BOSTON — As many as 300,000 COVID-19 cases around the world can be traced to a two-day biotech meeting at a hotel in downtown Boston in February, according to a study published by the journal Science.

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Pedestrians walk past a storefront window in Boston’s fashionable Newbury Street shopping district in September. A conference in Boston in February has been tied to as many as 300,000 COVID-19 cases. Steven Senne/Associated Press

The meeting of Biogen managers sent 100 people home with the coronavirus who then spread it to 29 states and overseas to Australia, Slovakia and Sweden, according to the study published Thursday.

The study estimates the conference is responsible for about 1.6 percent of all cases in the United States.

The study was done by tracking the unique genetic signatures of the virus that could be traced to the Boston event.

The lead author was Jacob Lemieux, an infectious-disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and more than 50 researchers were credited.

“If there is a public health message here, it is that the conditions that enable these types of massive super-spreading events to occur are still with us,” Lemieux told The Boston Globe. “They’re still possible if we let our guard down. They’re still possible if infected but otherwise healthy people mingle and travel without restriction.”

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Biogen in a statement said the pandemic has had a “very direct and personal impact” on the company and hoped that the study would “continue to drive a better understanding of the transmission of this virus and efforts to address it.”

Walgreens to hire 25,000 as part of plan to administer COVID-19 vaccine

Walgreens expects to receive its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 21 and plans to inoculate nursing home residents and workers at more than 30,000 long-term care facilities nationwide.

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A patient receives an influenza vaccine in Texas in January. Walgreens says it has made more than 150,000 off-site visits to give immunization shots, which has helped prepare the drugstore chain to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. LM Otero/Associated Press

The company plans to hire about 25,000 people across the U.S., including up to 9,000 pharmacists and other health care workers, to administer the vaccine, once approved, to long-term care facilities through a partnership with pharmacy service provider PharMerica, the companies said during a panel discussion Friday on the vaccine rollout.

CVS Health and Walmart are also gearing up to administer doses in nursing homes and assisted living centers. CVS Health is preparing 10,000 health care professionals to give the shots, CEO Larry Merlo said Thursday in a CNBC interview.

Walmart is preparing more than 5,000 in-store pharmacies to receive the vaccine, setting up the necessary freezer space and dry ice to meet storage requirements, Walmart’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tom Van Gilder, said in a company blog post Thursday.

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On Thursday, a panel of experts at the Food and Drug Administration recommended Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, clearing the way for emergency use approval. A Moderna vaccine approval could follow shortly after.

Hit hard by the pandemic, nursing homes have become a point of concern in many states, including Illinois, during the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Walgreens’ chief medical officer, Dr. Kevin Ban, said Friday initial doses of the vaccine will be taken to on-site clinics at longterm care facilities staffed with Walgreens pharmacists, the number of which the company is still determining.

In the past, Walgreens has made more than 150,000 off-site visits to give immunization shots, which has helped prepare the drugstore chain to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, said Rina Shah, group vice president of pharmacy operations and services for Walgreens.

“We pretty much raised our hand and said where can we help. We have 27,000 pharmacists across the country. And we knew we could play a role in support of the vaccination,” Shah said.

The pharmacy chain will set aside space at about 1,000 drugstores to keep doses of the vaccine in ultracold freezers and dry ice, she said.

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White House orders FDA chief to authorize Pfizer vaccine today or submit his resignation

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Friday told Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to submit his resignation if the agency does not clear the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine by day’s end, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss what happened.

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The White House told Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to approve the Pfizer vaccine on Friday or submit his resignation. Graeme Jennings/Pool via Associated Press

The threat came on the same day that President Trump tweeted that the FDA is “a big, old, slow turtle” in its handling of vaccines, while exhorting Commissioner Stephen Hahn to “get the dam vaccines out NOW.” He added: “Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!”

The warning led the FDA to accelerate its timetable for clearing America’s first vaccine from Saturday morning to later Friday.

A White House official declined to comment, saying “we don’t comment on private conversations, but the Chief regularly requests updates on progress toward a vaccine.”

The warning, combined with the tweets, constituted the latest attack by Trump, who has complained vociferously that the vaccine wasn’t authorized before Election Day, blaming it on the ‘Deep State’ inside the agency that he accused of working against his reelection. Trump was also said to be upset that Britain cleared the vaccine before the United States, although the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been developed and reviewed in record time.

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With the timetable apparently accelerated from Saturday morning, the FDA and Pfizer were rushing to complete the paperwork needed for the authorization, according to another individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t have authority to discuss the plans.

Read the full story here.

N.H. governor grants nursing students temporary licenses to ease staffing shortages

Gov. Chris Sununu has issued an emergency order allowing some nursing students to get temporary licenses to help with staffing shortages at long-term care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Health care workers watch as a departing COVID-19 patient leaves the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua, N.H. in May. Associated Press/Charles Krup

Sununu said in a statement Friday that workforce shortages remain a challenge in New Hampshire and across the country.

The order affects senior nursing students expected to graduate by May 31, 2021. Students would be supervised while providing health care services in response to COVID-19 needs.

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Fourteen outbreaks were announced Thursday, most at long-term care facilities.

U.S. border restrictions with Canada, Mexico, extended into 2021

TORONTO — Unprecedented restrictions on all nonessential travel at U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico will enter their 10th month, officials said Friday.

The measures, which will be in place until at least Jan. 21, were imposed in mid-March and have been extended in 30-day increments since.

They’ve had limited impact on trade and the movement of essential workers, but they have hurt tourism and upended life in close-knit border towns.

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Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, confirmed the extension of the measures in tweets.

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“As this administration continues to make great progress on a vaccine for covid,” he said on Twitter, “we will reevaluate nonessential travel restrictions again early in the new year.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this month that the border curbs won’t be relaxed “until the virus is significantly more under control everywhere around the world,” suggesting that the measures will be in place well into 2021.

U.S. coronavirus deaths surpass nation’s WWII fatalities

The number of people in the United States who have died of covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, is now greater than the number of U.S. service members who died in combat during the deadliest war in American history.

More than 291,500 U.S. soldiers died in battle during World War II, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates. Coronavirus-related deaths surpassed that total Thursday to reach more than 291,800, according to The Washington Post’s tracker.

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Kyla Harris, 10, writes a tribute to her grandmother Patsy Gilreath Moore, who died at age 79 of COVID-19, at a symbolic cemetery created to remember and honor lives lost to COVID-19 in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami in November. Associated Press/Lynne Sladky

The coronavirus death toll is also equivalent to more than twice as many deaths as in the Civil War, more than five times as many as in World War I and nearly half as many as the roughly 651,000 combat deaths in all U.S. wars since 1775.

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For further comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 12,000 and 61,000 people in the United States die of influenza each year.

N.H. governor blasts anti-maskers after House speaker dies: ‘Don’t act like a bunch of children’

New Hampshire Republican state Rep. Dick Hinch wept as he accepted a nomination as speaker of the house at an outdoor swearing-in ceremony with hundreds of his peers, including dozens without masks.

“It is my honor to accept,” he said on Dec. 2 at the University of New Hampshire, his voice trembling as he tried to choke back tears. “I am humbled by your support.”

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New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch speaks at an outdoor legislative session at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on Dec. 2. Associated Press/Elise Amendola

One week later, Hinch, 71, was found dead in his home. The state’s chief medical examiner found Hinch’s cause of death was covid-19, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald (R) announced Thursday.

Hinch’s death has left Democratic legislators demanding tests for representatives and their staff who attended last week’s ceremony, and some Republicans castigating their colleagues for not following basic public health guidelines.

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At a news conference Thursday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) lauded Hinch as a “tireless leader” and described him as a close friend, calling his death a “cautionary tale” about the costs of failing to wear a mask. Sununu lashed out at other Republican legislators for flouting masks at large gatherings.

“For those who are just out there doing the opposite just to make some ridiculous political point, it is horribly wrong,” Sununu said. “Please use your heads. Don’t act like a bunch of children, frankly.”

Read the full story here.

Calls grow for tougher measures in Germany

BERLIN — Calls are growing for tougher lockdown measures in Germany as officials report record daily increases in both coronavirus cases and deaths.

The Robert Koch Institute said Friday the country’s 16 states reported 29,875 new cases of COVID-19, breaking the previous daily record of 23,679 cases reported the day before.

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The number of deaths from the virus rose by 598, to a total of 20,970. The previous daily record of deaths was 590, set on Wednesday.

Germany’s states are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions, and Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week urged action, saying “we are in a decisive, perhaps the decisive, phase of fighting the pandemic.”

Restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities are currently closed in Germany and hotels are closed to tourists, but schools and nonessential shops remain open.

Merkel has called on state governments to consider closing schools early before Christmas and is expected to meet with governors soon to discuss possible new measures.

Several states have already announced new restrictions on their own. Most recently, Baden-Wuerttemberg said Friday it will extend lockdown measures until at least Jan. 10, among other measures, amid the rising numbers.

New Mexico prepares to ration medical care as virus strains resources

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SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials have issued orders that could limit nonessential surgeries and prepare for rationing of other medial services as the coronavirus pandemic strains resources and personnel at hospitals and intensive care centers.

One of the orders from the state Department of Health allows hospitals and acute-care facilities to limit surgeries. The second changes liability standards for emergency medical providers as the state prepares for possible triage procedures that might limit care to some individuals.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the orders go into Friday and will last until at least Jan. 4.

Kansas will not send vaccine recipient data to the CDC

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas does not plan to send personal information to the federal government about residents who receive coronavirus vaccines, though it has signed a data-use agreement with the CDC.

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Thursday in a text to The Associated Press that it signed a data-use agreement with the CDC “a while ago” but it “won’t be providing any identifying information.”

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The CDC’s standard agreement calls for collection of data about vaccine recipients, including a person’s name, address and birthday. The CDC says the information will help determine how vaccines are distributed, monitor their safety and effectiveness, and identify places that are under-vaccinated.

The chief of the state health department said earlier this week that Kansas officials worry that sending personal information could discourage people from getting vaccinated.

Egypt receives Chinese vaccine shipment

CAIRO — Egypt has received its first shipment of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine, which was tested in the United Arab Emirates and is said to be 86% effective.

The shipment by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm landed at Cairo’s international airport from the UAE on Thursday.

A health ministry statement says the government will first vaccinate health care workers, particularly those who deal with COVID-19 cases.

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Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and it has seen an increase in confirmed coronavirus infections in recent weeks amid warnings by the government about a second wave of the pandemic. Egypt reported 445 newly confirmed coronavirus infections Thursday and 22 deaths from COVID-19, bringing the country’s overall tally to 120,147 cases, with 6,854 deaths.

Pennsylvania clamps down, closing gyms, halting high school sports

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania is halting school sports and other extracurricular activities, ordering gyms, theaters and casinos to close and banning indoor dining at restaurants in response to the worsening pandemic.

A day after telling Pennsylvanians of his own COVID-19 diagnosis, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the widely expected clampdown Thursday. He said it aims to slow the accelerating spread of the coronavirus and prevent hospitals from becoming overrun.

“We all hoped it would not come to this,” Wolf said at a virtual news conference, but “we need to slow the spread to save lives.”

The restrictions include a 10-person cap on indoor gatherings, a 50-person limit for outdoor gatherings and capacity restrictions at retail stores. They take effect Saturday and run through until Jan. 4.

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Vaccinations in Toronto, Ottawa to begin next week

TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province will begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations at hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa on Tuesday.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says a small number of doses are expected to arrive in the province in the coming days.

Canada’s health regulator approved the vaccine by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.

Ford says health care workers in long-term care homes and other high-risk settings will be the first to receive the vaccines.

South Carolina averaging almost 2,500 new cases a day

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GREENVILLE, S.C. — Vice President Mike Pence has traveled to South Carolina to talk about coronavirus vaccines, as cases are rising in the state.

Pence participated in a roundtable discussion with Gov. Henry McMaster and local leaders about two vaccines, both likely to receive FDA approval for use in the next week.

Pence says the government’s virus task force has “cut no corners in the development of this vaccine. We have cut red tape.”

State health officials plan to give vaccines first to health care workers and nursing home patients. Federal officials hope to have the vaccine available to the general public by the end of June.

South Carolina is averaging nearly 2,500 new cases a day, about 600 more than at the summer peak.


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