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Coronavirus updates: At least 41 infected after New Orleans swingers convention; 2 California mayors defy COVID rules; 270K US deaths

Coronavirus updates: At least 41 infected after New Orleans swingers convention; 2 California mayors defy COVID rules; 270K US deaths
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Doctors and nurses working in hospitals across the country are sharing the realities of COVID-19.

USA TODAY

The United Kingdom has become the first western country to approve widespread use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech, the British government said Wednesday. 

The first shots will be given to the most vulnerable people next week, according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Trials have shown the vaccine is more than 95% effective against COVID-19.

British regulators insisted that “no corners have been cut.” In a briefing Wednesday, the agency’s, Dr. June Raine, said the public can be “absolutely confident” that its standards are equivalent to those anywhere around the world.

Meanwhile in the U.S., public health officials voted Tuesday to add residents of long-term care facilities to front-line health care workers as the first Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The advisory panel convened by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered advice on who should get specific vaccines and when, but each state ultimately makes the call. 

What you need to know today:

  • The CDC reportedly will soon trim quarantine rules for close contact with an infected person to seven to 10 days from 14. 
  • After a months-long impasse, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a temporary $908 billion coronavirus aid package that would run until April but not include a second round of stimulus checks.
  • In New Orleans, at least 41 people have tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a swingers convention, according to NOLA.com. About 250 people attended the event in November due to restrictions, down from nearly 2,000 who checked in last year.

📈 Today’s numbers:  The U.S. has reported more than 13.7 million cases and over 270,600deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 63.9 million cases and 1.48 million deaths.

📰 What we’re reading:   Will there be side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine? When can you get it? We answer your vaccine questions.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

Nashville nurse, roommates charged after throwing Halloween party with 100 people

Nashville police are criminally charging three women including a registered nurse after police said they violated Metro Health orders for hosting a large house party on Halloween.

The roommates, all 23 years old, were issued misdemeanor citations in connection with an Oct. 31 football watch party at their East Nashville home. According to an arrest affidavit, officers responding to a complaint about a loud party heard music blaring and saw several people in the yard.

In all, police said they found more than 100 people inside and outside the home. No more than 25 people were permitted to gather in Davidson County at the time unless the gathering was approved by the city. Police said the women told the guests to go home. 

One of the women is a registered nurse at TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, authorities said.

– Natalie Neysa Alund, Nashville Tennesseean

Families claim California failed to educate poor, minority students

Seven families filed a lawsuit against California that claims the state failed to provide “basic educational equality” for children of color from low-income backgrounds during the pandemic.

The lawsuit alleges the state has not provided students or teachers with the devices, internet connection, training and support needed for remote learning. It asks the court to rule that the state’s education authorities violated students’ constitutional right to an education and that they must correct the inequities with the help of minority families and community organizations.

“The state continues to refuse to step up and meet its constitutional obligation to ensure basic educational equality or indeed any education at all,” the lawsuit claims.

N’dea Yancey Bragg

CDC warns Americans against travel to Mexico

The CDC is urging Americans to avoid all travel to Mexico as that country grapples with rising COVID-19 deaths. The CDC has placed Mexico in the Level 4 risk category, which is the highest risk level for COVID-19. If anyone must travel to Mexico, the CDC recommends getting a viral test one to three days prior to traveling as well as prior to returning to the United States. 

On Monday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “Mexico is in bad shape” with the pandemic and urged its leaders be serious about the coronavirus and set examples for its citizens. 

Mexico’s death toll has surpassed 105,000 – the fourth highest in the world – with 1,113,543 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. The country’s actual numbers are believed to be much higher partly because of low testing levels.

Reports: CDC to ease quarantine guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon issue new guidelines reducing the recommended quarantine time for close contact with someone who is infected from 14 days to seven-10 days, according to multiple media outlets.

CNN, citing two sources it did not name, said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield informed Vice President Mike Pence and White House Coronavirus Task Force members on Tuesday. Individuals could end their quarantine after seven days if they receive a negative test, or 10 days without getting tested.

