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      FAA throws down the hammer with new rules on unruly airline passengers

      Those who cross the line may be fined up to $35,000 and could spend time in prison

      If you plan on flying anytime soon, don’t act like a fool. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson has signed an order directing a harsher legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers. The move comes in the wake of recent episodes where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior, as well as cases in which some passengers refused to wear masks onboard a flight.

      The move follows the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new set of standards for determining whether an airline was being unfair or deceptive in dealing with passengers. 

      “Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” Dickson said.

      Be prepared to write a check for $35,000 if you act up

      Up to now, the FAA has had a more lenient way of addressing unruly-passenger incidents by using a mix of warnings, counseling, and civil penalties. Dickson said the kid gloves are off now. Effective immediately, the FAA is getting rid of the simple warning or required counseling. Instead, the agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who “assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members.” 

      If a passenger acts up in any fashion that crosses that warning line, they should be prepared to pay a fine of up to $35,000 and possibly spend time in prison on top of that. 

      This policy will be in effect through March 30, 2021.

      Don’t test the FAA

      Dickson reminds the flying public that the FAA monitors and tracks all commercial passenger flights in real-time, and it has reporting mechanisms in place for crew members to identify any safety and security concerns that may arise in flight. 

      “We have zero tolerance for threatening or violent behavior by passengers, and we will take the strongest possible enforcement action against any passenger who engages in it,” he said.

      Airlines for America (A4A), an advocacy group representing the aviation industry, praised Dickson for the FAA’s assertiveness. 

      “The safety and security of passengers and employees is always the top priority of the U.S. airline industry, and we welcome the FAA’s order to implement a more stringent policy regarding unruly passenger behavior,” A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said. “We cannot have any form of dangerous behavior that threatens the safety of passengers and crew members.”

      If you plan on flying anytime soon, don’t act like a fool. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson has signed an order dire...
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      Coronavirus update: Americans may get another stimulus check, doctors urged to use antibody treatments

      There is finally some good news about hospitalizations

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 23,337,896 (23,103,550)

      Total U.S. deaths: 389,191 (385,503)

      Total global cases: 93,363,092 (92,563,274)

      Total global deaths: 1,999,849 (1,983,691)

      Biden proposes big aid package

      President-elect Biden has followed through on his promised addition to the coronavirus (COVID-19) aid package that Congress passed last month. Thursday evening, in an address to the nation, Biden proposed a $1.9 million bill providing aid to consumers, businesses, and state governments.

      The highlight of the measure as far as consumers are concerned is a $1,400 direct payment to every American. Added to the $600 payment in last month’s law, it would raise the total direct payment to $2,000 per person.

      There’s mounting evidence that the U.S. economy needs help to counter the effects of the pandemic. Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose last week to 950,000. The Commerce Department reported today that retail sales, excluding automobiles, fell 1.4 percent in December.

      Surgeon General urges doctors to use antibody treatments

      Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams says the U.S. has a large stockpile of therapeutic drugs, mainly antibody treatments made from the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients. But he says many of these drugs remain on the shelf because doctors aren’t using them.

      “You need to think about and be willing to prescribe these medications much more frequently as a way to protect your patients, preserve your hospital capacity, and to support your exhausted colleagues,” Adams said, addressing doctors through a news conference.

      The U.S. government has already shipped more than 1 million courses of the drugs to hospitals and recently agreed to purchase more from Regeneron.

      Hospitalizations suddenly fall back

      Amid all the grim news about the pandemic, there has been a small glimmer of good news this week. The rate at which COVID-19 patients have required hospital treatment has gone down a bit.

      According to data from The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project, around 128,900 people are currently being treated in U.S. hospitals, down from 130,300 as of Wednesday and from 131,300 as of Tuesday. 

      It comes as good news because hospitals in many parts of the country -- especially Southern California -- have been strained to the breaking point.

      Changing the guard at Operation Warp Speed

      President-elect Biden has chosen former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. David Kessler to head Operation Warp Speed, the executive branch task force driving the COVID-19 response.

      Kessler headed the health agency from 1990 to 1997, spanning the Bush and Clinton administrations. His appointment was cheered by public health advocates.

      “The necessary interface between Operation Warp Speed and the FDA will benefit under his leadership as will the entire process of development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostic tests,” said Sidney Wolfe, founder and senior adviser of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

      Restaurants reflect on 2020’s huge changes

      The National Restaurant Association has released its 2021 Restaurant Trends Report, and as you can imagine, it looks quite different than the assessment made at this time a year ago. The pandemic had yet to rear its ugly head in the U.S., and consumers were still packing full-service restaurants.

      This year, restaurants are fighting just to survive. The association’s top trends include off-premises dining, scaled-down menus, selling grocery items, and alcohol to go.

      “These food and menu trends didn’t offset the industry’s devastation, but they do illustrate the resiliency, innovation, and commitment of restaurateurs,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research and Knowledge for the association. 

      Around the nation

      • Vermont: The state’s relatively low coronavirus case count has risen sharply in recent weeks, along with the rest of the country. Addison County has reported 218 new cases since December 30. Health department officials say the increase stems from social contacts during the Christmas holidays.

      • Arkansas: The Arkansas Pharmacists Association has posted an outline form specifying who is currently eligible to receive a vaccination at pharmacies around the state. Most of those individuals are people working in health care who did not get vaccinations directly at the facility where they are employed.

      • New Mexico: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reports that 11 counties in the state have positivity rates below 10 percent, but Harding County is the lone county in the green, signifying the fewest cases. She said most of the state still remains in the red with infection rates too high to reopen.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 23,337,896 (23,103,...
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      DOJ says it’s still investigating Google’s acquisition of Fitbit

      Google says the agency’s time limit for delivering a decision has passed

      Google announced on Thursday that its acquisition of Fitbit was complete, saying the deal would bring more sophisticated devices to the wearables market. However, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) now says its investigation into the acquisition hasn’t yet wrapped. 

      In a statement to various media outlets, the DOJ said it’s still looking into the possible effects of the deal. Regulators previously expressed concern that Google could use Fitbit’s large swath of user data to personalize ads. 

      “The Antitrust Division’s investigation of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit remains ongoing. Although the Division has not reached a final decision about whether to pursue an enforcement action, the Division continues to investigate whether Google’s acquisition of Fitbit may harm competition and consumers in the United States.” 

      The agency added that it is “committed to conducting this review as thoroughly, efficiently, and expeditiously as possible.” 

      But Google said in a statement that although the DOJ’s investigation is ongoing, the agency’s time limit for delivering a decision has passed. For this reason, Google said it felt comfortable finalizing the deal.  

      “We complied with the DOJ’s extensive review for the past 14 months, and the agreed upon waiting period expired without their objection,” the company said. “We continue to be in touch with them and we’re committed to answering any additional questions. We are confident this deal will increase competition in the highly crowded wearables market, and we’ve made commitments that we plan to implement globally.” 

      At this point, there’s no official word on whether the DOJ intends to take legal action against Google or Fitbit. 

      Google announced on Thursday that its acquisition of Fitbit was complete, saying the deal would bring more sophisticated devices to the wearables market. H...
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      Keeping your camera off during virtual meetings can help save the environment

      There are several ways consumers change their internet use to be more eco-conscious

      Many consumers have made the switch from in-person work to working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this change has cut down on commuting times, it also has meant that consumers are spending a lot more time on the internet while at home.

      A new study conducted by researchers from Purdue University explored how consumers can use all of this extra screen time to benefit the environment. According to the researchers, one of the best ways consumers can cut down on their carbon footprint is to keep their cameras turned off during virtual meetings. 

      “Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless, but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality,” said researcher Kaveh Madani. “So without your consent, these platforms are increasing your environmental footprint.” 

      Small changes make a big impact

      The researchers gathered internet processing data from several countries around the world to better understand how consumers’ internet habits can influence various environmental outcomes. They looked at social platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Zoom and explored how usage affected carbon, water, and land footprints. 

      “If you just look at one type of footprint, you miss out on others that can provide a more holistic look at environmental impact,” said researcher Roshanak Nateghi. 

      The researchers learned that streaming services and online video conferences are two of the biggest culprits in terms of negative impacts on the environment. However, by making simple switches, consumers help reduce the effect of such environmental damage. 

      They explained that keeping your camera off during a virtual meeting can reduce the carbon, water, and land footprints by 96 percent, and swapping high definition streaming for standard definition can reduce these footprints by 86 percent. Opting against data downloads can also be incredibly beneficial for the environment. Currently, a one-hour video call uses up to 12 liters of water and produces 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide. 

      While CO2 emissions have hit record lows since the start of the pandemic, the researchers worry about how continued excessive internet usage will continue to affect the environment. If consumers keep up at the current pace, carbon, water, and land footprints are anticipated to increase by the end of 2021.

      “There are the best estimates given the available data,” said Nateghi. “In view of these reported surges, there is a hope now for higher transparency to guide policy.” 

      Many consumers have made the switch from in-person work to working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this change has cut down on co...
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      Gas prices are rising rapidly in some areas of the country

      Wall Street traders are bidding up the price of oil, hoping for an end to the pandemic

      It’s a contradiction. Gasoline demand is actually going down because of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Yet the price of gasoline is rapidly snapping back to pre-pandemic levels.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular is $2.37 a gallon, seven cents higher than last Friday. It’s now only 20 cents a gallon less than at this time in 2020.

      The average price of premium gas is $2.95 a gallon, seven cents more than last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.61 a gallon, three cents higher than a week ago.

      In the background, Wall Street traders have bid up the price of oil beyond $50 a barrel. While it’s true the Saudis have agreed to cut production, the big story is the potential end to the pandemic. The thinking is, once enough people are inoculated things will start getting back to normal and demand will rise.

      So far, that bet hasn’t panned out. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports demand last week fell to its lowest level since May.

      “Gas prices are rising as supply tightens and crude oil gets more expensive. Decreasing demand is outweighed by these other factors at the moment,” said Jeanette Casselano McGee, a AAA spokesperson. “Last week crude oil pushed to the highest price since before the pandemic. If crude prices remain high, Americans can expect to pay more at the pump this month.” 

      Some states saw bigger increases than others. Texas saw its statewide average jump 12 cents a gallon in the last week. The average price in Missouri is up 10 cents a gallon. As of this week, no state has an average price below $2 a gallon.

      The states with the most expensive gas

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

      • California ($3.31)

      • Hawaii ($3.30)

      • Washington ($2.79)

      • Nevada ($2.68)

      • Oregon ($2.66)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.66)

      • Alaska ($2.57)

      • Illinois ($2.51)

      • New Jersey ($2.51)

      • New York ($2.44)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Mississippi ($2.05)

      • Louisiana ($2.08)

      • Missouri ($2.09)

      • Oklahoma ($2.09)

      • Texas ($2.10)

      • Arkansas ($2.12)

      • Alabama ($2.14)

      • South Carolina ($2.14)

      • Kansas ($2.16)

      • Tennessee ($2.18)

      It’s a contradiction. Gasoline demand is actually going down because of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Yet the price of gasoline is rapidly s...
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      Audi recalls model year 2020 Q3s

      The brake pedal plate can bend or detach

      Audi is recalling 313 model year 2020 Q3s.

      The brake pedal plate can bend or detach under the pressure applied during sudden stopping.

      A bent or detached brake pedal plate decreases the contact area for the driver's foot and increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the weld between the brake pedal and the brake pedal plate and -- as necessary -- replace the entire brake pedal 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 46i7.

      Audi is recalling 313 model year 2020 Q3s. The brake pedal plate can bend or detach under the pressure applied during sudden stopping. A bent or deta...
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      Honda recalls Africa Twin Adventure Sports motorcycles

      The fuel filter may clog and cause an engine stall

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 2,690 model year 2018-2019 Africa Twin Adventure Sports (CRF1000L), and model year 2020 Africa Twin Adventure Sports (CRF1100L) motorcycles. Contaminants inside the fuel tank may cause the fuel filter to clog, possibly resulting in an engine stall.

      An engine stall can increase the risk of a crash or injury.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will drain and clean the fuel tank, and replace the fuel filter assembly free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 15, 2021.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (866) 784-1870. Honda's number for this recall is KL4.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 2,690 model year 2018-2019 Africa Twin Adventure Sports (CRF1000L), and model year 2020 Africa Twin Adventure Sports...
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      Ford recalls Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators

      The motor mount fasteners may become loose over time

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 1,470 model year 2020-21 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators

      The motor mount fasteners may become loose over time and disconnect from the engine, which could result in loss of power, posing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the right-hand motor mount fasteners.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20S72.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 1,470 model year 2020-21 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators The motor mount fasteners may become loose over time ...
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      Weight Loss Deals for 2021

      Don’t miss these nutrition deals and discounts

      The following companies participate in our Authorized Partner Program: Orgain

      Maybe you’re looking to shed some pounds, or maybe you just want to feel better about your diet this year. Either way, check out the six diet-plan deals below for an added incentive to change up your nutritional habits.

      Nutrisystem

      Nutrisystem delivers nutritious meals and diet plans directly to you. It focuses on portion control and offers four different diet plans with vegetarian and diabetic-friendly options. Deliveries come every four to 10 days.

      • 50% off all meal plans + free week of shakes*
      • Meals shipped to you

      Shop now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Noom

      Noom is an app designed by dietitians and nutritionists to help individuals with weight loss. The app provides personalized health coaching and support from community members. Its diet plans don’t require giving up any particular foods and instead focus on your particular nutrition goals.

      • Offers trial period*
      • Customized coaching

      Shop now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      bistroMD

      bistroMD provides meal plans developed by dietitians. It has programs for men and women, including plans designed for heart health, gluten-free diets and those with diabetes. Its plans are flexible, and it provides a wide variety of meal options.

      • 25% off + free shipping the first week*
      • Large selection

      Shop now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Aaptiv

      Aaptiv provides voice-guided workouts for weight loss, strength training and relaxation. Workouts are available for beginner, intermediate or advanced users. Some of the company’s workouts include “Intro to Weight Loss” and “Walk to Run 1 Mile.”

      • Free 30-day trial*
      • Customizable

      Shop now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Orgain

      Orgain sells a variety of protein powders, shakes and bars designed to replace meals, lose weight and gain muscle. The products are developed by doctors, and the company has plant-based and dairy-based products.

      • 25% off best-selling protein powders for new customers*
      • Developed by doctors

      Shop now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Medifast

      Medifast has three different plans designed to help you lose weight at a steady, reasonable place. The company’s plans provide multiple benefits, including a free meal planner, access to a support coach and an online weight tracker.

      • $25 Off Medifast and free shipping on orders of more than $250*
      • Use promo code NEWYEAR25

      Shop now

      *Partner terms and conditions apply

      Weight Loss Deals for the New Year | ConsumerAffairs...
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      Coronavirus update: Pandemic throws more people out of work, China records a rare death

      Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine has shown promising early results

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 23,103,550 (22,864,103)

      Total U.S. deaths: 385,503 (381,513)

      Total global cases: 92,563,274 (91,838,572)

      Total global deaths: 1,983,691 (1,968,343)

      New jobless claims spike

      The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is taking an ever-increasing toll on the job market because businesses are shutting down or limiting operations in the face of rising cases. The Labor Department reports that new claims of unemployment benefits surged last week, rising to 965,000.

      That’s the largest number since mid-August, when the second wave of coronavirus cases began to take hold in wide areas of the country. After peaking at nearly 7 million in March, jobless claims have mostly remained under 1 million per week.

      In last week’s report, the largest increase in new claims occurred in Florida and Illinois, with both states reporting more than 50,000 new claims.

      China records another death

      The pandemic began in Wuhan, China but was quickly brought under control. In fact, there had not been a reported death from the virus in China for six months.

      That changed when Chinese officials reported that a woman in Hebei died Wednesday afternoon. While her death was attributed to COVID-19, state media noted that she had a severe case and pre-existing health conditions.

      Meanwhile, the U.S. is on track for its deadliest month since the pandemic began. China’s total death toll since March is about the same as the number of people who die each day of COVID-19 in the U.S.

      Third COVID-19 vaccine could roll out soon

      Researchers at Johnson & Johnson have reported that the company’s single-dose vaccine is safe and produces promising results. Researchers say it has shown that it produces antibodies to protect against the virus and appears to work in both young and old subjects.

      Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers say 90 percent of the volunteers who received the vaccine instead of the placebo developed “detectable antibodies” 28 days after getting the shot. By day 57, they say 100 percent of the subjects had the antibodies.

      It should be noted that there were only 850 people in the trial. The company said it expects to report the results from its trial of 45,000 subjects by the end of the month. 

      CDC: New limits on travel from outside the U.S.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has adopted a new rule requiring all airline passengers entering the U.S. to test negative for the coronavirus (COVID-19) before traveling. The rule takes effect on Jan. 26.

      The agency first suggested that protocol in late November after cases in the U.S. surged and a new strain of the virus was found in the U.K. It has become a requirement, the agency says, because of the huge spike in new cases and concerns about possible new variants of the virus.

      The rule requires all passengers to get a COVID-19 test no more than three days before their departure. The airlines will require further proof of negative test results as part of the boarding process. 

      Already planning celebrations

      With the vaccine rollout underway, a lot of people are looking forward to the end of the pandemic. And a new survey from LendingTree suggests they’re planning one heck of a celebration.

      Eight in 10 Americans questioned in the survey who also plan to get vaccinated say they're planning a celebratory splurge for sometime in 2021. On the downside, 15 percent of those in the survey said they might not feel financially secure enough to spend on a big celebration.

      The survey authors say that split represents the pandemic's economic impact in a microcosm. Many Americans are thriving financially, having benefited from staying at home, reducing their spending, and paying down debts while maintaining their jobs and their incomes. Millions of others, however, have been devastated financially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and are struggling just to keep the lights on. 

      Around the nation

      • Florida: Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees felt some heat this week from legislators over the state’s vaccine rollout. Democratic state senators questioned Rivkees about the state’s alleged lack of planning and reports that the rich are skipping the vaccine lines.

      • Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has launched a new website to publicize which restaurants have violated the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. Wolf said consumers can find out if restaurants are enforcing social distancing and other mitigation measures.

