The global hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine for kids is only just beginning — a lagging start that has some U.S. pediatricians worried they may not know if any shots work for young children in time for the next school year.

Older adults may be most vulnerable to the coronavirus, but ending the pandemic will require vaccinating children, too. Last week, Pfizer Inc. received permission to test its vaccine in U.S. kids as young as 12, one of only a handful of attempts around the world to start exploring if any experimental shots being pushed for adults also can protect children.

“I just figured the more people they have to do tests on, the quicker they can put out a vaccine and people can be safe and healthy,” said 16-year-old Katelyn Evans, who became the first teen to get an injection in the Pfizer study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

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Tammy Lewis-McCauley, clinical research coordinator at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, administers an injection to Katelyn Evans, a trial participant, in the hospital’s clinical trial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Oct. 14. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center via AP

Multiple vaccine candidates are in final-stage studies in tens of thousands of adults, and scientists are hopeful that the next few months will bring evidence that at least some of them are safe and effective enough for widespread use.

But when the first shots arrive, they’re unlikely to be recommended for children. Vaccines can’t be given to youngsters unless they’ve been tested in their age group — a major hurdle in efforts to reopen schools and resume more normal activities that are critical to families’ well-being.

“The public doesn’t understand that,” said Dr. Evan Anderson of Emory University, who has been pushing for pediatric testing of COVID-19 vaccines. While he’s encouraged by Pfizer’s study in adolescents, he finds it “very concerning” that children younger than 12 may not have a vaccine by next fall.

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Boston schools to return to remote learning as city’s infection rate rises

Boston Public Schools will suspend in-person learning beginning Thursday because of the city’s rising coronavirus infection rate, the district announced Wednesday.

The seven-day positive test rate increased from 4.5 percent last week to 5.7 percent this week, prompting education officials to halt classes until infection rates fall for two weeks straight.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh (D) said in a statement that his administration approved of in-person learning as long as it met public health metrics but that the new data does not support keeping schools open.

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School staff help to decorate the front entrance of the Ellis Elementary School in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood before opening for the first day back of in person learning during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on Oct. 1. David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Associated Press

Boston’s positivity rate must remain at or below 5 percent for two straight weeks before parents of special-needs students will have the option to return their children to school buildings. The positivity rate must be at or below 4 percent for other students to begin returning in phases, with younger children receiving priority, according to the district.

The public school district started its school year remotely last month and later gave parents the choice to stick with all-remote learning or switch to a hybrid model.

Boston’s return to virtual learning stands in contrast with a tide of large school districts across the country returning to in-person learning as fears of students struggling academically increase and early evidence shows that schools have not spread the virus as much as expected.

CDC expands definition of who is a ‘close contact’ of an individual with coronavirus

Federal health officials issued new guidance on Wednesday that greatly expands the pool of people considered at risk for COVID-19 by changing the definition of who is a “close contact” of an infected individual.

The change by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is likely to have its biggest impact in schools, workplaces and other group settings where people are in contact with others for long periods of time. It also underscores the importance of mask-wearing to prevent spread of the virus.

The CDC had previously defined a “close contact” as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

The updated guidance is based on new evidence about transmission of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. In a report published Wednesday, CDC and Vermont health officials discovered that the virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus after 22 interactions with them totaling 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.

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Across the U.S., states scramble to expand hospital capacity

BOISE, Idaho  — Hospitals across the United States are starting to buckle from a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, with several states setting records for the number of people hospitalized and leaders scrambling to find extra beds and staff. New highs in cases have been reported in states big and small — from Idaho to Ohio — in recent days.

The rise in cases and hospitalizations was alarming to medical experts.

“It’s really worrisome,” said Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University. Around the world, disease trackers have seen a pattern: First, the number of cases rises, then hospitalizations and finally there are increases in deaths. Seeing hospitals struggling is alarming, she said, because it may already be too late to stop a crippling surge.

“By the time we see hospitalizations rise, it means we’re really struggling,” Popescu said.

In Kentucky, the governor called the number of daily confirmed cases “grim,” forcing another round of preparations to expand hospital capacity.

