Coronavirus updates: Pfizer vaccinations may begin next month; Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine in the works

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech filedFriday for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, two days after announcing its COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective.

"Our work to deliver a safe and effective vaccine has never been more urgent, as we continue to see an alarming rise in the number of cases of COVID-19 globally," Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO, said in a statement. 

It's been a hopeful week for vaccine candidates. On Monday, data released by drug company Moderna showed its vaccine has a high rate of efficacy. And Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson's chief scientist said the drugmaker expects to seek authorization for its single-shot vaccine candidate by February or earlier.

The vaccine news comes as the coronavirus continues to ravage the U.S. ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.On Thursday, the nation reported nearly 188,000 new daily cases – the most on record since the start of the pandemic. The death toll has surpassed 252,000, including more than 2,000 reported Thursday alone. Hospitalizations across the nation have exploded, with almost 80,000 Americans now receiving inpatient treatment.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 11.8 million cases and more than 253,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 57.3 million cases and 1.36 million deaths.

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.

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Donald Trump Jr. tests positive for COVID-19

President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, according to his spokesman.

"Don tested positive at the start of the week and has been quarantining out at his cabin since the result. He’s been completely asymptomatic so far and is following all medically recommended COVID-19 guidelines," his office said in a statement.

Trump Jr. is the latest person close to the president to test positive in recent days. Earlier on Friday, Rudy Giuliani's son, Andrew, announced he also tested positive a day after attending a press conference held by his father at the Republican National Committee headquarters.

The White House has struggled to contain at least three outbreaks of the virus in recent months. Trump was hospitalized after he tested positive, and several aides have since been infected.

– David Jackson

Biden talks pandemic response in meeting with Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer

President-elect Joe Biden met Friday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss federal spending, both in response to the coronavirus pandemic and to keep the government open.

"I hope we’re going to spend a lot of time together," Biden told Pelosi and Schumer in brief opening comments at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, before reporters left the room.

Biden has urged the Republican-controlled Senate to consider $2 trillion legislation for COVID-19 from the Democratic House aimed providing a second wave of direct payments to taxpayers, aid to state and local governments, and food and rental assistance. 

But Republicans leery of the price tag supported a $500 billion package to focus on small-business loans, additional unemployment benefits and aid to schools, and for testing. Negotiations reached an impasse before the break for Thanksgiving.

– Bart Jansen

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida tests positive for COVID-19

The surge in coronavirus infections has hit Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who announced Friday he has tested positive for the coronavirus. He is the second Republican senator, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to announce positive tests this week. At least 32 members of Congress have tested positive or been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Scott, who turns 68 in December, entered quarantine earlier this week after coming into contact with someone who later tested positive.

"After several negative tests, I learned I was positive for COVID-19 this AM," he said on Twitter Friday morning. "I’m feeling good & experiencing very mild symptoms. I’ll be working from home until it’s safe for me to return to DC. I remind everyone to be careful & do the right things to protect yourselves & others."

He immediately followed that tweet with another to urge people to wear a mask and “be responsible."

– James Call, Florida Capital Bureau

Rudy Giuliani's son tests positive

Rudy Giuliani's son, Andrew, announced Friday he has tested positive for COVID-19, a day after he attended a news conference with his father and other members of President Donald Trump's legal team alleging baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

The news conference was held in a tightly packed room at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill.

"This morning, I tested positive for COVID-19," the younger Giuliani wrote on Twitter. "I am experiencing mild symptoms, and am following all appropriate protocols, including being in quarantine and conducting contact tracing."

Andrew Giuliani, who serves as a special assistant to the president, is the latest member of Trump's circle to test positive. The list of those close to the president who have been infected includes White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who tested positive earlier this month.

– Ledyard King

US borders with Canada, Mexico will stay closed through December

If you were hoping that the United States' borders would reopen for holiday travel, don't get your hopes up. 

The land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed through Dec. 21, Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday.

"In order to continue to prevent the spread of COVID, the US, Mexico, & Canada will extend the restrictions on non-essential travel through Dec 21," he wrote on Twitter. "We are working closely with Mexico & Canada to keep essential trade & travel open while also protecting our citizens from the virus.

Canada's Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, wrote on Twitter that border-closure decisions "will continue to be based on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe."

– Jenna Ryu

Pfizer takes candidate vaccine to FDA for emergency authorization

Pfizer said Friday it is filing for emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, the next step in bringing its candidate vaccine to market. Health and other frontline workers could get the vaccine as soon as December but reaching everyone could take up to a year.