      • Iowa: Cases of the coronavirus are still increasing statewide, but the number of people requiring treatment in hospitals is trending in the right direction, officials say. The Iowa Department of Public Health reports that hospitalizations and ventilator usage have dropped significantly since peaking in mid-November.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 23,103,550 (22,864,...
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      CDC will require a negative COVID-19 test from all travelers entering the U.S.

      The move comes in response to a new strain of the virus and a rising number of cases

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will require all airline passengers entering the U.S. to test negative for the coronavirus (COVID-19) before traveling. The rule takes effect on Jan. 26.

      The agency said testing before and after travel is a “critical layer” that can help slow the spread of COVID-19. This strategy is consistent with the current phase of the pandemic and more efficiently protects the health of Americans, the CDC said in a statement.

      The rule requires all passengers to get a COVID-19 test no more than three days before their departure, and airlines will require further proof of negative test results as part of the boarding process. Travelers who were previously infected with the virus can substitute documentation of their recovery instead of taking a test. Other than that, the CDC says airlines will make no exceptions.

      A mix of precautions

      The CDC cites the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the last six weeks, as well as the additional variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that continue to emerge in countries around the world. Of special concern is evidence that the variants spread between people more easily.

      “Testing does not eliminate all risk,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. “But when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

      Once people arrive at destinations within the U.S., the CDC recommends that they get tested again within three to five days. They are also advised to quarantine for seven days.

      The requirement was first floated in late November when the CDC updated its travel guidelines and suggested that travelers get tested one to three days before their flight and three to five days after travel, plus stay isolated for an additional 7 days.

      Officials said they saw the need to make the suggestion a requirement because of the increasing spread of the virus. The situation is nearing the breaking point in Los Angeles, with area hospitals operating at near capacity.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will require all airline passengers entering the U.S. to test negative for the coronavirus (COVID-19)...
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      Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shows promise in small test

      Study shows the vaccine is safe and 100 percent effective after two months

      A third vaccine could be soon added to America’s health arsenal in the battle to conquer the coronavirus (COVID-19).

      A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is safe and so far has yielded promising results. Researchers say it has shown that it produces antibodies to protect against the virus and appears to work in both young and old subjects.

      A large majority of the volunteers in the study who received the vaccine instead of the placebo produced detectable antibodies 28 days after receiving the shot. By the 57th day, 100 percent of the volunteers have produced detectable antibodies.

      That suggests that everyone who gets the vaccine would be protected against the virus within two months of receiving the shot. They would still need to practice mitigation measures during that time.

      “These neutralizing antibodies remained stable through Day 71, currently the latest timepoint available in this ongoing study, in all participants aged 18-55 years,” the company reported in a press release. “Data on the durability of immune responses in trial participants aged over 65 years will be available in late January and longer-term follow-up to one year is planned.”

      Some side effects

      Like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson candidate produced some side effects. They included headache, fatigue, sore muscles, and pain in the arm where subjects received the injection. Side effects were more common in young subjects than older ones.

      It should be noted that these preliminary results included a relatively small number of subjects. There were only 805 volunteers included in this part of the trial. Johnson & Johnson is preparing to publish the results from its 45,000-person phase three trial before the end of the month. 

      If the single-dose vaccine is shown to be safe and effective in that group, Johnson & Johnson said it expects to submit an application for emergency use authorization (EAU) with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) within days of that.

      Logistically, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could also offer some advantages. In addition to only requiring a single injection, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a longer shelf life and does not require extremely cold storage temperatures.

      A third vaccine could be soon added to America’s health arsenal in the battle to conquer the coronavirus (COVID-19).A study published in the New Englan...
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      Temperature scans are an unreliable way to detect COVID-19, study finds

      Having a fever doesn’t always correlate with a positive COVID-19 test

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers may have experienced having their temperature scanned before boarding an airplane or entering a public space. While a fever is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, a new study conducted by researchers at the Physiological Society suggests that temperature scanners may not be the most reliable way to detect the coronavirus. 

      The team’s work revealed that temperature scanners can yield inaccurate results for several reasons, and it could be time to reevaluate this process to ensure optimal health and safety for consumers. 

      “Using a surface temperature scanner to obtain a single surface temperature, usually the forehead, is an unreliable method to detect the fever associated with COVID-19,” said researcher Michael J. Tipton. “Too many factors make the measurement of a skin temperature a poor surrogate for deep body temperature; skin temperature can change independently of deep body temperature for lots of reasons. Even if such a single measure did reflect deep body temperature reliably, other things, such as exercise, can raise deep body temperature.” 

      Flaws in the system

      Because of how popular temperature scanners have become since the start of the pandemic, the researchers decided to see how effective they are. They also wanted to determine if there was a better system available that could make this process more accurate. 

      Scanning for temperature turned out not to be the best way to detect a fever -- related to COVID-19 or otherwise. The researchers found that the surface of the skin may not feel hot, and it may not give off an abnormal temperature reading; however, the deep body temperature may still be elevated. 

      It’s also important to note that skin temperature can be affected by a number of factors, including body fat composition, the air temperature in the room, or alcohol consumption. This becomes problematic for several reasons, especially when admittance onto an airplane or into a public place requires a temperature scan. 

      “If scanners are not giving an accurate reading, we run the risk of falsely excluding people from places they may want, or need, to go, and we also risk allowing people with the virus to spread the undetected infection they have,” Tipton said. 

      Additionally, running a fever isn’t always an indicator of having COVID-19. Though the majority of patients do experience an elevated temperature, many consumers with positive test results never develop a fever. 

      Finding a more accurate temperature reading

      To ensure health and safety for all consumers, the researchers recommend switching from a forehead scan to a temperature scan of the eyes and fingertips. They explained that many machines used for temperature scans can be repurposed for these types of tests, and they have the potential to be faster and more accurate than the systems currently in place. 

      “We think we can improve the identification of the presence of fever using the same kit but looking at the difference between eye and finger temperature -- it’s not perfect, but it is potentially better and more reliable,” Tipton said. 

      “The pandemic has had devastating global effects on all aspects of our lives, and unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be the last pandemic we face. It’s critical we develop a method of gauging if an individual has a fever that’s accurate and fast.”

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers may have experienced having their temperature scanned before boarding an airplane or entering a pu...
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      Low mortgage rates spur 20 percent spike in refinance applications

      Nothing lasts forever, and one analyst says this might be nothing more than a normal correction

      With mortgage interest rates hitting a 30-year low -- falling to 2.86 percent -- many consumers are looking to secure a lower rate for themselves by refinancing. This has led to a 20 percent spike in refinancing applications in January.

      According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Builder Application Survey (BAS), low interest rates have also leveraged the number of applications to purchase a home, up 10 percent from a year ago. 

      Piqued by hope for more stimulus checks

      Many consumers are hoping that the change in administrations on Capitol Hill might bring them some additional funds that could help offset the cost of getting a better mortgage deal. 

      "The expectation of additional fiscal stimulus from the incoming administration, and the rollout of vaccines improving the outlook, drove Treasury yields and rates higher,” claimed Joel Kan, MBA's Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. 

      Kan went on to note that many consumers are ditching the idea of once-loved adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) due to the possibility of being able to lock in a good rate. The ARM share of activity has pretty much bottomed out, decreasing to 1.6 percent of total applications. 

      Make sure you understand interest rates

      While a fat stimulus check sounds like a great way to help buy or refinance a home, one analyst says consumers need to understand how the whole interest game plays out before they get too far ahead of themselves. 

      “Covid-relief stimulus may do great things for people in the short term and for the economy in the longer term, but it does bad things for interest rates (assuming you like low rates, that is),” commented Mortgage News Daily’s Matthew Graham. “Reason being: the government issues/creates/sells U.S. Treasuries to finance the additional spending. More Treasuries issued = higher yields/rates, all other things being equal, and Treasuries correlate significantly with mortgage rates.”

      Graham went on to say that the recent low rates were likely a normal correction to the short-term oversold momentum. “That said, there are logical reasons for rates to continue higher in the longer term. As such, there's no guarantee about how much additional improvement we might see this week,” he said.

      With mortgage interest rates hitting a 30-year low -- falling to 2.86 percent -- many consumers are looking to secure a lower rate for themselves by refina...
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      Google completes its acquisition of Fitbit

      The company has assured regulators that it will protect consumers’ privacy

      Google announced on Thursday that it has completed its $2.1 billion acquisition of wearables maker Fitbit. 

      The deal was first announced in November of 2019 and spurred an investigation into what Google planned to do with Fitbit users’ data. Fitbit has health data on more than 28 million users, and European regulators were concerned that the tech giant could use that data to help personalize ads. 

      However, Google assured regulators that the deal was “about devices, not data” and promised not to use Fitbit data if the deal was approved. 

      “This deal has always been about devices, not data, and we’ve been clear since the beginning that we will protect Fitbit users’ privacy,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s Senior Vice President of devices and services, said in a statement.

      “We worked with global regulators on an approach which safeguards consumers’ privacy expectations, including a series of binding commitments that confirm Fitbit users’ health and wellness data won’t be used for Google ads and this data will be separated from other Google ads data,” he added.

      Privacy commitments secured

      European regulators investigating the deal gave it the green light last month after receiving commitments from Google regarding data privacy. 

      "Google will continue to protect Fitbit users' privacy and has made a series of binding commitments with global regulators, confirming that Fitbit users' health and wellness data won't be used for Google ads and this data will be kept separate from other Google ad data," Chief Executive James Park said in a letter to Fitbit users Thursday.

      Park said the acquisition will enable Fitbit to “do even more to inspire and motivate you on your journey to better health.” 

      “We’ll be able to innovate faster, provide more choices, and make even better products to support your health and wellness needs. On our own, we pushed the bounds of what was possible from the wrist, pioneering step, heart rate, sleep and stress tracking. With access to Google’s incredible resources, knowledge and global platform, the possibilities are truly limitless.” 

      Google announced on Thursday that it has completed its $2.1 billion acquisition of wearables maker Fitbit. The deal was first announced in November of...
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      Kroger faces hard questions on whether it will force employees to vaccinate against COVID-19

      The EOC says employers can mandate vaccinations, but there are a few exceptions

      With vaccine availability starting to grow and new vaccines entering the market, hope for an exit from the funk COVID-19 has put us all in is starting to grow. But will the places we shop do their part and make sure all their employees are vaccinated and virus-free? 

      Headlining this puzzle are grocery chains where employees mingle with customers more than most other retail environments. Kroger, the country’s largest grocery company with 11 million customers a day roaming its aisles, stepped up to the mic on Wednesday to offer its position -- kind of. While Kroger says it’s encouraging its workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, it’s waffling on whether it will require the shots once they are widely available.

      "At this time, we're strongly encouraging our shoppers and associates to get vaccinated," Tim Massa, Kroger's senior vice president of human resources and labor relations, told The Enquirer.

      When The Enquirer pushed for a more definitive answer about mandating employee vaccination in the future, Massa didn’t give a direct yes or no and simply repeated his previous answer. Kroger executives were also mum on how they might reassure worried customers who might be unhappy that store associates weren't required to be vaccinated.

      Can retailers force employees to get vaccinated?

      It’s possible that Kroger is straddling the fence in hopes of a legal dust-up from both anti-vaxxers and vaccine skeptics. As companies weigh their vaccine policies, the Employment Opportunity Commission (EOC) decided to establish its position before the situation goes off the rails. 

      The EOC’s bottom line is that, yes, employers can mandate that employees have to get immunized with the coronavirus vaccine -- with some exceptions. 

      In new guidance, the EOC said employers can require that employees get vaccinated as a condition of going to work. The exceptions are employees who are either pregnant, have a  disability, or object to being vaccinated on the basis of religion. In those situations, the employer has to find a way to accommodate the employee -- such as working remotely or being reassigned -- “unless it would pose an undue hardship, meaning significant difficulty or expense.”

      “They have to check with their state and deal with the accommodation issues, but in broad terms, yes, employers can mandate it,” Shannon Farmer, a labor and employment lawyer at Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr, told Human Resource Executive.

      “If employees can’t work remotely, they need to do everything possible to get them back and get customers back in the door,” Farmer says. “If you’re in hospitality or the entertainment industry, if this is the way to get your business open again when you’ve had to be closed, you’re going to do everything you can to get it open.” There may also be an appeal for patrons if a company says it mandated vaccines for all of its workers, she adds.

      With vaccine availability starting to grow and new vaccines entering the market, hope for an exit from the funk COVID-19 has put us all in is starting to g...
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      General Motors recalls Cadillac Escalades and Escalade ESVs

      The front passenger seat belt and airbag status telltale lights may be dim

      General Motors is recalling 3,203 model year 2021 Cadillac Escalades and Escalade ESVs.

      The front passenger seat belt and airbag status telltale lights in the overhead console may be set to "night mode" when the vehicle is started using remote start or when the vehicle is turned off and re-started after approximately ten minutes without opening the door.

      In daytime, if night mode is active, the telltale lights may not be visible.

      If the telltale lights are not visible, the driver and front passenger may not know that the front passenger is unbuckled or has a deactivated airbag, increasing the risk of passenger injury.

      What to do

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

      The recall is expected to begin February 1, 2021.

      Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at (800) 458-8006. GM's number for this recall is N202319980.

      General Motors is recalling 3,203 model year 2021 Cadillac Escalades and Escalade ESVs. The front passenger seat belt and airbag status telltale lights ...
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      Courage Production recalls Polish sausage

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

      Courage Production of Fairfield, Calif., is recalling approximately 1,645 pounds of ready-to-eat, fully cooked Polish sausage.

      The product contains milk (mozzarella cheese), an allergen not declared on the label.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following item, produced on October 9, 2020, is being recalled:

      • 10-oz. vacuum packed packages of four “TETON WATERS RANCH POLISH SAUSAGE” with lot code “202831,” “Use or Freeze By: JAN/8/21” date and bear establishment number “Est. 6024” on the side of the packaging label.

      The recalled product was shipped to retail locations in California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Maine, New York and Oregon.

      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 Shane Osterthaler at (707) 422-6300.

      Courage Production of Fairfield, Calif., is recalling approximately 1,645 pounds of ready-to-eat, fully cooked Polish sausage. The product contains milk...
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      Massimo Motor Sports recalls percussion massage guns

      The lithium-ion battery system can overheat

      Massimo Motor Sports of Garland, Texas, is recalling about 12,630 massage guns.

      The lithium-ion battery system can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

      The firm has received three reports of fires with the recalled massage guns that resulted in over $15,000 in property damage. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all models of the Massimo Percussion Massage Gun.

      The massage guns have 20 speed levels and came with six massage heads and a built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery. They were sold in black, silver, gold, and blue; all were model number EM003.

      Model numbers can be found on the Product information card in the package.

      The massage guns, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively online at Costco.com from April 2020, through May 2020, for about $60.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled massage guns and contact Massimo for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Massimo Motor Sports toll-free at (877) 881-6376 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.massimomotor.com and click on “Product Recall” at the top of the page for more information.

      Massimo Motor Sports of Garland, Texas, is recalling about 12,630 massage guns. The lithium-ion battery system can overheat, posing a fire hazard. Th...
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      Coronavirus update: Tuesday was U.S.’ deadliest day, Feds buy more Regeneron antibodies

      Two new virus strains have been found in Ohio

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 22,864,103 (22,645,344)

      Total U.S. deaths: 381,513 (377,616)

      Total global cases: 91,838,572 (91,087,170)

      Total global deaths: 1,968,343 (1,950,190)

      Tuesday’s death toll was the pandemic’s highest

      The U.S. suffered its worst day of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic Tuesday, with 4,320 deaths attributed to the virus. The death toll has risen along with the surge in new cases.

      The COVID-19 infection rate gained momentum last week, averaging 3,300 cases a day over the seven-day period. That’s an increase of 217 percent from mid-November.

      In another grim development, the number of people being treated in hospitals is straining capacity. Arizona had a record-high 5,082 people in the hospital on Tuesday, with nearly 1,200 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICU).

      Feds buy 1.25 million antibody doses

      Regeneron has announced that the U.S. government has purchased an additional 1.25 million doses of its antibody drug to treat COVID-19 patients. 

      The antibody cocktail is for use in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients to meet the federal government's Operation Warp Speed goals. The government has said it will provide these doses at no cost to patients, though health care facilities may charge fees related to administration.

      "COVID-19 continues to sicken hundreds of thousands of Americans every day and the people of Regeneron are committed to help," said Dr. Leonard S. Schleifer, Regeneron’s CEO. "Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic will require a combination of public health measures, vaccines, and therapeutics. We are pleased to work with the U.S. government to supply our antibody cocktail as an important weapon in this fight."

      Ohio researchers find two new strains of the virus

      Ohio State University scientists say they have discovered a new variant of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They say the new variant carries a mutation that’s identical to the U.K. strain, but they say it probably stemmed from a virus strain that was already in the U.S.

      The researchers also report that there has been an evolution of another U.S. strain that acquired three other gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.

      “This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said study leader Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology. “We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”

      Disneyland now a vaccination venue

      The Disneyland theme park is reopening its doors this week, but not to provide entertainment. Rather, it’s becoming the latest mass vaccination venue. 

      "Residents in my district have been highly impacted by COVID-19. These Super PODs are absolutely critical in stopping this deadly virus," said Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee.

      Around the country, other large spaces, including closed department stores in shopping malls, are being repurposed as vaccination centers. In the Boston area, Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, is also opening its gates for people in search of a vaccination.

      Dollar General will pay employees to get vaccinated

      Retailer Dollar General said it will pay its frontline hourly employees to get the vaccination as soon as it is available. The company said it lacks onsite facilities to administer the vaccine to employees, so it will provide paid time off and transportation costs for them to travel to a vaccination center.

      “We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work, so we are working to remove barriers (e.g., travel time, mileage, child care needs, etc.) by providing frontline hourly team members with a one-time payment equivalent of four (4) hours of regular pay after receiving a completed COVID-19 vaccination and salaried team members with additional store labor hours to accommodate their time away from the store,” the company said in a press release.

      Dollar General said it is also working with its distribution and transportation teams to make similar accommodations for those employees.

