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Coronavirus 2020 Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was last updated Oct. 24 at 4:25 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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CDC Issues Updated Guidelines for Voting Safety

October 24, 2020, 4:25 p.m.

The CDC released new guidance Friday around precautionary measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus at polls, basing it on survey responses from Delaware poll workers who oversaw primary voting on Sept. 15.

Most voters wore masks, the poll workers said, but people didn’t always wear them correctly or consistently cover their mouth and nose. Social distancing seemed to work in polling lines, they added, but there were still gaps in infection control.

“Enhanced attention to reducing congregation in polling locations, correct mask use, and enabling safe voting options for ill voters are critical considerations for elections to minimize risk for voters and poll workers,” the CDC COVID-19 Response Team and Delaware health officials wrote.

The guidance, published as an early release in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, adds to the CDC’s initial voting advice issued in June, which was also updated on Friday.

The research team surveyed 522 poll workers, who said that face masks and social distancing at the polls were feasible and widely adopted. At the same time, they noted the need for additional training around COVID-19 safety measures and additional personal protective gear. Older voters and ill voters, in particular, may need additional help and alternative voting options as Election Day approaches, the poll workers said.

“In settings with community spread, infection control measures should be followed, presuming that ill voters might have COVID-19,” the research team wrote. “Ensuring that ill voters can vote while maintaining poll worker and voter safety will be essential to minimizing transmission without restricting voting rights.”

A large majority of poll workers said that voting booths were spaced out, lines directed voters to move in one direction at the polling location, and signs reminded voters to maintain social distancing throughout the voting experience. Some locations used physical barriers, such as plexiglass shields, at registration desks and between voting booths. Nearly all poll workers said hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies were available, but some ran out during the day.

About 72% of poll workers said they had contact with more than 100 people during the day, and 27% said they had close contact for more than 15 minutes with more than 100 people. Only 19 said they knowingly had contact with someone who had COVID-19, and 15 wore masks during that time, but none said they had personal protective gear such as gloves or face shields.

“Adherence to mitigation measures is important not only to protect voters but also to protect poll workers, many of whom are older adults,” the CDC team wrote.

The guidance applies to early voting as well, the CDC indicated. Several states opened advanced voting locations at the beginning of October, and New York began early voting on Saturday, where voters at several locations lined up an hour before polling places opened, according to ABC 7. In many videos posted on social media, an overwhelming majority of voters wore masks and stood six feet apart.

However, COVID-19 safety precautions aren’t required at every polling location. After Galveston County Judge Mark Henry was confronted by a poll worker for not wearing a mask at his voting location in Texas last week, the judge issued an executive order a few days later to allow voters to cast their ballots without a mask, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The order allows the county to impose a $1,000 fine on poll workers who turn away voters without a mask. Henry still strongly encouraged voters to follow safety guidelines and wear masks in public but said people shouldn’t be turned away from the polls without a mask. The CDC has recommended that polling locations stock extra masks and offer one to voters who don’t have one.

CDC Will Monitor COVID-19 Vaccine Recipients

Oct. 23, 5:25 p.m. 

Once a coronavirus vaccine is approved and being distributed, the CDC will look for health issues by staying in touch with vaccine recipients through text messages and surveys, according to CNN.

The smartphone-based program, called V-SAFE, will allow CDC officials to monitor real-time trends in adverse events following vaccination. Anyone who reports a significant adverse event will receive a follow-up phone call.

“Clinically important adverse events include missing work, unable to do normal daily activities and receiving medical care,” Tom Shimabukuro, deputy director of the CDC's Immunization Safety Office, said Thursday during a virtual meeting of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

Health checks will go out by text and email each day during the first week, and then weekly for about six weeks, he said. The CDC will be able to analyze data and publish reports about vaccine responses, including regarding specific groups such as pregnant women and children.

The CDC and FDA have similar surveillance systems for other diseases, including the flu, but the texting program is new, CNN reported.

“I don’t think there’s anything quite like this, but I think there’s been clearly a trend towards this type of program,” Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told CNN.

The CDC will have other monitoring systems as well, including the agency’s existing National Healthcare Safety Network and the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

“It’d be important to have alternative methods for reporting adverse reactions as well and not just rely on the mobile cell reporting,” Claire Standley, a researcher at the Georgetown University Center for Global Health Science and Security, told CNN.

Even still, “there are definitely advantages [to the texting program] as well, particularly since in the context of COVID-19 we really do need to get a lot of data quite quickly,” she said.

Pfizer Begins COVID-19 Vaccine Trial in Teens

Oct. 23, 5:14 p.m.

