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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Outbreaks in the Midwest driving surge in COVID-19 cases

Record high infection rates in the Midwest are driving the latest surge in coronavirus cases that have exceeded some daily totals reported over the summer.

Midwestern states have recently recorded their highest case increases and test positivity rates since the pandemic began. Many of the states fueling the latest surge had not experienced an outbreak so severe until October. South Dakota, for example, has an average test positive rate of 35.5%, Wisconsin’s is 22.87%, and Idaho’s is 22.32%, according to COVID Tracking Project data.

The most populous Midwestern states — Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois — are also struggling to fend off a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Illinois extended one of the most concerning weekly trends in the United States on Thursday when cases surged to a record 4,015. Ohio, meanwhile, set a new record high number of cases Thursday, marking the second day in a row the state hit a new high and the third time in less than a week. In Michigan and Ohio, current COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 31% and 28% in the past week, making them the fifth- and seventh-biggest spikes, respectively, according to COVID Tracking Project data.

The highest per capita current hospitalization rates are in South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, and Mississippi. North Dakota, Arkansas, Kansas, South Dakota, and Florida lead the U.S. in per capita deaths in the past week, although mortality reports usually lag behind cases and hospitalization rates for weeks and do not offer the best look at viral prevalence.

The total number of cases in the U.S. surpassed 8 million on Thursday after about 64,000 new cases were reported, the highest daily total since Aug. 14. More than 218,000 deaths have been reported.

The departments of Health and Human Services and Defense struck a deal with CVS and Walgreens to provide and administer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, when it is approved. HHS said that residents of these facilities “may be part of the prioritized groups for initial COVID-19 vaccination efforts until there are enough doses available for every American who wishes to be vaccinated” but stopped short of confirming the elderly portion of the population will get the first doses.

“The pandemic has inflicted a devastating toll on America’s nursing home residents,” said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. “This effort will ensure they are at the front of the line for the COVID vaccine and will bring their grueling trial to a close as swiftly as possible.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced Friday that the company would not seek emergency use authorization for its vaccine candidate before mid-November, a setback to President Trump’s plan to have a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day. Bourla said, “We are operating at the speed of science,” meaning researchers will not know until the end of the month at the earliest whether the vaccine is effective. Even with the findings accumulated at the end of October, the company will need to collect safety and efficacy data from as many trial enrollees as possible and determine how the vaccine will be manufactured to meet demand.

“Pfizer will continue running the trial through its final analysis point even if it is declared effective at an earlier stage,” Bourla said in Friday’s statement.

He added, “So let me be clear, assuming positive data, Pfizer will apply for Emergency Authorization Use in the U.S. soon after the safety milestone is achieved in the third week of November … The timelines above reflect our best estimates of when these important milestones could be achieved.”

A new study suggests that 1.9 million life years have been lost from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Health Care Cost Institute estimated the excess years of lost life, a measure of premature mortality, from April to August 2020 in the U.S. The study accounts for excess years of life lost from all causes and not just COVID-19. However, years of lost life are 13% above the historical average, suggesting that COVID-19 played an outsize role.

The bulk of years of lost life came from people age 65 and older, who accounted for about 52%. Those age 45-64 accounted for 17%, and those 20-44 accounted for 29%.

A large World Health Organization study found that four drugs that have been used to treat COVID-19 have no effect. Those drugs include remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, interferon, and an HIV-drug combo lopinavir-ritonavir.

“The main outcomes of mortality, initiation of ventilation and hospitalization duration were not clearly reduced by any study drug,” the study said.

Drugmaker Gilead, the producer of remdesivir, was critical of the study, saying that “the emerging data appear inconsistent with more robust evidence from multiple randomized, controlled studies published in peer-reviewed journals.”

Indeed, the WHO study is at odds with an earlier National Institutes of Health study from earlier in the year that found remdesivir shortened recovery by four to five days.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who tested positive for COVID-19 about two weeks ago, said Friday that he was made to believe everyone at the White House had been tested for the coronavirus, lulling him into a “false sense of security.”

“I let my guard down for a couple of days inside the White House grounds, and it cost me in a significant way,” Christie said on Good Morning America.

Christie was present at last month’s Supreme Court nomination ceremony in the Rose Garden, where few attendees wore masks or abided by social distancing guidelines. He also helped Trump prepare for the first presidential debate.

Retail sales increased 1.9% in September, the U.S. Census Bureau reported on Friday, marking the fifth consecutive month of growth. The rate of growth easily outperformed economists’ expectations for a 0.7% increase. One of the highest performing sectors in September was the clothing and accessories stores, which saw an 11% increase in sales. However, when compared with September 2019, sales for this sector are down 12.5%.

The federal government’s deficit for fiscal 2020 was $3.1 trillion, the highest deficit on record, Treasury reported Friday. The spike in red ink is due to the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. Congress passed four major pieces of legislation that provided assistance to workers and families, small businesses, and state, local, and tribal governments. The deficit for fiscal 2020, which ended on Sept. 30, was far higher than expected at the beginning of the year and much larger than the $984 billion deficit the year before.

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