Vaccine trial results could come in November; thousands of health workers have died; cases in Europe up

As the race to find a coronavirus vaccine continues, the World Health Organization on Thursday

As the race to find a coronavirus vaccine continues, the World Health Organization on Thursday announced grim reminders of COVID-19’s global impact.

The WHO said cases are surging again in Europe, with more than half of European countries seeing a 10% or greater spike in cases. COVID-19 is also disproportionately affecting healthcare workers, according to WHO data. 

Health workers make up 2-3% of the global population but account for about 14% of reported COVID-19 cases. “Thousands of health workers infected with COVID-19 have lost their lives worldwide,” the organization said.

Meanwhile, progress towards a vaccine continued Thursday: Moderna said it was moving up its trial results timeline. The company said it could have enough clinical trial results for its candidate vaccine as soon as November.

That news followed cautions from Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday. Redfield urged the use of face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 and warned a vaccine may not be available to the public until next year.

Some significant developments:

  • New York City pushed back its start date for most students to return to elementary, middle and high school classrooms — again.

  • Attorney General William Barr drew criticism after calling lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 the worst infringement on civil liberties other than slavery. 

  • More than 790,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, the Labor Department said, as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount.

  • Six states set records for new cases in a week while four states had a record number of deaths in a week, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Wednesday. 

  • The Big Ten announced its plan to return on Oct. 24, reversing its August decision to postpone its fall football season. The NCAA said the men’s and women’s college basketball season can start on Nov. 25.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 6.6 million cases and 197,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been more than 29.9 million cases and 942,000 fatalities.

📰 What we’re reading: The CDC has received widespread scrutiny for yielding to political pressure from the White House. These interviews and records provide the most extensive look yet at how the CDC, paralyzed by bureaucracy, failed to consistently perform its most basic job: giving public health authorities the guidance needed to save American lives during a pandemic.  

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak, state by state

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Moderna says vaccine trial results could come in November

Moderna, one of the companies leading the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, announced Thursday it could have enough clinical trial results as soon as November to confirm the effectiveness of its candidate vaccine.

Results of the vaccine’s effectiveness will be presented to an independent review committee after 53 people in the trial contract COVID-19, and again after 106 and 151 infections. Half the participants are getting a placebo and half the active vaccine, called mRNA-1273.

Statistically, if the vaccine is effective 75% of the time, it should take only 106 infections in both groups to prove its effectiveness, Dr. Jacqueline Miller, Moderna’s senior vice president of infectious disease development, told company investors on Thursday. ­­At that point, which will likely come in November, Moderna could apply for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin distributing the vaccine.

The FDA has said a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to win federal approval, but the companies developing vaccines have said they are aiming for at least 60% and hopefully even higher effectiveness. Moderna had originally predicted that it might take until May 2021 to prove its vaccine’s effectiveness, but pushed up that timeline because participants joined quickly, the COVID-19 infection rate remained high around trial sites and the company was able to start the trial earlier than originally expected.

— Karen Weintraub

Flu circulation plunges to historic lows in the US, CDC says 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu circulation in the U.S. “is currently at historical lows,” sharply dropping after widespread implementation of school closures, social distancing and mask wearing to curb COVID-19 spread, according to the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published Thursday. 

According to the report, clinical laboratories reported a 98% decrease in influenza activity between Sept. 2019 to Feb. 2020 and March to May 2020. Other northern hemisphere countries also experienced a sharp decline in influenza circulation, and southern hemisphere countries with temperate climates have had virtually no circulation at all. 

The CDC says declines in activity could also be attributed to decreased testing as more people with respiratory symptoms were tested for COVID-19, or it could have marked a natural end to the influenza season. 

While the agency expects mitigation efforts to keep influenza activity low, the CDC says it’s important to plan for seasonal influenza this fall and winter by vaccinating everyone above the age of six months.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

8 Chicago school workers have died of COVID since start of pandemic

At least eight employees of the nation’s third-largest school district have died and another 250 have had COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with about half of those cases causing a pause in school operations, Chicago Public Schools said this week.

Most of the cases involved employees who were exposed to community spread or sick family members, the district said. Nearly 13% of the cases are believed to have been part of a cluster discovered at a school, most of which occurred in the spring, the district said.

“While workplace transmission is unlikely to have occurred in the vast majority of cases known to the district, we know the virus is still causing harm to so many of Chicago’s communities and our thoughts remain with all members of the CPS community who have been impacted by this virus,” the district said in a statement.

Chicago Public Schools had initially planned to try out a hybrid model this fall but opted for a fully online approach before the start of school.

– Grace Hauck

USA TODAY’s vaccine panel: We’re just over halfway there but need more data

If midnight is the start of the pandemic in the U.S. and noon is the time a vaccine is freely available for anyone who wants it, the United States is at about 7 a.m, says USA TODAY’s panel of experts in medicine, virology, immunology, logistics and supply chain issues who are estimating how close we are to securing a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

That’s an hour closer to noon than last month but still just over halfway to the goal.

With three experimental coronavirus vaccines now in large, human clinical trials in the U.S. and a government expectation at least one could be approved by January, the mantra among experts is “data, data, data” — we need more data.

While efforts to create candidate vaccines have been heroic and followed eagerly by the public, in many ways that’s been the easy part, said Prakash Nagarkatti, an immunologist and vice president for research at the University of South Carolina.

“Vaccine technology is not complicated — any research-intensive university has the technology to develop the vaccine,” he said. The challenge is to get through the clinical trials gauntlet with a product proven to be safe and effective.

– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub

New York City delays first day of in-person classes – again

New York City has pushed back the first day of in-person classes for most of its elementary, middle and high school students, the second delay in a rocky return to the classroom for the nation’s largest school district.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that most students would continue online-only learning and transition to its planned hybrid model on Sept. 29 for elementary school students and on Oct. 1 for middle and high school students.

Pre-K and some students with special needs will return to the classroom Monday, the target return date, which had already been pushed back once.

New York’s plan to become the first major school district in the country to bring students back to the classroom in some capacity has faced criticism as some parents and teachers worry buildings aren’t safe, staffs aren’t large enough and testing capacity isn’t adequate. De Blasio says in-person classes will help ease the burden of juggling children and jobs for working parents.

‘Other than slavery,’ COVID-19 lockdowns are worst civil liberties infringement in US history, Barr says

Attorney General William Barr drew criticism after calling lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 the worst infringement on civil liberties other than slavery. 

Barr’s remark came during a Wednesday question and answer session at Hillsdale College when a moderator asked Barr about the constitutionality of the coronavirus restrictions. Barr suggested that instead of imposing lockdowns, states should have allowed businesses to try to “adapt” to new rules.

“But putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

Barr’s reference to slavery in his denunciation of coronavirus restrictions outraged many on social media, such as Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who called it an “obscene comparison” and said, “Only an evil fool could talk that way.”

– William Cummings

Another 790,021 Americans file for unemployment

More than 790,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount.

In a little more than six months, over 56 million workers have filed for benefits. The latest weekly tally has dipped significantly from the 6.2 million who filed first-time claims in March, when the economy ground to a virtual halt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But the weekly volume of initial claims still hovered near what had previously been the all time high — roughly 1 million — on a non-seasonally adjusted basis during a recession in 1982.

– Charisse Jones

Dozens of Mass. high schoolers quarantining after positive test

After a Massachusetts high school student who tested positive for COVID-19 attended in-person classes, dozens of other students are under quarantine.

The student went to class Monday at Attleboro High School, and nurses said 30 students had close contact with them. “This unacceptable outcome was caused by delays in the reporting timeline, not a breakdown in our safety protocols,” Superintendent David Sawyer said.

Trump appointees shelved report on threats to voting rights during pandemic

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights spent months analyzing threats to minority voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic, coming up with what one commissioner called a “behemoth” set of recommendations. 

But no one will see them. Conservative commissioners recently appointed by President Donald Trump voted to shelve the report, its findings and recommendations, even commissioners’ statements.

The commissioner who led the research provided a glimpse of the report’s contents during an August meeting, noting it covers problems with in-person and mail-in balloting faced by voters of color, people with disabilities, and those with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.

The commission, an independent federal agency whose work has informed landmark civil rights laws, is made up of eight members. Trump’s appointments in May and August created a four-four split between conservatives and liberals. A move to release the voting-rights report failed in a tie.

“I am deeply dismayed that after months of work on a topic that is core to the commission’s congressional charge — and has been now for six decades — for the commission not to speak to this moment, which is unlike any other in terms of an effort to vote in the history of this country,” said Catherine Lhamon, the chair of the commission, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016.

– Donovan Slack

More states see record week in virus cases, deaths

Six states set records for new cases in a week while four states had a record number of deaths in a week, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Wednesday. 

New case records were set in Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Through last Wednesday, only Guam had recorded a new record in number of deaths in a week. And two weeks ago, only three states set new case records and two states set records in numbers of deaths.

– Mike Stucka

Hawaii to start pre-travel testing program for out-of-state visitors on Oct. 15

Hawaii officials announced the start of a pre-travel testing program that has been delayed twice due to a spike in coronavirus infections.

Starting Oct. 15, out-of-state travelers won’t need to quarantine for 14 days if they tested negative for the virus, Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday. Ige said travelers must get tested within 72 hours before arriving to Hawaii.

Kaiser Permanente and CVS will be conducting the tests.

Feds will distribute COVID-19 vaccine 24 hours after the first one is approved

The United States plans to begin distributing coronavirus vaccine within 24 hours of one being approved, federal officials said Wednesday.

It’s an audacious goal in an already franticly paced COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution program being overseen by the White House’s aptly-named Operation Warp Speed.

The goal is that 24 hours after a license or an Emergency Use Authorization is issued “we have vaccine moving to administration sites,”  Lt. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, Operation Warp Speed deputy chief of supply, production and distribution, said on a media call Wednesday morning.

The initial rollout could begin as early as late this year or January. The announcement came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 56-page “playbook” outlining details of how the vaccine will be distributed to medical providers nationally.

– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub

Big Ten football will begin Oct. 24, reversing August decision

Bowing to pressure from players, coaches and politicians, the Big Ten’s presidents decided Wednesday morning to move forward with an eight-game football season beginning on the weekend of Oct. 24, reversing their August decision to postpone the fall schedule and ending weeks of drama that spread from campuses all the way to the White House.

Citing new information presented by the league’s medical advisory board last weekend, including the imminent availability of rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 that can be administered on a daily basis, Big Ten presidents concluded they can safely conduct a football season, even as some of them struggle with infection rates on their own campuses. 

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students.  The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” said Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, who chairs the Big Ten’s council of presidents and chancellors. 

– Dan Wolken

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy criticizes YouTube stars for mostly maskless events

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy slammed the YouTube stars Nelk Boys on Wednesday after a crowd of roughly 2,500 mostly maskless fans descended on Seaside Heights, New Jersey, for pop-up events touched off by the group’s appearance in the borough.

Murphy said the events in Seaside Heights Monday night, which were broken up by police, may be the most “extreme” and “egregious display of knucklehead behavior” the state has seen during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Crowds of revelers gathered outside the “Jersey Shore” house, made famous as the one-time home of cast members from the hit MTV reality series, where the Nelk Boys were staying to promote the debut of new merchandise. A short distance away, another group of about 1,000 fans gathered for a related car club show, police said.

“It’s exactly the type of situation we cannot have,” Murphy said at a coronavirus briefing in Trenton. “It was irresponsible from top to bottom in every respect. And these so-called influencers need to be taken to task.”

– Andrew J. Goudsward, Asbury Park Press

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID News: Moderna vaccine update; Trump, CDC’s Redfield on masks

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