Here are the headlines you Need2Know for Thursday, December 17, 2020:


Infections, hospitalizations and deaths are breaking records as the coronavirus is currently in a state of uncontrolled spread virtually everywhere in the U.S. More than 3,600 people died on Wednesday, nearly 500 more than the record set a week ago. Six months ago, the country was reporting about 25,000 new daily cases. Now, nearly that many daily cases are coming out of Los Angeles County alone. California, which has more infections than most countries in the world, is opening field hospitals across the state. Still, some good news: pharmacists are finding that the Pfizer vaccine vials hold one or two more doses than thought, potentially expanding the current supply by as much as 40 percent. STAT


Congressional leaders have reportedly agreed on the broad outlines of a new stimulus bill, with a deal possible as soon as today. The $900 billion package is expected to include another round of direct cash payments to every American, likely in the $600 range. A weekly enhanced unemployment benefit of $300 through March is also part of the framework, as is $300 billion or so for small business relief. Not included: funding for state and local governments and a liability protection for businesses. Lawmakers are racing against the clock to get a deal done and a bill passed. New data shows U.S. retail sales declining for the first time since the spring, a bad sign for the important holiday shopping season and more evidence that consumers are not spending as the pandemic worsens. POLITICO


Snow has been falling by as much as two inches an hour in parts of the Northeast. NYC is waking up to the most snow it has seen since 2016. Flight delays are widespread and many schools and COVID testing sites are closed. A pileup on I-80 in Pennsylvania involving dozens of cars left at least two people dead. The system will move out to sea this afternoon and will be mostly done by about 4 p.m. ET. TRACK


The federal government spent billions of dollars over the last decade to beef up its cyber defenses, creating a system called Einstein that was supposed to determine if government computer systems came under attack. It somehow failed to notice a major Russian hack of federal networks that went on for months and was only recently uncovered. The White House has played down the extent of the breach, but the cybersecurity world is said to be extremely alarmed by the failure to catch it. The hack, the extent of which is still unknown, is considered among the greatest intelligence failures in modern history. NY TIMES


Apple and Facebook are notoriously bitter Silicon Valley rivals, and their mutual dislike is now spilling into the open. Facebook took out a full-page ad in major national newspapers this week to attack an upcoming privacy feature on Apple’s iOS that Facebook says will harm small businesses. The company is also joining an antitrust lawsuit brought by Epic Games over Apple’s App Store fees. Apple, meanwhile, has been highlighting the iPhone’s privacy features to make clear to consumers that any tracking that’s being done is coming from third-party developers like Facebook, and not Apple itself. YAHOO FINANCE


Bitcoin has crossed $20,000 for the first time, hitting another all-time high at the end of a year that saw its price go up 400 percent. The famously volatile asset has been on fire since hitting a bottom in March, benefiting from more and more Wall St. firms taking positions in the cryptocurrency as a hedge against inflation. BLOOMBERG


Major League Baseball says it will retroactively elevate the Negro Leagues to major-league status, “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history.” The Negro Leagues, which were in place from the 1920s until the Jackie Robinson era, produced some of the best baseball players ever to play, but their stats were never officially considered part of MLB history. That will now change, and the effects will alter the league’s record books in ways that are bound to be controversial. WSJ


...Sir Ian McKellen, getting his COVID-19 vaccine shot at a hospital in London. The 81-year-old actor said: “Anyone who has lived as long as I have is alive because they have had previous vaccinations”: SEE PIC

… Santa Claus, getting his COVID-19 vaccine shot at a hospital in Las Vegas. Dr. Fauci has said St. Nick is immune from the virus, but given his risk factors, he wasn’t taking any chances: SEE PIC


HBO Max is coming to Roku, at long last. WarnerMedia and Roku have reached an agreement to bring the streaming service to Roku’s 46 million active users ahead of an onslaught of new Warner Bros. movies that will debut directly on the platform. That begins next week with Wonder Woman 1984, which will drop on the app on Christmas Day. Warner continues to see more fallout from that decision to smash the theatrical window, with much of Hollywood in open revolt against the studio, and its parent company working overtime on damage control. DEADLINE


For the first time, the Times Square ball will ring in a new year without crowds of revelers below. The plans are out for the New Year’s Eve celebrations at the so-called Crossroads of the World: spectators won’t be allowed in, but the TV broadcasts will go on, with a focus on recognizing essential workers. Jason Derulo, Pentatonix, Goo Goo Dolls and Bebe Rexha are among the performers, but the highlight is likely to be Gloria Gaynor. The legendary disco singer, now 77, will perform I Will Survive, her classic hit all about perseverance, to ring in 2021. NBC NY

Listen to the N2K Podcast! Looking for more context and analysis on the big stories of the day? Check out our podcast! Hosts Jill and Carlo break down the headlines, every weekday morning Listen on Apple or Spotify, or watch on YouTube, and send us your feedback!

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