Covid-19 Live News and Updates

Approval of the vaccine could mean that Canadians start to receive immunizations before Americans do.
Credit…Pool photo by Frank Augstein

Canada has approved the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, its drug regulator said on Wednesday, opening the possibility that Canadians will start receiving it next week.

The regulator, Health Canada, said that it completed a full independent review of the data on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. While Britain approved the vaccine earlier, it did so on an emergency basis, was limited to a single production run and largely relied on Pfizer’s analysis. Bahrain has also issued an emergency approval.

“It’s a testament to the work of regulators internationally,” said Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, the regulator. “It’s an exceptional day for Canada.”

Canada has ordered a total of 76 million doses from Pfizer. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the order had been for six million doses.) Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, the Canadian military officer overseeing the distribution of the vaccine to provincial health care systems, said that Pfizer will start shipping the vaccine from a plant in Belgium on Friday. That could make it possible, he said, for Canadians to begin receiving shots as early as next Wednesday.

If that timeline holds up, Canadians may receive injections of the vaccine from the U.S.-based company before Americans do. Canada expects to receive an initial batch of 249,000 doses. Each person will require two doses.

Dr. Sharma said that the vaccine was subject to the same degree of review as any previous drug or vaccine. But to accelerate that process, Health Canada began reviewing data from clinical trials and manufacturing tests as it was being generated, allowing for a “rolling review.” In the past, the department only opened reviews when all trials and tests were complete.

She said that the final data needed for approval arrived late Tuesday evening and was reviewed overnight, which allowed the approval to go forward.

Canada’s review, she said, supported Pfizer’s finding that the vaccine was 95 percent effective.

When asked why her group was able to approve the vaccine ahead of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, Dr. Sharma said, apparently jokingly, “we’re just better.”

She added, “We’re not in a race with any other regulator, we’re trying to beat the virus.”

It will be up to Canada’s provincial governments to decide who will first be vaccinated. Dr. Howard Njoo, the country’s deputy chief public health officer, said a federal panel has recommended that the first injections be given to people over the age of 80, residents and workers of long-term care homes, health care workers and Indigenous communities.

François Legault, the premier of Quebec, said his province will first target long-term care homes, which have been the main source of Covid-related deaths in the province.

The vaccine will be distributed to provinces based on their populations. But because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be shipped and stored at extremely low temperatures until shortly before use, Major General Fortin said that it will not be sent to Canada’s remote and sparsely populated northern territories.

For now, the Canadian regulator has approved the vaccine only for people over the age of 16; it is waiting for more data before approving it for children.

Dr. Sharma said that the initial data suggests that immunity from the vaccine will be sustained, but it will take more time to determine how long it remains effective.

Three other vaccines are in the midst of reviews with one from Moderna, another company based in the United States, being the closest to approval, she said.

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania is isolating at home after announcing he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Credit…Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I have no symptoms and am feeling well and I am in isolation at home,” he wrote. “I am following CDC and Department of Health guidelines.” Referring to his wife, he wrote, “Frances has been tested and, as we await the result, is quarantining at home with me.”

The governor added that he was performing his duties remotely, “as many are doing during the pandemic.”

“As this virus rages, my positive test is a reminder that no one is immune from COVID,” Mr. Wolf said. “Following all precautions as I have done is not a guarantee, but it is what we know to be vital to stopping the spread of the disease.”

Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, is at least the ninth U.S. governor to report receiving a positive test result, though in the case of Mike DeWine of Ohio, the result was almost immediately contradicted by another test and is thought to have been a false positive. Several other governors have quarantined when a family member, staff member or close associate tested positive.

So far, none of the governors have reported experiencing severe illness. The first governor known to have tested positive was Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, a Republican, in mid-July.

Thousands of Britons received the first clinically authorized, fully tested coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, with many people reporting few side effects.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Thousands of Britons received the first clinically authorized, fully tested coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, with people reporting minimal side effects.

But two health workers with a history of serious allergies had allergic reactions after being given the vaccine, British drug regulators said on Wednesday. As they investigate what precisely caused the reactions, the regulators warned that people prone to severe allergic reactions should not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the time being.

Scientists said that for the vast majority of people, the new advice should not cause any concerns about receiving the coronavirus vaccine, and that it was difficult to protect against certain rare reactions with any new vaccine.

