Fauci: Labor Day weekend key for U.S. virus fight
8:21 PM CT on 8/31/2020
(AP) Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, says Labor Day weekend will be key in determining whether the U.S. gets a “running start” at containing the coronavirus this fall.
Fauci said Monday he has a “great deal of faith in the American people” to wash their hands, practice social distancing, wear masks, avoid crowds, and congregate outside during the weekend celebrations. He said it’s important to avoid a surge in coronavirus cases like those seen after the Memorial Day and July 4th holidays.
He made the comments on a White House conference call with governors, the audio of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Vice President Mike Pence said he shared Fauci’s confidence in the American people to celebrate the holiday responsibly.
UN Chief says COVID-19 deepens gender inequality
7:01 PM CT on 8/31/2020
The United Nations chief says the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the inequality between men and women and reversed “decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned young women from civil society organizations at a virtual town hall meeting on Monday that “without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains.”
During the pandemic, he said “women have been on the front lines of the response, as health care workers, teachers, essential staff and as carers in their families and communities.” A majority of health care workers are women, but less than a third are in decision-making roles, he said.
uterres said the pandemic has impacted physical and mental health, education, and labor force participation. He also noted reports in some places of increases in teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence.
Birx talks up masks; praises UW system’s coronavirus plan
6:24 PM CT on 9/1/2020
(AP) The coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx talked up the value of masks during a visit on Monday to Wisconsin and praised the University of Wisconsin system’s plans for protecting students.
Birx was in Madison to talk to state and health officials, including Tommy Thompson, the University of Wisconsin System president whom she knows from his time as health and human services secretary under President George W. Bush.
“I think he has taken a very serious and public-health approach to this,” Birx told reporters. “He has a plan for surveillance testing, he has a plan for surge testing ... and I think equally importantly, he has a plan for caring for students who become positive.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Birx suggested the strategy could help the UW system avoid the clusters of cases other colleges have experienced when students arrived on campus.
And she said evidence shows that masks helped blunt a coronavirus surge in southern states this summer.
“These Southern governors and leaders put in mask mandates, increased social distancing, decreased occupancy in restaurants and now just four weeks later, they’ve dramatically decreased their number of cases.” she said.
Birx made her comments a week after the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued to overturn Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask order.
Pandemic has caused $1.2B hole in Chicago’s 2021 budget
4:05 PM CT on 8/31/20
(AP) Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot predicted a $1.2 billion hole in the 2021 budget on Monday, calling the coronavirus pandemic the "single largest driver" of the city's economic challenges.
In her budget forecast, the first-term mayor said tourism, transportation and the hospitality industry have been hit hardest amid closures due to COVID-19.
"Make no mistake, this will be our pandemic budget," she said. "COVID-19 is the single largest driver of economic challenges and our city's budget gap."
Lightfoot didn't offer many details on how Chicago officials would close the gap, noting city worker layoffs as one possibility. Lightfoot didn't mention a property tax hike as a solution.
She said federal help will be needed as cities nationwide are struggling to fight the virus and address economic fallout. Illinois health officials on Monday announced 1,668 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven deaths.
Roughly $400 million of the shortfall is related to Chicago's underfunded pension system.
Chicago will close the 2020 budget year with a nearly $800 million shortfall as the city suffers from soaring unemployment. Since the pandemic's start, roughly 900,000 people have filed for unemployment, Lightfoot said.
She said this year's shortfall would largely be addressed with federal aid and debt refinancing, among other things.
WHO survey finds virus disrupts health services
2:08 PM CT on 8/31/20
The U.N. health agency says a new survey found that 90% of countries that responded reported fallout from COVID-19 on the provision of other healthcare services like immunization, family planning services, and cancer and cardiovascular disease diagnosis and treatment.
The World Health Organization says 105 countries responded to the survey aimed at assessing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on strained health systems, notably in low- and middle-income countries.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the survey, covering five regions between March and June, exposed “cracks in our health systems” and the need for better preparation for health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic that has produced more than 25 million confirmed cases and killed over 843,000 people by WHO’s count. Such figures are believed to far underestimate the actual totals.
The survey found that routine immunization and outreach services were among the most affected, with 70 percent of countries reporting disruptions, followed closely by the diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Nearly a quarter of countries that responded reported disruptions to emergency services.
WHO cautioned about some “limitations” about the study including that it involved “self-assessment” that could be prone to bias, variations from country to country in survey completion, and differences in the phases of the outbreak that countries were experiencing.
EU joins coronavirus vaccine alliance COVAX
11:37 AM CT on 8/31/20
(AP) The European Union is joining the COVID-19 vaccine alliance COVAX with the aim of helping to provide access to any future vaccine for people in countries that might not be able to afford it.
The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, announced Monday that it was contributing 400 million euros ($478 million) to support the scheme.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the aim is to work together “in purchasing future vaccines to the benefit of low and middle income countries. I’m confident this will bring us closer to our goal: beating this virus, together.”
But the commission refused to say whether it wants to use COVAX as another means to secure access for relatively-wealthy Europe to any future vaccine.
Activists warn that without stronger attempts to hold political, pharmaceutical and health leaders accountable, any vaccines that might be developed could be hoarded by rich countries in a race to inoculate their populations first.
Arizona reports 374 new coronavirus cases, 23 more deaths
9:33 AM CT on 8/31/20
(AP) A bar near Arizona State University became the third establishment to have its liquor license suspended over the weekend for violating requirements to reopen under coronavirus protocol.
Arizona State Health Department officials issued an order Sunday immediately closing Glow Shots & Cocktails on Mill Avenue in Tempe.
The state issued non-compliance notices Saturday to Bottled Blonde and Casa Amigos, ordering the popular bars in Old Town Scottsdale to immediately close.
The bars were in violation of social distancing, masking, dancing, standing and table occupancy limitations in Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order issued June 29, authorities said.
Bottled Blonde and Casa Amigos had filed applications to reopen under the state's released benchmarks indicating when businesses could reopen in Arizona once counties met the "moderate" stage.
State health officials said Maricopa County and two others met that stage on Thursday.
Once counties reach the moderate stage, bars that are approved by the health department can offer dine-in restaurant service at 50% capacity. The use of masks is also required at all times by staff and customers within the business except while actively eating or drinking.
"Detectives will continue to enforce public health orders and take immediate actions against licensees who are observed showing general disregard for the welfare and safety of others," Department of Liquor Director John Cocca said a statement.
Casa Amigos and Bottled Blonde will remain closed until the state health department grants permission to reopen.
Meanwhile, Arizona health officials reported 374 additional confirmed coronavirus cases and 23 more known deaths as of Sunday.
With those figures, Arizona has now had a total of 201,661 coronavirus cases since the pandemic started and at least 5,030 fatalities.
Of the case total, more than 130,000 have occurred in Maricopa County.
Iowa virus numbers vary widely because of website problem
8:22 PM CT on 8/30/2020
(AP) The numbers on Iowa’s online coronavirus tracker varied widely this weekend because of a maintenance problem with the site.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported Saturday morning that 1,108 Iowans had died from COVID-19. Later in the day, the number of deaths fell to 894 before rebounding Saturday evening to 1,109.
Several other key statistics also fluctuated on the state website Saturday. For instance, the number of cases of coronavirus dropped from 63,122 to 51,183 before being restored after 9 p.m. Saturday.
Department of Public Health spokeswoman Amy McCoy told the Des Moines Registe r by email late Saturday that the problem appeared to be fixed.
“A maintenance upgrade to the state’s website caused the numbers to fluctuate temporarily,” McCoy said.
The state health department has been criticized recently for other problems with its coronavirus statistics. Gov. Kim Reynolds said on Aug. 20 that the state had been incorrectly attributing many recent coronvirus test results to several months ago.
The error affected the positivity rates the state reported, which school districts are relying on as they decide whether to send children back to schools.
On Sunday, the state’s online virus tracker said there had been 64,208 coronavirus cases and 1,113 deaths linked to the virus in Iowa since the pandemic began.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 501.43 new cases per day on Aug. 15 to 859.14 new cases per day on Aug. 29.
Utah State University to test 300 students
5:22 PM CT on 8/30/2020
(AP) Utah State University plans to test nearly 300 students for COVID-19 after wastewater samples from four dormitories showed elevated levels of the coronavirus, school officials said Sunday.
The 287 students who will be tested Sunday and Monday live in four dorms on the campus in Logan. There have been no reported positive tests for COVID-19 in those residence halls so far. Students in those dorms must quarantine until the test results are available, which could take up to four days. They are also asked to fill out a form to ensure they receive academic support, food deliveries and other resources.
Classes are scheduled to begin on Monday for about 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Utah State is one of a small handful of schools using wastewater sampling to help safeguard against a COVID-19 outbreak, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Officials with the University of Arizona said Thursday the school used wastewater testing to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak on campus.
A test of just over 300 people in one dorm with elevated levels of coronavirus in the wastewater turned up two cases, said university President Robert Robbins. Neither student had symptoms. They were isolated.
Montana sees 1st case of COVID-related inflammatory disease
3:48 PM CT on 8/30/2020
(AP) The first case of a rare COVID-19-related inflammatory disease in Montana has been reported in a child from Teton County, health officials said.
The patient was treated at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C. It is a condition in which different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The cause is unknown, but many of the children previously had the virus that causes COVID-19 or had been around someone with the respiratory virus, a CDC official said.
The family of 14-year-old Kyona Yeager of Fairfield has reported she was hospitalized in intensive care in Salt Lake earlier this month with a high fever and an enlarged liver, spleen and gallbladder and fluid in her lungs — an illness that was believed to have followed a COVID-19 infection. Her mother, Kande Yeager, posted a video on Facebook on Aug. 25 that the family was heading home.
“While the majority of children appear to have mild or asymptomatic infection, it is important to remember that some children can develop serious complications like these,” Melissa Moyer, director of the Teton County Health Department, said in a statement Saturday. “We are so grateful that our young Teton County resident is recovered and back at home!”
While MIS-C is rare, state medical officer Dr. Greg Holzman told the Great Falls Tribune that with more children becoming infected with COVID-19, “we would expect to see more cases of this serious disease in our communities.”
From mid-May through Aug. 20, the CDC had received reports of 694 cases of MIS-C in 42 states and 11 deaths. The health agency is still studying the disease, outcomes and risk factors.
Montana's health department has reported 7,340 known cases of COVID-19 in the state and 104 deaths. The number of infections is believed to be much larger because not everyone has been tested and people can be infected without having symptoms.
Nearly 2,000 people are considered to still be infected, including nearly 950 in Yellowstone County, while 131 people remain hospitalized.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Nearly 5,300 Montana residents are considered to have recovered from COVID-19, meaning they no longer test positive for the virus.
Community factors aided racial disparities in COVID-19 rates in Massachusetts
1:25 PM CT on 8/30/2020
(Health Affairs) Across Massachusetts cities and towns, significant COVID-19 disparities are evident along multiple dimensions—particularly race/ethnicity, foreign-born non-citizen status, household size, and job type. Higher proportions of Black or Latino residents within a community was significantly associated with higher rates of COVID-19 cases, according to a new article in Health Affairs. The factors examined in that study explained this relationship for Latino communities but did not appear to explain the higher rates among black communities. Further research into the social and economic factors underlying COVID-19-related disparities and new policies to address risk factors and institutional racism will be critical to controlling the epidemic and improving health equity.
For more on how racial inequity affects health outcomes among people of color, read Modern Healthcare's latest InDepth: Breaking the Bias that Impedes Better Healthcare.
Worldwide COVID cases reach 25 million
11:15 AM CT on 8/30/2020
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases globally has topped 25 million, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the count with 5.9 million cases, followed by Brazil with 3.8 million and India with 3.5 million.
The real number of people infected by the virus around the world is believed to be much higher — perhaps 10 times higher in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — given testing limitations and the many mild cases that have gone unreported or unrecognized.
Global deaths from COVID-19 stand at over 842,000, with the U.S. having the highest number with 182,779, followed by Brazil with 120,262 and Mexico with 63,819.
South Korea sees 299 new cases as virus spikes
9:21 AM CT on 8/30/2020
(AP) South Korea has reported 299 new cases of the coronavirus as officials placed limits on dining at restaurants and closed fitness centers and after-school academies in the greater capital area to slow the spread of the virus.
The 17th consecutive day of triple-digit daily increases brought the national caseload to 19,699, including 323 deaths.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 209 of the new cases came from the capital of Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province and Incheon, a region that had been at the center of a viral resurgence this month.
Health authorities have ordered churches and nightspots to close and shifted more schools back to remote learning nationwide as infections spiked in recent weeks.
For eight days starting Sunday, restaurants in the Seoul metropolitan area will be allowed to provide only deliveries and takeouts after 9 p.m. Franchised coffee shops like Starbucks will sell only takeout drinks and food while gyms and after-school academies will be shut to slow the viral spread in the region.
Minnesota reports 1,032 new coronavirus infections, 4 deaths
7:07 PM CT on 8/29/20
(AP) Minnesota is reporting more than 1,000 new positive COVID-19 tests and four additional deaths.
Health officials reported 1,032 positive tests on Saturday, bringing the state statewide total to 74,257. Health officials said 8,175 health care workers have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
Minnesota's death toll since the pandemic began was 1,814 on Saturday. Officials report that 1,337 of deaths have been among residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities.
