By MORGAN WINSOR, EMILY SHAPIRO, ERIN SCHUMAKER, IVAN PEREIRA, MEREDITH DELISO and ROSA SANCHEZ, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 75.5 million people worldwide and killed over 1.6 million of them, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Here’s how the news developed over the weekend. All times Eastern:

Dec 20, 8:56 pm
Canada suspends flights from UK for next 72 hours

The Canadian government announced it will suspend all commercial and private flights from the United Kingdom after a new strain of the virus was discovered.

The suspension goes into effect at midnight.

“Passengers who arrived in Canada today from the United Kingdom are now subject to secondary screening and enhanced measures, including increased scrutiny of quarantine plans. Passengers who arrived recently from the United Kingdom will also receive additional direction from the Government of Canada,” the government said in a news release.

Several other nations, including Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, announced U.K. flight suspensions Sunday.

Dec 20, 8:55 pm
Tennessee governor says state is ‘ground zero’ for COVID surge

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee gave a passionate plea to his constituents to avoid holiday gatherings as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.

The state has around 10,000 Tennesseans getting sick every day, which was three times the numbers at the end of October, the governor said during a news conference Sunday. More than 100 people are dying from the virus daily, Lee said.

“Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness,” he said.

Lee warned that the next few weeks will be crucial and urged families to stick to their households during Christmas and New Year’s.

“We’ve seen firsthand that Thanksgiving gatherings and extended time indoors have been the leading driver in spreading COVID-19 like wildfire,” he said.

Lee signed an order that limited indoor gatherings to 10 people maximum and limited attendance at indoor sporting events.

The governor urged residents to wear masks to stop the spread, however, he did not issue a state wide mask mandate.

Dec 20, 8:43 pm
Congress reaches deal on COVID relief package

Hours before the government was set to shutdown, congressional leaders announced they came to an agreement over a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill.

A final vote on the spending bill and COVID-19 relief bill will be on Monday in the House, before it heads to the Senate.

Lawmakers agreed to a $300 boost in weekly unemployment benefits, $600 relief checks for individuals, more than $300 billion for small business aid and huge pots of money for schools, hospitals and vaccine distribution.

Dec 20, 7:18 pm
Four more countries suspend flights from UK

Four more countries announced they will suspend flights from the United Kingdom after a new strain of the coronavirus was discovered in the country.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior announced it would suspend all international flights, except in “exceptional cases” for at least one week.

Turkish Health Minister Dr. Fahrettin Koca tweeted his country would temporarily ban all fights from U.K., Denmark, Netherlands and South Africa.

In Switzerland, the Swiss Civil Aviation Authority announced flights from the U.K. and South Africa would be suspended starting at midnight “until further notice.”

Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš tweeted that flights to and from the U.K. would be suspended from midnight to at least Jan. 1

Dec 20, 5:25 pm
CDC committee: People over 75, front-line essential workers should get vaccine next

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee voted 13-1 on who would receive the vaccine in groups “1b and 1c” and who would be “essential.”

Phase 1b includes people over 75 and front-line essential workers, while phase 1c includes younger patients with high-risk medical conditions and other essential workers.

Those two groups would cover K-12 teachers, school staff, child care workers and critical workers in high-risk settings.

It would also include people in homeless shelters, prisons, jails, detention centers and mental development centers and staff who work in these places, according to the CDC.

The committee also defined front-line essential workers as first responders, educators, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, corrections workers, U.S. postal workers, public transit workers and grocery store workers.

The front-line essential workers represent about 30 million Americans, according to the CDC.

The CDC is expected to sign off on these recommendations to make the next phase of vaccines available to Americans over 75 and front-line workers, but it will ultimately be up to states to define which front-line workers qualify.

Dec 20, 4:30 pm
Half a million Americans received Pfizer vaccine in first week: CDC

The Centers for Disease Control released its first set of data on the Pfizer coronavirus roll out.

As of Sunday afternoon, at least 556,208 doses have been administered and 2.8 million doses have been distributed throughout the country, according to the CDC.

