December 19 coronavirus news

By Emiko Jozuka, Adam Renton, Amy Woodyatt and Sarah Diab, CNN

Updated 11:20 PM ET, Mon December 21, 2020
21 Posts
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12:36 p.m. ET, December 19, 2020

New strain of Covid-19 is more contagious, England’s medical chief warns

From CNN’s Luke McGee, Lindsay Isaac and Arnaud Siad

Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, speaks during a news conference on December 16 in London, England.
Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, speaks during a news conference on December 16 in London, England. Matt Dunham/WPA Pool/Getty Images

England’s chief medical officer has warned that a newly identified variant of Covid-19 is more contagious than previous strains of the virus, prompting speculation the prime minister will have to order further restrictions before Christmas.

Professor Chris Whitty says “urgent work” is underway to rule out if the new strain, prevalent in the southeast of England, can cause a higher mortality rate.

“There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this,” he said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a news conference Saturday after meeting with his cabinet on the faster spreading strain. With cases surging, Johnson could announce further restrictions. 

The government’s scientific advisory group for Covid-19 has also warned the new strain is a “real cause for concern,” and called for urgent action. On Twitter, Sir Jeremy Farrar said, “Research is ongoing to understand more, but acting urgently now is critical. There is no part of the UK & globally that should not be concerned. As in many countries, the situation is fragile."

Whitty also urged people to take more precautions.

“Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission,” he said.

In Wales: The Welsh government has brought its planned lockdown forward to Sunday and will curtail Christmas, after a newly discovered strain of Covid-19 in south east England has been determined to be present “throughout Wales.”  

Following an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday, the first minister said: “We now know that this new strain is significantly more infectious and spreads more quickly than the original one.” 

 

8:55 a.m. ET, December 19, 2020

SOON: CNN and Sesame Street partner up for coronavirus town hall

CNN
CNN

CNN and Sesame Street team up today their fifth Town Hall as kids and families persevere through the Covid-19 pandemic and prepare for a very different holiday season.

The hour-long special, "The ABCs of Covid-19," will be hosted by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Erica Hill along with Sesame Street’s Big Bird and friends today 10 a.m. ET on CNN, CNN International, and CNN en Español.

Familiar faces from Sesame Street and experts from CNN and across the country will be ready to answer children’s questions about staying healthy through the winter months, celebrating the holidays while distanced from extended family and friends, and coping with big feelings as they continue to face unprecedented challenges in their young lives.

How to watch: The special will stream live without requiring a log-in on CNN.com’s homepage and across mobile devices via CNN’s apps for iOS and Android. It can also be viewed on CNNgo (at CNN.com/go on your desktop, smartphone, and iPad and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and Android TV) and will be available on-demand to subscribers via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms, and CNN mobile apps.

8:39 a.m. ET, December 19, 2020

India's capital has passed its third wave, chief minister says

From CNN's Esha Mitra

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample to test for Covid-19 on Saturday, December 19 in New Delhi, India.
A health worker takes a nasal swab sample to test for Covid-19 on Saturday, December 19 in New Delhi, India. Manish Swarup/AP

Delhi was experiencing its third wave of coronavirus in November, but is now past it, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said at a news briefing on Saturday.

On Nov. 12, Delhi recorded a single-day rise of 8,593 new cases, including 85 deaths, which was the highest single-day rise in cases recorded by any state in the country, according to the Indian Ministry of Health.

"From 8,600 cases in November we have come down to 1,133 cases today... In November the positivity rate was about 15.6% -- that is approximately 15 people were positive for every 100 tests conducted -- but now the positivity rate has fallen to 1.3% which is pretty low," Kejriwal said. "One hundred and thirty one deaths was the highest recorded in a single day in Delhi in November, this has fallen to 37."

"Delhi has fought the toughest fight against corona in the country, in the last few days Delhi was experiencing its third wave... I am very happy to announce... that the third wave of coronavirus has ended," Kejriwal said.

Grim milestone: On Saturday, India crossed 10 million total cases of coronavirus with over 9.5 million discharged patients, according to the Ministry of Health.

“India’s Covid-19 pandemic growth has dropped to 2% and case fatality rate is amongst lowest in the world at 1.45%,” Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India's health minister said at the 22nd meeting of group of ministers on Covid-19 held Saturday, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health.

Vaccine on the horizon: India is preparing a number of task forces to oversee and implement the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine after regulators issued an emergency-use authorisation, with some states hoping to start mass vaccinations as early as January. 

“In mid-January, we are hoping that the vaccine program will be rolled out and within a few days, we will be ready to cover about 8 million beneficiaries with the first dose in a minimum of 8-10 days,” G. Srinivasa Rao, the director of public health for the state of Telangana, told an Indian TV news outlet earlier this week. 

7:42 a.m. ET, December 19, 2020

French President in stable condition with Covid-19 symptoms persisting

From CNN’s Stephanie Halasz

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses members of the press on December 16 in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron addresses members of the press on December 16 in Paris. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron is in stable condition while still presenting with symptoms of Covid-19, officials said Saturday.

