There is some good news this Sunday evening. Congress has agreed to a $900 billion stimulus deal after months of failed negotiations. The agreement will provide much needed financial lifelines to Americans struggling with the economic fallout from the Covid pandemic.
The House and Senate passed a measure to avoid a government shutdown that was set to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. ET, giving Congress another day to vote on the stimulus deal. They are also expected to vote Monday on a broader a measure that would fund the government through Sept. 2021.
Moderna's vaccine also started shipping Sunday to sites across the nation, with 5.9 million doses scheduled for delivery this week. The first shots of Moderna's vaccine will begin Monday.
As the federal government struggles to keep up with the current crisis, there is growing concern that a new threat is on the horizon. The United Kingdom has identified a new, more infectious strain of the virus, leading to lockdowns in London and causing E.U. nations to ban flights with Britain.
More than 2,500 deaths attributed to the virus were recorded in the U.S. on Saturday, and more than 196,000 new cases were reported, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The toll from Covid-19 around the world continues to grow:
- U.S. deaths: More than 317,000
- U.S. infections: More than 17.8 million
- Global deaths: More than 1.6 million
- Global infections: More than 76.7 million
Here's what you need to know today:
- Congress finally agrees to Covid stimulus deal
- Moderna vaccine starts shipping to 50 states
- First Moderna shots expected Monday
- Mass vaccination not likely until summer
- Confusion over FDA requirements caused vaccine shortfalls
- EU nations ban U.K. flights over new Covid strain
- Biden surgeon general pick tries to ease new virus fears
Trump signs one-day funding measure to avoid shutdown
President Donald Trump signed a one-day spending bill to keep the government funded through Monday, Dec. 21, White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a tweet.
The temporary spending bill avoids a government shutdown and will keep the lights on until 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
— Christine Wang
Senate passes funding to avoid shutdown. Trump must now sign
The Senate has passed a one-day funding measure to avoid a government shutdown that was set to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. ET. The funding measure now goes to President Donald Trump's desk.
Congress is now expected to vote Monday on the Covid relief deal and a broader measure to fund the government through Sept. 2021.
House passes one-day funding measure. Senate next to vote
The House of Representatives has passed a funding measure that will keep the government open through Monday, giving Congress more time to vote on the Covid stimulus deal.
The bill now goes to the Senate for a final vote.
— Spencer Kimball
House to vote on government funding to avert shutdown
The House of Representatives will vote soon on a stop-gap funding measure to avert a government shutdown that is set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. ET, providing more time to pass the Covid stimulus deal.
The House will reconvene at 6:30 p.m. ET, debate a continuing resolution and then vote around 6:45 p.m. ET. The bill then goes to the Senate for passage.
The emergency funding measure will keep the government open through 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday, giving Congress time to vote on the Covid stimulus deal and broader funding legislation on Monday.
— Spencer Kimball
Congress agrees to $900 billion stimulus deal after months of failure
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced a $900 billion Covid stimulus deal.
The four leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives have finalized an agreement, the Kentucky Republican said. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., later confirmed the deal on the floor of the Senate.
The House and Senate will now move to vote on government funding. Congress has set a deadline of 12:01 a.m. ET Monday to pass funding legislation, otherwise the government will shut down.
— Spencer Kimball
Trump officials wanted a larger say in CDC messaging, say whistleblowers
Kyle McGowan, former chief of staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Amanda Campbell, former deputy chief of staff at the CDC, said the Trump administration manipulated the agency's communication about the coronavirus.
"When we got to the pandemic and frankly the meddling that was coming out of the administration, we were not able to do the job that we were sent there for," McGowan told Chuck Todd Sunday on "Meet the Press." McGowan and Campbell resigned in August.
"As Amanda and I worked in the spring and summer, we saw more and more the administration wanting a larger say in the messaging that was coming out of the CDC," McGowan said. "When the messaging clashed with the science, the messaging won."
Campbell said the CDC was unable to provide the right and necessary information about the pandemic to the public.
