Family birthday party in Texas leads to 15 virus cases
Fifteen members of a Texas family tested positive for Covid-19 after gathering for a birthday party earlier this month.
Alexa Aragonez, 26, of Arlington, Texas, who did not attend the Nov. 1 party, said she wasn’t concerned when she dropped off her 57-year-old mother, Enriqueta Aragonez, at her cousin’s house.
“We thought that we were not necessarily immune but taking greater precautions than the average person,” Alexa Aragonez said. “Unfortunately, the one precaution that we didn’t take was attending a gathering in a closed area.”
Three days later, all 12 family members who attended and three other attendees tested positive for Covid-19. Aragonez said she believes they contracted the virus from a cousin who felt unwell but attributed the symptoms to allergies.
Aragonez’s mother spent multiple days in two different hospitals after contracting pneumonia and struggling to breathe. Since her release, she continues to have lingering symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and fatigue, Aragonez said.
“When my mother went to the hospital, our world was collapsing,” she said. “She is the matriarch of our family, and seeing someone as strong as her succumb to the virus was quite, quite awful.”
Her mother was the only one hospitalized, but it rattled family members who felt guilty about exposing her to the virus.
“My family was a family that thought we were doing everything right. We thought masks were enough. Washing your hands, disinfecting our homes, only going to the grocery store,” Aragonez said. “Please, if you can, stay apart during Thanksgiving and during the holiday season.”
U.S. Rhodes Scholars chosen virtually for first time
The U.S. Rhodes Scholars for 2021 were elected virtually this year for the first time amid the pandemic, though it didn’t extinguish enthusiasm among the 32 students who won scholarships to Oxford University.
The Rhodes Trust announced the winners early Sunday, which include 22 students of color. Ten are Black, which ties the record for the most Black students elected in a single year.
Shera Avi-Yonah, 22, a Harvard University student, said she found out about her win Saturday night while sitting in her parents’ basement in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
“A wave of gratitude washed over me,” Avi-Yonah said, adding that she ran upstairs to tell her parents. “I’m going to have a very happy Thanksgiving.”
The winners were chosen from a pool of more than 2,300 applicants — of which 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities to study at Oxford University in England.
Oklahoma mega-church changes ‘Friendsgiving’ plans, holds boxed food giveaway
Victory Church, the Oklahoma mega-church that had come under fire for hosting large, indoor events and had scheduled a “Friendsgiving” for Sunday, changed course and instead opted to hold a boxed food giveaway, according to a statement from the church.
“We did not have the Friendsgiving event today that we do every year. This year we changed it up and gave away boxed meals with turkeys, hams, and dry goods for those in need to take home and prepare for their families,” Daniel Henshaw, director of operations for Victory Church, wrote in an email to NBC News.
It’s unclear when the change was made and it appears up until recently, the church had advertised “Friendsgiving” on social media, telling members to bring a neighbor, according to multiple reports.
The church had recently come under fire for not only the Friendsgiving event, but also for recent large, indoor gatherings.
“As a church we will always help those in need the most, as this year alone we have given out over 13 million meals. Those in our community who rely on us the most always know they can find help here at Victory,” Henshaw said.
In a separate statement, Henshaw said services continued this weekend but abided by Covid-19 guidelines.
“We are holding our services this weekend, as we have done each weekend, in accordance with the guidelines of operating at 50% capacity of our sanctuary, signage for social distancing and mask, extra cleaning and disinfecting of our facilities, and hand sanitizing stations throughout,” Henshaw said.
Oklahoma mega-church under fire for large indoor events amid Covid spikes
Victory Church, a Tulsa, Oklahoma,-based mega-church with a reported membership of approximately 13,000 people, has come under fire for holding large indoor events that appear to be maskless and don’t appear to be socially distanced.
On Sunday, the church hosted a “Friendsgiving,” in which it encouraged members to bring a neighbor.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves. People are going to die because you’ve prioritized making money at your little Jesus concerts over the lives of people in a global pandemic,” one person tweeted, along with a photo of an event at the church.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended holding virtual Thanksgiving events when possible.
Covid-19 cases in Oklahoma have been on the rise, and this month, Tulsa has reported some of its highest daily case totals since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Kansas City Star.
An executive order from Tulsa’s mayor says gatherings of 500 or more people need to submit a Covid-19 safety plan for approval to the Tulsa Health Department two weeks in advance of the event. The Tulsa Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by NBC News.
