Interior Secretary Bernhardt tests positive

Interior Secretary Bernhardt tests positive

Phil Helsel

2h ago / 4:21 AM UTC

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Wednesday tested positive for Covid-19, a spokesman for the department said.

Bernhardt is currently asymptomatic, spokesman Nicholas Goodwin said, adding that Bernhardt “will continue to work on behalf of the American people while in quarantine.”

The Washington Post first reported that Bernhardt tested positive. The newspaper reported that Bernhardt was tested for the coronavirus before President Donald Trump held a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, and that Bernhardt did not attend that meeting.

Phil McCausland

3h ago / 3:10 AM UTC

Cash-strapped ambulance services to receive federal aid

Private ambulance companies will finally receive a sizable sum of federal aid after riding along the edge of a fiscal cliff since the beginning of the pandemic, putting the nation’s ability to respond to 911 calls at risk.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that it would provide $24.5 billion to more than 70,000 health care providers nationwide, including $1.48 billion for cash-strapped ambulance services as the nation faces another surge in coronavirus cases.

The HHS funding comes mere weeks after NBC News first reported that the American Ambulance Association sent a letter to HHS warning “the 911 emergency medical system throughout the United States is at a breaking point. Without additional relief, it seems likely to break, even as we enter the third surge of the virus in the Mid-West and the West.”

Read the full story.

Geoff Bennett and Dartunorro Clark

6h ago / 12:32 AM UTC

Pence to publicly receive Covid vaccine on Friday, Biden as soon as next week

Vice President Mike Pence will publicly receive a Covid-19 vaccine on Friday while President-elect Joe Biden is expected to get a shot as soon as next week.

Pence, who is the head of the White House coronavirus task force, is hoping to “promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people,” the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

His wife, Karen Pence, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams will receive the vaccine at Friday’s event, set to take place at the White House.

Biden meanwhile is expected to receive the vaccine as soon as next week, a transition official tells NBC News.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden told reporters earlier Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware. “When I do it, I’ll do it publicly so you can all witness my getting it done.”

Read more here.

Alicia Victoria Lozano

6h ago / 12:41 AM UTC

Los Angeles County reports staggering 22,000 new cases

Los Angeles County public health officials announced a staggering 22,422 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, nearly doubling the number of confirmed cases reported the previous day and accounting for almost half of the state’s new cases. 

Public health officials begged residents to follow the county’s guidelines, including not gathering with people outside their household even during the holiday season.

“Every hour, on average, 2 people are dying of COVID-19 in LA County. These are our neighbors, friends, and family members,” the county’s health department tweeted. “Our actions today can prevent more suffering. Cancel your holiday plans. Protect each other.”

Every hour, on average, 2 people are dying of COVID-19 in LA County. These are our neighbors, friends, and family members. Our actions today can prevent more suffering. Cancel your holiday plans. Protect each other.

— LA Public Health (@lapublichealth) December 16, 2020

Earlier in the day, state public health officials announced 54,000 new coronavirus cases across California. Worsening numbers in the San Francisco Bay Area and a shortage of beds in intensive care units triggered a stay-at-home order for many Northern California counties. 

Ali Gostanian

6h ago / 12:23 AM UTC

Outbreak sickens staffers at county health department in Arizona

A county health official in Arizona tested positive for Covid-19 after an apparent outbreak within the department.  

Dr. Theresa Cullen, the health director for Pima County, tested positive on Tuesday, the county announced Wednesday. The apparent outbreak infected 11 employees, it said, adding that all staff members who work at the main building were being offered testing and would work remotely while the location was being cleaned. 

“This just goes to prove that when there is substantial community spread of the virus like we’re experiencing now throughout the County, the virus can get into your homes and places of work any number of ways no matter how vigilant you are being with your precautions,” said County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia in a news release.

Protesters held a demonstration at the health department last Thursday over its Covid-19 measures. Many of the participants were not wearing masks and came in close contact with staff members, the department said.

Contact tracers have not determined the source of the outbreak, and the county said at least one health department employee had tested positive before the protest. 

Roughly 300 Pima County employees have contacted Covid-19 since February, and more than 60 of those cases have occurred in just the past two weeks, according to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. More than 8,000 Pima County residents have tested positive for the virus in the past week, according to county testing data

Safia Samee Ali

6h ago / 12:06 AM UTC

Tyson fires 7 managers at Iowa plant after virus betting investigation

Tyson Foods terminated seven managers from an Iowa pork plant following an independent investigation into allegations that they wagered on how many workers would get infected with Covid-19, the meat processing giant announced Wednesday.

All of those fired worked at the plant in Waterloo, Iowa.

The wagering allegations stem from a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of deceased Tyson Foods Inc. employee Isidro Fernandez. It stated that management did not do enough to protect employees while Covid-19 rapidly spread through the plant in early April.

According to the suit, 1,000 of 2,800 employees at the Waterloo plant were infected.

Read the full story.

Christian Peña

7h ago / 11:14 PM UTC

Health experts warn of potential Covid-19 vaccine scam phone calls

Public health officials are warning of scammers who promise early access to the vaccine for people who hand over their Social Security Number to callers.

“If you’re receiving unsolicited offers for a vaccine — not one, not two, but about 10 red flags should go up,” Nenette Day, assistant special agent in charge at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, told NBC News. “There is no way that you under any circumstance should deal with anybody except a known and reputable medical provider or pharmacy,” Day added.

If consumers receive a call they suspect is fraudulent, the first step is to hang up. If the call is from a legitimate health care provider, consumers should match the number listed on the back of their health insurance card to the caller ID. 

For more information on coronavirus-related scams, or to report Covid-19 fraud, consumers can visit the HHS website, or call the HHS hotline at 800-477-8477.

Read the story here.

Julia Ainsley

8h ago / 10:56 PM UTC

Study: 69% of undocumented immigrant workers ‘essential’ to fighting virus

WASHINGTON — More than two-thirds of undocumented immigrant workers have frontline jobs considered “essential” to the U.S. fight against Covid-19, according to a new study released Wednesday by pro-immigration reform group FWD.US.

Sixty-nine percent of undocumented immigrant workers have jobs deemed essential by the Department of Homeland Security, according to the study, which is based on the 2019 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau. The study also estimated that nearly one in five essential workers is an immigrant.

By contrast, the Trump administration has argued that protecting American jobs against foreign workers is crucial to fixing the economic harm caused by Covid-19.

Read the full story.

Ali Gostanian

9h ago / 9:33 PM UTC

107-year-old Minnesota woman survives Covid-19

A Minnesota centenarian recovered from Covid-19 after contracting the virus in November.

Tillie Dybing, who turned 107 over the summer and lives in a nursing home in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, has survived not just one, but two viral pandemics. She was five years old when the 1918 flu pandemic hit her hometown in North Dakota, sickening her parents. 

“My folks got sick and they were in bed, and I’d run into the bed and my dad said, ‘Can’t you find another place to run,’” Dybing told NBC News affiliate KARE

Her family was worried when she contracted Covid-19 in the fall because her age put her at high risk for severe complications from the coronavirus. 

“We were really concerned and though, ‘well, this is probably it,’” her daughter Susan Berke told KARE

But after two weeks of fatigue and no severe symptoms, Dybing, who also survived uterine cancer at 95, was moved out of quarantine after fully recovering from the virus. 

“I thought, well, if the time has come that I have to leave, then I will go, but I’m still here,” Dybing told KARE.

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