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    New COVID-19 strain found in Colorado

    Health officials believe it could already be widespread in the U.S.

    The new strain of the coronavirus (COVID-19), first identified in the United Kingdom, has reached American shores.

    The first official case of the mutant virus has been confirmed by health officials in Colorado. The patient was identified only as a male in his 20s. Significantly, he had no recent travel history -- suggesting there are likely other cases of the virus.

    Health experts say the mutant version of the COVID-19 virus does not cause more severe symptoms than the original virus, but it is concerning because it spreads even faster than the original.

    "In addition to the reported case in Colorado, we expect that there will be additional cases that are likely to be detected in the coming days," a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Health told CBS News.

    Laboratories across the U.S. are on the lookout for other examples of the new strain as they process COVID-19 tests. The new strain has been given a name -- B.1.1.7.

    Contact tracing

    State health officials in Colorado are conducting contact tracing for the patient who is infected with the mutant virus. They say that process has yet to produce results that would explain how he got infected. The young man is reported to be in isolation to prevent further spread.

    The mutant strain was identified through a process called “sequencing,” in which labs more closely examine and break down positive test results. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 51,000 of the 17 million cases in the U.S. have been sequenced.

    For that reason, they say it is very likely that the variant is fairly widespread in the U.S. In fact, it could be partially responsible for the current surge in coronavirus cases.

    Even though it is a mutant version of the original virus, it may not be harder to prevent. Both Moderna and Pfizer have said they are confident their vaccines, currently being distributed in the U.S., will be effective in preventing B.1.1.7.

    The new strain of the coronavirus (COVID-19), first identified in the United Kingdom, has reached American shores.The first official case of the mutant...
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    Coronavirus update: Mutant virus confirmed in Colorado, U.K. approves AstraZeneca vaccine

    A Republican elected to Congress has died of COVID-19

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

    Total U.S. confirmed cases: 19,551,716 (19,334,975 )

    Total U.S. deaths: 339,360 (335,623)

    Total global cases: 82,237,082 (81,508,329)

    Total global deaths: 1,796,768 (1,779,189)

    Mutant virus found in Colorado

    It’s here. The new strain of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which showed up first in the U.K., has been confirmed to be present in the U.S.

    Specifically, the mutant virus has been found  in Colorado, infecting a “male in his 20s.”  Significantly, officials say the patent had no recent travel history -- suggesting there are likely other cases of the virus. Officials say a co-worker of the patient may also have the variant.

    "In addition to the reported case in Colorado, we expect that there will be additional cases that are likely to be detected in the coming days," a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Health told CBS News.

    U.K. health authorities approve AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

    Health officials in the U.K. have given emergency clearance to a third coronavirus vaccine -- this one developed by AstraZeneca and researchers at Oxford University. Vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer already have the green light, which occurred about two weeks before the two vaccines won similar clearance in the U.S.

    U.K. health officials say they are receiving 100 million doses of the latest vaccine, enough to vaccinate 50 million people.

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the addition of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be enough to inoculate the entire population of the country when combined with the full order of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

    Congressman-elect dies of COVID-19

    Luke Letlow, a 41-year old Republican from Louisiana, was elected to Congress in November but has died of COVID-19 complications days before he was scheduled to be sworn into office.

    Letlow was admitted to a Monroe, La., hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to a Shreveport hospital as his condition worsened. Doctors say he did not appear to have any underlying health conditions that made him more vulnerable to the virus.

    “The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” a spokesman for Letlow said in a statement. 

    That $2,000 stimulus payment is looking doubtful

    What are the chances your $600 stimulus payment from the government will get bumped up to $2,000? Both President Trump and congressional Democrats are in favor of it.

    But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has played his hand, and it looks like the extra payment isn’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. McConnell has proposed the $2,000 payment in a bill that includes two provisions that Democrats oppose. In Washington, it’s called a “poison pill.”

    Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Americans have already begun receiving direct deposit payments of $600 per person. He said paper checks to Americans who don’t have direct deposit will start going out today.

    What a difference a year makes

    One year ago today the world was a very different place,  but it was about to change. Chinese officials reported an outbreak of a “mystery virus” in the Wuhan province. 

    The world watched with growing concern in January and February as China shut down its economy in an effort to control the fast-spreading virus. Then the virus ravaged Italy and finally arrived with full force in the U.S., changing nearly every aspect of daily life.

    China eventually got the virus under control, and its economy is mostly reopened today. But a report from Chinese health officials this week suggested that the infection rate in Wuhan may have been 10 times what was reported at the time.

    Around the nation

    • Michigan: State officials say they are working to speed up the distribution of vaccines. They report more than 70,000 Michigan residents had received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the start of the week. However, 278,000 doses are still on the shelf.

    • Illinois: Officials have opened a new facility in Chicago where health care workers can receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. At the same time, Illinois officials are preparing to pay out new unemployment benefit funds authorized by the COVID-19 relief bill.

    • Arizona: U.S. customs officials say they have confiscated more than 200,000 “counterfeit” face masks in Phoenix. The Department of Homeland Security reportedly carried out a lengthy investigation culminating in the seizure of the phony N95 face masks.

    Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 19,551,716 (19,334,...
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    American Airlines makes a safe return of the 737 MAX to the skies

    Boeing says the FAA’s recertification process gave it the opportunity to create a more efficient version of the aircraft

    American Airlines has become the first U.S. airline to return the once ill-fated 737 MAX to service. Two years after all 737 MAX were grounded following two fatal crashes and after 20 months of a rigorous recertification process by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the aircraft made a safe return to the skies Tuesday via an American flight from Miami to New York City.

    American Airlines Flight 718 left Miami on time and landed in New York ahead of schedule, then turned around and made another safe trip back to Miami Tuesday afternoon. 

    Confidence restored

    On top of what the FAA inspected, American said it also conducted an exhaustive process to ensure that every 737 MAX in the air is safe and that its pilots, flight attendants, team members, and customers are confident in the return of the aircraft.

    Needless to say, Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer, was ecstatic too. The company had moved toward dire straits since the MAX’ grounding, forcing it to ask lenders for $10 billion to help offset losses from MAX-related incidents and to fend off a $336 million lawsuit over its failure to complete 737 MAX orders.

    Noticeable changes

    The forced downtime was actually a blessing, in part, for Boeing. It says it was able to revisit the construction and layout of its 737 planes, which led to “new, more fuel-efficient engines and improved aerodynamics” that will reduce both fuel and emissions by 20 percent. In addition, the reconfigured plane can fly some 600 miles further than its predecessor. 

    On the passenger side of the equation, fliers will enjoy a new interior replete with modern sculpted sidewalls, window reveals, LED lighting designed to enhance the sense of spaciousness, and larger pivoting overhead storage bins.

    Boeing’s investment in retooling the MAX has already started to pay off. Just last week, Alaska Airlines announced that the carrier is buying 23 more 737-9 airplanes, building on its original order and options to acquire 120 aircraft in total. 

    Still don’t want to set foot on a 737 MAX?

    For travelers who are still skeptical about flying on a 737 MAX, American, for one, says it understands. 

    “If a customer doesn’t want to fly on a 737 MAX aircraft, they won’t have to … in the immediate term, we’ll provide additional flexibility to ensure our customers can be easily re-accommodated if they prefer not to fly on the 737 MAX. And if their aircraft type ever changes to a 737 MAX, there is no end to the flexibility our customers will have,” the airline said in a release. 

    For customers who prefer not to fly on a 737 MAX, they can:

    • Rebook on the next available flight in the same cabin at no cost.

    • Cancel their trip completely and receive travel credits redeemable with American Airlines.

    • Change their itinerary within a 300-mile radius at no extra charge, but only if there is no alternative American Airlines flight available to get them to their destination.

    American Airlines has become the first U.S. airline to return the once ill-fated 737 MAX to service. Two years after all 737 MAX were grounded following tw...
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      Renters likely to see the cost of housing go up in 2021

      A forecast suggests that it will be the steepest rise since 2005

      Rents actually went down a bit during the pandemic, but a new report from real estate marketplace Zillow suggests that this break for renters is coming to an end.

      In 2021, Zillow says it expects the largest increase in rents since 2005 -- at the height of the housing bubble.

      Late this year, rents began to rebound, largely based on rising home values. The typical rent was up 1.1 percent year-over-year in November to $1,734. Among the 100 largest markets, monthly rent growth was highest in Stamford, Conn; Providence, R.I.; and Ogden, Utah -- which grew between 2.1 percent and 3.1 percent. 

      For the most part, rents in November were roughly where they were at the beginning of 2020 as more people -- members of Generation Z especially -- began looking for new places to live. Zillow expects that trend to gain momentum in 2021.

      Lifting cloud

      "With a vaccine on the horizon and Gen Z continuing to graduate from college, we expect the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to lift and demand for rental units to surge in 2021," said Zillow senior economist Chris Glynn. 

      Glynn says the anticipated rebound in rents may be good news for landlords, but it comes at a bad time for millions of renters who were hit hard by pandemic-related income loss, putting them in an even more tenuous position.

      “Further government intervention will likely be needed to avoid a painful wave of evictions," Glynn concludes.

      Supply and demand are obviously one factor that is pushing up rents, but the Zillow report says rising home values are also a big contributing factor.  Zillow's typical home value rose 1.1 percent from October to November and 3 percent over the past three months -- both of which are the largest gains on record going back to 1996. 

      Home values are up 7.5 percent since last year to $263,351, with the largest annual increases by metro in San Jose, Phoenix, and Seattle -- all posting double-digit increases.

      Record low inventory

      In a perfectly balanced market, the rapid increase in home values would lead to increases in construction, including apartments. But new construction has been slow to add to housing inventory, which continued to drop to record lows this year.

      "We expect the housing market to continue its bull run from this summer and fall well into 2021," said Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker. "This rapid price growth will be driven by the same factors that took the steering wheel in 2020: strong demographic trends, shifts in buyer preferences sparked by the pandemic, low mortgage rates, and short supply.”

      Millennials, now in their mid-30s, can be expected to continue moving out of apartments and purchasing homes. But Tucker says that might bring little relief to the rental market as it continues to drive up property values in 2021.

      Rents actually went down a bit during the pandemic, but a new report from real estate marketplace Zillow suggests that this break for renters is coming to...
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      Alaska Airlines becomes the first U.S. airline to adhere to new DOT rules on emotional support animals

      Service dogs are acceptable, but there are new rules for them as well

      In a move to reflect recent changes to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) rules regarding emotional support animals on its flights, Alaska Airlines will no longer allow those pets to board. Effective January 11, 2021, Alaska will only transport service dogs, given their ability to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. 

      The DOT’s recent changes come out more than 15,000 comments to the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking. It said its final determination “addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.” 

      Welcome news

      The emotional support animal issue has been a push-and-pull for nearly two years, with some major U.S. airlines -- including JetBlue, Delta, and Southwest -- either modifying or completely ditching their rules on what is and what isn’t a quantifiable “emotional support animal.”

      At Alaska Airlines, the change brought a huge sigh of relief. 

      "This regulatory change is welcome news, as it will help us reduce disturbances onboard, while continuing to accommodate our guests traveling with qualified service animals," said Ray Prentice, director of customer advocacy at Alaska Airlines.

      The changes

      As airlines start adhering to the new DOT policy, there will no doubt be some variation on the finer points, but every carrier will have to follow these basic requirements listed in the final rule:

      • “Defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;

      • No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal;

      • Requires airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals;

      • Allows airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;

      • Allows airlines to require individuals traveling with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time;

      • Prohibits airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process;  

      • Allows airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;

      • Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals; 

      • Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;

      • Allows airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft;

      • Continues to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and

      • Continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.”

      In Alaska’s revised policy, the airline will accept a maximum of two service dogs per guest in the cabin. That includes psychiatric service dogs, which the DOT now requires airlines to treat the same as other service animals. Alaska passengers will be required to complete a DOT form, which will be available on AlaskaAir.com beginning January 11, certifying that their animal is a legitimate service dog, is trained and vaccinated, and will behave appropriately during the journey. 

      Other airlines will no doubt follow suit and make similar announcements in the following weeks. For consumers who have a service animal or have flown with an emotional support animal in the past and have hopes of doing it again sometime soon, it would be wise to contact the airline you plan to fly with directly to find out exactly what its policies are.

      In a move to reflect recent changes to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) rules regarding emotional support animals on its flights, Alaska Airli...
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      LG Energy Solution Michigan recalls home energy storage batteries

      The home batteries can overheat, posing a risk of fire

      LG Energy Solution Michigan of Holland, Mich., is recalling about 1,815LG Chem “RESU 10H” Lithium-Ion Residential Energy Storage Systems.

      The home batteries can overheat, posing a risk of fire and emission of harmful smoke.

      The firm has received five reports of fires resulting in minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the LG Chem Model RESU 10H lithium-ion storage battery that is installed as part of a residential energy solar panel system.

      The recalled battery allows owners to capture and store energy from the solar panels.

      The batteries are wall mounted and measure 29.30 x 35.70 x 8.10 inches and weigh roughly 220 pounds.

      The LG Chem logo is located on the top left side of the front panel. The serial number of the recalled product begins with R15563P3SSEG and is located behind the access door of the RESU 10H (Type-R) home battery.

      The batteries, manufactured in Korea, were sold at various distributors of solar energy storage systems nationwide, including, but not limited to Sunrun, AEE Solar, Baywa, CED, Krannich, Independent Electric Supply, and Inter Island Solar Supply, from January 2017, through March 2019, for about $8,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately contact LG Energy Solution Michigan to schedule a free replacement. LG Energy Solution Michigan, its distributors and its installers also are attempting to contact all owners directly to arrange for modifications to the recalled batteries to reduce the risk of overheating until they can be replaced with new batteries.

      Consumers may contact LG Energy Solution Michigan toll-free at (866) 263-0301 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at RESUservice@lgensol.com, or online at www.lgessbattery.com/us for more information.

      LG Energy Solution Michigan of Holland, Mich., is recalling about 1,815LG Chem “RESU 10H” Lithium-Ion Residential Energy Storage Systems. The home batte...
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      Audi recalls model year 2021 A6 Allroads, Q7s, RS6s and RS7s

      The front doors have faulty side impact crash sensors

      Audi is recalling 166 model year 2021 A6 Allroads, Q7s, RS6s and RS7s.

      The electrical connector can detach from the door crash sensor in either of the front doors.

      A detached connector can delay the activation of the restraint systems, including the side and curtain airbags, and/or seat-belt pretensioners during a side impact crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will inspect, and -- as necessary -- replace the crash sensors in both front doors free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 31, 2021.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at (800) 253-2834. Audi's number for this recall is 69BM.

      Audi is recalling 166 model year 2021 A6 Allroads, Q7s, RS6s and RS7s. The electrical connector can detach from the door crash sensor in either of the f...
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      CLS Gourmet CL Saigon Food Company recalls pork products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      CLS Gourmet CL Saigon Food Company of Philadelphia, Pa. , is recalling approximately 128,841 pounds of pork products.

      The products did not undergo federal inspection.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following raw and fully cooked items, produced and distributed between April 29, 2020, and December 5, 2020, are being recalled:

      • 15-oz., poly casing package of raw “Chả Sống, Sài gòn UNCOOKED PORK ROLL WITH FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “KEEP FROZEN” on the label.
      • 15-oz., poly casing package of raw “Nem Nướng, Sài gòn UNCOOKED CURED PORK ROLL WITH FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “KEEP REFRIGERATED” on the label.
      • 15-oz. and 30-oz., poly casing packages of fully cooked “Sài gòn CHẢ LỤA ĐẶC BIỆT SỐ 1, COOKED PORK ROLL FLAVORED WITH ANCHOVY FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “KEEP REFRIGERATED'' on the label.
      • 30-oz., poly casing package of fully cooked “Sài gòn CHẢ LỤA ĐẶC BIỆT SỐ 1, COOKED PORK ROLL FLAVORED WITH ANCHOVY FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “PREVIOUSLY HANDLED FROZEN FOR YOUR PROTECTION. REFREEZE OR KEEP REFRIGERATED.” on the label.
      • 15-oz. and 30-oz., poly casing packages of fully cooked “Sài gòn CHẢ HUẾ ĐẶC BIỆT, COOKED PORK ROLL FLAVORED WITH ANCHOVY FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “KEEP REFRIGERATED” on the label.
      • 15-oz. and 30-oz., poly casing packages of fully cooked “Sài gòn CHẢ HUẾ ĐẶC BIỆT, COOKED PORK ROLL FLAVORED WITH ANCHOVY FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “PREVIOUSLY HANDLED FROZEN FOR YOUR PROTECTION. REFREEZE OR KEEP REFRIGERATED.” on the label.
      • 15-oz. and 30-oz., poly casing packages of fully cooked “THIT NGUỘI, Sài gòn, COOKED PORK FLAVORED WITH FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “KEEP REFRIGERATED'' on the label.
      • 15-oz. and 30-oz., poly casing packages of fully cooked “PATÉ Sài gòn, PATE PASTE WITH PORK & PORK LIVER.” The product includes “KEEP REFRIGERATED” on the label.
      • 15-oz., saran wrap package of fully cooked “Sài gòn CHẢ CHIÊN, FRY PORK ROLL FLAVORED WITH ANCHOVY FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “KEEP FROZEN” on the label.
      • 15-oz., poly casing package, fully cooked “Sài gòn CHẢ BÌ, COOKED PORK ROLL & PORK SKIN FLAVORED WITH ANCHOVY FLAVORED FISH SAUCE.” The product includes “KEEP REFRIGERATED” on the label.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “Est. 8776” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations nationwide.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers may CL Saigon Food Co., at (215) 432-0283.

      CLS Gourmet CL Saigon Food Company of Philadelphia, Pa. , is recalling approximately 128,841 pounds of pork products. The products did not undergo feder...
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      Democrats vote to increase stimulus payments, restaurant pandemic spending varies by state

      Complaints from some hospitals about vaccine distribution

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 19,334,975 (19,151,651)

      Total U.S. deaths: 335,623 (333,326)

      Total global cases: 81,508,329 (80,979,476)

      Total global deaths: 1,779,189 (1,768,048)

      House votes to increase stimulus payments to $2,000

      The House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, has voted to increase the direct payment to Americans in the stimulus bill from $600 to $2,000. President Trump supports increasing the payments, even though many members of his party do not.

      Because of that, the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to send the measure to President Trump's desk. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not said whether he will bring the bill to the floor.

      Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he will exert pressure on Senate Republicans to bring the measure to a vote. Unless McConnell acts, Sanders has threatened to hold up Senate action on the defense appropriations bill.

      Restaurant spending during pandemic varies widely state-to-state

      For the restaurant industry, 2020 has been the best of times and the worst of times. Chains like Dominos have thrived in the shut-down economy while many independent full-service eateries have closed for good.

      A new study by TOP Data and Zenreach shows restaurant health also varies by state. Restaurants in Washington state, Utah, and South Dakota are reporting sales are up more than 20 percent this year. Restaurant sales in Idaho are down 47 percent and 41 percent in Massachusetts, respectively.

      “With the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocketing and with the return of more business restrictions, it’s clear we will not be out of the woods for a bit,” said John Kelly, CEO of Zenreach. “The difference, however, between this recent wave of closures and the ones which took place earlier in the year is that we now better understand the formula for getting through this challenging period.”  

      Some hospitals report ‘chaotic’ vaccine distribution

      The first shipments of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine are going to nursing homes and to inoculate frontline health care workers, but according to some, it hasn’t been a smooth process.

      Doctors and nurses at some hospitals have told NPR that the vaccine distribution has been an unfair and chaotic "free-for-all." They say the workers with the most exposure to the virus have not always been first in line to get the shot.

      "It definitely feels a little bit like a slap in the face," Jennifer DeVincent, an intensive care nurse at Mass General Brigham Hospital told the radio network.

      More long-term care residents get vaccinated

      Retail pharmacies CVS and Walgreens have so far led efforts to distribute the vaccine at long-term care facilities. This week, CVS Health began deploying Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at about 2,000 long-term care facilities in Massachusetts.

      An effort to distribute the vaccine to about 7,500 residents and 10,000 workers at nursing homes across Rhode Island also began this week.

      Walgreens, meanwhile, has issued a statement explaining why some doses of the vaccine were distributed to the general public at a pharmacy in Lexington, Ky., over the Christmas holiday. The company said the vaccine can only be refrigerated for five days, and the doses were in danger of expiring.

      Kamala Harris gets the vaccine

      Vice-president elect Kamala Harris rolled up a sleeve today and received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on live television at a Washington, DC medical center. Harris said she received the vaccine to set an example for others who might be leery.

      “That was easy,” Harris said as she received the injection.“I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine. Literally, this is about saving lives.”

      A week ago, President-elect Joe Biden received a vaccination in the same type of public setting. The two leaders of the incoming administration staggered their shots in the event that there were significant side effects.

      Around the nation

      • California: Gov. Gavin Newsom is warning residents of his state to prepare for “a surge on top of a surge” in coronavirus cases. Gavin says the state, which is already trying to cope with an overwhelming number of cases of the virus, is likely to see many more in the near future because of holiday travel.

      • Colorado: Despite a still-high case count, restaurants and retail stores in Summit, Douglas, and Larimer counties are being allowed to apply to permit more diners and shoppers inside their premises as long as they tighten their COVID-19 safety measures. The certification program began two weeks ago.

      • Florida: At the beginning of the week, more than 6,000 people were in Florida hospitals for treatment of COVID-19, according to state health officials. That’s nearly three times the number of hospitalizations recorded on Oct. 1.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 19,334,975 (19,151,...
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      Your travel rewards card may now reward more than just travel

      Several card issuers have made adjustments as the pandemic has limited travel

      Consumers who have a travel rewards card may find that it hasn’t been all that useful during the pandemic since travel has been limited. But a number of card issuers have found other ways to offer their customers perks, even when they don’t leave home.

      MyFICO recently reported on how some card issuers are rewarding their home-bound cardholders. They’re expanding their higher-earning rewards categories to appeal to the shift away from travel spending. 

      For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is now offering more points for grocery purchases. Cardholders can earn two points per dollar on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. 

      At the same time, cardholders can also accumulate two points per dollar spent on dining, which includes eligible delivery services and takeout.

      The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is also offering more rewards on groceries and gasoline purchases. From June 30, 2020 through June 30, 2021, cardholders are getting an automatic statement credit on gas and grocery store purchases of up to $300.

      Grocery store purchases made between November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021 will earn three points per dollar.

      Restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations

      Citi Premier, another popular travel card, has beefed up its points offered on restaurants, supermarkets, and gas purchases. Cardholders get three points per dollar when they use the card at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations -- and it still rewards travel. Travelers get three points per dollar on travel expenses.

      Ordering out has become a household routine during the pandemic, and Capital One travel cards reward customers when they use UberEats. From now through January 31, 2021, the Capital One Venture and VentureOne are offering five points per dollar on UberEats food delivery purchases.

      If you’ve already racked up a lot of miles and points on your travel card, remember that they don’t always have to be redeemed for travel. If you check into your card’s rewards options, you may find that you can cash in your miles for statement credits, gift cards, and even merchandise.

      If you carry a travel rewards card in your wallet, it’s important to make it rewarding in some way. Many of these cards carry a hefty annual fee. If you aren’t getting rewards to at least cover the fee, there are many more efficient options.

      While closing an account can negatively affect your credit score, you may be able to stay with your same provider but switch from a card with an annual fee to one without one.

      Consumers who have a travel rewards card may find that it hasn’t been all that useful during the pandemic since travel has been limited. But a number of ca...
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      Pregnant women in their third trimester are unlikely to pass COVID-19 to newborns, study finds

      Experts say that infants’ health is protected despite their mothers’ exposure to the virus

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several studies have looked at health outcomes related to pregnant women contracting the virus and the potential risks to their newborns. 

      Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has found that women who test positive for the coronavirus during the third trimester of pregnancy are unlikely to pass it onto their babies. 

      “This study provides some reassurance that SARS-CoV-2 infections during the third trimester are unlikely to pass through the placenta to the fetus, but more research needs to be done to confirm this finding,” said researcher Dr. Diana M. Bianchi. 

      Positive infant health outcomes

      To understand the health risks associated with COVID-19 during the later stages of pregnancy, the researchers had nearly 130 pregnant women who were admitted into Boston hospitals participate in the study. All of the women were tested for COVID-19, and the researchers also assessed if there were traces of the virus in the placenta or in blood samples. 

      Ultimately, 64 of the women tested positive for the virus, though the majority of them were asymptomatic or only presented with mild symptoms. However, all of the infants born to women infected with COVID-19 tested negative for it at birth. For the women who tested positive, the virus was detected in saliva and mucus samples, but it was absent from the placenta and their bloodstreams, which is most likely why the infants were protected against COVID-19. 

      The researchers also tested all of the infants -- regardless of their mothers’ COVID-19 status -- for virus antibodies. Typically, antibodies that mothers develop during pregnancy are passed through to their babies, which help them fight off infections after birth; however, the researchers found that this wasn’t the case with COVID-19. Even for babies born to women with more severe cases of the virus, the infants’ COVID-19 antibodies were much lower than the researchers predicted. Much like the virus, the researchers say they think this is because the antibodies were unable to pass through the placenta.

      While the researchers hope to do more work in this area to better understand how infants are affected by COVID-19, they hope that these findings are helpful for creating future treatment plans for pregnant women and their newborns. 

      “These findings can immediately inform clinical care and vaccine development and deployment strategies to maximize benefit for pregnant women and their [newborns],” the researchers wrote

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several studies have looked at health outcomes related to pregnant women contracting the virus and the potential...
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      Netflix will spend millions to create more original content in 2021

      The company wants to cater to a wider audience as competition heats up

      TV and movie lovers who have feasted on Netflix Originals like “The Crown,” “Stranger Things,” “Ozark,” and “The Queen’s Gambit” are about to get a lot more attention from the reigning streaming video king. 

      According to a research report from Bankr, the service will spend about $19.03 billion in 2021 to produce exclusive video content, nearly 10 times what it churned out just five years ago when it first tested the original content waters with “House of Cards.”

      Here we come, 2021!

      COVID-19 didn’t hamper the company much, if at all. “Since the almost-global shutdown of production back in mid-March, we have already completed principal photography on 50+ productions and, while the course and impact of C-19 remains unpredictable, we’re optimistic we will complete shooting on over 150 other productions by year-end,” the company wrote in its Q3 2020 letter to shareholders.

      To demonstrate its aggressive stance, the company said that it expects the number of Netflix originals launched to be up year-over-year in each quarter of 2021. A key target for that content will be an emphasis on Netflix’ burgeoning growth in the Hispanic and Asian markets. 

      While the company said that it strives “to be a global entertainment service that can satisfy the needs of members all over the world,” it’s not leaving the English-speaking world empty-handed. Season 3 of Cobra Kai will debut on January 8, 2021. There’s also season four of ‘Stranger Things,’ the action film ‘Red Notice’ (starring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds), and season two of ‘The Witcher’ for fans to look forward to.

      Go big or go home

      If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then Netflix is no different than a traditional TV network like NBC, CBS, or ABC when it comes to competing for eyeballs. In addition to its 195 million user base, Netflix subscribers are rather smitten with the service, with 59 percent of young users rating it as their most indispensable TV network.

      To push that number higher, the company has to go big or go home -- and it’s going big in 2021.

      In reality, Netflix has little choice. In the last year, consumers have been wooed by the debut of Comcast’s Peacock and Disney+. Disney, in particular, has shown just how serious it is about being a big time player in the streaming game by adding in features like co-watching, bundles, and partnerships with the likes of Verizon, which gives the wireless network’s customers a chance to score a free year of Disney+.

      “Overall, Netflix needs a lot of video content to remain competitive. However, the shows need to retain subscribers especially those onboarded during the pandemic,” commented Bankr’s Door Justinas Baltrusaitis. “If the subscriber growth slows down, Netflix might need to look for other ways to attract more users.”

      TV and movie lovers who have feasted on Netflix Originals like “The Crown,” “Stranger Things,” “Ozark,” and “The Queen’s Gambit” are about to get a lot mor...
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      Home prices continue to climb as 2020 draws to a close

      Low mortgage rates and the pandemic are fueling the rise

      Two industry reports show that home prices have surged in the final months of 2020, offsetting the advantage buyers got from record-low mortgage rates.

      The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index, a closely watched but lagging indicator, shows that home prices rose at the fastest rate since 2014 in October, the last month for which data is available.

      More recent data comes from real estate broker Redfin, which reports that the median home sale price rose 14 percent in the four-week period ending December 20. Together, the two reports show homeowner equity continues to increase while the barrier to homeownership got a little steeper.

      The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller price index tracks prices in 20 large housing markets and shows that prices increased at a 7.9 percent annual rate in October. In September, the rate of growth was 6.6 percent.

      It’s the steepest increase in six years and was fueled by low mortgage rates and a huge increase in buyers, many of whom left apartments in cities in search of more space in the suburbs and smaller cities. Presumably, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic played a role.

      Phoenix prices rose the fastest

      Some markets saw prices rise faster than others. Phoenix led the way with a 12.7 percent increase. Seattle was next at 11.7 percent, and San Diego was third at 11.6 percent.

      New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas -- all cities hard-hit by the economic effects of the pandemic -- saw price gains of less than 7 percent.