      Around the nation

      • Massachusetts: A COVID-19 data tracker has raised Massachusetts’ outbreak level to the highest risk category. The state now has more than 90,000 active cases of COVID-19, a large increase that moved the state up to the “severe outbreak” category.

      • Missouri: The state has recorded 200 deaths in a single day for the fourth time during the pandemic. State health officials say all four of those 200-death days have occurred in the last 30 days.

      • Nevada: Gov. Steve Sisolak has announced that gaming floors, bars, and restaurants must adhere to a 25 percent occupancy limit for another 30 days due to coronavirus risk. State officials expressed concern that large New Year’s Eve gatherings in Las Vegas would lead to a spike in new cases of the virus.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 22,864,103 (22,645,...
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      FDA expands Sportmix pet food recall after additional pet deaths reported

      Recalled lots contain dangerously high levels of aflatoxin

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has broadened a recall of Sportmix pet foods following reports of dozens of additional canine deaths.

      Last week, the agency recalled certain lots of Sportmix pet food after finding that the pet food contained high levels of aflatoxin, which is toxic to pets. The agency said 28 dogs had died in connection to the product, and eight others became ill. 

      On Tuesday, the FDA issued an updated advisory saying that 70 dogs have died and over 80 others have gotten sick after consuming Sportmix pet food. 

      Sportmix products, which are manufactured by Midwestern Pet Foods, were recalled on December 30. The manufacturer has now expanded the recall to include additional products that contain corn and were made in the same manufacturing facility. 

      The affected products have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022 and have "05" in the date or lot code.

      Products contain high levels of aflatoxin

      Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus. It can grow on corn and other grains used to make pet food and potentially cause pets to die or become ill when consumed in high levels. 

      FDA officials said symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning include sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes or gums due to liver damage), and/or diarrhea. 

      “In severe cases, this toxicity can be fatal. In some cases, pets may suffer liver damage but not show any symptoms,” according to the agency. 

      The FDA recommends that owners of pets who have eaten the products involved in the recall contact their veterinarian even if they’re not showing symptoms, but especially if they are showing symptoms. 

      “Pet owners should stop feeding their pets the recalled products listed below and consult their veterinarian, especially if the pet is showing signs of illness,” the FDA said in December. “The pet owner should remove the food and make sure no other animals have access to the recalled product.” 

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has broadened a recall of Sportmix pet foods following reports of dozens of additional canine deaths.Last w...
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      Climate change has led to billions of dollars in flood damages, study finds

      More frequent extreme weather events have heightened the severity of flooding

      Climate change is a source of stress for many consumers, and findings from a new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University may just add to that stress. 

      Because climate change has led to more frequent weather events and more severe periods of precipitation, flooding has become a much more serious issue for many consumers. According to the researchers’ findings, flooding due to climate change has led to billions of dollars in damages in the last 30 years. 

      “The fact that extreme precipitation has been increasing and will likely increase in the future is well known, but what effect that has had on financial damages has been uncertain,” said researcher Frances Davenport. “Our analysis allows us to isolate how much of those changes in precipitation translate to changes in the cost of flooding, both now and in the future.” 

      Flood damage on the rise

      The researchers’ goal was to determine whether rising flood damages were related to climate change or if there were other overriding socioeconomic factors that have come into play in recent years. They used existing economic models to compare climate change data, flood damages, and weather patterns between 1988 and 2017. 

      “By bringing all those pieces together, this framework provides a novel quantification not only of how much historical changes in precipitation have contributed to the costs of flooding, but also how greenhouse gases influence the kind of precipitation events that cause the most damaging flood events,” said researcher Noah Diffenbaugh. 

      The researchers found that over the last 30 years, flooding has yielded nearly $200 billion in related damages across the United States. They learned that climate change was directly linked to more than 35 percent of those costs, or roughly $75 billion in damages. The team explained that the severity of extreme weather events is mostly to blame in these cases, as flooding has only worsened as the weather has changed. 

      “What we find is that, even in states where the long-term mean precipitation hasn’t changed, in most cases, the wettest events have intensified, increasing the financial damages relative to what would have occurred without the changes in precipitation,” said Davenport. 

      This study points to just one area of significant cost that stems from climate change. Moving forward, the researchers hope that legislators can utilize these findings as the basis for serious climate-related policy change. Without changes, they believe flood damages will only surge higher as time goes on. 

      “Accurately and comprehensively tallying the past and future costs of climate change is key to making good policy decisions,” said researcher Marshall Burke. “This work shows that past climate change has already cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars, just due to flood damages alone.” 

      Climate change is a source of stress for many consumers, and findings from a new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University may just add to th...
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      Walgreens to roll out its own credit cards and a prepaid debit card in 2021

      The drugstore chain has its sights set on boosting customer loyalty and adding more revenue streams

      It’s commonplace for retailers to have their own vanity cards, but Walgreens’ latest foray goes a little further. In an effort to boost both loyalty and revenue, the drugstore chain says it will partner with Synchrony and Mastercard to launch credit cards and a prepaid debit card, and it is exploring other financial services.

      The company’s short-term plan for the credit cards is to connect them with its new customer loyalty program, myWalgreens, allowing cardholders to receive cash rewards and other offers. 

      A wide range of benefits

      Walgreens is keeping its cards close to its chest, only going as far as saying that the co-branded credit card will offer an undefined “wider range of benefits” when used at other retailers and service providers. The offering will reportedly be the first in another “range of new financial products and services” that the company has up its sleeve. While it didn’t give specifics, it said in a release that it plans to explore a number of add-ons that Mastercard offers such as point-of-sale financing and installments.

      That last part -- point-of-sale financing and installment plans -- comes directly from the financial crunch that the pandemic put the consumer world in. According to a report by Salesforce and coverage by CNBC, the use of “buy now, pay later” for online orders grew 109 percent during the 2020 holiday shopping season.

      The company is also taking a health-first cue from the pandemic, allowing customers to have access to contactless shopping experiences.

      “Walgreens is committed to providing our customers and patients with unparalleled loyalty and rewards experiences for managing their health and well-being, and we are excited to partner with Synchrony and Mastercard, who share our commitment to support healthy communities,” said John Standley, Walgreens president. 

      “As we continue to focus on creating new revenue streams, we look forward to exploring and introducing even more health and well-being payment initiatives in the near future.”

      The new Walgreens credit cards are slated to be available in the second half of 2021, and eligible customers will be able to use the Walgreens credit card for purchases at more than 9,000 Walgreens stores, via the Walgreens mobile app, and at Walgreens.com.

      It’s commonplace for retailers to have their own vanity cards, but Walgreens’ latest foray goes a little further. In an effort to boost both loyalty and re...
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      Hope still exists in the fight against climate change, experts say

      Policy-led interventions implemented around the world could lead to lasting improvements

      While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some positive news in terms of the environment, research shows that pollution is still a very real problem.

      Though a lot of work still needs to be done, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter is detailing why hope still remains in the fight against climate change. According to the researchers, efforts put into place in two key areas -- lighter road transportation and power -- will likely benefit the environment for years to come. 

      “We have left it too late to tackle climate change incrementally,” said researcher Tim Lenton. “Limiting global warming to well below two degrees Celsius now requires transformational change and a dramatic acceleration process.”

      Tipping towards environmental advancements 

      Lenton and his team are optimistic about the future of climate change because of what they refer to as “tipping points.” They explained that this happens when several small changes build on top of one another to create one lasting change. When it comes to climate change, the researchers anticipate tipping points to occur in the areas of power and lighter road transportation. In both cases, policy-led interventions have already been put into place to help set the scales in motion that will eventually create long-term change. 

      In looking at power, the researchers explained that countries around the world are working to make coal plants a thing of the past. On a global scale, renewable energy sources are proving to be a more cost-effective method of generating power, which is minimizing the benefits associated with coal and fossil fuels. 

      As these efforts continue, and renewable energy is utilized more and more, the researchers predict that there will no longer be any financial benefits of using coal or in maintaining coal plants. In time, the widespread use of solar or wind-powered energy will tip the scales and make coal-fueled power obsolete.

      The researchers anticipate a similar tipping point to occur when electric cars are more widely used by consumers. Currently, the manufacturing costs of electric cars are making it difficult for them to be more accessible to car buyers. However, offsetting these costs is possible; the researchers explained that legislators in parts of the world that generate the highest car sales -- California, China, and the European Union -- can work together to mass-produce electric cars and lower costs. 

      “If either of these efforts -- in power or road transport -- succeed, the most important effect could be to tip perceptions of the potential for international cooperation to tackle climate change,” Lenton said. 

      While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some positive news in terms of the environment, research shows that pollution is still a very real problem.Thou...
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      AT&T drops AT&T TV Now to simplify offerings

      The company is merging the service with AT&T TV

      AT&T has announced that it’s merging AT&T TV Now and AT&T TV in an effort to bring “more value and simplicity” to its streaming service offerings. 

      “AT&T TV Now has merged with AT&T TV to bring you the best live and on-demand experience,” the company said in an update on its website. 

      Although the telecom and media giant has stopped allowing new sign-ups for AT&T TV Now, existing users will be able to continue using the service without disruptions or price changes.  

      AT&T TV Now was designed to replace the company’s “DirecTV Now” satellite service, which launched in November 2016. The “skinny bundle” offering was initially priced at $35 per month and offered cord-cutters more than 100 channels. However, AT&T raised the price over time, and many early adopters stopped using the service. 

      Going forward, the telecom’s AT&T TV offering -- which is more similar to traditional cable than AT&T TV Now -- will be offered with a month-to-month payment option. Current contracts will remain in effect, but customers can move to the month-to-month plan once their current contract expires. 

      Prices for the non-contractual options start at $70 per month. That price gets customers an Entertainment package that includes ESPN, CNN, and FX, as well as local broadcast channels and 20 hours of cloud DVR. For $10 extra per month, the company will add additional DVR storage. 

      Consumers can also choose to sign up for a two-year contract. Doing so drops the price of the Entertainment package’s first-year price to $60 per month. In the second year, that price increases to $93 per month. 

      AT&T; has announced that it’s merging AT&T; TV Now and AT&T; TV in an effort to bring “more value and simplicity” to its streaming service offerings. “...
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      Walmart plans to launch a fintech company

      The retailer is partnering with the company that founded the Robinhood trading platform

      Walmart has stuck another toe into the world of finance with the creation of a new fintech startup offering a range of financial services to its customers, many of whom have no banking relationship.

      It’s collaborating in the venture with Ribbit Capital, the company behind investment platform Robinhood and the consumer technology platform Credit Karma.

      Walmart says the venture will combine Walmart’s retail knowledge and scale with Ribbit’s fintech expertise to deliver tech-driven financial experiences tailored to Walmart’s customers and associates.

      “For years, millions of customers have put their trust in Walmart to not only save them money when they shop with us but help them manage their financial needs. And they’ve made it clear they want more from us in the financial services arena,” said John Furner, CEO of Walmart U.S. 

      Left unsaid is what the new venture will be called and when it will launch. Walmart did say that it would hold a majority stake in the new firm. Walmart also did not disclose what types of services the new company would offer. However, typical fintech companies might offer some or all of these services:

      • Banking.

      • Insurance.

      • Loans.

      • Personal finance.

      • Electronic payments.

      • Loans.

      • Venture capital.

      • Wealth Management.

      Revolutionary partner

      Ribbit Capital’s Robinhood has revolutionized online trading. A favorite among millennial investors, Robinhood grew quickly because it doesn’t charge commissions on transactions, a move that forced other online brokers to drop end their commissions as well.

      Walmart said its existing financial services remain in place. They include Walmart Credit Card, Walmart Money Card, check cashing, money transfers, and installment financing.

      This isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the world of technology. Last year it threw its hat in the ring as a potential buyer of TikTok when the Trump administration said it would force a sale by the company’s Chinese owner.

      Walmart has stuck another toe into the world of finance with the creation of a new fintech startup offering a range of financial services to its customers,...
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      Ford recalls E-series vehicles

      Heat from the engine compartment may cause elevated temperatures on the passenger compartment

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 32,000 model year 2021 Ford E-Series vehicles.

      The vehicles may contain mispositioned insulation on the underside of the engine cover that does not fully extend to the perimeter as intended.

      As a result, heat from the engine compartment can cause elevated temperatures on the passenger compartment surface of the engine cover.

      Under certain conditions, engine cover surface temperatures can further increase in vehicles modified with Stationary Elevated Idle Control or Battery Charge Protect.

      Direct and continuous contact with certain areas of the surface of the engine cover in the passenger compartment may cause burns to the skin of the driver or front passenger.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will check the engine cover for gaps between the rubber seal and the insulation. If needed, the dealer will install engine cover insulation patches in the right and left inner lower corners of the engine cover. The dealer will also update the powertrain calibration for heat management under certain elevated idle conditions.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is  20S73.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 32,000 model year 2021 Ford E-Series vehicles. The vehicles may contain mispositioned insulation on the underside ...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls AMG GLC 63 4MATICs

      The starter power supply cable may have been installed incorrectly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,563 model year 2018-2020 AMG GLC 63 4MATICs.

      The power supply cable on the starter might not have been installed correctly, possibly allowing the cable to chafe against the starter housing and short-circuit.

      A power supply cable short-circuit can result in a stall, increasing the risk of a crash. In addition, a short-circuit can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the starter harness and power supply cable installation, and correct it -- as necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 9, 2021.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,563 model year 2018-2020 AMG GLC 63 4MATICs. The power supply cable on the starter might not have been installe...
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      Coronavirus update: Expanded vaccine eligibility, a rising death toll in California

      Hockey fans likely won’t return to the stands this season

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 22,645,344 (22,429,685)

      Total U.S. deaths: 377,616 (374,442)

      Total global cases: 91,087,170 (90,435,754)

      Total global deaths: 1,950,190 (1,938,004)

      Report: Vaccine to be opened to those 65 and older

      As states run into bottlenecks trying to administer the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines to high priority groups, the decision has apparently been made to expand the pool of potential recipients.

      CNBC quotes a senior Trump administration official as saying new guidelines are being issued that will make the vaccine available to every person age 65 and older. A few states have already taken that action, but the new guidelines would make it federal policy.

      The official attributed the vaccine bottlenecks to states’ desire to provide the first doses of the vaccine only to frontline health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

      California death toll reaches 30,000

      California reached another dubious milestone on Monday. The death toll from the virus reached 30,000 as the state continues to go through the worst surge it has experienced thus far.

      New cases of the coronavirus are rising at an even faster rate. The state recorded more than a quarter-million new cases last week. Officials in Los Angeles county are telling people to wear a mask even when at home.

      “The damaging impact to our families and local hospitals from this surge is the worst disaster our county has experienced for decades,” health director Barbara Ferrer said.

      NHL doesn’t expect fans to return this season

      The rollout of two coronavirus vaccines has raised hopes that fans may soon be able to return to the stands for sporting events. However, the commissioner of the National Hockey League (NHL) doesn’t expect that to happen in the upcoming season.

      According to Newsday, Commissioner Gary Bettman has warned of a revenue shortfall of at least $1 billion because he expects another season of mostly empty arenas.

      “It would be cheaper for us to shut the door and not play,” Bettman reportedly said on a teleconference with the media. “It’s just what we have to deal with and what clubs have decided they have to do. Everyone thought it was important to play our game and deliver what people expect from us, and that’s what everyone signed on to do.”

      Why COVID-19 sometimes affects the brain

      COVID-19 is mostly associated with infection of the lungs, but occasionally it can affect the brain. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine now think they know why.

      They’ve discovered that the virus can directly infect the central nervous system, and now they have begun to unravel some of the virus’ effects on brain cells. The study, published today in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM), may help researchers develop treatments for the various neurological symptoms associated with COVID-19.

      “Understanding the full extent of viral invasion is crucial to treating patients, as we begin to try to figure out the long-term consequences of COVID-19, many of which are predicted to involve the central nervous system,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor at Yale School of Medicine.

      Pandemic produces new financial confidence

      The COVID-19 pandemic has produced widespread health and economic hardship over the last 10 months, but, oddly, many consumers have also gained financial confidence during this time. The KeyBank 2020 Financial Resiliency Survey, released today, finds that many Americans have increased emergency savings and have more financial awareness.

      The survey found that 53 percent of consumers reported feeling more financially confident, and just over half said they could come up with $2,000 to meet an emergency expense. That’s up from 42 percent at the end of 2019.

      Forty-two percent of respondents said they are spending less and saving more since the pandemic began, and among those who say they are doing so, 71 percent are spending less money on discretionary items—including travel, dining, and entertainment.

      Around the nation

      • Michigan: Seeking to alleviate a shortage of available vaccine doses, Gov. Gretchen Whitner is asking if the state can purchase 100,000 additional doses from Pfizer. Demand is soaring as teachers, police officers, and seniors have been added to the vaccination group.

      • New Jersey: Gov. Phil Murphy says his state is now seeing the expected surge in coronavirus cases associated with the end-of-the-year holidays. Health officials reported 5,042 new COVID-19 cases and 51 deaths on Monday.

      • Oregon: Oregon is among the states turning to mass inoculation events to speed up the vaccine rollout. Oregon Health & Science University in Portland hosted a drive-through clinic over the weekend for more than 2,000 community-health workers, first responders, and home care-workers.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 22,645,344 (22,429,...
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      Walmart to test technology that could enable 24/7 grocery delivery

      The first tests will be conducted in Arkansas using temperature-controlled smart boxes

      Walmart is looking to up its grocery delivery game by opening the possibility of consumers being able to get their orders at any time of the day or night. 

      In a blog post, the company says it will be conducting a pilot this spring that will allow customers in Arkansas to get fresh groceries delivered to their doors in a temperature-controlled smart box. The boxes are made by HomeValet, and they will reportedly be able to hold frozen, refrigerated, and pantry items.

      “Beginning this spring, participating customers in Bentonville, Arkansas, will be able to receive deliveries from their local Walmart directly into a temperature-controlled HomeValet-powered smart box placed outside their home. This gives customers the ability to receive secure, contactless deliveries with the peace of mind knowing their grocery items will stay fresh,” said Tom Ward, Walmart U.S.’ senior vice president of Customer Product.

