This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Friday, December 25th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. Citing rising hospitalization rates, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended indoor dining in NYC starting Monday, December 14th. After beingshut down for several weeks, NYC public schools partially reopened on December 7th for 3K-5th grade students, with students with special needs returning on December 10th. Certain parts of Staten Island remain under a zoned shutdown.

Get answers to questions you may have with our "Ask An Epidemiologist" series, or learn more about NYC COVID-19 testing options with our explainer. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here's the latest:


1:58 p.m.: President Donald Trump has thrown into question whether jobless benefits for millions of Americans would expire or be extended this weekend.

After months of a stalemate between Republicans and Democrats, Congress finally passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill that extended a jobless benefits program for freelancers and gig workers, added another 11 weeks of weekly $300 pandemic payments, extended benefits to workers nearing the end of any jobless benefits at all, and instituted a $600 one-time check to many Americans.

Millions across the country and about 1.1 million New Yorkers were slated to lose their jobless benefits come December 26th, until lawmakers reached a deal.

But Trump has now cast doubt on how soon the additional relief would arrive. In a Tuesday address, he said he wanted the bill to add more support for small businesses, increase the one-time check to $2,000, and remove a host of non-coronavirus related measures that were a part of the 5,000+ page legislation to both provide some COVID relief and fund government operations.

Trump didn't explicitly say he'd veto the measure.

But three days after his address, there is no clear indication whether he plans to sign or veto the bill.

The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry. CBS News reports the coronavirus relief and government spending bill was taken to Florida on Christmas Eve to where Trump spent his holiday golfing.

The NY Times noted that usually legislation becomes law 10 days after a bill is enrolled, regardless of the presidential signature. But without Trump's signature, a "pocket veto" is possible because the current 117th Congress ends January 3rd, the newspaper reported.

The jobless benefits extended under the bill would end December 26th if Trump doesn't sign it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to pass $2,000 stimulus payments through unanimous consent, a floor procedure that would speed up passing the measure.

But the procedure needed GOP support in the House, which they declined. Instead, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called for an unanimous consent vote to speed up a review of international operations spending included in the broad package that the president criticized.

"If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction," Pelosi said in a Thursday statement.

The House will hold a vote Monday on a standalone bill to increase the payments, dubbed the CASH Act, sponsored by Rep. Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

On Thursday afternoon, Pelosi said in a tweet, "We urge [the President] to sign this bill into law to give immediate relief to hard-working families."

A report in the Century Foundation estimated 1.1 million people in New York could lose unemployment through the federal programs that extend state benefits beyond the state-set limits (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) and provide jobless benefits to gig-workers and freelancers (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) if they are not re-implemented by the COVID-19 relief bill.

Extra pandemic payments set at $600 a week and then later $300 week already lapsed, but the relief bill would reactivate the program at $300 a week.

The deal would still set up another cliff for loss of benefits 11 weeks from now.

The Century Foundation's senior fellow Andrew Stettner wrote earlier this week: "States will be asked to implement a significant number of new rules for these programs for a law that will only last eleven weeks."

"In reality, many workers won’t receive the benefits until well into this short period—and at that point, the states will be forced to cut it off once again. Worst of all, Congress will be setting itself up for another 10 million-plus worker benefit cut off that will start in mid-March, before the new administration and Congress can be reasonably expected to pass another round of relief," Stettner wrote.

The New York State Department of Labor urged out-of-work New Yorkers to certify their benefits each week.

A spokesperson for the labor department, Deanna Cohen, said the department can't provide an exact number of New Yorkers at risk of losing benefits, since that number fluctuates as some return to work.

"We will update New Yorkers when more information is available and we will work as quickly as possible to get New Yorkers their benefits," Cohen said in a statement. Cohen noted the state had paid $58 billion to 3.9 million New Yorkers since March—27 times a typical year—and distributed previous federal aid sooner than other states.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo released the latest pandemic numbers on Christmas Day: New York's overall positivity rate is 5.49%, 6,950 New Yorkers are hospitalized (up 22 from the day before), and 122 people died of the virus.

"We are in a footrace between distributing the vaccine and slowing the spread," Cuomo said in a statement. "While the state is doing everything it can to get people vaccinated, it's on the rest of us to stay tough and keep practicing safe behaviors in the meantime."

This report has been updated with additional information from the Department of Labor.

Many travelers sit in a departure lounge, while socially distanced

Travelers await departing flights in London's Heathrow Airport on December 20, 2020

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Travelers await departing flights in London's Heathrow Airport on December 20, 2020
Amer Ghazzal/Shutterstock

U.S. Will Require Travelers From U.K. To Test Negative For COVID-19

Nearly a week after British officials raised alarm about a new, apparently highly-transmissible variant of the coronavirus, the United States will require anyone traveling from the United Kingdom—including Americans—to test negative for the virus no more than 72 hours before departing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the guidance late Thursday, and it will go into effect on Monday, December 28th. "Viruses constantly change through mutation, and preliminary analysis in the U.K. suggests that this new variant may be up to 70% more transmissible than previously circulating variants," the CDC said in a statement about the new policy.,

"Passengers are required to get a viral test (i.e., a test for current infection) within the 3 days before their flight from the U.K. to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (in hard copy or electronic) to the airline," the CDC explained in the guidance. "Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers before they board. If a passenger chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger."

The test can be either a PCR or an antigen test. People who may be asymptomatic should first get a PCR test, as antigen tests are recommended for those experiencing their first seven days of symptoms. Also, a negative test is only a snapshot in time—as Dr. Valerie Fitzhugh, a pathologist at Rutgers University, told the NY Times: "'Not detected’ really points to the moment. It wasn’t detected today. That doesn’t mean I won’t have it tomorrow." A current best practice is, if you plan on traveling or seeing other people, to truly avoid contact with other people for a week or longer before getting tested.

On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the three airlines that operate flights from the U.K. into the NYC—Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Delta—to require tests from passengers before the flights. "New York is the only state that has made that request," he said on Wednesday, after pointing out the Trump administration had done nothing. "Why aren't we saying test travelers, period, before they get on a plane and come to the United States? Why wouldn't you do that? This is what happened in the spring. It is deja vu. It is the same mistake the federal government made that killed thousands of people and cost billions of dollars. They lost track of the virus."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week it was likely the variant seen in the U.K. was already here. "When you have this amount of spread within a place like the U.K., you really need to assume that it’s here already. It certainly is not the dominant strain but I would certainly not be surprised at all if it is already here," Fauci said.

New York State is researching the variant at Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany; the lab has already identified 3,700 virus sequences but has not seen the U.K. strain yet. Hospitals who send samples to Wadsworth include Montefiore, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Northwell Long Island, University of Rochester, Albany Medical Center, and Saratoga Hospital. New York City's new Pandemic Response Lab is also sequencing viruses.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced on Wednesday that all travelers from the U.K. who arrive in New York City will receive an order from the NYC Health Commissioner to quarantine. Then, those travelers will receive a visit at their homes or hotels from the NYC Sheriff's department to confirm they are quarantining.

"If you don't comply with the quarantine, that's $1,000 fine to begin, day-one. If you continue not to comply with the quarantine, it is $1,000 for each additional day," he said. "We don't want to penalize people. Everyone has been through hell this year. We don't want to. But, if you don't follow a quarantine, you're endangering everyone else in the city right as we're fighting the second wave."