TL;DR: Vaccinating against COVID-19 took another step forward in Pennsylvania and New Jersey Monday as residents at skilled nursing facilities became the first people outside of health workers to receive shots. As 2020 thankfully draws to a close, our Health and Science reporters rounded up some highlights of what the medical field has learned over the past year from the coronavirus.

— Kelly O’Shea (@kelloshea, health@inquirer.com)

What you need to know:

✈️ Pennsylvania and New Jersey continue to experience declines in new daily case counts, but health officials expect a new surge of infections to trail Christmas after air travel exceeded pandemic highs leading up to the holiday.

💰 President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package late Sunday that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses, $600 stimulus checks to most Americans, and supplemental $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits for those not working.

🎉 Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine urged residents to hold off on celebrating New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with anyone outside their households.

📞 Calls to local and national crisis hotlines have soared since the start of the pandemic, sending a sobering message about the emotional impact of the pandemic, mental health experts say.

☂️ Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has canceled the annual Mummers Parade parade, but rogue Mummers are vowing to strut anyway, prompting a rebuke from the parade’s organizers.

📰 What’s going on in your county or neighborhood? We organized recent coverage of the coronavirus pandemic by local counties and Philly neighborhoods mentioned in the stories to make it easier for you to find the info you care about.

Local coronavirus cases

📈The coronavirus has swept across the Philadelphia region and cases continue to mount. The Inquirer and Spotlight PA are compiling geographic data on tests conducted, cases confirmed, and deaths caused by the virus. Track the spread here.

Vaccinations starting at Pa. and N.J. nursing homes

Vaccinating against COVID-19 took another step forward in Pennsylvania and New Jersey Monday as residents at skilled nursing facilities became the first people outside of health workers to receive shots. Teams from CVS and Walgreens went to nursing facilities to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on site. Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said most residents and staff of nursing homes say they will opt to get the vaccine. Residents who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and cannot provide consent for themselves, may be vaccinated if a loved one signs off on their behalf. But challenges loom as nursing facilities have received little guidance from state or federal health officials for how to keep track of people who have received a first dose.

‘The incredible impact of isolation’ and other highlights of what COVID-19 taught medicine in 2020

Just a year ago, science knew very little about the devastation COVID-19 can cause. But the pace of discovery has been phenomenal, from therapies that lessened the severity of symptoms to the collaboration that has produced remarkably effective vaccines in record time. As 2020 thankfully draws to a close, our Health and Science reporters rounded up some highlights of what science has learned over the past year from the coronavirus. Read more about how the coronavirus has exposed other epidemics and why 2021 may show hope for devastated nursing home residents.

Helpful resources

You got this: A guide to New Year’s 2021 in Philly

Ready to bid farewell to 2020? Yeah, us too. This New Year’s Eve will look different — there will be no major fireworks extravaganza on the waterfront, just for starters — but there’s still lots of ways to ring in 2021 in the Philly area. My colleague Jenn Ladd rounded up the best parties, events, restaurant takeout, and more for your celebration.

❤️ As we look back on 2020, my colleague Ronnie Polaneczky shares updates on 11 UpSide stories that resonated with Inquirer readers this year.

🎺 If you streamed Soul on Disney+ this weekend, you’ll want to learn more about this 30-year-old Levittown animator for Pixar.

👸🏽 Last-call for The Little Princess and more family fun to do this week in Philly.

Have a social distancing tip or question to share? Let us know at health@inquirer.com and your input might be featured in a future edition of this newsletter.

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