CDC projects up to 420K deaths by mid-January; California is first state to 2M cases; COVID vaccine plans vary by state

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 325,000 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 federal government is close to delivering 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine during the month of December, as promised, but states are taking longer than expected to get those doses into people’s arms. Here’s what officials are saying about immunizations.

►The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects there will be 378,000 to 419,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. by Jan. 16, according to a projection published Wednesday.

►President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief package, demanding changes that fellow Republicans have opposed.

►A COVID-19 patient at a California hospital allegedly struck and killed his roommate with an oxygen tank because he was “upset when the victim started to pray,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday.

►Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera chose not to suspend quarterback Dwayne Haskins after he violated COVID-19 protocols Sunday night, which the team learned of after a social media post showed the second-year pro partying at a strip club without a mask. But Rivera did fine Haskins, and also stripped him of captain status.

►California has become the first state to surpass 2 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data, a somber marker reached only by seven countries.

►Louisiana Rep.-elect Luke Letlow has been transferred to the intensive care unit at Ochsner LSU Health in Shreveport to continue treatment for COVID-19, his spokesman told USA Today Network on Wednesday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 18.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 326,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 78.6 million cases and 1.7 million deaths.

Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories:

USA TODAY panel says US has nailed science behind vaccines

Experts are thrilled about the reported safety and effectiveness of two COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the country. But they remain concerned about what still could go wrong to shake the public’s fragile faith in it.

In interviews with USA TODAY over the past several days, a dozen vaccine experts were more guarded. Most believe vaccines won’t become widely available until late spring or early summer, assuming no production problems and the authorization of two additional vaccines by sometime in February.

Every month, members of USA TODAY’s expert panel gauge the progress of COVID-19 vaccines by choosing the time on an imaginary clock that began at midnight with the discovery of the virus in early 2020 and ends at noon, when a vaccine is freely available across the U.S. Each month, we calculate the median time – the midpoint of their estimates.

In June, that was 4 a.m. By October, the sun had risen and their consensus fell at 8 a.m. The time for November shot ahead to 9:30 a.m. – the biggest advance in a month to that point. For December, the panel returned to its steady pace and advanced the clock one hour to 10:30 a.m.

– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

What’s the point of failing students during COVID-19?

While a recent Rand Corp. study found just 6 in 10 U.S. teachers are assigning letter grades this fall, that rate is nearly double what it was in this past spring. Class failure rates have surged in districts across the country, from Virginia to Hawaii. And those F’s tend to be concentrated among low-income students of color, data indicate, as well as those who are still learning to speak English or have disabilities.

Nationally, students whose grades are plummeting, including seniors whose graduation prospects are at stake, may not have the chance to recover.

“There’s never a reason to fail a child if that child – a failure means you absolutely have no possibility of mastering something,” said Tanji Reed Marshall, of Ed Trust, a national nonprofit that seeks to close opportunity gaps in schools. “The idea of failing students right now seems pointless, particularly if a student’s … ‘lack of attendance’ is due to no fault of their own.”

– Alia Wong

States’ plans vary to get vaccine to highest-risk groups

As health care workers and nursing home residents await their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine, few realize that when they will get a dose depends a lot on what state they live in.

The vaccine’s allocations doesn’t correlate to the number of high-risk people there. As long as supplies are limited, some states won’t get doses proportionate to their needs.

“Easiest may not be ethically best, most defensible or best for public health,” said Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. “You want something that’s lifesaving to go where it’s most needed, not just evenly spread across the country.”

– Dennis Wagner, Donovan Slack and Aleszu Bajak

Why Americans are traveling despite health officials’ advice

Millions of Americans are traveling ahead of Christmas and New Year’s, despite pleas from public health experts that they stay home.

Some are elderly and figure they don’t have many Christmases left. Others are trying to keep long-distance romance alive. Some just yearn for the human connection that’s been absent for the past nine months.

Many people at airports this week thought long and hard about whether to go somewhere and found a way to rationalize it.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: CDC projects up to 420K deaths by mid-January; California

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