The Associated Press
12h ago / 10:43 AM UTC
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Only a few dozen people attended the lighting of the Christmas tree in the biblical city of Bethlehem on Saturday night, as coronavirus restrictions scaled back the annual event that is normally attended by thousands.
A small group of residents and religious leaders participated in the tree-lighting ceremony at Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born. Others watched it virtually due to restrictions prompted by the virus pandemic.
Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said Christmas is being observed this year in ways like no time before.
“We resorted to modern technology and to the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree, wishing hope and optimism would flutter upon Palestine and the world,” Salman said.
Thousands of pilgrims and tourists typically visit Bethlehem, fill hotels and dine at restaurants during the Christmas season, bringing the area a much-needed injection of cash.
12h ago / 10:43 AM UTC
California sheriff says he won’t enforce new stay-at-home rules
The sheriff in Orange County, California, said Saturday that his deputies would not enforce stricter stay-at-home rules scheduled to go into effect across Southern California Sunday night.
Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement that his pandemic policy has been “consistent.”
“Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement,” he said. “Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings, or stay-at-home orders only.”
On Saturday. California health officials announced that stricter stay-at-home measures for regions including the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California would be imposed at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The measures include the closure of hair and nail salons, a ban on eatery dining, even outdoors, and 20 percent capacity for essential retailers.
Barnes isn’t the only sheriff who has bristled at the new rules. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a video address Friday that while his deputies would “expect” residents to follow the regulations, “These closures and stay-at-home orders are flat out ridiculous.”
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has assigned four teams, each composed of two deputies, to accompany health inspectors as they deliver cease-and-desist orders to noncompliant businesses.
23h ago / 11:48 PM UTC
As colleges cancel spring break, students fear mental health effects
San Diego State University this week became the latest in a string of four-year institutions across the country to cancel spring break because of Covid-19 safety concerns.
Some, like SDSU, have scrapped spring break altogether, a move hailed by public health experts but criticized by students who say it could have a detrimental effect on their mental health. SDSU has countered by giving students single days off over the same period. But some students said it isn’t enough.
23h ago / 11:40 PM UTC
Britain’s Prince William tours country by train amid pandemic
LONDON — Prince William and his wife, Kate, begin a tour of Britain by train on Sunday, meeting frontline workers, care home staff and teachers to thank them for their efforts during the pandemic.
Britain has been the hardest hit country in Europe by Covid-19, with over 60,000 deaths.
William, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and second-in-line to the throne, and Kate will ride the Royal Train, traveling 1,250 miles across England, Scotland and Wales.
“The Duke and Duchess are very much looking forward to shining a spotlight on the incredible work that has been done across the country throughout this difficult year,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.
1d ago / 11:25 PM UTC
State to impose new restrictions on Southern California
Southern California faced stricter stay-at-home measures after its intensive care unit capacity dropped to dangerous levels as a result of the national spike in coronavirus cases, state health officials said Saturday.
The California Department of Public Health said the region’s ICU capacity had dropped to 12.5 percent, the second day it was below a trigger for stricter measures announced Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom: 15 percent. The San Joaquin Valley region also dipped below the threshold.
The regional stay-at-home order will begin at 11:59 p.m. Sunday and will remain in effect for at least three weeks, officials said.
1d ago / 10:48 PM UTC
R&B singer Jeremih released from hospital
R&B singer Jeremih is recovering at home weeks after he was hospitalized with a severe case of Covid-19, his family said in a statement on Saturday.
The 33-year-old artist, whose real name is Jeremy Felton, thanked the doctors and nurses at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago “for saving my life.”
“I will be forever grateful. I would also like to thank my family and friends for all their prayers and well wishes. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude,” he said, giving a “special thanks” to Chance The Rapper, 50 Cent and Diddy.
“I would also like to thank all my fans and people around the world who prayed for me. I’m getting stronger every day, and look forward to spending time with my sons,” he said.
1d ago / 10:10 PM UTC
7 nursing home Covid-19 deaths reported after staff attended 300-person wedding
Seven Washington state nursing home residents with Covid-19 died after staff members attended a 300-person wedding that violated the governor’s coronavirus restrictions.
