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Coronavirus 2020 Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was last updated Sept. 27 at 4:45 p.m. ET.

The United States leads the world in cases of COVID-19. We'll provide the latest updates on coronavirus cases, government response, impacts to our daily life, and more.

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Military Suicides Up During Pandemic

Sept. 27, 4:45 p.m. ET.

Suicides among U.S. service members have increased by as much as 20% this year, according to The Associated Press, which military leaders have attributed to the pandemic and other stress.

“We cannot say definitively it is because of COVID. But there is a direct correlation from when COVID started, the numbers actually went up,” Ryan McCarthy, the secretary of the Army, told the AP.

The data and exact details are incomplete, but a notable increase has been reported compared with 2019. The overall increase, which varies by service, seems to be around 20%, the AP reported.

Army officials reported a 30% increase in suicides among active duty members, from 88 last year to 114 so far this year. The Army Guard is up 10%, and the Air Force has reported about the same as last year, which was the worst year recorded in three decades. The Navy’s total is reported to be lower this year, according to the AP, although Navy and Marine officials declined to comment.

The Pentagon declined to give 2020 data to the AP, but Army officials discussed briefings held by the Department of Defense this year.

“I can’t say scientifically, but what I can say is -- I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health-related issues” such as suicide, murder, and other violent behavior, McCarthy said.

With COVID-19 in particular, the isolation, financial issues, remote school, and loss of child care have strained families.

“We know that the measures we took to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID could amplify some of the factors that could lead to suicide,” James Helis, director of the Army’s resilience programs and an attendee at the briefings on suicide data, told the AP.

On top of that, combat deployment, natural disaster response, and civil unrest missions in 2020 have compounded the stress. Army officials told the AP that they are considering shorter deployments to help with overall health and well-being.

Service members need time to “come back together and recover,” James McConville, chief of staff for the Army, told the AP. “I think it’s time now to focus on people.”

COVID-19 Cases Going Up in Half of States

Sept. 27, 11:14 a.m. 

Two dozen states are reporting an increase in new daily coronavirus infections, including several states that are breaking record numbers, according to NPR.

Cases mostly trended downward throughout August and most of September after major peaks in July, and now the numbers are moving back up again. Overall, the U.S. reported more than 55,000 new cases on Friday, and the total tally pushed above 7 million this week. The national 7-day average is also increasing.

In Wisconsin, more than 2,800 new cases were reported on Saturday, marking a new record and breaking the previous high of 2,500 cases on Sept. 18, according to Fox 11 in Madison. More than 2,000 cases were reported 3 days in a row.

Gov. Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency and face covering requirement on Tuesday through Nov. 21. Cases declined in August, but the reopening of schools and colleges has led to an increase in cases among students between ages 18-24 in recent weeks.

“Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the number of COVID-19 cases in our state,” Evers said Friday in a video posted on Twitter.

“It is critical that we work together now to get this virus under control, not only to protect our campus communities but for the health and safety of Wisconsinites in every corner of the state,” he said.

In New York, daily cases passed 1,000 on Saturday for the first time since June 5, according to Bloomberg News.

South Dakota also reported its highest daily total on Saturday with more than 500 new cases. North Dakota, Utah, and Montana set records as well.

New Hampshire reported its first coronavirus-related death in 11 days on Saturday, which was associated with a long-term care facility, according to WMUR. The state reported 38 new cases, and health officials say community-based transmission is happening in every county.

Public health officials expect cases to increase even more throughout the fall, and state leaders are urging people to continue measures to slow the spread of the virus.

“Continue to practice the basic behaviors that drive our ability to fight COVID-19 as we move into the fall and flu season,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a Saturday update. “Wearing masks, socially distancing, and washing hands make a critical difference.”

China Vaccinates Thousands With Unproven Doses

Sept. 26, 4:15 p.m. ET.

Hundreds of thousands of people in China have received doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that has received emergency authorization but not full approval, according to The Associated Press.

The emergency designation was approved in June, and even before then, several Chinese companies gave the vaccine to their top executives before safety and efficacy trials began, the news service reported.

China National Biotec Group has given the vaccine to 350,000 people outside of clinical trials, the AP reported, and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. has doled out doses to 3,000 of its employees and their family members. Phoenix Television, a news outlet in Hong Kong, has given the vaccine to its journalists.