A total of 6,411 people have required hospitalization. Of those, 313 remain in those facilities, with 134 in intensive care.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Florida reports 150 new COVID-19 deaths, 3,197 cases known
5:17 PM CT on 8/29/20
(AP) Health officials in Florida reported 150 new deaths from COVID-19 and 3,197 new confirmed cases as the positivity rate continued to drop in the state.
The new deaths raised the total death toll to 11,246 deaths. They bring the average daily toll reported over the past week to 120.
The number of new known cases is down from peaks averaging nearly 12,000 daily in mid-July.
The positivity rate in testing has averaged below 10 percent over the past week while the number of people being treated in Florida hospitals for COVID-19 has also been declining to about 3,800 since highs of more than 9,500 on July 23.
Arizona surpasses 5,000 coronavirus deaths
3:28 PM CT on 8/29/20
(AP) Arizona has reached a grim milestone of more than 5,000 known coronavirus deaths.
The state Department of Health Services reported 629 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 more deaths on Saturday to total 5,007.
Meanwhile, Arizona State University President Michael Crow says 452 students have tested positive for the coronavirus. More than half involve students who live off campus in the metro Phoenix area.
Crow says 205 students are currently in quarantine on the Tempe campus.
Top COVID-19 adviser Birx visits N.D. amid record for new cases
12:56 PM CT on 8/29/20
(AP) A top White House coronavirus adviser was making a planned stop in North Dakota on a day the state set a record for the number of daily positive tests for the disease.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force, has been touring the country to press for people to cover their faces and to social distance to fight the global pandemic. Birx was hosting a meeting Saturday afternoon in Fargo with Gov. Doug Burgum and other officials.
Officials reported 375 positive tests Saturday, up from the previous record of 337 set Thursday. Thirty-two of North Dakota's 53 counties reported new positive cases, led by Grand Forks County with 146.
The state also confirmed two more deaths Saturday, bringing the stateside death toll to 141. Health officials identified the victims as a man in his 50s from Benson County and a woman in her 80s from Burleigh County. Both had underlying health conditions.
The number of active cases continued to climb Saturday to a record 2,325. There are 65 people in hospitals, a decrease of five from Wednesday.
Nurses on NY's front lines call for minimum staffing ratios
11:09 AM CT on 8/29/20
(AP) Nurses on the front lines of New York's COVID-19 pandemic are calling for the state to enact minimum staffing standards ahead of another wave of infections.
Healthcare industry leaders, though, warn that passing such a law would saddle facilities with billions of dollars in extra costs they can't afford.
Under legislation now before a legislative committee, the state would for the first time set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, including a standard of one nurse for every two patients in intensive care units.
California now has such a law. Other states don't. Supporters say the legislation would boost the quality of care, reduce staff burnout and let the state hold health care facilities accountable for inadequate staffing. Minimum staffing ratios also might have helped last spring, they say, when hospitals and nursing homes in the New York City metropolitan area were overwhelmed with a flood of COVID-19 patients.
"If we had better staffing in place before COVID-19, if we weren't stretched so thin, we would have been able to handle the flex and surge that was required," said Pat Kane, who leads a union representing nurses statewide.
Health industry groups have long called minimum staffing levels too costly and unnecessary. They say implementing staffing mandates now would be especially damaging, as hospitals face sharp revenue losses.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised in 2018 to set safe staffing levels, which he said was "linked to quality care," but this month his health department released a report estimating the proposed staffing rules would force nursing homes and hospitals to hire a combined 35,000 nurses, at a cost of around $4 billion.
"During the crisis, the increased costs would have been unbearable, coming on top of the extremely expensive surge costs frontline hospitals incurred," Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske told hospital leaders this month. "Now, in the COVID-19 transition era, when hospitals are fighting for their very survival due to a severe loss of revenue, such a mandate is unthinkable."
For hospital workers, the pandemic Tour de France is a big ask
9:18 AM CT on 8/29/20
(AP) Likely too busy racing to notice, the 176 riders starting the Tour de France this weekend will speed close to a sprawling hospital where caregiver Maude Leneveu is still reeling from furious months treating patients stricken and dying from COVID-19.
After her 12-hour days of cleaning their bedpans, changing the sheets, feeding them and trying to calm their fears, she'd then go home to breastfeed her baby daughter. "We're all exhausted," the 30-year-old Leneveu says.
With coronavirus infections picking up again across France and her hospital in the Mediterranean city of Nice preparing for a feared second wave of patients by readying respirators and other gear, Leneveu suspects she might soon be called back to the coronavirus front lines.
For race organizers and the French government, the reward of successfully steering the Tour to the finish in Paris on Sept. 20 will be a striking message — that the country is getting back on its feet after the first deadly wave of infections and learning to live with its epidemic that has claimed more than 30,500 lives in France.
The risk is that so many riders might fall sick during the 3,484-kilometer (2,165-mile) odyssey that organizers are forced to cut it short. Not reaching Paris would lead to questions, already being voiced by medical personnel and others, about whether the race should never have set off from Nice at all.
On the eve of the start, the city's main public hospital network had just 10 hospitalized COVID patients, all grouped in one hospital. But infections across the country are steadily rising, with 7,379 new cases declared Friday, another new daily high since the country eased out of lockdown in May.
Marine, a final-year medical student at the city's Pasteur Hospital, which the Tour will race past on the first two stages Saturday and Sunday, said after finishing her morning shift in the emergency ward Friday that the riders should have stayed home. Because she didn't have permission from hospital authorities to speak to the media, she asked that she be identified only by her first name.
"It doesn't seem very reasonable. Plus, we're under pressure at the hospital at the moment. There are very few beds, so we're not equipped to cope with a big influx of sick patients," she said. "If there are more infections because of the Tour, it's going to be complicated for us to manage ... It would have been better to cancel it."
Health experts decry Trump's shunning of virus rules
8:58 PM CT on 8/28/20
(AP) Public health experts expressed concern Friday about President Donald Trump's largely mask-free, socially un-distanced Republican convention event on the White House lawn, saying some of his 1,500 guests may have inadvertently brought and spread the coronavirus to others.
“There almost certainly were individuals there who were infected with COVID-19 but don't know it,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University..
“I worry about these individuals infecting one another and most certainly going back to their home,” said Wen, who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.
Trump delivered his speech accepting the GOP presidential nomination at the Thursday night event, which continued a pattern of flouting coronavirus safety guidelines.
Few in the audience wore masks when virtually all leading public health professionals, including the administration's, say face coverings play a big part in slowing virus transmission.
Only those guests the White House expected to be in “close proximity” to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were to be tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Though public health officials have said outdoors is safer than indoors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also puts the risk of COVID-19 spreading at its highest at large outdoor events and in-person gatherings where people cannot stay 6 feet apart and attendees come from out of town.
Trump's campaign issued a statement from Dr. Robert Darling, chief medical officer of Patronus Medical Corp., who said the Republican National Committee's protocols are in “full compliance” with multiple guidelines issued by the CDC, the District of Columbia health department and other leading health authorities. He provided no details.
Connecticut lawmakers call for expanded visits at nursing homes
6:51 PM CT on 8/28/20
(AP) All 14 Republican members of the Connecticut Senate on Friday urged Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont to allow allow safe indoor family visits at nursing homes for all residents and not just those who are near death or whose conditions have seriously deteriorated during the pandemic, as outlined in a new state policy.
“The elderly in our nursing homes do not have time on their side, and they deserve to be able to see their loved ones,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the governor. “The negative impact of isolation on mental and physical health can be just as dangerous as the pandemic itself and must not be overlooked.”
Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said Thursday that the administration understands the importance of family visits but is “very aware of what we saw in the spring with respect to COVID infections in nursing homes” and is taking any expansion of visitations “step by step.”
In another letter recently sent to Lamont and Gifford, AARP of Connecticut said all residents of long term care facilities “should be afforded regular opportunities for in-person visitation, in accordance with guidelines established by governmental authorities.”
Biden, Harris prepare to travel more as campaign heats up
4:29 PM CT on 8/28/20
(AP) After spending a pandemic spring and summer tethered almost entirely to his Delaware home, Joe Biden plans to take his presidential campaign to battleground states after Labor Day in his bid to unseat President Donald Trump.
No itinerary is set, according to the Democratic nominee's campaign, but the former vice president and his allies say his plan is to highlight contrasts with Trump, from policy arguments tailored to specific audiences to the strict public health guidelines the Biden campaign says its events will follow amid COVID-19.
That's a notable difference from a president who on Thursday delivered his nomination acceptance on the White House lawn to more than 1,000 people seated side-by-side, most of them without masks, even as the U.S. death toll surpassed 180,000. “He will go wherever he needs to go,” said Biden’s campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana congressman. “And we will do it in a way the health experts would be happy” with and “not the absolutely irresponsible manner you saw at the White House.”
Richmond said it was “always the plan” for Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris to travel more extensively after Labor Day, the traditional mark of the campaign's home stretch when more casual voters begin to pay close attention.
Biden and Harris have worn protective face masks in public and stayed socially distanced from each other when appearing together at campaign events. Both have said for weeks that a rule requiring all Americans to wear them could save 40,000 lives in just a three-month period. While such an order may be difficult to impose at the federal level, Biden has called on every governor in the country to order mask-wearing in their states, which would likely achieve the same goal.
With improving virus data, California looks to reopen again
1:45 PM CT on 8/28/20
(AP) California is poised to take another halting step toward normalcy with Gov. Gavin Newsom expected to announce plans for reopening businesses that were shuttered in July amid soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
In anticipation of the Democratic governor's announcement Friday, there was a common refrain from businesses and local governments buffeted by the outbreak: We need clarity.
Counties need to understand clearly “what thresholds to aim for and the public health data that will determine success or failure,” the California State Association of Counties said in a statement.
That was echoed by the California Restaurant Association, which has seen the state's once-thriving food industry wither under restrictions that have closed indoor dining rooms and left many businesses to survive on takeout, delivery and limited outdoor seating, if they have the space. The association estimates as many as 1 million workers have been furloughed or laid off.
"We'd like to see restaurant dining rooms reopen as soon as possible," association president Jot Condi said.
“Restaurants in every corner of the state are on life support right now. Every day that passes with a dining room closed, a restaurant owner is more likely to shut the doors permanently," he said. “It's gotten to a crisis level."
Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who has recovered from a bout with the virus, said she hopes the state plan recognizes different levels of risk that come with different business activities. She’s puzzled why shoppers can fill a Costco, where she stopped Thursday, while indoor hair salons remain off limits.
Using metrics, the state needs to change how businesses are categorized, Spiegel said. “We have to do more of a risk-based approach.”
U.K. to allow emergency use of any effective COVID-19 vaccine
11:44 AM CT on 8/28/20
(AP) Britain is preparing to revise its laws to allow the emergency use of any effective coronavirus vaccine before it is fully licensed — but only if the shots meet required safety and quality standards.
In a statement Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government said it was adopting "reinforced safeguards" to allow the country's medicines regulatory agency to grant temporary authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine, provided it meets safety and quality standards.
The proposed regulations would allow coronavirus vaccines to receive an emergency approval allowing people to be immunized while the full licensing process is being finished. Typically, vaccines are only used after the licensing review has been completed, a process which can take several months.
"If we develop effective vaccines, it's important we make them available to patients as quickly as possible, but only once strict safety standards have been met," Jonathan Van-Tam, Britain's deputy chief medical officer, said in a statement.
Britain said the move was "a precautionary measure" and would only be used as a last resort if there was a pressing public health justification.
Officials said they would also be expanding the number of health workers who can administer vaccines as well as clarifying the kind of protection from civil liability for this additional work force.
The government is beginning a three-week consultation period to seek advice from health experts and other stakeholders. It said the measures could be introduced as early as October.
Dr. Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, said he was confident all the safety requirements for any potential COVID-19 vaccine would be met under any emergency approval.
"These steps will help to ensure that the U.K. can benefit from a COVID-19 vaccine should one become available in the near future that is proven to be safe and effective," Brown said.
New Mexico eases pandemic restrictions as virus relents
9:35 AM CT on 8/28/20
(AP) Health officials are relaxing a pandemic stay-at-home order in New Mexico to allow larger public gatherings of up to 10 people and provide limited access to museums with static displays, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday.
Lujan Grisham and Human Services Secretary David Scrase likened the gradual reopening to slowly twisting a dimmer switch on a light fixture. The new public health order goes into effect Saturday with previously announced changes that restore indoor restaurant dining service for the first time in six weeks and allow greater attendance at indoor religious services.
"We just want to open up a little bit. We want to be very careful," Scrase said. "We tried this before. It didn't work so well."
At the same time, the state's top education official announced that a post-Labor Day return to part-time classroom learning for elementary school students will be limited to counties with low average rates of COVID-19 infection and positivity rates on virus testing.
"As we're looking at bringing students back after Labor Day, we are only bringing students back that are in these green zones," Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.
To reopen classrooms, counties must have fewer than eight new daily cases on average per 100,000 residents, and positivity rate under 5%. The statewide average positivity rate is 2.1% — the lowest in the western U.S.
If applied today, the threshold would put public school classrooms off limits in eight counties clustered in the southeast region of the state and the far southwestern boot-heel region. The southeast area has been a cradle of dissent concerning state public health orders on COVID-19.
About one-fourth of school districts, including one of the nation's largest in Albuquerque, already have postponed in-person classroom learning until at least January.