The first doses were given out to hospital workers, nursing home staff and federal elected officials starting on Dec. 14. Those patients will need a second dose in a few weeks.

The CDC told ABC News it plans to transition this data to agency’s COVID Data Tracker in the next couple weeks and have data available down to the jurisdictional level.

A coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Moderna began shipping on Sunday and is slated to be administered this week.

Dec 20, 12:19 pm

Moderna vaccine now being shipped in the US

The second COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized by the FDA is now being rolled out.

The first cases of the Moderna vaccine were seen being rolled out from a facility in Olive Branch, Mississippi, to be shipped to the FedEx hub in Memphis, Tennessee, for nationwide distribution on Sunday morning. The shipment was escorted by U.S. Marshalls.

The doses were packed into insulated coolers with specialized cold packs and a temperature monitor, according to pharmaceutical distribution compant McKesson.

The initial vaccine orders will be delivered to administration sites on Monday.

ABC News’ Gio Benitez and Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.

Dec 20, 7:45 am

McKesson begins distributing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

Health care company McKesson Corporation has begun distributing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and the ancillary supply kits needed to administer it, they said in a statement Sunday. 

Brian Tyler, the CEO of McKesson, said, “We are honored to be a partner with the U.S. government and other private-sector companies such as Moderna to support in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the ancillary supply kits.”

Their vaccine distribution plan, they said, is part of Operation Warp Speed’s effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to all Americans, and under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“In March, our world seemed to change overnight,” Tyler added. “But with a renewed sense of commitment and intensified focus, we’ve come together across industries and forged public and private partnerships to help restore and protect the health and wellbeing of people around the world. With our exceptional group of employees managing the effort, we stand ready as a company to meet this historical moment.”

Dec 20, 6:18 am

College Football Playoff semifinal moved to Texas from California

The 2021 college football semifinal game scheduled to take place Jan. 1 at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California, has been moved to AT&T Stadium in Dallas because of COVID-19 concerns.

The decision “was not an easy one,” said David Eads, Tournament of Roses CEO and executive director. “While we remain confident that a game could have been played at the Rose Bowl Stadium, as evident in the other collegiate and professional games taking place in the region, the projection of COVID-19 cases in the region has continued on an upward trend.”

Sporting events in California since March haven’t allowed fans or the families of participants to attend. The Pasadena Tournament of Roses in November and again in December appealed this decision. Both appeals were denied.

-ABC News’ Matt Foster contributed to this report

Dec 19, 5:44 pm

Apple temporarily closing all California stores

Apple is temporarily closing all California stores amid the state’s COVID-19 surge. 

Stores are currently open for pickup of existing online orders, Genius Bar appointments or one-on-one shopping sessions made through Dec. 22, the company’s website said.

Apple, which has over 50 stores in the state, had initially started temporarily closing all Los Angeles-area locations on Friday. 

California reported 43,608 new COVID-19 cases and 272 deaths on Saturday. Four regions — San Joaquin Valley, Southern California, Greater Sacramento and the Bay Area — are under a regional stay-at-home order based on intensive care unit capacity.

-ABC News’ Matthew Fuhrman contributed to this report

Dec 19, 4:29 pm

Netanyahu 1st in Israel to get vaccinated

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a COVID-19 vaccine live on TV Saturday, making himself the first person in Israel, and one of the first world leaders, to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“This is a very great day for the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said upon getting the first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. “I have asked to be vaccinated first, together with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, in order to serve as a personal example and to encourage all of you to be vaccinated.”

Medical staff and those older than 60 will be vaccinated starting on Sunday.

By the end of the month, there will be “millions of vaccines here, and additional millions will come afterward,” Netanyahu said.

-ABC News’ Bruno Nota contributed to this report

Dec 19, 4:11 pm

CDC advisory committee recommends Moderna vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 11-0 to recommend Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to patients 18 years and older under the emergency use authorization.

