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Human tests of a coronavirus vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have been put on hold pending a review of safety data triggered by a “potentially unexplained illness,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday. The news comes as President Trump continued to assert that his administration could produce a vaccine by November, although such a statement contradicts the timeline laid out by health officials in his administration.

Here are some significant developments:
September 9, 2020 at 11:31 AM EDT

Pandemic seems to be leveling off in U.S., but numbers remain troublingly high, experts say

By Anne Gearan and Rachel Weiner

The coronavirus pandemic appears to be leveling off in most of the United States, with new cases, deaths and hospitalizations all down over the past week, but the plateau leaves the country with high and persistent infection numbers and worries of a post-Labor Day surge in some areas.

The number of new cases reported daily peaked above 70,000 in July and has been falling since. The decline now seems to be slowing, with the daily number hovering near 40,000 for more than a week, a review of nationwide data showed Tuesday. That is one sign that the infection may be leveling off.

Although that is good news, the numbers suggest continued high levels of infection and a long road ahead, particularly as cold weather and the flu season approach. Without a vaccine or a major advance in treatment, significant reductions in new cases would probably require voluntary or mandated changes in behavior that experts say are unlikely six months into the public health crisis.

September 8, 2020 at 11:30 PM EDT

NFL football during a pandemic promises to look sort of similar and yet radically different

By Adam Kilgore

This NFL season, for everyone involved, will be an exercise in sensory disorientation. Franchises have aced the protocols necessary to begin a season in the middle of a pandemic, and in a few days the league will reveal the reward. It will be football, but it will occur in a bizarre environment — sort of the same and yet radically different, like a vivid dream with enough twisted details to remind you something is off.

The mayhem of the sideline will be replaced by a sparse smattering of players and coaches, who, like the on-field officials, will be wearing masks. The kaleidoscopic crowd will instead be empty seats, and cheerleaders and mascots will not be permitted. Noise will be piped in at a precise decibel level chosen by the league. The footballs themselves will be rinsed with chemicals.

“It’ll still be 10 yards for a first down, and you’ll still get three points for a field goal,” Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said in a conference call with The Washington Post. “But beyond that, things are going to be very different.”

September 8, 2020 at 11:00 PM EDT

Italy’s Bergamo is calling back coronavirus survivors. About half say they haven’t fully recovered.

By Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli

BERGAMO, Italy — The first wave is over, thousands have been buried, and in a city that was once the world’s coronavirus epicenter, the hospital is calling back the survivors. It is drawing their blood, examining their hearts, scanning their lungs, asking them about their lives.

Twenty people per day, it is measuring what the coronavirus has left in its wake.

“How are you feeling?” a doctor recently asked the next patient to walk in, a 54-year-old who still can’t ascend a flight of steps without losing her breath.

“I feel like I’m 80 years old,” the woman said.

Six months ago, Bergamo was a startling warning sign of the virus’s fury, a city where sirens rang through the night and military trucks lined up outside the public hospital to ferry away the dead. Bergamo has dramatically curtailed the virus’s spread, but it is now offering another kind of warning, this one about the long aftermath, where recoveries are proving incomplete and sometimes excruciating.

September 8, 2020 at 10:30 PM EDT

TSA recorded America’s busiest travel day since March over Labor Day weekend

By Shannon McMahon

This past Labor Day weekend, the Transportation Security Administration recorded the highest daily count of travelers passing through security since March, when the coronavirus slashed numbers to a small fraction of normal levels. On Friday, TSA screened 968,000 travelers — a tenfold increase from the lowest levels during the pandemic, when daily screenings reached 87,000 in mid-April.

The number of people taking to the skies this summer was down by more than 70 percent most months, compared with the same period in 2019, according to preliminary summer travel data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

But the strong rebound over the holiday might signal that Americans are getting more comfortable with the idea of flying.

September 8, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT

Senators tell Trump administration to stop forcing payroll tax deferral on federal workers

By Tony Romm

Top Senators urged the Trump administration on Tuesday to halt its plans to implement a mandatory payroll tax deferral for millions of federal employees, arguing that these workers should not be treated as political “pawns.”

The issue stems from an order issued by President Trump in August, which allows participating employers to cease withholding their workers’ payroll taxes until the end of the year. Private-sector employees may be able to opt out of the plan, but federal workers do not appear to have a choice — meaning they will see a slight boost to their pay now, then owe more in 2021.

The forced nature of the president’s order drew frustration from about two dozen lawmakers.

The bipartisan rebuke is only the latest against Trump’s payroll tax order, one of a series of actions he announced in August to circumvent a congressional stalemate over another round of coronavirus aid. In signing the directive, Trump promised he would boost workers’ take-home pay and pledged he would “terminate” the taxes Americans accrue over the next four months so that they don’t have to repay them in January.

September 8, 2020 at 9:30 PM EDT

House lawmakers want the administration to explain how it will distribute and prioritize vaccine

By Paulina Firozi

A trio of Democratic lawmakers want federal health officials to explain how they plan to apportion a coronavirus vaccine once one is approved.