Hawaii auditors stonewalled in contact tracing probe
8:29 PM CT on 8/27/20
(AP) A report from Hawaii's state auditor’s office says Department of Health officials stonewalled them while attempting to get answers about the government's coronavirus contact tracing program.
The report, which was released Wednesday, says the auditor’s office “encountered barriers, delays, and ultimately were denied access to those responsible for leading the department’s contact tracing.”
The report says Health Director Bruce Anderson spoke with auditors, but he would not answer specific questions about contact tracing and deferred those inquiries to other Department of Health chiefs. Those people, including the heads of the outbreak control and disease investigation departments, did not contact auditors.
Requests for comment from the Department of Health and Anderson were not immediately returned.
At one point, the report says, there was a meeting scheduled with the head of the disease investigation branch. The agency was instructed to include the attorney general on emails regarding the meeting, and at the last minute the meeting was cancelled. The governor's office followed up to assert that the meeting could not go forward.
“While we understand DOH staff are busy, especially those working to improve the department’s contact tracing approach, we expected the department’s full and timely cooperation,” the report says. “We did not expect the Attorney General or the Governor’s office to involve themselves in our attempt to report about DOH’s approach to contact tracing.”
Additionally, the report says, the Department of Health did not release documents on its policies and procedures for contact tracing, despite multiple requests.
A request for comment from Gov. David Ige’s office was not immediately returned.
State Auditor Les Kondo said the intent of the report was to provide the public, which he said sometimes receive contradictory and confusing information about contact tracing, with a clearer picture of what the state is doing and how everyone can help “stem the flow” of the infection.
“To not allow us access to information, to talk to people, to me that was not acceptable, it was counterproductive and it shouldn’t happen,” Kondo said. “We didn't get any response.”
And while his department usually has more time to conduct standard audits, Kondo said the urgency of Hawaii's coronavirus surge made getting the information quickly even more important.
“This is not a normal situation, we don't do these reports in normal situations,” Kondo added. “We're all in a different time, we're all scrambling to do different things to kind of do our part in this whole process, but right now ... transparency, complete accurate information, it's absolutely critical."
And he worries about the public's faith in the state right now.
“The public trust in the department and what the state more generally is doing, it's not good, it's been eroded and the lack of information ... is not going to help rebuild that trust, and that's really important in these times.”
For months, Hawaii had among the lowest infection rates of COVID-19 positive test results in the nation. But after restrictions eased ahead of summer holidays, which spurred large gatherings on beaches and elsewhere in the islands, Hawaii saw an alarming spike in positive tests results.
On Wednesday, new data from the previous 24 hours showed more than 10% of people tested for COVID-19 had the disease.
Oahu, Hawaii’s most populous island and where the vast majority of new coronavirus cases are being reported, went back to a stay-at-home order Thursday as officials try to conduct 70,000 coronavirus tests.
WHO Europe chief: Coronavirus is like a long-lasting tornado
6:35 PM CT on 8/27/20
(AP) The coronavirus is a “tornado with a long tail” and rising infections among young people could spread to more vulnerable older people and cause an uptick in deaths, the World Health Organization’s top official in Europe warned Thursday.
Dr. Hans Kluge said younger people are likely to come into closer contact with the elderly as the weather cools in Europe and families move activities inside.
“We don’t want to do unnecessary predictions but this is definitely one of the options: that at one point there would be more hospitalizations and an uptick in mortality,” he said, speaking from Copenhagen, site of WHO's European headquarters.
He insisted “no one is invincible” but acknowledged that most coronavirus deaths are among the elderly.
“It may be that younger people indeed are not necessarily going to die from it but it’s a tornado with a long tail and it’s a multi-organ disease,” he said.
Kluge said 32 out of 55 states and territories in WHO’s European region have recorded a 14-day new infection rate increase of over 10%, calling that “definitely an uptick which is generalized in Europe.”
But he also suggested that European health authorities are more prepared than in February when the continent was on the cusp of a huge surge in cases.
“In February, we were caught by the speed and the devastation — and the default option was to lock down and reboot," Kluge said. "Now we are much more sophisticated in our knowledge of what works. In that sense, that it’s possible to manage the transmission of the virus in society and have a running economy, and very important, have an educational system open.”
He said the autumn presented a “tricky situation” because of widespread school reopenings, the onset of the flu season and the increased mortality among older people in winter months.
Kluge said current evidence showed schools have not been a “main contributor to the epidemic,” and pointed to growing evidence that children do play a role in transmission — but more often in social gatherings than at schools.
California signs deal to more than double testing capacity
4:26 PM CT on 8/27/20
(AP) California will more than double its coronavirus testing to up to 250,000 people a day while reducing costs and providing faster results under terms of a contract with a Massachusetts company worth up to $1.4 billion, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.
California and other states have worked to boost the number of tests they can process each day to help identify outbreaks and guide public health officials' decisions on how to slow the spread of the virus. California now averages about 100,000 tests per day and has administered nearly 11 million to date, by far the most in the nation.
But this week, in a move that surprised state and local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's not necessary to test asymptomatic people who have had close contact with others who are infected.
Newsom was emphatic in stating the new federal guidelines "are not the policy of the state of California."
"We will not be influenced by that change. We're influenced by the folks that are experts in the field who feel very differently," he said.
In California, each test costs $150 to $200 and it takes between five to seven business days for the results to come back.
Newsom said the state expects to add tens of thousands more tests each day by November. And when the new contract is fully implemented by next March each test would cost $30.78 and the state will add 150,000 more tests per day, with results back in under two days.
Newsom said California got the lower price by using its ability to buy in bulk.
"This is exactly what the federal government should be doing," Newsom said. "And had the federal government done this some time ago, you wouldn't see the average cost of tests at $150, $200, costing the taxpayers quite literally tens of billions of dollars."
The state plans to build its own lab to process tests and already has identified the location and plans to quickly get it up and running, Newsom said.
WHO says test, despite CDC's recent flip flop
2:00 PM CT on 8/27/20
(AP) The World Health Organization says countries should actively test people to find coronavirus cases, even if they have mild or no symptoms.
That’s despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently switched guidance to say asymptomatic contacts of cases don’t need to be tested.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for the coronavirus, says when officials are investigating clusters of COVID-19, “testing may need to be expanded to look for individuals who are on the more mild end of the spectrum or who may indeed be asymptomatic.”
Van Kerkhove says countries were free to adapt their testing guidance for their individual needs and it's critical how fast countries get results.
“What’s really important is that testing is used as an opportunity, to define active cases so that they can be isolated and so that contact tracing can also take place,” Van Kerkhove said. “This is really fundamental to breaking chains of transmission.”
Earlier in the pandemic, WHO recommend that countries focus on “testing, testing, testing.”
Van Kerkhove also says wearing masks alone to protect against the spread of the coronavirus isn’t enough, expressing concerns that people are growing too lax on maintaining physical distancing.
“So it’s not just masks alone. It’s not just physical distancing alone,” Van Kerkhove said. “It’s not just hand cleaning alone. Do it all.”
Oklahoma health department developing new virus alert plan
11:47 AM CT on 8/27/20
(AP) The Oklahoma State Department of Health is working to revise the state's COVID-19 alert system, which some state health officials have said is not "helpful" for areas at high risk due to the coronavirus pandemic, health department spokesperson Rob Crissinger said Wednesday.
Planned changes in the alert system, first reported by the Tulsa World, are being made so local and state health officials can work more closely, according to Crissinger.
"They can work in tandem with the updated hospital surge plan and be a better resource for everyone," from the state to the local level, Crissinger said.
Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer for the University of Oklahoma Medical Center and Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart have said the four-tiered system announced in July and based on statewide hospitalization rates does not reflect regional outbreaks of the virus and hospitalizations in specific areas.
"If you look at the state alert system, it's based on a statewide metric for hospital beds which, from a regional concept, isn't going to be very helpful for us because if our hospitals are exceeding capacity here, and there are hospital beds elsewhere, we still won't meet the high risk, or red, category," Dart said during a recent news conference.
The current alert system ranges from green, or "new normal," to red, or high risk.
The system says a county will be deemed high risk if it has more than 14.39 daily new cases per 100,000 people and if the state has less that 5% intensive care unit hospital beds; less than 5% medical surgery beds; less than 5% of ventilators available; or less than five days of personal protective equipment available.
The health department on Wednesday reported 18% of ICU beds and 20% medical surgery beds and 64% of ventilators are available and an 18 day supply of PPE on hand.
Task force wants to open Florida nursing homes to visitors
9:23 AM CT on 8/27/20
(AP) A task force appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis will recommend that nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida begin allowing visitors after more than five months of keeping elderly residents isolated from loved ones.
The group agreed on recommendations Wednesday that come with a long set of rules and wide leeway for wary nursing homes on how to implement them. Critics expressed concern over what will likely be a patchwork approach that varies greatly among facilities statewide.
The recommendations, which will be finalized in the coming days before they are formally presented to DeSantis for his approval, come as Florida reported about 4,400 people being treated in hospitals for the coronavirus as of Wednesday, a decrease of about 140 from the previous day and down from peak levels of more than 9,500 five weeks ago.
The state reported 155 new deaths Wednesday, bringing the overall total to 10,872. That brings the average in daily reported deaths over the past week to 115, the lowest rate in about five weeks. The seven-day average in the positivity rate for the state's coronavirus testing is about 9%.
DeSantis has repeatedly expressed support for reopening nursing homes to visitors, as he did again Wednesday during an event at Universal Orlando Resort, which reopened to the public in June. While closing the facilities was a tough call, it saved lives, DeSantis said at a forum on theme park business.
"The amount of pain it has caused families has been excruciating," DeSantis said. "I think it's going to be a great relief for a lot of our families who have had a really difficult time."
Under the recommendations, visitors would be broken into three categories: essential caregivers to help with bathing, dressing and feeding; compassionate caregivers for end-of-life type visits; and general visitors. Each comes with rules about the number of visitors allowed, frequency of visits, protective equipment and social distancing, but all facilities must go 14 days without any new cases among staff or residents.
Over half of Florida facilities — 62% — have not had a confirmed new case since Aug. 11, according to state health officials.
As Laura approaches, Texas reports 229 new COVID-19 deaths
6:58 PM CT on 8/26/20
(AP) As Texas braced for Hurricane Laura on Wednesday, state officials said there were 229 newly reported deaths from COVID-19 and 5,045 newly reported cases of the coronavirus that causes it.
As people evacuated the upper Texas coast, emergency officials have been urging them to take safeguards against the virus as well.
Laura strengthened Wednesday into a Category 4 hurricane, which can cause damage so catastrophic that power outages may last for months in places.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals has continued to drop and stood at 4,806 patients Wednesday. On Tuesday, the number dipped below 5,000 for the first time since June.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said Texas so far has reported more than 592,000 cases since pandemic tracking began in March, and 11,805 deaths have been reported.
Advisory panel recommends purchase of rapid testing machines in N.H.
6:58 PM CT on 8/26/20
(AP) Hospital-based coronavirus testing sites around New Hampshire would get machines that deliver rapid results by October under a plan approved by a legislative advisory board Wednesday.
Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, and Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, had proposed acquiring the rapid testing machines for school districts given growing concerns about the ability to test students and teachers as schools reopen. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette instead suggested the machines be purchased for the roughly two dozen community testing centers already set up, mostly in hospitals.
That would ensure that primary care doctors are part of the process, she said, and would spare schools from the extra expense of obtaining the necessary lab certifications and acquiring required protective equipment.
"It would make more sense and be more prudent to put them in the community testing centers. We've provided funding to the community testing centers in the hospitals to do the set up," she told lawmakers advising the Governor's Office of Emergency Relief and Recovery. "So I think we should take full advantage of those testing centers."
The group voted unanimously to recommend the state use some of its remaining $1.25 billion in federal virus relief aid to purchase 25 machines.
Iowa seeing troubling virus trends as students return
4:34 PM CT on 8/26/20
(AP) As K-12 and college students and staff return to classrooms across Iowa, the pace of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has accelerated, prompting alarm among some infectious disease experts.
On Wednesday, the state reported 817 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 13 additional deaths in the past 24 hours. Iowa's death toll stands at 1,061.
The increase appears in part to be due to young adults packing bars in the university cities of Ames and Iowa City in violation of regulations that require social distancing.
The homes of Iowa State University and the University of Iowa saw high daily cases in late June and early July, but those numbers fell when some bars and restaurants closed. Since they reopened and the students returned, the daily case counts have increased and in recent days surpassed a late-June peak.
"I think the situation in Story County and Johnson County is really worrisome," said Dr. Rossana Rosa, a Des Moines infectious disease specialist. "The way things are looking right now, I don't know how they get better. I really don't. Certain places perhaps are going to need to actually shut down to get things under control. It's really looking like that."
State data shows a sharp increase in the number of daily hospitalizations since late June. The number of people hospitalized has climbed to 313 from just above 100 in late June. There were 201 people in intensive care on Tuesday — the highest number since early June.
While some businesses have implemented mask mandates and are working to keep customers distant, the state has no face mask requirement and there appears to be little enforcement of Gov. Kim Reynolds' July 30 social distancing requirements for bars.
Between July 30 and Aug. 24, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division has conducted 445 inspections and has received 167 complaints.
The agency has seven open cases under investigation but there have been no fines, license suspensions or revocations, despite photos of packed bars in Iowa City, Ames and Des Moines.
