Coronavirus updates: Hospital employee fired for intentionally removing vaccine from fridge

By ROSA SANCHEZ, ERIN SCHUMAKER, IVAN PEREIRA, EMILY SHAPIRO and MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 83.3 million people worldwide and killed over 1.8 million of them, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Here’s how the news developed Thursday. All times Eastern:

Dec 31, 9:59 pm
Bidens thank front-line workers, encourage Americans to get vaccine in NYE interview

President-elect Joe Biden and future first lady Jill Biden thanked front-line workers in a pretaped segment for Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, telling host Ryan Seacrest the country “owed them for their service.”

“They did so much. They risked their lives, they’ve done so much for us and we owe them,” Joe Biden said.

“We’re so grateful for everything they did,” Jill Biden added. “You know, they left their families and their homes so that we could be safe and all Americans truly appreciate what they did for us.”

The Bidens talked about getting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine two weeks ago and urged others to get the vaccine.  

“I took it, it doesn’t hurt. I didn’t have any aftereffects,” Jill Biden said. “So, everybody has to take it so that we can all be safe.”  

The president-elect also looked ahead to 2021, saying he was “absolutely confident” that the country will come back stronger than ever.

Dec 31, 8:59 pm
Case of UK variant found in Florida

Florida has identified its first case of the U.K. COVID-19 variant, health officials said Thursday night.

The case is in a Martin County man in his 20s “with no history of travel,” the Florida Department of Health said on Twitter.

This marks the third state in the U.S., following Colorado and California, to identify cases of the variant.

U.K. health officials have found that the new COVID-19 variant isn’t more deadly than the prior dominant variant, but it is likely more transmissible. Experts also believe that the authorized vaccines will still be effective against it.

Dec 31, 8:27 pm
December deadliest month of the pandemic in US

December was the deadliest month of the pandemic in the U.S., even with data disruptions due to the holidays, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

There were 76,580 reported deaths due to COVID-19 this month, far surpassing the previous record of 55,267 set in April. Every week in December was deadlier than any week earlier in the year, the tracker said.

There were 221,444 new cases and 3,255 deaths reported on Thursday, according to the tracker. A record 125,379 people are also currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

There continue to be disruptions in testing, case and death figures due to the holidays, though hospitalizations “remain relatively stable,” the tracker said.

Dec 31, 6:38 pm
LA County breaks record for COVID-19 deaths

Los Angeles County reported a record-breaking 290 new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, health officials said.

There have been 10,345 total COVID-19 deaths in the county.

Someone dies of COVID-19 in L.A. County every 10 minutes, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said. All day Thursday, the department is tweeting a description of a potential COVID-19 victim every 10 minutes.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the health department, warned that “hundreds more people” will die each week from COVID-19 and urged people to stay home this New Year’s Eve and throughout the weekend.

“As we see 2020 come to a close, we are experiencing extreme conditions in LA County,” Ferrer said during a briefing. “With no decline in the number of new cases, our hospitals continue to be overwhelmed.”
 
The county reported 15,129 new cases while 7,546 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, officials said. The daily test-positivity rate is an “alarming” 22%, Ferrer said.

The latest numbers come as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is mobilizing a “super-spreader task force” to target illegal parties.

As of Wednesday, the department had made 235 arrests this month at “super-spreader” events, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

ABC News’ Matthew Fuhrman and Michelle Mendez contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 6:19 pm
California bar owner charged for allegedly breaking COVID-19 curfew

A California bar owner has been charged for allegedly breaking his county’s COVID-19 curfew, authorities said Thursday.

Roland Michael Barrera, the owner of the Westend Bar in Costa Mesa, has been charged with one misdemeanor count of violating and neglecting to obey a lawful order and regulation, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.

Barrera has “repeatedly” refused to follow the county’s curfew order for nonessential businesses, the district attorney’s office alleged.

All nonessential businesses must close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. due to an emergency lockdown order issued on Nov. 19, the office said. “On multiple occasions the Westend Bar continued to operate outside of the mandated closure time,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

The bar has also allegedly hosted “50-70 customers without enforcing social distancing or facial coverings for their employees or customers,” it said.

Until now, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said it has declined to file charges in nearly two dozen cases against business owners accused of operating illegally during the pandemic. The charge comes after law enforcement made “repeated attempts” to educate Barrera on the law and seek voluntary compliance, authorities said.

A manager of the bar has also been charged with one misdemeanor count of resisting a police officer after allegedly grabbing a uniformed officer and “physically trying to prevent him from entering the Westend Bar” on Dec. 12, the district attorney’s office said.

Both the bar owner and manager face a maximum sentence of one year in jail if convicted, though the DA’s office said it hopes to pursue educational efforts instead of jail time. They are scheduled to be arraigned on June 22, 2021.  ABC News’ attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

ABC News’ Matthew Fuhrman contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 4:50 pm
Hospital employee arrested for ‘intentionally’ moving vaccine from fridge

A former employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, has been arrested for “intentionally” removing Moderna vaccines from refrigeration, authorities said Thursday.

