Covid-19 🦠 Newsbites
Trump fails to get the game-changing moment he wanted in final debate with Joe Biden
Facing off in their final debate of the election campaign, President Donald Trump and his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, offered diametrically opposite predictions for the pandemic's future threat to the American people, at a time when Covid-19 cases are rising in more than two dozen states.

Biden warned that the United States is going to have a "dark winter" as the coronavirus once again begins to rage out of control.

Trump rejected that view and once again claimed -- as he has for the last eight months -- that the virus would miraculously disappear. "We're rounding the corner. It's going away," Trump said.

Facts First: This is false. The US coronavirus situation -- as measured by newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and the test positivity rate -- is getting worse, not better. The US is now well into the dreaded fall surge, fueled by indoor socializing, outbreaks at schools and pandemic fatigue.

And scientists say if dramatic steps aren't taken to improve contact tracing or double down on safety measures, like social distancing and mask-wearing, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

All of the times President Trump said Covid-19 will disappear
Since February, Trump has declared at least 38 times that Covid-19 is either going to disappear or is currently disappearing. It's not. In fact, the World Health Organization has said that the virus may never go away; instead, it could become a constant background presence in our communities, occasionally flaring up in local outbreaks.

Multiple teams of scientists around the globe are working to develop a viable coronavirus vaccine, which is the world's best shot at ending the pandemic. But that vaccine will have to be highly effective and widely available to stop the virus from circulating within the population -- plus people will need to take it.

Pandemics don't persist forever, but that’s not normally because a virus disappears. Eventually Covid-19 could end up like HIV, which can be treated to the point of elimination, or measles, which can be kept under control with a vaccine.

Remdesivir becomes first Covid-19 treatment to receive FDA approval
Remdesivir has become the first Covid-19 treatment to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the drug’s maker, Gilead Sciences, said Thursday.

Sold under the brand name Veklury, remdesivir has been used under emergency authorization since May. Earlier this month, President Trump received the drug after testing positive for the coronavirus.

But the antiviral has shown, at best, only a modest benefit for coronavirus patients. A World Health Organization-sponsored global study found that remdesivir did not help Covid-19 patients survive or recover faster. And former US Health and Human Services official-turned whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the data shows the drug is far from a home run. "It wasn't a remarkable improvement in terms of mortality, or even the lengthening or shortening of the length of hospital stay, but it did show some marginal benefit," Bright said.

Lockdowns enforced and curfews extended, as Europe battles second wave
Desperate to avoid the crippling economic costs of stay-at-home orders enforced in the spring, Europe's leaders are imposing and widening local restrictions in the hopes of stemming a surge in cases.

France has extended curfews to around two-thirds of its population, while Greece and Italy have imposed night-time restrictions on movement in high-risk areas. Non-essential services, including bars and restaurants, have been curtailed or closed in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands. And Britain has tightened restrictions in several areas of England, including Manchester, moving them into the "very high" category, which bans people mixing outside their households.

Wales' two-week "firebreak" lockdown starts on Friday night, with schools, shops, pubs and hotels shuttering and people told to stay at home. It joins Ireland as among the strictest lockdowns to be enforced since the pandemic hit the continent.

Convalescent plasma did not reduce Covid-19 deaths or keep patients from severe illness in new study
Convalescent plasma is the antibody-rich serum taken from the blood of people who recovered from Covid-19. The idea is that the plasma can help the immune response of patients still fighting the disease.

In August, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of convalescent plasma as a treatment option for hospitalized Covid-19 patients. However, data were still being collected in randomized controlled trials -- the gold standard -- to study the safety and effectiveness of the treatment. Last month, a National Institutes of Health panel said there's no evidence backing the use of convalescent plasma to treat coronavirus patients and that doctors should not treat it as a standard of care until more study has been done.

Randomized controlled trials of convalescent plasma to treat Covid-19 patients are still underway in the United States.

... The new study showed that a higher proportion of patients who received convalescent plasma saw improvements in their symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath compared with those given standard care, but there was no difference between patients when it came to resolving fever and cough.

The Trump Administration Shut a Vaccine Safety Office Last Year. What’s the Plan Now?
As the first coronavirus vaccines arrive in the coming year, government researchers will face a monumental challenge: monitoring the health of hundreds of millions of Americans to ensure the vaccines don’t cause harm.

Purely by chance, thousands of vaccinated people will have heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses shortly after the injections. Sorting out whether the vaccines had anything to do with their ailments will be a thorny problem, requiring a vast, coordinated effort by state and federal agencies, hospitals, drug makers and insurers to discern patterns in a flood of data. Findings will need to be clearly communicated to a distrustful public swamped with disinformation.

For now, Operation Warp Speed, created by the Trump administration to spearhead development of coronavirus vaccines and treatments, is focused on getting vaccines through clinical trials in record time and manufacturing them quickly.

The next job will be to monitor the safety of vaccines once they’re in widespread use. But the administration last year quietly disbanded the office with the expertise for exactly this job, merging it into an office focused on infectious diseases. A few dozen technical experts who staffed the office, based in the Health and Human Services Department, were let go or moved to an office focused on H.I.V., not vaccines.

