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 345,000 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:
► As of Friday, more than 20 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the United States. More than 346,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with the US hitting the once-unthinkable milestone of 300,000 dead mere weeks ago. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has previously warned the country could reach 450,000 fatalities before Feb. 1, days short of the one-year anniversary of the first known COVID-19 death in the USA.
► Turkey has identified 15 new cases of the new coronavirus strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom. The country’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Friday said the strain was found in recent travelers from the U.K. All 15 people, along with the people they have been in contact with, are in quarantine. Koca said the strain was not found in passengers arriving from other countries.
► Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told Newsweek it’s “quite possible” that the COVID-19 vaccine could become required when traveling to other countries. “Everything will be on the table for discussion,” Fauci said. Israel earlier this month announced that residents who get the COVID-19 vaccine will receive a “green passport” that will grant them “certain benefits and freedoms,” like traveling abroad, the Jerusalem Post reported.
► A Wisconsin health care provider says a pharmacist intentionally removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from a refrigerator, causing them to be discarded. Local police announced an arrest Thursday night, but did not identify him. Aurora Medical Center said 500 vials were tampered with; those who had received the shots were being notified. Aside from the immunization being less effective or possibly ineffective, no adverse effects were predicted.
► Republican Sen. David Perdue announced Thursday that he was quarantining after coming into contact with someone on his campaign who tested positive for COVID-19, a striking development just five days before voters decide his political fate in a runoff race in Georgia.
► Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday blocked quick passage of increasing stimulus checks to $2,000 for the third time, calling the proposal – a key demand of President Donald Trump – “socialism for rich people.”
► The West Virginia National Guard says it accidentally injected 42 people with Regeneron Antibody instead of a Moderna coronavirus vaccine.
📈 Today’s numbers: California on Thursday surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, the third state to do so after New York and Texas, health officials said. New York has nearly 38,000 deaths and Texas has more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
📰 What we’re reading: Heart failure in children is another rare COVID-19 complication. Here’s what to look for.
In the US: 20M confirmed cases of COVID-19 since pandemic started
The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases has surpassed 20 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s nearly twice as many as the No. 2 country, India, and nearly one-quarter of the more than 83 million cases globally.
COVID-19 deaths have also increased in the country, now totaling more than 346,000.
India and Brazil trail behind the U.S. in coronavirus cases at over 10 million and 7 million, respectively. The increase comes as officials race to vaccinate millions of Americans but have come off to a slower and messier start.
New York City police prevent Times Square crowds as 2020 rings to an end
New York City police prevented crowds of any size from gathering in Times Square. Citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, police closed the Crossroads of the World to vehicles and pedestrians at midnight and said they would disperse any onlookers venturing into a so-called “frozen zone” – the blocks surrounding the ball that historically draw shoulder-to-shoulder crowds.
Still, modest throngs of people gathered just outside the police perimeter, which took on the feel of a tailgate as midnight neared. Many said they wanted to end a challenging year on their own terms.
Small groups of revelers, some wearing glittery hats, filmed their distant view of Times Square on their phones and broke out in cheers at midnight. There were kisses and toasts, but police quickly broke up the crowds gathered along Broadway after the ball fell.
New Year’s Eve:Anderson Cooper, Andy Cohen, many tequila shots were perfect send-off to terrible 2020
60% of Ohio nursing home workers refusing to get vaccinated
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he was troubled by the relatively low numbers of nursing home workers who have elected to take the vaccine and warned that the opportunity may not return for sometime. Nursing homes will get three visits for the vaccine, DeWine said. After the initial stop, nursing homes will be hit again to administer second doses for anyone who received the vaccine the first time and to give an initial dose to anyone else who wants it. After that, only second doses will be distributed, he said.
“Everyone makes their own choice about this, but we want to make it clear that opportunity may not come back for a while,” he said.
– Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch
More than 500 doses of vaccine intentionally ruined by worker
Wisconsin health care provider Advocate Aurora Health says a now-fired employee intentionally removed 57 vials of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine from a refrigerator last weekend, causing them to become ineffective and be discarded. Each vial contains enough vaccine for 10 vaccinations. Initially, Aurora was “led to believe” the removal was an error. But Wednesday, an employee “acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration,” according to a statement from the health care provider. The employee was fired, and Aurora said it notified “appropriate authorities for further investigation.”
Push for teacher vaccinations may not save this school year
Teachers should be among the essential workers next in line for a COVID-19 vaccine, an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week. And some states plan to push for those vaccinations as a way to fast-track school reopenings. The problem: The vaccine’s rollout has faced delays across the nation, raising the question of whether teachers will be able to get the shot in time to make a difference in the current school year. Not all states are waiting for teachers to be protected before bringing back in-classroom learning.
“We staunchly advocate for schools being open prior to teachers being vaccinated,” Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Wednesday. “We have almost nine, 10 months of data that shows that schools are not a primary or even a significant place of a transmission.”
– Elinor Aspegren
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; Associated Press