In a letter, the lawmakers call on the Department of Health and Human Services to detail any plans they have for distributing a vaccine nationwide, for prioritizing initial vaccine doses for high-risk populations and for boosting the public’s confidence in a vaccine. It was sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Oversight subcommittee on economic and consumer policy.

In the letter, the Democrats expressed concern that the Trump administration does not have a “firm plan” for prioritizing vaccine doses. They write that a dearth of preparation “becomes more concerning each day,” particularly amid ramped-up discussions about a vaccine timeline.

The letter follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to tell officials in all 50 states and U.S. territories to prepare for vaccine distribution for high-priority groups as early as Nov. 1.

President Trump suggested during a news conference this week that there could be a coronavirus vaccine “before a very special date,” an apparent reference to Election Day. As The Washington Post has reported, the president — fixated on finding a vaccine — has pushed health officials to accelerate the timeline and urged them to deliver a vaccine by the year’s end.

“We all fully support the rapid development of a safe and effective vaccine. However, once one is approved for use, difficult decisions will follow. On day one, there will not be enough vaccine doses to administer immediately to everyone in America,” the lawmakers write in the letter to Azar. “Decisions will have to be made about who will get a vaccine first, whether particular groups will have priority for receiving a vaccine, and how to implement the determined order."

They add: “As a vaccine is deployed, public health agencies will need to engage in ongoing surveillance for safety and effectiveness. These critical decisions must be made on the basis of science and our shared values — not politics.”

The lawmakers note there are numerous possible priority groups for a vaccine — including elderly populations, health-care workers and communities of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The letter, dated Tuesday, gives federal officials two weeks to provide answers to questions about the government’s plans.

September 8, 2020 at 8:22 PM EDT

'Worst case scenarios’ at Sturgis rally may be linked to 266,000 coronavirus cases, study says

By Brittany Shammas

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally led to significant spread of the coronavirus in the event’s home state of South Dakota and in other parts of the United States, a team of researchers said in a newly released study that is disputed by state officials.

The report from San Diego State University’s Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies used anonymized cellphone location data and coronavirus case counts to analyze the impact of the 460,000-person event that took place last month, believed to be one of the largest events held during the pandemic. Health officials had expressed concerns over the rally, which, the researchers noted, “represents a situation where many of the ‘worst case scenarios’ for superspreading occurred simultaneously.” Those included the event being prolonged over 10 days, attracting a significant out-of-town population and involving attendees clustered together, with few wearing masks.

On Tuesday, state health officials acknowledged that mass gatherings carry a higher risk of spreading the coronavirus but questioned the San Diego State University analysis and its methodology.

September 8, 2020 at 7:20 PM EDT

Des Moines school system loses its bid to halt school reopenings as infections rise

By Moriah Balingit

On the first day of virtual classes in Des Moines, an Iowa judge ruled the school system must abide by a state mandate and open schools for face-to-face instruction, even as coronavirus cases in the city and across the state surge far beyond what experts say is safe to bring children back to classrooms.

The Des Moines Public Schools system sued Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) and other state officials in late August after Reynolds mandated that nearly all schools in the state reopen. Des Moines school officials believe it is still not safe to send children and teachers back to classrooms, pointing to the state’s surge in coronavirus cases.

“No circumstances in our lifetimes have had a greater impact on the ability of school districts to operate safely than the COVID-19 global health pandemic,” school officials wrote in the lawsuit. “This is literally a matter of life and death.”

September 8, 2020 at 7:15 PM EDT

AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine trial paused over ‘unexplained illness’

By Carolyn Y. Johnson

Human tests of a covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have been put on hold pending a review of safety data triggered by a “potentially unexplained illness,” the company said in a statement.

The hold was first reported by Stat. Few details were available about the event, which Stat reported occurred in a British participant.

“This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials,” a company statement said. “In large trials, illnesses will happen by chance, but must be independently reviewed to check this carefully. We are working to expedite the review of the single event to minimize any potential impact on the trial timeline.”

A 30,000-person U.S. trial of the vaccine began at the end of August, but trials have also been ongoing in Britain, Brazil and South Africa and are planned for Japan and Russia.

The U.S. government has reserved 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and committed up to $1.2 billion to AstraZeneca through Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to speed up vaccine development.

September 8, 2020 at 7:06 PM EDT

Ontario pauses reopening plans, B.C. closes nightclubs, as cases tick up

By Amanda Coletta

TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province said Tuesday that it’s putting a “pause” on plans to further reopen the economy and ease coronavirus restrictions because of an upward trend in cases that has “raised concern.”

“We will be taking a pause of four weeks, or two two-week cycles of the virus, before considering any further loosening of public health measures or further reopening of businesses, facilities and organizations,” Christine Elliott, Ontario’s health minister, told reporters.

The province reported 185 new coronavirus cases Tuesday and 190 on Monday — the most since July 24. The province is in the third stage of its reopening plan. Most establishments are open, but restrictions remain on the number of people allowed at public and private gatherings.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged residents to avoid large gatherings, such as weddings, and suggested that they call the police if they see their neighbors flouting the rules.

“We have to start putting the hammer down on people that don’t want to follow protocols and guidelines, because it’s going to affect every single one of us,” Ford said.

