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Coronavirus Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was updated Jan. 17, 2021, at 11:25 a.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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Businesses, Nursing Homes Offer Incentives to Get Workers Vaccinated

Jan. 17, 11:25 a.m. 

Several companies — including Dollar General, Instacart and Trader Joe’s — are offering incentives to encourage their workers to take a COVID-19 vaccine, according to The Associated Press.

Instacart is giving a $25 stipend to workers who get a shot. Dollar General said employees will receive four hours of pay if they receive a vaccine, and Trader Joe’s will give employees two hours of pay per dose.

“Our goal with the introduction of our new vaccine support stipend is to ensure that, when the time comes, Instacart shoppers don’t have to choose between earning income as an essential service provider or getting vaccinated,” Apoorva Mehta, the CEO of Instacart, told the AP.

Grocery workers, which would include employees at all three companies, should be in the phase 2 group to receive shots, according to CDC vaccine distribution guidelines. States can decide how and when to adopt the recommendations.

Companies can require workers get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but few are imposing mandates so far. For now, they’re creating internal education campaigns and offering incentives such as cash, paid time off, child care, and small gifts, the AP reported.

Nursing homes are also offering incentives to staff members who haven’t yet taken a vaccine, according to NBC News. Some are giving cash bonuses, while others are providing paid time off or other free gifts.

“Some people think if you get the vaccine, you’ll get sick. And some are afraid and distrusting of the government,” Sonya Williams, the activities director at A.G. Rhodes Cobb near Atlanta, told the news outlet.

Williams received the first vaccine dose in December and is encouraging her colleagues to get one. When CVS returns to give the second doses to staff and nursing home residents, vaccines will be available for staff who declined the vaccine the first time. To prompt workers to change their minds, for instance, A.G. Rhodes is offering raffle prizes, including $500 cash bonuses, TV sets, and paid time off.

“The faster we can all get it, the faster we’ll be able to move forward,” Williams said.

CVS, Walgreens Support President-Elect Biden’s COVID-19 Plan

After President-elect Joe Biden announced his plan on Friday to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations across the U.S., retail pharmacy giants CVS and Walgreens issued statements of support.

Biden’s $20 billion, five-point national vaccination program includes “jumpstarting” a federal partnership with pharmacies to increase vaccine supply at retail chains and independent stores.

“We agree with President-elect Biden that pharmacies will play a critical role in the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and appreciate his leadership in the pandemic response,” Karen Lynch, the executive vice president for CVS Health, who will become the company’s president on Feb. 1, said in a statement.

The company has more than 90,000 trained health care workers ready to give vaccines, Lynch said. Nationwide, the retail chain has the capacity to administer about 1 million shots per day through 10,000 pharmacy locations, she added. CVS has administered more than 1 million shots at long-term care facilities so far.

“This will build on our success in providing vaccines to one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations,” Lynch said.

Biden’s plan also includes expanding vaccine eligibility to ages 65 and older and essential workers, setting up thousands of federally-funded mass vaccination sites, sending out mobile vaccine clinics to underserved areas, and using the Defense Production Act to produce enough doses and vaccine supplies need to give shots. Biden renewed his pledge for 100 million Americans to receive shots in the first 100 days of his administration.

“Walgreens applauds President-elect Biden plan to accelerate vaccine distribution efforts by utilizing pharmacies across the country,” John Standley, the president of Walgreens, said in a statement.

“Our team members embedded in the communities we serve stand ready, willing and able to vaccinate in our stores,” he said. “We look forward to working with the president-elect to expand vaccines in a way that is convenient and equitable for all Americans.”

The U.S. has distributed 31 million vaccine doses as of Friday, according to the latest CDC update. More than 10.5 million people have received the first shot, and 1.6 million have received both doses in the two-shot regimen.

COVID-19 Deaths Top 2 Million Globally

The global death toll from COVID-19 passed the 2 million mark on Friday, a little more than a year since the first virus-related death was reported in Wuhan, China.

The deadly virus is spreading faster by the day. It took nine months for the worldwide death count to hit 1 million, but only three months to double that number, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.  

The actual numbers are certainly higher because many cases go undiagnosed and people die from underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, which can make them more vulnerable to the virus.

