December 18 coronavirus news

By Emma Reynolds, Hannah Strange, Helen Regan, Adam Renton and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 11:21 PM ET, Mon December 21, 2020
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3:16 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

South Carolina's first lady tests positive for Covid-19 

From CNN’s Devon M. Sayers

Peggy McMaster, the first lady of South Carolina, has tested positive for Covid-19, the governor’s office announced Friday.  

McMaster underwent routine tests on Thursday afternoon. The results came back Friday morning that she was positive. 

“She is not experiencing any symptoms at this time,” the release said.  

Her husband, Gov. Henry McMaster, was also tested Thursday. His results were negative.  

"I’m happy to say that Peggy is feeling well, isn’t experiencing any symptoms at this time and is in good spirits,” Henry McMaster said in a news release. “This shows us, once again, how contagious this virus truly is and how important it is that we follow the advice and recommendations of our public health officials.”  

The governor will "quarantine for the recommended seven days while being tested regularly," the release added.

Peggy McMaster is working with state health officials on contact tracing.

3:16 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Mexico City plans to take "extraordinary measures" to stop coronavirus surge

From CNN's Natalie Gallón

 

Mexico City and the neighboring state of Mexico will take “extraordinary measures” to stop the surge in Covid-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, the country’s Deputy Health Minister Dr. Hugo Lopez-Gatell said in a new conference Friday afternoon.

All nonessential activities will be suspended from tomorrow to Jan. 10 in an effort to reduce mobility in the metropolitan areas which authorities believe are a factor for the alarming rise in the spread of Covid. 

The city and state’s step back to red level — the strictest measure in the country’s stoplight system — is the latest restriction as hospital capacities reach nearly 75%. “We are now at the levels we were in during the highest moment [of the pandemic] in June,” state of Mexico’s governor, Alfredo Del Mazo, said at the news conference.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum called on all citizens to abide by the restrictions and continue staying home calling for an “extraordinary effort so that anyone who is seriously ill can always have a bed in a hospital.”

The tightening of Covid-19 measures entails the closure of indoor dining, with only essential sectors such as transport, energy, health and construction among a few others, to remain active. 

“It’s important to be clear that 2020 and 2021 will be very special years for humanity,” Lopez-Gatell said as he urged people during the holiday season to avoid parties and reunions, saving them for a later date.

Mexico has reported 1,289,298 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 116,487 confirmed deaths on Thursday.

3:23 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Los Angeles County "moving toward becoming the epicenter of the pandemic," chief medical officer says

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Emergency Medical Services transfers a patient at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center hospital in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 16.
Emergency Medical Services transfers a patient at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center hospital in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 16. Damian Dovarganes/AP

The chief medical officer of one of the largest hospital systems in Los Angeles County said Friday his facilities are running out of intensive care beds to treat critically ill patients as the region sees an overwhelming spike in new Covid-19 infections.

“L.A. County is moving toward becoming the epicenter of the pandemic,” Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at L.A. USC Medical Center warned in a briefing Friday.

"We’re getting crushed,” Spellberg said about the county’s hospitals. “I'm not going to sugarcoat this. We are getting crushed."

Hospitals throughout the county are quickly becoming overwhelmed by the influx of Covid-19 patients. Today, in the county of 10 million residents, there are just 699 hospital beds available. Of those, just 69 are ICU beds, according to Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.

"As of right now, we are very tight. Hospitals around the county are running out of ICU beds," Spellberg said.

Ghaly reiterated that the problem is not space, but staffing. Los Angeles County has yet to receive confirmation that the state has more available staff to help with the surge of patients and is awaiting guidance on the state’s request for help from the Department of Defense.

On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he was requesting 200 health care workers from the federal government, in addition to staff being added through contract agencies, the National Guard, and California Health Corps. An additional 80 paramedics and EMTs are being brought in from the Federal Emergency Management Agency .

Health care workers in L.A. are doing everything they can to accommodate the crush of patients, including diverting patients from a full hospital to another with remaining capacity, but “when every hospital is overwhelmed and every hospital is full, and it doesn't matter if you move the ambulance from hospital to hospital it all leads to the same result,” Ghaly said.

Pointing out that hospitalizations tend to lag behind case counts, Ghaly ominously noted that two weeks ago, Los Angeles County was reporting fewer than 10,000 cases of Covid-19 each day. In the time since, the county has seen an explosion of new daily cases reaching as high as 22,000. Projections indicate the already strained medical facilities could be overcome, leading to dire results.

The comments come a day after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned the county may soon be forced to declare a “systemwide crisis” in the coming days of hospitals continue to see a flood of new patients seeking treatment for Covid-19.

“This will affect everybody, and it’s a crisis for us all,” Ghaly lamented.
1:58 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Senate Majority Leader McConnell gets Covid-19 vaccine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted today that he received a "safe, effective" Covid-19 vaccine.

He went on to say that "vaccines are how we beat this virus."

