A woman walks past decorations installed for the holiday season in Zaryadye Park in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Stock futures were muted in the final trading day of 2020, contradicting a year that saw stocks bounce back since March, despite economic fallout from the pandemic. Unprecedented steps taken by central banks to bolster credit flow and the increase in governments’ spending encouraged investors to focus on growth opportunities for the last half of the year. 

States across the U.S. reported more than 3,900 deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday, marking the largest single-day total since the pandemic’s genesis. Forecast projects predict another 80,000 Americans could die of coronavirus over the next three weeks. Even as vaccine distribution efforts continue, experts say it has been slower than they’d hoped – the federal government previously estimated 20 million Americans would receive the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine by the end of the year. Currently, the U.S. has deployed around 14 million vaccine doses. 

The more-contagious variant of the coronavirus spreading through Britain has now appeared in both Colorado and California, threatening to complicate the nation’s path to recovery. There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines will be less effective against the new variant, but various studies do warn the new variant is more transmissible. 

A fluke of COVID-19 testing may lend itself to health officials monitoring the spread of the variant. One geneticist says officials may be able to track the variant through standard testing, calling it a “serendipitous thing.” Experts in the U.K. have been able to use this method as an unofficial measurement. Unlike the U.K., the U.S. is doing very little analysis of virus samples to check for mutations or variants, which is why it may have gone undetected until now. 

Stay-at-home orders were renewed indefinitely for much of California, a leading U.S. hotspot of the pandemic, as the state’s top health officials warned many hospitals were on the brink of crisis. The state is asking nurses to take care of more patients simultaneously than they normally would, watering down a job protection existing only in California – legal restrictions on the nurse-to-patient ratio. 

Tech giants gained new powers during the pandemic, consolidating more control over the digital industry. More people were forced to work from home and Google and Apple imposed their own standards on how coronavirus apps should track people’s exposure. Still, skepticism toward the industry also grew – federal and state officials filed lawsuits against Google and Facebook’s behavior and general online falsehoods, like QAnon conspiracy theories, ran rife, despite social companies’ efforts to monitor users. 

Times Square, known for its thousands of spectators who traditionally crowd midtown Manhattan, will welcome the new year virtually. The ball-dropping celebration will be broadcast online with various musical performances. The New York City Police Department will set up a perimeter around Times Square Thursday afternoon, prohibiting vehicle and pedestrian traffic ahead of celebrations

NAVIGATING THE PANDEMIC

With limited surveillance of Covid-19 variant, it’s déjà vu all over again – STAT – 12/31/2020
“How I imagined this working is … very similar to back to January, February,” he said. “There are seeding events that have occurred throughout the country. Some have taken, some haven’t.… And you could imagine it should be more likely to be in places like New York and Boston with good travel connections to London, but it could have just by happenstance get picked up a bit elsewhere.”

From volunteering to vaccines … the best of a bad year – The Guardian – 12/31/2020
“In response to unprecedented humanitarian need, we have witnessed equally unprecedented humanity and kindness,” said Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Though the future can seem bleak and the world divided because of this virus, every individual action of solidarity, of peace, of lending a hand and supporting your community counts.”

Six ways to ‘reboot your brain’ after a hard year of COVID-19 – according to science – The Conversation – 12/31/2020
The brain changes during critical periods of development, but is also a lifelong process. Novel experiences, such as learning new skills, can modify both brain function and the underlying brain structure. For example juggling  has been shown to increase white matter (tissue composed of nerve fibers) structures in the brain associated with visuo-motor performance.

Working From Bed Is Actually Great – The New York Times – 12/31/2020
“I wonder if we almost subconsciously don’t accept this is real life,” he said. “Does sitting at a table or desk make it feel more like real life? We all felt like this pandemic would only take so long and it’s still going on. If I sit at my desk all day, does that mean this is how it is going to be full time?”

Pandemic-era hotels now offering Covid-19 test as newest amenity – NBC News – 12/31/2020
The tests are usually offered in partnership with a local laboratory or medical company, and for the most part are at the guest’s own expense. Now that a negative Covid test is required for crossing so many state and country borders, hotels hoping to stand out are adding medical testing to their list of amenities.

WHAT INFLUENCERS ARE SAYING

WDVM 25 @WDVMTV 31 Dec “The safest way to celebrate the new year is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you or virtually with friends and family,” the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

The Quint @TheQuint 31 Dec #FAQ | Which states have imposed restrictions on #NewYear celebrations? What are the precautions to be taken?We break down the rules imposed by different states.

Daniel Lippman @dlippman 31 Dec Must be nice! “New Zealand, which is two hours ahead of Sydney, and several of its South Pacific island neighbors have no COVID-19 cases, and New Year celebrations there are the same as ever.”

Rebekka Schramm @SchrammCBS46 31 Dec Planning to go to a New Year’s Eve bash tonight? Check out this mapping tool by Georgia Tech researchers. It shows your chances of getting the coronavirus based on the location of the party and number of attendees. @cbs46 #NYE

Rachel Donadio @RachelDonadio 31 Dec In April I spoke to a psychiatrist about how the pandemic was reshaping families. “We need to show our closeness, from a distance,” he told me. And so we do. Wishing you all health, purpose, support when you need it, and infinite empathy in 2021.

CONTENT FACTS

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