Three members recused themselves in Saturday’s virtual vote.

The ACIP is an independent group of medical experts that advises the CDC.  

-ABC News’ Michelle Stoddart

Dec 19, 2:23 pm

New COVID-19 deaths up nearly 14% week-over-week: HHS

New COVID-19 deaths have increased nearly 14% week-over-week, according to an internal U.S. Health and Human Services memo obtained by ABC News.  

There were 18,358 deaths recorded from Dec. 12 to 18 — marking a 13.8% increase compared with the previous week, the memo said.

During that time, there were over 1.5 million new cases, up 5.6% from the previous seven-day period.

Across the country, 32% of hospitals have more than 80% of their intensive care unit beds filled, 23% of inpatients have COVID-19, and 34% of ventilators in use are occupied by patients with COVID-19.

Hospitalization rates are surging in Arizona, New Hampshire, Nevada, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., the memo noted.

Fatalities rose 171% in Colorado between the weeks ending Dec. 8 and Dec. 15, it said. 

-ABC News’ Josh Margolin

Dec 19, 1:40 pm
First Moderna vaccinations likely Monday, Azar says

The first Moderna vaccines will likely be administered on Monday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.  

Nearly 6 million doses are in the process of [being distributed] (), following emergency use authorization of the vaccine by the Food & Drug Administration.

They will begin delivery on Monday, at which point “we will likely see the first vaccinations with this vaccine,” Azar said on Twitter Saturday.

Dec 19, 12:36 pm
New London lockdown announced in face of more virulent COVID-19 strain

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a stricter “tier 4” lockdown for London and southeast England on Saturday, citing a rapidly spreading new strain of COVID-19 detected by government scientists.

The new strain was not more dangerous, he stressed during a press briefing, but it was spreading faster, particularly in London and southeast England. The new variant may be 70% more transmissible than any strain previously detected, he said. There is no evidence a vaccine is less effective against it, he added.

The new restrictions go into effect Sunday morning. People are encouraged to stay home, and only one household indoors and two households outdoors will be allowed.

Previously, up to three households could gather from Dec. 23-27.

“We cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” Johnson said Saturday.

All nonessential shops, sports facilities and gyms will also close.  

The restrictions will last at least two weeks.

-ABC News’ Mike Trew contributed to this report

Dec 19, 10:30 am
‘We are ready,’ FedEx says about shipping Moderna vaccine across US

FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp said Saturday it “operations were in motion” to transport the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for McKesson Corp. throughout the United States.

Federal advisers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recommend the [Moderna vaccine](} for people over the age of 18, clearing a path for government authorization on what would become the nation’s second vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

On Dec. 11, a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech became the (first COVID-19 vaccine)[] authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for people age 16 and over. Rollout of the first vaccine began Monday, FedEx also began delivering the Pfizer and BioNTech last week.

FedEx Express will begin transport of the vaccine and kits of supplies for administration of the vaccine, using its FedEx Priority Overnight service supported by FedEx Priority Alert advanced monitoring, the company said in its statement.

-Ahmad Hemingway, Anne Flaherty, Stephanie Ebbs, Sophie Tatum, Arielle Mitropoulos and Ivan Pereira

Dec 19, 6:28 am
US sees record-high number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, deaths

The United States reported a record high of 249,709 new COVID-19 cases Friday — just shy of a quarter-million — according to updated data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Also, according to The COVID Tracking Project’s Friday evening update, a record 114,751 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus, marking the thirteenth straight day that the nation has hit a record high of current hospitalizations.

Additionally, 2,814 deaths were reported Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

By all metrics, this week has been the worse since the pandemic began in terms of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Dec 19, 4:42 am
Stanford apologizes for vaccine plan that left out many front-line doctors

Stanford Medical Center has apologized for its vaccine plan that left out many front-line doctors following Friday’s protest.

