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Coronavirus update: Moderna vaccine rolls out, Congress to vote on aid package

A new virus strain appears in the U.K.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 17,860,634 (17,269,542)

Total U.S. deaths: 317,729 (311,230)

Total global cases: 76,975,940 (75,179,482)

Total global deaths: 1,697,062 (1,668,030  )

Moderna vaccine begins distribution

The first shipments of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Moderna are making their way across the country, joining supplies of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The Moderna vaccine won temporary clearance late Friday, the Pfizer vaccine a week earlier.

The first shots are expected to be administered later today. As with the previous vaccine, the first in line will be front line health care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Officials say the general public may not receive the vaccine until spring. Next in line will likely be “essential workers,” bus drivers, grocery store clerks, and others who can’t work from home and who are getting infected at a higher rate.

Congress finally agrees on aid package

Working right down to the wire, congressional negotiators have finally agreed on a $900 billion aid package to help individuals and businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Final action is expected later today.

The measure sends up to $600 per adult and child to Americans, based on their income. It also adds $300 to unemployment benefits for 10 weeks and extends the rental eviction moratorium that was set to expire at the end of the month..

In the end, it took the elimination of two provisions that caused the standoff. Democrats’ insistence on billions of dollars for state and local government and the GOP’s demand for immunity from lawsuits for businesses were dropped from the measure.

New, highly contagious virus strain appears in the U.K.

Despite hopes produced by emerging vaccines, there’s a new coronavirus fear because of a new strain of the virus that has appeared in the U.K. Over the weekend, the British government announced a renewed lockdown, saying the new strain appears to be much more contagious than the strain that appeared in early 2020.

Countries in Europe reacted quickly, banning travel to and from the U.K. So far, the new strain has yet to be identified in the U.S. U.S. officials have not suggested a ban on U.K. travel.

“I really don’t believe we need to do that yet,” Adm. Brett Giroir told ABC News on Sunday. “We have not seen a single mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine.”

Survey suggests Americans will travel this week

Health officials are increasingly worried that Christmas week and the New Year’s holiday will be a repeat of Thanksgiving -- family and friends gathering for celebrations in spite of pleas not to.

A new survey from Cars.com shows nearly half of Americans -- 46 percent -- plan to travel for December holidays. That’s about the same number that said they would travel during last month’s Thanksgiving holiday but far fewer than during a normal year, and researchers say that, at least, is a bright spot.

Jenni Newman, Cars.com’s editor-in-chief, says the survey also shows most people plan to travel by car, not because of cost or convenience but because they believe it will keep them safer from COVID-19.

The riskiest states for holiday travel

People traveling by car over the holidays face two risks -- coming in contact with COVID-19 and the chances of a serious auto accident. QuoteWizard, an online insurance marketplace, has analyzed the two risks and picked the riskiest states to travel in during the holidays.

According to the findings, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama have the most at-risk seniors with underlying health conditions. North Dakota, Rhode Island, and South Dakota have the highest COVID-19 cases and death rates per 100,000 in the last seven days.

Around the nation

  • New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the new, highly contagious strain of the coronavirus in the U.K. is coming into New York unchecked. Cuomo said he wants the federal government to begin requiring tests for travelers or bans on visitors traveling through the U.K.

  • Mississippi: State officials say 128,000 people received the Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine last week, but they are concerned about the growing skepticism among some people who say they aren’t going to take it. Doctors are trying to allay fears by being among the first to receive the vaccine.

  • Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear said he plans to use $51.5 million in federal coronavirus funding to provide relief from unemployment costs for more than 1,500 employers. The aid will be mostly directed at schools and non-profit organizations.

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