Pfizer is now including teens in clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, expanding the participation age to include high schoolers and middle schoolers, according to USA Today.

Pfizer is the only pharmaceutical company allowing minors to join coronavirus vaccine trials at the moment. The company initially lowered the age to 16, and this week, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center vaccinated the first 12-year-old.

Vaccine experts and pediatricians have voiced mixed reactions, USA Today reported. Some say drug manufacturers should wait until the vaccines have been approved in adults, but others say it’s necessary to proceed vaccine testing among specific groups, including minors.

“If I were part of the FDA, I would certainly want to be very convinced about the safety of a vaccine before I approved its use in children,” Cody Meissner, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Tufts Children’s Hospital, said Thursday during an FDA advisory panel meeting.

The disease characteristics can be different in children, he said, which raises questions about testing both minors and adults at the same time. However, others argued that this year’s devastating pandemic calls for different protocols that would get teens and pre-teens into clinical trials “as soon as possible.”

“We should not allow children to die. That’s our job as pediatricians to make noise and make sure people are noticing,” Barbara Pahud, MD, an infectious disease researcher at Children’s Mercy Hospital, told USA Today.

More than half a million children in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19 this year, the newspaper reported, and it’s possible that even more have been infected but not tested. Most children recover without major symptoms, but some have died, and many have likely transmitted the coronavirus to their parents, grandparents, and teachers.

“With something that’s turned our world upside down, it gives you even a stronger reason of why you want to test now,” Robert Frenck Jr., MD, director of vaccine research at Cincinnati Children’s, told USA Today.

Frenck gave the first Pfizer vaccines to minors last week and administered the vaccine on Thursday to the 12-year-old, who is the youngest volunteer so far. Frenck said he’s seen few side effects. The most common include fatigue, muscle pain at the injection site and joint aches for a few days.

Pfizer hasn’t released details about the program for teens, according to USA Today, but the company said it will study the vaccine in one age group before moving to younger ages.

Down Syndrome Increases COVID-19 Death Risk 10-Fold, Study Says

Oct. 23, 12:45 p.m.  

Adults with Down syndrome have a higher risk of being hospitalized with coronavirus and much higher risk of dying from coronavirus, researchers in the United Kingdom said.

“We estimated a 4-fold increased risk for COVID-19-related hospitalization and a 10-fold increased risk for COVID-19-related death in persons with Down syndrome,” said the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The findings are significant because people with Down syndrome are generally not classified as being at a high-risk for coronavirus, like people with underlying conditions such as hypertension or diabetes.

“Down syndrome features on neither the UK shielding list nor the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of groups at ‘increased risk,’” said the study. “However, it is associated with immune dysfunction, congenital heart disease, and pulmonary pathology and, given its prevalence, may be a relevant, albeit unconfirmed, risk factor for severe COVID-19.”

Researchers, led by scientists from the University of Oxford, studied 8.26 million adults, including 4,053 diagnosed as having Down syndrome, from Jan. 24 to June 30.

Sixty-eight people with Down syndrome died during the study period -- 27 (39.7%) of coronavirus, 17 (25.0%) of pneumonia or pneumonitis, and 24 (35.3%) of other causes. 

The study said 41,685 people without Down syndrome died -- 8,457 (20.3%) of COVID-19, 5,999 (14.4%) of pneumonia or pneumonitis, and 27,229 (65.3%) of other causes.

After adjusting for age, sex, ethnicity, body mass index, residency in a long-term care facility, and underlying conditions such as dementia or congenital heart disease, the researchers concluded the hazard ratio for COVID-19-associated death was 10.39 and the hazard ratio for hospitalization was 4.94.

Researchers offered a caveat about the figures.

“These estimated adjusted associations do not have a direct causal interpretation because some adjusted variables may lie on causal pathways, but they can inform policy and motivate further investigation. Participation in day care programs or immunologic deficits could be implicated, for example,” they wrote.

U.S. Records More Than 71,000 Cases on Thursday

Oct. 23, 11:24 a.m.  

New coronavirus statistics bear out experts’ predictions that the coronavirus will tighten its grip on the United States in the fall and winter.

The nation recorded 71,671 new coronavirus cases on Thursday -- the most in a single day since July 24, when 73,107 cases were reported, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The daily high so far was 77,362 cases on July 16.

Overall, there have been 8.4 million cases in the United States and 223,000 coronavirus-related deaths -- the most of any nation in the world.

CNN reported that it obtained reports from the White House coronavirus task force that show a cumulative worsening of cases across the country, with “early signs of deterioration in the Sun Belt and continued deterioration in the Midwest and across the Northern States.”

