New York nurse given COVID-19 vaccine as U.S. rollout begins

By Jonathan Allen and Gabriella Borter

NEW YORK (Reuters) -An intensive care unit nurse became the first person in New York state to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, marking a pivotal turn in the U.S. effort to control the deadly virus.

Sandra Lindsay, who has treated some of the sickest COVID-19 patients for months, was given the vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the New York City borough of Queens, an early epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, receiving applause on a livestream with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said. “I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.”

Minutes after Lindsay received the injection, President Donald Trump sent a tweet: “First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!”

Northwell Health, the largest health system in New York state, operates some of the select hospitals in the United States that were administering the country’s first inoculations of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside trials on Monday.

The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, won emergency-use approval from federal regulators on Friday after it was found to be 95% effective in preventing illness in a large clinical trial.

The first 2.9 million doses began to be shipped to distribution centers around the country on Sunday, just 11 months after the United States documented its first COVID-19 infections.

As of Monday, the United States had registered more than 16 million cases and nearly 300,000 deaths from the virus.

Health officials in Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Ohio and Minnesota said they also anticipated the first doses of the vaccine would be received at select hospitals on Monday and be administered right away.

LOGISTICAL CHALLENGE

The first U.S. shipments of coronavirus vaccine departed from Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday, packed into trucks with dry-ice to maintain the necessary sub-Arctic temperatures, and then were transported to UPS and FedEx planes waiting at air fields in Lansing and Grand Rapids, kicking off a national immunization endeavor of unprecedented complexity.

The jets delivered the shipments to UPS and FedEx cargo hubs in Louisville and Memphis, from where they were loaded onto planes and trucks to be distributed to the first 145 of 636 vaccine-staging areas across the country. Second and third waves of vaccine shipments were due to go out to the remaining sites on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“This is the most difficult vaccine rollout in history. There will be hiccups undoubtedly but we’ve done everything from a federal level and working with partners to make it go as smoothly as possible. Please be patient with us,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Monday, adding that he would get the shot as soon as he could.

The logistical effort is further complicated by the need to transport and store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at minus 70 Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), requiring enormous quantities of dry ice or specialized ultra-cold freezers.

Workers clapped and whistled as the first boxes were loaded onto trucks at the Pfizer factory on Sunday.

“We know how much people are hurting,” UPS Healthcare President Wes Wheeler said on Sunday from the company’s command center in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not lost on us at all how important this is.”

MORE DOSES ON THE WAY

More than 100 million people, or about 30% of the U.S. population, could be immunized by the end of March, Moncef Slaoui, the chief advisor to the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed coronavirus vaccine initiative, said in an interview on Sunday.

Healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care homes will be first in line to get the inoculations of a two-dose regimen given about three weeks apart. That would still leave the country far short of the herd immunity that would halt virus transmission, so health officials have warned that masks and social distancing will be needed for months to control the currently rampaging outbreak. Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla told CNN in an interview on Monday that most of the 50 million vaccine doses the company will provide this year have been manufactured, adding that it plans on producing 1.3 billion doses next year. Approximately half will be allocated to the United States, he said. But Bourla said Pfizer is “working very diligently” to increase the amount of doses available because demand is very high. At the same time, he said, the company has not reached an agreement with the U.S. government on when to provide an additional 100 million doses next year. “We can provide them the additional 100 million doses, but right now most of that we can provide in the third quarter,” Bourla said. “The U.S. government wants them in the second quarter so are working very collaboratively with them to make sure that we can find ways to produce more or allocate the doses in the second quarter.” Slaoui said the United States hopes to have about 40 million vaccine doses – enough for 20 million people – distributed by the end of this month. That would include vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna Inc. An outside U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to consider the Moderna vaccine on Thursday, with emergency use expected to be granted shortly after. On Friday, Moderna announced it had struck a deal with the U.S. government to deliver 100 million additional doses in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Gabriella Borter, Lisa Lambert, Lisa Baertlein and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Paul Simao)

Parsley Energy lays off most workers as part of sale to Pioneer Natural Resources-government notice

(Reuters) – Parsley Energy will lay off most of its Austin, Texas workforce as part of its sale to Pioneer Natural Resources, according to a notice to the Texas Workforce Commission posted on Friday.

Pioneer Natural Resources is buying Parsley in a deal valued around $4.5 billion, part of a wave of consolidation among U.S. shale producers slammed by pandemic-driven collapse in oil demand.