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Spikes of the coronavirus are hitting spots around the United States, forcing public health officials to scramble to ensure there are enough hospital beds to accommodate the sick. Associated Press/John Locher

“We are now going back to our plans about capacity in hospitals, looking — if we have to — at hotel options and the use of state parks,” Gov. Andy Beshear said during a recent briefing. “Ensuring that we have the operational plans to stand up the field hospital, if necessary.”

The governor reported 776 people hospitalized, including 202 in intensive care and 96 on ventilators. There were 1,312 new COVID-19 cases statewide Tuesday — the fourth-highest one-day total since the pandemic began.

At the other end of the country, Idaho reported its largest coronavirus spike, with new cases increasing by some 47% over the past two weeks. Idaho is currently sixth in the nation for new cases per capita, with a positivity rate of just over 15% — one of the country’s highest.

Still, Gov. Brad Little has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, saying it’s up to individuals to take the necessary steps — wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hygiene — to stem the surge.

“As a health system, we’re all very concerned,” said Dr. Bart Hill, the vice president and chief quality officer of St. Luke’s Health System, the state’s largest. “It’s indicative of anticipating we’re going to see more hospitalizations affecting an older population in the next two, three, four weeks.”

“The direction we’re heading is one that looks real problematic,” he said.

Since the virus was first detected earlier this year, more than 40 million people around the globe have been infected and more than 1.1 million people have died. In the United States, there have been more than 8 million confirmed cases and more than 220,000 deaths. The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases has reached nearly 60,000 — the highest since July.

In some cases, spikes are happening as schools reopen and as Americans grow weary of wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

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Ireland is first European country to reimpose lockdown amid coronavirus resurgence

LONDON – Ireland will become the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown because of coronavirus concerns, with its government urging everyone who can to “stay at home.”

From midnight Wednesday, Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown that will include new restrictions. Schools, however, will remain open.

A number of European countries have experienced a resurgence in coronavirus cases and hospital admissions. On Wednesday, at least 10 European nations announced record numbers of daily cases.

Ireland, which has a population of about 5 million, has recorded more than 52,000 confirmed cases and 1,865 deaths.

People on O’Connell Bridge in Dublin city center on Tuesday. Ireland’s government is putting the country at its highest level of coronavirus restrictions for six weeks beginning at midnight Wednesday. Niall Carson/PA via Associated Press

As Europe braces for the second wave of the pandemic, many countries have opted for targeted, regional restrictions.

Ireland has gone a step further with its national lockdown. Under the new restrictions, set to last until Dec. 1, people in Ireland are being asked to stay at home and to exercise only within a three-mile radius of their homes. Restaurants, cafes and bars can stay open for takeaway and deliveries, but most nonessential retail establishments will close, including hairdressers and barbers. Ten people will be allowed at funerals.

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said at a news conference that Ireland “will be the first country in Europe to go back into a national lockdown.”

Varadkar said the move could result in 150,000 people losing their jobs and cost the government 1.5 billion euros. But he said the country needed to take a “preemptive strike” against the virus “before it is too late.”

Varadkar drew comparisons to the pandemic of 1918, noting that the second wave was worse than the first.

“That’s not inevitable this time,” he said. “We can make sure the second wave is only a ripple, but that depends on all of us.”

Some commentators noted that there is a sense of exhaustion this time.

Poland heralds virus strategy protecting both lives and jobs

WARSAW, Poland  — Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday outlined a “middle of the road” strategy of defending people’s health and lives while also protecting the economy and jobs in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

Mateusz Morawiecki said the policy rejected the approaches of those playing down the danger posed by the pandemic, as well as of those calling for another lockdown.

“Our strategy is to structure social and economic life in a way that will allow us to continue to learn, work and live without locking down the economy, but at the same time to break the transmission belt of infection,” Morawiecki said.

