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
61 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
7:46 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN's Dave Alsup

The United States reported 125,379 current Covid-19 hospitalizations on Thursday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the 13th consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations. 

The highest hospitalization numbers, according to CTP data, are:

  • Dec. 31: 125,379 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 30: 125,220 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 29: 124,686 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 28: 121,235 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 24: 120,151 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 23: 119,463 people hospitalized
7:04 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

UK and South African Covid-19 variant are "warning shots," vaccine expert says

Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccines advisory committee, called the new coronavirus variants discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa "warning shots," saying scientists need to be better at sequencing these viruses and identifying mutations.

Offit explained that the coronavirus is an RNA virus, meaning it is expected that it will mutate and create variants. For example, other RNA viruses like influenza and measles also mutate.

He said the difference between these two other well-known RNA viruses is that influenza changes so much within 12 months that the vaccine from the previous year doesn't offer protection. Unlike influenza, the measles virus has never mutated away from the vaccine.

"We need to really pay attention to this – the UK variant and South African variants are warning shots," he said.

Offit said it's important to catch any Covid-19 mutations early so that scientists can quickly determine if the vaccine is still offering protection. He said it is too early to tell if coronavirus will behave like either the influenza or measles viruses.

"When we have identified these variants, we need to – within a week, and we can do that quickly determine whether or not the virus has drifted away from recognition by the vaccine, because that would be a problem," Offit said.

He added that while the new variants are believed to be more contagious, they are still spread the same way, which means social distancing and masks still work.

"It's contagious in the same manner that the non-variant strain is, which is to say it's spread by small droplets so masking and social distancing still works, but were this to mutate away from the vaccine, that would be a problem," he said.

6:53 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Record day of Covid-19 deaths in Los Angeles

From CNN's Sarah Moon

The ongoing Covid-19 surge is pushing all hospitals in Los Angeles, California, to the “brink of catastrophe," L.A. County Department of Health Services (DHS) Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said during a news conference on Thursday.

Some DHS primary care clinics have had to close or reduce their hours because the county’s hospitals are “so incredibly taxed,” Ghaly said.

Over 700 nurses have been reassigned to fulfill duties within the inpatient units, the emergency department, as well as the quarantine and isolation beds provided by DHS.

“We are in the midst of a disaster,” said Cathy Chidester, the director of Emergency Medical Services Agency.

The amount of oxygen required for each coronavirus patient is causing extreme pressure on the hospital, Chidester said. They are also running out of ambulances and response times to 911 calls are getting longer and longer, she said. 

Chidester also added that a lot of these hospitals are older and not intended to house this many patients at one time.

All types of health care staff are being utilized and the county is requesting additional help from the state. Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and teams from the US Department of Defense have been deployed in the county.

6:18 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Supreme Court chief justice praises "unsung heroes" of pandemic in annual report

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts arrives to the Senate chamber for impeachment proceedings at the U.S. Capitol on January 16, in Washington.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts arrives to the Senate chamber for impeachment proceedings at the U.S. Capitol on January 16, in Washington. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Chief Justice John Roberts sidestepped the roiling controversy over election results on Thursday instead using his annual report to recall the nation's early history combating pandemics and to praise the "unsung heroes" in the judicial branch as they confronted Covid-19.

Roberts' report reflects a clear desire to keep the court and its work out of the headlines at a fraught time while carefully and deliberately ignoring attacks from President Trump, who recently tweeted that the Supreme Court has been "totally incompetent and weak" for failing to act on his erroneous claims of massive election fraud.

Trump and his allies have suffered blistering losses in the courts, but continue to petition for the justices to overrule election results. This week, the Trump campaign launched two appeals targeting returns in battleground state of Wisconsin, even though the justices have sent a clear signal that they are uninterested in attempts to overturn the election.

Roberts, who submits an annual report on the state of the federal judiciary, chose to begin his 2021 edition by describing how more than 200 years ago John Jay, the nation's first chief justice, traveled the country during a deadly spread of the flu. 

In 1790, Jay wrote from Connecticut that "almost every Family here is down with the Influenza" and later told his wife that "the Whole Country has been sick," including President George Washington. 

