Coronavirus Pandemic

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US Virus Updates: Pence Urges School Reopening; Moderna to Start Phase 3 of Vaccine Trial

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A debate over whether to reopen schools in the fall has taken center stage nationwide as local officials scramble to prepare for the upcoming school year. On Monday, California's two largest school systems, Los Angeles and San Diego, announced classes will begin online.

The U.S. is grappling with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, especially in the South and West. Deaths rates have also been rising, though they are still well below the heights hit in April, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

The World Health Organization warned Monday that some who recover from COVID-19 may be able to catch the virus again and that antibodies may wane after several months.

Dozens took to the streets over the weekend to protest Martin County, Florida's, new mask ordinance, including a COVID survivor who lost two friends to the disease. Commissioners said it passed as an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus through the county.

Nationwide, the U.S. has recorded more than 3.4 million cases of the coronavirus and over 137,000 deaths, according to a tally by NBC News.

Also Monday, the Treasury Department reported that the deficit hit $864 billion in June, an amount of red ink that surpasses most annual deficits in the nation's history. That amount was also tied to the trillions of dollars Congress has provided to cushion the impact of the widespread shutdowns due to the pandemic.

Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

Fall and Winter Could Be 'One of the Most Difficult Times in American Public Health': CDC Director

While promoting the use of masks, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said that the co-occurrence of the influenza virus and the coronavirus in the fall and winter could lead to "one of the most difficult times" in American public health.

Dr. Robert Redfield made the comments during a discussion with the JAMA Network, which publishes science and opinion pieces related to medicine.

Redfield said that the spread of influenza and COVID-19 could put the national health care system under significant stress, which leads to higher fatalities.

"I am worried. I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are probably going to be one of the most difficult times that we've experienced in American public health -- the co-occurrence of COVID and influenza," Redfield said. "I think those two respiratory pathogens hitting us at the same time do have the potential to stress our health system."

Redfield said fatalities can be driven by the stress of the health care systems patients are in, adding that preventing systems from being overstretched is a critical component in reducing fatalities.

"How well we get through fall and winter depends on how little stress we add to the health care system," Redfield said.

Redfield coauthored the editorial Universal Masking to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Transmission -- The Time Is Now urging for the use of masks en masse to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.


Pence Urges School Reopening in Louisiana Amid Virus Surge

Vice President Mike Pence insisted Tuesday schools should reopen to in-person instruction for students, making the point in Louisiana as the state has reemerged as one of the nation's hot spots for the coronavirus only months after signs pointed to a successful outbreak response.

Appearing at Louisiana State University, the Republican vice president described the nation as “in a much better position today to deal with the pandemic” even as virus cases surge across much of the country. He and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for students at every level from elementary school through college to return to classrooms, with Pence calling that critical to reopening the country.

Louisiana isn’t throwing open the doors to all students this fall, but is taking a measured approach to restarting schools. Local school systems are determining whether to resume classes on sight, with some planning in-person instruction, others preferring online distance learning and some districts announcing a hybrid approach. At LSU, some students will be able to attend classes on campus, though many other courses will be held online.

Louisiana has had more than 82,000 confirmed cases since its first positive test in March. Experts say the actual infection rate is likely much higher. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.


Moderna to Begin Final Human Trial of Coronavirus Vaccine at End of July

Moderna is aiming to begin its final phase of testing for its coronavirus vaccine July 27, NBC News reports.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company is the first to announce an estimated start date for phase 3 trials in the United States.

Information about the trial, including guidance for vaccine volunteers, was posted on clinicaltrials.gov on Tuesday.

The company aims to enroll 30,000 adults in the clinical trial, which is designed to test whether the vaccine works to prevent COVID-19. The trial will also look at the vaccine's safety.

Participants will either receive the vaccine or a placebo. They will be tracked for two years to see whether they get COVID-19 or have any adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Read the full story here.