Macron tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, and his planned trip to Lebanon next week has been canceled.

The President still suffers from fatigue, cough and body aches but is working normally and fulfilling his duties, a statement from the palace said. Doctors are carrying out clinical examinations regularly and say the results are “reassuring.”

The 42-year-old French leader will self-isolate for a week, and has traveled from Paris to the presidential residence La Lanterne in Versailles for his seven-day quarantine, his office said earlier this week.

Officials and leaders isolate: Macron's diagnosis sent ripples through the French and European political sphere, with multiple figures now forced to quarantine, including Prime Minister Jean Castex and President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand.

The French President had meetings with a number of other top European leaders in recent days, several of whom announced they would quarantine in the wake of Macron's diagnosis.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, European Council President Charles Michel and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said they would go into quarantine as a precautionary measure.

9:05 p.m. ET, December 19, 2020

US State Senator Jerry Relph dies after Covid-19 diagnosis

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

Republican Minnesota State Senator Jerry Relph.
Republican Minnesota State Senator Jerry Relph. Minnesota State Legislature

Republican Minnesota State Senator Jerry Relph has died, a statement from his family said Friday night.

Relph, 76, had been diagnosed with Covid-19 after discovering he was exposed at the State Capitol and had been admitted to an emergency room for his symptoms, CNN affiliate WCCO reported. 

He died Friday, according to the family statement.

“I'm heartbroken to share that my husband, Jerry Relph, has passed away and entered his heavenly home," his wife Pegi Broker-Relph said in the statement.

"Jerry was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He was a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, an attorney, small businessman, and dedicated public servant in the Minnesota Senate."

The family statement did not elaborate on the cause of Relph's death and no health details were released to the person who sent the statement.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the date of the Minnesota state senator's death. He died on Dec. 18.

6:37 a.m. ET, December 19, 2020

Switzerland authorizes first Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Arnaud Siad and Nadine Schmidt

Switzerland has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the country, the Swiss drugs regulator Swissmedic said Saturday.

“The data available to date showed a comparable high level of efficacy in all investigated age groups, thus meeting the safety requirements,” Swissmedic said in a statement on its website.

"The safety of patients is an essential prerequisite, especially where the authorization of vaccines is concerned," said Swissmedic Director Raimund Bruhin in the release. "Thanks to the rolling procedure and our flexibly organized teams, we nevertheless managed to reach a decision quickly – while also fully satisfying the three most important requirements of safety, efficacy and quality," he added.

The European Medicines Agency, the drugs regulator for the European Union, to which Switzerland does not belong, is still evaluating the vaccine and has called for an exceptional meeting on December 21 to potentially grant its authorization.

New restrictions introduced as situation deteriorates: Switzerland on Friday announced new coronavirus measures that include closing restaurants as well as cultural, sports and recreation centers from December 22 until January 22 to contain the spread of the virus. 

Switzerland and neighboring principality Liechtenstein on Friday recorded 4,478 new coronavirus infections within 24 hours, according to the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health. The total tally of Covid-19 infections in Switzerland stands at 403,989, and 6,561 people have died, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The situation has deteriorated dramatically in recent days and weeks,'' President of the Swiss Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga told reporters at a press conference.

She said the Swiss healthcare system is under strain and “that is why we need additional curbs.”

5:58 a.m. ET, December 19, 2020

Getting the Covid-19 vaccine was emotional, yet exciting for these healthcare workers

From CNN's Alisha Ebrahimji and Christina Zdanowicz

Andrew Matuskowitz receives the Covid-19 vaccine.
Andrew Matuskowitz receives the Covid-19 vaccine. Provided by Andrew Matuskowitz

An otherwise stoic emergency room physician found himself overcome with emotion as he got the Covid-19 vaccine this week.

After months of treating patients ravaged by Covid-19, as well as those who had experienced car accidents and heart attacks, Dr. Andrew Matuskowitz was drained and worn out. The doctor works at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

I wasn't expecting to really feel much getting the vaccine emotionally," Matuskowitz, 37, told CNN. "Yet I still felt so overcome with this almost ecstasy about this idea of there is actually an end in sight."

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be approved this weekend, are showing the country the light at the end of the tunnel. Healthcare workers on the front lines are among the first to get the vaccine, with some already vaccinated and anticipating their second dose in a few weeks.

Gratitude. That's the word emergency room physician Matuskowitz used to describe how he felt after getting the vaccine on Thursday.

He was surprised when he actually felt the larger significance of the syringe filled with the sought-after vaccine going into his arm.

"I had gone into the day like every other day just kind of being in a rush and getting the kids off to daycare and just worn down with everything," Matuskowitz said. "I found myself getting really emotional as I was walking to get the vaccine, during the vaccine ... and afterward as I was driving home."

