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Coronavirus live updates: 300K dead; Health care workers across US get first COVID-19 vaccine doses

The United States is now marking a wrenching 300,000 deaths from COVID-19

After becoming the first country to cross that threshold Monday, the U.S. is in store for a lot more pain. Experts fear the nation is heading inexorably toward the next milestone of surpassing the total of American fatalities in World War II – about 405,000 – even as vaccines come to distribution sites across the country.

A weeks-long surge in coronavirus transmission has led to an average of more than 210,000 new infections and nearly 2,500 deaths a day this month. Despite the positive news on the vaccine front, the U.S. is still battling overcrowded hospitals and shrinking ICU capacity.

But there is hope down the line. Health care workers across the United States received the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine Monday, a landmark step in the country's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

A nurse in New York City became the first person in that state – and likely the nation – to receive a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the only one so far authorized in the U.S to combat the coronavirus.

"I feel hopeful today," said Sandra Lindsay, the critical care nurse at New York's Long Island Jewish Medical Center, after she received the shot.

Vaccinations also occurred in North Carolina, Rhode Island, Florida, Ohio and several other states. A total of 145 sites were to receive vaccines Monday, 425 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 16.4 million cases and 300,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 72.7 million cases and nearly 1.62 million deaths.

📰 What we're reading: We're answering your questions about the vaccine, like: What are the side effects? Can you still get sick? Is it safe during pregnancy? Get the answers here.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, state officials receive vaccine

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice became one of the first top elected officials in the country to receive a coronavirus shot on Monday night, saying “it's as safe as can be.”

He and aides received the injections even though the state’s rollout is supposed to prioritize giving the highly sought-after doses to health care workers and people in long-term care centers. Justice has said West Virginia does not expect to receive enough doses in the initial few weeks of rollout to fully cover the over 100,000 people who work in health care, live or work in long-term care centers, or are first responders and public health officials.

Wearing a mask, he received a jab in his right arm from a state pharmacy board official and promptly received an adhesive bandage — and a sticker. Marty Wright, the head of the West Virginia Health Care Association, said he “applauded” the governor's move.

Top officials witness first vaccine shots in Washington

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Surgeon General Jerome Adams were on hand at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., to witness doctors and nurses get the first shots of the vaccine.

Five health care workers at the hospital received initial doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, the first authorized in the U.S. to combat COVID-19. 

“To be 11 months into this world pandemic and to be here at George Washington to see doctors and nurses, the heroic frontline health care workers, receive this protection, it’s a momentous event,” Azar said outside the hospital.

Hospitals nationwide began receiving vaccine shipments Monday and started to immunize employees, and Azar said more vaccine should become available later this week after the FDA reviews another candidate made by Moderna.

Azar also stressed the importance of getting the vaccine to vulnerable populations and highlighting the independent checks that show the vaccine is safe and effective.

“The process has integrity to it based on science, evidence and the law,” Azar said.    

– Ken Alltucker

More than 300K dead from COVID-19 in the US

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned the country could reach 450,000 fatalities before Feb. 1, days short of the one-year anniversary of the first known COVID-19 death in the U.S. The 300,000 mark came and went Monday, the first day vaccines began being distributed across the nation.

An influential model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts more than 460,000 deaths by March 1, with or without a rapid vaccine rollout. By comparison, about 405,000 American service members perished in World War II over nearly four years.

“The way the number of infections has been growing so fast, it’s hard to believe we won’t be at half a million deaths,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, a professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California-Berkeley.

– Jorge L. Ortiz

More vaccines coming soon, Operation Warp Speed says

Operation Warp Speed officials alluded to a highly likely FDA authorization of a second COVID-19 vaccine soon, from Moderna, though HHS Secretary Alex Azar reiterated at a Monday briefing that it would only be authorized “if it meets FDA’s rigorous standards.”

Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed’s science advisor, said that "this week, possibly Tuesday, the packet of technical information about the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be made public.''

The information will be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration’s external advisory committee, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, or VRBPAC, on Thursday. The Moderna vaccine showed almost 95% efficacy against disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease, Slaoui said. He also noted there are two other COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials.

– Elizabeth Weise

Officials encourage vaccinations, trust in experts

Mass vaccination is the key to stopping COVID-19, said Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed’s science advisor, encouraging the public to listen to medical experts on the subject.

"Vaccines on the shelf are useless,” he said. “Unless the majority of us get vaccinated, we will not be able to control this pandemic."

HHS Secretary Alex Azar urged Americans to continue to socially distance and wear masks in the weeks and months ahead until the country achieves herd immunity, which may take at least 70% of the public being vaccinated.

– Elizabeth Weise

New York nurse receives COVID-19 vaccine

A critical care nurse in New York City received the what was likely the nation's first shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning with other health care workers cheering and Gov. Andrew Cuomo watching via livestream.

"I'm ready. Let's do this," Sandra Lindsay said before she received the shot after 9 a.m. in Queens. Those in the room applauded after Lindsay was given the shot.

The nurse said she felt "relieved" and that she wanted to "instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe."

"I hope this marks the beginning to the end of a very painful time in our history," Lindsay said.

Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse, receives the very first COVID-19 vaccine administered in New York state. The shot took place at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens; Dec. 14, 2020.