The emergency use program gained the “understanding and support” from the World Health Organization (WHO), Zheng Zhongwei, an official with China’s National Health Commission, said Friday according to CNN. WHO officials responded to the claim during a news conference, saying that countries have their own free will when it comes to emergency use authorizations

“Countries have autonomy according to their national regulations and legislations to issue emergency use authorizations for any health product, and China and other countries have already done so for different products,” Mariangela Simao, the WHO’s assistant director-general for access to medicines and vaccines, said during the briefing.

Officials are now creating plans to vaccinate more people, including teachers and grocery store workers, according to The New York Times. Public health officials have voiced concerns about the consequences of side effects, ineffective vaccines, and informed consent among workers who may feel compelled to take the vaccine and sign a nondisclosure agreement.

“My worry for the employees of the companies is it may be difficult for them to refuse,” Kim Mulholland, a researcher in Australia who has been involved in the oversight process for a COVID-19 vaccine, told the newspaper.

Chinese companies have four vaccine candidates in phase III clinical trials, which test the safety and efficacy of vaccines. The initial doses were given to frontline workers, such as medical professionals, border inspection officials, and epidemic prevention workers. But now, officials plan to expand the definition of who qualifies for “emergency use,” the newspaper reported, such as employees in the service industry, markets, and public transportation.

Less Than 10% of Adults in the U.S. Have COVID-19 Antibodies, Study Says

Sept. 26, 11:46 a.m. ET.

Researchers who studied 28,500 patients across the United States concluded that less than 10% of the nation’s population has coronavirus antibodies in their systems.

The Stanford University scientists examined kidney dialysis patients’ plasma at about 1,300 facilities run by the same company in 46 states during July, according to the study published in The Lancet.

They found antibodies in plasma of 8.2% to 9.4% of the patients, the study said. Since dialysis patients aren’t fully representative of the American population, the researchers calculated in other factors such as age, sex, and race to extrapolate that 9.3% of the nation’s adult population has antibodies, the study says.

Race, income, and population density were also factors in infection rates.

People in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods had infection rates of 11.3-16.2%, compared to 4.8% for non-Hispanic white neighborhoods. Low-income areas had a two-times higher likelihood of infection, and densely populated areas had a 10-times higher likelihood.

A news release from The Lancet announcing the study recommended that public health efforts be concentrated in these populations to prevent community spread.

Researchers found “significant regional variation” in sampling results. Seven states, mostly in the West, had a 0% infection rate, while a 25% rate was found in the Northeast. New York state had a 33.6% infection rate.

The Stanford findings line up with research from Johns Hopkins University and the CDC showing that most Americans are still vulnerable to the virus that has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and 980,000 people worldwide. Just this week, CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, told a Senate committee that 90% of the U.S. population is not yet immune to COVID-19.

"This research clearly confirms that despite high rates of COVID-19 in the United States, the number of people with antibodies is still low and we haven't come close to achieving herd immunity,” study author and Stanford professor Julie Parsonnet, MD, said in a statement. “Until an effective vaccine is approved, we need to make sure our more vulnerable populations are reached with prevention measures.”

Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many questions about antibodies remain. Scientists are not absolutely certain antibodies make you immune from catching the virus again. Nor are they certain how long antibodies stay in an infected person’s system.

The lead author of the study said dialysis patients were a good study group because they represent the population ethnically and socio-economically. 

“We were able to determine -- with a high level of precision -- differences in seroprevalence among patient groups within and across regions of the United States, providing a very rich picture of the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak that can hopefully help inform strategies to curb the epidemic moving forward by targeting vulnerable populations,” Shuchi Anand, MD, director of the Center for Tubulointerstitial Kidney Disease at Stanford University, said in the release.

 

Florida Lifts COVID-19 Restaurant Restrictions

Sept. 25, 5:49 p.m. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted coronavirus restrictions for restaurants and other businesses on Friday.

“Every business has the right to operate,” he said during a news briefing in St. Petersburg, where he also announced the state would enter phase 3 of reopening.

