December 4 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Brett McKeehan, Emma Reynolds, Hannah Strange, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, December 5, 2020
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11:07 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

"Shutdowns or lockdowns are really not on the table," Biden-Harris transition team official says 

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden-Harris transition Covid-19 advisory board, said the Biden-Harris team doesn't have a plan for a national shutdown. 

"Shutdowns, or lockdowns, are really not on the table, at least not from the Biden-Harris team. We really view this as restrictions that you dial up or dial down based on the local epidemiology," Gounder said. 

"I mean we can drill down to ZIP code level now, we know who is more likely to be transmitting, and what settings, so for example, schools are less likely to be sources of transmission than our indoor dining and gyms," she continued.

Gounder said the main goal is to target places where the transmission is a problem as opposed to a "broad shutdown" and she believes schools should remain open. 

"I think we know enough now to say that schools really should remain open, unless there is extremely widespread community transmission. At the same time, we need to be supporting schools so that they can do that safely," Gounder said, adding that funding for PPE for schools will also be needed.  

Watch:

11:10 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Politicizing masks is like "politicizing the use of toilet paper," Biden transition official says

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Dr. Celine Gounder on December 4.
Dr. Celine Gounder on December 4. CNN

Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden-Harris transition Covid-19 advisory board, said the politicization of masks needs to stop in order for President-elect Joe Biden’s 100-day mask plan to work.

"I think it's so unfortunate that masks have been politicized, that would be like politicizing the use of toilet paper. I mean this is a basic hygienic measure that is highly effective, it's cheap and it doesn't shut down the economy," Gounder in interview with CNN's Jim Sciutto Friday. 

"So, if what you care about is being able to continue to go to work, have your paycheck, you know, all of those kinds of basic things, then you really should be working with us, working with your family, your community, to get everybody to wear a mask," she added.

Biden yesterday announced he'll urge everyone in the US to wear masks during the symbolic first 100 days of his presidency

Additionally, Gounder said that Biden's strategy for approaching this pandemic will be different by scaling up testing.

"You're going to see much more emphasis on testing. The current administration has said we are testing too much, and the fact is, we are not testing nearly enough," Gounder said.

Watch:

10:02 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Covid-19 is the leading cause of death in the US this week, health institute reports

From CNN's Amanda Sealy

A deceased patient in a body bag is seen in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on November 29.
A deceased patient in a body bag is seen in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on November 29. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Covid-19 is the leading cause of death in the United States this week, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the University of Washington.

In a news release Friday, IHME said that daily deaths in the last week increased to an average of 1,660 per day, up from 1,470 the previous week.

Behind Covid-19 – with a total of 11,820 deaths – the other top causes of death were...

  • Ischemic heart disease (10,724 deaths)
  • Lung cancer (3,965 deaths)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (3,765 deaths)
  • Stroke (3,643 deaths)

One thing to note: IHME made its calculations by assuming uniform deaths of non-Covid causes throughout the year. 

Remember: These numbers were released by IHME and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.

Watch more:

10:24 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

America is coming up short as US added 245,000 jobs in November

From CNN's Anneken Tappe

The US economy added 245,000 jobs in November on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

It was 224,000 fewer than economists had expected, as the job recovery continues to slow.

The unemployment rate inched down to 6.7%, from 6.9% in October.

Eight months after Covid-19 brought the economy to a screeching halt and following better-than-expected improvements over the summer months, the recovery is running out of steam.

The economy is still down 9.8 million jobs since February, before the crisis began.

Millions of Americans continue to struggle with joblessness through no fault of their own. The pandemic unemployment benefits introduced by the CARES Act in the spring will expire at year-end unless Congress acts fast.

8:58 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

If everyone wears a mask for 100 days, US deaths could be decreased by about 66,000, expert says

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Dr. Carlos del Rio on December 4.
Dr. Carlos del Rio on December 4. CNN

Following President-elect Joe Biden's remarks on CNN that he will ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts as president, Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine, said doing so could decrease Covid-19 deaths by 66,000. 

"President-elect Biden saying he's gonna ask Americans to everybody wear a mask for 100 days, so if we all did that, the number of deaths could be decreased by about 66,000 according to the model," del Rio said, referring to projections from a model by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

"While we are excited about the vaccine, the reality is the model says the vaccine probably by April first will only save about 10,000 or to 11,000 deaths. The vaccine is great, but it's not going to be immediate the solution to this problem," del Rio said while speaking to CNN's Alisyn Camerota this morning.

When asked why the vaccine is only going to save 10,000 lives, when 20 million people are going to get the vaccine, del Rio said that 20 million is a "very small" number of people. 

"Twenty million, Alisyn, is a very small number, the reality is that the virus right now is running pretty rampant, so you probably have a significant number of people already infected, that are not going to benefit from the vaccine and they're gonna get sick in the next, you know, two to three weeks and then they're gonna be in the hospital, and then they'll die," del Rio said.

Watch more:

8:10 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Fauci apologizes for suggesting UK rushed vaccine approval and says he has "faith" in regulators

From CNN's Angela Dewan

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 19. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci has apologized for his apparent criticism of British regulators who have authorized the Pfizer vaccine and said he had "faith" in the UK scientific community.

There really has been a misunderstanding, and for that, I’m sorry and I apologize for that. I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the regulatory community at the UK," Fauci told the BBC. 

“I do have confidence. It came out wrong and that was not the way I meant it to be," he added.

Some background: The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Thursday said UK regulators had not scrutinized the trial data as carefully as the US Food and Drug Administration.

In an interview with CBS News, Fauci remarked that the UK authorities "just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said, ‘OK, let's approve it. That's it.’"

