COVID-19 death toll in US reaches 250,000
A coronavirus vaccine might not be widely available until several months into 2021.
The U.S. death toll from coronavirus has surpassed 250,000, including 1,700 reported Wednesday alone. Hospitalizations across the nation have exploded, with almost 80,000 Americans now receiving inpatient treatment.
Happy Thanksgiving? Not so much.
New York canceled its massive Thanksgiving Day parade weeks ago. Houston followed suit and Detroit is planning a virtual event as well.
Many universities are urging students not to go home for the holidays, concerned about igniting a nationwide burst of new cases. Some schools are suggesting that students that do go home not come back, fearing an outbreak of infections on campus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chimed in Thursday, recommending Americans simply not travel for the holiday.
“The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members is coming to this family gathering and they could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying,” said Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager. “We don’t want that to happen.”
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 11.6 million cases and more than 252,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 56.7 million cases and 1.35 million deaths.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.
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California curfew: 10 p.m. for 94% of residents
Three days after 94% of California’s population was moved into the state’s strictest tier of coronavirus restrictions, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a 10 p.m. curfew Thursday for that same group, encompassing 41 counties.
The curfew, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., begins Saturday and will last a month, Newsom said via Twitter, calling the move a “limited Stay at Home Order” that covers gatherings and non-essential work.
Coronavirus cases have doubled in the last 10 days across California, which became the second state to record 1 million COVID-19 cases last week.
With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. – a reminder that the nation’s testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.
The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.6 million cases and 252,000 deaths.
Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays, especially as cases rise across the nation and people rush to get tested before reuniting with relatives.
“As those cases increase, demand increases and turnaround times may increase,” said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “So it’s like a dog chasing its tail.”
Lines spanned multiple city blocks at testing sites across New York City this week, leaving people waiting three or more hours before they could even enter health clinics. In Los Angeles, thousands lined up outside Dodger Stadium for drive-thru testing.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt ignores CDC guidance
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt won’t be appearing on any CDC posters promoting safe practices to prevent spreading the coronavirus.
On the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans avoid traveling for Thanksgiving, the Republican governor said he planned to spend the holiday with his parents and family and travel to attend Saturday’s college football game between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
“I think Oklahomans should be with their loved ones over Thanksgiving,” Stitt said during a news conference in which he wasn’t wearing a mask inside a crowded conference room at the state Capitol. Earlier this week, Stitt issued an executive order requiring state employees to wear masks inside state buildings.
Detroit’s top public health official on Thursday scuttled any plans for a live downtown performance for the city’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Denise Fair, chief public health officer for the Detroit Health Department, determined that a parade of 800 participants and 22 floats would violate Michigan’s recent public health restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. Parade organizer Tony Michaels said there had been no expectation of a live audience and that a “virtual” parade will be available for TV viewers Thanksgiving morning.
“The format continues to evolve in this unprecedented time,” Michaels said in a statement. “This tradition is part of our lives and the broadcast will reach
millions in the safety of their home.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending against travel for Thanksgiving. Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said the “tragedy that could happen” is that family members could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying. The CDC’s warning is the latest and most high profile about the risks of traveling as coronavirus cases rise nationwide. Officials in California, Illinois and other states have urged residents to avoid nonessential travel even as airlines tout holiday fare deals.
“These times are tough, it’s been a long outbreak, almost 11 months, and we understand people are tired,” Walke said. “But this year we’re asking them to limit their travel.”
– Sara M. Moniuszko
As state officials and lawmakers urged the shutdown of a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Iowa, managers at the plant reportedly placed bets on how many would end up getting sick. That is one of the many new allegations leveled against Tyson Foods in an amended lawsuit filed this week. Around 1,000 employees at the Waterloo plant contracted COVID-19, five of whom died. That includes Isidro Fernandez, whose family filed the suit against the meat empire earlier this year.
In April, per the suit, plant manager Tom Hart allegedly began organizing the “winner-take-all” betting ring among managers and supervisors over how many employees would get sick.
Tyson Foods issued a statement Thursday saying those allegedly involved in the betting scheme have been suspended without pay, and that the company would launch an independent investigation.
“We are extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at our Waterloo plant,” the statement said. “These allegations do not represent who we are.”
– Joshua Bote
There are millions of Americans still eligible for a $1,200 stimulus check from the first pandemic relief bill, but time to claim it is running out.
The IRS sent letters to about 9 million Americans who haven’t received a stimulus check to remind them that they need to submit their information by Saturday. That includes college students as well as individuals and families who don’t typically file tax returns, usually due to low incomes.
Those who don’t normally file returns have until 3 p.m. ET on Saturday to register for an Economic Impact Payment. They may also be eligible to get a $1,200 payment for a spouse and $500 for each qualifying child.
– Jessica Menton
Maryland Terrapins coach Michael Locksley has tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently isolating at home, the school said Thursday. Maryland’s game set for Saturday against Michigan State was canceled. The Terrapins’ game last week against the Ohio State Buckeyes had also been canceled after the program paused football activities due to an elevated number of COVID-19 cases. Over the last week, 15 athletes and seven members of coaching staff have tested positive, per the school.