In a statement obtained by KGO, Stanford Health Care wrote: “We take complete responsibility for the errors in the execution of our vaccine distribution plan. Our intent was to develop an ethical and equitable process for distribution of the vaccine. We apologize to our entire community, including our residents, fellows, and other frontline care providers, who have performed heroically during our pandemic response. We are immediately revising our plan to better sequence the distribution of the vaccine.”

On Friday morning, hundreds of residents protested at Stanford Medical Center, saying that only seven front-line residents were going to be given the COVID-19 vaccine in the first wave of 5,000 vaccines the hospital was allocated.

Front-line doctors at the protest said orthopedic surgeons, dermatologists and telehealth doctors were getting vaccinated before them.

California Department of Public Health spokesperson Ali Bay also released a statement following the protest.

“The federal and state vaccine guidelines have prioritized our front-line health care workers who have been putting their lives at risk to fight this virus from day one. We urge all health care providers to follow the state’s guidelines on vaccination phases which were created in consultation with experts and community leaders,” Bay said.

Dec 19, 12:30 am
Health care workers experience reactions to COVID vaccine

Advocate Aurora Health, a health care system in Wisconsin and Illinois, said Friday that four members of their team at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Illinois, “experienced reactions” after getting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
 
They are now temporarily pausing their vaccination program as they treat the team members and investigate why they experienced negative reactions.
 
“Since Thursday, four team members at Advocate Condell Medical Center experienced reactions shortly after vaccination with symptoms including tingling and elevated heartrate,” they said in a statement. “These four team members represent fewer than 0.15% of the approximately 3,000 who have so far received vaccinations across Advocate Aurora Health. At this time, we can share three team members are home and doing well, and one is receiving additional treatment.”

They explained that reactions are an expected side effect of vaccination, and they still encourage others to get vaccinated to put an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dec 18, 9:20 pm
Current hospitalizations set new record in US

There are a record 114,751 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S., according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Nevada and Arizona have the highest hospitalizations per million people in the country, it said.

Per capita cases are also growing “at an alarming rate” in Arizona, it said, with currently 1,049 new COVID-19 cases per million people.

There were 228,825 new cases and 2,751 additional deaths reported nationwide on Friday.

Dec 18, 8:05 pm
FDA authorizes Moderna vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a second COVID-19 vaccine Friday night, saying the data provide “clear evidence” that Moderna’s vaccine works.

The FDA authorized Moderna’s vaccine for people ages 18 and over.

Nearly 6 million doses of the vaccine will start to ship next week to hospitals and nursing homes.

The emergency use authorization comes after federal advisers agreed overwhelmingly on Thursday that the benefits of the Moderna vaccine outweighed any potential risks based on trial data.

The FDA authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine last Friday.

People will not necessarily be given a choice between the two vaccines, both of which have proved highly effective in trials.

-ABC News’ Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 3:18 pm
2nd federal prisoner scheduled to be executed in January tests positive

A second federal prisoner scheduled to be executed has tested positive for COVID-19.

Corey Johnson was set to be put to death on Jan 14.

“Not surprisingly, given the growing outbreak on federal death row, Corey Johnson also has now tested positive for COVID-19,” Johnson’s attorneys, Donald Salzman and Ronald Tabak, said in a statement. “The government must stop conducting executions during a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, and we have called on the Department of Justice to withdraw Mr. Johnson’s execution date.”

“Mr. Johnson’s diagnosis will substantially interfere with his attorneys’ ability to have meaningful contact with him during these critical days before his scheduled execution, and the widespread outbreak on the federal death row only confirms the reckless disregard for the lives and safety of staff, prisoners and attorneys alike,” the lawyers continued. “If the government will not withdraw the execution date, we will ask the courts to intervene.”

Johnson was convicted of killing seven people “in furtherance of his drug-trafficking activities,” according to the Justice Department.

On Thursday, ABC News learned that another inmate set to be executed in January, Dustin Higgs, was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to one of Higgs’ lawyers, Shawn Nolan.

Higgs was scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15.

