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November 27 coronavirus news

Doctor: Holiday travel like pouring gasoline on surging cases
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Australia’s former Covid-19 epicenter goes 29 days with no new infections

People enjoy the weather at St. Kilda beach on Nov. 27, in Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian state of Victoria – once the country’s Covid-19 epicenter – has gone 29 days with no new infections, the state’s Department of Health announced on Saturday. 

There are also currently no active cases of Covid-19 in the state. 

“All Victorians should feel proud for getting us to this point, but now is not the time to be complacent,” the state’s Department of Health said in a statement on Friday when Victoria reached the symbolic 28-day mark. 

The Department of Health stressed that the fight against Covid-19 is not over in the state as “coronavirus fragments have been detected in a wastewater sample.”

“A real risk remains with arriving interstate travelers or the emergence of new local cases.”
“Our fight against Covid-19 is not over. There are still significant outbreaks happening around the world and we do not yet have an effective vaccine,” the statement says.

A seventh Pakistan cricket player has tested positive for Covid-19 in New Zealand

One more Pakistan cricket player has tested positive for Covid-19 in New Zealand after six of his teammates were confirmed to be infected with the virus earlier in the week. 

The Pakistan Cricket Board’s official website said the team departed on Monday for New Zealand where they are set to play later this year.

But six players tested positive after arriving in the country – and on Saturday, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health said another member had tested positive.

The remainder of the squad has tested negative, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Earlier in the week, New Zealand Cricket said all players had tested negative for the virus before departing from Lahore.

“The Pakistan Cricket squad members that arrived in New Zealand all met the agreed predeparture requirements for travel, including multiple PCR tests, and symptom checks,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement Saturday.
“The Ministry is today thanking the Pakistan Cricket squad for their compliance with expectations around managed isolation and their cooperation with the investigation of the cases.”

What happens now: All international arrivals into New Zealand have to undergo 14 days of managed isolation at a state-managed facility. The Pakistan team had been given an exemption to train during their managed isolation – but that’s now on hold.

Local health authorities will consider whether training is unlikely to transmit Covid-19, and that consideration is expected to take until at least early next week.

What’s the background: After the team landed, several of the Pakistan players were caught on camera breaking isolation rules, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health said earlier this week.

“Since their arrival, several team members have been seen on CCTV at the facility breaching managed isolation rules, despite clear, consistent and detailed communication of expected behaviors while in the facility,” a news release read. “The team as a whole has been issued with a final warning.”

US reports a slight decline in Covid-19 hospitalizations for the first time in two weeks

A health care worker prepares to enter a Covid-19 patient's room in the ICU at Van Wert County Hospital in Van Wert, Ohio on Nov. 20.

For the first time in more than two weeks, the US on Friday reported a slight decline in the number of people being treated in the hospital for coronavirus, according to the Coronavirus Tracking Project.

However, it’s not clear if the data being reported was disrupted because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the CTP said. Some states and territories did not update their reports at all on Friday, including Delaware and Florida. Many others reported only incomplete data for the day.

Organizations collecting data on coronavirus expected to see a dip for Thanksgiving and the following three to four days, with an increase in reported cases of diagnoses, hospitalizations and deaths expected on Tuesday, Wednesday and possibly beyond next week.

Hospitalizations have been hitting steady records throughout November. The US surpassed 80,000 daily hospitalizations on Nov. 19 and set new records for 17 days straight until Friday, according to CTP.

The first "mass air shipment" of a Covid-19 vaccine has taken place

People walk by the Pfizer headquarters on Nov. 9, in New York City.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that it had supported “the first mass air shipment” of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The FAA said it is working with manufacturers, air carriers and airports to provide guidance on regulations to safely transport large quantities of dry ice in air cargo.

Vaccines like to be kept cool – Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine has to be deep-frozen, meaning it requires large amounts of dry ice to keep it at approximately minus 75 degrees Celsius.

“In addition to mitigating safety risks related to the safe transport of vaccines, the FAA is ensuring around-the-clock air traffic services to keep air cargo moving and prioritizing flights carrying cargo, such as vaccines, and personnel critical to the nation’s response to and recovery from COVID-19,” FAA said in a statement.

Read more about the challenges with distributing vaccines here.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will not enforce new stay-home order

A server wearing a mask and face shield takes orders from customers at a restaurant in Beverly Hills, California, on Nov. 23.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not enforce the county’s new stay-at-home order, which prohibits all public and private gatherings outside a single household starting Monday. 

