SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon said Thursday that nearly 20,000 of its U.S. employees had tested positive, or had been presumed positive, for the coronavirus since the pandemic started spreading through the country this year.

The retailer has faced harsh criticism this year as hundreds of workers and critics have said it hasn’t done enough to keep employees safe as they work in its warehouses amid a surge in demand to send items to shoppers across the country.

Amazon said in a blog that the number of employees who have had the illness includes its workers at its grocery store chain Whole Foods Market. In total, 19,816 employees have had COVID-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19, it said, or about 1.44 percent of the 1,372,000 front-line workers for Amazon during that period.

The tech giant has had a year of intense ups and downs due to the pandemic. Its sales have soared as people shopped more online, especially while shelter-in-place measures have been in place in many states. But some employees pushed back publicly on its working conditions, and shipping delays caused customers to vent their frustrations online.

Amazon emphasized that is at a lower infection rate than U.S. population’s, citing Johns Hopkins University numbers.

The numbers did not include the company’s delivery drivers, who are typically contracted workers, according to Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman.

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Carnival cancels most 2020 U.S. cruises as CDC extends ban

Carnival Cruise Line is canceling most U.S. sailings through the end of this year, the latest sign that the cruise industry’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic could still be many months away.

The company said Thursday it is canceling sailings from all ports except its home ports of Miami and Port Canaveral, Florida. Carnival said it will focus its initial return to operations on those two ports, but it stressed that it still might not sail from those ports in November and December.

“As we have said throughout this pause, our return to operations will be gradual and phased in,” Carnival President Christine Duffy said in a statement.

Carnival’s announcement came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a ban on large cruises in U.S. waters through Oct. 31. The no-sail order, initially issued in March, had been set to expire on Sept. 30.

“Recent passenger voyages in foreign countries continue to have outbreaks, despite cruise ship operators having extensive health and safety protocols,” the CDC said. It noted cruise ships force people to share spaces that are more crowded than typical urban settings.

The CDC said it knows of 3,689 reported coronavirus cases and 41 deaths linked to cruises in U.S. waters between March and September. The agency said that is likely an undercount.

Even before the CDC announced its decision, the cruise industry had voluntarily suspended U.S. sailings through Oct. 31. Last week, the industry announced new safety plans, including COVID testing for all passengers and crew before boarding.

Carnival rival Norwegian Cruise Line said Thursday that it hasn’t canceled any scheduled cruises and remains optimistic it can resume U.S. operations soon. Norwegian is listing November cruises from Florida to the Bahamas and New York to Bermuda on its website.

Can the coronavirus travel more than 6 feet through the air?

Can the coronavirus travel more than 6 feet in the air?

Research indicates it can, but it’s not clear how much of the pandemic is caused by such cases.

People spray liquid droplets of various sizes when they cough, sneeze, talk, sing, shout and even just breathe. The coronavirus can hitchhike on these particles.

The advice about staying at least 6 feet apart is based on the idea that the larger particles drop to the ground before getting very far.

But some scientists have also focused on tinier particles called aerosols. These can linger in the air for minutes to hours, and spread through a room and build up in concentration if ventilation is poor, posing a potential risk of infection if inhaled.

For aerosols, “6 feet is not a magic distance” and keeping even farther apart is better, says Linsey Marr, who researches airborne transmission of infectious diseases at Virginia Tech.

Some scientists say there’s enough evidence about aerosols and the virus to take protective measures. In addition to the usual advice, they stress the need for ventilation and air-purifying systems when indoors. Even better, they say, is to stay outdoors when interacting with others.

Moderna CEO says its vaccine won’t be ready for general public until spring

Moderna’s chief executive said its COVID-19 vaccine is not expected to be available for widespread use until spring next year.

Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times during a pharmaceutical and biotechnology conference that the company would not be ready to apply for emergency use authorization for its potential vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration until Nov. 25 at the earliest, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

“November 25 is the time we will have enough safety data to be able to put into an EUA … file that we would send to the FDA — assuming that the safety data is good, i.e. a vaccine is deemed to be safe,” Bancel said, according to the report.

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A nurse gives volunteer Ithaca firefighter Wade Bardo an injection as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the NIH and Moderna Inc., gets underway in July. Associated Press/Hans Pennink

Moderna, he said, would not be prepared to file for approval to distribute the vaccine to the general U.S. population until late January at the earliest. That means the company does not expect to have approval to distribute the vaccine widely until the spring, according to the Financial Times.

