WASHINGTON — The U.S. has given the final go-ahead to the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine, marking what could be the beginning of the end of an outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.
Shots for health workers and nursing home residents are expected to begin in the coming days after the Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized an emergency rollout of what promises to be a strongly protective vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Initial doses are scarce and rationed as the U.S. joins Britain and several other countries in scrambling to vaccinate as many people as possible ahead of winter. It will take months of work to tamp down the coronavirus that has surged to catastrophic levels in recent weeks and claimed 1.5 million lives globally.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
The White House is pressuring the FDA chief Stephen Hahn to grant an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by the end of the day. The vaccine won approval Thursday from an FDA panel of outside advisers, and FDA signoff is the next step to get the shots to the public.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has reinstated indoor dining restrictions indefinitely in New York City in an effort to limit the increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Starting Monday, only takeout orders and outdoor dining will be allowed in the city.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is proposing what he calls an extraordinary response to revive Alaska’s pandemic-stunted economy.
His proposal outlined Friday includes about $5,000 in direct payments to residents from the state’s oil-wealth fund and an infrastructure plan he said is intended to create jobs. He says Alaskans and businesses are suffering, and now is the time to act.
The state’s economy has been battered by the coronavirusndemic, with tourism and hospitality industries hit hard. North Slope oil prices have been below $50 a barrel for much of the year.
SANTA ANA, Calif. — A California judge has ordered a 50% reduction in the populations at Orange County jails to protect incarcerated people from a major coronavirus outbreak.
Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson’s decision comes in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that said conditions at the jails violate the state’s constitution and disability discrimination law.
The county has been ordered to file a plan with the court no later than Dec. 31.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes says his department is “evaluating the order, its impacts and our options for appeal.”
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s medical safety commission has approved the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said Friday that Mexico is the fourth country to do so, behind Britain, Canada and Bahrain.
Mexico is set to receive 250,000 doses of the vaccine, enough for 125,000 people.
López-Gatel has said that front-line health workers will get the shots first. Vaccinations are expected to begin as soon as next week.
López-Gatel says the approval “is of course a reason for hope,” though the initial rounds of shots are not nearly enough for Mexico’s health-care workforce.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The U.S. Justice Department is supporting Michigan faith-based schools in their court challenge to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ban on in-person classes in high schools.
The department’s Civil Rights Division filed an argument in favor of three Roman Catholic high schools and the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools. A federal judge in Kalamazoo will hear arguments Monday.
The filing says schools and families have a constitutional right to practice their religion through in-person instruction. It cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court order that barred New York from enforcing certain restrictions on religious services in areas hit hard by the coronavirus.
Michigan’s health department argues the teaching restriction is necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus, especially after Thanksgiving gatherings.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The U.S. federal agency that provides health care to Native Americans says it’s expecting more than enough coronavirus vaccines to protect all the people working in the hospitals and clinics that it funds.
The Indian Health Service was treated much like a state for distribution purposes. It submitted a plan to vaccinate more than 2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
The agency expects to receive 22,425 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week and 46,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of the year. Those doses will cover the more than 44,000 people who work at hundreds of facilities that are receiving vaccine allocations through the Indian Health Service.
UNITED NATIONS — Eight mainly Western nations are accusing North Korea of using the pandemic “to crack down further on the human rights of its own people,” pointing to reports of an uptick in executions related to the coronavirus and strict controls on movements around its capital.
The statement was issued Friday after the U.N. Security Council privately discussed North Korea’s human rights situation. Germany and others had sought an open session but Russia, China and other council members objected.
Seven council members — Germany, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Britain and the United States — joined by Japan criticized North Korea for rights abuses. They also said the North Korean government’s decision “to prioritize its weapons programs” is inevitably worsening the impacts of the pandemic on the North Korean population.”
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas health officials on Friday reported a one-day record of 55 deaths due to COVID-19 and 2,770 new confirmed or probable cases.
“We have once again reached a grave milestone in this pandemic,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.
“While we may have hope ahead from promising vaccine news, we cannot grow weary over the next few weeks,” he said.
In a statewide address Thursday night, Hutchinson said the state is seeing a surge in cases after Thanksgiving and suggested Arkansans travel less for the coming Christmas holiday and take rapid tests both before and after travel.
The state Department of Health reported a total of 2,875 deaths due to the illness caused by the virus and 181,624 total cases since the pandemic began.
