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US virus deaths hit record levels with holidays ahead; relief deal uncertain in Congress

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If you are trying to avoid getting the coronavirus, you may want to steer clear of these places.

Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse because of the fallout from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

Virtually every state is reporting surges just as a vaccine appears days away from getting the go-ahead in the U.S.

“What we do now literally will be a matter of life and death for many of our citizens,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday as he extended restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, including a ban on indoor dining and drinking at restaurants and bars.

While the impending arrival of the vaccine is reason for hope, he said, “at the moment, we have to face reality, and the reality is that we are suffering a very dire situation with the pandemic.”

The virus is blamed for more than 285,000 deaths and 15 million confirmed infections in the United States.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulators Tuesday released their first scientific evaluation of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and confirmed it offers strong protection, setting the stage for the government to green light the biggest vaccination effort in the nation’s history.

The analysis by Food and Drug Administration scientists comes ahead of a Thursday meeting where the FDA's independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend vaccinating millions of Americans. A final FDA decision and the first shots could follow within just days.

They are among a whirlwind of developments that are expected to make multiple vaccines available by early next year, in the U.S. and beyond.

In other developments:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed to shelve a controversial pet provision for an emerging COVID-19 relief package — but only if Democrats agree to shelve one of their top priorities, too. McConnell's offer was immediately rejected by Democrats. He had previously sent more positive signals that state and local fiscal relief would likely have to be an element of a COVID-19 relief agreement given Democratic control of the House. Prospects for a long-delayed COVID-19 aid package remain uncertain, though all sides say failure isn't an option.
  • President Donald Trump celebrated the expected approval of the first U.S. vaccine for the coronavirus Tuesday as the White House worked to instill confidence in the massive distribution effort that will largely be executed by President-elect Joe Biden.
  • Biden pledged Tuesday to bring the coronavirus pandemic under enough control to open most of the nation's schools during his first 100 days as president — going much further on the issue than he has in the past, even while warning that the U.S. is facing a “dark winter.”
  • As the U.S. government rushes to put inmates to death in a pandemic before Trump leaves office, the Justice Department disclosed that eight staff members who took part in an execution last month tested positive for the coronavirus and five of those staffers will take part in executions scheduled for this week.
  • New results on a possible COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca suggest it is safe and about 70% effective, but questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55 — a key concern for a vaccine that health officials hope to rely on around the world because of its low cost, availability and ease of use.

For more summaries and full reports, select from the articles below. Scroll further for the latest numbers.

Virus by the numbers


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