“This is surely the result of the super spreader executions that the government has rushed to undertake in the heart of a global pandemic,” Nolan told ABC News in a statement Thursday evening. “Following the two executions that took place last week and one other two weeks prior, the COVID numbers at the federal prison in Terre Haute spiked enormously. Now our client is sick. We have asked the government to withdraw the execution date and we will ask the courts to intervene if they do not.”

Higgs was convicted of ordering the 1996 murders of three women — Tamika Black, 19, Mishann Chinn, 23, and Tanji Jackson, 21 — at a national wildlife center near Beltsville, Maryland. Prosecutors allege Higgs and two friends kidnapped the three women after Higgs became enraged because one of them rebuffed his advances at a party earlier that night.

There are 222 inmates at Terre Haute who have tested positive for COVID-19. The Bureau of Prisons said on Thursday night that there were some inmates who have tested positive on death row, but did not go into detail.

A spokesperson said, “While a number of inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at USP Terre Haute in recent weeks, many of these inmates are asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms. Our highest priority remains ensuring the safety of staff and inmates.”

ABC News’ Luke Barr contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 2:17 pm
Pence, Pelosi, McConnell get vaccinated

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was vaccinated Friday afternoon on Capitol Hill, according to a spokesman.

Pelosi tweeted, “Today, with confidence in science & at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the COVID-19 vaccine. As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue mask wearing, social distancing & other science-based steps to save lives & crush the virus.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was also vaccinated Friday. He tweeted, “Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus.”

Hours earlier, Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated. Pence along with his wife, Karen, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on live television at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex.

All three were wearing face masks, as were the health care workers who administered the injections.

“Today, Karen and I wanted to step forward and take this vaccine to ensure the American people that while we cut red tape, we cut no corners,” Pence told reporters. “Karen and I hope this step today will be a source of confidence and of comfort to the American people.”

The vice president also said that emergency-use authorization of the Moderna vaccine could come “perhaps within hours.”

“When it is approved, we expect later today, we’ll be in a position to ship 5.9 million doses of vaccines all across the country next week,” he said.

Despite record-high numbers of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations across the U.S. this week, Pence said the country is “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus pandemic.

President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will get vaccinated on Monday in Delaware, incoming White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 2:14 pm
California reports 41,012 daily cases

Hard-hit California reported 41,012 daily cases on Friday.

On Wednesday, the Golden State reported a record high of 53,711 daily cases.

With 300 more deaths reported Friday, California’s death toll stands at 22,160.

ABC News’ Matt Fuhrman contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 1:53 pm
Pence, Pelosi, McConnell get vaccinated

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was vaccinated Friday afternoon on Capitol Hill, according to a spokesman.

Pelosi tweeted, “Today, with confidence in science & at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the COVID-19 vaccine. As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue mask wearing, social distancing & other science-based steps to save lives & crush the virus.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was also vaccinated Friday. He tweeted, “Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus.”

 

Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus.

Now back to continue fighting for a rescue package including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible. pic.twitter.com/kSBhI3EzzM

— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 18, 2020

 

Hours earlier, Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated. Pence along with his wife, Karen, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on live television at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex.

All three were wearing face masks, as were the health care workers who administered the injections.

“Today, Karen and I wanted to step forward and take this vaccine to ensure the American people that while we cut red tape, we cut no corners,” Pence told reporters, after being inoculated. “Karen and I hope this step today will be a source of confidence and of comfort to the American people.”

The vice president also said that emergency-use authorization of the Moderna vaccine could come “perhaps within hours.”

“We have one, and perhaps within hours, two safe and effective coronavirus vaccines for you and your family,” he said. “When it is approved, we expect later today, we’ll be in a position to ship 5.9 million doses of vaccines all across the country next week.”

Despite record-high numbers of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations across the United States this week, Pence said the country is “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 1:42 pm
Washington Monument closed due to Bernhardt’s visit before testing positive

The Washington Monument is temporarily closed, the Interior Department said, after several staff members were put in quarantine following contact with Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Bernhardt led a private Washington Monument tour earlier in the week.

