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November 17 coronavirus news

Updated 11:59 PM EST, Tue November 17, 2020
Coronavirus hospitalizations reach all-time high

What you need to know

  • President-elect Joe Biden warned on Monday that “more people may die” from the coronavirus if President Trump does not coordinate planning for vaccine distribution.
  • Experts are encouraged by early Covid-19 vaccine findings from Moderna and Pfizer, but warn the world still faces challenging months ahead.
  • Meanwhile, the US has recorded more than 100,000 daily infections for two weeks straight. Yesterday, it had about 166,000 new cases.
  • California is “pulling the emergency brake” on reopening plans, as more US states announce new restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19.

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South Australia to shut down for 6 days following Covid-19 cluster

The Australian state of South Australia will shut down for six days from midnight Thursday, following a Covid-19 outbreak in Adelaide, the state’s capital city.

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall announced Wednesday that the community would “pause” for six days to serve as a “circuit breaker” of the new outbreak.

The new measures: South Australians will be restricted from leaving their homes, even for outdoor exercise, unless they are an essential worker, South Australia Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said. 

A mandatory mask mandate will also be enforced, Stevens added.

All facilities such as schools, pubs, coffee shops and outdoor sports will be closed. Only essential services, like supermarkets, medical facilities and public transport will remain open. 

There are currently 22 Covid-19 cases linked to the Adelaide cluster, South Australia’s Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said. The cases are all considered to be linked to a worker in a medi-hotel, where international arrivals are required to quarantine for 14 days.

On Tuesday, local authorities ordered 4,000 people into quarantine in an attempt to contain the cluster.

South Korea records highest increase of Covid-19 cases since August

South Korea reported 313 new coronavirus cases for Tuesday, the biggest daily jump since August 29, according to a Korea Disease Control Prevention Agency (KDCA) news release on Wednesday. 

Among the new cases, 245 were locally transmitted and 68 were imported. 

More than half of the new cases were from the greater Seoul area. The Seoul metropolitan area will tighten its social distancing measures from Thursday, limiting the size of school classes and religious gatherings.

South Korea has now recorded a total of 29,311 cases and 496 deaths, according to KDCA.

Los Angeles County to tighten coronavirus restrictions amid surging cases

In an aerial view from a drone, cars line up at Dodger Stadium for Covid-19 testing on November 14, in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
In an aerial view from a drone, cars line up at Dodger Stadium for Covid-19 testing on November 14, in Los Angeles, California.

Los Angeles County will tighten restrictions for businesses from Friday amid a surge of coronavirus cases, the county government announced Tuesday.

Under the new restrictions, non-essential businesses permitted to operate indoors will be limited to a maximum capacity of 25%. Outdoor businesses, including restaurants and bars, will be limited to 50% capacity. 

Restaurants, bars, and all non-essential retail businesses must close from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., while all outdoor gatherings must be limited to three households with no more than 15 people. 

“These safeguards and restrictions protect the public health and safety of our residents, and their ability to be served in our hospitals,” the county government said in a statement.

Coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County have more than doubled since the beginning of November, and hospitalizations have also increased, the statement said. The county is currently reporting a five-day average of 2,884 daily cases and 1,126 hospitalized patients, according to the statement.

More restrictions could come: The county plans on prohibiting all outdoor and indoor dining at restaurants and bars if the five-day average of daily cases reaches 4,000 or when there are more than 1,750 daily hospitalizations.

Should the five-day average of cases surge past 4,500, or daily hospitalizations past 2,000, a Safer at Home Order will be imposed for three weeks, and a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. will be implemented.

“Los Angeles County is at a critical moment to save lives and curb the spread of Covid-19,” Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said in the release. “I urge our residents, businesses and community leaders to heed this warning and follow these heightened safeguards so that additional restrictions do not need to be imposed.”

Idaho sees highest single-day rise in Covid-19 cases

The state of Idaho recorded 1,781 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the highest single-day increase in infections since the pandemic began, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The previous daily high was reported last Wednesday, at 1,693 cases.

Tuesday also saw 35 additional coronavirus-related fatalities, bringing the state’s total death count to 798. That’s a rate of about 44 deaths for every 100,000 residents.

Chicago announces January return to classroom for public schools

Jasmine Gilliam and Lucy Baldwin, teachers at King Elementary School, prepare to teach their students remotely in empty classrooms during the first day of classes on September 8, in Chicago.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Jasmine Gilliam and Lucy Baldwin, teachers at King Elementary School, prepare to teach their students remotely in empty classrooms during the first day of classes on September 8, in Chicago.

Chicago schools will resume in-person learning in January, officials announced Tuesday.

