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

WASHINGTON — The suspension of a huge COVID-19 vaccine study over an illness in a single participant shows there will be “no compromises” on safety in the race to develop the shot, the chief of the National Institutes of Health told Congress on Wednesday.

AstraZeneca has put on hold studies of its vaccine candidate in the U.S. and other countries while it investigates whether a British volunteer’s illness is a side effect or a coincidence.

“This ought to be reassuring,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said before a Senate committee. “When we say we are going to focus first on safety and make no compromises, here is Exhibit A of how that is happening in practice.”

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Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, attends a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Wednesday to discuss vaccines and protecting public health during the coronavirus pandemic. Greg Nash/Pool via AP

Scientists have been scrambling to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus since the outbreak began, and the U.S. has launched the world’s largest studies – final-stage testing of three leading candidates, with three more trials set to come soon that will each recruit 30,000 test subjects.

Public health experts are worried that President Trump will pressure the Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine before it is proven to be safe and effective, a concern senator after senator echoed on Wednesday.

“When it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, we can’t allow President Trump to repeat his alarming pattern of putting politics ahead of science and public health,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Read the full story here.

Prospect of ‘maskless’ Trump rally ‘distressing,’ says Michigan governor

DETROIT — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday called the prospect of President Trump “descending” on the state of Michigan to hold a gathering of people who may or may not be wearing masks “distressing to say the least.”

Whitmer in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper said it was possible Trump would encourage people to come “maskless” and worried the Thursday rally would reverse progress made in battling the virus.

“We’ve pushed our curve down, we’ve saved thousands of lives, we’ve gotten people back to work,” Whitmer said. “And events like this threaten all that sacrifice that we’ve made. I would love to see the leader of our country embrace masks and encourage people to do the right thing.”

Supporters listen as President Trump speaks during a campaign rally Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Vice President Joe Biden, for whom Whitmer serves as a national campaign chair, is coming to Michigan on Wednesday. He is expected to deliver remarks in Warren “on his plan to ensure the future is Made in America by all of America’s workers.”

Only pooled press selected by the campaign will attend.

Trump will deliver remarks from an airport hangar on Thursday in Freeland, near Saginaw. His last stop in Michigan was May 21. Pence visited Traverse City on Aug. 28.

Biden, Whitmer said, is “scrupulously following the science,” but the governor seemed dubious the same precautions would be taken at Thursday’s Trump event.

“I don’t doubt that there will be people who will want to show up at that event and will take the lead from the man himself and drop their guard and could subject themselves to COVID-19,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer said the race in Michigan is “tightening up” and referred to polling indicating as much. A Detroit News and WDIV-TV poll released Tuesday showed the race between Trump and Biden tightening, with the former vice president holding a 47% to 42% lead over Trump.

“I’m not surprised by that. I think that’s precisely why you see both of the candidates here in the state this week, and I would anticipate seeing them many more times between now and Election Day,” Whitmer said, arguing people in Michigan were “hurting” and worse off than they were four years ago.

Scientists cast doubt on results from Russian COVID-19 vaccine

A group of international scientists questioned results from a study of Russia’s fast-moving coronavirus vaccine that were published in the Lancet medical journal, saying some of the findings appeared improbable.

The researchers flagged concerns over seemingly identical levels of antibodies in a number of study participants who were inoculated with the experimental vaccine. This and other patterns in the data present “several different points of concern,” according to an open letter written by Temple University professor Enrico Bucci and signed by more than a dozen other scientists.

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In this handout photo taken on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, and provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund, an employee shows a new vaccine at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia. Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP

The Lancet published results of the early-stage trial last week, offering the first look at the Russian study to be vetted by outside experts. A move by the government to approve the shot for use based on the initial results had drawn widespread skepticism, since vaccines aren’t normally cleared before broad assessments of their efficacy and safety.

“We have shared the letter directly with the authors and encouraged them to engage in the scientific discussion,” the Lancet said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Sturgis rally could be linked to 266,000 coronavirus cases, study says

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally led to significant spread of the novel coronavirus in the event’s home state of South Dakota and in other parts of the United States, a team of researchers said in a newly released study that is disputed by state officials.

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This Aug. 2, 2019 photo shows heavy traffic on legendary Main Street in Sturgis, S.D. Jim Holland/Rapid City Journal via Associated Press

The report from San Diego State University’s Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies used anonymized cellphone location data and virus case counts to analyze the impact of the 460,000-person event that took place last month, believed to be one of the largest events held during the pandemic. Health officials had expressed concerns about the rally, which, the researchers noted, “represents a situation where many of the ‘worst case scenarios’ for superspreading occurred simultaneously.” Those included the event being held over 10 days, attracting a significant out-of-town population and involving attendees clustered together, with few wearing masks.

