The Latest: CDC chief says US faces pandemic’s hardest time

NEW YORK — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts the country is about to go through “the most difficult time in the public health history of the nation.”

Dr. Robert Redfield made the comment during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation webcast Wednesday.

Redfield says earlier surges in COVID-19 illnesses were concentrated in one area of the country or another, and health care workers and equipment could be shifted from one place to another to deal with it. But now, he says,all parts of the country are seeing rising infections and illnesses.

In Redfield’s words: “The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”



— U.K. approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, puts Britain on track to start vaccinations soon

— International Red Cross seeks equitable access to vaccines

— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths

— Tokyo Olympic fans from abroad may have health tracked by app


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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus case, shattering the state’s previous one-day record of 18,350 as Gov. Gavin Newsom — himself quarantined at home after his family was exposed — considers a new stay-at-home order.

Following an early summer surge that prompted a new round of restrictions, California’s cases plummeted in August and September and the state relaxed restrictions, allowing more businesses to operate, indoor religious services to resume and many schools to reopen for classroom instruction.

But new cases have exploded in recent weeks. A record 8,500 people are in hospitals, including more than 2,000 in intensive care units.


ATLANTA — Leaders of some of Georgia’s hospitals tell Gov. Brian Kemp that they are seeing increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, though those infected with the coronavirus do not appear as gravely ill as patients hospitalized in earlier waves.

During a meeting Wednesday, they said patients being admitted are younger and less likely to end up in an intensive care unit or on a ventilator.

But they also say demand from other patients is higher than in earlier surges and those other patients are much sicker.

Bryce Gartland of Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare said: “I think it’s important for all of us to stay grounded that this third surge is very different than the first and the second ones. This one is much more insidious in nature. It’s much more building in nature.”


TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas is reporting spikes in COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations as the state prepares to see that health care workers receive the first available vaccines.

Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday the state expects to receive the first of two vaccine doses for 23,750 people by the middle of this month if the FDA authorizes emergency use of a vaccine made by Pfizer.

Kelly says the state will follow federal guidance target first health care workers who are at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus, such as those who work with COVID-19 patients.

Kansas officials reported 119 deaths since Monday, raising the state’s COVID-19 death toll 1,679. Kansas also had a record-high daily average of 53 new COVID-19 hospitalizations during the seven-day period that ended Wednesday.


ATLANTA — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on an expert panel’s recommendation that health care workers and nursing home residents be the first to get coronavirus vaccinations when shots become available.

Dr. Robert Redfield’s decision was posted on the CDC website Wednesday.

Experts believe that when a vaccine becomes available, doses will be limited in the first weeks and months. That will mean officials will have to decide whether certain people should be first in line. Doctors have been watching for federal advice about how priorities should be set.

On Tuesday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 that the first people vaccinated should be health-care workers and patients in nursing homes, long-term chronic care hospitals, and other U.S. long-term care facilities.


BOSTON — A coalition of U.S. colleges and universities is urging Congress to pass a new coronavirus relief bill with at least $120 billion for higher education, saying the sector faces a crisis of “almost unimaginable” scale.

The letter signed by the American Council on Education and 100 other groups says financial losses caused by the pandemic are far worse than schools had expected. Colleges have laid off thousands of workers to cut costs, but the letter says the pared-down operations will unstainable without additional federal help.

Colleges have had to increase financial aid to help students who are struggling to pay tuition, and schools have lost revenue from closed dorms and dining halls.

Enrollments have also decreased amid the pandemic, with a 13% drop in freshmen across all U.S. institutions. At the same time, many states have cut their higher education budgets.


AUSTIN, Texas — The mayor of Austin, Texas, is apologizing for taking a family vacation to Mexico in November at the same time he was telling residents to stay home because of a worsening surge in coronavirus cases.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Wednesday that his trip to Cabo San Lucas “set a bad example.” The apology came hours after the Austin American-Statesman published a story revealing the vacation, which Adler had previously never mentioned publicly.

At one point during the trip to Mexico, Adler even posted a video on Facebook telling people in Austin that now was “not the time to relax” and urging them to stay home.

Texas this week surpassed 9,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 for the first time since summer.

The mayor has been among the state’s most vocal politicians in pleading for vigilance during the pandemic.


TORONTO — Canada’s health minister says health officials will soon complete a review of the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Health Minister Party Hajdu on Wednesday described the United Kingdom’s decision to authorize the vaccine as “encouraging.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been facing criticism since Trudeau admitted last week that other countries with domestic vaccine production are likely to inoculate their citizens first before shipping doses to Canada.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser said last week that several vaccine candidates are under review, and the first could be approved sometime this month. Dr. Supriya Sharma said at a briefing Nov. 26 that the agency expected to make a decision on approval around the same time as regulators in the United States and Europe.


BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says the state should receive its first doses of a coronavirus vaccine within weeks if the proposed drug wins federal approval as expected.

The governor says Louisiana’s frontline hospital workers and nursing home residents and staff should be vaccinated by the early part of January.

Edwards said Wednesday that Louisiana expects to receive around 40,000 doses in the first week that vaccine shipments start to go out, and then a similar amount the next week.

Louisiana is still determining how to prioritize vaccine distribution after hospital workers, nursing home residents and employees and other long-term care facilities receive the doses they need.


HONOLULU — A Hawaii seniors advocacy group is calling called on the state Department of Health to release more information about nursing home inspections after a coronavirus outbreak at a veterans home caused at least 27 deaths earlier this year.

Kokua Council wants the state to put all its inspection reports of long-term care facilities on the health department’s website.

The inspection report for the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home where at least 71 residents and 35 employees were infected has not been released. A message seeking comment from the facility was not immediately returned Wednesday.

