COVID tests costlier under Utah contract with startup
8:08 PM CT on 9/30/20
(AP) A multimillion-dollar coronavirus-testing contract the state of Utah signed with a startup company ended up costing significantly more per test because fewer people than expected took the tests, according to an audit released Wednesday.
The agreement with Nomi Health, which also has similar contracts in Iowa and Nebraska, was for a flat fee and didn't have a way to scale back if the number of tests was lower than planned, the audit found.
The $7.6 million contract was for up to 3,000 tests per day, which would have made them cost less than other providers, according to the Utah State Auditor.
But instead there were only about 540 tests processed per day at TestUtah sites, so each one ended up costing $235 — significantly higher than the $125-per-test average of other testing companies, according to the review.
The company did charge the state about $1.28 million less than it could have, and the state later signed a lower-cost contract with the company, the audit found.
The state said it was reviewing the audit. Nomi didn't immediately comment on the findings, which were part of a wide-ranging review of state spending in its response to the pandemic. The sometimes-critical audit comes as Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox weathers criticism about the state's response to the crisis while he runs for governor.
Georgia extends virus emergency rules again
6:38 PM CT on 9/30/20
(AP) Georgia's governor is again extending his emergency rules regarding COVID-19 as the state surpasses 7,000 deaths from the respiratory illness.
Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday extended the underlying state of emergency that allows him to issue other orders until Nov. 9. The Republican pushed back the expiration of pandemic rules and guidelines until Oct. 15.
Georgia has recorded more than 318,000 cases of coronavirus overall. The state's seven-day average of new cases has fallen below 1,200 a day. Georgia ranks 24th nationwide for new cases per capita in the last two weeks. It once was worst.
One complicating factor is the increasing usage of rapid antigen tests, which aren't yet recorded in state figures. Department of Public Health spokesperson Nancy Nydam says the state has recorded more than 28,000 positives from those tests, but they are not yet routinely published.
"Discussions are ongoing about when they will be included on the website," Nydam wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Fewer new deaths are being recorded, even as the state's total rose to 7,021 Wednesday. But with three months left in the year, if Georgia averages 33 deaths a day, it will surpass 10,000 deaths for the year. The state has averaged 35 deaths a day over the last week.
Kemp changes his orders to allow restaurant and bar workers diagnosed with COVID-19 to return to work once they've been symptom free, without medication, for 24 hours, down from a previous three days.
WHO announces nearly $1 billion to fight COVID
4:18 PM CT on 9/30/20
(AP) The World Health Organization announced nearly $1 billion in new pledges on Wednesday for the effort to battle the coronavirus pandemic and make sure that poor countries get treatments and vaccines against COVID-19.
Sixteen major pharmaceutical companies are promising to work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to scale up manufacturing and ensure all countries have access to affordable COVID-19 tests, therapies and vaccines. Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky announced the company will donate up to 500 million doses of its COVID vaccine, if it’s proven safe and effective, around the middle of next year for developing countries. Late-stage testing of the vaccine began last week.
WHO and other partners said an additional $35 billion is needed to fund planned efforts by the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. About $15 billion of that is needed by year’s end to fund research, manufacturing, purchase of medicines and vaccines, and distribution.
The accelerator has a goal of producing 2 billion vaccine doses, 245 million COVID treatments, and 500 million tests, and distributing them in low- and middle-income countries.
WHO noted that Canada, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the World Bank recently pledged about $946 million to help those countries fight the pandemic.
Appalachian State student dies following COVID complications
1:56 PM CT on 9/30/20
(AP) The University of North Carolina system reported its first coronavirus-related student death on Tuesday since several campuses reopened with at least partial in-person learning last month.
Chad Dorrill, a 19-year student at Appalachian State University who lived off campus in Boone and took all of his classes online, died on Monday due to coronavirus complications, officials said.
"Any loss of life is a tragedy, but the grief cuts especially deep as we mourn a young man who had so much life ahead," said a statement from Peter Hans, president of the system overseeing the state's 16 public colleges and universities. "I ache for the profound sadness that Chad Dorrill's family is enduring right now. My heart goes out to the entire Appalachian State community."
The university reported a new high of 159 current COVID-19 cases among students on Tuesday. Nearly 550 students have tested positive for the virus since in-person classes resumed last month. Appalachian State remains open for in-person instruction.
Three North Carolina colleges, including UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and East Carolina University, have halted physical classes for undergraduate students, after reporting a series of coronavirus outbreaks shortly after students returned to campus. Nearly 1,000 UNC students have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes resumed in August. ECU surpassed 1,000 cases earlier this month, followed shortly thereafter by NC State.
In a message to the university community on Tuesday, App State Chancellor Sheri Everts reminded college students to take the virus seriously and follow public health guidelines.
"His family's wishes are for the university to share a common call to action so our entire campus community recognizes the importance of following COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines," Everts wrote. "Despite generally being at lower risk for severe illness, college-age adults can become seriously ill from COVID-19."
Study finds Neanderthal genes may be liability for COVID patients
11:35 AM CT on 9/30/20
(AP) Scientists say genes that some people have inherited from their Neanderthal ancestors may increase their likelihood of suffering severe forms of COVID-19.
A study by European scientists published Wednesday by the journal Nature examined a cluster of genes that have been linked to a higher risk of hospitalization and respiratory failure in patients who are infected with the new coronavirus.
Researchers Hugo Zeberg and Svante Paabo determined that the genes belong to a group, or haplotype, which likely came from Neanderthals. The haplotype is found in about 16% of the population in Europe and half the population in South Asia, while in Africa and East Asia it is non-existent.
Modern humans and Neanderthals are known to have interbred at various points in history, resulting in an exchange of genes that can still be found today.
The genes are one of several risk factors for COVID-19, including age, sex and pre-existing conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart problems.
Zeberg and Paabo, who work at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, noted that the prevalence of the particular Neanderthal gene group is highest in people from Bangladesh, where 63% are estimated to carry a copy of the haplotype.
They cited studies from the U.K. showing that people of Bangladeshi descent have about two times higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than the general population.
"It is striking that the genetic heritage from the Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic," Paabo said in a statement. "Why this must now be investigated as quickly as possible."
But Andre Franke, director of the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at the University of Kiel, Germany, said the findings have no immediate impact on the treatment of COVID-19.
In a comment ahead of the study's final publication, Franke said one interesting question arising from the study is why that haploytpe — unlike most Neanderthal genes — survived until today.
"Perhaps it's good for a very active immune system if one doesn't have other risk factors," he suggested.
Kansas governor backs new guidelines on nursing home visits
9:36 AM CT on 9/30/20
(AP) Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday she supports new federal guidelines that will allow some visitations at nursing homes that accept Medicaid and Medicare if proper coronavirus-related safety measures are followed.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance last week that provides ways for nursing facilities to allow families to make in-person visits, which have mostly been banned since the pandemic began.
Kelly said in a statement that it's important to remain vigilant about protecting the health of nursing home residents and stopping the spread of the virus, but her administration recognizes that "prolonged separation of nursing facility residents from their loved ones has taken a significant mental health toll on everyone involved."
Nursing homes have been a major source of COVID-19 outbreaks in Kansas and other states. The state Department of Health and Environment's report last week on coronavirus clusters showed 14 of 29 clusters in the state were tied to nursing homes in 11 counties.
The report on clusters, which is released on Wednesdays, defines a cluster as places that have five or more active cases within the past 14 days.
The federal guidance says nursing facilities should continue to follow basic safety measures, such as social distancing and temperature screenings. But nursing homes subject to the federal guidelines can allow indoor visits if they have no new COVID-19 cases for 14 days and are not conducting active outbreak testing.
The CMS said facilities could be fined if they don't adopt the new guidelines without a valid reason.
The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services inspects state nursing homes to ensure that they comply with federal laws and standards.
"We're glad to see the guidelines shift back to focus more on 'resident rights' and a standardized approach," the agency's deputy director of facilities, Scott Brunner, said in a news release.
He said it would take time to implement the new guidelines because every facility will have to follow the protocols based on their different challenges.
UN chief cites pandemic's 'unprecedent toll'
9:19 PM CT on 9/29/20
(AP) The United Nations chief says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken “an unprecedent toll” especially on the economies of many developing countries and the world has not responded with “the massive and urgent support those countries and communities need.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that in the United States, Canada, Europe and most of the developed world, governments have adopted packages valued in double-digits of GDP to help tackle the coronavirus crisis and its impact.
“The problem is to mobilize the resources to allow the developing countries to be able to do the same,” he told a joint press conference Tuesday with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who have been jointly spearheading high-level meetings to try to raise the resources.
Guterres urged the international community to increase resources to the International Monetary Fund, including through a new allocation of special drawing rights and a voluntary reallocation of existing special drawing rights. He said many countries urgently need debt relief and called for the current debt suspensions to be extended and expanded to all developing and middle-income countries that need help. The private sector, including credit-rating agencies, also “must be engaged in relief efforts,” he said.
The U.N. chief said he is encouraged to see over 40 world leaders and the heads of the IMF, World Bank, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the African Union “coming together around these bold policies.”
He urged the international community to provide $35 billion -- including $15 billion immediately -- to fund “the ACT-Accelerator to ensure equitable access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines” for all countries.
Missouri sees spike in virus hospitalizations
6:25 PM CT on 9/29/20
(AP) The number of people hospitalized for the coronavirus has nearly tripled in areas outside of Missouri’s two largest metropolitan areas since the state reopened for business in mid-June, according to state health department data Tuesday.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ COVID-19 dashboard shows the state’s northwest, southeast, southwest and central regions all reached record highs for virus-related hospitalizations on Monday, based on seven-day averages. All told, Missouri reported 1,094 hospitalizations, five fewer than a day earlier, when statewide hospitalizations peaked.
Excluding the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, hospitalizations have risen 186% in the 3½ months since Republican Gov. Mike Parson allowed Missouri to reopen on June 16. The seven-day average for hospitalizations outstate on June 16 was 161; on Monday it was 461.
Wisconsin governor, health officials say state in 'crisis'
4:22 PM CT on 9/29/20
(AP) Gov. Tony Evers urged people throughout Wisconsin on Tuesday to "get on the same team" by taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, with cases statewide at their highest numbers since the pandemic started.
"We are in crisis right now," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin's chief medical officer.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin recorded its highest single-day increase in deaths from COVID-19 since May. The state's seven-day average in new confirmed cases was three times higher than a month ago and Wisconsin ranked third in new cases per capita over the past two weeks.
The number of people hospitalized, 640, was also an all-time high and an increase of 207 from seven days earlier. Hospitals in Green Bay and elsewhere in the state said they were near capacity.
Evers blamed President Donald Trump and state Republican leaders who have challenged his efforts to slow the virus by downplaying the severity of the crisis. Trump on Saturday is scheduled to hold campaign rallies in Green Bay and La Crosse, which both have high rates of new cases.
Evers said at a news conference that Trump should either not come or should insist that everyone who attends the events wear masks so they don't become super-spreader events.
"We have to have people who believe that this is not a hoax, that this is a real thing and that people are dying from this disease," Evers said. "It's unacceptable that we just blow it off. We need leadership at the national level that are consistent in this effort. ... We have to have people in charge talk the truth."
The surge in cases in Wisconsin has led to schools that previously were open to in-person teaching going virtual at least for the short term.
Evers said that although cases are being reported in schools, districts are "doing a good job" and they are not to blame for the surge. He remained committed to letting schools decide whether to remain open rather than issuing a statewide order shutting them down, like he did in the spring.
"People have to recognize this is not about the schools, we're operating under community spread here," Evers said. "We can solve this with the tools we have in place."
Cases rising among U.S. children as schools reopen
2:09 PM CT on 9/29/20
(AP) After preying heavily on the elderly in the spring, the coronavirus is increasingly infecting American children and teens in a trend authorities say appears driven by school reopenings and the resumption of sports, playdates and other activities.
Children of all ages now make up 10% of all U.S cases, up from 2% in April, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many youngsters returned to their classrooms.
About two times more teens were infected than younger children, the CDC report said. Most infected children have mild cases; hospitalizations and death rates are much lower than in adults.
Dr. Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the rising numbers are a big concern and underscore the importance of masks, hand-washing, social distancing and other precautions.
"While children generally don't get as sick with the coronavirus as adults, they are not immune and there is much to learn about how easily they can transmit it to others,'' she said in a statement.
The CDC report did not indicate where or how the children became infected.
Public health experts say the uptick probably reflects an increasing spread of the virus in the larger community. And they say many school-age children who are getting sick may not be getting infected in classrooms, where face coverings and other preventive measures are often in place.
Just as cases in college students have been linked to partying and bars, children may be contracting the virus at playdates, sleepovers, sports and other activities where precautions aren't being taken, said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health specialist at George Washington University.
"Understandably, there is quarantine fatigue,'' Wen said. Many people have a sense that if schools are reopening, then other activities can resume too, "but actually the opposite is true."
Global school studies suggest in-person learning can be safe when transmission rates in the larger community are low, the CDC report said.
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, head of the American Academy of Pediatrics' infectious-diseases committee, said the big question is what will happen as schools that have started out with online learning go back to in-person classes.
"It really will depend on how well can you mask and distance in a school setting," she said.
The CDC report said more than 277,000 children ages 5 to 17 were confirmed infected between March and Sept. 19, with an increase in September after a peak and a decline over the summer.
The agency acknowledged that may be an underestimate, in part because testing is most often done on people with symptoms, and children with the coronavirus often have none.
The CDC reported 51 deaths in school-age kids, most in them ages 12 to 17. Less than 2% of infected children were hospitalized, and youngsters who are Black, Hispanic or have underlying conditions fared worse than white children.
More data needed on convalescent plasma, says NIH panel
11:57 AM CT on 9/29/20
A review by the National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel has found there isn’t enough data to determine whether convalescent plasma is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration approved using convalescent plasma for COVID-19 under an Emergency Use Authorization last month. The review, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, evaluated data from the Mayo Clinic and the Broad Institute used to support the authorization.
The analysis of the Broad Institute data found no difference in 7-day mortality between the patients who received high-titer plasma and those who received low-titer plasma in the overall population or in patients who were intubated. For patients who weren’t intubated, 11% who received high-titer plasma died within 7 days of transfusion compared with 14% who received low-titer plasma.
In a similar study of the Mayo Clinic data, the 30-day mortality rate was 29.1% in the low-titer patients and 24.7% in the high-titer group, which wasn’t statistically significant.
The review also noted that the analysis doesn’t come from randomized controlled trials, the best way to determine efficacy of a new treatment.
“Prospective, well-controlled and adequately powered RCTs are needed to determine whether convalescent plasma and other passive immunotherapies are effective and safe for COVID-19 treatment,” wrote the panel. “Although providers have access to this therapy, the panel cannot recommend it as a standard of care for treating COVID-19 at this time.”
California shows signs of potential new surge of virus cases
9:45 AM CT on 9/29/20
(AP) California is showing signs of a new surge of coronavirus cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday, warning of a potential third shutdown of businesses and more delays in school reopenings "if we're not vigilant."
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have fallen more than 20% in the past two weeks and just 2.8% of people tested each day in California were positive for the disease, the lowest rate since the pandemic began.
The improving numbers have prompted state officials to loosen restrictions in 13 more counties over the last few weeks, allowing more businesses to reopen while granting hundreds of waivers for elementary schools — mostly private — to resume in-person classes.
But the "reproduction number," a measure of how quickly the virus is spreading, is creeping up in the state's most populated areas. An "R number" greater than 1.0 indicates an infected person is spreading the disease to more than one other person, which translates to an increasing case rate.
In the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, the number increased to 0.95 in the first two weeks of September. In the lower portion of Southern California, which includes Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties, the R number rose to 0.97.
And in upper Southern California — the coastal area from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo counties and inland Kern County — the number reached .02.
"This is, again, what science had predicted," Newsom said. "If we go back to our original form, if we're not cautious, if we're not vigilant, if we're not wearing our masks, if we're not practicing social distancing, physical distancing and hand washing and hygiene, these numbers can start to tick back up."
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the reproduction number is "fraught with uncertainty" because it is an estimate based on a model that includes many factors.
"We have to be cautious and not overinterpret that," Klausner said.
Plus, Klausner said it's difficult to know for sure how the coronavirus is progressing in California because of a lack of localized data. He said the state does not provide zip-code level data of the virus, as they do in New York City. He said it's like "operating with a blindfold on."
House Democrats unveil new $2.2T proposal for virus aid
8:01 PM CT on 9/27/2020
(AP) House Democrats unveiled a scaled-back $2.2 trillion aid measure Monday in an attempt to boost long-stalled talks on COVID-19 relief, though there was no sign of progress in continuing negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The latest Democratic measure would revive a $600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit and send a second round of $1,200 direct payments to most individuals. It would scale back an aid package to state and local governments to a still-huge $436 billion, send a whopping $225 billion to colleges and universities, and deliver another round of subsidies to businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program.
The proposal represents a cutback from a $3.4 billion bill that passed the House in May, but remains well above what Senate Republicans are willing to accept. Republicans have endorsed staying in the $650 billion to $1 trillion range.
