COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
CNN Coronavirus Update
In less than 10 months, Covid-19 has killed a staggering 250,000 people in the United States -- more than strokes, suicides and car crashes typically do in a full year combined.

Health experts say that if the nation doesn't adopt a more coordinated strategy, and Americans don't get more serious about wearing masks and avoiding careless socializing, the rate of deaths will keep soaring this fall and winter.

... As drugmakers get closer to green-lighting a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine, public health officials are beginning to get a clearer picture of when we might return to some semblance of normality. If people take the vaccine, Fauci said the country could get back to "relative normal" in "the second and third quarter" of 2021. BioNTech's CEO has described a similar timeline. "I am confident that if everything goes well, and we have a very organized vaccine supply, that we could have a normal summer and winter 2021," Ugur Sahin told CNN during an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine seems safe and builds immunity in older volunteers, trial shows
In the latest good news about coronavirus vaccines, the AstraZeneca candidate appears to be safe and produce a strong immune response in older adults, according to Phase 2 trial data published in the Lancet. The vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford, is in late-stage, Phase 3 clinical trials around the world. Its makers are expected to release data on efficacy in the coming weeks.

AstraZeneca is the third drugmaker to post promising results in the last two weeks, buoying hopes that the world will get a vaccine soon. Dr. Fauci said the US may see a "graded rollout" of vaccines in the coming months, with Pfizer and Moderna delivering doses in late December 2020 into January 2021, followed by AstraZeneca and Janssen potentially in January or February.

Most states now require face masks to reduce the spread of Covid-19. These are the ones that don't
While most health officials agree face coverings help to prevent the spread of Covid-19, state and local governments have varied widely on implementation of mask rules -- and President-elect Joe Biden wants to change that. Most states have some type of mask mandate, but these still don't: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Because the virus is mainly airborne, face masks are the most effective way to stop person-to-person spread of Covid-19, studies have shown.

"Wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with simultaneous social distancing, quarantine, and contact tracing, represents the most likely fighting opportunity to stop the Covid-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine," researchers in Texas and California wrote back in June.

American health care workers issue a call to arms for wearing masks.
As the pandemic rages across the United States, breaking records nearly every day for deaths and cases, some nurses and doctors are reaching a breaking point.

Some have battled surges in their areas for months. Others have been more recently overwhelmed. Many are physically and emotionally drained and suffer from a crushing sense of inadequacy and anxiety. Experts say health care workers are ever more susceptible to post-traumatic stress. Some are closing their practices or leaving their jobs because of the toll on themselves, their families, their patients and their colleagues.

Particularly anguishing, some health care workers say, is the cavalier attitude many Americans display toward the virus.

“There is such a disconnect between the hospital and the surrounding communities,” one doctor wrote in an exchange later posted on Twitter. “I don’t drive home to bells, whistles and clanging pots and pans … I drive home stunned through a college town with lines out the doors for the local bars.”

In an attempt to break through that disconnect, about 100 of the nation’s largest and best hospital groups released an ad campaign today, in print and video, that is a call to arms — or rather, a call to mask up.

Every Mask Up | #MaskUp

The coronavirus pandemic has hit healthcare workers hard. But despite the constant challenges they face, our doctors, nurses, specialists and other medical providers are committed to keeping their communities safe.
Let's help extend their efforts by washing our hands, practicing physical distancing and wearing a mask. #MaskUp

Learn more: Every Mask Up

Every Mask Up | Let’s Keep it Up

As many of the nation’s most trusted hospitals, we all know this. The science has not changed. Masks slow the spread of COVID-19. Every one of our healthcare professionals is asking you to do one very simple thing.

Let’s keep it up. Let’s #maskup

Learn more: Every Mask Up

Tyson suspends workers after lawsuit claims supervisors had a coronavirus betting pool.
Tyson Foods said on Thursday that it had suspended the employees named in a lawsuit that alleged the manager of a Tyson pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, organized a betting pool among supervisors to wager on how many workers would get sick.

The lawsuit, filed by the son of Isidro Fernandez, a meatpacking worker who died in late April, said the betting pool was a “cash buy-in, winner take all.” The plant was the site of a deadly coronavirus outbreak this spring.

Those accused of being involved in the betting pool have been suspended without pay, Dean Banks, the president and chief executive of Tyson Foods, said in a statement on Thursday. Tyson also enlisted the law firm Covington & Burling to conduct an independent investigation, which will be led by Eric H. Holder Jr., the former U.S. attorney general.

“If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company,” Mr. Banks said.

A spokesman for Tyson said in an email that the company had introduced multiple steps to protect its workers in Waterloo. Those included taking employee temperatures, relaxing attendance policies and erecting barriers on the production floor to create social distance.

