NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has announced new social gathering restrictions while still refusing to implement a mask mandate despite pleas from front-line healthcare workers in a state experiencing the highest new cases per capita in the country.
Instead of a mask mandate, the Republican on Sunday signed an executive order limiting public gatherings to 10 people. However, places of worship, weddings and funerals are exempt from the order.
He called the state “ground zero” in the COVID-19 battle and urged Tennesseans not to gather with people outside their immediate households during the upcoming holidays. His message comes just a day after Lee confirmed that his wife Maria had tested positive for COVID-19. Lee says he has tested negative but will remain in quarantine at the governor’s residence.
Tennessee is one of a dozen states without a mask mandate. Instead, local counties have the option of implementing their own mask restrictions.
Lee was originally scheduled to take reporter questions after his statewide address, but his office later postponed that until Monday without giving a reason why.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
In Congress, negotiators have reached agreement on a new round of pandemic aid that would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefits and $600 direct stimulus payments to most Americans, along with a fresh round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and funding for schools, health care providers, and renters facing eviction. An expert committee has put people 75 and older and essential workers like firefighters, teachers and grocery store workers next in line for COVID-19 shots as a second vaccine began rolling out to U.S. hospitals. European countries are halting U.K. flights, fearing a new coronavirus variant. The variant seems to spread more easily than others, though experts are unsure about that, and they add that there is no evidence that it is any deadlier.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SYDNEY — The apparent spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs had slowed to 83 cases on Monday, an increase of only 15 infections in the past 24 hours.
The number of new infections had halved since the previous 24 hours, despite more than 38,000 people being tested in the latest day, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
She cautioned against any assumption that the rate of recorded infections will continue to decline.
“Unfortunately, one day’s results doesn’t tell us it’s a trend,” Berejiklian told reporters. “In a pandemic, there is a level of volatility, so we’ll closely monitor what happens.”
All 15 new cases were linked to two Avlon Beach live music revenues from where many infections originated on Dec. 11 and Dec. 13.
The original infection is a U.S.-strain suspected to have leaked from Sydney hotel quarantine.
More than 250,000 Sydney residents in the northern beaches area are under a four-day lockdown until Wednesday.
Berejiklian said what restrictions continue over Christmas will be reviewed on Wednesday.
All Australian states have imposed restrictions on travelers from Sydney and parts of New South Wales because the coronavirus risk.
Berejiklian urged other state leaders to “think about things compassionately” due to Christmas approaching and to base decisions on border restrictions on the facts.
TORONTO — Canada is banning passenger flights from the UK in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England.
A person familiar with the matter confirmed the development on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly ahead of an announcement.
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on U.K. travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be canceled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.
Johnson said Saturday that a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England in recent weeks. But he stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The leader of a north Georgia megachurch who has been a spiritual adviser to President Donald Trump has tested positive for COVID-19.
News outlets report Jentezen Franklin was absent from Sunday services at Free Chapel in Gainesville. Pastor Javon Ruff announced the diagnosis during Free Chapel’s Sunday service.
The diagnosis came within days of Franklin attending a Christmas party at the White House. More than a dozen parties at the White House have been criticized for being held indoors and not enforcing masks, but a church spokesperson says Franklin’s infection wasn’t related to that visit.
LOS ANGELES -- Medical staffing is stretched increasingly thin as California hospitals scramble to find beds for patients amid an explosion of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm the state’s emergency care system.
As of Sunday, more than 16,840 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 infections — more than double the previous peak reached in July.
An enormous crush of cases in the last six weeks has California’s death toll spiraling ever higher. Another 161 fatalities were reported Sunday.
All of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley to the north have exhausted their regular intensive care unit capacity, and some hospitals have begun using “surge” space.
A nurse in hard-hit Los Angeles County estimates she’s been averaging less than 10 minutes of care per patient every hour.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas' governor is urging residents to protect each other from the coronavirus this holiday season.
The state on Sunday reported 1,536 new COVID-19 cases and 46 more deaths. One in every 190 people in Arkansas tested positive in the past week. The Arkansas Department of Health said that the state has reported more than 201,000 cases and more than 3,200 deaths since the pandemic began.
“The high number of Arkansans who have died is heartbreaking,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday on Twitter.