      The Redfin data shows that December was an exceptionally strong month for home prices, with the median sale prices hitting $320,714 -- a 14 percent year-over-year increase. The report also shows that pending home sales -- a measure of contracts signed but not yet closed -- were up 34 percent.

      Picking up momentum

      The pace of activity actually increased as the year drew to a close. Pending home sales surged 30 percent in the week ending December 20. However, active listings -- the number of homes on the market -- fell 31 percent year-over-year to a record low.

      "Going into the new year, it will truly be out with the old, because there will be very few homes from 2020 left on the market," said Redfin’s chief economist Daryl Fairweather. "So those who resolve to buy a home in 2021 may need to wait with bated breath for sellers to list their homes.”

      Fairweather predicts that the rising prices of home will lead to more homes being listed in 2021. But he says that increase in inventory will likely go fast since the pent up demand from buyers shows no sign of letting up. 

      Two industry reports show that home prices have surged in the final months of 2020, offsetting the advantage buyers got from record-low mortgage rates....
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      Graco recalls inclined sleeper accessories

      Infant fatalities have been reported with other manufacturers’ inclined sleep products

      Graco Children’s Products of Atlanta, Ga., is recalling about 51,000 inclined sleeper accessories included with various Graco playard products.

      Infant fatalities have been reported with other manufacturers’ inclined sleep products, after infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side while unrestrained, or under other circumstances.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported with the Graco product.

      This recall involves the inclined sleeper accessory sold with the Graco Pack ‘n Play Day2Dream Playard with Bedside Sleeper, Graco Pack ‘n Play Nuzzle Nest Playard, Graco Pack ‘n Play Everest Playard and Graco Pack ‘n Play Rock ‘n Grow Playard.

      A list of the model numbers, located on a label on the underside of the playyard on one of the tubes, may be found here.

      The inclined sleeper accessory is the only portion of the product that is being recalled.

      The inclined sleeper accessories, manufactured in China, were sold at Babies R Us, BuyBuyBaby and other stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, Target.com and various other websites from November 2017, through September 2020, for Day2Dream Playard & Bedside Sleeper, May 2015, through December 2018, for Nuzzle Nest Playard, September 2015, through December 2018, for Everest Playard, and December 2019, through April 2020, for Rock ‘n Grow Playard, for between $270 and $350.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled inclined sleeper accessory and contact Graco for a refund for the accessory. Consumers may continue to use the playard portion of the product and other accessories included with the playard.

      Consumers may contact Graco at (800) 345-4109 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at https://recalls.gracobaby.com for more information.

      Graco Children’s Products of Atlanta, Ga., is recalling about 51,000 inclined sleeper accessories included with various Graco playard products. Infant f...
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      Coronavirus update: Stimulus on the way, optimism about a third vaccine

      A vaccine ‘passport’ may be key to getting back to normal

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 19,151,651 (18,986,062)

      Total U.S. deaths: 333,326 (331,929)

      Total global cases: 80,979,476 (80,435,226)

      Total global deaths: 1,768,048 (1,759,408)

      Trump signs stimulus bill

      After going right down to the wire, President Trump has signed the coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus bill into law, sending most Americans, including children, a $600 direct payment.

      As Trump signed the legislation, he issued a list of changes he wants to be made to the legislation, including the removal of some non-pandemic provisions. Democrats have said they have the votes to block that move.

      Trump also called for a second measure increasing the amount of direct payments to Americans to $2,000, which many Democrats support.

      AstraZeneca bullish on its vaccine

      While the vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech are rolling out around the world, drugmaker AstraZeneca is expressing optimism about its vaccine that is being developed in conjunction with Oxford University.

      AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told the Sunday Times that his company’s COVID-19 vaccine has achieved a “winning formula” for efficacy, saying it provides “100 percent protection” against severe COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization.

      The vaccine is still in clinical trials, but Soriot said he believes it will show the same effectiveness against the virus as the two vaccines currently being distributed. The vaccines produced by Moderna and by Pfizer and BioNTech were shown to be at least 94 percent effective in their recently concluded trials.

      Vaccine passport?

      As more and more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine, they will likely expect life to return to normal -- with activities like traveling, going to concerts, and crowding into stadiums for sporting events. But how will you know if everyone else has been vaccinated?

      Technology companies are already working on that by developing apps that allow people to upload proof of vaccinations and test results, creating a digital credential.

      The initiative was begun by The Commons Project, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization. It’s getting support from a number of travel-related businesses, including hotels, casinos, and airlines.

      Bracing for a post-holiday surge

      Against all medical advice, millions of Americans traveled over the holidays, something health officials fear could lead to a surge of new cases of the coronavirus in January. Adm. Brett Giroir, who serves as director of U.S. coronavirus diagnostic testing, says a spike in cases may or may not occur.

      "It really depends on what the travelers do when they get where they're going," Giroir told "Fox News Sunday."

      Giroir said the real threat is not the travel itself but the mingling of “bubbles” once people arrive at their destinations. If one person out of a group of a dozen has the virus, it’s likely that many of the others will also get it.

      Therapies going unused

      While there is a race to vaccinate people against the coronavirus and as the U.S. death toll continues to rise, pharmaceutical executives say their drugs to treat people who already have the virus are sitting on the shelf unused.

      The Wall Street Journal reports that the rollout of these therapies has been pushed aside by many infectious disease specialists who say they want more clinical trial data before using them. The report says some providers aren’t even aware that the drugs are available.

      The Journal cites officials at Operation Warp Speed who say hospitals are only using about 20 percent of the monoclonal antibody drugs they receive each week.

      Around the nation

      • Iowa: The coronavirus didn’t take off for the Christmas holiday. State health officials report that Iowa recorded 2,532 new cases and six more COVID-19 deaths between Thursday and Sunday afternoon.

      • New York: The state legislature is expected to give final action today to a bill to halt evictions in the state until May 1. "Far too many of our friends and neighbors struggled to find safe, affordable housing before COVID-19 hit our state," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said in a statement.

      • Ohio: Cases of the coronavirus slowed considerably during the holiday week. State health officials said new cases of the virus fell by more than 17 percent. Health officials are bracing, however, for what could be a post-holiday surge.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 19,151,651 (18,986,...
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      Holiday spending showed a modest increase in 2020

      The pandemic changed how consumers shopped and what they bought

      Consumers spent more on the holidays than last year, but not by much. In this season shaped by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Mastercard’s SpendingPulse report shows that sales between November 1 and Christmas Eve grew by 2.4 percent year-over-year.

      “American consumers turned the holiday season on its head, redefining ‘home for the holidays’ in a uniquely 2020 way,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard.

      Sales from online shopping grew by a staggering 49 percent. That was hardly a surprise, though, since consumers hunkering down at home were ordering just about everything online.

      What consumers purchased this season was also a bit different. The report shows spending was down on traditional gift items -- notably apparel -- and much higher for home furnishings. In fact, home furniture and furnishings saw the strongest growth of any sector compared to 2019, up 16.2 percent. Online spending for the home surged 31 percent compared to last year.

      People working from home apparently decided they don’t need to dress up. Clothing sales sank 19.1 percent while electronics and appliances were up 6 percent overall.

      Department stores were the big losers because fewer consumers ventured out to malls and shopping centers. Sales were down 10.2 percent year-over-year, though stores with an online channel saw their online sales increase by 3.3 percent.

      Earlier start, earlier end

      Consumers spread their shopping over a wider period this year. A number of major retailers, including Amazon and Walmart, staged promotions in October. The numbers show consumers took advantage of those earlier opportunities.

      “Across our expanded 75-day holiday shopping season, sales were up 3 percent, a testament to the holiday season and strength of retailers and consumers alike,” Sadove said.

      Because so many shoppers depended on shipping, the season drew to a close this year a lot earlier than in the past. After Black Friday, the top shopping day was December 12 -- one of the last days shippers would guarantee delivery before Christmas.

      December 21, the Monday before Christmas, was the third-biggest shopping day in 2019. This year, it didn’t even crack the top 10.

      Consumers spent more on the holidays than last year, but not by much. In this season shaped by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Mastercard’s SpendingPu...
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      Vaping could harm cognitive function and thinking ability, study finds

      Researchers worry about the effect on young people’s brain development

      As more and more studies highlight the health concerns associated with vaping -- which include serious lung damage and heart issues -- a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center is exploring how e-cigarettes can affect consumers’ mental function. 

      According to their findings, vaping can have a negative effect on memory, thinking skills, and the ability to focus. The researchers say they are most worried about young people who vape. 

      “Our studies add to growing evidence that vaping should not be considered a safe alternative to tobacco smoking,” said researcher Dongmei Li, PhD. 

      Issues with cognitive function

      The researchers conducted two studies to help them better understand what effect vaping has on consumers’ mental faculties. One study analyzed data from over 886,000 participants involved in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, and the other study looked at more than 18,000 responses to the National Youth Tobacco Survey. 

      Ultimately, the researchers learned that participants who vaped or smoked cigarettes were more likely to struggle with cognitive function than those who had never smoked in any capacity. The study revealed that smoking -- whether e-cigarettes or traditional cigarettes -- was associated with three primary cognitive issues: decision-making, memory, and concentration. 

      Additionally, the researchers explained that age played a large role in the participants’ cognitive abilities. They found that when participants were younger than 14 when they started vaping or smoking, they were even more likely to have cognitive struggles as adults. 

      Though vaping rates for young people have declined in the last year, and many companies have put age restrictions on e-cigarettes to help prevent young people from picking up the habit, a great deal of e-cigarette advertising has previously been geared towards the younger demographic. The researchers are particularly concerned because high school age is a pivotal time in the brain’s development process. If young people have already picked up a smoking habit by this age, it could affect brain function long-term. 

      “With the recent rise in teen vaping, this is very concerning and suggests that we need to intervene even earlier,” said Dr. Li. “Prevention programs that start in middle or high school might actually be too late.” 

      As more and more studies highlight the health concerns associated with vaping -- which include serious lung damage and heart issues -- a new study conducte...
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      Hyundai recalls Nexo Fuel Cell and Kona Electric vehicles

      The integrated electronic brake system may malfunction

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 8,176 model year 2019-2020 Nexo Fuel Cell and model year 2019-2021 Kona Electric vehicles. The Integrated Electronic Brake (IEB) system may detect an abnormal sensor signal and -- as a result -- may significantly reduce braking performance.

      Reduced braking power could lengthen the distance required to stop the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will update the IEB software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 22, 2021.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at (855) 371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 199.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 8,176 model year 2019-2020 Nexo Fuel Cell and model year 2019-2021 Kona Electric vehicles. The Integrated Electronic Bra...
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      Cycling Sports Group recalls Cannondale Canvas NEO bicycles

      The front fender can detach and cause the front wheel to stop abruptly

      Cycling Sports Group of Wilton, Conn., is recalling about 1,270 Cannondale Canvas NEO bicycles.

      The front fender can detach and cause the front wheel to stop abruptly, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received eight reports of the fender detaching and contacting the bicycle wheel, two of which resulted in injuries involving bruising and abrasions.

      This recall involves all Cycling Sports Group Cannondale Canvas NEO bicycles.

      These are “e-bicycles” that have an electric assist motor, and they were sold in a variety of different colors and sizes. Affected bicycles are marked “Canvas” on the top tube and have an electric assist motor.

      Only models of “Canvas” bicycles with an electric assist motor are included in this recall.

      The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized Cannondale dealers nationwide from June 2019, through October 2020, for between $3,200 and $4,200.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop riding the bicycle until the front fender is removed, and contact their local authorized Cannondale dealer or Cycling Sports Group to arrange for a free repair.

      Consumers may contact their local authorized Cannondale dealer, or Cycling Sports Group at (800) 245-3872 (800-BIKE USA) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET), Monday through Friday, by email at ridersupport@cannondale.com or online at www.cannondale.com and click on “Recalls and Notices” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Cycling Sports Group of Wilton, Conn., is recalling about 1,270 Cannondale Canvas NEO bicycles. The front fender can detach and cause the front wheel to...
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      Coronavirus update: Vaccines tested against new virus stain, tests considered for U.K. arrivals

      Biden considers order to increase vaccine production

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 18,057,172 (17,860,634)

      Total U.S. deaths: 319,827 (317,729)

      Total global cases: 77,556,703 (76,975,940)

      Total global deaths: 1,706,513 (1,697,062)

      Vaccines are being tested against new virus strain

      A new strain of the coronavirus (COVID-19) discovered in the U.K. has raised a troubling question. Will the newly developed vaccines currently being rolled out work against it? The developers are about to find out.

      Both Pfizer and Moderna have said they are testing their vaccines against the mutated virus, which appears to be much more contagious than the original. 

      "We expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK; we will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks," Moderna said in a statement. Pfizer said it is currently generating data on how well blood samples from immunized people "may be able to neutralize the new strain."

      U.S. considers COVID-19 test for arrivals from the U.K.

      After three airlines said they would begin testing arriving passengers from the U.K. for the new strain of the coronavirus, the U.S. government is reportedly considering mandating the move for all carriers.

      If enacted, all passengers traveling from the U.K. would be required to receive a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure. Most European nations have already imposed the requirement.

      New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressed the issue over the weekend, expressing the concern that some of the thousands of travelers arriving in New York from the U.K. could be carrying the new strain.

      Biden may order more vaccines to be produced

      President-elect Biden is reportedly weighing the possibility of invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to increase the production of the coronavirus vaccines that are now being distributed nationwide.

      Published reports say Biden’s coronavirus advisory team has talked with both scientists and supply chain experts about whether that move would be helpful. The vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech has been moving across the country for more than a week. The Moderna vaccine began distribution on Monday.

      Early in the pandemic, the Trump administration invoked the DPA to increase the production of medical supplies and elements needed to conduct more tests for the virus.

      Pharmacy chains scramble to hire pharmacists

      Both Walgreens and CVS have been pressed into early service to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to nursing homes around the country, and both companies are looking for reinforcements.

      CVS sent a mass email to customers asking for available pharmacists, nurses, and pharmacy techs to sign on. CVS said it is hoping to hire both short- and long-term employees for the project.

      Walgreens may hire as many as 25,000 health care professionals. Specifically, it says it needs as many as 9,000 pharmacists to join its staff of 75,000 pharmacists and technicians.

      Pandemic likely to reduce U.S. life expectancy

      Life expectancy in the U.S. increased slightly in 2019. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says life expectancy may take a step back in 2020 because of the coronavirus. COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death this year.

      There have been well over 300,000 deaths from the virus so far this year, but health officials say other factors are at work. There have been fewer deaths from heart disease and cancer this year, which are the top two causes of death in the U.S.

      Around the nation

      • Missouri: CVS drug stores will be busy next week. The retail pharmacy chain said it plans to administer 100,000 COVID-19 vaccinations at nursing homes around the state next week.

      • New Jersey: State officials are asking residents to keep holiday celebrations to a minimum this week -- or at least, keep the number of participants in check. "Please, even though we all want to, do not hold a large indoor family Christmas gathering or indoor New Year's Eve party," said Gov. Phil Murphy. 

      • Delaware: As Congress prepared to vote on a national aid package, Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Division of Small Business announced a new round of relief funding – $26 million to support small businesses most affected by COVID-19 restrictions. “Small businesses continue to make sacrifices that will help get us through this crisis and beat COVID-19. We owe them our support,” Carney said.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 18,057,172 (17,860,...
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      BioNTech says it could create vaccine for COVID-19 mutation ‘in six weeks’

      Officials say the proteins in the more contagious version of the coronavirus are 99 percent the same

      German biotech firm BioNTech said Tuesday that it could create a vaccine for the new coronavirus variant in six weeks if necessary. 

      A new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 was recently detected in Britain, prompting dozens of European countries to reinstate lockdowns and impose travel bans. Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb now says it’s likely that the new coronavirus mutation “is already in the U.S.”

      BioNTech officials say they’re confident that they fend off the new strain with a modified version of the vaccine developed for the prevailing strains that appeared at the beginning of 2020. 

      "Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant," said BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin. He added that he is optimistic that the company can quickly produce an effective vaccine for the new strain since its proteins are 99 percent the same as the original version. 

      “The likelihood that our vaccine works ... is relatively high,” he said. However, until more research is carried out over the next few weeks, he said BioNTech doesn’t know “if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant.” 

      Six weeks

      Sahin said the company could make a vaccine to beat the mutated version of SARS-CoV-2 in less than two months, if necessary. 

      "In principle the beauty of the messenger technology is that we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation — we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks," he said. 

      BioNTech has worked with drugmaker Pfizer this year to create a vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus that began spreading earlier this year. The vaccine has been authorized for use in more than 45 countries and is already being administered to frontline workers and nursing home residents in the U.S. 

      Moderna, another company that created an effective COVID-19 vaccine, says it also believes its vaccine would have similar efficacy against the new strain. 

      "Based on the data to date, we expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK," Moderna said in a statement adding, "We will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation."

      German biotech firm BioNTech said Tuesday that it could create a vaccine for the new coronavirus variant in six weeks if necessary. A new, more contagi...
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      Nissan recalls model year 2002-2006 Sentras

      The front passenger airbag inflators may explode

      Nissan North America is recalling 3,930 model year 2002-2006 Sentras whose passenger airbags were previously inspected and may have been released without replacing the Takata airbag inflator.

      In the event of a crash, Takata front passenger airbag inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures and high temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking occupants, resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will re-inspect the vehicle and -- if necessary -- replace the airbag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 5, 2021.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at (800) 867-7669. Nissan's number for this recall is PM964.

      Nissan North America is recalling 3,930 model year 2002-2006 Sentras whose passenger airbags were previously inspected and may have been released without r...
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      Mercedes-Benz Metris right-hand drive vehicles recalled

      The brake hose/brake line connection may leak

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling 562 model year 2019-2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris right-hand drive vehicles.

      The screwed fittings between the rigid steel brake lines routed through the underbody of the vehicle and the brake hoses in the area of the front and rear axles may not have been correctly installed.

      The connection between the brake line and the brake hose may leak, causing a sudden loss of brake fluids, affecting braking performance and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      DVUSA will notify owners, and dealers will check the affected fittings at the connection points of the brake lines to the brake hoses, correcting them -- as necessary -- free of charge. 

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a schedule for recall notification.

      Owners may contact DVUSA customer service at (877) 762-8267. DVUSA's number for this recall is VS2BREMPOS.

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling 562 model year 2019-2020 Mercedes-Benz Metris right-hand drive vehicles. The screwed fittings between the rigid st...
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      New COVID-19 variant in U.K. prompts travel bans from European countries

      Officials say the new coronavirus mutation could be up to 70 percent more contagious

      Several European countries have halted travel due to concerns of a new and more contagious strain of the coronavirus that has appeared in the U.K. 

      U.K. government officials announced a renewed lockdown over the weekend and urged people to refrain from interacting with anyone other than immediate household during the Christmas holiday.

      "Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus — the potential risk it poses — it is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," said Boris Johnson, the British prime minister.

      Countries in Europe -- including Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands -- quickly imposed travel bans to and from the U.K. in a bid to preemptively stop the new strain from spreading. Canada also announced it was suspending flights from the U.K. for a 72-hour period. 

      More contagious

      Early evidence suggests that the new variant of the coronavirus could be around 70 percent more contagious than strains already circulating, but there’s no evidence to suggest that it’s more deadly. 

      The new coronavirus variant hasn’t yet been identified in the United States, and U.S. officials haven’t 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.”

      The new coronavirus variant isn’t believed to react differently to vaccines than the strain that appeared in early 2020, meaning vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer could help mitigate its spread. 

      However, if the virus changes and “dodges the full effect of the vaccine,” then “vaccine escape” could happen, wrote James Gallagher, BBC News health and science correspondent. “This may be the most concerning element,” he said. 

      Several European countries have halted travel due to concerns of a new and more contagious strain of the coronavirus that has appeared in the U.K. U.K....
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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.

      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.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 17,860,634 (17,269,...
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      Expanded tax benefits can help individuals who give to charity during 2020, IRS says

      There are additional forms to fill out, but the upsides are good for itemizers and charitable donors

      While the coronavirus hasn’t given Americans much in the way of something nice, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants taxpayers to know it actually does have something worth checking out.

      Within the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act -- the government legislation that made the first round of stimulus checks possible -- the IRS is offering expanded tax benefits that can help individuals who want to make a charitable donation before 2020 ends.

      Tax changes to lessen some of the economic impact of COVID-19

      The CARES Act includes temporary tax modifications that can lessen at least some of the pain when it comes to paying the 2020 tax bill next year. All told, there are two changes for individual taxpayers:

      New deduction for people who don't itemize. Heading the list is a change that the IRS says nearly 90 percent of taxpayers potentially qualify for. Typically, taxpayers who opt to take the standard deduction can’t claim a deduction for their charitable contributions. However, those individuals can claim a limited deduction on their 2020 federal income tax returns if they make a cash contribution* to a charity and still claim the standard deduction. 

      *Note: A cash contribution includes those made by check, credit, or debit card; or amounts incurred by an individual for unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses in connection with the individual's volunteer services to a qualifying charitable organization. Cash contributions do not include the value of things like volunteer services or contributions of household items like you would take to an organization like Goodwill.

      The all-important caveat in this deduction says that individuals can claim an "above-the-line" deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made to “qualifying charities” during 2020. The maximum above-the-line deduction is $150 for married individuals filing separate returns. 

      Itemizers can get as high as a 100 percent limit on cash contributions. Although there are certain limits, taxpayers who itemize have the OK to claim a deduction for charitable contributions if they’re made to qualifying charitable organizations. These limits run from 20-60 percent of an individual's adjusted gross income ("AGI") and vary by the type of contribution and type of charitable organization the money is donated to. 

      Where this change really comes in handy is the clause in the CARES Act that permits individuals to apply for an increased limit, up to 100 percent of their AGI, for qualified contributions. That election is made on a contribution-by-contribution basis and has to be a “cash” contribution made during the calendar year 2020 to a qualifying charitable organization.

      Like any change from the IRS, there are fine points to consider. The agency offers a complete list of those on its website.

      Keep good records

      Despite the upsides of these changes, the IRS reminds taxpayers that there are forms to be filled out and special recordkeeping to provide if a taxpayer wants to claim a charitable contribution deduction. 

      “Usually, this includes obtaining a receipt or acknowledgment letter from the charity before filing a return and retaining a cancelled check or credit card receipt. For donations of property, additional recordkeeping rules may apply, including filing a Form 8283 and obtaining a qualified appraisal,” the IRS says.

      Does this apply to the new round of stimulus checks?

      With Congress preparing to provide another round of stimulus checks, it’s unknown if any of the original CARES Act tax benefits will be expanded upon, but anything’s possible. 

      To keep up-to-date on everything that may impact coronavirus-related tax changes, be sure to check in at IRS.gov/Coronavirus before going headlong into filling out forms and organizing copies of things like charitable contributions.

      While the coronavirus hasn’t given Americans much in the way of something nice, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants taxpayers to know it actually does...
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      Walmart offers pickup option for returning online orders

      Customers can schedule a time for FedEx to pick up their return

      Walmart has announced that it’s giving consumers the option of returning orders without having to leave their home. In a blog post on Monday, the company said it’s teamed up with FedEx for a new service designed to make returning items a “hassle-free” experience. 

      “Now, customers can schedule a return through our new service, Carrier Pickup by FedEx, which is an incredibly convenient way to make that unwanted gift *magically* disappear,” Walmart said. “Even more magical, this new return option is not only super-easy but also free, and here to stay beyond the holiday season.” 

      To use Carrier Pickup by FedEx, customers can print out a shipping label from Walmart’s website, then schedule a time for FedEx to pick up the unwanted item. 

      The service is free for items shipped and sold via Walmart.com. The retailer noted that the service is available to “all customers where FedEx provides Small Parcel Pickup service.” Walmart customers can still choose to drop off their returns at FedEx locations instead of using the pickup service. 

      Changes to in-store return process 

      Walmart said it’s made several changes to its normal in-store returns process in order to keep customers safe and maintain social distancing during the pandemic. 

      Customers can start their return online via the Walmart app or website to cut down on time spent in line. At many stores, Walmart said it will open alternative return locations to help keep customers distanced from others in the store. 

      “Top that off with more good news for customers: No matter how customers choose to return the item, we’ve worked hard to speed up the time frame for which customers get their money back,” Walmart added. “For many online returns, refunds will be credited to customers’ payment account sometimes as soon as the next day, and same day for in-store returns.” 

      Walmart has announced that it’s giving consumers the option of returning orders without having to leave their home. In a blog post on Monday, the company s...
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      Airlines to receive $15 billion in additional aid under new stimulus package

      Tens of thousands of furloughed employees should be called back to work

      Under the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus agreement reached Sunday, U.S. airlines are scheduled to receive $15 billion in additional federal aid. The deal will also require airlines to call back more than 32,000 workers who were furloughed due to the financial strain of the pandemic. 

      The nation’s passenger airlines were given $25 billion in aid under the CARES Act passed in March. Once that aid ran out and it became clear that additional federal support wouldn’t be approved fast enough, airlines made the decision to start furloughing employees.

      The funds set aside for airlines in the second stimulus package would help keep airline workers employed until the end of March. The bill would also see that other struggling transportation sectors receive additional funding. It includes: 

      • $1 billion for airline contractors;

      • $2 billion for airports and concessionaires;

      • $14 billion for transit;

      • $10 billion for state highways;

      • $1 billion for Amtrak; and

      • $2 billion for private bus, school bus and ferry companies.

      Travelers still not flying

      Although many Americans are expected to travel this week, the airline industry has said it’s still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Flight bookings have declined due to the increase in new infections during the fall and winter, and new travel restrictions haven’t helped either.

      A survey found that 66 percent of people who plan to travel this week plan to do so using their own vehicle so they can avoid crowded airports.

      Under the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus agreement reached Sunday, U.S. airlines are scheduled to receive $15 billion in additional federal aid. The deal w...
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      Free news sites step up pleas for consumers to disable adblocking software

      One tech expert says consumers might want to ignore those requests

      If your web browser has recently updated, or you’ve loaded some new browser extensions, you may be seeing a message when you visit certain free content sites.

      “Please support journalism by allowing ads,” one of the pop-up messages reads. 

      In the message, there is a large link that will disable the adblocker extension in your browser. There is a smaller link that will allow you to proceed to the site while continuing to block ads.

      Dominic Chorafakis, with the cybersecurity consulting firm Akouto, says adblocking extensions aren’t exactly new, but it’s possible browsers have strengthened them in recent updates.

      “Sites that rely on ad revenue, of course, don’t like this at all, and there is quite a bit of effort being put in from their side to detect when a visitor has adblocking in place and either ask them politely to disable adblocking or outright prevent them from viewing their content unless they disable it,” Chorafakis told ConsumerAffairs.

      Not all ads are harmless

      Should consumers oblige and disable their adblocker? It’s one thing to support certain websites, but it is quite another to open devices to ads that might be more than simply annoying.

      “Malicious ads are a very real thing, and the companies that are making massive profits from internet ads are not doing enough to stop hackers from posting them,” Chorafakis said. “As a result, many legitimate sites end up serving malicious ads to unsuspecting visitors.”

      Chorafakis said he makes it a point to keep adblocking enabled on his devices until he sees publishers do more to control the kinds of ads they display.

      “I would rather not see a site’s content than take the risk of being served up a malicious ad if that’s how they want to behave,” he said. “If there is something that I absolutely must see but am being prevented by blocker detection, then I will temporarily use a different browser without adblocking that I have specifically for those very rare instances.”

      Two business models

      The issue highlights a growing dichotomy of the internet. There are companies that earn their revenue from services and subscriptions and those that earn money by showing ads and collecting data. 

      Many news sites have erected a paywall that prevents consumers from reading their content unless they subscribe. Most TV stations and TV networks continue to allow viewing for free but show ads to produce revenue.

      This split in the internet burst into the open last week when Apple changed its privacy policy and Facebook angrily responded with full-page ads in newspapers denouncing the move.  

      Apple’s newly announced  iOS14 privacy changes will require app developers like Facebook to “provide information about some of your app’s data collection practices on your product page.” The change will also require Facebook to “ask users for their permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other companies.”

      In the ad, Facebook maintained that Apple’s changes will be “devastating to small businesses” that rely on its ad network to leverage clicks and sales. 

      It also highlights the internet’s divide between consumers who value privacy and are willing and able to pay for the content they view and consumers who are willing to accept some limits on privacy in exchange for free content.

      If your web browser has recently updated, or you’ve loaded some new browser extensions, you may be seeing a message when you visit certain free content sit...
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      Audi recalls RS5 Sportbacks, S5 Sportbacks and A5 Sportbacks

      The rear light wiring harness may be missing scuff protection

      Audi is recalling 5,426 model year 2021 RS5 Sportbacks, S5 Sportbacks and model year 2020-2021 Audi A5 Sportbacks

      The wiring harness for the rear lights could be missing the anti-abrasion protection in the area of the spare wheel well.

      Without the scuff protection, the wires may become damaged in a rear crash, disabling the doors from being opened from the outside, causing a loss of hazard lights, and increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will apply scuff protection free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 22, 2021.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at (800) 253-2834. Audi's number for this recall is 97EU.