“I think a late [first-quarter], early [second-quarter] approval, is a reasonable timeline, based on what we know from our vaccine,” Bancel said.

Moderna did not immediately respond to a request from The Washington Post for comment.

The Moderna chief’s timeline contrasts with Trump’s assurances of a speedy timeline for a coronavirus vaccine.

Trump was asked during Tuesday night’s presidential debate about his contradicting top scientists who say a vaccine may not be available to the general public until halfway through next year. He responded, “They can go faster than that by a lot.”

“Well, I’ve spoken to the companies, and we can have it a lot sooner,” Trump said, adding: “I’ve spoken to Pfizer, I’ve spoken to all of the people that you have to speak to — we have great — Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and others. They can go faster than that by a lot.”

NFL postpones Steelers-Titans after 2 more positive tests

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  — The NFL postponed Sunday’s Pittsburgh Steelers game at Tennessee until later in the season after one additional Titans player and one personnel member tested positive for COVID-19.

The announcement Thursday came one day after the league said it hoped to play the game on Monday or Tuesday. The NFL said a new game date would be announced “shortly.”

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Tennessee Titans and the Minnesota Vikings players meet at midfield following a game on Sunday. Associated Press/Jim Mone

“The decision to postpone the game was made to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel,” the league said. “The Titans facility will remain closed and the team will continue to have no in-person activities until further notice.”

On Tuesday, the Titans (3-0) placed three players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including key players defensive captain and lineman DaQuan Jones and long snapper Beau Brinkley. Outside linebacker Kamalei Correa became the fourth on that list Wednesday.

With the two new cases, the Titans’ total is now 11: five players and six other organization members. That doesn’t include outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen whose positive result came back last Saturday, preventing him from traveling with Tennessee to Minnesota for a 31-30 win.

CDC extends no-sail order for cruise ships only through October

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Wednesday that a “no-sail order” for cruise ships will be extended just through the end of October — amid reports that an effort to keep the order in place through February was overruled.

The announcement came a little over an hour before a ban that has been in place since March was set to expire. “Recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas provide current evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 — even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities — and would likely spread the infection into U.S. communities if passenger operations were to resume prematurely in the United States,” the agency noted.

Symphony of the Seas

The Symphony of the Seas sits docked in Miami in May. Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Earlier on Wednesday, both Axios and the New York Times reported that CDC Director Robert Redfield had pushed to extend the no-sail order until February 2021, given the likelihood that cruises would again become virus hotspots. But both reported he was overruled by the White House, as a result of the sway the cruise industry holds in the battleground state of Florida. Republican politicians in Florida and industry CEOs have aggressively lobbied to lift the ban, arguing cruises should be allowed to resume amid the pandemic, with new safety protocols.

The industry’s largest trade organization had previously agreed to suspend all cruises until Oct. 31, making Wednesday’s CDC announcement more of a formality. In a statement, the agency said that 3,689 coronavirus cases and 41 fatalities had been linked to cruise ships operating in U.S. waters between March 1 and the end of September.

Russia reports nearly 9,000 new virus cases

MOSCOW — Russian health officials reported nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, one of the largest increases in months.

The 8,945 cases are almost twice as many as health officials were registering in late August. The new cases brought the country’s total to more 1.18 million, fourth highest in the world. There have been 20,796 confirmed deaths – 12th highest globally — according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the increases, authorities have repeatedly dismissed a second lockdown or other major restrictions. However, Moscow officials last week asked the elderly to stay at home, and employers to allow people to work from home. The mayor of Moscow also extended school holidays that start Oct. 5 to two weeks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday urged Russians to remain vigilant.

Mississippi — one of the last coronavirus hot spots to make face coverings mandatory — now appears to be the first to let its mask mandate lapse.

Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced Wednesday that he will continue to urge Mississippians to wear masks in public but will not extend an executive order requiring them to do so. “I want to be clear, I still believe masks work,” he told reporters at a news conference, before qualifying that “there is a difference between something being wise and something being a government mandate.”

“We have to trust the people of this country to look after themselves and to make wise decisions,” he added.

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Gov. Tate Reeves sports a “Mississippi Strong” in July. Associated Press/Rogelio V. Solis

Masks will still be mandatory in schools, and in some businesses like hair salons and barbershops where employees and customers come into close contact. Some cities, including Jackson, Tupelo, Hattiesburg and Oxford, have said that they will continue to require masks in public settings.