At the time of Mr. Fernandez’s death, the Tyson plant was a virus hot spot, though the plant’s leadership initially denied that there was an outbreak and rebuffed efforts by local officials to close the facility, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Iowa.

The workers were told to continue working despite showing symptoms of being sick. One worker was told to stay on the production line even after he vomited, the lawsuit said.

In all, about 1,000 workers — about a third of the work force — tested positive for the virus. Some of the issues at the Waterloo plant were detailed in a New York Times article in May. But the allegation about the betting pool among supervisors and managers was revealed this week after lawyers for Mr. Fernandez’s family amended the original lawsuit. The allegation of the betting pool was first reported by The Iowa Capital Dispatch.

“We’re saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families,” the company said in a statement. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers.”

States That Imposed Few Restrictions Now Have the Worst Outbreaks
Coronavirus cases are rising in almost every U.S. state. But the surge is worst now in places where leaders neglected to keep up forceful virus containment efforts or failed to implement basic measures like mask mandates in the first place, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the University of Oxford.

Using an index that tracks policy responses to the pandemic, these charts show the number of new virus cases and hospitalizations in each state relative to the state’s recent containment measures.

Outbreaks are comparatively smaller in states where efforts to contain the virus were stronger over the summer and fall — potential good news for leaders taking action now. States and cities are reinstating restrictions and implementing new ones: In recent days, the governors of Iowa, North Dakota and Utah imposed mask mandates for the first time since the outbreak began.

The index comes from Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, where researchers track the policies — or lack thereof — governments use to contain the virus and protect residents, such as contact tracing, mask mandates and restrictions on businesses and gatherings. Researchers aggregate those indicators and assign a number from 0 to 100 to each government’s total response.

... Most states imposed tight restrictions in the spring even if they did not have bad outbreaks then. After reopening early, some Sun Belt states, including Arizona and Texas, imposed restrictions again after case counts climbed. Now, Midwestern states have among the worst outbreaks. Many have also done the least to contain the virus.

The Coronavirus Is Airborne Indoors. Why Are We Still Scrubbing Surfaces?
Scientists who initially warned about contaminated surfaces now say that the virus spreads primarily through inhaled droplets, and that there is little to no evidence that deep cleaning mitigates the threat indoors.

At Hong Kong’s deserted airport, cleaning crews constantly spray baggage trolleys, elevator buttons and check-in counters with antimicrobial solutions. In New York City, workers continually disinfect surfaces on buses and subways. In London, many pubs spent lots of money on intensive surface cleaning to reopen after lockdown — before closing again in November.

All over the world, workers are soaping, wiping and fumigating surfaces with an urgent sense of purpose: to fight the coronavirus. But scientists increasingly say that there is little to no evidence that contaminated surfaces can spread the virus. In crowded indoor spaces like airports, they say, the virus that is exhaled by infected people and that lingers in the air is a much greater threat.

Hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds — or sanitizer in the absence of soap — is still encouraged to stop the virus’s spread. But scrubbing surfaces does little to mitigate the virus threat indoors, experts say, and health officials are being urged to focus instead on improving ventilation and filtration of indoor air.

... From Nairobi to Milan to Seoul, cleaners in hazmat suits have been fumigating public areas despite W.H.O. warnings that the chemicals could do more harm than good.

As the U.S. nears the 200,000 daily case mark, Americans are urged to avoid Thanksgiving travel.
The United States has set yet another record: 183,000 new daily cases.

The record was set as the United States struggles with surging coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged Americans not to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday and to consider canceling plans to spend time with relatives outside their households.

The new guidance, which contrasted sharply with recent White House efforts to downplay the threat, states clearly that “the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” and that gathering with friends and even family members who do not live with you increases the chances of becoming infected with the virus or the flu, or transmitting the virus.

... “Amid this critical phase, the C.D.C. is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period,” said Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager at the agency, during a news briefing.

“We’re alarmed,” he added, citing an exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. “What we’re concerned about is not only the actual mode of travel — whether it’s an airplane or bus or car, but also the transportation hubs.”

“When people are in line” to get on a bus or plane, social distancing becomes far more difficult and viral transmission becomes more likely, he said.

Virus Cases Rise, but Hazard Pay for Retail Workers Doesn’t
They were hailed as heroes during the first wave of the pandemic, but wage increases were fleeting, and companies, whose businesses are booming, have been slow to pay out more.

With coronavirus cases rising across the country, retailers are preparing for another rush from shoppers worried about new lockdowns and pandemic shortages.

But many retail workers, heralded as heroes during the first wave of the pandemic, are not being provided with the same level of bonuses and raises this time, even as the health risks for them increase. Even as some companies have announced new hazard pay in recent days, some industry observers say many retailers are not sharing enough of the profits they have earned during the pandemic with their workers, but are instead benefiting shareholders through stock buybacks.