"Since the announcement of the increased enforcement efforts through today, ABD has not issued an administrative action regarding the governor's proclamations," agency spokesman Jake Holmes wrote in an email.
Reynolds is discussing possible further action with the Iowa Department of Public Health.
"The governor and her team are working with IDPH to assess if additional mitigation efforts are needed," spokesman Pat Garrett said. She has a press conference scheduled for Thursday.
Rosa said the virus has never been under control in Iowa.
"It's not even that we had an ember. We just had more of a fire that just kept getting larger," she said. "That's why the situation is what it is right now."
White House chief of staff hopes for vaccine by the fall
2:08 PM CT on 8/26/20
(AP) White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows says he’s looking forward to the U.S. having a vaccine for COVID-19 by the fall, a faster timeline than top government scientists have sketched out.
Meadows told Politico he’s “optimistic that one of the seven or eight candidates that we have will actually get approved. And hopefully be able to be deployed by this fall.”
Last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a congressional hearing he was “cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021.” He suggested health workers and medically vulnerable people will go first.
Meadows didn’t directly say whether the Food and Drug Administration would authorize emergency use of a vaccine, which it did recently for donated blood plasma from people who recovered from COVID-19.
Meadows says, “We’re going to make sure it’s good science and the efficacy and the safety of those vaccines are well tried.”
Moscow announces advanced trials for new COVID-19 vaccine
11:46 AM CT on 8/26/20
(AP) The mayor of Moscow invited residents Wednesday to join trials of a coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved for use earlier this month in what officials described as a breakthrough on par with the Soviet Union's launch of the world's first satellite in 1957.
The world's first vaccine against the coronavirus to receive a government go-ahead has caused unease among international medical experts, who called Russia's fast-tracked approval and failure to share any data supporting claims of the vaccine's efficacy a major breach of scientific protocol.
Scientists around the world say any widely-used vaccine should first be tested in advanced trials involving tens of thousands of people to prove it is safe and effective before being licensed.
In his invitation to the Russian capital's residents, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin appeared to announce that these kinds of broad studies would be launched soon. He said the "post-registration research" will last six months and involve 40,000 people.
Sobyanin encouraged Moscow residents to sign up, arguing that the vaccine was based on longtime previous research and proven to be safe.
"We all were eager to see the creation of a vaccine, and now we have it," Sobyanin said. "Now, Moscow residents have a unique chance to become the main participants in clinical research that will help defeat the coronavirus."
Scientists at the World Health Organization said last week that although they had begun discussions with Russia about its vaccine, they had not yet received any detailed data about it.
In announcing the vaccine's approval on Aug. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of his two adult daughters had already been inoculated with it. He said the vaccine underwent the necessary tests and was shown to provide lasting immunity to the coronavirus, although Russian authorities have offered no proof to back up claims of safety or effectiveness.
Experts warn that using an untested vaccine that has not yet proven to be safe or effective could ultimately undermine the response to the pandemic and cause more distrust among people about whether or not to be vaccinated.
South Korea urges striking doctors to return to work
9:23 AM CT on 8/26/20
(AP) Health officials in South Korea called on thousands of striking doctors to return to work as the country counted its 13th straight day of triple-digit daily jumps in coronavirus cases.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo cited the growing virus crisis while issuing back-to-work orders for doctors in the greater capital area who had joined physicians in other parts of the country for a three-day strike starting Wednesday to protest government plans to boost the number of medical students. Doctors’ groups say such measures would worsen what’s already a cut-throat market.
South Korea’s Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention reported 320 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 237 from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region, which has been the center of a viral resurgence in recent weeks. Health workers have struggled to stem transmissions linked to various places and groups, including churches, schools, restaurants and door-to-door salespeople.
Park’s ministry said more than 2,000 medical facilities nationwide had reported their intentions to close for Wednesday after doctors’ groups, including the Korean Medical Association and the Korean Intern Resident Association, expressed dissatisfaction over their negotiations with government officials.
Park said doctors who refuse to return to work could possibly have their licenses suspended or revoked, or even face a prison term of less than 3 years.
Whitmer pushes flu vaccine to ease hospitals' load during pandemic
7:33 PM CT on 8/25/20
(Crain's Detroit Business) Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday urged Michigan residents to get the flu vaccine to ease the load on the health system if there is a surge of coronavirus cases during the fall and winter influenza season, announcing the state wants at least 1 million more people vaccinated.
She received a flu shot during a news conference to "show how easy it is."
More than 3.2 million of Michigan's 10 million residents were vaccinated against the flu last season. The state's goal is to increase that number by a third, to 4.3 million.
"When we all get our flu vaccine, we can help keep thousands of patients out of the hospital and prevent overcrowding," Whitmer said.
Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said hospital administrators are concerned about a second wave of COVID-19 coinciding with an outbreak of the seasonal flu.
"In that scenario, many of our hospitals could potentially fill to capacity," Peters said at Whitmer's weekly press briefing.
Ventilation study finds no pattern in nursing home outbreaks
7:33 PM CT on 8/25/20
(AP) A review of nursing homes in New Hampshire that experienced coronavirus outbreaks found no correlation between their ventilation systems and how the virus spread through the facilities, the state health commissioner said Tuesday.
The state hired outside investigators to review ventilation at 28 long-term care facilities, including the hourly air exchange rate and how often filters were replaced. The systems varied widely in age and design, but the results showed no patterns in terms of the virus, said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette.
“We have some facilities that have very modern air exchange systems where you have regular cycling of the air, and you have some facilities that don’t have a robust air exchange system, and both had outbreaks,” she said. “I thought that was going to make a significant difference, and it didn’t seem to have the impact that I thought it was going to have.”
Investigators did recommend increasing the air exchange in residents’ rooms and common areas, and adding ultraviolet light protection in duct systems, Shibinette said. And the state is still encouraging schools and businesses to review their own systems. The requirement that federal virus relief aid be spent by the end of the year may make it difficult for schools to complete major upgrades, but the state is exploring how it could help fund such projects, said Gov. Chris Sununu.
“There’s no doubt that clean air, fresh air and a well-functioning air exchange system is really important to individuals’ health and being able to mitigate the virus,” he said.
Lawsuit seeks repeal of Wisconsin governor's mask mandate
4:26 PM CT on 8/25/20
(AP) Wisconsin's statewide mask mandate should be immediately ended because Gov. Tony Evers didn't have the legal authority to order it, three western Wisconsin residents represented by a conservative law firm argue in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
It's the first legal challenge to the mask order Evers issued to help slow the spread of the coronavirus after cases began to spike again in mid-June. Evers issued the order on July 30, it took effect Aug. 1, and is set to run until Sept. 28. The order requires everyone age 5 and older to wear a mask while indoors, except at home. Violators could be fined $200.
Two Polk County residents and one in St. Croix County filed the Wisconsin lawsuit. They are represented by the conservative law firm the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
The lawsuit contends that the legal challenge is about Evers' authority, not whether the state should act to slow the spread of COVID-19 or whether there can be a mask mandate. If Evers wanted to enact a mask mandate, he could have done so with the Legislature's approval, not by issuing an executive order, said Rick Esenberg, president of the law firm bringing the challenge.
Evers' spokeswoman Britt Cudaback accused Republicans and their allies of trying to prevent the governor from keeping people healthy and safe.
"We know requiring masks and face coverings will help us save lives, and Gov. Evers will continue listening to science and public health experts in making the best decisions for the people of our state," she said in a statement.
Evers declared a public health emergency in March related to the coronavirus. That expired after 60 days on May 11 after the Republican-controlled Legislature did not extend it. In July, Evers declared a second state of emergency and issued the mask mandate in conjunction with that order.
The lawsuit argues that the mask order should be struck down because Evers has no authority under state law or the Wisconsin Constitution to issue a second health emergency to address the same crisis without legislative approval. If the court determines that Evers did have legal power to issue the order, the lawsuit argues that the underlying law giving him that power should be found unconstitutional.
Republicans who control the Legislature have fought Evers over his executive powers during the pandemic. Republican legislative leaders sued and successfully ended a "safer at home" order Evers issued this spring. And Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called on the Legislature to revoke the mask mandate, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has not taken action.
Can mosquitoes spread the coronavirus?
2:11 PM CT on 8/25/20
(AP) No. While mosquitoes can spread some diseases, most notably malaria, experts say COVID-19 is not among them.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has no data to suggest the coronavirus is spread by either mosquitoes or ticks. COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through droplets people spray when they talk, cough or sneeze. And the World Health Organization says a mosquito bite won't give you the virus.
But why not, if mosquitoes can transmit other diseases? A recent study offers an explanation. Researchers say the virus would have to infect the mosquito and multiply inside of it in order for the mosquito to pass it on to people. That failed to happen when researchers injected three species of mosquitoes with the virus.
With virus cases down, California looks to reopen businesses
12:00 PM CT on 8/25/20
(AP) While California faces multiple crises, there are encouraging signs in the coronavirus fight, with infection rates falling enough that Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that soon he will announce plans for reopening businesses that closed nearly two months ago when cases spiked.
"We are moving forward this week," Newsom said during a news conference on efforts to combat the virus and wildfires, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes and fouled the air over a large swath of the nation's most populated state.
Newsom called it a "very difficult period, where we're battling this pandemic as we're battling these wildfires all up and down the state of California."
More than 100,000 people are tested for COVID-19 every day, though the wildfires have made it more difficult in some places, the Democratic governor said. Over the past week, the infection rate for those tested fell to 5.6%, a significant drop from a few weeks ago and well below the state's target of 8%.
Hospitalizations are down 20% over a two-week period, Newsom said. There are 4,467 hospitalized with the virus, the lowest figure in two months.
Orange County, the state's third most populous with 3.2 million residents, is among the latest of eight counties to come off a state watch list that tracks infection rates, hospitalizations and other metrics. Most counties remain on the list, which restricts what businesses can operate, whether religious services can be held indoors and whether schools can reopen for in-person learning.
California's second most populous county, San Diego, came off the list last week. Los Angeles County, the most populated with 10 million people and long the state's epicenter for the virus, remains on it but is showing positive trends.
Daily hospitalizations there have decreased by 45% from the peak of over 2,200 in mid-July, and average deaths have dropped from 44 to 28 per day.
If the trends continue and Los Angeles County can move toward reopening some businesses and schools, it will be essential for people to keep wearing masks and distancing, said Dr. Muntu Davis, the county's health officer.
"Cautious reopening means we take to heart the lessons that we learned from July and move forward in a new normal of making the infection control practices part of our day-to-day lives for the foreseeable future," he said.
West Virginia allows nursing home visits to resume
9:38 AM CT on 8/25/20
(AP) Nursing home visits are being allowed again in West Virginia as the state focuses on coronavirus outbreaks in the general populations of individual counties without clamping down on areas without them.
But Gov. Jim Justice warned Monday that the visits could end quickly in some places if further outbreaks occur within nursing homes themselves.
Officials will use the same color-coded county alert system they've applied to public school systems to determine whether nursing homes will remain open.
Counties with the lowest rates of community-spread virus cases will be depicted in green, followed by yellow, orange and red. Visits will be unrestricted in green and yellow counties, will be limited to compassionate care nursing home residents in orange counties and will be banned in red counties.
Most of the state's 55 counties are coded green. The only one currently coded red is Logan County, where there have been 14 coronavirus-related deaths over the past two weeks. A Logan County nursing home, Trinity Health Care, is undergoing an outbreak involving 87 residents and 55 staff members. Five people have died. Monroe County is the lone county whose status is orange.
Colors for counties with populations of under 16,000 will be based on the number of new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 14-day rolling average. Those with higher populations will continue to use a seven-day rolling average.
Justice halted nursing home visitations on Aug. 12 as statewide positive cases and deaths surged. The Republican governor also stopped the visits in March, then let them resume in mid-June.
There currently are outbreaks at 31 nursing homes, although many only have a few cases. Officials have blamed some of the outbreaks on out-of-state vacations.
"If by chance we have additional outbreaks because of visitation, then we're going to have to batten down the hatches and go back to no visitation," Justice said.
Seattle-area hospital reports COVID-19 outbreak
8:12 PM CT on 8/24/2020
(King5.com) A coronavirus outbreak at a Bremerton hospital in the Seattle area has grown to 45 cases.
Dr. Gib Morrow, health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District, reported during a briefing Monday that 30 staff and 15 patients at St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton were infected with COVID-19.
“I think this is just an example of how insidious and tricky and difficult to recognize this virus is, and that’s the reason every one of us needs to behave as if we are infected and everyone around us is,” Morrow said.
Morrow said the health district expects the number of cases to rise as St. Michael continues to test all staff and patients.
The hospital reported the first COVID-19 case in the outbreak on Aug. 4, according to a timeline provided by the health district. At that time, Morrow said the initial investigation didn’t reveal any close contacts at the hospital.
On Aug. 13, the health district linked five coronavirus cases within one unit at the hospital. The health district declared an outbreak a day later and recommended testing in that unit, which revealed more cases.
Revved by Sturgis rally, COVID-19 infections move fast, far
6:15 PM CT on 8/24/2020
(AP) The hundreds of thousands of bikers who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have departed western South Dakota, but public health departments in multiple states are trying to measure how much and how quickly the coronavirus spread in bars, tattoo shops and gatherings before people traveled home to nearly every state in the country.
