The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

Antibodies that people make to fight the new coronavirus last for at least four months after diagnosis and do not fade quickly as some earlier reports suggested, scientists have found.

Tuesday’s report, from tests on more than 30,000 people in Iceland, is the most extensive work yet on the immune system’s response to the virus over time, and is good news for efforts to develop vaccines.

If a vaccine can spur production of long-lasting antibodies as natural infection seems to do, it gives hope that “immunity to this unpredictable and highly contagious virus may not be fleeting,” scientists from Harvard University and the U.S. National Institutes of Health wrote in a commentary published with the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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A woman has blood drawn for COVID-19 antibody testing in Dearborn, Mich., in June. Antibodies that people make to fight coronavirus infection last at least four months – a good sign that vaccines may be able to give long-lasting immunity, scientists reported Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Associated Press/Paul Sancya

One of the big mysteries of the pandemic is whether having had the coronavirus helps protect against future infection, and for how long. Some smaller studies previously suggested that antibodies may disappear quickly and that some people with few or no symptoms may not make many at all.

The new study was done by Reykjavik-based deCODE Genetics, a subsidiary of the U.S. biotech company Amgen, with several hospitals, universities and health officials in Iceland. The country tested 15% of its population since late February, when its first COVID-19 cases were detected, giving a solid base for comparisons.

Scientists used two types of coronavirus testing: the kind from nose swabs or other samples that detects bits of the virus, indicating infection, and tests that measure antibodies in the blood, which can show whether someone was infected now or in the past.

Read the full story here.

CDC directs halt to renter evictions to prevent virus spread

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has issued a directive halting the eviction of certain renters though the end of 2020 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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Dr. Robert Redfield is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Saul Loeb/Pool via Associated Press

Federal, state and local governments have approved eviction moratoriums during the course of the pandemic for many renters, but those protections are expiring rapidly. A recent report from one think tank, the Aspen Institute, stated that more than 20 million renters live in households that have suffered COVID-19-related job loss and concluded that millions more are at risk of eviction in the next several months.

The administration’s action stems from an executive order that President Trump issued in early August. It instructed federal health officials to consider measures to temporarily halt evictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up Tuesday by declaring that any landlord shall not evict any “covered person” from any residential property for failure to pay rent.

Renters covered through the executive order must meet four criteria. They must:

• Have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers.

• Demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments.

• Affirmatively declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships.

• Affirm they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.

Officials said local courts would still resolve disputes between renters and landowners about whether the moratorium applies in a particular case.

Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, called on Aug. 1 for Congress to enact a “broad emergency housing support program” to prevent evictions and shore up landlords. Congress enacted an unprecedented $2.3 trillion pandemic rescue package in March that paused evictions in most federal subsidized housing, but that moratorium has expired and Congress and the White House have been in a monthslong stalemate over new relief legislation.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the order will provide relief for millions of anxious families, but added that the action delays rather than prevents evictions.

U.S. says it won’t join WHO-linked effort to develop, distribute vaccine

The Trump administration said it will not join a global effort to develop, manufacture and equitably distribute a coronavirus vaccine, in part because the World Health Organization is involved, a decision that could shape the course of the pandemic and the country’s role in health diplomacy.

More than 170 countries are in talks to participate in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, which aims to speed vaccine development and secure doses for all countries and distribute them to the most high-risk segment of each population.

The plan, which is co-led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, was of interest to some members of the Trump administration and is backed by traditional U.S. allies, including Japan, Germany and the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.

But the United States will not participate, in part because the White House does not want to work with the WHO, which President Trump has criticized over what he characterized as its “China-centric” response to the pandemic.

“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China,” said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House.

The Covax decision, which has not been previously reported, is effectively a doubling down by the administration on its bet that the United States will win the vaccine race. It eliminates the chance to secure doses from a pool of promising vaccine candidates – a potentially risky strategy.

Read the full story about the worldwide vaccine effort here.

Third virus vaccine reaches major hurdle: final U.S. testing

A handful of the dozens of experimental COVID-19 vaccines in human testing have reached the last and biggest hurdle — looking for the needed proof that they really work – as a U.S. advisory panel suggested Tuesday a way to ration the first limited doses once a vaccine wins approval.

AstraZeneca announced Monday its vaccine candidate has entered the final testing stage in the U.S. The Cambridge, England-based company said the study will involve up to 30,000 adults from various racial, ethnic and geographic groups.

