Sunday, November 29, 2020

US hits 12 million cases; Thanksgiving travel not advised

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The U.S reported its 12 millionth case of COVID-19 on Saturday, days after the nation surpassed 250,000 deaths from the coronavirus — by far the largest total in the world. Experts say it will get worse.

“Cases and deaths continue to increase steadily in most states,” a Thursday Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation briefing says. “The pace of increase is faster than we expected, leading us to revise upward our forecast of deaths by March 1 to 471,000.”

The influential model’s projections assume 40 states will reinstate social distancing mandates by that time. If they don’t, IHME researchers say deaths and cases will be even higher.

Meanwhile, numerous high-profile political figures including Donald Trump Jr. have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. Florida Sen. Rick Scott announced Friday he has tested positive. He is the second Republican senator, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to announce positive tests this week.

And Rudy Giuliani’s son, Andrew, announced Friday he has tested positive for COVID-19, a day after he attended a news conference with his father and other members of President Donald Trump’s legal team alleging baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 12 million cases and more than 255,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 57.9 million cases and 1.37 million deaths.

Experimental drug cocktail given to Trump gets FDA authorization

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has granted Regeneron Pharmaceutical an Emergency Use Authorization for a drug cocktail to treat COVID-19. President Donald Trump has touted the experimental antibody treatment and took it while he was being treated for the disease.

“In a clinical trial, the investigational therapy was shown to reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or ER visits in certain patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe,” the FDA tweeted Saturday.

The drug, a pair of monoclonal antibodies, is intended to mimic the natural process of the immune system, providing it with molecules the body normally manufactures to fight off specific diseases.

Trump was able to get it under a “compassionate use” exemption, which the company said at the time it has granted to fewer than 10 people, after requests from their doctors and approval by the FDA.

A similar monoclonal antibody treatment was also given emergency authorization earlier this month.

The FDA has not licensed either drug but instead granted a fast-tracked authorization process that differs from a regular drug license application in several ways, though the companies still needed to prove the drugs are safe and effective.

Both drugs are intended for patients who have been diagnosed but are not sick enough to be hospitalized. About 9% of the patients in the trial who received a placebo ended up in the hospital compared to 3% who received the active drug.

— Joel Shannon, Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise 

California curfew to begin; experts question whether it will help

Starting Saturday night, California will join other states and nations in trying a partial overnight curfew as its latest desperate attempt to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, though experts said its effect may be more symbolic than real and many law enforcement agencies are refusing to enforce it.

Officials said what they are calling a limited stay-at-home order is aimed at discouraging late gatherings where people are more likely to let down their guard, their inhibitions — and their required masks — while drinking and socializing.

Dr. Mark Cullen, an infectious disease expert who recently retired from Stanford University, said the underlying goal is based on a reasonable interpretation of data blaming gatherings for surging infections. But the point will be lost on most, he fears, partially because California is allowing many exemptions for things like getting groceries, filling prescriptions, picking up takeout, and even walking dogs.

Officials in London who tried a similar approach found that “if anything, for the young people it may have increased their social gathering activities,” said Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. “They can’t go out, so they congregate in somebody’s home or dormitories.”

— The Associated Press

Vermont only state with fewer than 10K cases

Maine has reported its 10,000th case of COVID-19, leaving Vermont as the sole state under that mark. Texas and California have both reported around 1.1 million cases, and Florida was on track to hit 1 million cases in one or two weeks.

As of Friday evening, 42 states reported more new cases in the past week than the week before, and 44 reported a higher rate of tests coming back positive, according to Johns Hopkins.

12M Americans to lose jobless aid after Christmas if Congress fails to act

Millions of jobless Americans could suddenly be cut off from their unemployment benefit the day after Christmas if Congress fails to extend relief programs, with many facing lasting scars as the worst pandemic in a century threatens to deepen their economic pain.

About 12 million workers could lose one of two critical unemployment lifelines from the CARES Act on Dec. 26, including 7.3 million who could be cut off from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and 4.6 million who may lose Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, according to estimates from The Century Foundation, a nonprofit think tank.

The loss in jobless aid would come as other stimulus relief is set to expire after December, including a federal ban on rental evictions that could put 30 to 40 million people at risk of eviction as moratoriums expire, according to the Aspen Institute, another think tank.

– Jessica Menton

Kansas counties that opted out of face mask order saw COVID-19 cases rise

We already know that wearing face masks in public spaces slows the spread of COVID-19. And now the coronavirus situation in Kansas is providing further proof.

Gov. Laura Kelly issued a face mask mandate in early July, and the counties that upheld the order saw a decline in cases, while the counties that opted out saw cases rise, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

“Countywide mask mandates appear to have contributed to the mitigation of COVID-19 transmission in mandated counties,” according to the report, which analyzed county-level data one month before, and after, the governor’s mandate went into effect.

As of mid-August, 24 of Kansas’s 105 counties had abided by the state mandate or adopted their own mask mandate, and 81 counties had opted out, as Kansas law allows. At that time, the number of new daily cases per capita – calculated as a 7-day rolling average – had decreased an average of 6% among counties with a mask mandate and increased by 100% in counties without a mandate. Read more.

Canada’s largest city going back on lockdown

The province of Ontario announced Friday that Toronto and the surrounding Peel Region will go into lockdown on Monday.

Premier Doug Ford and health officials say they won’t allow indoor organized events or social gatherings except for members of the same household. Restaurants and bars will only be allowed to offer takeout and delivery. Retail will only be open for curbside pickup or delivery except for big box stores.

The stricter measures come as Ontario reports 1,418 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 393 in Toronto and 400 in Peel Region. Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams says Ontario flattened the epidemic curve before and he’s confident it can be done again.

