COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
‘There’s No Place for Them to Go’: I.C.U. Beds Near Capacity Across U.S.
More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds.

Federal data reveals a grim picture of the nation’s hospital crisis, during what is so far the deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic. Hospitals serving more than 100 million Americans reported having fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds still available as of last week. “There’s no place for them to go,” a chief of medical staff in North Dakota said about a pileup of patients.

The remote Big Bend region of Texas, one of the fastest-growing coronavirus hot spots in the nation, is one of the least equipped parts of the U.S. to handle the outbreak. There is just one hospital for 12,000 square miles, and no heart or lung specialists to treat serious cases of Covid-19.

... Doctors and researchers said the shortages are already causing serious damage.

... Survival rates from the disease have improved as doctors have learned which treatments work. But hospital shortages could reverse those gains, risking the possibility of increasing mortality rates once again as patients cannot receive the level of care they need.

Canada Approves Vaccine and Could Start Shots Next Week
Canada approved Pfizer’s vaccine after an independent review, its drug regulator said. Canadians could begin receiving shots as early as next week.

It’s only the second Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine after Britain did so. American regulators will consider whether to approve the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday.

How Bad Was Virus Aid Fraud? One Banker Was ‘Frustrated With Humanity’
The Paycheck Protection Program offered small businesses a few months of relief, but prosecutors will be running down fraud for years.

Chris Hurn wasn’t surprised scammers were trying to get government money. An enormous relief effort like the $523 billion Paycheck Protection Program is bound to attract grifters.

As thousands of applications for government-backed loans flooded into his firm, Fountainhead Commercial Capital, it reported at least 500 suspicious cases to federal officials, Mr. Hurn said. But what shocked him was the brazen glee of the scammers who got money anyway.

At least a dozen times, “someone tried to defraud us, got turned down and then followed up to taunt us that they got their loan,” said Mr. Hurn, Fountainhead’s chief executive.

Four months after the federal government’s signature coronavirus relief program for small businesses expired, investigators and lawmakers have only scratched the surface of schemes that illicitly tapped its forgivable loans. The program’s hastily drafted and frequently revised rules, its removal of normal lending guardrails and governmental pressure to swiftly approve applications created the ideal conditions for thievery to thrive.

“We couldn’t believe how many people were trying to take advantage and game the system,” said Mr. Hurn, whose firm made more than 8,000 loans. “A lot of my employees, including me, were a little frustrated with humanity.”

The Justice Department has brought criminal charges against more than 80 people accused of stealing at least $127 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, the government’s signature coronavirus relief package for small businesses. But it may take years to uncover the full extent of the theft.

Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Wolf, says he has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I have no symptoms and am feeling well and I am in isolation at home,” he wrote. “I am following CDC and Department of Health guidelines.” Referring to his wife, he wrote, “Frances has been tested and, as we await the result, is quarantining at home with me.”

The governor added that he was performing his duties remotely, “as many are doing during the pandemic.”

“As this virus rages, my positive test is a reminder that no one is immune from COVID,” Mr. Wolf said. “Following all precautions as I have done is not a guarantee, but it is what we know to be vital to stopping the spread of the disease.”

Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, is at least the ninth U.S. governor to report receiving a positive test result, though in the case of Mike DeWine of Ohio, the result was almost immediately contradicted by another test and is thought to have been a false positive. Several other governors have quarantined when a family member, staff member or close associate tested positive.

So far, none of the governors have reported experiencing severe illness. The first governor known to have tested positive was Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, a Republican, in mid-July.

Men with the virus are hospitalized and die at higher rates than women.
Doctors noticed a sex disparity early in the pandemic: Men infected with the coronavirus were hospitalized at much higher rates than women, and men died at higher rates.

The gap was first observed in China, then seen in Italy and in New York City. Now a large global study has confirmed that men with Covid-19 are at higher risk than women for both severe disease and death.

The analysis, published in Nature Communications on Wednesday, examined more than 3 million Covid-19 cases in dozens of countries and most American states. While the researchers found no differences in the proportion of male and female patients infected with the virus, men were nearly three times as likely to be admitted to intensive care than women, and 40 percent more likely to die.

The sex bias is a “worldwide phenomenon,” with only a “few exceptions,” the authors wrote, and the disparity has implications both for medical care as well as for mitigation strategies — and specifically, vaccination.

Social Inequities Explain Racial Gaps in Pandemic, Studies Find
Higher rates of infection and mortality among Black and Hispanic Americans are explained by exposure on the job and at home, experts said.