"We see more and more individuals across the administration commenting on the guidance the CDC was trying to put out. Unfortunately, that often led to delays," Campbell said.
— Yun Li
McConnell says Congress will finish Covid relief, funding deal within hours
Congress should finish a coronavirus relief and government funding bill today, only hours before a deadline to avoid a government shutdown, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"We're winnowing down the remaining differences … I hope and expect to have a final agreement nailed down in a matter of hours," the Kentucky Republican said.
Lawmakers cleared the last major roadblock in the way of a deal when they reached a compromise over a GOP-backed plan to roll back the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers. Still, they had not unveiled legislative text for the more than $2 trillion pandemic aid and spending package with about 11 hours to go until government funding lapses.
The House, which will move on any proposal before the Senate does, expects to vote by tonight.
— Jacob Pramuk
Surgeon general says it's too early to tell if virus mutation is more dangerous
Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it is too early to tell if a coronavirus mutation alarming public health officials in Europe is more dangerous than earlier variants, but noted that there were "no indications that it is going to hurt our ability to continue vaccinating people."
"Viruses mutate all the time, and that does not mean that this virus is any more dangerous," Adams said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We don't even know if it's really more contagious yet or not, or if it just happened to be a strain that was involved in a super spreader event."
The comments came after countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy announced that they would suspend flights from the United Kingdom following an announcement from public health officials in the country that they had identified a variant of the virus that early data suggested could spread more quickly.
England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said in a statement on Saturday that the U.K. had informed the World Health Organization about the mutation. He said there was "no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is under way to confirm this."
— Tucker Higgins
San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly says stimulus is "unequivocally beneficial"
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Mary Daly said fiscal support is "unequivocally beneficial" as the economy tried to recover from the coronavirus-triggered recession.
"I'm bullish on the job market once we get fully through the coronavirus but we are not there yet," Daly told Margaret Brennan on "Face The Nation" on Sunday. "Our future is bright but we have got a few challenging months ahead of us as we continue to battle coronavirus."
Daly said aid for state and local governments is important, adding that programmatic cuts are being discussed in the areas that she serves.
Lawmakers reached a compromise over the future of Fed emergency lending programs, clearing the way to seal a deal on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus stimulus plan. This new package doesn't include funding for state and local governments.
— Yun Li
Impact of vaccinating workers or older adults first hardly differs, CDC official says
An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting Sunday to vote on who should get access to the Covid vaccines after health-care workers and long-term care residents.
Central to the question is whether essential workers, who disproportionately have underlying conditions and are made up of racial and ethnic minorities, or older adults, who are at increased risk of dying of Covid, should be prioritized next.
But the CDC's Dr. Kathleen Dooling noted that the different strategies will ultimately have little impact on the dynamics of the outbreak, based on the latest modelling.
"Differences between strategies is minimal," she said. "Vaccinating older adults first averts slightly more deaths, while vaccinating younger adults first, essential workers and younger adults with high-risk conditions, averts slightly more infections."
"The largest driver of impact in averting deaths and infections is actually the timing of the vaccine introduction related to increases in Covid-19 cases," she added. "This really emphasizes the need to continue non-pharmaceutical interventions, wearing a mask and social distancing."
Covid vaccination most difficult immunization campaign in history, surgeon general says
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams called the coronavirus vaccination the most challenging immunization program in history, warning that there will be inconsistencies and fluctuations in the number of doses during the rollout.
"This is going to be the most technically, logistically difficult vaccination project of all time," Adams told Margaret Brennan on "Face The Nation" on Sunday. "We started slow and we are going to continue to increase. The American people should be hopeful about the vaccines but we also need to remain vigilant."
"I want the American public to know the numbers are going to go up and down. There's what we plan and there is what we actually allocate. There's what's delivered and there's what's actually put in people's arms," he added.
The federal government plans to distribute roughly 5.9 million doses of Moderna's vaccine across the nation next week. Meanwhile, the U.S. is also sending out 2 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine after 2.9 million doses were cleared for shipment last week.