Pelosi said Monday that she remains in contact with Mnuchin, with whom she negotiated several earlier relief packages. The two spoke briefly on Sunday and Monday evening and are slated to talk again Tuesday morning, according to Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill.
“We’ve come down $1 trillion, and they need to come up because we have to crush this virus,” Pelosi said Monday on MSNBC. “It takes money to crush the virus. It takes money to make the schools safe. It takes money to put money in people’s pockets.”
Talks over the summer broke down in acrimony and name-calling, and conversations this month haven’t produced visible progress. Even if the rival sides could agree on a “top line” figure from which to negotiate details, dozens of difficult issues would remain to be sorted out.
For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is insisting that a liability shield against potential lawsuits brought against businesses, schools and universities that reopen during the pandemic be part of the legislation. Pelosi opposes the idea and didn’t include it in Monday’s legislation.
Democrats say the purpose of the new draft legislation is to show good faith and spark a more meaningful round of talks. But it also comes after party moderates and “front line” lawmakers in swing districts protested that Democratic leaders were being too inflexible.
Pelosi’s office has said she’s considering putting the new measure up for a floor vote if talks this week with the Trump administration prove fruitless.
“Democrats are making good on our promise to compromise with this updated bill, which is necessary to address the immediate health and economic crisis facing America's working families right now,” Pelosi said in a letter to her colleagues. "We have been able to make critical additions and reduce the cost of the bill by shortening the time covered for now.”
WHO, partners roll out faster COVID tests for poorer nations
6:20 PM CT on 9/28/2020
The World Health Organization announced Monday that it and leading partners have agreed to a plan to roll out 120 million rapid-diagnostic tests for the coronavirus to help lower- and middle-income countries make up ground in a testing gap with richer countries — even if it’s not fully funded yet.
At $5 apiece, the antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests for which WHO issued an emergency-use listing last week, the program initially requires $600 million and is to get started as early as next month to provide better access to areas where it’s harder to reach with PCR tests that are used often in many wealthier nations.
The rapid tests look for antigens, or proteins found on the surface of the virus. They are generally considered less accurate — though much faster — than higher-grade genetic tests, known as PCR tests. Those tests require processing with specialty lab equipment and chemicals. Typically that turnaround takes several days to deliver results to patients.
Dr. Catharina Boehme, chief executive of a non-profit group called the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, said the rollout would be in 20 countries in Africa, and would rely on support of groups including the Clinton Health Access Initiative. She said the diagnostic tests will be provided by SD Biosensor and Abbott.
Hospitals, doctors urge governor to extend Alabama mask rule
4:24 PM CT on 9/28/20
(AP) Gov. Kay Ivey should extend the statewide rule requiring face masks in public, which health officials credit with stemming the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the head of the Alabama Hospital Association and a doctor's group said Monday.
The number of new cases of COVID-19 confirmed daily has fallen since reaching a high in the summer, and the reduction in the spread of the new coronavirus is all but certainly tied to the masking rule, which took effect in mid-July and is set to expire Friday, said Dr. Donald Williams, president of the association.
"The one thing that seems to have changed in the course of the pandemic is when the mask order was implemented," said Williamson. The association supports continuing the requirement through the end of the year and possibly longer, he said.
The Medical Association of the State of Alabama, with about 5,000 member doctors, also supports extending the rule, executive director Mark Jackson said.
"It has helped mitigate some of the positive tests. Sometimes it is a hassle to wear, but we think it is worth the hassle," he said.
Ivey and state health officials are weighing their options and will announce a decision this week, the governor's office said, but Ivey already has indicated she plans to keep the face mask order in place.
Speaking to Alabama Public Television in an interview aired Friday, Ivey said she knew some people have "grumbled" about the order, yet schools and businesses have reopened and unemployment has fallen since earlier in the pandemic.
"I don't like the mask, either. My glasses fog up. It's a pain in the rear. But at the same time it's working, and what's working we need to stick with," Ivey said.
Hospitals call for new COVID-19 restrictions as new cases surge in Ontario
1:17 PM CT on 9/28/20
(Canadian Press) Ontario's hospitals are calling on the government to reinstate restrictions in COVID-19 hot spots as the province reports its highest daily case increase since the start of the pandemic.
The government recorded 700 new cases on Monday, most of them in the Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa.
The Ontario Hospital Association says the government must move those regions back to Stage Two of the province's pandemic response, which saw restrictions on non-essential businesses like restaurants, gyms, and movie theatres.
Association President Anthony Dale says hospitals could become overwhelmed with patients if such action isn't taken.
The call comes after a move by the province on Friday to close all strip clubs and require bars and restaurants to shut down earlier.
Premier Doug Ford also announced that the province will spend an additional $741 million to help clear a backlog of surgeries that has developed at Ontario hospitals during the pandemic.
Dale said hospitals could see occupancy rates rise quickly given the resent surge in COVID-19 cases.
"We can no longer retain a false sense of security and belief that this will not happen to us," he said in a statement.
"At this rate, Ontario hospitals are facing a direct threat to their ability to continue to delivering the highest quality of care to Ontarians."
Dale said that the average acute care occupancy rate of Ontario's hospitals is 89% currently, but some of the facilities are already at 100% capacity.
The government said Monday that 128 people are currently hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 29 in intensive care.
Of the latest new cases, Health Minister Christine Elliott said 344 are reported in Toronto, 104 cases in Peel Region, 89 in Ottawa and 56 in York Region.
She said 60% of the new cases are among people under the age of 40.
The province is also reporting 36 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 27 among students.
Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 224 out of Ontario's 4,828 publicly-funded schools.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner asked Ford to outline the metrics that will trigger school closures and a return to Stage Two.
"People need reassurance that the premier is not asleep at the wheel right now, when his actions will determine the severity of the second wave," he said in a statement.
Mexico virus data may not be available for years
11:25 AM CT on 9/28/20
(AP) Mexico’s top coronavirus official said Sunday that definitive data on the country’s death toll from COVID-19 won’t be available for “a couple of years.”
The statement by Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell is likely to revive debate about Mexico’s death toll, currently at 76,430, the fourth-highest in the world.
“When will the final statistics on deaths from COVID-19 be ready? Certainly, a couple of years after the first year of the pandemic,” López-Gatell said, adding that work would be left to the country’s statistics institute.
Officials have acknowledged in the past that the figure is a significant undercount, because it includes only those who died after a positive test result, almost always at a hospital. Mexico does very little testing, and many people die without a test.
But the Mexican government has avoided adjusting its death toll upward to account for people who died at home or weren’t tested.
Some parts of the country like Mexico City have begun conducting their own recalculations, finding “excess deaths” likely caused by coronavirus were at least double official figures.
India's confirmed COVID tally reaches 6 million cases
9:30 AM CT on 9/28/20
(AP) India's confirmed coronavirus tally reached 6 million on Monday, keeping the country second to the United States in number of reported cases.
The Health Ministry reported 82,170 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, driving the overall total to 6,074,703. At least 1,039 deaths were recorded in the same period, taking total fatalities up to 95,542.
New infections in India are currently being reported faster than anywhere else in the world. The world's second-most populous country is expected to become the pandemic's worst-hit country in coming weeks, surpassing the U.S., where more than 7.1 million infections have been reported.
In the past week, nearly one in every three new infections reported in the world and one in every five reported coronavirus deaths were in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. While most of India's deaths remain concentrated in its large cities, smaller urban centers across the country's vast landscape are also reporting a surge in infections.
Yet even as infections mount, India has the highest number of recovered patients in the world.
The Health Ministry on Monday said more than 5 million people have recovered from COVID-19, giving the country a recovery rate of 82.5%.
Health experts have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the upcoming religious festival season, which is marked by huge gatherings of people in temples and shopping districts.
Another potential risk is an election next month in eastern Bihar state, where about 72 million people will cast votes over three days.
Hospital workers catching COVID at lower rate than public
7:06 PM CT on 9/27/2020
(Akron Beacon Journal) A new study from Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center found that fewer than 1% of the hospital's clinical staff had COVID-19 antibodies, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. That's far lower than the rate at which Ohioans are becoming infected by the virus. Antibody surveillance conducted by the American Red Cross shows around 3.3% of Ohioans appear to have COVID-19 antibodies, according to state officials.
Around 11%, or 15,774 of Ohio's more than 146,750 cases have been healthcare workers, according to the state's latest data. That's a decline from 16% of all cases at the end of March.
Ohio State is one of 13 university hospitals across the country participating in the study.
Atlantic City firefighters’ union sues state, city over virus handling
5:01 PM CT on 9/27/2020
(AP) The Atlantic City firefighters’ union filed a lawsuit against the city and state over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying scores of firefighters have been exposed to the virus.
The Press of Atlantic City reports that lawyers for Local 198 allege in a complaint in Atlantic County Superior Court that the “ineffective approach” of government officials to containing the virus spread has jeopardized the health and safety of firefighters, their families and the public.
The suit says the number of city firefighters exposed to the coronavirus has ballooned to about 65. It alleges breach of contract as well as violation of state constitutional due process and equal protection rights as well as the law under which the state administers the cash-strapped seaside resort city.
The union is calling for those exposed to be placed on paid leave and to self-quarantine for 14 days and for stations to be disinfected between shifts. The union also wants training of new hires, which is scheduled to begin next week, to be postponed.
On Friday, the firefighters’ union posted an “urgent” warning on its Facebook page to “residents, businesses and visitors” that firefighters directly exposed to the virus would be responding to their calls for service. “Please wear a mask and social distance for your safety,” the union wrote in the post.
The state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the city, responded by outlining procedures currently in place but didn’t comment directly on the court filings.
Spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said firefighters who work with colleagues who have tested positive are immediately quarantined until they can be tested, while those who test negative and are asymptomatic are once again scheduled for work.
“All firefighters who have been contacted about possible exposure to COVID-19 have been cooperative and have followed the procedures as directed in order to control the spread of the virus,” Ryan said, adding that the department “quickly adopted” safety protocols once the pandemic began.
Those actions, she said, have included “taking temperature readings of on-duty firefighters twice a day, social distancing and wearing masks in fire stations, eating in shifts, keeping sleeping bunks at least 6 feet apart, wearing full PPE on fire calls, doing daily cleaning regimens of equipment and fire stations, and conducting a heavy cleaning at least once a week.”
South Dakota reports nearly 2,900 COVID-19 cases in a week
3:21 PM CT on 9/27/2020
(AP) South Dakota Department of Health officials on Sunday reported 412 new cases of the coronavirus, for a total of 2,849 positive tests in seven days and 21,541 cases since the pandemic began.
The number of active cases increased by 48, to a record 3,790. Hospitalizations rose by three to 216 and the death toll remained unchanged at 218, health officials said.
The update showed 70 new cases of COVID-19 in Minnehaha County in the last day, followed by Pennington County with 62, Codington County with 30, Brown County with 29, Lincoln County with 24 and Meade County with 18.
South Dakota ranks second in the country behind North Dakota in the number of new cases per capita in the last two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
For most people, the new 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 and death.
Florida now has more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases
12:01 PM CT on 9/27/2020
(AP) Florida now has more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to statistics released by the state Department of Health Sunday.
The state reported 1,882 new confirmed cases and 10 new deaths caused by the virus. Overall, 14,200 people have died from the disease in Florida, including 168 non-residents.
There were 2,101 people hospitalized with the virus, or eight fewer than the day before.
Military suicides up as much as 20% during COVID
9:49 AM CT on 9/27/2020
(AP) — Military suicides have increased by as much as 20% this year compared to the same period in 2019, and some incidents of violent behavior have spiked as service members struggle under COVID-19, war-zone deployments, national disasters and civil unrest.
While the data is incomplete and causes of suicide are complex, Army and Air Force officials say they believe the pandemic is adding stress to an already strained force.
And senior Army leaders — who say they've seen about a 30% jump in active duty suicides so far this year — told The Associated Press that they are looking at shortening combat deployments. Such a move would be part of a broader effort to make the wellbeing of soldiers and their families the Army's top priority, overtaking combat readiness and weapons modernization.
The Pentagon refused to provide 2020 data or discuss the issue, but Army officials said discussions in Defense Department briefings indicate there has been roughly a 20% jump in overall military suicides this year. The numbers vary by service. The active Army's 30% spike — from 88 last year to 114 this year — pushes the total up because it's the largest service. The Army Guard is up about 10%, going from 78 last year to 86 this year. The Navy total is believed to be lower this year.
Army leaders say they can't directly pin the increase on the virus, but the timing coincides.
“I can't say scientifically, but what I can say is - I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health related issues,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in an AP interview.
Pointing to increases in Army suicides, murders and other violent behavior, he added, “We cannot say definitively it is because of COVID. But there is a direct correlation from when COVID started, the numbers actually went up.”
Preliminary data for the first three months of 2020 show an overall dip in military suicides across the active duty and reserves, compared to the same time last year. Those early numbers, fueled by declines in Navy and Air Force deaths, gave hope to military leaders who have long struggled to cut suicide rates. But in the spring, the numbers ticked up.
It's unclear how the military suicide rate this year compares with the civilian rate. The most recent civilian suicide data is from 2018.
Virus cases rise in US heartland, home to anti-mask feelings
6:38 PM CT on 9/26/20
(AP) It began with devastation in the New York City area, followed by a summertime crisis in the Sun Belt. Now the coronavirus outbreak is heating up fast in smaller cities in the heartland, often in conservative corners of America where anti-mask sentiment runs high.
Meanwhile, confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. hit another milestone — 7 million — according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the real number of infections is believed to be much higher.
The spike across the Midwest as well as parts of the West has set off alarms at hospitals, schools and colleges.
Wisconsin is averaging more than 2,000 new cases a day over the last week, compared with 675 three weeks earlier. Hospitalizations in the state are at their highest level since the outbreak took hold in the U.S. in March.
Utah has seen its average daily case count more than double from three weeks earlier. Oklahoma and Missouri are regularly recording 1,000 new cases a day, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a staunch opponent of mask rules, tested positive this week. Kansas and Iowa are also witnessing a spike in cases. And South Dakota and Idaho are seeing sky-high rates of tests coming back positive.
"What we're seeing is the newer hot spots rise over the course of the last several weeks, predominantly in the Upper Midwest," said Thomas Tsai, a professor at Harvard's Chan School of Public Health.
The U.S. is averaging more than 40,000 new confirmed cases a day. While that number is dramatically lower than the peak of nearly 70,000 over the summer, the numbers are worrisome nonetheless. The nation's death toll eclipsed 200,000 this week, the highest in the world.
In the Midwest, the virus is now landing squarely in places where there is strong resistance to masks and governors have been reluctant to require face coverings.
In Springfield, Missouri, hospitals are starting to fill up with COVID-19 patients and the city has seen a big spike in deaths over the past month.
Amelia Montgomery, a nurse working in the COVID unit at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, describes a maddening routine where family members of sick patients call up medical staff on the phone on a daily basis and question whether their loved ones truly have the virus and and the veracity of positive test results.
"We know what COVID looks like now after six months of dealing with it," Montgomery said. "It is like beating your head against a brick wall when you are constantly having patients, family members of these patients and the community argue so intensely that it is not real or we are treating it in the wrong way."
The skepticism about the virus coincides with deep frustration over mask requirements in the Midwestern cities that actually have them.
New York sees more than 1,000 daily virus cases again
3:15 PM CT on 9/26/20
(AP) — More than 1,000 New Yorkers tested positive for COVID-19 in a single day, marking the first time since June 5 the state has seen a daily number that high.
The number of positive tests reported daily in the state has been steadily inching up in recent weeks, a trend possibly related to increasing numbers of businesses reopening, college campuses reopening and children returning to school. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday there were 1,005 positive cases tallied on the previous day, Friday, out of 99,953 tests, for a 1% positive rate.
From late July through the start of September the state was seeing an average of around 660 people test positive per day. In the seven-day period that ended Friday, the state had averaged 817 positive tests per day.
Cuomo aide Gareth Rhodes stressed Saturday that the new positive-case number came out of nearly 100,000 tests, compared to about 60,000 tests daily in June.
“Is there cause for concern? As long as COVID is here, yes,” Rhodes posted on Twitter, noting that certain ZIP codes in Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley have seen increases in new cases and hospital admissions. “Key is ensuring these clusters don’t spread into neighboring/other ZIPs.”
Rhodes also noted improving numbers among college-aged people, suggesting better compliance on campuses.
That number of daily positive tests in a state of more than 19 million people still puts New York in a much better position than many other states. Florida, for instance, reported 2,795 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Another S.C. lab says it didn't report thousands of COVID-19 tests
1:17 PM CT on 9/26/20
(AP) For the second time this week, South Carolina health officials say a lab failed to report thousands of coronavirus tests over several months.
Officials said Friday that about 400 of the more than 7,000 tests dating back to July at the Doctors Care clinic chain were positive for infections.
The delay in testing both prevents officials from tracing any contacts a person testing positive had and from getting an accurate picture of the spread of the virus. Labs are required to report both positive and negative tests to the state within 24 hours.