      “The prospect of this technology is intriguing, both for customers and for Walmart’s last-mile delivery efforts. For customers, they don’t need to plan their day around when their grocery delivery will be made. For Walmart, it presents an opportunity to deliver items 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Ward said. 

      Ward stated that Walmart probably won’t be delivering groceries on a 24/7 basis anytime in the near future, but he admitted that the idea “certainly has a nice ring to it.”

      “If there’s one thing we know about our customers, it’s that they’re busier than ever. Our pilot with HomeValet is one of many solutions we’re testing that can make their days more manageable,” Ward said.

      Walmart is looking to up its grocery delivery game by opening the possibility of consumers being able to get their orders at any time of the day or night....
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      Frontier joins other airlines in banning emotional support animals from flights

      Service dogs are still permitted, but they must also follow new rules

      Airlines continue to take a hard line against emotional support animals. Frontier Airlines is joining Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines in adopting new Department of Transportation (DOT) rules

      The Denver-based carrier announced that it will no longer accept reservations for emotional support animals on any of its flights for all reservations booked on or after January 11, 2021, and for all flights departing on or after February 1, 2021

      The DOT was getting gamed

      The DOT said it was in a tough spot because the laundry list of concerns tied to emotional support animals raised by the airline industry, disabilities rights groups, and customers was growing out of control. Travelers have to bear some of the responsibility for why the DOT had to do what it did in closing all the loopholes its previous policy had left open to abuse.

      “Airline employees will tell you that people with real disabilities present few problems in the airport environment,” the agency said. “Those abusing these policies are often easy to spot — their animals are often clearly pets and treated as such, are usually untrained for any service, the passenger often makes a big deal about it, and they generally stand out.”

      “Those with real disabilities and real service animals benefit greatly from this change since it will reduce or eliminate those trying to appropriate their ADA benefit. Flight Attendants, too, undoubtedly see this as an improvement.”

      Service dogs are still permitted

      While it’s cutting off emotional support animals, Frontier will continue to transport service dogs specifically trained to support a qualified individual with a disability. The airline’s changes to its service animal policy are as follows:

      • Paperwork. Customers traveling with a service dog must complete and submit the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form, attesting to the dog’s health, behavior, and training. For reservations booked more than 48 hours prior to travel, customers must submit the completed form no later than 48 hours prior to travel. For reservations booked less than 48 hours prior to travel, customers must submit the completed form in person to a Customer Service Agent upon arrival at the airport.

      • What about animals other than dogs? For service animals booked prior to January 11, 2021, for travel through January 31, 2021, Frontier will transport dogs, cats, and miniature horses that have received training (including as a psychiatric service animal) to assist a qualified individual with a disability.

      • Maximum number of animals allowed. Under the new policy, the maximum number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability is two.

      • What happens if a service animal “acts up.” A trained service animal that engages in disruptive behavior or poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others may be denied boarding.

      • What about animals who don’t qualify? Animals who do not qualify as trained service animals may still be eligible to travel for a fee in accordance with Frontier’s Pet Policy.

      Airlines continue to take a hard line against emotional support animals. Frontier Airlines is joining Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlin...
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      Uber to expand ‘Uber Green’ to more cities as part of increased sustainability efforts

      The company will also be focusing on electric vehicles and new initiatives in 2021

      The new year is officially underway, and Uber is recommitting to some of the green initiatives that it promised to undertake towards the end of 2020.

      On Tuesday, the company announced that it will be expanding its Uber Green ride option to over 1,400 more North American cities and towns. The offering allows riders to choose either an electric vehicle or a hybrid vehicle as their mode of transport. Drivers who have an eligible vehicle can earn a small bonus from each completed trip, and some of the money also goes towards greater adoption of electric vehicles. 

      Uber is also adopting Uber Green into its Uber Pass membership service. Consumers who are enrolled in that program can receive 10 percent off on Green trips and on standard rides.

      More sustainability efforts

      Also included in Uber’s announcement was information on two new initiatives it has joined to help fight climate change. The first is its enrollment in the Zero Emissions Transportation Association (ZETA), which is advocating for policies that will allow 100 percent electric vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030. 

      “For the first time in a generation, transportation is the leading emitter of U.S. carbon emissions. By embracing EVs, federal policymakers can help drive innovation, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and improve air quality and public health,” Joe Britton, ZETA’s executive director, said in November.

      The second initiative Uber has joined is Amazon’s and Global Optimism’s Climate Pledge, which seeks to meet the climate goals outlined in The Paris Agreement on a shorter timeline.

      “Uber’s work to have 100% of rides taking place in zero-emission vehicles, on public transit, or with micromobility by 2040,” aligns with this pledge, the company said.

      The new year is officially underway, and Uber is recommitting to some of the green initiatives that it promised to undertake towards the end of 2020.On...
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      Academy Sports + Outdoors recalls Ozone 500 Density bicycles

      The locking hardware on the front wheel can become loose

      Academy Sports + Outdoors of Katy, Texas, is recalling about 6,000 Ozone 500 Density bicycles.

      The locking hardware on the front wheel can become loose resulting in front wheel instability, posing fall and injury hazards.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves Ozone 500 Density series bicycles sold in multiple colors.

      The model numbers, listed here, may be found on the seat tube.

      “Ozone 500” is printed on the frame.

      The bicycles, manufactured in China, were sold at Academy Sports + Outdoors stores and online at www.academy.com from October 2020, through November 2020, for about $115.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and contact Academy Sports + Outdoors for a free repair or free replacement hardware.

      Consumers may contact Academy Sports + Outdoors toll-free at (888) 922-2336 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (CT) daily, by email at customerservice@academy.com, or online at www.academy.com and click on “Product Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Academy Sports + Outdoors of Katy, Texas, is recalling about 6,000 Ozone 500 Density bicycles. The locking hardware on the front wheel can become loose ...
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      Model year 2019 Mercedes Benz Sprinters recalled

      The operator's manual may be inaccurate and/or incomplete

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling nine model year 2019 Mercedes Benz Sprinters.

      The vehicles may have been delivered with a version of the printed and digital operator's manual that may be inaccurate and/or incomplete.

      If the operator relies on the provided owner's manual, the information about vehicle functions and other safety relevant information may be inaccurate and/or incomplete, which could lead to improper operation of the vehicle and potentially increase the risk of a crash or injury.

      What to do

      DVUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the printed version of the operator's manual with the latest version and update the software of the digital version free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 18, 2021.

      Owners may contact DVUSA customer service at (877) 762-8267. DVUSA's number for this recall is VS3PRIDIBA.

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling nine model year 2019 Mercedes Benz Sprinters. The vehicles may have been delivered with a version of the printed a...
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      Hyundai recalls 471,000 SUVs due to risk of vehicle fires

      The automaker says additional vehicles have the electrical problem that causes the hazard

      Hyundai has expanded its Tucson SUV recall to include an additional 471,000 vehicles. 

      In September, the automaker said an electrical malfunction put a significant number of Tucson SUVs at risk of catching fire. Hyundai said Friday that it is expanding its initial recall to include Hyundai Tucson SUVs, model-year 2016 through 2018, as well as some 2020 through 2021 models. 

      The company said the vehicles included in the newest recall come equipped with antilock brake system computers that could potentially create a short and start a fire. At least 12 fires have been started due to the problem so far, according to the carmaker. 

      Hyundai is urging drivers to park their vehicles outside until the issue is repaired. Towards the end of February, drivers of affected vehicles will be able to take their SUV to a dealer to get a computer fuse replaced. 

      Expanded recall

      Consumers can find out if their vehicle is included in the latest recall by entering their vehicle identification number on Hyundai’s recalls page. Tucson SUVs with Hyundai’s Smart Cruise control feature aren’t affected by the recall.

      Back in September, Hyundai and Kia voluntarily recalled nearly 600,000 cars in the U.S. because of the defect. The automakers said brake fluid could leak inside a hydraulic control unit for the anti-lock brakes, which could cause an electrical short and start a fire. 

      The companies have been investigating the issue since 2018. Last year, Hyundai told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it received 15 reports of engine fires caused by the leak. Kia reported eight incidents. 

      Hyundai has expanded its Tucson SUV recall to include an additional 471,000 vehicles. In September, the automaker said an electrical malfunction put a...
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      Coronavirus update: Stepped up vaccine production, hiring continues to lag

      Help for small businesses is on the way

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 22,429,685 (22,227,722)

      Total U.S. deaths: 374,442 (373,331)

      Total global cases: 90,435,754 (89,960,893)

      Total global deaths: 1,938,004 (1,931,083)

      Vaccine producer promises more doses

      BioNTech, the pharmaceutical company that partnered with Pfizer to produce a successful coronavirus vaccine, says it plans to ramp up production to help alleviate shortfalls in some areas.

      Citing presentation slides that the company produced for a financial analysts’ conference, CNBC reports that BioNTech has set a goal of producing 2 billion doses in 2021. That’s an increase from the previous goal of 1.3 billion doses.

      “This is based on continuous process improvements and expansion at our current facilities, and contingent upon adding more suppliers as well as contract manufacturers,” BioNTech wrote as part of its presentation.

      More evidence of COVID-19’s drag on hiring

      On the heels of the December employment report showing a loss of jobs in the economy, there’s more evidence that the pandemic is taking an increasing toll on hiring. The latest Paychex IHS Markit Small Business Employment Watch shows a slowing of 0.24 percent in December’s Jobs Index.

      "The winter season brought a surge in COVID-19 cases and with it a retreat in jobs growth," said James Diffley, chief regional economist at IHS Markit.

      He says Congress’ new pandemic stimulus package has come at the right time for business owners. Specifically, he points to the second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, simplified forgiveness for new and existing PPP loans, and an extension and expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit.

      PPP 2.0

      Speaking of the PPP, the second round of that small business support program got underway today, with another $280 billion available for struggling businesses. This time, the program administrators say efforts will be increased to make sure it’s fair, with the money going to companies that most need it. 

      The updated initiative comes in the form of forgivable loans for small businesses. However, there are some key eligibility differences. When applying for a PPP loan, businesses will also find a new streamlined forgiveness application. 

      Another addendum under the new version of the program states that any loan under $150,000 and coming from the Small Business Administration (SBA) will not require documentation.

      Dodger Stadium to become mass vaccination site

      The City of Los Angeles has announced that Dodger Stadium is being repurposed into a mass inoculation site as early as this week. The move is designed to break the logjam that has slowed the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines.

      The stadium has already played a role in trying to contain the virus by becoming a testing venue. Officials say the tests will be replaced by actual administration of the vaccine.

      "Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

      Beating the lockdown blues

      Now that the pandemic has dragged into another year, people are no doubt suffering from lockdown fever and are eager to get outdoors. Scientists say that may be a very good idea and could go a long way toward alleviating anxiety.

      Researchers taking part in an international study examined how levels of happiness during a national lockdown were affected by being outdoors, the amount of daily screen time -- use of TV, computer and smartphone -- and feelings of loneliness. The study findings showed that levels of happiness were higher when participants were outdoors rather than indoors. The researchers also found that more daily screen time and higher levels of loneliness were both associated with lower levels of happiness. 

      "Our results are important in this context because they show that being able to spend time outdoors under conditions of lockdown has a beneficial impact on psychological well-being,” the author wrote.

      Around the nation

      • Tennessee: As the state has opened vaccinations to all people age 75 and older, lines have gotten longer. State health officials have now instituted an online appointment system that they say should make the process go more smoothly.

      • Arizona: A Tuscon physician is telling state residents who have already had the coronavirus that they should still take precautions. However, she says there is a low risk of getting it again. “Currently, only a small number of cases have been shown convincingly to be reinfection,” said Dr. Elizabeth Connick, an infectious disease specialist with Banner University Medical Center.

      • Maine: The pandemic may have slowed things down a bit, but the state’s new marijuana dispensaries are still reporting a brisk business. Stores have reported more than $4 million in sales since retail outlets were legalized in October.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 22,429,685 (22,227,...
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      Meaningful activities are more satisfying during lockdown than busy work

      Experts suggest that consumers do more than just distract themselves during quarantine

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have had to get creative with the ways they spend their time. While reports have found an uptick in physical activity and pet adoption, a new study conducted by researchers from RMIT University has found the best way for consumers to pass the time while at home. 

      According to their findings, consumers are likely to gain the most satisfaction by participating in meaningful activities, rather than trying to complete random tasks to stay busy. 

      “[Staying busy] might be distracting, but it won’t necessarily be fulfilling,” said researcher Dr. Lauren Saling. “Rather, think about what activities you miss most and try and find a way of doing them.” 

      Finding meaning while at home

      The researchers surveyed over 130 adults between May and June, asking them questions about their well-being prior to and during the pandemic. The participants also reported on activities they engaged in both before and during the pandemic and described how important each activity was to them. 

      The study revealed that the participants were likely to gain more benefits from meaningful activities instead of simple busy work. The researchers explained that participants who got creative and shifted their usual in-person activities to a socially distanced or virtual format reported the greatest satisfaction during quarantine. 

      When it came to engaging in activities designed to just pass the time, it wasn’t a completely negative experience for the participants. The researchers found that doing things just to keep busy was just as likely to have a positive effect on the participants’ moods as a negative effect. However, those who completed tasks simply as a mechanism to stay busy were more likely to experience greater mood fluctuations, and they were never as satisfied as those who were doing things they actually enjoyed. 

      “Respondents who simply stayed busy during lockdown reported an increase in both positive and negative emotions,” Dr. Saling said. “This heightened emotionality will tend to shift you away from activity in general and towards meaningful activity.” 

      Greater well-being

      Participating in meaningful activities not only made the participants more fulfilled, but it also helped them regulate their emotions and led to better overall well-being. 

      As social distancing guidelines continue to restrict consumers’ regular activities, the researchers hope that these findings inspire more people to think outside the box when trying to pass the time. 

      “Emotions are a mechanism to make you change your behavior,” said Dr. Saling. “But when you’re doing what you love, it makes sense that you feel more balanced -- simply keeping busy isn’t satisfying.” 

      Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have had to get creative with the ways they spend their time. While reports have found an uptick in phy...
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      SolarWinds hack bears similarities to tool used by Russian hackers

      Researchers say the code deployed was similar to one used by a known Russian hacking group

      Investigators said Monday that the hackers behind the global SolarWinds incident used computer code with links to known Russian spying tools, Reuters reports. 

      It recently came to light that cyber criminals hacked SolarWinds to gain access to at least 18,000 government and private networks. It is believed that the cyberattackers’ goal was to collect intelligence. 

      Now, researchers at Moscow-based cybersecurity company Kaspersky said the attackers deployed code that closely resembled malware associated with a Russian hacking group known as “Turla.” 

      The way in which the SolarWinds hack was carried out had three notable similarities to a hacking tool called “Kazuar,” which is used by Turla, according to Costin Raiu, head of global research and analysis at Kaspersky.

      Similarities were noted in how the hackers identified their victims and how they avoided being detected through the use of a specific formula to calculate periods with the viruses lying dormant. Additionally, both pieces of malware attempted to obscure their functions from security analysts.  

      “One such finding could be dismissed,” Raiu said. “Two things definitely make me raise an eyebrow. Three is more than a coincidence.”

      Connection likely

      Raiu said the similarities point to the likelihood of a link between the two hacking tools, but they don’t necessarily imply that Turla played a role in the SolarWinds hack. He said there’s a possibility that the hackers behind the SolarWinds hack were merely inspired by Kazuar, or that they deliberately planted “false flags” in order to throw off investigators. 

      Although Moscow has denied involvement in the hack, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that the hackers were “likely Russian in origin.” Security firms in the U.S. and other countries are continuing to investigate the incident in order to determine its full scope, and the Department of Justice has vowed to take serious action. 

      “As part of the ongoing technical analysis, the Department has determined that the activity constitutes a major incident under the Federal Information Security Modernization Act, and is taking the steps consistent with that determination,” the agency said last week. “The Department will continue to notify the appropriate federal agencies, Congress, and the public as warranted."

      Investigators said Monday that the hackers behind the global SolarWinds incident used computer code with links to known Russian spying tools, Reuters repor...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2020 AMG GTs

      The headlights may be aimed incorrectly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling nine model year 2020 AMG GTs.

      The headlights may have been incorrectly aimed too high.

      Incorrectly aimed headlights can reduce the visibility of oncoming traffic, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will check the headlight aim, and correct it -- if necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 9, 2021.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling nine model year 2020 AMG GTs. The headlights may have been incorrectly aimed too high. Incorrectly aimed headl...
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      Coronavirus update: Pfizer’s reassuring research, a heavy blow to the job market

      The FDA is warning the public about an unreliable COVID-19 test

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 21,617,462 (21,342,187)

      Total U.S. deaths: 365,882 (361,900)

      Total global cases: 88,339,935 (87,384,218)

      Total global deaths: 1,904,122 (1,887,970)

      Pfizer says its vaccine works against new virus strain

      When a new variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) was discovered in the U.K. last month, health officials’ worst fear was that it would be resistant to the newly released vaccines. That doesn’t appear to be the case, at least as far as one vaccine is concerned.

      Pfizer said this week that the vaccine it developed with BioNTech appears to be effective against this new mutation of the virus. 

      The company’s research, published Thursday but not yet peer-reviewed, suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked to neutralize the so-called N501Y mutation, which causes the virus to spread more easily.

      Virus takes a toll on the job market

      As cases of the virus mounted last month, causing new restrictions to be placed on businesses, layoffs resumed with greater frequency. The Labor Department’s December employment report displays the damage in graphic detail.

      The economy lost 140,000 jobs during the month, the first time the report has posted a negative number since April. Since then, employers had restored about 12 million of the lost jobs.

      It came as no surprise that the biggest job losses came in the hospitality industry, especially bars and restaurants. The sector lost a total of 498,000 jobs last month.

      FDA warns of faulty test

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert to tell patients and health care providers about problems with a commonly used COVID-19 test. Specifically, the agency warns that there is a risk of false results, particularly false-negative results, with the Curative SARS-Cov-2 test. 

      Patients getting a false negative could face delayed treatment and run the risk of spreading the virus to others, since the patient would have no reason to take precautions. The lack of treatment could allow the symptoms to worsen before the patient finally seeks treatment.

