The Latest: COVID-19 vaccine hunt heats up globally, but still no guarantee

Press Herald

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. 

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of people are rolling up their sleeves in countries across the world to be injected with experimental vaccines that might stop COVID-19, spurring hope – maybe unrealistic – that an end to the pandemic may arrive sooner than anticipated.

A volunteer is injected with either an experimental COVID-19 vaccine or a comparison shot as part of the first human trials in the U.K. to test a potential vaccine, led by Oxford University.. University of Oxford via AP

About 100 research groups are pursuing vaccines with nearly a dozen in early stages of human trials or poised to start. It’s a crowded field, but researchers say that only increases the odds that a few might overcome the many obstacles that remain.

“We’re not really in a competition against each other. We’re in a race against a pandemic virus, and we really need as many players in that race as possible,” Dr. Andrew Pollard, who is leading the University of Oxford’s vaccine study, told The Associated Press.

The hard truth: There’s no way to predict which – if any – vaccine will work safely, or even to name a front-runner.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top expert, put it: “You need more shots on goal for a chance at getting a safe and effective vaccine.”

The first cautious tests of March, when small numbers of volunteers got injections to check for side effects, have turned into larger studies in China, the U.S. and Europe to look for hints that different vaccine candidates really protect.

Read the full story about the search for a vaccine here.

World leaders, with U.S. absent, pledge billions for virus vaccine research

BRUSSELS — World leaders, organizations and banks pledged 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) Monday for research to find a vaccine against the new coronavirus, but warned that it is just the start of an effort that must be sustained over time to beat the disease.

French President Emmanuel Macron listens at the Elysee Palace in Paris as he attends Monday’s international videoconference on a COVID-19 vaccine. Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP

The funds, pledged at a video-conference summit hosted by the European Union, fell marginally short of the 7.5 billion euros being sought, but more money could arrive in coming days. Notably absent from the event was the United States, where more than 67,000 people have died, and Russia.

Despite the shortfall, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, the target being sought Monday to help find a vaccine, new treatments and better tests for the disease would only ever amount to a “down-payment” on the tools that will be needed to fight the virus.

“To reach everyone, everywhere, we likely need five times that amount,” Guterres said.

Governments have reported around 3.5 million infections and more than 247,000 deaths from the virus, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. But deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and the strain on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is much greater.

People in many countries across the globe, and notably in Europe this week, are cautiously returning to work but authorities remain wary of a second wave of infections, and a vaccine is the only real golden bullet to allow something like normal life to resume.

Read the full story on the worldwide effort here.

U.S. reverses approvals of virus blood tests in the face of fraudulent kits

WASHINGTON — U.S. regulators Monday pulled back a decision that allowed scores of coronavirus blood tests to hit the market without first providing proof that they worked.

A woman holds her hand out to have blood collected for COVID-19 antibodies at a drive-thru site in Hempstead, N.Y., on April 14. U.S. regulators on Monday, pulled back a decision that allowed scores of coronavirus blood tests to hit the market without first providing proof that they worked. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The Food and Drug Administration said it took the action because some sellers have made false claims about the tests and their accuracy. Companies will now have to show their tests work or risk having them pulled from the market.

Under pressure to increase testing options, the FDA in March essentially allowed companies to begin selling tests as long as they notified the agency of their plans and provided disclaimers, including that they were not FDA approved. The policy was intended to allow “flexibility” needed to quickly ramp up production, officials said.

“However, flexibility never meant we would allow fraud,” Dr. Anand Shah, an FDA deputy commissioner, said in a statement. “We unfortunately see unscrupulous actors marketing fraudulent test kits and using the pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of Americans.”

Blood tests are different from the nasal swab tests currently used to diagnose active COVID-19 infections. Instead, the tests look for blood proteins called antibodies, which the body produces days or weeks after fighting an infection. Most use a finger-prick of blood on a test strip.

The revised policy follows weeks of criticism from doctors, lab specialists and members of Congress who said the FDA’s lack of oversight created a Wild West of unregulated tests.

The agency acknowledged Monday that there have been problems with deceptive, false marketing among the 160 tests that have been launched in the U.S. Some companies have claimed their tests can be used at home, although FDA has not allowed that use. Others make unsubstantiated claims about their accuracy. Some U.S. hospitals and local governments have reported buying tests that turned out to be inaccurate or frauds.

Read the full story about blood tests here.

Security guard fatally shot in Michigan after telling shopper to wear mask

FLINT, Mich. — A woman, her adult son and husband have been charged in the fatal shooting of a security guard who refused to let her daughter enter a Family Dollar in Michigan because she wasn’t wearing a face mask to protect against transmission of the coronavirus.

Calvin Munerlyn was shot Friday at the store just north of downtown Flint a short time after telling Sharmel Teague’s daughter she had to leave because she lacked a mask, according to Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.

