The latest on the coronavirus pandemic

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Amy Woodyatt, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 2:18 a.m. ET, August 22, 2020
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12:35 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Early CDC models forecast up to 2.4 million US Covid-19 deaths by October, director says

From CNN Health’s Shelby Lin Erdman

Medical personnel use a proning method on a Covid-19 patient in a serious infection disease unit created at DHR Health, in McAllen,Texas on July 29.
Medical personnel use a proning method on a Covid-19 patient in a serious infection disease unit created at DHR Health, in McAllen,Texas on July 29. Eric Gay/AP

Early coronavirus models run by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed as many as 2.4 million Americans could be dead from the virus by October, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told the Journal of the American Medical Association Thursday.

So far, more than 174,000 people have died and more than 5.5 million have been infected in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Redfield, who estimated testing may have missed up to 90% of cases, said early models of the pandemic forecast millions of deaths.

“The first CDC models that were presented to me in late February, early March, they said that we were going to lose somewhere on the low end of a million and on the high end about 2.4 million before October,” Redfield said in the video interview.

Now, however, the CDC estimates that about 200,000 people will die by the end of the year, Redfield said -- significantly fewer than the early models projected.

But this is a big loss of life, the CDC head said. “And this is why, you know, if there's a message from us from a public health point of view, the most important thing we can do is do everything we can do to protect the vulnerable around us.”

While he’s sad about the thousands of Americans who have died, Redfield said he thinks the nation’s response to the pandemic has saved a lot of lives. “Every loss of life is tragic,” he said.

“We need to stay vigilant to the mitigation steps right now because come the fall and we have flu causing problems and we have Covid causing its problems and they build on each other, we could end up with another loss of significant life,” he said.
12:02 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

New Zealand PM schools Trump on his "big outbreak" claims as country records 11 new cases

From journalist Isaac Yee

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on during a news conference at Parliament on August 21, in Wellington, New Zealand.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on during a news conference at Parliament on August 21, in Wellington, New Zealand. Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a pointed comparison between New Zealand's coronavirus situation and the epidemic in the United States today, two days after US President Donald Trump said the island nation had a "big outbreak."

There were 11 new coronavirus cases reported in New Zealand on Friday, Ardern said, adding that the country has "one of the lowest death rates," from the virus, especially compared to the US.

"New Zealand is among a small number of countries that still has a low rate of Covid cases, and one of the lowest Covid deaths rates in the world," Ardern said in a news conference.
"To give you just one example, the United States has 16,563 cases per million, we have 269 per million people."

New Zealand is currently grappling with a reemergence of cases, which came shortly after the country went more than 100 days with no local transmissions.

Ardern's comparison comes after Trump made comments disparaging New Zealand at a White House news conference on Wednesday.

"New Zealand, by the way, had a big outbreak," Trump said. "And other countries that were held up to try and make us look not as good as we should look -- because we've done an incredible job -- but they're having a lot of outbreaks."

Tracing an outbreak: Of the 11 new cases reported on Friday, nine were locally transmitted and two were imported from overseas, New Zealand's Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said.

He added that five of the local cases are linked to churches in South Auckland, and four are related to household contacts of previous cases. The new infections bring New Zealand's total number of recorded cases to 1,315.

As of Friday, 88 of 89 active community cases have been traced back to a cluster identified in Auckland last week, while one case remains under investigation, Bloomfield said.

"We may not find all the answers for this cluster," Ardern warned, adding that the origins of the outbreak were still under investigation by health officials. 

Some 15,714 coronavirus tests were conducted on Thursday, bringing the total number of tests taken in the country to 673,220, Bloomfield said.

11:32 p.m. ET, August 20, 2020

It's official -- citizens in China's capital don't have to wear masks outside anymore

Delivery drivers wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus wait to cross an intersection in Beijing, on Wednesday, August 19.
Delivery drivers wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus wait to cross an intersection in Beijing, on Wednesday, August 19. Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Beijing residents going out in public won't have to wear a mask from Thursday, according to new government guidelines, as long as they aren't in close contact with other people.

The Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control released the new rules on Thursday, the latest sign that China's coronavirus epidemic is under control.

China reported just 22 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours on Friday, with no new infections reported in Beijing.

Under the new rules, residents in the Chinese capital only have to wear masks if they are going to have "close contact with other people."

Children should be accompanied by adults and encouraged to use proper hygiene, while spitting is not allowed.

11:32 p.m. ET, August 20, 2020

Coronavirus deaths should begin to drop soon, CDC director says

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

EMS medics from the Houston Fire Department try to save the life of a nursing home resident in cardiac arrest on August 12, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Heart failure, especially in seniors, is a common result of Covid-19 and medics treat most such cases as if they are Covid-positive.
EMS medics from the Houston Fire Department try to save the life of a nursing home resident in cardiac arrest on August 12, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Heart failure, especially in seniors, is a common result of Covid-19 and medics treat most such cases as if they are Covid-positive. John Moore/Getty Images

Coronavirus deaths should start dropping around parts of the United States by next week, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Thursday, because people are doing more to control the virus by social distancing, staying out of crowds, wearing masks and washing hands.

“Interventions are going to have a lag of three or four weeks,” Redfield said in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“You and I are going to see the cases continue to drop. And then hopefully this week and next week, you’re going to start seeing the death rate really start to drop again.” 