COVID-19 vaccine will not arrive at Tennessee hospitals until Thursday

Tennessee officials say the first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine won't arrive at hospitals until Thursday, days after some facilities expected to being vaccination, as Tennessee falls behind other states in a race to protect health care workers from the virus.

The Tennessee Department of Health announced the first allotment of Pfizer's two-dose vaccine — an early shipment of 975 doses — arrived Monday and will be held in reserve as a "backup supply." The state's primary supply of about 56,000 more doses will ship Wednesday and arrive at "28 sites covering 74 Tennessee hospitals" on Thursday, according to a news release from the health department.

Many area hospitals were prepared to begin administering the vaccine on Tuesday, in hopes they could begin earlier. Vaccinations began Monday in some smaller Southern cities like Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Jackson, Mississippi.

Craig Boener, a spokesman for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the hospital had prepared to start vaccinations on Tuesday "at the earliest" but had been instructed to plan for a Thursday delivery.

– Brett Kelman, Nashville Tennessean

In Ohio, rows of health care workers vaccinated

The first six Ohioans were injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center following a celebratory countdown.

The first doses of the vaccine arrived in a brown UPS truck at the medical center around 9:15 a.m., and Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife Fran DeWine waited outside the loading docks for the truck's arrival.

The medical center set up rows of tables inside its Biomedical Research Tower as vaccine recipients were seated at each table and injected with the vaccine as workers moved down the rows.

The medical center immunized around 30 high-risk frontline healthcare workers Monday morning. Ohio State received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Monday.

– Max Filby, The Columbus Dispatch

Canada begins vaccine rollout, too

The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Canada on Monday as the country joined the U.S. and U.K. as the first Western nations to begin vaccinations.

Anita Quidangen, a worker at a long-term home, received the first shot in Toronto as front-line workers were first in line to receive the vaccine. Ontario received 6,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Sunday night.

In Quebec, residents of two long-term care homes will be the first to receive the vaccine.

Louisiana doctor calls getting vaccine 'an honor and a privilege'

Louisiana rolled out its vaccinations by delivering shots to health care workers  at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans Monday morning. 

“It is a great day. It's a day that we have been preparing for planning for and praying for, for about nine months now,” Governor John Bel Edwards said at the hospital.

Dr. Leo Seoane, Ochsner’s Chief Academic Officer, was among the first to get the Pfizer vaccine at Ochsner’s New Orleans Medical Center Monday morning, which he said was particularly meaningful as a Cuban-American given the virus’ disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Latinos.

“It's been an incredible morning, like everyone says, it is historic,” Seoane said. “As a Cuban-American and a first generation immigrant to this country, it's really an honor and a privilege to be part of the solution for something that we know has been so impactful for Hispanic community.”

– Andrew Capps, Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Dr. Leo Seoane, chief academic officer for Ochsner Health System, becomes among the first Louisianans to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as Louisiana's frontline health care workers begin to receive the first COVID-19 vaccinations in the state on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

Kentucky doctor 'volunteered to go first' to show vaccine is safe, effective

Dr. Jason Smith, the chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health, became the first person in Kentucky on Monday to receive a dose of the new COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Andy Beshear was on hand to watch as Smith, who is a trauma surgeon, two nurses and two other doctors prepared to receive the vaccine that had arrived at University of Louisville about an hour earlier.

Smith said he hopes people will be willing to take the vaccine as it becomes available.

“I fully believe this is a safe and effective vaccine,” he said. “I volunteered to go first because of that.”

– Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are loaded Sunday onto a truck for shipping at the Pfizer Global Supply manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich.

Florida nurse gets vaccine

A nurse at Tampa General Hospital in Florida was the state's first person to receive the vaccine Monday.

Dr. Charles Lockwood, Dean of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, said this was an exciting, historic moment.

The only thing he could think of that came close was when watching astronaut Neil Armstrong step on the moon. "This is our magical Neil Armstrong moment," Lockwood said.

– Jeffrey Schweers

Vaccines arriving across the country

States and local hospital administrations confirmed Monday they were receiving COVID-19 vaccines.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said 19,500 doses of the vaccine were headed to four sites in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.

Iowa, Nevada and South Dakota also confirmed they had received their shipments. Here are other places where the vaccine has been delivered:

  • In Wisconsin, UW Health said its first doses were in ultra-cold storage freezers and would be administered to employees Monday afternoon.
  • Colorado received its first doses Monday morning as a FedEx driver delivered 975 vials, with Gov. Jared Polis signing for the package.
  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz was also present to see his state's first vaccines being delivered.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he "had the privilege" to sign for his state's FedEx package of the first 20,000 Pfizer doses.
  • Hospitals in Maine and Massachusetts said they had received their vaccines as well. 

NYC indoor dining ban takes effect, full shutdown may come soon

A renewed ban on indoor dining took effect in New York City on Monday as officials try to slow the spread of the virus in what was once the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the restriction last week as New York City and the surrounding area have seen a steady uptick in new cases over the fall. The ban limits the already beleaguered restaurant industry to takeout and outdoor dining only.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also said Monday that "a full shutdown" could be on the horizon in the coming weeks if cases put a strain on the city's hospitals.

"This kind of momentum that the disease has right now, we’ve got to stop it before it causes too much damage, too much pain," de Blasio said on CNN's "New Day."

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY 

Contributing: Associated Press