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Dec. 30, 2020, 2:23 p.m. EST

U.S. sets record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, as country’s first case of new U.K. variant is found in Colorado

Health experts continue to lament slow rollout of vaccines in U.S. after much-ballyhooed authorizations were granted in early December

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

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The U.K. government said the authorization will allow for the country’s entire population to be vaccinated. The U.K. has been effectively isolated from the rest of the world, as the new variant has rapidly spread.

In other news:

• Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203149337/composite REGN +2.98% said initial data from its Phase 1/2/3 clinical trial of its antibody cocktail in hospitalized COVID-19 patients requiring low-flow oxygen passed a futility analysis, meaning there was sufficient efficacy to warrant continuing the trial. “The results passed the futility analysis (p<0.3 one-sided), as seronegative patients treated with the antibody cocktail had a lower risk of death or receiving mechanical ventilation (HR: 0.78; 80% CI: 0.51-1.2),” the company said in a statement. “The benefit was driven by results starting one week post-treatment, when the risk of death or receiving mechanical ventilation was reduced by approximately half with antibody cocktail treatment, based on a post-hoc analysis.” The company is pinning its hopes on the U.K.-based Recovery trial to provide further evidence the antibody helps lower the risk of death. That trial has enrolled more than 2,000 hospitalized patients. The antibody cocktail, reportedly used in the treatments of President Trump, Trump cabinet member Ben Carson and Trump adviser Chris Christie, was granted emergency-use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November.

• Luke Letlow, an incoming Republican member of the U.S. House from Louisiana, died Tuesday night from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office, the AP reported. He was 41. He was admitted to a Monroe, La., hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care. Letlow campaigned at indoor locations without wearing a face mask, the Washington Post reported, and warned of the danger posed to the economy by measures put in place to arrest the virus’s spread.

See now: CDC issues COVID-19 vaccine guidance for Americans with HIV, Guillain-Barré and other underlying conditions

• California is extending a strict stay-at-home order as hospital intensive-care units are running out of beds, the AP reported. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, said that Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley still have what is considered no ICU capacity to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus and that the state’s restrictions would continue in those regions. Much of the state is under orders to stay home. Ghaly implored the state’s 40 million residents to do just that, and to continue social distancing and wearing masks if they must go out this holiday weekend. He said that while hospital and positivity rates appear to be stabilizing from a Thanksgiving-related surge, that isn’t the case in the southern part of the state, including Los Angeles County.

• Germany suffered a record number of deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, just days after launching a vaccination program, the Guardian reported. The number of confirmed cases rose by 22,459 to 1.7 million, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. The death toll rose by 1,129 to 32,107.

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Latest tallies

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 82 million on Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll rose to 1.79 million. At least 46 million people have recovered from COVID-19.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 192,681 and is third by cases at 7.6 million.

India is second worldwide in cases with 10.2 million, and third in deaths at 148,439.

Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 123,845 and 13th highest case tally at 1.4 million.

Italy has 73,604 fatalities, the highest in Europe, and 2.1 million cases. The U.K. has 2.4 million cases, the most in Europe, and 712,656, second-highest in Europe and sixth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 95,797 confirmed cases and 4,777 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

A measure of business conditions in the Chicago area rose December, bucking a trend in other parts of the country where growth has slowed in the face of a record coronavirus outbreak, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The Chicago PMI edged up to 59.5 from 58.2, its first increase in three months. Reading above 50 indicate an expanding economy.

Measures of employment and production both improved, but the growth in new orders slipped a bit.

Looking ahead, 45% of the business executives surveyed expect sales to grow less than 5% in 2021. And 43% see growth ranging from 5% to 10%. Most companies said they are unsure if they will adjust their spending plans next year because of the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines. That indicates they are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

The Chicago PMI is the last of the regional manufacturing indices before the national ISM factory data for December is released next Tuesday.

Separately, the U.S. trade deficit in goods climbed 5.5% in November to a record high, reflecting weaker U.S. exports tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The trade gap in goods widened to $84.8 billion in November from a revised $80.4 billion in October, the government said Wednesday. Imports of goods such as consumer electronics and industrial supplies rose 2.6% to $212 billion in November. Goods imports were up 5.5% compared with a year earlier. Exports rose less than 1% to $127.2 billion, however, and they are down 6.6% compared with one year ago.

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Ciara Linnane is MarketWatch's investing- and corporate-news editor. She is based in New York.

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