      Audi is recalling 5,426 model year 2021 RS5 Sportbacks, S5 Sportbacks and model year 2020-2021 Audi A5 Sportbacks The wiring harness for the rear lights...
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      CVS, Walgreens begin administering COVID-19 shots at nursing homes

      The shots are expected to be available to the general public in a few months

      CVS and Walgreens are starting to send teams of pharmacists to nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. 

      Walgreens said its pharmacists will first go to care facilities in Ohio, Connecticut, and Florida to administer shots. CVS will provide the vaccines at facilities in Ohio and Connecticut. Both drugstore chains plan to provide the vaccinations at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in other states next week. 

      Walgreens said it expects to give the shots to nearly 3 million residents and staff at 35,000 long-term care facilities. Over 40,000 long-term care facilities have chosen to have pharmacists and technicians from CVS come and provide the vaccinations.

      Hard-hit group

      Long-term care facility residents and staff were included in phase one of the vaccination distribution plan, along with health care workers. 

      Nursing homes and long-term care facilities were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Residents of these facilities account for nearly 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the country, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.

      Phase two of the vaccination plan includes the general population. Experts expect the general public to start receiving shots in just a few months, after essential workers and those with chronic medical problems are inoculated. 

      If all goes according to plan, the vaccines will eventually be available at drugstores and grocery stores. Walgreens and CVS have said they expect to have the shots ready to administer to the general public at their stores in the early spring.

      The vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech requires two doses, as does the Moderna vaccine. The latter is poised to receive FDA approval for distribution and use as early as today. 

      CVS and Walgreens are starting to send teams of pharmacists to nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country to administer COVID-19 vaccin...
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      Employers can keep unvaccinated employees from the workplace, EEOC says

      Like a lot of government agency guidance, there are lots of caveats employers should consider

      With the initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines being administered and additional vaccines getting the green light, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that employers have the right to require workers to be immunized before they return to the workplace.

      The wherewithal to mandate a required vaccination is part of new guidance from the EEOC called “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.” In that guidance, the agency said that employers are required to ensure that the workplace is safe to the point where "an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace." 

      The EEOC suggests employers use a four-factor approach in determining whether a direct threat exists:

      1. The duration of the risk;

      2. The nature and severity of the potential harm; 

      3. The likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and 

      4. The imminence of the potential harm.  

      The ifs, ands, or buts

      Government guidance usually comes with a hefty supply of caveats, and the EEOC’s latest direction has its fair share. Here are some of the highlights you should be aware of.

      Are there exemptions on who has to be vaccinated? In the agency’s point of view, not all employees have to get vaccinated. Employees exempted from the requirement include someone who has a "sincerely held" religious belief, practice, or observance that prevents them from getting inoculated, as well as someone with a disability.

      When it comes to workers with a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) puts limitations on an employer's ability to require employees to get a medical exam. However, the EEOC says that getting vaccinated is not the same as getting a medical exam and, therefore, requiring employees to get a COVID-19 shot does not, in its estimation, violate the ADA.

      Can an employee request accommodations? The answer is “yes” if the request is “reasonable,” says the EEOC. It also says that an employer has the discretion to choose an effective accommodation as long as it doesn’t result in undue hardship. An example of a “reasonable” request would be allowing a worker to telework. 

      According to Helen Rella, a workplace attorney at Wilk Auslander, the big “however” as it refers to accommodations is this: "If no possible accommodation can be made and the employee's job requires that they be in the physical workplace -- and they pose a direct threat to the safety of the workplace or others -- that yes, they could be terminated," Rella said in comments to CBS News. 

      Can an employee be fired for refusing to be vaccinated? Here the answer is “no.” In the EEOC’s words, “If there is a direct threat that cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, the employer can exclude the employee from physically entering the workplace, but this does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker.”

      The sticky part of that judgment is that an employer still needs to determine if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities. “For example, if an employer excludes an employee based on an inability to accommodate a request to be exempt from a vaccination requirement, the employee may be entitled to accommodations such as performing the current position remotely,” the agency said.

      With the initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines being administered and additional vaccines getting the green light, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commi...
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      Coronavirus update: FDA greenlights the Moderna vaccine, 3,000 deaths a day since Tuesday

      Walgreens and CVS are getting the vaccine to nursing homes

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 17,269,542 (17,011,532)

      Total U.S. deaths: 311,230 (308,098)

      Total global cases: 75,179,482 (74,467,555)

      Total global deaths: 1,668,030 (1,654,461 )

      Moderna’s vaccine gets a green light

      A committee advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the Moderna coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine voted late Thursday to recommend emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine. That’s expected to be granted within hours.

      In a statement, the FDA said it would act quickly to grant the EUA, perhaps as early as today, sending millions of additional doses of the vaccine into the system. Since last weekend, health care workers and nursing home residents have been getting the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, which received EUA a week ago.

      According to U.S. health officials, there are about six million doses in the initial delivery of the Moderna vaccine. Once the EUA is in force, the vaccine will head for distribution points around the country.

      U.S. deaths top 3,000 again

      While the vaccines provide hope for an end to the pandemic, the grim fact is that people continue to get infected and die in ever-greater numbers. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 exceeded 3,000 Thursday for the third straight day, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University.

      Health officials are increasingly worried that the rising number of new cases will swamp hospitals across the country. The number of people admitted to U.S. hospitals continues to set records, moving higher over each of the last 20 days. A Reuters analysis shows that hospitalizations approached 114,000 on Thursday.

      "We expect to have more dead bodies than we have spaces for them," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters.

      Drug store chains to serve nursing homes

      When the coronavirus vaccine is available to the general public, retail drug stores will be a big part of the network. But two chains, CVS and Walgreens, are stepping up immediately to get the vaccine to some people who are at the head of the line -- elderly residents in long-term care facilities.

      Walgreens says it is administering the shots starting today at nursing homes in Ohio and Connecticut. Eventually, it plans to serve 35,000 facilities as the program expands across the country.

      CVS says its pharmacists will also visit facilities to administer the vaccine. The company says more than 40,000 facilities have enlisted CVS Pharmacy as their provider.

      ‘Long haulers’ still struggle after recovering

      “Long haulers,” people who were infected with the virus early in the pandemic but still are affected by symptoms, are continuing to struggle as 2020 comes to a close. 

      Emily Ringering of Denver came down with the virus in March but recovered after a week or so -- or at least that’s what she thought. Nine months later, she says some of the symptoms are still around.

      “I feel like I have aged 20 years,” she told Denver TV station KCNC. “I had a couple months there where I felt good. Then stuff started coming back. In late August, stuff started coming back where I was having memory issues, bad fatigue, joint pain, I was getting winded.”

      Research ‘strongly suggests’ the virus can enter the brain

      Scientists publishing their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience have found that the spike protein in the coronavirus, often depicted as the red arms of the virus, can cross the blood-brain barrier in mice. It could explain why some patients suffer memory issues.

      Among researchers, the intense inflammation caused by the COVID-19 infection is called a cytokine storm. The immune system, upon seeing the virus and its proteins, overreacts in its attempt to kill the invading pathogen. The infected person can be left with brain fog, fatigue, and other cognitive issues.

      The scientists say they saw a similar reaction when they were studying the HIV virus, concluding that both viruses have that effect.

      Around the nation

      • Illinois: There’s finally a little good news for state health officials: The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests continues to decline. The state health department reported 8,828 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, as well as 181 additional coronavirus deaths on Thursday.

      • Arizona: Gov. Doug Ducey has resisted a return to business closures and stay-home orders, but pressure is growing as the number of cases in the state rises. This week, state health officials say half of Arizona’s counties are seeing a “substantial” spread of the virus.

      • Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott says Texans will see ample supplies of the coronavirus vaccine, beyond doses intended for high-risk groups, within a couple of months. “There will be multiple vaccines available to us by the time we get to March, and we’ll be providing far more doses of vaccines than what we currently have,” he said.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 17,269,542 (17,011,...
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      FTC warns consumers about scammers pulling COVID-19 vaccine schemes

      The agency is sharing five warning signs consumers should be on the lookout for

      It comes as no surprise that there are a plethora of scams rolling out as COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed and administered, and all of them are meant to sow confusion and fleece consumers.

      Because of the intricacies involved with these vaccines, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning Americans that scammers are working the gray areas to snare people unacquainted with all the particulars.

      Five things to keep in mind

      In the FTC’s mind, there are five things someone should keep in mind regarding the vaccine:

      The vaccine is supposed to be free. It’s not “likely” that anyone will need to pay anything out of pocket to get the vaccine during this public health emergency, the FTC says.

      You don’t have to pay to be put on a list. There’s no list at the doctor’s, a drugstore, or anywhere else where you can pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine. However, there is a pecking order. 

      “For most people living in the U.S., states and territories will make the final decisions on who will get the vaccines and when. States are also working on their own specific vaccination plans,” writes Colleen Tressler, a member of the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education. 

      Tressler suggests checking with individual state governments for specific information regarding distribution plans in that state. 

      You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine. Again, a $50 handshake is not going to get you anywhere any faster when it comes to the vaccine.

      Don’t give out your private information to anyone. “No one from a vaccine distribution site or health care payer, like a private insurance company, will call you asking for your Social Security number or your credit card or bank account information to sign you up to get the vaccine,” Tressler says. If you get one of those calls, simply hang up.

      Be on the lookout for snake oil! Scammers tried the “miracle cure” route earlier in the pandemic’s life, and they’re back again. The FTC says to pay particular attention to anyone who offers other products, treatments, or medicines to prevent the virus. Before you even think about paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment, you should check with your health care provider first.

      The bottom line is this: If you get a call, text, email, or someone shows up at your front door saying they can get you early access to the vaccine, stop right there because you’re about to be scammed.

      Instead, the FTC would like you to report what happened to its ReportFraud.ftc.gov website or file a complaint with your state or territory attorney general through consumerresources.org, the consumer website of the National Association of Attorneys General.

      It comes as no surprise that there are a plethora of scams rolling out as COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed and administered, and all of them are m...
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      FDA panel recommends emergency clearance for Moderna vaccine

      The agency is expected to grant approval later today

      An advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted unanimously, with one abstention, to recommend emergency use authorization (EUA) for Moderna’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine.

      The FDA said it would act quickly to grant the EUA, perhaps as early as today, sending millions of additional doses of vaccine into the system. Since last weekend, health care workers and nursing home residents have been getting the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, which received EUA a week ago.

      Assuming the FDA acts immediately, the Moderna vaccine could begin distribution around the country this weekend.

      Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) say there are about six million doses in the initial delivery of the Moderna vaccine. They say it could begin to find its way into Americans’ arms in a little more than 24 hours after the FDA acts.

      Less controversial

      The advisory committee, made up of top health care professionals from around the country, recommended the vaccine for people who are at least 18 years old. The Pfizer vaccine was approved for people as young as 16, which was more controversial with some panel members.

      The age difference in the use of the Moderna vaccine reportedly made the decision much easier and led to a faster recommendation. Panel member Dr. Steven Pergam, an infectious disease specialist with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, said the growing pandemic required fast action, adding that there is “no doubt in my mind that it looks like the benefits outweigh the risks.”

      The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are similar, made with genetic material from the coronavirus but not from the virus itself. Both are said to have mild side effects, such as fatigue, headaches, and sometimes flu-like symptoms for up to four days following the second shot.

      The two vaccines are also similar in that clinical trials showed them to be at least 94 percent effective in preventing the virus. Between the two vaccines, officials say there are enough doses to inoculate 20 million Americans with the initial batches.

      An advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted unanimously, with one abstention, to recommend emergency use authorization (EUA)...
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      Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama to vote on whether to join a union

      The online retailer says those who petitioned to form a union don’t represent the majority of its workers

      Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama will be allowed to vote soon on whether to unionize. If workers at the facility vote to form a union, it would be the first one at any of the company’s warehouses in the U.S. 

      The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that workers at the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon warehouse could move forward with their intent to hold an election that could unionize around 1,500 full and part-time warehouse workers.

      “We are administratively satisfied that the [union] has a sufficient showing of interest to move forward,” Terry D. Combs, assistant to the regional director of the NLRB’s Atlanta region.

      The NLRB is set to hold a hearing on Friday to determine how and when to hold the unionization vote. 

      Amazon pushing back

      Amazon previously expressed opposition to unionization efforts, and it has largely been successful in other cases. In a statement about the current effort, the company said those who petitioned to hold the vote didn’t represent "the majority of our employees' views.” It also touted its competitive wages and benefits.

      “On top of Amazon’s industry-leading minimum $15 per hour wage, the company offers full-time employees comprehensive benefits including full medical, vision, and dental insurance as well as a 401(k) with 50 percent match starting on day one,” the company said. 

      “Amazon prioritizes the safety and health of its employees and has invested millions of dollars to provide a safe workplace. The company also offers up to 20 weeks of maternal and parental paid leave and innovative benefits such as Leave Share and Ramp Back, which give new parents flexibility to support their growing families.”

      Workers cite problematic conditions

      The last time Amazon workers were close to joining a union happened in 2014, when a small group of workers voted 21 to 6 against having the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers represent them.

      The Alabama workers have said the company’s safety measures are insufficient and workers are often saddled with work quotas that are difficult to meet. 

      "Nineteen workers have died at Amazon facilities. We face outrageous work quotas that have left many with illnesses and lifetime injuries," the group says. "With a union contract, we can form a worker safety committee, and negotiate the highest safety standards and protocols for our workplace."

      Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama will be allowed to vote soon on whether to unionize. If workers at the facility vote to form a union, it would be the f...
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      Microsoft says at least 40 organizations were targeted in massive cyber breach

      The company says the list of victims is likely to keep growing

      In a blog post on Thursday, Microsoft said it identified more than 40 organizations that were targeted by attackers using “sophisticated measures.”

      Most victims of the attack (80 percent) were located in the U.S. The other targeted groups were spread across seven other countries: Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, the U.K., Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. Microsoft said it has started working with the groups identified as victims. 

      Those affected were running problematic versions of a third-party software platform called SolarWinds Orion. Hackers were able to escalate intrusions with additional, second-stage payloads. Microsoft said it discovered the intrusions using data from its Microsoft Defender antivirus product, which is built into all Windows installations.

      "It's a certainty that the number and location of victims will keep growing," said Microsoft President Brad Smith. 

      Microsoft targeted

      Microsoft itself was among those targeted by hackers, but the company denied claims that its production systems were compromised or that the attack affected its business customers and end-users. 

      "Like other SolarWinds customers, we have been actively looking for indicators of this actor and can confirm that we detected malicious Solar Winds binaries in our environment, which we isolated and removed," the statement said.

      Microsoft said the attack “represents a broad and successful espionage-based assault on both the confidential information of the U.S. Government and the tech tools used by firms to protect them.” 

      The company said the attack is being “actively investigated and addressed by cybersecurity teams in the public and private sectors, including Microsoft." Smith said it’s become clear that stronger international rules are needed to help prevent future attacks of this magnitude. 

      “The defense of democracy requires that governments and technology companies work together in new and important ways – to share information, strengthen defenses and respond to attacks,” he wrote. “As we put 2020 behind us, the new year provides a new opportunity to move forward on all these fronts.” 

      In a blog post on Thursday, Microsoft said it identified more than 40 organizations that were targeted by attackers using “sophisticated measures.”Most...
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      Gas prices jumped five cents a gallon in the last week

      Demand is starting to increase and oil prices are rising

      Prices at the pump have made their largest one-week advance since before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic drastically reduced demand.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.21 a gallon, five cents a gallon more than last Friday. The price has risen eight cents over the last four weeks. The average price of premium gas is $2.81 a gallon, also five cents higher than a week ago. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.50, an increase of four cents a gallon over the last week.

      Though gasoline demand has been rising lately, the one-week jump in prices may have more to do with the price of crude oil, which has been rising on speculation that the economy will bounce back once a vaccine is widespread. 

      West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is approaching the $50 per barrel mark, a price it hasn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Although energy demand is rising slightly, it is nowhere near what it was before the virus shut down much of the world economy.

      In the last week, Western states that have the nation’s highest gas prices saw very little price movement. The price hike was largely driven by Southeastern states, where prices are lowest. Many of these states saw their statewide average rise by five cents a gallon.

      The states with the most expensive gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.27)

      • California ($3.18)

      • Washington ($2.75)

      • Oregon ($2.58)

      • Nevada ($2.57)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.52)

      • Alaska ($2.50)

      • Maryland ($2.35)

      • New Jersey ($2.32)

      • Idaho ($2.24)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Mississippi ($1.87)

      • Missouri ($1.89)

      • Louisiana ($1.91)

      • Texas ($1.91)

      • Oklahoma ($1.92)

      • Arkansas ($1.92)

      • Alabama ($1.95)

      • Tennessee ($1.95)

      • South Carolina ($1.97)

      • Kansas ($1.99)

      Prices at the pump have made their largest one-week advance since before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic drastically reduced demand.The AAA Fuel Ga...
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      GM recalls Chevrolet Suburbans & Tahoes and GMC Yukons & Yukon XLs

      Attachment bolts for the front seats may be incorrectly installed

      General Motors is recalling 94 model year 2021 Chevrolet Suburbans & Tahoes, and GMC Yukons & Yukon XLs.

      During assembly, a repair involved removal of one or both front seats. The attachment bolts for the front seats may not have been properly reinstalled after the repair was completed.

      If an occupied front seat has loose or missing attachment bolts, it may move during a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the occupant.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the seat attachments for both front seats and install attachment bolts -- as needed -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin December 29, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020, and GMC customer service at (888) 988-7267. GM's number for this recall is N202312720.

      General Motors is recalling 94 model year 2021 Chevrolet Suburbans & Tahoes, and GMC Yukons & Yukon XLs. During assembly, a repair involved removal of o...
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      Toyota recalls Avalons, 2020 Avalon Hybrids, RAV4s, and RAV4 Hybrids

      Breakaway pins within the steering column may be damaged

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 161 model year 2020-2021 Toyota Avalons, model year 2020 Avalon Hybrids, RAV4s and RAV4 Hybrids.

      Breakaway pins within the steering column, designed to absorb energy and reduce injury during a crash, could have been damaged during production, possibly affecting the performance of the driver's airbag in a crash.

      An air bag that does not deploy as designed can increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering column free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 18, 2021.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (800) 331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is 20TB17/20TA17.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 161 model year 2020-2021 Toyota Avalons, model year 2020 Avalon Hybrids, RAV4s and RAV4 Hybrids. B...
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      Honda recalls Acura ILXs, Acura ILX Hybrids, Honda Civic Hybrids and Honda Fits

      The drive shaft may corrode and fail

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 210,000 model year 2013-2015 Acura ILXs, model year 2013 Acura ILX Hybrids, model year 2012 Honda Civic Hybrids, model year 2007-2008 Honda Fits with a manual transmission and model year 2009-2014 Honda Fits originally sold, or ever registered, in Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

      The drive shafts' protective coating may not have been applied properly during manufacturing, making it more susceptible to damage from road salt, or other contaminants, and potentially causing it to break.

      A broken drive shaft may cause a sudden loss of drive power. The vehicle could also roll away if the parking brake has not been applied before the vehicle has been exited. Either condition can increase the risk of a crash or injury.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the drive shafts, replacing either the left or right drive shaft -- if necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 1, 2021.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's numbers for this recall are E9B and A9A.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 210,000 model year 2013-2015 Acura ILXs, model year 2013 Acura ILX Hybrids, model year 2012 Honda Civic Hybrids, mode...
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      Our favorite deals for December 2020

      Check out some of the best deals from our partners this month

      The following companies participate in our Authorized Partner Program: Nom Nom

      Even if your holiday shopping is done (or mostly done), we’ve found plenty of seasonal deals you won’t want to miss. Whether you’re looking for practical home items, weight loss assistance or treats for your pets (aka work-from-home officemates), our partners have you covered.

      Last-minute shopping

      Still need to cross a few things off your list? As of publishing, Prime members still have some time to buy gifts on Amazon and have them arrive before Christmas. And if you’re looking for post-holiday organizing tools (or nearly anything else), check out the daily deals on Overstock.

      Amazon

      • Free shipping on most orders for Prime members*
      • Regular deals on website*

      Shop on Amazon

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Overstock

      • Daily deals*
      • 70% off thousands of Holiday Home Sale items*

      Shop on Overstock

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Mattress deals

      Planning on making a New Year’s resolution for a healthier lifestyle? Getting more sleep is a significant step in improving your health, and having a comfortable mattress is essential to sleeping well. Both Puffy and Saatva are offering hundreds of dollars in savings this month — check them out if you need to change up your bed setup.

      Puffy

      • $300 off plus a free pillow on all mattress purchases*
      • Lifetime warranty

      Shop on Puffy

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Saatva

      • $200 off your order of $1,000 or more*
      • Free white-glove delivery

      Shop on Saatva

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Fitness and weight loss deals

      This year, we’ve all got health on the brain — even if we’ve spent the bulk of 2020 on the couch streaming comforting reruns and ordering pizza. Below are some deals to help you reclaim your health and your body if you’ve been feeling sluggish and in a food rut.

      BistroMD

      • Get 25% off*
      • Free shipping your first week*

      Shop Now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Noom

      • Offers trial period*
      • App provides personal coaching

      Shop Now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Pet food and treats

      If your resolution is to treat your body better, why not extend that gift to your pets? They deserve nutritious noms too. Both Nom Nom and Chewy have deals for first-time orders so you can keep your animals happy and healthy.

      Nom Nom

      • 50% off first order*
      • Fresh-food diets for dogs and cats

      Shop on Nom Nom

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Chewy

      • Save 40% on your first Autoship order*
      • Food, treats, toys and more

      Shop on Chewy

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Our favorite deals for December 2020...
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      Coronavirus update: FDA prepares to approve Moderna vaccine, labor market getting worse

      Aid from Congress is still out of reach

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 17,011,532 (16,751,562)

      Total U.S. deaths: 308,098 (304,589)

      Total global cases:  74,467,555 (73,696,995)

      Total global deaths: 1,654,461 (1,640,867)

      FDA expected to approve Moderna vaccine

      There are still steps that have to be followed, but health officials say there is little doubt that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will grant conditional approval of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine developed by Moderna, likely by the end of the week.

      The FDA’s review committee is expected to flash the green light later today, and the emergency use authorization (EAU) could come on Friday. It would then join the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, which is now being rolled out across the country.

      The two vaccines are both messenger RNA (mRNA) type vaccines, and both showed better than 94 percent effectiveness in clinical trials.

      More people head for the unemployment line

      For the second straight week, more Americans applied for unemployment benefits. The Labor Department reported today that new claims for jobless benefits totaled 885,000 last week -- 23,000 more than applied the week before.

      The numbers suggest that the economy has begun to lose momentum as cases of COVID-19 remain high across the nation, forcing many businesses to close again. In recent days, a number of restaurants announced that they are closing for good in the absence of aid.

      Economists say the next few weeks could be especially grim. They say hiring is likely to remain weak until vaccines against the virus have been widely administered.

      About that aid…

      Congress has been talking -- actually debating -- about providing another shot of stimulus to the U.S. economy before the end of the year, but lawmakers haven’t yet been able to pull it off. With time running out, both Republicans and Democrats think they’re getting close.

      “We’re still close and we’re going to get there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) told reporters. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agrees but says “it’s not a done deal yet.”

      The contents of the relief package also remain in flux. NBC News reports that the current bill would provide direct payments to Americans in some amount, with about $300 billion for small businesses.

      FDA approves another new test

      The FDA has issued a new emergency use authorization (EUA) for the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test, which is authorized for use by patients at home with a prescription. On Tuesday, it also gave EUA to an over-the-counter (OTC) home test.

      The BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test is authorized for prescription use at home with self-collected nasal swab samples from individuals ages 15 years or older who are suspected of COVID-19 by their doctor. The test needs to be taken within seven days of symptoms.

      "FDA continues to authorize COVID-19 tests that will give more Americans access to greater testing flexibility and options," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn. "The BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Home Test will have a significant manufacturing footprint with the potential to support testing for millions of people."

      Researcher: Quarantine weight gain may be a myth

      Many Americans feel like they’ve put on weight since the pandemic began and are blaming the quarantine that is keeping them out of the gym and at home. But what’s the reality?

      A researcher at Florida State University studied college students and broke down their weight into five different categories. She found that most thought they had gained weight, even when they didn’t.

      “We found that one in 50 participants had a change in body mass that would change their weight category, about 2 percent of people,” said Prof. Pamela Keel. “But 10 percent -- five times as many people -- described their weight as higher. Some people lost weight, a very few gained, but the vast majority stayed the same.”

      Around the nation

      • South Dakota: According to a Washington Post analysis, South Dakota ranks 47 out of 50 states in the number of new tests reported in the last seven days per 100,000 residents. The state has completed 1,313 total tests per 100,000 people for the past seven days. 

      • Louisiana: The state has ordered bars to close, but there are exceptions. Drinking establishments in New Orleans have been allowed to remain open for indoor service. That makes Orleans Parish the only parish in Louisiana that can keep bars open for indoor service, as based on state guidelines.

      • Nevada: A church in Las Vegas plans to host nearly 200 people at its services this week thanks to a court ruling that overturned limits allowed in church buildings. “This is a victory for churches in Nevada,” said the Rev. Jimmy Morales, senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain. 

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 17,011,532 (16,751,...
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      Most pregnant women with COVID-19 show no symptoms

      Researchers say universal screening for COVID-19 is ‘critical’ in vulnerable labor and delivery units

      The majority of pregnant women with COVID-19 don’t display any symptoms associated with the virus, according to a study carried out by Mount Sinai researchers. 

      For the study, researchers analyzed data from a coronavirus screening program in the labor and delivery unit of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York during March and April. The team found that more than one-third of almost 130 pregnant women tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

      However, most of the pregnant patients with COVID-19 -- 72 percent -- were asymptomatic. The study found that pregnant patients who tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely to identify as Hispanic. 

      The study authors noted that the proportion of patients who tested positive for the virus was much higher than in other hospitals in New York City. That finding was likely tied to the fact that a large percentage of patients served by Elmhurst are victims of social inequities, a group severely affected by the pandemic in the spring. 

      Asymptomatic spread concerns

      The study findings add to other evidence that the early stages of the pandemic were marked by asymptomatic spread. During the time window analyzed, hospitals were mainly testing symptomatic individuals. The researchers said the study results could help inform efforts to “refine pandemic preparedness.” 

      “This study is instructive for other labour and delivery units and hospitals across the world as we continue to refine pandemic preparedness,” researcher Dr. Sheela Maru, an assistant professor of global health, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, said in a statement. 

      “In future epidemics, it may be prudent to look at labor and delivery screening numbers much earlier on, as pregnant women continue to seek essential care despite social distancing measures and also represent the generally young and healthy community population,” Maru said. 

      The full study has been published in PLOS One

      The majority of pregnant women with COVID-19 don’t display any symptoms associated with the virus, according to a study carried out by Mount Sinai research...
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      United Airlines and CDC partner up for contract tracing initiative

      The effort is designed to collect detailed, real-time information to slow the spread of COVID-19

      United Airlines and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put a plan into place to launch what the airline calls “the airline industry's most comprehensive contact information collection program for public health follow-up and contact tracing.”

      The initiative is very straightforward: During a United passenger’s check-in procedure, they will be given the option to voluntarily provide their contact information (email, phone number, and the address they’re traveling to) -- details that the CDC previously had difficulty obtaining in real-time. Travelers can opt in and participate via United's mobile app, at united.com, or at the airport.

      "Contact tracing is a fundamental component of the nation's public health response strategy for controlling the spread of communicable diseases of public health concern," said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. "Collection of contact information from air travelers will greatly improve the timeliness and completeness of information for COVID-19 public health follow-up and contact tracing."

      United’s idea follows Delta’s contact tracing program announced on December 3 for international travelers returning to the U.S.

      The phased-in approach

      This initiative won’t start everywhere at once. The program will roll out in phases beginning this week with the voluntary collection of information for all international arrivals. In the weeks ahead, the airline will phase in domestic and international outbound departures. 

      "Initiatives like testing and contact tracing will play a significant role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine is widely available," said United's Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist. "United continues to take a leadership role in both areas and is proud to support the CDC by doing our part to help them safeguard public health and safety."

      Travel industry finally gets what it’s been begging for

      Travel industry groups have been begging the Trump administration for months to produce a COVID-19 testing plan that would eliminate the patchwork of confusing state-to-state quarantines and travel bans while giving the re-opening of travel a fighting chance.

      The American Society of Travel Advisors, Airlines for America, Travelers United, U.S. Travel Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with 15 others, wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf asking for a unified national plan way back in October.  

      The groups were very direct about the value of contact tracing, saying the government should “eliminate the need for blanket restrictions and traveler quarantines by implementing comprehensive, cost-effective pre-departure testing procedures and contact tracing protocols … that are medically-based, affordable, dependable, scalable, privacy-oriented, and fit into the passenger journey with as little disruption as possible.”

      United Airlines and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put a plan into place to launch what the airline calls “the airline indu...
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      Security researchers find malicious code in 28 Chrome and Edge extensions

      Over three million users are advised to disable or uninstall the extensions right away

      More than three million Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge users are believed to have installed extensions that contain malicious code, according to security firm Avast. 

      Avast researchers said users who installed one of 28 third-party extensions containing hidden malicious JavaScript could be at risk of data theft and phishing attacks. 