Three years later it was Jay who had to adjourn the court due to the yellow fever epidemic that killed 5,000 of Philadelphia's 50,000 residents. In 1918, the court was once again closed with an outbreak of the influenza pandemic.

Roberts said that advancements in medicine have diminished pandemic threats — until now.

"For the past ten months, it has been all hands on deck for the courts, as our branch of government confronted the COVID-19 pandemic," he wrote.

He noted that while most courts worked remotely, they managed to hold oral arguments by teleconference, made video and audio conferences available for certain criminal proceedings and carried out critical court functions "from their home offices – or their kitchen tables."

He said that courts in Michigan and Florida held drive-thru naturalization ceremonies, while San Francisco courts held proceedings outdoors when possible. 

Roberts' message is a departure from last year, when he said Americans in the modern era have come to "take democracy for granted," and lamented that civic education has "fallen by the wayside."

6:31 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Booze makers won't face hefty fine for helping out during pandemic

From CNN's Elizabeth Cohen

Distilleries that helped out in the beginning of the pandemic by making alcohol-based hand sanitizer won’t have to pay a hefty fee the government charged them this week by mistake. 

When hand sanitizer was in short supply in March, hundreds of distilleries jumped in and made it themselves. 

To do so, they had to register as drug makers, which have to pay user fees every year to the government. Earlier this week the US Food and Drug Administration, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, charged each of the distilleries a $15,000 fine, according to a senior HHS official. 

HHS rescinded that fine on Thursday.

“Small businesses who stepped up to fight COVID-19 should be applauded by their government, not taxed for doing so. I’m pleased to announce we have directed FDA to cease enforcement of these arbitrary, surprise user fees. Happy New Year, distilleries, and cheers to you for helping keep us safe!” Brian Harrison, HHS chief of staff, said in a statement. 

Harrison said the distilleries were charged “by mistake” and that the fees were not cleared by HHS leadership. 

“Many of these are rather small business, craft distilleries, and their business and livelihoods were damaged when restaurants closed down,” Harrison said. “But they jumped into the fray and joined the fight against Covid. It was nothing short of heroic. They are American heroes.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong last name for Brian Harrison, HHS chief of staff.

6:05 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Wisconsin pharmacist removed vials of Moderna vaccine twice over the course of 2 days

From CNN's Kay Jones

Source: WISN
Source: WISN

Aurora Health Care Medical Group said the person who took the vials of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine from the refrigerator was a pharmacist for the hospital. 

The president of the medical group, Dr. Jeff Bahr, said during a news conference on Thursday that the vials of the vaccine were removed twice from the refrigerator over the course of two days. 

He said that a pharmacy tech found the 57 vials in the early morning hours on Dec. 26, and returned them to the refrigerator before reporting the incident. Hospital officials spoke to the now-former pharmacist who said it was an inadvertent error while trying to get other items from the refrigerator. 

"Based on information available, [we] determined that the vaccine was still able to be administered on the morning of Dec. 26, given the 12-hour period of viability after removal of refrigeration," Bahr said today.

He told reporters that they were able to vaccinate 57 individuals before having to discard the rest of the doses due to them having been rendered ineffective. 

During the course of the internal investigation, Bahr said the former pharmacist admitted to officials on Wednesday to removing the vaccines on purpose. The pharmacist also said the vaccines were removed for a period of time in the overnight hours of Dec. 24 and 25 and then returned to the refrigerator. He is no longer employed at the hospital. 

Bahr said that the 57 vaccinations that were given on Dec. 26 are now either less effective or ineffective, based on the new information provided by the pharmacist. He said that all individuals were notified and that based on conversations with Moderna, the vaccine does not pose any harm to those who received it. 

He said that they are partnering with Moderna and the Food and Drug Administration to figure out a strategy for those who received the vaccine on Dec. 26.

Some context: Grafton Police said they arrested the former pharmacist and charged him with three felonies. Police said in the news release that he "intentionally removed the vaccine knowing that if it was not properly stored it would be ineffective."

The police are working with the FBI and FDA on the investigation.

CNN has reached out to the FBI Milwaukee for a comment.