ABC News’ Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 1:05 pm
UK’s 1st vaccine vial to go on display at museum

The London Science Museum will display the vial and syringe that was used for the United Kingdom’s first Pfizer vaccination.

The first vaccine was administered on Dec. 8 to 90-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan.
 
“The empty vial and syringe from Margaret’s historic immunisation will now join the Science Museum Group Collection, a highlight of our significant COVID-19 Collecting project,” the Science Museum Group said.
 
ABC News’ Zoe Magee contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 12:52 pm
Pence, Pelosi get vaccinated

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was vaccinated Friday afternoon on Capitol Hill, according to a spokesman.

Pelosi tweeted, “Today, with confidence in science & at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the COVID-19 vaccine. As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue mask wearing, social distancing & other science-based steps to save lives & crush the virus.”

Hours earlier, Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated. Pence along with his wife, Karen, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on live television at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex.

All three were wearing face masks, as were the health care workers who administered the injections.

“Today, Karen and I wanted to step forward and take this vaccine to ensure the American people that while we cut red tape, we cut no corners,” Pence told reporters, after being inoculated. “Karen and I hope this step today will be a source of confidence and of comfort to the American people.”

The vice president also said that emergency-use authorization of the Moderna vaccine could come “perhaps within hours.”

“We have one, and perhaps within hours, two safe and effective coronavirus vaccines for you and your family,” he said. “When it is approved, we expect later today, we’ll be in a position to ship 5.9 million doses of vaccines all across the country next week.”

Despite record-high numbers of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations across the United States this week, Pence said the country is “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 12:11 pm
US sets weekly records in cases, deaths, hospitalizations

The U.S. has set new weekly records for number of deaths, cases and hospitalizations, according to ABC News’ analysis of data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.

With the U.S. is now averaging 2,560 new coronavirus-related deaths a day, more Americans are dying from COVID-19 than ever before.

Since Sunday, 19 states have reported a record number of patients hospitalized.

In the past seven days, the U.S. has reported 1,505,887 COVID-19 cases — equal to nearly 150 Americans testing positive every the last six consecutive weeks, there has not been a single day with less than 100,000 new cases.

The U.S. is averaging 214,741 cases every day — a record high. That is three times higher than the nation’s summer peak in July and nearly seven times higher than the country’s record in April.

ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.

Dec 18, 11:44 am
COVAX secures nearly 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines as UNICEF prepares for distribution

COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries regardless of income, announced Friday it now has supply agreements to provide nearly 2 billion doses of “several promising vaccine candidates” and could begin shipping them out in the first quarter of 2021, pending regulatory approvals.

There are 190 nations and territories participating in COVAX, which is coordinated by the World Health Organization, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. The new deals include supply agreements with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

“The arrival of vaccines is giving all of us a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said in a statement Friday. “But we will only truly end the pandemic if we end it everywhere at the same time, which means it’s essential to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) announced Friday that it could potentially transport up to 850 tons of COVID-19 vaccines per month next year, should quantities become available. The humanitarian organization said commercial airlines will be able to deliver vaccines to almost all of the 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries participating in COVAX.

However, UNICEF estimates a funding gap of $133 million to cover on-the-ground logistics and the required equipment for vaccine storage in the world’s poorest nations.

“The scale of the task is daunting, and the stakes have never been higher, but we are ready to take this on,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, said in a statement Friday. “Countries need urgent technical and financial support to strengthen their capacities for cold and supply chains, to train health workers, and to work with communities in combatting misinformation and building trust in vaccines. Without urgent funding and support, many of the poorest countries still risk being left behind.”

Dec 18, 9:38 am
Walgreens begins administering Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in long-term care facilities

Walgreens began administering the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to residents and staff at long-term care facilities in the United States on Friday.

It’s the first time the U.S. pharmacy chain is offering vaccines in such facilities, like nursing homes.

