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Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar sounded an optimistic note as distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being ramped up across the United States (Dec. 21)

AP Domestic

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 319,000 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: 

► Despite COVID-19 threat, hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans are making their annual holiday pilgrimage to Mexico. These visits to parents and family are a sacred ritual that even a global COVID-19 pandemic has been unable to stop.

► Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other top health officials are set to get doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. They will get vaccinated “to build confidence in the vaccine, which is the best hope against this pandemic,” NIAID said on Twitter.

► The Senate passed a roughly $900 billion COVID-19 relief package Monday night hours after the House voted 359-53 on the measure. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.

► Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced new travel restrictions for people arriving from the United Kingdom and South Africa, where a new strain of the coronavirus is circulating. Travelers coming from either country will have to quarantine for 14 days, Inslee said.

► Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is set to get the COVID-19 vaccine on live television Tuesday as the state’s hospitalizations surpassed 10,000 on Monday for the first time since July. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was one of the first governors to receive the vaccine on Monday.

► Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest district, on Monday announced campuses would not reopen when the spring semester begins Jan. 11, the Los Angeles Times reported.

► 2020 has been the deadliest year in U.S. history, and deaths are expected to top 3 million for the first time, mainly because of the coronavirus pandemic. Preliminary numbers show the country will have more than 3.2 million deaths this year, or at least 400,000 more than in 2019.

► NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league will wait its turn and not “jump the line” ahead of anyone for COVID-19 vaccinations. “It’s my hope that when we are eligible that members of the NBA community will want to get vaccinated, and it’s our plan to be involved with governmental efforts in terms of public messaging as to the benefits of taking the vaccine,” Silver said.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 319,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 77.4 million cases and 1.7 million deaths. 

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

Relief package may be be too little, too late for some Black, Latino landlords

Across the country, mom-and-pop landlords are hurting. They oversee the majority of the nation’s 48-million-unit rental stock. Black and Latino landlords are being hit the hardest, turning to forbearance at higher rates during a pandemic that has disproportionately affected their communities as their residents are unable or have refused to pay rent under eviction moratoriums. A report by the Urban Institute found approximately 12% of landlords with a mortgage are in forbearance. Of these, 20% are Black and 14% are Latino, compared with 9% who are white. 

“We’ve been living on credit cards, paper clips and chewing gum,” Miami landlord Hector Alvarez, 62, said. Read more here.

More Americans warming to getting vaccinated as soon as possible

Americans’ willingness to take the coronavirus vaccine has jumped since the first two vaccines were authorized by the FDA and health care workers and nursing home residents began to receive the shots. That growing acceptance is a reassuring sign for public health experts who call distribution of the vaccine crucial to controlling the pandemic that has killed more than 318,000 people in the USA. 

In a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll Wednesday through Sunday, 46% say they will take the vaccine as soon as they can. That’s close to double the 26% in a USA TODAY poll in late October. In the new poll, 32% say they will wait for others to get the shots before they do so themselves.

“From what I’ve read, it’s going to take about 75% of the nation taking the vaccine in order to create herd immunity,” says Lisa McAlister, 48, a registered nurse from Grove, Oklahoma, who voted for President Donald Trump, “and quite frankly, I don’t want to live in a pandemic the rest of my life.” Read more here.

California faces ‘darkest days’ of COVID-19

Across California, a post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike is ravaging cities and counties that once had been models for how to keep coronavirus cases low. To date, the state has logged 1.9 million cases and 22,000 deaths, and new records are seemingly set daily.

“I feel like someone at war, it’s chaotic all the time,” said Erin McIntosh, 38, a mother of four who works as a rapid response nurse at Riverside Community Hospital southeast of Los Angeles. She said the National Guard is scheduled to help with care soon.

“Nurses do this because it’s their life’s work,” she said. “But many are reaching their breaking point.”

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These waning weeks of 2020 have fast become “some of the darkest days of our COVID-19 surge,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in urging residents to heed public health warnings about traveling or gathering in groups over the holidays. Newsom said Monday night that the state’s state-at-home orders, set to expire at the end of the month, would likely be extended.

– Marco della Cava

United Airlines passenger died of COVID-19

A United Airlines passenger who fell ill on a flight from Orlando to Los Angeles a week ago died of acute respiratory failure and COVID-19, according to a coroner’s report. The report was released Monday by Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich of the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office in Louisiana. 

The United flight, which had 154 passengers, departed Orlando at 7:30 p.m. and landed in New Orleans at 8:10 p.m. local time for the medical emergency. The plane continued on to Los Angeles despite the medical emergency and comments from fellow passengers on social media that the ill passenger had COVID-19 symptoms. The coroner’s report says the passenger was a 69-year-old man from Los Angeles. It says he died at 9:09 p.m. Dec. 14 at Ochsner Medical Center-Kenner in Kenner, where Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is located.

– Dawn Gilbertson

$600 coronavirus relief checks to go out next week

Starting next week, most Americans will receive a check of up to $600 from the federal government to help ease the financial burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The payments are part of a $900 billion pandemic relief package that is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump in the coming days.

The payments will be about half of what millions of Americans received in the spring under a previous relief package designed to get the economy moving. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during an interview on CNBC that “this is a very, very fast way of getting money into the economy. People go out and spend this money, and that helps small businesses. And that helps getting more people back to work.”

– Michael Collins

Contributing: The Associated Press

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