From the city of Sturgis, which is conducting mass testing for its roughly 7,000 residents, to health departments in at least six states, health officials are trying to track outbreaks from the 10-day rally which ended on Aug. 16. They face the task of tracking an invisible virus that spread among bar-hoppers and rallygoers, who then traveled to over half of the counties in the U.S.
An analysis of anonymous cell phone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cell phone activity for health researchers, found that 61% of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis, creating a travel hub that was comparable to a major U.S. city.
“Imagine trying to do contact tracing for the entire city of (Washington), D.C. but you also know that you don’t have any distancing, or the distancing is very, very limited, the masking is limited,” said Navin Pembar, who co-founded Camber System. “It all adds up to a very dangerous situation for people all over the place. Contact tracing becomes dramatically difficult.”
Health departments in four states, including South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming, have reported a total of 76 cases among people who attended the rally. South Dakota health officials said Monday they had received reports of infections from residents of two other states — North Dakota and Washington. The Department of Health also issued public warnings of possible COVID-19 exposure at five businesses popular with bikers, saying it didn’t know how many people could have been exposed.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has defied calls to cancel large gatherings and opposes requirements to wear masks. She welcomed the event, which in previous years brought in about $800 million in tourist spending, according to the state’s Department of Tourism.
“I sat at a bar elbow-to-elbow with guys. No one was wearing masks,” said Steve Sample, a rallygoer who rode back to Arizona last week.
He had visited a bar where health authorities later issued warnings — One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon, but said he had not had any COVID-19 symptoms. He discussed quarantining with his wife after he returned, but decided against it.
In a country where each state has been tasked with doing the heavy-lifting of responding to the pandemic, tracing every infection from the rally is virtually impossible. But the city of Sturgis is doing what it can to head off a local outbreak by holding mass testing for asymptomatic people.
The city, which is a sleepy tourist destination for most of the 355 days of the year outside of the rally dates, was a reluctant host this year. After many residents objected to the massive influx of people during a pandemic, city leaders decided to pay for mass testing from money they had received as part of federal coronavirus relief funding.
On Monday morning, Linda Chaplin drove with her husband to line up at the mass testing event in the parking lot of the Sturgis Community Center. They had left town during the rally, but the crowds that came before and after the event concerned them so they decided to get tested.
While the results from the test will take a couple days to process, the region is already seeing an increase in coronavirus cases.
“For a long time, people would say, ‘Well, do you know anybody that has COVID?’ and I would say, ‘No, I don’t but I’m watching the news,'” Chaplin said. “Now, I do know some people that we’ve heard have COVID.”
While Chaplin said the people she knows who have been infected had not participated in the rally, she said that many residents were relieved it’s over.
“Once you get your town back and once the rally is over, it feels like the end of the summer is approaching, school is starting up,” she said.
The local school district delayed the start of in-person classes this year in hopes it would give health officials time to contain an outbreak. The city also made coronavirus tests available for school staff, in addition to requiring city employees to get tested.
Although the city arranged to have 1,300 tests available, about 850 people have signed up for tests so far, according to Danial Ainslie, the city manager.
Some residents, like Eunice Peck, were not concerned about the potential for an outbreak. She rented her home out to rallygoers as a way to make extra money. She had avoided the crowds that fill the city’s downtown and didn’t feel the need to get a test.
“It’s a very good thing for the town,” Peck said of the rally.
But events like Sturgis concern health experts, who see infections growing without regard to city and state boundaries. Dr. Jawad Nazir, an infectious disease expert at the University of South Dakota medical school said they reveal the “failure” of the federal government to coordinate tracking of the virus.
Already, states beyond South Dakota are bracing for the rally’s impact.
Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health, told reporters on Friday, “We’re expecting that we’re going to see many more cases associated with Sturgis.”
Thousands allowed to bypass environmental rules in pandemic
4:32 PM CT on 8/24/20
(AP) Thousands of oil and gas operations, government facilities and other sites won permission to stop monitoring for hazardous emissions or otherwise bypass rules intended to protect health and the environment because of the coronavirus outbreak, The Associated Press has found.
The result: approval for less environmental monitoring at some Texas refineries and at an army depot dismantling warheads armed with nerve gas in Kentucky, manure piling up and the mass disposal of livestock carcasses at farms in Iowa and Minnesota, and other risks to communities as governments eased enforcement over smokestacks, medical waste shipments, sewage plants, oilfields and chemical plants.
The Trump administration paved the way for the reduced monitoring on March 26 after being pressured by the oil and gas industry, which said lockdowns and social distancing during the pandemic made it difficult to comply with anti-pollution rules. States are responsible for much of the oversight of federal environmental laws, and many followed with leniency policies of their own.
AP's two-month review found that waivers were granted in more than 3,000 cases, representing the overwhelming majority of requests citing the outbreak. Hundreds of requests were approved for oil and gas companies. AP reached out to all 50 states citing open-records laws; all but one, New York, provided at least partial information, reporting the data in differing ways and with varying levels of detail.
Almost all those requesting waivers told regulators they did so to minimize risks for workers and the public during a pandemic — although a handful reported they were trying to cut costs.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the waivers do not authorize recipients to exceed pollution limits. Regulators will continue pursuing those who "did not act responsibly under the circumstances," EPA spokesman James Hewitt said in an email.
But environmentalists and public health experts say it may be impossible to fully determine the impact of the country's first extended, national environmental enforcement clemency because monitoring oversight was relaxed. "The harm from this policy is already done," said Cynthia Giles, EPA's former assistant administrator under the Obama administration.
EPA has said it will end the COVID enforcement clemency this month.
WHO: Children ages 6 to 11 should wear masks at times, too
2:15 PM CT on 8/24/20
(AP) Just as millions of children are heading back to school, the World Health Organization says those ages 6 to 11 should wear masks in some cases to help fight the spread of coronavirus.
The recommendations presented Monday follow the widespread belief that children under 12 are not considered as likely to propagate the virus as much as adults. Children in general face less severe virus symptoms than do adults, with the elderly the most vulnerable to severe infection and death.
Now WHO says decisions about whether children ages 6 to 11 should wear masks should consider factors like whether COVID-19 transmission is widespread in the area where the child lives; the child's ability to safely use a mask; and adult supervision when taking the masks on or off.
"Luckily, the vast majority of children who are infected with the virus appear to have mild disease or asymptomatic infection, and that's good news," said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical chief of the U.N. health agency's emergencies program.
She still cautioned that some children can develop severe cases of coronavirus and even die.
The shift comes as confirmed COVID-19 infections worldwide have surpassed 23 million and confirmed deaths have passed 809,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the tally understates the true toll of the pandemic due to limited testing, missed mild cases and other factors.
U.S. stocks join global rally amid COVID treatment hopes
11:32 AM CT on 8/24/20
(AP) Stocks are climbing on Wall Street Monday, adding to their record-breaking run from last week.
The S&P 500 was up 0.7% in midday trading, following up on solid gains for stock markets across much of Europe and Asia. The S&P 500 pushed further into record territory after last week recovering the last of its losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 272 points, or 1%, at 28.203, as of 11:43 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.4% higher.
Hope was rising as pharmaceutical companies continue to work toward a possible vaccine for COVID-19 and after the U.S. government on Sunday approved an emergency authorization to allow the use of convalescent plasma to treat patients. The plasma comes from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and have antibodies, and it may help people battling the disease, though global health officials say the therapy is still experimental.
Stocks of several companies involved in plasma-derived pharmaceuticals were jumping following the announcement. ADMA Biologics rallied 17.3%, and Kamada climbed 15.1%.
Rising hope for a COVID vaccine and treatment also helped shares of industries that have been beaten down badly by what's become the new normal of pandemic life. Airlines climbed, for example, amid the possibility that people may feel safe enough to travel again in the future. Delta Air Lines rose 8.1%, and American Airlines Group added 9%.
One winner of the new normal, Zoom Video Communications, stumbled. Its shares fell 3.2% after it reported partial outages in its Zoom Meetings service, which has become the default way for classrooms and businesses around the country to communicate.
The market's gains were relatively broad, and roughly three out of four stocks in the S&P 500 were higher. Financial companies, energy producers and other areas of the market closely tied to the economy's strength were also rising.
Minnesota nears 70K positive COVID-19 tests; deaths at 1,767
10:02 AM CT on 8/24/20
(AP) Minnesota is nearing 70,000 positive COVID-19 tests, health officials said Sunday.
Health officials reported 728 positive tests on Sunday, bringing the state statewide total to 69,584. Health officials said 7.715 health care workers have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
More than 62,000 people were marked as no longer needing isolation.
Minnesota's death toll from the coronavirus rose by six to 1,767 as of Sunday. Officials report that 1,310 of deaths have been among residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities.
A total of 6,151 people have required hospitalization. Of those, 301 remain in those facilities, with 137 in intensive care.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
UK leader urges parents to let their kids go back to school
9:45 PM CT on 8/23/20
(AP) Britain’s prime minister is asking parents to set aside their fears and send their children back to school next month when schools in Britain fully reopen for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut then down more than five months ago.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was the government’s “moral duty” to reopen the schools as he stressed that authorities now know more about COVID-19 than they did when the country went into lockdown on March 23.
Johnson’s comments came hours after Britain’s top public health officials issued a joint statement saying that children were more likely be harmed by staying away from school than from being exposed to COVID-19.
“This is why it’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends,’’ Johnson said in a statement released late Sunday. “Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.”
The statements come as parents and teachers have express concerns about reopening schools amid fears that social distancing measures won’t keep children safe. Unions have demanded that Johnson's Conservative government make sure that social distancing measures and other protective procedures are in place to ensure the safety of students and staff.
Schools across the U.K. closed in March as the government sought to control the spread of coronavirus. Some students were allowed to return in early June, but classes weren’t mandatory and only about 18% of students nationwide took part.
The chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales said in their statement that children are less likely to catch COVID-19 than adults and they have "an exceptionally low risk’’ of dying from the disease.
By contrast, they said studies show that not going to school limits children’s ability to succeed in life and may worsen physical and mental health problems.
“Very few, if any, children or teenagers will come to long-term harm from COVID-19 due solely to attending school,’’ the medical officers said. ”This has to be set against a certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people from not attending school.’’
Britain has the highest confirmed virus-related death toll in Europe, at 41,515 people, and Johnson's government has been strongly criticized for not locking down sooner, not getting medical workers enough protective equipment and not properly protecting the elderly in care homes from the virus.
Experts flag risks in India's use of rapid tests for virus
4:49 PM CT on 8/23/20
(AP) In June, India began using cheaper, faster but less accurate tests to scale up testing for the coronavirus — a strategy that the United States is now considering.
These rapid tests boosted India’s testing levels nearly five-fold within two months. But government numbers suggest some parts of the country might have become over reliant on the faster tests, which can miss infections. Experts warn that safely using them requires frequent retesting, something that isn’t always happening.
Cases surged faster than labs could scale up testing once India’s harsh lockdown was relaxed. So far authorities have rationed the use of the more precise molecular tests that detect the genetic code of the virus. But on June 14, India decided to bolster these with faster tests that screen for antigens, or viral proteins.
Albeit less accurate, these tests are cheap and yield results in minutes. Most don't require a lab for processing or any specialized equipment or trained personnel. The plan was to rapidly increase testing to identify infected people and prevent them from spreading the virus. Samples tested using both tests increased from 5.6 million in mid-June to 26 million two months later, and nearly a third of all tests conducted daily are now antigen tests, health officials say.
But India’s experience also highlights the inherent pitfalls of relying too heavily on antigen tests, at the expense of more accurate tests. The danger is that the tests may falsely clear many who are infected with COVID-19, contributing to new spread of the virus in hard-hit areas.
Rapid test results can be backstopped with more accurate laboratory tests, but these are slower and expensive. Experts also warn that since the two types of tests vary in accuracy, they need to be interpreted separately to properly assess the spread of infection -- something India isn’t doing.
The U.S. faces a similar need to strike a balance between speed and precision, with overburdened labs struggling to keep pace with the outbreak. Researchers at Harvard and elsewhere are proposing developing a $1 saliva-based antigen test for all Americans to test themselves daily, something that has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Harvard’s Dr. Michael Mina says antigen tests don’t catch as many patients early in the infection, when virus levels are low. But these people aren’t considered the greatest threat to spreading the disease since it's only after virus levels surge that they become more infectious, and by then they will be picked up by antigen tests, he said.
Because a negative antigen test doesn’t guarantee a person is virus free, people should be retested regularly, said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute. “If their symptoms change, you want to think about retesting those people.”
India’s strategy is different. Health officials have asked for those who test negative with antigen tests but have symptoms to be retested with the more accurate laboratory tests.
But India has largely been opaque about how many negatives were being retested, and what type of tests were being used.
NJ lab finds positive COVID-19 tests from several NFL teams
1:03 PM CT on 8/23/20
(AP) The NFL revealed Sunday that several positive COVID-19 tests were found a day earlier by one of its testing partners, and the Chicago Bears said they had nine false positives.
The league has asked the New Jersey lab BioReference to investigate the results “while the clubs work to confirm or rule out the positive tests.” The NFL did not identify the teams or say how many tests were positive.
Two teams, Washington and Detroit, said they are practicing Sunday, while Cleveland has called off its workout.
The NFL uses BioReference for all of its COVID-19 testing, though tests are handled by labs throughout the nation to ensure teams get results quickly — hopefully within 24 hours. Heading into this weekend, there had been four confirmed positive tests for players who were at training camps.