In the same tweet, McConnell mentioned the Covid stimulus package, "including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible."

1:54 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Rhode Island will end some Covid-19 restrictions as metrics begin to point downward

From CNN's Julian Cummings

Health care workers on hand as they administer COVID-19 tests in the parking lot at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on December 8.
Health care workers on hand as they administer COVID-19 tests in the parking lot at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on December 8. John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The state of Rhode Island will end the latest round of Covid-19 restrictions or “pause” that were put into place Nov. 30 this coming Monday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced at a press conference. 

The ending of the “pause” comes as Rhode Island has seen a downturn in Covid-19 metrics, including positivity rate, cases per 100,000 people and hospitalizations, according to Raimondo.

The lifting of current restrictions will still be a slow dial up, according to Raimondo, with gyms reopening with restrictions and indoor restaurant capacity increased to 50%.

The latest numbers: Rhode Island reported at least 395 new positive cases of Covid-19 – a positivity rate of 4.4%. There are also at least 459 people currently hospitalized, and 12 new deaths due to the virus.

“4.4% positivity is good news. A few weeks ago we were at 10%," Raimondo said. 

Rhode Island has also began reporting how many residents have received a Covid-19 vaccine. So far 1,226 people in the state have had the first dose. 

Note: These numbers were released by the stare of Rhode Island, and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.

1:45 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International airport expects nearly a 50% decline in holiday travel 

From CNN’s Devon M. Sayer

Travelers walk through terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on April 20, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Travelers walk through terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on April 20, in Atlanta, Georgia. Rob Carr/Getty Images

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, is expecting nearly half as many holiday travelers compared to last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the airport said.  

The airport is projecting that 2.1 million passengers will travel during the holiday period from Dec. 17 through Jan. 3.  This would be a decline of 47% from a year ago, Jennifer Ogunsola a spokesperson for Hartsfield-Jackson told CNN based on projections.  

Sunday, Dec. 27, is projected to be the busiest travel day with more than 156,000 passengers.

Concourses A and B are expected to be the most active. Both concourses are projected to serve more than 500,000 passengers each during the holiday period.  

1:41 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Fauci: "We will crush this outbreak that has terrorized us for the last 11 months"

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci speaks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington DC, December 18.
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci speaks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington DC, December 18. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

During a virtual event with the Duke Science and Society on Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that thanks to science "we will crush" the Covid-19 outbreak.

"Biomedical research and science have given us something that just a decade ago would have seemed unimaginable, to be able to have a new virus that we had never had experience before being thrust upon us and throw us into one of the most extraordinary destructive pandemics in over 100 years," Fauci said. 

He continued:

"Just over the past few days, science has allowed us to have a vaccine that when we distribute it to people throughout the country, and hopefully throughout the world, we will crush this outbreak that has really terrorized us for the last 11 months, not only here in the United States, but worldwide, it's damaged severely, the economy and lead to people suffering things, not necessarily directly related to being ill themselves, but all the secondary consequences that go with the effects of a global pandemic such as this."

1:34 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Migrants and refugees are suffering from mental health issues during pandemic, WHO says

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus talks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 11.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus talks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 11. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

More than half of refugees and migrants surveyed reported increased “depression, anxiety, and loneliness” caused by Covid-19, according to a survey from the World Health Organization that was put out on Friday.

In addition, one in five refugees and migrants surveyed reported increased drug and alcohol use. 

The survey, compiled in a report titled Apart Together, was conducted by the WHO and a research consortium led by Ghent University and the University of Copenhagen. The survey accessed 30,000 migrants and refugees in almost every WHO member state. 

Refugees and migrants reported high compliance rates with some measures of virus prevention, like hand washing and wearing face coverings. However, nearly 20% said they were unable to comply with stay-at-home measures, and more than 15% were unable to avoid public transport. 

Twelve percent of those surveyed reported current symptoms they believed to be linked to Covid-19. Of those who reported being unable to access medical care if they had symptoms, 35% said they lacked the money to seek health care and 22% said they feared deportation if they accessed medical care. 

“Access to care must not be linked to legal status,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing discussing the report’s findings. “We call on all countries to remove financial and other barriers to care for migrants as part of their journey towards universal health coverage. Health for all means all – including migrants.”

1:27 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Joe and Jill Biden will receive Pfizer vaccine on Monday

From CNN’s Sarah Mucha

President-elect Joe Biden, and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, depart the Queen Theater after introducing key foreign policy and national security nominees and appointments on November 24, in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden, and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, depart the Queen Theater after introducing key foreign policy and national security nominees and appointments on November 24, in Wilmington, Delaware. Mark Makela/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden and incoming first lady Jill Biden will receive their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday.

"On Monday, President Elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will receive the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Delaware," transition spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on a briefing call Friday.

They do not have details on where exactly that will take place yet. 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and incoming second gentleman Doug Emhoff will receive their vaccines the following week, Psaki said.