      “To reduce the risk of false-negative results, it is important to perform the test in accordance with its authorization and as described in the authorized labeling, e.g., the Fact Sheet for Healthcare Providers,” the FDA said in its alert. “When the test is not performed in accordance with its authorization or as described in the authorized labeling, there is a greater risk that the results of the test may not be accurate.”

      Supermarkets to the rescue

      The nation’s supermarket pharmacy chains are being asked to come to the rescue of the nationwide rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, which admittedly hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned.

      Originally, this network of pharmacies was being held in reserve until after the high-priority population was inoculated and the vaccine was opened up to the general population. But federal and state officials have concluded that their help is needed now to complete the first phase of the rollout.

      “We’re getting calls just because of the need,” Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger’s health care business, told The Wall Street Journal

      Gottlieb: One-third of the population infected by the end of January

      January’s going to be a tough month, according to former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottleib. He predicts that by the end of the month, one-third of the U.S. population will have been infected since the start of the pandemic.

      That would be a huge increase between now and the end of the month, but Gottlieb told CNBC he believes many more than the 21 million people in the official count have actually had the virus.

      Meanwhile, the death toll keeps picking up speed. According to the official count, there were more than 4,000 deaths from the virus on Thursday.

      Around the nation

      • Nevada: State health officials are expressing concern about what they call a potential “surge on top of a surge.” The state reported 3,402 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, a single-day record.

      • Arkansas: Despite the fact that cases of the coronavirus are surging, several Arkansas bar owners have filed a lawsuit against the state in an attempt to have some COVID-19 restrictions thrown out. Specifically, the suit seeks to overturn a state-mandated closing time of 11 p.m.

      • Michigan: An analysis of coronavirus cases in the state backs up Michigan’s decision to impose stringent measures to control the virus. “I’d rate [lockdowns] among our more effective tools right now simply because they stop people from coming into contact with each other,” said University of Michigan epidemiologist Ryan Malosh. "It reduces a susceptible person from coming into contact with an infectious person. That’s going to cut the number of infections down pretty much no matter what you do, pretty much no matter how you look at it.”

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 21,617,462 (21,342,...
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      Officials ask pharmacy retailers for more help in completing the first phase of the vaccine rollout

      These companies have been waiting until the high-priority population was vaccinated

      The national rollout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned. Now, the nation’s supermarket pharmacy chains are being asked to come to the rescue.

      Under the original distribution plan, this network of pharmacies would have been deployed after the high-priority population was inoculated and the vaccine was opened up to the general population. But federal and state officials have concluded that their help is needed now to complete the first phase of the rollout.

      “We’re getting calls just because of the need,” Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger’s health care business, told The Wall Street Journal

      This week, Kroger responded to requests for help in Georgia and South Carolina. It has begun administering the shots to health care professionals at its stores there. Kroger pharmacy professionals have also been deployed to long-term care facilities in Arkansas, Alaska, Texas, and West Virginia.

      Lagging distribution

      Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report that they’ve shipped out more than 17 million doses of the two vaccines -- the drug developed by Moderna and the vaccine jointly produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. But so far, they say only 5.3 million of those doses have ended up in people’s arms.

      Aside from distribution bottlenecks -- only two pharmacies have been administering the vaccines -- officials point to confusion among state health authorities about who gets the vaccine. Two states -- Louisiana and Florida -- moved beyond the high-priority groups this week and made the vaccine available to the older population in general.

      HHS officials also began reaching out to the pharmacies that have been on standby this week, waiting for the expansion of the vaccination effort. Rite Aid said it has begun giving vaccinations to health care workers in New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York City, and Delaware.

      Larger vaccination venues

      Executives at Giant Eagle say they have talked with health officials in several states about ways to expand the company’s footprint beyond its retail locations. They have asked for help in taking over unused spaces, like fairgrounds and courthouses, for temporary clinics.

      Officials in several states have repurposed abandoned Sears locations in shopping malls as temporary vaccine distribution centers. Officials selected the retail sites for what they offer -- open floor plans, huge parking lots, and easy access to major highways.

      Kroger says it is also exploring ways to hold large events that can inoculate large numbers of people in a short period of time. Lindholz told The Journal the retailer has the capacity to vastly increase the number of vaccines it can distribute but needs greater access to the vaccines.

      The national rollout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned. Now, the nation’s supermarket pharmacy chains are being ask...
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      Amazon discontinues Prime Pantry

      The company still offers Fresh and Whole Foods delivery

      As part of its effort to streamline its grocery delivery offerings, Amazon has announced that it’s discontinuing Prime Pantry. 

      Prime Pantry was Amazon’s first grocery delivery offering. When it first launched in 2014, customers could use the service to get a box of up to 45 pounds worth of household items and non-perishable goods delivered for a $6 delivery fee. Amazon later began offering Pantry to subscribers willing to pay $5 per month (on top of regular Prime fees) for unlimited deliveries. 

      On Wednesday, the company announced that it’s shutting down the service as part of an effort to consolidate its grocery delivery offerings. 

      “As part of our commitment to delivering the best possible customer experience, we have decided to transfer Amazon Pantry selection to the main Amazon.com store so customers can get everyday household products faster, without an extra subscription or purchase requirement,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. 

      Amazon ramps up grocery delivery

      The spokesperson told Bloomberg that the products previously available through Pantry have been integrated into its main retail site. The customers who were paying $5 a month for Pantry were notified last month about the impending service shutdown. 

      Amazon has ramped up its grocery delivery offerings significantly over the past few years. In 2017, the company purchased Whole Foods and made it possible for Amazon Prime members to get groceries delivered from the store in as little as an hour. 

      The company also still offers Fresh, a free service that allows customers to get fresh food delivered in two hours or less. 

      As part of its effort to streamline its grocery delivery offerings, Amazon has announced that it’s discontinuing Prime Pantry. Prime Pantry was Amazon’...
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      E-cigarettes cause inflammation in the gut and can lead to health problems, study finds

      A study provides new evidence of the health costs of vaping

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego found yet another health risk associated with smoking e-cigarettes

      According to their findings, consumers who vape are increasingly more susceptible to a condition known as leaky gut. This happens when holes have developed in the gut lining that bacteria can leak through, which can ultimately cause inflammation throughout the entire body. 

      “This is the first study that demonstrates how chronic exposure to e-cigarettes increases the gut’s susceptibility to bacterial infections, leading to chronic inflammation, and other health concerns,” said researcher Soumita Das, PhD. “Given the importance of the gut barrier in the maintenance of the body’s immune homeostasis, the findings provide valuable insight into the potential long-term harmful effects chronic use of e-cigarettes [has] on our health.” 

      Risks to gut health

      To better understand how gut health is impacted by e-cigarettes, the researchers created 3D models of the human intestinal system using stem cells. They then used the models to mimic the process of smoking an e-cigarette and analyzed the effects of smoking on the models’ gut reaction. 

      The researchers found that chemical additives used in e-cigarettes -- specifically propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol -- are responsible for damage to the intestines. Ultimately, these chemicals damage the gut’s protective barrier, which is what initiates gut inflammation. 

      While this is concerning for overall gut health, the researchers explained that it can also have greater complications for consumers’ immune systems. Once these chemicals break through the intestines, they have direct access to the immune system, which can make consumers more susceptible to infections. 

      “The safety of e-cigarettes has been debated fiercely on both sides,” said researcher Dr. Pradipta Ghosh. “Nicotine content, and its addictive nature, has always been the major focus of those who argue against its safety, whereas lack of chemicals in the carcinogens that are present in the cigarette smoke has been touted by the makers of e-cigarettes when marketing these products as a ‘healthy alternative.’ In reality, it’s the chemicals making up the vapor liquid that we should be more concerned about as they are the cause of gut inflammation.” 

      Though vaping rates have declined in recent months -- especially for young people -- the researchers hope that consumers understand the severity of the long-term risks associated with smoking e-cigarettes. 

      “The gut lining is an amazing entity,” said researcher Dr. Ghosh. “It is comprised of a single layer of cells that are meant to seal the body from trillions of microbes, defend our immune system, and at the same time allow absorption of essential nutrients. Anything we eat or drink, our lifestyle choices in other words, has the ability to impact our gut microbes, the gut barrier, and overall health. Now we know that what we smoke, such as e-cigarettes, negatively impacts it as well.” 

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego found yet another health risk associated with smoking e-cigarettes....
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      The economy lost jobs last month for the first time since April

      Surging COVID-19 cases are taking a toll on the job market

      The nation’s economy lost jobs last month for the first time since April, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic threw the economy into lockdown.

      The Labor Department reports that nonfarm payrolls shrank by 140,000 in December. To find the main source of the damage, one needs to look no farther than the hospitality industry. These COVID-19-sensitive businesses -- particularly restaurants -- lost nearly a half-million jobs.

      December marked the end to what had appeared to be a recovering job market. The economy began adding jobs in May and had restored more than 12 million jobs until last month.

      Despite the setback, two numbers remained unchanged last month. The number of people who were out of work remained at 10.7 million, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent.

      In addition to the huge loss of jobs in the hospitality industry, private education shed 63,000 jobs and 45,000 government jobs disappeared.

      Some industries added jobs

      On the plus side, retailers added 121,000 jobs in December, even as more holiday sales moved to online channels. More than half the gain came at general merchandise stores and warehouses.

      Employment in business and professional services grew by 161,000 last month, but a large number of those jobs were temporary in nature. Construction added 51,000 jobs in December, but employment in the industry is 226,000 below its February 2020 level, just before the pandemic.

      Economists say the employment report shows there was a need for the coronavirus stimulus/aid bill Congress passed last month. It includes an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits and a one-time $600 direct payment to every American.

      President-elect Biden has served notice that more aid/stimulus will be coming in the weeks ahead now that Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

      The nation’s economy lost jobs last month for the first time since April, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic threw the economy into lockdown.The...
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      Gas prices show a slight uptick over the last week

      Prices begin 2021 at 30 cents a gallon less than last year

      Gasoline prices remained fairly stable during the end-of-the-year holidays as oil prices found a sweet spot and demand continued to fall.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.30 a gallon, up five cents in the last week but 30 cents lower than at this time a year ago.

      The average price of premium gas is $2.89 a gallon, four cents higher than last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.58 a gallon, two cents more than last week.

      Oil prices ticked slightly higher this week on rising optimism that the end of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is in sight. U.S. gasoline demand, as recorded by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), was at the lowest level for the last week of December since 1998 – at 8.1 million barrels a day.

      “Holiday road travel was down at least 25 percent,” said Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson. “With fewer people on the road, the majority of states saw little change at the pump from the last week of 2020 to the first few days of 2021.”

      Casselano says where gas prices go from here will largely depend on the price of crude oil and when demand for fuel begins to pick up again. She said AAA expects that as the vaccine becomes more widely available and states loosen travel restrictions, Americans will begin to see prices follow normal season patterns.

      For all of 2020, AAA says the national average price of regular was $2.17 a gallon, the lowest since 2016.

      The states with the most expensive gas

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

      • Hawaii ($3.29)

      • California ($3.26)

      • Washington ($2.76)

      • Nevada ($2.63)

      • Oregon ($2.62)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.59)

      • Alaska ($2.52)

      • Illinois ($2.43)

      • New York ($2.35)

      • New Jersey ($2.22)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Mississippi ($1.96)

      • Texas ($1.98)

      • Missouri ($1.99)

      • Louisiana ($1.99)

      • Oklahoma ($2.01)

      • Arkansas ($2.02)

      • Kansas ($2.04)

      • Alabama ($2.05)

      • Tennessee ($2.09)

      • South Carolina ($2.07)

      Gasoline prices remained fairly stable during the end-of-the-year holidays as oil prices found a sweet spot and demand continued to fall.The AAA Fuel G...
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      Mortgage interest rates hit a 30-year low to start 2021

      The new rates mean impressive savings, but they probably won’t hang around very long

      Homebuyers and homeowners looking to refinance have been pushed into a whale of a dilemma. While one industry report shows that homeownership is quickly sliding into “unaffordable territory” in much of the U.S., mortgage rates are the most affordable they’ve been in 30 years. 

      According to the just-released Primary Mortgage Market Survey by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is at an average of 2.65 percent, the lowest rate in the survey’s history, which dates back to 1971.

      “A new year, a new record low mortgage rate. Despite a full percentage point decline in rates over the past year, housing affordability has decreased because these low rates have been offset by rising home prices,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist, commenting on the conundrum.

      Overall savings are impressive

      Freddie Mac’s survey found some interesting comparative tidbits about the shift in mortgage rates. As an example, a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.65 percent with an average 0.7 points for the week ending January 7, 2021, which is down from last week when it averaged 2.67 percent. 

      A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.64 percent. On a $300,000 mortgage, that’s a difference of more than $150 a month -- $1,209/mo. now vs. $1,371/mo. a year ago. But the real savings is in the overall out-of-pocket cost. All told, the total cost of the mortgage on the new rate would be $435,201 vs. $493,448 on last year’s rate.

      For those who can swing a larger monthly payment, a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.16 percent with an average 0.6 points, down slightly from last week when it averaged 2.17 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.07 percent. On a $300,000 mortgage, that equates to $1,953/mo. now vs. $2,082/mo. a year ago. 

      More impressive is the savings on the total cost of a 15-year mortgage, dropping close to $100,000 from a 30-year note at $351,487 now vs. $374,735 with the mortgage rate a year ago.

      A 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.75 percent with an average 0.3 points, up a smidge from last week when it averaged 2.71 percent. A year ago at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.30 percent.

      You’ll need good credit and 20 percent down

      While the Freddie Mac survey sounds like a no-lose proposition, the truth is that to get rates like the ones listed, the survey focuses on conventional, conforming, fully amortizing home purchase loans for borrowers who put 20 percent down and have excellent credit. Freddie Mac also noted that borrowers may still pay closing costs that are not included in the survey.

      If a consumer is going to act on these favorable rates, Khater says they better do it now.

      “The forces behind the drop in rates have been shifting over the last few months, and rates are poised to rise modestly this year. The combination of rising mortgage rates and increasing home prices will accelerate the decline in affordability and further squeeze potential homebuyers during the spring home sales season,” he said.

      Homebuyers and homeowners looking to refinance have been pushed into a whale of a dilemma. While one industry report shows that homeownership is quickly sl...
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      Audi recalls model year 2018-2019 RS5 Coupes

      An incorrect positive battery terminal cover was installed.

      Audi is recalling 2,355 model year 2018-2019 RS5 Coupes. An incorrect positive battery terminal cover was installed.

      In a rear crash, the incorrect cover can cause the 12-volt power supply to be compromised, preventing the vehicle doors from being opened from the outside, or the hazard warning lights from functioning, increasing risk of injury.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the positive terminal cover free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 7, 2021.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at (800) 253-2834. Audi's number for this recall is 27i6.

      Audi is recalling 2,355 model year 2018-2019 RS5 Coupes. An incorrect positive battery terminal cover was installed. In a rear crash, the incorrect cove...
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      Coronavirus update: Wednesday’s tragic death toll, CDC says vaccine reactions are ‘rare’

      The pandemic labor market continues to lose ground

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 21,342,187 (21,074,724)

      Total U.S. deaths: 361,900 (358,107)

      Total global cases: 87,384,218 (86,704,216)

      Total global deaths: 1,887,970 (1,874,732)

      Deaths record another single-day record

      The U.S recorded 3,865 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the most for a single day since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. At the end of the day, the U.S. death toll from the virus stood as 361,123 people.

      The record may not last for long since cases of the virus are increasing day-by-day. The number of people who have been infected reached more than 21.3 million today, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the worst could be yet to come, warning that the overall toll could exceed 430,000 by the end of the month.

      CDC: Severe allergic reactions ‘rare’

      In the wake of reports of a few people suffering severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued some guidelines.

      Calling these reactions “exceedingly rare,” it nonetheless urged people who have them to not get the second dose of the vaccine.

      In a conference call with reporters, agency officials said allergic reactions are occurring at a rate of 11.1 per 1 million vaccinations. That’s a significantly higher rate of reactions when compared to annual flu vaccinations.

      Jobless benefits claims remain under 800,000

      New claims for unemployment benefits last week came in a little lower than expected, but they’re still at the high end. The Labor Department reports that claims totaled 787,000 -- less than the 800,000 economists predicted.

      In spite of a spike in coronavirus cases that resulted in more restrictions on businesses, the labor market produced two straight weeks with new jobless claims below 800,000.

      The previous week’s total was revised to 790,000. Some economists think the holidays may have skewed the most recent reporting periods, making them appear better than they were.

      CVS updates vaccine progress

      CVS, along with Walgreens, is administering the coronavirus vaccines to residents and staff at nursing homes across America. In an update on its progress, CVS says it is now serving facilities in 49 states.

      The pharmacy chain says states will have activated nearly 31,000 assisted living facilities partnering with CVS Health by next week. The company expects that all facilities will have received their first doses within three to four weeks of start dates. Activation dates at the remaining nearly 8,000 CVS Health partner facilities have yet to be determined by states.

      "Our work with long-term care facilities isn't a mass vaccination effort – quite the opposite," said Larry J. Merlo, CVS’s CEO. "We're dealing with a vulnerable population that requires onsite and, in some cases, in-room visits at facilities with fewer than 100 residents on average. Despite these challenges, we remain on schedule, and the number of vaccines we administer will continue to rise as more facilities are activated by the states."

      Old Sears locations become vaccination centers

      The nation’s shopping malls have fallen on hard times, especially when anchor stores like Sears have closed. But during the rollout of a nationwide effort to vaccinate the public against COVID-19, some of those Sears locations are being repurposed as vaccination centers.

      The Wall Street Journal reports that hundreds of Sears buildings are being converted to distribution centers. Officials selected the retail sites for what they offer -- open floor plans, huge parking lots, and easy access to major highways.

      The stores are well-known destinations, and, according to The Journal, house enough space for workers and vaccine recipients to adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

      Around the nation

      • Connecticut: Three restaurants have been chosen to receive grants from Barstool Sports to help them remain open during the pandemic. Laskara Restaurant in Wallingford, along with Red Rock Tavern and Piggy’s Cafe, both in Hartford, will receive funds from the social media company to stay open and keep people employed.

