Usually about 1.9 million deaths are reported from February to September. This year, it’s closer to 2.2 million. The largest increase – 54% – was among Hispanic Americans.
COVID-19 was involved in about two-thirds of the excess deaths, the CDC reported. That appears in line with Johns Hopkins University data putting the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus at more than 220,000.
In Washington, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a $500 billion coronavirus proposal Wednesday that does not include a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks. That comes a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told fellow Republicans in a closed-door meeting to avoid making a deal with Democrats before the Nov. 3 election.
Some significant developments:
- USA TODAY’s experts foresee that at least one COVID vaccine will be approved in coming months. Then comes the hard part: Distribution.
- Idaho is seeing its largest spike in cases since the pandemic began. In the past two weeks, infections are up 46.5%. The governor’s plan urges personal responsibility.
- First lady Melania Trump canceled her first campaign rally in months, citing a “lingering cough” from her coronavirus infection earlier this month.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 8.2 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Almost 41 million cases and 1.1 million deaths.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.
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U.S. health officials Wednesday redefined what counts as close contact with someone with COVID-19 to include briefer but repeated encounters.
For months, the CDC said close contact meant spending a solid 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday, the CDC changed it to a total of 15 minutes or more – so shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period now count.
The CDC advises anyone who has been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient to quarantine for two weeks.
The change may prompt health departments to do contact tracing in cases where an exposure might previously have been considered too brief, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert.
It also serves notice that the coronavirus can spread more easily than many people realize, he added.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday he will quarantine after coming “in close proximity” with a member of his senior staff who tested positive for the coronavirus. “I will now, unfortunately, have to take myself off the field,” Murphy said before leaving an event in Camden County.
Murphy, 63, tested negative for the virus Monday and said he had no symptoms. But that does not clear him because the virus can take several days to incubate, a point he has been pressing in his regular briefings. The Democrat and his wife were tested later Wednesday and the results came back negative, his communications director said.
— Dustin Racioppi, The Bergen Record
Ohio is among the many states experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, setting a record for new infections for the second time in less than a week. Another 2,366 Ohioans tested positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to the state’s health department. The new high is 132 more than the previous mark of 2,234 daily cases set Oct. 17.
As of Tuesday, 43 states had more cases in the latest week than they did in the week before, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and it’s not just because of increased testing. In 39 states, test positivity rates were higher in the most recent week than the previous one.
North Dakota is now reporting cases at almost double the per-person rate of any state in the spring or summer surges. Wisconsin, Montana and South Dakota also were reporting cases at a faster per-person rate than any state did in the spring or summer.
Max Filby, The Columbus Dispatch; Michael Stucka
Americans will soon be facing the decision of whether to eschew the traditional holiday gatherings with family and friends or risk spreading the virus among loved ones. Some of the safety measures called for by federal health officials aren’t very practical – it’s hard to fit everybody at a table six feet apart or to eat a meal outdoors in the late November chill. Add restrictions fatigue and a sense of defiance to the mix and it’s clear many will ignore the suggestions.
Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, said too many families will mock the advice as “ridiculous.”
“That may give them a sense of independence,” Woolf said. “But then the virus gets to grandma and she ends up in the hospital on a ventilator, and then you live with the guilt.’’
– Jorge L. Ortiz
Montana and South Dakota had a record number of deaths in the seven-day period that ended Tuesday, while those states and 13 others set records for new cases in a week. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, has seen enough. He tweeted a quote Tuesday from ER nurse Charlotte Skinner: “I’m asking you to stop segregating yourselves into maskers and anti-maskers and to stand with us on the common ground of science and evidence, which is clearly telling us that masking works.”
Republican Kristi Noem, however, has converted criticism for refusing to issue lockdowns or mandate masks into political capital – literally. Noem’s campaign committee, Kristi for Governor, raised more than $850,000 between May 17 and Oct. 14 in part because of her newfound financial support from people outside of South Dakota. That’s more than six times what she raised in the first part of the year.
– Michael Stucka, USA TODAY; Joe Sneve, Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Europe reported a new high in the weekly number of coronavirus cases last week, recording more than 927,000 cases, the World Health Organization says. The health agency said in its latest global report that the continent saw a 25% spike in confirmed cases last week and was responsible for 38% of all new cases reported worldwide. Russia, which spreads into Europe and Asia, the Czech Republic and Italy accounted for more than half of new COVID-19 cases in Europe. Ireland on Wednesday became the first EU country to return to lockdown amid the slide, although Prime Minister Micheal Martin insisted schools will stay open.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser is urging residents with Apple or Android smartphones to opt in to the new DC COVID Alert Notice system, or DC CAN. Bowser called it “a quick and easy way to know if you might have been exposed to COVID-19,” adding that it can help protect family, friends and the entire community.
The new Exposure Notification Express model is a major tweak to existing Google-Apple contact tracing software that became available earlier this year. But that tool was not readily embraced by health departments in part because it required jurisdictions to build and maintain their own apps. The new system claims to be simpler and doesn’t require iPhone users to download an app.
Science is making remarkable progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine, but as approval nears – potentially as early as December – worry has shifted to the complexity of distribution. USA TODAY has been regularly surveying a panel of experts, who this month had an overall hopeful projection. After five months, the panel’s countdown clock to a widely available vaccine skipped forward another hour, to 8 a.m.
Companies and observers generally expect at least one COVID-19 candidate vaccine soon will receive a regulatory thumbs-up. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, joined the chorus Tuesday when he told NPR he was “guardedly optimistic” one or more of the current vaccine candidates will be judged safe and effective by the end of the year.
But reality is setting in about how hard it will be to get an approved vaccine to everyone who wants it. Read more here.
– Karen Weintraub, Elizabeth Weise
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a closed-door lunch Tuesday, told fellow Republicans he urged the White House not to strike a deal with Democrats on a COVID-19 relief package, according to a Senate source who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.
The Kentucky Republican voiced concerns there would not be enough GOP votes to back a package and worries that voting on such legislation could negatively affect the timing on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation vote to the Supreme Court, the source said.
Republicans in the Senate are set to take up a $500 billion plan Wednesday that would reauthorize small business loans, reissue a federal boost to unemployment benefits, send more than $100 billion to schools and allocate funding for testing and vaccine development. The price tag of that bill is much lower than the roughly $1.8 trillion offered by the White House this month and the $2.2 trillion package Democrats put forward.
– Nicholas Wu and Christal Hayes
Melania Trump, 50, canceled plans to accompany her husband to a campaign rally in Erie, Ohio, on Tuesday evening. It would have been her first campaign rally appearance in more than a year and her first public sighting since she and President Donald Trump tested positive on Oct. 2 for the coronavirus.
After the first lady learned they had contracted the virus, she said, “Naturally my mind went immediately to our son. To our great relief he tested negative, but again, as so many parents have thought over the past several months, I couldn’t help but think, ‘What about tomorrow or the next day?’ ”
She said her fears “came true” when Barron Trump was tested again and came up positive. She said Barron exhibited no symptoms and later tested negative.
– Maria Puente
A new government report shows that since the coronavirus pandemic began, the U.S. has seen 300,000 more deaths than it usually would. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 14.5% increase in reported deaths, from the usual 1.9 million between the beginning of February and the end of September to this year’s nearly 2.2 million.
The CDC estimated 299,028 excess deaths in the nation occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, and 198,081 (66%) were attributed to COVID-19. The overall total of excess deaths by now has surpassed 300,000.
CDC officials say it’s likely the virus was a factor in many other deaths besides the 200,000-plus directly attributed to it. For example, someone with heart attack symptoms may have hesitated to go to a hospital that was busy with coronavirus patients.
Idaho is seeing its largest coronavirus increase since the pandemic began: The number of new cases has increased 46.5% over the past two weeks. That has some health care experts urging Gov. Brad Little to take additional action to slow the spread of the virus.
Dr. Bart Hill with the St. Luke’s Regional Health System said Idaho’s current approach hasn’t worked to change the trajectory of the pandemic. He said hospital officials are meeting with the governor to encourage additional steps like statewide information campaigns targeting teens and young adults.
The governor has said the responsibility for efforts to slow the virus falls on individuals. He urges people to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands.
After a three-month legal battle with state and county officials, a California private school will have to pay a $15,000 fine for defying a judge’s health order to keep classrooms closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Fresno County Superior Court Judge D. Tyler Tharpe said there was “overwhelming” evidence that Immanuel Schools, a private K-12 Christian school in the state’s Central Valley, violated his Sept. 15 order.
The judge originally fined the school $50,000, but then later dropped it to $15,000 after the school committed to following stricter state and local requirements for in-person instruction. If the school fails to do so, Tharpe said he will require the school to pay the full $50,000.
It will not be close to full, but there will be 3,000 New Orleans Saints fans allowed into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday when the Saints host the Carolina Panthers.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell decided on Tuesday to allow a minimal amount of fans in the 73,000-seat stadium, according to a statement from the Saints. Only about 700 family members, friends and staff members were allowed in the team’s first three home games this season because of COVID-19 concerns.
The number of fans could grow to 6,000 for the Saints’ home game against San Francisco on Nov. 15 and for Atlanta on Nov. 22 should there be no changes in the COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
– Glenn Guilbeau, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
MGM Resorts in Las Vegas will soon bring back several top entertainment acts to The Strip – including David Copperfield, Carrot Top and Jabbawockeez. The shows are set to return Nov. 6.
“After eight months, it’s time to bring entertainment back to the Entertainment Capital of the World,” said George Kliavkoff, MGM Resorts’ President of Entertainment and Sports, in a statement. “While there is still a long road in our city’s recovery, the reintroduction of these shows is an important first step.”
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak last month issued an executive order loosening the state’s 50-person cap on gatherings and relaxing a host of other business restrictions imposed during the pandemic. Gatherings of up to 250 people – as well as many live entertainment events, trade shows, concerts and conventions – are now allowed to resume.
– Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal
Target will offer its employees another $200 bonus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement by the company. The second round of incentives is directed toward Target’s 350,000 eligible in-store, distribution and customer service employees. Hourly and seasonal workers are eligible for the bonus.
Target’s bonuses won’t apply to contract workers who work for the company’s grocery delivery service, Shipt. The move comes as Americans begin their holiday shopping and many retailers begin to hire seasonal workers. The initiative will cost the Minneapolis-based company over $70 million.
– Coral Murphy
COVID resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press