The United States recorded more than 200,000 new coronavirus cases and nearly 2,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday. U.S. hospitalizations hit another world record high, topping 115,000, and 16 states recorded a record number of new deaths. The virus is ravaging hospitals in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, where some intensive care units are filled to capacity. This comes as the Transportation Security Administration says it screened more than 1 million passengers per day at U.S. airports over the weekend — the largest travel surge since the pandemic began — as Americans shrugged off the desperate pleas of health officials to halt holiday travel to slow the spread of the virus.
On Monday, the first doses of Moderna’s newly approved COVID-19 vaccine arrived at medical centers around the U.S. One of the very first to receive the Moderna vaccine was 44-year-old Arlene Ramirez, a nurse from Queens, New York, who became ill with COVID-19 in March and lost her father to the disease.
Arlene Ramirez: “As a healthcare worker, seeing what we saw — people clinging on to life, death after death — having endured all at the same time — illness of my father-in-law, being severely ill myself, 36 days of my father being in the intensive care unit here — this vaccine is hope. It’s hope that we will cease this pandemic. It’s hope that we will live a better life.”
President-elect Joe Biden received an injection of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in a televised event Monday, urging Americans to line up for their shots when the vaccine becomes available to them.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has told Catholics around the world it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that were developed using cell lines from aborted fetuses.
South Carolina Congressmember James Clyburn has ordered Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield to turn over documents to Congress by December 30. Clyburn says an investigation by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found White House political interference hindered the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic far more extensively than previously known.
Outgoing Attorney General William Barr split with the president again on Monday, saying there was no need to appoint a special counsel to look into alleged voter fraud in the November election or to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of the president-elect. Barr also dismissed Trump’s proposal for the Department of Homeland Security to seize voting machines. Barr made the comments in his final press conference as attorney general.
On Monday, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a private meeting with a group of Republican lawmakers, including Congressmember Mo Brooks of Alabama, to discuss ways to overturn the Electoral College results in January. The conspiracy theorist lawyer Sidney Powell was also back at the White House for her third visit in four days.
Meanwhile, televangelist Pat Robertson has urged President Trump to retire, saying he believes Joe Biden won the election.
Pat Robertson: “The president still lives in an alternate reality. He really does. People say, 'Well, he lies about this, that and the other.' But, no, he isn’t lying. To him, that’s the truth. … He is very erratic. And he’s fired people, and he’s fought people, and he’s insulted people and keeps going down the line. So, it’s a mixed bag. And I think it would be well to say, ’You’ve had your day, and it’s time to move on.’”
Robertson represents millions of evangelicals around the country, some of the strongest of the base of President Trump.
President-elect Joe Biden is set to nominate Connecticut public schools commissioner Miguel Cardona as the next secretary of education. That’s according to The Washington Post, which reports the decision is not yet final. Cardona is Puerto Rican and grew up in public housing. His career in education began as a fourth-grade teacher. He became Connecticut’s youngest school principal at age 28.
During the pandemic, Cardona has advocated for the reopening of schools, although only about one-third of Connecticut’s public school students are currently able to attend in-person classes. Cardona has pushed for using federal aid to buy personal protective equipment for teachers and classrooms. His administration has also allocated federal funds to purchase laptops and internet access for students who remain at home.
In immigration news, an undocumented couple from Jamaica has moved out of a Philadelphia church after living there in sanctuary for over two years to avoid deportation. Oneita and Clive Thompson walked out of the church Monday morning as community supporters cheered them on with applause and the sound of bells and whistles, as they celebrated news the federal government has killed their deportation order. The couple has seven children, three of whom are U.S. citizens. The Thompsons fled Jamaica 15 years ago after a gang burned down their farm and threatened to kill them. The family is now allowed to seek permanent residency in the U.S.
In New Jersey, protests outside Bergen County Jail continue, demanding the release of immigrant prisoners during the pandemic. This is one of the prisoners speaking through the phone to a crowd of protesters Sunday.
“Robert”: “We all want to go home to our families. Nobody wants to stay in jail anymore. We are not inmates or prisoners; we are detainees. We want to go home. Everybody wants to go home.”
This comes as advocates are denouncing ICE’s violent retaliation against a group of prisoners who led a hunger strike for over one month at Bergen County Jail. The strike was broken up last week after at least five men were transferred to other jails, and one of them was deported to Mexico, according to advocates. Another one of the former hunger strikers, a father from Guatemala, was released from Bergen County Monday with an ankle monitor.
A lawsuit filed today by Republican attorneys general in nine states is asking a federal judge in Texas to declare the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program unlawful. The lawsuit comes just two weeks after another federal court ordered the Trump administration to fully and immediately restore the program, known as DACA, in its original form. Since it was passed in 2012, DACA has granted protection from deportation and a work permit to at least 700,000 undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children.
Reuters reports the incoming Biden administration is considering a plan that would grant temporary protected status to more than 1 million immigrants from Guatemala and Honduras, after Hurricanes Eta and Iota battered Central America in November. A decision is expected after Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
Congress has approved a bipartisan bill that would expand critical funding to help identify human remains of asylum seekers and migrants who’ve died in remote areas of the border while crossing into the U.S. The legislation also asks for additional 911 rescue beacons to be deployed in border regions where people often go missing. Thousands of human remains have been found across the U.S.-Mexico border since the U.S. government began enforcing its immigration “prevention through deterrence” policy. The practice pushed asylum seekers and migrants to cross through remote and deadly routes.
In Mexico, the former governor of Jalisco state, Aristóteles Sandoval, was shot dead Friday in one of the highest-profile assassinations the country has seen amid an ongoing spate of violence in recent years. Sandoval was gunned down in a Puerto Vallarta restaurant restroom. The perpetrators have not been identified, but security experts say it could be members of the Jalisco cartel. As of November, over 31,000 murders have been recorded in Mexico in 2020.
In Oregon, a group of far-right protesters stormed the statehouse Monday to disrupt a special legislative session. Some of the protesters forced their way into the statehouse, which was closed to the public due to the pandemic. They attacked security officers with chemical sprays and assaulted a number of journalists. Four people were arrested. The demonstrators were calling for an end to public health restrictions aimed to slow the spread of COVID. Participants included members of the far-right group Patriot Prayer.
A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee has been removed from the U.S. Capitol. The statue represented Virginia in the National Statuary Hall collection. The state of Virginia plans to replace it with a statue of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. In 1951, the 16-year-old Johns organized a student walkout to protest segregated schools in Virginia. She was also involved in a lawsuit that became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.