Because of their severe allergies, the two health workers carried adrenaline pens, the generic term for an EpiPen. The National Health Service said that both workers were recovering well after being treated for symptoms of anaphylactoid reactions that they developed shortly after their shots.

Regulators said the reactions were “associated with administration” of the vaccine, but did not describe the health workers’ symptoms or what kind of treatment they received.

“We know from the very extensive clinical trials that this wasn’t a feature,” Dr. June Raine, the chief executive of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said on Wednesday.

As a precaution, British regulators said, “any person with a history of a significant allergic reaction to a vaccine, medicine or food,” like people who have anaphylactoid reactions or carry an EpiPen, should not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They said that the vaccines should be delivered only on sites with access to resuscitation measures.

After authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use last week, British regulators said that people with a hypersensitivity to ingredients in the vaccine should not be given the shot. But the regulators’ updated advice on Wednesday expanded that warning to cover anyone with a history of significant allergic reactions.

The regulators are now investigating the two cases from Tuesday, a process that experts said would involve looking at whether the reactions stemmed from the vaccine itself or were incidental. The regulators said they would release updated advice once they do.

Allergic reactions are a very rare response to some vaccines. Anaphylactic reactions, the most serious of those responses, are estimated to occur around once every 100,000 to 1,000,000 doses of the most commonly given vaccines, according to the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A 2015 study supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States turned up 33 confirmed cases of vaccine-triggered anaphylaxis among more than 25 million vaccine doses, translating to a rate of 1.3 cases of such reactions in every million doses of vaccine.

Pfizer’s vaccine trials, which included tens of thousands of participants, excluded people with a history of reacting badly to vaccines, or having severe allergic reactions to any ingredients in the coronavirus vaccine.

Among those who participated in the trials, a very small number of people had allergic reactions. A document published by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States on Tuesday said that 0.63 percent of participants who received the vaccine reported potential allergic reactions, compared to 0.51 percent of people who received a placebo.

In Pfizer’s late-stage clinical trial, one of the 18,801 participants who received the vaccine had an anaphylactic reaction, according to safety data published by the F.D.A. on Tuesday. None in the placebo group did.

Scientists said that there is a very small risk of allergic reactions to any vaccine, just as there is to food and medicines. And anaphylactic reactions to any new vaccine or medicine are particularly difficult to prevent ahead of time.

“Anaphylaxis is almost always very specific, with some known overlaps between exposures, but just because I’m allergic to peanuts doesn’t mean I’m allergic to bee stings,” said Dr. Naor Bar-Zeev, a pediatric infectious diseases doctor and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He added, “Rare events — and anaphylaxis is among the rarest of all — can never be known from Phase 3 trials or before licensure.”

Dr. Bar-Zeev said the risk of rare side effects from vaccines, especially amid a pandemic, had to be balanced against the risk of contracting the disease itself. But he said that even in the best of circumstances, very rare side effects are only discovered well after clinical trials are conducted and new drugs and vaccines are licensed.

In wealthier countries, he added, regulators have well-established systems for identifying rare side effects, and those events will become evident more quickly in the midst of mass vaccinations.

With any new medicine or vaccine, he said, “Anaphylaxis will occur, will be treatable, and if treated, will be unlikely to cause death. The risk is very, very small indeed.”

Dr. Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Georgetown University and the former F.D.A. chief scientist, said that given the scant details about the British cases, it was difficult to determine whether they were related to the vaccine.

But he said that clinical trials typically enroll healthier people than the general population, and that safety issues can come up as the vaccines are administered to the general public.

“The people in clinical trials are different, generally healthier, and then things will occur by coincidence that may not be related to the vaccine,” he said. “So then it becomes really important to sort out quickly whether they are, and to maintain confidence.”

Unlike most new vaccines, which are gradually rolled out over years as people slowly visit their doctors and get new shots, the new coronavirus vaccines will quickly be given to many more people than received it in clinical trials.

“They’re large, well-performed studies, but they’re still of tens of thousands of people,” he said of the clinical trials. “It does mean we need those strong safety monitoring systems.”

People with latex allergies can also, on rare occasions, have severe allergic reactions to vaccines held in vials or syringes with latex.

The changing guidance from British regulators testified to the careful monitoring of vaccines that follows an emergency authorization, like the one issued in Britain last week for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The speed with which regulators warned people on Wednesday was a sign that the monitoring system was effective, scientists said, and reassurance that people did not need to hesitate to get a coronavirus vaccine.

