MISSION, Kan. — Arguments over mask requirements and other restrictions have turned ugly in recent days as the deadly coronavirus surge across the U.S. engulfs small and medium-size cities that once seemed safely removed from the outbreak.


Anti-mask demonstrators converge Tuesday on Central District Health offices in Boise, Idaho, to protest a meeting called to decide on more mandates to combat the spread of COVID-19. Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP

In Boise, Idaho, public health officials about to vote on a four-county mask mandate abruptly ended a meeting Tuesday evening because of fears for their safety amid anti-mask protests outside the building and at some of their homes.

One health board member tearfully announced she had to rush home to be with her child because of the protesters, who were seen on video banging on buckets, blaring air horns and sirens, and blasting a sound clip of gunfire from the violence-drenched movie “Scarface” outside her front door.

“I am sad. I am tired. I fear that, in my choosing to hold public office, my family has too often paid the price,” said the board member, Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo. “I increasingly don’t recognize this place. There is an ugliness and cruelty in our national rhetoric that is reaching a fevered pitch here at home, and that should worry us all.”

Boise police said three arrest warrants were issued in connection with the demonstrations at board members’ homes.

Read the full story here.


U.S. records more than 3,000 virus deaths in 1 day for the first time

After weeks of surging infections and rising levels of virus hospitalizations, the United States recorded more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, a pandemic record.

The harrowing milestone comes during what has otherwise been a rare streak of good news for the fight against the coronavirus.

With two vaccine candidates that appear to be on the verge of clearing the country’s final regulatory hurdles, an end to the pandemic is finally in sight. Yet the new death record is another grim reminder of its devastating toll.

Deaths are running at more than 2,200 a day on average, all but matching the level seen during the last spring’s peak in and around New York City.

New cases per day have rocketed to more than 200,000 on average, and the number of patients in the hospital with COVID-19 stood at almost 105,000 on Tuesday, another all-time high.


More Californians died from COVID-19 on Tuesday than any other day. Tuesday’s death toll, 219, edged out the previous single-day high of 214, which was recorded July 31, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times.

The latest figure may be a harbinger of higher death tolls. Until this past week, California had topped 200 daily coronavirus-related deaths only four times. That number has been exceeded twice in the last five days.

The weekly fatality average — 135 Californians per day over the last week — is also at a level not seen since the darkest days of the state’s summertime surge.

A month ago, the state was averaging about 44 daily deaths.

Pentagon prepares to begin COVID-19 vaccinations on small scale at defense sites

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s initial allotment of coronavirus vaccine will be administered at 16 defense sites in the United States and abroad, with health care workers, emergency service personnel and residents of military retirement homes getting top priority, officials said Wednesday.


Next in line, once follow-on supplies of vaccine becomes available, will be military personnel who provide “critical national capabilities,” such as nuclear weapons crews and cybersecurity forces, as well as certain military units getting ready to deploy.

The vaccinations will be voluntary because the Pfizer vaccine initially is to be made available on an emergency use basis. The shots could become mandatory later if vaccines are fully licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, the officials said.

A few dozen of the Pentagon’s leaders, including the acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are to be among those receiving early vaccinations, said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. Some of those leaders will get their shots in public in order to demonstrate the Pentagon’s confidence in the vaccine’s safety, he said.

The Pentagon is to received slightly fewer than 44,000 doses of the vaccine initially, he said. The timing depends on when the FDA gives the go-ahead for distribution and use of the Pfizer vaccine.

In their first evaluation of the Pfizer vaccine, FDA scientists this week confirmed that it offers strong protection, setting the stage for the government to green light the biggest vaccination effort in the nation’s history. The FDA’s independent advisers were to meet Thursday to debate whether evidence was strong enough to recommend vaccinating millions of Americans. A final FDA decision and the first shots could follow within days.

Thomas McCaffery, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told a Pentagon news conference that although vaccinations will be voluntary, at least initially, he strongly recommends that all who are offered the shot take it. The first doses are to be ready for use within a day or two of the FDA go-ahead, he said.


“Our advice to everyone is to take the vaccine, just based on risk,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency.

The initial set of 43,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are to be provided in varying quantities at 16 locations, with distribution to be vastly expanded later to reach all military members and Defense Department civilians when more doses become available.

Canada approves Pfizer’s vaccine, expects to begin vaccinating within days

TORONTO— Canada’s health regulator on Wednesday approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, days ahead of possible approval in the United States.

Health Canada posted on it is website that the vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech is authorized. The vaccine already has been approved by the United Kingdom and Bahrain and officials have said they expect U.S. approval within days.