"We have found that on average, total deaths are 20% higher than reported deaths," Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, told CNN.

"There are extreme cases such as Ecuador, Peru or Russia where total deaths are 300-500% higher than reported deaths... but where we have data, the average relationship is 20% higher,” he said.

As of Saturday morning, the United States has reported more than 392,000 COVID-related deaths, the most in the world and about 19% of the world total. The daily death toll in the U.S. has topped 4,000 at least twice during the month of January.

Following the United States in the number of deaths are Brazil (208,246), India (152,039), Mexico (139,022), and the United Kingdom (87,452).

China, where the coronavirus is thought to have started, has reported only 4,796 virus-related deaths, apparently because of tight lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Health experts say the coronavirus vaccine is the only thing that can slow down the spread of COVID-19 and the mounting death toll. But the experts expect many more deaths are expected in coming months.

The distribution of the vaccine in developed nations like the United States and the United Kingdom has not reduced the death rate, and a World Health Organization scientist said the unequal distribution of the vaccine around the world means that global herd immunity will not be attained this year.

“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said this week, according to the Associated Press.

 

New Jersey Expands COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility

Jan. 15, 6:16 p.m. 

New Jersey opened up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility on Thursday to include ages 65 and older and those 16 and older who have at least one chronic medical condition that increases the risk of severe COVID-19.

High-risk medical conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease or lung disease, heart conditions, immunocompromised status due to an organ transplant, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking, and type 2 diabetes.

“Expanding access to vaccine(s) to individuals in these categories is critical as we know they are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness and death,” Judith Persichilli, the state health commissioner, said in a statement.

About 80% of COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey have been among those 65 and older, she said, and 67% of overall COVID-19 deaths had one or more underlying conditions.

“Based on recommendations from the CDC, we are ready to begin ramping up our vaccination efforts exponentially,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in the statement.

Healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and first responders such as law enforcement officials and firefighters are also eligible for a vaccine.

Those who are eligible should still preregister for a vaccine appointment since supply is limited, according to ABC 6 in Trenton. Many pharmacies have full schedules and are waiting on more doses to arrive.

“We’re booked up until the end of February, and that’s pending getting sufficient vaccines to take care of those people,” Marvin Wainwright, a pharmacist at Boyd’s Pharmacy in Marlton, told the news station.

The pharmacy received more than 100 calls on Wednesday night after the news broke that New Jersey was expanding access on Thursday. Wainwright encouraged people to use the state website for New Jersey vaccination sites to make appointments.

Two mega-sites — Rowan College of South Jersey in Sewell and Rockaway Townsquare in Morris County — are now open and soon expected to vaccinate up to 2,400 people per day. Another mega-site at the Moorestown Mall should open to the public next week, which will be appointment-only.

“Help us help you and try not to call the local pharmacy because not only are we trying to do the vaccines, but we’re trying to take care of patients’ normal prescription needs,” Wainwright said.

Healthcare Team Delivers Vaccines by Snowmobile in Rural Alaska

Jan. 15, 6:10 p.m. 

An all-female team of healthcare workers is delivering COVID-19 vaccines in rural Alaska, often through harsh winter conditions, according to Good Morning America.

The team, which includes a pharmacist, a doctor, and two nurses, is traveling by plane, sled, and snowmobile to administer the vaccines to older residents in northern Alaska. They’re often faced with limited daylight hours, subzero temperatures, and remote locations to get the vaccines to people who are ready and waiting.

“It’s challenging getting the vaccine up here to begin with and then getting it out to the villages brings on a whole new set of challenges and logistical issues,” Meredith Dean, the pharmacist, told Good Morning America on Friday.

“Time is of the utmost importance,” she said.

Traveling from village to village by snowmobile, Dr. Katrine Bengaard and Heather Kenison, one of the nurses, scheduled home visits to reach older residents who are immobile or can’t leave their homes.

In some cases, the team delivered vaccines more than 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, which poses challenges for vaccine storage and distribution. Kenison, for instance, wrapped a COVID-19 vaccine in a protective envelope and carried it in her coat for the snowmobile ride so the dose wouldn’t freeze inside the needle in the freezing air.