— Yun Li
Moderna vaccine starts shipping
The second Covid-19 vaccine approved by U.S. regulators has started shipping around the country, where it will add to the country's arsenal for fighting the deadly disease.
The vaccine, made by Moderna, is being shipped from Louisville, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee to nearly 4,000 locations in all 50 states.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the drug on Friday, and it is expected to start being administered on Monday. The government plans to distribute about 5.9 million doses within the week.
Like the first vaccine to be approved, made by Pfizer, Moderna's vaccine has been shown to be more than 90% effective and is given in two doses spaced several weeks apart.
Moderna's vaccine can be stored at temperatures warmer than Pfizer's, allowing it to reach areas that would be more difficult to inoculate with just the Pfizer vaccine.
— Tucker Higgins
First Moderna immunizations expected Monday
Americans will likely receive the first Moderna vaccine shot on Monday morning, U.S. Covid-19 vaccine program head Moncef Slaoui said on Sunday.
"We look forward to the vaccine. It's going to be slightly easier to distribute because it doesn't require as low a temperature as Pfizer," Slaoui said on CNN.
Moderna's vaccine is the second Covid-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.
— Emma Newburger
House expects to vote on Covid relief, government funding
The House expects to vote on a coronavirus relief and government funding package today, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office.
Congressional leaders are working through the final details of an expected $900 billion pandemic aid proposal and could announce a deal in the coming hours. A compromise over a Republican-backed provision to limit the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers, which held up a deal at the last minute, cleared the way for Congress to move toward an agreement.
Lawmakers have to move quickly to both release legislation and push it through both chambers of Congress. The government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday if Washington does not pass a spending bill into law.
If Republicans and Democrats reach a deal, the House would move to approve it first, followed by the Senate. Any one senator can hold up swift passage of legislation.
More delays in putting together a bill may require Congress to approve another short-term measure to keep the government open.
— Jacob Pramuk
Mass vaccination by mid summer more likely, says Vivek Murthy
Vivek Murthy, who has been picked by President-elect Joe Biden to become the 21st surgeon general, urged caution on the coronavirus vaccine timeline, saying it's more likely reach mass distribution by mid-summer or early fall.
"If everything goes well, we may see a circumstance where by late spring, people who are in lower risk categories can get this vaccine, but it would really require everything to go exactly on schedule," Murthy said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"I think it's more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid summer or early fall when the vaccine can make its way to the general population. We want to be optimistic but we want to be cautious as well," Murthy added.
The first shots of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine are given to front-line health-care workers and long-term care residents, who are among the most vulnerable to the disease. Meanwhile, after receiving approval for emergence use from the FDA, Moderna is gearing up to ship its first batch of vaccine doses.
— Yun Li
Operation Warp Speed vaccine shortfalls stemmed from confusion over FDA requirements
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor of Operation Warp Speed, addressed the agency's error of sending fewer initial Covid-19 vaccine doses than planned to some states and attributed the problem to a lag period in which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must receive a certificate of analysis for each set of vaccines before shipment.
"We all made the mistake of assuming that the vaccine that's actually produced and being released is already available for shipment, when in fact, there's a two days lag between the time at which we generate a lot of data showing that this vaccine vile is safe and right, and the time we ship it," Slaoui told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday morning.
"That lag period has resulted in differences in the plan and what was actually done," Slaoui continued. "We have addressed that and optimize everyday what we are doing."
Slaoui's explanation comes one day after Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave Perna repeatedly apologized for smaller deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine in at least 14 states.
The FDA requires a certificate of analysis, which includes quality control test results, for each round of Pfizer's vaccines at least 48 hours prior to distribution.
Operation Warp Speed is set to ship 5.9 million Moderna vaccine doses and 2 million Pfizer vaccine doses across the U.S. on Monday, Slaoui said.
