A vaccine for the novel coronavirus should be widely available next spring, the Trump administration’s top adviser overseeing vaccine development predicted Wednesday. Moncef Slaoui, co-director of Operation Warp Speed, told Business Insider that late-stage clinical trials of vaccine candidates from biotechnology companies Moderna and Pfizer are going “very well.”
Here are some significant developments:
The coronavirus death toll has passed 169,000 in the United States, and more than 5.4 million cases have been reported.
Wildfires raged across California, with evacuations made more complex by the coronavirus.
Congressional Democrats and election watchdogs voiced new suspicions about the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday, fearing its decision to suspend major changes to mail processing and delivery still stopped short of what was necessary to protect voters who intend to cast their 2020 ballots by mail.
The about-face announced by embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday halted a series of cost-cutting measures, including the removal of machines that sort mail and the public boxes that collect it. Under withering political scrutiny, DeJoy said he would resume his work after the November election to “avoid even the appearance of any impact” on the presidential race.
A day later, though, confusion persisted: It’s unclear whether Americans actually would receive their ballots on time, or if they’d be able to return them easily. Nor was it clear whether DeJoy would promptly restore the sorting machines he had ordered removed from some postal facilities nationwide, or if the changes he has made across the agency under the watch of President Trump would introduce delays into one of the most consequential elections in U.S. history.
A youth wrestling tournament is expected to attract thousands of wrestlers and spectators from 40 states to an indoor arena in Kansas City, Mo., despite a rising number of novel coronavirus cases in the area and warnings about indoor events being ideal places for the virus to spread.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area” is considered the “highest risk” in terms of coronavirus spread.
The NFL is giving preliminary consideration to conducting playoff games in a “bubble” environment, a top league official said Wednesday, in hopes of bolstering its chances to complete its postseason amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, the concept was raised by New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton during a recent conference call involving members of the league’s rulemaking competition committee. League leaders told Payton that Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, “would explore” the idea, Vincent said.
“These are things that we have to be flexible,” Vincent said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “So is it something that we’re considering? All things are on the table, frankly, at this juncture during this fluid environment.”
The union representing New York City’s public-school teachers said its members would not return to classrooms next month unless the city met their health and safety demands — including testing all students and staff for that coronavirus and ensuring all schools have a nurse.
The announcement from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents 75,000 professionals, comes a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that schools would reopen Sept. 10 for in-person classes, saying he believed the city’s low positivity rate would allow for students to return safely. The city, once the nation’s epicenter of the pandemic, has a positive test rate of less than one-quarter of 1 percent, the mayor said Wednesday.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, chief executive of the hardest-hit state in the hardest-hit nation, said Wednesday that he should have been quicker to mandate face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In a freewheeling interview with the Albany public radio station WAMC, Cuomo was asked what his administration had gotten wrong in its response to the pandemic.
“I should have done masks earlier,” the governor replied. “That would have made a dramatic difference.”
The remark was a rare admission of regret from a state leader whose handling of the crisis was widely praised and whose daily coronavirus briefings became appointment viewing — not just for New Yorkers, but for people across the country who saw in Cuomo leadership they felt President Trump lacked.
According to public health experts, Cuomo is correct: mask mandates save lives. One study estimated that a nationwide mandate at the beginning of April could have prevented nearly 40,000 deaths. The impact would have been especially profound in New York, where nearly 30,000 people have died — far more than in any other state, according to data tracked and analyzed by The Washington Post.
In the interview, Cuomo also claimed that New York was “the first state in the nation to do masks,” which is not exactly true.
New Jersey was the first state to require face coverings in essential businesses, at construction sites and on public transit, with Gov. Phil Murphy signing his executive order April 8, just a few days after the federal government changed its position on masking.
Cuomo’s order came seven days later but was more far-reaching than his neighbor’s, requiring masks in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, advocates and educators have warned that the closures of schools would make it terrifyingly difficult to keep a watchful eye on children who are being abused.
Child abuse reports began to plummet across the country — not because it wasn’t happening, but because teachers, doctors and others had fewer ways of catching it. Now, a new survey of children’s advocacy centers across the country offers some of the clearest data yet on the scope of this gap in child abuse reporting.
