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The United States hit an all-time high in new coronavirus cases on Friday, surpassing the previous mark set during a summer surge across the Sun Belt. Friday’s tally of new U.S. cases — the first above 80,000 — comes as covid-19 hospitalizations are soaring across the country; according to data tracked by The Washington Post, the average number of hospitalizations has jumped in at least 38 states over the past week, a trend that cannot be explained by more widespread testing.

Fourteen states have reported new highs in hospitalized covid-19 patients in the past seven days: Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Iowa, Utah, Montana, West Virginia, Missouri and Kansas. Health experts say the current wave is setting the stage for an even greater surge heading into colder months.

Here are some significant developments:
  • The Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine trial, paused because of a participant’s unexplained illness, will resume soon, and a vaccine candidate from AstraZeneca and Oxford University has been cleared to restart trials in the United States.
  • Data from a project tracking real-time coronavirus statistics yields a particularly vivid illustration of how mask usage influences the prevalence of covid-19 symptoms in a given area. See it here.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivered a downbeat assessment Friday about his economic stimulus talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying “significant differences” remain.
  • The governor of Italy’s third-most-populous region said Friday that he is enacting a strict lockdown, reimposing the rules of March and April that brought life to a standstill.
  • The Trump administration has been pressuring health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to endorse the use of border hotels to hold migrant children before deporting them, according to federal health officials.
  • A travel group report says flying is safe. The doctor whose research it cited says not so fast.
October 23, 2020 at 10:16 PM EDT
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How tour companies are reinventing themselves

By Renee Sklarew

Before the pandemic, Joey Parrott, an inveterate traveler, had plans to visit Norway, India and Italy. But when these borders closed to Americans, his trips were all canceled. After staying at home for five months, the retired banker from Dalton, Ga., was eager to travel again. He and his sister Cathy Barker signed up for a Collette tour to South Dakota.

His friends questioned his decision to travel before there was a coronavirus vaccine, but Parrott assured them he would be cautious. His travel pod was impressed by Collette’s safety measures: regular temperature checks, stringent sanitizing and social distancing. Their bus held only 15 passengers, with plenty of room to spread out. Everyone was required to wear a mask on the bus, during guided tours, at attractions and at restaurants, unless they were eating.

Collette is one of many tour operators that have reinvented themselves for pandemic travel. After stopping all tours for months, the company has responded to the changed landscape by developing new protocols and offering new services. For those seeking a way to resume travel despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, small group tours offer an alternative to going it alone.

October 23, 2020 at 9:35 PM EDT
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Our appliances are breaking down like never before, with nobody to fix them

By Soo Youn

As a sales manager for the plumbing, heating and appliance supplier Ferguson Enterprises, Phillip Carr witnessed escalating demand for appliance repair early in the pandemic. He sold to builders, so he had already seen how fragile the global supply chain has become. Then the machines — and the parts that compose them — became scarce because of trade disputes with China and Germany, shuttered factories and manufacturers converting to make protective equipment. He decided to go over to the other side — where the jobs were.

Amid the general collapse of the service economy during the pandemic — think retail or restaurants — appliance repair technicians are seeing explosive demand for their services as families adjust to living at home 24/7, sometimes with adult children, elderly parents or in-laws expanding households and putting more wear and tear on refrigerators and dishwashers.

October 23, 2020 at 9:02 PM EDT
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What those studies on mouthwash and coronaviruses actually mean

By Allyson Chiu

Contrary to some of the recent buzz around mouthwash, a daily gargle is probably not going to protect you from the novel coronavirus. Instead, experts say new research has “promising” implications for the potential of mouthwash to help infected people reduce their risk of spreading the deadly virus.

“It’s an exciting avenue, especially as we face many increasing challenges with access to vaccines and different therapeutics,” said Nicholas Rowan, an ear, nose and throat surgeon and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “However, I think it’s also important to realize that it’s not an instant solution and it’s something that we need to do our due diligence on.”

Here’s what those studies on mouthwash and coronaviruses actually mean — and why scientists say we should view their results with cautious enthusiasm.