On Tuesday, state officials said the Augusta University Healthcare system in Georgia failed to report the results of 15,000 coronavirus tests on South Carolina residents from May to September. About 2,000 of those were positive.
Thousands protest COVID-19 restrictions in central London
11:12 AM CT on 9/26/20
(AP) Police moved into London's Trafalgar Square on Saturday afternoon to break up a protest against restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19 after demonstrators ignored warnings to observe social distancing rules.
Thousands of people, most of whom weren't wearing masks, crowded into the iconic square to hear speakers who criticized government-imposed restrictions as an overreaction to the pandemic that needlessly restricted the public's human rights and freedom of expression.
The Metropolitan Police Service had said before the event that officers would first encourage protesters to follow social distancing rules, but that they would take enforcement action if demonstrators failed to comply. As the event began, officers were visible around the perimeter of the square, but they didn't move into the crowd for about three hours.
"Crowds in Trafalgar Square have not complied with the conditions of their risk assessment and are putting people in danger of transmitting the virus,'' police said in a statement, adding that, "We are now asking those in Trafalgar Square to leave.''
The demonstration comes as Parliament prepares to review COVID-19 legislation and the government imposes new restrictions to control the disease. Some lawmakers have criticized the government for implementing the rules without parliamentary approval.
Speakers at the rally denied they were conspiracy theorists, arguing they were standing up for freedom of expression and human rights.
Dan Astin-Gregory, a leadership trainer, acknowledged the deaths and suffering caused by the pandemic, but said the response to COVID-19 has been out of proportion to the threat caused by the disease.
"We are tired of the fear mongering and the misrepresentation of the facts," he told the crowd. "We are tired of the restrictions to our freedoms."
Concerns over coronavirus upticks in California
9:40 AM CT on 9/26/20
(AP) California has begun to see concerning upticks in coronavirus data after a period of decline.
The state health secretary said Friday that there have been increases in the number of newly confirmed cases, hospital emergency department visits for COVID-19 and new hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected cases.
Dr. Mark Ghaly says the trends appear largely attributable to the Labor Day holiday and could lead to an 89% increase in hospitalizations in the next month.
Ghaly notes the state is heading into another hot weekend, which could increase people gathering with others. He urged renewed efforts to prevent spread.
Hospitals running out of capacity in Springfield, Mo.
8:02 PM CT on 9/25/20
(AP) Hospitals in Missouri’s third-largest city are approaching capacity due to a surge in coronavirus cases.
Officials at Springfield’s two major hospital systems, CoxHealth and Mercy, told the city council they are running out of staff and capacity, according to a report in the Springfield News-Leader.
Missouri is dealing with a surge in new coronavirus cases, with 1,580 more confirmed cases reported Wednesday. That puts the state’s total for the pandemic at 116,946. More than 100,000 of those cases have been reported since the state reopened for business in mid-June.
Among the new cases are Gov. Mike Parson and his wife, Teresa. Their positive tests were announced Wednesday.
Coronavirus outbreak grows at Boston hospital
5:46 PM CT on 9/25/20
An outbreak of coronavirus infections at a major Boston hospital has grown to 19 confirmed cases.
Brigham and Women's Hospital originally said it had identified 10 cases among staff and patients connected to two inpatient units.
A new hospital statement says 98 employees have been tested to date, and 11 of them tested positive. In addition, it says 50 patients have been tested, with eight positive.
An additional 445 people are in the process of being tested, and the hospital expects the number of positive cases to grow.
No other areas of the hospital have been affected.
Kansas COVID-19 cases jump by 1,300-plus with rural spikes
3:25 PM CT on 9/25/20
(AP) Kansas reported Friday that it had more than 1,300 new coronavirus cases over two days, and most of the biggest spikes over the past two weeks occurred in rural counties in the central and western parts of the state.
The state Department of Health and Environment said Kansas has had 56,592 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases, an increase of 1,366 or 2.5% from Wednesday. The state averaged 615 new cases a day during the seven days ending Friday, a figure second only to the average of 622 for the seven days ending Wednesday.
The health department also reported an additional 11 COVID-19-related deaths over two days to bring the pandemic total to 632. Deaths continued to represent about 1.1% of the reported cases.
The biggest spikes for the two weeks ending Friday were in Cheyenne County in the state's far northwestern corner and Pawnee County in central Kansas. For both, the increase was 17.31 reported cases for every 1,000 residents, or six times the state's rate of 2.82 new cases for every 1,000 residents.
Of the 10 counties with the biggest increases in cases per 1,000 residents, eight had fewer than 7,200 residents, and all were in western or central Kansas.
Minnesota halts COVID-19 study after reports of intimidation
1:45 PM CT on 9/25/20
(AP) Minnesota officials have stopped a COVID-19 testing study after multiple reports that state and federal public health workers were greeted by racial and ethnic slurs as they went door-to-door.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pulled federal surveyors out of Minnesota this week after they experienced verbal abuse and intimidation. In Eitzen, along the Iowa border, one survey team was boxed in by two cars and threatened by three men, including one with a gun.
“The team felt the intent was clearly to intimidate and scare them,” said Stephanie Yendell, who supervised Minnesota’s role in the survey. “Unfortunately that wasn’t the only incident.”
Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist, said frustration with the state's response to the pandemic is understandable, but “there is no justification for this — the enemy is the virus and not the public health workers who are trying to help.”
The survey teams were going to 180 neighborhoods this month to offer free testing for COVID-19 and for antibodies, and to try to understand how the virus was spreading, particularly among people with no known symptoms.
Yendell said the teams that included people of color reported more incidents than teams with only white people. “We had a Latina team member who said she’d been called a particular epithet more times in the last week than in her entire life," she said.
Incidents occurred mostly in central and southern Minnesota — rural areas where there has been more resentment over COVID-19 restrictions.
Before the work stopped, testers collected samples from about 400 residents statewide. Those tests will be processed and analyzed, but won't provide a complete picture of coronavirus transmission.
Minnesota was downgraded Friday to the “uncontrolled spread” category by a website that tracks each state's progress toward stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Friday's rating switch by the COVID-19 Exit Strategy website was based on a more than 25% increase in infections in Minnesota in the most recent 14 days for which it had data, the Star Tribune reported. Neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota have been at that lowest rating for weeks.
Minnesota has reported 1,994 COVID-19 deaths and 94,189 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since March. The totals include 1,191 new cases as of Friday, and six new deaths. New infections were reported Friday in 78 of the state’s 87 counties.
HHS ships 4.9M COVID tests to nursing homes, 541K to assisted-living facilities
11:23 AM CT on 9/25/20
HHS in recent weeks has shipped millions of rapid COVID-19 point-of-care tests to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Brett Giroir said on a call with reporters Friday.
The U.S. has capacity to provide 3 million COVID-19 tests per day, he said.
HHS in recent weeks has sent 13,985 point-of-care instruments and more than 4.9 million rapid point-of-care tests to 13,850 nursing homes; 974,000 additional tests to 7,600 nursing homes in areas of “significant community transition” to support testing for staff; and 541,000 tests to 5,500 assisted-living facilities.
Just this week, the agency shipped 249,000 tests to historically black colleges and universities and will send another 300,000 tests next week to additional HBCUs. Millions of tests will also go to K-12 schools.
The U.S. has performed 108.6 million COVID tests so far, Giroir said.
Giroir acknowledged there’s a likely a lag in when nursing homes report data from point-of-care COVID-19 tests to the federal government, since that reporting is often done manually.
“We’re working with them to improve that,” Giroir said. But “if wanted to get everything perfect, we would wait several months to do that. The most important thing is to get these to the nursing homes.”
Virginia governor, wife test positive for coronavirus
10:28 AM CT on 9/25/20
(AP) Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday that he and his wife have both tested positive for the coronavirus, though he said he is showing no symptoms.
He's among four governors around the country who have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, but one of the others turned out to be a false positive.
Northam and his wife, who has mild symptoms, plan to isolate for the next 10 days while working remotely, according to a statement from his office.
The Democrat, the country’s only governor who is also a doctor, has previously been criticized by some Republican lawmakers who say his restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus are too stringent.
Northam said in a statement that his test result shows that the virus is “very real and very contagious.”
“We are grateful for your thoughts and support, but the best thing you can do for us — and most importantly, for your fellow Virginians — is to take this seriously,” Northam said.
The governor and first lady Pam Northam were notified Wednesday that a member of the Executive Mansion staff developed COVID-19 symptoms and that the staff member's virus test came back positive.
Three other governors also have tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier this week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has steadfastly refused to require residents to wear masks, announced he’d tested positive. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt in July became the first governor to announce he’d tested positive. He recovered and returned to work less than two weeks later.
In August, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that a rapid test was positive. But a short time later, DeWine said a more sensitive test was negative.
Northam’s announcement comes on the same day as a planned rally by President Donald Trump in Newport News, an event the governor’s staff has asked to be canceled, re-scheduled or scaled down because of concerns about the virus. The rally is expected to draw 4,000 people, which would violate Northam’s executive order generally banning gatherings of more than 250 people. The Trump campaign has routinely flouted public health guidelines intended to halt the spread of COVID-19 with its events.
Drugmaker Novavax begins late-stage vaccine trial in UK
9:17 AM CT on 9/25/20
(AP) U.S.-based Novavax has begun a late stage trial of its potential COVID-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom because the high-level of the coronavirus circulating in the country is likely to produce quick results, the pharmaceutical company said.
Novavax plans to test the effectiveness of its vaccine in a trial involving 10,000 people between the ages of 18 and 84, according to a statement issued late Thursday. At least 25% of the subjects will be over the age of 65, and 400 participants will also receive a licensed flu vaccine.
The trial is being conducted in partnership with the U.K. government’s Vaccine Taskforce, which was created in April to help speed the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“With a high level of SARS-CoV-2 transmission observed and expected to continue in the U.K., we are optimistic that this pivotal phase 3 clinical trial will enroll quickly and provide a near-term view of (the vaccine’s) efficacy,” Dr. Gregory M. Glenn, head of research and development for Novavax, said in the statement.
The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the U.K. The government reported 6,634 new positive test results on Thursday — the U.K.’s highest daily number since the pandemic began. Britain has the deadliest outbreak in Europe, with nearly 42,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
Drugmakers are rushing to develop COVID-19 vaccines with the backing of governments desperate to find a way of easing restrictions that have hammered the world economy.
The U.K. has already agreed to buy 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine to ensure it can be distributed as quickly as possible if it is approved by regulators.
The government said Friday that participants in the Novavax trial will be drawn from the 250,000 people who have volunteered to take part in COVID-19 vaccine testing through the National Health Service’s Vaccine Registry.
“Finding a safe and effective vaccine that works for the majority of the U.K. population is the best way to tackle this devastating disease,” said Kate Bingham, chair of the government’s Vaccines Taskforce. “Whilst social distancing, testing and other measures can help reduce the impact of coronavirus, the only long-term solution to beating it will be finding a vaccine.”
Novavax also pledged to publish details of its vaccine testing protocol “to enhance information-sharing during the worldwide pandemic.”
Houston sampling wastewater to track spread of COVID-19
8:07 PM CT on 9/24/20
(AP) Results from a program that’s testing Houston’s wastewater to monitor the local spread of the coronavirus have shown that it could be a faster way of detecting outbreaks in the nation’s fourth-largest city, officials said Thursday.
Since May, the city and scientists from Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine have tested wastewater from the city’s 39 treatment plants. Studies indicate genetic material from the virus can be recovered from the stools of about half of patients with the COVID-19 virus. Wastewater analysis looks for that genetic material.
“The goal is to help develop an early warning system, allowing the health department to identify the city’s COVID-19 hot spots sooner and put measures in place to slow the spread of this disease,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
During the summer, Houston had a surge in coronavirus cases as the area’s intensive care units were filled with patients. Since then, hospitalizations have decreased and the city’s positivity rate for the virus has gone from a high of nearly 26% in July to 6.1% as of last week.
Turner has said that while the numbers are better, the city is still reporting positive cases and deaths at levels higher than the spring. Houston has reported 72,196 cases and 1,069 deaths as of Thursday.
Houston is among communities around the world that have implemented wastewater testing programs to help deal with the virus' spread. Colleges across the U.S. are also testing wastewater to detect outbreaks.
The wastewater data can show which parts of Houston have a higher virus load, prompting the health department to send teams to those areas that can go door to door and inform residents and encourage people to get tested, said Dr. David Persse, Houston’s health authority.
“This will give us that early warning that we may have otherwise missed so we empower people to take care of themselves,” Persse said.
The wastewater testing can also provide a more current view of what’s going on with the virus in the city. The testing is done weekly and the results come back that same week. By comparison, 40% or more of testing data from nasal swabs are more than 2 weeks old, Persse said.
The wastewater data can be used to look at specific locations.
After COVID-19 cases were found at a homeless shelter earlier this year, the city monitored the facility’s wastewater and was able to detect when the virus came back a second time, Persse said.
This isn’t the first time wastewater surveillance has been used in Houston to detect a viral outbreak. In 1962, Joseph Melnick, who worked at Baylor College of Medicine and was a pioneer in polio research, realized polio could be detected in wastewater and started sampling it.
Nevada COVID-19 positivity rises after month-long decline
6:06 PM CT on 9/24/20
(AP) Likely spurred by increased exposures to the coronavirus at social gatherings during the Labor Day weekend, Nevada’s statewide daily positivity rate for COVID-19 is on an upward trend after a steady decline over the past month, health officials say.
A recent surge in Washoe County and smaller gains in new cases are being reported elsewhere in the tourism-dependent state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 13.2%.
“We are seeing the beginnings of some trends that could be tied to the Labor Day or to other public exposures that have occurred in the last two weeks right now,” said Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director.
“I think you can see that in our numbers of new cases every day that’ve come up this week: It’s small increases, but there have been noticeable increases to date,” he said Wednesday.
Nevada’s seven-day moving average for its daily positivity rate climbed to 8.6% on Wednesday. In Clark County it was 11% and in Washoe County 6.9%.
The goal set by the World Health Organization is 5%.
The statewide rate had dipped to 6.6% on Sept. 9 after a fairly steady decline dating to Aug. 24 when it was 11.5%. It remained below 7% through Sept. 15 before rising to 7.3% on Sept. 21.
Prior to that it was above 12% from July 4 to Aug. 15, including an average above 14% from July 5 to Aug. 3. The peak during that stretch was 15.7% on July 9 — the first time it had exceeded 15% since April.
Cage had planned to discuss the situation further at Thursday’s meeting of Nevada’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force but the meeting was canceled.
The seven-day moving average lags five days behind the daily count so likely will continue to climb, at least in Washoe County where the number of cases has “increased significantly” in recent days, County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said Wednesday. New daily cases have grown from the mid-50s last week to nearly 88 this week.
“That’s a week-over-week increase of about 50% of new cases per day we are seeing in Washoe County,” Dick told reporters.
“We attribute a number of these cases to people that were participating in private gatherings over the Labor Day holiday that are now testing positive. We also are aware of cases resulting from students at (the University of Nevada, Reno) that attended private parties that were going on off campus,” he said.
Health officials say it’s too soon to tell if a pair of large political rallies President Donald Trump hosted in Minden on Sept. 12 and in Las Vegas on Sept. 13 have anything to do with the recent increased case load. Thousands of people crowded together closely and very few wore masks.
Vermont statistics show minorities hit hardest by COVID-19
4:00 PM CT on 9/24/20
(AP) Racial minorities in Vermont have been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics from the Vermont Health Department show.
Collected between March 5 and Sept. 16, the statistics show that while white Vermonters represent more than 80% of Vermont COVID-19 cases, the rate per 100,000 for white Vermonters is 23.3.
The figure for Black Vermonters is 228.3 For Asian Vermonters the rate is 55.7 and Hispanics 47.4.
Vermont officials have talked about the disparities, found across the country, in the past, but the statistics measure it since COVID-19 arrived in the state in early March.
The health department says there are a number of contributing factors, including systemic and structural racism, socioeconomic disadvantage, historical injustice, and oppressive systems that affect the conditions in which people are born, grow, live and work.
“Some of the actions Vermont must take include focusing on primary prevention efforts, engaging with communities, as well as funding racial justice initiatives and partnering with racial justice advocacy organizations to reduce health disparities,” the department said.
California warns flu, COVID could overwhelm hospitals
2:24 PM CT on 9/24/20
(AP) A severe flu season this fall and winter could overwhelm California hospitals that are preparing for an uptick in COVID-19 cases as the economy further reopens, officials said Thursday. They urged people to get vaccinated.
California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly speaking with the heads of the state’s hospital and medical associations, said while the state has seen progress in recent weeks with coronavirus infection rates falling to their lowest level of the pandemic, officials are bracing for a surge as people start going out more just as the flu season begins.
That means it’s critical people protect themselves from the flu to help keep hospital bed space available to treat people infected with the coronavirus, Ghaly said.
Officials recommend every Californian six months and older receive a flu shot this year. In past years, less than half of the state's adult population and less than two-thirds of children have gotten the flu vaccine.
