Coronavirus live updates: West Virginians injected with antibodies instead of vaccine; tight security in Times Square

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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 342,000 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:

► Public health restrictions at restaurants and gyms will be eased across much of Colorado starting next week despite the state confirming the first known U.S. case of a more contagious COVID variant first uncovered in Britain. Gov. Jared Polis cited sustained improvement, including intensive care units operating below capacity.

►The West Virginia National Guard says it accidentally injected 42 people with Regeneron Antibody instead of a Moderna coronavirus vaccine. Medical experts with the Joint Interagency Task Force said they don’t believer there is a “risk of harm.” The antibody is used in treating some cases of the virus. Major General James Hoyer said the guard “immediately reviewed and strengthened our protocols.”

► German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to keep up their discipline in fighting the coronavirus pandemic well into 2021, even as vaccinations fuel new hope. In a televised New Year’s message, Merkel said facing the pandemic “was and is a political, social and economic task of the century.” Merkel’s get-tough policies to curb the outbreak have drawn positive polling numbers.

► Chinese health regulators said Thursday that they have given conditional approval to a coronavirus vaccine developed by state-owned Sinopharm. The two-dose vaccine is the first approved for general use in China. The go-ahead comes as the country has begun to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday in February.

►Los Angeles County has surpassed 10,000 coronavirus deaths. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said the average number of COVID-19 deaths is 150 people a day. More than 7,000 people are hospitalized, and 20% are in intensive care units.

►A Wisconsin health care provider says an individual intentionally removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from a refrigerator, causing them to be discarded. “We are more than disappointed that this individual’s action will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine,” Advocate Aurora Health said in a statement.

►Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine expressed concern about the roughly 60% of nursing home employees who have refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. “We aren’t going to make them, but we wish they had a higher compliance,” he said. “Our message today is the train may not be coming back for a while.”

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 19.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 342,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 82.8 million cases and 1.8 million deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order that allowed people 65 and older to jump ahead of essential workers while many health care workers wait for their shot and hospitals scramble to meet demand. Could the state’s vaccine rollout be a lesson?

Hamilton County Health Department worker Shelly Donahue gives a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine to a woman on Wednesday at a drive-thru vaccination site in Chattanooga, Tenn.

You can take that stimulus check to the bank. But it won’t be very big.

Stimulus payments from the most recent COVID-19 relief package are starting to arrive in bank accounts and should land in mailboxes in the near future. This fifth round of COVID-19 stimulus that President Donald Trump signed into law Sunday resembles March’s $2.2 billion CARES Act, but it’s not nearly as generous. Calls by Trump and Democrats to increase the checks to $2,000 appear unlikely after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell linked it to two unrelated issues Democrats won’t support. The $920 billion pricetag is a third of the bill House Democrats passed for earlier this year. 

Jim Sergent and Ledyard King

Allergists say vaccines are safe despite some adverse reactions

A team of experts led by allergists at Massachusetts General Hospital has determined that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can be administered safely even to people with food or medication allergies. Several adverse reactions have been reported, first in Britain and later in the U.S. The group’s review, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, notes that allergic reactions to vaccines are rare, with a rate of about 1.3 per 1 million people. Aleena Banerji, MD, clinical director of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Unit at the hospital, along with her co-authors, recommends that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to an injectable drug speak with their allergists before being vaccinated.

“We want to encourage vaccination by reassuring the public that both FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe,” Banerji said.

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

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

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.”

New York City police prevent crowds from gathering in Times Square

New York City police will be doing some unusual work on New Year’s Eve this year. They are preventing 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. Revelers bound for Times Square won’t be permitted past police lines.

“If you think you’re going to be able to stand there and watch the ball, you’re mistaken,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan said, referring to the glittering, crystal ball that descends over Times Square each New Year’s Eve to mark the stroke of midnight.

Texas hospital group disputes concern over unused vaccine

The state’s largest hospital association is pushing back against a suggestion from Gov. Greg Abbott and the state’s top health official that a large number of coronavirus vaccines could be going unused in Texas hospitals. Abbott and Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, sounded the alarm and are urging health care providers to begin vaccinating people 65 and over and those with underlying health conditions if they have concluded the first phase of vaccinations.

But most hospitals in the state are still in the first phase and are vaccinating the first group of eligible Texans – hospital staffers working directly with coronavirus patients; long-term care residents and staff; emergency workers; and home health care workers – or have not yet received any shipments of the vaccine, according to Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Hospital Association.

– Nicole Cobler and Claire Osborn, Austin American-Statesman

More states expected to report cases of more contagious virus strain

California has reported its first case of a more contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom – the second confirmed case in the U.S. Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking in an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said the case was confirmed in Southern California on Wednesday afternoon. Colorado reported the first known case of the variant in the U.S. on Tuesday and was investigating a second possible case Wednesday. Both of the cases are National Guard soldiers who were deployed to support staffing at a nursing home in Simla, Colorado, outside Denver, state health officials said.

Fauci said he was not surprised by the finding in California. “We likely will be seeing reports from more states,” Fauci said. “This is something that’s expected.”

– Grace Hauck and Joel Shannon

Holidays, funding and ‘learning curve’ slow vaccine rollout

More than 12.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have shipped to U.S. states, but just over 2.5 million people received shots as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials say the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations should pick up significantly in the coming weeks. For now, however, they point to a host of reasons for the lag, including vaccination systems still gearing up, federal funding that hasn’t yet been disbursed to states and a requirement that states set aside vaccine for long-term-care facilities.

“Here’s what I have confidence in: Every day, everybody gets better, and I believe that uptake will increase significantly as we go forward,” Operation Warp Speed’s Gen. Gustave Perna said at a briefing Wednesday. Two holidays and three major snowstorms also hurt the rollout, he said.

“There’s a learning curve in the system,” said Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed science adviser. Read more

– Elizabeth Weise

Contributing: The Associated Press

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