Coronavirus updates: NYC schools to close again; average American could get vaccinated as soon as April – USA TODAY

John Bacon Joel Shannon Jorge L. Ortiz   | USA TODAY

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The nation’s largest public school system will temporarily halt in-person learning again in an effort to stem the continued spread of COVID-19, according to New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

The news came on an Wednesday when the U.S. surpassed 250,000 deaths from the coronavirus, by far the largest total in the world. According to the Johns Hopkins University dashboard, Brazil is next with 166,699.

New York City previously said school buildings would close if 3% of all the coronavirus tests performed citywide over a seven-day period came back positive. Amid a nationwide surge in cases, that milestone has been passed, triggering the closure.

New York City’s school system previously halted in-person learning in mid-March as the virus tore through the city. Now, all of the city’s more than 1 million public school students will now be taught entirely online.

Also in New York, nearly 9,400 of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway, bus and commuter rail workers could lose their jobs next year if the federal government fails to come through with the $12 billion the agency says it needs to keep operating.

The hardest-hit area could be the New York City subways and buses, which could lose nearly 7,000 jobs amid service reductions of up to 40% as the COVID-19 pandemic causes unprecedented reductions in ridership the MTA says could linger into the mid-2020s.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 11.4 million cases and more than 249,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 56 million cases and 1.34 million deaths.

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

The United States raced past yet another grim milestone Wednesday when it became the first country to have 250,000 people die from COVID-19. That figure accounts for nearly 19% of the global total of 1.34 million fatalities. With approximately 330 million people, the U.S. has 4.3% of the world’s population.

The U.S. is also the undisputed leader in coronavirus infections with close to 11.5 million, or 2.5 million more than second-place India.

The death toll the virus has inflicted among Americans is more than twice as large as the number of U.S. service members who died in World War I. Only two American conflicts have claimed more lives than the coronavirus — the Civil War (nearly 500,000, including non-combat deaths) and World War II (405,000), according to figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Despite the development of therapeutics that have saved an untold number of lives, the worst impacts of the virus may yet be to come. The nation is in the midst of a major spike in cases that has produced 16 consecutive days of at least 100,000 new infections and a daily average for November of more than 130,000.

After tiptoeing back into in-person instruction for some students, New York City Public Schools will return to remote learning Thursday because of rising virus cases.

Public school buildings will close for in-person learning until further notice, including for kindergarten and preschool students, the district announced in a tweet Wednesday. For days, the system has teetered on the verge of closure as virus positivity rates in the city hovered near the 3% threshold Mayor Bill De Blasio’s administration set to trigger another shutdown. Some have argued the threshold is too stringent; others have complained about bars and gyms staying open for indoor activities while schools are forced to close.

New York City was the first large urban district to start to bring back some in-person instruction, a move that was delayed until September and into October as the teachers union and city leaders debated how to open buildings safely. Since then, larger districts have tried to do the same, but many have been thwarted by the fall surge in virus cases.

New York was also one of the only large districts to reopen with mandatory in-school testing, the results of which show that virus positivity rates within the school community have stayed remarkably low — just .22%, according to the latest figures posted by the city’s Department of Education.

— Erin Richards

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert who has guided the U.S. through the pandemic, projected Americans could expect their first doses of an approved coronavirus vaccine as early as April.

Moreover, Fauci told the USA TODAY Editorial Board on Wednesday: “When it gets approved by the FDA … I would take the vaccine and I would recommend that my family take the vaccine.”

Frontline health care workers are expected to get their first doses by the end of December or early January. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Wednesday the administration expects to have about 40 million vaccine doses available before the end of the year, enough to inoculate 20 million people at two doses per.

After prioritizing individuals at risk of infection or severe disease, the healthy general population can expect first doses of a vaccine starting in April and continuing through July if all continues on track, Fauci said.

If most of the population gets vaccinated by summer and fall, Fauci said, people can start looking forward to returning to pre-pandemic normalcy. But to get there, vaccine hesitancy must be addressed, he said, particularly among people of color who have a historic distrust of the nation’s medical system.

— Adrianna Rodriguez

The nation’s first Food and Drug Administration-authorized home coronavirus test will cost about $50 and deliver results in 30 minutes or less. But forget about the test if you want to know whether you have COVID-19 before visiting family for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit will be limited to patients at Sutter Health in Northern California and Cleveland Clinic Florida in Miami-Fort Lauderdale until the spring. And even then, you must have symptoms and a health provider’s referral to get the test.

The company intends to ask the FDA to modify its emergency-use authorization next spring to allow patients to communicate with prescribing doctors through a website. If the provider agrees the person should get a test, the kit would be delivered overnight to the person’s home.

— Ken Alltucker

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to submit a request “within days” to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use approval of a vaccine they say has shown to be 95% effective in mass testing.

