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Coronavirus updates: Georgia becomes fifth state to report more contagious virus; Montana to lift mask mandate; FBI warns of fraud schemes – USA TODAY

USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as a pair of vaccines join the U.S. fight against a virus that has killed more than 355,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates surrounding the coronavirus, including who is getting the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as other top news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.

In the headlines:

► Georgia became the fifth state to report a case of the more contagious virus strain first identified in the United Kingdom, joining Colorado, California, Florida and New York. The state’s Department of Health said the case was found in an 18-year-old man with no travel history. He is isolating at home. 

► The European Union’s medicines agency gave the green light Wednesday to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, clearing the way for a final approval from the EU’s executive commission. The EU has ordered 80 million doses of the Moderna vaccine with an option for a further 80 million. 

► China blocked a visit from experts with the World Health Organization who were supposed to start investigating the origins of COVID-19 in Wuhan. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a media briefing in Geneva Tuesday he was “very disappointed with this news.”

► Montana Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte on Tuesday announced plans to remove the statewide mask mandate after more vulnerable populations are vaccinated and businesses operate under new COVID-19 directives. Gianforte said he will continue to wear a mask and encourage people to do the same.

► The U.S. reached 21 million cases on Tuesday night, just over four days since reporting 20 million cases, Johns Hopkins data shows.

► Los Angeles County on Tuesday reached another grim milestone of 11,000 coronavirus deaths as cases continue to overwhelm hospitals. L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solida on Monday said the county saw a rise of 400,000 new cases in about a month, the Los Angeles Times reported. In a memo, the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency ordered paramedic crews not to transport patients who have experienced a cardiac arrest and are unable to be revived in the field.

► Hawaii plans to use an online reservation system to vaccinate people to avoid crowds and long lines at distribution centers, officials said Tuesday. Dr. Libby Char, the director of the state Department of Health, said she wants to avoid having older residents wait in long lines to get vaccinated, as some have in Florida.

► As England enters a national lockdown, Britain’s Office for National Statistics says one in every 50 people has been infected with COVID-19 in the last week. The office says the number of people infected in London is even higher. The figure doesn’t include people in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 21 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 357,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 86.3 million cases and 1.86 million deaths.

FBI warns of COVID-related fraud schemes

For the past year, federal law enforcement agencies have received tens of thousands of complaints of fraud tied to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100 cases have been prosecuted, and authorities are expecting this number to rise as states continue to rollout vaccines.

“We’ve been concerned about fraud schemes regarding the vaccine as soon as the vaccine went from an idea to reality … The one thing that we’ve learned throughout this pandemic is that when there’s money to be made, criminals will figure out how to do it,” said FBI Financial Crimes Section Chief Steven Merrill. 

Merrill said he can’t say how many complaints the FBI has received regarding vaccine-related fraud, or how many have been elevated to criminal investigations. But he said officials have seen instances involving websites advertising fake vaccines.

–  Kristine Phillips

COVID-19 sparked flood of workplace lawsuits in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic spawned more than 1,000 workplace-related lawsuits last year and drove a record number of class-action cases as employees sued over disputes over workplace safety, how they’re paid while working from home, and family and medical leave.

In 2020, the pandemic led employees to file 1,005 workplace lawsuits in state and federal courts, according to Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw. Another law firm, Littler Mendelson, based in San Francisco, says the figure was even higher. It estimated 1,425 such cases as of mid-December.

The lawsuits represent just the leading edge of an even bigger wave that’s expected this year, says Gerald Maatman Jr., a Seyfarth partner. Many were filed after employees were laid off during the pandemic, he says.

– Paul Davidson

Grammy Awards postponed to March over COVID-19 concerns

The Grammy Awards have been postponed. Music’s biggest awards show, which had been scheduled for Jan. 31 in Los Angeles, will no longer take place this month because of rising COVID-19 cases in California. The Recording Academy now aims to hold a ceremony on March 14, according to a Tuesday statement.

The smaller-scale event was set to be held at Staples Center, hosted by Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” and broadcast on CBS. Only presenters and performers would be there, and the show would feature no audience. 

“We’re going to be doing as much as we can within reason and continue to be safe,” Harvey Mason Jr., interim CEO/president of the Recording Academy, told USA TODAY in November. “We’re really being respectful of what the medical professionals and political leaders are telling us, as far as what we can and cannot do.” An audience was unlikely, he said, but live performances and awards-receiving portions of the show were planned.

– Patrick Ryan

Contributing: The Associated Press

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