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In the headlines:
►The presence of a new, more-contagious strain of the coronavirus has been confirmed for the first time in New York state, which at one point was the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the variant, which has spread uncontrolled in England, was identified in a man in his 60s who works at a Saratoga Springs jewelry store. Cuomo said the man has not traveled recently, pointing to the likelihood of community spread.
►As England enters a phase of the pandemic that Boris Johnson said would be the “hardest yet,” the British prime minister on Monday announced a new lockdown requiring all residents to stay home except for permitted reasons. The lockdown was scheduled to go into effect at midnight and will include the closure of all schools and universities for in-person teaching until mid-February.
►Vaccine rollout in the U.S. is still ramping up, and less than 4.6 million people have received a first dose even though more than 15.4 million have been distributed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Jersey officials said only 25% of the doses sent to the state have been administered, but they expect the pace to pick up now that the holidays are over.
►More than 1.3 million travelers passed through the nation’s airports on Sunday, a new pandemic travel record as many passengers returned home from their holiday destinations. Those numbers are still down significantly from a year ago, but the holiday travel season was stronger than expected despite warnings from public health officials.
►The first Americans to get the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus in mid-December, mostly health care workers, started to get inoculated with a second dose Monday.
►The U.S. coronavirus numbers are in for December, and they are grisly. New infections jumped more than 40% from November – and November had more than twice as many cases as any previous month. The December death toll also set a record. More details below.
►President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office is achievable, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 20.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 353,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 85.5 million cases and 1.84 million deaths.
Britain on Monday became the first nation to use the vaccine developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca, a vaccine not yet authorized for emergency use in the U.S.
The British National Health Service also endorsed delaying the second dose of the vaccine up to 12 weeks – three weeks is recommended – so more people can get a first dose. The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the last seven days.
In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci has said he opposes delaying the second dose. Moncef Slaoui, scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, has suggested two half-doses might be given to free-up vaccine for more people.
A Wisconsin pharmacist convinced the world was “crashing down” told police he tried to ruin hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine because he believed the shots would mutate people’s DNA, according to court documents released Monday.
Police in Grafton, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, arrested Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist Steven Brandenburg last week following an investigation into the 57 spoiled vials of the Moderna vaccine, which officials say contained enough doses to inoculate more than 500 people. A detective wrote in a probable cause statement that Brandenburg, 46, is an admitted conspiracy theorist. Charges are pending.
In Germany, a government spokesman said impatience with what is widely being perceived as a slow start to coronavirus vaccinations is understandable, but things will improve.
France’s cautious approach to its vaccine rollout has left just a few hundred people vaccinated after the first week and rekindled anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic. Belgium says it is stepping up vaccinations in nursing homes amid strong criticism over its slowness in deploying vaccines.
Americans dreaming of 20 million vaccinations in December woke up to less than 5 million by month’s end. But Dr. Anthony Fauci says he sees “some glimmer of hope” – with 1.5 million shots were administered in a recent 72-hour period.
A costume worn by a staff member at a California hospital’s Christmas party may have been a “contributing factor” to the infection of 44 staff members. Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center spokeswoman Irene Chavez told the New York Times the costume was kept inflated by a small fan. Air-powered costumes have been banned, she said.
“Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely innocent, and quite accidental, as the individual had no Covid symptoms and only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during what is a very stressful time,” Chavez said in a statement.
COVID-19 was disastrous in December, when one American died from the coronavirus about every 35 seconds. The United States reported 6,360,221 new cases — beating November’s record by 1.9 million. And November had more than twice as many cases as any previous month of the pandemic, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
The U.S. reported 77,572 deaths in December, more than 16,800 deaths above the previous monthly record set in April. Weekly deaths peaked in December in 30 states.
The winter holidays also brought changes in who got tested, how many testing sites were open and how fast labs and governments reported data. That means some of December’s numbers will end up being tabulated in January, which is expected to yield even worse totals.
– Mike Stucka
Contributing: The Associated Press