Coronavirus updates: Stimulus money on the way; Colorado confirms first new virus strain in US; UK approves Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

Jessica Flores

Grace Hauck
 
| USA TODAY

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New COVID-19 relief: More stimulus checks and unemployment benefits

Lawmakers struck a nearly $900 billion COVID-19 relief deal including another round of stimulus checks and jobless benefits for struggling Americans.

Staff video, USA TODAY

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 338,000 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:

►China’s state-owned company Sinopharm said Wednesday that it has an efficacious coronavirus vaccine. Data from Phase III clinical trials shows the vaccine made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products is 79% efficacious, according to a press release.

►Britain on Wednesday authorized emergency use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.” Britain has bought 100 million doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and plans to begin injections within days. The shot is expected to be relied on in many countries because of its low cost, availability and ease of use. It can be kept in refrigerators rather than the ultra-cold storage some other vaccines require. 

►California extended its regional stay-at-home order for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, where there is 0% ICU capacity. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said the order is in effect “for the time being” with no set expiration date for the restrictions, the Los Angeles Times reported. Ghaly said ICU projections will determine when the orders will be lifted.

► A top Texas health official on Tuesday ordered providers to begin offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people over 65 and those with medical conditions, including pregnancy, who are at greater risk of a severe case of COVID-19. Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, and Gov. Greg Abbott are urging providers to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible as COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases surge.

► The Cleveland Browns added three more players to their COVID-19 list Tuesday just days before Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh. There are now a total of nine players on the COVID-19 reserve list.

► Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died Tuesday with COVID-19. Letlow, 41, was admitted to a hospital on Dec. 19, a day after announcing he tested positive for the virus. He won the 5th Congressional District seat earlier this month in a runoff election against fellow Republican state Rep. Lance Harris.

► Alaska’s largest city will ease some COVID-19 restrictions starting Friday. Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson on Tuesday announced that bars and restaurants can reopen for indoor service at 25% capacity; Gyms, retail and personal care services can operate at 50% capacity; and entrainment facilities can reopen at 25%. “We’ve brought cases down. We freed up space at our hospitals, and now we find ourselves in a slightly better position,” Quinn-Davidson said. “The decisions we make in Anchorage have a ripple effect across the entire state.”

►Americans who have direct deposit set up through the Internal Revenue Service could be receiving their stimulus payment as early as Tuesday night, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Paper checks will begin to be mailed Wednesday, according to a press release from the Treasury Department. The new round of stimulus includes $600 direct payment to qualifying individual Americans, or $1,200 for couples.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 19.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 338,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 81.9 million cases and 1.78 million deaths. 

Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories:

China’s state-owned company Sinopharm said Wednesday that is has an efficacious coronavirus vaccine. Data from Phase III clinical trials shows the vaccine made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products is 79% efficacious, according to a brief press release.

Sinopharm said it had submitted an application for authorization to the State Food and Drug Administration, but the nation has already begun offering the vaccine to wide swaths of its population. China plans to vaccinated 50 million people before Lunar New Year in February, the South China Morning Post reported earlier this month.

Meanwhile, a new study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention this week suggests that 10 times more people were infected with COVID-19 in its origin city of Wuhan, China, than previously reported.

Using a sample of 34,000 people in Wuhan and other cities, researchers found that about 4.43% of the Wuhan participants tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. The finding suggests that half a million people in the city of 11 million – not 50,000, as reported by local officials – may have been infected with COVID-19.

Will malls survive COVID-19?

In recent years, the future of shopping malls has been in doubt as online shopping gained steam and one-time anchor retailers like Sears and Macy’s struggled financially and shuttered stores. Then came COVID-19.

Now, as coronavirus vaccines roll out across the U.S., top-tier shopping centers are likely to bounce back in the new year, retail experts predict. But those that were in trouble before the COVID-19 crisis may disappear more quickly, as shoppers bypass them for malls offering a more upscale experience, or simply choose to click and shop online. 

“In 2021, the good malls will continue to do well,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail consultancy GlobalData. “It’s the weaker ones that will suffer…The future of the mall isn’t doomed or completely redundant. It’s just that 2021 will be a year of reckoning for underperforming properties.”

– Charisse Jones and Kelly Tyko

Colorado confirms first known US case of new COVID-19 variant

Colorado has confirmed the first known U.S. case of a new coronavirus strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

“Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the U.K.,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely.”

The Colorado state laboratory confirmed the case and notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the governor’s office said in a statement. The patient is a man in his 20s who is recovering in isolation in Elbert County, outside Denver. He has no travel history and no close contacts. Public health officials were conducting an investigation.

– Grace Hauck

Infected mink escaped from Oregon farm afflicted by outbreak

Oregon state officials confirmed that a mink infected with coronavirus escaped from a farm that was quarantined in November following an outbreak that affected both mink and humans. The runaway mink was caught Dec. 13 by a team of state biologists, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and tested positive for low levels of the virus just over a week later.

Five opossums and two cats were also captured around the same time as the mink. None of the other animals tested positive for COVID-19.

“There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating or has been established in the wild,” said Dr. Ryan Scholz, a veterinarian for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, in a statement. “Still, we are taking this situation very seriously and continuing to survey and trap near the farm.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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