“Canadians can feel confident that the review process was rigorous and that we have strong monitoring systems in place. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will closely monitor the safety of the vaccine once it is on the market and will not hesitate to take action if any safety concerns are identified,” Health Canada said in a statement.



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 7. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

Canada is set to receive up to 249,000 doses this month and Canadian officials expect to administer them within days.

Health Canada said the vaccine is for use in people 16 years of age or older, but noted Pfizer-BioNTech are running further clinical trials on children of all age groups and that could change.

Pfizer and BioNTech said it will supply a minimum of 20 million doses to Canada through 2021 and as many as 76 million.

“It is encouraging to see that our mRNA vaccine is now authorized in Canada. Following U.K. and Bahrain, it is the third country to approve use of our vaccine within a week,” said Sean Marett, BioNTech’s chief business and chief commercial officer.

Canada recently amended the contract with Pfizer so that it would deliver up to 249,000 doses this month. That will mean about 124,500 of the highest risk Canadians will get vaccinated at first as two doses are required per person a few weeks apart.

Canada has contracts with six other vaccine makers as well.


The government has said 14 distribution centers will be located in large Canadian cities initially. There will be at least one in each province and two each in Canada’s four largest provinces.

“This is phenomenal news for all Canadians as we take the next step toward ending this pandemic. As soon as vaccines arrive on Ontario soil, we will be ready to deliver and administer them,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a tweet.

Idaho health officials threatened by anti-maskers as cases soar

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho public health officials abruptly ended a meeting Tuesday evening after the Boise mayor and chief of police said intense anti-mask protests outside the health department building — as well as outside some health officials’ homes — were threatening public safety.

The request from Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and the Boise Police Department came just a few minutes after one health board member, Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, tearfully interrupted the online meeting to say she had to rush home to be with her child because protesters were banging outside her front door.


Anti-masker demonstrators converge on Central District Health offices, in Boise, Idaho on Dec. 8. Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via Associated Press

The board had been expected to vote on a four-county mask mandate in Idaho’s most populated region.


Coronavirus is so widespread in Idaho that hospital officials have repeatedly warned they are becoming overwhelmed and could be forced to implement “crisis standards of care” — where the patients most likely to survive are given access to life-saving treatment because there aren’t enough of the resources to go around — as soon as the end of the year.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports that at least 113,905 Idaho residents have been infected with coronavirus so far, including 2,012 new cases reported on Tuesday. So far at least 1,074 residents have died from COVID-19.

Those with history of ‘significant allergic reaction’ should avoid Pfizer vaccine, UK warns

People with a history of severe allergic reaction should not receive the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus, Britain’s medical regulatory agency said Wednesday, after two health-care workers reacted adversely to the shot.


A nurse prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London on Tuesday. Associated Press/Frank Augstein

Two staffers with Britain’s National Health Service suffered symptoms of “anaphylactoid reaction” when they received the jab Tuesday, the first day of a national immunization campaign, British media reported.

Such a response can include skin reactions, low blood pressure, constricted airways and dizziness or fainting. Both workers have recovered, health officials said. But new guidance from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency now states that “any person with a history of significant allergic reaction to a vaccine, medicine or food … should not receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.”


“Resuscitation facilities should be available at all times for all vaccinations,” it continues, Britain’s LBC radio reported. “Vaccinations should be only carried out in facilities where resuscitation measures are available.”

Britain was the first nation to approve the vaccine and began immunizing elderly and long-term care patients, along with front-line health-care workers.

Read the full story here.

California judge says L.A.’s outdoor dining ban was unjustified

A California judge issued a sharp rebuke to Los Angeles County’s ban on outdoor dining Tuesday, Politico reported, saying the rule amounted to an abuse of emergency powers that “is not grounded in science, evidence, or logic.”

Practically speaking, the ruling will have no immediate effect on restaurants in Los Angeles. The county of 10 million people is under a temporary stay-at-home order from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that supersedes local restrictions.


But it nonetheless marks a major win for the state’s restaurant industry, which has been crippled by the pandemic and sweeping government responses. In issuing this latest moratorium, the judge said, Los Angeles public health officials had failed to provide evidence that outdoor dining increased the possibility of spreading the coronavirus.


Customers are served lunch at an outdoor seating space in Pasadena, Calif. on Dec. 1. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

“By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the county acted arbitrarily and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end,″ Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote in the 73-page order, according to the Associated Press.

Chalfant said the county’s outdoor dining ban can last only three weeks. Once it expires on Dec. 16, public health officials must conduct a risk-benefit analysis. Restaurants would be allowed to be open by then under his ruling, but Newsom’s stay-at-home order will last until at least Dec. 27.

