Coronavirus updates: ‘Winter surge’ still looks dire; no vaccine likely before election; 74k US lives can be saved with masks

Joel Shannon

Joshua Bote

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Holidays 2020: Tips to help keep you stay safe from COVID-19

Holidays are usually for gatherings but many get-togethers are complicated or canceled because of COVID-19.

Updated virus projections are bringing the long-feared “winter surge” of COVID-19 cases into focus as health experts warn an increasing number of cases in the U.S. will soon mean more deaths.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s latest model updates for the U.S. released this week contain spots of good news: 74,000 lives can still be saved if mask use becomes nearly universal and increased testing may explain why more young people are testing positive.

But the influential model still projects daily U.S. deaths will surpass 2,000 in January, even with states reimposing stricter orders.

The guidance also called out North Dakota specifically for its current alarming death rate, following a well-documented lax approach to health mandates in the state: “North Dakota presently has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world,” a briefing on the model says. The state joins South Dakota as having some of the lowest mask use rates in the nation.

Meanwhile, hope that a vaccine might be available before Election Day faded this week, as two frontrunner candidates have now said late November is the earliest they could apply for authorization for their vaccines. Two other candidates are on hold while possible side effects are investigated. 

Some significant developments:

  • New Mexico is among the states seeing alarming spikes in cases. The state set a single-day record with 819 confirmed cases, health officials confirmed Friday.
  • The New England Patriots had to pause activities due to coronavirus concerns again. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts reopened its facility after four positive tests had been re-run and returned negative.
  • The effectiveness of remdesivir has been put into question after a massive World Health Organization study of more than 10,000 patients in 30 countries found ”little or no effect.”
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told the public to remain vigilant in an appearance Friday on ABC, his first since being released from the hospital for COVID-19.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 8 million cases and 218,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. There have been more than 39 million confirmed cases around the world and nearly 1.1 million deaths. 

📰 What we’re reading:  The pandemic and the ensuing recession have taken a toll for students, but they hit particularly hard for community college students who already face many obstacles on their path to getting a degree. 

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

An open letter from the frontrunner COVID-19 vaccine producer published Friday ends any expectations a vaccine might be available before Election Day.

Pfizer Inc. CEO Albert Bourla’s letter says the earliest the company could apply for authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine is the third week of November.

The CEO of the other frontrunner, Moderna’s Stéphane Bancel , said at a biotechnology conference on September 30 that it would not have enough safety data to apply for Food and Drug Administration authorization of its vaccine until November 25.

The other two COVID-19 vaccine candidates in final stage clinical trials in the United States, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, are both on hold as possible adverse events are investigated.

— Elizabeth Weise

Americans living or working in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted care living centers, will receive COVID-19 vaccinations for free — if and when they become available, the Trump administration said Friday.

The administration announced a partnership with the nation’s two largest drug store chains, CVS and Walgreens, “to provide and administer” the vaccines with “no out-of-pocket costs” for the recipients.

Trump, 74, vowed a vaccine would be available before the end of the year, despite his own federal health experts saying that timeline is highly unlikely, and that senior citizens would be “first in line.”

The president made the announcement at an event billed as “Protecting America’s Seniors” in Fort Myers, Florida. Trump is trying to shore up support among senior citizens, a key voting bloc that helped him win four years ago but which recent polling suggests has eroded in recent months.

– Courtney Subramanian and Nathan Bomey

Coronavirus cases around the world have climbed to all-time highs of more than 330,000 per day. In addition to the United States, concern is largely focused around Europe — as Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, regional director for the World Health Organization in Europe, warns that the daily death toll on the continent could reach five times its April peak by January 2021.

Well after Europe seemed to have largely tamed the virus that proved so lethal last spring, newly confirmed infections are reaching unprecedented levels in Germany, Czech Republic, Italy and Poland. Most of the rest of the continent is seeing similar danger signs, forcing many places to reimpose tough restrictions eased just months ago.

“These projections do nothing but confirm what we always said: the pandemic won’t reverse its course on its own, but we will,” Kluge said on Oct. 15.

What makes congregating indoors so dangerous? Dr. Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said one of the main reasons there’s a higher risk of transmission indoors than outdoors is lack of ventilation. Additionally, indoor public places have more surfaces.

“If I were to smoke a cigarette (inside), you would see the smoke particles linger,” he said. “Whereas outdoors the smoke kind of leaves.”

Ventilation can be increased by opening a window, turning on a fan or even adding a portable air filter to a room. Most portable air filters can’t filter out virus particles if they don’t have HEPA filtration, but they still facilitate air circulation. Reducing the number of people in an indoor space also helps. Read more here. 

– Adrianna Rodriguez 


COVID-19 testing: Positivity rates and why they are so important

COVID-19 widespread testing is crucial to fighting the pandemic, but is there enough testing? The answer is in the positivity rates.

You may need to cancel any big Thanksgiving plans this year, warns Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ leading infectious disease expert.

Speaking to “CBS Evening News,” Fauci cautioned against “gathering together in an indoor setting” with large groups of out-of-town guests. “It is unfortunate because that’s such a sacred part of American tradition — the family gathering around Thanksgiving,” he said. “But that is a risk.”

He added that his own family is canceling its Thanksgiving plans due to his age putting him at a higher risk of COVID-19.

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press.


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