Coronavirus updates: Study finds Chinese vaccine 78% effective; Kansas Rep. Jake LaTurner tests positive after House vote; 365K US deaths

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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 365,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates surrounding the coronavirus, including who is getting the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as other top 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:

► Two Portland hospitals threw out more than three dozen doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when it couldn’t find health care workers to take surplus vaccine before it expired, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Wednesday. More than 60,000 doses have been administered, but nearly 75% of the doses delivered to the state — some 225,000 — have yet to make it into the arms of Oregonians. 

► U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Kansas Republican, announced early Thursday morning he tested positive for COVID-19 overnight, hours after participating in a failed effort to block Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. According to a tweet, he’s not experiencing any symptoms and will not return to the House floor until he’s cleared. 

► Sen. Rick Scott is calling for a Congressional investigation into reports of improper vaccine distribution after a Washington Post investigation found a Florida assisted-living company may have been doling out scarce coronavirus vaccines to board members and affluent friends who made generous donations to the West Palm Beach facility. 

► California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday proposed to extend a moratorium on evictions and $600 state stimulus checks for millions of low-income residents, including undocumented immigrants who file taxes with the state, under a budget proposal. “Californians who have been impacted by this pandemic will get help to provide for their families and keep a roof over their heads,” Newsom said in a statement. The Golden State has reported more than 2.4 million confirmed cases and 27,400 deaths, according to state data.

► Amazon is now selling COVID-19 tests for customers to use at home. The DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva at-Home Collection Kit detects the presence of the virus but does not confirm immunity or detect antibodies. A single COVID-19 testing kit is listed for $110, and a 10-pack bundle is available for $1,000. 

► Both CVS and Walgreens said they expect to finish delivering the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine doses at nursing homes on schedule by Jan. 25. As of Tuesday, CVS has administered 351,231 vaccines in nursing homes, including nearly 30,000 in big states like California and Florida. 

► Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said he will eliminate a Sunday lockdown, shorten a curfew that has been in place since the pandemic began and reopen beaches, marinas and pools. The new curfew will run from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and will be in effect for 30 days starting Thursday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 21.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 365,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 87.1 million cases and 1.88 million deaths.

More contagious coronavirus variant found in 3 more states

Three more U.S. states have discovered the more contagious coronavirus variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom. As of Thursday, the strain has been found in eight states and 33 countries. 

Texas health officials on Thursday announced the state found the variant known as B.1.1.7 in a man with no history of travel. The man, who is between 30 and 40 years old, is isolating while health officials work to identify and quarantine his close contacts.

In Pennsylvania, health officials identified the strain in a person described as a “traveler,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “It was not a community spread case,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. The patient experienced mild symptoms and is isolating at home, the newspaper reported.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday said the state discovered two cases of the coronavirus variant. The two people, between the ages of 15 and 25, each traveled recently, one to Ireland and the other to New York state.

Brazilian study finds Chinese vaccine 78% effective

A vaccine candidate made by China’s Sinovac is 78% effective in protecting against COVID-19, according to results of a study announced Thursday by Brazilian state health officials seeking federal approval of the shot.

More than 12,000 health workers participated in the study, which detected 218 cases of COVID-19 — about 160 of those among people who received a placebo rather than the actual vaccine. Researchers reported no serious side effects in the study. 

The U.S. requires vaccine candidates to be tested in at least 30,000 people to determine safety and effectiveness.

Turkish officials last month said that a smaller, companion study in that country of the same vaccine candidate found an efficacy rate of over 90%. A different Chinese company, SinoPharm, announced last week that its similar vaccine is about 79% effective. Both of those vaccines rely on inactivated viruses.

COVID-19 deaths surge to national records amid Capitol chaos 

The United States reported a record 3,865 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, blowing far past a record set just a day before, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows. At that pace, an American is reported dead about every 22 seconds.

The U.S. also reported another record with 1,558,568 new cases in the latest week. At that pace, 155 people in the United States are reported positive every minute.

Those national records come as individual states struggle with coronavirus. Texas, Florida and New York reported record numbers of cases in the week ending Wednesday. The country’s most populated state, California, reported a record number of deaths in the week ending Wednesday: 2,592 people.

Among the other states reporting records Wednesday: Louisiana reported a record number of cases per week in the fall surge. Massachusetts, one of the worst-hit states in the spring, also reported a record number of cases. And Arizona, which faced a horrifying summer surge, reported record numbers of both cases and deaths in the latest week. Daily numbers may be higher than reported due to lags in data collection throughout the holidays.

– Michael Stucka 

Death of Florida doctor after receiving COVID vaccine under investigation

A Florida doctor has died several weeks after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, although it’s not yet clear whether his death Monday was related to the shot he received on Dec. 18. Dr. Gregory Michael, 56, an OB-GYN at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, died after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke apparently resulting from a lack of platelets.

Miami medical examiners are investigating his death, according the Florida Department of Health. In a Facebook post, his wife, Heidi Neckelmann, said he sought emergency care three days after the shot because he had dots on his skin that indicated internal bleeding. 

Pfizer, which along with its partner BioNTech made the vaccine the man received, said in a statement it is aware of the death. “We are actively investigating this case, but we don’t believe at this time that there is any direct connection to the vaccine,” the statement said.

– Karen Weintraub

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