The United States has logged its second-worst day of the pandemic after shattering records just one day earlier. On Thursday, the U.S. recorded over 233,000 new infections and nearly 3,300 deaths.
Intensive care units in Southern California and other parts of the state report they’ve run out of ICU beds. On average, two people are dying of COVID-19 each hour in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, lawyers representing patients at Southern California’s largest psychiatric hospital are demanding the release or transfer of hundreds of people amid a massive outbreak that’s sickened nearly 700 patients and killed 10. The lawyers describe the state-run Patton State Hospital as a “tinderbox” for COVID-19.
On Thursday, a panel of vaccine experts recommended the FDA grant emergency use authorization to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 and older. Final FDA approval could come as early as today.
This comes as governors around the U.S. report their states are receiving significantly fewer doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine than planned. A spokesperson said Pfizer has millions of doses in cold storage in its warehouse but is awaiting instructions from the Trump administration on how to distribute them.
As we go to broadcast, Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams are being publicly vaccinated. The White House says President Trump won’t be vaccinated until it’s recommended by his medical team.
Lawmakers continue to haggle over a $900 billion stimulus bill, with talks likely extending past tonight’s midnight deadline to avoid a government shutdown. White House aides reportedly talked President Trump out of insisting on stimulus checks for as much as $2,000 as part of the relief package, saying it would “blow up negotiations.” The bill in its current form is expected to include one-time payments of just $600.
This comes as new figures show another 885,000 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week — the highest weekly level in three months. Nearly half a million more people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal aid program for part-time and self-employed workers.
New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for new leadership in the Democratic Party, which she says will help ensure progressive gains like Medicare for All. She made the comments in a recent interview on the podcast “Intercepted.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “You know, for me, personally, it was when I was waitressing, and I would hear Democrats talk about why the Affordable Care Act was so amazing all the time and how this is the greatest thing ever, and the economy is doing wonderfully. And frankly, it is the same trick that Trump pulls, which is, you know, people touting the Dow as a measure of economic success, when we’re all getting killed out here. And so, you know, do we need new leadership of the Democratic Party? Absolutely. But how do we ensure that when we shift, we don’t even move further to the right?”
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated New Mexico Congressmember Deb Haaland to become secretary of the interior. If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. Haaland’s nomination was backed by progressives, as well as more than 120 tribal leaders, who sent a letter to Biden last month urging him to select her for the post. Haaland responded in a statement, “As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior has a role and I will be a partner in addressing these challenges by protecting our public lands and moving our country towards a clean energy future.” We’ll have more on Deb Haaland’s historic nomination later in the broadcast.
President-elect Joe Biden is nominating North Carolina’s top environmental official, Michael Regan, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. If confirmed, Regan would become the first Black man to head the EPA. He previously worked at the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Congressmember and incoming Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond has tested positive for the coronavirus, two days after he appeared at an event in Georgia with Joe Biden. Biden reportedly tested negative for the virus Thursday. Richmond and Biden interacted outdoors for less than 15 total minutes, and both wore masks throughout the event.
In immigration news, advocates say 28 children and their families are scheduled to be deported this morning, including a 4-year-old girl with a broken arm in need of surgery. The families are from Central and South America, and Haiti. Their attorneys argue the families were never given a fair chance to seek asylum in the U.S. and that the parents had refused to be separated from their children as they fought their cases.
In Nigeria, local officials say 344 schoolboys who were abducted last Friday from their school in northwestern Katsina state have been freed. Details about the mass kidnapping are still unclear. Boko Haram initially claimed responsibility, but a state official now says they were not involved.
On Capitol Hill, members of the billionaire Sackler family refused to apologize Thursday as House lawmakers grilled them over their role in fueling the devastating opioid epidemic. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The company pleaded guilty last month to three criminal charges, including bribing doctors to write more prescriptions for the highly addictive drug. Sackler family members have not been criminally charged. This is Massachusetts Congressmember Ayanna Pressley addressing David Sackler.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: “We do not need another failed war on drugs. What we need is a reckoning and accountability for drug companies who put profits over people and rob us of lives and freedom of our loved ones. You have created a nationwide epidemic. Four hundred and fifty thousand people have died. Let me be clear: People struggling with addiction are not criminals. Your family and Purdue Pharma, you are the criminals. You are the ones who disregard your duties to society, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Thursday’s hearing came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the U.S. had more than 81,000 overdose deaths over the past year — the highest number ever recorded and nearly 20,000 more than last year.
Death row prisoner Dustin John Higgs has contracted COVID-19 ahead of his scheduled execution on January 15. Higgs is among over 300 prisoners in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, who have tested positive for coronavirus — including prisoners on death row. A guard working on the unit also tested positive. Higgs’s attorney said the outbreak is likely due to the rushed executions carried out by the Trump administration during the pandemic. So far this year, 10 people have been put to death by the federal government — the most since 1896.
Dozens of attorneys general from across 35 states have launched an antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the tech giant of anti-competitive actions that protect the company’s general search monopolies, depriving consumers of choices. The lawsuit filed Thursday is one of three antitrust cases against Google.
Google employees are demanding senior leadership reinstate prominent Black researcher Timnit Gebru, who alleged she was fired earlier this month after arguing tech companies should do more to ensure gender-biased and racist language are not exacerbated by artificial intelligence systems.
In labor news, the New York City Council passed legislation that protects fast-food workers from being fired without a valid reason. Councilmember Adrienne Adams authored the bill.
Councilmember Adrienne Adams: “Before the pandemic, fast-food workers performed dangerous and physically demanding work. But now as essential workers, their jobs have become more dangerous, putting their health and families’ health at risk. In exchange, they are often faced with impossible choices: endure hostile working conditions, leave, or be fired and face financial struggle without a job. Just cause legislation is about giving working families economic stability and security. And most importantly, this is about treating workers with respect and dignity.”