Amid promises this week from the president and pharmaceutical companies that there may be a COVID-19 vaccine within months, the head of the World Health Organization said Friday that the agency won’t recommend any vaccine before it is proven safe and effective.
A WHO spokesperson told Reuters Friday that the agency does not expect widespread vaccinations against COVID-19 until the middle of next year.
And this Labor Day weekend, health experts worry that gatherings — of all sizes — could push another coronavirus surge. With temperatures forecast to reach triple digits in California, the beaches are expected to be crowded. Families and friends will gather for cookouts across the country. And, in South Dakota, the annual state fair will bring together thousands for cotton candy and amusement rides.
On Friday, President Donald Trump addressed the holiday weekend, urging “everybody to be careful.” He encouraged “social distancing, wearing a mask whenever the distancing is not possible.” The comments come hours after Trump mocked Democratic opponent Joe Biden for wearing a mask.
Some significant developments:
- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden confirmed Friday that he has been tested for COVID-19 and said that he will continue to be tested “on a regular basis.”
- The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine is predicting more than 410,000 deaths by January if mask usage stays at current rates. If governments continue relaxing social distancing requirements, that number could increase.
- Thousands of Black and Hispanic Americans could go uncounted in the nation’s census this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and other disruptions.
- The U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs in August as businesses shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to reopen and bring back workers.
- At least 7,000 health workers worldwide have died after contracting COVID-19, according to human rights organization Amnesty International.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has about 6.2 million confirmed cases and over 187,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there are 26 million cases and more than 872,000 people have died. New case records were set in Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Arkansas.
📰 What we’re reading: The coronavirus pandemic and social unrest have increased the demand for therapists of color. “COVID made it explicit, some of the needs that communities of color always had to struggle with: unemployment, health conditions, lack of insurance, lack of coverage for mental health,” said Lucy Takagi, a clinical specialist at Montclair State University.
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Hilton to close Times Square hotel
Hilton is closing its 478-room hotel in Times Square effective Oct. 1, according to a document it filed with state regulators this week. Two hundred employees will lose their jobs, the filing says, due to “unforeseeable business circumstances prompted by COVID-19.”
The pandemic has wiped out hotel occupancy in urban areas, including the heart of New York City. According to a report this week from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry group, hotel occupancy in urban markets was 38% in August, well below the 50% it takes for most properties to break even.
As an early epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, New York has experienced a dramatic drop in tourism. While the city has recovered since the spring, restaurants remain closed to indoor dining and Broadway is closed until next year.
– Curtis Tate
Russia publishes virus vaccine results, weeks after approval
Russian scientists have belatedly published first results from early trials into the experimental Sputnik V vaccine, which received government approval last month but drew considerable criticism from experts, as the shots had only been tested on several dozen people before being more widely administered.
In a report published in the journal Lancet on Friday, developers of the vaccine said it appeared to be safe and to prompt an antibody response in all 40 people tested in the second phase of the study within three weeks. However, the authors noted that participants were only followed for 42 days, the study sample was small and there was no placebo or control vaccine used.
One part of the safety trial included only men and the study mostly involved people in their 20s and 30s, so it is unclear how the vaccine might work in older populations most at risk of the more severe complications of COVID-19.
— The Associated Press
Google gives employees extra holiday amid pandemic
Many months into the pandemic, Google is making Friday a one-time paid holiday for “collective wellbeing” and encouraging employees to enjoy a four-day holiday weekend, the company confirmed.
Google announced in July that employees would continue to work from home until summer of 2021.
Census response in poor, minority neighborhoods is undermined by coronavirus
Thousands of Black and Hispanic Americans could go uncounted in the nation’s census this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and other disruptions that discouraged households in poor and heavily minority neighborhoods from filling out their forms.
In 63% of census tracts, fewer people provided initial responses this year than in 2010, a USA TODAY analysis found. Response rates fell particularly in tracts with high concentrations of Black or Latino residents, large percentages of families qualifying for government benefits, or low levels of access to broadband internet.
People of color and poor families are undercounted every census. But COVID-19 delayed delivery of Census questionnaires for hard-to-reach populations during the spring quarantine and delayed operations since then to reach households that failed to respond.
– Theresa Diffendal
Economy added 1.4M jobs in August amid persistent outbreaks
The U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs in August as businesses shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to reopen and bring back workers, more than offsetting a fresh wave of layoffs by firms that have exhausted their federal loans.
The unemployment rate fell sharply to 8.4% from 10.2% in July, the Labor Department said Friday.
August’s payroll gains were healthy but mark the second straight monthly slowdown in hiring after employers added a record 4.8 million positions in June and 1.8 million in July. That’s a troubling sign considering the nation has recouped slightly less than half the unprecedented 22 million jobs wiped out in early spring as states closed down nonessential businesses such as restaurants, malls and movie theaters.
– Paul Davidson
7,000 health workers worldwide have died from COVID-19, NGO says
At least 7,000 health workers worldwide have died after contracting COVID-19, human rights organization Amnesty International said Thursday.
“For over seven thousand people to die while trying to save others is a crisis on a staggering scale. Every health worker has the right to be safe at work, and it is a scandal that so many are paying the ultimate price,” Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
At least 1,320 health workers are confirmed to have died in Mexico alone, the highest known figure for any country, the group said. The U.S. has seen the second-highest number of health care worker deaths, Amnesty International said, with more than 1,000 deaths.
US death toll will reach 410,000 deaths by January: IHME
More than 410,000 Americans will die of COVID-19 by Jan. 1, according to a model cited by top health officials and once used by the White House.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine predicts that number could exceed 620,000 if mask usage stays at current rates and governments continue relaxing social distancing requirements. Global deaths could reach 4 million by the end of the year in a worst case scenario, with a “most likely” scenario of 2.8 million.