Under the state plan, phase 3 requires restaurants to use sanitation precautions that include regular cleaning between customers and single-use or laminated menus, according to Spectrum News 13.

In addition, DeSantis suspended all penalties or fines for refusing to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the virus, including outstanding fines that have already been issued.

“I think we need to get away from trying to penalize people for social distancing,” he said. “All these fines we’re going to hold in abeyance and hope that we can move forward in a way that’s more collaborative.”

Moving to phase 3 lifts many of the previous restrictions. Businesses that have used remote work protocols can return to unrestricted staffing at their offices. Employees can resume nonessential travel. Theme parks can return to normal operations, and gyms can operate at full capacity. Bars and clubs can operate at full capacity but with “limited social distancing protocols.”

After DeSantis signed the executive order, restaurants and other businesses were able to reopen immediately on Friday afternoon, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. County officials can limit capacity somewhat -- but not by more than 50%. If local governments try to restrict reopenings further, they’re required to seek state approval, he said.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said.

On Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 2,850 new coronavirus cases and 160 new deaths, totaling more than 695,000 cases and more than 13,900 deaths during the pandemic.

New York Will Review COVID-19 Vaccines, Gov. Cuomo Says

Sept. 25, 5:10 p.m. 

A New York committee will review coronavirus vaccines approved by the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday during a news briefing.

He cited concerns about political inference in the vaccine development process and showed a slide that said, “Unfortunately, we can no longer trust the federal government.”

“Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion, and I wouldn't recommend to New Yorkers based on the federal government's opinion,” he said.

Cuomo said he was alarmed by President Donald Trump's remarks on Wednesday about potentially rejecting new FDA guidelines that could place stricter requirements on vaccine approval.

Although state officials aren't involved with the official approval process for vaccines, they will determine how vaccines are distributed throughout their state. Officials could delay distribution if they believe the vaccine isn't safe, according to The New York Times.

In New York, Cuomo said he's creating a panel of scientists, public health experts, and doctors -- headed by the state's health department -- to review the safety and efficacy data of an approved vaccine. He didn't give specifics about the panel or the process on Thursday.

In addition, Cuomo said he's appointing a second committee to decide on vaccine distribution, including who should be prioritized and how to train those who will administer the shots. The group will also develop a technology infrastructure for scheduling appointments and tracking program metrics, according to ABC 7 in New York. The logistical aspects of doling out doses, especially if people need a two-dose vaccine, will take extensive coordination.

“It's going to be a monumental undertaking,” Cuomo said.

In the meantime, Cuomo encouraged people to get a flu vaccine to prevent a “twindemic” of both coronavirus and flu cases overloading hospitals this fall. He encouraged ongoing precautions such as social distancing and face coverings as well.

“For the fall, let's learn from the summer,” he said. “We've been through hell and back. Let's learn the lessons.”

Judge: Sign Language Interpreters Required at White House Briefings

Sept. 25, 2:33 p.m.

A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration must provide sign language interpreters at public briefings about COVID-19.

In an order signed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said the White House must make American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter feeds available online and give access to all television networks. The order takes effect Oct. 1 and applies to briefings by the president, the vice president, and the presidential press secretary.

The National Association of the Deaf was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed early this month against the administration. The administration has been holding briefings on the coronavirus since March, though not always on a daily basis.

Though most governors and local officials provide ASL interpretation during video broadcasts, the White House does not, the complaint said.

The complaint said the lack of sign language interpreters was a hardship and a health hazard for people with hearing impairments.

Closed captioning was not a sufficient remedy, the complaint said, citing Harold Rosenblum, the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, because “written English is not an effective means of communication for many deaf individuals who have limited English capabilities, particularly for complex and important topics such as COVID-19 and related issues of public health.”

American Sign Language, the complaint said, is “a complete and complex language distinct from English, with its own vocabulary and rules for grammar and syntax.”

“The judge's order sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility,” Rosenblum said in a statement.

The National Council on Disability, a federal agency, sent a letter to the administration in March urging it to start using sign language interpreters at the briefings. When the administration didn't respond, the National Association of the Deaf filed the lawsuit.

Virginia Governor and Wife Test Positive for COVID-19

Sept. 25, 1:11 p.m.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife, Pamela, have tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolating, the governor's office said in a Friday news release.