Reeves was reluctant to introduce a statewide mask mandate when coronavirus cases skyrocketed in Mississippi over the summer, explaining in July that he didn’t think the order would be an effective form of persuasion. He reversed course in early August, as cases began to decline from their July peak, but drew criticism that same month for going maskless at a crowded political rally in North Carolina. By then, most other hard-hit states — with the notable exception of Florida — had imposed mask requirements.

In recent weeks, Mississippi has averaged roughly 515 new coronavirus cases a day, about half the number being reported over the summer. Hospitalizations have also dropped, and Reeves on Wednesday encouraged schools to reopen. But State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs warned on Wednesday that the state is “still vulnerable for a rebound” and a second surge, the Clarion Ledger reported.

Serbia data questioned; recount for virus deaths

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s president says the Balkan country will do a recount of COVID-19 deaths after a chief epidemiologist said more people have died of the disease than officially reported.

President Aleksandar Vucic said Thursday that “Serbia will do a complete revision for each death, for each person.” Vucic insisted that the authorities did not hide the number of fatalities caused by the pandemic.

The comments came after epidemiologist Predrag Kon said three times more people died in Belgrade by June than officially registered. Kon wasn’t clear over who’s to blame for the discrepancy.

Serbian authorities have denied accusations they let the pandemic spin out of control ahead of the June 21 parliamentary election and altered the numbers of the infected at the time.

Tens of thousands of people attended a soccer game in early summer, while anti-virus rules were almost completely relaxed. Restrictions to counter the virus were reintroduced in July following days of violent protests over the government’s handling of the crisis.

Vucic’s populists won a landslide victory at the ballot that was boycotted by many opposition parties who insisted the vote was unfair.

Serbia has reported more than 30,000 infections and 749 deaths.

UK see steep rise in cases

LONDON — British scientists are reporting that the rate of coronavirus infection across England has jumped four-fold in the last month and even higher in regions like northwest England and London.

That’s according to a large government-commissioned study that randomly tested tens of thousands of people in the community. But the researchers also said the epidemic does not appear to be growing exponentially at the moment.

“There is some evidence of a deceleration,” said Paul Elliott, chair of epidemiology at Imperial College London, who led the study. Elliott said some of the recently imposed measures in the U.K., including banning gatherings of more than six people, may have helped slow the spread of COVID-19.

Elliott said about 1 in 200 people across England are infected with the coronavirus, an increase from about 1 in 800 people in early September.

“We need to get on top of this now so we don’t have an exponential increase,” he said.

Elliott and colleagues noted that the steep rise in cases began in August — when the U.K. government launched a month-long promotion offering people steep discounts to eat out at restaurants.

The study also noted that rates of infection are increasing among all age groups in England, with the highest prevalence among 18 to 24-year-olds. The scientists reported that Black people and those of Asian descent were twice as likely to have COVID-19 as white people.

Spain’s central and regional governments at odds over how to respond to uptick in cases

MADRID — Madrid will carry out a national order restricting mobility in large Spanish cities with rapid virus spread but its regional president announced Thursday she will fight the Spanish government’s resolution in the courts because she deems it arbitrary.

Spain’s official gazette on Thursday published the Health Ministry order that gives the country’s 19 regions two days to implement limits on social gatherings and shop opening hours and restricts trips in and out of any large cities that have recorded a 2-week infection rate of 500 cases per 100,000 residents.

Countrywide, only Madrid and nine of its suburban towns met the criteria as of Thursday.

Spain’s central government and regional officials in Madrid have been at odds for weeks over how to respond to the pandemic while the spread of the virus in the Spanish capital surged to the highest level in Europe’s second wave of infections.

The center-right Madrid government has resisted the stricter measures in the city of 3.3 million and its suburbs for fears of damaging the economy.

Effort to provide vaccines to poorer countries hampered by lack of funds, logistics

LONDON — An ambitious humanitarian project to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest people is facing potential shortages of money, cargo planes, refrigeration and vaccines themselves — and running into skepticism even from some of those it’s intended to help most.

In one of the biggest obstacles, rich countries have locked up most of the world’s potential vaccine supply through 2021, and the U.S. and others have refused to join the project, called Covax.

“The supply of vaccines is not going to be there in the near term, and the money also isn’t there,” warned Rohit Malpani, a public health consultant who previously worked for Doctors Without Borders.

Covax was conceived as a way of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth.

Yet Alicia Yamin, a global health expert at Harvard University, said she fears the “window is closing” for Covax to prove workable. She says that poor countries “probably will not get vaccinated until 2022 or 2023.”


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