After accounting for various disparities, Dr. Ogedegbe found that infected Black and Hispanic patients were no more likely than white patients to be hospitalized. If hospitalized, Black patients had a slightly lower risk of dying.

... The new findings do not contradict an enormous body of research showing that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be affected by the pandemic, compared with white people. The coronavirus is more prevalent in minority communities, and infections, illnesses and deaths have occurred in these groups in disproportionate numbers.

But the new studies do suggest that there is no innate vulnerability to the virus among Black and Hispanic Americans, Dr. Ogedegbe and other experts said. Instead, these groups are more often exposed because of social and environmental factors.

“We hear this all the time — ‘Blacks are more susceptible,’” Dr. Ogedegbe said. “It is all about the exposure. It is all about where people live. It has nothing to do with genes.”

Among many other vulnerabilities, Black and Hispanic communities and households tend to be more crowded; many people work jobs requiring frequent contact with others and rely on public transportation. Access to health care is poorer than among white Americans, and rates of underlying conditions are much higher.

... “The larger issue is the role of social determinants of health,” Dr. Price-Haywood said. “Race is a social construct, not biological.”

Infections continue around federal executions at an Indiana prison, but plans have not changed.
Eight members of a team that carried out a federal execution last month in Terre Haute, Ind., have contracted the coronavirus, and a majority of them plan to return for federal executions this week, according to a court filing from the Bureau of Prisons.

The Justice Department has rushed forward with executions during the pandemic, after an informal 17-year moratorium on federal capital punishment. Since July, eight inmates have been executed by the federal government, despite pleas from some involved in the execution cases to halt the lethal injections until the threat of the coronavirus had largely subsided.

... The Trump administration intends to execute two more inmates this week, followed by three more in January. Among those scheduled is Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. Her lawyers have also said they tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after visiting their client.

... The federal corrections complex at Terre Haute, the site of the executions scheduled for December, has become a hotbed of coronavirus infections, like many correctional facilities across the country. As of Tuesday, hundreds of inmates and staff members there are reported to have tested positive for the virus.

A cruise ship returns to Singapore early after a passenger tests positive.
A “cruise to nowhere” from Singapore has ended early — back where it started — after a coronavirus infection was discovered onboard.

When the cruise, on the ship Quantum of the Seas, left the city-state on Monday, all 1,680 passengers and 1,148 crew had tested negative for Covid-19, according to the Singapore Tourism Board. But the ship returned to port a day early on Wednesday after an 83-year-old passenger tested positive.

The tourism board said that the infected passenger took a mandatory Covid-19 test after reporting to a medical center with diarrhea. The Straits Times, a Singapore-based newspaper, reported that the ship’s captain informed guests around 2:45 a.m. on Wednesday to remain in their cabins.

The Quantum of the Seas, which is owned by Royal Caribbean, returned to the Marina Bay Cruise Center in Singapore at 8 a.m. The remaining passengers and crew were expected to disembark by 6 p.m., Annie Chang, the tourism board’s cruise director, said in a statement. Contact tracing is underway, and those who came into contact with the 83-year-old would be sent to a government quarantine facility, she said.

Cruises to nowhere have been a rare beacon of hope for an industry under mortal threat. In February, the world watched in horror as the coronavirus infected more than 200 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, trapping its 3,600 passengers and crew. Governments later banned cruises, crews were sent home and passengers canceled their bookings.

... Following Singapore’s guidelines, the ships’ operators have upgraded air filters, enforced social distancing and required passengers to carry contact-tracing devices that link to government monitoring systems, among other safety precautions.

He Broke Out of Quarantine for 8 Seconds, and Got a $3,550 Fine
Around the world, flouting coronavirus regulations can have expensive consequences.

One man left the house after an argument with his wife and walked 280 miles to cool off, breaching Italy’s national curfew.

Another man wandered outside his quarantine room in Taiwan for eight seconds and caught the attention of the authorities.

Still another drove 19 miles for a butter chicken curry during a strict lockdown and was apprehended by the Australian police.

All those actions ended up costing them thousands of dollars in penalties.

During the global pandemic, with entire cities locked down, travel heavily restricted and isolation fatigue setting in, thousands of people have been caught, fined or jailed for breaching coronavirus restrictions that have made once normal activities taboo.

Some have intentionally broken the rules to make a political statement. Others have claimed they are immune to the disease and from the consequences of breaking those restrictions. Others have simply blundered into breaches because they apparently didn’t understand the rules or were acting in a moment of desperation.

... While punitive measures like fines act as deterrents, there is a limit to their effectiveness, economists say. Winning cooperation, they added, is a far better defense.