The release said a member of the governor's residence staff tested positive Wednesday.

“Both the governor and first lady received PCR nasal swab tests yesterday afternoon, and both tested positive. Governor Northam is experiencing no symptoms. First Lady Pamela Northam is currently experiencing mild symptoms. Both remain in good spirits,” the release said.

Northam is the third U.S. governor to test positive.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced this week that he and his wife had the virus and were isolating. In July, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt contracted coronavirus after attending President Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa.

Northam said he'll work as governor from home. He and his wife are working with health authorities to trace their contacts.

“As I've been reminding Virginians throughout this crisis, COVID-19 is very real and very contagious,” Northam said. “The safety and health of our staff and close contacts is of utmost importance to Pam and me, and we are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that everyone is well taken care of. We are grateful for your thoughts and support, but the best thing you can do for us -- and most importantly, for your fellow Virginians -- is to take this seriously.” 

Unlike his counterparts in Missouri and Oklahoma, Northam instituted a statewide face mask order to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Americans Have Lost $145 Million in COVID-19 Fraud, Federal Trade Commission Says

Sept. 24, 6:27 p.m.

Americans have lost about $145 million in fraud related to coronavirus, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

The agency said it had received more than 205,000 complaints since the first of the year, with the average loss being around $300. The elderly reported much higher losses, averaging $655 per person.

The people who filed complaints were often victims of financial fraud targeting federal stimulus payments, unemployment payments, and other government benefits, the Federal Trade Commission said.

Other schemes involved selling personal protective equipment and home testing kits that had not been approved by the FDA.

“I'm not shocked that scams have been on the rise,” said Lucy Baker, a consumer defense associate at the United States Public Interest Research Group, according to the New York Times. “Scammers love natural disasters, especially in this environment where everyone is vulnerable.”

The information was compiled by the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel Network, which said fraud complaints have decreased since a peak in the spring.

In April, two manufacturers of N95 face masks reported that somebody was selling counterfeit masks. A retired doctor, who runs a website that debunks reportedly scientific claims, said that people were selling pills that were advertised as being able to prevent or cure coronavirus.

In July, the FBI warned consumers that unapproved antibody tests were being marketed.

The FBI said that individuals committing fraud are also trying to get people's personal information -- such as names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers -- as well as personal health information. This health information includes Medicare and/or private health insurance info. This information can be used in insurance schemes and identity theft.

FDA Authorizes Point-of-Care COVID-19 Antibody Test

Sept. 24, 1:19 p.m.

The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for a coronavirus antibody test that can be used at the point of care, the agency announced Wednesday.

The authorization is actually a reissue for a test by Assure, which was first deployed in certain labs in July. The new authorization allows doctor's offices, hospitals, urgent care centers, and emergency rooms to use fingerstick blood samples and process them in-house rather than send them to a central lab for results.

“Authorizing point-of-care serology tests will enable more timely and convenient results for individuals who want to understand if they have previously been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” Stephen Hahn, MD, the FDA commissioner, said in the statement.

“Until today, serology test samples were generally only able to be evaluated in a central lab, which can be time consuming and use additional resources to transport samples and run the test,” Hahn said. “As more and more point-of-care serology tests are authorized, they will help conserve those resources and may help reduce processing time for other types of COVID-19 tests, as less time is spent on serology tests.”

Antibody tests identify whether someone had a previous or recent COVID-19 infection that allowed them to build an immune response to the virus. Researchers still aren't sure how long antibodies last after a COVID-19 infection and whether antibodies mean that someone is immune to the virus, according to the statement. Antibody tests can't indicate whether someone should stop precautionary measures such as self-isolation, social distancing or face masks.

The FDA also noted that antibody tests shouldn't be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection since they can only detect the antibodies formed in response to the virus and not the virus itself. Antibody tests may also produce more false results than standard COVID-19 tests, especially in communities where coronavirus cases are lower.

How many people have been diagnosed with the virus, and how many have died?

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 32.88 million cases and more than 994,900 deaths worldwide. More than 22.75 million people have recovered.

How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?

There are more than 7.08 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 204,500 deaths. More than 2.75 million Americans have recovered from the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

WebMD Health News

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