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An ambulance brings a COVID-19 patient to a specialized hospital in Warsaw on Tuesday. Poland is seeing a sharp spike in new cases daily of coronavirus infections, filling up hospital beds. Associated Press/Czarek Sokolowski

But he later said he would like all of Poland to be made a “red zone” starting Saturday, which would mean, among others, a ban on social gatherings including wedding parties, limits on number of customers in shops and on restaurant opening hours.

The decision is to be taken Thursday, he said on Polsat News TV.

On Wednesday, Poland registered a record of over 10,000 new confirmed infections, bringing the total to almost 203,000 in a country of some 38 million.

Speaking to lawmakers during a parliamentary debate on special anti-COVID-19 legislation, Morawiecki said the government was preparing for long months, “hopefully not years,” of struggle before the pandemic can be brought under control.

New York’s new virus cases exceed 2,000 for first time since May

New York state posted more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time since May, a surge that officials are desperate to head off as they prepare to distribute vaccines in the new year.

Of the nearly 125,000 tests conducted statewide on Tuesday, 1.6% were positive, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, said Wednesday during a briefing in Albany. Excluding hot spots resulted in a 1.4% positive average.

“Though we made a lot of progress, the numbers are still not acceptable,” he said.

A traffic sign warns of new COVID-19 restrictions in Brooklyn on Oct. 14. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to take away state funding from schools in coronavirus hot spots that are ignoring orders to shut their doors. The action came amid news reports on Jewish religious schools staying open in defiance of the rules in some parts of Brooklyn and Orange County. Associated Press

New York, the early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, is battling a resurgence in areas where mask-wearing and social-distance compliance has been lax. As recently as mid-August, daily cases statewide were averaging around 600 and the positive rate was nearly half what it is now. At its current pace, New York will surpass 500,000 cases early next week. Hospitalizations of 950 are the highest since June 25 and have doubled in the past month.

The positivity rate in the hot spots, many in Brooklyn, Queens and Rockland County, was 6.6% as of Tuesday. Cuomo on Wednesday said he would ease restrictions for some areas that have made improvements, while most would remain the same for the time being. The state is also now focusing on an increase in cases along the border with Pennsylvania, Cuomo said.

Cuomo said he doesn’t foresee a need for statewide closures, as long as the state continues to quell the rate of infections in micro-clusters. The state’s positivity rate remains among the lowest in the country, he said.

“The viral rate is increasing because it’s fall,” Cuomo said, noting that the season added a number of additional factors, including the reopening of schools, flu season and an increase in indoor activity.

Texas woman died of COVID-19 on a Spirit Airlines flight

A Texas woman died of COVID-19 while she was on board a Spirit Airlines flight heading home to Dallas from Las Vegas in late July, officials said this week.

The Spirit flight left Las Vegas on the evening of July 24, bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and was diverted to Albuquerque en route because the woman was unresponsive, according to Stephanie Kitts, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque International Sunport. The woman was dead by the time she arrived, Kitts said.

The woman has not been identified, but the Dallas County Judge’s office, which first disclosed her death, said she was in her 30s and had an underlying medical condition.

Airport managers in Albuquerque did not learn until later that the woman was infected with the coronavirus, so the case was handled as a typical medical diversion, Kitts said. Officials in Dallas County only added the woman to their toll of deaths from the virus on Sunday.

“She expired on an interstate airline flight, and did have underlying high risk health conditions,” the county said in a new release updating its tally.

It’s unknown how many people where on the flight or whether they were notified they might have been exposed to the virus.

Nearly 11,000 people have been exposed to the coronavirus on flights, the CDC says

The CDC has said it has investigated some 1,600 cases of people who traveled while they posed a risk of spreading the coronavirus, identifying 11,000 people who were potentially exposed. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the agency investigated the case of the woman who died on the Spirit flight.

Kitts said the New Mexico Office of Medical Investigator, which handles unusual deaths in the state, responded to the airport. The office could not be reached for comment.

Officials in Dallas initially said the woman died in Arizona, a detail that was widely reported, before confirming that she actually died in New Mexico.

While it appears to be an extreme case, the woman’s death was disclosed as airlines continue to try to convince potential passengers that flying is safe during the pandemic. Trade organizations have stressed that there have not been confirmed cases of people catching the virus on planes in the United States and that only a few cases have been documented globally.