“I am feeling strong, with only minor symptoms,” Locksley said in a statement. “I will continue to lead this program virtually and our game preparations for Indiana will begin immediately.”
The 15 college football games called off this week tie last week’s total for the season high.
President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to enact a swift and aggressive national approach to combating COVID-19 by working with balking governors to impose mask requirements and other restrictions, expanding testing and contact tracing efforts and using a more evidence-based approach in issuing guidance. Details remain vague –economic incentives are one possibility.
Jake Sullivan, a senior Biden policy adviser, said the president-elect’s coronavirus plan is not defined by overly restrictive measures and instead focuses on guidance tailored to local situations.
“It’s about actually taking the kinds of steps that can help you avoid full shutdown,” Sullivan said. “That is the best way to get broad-based buy-in across the country at both the state and the local level.”
– Courtney Subramanian
As COVID-19 cases pile up at a staggering rate, Republicans and Democrats remain in stark disagreement over the threat of the virus and the steps necessary to mitigate its spread. That has surprised political scientists and public health experts who thought that, if the pandemic worsened, the partisan gap would begin to close. They believed the reality of what was happening in people’s cities and towns would trump political identity, unifying the nation in its fight against a deadly threat. It has not. And it may never.
“I thought at some point reality would come back in for people and they would have a hard time balancing their motivations to stay consistent with their partisanship with what’s going on on the ground,” said Shana Gadarian, a political psychologist at Syracuse University. “That was wholly optimistic on my part.” Read more here.
– Alia E. Dastagir
European officials announced a modest gain in the continent’s battle against the virus. New cases of COVID-19 decreased to 1.8 million cases last week, down from over 2 million the week before. Dr Hans Henri Kluge, World Health Organization regional director for Europe, credited adherence to “risk-reducing behavior.” Still, an average of 4,500 lives are lost to COVID-19 in Europe every day, Kluge said. He described further lockdowns as a last resort and said that if mask use reached 95%, lockdowns would not be needed.
“I would like to emphasize that every time we choose to follow guidance, stop the spread of misinformation or address denial, we contribute to preventing lives lost,” he said.
Almost 100,000 long-term care U.S. residents have died in the coronavirus pandemic, and advocates for the elderly say tens of thousands more are succumbing to neglect by overwhelmed staffs and slow declines from isolation imposed as protection from COVID. Stephen Kaye, professor at the Institute on Health and Aging at the University of California-San Francisco, analyzed data from 15,000 facilities, finding that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those “excess deaths” beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March, he said.
Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, disputed claims of widespread inability of staff to care for residents and dismissed estimates of tens of thousands of non-COVID-19 deaths as “speculation.”
“There have been some really sad and disturbing stories that have come out,” Gifford said. “But we’ve not seen that widespread.”
Although the COVID-19 outbreak is looking worse than ever, news from vaccine makers is fueling optimism. Normally restrained and cautious, a panel of experts convened by USA TODAY could barely contain its enthusiasm over the 95% vaccine effectiveness figures from both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. The panel judges the time on a clock that began at “midnight” with the discovery of the dangerous new virus in early 2020, and will end at “noon,” when a vaccine is freely available across the U.S. In June, the panel’s first median time was 4 a.m. For November, the time reached 9:30 a.m. with word that authorization of at least one COVID-19 vaccine is anticipated within weeks.
“That means we can begin inoculating health care and other essential workers even before we’re done with the Thanksgiving leftovers,” said Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a New York-based think tank.
Hurdles that remain: getting the vaccines delivered, getting them in people’s arms, reminding people to come back weeks later for a second shot and record any problems.
– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub
England’s University of Oxford on Thursday announced encouraging early testing results for yet another vaccine candidate. The vaccine being developed by Oxford researchers and U.K.-based AstraZeneca appears to trigger a “robust immune response” in healthy adults, including those aged 56 and older, the university said in a release. The Phase II testing data is crucial for elderly adults who are among the most vulnerable to face serious illness and death from COVID-19. Phase III trials involving more than 30,000 volunteers are underway. Two other vaccine candidates, from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, have displayed encouraging results in Phase III trials.
Raiden Gonzalez will be turning 5 years old soon, and while he will be surrounded by love and support, he will be missing his parents. Adan and Mariah Gonzalez died months apart this year after contracting COVID-19. Both were under 35.
Raiden now lives with his maternal grandmother, Rozie Salinas, in San Antonio. He “just wishes he could have them back,” Salinas told USA TODAY. Her advice to those who hear Raiden’s story: “They need to take COVID seriously because it’s no joke.”
– Joel Shannon
College students are preparing to fan out across the nation for Thanksgiving, taking their possible coronavirus infections — symptomatic or not — into their loved ones’ homes. Colleges are scrambling to prevent a massive spread, with some urging or requiring students to quarantine or receive a negative coronavirus test before traveling home. Without those precautions, college leaders say, students should consider abstaining from their holiday plans and instead opt for a celebration closer to campus.
Boston University’s recommendation is that students either stay in Boston for the holiday or go home and not come back. Kenneth Elmore, dean of students, says the school is urging students to think of the greater good.
“We’ve been pushing that very hard, very strongly, to the point where we’re just on the verge of being mean about it,” Elmore said.
– Chris Quintana
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press