Walgreens pharmacy teams members are currently providing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at just 10 facilities in Connecticut, Ohio and Florida, including many in rural and urban medically-underserved areas. But the company will soon expand the vaccinations nationwide as more states finalize their distribution plans and receive vaccine allocations, according to Dr. Kevin Ban, Walgreens’ chief medical officer.

“Next week, we’ll be in 12 states in over 800 clinics. We’re moving and ramping up to 35,000 clinics across the entire country, we’re going to vaccinate more than 3 million people in these long-term care facilities,” Ban told ABC News’ Cecilia Vega in an interview Friday on Good Morning America.

Ban said only people who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under their state’s Phase 1 distribution plan can get it. But once states move into Phase 2, residents and staff at long-term care facilities that have selected Walgreens as their vaccine provider will be able to make an appointment in advance.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” he said, “and we don’t want people all coming at once.”

Dec 18, 8:17 am
Pence receives Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on live TV

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated against COVID-19 on Friday morning in Washington, D.C.

Pence received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on live television, along with his wife, Karen, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

All three were wearing face masks, as were the health care workers who administered the injections.

Dec 18, 8:04 am
Moderna vaccine could be authorized in US ‘as soon as today,’ HHS secretary says

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could grant emergency-use authorization for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine “as soon as today,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Friday.

“The FDA has communicated to Moderna that we expect to grant their emergency-use authorisation. That could come as soon as today,” Azar told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Friday on Good Morning America.

If the FDA does give the green light Friday, Azar said “trucks will roll, planes will fly this weekend,” with “5.9 million doses of Moderna vaccine allocated for next week.”

“This is an exceptionally safe vaccine,” he said, “it’s a shockingly effective vaccine — the Moderna vaccine as well as the Pfizer vaccine.”

Some 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be available across the United States for the month of December, according to Azar, who urged people to get the shot.

“All of us have complete confidence in the independence and quality of the FDA’s review process,” he said. “That’s why you’re seeing the vice president, the second lady, the surgeon general today getting vaccinated.”

Azar said a number of government officials and leaders will be inoculated against COVID-19 “over the coming weeks.”

“I plan to get vaccinated next week as long as the White House physician says that it’s appropriate to do so and do so on TV,” he added. “We just want to make sure people know we have supreme confidence in the process and confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and we wouldn’t ask you to do something that we wouldn’t do.”

With several governors saying that they have been told to expect far fewer doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the coming weeks, Azar cited “a miscommunication.”

“There’s nothing actually to fix. There was some misunderstanding,” he said. “We had put into the planning tool some base scenarios just so they could do some rough work on planning. The allocations, though, are always what Pfizer tells us or Moderna now tells us is available and ready for shipment. We’ve always said this week that they would have 2 million doses of Pfizer available for next week for an allocation. We’ll work to clear up any misunderstanding they’ve got, but it’s really just a miscommunication between the governors and us.”

Azar said his wife, Jennifer, is “doing very well” after recently testing positive for COVID-19, and that he tested negative himself “just minutes ago.”

“We’re following all the CDC protocols, I’ve talked directly to director Redfield as well as the White House physicians of doing exactly what they say to do,” he said.

Dec 18, 7:21 am
Federal prisoner scheduled to be executed in January tests positive

A federal prisoner scheduled to be executed in January has tested positive for COVID-19.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) notified attorneys for Dustin Higgs on Thursday that their client was diagnosed with the disease, according to one of Higgs’ lawyers, Shawn Nolan.

“This is surely the result of the super spreader executions that the government has rushed to undertake in the heart of a global pandemic,” Nolan told ABC News in a statement Thursday evening. “Following the two executions that took place last week and one other two weeks prior, the COVID numbers at the federal prison in Terre Haute spiked enormously. Now our client is sick. We have asked the government to withdraw the execution date and we will ask the courts to intervene if they do not.”

Higgs was convicted of ordering the 1996 murders of three women — Tamika Black, 19, Mishann Chinn, 23, and Tanji Jackson, 21 — at a national wildlife center near Beltsville, Maryland. Prosecutors allege Higgs and two friends kidnapped the three women after Higgs became enraged because one of them rebuffed his advances at a party earlier that night.