The companies hope to provide 50 million doses by year’s end and 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

“Our objective from the very beginning was to design and develop a vaccine that would generate rapid and potent protection against COVID-19 with a benign tolerability profile across all ages,” said Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO of BioNTech. “We believe we have achieved this.”

The vaccine effort is one of many racing the clock amid a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The Midwest continues to take a beating – more than 900 staffers at the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic alone have contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks, the Pioneer Press reports.

“It shows you how easy it is to get COVID-19 in the Midwest,” Dr. Amy Williams. “We need everyone in the communities we serve to do their part to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

Delta Air Lines, hoping to nab a bigger share of wary travelers flying during the pandemic, is extending its policy of blocking middle seats to space out passengers on its planes. The airline’s policy, previously set to expire on Jan. 6, will now be in place through March, a period that includes the usually busy spring break travel season. Delta is the lone U.S. airline to continue blocking middle seats well into 2021.

Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in a statement Wednesday: “We recognize some customers are still learning to live with this virus and desire extra space for their peace of mind. We are listening.”

– Dawn Gilbertson

China’s government on Wednesday defended anti-coronavirus controls that have disrupted imports of beef, poultry and fish from the United States, New Zealand and other trading partners. Customs officials who say the coronavirus has been found on frozen meat and on packaging have imposed temporary suspensions on suppliers. That prompted complaints by China’s trading partners. In June, China temporarily suspended the import of chicken from U.S.-based Tyson Foods Inc. after the virus was found at one of its farms. China was home to the first outbreak and has battled to avoid surges such as those experienced in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“The relevant measures China took are necessary following the spirit of putting people’s lives first and protecting people’s health,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging Americans to “think twice” about traveling and having indoor gatherings for the holidays. During a meeting with USA TODAY’s Editorial Board Wednesday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said seemingly “innocent” family and friend dinner gatherings at home are where many infection outbreaks start.

“The almost intuitive instinct (is) that when you’re with people you know … and no one appears to be physically ill, that it’s OK to congregate 10, 12 people for drinks or a meal,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said. “But it’s indoors because the weather is cold. That’s where we’re seeing these types of outbreaks.”

– Sara M. Moniuszko

Millennials, age 24 to 39, took on hundreds of billions of dollars in student debt only to graduate from college just as the Great Recession of 2007-09 was upending the economy. And now, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re suddenly becoming the largest contingent of the “sandwich generation,” the cohort of adults providing financial and other support to both children and elderly parents. The pandemic has tipped more millennials into a juggling act of caregiving.

“We think generally the situation with COVID has accelerated the trend,” says Jeff Beligotti, vice president and head of long-term care solutions for New York Life. ” It has continued to financially squeeze the millennial generation.”

Paul Davidson

Almost 1,000 staffers at the Mayo Clinic have contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks, the system’s dean of clinical practice says. Dr. Amy Williams said 93% of the infections took place away from work, and that most of the infections that took place at work involved eating in a break room with a mask off, according to the Pioneer Press. Williams also said the clinic is seeing more patients transferring in, an indication that hospitals elsewhere in Minnesota and surrounding states are overwhelmed because of this surge.

“Everybody is getting very tired of wearing a mask and hearing about social distance, being told to wash their hands, but we’re doing this because we care about our communities,” Williams said. “We don’t want families to lose loved ones.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to submit a request “within days” to the FDA for emergency-use approval of their vaccine. The companies said their ongoing Phase 3 testing has found the vaccine to be 95% effective, up from a preliminary finding of 90%. The data also will be submitted to other regulatory agencies around the world, the companies said in a statement. The companies said they expect to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses globally by year’s end and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. Experts say frontline healthcare workers are expected to be first in line for inoculation.

The Phase 3 clinical trial began on July 27 and has enrolled 43,661 participants to date, the companies said. 

Pfizer, based in New York, appears to be just a step ahead of Moderna, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company. Moderna announced Monday that its candidate vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective against the disease. It was not immediately clear when Moderna would seek FDA approval.

In less than a week, six members of Congress announced they had tested positive for COVID-19. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the 87-year-old Iowa Republican who is third in line to the presidency, spent much of Monday casting votes and attending a meeting with Senate Republican leadership that included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Grassley announced his diagnosis the following day. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, 87, who is frequently seen without a mask, was hospitalized for three days.  

“I’ve been shot, I’ve been rolled over, I’ve been hit in the head a hundred times, but I’ve never felt as bad as I did” with the virus, Young told The Washington Post. “This is not good.”

Christal Hayes

South Dakota’s high rates of COVID-19 and low virus regulation have sparked criticism even as some dying of the virus there don’t believe it poses a real threat. That’s according to Jodi Doering, a South Dakota nurse who has gained national attention for her account of working on the front lines in a state where leaders have long minimized the impact of the virus and refused to implement rules like mask mandates. South Dakota and neighboring North Dakota have the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infection and death in the nation.

