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Coronavirus updates: Feared surge is underway; masks can still save 63K lives; Trump missing from task force meetings, Fauci says

8 min read

A long-predicted surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths has begun in the United States, but Americans aren’t changing their behaviors to slow the virus’ spread, according to an influential virus model.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation released their latest model updates this week and they paint a bleak picture of the coming months: A surge in cases will create “enormous pressure on hospital capacity” and deaths will reach nearly 2,200 per day sometime in January.

But even as cases and deaths are currently rising, mask use remains consistent and Americans aren’t staying at home more. If mask use became nearly universal, 63,000 lives can still be saved, the model found.

Meanwhile on Friday, the U.S. surpassed its record for most daily infections when more than 83,700 new COVID-19 cases were recorded. The previous high was set in July when the U.S. saw more than 77,300 new cases.

Here’s what to know today:

  • President Donald Trump is expected to hold a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Saturday night. A USA TODAY investigation found that Trump’s rallies during the past two months didn’t just defy state orders and federal health guidelines – they left a trail of coronavirus outbreaks in their wake
  • The Food and Drug Administration authorized trials of a vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University to restart in the U.S. on Friday.
  • In Europe, France surpassed 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and a patient from the Netherlands was airlifted to a German intensive care unit – the first such international airlift since the global pandemic began.
  • Citing multiple COVID-19 clusters connected to indoor ice hockey, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health ordered a two-week “pause” for ice rinks and ice skating facilities.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported close to8.5 million cases and 224,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 42.2 million cases and 1.1 million deaths.

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.

Which activities have the highest and lowest risk? Scientists say 6 feet is not enough, so develop a system to help you make smart decisions about common activities.

When will there be a COVID-19 vaccine? Our panel of experts expects at least one COVID-19 vaccine will be approved in the coming months. Then things could really get complicated.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

Nobel-Prize winning CRISPR technology delivers 5-minute COVID-19 test

Researchers say a test developed by a Nobel Prize winner using cutting-edge CRISPR technology has the potential to be rapid, accurate and inexpensive.

CRISPR, or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a gene-editing technology studied for a wide range of uses from cancer and sickle cell disease treatments to improved food production. The test recognizes a sequence of RNA in SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

Although these gene-editing technology tests are still being developed and won’t be ready in the United States this year as the weather cools and demand surges, research groups recently published scientific papers describing them as an appealing alternative as testing shortages persist in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We have a ways to go before CRISPR-based diagnostics reach widespread use, but I believe we’ll see an impact during the current pandemic,” said Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a University of California, Berkeley researcher whose pioneering work in CRISPR earned a share of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry. The test can be done quickly and doesn’t require a lab, she said. Read more here.

– Ken Alltucker

With over 80K cases, US tops single-day record

The U.S. topped the one-day record for new coronavirus cases with 83,757 new infections recorded Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. This record surpasses the previous summer high, which was set July 16 with 77,362 cases.

The new cases record may be a product of virus seasonality, pandemic fatigue and the return of schools and universities, said Bob Bednarczyk, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“It’s really a number of factors coming together,” he said. “And what I worry is that they’re starting to come together in a perfect storm.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Poland’s President tests positive amid surge in country

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for the coronavirus, but is feeling well, his spokesman said Saturday.  The spokesman, Blazej Spychalski, said on Twitter that the 48-year-old conservative leader was tested the day before and his result was positive. He said the president is in isolation.

“The president feels good,” Spychalski said. “We are in constant contact with the relevant medical services.”

Duda’s diagnosis comes amid a huge surge in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and virus-related deaths in Poland, a nation that saw only very low infection rates in the spring.

– The Associated Press

Trump has not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in ‘several months,’ Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said Friday that President Donald Trump has not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in “several months” and the meetings themselves have greatly “diminished.”

Led by Vice President Mike Pence, the coronavirus task force used to meet daily during the first months of the pandemic, but that has now been scaled back to meeting once a week, Fauci said, due to the White House focusing on an “economic reopening.”

“We certainly interact with the vice president at the task force meetings, and the vice president makes our feelings and what we talk about there known to the president,” Fauci said when pressed about the last time the president attended. “But direct involvement with the president and discussions, I have not done that in awhile.”

— Savannah Behrmann

Trials of vaccine by AstraZeneca and Oxford to resume in US

The Food and Drug Administration authorized trials of a vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University to restart in the U.S. on Friday.