Over 500 doses were spoiled, and 57 people received less-effective doses of the vaccine, Dr. Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, said Thursday.

On Dec. 26, a pharmacy technician found 57 vials of the vaccine, equivalent to 570 doses, outside the refrigerator in which those vials were meant to be stored. The vaccine vials were returned to the refrigerator and the technician reported the incident to superiors.

The “pharmacist responsible for removing the vials” initially maintained that the “incident was an inadvertent error that occurred while the individual was accessing other items from the same refrigerator,” Bahr said. However, an investigation revealed that the employee “admitted yesterday to intentionally removing the vaccine from refrigeration,” Bahr said.

The individual also “admitted to removing and then returning the vaccine to the refrigerator overnight, on the evening of Dec. 24 into Dec. 25,” Bahr said. No vaccinations were administered on either day, he said.

The Moderna vaccine must be kept refrigerated between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and based on available information, the hospital initially determined that the vaccine was still able to be administered given the allowable 12-hour post-refrigeration window. After 57 doses of the vaccine were administered on Dec. 26, the remainder of that vaccine was discarded, when it was deemed ineffective, following an internal review.

The recipients of those vaccines were subsequently notified, and Bahr said that at this time, that although the vaccines are considered “less effective or ineffective,” there is no evidence that the vaccinations pose any harm to them.

Aurora Health has been in communication with Moderna, and the biotech company has assured the health company that there are no safety concerns pertaining to administering a vaccine that may have been out of refrigeration for too long.

The health care company will continue to work with Moderna and the Food and Drug Administration to identify a strategy for future vaccinations for those 57 people.

“It’s become clear that this was a situation involving a bad actor, as opposed to a bad process,” Bahr said.

The value of the spoiled doses was estimated to be between $8,000 and $11,000, the Grafton Police Department said.

The former employee was arrested Thursday on recommended charges of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property — all felonies. His name is being withheld at this time, and he is currently being held in the Ozaukee County jail, authorities said.

The FBI and the FDA are also investigating.

ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 3:53 pm
Perdue quarantining after coming in contact with someone on campaign who tested positive

Sen. David Perdue, who is seeking reelection in the Georgia runoff on Jan. 5, will quarantine after Perdue was told Thursday morning that he was in “close contact with someone on the campaign who tested positive for COVID-19,” his campaign said in a statement.

Both Perdue and his wife, Bonnie, tested negative for the coronavirus Thursday and have been tested regularly throughout the campaign, according to the statement.

Perdue’s wife will also quarantine, the statement said.

ABC News’ Quinn Scanlan contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 3:24 pm
WHO grants Pfizer vaccine ‘Emergency Use Listing’

The World Health Organization has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for “Emergency Use Listing,” which it says “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”

Emergency Use Listing also lets UNICEF and the Pan-American Health Organization “procure the vaccine for distribution to countries in need,” the WHO said.

“This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines. But I want to emphasize the need for an even greater global effort to achieve enough vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere,” Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant director-general for Access to Medicines and Health Products, said in a statement. “WHO and our partners are working night and day to evaluate other vaccines that have reached safety and efficacy standards. We encourage even more developers to come forward for review and assessment.”
 
ABC News’ Kirit Radia contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 3:09 pm
145 employees have tested positive at Washington state Costco

In Yakima, Washington, 145 employees at a Costco have tested positive for COVID-19, the Yakima Health District said.

The outbreak was first announced on Christmas Eve with 68 staff members testing positive. Once testing was expanded to all employees, the number grew to 145.

“After reviewing the number of cases, and the timeline in which they were identified, there is evidence to show that this sharp increase in cases mimics the type of activity that happens after some sort of super- spreader event where multiple people are infected at the same time,” the health district said.

“For Costco specifically, site-wide testing was recommended given the large number of infected employees. When site-wide testing is recommended, the organization provides testing to all employees, regardless of whether they were identified as an initial close contact to a positive COVID-19 case or not,” the health district continued. “Costco will continue to provide on-going site-wide testing for their employees moving forward to monitor the outbreak.”
 
ABC News’ Matt Fuhrman contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 2:51 pm
California reports 428 new deaths

Hard-hit California reported 428 new deaths on Thursday, following Wednesday’s daily record high of 432 fatalities.

The Golden State’s death toll is now over 25,000.

ABC News’ Matt Fuhrman contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 2:12 pm
42 people in West Virginia received antibody treatment instead vaccine

Forty-two people in West Virginia received the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment instead of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday at a vaccination clinic hosted by staff at the Boone County Health Department, the West Virginia National Guard confirmed to ABC News.