“I have a night off from the hospital. As I’m on my couch with my dog I can’t help but think of the Covid patients the last few days,” Doering wrote in a recent tweet. “The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real.” Read more here.

Joel Shannon

Minus 112 is so cold it shatters rubber, stresses metals – and can protect what’s expected to be the first COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer and collaborator BioNTech have a vaccine they say is 95% effective and could be approved within a month, so the reality of moving and storing the life-saving vials is coming into sharp focus. Dry ice orders are spiking and the backlog to buy $15,000 medical-grade ultracold freezers is up to six weeks. 

“In the science world, it’s not that cold,” said Tonya Kuhl, chair of the chemical engineering department at the University of California, Davis. “But in the regular world, it certainly is. That temperature is really important in storage to keep things stable.”

Elizabeth Weise


COVID-19 testing: Positivity rates and why they are so important

COVID-19 widespread testing is crucial to fighting the pandemic, but is there enough testing? The answer is in the positivity rates.

COVID-19 infections could result in immunity that could last for years, a new study indicates. The study, published online but not yet been peer reviewed, found that most participants in the study who had been infected with COVID-19 retained enough immune cells to fend off infection eight months later. That could indicate immunity may remain for years, the authors of immune memory study said.

“That amount of memory would likely prevent the vast majority of people from getting hospitalized disease, severe disease, for many years,” Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology who co-led the new study, told The New York Times.

Hospitals are putting extra focus on preventing pressure injuries, known as bedsores or pressure ulcers, as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country and ICU beds fill with critically ill patients. The National Pressure Injury Advisory Panel (NPIAP) estimates pressure injuries affect more than 2.5 million patients each year and claim over 60,000 lives. Dr. William Padula, president-elect of NPIAP and professor at University of Southern California, worries that pressure injuries may increase this year amid estimates there could be up to 19,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day by Dec. 7. Padula said pressure injuries can occur within hours of being in the ICU immobilized and on a ventilator. 

“The skin is the largest organ system,” said Dr. Martine Sanone, associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “However, when we think of critical illness, we forget about that first barrier.”

Adrianna Rodriguez

New coronavirus cases have surged to an all-time high at nursing homes across the country despite federal efforts to shield residents through aggressive testing and visitor restrictions, a new report shows. Federal data shows 10,279 COVID-19 cases during the week of Nov. 1, the most recent data available. The figures surpassed the previous high of 9,903 cases in late July, according to a report by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

The surge in cases among the nation’s most vulnerable residents comes as cases, hospitalizations and deaths surge nationwide.

“We have been begging people the last eight months to wear a mask, socially distance and to be careful,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “Unfortunately, the public has not listened or complied.”

– Ken Alltucker

Chicago Public Schools plans to welcome some students back into classrooms in January, officials announced Tuesday. Parents can decide whether they want to send their children to classrooms or continue remote learning. Students enrolled in moderate and intensive classrooms and pre-kindergarten are scheduled to return Jan. 11, 2021. Students in kindergarten through 8th grade will be back on Feb. 1. Officials have not announced a return date for high school students yet.

The Chicago Teachers Union strongly opposed the news, calling it “arbitrary.” But school officials believe children can safely return to classrooms, pointing to other states and some European countries that are keeping schools open despite a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“It’s our moral imperative to do everything in our power to safely open schools beginning with our youngest and highest-needs learners,” said Chicago schools CEO Janice Jackson.

A new American Alliance of Museums study released Tuesday showed that recent COVID-19 surges are doing a number on already-hurting museums. According to an October AAM survey of 850 respondents from across the USA about the continued impact of coronavirus on museums, millions of dollars are being lost – with around a third of institutions facing permanent closure – and job loss is mounting as nearly 30% of American museums remain closed since the March lockdown. 

“The financial state of U.S. museums is moving from bad to worse,” Laura Lott, AAM’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Those that have reopened are operating on an average of 35% of their regular attendance — a reduction that is unsustainable long-term. Those that did safely serve their communities this summer do not have enough revenue to offset higher costs, especially during a potential winter lockdown. Without financial help, we could see thousands of museums shutter forever.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced a new round of directives Tuesday, which will limit crowd size and close bars, restaurants and casinos at 10 p.m., in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The new directives go into effect 5 a.m. Friday.

“The situation is serious in Montana, and it is serious across the nation,” Bullock said. “We need to turn things around over the next few months while we wait on a widely distributed vaccine or else we risk hospitals that turn patients away and risk any further ability to control the spread.”

Montana is among the 36 states with a mask mandate. What are the rules in your state? Check the list.

– Phil Drake, Great Falls Tribune

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY 

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Coronavirus updates: NYC schools to close again; average American could get vaccinated as soon as April – USA TODAY

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