Amazon, which said last month that its quarterly profit had increased nearly 200 percent, ended its $2-an-hour pay raise for workers earlier this year and then provided a pandemic-related bonus in June, but a spokeswoman said no new hazard pay was planned.

Walmart, which reported another big increase in quarterly sales on Tuesday, had paid a series of special cash bonuses, but the company has not raised wages broadly as a way to reward workers during the pandemic.

The grocery chain Kroger offered raises at the start of the pandemic and bonuses through mid-June, but those have ended. Employees nationwide have staged protests outside stores asking Kroger to reinstate the pay, especially given its booming business — sales are soaring, and it recently said its 2021 business results “will be higher than we would have expected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.” This week, the company told workers that they would receive discounts at its fuel centers and a $100 store credit as a “holiday appreciation.”

On Wednesday, Lowe’s said in its quarterly earnings report that it had already paid more than $800 million in pandemic-related benefits to employees. At the same time, the company said it expected to buy back about $3 billion of its own stock in the fourth quarter, after spending about $1 billion on buybacks and dividends in the third quarter.

“We ask workers with the least to sacrifice the most, and they are not even getting compensated in return,” said Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, who is preparing a report that ranks which largest retailers have been most generous to their workers during the pandemic. “The companies have the money to do this.”

... The public attention has also waned, as news media accounts of workers getting sick from the virus faded and focus turned to protests over police violence and the election. “The headlines have moved on,” Ms. Kinder said.

But the risks to retail workers have not. As the number of new infections hits daily records, retail workers must spend hours inside, dealing with customers who may refuse to wear masks or wear them incorrectly. A large part of this burden has fallen on female, Black and Hispanic employees, who make up a sizable proportion of retail workers.

US seeing unprecedented coronavirus spread, White House says
Standing in front of a map of the US awash in red, the White House coronavirus response coordinator appeared with other top health officials for the first time in months on Thursday. Dr. Deborah Birx delivered a grim assessment of the rapidly worsening pandemic -- spurred in part by a cold snap in the country's heartland -- and urged Americans to "increase their vigilance" as they eagerly await a vaccine.

Dr. Birx, once a senior member of the task force, said she's been traveling the country trying to encourage governors and other state and local leaders to enact measures that will stop the spread of the virus, repeatedly urging people to wear masks -- and wearing one herself throughout the briefing. But she's had mixed results at best -- including getting through to the Trump administration itself.

Striking a dramatically different tone, Vice President Mike Pence offered a far rosier assessment of the pandemic in America, saying the US "has never been more prepared" to take on the virus, as he spoke out against the need for nationwide lockdowns and school closures.

WHO recommends against using remdesivir to treat Covid-19
The WHO has advised against using the antiviral drug remdesivir to treat hospitalized patients, no matter how severe their illness may be. According to the update, published in the medical journal the BMJ, current evidence does not suggest remdesivir affects the risk of dying from Covid-19 or needing mechanical ventilation, among other important outcomes.

WHO's new update comes about a month after Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir, announced that the US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for the treatment of coronavirus infection. Remdesivir became the first coronavirus treatment to receive FDA approval. On Thursday, FDA gave emergency use authorization to a combination of remdesivir and the rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib to treat suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Remdesivir may have received FDA approval but not WHO's recommendation because of emerging research, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who was not involved in the WHO guidance. Studies initially showed some benefit against Covid-19, but as more data accumulates, that appears to be changing.

Major coronavirus outbreak hits crew of US Navy warship
A major coronavirus outbreak aboard a US Navy guided missile destroyer has spread to nearly one-quarter of the ship's 300 strong-crew, according to two US Navy officials.

CNN reported on Wednesday that the US military reported a record high number of coronavirus cases on Tuesday with 1,314 new cases, according to Defense Department statistics.

There are currently about 25,000 active Covid-19 cases in the ranks, and another 44,390 service members have recovered from the virus, according to the Pentagon. The number of military cases has grown over the last few weeks as case counts have increased in the general population.

Mexico surpasses 100,000 Covid-19 deaths
Mexico has reported a total of 100,104 deaths from Covid-19, the country's Health Ministry said Thursday during its nightly health news conference.

Mexico is the fourth country to surpass 100,000 coronavirus deaths after the United States, Brazil and India.

Two more House members announce they have Covid-19
Two more House members announced Wednesday they have tested positive for Covid-19 and are isolating, the latest in a string of diagnoses that have hit Capitol Hill.

The cases brings CNN's tally to 26 House members and eight senators that have so far tested positive or been presumed positive.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington and Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, announced separately they had tested positive for Covid-19.