“For the general population, this does not mean that they would need to be anxious about receiving the vaccination,” said Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He added, referring to a famous British love-it-or-hate-it yeast paste: “One has to remember that even things like Marmite can cause unexpected severe allergic reactions.”

Katie Thomas and Carl Zimmer contributed reporting.

Lawmakers are racing to reach a deal on another round of coronavirus relief before they conclude this year’s session.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A bipartisan group of moderate lawmakers circulated details about its $908 billion stimulus compromise but was still struggling to reach agreement on crucial details as congressional leaders remained at odds on an economic relief plan to address the pandemic.

The moderates’ six-page framework, which was obtained by The New York Times, said the group had an “agreement in principle” for providing $160 billion to state and local governments and offering liability protections to businesses “as the basis for good faith negotiations,” but it omitted any substantive details about how to address the thorniest impediments to their agreement.

The lack of specifics underscored the remaining hurdles for the group, led by Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, as it works to strike a deal in the coming days. Yet there is no guarantee that its plan will advance. Democratic leaders have called it a starting point for negotiations, but Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has not endorsed it. And the Trump administration presented its own $916 billion proposal on Tuesday with notable differences.

Mr. McConnell had suggested earlier Tuesday that Democrats drop their demand for funding for state and local governments in exchange for Republicans dropping their insistence on including a liability shield for businesses, but his idea was immediately rejected by Democrats. And the administration proposal offered by Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, contained both.

The moderates’ framework would revive a lapsed weekly federal unemployment benefit at $300 a week for 16 weeks, from the end of December to April, and extend a series of unemployment programs set to expire at the end of the month.

It notably does not include another round of stimulus checks, which some lawmakers — including Senators Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, and Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri — have lobbied for in recent days. Mr. Mnuchin’s proposal would include a $600 stimulus check for each American, but would not revive the supplemental unemployment benefit.

The original $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March distributed $1,200 stimulus checks and established the enhanced unemployment benefits at $600 a week through July, which President Trump later extended unilaterally at $300 a week for most workers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, urged Republicans to allow bipartisan talks to move forward, calling them the best opportunity for compromise.

In response, Mr. McConnell slammed the two Democrats for rejecting both the White House offer and his overture on Tuesday, his first major concession since efforts to reach agreement on another coronavirus relief deal began.

“At every turn, they have delayed, deflected, moved the goal posts, and made the huge number of places where Congress agrees into a hostage of the few places we do not,” Mr. McConnell said.

The moderates’ plan would repurpose money Mr. Mnuchin clawed back from the Federal Reserve and leftover funds in the expired Paycheck Protection Program and allow small businesses to receive another loan from the popular small-business program. It would provide $10 billion to child care providers, $25 billion in rental assistance, $82 billion for education providers, $6 billion for vaccine development and distribution and $7 billion for state, local and tribal governments to conduct testing and tracing.

To give negotiators additional time to reach agreement both on a stimulus deal and the dozen annual spending bills, the House on Wednesday was expected to approve a one-week stopgap measure to postpone the threat of a government shutdown on Friday, setting a new deadline of Dec. 18.

An intensive care unit in Houston on Monday. More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds.
Credit…Go Nakamura/Getty Images

In El Paso, hospitals reported that just 13 of 400 intensive care beds were not occupied last week. In Fargo, N.D., there were just three. In Albuquerque, there were zero.

More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, federal data show, revealing a newly detailed picture of the nation’s hospital crisis during the deadliest week of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Hospitals serving more than 100 million Americans reported having fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds still available as of last week, according to a Times analysis of data reported by hospitals and released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Many areas are even worse off: One in 10 Americans — across a large swath of the Midwest, South and Southwest — lives in an area where intensive care beds are either completely full, or fewer than 5 percent of beds are available. At these levels, experts say maintaining existing standards of care for the sickest patients may be difficult or impossible.

“There’s only so much our frontline care can offer, particularly when you get to these really rural counties which are being hit hard by the pandemic right now,” said Beth Blauer, director of the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University.

Sharp increases in Covid-19 patients can overwhelm smaller hospitals, she said. “This disease progresses very quickly and can get very ugly very fast. When you don’t have that capacity, that means people will die.”

The new dataset, released on Monday, marks the first time the federal government has published detailed geographic information on Covid-19 patients in hospitals, something public health officials have long said would be crucial to responding to the epidemic and understanding its impact.

