Here are things to know for Monday, Dec. 21:
1. Congress seals agreement on $900 billion COVID relief bill
Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal Sunday on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.
The agreement, announced by congressional leaders, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.
2. Woman accused of sending Trump ricin charged in Texas
A Canadian woman accused of mailing packages containing the deadly poison ricin to the White House and several Texas law enforcement agencies has been indicted on new federal charges of making interstate threats and violating prohibitions on biological weapons.
A grand jury in Brownsville, Texas, on Monday handed up sixteen counts against Pascale Ferrier, court records show. The 53-year-old resident of the Montreal area is in federal custody in Washington, D.C. on similar charges, prosecutors said Tuesday.
3. Panel: People over 75, essential workers next for vaccines
A federal advisory panel recommended Sunday that people 75 and older and essential workers like firefighters, teachers and grocery store workers should be next in line for COVID-19 shots, while a second vaccine began rolling out to hospitals as the nation works to get the coronavirus pandemic under control.
The two developments came amid a vaccination program that began only in the last week and has given initial shots to about 556,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
4. Viral spread: Americans paying the price for Thanksgiving
With some Americans now paying the price for what they did over Thanksgiving and falling sick with COVID-19, health officials are warning people — begging them, even — not to make the same mistake during the Christmas and New Year’s season.
Across the country, contact tracers and emergency room doctors are hearing repeatedly from new coronavirus patients that they socialized over Thanksgiving with people outside their households, despite emphatic public-health warnings to stay home and keep their distance from others.
The virus was raging across the nation even before Thanksgiving but was showing some signs of flattening out. It has picked up steam since, with new cases per day regularly climbing well over 200,000.
5. Racism targets Asian food, business during COVID-19 pandemic
As the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S., bigotry toward Asian Americans was not far behind, fueled by the news that COVID-19 first appeared in China.
Some initial evidence suggested the virus began in bats, which infected another animal that may have spread it to people at one of Wuhan, China’s “wet markets.” Such markets sell fresh meat, fish and vegetables, and some also sell live animals, such as chickens, that are butchered on site to ensure freshness for consumers.
The information quickly got distorted in the U.S., spurring racist memes on social media that portrayed Chinese people as bat eaters responsible for spreading the virus, and reviving century-old tropes about Asian food being dirty.