Just as the COVID-19 vaccine starts to become a reality for Americans, public health officials in the United States have chosen to loosen restrictions on how long an individual must quarantine after being exposed to the virus, from 14 days to 7 or 10 days.
The decision was made largely on the basis of “economic hardship,” said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Henry Walke, especially for those who cannot work due to COVID-19 exposure.
This news comes a day after public health officials voted to make residents of long-term care facilities, as well as front-line health care workers, the first Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The United Kingdom has accelerated its timeline, giving the first shots of the vaccine to the most vulnerable people next week, after becoming the first Western country to approve widespread use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech, the British government said Wednesday.
What you need to know today:
- The first day of December proved to be the most fatal since mid-April. According to Johns Hopkins data, 2,597 deaths were reported Tuesday — only 10 less than the record toll set April 15.
- The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients nationwide passed 100,000 Wednesday evening.
- New York expects to receive 170,000 doses of a vaccine by Dec. 15 and begin with vaccinations for health care workers and nursing home residents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
- After a months-long impasse, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a temporary $908 billion coronavirus aid package that would run until April but not include a second round of stimulus checks.
- In New Orleans, at least 41 people have tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a swingers convention, according to NOLA.com. About 250 people attended the event in November due to restrictions, down from nearly 2,000 who checked in last year.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 13.8 million cases and over 272,000deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 64.3 million cases and 1.48 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: Will there be side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine? When can you get it? We answer your vaccine questions.
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In a conversation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Wednesday, the head of the CDC urged Americans to embrace mitigation measures over the holidays and warned that the nation could see “close to 450,000” deaths from COVID-19 by February.
“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times, and I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of our nation largely because of the stress it’s going to put on or public health system,” Dr. Robert Redfield said. “Unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans who died from this virus.”
In early November, as health officials warned of a impending COVID-19 spike, Austin Mayor Steve Adler hosted an outdoor wedding and reception with 20 guests for his daughter at a trendy hotel near downtown. The next morning, Adler and seven other wedding attendees boarded a private jet bound for Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they vacationed for a week at a family timeshare.
One night into the trip, Adler addressed Austin residents in a Facebook video: “We need to stay home if you can. This is not the time to relax. We are going to be looking really closely. … We may have to close things down if we are not careful.”
In hosting the wedding and traveling internationally, Adler said he broke neither his own order or those established by Gov. Greg Abbott. But at the time, the city was recommending people not gather in groups of more than 10, and the day after Adler’s departure, Austin’s health authority warned that “it’s important that we drive the (COVID-19) numbers down in advance of Thanksgiving.”
– Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman
The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients nationwide raced past the 100,000 Wednesday night, an alarming statistic fueling enormous strain on the health care system and its brave but beleaguered workers.
Some experts said the total, compiled by the COVID Tracking Project, could soon double. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, said the country has reached a “dangerous inflection point.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we stand at 200,000 people hospitalized in the next month,” Glatter told USA TODAY. “Explosive growth of the virus has the potential to overrun our ability to provide care. Not only for patients with COVID-19 but also for basic medical conditions.”
Many hospitals will be forced to suspend elective surgeries and other routine operations, set up temporary field hospitals and stretch staff to the limit, experts said.
As part of Operation Warp Speed, pharmacy retail giant CVS will pilot a program to administer a COVID-19 treatment to at-risk patients at their homes or long-term care facilities, the company said in a press release Wednesday.
Coram, the infusion care business of CVS Health, will intravenously administer a limited supply of bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody therapy that has received emergency use authorization from the FDA for the treatment of COVID-19.
The company will begin administering 1,000 doses in seven cities and their surrounding communities starting Thursday, including Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Tampa.
To be eligible for the treatment, patients must be within 10 days of symptom onset, at least 12 years of age or older, weighing at least 88.2 pounds, and at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 or hospitalization, according to CVS. After receiving a positive diagnosis, patients can be referred from a hospital, urgent care or telemedicine appointment, long-term care facility or their primary care physician following a positive diagnosis, according to the company.