Noting that Christmas is just five days away, he asked Arkansans to protect each other and said, “What we do will determine how we start our new year.”
Health officials said that 1,057 people with COVID-19 are in Arkansas hospitals.
TOPEKA, Kan. — A FedEx executive says a higher-than-normal volume of Christmas-season package deliveries won’t interfere with the company’s effort to ship coronavirus vaccine doses.
Jenny Robertson, a FedEx senior vice president, said two trucks on Sunday moved doses of a vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health from a factory in Olive Branch, Mississippi, to the company’s world hub in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, so that shipments could be loaded onto its airplanes bound for multiple states.
She said the company is keeping its networks for shipping the vaccine and handling Christmas packages separate.
“Nothing’s more important than the delivery of the vaccine to us, but we have put in place distinct networks that are keeping e-commerce moving through our ground network and vaccines moving through our express network,” she said. “We’re able to manage this volume right now.”
Robertson said the company has seen holiday-level volumes for shipping packages since March because consumers switched how they buy products during the pandemic.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia's prime minister says the country is temporarily suspending air traffic with Great Britain over fears about the new strain of coronavirus.
Several European countries said Sunday they would halt flights from the U.K., hours after Britain’s government imposed tough new coronavirus restrictions on large areas of southern England to curb what officials described as a fast-moving new strain of the virus.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Sunday said on Twitter the suspension will apply for 48 hours until more information is available.
Plenkovic says “citizens' health comes first.”
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended all international passenger flights for citizens and residents over fears about the fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus.
The kingdom’s interior ministry says the one-week flight ban may be extended “until medical information about the nature of this virus becomes clear.”
The country’s land and sea ports will also close for a week. The government ordered anyone who has returned from or passed through a European country over the past three months to get tested for COVID-19 immediately.
The ministry added that the travel suspension will not affect the country’s cargo flights and supply chains.
NEW YORK -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants a ban on flights from Great Britain to New York City over fears about the new strain of coronavirus.
Cuomo told reporters in a teleconference on Sunday that the six flights arriving daily at Kennedy Airport from Britain pose a health risk. He called on the federal government to either ban the flights or require testing on all passengers.
The first wave of coronavirus infections in New York “came from Europe and we did nothing,” the Democratic governor said. “Doing nothing is negligent.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — As new daily cases of the coronavirus have surged in Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt is starring in a promotional video encouraging people to visit.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sunday reported 4,970 new cases and 23 deaths. That brings the state’s totals to more than 260,000 cases and more than 2,200 deaths since the pandemic began. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say there were 1,081 new cases per 100,000 people in Oklahoma over the past two weeks, which ranks 12th in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 175 people in Oklahoma tested positive in the past week.
Stitt, who has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, stars in a 30-second video that has has more than 100,000 views on YouTube. The video is also being promoted on digital and social media platforms in surrounding states, The Oklahoman reported.
“Today, we all need a place that offers hope,” Stitt says in the video. “Oklahoma is open to the challenge. We’re open with new, exciting places to explore safely.”
The video was posted on YouTube on Nov. 19 — the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against traveling around the Thanksgiving holiday. An Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department spokeswoman says the ads will run through Dec. 30.
Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema tells The Oklahoman newspaper that the campaign is part of a state strategy to support businesses affected by the pandemic.
“We need people to continue to take precautions, but with the vaccination rollout starting, the light is at the end of the tunnel,” Hannema said.
Health officials in the state have been pleading with residents to take precautions, and warn that pandemic is far from over.
On Friday, Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of health with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said that while it had been “a historic, yet emotional week” for health care workers, “we still have a long road ahead of us.”
WASHINGTON — The chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s vaccine distribution effort says it will be shipping nearly 8 million doses of coronavirus vaccine Monday.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that 5.9 million doses of a vaccine made by Moderna and 2 million of a vaccine made by Pfizer will be shipped.
At least a dozen states reported last week that they would receive a smaller second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine than they had been told previously. Army Gen. Gustave Perna, in charge of the distribution effort, apologized Saturday for “miscommunication” with states over the number of doses to be delivered in the early stages of distribution.
Slaoui said the mistake was assuming vaccines that had been produced were ready for shipment when there was a two-day delay.