“Clubs are taking immediate precautionary measures as outlined in the NFL-NFLPA’s health and safety protocols to include contact tracing, isolation of individuals and temporarily adjusting the schedule, where appropriate,” the NFL said in a statement. “The other laboratories used for NFL testing have not had similar results.”
The Bears moved their practice scheduled for Sunday morning to the afternoon.
“This morning we learned yesterday’s COVID-19 testing identified nine players/staff as positive,” the Bears' statement said. “We followed additional NFL-NFLPA testing protocol and confirmed all nine results as false positives.”
The Browns said initial results from the lab indicated multiple “presumptive positive cases” that included coaches, players and staff.
South Korea elevates distancing as virus nears spring levels
10:04 AM CT on 8/23/20
(AP) Churches were closed and professional baseball games were played in empty stadiums on Sunday as South Korea stepped up measures nationwide to fight a resurgence in coronavirus cases that has raised concerns that the epidemic is getting out of control.
The 397 new cases reported by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the KCDC, marked the 10th straight day of triple-digit increases and indicated that the speed of the virus's spread was nearing levels seen during the worst of the outbreak in the spring.
The resurgence, which began in the densely populated Seoul area before reaching practically every major city and provincial town over the past week, is a major setback for a country that had been eager to tout its hard-won gains against the virus.
After avoiding stringent social distancing measures because of concerns about hurting the economy, officials stepped up restrictions nationwide on Sunday.
They banned gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors and shut nightclubs, karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants and computer-gaming cafes. Churches can hold online services only, while fans were removed from professional sports, just weeks after baseball and soccer teams had been allowed to sell limited portions of their seats.
Such measures were first implemented in the greater Seoul area on Wednesday, but officials announced Saturday that they would be expanded nationwide after it became clear that the outbreak was spreading throughout the country.
KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said things will probably get worse before they get better. The daily jumps could become even bigger in the coming days because health workers are increasingly struggling to keep up with the pace of infection, scrambling to trace and test the contacts of virus carriers, she said.
“We don’t see the current state as the peak ... we believe that infections could further increase,” Jeong said during a virus briefing. “Patients are increasing not only in the Seoul metropolitan region, but also across the 17 (major) cities and provinces throughout the country, pushing us on the verge of a massive nationwide outbreak.”
The Seoul city government announced Sunday that it will require people to wear masks in public — indoors and outdoors — starting Monday. It wasn’t immediately clear how the capital could effectively enforce such requirements. Seoul has been mandating masks on mass transport since May, but enforcement has been relatively lax as it depends on bus drivers and subway station workers.
There’s a possibility that government officials this week could further elevate social distancing measures to “Level 3,” which could include prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting schools, halting professional sports and advising private companies to have employees work from home.
“An elevation to ‘Level 3’ practically means the stoppage of all daily activities aside of essential social and economic activities, and that would bring painful results to all our people and the economy as a whole,” senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said during a separate briefing. He called for vigilance by citizens to slow the spread of the virus, and pleaded that people cancel or push back large events such as weddings.
Analysis: Arizona reports 996 additional COVID cases, 68 more deaths
6:19 PM CT on 8/22/20
(AP) The Arizona Department of Health Services on Saturday reported 996 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases with 68 additional deaths, raising the state's totals to 197,895 cases and 4,756 deaths as reports of infections and deaths continued to slow.
COVID-19-related hospitalization metrics posted on the department's pandemic dashboard continued to trend downward and were at levels last seen in late May and early June before Arizona became a national hot spot. New case and death reports have dropped since mid July.
Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press produced seven-day rolling averages of cases and deaths in Arizona continued to decline over the past two weeks.
The rolling average of new daily cases dropped from 1,578 on Aug. 7 to 740 on Aug. 21. The rolling average of deaths per day dropped from 55 to 38 during the same period.
Analysis: Mississippi prison virus protocols under scrutiny
4:04 PM CT on 8/22/20
(AP) Attorneys are feuding in federal court filings over coronavirus testing and safety protocols at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.Entertainment mogul Jay-Z and rapper Yo Gotti are funding a lawsuit filed early this year to challenge health and safety conditions in
Parchman. Separately, the U.S. Justice Department said in February that it's investigating Mississippi's prison system — an announcement that came weeks after violence in late December and early January left some inmates dead and more injured.
Madeleine LaMarre, a nurse and prison health care consultant who is helping plaintiffs in the Parchman lawsuit, said in court papers Aug. 11 that she and a physician inspected the prison in February to determine whether inmates "were harmed by lack of timely access to medical care and the conditions of confinement."
"I found, among other serious problems with access to care, that the conditions of confinement were the worst I had ever witnessed, including lack of adequate sanitation and disinfection that would promote the transmission of COVID-19 to inmates and staff," LaMarre wrote.
More COVID cases linked to Maine wedding reception, state officials say
2:17 PM CT on 8/22/20
More cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a Maine wedding reception that violated attendance limits.
Maine state health officials said Saturday that so far, 53 cases of the virus have been traced back to the Aug. 7 reception in Millinocket. One person has died, according to a local hospital.
The reception at the Big Moose Inn exceeded the state's indoor gathering limit, among other violations of state rules. The outbreak affected individuals from 4 to 78 years old, officials said.
About 65 people — more than the limit of 50 — attended the reception. A representative for the Big Moose Inn has declined to comment.
One person whose infection has been linked to the reception died Friday afternoon at Millinocket Regional Hospital, the hospital's CEO announced Friday.
Because of the outbreak, the hospital is closed to visitors. The town hall and schools also were closed.
Thirty-two new cases and one additional death were announced Saturday by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The deceased was a man in his 70s from Cumberland County.
The updated figures bring the total number of coronavirus cases to nearly 4,320 and the number of deaths to 130, according to the Maine CDC. The daily update does not include the death reported Friday afternoon in Millinocket.
Florida again tops 100 coronavirus deaths; hospitalizations fall
12:19 PM CT on 8/22/20
(AP) Florida reported mixed statistics on the coronavirus outbreak Saturday, as it again recorded more than 100 deaths but also saw its number of infections and hospitalizations continue their fall.
The state recorded 106 confirmed coronavirus deaths Saturday, the 17th time in August that the state has exceeded 100 recorded fatalities in a day.
The state is recording an average of 156 coronavirus fatalities per day this month, which likely makes COVID-19 the state's No. 1 killer during that period. Cancer and heart disease each average about 125 deaths per day, according to the Florida Department of Health. The next three deadliest infectious diseases — flu/pneumonia, AIDS and viral hepatitis — average about 10 fatalities per day combined.
There are some positive signs, too. The state reported 4,300 new cases Saturday, continuing a downward trend that has seen the number drop from above 10,000 new cases per day a month ago.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have also been declining. Late Saturday morning, 4,773 patients were being treated for the disease in Florida hospitals compared to Friday's 4,909 and Thursday's 5,340. That number has fallen from a peak above 9,500 on July 23.
Overall, the state has recorded almost 600,000 confirmed cases since its first on March 1 and 10,410 deaths. Over the past week, the state's positivity rate on tests has been 10.8%.
Reduction of unnecessary services a possible silver lining to pandemic
10:09 AM CT on 8/22/20
The authors of a New England Journal of Medicine commentary argue that the upheaval caused by the pandemic may have created an opportunity to reduce unnecessary or inefficient procedures and treatments.
Taking a "Do not restart" approach, in which certain procedures, treatments, drugs and devices are not brought back into operation because of questionable value, could be meaningfully beneficial to the health system, according to the authors, one of which is Dr. Mark McClellan, former CMS administrator and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
The pandemic-related service-line cuts present "an unprecedented opportunity to re-evaluate the necessity of services our health system provides, embracing and enhancing the ones that provide the most value and finally reducing or eliminating those that provide little or no benefit," the authors wrote.
"Immediate action is essential as reopening occurs; force of habit and financial stresses may otherwise counteract some positive recent changes and move the health care system back toward business as usual," they wrote, offering a number of ways to identify areas to keep dormant.
30 coronavirus cases in outbreak at CHI Franciscan hospital
9:22 PM CT on 8/21/20
(AP) More than 30 COVID-19 cases have been reported in an outbreak at a Bremerton hospital, state health officials said.
The Washington State Department of Health said Friday afternoon the outbreak has affected multiple units at St. Michael Medical Center, which is part of the CHI Franciscan system.
The outbreak involves hospital staff and employees, officials said.
The Kitsap Public Health District and state health officials say they are working with the hospital to contain the outbreak after the first case was reported late last week.
Officials said patients discharged from the impacted units have been notified.
“St. Michael provides vital services to our community and we are taking this situation extremely seriously,” Kitsap Public Health District Health Officer Dr. Gib Morrow said in a statement. “We appreciate St. Michael’s quick action and ongoing cooperation.”
Along with local public health staff, who lead investigations into cases and outbreaks of COVID-19, infection control specialists from the state Department of Health will provide technical assistance and support the hospital response.
Public health and the hospital have also consulted with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an update on its website, CHI Franciscan said because of the outbreak and an increase in virus activity in the Kitsap community, the hospital will restrict new admissions and limit visitors.
Health officials say it’s important that people continue to stay home as much as possible, keep physical distance from others and wear face coverings in public.
State health officials confirmed 390 additional COVID-19 cases in Washington on Friday, bringing the state case count to 69,779.
There have been 1,850 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Washington, according to the state Department of Health, with 13 of those deaths confirmed Friday.
Biden says he'd close country if experts said to
8:38 PM CT on 8/21/20
(AP) Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says he would do whatever was needed to keep the country safe amid the coronavirus pandemic even if that meant shutting down the country.
Biden made the comment in an interview with ABC. The interview airs Sunday night, but clips were provided Friday.
Biden says, “I will be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives because we cannot get the country moving until we control the virus.” He adds that if scientists recommended shutting down the country, “I would shut it down.”
President Donald Trump is encouraging schools to reopen and people to get back to work. The U.S. has had more than 5.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 175,000 deaths.
FBI investigating COVID-19 data breach in South Dakota
6:16 PM CT on 8/21/20
(AP) The FBI is investigating a data breach that may have compromised the identity of people with the COVID-19 virus in South Dakota.
Paul Niedringhaus, who directs the South Dakota Fusion Center that handles emergency calls, sent a letter to people who may have been affected by the June 19 breach, the Rapid City Journal reported Friday.
The letter, dated Monday, says the state's fusion center used Netsential.com's services to build a secure online portal this spring to help first responders identify people who had tested positive for the coronavirus so they could take precautions while responding to emergency calls.
The South Dakota letter said police in the state weren’t given names but could call a dispatcher to verify positive cases. Houston-based Netsential added labels to the files that might allow a third-party to identify patients, the letter said, and the breach could have compromised people’s names, addresses and virus status.
“This information may continue to be available on various internet sites that link to files from the Netsential breach,” the letter said.
Netsential hosted the websites of more than 200 U.S., law enforcement agencies, most of them fusion centers like the South Dakota one affected. The company confirmed in June that its server had been breached.
The server was the source for a trove of files, dubbed BlueLeaks, that were shared online by a transparency collective called DDoSecrets. The collective said it had obtained them from a hacker who said they were sympathetic to anti-racism protesters.
South Dakota Department of Public Safety spokesman Tony Mangan confirmed to The Associated Press in a short telephone interview that the FBI was investigating but had no further comment. A message left Friday at the FBI’s Minneapolis office wasn’t immediately returned.
The letter from the state agency said the files didn’t include any financial information, Social Security numbers or passwords.
Public officials in at least two-thirds of states share addresses of people who have tested positive with first responders, including police, firefighters and EMTs. An Associated Press review in May found at least 10 states also share patients' names.
Some states erase the information after a certain period. Still, civil liberties groups have warned that sharing such information could lead to racial profiling of Blacks and Hispanics or help immigration officials track people down.
Arizona reports 20% increase in deaths this year
4:11 PM CT on 8/21/20
(AP) Arizona has reported a 20% increase in deaths in the first seven months of this year.
Public health experts say not all have been directly linked to the coronavirus. They say possible explanations include overdoses and suicides by those struggling with isolation or unemployment during the pandemic.
Other possibilities are patients succumbing to chronic diseases after postponing hospital visits because of fears about contracting the virus there. Or deaths from Arizona’s regular flu season in October to April.
A more complete understanding is expected after health officials review death certificates.
WHO chief hopes pandemic ends within 2 years
2:02 PM CT on 8/21/20
(AP) The head of the World Health Organization says he hopes the world can end the coronavirus pandemic in less than two years — less time than it took for the 1918 flu pandemic to be stopped.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described COVID-19 as a “once-in-a-century health crisis” and said that while globalization had allowed the virus to spread quicker than the flu did in 1918, there was also now the technology to stop it that hadn’t been available a century ago.
“We hope to finish this pandemic (in) less than two years, especially if we can pool our efforts,” he said during a press briefing on Friday.
WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan noted that the 1918 pandemic hit the globe in three distinct waves and that the second wave, which started during the fall of 1918, was the most devastating. But he said it didn’t appear COVID-19 was following the same pattern.
“This virus is not displaying a similar wave-like pattern,” he said. “When the virus is not under control, it jumps straight back up.” Ryan said that while pandemic viruses often settle into a seasonal pattern, that didn’t appear to be the case for the coronavirus.
