The coronavirus is quickly becoming one of the leading causes of death in the United States, experts say.
Thursday was the deadliest day of the pandemic in the U.S., with 2,897 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. While the more than 277,000 COVID-19 deaths may not seem like a lot in a nation of nearly 330 million people, COVID-19 has replaced accidents as the third leading cause of death.
According to the CDC, heart disease caused more than 650,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018 followed by cancer, which caused nearly 600,000 deaths. The third leading cause of death in the U.S. for that year were accidents or unintentional injuries, which killed about 167,000 people in 2018.
“Last year at this time, (COVID-19) wasn’t a cause of death. Now it’s around the number three cause of death,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The numbers of deaths that are occurring right now is an aberration, it’s not normal.”
For those who equate the impacts of coronavirus to the flu, only about 60,000 people died from influenza and pneumonia in 2018, according to the CDC. Experts say that’s on par with a typical flu season, putting it at eighth place for deaths in the U.S. under chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
Here’s what to know today:
- The island kingdom of Bahrain said Friday it has become the second nation in the world to grant an emergency-use authorization for the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. Britain was the first.
- Job gains have slowed for five straight months with November only adding 245,000 jobs with unemployment dipping to 6.7%.
- California warned that the rise of cases can overwhelm the state’s health care system within weeks. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a regional stay-at-home order that would go into effect when a region hits the ICU capacity threshold. Four regions — all but the San Francisco Bay area — could meet that threshold “within a day or two,” he said.
- The Navajo Nation requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government. Health officials serving the Navajo Nation have warned of supplies and hospital bed shortages.
- Warner Bros. is releasing all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max the same day as theaters, a move that experts say should certainly alarm theater chains and could very well sound the death knell for moviegoing as we know it.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 14 million cases and over 277,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 65 million cases and 1.5 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: USA TODAY’s editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll embarked on a mission to learn why some Americans deny the severity of COVID-19, despite overwhelming evidence otherwise. With the help of USA TODAY’s intrepid health reporters, she hopes that facts can change minds and counter misinformation.
🙂Some good news: An Alabama man who spent World War II repairing bomb-damaged trains in France recovered from a fight with COVID-19 in time to mark his 104th birthday. Read about it here.
This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.
Student loan borrowers won’t have to make payments on federal student loans until the end of January, the U.S. Education Department said Friday, extending a pandemic-era reprieve through the first days of the Joe Biden presidency.
The extension also continued a pause in interest on loans and in collections on delinquent loans through Jan. 31, said a news release from the department.
President Donald Trump’s Education Department first paused debt payments on federal student loans in March, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the U.S. economy. In August, officials extended that suspension through December. Now, the pandemic pause will last until Biden and his administration have taken over.
— Elinor Aspegren
Five San Francisco Bay Area counties imposed a new stay-at-home order for their residents that will take effect Sunday. Southern California and a large swath of the central portion of the state could join this weekend.
Those two regions have seen their intensive care unit capacity fall below the 15% threshold that under a new state stay-at-home order will trigger new restrictions barring all on-site restaurant dining and close hair and nail salons, movie theaters and many other businesses, as well as museums and playgrounds.
If their capacity remains below that level when the data is updated Saturday, the closures will take effect Sunday and stay in effect at least three weeks.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new plan Thursday. It is the most restrictive order since he imposed the country’s first statewide stay-at-home rule in March.
— Associated Press
President-elect Joe Biden said more must be done to plan the distribution of vaccines for COVID-19 after they are approved, but that his health advisers are developing plans.
“There’s a lot more that has to be done,” Biden told reporters. “There is no detailed plan that we’ve seen anyway about how you get the vaccine out of a container into an injection syringe and into an arm.”
He called the anticipated distribution “difficult and expensive.” He also said it must be equitable, to ensure that communities of color receive vaccinations beyond those distributed through major drugstore chains that might not have offices in all neighborhoods.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Biden said.
— Michael Collins and Bart Jansen
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was backing down from months-long demands for trillions in new coronavirus relief to support a $900 billion bipartisan deal because of two things: Joe Biden was elected president and a COVID-19 vaccine is on the way.
“That is a total game changer. A new president and a vaccine,” Pelosi said, adding that some of her objections to the bill are OK because another batch of relief will come once Biden takes office. “We have a new president, a president who recognizes that we need to depend on science to stop the virus.”
This week, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., backed a $908 billion proposal offered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate and House, saying it offered a good framework for bipartisan discussions.
Pelosi, asked about the sudden change after months of demands, cut off a reporter’s question and sternly said, “Don’t characterize what we did before as a mistake,” she said. “That was not a mistake. It was a decision. And it has taken us to a place where we can do the right thing without other, shall we say, considerations in the legislation that we don’t want.”
Time is of the essence, though. The government is set to shut down Dec. 11 if Congress does not pass a spending bill that President Donald Trump will sign and the House is only scheduled to be in session for one more week.
– Christal Hayes
The head of the World Health Organization is concerned that the vaccine may lead many to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a United Nations meeting Friday that “the light at the end of the tunnel” is beginning to emerge but that people across the world must not be complacent, according to Reuters.