The consequences were “substantial,” the researchers concluded. By analyzing the parts of the country that had the highest number of Sturgis attendees and changes in coronavirus trends after its conclusion, they estimated 266,796 cases could be linked to the rally. That’s about 19% of the number reported nationally between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2, and significantly higher than the number state health officials have linked through contact tracing. Based on a COVID-19 case statistically costing about $46,000, the researchers said, that would mean the rally carried a public health price tag of $12.2 billion.

Read the full story.

Coronavirus cases spike among school-age children in Florida, while state orders some counties to keep data hidden

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A month into the forced reopening of Florida’s schools, dozens of classrooms — along with some entire schools — have been temporarily shuttered because of coronavirus outbreaks, and infections among school-age children have jumped 34 percent. But parents in many parts of the state don’t know if outbreaks of the virus are related to their own schools because the state ordered some counties to keep health data secret.

Volunteers around the state have set up their own school-related coronavirus dashboards, and one school district is using Facebook after the county health department was told to stop releasing information about cases tied to local schools.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has pushed aggressively for schools to reopen for in-person classes, even when Florida was the hot spot of the nation, and threatened to withhold funding if districts did not allow students into classrooms by Aug. 31. State officials did not insist — or even recommend — that coronavirus cases be disclosed school by school. The state also left it up to districts to decide whether masks should be worn by students and staff. Some require it, but many don’t.

Since schools began opening Aug. 10, at least 1,210 students and teachers have been sent home to quarantine because they were exposed to the novel coronavirus, according to the Florida Education Association, the teachers union.

The Florida Department of Health reported that 10,513 children under age 18 have tested positive since schools started reopening for in-person teaching, an increase of 34 percent. The state is not saying how many of those children were in school or doing remote learning.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine trial paused after ‘unexplained illness’

As President Trump pushes for a coronavirus vaccine before the November election, one major vaccine trial has been halted after a participant developed symptoms of a “potentially unexplained illness.” After the British participant fell ill, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford paused human trials to evaluate whether the person’s condition could be related to the vaccine.

Trump said Friday that he believes a vaccine will be available by October, but for that to happen, the Food and Drug Administration would have to use emergency powers to clear the vaccine before it could be formally approved, which has been a fraught topic among experts and policymakers.

Read more on the vaccine trial’s suspension.

Pope Francis calls health of all a ‘common good’

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has arrived at his weekly general audience wearing a face mask and used hand sanitizer before appealing for the faithful to look out for the health of others as well as themselves during the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis took off the mask as his car pulled into the San Damaso courtyard inside the Apostolic Palace, where last week he resumed his weekly Wednesday public audiences after a nearly six-month COVID-19 shutdown. While chairs were spaced out in the courtyard, the limited crowd massed along the barriers as Francis passed by and some lowered their masks to call out to him.

Pope Francis’s general audience at the Vatican, on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Associated Press/Andrew Medichini

During his remarks, Francis lamented that “partisan interests” were emerging in which some nations and groups are seeking to keep vaccines for themselves, or to further their political or economic interests.

He said: “The coronavirus is showing us that each person’s true good is a common good and, vice versa, the common good is a true good for the person. Health, in addition to being an individual good, is also a public good. A healthy society is one that takes care of everyone’s health.”

New rules restrict social gatherings in Britain to 6 people

LONDON — British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says new limits on social gatherings in England to six people are set to stay in place for the “foreseeable future,” potentially until or even through Christmas.

Hancock said the new limit for both indoor and outdoor gatherings, which will come into force and be enforceable by law from Monday, will provide “more clarity” to people and should help keep a lid on a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

Scientists say a clear message is crucial in containing pandemic.

Though there are exemptions, such as for schools, workplaces and “life events” like funerals and weddings, the government is clearly hoping that the new limits will be easily understood and followed. Unlike the previous set of guidlines, people could be fined for not following the rules — 100 pounds ($130) for a first offense, up to a potential 3,200 pounds.

The Czech Republic sees a new spike in cases

PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has been facing a steep rise of new coronavirus cases with the number of people tested positive in one day surpassing 1,000 for the first time.

The day-to-day increase in the country reached a record of 1,164 on Tuesday, the Health Ministry said.

The previous record was less than 800 on Friday.

The spike has come a week after the start of the new school year with dozens of schools partially or completely closed due to pandemic.

Health authorities in Prague have already imposed new restrictive measures.

Starting on Wednesday, it is mandatory again to wear face masks in stores and shopping malls. Bars, restaurants and night clubs have to be closed from midnight till 6 a.m.

The Czech Republic has reported 29,877 cases since the pandemic began, with 441 deaths.

Honolulu mayor extends stay-at-home order

HONOLULU — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he will extend the city’s stay-at-home order for two weeks to control the coronavirus.

The stay-at-home order will be kept in place through Sept. 24. But the mayor says he will modify the rules to allow solo activity at beaches, parks and trails. Individuals will be able to run, sit or eat by themselves in these public places beginning Thursday.

Caldwell says he extended the order because the number of new COVID-19 cases hadn’t declined as much as he wanted.

He says he wants to discuss how to cautiously reopen more activities.


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