Papua New Guinea demands China explain vaccine trial on miners
11:38 AM CT on 8/21/20
(AP) Papua New Guinea blocked the arrival of a flight carrying workers from China after a Chinese mine operator said its employees were given a coronavirus vaccine in a possible unauthorized trial, authorities said Friday.
The Pacific nation's pandemic response controller, David Manning, banned COVID-19 vaccine trials after Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Ltd. said it vaccinated Chinese employees.
Pharmaceutical companies in China and other countries are racing to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus. A Chinese drug company is testing a vaccine on volunteers in Indonesia. But none has been approved for general use.
Manning said he ordered a flight carrying 180 Chinese workers turned back Thursday as a precaution. He said he acted "in the best interests of our people" because of "possible risks or threat that it might cause."
Manning said he wanted more information from the Chinese government.
In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said he had no information about Papua New Guinea but defended China's drug development.
Chinese vaccine research "carries out evaluation of safety and effectiveness and ethical review strictly," spokesman Zhao Lijian said. He said "emergency use" also might be allowed to "maximize the health of the people."
HHS to ship antigen testing equipment to 14,000 nursing homes
9:37 AM CT on 8/21/20
HHS used the Defense Production Act to buy and ship point-of-care antigen testing equipment from Becton Dickinson and Quidel Corporation to about 14,000 nursing homes, the agency said Thursday. Nursing homes will receive diagnostic systems and assays based on priority.
“The federal efforts to supply nursing homes with rapid point-of-care antigen instruments and tests is our highest priority to save lives, and the US Government will exert its full authority to complete this mission. ,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Health and COVID-19 Testing Coordinator Dr. Brett Giroir said in a statement
Nursing homes must have a clinical laboratory improvement amendment waiver from CMS to get the testing equipment.
Tensions rise over Oregon's use of COVID-19 relief funds
9:10 PM CT on 8/20/20
(AP) Democratic and Republican lawmakers lawmakers say county governments should directly receive tens of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds, rather than having the state government funnel them to Oregon communities.
The Legislature has debated how to spend $1.4 billion in COVID-19 money for months but last week more than half of Oregon’s lawmakers signed a bipartisan letter -- addressed to Gov. Kate Brown, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland – requesting a $200 million pay out that they say they say had been promised to local governments.
“By keeping a disproportionate amount of the funds, the state has created inadequate resource distribution with significant statewide inequities in the amount of aid provided to local governments to help their communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter, signed by 47 of 90 lawmakers, read.
In April Oregon received $1.39 billion through the federal CARES Act.
The bipartisan letter specified that according to United States Federal Treasury guidelines, 45% of the funds must be given to local government – about $625 million.
The state’s Joint Emergency Board allocated $450 million for state expenses, $415 million for local governments and indigenous tribes, and the remaining $525 million was placed in reserve, according to the Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services.
Of the funds for local governments, state lawmakers divided up $215 million for reimbursing local governments and tribes and $200 million for local governments to pay for COVID-19 expenses such as personal protection equipment, contact tracing and testing.
In a letter by the Oregon League of Cities, to Brown, only $46 million has been released to cities, counties and districts to date.
Lawmakers said in their recent letter that the “need in many jurisdictions far exceeds the resources allocated from the State of Oregon.”
They letter further stated that a number of cities, including Seaside, Brookings and Medford, have already used the funds allocated as counties continue to address childcare, shelter, economic and public health needs of the community.
Lawmakers are asking that the state allocates an additional $200 million “that the state had previously promised for local governments.”
Iowa medical director was aware for weeks of COVID data flaw
6:22 PM CT on 8/20/20
(AP) Iowa’s medical director said Thursday that she was aware of inaccuracies in the state’s coronavirus data when her agency used it to release flawed calculations that helped guide decisions on school openings and enrollment this month.
Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state epidemiologist, said she became aware in late July of a problem in Iowa's disease surveillance reporting system that backdated thousands of new test results.
Nonetheless, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Aug. 6 released 14-day county positivity rates on the state’s coronavirus website that she said would help school officials and parents decide how to proceed with the school year.
The state announced Wednesday that, because of the backdating problem, those positivity rates had been erroneous for two crucial weeks and made changes that revised them. For 79 counties, the changes reduced their positivity rates, some dramatically. For the other 20 counties, the rates increased on Wednesday by an average of less than 1%.
Errors in the local rate caused the Fort Dodge district to announce a delay in the school start date and then abruptly reverse that decision this week when they were corrected. Others tracking the data say they're baffled by the dramatic changes and have lost trust in the tracking system's accuracy.
Reynolds has said that schools with a 15% positivity rate — a threshold three times higher than recommended by many public health experts — can apply for a waiver to start the year online. Otherwise, districts must offer at least 50% in-person instruction. Parents are also using the rates to determine whether to enroll their children in online-only options that districts are providing.
Pedati said that for anyone who was tested multiple times, their newest test result was recorded on the state’s website as having occurred on the date of their first test. That means many new results were backdated to March, April, May and June. The problem was widespread, as more than 100,000 people have been tested multiple times in Iowa since the start of the pandemic, Pedati said.
Pedati did not explain why she knowingly allowed erroneous positivity rates to be released, but she framed this week’s correction as a routine change to give the public better information.
“We have to be flexible and we want to incorporate new information and adjustments as we move along,” she said. “I know that it’s not ideal when things continue to change.”
N.Y. governor dismisses undercount concerns in care home deaths
4:30 PM CT on 8/20/20
(AP) New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed concerns that his state's coronavirus death toll in nursing homes could be a significant undercount, saying it makes sense to include only those residents who died on the home's property.
Unlike the federal government and every other state with major outbreaks, only New York explicitly says that it counts just residents who died on nursing home property and not those who were transported to hospitals and died there.
"If you die in the nursing home, it's a nursing home death. If you die in the hospital, it's called a hospital death," the Democratic governor said Wednesday during an interview on Albany public radio station WAMC. "It doesn't say where you were before."
Cuomo said if New York were to count a death as a nursing home death and a hospital death, that could lead to a "double count."
"And if I'm a nursing home operator, I say: 'Don't say that person died in my nursing home, because they didn't,'" Cuomo said. "'They died in the hospital. And if the hospital did a better job, they wouldn't have died. So why do I get the blame for the death when it didn't happen in my nursing home?' So it depends on how you want to argue it."
Some New York lawmakers have accused Cuomo's administration of refusing to divulge the complete count to make it appear that his state is doing better than others on the nursing home crisis and make a tragic situation less dire.
An Associated Press report last week found that New York's official care home death count of more than 6,620 is not only an undercount but that it is likely undercounted by thousands of deaths. It noted how a separate federal count since May included resident deaths in hospitals and was 65 percent higher than the comparable state count that didn't.
New York's count allows it to tout a percentage of nursing home deaths among its overall deaths that is 20%, as much as three times smaller than neighboring states. If New York was even at the national average of 44%, that would translate to more than 11,000 nursing home deaths.
WHO seeks more information about Russia vaccine
3:07 PM CT on 8/20/20
(AP) The World Health Organization’s Europe office says it has begun discussions with Russia to try to get more information about the coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved last week before the shot had passed the advanced trials normally required to prove it works.
Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency official at WHO Europe, says“this concern that we have around safety and efficacy is not specifically for the Russia vaccine, it’s for all of the vaccines under development.”
She acknowledged WHO was taking an “accelerated approach” to try to speed development of coronavirus vaccines but says “it’s essential we don’t cut corners in safety or efficacy.”
Smallwood says WHO has begun “direct discussions” with Russia and WHO officials have been sharing “the various steps and information that’s going to be required for WHO to take assessments.”
Study adds to evidence odor-sensing cells in nose are entry point for virus
12:24 PM CT on 8/20/20
The receptor that scientists believe is the “hook” that allows the coronavirus into the body is up to 700 times more prevalent in olfactory supporting cells inside of the upper part of the nose than in the rest of the nose and windpipe, according to small study.
That could explain why some COVID-19 patients lose their sense of smell, according to the letter that included the findings published in European Respiratory Journal.
The virus that causes COVID-19 enters the body through the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2, receptor. The study looked at ACE2 levels in nasal tissue from 19 adults with chronic inflammation of nasal tissue and in tissues from four people who had nasal surgeries for other issues. Researchers also studied samples from the tracheas of seven people who underwent surgery for abnormal narrowing of the trachea.
They found 200 to 700 times more receptors in the odor-sensing cells in the nose compared to other parts of the respiratory system, suggesting that could be the initial site of infection.
“Loss of the sense of smell is associated with COVID-19, generally in the absence of other nasal symptoms, and our research may advance the search for a definitive reason for how and why that happens, and where we might best direct some treatments,” said Dr. Andrew Lane, an author of the study, in a prepared statement.
White House asks insurers, providers to pledge to expand telehealth
9:39 AM CT on 8/20/20
The White House is asking health insurers and providers to continue building on telehealth growth the industry has experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The White House last week launched a “Pledge to Embrace Technology to Advance America’s Health,” through which the Trump administration is asking insurers to pledge to expand telehealth coverage and providers to accelerate telehealth adoption.
More than 50 healthcare organizations have committed to the pledge so far, the White House said Aug. 19.
Puerto Rico imposes stricter measures amid coronavirus spike
5:55 PM CT on 8/19/20
(AP) Puerto Rico's governor announced Wednesday that she will place the U.S. territory on a 24-hour lockdown every Sunday as part of stricter measures to fight a spike in coronavirus cases.
Gyms, theaters and bars will remain closed and only restaurants with outdoor areas will be allowed to seat people, but at 25% capacity. Gov. Wanda Vázquez said violators will be shut down for a month.
In addition, beaches will remain open only to those doing exercise such as runners and surfers, and businesses, malls and banks will be allowed to operate at only 25% capacity.
The new measures go into effect Saturday and will remain in place until Sept. 11. Face masks remain mandatory.
"We have to adjust to living in a new reality," Vázquez said, blaming the jump in cases on "careless" people. Vázquez also said it remains to be seen whether in-person classes at public schools will start in mid-September as scheduled.
"We are approaching a terrible autumn," she said.
A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew remains in place from Monday to Saturday, and on Sundays, only people going to pharmacies, grocery stores, hospitals or medical appointments will be allowed to leave home.
The announcement was welcomed by health experts, but many said the new measures should have been implemented last week as cases continue to soar.
The U.S. territory of 3.2 million people has reported more than 12,400 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and at least 356 deaths, including that of a 19-year-old woman announced Wednesday. Among those who have tested positive is Carlos Méndez, president of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives.
A 24-hour record of 644 cases were reported Aug. 4, Dr. José Rodríguez Orengo with the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust told The Associated Press.
"It was a number we had never before seen," he said. "This pandemic is still on the rise."
However, Rodríguez noted Puerto Rico is not yet reporting worrisome numbers of people in intensive care units or on respirators, which he said reflects the fact that 80% of people who have been infected are younger than 60.
He blamed the spike in cases on people coming from the U.S. mainland to visit family and friends, a lack of a robust contact tracing system and a weak educational campaign.
"At one point, we had the virus under control. Now the virus has us under its control," he said.
Large employers reviewing health insurance benefits after COVID-19
4:05 PM CT on 8/19/20
Several large employers are re-evaluating their benefits and wellness programs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey.
The Pacific Business Group on Health surveyed 15 large employers with 4 million total workers, and found two-thirds are reviewing their health, wellness and benefits programs for employee engagement.
In particular, 73% of respondents said they're most concerned about their employees' mental health. Chronic diseases and primary care access also topped employer concerns.
Nearly 60% of businesses surveyed also said they have put their plans to return to work on hold due to a rise on COVID-19 cases.
Arthritis, cancer drug could improve hospital survival for critically ill
2:13 PM CT on 8/19/20
Tocilizumab, a drug normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, could improve hospital survival for critically-ill COVID-19 patients, according to an observational study published in The Lancet Rheumatology.
Researchers at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey used a statewide database to analyze outcomes for 630 patients in intensive-care units between March 1 and April 22. Patients who received the drug had a roughly 36% decrease in hospital-related mortality compared to those who didn’t receive tocilizumab.
The drug helps tamp down inflammation, which could help patients who are experiencing a cytokine storm, a sometimes-deadly immune response that’s been seen in seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
Though the results are observational and not fully proven, a multinational clinical trial of tocilizumab is now underway.
"These real-time findings have helped to point us the way forward,” said Dr. Ihor Sawczuk, Hackensack Meridian Health regional president, Northern Market and chief research officer.
Pharmacists can give childhood shots, U.S. officials say
11:55 AM CT on 8/19/20
(AP) Pharmacists in all 50 states are now allowed to give childhood vaccinations under a new directive aimed at preventing future outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases.
Alex Azar, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, took the step using emergency powers he has during the coronavirus epidemic, which was declared a public health emergency. The directive announced Wednesday will temporarily preempt restrictions in 22 states starting this fall.
The move is designed to help prevent vaccination rates from falling during the pandemic, Azar said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that orders for childhood vaccines from doctors' offices plummeted in late March and early April as their offices closed or saw fewer patients, raising concerns that vaccination rates would fall.
But a survey of pediatricians in May suggested that most offices were open and able to give recommended shots, and more than half were able to take on new patients if needed. Another CDC report from late last month noted New York City saw a rebound in kids getting their shots. National 2020 numbers from the agency are not expected for another year.
"Especially as we approach the school season, it is critical that children have easy access to the pediatric vaccinations to enable them to get back to school as schools reopen," Azar said.
