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VIRUS TODAY: California struggles to tame COVID-19

By The Associated Press
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Here’s what’s happening Friday with the pandemic in the U.S.:

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

— After months of serving as a role model in the fight against COVID-19, California has seen infections race out of control for weeks. It now has the worst coronavirus diagnosis rate in the U.S. Experts say a variety of factors combined to wipe out California’s past efforts, which for much of the year tamped down on surges and kept the virus at manageable levels. Cramped housing, travel and Thanksgiving gatherings contributed to the spread, along with the public’s fatigue amid regulations that closed many schools and businesses and encouraged — or required — an isolated lifestyle.

— Health officials say they’ve found evidence in a Florida man of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus variant first seen in England. The Florida Health Department tweeted a statement late Thursday that the variant was detected in a man in his 20s with no recent travel history. It comes after recent reports of confirmed cases elsewhere, in Colorado and California. The cases have triggered questions about how the COVID-19 variant circulating in England arrived in the U.S., where experts say it probably already is spreading.

— Ten months into quarantines and working from home because of the pandemic, household pets’ lives and relationships with humans have in many cases changed. For many dogs, pandemic life is life as it was meant to be: Humans around 24/7, walks and treats on demand, and sneaking onto their bed at night. Cats are more affectionate than ever, some even acting needy for attention. Long-term impacts aren’t known.

THE NUMBERS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased in the last two weeks from 2,646 on Dec. 17 to 2,387.7 on Dec. 31, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

DEATH TOLL: The number of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. stands at more than 346,000.

QUOTABLE: “I think January is going to be worse at this point than we have imagined,” said Dr. Don Williamson, the head of the Alabama Hospital Association after watching Christmas events online that showcased many people not wearing a mask. “We will absolutely reap the whirlwind of new cases because of our unwillingness to simply do simple things."

ICYMI: Authorities have arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from refrigeration for two nights. The Grafton Police Department said the former Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr says the pharmacist deliberately removed 57 vials containing hundreds of doses of the Moderna vaccine from refrigeration overnight on Dec. 24, returned them, then left them out again the night of Dec. 25.

ON THE HORIZON: Congress is ending a chaotic session with a rare rebuff by Republicans of President Donald Trump. GOP senators are ignoring the outgoing president’s demand to increase the $600 COVID-19 aid checks to $2,000. They are poised to override his veto of a major defense bill. Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says Congress could try again to approve bigger COVID-19 aid checks after the new session opens Sunday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Congress has provided enough pandemic aid, for now. The stalemate is expected to drag into the weekend.

___

Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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