The team has traveled hundreds of miles across northern Alaska to vaccinate 65 people in multiple villages. They plan to continue delivering doses this year to ensure everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.

“We made it work and we had a really good time together,” Bengaard told GMA. “We were all willing to do what we needed to do.”

White House Being Deep Cleaned Before Inauguration

Jan. 15, 2:53 p.m.

Because of COVID-19 outbreaks that occurred at White House events under President Donald Trump, the federal government is spending more than $200,000 to deep clean the presidential home before President-elect Joe Biden moves in on Jan. 20, ABC News reported.

The White House staff usually deep cleans the 132-room mansion during a 5-to-6-hour period when the outgoing and incoming presidents are occupied with ceremonial activities the day of the inauguration, ABC News said.

But the General Services Administration decided a more thorough cleaning was required because at least three COVID-19 outbreaks were traced to White House events. They include Sept. 26 gathering for Trump to introduce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Trump, the first lady, and dozens of staff members tested positive in 2020.

The government signed a $127,249 contract for "2021 Inaugural Cleaning," a $44,038 contract for "Inaugural carpet cleaning" and a $29,523 contract for "Inaugural curtains cleaning." The contracts went to Didlake, a Virginia company that provides employment to people with disabilities.

"We've never seen this before," Kate Brower Andersen, a presidential historian, told ABC News. "The Government Services Administration has said they're going to do this very deep cleaning -- cleaning every surface of the 55,000 square foot mansion. There's always been a deep clean between administrations, but we've never seen anything like this."

“The GSA will thoroughly clean and disinfect the building spaces between the administrations and ensure that everything is up to standard,” a GSA spokesman told ABC News. “Cleaning will include, but is not limited to, all furniture, flooring, window treatments, handrails, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, elevator buttons, restroom fixtures and dispensers, door handles and push plates, and lighting fixtures."

Under a $115,000 contract, new carpeting will be installed in offices in the West Wing, East Wing, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Clinical Trials Promising for Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Jan. 15, 1:16 p.m.

Johnson & Johnson's single-dose coronavirus vaccine proved safe and generated a promising immune response in volunteers in phases I and II of clinical trials, according to trial data published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

If phase III clinical trials are successful, the company says it plans to seek FDA authorization for the vaccine soon. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine would have logistical advantages over the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently in use because it only needs one shot and doesn't have to be shipped in extremely cold temperatures.

About 800 volunteers in two age groups, 18-55 and 65 and older, received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or a placebo.

Antibodies against COVID-19 were found after 29 days in 90% of volunteers who got the vaccine and 100% of volunteers in the 18-55 age group after 57 days. These antibodies remained stable after 71 days in the younger group of volunteers. Johnson & Johnson said it will release more information about “durability of immune responses” in the older age group soon.

Some volunteers in the 18-55 age group also received two doses of vaccine 56 days apart. That produced “more than a two-fold increase in antibodies against COVID-19,” Johnson and Johnson said in a statement.

The NEJM said the side effects were predictable -- fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches at the injection site.

“The safety and immunogenicity profiles of (the vaccine) support further development of this vaccine candidate,” the NEJM concluded.

One flaw in the clinical trials was lack of representation of minority groups, the NEJM said.

“This finding is a point of focus in our clinical-development program to ensure the availability of data with respect to groups that seem to be affected most by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the NEJM said.

The company hopes to release results in late January from phase III clinical trials involving about 45,000 volunteers. That phase would show whether the vaccine is effective in protecting people against infection or symptoms of COVID-19.

“If the single-dose vaccine is shown to be safe and effective, the company expects to submit an application for emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shortly afterwards, with other regulatory applications around the world to be made subsequently,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.

The New York Times said Johnson & Johnson signed a contract with the U.S. government to deliver 12 million doses of the vaccine by the end of February.

But the Times, citing people familiar with the situation, reported that the company has fallen behind in production and might not be able to catch up until April.

An Operation Warp Speed official, Carlo de Notaristefani, confirmed the delay but said the company might be able to catch up with initial production goals by March, the Times said.