A Sinopharm vaccine production plant in Beijing. The Chinese vaccine maker has been running trials in 10 countries.
Credit…Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua, via Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates approved a Chinese coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, citing preliminary data showing that it was 86 percent effective. The move, the first full approval of a Chinese vaccine by any nation including China, could bring the vaccine a step closer to widespread use around the world.

The announcement by the Emirates’ Ministry of Health and Prevention was the first official indicator of a Chinese vaccine’s potential to help stop the pandemic. If trials elsewhere produce similar findings, the Chinese vaccines could offer a lifeline to developing countries that cannot afford vaccines developed in Western nations that are likely to be more expensive and more difficult to store and distribute.

Chinese government officials and Sinopharm, the state-owned maker of the vaccine, were silent on Wednesday about the Emirati announcement. Scientists noted that the announcement was lacking in data and other critical details.

Sinopharm would not confirm or comment on the news, even hours after it was reported. A spokeswoman for the company hung up the phone when reached and did not respond to messages and calls afterward.

The news release from the Emirati government did not give important specifics, like the number of Covid-19 cases that were analyzed or the ages of volunteers, leaving it unclear to scientists how Sinopharm came to its conclusions about the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“The devil is in the details,” said Beate Kampmann, director of the Vaccine Center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.It’s very difficult to judge this without seeing the number of cases. The main thing is, the trial results need to be made public.”

Still, the news that a Chinese vaccine was found to be 86 percent effective comes as a boost to China’s biomedical ambitions, even though that figure falls short of the performance reported for vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which have said that their vaccines are more than 90 percent effective.

The vaccine could also help bring China closer to fulfilling a pledge by China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, to make a vaccine a “global public good.”

The Emirates is one of 10 countries where Sinopharm is testing two coronavirus vaccine candidates. The health ministry said it had reviewed an interim analysis of data from late-stage clinical trials that also showed the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing moderate and severe cases of the disease. It did not say whether it had conducted an independent analysis of the raw data. The ministry said there were no serious safety concerns.

The results announced by the Emirates bode well for Sinopharm’s vaccines to obtain full regulatory approval in China, which Sinopharm sought before final trials were complete. The company is also conducting trials in Bahrain, Jordan, Peru, Argentina and elsewhere.

“I think it could hit the market in China very soon, and there will be news within the next one to two weeks,” said Tao Lina, a vaccine expert in China and a former immunologist at the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt square would usually be hosting a bustling Christmas market.
Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

Chancellor Angela Merkel pleaded with Germans to meet fewer people and stay at home over the holidays in an impassioned speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, as her country saw a record number of deaths from the coronavirus.

“I’m sorry, from the bottom of my heart, I am really sorry,” the visibly emotional chancellor said during a budget debate in Parliament. “But if the price we pay is 590 deaths a day then I have to say this is not acceptable.”

Ms. Merkel, a physicist who won praise in the spring for her detailed explanations of the science behind why Germans needed to stay at home, was frustrated five weeks ago when the governors of the country’s 16 states agreed only to partial restrictions that left most stores and schools open.

The result has been stubbornly high numbers of new infections and record numbers of people dying from the virus — as many in the first seven days of December as died in traffic accidents across the country in all of 2019, according to a report by Germany’s National Academy of Sciences that urged a strict lockdown over Christmas and New Year.

Through early testing, contact tracing and a coordinated effort from all levels of government, Germany emerged from the first wave of the virus with relatively few fatalities and enough intensive care beds to take on patients from neighboring countries.

But even as other European countries, including Belgium, France and Ireland, returned to severe restrictions on movement in October, Germany’s governors continued to squabble over how best to handle the virus, citing the different experiences in their regions.

State authorities are responsible for health policy in Germany and, without their cooperation, the chancellor has been helpless to enforce stricter measures. While some of the states with the highest infection numbers and most crowded hospitals have already tightened restrictions, ordering schools closed and imposing curfews, others have stressed the importance for people of gathering for Christmas.

How difficult the situation has been for the chancellor, as a scientist, was apparent, as she pounded her fist in anger and pressed her palms together in supplication, urging people to begin scaling down their activities in the coming 14 days and calling for schools to break early for Christmas and shun outdoor stands selling seasonal treats such as mulled wine or fresh waffles.

“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and then later this becomes the last Christmas we celebrate with our grandparents, then we missed something,” Ms. Merkel said. “We would do well to really take seriously what scientists tell us.”