The potential exists for hundreds of COVID-19 cases to show up in an emergency room with an equal number of severe flu cases, which could overwhelm a hospital, he said.
“We are still very vulnerable with so many things coming as we enter winter," Ghaly said.
Hospitals are currently treating 3,500 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, according to the California Hospital Association. About 30 percent are in intensive care units.
California has reported more than 790,000 confirmed cases, the most in the country, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The nation's most populous state ranks fourth for nationwide deaths at 15,000.
Greece hospital workers request staff for surge
1:37 PM CT on 9/24/20
(AP) State hospital workers in Greece staged a protest Thursday outside the country’s Health Ministry to demand increased hiring and staff support amid a surge in coronavirus infections.
A union representing the workers is calling on the government to hire hundreds of additional medical staff to the state-run health system and provide more administrative staff and translators to communicate with migrants.
Greece kept infection rates low before the summer but cases have risen in recent weeks. The total confirmed infections reached more than 16,000 since the start of the pandemic and the death toll to 357.
Public hospital managers say COVID-19 wards in greater Athens are near capacity and have staffing shortages.
The government says it is increasing intensive care spaces and vowed to step up policing health restrictions to ensure compliance by businesses and the public.
Boston hospital investigates COVID cluster affecting 10
11:45 AM CT on 9/24/20
(AP) A major Boston hospital is reporting a cluster of COVID-19 cases that has affected five patients and five staffers.
The cases are connected to two inpatient units, Brigham and Women's Hospital said in a statement posted on its website.
The hospital's Infection Control team is investigating the source of the cluster through contact tracing, testing, and staff interviews, according to the statement.
It is also reaching out to staff and patients who may have been exposed, including patients who have been discharged, to arrange for testing. No additional cases have been detected.
The affected areas have also been thoroughly cleaned.
“We have rigorous protocols in place to create and maintain a safe care environment by testing all patients admitted to the hospital, requiring staff to attest to their health daily before working, requiring all staff, patients and visitors to wear hospital-issued masks while on campus, insisting on frequent hand hygiene, frequently cleaning the environment, and enforcing appropriate physical distancing," the statement said.
Drug companies work jointly to boost vaccine confidence
9:20 AM CT on 9/24/20
(AP) Two firms developing COVID-19 vaccines say pharmaceutical companies are trying to give the public as much information as possible about their testing regimes as drugmakers and public health officials seek to boost confidence that any approved vaccine will be safe.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot and Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson, said Thursday that they recognize the coronavirus emergency demands increased transparency from vaccine developers to ensure the public has faith in the end product. They stressed however that there are limits to the information they can release because they must protect patient confidentiality and the integrity of their scientific research.
Ultimately, the public will have to trust regulators around the world and the independent experts that oversee drug trials, Soriot said during a panel discussion sponsored by the World Economic Forum.
“You’ve got to trust that the experts whose job it is to monitor these trials and these developments are doing a good job,″ Soriot said. “Medicine should not be practiced for the media, it should be practiced by experts.”
The comments come as scientists scramble to develop a vaccine that would protect the public from a pandemic that has killed nearly 1 million people worldwide and as numerous countries battle against a surge in cases. The United States and other countries have invested billions of dollars to develop a vaccine that would allow them to ease restrictions on social interactions that have devastated the global economy.
But public health experts have expressed concern that political pressure on regulators to quickly approve vaccines will undermine public confidence in their safety and effectiveness. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted his belief that a vaccine will be approved before the presidential election on Nov. 3, calling scientists' estimation of a longer timeline “confused.”
Public concern about a vaccine could be disastrous to its widespread acceptance and undermine efforts to vaccinate enough people to stop transmission of COVID-19.
Soriot pointed out that the vaccines being developed by his company and others must be approved by regulators around the world, not just the U.S.
“You really would have to love conspiracy theories to believe that all regulators around the world will all agree to approve a vaccine that is not safe and effective,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that every country would do that, so you’re going to have several sets of eyes from different countries looking at this data.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it would not approve any vaccine unless it meets a 50% efficacy threshold, while the European Medicines Agency said they do not have a minimum criteria and that potential coronavirus vaccines would be considered on a case-by-case basis. The World Health Organization said it hopes experimental vaccines will prove at least 70% effective, but acknowledged that first-generation shots may not reach that target.
Against this backdrop, drugmakers have come under pressure to release more incremental information on the progress of their vaccine trials - information that they normally wouldn’t release until the trials are complete.
The heat only increased after an AstraZeneca trial was put on hold while it investigated whether a British volunteer’s illness was a side effect or a coincidence. The trial remains on hold in the United States, but has resumed in other countries.
Soriot and Stoffels said drugmakers are looking at other how they can increase transparency given the “very special set of circumstances” surrounding the potential COVID-19 vaccines. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and two other companies recently released the detailed protocols for their vaccine trials.
“We are discussing with other companies as an industry what kind of transparency could we offer without compromising patient privacy, of course, but also without compromising the trial itself,” Soriot said. “Because if you disclose … too much information you can actually compromise the clinical trial itself.”
Michigan House votes to shield employers from virus lawsuits
7:43 PM CT on 9/23/20
(AP) A divided Michigan House voted Tuesday to shield health providers and businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits filed by patients, employees or customers, advancing bills that majority Republicans said would give businesses more comfort to reopen and block frivolous complaints.
Opponents have said the measures would make it too tough for negligence victims to sue. Many Democrats voted against the business-backed legislation, which was sent to the GOP-led Senate for debate.
It would protect employers from liability if a worker is exposed to the COVID-19 virus during Michigan's emergency despite the employer having substantially complied with health rules, retroactive to Jan. 1. Immunity would not apply if an employer willfully disregarded the regulations.
"This is a balanced approach on COVID liability that will not in any way protect bad actors," said a sponsor, Republican Rep. Thomas Albert of Lowell, who added that it would safeguard infected employees from retribution.
"Job providers need to know what safety protocols are expected of them, and they deserve some reassurance that they will not be sued if they are taking necessary safety precautions."
Missouri governor, opponent of mandatory masks, has COVID-19
5:52 PM CT on 9/23/20
(AP) Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has steadfastly refused to require residents to wear masks, tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said Wednesday.
Parson was tested after his wife, Teresa, tested positive earlier in the day. Teresa Parson had experienced mild symptoms, including a cough and nasal congestion, spokeswoman Kelli Jones said. She took a rapid test that came back positive and a nasal swab test later confirmed the finding. The governor's rapid test showed he tested positive and he is still awaiting results from the swab test.
"I want everybody to know that myself and the first lady are both fine," Parson said in a video posted on his Facebook page. On Friday, he and several other Missouri Republican candidates appeared together at an event called the "TARGET BBQ" in Springfield. A photo posted on Parson's Twitter pages shows Parson on a stage with four other statewide officeholders seeking reelection: Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Attorney General Eric Schmitt. They appear to be a few feet apart from each other, but none are wearing masks.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said contact tracing efforts have begun, seeking out people who have had close contact with the governor or his wife.
Parson has repeatedly urged residents to wear masks and maintain social distancing, but he has been an outspoken opponent of mask mandates, sometimes appearing at functions without one.
Fauci: Keep students on campus after outbreak
3:50 PM CT on 9/23/20
(AP) Dr. Anthony Fauci says it wouldn’t be smart for college administrators to send students home if there’s an outbreak on campus.
Fauci told senators that would only make matters worse. That’s because it could make the returning students into disease carriers.
Colleges and universities should plan to accommodate students who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus in a separate dorm or maybe a separate floor — that’s if the infected students don’t need to be hospitalized.
“But do not send them home to their community,” Fauci says, “because of the likelihood of them reseeding infection in a community.”
CMS announces new federal funding for 33 states to support transitioning from nursing homes
1:38 PM CT on 9/23/20
CMS will make $165 million available to states to help Medicaid beneficiaries move from nursing homes back into the community. Overall, 33 states will be eligible for the new funding. Nursing homes have been a major concern in the COVID-19 pandemic as about 40% of the pandemic's deaths have been nursing home residents.
“The tragic devastation wrought by the Coronavirus on nursing home residents exposes America’s over-reliance on institutional long-term care facilities,” said Administrator Seema Verma. “Residential care will always be an essential part of the care continuum, but our goal must always be to give residents options that help keep our loved ones in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.”
Eligible states can receive up to $5 million to plan and build capacity that will facilitate beneficiaries' transition to the community. States could change reimbursement rates, create additional caregiver training, or study how to reduce capacity at long-term care facilities.
Applications will be accepted through June 30, 2021 on a rolling basis.
Administration announces $200 million from CDC to jurisdictions for COVID-19 vaccine preparedness
11:22 AM CT on 9/23/20
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded $200 million to 64 jurisdictions for COVID-19 vaccine preparedness, the agency said Wednesday.
According to HHS, recipients are supposed to use the funding to plan for and roll out COVID-19 vaccination services. CDC will base each recipient’s grant using a population-based formula.
“CDC has worked for decades with state and local jurisdictions to deliver tens of millions of doses of vaccine every year,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said. “CDC is working closely with these jurisdictions to refine and update vaccination plans in preparation for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine program.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security—CARES—Act made the funding available to existing grantees through CDC’s immunization cooperative agreement.
Late-stage study of first single-shot vaccine begins in US
9:15 AM CT on 9/23/20
(AP) Johnson & Johnson is beginning a huge final study to try to prove if a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine can protect against the virus.
The study starting Wednesday will be one of the world's largest coronavirus vaccine studies so far, testing the shot in 60,000 volunteers in the U.S., South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
A handful of other vaccines in the U.S. — including shots made by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. — and others in other countries are already in final-stage testing. Hopes are high that answers about at least one candidate being tested in the U.S. could come by year's end, maybe sooner.
U.S. health officials insist the race for a vaccine isn't cutting corners.
“We want to do everything we can without sacrificing safety or efficacy — we’re not going to do that — to make sure that we end up with vaccines that are going to save lives,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told reporters.
J&J's vaccine is made with slightly different technology than others in late-stage testing, modeled on an Ebola vaccine the company created. Unlike the other three vaccines that started late-stage testing in the U.S., it requires only one shot, not two. Despite a later start to testing than some of its competitors, Dr. Paul Stoffels, J&J's chief scientific officer, told reporters that the study was large enough to yield answers possibly by early next year.
California reopens more widely as infections hit lowest rate
8:22 PM CT on 9/22/20
(AP) More of California was cleared to reopen additional businesses Tuesday, including most of the San Francisco Bay Area and one of Southern California's largest counties, as coronavirus infection rates have fallen to their lowest level of the pandemic.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state health secretary, also said nail salons could resume operations with restrictions statewide, though he cautioned that California's reopening must remain “slow and stringent” and residents cannot let their guard down as flu season arrives and cases rise in Europe and other parts of the U.S.
The lifting of some restrictions in counties that have shown improvement comes as California tries for a second time to recover from the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on business. An earlier effort to reopen more quickly backfired with a surge in cases and hospitalizations in late spring and early summer.
That forced a second shutdown that was punishing for business owners, but helped bring the infection rate to 2.8% for the last week. Hospitalizations dropped to a level not seen since the first week of April. The state has had more than 790,000 confirmed cases, the most in the country, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. California ranks fourth for deaths nationwide with more than 15,000.
The state's more conservative approach to reopening is based on the percentage of positive tests and per capita new cases in each of the 58 counties. Each of the four tiers for reopening include ranges for those categories and a county must meet both for two consecutive weeks before advancing to a higher tier.
No county has a double-digit infection rate and even the state's largest — Los Angeles, which has had a disproportionately large number of cases and deaths — is now poised to move out of the most restrictive tier next week.
New Mexico taps federal loans to pay unemployment
6:28 PM CT on 9/22/20
(AP) New Mexico has depleted its unemployment benefits trust fund and begun to use federal loans to keep up with claims — spending that can trigger higher taxes if not repaid, a top labor official said Tuesday.
Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said that unemployment trust reserves were exhausted on Sept. 8 — and that the state has spent about $35 million since then in borrowed federal funds to maintain unemployment benefits.
New Mexico's unemployment rate of 11.4% in August exceeds neighboring states as health officials take gradual steps toward reopening the economy and schools, where most pupils are still studying from home.
McCamley said about 123,000 people were receiving unemployment benefits as of last week in a state of 2.1 million residents. That's up from 9,600 active claims in March before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
In June, lawmakers put a freeze on unemployment insurance tax rates for businesses through the end of 2021. McCamley told a state House committee that the state will eventually need to reduce unemployment benefits, raise payroll taxes or borrow or refinance federal unemployment loans. The administration of Lujan Grisham does not support a decrease in benefits, he said.
Many recipients of unemployment insurance are exhausting the state's 26-week benefit allowance and tapping into 13 weeks of additional federal unemployment payments, at no cost to the state, McCamley said.
He also said the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is contemplating a decision on when to reinstate a requirement that unemployment beneficiaries actively look for work — a looming day of reckoning for residents still hoping to be rehired by prior employers.
“We are going to start once again — depending on the path of the virus — to start saying OK to everyone, ‘It’s time to get back to work,'” he said.
Republican legislators prodded McCamley for indications of when the governor might ease current business restrictions under an emergency health order.
“In our area, people want to get back to work, they're willing to take a business risk on whether or not they catch this” virus, said GOP Rep. James Stricker, an oil landsman from Farmington.
McCamley said the state continues to pursue a science-intensive decision process on reopening the economy that places a premium on public health and limiting coronavirus infections.
The current emergency health order limits businesses including retail outlets, private schools and indoor restaurant areas to 25% of maximum capacity, while hotels and lodges can seek certification for 75% occupancy. Masks are mandatory in public, with a 10-person limit on public gatherings and a 14-day self-quarantine requirement for travelers entering from high-infection rate states that currently include Texas, Arizona and California — but not Colorado.
“The more people can control the virus with their behaviors, the more we are going to be able to feel comfortable introducing risk into communities and hopefully people are going to get back to work,” he said.
New Mexico health officials reported an additional 110 coronavirus cases and three additional deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total statewide number of cases to 27,790 and 854 deaths.
DOD researches AI early warning system for COVID-19
3:31 PM CT on 9/22/20
The Defense Department and health technology company Philips are expanding an artificial-intelligence research project focused on detecting infectious diseases to also encompass COVID-19.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Defense Innovation Unit and Philips last year launched Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure, an AI early warning system to alert people of possible infections. RATE analyzes data from 165 biomarkers collected by consumer wearable devices, with a goal of more quickly diagnosing pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people.
RATE is designed to detect subtle changes in physiology, which people often experience after exposure to infectious agents, even before they experience symptoms.
The new prototype, called RATE-COVID, will apply RATE specifically to detect COVID-19.
The DOD began rolling out the system to U.S. military units in June. The study is expected to grow to several thousand participants in the coming weeks.
"We are effectively providing a check-engine light on the military service member and getting that alert before they’re broken down with a disease," said Christian Whitchurch, the Defense Innovation Unit's human systems portfolio director, in a statement.
In the future, RATE-COVID could be used by civilian hospitals to monitor patients or businesses to manage COVID-19 return-to-work efforts, according to a news release from the DOD. Researchers are also looking at how RATE could be used to detect unknown infectious agents, as a way to prevent the next pandemic.
As COVID-19 cases rise, healthcare industry sees upheaval
1:43 PM CT on 9/22/20
(AP) South Dakota health officials on Tuesday reported 320 new cases of COVID-19 as the state experiences an uptick in cases in recent weeks and state lawmakers readied plans to address the crisis with federal relief money.
Representatives from the state’s health care providers told lawmakers that the pandemic has stressed their operations, revenues and staff as the number of hospitalizations increased and infections spread. State legislators concluded a series of public input sessions Tuesday as they prepare for a special legislative session on Oct. 5.
Over the last two weeks, South Dakota has reported the nation’s second-most new cases per capita, with 405 new cases per 100,000 people. The number of hospitalizations also rose to 178, representing 7% of hospital beds in the state. About 46% of hospital beds are open statewide.
But healthcare providers described to lawmakers how their operations have been upended in recent months, creating a crunch that has led to both shortfalls in staffing and forced furloughs in their industry.
“Nursing centers are facing extraordinarily difficult choices,” Mark Deak, the executive director of the South Dakota Health Care Association, which lobbies for long-term care facilities, told lawmakers.
He also warned that some facilities could face closures as they bear extra expenses combined with a downturn in residents due to fears of outbreaks in facilities. The pandemic also has taken a toll on the mental health of residents as facilities restrict visitors.
With the region emerging as a hotspot of the virus, others pushed for expanding testing to help stem an increase in COVID-19 patients and outbreaks in long-term care facilities.
AHA, AMA, ANA mark coronavirus deaths in U.S. as toll tops 200,000
11:09 AM CT on 9/22/20
The American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association issued a joint statement regarding the 200,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19.
“Today we mark a somber milestone as more than 200,000 people in the United States have died of COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic," the associations wrote."The steps required to stop the spread of this virus should be well known by now, but with more than 6 million COVID-positive Americans, we say again: wear your mask, wash your hands, and practice physical distancing."