The California Restaurant Association, which brought the lawsuit, said it was satisfied with the result, even if the outdoor dining ban was not overruled entirely.

“I do think that this is going to hold the county’s feet to the fire when they decide to close down an entire sector of economy,” the group’s lawyer, Richard Schwartz, told the AP. “You can’t have a cure that’s worse than the disease.”

Germany records record number of deaths


BERLIN — Germany has reported a new daily record of 590 coronavirus-related deaths.

The country’s national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, also reported 20,815 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, as the country inches closer to a national lockdown after Christmas.

Several German states, including Saxony and Bavaria, already moved closer to a “hard lockdown” Tuesday as officials warned that continued high coronavirus infections could overwhelm hospitals and that too many people were ignoring existing pandemic restrictions.

High-ranking government officials have also suggested a national hard lockdown for a two-week period after Christmas that would include extending school vacation by a week and closing all nonessential shops in the country.

Germany managed to avoid the high number of infections and grim death tolls seen in some other large European nations in the spring, and continues to have a lower overall fatality rate than countries such as Britain, France and Spain. But while restrictions imposed in November have slowed the exponential rise in cases, the numbers keep creeping up.

‘Cruise to nowhere’ in Singapore turns back after passenger tests positive for coronavirus



The Quantum of the Seas cruise ship docked in Singapore on Wednesday. Royal Caribbean said in a statement that a guest on the Quantum of the Seas “tested positive for coronavirus after checking in with our medical team.”  Associated Press/Danial Hakim

A Royal Caribbean International cruise from Singapore was forced to turn back early after a passenger tested positive for the coronavirus, the company said late Tuesday.

The operator started sailing three- and four-night cruises to nowhere on Quantum of the Seas after spending months developing health protocols with authorities in Singapore. The first such voyage was Dec. 1. It was Royal Caribbean’s first cruise with paying passengers since the pandemic forced a global shutdown in March.

The cruise that had to turn back left on Monday and was scheduled to last four days and three nights. Instead, passengers were still onboard with instructions to stay in their cabins early Wednesday.

Spokesman Jonathon Fishman said in an email that employees on the ship had “identified and isolated all guests and crew who had close contact with this guest, and each of those individuals have subsequently tested negative for the virus.”

Texas reports over 15,000 new daily cases

DALLAS — Texas on Tuesday reported more than 15,000 newly confirmed daily cases of the coronavirus amid spikes in cases and hospitalization as winter approaches.


The Texas Department of State Health Services also said 9,028 people were hospitalized across the state. Last week marked the first time Texas surpassed a daily count of 9,000 hospitalizations since a deadly summer outbreak.

During the summer outbreak, the state saw the numbers of new daily cases go just past 10,000 for the first time. Since late November, the new daily cases have soared past 10,000 on several days, with 15,103 new cases reported Tuesday, according to state health officials.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say Texas has had more than 23,000 COVID-19 related deaths so far, the second highest in the U.S.

Over the last two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 17%, according to Johns Hopkins. The university says that one in every 309 people in Texas tested positive in the past week.

Vermont to text people potentially exposed to COVID-19


Jacob Rice, a worker from the Retreat Farm, helps with the Christmas tree in Pliny Park, in Brattleboro, Vt. in November. Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont Health Department is going to begin sending text messages to people who may have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, an official said.


Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday the system is intended to ensure the word gets to people who may have been exposed to the virus as quickly as possible.

The person infected with the virus will provide the cellphone numbers of the people who may have been exposed.

After receiving the texts, people will also receive calls from Health Department contact tracers.

“Our contact tracing team will help determine who gets these texts based on the exact situation,” Levine said during the state’s virus briefing.

The person will receive two short texts from the number 86911. The texts will be sent between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“If you do get a text, please know it is a legitimate and important message from the department of health,” Levine said.


Alberta, the only province without a mask mandate, now has one as infection numbers are highest in Canada

EDMONTON, Alberta — Canada’s Alberta is restricting restaurants and bars to delivery or takeout and closing casinos and gyms in an effort to fight the highest rate of new coronavirus infection of any province in the country.

Alberta was the only province without a province-wide mask requirement. Conservative Premier Jason Kenney is now imposing a province-wide mask mandate in indoor public spaces, including workplaces, and is banning social gatherings of any size indoors or out.

Kenney is also ordering the closure of recreation centers, libraries, theaters and personal service providers such as hair salons, barbers and nail bars. Infection numbers have also been over 1,000 since Nov. 24 and more than 1,600 a day for almost a week.

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