Two other vaccine candidates began final testing this summer in tens of thousands of people in the U.S. One was created by the National Institutes of Health and manufactured by Moderna Inc., and the other developed by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech.

“To have just one vaccine enter the final stage of trials eight months after discovering a virus would be a remarkable achievement; to have three at that point with more on the way is extraordinary,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

NIH Director Francis Collins tweeted that his agency “is supporting several vaccine trials since more than one may be needed. We have all hands on deck.”

AstraZeneca said development of the vaccine, known as AZD1222, is moving ahead globally with late-stage trials in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa. Further trials are planned in Japan and Russia. The potential vaccine was invented by the University of Oxford and an associated company, Vaccitech.

Meanwhile, a U.S. advisory panel released a draft plan Tuesday for how to ration the first doses of vaccine. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine proposed giving the first vaccine doses — initial supplies are expected to be limited to up to 15 million people — to high-risk health care workers and first responders.

Read the full story here.

Apple, Google build virus-tracing tech directly into phones

Apple and Google are trying to get more U.S. states to adopt their phone-based approach for tracing and curbing the spread of the coronavirus by building more of the necessary technology directly into phone software.

That could make it much easier for people to get it on their phone even if their local public health agency hasn’t built its own compatible app.

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Apple and Google released long-awaited smartphone technology to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus. AP Photo/File

The tech giants on Tuesday launched the second phase of their “exposure notification” system, designed to automatically alert people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Until now, only a handful of U.S. states have built pandemic apps using the tech companies’ framework, which has seen somewhat wider adoption in Europe and other parts of the world.

States must choose whether they want to enable the Apple-Google system. If they do, iPhone users in those states will automatically be able to opt into the system without having to download an app. They’ll be prompted with a notification asking if they consent to running the system on their phones.

For people with Android phones, Google will automatically generate an Android app for public health agencies that phone users can then download.

The companies said they expect Maryland, Nevada, Virginia and Washington, D.C., to be the first in the U.S. to launch the new version of their tool. Virginia says nearly half a million residents have downloaded its app since the state in August became the first to launch a customized pandemic app using the Google-Apple framework.

But state officials have said their app doesn’t work as well outside Virginia, although they expect a group of coordinating public health agencies to get a national server up and running before long so other states can join in.

The technology relies on Bluetooth wireless signals to determine whether an individual has spent time near anyone else who has tested positive for the virus. Both people in this scenario must be using the Google-Apple app. Instead of geographic location, the app relies on proximity. The companies say the app won’t reveal personal information either to them or their public health agency.

Individuals who receive such proximity alerts will typically be offered testing and health advice to prevent potential future spread.

Iowa State will let 25,000 fans into football opener, even though the state is a virus hotbed

Iowa State announced Monday that it will allow approximately 25,000 fans into Jack Trice Stadium for the Cyclones’ season-opening football game against Louisiana on Sept. 12, even though the state of Iowa has seen its number of coronavirus cases skyrocket in recent weeks.

According to The Washington Post’s state-by-state database, Iowa has seen a 92% increase in new coronavirus cases over the past week, the second-highest rise in the country behind South Dakota. Iowa’s seven-day average of new coronavirus cases stands at 241 per 100,000 residents, the highest among the 50 U.S. states.

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A sign directs traffic to a Test Iowa COVID-19 testing site at Waukee South Middle School, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Waukee, Iowa. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

In Story County, home to Iowa State’s campus, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents is 777, nearly a fourfold increase from just a week ago and one of the highest rates in the nation for one county. On Aug. 14, that number hovered around only 50 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Nonetheless, Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard told reporters Monday that the school plans to “thread the needle” and allow its football stadium to be about 41% full for the Sept. 12 football opener. The school will require fans to wear face coverings at all times, they will be spaced out throughout the stadium and tailgating will not be allowed.

“I’ll have personally zero, zero tolerance for any fan that doesn’t comply,” Pollard said Monday. “I don’t care how much money they give this institution, if you want to be in the stadium, you’re going to have to comply with what we put together. If you don’t do it, we don’t want you here.”

The plan to allow fans into the stadium only applies to Iowa State’s season opener against Louisiana. A decision on allowing fans at future Iowa State games will be made after the opener. The school arrived at the 25,000 number because that’s the number of season tickets it sells; should season ticket holders decide not to attend the game, their tickets will not be resold.

During an Iowa State town hall meeting covered by the Iowa State Daily on Monday, President Wendy Wintersteen said the school has no plans to end in-person learning despite the rising coronavirus numbers. She said the rise can be attributed to large off-campus social gatherings rather than on-campus transmission.