They also described the deaths as a nearly "worst-case scenario," warning that the flu season is going to add strain to the health system.
UK leader orders new virus restrictions, could last 6 months
9:28 AM CT on 9/22/20
(AP) Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Britons on Tuesday that they should not expect to return to a normal social or work life for at least six months, as he ordered new restrictions that his government hopes will suppress a dramatic surge in confirmed coronavirus cases.
Saying Britain must act now or face a huge second wave of COVID-19, Johnson announced a package of new restrictions that includes requiring pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close down between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and urging people to work from home where possible.
Johnson had encouraged workers just weeks ago to go back into offices to keep city centers from becoming ghost towns, and he expressed hope that society could return to normal by Christmas. In a stark change of tone, he said Tuesday that “for the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives.”
How Geisinger hospitals restyled food service amid coronavirus constraints
8:57 PM CT on 9/21/20
(Food Management) While many healthcare facilities have shifted to disposables during the pandemic, Geisinger still serves meals on china plates with metal flatware. Patient meals are delivered to individual rooms; COVID patients’ meals are delivered by nurses.
Business on the retail side is slow, thanks to lower patient censuses, a limit on hospital visitors and more telecommuters, senior foodservice director Steve Cerullo says. “Work from home was a killer for us,” he adds. Some 9,000 Geisinger employees will work remotely through the end of 2020. During the first few months of the pandemic, sales were off about 65%; as of early September, some of that lost business is returning, with sales off about 40%.
The healh system's challenge was figuring out how to scale down menus to serve a much smaller population—occupancy dipped from the 90s to about 50% in the spring—while managing growing food shortages.
White House urges governors to help on vaccines
4:57 PM CT on 9/21/20
(AP) The White House is urging U.S. governors to put politics aside and help the Trump administration promote future coronavirus vaccines as safe and effective.
Vice President Mike Pence urged governors Monday to use their bully pulpits and reassure the public that vaccines will be safe to take after a rigorous vetting process by the Food and Drug Administration.
“What we don’t want is people undermining confidence in the process,” Pence said in a private call with governors, the audio of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Trump has escalated his promise for a coronavirus vaccine before Election Day. But Democrats, independents and even some Republicans do not trust the Trump administration to produce a safe and effective vaccine on such an aggressive timeline.
Pence acknowledged the country is in the middle of a heated election season, but stressed that no corners would be cut in approving a vaccine and said his request for support was apolitical.
“I’m leaving the politics outside of the room here,” Pence said.
GAO: Millions in danger of missing coronavirus payments
3:13 PM CT on 9/21/20
(AP) A government watchdog says millions of Americans are in danger of missing coronavirus relief payments of up to $1,200 per individual because of incomplete government records.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, said in a report Monday that possibly 8.7 million or more individuals who are eligible for the economic impact payments have yet to receive those payments because of inadequate IRS and Treasury Department records.
That was one of a number of findings in the latest GAO report on the handling of the unprecedented $2.6 trillion in support passed by Congress last spring to cushion the impact from a sharp recession triggered by the global pandemic.
The GAO also called on the Centers for Disease Control to do a better job in providing guidance to local schools on when they can safely reopen schools.
GAO said that the IRS did implement several recommendations the GAO had made in a June report to make sure those eligible for the payments received them such as extending the deadline for individuals who had not filed an income tax return to apply for the payments through Sept. 30.
But GAO said that Treasury and the IRS have still failed to update information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive funds.
The lack of "such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment,” the GAO said in its report.
In April, the report said, Treasury estimated that 30 million individuals — including 16 million on Social Security and railroad pensions and 14 million who do not normally file tax returns — had not received their payments. The IRS ten report as of July 31 that 5.3 million individuals had used an online IRS tool for non-filers to help them receive payments.
Those figures would mean that there could be 8.7 million or more individuals who are eligible for the payments but who have not received them.
The report said that Treasury officials did not state their agreement or disagreement with GAO recommendations to improve the eligibility lists. But the agency told GAO it was working on an effort to notify around 9 million individuals that they may be eligible for the payments.
Ohio State to study how COVID-19 affected first responders
1:39 PM CT on 9/21/20
The Ohio State University received a $10 million grant to study the long-term impact of COVID-19 on first responders. It's one of the largest grants OSU's College of Medicine has ever received, according to Peter Mohler, chief scientific officer at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and vice dean.
Researchers at the university hope to study exposure risks, disease severity, barriers to testing and vaccination, and whether individuals can contract COVID-19 more than once. The study and a new serological center at the university aim to enroll nearly 2,000 participants in their research.
“We’re excited to establish this important STOP-COVID Center. We’ll also integrate our Center with the broader SeroNet community, consisting of National Cancer Institute testing agencies and other recipients of these grants. This will be invaluable in keeping abreast of current COVID-19 research,” said Oltz, who is also a member of the Cancer Biology research program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, in a statement.
EMU to test campus wastewater for COVID-19
11:01 AM CT on 9/21/20
(AP) Eastern Michigan University will test campus wastewater for the COVID-19 virus and other signs of infectious diseases.
The testing, part of the school’s return-to-campus plan, is intended to track the presence of the coronavirus in wastewater flowing from residence halls and apartment complexes.
The monitoring might provide early detection of asymptomatic cases of the virus, according to the school.
“The results of the tests will help us pinpoint any concerning trends and expand individual testing among specific populations as necessary,” EMU President James Smith said.
Researchers and health officials have said they can track the course of a community outbreak of the coronavirus by studying the waste flushed from its bathrooms. Tests have shown that wastewater contains infectious biomarkers that can signal the growth or reduction of the virus in a community or around a university campus.
EMU in Ypsilanti is working with Michigan-based Aquasight on the testing.
UK science advisers warn of darker COVID-19 days ahead
9:16 AM CT on 9/21/20
(AP) Britain’s top medical advisers on Monday painted a grim picture of exponential growth in illness and death if nothing is done to control the second wave of coronavirus infections, laying the groundwork for the government to announce new restrictions later this week.
After a slow rise in COVID-19 infections over the summer, the number of new cases is now doubling every seven days, and if nothing is done to slow the spread of the disease this could lead to as many as 49,000 cases a day by mid-October, Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance told the public during a televised briefing.
The experience in other countries shows that this increase in infections will soon lead to a rise in deaths, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty added.
“We have, in a very bad sense, literally turned a corner,” after weeks of rising infections, Whitty said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson later this week is expected to announce a slate of short-term restrictions that will act as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the disease. He huddled with other ministers over the weekend to discuss the government’s response.
Whitty stressed that infection rates are rising among all age groups and said that it is not acceptable for individuals to ignore health guidelines and engage in risky activity. Everyone must do their part to slow the spread of the disease because infections among the young and healthy will inevitably spread to their friends and family members and ultimately to the most vulnerable in society.
“This is not someone else’s problem," he said. “This is all of our problem.’’
The government is hoping to slow the spread of COVID-19, which last week pushed new cases to levels not seen since early May. Almost 3,900 new infections were reported on Sunday, compared with a peak of 6,199 cases on April 5.
While death rates have remained relatively low so far, Whitty warned that deaths are likely to rise in coming weeks. The U.K. reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week, compared with a peak of 942 on April 10.
These numbers include only deaths that are directly related to COVID-19. The real toll could be much higher if emergency services are overwhelmed by coronavirus cases and the National Health Service has to divert resources from diagnosing and treating other diseases, Whitty said.
Sweden spared surge of virus cases but many questions remain
8:24 PM CT on 9/20/20
(AP) When most of Europe locked down their populations early in the pandemic by closing schools, restaurants, gyms and even borders, Swedes kept enjoying many freedoms.
The relatively low-key strategy captured the world's attention, but at the same time it coincided with a per capita death rate that was much higher than in other Nordic countries.
Now, as infection numbers surge again in much of Europe, the country of 10 million people has some of the lowest numbers of new coronavirus cases -- and only 14 virus patients in intensive care.
Whether Sweden’s strategy is succeeding, however, is still very uncertain.
Its health authorities, and in particular chief epidemiologist Dr. Anders Tegnell, keep repeating a familiar warning: It’s too early to tell, and all countries are in a different phase of the pandemic.
That has not stopped a World Health Organization Europe official from saying the continent could learn broader lessons from Sweden that could help the virus battle elsewhere.
“We must recognize that Sweden, at the moment, has avoided the increase that has been seen in some of the other countries in western Europe,” WHO Europe’s senior emergency officer, Catherine Smallwood, said Thursday. “I think there are lessons for that. We will be very keen on working and hearing more from the Swedish approach.”
According to the European Center for Disease Control, Sweden has reported 30.3 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days, compared with 292.2 in Spain, 172.1 in France, 61.8 in the U.K. and 69.2 in Denmark, all of which imposed strict lockdowns early in the pandemic.
Overall, Sweden has 88,237 reported infections and 5,864 fatalities from the virus, or 57.5 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants since the beginning of the crisis.
The way Sweden's strategy was viewed outside the country seems to depend largely on what stage of the pandemic the observer was experiencing at the time. Initially, many abroad were incredulous at images of Swedes dining with friends in restaurants or sipping cocktails on the Stockholm waterfront. Some were envious that Swedish businesses were not forced to close.
Then came shock as the virus ripped through the country's nursing homes and hospices.
By mid-April, more than 100 deaths were reported each day in Sweden, while mortality rates were falling elsewhere in Europe.
Today, as fears of a second wave grow across Europe, it's fashionable to praise Sweden, with reporters from France, the U.K. and elsewhere traveling to Stockholm to ask about its success.
But a Swedish government commission investigating the handling of the pandemic will, undoubtedly, have hard questions to answer: Did authorities wait too long to limit access to nursing homes, where about half of the deaths occurred? Were they too slow to provide personal protective equipment to staff in those homes when shortcomings in the elderly care sector had long been known? Why did it take so long to set up wide-scale testing?
2 dead of virus at US prison where executions are scheduled
8:26 PM CT on 9/15/20
(AP) Two inmates have died in as many days from coronavirus at the federal prison complex where the U.S. government plans to carry out two executions next week.
The virus deaths are likely to raise alarm with advocates and lawyers for the condemned men over the spread of coronavirus at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. As of Tuesday, more than 40 inmates had confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the agency's statistics.
The executions of Christopher Andre Vialva and William Emmett LeCroy are scheduled to be carried out at the prison complex next week. The government carried out three executions in July and two executions in August.
The Bureau of Prisons said a 53-year-old inmate, Tim Hocutt, died Monday at the Terre Haute facility.
Hocutt, who was serving a 13-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, had reported that he was suffering from a "mild cough, congestion and nausea" and had previously tested negative for COVID-19, the Bureau of Prisons said. But Hocutt tested positive on Monday after he alerted medical staff to his condition and was pronounced dead the same day at the complex's medium-security prison.
His death came a day after the death of another inmate, Byron Dale Bird, who was serving a sentence at the high-security penitentiary on the prison grounds.
The 65-year-old Bird was taken to a local hospital on Aug. 27 after testing positive for the virus and was admitted to an intensive care unit. He died at the hospital on Sunday. Bird was serving a 74-year prison sentence after being convicted of sexual abuse of a minor, witness tampering, failing to register as a sex offender and other charges.
Witnesses to the federal executions are required to undergo security screening at the high-security penitentiary, where Bird was housed. The witnesses are required to wear masks, and their temperatures are taken before they are permitted on the prison grounds.The spiritual advisers for two of the men who were executed in July and the family of one of the men's victims had fought unsuccessfully to delay their executions over coronavirus concerns.
The federal prison system has struggled to combat the coronavirus pandemic behind bars, where social distancing is nearly impossible. As of Tuesday, 13,477 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 at facilities across the U.S.; 11,623 had recovered. Officials said 120 inmates have died since late March.
Legislators decry slow spending of Indiana's federal virus aid
6:24 PM CT on 9/15/20
(AP) Indiana officials are still holding back on spending more than half of the $2.4 billion state government received in federal coronavirus relief funding.
Democrats on the State Budget Committee questioned Tuesday why there wasn't more urgency in spending the money on the immediate needs of people around the state, while Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's top budget adviser blamed some of that on confusion over federal rules.
State Office of Management and Budget Director Cristopher Johnston presented a report to committee members showing that only $225 million, or less than 10%, of that money had been spent by the end of August. The report showed nearly $1.1 billion in total had been spent or committed toward programs or expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down much of Indiana's economy through the spring and has killed nearly 3,500 people.
Congress approved $150 billion for states and local governments in March. That money was targeted to cover coronavirus-related costs by the end of this year, not to offset declining revenue resulting from the recession.
Holcomb is among some governors pushing for greater flexibility in spending the money on the state's existing budget even though Congress and the Trump administration have been deadlocked on a new coronavirus relief package.
Holcomb has said his administration is being deliberate with spending decisions, while Johnston said Tuesday an unknown was whether states would gain any flexibility. "Based on last four months, I'm not going to predict anything," Johnston said.
Democratic Rep. Carey Hamilton of Indianapolis said the state needed to address serious concerns for residents, including some 300,000 rental households facing possible evictions, widespread small business closings and people struggling to buy food and pay utility bills.
"We're just kind of waiting to hear, waiting to hear — it's now the middle of September," Hamilton said. "The more we can help Hoosiers from falling behind significantly, the quicker our economy will be able to rebound from this crisis."
Apple to study whether new smartwatch can detect signs of COVID-19, flu
4:09 PM CT on 9/15/20
Apple's latest smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 6, includes a sensor to measure wearers' blood oxygen levels, the tech giant announced Tuesday.
Apple is planning to study whether the Apple Watch's blood oxygen and heart rate measurements can detect early signs of respiratory conditions, such as COVID-19 or influenza.
The Seattle Flu Study at the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine and faculty from the University of Washington School of Medicine are working with Apple on the study.
Blood oxygen levels, typically measured with pulse oximeters, have been used by some hospitals to help COVID-19 patients monitor symptoms at home. Pulse oximeters aren't used as a screening method for COVID-19; while COVID-19 has been linked with low oxygen levels, there are some patients who test positive for the disease without that symptom.
The new Apple Watch's blood oxygen sensor, for now, is only meant to be used to provide wearers with insight into "their overall wellness," according to Apple.
The smartwatch will periodically take blood oxygen measurements in the background while a user is wearing it; users will also have the option to take on-demand measurements.
The Series 6 smartwatch retails starting at $399.
Apple also is partnering with the University of California, Irvine, and Anthem to study whether measuring blood oxygen can help users manage asthma. A third study from the company involves working with the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the University Health Network to study whether blood oxygen levels can help with managing heart failure.
House to stay in session until COVID-19 rescue pact, Pelosi says
2:10 PM CT on 9/15/20
(AP) Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday the House will remain in session until lawmakers deliver another round of COVID-19 relief.
"We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people," Pelosi said on CNBC.
Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues on a morning conference call that "we have to stay here until we have a bill." That's according to a Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity but authorized to quote her remarks.
Pelosi's comments came as moderate Democrats signed on to a $1.5 trillion rescue package endorsed by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of about 50 lawmakers who seek common solutions to issues.
The plan contains many elements of COVID rescue packages devised by both House Democrats and Republicans controlling the Senate, including aid to schools, funding for state and local governments, and renewal of lapsed COVID-related jobless benefits.
The price tag is significantly less than the $2.2 trillion figure cited by Pelosi but it's also well above an approximately $650 billion Senate GOP plan that failed last week due to Democratic opposition.
Talks between Pelosi and the Trump administration broke down last month and there had been little optimism they would rekindle before Election Day. And last week, Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package.
Pelosi has maintained a hard line in negotiations and has been at odds with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. She orchestrated passage of a $3.4 trillion COVID rescue package back in May, but the effort was immediately dismissed by Senate Republicans and the Trump administration.
Tuesday's remarks, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, don't mean that the speaker is adopting a more flexible position. She instead seems to be signaling continued determination to press ahead and won't adjourn the House without an agreement with the administration.
Success is by no means guaranteed and many people on Capitol Hill remain very skeptical that an agreement between the White House and Democrats is likely before the election.
"My sense is the clock is running out," said Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota. "I don't see any intention or desire on the part of the Democrat leadership at the moment — regardless of what their members are saying — to cooperate and to work together on a solution. I think they feel like they've got the issue and they want to try and ride it in November."
Germany boosts own pharma companies in race for COVID-19 vaccine
12:06 PM CT on 9/15/20
(AP) Germany says it is providing up to 750 million euros ($892 million) to support three domestic pharmaceutical companies that are developing vaccines against the new coronavirus.
Science Minister Anja Karliczek said Tuesday that the government has already agreed to provide BioNTech and CureVac with 375 million euros and 230-million euros respectively to develop their mRNA-based vaccines.
Talks with a third company, IDT Biologika, are expected to conclude soon, she said. The company is developing a vector-based vaccine that delivers a coronavirus protein into cells to stimulate the body's immune response.
The agreement with the three companies, which is tied to specific milestones, would guarantee Germany 40 million doses of vaccine. The amount comes on top of other vaccine supply agreements concluded through the European Union, of which Germany is a member.