In other developments across the world:

  • In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s cabinet has extended funding until June for a program that subsidizes domestic tourism, a Transport Ministry official said on Wednesday. The government has already scaled back the nearly $13 billion “Go to Travel” program in places where infection rates are high, and the Tokyo metropolitan government has asked the elderly and people with underlying illnesses not to participate. Preliminary figures suggest that those who participate experience a higher incidence of symptoms associated with Covid-19.

  • The period of self-isolation and quarantine will be reduced to 10 days from 14 days in Wales beginning Dec. 10, officials said Wednesday. “We know that self-isolating is hard for people and we believe families, communities and business will welcome the announcement today to safely reduce the days in which people have to isolate,” said Vaughan Gething, the minister for health and social services.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, pictured in November, has regularly held in-person briefings since the peak of the New York outbreak in the spring.
Credit…Darren Mcgee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, via Associated Press

With the coronavirus re-emerging in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo began holding his popular news briefings virtually on Wednesday, rather than in person with reporters in the same room.

The shift, months after the virus first devastated the state, will put Mr. Cuomo in sync with other leaders who transitioned away from in-person briefings long ago, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.

Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said that “given the new stricter C.D.C. guidelines released Friday and the reality of rising cases in New York, going remote is now the most prudent action.”

While none of the directives released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week were new, the stark warnings in the guidance reflected deepening concern at the agency that the pandemic is spiraling out of control. The agency urged Americans to wear masks indoors and avoid indoor spaces outside the home, labeling indoor dining as a “high-risk” scenario.

Despite months of mounting evidence of the virus’s airborne transmission indoors and the effectiveness of proper face coverings, Mr. Cuomo did not wear a mask when he addressed reporters from behind a dais, flanked by aides who tended to remove their masks after entering the room.

“We have sat in these seats six feet apart, socially distanced, without masks, since Covid started,” Mr. Cuomo said in October when confronted by a reporter about his decision to not wear a mask. “The rule is six feet apart. And that’s what we do.”

Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey continues to hold in-person briefings regularly in Trenton, wearing a mask before standing up from the dais but taking it off when answering questions from reporters, who are masked and socially distanced.

At the peak of the New York outbreak in the spring, Mr. Cuomo’s daily briefings were televised nationally, elevating the governor’s profile and offering viewers a rare window into his relationship with the press as he fended off question after question from local reporters. The briefings were typically held in the State Capitol in Albany or in a cramped room in his Manhattan office, with capacity capped and chairs for reporters spaced to ensure social distance.

As the virus waned in New York, however, Mr. Cuomo has held in-person briefings less frequently, opting instead for conference calls with reporters.

During an in-person briefing in his Midtown office on Monday, plexiglass partitions were placed between the governor and his aides for the first time, a last-ditch attempt at creating a safe environment. His staff wore masks during the presentation, but Mr. Cuomo did not.

The next day, Mr. Cuomo’s office said his briefings would be held through Zoom “until further notice.”

“We are making every effort to protect public health and balance it with the need for reporters across the state to continue to have access, so they can continue to do their jobs,” Mr. Azzopardi said in a statement.

Guidelines for capacity limits on play structures on a playground in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

After getting blowback from parents and local officials, California has reversed course, and will now allow public playgrounds to remain open under the state’s stay-at-home orders.

In an update on Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health said that “playgrounds may remain open to facilitate physically distanced personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise.”

The stringent regional stay-at-home orders that took effect in much of the state on Sunday night initially called for public playgrounds to be closed. But parents, local officials and public health experts pushed back fiercely, arguing that playgrounds are a safe and essential way for families to get fresh air and exercise with very low risk of contracting the virus.

“We have learned a lot about how to mitigate spread, including masks, distancing, ventilation and hand hygiene,” Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in an email. “Therefore, to institute the same measures as in March, including shutting down of playgrounds, outdoor dining (where there has been no data to show that this is unsafe), and prohibiting members of different households to gather outside, is draconian and not data-driven.”

Many Califiornians expressed relief at the move and thanked the state for adjusting its guidance. “Families spoke out, we introduced a resolution, they will now allow playgrounds to open. The right decision,” Matt Haney, a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, wrote on Twitter.

A dozen state legislators wrote a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday arguing that closing playgrounds would be especially hard on low-income families who “may have little to no outdoor space of their own available.” On Wednesday, those legislators expressed gratitude that the governor listened.