The move follows an announcement from Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech, that its vaccine appears 95% effective against the coronavirus. Also this week, drug company Moderna released positive news, with its vaccine also showing a high rate of efficacy. Both candidates, each of which require two shots, protect more than 90% of those immunized, self-reported results indicate.

The FDA and an independent advisory board will review Pfizer's application before it is able to get into peoples' arms. 

"If we do get people vaccinated to a high degree, then you can start talking about this umbrella or blanket of protection on society that would diminish dramatically the risk of a person being exposed or even being infected," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told USA TODAY earlier this week.

– Cara Richardson

Johnson & Johnson to seek FDA authorization of vaccine by February, report says

Johnson & Johnson's chief scientist told Reuters that the company expects to have all the data it needs to file for authorization of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine by February or sooner.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine study resumed last month after being paused in October because a study volunteer developed a serious health issue which requiring a review of safety data.

Dr. Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer told the outlet the company is recruiting more than 1,000 people per day to its vaccine trial and expects to have 60,000 participants by the end of the year.

The company must provide that data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for at least half of study participants over the course of two months after they are vaccinated, Reuters reported. Unlike the vaccine candidates from competitors Pfizer and Moderna, Johnson and Johnson is developing a single shot which Stoffels told Reuters would benefit remote areas.

“In a pandemic a single shot is definitely important globally,” Stoffels said. “(A two-shot vaccine) is a very significant operational challenge. More so in healthcare systems which are less well organized.”

Rachel Maddow, back on MSNBC, warns of COVID-19 after partner's illness

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who's been off the air in quarantine since Nov. 6, returned to her show Thursday, explaining her absence in a sweet tribute to her longtime partner, artist Susan Mikula, and delivered an impassioned warning about the danger of COVID-19.

Maddow, 47, said she's tested negative for coronavirus but that Mikula, 62, became seriously ill with the virus after testing positive two weeks ago.

"And, at one point, we really thought that there was a possibility that it might kill her. And that's why I've been away," she explained, adding that Mikula is now recovering.

In an unusually personal digression, Maddow, talked movingly about her relationship with Mikula, as a way of explaining to viewers the deep fear of losing a loved one. 

Maddow then explained her quarantine will end soon and that she will do her show from home until that time. And then she began discussing the day's news.

Landlords skirt COVID-19 eviction bans, using intimidation and tricks to boot tenants

Cash-strapped renters nationwide say their landlords tried to skirt COVID-19 eviction moratoriums by changing locks, removing trash containers so waste piled up and – in one case – attempting to unbolt the front door right off an apartment.

They told state attorneys general that they were kicked out of their homes after landlords accused them of violating tenant rules, like smoking cigarettes inside their units or failing to take the hitches off of their mobile homes.

That type of informal or “extrajudicial” eviction is a work-around to the patchwork of emergency state and federal rules created this year to prevent landlords from ejecting tenants into unstable or crowded living arrangements during the health emergency. 

Tricks and intimidation behind the scenes add to more overt efforts by landlords to legally evict tenants. With statewide bans largely expired and federal protection from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium nearing its final days, tenant advocates like Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, fear things will only get worse.

— Nick Penzenstadler and Josh Salman

Schools are closing again for millions of kids as teachers get COVID

After weeks or months of operating in person, schools are shifting students back to remote learning as the nation grapples with soaring COVID-19 infections. Starting Monday, millions more students will be connected to their teachers only by whatever internet or phone connection they can secure.

In many cases, schools are closing because too many teachers are quarantined or infected with COVID-19. Others are responding to high rates of virus transmission in their communities. 

Adding to the confusion and stress of the moment: The metrics used for closure, and the scope of the shutdowns, diverge wildly, sometimes even within the same county. Schools can be considered safe in one town or state and ordered closed in another, even though that area has less community spread of the virus. 

Many of the closure announcements are facing political pushback, including from the White House and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's in addition to parent gripes about rearranging work schedules or again subjecting children to the subpar experience of virtual learning. Underscoring it all are doubts about whether school closures actually work — or cause even more harm.

— Erin Richards and Elinor Aspegren

Fauci says Santa Claus won't be spreading COVID-19 this Christmas

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said Santa Claus is coming to town. And he's not bringing COVID-19.

It should come as no surprise. As children already know, Santa is superhuman. He flies around the world in one night, delivers millions of toys and eats his weight in cookies.

But with millions of Americans already sick with COVID-19, children have been worried about Santa, especially this Christmas Eve when he visits millions of homes. And there's no denying that Santa, because he is older and overweight, would at first glance appear to be at higher risk of developing severe disease from COVID-19.

