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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Officials Urge Caution Ahead of Labor Day Weekend

2020-09-04 16:48:17

Memorial Day weekend gatherings caused case spikes. The U.S. caseload is nearly double ahead of Labor Day.

Going into Labor Day weekend, the United States is averaging about 40,000 new cases per day, up from the level ahead of Memorial Day weekend of about 22,000 per day.

The two holidays bookend a summer of lost opportunity. Though the country reined in the devastating surge of new infections that led to a peak of more than 66,000 new cases per day, America failed to stamp out the virus before the fall, which is expected to bring a dangerous combination with the start of school, flu season and cooler weather that will drive people indoors.

Fewer Americans are currently sick, hospitalized and dying from the coronavirus compared to earlier peaks this summer, promising signs that the worst surge of recent infections has waned.

But the United States is still averaging far more new cases each day than it was at the start of the summer, a stark reminder of the country’s failure to control the spread of the virus during a crucial time frame.

“We are at a very high baseline to begin with,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter.

The earlier summer spike was blamed, in part, on gatherings stemming from Memorial Day weekend, raising concerns that parties and travel during a new holiday weekend — this time with more cases nationwide — could lead to a troubling surge.

“Our state’s health and well-being rest on what Georgians choose to do over this Labor Day weekend,” Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said on Friday during a statewide tour meant to urge caution ahead of the holiday weekend.

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado offered a similar warning: “The virus is still out there.”

The Labor Day weekend is different in at least one respect, however: A number of states have rolled back reopenings or imposed mask mandates amid mounting infections this summer. For example, a mask order and an order closing bars remain in effect in Texas, which had neither at the start of the summer.

On Friday, a team of Russian scientists published the first report on their controversial Covid-19 vaccine. Writing in the Lancet, they reported that volunteers produced a relatively modest amount of antibodies to the coronavirus.

In August, President Vladimir V. Putin announced with great fanfare that the vaccine — called Sputnik V — “works effectively enough” to be approved. He declared to be a “very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.”

But vaccine developers roundly criticized the announcement, observing that no data had been published on the vaccine. In addition, the Russian scientists had yet to run a large-scale trial to demonstrate that the vaccine was safe and effective.

It is not uncommon for reports on early clinical vaccine trials to pass through peer review and get published in scientific journals after advanced trials get underway. But Putin’s headline-making announcement last month raised questions about exactly what evidence had led to the vaccine’s approval.

The new paper offers the first chance to take a closer look at Sputnik V.

The Russian team published the results of what’s known as a Phase 1/2 trial (where Phase 1 and 2 are combined). This is an early stage of clinical research, in which scientist give a vaccine to volunteers, observe whether they make antibodies to a virus, and check for any side effects.

The trial was relatively small. Only 40 volunteers received the full vaccine, and no one received a placebo for comparison.

Researchers at the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow designed the vaccine using two versions of a different virus — an adenovirus — as a vehicle to deliver coronavirus genes into cells. The adenoviruses were disabled so that they would only be able to enter cells, but not replicate.

The adenoviruses carried a coronavirus gene encoding a protein on the virus’s surface. The cells make the protein, which then stimulated people’s immune system.

Similar adenovirus-based vaccines are also being tested by several other teams, including AstraZeneca, CanSinoBio, and Johnson & Johnson. CanSinoBio is using a strain of adenovirus called Ad5. Johnson & Johnson is using one called Ad26. The Gamaleya researchers combined the two, giving volunteers a shot of Ad26, and then, three weeks later, a shot of Ad5.

The Russian vaccine produced mild symptoms in a number of subjects, the most common of which were fevers and headaches. Other adenovirus-based vaccines have produced similar side effects. The researchers found that volunteers who got the full vaccine produced antibodies to the coronavirus. They produced immune cells that could respond strongly the coronavirus, too.

In their paper, the researchers noted that the vaccine did not produce as many antibodies as AstraZeneca’s vaccine, or the gene-based vaccine made by Moderna.

Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study, judged that the vaccine produced “good antibody levels in all volunteers.” But she added that no one yet knows what level of antibodies or immune cells are required to protect people from getting sick. “It is hard to tell whether the vaccine will be efficacious,” she said.

That is true of all Covid-19 vaccines currently in testing. Determine if a vaccine is efficacious requires a so-called Phase 3 trial, in which a large number of volunteers get either a vaccine or a placebo. In their paper, the Russian scientists wrote that they got approval on Aug. 26 to run a Phase 3 trial on 40,000 people.

Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser for the White House vaccine program, said on Thursday that it was “extremely unlikely but not impossible” that a vaccine could be available by the end of October.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Slaoui said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to states to prepare for a vaccine as early as late October was “the right thing to do” in case a vaccine was ready by then. “It would be irresponsible not to be ready if that was the case,” he said, adding that he had only learned of the notification through the news media.

But Dr. Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser of the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine and treatment initiative, called Operation Warp Speed, described getting a vaccine by late October as a “very, very low chance.”