The health department reported 1,059 people hospitalized with the virus.
WICHITA, Kan. — A Wichita fitness studio’s owner and his business are suing Kansas for compensation for being forced to shut down and reopen with restrictions this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit filed this week in Sedgwick County District Court by Ryan Floyd and Omega Bootcamps Inc. argues that the state used his and the business’ private property “for the benefit of the general public” when it and local officials imposed their restrictions. The lawsuit cites part of the state’s emergency management law that says people can pursue claims for compensation in court if their property is “commandeered or otherwise used” by state or local officials.
The Kansas attorney general’s office declined comment, saying it was reviewing the lawsuit. Gov. Laura Kelly’s office did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
RALEIGH, N.C. — The chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court says non-essential, in-person court proceedings will be halted starting Monday for 30 days due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley said Friday the pause is necessary to protect the health and safety of court personnel and the public. Since the start of the pandemic, judicial branch officials and employees have reported 291 confirmed positive cases. In addition, more than half of North Carolina’s county courthouses have been partially or completely closed due to COVID-19, and 11 of those closures occurred this week.
DENVER — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Friday released the locations of health facilities in urban and rural Colorado to receive the first shipment of 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Facilities in Denver, Aspen, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins were some of the chosen locations for the first Pfizer vaccines. Initially, 46 health care facilities will receive Pfizer vaccine doses; 151 facilities will get subsequent Moderna vaccine doses; and 40 of them will get both.
The locations were selected for their abilities to store Pfizer vaccines in -60°C to -80°C temperatures and a willingness to redistribute vaccines to other providers.
BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s death count per capita from the coronavirus has risen from 12th-highest in the country to fifth in just six weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
The state’s death count has gone from 75 deaths per 100,000 people to 146 deaths during that time, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The state Department of Health on Friday reported 27 new deaths, 12 of which were from November due to a reporting lag. The statewide death toll since the pandemic began now stands at 1,130.
State Health Department officials on Friday confirmed 513 new cases of the coronavirus.
North Dakota had for many weeks led the country in the number of virus outbreaks compared to population.
The state now ranks fourth, with 1,350 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks. One in every 136 people in North Dakota tested positive in the past week., according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
NEW YORK — Indoor dining restrictions will be reinstated in New York City on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced. Only takeout orders and outdoor dining will be allowed.
Nearly 1,700 patients are hospitalized in the city with the coronavirus, triple the number a month ago.
The government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, spoke with Cuomo by livestream this week, noting he expects hospitalizations to keep increasing until mid-January.
Cuomo’s order came despite opposition from the restaurant industry, which warned of holiday season layoffs as the federal government hasn’t passed additional COVID-19 relief.
Public health experts have repeatedly warned that indoor dining — particularly in small, crowded restaurants where individuals are drinking and can take off masks when not eating — poses a risk for airborne transmission. The CDC recently described such indoor dining as “high risk.”
PHOENIX — Arizona has reported nearly 7,000 coronavirus cases, the third-highest number since the start of the pandemic.
The state reported 6,983 confirmed cases and 91 deaths on Friday.
Virus-related hospitalizations stood at 3,492. That’s just short of the hospitalization peak during the state’s COVID-19 surge last summer. Hospital officials and public health experts have warned that hospital capacity could be reached this month.
Arizona has reported 394,512 total cases and 7,245 confirmed deaths.
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina reported more than 7,500 coronavirus cases, a single-day record.
More than 2,500 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, which represents a two-fold increase in the last 30 days.
The positivity rate has eclipsed 10% for nearly two weeks, reaching double digits for the first time since April.
Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, attributed much of the uptick to people gathering over Thanksgiving.
“Having more than 7,500 cases is staggering and alarming,” Cohen says.
MILAN — Italy registered 761 deaths on Friday, according to the Health Ministry.
Another 18,727 people tested positive, slightly more than a day earlier when fewer tests were carried out.
While the death toll remains high, restrictions have helped ease the level of contagion and the pressure on hospitals. About 1,500 fewer people were hospitalized with the virus and 26 fewer patients were in intensive care. There were 208 new arrivals in ICU.
Two key regions, epicenter Lombardy and neighboring Piedmont, will have restrictions eased this weekend. They’ll be allowed to dine indoors until 6 p.m. for the first time in weeks.
Italy has more than 63,000 confirmed deaths, fifth highest in the world, and 1.8 million confirmed cases.