June 16 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan and Steve George, CNN

Updated 2:11 AM ET, Wed June 17, 2020
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4:36 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

Texas reports new record for daily Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Ashley Killough 

Parkland Hospital employees collect a self-administered test sample from a man at a Covid-19 testing site in Dallas on Thursday.
Parkland Hospital employees collect a self-administered test sample from a man at a Covid-19 testing site in Dallas on Thursday. Tony Gutierrez/AP

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new record high for daily coronavirus cases in the Lone Star State.

He attributed the increase in positive cases to an assisted living facility in Collin County near Dallas, as well the delayed reporting of numbers from Hays County near Austin.

Abbott said the state will see an increase of 2,622 cases on Tuesday, surpassing the previous record high of 2,504 on June 10.

And while the hospitalization rate has been increasing, Abbott expressed confidence in the state's capacity, with 14,933 beds available. The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients has been above 2,000 for the past week, with a record high of 2,518 reported on Tuesday.

"Even though there are more people hospitalized, we still remain at the lowest threat level to our hospital capacity," he said.

Still, the governor urged Texans to be diligent about wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distance measures. 

"We just want to double down in reminding everybody that these things that we learned over March and April in May, they still have to be practiced, because Covid-19 hasn't suddenly magically left the state of Texas," he said.

The governor also reported that some counties are seeing a sharp increase in positive tests among people under the age 30, suggesting that could be a result of looser restrictions at bars and Memorial Day gatherings. Abbott said the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission warned this week that bars and restaurants must adhere to state safety protocols or face liquor license suspensions.

"There have been pictures that I have seen and others have seen about these bar type settings where it clearly the standards are not being followed. I think enforcement's by TABC should bring these types of settings more into line," he said.

Abbott also said the increase in positive tests may start to decline now that Texas has tested "well over a majority" of jails and prisons, which he said have returned the highest positivity rate in the state.

"So now that we have gotten through most of those types of congregate settings, there is reason to believe that those testing positive — the number of those testing positive — should begin to decline a little bit," he said.

4:30 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

University of Maryland plans to reduce roommates in dorms this fall

From CNN's Elizabeth Stuart

A Testudo statue in the Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland.
A Testudo statue in the Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland. Shutterstock

The University of Maryland is planning to reduce the number of students living together in dorm rooms, as part of its framework for reopening the campus this fall.

Recognizing that dorm life is an important part of the college experience, the university's Vice President for Student Affairs and a team have put together a plan to have fewer students per room throughout the 8,900 "bed spaces" at the university, according to a letter to campus community Monday from the university's president Wallace D. Loh.

"To de-densify, triples and quad units are converted to doubles, and floor lounges are made into single or double rooms to minimize the opportunities for larger gatherings," Loh said. The plan will provide housing for 75% of the students who applied for it, including all first-year students, and will set aside some space for isolation and quarantine, if necessary.

The plan also looks into how to manage dining halls including reduced seating capacity, carry-out options, and physical distancing. 

The university plans to have blended learning of online and in-person classes, "with priority given to classes that particularly need in-person instruction to be maximally effective such as labs, performance courses, senior capstone projects, clinical instruction and internships," according to the letter.

The fall semester will begin on August 31, with faculty preparing to move to fully online instruction after Thanksgiving, if there is a resurgence of Covid cases in the late fall.

4:20 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

Harvard expert: "We may be done with the pandemic, but the pandemic is not done with us"

From CNN’s Amanda Watts

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said Tuesday that "we may be done with the pandemic, but the pandemic is not done with us.”

“It makes sense why so many Americans are feeling like we're done, and they're feeling a certain sense of apathy,” he said during a STAT Conversation.

Jha said it boils down to three things.

“First is that they were told that if we shut down and really kind of bend the curve, that we will we will be passed the worst and everything will work out,” he said. 

Secondly, early data and models “seemed to imply that all of a sudden the virus would go away in June, July and August.” But that’s not likely.

And third, Jha said Americans are over it because of “communication from our President, who has clearly has moved on.” 

“The reality is that the virus is with us. The reality is that the first wave only hit a small number of places — now it's coming to every other place. It’s coming to a county or a city or a state near you,” Jha said. 

4:13 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

US stocks end sharply higher on hopes of more stimulus

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe 

US stocks finished sharply higher on Tuesday, even after paring some of their gains from earlier in the trading day. 

Hopes for more monetary and fiscal stimulus, as well as more better-than-expected economic data, shored up hopes that the economic recovery from the coronavirus recession is underway.

Here's where the markets closed:

  • The Dow finished up 2%, or 527 points, after rallying more than 800 points at the opening bell. The index ended back above 26,000 points for the first time since last Wednesday.
  • The S&P 500 rose 1.9%.
  • The Nasdaq Composite ended 1.8%. 
4:17 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

News that steroid drug can cut coronavirus deaths is "exciting" but expert is still cautious

From CNN’s Amanda Watts

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said it is “exciting” to hear news that the steroid drug dexamethasone can prevent coronavirus deaths, but he said people should be cautious about responding to findings reported via news release.  

British researchers reported earlier Tuesday that the cheap and widely available steroid drug dexamethasone reduce the risk of death by a third among hospitalized patients. They have yet to publish the details of their findings in a peer-reviewed medical journal.  

“All the excitements needs to be curtailed by those limitations,” Jha said during webcast sponsored by the online publication STAT News. “But let's just sort of suspend disbelief… steroids make a lot of sense for this disease, and they clinically and sort of pathophysiology make sense that they would be effective.”  

Jha said as opposed to the antiviral drug remdesivir, dexamethasone is already widely available in pharmacies and hospitals around the world, “so it is a drug that can be used pretty quickly, pretty effectively, pretty cheaply – and that is huge in potentially saving lives.” 

Jha warned there are a lot of limitations without seeing the complete study. “With a press release I literally have nothing. I have, like, the two lines of data that they decided to throw in, and no other information,” he said.

“The classic argument is that there's a tradeoff between speed — it's a lifesaving drug — versus being thorough. It doesn't actually take that much time to take what they have, and turn it into a pre-print that they could put on a server — probably a couple of days,” he said. 

“It'd be much, much better if they just put out some tables figures and a bit more detailed methodology.” 

3:41 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

Amtrak warns of further job cuts as it plans to reduce train services 

From CNN's Greg Wallace

An Amtrak train heads through Little Falls, New York, on May 19.
An Amtrak train heads through Little Falls, New York, on May 19. David Boe/AP

Amtrak is warning of another round of job cuts as it pares back train service amid a stubbornly slow recovery and said it does not plan to ask Congress for enough money to preserve jobs. 

An executive at the rail network wrote to employees that it plans to run many of the long-distance routes less frequently, saving the rail network $150 million in costs. A copy of the message was obtained by CNN. 

Executive Vice President Roger Harris did not quantify the job losses, but said the company “will work quickly to determine what staffing reductions or furloughs will occur.” 

The passenger railroad service does not plan to ask Congress for additional funds to save those jobs, nor the 20% company-wide furloughs announced in May, spokesperson Kimberly Woods told CNN on Tuesday.  

Amtrak has requested more than $3.5 billion from Congress this year, including a special $1.47 billion request to help with coronavirus-related costs and losses. 

Woods said Amtrak is “in the planning phase” and has not determined if the long-distance job cuts will be in addition to the 20% reductions. 

In the memo, Harris wrote: “Congress is not going to support us indefinitely to run mostly empty trains. We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly.”

Amtrak’s 15 long-distance routes stretch as long as the 2,400 mile California Zephyr line, running from Chicago to the San Francisco area. It used to run that route – and one other – daily, but plans to reduce service on most lines to three times weekly. 

“As the economy begins to reopen, demand remains down more than 70%,” Woods told CNN.  “We forecast a slow recovery and expect systemwide ridership in FY21 to be half of what it was in 2019.” 

Employee unions call for Congress' help: The Amtrak employee unions, however, are asking Congress to chip in to save those jobs. A coalition of 14 unions wrote to Congress on Friday requesting $350 million for Amtrak to prevent the layoffs.

They warned the rail line will “use the pandemic as an excuse to permanently and artificially cut its workforce, eliminate or reduce routes and on-board or other customer services, or replace furloughed Amtrak employees with outsourced contractors.”  

Amtrak recently turned 49 and said before the pandemic, it was on track for its first profitable year. 

 

3:28 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

Sao Paulo state reports highest number of Covid-19 deaths and cases in a 24-hour period

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Sao Paulo state health authorities reported 8,825 new cases of novel coronavirus on Tuesday — the highest number reported cases in a 24-hour period so far.

It brings the state's total number of coronavirus cases to 190,285.

Sao Paulo also recorded the highest number of daily fatalities with 365 in the past 24 hours, bringing the state's death toll to 11,132 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to health authorities.

Joao Gabbardo, an executive coordinator for the state's response task force, said during a news conference on Tuesday that the increase of deaths may have occurred due to the spread of the virus to municipalities in the interior of the state where no cases had been reported.

The record number of new cases and deaths come as several cities in Sao Paulo relaxed their social isolation measures last week.

2:13 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

US government is exploring 14 Covid-19 vaccine candidates and plans to narrow list to 7 

From CNN Health’s Wes Bruer

In May the US Department of Health and Human Services announced more than a billion dollars in support of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate.
In May the US Department of Health and Human Services announced more than a billion dollars in support of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate. Smith Collection/Gado/Sipa/AP

The US government is exploring 14 Covid-19 vaccine candidates out of more than 100 currently in development worldwide, with plans to narrow the list to about seven before further testing, senior Trump administration officials said during a telephone briefing on Tuesday. 

Large-scale, randomized trials would then be conducted with the most promising candidates from those seven.

How they will decide on the seven is an ongoing discussion but the criteria will be those that are safest, most effective and technologies that lend themselves to faster manufacturing to scale.

More on the vaccine candidates: Some of the 14 vaccine candidate options are already in clinical trials with US government support. 

The senior administration officials did not specify which 14 candidates are being considered, but some vaccine candidates have been previously identified receiving government support.

In March, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced $456 million in funds for Johnson & Johnson’s candidate vaccine, with phase one clinical trials set to begin this summer.

The following month, HHS made around $483 million available to Moderna in support of its candidate vaccine, which began phase one trials on March 16 and received a fast-track designation from US Food and Drug Administration, which makes it eligible for “accelerated approval” and “priority review” and ensures frequent communication with the FDA throughout the approval process.

And in May, HHS announced more than a billion dollars in support of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate, being developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford, along with a pledge to eventually make 300 million doses available to the United States with the first ones being delivered as early as October. 

The senior administration officials cautioned that it is not 100% certain a viable vaccine will come from the 14 candidates, and there is a chance that if one is developed it could be better suited to certain demographics.

But the government is taking as many steps as possible to ensure a safe and effective vaccine by January, officials said.

If and when a vaccine is developed, officials said they do not expect to vaccinate all Americans initially and certain groups will be prioritized.

1:58 p.m. ET, June 16, 2020

Airport temperature checks should be done by medical professionals, not TSA officers, union official says

From CNN's Greg Wallace

An airport employee measures the temperature of a traveler at San Francisco International Airport on Monday, June 1.
An airport employee measures the temperature of a traveler at San Francisco International Airport on Monday, June 1. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

A top union official said Tuesday he believes because Transportation Security Administration officers are “not medical professionals,” they should not be responsible for conducting temperature screenings of travelers at airports.  

“I think that this is a task that needs to be assigned to a medical professional and not a TSO officer,” Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, testified at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing. “They do an outstanding job at making sure that the public fly safely, but I don’t know how well they would fare if they had to become medical professionals.”  

CNN reported in May that TSA officials were developing a plan to have checkpoint officers screen travelers for fevers, but thus far, that plan has not come into fruition. Airlines have urged the agency to handle that responsibility.  

Around 19,000 TSA employees are members of AFGE Council 100.