The company put a hold on its COVID-19 clinical trials worldwide in early September while it investigated an adverse reaction in a trial participant in the United Kingdom. About a week later, trials resumed in the U.K., followed by trials in other countries.

“As part of the standard review process for trial safety events, a voluntary pause to vaccination across all global trials was triggered on 6 September to allow the examination of safety data by independent monitoring committees,” the company said in a statement Friday. “The recommendations from these reviews have been supported by international regulators, who also confirmed that the trials were safe to resume.”

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine trial was also paused in mid-October after an unexplained illness in a volunteer. But experts say the pause isn’t cause for concern.

Oglala Sioux Tribe orders one-week lockdown

In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribe ordered a one-week lockdown of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in response to a surging number of COVID-19 cases in the state. Through the morning of Oct. 30, all non-essential travel is banned and non-essential businesses must close.

The tribe posted on its Twitter page that there were 391 active COVID-19 cases as of Thursday on the reservation, which has about 20,000 residents.

The lockdown comes as South Dakota surpassed 9,000 active coronavirus cases on Thursday and reported an all-time high of 973 new cases in one day.

The federal government underfunded health care for Indigenous people for centuries. A team of USA TODAY reporters explored how the policies of the past and present have made Indigenous Americans prime targets for COVID-19.

– The Associated Press

Massachusetts ice rinks ordered closed for two weeks

Citing multiple COVID-19 clusters connected to indoor ice hockey, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Thursday ordered a two-week “pause” for ice rinks and ice skating facilities.

“This order is in response to multiple COVID-19 clusters occurring at rinks throughout the state following games, practices, and tournaments,” the department said in a press release. “Neighboring states including New Hampshire have enacted similar temporary restrictions regarding indoor ice hockey.”

The department said there have been at least 30 clusters of COVID-19 associated with organized ice hockey activities involving residents from more than 60 municipalities in the state. Each of these includes two or more confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, totaling 108 confirmed cases, the department said.

– Steven H. Foskett Jr., Telegram & Gazette

Trump’s campaign made stops nationwide. Cases surged in his wake.

As President Trump jetted across the country holding campaign rallies during the past two months, he didn’t just defy state orders and federal health guidelines. He left a trail of coronavirus outbreaks in his wake

The president has participated in nearly three dozen rallies since mid-August, all but two at airport hangars. A USA TODAY analysis shows COVID-19 cases grew at a faster rate than before after at least five of those rallies in the following counties: Blue Earth, Minnesota; Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Marathon, Wisconsin; Dauphin, Pennsylvania; and Beltrami, Minnesota.

Together, those counties saw 1,500 more new cases in the two weeks following Trump’s rallies than the two weeks before – 9,647 cases, up from 8,069. 

Public health officials additionally have linked 16 cases, including two hospitalizations, with the rally in Beltrami County, Minnesota, and one case with the rally in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Outside of the counties identified by USA TODAY with a greater case increase after rallies, officials identified four cases linked to Trump rallies. 

Northern hemisphere at ‘critical juncture,’ WHO says

The head of the World Health Organization warns that countries in the Northern hemisphere are at a “critical juncture” with rising cases and deaths.

“The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing on Friday. “Many countries are seeing an exponential increase in cases,” and he called for immediate action.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on coronavirus, says the U.N. health agency had recorded about 445,000 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours; nearly half of those were from Europe. She says in many cities across Europe, “the capacity for ICU is going to be reached in the coming weeks.”

– The Associated Press

COVID status quo means half a million deaths by the end of February 

The nation’s patchwork of differing COVID-19 mandates and the inconsistent use of masks to prevent virus spread could lead to the cumulative loss of more than half a million lives by the end of February, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine predicted that current state strategies surrounding social distancing, phased reopenings and mask mandates could lead to 511,373 deaths by Feb. 28, 2021, according to a study published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine.

However, scientists also predicted nearly 130,000 lives could be saved from the end of September through the end of February if at least 95% of the population wore masks in public. If only 85% wore masks, still nearly 96,000 deaths could be prevented.

“People need to start taking this seriously again,” said Bob Bednarczyk, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “We want to understand how bad it can possibly get if nothing is done and then we can use that to hopefully work our way back a little bit.” 

Coronavirus resources from USA TODAY 

Contributing: The Associated Press

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