GOP senators consider $600 extension; Pfizer hopes for October vaccine OK; California cases top NY

The U.S. government has placed an initial order for 100 million doses of a vaccine candidate being developed by Pfizer and a German firm, BioNTech, for $1.95 billion, the companies announced Wednesday.

The U.S. can acquire up to 500 million additional doses, the statement said.

Meanwhile, federal unemployment benefits are taking a hit at a time when more states are abruptly pausing their reopening plans. The $600 weekly jobless benefits bonus, approved in March, is about to expire and likely won’t be extended or replaced before next month.

The U.S. has been averaging more than 60,000 new cases daily for multiple weeks, and hospitalizations have climbed to totals not seen in three months. A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Tuesday shows 10 states set seven-day records for new cases while five states had a record number of deaths over the period.

📈 Today’s stats: The U.S. has more than 3.9 million cases and more than 141,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been almost 15 million cases and more than 615,000 deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: It’s not just dexamethasone. Other steroids may be used to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, study says.

Making headlines:

Ohio Gov. announces statewide mask order 

Gov. Mike DeWine reversed course Wednesday, issuing a statewide face mask mandate in the face of rising coronavirus cases.

DeWine previously resisted a statewide order, although mask use was mandated in public places in “red” counties where coronavirus cases were on the rise.

Cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in Ohio. On Wednesday, the state reported its third highest case count since the outbreak began.

– Patrick Cooley, Columbus Dispatch

GOP senators consider short-term extension of extra $600 

Senate Republicans are in talks with the Trump administration about temporarily extending the supplemental pay that millions of Americans receive on top of their weekly unemployment benefits.

The extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, approved four months ago to help Americans deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, is set to expire at the end of the month.

Congressional leaders and the White House are in discussions about another broad coronavirus aid package but are unlikely to pass a new bill before the increased unemployment benefits expire.

A short-term extension of unemployment benefits is now on the table, although it’s unclear how long that extension would run and whether it would be for $600 or a lesser amount.

– Michael Collins, USA TODAY

US hospitalizations back to peak levels as confirmed cases surge

More than 59,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19 related illness, a return to the peak that rocked the nation in April, according data from the COVID Tracking Project. Hospitalizations have been steadily rising since hitting a low point of 27,772 on June 15. Several days with more than 59,000 were reported in April before the number began dropping steadily. But it has been rising for more than a month, according to the data.

Dr. Matthew G. Heinz is an internist in Arizona, which has struggled in recent weeks as the numbers rise. “Hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus lag significantly behind reports of new infections,” he said.

Pfizer hopes for approval of vaccine as soon as October

Pfizer and BioNTech announced a deal with the federal government for 100 million doses of their vaccine candidate once the companies obtain approval or emergency use authorization from U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Americans will receive the vaccine for free, the firms said. If the ongoing studies are successful, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be ready to seek Emergency Use Authorization or some form of regulatory approval as early as October.

The companies expect to manufacture globally up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and potentially more than 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. The federal government, under Operation Warp Speed, has cut deals with multiple drug companies, trying to line up massive amounts of vaccines as soon as they become available.

“Expanding Operation Warp Speed’s diverse portfolio by adding a vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech increases the odds that we will have a safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year,” said  Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

John Burkhardt, head of the Pfizer Groton, site speaks at a press conference Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Groton, Conn.
John Burkhardt, head of the Pfizer Groton, site speaks at a press conference Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Groton, Conn.

California surpasses New York with most confirmed cases in nation

California’s confirmed coronavirus cases surged to over 409,000, giving the state the dubious distinction of the most cases in the nation. Johns Hopkins University data shows California has about 1,200 more cases than New York, which was the global hot spot for the virus and related fatalities this spring. New York has 32,520 confirmed deaths; California’s about 8,000. California, with a population of 40 million, is about twice the size of New York. Scientists say reported coronavirus cases vastly underestimate the true number of infections because of the small number of tests.

United expands mask requirement to airport, threatens travel bans

If you’re flying United, you already know you have to keep your mask on during your flight. Now, the airline says you also need to keep it on throughout the airport effective Friday. The company announced Wednesday, ahead of its quarterly earnings call, that customers are expected to don masks at United customer service counters and kiosks and United Club locations, plus at gates and baggage claim areas.

“We’re really trying to close all the travel gaps,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box. A company statement warned that “if customers refuse to comply, they may be refused travel and banned from flying United at least while the mask requirement is in place.”

David Oliver

CDC director Redfield ‘absolutely’ ready to send grandkids back to school

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday he “absolutely” feels comfortable sending his own grandchildren back to schools this fall despite few gains in the pandemic struggle in the U.S. Redfield said failure to provide in-class education results in multiple public health issues as well as putting pressure on parents who need to return to work.

“It’s really important to get out schools open,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He said other than concerns about one grandchild who has cystic fibrosis, “I’m 100% that they can get back to school.”

Pandemic ‘super-profit’ companies: And the rich get richer…

Amid the rash of bankruptcies and mass layoffs, some American companies are reaping “dramatic profits” during the pandemic, according to a new study by an international poverty-fighting group. An analysis published Wednesday by Oxfam, a Britain-based activist organization, found that 17 of the top 25 most profitable U.S. corporations, including Microsoft, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Facebook, Pfizer and Visa, are expected to make almost $85 billion more in 2020 in what it called “super-profits” than in previous years.