October 23, 2020 at 8:35 PM EDT
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Court blocks Wisconsin’s gathering limits as officials warn of worst virus surge yet

By Hannah Knowles

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is asking residents to “rise above” an appeals court’s temporary block on limits to indoor gatherings, the latest challenge to coronavirus restrictions in a state that just posted record coronavirus hospitalizations.

The October order restricting gatherings — to 25 percent of room capacity or 10 people total when there is no occupancy cap — drew an outcry from businesses and a lawsuit from the Tavern League of Wisconsin.

“We will once again defend our limit on public gatherings and I’m once again asking folks to rise above tonight’s ruling, stay home, and mask up so we can get through this weekend and this pandemic together,” Evers tweeted in response Friday night. “This crisis is urgent, folks. Please stay home.”

The emergency order, which was set to last until early November, previously faced a similar hold that was quickly reversed by another judge. The Court of Appeals for the 3rd District has now halted the measure again while appeals pend.

In recent court filings, state officials called Wisconsin a “national COVID-19 hotspot” and said it is facing “by far [its] worst COVID-19 surge” of the pandemic.

October 23, 2020 at 8:06 PM EDT
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Mnuchin downbeat about economic relief deal

By Erica Werner and Jeff Stein

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivered a downbeat assessment Friday about his economic stimulus talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying the speaker had “dug in” and “significant differences” remain.

Mnuchin’s comments at a White House event came at the end of a week that Pelosi had established as an informal deadline for getting agreement on an approximately $2 trillion spending bill in order for legislation to pass before the election. There was no agreement in sight, although Pelosi insisted that she remained optimistic.

“You have to be optimistic in a negotiation,” the speaker said on MSNBC.

October 23, 2020 at 7:29 PM EDT
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A travel group says flying is safe. The doctor whose research it cited says not so fast.

By Shannon McMahon

The International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade group representing 290 carriers in 120 countries, published a report this month aiming to reassure grounded travelers about the future of flying. The group collected medical journal data on in-flight coronavirus cases and used it to declare that commercial flights have a “low incidence of inflight COVID-19 transmission” when masks are worn.

Following an abundance of new research, the report says, only 44 cases of coronavirus have been linked to flights, during a period when 1.2 billion passengers traveled.

But a doctor whose work was cited in the report says that the group is misrepresenting his findings by only counting proven flight-linked cases that were published in medical journals.

“IATA is taking it to an extreme saying there’s ‘little’ risk in flying,” said David Freedman, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Alabama whose study is cited in the IATA report. “What they want is to throw this number on the risk of flying … and we don’t know what that risk is yet. I’m not saying the risk is high, but there is some risk. It just looks like masks help a lot.”

October 23, 2020 at 6:25 PM EDT
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U.S. reports highest daily case count since pandemic began

By William Wan and Jacqueline Dupree

The United States on Friday hit its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, recording at least 81,400 new infections and surpassing the previous record set during the summertime surge of cases across the Sun Belt.

The rising numbers put the nation on the precipice of what could be its worst stretch to date in the pandemic, with hospitals strained and death counts beginning to rise.

The current surge is considerably more widespread than the waves from the spring and summer. The unprecedented geographic spread makes this surge more dangerous, with experts warning that it could lead to dire shortages of medical staff and supplies. Already, hospitals are reporting shortfalls of basic drugs needed to treat covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

And it’s not simply a matter of increased testing identifying more cases. Covid-19 hospitalizations increased in 38 states over the past week and are rising so quickly that many facilities in the West and Midwest are already overwhelmed. The number of daily deaths nationally has crested above 1,000 in recent days.

October 23, 2020 at 5:43 PM EDT
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Mask-wearing could save 133,000 lives by early next year, study says

By Paulina Villegas

Universal mask-wearing could prevent the loss of up to 133,000 lives by the end of February, according to a new study published Friday in the journal Nature Medicine.

More than 511,000 lives could be lost to the coronavirus by that month, even if most states mandate social distancing measures, the study says. But universal masking — defined as 95 percent of people covering their faces in public — would help “ameliorate the worst effects of epidemic resurgences in many states,” the study found.