“The truth is that at present, he said, “many places are witnessing very high transmission of the COVID-19 virus, which is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers.”
Key to ensuring the end of the pandemic, the WHO said, is ensuring that health care systems are able to survive — especially at a juncture in which hospitals in the United States are struggling again with resources, manpower and worsening COVID-19 cases.
Americans will likely experience at least one side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine, but doctors say that’s normal and you should still get vaccinated.
In Moderna’s trials, where more than half of Phase 1 study participants experienced some side effect, the company said the most common side effects in Phase 3 were fatigue, muscle soreness and aches, joint pain, headache, and pain, redness or swelling at the injection site. In Pfizer/BioNTech Phase 3 trials, the probability of getting fatigued or a headache was 3.8% and 2%, respectively.
Dr. Melanie Swift, an occupational medicine physician helping lead the COVID-19 vaccination plan at the Mayo Clinic, said it’s important to educate Americans about the vaccines’ side effects or it may deter people from getting the second dose.
“Just because you’re sore doesn’t mean that (the vaccine) didn’t work or wasn’t effective. It just means that your body responded the way it’s supposed to,” she said. “It’s important to take both doses or that first dose was all for nothing.” Read more here.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert and a member of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ transition team, told CNN in an interview that a national lockdown is not in the works for the future.
The focus of stay-at-home orders and other preventative measures will be on areas where COVID-19 spread rates are high, rather than an overall national shutdown.
“We really view this as restrictions that you dial up or dial down based on the local epidemiology,” Gounder said in an interview with the media outlet. She also emphasized the importance of keeping schools open, while supporting schools through that process by providing PPE and other resources.
U.S. employers added a disappointing 245,000 jobs in November despite the looming halt of extended jobless benefits and other federal lifelines for millions of Americans.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated that 486,000 jobs were added last month. Job gains have consistently slowed for five straight months since peaking at 4.8 million in June.
While the nation has recovered 56% of the 22.2 million jobs wiped out in the health crisis, the gains are offset by a resurgent virus across most of the country as states begin to re-implement stay-at-home orders and other restrictions.
– Paul Davidson
The first two COVID-19 vaccines to complete clinical trials have been so successful they raise concerns for the next ones. Is it ethical to give people a placebo when a lifesaving vaccine is available? Should those who received placebos in the first two trials be given preferential access to active vaccine to thank them for their sacrifice? There is no consensus among ethicists and public health officials on either point.
Typical vaccine trials last for two years. Both the group receiving the vaccine and the group receiving a placebo are followed to ensure safety and indicate how long the vaccine’s protection will last.
“We don’t have the full profile on these vaccines,” said Norman Baylor, president and CEO of Biologics Consulting and a former director of the Office of Vaccines Research and Review at the Food and Drug Administration.
Continuing to compare the placebo and active vaccine groups could help researchers better understand how different demographic groups, such as the elderly, respond to the vaccine and identify any unexpected longer-term health issues. That information will never become available, Baylor said, if placebo recipients are vaccinated in the coming months. Read more here.
– Karen Weintraub
In a potentially massive blow for the future of moviegoing, Warner Bros. announced Thursday that it’s releasing all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max the same day as theaters. The films will be available to HBO Max subscribers at no extra charge and will stream for one month. After they leave the platform following the 31-day streaming period, the movies will still be available to see in theaters.
The studio’s 2021 slate includes hotly anticipated sequels and would-be blockbusters such as “Dune,””The Suicide Squad,” “Matrix 4,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat” and “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.”
“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, in a statement. “We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
– Patrick Ryan and Bryan Alexander
Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that he accepted President-elect Joe Biden’s offer to be his chief medical officer.
“Absolutely, I said yes right on the spot,” Fauci told Savannah Guthrie on the “TODAY” show.
Biden said he asked Fauci to remain in his role as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases while also advising him as a chief medical officer.
Four of five California regions could meet the threshold to enter new stay-at-home orders “within a day or two” as intensive care unit bed capacity drops and COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm the state’s hospitals, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.
Newsom announced the new approach to stay-at-home orders, which divides the state into five broad regions and would close businesses and curb travel in those with intensive care unit bed capacity below 15%. Previous stay-at-home rules were based on infection rates, and the new strategy is set to go into effect Saturday.
California’s virus hospitalizations have nearly quadrupled since mid-October and now stand at 8,240, including 1,890 in intensive care units. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see our death rate climb, more lives lost,” Newsom said.
The Navajo Nation on Thursday requested a Major Disaster Declaration from the federal government as COVID-19 cases surge amid shortages of medical supplies, personnel and hospital beds. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced the declaration in a virtual town hall after hearing from public health officials and health care workers about shortages and challenges across the Nation.
The declaration, which can only be signed into effect by President Donald Trump, would bring a wide range of additional infrastructural and financial resources to the Navajo Nation, Nez said. These would include reimbursements for general fund spending and mental health resources for doctors, children and front-line workers.
Nez also announced an extension until Dec. 27 of the Nation’s current lockdown, which was initially due to expire Sunday. The Nation also will reinstate a 57-hour weekend curfew for three weeks beginning at 9 p.m. on Dec. 11.
– Emily Wilder, Arizona Republic
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Contributing: The Associated Press