“Since the first Stay at Home Order was issued in March of this year, we have focused on education and voluntary compliance, with enforcement measures being an extreme last resort,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement to CNN. 
“We trust in the community and rely on people to assess risk and take precautions as appropriate,” they added.

What’s the background? Those comments follow an announcement from the Department of Public Health that all public and private gatherings with people outside a single household will be prohibited for three weeks in Los Angeles County starting Monday.

The order comes days after the county reported a record number of new Covid-19 infections, the highest number of deaths in months, and increased hospitalizations.

County health officials are urging all residents to stay home as much as possible and to wear face coverings when they are outside, even when exercising at parks and beaches. Those measures will be in effect until Dec. 20.

Biden will let health experts decide who gets a Covid-19 vaccine first, adviser says

A sign on the entrance to a pharmacy reads "Covid-19 Vaccine Not Yet Available", Nov. 23, in Burbank, California.

US President-elect Joe Biden will leave it to health experts to decide who gets the Covid-19 vaccine first, Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, said Friday.

There will likely be a limited supply of coronavirus vaccine doses available immediately after a vaccine is authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“Other than health care workers, others who will be first in line to get it will be people who do have chronic underlying medical conditions, who are older, as well as communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic,” Gounder told CNN.
“Now among those groups is where it starts to get a little bit more contentious,” she added. “How do you prioritize between the 85-year-old woman in a nursing home, versus the 65-year-old African American – especially when that 65-year-old may be as just as high-risk of significant disease?” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) will recommend groups to receive the vaccine first.

“That’s where it gets a bit more political and frankly, this is where the President-elect is leaving it to the public health experts and scientists to figure out how best to allocate the limited supply first.”

The ACIP called an emergency meeting for Dec. 1, where they will vote on the very first group to get a vaccine. 

Coming coronavirus surge will be "destabilizing" for the US, says health expert

A medical staff member checks the IV drip for a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 26, in Houston, Texas.

The coming coronavirus surge will be “destabilizing” for the United States, according to a health expert.

Health experts are predicting a surge in Covid-19 cases following Thanksgiving, beyond the record-breaking numbers the US is currently experiencing.

“We’re going to be regularly hitting 2,000 deaths per day, but then going up to 3,000 deaths and 4,000 deaths per day,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Jim Acosta Friday.
“We’re talking about numbers that are approaching what we experienced in the 1918 flu pandemic, except it’s happening over a much shorter period of time,” he added.

Hotez said without a national program in place, hospitals are being overwhelmed.

“We know when hospital staff starts to get overwhelmed, that’s when the death rates really go high,” he said. “This is this what happened in New York in March and April. It’s what happened in southern Europe in March and April. It’s what’s happening now as we speak in the US.”

Hotez said the consequences will extend beyond health.

“This is going to be very destabilizing for the country, not only in terms of health but also our economy, as well as our homeland security,” he said.

Ireland will open shops, restaurants, hairdressers, and some pubs next week: RTE report

A shopper exits a store in Grafton Street in Dublin on Oct. 21.

The Irish cabinet on Friday approved the easing of tough coronavirus restrictions that were reimposed on businesses in October, according to state broadcaster RTE. 

The relaxing of the rules means all retail outlets, hairdressers, museums, libraries, and gyms can reopen on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Restaurants and pubs will be permitted to reopen on Friday, Dec. 4, provided they serve meals, RTE reported. 

The cabinet also agreed to lift restrictions on household gatherings for the Christmas period. From Dec. 18 to Jan. 6, up to three households can gather indoors and people will be able to travel freely across the country, according to RTE. 

In a televised statement Friday on the easing of current restrictions, Ireland’s Taoiseach – or Prime Minister – Micheál Martin said: ”We all have a personal individual responsibility and by closely following the rules we believe we can make this reopening sustainable.”

Martin added that restrictions won’t be eased for so-called wet pubs, or bars that don’t serve food. These can remain open only to serve takeaway drinks. 

The Irish government will ask people to wear masks in crowded outdoor spaces, and the question of travel to Northern Ireland will be reviewed when the government meets between Dec. 18 and Jan. 6. 

Los Angeles County issues new stay-at-home order and bans all gatherings as Covid-19 cases surge

The outdoor patio at Roccos WeHo on Santa Monica Blvd., remains open on November 25 a few hours before a Covid-19 curfew closes LA County restaurants.