The centers, which provide support for families and children as abuse cases move through the justice system, reported serving 40,000 fewer children nationwide between January and June of this year than the same period last year, from 192,367 children in 2019 down to 152,016 this year, a 21 percent drop, according to the National Children’s Alliance, an accrediting body for a network of 900 children’s advocacy centers.
SAN FRANCISCO — Mired in a dry, sweltering heat that has baked the brush and timber into parched fuel, California is on fire again, with blazes threatening communities up and down the West Coast.
Tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes early Wednesday as wildfires raged out of control, this time after an unusual series of thunderstorms swept through the region with more than 20,000 lightning strikes acting as lit matches to piles of kindling. Authorities said they were tracking and battling at least 92 known wildfires spanning more than 200,000 acres across California. Many of the fires are largely uncontained or not contained at all.
Evacuations were made even more complex because of the novel coronavirus, with some residents concerned that leaving their homes for shelters could compromise their health amid surging cases in California. Authorities urged residents to first and foremost get out of the path of the flames.
President Trump gave a major boost to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, saying Wednesday he appreciated the support of its followers and asking whether it would be “a bad thing” if he were “saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals.”
Facing his toughest line of questions about QAnon, a group the FBI has flagged as a potential domestic terrorist threat, Trump claimed not to know anything about the group other than their affection for him.
“I don’t know much about the movement; I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said during a White House news briefing. “I heard these are people that love our country.”
Authorities in South Africa have launched 658 graft probes amounting to 5 billion rand ($290 million) as part of a nationwide investigation into irregularities in coronavirus-related spending by public-sector individuals and institutions.
South Africa has the world’s fifth-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Previous financial scandals have implicated members of the ruling African National Congress party, including former president Jacob Zuma, who stepped down over corruption allegations in 2018.
The latest probe by the country’s Special Investigating Unit (SIU) puts increased pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over from Zuma and successfully campaigned in 2019 on an anti-corruption ticket.
“The allegations reported to the SIU involved the procurement of PPEs (personal protective equipment), hospital and quarantine sites, catering services (food parcels), ventilators, disinfecting equipment and motorized wheelchairs,” Andy Mothibi, head of the SIU, told lawmakers on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
As the virus began circulating in South Africa this spring, so did reports of money earmarked for fighting covid-19 ending up in the wrong hands. In one particularly grievous case, a $29 billion relief package reportedly went missing, according to Agence France-Presse. In other cases, masks supposedly purchased for hospitals never arrived, while local officials were caught selling food meant as donations for needy families.
Mothibi said that nearly half the money in question concerned the provincial health department of Gauteng province, which includes South Africa’s financial capital, Johannesburg.
With so much public spending suddenly pouring into pandemic-related programs, South Africa is far from the only country to face allegations. Cases in the Philippines, Columbia and Romania, among others, have also riled publics in previous months.
Local governments are studying wastewater to track the spread of the coronavirus
Amid novel coronavirus testing levels far below what experts say is needed to stymie the spread, some state and local governments are teaming up with private organizations to identify infections in another place entirely: wastewater.
The coronavirus leaves the body through stool, and its non-infective RNA can be detected in untreated sewage. Studying these samples can alert officials to an outbreak several days before they would become aware of it through testing people, according to the World Health Organization.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that it is developing a portal for health departments to submit their wastewater data to a national database meant to facilitate easy comparison. Sewage testing enables researchers to detect the virus in stool from people who are asymptomatic and has previously helped to identify other diseases, like polio, the agency said.
Attempts to measure coronavirus levels through wastewater are already underway in several parts of the country.
New York officials announced last week that they partnered with Amsterdam-based engineering company Arcadis to test sewage in Onondaga County, Albany, Newburgh and Buffalo. The pilot program is meant to determine whether statewide wastewater surveillance could indicate the prevalence of the virus, predict contact-tracing needs and inform reopening decisions, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said in a news release.
Agencies in three regions of Pennsylvania — Bethlehem, Erie County and the Harrisburg region — are testing their own wastewater, LehighValleyLive.com reported.
And in Fort Collins, Colo., officials have started testing the city’s sewage to establish a baseline from which to gauge whether the amount of the virus is increasing or decreasing there, according to the Coloradoan. Jason Graham, Fort Collins Utilities’ director of wastewater operations, told the city council on Tuesday that the data offers “a community-wide screen shot” of the virus’s presence, the newspaper reported.