      • Ohio: Attorney General David Yost has tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office confirmed the diagnosis and said Yost apparently became infected with the virus during the holidays. He’s reportedly at home and appears to be recovering, the spokesperson said.

      • Colorado: The number of coronavirus cases linked to an outbreak at an In-And-Out Burger restaurant in Colorado Springs is growing. In late December, 60 cases were reported at the popular California-based chain. Health officials this week updated the number to 83 cases.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 21,342,187 (21,074,...
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      Justice Department confirms that it was part of the SolarWinds hack

      The agency calls the attack a major incident and vows to take serious action

      After sitting on the news for almost two weeks, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has confirmed that its email systems fell prey to the same band of cyberattackers linked to the global SolarWinds incident that has affected government and private sector businesses.

      "On Dec. 24, 2020, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) learned of previously unknown malicious activity linked to the global SolarWinds incident that has affected multiple federal agencies and technology contractors, among others. This activity involved access to the Department’s Microsoft O365 email environment,” DOJ spokesman Marc Raimondi said in a statement.

      Raimondi went on to say that the number of affected email boxes was limited to around 3 percent and that the agency has no indication that any of its classified systems were impacted.

      “A major incident”

      According to a joint statement issued by the recently organized Cyber Unified Coordination Group -- which includes the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Agency -- the hackers are “likely Russian in origin” and “responsible for most or all of the recently discovered, ongoing cyber compromises of both government and non-governmental networks.”

      The group’s investigation is ongoing, and it’s possible they could turn up additional government victims. In the group’s estimation, the hackers’ goal appeared to be collecting intelligence, rather than anything destructive.

      Nonetheless, the attack on the DOJ was serious enough that it’s vowing to take serious action.

      “As part of the ongoing technical analysis, the Department has determined that the activity constitutes a major incident under the Federal Information Security Modernization Act, and is taking the steps consistent with that determination,” the agency said. “The Department will continue to notify the appropriate federal agencies, Congress, and the public as warranted."

      After sitting on the news for almost two weeks, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has confirmed that its email systems fell prey to the same band of cyb...
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      States shouldn’t ‘micromanage’ their vaccine supply, says HHS secretary

      HHS Secretary Alex Azar says states should expand COVID-19 vaccine to ‘some lower-priority people’

      Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is urging states not to waste any time distributing COVID-19 vaccines to older Americans and vulnerable groups. 

      On Wednesday, Azar said states should focus on vaccinating these citizens as quickly as possible rather than “micromanaging” their coronavirus vaccine supply. He said states do not, for example, have to vaccinate all health care workers before moving onto vaccinating lower-priority groups that are also vulnerable.

      “There is no reason that states need to complete, say, vaccinating all health-care providers before opening vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations,” Azar told reporters during a briefing.

      "It would be much better to move quickly and end up vaccinating some lower-priority people than to let vaccines sit around while states try to micromanage this process," Azar said. "Faster administration could save lives right now, which means we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

      Some overlap in groups likely

      People in the 65 and older age group have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended prioritizing health care workers and nursing home staff and residents, health officials say states should ultimately decide who should be first in line for vaccines. 

      “If they are using all the vaccine that is allocated, ordered, distributed, shipped and they are getting it into health-care providers arms, every bit of it, that’s great,” Azar said. “But if for some reason their distribution is struggling and they are having vaccine sit in freezers, then by all means you ought to be opening it up to people 70 and older.”

      The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has previously said that there would likely be some overlap between phases in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution timeline. Azar said Wednesday that providing some “flexibility” around who receives the first doses is the best course of action for states right now. 

      Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is urging states not to waste any time distributing COVID-19 vaccines to older Americans and vulnerable group...
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      Homes are becoming unaffordable in wider areas of the U.S., report finds

      Prices are rising faster than wages in a growing number of housing markets

      Despite record-low mortgage rates, a new industry report shows that homeownership is quickly sliding into “unaffordable territory” in much of the United States.

      In its fourth-quarter 2020 report, ATTOM Data Solutions, a property data firm, found that median home prices of single-family homes and condos were less affordable than historical averages in 55 percent of counties in the U.S.

      That’s a sharp increase from 43 percent a year ago and 33 percent three years ago. Without falling mortgage rates and rising wages, the company said the number would likely be much higher.

      To be considered affordable, a home with a mortgage must fall within a range that requires no more than 28 percent of a homeowner’s income to pay the mortgage, property taxes, and insurance.

      That required income was then compared to annualized average weekly wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The analysis showed that 275 of 499 counties analyzed in the fourth quarter of 2020, or 55 percent, were less affordable than past averages.

      Rising home prices

      The main reason for the lack of affordability is the relentless increase in home prices. Even with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which briefly halted sales, prices continued to rise and demand for homes ran well ahead of homes on the market.

      In fact, prices in 2020 have risen faster than wages and wiped out the benefit that buyers would normally realize from declining mortgage rates. The report found major home-ownership expenses consumed 29.6 percent of the average wage across the nation during the fourth quarter of 2020. A year earlier, the figure was 26.4 percent.

      The National Association of Realtors reported that the median existing-home price in November was $310,800, up 14.6 percent from November 2019. It said prices were higher in every region of the country. 

      "Owning a home in the United States slipped into the unaffordable zone for average workers across the nation in the fourth quarter as the numbers continued a year-long slide in the wrong direction,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM Data Solutions. “The latest housing market data shows the average worker unable to meet the 28 percent affordability guideline used by lenders." 

      Conditions look bleak for buyers

      Teta says the outlook remains uncertain. For now, he says it’s a seller’s market, and “things are going in the wrong direction for buyers."

      There were 499 counties listed in the report, and only 41 percent of them had homeowner costs that aligned with affordability guidelines for the average wage earner. They include Cook County, Ill., Harris County, Tex., and Philadelphia County, Pa.

      There were 296 counties with unaffordable major expenses on median-priced homes for average earners. They include Los Angeles County, Calif., Maricopa County, Ariz., and San Diego County, Calif.

      Despite record-low mortgage rates, a new industry report shows that homeownership is quickly sliding into “unaffordable territory” in much of the United St...
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      Honda recalls model year 2013-2015 Accords

      The drive shaft may corrode and fail

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 220,000 model year 2013-2015 Accords equipped with a 4-cylinder engine and a continuously-variable transmission that were originally sold, or ever registered, in Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

      The drive shafts were assembled with a lubricant that may have degraded the drive shafts' protective coating, making it more susceptible to damage from road salt or other contaminants, and potentially cause it to break.

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

      What to do

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

      The recall is expected to begin February 1, 2021.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 220,000 model year 2013-2015 Accords equipped with a 4-cylinder engine and a continuously-variable transmission that ...
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      Nissan recalls model year 2020 Titan and Titan XD pickup trucks

      The engine wiring harness could contain an exposed wire

      Nissan North America is recalling 7,583 model year 2020 Titan and Titan XD pickup trucks.

      The engine wiring harness could contain an exposed wire that can cause an electrical short or arcing if it contacts another wire.

      An electrical short can impair the performance of the engine, transmission, or fuel pump, increasing the risk of an engine stall and a crash.

      An electrical short or arcing also increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the engine harness, replacing it -- if necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 27, 2021.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at (800) 647-7261

      Nissan North America is recalling 7,583 model year 2020 Titan and Titan XD pickup trucks. The engine wiring harness could contain an exposed wire that c...
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      What consumers should expect when getting a COVID-19 vaccine

      Experts hope that having all the facts will help ease any concerns about getting vaccinated

      Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has started in the last few weeks across the U.S. As more consumers are given the opportunity to be vaccinated in the coming weeks, it’s important to know what to expect from the process. 

      In an effort to ease any concerns about the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a concise list of what consumers should know about the vaccination experience from start to finish. 

      “Because COVID-19 is a new disease with new vaccines, you may have questions about what happens before, during, or after your appointment to get vaccinated,” the agency writes. “These tips will help you know what to expect when you get vaccinated, what information your provider will give you, and resources you can use to monitor your health after you are vaccinated.”  

      Being prepared for the vaccination process

      Below is a list of several points that consumers should be aware of when going through the COVID-19 vaccination process.

      Pre-vaccination

      Prior to getting vaccinated, the CDC recommends that consumers understand how the COVID-19 vaccines work to protect against the virus and the overall benefits of being vaccinated. 

      The agency says that the vaccine primes the body to be able to fight the virus without having to be infected or injected with the virus itself. Once vaccinated, it takes the body two to three weeks to produce white blood cells that fight against COVID-19. After that point, the body should know how to safely fight off the virus if it is exposed to it.

      Getting vaccinated

      The COVID-19 vaccine requires consumers to receive two full doses in order to be as protected as possible from the virus. To help keep track of vaccination records, consumers will receive a vaccination card that includes information on when and where the vaccine was administered, what type of vaccine was given, and the date of the appointment for the second round of the vaccine. 

      Post-vaccine

      Many consumers have expressed concerns about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, but the CDC explained that there are protocols in place to monitor patients’ health immediately following vaccination. While allergic reactions have been found to be rare and unlikely, patients must remain on-site for 15 to 30 minutes so health care officials can ensure that no reaction occurs. 

      In the case of an allergic reaction, vaccination sites have been prepared with the proper medications and tools to treat patients, and emergency services can be called if necessary. 

      Expect side effects

      Consumers should also know that it’s common to experience mild side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Several reports have indicated that patients feel soreness and swelling at the injection site, and others have experienced headaches, fatigue, or low-grade fevers in the days that follow. The CDC encourages consumers to follow simple, at-home remedies for any of these side effects, but if any ailments persist for more than a few days, consumers should contact their doctors. 

      Perhaps one of the most important things to be mindful of post-vaccine is that other preventative measures are still just as necessary. The CDC urges consumers to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and washing their hands; though the vaccine is beneficial in protecting against COVID-19, all of these efforts in conjunction with each other are the best defenses against the virus. 

      Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has started in the last few weeks across the U.S. As more consumers are given the opportunity to be vaccinated in the...
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      Coronavirus update: Risk growing in California, job losses accelerate

      Even with a vaccine, there may not be a quick return to normal

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 21,074,724 (20,843,556)

      Total U.S. deaths: 358,107 (354,263)

      Total global cases: 86,704,216 (85,860,416)

      Total global deaths: 1,874,732 (1,858,412)

      In Southern California, the virus is ‘everywhere’

      Southern California appears to be the epicenter of the state’s growing outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. Officials warn that the chances of becoming infected have never been greater.

      Among the most concerning trends is the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. About one in five people now test positive for the virus, five times the rate of just two months ago. Cases have threatened to overwhelm Los Angeles Hospitals.

      “Everyone should keep in mind that community transmission rates are so high that you run the risk of an exposure whenever you leave your home,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Assume that this deadly invisible virus is everywhere, looking for a willing host.”

      Damage to the job market is growing

      The employment picture appears to be degrading as quickly as COVID-19 is spreading. ADP’s December report shows that private sector employment decreased by 123,000 jobs from November to December. Economists were expecting a gain of 60,000 jobs.

      The largest and smallest businesses shed the most jobs. Companies with one to 19 employees lost 16,000 jobs. Companies with 1,000 or more employees eliminated 169,000 jobs.

      "As the impact of the pandemic on the labor market intensifies, December posted the first decline since April 2020," said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. "The job losses were primarily concentrated in retail and leisure and hospitality."

      Gottlieb: No immediate return to ‘normal’

      Don’t expect an immediate return to pre-pandemic life after you -- and millions of others -- receive the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s the advice from former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who says the virus will remain a presence for some time.

      “It’s not going to be like it was in 2017 and 2018, when we didn’t worry at all about catching a respiratory pathogen,” Gottlieb told CNBC. “We’re going to worry about it, even if we’re vaccinated.”

      Gottlieb predicted that post-pandemic life would be a lot like how Americans felt flying on commercial aircraft in the months following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

      China blocks WHO investigators

      The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that Chinese authorities have blocked a WHO investigating team from arriving in the country. The team had the mission of investigating the origins of the coronavirus, which was first reported in late 2019 in Wuhan.

      The WHO said two scientists on the United Nations team were on their way to Wuhan when they were told that Chinese officials had not approved the necessary permissions to enter the country. The agency said China had previously given its okay for the visit.

      "I am very disappointed with this news," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus "I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made clear that the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team."

      Tedros said the WHO was "eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible" and that he had been given assurances that Beijing was speeding up the internal procedure for "the earliest possible deployment."

      How the pandemic has changed grocery shopping

      Remember the good old days when grocery shopping was often a leisurely experience? The pandemic has changed that, with consumers spending less time wandering the aisles. Today, they pick up their items and check out quickly.

      A report by Marketplace, an industry publication, finds that supermarkets have adjusted to this. Both grocers and manufacturers have reduced inventories, with a 7 percent decline in the number of items on store shelves.

      That trend, along with online ordering, has also significantly reduced the number of impulse buys, which have contributed to supermarkets’ bottom line in the past.

      Around the nation

      • Arizona: The state continued to set records this week. The Department of Health Services reported 253 additional deaths, exceeding the previous one-day record of 172 reported on July 30. The state also reported 5,932 additional COVID-19 cases, raising the state’s totals since the pandemic began to 567,474 cases and 9,317 deaths.

      • Florida: Florida is another state that has begun to administer vaccines to people other than frontline health workers and nursing home residents. Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced that seniors living in Citrus, Hernando, and Marion counties will be able to get vaccinated for COVID-19 while shopping at Publix supermarkets.

      • North Carolina: Gov. Roy Cooper has mobilized the National Guard to help speed up COVID-19 vaccinations, an effort that has lagged in other states. Published reports suggest one reason for the slow start is the refusal among many long-term care staff to take the vaccine.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 21,074,724 (20,843,...
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      Grocery chains start immunizing select groups with COVID-19 vaccines

      There’s no consistent gameplan, so people should check with their local stores to find out availability

      While some states are scrambling to find a solution to the rocky rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, the nation’s largest grocery chains have joined in to help speed things along. 

      According to announcements from various reports, grocers are gearing up for a massive rollout of COVID-19 inoculations with a special emphasis on high-priority recipients. Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those included in Phase One are health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. 

      Next up in Phase Two are frontline essential workers (non–health care workers), persons 75 years old or older, and a grocery chain’s own workers who are considered “frontline essential workers.” 

      Finding where to get the shot

      The first thing to understand is that despite guidance from the CDC, there’s not a single nationwide list or pecking order of where to get vaccinated. Each state is doing its own thing, and the various retailers who are administering shots also have their own game plan. Here are how some of the major grocery chains are handling the situation:

      Albertsons (including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen, and Carrs): Albertsons began its vaccine-distribution effort on December 18 in Alaska. The next step in the company’s action plan is to distribute vaccines at in-store pharmacies and, where necessary, non-store sites in certain communities.

      Consumers can bookmark this Albertsons special COVID-19 website page to sign up for alerts and keep tabs on the company’s vaccination plans. 

      Kroger (including Kroger, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Harris Teeter, King Soopers, Jay C Food Store, Pay-Less Super Markets, QFC, Ralphs, and Smith’s Food and Drug): The Kroger Company hasn’t published an official gameplan. The company released a vague statement saying that “Kroger Health is engaged in vaccination efforts for prioritized populations in several other geographies.”

      The best bet ConsumerAffairs could find for Kroger vaccination updates is its vaccination appointment scheduling web page. That is likely the best place to start.

      Publix: The nation’s third-largest grocery retailer says that a limited number of COVID-19 vaccines are “on the way” to certain Publix pharmacies in Citrus, Hernando, and Marion counties in Florida. “We’re preparing to make appointments through our online scheduling system while supplies permit, and to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible individuals,” the company said.

      Consumers can bookmark this special Publix COVID-19 vaccination website page to sign up for alerts and keep tabs on the company’s vaccination plans. 

      Walmart: The king of retail started out by taking care of its pharmacists first. First in line was a Walmart pharmacy clinical service manager in New Mexico. 

      “We’re also preparing our 5,000+ pharmacies at Sam’s Clubs and Walmart stores to be ready when the time comes to administer to essential workers, first responders and older Americans in ‘Priority 1B’ and ‘Priority 1C,’ based on the recent recommendation by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices,” the company wrote.

      Consumers can bookmark this Walmart website page to keep tabs on the company’s vaccination plans. 

      Others: Other grocery chains reportedly partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the vaccine access program, or serving as federal pharmacy partners for coronavirus vaccinations, include Ahold Delhaize, Costco Wholesale, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Meijer, Southeastern Grocers, Big Y Foods, Brookshire Grocery, Coborn’s, Hartig Drug, King Kullen, Food City, Ingles Markets, Price Chopper, Raley’s, Save Mart, SpartanNash, Tops Friendly Markets, Wegmans Food Markets, and Weis Markets.

      Lucking out at the last minute

      The various COVID-19 vaccines have shelf lives that require them to be used within a certain time frame or tossed out, and some grocers are offering unused doses to people outside of a phase rather than letting them go to waste.

      GroceryDive points out the example of H-E-B, which had fresh vaccines left over after it gave the first doses it received to community health care providers. It decided it would offer unused doses to people in Phase 1b rather than let them spoil. Fox News also reported a similar scenario at a Giant Food supermarket in Washington D.C. in which two people were approached by a pharmacy technician 10 minutes before the store was set to close.

      “Per the government guidelines, providers can give any remaining doses to people who fall within the next priority group. Every attempt is being made to prevent this, but no doses should be wasted,” H-E-B said.

      While some states are scrambling to find a solution to the rocky rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, the nation’s largest grocery chains have joined in to...
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      Trump administration releases rule on distinguishing gig workers from contractors

      The new federal rule makes it easier to classify workers as independent contractors

      On Wednesday, the Trump administration released its final version of a rule that clarifies the difference between independent contractors and employees who can claim benefits. 

      Under the finalized version of the rule, the Labor Department has made it more difficult for “gig-economy companies” to count workers as employees. The federal rule “respects the time-honored American tradition of being your own boss,” Deputy Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said. 

      The rule isn’t set to take effect until March 8, well after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The Biden administration hasn’t said how it plans to handle the bill. Once inaugurated, Biden could decide to change the rule or choose not to defend it in the event that it’s challenged in court. 