All public and private gatherings with people outside a single household will be prohibited for three weeks in Los Angeles County starting Monday to curb an unprecedented spread of coronavirus, the Department of Public Health announced in a news release.

“As new Covid-19 cases remain at alarming levels and the number of people hospitalized continue to increase, a temporary Los Angeles County health officer order will be issued to require additional safety measures across sectors,” the county’s health department said Friday. 

The order comes days after the county reported a record number of new Covid-19 infections, the highest number of deaths in months, and increased hospitalizations.

County health officials are urging all residents to stay home as much as possible and to wear face coverings when they are outside, even when exercising at parks and beaches.

While beaches, trails, and parks remain open, only gatherings from a single household will be allowed. Under the new order, playgrounds and cardrooms will also be closed.

According to the news release, the maximum occupancy for essential businesses will be reduced to 30%. Occupancy will be shrink to 20% for nonessential businesses, personal care services, and libraries. Businesses operating outdoors, including fitness centers, zoos, botanical gardens, and batting cages, will be reduced to 50% maximum capacity.

The new health order will be in effect until Dec. 20.

Former Miami-Dade County mayor says he has tested positive for Covid-19

Former mayor of Miami-Dade County Carlos Gimenez speaks during a news conference at a new self-swab Covid-19 drive-thru testing site at Tropical Park in Miami, Florida on July 27.

Carlos Gimenez, Miami-Dade County’s former mayor and congressman-elect, tweeted that he and his wife have tested positive for Covid-19.

Gimenez said he will continue to attend New Member Orientation virtually until he can resume a normal schedule.

Gimenez also thanked all “the incredible health care workers who are tirelessly dedicated to their patients.”

Prior to winning the 2020 election for Congress, Gimenez was the mayor of Miami-Dade County. Gimenez will now serve Florida’s 26th congressional district.

Transportation Department finalizes airline traveler protection rule

After a spike in complaints about airline refunds when the Covid-19 pandemic first struck, the US Department of Transportation unveiled on Friday a rule that will impact how travelers claim mistreatment.     

The rule formally defines the words “unfair” and “deceptive” – two legal terms governing how airlines and ticket agents may interact with customers. It also says passengers need not prove an airline’s intent when claiming a violation. The Transportation Department said the rule formalizes the way it has interpreted those words in the past.  

The rule matters because it now gives travelers specific language to cite in their claims.  

Airlines had asked for the rule and said a formal definition would provide regulatory certainty. Southwest said the rule would benefit the economy. Spirit Airlines said with the lack of a rule, “the Department can levy punitive fines on carriers for practices allegedly violating ill-defined regulations.” However, the carriers did ask for changes the Transportation Department did not incorporate. Spirit, for example, asked for regulators to change a word to make the rule less subjective.  

But the department also noted consumer advocacy groups, several lawmakers, and two members of the Federal Trade Commission argued the definitions “were either unnecessary or weakened consumer protection.” The FTC shares jurisdiction over travel agents with the Transportation Department.  

The rule change got underway in February 2019, more than a year before formal claims against airlines spiked as the pandemic spread and flights were canceled. Customers said the airlines resisted refund requests and only provided vouchers for a later flight or avoided providing compensation by changes to the fine print. 

US surpasses 13 million Covid-19 cases

Individual hospital beds are lined up in a corridor with curtains at the new temporary hospital at the DCU in Worcester, MA on November 25. The hospital is being set up for a second time within a year.

There have been at least 13,047,202 cases of coronavirus in the United States and at least 264,624 people have died from Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins recorded the first case of coronavirus in the US on Jan. 21.  

  • 98 days later, on April 28, the US hit 1 million cases
  • 44 days later, on June 11, the US hit 2 million cases
  • 27 days later, on July 8, the US hit 3 million cases
  • 15 days later, on July 23, the US hit 4 million cases
  • 17 days later, on Aug. 9, the US hit 5 million cases
  • 22 days later, on Aug. 31, the US hit 6 million cases
  • 25 days later, on Sept. 25, the US hit 7 million cases
  • 21 days later, on Oct. 16, the US hit 8 million cases
  • 14 days later, on Oct. 30, the US hit 9 million cases
  • 9 days later, on Nov. 8, the US hit 10 million cases
  • 7 days later, on Nov. 15, the US hit 11 million cases
  • 6 days later, on Nov. 21, the US hit 12 million cases
  • 6 days later, on Nov. 27, the US hit 13 million cases

Eleven other countries in the world have reported over 1 million total Covid-19 cases. They are:

  • India has over 9 million total cases.
  • Brazil has over 6 million total cases.
  • France and Russia have over 2 million total cases.
  • Spain, United Kingdom, Argentina, Italy, Colombia, Mexico and Germany all have over 1 million total cases each.