Nevertheless, passenger numbers continue to be down considerably from normal times as businesses curtail travel and some states impose quarantine requirements on travelers.

Unprecedented vaccine trials on track to begin delivering results

In a matter of weeks, one of the most closely watched human experiments in history will start to report early results, with data on prospective coronavirus vaccines possibly coming this month or in November from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the biotechnology company Moderna.

Amid the turmoil, chaos and misinformation that have defined the U.S. response to the pandemic, progress toward a vaccine, or vaccines, has been steady, reassuring and scientific. Political meddling has so far been largely deflected. Drug companies, working closely with the U.S. government and fueled by an infusion of more than $10 billion of taxpayer money, have developed, tested and scaled up a half-dozen potential vaccines at unprecedented speed.

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A volunteer receives a dose of Pfizer’s experimental vaccine in May. University of Maryland School of Medicine via Associated Press

And on Thursday, independent advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will convene their first full-day meeting to lay the groundwork for their coming consequential deliberations on whether to recommend specific vaccines for public use. Those votes are not binding, but the FDA typically follows the recommendations of its advisory committees.

“Going from where we were in January and February – where we are going to be hit by this tsunami – to very likely having a vaccine, or more than one vaccine, that is proven safe and effective within a year, is staggeringly impressive, and would only have happened with strong and effective federal action,” said Robert Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

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Week-long event at North Carolina church linked to 50 coronavirus cases

At least 50 coronavirus cases have been linked to a week-long convocation at a North Carolina church, prompting health officials to urge attendees and close contacts to self-quarantine.

All of the infected people attended at least one event at the United House of Prayer for All People in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County Deputy Health Director Raynard Washington said Monday at a public meeting. Five of the people with confirmed cases live at an independent-living residence for seniors, he said.

Washington encouraged anyone who participated in the convocation from Oct. 4 through Oct. 11 to get a coronavirus test and to monitor themselves for symptoms. Additionally, he said 75 close contacts of the 50 known infected people are being advised to quarantine.

Health officials have asked church leaders not to host any gatherings in the coming weeks because authorities are unsure how far the virus has spread. Testing has not been available at the church because leaders are not interested in hosting a testing site, Washington said.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Mecklenburg County has nearly doubled in the past week, according to Washington. Nearly 32,000 infections and 337 deaths have been confirmed in the county since the pandemic began.

Pope Francis stops wearing mask, despite surging infections

ROME  — A day after donning a face mask for the first time during a liturgical service, Pope Francis was back to his mask-less old ways Wednesday despite surging coronavirus infections across Europe and growing criticism of his behavior and the example he is setting.

Francis shunned a face mask again during his Wednesday general audience in the Vatican auditorium, and didn’t wear one when he greeted a half-dozen mask-less bishops at the end. He shook hands and leaned in to chat privately with each one.

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Pope Francis meets with bishops duirng the weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday. Associated Press/Gregorio Borgia

While the clerics wore masks while seated during the audience, all but one took his mask off to speak to the pope. Only one kept it on, and by the end of his tete-a-tete with Francis, had lowered it under his chin.

Vatican regulations now require facemasks to be worn indoors and out where distancing can’t be “always guaranteed.” The Vatican hasn’t responded to questions about why the pope wasn’t following either Vatican regulations or basic public health measures to prevent COVID-19.

Francis has faced sharp criticism even from his most ardent supporters and incredulousness from some within the Vatican for refusing to wear a mask.

U. of Michigan hit with emergency stay-at-home order amid COVID-19 spike. But the football team will play on.

As health officials in Washtenaw County, Mich., recorded hundreds of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, they found a common thread: the University of Michigan campus, where officials have blamed students ignoring coronavirus restrictions for the rising infections.

On Tuesday, local health authorities issued an emergency stay-at-home order for the entire campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., mostly restricting students to their residences unless they’re getting food, doing an essential job or going to class.

