Coronavirus updates: UK variant could yield false-negative COVID tests; Biden to release all available vaccine doses; 366K deaths – USA TODAY

Jessica Flores Adrianna Rodriguez   | USA TODAY

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USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as a pair of vaccines join the U.S. fight against a virus that has killed more than 365,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates surrounding the coronavirus, including who is getting the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as other top news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.

In the headlines:

► The U.S. on Thursday reported another daily death record: 4,085 to COVID-19. That was more than 200 deaths above Wednesday’s record, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. At that pace, an American is reported dead every 21 seconds. More details below.

► New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two easier-to-spread variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa. The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, but “it was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem” for the vaccine, said Pfizer chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer. 

► The European Union has reached a deal with Pfizer and German partner BioNTech to order 300 million additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The news comes a few weeks after the U.S. reached an agreement for an additional 100 million doses to be delivered by July 31.

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► A CDC study, published Friday in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found U.S. counties with large colleges or universities that held in-person classes saw a 56% increase in COVID-19 cases. The data supports a USA TODAY analysis that found college students fueled the 19 hottest outbreaks in the U.S. during the fall semester. 

► The December employment report is set to release Friday, showing job losses for the first time since April after some states reversed reopening plans due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Economists predict the setback could last through February as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available in late spring.

► Arizona is experiencing a “surge within a surge,” with some hospitals running out of ICU beds and in need of more front-line workers. Health officials are calling Arizona “the hot spot of the world right now” as the state led the country with the highest number of new COVID-19 cases for the third day in a row Wednesday.

► Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, predicted the COVID-19 death toll will continue to rise this month as the U.S. hits more than 4,000 daily deaths. The expected surge “likely will be a reflection of the holiday season travel and the congregate settings that usually take place socially during that period of time,” Fauci said in an interview with NPR. “We believe things will get worse as we get into January.”

► North Carolina prison officials are considering offering prisoners who decided to get a coronavirus vaccine more guest visitations and other perks. Nine inmates are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and a total of 36 have died.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 21.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 365,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 88 million cases and 1.9 million deaths.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned new coronavirus strains such as the United Kingdom variant might not be detected by some existing COVID-19 tests and could yield false-negative results.

The federal agency identified MesaBiotech Accula, TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit, and Linea COVID-19 Assay Kit, as tests that might be affected by the genetic variants.

The FDA said the overall risk for inaccurate test results is low but warned labs should monitor for variants and health care providers must be aware some tests could have false-negative results.

The agency warned false negative results could occur if a lab test assesses the part of the genome where the variant exists.

Scientists in the United Kingdom believe the variant strain known as B.1.1.7 is more contagious than previously identified strains but not more severe. It has an increased transmission rate of 70% compared with other variants in the U.K., researchers said.

– Ken Alltucker

The incoming Biden administration announced a plan Friday to prioritize the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Federal officials with the Trump administration have been holding back enough vaccine doses to guarantee booster shots to everyone who got the first dose.

But Biden’s transition team said Friday that it doesn’t make sense to hold back vaccine at a time when more American’s are dying than at any point in the pandemic. Instead, they want to get shots into more arms and then follow up with second doses later.

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” spokesman T.J. Ducklo said in a statement sent to USA TODAY. Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”

– Karen Weintraub and Adrianna Rodriguez

People who don’t show COVID-19 symptoms account for more than half of all coronavirus transmission, according to a model developed by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The model, published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, found 35% of all transmission came from presymptomatic individuals and 24% from people who never develop symptoms. In total, 59% of spread comes from people without symptoms.

Study authors say the findings suggest that measures such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, social distancing and strategic testing of people who aren’t sick “will be foundational to slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

“(SARS-CoV-2) is a virus that’s quite transmissible and less forgiving of any lapses of use of masks and social distancing and hand hygiene,” said Dr. David Hooper, chief of the infection control unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, who is unaffiliated with the study.

Immunity to the coronavirus could last up to 8 months after natural infection, and possibly even longer, according to a study published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

The study looked at blood samples taken from 188 people from 19 to 81 years old that represented a range of asymptomatic, mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 cases.

In order to get an accurate assessment of immunity, researchers simultaneously measured multiple components of the immune system for SARS-CoV-2.

While natural infection may last for months, Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel said at a virtual event organized by a financial services group Thursday the vaccine is likely to protect against COVID-19 for a “couple of years,” Reuters reported. 

The United States reported 4,085 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, which was more than 200 deaths above Wednesday’s record, which broke Tuesday’s record, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. At that pace, an American is reported dead every 21 seconds.

America also blew way past a record for deaths in a week, with 19,349. That’s up nearly 400 deaths past the old record. 

And the U.S. set a new record for coronavirus cases in a week, to 1,599,479. That’s up nearly 46,000 cases from a revised record set Wednesday, which is about 159 cases per minute. Daily cases reported Thursday hit 274,703, second-worst after Jan. 2.

The holidays closed testing sites, delayed paperwork and changed who gets tested. This latest week,  49 states had more cases than a week before and 36 states had more deaths. And COVID Tracking Project data shows 43 states with higher testing positivity.

In all, 13 states reported record numbers of cases for the week and five states reported a record number of deaths.

– Mike Stucka

More than a hundred COVID-19 testing sites throughout California could be producing a substantial number of false-negative results, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA released a statement this week alerting patients and health care providers to the risk of false results with a particular type of SARS-Cov-2 test from Curative, a start-up medical testing company founded in 2020.

According to Curative’s website, it has more than 100 testing sites scattered throughout California, including large clusters in the Inland Empire, Bay Area and Los Angeles County. Some of those sites are in partnership with local counties.

As the Curative tests are self-administered, there is a chance of the swab not being conducted properly, leading to inaccurate results, according to the FDA. A false-negative test could mean individuals do not self-isolate, leading to increased spread of the virus within the community. 

Curative issued a statement this week defending its test: “Curative’s test has been validated and is being offered during the pandemic under an Emergency Use Authorization, and is labeled with specific warnings, precautions and limitations that FDA reiterated in the safety communication,” the company said.

– Nicole Hayden, Palm Springs Desert Sun

Indiana University Health has convened a panel of national experts on diversity and health care to investigate a high-profile case involving alleged racist treatment at the health care system’s hospital in Carmel, Indiana.

The six panelists, four of whom are Black, will review the circumstances surrounding the care Dr. Susan Moore received for the coronavirus at IU Health North last month. Moore said in a widely circulated video that a doctor denied her medicine, ignored her pain and sought to discharge her prematurely because she was Black.

IU Health officials said the panel is expected to complete its review within weeks. After sharing its findings with Moore’s family, IU Health officials said that the results will be shared publicly “in a way that balances transparency with respect for the family’s request for privacy.”

– Shari Rudavsky, Indianapolis Star

Three more U.S. states have discovered the more contagious coronavirus variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom. As of Thursday, the strain has been found in eight states and 33 countries. 

Texas health officials on Thursday announced the state found the variant known as B.1.1.7 in a man with no history of travel. The man, who is between 30 and 40 years old, is isolating while health officials work to identify and quarantine his close contacts.

In Pennsylvania, health officials identified the strain in a person described as a “traveler,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “It was not a community spread case,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. The patient experienced mild symptoms and is isolating at home, the newspaper reported.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday said the state discovered two cases of the coronavirus variant. The two people, between the ages of 15 and 25, each traveled recently, one to Ireland and the other to New York state.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Coronavirus updates: UK variant could yield false-negative COVID tests; Biden to release all available vaccine doses; 366K deaths – USA TODAY

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