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Current Events in December 2020

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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...

    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...

    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,...

      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...

      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...

      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...

      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....

      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)...

      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...

      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,...

      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...

      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...

      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...