Pre-kindergarten and students enrolled in intensive and moderate cluster classrooms will go back to school on January 11, while students from kindergarten to 9th grade will return on Feb. 1, according to a joint news release by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago Department of Public Health, and Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

“The reality is that our Black and Latinx students, our youngest students and highest-need learners have not been equitably served,” Lightfoot said. “The decision to begin in-person learning this January will restore their access to high-quality instruction and is the result of balancing our commitment to equity with our current public health situation.”

According to the CPS website, cluster programs are designed for students who require a significantly modified curriculum with moderate to intensive support in classrooms separated from general education peers for most of the day.

“The health of our students, their families and our school communities remain our top priority, and we will continue to work closely with CPS and CDPH to ensure their safety as they transition back to the classroom,” the mayor added.

Criticism from teachers: In a news release responding to the announcement, the Chicago Teacher’s Union called the city’s timeline for reopening schools “arbitrary.” 

The union argues the announcement was made “without input from parents, students, educators or other critical stakeholders, and is wholly de-linked from any health criteria, including community infection rates.” 

“Today’s announcement appears to be based on the mayor’s political agenda, because it sure isn’t based on science,” union president Jesse Sharkey said in the release. “Just unilaterally picking an arbitrary date in the future and hoping everything works out is a recipe for disaster.”

Chinese Covid-19 vaccine seen as safe in early stage trials, study finds

A staff member tests samples of the Covid-19 inactivated vaccine at a Sinovac Lab in Beijing on March 16.
Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua via Getty
A staff member tests samples of the Covid-19 inactivated vaccine at a Sinovac Lab in Beijing on March 16.

A mid-stage trial shows that a Chinese made Covid-19 vaccine seems to be safe, according to a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Tuesday.

Sinovac, the Chinese company that makes the Coronavac vaccine candidate, tested it in a randomized controlled trial involving 700 healthy adult volunteers between April and May. None of the volunteers had a history of a Covid-19 infection. None had traveled in areas with a high rate of the disease.

Volunteers in the Phase 2 trial were divided into three groups. One group got a low dose of the vaccine, another got a higher dose and a third received a placebo.

This particular vaccine uses a chemically inactivated whole virus based on a sample taken from a patient in China. Most of the other coronavirus vaccines in development use biotechnology approaches to produce just a fragment of the virus. Using a whole, killed virus is an older, tried and true method that makes vaccine production slower and that doctors say can produce more side-effects.

The results: The vaccine was well tolerated at all the dose levels, and there didn’t seem to be any safety concerns, according to the researchers, which include experts from the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, China’s National Institutes for Food and Drug Control, and Sinovac.

The most common complaint was pain at the injection site. One volunteer in the high dose group had a severe allergic reaction within 48 hours of the first dose, which researchers said may be related to the vaccine, but the volunteer was treated for the reaction and recovered within three days. The same volunteer did not have a similar allergic reaction to the second shot.  

Even at the lowest dose, volunteers who received the vaccine seemed to show a robust antibody response within 14 days of the second of two injections. The injections were given 14 days apart.  

What about efficacy? The levels of antibodies produced by vaccination were lower than in the volunteers who were infected by, and had recovered from, Covid-19 during the trial, but the researchers said they still expected it could provide protection. The study wasn’t designed to determine how effective it was.

There may be advantages to this vaccine, according to one researcher who worked at the company that made it. This vaccine only needs standard refrigeration. It also may remain stable for up to three years in storage.

The company is continuing its trials to determine how effective the vaccine is.

NIH director hopes most Americans are vaccinated and immune to Covid-19 by next summer

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health testifies during a US Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on July 2 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health testifies during a US Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on July 2 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Dr. Francis Collins hopes most Americans will be immune to Covid-19 by next summer after receiving coronavirus vaccines.

The director of the National Institutes of Health told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer he expects Pfizer and Moderna shots could be available as soon as next month for those at greatest risk.

“If these two vaccines do get approval, emergency use authorization, there will be about 40 million doses ready to be delivered in December,” Collins said.

People will need two doses of either vaccine. “So that’s 20 million people that can be immunized and we will need to make sure that is utilized for the highest risk people,” he said. 

More doses will become available every month after that, Collins said, and there are other vaccine candidates that may also win approval.

“The hope would be that by April we really start to see a lot of people getting immunized and certainly by the summer we would hope to have most of America actually immune to this and we could start to think about getting back to life as normal,” Collins said.

Collins noted that Americans will need to agree to get the vaccine, once it’s available.

“My hope is now with more data and with a reassurance that this is being done in a highly independent, non-political way that people will begin to trust that this is something that they will want to take advantage. I know I will,” he said.