Teague, 45, argued with Munerlyn, 43, before leaving. Two men later came to the store.

Teague; her husband, Larry Teague, 44; and Ramonyea Bishop, 23; are charged with first-degree premeditated murder and gun charges.

Larry Teague also is charged with violating Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order mandating that all customers and employees must wear face coverings inside grocery stores, Leyton said.

Witnesses identified Bishop as the man who shot Munerlyn in the back of the head, Leyton said.

Sharmel Teague has been arrested. Police were looking for her husband and son.

No information has been released about the daughter, who has not been charged in the shooting.

Read the full story from Michigan here.

Carnival Cruise Line plans to resume sailing Aug. 1 

Carnival Corp. plans to resume sailing on Aug. 1, becoming the first major cruise operator in the Americas to outline a return to operations after coronavirus outbreaks on several ships shuttered the industry.

Carnival Cruise ships are docked at the Port of Tampa Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. Thousands of cruise ships employees are not working in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The company’s flagship Carnival brand said Monday it will restart initially from Galveston, Texas, and Miami and Port Canaveral, Florida. Departures from other home ports in North America and Australia are canceled through Aug. 31, and other pauses will last even longer.

With several states starting to reopen their economies, the company is offering discounts of as little as $28 a day to get customers back. Still, many questions linger about the safety of cruising. When the industry shut down in mid-March, coronavirus outbreaks at sea wreaked havoc by trapping passengers, some of whom died, and placing demands on local health-care systems at a critical time in the pandemic.

“We will use this additional time to continue to engage experts, government officials and stakeholders on additional protocols and procedures to protect the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we serve,” the company said.

Read the full story here.

Government report projects 3,000 virus deaths a day by June 1

A new government report projects COVID-19 cases will surge to about 200,000 per day by June 1, a staggering jump that would be accompanied by more than 3,000 deaths each day.

The document predicts a sharp increase in both cases and deaths beginning about May 14, according to a copy shared with The Washington Post.

The forecast stops at June 1, but it shows daily cases and deaths on an upward trajectory at that point.

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly disavowed the report, though the slides carry the CDC’s logo. The creator of the model said the numbers are unfinished projections shown to the CDC as a work in progress. The work contained a wide range of possibilities, and modeling was not complete, according to Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who created the model.

He said he didn’t know how the update was turned into a slidedeck by government officials and shared with news organizations. The data was first reported by The New York Times.

“I had no role in the process by which that was presented and shown. This data was presented as an FYI to CDC … it was not in any way intended to be a forecast,” Lessler said.

Lessler insisted, however, that the numbers show how moving to reopen the country could spiral out of control. He said 100,000 cases per day by the end of the month is within the realm of possibility. Much depends on political decisions being made today.

“There are reopening scenarios where it could get out of control very quickly,” Lessler said.

Read the full story here.

Massachusetts church faces $300 fine for holding worship service

BOSTON — The pastor of a Massachusetts church faces a $300 civil fine for allegedly ignoring the state’s ban on gatherings of 10 or more people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pastor Kristopher D. Casey waves the American flag after leading people in a song outside his Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, Mass., after a service at which 46 attendees were counted Sunday. At right is his wife, Rachael. Pastor Casey defied Gov. Charlie Baker’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people at two Sunday services in a row. Christine Peterson/Worcester Telegram & Gazette via Associated Press

Police on Sunday counted more than 40 people leaving Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester.

“It is disappointing that despite all of the sound medical advice, and evidence of the effectiveness of limiting public gathering in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, that this pastor has chosen to ignore that,” Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. said in a statement.

The church had been warned the previous Sunday when about 50 people attended worship.

When asked how many people attended the service, pastor Kristopher D. Casey said “more than 10.”

The church had a deep cleaning and everyone inside was required to wear masks and gloves, he said. People attending the service had their temperature taken and hand sanitizer was available.

“My whole argument has been the First and 14th amendments, along with Massachusetts law that says that no law shall be made that infringes on my rights to freely worship my God and my savior,” Casey said.

Senate to reopen despite risks as House eyes ‘hybrid’ return

The Senate will gavel in Monday as the coronavirus rages while the top House Republican is proposing a “hybrid” reopening for the still-shuttered House as a divided Congress struggles to fully resume during the pandemic.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, suggests the full House should remain closed, due to health risks, but its committees could convene to craft legislation — including a possible new virus aid package. He calls it the “crawl, walk, run” plan. Lawmakers face a deepening national debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

“This is doable,” the California Republican said on Politico’s Playbook in a virtual interview.

The 100 senators are convening for the first time since March, while the House is following the Capitol physician’s advice to stay away, as the conflicted Congress reflects an uneasy nation. The Washington area remains a virus hot-spot under stay-home rules.