But Redfield said not every region is improving. “There’s a warning sign … Middle America right now is getting stuck,” he said. “We don’t need to have a third wave in the heartland.”

States have to stick with the interventions meant to slow the spread of the virus, Redfield said. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 5.5 million people in the US have been diagnosed with coronavirus and more than 174,000 have died, although Redfield has said testing has likely caught only about one in 10 cases.

11:31 p.m. ET, August 20, 2020

Up to 60 million Americans may have been infected with coronavirus, CDC director says

From CNN Health’s Shelby Lin Erdman

Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testifies during a US Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on July 2, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testifies during a US Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on July 2, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

As many as 60 million Americans could have been infected with coronavirus, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield told the Journal of the American Medical Association Thursday.

The CDC released a report in June, published in JAMA, showing an infection rate in the United States of about 10%. Redfield said at the time he believed testing had missed 90% or more of cases. 

Redfield said Thursday an infection rate of between 10-20% translates into as many as 60 million people who may have already been infected, but there’s not really any good data on the numbers yet.

“We’re in the process of obviously following up with the report that we did in JAMA that kind of let us understand that maybe for the 2 million cases we diagnosed, we had an estimated 20 million people infected,” Redfield said in the video interview.

“We've now expanded that throughout the country, so very large surveillance work in progress,” he said.

Redfield said he didn’t want to speculate on the number of Americans who may actually be infected with the virus, but he did offer an estimate.

“I really want to be data driven but there is enormous geographic variation. I can tell you that we have some areas that we're looking at less than 1% and we have other areas we're looking at 20%,” he said.

“I think if you're going to do a crude estimate, somewhere between 30 and 60 million people -- but let's let the data come out and see what the data shows.”

Confirmed cases: As of Thursday night, at least 5,573,501 coronavirus cases have been recorded across the US, according to Johns Hopkins University. The total includes at least 174,248 deaths.

11:35 p.m. ET, August 20, 2020

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern wants to eliminate coronavirus. Is she setting herself up to fail?

Analysis from CNN's Julia Hollingsworth

In mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in Europe and the United States, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented her country with a choice.

They could let coronavirus creep into the community and brace for an onslaught, as other countries around the world had done. Or they could "go hard" by closing the border -- even if that initially hurt the island nation's hugely tourism-dependant economy.

Ardern opted for the second path. When New Zealand had only reported 28 cases, Ardern closed borders to foreigners, and when there were 102 cases, she announced a nationwide lockdown.

In effect, Ardern offered New Zealanders a deal: put up with some of the toughest rules in the world, and in return, be kept safe -- first from the deadly coronavirus, and later, from potential economic devastation.

For a while, it seemed that deal had paid off. New Zealand spent seven weeks under lockdown, five of them under strict rules that meant even takeaway food and traveling outside of their immediate neighborhood were off limits. But by June, life was basically back to normal -- and in August, New Zealand marked 100 days without any community transmission.

Then, last week, that changed.

Read the full analysis:

11:31 p.m. ET, August 20, 2020

White House formally declares teachers are essential workers

From CNN's Sarah Westwood

US Vice President Mike Pence listens during a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, not pictured, at the White House in Washington, DC, on Thursday, August 20.
US Vice President Mike Pence listens during a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, not pictured, at the White House in Washington, DC, on Thursday, August 20. Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The White House has formally declared that teachers are essential workers as part of its effort to encourage schools around the United States to reopen for in-person learning.

The move is just the latest in the administration’s campaign to pressure districts into bringing back students this fall. The essential worker designation provides guidance for educators that is only voluntary; it calls on teachers to return to the classroom even after potential exposure. 

Some context: US Vice President Mike Pence announced the decision to governors on a call earlier this week, a person familiar with the decision said.

Under Department of Homeland Security guidance issued this week, teachers are now considered “critical infrastructure workers,” and are subject to the same kinds of advisories as other workers who have born that label -- such as doctors and law enforcement officers.

The guidance for essential workers states that they can continue to work even after exposure to a confirmed case of Covid-19, provided they remain asymptomatic. Schools’ contribution to community spread has already been a top concern for districts making the decision to open or close, so pushing teachers to continue working after potential exposure could prove controversial.

White House officials made the move in part to convey how seriously it believes the schools question should be taken, the person said, but also to try to stabilize the teaching workforce and streamline guidance at a time of confusion about the future of classrooms.

11:30 p.m. ET, August 20, 2020

US initial jobless claims above 1 million again

From CNN's Anneken Tappe

Another 1.1 million Americans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits on a seasonally adjusted basis last week, dashing economists' hopes for a second-straight week with fewer than 1 million claims.

Economists were optimistic that the US jobs market would be on a steady trajectory toward recovery. But last week's claims returned above 1 million after the previous week's report was the first below 1 million since March, the Department of Labor reported Thursday 

Continued jobless claims, counting people who have filed claims for at least two weeks in a row, remain very high at 14.8 million.

Some context: After months of shocking economic data, these eye-watering big numbers might not seem as shocking anymore as they really are. But the road to recovery remains long and arduous. The Federal Reserve said in its July meeting minutes Wednesday that any rebound of the jobs market depends on a reopening and businesses, which in turn depends on the path of the virus and what we do to contain it.