That message ran counter to optimistic assertions from the White House that a vaccine could be ready for distribution before Election Day in November. President Trump, during the Republican National Convention, said a vaccine could be ready “before the end of the year or maybe even sooner.”

Dr. Slaoui confirmed that the two main candidates, referred to as Vaccine A and Vaccine B by the C.D.C., were being developed by Pfizer and Moderna. He said there was “no intent” to introduce a vaccine before clinical trials were completed. The trials would only be completed when an independent safety monitoring board affirmed the effectiveness of the vaccine, he added.

The NPR interviewer, Mary Louise Kelly, raised the timing of a possible vaccine given in the documents the C.D.C. recently sent to public health officials, and asked whether its delivery was being motivated by political concerns.

“For us there is absolutely nothing to do with politics,” Dr. Slaoui responded, saying that those involved were working as hard as they could because so many people were dying of the coronavirus every day. “Many of us may or may not be supportive of this administration. It’s irrelevant, frankly.”

Though he expressed doubt that a vaccine would be ready by the end of October, Dr. Slaoui said, he firmly believed “that we will have a vaccine available before the end of the year and it will be available in quantities that can immunize patients, subjects at the highest risk.” That included the elderly and those working in jobs with high exposure to the virus.

He estimated that there would be enough of the vaccine by the end of the year to immunize “probably between 20 and 25 million people.” Manufacturing would be ramped up so that there would be enough doses to immunize the U.S. population “by the middle of 2021,” he said.

Global RoundUp

Germany is considering shortening quarantine times.

German health authorities are considering shortening quarantine periods for those who have been in contact with patients testing positive for Covid-19 or those returning from high-risk countries to five days from 14 days currently.

“I think it is very sensible to limit the quarantine period to five days,” Karl Lauterbach, a lawmaker with the Social Democrats, the junior coalition partners in the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Die Welt, a daily publication.

“We know that the vast majority of people are no longer contagious five days after the onset of symptoms,” even if tests still show a positive result, said Mr. Lauterbach, who is also a medical doctor.

Mr. Lauterbach was responding to a suggestion by Christian Drosten, the country’s most influential virologist, that a shorter quarantine might be more effective than a two-week period because more people would follow it.

In late August, Ms. Merkel chided holidaymakers returning from high-risk zones for not respecting quarantine rules and announced fines and stricter controls. During that time, returning holidaymakers accounted for 40 percent of new infections, a number that has gone down in recent weeks as most Germans have returned to work.

On Tuesday, German authorities registered 1,311 new infections in 24 hours. There have been 246,948 cases in Germany so far and 9,310 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

The government has formally tasked the health ministry and the German version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States with evaluating the safety and practicality of such a measure, a spokesperson said.

In other news from around the world:

  • New Zealand on Friday reported its first death from the coronavirus in more than three months, after a man in his 50s who contracted the virus in Auckland died in a hospital. The country, which had previously come close to eliminating the virus, has recently seen a small spike in cases from an unknown source. “We have always recognized that further deaths linked to Covid-19 were possible,” said Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of the Health Ministry.

  • Doctors in South Korea on Friday agreed to end a two-week strike after the government committed not to push through medical system overhauls until after the coronavirus subsided. Thousands of doctors, mostly interns and residents, have been on strike since Aug. 21, protesting the government’s plan to increase the number of medical school students and open public medical schools. In a deal signed Friday, the Health Ministry and the Korea Medical Association, a lobby for doctors, agreed to revisit and review the government’s proposals after the epidemic is over. Some doctors criticized the deal as insufficient and threatened to continue their walkout.

  • France has closed 22 schools because of virus infections, the French education minister said on Friday, less than a week after millions of students returned to classes around the country amid a surge in cases. The minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, told Europe 1 radio that ten of the shuttered schools were in La Réunion, an overseas French territory in the Indian Ocean, and he noted that a vast majority of France’s 60,000 schools were still open. About a hundred or so classes were also closed, he said, adding that an entire school was usually shut down after the detection of three or four positive cases.

  • Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who tested positive this week for the virus, was admitted to a hospital Thursday night, his staff said. “There was the need for a small precautionary hospitalization,” Senator Licia Ronzulli, a close aide, said on the Italian TV show Agorà, “to monitor the development of Covid-19.” She added that Mr. Berlusconi, 83, was feeling good. Mr. Berlusconi, the leader of the center-right party Forza Italia and a media mogul, was initially asymptomatic and isolated in his mansion near Milan. He was hospitalized after the appearance of some symptoms, his staff said in a statement. “The clinical picture is not worrisome,” the statement added.

  • Just as Thailand reached 100 days without detecting a locally transmitted case of the coronavirus, health officials announced on Thursday that a man jailed for drug use was found to be infected. The man, who worked as a D.J. in Bangkok nightclubs, tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, a week after being admitted to a jail in the city. The discovery prompted a lockdown of the detention facility and dozens of inmates and staff members were placed in isolation. So far, no one else has tested positive, officials said.