      The extensions in question are primarily designed to help users download multimedia content from social networks including Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, or Spotify. But Avast said users could end up being redirected to a site where the attacker gets paid for user visits. In other cases, users could end up on phishing sites. 

      “Anytime a user clicks on a link, the extensions send information about the click to the attacker’s control server, which can optionally send a command to redirect the victim from the real link target to a new hijacked URL before later redirecting them to the actual website they wanted to visit,” the security firm explained.

      Names of extensions

      Avast said it found evidence that some of the malicious extensions had been active since at least December 2018. The researchers discovered the code hidden in the apps last month and reported their findings to Google and Microsoft. 

      Both companies have said they are investigating the extensions. In the meantime, Avast has recommended that users disable or uninstall the extensions. 

      Here is the list of Chrome extensions that contain malicious code, according to Avast: 

      • Direct Message for Instagram

      • DM for Instagram

      • Invisible mode for Instagram Direct Message

      • Downloader for Instagram

      • App Phone for Instagram

      • Stories for Instagram

      • Universal Video Downloader

      • Video Downloader for FaceBook™

      • Vimeo™ Video Downloader

      • Zoomer for Instagram and FaceBook

      • VK UnBlock. Works fast.

      • Odnoklassniki UnBlock. Works quickly.

      • Upload photo to Instagram™

      • Spotify Music Downloader

      • The New York Times News

      Avast said the following Edge extensions contain malicious code: 

      • Direct Message for Instagram™

      • Instagram Download Video & Image

      • App Phone for Instagram

      • Universal Video Downloader

      • Video Downloader for FaceBook™

      • Vimeo™ Video Downloader

      • Volume Controller

      • Stories for Instagram

      • Upload photo to Instagram™

      • Pretty Kitty, The Cat Pet

      • Video Downloader for YouTube

      • SoundCloud Music Downloader

      • Instagram App with Direct Message DM

      More than three million Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge users are believed to have installed extensions that contain malicious code, according to security...
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      COVID-19 has led to fewer measles vaccinations for kids

      Experts are encouraging parents to keep up with their children’s wellness visits during the pandemic

      A new study conducted by researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital is exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected parents’ decision to vaccinate their kids against the measles.

      According to their findings, the overall rate of measles vaccinations has dropped 10 percent since the start of the pandemic. The researchers explained that many parents have pushed off kids’ wellness visits -- which is where they’d typically receive these vaccines -- because of fears related to the pandemic. Unfortunately, skipping these visits could ultimately contribute to other health concerns. 

      “We have seen a resurgence of measles outbreaks in the U.S. and here in Ohio in recent years, because fewer people have chosen to immunize,” said researcher Dr. Sara Bode. “We were concerned that with the pandemic, vaccination rates could fall further and there could be a real risk of a measles outbreak that could affect everyone in the community.” 

      Wellness visits are important

      The researchers analyzed vaccination rates from March 2017 through August 2020 for the 12 health care facilities that work with Nationwide Children’s Hospital. This sample included vaccine data on roughly 100,000 children. 

      The study revealed that measles vaccines dropped 10 percent from the start of the pandemic, and persisted through the summer months. The researchers explained that many doctors’ offices had postponed wellness visits when lockdown orders were at their strictest; however, even though these appointments started up again later in the summer, vaccine rates remained low. 

      Now, the researchers are trying their best to communicate to families that wellness visits are crucial for several reasons -- including yearly vaccines. Though the pandemic continues to be a concern, many health care facilities are stepping up their precautionary measures to ensure that consumers can get the medical care they need while staying safe and healthy. 

      “We are doing a lot to let our patients and families in the community know it is safe to come in for wellness visits,” said researcher Dr. Alex Kemper. “We have prioritized these visits and opened up additional appointment slots throughout the day and evening. 

      “Even though we are in a pandemic, child well care visits are safe and important -- in fact it is unsafe to miss these needed services for your child,” added Bode. 

      A new study conducted by researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital is exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected parents’ decision to vaccinate...
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      A quarter-million Honda model year 2002-2006 CR-Vs recalled

      The driver-side power window switch may fail

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 268,655 model year 2002-2006 CR-Vs.

      Moisture may enter the driver-side power window master switch, causing the switch to fail or melt.

      If the switch fails, it could overheat and smoke, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the power window master switch and inspect the wiring harness for damage, replacing it -- if necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 18, 2021.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is P9D.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 268,655 model year 2002-2006 CR-Vs. Moisture may enter the driver-side power window master switch, causing the swi...
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      GM recalls Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks

      The front seat belt retractors may malfunction

      General Motors is recalling 38,048 model year 2017-2018 Chevrolet Silverado 2500s & 3500s, and GMC Sierra 2500s and 3500s.

      The front seat belt retractor assemblies were built with the incorrect torsion bar, and may not perform as intended in a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace both front seat belt retractor assemblies free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin December 28, 2020.

      Owners may contact GMC customer service at (888) 988-7267 or Chevrolet customer service at (800)222-1020. GM's numbers for this recall are 17368, 17375, and 17376.

      General Motors is recalling 38,048 model year 2017-2018 Chevrolet Silverado 2500s & 3500s, and GMC Sierra 2500s and 3500s. The front seat belt retractor...
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      GrillBlazer recalls propane torch guns

      Propane gas can leak, posing a fire hazard

      GrillBlazer of Chouteau, Okla., is recalling about 10,000 Su-VGun and GrillGun propane torch guns.

      Propane gas can leak, posing a fire hazard to consumers.

      The firm has received 260 reports of propane leaking from the recalled torch guns, including three incidents that resulted in fires. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the Su-VGun and GrillGun propane torch guns manufactured for and sold by GrillBlazer.

      The Su-VGun is a high-powered propane torch gun designed to sear meat. It is black with “Su-VGun” printed in yellow on the barrel and measures 14.5 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches.

      The GrillGun is a high-powered propane torch gun designed to light charcoal, wood grills and smokers and for other uses requiring a high-powered, clean burning propane torch gun. It is black with “GrillGun” printed in yellow on the barrel and measures 21 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches.

      The torches, manufactured in China, were sold online at www.grillblazer.com, Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com from December 2019, through July 2020, for about $150.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled Su-VGun and GrillGun propane torch guns and contact GrillBlazer for instructions, and how to receive a free repair, if required.

      Consumers may contact GrillBlazer toll-free at (888) 267-9022 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at support@grillblazer.com or online at www.grillblazer.com/support or www.grillblazer.com and click on “Recall Notice” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      GrillBlazer of Chouteau, Okla., is recalling about 10,000 Su-VGun and GrillGun propane torch guns. Propane gas can leak, posing a fire hazard to consume...
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      Honda recalls 737,000 Accords, Accord Hybrids and Insights

      The Body Control Module software may malfunction

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 737,233 model year 2018-2020 Accord Sedans, Accord Hybrids, and model year 2019-2020 Insights.

      A software error may cause intermittent or continuous disruptions in communication between the Body Control Module (BCM) and other components.

      This may result in malfunctions of various systems such as the windshield wipers and defroster, rearview camera, exterior lights, audible warning of a stopped vehicle, and power window operation.

      Such system malfunctions such can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will update the BCM software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 18, 2021.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is X95.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 737,233 model year 2018-2020 Accord Sedans, Accord Hybrids, and model year 2019-2020 Insights. A software error ma...
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      Holiday Gift Guide: The Tech Enthusiast

      8 cool gadgets and toys

      We know how difficult buying presents for techies can be, so we're here with some guidance. Read on to find some gadgets that are sure to impress the cool kids on the block (or the family group chat). We hope this helps you cross a few names off your “nice” list.

      1. Spectacles 3D Camera Glasses

      It sounds like something from a spy movie, but these 3D camera glasses are the real deal and incredibly cool. This wearable gadget takes pictures and videos with the tap of a tiny, discreet button. You can upload content directly to Snapchat or export it later. The package includes a 3D viewer, charging case, charging cable and cleaning cloth.

      • Creates 3D prints
      • Made by Snapchat
      • $380*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      2. Bluetooth Headphone Beanie

      Bluetooth beanies are functional for outdoor runs or indoor jam sessions and perfect for the person who never wants to take their headphones out. We like that the one below lasts up to 20 hours between charges.

      • Unisex
      • One size fits most
      • $25.91*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      3. Rocketbook Reusable Notebook

      The Rocketbook isn't a typical journal — the pages are made of synthetic paper you write on with a stylus. Upload the notes and doodles to the cloud for storage and wipe it clean for a whole new round of journaling.

      • Available in multiple colors
      • Executive Size (6" x 8.8")
      • $23.49*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      4. Osmo Pocket Gimbal Stabilizer

      A pocket gimbal stabilizer is a thoughtful holiday gift for someone who loves recording videos but doesn’t have the latest iPhone. It’s compact and can be paired with just about any smartphone. Our guess is your techie will start using the device immediately.

      • Good image quality
      • Enhanced audio
      • $349*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      5. Magnetic Levitating Globe

      This gift is one we recommend purely for its cool factor. At an affordable price, you really can't go wrong with this globe that floats midair. Ideal for an office or shelf, this gadget is perfect if you have no idea what to give someone for the holidays. Be sure whoever gets it reads the setup instructions carefully, though, or the globe won't work correctly. Other than that, this MOKOQI globe is a seriously cool tech gift.

      • Perfect for a home office
      • Easy to set up
      • $43.99*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      6. Mavic Air 2 Drone Quadcopter

      If you want to give your tech lover an awe-inspiring gift, we recommend this sleek drone quadcopter. Its features include obstacle-sensing technology that ensures safe and impressive flights.

      • Takes 48-megapixel photos
      • Easy to use
      • $799*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      7. Electric bike (for adults)

      The Ancheer Electric Mountain Bike has three modes for throttle-assisted, pedal-assisted and normal biking. The mountain e-bike has a removable, rechargeable battery and an LED display. With front and rear disc brakes and 21 gear settings, the Ancheer can handle urban riding and trails.

      • Up to 15 mph
      • 1-year warranty
      • $579.99*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      8. Ring Video Doorbell Pro

      This is a great gift for new homeowners and even those in apartments without a personal security system. The device lets you see who's at the door and features two-way voice technology. It’s ideal for anyone wanting a little extra protection at home.

      • Compatible with phones, tablets and Echo devices
      • Ring Protect Plan sold separately
      • $169.99*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Shopping for holiday gifts doesn't have to be as hard as it was last year — this year, you can use our handy guides to find the perfect gifts for your family and friends. With only a click of a few buttons, you can check off the wish lists of all your loved ones. Keep up with the latest on shopping news for more.

      Holiday Gift Guide: The Tech Enthusiast...
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      Honda recalls 1.4 million vehicles due to three separate safety issues

      Owners will receive recall notices by mail starting in January

      Honda has announced that it’s recalling more than 1.4 million cars for a variety of reasons. 

      In filings with the National highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Honda said it’s recalling the vehicles due to three separate issues: a software flaw, drive shafts that can break, and window switches that can overheat and lead to fires. 

      The recall related to the software flaw includes 737,000 Accords from 2018 to 2020 and Insights from 2019 and 2020. Honda said a programming flaw in a control computer can cause the rear camera, turn signals, and windshield wipers to malfunction. 

      The drive shaft recall covers 430,000 Honda Civic Hybrids from 2012, the 2007 through 2014 Honda Fit, the 2013 through 2015 Acura ILX and the 2013 through 2015 Honda Accord. The recalls affect vehicles in 22 states where salt is used to clear roads in the colder months. 

      The window switch recall affects about 268,000 CR-Vs from 2002 through 2006. Honda disclosed to the NHTSA that water can get into a driver’s window if open and cause an electrical short, which could possibly lead to an interior fire. The automaker said it’s aware of 23 fires that have been caused by the issue.

      Owners will be notified via mail in late January about when they should take their vehicles to a dealer for repairs. The automaker says owners should take vehicles in for repairs as soon as they get a recall notice. 

      Other recent recalls 

      Honda has recalled vehicles due to safety concerns several times in 2020. In August, the automaker announced that it was recalling more than 600,000 model year 2018-2020 Odysseys, model year 2019-2020 Passports, and model year 2019-2021 Pilots.

      Honda said flawed instrument panel control module software could cause the panel to fail to show critical information -- such as engine oil pressure and gear selector position -- until the next ignition cycle. 

      In April, Honda and Nissan announced the recall of more than 1.3 million vehicles manufactured with Takata PSDI-5D driver air bag inflators. The companies said the inflator may not function properly or could even explode in a crash due to a manufacturing error. 

      At the start of the year, Honda recalled about 2.7 million vehicles (mostly Acuras) with Takata airbag inflators. However, the inflators involved in that recall weren’t the same ones that were to blame for killing vehicle occupants after exploding. 

      Honda said older models from 1996 through 2003 might have defective Takata airbag inflators that could have been produced without the "appropriate seals" needed to deploy properly.

      Honda has announced that it’s recalling more than 1.4 million cars for a variety of reasons. In filings with the National highway Traffic Safety Admini...
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      Coronavirus update: FDA approves home COVID-19 test, keeping track of who’s vaccinated

      California buys body bags as death toll rises

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 16,751,562 (16,545,465)

      Total U.S. deaths: 304,589 (301,264)

      Total global cases: 73,696,995  (73,070,972)

      Total global deaths: 1,640,867 (1,626,712)

      FDA approves at-home COVID-19 test

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for the first over-the-counter (OTC) fully at-home diagnostic test for the coronavirus (COVID-19) on Tuesday. The agency approved the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test, describing it as a rapid, lateral flow antigen test. 

      It’s approved for use in individuals who are at least two years old. It detects fragments of proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a nasal swab sample.

      “By authorizing a test for over-the-counter use, the FDA allows it to be sold in places like drug stores, where a patient can buy it, swab their nose, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn. 

      U.S. to track the number of people who are vaccinated

      Since March, the U.S. has counted the number of people who have gotten the coronavirus and the number who have died. On a more hopeful note, U.S. officials say they will keep a running count of those who have been vaccinated.

      Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Alex Azar said the government is in the process of establishing an online dashboard that will track U.S. vaccinations, telling CNN "so we know exactly how we're doing on getting shots in arms."

      Azar said health officials hope to have at least 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of the month.

      California stocks up on body bags

      As the death count from the virus grows at a faster pace, California officials have purchased 5,000 body bags to help deal with the rising death toll. They’re also acquiring 60 refrigerated trucks to store the bodies.

      That sobering news comes as Pfizer has rolled out its vaccine against the virus and the Moderna vaccine may be days away from temporary approval. Both have been shown to be highly effective against the virus.

      "There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel," Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference. "And that means we're going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic."

      Consumers spending less heading into holidays

      Predictions that the pandemic would cause consumers to spend less on the holidays this year appear to be coming true. The government reports that retail sales dropped 1.1 percent in November, the first decline in seven months.

      For starters, it’s a very different holiday shopping season this year. Some consumers are leery of crowding into stores and have moved a lot of their purchases online. At the same time, widespread unemployment has made it impossible for many people to shop like they had in previous years.

      Clothing retailers were the biggest losers last month, with sales down 6.8 percent from October. Restaurants and bars were also hard-hit because many were forced to close or curtail operations as cases of the virus mounted during the month.

      Tom Cruise enforcing mitigation rules on movie set

      While there are a lot of people who don’t take virus mitigation measures seriously, actor Tom Cruise is not one of them. In leaked audio from the set of the latest “Mission Impossible” film, Cruise can be heard yelling at crew members who he believed were ignoring safety rules.

      Two crew members were reportedly standing side by side, less than six feet from one another. “If I see you doing it again, you’re (expletive) gone,” he can be heard yelling.

      Cruise was reportedly angry because he had gone to great pains to assure authorities that movie production could safely resume because crews would observe strict safety protocols, including wearing masks and maintaining a safe social distance.

      Around the nation

      • Florida: The vaccine rollout isn’t going smoothly everywhere. Gov. Ron DeSantis says his state is experiencing a delay in hundreds of thousands of doses of the Pfizer vaccine. “We’re just going to have to wait,” he said. “We don’t know if we’re going to get any or not.”

      • Minnesota: The state legislature has approved a $242 million stimulus to help individuals and businesses affected economically by the pandemic. The unemployed will have benefits extended by 13 weeks. Bars, hotels, restaurants, and gyms will get direct support payments.

      • Colorado: Even with the surge in COVID-19 cases, state education officials are working on a plan to get students back in the classroom. “We know that what has been occurring this past semester simply hasn’t worked for too many kids,” said Gov. Jared Polis.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 16,751,562 (16,545,...
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      Facebook takes out full-page ads to slam Apple’s upcoming privacy changes

      The social media giant claims Apple’s update threatens millions of small businesses

      It looks like Facebook has unfriended Apple. On Wednesday, the social media platform took out full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal to denounce Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes. Facebook claims that it’s “standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere.”

      The barrel of ink Facebook is throwing Apple’s way is supposedly related to Apple’s iOS 14 privacy changes, which will require app developers like Facebook to “provide information about some of your app’s data collection practices on your product page.” The change will also require Facebook to “ask users for their permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other companies.”

      Facebook comes out swinging

      Facebook didn’t come right out and say it, but Apple’s disclosure shift will impact Facebook’s ad business, especially its ad network for developers and businesses if end users opt out of being tracked.

      In the ad, Facebook maintains that Apple’s changes will be “devastating to small businesses” that rely on its ad network to leverage clicks and sales. The newspaper ads that Facebook took out ask small businesses to check out the platform’s “speak up for small business” site that features a series of business owners speaking out on Apple’s changes. Some of those comments are pretty shaming -- things like “This is going to affect me and my family,” and “We could lose our business.”

      While Apple has yet to publicly respond to Facebook’s ads, the company did respond to similar Facebook claims in November, accusing Facebook of a “disregard for user privacy.” Apple is steadfast in its position that the upcoming privacy policies will be enforced when they go into effect in early 2021. The company said it is “committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them.”

      Facebook’s call for support

      Facebook said it hopes the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) will also set boundaries for Apple. 

      “Apple controls an entire ecosystem from device to app store and apps, and uses this power to harm developers and consumers, as well as large platforms like Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. “

      If Facebook’s game is to play two ends against the middle, maybe it should have first asked the DMA if it had its back. “We respect your privacy – and so do our members,” is the organization’s promise to consumers.” (Our Association of National Advertisers) ensures that consumers have choices about unwanted marketing offers. Our members honor consumers who don’t want to be contacted. You have choices about the type of marketing you receive.”

      It looks like Facebook has unfriended Apple. On Wednesday, the social media platform took out full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wal...
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      Southwest Airlines adds two more destinations to its schedule to raise its profile in California

      The company thinks travelers want to visit outdoor destinations that feel safe from COVID-19

      Southwest Airlines is not one to wait for the pandemic to be done and gone. On Wednesday, it announced that it’s adding another two destinations, now making 12 new cities it’s decided to add on this year.

      The newest landing spots for the discount fare carrier are Santa Barbara and Fresno. Those additions now give Southwest coverage at 13 California airports from Sacramento all the way south to San Diego.

      "Our arrival in the Heart of California, both on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley, will round out nearly four decades of investment in our California Customers and communities," said Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer & Executive Vice President Andrew Watterson.

      "While other airlines seem to fall in and out of love with the state, we're focused on increasing the reach of our low fares and flexible policies in places where we expect them to make a difference."

      Southwest’s shot was no doubt directed at American, JetBlue, and Allegiant, which all pulled out of various California destinations earlier this year. Southwest didn’t give an exact start for service to Santa Barbara and Fresno, leaving it at sometime in “the second quarter of 2021.”

      Going where the pandemic isn’t

      In an announcement, Kevin Meikle, Director of Aviation for Fresno Yosemite International Airport, let the cat out of the bag about Southwest’s possible reason for adding Fresno -- a gateway to nearby national parks.

      "For years residents and businesses throughout Central California have expressed a desire for Southwest service and connectivity to their vast network of destinations and renowned customer service," Meikle said. 

      "Southwest will expand the Central Valley's air transportation gateway to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and we look forward to our new partnership with Southwest and their arrival in the spring."

      Southwest’s idea isn’t necessarily novel. In July, United Airlines figured out that people are more inclined to travel to outdoorsy places like national parks than they are to a city teeming with potential COVID-19 cases. In United’s case, it focused on adding open-air spaces like Aspen, Colorado; Bozeman, Montana; and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

      Southwest Airlines is not one to wait for the pandemic to be done and gone. On Wednesday, it announced that it’s adding another two destinations, now makin...
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      Google suffers second outage in two days

      Tuesday’s outage affected a ‘significant subset’ of Gmail users

      Consumers and businesses that rely on Google services may have noticed an interruption in service over the last two days.

      The tech giant has confirmed that its Gmail service was interrupted for a time on Tuesday, affecting a “significant subset” of users. Service has now been restored. It follows a larger outage on Monday that affected users worldwide. In addition to Gmail -- Google Docs, YouTube, and many other services went dark for about an hour and a half.

      In Tuesday’s outage, Google said affected users were able to access their Gmail accounts but received error messages and experienced high latency and other unusual behavior. The company said the trouble began at 3 pm ET. DownDetector, a service tracking problems with the internet, reported complaints to its portal peaked around 5 pm ET.

      Affected users received a bounce notification with the error "The email account that you tried to reach does not exist" after sending an email to addresses ending in @gmail.com.

      Consumers using Google’s gaming platform, Stadia, also reported issues that were “prohibiting some users from launching games" before that issue was resolved. Google has not said what caused the outages.

      “The problem with Gmail has been resolved,” Google reported shortly before 7 pm ET Tuesday. “We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support. Please rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google, and we are making continuous improvements to make our systems better. If you are still experiencing an issue, please contact us via the Google Help Center.”

      Consumers and businesses that rely on Google services may have noticed an interruption in service over the last two days.The tech giant has confirmed t...
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      Public Health Alert issued for raw, fresh goat meat

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is issuing a public health alert for raw, fresh goat meat.

      The products did not undergo federal inspection and were produced outside inspection hours.

      A recall has not been requested as it is believed that the products are no longer available for purchase.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following items, from goats slaughtered by Texas Livestock and Halal Meat Processors from November 7, 2020, through December 5, 2020, are subject to the public health alert:

      • Various weights of raw, fresh goat carcasses, livers, kidneys and hearts sold at World Foods Warehouse, a grocery store and butcher, in Houston, Texas.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Mohamed Amziane at (346) 888-6535.

      The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is issuing a public health alert for raw, fresh goat meat. The products did not undergo ...
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      Firestone Destination and Bridgestone Ecopia tires recalled

      There may be a pinhole in the upper sidewall of the tire

      Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) is recalling 1,827 Firestone Destination LE3 255/60R19 tires with DOT codes 2420 through 2820, and Bridgestone Ecopia H/L 422 Plus P255/60R19 tires with DOT codes 2820 through 3120.

      The tires may have been manufactured with a small pinhole in the upper sidewall of the outboard side of the tire.

      Tires with a pinhole may leak air slowly, and – if undetected or ignored -- the continued loss of air may increase the risk of a vehicle crash.

      What to do

      BATO will notify owners, and based on the date code and press identification number of the tire, dealers will replace the tires with a comparable replacement free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin December 18, 2020.

      Owners may contact BATO customer service at (800) 847-3272.

      Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) is recalling 1,827 Firestone Destination LE3 255/60R19 tires with DOT codes 2420 through 2820, and Bridgestone ...
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      FDA staff endorses Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

      Agency officials will decide whether to issue formal emergency use authorization following a Thursday meeting

      In documents released Tuesday, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) staff endorsed Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine as safe and effective. The endorsement puts the vaccine closer to receiving the official regulatory green light so that it can begin going out to the public. 

      In its report, FDA staff said the agency determined that clinical trial results and safety data were “consistent with the recommendations set forth in FDA’s Guidance on Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19.”

      “FDA has determined that the Sponsor has provided adequate information to ensure the vaccine’s quality and consistency for authorization of the product under an EUA,” the report said.

      Meeting set for Thursday

      The FDA is set to decide whether to issue formal emergency use authorization for Moderna’s vaccine on Thursday, following a meeting with a panel of outside advisers. Reuters notes that the FDA “typically follows the advice of the panel, but is not required to do so.” 

      If the vaccine wins authorization, vaccines could be administered to the public as early as next week. 

      Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has already been authorized by regulators. Hospitals in the U.S. began giving the company’s shots on Monday. It was cleared for use in people aged 16 and older. Moderna is asking the FDA to approve its vaccine for use in people 18 and older. 

      In its final analysis, Moderna said its clinical trials found that the vaccine was more than 94 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. Last week, the government announced its intent to purchase an additional 100 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine.

      In documents released Tuesday, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) staff endorsed Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine as safe and effective. The endorsement put...
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      USPS warns that package deliveries could be delayed due to huge spike in demand

      Officials say consumers can still get their packages delivered on time if they follow USPS’ suggestions

      The pandemic-led upsurge in online shopping has put the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in a serious crunch, leading agency employees and postal industry tracking firms to warn shoppers not to put too much hope in having all their gifts under the tree by December 25. 

      Making matters worse, the Washington Post reports that private express carriers FedEx and UPS have completely cut off delivery service for some retailers, sending tons of packages to USPS, which bogs down the system even further.

      “We’re really gridlocked all over the place,” a Postal Service transportation manager in Ohio told the Post. “It’s bad. I’ve never seen it like this before.” Things are bad enough that one Grinch’y USPS carrier reportedly dumped 19 packages in the garbage in a Chicago woman’s trash can.

      Letter carriers in Detroit and Philadelphia said that some of their peers have been assigned two eight-hour routes each day, and some offices have gone as far as rerouting employees to other facilities to try and get caught up. 

      “I don’t think anyone, including the post office itself, knows just how bad delays are,” the Philadelphia carrier said.

      This week is make it or break it

      The USPS tried to put its best foot forward in a press release, saying that it’s continuing “to flex our network, including making sure the right equipment is available to sort, process and deliver a historic volume of mail and packages this holiday season.” But past that spin, it laid out exactly what consumers should expect from the agency. 

      Shipping deadlines: The Postal Service recommends the following mailing and shipping deadlines for expected delivery by Dec. 25 to domestic U.S. addresses and Air/Army Post Office/Fleet Post Office/Diplomatic Post Office addresses:

      Dec. 15 — USPS Retail Ground service

      Dec. 18 — APO/FPO/DPO (except ZIP Code 093) USPS Priority Mail Express service

      Dec. 18 — First-Class Mail service (including greeting cards)

      Dec. 18 — First-class packages (up to 15.99 ounces)

      Dec. 19 — Priority Mail service

      Dec. 23 — Priority Mail Express service*

      Packages to Alaska and Hawaii have separate deadlines and are available here.

      *Not a guarantee, unless otherwise noted. Dates are for estimated delivery before Dec. 25. Actual delivery date may vary depending on origin, destination, Post Office acceptance date and time, and other conditions. Some restrictions apply. For Priority Mail Express shipments mailed Dec. 22 through Dec. 25, the money-back guarantee applies only if the shipment was not delivered, or delivery was not attempted, within two business days.

      Weekend delivery: USPS already delivers packages on Sundays in most major cities and will continue to do that. 

      Christmas Day delivery: For an additional fee, mail carriers will also deliver packages on December 25 in select locations.

      Expanded hours: Available in select locations

      Expanded package delivery window: “Where volume warrants,” USPS will deliver outside of its normal times, including in the morning, afternoon, and early evening.

      Busiest mailing and delivery days: Crunch time is officially here. This week, December 14-21, is predicted to be the busiest mailing, shipping, and delivery week.

      Tips to help improve the chances of an on-time delivery

      The Postal Service realizes that being in crunch time puts guaranteed delivery times in an iffy position, but it says there are a few things consumers can do to better their chances.

      Skip the trip and ship online: “Consumers don’t have to leave home to ship their packages. In these socially distant times, they can simply visit usps.com or use the Click-N-Ship feature for help shipping that holiday gift, ordering free Priority Mail boxes, printing shipping labels, purchasing postage and even requesting free next-day Package Pickup,” the service said, adding that usps.com is “always open.” 

      Use free Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes: This is available for free at Post Office locations or online at www.usps.com/freeboxes.

      Make it easy with Click-N-Ship: If you have a computer, you can create shipping labels and pay for postage online at www.usps.com/ship.

      Schedule a free Package Pickup when the carrier delivers your mail:  This seldom-used tip might be worth its weight in gold for those who hate standing in line. More importantly, it’s free regardless of the number of packages. Pickups can be scheduled at www.usps.com/pickup

      One important note, though: Mail and packages that weigh more than 10 ounces or are more than a half-inch thick and use stamps as postage cannot be dropped into a collection box or left for a carrier to pick up. Instead, people have to take them to a local Post Office.

      The pandemic-led upsurge in online shopping has put the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in a serious crunch, leading agency employees and postal industry tracki...
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      Coronavirus update: More positive vaccine news, New York City considers shutdown

      Bill Gates: ‘Normal’ is a long way off

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 16,545,465 (16,280,842)

      Total U.S. deaths: 301,264 (299,370)

      Total global cases:  73,070,972 (72,446,947)

      Total global deaths: 1,626,712 (1,615,421)

      FDA finds Moderna vaccine ‘highly effective’

      There is more good news on the vaccine front. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said today that the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine developed by Moderna has been found to be “highly effective,” confirming the results of the drugmaker’s clinical trial. 