Higgs is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15

A BOP spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that other federal death row inmates at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the only site in the country where federal executions are carried out, have tested positive for COVID-19 but declined to say how many or provide further information, citing “pending litigation and privacy interests.”

The spokesperson also said that a BOP employee assigned to the Special Confinement Unit (SCU) — which houses federal death row inmates at the Terre Haute complex — was found to be positive for COVID-19, following a contact investigation that was conducted per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify any potential exposures in connection with the unit.

“This employee had no contact with BOP staff involved with executions in November or December,” the spokesperson said. “We can also share that as inmates in the SCU continue to be tested, those who are positive and/or symptomatic for COVID-19 are being placed in isolation until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines.”

“All inmates are managed per CDC guidelines,” the spokesperson added. “While a number of inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at USP Terre Haute in recent weeks, many of these inmates are asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms. Our highest priority remains ensuring the safety of staff and inmates.”

Dec 18, 4:01 am
US reports over 233,000 new cases

There were 233,271 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the United States on Thursday, bringing the country’s cumulative total soaring past 17 million, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

It’s the 45th straight day that the U.S. has reported more than 100,000 newly diagnosed infections, and the second straight day with over 200,000. Thursday’s tally falls just under the country’s all-time high of 247,403 new cases confirmed a day earlier, according to Johns Hopkins data.

An additional 3,270 deaths from the disease were also registered nationwide on Thursday, down from a peak of 3,656 fatalities recorded the previous day. It’s only the fifth time since the pandemic began that the country has reported more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, according to Johns Hopkins data.

A total of 17,212,496 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 310,782 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins data. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

Much of the country was under lockdown by the end of March as the first wave of the pandemic hit. By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up over the summer.

The numbers lingered around 40,000 to 50,000 from mid-August through early October before surging again to record levels, crossing 100,000 for the first time on Nov. 4 and reaching 200,000 for the first time on Nov. 27.

Dec 18, 3:10 am
Former US President Jimmy Carter to get vaccine

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter plans to get vaccinated for COVID-19, his foundation announced Thursday night.

“After consulting with his doctors, President Carter is looking forward to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to him,” The Carter Center wrote in a statement on Twitter.

Carter has not said when he will receive the vaccine or whether it will be on camera like other former presidents have indicated they will do.

All living former U.S. presidents have now announced they will get the vaccine.

Dec 18, 1:12 am
Inmates on death row test positive

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed to ABC News that various inmates on death row have tested positive for COVID-19, although they declined to say how many, citing ongoing litigation.

They also said a staff member has tested positive.

“We can confirm that inmates in the Special Confinement Unit (SCU) at the United States Penitentiary (USP) in Terre Haute, Indiana, have tested positive for COVID-19,” a BOP spokesperson said in a statement.

They added that as inmates in the SCU continue to be tested, those who are positive and/or symptomatic “are being placed in isolation until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines.” Many inmates, they said, are either asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms.

“Our highest priority remains ensuring the safety of staff and inmates,” the BOP spokesperson said.

The BOP’s statement came after it was announced Thursday that Dustin John Higgs, a federal prisoner scheduled to be executed just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, tested positive for the virus.

Dec 18, 1:02 am
75 cases linked to church Christmas event in North Carolina

The Henderson County Department of Public Health said Thursday that it has identified 75 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the Hendersonville First Baptist Baptist Church in North Carolina.

The Henderson County Department of Public Health said the holiday event took place on the weekend of Dec. 5.

“To date, the Health Department has identified 75 individuals who have tested positive as a result of the event,” they said in a statement. “The Health Department is working to identify any additional close contacts of these individuals. The CDC defines close contact as being within approximately six feet of an infected person with COVID-19 for a cumulative 15 minutes.”

The news comes as Henderson County continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases linked to parties, family gatherings and social events.

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