USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as vaccines begin to roll out nationwide. Just this week, the U.S. marked the stark milestone of more than 300,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. 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:
►Texas has become just the second state to surpass 1.5 million COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins data. Only 10 countries have topped that somber milestone.
►The other state with more than 1.5 million cases, California, hasordered an additional 5,000 body bags and stationed mobile morgues to hospitals in the hardest-hit counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.
►The New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources, that the Trump administration was negotiating a deal that would free up more raw materials for Pfizer to produce tens of millions of additional doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.
►Coronavirus cases have declined in the past few weeks in some Midwestern states, including Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska. Hospitalizations and deaths, however, are still on the rise due to an earlier surge of positive COVID-19 cases.
►Two former top Republican political appointees at the CDC described to the New York Times in interviews how the Trump administration took control of the once science-driven agency and had “a complete grasp on everything.”
►Dr. Lester Morehead, a hospitalist in the COVID-19 unit at Queen’s Medical Center, was “honored” to be the first person in Hawaii to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. “My biggest fear is that people won’t get the vaccine,” he said.
►Ronald Begay was one of the first health care workers on the Navajo Nation to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility on Monday. Navajo Area Indian Health Service officials distributed 3,900 doses of the vaccine to several health care facilities.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 16.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 303,800 deaths. The global totals: More than 73.6 million cases and 1.6 million deaths.
Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories:
More young adults died during pandemic than previously expected, study finds
While many believe that COVID-19 is a disease that only kills the elderly, a study found that the virus also contributed to excess death in adults between the ages of 25 and 44.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that 76,000 Americans in this age range died from March through July, nearly 12,000 more than expected based on prior seasonal trends, according to the research letter published Wednesday in JAMA.
On average, about 38% of those deaths were attributed directly to COVID-19. In some regions like New York and New Jersey, about 80% of excess deaths were attributed to the disease.
In some regions that experienced substantial surges, COVID-19 deaths “equaled or exceeded the number of deaths caused by unintentional opioid overdoses in 2018,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, lead author and ER physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“In these regions, COVID-19 appears to have temporarily rivaled or surpassed the usual leading cause of death among U.S. adults ages 25-44.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the nation’s first home COVID-19 test that doesn’t need a lab or medical provider’s prescription. The test, made by Australia-based Ellume, can deliver results in about 15 minutes and will cost about $30.
The FDA authorized the Ellume tests for people age 2 and up, with or without symptoms. Ellume’s rapid antigen test includes a nasal swab for users to collect a sample and place into a cartridge. A smartphone app instructs consumers how to use the test and displays results. It allows results to be shared with a health provider.
The Australian company, which signed a $30 million National Institutes of Health contract to develop the test, said it will deliver 20 million home tests to the United States through June 2021.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Ellume’s home test is “a major breakthrough for Americans’ ever-expanding access to convenient COVID-19 testing options.”
– Ken Alltucker
Americans are increasingly concerned about vaccine safety after four people in Pfizer-BioNTech trials and three people in the Moderna trials developed Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles. While it may sound scary, experts say Bell’s palsy is more common and less severe than people think.
Bell’s palsy, also known as peripheral facial nerve palsy, can occur at any age, according to the Mayo Clinic. The exact causes are unknown, but it’s believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face, or a reaction after a viral infection.
Dr. Anthony Geraci, Northwell Health’s Director of Neuromuscular Medicine in Great Neck, New York, says at least two Bell’s palsy patients visit his office a month, and they always recover within several weeks.
He said it’s important the public understands Bell’s palsy is just a “bogeyman side effect” and shouldn’t prevent someone from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s a cautionary tale that should not mitigate the larger good that both individuals and society are going to derive from all of these vaccines,” Geraci said.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
A Kansas mayor has resigned following backlash to comments she made in a USA TODAY story in support of a mask mandate in her city. Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw, citing concerns for her safety, resigned Tuesday, effective immediately.
Since the Dec. 11 publication of the USA TODAY story, Warshaw said she has been met with aggression, including threats via phone and email from Dodge City citizens. Some threatening emails have been turned over to police, she said.
“We just felt like we had to do something so everybody was aware of how important it was for everybody to be responsible for each other’s health and well-being,” Warshaw was quoted in the USA TODAY story.
Dodge City, one of the largest cities in western Kansas, passed a mask mandate on Nov. 16 after more than 1 out of every 10 county residents had contracted the virus.
– Vincent Marshall, Dodge City Daily Globe
Two young, former Republican political appointees to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described in New York Times’ interviews how the Trump administration meddled in the agency’s science and corroded trust in the once apolitical institution of public health.
“Everyone wants to describe the day that the light switch flipped and the CDC was sidelined. It didn’t happen that way,” Kyle McGowan, former CDC chief of staff, told the Times. “It was more of like a hand grasping something, and it slowly closes, closes, closes, closes until you realize that, middle of the summer, it has a complete grasp on everything at the CDC.”
McGowan and former deputy chief of staff Amanda Campbell, who both left CDC in August, depicted episodes of the Trump White House injecting politics the agency’s guidance, briefings and Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a noted public health publication.
“It wasn’t until something was in the M.M.W.R. that was in contradiction to what message the White House and H.H.S. were trying to put forward that they became scrutinized,” Campbell told the Times.
Contributing: The Associated Press