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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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