The Parsley layoffs include 234 workers, though some of those employees will be offered jobs with Pioneer in Las Colinas, Texas or Midland, Texas, a letter to the state agency said. The layoff data is expected to be Feb. 8.

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller; editing by Diane Craft)

Trump and 17 states back Texas bid at Supreme Court

By Jan Wolfe and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let him join a lawsuit by Texas seeking to throw out the voting results in four states, litigation that also drew support from 17 other states.

In a separate brief, lawyers for 17 states led by Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt also urged the nine justices to hear the Texas lawsuit.

Trump on Wednesday vowed to intervene in the lawsuit though he did not provide details on the nature of the intervention including whether it would be by presidential campaign or the U.S. Justice Department.

Writing on Twitter, Trump said, “We will be INTERVENING in the Texas (plus many other states) case. This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!”

The lawsuit, announced on Tuesday by the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, targeted four states.

In addition to Missouri, the states joining Texas were: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

The lawsuit was filed directly with the Supreme Court rather than with a lower court, as is permitted for certain litigation between states.

The Texas suit argued that changes made by the four states to voting procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic to expand mail-in voting were unlawful. Texas asked the Supreme Court to immediately block the four states from using the voting results to appoint presidential electors to the Electoral College.

Texas also asked the Supreme Court to delay the Dec. 14 date for Electoral College votes to be formally cast, a date set by law in 1887.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Will Dunham)

Texas asks U.S. Supreme Court to help Trump upend election

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The state of Texas, aiming to help President Donald Trump upend the results of the U.S. election, said on Tuesday it has filed suit against the states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin at the Supreme Court, calling changes they made to election procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic unlawful.

The lawsuit, announced by the Republican attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, was filed directly with the Supreme Court, as is permitted for certain litigation between states.

Republican-governed Texas in the lawsuit accused election officials in the four states of failing to protect mail-in voting from fraud, thus diminishing “the weight of votes cast in states that lawfully abide by the election structure set forth in the Constitution.”

State election officials have said they have found no evidence of such fraud that would change the results. There was a surge in voting by mail in the election due to the pandemic, as many Americans stayed away from polling places to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Texas is asking the Supreme Court to block the Electoral College votes in the four states – a total of 62 votes – from being counted. Texas also is asking the Supreme Court to delay the Dec. 14 deadline for Electoral College votes to be cast.

Paul Smith, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school, said Texas did not have a legitimate basis to bring the suit. “There is no possible way that the state of Texas has standing to complain about how other states counted the votes and how they are about to cast their electoral votes,” Smith said.

The Supreme Court is not obligated to hear the case and has said in previous decisions that its “original jurisdiction” that allows litigation between states to be filed directly with the nine justices, should be invoked sparingly.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Jan Wolfe and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder)

Severe storm in Arlington, Texas causes damage to property

(Reuters) – Authorities in Arlington, Texas were responding to reports of collapsed buildings and flying debris after strong winds swept through the southern U.S. state on Tuesday night.

“Our units are currently assessing the structures, triaging potential patients, and moving to other reported locations,” the city’s fired department said, while the police were determining the extent of damages.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Earlier, the National Weather service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for parts of Texas, along with Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma.

Tornado warnings were in place for areas in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Arlington but have since been lifted.

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Texas men charged with trying to sell 50 million bogus N95 masks to foreign government

(Reuters) – Two Houston-area men have been criminally charged with trying to fraudulently sell 50 million N95 respirator masks they did not actually possess to a foreign government at an inflated $317.6 million price, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Tuesday.

Paschal Eleanya, 46, and Arael Doolittle, 55, were accused of negotiating to sell the masks at five times the list prices set by the manufacturer, 3M Co.

According to a Nov. 19 indictment, the defendants expected to personally collect as much as $275 million from the transaction, with the remaining money going to their “broker” and the government’s own representatives.

The U.S. Secret Service broke up the transaction before it was completed, according to the indictment, which includes text messages from both defendants.

Eleanya and Doolittle were charged with two counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum 20-year prison term, and conspiracy.

The Justice Department did not identify the foreign government. It said Eleanya turned himself in to authorities, while Doolittle is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday.

A lawyer for Doolittle did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Eleanya’s lawyer could not immediately be identified. The Justice Department had no immediate additional comment.

Doolittle was separately charged last month with trying to defraud 21 investors out of $1.2 million in oil and gas transactions. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.

3M, the world’s largest maker of N95 masks, has filed at least 19 civil lawsuits to stop price-gouging, counterfeiting and other improper sales practices for its masks.