The Trump administration has been pushing for schools and day care centers to reopen, as part of an effort to allow parents to return to work and help revive the economy.
Currently 28 states allow pharmacists to administer vaccinations to children, Azar said. In 22 states, laws limit such vaccinations, including three states that prohibit pharmacists from giving immunizations to any kids.
The authorization allows state-licensed pharmacies to administer childhood vaccines without a doctor's prescription. Pharmacists must first complete a training program, although many already have, Azar said.
The measure does not OK pharmacists to give shots to children younger than 3. Some of the most important childhood vaccinations are given to babies and toddlers, but pharmacists don't have the training or medical support to administer doses to young children, said Dr. Brett Giroir, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health.
Millions of women lose access to contraceptives, abortions during COVID-19
9:44 AM CT on 8/19/20
(AP) Millions of women and girls globally have lost access to contraceptives and abortion services because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the first widespread measure of the toll says India with its abrupt, months-long lockdown has been hit especially hard.
Several months into the pandemic, many women now have second-trimester pregnancies because they could not find care in time.
Across 37 countries, nearly 2 million fewer women received services between January and June than in the same period last year, Marie Stopes International says in a new report — 1.3 million in India alone. The organization expects 900,000 unintended pregnancies worldwide as a result, along with 1.5 million unsafe abortions and more than 3,000 maternal deaths.
Those numbers "will likely be greatly amplified" if services falter elsewhere in Latin America, Africa and Asia, Marie Stopes' director of global evidence, Kathryn Church, has said.
The World Health Organization this month said two-thirds of 103 countries surveyed between mid-May and early July reported disruptions to family planning and contraception services. The U.N. Population Fund warns of up to 7 million unintended pregnancies worldwide.
Lockdowns, travel restrictions, supply chain disruptions, the massive shift of health resources to combat COVID-19 and fear of infection continue to prevent many women and girls from care.
A surge in teen pregnancies was reported in Kenya, while some young women in Nairobi's Kibera slum resorted to using broken glass, sticks and pens to try to abort pregnancies, said Diana Kihima with the Women Promotion Center. Two died of their injuries, while some can no longer conceive.
In parts of West Africa, the provision of some contraceptives fell by nearly 50% compared to the same period last year, said the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
"I've never seen anything like this apart from countries in conflict," said Diana Moreka, a coordinator of the MAMA Network that connects women and girls to care across 16 African countries. Calls have increased to their hotlines, including those launched since the pandemic began in Congo, Zambia and Cameroon. More than 20,000 women have called since January.
Like others, Moreka predicts a coming baby boom in some parts of the world. "The pandemic ... has taken us many years backwards" in family planning services, she said.
Some countries didn't deem sexual and reproductive health services as essential under lockdown, meaning women and girls were turned away. Even after NGOs in Romania pressured the government to declare the services essential, many hospitals still weren't providing abortions, said Daniela Draghici, a member of the IPPF European network's executive committee.
"The impact in some cases is like what used to happen to young women during Communism, to get an abortion from somebody who claims to be a medical provider ... and pray," she said.
Australia announces coronavirus vaccine deal
8:40 PM CT on 8/18/20
(AP) Australia has announced a deal to manufacture a potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZenec.
“Under the deal, every single Australian will be able to receive the University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for free, should trials prove successful, safe and effective,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement Wednesday.
Morrison said the Oxford University trial was in a phase-three stage and more work was needed to prove its viability.
“If this vaccine proves successful, we will manufacture and supply vaccines straight away under our own steam and make it free for 25 million Australians,” Morisson said.
Morrison said there was no guarantee that the vaccine would be successful, “which is why we are continuing our discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time to find a vaccine.”
Michigan State says most classes will be online in the fall
6:45 PM CT on 8/18/20
(AP) Michigan State University is going online for the fall and is encouraging students to stay home, the school's president announced Tuesday, as schools across the nation struggled to control coronavirus outbreaks.
Remote learning for undergraduates is scheduled to begin Sept. 2.
"Given the current status of the virus in our country—particularly what we are seeing at other institutions as they re-populate their campus communities—it has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus," President Samuel L. Stanley said in a news release on the university's website.
The move to online learning is just for undergraduate students at the moment. The colleges of Law, Human Medicine, Nursing, Osteopathic Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and all graduate programs will receive details at a later time, according to the university in East Lansing.
Last September, Michigan State's total enrollment was 49,809 students, with 39,176 undergraduates.
“Our decision in March to transition to remote classes and have more employees work remotely was the right one,” Stanley said. “Since that time, we’ve worked diligently to create new approaches to educational and enrichment opportunities for our students, while always keeping health and safety foremost in mind.”
Over the next two weeks, in-person and hybrid classes will be transitioned to remote formats, Michigan State said.
Refunds or credits will be issued to students who already paid for the fall semester.
“We also realize that for some students MSU is their home or they need to be on campus for employment,” Stanley said. “Just like we did this spring, we will continue to provide a safe place for a small number of students in our residence halls.”
Tuesday’s action by Michigan State follows the decision by University of Notre Dame officials to go online for two weeks and an announcement Monday by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to switch to remote learning starting Wednesday.
The University of Michigan says it plans to offer a mixture of in-person and remote classes. Not all courses will be available in every format, the school said on its website.
Most students will be able to choose whether to return to Ann Arbor for a hybrid learning experience or study from home in a fully remote mode.
As of Tuesday, about 70% of undergraduate classes at the University of Michigan were being taken online, according to a school spokesman.
The university’s Ann Arbor campus will open its residence halls for housing and dining.
PCORI approves $23 million for COVID-19 outcomes studies
4:25 PM CT on 8/18/20
The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute has approved nearly $23 million for seven studies on the best healthcare delivery approaches for improving COVID-19 outcomes.
The research includes a University of California at San Francisco study comparing how policy decisions in seven states affected COVID-19 outcomes, particularly for minority residents, a RAND Corp. study on strategies to improve physical and mental health in healthcare workers, and a Weill Medical College of Cornell University study on the effectiveness of telehealth in primary care during the pandemic.
“These comparative clinical effectiveness research studies on optimizing healthcare and health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic complement and enhance the research and development of new therapies and vaccines against the novel coronavirus,” said PCORI Executive Director Dr. Nakela L. Cook in a prepared statement.
Survey: Nearly half of physicians think COVID-19 won’t be under control until after June 2021
2:09 PM CT on 8/18/20
Nearly half of physicians don’t believe the COVID-19 pandemic will be under control until after June 2021, while 86% don’t think it will be under control until January, according to a survey conducted by the Physicians Foundation.
The survey, conducted in July with more than 3,500 respondents, asked physicians how the pandemic is affecting their practices and patients. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said COVID-19 would have serious consequences for health in their communities because many are delaying needed care.
Health insurance is another problem; 76% cited changes in employment and insurance status is a primary cause of harm to patients caused by COVID-19. But 59% believed opening schools, businesses and other public places posed a greater risk to their patients than continued social isolation.
“The data reveals a near-consensus among America’s physicians about COVID-19’s immediate and lasting impact on our healthcare system,” said Dr. Gary Price, president of The Physicians Foundation, in a prepared statement. “We are living through a historical shift in the way we practice and how we deliver care to patients. Our healthcare landscape is constantly changing right now, and we expect it will be radically different for both physicians and our patients long after the pandemic passes.”
U.K. rates of depression double among adults during lockdown
11:51 AM CT on 8/18/20
(AP) Rates of depression appear to have almost doubled in Britain since the country was put into lockdown in late March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country's official statistics agency.
The Office for National Statistics said in a special study released Tuesday that 19.2% of adults were likely to be experiencing symptoms of depression in June, three months into the lockdown of large chunks of society and the economy. That proportion is up from 9.7% recorded between July 2019 and March.
The statistics agency, which assessed the same 3,527 of adults before and during the pandemic, said feelings of stress or anxiety were the most common way adults were experiencing some form of depression, with around 85% of those reporting symptoms.
"Revisiting this same group of adults before and during the pandemic provides a unique insight into how their symptoms of depression have changed over time," said statistician Tim Vizard.
During the height of the lockdown, which was imposed on March 23 and has only been eased over the past couple of months, people were isolated from friends and family, and often alone — an isolation backdrop that has the potential to cause mental harm.
In addition, people have clearly fretted about contracting and then spreading the coronavirus in a country that now has Europe's highest COVID-related death toll with more than 40,000 victims.
Many people have also been worried about their jobs and future financial well-being as the economy nose-dived in the face of the restrictions on everyday life.
Though all age brackets reported higher levels of depression, the study found that younger adults between 16 and 39 years of age were proportionately more likely to do so, with nearly a third reporting symptoms of depression — a generational contrast to the coronavirus' impact on physical health.
Arizona reports zero virus deaths for 1st time in 3 weeks
10:01 AM on 8/18/20
(AP) Arizona officials reported an additional 468 cases of the coronavirus and zero deaths on Monday, marking the first time in three weeks that the state hasn't reported a death from the virus.
The last day when Arizona had no coronavirus deaths to report was on July 27. Totals released on Mondays typically have a lower number of deaths, when compared to other days, because of a lag in weekend reporting.
Since the pandemic began, Arizona has reported more than 194,000 cases of the virus and 4,506 deaths.
According to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press, seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases in Arizona and of daily deaths in the state have sharply declined over the past two weeks.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Arizona peaked about a month ago following Gov. Doug Ducey's lifting of stay-home orders in May.
With Arizona then becoming a national hot spot, Ducey in late June re-imposed some restrictions and allowed local governments to impose masking requirements.
FDA flags accuracy problem with widely used coronavirus test
8:05 PM on 8/17/20
(AP) Potential accuracy issues with a widely used coronavirus test could lead to false results for patients, U.S. health officials warned.
The Food and Drug Administration issued the alert Monday to doctors and laboratory technicians using Thermo Fisher’s TaqPath genetic test. Regulators said issues related to the equipment and software used to run the test could lead to inaccuracies.
The warning comes nearly a month after Connecticut public health officials first reportedthat at least 90 people had received false positive results for the coronavirus. Most of those receiving the false results were residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
A spokeswoman for Thermo Fisher said the company was working with FDA “to make sure that laboratory personnel understand the need for strict adherence to the instructions for use.”
The FDA said one possible problem was related to equipment that rapidly spins samples in preparation for processing. The agency’s letter tells lab workers to follow new instructions developed by the company for this step.
A second issue relates to the software used on Thermo Fisher’s testing platform. FDA said labs must upgrade the software to a new version.
Dr. Albert Ko of Yale’s School of Public Health said the accuracy problems have “pretty serious implications” given that Thermo Fisher’s test is used widely both in the U.S. and around the world to screen for coronavirus.
The FDA statement did not provide any details on how many test results may have been affected by the problem.
Lab tests are the backbone of U.S. screening for coronavirus, accounting for more than half of the roughly 750,000 tests developed daily. The tests look for traces of coronavirus’ genetic material in nasal swabs taken from patients.
Thermo Fisher’s test was granted emergency use by the FDA in mid-March. The test runs on a large, automated machine used in hospital, government and commercial labs to look for diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and flu.
The FDA has used its emergency powers to OK more than 200 tests for coronavirus since February. No test is perfect and all are expected to give at least a small percentage of false negatives and false positives.
CDC official: 5 areas of improvement needed for COVID-19 surveillance
6:13 PM CT on 8/17/20
Interoperability and reducing reporting burden are two areas in need of improvement to support public health surveillance for COVID-19, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said Aug. 17.
Public health surveillance that's updated quickly has become integral amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as healthcare providers, researchers and government agencies need to respond to emerging hotspots and disease trends.
"Trying to stitch together a national picture for COVID-19 has its opportunities and challenges," Dr. Adi Gundlapalli, chief public health informatics officer at the CDC's Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services, said Aug. 17 during keynote remarks at the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative's 2020 virtual conference. "The work is ongoing."
"There are clearly areas for improvement," he added. Some core areas for improvement include interoperability, an ability to link individuals within and across datasets, an ability to get longitudinal healthcare data, consistent application of data standards, and reducing the reporting burden on healthcare and public health entities, according to Gundlapalli.
Lack of longitudinal healthcare data, for example, has made it challenging to study how age, gender, race and comorbidities affect patients with COVID-19. To address that challenge, Gundlapalli said the center is working on linking separate datasets to get a more complete view of demographic data.
"We're hoping with continued action linking datasets, we can triangulate from multiple data sources," he said.
Only 35% of nurse practitioners say practices could handle a COVID surge
4:23 PM CT on 8/17/20
More than 80% of nurse practitioners say their practices are better able to handle COVID-19 cases than when the pandemic began, yet only 35% say they could manage a surge, according to a new survey by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
Among those surveyed, availability of testing, rather than access to personal protective gear, as was reported in an earlier survey, is now the biggest obstacle in handling the virus. However, 18% of nurse practitioners still say they don’t have the necessary PPE.
Seventy-eight percent report a delay in receiving patients’ COVID-19 test results, and 36% say patients have been denied testing at centralized sites for not meeting testing criteria, according to the report.
“As providers working at the forefront of this pandemic, we urge our policymakers and health care systems to work together to continue strengthening access to viral testing and bolstering the supply chain to shorten wait times for test results, which are vital to limiting outbreaks and achieving better patient outcomes,” AANP President Sophia Thomas said in a prepared statement.