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Coronavirus 2020 Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was last updated Oct. 1 at 3:55 p.m. ET.

The United States leads the world in cases of COVID-19. We'll provide the latest updates on coronavirus cases, government response, impacts to our daily life, and more.

What is the latest news?

Severe COVID-19 Could Link to Neanderthal Genes, Study Says

Oct. 1, 3:50 p.m.

Having Neanderthal genes could be a risk factor for developing severe COVID-19, according to a new study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The study is an early release that has been accepted for publication but may be edited later.

Genetic variants in a region of chromosome 3 have been linked with respiratory failure in severe COVID-19. The genetic region is nearly identical to a Neanderthal from southern Europe who lived 50,000 years ago, the study authors found.

The genetic variant was transferred to humans through interbreeding about 60,000 years ago. Now about 50% of people in South Asia and 16% of people in Europe carry this section of DNA, the study authors said.

“It is striking that the genetic heritage from Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic,” Svante Paabo, one of the researchers and a genomics specialist at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Japan, said in a statement.

The COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative looked at more than 3,000 people, including patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 and patients who tested positive for the virus but weren’t hospitalized. The chromosome 3 region was linked with severe infection and hospitalization.

Based on the study, people who carry the Neanderthal variants have up to 3 times the risk of needing ventilation if infected with the virus.

“Obviously, factors such as your age and other diseases you may have also affect how severely you are affected by the virus. But among genetic factors, this is the strongest one,” Hugo Zeberg, one of the researchers and a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said in the statement.

Now Paabo and Zeberg want to study why the Neanderthal variants are associated with an increased risk of coronavirus infection and severe illness.

“This is something that we and others are now investigating as quickly as possible,” Paabo said.

CDC Extends No Sail Order for Cruise Ships

Oct. 1, 1:08 p.m.

Cruise ships that can carry more than 250 passengers must remain docked through the end of October, the CDC announced on Wednesday.

The CDC extended its no-sail order — which started March 14 and was reissued on July 16 — to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, particularly as cases increase again in various countries.

“Recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas provide current evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread,” even when ships sail at a reduced passenger capacity, the CDC said in a statement.

These outbreaks “would likely spread the infection into U.S. communities if passenger operations were to resume prematurely in the United States,” the CDC added.

Between March 1 and Sept. 28, more than 3,600 COVID-19 cases or COVID-19-like illnesses and 41 deaths were reported on cruise ships in U.S. waters, the CDC said.

In addition, 102 outbreaks have been reported on 124 cruise ships, meaning 82% of ships in U.S. jurisdiction were affected by COVID-19 this year. Four cruise ships still have ongoing issues.

The CDC cited “ongoing concerns” about restarting international cruises and said the industry needs “additional time” to assess the right measures to prevent the spread of the virus on board cruise ships.

Even when only essential crew are on board, the virus continues to spread, the CDC wrote.

“Cruise ships continue to be an unsafe environment with close quarters where the disease spreads easily and is not readily detected,” the CDC wrote. “Recent passenger voyages in foreign countries continue to have outbreaks, despite cruise ship operators having extensive health and safety protocols.”

Moderna Won’t Seek Vaccine Approval Before Election

Oct. 1, 11:13 a.m.

Moderna, one of the pharmaceutical companies with a coronavirus vaccine candidate in late-stage clinical trials, won’t seek FDA approval before Election Day, according to the Financial Times.

The company won’t have enough safety and efficacy data until the end of November, CEO Stephane Bancel told the newspaper. If the data meets the appropriate FDA thresholds, then the company will seek emergency use authorization for the vaccine, he said.

“Nov. 25 is the time we will have enough safety data to be able to put into a EUA file that we would send to the FDA — assuming that the safety data is good,” he said.

Following that, the company would likely seek full approval of the vaccine in early 2021 and distribute vaccines throughout the U.S. in the spring.

“I think a late [first quarter], early [second quarter] approval, is a reasonable timeline, based on what we know from our vaccine,” Bancel added.