Fauci is telling kids not to worry, though. "Santa is not going to be spreading any infections to anybody," he said.

— Adrianna Rodriguez and Grace Hauck

CDC recommends against holiday travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending against travel for Thanksgiving. Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said the "tragedy that could happen" is that family members could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying. The CDC’s warning is the latest and most high profile about the risks of traveling as coronavirus cases rise nationwide. Officials in California, Illinois and other states have urged residents to avoid nonessential travel even as airlines tout holiday fare deals.

“These times are tough, it’s been a long outbreak, almost 11 months, and we understand people are tired," Walke said. "But this year we’re asking them to limit their travel.”

Sara M. Moniuszko

Long testing lines across US ahead of planned Thanksgiving gatherings

With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. – a reminder that the nation’s testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.

The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.6 million cases and 252,000 deaths.

Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays, especially as cases rise across the nation and people rush to get tested before reuniting with relatives.

“As those cases increase, demand increases and turnaround times may increase,” said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “So it’s like a dog chasing its tail.”

Lines spanned multiple city blocks at testing sites across New York City this week, leaving people waiting three or more hours before they could even enter health clinics. In Los Angeles, thousands lined up outside Dodger Stadium for drive-thru testing.

Texas county makes plea for workers to move 200-plus bodies

El Paso County, one of the hardest-hit areas in Texas amid the COVID-19 pandemic, put out a call Thursday night for the immediate hiring of morgue attendants to help move bodies.

"Not only is this assignment physically taxing, but it may be emotionally taxing as well," a county announcement stated.

The El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office had 247 bodies at the morgue and inside nine refrigerated trailers serving as mobile morgues, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said in news release, prompting county commissioners to authorize the hiring of additional workers.

– Daniel Borunda, El Paso Times

Mexico becomes 4th country to top 100K deaths

Mexico passed the 100,000 mark in COVID-19 deaths Thursday, joining the United States, Brazil and India as the only countries to reach the somber milestone.

José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, said there were 100,104 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of Thursday. That comes less than a week after Mexico said it had topped 1 million registered coronavirus cases, though officials agree the number is probably much higher because of low levels of testing.

The lack of testing — Mexico tests only people with severe symptoms and has performed only around 2.5 million tests in a country of 130 million — the lack of hospitals in many areas and the fear of the ones that do exist, has created a fertile breeding ground for ignorance, suspicion and fear.

Health care worker Marco Antonio Galicia wears a face mask designed with a Mexican wrestler motif and a protective shield on Thursday at the Ajusco Medio General Hospital in Mexico City.

Legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz tests positive

Legendary college football coach Lou Holtz has confirmed he has tested positive for COVID-19. Holtz, 83, told ABC Columbia on Thursday that he is recovering from the virus. “I don’t have a lot of energy right now,” said Holtz, who's best known for his 11-year tenure at Notre Dame that included a Fiesta Bowl win and a national championship in the 1988 season.

Over the summer, when the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced they were postponing their college football schedules because of the coronavirus pandemic, Holtz strongly objected, comparing players to American soldiers in World War II.

Since his retirement from coaching in 2004, Holtz has worked as an analyst for ESPN and has made numerous public appearances supporting President Donald Trump.

– Steve Gardner

California adopts stricter COVID workplace safety rules

California officials on Thursday approved new regulations requiring employers to implement safety measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, the latest state to adopt stricter rules.

The state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board heard testimony on an emergency temporary standard that requires businesses to educate employees on ways to prevent infection, provide free personal protective equipment and offer free COVID-19 testing to all employees if three or more employees are infected with the coronavirus within a 14-day period, among other measures.

California joins Oregon, Michigan and Virginia in implementing similar standards. Virginia became the first state in the country to approve temporary new workplace safety rules after lawmakers passed the measures in July, citing inaction by federal officials.

Smithsonian's DC-area sites plan to close again

After reopening seven Washington-area museums and the National Zoo over the summer, the Smithsonian on Thursday announced it would close again, starting Monday, and did not give a date for reopening.

The sites were closed in March during the first wave of the coronavirus. They reopened in July, August and September with limited hours, lower capacity, social distancing and mandatory face masks.

Nearly 30% of U.S. museums remain closed from the original March shutdown, according to a survey by the American Alliance of Museums. (Most of the Smithsonian's sites in Washington and New York have not reopened.) Those that have reopened are operating at 35% of their regular attendance, which Laura Lott, the group's president and CEO, called "unsustainable long-term."

– Curtis Tate

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY 

Contributing: The Associated Press