Florida Sets Single-Day Record for Coronavirus Deaths

Florida surpassed its previous one day record for coronavirus deaths Tuesday, as the state added more than 9,100 new COVID-19 cases, NBC Miami reports.

The 132 new deaths pushed the state's seven-day average to more than double what it was two weeks ago and now the second-highest in the United States behind Texas. Florida's virus-related death toll stood at 4,409.

The 9,194 new COVID-19 cases since Monday brought the state's total to 291,629, according to figures released by the Florida Department of Health. More than 77,000 cases have been reported in the past seven days, including Sunday's single-day record high of about 15,300.

The latest data appear to further confirm what experts had been predicting as Florida first started seeing its number of cases and its infection rate increase in mid-June: first comes cases, then hospitalizations and finally, in the worst cases, deaths.


Louisiana Attorney General Tests Positive for Coronavirus Ahead of Pence Visit

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry was quarantining Tuesday after testing positive for the coronavirus, though his spokesman said the prominent Republican elected official has no symptoms of COVID-19.

Landry spokesman Millard Mule told The Associated Press that the attorney general decided to get tested for the coronavirus “out of on overabundance of caution” because he had planned to attend events with Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence was traveling to Louisiana on Tuesday to discuss the response to the pandemic as the state is seeing a worrying resurgence in new virus cases. Among the areas of Louisiana with significant surges in the outbreak is Landry's home region of Acadiana.


Parents in Florida Want Schools Open 'When It's Safe'

A group of teachers and parents took part in a “motor march” in Jacksonville to promote the reopening of schools “when it’s safe.”

Two grassroots groups — the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team and the Duval For a Safe Return to Campus — say they want the school district to put certain regulations in place until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available.

The 5-mile drive ended at the Duval County Public School headquarters just before the board’s meeting.

Marla Bryant, co-founder of the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team, told the Florida Times-Union the group’s primary concerns include requiring masks in classrooms, keeping desks 6-feet apart, rigorous cleaning and disinfecting at each school and a full-time distance learning option for all grade levels.

Previously, the district was criticized for not offering a full-time distance learning option for K-12 students who wanted to stay enrolled in their existing school. Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has said schools should reopen as planned next month.


White House Testing Czar Defends CDC, Says 'We're Turning a Corner' on Outbreak

Admiral Brett Giroir, HHS’s assistant secretary for health, said Tuesday that despite spikes in coronavirus cases across the country, “early indicators are that we’ve turned the corner.”

In an interview on the TODAY show, Giroir said that the percent of positive tests have leveled off or are declining "in all of the jurisdictions we are having a problem with," citing Arizona, Texas, Florida and California as examples of the latest coronavirus hotspots. But data from those states' health departments contradict that assessment and suggests the percent of positive tests are actually still increasing.

Giroir also said ER visits are declining in those jurisdictions and only 10% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are on ventilators. Still, he acknowledged concerns over the overall increase in hospitalizations because "we would expect deaths to also go up."

“We are not there yet, but we are seeing some early light at the end of this tunnel,” Giroir told TODAY co-anchor Savannah Gutherie, stressing that people should social distance, wear a mask in public spaces and avoid bars in "hot areas" to slow the spread of the virus.

Giroir, who is also the Trump administration’s testing coordinator, addressed recent reports of long lines for diagnostic tests and lag times of six days or longer for results. While the U.S. is testing an average of 640,000 people per day, the outbreak across the South and Southwest has strained labs across the Sun Belt, which are struggling to provide results in under a week.

"Half of tests done in this country, which are not reflected in those numbers, are done at [facilities with] point-of-care tests, or done in a hospital," he said, noting that those results are returned within hours. "There is a lag time in big commercial labs because the demand is so very high.”

Giroir also expressed optimism about getting children back into school physically, calling the risks to them “very small.” He said data from the U.S. and from other countries suggest, "though not definitive, that small children have very little chance of spreading it among themselves or to other people."