The deaths were at three nursing home facilities in Grant County, health officials said Thursday. They were men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s who had underlying health conditions, according to a press release by the Grant County Health District.
Four additional deaths are pending death certificate reviews.
The health department said it is looking into whether the deaths are linked to a Nov. 7 wedding in Ritzville, about 59 miles southwest of Spokane, but an investigation found that some staff members at the facilities had tested positive after attending the event.
1d ago / 8:34 PM UTC
Covid test supply shortages could cause a ‘public health crisis’ of undiagnosed STIs, health expert warns
Scientist Melissa Miller never knows what to expect at her lab from week to week. Since last spring, there’s been a constant shortage of testing supplies. Sometimes it’s the reagents needed to run tests, and other times it’s as simple as the plastic tips used on the pipettes.
“The shortages still exist,” said Miller, director of UNC Medical Center’s clinical microbiology lab in Chapel Hill. “Lab directors have been screaming about this for months.”
A November survey by the American Society for Microbiology of 134 labs around the country found that more than half of them were experiencing shortages in the supplies used to test for bacteria that cause common diseases like strep throat and pneumonia. More than 65 percent of labs reported shortages for testing for STIs.
This week, Miller learned the reagents needed to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea were on back order for the next three weeks, she told NBC News. Now the lab, which serves hundreds of patients, can no longer do these tests.
“It’s hard for our providers to keep track of what we’re able to do on any given day,” Miller said. “Providers used to be able to ask for every kind of test in our lab and now they can’t. It’s affecting their ability to practice medicine quite honestly.”
1d ago / 5:52 PM UTC
CDC doubles down on ‘evidence-based public health strategies’ to curb worsening Covid spread
The United States has entered a phase of high-level coronavirus transmission amid colder weather, more time spent indoors and the ongoing holiday season, the CDC said Friday.
With about half of all new infections being transmitted by asymptomatic people, the CDC said that a “multipronged approach to implementing all evidence-based public health strategies at both the individual and community levels is essential.” That means, these actions make a difference, and we need to do them all:
- Universal use of face masks.
- Physical distancing and limiting contacts.
- Avoiding nonessential indoor spaces and crowded outdoor settings.
- Increased testing, diagnosis, and isolation.
- Prompt case investigation and contact tracing to identify, quarantine, and test close contacts.
- Safeguarding persons most at risk for severe illness or death.
- Protecting essential workers.
- Postponing travel.
- Increased room air ventilation, enhanced hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfection.
- Widespread availability and use of effective vaccines.
The CDC is urging every individual, household, and community to take these actions now to reduce Covid-19 transmission rates from the current level. “These actions will provide a bridge to a future with wide availability and high community coverage of effective vaccines, when safe return to more everyday activities in a range of settings will be possible,” the agency said.
1d ago / 2:04 PM UTC
The U.S. counted more than 200,000 cases, 2,000-plus deaths on Friday
The U.S. counted 214,547 Covid-19 cases Friday, upping its current total to 14.4 million cases, according to NBC News’ tally. State and county health departments reported 2,669 deaths, bringing the current toll of the disease to 279,857.
The U.S. has averaged 182,296 cases and 2,125 deaths the past week. The last time the U.S. averaged more than 2,000 deaths per day in a week was in April when the virus was ravaging the Northeast.
Several states set single-day records:
- Arkansas, 2,827 cases
- Delaware, 942 cases
- Iowa, 83 deaths
- Maryland, 3,794 cases
- Massachusetts, 272 deaths
- Mississippi, 2480 cases
- Oregon, 2,144 cases and 30 deaths
- South Carolina, 2,950 cases
- Tennessee, 95 cases
1d ago / 1:59 PM UTC
Covid-19 testing capacity strained by surge in demand
As Covid-19 cases surge across the United States, the outbreak is threatening to overwhelm the testing capacity at facilities that have spent months and millions of dollars to ramp up their capabilities, according to laboratory directors in six states.
Dr. Geoffrey Baird, who oversees all Covid-19 diagnostics as the acting chair of the University of Washington’s laboratory system, said he spent an estimated $30 million earlier this year to build up its labs, which now boast a total workforce of 1,500 — a tenth of that hired to focus on Covid-19.
But even that operation is now struggling to handle the surge.