Wintersteen reported that out of 1,749 tests performed during the semester’s second week, 503 were positive (28.8%). Those numbers did not include students who tested positive as part of the residence hall move-in process, the Daily reports.

White House public tours to resume Sept. 12 with COVID rules

WASHINGTON — Public tours of the White House, halted nearly six months ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, are set to resume later this month with new health and safety policies in place.

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In this July 18, 2020, file photo, a U.S. flag flies at half-staff over the White House in Washington in remembrance of Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

Tours will resume Sept. 12, for two days a week instead of five, and for just a few hours a day, the first lady’s office announced Tuesday. The number of visitors will also be capped.

“In order to ensure the safety and health of all visitors, there have been new policies implemented that align with the guidance issued by Federal, State, and local officials,” the White House said.

All guests over age 2 will be required to wear a face covering and practice social distancing.

Social distancing dots will be placed on the ground to guide guests during check-in, and hand sanitizer will be available in multiple locations.

National Park Service, U.S. Secret Service officers and staff from the White House visitor’s office who are working tour route will wear face coverings, gloves and encourage social distancing while interacting with guests.

Tours will be allowed only on Friday and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and the number of guests will be capped at 18% of normal capacity, the White House said.

Last week, President Donald Trump invited 1,500 supporters to the White House lawn for his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination. Social distancing was not practiced as guests were seated close together, and few wore face coverings, as recommended by numerous medical and public health officials — including some of those advising the Trump administration.

Twitter deletes Trump’s retweeted claim minimizing virus death toll

After President Trump retweeted a claim that discounted the coronavirus death toll in the United States over the weekend, Twitter took down the post that spread false information on Sunday.

The tweet was originally posted by “Mel Q,” a follower of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon, which posits that the president is battling a cabal of Satan-worshiping child sex traffickers. It was copied from a Facebook post and claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had “quietly updated the Covid number to admit that only 6%” of reported deaths – or about 9,000 – “actually died from COVID.”

The rest were people who “had 2-3 other serious illnesses,” said the tweet, which has since been replaced with a message saying it “is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.” A Twitter spokesperson said the tweet violated the company’s COVID-19 misinformation policy.

The claim appears to be a reference to the CDC’s Aug. 26 update to its death data and resources page, which noted that in 6% of reported deaths, COVID-19 “was the only cause mentioned.” However, that does not mean only 6% of reported deaths are attributed to the virus – it means 94 percent of people had at least one additional factor contributing to their deaths.

The president also retweeted a link to an article by far-right Gateway Pundit – which remains on his page – containing the “Mel Q” tweet and, using the 6% figure to attack members of Trump’s own coronavirus task force.

“So let’s get this straight – based on the recommendation of doctors Fauci and Birx the US shut down the entire economy based on 9,000 American deaths due entirely to the China coronavirus?” said the article.

Read the full story here.

Trump administration says it has recovered 70% of relief payments sent to dead people

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration says that it has recovered nearly 70 percent of the government relief payments that went to dead people.

The Government Accountability Office said Monday it had been told by the Treasury Department that nearly 70 percent of the $1.6 billion that had mistakenly gone to dead people had been recovered.

The GAO said it could not immediately verify that amount but said its auditors were working with Treasury to determine the exact number of payments that have been recovered.

Treasury is also considering sending letters to request the return of the remaining outstanding payments, but has not moved forward with that effort yet, GAO said. Treasury said it was delaying that move because Congress is considering legislation that would clarify or make changes to payment eligibility requirements.

The Senate passed a bill in June that would allow the Social Security Administration to share its full death data with the Treasury Department to prevent any future payments to dead people.

The economic stimulus payments included payments of $1,200 for individuals who had income levels low enough to qualify.

What is herd immunity and why are Trump officials pursuing an idea WHO calls ‘dangerous’?

Trump administration officials are starting to implement policies that suggest a “herd immunity” strategy – a controversial approach that involves deliberately allowing the coronavirus to spread to build up population resistance more quickly, while protecting the most vulnerable.

In theory, as the number of survivors with immunity increases to a certain level, the virus’s spread would slow and eventually stop. The only problem: A whole lot of people would die before that point.

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A man sits at a restaurant in Rinkeby district, Rinkeby-Kista borough in Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The coronavirus has taken a disproportionate toll among Sweden’s immigrants. Many in these communities are more likely to live in crowded households and are unable to work remotely. AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

At a news briefing last week, World Health Organization officials called pursuing such a herd immunity strategy “very dangerous.”