CDC advisers meeting to vote on their recommendations for first vaccine recipients 

Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called an emergency meeting Tuesday so they can vote on recommendations for the first people to get a coronavirus vaccine once one gets emergency authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, the committee’s chair told CNN Friday.

“We are meeting because the FDA, the Operation Warp Speed, have asked states and other jurisdictions to please submit their plans on Friday of this coming week,” Dr. Jose Romero, chair of the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, told CNN.

“We foresee imminent authorization if this vaccine is shown to be effective and safe in the near future and we want to be at the point where we are providing appropriate guidance to the states and jurisdictions for the use of these vaccines,” said Romero, who is Secretary for Health for the Arkansas Department of Health.

“This is not something that is being rushed. We have already discussed the groups within the first tier. We are simply going over the data once again and having a vote primarily on the first tier group 1a – health care providers and the people in the long-term, congregate facilities.” 

ACIP met on Monday to discuss the priority groups for receiving any vaccine that may get emergency use authorization from the FDA. The CDC has already recommended that the first group – designated as 1a – should be frontline health providers and support personnel, as well as residents of long-term care facilities who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

“It is important because these are the individuals that are really at the front line providing the care,” Romero said.

Vaccine maker Pfizer has submitted to the FDA for emergency use authorization, or EUA, for its vaccine and biotech company Moderna is expected to do so, also. The FDA has scheduled a meeting of its own vaccine advisers for Dec. 10.

Romero said it was important for ACIP to hold a public meeting and a public vote.

NFL postpones Ravens-Steelers game for second time due to Covid-19 outbreak

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers warm up before the start of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 01 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The NFL announced on Friday that it will move the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers to Tuesday out of an “abundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel.”

The game was originally scheduled to be played on Thanksgiving Day, but was then moved to Sunday after several Ravens players tested positive for coronavirus in consecutive days. Now the league is moving the game for a second time.

Baltimore has sent 12 players to the Reserve/Covid-19 list this week, including MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Ravens currently have 14 players on the list overall, according to the Ravens’ website.  

The NFL describes the Reserve/Covid-19 list as being for players who either test positive for Covid-19 or who have been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons. 

The Ravens were set to host the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday but the NFL also announced that game has now been moved to Dec. 7.

More than 264,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US

A Miami-Dade County resident creates a symbolic tombstone for a relative at a memorial cemetery for those lost to Covid-19 in Liberty City, Florida on November 24.

At least 12,993,261 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the US and at least 264,241 people have died from virus, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally of cases.

So far today, Johns Hopkins has reported 109,997 new cases and 787 deaths.

Friday marked the 25th consecutive day the US reported more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases. 

CDC advisers to vote next week on who gets coronavirus vaccine first

A security guard walks on the grounds of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 14.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will vote Tuesday on the very first people to get a coronavirus vaccine once one gets emergency authorization.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices has scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday to discuss allocation of Covid-19 vaccines, according to a document obtained by CNN.

Members of the committee will discuss who should be in the first group, and clinical considerations for the group. Draft recommendations have suggested that health care workers should be in the 1a vaccine allocation group. Other possible members of the group: people most likely to catch, spread and develop severe disease from the virus such as nursing home residents.

The advisers will also discuss how to monitor safety after allocation of the vaccine, according to the document.

Delta cancels more than 500 flights this week following staffing reductions due to pandemic

Passengers wait in line to check-in for Delta Air Lines flights at Los Angeles International Airport ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday in Los Angeles, California, November 25.

A surge in Thanksgiving demand is taxing Delta’s smaller pandemic-era workforce.  

The issue led Delta to cancel hundreds of flights this week, according to the pilot union and the airline.  

Delta ultimately canceled nearly one in every five flights it was scheduled to operate on Thanksgiving Day, and has dropped in total more than 500 flights this week. The airline said it expects its system to return to normal over the weekend.  

The union representing pilots said staffing reductions due to the coronavirus pandemic and drop-off in travel “have left a smaller pool of pilots qualified and ready to fly in the fleets that are seeing an increased demand over this holiday.”  