In British Columbia, public health officials ordered all nightclubs and banquet halls closed. Bars and restaurants must stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m. and lower the volume of music to prevent patrons from yelling.

The province, which had earned national acclaim for its handling of the virus, reported 429 new covid-19 cases and two deaths over the past four days.

The announcements come on the same day that children in many parts of Ontario returned to school. Parents, teachers’ unions and infectious-disease experts have raised concerns about the province’s plan for reopening schools.

Canada reported an average of 545 new cases daily during the most recent seven days, which marks a 40 percent increase from two weeks ago, according to figures from the country’s public health department.

September 8, 2020 at 6:15 PM EDT

How to sneeze during a pandemic

By Eliza Goren

Sneezing used to be a low-key sign that someone was getting sick or had allergies, and sneezing into your elbow was a polite way to indicate to those around us that we didn’t want to give them whatever we might have.

However, the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 6 million Americans and killed at least 180,000, causes a respiratory disease called covid-19 and spreads easily between people. In the midst of a global pandemic, sneezing into our elbows may no longer be enough.

When we sneeze, cough or talk, different sizes and amounts of respiratory droplets are released into the air, explains Maria Sundaram, a postdoctoral fellow and principal investigator on covid-19 epidemiological research at ICES Ontario.

The bigger the droplets are, the quicker they fall to the ground, and the smaller they are, the more likely they are to travel greater distances. “When you cough or sneeze, these particles can travel much further than they usually would by talking at a normal volume or just exhaling in a normal way,” Sundaram says.

September 8, 2020 at 5:30 PM EDT

A passenger says he asked an Allegiant flight attendant to wear a mask. The airline removed him from the plane.

By Shannon McMahon

Allegiant Air removed a passenger from a Labor Day flight preparing for takeoff from Punta Gorda, Fla., for “making threatening statements to the flight attendant,” according to the airline. But in a video of the incident shared online, the man can be heard explaining that he had only asked the flight attendant to wear a face mask.

“I need you to come off or I get law enforcement,” says an employee a in a video shared anonymously to social media news wire Storyful. The passenger says, “I just asked somebody to put on their face mask, that’s all I did."

Others on the flight can be heard voicing their support for the passenger as he’s escorted off. “That’s not right, this is ridiculous,” one passenger says, while comments such as “this is not okay,” “you’re not right,” and “just let him be” are heard as well.

In a statement to The Washington Post via email, Allegiant said that the “passenger became disruptive during the pre-flight safety briefing … Following the announcement, the passenger persisted in making threatening statements to the flight attendant, to the point of harassment.” The airline said the man was accommodated on another departing flight.

September 8, 2020 at 5:09 PM EDT

Dow slides more than 600 points as tech batters U.S. stocks; Tesla tanks after S&P 500 snub

By Hamza Shaban and Hannah Denham

The three major U.S. indexes posted steep, across-the-board losses on Tuesday as technology shares continued to fuel a sell-off that snapped a five-week winning streak on Wall Street and slashed 10 percent off the Nasdaq composite in three days.

The Dow Jones industrial average shed 632.42 points, or 2.3 percent, to close at 27,500.89. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 95.12 points, or 2.8 percent, to settle at 3,331.84, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq tumbled 465.44 points, or 4.1 percent, to end at 10,847.69.

After an uptick that analysts say is atypical of September, U.S. markets plummeted Thursday and Friday, dragged down by the tech giants ahead of the long holiday weekend. The markets were closed on Labor Day.

September 8, 2020 at 4:30 PM EDT

Number of young adults living with at least one parent is at an all-time high, Pew Research Center finds

By Hannah Denham

More than half of 18- to 29-year-old Americans moved home to live with one or both of their parents between February and July, according to a Pew Research Center report published Friday.

That share — 52 percent, up from 47 percent in February — is higher than recorded since the Great Depression, reflecting the economic difficulties, remote work and social distancing that young adults have had to navigate during the coronavirus pandemic.

The data is based on current surveys and censuses, according to Pew. Before this year, the highest measured value found 48 percent of young adults living with their parents in the 1940 census, at the end of the Depression. No data was recorded during the 1930s, when the crisis was more severe.

Young adults are the population group most likely to move as a result of the pandemic, including because of job losses, inability to afford housing, and vacating from college towns or highly populated cities to the homes of one or more parents. A July Pew survey found that 9 percent of young adults said they temporarily or permanently relocated as a result of the pandemic, and 10 percent had someone move into their household.

Pew found that the youngest adults — between 18 and 24 — made up 2.1 million of the total 2.6 million young adults included in the research. That share is consistent with the sector of the population most hurt by job losses since February, according to the report.

Racial and ethnic differences in young adults living with their parents have narrowed during the pandemic, compared with previous data, the report said. White young adults made up 68 percent of the increase in young adults who moved home; in past decades, White young adults have been less likely than Black, Hispanic and Asian young adults to live with at least one parent.

Young men are more likely than women to live at home, while both groups did experience increases in moving home with at least one parent since February. Regionally, the South saw the largest growth, with an increase of 1 million and its share of young adults living at home jumping from 46 percent to 52 percent. But the Northeast had the highest share, with 57 percent.