Karliczek said Germany wouldn't cut corners when it comes to testing vaccines, meaning most of the population may have to wait until mid-2021 to be inoculated.
"Safety is an absolute priority," she said.
Health Minister Jens Spahn echoed that stance, saying that only vaccines which have been tested on "thousands, ideally many thousands of volunteers in phase 3" would be approved.
Spahn complained that reports from Russia and China about vaccines being developed in the two countries "aren't always such that one feels there's absolute transparency."
Spahn dismissed suggestions that Germany might consider making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory.
"We need 55-60% of the population to be vaccinated," he said. "I'm firmly convinced we will achieve this voluntarily."
Spahn added that Germany also doesn't intend to hoard vaccines.
"I'm happy to give other countries in the world some of the vaccines we're been contractually assured," he said, "if we find in the end that we have more than we need."
Shortage of virus tests in U.K. hurts effort to fight 2nd wave
9:34 AM CT on 9/15/20
(AP) Hospitals in England say a shortage of COVID-19 tests in the U.K. is jeopardizing medical staffing and preparations for a potential surge in coronavirus cases this winter.
Inadequate testing is leading to increased absences in the National Health Service as medical workers are forced to self-isolate while they and their family members wait for test results after possible exposures, according to NHS Providers, a group that represents hospitals. Last weekend hospital leaders in three different cities raised concerns about testing, said Chris Hopson, the group's CEO.
"The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark — they don't know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests,'' Hopson said Tuesday.
The shortage comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the U.K. that has pushed daily new infections to levels not seen since late May and has forced the Conservative government to impose new limits on public gatherings.
Widespread testing is seen as crucial to controlling the spread of coronavirus because it allows those who are infected to self-isolate while helping health officials to identify hot spots and trace those who are infected.
The problem is that the "second wave'' of the virus is hitting Britain earlier than anticipated, said John Bell, a professor of medicine at the University of Oxford. Authorities have underestimated the speed at which more testing capacity is needed, Bell said, warning that the problem could get worse.
"I think what's going wrong is the second wave,'' Bell told the BBC. "A month ago, they had spare capacity in testing —significant spare capacity — but I think what has been underestimated was the speed at which the second wave would arrive."
He also said new testing pressures are arising from children returning to school.
The government says it can process about 243,000 coronavirus tests a day, up from 220,000 at the end of August. Over the past week, many people have complained that they were being sent to testing centers far from their homes, sometimes hundreds of miles away.
Nevada city fines Trump rally venue $3,000 in COVID-19 flap
8:20 PM CT on 9/14/2020
(AP) The Nevada city where President Donald Trump held an indoor campaign rally said Monday the venue owner is being fined $3,000 for violating coronavirus prevention mandates imposed by the state’s Democratic governor.
Henderson officials told Xtreme Manufacturing owner Donald Ahern that the event that drew thousands of people to a warehouse in suburban Las Vegas violated Gov. Steve Sisolak’s coronavirus emergency directives.
State rules prohibit gatherings larger than 50 people, require “social distancing” of 6 feet (1.8 meters), and mandate masks or face coverings in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Ahern’s attorney, Michael Van, acknowledged receiving a notice from the city and said Ahern will decide whether to challenge it. He has 30 days.
“It’s interesting that if it’s a demonstration, it’s OK. If it’s a rally, it’s not OK,” Van said, casting the dispute as a First Amendment fight. “There’s just inconsistent application of that declaration.”
Ahern, a local heavy equipment rental mogul and hotel owner has a separate lawsuit pending against Sisolak after being fined more than $10,000 for hosting an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally and a separate beauty pageant last month at his renovated casino-turned-convention hall.
In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett, Sisolak accused Trump of knowingly violating coronavirus directives and endangering Nevada residents.
“He knew what the rules were. He chose to show callous disregard in a reckless, selfish, irresponsible way. There’s no other way to put it,” the governor said. He added that it was “absurd for him to think that the rules didn't apply to him."
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh on Monday called the rally crowd, “great Americans who supported their fellow citizens in wanting to hear from the president of the United States.”
Henderson city spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said that Ahern was warned verbally and in writing before the event. A business compliance officer observed six violations amounting to fines worth $500 each among the mostly maskless crowd.
During the rally, Trump derided Sisolak, with whom he has clashed in the past, as “a political hack,” and urged Nevada residents to “tell your governor to open up your state.”
Trump’s campaign is suing Nevada's Republican secretary of state in federal court to try to block a new state law and prevent mail-in ballots from going to all active Nevada voters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevada wants the court to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that vote-by-mail does not lead to election fraud and the virus could make voting in person dangerous.
Trump told his supporters the governor was “playing around" with ballots. He blamed Sisolak for forcing the Trump campaign to abandon plans to hold two outdoor rallies last weekend at a private air facility at McCarran International Airport and at an airport hangar at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
The northern Nevada event was moved to an outdoor airport venue in Minden, more than a one-hour drive from Reno, where Nevada GOP party Chairman Michael McDonald made a point of calling the event a protest. Trump told the crowd that Sisolak “tried very hard to stop us from having this event.”
“They can have riots and they can all sorts of things and that’s OK. You can burn up the house, that’s OK,” Trump said. “If you call it a protest, you’re allowed to have it. So, if anybody asks you outside, this is called a `friendly protest.’”
ouglas County, where Trump held that rally, could also face punishment.
Nevada agreed to allocate the county $8.9 million in federal relief dollars on the condition that safety directives be enforced. Nevada COVID-19 response chief Caleb Cage told reporters Monday he didn’t know whether the state would withhold or claw back relief given to Douglas County.
South Carolina's lieutenant governor contracts COVID-19
6:06 PM CT on 9/14/2020
(AP) South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday and is recovering in isolation with her family at home, officials said.
Evette had a sore throat and headache Thursday and was tested for the virus. She has stayed at her family's home near Greenville since noting the symptoms, said Brian Symmes, the spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster.
“She is feeling better now," said Symmes, adding Evette plans to stay out of the public for two weeks.
Evette's positive test prompted McMaster and his wife to get COVID-19 tests, which both came back negative Sunday. It was the fifth negative test since the pandemic began for the governor and the third for his wife, Symmes said.
Two members of Evette's staff and some of her security detail are also isolating but have not tested positive for COVID-19, Symmes said.
South Carolina's rate of COVID-19 infection has dropped significantly since it nearly led the country in July. The state is currently seeing an average of about 870 cases a day, down from the seven-day average peak of nearly 1,950 cases in mid-July.
But since students have returned to schools and colleges, the state has seen the decline in cases stop and begin rising again.
Evette joins a rising number of state officials across the U.S. to get COVID-19. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin St itt announced his positive test in July. Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Saturday he had COVID-19. Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn tested positive in July along with a number of other lawmakers after a legislative session.
Evette released a statement Monday saying her infection shows how easily the virus is spread and asking people to keep wearing masks, social distancing and getting tested if they have any reason to think they might have COVID-19.
“I’m fortunate to have had only mild symptoms and I’m already feeling much better. David has taken GREAT care of me!” Evette wrote on social media, thanking her husband for his help.
Michigan launches $5M ad campaign to urge mask use
4:14 PM CT on 9/14/20
(AP) Michigan on Monday launched a $5 million advertising campaign to urge people to wear a mask to fight the coronavirus, with a focus on appealing to those who believe the state's requirement infringes on their rights.
The "spread hope, not COVID" message includes three public service announcements. Two feature military members saying they wear a face covering to protect their freedom and the freedom of others, saying it can reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by 70%. A sergeant shown in both ads puts on a mask showing the American flag.
"The more we wear masks, the sooner this is going to end, the sooner we can return to normal. Whether we wear masks is going to have a direct effect," Robert Gordon, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview. "We want to speak to folks who are skeptical in a way that's respectful, that honors their perspective and says, 'Yes, freedom's important. But wearing masks protects freedom and gets us close to day when this is over.'"
The ads are based on a survey of about 2,000 residents and are being funded with federal virus relief aid.
The goal, Gordon said, is to "reinforce in a hopeful way" the importance of social distancing and wearing a face covering even if it is a burden. The ad campaign is separate from one, known as "Rona," that targets young adults and is funded primarily by businesses.
"This campaign is geared toward all Michiganders," he said.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order requires face coverings in enclosed public spaces and crowded outdoor places where distancing cannot be consistently maintained. Masks also are mandated in many organized sports.
In defiance of Nevada governor, Trump holds indoor rally
2:12 PM CT on 9/14/20
(AP) In open defiance of state regulations and his own administration's pandemic health guidelines, President Donald Trump hosted his first indoor rally since June, telling a packed, nearly mask-less Nevada crowd that the nation was "making the last turn" in defeating the virus.
Eager to project a sense of normalcy in imagery, Trump soaked up the raucous cheers inside a warehouse Sunday night. Relatively few in the crowd wore masks, with a clear exception: Those in the stands directly behind Trump, whose images would end up on TV, were mandated to wear face coverings.
Not since a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was blamed for a surge of coronavirus infections has he gathered supporters indoors.
"We are not shutting the country again. A shutdown would destroy the lives and dreams of millions of Americans," said Trump, before using his inflammatory moniker for the coronavirus. "We will very easily defeat the China virus."
He didn't mention the pandemic's death toll — it's killed nearly 200,000 Americans and is still claiming about 1,000 lives a day.
The rally in Tulsa, which was his first in three months after the coronavirus reached American shores, was a disaster for the campaign, a debacle that featured a sea of empty seats and a rise in COVID-19 cases, including on his own staff. One prominent Trump supporter at the rally, businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain, died of COVID-19 weeks later, though it was not clear if he contracted the virus in Tulsa.
Recognizing that many supporters were uncomfortable to gather in a large group indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, the Trump campaign shifted to holding smaller, outdoor rallies, usually at airplane hangers. But those rallies have grown in size in recent weeks, with little social distancing and few masks.
And on Sunday, they returned indoors, in part as a nod to the Las Vegas-area heat. Temperature checks were given to all upon entrance at the industrial site in Henderson and while masks were encouraged, few wore them.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines. In a statement released just before the rally began, Sisolak said Trump was "taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada."
"To put it bluntly: he didn't have the guts to make tough choices," Sisolak said of Trump's handling of the virus. "He left that to governors and the states. Now he's decided he doesn't have to respect our State's laws. As usual, he doesn't believe the rules apply to him."
The city of Henderson informed Xtreme Manufacturing on Sunday that the event as planned was in direct violation of the governor's COVID-19 emergency directives and that penalties would follow.
The Trump campaign pushed back against the restrictions with the president saying he would support those in attendance "if the governor came after you."
Anti-inflammatory drug may shorten COVID-19 recovery time
11:55 AM CT on 9/14/20
(AP) A drug company says that adding an anti-inflammatory medicine to a drug already widely used for hospitalized COVID-19 patients shortens their time to recovery by an additional day.
Eli Lilly announced the results Monday from a 1,000-person study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The results have not yet been published or reviewed by independent scientists.
The study tested baricitinib, a pill that Indianapolis-based Lilly already sells as Olumiant to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the less common form of arthritis that occurs when a mistaken or overreacting immune system attacks joints, causing inflammation. An overactive immune system also can lead to serious problems in coronavirus patients.
All study participants received remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug previously shown to reduce the time to recovery, defined as being well enough to leave the hospital, by four days on average. Those who also were given baricitinib recovered one day sooner than those given remdesivir alone, Lilly said.
Lilly said it planned to discuss with regulators the possible emergency use of baricitinib for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
It would be important to know how many study participants also received steroid drugs, which have been shown in other research to lower the risk of death for severely ill, hospitalized COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Jesse Goodman, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University who had no role in the study.
Figuring out how to best use the various drugs shown to help "is something we're going to have to work at," he said.
Indonesia's capital under virus order, hospitals nearly full
9:40 AM CT on 9/14/20
(AP) Main streets were less crowded as Indonesia's capital began two weeks of social restrictions Monday to curb a rise of coronavirus infections that has pushed its critical-care hospital capacity to unsafe levels.
Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced the restrictions Sunday, to last from Monday to Sept. 27, in what he described as an emergency decision to control a rapid expansion in coronavirus cases in Jakarta.
Social, economic, religious, cultural and academic activities will be restricted, with 11 essential sectors, like food, construction and banking, allowed to operate with health protocols and 50% of usual staffing levels.
Schools, parks, recreation sites and wedding reception venues must close entirely. Restaurants and cafes are limited to takeaway and delivery service. Shopping centers must limit the number of visitors and their hours. Only religious places at residential areas are able to open.
Jakarta previously imposed large-scale social restrictions from April to June, then eased them gradually with businesses reopening and using health protocols.
But the virus has spread significantly since June, and medical facilities are filling with sick patients. Seven of 67 COVID-19 referral hospitals in Jakarta are 100% occupied, while 46 are more than 60% occupied.
Baswedan said last week the hospital capacity for isolation and intensive-care rooms has exceeded the safe limit and is estimated to reach the maximum capacity on Thursday, after which Jakarta health facilities will collapse.
"From the death rate, the use of isolation beds, the use of the special ICU for COVID-19 shows that the outbreak situation in Jakarta is in an emergency situation," he added.
Indonesia's virus task force said more than 54,000 of the nation's 218,000 cases of COVID-19 are in Jakarta. The city also has recorded 1,391 deaths of the nation's toll of 8,723.
Nebraska loosens COVID-19 restrictions
8:37 PM CT on 9/13/2020
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts' move to loosen COVID-19 restrictions across most of the state takes place this week.
Outdoor venues can operate at 100% occupancy while indoor venues can increase to 75% capacity.
Ricketts considers large events to be 500 or more people.
Those large-scale events will still need approval from their local health director.
State officials said they made the decision based on the availability of hospital beds and ventilators, in keeping with the Republican governor's goal of not overwhelming medical facilities.
“The goal has always been to protect hospital capacity, and capacity remains stable,” said Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage.
Nebraska's hospitals have 36% of their regular beds, 31% of their intensive care unit beds and 81% of their ventilators available, according to the state's online tracking portal. Those numbers have changed little in the last few months.
Birx ‘very encouraged’ by COVID-19 trends in Mid-South
6:08 PM CT on 9/13/2020
(WMC5) A top member of the White House Coronavirus task force visited the Mid-South this weekend and recognized progress the region is making in the fight against COVID-19.
“We have eyes on every city, every county, every town in every state in America and our territories, and we’re tracking that very closely,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said.
Birx says while the battle against COVID-19 is not over, she’s “very encouraged” with how far the Mid-South has come.
She says Mississippi in particular has come a long way since her last visit several weeks ago and that social distancing and mask mandates are working.
“We see the trend lines in every county look quite good. You went from almost 60-plus red counties down to 23,” Birx said. “The numbers are important to us, but the trends are important to us also.”
Cdoronavirus pandemic takes harsh toll on young adults’ mental health, poll finds
3:21 PM CT on 9/13/2020
(AP) The coronavirus pandemic has taken a harsh toll on the mental health of young Americans, according to a new poll that finds adults under 35 especially likely to report negative feelings or experience physical or emotional symptoms associated with stress and anxiety.
A majority of Americans ages 18 through 34 — 56% — say they have at least sometimes felt isolated in the past month, compared with about 4 in 10 older Americans, according to the latest COVID Response Tracking Study conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Twenty-five percent of young adults rate their mental health as fair or poor, compared with 13% of older adults, while 56% of older adults say their mental health is excellent or very good, compared with just 39% of young adults.
The study found that younger Americans also consistently show higher rates of psychosomatic symptoms, like having trouble sleeping, getting headaches or crying, compared to other age groups. The likelihood of experiencing such symptoms decreases with age.
The survey found 67% of young adults, but just 50% of those older, say they have at least sometimes felt that they were unable to control the important things in life. And 55% of 18 to 34 year olds say they have felt difficulties piling up too high to overcome, compared with 33% of older adults.
Federal regulators have issued only modest fines at U.S. meat plants
11:48 AM CT on 9/13/2020
(Washington Post) More than 200 meat plant workers in the U.S. have died of covid-19. Federal regulators just issued two modest fines, the Washington Post reports.
Federal regulators took six months to issue citations to two plants, despite knowing that dozens of the nation’s meat plants had become coronavirus hot spots this spring.
The fines leveled against a Smithfield Foods plant in South Dakota and a JBS plant in Colorado last week total about $29,000.
Meat plant workers, union leaders and worker safety groups told the Washington Post that they were outraged that the two plants, with some of the most severe outbreaks in the nation, were only cited for a total of three safety violations and that hundreds of other meat plants have faced no fines.
S.C. public health officials roll out vaccine system upgrade
9:31 AM CT on 9/13/20202
(AP) As officials make plans for the future dissemination of a coronavirus vaccine, South Carolina’s public health department is rolling out a new network to help manage all of the state’s vaccine-related information.
In a release Sunday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said that the Statewide Immunization Online Network would help immunization providers keep track of inventory and give state officials the ability to address coverage rates. Officials said the system would also provide patient reminders and a portal where patients can access their immunization records.
Interim public health director Dr. Brannon Traxler said the upgrade comes at a good time, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, public health officials announced that a plan was in the works for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, to prioritize high-risk individuals, frontline health care workers and critical infrastructure employees when limited doses of the vaccine first arrive.
