Monday News: Six thousand, two hundred twenty four


NEARLY HALF A MILLION HAVE CONTRACTED VIRUS IN NC: At least 479,168 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus and 6,224 have died, according to state health officials. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday reported 6,900 new COVID-19 cases, up from 6,164 reported the day before and the third-highest daily total since the start of the pandemic. At least 2,748 people in North Carolina were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday. About 10.6% of tests were reported positive as of Friday, the latest day for which data are available. Triangle food pantries are struggling to meet demand as more families are turning to them during the coronavirus pandemic and as a key federal program has run out of money early.

WAKE COUNTY HAS 6 FREE COVID TESTING SITES TODAY: Swinburne Parking Lot Drive-Thru Testing 2845 Kidd Road, Raleigh 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Radeas Labs Drive-Thru Testing 907 Gateway Commons Circle, Wake Forest 7 a.m.–2 p.m. Departure Drive Building Drive-Thru Testing 5809 Departure Drive, Raleigh 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Sanderford Road Park 2623 Sanderford Road, Raleigh 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Carolina Pines Park 2305 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Brentwood Park 3315 Vinson Place, Raleigh 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Appointments are not needed to get a test. Check Wake County's COVID-19 testing website for future dates and times.

CONGRESS PASSES $900 BILLION RELIEF BILL, FUNDING FOR STATES & MUNICIPALITIES ABSENT: The legislation includes $600 stimulus checks per person, including adults and children. That means a family of four would receive $2,400, up to a certain income threshold. Congress will extend unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week. The benefit could kick in as early as Dec. 27 and run at least through March 14. An unemployment benefits program for contract and gig workers, which is set to expire at the end of the year, would be extended, too. The bill includes more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofit organizations and news outlets, and modifications to the program to serve small businesses, nonprofits and independent restaurants. The agreement extends until Jan. 31 a moratorium on evictions that was slated to expire at the end of the year. The incoming Biden administration can extend the deadline further. The bill includes $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters, although it remains unclear how the money will be distributed. The package includes legislation to end surprise billing for emergency and scheduled care; provides a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave; $13 billion in increased food stamps and nutrition benefits; and $7 billion to increase access to broadband.

OVER 1.3 MILLION HAVE ALREADY VOTED IN GEORGIA'S (2) U.S. SENATE RUNOFF ELECTIONS: About 36,000 Georgians who didn’t vote in November cast ballots early for the January runoffs, according to state data. That includes people who were too young to vote last month. Voters have been subject to a barrage of get-out-the-vote activity and advertising. Already, campaigns and independent groups have spent more than $400 million on advertisements, ad spending data shows. “These are highly motivated people who want to get in and do this stuff. We don’t know if it’ll stay at this level,” especially with the holidays approaching, said Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the Georgia secretary of state’s office who manages the voter information system. Biden is the first Democratic presidential candidate to win in the traditionally red state since 1992. “There’s a lot on the line,” Sterling said. “People’s emotions are raw right now. One side is elated and celebrating, and the other side is spitting nails.” Demographic data released by the Georgia secretary of state’s office shows the Black share of the early vote for the Jan. 5 election is slightly up, at more than 30 percent, compared with those who voted early in November. The age breakdown so far is roughly similar to this point in the general election, with the median age of voters at 61.

EU INSTITUTES TRAVEL BAN WITH UNITED KINGDOM OVER CORONAVIRUS MUTATION: Canada and India joined European states in blocking flights from the UK while Europe-bound train services via the Channel Tunnel have been halted. The new variant is said to be up to 70% more transmissible but there is no evidence that it is more deadly. There is also no proof to suggest that it reacts differently to vaccines. There is an appetite in Brussels for a more co-ordinated response partly because the EU felt that at the beginning of the pandemic earlier in the year the member states had adopted an "every-country-for-itself" approach which threatened the very idea of European co-operation, BBC Europe Correspondent Kevin Connolly writes. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC News earlier that the new variant was "out of control", while Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands announced they had already detected it. Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all suspended flights from the UK. Italy blocked all flights from the UK until 6 January, while the Netherlands banned all passenger flights from the UK until 1 January "at the latest". Ferry passengers are also barred from arriving in the Netherlands from the UK, although freight can continue.