Coronavirus updates: Pope urges ‘vaccines for everybody’ in Christmas message; Italy enders lockdown; Japan has 5 cases with UK variant – USA TODAY

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Ryan W. Miller

Joshua Bote
 
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Pope Francis celebrates Mass in near-empty service

Pope Francis delivered an early Mass Thursday to a small congregation at St Peter’s Basilica to comply with Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew. (Dec. 24)

AP

USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as a pair of vaccines join the U.S. fight against a virus that has killed more than 329,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates on vaccine distribution, including who is getting the shots and where, as well as other COVID-19 news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.

In the headlines:

►Japan has confirmed the country’s first five cases of the new variant of the coronavirus that was identified in the United Kingdom. Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the five people arrived from Britain from Dec. 18 to Dec. 21. Four of the five were asymptomatic, but one man in his 60s developed fatigue. 

►Pope Francis made a Christmas Day plea, urging “vaccines for everybody, especially for the most vulnerable and needy,” who should be first in line. Francis made the off-the-cuff remarks during his traditional «Urbi et Orbi» blessing.

►Italy has entered a holiday lockdown through Jan. 6 aimed at limiting get-togethers. Around the world, holiday celebrations have been scaled back or canceled altogether.

►The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s influential COVID-19 model this week warned that states are not imposing strong enough social distancing mandates, given the scale of the virus’ current spread in the U.S. Without action, daily deaths could reach 5,000 by mid-February, a Wednesday briefing projects.

►Republicans blocked an effort Thursday to increase direct payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000 in the latest stimulus package. Democrats said they would try to push the increase through after President Donald Trump said this week he wanted bigger direct checks sent out.

►The Transportation Security Administration said it screened a pandemic-record 1,191,123 individuals at airports across the country on Wednesday. While Wednesday’s total was still down 38% from the same weekday a year ago, which was Christmas Day, it was the fourth day during the Christmas holiday rush that traveler counts topped 1 million.

►The federal government is close to delivering 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine during the month of December, as promised, but states are taking longer than expected to get those doses into people’s arms. Here’s what officials are saying about immunizations.

📈 Today’s numbers:  The U.S. has more than 18.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 329,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 79 million cases and 1.7 million deaths. 

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

US to require negative COVID-19 test for air passengers traveling from UK

The United States will require air passengers traveling from the United Kingdom to provide a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Thursday.

The move comes as a growing number of countries banned British travelers amid the rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus in London and elsewhere

Earlier this week, Canada and dozens of other counties announced new restrictions on U.K. travelers after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the coronavirus variant could be 70% more transmissible and is driving an alarmingly rapid spread of infections in London and surrounding areas.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that while preliminary analysis in the U.K. suggests the new variant is «significantly more transmissible,» there is no indication that infections are more severe. Experts have warned, however, that even if the variant is not more lethal, it will likely lead to an increase in infections, hospitalizations and virus-related deaths.

The order, which President Donald Trump is expected to sign Friday, will take effect Dec. 28, according to the CDC.

How will you be told when it’s your turn for a COVID-19 vaccine? It’s complicated.

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out to limited groups of people across the United States, how people learn they are eligible to get their shots won’t be as clear while supplies remain limited, according to public health and policy experts and state vaccination plans.

Vaccine rollout has largely been left to the states, and people may not know when they’re eligible to get their vaccine. And they may have to be proactive in finding where they can get one and in proving that they meet the criteria to be next in line.

«I think it’s going to be a little bit murky,» said Katie Greene, a visiting policy associate at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy.

«I wouldn’t be surprised if thousands of individuals get left out because of the information gap,» added Tinglong Dai, a Johns Hopkins Carey Business School professor who studies operations management and business analytics in health care.

COVID-19 antibodies may protect from virus for up to six months or longer, studies find

Evidence from two new studies suggest that antibodies from getting COVID-19 may provide protection against future infection. 

Researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute found that people with antibodies from natural infection were less likely to test positive again for up to six months and maybe longer, according to one of the studies published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research looked at 12,500 health workers at Oxford University Hospitals in the U.K. 

The second study, still undergoing peer-review, involved more than 3 million people who had antibody tests from two private labs in the United States. Only .03% of those who initially had antibodies later tested positive for the coronavirus, compared with 3% of those who lacked such antibodies. 

The findings are “not a surprise,” said Joshua Wolf, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis who is not affiliated with the study. “But it’s really reassuring because it tells people that immunity to the virus is common.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

40 million Americans could be left homeless as federal eviction moratorium expires in January

Millions of Americans are on the verge of being evicted with the federal eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of January, unleashing what advocates say could be a housing catastrophe of historic proportions: Without federal intervention, they fear, as many as 40 million people could be displaced amid an ongoing and still worsening pandemic.

“We’re facing potentially the worst housing and homelessness crisis in our country’s history,” said Diane Yentel, CEO and president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C.

The eviction moratorium approved by the CDC was originally set to end Dec. 3 and is expected to be extended through January by Congress under a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that also includes offering $25 billion in emergency rental assistance.

But critics say the order’s vague wording has led to inconsistent implementation and allowed determined landlords to find loopholes. Moreover, tenants often aren’t aware of the order, and without legal representation, many aren’t equipped to follow through in court. Read more here.

– Marc Ramirez, Sarah Taddeo and Tiffany Cusaac-Smith

Contributing: The Associated Press

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