Earlier this month, Moderna said it could seek emergency authorization by the beginning of November, according to CBS News, but the timeline has been revised.

So far, Moderna is about halfway through its clinical trial and has given the vaccine to 15,000 of the 30,000 participants. Bancel mentioned that Pfizer, which is another company testing a late-stage vaccine candidate, is slightly ahead of Moderna on the clinical trial timeline due to a shorter interval between the two doses of the vaccine.

Results from an early safety study of Moderna’s vaccine in older adults showed that it produced virus-neutralizing antibodies at levels similar to those in younger adults, according to Reuters.

NFL Postpones Titans-Steelers Game Because of COVID-19

Sept. 30, 6:25 p.m. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans won’t play this coming Sunday because four Titans players and six members of the team staff tested positive for coronavirus, ESPN reported.

Four weeks into the season, this is the first NFL regular season game postponed because of the coronavirus. The league canceled all preseason games to reduce chances of spreading the virus.

"The Steelers-Titans game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, will be rescheduled to allow additional time for further daily COVID-19 testing and to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel,” the NFL said in a statement. “Details on a new game date and time either on Monday or Tuesday will be announced as soon as possible."

Titans coach Mike Vrabel said some of the players who tested positive had flu-like symptoms, according to ESPN.

"I know there's going to be a lot of questions about the game and about who's to blame and where it started,” he said. “Nobody's to blame. We're in a pandemic. .... This is a very unfortunate situation, but one that we're confident that we will be able to handle safely with the football team and the players' best interests in mind."

The Titans closed their team facility until Saturday, ESPN said. The Titans-Steelers game will be played at the Titans stadium in Nashville.

The Minnesota Vikings, who played the Titans on Sunday, closed their facility on Tuesday and planned to reopen Thursday, ESPN said. So far, no Vikings players have tested positive, ESPN said, citing a league spokesperson.

ESPN said a Titans linebackers coach got a positive test result on Saturday and was excluded from the team’s trip to Minnesota. Everybody in the Titans organization who was traveling to Minnesota for last weekend’s game was tested Saturday, with results coming in Sunday. All were negative.

Titans players and coaches were tested again Monday morning, with four players and five employees testing positive, ESPN said.

It’s not known where they got the virus. ESPN said the team stayed in a hotel in Bloomington, Minn., before the game, with each member of the traveling party having their own room. League protocol prohibits them from socializing with anybody outside the team traveling party.

ESPN said that only four players were on the NFL's COVID-19 list as of Tuesday. During four testing periods from Aug. 12 through Sept. 19, only seven players and 29 non-players had tested positive, ESPN said.

New COVID-19 Cases Spike Again in Florida

Sept. 30, 5:28 p.m.

New coronavirus cases in Florida jumped early this week, days after Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, and other businesses.  

The state Department of Health reported 1,948 new cases on Wednesday and 3,266 on Tuesday, up from 738 new cases on Monday.

The state has now gone over 700,000 new cases -- third most in the country, behind California and Texas -- and has reported more than 14,000 deaths.

Florida recorded surging coronavirus case numbers all summer, but had seen a decline in September. The Sunshine State hadn't reported more than 3,000 new cases in one day since Sept. 19.

Test positivity also ticked up over 5% on Tuesday for the first time since Sept. 23, according to the Department of Health coronavirus dashboard. The World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate less than 5% before widescale societal reopenings.  

It's not clear if DeSantis' order lifting of restrictions caused the rise in cases and positivity. 

Last Friday, the governor signed an executive order putting the state into Phase 3 of the reopening schedule. Phase 3 allows bars and restaurants to operate at full capacity but with “limited social distancing protocols.”

Scenes of crowds gathering in bars and taverns were reported across Florida last weekend.

Phase 3 requires restaurants to implement some sanitation precautions, including regular cleaning between customers and single-use or laminated menus.

