Coronavirus updates: New York officials investigate vaccine fraud; TSA reports 1.1M travelers on day after Christmas; 333K US deaths


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 330,000 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:

►President Donald Trump on Sunday signed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, days after calling the bipartisan legislation a “disgrace.” The relief package provides up to $600 in direct stimulus checks, extends unemployment benefits and provides aid to small businesses reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

►New York officials are investigating whether a health care provider has fraudulently obtained and distributed a COVID-19 vaccine to the public in violation of state guidelines. “Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement Saturday. 

►State officials are expected to extend stay-at-home orders for central and southern California that are set to expire Monday. The extension would come as hospitals run out of ICU beds ahead of an expected surge in cases after Christmas. California was the first state to reach 2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases last week.

►Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Sunday announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19. In a Facebook post, Bonnen said he has mild symptoms and will continue to quarantine. His wife also tested positive for the virus.

►Australian authorities have banned people from congregating in Sydney’s downtown harborside to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks show in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Sydney reported five new cases Monday, bringing the total to 126 infections since Dec. 10. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 19 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 333,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 80.7 million cases and 1.76 million deaths. 

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

TSA: 1.1M people flew the day after Christmas despite CDC warnings

More than 1.1 million people traveled through airports around the United States on Saturday, nearing Wednesday’s pandemic travel record – despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay at home to quell coronavirus cases. 

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 1,128,773 people the day after Christmas. That’s roughly half the number of travelers screened on the same day in 2019 and just 62,000 less than the 1,191,123 screened Dec. 23 – the most on any day in the U.S. since the pandemic began. 

The previous pandemic record was set the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when 1,176,091 travelers were screened. Saturday was the fifth day during the Christmas holiday rush when traveler counts topped 1 million.

– Hannah Yasharoff

COVID-19 spreading faster in California than most states

California ranked No. 2 among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data showed.

In the latest week, the United States added 1,327,043 reported cases of coronavirus, a decrease of 12.3% from the previous week. Across the country, six states had more cases in the latest week than they did in the week before.

California added 50,141 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing its total to 2,122,806 cases to date. The death toll rose by 237, bringing the total to 24,220.

Officials with the California Department of Public Health noted that Sunday’s reported tally of new cases was inflated because Los Angeles data was not included in Saturday’s updates due to a glitch; Sunday’s report included data from two days from L.A. County.

– Julie Makinen, Palm Springs Desert Sun, and Mike Stucka, USA TODAY

Kroger Co. to hire 1,000 to administer COVID-19 vaccines

Kroger Health, a health care division of the Kroger Co., has said it will provide coronavirus vaccines nationwide through its pharmacy and clinic locations. The Cincinnati-based national grocery chain will hire nearly 1,000 people for jobs that include pharmacy technicians and other positions to support operations and the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a company news release.

Kroger did not specify when COVID-19 vaccines might become available, pointing to partnerships with federal and state health departments “to administer the vaccine in accordance with the rollout plan,” according to the release.

Kroger Health has more than 2,200 pharmacies and 220 clinics in 35 states, according to the release. Kroger Health employs about 22,000 health care practitioners including pharmacists, nurse practitioners, dietitians and technicians, according to the release.

– Chris Mayhew, Cincinnati Enquirer


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