Medical experts with the Joint Interagency Task Force do not believe there is any risk of harm to these 42 individuals. Everyone who received the monoclonal antibody has been contacted, or is in the process of being contacted, according to the West Virginia National Guard.

“The moment that we were notified of what happened, we acted right away to correct it, and we immediately reviewed and strengthened our protocols to enhance our distribution process to prevent this from happening again,” Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, said in a statement.

The Regeneron treatment was administered intramuscularly, like a traditional vaccination, according to the West Virginia National Guard. The Regeneron treatment, which was given FDA emergency authorization in November, is normally given as an intravenous infusion, not an intramuscular injection.

The recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that for those who receive antibody treatments, “vaccination should be deferred for at least 90 days, as a precautionary measure until additional information becomes available, to avoid interference of the antibody treatment with vaccine-induced immune responses.”

A West Virginia National Guard official told ABC News that “there are no concerns that this will set individuals back 90 days” and that “all 42 individuals are being offered the vaccine today.”

ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.

Dec 31, 2:03 pm
Surgeon general says wife admitted to hospital over cancer treatment complications and he can’t visit

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted Thursday morning that his wife had been admitted to a hospital because of complications with her cancer treatment. He said he wasn’t allowed to visit her because of COVID-19-related restrictions.

Adams’ wife, Lacey Adams, was first diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in 2018.
 
“I’m hoping she doesn’t have to spend New Year’s in a hallway because the beds are full,” Adams tweeted.

 

 

Dec 31, 1:18 pm
US death toll is 114 times the total lives lost on Sept. 11

At least 342,734 lives have been lost to COVID-19 in the U.S., representing approximately 18.9% of the total global death toll of 1.8 million people.

One in every 965 Americans has now died from the virus, according to ABC News’ of data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.

The U.S. death toll is 114 times the total lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and just over half the total number of deaths that were recorded in U.S. during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

At least 19.7 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 in the 345 days since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first U.S. case on Jan. 21.

That means about 1 in every 16 Americans has contracted the virus.

Dec 31, 11:18 am
112-year-old woman, Massachusetts’ oldest resident, gets vaccine

The oldest resident of Massachusetts, 112-year-old Hazel Plummer, received her first dose of the vaccine on Wednesday.

Plummer was among the 49 residents and 50 employees at the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, a nursing home in Littleton, Massachusetts, to do so.

The Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley suffered from the coronavirus outbreak in the spring but “was free of COVID-19 by the end of May,” the facility said.

Dec 31, 11:09 am
Wuhan rings in the new year

In Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019, small crowds gathered to take in a fireworks display and ring in 2021.

Wuhan was the first epicenter of the pandemic, but the central Chinese metropolis of 11 million emerged out of lockdown in mid-April and has not had a reported case since May.

In New York City, no New Year’s revelers will be gathering in Times Square to watch the ball drop this year.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said this is “the most moving New Year’s Eve,” but urged New Yorkers to “watch on TV. Don’t go down there.”

Dec 31, 10:20 am
787,000 unemployment claims filed in last week

There were 787,000 new unemployment claims filed in one week, according to the Labor Department. This number is slightly lower than last week’s, but still higher than anything seen before the pandemic.

There are currently 19,563,905 total claims being filed for unemployment through different government programs.

Dec 31, 9:46 am
US sees record high death toll for 2nd day in a row

The U.S. has seen a record high daily death toll for the second day in a row, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

There were 3,744 COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday, the highest since start of the pandemic, surpassing the previous record of 3,725 deaths reported Tuesday.

Dec 31, 8:28 am
Surgeon general responds to vaccinations falling short of administration’s goal

In the wake of the Trump administration falling short on its vaccination goal, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told ABC News’ Good Morning America Thursday, “We always knew that this was going to take a while to ramp up.”

“The curve is rapidly increasing, in terms of number of people being vaccinated,” Adams said. “So we shouldn’t extrapolate from what happened yesterday to what’s going to happen six months from now. What we should do is make sure that curve continues to go up and continue to support our state and public health departments, which is what we are doing.”

The Trump administration had promised that 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of the year.

As of Wednesday morning, 2,794,588 Americans had received vaccine doses and 12.4 million doses had been distributed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s vaccines manufactured. There’s vaccines allocated. There’s vaccines delivered. And then there’s vaccines put in arms,” Adams said. “From a federal perspective, we are on track to have 20 million people able to be vaccinated, doses on the ground, by the end of next week.”
 
Adams also urged Americans to celebrate New Year’s Eve virtually.

“This has been a marathon, but we don’t want to trip at the finish line,” Adams said. “We want to have a normal New Year’s next year, we want as many of our loved ones and family and friends as possible to be able to enjoy that New Year’s in 2021. The way we do that is by pulling together and sacrificing one more time so that we can ramp up these vaccinations and put this virus away for good.”

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