It was unclear if Victory Church had submitted a safety plan to the department and what, if any, consequences it could face for hosting the recent large gatherings if it did not.
Victory Church and its pastor Paul Daugherty did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NY Gov. Cuomo says he will prioritize keeping K-8 schools open
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday he will prioritize keeping kindergarten through eighth grade classes in-person open as Covid-19 cases rise in the state.
The governor said schools in the “red zone,” which mandates they go remote, can reopen under a “test out” option, where the students are all tested and allowed to return to in-person instruction. He also said he would prioritize getting younger kids in school, saying high schoolers are “less responsible” and tend to have higher infection rates.
“Leading experts say keep K-8 schools open,” Cuomo said. “It’s safer for children to be in schools than in the community.”
The governor also said that up to a three percent positivity rate, school districts can control what they do.
Incoming White House chief of staff says Biden planning scaled-back inauguration
Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday that Americans can expect to see a scaled-back inauguration on Jan. 20 due to the continued surge in Covid-19 cases across the U.S.
“I think it’s going to definitely have to be changed,” Klain said. “We started some consultations with House and Senate leadership on that. Obviously, this is not going to be the same kind of inauguration we had in the past.”
Klain said President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are “going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of disease.”
“I think we’ll have some mix of those techniques, some mix of, you know, scaled-down versions of the existing traditions,” Klain added. “People have a lot to celebrate on January 20th.”
WHO Covid envoy fears third wave, calls Europe response ‘incomplete’
A World Health Organization (WHO) special Covid-19 envoy predicted a third wave of the pandemic in Europe in early 2021, if governments repeat what he said was a failure to do what was needed to prevent the second wave of infections.
“They missed building up the necessary infrastructure during the summer months, after they brought the first wave under the control,” the WHO’s David Nabarro said in an interview with Swiss newspapers.
“Now we have the second wave. If they don’t build the necessary infrastructure, we’ll have a third wave early next year,” Nabarro said.
Nabarro lauded the response of Asian countries like South Korea, where infections are now relatively low, saying Asia did not relax restrictions prematurely.
“You must wait until case numbers are low and stay low,” he said. “Europe’s reaction was incomplete.”
The joy of weddings is leading to the misery of coronavirus spread across America
The unholy union of weddings receptions and coronavirus has public health officers pleading with Americans to say “I don’t” to pandemic nuptials.
Between the Pacific Northwest and forests of Maine, all across the country, joyous expressions of love have become Covid-19 superspreaders, fueling the fall season’s deadly coronavirus spike.
“Weddings are so dangerous in this day and age, quite honestly you’re just asking for trouble,” said Ali H. Mokdad, chief strategy officer for Population Health at the University of Washington.
“Weddings are very dangerous at this time especially as the infection rate is higher and weddings now are happening indoors and not outdoors,” Mokdad told NBC News.
“And you hug your friend, you hug your family members, you do that. In many cultures, we kiss. We kiss each other. You come close to them, especially people you haven’t seen in a long time. You want to catch up. You’re laughing, you’re joking and yes, you’re spreading the virus more than ever.”
France to start easing lockdown rules in three steps
“There will be three steps to (lockdown) easing in view of the health situation and of risks tied to some businesses: a first step around Dec. 1, then before the year-end holidays, and then from January 2021,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Le Journal Du Dimanche.
With recent data showing France on track to rein in a surge in coronavirus infections, the government is under pressure from shops and businesses to ease restrictions in time for the Christmas shopping season.
President Emmanuel Macron has said that France’s second national lockdown, which started on Oct. 30, would last at least four weeks. He is expected to announce a partial relaxation of restrictions on Tuesday.
Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler quarantining after inconclusive test results
Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler is quarantining after receiving inconclusive Covid-19 test results following multiple campaign appearances earlier this week, her campaign said Saturday.
The news comes one day after Loeffler, a Republican locked in a competitive runoff race that could determine the balance of power in Congress, attended two campaign events on Friday alongside Vice President Mike Pence.
In photos shared on Twitter, neither Loeffler nor Pence appeared to be wearing masks.
According to her campaign, Loeffler took two rapid tests Friday morning before the events. The results came back negative. She was later informed that her PCR test, considered the gold standard in detecting genetic material specific to the coronavirus, was positive.
She was retested Saturday after consulting with medical officials and that result was inconclusive, Loeffler campaign spokesperson Stephen Lawson said in a statement. Loeffler remains asymptotic and will remain in quarantine until receiving conclusive test results, Lawson added.
Pence’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.