Officials also stressed that there is no confirmed date for when such a vaccine will be available to the general public.
As of Saturday, state public health officials had reported more than 127,600 confirmed positive tests for coronavirus in South Carolina, and at least 2,891 deaths attributable to COVID-19.
Missouri has topped 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus
8:30 PM CT on 9/12/20
(AP) The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ coronavirus dashboard cited 1,974 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 101,134. The true number is likely much higher since many people with the virus go undiagnosed.
The state also added three new deaths. All told, 1,704 Missourians have died from COVID-19.
The number of cases in the state is growing at a rate faster than most places. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that over the seven-day period of Sept. 4-10, Missouri saw the nation’s sixth-highest number of new cases.
In other state news:
- Arizona Department of Health Services officials on Saturday reported more than 600 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27 additional deaths as the state’s coronavirus outbreak continues to slow.
- Nevada health officials on Saturday reported 414 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 10 additional deaths, increasing the statewide totals to 73,220 cases and 1,439 deaths.
- Health officials in Michigan are strongly recommending Michigan State University students living on or near the school’s East Lansing campus self-quarantine because of an outbreak of the coronavirus.
Kentucky 'front line hero' dies of virus
6:23 PM CT on 9/12/20
(AP) A prominent Kentucky infectious disease specialist who was hailed by the governor as a “front line hero” has died after a nearly four-month battle against COVID-19.
Dr. Rebecca Shadowen, who tested positive for the virus on May 13, died on Friday night, Med Center Health in Bowling Green said. Gov. Andy Beshear tweeted Saturday that he was “heartbroken” to hear of her death and urged people to follow her advice and “wear a mask in her honor.”
Connie Smith, president and CEO of Med Center Health, said Shadowen “will forever be remembered as a nationally recognized expert who provided the very best care for our patients and community. She was a dear friend to many.”
Before contracting the virus, Shadowen led Med Center Health’s work in National Institute of Health trials of patients’ treatment for the virus, according to media reports.
Shadowen had said she believed she contracted the virus after an elderly family member received care at home from an infected caregiver.
“COVID-19 does not discriminate in its ability to penetrate our homes and communities,” Shadowen said when announcing in the spring that she had tested positive for the virus.
While battling the virus, she surprised members of the Bowling Green–Warren County Coronavirus Workgroup by joining in a conference call, telling the group: “It’s a great day to be alive.” She stressed the importance of wearing a mask in public.
In his social media tribute Saturday, Beshear referred to Shadowen as a “front line hero who worked tirelessly to protect the lives of others.”
Harshmallow: Virus prompts pause for Peeps holiday treats
3:23 PM CT on 9/12/20
(AP) Peeps treats are going on hiatus for several months — another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just Born Quality Confections said it won’t be producing the popular marshmallow sweets for Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s Day as the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based company prepares for next Easter, PennLive.com reports.
Production of the holiday-shaped candies was suspended in the spring as the coronavirus spread across the state. Limited production resumed in mid-May with protocols in place to protect employees, Just Born said.
“This situation resulted in us having to make the difficult decision to forego production of our seasonal candies for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day in order to focus on meeting the expected overwhelming demand for Peeps for next Easter season, as well as our everyday candies,” the company said.
For confectioners, Easter is one of their biggest and busiest times of the year as children — and adults — use the holiday as an excuse to indulge in candy eggs and chocolate bunnies.
Just Born, which has been in business since 1923, said its other seasonal confections are expected to return to store shelves by Halloween 2021.
Minnesota reports 929 new COVID-19 cases, 9 deaths
2:09 PM CT on 9/12/20
(AP) Minnesota heath officials reported 929 positive COVID-19 tests and nine additional deaths on Saturday.
The newly reported positive cases bring the statewide to 83,588. Health officials said 9,077 health care workers have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
More than 76,600 people were marked as no longer needing isolation.
Minnesota’s death toll from the coronavirus was 1,906 on Saturday. Officials report that 1,389 of deaths have been among residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities.
A total of 6,899 people have required hospitalization. Of those, 247 remain in those facilities, with 140 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.
Dakotas lead US in virus growth as both reject mask rules
12:01 PM CT on 9/12/20
(AP) Coronavirus infections in the Dakotas are growing faster than anywhere else in the nation, fueling impassioned debates over masks and personal freedom after months in which the two states avoided the worst of the pandemic.
The argument over masks raged this week in Brookings, South Dakota, as the city council considered requiring face coverings in businesses. The city was forced to move its meeting to a local arena to accommodate intense interest, with many citizens speaking against it, before the mask requirement ultimately passed.
Amid the brute force of the pandemic, health experts warn that the infections must be contained before care systems are overwhelmed. North Dakota and South Dakota lead the country in new cases per capita over the last two weeks, ranking first and second respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
The states have also posted some of the country's highest positivity rates for COVID-19 tests in the last week — nearly 22 percent in North Dakota — an indication that there are more infections than tests are catching.
Infections have been spurred by schools and universities reopening and mass gatherings like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.
“It is not a surprise that South Dakota has one of the highest (COVID-19) reproduction rates in the country,” Brookings City Council member Nick Wendell said as he commented on the many people who forgo masks in public.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem have resisted mask requirements. Burgum promotes personal choice but tried to encourage masks with a social media campaign. Noem has discouraged mask requirements, saying she doubts a broad consensus in the medical community that they help prevent infections.
Texas reports nearly 3,500 new virus cases
9:52 AM CT on 9/12/20
(AP) The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 3,488 new coronavirus cases Friday and 144 deaths.
That brought the total confirmed cases to 653,356 and nearly 14,000 confirmed deaths, state health official say. However, the true number of cases in Texas is likely higher because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
Health officials estimated 71,292 cases are now active, with 3,475 requiring hospitalization. The number of hospitalizations has been decreasing since peaking in July at 10,893.
New Mexico rolls out new supplemental unemployment benefit
8:24 PM CT on 9/11/20
(AP) New Mexico labor officials say they have started paying out supplemental federal unemployment benefits of $300 a week.
The Workforce Solutions Department announced Friday that it has begun processing supplemental benefits for the five week period starting on July 26. That is when a larger $600 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits expired.
Recipients for the new payments must already qualify for state unemployment benefits of at least $100 a week. They could receive up to $1,500 in a separate payment from standard benefits.
New Mexico was among the first state's to receive approval for the new unemployment benefits channeled through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Since March 15, the state Workforce Solutions Department has paid out more than $2 billion in assistance to more than 200,000 residents.
The statewide unemployment rate surged to 12.7% in July — a rate surpassed in just seven other states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tourism, hospitality, arts and energy sectors have been especially hard hit.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has taken an aggressive approach to reducing COVID-19 infections and positivity rates in testing with an active health order that mandates masks in public, limited occupancy at most businesses, a 10-person cap on public gatherings and quarantine provisions for travelers arriving from most states.
More than 26,500 people have tested positive for COVID-19 statewide since the start of the pandemic, with 818 related deaths as of Friday.
Out of 137 newly confirmed cases on Friday, 40 were in rural Chavez County where the return to classroom learning is on hold because of high positivity rates for the coronavirus.
Two new virus deaths included a woman in her 30s in Lea County with prior underlying health conditions who died after being hospitalized.
For most people, the new 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, and death.
UN General Assembly adopts pandemic resolution
6:31 PM CT on 9/11/20
(AP) The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution on tackling the coronavirus pandemic over objections from the United States and Israel, which protested a successful last-minute Cuban amendment that strongly urges countries to oppose unilateral economic, financial or trade sanctions.
The world body adopted the resolution Friday by a vote of 169-2. It was a strong show of unity by the U.N.’s most representative body in addressing the coronavirus, though many countries had hoped for adoption by consensus.
The resolution is not legally binding. It “calls for intensified international cooperation and solidarity to contain, mitigate and overcome the pandemic” and it urges member states “to enable all countries to have unhindered timely access to quality, safe, efficacious and affordable diagnosis, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines.”
Study finds kids infected at day care spread virus at home
4:18 PM CT on 9/11/20
(AP) Children who caught the coronavirus at day cares and a day camp spread it to their relatives, according to a new report that underscores that kids can bring the germ home and infect others.
Scientists already know children can spread the virus. But the study published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "definitively indicates — in a way that previous studies have struggled to do — the potential for transmission to family members," said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher.
The findings don't mean that schools and child-care programs need to close, but it does confirm that the virus can spread within those places and then be brought home by kids. So, masks, disinfection and social distancing are needed. And people who work in such facilities have to be careful and get tested if they think they may be infected, experts said.
Earlier research from the U.S., China and Europe has found that children are less likely than adults to be infected by the virus and are less likely to become seriously ill when they do get sick.
There also was data suggesting that young children don't spread the virus very often, though older kids are believed to spread it as easily as adults.
In the new study, researchers from Utah and the CDC focused on three outbreaks in Salt Lake City child care facilities between April and July. Two were child-care programs for toddlers, and the other was a camp for older kids. The average age of kids at all three programs was about 7.
At two of the facilities, investigators were able to establish that an infected adult worker unknowingly introduced the virus.
The study concluded 12 children caught the coronavirus at the facilities, and spread it to at least 12 of the 46 parents or siblings that they came in contact with at home. Three of the infected children had no symptoms, and one of them spread it to a parent who was later hospitalized because of COVID-19, the researchers said.
That kind of rate of spread — about 25% — is on par with studies of spread in households that have included both children and adults. It also shows that children with no symptoms, or very mild symptoms, can spread the infection, just like adults can.
Hanage cautioned that it's not clear whether the findings at the three programs are broadly applicable. Also, the study didn't involve genetic analysis of individual infections that might have given a clearer picture of how the disease spread.
But many infected kids experience mild illnesses and testing of children has been very limited, so it's likely that more than 25% of the outside contacts were infected, Hanage added.
The epidemic could get worse and more complicated this fall, said Dr. David Kimberlin, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"This should be another wake up call to all of us that we need to be diligent and all do our part," he said.
Daily U.S. virus deaths decline, but trend may reverse in fall
2:03 PM CT on 9/11/20
(AP) The number of daily U.S. deaths from the coronavirus is declining again after peaking in early August, but scientists warn that a new bout with the disease this fall could claim more lives.
The arrival of cooler weather and the likelihood of more indoor gatherings will add to the importance of everyday safety precautions, experts say.
"We have to change the way we live until we have a vaccine," said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. In other words: Wear a mask. Stay home. Wash your hands.
The U.S. has seen two distinct peaks in daily deaths. The nation's summertime surge crested at about half the size of the first deadly wave in April.
Deaths first peaked on April 24 at an average of 2,240 each day as the disease romped through the dense cities of the Northeast. Then, over the summer, outbreaks in Texas, California and Florida drove daily deaths to a second peak of 1,138 on Aug. 1.
Some states — Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada and California — suffered more deaths during the summer wave than during their first milder run-in with the virus in the spring. Others — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Colorado — definitely saw two spikes in infections but suffered fewer deaths the second time around.
Now about 700 Americans are dying of the virus each day. That's down about 25% from two weeks ago but still not low enough to match the early July low of about 500 daily deaths, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The number of people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals in the summertime hot spots of Florida and Texas has been on a steady downward trend since July.
In Florida, the number of COVID-19 patients Thursday morning was less than 3,000 after peaking at more than 9,500 on July 23. Two weeks later, the state reached its highest seven-day average in daily reported deaths.
In Texas, about 3,500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday, a measure that's been improving since peaking July 22 at 10,893.
Worryingly, a dozen states are bucking the national downward trend. Iowa, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kansas are among states still seeing increases in daily deaths, although none is anywhere near the death rates seen in the spring in the Northeast. Back then, the virus caught New York off guard and claimed 1,000 lives per day in that state alone, or five deaths per 100,000 people.
"Often, it's hard to understand the trends when looking at the whole country," said Alison Hill, an infectious disease researcher at Harvard University. She noted that daily deaths are still rising in some metro areas, including Memphis, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose.
"We're at a really critical point right now," Hill said. "Schools are reopening. The weather is getting colder, driving people indoors. All those things don't bode particularly well."
Poll: Pandemic takes toll on mental health of young adults
11:50 AM CT on 9/11/20
(AP) The coronavirus pandemic has taken a harsh toll on the mental health of young Americans, according to a new poll that finds adults under 35 especially likely to report negative feelings or experience physical or emotional symptoms associated with stress and anxiety.
A majority of Americans ages 18 through 34 — 56% — say they have at least sometimes felt isolated in the past month, compared with about 4 in 10 older Americans, according to the latest COVID Response Tracking Study conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Twenty-five percent of young adults rate their mental health as fair or poor, compared with 13% of older adults, while 56% of older adults say their mental health is excellent or very good, compared with just 39% of young adults.
In the midst of the pandemic, young adults are navigating life transitions such as starting college and finding jobs, all without being able to experience normal social activities that might be especially essential for people who are less likely to have already married and started their own families. Some young people are just beginning their adult lives amid a recession, and older members of the group are already experiencing their second.
Christina Torres, 32, a middle school teacher in Honolulu, had to postpone her June wedding and was not able to travel to her grandmother's funeral in California because of the pandemic. She misses being able to deal with stress by going to the gym and getting together with friends.
"And so it's hard to not feel really hopeless sometimes, especially because the numbers keep going up," she said.
The study found that younger Americans also consistently show higher rates of psychosomatic symptoms, like having trouble sleeping, getting headaches or crying, compared to other age groups. The likelihood of experiencing such symptoms decreases with age.
One possible explanation for the age gap could be that young adults have less experience dealing with a public health crisis, said Tom Smith, who has directed NORC's General Social Survey since 1980. Smith, 71, says he grew up being told not to play in the dirt because of the risk of contracting polio.
"This experience facing a pandemic is completely new for most younger adults," he said.
India adds 96K virus cases, orders some retests
9:27 AM CT on 9/11/20
India edged closer to recording nearly 100,000 coronavirus cases in 24 hours as it ordered retesting of many people whose first results were from the less reliable rapid antigen tests being widely used.
There were a total of 96,551 confirmed cases, taking the tally to over 4.56 million. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported another 1,209 deaths for a total of 76,271.
India has the second-highest caseload behind the United States, where more than 6.39 million people have been confirmed as infected.
The Health Ministry has asked states to allow testing on demand without a doctor’s prescription. It also said some negative rapid antigen tests should be redone through the more reliable RT-PCR method, the gold standard of coronavirus tests that looks for the genetic code of the virus.
The retesting order applied to people who had negative results but had fever, coughing or breathlessness, or those who developed the COVID-19 symptoms within three days of their negative test results.
The order was meant to ensure that infected people did not go undetected and to help check the spread the disease among their contacts.
Using the rapid antigen, or viral protein, tests has allowed India to dramatically increase its testing capacity to more than 1.1 million a day, but the quicker, cheaper test is less reliable and retesting is often recommended.
The directive came as 60% of India's cases have been reported from only five of the country's 28 states. However, experts caution that India’s outbreak is entering a more dangerous phase as the virus spreads to smaller towns and villages.
With the economy contracting by a record 23.9% in the April-June quarter leaving millions jobless, the Indian government is continuing with relaxing lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March.
Trump revels in packed Michigan crowd amid book fallout
8:40 PM CT on 9/10/20
(AP) Reeling from another crisis of his own making, President Donald Trump tried to refocus attention on his Democratic rival at a rally in battleground Michigan Thursday as he pushed to move past revelations that he purposefully played down the danger of the coronavirus last winter.
But the virus controversy followed him as he faced new pushback from local officials worried about the growing size of his rallies and his campaign's repeated flouting of public health guidelines intended to halt the COVID-19 spread. That includes Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who raised alarms about Thursday’s event, warning it would make recovery harder.
Trump, however, reveled in the crowd of several thousand, packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a cavernous airport hangar, mostly without masks — with Air Force One on display as his backdrop.
“This is not the crowd of a person who comes in second place,” Trump declared to cheers as he railed against Whitmer for current state restrictions.
“Tell your governor to open up your state!” he demanded, saying Michigan would be better if it “had a governor who knew what the hell she was doing."
Before departing the White House, Trump denied he had lied to the nation as he continued to grapple with fallout from a new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. In a series of interviews with Woodward, the president spoke frankly about the dangers posed by the virus — even as he downplayed them publicly — and admitted he had tried to mislead the public.
US will end current health screening of some travelers
6:20 PM CT on 9/10/20
(AP) The United States plans to end enhanced health screening of travelers from certain countries next week, and those visitors will no longer be funneled through 15 large U.S. airports.
Those requirements were imposed in January to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the government will remove those edicts beginning Monday.
The CDC said the current screening, which includes temperature checks and questioning travelers about COVID-19 symptoms, “has limited effectiveness” because some infected people have no symptoms or only minor ones. Travelers go through customs only after the health screening.
The health agency said that of the 675,000 travelers who went through the process, fewer than 15 were found to have COVID-19 because of the extra screening.
