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In our news wrap Thursday, a second COVID-19 vaccine moves closer to emergency authorization, President-elect Biden rounds out his environmental team, Vladimir Putin denies ordering opposition leader's poisoning, more than 340 boys kidnapped in Nigeria are freed, the family that owns Purdue Pharma admits Oxycontin has helped fuel opioid addictions, and Google faces another major antitrust lawsuit.
In the day's other news: A panel of experts endorsed a second COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. They recommended the Moderna vaccine to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as deaths nationwide passed 310,000.
In California, hospital staffers now have beds in hallways and ambulances lined up, and it's getting worse, with 100,000 new infections there in two days.
Nurses and physicians and all the health care workers are really working so hard through this, hours and hours and hours and hours per day nonstop. People are taking two shifts just to get through this.
Meanwhile, weekly claims for unemployment benefits jumped to 885,000. That is the most since September.
And overseas, French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for COVID-19. He said that he will self-isolate for a week.
President-elect Joe Biden is rounding out his environmental team. The "NewsHour" has confirmed that Michael Regan is the choice for the Environmental Protection Agency. He now leads North Carolina's Environmental Agency.
And New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland is being tapped for interior secretary. She would be the first Native American to serve in the Cabinet.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin denied today that his government ordered opposition leader Alexei Navalny poisoned last August. Navalny was dosed with a Soviet-era nerve agent, but is now recovering. Putin held his annual news conference today, and he accused U.S. intelligence agencies of supporting the dissident.
Vladimir Putin(through translator):
If this is right, then it's interesting, and those services have to look after him. But it doesn't mean that it's necessary to poison him. Who cares about him? If somebody wanted him poisoned, they would have finished him off.
An investigation by several news organizations has identified Russian security agents as those who carried out the poisoning.
More than 340 boys kidnapped in Northern Nigeria have now been freed. They'd been kidnapped last week by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Now a top state official says that government agents recovered most of the boys today. He did not say if a ransom was paid.
Back in this country, a major snowstorm broke records across the Northeast and New England today. Williamsport, Pennsylvania, got more than two feet. That's the most since 1964. And parts of Upstate New York got three feet. In New York City, snowplows and shovels were busy after six inches of snow overnight. That's more than the city got all of last winter.
Members of the family that owns Purdue Pharma acknowledged today that the painkiller OxyContin has helped fuel opioid addictions. The epidemic is blamed for 470,000 deaths across the U.S.
But at a virtual U.S. House hearing, David and Kathe Sackler did not apologize or admit personal wrongdoing.
Is there anything that I could have done differently knowing what I knew then, not what I know now? And I have to say, I can't — there is nothing that I can find that I would have done differently, based on what I believed and understood then.
Purdue Pharma has admitted criminal wrongdoing and will pay $8 billion in fines. The Sacklers do not face criminal prosecution.
The CDC reports that drug overdose deaths in the U.S. topped 81,000 in the 12 months ending last May. That's a record, and it's getting worse as COVID-19 disrupts daily life. The agency says the upheaval can hit drug abusers especially hard.
Google is now facing a third major antitrust action; 35 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico sued today. They charged that the company has an illegal monopoly over online search results; 10 other states and the U.S. Justice Department have separate suits pending against Google.
And on Wall Street, the major indexes finished at record highs, on hope for economic relief from Congress. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 148 points to close at 30303. The Nasdaq rose 106 points, and the S&P 500 added 21.
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