      The FDA posted Moderna documents with data suggesting that the vaccine could prevent asymptomatic infections after the first of two doses. The company is applying for emergency use authorization (EUA), which could be granted by the end of the week.

      If given conditional approval, the Moderna vaccine would add to the vaccine stockpile created by the conditional approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is already rolling out nationwide.

      New York City considers full shutdown

      New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is warning residents that he could order a full economic shutdown of the city if there is no letup in the ever-increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.

      "What is increasingly clear is that all forms of restrictions have to be on the table at this point," de Blasio said. "At the current rate we are going you have to be ready now for a full shutdown, a pause like we had back at the end of the spring."

      The city has already taken some action, placing a ban on indoor dining at restaurants that took effect Monday. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed with de Blasio’s warning, saying residents can avoid a shutdown by observing strict virus mitigation measures.

      Bill Gates skeptical of an early end to pandemic

      There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but it could be a lot farther away than most Americans hope. That’s the assessment from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has focused on international health issues.

      In an interview with CNN, Gates said the virus could still have an impact on daily life and the economy into 2022. He doesn’t believe the nation will be any "closer to normal" until the end of next summer.

      "Well, sadly, the next four to six months could be the worst of the epidemic," Gates said, predicting 200,000 additional deaths during that time.

      Dominos rewards its frontline workers

      Since the beginning of the pandemic, millions of American consumers have depended on Dominos drivers and pizza makers. Delivery personnel for the pizza chain helped keep Americans fed during the initial economic lockdown.

      Now, Dominos says it’s time to reward them. The company has announced that more than 11,500 company-owned store and supply chain hourly team members and drivers will receive a special bonus in December, an investment totaling more than $9.6 million. Eligible team members will earn up to $1,200 in bonus compensation.

      "We have the honor and privilege of being open and operating throughout the U.S. during this crisis, and we recognize that we could not be doing it without the hard work and dedication of our team members,” said Domino's CEO Ritch Allison. “This is our way of saying thank you to these remarkable people."

      Sharon Osbourne tests positive

      Sharon Osbourne, talk show host and the wife of rock star Ozzie Osbourne, says she has tested positive for COVID-19, just the latest celebrity to become infected with the virus.

      "I wanted to share [that] I've tested positive for COVID-19," Osbourne wrote on Instagram. "After a brief hospitalization, I'm now recuperating at a location away from Ozzy (who has tested negative) while The Talk is on scheduled hiatus."

      Over the weekend, Charlie Pride, a country music star from the 1960s and 1970s, died in Dallas due to complications from COVID-19.

      Around the nation

      • Nevada: Concerns are growing that the state’s hospitals won’t be able to handle the huge increases in coronavirus cases. Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno is using two floors of its parking garage to handle the overflow of COVID-19 cases.

      • Pennsylvania: The state imposed new restrictive measures last weekend, but media reports indicate that many businesses -- especially gyms and restaurants -- are not observing them. "We've put these people in a very untenable position," said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. "It's tremendously sad. We're going to see small businesses, businesses of all kinds and sizes going out of business."

      • Arizona: Things are about to get a lot worse in Arizona, according to a University of Arizona associate professor. "We have now all but locked in a major humanitarian crisis during the Christmas–New Year holiday with hundreds of preventable deaths per week," Dr. Joe Gerald said.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.) Total U.S. confirmed cases: 16,545,465 (16...
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      Apple to offer two-hour delivery due to the pandemic

      The service is available for $5 for a limited time only

      Apple has announced that it will be offering two-hour shipping on items in its stores for a limited time. The company said the new service, which costs $5, is available “in most metros.” 

      "With convenient delivery and pickup methods, Apple is making it easier and safer to get the products you want," Apple said on its website.

      To prevent the spread of COVID-19, deliveries will be contactless. Drivers can also ask for verbal confirmation that the customer received the item instead of having them sign for it. 

      Adapting to the pandemic

      This isn’t the first time Apple has modified its operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, the tech giant said its reopened stores would have “Express” windows outdoors where customers could pick up orders or get items repaired.

      Apple says its new delivery option is available for “eligible in-stock items.” 

      Consumers who don’t need an item within two hours can choose the company’s free next-day delivery option, which is available for any in-stock Mac, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, or Apple Watch. The company notes that customers can get free two-day delivery on “almost everything else.” 

      Apple has announced that it will be offering two-hour shipping on items in its stores for a limited time. The company said the new service, which costs $5,...
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      FTC demands that social media giants come clean about user data collection

      One commissioner is crying foul because the agency left off other social media companies like Apple and LinkedIn

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) turned up the heat on the social media big wigs on Monday. In a new mandate, the Commission will now require nine tech firms to disclose exactly how they collect and use data from their users.

      Called on the carpet are the usual suspects -- Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter -- along with Google’s YouTube, TikTok’s owner ByteDance, Discord, Facebook’s WhatsApp, Reddit, and Snap. The companies have until January 28, 2021 to respond.

      What is the FTC looking for?

      Specifically, the FTC is leveraging Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which gives it the authority to ask about how the companies “compile data concerning the privacy policies, procedures, and practices of [such] providers, including the method and manner in which they collect, use, store, and disclose information about users and their devices.”

      Moving past the legalese, the FTC said that what it’s trying to ascertain is really more consumer-oriented. The questions it wants answered are:

      • “How social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information;

      • How they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers;

      • Whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information;

      • How they measure, promote, and research user engagement; and

      • How their practices affect children and teens.”

      The commissioners weigh in

      After making their demands, the FTC commissioners said that the agency is seeking more information in the best interest of consumers.

      “Never before has there been an industry capable of surveilling and monetizing so much of our personal lives. Social media and video streaming companies now follow users everywhere through apps on their always-present mobile devices,” Commissioners Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, and Christine S. Wilson said in a statement. 

      “This constant access allows these firms to monitor where users go, the people with whom they interact, and what they are doing. But to what end? Is this surveillance used to build psychological profiles of users? Predict their behavior? Manipulate experiences to generate ad sales? Promote content to capture attention or shape discourse? Too much about the industry remains dangerously opaque.”

      Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips was the dissenting vote among the commissioners, saying that the move was an “undisciplined foray into a wide variety of topics.” He called his peers out for omitting other companies engaged in business practices similar to the nine companies named. Phillips asked why Apple, Gab, GroupMe, LinkedIn, Parler, Rumble, Tumblr, and WeChat weren’t also named. He answered his own question rather snarkily. 

      “The only plausible benefit to drawing the lines the Commission has is targeting a number of high profile companies and, by limiting the number to nine, avoiding the review process required under the Paperwork Reduction Act...which is not triggered if fewer than ten entities are subject to request.”

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) turned up the heat on the social media big wigs on Monday. In a new mandate, the Commission will now require nine tech f...
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      FTC launches major crackdown on scams proliferating during the pandemic

      The agency and its partners are targeting get-rich-quick operators

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 19 partner agencies have launched a nationwide effort to disrupt a plague of money-making schemes that have proliferated since the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

      The economic hardship that has thrown millions of Americans out of work has also increased people’s vulnerability to schemes that “guarantee” solid income, or even financial independence, by working from home.

      "Operation Income Illusion," is a coordinated crackdown that includes more than 50 law enforcement actions against the operators of work-from-home and employment scams, pyramid schemes, investment scams, bogus coaching courses, and other schemes that can end up costing consumers thousands of dollars.

      A new FTC analysis of complaint data shows that consumers reported a loss of more than $610 million to these types of scams in the last four years. Losses in the first nine months of 2020, which covers much of the pandemic, totaled more than $150 million.

      Preying on the unemployed

      "Scammers are preying on the unemployment and anxiety arising from the pandemic by making false promises of big income working from home," said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "If someone promises you guaranteed income, but then tells you to pay them, tell the FTC right away so we can work to shut them down."

      There are other red flags that should tell Americans they’re being set up by a criminal who will make them poorer, not richer. 

      • Someone promises big money by stuffing envelopes. Really? They have machines that can do that now. Also, you have to pay a fee for the privilege.

      • Someone offers to sell you a system for setting up an internet business. 

      • Someone promises big money in your own medical billing businesses.

      In fact, unsolicited pitches for any kind of home-based business are almost always scams. The tip-off is the fee that you are required to pay to participate.

      Softer scams

      A softer version of these scams is an offer to provide business coaching to help you set up some kind of business or to operate some type of franchise. These operators may actually provide some “coaching” or information, but there is a real question as to its value, especially considering the very high price.

      Most multi-level marketing (MLM) operations are legal but some unscrupulous operators use deceptive tactics, promising huge income without explaining how difficult it is to achieve it and what’s required. 

      “Also, if anyone suggests recruiting is the real way to make money, know this: MLMs that survive on recruiting new participants rather than retail sales are pyramid schemes,” the FTC said in a recent bulletin on work-at-home schemes. “Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money.”

      In addition to ten previously announced cases, the FTC has launched four additional law enforcement cases as part of Operation Income Illusion. The agency has also announced a new settlement in a previously filed case. 

      In all these cases, the FTC is asking the court to stop the operators and to get money back for affected consumers.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 19 partner agencies have launched a nationwide effort to disrupt a plague of money-making schemes that have prolifer...
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      General Motors recalls various GMC and Chevrolet trucks

      The roof rail air bag inflator endcap may detach

      General Motors is recalling 9,279 model year 2015-2016 GMC Sierra 1500 & Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and model year 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 & 3500, and Chevrolet Silverado 2500 & 3500 trucks.

      The roof-rail air bag (RRAB) inflator endcap may detach from the inflator.

      If the endcap separates from the inflator, the compressed gas will escape and the endcap can be propelled into the vehicle, increasing the risk of injury or a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the RRAB modules on the left and/or right side free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 10, 2021.

      Owners may contact GMC customer service at (888) 988-7267 or Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020. GM's number for this recall is N202309680.

      General Motors is recalling 9,279 model year 2015-2016 GMC Sierra 1500 & Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and model year 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 & 3500, and Chevrole...
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      Market of Choice recalls Sour Cherry Baked Brie

      The product contains almonds, an allergen not declared on the label

      Market of Choice of Eugene, Ore., is recalling its in-house Sour Cherry Baked Brie.

      The product contains almonds, an allergen not declared on the label.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product, wrapped in a plastic shrink wrap with a white adhesive store label, UPC 0 217241 414996 and Sell By dates up to and including 12/12/20, was sold at Market Cheese Shops in Ashland, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Portland, and West Linn, Oregon, between November 1 and December 4, 2020. No related illnesses have been reported to date.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product and have an allergy to almonds should not consume it, but discard it

      Consumers with questions may contact the firm at (541) 345-0566, Ext. 3127, Monday – Friday, 8 am – 4:30 pm (PST).

      Market of Choice of Eugene, Ore., is recalling its in-house Sour Cherry Baked Brie. The product contains almonds, an allergen not declared on the label....
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      Holiday Gift Guide: Dogs and Dog Lovers

      O come, let us adore them

      Those of us with dogs know the truth — they make our lives immeasurably better. Below, check out some of our favorite gifts for spoiling them, and keep reading to find presents for all the special dog people in your life this holiday season.

      Special treats for dogs

      Our pets helped us get through some pretty ruff patches in 2020. This year, they deserve their very own stockings. We also like these cute toys, nutritious treats and comfy beds.

      1. Christmas Stocking Variety Pack

      • Comes with four toys
      • Ideal for small or medium-size dogs

      $8.99 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      2. Chicken or Duck Rawhide Dog Chew

      • Made with natural chicken breast filets and cowhide
      • 2-pound container

      $26.99 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      3. Chicken & Sweet Potato Fetch Fries

      • No artificial flavors, grains or fillers
      • 5-ounce bag

      $9.99 on Chewy*

      *As of publishing date

      4. Benebone Maplestick/Bacon Chew Toy

      • Durable and long-lasting
      • Designed for aggressive chewers

      $17.41 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      5. Bedsure Calming Bed for Dogs

      • Microfiber, plush and synthetic fur
      • Fits up to 45 pounds

      $25.99 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      6. Bully Beds Orthopedic Dog Bed

      • Made with Certipur-certified foam
      • Helps alleviate discomfort in joints

      $219.99 on Chewy*

      *As of publishing date

      Gifts for dog people

      We love buying our dogs gifts this time of year — food and toys are usually the safest bets when it comes to special holiday treats for our pups, but most dogs aren’t too picky about either. Dog people, on the other hand, can be a bit more discerning.

      7. Collar and Matching Bracelet Set

      • Made with vegan leather
      • Available in 8 different sizes

      $40 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      8. Smart Dog Treat Dispenser

      • Includes HD camera with two-way audio
      • Compatible with iOS 7.0 or Android 5.0 and above

      $129.99 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      9. Dog Graphic Print Tunic

      • Soft fabric with high-low hem
      • Pairs well with leggings

      $19.90 - $25.80 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      10. “The Dogfather” Parody T-Shirt

      • “Tagless” tag
      • Fits true to size

      $19.95 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      11. “I Could Chew on This” by Francesco Marciuliano

      • Collection of satirical poetry
      • Fun coffee table book

      $11.40 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      12. “E.B. White on Dogs,” edited by Martha White

      • Author of “Charlotte’s Web” and other classics
      • Includes essays, poems, letters and sketches

      $14.44 on Amazon*

      *As of publishing date

      Some people have more fun buying presents for their fur babies than their human friends. Next up, learn how to find the best dog food and dog treats. For the latest, check out our holiday spending news.

      Holiday gifts for dogs (and their owners)...
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      Americans to start receiving COVID-19 vaccine immediately

      The FDA granted emergency use authorization for one vaccine over the weekend

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as expected, has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and will begin distributing vaccinations immediately.

      It’s the first vaccine approved to treat Americans against the virus, and distribution began over the weekend. It follows approval more than a week earlier by the U.K. and Canada. FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said the agency took the time to get it right.

      “Today’s action follows an open and transparent review process that included input from independent scientific and public health experts and a thorough evaluation by the agency’s career scientists to ensure this vaccine met FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization,” Hahn said.

      The FDA said it had determined that the vaccine has “met the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA.” It said the available data provides clear evidence that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19. 

      Benefits vs. risks

      The FDA said the data also supports the belief that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks, supporting the vaccine’s use in millions of people 16 years of age and older.

      The distribution has already begun. Pfizer said it is leveraging three of its U.S. manufacturing sites to produce the COVID-19 vaccine – Saint Louis, Andover, Mass., and Kalamazoo, Mich. Pfizer’s Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and Puurs, Belgium sites are also being used.

      To address concerns about the logistical challenges of delivering a frigid vaccine, Pfizer said it has experience and expertise in cold-chain shipping and has an established infrastructure to supply the vaccine worldwide, including distribution hubs that can store vaccine doses for up to six months. 

      In accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first vaccinations are being administered to frontline health care workers and to staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

      Retail pharmacy network

      Work has already begun to set up a network of retail pharmacies that will receive and administer the vaccine. They include CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, and Walmart -- among others.

      FedEx said it has been tasked with delivering the vaccine to distribution points around the country, a job made more challenging because the vaccine must be kept at extreme low temperatures, packed in dry ice.

      “This is among the most important work in the history of our company, and we’re honored to be a part of the effort to help end this pandemic,” said Raj Subramaniam, president and CEO, FedEx Corp. “I am immensely proud of our dedicated team members who continue to go above and beyond to help ensure the safe movement of these critical COVID-19 vaccines, especially during our busiest holiday shipping season to date.”

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as expected, has issued emergency use authorization (EAU) for the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by P...
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      Coronavirus update: Americans getting vaccinated, death toll nears 300,000

      Indoor dining has been halted in New York City

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 16,280,842 (16,067,739)

      Total U.S. deaths: 299,370 (297,343)

      Total global cases:  72,446,947 (71,820,706)

      Total global deaths: 1,615,421 (1,607,106)

      Vaccine approved and on its way to Americans

      Americans are rolling up their sleeves to get the first of what is expected to be a number of vaccines against the coronavirus. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acted over the weekend to approve the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

      The first doses of the vaccine are on their way to hospitals around the country. Frontline health care workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities are the first to get it.

      At the same time, a network of retail pharmacies is being set up to administer the shots once doses are available to the larger population. The Pfizer vaccine could soon be joined by the Moderna vaccine, which is still under FDA review.

      U.S. death toll approaches 300,000

      The optimism generated by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is offset by a surge in new cases of the virus and a death toll of just under 300,000. That milestone was approached early today.

      In barely the first half of December, the U.S. has recorded nearly 34,000 deaths, more than most entire months so far. Deaths are increasing as the number of cases is increasing exponentially.

      The U.S. has recorded 16.2 million cases of COVID-19, more than another other nation. India is second with 9.8 million cases, followed by Brazil with 6.9 million.

      Indoor dining curtailed in New York City

      As of today, indoor dining at New York City restaurants is suspended for at least two weeks, one of the many restrictive measures states are taking to try to control virus outbreaks. The action comes as hospitals’ intensive care units (ICU) are nearing capacity.

      For many restaurants, the order could be a death sentence. Nahid Ahmed says his 28-seat contemporary American restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood has been hit hard and might not survive without government help.

      “Right now, it is really uncertain if we will come back,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

      California running out of ICU beds

      With the current surge in coronavirus cases, California ICU excess capacity continues to shrink, leaving little room for error. The Los Angeles Daily News reports capacity began the week at 4.2 percent.

      California officials have pointed to the declining number of available ICU beds as the main reason for new restrictions on business and personal activities. They say restrictions will be lifted once ICU capacity rises to at least 15 percent.

      How to get people to take the second shot

      Now that people are beginning to get the first of two vaccine shots, how will health officials make sure they get the necessary second one? Researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) say it might not be that easy.

      “There are several factors and behaviors that prevent many well-intentioned people from completing a two-step process, like that recommended for the COVID-19 vaccines,” said UM’s Dr. Mark Fendrick. “We need to provide everything necessary to support those who receive the first shot to make sure they complete their second dose.” 

      The first shot may be enough in some people to generate an immune response, but the designers of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines say a second “booster” shot will be needed to ensure long-lasting immunity. Some other vaccines under development may require only one shot.

      Around the nation

      • Virginia: New stay-at-home restrictions went into effect statewide at midnight, ordering state residents to stay home between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. However, there are a number of exceptions, including people traveling to and from work during those hours.

      • Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker has imposed new COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants amid a surge in coronavirus cases. The rules allow for no more than six people at a table, meal time limits of 90 minutes, and mandatory mask-wearing whenever a patron is not eating or drinking.

      • Indiana: Indiana, like many other states, is preparing to receive its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine. “Based on our initial allocation, we will receive 55,575 doses of vaccine,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the chief medical officer for Indiana’s Department of Health. “These vaccines will go to frontline health care workers who are at risk of exposure to COVID-19, while providing direct care to patients.” 

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 16,280,842 (16,067,...
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      Apple rolls out new App Store privacy labels

      The company wants to give users more information about what data apps have on them

      Apple is launching new “App Privacy” labels in the App Store with the aim of providing greater transparency about its app privacy practices. 

      The company announced its plan to add these privacy “nutrition labels” back in June at WWDC. At the time, Apple said it wanted to better inform consumers about the privacy practices of apps on the App Store. 

      The App Privacy labels give iOS users up-to-date information on each app’s privacy practices. Apple said the summaries of privacy practices are meant "to help you decide if it works for you."

      Three categories

      Labels are broken into three data collection categories: “data used to track you,” “data linked to you,” and “data not linked to you.”

      “Data linked to you” refers to any data that can be used to identify a user. An app would have this type of data in cases where the user supplied their name, age, or other information when creating a profile on an app. Apps will also have “data linked to you” if they collect specific information about you, such as your birthday or previous work history.

      “Data not linked to you” refers to diagnostic data, such as location data or browsing history, collected by an app but not able to be tied to the user.

      “Data used to track you” means that user or device data was linked and collected from an app, website, or advertising profile. This category also refers to device and user data shared by the app with data brokers. 

      “A transparent overview of an app’s privacy practices is key to building trust with potential users,” the company said. “Developers now have the opportunity to detail their app’s privacy practices right in the App Store for users to review, including the types of data the apps might collect, whether that data is shared with third parties, and the option for users to opt out.”

      ‘Personal data’ definition

      Apple has also updated its privacy policy, making it easier to read and giving users a clearer picture of what Apple considers personal data. 

      “At Apple, we believe strongly in fundamental privacy rights — and that those fundamental rights should not differ depending on where you live in the world. Thatʼs why we treat any data that relates to an identified or identifiable individual or that is linked or linkable to them by Apple as ‘personal data,’ no matter where the individual lives,” the company said. 

      “This means that data that directly identifies you — such as your name — is personal data, and also data that does not directly identify you, but that can reasonably be used to identify you — such as the serial number of your device — is personal data.” 

      Apple is launching new “App Privacy” labels in the App Store with the aim of providing greater transparency about its app privacy practices. The compan...
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      Russian hackers accused of hacking into government and private sector businesses again

      Microsoft says that its user base and systems are safe

      Russian hackers, believed to be working on behalf of the Kremlin, were apparently behind an attack into computer systems at the departments of the U.S. Treasury and Commerce that may have gone on for months before being detected. To make matters worse, people familiar with the matter feel that this situation just may be the tip of the iceberg.

      According to U.S. officials and a report by National Public Radio (NPR), the Russian hackers broke into the email systems at those two government departments, and it was so consequential that it led to a National Security Council meeting at the White House on Saturday, one of the people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

      It may not come to anyone’s surprise that Russia denies any involvement. The Russian foreign ministry took to Facebook to say the allegations were nothing more than another “unfounded attempt” by the American media to blame Russia for cyberattacks directed at U.S. agencies.”

      Malicious actors

      In the Department of Homeland Security’s response to the “known compromise,” it said that the hack involved SolarWinds Orion network monitoring products being exploited by malicious actors.

      “Tonight’s directive is intended to mitigate potential compromises within federal civilian networks, and we urge all our partners -- in the public and private sectors -- to assess their exposure to this compromise and to secure their networks against any exploitation,” the DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a statement.

      The Commerce Department and the National Security Council both confirmed the breach, but the agencies didn’t give any extra information about the extent of the hack or the measures that have been taken to secure the email accounts.

      The private sector is also in danger

      In addition to the government breaches, the hackers also wormed their way into the computer system bowels of private companies. 

      More than 400 of the U.S. Fortune 500 companies use SolarWinds products, according to KrebsOnSecurity. That list includes all branches of the military, as well as all ten of the Top 10 communications companies, all five of the Top 5 accounting firms, and hundreds of colleges.

      Security firm FireEye, which also happened to be hit by the hack, said cyber criminals inserted malware into SolarWinds updates that “(went) to significant lengths to observe and blend into normal network activity.” It also concluded that the breach is a “global campaign” and had confirmed intrusions in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. 

      In a blog post late Sunday, Microsoft echoed FireEye’s assessment, saying that it believes the hack represents “nation-state activity at significant scale, aimed at both the government and private sector." The company also had words for its own users.

      “We also want to reassure our customers that we have not identified any Microsoft product or cloud service vulnerabilities in these investigations. As part of our ongoing threat research, we monitor for new indicators that could signal attacker activity,” the company said.

      Russian hackers, believed to be working on behalf of the Kremlin, were apparently behind an attack into computer systems at the departments of the U.S. Tre...
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      Google to pushes back employees’ return to offices until September 2021

      The company also wants to try out a ‘flexible workweek’ after the pandemic

      Google has announced that it’s delaying its planned return to the office until September 2021 in light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. 

      Google has already pushed its return-to-office date several times: first to January 2021, then to July, and now the company is targeting September. The company is also considering implementing a “flexible workweek” after allowing employees back into the office. 

      In an email to employees over the weekend, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said Google is considering a new policy under which employees would come into the office three days a week and work from home the other days. The days in the office would be known as “collaboration days.” 

      Increasing productivity

      Google executives have long believed that facilitating organic interactions between coworkers, such as in campus cafes and kitchens, can help spur new ideas and boost productivity. 

      “We are testing a hypothesis that a flexible work model will lead to greater productivity, collaboration, and well-being,” Pichai wrote in an email obtained by The New York Times. “No company at our scale has ever created a fully hybrid work force model — though a few are starting to test it — so it will be interesting to try.”

      To keep workers safe, teams would be able to reserve collaboration spaces for up to a dozen people. Larger gatherings would take place outdoors. To lower the risk of coronavirus spreading, the company will be changing up its office designs and making single desks available to employees. 

      Google executives haven’t said whether the company will require employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the office. 

      The tech giant has said it is “looking for opportunities in mid-to-late 2021 to help make Covid-19 vaccines available to its workers, but only after high-risk and high-priority people globally have received the vaccines,” according to the New York Times.

      Google has announced that it’s delaying its planned return to the office until September 2021 in light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Google has...
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      More social media use increases belief in misinformation about COVID-19, study finds

      Experts say that consumers struggle to see past misleading posts

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a great deal of misinformation about the virus has been circulated on social media. 

      Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Washington State University has found that consumers are more likely to buy into this misinformation when they spend more time on social media. 

      “It seems that the more you use social media, the more likely you become worried about COVID-19, perhaps because there is a lot of unfounded and conspiracy theories on social media,” said researcher Yan Su. “Then this in turn can trigger a high level of worry which leads to further belief in misinformation.”

      The importance of engaging with different ideas

      To understand the relationship between social media use and belief in misinformation, the researchers analyzed over 3,000 responses to the American National Elections Exploratory Testing Survey. While the survey covered a wide range of topics, the researchers were primarily focused on how much time the respondents spent on social media and where they stood on critical stances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

      Participants were more likely to believe that either a vaccine for COVID-19 had been created or that the virus was created in a lab if they spent more time on social media. While several pharmaceutical companies have since created a vaccine for COVID-19, this data was collected in early April, which means this misinformation had reached consumers at a critical point in the pandemic. 

      Additionally, the study revealed that the more worried people became about the pandemic, the more likely they were to believe misinformation on social media. However, the researchers also learned that participants weren’t doomed to get stuck in this cycle. Engaging with people who had different points of view was found to be a key component in not buying into misinformation on social media. Those who had a deeper understanding of science were also more likely to identify and reject falsehoods. 

      “Fact checkers are important for social media platforms to implement,” said Su. “When there is no fact checker, people just choose to believe what is consistent with their pre-existing beliefs. It’s also important for people to try to get out of their comfort zones and echo chambers by talking with people who have different points of view and political ideologies. When people are exposed to different ideas, they have a chance to do some self-reflection and self-correction, which is particularly beneficial for deliberation.” 

      The researchers hope that future studies continue to explore this area because they worry about how the continued spread of misinformation about the pandemic will continue to affect consumers.

      “During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has spread a lot of conspiracy theories and misinformation, which has negative consequences because many people use these false statements as evidence to consolidate their pre-existing political ideologies and attack each other,” Su said. “It’s important to understand the antecedents and motivations for believing and circulating misinformation beliefs, so we can find ways to counteract them.”

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a great deal of misinformation about the virus has been circulated on social media. Now, a new study conducte...
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      Burley recalls child bicycle seats

      The child seat may become unstable, causing the bike rider to lose control

      Burley Design of Eugene, Ore., is recalling about 780 Dash X FM child bicycle seats.

      The reclining plate that holds the child seat in place can detach, making the child seat unstable and can cause the bike rider to lose control, posing a crash hazard.

      No incidents or injuries are recalled.

      This recall involves Dash X FM frame mount child bicycle seats (model number 924004).

      The recalled child seats have a serial number beginning in P924 and a lot number beginning in the letter D or E. The serial number and lot number are located on the lower rear of the child seats, on the white label that has “BURLEY” printed on it.

      “DASH X” is engraved on the rear of the child seat, near the top.

      The child bike seats, manufactured in Portugal, were sold at various bicycle retailers and online at Burley.com, REI.com, Amazon.com from April 2020, through July 2020, for about $190.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled child bicycle seats and contact Burley to receive instructions on how to identify and dispose of the recalled child seat and how to receive a free replacement child seat.

      Consumers will be provided with a replacement Dash Bicycle Seat (Dash X FM, Dash FM, or Dash RM).

      Consumers may contact Burley at (800\) 311-5294 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at Burley@burley.com, or online at http://www.burley.com and click on the “Safety Recall Information” link at the bottom of the page.

      Burley Design of Eugene, Ore., is recalling about 780 Dash X FM child bicycle seats. The reclining plate that holds the child seat in place can detach, ...
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      Holiday Gift Guide: The Home Chef

      Kiss the cook and buy them a present

      The home chef in your life likely has a specialty cuisine they love, whether it's covered in bacon, totally vegan or somewhere in between. No matter their culinary preferences, there's sure to be a gift that suits them on our list.

      1. Anova Sous Vide Nano Precision Cooker

      The best part about getting a sous vide for the home chef in your life is you might get a thank-you meal out of it. A sous vide (pronounced “soo-veed”) precisely controls cooking temperatures, resulting in restaurant-quality meats, eggs and root vegetables.

      This one is compact and highly rated by Target customers. It connects to your phone, letting you start, stop and monitor your cooking through its Anova Culinary app. The app also comes with more than 1,000 recipes to help with inspiration.

