Updated virus projections are bringing the long-feared “winter surge” of COVID-19 cases into focus as health experts warn an increasing number of infections in the U.S. will soon mean more deaths.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s latest model updates released this week contain spots of good news: 74,000 American lives can still be saved if mask use becomes nearly universal, and increased testing may explain why more young people are testing positive.
But the influential model still projects daily U.S. deaths will surpass 2,000 in January, even with states reimposing stricter orders.
The guidance also called out North Dakota specifically for its alarming death rate, following a well-documented lax approach to health mandates in the state: “North Dakota presently has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world,” a briefing on the model says. The state joins South Dakota as having some of the lowest mask use rates in the nation.
Some significant developments:
- Hope that a vaccine might be available before Election Day faded this week as two frontrunner candidates have now said late November is the earliest they could apply for authorization for their vaccines. Two other candidates are on hold while possible side effects are investigated.
- The Trump administration announced a partnership Friday with CVS and Walgreens to provide a coronavirus vaccine, when there is one, to nursing home residents at no cost.
- New Mexico is among the states seeing alarming spikes in cases. The state set a single-day record with 819 confirmed cases, health officials confirmed Friday.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 8 million cases and 218,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. There have been more than 39 million confirmed cases around the world and nearly 1.1 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: Italy, once an epicenter for COVID-19, is worlds apart from the United States in its handling of the pandemic. “Italians have always looked up to the United States but what is happening now makes us watch in disbelief,” says one Italian professor.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state
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Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, regional director for the World Health Organization in Europe, warns that the daily death toll on the continent could reach five times its April peak by January 2021.
And on Friday, the WHO warned that intensive care units in a number of European cities could reach maximum capacity in the coming weeks if the number of infections is not slowed.
New restrictions went into effect in several European nations in an effort to staunch the resurgence of the pandemic, including:
- In Paris and eight other French cities, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other establishments were being forced to close no later than 9 p.m. to try to reduce contact among people. The country was deploying 12,000 extra police officers to enforce the new rules.
- In Britain, a three-tier regional approach to battle the pandemic introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week went into effect, with each level bringing in progressively tighter restrictions.
- In Northern Ireland a “circuit breaker” lockdown lasting four weeks came into force Friday in an attempt to quickly tamp down the spread of the virus. All pubs and restaurants must close except for takeaway services, and schools will close for two weeks for an extended half-term holiday.
- Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where the European coronavirus outbreak began in late February, has taken new measures to contain rebounding infections, limiting bar service and alcohol sales, banning contact sports and closing bingo parlors. Southern Campania has taken similarly strict measures, including a shutdown of schools for two weeks. After parents protested, the regional governor backed off Friday and allowed daycare centers to remain open.
– Associated Press
An open letter from the frontrunner COVID-19 vaccine producer published Friday ends any expectations a vaccine might be available before Election Day.
Pfizer Inc. CEO Albert Bourla’s letter says the earliest the company could apply for authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine is the third week of November.
The CEO of the other frontrunner, Moderna’s Stéphane Bancel , said at a biotechnology conference on September 30 that it would not have enough safety data to apply for Food and Drug Administration authorization of its vaccine until November 25.
The other two COVID-19 vaccine candidates in final stage clinical trials in the United States, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, are both on hold as possible adverse events are investigated.
— Elizabeth Weise
Americans living or working in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted care living centers, will receive COVID-19 vaccinations for free — if and when they become available, the Trump administration said Friday.
The administration announced a partnership with the nation’s two largest drug store chains, CVS and Walgreens, “to provide and administer” the vaccines with “no out-of-pocket costs” for the recipients.
Trump, 74, vowed a vaccine would be available before the end of the year, despite his own federal health experts saying that timeline is highly unlikely, and that senior citizens would be “first in line.”
The president made the announcement at an event billed as “Protecting America’s Seniors” in Fort Myers, Florida. Trump is trying to shore up support among senior citizens, a key voting bloc that helped him win four years ago but which recent polling suggests has eroded in recent months.
– Courtney Subramanian and Nathan Bomey
What makes congregating indoors so dangerous? Dr. Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said one of the main reasons there’s a higher risk of transmission indoors than outdoors is lack of ventilation. Additionally, indoor public places have more surfaces.
“If I were to smoke a cigarette (inside), you would see the smoke particles linger,” he said. “Whereas outdoors the smoke kind of leaves.”
Ventilation can be increased by opening a window, turning on a fan or even adding a portable air filter to a room. Most portable air filters can’t filter out virus particles if they don’t have HEPA filtration, but they still facilitate air circulation. Reducing the number of people in an indoor space also helps. Read more here.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press.