“And unless it’s perfectly right, we will not release vaccine doses for usage,” he said. “And, sometimes, there could be small hiccups. There have been none, actually, in manufacturing now. The hiccup was more into the planning.”
Slaoui also said the U.S. will experience “a continuing surge” in the coronavirus, with larger numbers of cases possible from gatherings for the Christmas holiday.
SOFIA, Bulgaria— Bulgaria is banning until January 31 all flights coming from and leaving for Britain in reaction to the new coronavirus strain.
At an emergency meeting on Sunday, the government had introduced new restrictive measures for all persons arriving from the United Kingdom, including a mandatory 10-day quarantine. Hours later, it added the flight ban to the list of restrictions.
SAN RAMON, Calif. - More than 1 million people have passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints in each of the past two days in a sign that public health pleas to avoid holiday travel are being ignored, despite an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.
It marks the first time U.S. airports have screened more than 1 million passengers since Nov. 29. That came at the end of a Thanksgiving weekend that saw far more travel around the country than had been hoped as the weather turned colder and COVID-19 cases were already spiking again.
Now, hospitals in many parts of the country are being overwhelmed amid the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. since the pandemic since March when most people in the U.S. were ordered to stay at home and avoid interactions with other households.
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. surgeon general says it’s more realistic to think it may be mid-summer or early fall before coronavirus vaccines are available to the general population in the United States, rather than late spring.
Speaking on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vivek Murthy said Biden’s team is working toward having coronavirus vaccines available to lower-risk individuals by late spring but doing so requires “everything to go exactly on schedule.”
“I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid-summer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population,” Murthy said. “So, we want to be optimistic, but we want to be cautious as well.”
Murthy, who also served as surgeon general in the Obama administration, said Biden’s promise of 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days in office is realistic and that the Biden team has seen more cooperation from Trump administration officials.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s surgeon general is defending Trump’s not getting a coronavirus vaccine, saying there are medical reasons for it.
U.S. Surgeon General and Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, noted that Trump both contracted COVID-19 in October and was treated with monoclonal antibodies.
“And that is actually one scenario where we tell people maybe you should hold off on getting the vaccine, talk to your health provider to find out the right time,” Adams said.
Asked about Trump doing a public-service announcement for the vaccine to encourage his supporters to get it, Adams noted that both he and Vice President Mike Pence got vaccinated.
Adams, who is Black, said he understands that mistrust of the medical community and the vaccine among Blacks “comes from a real place,” the mistreatment of communities of color.
JERUSALEM __ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the country is banning flights from Britain, Denmark or South Africa due to fears about the new strain of coronavirus.
“Those are the countries where the mutation is found,” he said.
He also said Sunday that anyone returning from those countries would have to go into mandatory 14-day quarantine in state-run hotels.
Netanyahu spoke a day after he was vaccinated against the coronavirus – the first Israeli to do so in what he said was an attempt to encourage the public to follow suit. Israel pushed ahead with its vaccination campaign on Sunday, beginning with other top officials and front-line health-care workers.
LONDON — Eurostar trains between London, Brussels and Amsterdam are being canceled from Monday, after the Belgian government announced that borders with the U.K will close at midnight Sunday.
The high-speed train operator said Sunday that trains continue to operate on the London to Paris route.
The Belgian government has said it will review the position in 24 hours. Eurostar said they’re awaiting further details from relevant governments on how travel restrictions will be enforced.
European countries including the Netherlands, Austria and Italy said Sunday they would halt flights from the U.K., hours after Britain’s government imposed tough new coronavirus restrictions on large areas of southern England to curb what officials described as a fast-moving new strain of the virus.
MILAN — Both the number of COVID deaths and new positives were significantly lower on Sunday, a day when typically many fewer tests are carried out.
Deaths rose by 352, down by several hundred from recent days, and bringing Italy’s known coronavirus dead to 68,799, the highest in Europe.
Another 15,104 people tested positive, down by over 1,000 from a day earlier as the number of tests dropped by nearly a quarter. Sunday marked the last day Italians were permitted to move from one region to another without a valid motive, including work and health.
The government has imposed more stringent restrictions for the Christmas holiday in a bid to prevent celebrations from setting of a new surge. Shopping streets in major cities were packed ahead of the imposition of a partial lockdown this week.
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