“Every parent knows how important playgrounds are for our youngest Californians,” wrote Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez on Twitter.

It was not clear whether the state’s reversal would affect local restrictions. Los Angeles County closed its playgrounds under its own authority before the state restrictions were announced, and public health officials have said that it was difficult to enforce compliance with social distancing at those sites.

Chris Hurn, chief executive of Fountainhead Commercial Capital, said fraud associated with the Paycheck Protection Program had tested his faith in humanity.
Credit…Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Chris Hurn wasn’t surprised scammers were trying to get government money. An enormous relief effort like the $523 billion Paycheck Protection Program is bound to attract grifters.

As thousands of applications for government-backed loans flooded into his firm, Fountainhead Commercial Capital, it reported at least 500 suspicious cases to federal officials, Mr. Hurn said. But what shocked him was the brazen glee of the scammers who got money anyway.

At least a dozen times, “someone tried to defraud us, got turned down and then followed up to taunt us that they got their loan,” said Mr. Hurn, Fountainhead’s chief executive.

Four months after the federal government’s signature coronavirus relief program for small businesses expired, investigators and lawmakers have only scratched the surface of schemes that illicitly tapped its forgivable loans. The program’s hastily drafted and frequently revised rules, its removal of normal lending guardrails and governmental pressure to swiftly approve applications created the ideal conditions for thievery to thrive.

“We couldn’t believe how many people were trying to take advantage and game the system,” said Mr. Hurn, whose firm made more than 8,000 loans. “A lot of my employees, including me, were a little frustrated with humanity.”

So far, the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against more than 80 people accused of stealing at least $127 million from the relief program, but there’s far more to uncover. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said it had identified more than $4 billion in potentially improper loans, and some bankers believe the total will be much higher.

Video

transcript

transcript

Cuomo Outlines Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution Plan

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York’s first allocation of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine could arrive as soon as this weekend if it’s approved. Nursing home residents and staff members would be the first to get doses, followed by high-risk medical workers.

The state has set up 90 regional distribution centers that are capable of cold storage. This is a different definition of cold storage. This is like really, really cold storage. Not every facility can do it. Not every hospital can do it. But we’ve identified 90 regional centers that can keep the vaccine at the required temperature, and they’ll act as distribution centers for that region. It could arrive as soon as this weekend. That assumes the F.D.A. does act right away. The F.D.A. does approve it. And the military turns around and ships it immediately. But it could actually be coming this weekend. Further allocations will be in the following weeks. Our state priority: Nursing home residents, first, nursing home staff — there was a discussion about do you do the residents or did or do you do the staff? New York, we decided to do both the residents and the nursing home staff. Then you go to high-risk hospital workers. The allocation by region, again, this is based on number of nursing home residents, number of nursing home staff and number of high-risk health care workers. After we take care of all the high-risk, health care workers, we’ll then move to all long-term and congregate care staff and residents, then E.M.S. and other health care workers. And then essential workers, general population, starting with those who have the highest risk.

Video player loading
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York’s first allocation of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine could arrive as soon as this weekend if it’s approved. Nursing home residents and staff members would be the first to get doses, followed by high-risk medical workers.CreditCredit…Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo offered more specifics on Wednesday for how a coronavirus vaccine will be distributed in New York State, and laid out plans for how hospitals should deal with the surging number of cases in the state.

Mr. Cuomo said New York City would get 72,000 of the initial vaccine doses once the state receives them, which may be as soon as this weekend. Long Island will get 26,500 of the initial doses, he said, and the Mid-Hudson region 19,200.

The governor said the allocations were based on the number of nursing home residents and workers in each region, as well as the number of high-risk medical workers; those groups are the first priorities for vaccination.

The next people in line are residents and employees of long-term and congregate care facilities; then emergency medical service and other health care workers; then other kinds of essential workers; and finally, the rest of the population.

Mr. Cuomo discussed the state’s “surge and flex” program, which is intended to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by transferring patients when necessary.

He said Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, had written a letter to hospital and nursing home administrators outlining how to prevent overcrowded conditions, which proved disastrous in the spring.

“This is a hospital capacity crisis,” Mr. Cuomo said, warning that “they’re going to have to be extraordinarily flexible and nimble to handle the additional caseload that is coming up.”

In his letter, Dr. Zucker called on individual hospitals and systems to alert the state before they reach 80 percent of capacity, and even earlier during a surge.