The CDC is urging travelers not to travel for the upcoming winter holidays, a repeat of its guidance for Thanksgiving travel. “The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel,” Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in a news briefing Wednesday.
For those who decide to travel — and there were millions who boarded planes for Thanksgiving despite similar advice — the CDC is now recommending travelers get tested for COVID-19 before and after their trips.
The CDC is recommending a test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, plus reducing nonessential activities for seven days after travel, Walke said. Those who do not get tested should reduce nonessential activities for 10 days after travel, the agency said. Testing does not eliminate travel risk, Walke said, but when combined with reducing nonessential activities and other precautions, it can make “travel safer,” he said.
– Dawn Gilbertson
New York expects to receive 170,000 doses of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 15 and begin with vaccinations for health care workers and nursing home residents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The initial shipment will consist of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and depends on gaining emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.
The companies have reported the vaccine is 95% effective and the ongoing review of the data has not reported any serious safety concerns. The vaccine requires each person to receive two doses, and New York expects to receive another 170,000 doses within 21 days to meet that requirement, Cuomo said.
The vaccine rollout in New York is part of the initial wave of COVID-19 inoculations expected to begin across the country this month. Federal officials expect to be able to vaccinate about 20 million Americans by the end of December, or about 6% of the population, Cuomo said, calling the vaccination push as a historic challenge facing local, state and federal governments.
– David Robinson and Jon Campbell, New York State Team
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the recommended days a person must quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 from 14 days to 7 or 10 days.
The new guidelines announced Wednesday say individuals who have close contact with an infected person can end their quarantine after 7 days if they receive a negative test, or after 10 days without a test. The CDC defines close contact as exposures adding up to a total of 15 minutes spent 6 feet or closer to an infected person.
Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager for the CDC’s COVID-19 response, said people should monitor for symptoms 14 days after exposure. “Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier to take this critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if they cannot work during that time,” he said during a media briefing.
He added 14 days of quarantine remains the optimal period of time, but 7 to 10 days is a good alternative.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
“Not taking this pandemic seriously? Keep reading,” Riley Behrens, a 23-year-old Tempe, Arizona man, wrote Sunday evening in a Twitter thread detailing five days of worsening illness. It had reached nearly 150,000 likes and 45,000 retweets by Tuesday afternoon.
Behrens got a headache that night that he assumed was just stress. Thursday, he started to have trouble breathing and pain in his chest. It worsened on Friday.
On Saturday, he woke up with extreme weakness in his left side. He couldn’t balance on his left leg or open the door with his left hand. He was dizzy. His vision was also spotty through his left eye. After he was admitted, an MRI showed that he had a TIA, or a mild blood clot in the brain.
This sickness, he said, does not discriminate. It can affect people in ways we still know little about.
– Emily Wilder, Arizona Republic
As political leaders across the country are ramping up restrictions to slow the virus’ spread, several Democratic politicians have been found to not practice what they preach. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi each flouted COVID-19 policies by attending or hosting large gatherings.
However, it’s not just some Democratic politicians flouting COVID-19 policies and guidance — this has been an issue on both sides of the aisle.
In early October, USA TODAY reported that President Donald Trump and key Oval Office figures had violated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance at least 27 times in the month prior. GOP lawmakers on the state level have also shown defiance toward social distancing and mask rules.
– Abby Patkin
Nashville police are criminally charging three women including a registered nurse after police said they violated Metro Health orders for hosting a large house party on Halloween.
The roommates, all 23 years old, were issued misdemeanor citations in connection with an Oct. 31 football watch party at their East Nashville home. According to an arrest affidavit, officers responding to a complaint about a loud party heard music blaring and saw several people in the yard.
In all, police said they found more than 100 people inside and outside the home. No more than 25 people were permitted to gather in Davidson County at the time unless the gathering was approved by the city. Police said the women told the guests to go home.
One of the women is a registered nurse at TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, authorities said.
– Natalie Neysa Alund, Nashville Tennesseean
Seven families filed a lawsuit against California that claims the state failed to provide “basic educational equality” for children of color from low-income backgrounds during the pandemic.