Report: Head of U.S. vaccine initiative predicts widespread availability next spring
The U.S. government’s top adviser overseeing coronavirus vaccine development predicted Wednesday that a vaccine will be widely available next spring and accessible for people at high risk before then, Business Insider reported.
Moncef Slaoui, co-director of Operation Warp Speed, the federal program to hasten the development of a vaccine, told the news organization that late-stage clinical trials of vaccine candidates from biotechnology companies Moderna and Pfizer are going “very well.” He added that it is impossible to know exactly when scientists will have data on whether either candidate is safe and effective.
“I would not be surprised if we have data before the end of the year,” Slaoui told Business Insider.
Slaoui said he was “pretty confident” that people would be able to get a vaccine next April, May or June and that 70 million or 80 million high-risk people would be immunized before then. He told Business Insider that the United States should be able to return to normal life in the second half of next year if enough people take the vaccine.
Moderna and Pfizer are in the last stage of testing: 30,000-person clinical trials. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he expects results from those tests by November or December. Pfizer officials have predicted they would be able to request regulatory approval or authorization by October.
The pandemic has reshaped consumer habits and priorities, leading to skyrocketing fortunes for a handful of retailers and creating a growing divide between big-box stores such as Target, Walmart and Home Depot and the rest of the industry.
Quarterly earnings released this week by major retailers paint a picture of shifting spending patterns as consumers spend less on food and essentials, but more on big-ticket items including furniture and electronics. Profits soared by about 80 percent at both Walmart and Target during the second quarter, driven by a surge in online orders. Home sales are up, too, giving a boost to Lowe’s and Home Depot, where profits rose by 74 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
All four retailers also reported major spikes in year-over-year sales. Lowe’s led the way with a 30 percent increase in revenue, followed by Target (where sales grew 25 percent), Home Depot (23 percent) and Walmart (6 percent).
The coronavirus has infected and killed Native Americans at a disproportionate rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report, yet another example of the alarming disparities reported by tribes, The Washington Post, other news organizations and civil rights groups.
In its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR, the CDC found that in 23 states, those who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native have a rate of confirmed coronavirus cases that is 3.5 times that of White people. Even though they constitute only 0.7 percent of the U.S. population, Native Americans accounted for 1.4 percent of coronavirus cases where race and ethnicity data was available, the study said.
The report’s authors also found that Native Americans who are infected tend to be younger than White patients. Nearly 13 percent of cases among Native Americans occurred in people under 18 years old — three times the share of cases in White people of the same age.
But the full extent of the disparity is difficult to quantify because coronavirus data for Native Americans remains woefully incomplete. The report said this “excessive absence of data” represents an “an important gap” and “suggests a need for additional resources to support case investigation and reporting infrastructure” in Native American communities.
In the CDC study, underlying health data was missing for 92 percent of Native American patients, nearly 20 percentage points more than for White patients. Elsewhere, Indigenous people are not represented as a distinct group but instead listed in a category such as “Other.”
“In this data I see an incomplete story,” Abigail Echo-Hawk, a senior research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board and a co-author of the MMWR, recently told APM Research Lab. “One that does not reflect all the beloved community members lost to this virus as a result of data systems that are actively working to make us invisible.”
The report acknowledged that “persisting racial inequity and historical trauma have contributed to disparities in health and socioeconomic factors” between Native American and White populations and said that more resources are needed “to support a culturally responsive public health effort.”
In a news release accompanying the report, the CDC said it has earmarked $200 million to support tribes and tribal organizations in their pandemic response.
Hawaii won’t allow tourists until at least October because of coronavirus surge
Travelers that gambled on planning a trip to Hawaii for later this year may need to rethink their timing. The state has officially delayed its reopening to mainland travelers until at least Oct. 1.
The move replaces a program that was set to allow entry with a negative test on Sept. 1 and comes after a recent surge in coronavirus cases that prompted the state to impose quarantine restrictions on inter-island flights between Kauai, Hawaii Island and Maui.
All residents and non-tourist visitors will continue to be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, according to guidelines.