Meanwhile, Russia on Saturday reported a new daily high in infections and deaths. North Macedonia declared its first-ever nationwide state of emergency. Japan is scaling back on a government-backed campaign to encourage travel and dining out. And cases are surging in South Korea and New Delhi, India.

– The Associated Press

Family members returning home bring higher risk for Thanksgiving gatherings

At a time when Americans are pondering how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely amid the country’s worst surge in coronavirus cases, many families will be faced with yet another complicating factor: the return of students.

Colleges and universities have reported 252,000-plus cases since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times tracker. Returning students – whether they lived in dorms or off-campus housing in the fall term – “exponentially increase the risk (of infection),” especially if they take some form of mass transportation to get home.

That’s the assessment of Dr. Teresa Bartlett, senior medical officer for the claims management firm Sedgwick, who advises companies about medical strategies and safety practices. Like other specialists in the field, Bartlett is concerned that holiday gatherings, combined with pandemic fatigue and the need to move indoors as the weather gets colder, will exacerbate what’s already a major national spike in COVID-19 cases. Read more.

Cuomo to receive International Emmy for COVID-19 briefings

And the International Emmy goes to: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, a Democrat whose daily briefings at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic received extensive airplay across the nation, will receive the International Emmy Founders Award.

The governor is being recognized in part for his use of television to inform people of the latest coronavirus updates at the height of the state’s outbreak in March and April, according to The International Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences, which granted him the award.

Cuomo held more than 100 consecutive days of COVID-19 briefings, many of which were broadcast on cable news networks internationally. The governor will receive the International Emmy during a virtual award ceremony Monday. It’s a separate ceremony from the better-known Primetime and Daytime Emmys, which focus on American television.

– Jon Campbell, New York State Team

Celebrating Thanksgiving amid a pandemic? We’ve done it before

On Thanksgiving more than a century ago, many Americans, like today, were living under various phases of quarantines and face mask orders. Millions were mourning loved ones. And health officials in many cities were issuing the same holiday warning: Stay home and stay safe.

“See that Thanksgiving celebrations are restricted as much as possible so as to prevent another flare-up,” said a notice in the Omaha World Herald on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1918.

By late November of 1918, the U.S. – in the midst of the suffrage movement, Jim Crow and the end of WWI – was battling the ebbing second wave of the H1N1 influenza epidemic, also known as the Spanish flu. Read about how Americans celebrated Thanksgiving that year, and what happened next.

Texas National Guard to provide aid to El Paso morgues during COVID-19 crisis

The Texas National Guard will be providing help to El Paso morgues as the region continues to be slammed by COVID-19 deaths.

“After completing an assessment of the situation on the ground in El Paso County this week, the state has mobilized a team of 36 Texas National Guard personnel to provide mortuary affairs support beginning at 9 o’clock tomorrow (Saturday) morning,” Seth Christensen, spokesperson for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said.

After the announcement, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego requested additional aid from Gov. Greg Abbott in the form of leeway to impose some restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. Samaniego said in a letter to the governor’s office that his previous order that was ended by an appellate court was done so erroneously and the order was not inconsistent with Abbott’s statewide restrictions.

– El Paso Times

Donald Trump Jr. tests positive for COVID-19

President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, according to his spokesman.

“Don tested positive at the start of the week and has been quarantining out at his cabin since the result. He’s been completely asymptomatic so far and is following all medically recommended COVID-19 guidelines,” his office said in a statement.

Trump Jr. is the latest person close to the president to test positive in recent days. Earlier on Friday, Rudy Giuliani’s son, Andrew, announced he also tested positive a day after attending a press conference held by his father at the Republican National Committee headquarters.

The White House has struggled to contain at least three outbreaks of the virus in recent months. Trump was hospitalized after he tested positive, and several aides have since been infected.

– David Jackson

Pfizer takes candidate vaccine to FDA for emergency authorization

Pfizer said Friday it is filing for emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, the next step in bringing its candidate vaccine to market. Health and other frontline workers could get the vaccine as soon as December but reaching everyone could take up to a year.

The move follows an announcement from Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech that its vaccine appears 95% effective against the coronavirus. Also this week, drug company Moderna released positive news, with its vaccine also showing a high rate of efficacy. Both candidates, each of which require two shots, protect more than 90% of those immunized, self-reported results indicate.

The FDA and an independent advisory board will review Pfizer’s application before the vaccine is able to get into peoples’ arms.

“If we do get people vaccinated to a high degree, then you can start talking about this umbrella or blanket of protection on society that would diminish dramatically the risk of a person being exposed or even being infected,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told USA TODAY earlier this week.

– Cara Richardson

Fauci says Santa Claus won’t be spreading COVID-19 this Christmas

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said Santa Claus is coming to town. And he’s not bringing COVID-19.

It should come as no surprise. As children already know, Santa is superhuman. He flies around the world in one night, delivers millions of toys and eats his weight in cookies.

But with millions of Americans already sick with COVID-19, children have been worried about Santa, especially this Christmas Eve when he visits millions of homes. And there’s no denying that Santa, because he is older and overweight, would at first glance appear to be at higher risk of developing severe disease from COVID-19.

Fauci is telling kids not to worry, though. “Santa is not going to be spreading any infections to anybody,” he said.

— Adrianna Rodriguez and Grace Hauck

CDC recommends against holiday travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending against travel for Thanksgiving. Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said the “tragedy that could happen” is that family members could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying. The CDC’s warning is the latest and most high profile about the risks of traveling as coronavirus cases rise nationwide. Officials in California, Illinois and other states have urged residents to avoid nonessential travel even as airlines tout holiday fare deals.

“These times are tough, it’s been a long outbreak, almost 11 months, and we understand people are tired,” Walke said. “But this year we’re asking them to limit their travel.”

Sara M. Moniuszko

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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