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Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Friday became the first companies to seek emergency authorization for a coronavirus vaccine in the United States, a landmark moment and a signal that a powerful tool to help control the pandemic could begin to be available by late December.

Conditions around the country remain dire: The United States reported a record high of more than 196,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday and is likely to cross 12 million cases nationwide on Saturday, six days after surpassing 11 million.

Here are some significant developments:
  • The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee will meet Dec. 10 to consider the Pfizer-BioNTech request, the agency said late Friday.
  • Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a spokesman.
  • President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team condemned the Trump administration’s decision to end several emergency lending programs.
  • Infection rates dropped in Kansas counties that adopted mask mandates over the summer, while rising sharply in counties that didn’t, according to new research.
  • More than a quarter-million people in the United States have died of covid-19.
November 20, 2020 at 11:15 PM EST
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Maryland and Virginia nursing homes battle explosive covid-19 outbreaks — again

By Rebecca Tan and Rachel Chason

The second wave has reached the region’s most vulnerable.

Amid soaring coronavirus caseloads in Maryland, Virginia and the District, some nursing homes have begun to report explosive new outbreaks of the novel coronavirus among residents and staff, affirming the worst fears of family members and health officials.

Despite stringent lockdown measures in place since March, widespread community transmission has allowed the highly contagious virus to creep back into facilities through asymptomatic employees, threatening the elderly residents most at risk of dying.

The spike in cases in Virginia, Maryland and the District since August has not yet been followed by a notable surge in deaths. But health experts note that fatalities often lag several weeks behind new infections, and warn that the uncontrolled spread of the virus in nursing homes could lead to a significant jump in deaths of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

In rural localities, a large outbreak at even one long-term care facility could tip the health system into chaos.

November 20, 2020 at 10:31 PM EST
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CDC report looks at how coronavirus spread from South Dakota motorcycle rally to other states

By Darren Sands

A coronavirus superspreader event at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is connected to 86 coronavirus infections, according to study the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said “findings highlight the far-reaching effects that gatherings in one area might have on another area.”

The report, which was released on Friday, revealed that 51 of the infections occurred in people who attended the rally in August. The remaining cases were in people who came into contact with those attendees afterward, including at work places, a wedding and one funeral.

“Approximately one-third of counties in Minnesota reported at least one case epidemiologically linked to this event,” the report said. “The motorcycle rally was held in a neighboring state that did not have policies regarding event size and mask use, underscoring the implications of policies within and across jurisdictions.”

The Sturgis, S.D., rally was the 80th annual event and took place over the course of several days in the middle of August.

Genome sequencing, used to identify the virus’s genetic characteristics, helped researchers identify more information about where people got infected and by whom. On Friday, at least one image resurfaced from the event showing attendees standing in close proximity to each other and not wearing masks.

One death in Minnesota stemmed from the rally, according to the report, which emphasized that the research and circumstances of those who got sick illustrate the importance of mask use, maintaining physical distancing and limiting the number of attendees at gatherings.

The CDC acknowledged the limitations of the study, such as some patients choosing not to respond to certain questions, and so the findings “represent an underestimate of the motorcycle rally’s impact in Minnesota and did not capture the impact within South Dakota or other states.”

November 20, 2020 at 9:45 PM EST
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Racial, ethnic minorities continue to die from covid-19 at much higher rates, Post analysis shows

By Dan Keating, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Gabriel Florit

Nearly nine months after the virus exploded in the United States, and amid big treatment strides, the disease continues to ravage African American and other minority communities with a particular vengeance. Black, Asian, Native American and Hispanic patients still die far more frequently than White patients, even as death rates have plummeted for all races and age groups, according to a Washington Post analysis of records from 5.8 million people who tested positive for the virus from early March through mid-October.

Death rates overall have fallen more than 80 percent from the pandemic’s peak in the spring, when refrigerator trucks were parked outside New York City hospitals and ice rinks were converted into morgues, according to an analysis of anonymized data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But as another wave of infections sweeps across the country this fall, losses among racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately large.

November 20, 2020 at 9:00 PM EST
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Biden team slams Treasury decision to curtail Fed lending powers, calls move ‘deeply irresponsible'

By Jeff Stein and Rachel Siegel

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team condemned the Trump administration’s decision to end several emergency lending programs, with the blasting the move on Friday as “deeply irresponsible" given the ongoing economic threats posed by the pandemic.

Biden’s team has not been in communication with the Treasury Department and had no advance notice or consultation that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would pull the plug on several emergency lending programs run jointly by the Treasury and Federal Reserve, according to Biden policy advisers.

Aides to the president-elect have looked at the unspent aid as one of many potential tools to boost the flagging economy Biden is set to inherit on Jan. 20, 2021, the advisers said. Some of the lending facilities, such as the troubled Main Street lending program, have issued few loans and could be revamped to offer more generous assistance to small businesses. In a letter released Thursday, Mnuchin requested that unspent money be reallocated, a decision that would require cooperation from the Fed.

November 20, 2020 at 8:20 PM EST
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Ben Carson says he was ‘extremely sick’ with coronavirus, received antibody therapy

By Herman Wong

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Friday that he had, at one point, been “extremely sick” from the novel coronavirus, but was now much better after receiving the same antibody therapy given to President Trump.

“I do believe I am out of the woods at this point,” Carson said in a Facebook post.

Thank you everyone for your support and prayers as Candy and I battled COVID-19. I was extremely sick and initially took...

Posted by Dr. Ben & Candy Carson on Friday, November 20, 2020

The retired neurosurgeon and member of the White House coronavirus task force had tested positive on Nov. 9 after experiencing symptoms, telling The Post at the time that he was “feeling terrific” and contracted the virus “probably somewhere, out there in the universe” but it is not certain how.

On Friday, he said his condition soon changed.

“After a brief period when I only experienced minor discomfort, the symptoms accelerated and I became desperately ill,” he said, adding that the president was following his condition “and cleared me for the monoclonal antibody therapy that he had previously received.”

Carson said he was “blessed to have the best medical care in the world (and I am convinced it saved my life), we must prioritize getting comparable treatments and care to everyone as soon as possible.”

As The Post reported, Carson’s diagnosis had come days after news of a fresh wave of coronavirus infections at the White House, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Carson had been at the White House for an election night event, and “has been photographed mingling at indoor gatherings without a mask despite saying in the past that mask-wearing makes a difference in reducing transmission of the coronavirus."

November 20, 2020 at 8:00 PM EST
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Virus surged in Brazil’s largest indigenous community, report says

By Ruby Mellen

The coronavirus tore through Brazil’s largest indigenous reservation earlier in the year as the government did little to protect the vulnerable community, according to a report compiled by its leaders.

The Yanomami’s territory — also home to 600 Ye’kwana people — saw cases rise by 260 percent between August and October, said the report, which was published Thursday by the Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leadership Forum.

The community of 27,000 people has had 1,202 confirmed cases and 23 deaths, the forum said, noting that only 4.7 percent of its population had been tested for the deadly virus and that the test positivity rate was 70 percent.

“Every day more and more Yanomami are being exposed to infection by the virus,” Dario Kopenawa, vice president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association and son of its main shaman, Davi Kopenawa, told Reuters. “There are health professionals working here, but too few, and they have no equipment. The federal government does not provide enough support.”

Brazil, a country of more than 209 million people, has 5.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases, behind only the United States and India.

The government of President Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire for its handling of the pandemic. Bolsonaro has called the virus a “little flu” and said the nation should stop being “a country of sissies.” The South American country’s many indigenous communities have felt the government’s neglect. Officials ignored requests for pandemic aid and gave little guidance on how to treat the virus, leaving the groups “to treat their sick and dying with herbal teas, lemon syrups and other traditional medicines,” The Washington Post reported in June.

November 20, 2020 at 7:15 PM EST
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A traveler tested negative for covid-19 before a flight. He had the virus and infected 4 passengers.

By Shannon McMahon

Health officials in New Zealand, a country that has a strict 14-day quarantine in place for arriving travelers, released a case study on Friday that details the risks of traveling on long-haul flights during the coronavirus pandemic — even if negative coronavirus tests are required before the flight.

The report details a coronavirus outbreak linked through DNA analysis to one passenger on an 18-hour flight from Dubai to New Zealand in September. The traveler, who tested negative for the coronavirus with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 48 hours of the flight, was contagious but pre-symptomatic onboard the plane, and infected at least four other passengers.

In total there were seven cases linked to the flight, which had 86 passengers onboard.

November 20, 2020 at 6:38 PM EST
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Donald Trump, Jr. has tested positive for the coronavirus

By Ashley Parker

Donald Trump, Jr., the president’s eldest son, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a spokesman.

The spokesman said the younger Trump tested positive earlier this week and has been since quarantining.

“He’s been completely asymptomatic so far and is following all medically recommended COVID-19 guidelines,” the spokesman said.

Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this year.

November 20, 2020 at 6:20 PM EST
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Senate holds hearing on hydroxychloroquine, despite no evidence it works against covid-19

By Marisa Iati

On the same day that new coronavirus cases across the United States hit its highest total since the pandemic began, the Senate Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on an antimalarial drug that has repeatedly been shown to be ineffective at treating covid-19.

As the country logged 185,424 daily infections Thursday, the committee spent more than two hours revisiting discussion about hydroxychloroquine as a potential covid-19 treatment — a debate that leading health experts say was settled months ago.

Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) returned to the issue anyway.

November 20, 2020 at 5:41 PM EST
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FDA vaccine advisers to review Pfizer application on Dec. 10

By Laurie McGinley

The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee will meet Dec. 10 to consider a request by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech for an emergency-use authorization for their coronavirus vaccine, the agency said late Friday.

The announcement came hours after the companies filed an application for emergency clearance for its vaccine, which has shown efficacy of 95 percent. After the agency’s panel of outside experts meets, the FDA will need several days to make a final decision, officials have said.

“While we cannot predict how long the FDA’s review will take, the FDA will review the request as expeditiously as possible, while still doing so in a thorough and science-based manner, so that we can help make available a vaccine that the American people deserve as soon as possible,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.

The announcement did not mention Moderna, which hasn’t yet filed with the FDA for its vaccine. But that application is expected soon and may be discussed by the panel the week after the meeting on Pfizer.

November 20, 2020 at 5:20 PM EST
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Health experts raise alarm about study that some conservatives claim reveals masks are ineffective

By Meryl Kornfield

Public health experts are raising alarms about a study that some conservatives claim reveals that masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of the virus. Even the lead researcher argues that assertion is misconstruing science, while other public health experts assert the study has serious design flaws.

Mask-wearing has remained a hot-button political issue even as more states, including those with Republican governors who long resisted such measures, are adopting mask mandates following a rise in cases across the United States. Numerous studies have found masks, and perhaps even the mandates, reduce the risk of transmission.

“Masks have been shown to protect others and, despite the reported results of this study, probably protect the wearer,” former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden wrote in an editorial that hashed out what he sees as the various limitations of the study.

November 20, 2020 at 4:41 PM EST
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Stocks sink for the week as the pandemic intensifies

By Hamza Shaban

Stocks dropped slightly Friday, capping off a losing week that was lifted by vaccine optimism but tempered by an alarming rise in infections, new public health restrictions and uncertainty over the government’s economic response to the pandemic.

The Dow Jones industrial average had lost 220 points or 0.75 percent by the closing bell. The S&P 500 fell 24 points or 0.68 percent, while the tech heavy-Nasdaq slipped 50 points or 0.42 percent to end the trading day. For the Dow and the S&P, the indexes finished the week in the negative, wiping out significant gains from Monday, when the biotechnology company Moderna announced that a preliminary analysis showed its experimental coronavirus vaccine to be highly effective.

Investors are confronting data that shows an intensifying pandemic and new public health restrictions, including a nighttime curfew in California and public school closures in New York City.

On Thursday, health officials reported 185,424 new cases, a staggering record. Other indicators that measure the intensity of the virus are on the rise, tempering investors’ outlook for the winter months ahead. Hospitalizations rose by 20 percent over the past week, and daily fatalities increased by 25 percent.

Investors are also digesting a conflict between the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, the two main players most responsible for stabilizing the economy. On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended his move to end several emergency Federal Reserve lending programs, a decision the central bank had sharply condemned.

The dispute revealed a rift between two agencies that have worked together since the pandemic began, raising doubts about the government’s plan for an economic recovery. Investors will return to a shortened trading schedule next week. The markets will be closed Thursday, in observance of Thanksgiving, and will shut down early Friday.

November 20, 2020 at 4:16 PM EST
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Senior Pentagon officials decline to quarantine after exposure

By Dan Lamothe

The acting Pentagon chief and several other senior defense officials who were exposed to the novel coronavirus last week will not be quarantining, citing ongoing testing and safety precautions that appear to have been applied unevenly.

The officials, including acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller, attended a meeting at the Pentagon on Nov. 13 with the Lithuanian defense minister, Raimundas Karoblis, whose embassy on Thursday said he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

Additional tests on Thursday showed that retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who performs the duties of the undersecretary of defense, also has the virus. He will isolate at home for the next 14 days, Hoffman said.

November 20, 2020 at 4:02 PM EST
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Coronavirus rates fell in Kansas counties with mask requirements, while rising in those without

By Derek Hawkins

Coronavirus infection rates dropped in Kansas counties that adopted mask mandates over the summer, while rising sharply in counties that didn’t institute such requirements, according to research published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The weekly average for new infections per 100,000 people fell by 6 percent in the two-dozen Kansas counties that complied with a July executive order from Gov. Laura Kelly (D) that required masks in public, the CDC found. In the 81 counties that opted out of the order, the rate increased by 100 percent.

The findings offer some of the strongest evidence yet that mask mandates are an effective tool for slowing the spread of the virus, and bolsters the Democratic governor’s decision this week to reinstitute statewide mask requirements amid a new surge in infections.

“The decrease in cases among mandated counties and the continued increase in cases in nonmandated counties adds to the evidence supporting the importance of wearing masks and implementing policies requiring their use to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” the report’s authors wrote.

The report noted that rates of infection were higher overall in counties with mask requirements than those without them, but concluded that rates in the mandated counties “declined markedly” after the governor’s executive order took effect.

“After implementation of mask mandates in 24 Kansas counties, the increasing trend in COVID-19 incidence reversed,” the report said. “Kansas counties that had mask mandates in place appear to have mitigated the transmission of COVID-19, whereas counties that did not have mask mandates continued to experience increases in cases.”

More than half of the mandated counties adopted mask requirements along with other mitigation strategies such as restrictions on gatherings and limits on restaurant capacity, the CDC noted. But analyses showed that infection rates still fell in mandated counties with no other mitigation measures in place, according to the report.

“Therefore, although implementing multiple mitigation strategies is the recommended approach, strategies related to mask use mandates appear to be important,” the authors wrote. “Additional information on the utility and acceptability of mask mandates in public settings could help further inform health education campaigns aimed at increasing proper use of masks and strengthening mandate adherence.”