While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for December 31

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Indiana to start testing for COVID-19 variant on January 1. Colorado health officials say a new COVID-19 variant is spreading in the U-S.

On Wednesday, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist, said a Colorado National Guard member has the first reported U.S. case of a COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.1.7, and a second case is suspected in another Guard member.

Shandy Dearth, Director of the Undergraduate Epidemiology Program at IUPUI’s Fairbanks School of Public Health, said health officials in the United Kingdom first discovered the variant back in September.

“[Virus] variants happen all the time and they’ve been happening with COVID-19,” said Dearth. “The concern here is that this particular variant has a lot of mutations – more than normal.”

Dearth said the state health department already has the capability to test for the variant here in central Indiana. She said beginning Friday, ten randomized samples will be sent from the state to the CDC’s National Surveillance Program.

Tens of thousands of Hoosiers already vaccinated. More than 75,000 people in Indiana have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s new vaccine dashboard.

According to the state’s allocation plan, frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of nursing homes can get the vaccine right now.

Dr. Linsday Weaver, chief medical officer of ISDH, said more than 110,000 Hoosiers in total have scheduled appointments for a vaccine through next Monday, and those numbers will continue to grow. She said that data does not include the 40,000 doses set aside for longterm care facility residents and staff.

Wednesday marks just a little more than two weeks since Indiana received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine.

State health officials expect vaccinations will ramp up as we get past the holidays.

Celebrating NYE safely in central Indiana. Come Thursday night, a lot of Hoosiers will look forward to putting 2020 in the past, but will they have a safe space to do that? With the exception of Fishers, bars and restaurants in Hamilton county will be open past midnight.

“We have been going around to the places on our routine check-ins and continuing our education plans,” detailed Christian Walker, public health preparedness coordinator for the Hamilton County Health Department. “Social gatherings are limited to 50 for counties in orange, and 25 for counties in red currently. We are in the orange county status.”

Locations must maintain social distancing requirements indoors, and comply with state regulations. County health officials are warning people to keep within their immediate contacts when they are out, and to wear a mask even if they are seated but not eating or drinking.

The county has yet to see the reports from any COVID spikes from Christmas, and they fear New Year’s Eve could add to it.

$2,000 stimulus payments stalled in Senate. While four Republican senators are on board with a plan to increase the $600 payments already going out to Americans to $2,000, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there is no realistic path forward for the measure.

The Republican majority in the Senate on Wednesday blocked a vote on a bill to send out the extra money, which already passed with overwhelming support in the Democrat-led House of Representatives.

“The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money to Democrats’ friends who don’t need the help,” McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor.

Instead of allowing a vote on the House bill, he is pushing an alternative proposal that combines the increased payments with President Donald Trump’s other more controversial priorities like investigating the election outcome and removing certain legal protections for big social media companies.

IU Health continues trial for UK’s newly approved vaccine. On Wednesday, the U.K. became the first to approve the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford. 

After the announcement, U.S. Health and Human Services and Defense Department leaders held a briefing on Operation Warp Speed, saying that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will ‘likely’ be authorized for emergency use in the United States in April.

Right now, clinical trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine are being conducted at various sites, including at the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine.

Experts said they expect the AstraZeneca vaccine to be relied on in many countries because of its low cost to manufacture, availability, and ease of use.

Gregory Zimet, professor of pediatrics and clinical psychology at the IU School of Medicine, specializes in vaccine research. He said, “We are truly in an unusual situation to have so many vaccines coming forward in such a short time span.”

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