The health agency said that instead it will focus on other measures, including a stronger response to reports of illness at airports, collecting passenger-contact electronically to avoid long lines, and “potential testing to reduce the risk of travel-related transmission” of the virus.
The extra health screening applies to people who have been in China, Iran, most countries in continental Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil. Most people coming from those countries who aren’t U.S. citizens have been barred entry to the country.
U.K.'s 'Moonshot' mass virus test plan met with skepticism
4:20 PM CT on 9/10/20
(AP) Health experts on Thursday expressed strong skepticism about the British government's ambitious plans to carry out millions of coronavirus tests daily in a bid to help people resume normal lives in the absence of a vaccine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday he wanted to roll out much simpler, faster mass testing "in the near future" to identify people who don't have the virus so that they can "behave in a more normal way in the knowledge they can't infect anyone else." Johnson said people with such negative "passports" could then attend events at places like theaters, and he said he was "hopeful" that the plan will be widespread by springtime.
Health professionals were quick to question the mass testing claims, with one expert calling the strategy — known as "Operation Moonshot" — "fundamentally flawed."
"It is being based on technology that does not, as yet, exist," said Dr. David Strain, clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter. Johnson's suggestion of new tests that can give rapid results like a pregnancy test is "unlikely if not impossible" by the spring, he said, and the technology is far from reliable.
"Existing technology has been demonstrated to miss up to one-third of people who have COVID-19 in early disease. After a second test 48 hours later, we still miss over a quarter of people," he said.
Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association, echoed the concerns, particularly given the problems Britain is already experiencing with laboratory capacity to process tests.
"The notion of opening up society based on negative tests of those without symptoms needs to be approached with caution — both because of the high rate of 'false negatives' and the potential to miss those who are incubating the virus," he said.
Jonathan Ashworth, the opposition Labour party's health spokesman, said Thursday that many are "fed up of undelivered promises." In response, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he's "absolutely determined that we will get there."
Officials say Britain currently has the capacity to process about 370,000 tests a day, and aim to ramp this up to 500,000 daily by the end of October. Government data show that about 176,000 tests are actually processed each day.
Vaccine trial stopped after neurological symptoms detected
2:03 PM CT on 9/10/20
(AP) A woman who received an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed severe neurological symptoms that prompted a pause in testing, a spokesman for drugmaker AstraZeneca said Thursday.
The study participant in late-stage testing reported symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis, a rare inflammation of the spinal cord, said company spokesman Matthew Kent.
"We don't know if it is (transverse myelitis)," Kent said. "More tests are being done now as part of the follow-up."
On Tuesday, AstraZeneca said its "standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data." It did not provide any details other than to say a single participant had an "unexplained illness." The vaccine was initially developed by Oxford University after the coronavirus pandemic began this year.
Kent said an independent committee was reviewing the study's safety data before deciding if and when the research could continue.
The study was previously stopped in July for several days after a participant who got the vaccine developed neurological symptoms; it turned out to be an undiagnosed case of multiple sclerosis that was unrelated to the vaccine.
Late last month, AstraZeneca began recruiting 30,000 people in the U.S. for its largest study of the vaccine. It also is testing the vaccine in thousands of people in Britain, and in smaller studies in Brazil and South Africa. Several other COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in development.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization's chief scientist, said the U.N. health agency wasn't overly concerned by the pause in the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine trial, describing it as "a wake-up call" to the global community about the inevitable ups and downs of medical research.
Temporary holds of large medical studies aren't unusual, and investigating any serious or unexpected reaction is a mandatory part of safety testing. AstraZeneca pointed out that it's possible the problem could be a coincidence; illnesses of all sorts could arise in studies of thousands of people.
N.Y. eases restrictions on visits at assisted-living homes
11:55 AM CT on 9/10/20
(AP) New York is now allowing visitors to see loved ones at assisted living homes that are COVID-free for 14 days, up from 28 days under previous guidance.
Family members and friends of residents at the state's nursing homes and assisted living homes have been urging the state for months to ease its March 13 ban on most visits. The state's guidance has allowed visits for medically necessary or end-of life services.
New York announced July 10 that it would begin allowing restricted visits at nursing homes and assisted living facilities that haven't had a COVID-19 case among residents or staffers for 28 days.
Visits are limited to outdoor areas with weather permitting, though visits of no more than 10 individuals in a well-ventilated space can be allowed in "certain limited circumstances."
But loved ones of residents at homes housing the state's elderly that have yet to meet the benchmark have expressed frustration and questioned why the state's threshold was above the federal 14-day incubation period for COVID-19.
The 28-day threshold for restricted visits still applies to nursing homes.
State Department of Health spokesperson Jonah Bruno said the state is easing the policy just for assisted-living homes because outbreaks are "less common" than at nursing homes.
"We understand how difficult the pandemic-related lockdowns have been for all New Yorkers, especially for children in nursing homes and their families," Bruno said. "Outbreaks in pediatric nursing homes and adult care facilities have fortunately been less common and acute than at adult nursing homes, which has allowed us to expand visitation at these facilities."
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has defended the visitation policy as protecting a vulnerable population from the risk of infection by outside visitors. Employees of nursing homes and adult care facilities must be tested once or twice a week under a May 10 executive order.
Senate GOP's virus relief bill expected to fall in vote
9:25 AM CT on 9/10/20
(AP) A GOP coronavirus relief package faces dire prospects in a Senate test vote, and negotiators involved in recent efforts to strike a deal that could pass before the November election say they see little reason for hope.
Instead, it's looking increasingly likely that all Congress will do before the election is pass legislation that would avoid a federal shutdown as lawmakers head home to campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was "optimistic" that Republicans would deliver strong support for the GOP's $500 billion slimmed-down COVID-19 rescue package in Thursday's procedural vote, but a Democratic filibuster is assured. Democrats have indicated they will shelve the Republican measure as insufficient, leaving lawmakers at an impasse.
There's no indication yet that bipartisan talks that crumbled last month will restart.
"Unless something really broke through, it's not going to happen," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The stalemate is politically risky for all sides heading into the fall election, which will decide not only the presidency, but also control of Congress.
While nationwide coronavirus cases appear to be at a plateau, there is still widespread economic hardship and social unease in homes, schools and businesses affected by closures. Experts warn that infections are expected to spike again if Americans fail to abide by public health guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing, especially amid colder weather and flu season.
McConnell said Democrats have not backed off what he said were unreasonable demands. He accused Democrats of acting as though it is to their political advantage to deny Republicans and President Donald Trump a victory on the virus so close to Election Day. Without Democratic votes, the GOP bill cannot reach the threshold needed to advance the aid plan.
"They do not want any bipartisan relief," McConnell said.
But the top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, said Republicans are "so out of touch." He predicted Republicans and the White House "may yet be forced to come back to the table because COVID is the major issue that's facing the American people."
Meatpacking plants have highest number of active COVID cases
8:29 PM CT on 9/9/20
(AP) Meatpacking plants and correctional facilities continue to be the main sites of active COVID-19 clusters in Kansas, with each reporting thousands of cases, according to data released Wednesday by the state health department.
It was the first time the Kansas Department of Health and environment publicized specific active COVID-19 clusters. The state identified 117 active clusters, involving 5,099 cases, 192 hospitalizations and 63 deaths.
The information was released hours after several large Kansas business groups released a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly asking her not to identify specific clusters, saying it could harm businesses as they try to recover from the pandemic.
"We are unsure what the benefit of this disclosure offers, other than a public shaming of businesses where an outbreak occurs," Kansas Chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb said in the letter.
State health department director Dr. Lee Norman said the state decided to release specific active cluster cases in response to continuing requests from citizens who want to make informed decisions and to assess their personal risk and reduce the virus spread.
"We want (businesses) to be successful and have safe environments for people to go," he said. "Whether it's working or shopping or eating, we want people to be safe."
Seven active clusters were identified at meatpacking plants, with 2,159 cases leading to 76 hospitalizations and 12 deaths. The largest outbreaks were in Dodge City, with 647 cases at a National Beef plant and 594 cases at a Cargill plant there.
HHS asks labs about increased testing capacity with more instruments, reagents
6:32 PM CT on 9/9/20
HHS wants to know how much more COVID-19 testing capacity labs could realistically provide if additional testing instruments and reagents from Thermo Fisher Scientific were available, according to a request for information Wednesday.
The agency asks Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments—CLIA—certified or accredited commercial, academic, medical center and public health laboratories to respond to the RFI by September 19.
“Because HHS is seeking to significantly expand testing capability, responses that propose substantial increases in capability, and provide adequate justification … are preferred,” HHS said in the RFI.
Pharmacists can administer COVID vaccines to people three and older, HHS says
4:40 PM CT on 9/9/20
State-licensed pharmacists can order and administer COVID-19 vaccinations to people three or older, according to HHS guidance on Wednesday.
Pharmacy interns can also administer the vaccines if they’re working under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist. According to the agency, its guidance takes precedence over state or local laws that “prohibit or effectively prohibits those who satisfy these requirements from ordering or administering COVID-19 vaccines.”
“The authorization does not preempt state and local laws that permit additional individuals to administer COVID-19 vaccines to additional persons,” HHS said in a statement.
Expanding clinicians’ scopes of practice have been a key part of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response. Federal policymakers hope the changes will improve access to care and, eventually, lower healthcare costs.
'I wanted to always play it down,' Trump said of virus in Woodward book
2:13 PM CT on 9/9/20
(AP) President Donald Trump seemed to understand the severity of the coronavirus threat even as he was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than the seasonal flu and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.
"You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed," Trump said in a Feb. 7 call with Woodward. "And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu."
"This is deadly stuff," the president repeated for emphasis.
Trump told Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. "I wanted to always play it down," the president said.
The Washington Post, where Woodward serves as associate editor, reported excerpts of the book, "Rage" on Wednesday, as did CNN. The book also covers race relations, diplomacy with North Korea and a range of other issues that have arisen during the past two years.
The book is based in part on 18 interviews that Woodward conducted with Trump between December and July.
"Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states," Woodward writes. "There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president's words to the public were designed to express confidence and calm at a time of insurmountable challenges.
"The president has never lied to the American public on COVID. The president was expressing calm and his actions reflect that," McEnany said.
McEnany took questions about the book during a briefing at the White House on Wednesday. She said his actions reflect that he took COVID-19 seriously.
Verily Life Sciences COVID test gets FDA emergency use authorization
11:28 AM CT on 9/9/20
(GenomeWeb) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday granted Emergency Use Authorization for Verily Life Sciences’ molecular SARS-CoV-2 test.
The Verily COVID-19 RT-PCR Test is designed to detect the ORF1ab, N, and S genes of SARS-CoV-2 in upper respiratory specimens and can be used with pooled samples containing up to 12 individual specimens collected by healthcare providers.
The test is a modified version of Thermo Fisher Scientific's authorized TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit that uses a matrix 2D-pooling strategy for which samples are pooled in a 96-well plate and includes procedural modifications that compensate for sample dilution during the pooled testing, according to the FDA.
RNA extraction is performed using Thermo Fisher's MagMax Viral/Pathogen Nucleic Acid Isolation Kit and KingFisher Flex Magnetic Particle Processor, and the test runs on Thermo Fisher's Applied Biosystems 7500 Dx Fast Real-Time PCR System or Applied Biosystems QuantStudio 5 Real-Time PCR System.
The test may be performed only by South San Francisco-based Verily, a sister company to Google. Both firms are owned by parent company Alphabet.
Florida high school closes for 2 weeks due to virus cases
9:43 AM CT on 9/9/20
(AP) A central Florida high school is shutting its doors for two weeks after it had six confirmed cases and one suspected case of the coronavirus, and health officials said more than a dozen students who attend the high school had been at a birthday party together.
Officials with Orange County Public Schools said over the weekend that Olympia High School's campus will be closed to students until Sept. 21 and all students will take online classes. There will be no athletic events or extracurricular activities during the two weeks, the school said on Twitter.
The decision to temporarily close the school comes more than two weeks after in-person classes resumed for the Orlando-area school district.
More than a third of Olympia's 3,300 students were taking classes on campus, with the rest of the student body taking online classes.
"This decision to pivot is out of an abundance of caution after several positive COVID-19 cases have been confirmed," the school said on Twitter.
At least 13 Olympia High School students had attended a birthday party together in late August, said Dr. Raul Pino, the Orange County health officer for the Florida Department of Health.
More than 150 students and staff were quarantined because of possible exposure to the virus, said Scott Howat, a spokesman for Orange County Public Schools.
"We knew that a school closure at some point was going to happen and we were prepared," Howat said at a news conference.
Some call for end to COVID-19 rules as Arizona cases decline
8:19 PM CT on 9/8/20
(AP) Arizona health officials reported Tuesday just over 80 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths, fueling some business owners to call for an end to operating restrictions.
The Department of Health Services reported an 81 additional cases statewide. The last time the state saw a daily case count below 100 was in March, according to online data.
So far, 5,221 people in the state have died of the disease caused by the coronavirus, and there have been 206,045 confirmed cases. The state, once a national hot spot for infections, continues to see a downward trend in infections and hospitalizations.
The number of reported infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Despite the decline in case and hospitalization numbers, officials warned the public to keep up preventive measures over the Labor Day weekend.
About 100 people including local business owners held a demonstration on Monday at the state Capitol, calling for an end to all COVID-19 restrictions, the Republic reported. Among them was Republican State Rep. John Fillmore, who compared mask mandates to Holocaust victims in Nazi Germany “when people on their own bodies were tattooed.”
Attorney General Mark Brnovich recently challenged Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order allowing some businesses to partially reopen. Brnovich has argued it arbitrarily discriminates against some businesses.
AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine study paused after one illness
6:37 PM CT on 9/8/20
(AP) Late-stage studies of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate are on temporary hold while the company investigates whether a patient suffered a serious side effect or if the illness had nothing to do with the shot.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, the company said its “standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data.”
AstraZeneca didn't reveal any information about the possible side effect except to call it “a potentially unexplained illness.” The health news site STAT first reported the pause in testing, saying the possible side effect occurred in the United Kingdom.
An AstraZeneca spokesperson confirmed the pause in vaccinations covers studies in the U.S. and other countries. Late last month, AstraZeneca began recruiting 30,000 people in the U.S. for its largest study of the vaccine. It also is testing the vaccine, developed by Oxford University, in thousands of people in Britain, and in smaller studies in Brazil and South Africa.
Two other vaccines are in huge, final-stage tests in the United States, one made by Moderna Inc. and the other by Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech. Those two vaccines work differently than AstraZeneca's, and the studies already have recruited about two-thirds of the needed volunteers.
Temporary holds of large medical studies aren't unusual, and investigating any serious or unexpected reaction is a mandatory part of safety testing. AstraZeneca pointed out that it's possible the problem could be a coincidence; illnesses of all sorts could arise in studies of thousands of people.
“We are working to expedite the review of the single event to minimize any potential impact on the trial timeline,” the company statement said.
Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University said via Twitter that the significance of the interruption was unclear but that he was “still optimistic” that an effective vaccine will be found in the coming months.
“But optimism isn’t evidence,” he wrote. “Let’s let science drive this process.”
During the third and final stage of testing, researchers look for any signs of possible side effects that may have gone undetected in earlier patient research. Because of their large size, the studies are considered the most important phase of study for picking less common side effects and establishing safety.
The trials also assess effectiveness by tracking who gets sick and who doesn’t between patients getting the vaccine and those receiving a dummy shot.
The development came the same day that AstraZeneca and eight other drugmakers issued an unusual pledge, vowing to uphold the highest ethical and scientific standards in developing their vaccines.
The announcement follows worries that President Donald Trump will pressure the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine before it’s proven to be safe and effective.
The U.S. has invested billions of dollars in efforts to quickly develop multiple vaccines against COVID-19. But public fears that a vaccine is unsafe or ineffective could be disastrous, derailing the effort to vaccinate millions of Americans.
Representatives for the FDA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening.
AstraZeneca’s U.S.-traded shares fell more than 6% in after-hours trading following reports of the trial being paused.
CommonSpirit opens COVID-19 lab hub
4:26 PM CT on 9/8/20
CommonSpirit Health on Monday launched a laboratory hub that could process up to 70,000 tests per week.
The reference lab in Scottsdale, Ariz. will process molecular COVID-19 diagnostic tests and provide results through patients’ electronic medical records within 36 hours. CommonSpirit care sites in 21 states will work with the lab.
CommonSpirit’s more than 130 hospitals will still test for COVID-19 and the lab will provide added capacity, according to system vice president of laboratory services Karen Smith. That will allow hospitals to focus more on severely ill patients.
“As the coronavirus will affect the health of our communities for the foreseeable future, we all have a role to play in increasing COVID-19 testing capacity across the U.S.,” Smith said in a statement.
Coronavirus testing across the country is slowing down. As of Sept. 5, the seven-day case average nationwide was down to more than 45,000 new daily new infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to more than 53,000 on Aug. 5. The number of tests performed for every 1,000 individuals as of Sept. 8 has gone down in 23 states compared to the previous week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Overall, the positive COVID-19 test rate is at 8%, well above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% threshold before mass reopenings.