“Thanks to a combination of government assistance and pure luck, a handful of corporations are raking it in and making already rich shareholders even richer,” said Irit Tamir, director of the private sector department at Oxfam America.

Kim Hjelmgaard

Phoning it in: Americans expect to be working, learning from home this fall

Most Americans expect their home to be a place of work and learning when the school year starts. More than 6 out of 10 Americans said it is likely they will be working from home this fall, according to The Harris Poll survey of 1,970 U.S. adults from July 18-19. And two-thirds of Americans said they expect their kids will be taking courses online from home. And bad news for the travel industry: 79% say it’s unlikely they will travel on an airplane this fall, and 74% say they don’t plan to stay in a hotel this fall, either.

Only 27% of parents say they expect to take their kids trick-or-treating, but they apparently will be wearing “masks.” Support for wearing protective masks in public is up to 68% from 54% since late March.

Mike Snider

Brazil President Bolsonaro still testing positive

Brazil’s government says President Jair Bolsonaro is still testing positive for the coronavirus following his July 7 announcement. The positive test Tuesday came after a follow-up check on July 15. The government says he remains in good health and that Bolsonaro will keep holding videoconferences instead of face-to-face meetings. He had to cancel a trip to northeastern Brazil. At least four members of Bolsonaro’s Cabinet have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Many COVID-19 complaints falling on deaf ears in Supreme Court

The coronavirus pandemic has fueled an outbreak of lawsuits from voters, church worshipers, prisoners and others challenging public health policies, but the Supreme Court is proving to be a roadblock for those taking their complaints into courtrooms. Taken together, the high court’s actions signal a desire to leave the pandemic in public officials’ hands – an effort that may prove difficult as Election Day draws near.

“This is the most litigious year I’ve ever experienced on voting rights,” said Dale Ho, director of the voting rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed 15 lawsuits so far. “COVID has turbocharged these controversies and has created more emergencies around the country than we’ve ever had in an election year.”

Richard Wolf

‘Perfect Pitch’ star says she skipped a mask once – and got COVID-19

Actress Anna Camp, a co-star of the “Pitch Perfect” films, said she believes she contracted COVID-19 after not wearing her mask in public “One. Time.”

Camp, who said she was “extremely sick” for three weeks, described her experience in an Instagram post in which she urged readers not to let their guard down. Camp lost her sense of taste and smell, with the smell only returning partially a month later. Other lingering symptoms, a month later, include dizziness, extreme fatigue, sinus problems, nausea, vomiting and fever, she said.

“I’m lucky. Because I didn’t die. But people are,” Camp, 37, wrote. “Please wear (your) mask. It can happen any time. And it can happen to anyone.”

Bryan Alexander

State records fall as pandemic tightens grip on US

Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Puerto Rico set records for new cases over a seven-day period that ended Tuesday. A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data also revealed that a record numbers of deaths for a seven-day period were reported in Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The 581 deaths in Arizona was more than six times the number of deaths reported in any week in the state during the spring, the nation’s death toll was hitting its peak.

Michael Stucka

Ex-CDC chief says more COVID-19 data should be released

States should release 15 categories of information deemed “essential” to understanding the pandemic, said Dr. Tom Frieden, now president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative designed to prevent epidemics and cardiovascular disease.

Vital information includes such data as a rolling average of new cases and deaths, hospitalizations per capita, testing turnaround time and percentage of people wearing masks. Only 40% of essential data points are being monitored and reported publicly, and half isn’t made public at all, Frieden said.

“With clear guidance, we can understand our risk better and improve our response rapidly,” Frieden said. “This information was obtained with taxpayer dollars and we should demand that we have access to the information.”

– Karen Weintraub

Detroit schools expect student test results within 30 minutes

The superintendent of schools in Detroit said the district will comply with a judge’s order to test the 600 in-classroom summer school students for COVID-19 by Monday. U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow ordered the testing to begin Wednesday. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district has worked with the city of Detroit to obtain tests. 

“We will allow parents who made the decision to send their children for face-to-face summer school instruction to have their children COVID-tested through nasal swabs,” Vitti said. He added that the tests would be administered at the schools and results should be available within 30 minutes. 

It was not immediately clear what impact the ruling would have on the new school year. The district tentatively plans to offer optional, in-classroom learning for the district’s 50,000 students.

– John Wisely, Detroit Free Press

Some daycares welcoming toddlers – but don’t forget the mask

President Donald Trump has pushed for a return to campus for older students, but the calculus is different with ages 2 to 4, an impressionable phase that leaves parents concerned about the possible impact of exposing children to a mask- and temperature check-filled setting from which parents now are excluded for health reasons. While protocols vary, many pre-K and day care facilities now have measures to keep teachers and children safe that include car drop-offs, fever checks and the wearing of masks or shields.

“We do see apprehension from parents,” says Jessica Chang, who co-founded WeeCare to help connect parents with some 2,500 child care facilities nationwide. “We offer virtual ways to interact with providers to raise their comfort level. And we encourage providers to make things fun when they can.”

Marco della Cava

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID update: Pfizer vaccine approval; $600 in unemployment ending

Source Article