The order says local governments can limit restaurant capacity, but only by 50%

The governor also suspended all penalties or fines for refusing to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the virus, including outstanding fines that have already been issued.

Nursing Homes Face Accuracy, Funding Problems With Antigen Tests

Sept. 29, 5:35 p.m.

New rapid-result antigen tests touted by the Trump administration this week have caused headaches for nursing home staff who are grappling with accuracy and financial issues, according to The New York Times.

About 14,000 facilities received test machines from the federal government last month that would return COVID-19 results within 15 minutes. However, nursing home operators realized that they quickly ran out of the “starter kits” that came with the machines and needed to pay for more test kits -- and that the test results weren't always reliable.

Beyond that, federal regulations around the program have been tough, the newspaper reported. Nursing homes can be fined for failing to meet the daily reporting requirements, sometimes up to $10,000.

“My initial happiness over the machines has quickly turned to disillusionment,” Ben Unkle, the chief executive of Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay, told the newspaper.

“At the moment we're in testing hell,” he said.

State officials weren't included in conversations about shipments, according to The Washington Post, which means nursing homes often didn't know they would receive a test machine until it arrived. Staff members weren't trained on how to use the tests or interpret the results either.

At the state level, health officials haven't been able to capture these test results in an organized way, so they're often not included in daily counts. As a result, state dashboards are becoming more inaccurate, the newspaper reported.

“This is data we need, and there's just no way of capturing it,” Rachel Levine, the health secretary for Pennsylvania, told the newspaper.

“We need a reporting structure and not just hundreds of faxes being randomly sent from nursing homes and other facilities,” she said.

In addition, nursing home workers have faced issues with false results. Antigen tests look for proteins that make up the coronavirus, rather than the coronavirus itself, which makes them less accurate and sensitive than the diagnostic tests analyzed in commercial labs. The frustration with false results could undermine public confidence in testing, the newspaper reported, but nursing home staff have reported that they'd rather retest residents than avoid testing altogether.

“I don't want to overstate the problem because it's not like we should throw out antigen tests,” Nirav Shah, director of Maine's CDC, told the newspaper. “What we need is more testing, not less.”

U.S. 'Not in a Good Place' With COVID-19 Cases, Fauci Says

Sept. 29, 1:31 p.m.

Anthony Fauci, MD,  says the United States is “not in a good place” entering the fall and winter because daily coronavirus case counts are regularly topping 40,000.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the United States should have a baseline of around 10,000 new cases per day to get through the time before a vaccine becomes available. 

“We're not in a good place,” Fauci said Monday in an interview on Good Morning America. “You don't want to be in a position like that as the weather starts getting cold. So we really need to intensify the public health measures that we talk about all the time.”

Fauci said some states have tamped down the coronavirus through widespread testing and social distancing, but “there are states that are starting to show an uptick in cases and even some increases in hospitalization in some states. And, I hope not, but we very well might start seeing increases in deaths.”

The United States recently recorded its 200,000 coronavirus-related death -- about 20% of all the pandemic deaths in the world. 

Case counts are rising in the West and Midwest in states with low population density such as North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah.

Wisconsin has averaged more than 2,100 new cases daily for the past 7 days, the state department of health services reported. Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency a week ago, saying a spike in cases has been caused by students returning to campuses. 

Meanwhile, case counts in some Sun Belt states are dropping, but state and local officials are responding by loosening restrictions. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, recently allowed restaurants and bars to open up, though the state is still reporting hundreds of cases per day

“That is very concerning to me,” Fauci told GMA. “That is something we really need to be careful about because when you're dealing with community spread and you have the kind of congregate setting where people get together, particularly without masks, you're really asking for trouble.”

How many people have been diagnosed with the virus, and how many have died?

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 34.02 million cases and more than 1.01 million deaths worldwide. More than 23.68 million people have recovered.

How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?

There are more than 7.23 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 207,000 deaths. More than 2.84 million Americans have recovered from the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

WebMD Health News

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