Current Events in December 2020

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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...

    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...

      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...

      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...

      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,...

      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...

      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...

      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...

      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...

      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. ...

      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...

      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...

      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)...