COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
States call in National Guard and train volunteers to help boost vaccination pace as US hits a Covid-19 daily death toll record
The United States saw its deadliest 24 hours of the pandemic yesterday, with 3,770 Covid-19 deaths reported in a single day.

The country has been adding 1 million new infections every four to six days since late November, and the total US case count topped 21 million Tuesday. A record 131,100 people are currently hospitalized with coronavirus across the nation, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

It will likely get worse. Experts have said that holiday travel and gatherings could help fuel another surge of infections.

Covid-19 likely ranks as the third leading cause of death in the US in 2020, CDC statisticians say
The tragic toll of the pandemic is still mounting. According to new preliminary data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Covid-19 was likely the third leading cause of death in the country in 2020 after heart disease and cancer. The CDC estimated there had been between 316,252 and 431,792 excess deaths in 2020, with more than 300,000 of those directly attributable to the coronavirus.

He was skeptical of Covid-19. Now, from his hospital bed, he posts videos on social media urging others to wear their masks
"I didn't think masks would make that much of a difference," Chuck Stacey told CNN on Tuesday. "I was wrong."

Stacey is currently in a Florida hospital for the second time since testing positive on December 27, 2020.

The 50-year-old told CNN when the pandemic started he equated the virus to a really bad flu and didn't take many precautions to protect himself.

"I admit it I was wrong," he said. "This has been brutal. I never knew that the human body could hurt so bad."

A Covid-19 outbreak that tore through a New York convent infected 47 sisters and killed 9
Since late November, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham has seen 47 sisters become sick with Covid-19, nine of whom have died. Ten staff members at the convent have also been infected, Albany County spokeswoman Mary Rozak told CNN.

The convent's Provincial House is home to approximately 140 sisters and in part serves as the residence for retired sisters and for those who need long-term health care, according to the convent's website.

... Residents of congregate housing -- such as convents, veterans homes and nursing homes -- have been particularly susceptible to the spread of Covid-19.

North Korea just held a major political meeting with about 5,000 people — and there wasn't a mask in sight
North Korea kicked off a rare political event that's supposed to happen every five years or so with about 5,000 people -- including leader Kim Jong Un -- gathered indoors without masks and seated close together on Tuesday.

North Korea
While it's impossible to verify if face coverings were worn at any point in time, none of the images released by North Korea's state-run KCNA news Wednesday of the Workers Party Congress show people wearing masks indoors.

From a propaganda standpoint, the images make sense: North Korea claims to not have recorded a single case of Covid-19, so holding a high-level meeting without masks is a way to reinforce that narrative.

But almost no one believes North Korea has been spared from a pandemic that has infected more than 86 million people and killed nearly 2 million. In fact, Kim's regime recognizes the danger of the virus and has gone to incredible lengths to stop its spread.

Almost all travel into the country ceased shortly after the virus emerged a year ago, and internal travel is also heavily restricted. North Korean state media regularly carries articles reminding its people on the importance of its emergency anti-epidemic campaign. And the regime reportedly had two people executed for not following Covid-19 guidelines, including a customs official who did not follow virus prevention rules while importing goods from China.

Experts believe Pyongyang is enacting a vigilant response because it knows its dilapidated healthcare infrastructure likely cannot contain a major outbreak of Covid-19.

That makes the photographs from the meeting Tuesday all the more puzzling. Perhaps North Korea believes the safeguards it put in place were good enough to allow attendees not to wear masks to the meeting. This is a unique event that North Korea does not want to postpone -- it's just the eighth Party Congress in North Korea's history and the second of Kim's tenure. The last one held before Kim took power was in 1980.

But holding it is a risk. If just one of the 5,000 people who traveled from across the country to attend the meeting had Covid-19 and was infectious, it means Kim may have just kicked off an incredibly important political meeting with a super-spreader event.

Trump would not be welcome in Scotland due to coronavirus restrictions, says Sturgeon
Sturgeon was asked during a news conference about unconfirmed Scottish media speculation that Trump could be planning a trip to one of his golf courses in Scotland around the time of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20.

... "I have no idea what Donald Trump's travel plans are," Sturgeon said. "You'll be glad to know I hope and expect ... that the travel plan that he immediately has is to exit the White House. But beyond that I don't know."

"We are not allowing people to come into Scotland without an essential purpose right now. And that would apply to him just as it applies to anybody else," she added.

"Coming to play golf is not what I would consider to be an essential purpose."

'Harry Potter' actress Jessie Cave says her baby has Covid-19
Cave, who played Lavender Brown in the film franchise, posted an image on Instagram on Tuesday of her child in a hospital room, alongside a laptop playing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech announcing a new lockdown in England.

"I watched the news about lockdown from an isolated room in hospital. Poor baby is covid positive," Cave wrote.

"He's okay and doing well but they are being vigilant and cautious, thankfully. This strain is super powerful and contagious so I do hope that people take extra care in the coming weeks," the 33-year-old added.

New York's governor wants to make it a crime to sell or administer Covid-19 vaccines to people trying to skip the line
The governor said in a news conference Monday that any entity misrepresenting who they are or distributing the vaccine to those who aren't yet eligible should lose their license and face criminal penalties.

Cuomo added that he plans to propose a bill criminalizing such activity when lawmakers convene for the 2021 legislative session January 6.

"This vaccine can be like gold to some people," he said. "And if there's any fraud in the distribution -- you're letting people get ahead of other people, or friends or family or they're selling the vaccine -- you'll lose your license. But I do believe it should be criminal and I'm going to propose a law to that effect."

Wealthy donors received vaccines through Florida nursing home
The invitations alarmed local officials and may have violated state and national guidelines.

The invitation to affluent Floridians arrived in writing and by telephone.

“He asked me if I wanted to have a vaccine,” said Ryna Greenbaum, 89, recounting the phone message she got last week. “I’m one of the people who has given him some money.”

The call, she said, had come from Keith Myers, chief executive of MorseLife Health System, a high-end nursing home and assisted-living facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., to members of the board and major donors.

MorseLife has made scarce coronavirus vaccines — provided through a federal program intended for residents and staff of long-term-care facilities — available not just to its residents but to board members and those who made generous donations to the facility, including members of the Palm Beach Country Club, according to multiple people who were offered access, some of whom accepted it. The precise number of invitations, and how many may have also gone to non-donors, could not be learned.

But the arrangement, in appearing to rely on a program run by chain pharmacies for nursing home residents and staff, may have violated national immunization guidelines, as well as state protocols, even though state officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to address sensitive matters, acknowledged that the rules have not been spelled out clearly enough by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Vaccine doses are allocated to the state by the Trump administration but reserved for people living in long-term care facilities, who are at the highest risk of dying from covid-19.

... State Rep. Omari Hardy (D), who represents the section of West Palm Beach that includes MorseLife, said the facility appeared to be “selling access to this vaccine.” He said it was unimportant that recipients may have fallen within the age group eligible to be immunized because they were taking advantage of a process “unavailable to the rest of us,” including one of his elderly constituents “who doesn’t know many powerful people, who doesn’t have a lot of money, and she’s asking me how she can get access.”

“And I don’t know what to tell her,” Hardy said. “So if MorseLife is giving this vaccine away to the well-connected, they need to be held accountable for that.