      • 750 watts of power
      • 2-year limited warranty
      • $129.99*

      Shop on Target

      *As of publishing date

      2. Island Bamboo Utensil Set

      Perfect for your funky friend who loves nothing more than some color in their kitchen, this four-piece pakkawood set comes with a spoon, slotted spoon, corner spoon and spatula, all featuring a peacock pattern with swirls of blue, green and yellow. The utensils’ ergonomic handles are designed for comfort.

      • Made with eco-friendly materials
      • Lightweight and scratch-resistant
      • $39.99*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      3. NuWave Air Fryer

      Air fryers have become increasingly popular over the years as an alternative to deep-frying, sauteing, baking or grilling. You can load up this 4.5-quart air fryer with bacon, cookies, diced potatoes and more. It can bake, roast or fry your food using no unhealthy oils — the perfect gift for a more health-conscious home chef who loves alternative ways of preparing the most comforting meals.

      • Digital LED controls
      • 1-year limited warranty
      • $99.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      4. Stainless Steel Electric Meat Grinder

      If you need a practical gift for the meat lover in your life, this electric grinder is an excellent addition to any carnivore’s kitchen. Its heavy-duty stainless steel construction looks both classy and powerful, and not only does it help you create your own sausage and grind meat — you can also use it to make noodles.

      • Easy installation
      • Four cutting plates
      • $41.39*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      5. Powell Raeford Kitchen Island

      What does a cook love more than expansive open counters and plenty of cabinet space? If you're looking for a big gift for your home chef, you might want to consider counter space. It's a bit pricier than the other gifts we list here, but it’s sure to help a kitchen look more chef-worthy.

      • 3 doors and adjustable shelves
      • 56” by 29.25” by 36”
      • $1,384.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      6. Solid Copper Polenta Pan

      A classy gift for any cook who likes to dabble in fine cuisine, this fancy copper pan is specifically designed to make polenta, which originated in Northern Italy and is made from cornmeal and other grains. It comes with a wooden handle reminiscent of old-world kitchens and wood-fired stoves.

      • Lacquered to prevent tarnishing
      • Makes up to 5 quarts
      • $89.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      7. Potato Cooker Pouches

      This is a practical stocking stuffer for those who like to cook but don’t have much free time. The fun little pouch lets you cook a potato in only four minutes. Though some of us might be satisfied with its basic use, home chefs will likely take it a step further to prepare some more creative dishes.

      • Easy to use
      • Washable
      • $10.49*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but often this season becomes the most stressful part of the year. It can be hard to pick the perfect gifts for our friends and our family — but from proud pet parents to tech lovers, there's an outstanding gift out there for everyone.

      Holiday Gift Guide: The Home Chef...
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      Coronavirus update: A green light for the Pfizer vaccine, dashed hopes for a new aid bill

      Biden health adviser: ‘No Christmas parties’

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,645,955 (15,413,913)

      Total U.S. deaths: 292,611 (289,970)

      Total global cases: 69,833,475 (69,139,809)

      Total global deaths: 1,587,024 (1,574,294)

      FDA panel greenlights Pfizer’s vaccine

      The U.S. is a step closer to receiving a vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19). An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended approval of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

      FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said today that the FDA “is finalizing the necessary documents to ensure that patients and providers have the information that they need to make informed decisions.”

      Three of the panelists voting no told reporters that they would have voted yes if the vaccine were strictly for people 18 and older. They said there was insufficient data for people under 18. Other panelists said the benefits outweighed the risks.

      “When you have 2,000 to 3,000 people a day—a day—dying of coronavirus, to me this was a clear choice,” Ofer Levy, a panel member and director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal.

      GOP casts doubt on passage of compromise aid bill

      Hopes for Congressional action on a new COVID-19 aid bill this month are quickly fading. Key Republican senators have backed away from a $908 billion compromise bill put forth by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

      The sticking point remains language dealing with financial aid to states and cities along with liability protection during the pandemic for businesses. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Republicans think the liability protection should be stronger.

      Democrats say they continue to be supportive of the proposal, noting that key benefits for consumers under the CARES Act expire at the end of the month. This morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) upped the ante, adding an amendment to send direct aid to Americans to the stopgap spending bill.

      No Christmas parties, Biden adviser says

      One of President-elect Biden’s top COVID-19 advisers says Americans are going to have to find different ways to celebrate the Christmas holiday this year because Christmas parties are out. 

      Dr. Michael Osterholm told CNN that the next three weeks are going to be bad, and people will have to take extra precautions. Despite the government’s first step toward vaccine distribution, Osterholm warned that it would be “several months” before the nation sees widespread availability of vaccines.

      Researchers say a rapid test could prevent deaths

      Researchers have found that a rapid COVID-19 test could identify which patients are responding to drug treatments and which patients are in need of more aggressive help. Their study was presented at the virtual 2020 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo.

      The scientists say this is important because, while treating severely ill patients with corticosteroids reduces the risk of death, prescribing it for patients who don’t really need it can carry the risk of serious side effects.

      Corticosteroids work by reducing the activity of a patient’s immune system to prevent it from attacking and damaging the lungs. Doctors worry that prescribing these drugs either too early or at too high a dosage could worsen a patient’s condition by hindering the body’s ability to clear the virus. 

      Mask pollution plaguing California

      The pandemic has produced economic misery and an ever-rising death toll. It may also be contributing to pollution.

      California residents are complaining that masks, rubber gloves, disinfectant wipes, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that is effective in saving lives is now finding its way to rivers, bays, and the Pacific Ocean.

      “Whatever the product may be, this is a new, additional plastic threat," Adam Ratner, of the Marine Mammal Center, told the Washington Post.

      Around the nation

      • Minnesota: State health department director Dr. Ruth Lynfield says many people who are infected with COVID-19 do not have symptoms, making it easier to spread the virus. “This is estimated that about 50 percent of transmission can occur in people who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic," she told reporters.

      • New Jersey: A new report warns that the COVID-19 risk to students and teachers in public schools is rising. The report said New Jersey had 18 new in-school outbreaks leading to 103 new cases in the past week.

      • New Mexico: Gov. Michelle Lujan says the state is making preparations to roll out a vaccine so it can be distributed as soon as it’s approved by the FDA. In keeping with federal guidelines, Lujan said the first doses will go to frontline health workers in the state.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,645,955 (15,413,...
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      CVS, UPS, and others on hiring spree to aid in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

      Some companies are offering bonuses to new hires

      The COVID-19 pandemic’s supply chain is getting a boost to the advantage of unemployed workers. With the country readying itself for the distribution of approved coronavirus vaccines and weekly unemployment claims continuing to mount, four companies involved in the pivotal distribution and administration of a vaccine have set out on a hiring binge. 

      The country’s two largest logistics companies -- UPS and FedEx -- typically hire extra employees every year around the holidays. But because of the demand of getting vaccines to ready and willing people safely, and the added stress of making sure the vaccines are delivered at the ultra-low temperatures required, the companies are adding even more workers.

      “We recognized early on this would be a record peak season. We’ve even taken to calling this peak ‘The Shipathon’ months ago because we knew it was going to be a record peak,” FedEx’s Americas regional president Robert Smith told senators at a subcommittee hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Thursday. 

      Pharmacies are adding more workers too

      The other part of the equation, of course, is administering the vaccines. To escalate that component, Operation Warp Speed has contracted both Walgreens and CVS, the nation’s two largest pharmacy chains. 

      Walgreens’ goal is to hire 9,000 additional staff, and it’s so intent on fulfilling its obligation that it’s offering sign-on and referral bonuses of up to $30,000. CVS didn’t disclose any hiring numbers or bonuses, but it did add additional information on the “vaccine support” section of its corporate website.

      “We’re hiring pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and nurses to administer COVID-19 vaccines and care for patients across the United States,” the company said.

      COVID-related customer service needs some work

      On a customer satisfaction level as it relates to coronavirus-related services, CVS and Walgreens both have some work to do. 

      CVS took it on the nose from one ConsumerAffairs reviewer -- Saheli of Bryan, TX -- who said its 'minute clinic' doesn't provide the results on time as guaranteed on their website, which caused them to miss their flight and change their itinerary. 

      “When we called them on their helpline, they assured us that the lab will make sure that we get our results in time to board our flight. But their tone changed once we took the COVID-19 test at one of their pharmacies,” Saheli commented.

      Walgreens’ fared about the same with another consumer, Melissa of Belton, Texas. In her review, she complained that her son also needed testing to be able to travel, but when he arrived for his appointment time, he was greeted with a sign saying that testing was canceled and to come back the next day. 

      “He did not receive a phone call or any other notification. No one in the store could answer any questions, they only gave him a phone number to call which no one answered and had a voicemail that was not set up. The next day he came back to the same sign. Because of this he was not able to fly. Walgreens handled this so badly, not even returning calls through customer service or giving him any other options,” Melissa wrote.

      The COVID-19 pandemic’s supply chain is getting a boost to the advantage of unemployed workers. With the country readying itself for the distribution of ap...
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      FDA panel recommends approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

      It’s the first step in distributing the vaccine to Americans

      An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended approval of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

      The FDA is expected to grant emergency use authorization (EAU) within hours, meaning the vaccine could begin to be distributed in the U.S. to people age 16 and older. The panel reached its decision on a 17-4 vote after a day-long meeting.

      Three of the panelists voting no told reporters they would have voted yes if the vaccine were strictly for people 18 and older. They said there was insufficient data for people under 18. Other panelists said the benefits outweighed the risks.

      “When you have 2,000 to 3,000 people a day—a day—dying of coronavirus, to me this was a clear choice,” Ofer Levy, a panel member and director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal.

      Concerns

      The non-profit Children’s Health Defense expressed concern, saying the clinical trials for the vaccine failed to provide adequate data.

      “Only 2.1 percent and 1.8 percent of the study cohort included patients 75 years old and over with pre-existing medical conditions, for the vaccinated and the placebo groups, respectively,” the group said in a press release. “There were only 41 total African Americans over age 75 in both arms of the Pfizer vaccine study. These are insufficient samples on which to base broad recommendations for these very important and vulnerable segments of the population.”

      Two health care workers who received the vaccine this week in the UK suffered adverse reactions to it. Health officials said both persons had a history of severe allergic reactions, suggesting the vaccine might not be appropriate for people in that category.

      Preparing for distribution

      Frontline medical personnel and the staff and residents of nursing homes will be the first Americans to receive the vaccine, under guidelines adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

      Pending the FDA’s green light, Pfizer could begin the vaccine distribution process this weekend. The health agency will next turn its attention to the vaccine produced by Moderna. The two vaccines are similar messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines that contain a tiny bit of genetic material from the virus but not the virus itself.

      If both are approved, the government says 40 million doses could be available in the U.S. by the end of December. However, the CDC said it expects between 5 million and 10 million doses to become available each week for the first few months while manufacturers ramp up production. 

      "We expect a constrained supply environment," the CDC’s Sara Oliver said earlier this month.

      Retail pharmacies are being mobilized to distribute the vaccines as more Americans become eligible to be inoculated. 

      The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has begun working with Kroger, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and other national chains to become vaccination distribution centers. These firms have begun training staff and securing large refrigeration units to become vaccination centers.

      An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended approval of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioN...
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      Nearly 40 percent of Americans plan to spend less this holiday season, survey finds

      Many consumers cited pandemic-related reasons for cutting back on spending

      Around 40 percent of U.S. consumers plan to spend less than they normally do on gifts this holiday season, according to a survey from CNBC. 

      The organization polled 800 Americans as part of its All America Economic Survey and found that the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing many consumers to cut back on spending. 

      The survey found that 39 percent of consumers will spend less this holiday season, while just 11 percent plan to spend more than usual. The average American plans to spend $886, which is a 10 percent decrease from planned holiday spending last year. 

      In 2017, the same survey found that 25 percent of Americans planned to cut back spending during the holidays, and 18 percent said they would spend more.

      Wealthiest Americans showing most restraint

      This year, the reasons consumers cited for spending less were: 

      • Loss of wages or income (29 percent)

      • The coronavirus (19 percent)

      • The economy (17 percent)

      • A need to save money (16 percent)

      CNBC’s survey showed decreased spending plans across all income brackets. However, the survey suggested that “the wealthiest Americans could be holding back the most” this year.

      “It does seem like those Americans earning over $100,000 are holding back a little bit more than they did in 2019,” said Hart Research Associates partner Jay Campbell.

      That caution could be rooted in uncertainty regarding how next year will play out economically. A third of respondents said they believe the economy will get worse in 2021. Republicans were found to have a more pessimistic outlook about the economy while Democrats’ outlook has grown more positive since the election of former Vice President Joe Biden. 

      Online spending surge

      The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant jump in the number of consumers planning to do their shopping online this holiday season. CNBC’s survey found that 55 percent of respondents plan to do most of their shopping online, compared with 43 percent a year ago. 

      “It’s the biggest gain in the 14 years of the survey and follows a three-year plateau in that metric. It’s also the first time more than half of respondents favored online shopping,” the report noted. 

      Around 40 percent of U.S. consumers plan to spend less than they normally do on gifts this holiday season, according to a survey from CNBC. The organiz...
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      AMC secures $100 million investment, but it says it will need more to avoid bankruptcy

      The movie chain continues to fret over studios releasing movies simultaneously on streaming services and in theaters

      AMC Theatres has secured a $100 million investment to help keep the beleaguered movie chain afloat, but it says it still needs another $750 million of additional liquidity to fund the company’s cash requirements through the end of 2021.

      Mudrick Capital came to AMC’s rescue with the additional funding. The company is an investment firm specializing in distressed credit investing, focused on “find(ing) investments with attractive risk reward ratios.” It also holds second lien notes issued by AMC and, if need be, will convert $100 million of existing AMC debt into AMC common stock.

      If all else fails?

      Should AMC fail to get more help, it repeated that it may have to enter bankruptcy proceedings. While 400 of its nearly 600 U.S. theaters are still open, bankruptcy may force it to close the rest of those theaters’ doors.

      “Given the uncertainty regarding our ability to raise material amounts of additional liquidity and the uncertainty as to the time at which attendance levels might normalize, substantial doubt exists about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time,” AMC said in a regulatory filing.

      Another COVID-19 casualty

      It’s no surprise, but AMC puts much of the blame squarely on the pandemic’s shoulders. 

      “A significant spike in coronavirus cases, together with delays of major movie releases or the direct or simultaneous release of movie titles to the home video or streaming markets in lieu of theatre exhibition, have led to theatre closures, prevented the opening of theatres in major markets and have had, and are expected to continue to have in the future, a material adverse impact on theatre attendance levels and our business,” AMC said.

      The company’s finger-pointing toward delays and simultaneous releases of movies was aimed directly at Warner Brothers, who recently decided to release its entire 2021 movie slate on its streaming service HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously. AMC has fretted about this possibility for months, and it said in the filing that other studios may follow. 

      AMC found some respite over the summer with Universal, which it struck a deal with to make movies available sooner outside of theaters. However, that’s the only handshake deal it has been able to make so far.

      AMC Theatres has secured a $100 million investment to help keep the beleaguered movie chain afloat, but it says it still needs another $750 million of addi...
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      Disney+ tacks on $1 to its monthly subscription price

      Subscribers will pay $8 a month for the service starting in the spring

      Disney+ is raising its monthly subscription price to $7.99 a month, a $1 increase. The new price will go into effect March 26, 2021. 

      With the price hike, subscribers will pay $79.99 per year. Disney is also raising the price of the Disney Bundle -- which has Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN Plus -- to $13.99 a month (also a $1 increase). 

      Since launching in November 2019, Disney+ has amassed a whopping 86.8 million subscribers. During a four-hour presentation for investors on Thursday, Disney said it’s putting a lot of money into new content and needs to raise prices for subscribers as a result. 

      As many as 20 new Marvel and Star Wars series and more than two dozen Disney and Pixar movies or series are headed straight to Disney+, according to the company. Disney+ will be the first to receive movies like “Pinocchio,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Robert Zemeckis, and “Peter Pan and Wendy,” starring Jude Law (both of which are still in production).

      The price increase comes a little over a month after fellow streaming giant Netflix raised the prices of its standard and premium subscription plans. At the time, Netflix’s COO and chief product officer Greg Peters said Netflix will “occasionally go back and ask [customers] to pay a little bit more to keep that virtuous cycle of investment and value creation going.” 

      Disney+ is raising its monthly subscription price to $7.99 a month, a $1 increase. The new price will go into effect March 26, 2021. With the price hik...
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      Flavors added to e-cigarettes can lead to lasting heart damage, study finds

      Experts say that young people are most attracted to the wide variety of flavor options

      There is no shortage of research highlighting the health risks associated with vaping -- especially when looking at the additives that are particularly popular among younger consumers

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida has explored the flavor additives even further, and it found that these chemicals can increase the risk of lasting heart damage.

      “The flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems widely popular among teens and young adults are not harm-free,” said researcher Sami Noujaim, PhD. “Altogether, our findings in the cells and mice indicate that vaping does interfere with the normal functioning of the heart and can potentially lead to cardiac rhythm disturbances.”

      Compromising heart health

      The researchers conducted experiments on both young mice and human cardiac cells to better understand how flavor additives in e-cigarettes can compromise heart health. In all of the trials, both the mice and the human cells were exposed to several different flavor additives, as well as e-vapors that didn’t contain flavorings, to understand how the health risks change. 

      While e-cigarettes pose a threat to consumers’ health without adding flavors, the researchers learned that the flavor additives only exacerbated those health risks in both mice and human cells. 

      For the mice, the researchers observed several changes to their normal heart functioning. The primary disturbance was heart rate, as the mice exposed to e-cigarette flavor additives were more likely to develop ventricular tachycardia, which speeds up the natural heart rate. However, other mice were also more susceptible to a slowed heart rate variability, which means the time between heartbeats is slower; this typically happens when the body is under stress, and it can increase the risk for heart disease over time. 

      The researchers noted similar effects to the human cardiac cells. Even before exposing the cells to the flavor additives, the e-cigarette vapor alone affected how fast the cells were able to beat. As the researchers added both nicotine and flavoring, the cells became even more compromised, though the worst outcomes came from the addition of the flavoring.  

      “This experiment told us that the flavoring chemicals added to vaping devices can increase harm beyond what the nicotine alone can do,” Dr. Noujaim said. 

      Tightening restrictions

      Despite efforts to regulate e-cigarettes -- especially in recent months as experts warned about the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic -- many young people continue to seek out flavored vaping options. The researchers hope that these findings can help cut down on the use of e-cigarettes among this demographic.

      “Our research matters because regulation of the vaping industry is a work in progress,” said Dr. Noujaim. “The FDA needs input from the scientific community about all the possible risks of vaping in order to effectively regulate electronic nicotine delivery systems and protect the public’s health. At USF Health, in particular, we will continue to examine how vaping may adversely affect cardiac health.”

      There is no shortage of research highlighting the health risks associated with vaping -- especially when looking at the additives that are particularly pop...
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      Gas prices stabilize as COVID-19 cases rise

      Sixteen states still have average prices below $2 a gallon

      The rise in oil prices that sent gas prices higher two weeks ago was offset this week by a continued drop in demand. More cars remained parked as health officials urged Americans to spend more time at home to stem the deadly rise in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows that the national average price of regular gas is $2.15 a gallon, a penny more than last Friday. Prices are four cents higher than a month ago. The average price of premium gas is $2.77 a gallon, the same as last week. The average price of diesel fuel rose two cents a gallon to $2.45 a gallon.

      Oil prices have begun to rise in recent weeks in response to optimism about vaccines that could end the pandemic by mid-2021. But the lack of demand has kept prices at the pump in check. At the beginning of the week, AAA reported that gasoline demand was down 8 million barrels a day. GasBuddy reported that demand was slightly higher than the week before, but it’s running 12 percent below 2019.

      Though prices have risen over the last four weeks, 16 states still have average prices below $2 a gallon. One year ago, the average price was 42 cents a gallon higher than today.

      The states with the most expensive gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.28)

      • California ($3.18)

      • Washington ($2.75)

      • Oregon ($2.58)

      • Nevada ($2.58)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.53)

      • Alaska ($2.50)

      • Maryland ($2.34)

      • New Jersey ($2.28)

      • Idaho ($2.26)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($1.84)

      • Mississippi ($1.84)

      • Texas ($1.85)

      • Oklahoma ($1.87)

      • Louisiana ($1.88)

      • Arkansas ($1.90)

      • Alabama ($1.91)

      • Tennessee ($1.91)

      • South Carolina ($1.92)

      • Wisconsin ($1.94)

      The rise in oil prices that sent gas prices higher two weeks ago was offset this week by a continued drop in demand. More cars remained parked as health of...
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      Volkswagen recalls vehicles with rear view camera issue

      The rear view camera malfunction could pose a crash risk

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 31,947 model year 2021 Atlas Cross Sports, Tiguan LWBs, Jetta NFs, Jetta GLIs, Golf GTIs, Atlas FLs and Arteons.

      The rear view camera could malfunction during an ignition cycle, leading to a black screen or infotainment system freeze.

      A black or frozen rear view image reduces the driver's view when reversing, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will update the infotainment system software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 15, 2021.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 91BB/91BC.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 31,947 model year 2021 Atlas Cross Sports, Tiguan LWBs, Jetta NFs, Jetta GLIs, Golf GTIs, Atlas FLs and Arteons. ...
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      Delta ultra-violet generators for pools and spas recalled

      Water can leak within the generator, causing excessive heat build-up

      Neptune Benson of Warwick, R.I., is recalling about 4,650 Delta UV EA-4H-10 ultra-violet generators installed in swimming pools and swim spas.

      Water can leak within the generator, causing excessive heat build-up in the area where the power cord connects to the body of the generator unit, which can pose a fire hazard.

      The firm has received 92 reports of incidents involving overheating, melting or burning of the generators and the area around the generators. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Delta UV EA-4H-10 ultra-violet generators installed in swimming pools and swim spas to sanitize the water. The majority were installed in Endless Pools.

      The brand and model number can be identified from the manufacturing plate located on one end of the generator’s steel tube.

      They are silver and black in color and are 4 inches in diameter and 25 inches long.

      The generators, manufactured in the U.S., were sold by Neptune Benson to pool and spa commercial customers from August 2016, through February 2020, for about $320.

      Prior to August 2016, the generators were manufactured and sold by Delta UV Corporation to pool and spa commercial customers.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately unplug and discontinue use of the generator and contact Neptune Benson for a free inspection and repair or replacement.

      Consumers may contact Neptune Benson toll-free at (888) 847-8710 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at https://www.evoqua.com/en/brands/Neptune-Benson and click on “Register your recall” in the middle of the page for more information.

      Neptune Benson of Warwick, R.I., is recalling about 4,650 Delta UV EA-4H-10 ultra-violet generators installed in swimming pools and swim spas. Water can...
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      Washington Shoe Company recalls Western Chief toddler boots

      Rivets used to attach the handles to the boot can detach

      Washington Shoe Company of Kent, Wash., is recalling about 77,400 pair of Western Chief toddler light-up rain boots.

      Rivets used to attach the handles to the boot can detach, posing a choking hazard to children.

      The firm has received 115 reports of the boot handles and rivets detaching, and two reports of children placing the rivets in their mouths. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall includes the Western Chief “Abstract Camo,” “Alia Silver,” and “Sweetheart Navy” Light-Up Rain Boots in sizes 5-12 for toddlers or children.

      The recalled boots are camouflage, silver glitter, and navy with hearts; include boot handles; and have a light up feature in the heel of the boot.

      The rivets used to attach the handles are silver-gray.

      “Western Chief” and the model numbers are located on the inside tag of the boot. The recalled model numbers are T24121725P, T24121728P, and T24121729P.

      The boots, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Target stores nationwide and online at Target.com from May 2020, through October 2020, for about $25.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled boots, take the boots away from children, and return them to any Target Store for a full refund. ​​​​

      Consumers may contact Washington Shoe Company toll-free at (855) 545-0862 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at recall@westernchief.com, or online at https://www.washingtonshoe.com/recall for more information.

      Washington Shoe Company of Kent, Wash., is recalling about 77,400 pair of Western Chief toddler light-up rain boots. Rivets used to attach the handles t...
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      Holiday Gift Guide: The Coffee Snob

      Wake up! It’s Christmas!!

      Christmas shopping for a coffee lover is hard if you don’t drink much coffee yourself. For the under-caffeinated, the sheer number of options and amount of paraphernalia can be intimidating. To help, the ConsumerAffairs research team curated a list of some of our favorite coffee-related gifts for 2020.

      OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker

      There really isn’t a “season” for cold brew concentrate — rest assured your coffee lover will use this all year long. We like that the OXO has a rainmaker top so the grounds brew evenly. It yields up to 16 ounces per batch, which can then be used in cold or hot drinks.

      • Compact size
      • Automatic draining
      • $29.99*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Bean Box Gourmet Coffee Subscription

      The gift that keeps on giving. Each month for three months, Bean Box sends four half-pound bags of whole coffee beans sourced from top roasters in Seattle. The package also includes tasting notes, roaster profiles, brewing tips and a special “artisan treat.”

      • Supports small-batch roasters
      • Freshness guaranteed
      • $68*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Ember Smart Mug

      Do you know someone that always lets their coffee get cold? A heated mug is cool for them because it keeps that sweet bean juice steamy, even if they get distracted for a few minutes — or an hour and a half.

      • Pairs with the Ember app
      • Includes charging coaster
      • $99.95*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Bretani Manual Coffee Grinder

      A manual grinder makes a perfect gift for the coffee lover who needs control over all aspects of their life. The brushed stainless steel makes this coffee grinder easy to look at and easy to clean.

      • 18 adjustable course settings
      • Washing brush and travel bag included
      • $15.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      Whetstone Camera Lens Mug

      The Ember mug is great for home, but this mug is better for being out and about. It looks like you're drinking from the SLR of a camera, which is sure to be a conversation starter. This is a must-buy if your coffee friend also happens to be a photographer.

      • Stainless steel with screw-on lid
      • Holds up to 12 ounces
      • $26.73*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      Flair Signature Espresso Maker

      The Flair Signature is a stunning piece of craftsmanship with overall positive ratings on Amazon. Plus, it’s portable and easy to clean. (A completely manual espresso machine is a pretty serious gift — it’s best for the person who already has a quality grinder, scale and everything else you need to make better coffee a home.)

      • Custom pressure gauge
      • $239*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine

      A Christmas surprise for the true latte lovers. This semi-automatic espresso machine comes with the equipment that's needed to be an at-home barista, including a tamper, stainless steel milk jug, portafilters and a dose trimming tool.

      • Built-in grinder
      • One-year warranty
      • $699.98*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      "The Monk of Mokha" by Dave Eggers

      If your coffee snob also loves a good read, then "The Monk of Mokha" by Dave Eggers is sure to impress. The 352-page book tells the true story of a young Yemeni-American man from San Francisco as he rises to success in the coffee industry.

      • Nonfiction
      • 352 pages
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      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      As you can see, there are tons of coffee gadgets and accessories to delight even the most fickle coffee snobs. For more news about holiday shopping, check out the latest in holiday spending trends.

      Holiday gifts for coffee lovers...
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      Coronavirus update: Wednesday marks another deadliest day, FDA begins final vaccine review

      Jobless benefits claims surged last week

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,413,913 (15,189,410)

      Total U.S. deaths: 289,970 (286,521)

      Total global cases: 69,139,809 (68,469,834)

      Total global deaths: 1,574,294 (1,561,953)

      More than 3,000 deaths on Wednesday

      Wednesday was America’s deadliest day for the coronavirus (COVID-19), with more than 3,000 deaths attributed to the disease. The number of deaths has been moving steadily higher since mid-November.

      The COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University put the official death toll at 3,124, the most ever recorded in a 24-hour period. Deaths have risen in tandem with a sudden rise in infections.

      In a new forecast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it now expects another 24,000 deaths in the U.S. over the next four weeks.

      FDA begins final  review of vaccine data

      A panel of outside experts advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun reviewing data from the clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. A recommendation is expected by Friday.

      Doran Fink, deputy clinical director of the FDA’s division of vaccines, said this week that the agency won’t stop monitoring the use, manufacturing quality, benefits, or risks of vaccines, even after they have been approved. In a joint statement, FDA Commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said efforts are being expedited to approve a vaccine, but not at expense of sound science and decision making. 

      “We will not jeopardize the public’s trust in our science-based, independent review of these or any vaccines,” they said. There’s too much at stake.”

      New jobless benefit claims take off again

      There was a big increase in the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits last week. The Labor Department reports that claims totaled 853,000, a significant increase from the revised 716,000 the week before.

      Last week saw the largest number of benefit applications since Sept. 19. Economists, who were expecting a lower number, say it points to the struggle the economy is experiencing because of the virus.

      Just as troubling, the Labor Department said continuing unemployment claims increased by 230,000 to 5.76 million. That number had been trending lower over the last three months.

      Southern California fueling that state’s virus surge

      California health officials who are trying to track the state’s surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths have pointed a finger at Southern California and the Central Valley. They say deaths from the virus are rising despite the region’s younger demographic.

      A Los Angeles Times analysis of data shows that more than 300 fatalities were reported in Los Angeles County, with nearly 80 in San Bernardino County. Riverside and San Diego counties both recorded 70 deaths, and Orange County reported 60 fatalities.

      Ten mostly rural counties in California reported having no intensive care unit beds available on Wednesday, according to state health data analyzed by Reuters. 

