USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as vaccines begin to roll out nationwide. Just last week, the U.S. marked the stark milestone of more than 17 million cases and 300,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. 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:
► While acknowledging Tennessee as “ground zero for a surge in sickness,” Gov. Bill Lee on Sunday night tightened statewide restrictions on social gatherings for the next 30 days but stopped short of a mask mandate. The state ranked No. 1 in the country for COVID-19 infections in the past week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted for population.
►Congressional leaders worked through an impasse and agreed Sunday on a coronavirus relief package worth about $900 billion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced the deal, which would provide $600 stimulus checks for most Americans, boost unemployment benefits by up to $300 a week and enhance vaccine distribution.
►Essential workers like police officers and teachers, along with people 75 and older, will be in line to get coronavirus vaccines after the first phase, which is focusing on frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.
►The nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, which has hit California especially hard in recent weeks, has prompted Apple to temporarily shut down all 53 of its stores in the state and about 12 others elsewhere.
►The first shipments of the nation’s second COVID-19 vaccine rolled out of a Memphis-area distribution center Sunday. Inoculations with the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health are expected to begin Monday, three days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized their emergency rollout.
►Italy, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands have banned travel from the U.K. to prevent the spread of a more infectious variant of coronavirus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered tighter restrictions and scrapped a plan to relax rules for the holidays.
►President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will get vaccinated Monday, Biden’s office said. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will receive their doses the following week. Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received their first doses Friday.
►U.S. health officials say they have seen six cases of severe allergic reaction out of more than a quarter million shots of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
► The 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will be about 140 miles shorter than normal as a result of complications stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 17.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 317,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 76.7 million cases and almost 1.7 million deaths.
Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories:
New virus strain a concern, but vaccines still expected to be effective
A new variant of the coronavirus that has prompted tighter restrictions in England poses a danger because of its increased level of transmissibility, but it does not appear to be immune to vaccines.
“We should be vigilant, not worried,” said Butler University associate professor Ogbonnaya Omenka, among the public health experts who noted that vaccine makers take into account virus mutations when developing their products.
Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, said Americans should not lose confidence in the new COVID-19 vaccines just because the virus has mutated.
– John Bacon
Moderna coronavirus vaccines are on the way
Moderna coronavirus vaccine deliveries should begin to arrive across the nation Monday, just three days after it was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Initial shipments of the second COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. left a Memphis-area distribution center Sunday.
The Pfizer vaccine was approved Dec. 11. The first Pfizer and Moderna shots are nearly all going to health care workers and residents of long-term care homes, based on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The general public is expected to have access to the shots in the spring or summer.
Essential workers will get vaccine next
Key workers regularly exposed to the public, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers and grocery-store employees, will be next in line for a COVID-19 vaccine priority, based on a recommendation Sunday by a CDC panel. They would follow front-line health care workers and staff and residents in long-term care facilities in receiving vaccines, possibly as early as February. The panel also voted in favor of those age 75 and older to be part of that vaccine phase.
“Essential workers are at high risk because of exposure, by virtue of being in contact with others, in performing their duties. Prevention of disease in essential workers may reduce transmission to others,” said Dr. Kathleen Dooling, a CDC physician who is co-lead on the advisory panel.
– Elizabeth Weise
Increased travel may further fuel spike in infections
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.” More than 1 million people in the U.S. ignored that advice and took to the skies both Friday and Saturday, according to Transportation Security Administration figures.
Saturday’s total of about 1.07 million air travelers was 57% below last year’s figure at the same time, but still represents the largest surge in daily traffic at U.S. airports since Nov. 22 as people began their Thanksgiving getaways.
That’s raising concerns among public health officials as the country continues to get staggered by the biggest spike in infections, hospitalizations and deaths since the pandemic began. Some of that dramatic growth has been blamed on Thanksgiving travel and gatherings. Experts note the upcoming holiday period from Christmas to New Year’s Day covers a longer stretch timespan than the Thanksgiving break.
Even prominent health officials struggle to abide by the recommendations to avoid travel and gatherings with people from outside the home. The Associated Press reports that Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, traveled to one of her vacation properties in Delaware the day after Thanksgiving along with three generations of her family from two households.
As vaccine rolls out, undocumented immigrants fear retribution
After years of isolationist and punitive immigration policies from the Trump administration, many immigrants – whose physical and fiscal health has, along with many people of color, been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – might be unwilling to come forward and get vaccinated. COVID-19 has been particularly merciless to Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans for reasons that include poverty, preexisting health conditions and front-line jobs. This demographic includes many immigrants; the vast majority of those undocumented are from Mexico and Central America. Many of them are critical to farming and meatpacking, and their illness and death represent both a human tragedy and an economic blow.
“The vaccine must be fully available to undocumented Americans, if not, it will put all of us at risk,” said Manuel Pastor, head of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, which uses data and analysis to dissect equity issues. Read more here.
– Marco della Cava, Daniel Gonzalez and Rebecca Plevin, USA TODAY Network
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID update: Stimulus deal; Moderna vaccines out; new virus strain