Johnson & Johnson paused clinical trials in the fall because a participant developed an “unexplained illness.” Trials were restarted 2 weeks later.

Convalescent Plasma Reduced COVID-19 Deaths, Study Says

Jan. 14, 5:26 p.m.

Blood transfusions from recovered COVID-19 patients that contained high antibody levels reduced the number of COVID-19 deaths among other hospitalized patients, according to a new study by Mayo Clinic.

If given early to patients with mild COVID-19, the treatments slowed the progression of disease, they wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“I think it behooves the medical community to continue to innovate and test therapies for treatment. Realistically, we're months away from having a substantial number of people vaccinated,” R. Scott Wright, MD, coordinator of the Mayo Clinic's COVID-19 plasma therapy program, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Early in the pandemic, Mayo Clinic launched a nationwide program that linked hospitalized COVID-19 patients with donor plasma. The research team analyzed records for more than 3,000 patients to determine whether those who received blood with high levels of antibodies fared better than those who received blood with low antibody levels.

Overall, patients who received antibody-rich plasma had a 25% lower chance of dying within 30 days. In addition, patients who received plasma within 3 days of their COVID-19 diagnosis had a lower risk of death than those who received transfusions later.

Health outcomes were better for those who received plasma and didn't need to be placed on a ventilator. “Patients who were on ventilator did not see a benefit,” Wright told the newspaper. “It was too late.”

Hospitals should conserve their limited plasma supplies for patients who are most likely to benefit from a transfusion, Louis Katz, MD, the acting chief medical director of the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Iowa, wrote in an accompanying editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Uncontrolled compassionate use of convalescent plasma ... should be discouraged, even though clinicians recognize how difficult it can be to 'just stand there' at the bedside of a patient in the ICU,” he wrote.

At his center, Katz said, about a fifth of plasma donations contain high enough antibodies to provide the benefits seen in the Mayo Clinic study.

“Constraints on therapies for COVID-19 that are effective for limited patient populations are a powerful argument for continued consistent adherence to recommended nonpharmaceutical interventions and the rapid deployment and uptake of effective vaccines,” he wrote.

In-Person K-12 Classes Don't Fuel COVID-19 Outbreaks, Study Says

Jan. 14, 5:07 p.m. 

In-person classes at K-12 schools don't appear to lead to more coronavirus outbreaks as compared with online-only learning, according to a new CDC study.

At the beginning of December, COVID-19 cases in counties with in-person schooling were similar to the rates in counties with only virtual classes, researchers wrote in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“CDC recommends that K-12 schools be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely,” the CDC COVID-19 Emergency Response Team wrote.

The research team analyzed COVID-19 trends among children, teens, and young adults between March 1 and Dec. 12. During that time, more than 2.8 million cases were reported for ages 0-24, with 57% in ages 18-24. The number of positive cases was lowest among ages 10 and younger.

The smaller number of cases among younger children could suggest that the risk for COVID-19 transmission in elementary schools and child care centers “might be lower” than in high schools, colleges, and universities, they wrote.

The research team also compared the trends to adult cases. Based on the data, increased cases in adults weren't preceded by more cases among children. However, more cases in young adults (ages 18-24) did precede increases in other age groups, “suggesting that young adults might contribute more to community transmission than do younger children,” they wrote.

As of Dec. 7, about 62% of K-12 school districts offered either full or partial in-person learning, but there have been few reports of outbreaks at schools, the authors wrote. Counties with in-person classes had about 401 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, as compared with the 418 cases per 100,000 people in counties offering online-only education.

At the same time, they added, widespread transmission in the community likely leads to more outbreaks at schools, especially if students don't wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines. Several U.S. school districts with routine surveillance of in-school cases reported a lower number of cases than the surrounding counties, they found.

“For schools to operate safely to accommodate in-person learning, communities should fully implement and strictly adhere to multiple mitigation strategies, especially universal and proper masking, to reduce COVID-19 incidence within the community as well as within schools to protect students, teachers, and staff members,” the CDC team wrote.

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

According to Johns Hopkins University , there are more than 94.63 million cases and more than 2.02 million deaths worldwide.

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

There are more than 23.77 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 395,800 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University .  

WebMD Health News

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