"We have to get the virus under control, and if we get the virus under better control, clearly kids can get back into school safely," Giroir said. "There's no such thing as no danger."

Asked about a tweet shared by President Donald Trump accusing government medical experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, of “lying,” Giroir said that mistakes have been made and that public guidance is updated when more is learned about the virus, “but none of us lie. We are completely transparent with the American people.”

Should Your State Reopen?

For states considering lifting quarantine measures, the official guidelines propose either a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases within two weeks or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.

As shown below, when you compare yesterday’s new case count with that of two weeks ago, the number is often lower, simply because the counts fluctuate. Critics call the measures vague and ultimately because they aren’t binding, some states are choosing to reopen whether they meet the criteria or not.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC


Japan: US Military Coronavirus Policy Has Multiple Problems

Japan's defense minister said Tuesday that officials have discovered "a number of problems” with U.S. military measures to guard against the coronavirus among service members stationed in Japan after 95 Marines tested positive at several bases on the southern island of Okinawa.

Okinawan officials on Sunday said most of the cases since early July were at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is at the center of a relocation dispute. Others were at Camp Hansen, Camp Kinser and Camp McTureous.

"We have discovered a number of problems," Defense Minister Taro Kono said. "We need to more strictly scrutinize the situation with the U.S. military in Japan."

Kono said the problems were discovered after Japanese officials requested information from the U.S. military. He refused to give details, but said the problems exist at U.S. bases throughout Japan, not just on Okinawa.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has criticized the U.S. military for a lack of transparency regarding the coronavirus, saying it has caused concern among residents.

Tamaki in telephone talks Saturday with Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, demanded the U.S. military increase transparency, improve disease prevention measures, stop sending personnel from the mainland U.S. to Okinawa and seal the bases.

The U.S. military has told Okinawa that all infected people have been isolated and the bases are virtually under lockdown, officials said.


Pennsylvania Becomes 10th State to Surpass 100K COVID Cases

Pennsylvania crossed a sobering milestone in the coronavirus pandemic: the state has now reported more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins.

It joins nine other states with more than 100,000 cases: New York, California, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts. New York tops the list with more than 402,000 cases as of Tuesday morning.


Patriot League Punts on Fall Football as SEC Leaders Meet

The Patriot League joined the Ivy League on Monday, punting on football and other fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic while holding out hope the games can be made up.

The Patriot League said its 10 Division I schools will also not compete in men's and women’s soccer, women's volleyball and field hockey. The conference's council of presidents said the league will consider playing those seasons in the winter and spring if possible.

“Really, really tough decision,” Patriot League Commissioner Jennifer Heppel said. “Nobody’s happy. Happy is a word that's kind of gone out the window.”

The conference is mostly comprised of private schools located in the Northeast that offer limited athletic scholarships. Pennsylvania rivals Lehigh and Lafayette have played 155 times, more than any opponents in college football history.

Army and Navy are also Patriot League members, but not in football.

From moving lecture classes online to limiting roommates per dorm room, colleges and universities across the country are proposing changes to student life that will allow them to reopen campuses safely in the fall.

‘We'll Do It Ourselves': Dallas Judge Says Federal Test Results Take Too Long, Declines Extended Resources

Federally funded labs are taking much too long to return COVID-19 test results and the county will soon take over lab responsibility to speed up turnaround time, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

"You can’t have a situation where you if you go to a test site in the north it takes two days and you go to a test site in the south it takes eight days," Jenkins said.

Federal partners have offered to extend testing resources, but Jenkins said the labs the government requires take too longHe said the lag in test results hinder effective contact tracing.So instead, the county will take it over themselves.

“If you’re waiting around 10 days for a test and going to work and being around your other family members, you’re spreading it," Jenkins said. "And then, by the time we trace that person, they can’t remember everyone they were around."

Jenkins said the city and county would bear the cost of hiring a private lab. He said 1,000 tests will cost roughly $100,000 per day, NBC DFW reported.

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