Tops on the Senate agenda is not necessarily the next virus aid package, despite a nationwide jobless rate that’s approaching Great Depression-level heights and pleas from the governors for more money.

“There’s kind of a pause period right now,” said White House’s Larry Kudlow, director of the national economic council, on CNN.

Senate Republicans are trying to set the terms of debate, frustrated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was able to fill up earlier aid bills with Democratic priorities. They’re reluctant to unleash federal funds beyond the nearly $3 trillion Congress already approved in virus relief.

Read the full story here.

Pence acknowledges he should have worn a mask during Mayo Clinic visit

Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged Sunday night that he should have worn a face mask during a visit last week to the Mayo Clinic, a rare admission of a mistake by a senior Trump administration official.

Vice President Mike Pence, center, visits Dennis Nelson, a patient who survived the coronavirus and was going to give blood, during a tour of the Mayo Clinic Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Rochester, Minn., as he toured the facilities supporting COVID-19 research and treatment. AP Photo/Jim Mone

Pence’s comments followed an uproar over his appearance Tuesday at the Rochester, Minnesota, facility, where news footage showed him speaking to staff members and patients without the face coverings that everyone else around him wore and that Mayo Clinic officials said were required under their policies.

Pence initially defended his decision, saying he and those around him are tested regularly for the coronavirus and he thought it would be a good opportunity to “look them in the eye” and thank researchers and health-care personnel at the clinic.

On Sunday night, however, Pence took a different tack while appearing alongside President Donald Trump at a Fox News virtual town hall broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Asked about his decision, Pence reiterated that he is tested often and does not have covid-19. But he added: “I didn’t think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic.”

He noted that he had donned a face covering two days later when visiting a General Motors facility in Indiana that has ramped up production of ventilators during the pandemic. And he then praised average Americans for taking similar steps.

Read the full story here.

Trump revises predicted coronavirus death toll, saying it could reach 100,000

While seeking to reassure Americans that it’s safe for states to reopen, President Trump revised his prediction for the coronavirus death toll in the United States. “Look, we’re going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people; that’s a horrible thing,” he said Sunday night at a Fox News town hall.

Trump had once warned of up to 240,000 U.S. deaths; but after statistical models shifted in April, he repeatedly said the U.S. toll would be 50,000 to 65,000. As the number of confirmed U.S. covid-19 deaths surpassed 67,000 on Sunday, the president acknowledged his new projection, saying: “It’s going up.”

Read the full story here.

J.Crew files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

NEW YORK — The owner of J.Crew is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, two months after the first person in New York tested positive for COVID-19.

The city, where J.Crew Group Inc. is based, went into lockdown soon after, followed by much the country. Retail stores in New York City and across the country shut their doors.

Read the rest of this story here.

Whole Foods to provide face masks for shoppers to prevent spread of coronavirus in stores

Amazon-owned Whole Foods will provide grocery shoppers with free single-use masks at all its stores beginning this week.

In keeping with the chain’s “request” that all shoppers wear masks inside stores to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the company’s 500 stores will make the masks available at entrances to customers who lack their own face covering, the company announced in a blog post.

Amazon plans to provide more than 100 million masks to its extensive commercial network, according to the post.

Read the rest of the story here.

Vatican postpones swearing-in for Swiss Guards

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is postponing the annual swearing-in ceremony for its new crop of Swiss Guards, a commemoration usually held each May 6 to honor the guardsmen who died while protecting the pope during the 1527 Sack of Rome.

The Swiss Guards said Monday that due to the ongoing coronavirus emergency, the pomp-filled ceremony will now be held Oct. 4. Other commemoration will go ahead May 6, including a Mass in a Vatican church, but it will be celebrated with only a restricted few guests present.

Vatican City, a small city state in the center of Rome, has been implementing its own version of lockdown that mirrors the measure imposed in Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic.

Pope Francis has been celebrating daily Mass to empty pews, and on Monday prayed for victims of domestic violence. Italian officials have said calls to domestic violence hotlines have declined during the lockdown, not because assaults are slowing but because victims are less able to call and get help.

Francis said: “Let’s pray for families, may they go ahead with creativity, peace and patience in this quarantine.”

Bangladesh extends nationwide lockdown

DHAKA, Bangladesh — The government has extended a nationwide lockdown by nearly two weeks to May 16 in Bangladesh to check the spread of coronavirus as the South Asian nation crosses the 10,000 mark of infections, authorities said Monday.

The government had imposed a lockdown for all public and private offices and businesses from March 26, and later that restriction was extended to May 5.

All essential services and vehicles carrying goods and medicine have remained out of the purview of the closure, while garment factories and pharmaceuticals and other export-oriented manufacturing units are also operating.