The state health department said in October that the inspections at the facility after the outbreak were actually federal surveys.


OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska could gets its first shipments of a coronavirus vaccine in less than two weeks if the proposed drug wins federal approval, but health care workers will be given first priority and the general public may not get access until April, state officials said Wednesday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said the state tentatively expects to receive 15,600 doses of a vaccine produced by the drug manufacturer Pfizer the week of Dec. 13. Another 19,500 doses from the company are slated to arrive the following week, plus 32,100 doses from manufacturer Moderna if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves that company’s drug.

State officials are planning to receive more than 100,000 doses by the month’s end. With roughly 34,000 medical personnel in the state as of 2018, according to a University of Nebraska Medical Center report, and each person requiring two vaccine doses taken several weeks apart, that would account for many of the doses the state expects to receive this month.


KANSAS CITY — Health officials in Kansas City and St. Louis County who shut down some bars and restaurants in recent days for violating coronavirus restrictions are facing legal action and criticism from business owners and some public officials.

A Kansas City bar owner is asking a Jackson County court to issue a temporary restraining order to overturn a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants, which the city and Jackson County imposed two weeks ago as part of a series of restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. The bar is asking to be allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.

St. Louis County health inspectors on Tuesday shut down four businesses that they said violated a ban on indoor service at restaurants and bars. Kansas City health inspectors closed five businesses over Thanksgiving weekend — four for violating a 10 p.m. curfew and one for hosting a large gathering.

The pushback over dining restrictions comes during a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state and concerns about hospitals having enough beds to treat patients.


DENVER — Colorado lawmakers have passed several bills offering assistance to restaurants and food pantries struggling to keep their doors open during the coronavirus pandemic.

The special session that was called by Gov. Jared Polis ended on Wednesday. The bills created and expanded grant programs to improve internet access for students, assist childcare providers and help individuals having trouble paying utility and housing bills.

The return of lawmakers to the Capitol for the COVID-19 session highlighted partisan approaches to the virus.

Republicans refused to wear masks while on the floor and in meetings. Democrats at the session wore masks and others attended online.


MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin ordered a “large-scale” coronavirus immunization campaign to start by late next week.

Doctors and teachers set to be first in line to get a Russian-designed vaccine that has yet to complete the advanced studies needed to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Putin’s action came hours after Britain became the first country in the West to authorize the use of a vaccine against the coronavirus developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

Russia touted its domestically developed vaccine, Sputnik V, as the world’s “first registered COVID-19 vaccine” after the government gave it regulatory approval in early August. However, giving the shots the go-ahead drew criticism from experts, because at the time the Sputnik V only had been tested on several dozen people.


BATON ROUGE, La. — Craft brewers and bar owners told lawmakers that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ COVID-19 restrictions are damaging their operations and threaten to bankrupt their businesses.

Their complaints to the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday come as Louisiana sees its third surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Microbrewery owners say their taprooms shouldn’t be treated the same as bars that are largely required to shutter indoor operations under tightened virus rules the Democratic governor enacted last week. The brewers also called for the ability to deliver beer directly to consumers.

Bar owners criticized Edwards’ rules limiting indoor live music performances as too strict and largely unworkable.

Edwards toughened his coronavirus restrictions on businesses a week ago as Louisiana sees a third spike in cases and hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 — though many of the complaints to lawmakers involved restrictions that had been in place even before the stricter rules were issued.


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois on Wednesday reported a record 238 fatalities related to the coronavirus pandemic, a total that is nearly one-quarter higher than the previous record set during the spring onslaught of the illness.

The deaths were accompanied by 9,757 new cases of COVID-19, the malady caused by coronavirus infection. That was a drop from Tuesday’s newly confirmed cases, but the previous high of 192 deaths came on May 13, a day when there were just 1,677 new cases.

Overall, in nine months of the pandemic, there have been 12,639 deaths among 748,603 infections.


ALBANY, N.Y. — New York plans to prioritize nursing home residents and staff when it begins distributing the first doses of coronavirus vaccine, hopefully later this month.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the state expects to receive 170,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine by Dec. 15, if the pharmaceutical company gets the federal government’s OK to make it available to the public on an emergency basis.

The governor said New York expects at a later date to receive at least 40,000 more doses of a vaccine made by Moderna, if it gets federal authorization.

That would be enough to cover the state’s roughly 85,000 nursing home residents and 130,000 staff members, though Cuomo said he expects not all residents and staff members will agree to take the vaccine.

Remaining doses could then go to New York’s next priority: congregate care facilities and then some of the roughly 600,000 health care workers who treat patients in emergency rooms and intensive care units.


ATHENS, Greece — Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla urged global governments not to reopen economies too quickly because of the optimism created by possible COVID-19 vaccines.

“Given the pressure to open the economy, (governments) should not make this mistake…and relax immediately,” said Bourla, speaking at an online event hosted in his native Greece.

“The vaccine is one tool in controlling this disease…The time that we will have to go back to normality is not far away. But it is definitely not now.”

Bourla spoke Wednesday after Britain became the first country to approve a vaccine developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech.

The 59-year-old executive says early stages of national vaccination programs were likely to have a significant impact because they would be directed at vulnerable groups like seniors and health care workers.


DETROIT — A judge refused to block Michigan’s ban on indoor dining during a surge in coronavirus cases.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney say a “plausible explanation” for the state order exists: People can’t eat or drink without removing their mask, a step that could spread the virus.

Maloney turned down a request for an injunction with a week left in the three-week indoor dining ban. Some restaurant owners say the steady loss of customers could put many of them out of business. They say they’re concerned about a possible extension of the order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association and some restaurants sued the state health director. They say they can safely provide indoor dining and are treated unfairly when compared to other businesses.

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