VIRUS TODAY: Vaccine deal reached, jobless claims still high

Here’s what’s happening Wednesday with the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

— Drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech have reached a $2 billion deal to supply the U.S. government with an additional 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which they expect to deliver by July 31. Pfizer already has a contract to supply the government with 100 million doses of its vaccine, which requires two doses per patient.

— President Donald Trump is attacking a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package approved by Congress, demanding higher direct payments to Americans that his fellow Republicans had opposed and complaining of “wasteful” spending elsewhere in the massive legislation. It’s unclear whether Trump plans a veto, which would derail long-awaited aid to individuals and businesses unless lawmakers override his action.

— The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 89,000 last week to a still-elevated 803,000. That suggests the job market remains under stress nine months after the coronavirus outbreak sent the U.S. economy into recession and caused millions of layoffs. Before the virus struck, applications typically numbered around 225,000 a week.

THE NUMBERS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from from 2,219 on Dec. 8 to 2,715 on Dec. 22, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

DEATH TOLL: The U.S. death toll stands at 323,510 people, roughly the same as the population of Lexington, Kentucky.

QUOTABLE: “I know that God’s got me. He’s not going to let me get sick.” — Jennifer Brownlee, 34, a fisherman from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, who was waiting at the airport in Tampa, Florida, to fly to Oregon to see her mother, who just lost a leg.

ICYMI: Patients in many U.S. hospitals who can’t have visitors because of the pandemic are getting a little holiday cheer in the form of greeting cards. A variety of organizations, schoolchildren and others have made or bought cards and sent them to the institutions for distribution to patients.

ON THE HORIZON: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says sheriff’s deputies will visit homes or hotel rooms of travelers coming from the United Kingdom to ensure compliance with the city’s two-week COVID-19 quarantine requirement. De Blasio announced the action amid growing concern about a new, fast spreading strain of the virus that has been detected in the U.K.

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