The past six months since South Carolina had its summer wave of Covid-19 meant that Matuskowitz and his colleagues had to keep on going, treating patients with a "business as usual" attitude, he said.

This week it felt the same, but he said he noticed a "flurry of excitement" from his colleagues that the vaccine was coming.

Joy, hope and excitement are some of the emotions these healthcare workers say they are feeling.

Read their stories here.

4:52 a.m. ET, December 19, 2020

Stanford admits "errors" in vaccine distribution plan that excluded most frontline healthcare workers

From CNN's Hollie Silverman 

Residents protest outside Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, on December 18.
Residents protest outside Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, on December 18. KGO

Stanford Health Care in California has taken responsibility for "errors" in their vaccine distribution plan that excluded most of their frontline healthcare workers, CNN affiliate KGO reported.  

Only seven out of more than 1,300 medical residents and fellows were slated to receive the vaccine, and priority was given to faculty and attending physicians who work from home under Stanford Health's distribution plan, KGO reported. 

This comes as Stanford receives at least 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to KGO.

Residents include doctors in training, who often work more than 80 hours a week and are usually the first in line to treat patients with Covid-19. But to their surprise, the hospital didn’t include many of them in the first round of vaccinations this week. 

More than 100 Stanford Health Care resident physicians and fellows held a demonstration outside the hospital, expressing concern about their place in the pecking order. 

State faces surge of infections: Since the Thanksgiving holiday, California has faced a surge of Covid-19 infections unparalleled across the United States, leading to continued daily record highs in hospitalizations and deaths.

ICU bed capacity has plunged to nearly zero in vast portions of the state as patients rush into hospitals, which are struggling to manage strains on resources and personnel.

President and CEO of Stanford Health David Entwistle addressed workers at the protest and took responsibility: “We got it wrong. Let’s get you vaccinated,” he told the crowd, “We’ll correct it." 

In a statement, Stanford Health Care apologized for the errors and said they are revising their distribution plan. 

"We take complete responsibility for the errors in the execution of our vaccine distribution plan," Stanford Health Care said.

"Our intent was to develop an ethical and equitable process for distribution of the vaccine. We apologize to our entire community, including our residents, fellows, and other frontline care providers, who have performed heroically during our pandemic response. We are immediately revising our plan to better sequence the distribution of the vaccine.”

4:45 a.m. ET, December 19, 2020

In California, wealthy patients are offering top dollar to cut the line for a Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Jenn Selva

A registered nurse at UCI Health, prepares a dose of Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center in Orange, California, on December 16.
A registered nurse at UCI Health, prepares a dose of Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center in Orange, California, on December 16. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

While the nation continues to see record levels of new Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deathswealthy patients in Southern California -- the epicenter of the state's Covid-19 crisis -- are offering to pay top dollar to cut the line and be among the first to receive a vaccine.

High-end clients are willing to pay for early access: At a number of concierge medical practices in Southern California, doctors say they've received calls from their well-off clients asking if they can have early access to the extremely limited supply of vaccine doses in exchange for a financial contribution to a hospital or charity.

Dr. Jeff Toll, whose boutique internal medicine practice has admitting privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said one patient offered to donate $25,000 to the hospital in exchange for an early shot of the vaccine. Toll's practice services a well-heeled clientele that includes chief executives and entertainment figures, but the doctor said he is telling his patients they too must wait as the first round of vaccines are distributed to those most in need of protection.

First shots administered in the state: Earlier this week, California received 327,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, administering the first shots to front line health care workers battling the virus that has caused more than 22,000 deaths statewide since the start of the pandemic.

"I think one of the difficult things is for physicians who take care of these high-power people to be able to say, no you have to wait," Toll said.

These people don't usually have to wait."

Toll said his practice has applied with the state of California to become a vaccine distribution center for his clients and has already purchased special ultra-cold freezers in anticipation of storing vials of the Pfizer vaccine.

"They wanted it yesterday": Dr. David Nazarian, of My Concierge MD in Beverly Hills, said a number of his A-list clients are contacting him, saying that money is no object if it helps them get the vaccine early.

"They wanted it yesterday," said Nazarian. "We will play by the rules but are doing everything we can to secure and distribute the vaccine when it's available to us."

Virus continues to rage through California: Southern California has in recent weeks seen an unprecedented surge of new Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations, with hospital intensive care bed capacity plunging to 0% and health officials issuing dire warnings if the virus continues to spread out of control.

The founder of Concierge MD LA, Dr. Abe Malkin, said he's received over 100 phone calls from people trying to get early access to the initial doses.

"I'd say that 5 to 10% of those were willing to try to make some contribution to a charity to get themselves bumped up in line," according to Malkin.

Officials push back on queue jumping: When it comes cutting in line, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has warned the state will be "very aggressive in making sure that those with means, those with influence, are not crowding out those that are most deserving of the vaccines."

"To those that think they can get ahead of the line, and those that think because they have resources, or they have relationships that will allow them to do it. We will be monitoring that very, very, closely," Newsom said this month.

Read the full story: