Coronavirus updates: Los Angeles County hospitals ponder rationing care; CVS begins vaccinations in nursing homes; Joe Biden gets vaccine

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 319,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates on vaccine distribution, including who is getting the shots and where, as well as other COVID-19 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: 

► U.S. health officials remain opposed to banning flights from the United Kingdom despite increased calls for such a move, which has been imposed by a growing number of countries amid the rapid spread of a new strain of coronavirus in London and elsewhere. Canada, Germany, France and Italy are among the countries barring travelers from the U.K., which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also advocating.

► Thirty days shy of taking office, President-elect Joe Biden received his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in a televised inoculation in Newark, Delaware. Biden and his wife, Jill, got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will be due for their second dose in three weeks. Vice President Mike Pence was also vaccinated publicly last week in an effort to build trust in the new shots, but President Trump is not known to have been inoculated.

► Around 5.9 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are being rolled out to 3,500 locations around the country this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday. That's in addition to the 2 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine expected to be distributed this week, said Azar, who added that federal officials expect around 50 million people to have received their first dose of a vaccine by the end of January.

► Medical experts say COVID-19 vaccines likely will be just as effective against the new strain of the coronavirus in because vaccine makers routinely take mutations into account. Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert at the University of South Carolina, told USA TODAY, "These changes in the viral composition are expected." Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, made similar comments on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

► The National Institutes of Health is hoping to launch a clinical study to examine what's behind the rare allergic reactions to the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that a handful of health care workers in the U.K. and U.S. had, the Washington Post reported Monday.

► More than three out of five states have had their deadliest week of the pandemic just this month, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows. California alone has reported about 10 deaths every hour and set a new record for deaths in the seven-day period ending Sunday.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 319,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 77.3 million cases and 1.7 million deaths. 

Here's a closer look at today's top stories: 

Overwhelmed Los Angeles hospitals ponder rationing life-saving care

Some hospitals in Los Angeles County, which has recorded 100,000 coronavirus cases in a little over a week, are making plans for the increasing possibility they may have to ration care to critically ill patients as the spike in infections leaves them strapped for personnel and equipment.

A document recently circulated among doctors at four county hospitals proposed that instead of trying to save every life, their goal could shift to saving as many patients as possible – meaning those less likely to survive would not get the same kind of care, the Los Angeles Times reported.

New coronavirus infections in California have more than tripled since the start of the month to the current weekly average of 40,000-plus a day, while hospitalizations have soared in two months from about 2,200 to more than 16,000.

L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly told the newspaper that emergency measures were not yet in place and at the moment the county has enough beds and equipment, but not sufficient trained personnel despite bringing in new staff members and redeploying others. "These measures are not anticipated to be enough to meet the continuously escalating number of patients that are presenting across the county for care,” she said.

Operation Warp Speed head: Not clear whether UK virus is more transmissible

Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to the government's Operation Warp Speed, says more evidence is needed before saying the strain of the virus in the United Kingdom is more transmissible.

"I think, scientifically to date, there is no hard evidence that this virus is actually more transmissible," Slaoui said during a news conference Monday. "There is clear evidence that there is more of it in the population."

Slaoui said it's possible that the strain spread widely among the population in England before it was genetically sequenced and tracked. Because it was not being monitored until now, more research is needed to determine whether it is simply surging in the population similar to how other strains are or is more transmissible than other strains.

A study of the virus's transmissibility would take several weeks and rely on animal studies, Slaoui said, adding that it's clear this strain does not cause severe disease more than other strains and that he expects the vaccine to be effective against it.

CVS begins vaccinations in nursing homes

CVS Health on Monday began vaccinating residents and staff of long-term care facilities in 12 states, the first step in an inoculation campaign against the coronavirus that will extend to virtually every state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Walgreens and other drug stores will also conduct COVID-19 vaccinations as part of what the CDC calls the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program.

CVS, which plans to expand its campaign to 36 more states and Washington, D.C., on Dec. 28, said in a statement that its representatives will visit each of its assigned facilities three times and that the majority of residents and staff will have received both vaccine doses within four weeks of the first visit.

"CVS Health expects to complete its long-term care facility vaccination effort in approximately 12 weeks," the statement said.

The vaccinations in hard-hit New Jersey will start a week later than originally scheduled -- next Monday -- because the state's health department missed the deadline for submitting the required paperwork, leading to political recriminations.

Contributing: The Associated Press