      The new frontier of vaccines

      Researchers at Penn State Health have issued guidance to the public to provide more information about mRNA vaccines, the type developed by Pfizer and Moderna and the ones most likely to be available first to Americans. In a way, they say it’s uncharted territory.

      “This type of vaccine — mRNA — has been studied before,” said Dr. Catharine Paules, an infectious diseases physician at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “But this will be the first time they’ve been authorized for use broadly in the United States.”

      Researchers are highly optimistic that these vaccines will be safe and effective. Unlike traditional vaccines, they say mRNA vaccines don’t contain the virus itself but use a piece of genetic material from the virus to trigger an immune response.

      Around the nation

      • Ohio: Ohio’s curfew, enacted Nov.19, expires today, but few expect an all-clear signal from the governor while cases of the virus are increasing. Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to extend the curfew, which requires people to stay at home during the overnight hours.

      • Washington: An appellate judge has ruled that the owner of Anytime Fitness gyms in Yakima does not have to pay fines levied by the state for allegedly violating virus mitigation rules. The judge said the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries did not show sufficient evidence to justify the penalty.

      • Connecticut: Gov. Ned Lamont said the state is exploring the possibility of offering financial aid to Connecticut’s restaurants. Over 600 restaurants in the state have permanently closed their doors due to the pandemic.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,413,913 (15,189,...
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      New York state’s pension fund to divest from all fossil fuel investments

      Clean energy is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the energy sector

      New York state’s pension fund found itself with a new world record on Thursday when it decided to become the largest pension fund to divest from all of its fossil fuel investments.

      The fund -- which is the third largest pension fund in the U.S. with a value of $194.3 billion and more than one million members, retirees, and beneficiaries -- decided that selling off its “riskiest” oil and gas stocks is the right action to take due to growing climate concerns. The state’s final goal is to completely eliminate all carbon polluters from its investment portfolio by 2040. 

      With a stroke of New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s pen, a clear message was sent that the smart money is on getting out of the fossil fuel game now rather than later.

      “We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement Wednesday morning. 

      “Those that fail to meet our minimum standards may be removed from our portfolio. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investment’s long-term value at risk.”

      The shape of things to come?

      The Paris Climate Agreement is coming up on its fifth anniversary, but its last couple of years have been a tug of war. Once President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord, tech executives from Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others came together to voice their concerns. Meanwhile, the world’s five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies fought against governmental measures to curb emissions.

      While the consumption side of fossil fuels hasn’t changed dramatically in the last 20 years, renewable energy -- hydroelectric power, geothermal, solar, and wind -- is getting closer in the energy sector’s rear view mirror. At last count, the renewable option was generating 17.6 percent of all electric power.

      New York may be the first to come down this hard on fossil fuel, but other states have been working on similar moves. As of late April, 15 U.S. states and territories had taken either executive or legislative action toward a 100 percent clean energy future -- one that includes clean electricity policies and economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution-reduction programs.

      What’s the energy future for consumers?

      Even more important is the consumer side of the energy consumption equation. While the decrease in gas prices has American consumers moving toward buying more SUVs and trucks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) keeps pushing for exponentially less polluting and more efficient vehicles. 

      At home, clean energy, such as solar power, is also getting the reputation as a more environmentally friendly option. 

      “Solar energy is most efficient in terms of environmental impact, whereas coal and natural gas are more efficient by reliable applications,” writes ConsumerAffairs’ Kathryn Parkman in her review of how certain energy resources impact consumers in terms of efficiency, cost, and long-term availability.

      And, as for cost? “Given the consumption rate of fossil fuels, the world is reaching a point where there will be little choice in the matter. Nonrenewable fossil fuels are extracted at a much faster rate than they're being replenished. Because of this, some fossil fuels, like coal, are on track to be more expensive than solar within the next decade,” Parkman said.

      New York state’s pension fund found itself with a new world record on Thursday when it decided to become the largest pension fund to divest from all of its...
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      McDonald’s to roll out 10 days of free food for the holidays

      Items include movie character-inspired McDoubles, hot cakes, and Egg McMuffins

      McDonald’s is giving away food for the holidays. Every day from Monday, December 14, through December 24, the fast food icon is offering daily deals on menu items that feature favorite holiday characters from TV and film.

      “After a year like 2020, I think we could all use some extra cheer this season,” said McDonald’s U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Morgan Flatley. 

      Before you schedule a family trip to McDonald’s in hopes of taking advantage of the free feeding frenzy, you should know that each daily-promoted menu item requires a $1 minimum purchase -- and the purchases have to be made through the “deals” section of the McDonald’s app.

      However, in a nod to Santa, a 2-pack/3-pack of chocolate chip cookies will be available completely free on Christmas Eve, no minimum purchase required.

      The daily deals

      As you’ll see, McDonald’s daily deals all have some sort of a connection to a character in a classic holiday movie or TV episode. Here’s the list: 

      Dec. 14: The Griswolds, free Double Cheeseburger. Note: The company did not list any exceptions for Cousin Eddie or his “tenement on wheels,” nor did they say if Clark Griswold might be dropping by with free eggnog refills.

      Dec. 15: The Abominable Snowmonster, free Big Mac

      Dec. 16: Grinch, free Egg McMuffin

      Dec. 17: John McClane, free McDouble. This tie-in is a bit of a stretch, but John McClane was the role Bruce Willis played in ‘Die Hard,’ which opened up with Willis traveling to Los Angeles to attend a Christmas Eve party.

      Dec. 18: Rudolph, free medium Fry

      Dec. 19: Gizmo, free 6-piece McNuggets. By the way, Gizmo is that furry little pet Billy’s dad gave him for Christmas in the ‘Gremlins’ movie.

      Dec. 20: Buddy the Elf, free Hotcakes

      Dec. 21: Scrooge, free any-size Hot or Iced Coffee

      Dec. 22: Frosty the Snowman, free any size McFlurry

      Dec. 23: On this day, McDonald’s is paying homage to ‘Seinfeld’s’ Frank Costanza and his idea for creating a “festivus for the rest-of-us” when he couldn’t get the doll George wanted for Christmas. As the daily freebie, customers can get a bakery item -- Apple Fritter, Cinnamon Roll, or Blueberry Muffin -- of their choice.

      Dec. 24: Santa, free 2-pack or 3-pack Chocolate Chip Cookies (No minimum purchase required)

      McDonald’s is giving away food for the holidays. Every day from Monday, December 14, through December 24, the fast food icon is offering daily deals on men...
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      Homeowners see big equity gains due to strong housing demand

      U.S. homeowners have reportedly gained about $17,000 each in equity due to the pandemic

      As home prices rose during the pandemic, homeowners in the United States have collectively gained around $1 trillion in equity, according to a report from CoreLogic. 

      Homeowners with mortgages in the U.S. have seen an equity increase of 10.8 percent, or about $17,000 per homeowner. CoreLogic said that’s the largest equity bump seen since the first quarter of 2014.

      Since the onset of the pandemic, home prices have been trending upward. Many people decided to move for various reasons related to the work- and school-from-home conditions necessitated by the health crisis. Others opted to move to less densely populated regions in the interest of safety, and some decided to buy homes this year due to record-low mortgage rates. But while housing demand grew stronger, supply remained lean. 

      CoreLogic said homeowners will probably see their equity grow even more in the months ahead before the numbers moderate at some point over the next year.

      “Equity gains are likely to persist over the next several months as strong home-purchase demand is expected to remain high and continue pushing prices up,” the report said. “However, the CoreLogic HPI Forecast shows home prices slowing over the next 12 months as new home construction and more existing for-sale homes ease supply pressures. This could moderate the pace of both home price growth and equity gains.” 

      Varied by market

      The amount of equity gained per homeowner varied by location, with homeowners in locations with the hottest home prices seeing the biggest gains. 

      Washington had the highest year-over-year average increase at $35,800. Homeowners in California gained $33,800, and those in Massachusetts gained an average of $31,200. The smallest equity gain was seen in North Dakota, where homeowners gained just $5,400 in equity. 

      Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic, said the equity gains of 2020 can provide “an important buffer to protect families if they experience financial difficulties.” Borrowers who aren’t able to keep their homes due to financial hardships may still be able to sell into the market and make a profit.

      As home prices rose during the pandemic, homeowners in the United States have collectively gained around $1 trillion in equity, according to a report from...
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      Honda recalls Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles

      The ROV can lose steering control, posing crash and injury hazards

      American Honda Motor Co. of Torrance, Calif., is recalling about 118,600 Honda Pioneer 700 & 1000 Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROVs) with Electric Power Steering (EPS).

      The ROV can lose steering control, posing crash and injury hazards.

      The firm has received eight reports of the ROV’s having either play in the steering or losing control of steering. No injuries or accidents have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2017-2019 & certain model year 2020 Honda Pioneer 700 and model year 2016-2019 & certain model year 2020 Pioneer 1000 Side-by-Side vehicles equipped with Electric Power Steering (EPS).

      The recalled vehicles were sold in various colors including: Red, blue, green, gray and yellow.

      The name “HONDA” is on the front, sides and the rear of the vehicle.

      The model name Pioneer 700 or Pioneer 1000 is printed on a label located on both sides of the vehicle.

      The serial number (VIN #) is stamped in the frame at the left rear, below the tilt-up bed/seat.

      A list of the recalled ROVs may be found here.

      The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S, were sold at authorized Honda Powersports dealers nationwide from August 2015, through March 2020, for approximately between $10,000 and $21,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact an authorized Honda Powersports dealer to schedule an appointment for a free inspection and repair, if necessary. Honda is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact American Honda toll-free at (866) 784-1870 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at http://powersports.honda.com/ and click on “Recall Information” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      American Honda Motor Co. of Torrance, Calif., is recalling about 118,600 Honda Pioneer 700 & 1000 Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROVs) with Electric Po...
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      Continental Glatt Kosher Meats recalls ready-to-eat meat and poultry products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      Continental Glatt Kosher Meats of Spring Valley, N.Y., is recalling approximately 61,504 pounds of turkey, chicken and beef products that did not undergo federal inspection.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      A list of the recalled items, were from June 26, 2020, through November 20, 2020, with various sell-by dates ranging from October 2, 2020, through April 18, 2021, may be found here.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 40009” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in New York.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Abraham Gruenzweig at (845) 659-4733.

      Continental Glatt Kosher Meats of Spring Valley, N.Y., is recalling approximately 61,504 pounds of turkey, chicken and beef products that did not undergo f...
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      Royal Caribbean test cruise forced back to port after positive COVID-19 case

      Passengers are being kept aboard the ship until more tests can be administered

      Royal Caribbean may have gotten a little too eager in its desire to start cruising again. Just weeks after the cruise line set out to recruit 100,000 volunteers for test cruises, one of its ships was forced to return to port in Singapore after a passenger tested positive for COVID-19.

      According to a report by CNN, the Quantum of the Seas ship was hosting a three-night, four-day "cruise to nowhere" itinerary sailing around Singapore and had been at sea for two days before the incident occured. The passenger, whose name has yet to be released, is an 83-year-old male who contacted ship personnel after he began experiencing diarrhea, a symptom of coronavirus.

      The “healthy return” that went wrong

      While Royal Caribbean had joined other cruise lines in moving its sailing dates back to 2021, it left Singapore departures off that list. When the company announced the Quantum voyage, it said it was celebrating its “healthy return to sailing” after “months of careful planning and collaboration with Singapore's health and tourism authorities.”

      Once the passenger’s test was confirmed as positive, the ship informed Singaporean officials and headed back to port. However, CNN reports that guests have not yet been permitted to disembark from the ship. They likely won’t be able to leave until contact tracing measures have been carried out and the 1,679 passengers and 1,148 crew members remaining onboard are tested for the coronavirus and produce a negative test result.

      In all fairness, Royal Caribbean had reason to think it was playing things safe. The Quantum was operating at 50 percent capacity, and every passenger had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to board. All guests were also required to wear masks at all times when outside their staterooms. 

      Given the fact that Singapore had only one positive COVID-19 case in the last week, it seemed prudent to only allow Singaporean citizens to buy tickets for the cruise. Royal Caribbean also went the extra mile by having crew members spend 14 days quarantining in the city-state in order to be cleared for work. However, all bets are off when it comes to COVID-19. 

      "We worked closely with the government to develop a thorough system that tests and monitors all guests and crew and follows public health best practices," a Royal Caribbean representative said. "That we were able to quickly identify this single case and take immediate action is a sign that the system is working as it was designed to do."

      Royal Caribbean may have gotten a little too eager in its desire to start cruising again. Just weeks after the cruise line set out to recruit 100,000 volun...
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      Coronavirus update: Adverse reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, New York considers a vaccine mandate

      Senators are reporting problems with testing capacity

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,189,410 (14,975,348)

      Total U.S. deaths: 286,521 (284,131)

      Total global cases: 68,469,834 (67,803,057)

      Total global deaths: 1,561,953 (1,549,332)

      U.K.: Pfizer vaccine not for people with allergies

      Two days into the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine rollout, British health officials have a warning for people with a “significant history of allergic reactions” -- they should not take the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

      The warning was issued after two hospital workers received the vaccine and had “adverse reactions.” Officials said both suffered from allergies.

      "Any person with a history of a significant allergic reaction to a vaccine, medicine or food (such as previous history of anaphylactoid reaction or those who have been advised to carry an adrenaline autoinjector) should not receive the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine," British health officials said in an advisory.

      New York may require residents to be vaccinated

      With polls showing hesitation on the part of the public -- including New York City firefighters -- to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a state lawmaker is proposing a bill that could make it mandatory.

      Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan introduced a bill that would require the state to "safely and effectively" distribute an FDA-approved vaccine "in accordance with the department [of health]'s COVID-19 vaccination administration program." 

      The bill would give the state health department authority to “mandate vaccination” if state officials determined that not enough people are getting the vaccine to promote herd immunity.

      Senators claim gaps in U.S. testing capacity

      Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) say they have discovered “significant gaps” in the nation’s ability to administer and collect COVID-19 tests.

      In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, the two lawmakers said they made their discovery after consulting with the major diagnostic testing labs in the U.S. The letter said the labs reported a significant spike in testing demand during the summer that stretched resources, making more federal aid necessary.

      At a White House event Tuesday, President Trump defended U.S. efforts to test for the virus and said new tests are on the way that will make the process easier.

      Roche partnering with Moderna in last stage of vaccine trial

      Moderna is in the final stages of its vaccine clinical trial, and it’s teaming up with Roche’s diagnostics unit to determine how well the vaccine works. Moderna will use a Roche test, which received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month, to measure antibodies produced by the vaccine.

      “Measuring the quantitative levels of anti-RBD SARS-CoV-2 antibodies using Roche’s test will help Moderna to gain valuable insights into the correlation between protection from vaccination and antibody levels,” Roche said in a press release. 

      The company said the information could play a role in assessing if, or when, an individual needs revaccination. It could also help “answer other clinically relevant questions.”

      UC Davis joins Novavax trial

      Pfizer and Moderna are likely to get conditional FDA approval for their vaccines in the coming days, but that doesn’t mean the search for a vaccine to stamp out COVID-19 has ended. Other vaccine efforts are still underway.

      University of California (UC) Davis is partnering with Novavax in a clinical trial for that company’s vaccine. The vaccine, called NVX-CoV2373, has a subunit from the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. The subunit is combined with an adjuvant, a boosting agent to improve the body’s immune response to the vaccine.

      “The vaccine contains protein antigens that cannot replicate or cause COVID-19. The antibodies generated to the vaccine will help protect the body from the real, fully-potent virus,” said Stuart Cohen, head of Infectious Diseases at UC Davis Health. 

      Around the nation

      • New York: A restaurant trade group in New York has taken aim at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that indoor dining may shut down in New York City soon if COVID-19 hospitalization rates keep going up. “Governor Cuomo has given New Yorkers a one-week warning that indoor dining will likely be shut down, regardless of the number of positive cases that are specifically tied back to restaurants,” Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

      • Tennessee: State health officials have reported 100 deaths in a day for the first time since the pandemic began. The state also reported 6,019 new cases of COVID-19, as well as an 18.47 percent positive for Tuesday.

      • Oklahoma: Doctors and nurses at SSM St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City invited TV reporters into the ICU, hoping state residents would be shocked into wearing masks and social distancing. “Just do the right things and wear a mask, and follow CDC guidelines because honestly, we’re strained to the point where this is not sustainable. We can’t do this anymore,” said critical care unit charge nurse Stephanie Collier.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,189,410 (14,975,...
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      McDonald’s Happy Meals could cost more in 2021

      The fast food chain is eliminating a subsidy that helped keep the cost of the menu item down

      The price of McDonald’s Happy Meals could rise in 2021 as a result of the end of a deal between the fast food giant and its franchisees. Previously, the deal subsidized the price of the toys that come with Happy Meals. 

      About 95 percent of U.S. McDonald’s locations are owned and operated by independent franchisees, which are in charge of setting prices for menu items. For years, McDonald's has been giving each franchise around $300 per month to keep the cost of Happy Meals down. Without the contribution, many franchisees say they will be forced to raise the price of the popular menu item. 

      The company told franchisees that it’s doing away with the subsidy because it’s "no longer fueling growth in the way it once was.” As a result, franchises have been cleared to increase the price of a Happy Meal by 20 cents starting next year if they so choose. 

      The National Owners Association, a group of McDonald's franchisees, said in a team message that it "does not support, nor did we endorse" the elimination of the financial support, according to CNN Business.

      "We believe the Happy Meal rebates represent a token of partnership and acknowledgment by the company that each owner [and] operator invests to drive affordable family business to our restaurants," the group said in the letter.

      The price of McDonald’s Happy Meals could rise in 2021 as a result of the end of a deal between the fast food giant and its franchisees. Previously, the de...
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      Dry ice supplies could impact COVID-19 vaccine release

      Experts say successfully distributing vaccines will likely be ‘challenging’

      The release of a COVID-19 vaccine could be impacted by dry ice supplies in the U.S., Reuters reports. 

      Dry ice is a crucial factor in keeping doses of many vaccinations at the required temperature. For example, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -70 Celsius. Failure to keep vaccinations at the proper temperature could render them ineffective. 

      But some dry ice suppliers are anticipating a level of “vulnerability” in dry ice supplies during the vaccine rollout because it’s unclear how much of it will be needed. 

      “There’s going to be spots in other parts of the country that there’s vulnerability or weakness in supply,” Steve Atkins, executive vice president of gases at nexAir in Memphis, Tennessee, told Reuters.

      Tight supplies

      Dry ice is made from carbon dioxide and is often used in the food and grocery industry, in addition to medical settings. Experts say its use for vaccine distribution threatens to cause a ripple effect that could lead to wavering supplies.

      “What is going to happen is as the Pfizer vaccine needs to get distributed at -70C, all of the dry ice is going to get sucked up for vaccine distribution or healthcare related activities and it is just sitting there now,” Evan Armstrong, president of Milwaukee-based supply chain consultancy Armstrong & Associates, told Logistics Management.

      “That is going to impact all of the food and grocery stuff that happens on the frozen side, so the ripple effects of that are going to be pretty extreme, when it comes to all of the distribution of non-healthcare products that require dry ice as well.”

      Armstrong said dry ice quantities have taken a hit due to pandemic-related declines in oil prices.

      “Dry ice manufacturing happens next to oil refinery plants, because they capture the CO2 out of the process,” Armstrong said. “When the price of oil dropped, it really created a lot less C02 and because the production went down, it impacted it…and right now dry ice supplies are very tight.”

      States rushing to secure dry ice

      Ahead of the rollout of a successful COVID-19 vaccine, Reuters said many states are already scheduling dry ice deliveries. Gehm and Sons in Akron has agreed to provide Ohio with 15,000 pounds per week of dry ice pellets for 55 cents a pound.

      More than a dozen states told the publication that they are working hard to secure enough dry ice to replenish shipping containers sent over from Pfizer. 

      Pfizer has said that the suitcase-sized containers can house vaccines for a total of 30 days as long as they are re-iced every five days. The pharmaceutical giant said it believes the dry ice supply will be able to support the rollout of its vaccine -- but challenges could still crop up. 

      “This is the most challenging vaccination program ever attempted. (It) will be especially complicated in rural and remote communities,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, an advisor to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine program and associate director at the Immunization Action Coalition. 

      The release of a COVID-19 vaccine could be impacted by dry ice supplies in the U.S., Reuters reports. Dry ice is a crucial factor in keeping doses of m...
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      Delta Air Lines scraps international change fees and adds flexibility to new tickets

      Some changes might include caveats, so travelers should make sure they check all of the fare rules on a flight

      With the coronavirus vaccine about to shine some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Delta Air Lines is reframing some of its typical restrictions in hopes of attracting millions of Americans who are more than ready to get out and travel again.

      Topping the list of changes is an extension to an existing waiver that promises no change fees for all tickets purchased through March 30, 2021, for travel at any time to anywhere in the world. According to a Delta spokesperson, that includes Basic Economy fares, “which typically can’t be changed or canceled.” Delta is hoping that the modification will make it easier for travelers to book their 2021 spring break or summer vacation.

      The other change Delta is making is to permanently eliminate change fees for international travel originating from North America -- including flights operated by joint venture and codeshare partners (Air France, KLM, et al) -- effective immediately. 

      While this sounds like great news, there is one important note that wanderlusting consumers should make -- namely, that “permanently” isn’t exactly permanent in the general sense. Delta clarified to ConsumerAffairs that Basic Economy fares for international flights are excluded from this change after March 30.

      “No year has better demonstrated the value of flexibility than this one,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “Our approach has always been to put people first, which is why we’re extending our current change fee waiver and making lasting changes to our practices, so customers have the trust and confidence they need long after the pandemic ends.”

      Pay attention to the details on every flight

      The COVID-19 pandemic has put airlines on an emotional rollercoaster as carriers look for ways to keep their planes in the air and passengers in seats. American, Southwest, JetBlue, and countless other airlines all took steps to be as consumer-sensitive as possible.

      Delta’s latest move is likely to prod its competitors to do the same if not more. However, as ConsumerAffairs noted in the caveat about change fees for Delta’s Basic Economy fares, the devil is in the details. 

      Anyone looking to purchase a ticket for future flights that look like great deals should always click on the “more details” or “other fees may apply” links in a reservation before clicking on the “book now” button. If there is still confusion, the next best option is to email the airline and ask for clarification. And, by all means, keep a copy of the airline’s response in case something goes wrong.

      With the coronavirus vaccine about to shine some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Delta Air Lines is reframing some of its typical restrictions in...
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      Cybersecurity firm FireEye suffers major cyber attack

      Russian hackers are reportedly being investigated as the likely culprit

      FireEye, one of the nation’s leading cybersecurity firms, has shared details of a hack targeting its “Red Team” tools, which it uses to test customers’ security. The firm said there is concern that the hackers could publicly release the tools they accessed or use them to carry out other attacks. 

      In a blog post, FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia said the attack was “different from the tens of thousands of incidents we have responded to throughout the years.” 

      “The attackers tailored their world-class capabilities specifically to target and attack FireEye. They are highly trained in operational security and executed with discipline and focus,” Mandia wrote. “They operated clandestinely, using methods that counter security tools and forensic examination. They used a novel combination of techniques not witnessed by us or our partners in the past.” 

      Russia reportedly a suspect

      FireEye said it doesn’t currently have evidence that any customer information was taken. 

      Although the company didn’t say in its report who it believes is responsible for the attack, the Wall Street Journal reported that state-sponsored Russian hackers are a likely suspect. A source familiar with the matter told the Journal that Russia is currently being viewed by investigators as “the most likely culprit.” 

      “Moscow’s foreign-intelligence service, known as the SVR and one of two Russian groups that hacked the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election, is believed to be responsible, the person said,” according to the Journal. 

      FireEye didn’t specify when the hack took place or when it became aware of it. The hack is currently being investigated by FireEye, as well as the FBI and industry partners like Microsoft.

      Since becoming aware of the attack, FireEye said it’s developed hundreds of countermeasures that can detect or block the use of any of its stolen tools. The firm said it has integrated the measures into its own security products and shared them with “colleagues in the security community.” 

      FireEye said it will “continue to share and refine any additional mitigations for the Red Team tools as they become available.” 

      FireEye, one of the nation’s leading cybersecurity firms, has shared details of a hack targeting its “Red Team” tools, which it uses to test customers’ sec...
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      Consumers’ behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic are improving the environment

      Researchers have found reduced air pollution levels, less deforestation, and better water quality

      Recent studies have shown how environmental factors can play a large role in future pandemics, but a new study conducted by researchers from NASA and the Goddard Space Flight Center is looking at how the environment has changed since the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

      According to their findings, the pandemic could be responsible for a great deal of positive environmental change that has occurred this year. In comparing data between 2019 and 2020, the researchers noted improvements in air pollution, deforestation, and water quality in several parts of the world. 

      “But we will need more research to clearly attribute environmental change to COVID,” said researcher Timothy Newman.

      Improved environmental outcomes

      The researchers used remote sensing data to look at specific environmental outcomes across different parts of the world to understand how things have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, they learned that things are environmentally very different from where they were before the pandemic.  

      The study revealed that air pollution levels have improved greatly in India in recent months. Results showed that levels of the pollutant particulate matter (PM) 10 decreased significantly since the start of this year; that could be a result of fewer construction projects happening across the country because of pandemic-related lockdowns. 

      Cleaner air in India also had an effect on snow in the Indus River Basin. The researchers learned that snow in this area has been less susceptible to pollutants since they are at reduced levels; that has led to an increase in the amount of time it takes the snow to melt. They explained that the snow was melting slower than it has in the last two decades, which is incredibly beneficial for the environment and the planet’s temperature. It also affects how quickly consumers in the River Basin have access to fresh water.

      The researchers also looked at how water quality has changed since the start of the pandemic. They learned that New York City experienced significant improvements in this area. By eliminating millions of daily commuters, the water was less polluted overall, and it was found to be 40 percent clearer than it was at the start of the pandemic. 

      In looking at deforestation efforts, the researchers learned that different areas have had different outcomes during the pandemic. While deforestation slowed in parts of Peru and Colombia, large parts of the Brazilian rainforest weren’t as lucky. 

      Can the benefits last?

      While many of these pandemic-related changes are beneficial to the environment, there’s a good chance that they won’t be long-lasting. 

      Though consumers have been forced to change their behaviors in recent months, the researchers predict that once things revert back to how they were pre-pandemic, these environmental advancements won’t hold up.

      Recent studies have shown how environmental factors can play a large role in future pandemics, but a new study conducted by researchers from NASA and the G...
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      Model year 2020 Ford Explorers recalled

      The fuel tank inlet check valve may not be welded properly

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 17 model year 2020 Explorers with 2.3L engines and 19 gallon fuel tanks.

      The fuel tank inlet check valve may not be fully welded to the fuel tank shell.

      An incomplete weld securing the inlet check valve to the fuel tank shell could result in a substantial fuel leak during a crash, posing the risk of fire.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tank shell free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin December 7, 2020.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20S68.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 17 model year 2020 Explorers with 2.3L engines and 19 gallon fuel tanks. The fuel tank inlet check valve may not be full...
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      Huffy recalls Torex Ride-on Toy UTVs

      The toy can move unexpectedly when connecting the battery after recharging

      Huffy Corporation of Miamisburg, Ohio, is recalling about 3,150 Huffy Torex 24V ride-on toy UTVs.

      The toy can move unexpectedly when connecting the battery after recharging, posing an injury hazard.

      The firm has received 36 reports of incidents. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Huffy-branded Torex 24-volt ride-on toy UTVs (model number 17249).

      The toy UTVs measure 53 inches long, 43 inches wide and 27 inches tall when assembled, and are black with red trim, and “Torex” labels are on the front and side of the ride-on toy.

      The recalled toy UTVs were manufactured between June 2019, and November 2019, with date codes: 16919, 17119, 18019, 19019, 20019, 20219, 20519, 24819, 24919, 25019, 25219, 25319, 25419, 32219, 32319 and 33719.

      The model number and date code are located under left rear wheel well above left rear wheel.

      The toy UTVs, manufactured in China, were sold at Walmart stores nationwide and online at www.walmart.com from August 2019, through September 2020, for about $500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled toy UTV and contact Huffy for a free replacement controller.

      Consumers may contact Huffy toll-free at (888) 366-3828 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at torex@huffy.com, online at https://www.huffybikes.com and click on “Safety Notices” at the bottom of the page or use direct link https://www.huffybikes.com/recalls/.

      Huffy Corporation of Miamisburg, Ohio, is recalling about 3,150 Huffy Torex 24V ride-on toy UTVs. The toy can move unexpectedly when connecting the batt...
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      Honda recalls model year 2021 Pilots with Continental CrossContact LX Sport tires

      The tire carcass may break causing a sudden loss of air

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 214 model year 2021 Pilots with Continental CrossContact LX Sport 245/50R20 102 H tires with DOT serial number A376 D3K9 2920 and mold numbers S-421920 and S-421921.

      The tires may have been cured for a time beyond the specification limits.

      Over-cured tires may develop a break in the sidewall resulting in sudden air loss or a belt edge separation which could lead to a tread/belt loss.

