USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as a pair of vaccines join the U.S. fight against a virus that has killed more than 320,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates on vaccine distribution, including who is getting the shots and where, as well as other COVID-19 news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.
In the headlines:
►The swath of Britain under a tight lockdown was broadened Wednesday as concerns over a COVID mutation mounted. Health officials warned that only strict social distancing could protect the population as infections and deaths rolled higher.
►Canada authorized Moderna's vaccine and said shipments should enter the country within 48 hours. Health officials approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Dec. 9. The country should get 40 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in 2021, enough to vaccinate 20 million people, or about two-thirds of the Canadian adult population
►The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped by 89,000 last week to a still-elevated 803,000, evidence that the job market remains under stress. Before the virus struck, jobless claims typically numbered around 225,000 a week.
►House Democrats said they plan to offer legislation increasing the $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 as proposed by President Donald Trump. The president's own party, however, was balking and the fate of the increase remained in doubt Wednesday.
►Another 3,401 U.S. deaths were recorded Wednesday, the second highest total on record, according to Johns Hopkins University data. It's the fifth time the death toll has surpassed 3,000 in one day, and all five times were this month. The U.S. for the first time reported more than 19,000 dead of COVID-19 in seven-day period.
►Germany, with about one-quarter the population of the U.S., reported a one-day record of 962 deaths despite recent restrictions that shut most stores, tightened the rules on social contacts and urged people not to visit relatives over Christmas.
►Pfizer and BioNTech announced a second agreement with the U.S. government to supply an additional 100 million doses of the companies’ vaccine. This agreement brings the total number of doses to be delivered to the U.S. by July 31 to 200 million. Here's what experts have to say about vaccine distribution.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 18.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 323,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. It was only eight days ago the country reached 300,000 COVID fatalities. The global totals: More than 78.2 million cases and 1.72 million deaths.
Here's a closer look at today's top stories:
CDC urges Americans to 'stay at home' as millions flock to airports
Millions of Americans are traveling ahead of Christmas and New Year’s, despite pleas from public health experts to stay home and avoid fueling the pandemic. An average of more than 1 million people per day have rolled through the nation's airports the last five days, around the same number that crowded airports for the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Stay home to best protect yourself and others from #COVID19 this holiday season," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tweeted Wednesday. "Host a virtual holiday meal with friends and family, gather for a virtual gift exchange, decorate your home, or make festive crafts."
Jennifer Brownlee, 34, a fisherman from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, was flying from Tampa airport to Oregon to see her mother, who just lost a leg.
“My mom’s worth it. She needs my help,” Brownlee said. “I know that God’s got me. He’s not going to let me get sick.”
The stimulus bill is more than just checks. Take a look:
Rescuing concert halls and movie theaters. Expanding rural broadband capacity. Preventing suicide. Keeping renters in homes. The roughly $900 billion stimulus package Congress passed Monday to combat the spiraling COVID-19 pandemic isn't just about direct payments to millions of Americans, another round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses or money to help distribute the coronavirus vaccines. Read more here.
“This legislation is a lifeline for businesses and workers who have been hanging on by a thread," U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.
– Ledyard King
Cruise passengers, officials see hope for industry as vaccines roll out
Cruise passengers, along with the industry officials and health authorities, are voicing confidence in a return to the high seas as vaccines are being distributed around the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains vaccines could help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships, which haven't sailed in U.S. waters since March after multiple outbreaks on ships at the pandemic's onset.
Adam Goldstein, global chair of Cruise Lines International Association, the leading industry organization, said the vaccine is an "incredible achievement of human knowledge and science. It's a boon to everybody, and the cruise industry will clearly be a beneficiary."
– Morgan Hines
Vaccine buy should supply enough for 'every American who wants it by June'
The federal government has agreed to pay $1.95 billion for a second round of 100 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and partner BioNTech. The deal brought the total number of doses to be delivered to the U.S. to 200 million by July 31, 2021. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that the latest deal can give people confidence “that we will have enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants it by June 2021.”
Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to gain authorization for emergency use from the Food and Drug Administration, and health care workers are already being vaccinated. A second vaccine developed by Moderna in cooperation with scientists from the National Institutes of Health also is now in use.
Remote teaching efforts failing many minority students
Failing grads have surged in school districts across the nation, with the F’s tending to be concentrated among low-income students of color, those who are still learning to speak English and those with disabilities. Students whose grades are plummeting, including seniors whose graduation prospects are at stake, may not have the chance to recover. Some experts say grades should not even be issued because of the pandemic.
“The idea of failing students right now seems pointless," said Tanji Reed Marshall, of Ed Trust, a national nonprofit that seeks to close opportunity gaps in schools. "Particularly if a student's ... 'lack of attendance' is due to no fault of their own.”
– Alia Wong
Experts: HHS chief's timetable for mass vaccinations sounds optimistic
Don't expect vaccines to become widely available until late spring or early summer – assuming no production problems and the authorization of two additional vaccines by sometime in February – a dozen experts interviewed by USA TODAY over the past several days warn. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar this week suggested a timeline more like February or March for wide distribution, with all who want a vaccination getting it by June. Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education at the Immunization Action Coalition, says the federal government should under-promise and over-deliver.
"Projecting concrete dates that we cannot know risks setting the public up for needless frustration and disappointment," she said.
– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise
NJ Veterans homes barred staff from wearing masks early in outbreak
Managers at New Jersey's veterans homes not only barred employees from wearing protective masks during the first weeks of the outbreak, they devised a series of penalties with the help of Gov. Phil Murphy's office against nurses who wore the homes’ masks without permission.
More than 190 residents have died from COVID-19 in the state's veterans homes. Emails obtained by The Record and NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network, show that at least one worker had to return home because management wouldn't let him wear a mask – even though he had a doctor's note saying he suffered from asthma.
“If they had done just the bare minimum, they could have saved lives,” said Tony Agosto, CEO of Virgo Medical Services. “They could have stopped a lot of this."
– Scott Fallon, NorthJersey.com
Contributing: The Associated Press