Delta said Wednesday that a “number of factors have pressured our ability to timely staff some of our scheduled holiday flights” but did not specify the issues.  

After distributing the November employee schedules last month, Delta added flights to its schedule and asked for volunteers to cover those flights, according to a source familiar with the situation. But when there were not enough employees to cover those legs, the airline was forced to cancel some of those.  

The airline declined to comment on that explanation. The Delta Master Executive Council at the Air Line Pilots Association said its pilots have stepped up to take on extra flights over the holiday period and receive the incentive of premium pay for picking up extra legs.  

But when demand surged this week, the heavy cuts to the aviation system due to the coronavirus began to show.  

Airline passenger traffic is currently only about 40% of what it was last year, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, and US airlines are running 43% fewer flights.  

Delta and other US airlines responded to the drop in demand by cutting from employee ranks. Work schedules were reduced, 1,800 pilots retired early, and others were placed on inactive status or are in line for training because the model of planes they flew were retired.  

Employee unions and executives at the major US airlines have called for a multi-billion extension of a payroll support program that kept their employees on the job through September. Legislation to do that includes other stimulus and has stalled in Washington.  

The airlines have seen a relative surge in bookings this week as distanced families reunite for Thanksgiving dinner and college students are booted from university housing. More than one million people have crossed through TSA checkpoints only four times since the spring – and three of those days were in the last week.  

Travelers are also booking closer to their departure dates, airlines have said, giving the companies less visibility when arranging schedules more than a month in advance.  

The union, in a statement, said the scheduling issue cannot be attributed to crews calling out sick because of the coronavirus.   

California surpasses 19,000 Covid-19 deaths

Nurses hold candles during a vigil organized by California Nurses United for healthcare workers who died from Covid-19 in Los Angeles, California on November 23.

California reported 54 deaths on Friday, pushing the state past a sober benchmark for Covid-related fatalities, which is now a total of 19,033.

California is only the third state to reach this milestone, after New York and Texas. 

The state also added 12,635 Covid-19 cases Friday, bringing the total to 1,171,324. This is down about 2,000 from Thursday’s 14,640 cases.

The positivity rate of Covid-19 in California remains at 6.1%, a 1.9% increase from 14 days ago.

According to the state’s dashboard, 191 more people were also hospitalized, a 2.6% increase from the previous day. This continues an upward trend since the beginning of November. There are now 1,904 beds remaining in intensive care units across the state, down 23 from yesterday.

The state’s case data reporting may be incomplete due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Targeted Covid-19 vaccination may be needed, WHO official says 

World Health Organization Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan talks during a daily Covid-19 press briefing at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 11.

While modeling studies have suggested that around 60 to 70% of the population would need to be immune to Covid-19 in order to achieve herd immunity, targeted vaccination may be needed to defeat the virus, said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program.

Ryan said it may take “some very clever vaccination strategies” that target people in society who are more likely to carry, transmit and spread the virus.

Herd immunity is built around the idea that disease spreads evenly through a community and that everyone’s absolute risk of being infected is about the same, Ryan explained during a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.

But the virus does not spread evenly. 

If there are lots of protected people surrounding those who are unprotected then “effectively, there’s a barrier. There’s a firewall around some who are not vaccinated, a firewall of vaccinated people, and therefore you can achieve control and eradication, sometimes, without vaccinating everyone,” he said.

“The virus is very opportunistic,” added Ryan. “We’ve seen that the virus can spread, in particular circumstances, we’ve seen in many clusters that only 20% of the cases go on to transmit to others. Eighty percent don’t transmit to anybody else. We’ve seen superspreading events, certain contexts and certain groups who mix and the disease can explode.”

While an overall number may be important in terms of policy, Ryan said it will be important to be strategic about which groups are targeted for vaccination.

“It may be much more important to target certain sections of the community than it will be to necessarily target some others who may not be participating in transmission as much,” he said.

And the vaccine may not be a miraculous solution to the pandemic, he cautioned. “I don’t think anyone can promise eradication of this virus until we understand much more about the vaccine, and much more about how the vaccines work in the real world and until we understand much more about the details of transmission of this virus.”

Katherine O’Brien, director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO, added to Ryan’s point with the example of measles. Last year was a terrible year for measles outbreaks globally, she said.

“Many of those outbreaks were happening in countries that had very high measles vaccine coverage,” she said. “But it wasn’t about the whole country’s coverage that was important, it was about the sub communities, the sub national coverage.”