By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 14, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Coronavirus outbreaks in the Midwest and Western United States have driven the national case count to its highest level since August, fueling fears of what the coming winter will mean for the country.
COVID-19 cases are starting to climb in 36 states, including parts of the Northeast, which is starting to backslide after months of progress, The New York Times reported. More than 820 new deaths and more than 54,500 new cases were announced across the country on Tuesday, the newspaper said. Idaho and Wisconsin set single-day records for new cases.
About 50,000 new cases are being reported each day in the United States for the week ending Monday, the Times reported. That is still less than in late July, when the country was seeing more than 66,000 cases each day.
But the trajectory is worsening, and experts fear what could happen as cold weather drives people indoors, where the virus can spread more easily, the newspaper said. The latest spike in cases shows up just before the increased mingling of people that comes with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Sixteen states each added more new cases in the seven-day period ending Monday than they had in any other weeklong stretch of the pandemic. North Dakota and South Dakota are reporting more new cases per person than any state has previously, the Times reported.
“A lot of the places being hit are Midwest states that were spared in the beginning,” William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher, told the Washington Post. “That’s of particular concern because a lot of these smaller regions don’t have the ICU beds and capacity that the urban centers had.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations have already begun rising in almost a dozen states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, raising the probability that increasing death counts will soon follow, the Post reported.
Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that he hopes the numbers “jolt the American public into a realization that we really can’t let this happen, because it’s on a trajectory of getting worse and worse.” He called the rising numbers “the worst possible thing that could happen as we get into the cooler months.”
It is unclear what is driving the climbing case count, but it could be the long-feared winter effect already taking place, or the reopening of businesses and schools, or just people letting down their guard on social distancing efforts, the Post reported.
Second COVID vaccine trial paused
A second coronavirus vaccine trial was paused this week after an unexplained illness surfaced in one of the trial’s volunteers.
Johnson & Johnson, which only began a phase 3 trial of its vaccine last month, did not offer any more details on the illness and did not say whether the sick participant had received the vaccine or a placebo. The trial pause was first reported by the health news website STAT.
While Johnson & Johnson was behind several of its competitors in the vaccine race, its candidate has an advantage in that it doesn’t need to be frozen and it could be given in one dose instead of two, the Times reported. The J&J vaccine is also the focus of the largest COVID-19 vaccine trial, with a goal of enrolling 60,000 volunteers.
“Adverse events — illnesses, accidents, etc. — even those that are serious, are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies,” the company said in a statement. “We’re also learning more about this participant’s illness, and it’s important to have all the facts before we share additional information.”
“It’s actually a good thing that these companies are pausing these trials when these things come up,” Dr. Phyllis Tien, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, a vaccine trial site for both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, told the Times. “We just need to let the sponsor and the safety board do their review and let us know their findings.”
Johnson & Johnson is not the first company to pause a coronavirus vaccine trial. Two participants in AstraZeneca’s trial became seriously ill after getting its vaccine. That trial has been halted and has not yet resumed in the United States.
Two companies working on antibody cocktails
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. said last week that it is seeking emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an experimental antibody cocktail given to Trump shortly after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Hours before the company made the announcement, Trump proclaimed in a video released by the White House that the drug had an “unbelievable” effect on his recovery from coronavirus infection, the Post reported.
“I think this was the key,” Trump said, after acknowledging that the antibody cocktail was just one of several drugs he was prescribed by his medical team. While there is no hard evidence yet proving the drug’s effectiveness in humans, it has shown promise in treating mild cases of the new coronavirus, the Post reported.
In his video, Trump said, “I have emergency-use authorization all set, and we’ve got to get it signed now.” However, an FDA spokeswoman told the Times that the agency does not confirm or deny product applications.
Regeneron said in its statement that it could initially produce doses of the antibody cocktail for 50,000 patients, and then ramp production up to doses for 300,000 patients in the next few months if granted emergency authorization.
The U.S. government first inked a contract with Regeneron back in July, and has promised to distribute initial doses of the treatment at no cost if it is approved, the Post reported.
Regeneron isn’t the only company developing an antibody cocktail to battle COVID-19 infection: Eli Lilly and Co. has also announced that it is seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA for a similar cocktail. But on Tuesday, the company announced it has paused a trial of its antibody cocktail for safety concerns and did not divulge any further details about the reason for the pause, the Post reported.
Experts say such pauses demonstrate the safety system is working as intended. But the intense scrutiny of the fast-moving COVID-19 trials mean that the lack of transparency around possible adverse events could unintentionally help foster distrust of any treatments or vaccines for coronavirus, the Post reported.
COVID continues to spread around the globe
By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 7.9 million while the death toll neared 216,000, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Wednesday were: California with over 863,600; Texas with more than 842,000; Florida with over 738,700; New York with over 481,000; and Illinois with more than 329,000.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
Several European countries are experiencing case surges as they struggle with a second wave of coronavirus infections and hospital beds begin to fill up, the Post reported.
In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson instituted a three-tier lockdown in a bid to slow a startling spike in coronavirus cases across the country. In the past three weeks, new coronavirus cases have quadrupled and there are now more COVID-19 patients hospitalized than before the government imposed a lockdown back in March, the Post reported.
Addressing the nation this week, Johnson warned Britons that the country’s rise in cases was “flashing like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet.”
Things are no better in India, where the coronavirus case count has passed 7.2 million, a Johns Hopkins tally showed.
More than 110,500 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India’s younger and leaner population.
Still, the country’s public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, Brazil passed 5.1 million cases and had nearly 151,000 deaths as of Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Cases are also spiking in Russia: The country’s coronavirus case count has passed 1.3 million. As of Wednesday, the reported death toll in Russia was over 23,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 38.1million on Wednesday, with nearly 1.1 million deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
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