Coronavirus updates: With 15M cases and nearly 290K deaths, US awaits first vaccine authorization; Los Angeles restaurants win court battle

Elinor Aspegren
 
| USA TODAY

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The U.S. surpassed 15 million coronavirus cases on Tuesday, with almost exactly 1 in 22 Americans having tested positive during the pandemic, just days before the first vaccine is expected to be authorized for use.

Two vaccines are in the final phases of the Food and Drug Administration emergency authorization process, with Pfizer and its partner BioNTech’s coming before the agency this week, followed by Moderna next week. Pfizer’s candidate could be approved as early as Thursday.

On Tuesday, about 50 hospitals in the U.K.’s state-run National Health Service started administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 inoculation to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or have outpatient appointments scheduled, along with nursing home workers.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 15.1 million cases and 286,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 68.1 million cases and 1.55 million deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: A USA TODAY survey finds most states are ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to health care workers but maybe not all who are next in line. Here’s how all 50 states are scrambling to dole them out.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

Bipartisan COVID-19 relief package: No stimulus checks

Congress is working to pass a proposed COVID-19 relief bill as millions of Americans face losing their jobless benefits at the end of the month.

The bipartisan proposal is expected to include about $300 per week in bonus federal unemployment payments for roughly four months, providing relief just as emergency aid payments at regular benefit levels are set to expire at year’s end. That would be a lower amount than the $600 per week that jobless Americans had received under the CARES Act until late July. The plan is also expected to extend base benefits through March.

The bipartisan package is also expected to leave out another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. 

A potential deal is coming down to the wire as 12 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. Eviction moratoriums for renters and protections for student borrowers are also set to expire, as well as a federal program for paid family leave.

– Jessica Menton

‘We messed up’: Ex-Alabama lawmaker warns of virus before death

Before his death from COVID-19 former Alabama state senator Larry Dixon spoke to his wife Gaynell of 53 years from his hospital bed and asked her to relay a warning.

“Sweetheart, we messed up. We just dropped our guard,” Dr. David Thrasher, a pulmonologist and friend of Dixon’s, recalled him saying.

Dixon, 78, died Friday from complications of COVID-19. Thrasher said his longtime friend had been mostly careful, but may have contracted the virus after gathering with friends.

“The last thing he told her was, ’Gaynell, I love you. We’ve got to tell people this is real,” Thrasher said.

Alabama and much of the country is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving gatherings. The state in the last two weeks has set records for the number of cases reported each day and the number of people in state hospitals with COVID-19.

Los Angeles restaurants win court battle over closures

Los Angeles County’s health director acted “arbitrarily” and didn’t prove the danger to the public when she banned outdoor dining at restaurants as coronavirus cases surged last month, a judge ruled Tuesday in a case other businesses may use to try to overturn closures and restrictions.

The county failed to show that health benefits outweigh the negative economic effects before issuing the ban, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote. He also said the county did not offer evidence that outdoor dining presented a greater risk of spreading the virus.

“By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the county acted arbitrarily and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end,″ the judge wrote.

Chalfant limited the outdoor dining ban to three weeks and said once it expires Dec. 16 the Department of Public Health must conduct a risk-benefit analysis before trying to extend it.

New HHS data shows COVID-19 surging at hospital ICUs

Data released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sheds new light on the dire impact of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s hospitals. HHS for the first time released weekly figures for more than 4,500 facilities, providing a detailed portrait of the virus in individual hospitals. 

As of last week, there were more than 21,000 patients in intensive care units across the nation, according to the data, which hospitals file daily or weekly with guidance from the White House. USA TODAY found close to 500 hospitals where acute coronavirus patients took up most of their intensive care beds. The map below depicts the average number of ICU patients confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 for the week of Nov. 27 through Dec. 3.

Hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Defense Health Agency and Indian Health Service are not included in the HHS data release. 

COVID-19 cases are soaring nationwide, with 200,000 added every day, according to USA TODAY analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. The nation also reported 104,600 Covid-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

In the last seven days, more than 15,000 Americans died of the disease.

– Aleszu Bajak

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY 

Contributing: The Associated Press