      Uber considers it a win

      Over the years, Uber has strongly advocated to preserve workers’ independent contractor status. The ride-hailing firm has argued that flexible work is a key reason people choose to work for gig-economy companies. 

      “Forcing a binary choice upon workers—to either be an employee with more benefits but with less flexibility, or an independent contractor with limited protections—is outdated,” Danielle Burr, Uber Technologies Inc.’s head of federal affairs, told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “We appreciate the efforts made to modernize our nation’s laws.” 

      But labor rights groups have already voiced opposition to the plan. The National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit labor rights group, called the rule a “narrowing” of the standards. 

      “The rule gives license to employers to call most of their workers independent contractors,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel at the National Employment Law Project. “That would dramatically narrow worker protections…in the jobs that particularly need them, including construction, agriculture, janitorial and delivery jobs.”

      On Wednesday, the Trump administration released its final version of a rule that clarifies the difference between independent contractors and employees who...
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      CVS says it will finish administering first COVID-19 shots by Jan. 25

      Retail pharmacies are helping in the effort to get vulnerable members of the population vaccinated fast

      CVS Health said Wednesday that it expects to finish the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations in U.S. nursing homes by January 25. 

      In December, the drugstore chain announced that it had partnered with nearly 40,000 nursing homes and long-term care facilities. CVS said it would be sending teams of pharmacists to administer shots to residents and staff in these facilities, which were hard hit by the pandemic. 

      The company now says it’s on track to meet the goal it set for administering shots to these vulnerable citizens, despite the fact that it’s encountered a few unexpected challenges.

      CVS said that the actual number of residents in nursing homes turned out to be roughly 20-30 percent lower than projections based on bed count. Additionally, the chain said “initial uptake among staff” has been low, in part because facilities are spacing out staff vaccinations. Facilities are reportedly accounting for the possibility that vaccine side effects could cause some employees to stay home for a few days.  

      “We’re dealing with a vulnerable population that requires onsite and, in some cases, in-room visits at facilities with fewer than 100 residents on average,” CEO Larry Merlo said in a statement. “Despite these challenges we remain on schedule, and the number of vaccines we administer will continue to rise as more facilities are activated by the states.”

      Nursing homes prioritized

      Walgreens has also partnered with nursing homes and assisted living facilities to administer COVID-19 shots. The company says it’s also on track to finish administering the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines at those locations by January 25.

      Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been prioritized in the vaccine distribution timeline because these citizens have accounted for a large portion of the nation’s overall coronavirus outbreaks and deaths. 

      Although less than 1 percent of the U.S. population lives in long-term care facilities, they account for about 38 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the country, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

      On Tuesday, Politico quoted a senior Health and Human Services official as saying that between 3,000 and 6,000 retail pharmacies could start administering COVID-19 shots in the next two weeks.

      CVS Health said Wednesday that it expects to finish the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations in U.S. nursing homes by January 25. In December, the drug...
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      Amazon buys 11 aircraft to expand the efficiency of its delivery service

      The company is one step closer to its goal of being fully independent when it comes to delivery

      If you’ve got a spare Boeing 767 sitting around, Amazon may be willing to take it off your hands. The online retail giant announced that it bought 11 Boeing 767-300 aircraft from Delta Air Lines and WestJet -- carriers that had to ground some planes due to COVID-19 -- to expand its fleet and advance its delivery to customers. 

      “Our goal is to continue delivering for customers across the U.S. in the way that they expect from Amazon, and purchasing our own aircraft is a natural next step toward that goal,” said Sarah Rhoads, Vice President of Amazon Global Air. “Having a mix of both leased and owned aircraft in our growing fleet allows us to better manage our operations, which in turn helps us to keep pace in meeting our customer promises.”

      Rhoads said the newly acquired planes are being retrofitted for cargo and should be back in the air in the next 12-24 months.

      Longer distances quicker

      The company says that Amazon Air is an important delivery component because it allows it to transport items across longer distances in shorter time frames. That alone would be a welcome relief to Amazon Prime members who have experienced delays in getting their packages because of slowdowns caused by the pandemic. 

      Since its 2016 launch, Amazon Air has methodically added regional air hubs to, presumably, end its reliance on third-party services like FedEx and UPS. Last year, Amazon launched its first-ever air hub at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany and new regional air operations centers in Lakeland, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Richmond, San Juan PR, Maui, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. 

      If you’ve got a spare Boeing 767 sitting around, Amazon may be willing to take it off your hands. The online retail giant announced that it bought 11 Boein...
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      President Trump bans WeChat Pay and several other Chinese apps

      The Trump administration says the apps raise national security concerns

      President Trump has signed an executive order banning several Chinese payment apps, including Alipay and WeChat Pay. 

      A senior administration official said the order, which was signed late in the day on Tuesday, aims to keep American user data from being shared with the Chinese government. The Trump administration cited the possibility that the apps mentioned in the order could be used as a “mass tool for global oppression.”

      "The United States must take aggressive action against those who develop or control Chinese connected software applications to protect our national security," the order said.

      In total, eight Chinese apps are banned under the order: Tencent QQ, CamScanner, SHAREit, VMate, WPS Office, QQ Wallet, Alipay, and WeChat Pay. 

      National security concerns

      The U.S. government has concluded that the apps named in the order automatically capture “sensitive personally identifiable... and private information” from millions of users in the United States.” President Trump is concerned that the apps could be used to track and build dossiers of personal information on federal employees.

      “At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by these Chinese connected software applications,” Trump wrote. 

      The order will take effect after 45 days, which leaves open the possibility that President-elect Joe Biden will revoke it. The incoming presidential administration has yet to say how it plans to handle the order. 

      The Trump administration has previously attempted to ban Chinese-based apps like TikTok and WeChat over national security concerns. Both attempts were unsuccessful. 

      In 2019, the administration launched a trade war against Beijing and blacklisted Huawei Technologies, ZTE, and Chinese firms over national security concerns. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has designated Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, but both companies have denied that they share data with the Chinese government.

      President Trump has signed an executive order banning several Chinese payment apps, including Alipay and WeChat Pay. A senior administration official s...
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      BMW recalls various model year 2021 xDrive vehicles

      The 48-volt battery connection may be misassembled

      BMW of North America is recalling 812 of the following model year 2021 vehicles:

      • M340i xDrive,
      • M440i xDrive Coupe,
      • 530i, 530i xDrive,
      • 540i, 540i xDrive,
      • 740Li, 740Li xDrive,
      • 840i Gran Coupe,
      • 840i xDrive Gran Coupe,
      • X5 sDrive40i,
      • X5 xDrive40i,
      • X6 sDrive40i,
      • X6 xDrive40i, and
      • X7 xDrive40i.

      The connection between the 48-volt battery and the starter-generator may not have been assembled properly, which can cause increased electrical resistance at the connections.

      Increased electrical resistance can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the connection between the 48-volt battery and the starter-generator assembly, replacing it -- if necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 1, 2021.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at (800) 525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 812 of the following model year 2021 vehicles: M340i xDrive, M440i xDrive Coupe, 530i, 530i xDrive, 540i, 540...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2019 A220s

      Labels containing tire information are missing

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 26 model year 2019 A220s.

      Certain labels containing important information such as tire pressure may not have been installed.

      Tires inflated to an incorrect tire pressure may be overloaded, and increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the vehicle for the labels and apply them -- as necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 2, 2021.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 26 model year 2019 A220s. Certain labels containing important information such as tire pressure may not have been...
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      Coronavirus update: FDA says 'no' to shortcut on doses, ‘human disaster’ in LA

      The mutant COVID-19 strain has surfaced in New York

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 20,843,556 (20,649,941)

      Total U.S. deaths: 354,263 (351,774)

      Total global cases: 85,860,416 (85,327,849)

      Total global deaths: 1,858,412 (1,846,764)

      FDA not ready to change vaccine dosing instructions

      The rollout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines is not meeting demand, so it’s been suggested that younger people get half the required dose to start. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is throwing cold water on that idea, calling it “premature.”

      “Without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk,” the FDA said in a statement.

      The clinical trials for both vaccines were conducted using the full dose. The FDA said it would need to see data supporting a reduced dose before approving such a move.

      ‘Human disaster’ in Los Angeles

      With the surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, hospitals in Los Angeles are nearing full capacity. According to CNN, ambulance crews in Los Angeles County have been told not to transport patients with little chance of survival, and the patients who are transported often have to wait hours before a bed is available.

      "Hospitals are declaring internal disasters and having to open church gyms to serve as hospital units," Supervisor Hilda Solis told the network, calling it a "human disaster."

      According to Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer, someone in LA County is drying of the virus every 15 minutes.

      Mutant strain found in New York

      The mutant strain of the virus causing COVID-19 is apparently widespread, and it has been since first identified last month in the U.K. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that the variant strain has been detected for the first time in his state.

      Cuomo said the strain infected a man in his 60s who worked in a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs. According to health officials, the patient had symptoms of the coronavirus and sought treatment. 

      The strain has also been detected in a patient in California. According to the New York Times, the strain, which spreads more easily than the original virus, has been detected in 32 countries.

      America’s deadliest week

      Amid the rapidly rising number of cases of COVID-19, America suffered its deadliest week of the pandemic so far. A Reuters analysis of state and local data shows that the week ending on Jan. 3 saw a record death toll of 18,400 people.

      Health officials worry that the record may not stand for long. They note that the large number of Americans traveling to visit family and friends at the end of the year will likely lead to even more cases of the virus. Deaths normally trail infections by about four weeks.

      Some areas of the country suffered more than others. Arizona, Tennessee, and South Carolina saw the largest number of new cases per capita last week, according to the Reuters analysis. Kansas, Wyoming, and New Mexico led the nation in per capita deaths.

      More stimulus? 

      Do you have your $600 stimulus payment yet? The money has just begun to go out to Americans, but in Washington, there’s already talk of another round of payments. Congressional Democrats and even President Trump thought the payments should have been $2,000.

      Today’s two runoff Senate elections in Georgia could well determine if there will be a third round of payments in the near future. Should Democrats win both seats, they will control Congress and the White House and have an easier time passing a third stimulus bill.

      Democrats have backing from some economists who have said the recently passed second stimulus bill, spending $900 billion, won’t be enough to get the economy back on track as the pandemic finally comes to an end.

      Around the nation

      • Maryland: State officials are scrambling to find a solution to a rocky rollout of the coronavirus vaccine in the state. “It’s a very complex issue, and it’s not about blame but figuring out where the barriers are so we know how to address them,” Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner and a professor of public health at George Washington University, told the Baltimore Sun

      • Louisiana: While not every frontline health care worker has received the vaccine, state officials are now offering it to residents of the state who are at least 70 years old. Gov. John Bel Edwards has announced that Louisiana seniors can receive the vaccine at local pharmacies.

      • Pennsylvania: The state has allowed restrictions on indoor dining and other activities to expire this week. However, Philadelphia is retaining the indoor dining ban while loosening some restrictions on gyms.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 20,843,556 (20,649,...
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      T-Mobile admits to its fourth data breach in three years

      Customers were much luckier this time than they have been in the past

      T-Mobile’s cybersecurity team is once again being put to the test. On Monday, the phone carrier announced that it experienced its fourth data breach in three years. 

      The company did not say what portion of its nearly 100 million user accounts were at risk, but it did confirm that the data accessed did not include names on the account, physical or email addresses, financial data, credit card information, social security numbers, tax IDs, passwords, or PINs.

      “Our Cybersecurity team recently discovered and shut down malicious, unauthorized access to some information related to your T-Mobile account,” said Matt Staneff, the Chief Marketing Officer of T-Mobile USA.

      “We immediately started an investigation, with assistance from leading cybersecurity forensics experts, to determine what happened and what information was involved. We also immediately reported this matter to federal law enforcement and are now in the process of notifying impacted customers.”

      What happened?

      In a letter to customers, Staneff said T-Mobile’s cybersecurity team detected -- then shut down -- “malicious, unauthorized access” to “some” information related to T-Mobile accounts. Staneff qualified “some” as customer proprietary network information (CPNI). Collecting CPNI data is a permission given to phone companies by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and typically includes call information like the date, duration of the call, the phone number called, and the type of network a consumer subscribes to -- in short, the type of information that appears on a customer's phone bill.

      “We immediately started an investigation, with assistance from leading cybersecurity forensics experts, to determine what happened and what information was involved. We also immediately reported this matter to federal law enforcement and are now in the process of notifying impacted customers,” Staneff said.

      T-Mobile users weren’t so lucky in March 2020 when a data breach allowed hackers to gain access to T-Mobile employee email accounts. That, in turn, opened up access to customers’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers, financial account information, phone numbers, billing and account information, and rate plans. 

      T-Mobile offers to answer any questions

      Staneff said the company is ready to answer additional questions if a customer wants further details. Customers can either contact the company online, ask questions at one of the company’s stores, or go through the customer service team at 1-800-937-8997. 

      “We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you. We take the security of customer information seriously and, while we have a number of safeguards in place to protect customer information from unauthorized access, we will continue to work to further enhance security so we can mitigate this type of activity,” Staneff promised.

      T-Mobile’s cybersecurity team is once again being put to the test. On Monday, the phone carrier announced that it experienced its fourth data breach in thr...
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      Dark web sees rise in scam COVID-19 vaccine offers

      Drugmakers caution that real vaccines will never be sold online

      Scammers are continuing to exploit the pandemic, most recently through schemes claiming to make it possible for people to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine. 

      According to European and U.S. government officials, dark web forums are rife with scams related to the pandemic. Many scammers are now attempting to profit off the COVID-19 vaccine distribution program, which has gotten off to a slow start. 

      At least seven different offers for supposed COVID-19 vaccines were found online, in dark web forums, and on the messaging app Telegram, Reuters reported. The offers promise people access to legitimate vaccines that sellers allegedly pulled from national stockpiles. 

      A user on Telegram claimed to have vials of Moderna’s vaccines for $180 each, vials of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech for $150, and vials of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for $110 each.  The seller said the vials could be transported in “regulated temperature packs.” 

      On other dark web sites, sellers are offering COVID-19 vaccines alongside stock photos of vaccines. Vials of fake COVID-19 vaccines are listed for between $500 and $1,000 (or the equivalent in bitcoin) on the dark web forum Agartha. Other vials are being offered in exchange for a donation and buyers’ medical history. 

      ‘No legitimate vaccine is sold online’

      Drugmakers are aware of the increase in these types of scams and say consumers should never purchase a vaccine online. Legitimate vaccines will be administered at no cost. 

      “Patients should never try to secure a vaccine online - no legitimate vaccine is sold online - and only get vaccinated at certified vaccination centers or by certified healthcare providers,” a Pfizer spokesman said in a statement.

      As of Monday, about 4.5 million Americans had received their first COVID-19 shot, according to the CDC. Under the current distribution timeline, most people will likely have to wait until spring or summer to get their shot. 

      Scammers are continuing to exploit the pandemic, most recently through schemes claiming to make it possible for people to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine....
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      Southwest Airlines launches fare sale with one-way tickets starting at $29

      There’s fine print galore, so do your homework

      Southwest Airlines kicked off 2021 with a huge fare sale that features $29 one-way fares -- $10-20 less than its previous promotional deals. It’s one of those if-you-want-it-act-now promotions because it only lasts through January 7, and it also only applies to certain markets, seats, and available days; a 21-day advance purchase is also required. 

      The company avoided the subject of the coronavirus pandemic in its announcement, opting to focus more on spring travel when more people will have been immunized.

      "Southwest is ready to take Customers to their favorite spring travel destinations," said Bill Tierney, Southwest Vice President of Marketing. "Whether it is hitting the slopes or soaking up the sun on the beach, Southwest is your ticket to the perfect getaway. With our legendary Hospitality, flexible policies, and low fares across our expanding network, we look forward to having our Customers onboard again when they are ready to get away."

      Where will $29 get you?

      The key to any of these deals is watching for trigger words and phrases like “as low as.” In Southwest-ese, its “as low as” includes $29 deals between:

      • Atlanta and Raleigh/Durham

      • Denver and Salt Lake City

      • Phoenix and Palm Springs

      • Boston and Baltimore/Washington

      However, for $10 more -- $39 -- a one-way ticket between Dallas and New Orleans is available. Paying $89 will get someone from Nashville to Sarasota, and a $99 fare will be available for anyone traveling from San Diego to Hawaii. That last trip appears to be a particularly good deal. When ConsumerAffairs ran searches on Google Flights, most San Diego-Hawaii non-stop fares ranged from $124 to $159.

      Southwest was very direct about its fare sale, saying there is “fine print galore.” And that there is. The biggest caveat is that the cheapest tickets are generally available for travel only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and for nonstop flights within the continental U.S. Sale fares for flights to Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico are generally offered on more days of the week.

      Southwest Airlines kicked off 2021 with a huge fare sale that features $29 one-way fares -- $10-20 less than its previous promotional deals. It’s one of th...
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      FDA officials say Americans must receive two full doses of COVID-19 vaccine

      Agency officials say it’s too early to tell whether a half dose generates a lasting immune response

      In an effort to stretch the nation’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have recently been considering cutting Moderna’s first dose in half. But on Monday, a pair of FDA officials said that any American who gets the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines must get two full doses in order to receive full protection. 

      "We have been following the discussions and news reports about reducing the number of doses, extending the length of time between doses, changing the dose [half-dose], or mixing and matching vaccines in order to immunize more people against COVID-19," FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and Dr. Peter Marks, who heads FDA's vaccine division, said in a statement.

      "These are all reasonable questions to consider and evaluate in clinical trials. However, at this time, suggesting changes to the FDA-authorized dosing or schedules of these vaccines is premature and not rooted solidly in the available evidence," Hahn and Marks added.

      Preliminary data

      Over the weekend, Moncef Slaoui -- chief scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government's vaccine program -- told CNN that cutting the dose would allow twice as many people in the 18 to 55 age group to get the initial protection while Moderna ramps up production. 

      Slaoui said there was some evidence showing that the vaccine spurred similar antibody responses among volunteers in this age group regardless of whether they received a full or half dose. However, Marks and Hahn said these findings came from data collected from just a few people. It’s not yet known whether the half dose delivered lasting immune responses. 