Its elimination has left that long-term safety effort for coronavirus vaccines fragmented among federal agencies, with no central leadership, experts say.

... But monitoring hundreds of millions of Americans who may get different coronavirus vaccines from a variety of drug makers by summer is like tracking a major storm beyond anything researchers have dealt with before.

Coronavirus outbreak strikes L.A. megachurch that defied public health orders
An evangelical megachurch in Los Angeles that has defied L.A. County public health orders and held indoor worship services for the last several weeks has been struck with an outbreak of the coronavirus, public health officials confirmed Thursday.

Grace Community Church in Sun Valley has seen three confirmed cases, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Public health officials are investigating the outbreak and said they will work closely with the church to help limit transmission of the coronavirus in the church, which has an estimated attendance of 7,000. The county did not provide any further details about whether the cases were confirmed among staff or worshipers. Attorneys for Grace Community Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under the county health officer’s order, places of worship must report to the county Public Health Department when at least three coronavirus cases are identified among staff or worshipers within a span of 14 days so the agency can determine whether there is an outbreak.

The conservative megachurch announced in late July that it would restart indoor services — despite a county public health order barring any house of worship from doing so. Thousands of people have attended services, with most not wearing face coverings as they sit side by side indoors, or close together outside under a tent, according to public health officials.

Pastor John MacArthur has repeatedly told the congregation that no one from the church has gotten sick with COVID-19 and claims the pandemic threat is overblown. The church does not screen congregants for symptoms before they enter or require them to follow any protocols, according to court records and interviews with members.

Study Projects Up To Half a Million U.S. Coronavirus Deaths by End of February
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine on Friday, was performed by researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which produces a well-known coronavirus model.

It found that the current death toll of 224,000 could swell to more than 511,000 by Feb. 28, a little more than four months away. However, universal mask use would reduce that number by almost 130,000. Fewer than half of U.S. residents in September reported "always" wearing a mask in public, according to the study.

"Under all scenarios evaluated here, the United States is likely to face a continued public health challenge from the COVID-19 pandemic through 28 February 2021 and beyond, with populous states in particular potentially facing high levels of illness, deaths and ICU demands as a result of the disease," the study said.

The study comes after President Donald Trump at Thursday's presidential debate repeated his claim that the U.S. is "rounding the corner" on its outbreak. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, said the U.S. is in for a "dark winter."

... "Many states will face enormous pressure on hospital capacity and will likely have to re-impose some social distancing mandates," it said. "The best strategy to delay re-imposition of mandates and the associated economic hardship is to expand mask use."

Where Donald Trump and Joe Biden Stand on the Coronavirus Pandemic

Trump on the Coronavirus

Early in the outbreak, the Trump administration created the White House Coronavirus Task Force to coordinate and oversee its "efforts to monitor, prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread" of the virus. Regular task force briefings that included scientists eventually faded out and were replaced by solo events for Trump to tailor his own message on the pandemic.
And his message has been one of minimization and diversion.

... Trump has blamed China, where the virus was first detected, for the deaths that have happened in the U.S. He has called out governors and mayors who implemented mitigation measures he disliked. He halted U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, saying it "failed to adequately obtain, vet and share information in a timely and transparent fashion."

... Trump, who has not released a detailed coronavirus plan for his potential second term, has largely exaggerated timelines for when the virus would ease and for the arrival of a vaccine, saying in April that the virus would lessen by summer and that only "embers" of the coronavirus might remain to be put out in the fall and winter. He has also claimed a vaccine would be available "before a very special date," likely a reference to Election Day. When it became clear that wouldn't happen, Trump shifted to praising emerging therapeutics, calling them a "cure" and promising to provide them for free to COVID-19 patients. Now Trump promises a vaccine would be available to every American by April.

... Trump's timelines and recommendations have often been at odds with scientists in his own administration, and Trump hasn't hesitated to call them out. He recently called leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci a "disaster," criticizing the doctor's shifting advice on the public's use of face coverings.

... "I think President Trump's base probably shares his mistrust of science," Farmer says. "It didn't start with this. I think it's something that has been out there for a while, with climate science and with other forms of science."

Former Vice President Joe Biden on the Coronavirus

Biden's coronavirus plan would include improving testing capacity and accessibility, creating a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force, establishing national standards for reopening schools and businesses, and reinstating funding to WHO.
The former vice president's plan would establish at least 10 mobile testing sites and drive-through facilities in each state to "speed testing and protect health care workers," according to his website. Biden has taken shots at Trump over testing, which was slow to expand during the start of the pandemic but has been significantly increased.

Biden's plan promises "emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives all necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis."

Like Trump, Biden has said a vaccine, should one be approved, needs to be free to the public.

Biden's messaging has tried to paint Trump as an uncaring leader with no plan. He has criticized the president over his comments to journalist Bob Woodward that the death toll "is what it is."