Coronavirus updates: Britain rolls out AstraZeneca vaccine; inflatable costume linked to hospital outbreak; December was worst month yet – USA TODAY

John Bacon

Elinor Aspegren
 
| USA TODAY

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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 350,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates surrounding the coronavirus, including who is getting the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as other top 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:

►More than 1.3 million travelers passed through the nation’s airports on Sunday, a new pandemic travel record as passengers headed from the holidays. Those numbers are still down significantly from a year ago, but the the holiday travel season has been stronger than expected.

►Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday that “tough, tough” weeks lie ahead and more restrictions are coming soon as a virus variant raged unchecked across Britain. Most of England already has closed gyms and non essential shops. “If you look at the numbers, there’s no question we will have to take tougher measures,” he said.

►The 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.

►Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday he would speed up vaccine approval and beef up border controls to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and promised to consider declaring a state of emergency.

► Vaccine rollout in the U.S. is still ramping up, and just over 4 million people have received a first dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

► 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 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 351,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 85 million cases and 1.8 million deaths.

Britain on Monday became the first nation to use the vaccine developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca, a vaccine not yet been authorized for emergency use in the U.S.

The National Health Service also endorsed delaying the second dose of the vaccine up to 12 weeks – three weeks is recommended – so that 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 past six 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.

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 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 United States 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 gets tested, how many testing sites are open, and how fast labs and governments reported data. That means some of December’s numbers will end up be tabulated in January.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s premiere infectious disease expert, warned last week that January likely will be worse than December.

Mike Stucka

Although there’s very little data on how pregnant and nursing mothers will respond to a COVID-19 vaccine, professional organizations and individual doctors say the benefits are very likely to outweigh the risks. 

According to a November study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women are significantly more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit, to end up on a ventilator, and to die from COVID-19 than women of the same age and health status who aren’t pregnant.

So far, none of the large clinical trials of vaccines have included pregnant or nursing mothers, which is “incredibly disappointing,” said Dr. Geeta Krishna Swamy, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Duke Medical Center, who helped write the vaccine guidelines for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Read more here.

– Karen Weintraub

Contributing: The Associated Press

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