government does need to step up their response to vaccination in the same way that they stepped up the response to making the vaccine,” said Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

He also reminded Americans that the dominant variant of Covid-19 is still very contagious. 

“We sort of exist in this kind of cult of denialism, where we just kind of close our eyes tightly and hope this all goes away. We're not doing the things we need to do to prevent spread,” he said, referencing an NFL game with thousands of fans in attendance.  

Watch the interview: