Vaccine, financial relief near as coronavirus ravages U.S. health, economy

By Andrea Shalal and Andy Sullivan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Economic relief and a vaccine drew nearer to reality on Wednesday to counter a coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the U.S. economy and killed 286,487 people with year-end holiday gatherings expected to fuel another surge in infections.

Reuters December 10, 2020 00:14:36 IST
Vaccine, financial relief near as coronavirus ravages U.S. health, economy

coronavirus ravages U.S. health, economy" src="https://images.firstpost.com/wp-content/uploads/reuters/12-2020/10/2020-12-09T164807Z_2_LYNXMPEGB80ZE_RTROPTP_2_HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA-CONGRESS.jpg" alt="Vaccine financial relief near as coronavirus ravages US health economy" width="300" height="225" />

By Andrea Shalal and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Economic relief and a vaccine drew nearer to reality on Wednesday to counter a coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the U.S. economy and killed 286,487 people with year-end holiday gatherings expected to fuel another surge in infections.

The U.S. House of Representatives was set to vote Wednesday on a one-week stopgap funding bill that will buy more time to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief, with separate aid packages of more than $900 billion on the table.

Help is urgently needed as the United States reported an average of 2,259 deaths and 205,661 new cases each day over the past week.

Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said he expected Democrats and Republicans to work out most of the details on Wednesday.

"You're going to see 90% of the bill today," Manchin told CNN.

Part of the congressional debate involves aid to state and local governments. In addition to millions of job losses in the private sector, state and local governments have laid off nearly 700,000 workers this year, according to U.S. government data, equal to 8.4% of the workforce.

Schools alone are facing a shortfall of up to $246 billion, or 18% of projected spending, over the next two years, according to Michael Griffith, a senior researcher at the Learning Policy Institute.

In the former manufacturing hub of Schenectady, New York, the city government raised property taxes and trash-collection fees while the school board laid off 423 teachers, janitors and other workers, even with only 16% of grade-schoolers found to be proficient in math last year.

"These kids are struggling. They were struggling before COVID, and everybody looks past them," social worker Lindsey Esposito said.

Vaccinations could start as soon as this weekend, possibly taking pressure off a healthcare system buckling under a record 104,200 hospitalizations.

Pfizer Inc cleared another hurdle on Tuesday when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released documents that raised no new red flags over the safety or efficacy of the vaccine it developed with Germany's BioNTech SE.

A panel of outside advisers will meet on Thursday to discuss whether to recommend FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer vaccine.

FDA approval could come as soon as Friday or Saturday with the first U.S. injections happening on Sunday or Monday, Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program, told Fox News on Tuesday.

Britain became the first Western nation to begin mass inoculations with the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday.

The United States badly needs a new tool given that so many Americans refuse to wear masks or avoid crowds.

In Arizona, one of 14 states without a mask mandate, health officials on Tuesday reported over 12,000 new coronavirus cases, nearly double the previous record.

Alabama and Ohio also notched a record high number of cases, according to a Reuters analysis.

Experts and officials have expected a surge following the Thanksgiving holiday when many Americans traveled to be with family and friends. That cycle could be repeated following year-end holiday gatherings.

In the meantime, President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to succeed departing President Donald Trump on Jan. 20.

Even though Trump has refused to concede and is attempting to overturn the Nov. 3 election, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar vowed to make sure the Biden team gets all it needs to advance vaccine distribution.

"We will ensure a full, cooperative, professional transition," said Azar, who told CNN he has met with the Biden transition team. "I'm going to do anything I need to do to make sure no balls are dropped in terms of protecting the American people."

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan, Andrea Shalal, Susan Cornwell, Maria Caspani, Anurag Maan, Peter Szekely and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Steve Orlofsky)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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