      "The available data continue to support the use of two specified doses of each authorized vaccine at specified intervals," they wrote. They added that it's understandable that people may want to stretch the vaccine supply, but it's not necessarily safe to do so.

      "If people do not truly know how protective a vaccine is, there is the potential for harm because they may assume that they are fully protected when they are not, and accordingly, alter their behavior to take unnecessary risks," Marks and Hahn explained.

      Could confuse people

      In addition to efficacy concerns, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, cautioned that changing the dosage could be confusing to the public. 

      "One of the dangers of making a change in midstream is that it could confuse the public," he told the New York Times. Fauci added that changing the dosage was "the right answer to the wrong question.” 

      “At the present time, we are not dealing with a shortage of doses -- we are dealing with the need to increase our efficiency in getting people vaccinated," he said.

      In an effort to stretch the nation’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have recently been considering cutting...
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      McDonald’s to introduce three new chicken sandwiches

      Chicken continues to replace burgers as consumers’ favorite fast-food choice

      Since the beginning of the pandemic, restaurants have generally streamlined their menus to increase efficiency during challenging times. McDonald’s is bucking that trend to start 2021 by adding three new chicken sandwiches to its lineup.

      Since Popeye’s created a social media sensation in 2019 with its chicken sandwich, chicken increasingly appears to be what draws customers to fast-food restaurants. Though the pandemic is still raging, McDonald’s appears to be preparing for its end while offering up more “comfort food” to help customers get through it.

      Linda VanGosen, McDonald’s vice president of menu innovation, said the new menu items are a response to customer feedback.

      “We’re confident all chicken fans – from traditionalists to spice enthusiasts – will discover a new menu favorite they’ll come back for time and time again,” she said.

      While it’s basically one chicken sandwich, McDonald’s says it will be available in three versions at participating locations starting Feb. 24. The three sandwiches are:

      • Crispy chicken sandwich

      • Spicy chicken sandwich, with spicy pepper sauce

      • Deluxe chicken sandwich, with lettuce, tomato, and mayo

      Better chicken sandwich part of the strategy

      McDonald’s has actually regained some lost ground during the pandemic, thanks to its existing drive-thru operation and quick pivot to delivery. In 2019, the company told shareholders that it needed a better chicken sandwich to win back customers.

      Indeed, the entire industry appears to be in hot pursuit of chicken leader Chick-Fil-A and 2019’s sensation Popeye’s. In October, Wendy’s got a head start on McDonald’s with the rollout of its Classic Chicken Sandwich, with what it said was an improved chicken fillet.

      In fact, Wendy’s announced that chicken upgrade would go into its complete line of chicken menu items. Meanwhile, KFC is said to be test marketing a new, premium chicken sandwich.

      Since the beginning of the pandemic, restaurants have generally streamlined their menus to increase efficiency during challenging times. McDonald’s is buck...
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      Survey shows how COVID-19 influenced migration patterns in 2020

      The annual United Van Lines survey shows more people left cities for open spaces

      Each year, United Van Lines issues a study of where Americans chose new homes and the places they left behind. Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the 2020 study may take on added relevance.

      To be clear, the 44th annual migration report is not a scientific study but is based on company moving records for the year, with a focus on trends. It’s not the only moving company in America but its scale suggests it could confirm other anecdotal evidence emerging in the past year. And it does.

      According to the study, Idaho was the state with the highest percentage of inbound migration -- 70 percent. That coincides with reports of young apartment dwellers, suddenly working from home, looking for new homes with wide-open spaces.

      New Jersey topped the list of states that people left, a spot it’s held for three years in a row. New York, Illinois, Connecticut, and California were close behind on the list of states people abandoned.

      Jobs were a big factor

      The United survey each year asks customers why they are moving. This year, 40 percent said they moved for a new job or for a transfer. Left unsaid was whether the job could be done from anywhere.

      Twenty-seven percent said the move was to be closer to family. Again, the ability to work remotely could have granted more people that flexibility as the pandemic closed offices across the nation.

      For customers who cited COVID-19 as an influence on their move in 2020, the top reasons they gave were concerns for personal and family health and wellbeing, the desire to be closer to family, and new workplace flexibility. 

      But even though COVID-19 may have had an outsized influence on people’s migration patterns in 2020, the data shows some trends remained consistent with previous years.

      Consistent trends

      "United Van Lines' data makes it clear that migration to western and southern states, a prevalent pattern for the past several years, persisted in 2020," said Michael A. Stoll, economist and professor in the Department of Public Policy at UCLA. "However, we're seeing that the COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt accelerated broader moving trends, including retirement driving top inbound regions as the baby boomer generation continues to reach that next phase of life."

      People moving to begin new lives in retirement were less affected by the pandemic. Delaware, with a very low state income rate, was number one. Florida, with no state income tax and plenty of sunny weather, was number two.

      Each year, United Van Lines issues a study of where Americans chose new homes and the places they left behind. Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandem...
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      BRP recalls All-Terrain Vehicles

      A rear wheel can separate from the vehicle

      Bombardier Recreational Products U.S. (BRP) of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 172 model year 2021 Can-Am Outlander and Renegade All-Terrain Vehicles.

      A rear wheel can separate from the vehicle and cause a loss of control, posing a crash hazard.

      The firm has received two reports of the rear wheel coming loose and falling off the all-terrain vehicles. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves nine model year 2021 Can-Am Outlander and Renegade models listed here.

      The vehicles were sold in various colors including red, tundra green, granite gray-octane blue, camo and yellow. The model name is printed on the side panels of the vehicles.

      The vehicle identification number (VIN) is printed on the frame under the seat in the middle and on the frame behind the right front wheel.

      The ATVs, manufactured in Mexico, were sold at Can-Am dealers nationwide in October and November 2020 for between $8,500 and $15,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a BRP Can-Am ATV dealer for a free repair. BRP is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact BRP toll-free at (888) 272-9222 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Sunday, or online at https://can-am.brp.com/off-road/us/en/owner-zone/safety-recalls/possible-rear-wheel-loss.html for more information.

      Bombardier Recreational Products U.S. (BRP) of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 172 model year 2021 Can-Am Outlander and Renegade All-Terrain Vehicles....
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      Coronavirus update: Record hospitalizations in U.S., efforts to speed vaccine rollout

      Air travel has posted a new pandemic high

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 20,649,941 (20,474,163 )

      Total U.S. deaths: 351,774 (350,598)

      Total global cases: 85,327,849 (84,838,747)

      Total global deaths: 1,846,764 (1,839,622)

      Hospitalizations begin the year at a record high

      Americans were more than happy to say goodbye to 2020, but 2021 is starting off the way the old year ended, with increasing cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and a record number of people being treated in the nation’s hospitals.

      On Sunday, health officials counted a record 125,544 people being treated in U.S. hospitals for the virus. There were more than 210,000 newly reported cases of the virus on Sunday.

      Deaths attributed to the virus continue to rise at an ever-faster pace. There are a total of more than 351,000 fatalities so far, with nearly 80,000 occurring in December, making it the deadliest month since the pandemic began. 

      Officials seek faster vaccine rollout

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering a number of measures to speed up the distribution of vaccines against COVID-19. The agency will meet later in the week to consider a proposal to cut Moderna’s initial dose in half when administered to people between the ages of 18 and 55.

      Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government's vaccine program, told CNN that the move would allow twice as many people in that age group to get initial protection while the drugmaker ramps up production.

      So far, about 4 million people in the U.S. have received either the Moderna vaccine or the one produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. Earlier estimates predicted 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of December.

      Air travel hits post-pandemic high

      Despite health officials’ pleas not to travel over the end-of-year holidays, Americans apparently did anyway. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reports that more than 1.3 million people passed through its checkpoints on Sunday.

      Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) has warned that cases of the coronavirus are likely to spike in the coming days because of the increase in travel. 

      Still, air travel is nowhere what it was before the pandemic struck with full force in March. Airline executives predict passenger traffic will drop sharply again now that the holidays are over.

      What to do while waiting for the vaccine

      The coronavirus vaccines are going to high-priority groups, and the process is going more slowly than first predicted. That may leave you wondering when you’re going to get the vaccine and what you should be doing in the meantime.

      Rehabilitation psychologist Abigail Hardin, PhD., at Rush University Medical Center, has offered a list of five things to do while waiting for the vaccine -- even after getting the first dose and before it takes effect. They include maintaining good health but planning for the eventuality of getting the virus.

      “Continuing to take protective measures like social distancing and masking will help protect you, your loved ones, and the community while you wait for your first dose and for the vaccine to take full effect,” she said.

      Larry King treated for COVID-19

      Broadcast journalist Larry King is one of the latest celebrities to contract COVID-19. King was hospitalized last week in California after being diagnosed with the virus.

      On an encouraging note, King’s family said the retired CNN interviewer has been moved out of the intensive care unit (ICU), suggesting his condition is improving. He reportedly got the virus from a health care worker who came to his home.

      An increasing number of elderly celebrities have become infected. Country music legend Charlie Pride and actress Dawn Wells, who starred as Mary Ann in the 1960’s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” both died of COVID-19 issues in the last 30 days.

      Around the nation

      • Texas: Three days into a new year, Texas has broken a record for COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of Sunday, there were 12,563 people in a hospital within the state. Health officials say new cases and positivity rates are also moving in the wrong direction.

      • Massachusetts: Officials at three large hospitals in Worcester say they have believed for several weeks that a mutant strain of the coronavirus was in the state and spreading. They say the virus spread in spite of strict mitigation protocols.

      • Illinois: Restaurants in the state say they’re suffering from the continued ban on indoor dining, a ban put in place in October. Eateries in cities near the border with Indiana say they’ve lost take-out service because many consumers are driving to Indiana where there are fewer restrictions on indoor dining.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 20,649,941 (20,474,...
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      Allergists say allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine are rare and unlikely

      Researchers say those with food or medication allergies have little to worry about

      Distribution of several COVID-19 vaccines began over the last few weeks. While some consumers have expressed concern over the safety and efficacy of these treatments, the findings from a new study should give consumers some peace of mind. 

      A group of allergists from Massachusetts General Hospital explored the risks of the COVID-19 vaccine for people with food or medication allergies, and they found that allergic reactions from the vaccine are unlikely. They explained that vaccine-related allergic reactions are typically rare, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception. 

      “As allergists, we want to encourage vaccination by reassuring the public that both FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe,” said researcher Dr. Aleena Banerji. “Our guidelines are built upon the recommendations of U.S. regulatory agencies and provide clear steps to the medical community on how to safely administer both doses of the vaccine in individuals with allergic histories.” 

      Minimal vaccine risks

      Recently, experts found that consumers were most worried about a COVID-19 vaccine because of potential side effects -- including allergic reactions. Now, this team of allergists is working to be as transparent as possible to help ease consumers’ fears. 

      For starters, the allergists want consumers to know how rare vaccine-related allergic reactions are; just 1.3 out of every one million people vaccinated typically develop an allergic reaction. This also includes those who are predisposed to food or medication allergies. Because all current evidence indicates that the COVID-19 vaccine operates under this same low allergic reaction rate, the allergists say that consumers with food or medication allergies are likely safe to be vaccinated. 

      However, they identified two vaccine ingredients -- polysorbate and polyethylene glycol -- that could be a cause for concern. The allergists encourage consumers with a history of anaphylaxis to either of these ingredients to consult with their doctors before getting vaccinated. 

      Protections in place

      Though these vaccines are new, and consumers may be worried about how they’ll react, the allergists also explained that patients are monitored by health professionals for up to a half hour post-vaccination to monitor signs of an allergic reaction. 

      As the vaccines become more widely available, the allergists hope that consumers utilize this information to help them make the best decisions for their health and wellness. 

      Distribution of several COVID-19 vaccines began over the last few weeks. While some consumers have expressed concern over the safety and efficacy of these...
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      FDA warns pet owners of pet food containing dangerous toxin

      To date, 28 dogs have died after consuming Sportmix pet food

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a safety advisory concerning pet food containing high levels of aflatoxin, which is toxic to pets. The agency said 28 dogs have died in connection to the pet food in question and eight others became ill. 

      The FDA said it has found that certain lots of Sportmix products, manufactured by Midwestern Pet Foods, caused the canine deaths and illnesses. The company voluntarily recalled the products last week. 

      The agency said it is still looking into whether more products contain high levels of aflatoxin. In total, nine lots of Sportmix products have so far been found to contain high levels of the toxin. 

      “Case counts and the scope of this recall may expand as new information becomes available,” the FDA said in its announcement

      What is aflatoxin? 

      Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus, the FDA said. It can grow on corn and other grains used to make pet food. Consuming high levels of the toxin can cause pets to become ill or even die. 

      FDA officials said symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning include sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes or gums due to liver damage), and/or diarrhea. 

      “In severe cases, this toxicity can be fatal. In some cases, pets may suffer liver damage but not show any symptoms,” according to the agency. 

      To be safe, the FDA recommends that owners of pets who have eaten the products involved in the recall contact their veterinarian.  

      “Pet owners should stop feeding their pets the recalled products listed below and consult their veterinarian, especially if the pet is showing signs of illness,” the FDA said. “The pet owner should remove the food and make sure no other animals have access to the recalled product.” 

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a safety advisory concerning pet food containing high levels of aflatoxin, which is toxic to pets. The ag...
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      Qantas Airlines once again takes home the ‘world’s safest’ airline prize

      An annual airline ranking now includes a category for low-cost airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, and Jetblue

      Australia’s Qantas Airlines threw some extra shrimp on the barbie on Monday, as it learned it’s been named the “world’s safest airline” once again. 

      AirlineRatings.com editors applauded the 100-year old Qantas for amassing a record of firsts in both operations and safety. 

      “The Australian airline has been a clear leader in the development of Future Air Navigation System; real-time monitoring of its engines across its fleet, the flight data recorder to monitor plane and later crew performance; automatic landings using Global Navigation Satellite System as well as precision approaches around mountains in the cloud using RNP (Required Navigation Performance),” said AirlineRatings Christine Forbes Smith. Smith noted that Qantas has been either first or second to roll out the 16 major safety enhancements introduced in the past 60 years.

      The Top 20

      In evaluating an airline’s safety, AirlineRatings.com took an exhaustive range of factors into account, including: airline’s crash and serious incident record, government audits, audits from aviation’s governing and industry bodies, industry-leading safety initiatives, and fleet age.

      Here’s how the researchers ranked its who’s who:

      1. Qantas

      2. Qatar Airways

      3. Air New Zealand

      4. Singapore Airlines

      5. Emirates

      6. EVA Air

      7. Etihad Airways

      8. Alaska Airlines

      9. Cathay Pacific Airways

      10. British Airways

      11. Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic

      12. Hawaiian Airlines

      13. Southwest Airlines

      14. Delta Air Lines

      15. American Airlines

      16. SAS

      17. Finnair

      18. Lufthansa

      19. KLM

      20. United Airlines

      Despite Qantas sitting atop the field and United bringing up the rear, AirlineRatings.com editor-in-chief Geoffrey Thomas said that, in reality, there’s not as much disparity as it seems between #1 and #20.

      “These airlines are standouts in the industry and are at the forefront of safety, innovation, and launching of new aircraft. In fact, there is very little between the top 20, they are all standouts,” Mr. Thomas said.

      In the past, low-cost carriers have been excluded in the rankings. But in response to public interest, AirlineRatings.com editors decided to include them this time around. Their Top 10 safest & best low-cost airlines are as follows in alphabetical order: Air Arabia, Allegiant, easyjet, Frontier, Jetstar Group, Jetblue, Ryanair, Vietjet, Westjet, and Wizz.

      Australia’s Qantas Airlines threw some extra shrimp on the barbie on Monday, as it learned it’s been named the “world’s safest airline” once again. Air...
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      Google workers join forces to establish a members-only labor union

      Organizers feel they can gain support due to reported workplace abuses

      More than 200 Google and Alphabet workers have banded together, trumpeting their intention to form a labor union -- The Alphabet Workers Union -- which will be open to both employees and contractors.

      Its goal will be to tackle ongoing issues like disparity in pay, mistreatment, and controversial government contracts -- many of the issues that a group of U.S. senators pushed Google to stop in 2019. 

      The structure of the union will be members-only. While going that route doesn’t allow the union to negotiate a new contract for its workforce, it will allow it to speak for any employee who seeks to participate, including temporary workers, contractors, and vendors.

      “We’ve had enough”

      While the organizing effort is still in its infancy and built mostly out of Google/Alphabet workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, its organizers are confident that the story they have to tell will help their effort spread.

      “For far too long, thousands of us at Google — and other subsidiaries of Alphabet, Google’s parent company — have had our workplace concerns dismissed by executives,” Parul Koul, the executive chair of the Alphabet Workers Union, and Chewy Shaw, the union’s vice chair, wrote in a guest editorial in the New York Times on Sunday.

      Koul and Shaw reminded the world that when Google was originally formed, its motto was “Don’t be evil,” then took the company to task for a litany of issues ranging from profiting from ads by a hate group to failing to make necessary changes to meaningfully address retention issues with people of color.

      How much can be accomplished?

      This is not the first time Google/Alphabet workers have joined forces to fight what they consider to be “abuses.” Organized workers at the company were able to get executives to drop Project Maven, the company’s artificial-intelligence program that the Pentagon contracted for, and Project Dragonfly, a strategy to launch a censored search engine in China. 

      Still, the organizers need to prepare for a fight. If the recent past is any indication, Google/Alphabet will not take this effort lightly. Just a month ago, the company was not only accused of violating labor laws by monitoring workers, but by going even further and allegedly retaliating against -- and firing -- workers who were trying to unionize.

      However, Koul and Shaw are confident that the effort can produce some positive results. They point out that some of Alphabet’s subcontractors “won a $15 minimum hourly wage, parental leave, and health insurance” after previous mobilization efforts. 

      “And the practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment was ended after the November 2018 walkout -- albeit only for full-time employees, not contractors. A few months later, Google announced that it would end forced arbitration for employees for all claims,” the pair wrote.

      More than 200 Google and Alphabet workers have banded together, trumpeting their intention to form a labor union -- The Alphabet Workers Union -- which wil...
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