Most of 3M’s N95 masks cost less than $2, and the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company has pledged not to raise prices because of the coronavirus pandemic.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. nuclear power industry group sees reprocessing as potential waste fix

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the top U.S. nuclear power group said that reprocessing of nuclear waste, a technique that has not been practiced in the United States for decades because of proliferation and cost concerns, could help address a growing problem building up at nuclear plants across the country.

“Reprocessing is a very interesting part of the solution set,” Maria Korsnick, the head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said during an interview last week that will be part of Reuters Events Energy Transition North America on Friday. The technology “would be really closing the fuel cycle in a very useful way” because it squeezes more energy from the waste that cannot be used when it is disposed permanently.

France and other countries reprocess nuclear waste by breaking it down into uranium and plutonium and reusing it to make new reactor fuel.

But nonproliferation experts say militants could target the reprocessing supply chain, which would be far longer in the United States, to seize materials that could be used to make a crude nuclear weapon.

Former President Jimmy Carter halted reprocessing in 1977, citing proliferation concerns. President Ronald Reagan lifted Carter’s moratorium in 1981 but high costs have prevented plants from opening.

Now the United States has a growing problem with nuclear waste, currently kept at the country’s nuclear reactors, first in spent fuel pools, and then in steel and concrete casks. While about $8 billion has been spent on the Yucca Mountain permanent nuclear waste repository project in Nevada, it has never opened due to local opposition.

President Donald Trump’s administration wanted to open Yucca, but Trump began opposing it in February as the presidential campaign got under way.

Two sites in New Mexico and Texas could serve as interim nuclear waste storage sites, but local concerns are mounting that those places could become the default permanent fix.

Rita Baranwal, the top U.S. Energy Department official on nuclear power, has said it is a shame to permanently dispose of nuclear waste and that the country should look at reprocessing and potentially export the waste to countries that could do it.

Korsnick said the nuclear power industry is eager to work with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden on energy issues including nuclear waste. Biden’s transition website lists driving down costs of advanced nuclear power and commercializing it as one way to fight climate change.

Korsnick also applauded a decision this summer by the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a U.S. development agency, to lift a ban on funding nuclear projects.

She said the move would help the United States compete with Russia and China, which are also looking to export nuclear technology. The export market for U.S. advanced nuclear power technology could be worth up to $2 trillion, she said. The DFC’s move was criticized by some development experts who say bringing nuclear projects to poor countries would do little to address poverty.

On reprocessing, France has demonstrated it can be done safely, Korsnick said. “These are all conversations that we would have to step through as we design our final solution,” she said. “I’m confident that we have the technological expertise to do this well.”

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Pfizer to start pilot delivery program for its COVID-19 vaccine in four U.S. states

(Reuters) – Pfizer Inc. has launched a pilot delivery program for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in four U.S. states, as the U.S. drugmaker seeks to address distribution challenges facing its ultra-cold storage requirements.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which was shown to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on initial data, must be shipped and stored at -70 degrees Celsius (minus 94°F), significantly below the standard for vaccines of 2-8 degrees Celsius (36-46°F).

“We are hopeful that results from this vaccine delivery pilot will serve as the model for other U.S. states and international governments, as they prepare to implement effective COVID-19 vaccine programs,” Pfizer said in a statement on Monday.

It picked Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico, and Tennessee for the program after taking into account their differences in overall size, diversity of populations, immunization infrastructure, and need to reach individuals in varied urban and rural settings.

The four states will not receive vaccine doses earlier than other states by virtue of the pilot, nor will they receive any differential consideration, Pfizer said.

The company expects to have enough safety data on the vaccine from the ongoing large scale late-stage trials by the third week of November before proceeding to apply for emergency use authorization (EUA).

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE have a $1.95 billion deal to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine to the U.S. government, which has an option to acquire up to an additional 500 million doses.

Earlier on Monday, rival Moderna Inc. said its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage trial, boosting hopes that vaccines against the disease may be ready for use soon.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a new technology called synthetic messenger RNA to activate the immune system against the virus.

(Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Richard Pullin)

U.S. COVID-19 cases cross 11 million as pandemic intensifies

By Roshan Abraham and Seerat Gupta

(Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in the United States crossed the 11-million mark on Sunday reaching yet another grim milestone, according to a Reuters tally, as the third wave of COVID-19 infections surged across the country.