5:29 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Covid-19 vaccine is safe for those with food and drug allergies, allergist group says

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

A pharmacist dilutes the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine while preparing it to administer to staff and residents at the Goodwin House Bailey's Crossroads, a senior living community in Falls Church, Virginia, on December 30.
A pharmacist dilutes the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine while preparing it to administer to staff and residents at the Goodwin House Bailey's Crossroads, a senior living community in Falls Church, Virginia, on December 30. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Most people with common allergies can safely get the coronavirus vaccine, allergists said Thursday.

“Patients with severe allergies to foods, oral drugs, latex, or venom can safely receive the Covid-19 vaccines,” Dr. Aleena Banerji, clinical director of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues wrote.

The two ingredients in both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine that are mostly likely to cause allergic reaction are polyethylene glycol and polysorbate, they said. But people can easily be watched and treated for such allergic reactions, which are rare, they noted.

“As allergists, we want to encourage vaccination by reassuring the public that both FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe,” Banerji said in a statement. “Our guidelines are built upon the recommendations of U.S. regulatory agencies and provide clear steps to the medical community on how to safely administer both doses of the vaccine in individuals with allergic histories.” 

The report also offers guidance as to how physicians can make sure patients are informed about the safety of the vaccine, but also prepared for adverse reactions.

Patients who have an adverse reaction to the vaccine should “have the requisite information and support needed to decide if and how to receive the second dose,” they said. There is not much data yet on what happens to people who get a second dose of vaccine after suffering an allergic reaction to the first.

“To provide reassurance and support during widespread vaccination across America, allergists must offer clear guidance to patients based on the best information available,” they wrote in in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

Allergists are advised by the report to prepare to keep people with severe allergies informed and supported throughout the process of getting a Covid-19 vaccine. 

5:15 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Things won't change at midnight. Here are some tips to managing stress and anxiety in 2021.

From CNN's Elise Hammond

Even though 2020 is ending in a few hours, things won't change overnight. For many people this year has been filled with challenges and loss, while others have found silver linings.

Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Georgetown University, said there are things you can do to manage the stress and anxiety of the pandemic as we enter the new year.

Here are some tips:

Understand that grief can co-exist with silver linings

From realizing the importance of family, to creating a closer connection with your loved ones or accomplishing things you never previously had time to do, some people were able to find silver linings in 2020. But, at the risk of being insensitive to other people who are grieving losses, Bonior said there is a way for both of those to exist at the same time.

"We can also be grateful and also mourn losses at the same time. I think that's truly engaging with life," she said. "That's the ability to say there are bright spots here, but there's also darkness."

Don't be afraid to reach out for help

"If you have experienced severe loss, please reach out. There are people who care. There are people who love you," Bonior said, adding that no matter the size of your loss, it's important to reach out for support.

If you're spending the holidays alone, thank you

For the first time, many people are spending the holiday season alone and away from their families, but Bonior said it's an action that is saving lives.

"It hurts. There's no substitute for being away from family when you don't want to be," she said. "And yet hopefully when we're all out of this, you can have pride in the fact that you did your effort and keep people from dying."

Listen to your kids

As parents, we all want to say the perfect thing, but sometimes all our kids need is someone who listens to how they are feeling.

Bonior said its important to hear what their concerns are, validate their feelings and help them understand that there are baby steps you can take moving forward.

Watch Bonior's interview with CNN's Jake Tapper:

5:01 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Los Angeles mayor: "We are still going to have our toughest and darkest days"

From CNN's Sarah Moon

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. CNN via Webex Cisco

As Los Angeles County continues to experience a surge of coronavirus cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the situation dire and "what we all feared.” 

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County surpassed a total of 10,000 coronavirus deaths and reported 274 new deaths, the highest number of deaths in a single day. One person is dying from the virus every 10 minutes, according to the county. 

“We are still going to have our toughest and darkest days,” Garcetti told CNN.

He urged people to make their New Year’s resolution to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.

While the new coronavirus variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, has not yet been reported in Los Angeles, Garcetti said it’s “reasonable to assume someone has it" in the city.

Watch Mayor Garcetti's interview with CNN's Jake Tapper below: