Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Dec. 16: Jail Time for Women Who Fraudulently Rented Out Covid Isolation Rooms, Ron DeSantis’ About Face on Vaccines


The San Francisco skyline

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 981st day of the pandemic.

You don’t want to be Tatiana Benjamin, also known as Ta Banks, or Lyric Muvaa today.  The two women defrauded a New York City program known as the Hotel Room Isolation Program to the tune of $400,000. The program offered free hotel rooms to help those with SARS-CoV-2 isolate.

The two, along with two accomplices, claimed to be healthcare workers, which they were most decidedly not, to obtain rooms under the program.  They then used Facebook to advertise and sell the fraudulently obtained hotel rooms to people who were not eligible to participate in the program, according to the New York City Department of Investigation. The two sold 1,936 rooms from April to July of 2020.

Both now face 20-year prison sentences and will be sentenced in the coming months.

In news we cover today, a San Francisco restaurant prevailed in its Covid insurance claim, Ron DeSantis’ makes an about-face about vaccines, and the Covid death toll in the United States is up 50% over the past 14 days.


A new study shows that average medical costs for patients with Long Covid were $9,500 in the first six months.  The study was conducted by Nomi Health, a low-cost healthcare provider.


In an interview with MSNBC, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor, encouraged more Americans to get the latest booster shot, saying that the country has to do better than the current 13% utilization rate for the bivalent booster.

“It’s really unconscionable and painful to see someone who suffers and dies, and perhaps influences their family to suffer and die, based on an ideological consideration,” he said.

After months of promoting coronavirus vaccines as safe, Governor Ron DeSantis is now calling for an investigation into what he apparently believes is misleading information from the pharmaceutical companies over the safety of the new mRNA vaccines, particularly cardiac-related deaths tied to the vaccines in young men.  Once DeSantis announced the plan, a plethora of older interviews flooded social media and newscasts in which the governor repeatedly branded the vaccines as safe, effective, and necessary.

A San Francisco restaurant prevailed in a dispute with its insurance company over a pandemic-related insurance claim.  John’s Grill, home of long martini lunches, said it settled with the Hartford in a lawsuit that resulted in at least partial coverage of business losses incurred during the early days of the pandemic.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health put into place a new set of rules that no longer require employers to pay workers who stay home due to contracting Covid.


Now here are the daily statistics for Friday, December 16.

As of Friday morning, the world has recorded 656.6 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.8 million cases, and 6.67 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 630.6 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.3 million.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Friday at press time is 19,282,781, an increase of 434,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 19,244,795, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 37,986, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 135,697 new coronavirus infections on Friday for the previous day, compared to 154,709 on Thursday, 49,268 on Wednesday, 48,045 on Tuesday, and 5,285 on Monday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 7-day incidence rate is now 62,546.  Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 64,889, an increase of 33% averaged over the past 14 days, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 373, an increase of 50% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 40,065, an increase of 18%. In addition, the number of patients in ICUs was 4,561, an increase of 18%.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Friday, recorded 101.7 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of just over 1.1 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, just under 44.7 million, and a reported death toll of 530,663.

The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States.  Rosstat reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.

Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 38.7 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 36.9 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 691,435, has recorded 35.8 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.

The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are South Korea, with 28.1 million cases, Japan, with 26.8 million, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with 24.7 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.1 million, and Russia, with 21.7 million.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Thursday, 267.9 million people in the United States – or 80.7% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 68.9%, or 228.8 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 660.4 million. Breaking this down further, 91.6% of the population over the age of 18 – or 236.6million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 78.7% of the same group – or 203.1 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 16.3% of the same population, or over 41.9 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine.

Starting on June 13, 2022, the CDC began to update vaccine data on a weekly basis and publish the updated information on Thursdays by 8 p.m. EDT, a statement on the agency’s website said.

Some 68.6% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Friday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.06 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 2.16 million doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 25.1% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.

In addition, with the start of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.

Anna Breuer contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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