Daily deaths in December could be as high as 30,000.
“Looking at the staggering COVID-19 estimates, it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of the numbers,” said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray. “The number of deaths exceeds the capacity of the world’s 50 largest stadiums, a sobering image of the people who have lost their lives and livelihoods.”
Murray said these numbers could imore lives could be saved if mask usage is near-universal and governments implement social distancing requirements.
What we’re reading
Two-thirds say they won’t get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s first available
Two-thirds of U.S. voters say they won’t try to get a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it becomes available and one in four say they don’t want to get it ever, according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk poll released the same week that the number of COVID-19 cases surpassed 6 million.
The poll of 1,000 voters follows similar surveys conducted in the past month that indicate as many as one third of Americans would decline a vaccine, fueled by mistrust of the Trump administration’s push to speed up its development as well as a sizable slice of the country that generally oppose immunizations of any kind.
– Sarah Elbeshbishi and Ledyard King
COVID-19 could eclipse 9/11 in causing police officer deaths
The Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring fallen officers, reports more than 100 law enforcement officials have died of COVID-19. Line-of-duty officer deaths in 2020 have already exceeded the total from 2019, when gunfire and vehicle crashes accounted for two-thirds of the 147 fatalities counted by the Officer Down Memorial group.
Officers have been considered essential workers throughout the pandemic, which has been particularly cruel to corrections officers. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice alone has had at least 16 confirmed line-of-duty deaths because of COVID-19.
“By the end of this pandemic, it is very likely that COVID will surpass 9/11 as the single largest incident cause of death for law enforcement officers,” spokeswoman Jessica Rushing said.
– John Bacon
South Dakota ignores COVID-19 surge with another large event
South Dakota is one of the nation’s hot spots for COVID-19 infections. That didn’t stop another large-scale event from kicking off Thursday.
The rural South Dakota State Fair, which reported an attendance of 205,000 people last year, is set to run through Labor Day with more hand-washing stations, social distancing reminders and an encouragement — but not a requirement — for attendees to wear masks. It comes on the heels of the state’s two largest events: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the The Sioux Empire Fair.
In the weeks following those events, South Dakota has emerged as a virus hotbed, according to data analysis. State and national health experts say the rise in cases is likely fueled by a combination of factors, including school reopenings, small gatherings and major events.
– Joel Shannon
Trump mocks Biden for wearing masks in Pennsylvania rally
President Donald Trump dismissed questions about his own health and mocked his Democratic opponent for wearing a mask in a freewheeling rally Thursday in Pennsylvania that came as polls show a tightening race.
For a second day, Trump dismissed questions about an unscheduled visit he made to Walter Reed Medical Center in November, brushing aside a report about the visit as a conspiracy concocted by critics. At the same time, Trump raised unfounded questions about Joe Biden’s own health, and criticized his mask-wearing.
“They want to try to get me to be in Biden’s physical level,” Trump told a crowded rally held in an airport hangar outside Pittsburgh. “I don’t like rumors like that. It’s not true.”
Trump was responding to a new book that asserted Vice President Mike Pence had been put on “standby” to take over the powers of the presidency during Trump’s November trip to Walter Reed. The White House has said Trump went there as part of his annual physical.
– John Fritze and David Jackson
Some schools cancel online company after reports of ‘inappropriate and racist content’
As millions of students begin the semester online, a number of schools have terminated contracts with an online learning company following reports that some lessons included racist and sexually suggestive content.
Examples posted online by activists and confirmed by Kansas City-based Acellus, a learning company that contracts with about 6,000 schools, include suggestive language such as “sweetie lips” and a controversial illustration in a lesson about Harriet Tubman.
At least four elementary schools in Hawaii were among the first to cancel contracts. In August, parents and community members posted images and video on social media and an online petition, saying they showed examples of content that caused concern.
Aliamanu Elementary School at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam decided to drop Acellus after reports of “inappropriate and racist content” that spanned course subjects and grade levels, Principal Sandra Yoshimi wrote in a letter sent to families.
– Elinor Aspegren
California prison’s dental clinic at San Quentin cited for COVID-19 risks
California’s workplace safety regulator has ordered the San Quentin Prison dental clinic to stop drilling and other work because unsafe practices are spreading COVID-19.
The California Division of Occupational Health and Safety said workers were being put at risk of infection and banned dental work that sprays droplets from the patient’s mouth until the prison can meet a list of safety conditions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The prison in the San Francisco Bay Area is the California lockup hit hardest by the coronavirus. More than 2,200 inmates — about two-thirds of the prison population — have been infected, along with nearly 300 employees. Twenty-six inmates — including several on death row — have died from confirmed or suspected infections.
New Zealand extends coronavirus restrictions into mid-September
New Zealand is extending its coronavirus restriction until at least mid-September, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced Friday. Officials continue to mandate face masks on public transport and restrict large gatherings across the country after the city of Auckland had an outbreak last month.
The country reported five new COVID-19 infections on Friday. Three cases were connected to the Auckland outbreak while the other two were returning travelers who are under quarantine.
California making ‘a lot of progress’ on reopening theme parks including Disneyland
California is making “a lot of progress” toward reopening Disneyland and other theme parks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
Still, Newsom said in a news conference, “we still have work to do” to establish guidelines that would allow the parks to reopen for the first time since they shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re still working on some details,” he said, without offering any specifics.
State officials have not allowed theme parks to reopen because of a spike in coronavirus cases. California has more cases than any other state, and as of Thursday, they totaled nearly more than 707,800, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Golden State also had the most new cases in the past week, with more than 34,700 reported.
– Curtis Tate
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
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Contributing: Jorge Ortiz, USA TODAY; The Associated Press