"We are increasing communication with the governors in order to make sure there are no mistakes that will happen," Slaoui said. "We will work and learn from our mistakes every day."
— Emma Newburger
Biden’s surgeon general pick tries to ease concern on new Covid strain
Former surgeon general Vivek Murthy said the new strain of the coronavirus identified by the U.K. may not be more deadly and could be prevented by the vaccines.
Murthy has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to become the 21st surgeon general.
"While it seems to be more easily transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it," Murthy said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There's no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well."
England's top medical officer on Saturday announced that the U.K. has identified a new variant of the coronavirus that "can spread more quickly" than prior strains of the virus.
"The bottom line is if you are at home and you are hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions as individuals that can reduce the spread of this virus," Murthy said. "It turns out that masking, keeping physical distance and washing our hands ... these are still the pillars of preventing Covid transmission."
— Yun Li
Growing number of EU countries ban flights to UK over new virus strain
Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy are suspending flights from the U.K., officials from those countries announced Sunday, amid fears over a new strain of the coronavirus sweeping London and southern England that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains.
German authorities have said they are considering "serious options" on halting flights from the U.K. but have not announced specific actions, while French media outlets have suggested France may also suspend flights.
The Dutch are banning the U.K. flights for the rest of the year at least, while Belgium is enacting a 24-hour flight suspension beginning at midnight as well as cutting train links to the country, which include the Eurostar. The moves come after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put London and surrounding areas into a new Tier 4 level of restrictions, mandating a much more severe lockdown this Christmas.
Moderna vaccine will starting shipping soon
Moderna vaccine doses are being packed right now with shipping to start later today from UPS and McKesson facilities.
The vaccine doses will go to sites across all 50 states this week. The first shipments are expected to arrive Monday, with the first immunizations using the shot to occur the same day.
The rollout of the Moderna vaccine comes after Operation Warp Speed shipped 2.9 million doses of Pfizer's shot to sites across the country last week, according to U.S. officials.
The U.S. government has allocated 7.9 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for distribution so far.
— Spencer Kimball
House vote as early as 1 p.m. ET; Senate will reconvene
The House of Representatives will convene at noon today with voting to begin no earlier than 1 p.m. ET, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
The Senate is set to reconvene at 1p.m. ET. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said both chambers could vote on Covid stimulus today if negotiations don't hit another snag.
However, it's not entirely clear at the moment what the House will vote on. Though senior lawmakers appear to be nearing a deal on Covid stimulus, they do not yet have an agreement in hand.
Congress passed emergency funding on Friday to keep the government open through Sunday. If they don't pass new funding by 12:01 a.m. ET Monday, the government will shut down.
If stimulus talks hit a snag again, the House could vote on another continuing resolution to keep the government funded.
— Spencer Kimball
Toomey claims victory in Fed lending fight
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., claimed victory in a fight over the Federal Reserve's lending powers that was holding up a broader deal on Covid stimulus.
Though the agreement is tentative and compromise language is being finalized, a spokesperson for Toomey said Republicans had achieved all four of their objectives.
"This agreement rescinds more than $429 billion in unused CARES Act funds; definitively ends the CARES Act lending facilities by December 31, 2020; stops these facilities from being restarted; and forbids them from being duplicated without congressional approval," Toomey spokesperson Steve Kelly said.
"This agreement will preserve Fed independence and prevent Democrats from hijacking these programs for political and social policy purposes," Kelly said.
A senior Democratic aide told NBC News that "the Toomey impasse is over."
Schumer says Congress could pass stimulus deal today
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Congress could pass a stimulus deal Sunday after senior lawmakers reached a compromise in the fight over the Federal Reserve's lending powers.
Though lawmakers do not yet have a deal in hand, Schumer said they were getting "very close." Momentum toward a deal had stalled after Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., sought to include a provision that would end the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers.
Schumer told reporters late Saturday that the House and the Senate could pass a Covid stimulus bill Sunday "if things continue on this path and nothing gets in the way."
— Spencer Kimball