      Either condition can cause a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash or injury.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect all four tires and replace the tires that have the affected DOT serial number and mold number free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 11, 2021.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is U8Y.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 214 model year 2021 Pilots with Continental CrossContact LX Sport 245/50R20 102 H tires with DOT serial number A376 D...
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      Kawasaki recalls model year 2021 Ninja ZX-14R motorcycles

      The front brake master cylinder may be missing a component

      Kawasaki Motors is recalling 84 model year 2021 Ninja ZX-14R motorcycles.

      The front brake master cylinder may be missing an internal component, which can cause inconsistent front braking force.

      Reduced braking effectiveness can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Kawasaki will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front brake master cylinder, free of charge.

      Owners are advised to not ride their motorcycle until the repair is complete.

      The recall was expected to begin December 4, 2020.

      Owners may contact Kawasaki customer service at (866) 802-9381. Kawasaki's number for this recall is MC20-11.

      Kawasaki Motors is recalling 84 model year 2021 Ninja ZX-14R motorcycles. The front brake master cylinder may be missing an internal component, which ca...
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      Holiday shopping season moves slowly at retailers but continues at a fast pace online

      The deals aren’t done yet -- there’s still ‘Green Monday’ left

      The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be affecting the holiday shopping season. 

      A new study from the National Retail Foundation (NRF) shows that the average U.S. shopper spent 14 percent less this year at physical stores than in 2019 from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday.

      However, on the flip side, Black Friday and Saturday saw substantial growth in online activity. For the first time ever, the number of online Black Friday shoppers eclipsed the 100 million mark, up 8 percent over last year. The online shoppers were even more aggressive on Saturday, shooting up 17 points compared with last year. 

      Overall, online-only shoppers increased by 44 percent for the entire weekend, for a total of 95.7 million.

      Consumers are buying earlier

      With more people shopping online and the threat of the pandemic still peaking in early fall, some retailers decided to roll their deals out earlier so that they had additional time to make course corrections if needed. Some examples included moves made by Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, which all offered Black Friday prices at the same time as Amazon Prime Day in mid-October.

      The NRF said that motivated 52 percent of holiday shoppers to take advantage of early holiday sales and promotions this year. Of those who did, 38 percent said they checked off holiday purchases in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Fifty-three percent felt that promotions over the Thanksgiving weekend were pretty much the same as they had been earlier in the season.

      Watch out for “Green Monday”

      There’s still a couple of weeks before Santa comes, and retailers aren’t ready to put their carrots and sticks back in the closet quite yet.

      It may come as a surprise, but there’s something called “Green Monday” that experts say is the second-best day for online holiday deals. It’s also the biggest online shopping day in all of December. 

      Green Monday falls on the second Monday of the month, which would check in this year on December 14 — or 10 shipping days before Christmas. Walmart, Target, and Amazon are all gearing up for Green Monday, and the competition is expected to be fierce.

      “Green Monday is receiving more competition from sales extended through Cyber Week,” said TheBalance’s Kimberly Amadeo. “With Amazon Prime and other services, shoppers can wait until closer to Christmas to buy online and have their purchases arrive on time. But Green Monday is still a good bargain, with retailers offering substantial discounts from regular prices.”

      For you useless information hounds, “Green Monday'' gets its name from eBay. In 2007, the site experienced one of its biggest sales days on the second Monday of December. In honor of that rolling-in-the-green milestone, it gave the day its now colorful name. 

      The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be affecting the holiday shopping season. A new study from the National Retail Foundation (NRF) shows that the average...
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      Coronavirus update: U.S. experiences its deadliest week, vaccine rolls out in the U.K.

      The FDA is ready to study Moderna’s vaccine

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 14,975,348 (14,779,499)

      Total U.S. deaths: 284,131 (282,436)

      Total global cases: 67,803,057 (67,250,219)

      Total global deaths: 1,549,332 (1,539,559)

      Last week was the deadliest week

      A New York Times analysis of coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality data shows that last week was the deadliest week for the virus since the pandemic began. However, officials are worried it won’t remain a record for long.

      The analysis shows that the U.S. recorded a seven-day average of 2,249 deaths last week, slightly more than in April in the early days of the outbreak. There have now been more than 283,000 deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 nationwide.

      The current wave of cases sweeping the country is largely responsible for the rising death toll. But unlike in April, when outbreaks were centered in New York and other urban areas, the biggest increase in cases is occurring in rural areas of the Midwest.

      Vaccine rollout begins in the U.K.

      Health services in the U.K. have begun administering the coronavirus vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. A 90-year old retired shop clerk was the first to roll up her sleeve today.

      The U.K. is the first Western country to begin inoculating its citizens, starting with seniors and those with underlying health issues. The initial shots were given at private hospitals, but Britain’s National Health Service will be the main distribution point once the process ramps up.

      An advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came in for some criticism over the weekend from pundits who claimed the agency was acting too slowly in reviewing clinical trial data. However, an adviser to the committee said Monday that Pfizer’s vaccine could get the green light as early as Friday. The agency said today that results suggest the vaccine is consistent with the requirements for emergency use authorization.

      FDA turns attention to Moderna vaccine

      The FDA has scheduled a meeting of a key review committee for December 17 to begin looking at data from the recently completed Moderna vaccine clinical trial. 

      “In keeping with the FDA’s commitment to ensuring full transparency, dialogue and efficiency, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, made up of outside scientific and public health experts from around the country, will meet to discuss the totality of the safety and effectiveness data provided by Moderna for their EUA submission,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn. 

      Hahn said the agency understands the intense public interest in vaccines and remains “committed to keeping the public informed about the evaluation of the data of a potential COVID-19 vaccine so that once available, the public and the medical community can have trust and confidence in receiving the vaccine for our families and ourselves.”

      Researchers probe COVID-19’s damage to organs

      Doctors treating severely ill COVID-19 patients have been perplexed as to why some patients suffer severe organ damage from the virus -- organs other than the lungs. Researchers at UCLA say they may have the answer.

      Experimenting on mice, the researchers discovered that the virus can shut down energy production in cells of the heart, kidneys, spleen, and other organs. It’s the loss of energy in those organs that can cause damage.

      “This mouse model is a really powerful tool for studying SARS-CoV-2 in a living system,” said Dr. Arjun Deb, a co-senior author of a paper. “Understanding how this virus can hijack our cells might eventually lead to new ways to prevent or treat the organ failure that can accompany COVID-19 in humans.”

      The pandemic is contributing to Austin’s boom

      The pandemic has had quite an impact on the housing market. Realtor.com’s list of 2021’s housing hotspots is top-heavy with centers of technology, especially in mid-sized cities.

      The Wall Street Journal has singled out Austin as another housing market that is attracting newcomers because of the pandemic and abundant tech jobs. The prospect of working remotely is contributing to the exodus from urban centers. The fact that Austin is the state capital is an added bonus.

      “Texas’ capital is attracting more corporate jobs and remote workers than ever before, lured by lower costs and lower taxes,” The Journal reported. “Business relocations to Austin announced this year are expected to create nearly 10,000 jobs.”

      Around the nation

      • Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott has announced a program to administer rapid-results tests for workers at small businesses in five cities. The tests will be available in Amarillo, Edinburg, El Paso, Laredo, and Lubbock.

      • New Jersey: State health officials have been stymied by citizens’ lack of cooperation with contract tracing, which they say is needed to control the spread of the virus. Officials say as many as 74 percent of people diagnosed with COVID-19 have refused to reveal their contacts.

      • Nevada: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments today regarding the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on churches throughout the state. Calvary Chapel’s Lone Mountain and Dayton locations have challenged Gov. Steve Sisolak’s 50-person limit on places of worship.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 14,975,348 (14,779,...
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      Poor sleep during adolescence can increase risk of depression

      Study findings highlight how powerful sleep can be for young people

      Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to consumers’ well-being, and now a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Ottawa has explored how sleeping habits can affect teens’ mental health.

      Their work revealed that adolescents who struggle with chronic sleep issues are more likely to also struggle with depression.

      “Our findings suggest that significant sleep delays during adolescence may increase the likelihood of depression onset in both males and females,” said researcher Nafissa Ismail, PhD. “Additionally, sleep delay may sensitize adolescent females to other stressors and increase the likelihood of mood disorder development.”  

      Less sleep leads to more stress

      To understand what effect sleep can have on depression risk, the researchers conducted a sleep experiment on 40 adolescent and 40 adult mice. While some mice slept normally for seven nights, other mice were disrupted for the first four hours of their sleep each night for seven nights. To assess their depression following this sleep cycle, the researchers exposed the mice to a stress-inducing activity.

      The researchers learned that the adult mice responded differently than the adolescent mice after losing sleep for seven consecutive nights. Despite both groups experiencing sleep disruptions, only the adolescent mice reacted poorly to a new stressor, which indicates that they could be at a greater risk for depression. 

      “When exposed to a new stressor following seven days of repeated sleep delay, only adolescent male and female mice showed increased activity in the prelimbic cortex of the brain -- not the adults,” Dr. Ismail said. “The prelimbic cortex is associated with stress coping strategies and can be damaged from overreaction following sleep deprivation.” 

      The study also revealed that the female adolescent mice produced a greater stress hormone response than the male adolescent mice. The researchers explained that female teenagers may be more susceptible to depression than their male counterparts, and poor sleep only exacerbates that issue.

      “A popular theory suggests that depression originates in adolescents overexposed to stress, and that differences between male and female depression rates are attributed to an increased female vulnerability to chronic stress,” said Dr. Ismail. 

      “Sleep disruption is a common stressor during adolescent development,” she added. “Its repeated exposure could partially be responsible for adolescent female susceptibility to depression.”

      Sleep and COVID-19

      As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect consumers’ sleep, stress, and mental health, the researchers worry about how these current circumstances will affect rates of teen depression moving forward. 

      “As COVID-19 quarantine requirements -- such as remote learning, limited in-person social interactions, and increased screen time -- have removed some pressure to adhere to regular sleep schedules, adolescents could be at a higher risk than ever before for developing depression and other mood disorders,” Dr. Ismail said.

      Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to consumers’ well-being, and now a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Ottawa has explor...
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      American Airlines to offer $129 preflight COVID-19 test

      The program will start Wednesday for travel beginning Saturday

      To boost customer bookings, American Airlines has announced that it will offer customers $129 at-home COVID-19 tests. 

      The tests, which will be provided by LetsGetChecked, are intended to help travelers avoid quarantines in the places they are going. Some states -- including New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts -- require incoming travelers to quarantine for up to two weeks upon arrival. 

      LetsGetChecked offers at-home nasal swab tests that promise results in under 48 hours. The program will go live starting Wednesday for flights leaving Saturday. American Airlines said the pre-flight coronavirus test it’s offering focuses on domestic travel. 

      Airlines have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer demand for flights has remained far below normal levels due to travelers’ fears about contracting the virus, as well as quarantine requirements in the U.S. and abroad. 

      Airlines and airports offering testing

      In October, United Airlines started offering COVID-19 tests to consumers traveling to Hawaii destinations. The airline’s CEO said at the time that United is “committed to innovating to help customers continue to travel where they want to go in a way that is safe.” 

      A number of airports currently have testing requirements in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. In the coming weeks, the following airports are also expected to start offering COVID-19 testing: 

      • California. San Diego International Airport (SAN)

      • Colorado. Denver International Airport (DEN) 

      • Florida. Fort Lauderdale; Hollywood International Airport (FLL) 

      • Illinois. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD); Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) 

      • Maryland. Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) 

      • New York. Albany International Airport (ALB)

      To boost customer bookings, American Airlines has announced that it will offer customers $129 at-home COVID-19 tests. The tests, which will be provided...
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      Here are the housing hot spots for 2021

      An industry report finds technology and government will be the main drivers

      The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spurred mobility in 2020 when it comes to housing. People have been on the move, often relocating to other cities since they now work virtually.

      Realtor.com has issued a new report, highlighting what it says will be real estate hotspots in 2021, drawing homebuyers from all over the country. Not surprisingly, cities that are technology centers lead the pack.

      Here’s the list of realtor.com’s top 10 hot spots::

      1. Sacramento

      2. San Jose

      3. Charlotte

      4. Boise, Idaho

      5. Seattle

      6. Phoenix

      7. Harrisburg, Pa.

      8. Oxnard, Calif.

      9. Denver

      10. Riverside, Calif.

      Reliant on technology

      "This past year, we've all become more reliant on technology to work, learn, and maintain personal connections,” said Danielle Hale, realtor.com’s chief economist. "Additionally, the relative stability of government jobs in the past year has driven home prices and sales in several state capitals to the top.” 

      The list is also dominated by small to mid-sized cities. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles aren’t where people are headed. Instead, cities like Sacramento, San Jose, Charlotte, Harrisburg, Pa., and Boise, Idaho are expected to emerge next year as housing hot spots.

      Even during the pandemic, these cities have been blessed with a stable job market and plenty of jobs paying high salaries. And for that reason, Hale says people considering a move to one of these hotspots should be prepared to act fast.

      Expect rising prices

      “Home buyers, particularly younger first-time buyers, looking in one of these markets should expect rising prices and heavy competition,” she said. “Meanwhile, sellers will remain in a position of power, but will find themselves on the other side of the bargaining table when buying their next home."

      In addition to technology industry centers, the hot spots include many state capitals. In fact, five of the top 10 cities are centers of government. They’ve all attracted more than their share of millennials in 2020.

      Data from realtor.com shows millennials make up 14.1 percent of the population of the top 10 cities, slightly higher than the U.S. as a whole. 

      The report concludes that a city’s ability to lure millennials is a good indicator of the livability of the area including job opportunities, dining, and entertainment. 

      The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spurred mobility in 2020 when it comes to housing. People have been on the move, often relocating to other cities s...
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      Tarantino Wholesale Foods recalls ready-to-eat chicken breasts

      The product may contain bacterial pathogens

      Tarantino Wholesale Foods Distributor of San Diego, Calif., is recalling approximately 1,115 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken breasts.

      The products are undercooked resulting in the potential survival of bacterial pathogens.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions

      The following ready-to-eat item, produced on October 23, 2020, is being recalled:

      • 10-lb. cases of “MARY’S FULLY COOKED CHICKEN BREAST” with lot code 20297 and use by date 10/23/21.

      The cases containing the recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-8119” inside the USDA mark of inspection were shipped to institution locations in California and sold directly to retail consumers.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Marcos Tarantino by email at marcos.tarantino@tarantinosausage.com.

      Tarantino Wholesale Foods Distributor of San Diego, Calif., is recalling approximately 1,115 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken breasts. The products are un...
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      Santa Cruz Bicycles recalls bikes with aluminum frames

      The frame pieces can bend or buckle, posing a fall hazard

      Santa Cruz Bicycles of Santa Cruz, Calif., is recalling about 3,100 model year 2020 Aluminum Santa Cruz and Juliana Bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The aluminum frame pieces could have experienced thermal damage during a non-standard paint stripping operation and can bend or buckle, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received four reports of the recalled aluminum frame bicycle pieces bending or buckling. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the model year 2020 aluminum frames on Santa Cruz models Nomad 4a Aluminum, Bronson 3a Aluminum and the 5010 3a Aluminum and Juliana models Roubion 3a Aluminum and Furtado 3a Aluminum.

      The Nomad 4a Aluminum is black or eggplant (purple) color; the Bronson 3a Aluminum is red tide or olive color, and the 5010 3a Aluminum is dark gray and robins egg (light blue).

      The Roubion 3a Aluminum is maritime gray and the Furtado 3a Aluminum is fog (light gray).

      The name “Santa Cruz” or “Juliana” appears on the downtube of the bicycle frame. The model names appear in different locations on the front and rear triangles, depending on the model.

      Only frames without six small indents above the first letter of the serial number are included in this recall. The serial number is located on the bottom bracket shell.

      The bicycles, manufactured in China, were sold at bicycle stores nationwide and specialty online retailers from June 2019, through October 2020, for about $2,000 for frames sold separately and about $3,500 to $4,300 for complete bikes with the aluminum frames.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles with aluminum frames and contact the firm to arrange for a free inspection.

      Consumers with affected frames can choose either a free replacement aluminum frame or a refund voucher for the value of the recalled frame.

      Consumers may contact Santa Cruz Bicycles toll-free at (833) 944-8335 from 9 a.m. to 5p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at qualityassurance@santacruzbicycles.com or online at http://www.santacruzbicycles.com and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Santa Cruz Bicycles of Santa Cruz, Calif., is recalling about 3,100 model year 2020 Aluminum Santa Cruz and Juliana Bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada. ...
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      COVID-19 vaccines could be available as soon as Friday, FDA advisor says

      Distribution plans likely will fall on the U.S. Army’s shoulders, and CVS stores could also be involved

      Good news on the pandemic front. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisor says Americans might be able to start getting COVID-19 vaccines as early as Friday, December 11.

      Dr. James Hildreth, an FDA vaccines advisor and the president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, told NBC News’ ‘TODAY’ show that the agency may issue an emergency-use authorization to Pfizer’s and BioNTech's vaccine after a meeting of experts takes place on Thursday. That approval could go into effect the very next day. 

      Both companies had earlier been given the green light to fast-track their vaccines by the FDA in mid-July.

      Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the head of the White House's coronavirus vaccine effort, confirmed Hildreth’s perspective, saying in an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that he also expects the FDA to approve the shot. He said shipments will likely start as soon as approval is given. 

      Questions about vaccine distribution raised

      When Hildreth was asked about the lack of a “clear and consistent plan” to distribute the vaccines and why Americans should have any confidence in the possibility, he put the onus on the U.S. Army, saying it -- or one of its generals -- would be responsible for the logistics. 

      “One thing that our military does well is large-scale mobilizations like this,” he said. 

      Hildreth also gave a nice plug for CVS, saying that the company’s stores could play a big part in distribution due to how many there are throughout the country. 

      “I also think that (Americans) should know that drug companies such as CVS are involved,” Hildreth said. “CVS stores, if you look at them in total, 80 percent of our population lives within three miles of a CVS store and that’s one example of how we’re mobilizing, taking advantage of existing infrastructure to make sure we get this right. I think Americans can be confident that it’s going to be distributed and done very well.”

      What about confidence in the vaccine itself?

      Regardless of access, many consumers may not be lining up to get inoculated when the time comes; a recent poll shows that 40 percent of Americans have little to no confidence in a vaccine. However, Hildreth said the FDA has spent a “lot of time” dealing with that low level of buy-in.

      “My response would be a couple of things. The fast speed of the (development) of this vaccine is related to technology, existing infrastructure, and really incredible science,” Hildreth said.

      “The other thing is that we’re identifying trusted messengers, making sure they are confident in the vaccine and allowing them to be the ones who are conveying the messages to the minority communities. We think that’s going to work. We need to give them agency, the ability to make a decision for themselves, and that requires giving them sufficient information. We’re confident we can do that.”

      Good news on the pandemic front. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisor says Americans might be able to start getting COVID-19 vaccines as early...
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      Coronavirus update: California goes into lockdown, virus is going from bad to worse

      First responders have doubts about a potential vaccine

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 14,779,499 (14,275,983)

      Total U.S. deaths: 282,436 (279,920)

      Total global cases: 67,250,219 (65,923,945)

      Total global deaths: 1,539,559 (1,577.403)

      California faces new lockdown order

      California officials imposed a new lockdown order Sunday night, instructing 33 million residents to stay in their homes as the coronavirus (COVID-19) spins out of control. The order affects about 84 percent of the state’s population.

      Officials say hospital admissions in Southern California have surged, with the capacity of intensive care units (ICU) nearly maxed out. Five counties in the San Francisco Bay area will also begin lockdown restrictions in the coming days.

      In the affected areas, hair and nail salons, playgrounds, zoos, museums, card rooms, aquariums, and wineries have been ordered to close. Nonessential travel and use of hotels for leisure will be banned, as well as overnight, short-term stays at campgrounds. At this point, retail stores are still open but at 20 percent of capacity.

      Birx warns the virus is going from bad to worse

      The weekend brought more grim assessments of the coronavirus pandemic and the human toll it is taking on the country. Dr. Deborah Birx, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, told NBC’s Meet The Press Sunday that the virus will likely be regarded as the most trying event in U.S. history.

      “This is not just the worst public health event. This is the worst event that this country will face, not just from a public health side,” Birx said. 

      She joins Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield in trying to raise public awareness about the gravity of the situation. Last week, Redfield predicted the months ahead could be “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

      Surveys show hesitancy to take the vaccine

      Polls and surveys continue to show that a significant segment of the population is expressing reservations about taking the COVID-19 vaccine once one is approved. In a survey of New York City Firefighters, 55 percent said they would not take it.

      Up to 40 percent of respondents in other polls have said they would not take the vaccine right away, citing concerns about possible side effects. Health officials say a large percentage of the population needs to be inoculated to achieve “herd immunity.”

      In an exclusive interview with ConsumerAffairs, a physician who participated in the Moderna clinical trial said there are good reasons why the mRNA vaccines were developed so quickly, citing vast improvements in vaccine technology over the last two decades.

      Blood test may show your chances of dying from COVID-19

      Scientists in the UK have developed a blood test that they say can give doctors a view of a patient’s chances of surviving COVID-19. At the onset of symptoms, protein analysis of a blood sample reportedly indicates the eventual severity of the illness and odds of survival.

      The researchers identified 27 marker proteins that were found in the blood of COVID-19 patients. They tell The Guardian that follow-up research indicates that these proteins can be a reliable indicator of how the patient should be treated.

      The discovery may help explain why some patients recover from the illness quickly or have no symptoms at all while others become severely ill.

      Health official blames behavior, cold weather for spike

      Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar says there are two main reasons why the country is currently experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases. One reason is cold weather. The other, he says, is behavior. People aren’t being as careful as they were early in the pandemic.

      "People are going indoors, they're not minding the three W's," Azar, told Fox News. "Our advice is always the same. Wash your hands, watch your distance, wear face coverings."

      The U.S. is approaching 200,000 new cases of the virus each day. The rising number of infections is burdening the nation’s hospitals, with more than 101,000 currently admitted for COVID-19 treatment.

      Around the nation

      • New York: Cases of the coronavirus are spreading quickly, even in states like New York that have enacted strict mitigation protocols. State health officials report cases in New York rose nearly 42 percent in the week ending Saturday.

      • Colorado: Every state has lost jobs due to the pandemic, but Colorado has been hit especially hard. The 2021 Colorado Business Economic Outlook estimates that the state is on track to lose nearly 149,000 jobs in 2020 and won’t fully recover until 2023.

      • Virginia: Students in Virginia Beach public schools could return to all-virtual learning soon because of a spike in coronavirus cases in the city and region. Officials’ concern has focused on data that shows cases are rising.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.) Total U.S. confirmed cases: 14,779,499 (14...
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      Vaccine rollout may provide lucrative opportunity for scammers

      Consumer protection officials predict that con artists will try to sell fake vaccines

      In an effort to stay one step ahead of scammers, experts are warning consumers to be ready for emails, texts, and ads hawking phony coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. With vaccine approval likely only days away, scammers can be expected to try and cash in.

      In fact, they’ve already done so. Early in the pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to several telecom companies because scammers were using their services to hawk phony cures for the virus. 

      Scammers have also targeted unsuspecting consumers by asking them to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine trial. The catch? They were told they had to pay to participate. Real clinical trial participants are never asked to pay

      So it’s highly likely with positive vaccine news being reported lately that scammers will try to use that as a way to take advantage of people. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is already working with pharmaceutical companies to stop the sale and distribution of phony versions of a vaccine. 

      Alerting the public

      The next step, officials say, is alerting the public to disregard any solicitation to buy a COVID-19 vaccine. The only way to get the real vaccine is through medical facilities or retail pharmacies and supermarkets that have the freezers to keep the vaccines at the proper frigid temperature. A real vaccine must also be administered by a health care professional.

      “Selling fake vaccines and other treatments is likely only one of many ways scammers will try to cash in on the vaccine release,” said the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in its latest fraud alert. “Watch out for phishing messages attempting to trick you into sharing your passwords and personal information.”

      There are already documented phishing scams, distributed by email, that impersonate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  The BBB has also reported an increase in scams using robocalls to impersonate government officials.

      Here are some ways to protect yourself:

      • Disregard “news” about the vaccine that is sent to you unsolicited. Check legitimate news sources to keep up with vaccine information.

      • Ask a health care professional. If you are uncertain about some vaccine “news” you’ve heard, ask your pharmacist.

      • Avoid a sense of urgency. If someone tells you that you must act now or risk not getting the vaccine, they’re scamming you. 

      • Don’t click on any links in unsolicited emails. If you do, you’ll likely download some malware.

      In an effort to stay one step ahead of scammers, experts are warning consumers to be ready for emails, texts, and ads hawking phony coronavirus (COVID-19)...
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      Bob Dylan sells songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing for over $300 million

      The company said it’s a ‘privilege and a responsibility’ to represent the artist’s works

      Bob Dylan has sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing.

      Universal hasn’t disclosed the terms of the agreement, but the New York Times reported that the deal was likely worth over $300 million. The catalog encompasses more than 600 copyrights from the past 60 years.

      Dylan’s songs have been recorded by a myriad of other artists more than 6,000 times over the past six decades, according to Universal. Particularly popular recordings have included “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” 

      Dylan, who is now 79, was the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2016, the Swedish Academy credited Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” 

      Under the deal announced on Monday, Universal will collect money any time another musician covers any of Dylan’s songs or any time it allows the songs to be used in movies or commercials. It will also earn revenue any time the songs are streamed or sold commercially. 

      In a statement, UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge called it a “privilege and a responsibility” to represent the work of “one of the greatest songwriters of all time.” Grainge added that Dylan’s “cultural importance” can’t be overstated. 

      “Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, his songs are timeless—whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday.  It is no exaggeration to say that his vast body of work has captured the love and admiration of billions of people all around the world,” Grainge said. 

      “I have no doubt that decades, even centuries from now, the words and music of Bob Dylan will continue to be sung and played — and cherished — everywhere.”

      Dylan has sold more than 125 million records worldwide. 

      Bob Dylan has sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing.Universal hasn’t disclosed the terms of the agreement, but the New York...
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      Consumers are binge drinking more during COVID-19 lockdowns, study finds

      Researchers worry about how this habit will affect consumers long-term

      Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have found that consumers have turned to alcohol to help manage their stress levels. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Taylor and Francis Group has explored the long-term alcohol habits consumers have adopted during 2020. 

      According to their findings, consumers are more likely to binge drink if they spend more time at home quarantining.

      “Increased time spent at home is a life stressor that impacts drinking, and the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this stress,” said researcher Sitara Weerakoon. 

      More consumers turning to alcohol

      To get an idea of how consumers across the country have used alcohol since the start of the pandemic, the researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 adults from mid-March through mid-April. Respondents reported on several life factors, including their current living situation, who they were home with every day, their job status, how long they had spent in lockdown, and their total alcohol consumption. 

      The researchers learned that 34 percent of the participants were binge drinking while at home during lockdown, and the likelihood of binge drinking increased by nearly 20 percent for each week the participants were home. 

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as men who consume five or more drinks in two hours and women who consume four or more drinks in that time. The researchers learned that the heaviest drinkers before the pandemic consumed as many as seven drinks in one sitting while at home during lockdown. 

      The study also revealed that those who were binge drinkers before the pandemic were 60 percent more likely to increase their alcohol intake during stay-at-home orders, whereas those who were light drinkers before the pandemic were less than 30 percent as likely to drink more during quarantine. 

      In terms of socioeconomic factors, the researchers learned that 70 percent of the participants who were the heaviest drinkers were also making higher-than-average salaries. 

      Mental health plays a role

      The study revealed an important mental health component that was associated with heavier drinking during the pandemic. According to the researchers, participants who had reported either currently or previously struggling with depression were more likely to binge drink during lockdown orders. 

      Moving forward, the researchers hope that more work is done to better understand the relationship between alcohol and depression so that support services are better tailored and made more widely available for those in need. 

      “Future research should consider the potential for depressive symptoms acting as a moderator (a factor that changes the impact) in the relation between the time spent under a shelter-in-place mandate (lockdown) and binge drinking,” Weerakoon said. “Additional research is (also) needed to develop best treatment for people with substance use disorders who may be more susceptible to adverse health outcomes.”

      Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have found that consumers have turned to alcohol to help manage their stress levels. Now, a new stud...
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      Capital One reportedly barring customers from ‘buy now, pay later’ options

      It’s the first credit card issuer to take that step

      Capital One reportedly will no longer allow its customers to use its credit cards to pay off debt accrued through “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) transactions, which have grown in popularity during the pandemic.

      A growing number of apps offer BNPL services in which a consumer purchases an item and charges it through the app. The consumer makes four payments, usually every two weeks, to clear the debt.

      Consumers don’t pay interest. The app company charges the merchant a small commission. But the transactions are considered risky because the consumer is not required to submit to a credit check.

      Reuters reports that Capital One has confirmed that it will not allow its customers using its credit cards to clear BNPL debt because of “unacceptable risk.” It’s the first credit card company to take that step.

      ‘Risky business’

      Reuters quotes a Capital One spokeswoman as saying the company is ending the practice of consumers putting “point-of-sale” loans on its credit cards. 

      “These kinds of transactions can be risky for customers and the banks that serve them,” the spokeswoman told the news agency.

      Credit card companies also view BNPL as a growing source of competition. Consumers who switch from paying with a credit card don’t pay interest, which averages about 17 percent on balances. 

      How it works

      One BNPL app company, Klarna, explains how it works in the terms and conditions on its website:

      • Use your o