“If we think about herd immunity in a natural sense of just letting a virus run, it’s very dangerous,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the covid-19 pandemic. “A lot of people would die.”

Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said focusing on controlling transmission through public health measures while scientists develop vaccines should be the primary strategy. She pointed out that “there really hasn’t been any infectious disease that has been controlled just by allowing natural immunity to happen.”

The United Kingdom pursued such a strategy early on but abandoned it when officials saw the consequences. Sweden, which pursued a similar strategy, has been heavily criticized by public health officials and infectious-disease experts as reckless – the country has among the highest infection and death rates in the world.

But the idea of “herd immunity” continues to get attention in some quarters: Conservative television host Laura Ingraham has tweeted that pursuing herd immunity was the “only practical way forward.”

Read the full story here.

Fast-food restaurants can’t find workers even amid historic unemployment

Not even the greatest surge in joblessness in 80 years is easing the fast-food industry’s years-old labor shortage.

That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic is making this year’s economic crisis very different than past downturns, when restaurants offered an important lifeline for the newly unemployed. Since service-sector jobs now mean a higher chance of infection, even higher pay isn’t coaxing workers into the kitchen.

Key demographics – like teenagers, at the urging of their parents, and the elderly – are staying away for health and safety reasons, and emergency-enhanced unemployment checks have kept others on the sidelines. Restaurant chains are reporting they’re paying more, but that doesn’t mean they’re filling their staff openings.

“This is the most dramatic shift that’s happened in the modern history of food service” said Aaron Allen, chief strategist at restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates. “It’s the first time people have left the industry and decided not to come back.”

As of mid-July, only about half of the 6.1 million food-service jobs that the U.S. lost in March and April had returned, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Early in the pandemic, restaurant chains pared menus, reduced store hours and cut staff.

While many traditional restaurants continue to struggle as consumers avoid dining rooms, fast-food chains and those with carryout have reported steady improvement this summer as socially distancing consumers opt for drive thrus. Delivery-focused companies like Papa John’s International Inc. and Domino’s Pizza Inc., meanwhile, have thrived.

To capitalize on the rebound, McDonald’s Corp. said in June that it planned to hire 260,000 this summer. Subway, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., Papa John’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. are also looking to expand payrolls on a smaller scale. But the lack of workers is complicating efforts.

Read the full story here.

A Zoom Thanksgiving? Summer could give way to a bleaker fall

As the Summer of COVID draws to a close, many experts fear an even bleaker fall and suggest that American families should start planning for Thanksgiving by Zoom.

Because of the many uncertainties, public health scientists say it’s easier to forecast the weather on Thanksgiving Day than to predict how the U.S. coronavirus crisis will play out this autumn. But school reopenings, holiday travel and more indoor activity because of colder weather could all separately increase transmission of the virus and combine in ways that could multiply the threat, they say.

Here’s one way it could go: As more schools open for in-person instruction and more college students return to campuses, small clusters of cases could widen into outbreaks in late September. Public fatigue over mask rules and other restrictions could stymie efforts to slow these infections.

A few weeks later, widening outbreaks could start to strain hospitals. If a bad flu season peaks in October, as happened in 2009, the pressure on the health care system could result in higher daily death tolls from the coronavirus. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said that scenario is his biggest fear.

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Caitlin Joyce holds family portraits, including her as a child with her parents and a photo of her 90-year-old grandfather, as she poses for a photo at her home Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Edmonds, Wash. Joyce’s family is forging ahead with a Thanksgiving holiday feast in Virginia and she plans to join them. They plan to set up plywood tables on sawhorses in a large garage so they can sit six feet apart where “It will be almost like camping.” AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

One certainty is that the virus will still be around, said Jarad Niemi, a disease-modeling expert at Iowa State University.

“We will not have a vaccine yet and we will not have enough infected individuals for herd immunity to be helpful,” Niemi said.

Fall may feel like a roller coaster of stop-and-start restrictions, as communities react to climbing hospital cases, said University of Texas disease modeler Lauren Ancel Meyers. Everyone should get a flu shot, she said, because if flu spreads widely, hospitals will begin to buckle and “that will compound the threat of COVID.”

“The decisions we make today will fundamentally impact the safety and feasibility of what we can do next month and by Thanksgiving,” Meyers said.

Read the full story here.


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