Reuters data shows the pace of the pandemic in the United States has quickened, with one million more new cases from just 8 days ago when it hit 10 million, making it the fastest since the pandemic began. This compares with 10 days it took to get from 9 to 10 million and 16 days it took to reach 9 million from 8 million cases.

The United States, hardest-hit by the coronavirus, crossed 10 million COVID-19 cases on November 8 and is reporting over 100,000 daily cases for the past 11 days straight.

The latest 7-day average, shows the United States is reporting more than 144,000 daily cases and 1,120 daily deaths, the highest for any country in the world.

Texas and California have reported the highest number of COVID-19 infections across the United States, together accounting for about 2.1 million cases or about 19% of the total cases since the pandemic began, according to Reuters analysis.

As COVID-19 related hospitalizations continue to rise, crossing 69,000 on Saturday, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top advisers have stressed the need to control the pandemic, warning that local healthcare systems are at a tipping point.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on the most cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska the top five worst-affected U.S. states.

Illinois, which has emerged as the pandemic’s new epicenter in the region as well as across the country, reported a record 15,433 new cases on Friday, the most of any state in a 24-hour period, surpassing the previous all-time high of 15,300 set by Florida in July.

Several states this week re-imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the virus across the nation. North Dakota became the latest state to require that face coverings be worn in public, as it joins 39 other states this month in reporting record daily jumps in new cases.

State governors urged residents to stay home as much as possible, including Nevada Democrat Steve Sisolak, who said late on Friday that he became the fourth governor to become infected with the virus.

The United States accounts for about 20% of more than 54 million global cases and close to 19% of the 1.31 million deaths reported worldwide, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Roshan Abraham and Seerat Gupta in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)

Chicagoans told to stay home, Detroit moves school online as COVID-19 cases surge

By Brendan O’Brien and Maria Caspani

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory and Detroit stopped in-person schooling on Thursday to staunch the coronavirus outbreak as more than a dozen states reported a doubling of new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

Officials in the Midwestern cities along with New York, California, Iowa and other states were re-imposing this week restrictions that had been eased in recent months. The moves were driven by surging infection rates and concern that the onset of winter, when people are more likely to gather indoors, will worsen the trends.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday issued a 30-day advisory calling upon residents to stay at home and have no visitors, even during Thanksgiving festivities. The third- largest city in the United States could see 1,000 more COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020 if residents do not change behaviors to stop the spread of the virus, Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot set a 10-person limit on gatherings, including indoor and outdoor events, and said travelers from out of the state needed to quarantine for 14 days or submit a negative coronavirus test.

“None of us can keep maintaining the status quo in the face of this very stark reality,” the mayor told reporters, noting the average number of cases have gone from 500 to 1,900 per day over the last month and the city’s positivity rate shot up to 15% from 5%.

Illinois has emerged as the pandemic’s new epicenter in the region as well as across the country. In the past two weeks, the state reported about 130,000 cases, the highest in the country and more than hard-hit Texas and California.

A Reuters tally showed coronavirus cases more than doubling in 13 states in the past two weeks.

In Michigan, the Detroit public school system – the state’s largest – said on Thursday it would suspend of in-person education until Jan. 11, with the infection rate in the city rising rapidly. The district will hold all classes online starting Monday.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that the country’s largest school system was preparing for a possible shutdown but closure might still be averted.

“We’re not there yet, and let’s pray we don’t get there,” de Blasio told reporters. De Blasio has said schools will close if the percentage of city residents testing positive, now at a seven-day average of 2.6%, surpasses 3%.

Total COVID-19 cases across the United States hit an all-time daily high for a second day in a row on Wednesday at 142,279 and crossed the 100,000 mark for an eighth consecutive day, Reuters data showed.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus surged to at least 64,939 by late Wednesday, the highest ever for a single day during the pandemic, increasing by more than 41% in the past two weeks. The death toll rose by 1,464 to a total of 241,809.

Vaccine developers have offered some good news this week, with Pfizer and BioNTech trumpeting successful early data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

Health experts are hopeful that a vaccine might become available in the coming months for the most vulnerable populations and for healthcare providers.

But with a more lengthy timeline for the general public, many are urging strict adherence to well-known virus mitigation measures like wearing a face covering, washing hands and maintaining a safe social distance.

“We hope that by the time you get into the second quarter, end of April, early May, May-June – somewhere around that time, the ordinary citizen should be able to get it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, told the ABC “Good Morning America” program on Thursday.

“What we need to do is what we’ve been talking about for some time now but really doubling down on it.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)