KEY Data of the Day

Tennessee launches a new round of mass testing of state inmates in response to a recent outbreak.

A recent virus outbreak in a state prison in Wayne County, Tenn., accounted for an 80 percent rise in new cases reported over the past week in the rural community located in the Tennessee River Valley. Because of the prison, the area now has one of the highest infection rates in the nation for a rural county — about 899 cases per 10,000 people, according to a New York Times database.

Two inmates at the prison, the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tenn., located in the county, have died, though the cause of death is still pending, according to CoreCivic, the company that runs the incarceration center for the state. Both of the deceased inmates had tested positive. Prison officials found that nearly 80 percent of the 1,438 inmates in the facility who were tested were found to have the virus but were asymptomatic, a company spokesman said.

The South Central virus outbreak prompted the state’s department of corrections to begin testing nearly 3,000 inmates at 13 centers across the state “out of an abundance of caution.”

The state department of corrections also said it will also start testing employees who work in the correctional facilities next week.

Other than the cases at South Central, there are 53 other state inmates known to currently have the virus, according to the state’s department of corrections.

Jails, prisons and other centers across the country have proven to be hot beds for the virus. And while there is no evidence that prison infections seed broader communitywide transmission, in small communities like Wayne County, it would not be unusual for someone who works at the prison to unknowingly bring it home to friends and family.

While state prisons in Tennessee remain closed to visitors to prevent the virus from spreading, federal prisons are expected to reopen to visitors with some precautions in October.

The U.S. added 1.4 million jobs in August as unemployment fell to 8.4 percent.

Over the past two decades, millions of young people in Latin America became the first in their families to go to college, a historic expansion that promised to propel a generation into the professional class and transform the region.

But as the pandemic grips the region, killing hundreds of thousands and devastating economies, an alarming reversal is underway: Millions of university students are leaving their studies, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

For example, enrollment is expected to drop by as much as 25 percent in Colombia by the end of the year, with similar numbers expected in other countries.

The exodus threatens decades of achievement that helped move entire communities out of poverty.

Since the early 2000s, enormous investment in elementary and high school programs — and a decision to build new universities — helped higher education enrollment across Latin America more than double, according to the World Bank.

As the health crisis deepened, The New York Times spent weeks speaking to students, parents, professors, officials and university rectors across Colombia.

Amid lockdowns, youth unemployment has spiked, and many students cannot pay tuition, which even at public schools can cost anywhere from one to eight times the monthly minimum wage.

Most courses have moved online, but millions do not have internet, or even a reliable cellphone connection.

Some students said they were going hungry to pay for data, while others hid in stairwells to steal Wi-Fi from neighbors.

At the Universidad Nacional, a prestigious public university in the capital, Bogotá, several students went on hunger strike on Aug. 10, camping out in a dozen tents on the otherwise empty campus, calling on the government to cover their tuition as their families hit bottom.

“I don’t see any other way to pay for the semester,” said Gabriela Delgado, 22, a music student and hunger striker.

For weeks she slept in a tent between the economics and humanities buildings, shuffling to daily medical check-ins. When she had the energy, she pulled out her cello to play fragments of Bach for fellow protesters.

The strike ended on Aug. 28 without the government’s having met their demands.

At the height of Britain’s outbreak in April, there were more than 400 deaths daily among nursing home residents, according to data analysis by the PA Media news agency.

From April 16 to 22, deaths related to Covid-19 in nursing homes surpassed 3,000, according to Ian Jones, one of the PA journalists who wrote about the data analysis. The figures were gathered from various statistics agencies in Britain, Mr. Jones said.

The government, which rolled out testing for asymptomatic staff and residents at nursing homes on April 28, defended its record addressing the spread of the virus in the facilities.

“We have been doing everything we can to ensure care home residents and staff are protected,” a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said.

That includes testing residents and staff, providing 200 million items of personal protective equipment and making 3.7 billion pounds, or nearly $5 billion, available to local councils to address pressures caused by the pandemic, including adult social care, the spokesperson said

An analysis of global data published in May showed that deaths among nursing home residents in Britain were considerably higher than in Ireland, Italy, France, Sweden and Germany.

The new figures on nursing home deaths comes as children return to school in Britain, raising the risks of a new spike in infections.

At the height of the pandemic, the government came under fire for its mixed messages and confusing approach to shutting down the country, even as experts in the National Health Service warned that the country was ill-prepared, citing a shortage of personal protective gear and beds for critically ill patients.

In April, the Office of National Statistics estimated that the death toll from the virus could be at least 10 percent higher because it had not taken into account people who died in nursing homes or in their own residences. The virus has claimed more than 41,000 fatalities in Britain as of Friday morning, the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe, having surpassed Italy and Spain in May.

Reporting was contributed by Geneva Abdul, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Emma Bubola, Aurelien Breeden, Ben Casselman, Joyce Cohen, Choe Sang-hun, Richard C. Paddock, Gaia Pianigiani, Campbell Robertson, Christopher F. Schuetze, Julie Turkewitz and Carl Zimmer.


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