He also asked hospitals to report staffing or personal protective equipment shortages as well as bed occupancy. Nursing homes are required to have a 60-day stockpile of personal protective equipment, and hospitals must have 90 days’ worth.

“As we learned in the spring, keeping a watchful eye on capacity ensures that there is support in place and/or alternative plans to prevent any facility from being overwhelmed,” Dr. Zucker wrote.

Mr. Cuomo also said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had agreed to allow undocumented immigrants to receive vaccinations without having to provide identifying information, setting aside a Trump administration requirement that has caused consternation in some states

Administration officials have said collecting names, addresses, birth dates, ethnicities and other information was “critically necessary” to ensure that people receive follow-up doses and to assess the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety.

Mr. Cuomo, however, said that it would seem as if “you were trying to use the vaccination to identify undocumented people,” and that it could undercut the vaccination drive.

“If undocumented people don’t get vaccinated,” he said, “it compromises their health, and it compromises the whole program.”

The governor also said the state had joined a program that would allow pharmacy employees to vaccinate employees and residents at nursing homes.

In Mr. Cuomo’s first virtual briefing — a precaution taken because of the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state and country — the governor said that on average, 5.44 percent of tests in the state were coming back positive. He said 4,993 people were hospitalized with Covid-19.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City made a rare appearance at the briefing to join Mr. Cuomo in calling for Congress to provide more federal relief money to help the state recover economically from the pandemic.

Registered nurse Trina Owens tended to Andre Johnson, a COVID-19 patient, in his isolation room in the acute care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the South Side of Chicago, on Tuesday.
Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Doctors noticed a sex disparity early in the pandemic: Men infected with the coronavirus were hospitalized at much higher rates than women, and men died at higher rates.

The gap was first observed in China, then seen in Italy and in New York City. Now a large global study has confirmed that men with Covid-19 are at higher risk than women for both severe disease and death.

The analysis, published in Nature Communications on Wednesday, examined more than 3 million Covid-19 cases in dozens of countries and most American states. While the researchers found no differences in the proportion of male and female patients infected with the virus, men were nearly three times as likely to be admitted to intensive care than women, and 40 percent more likely to die.

The sex bias is a “worldwide phenomenon,” with only a “few exceptions,” the authors wrote, and the disparity has implications both for medical care as well as for mitigation strategies — and specifically, vaccination.

Demonstrators converged on Central District Health offices in Boise, Idaho, to disrupt a meeting called to discuss more mandates to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Credit…Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman, via Associated Press

The Central District Health board in Boise, Idaho, tried to meet Tuesday evening to consider imposing a mask mandate and other measures. But the meeting was beset from the very beginning.

Before the board had even completed roll call, one commissioner, Diana Lachiondo, interrupted to say she was stepping out to phone the police, because protesters had gathered outside her home. Four minutes later, she tearfully interrupted again, saying she had to leave the meeting because the protesters had begun banging on the door, where her 12-year-old son was home alone.

The board tried to carry on with business, hearing from a doctor about how the pandemic has overwhelmed his staff. But then the meeting was hastily adjourned at the request of the city’s mayor and chief of police, who told the board it was unsafe to continue.

Protesters had gathered outside the Central District Health building in Boise, as well as the homes of Ms. Lachiondo and at least two other board members, to protest the mitigation measures the board was considering for four of Idaho’s most populous counties. The police set up barricades at the building to keep protesters from entering.

The proposed measures included a mask mandate for public and private places where people of different households could not remain at least six feet apart. The board received more than 3,000 written public comments about the proposal over four days.

Another board member, Dr. Ted Epperly, later told The Idaho Statesman that about 15 protesters gathered outside his house during the meeting, “beating garbage cans and flashing strobe lights through my windows,” and that two people had knocked on his door.

The Boise Police Department said one person was arrested on charges of misdemeanor trespassing inside the Central District Health building. Investigators were also securing warrants to arrest others involved for disturbing the peace, the police said in a statement.

Mayor Lauren McLean of Boise wrote on Twitter that the protesters had come from “outside our community,” and that their purpose was to “disrupt local government in action, to intimidate their families.”

“This is not OK,” she wrote. “Let me be clear: we will hold offenders accountable.”

Correction: Dec. 9, 2020
An earlier version of a home page summary misstated when Britain approved Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. It was last week, not Tuesday.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *