This article was last updated Nov. 23 at 6:15 p.m. ET.
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Texas Family Makes PSA After 15 People Catch COVID
Nov. 23, 6:15 p.m.
A Texas family is using first-hand experience to talk about how easily COVID-19 spreads. Twelve of them tested positive after attending a birthday celebration this month and three people who didn’t attend the party also got sick.
“Everyone who went to my cousin’s house that day has tested positive for coronavirus,” Alexa Aragonez says in a video public service announcement, which the City of Arlington posted on Twitter. “Please don’t be like my family and ignore the CDC guidelines”
Aragonez didn’t attend the party and didn’t test positive. She said the family thought the celebration would be safe because nobody appeared to be sick and they followed social distancing guidelines.
Days later, family members started feeling sick, including Aragonez’s 57-year-old mother, Enriqueta.
She had to spend a week and a day in the hospital, TV station KXAN reported. The other family members experienced mild symptoms. Some of the children had strong coughs.
“I went to my nephew’s house and loved seeing my family, but now, I’m fighting against COVID-19,” Enriqueta Aragonez said in the video. “Now I’m in the hospital and can’t see my family.”
“All this pain that my family is feeling, this loneliness, this sickness, this longing to feel healthy, could have been prevented,” Alexa Aragonez said.
Alexa Aragonez said the family decided to help make the PSA to let people know how easy it is to spread the virus, even if you don’t feel sick.
“It’s scary to think what if my entire family would have had the severe case and every single one of those 15 folks had to go to the hospital,” Aragonez, a City of Arlington employee, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “One, I would feel guilty for taking resources from people that really do need it, and two, I would be at risk of losing my entire family.”
Hundreds of Bodies Remain in Mobile Morgues in New York City
Nov. 23, 5:50 p.m. ET.
New York City, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, is still storing hundreds of bodies in refrigerated trucks at the Brooklyn waterfront, the Wall Street Journal reported.
About 650 bodies have been stored in the trucks at the 39th Street Pier in Sunset Park, the newspaper said.
In normal times, unclaimed bodies would be buried in an indigent graveyard on Hart Island, the newspaper reported. But New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio promised last spring, as coronavirus deaths spiked in the city, that mass burials wouldn’t take place there.
The city’s chief medical examiner’s office said many of the people couldn’t afford to pay for the burial or the deceased had families who couldn’t be reached. When next-of-kin is contacted, they sometimes don’t know what to do, said Dina Maniotis, the chief medical examiner’s office’s executive deputy commissioner.
“This has been traumatic,” Maniotis told the Journal. ”We are working with them as gently as we can and coaxing them along to make their plans. Many of them will decide they want to go to Hart Island, which is fine.”
It’s not clear how many of the bodies in the freezer trucks were the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forbes reported that 24,202 people died of coronavirus-related reasons in NYC, mainly during March-May. New York state reported at least 34,319 coronavirus-related deaths, the most in the country.
Aden Naka, deputy director of forensic investigations at the city medical examiner’s office, told the Wall Street Journal the office was having to process up to 200 new cases daily during the height of the pandemic. The office normally handles about 20 deaths a day.
About 15 people work to identify bodies and seven other employees try to contact next of kin, she said. Because of the backlog in cases, relatives sometimes didn’t find out about a death until weeks or months had passed.
To show the breadth of the pandemic, the medical examiner’s office sometimes discovered the next of kin had also died of coronavirus.
Millions Fly for Thanksgiving Despite COVID-19 Spread
Nov. 23, 11:50 a.m.
Millions of Americans are flying this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, despite calls from the CDC and public health officials not to travel.
On Sunday, more than 1 million people were screened at U.S. airports, which is the highest number of passengers who have boarded flights in a single day since March 16, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
More than 3 million people were screened during the weekend, the TSA reported. Friday marked the second-highest screening day since mid-March. The numbers represent about half of flying totals for this time last year.
On Thursday, the CDC announced that people should avoid Thanksgiving travel and not gather with others outside of their immediate household. Public health officials say they’re not as worried about the coronavirus spreading on flights, but rather, within crowded airports and household gatherings that recently have been a major source of COVID-19 spread.
“Those are the things we’ve got to realize are going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now,” Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on Face the Nation.
New COVID-19 cases from Thanksgiving travel and gatherings won’t emerge until later, which will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths in December. That will make it “very difficult” to slow the spread of the virus during the colder months, Fauci said.
“What you don’t want to see is another spike in cases as we get colder and colder into December and then you start dealing with the Christmas holiday,” he said. “We can really be in a very difficult situation.”
COVID-19 Vaccination Could Start Dec. 11
Nov. 22, 5:15 p.m.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine could be approved and roll out across the U.S. at the end of the second week in December, Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said on several Sunday talk shows.
The first people could receive the vaccine on Dec. 11 or Dec. 12. The goal is to immunize 20 million people by the end of December. Another 30 million could be vaccinated each month after that.
“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours from the approval,” Slaoui said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The FDA is scheduled to review Pfizer’s application for emergency use on Dec. 10. Moderna is planning to file its application by the end of November, Slaoui said, which the FDA will evaluate on Dec. 17.
About 70% of the country -- or about 230 million people -- would need to take a coronavirus vaccine to achieve “true herd immunity,” he said, which could happen by May 2021. However, he expressed concerns about people refusing to take a vaccine.
“I’m very, very concerned about the hesitancy (to receive a vaccine) as it exists and I think it’s very unfortunate because this has been exacerbated by the political context under which we have worked very hard,” he said on ABC’s "This Week."
Slaoui said he felt comfortable with the safety of the vaccines and pledged to make sure the data is transparent. While the vaccine is under FDA review, the CDC is issuing guidance to states about which groups should be prioritized, and the states are determining how to distribute the vaccine at the local level. Health care workers and vulnerable groups who face the highest risks for contracting severe COVID-19 will receive a vaccine first.
“We will have already identified with each state and department of health where they want the vaccines to be located,” he said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
Slaoui also repeated concerns from recent weeks, saying he’s worried about “anything that could derail the process.” He confirmed on Sunday that he hasn’t yet had contact with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.
“I hope there is no disruption in any way,” he said. “I have been informed that I should not be saying anything that is confidential to anybody, including anybody who is not part of the [Trump] administration.”
FDA Authorizes Regeneron’s COVID-19 Antibody Treatment
Nov. 22, 11:10 a.m.
The FDA issued an emergency use authorization to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for its monoclonal antibodies -- casirivimab and imbdevimab -- to be administered together to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and kids over age 12.
The treatment should be given to patients who have a positive coronavirus test and face a high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19, including those who are 65 and older or have certain chronic medical conditions.
“Authorizing these monoclonal antibody therapies may help outpatients avoid hospitalization and alleviate the burden on our health care system,” Stephen Hahn, MD, commissioner of the FDA, said in a statement.
Casirivimab and imdevimab must be given together through an intravenous infusion. The lab-made proteins mimic the immune system and specifically target the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2, blocking the virus from entering human cells.
In a clinical trial of nearly 800 patients, the antibody treatment was shown to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and emergency room visits in patients who had a high risk of disease progression. Within 28 days of treatment, 3% of people who took the treatment were hospitalized, compared with 9% of people who received the placebo.
The antibody combination is not authorized for patients who are hospitalized for COVID-19 or require oxygen. Clinical trials have not shown benefits for using the treatment in hospitalized patients, and in fact, may lead to worse outcomes for those who need oxygen or ventilation, the FDA said. Possible side effects include a sudden allergic reaction called anaphylaxis and infusion-related reactions, fever, chills, hives, itching, and skin reddening or blotching.
The experimental therapy was given to President Donald Trump when he contracted the coronavirus in October, according to CNBC. The FDA will continue to evaluate the safety and the results of the therapy for full approval.
Earlier this month, the FDA also authorized Eli Lilly’s antibody treatment -- called bamlanivimab -- for people who have COVID-19 and face high risks for developing a severe form of the disease.
“The emergency authorization of these monoclonal antibodies administered together offers health care providers another tool in combating the pandemic,” Patrizia Cavazzoni, MD, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.
In-Person Santa Visits Require Precautions
November. 21, 2020, 4:50 p.m. ET.
As the coronavirus continues to surge in most states across the country, visits with Santa will look a little different this year.
In some areas, stores have canceled their in-person photo sessions altogether. In other locations, kids can greet Santa while wearing a face mask, standing behind plexiglass, or following social distancing guidelines, according to USA Today.
“This year has been incredibly difficult for so many kids and families,” Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, said in a statement.
Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s still have the Santa Wonderland experience in many retail stores, but with a few changes. Parents are required to make online reservations in advance. Once in the store, all families complete a temperature screening with a non-contact thermometer, wear face coverings, and stand in designated areas to allow for physical distance. A “Magic Santa Shield” -- a glare-free clear protective barrier -- hangs between Santa and families. Santa’s Sanitation Squad then cleans all surfaces and sanitizes the shield between each visit.
“With countless activities cancelled and many families dealing with added stress, we feel it’s more important than ever to provide some free Christmas magic and help safely create cherished holiday memories,” Morris said.
Neiman Marcus shoppers will see Santa at the curbside when he brings packages to their cars. Sam’s Club members can set up virtual visits with Santa starting on Monday, USA Today reported, and Macy’s is hosting virtual visits with Santa starting on Nov. 27.
Those who play Santa are trying to get creative this year, too, as in-person department store gigs shift and office holiday parties are canceled. The Michigan Association of Professional Santas, for instance, began meeting virtually in the summer to brainstorm ideas. One member created a mock mail room for kids to send their wishes at a safe distance, USA Today reported, and others are changing parts of their outfits so they can sanitize their hands between visits.
Online platforms -- such as VisitWithSanta.com and HireSanta.com -- have seen an uptick in interest for virtual visits. Many professional Santas have cheered on the idea since they want to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and have other health issues themselves.
“I am choosing not to do in-person visits unless there are some very strict protocols in place, and this is primarily out of concern that I don’t want to become a vector,'” Jim Beidle, a Santa in Arlington, WA, told USA Today. “I’ll be doing Santa entirely virtually at this point. ... It is definitely going to be a lighter season this year for me.'”
In late October, a man who played Santa in Lincolnton, NC, died from COVID-19 after being hospitalized, according to The Charlotte Observer. Jim Helms, who was called “Santa Jim,” was a popular fixture at holiday celebrations, the city’s parade, and other events in towns around Charlotte. He even had a custom Santa Claus outfit.
“He would always wear red all year round,” Jessica Rivas, Helms’s daughter, told the newspaper. “I mean he always had it on, and he only cut his beard very short during the off season. So we would just go out to eat as a family, and these little kids -- their eyes would just sparkle when they would see him.”
As for Santa himself, public health officials are telling children not to worry. Because he is older, overweight, and could face higher risks for having severe COVID-19, kids have voiced their concerns about him catching the coronavirus.
“Santa is exempt from this because Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of good innate immunity,” Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told USA Today. He’ll also deliver presents at homes when nobody is around or awake.
“Santa is not going to be spreading any infections to anybody,” he said.
Even still, everyone at the North Pole is following public health measures to make sure the elves and others won’t get sick.
“The good news is that mask compliance there is pretty good, and the elves are committed to social distancing,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the newspaper.
“Mrs. Claus has implemented a program of regular testing, and the reindeers now lead contact tracing,” he said.
The elves have spaced out their workstations, and Santa has canceled his annual Christmas Day celebration to keep everyone safe, Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, told the newspaper.
“Let's do the same thing that Santa and the elves are doing,” he said. “We stay home if we’re not feeling well. When we go outside of the home, we wear a mask and wash our hands.”
Delirium Could Indicate COVID-19 in Older Adults, Study Says
Nov. 20, 5:35 p.m.
Delirium or confusion could be an early warning signal of COVID-19 in older adults, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
More than a quarter of patients over age 65 arrived at the emergency room with delirium, and more than a third didn’t have typical COVID-19 symptoms such as a cough or a fever.
“One of our main messages, especially right now, is to really try to screen everyone, older adults especially,” Benjamin Helfand, one of the study authors and a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told STAT News.
Delirium -- or confusion, disorientation, inattention, and other cognitive changes -- can be a common sign of infection in older adults, who have immune systems that respond in different ways to viruses and bacteria than younger adults.
So far this year, delirium has been identified as a less common symptom of COVID-19, but it may show up more frequently in older adults and those who have a severe form of the disease or need a ventilator to breathe. In general, patients with delirium from any illness tend to stay in the hospital longer and are more likely to die, STAT reported.
“Delirium is a great barometer,” Wes Ely, a critical care doctor at Vanderbilt University, told STAT. “If people are confused, pay attention, because right now they could have COVID.”
In the study, researchers analyzed medical records for 817 COVID-19 patients at seven hospitals across five states when the pandemic surged in mid-March. All the patients were 65 and older, and the average age was 77.
More than 28% were diagnosed with delirium, which was the sixth most common symptom after fever, shortness of breath, low oxygen, coughing, and weakness. At the same time, more than 37% of those with delirium reported none of the other common COVID-19 symptoms, and 16% had delirium as a primary symptom.
Those with delirium were more likely to be over age 75, live in a nursing home or assisted living facility, have Parkinson’s disease, have taken psychoactive medication in the past, and have vision or hearing problems.
Even still, most emergency departments don’t screen patients for delirium as part of their routine, STAT reported. But the study authors hope their research will prompt people to be aware and treat it earlier.
“Adding delirium as a common presenting symptom of COVID-19 will keep important cases from being missed and allow earlier identification and management of vulnerable patients at high risk for poor outcomes,” they wrote.
How many people have been diagnosed with the virus, and how many have died?
According to Johns Hopkins University , there are more than 58.8 million cases and more than 1.39 million deaths worldwide. More than 37.33 million people have recovered.
How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?
There are more than 12.26 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 256,837 deaths. More than 4.53 million Americans have recovered from the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University .