Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine ‘momentum’

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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 335,000 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:

► Americans who have direct deposit set up through the Internal Revenue Service could be receiving their stimulus payment as early as Tuesday night, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Paper checks will begin to be mailed Wednesday, according to a press release from the Treasury Department. The new round of stimulus includes $600 direct payment to qualifying individual Americans, or $1,200 for couples.

► California extended its regional stay-at-home order for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, where there is 0% ICU capacity. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said the order is in effect “for the time being” with no set expiration date for the restrictions, the Los Angeles Times reported. Ghaly said ICU projections will determine when the orders will be lifted.

► A long-delayed education campaign aimed at encouraging Americans to take the coronavirus vaccine will launch in January, federal health officials said Tuesday.

► Colorado has confirmed the first known U.S. case of a new strain of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom. The patient is a man in his 20s who is in isolation and has no travel history, the office of Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.

►Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocked immediate approval of increasing the one-time stimulus payments to $2,000 from $600. Instead, he outlined three priorities the president demanded Congress examine, linking the extra money to other issues that Democrats are not likely to support. The fate of the increase remained uncertain. 

►Some people in Britain have received their second and final dose of coronavirus vaccine, three weeks after vaccinations began in the United Kingdom. Shots of the Pfizer vaccine are supposed to be three weeks apart. The U.S. program began about one week later.

►Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday at United Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “This is about saving lives. I trust the science, and it is the scientists who created and approved this vaccine,” Harris emphasized. “This is about saving your life, the life of your family members and of your community.”

►A Tyson Foods manager fired for betting on how many workers would contract COVID-19 at an Iowa pork plant said the office pool was intended to boost morale. Don Merschbrock, former night manager, said seven fired supervisors are not “evil people” Tyson has portrayed. Families of four workers who died are suing the company.

►The U.S. won’t come close to vaccinating 20 million people by Jan. 1, as many experts had forecast, but Dr. Anthony Fauci believes “an increase in momentum” next month will help the nation draw closer to rollout estimates. But Fauci, in an interview on CNN, said a likely holiday surge means “we just have to assume (the pandemic) is going to get worse.”

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Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received her COVID-19 vaccine along with her husband, Doug Emhoff.

USA TODAY

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 19.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 338,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 81.9 million cases and 1.78 million deaths. 

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

Within weeks of vaccine, deaths grip Massachusetts nursing home

After making it through over eight months of the coronavirus pandemic without an outbreak, a Massachusetts nursing home has been overwhelmed just weeks before staff and residents were scheduled to receive the vaccine. 

The state’s weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report from Nov. 27 reported the Royal of Fairhaven nursing home had 11 to 30 cases and zero deaths. A month later, the state reported over 30 cases and 12 deaths. James Mamary, CEO of the parent company, said 16 staff members and “pretty close to 100%” of residents tested positive. The facility is licensed for 107 beds. 

“This has been the most devastating experience,” Mamary said. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years and … I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Kiernan Dunlop, Standard-Times

Florida bent the vaccine rules. Chaos ensued.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order that ignored CDC guidance for COVID-19 vaccine priority and allowed people 65 and older to jump ahead of essential workers has prompted a wild scramble for vaccines.

Some first-come, first-served vaccine locations were overwhelmed as the elderly lined up to get their shots. Medical systems and counties struggled to create distribution systems for groups they hadn’t expected to vaccinate for at least a week or two. 

“We are not going to put young healthy workers ahead of our elderly,” said DeSantis, whose state has seen more than 21,000 deaths from the virus. Read more here.

– Elizabeth Weise and Michael Braun

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Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

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Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Jessica Miles, left, of CVS, gives resident Wanda Kilgore a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Linley Park Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Anderson, S.C., Dec. 29, 2020. The first dose of the vaccine was administered to 51 residents and 32 staff, with the second dose planned for Jan. 26, 2021. Ken Ruinard, Anderson Independent Mail via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Pharmacists prepare doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Life Care Center of Kirkland on Dec. 28, 2020 in Kirkland, Wash. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home, was an early epicenter for coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. Karen Ducey, Getty ImagesFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Henry Jackson, an employee of Lee Health in the transportation services department is one of the first front-line workers for Lee Health to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine was administered at Lee Health Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers, Fla. on Dec. 22, 2020. Andrew West, The News-Press via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Chief Nursing Officer Robin L. Steaban, left, who administered the vaccine, stands with nurse practitioner Lisa Flemmons, Dr. Todd Rice, nurse Cody Hamilton and respiratory therapist Sophie Whitaker after they received a COVID-19 vaccine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 17, 2020. George Walker IV, THE TENNESSEAN via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

The CVS Health team arrives with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Sivercrest Health and Rehabilitation Center in Crestview, Fla. on Dec. 21, 2020. This was one of the first administrations of the vaccine in the state. Michael Snyder, The Northwest Florida Daily News via USA Today NETWORKFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Nurse practitioner Franklin Grauzer receives a high-five from his daughter, Emerson, 5, after he received a COVID-19 vaccine at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West in Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 17, 2020. Andrew Nelles, The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Dr. Theresa Maresca from the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB), lets a collegue write on her arm For the Love of Native People over the spot where she received a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, at the SIHB, on Dec. 21, 2020 in Seattle, Wash. The Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB) received 500 doses of the FDA-approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine today. Karen Ducey, Getty ImagesFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