In that scenario, the death toll by the end of February is projected to be about 382,000. The nation has recorded at least 8,450,000 cases since the pandemic began and more than 223,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

As health officials predict that a coronavirus vaccine won’t be available to the general public until next summer, the study concluded that non-pharmaceutical interventions — mainly wearing masks and reinstating social distancing measures — are the best options to reduce transmission of the virus.

The study analyzed coronavirus cases and mortality data from Feb. 1 to Sept. 21.

The findings come amid a surge in cases and covid-19 hospitalizations that are starting to overwhelm some local health systems. Experts across the country, including those involved in the study, are warning of a grim winter with even greater transmission.

“We are heading into a very substantial fall-winter surge,” Christopher Murray, the lead author of the story, said in a news briefing Friday.

“So the idea that the pandemic is going away, we do not believe that is true,” said Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

October 23, 2020 at 4:51 PM EDT
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White House adjusts annual Halloween event for the pandemic era

By Kim Bellware

Masks have not been commonplace in the White House during the pandemic until recently, but they’ll be required — even if they’re not part of a costume — when President Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome trick-or-treaters for the annual White House Halloween festivities Sunday.

The first lady announced Friday that the White House grounds will open this weekend to the military personnel, area schoolchildren and families of workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic, with extended hours to accommodate capacity restrictions on visitors.

In past years, the president and first lady handed out commemorative candy to trick-or-treaters; the White House announced Friday that the couple will greet visitors, but it was not clear whether they will otherwise be in close contact with guests.

The first family, including Trump’s teenage son, Barron, are just three weeks out from testing positive for coronavirus. Several officials in Trump’s inner circle have tested positive, including those who attended a Sept. 26 ceremony in the Rose Garden for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

According to the White House, the Halloween festivities will have precautions not present at the Rose Garden event, where attendees were seated close together and were mostly maskless. Visitors and children older than 2 will undergo a temperature check and must wear a mask while on the grounds, the White House says. White House personnel will wear gloves, hand sanitizer will be provided throughout the event, and activities have been reworked to remove personal contact.

October 23, 2020 at 4:02 PM EDT
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Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca vaccine trials set to resume

By Carolyn Y. Johnson

The Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine trial, paused earlier this month due to an unexplained illness in a participant, will resume very soon. An independent committee investigated the case of a man in the trial who suffered a stroke and concluded it was not related to the vaccine, according to two individuals familiar with the trial who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The AstraZeneca vaccine trial, on hold in the United States since early September, also got the greenlight to restart from the Food and Drug Administration, according to a company statement.

When a potential adverse event occurs during a clinical trial, the testing is typically stopped so that an independent data and safety monitoring board can thoroughly investigate and determine whether the problem was likely related to the vaccine. Rules around clinical trials and patient privacy usually restrict details of adverse events from being released, but the tremendous scrutiny of the coronavirus vaccine trials has led many experts to call for greater transparency in disclosing and explaining the reasons for trial pauses.

October 23, 2020 at 3:53 PM EDT
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Fauci says Trump last attended virus task force meeting months ago

By Hamza Shaban

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said in an interview on MSNBC on Friday that President Trump has not attended a coronavirus task force meeting for several months, and that the group meets only about once a week, amid a surging public health crisis.

While Fauci said he communicates regularly with Vice President Pence, who heads the task force, he has not had direct discussions with Trump “in a while.”

As tens of thousands of new infections are spreading across the United States, Fauci said another doctor has more of the president’s attention — Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led Trump to bring him to the White House. Atlas has discouraged attempts to expand coronavirus testing, has openly feuded with other doctors on the task force and has advanced fringe theories, including that mask-wearing and social distancing in hard-hit areas would not have curbed the spread of the virus.

The White House has previously moved to sideline Fauci, scrapping some of his planned TV appearances and at times keeping him away from the Oval Office.

In recent days, Trump has attacked him personally, calling him a “disaster” and baselessly claiming that far more Americans would have died if Fauci were in charge.

“I definitely don’t have his ear as much as Scott Atlas right now,” Fauci said of Trump, during the interview. “Direct involvement with the president in the discussions? I have not done that in a while,” he said.

October 23, 2020 at 2:57 PM EDT
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Italy’s Campania region imposes new lockdown

By Chico Harlan

ROME — The governor of Campania on Friday said he was placing the region, Italy’s third-most populous, into a strict lockdown, reimposing the rules of March and April that brought life to a standstill.

The decision makes Campania the first Italian region to return to lockdown as Italy, like other countries in Europe, fights against a rising second wave of coronavirus infections.

Campania, which includes Naples, was largely spared during the first wave but has seen cases skyrocket in recent weeks. The governor, Vincenzo De Luca, warned the region was running out of time to avoid “tragedy.”

“Saying it in a brutally clear way, I don’t want to see military trucks here carrying hundreds of coffins of dead people,” De Luca said.

He said the region would shutter “everything” except for the essentials, like factories, supermarkets and pharmacies. He also said people would be prohibiting from moving outside their own municipality.

Italy’s national government has tried for weeks to control the virus’s spread with piecemeal measures — curfews in select areas, as well as tightened hours for restaurants and bars. Italy’s government, knowing it would be unpopular and economically devastating, has been reluctant to return to lockdown.

But De Luca said he’d advised the government to follow Campania into a nationwide lockdown. De Luca faces fewer risks than other politicians in calling for such a move, because he is popular in Campania and coasted to reelection last month, winning 70 percent of the vote.

Throughout the summer, Campania was detecting roughly 10 new coronavirus cases per day. But Thursday, it recorded 1,541. On Friday, the number jumped to 2,280. In the region, 22 percent of ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, compared with 9 percent at the beginning of the month.

October 23, 2020 at 1:59 PM EDT
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Idaho health board ends mask mandate as infections surge and doctors plea for help

By Hamza Shaban

The majority of health board members in Idaho’s third-most populous county voted to repeal a mask mandate Thursday, even after doctors from a hospital explained that facilities were being overwhelmed by patients infected with the coronavirus.

The hospital in Coeur d’Alene reached nearly 100 percent capacity the day before the vote, even after the hospital bought more beds and doubled up patients in rooms, the Associated Press reports.

But some of the board members were resistant to the urgent message from medical professionals and have either given up on trying to control the spread of the virus or have baselessly questioned the existence of the pandemic.

“I personally do not care whether anybody wears a mask or not. If they want to be dumb enough to walk around and expose themselves and others, that’s fine with me,” said board member Walt Kirby, according to the report. “Nobody’s wearing the d---- mask anyway. … I’m sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully I’ll live through it.”

The board’s decision arrived as a new study published Friday found that universal mask-wearing in public could prevent almost 130,000 deaths from the coronavirus through the end of February. Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines, strongly recommending that all passengers on planes, trains and other forms of public transit wear masks to curb the spread of the virus.

Based on confirmed cases and fatalities, Idaho is showing alarming trends as the virus spreads in the state. Health officials there reported a sharp increase in new infections, jumping 30 percent over the past seven days. Compared to all other states, that is one of the largest spikes in confirmed cases. Thirty people in Idaho have died of covid-19 in the past week, marking a 150 percent increase from the previous seven days, and the second-highest percentage increase in the United States.

October 23, 2020 at 1:15 PM EDT
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Spanish PM says real number of cases over 3 million — roughly three times what had been reported

By Adam Taylor

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Friday that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country was over 3 million — around three times the number recorded by the Spanish health ministry.

Spain, which has a population of 47 million, became the first country in Western Europe to reach 1 million recorded cases earlier this week. Sánchez, speaking during a televised address on Friday, cited data from antibody tests as evidence of a far larger toll and suggested that in Spain’s first wave, limited testing had missed many cases.

The current spread of the virus was not comparable to the wave of infections in March, but the next few months will be “very hard” for Spain, Sánchez said on Friday.

The remarks from the Spanish premier came as the country was hit by a new surge of cases, with a record 20,986 new cases announced on Thursday.

Some Spanish regions have called for new restrictions like curfews. Speaking Friday, Sánchez did not announce any new measures but said that the country had to reduce mobility and increase social distancing.

“There is no alternative: The greater the mobility and contact, the greater the spread,” Sánchez said.