Health Directorate official Nasima Sultana said Monday Bangladesh confirmed almost 700 new cases, taking the total to 10,143, including more than 180 deaths.

Indonesia raises concerns about Ramadan travelers

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian government has stepped up measures in anticipation of the influx of migrant workers returning home from abroad to celebrate Islamic holiday with families to mark the end of Ramadan.

During a virtual cabinet meeting on Monday, President Joko Widodo has raised concerns over possible imported COVID-19 cases from migrant workers returning home from abroad and has ordered regional leaders to take preventive measures to curb the spread of contagious disease.

Widodo asked for strict health screenings for every migrant worker who returns and they should undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Indonesia, which is home to nearly 270 million people has reported nearly 12,000 COVID-19 cases as of Monday, including almost 900 deaths.

Government data showed the flow of returning Indonesian citizens from several countries, especially from Malaysia, may potentially involve more than 1.8 million migrant workers.

Russia reporting steady rise in infections

MOSCOW — Russian officials are reporting a steady rise in the number of the new coronavirus infections that raises pressure on the nation’s healthcare system.

The government’s headquarters dealing with the outbreak reported more than 10,500 new cases Monday, including nearly 6,000 in Moscow.

That has brought the nation’s total to over 145,000, including almost 1,400 deaths.

The number of cases has risen quickly over the past few days, fueling concerns that the nation’s hospitals could be overwhelmed. Authorities have charged that broader testing has contributed to a surge.

Russia’s economy has been partially shut down since late March, and the lockdown measures have been extended through May 11.

Japan’s state of emergency extended through end of May

TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Monday that the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency will be extended for about a month until the end of May.

Abe, citing experts’ evaluation on the current situation on the infections, said that the measure, currently through Wednesday, should stay in place as the rise in the number of patients has not decreased significantly enough and hospitals are still overburdened.

He said there is a possibility of an early lifting of the measures if data at mid-May show improvement.

Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7, initially only for Tokyo and six other urban prefectures, but later extending it to the entire nation and requesting the people to reduce social interactions by up to 80%. He stopped short of issuing business closure requests.

Japan has more than 15,000 cases with over 500 deaths. The number of cases detected in Tokyo accounts to about one-third of the national total.

Pakistan’s infection rate still rising

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s COVID-19 rate is creeping up with more than 1,000 new cases emerging daily.

Dr. Rana Muhammed Safdar, who is heading Pakistan’s COVID-19 fight, says more than 80% of the new cases are community transmitted.

When the virus first surfaced in Pakistan, all new cases were traced to Pakistanis returning from Iran, Saudi Arabia, U.S. and United Kingdom, Safdar said. In mid-April, that began to change and now the vast majority of new cases are community transmitted.

Safdar said in an interview that the surveillance and monitoring system implemented in Pakistan has proven effective, even garnering praise from the World Health Organization.

Pakistan on Monday had recorded over 20,000 cases in a population of 220 million people. The virus death toll is more than 450.

Even as cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said Pakistan will consider emerging from its lockdown on May 9 and, despite pleas from the country’s medical professionals, has refused to close mosques during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which began toward the end of April.

Students returning to school in South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it’ll allow schools to have their students back in their classrooms, staring from next week, amid signs that the coronavirus outbreak in the country is waning.

Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said Monday high school seniors will return to schools on May 13 and other lower grade students in phased steps from May 20.

She says about 5.4 million students in South Korea have been taking classes online since April 9 due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

South Korea’s caseload has continuously been declining in recent weeks, prompting authorities to relax its social distancing rules. Earlier Monday, South Korea reported eight additional virus cases, taking its national tally over 10,800.

Italy begins to ease restrictions on Monday

ROME — Italy began stirring again Monday after a two-month coronavirus shutdown, with 4.4 million Italians able to return to work and restrictions on movement eased in the first European country to lock down in a bid to stem infections.

Around the country, construction sites and manufacturing operations resumed, and restaurants and gelaterie scrubbed their floors in preparation for take-out service.

Sit-down service in bars and restaurants, as well as the reopening of commercial shops and hairdressers is still several weeks off and dependent on the implementation of social distancing and hygiene measures. Italians were told to wear masks in closed spaces and public transport.

Mourners were able to attend funerals for some of Italy’s nearly 29,000 dead, but the services were limited to 15 people and there was still no word on when Masses would resume. Professional athletes were allowed to get back to training and parks opened their gates to stir-crazy joggers, parents and children, though playgrounds were still off-limits.

Officials are well aware that the resumption of economic activity will lead to a rise in infections, and the gradual reopening has been predicated on regions taking measures to track infections, intervene quickly to isolate new clusters and ensure the health care system isn’t overwhelmed. The aim is to allow economic activity to gradually resume while keeping the contagion under control.

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