Deadliest month: In the U.S., a record 77,572 people died from the coronavirus in December, with a death now occurring about every 33 seconds, reports CNN. The cumulative death toll for the country now exceeds 354,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker–nearly one-fifth of the global total of 1.8 million deaths. In the U.S., about 21 million people—one out of 16—have tested positive for the coronavirus, including more than 500,000 inmates and guards at U.S. prisons and jails, according to The New York Times. Total Covid hospitalizations nationwide reached a new record on Sunday, Adam Martin reports for The Wall Street Journal, with more than 125,544 people in hospitals—the fourth time in five days that figure exceeded 125,000. More than three-quarters of intensive care unit beds nationwide are occupied, according to The New York Times, and one-fifth of hospitals with ICUs are nearly at capacity (95 percent or more beds taken).
- Also: Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have contradicted President Trump’s claim that the number of infections and deaths has been exaggerated and is “Fake News,” Meryl Kornfield and Shayna Jacobs report for The Washington Post. “The numbers are real,” Fauci said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “All you need to do . . . is go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths.”
Vaccine delays: Although the Trump administration said 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of the year, the actual number of shots administered was about 4.5 million as of yesterday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rollout coincided with the holidays as well as a surge of new cases, which Surgeon General Adams said has slowed the distribution. NPR reports that coronavirus shots also take more time to administer than other vaccines, because patients first are questioned about their health status and must remain for a time after getting the shot to make sure they have no adverse reaction. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti laid some of the blame on the Trump administration for not providing federal resources or helping train more medical workers to give the shots. “The federal government can’t tell the local governments and state governments to do something and not give us aid,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
- Also: A Wisconsin pharmacist accused of intentionally destroying vials of the Moderna vaccine was a conspiracy theorist with marital problems who had twice before brought a gun to work, Shaila Dewan and Kay Nolan report for The New York Times.
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More contagious contagion: The so-called U.K. variant of the coronavirus, believed to be 56 to 70 percent more contagious than other strains, has been identified in at least 30 countries, Miriam Berger reports for The Washington Post. New York became the fourth U.S. state to identify a case of the U.K. variant, after Colorado, California, and Florida, according to The Guardian, although there is probably wide community spread already. The man sickened by the strain in New York had not traveled recently, suggesting he picked it up in the town north of Albany where he lives.
Suiting up during a pandemic: One of the largest private hospital chains in New York sued more than 2,500 patients over medical debts last year, even after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered state-run hospitals to halt the practice and most private hospitals voluntarily complied with the order as well, Brian M. Rosenthal reports for The New York Times. The nonprofit hospital system, Northwell, has sought an average of $1,700 in unpaid bills in addition to hefty interest payments from the likes of teachers, construction workers and grocery store employees, as well as other workers who may be un- or underemployed during the pandemic. “My salary was cut in half. I’m now working only two days a week. And now I have to deal with this,” said one man who was sued for $4,043 after he was hospitalized with a seizure at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Northwell is hardly the only New York hospital system to sue patients last year, but it filed about half of the lawsuits. It is run by Michael Dowling, who was the state health director and deputy secretary to former Gov. Mario Cuomo and a close friend to his son, the current governor.
Nightmare on wings: Airline workers are responsible for ensuring flyers comply with mask protocols, but the backlash from some travelers has been rude or verbally abusive, Michael Laris reports for The Washington Post. Airline employees have filed more than 150 safety reports with the federal government since the pandemic, describing how customers’ refusal to wear masks has jeopardized public health or interfered with the safe operation of the plane. In at least one case it was a pilot who wore a flimsy face covering that would do nothing to stop the spread of coronavirus germs. In October, the Department of Transportation declined to require masks on airplanes, subways and other forms of transportation, instead leaving it up to companies and transit operators, rendering companies’ policies less forceful than they might otherwise be.
Paying the piper: The U.S. Department of Labor has cited a number of employers for wage violations, some of them at the expense of essential workers, including firefighters, nurses and ambulance drivers. Colony Tire and Service, which operates in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, was found to have underpaid mechanics and technicians for overtime work, and was required to pay $152,109 in back wages to nearly 250 employees. The City of Tipton, Indiana, has paid $91,924 in back wages to 15 firefighters, after failing to pay overtime when firefighters worked more than 106 hours in a two-week period. Chelsea Health Care LLC, which operates a nursing facility in Columbus, Ohio, had been paying licensed practical nurses and health aides $1 more per hour over the regular 40 hour work week, instead of normal time-and-one-half for overtime. The company has paid $81,399 in back wages to 45 employees. Jefferson Hills Area Ambulance Association, a private company in Pennsylvania, has paid $35,492 in back wages to 12 first responder employees who had worked 24-hour shifts.
The other epidemic: More than 41,000 Americans died from gunfire in 2020, including suicides, murders and accidental shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It was the first time annual firearm deaths exceeded 40,000 since 1981, Grace Hauck reports for USA Today. The U.S. historically has had 25 times more gun homicides than other wealthy countries. At least 20 people were shot and killed on the last day of 2020 alone.
- Also: A 37-year-old U.S. Army member opened fire on a bowling alley in Rockford, Illinois, the day after Christmas, killing three and wounding three others, Ken DeCoster, Kevin Haas, and Chris Green report for the Rockford Register Star. “We believe this was a completely random act, and there is no prior meeting or any kind of relationship between the suspect and any of the victims in this case,” Police Chief Dan O’Shea said.
A plastic ban: A ban on single-use plastic has gone into effect in Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities, DW reports. The prohibition includes plastic bags, utensils, cotton swabs, disposable plastic cups, plastic stirrers, single-use coffee capsules and balloons. Authorities say they will not be levying fines to start, instead focusing on educating residents. Some vendors may have taken that to heart; one street seller told reporters that authorities have “forgot about it” because of the pandemic.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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