But he told the BBC later on Thursday that the US simply did things "a little bit differently" to the UK.

“We do things a certain way in the United States, possibly a little different, not necessarily better or worse than what’s done in the UK, and I think that’s where we slipped, where I slipped. I made it seem one was better than the other."

Fauci assured everyone that ultimately, the vaccine was going to be safe and effective.

He explained that there was a lot of tension in the US over the credibility, safety and efficacy of vaccines.

“If we had, for example, approved it, yesterday or tomorrow, there likely would have been pushback on an already scrutinizing society that has really, in some respects, in the United States, too much skepticism about the process," he said.

He said that the FDA "has gone over all of the raw data in real time, in a way that could not possibly have been done any more quickly" and it would take at least another week "to get to the point where the FDA will be able to, with confidence, make a statement regarding safety and efficacy.”

This comes as UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced Friday that the UK expects to have 800,000 doses of the vaccine by next week.

Speaking on Sky News, Sharma defended the UK's rapid processing of the vaccine saying that the UK regulator is "regarded as a gold standard of regulation by international scientists and people around the world." 

8:14 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

London at risk of being placed under England's highest Tier 3 restrictions as cases remain high

Empty tables are seen outside a restaurant on December 2 in London.
Empty tables are seen outside a restaurant on December 2 in London. Peter Summers/Getty Images

London is at risk of being placed into England's highest Tier 3 category of restrictions with Covid-19 infection rates "still far too high," according to a top health official for the capital.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, said that case reductions during England's national lockdown, which ended on Wednesday, had started to slow.

"The promising reductions we had begun to see with the recent national restrictions across the capital have also shown signs of slowing in recent days -- a stark reminder of just how delicate our situation is. If we want to avoid being placed into Tier 3, it is vital we keep transmission down," he said

Fenton said there was a "mixed picture" across London, with the highest cases in the north-east of the city, but that "even in those areas that have had the biggest declines, rates are still far too high."

He called on residents to "remain vigilant" as the city approaches its first weekend under Tier 2 restrictions since the month-long lockdown ended, saying that action in the weeks ahead will make a big difference to the outlook into the New Year.

His warning came as the Office For National Statistics said that the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in England decreased in the week from 22-28 November. Infection rates decreased in all regions except the North East.

Around 1 in 105 people tested positive, with around 25,700 new infections per day.

The UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BionNTech vaccine this week, with the first doses delivered from Belgium on Thursday and shots expected to start in days.

But the rollout will take time as the vaccine has to be kept in freezing temperatures. It is set to be delivered initially to care home workers, health workers and the elderly, with 800,000 doses promised in the coming week.

7:47 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines should be authorized within a week after advisory meetings, top FDA official says

 From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A health worker in Hollywood, Florida, injects a person during clinical trials for a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on September 9.
A health worker in Hollywood, Florida, injects a person during clinical trials for a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on September 9. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should authorize coronavirus vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna within a week of meetings held to discuss them, a top official said Thursday.

Pfizer’s vaccine will be discussed by the FDA’s vaccine advisers December 10 and Moderna’s December 17, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told an American Medical Association webinar.

“One question that will come up is how fast will we see a vaccine authorized after that. It will depend on the discussion at the advisory committee but we are hoping that within about a week afterwards we will see an authorization if everything goes well for each of those,” Marks said.

It’s a piece of good luck that the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines appear to have a 95% efficacy, Marks said.

“It is a high bar. They had 95% effectiveness across a wide range of individuals. We are lucky that these first vaccines out the gate, if everything checks out in our review, seem to be very good vaccines,” he said. 

“By August to October of this year it became clearer to us that the first vaccines that came through would indeed likely be granted emergency use authorization because of the incredibly pressing nature of this crisis,” Marks added.

Doctors cannot yet tell patients how long the vaccines will protect them from infection, Marks said.

“We know that we’re going to get at least months of protection out of this. And it’s months of protection that will help us all climb out of this Covid-19 crisis,” he said.

Volunteers in the clinical trials will be followed for at least two years and regularly checked to see how long the vaccines’ protections last, Marks said.

6:52 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

University of Washington model projects almost 539,000 US Covid deaths by April

From CNN's Matthew Hilk

Medical staff stand by a bag that contains a deceased Covid-19 patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on November 25.
Medical staff stand by a bag that contains a deceased Covid-19 patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on November 25. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

An update from an influential University of Washington model paints a staggering picture of Covid deaths in the coming months -- and suggests that even a rapid vaccine rollout won't reduce that number by much.

The update from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Friday morning projects 538,893 Americans could die from coronavirus by April 1. The model suggests daily deaths will peak in the range of 3,000 in mid-January before gradually falling. 

How vaccine developments could affect that: The data suggest that a "rapid vaccine rollout" would still mean about 527,704 deaths by April 1 -- a reduction of only about 11,000. The model covers primarily the period before vaccines are expected to be widely available to the public. 

Why masks are still so vital: Far more impactful, the model suggests, would be universal mask wearing. The model argues that over 66,000 American lives could be saved.

"Avoiding even larger death tolls depends critically on state governors implementing packages of mandates as hospital stress becomes high," the researchers write. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the modeling shows deaths by April would soar to 717,229 if safety mandates are dropped and not renewed as cases rise.

US President-elect Joe Biden told CNN's Jake Tapper on Thursday that he will ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days after he takes office -- in marked departure from President Donald Trump's approach to the pandemic.

Despite the continued spread of Covid-19 in the US, there continues to be resistance to wearing masks. At an Oval Office ceremony on Thursday, few people were wearing them, according to reporters who were in the room.