A member of FDNY EMS gives a thumbs up while receiving the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on Dec. 23, 2020 in New York City. Members of FDNY EMS were given doses of the Moderna coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine allotted for the department. Michael M. Santiago, Getty ImagesFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Dr. Cletus Oppong, who specializes in occupational medicine, is the first to receive the first round of the Moderna vaccine by Clinical Pharmacist Erin Conkright on Dec. 24, 2020, at the Owensboro Health Regional Hospital in Owensboro, Ky. “It’s an exciting day,” said Oppong. Alan Warren, The Messenger-Inquirer via APFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Command Sgt. Maj. John Raines of the Mississippi National Guard, looks away as he receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in his arm, by a fellow guard member, Dec. 23, 2020, in Flowood, Miss. One hundred doses of the vaccine were administered to both Mississippi Air and Army National Guard service members who serve as first responders and currently assist with the administering of the COVID-19 test at Mississippi Department of Health drive through community testing sites across the state. Rogelio V. Solis, APFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Tim King, a citizen of the Cherokee nation and a Cherokee language speaker, receives ther COVID-19 vaccine at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center Dec. 17, 2020, in Tahlequah, Okla. On his left arm is a tattoo of a dreamcatcher with the word Cherokee. Mike Simons, APFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Long-term care patient Carlos Alegre receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from licensed vocational nurse Virgie Vivar at Birch Patrick Skilled Nursing Facility at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center on Dec. 21, 2020 in Chula Vista, Calif. 72-year-old Alegre is the first patient to receive the vaccine in San Diego County. Long-term care patients and frontline workers are among those in the CDCÕs highest priority group for vaccination. Mario Tama, Getty ImagesFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Hartford HealthCare employee Wilfredo Rivera reacts after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 as Hartford HealthCare Nurse Laura Bailey, right, looks on at Hartford Hospital, Dec. 21, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. Hartford HealthCare was the first in the state to administer the Moderna vaccine. Jessica Hill, APFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Nursing student Abriana Martinez administers the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to Dr. Erik Pronske at the University of Texas Health Austin Dell Medical School on Tuesday December 15, 2020. Jay Janner, Austin American-StatesmanFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Lerma Ballesteros, left, a technical laboratory assistant with Diagnostic Laboratory Services, remains rock steady even as she is administered a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination during a temporary clinic conducted by Department of Public Health and Social Services workers and other support staff at the Okkodo High School cafeteria in Dededo on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Rick Cruz/PDNFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Rochester General Hospital received the new Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and started vaccinating some of their high-risk healthcare workers on December 15, 2020. Nancy Nicoletta, assistant director of pharmacy, brings up a bag of the vaccine. The vaccine has to be kept at a very cold temperature. Tina MacIntyre-Yee/ Rochester Democrat and ChronicleFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss. on Dec. 20, 2020. While shipments of the vaccine are rolling out to many health care workers and nursing homes across the country, it could be months before itÕs available for the general public. Paul Sancya, APFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Dr. Julie Kennerly-Shah draws out a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as its distributed to healthcare workers on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020 at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center East in Columbus, Ohio. Vaccine shipments began arriving in Ohio on Monday and frontline health care workers have been the first to receive the vaccine. Joshua A. Bickel, Columbus DispatchFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Allison Wynes, a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) nurse practitioner, records a video for her friends announcing she had received one of first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the hospital, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, on the 12th floor of the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-CitizenFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Sandra Lindsay, left, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in New York. Mark Lennihan, APFullscreen

Coronavirus updates: California extends stay-at-home orders; $600 stimulus payments start going out; US seeks vaccine 'momentum'

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Mich. on Dece. 13, 2020. POOL PHOTO BY MORRY GASHFullscreen

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Vaccination totals far behind rollout estimates

When the first virus vaccines won emergency authorization this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar estimated that 20 million people – mostly health care workers – could be vaccinated by year’s end. The rate would then jump in early 2021 as more vaccines rolled out, Azar and other experts said.

So far, the numbers are far below expectations. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, acknowledged Tuesday that only a few million vaccinations have taken place thus far.

“I believe that, as we get into January, we are going to see an increase in momentum” that allows the nation to catch up to the planned rollout, Fauci said on CNN. He said he still hopes that by spring or summer “anybody and everybody who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated.”

True or false: Is SAT is optional for college applications during COVID-19?

Many families believe students who find a way to take standardized tests will have an edge in elite college admissions despite announcements from most schools that they are not needed due to the pandemic. Headline after headline has documented students traveling long distances to take either the SAT or the competitor test, the ACT, as places to take the exams in person become increasingly unavailable. In the Facebook group Paying for College 101, parents have been asking how “optional” the tests actually are.

“I do think parents believe test-optional colleges when they communicate that students without test scores will be competitive applicants,” said Debbie Schwartz, founder and operator of the Facebook group. “But there’s still skepticism whether students with a test score will have an advantage over a student without a test score.” Read more here.

Chris Quintana

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