The lawsuit alleges the state has not provided students or teachers with the devices, internet connection, training and support needed for remote learning. It asks the court to rule that the state’s education authorities violated students’ constitutional right to an education and that they must correct the inequities with the help of minority families and community organizations.
“The state continues to refuse to step up and meet its constitutional obligation to ensure basic educational equality or indeed any education at all,” the lawsuit claims.
– N’dea Yancey Bragg
The CDC is urging Americans to avoid all travel to Mexico as that country grapples with rising COVID-19 deaths. The CDC has placed Mexico in the Level 4 risk category, which is the highest risk level for COVID-19. If anyone must travel to Mexico, the CDC recommends getting a viral test one to three days prior to traveling as well as prior to returning to the United States.
On Monday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “Mexico is in bad shape” with the pandemic and urged its leaders be serious about the coronavirus and set examples for its citizens.
Mexico’s death toll has surpassed 105,000 – the fourth highest in the world – with 1,113,543 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. The country’s actual numbers are believed to be much higher partly because of low testing levels.
The United Kingdom has approved widespread use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech, the British government said Wednesday. The first doses in the U.K. will go to the most vulnerable.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said the first shots will be given next week. Studies show it is 95% effective.
The companies said they would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the U.K., which has ordered enough of the vaccine for 20 million people. They are also gearing up for even wider distribution if given a similar nod by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A decision in the U.S. is expected as early as next week.
Two doses, three weeks apart, are required for protection and one of the distribution challenges is that the vaccine must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.
China and Russia have already begun a mass rollout of their own coronavirus vaccines. However, they have done so before completing late-stage clinical trials.
— Kim Hjelmgaard
At least 41 people have tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a swingers convention in New Orleans last month, according to NOLA.com.
Bob Hannaford, the event’s organizer, told NOLA.com most of the cases were asymptomatic or very mild. Only one attendee was hospitalized in critical condition but has since been released, he said. Hannaford said Naughty in N’awlins attendees were required to wear masks, practice social distancing, use contact diaries and get tested for the coronavirus or antibodies before the event.
“If I could go back in time, I would not produce this event again,” Hannaford wrote in a blog post on Friday. “I wouldn’t do it again if I knew then what I know now. It weighs on me and it will continue to weigh on me until everyone is 100% better.”
Public health officials voted Tuesday to add residents of long-term care facilities to front-line health care workers as the first Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Nursing home residents previously had been further down the priority list to vaccinate as doses become available.
“My vote reflects maximum benefit, minimum harm, promoting justice and mitigating health care inequalities,” said Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices chairman Dr. Jose Romero, chief medical officer of the Arkansas Department of Health.
Those in the so-called Phase 1a group would be followed by essential workers in Phase 1b, then adults with high-risk medical conditions and people 65 and older in Phase 1c. Other populations at lower risk of serious illness from COVID-19 would come later next year.
The ACIP is an independent group convened by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to offer advice on who should get specific vaccines and when. Each state ultimately makes the call. The recommendations will not apply until a specific vaccine is authorized by the FDA and the ACIP votes on recommendations for that vaccine.
– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub
Atlanta public school officials will host a virtual town hall Thursday to discuss the plan to resume in-person learning in January after eight months of being closed. The public school system delayed the plan to reopen school buildings in late October due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Elementary school students will be given the option to return to classrooms first, followed by high school students, according to the district’s website. School officials canceled Wednesday online classes for the rest of December to allow teachers to prepare to reopen classrooms.
Hong Kong is limiting most gatherings to just two people and ordering compulsory testing of workers at retirement homes and facilities for people with disabilities, among tightening measures to contain a new wave of coronavirus cases. The semi-autonomous southern Chinese city reported 82 news cases on Wednesday, all but 10 of them listed as having been transmitted among local residents. Since Nov. 17, more than 1,000 cases have been reported, only a few of which were brought from outside the city.
That is prompting the government to raise penalties for failing to follow orders on mask wearing in public and for compulsory tests.
Exceptions were made for some group gatherings, including a limit of 20 people for weddings and shareholder meetings, but religious activities and group travel would no longer be exempt.
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press