Johns Hopkins said these states reported their highest daily case counts on Thursday: Colorado (1,373), Indiana (2,850), Montana (928), Ohio (2,425), Oklahoma (1,628) and Utah (1,543). 

Thirty-two states saw their case counts rising, with CNN reporting that these 12 states had their highest 7-day average of new cases: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.

Another worrisome trend is that the pandemic has moved from urban areas into predominately rural areas.

"The numbers have gone up exponentially and it's very concerning," said Montana’s state medical officer, Greg Holzman, MD, said Thursday at a news conference, according to CNN.  

"A lot of the hospitals are more stressed than they usually are at this time of [the] year and that puts more panic into us, knowing that we're now going into cold and flu season, which is the typical time of the year that hospitals see more people coming through," Holzman said. 

States and cities are considering or enacting new penalties. In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Thursday that the city might start fining people $500 for not wearing a mask.

Moderna Might Seek Government OK for Vaccine in December

Oct. 22, 7:00 p.m. 

Pharmaceutical company Moderna has enrolled all 30,000 volunteers in its coronavirus vaccine clinical trial and might seek emergency use authorization for the vaccine as early as December if the trials prove it’s safe.

Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel, speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s annual Tech Live conference, said that timetable would not hold up if all the safety benchmarks are not met.

“Unlike sometimes when you make a recipe at home, if you miss one ingredient, you might decide to still go ahead and make your meal, but in our case, we cannot do that,” Bancel said. “We need all the ingredients to be there on time to be able to make a lot of vaccine. If one ingredient is missing, we cannot make a vaccine.”

In a news release issued Thursday, Massachusetts-based Moderna said it had enrolled all 30,000 volunteers and had administered the second dose of the vaccine to 26,650 of them.

The news release said the 30,000 volunteers included 7,000 people over 65 and 5,000 under 65 who have chronic diseases such as diabetes that put them at increased risk if they catch coronavirus. 

The company also made efforts to include minorities in the clinical trials and signed up 11,000 people from communities of color, including 6,000 who identify as Hispanic or LatinX and more than 3,000 participants who identify as Black or African American.

Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna's president, said the clinical trials must hit three benchmarks before the company can apply to the FDA for emergency use authorization, CNN reported.

Of the 30,000 volunteers, 53 must become sick with coronavirus. Of those 53, at least 40 must be volunteers who received the placebo, which would show the vaccine is 75% effective. The third FDA-mandated benchmark is that at least eight weeks must pass after all volunteers receive their second shot to see if they develop side effects.

Three other companies are holding clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine in the United States -- Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson have paused their trials because volunteers became sick.

Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla said in mid-September that the company’s vaccine might be ready for distribution before the end of the year.

FDA Approves Remdesivir to Treat COVID-19

Oct. 22, 6:23 p.m.

The pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences announced that the FDA has approved the antiviral drug remdesivir for treating COVID-19, the company said Thursday in a news release.

Remdesivir becomes the first drug to receive full approval from the FDA for treatment against the coronavirus, Gilead said. 

In May, the FDA gave emergency use authorization for remdesivir, which allowed doctors to use it on patients during this public health crisis even though it had not been fully approved by the agency. 

Remdesivir is sold under the brand name Veklury and is believed to shorten recovery time for people hospitalized with the coronavirus. President Trump was one of the coronavirus patients treated with remdesivir. 

The Gilead news release said approval was based on three randomized controlled trials.pitalization, Gilead said.

 “The approval of Veklury marks an important milestone in efforts to help address the pandemic by offering an effective treatment that helps patients recover faster and, in turn, helps preserve scarce healthcare resources,” Barry Zingman, MD, Professor of Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, New York, said in the Gilead news release.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilead has worked relentlessly to help find solutions to this global health crisis,” said Daniel O’Day, chairman and CEO of Gilead. “It is incredible to be in the position today, less than one year since the earliest case reports of the disease now known as COVID-19, of having an FDA-approved treatment in the U.S. that is available for all appropriate patients in need.”

The World Health Organization recently announced that a large study found that remdesivir doesn’t help hospitalized patients with COVID-19 survive and doesn’t even shorten the recovery time of those who do survive.

The WHO-sponsored study was conducted from March 22 to Oct. 4 and involved 11,330 patients from 405 hospitals in 30 countries. The data was posted online in the preprint server medRxiv and has not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

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

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 42.02 million cases and more than 1.14 million deaths worldwide. More than 28.42 million people have recovered.

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

There are more than 8.46 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 223,700 deaths. More than 3.35 million Americans have recovered from the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

WebMD Health News

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