The CDC defines close contact as exposures adding up to a total of 15 minutes spent 6 feet or closer to an infected person.

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UK authorizes emergency use of Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine

The United Kingdom has approved widespread use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech, the British government said Wednesday. The first doses in the U.K. will go to the most vulnerable.  

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said the first shots will be given next week. Studies show it is 95% effective. 

The companies said they would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the U.K., which has ordered enough of the vaccine for 20 million people. They are also gearing up for even wider distribution if given a similar nod by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A decision in the U.S. is expected as early as next week.

Two doses, three weeks apart, are required for protection and one of the distribution challenges is that the vaccine must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

China and Russia have already begun a mass rollout of their own coronavirus vaccines. However, they have done so before completing late-stage clinical trials. 

— Kim Hjelmgaard

At least 41 people positive after New Orleans swingers convention

At least 41 people have tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a swingers convention in New Orleans last month, according to NOLA.com. 

Bob Hannaford, the event’s organizer, told NOLA.com most of the cases were asymptomatic or very mild. Only one attendee was hospitalized in critical condition but has since been released, he said. Hannaford said Naughty in N’awlins attendees were required to wear masks, practice social distancing, use contact diaries and get tested for the coronavirus or antibodies before the event.

“If I could go back in time, I would not produce this event again,” Hannaford wrote in a blog post on Friday. “I wouldn’t do it again if I knew then what I know now. It weighs on me and it will continue to weigh on me until everyone is 100% better.”

CDC panel votes on first access for COVID-19 vaccine

Public health officials voted Tuesday to add residents of long-term care facilities to front-line health care workers as the first Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Nursing home residents previously had been further down the priority list to vaccinate as doses become available.

“My vote reflects maximum benefit, minimum harm, promoting justice and mitigating health care inequalities,” said Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices chairman Dr. Jose Romero, chief medical officer of the Arkansas Department of Health.

Those in the so-called Phase 1a group would be followed by essential workers in Phase 1b, then adults with high-risk medical conditions and people 65 and older in Phase 1c. Other populations at lower risk of serious illness from COVID-19 would come later next year.

The ACIP is an independent group convened by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to offer advice on who should get specific vaccines and when. Each state ultimately makes the call. The recommendations will not apply until a specific vaccine is authorized by the FDA and the ACIP votes on recommendations for that vaccine.

– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub

Atlanta schools to hold virtual town hall on reopening plans

Atlanta public school officials will host a virtual town hall Thursday to discuss the plan to resume in-person learning in January after eight months of being closed. The public school system delayed the plan to reopen school buildings in late October due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Elementary school students will be given the option to return to classrooms first, followed by high school students, according to the district’s website. School officials canceled Wednesday online classes for the rest of December to allow teachers to prepare to reopen classrooms.

Hong Kong limits most gatherings to 2 people

Hong Kong is limiting most gatherings to just two people and ordering compulsory testing of workers at retirement homes and facilities for people with disabilities, among tightening measures to contain a new wave of coronavirus cases. The semi-autonomous southern Chinese city reported 82 news cases on Wednesday, all but 10 of them listed as having been transmitted among local residents. Since Nov. 17, more than 1,000 cases have been reported, only a few of which were brought from outside the city.

That is prompting the government to raise penalties for failing to follow orders on mask wearing in public and for compulsory tests.

Exceptions were made for some group gatherings, including a limit of 20 people for weddings and shareholder meetings, but religious activities and group travel would no longer be exempt.

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY 

  • In your inbox: Stay up to date with the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic from the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for the daily Coronavirus Watch newsletter. 
  • Tips for coping: Every Saturday and Tuesday we’ll be in your inbox, offering you a virtual hug and a little bit of solace in these difficult times. Sign up for Staying Apart, Together.
  • On Facebook: A lot is still unknown about the coronavirus. But what we do know, we’re sharing with you. Join our Facebook group, Coronavirus Watch, to receive daily updates in your feed and chat with others in the community about COVID-19.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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