Athletics, though, are exempt — meaning that the Wolverines’ football team will keep preparing for a road game in Minnesota on Saturday and an Oct. 31 home opener against Michigan State University. Although Michigan Stadium won’t feature a large crowd, some officials worry the home game will fuel new cases anyway due to Spartans fans traveling to Ann Arbor and Michigan supporters getting together for watch parties.

‘Unprecedented’ speed and intensity of lockdown responsible for New Zealand’s success, researchers say

The “unprecedented” speed and intensity of New Zealand’s response to the coronavirus in recent months has set it apart from all other countries, according to a recent article in the Lancet that highlights some of the lessons to be learned from the island nation’s success.

New Zealand announced its border restrictions before confirming its first local case of COVID-19 and before being advised to do so by the World Health Organization, the study notes.

Authorities in the country have seen ups and downs in their fight against the virus, facing their most recent challenge on Wednesday, when they confirmed a small new cluster of cases linked to a port worker who had tested positive over the weekend. Two of his contacts have since also tested positive.

A coronavirus alert received on a mobile phone Christchurch in August. Associated Press/Mark Baker

Some 23 more coronavirus cases were also confirmed Wednesday among travelers who recently arrived in New Zealand and are being isolated in official quarantine facilities.

It remained unclear how authorities would respond to the latest local transmissions, which tend to be more worrisome to officials than cases among quarantined travelers.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a landslide reelection in what many saw as a resounding show of support for her handling of the pandemic.

Within 15 days of confirming its first case in early March, the country entered lockdown. That swift response paid off: In two weeks, the number of cases being reported each day had dropped substantially, and most new infections were being discovered through contact tracing.

The study’s authors, drawn from universities and scientific institutes across New Zealand, point out that the country started out at an advantage: It has a centralized health system, an emergency management system accustomed to dealing with disaster in the form of frequent earthquakes, and was still in the middle of summer when the pandemic began, which meant that it didn’t have to simultaneously deal with a seasonal flu. But it also had the strictest lockdown in the world, as judged by Oxford University’s Government Response Stringency Index, and moved faster than other countries like Italy, Australia and Britain to ramp up restrictions.

New Zealand has reported just 25 coronavirus-related deaths to date, giving it one of the world’s lowest fatality rates.

Eastern European countries continue to see record levels of new cases

Bucharest, Romania — Romania hit an all-time high Wednesday with 4,848 positive coronavirus cases as authorities carried out a record number of tests.

Romania reported 37,025 coronavirus tests, the highest so far. It added 69 deaths in the last 24 hours.

The rate of infections over the past 14 days passed the threshold of three people per 1,000 in 255 localities nationwide, all of which entered the “red scenario,” according to data from Romania’s Emergency Services Department.

In the red scenario, masks are mandatory in all public venues and restaurants, cafes, theaters and cinemas are closed. Schools are shut down schools and switch to online learning.

Romania has reported 191,102 coronavirus cases and 6,065 confirmed deaths.

 

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria hit a record level of 1,336 new coronavirus infections, the health ministry reported on Wednesday.

New restrictive measures are starting Thursday with mandatory mask-wearing outdoors. Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said wearing protective masks, along with social distancing and frequent disinfection, will slow the spread of the virus by about 30 percent and help prevent overwhelming the health system.

According to official reports, 71 doctors and other medical staff have tested positive in the past 24 hours, bringing the total of infected medics to 1,622.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev reportedly cut short a visit to Estonia on Tuesday because of contact with a coronavirus-positive person. Upon his return to Sofia, Radev showed reporters a negative test result and his office announced Wednesday that he tested negative for a second time.

The Balkan nation of 7 million people has 31,863 confirmed cases and 1,019 deaths.

 

WARSAW — Poland has reported a new record for daily coronavirus cases after conducting a record number of virus tests.

The country on Wednesday reported 10,040 new confirmed cases and 13 deaths. There were 60,000 tests performed in 24 hours.

Authorities in large cities are taking steps to turn conference halls into temporary COVID-19 hospitals, and the city of Krakow is planning to reopen a disused hospital to treat coronavirus patients.

Polish lawmakers are debating legislation that would give more funds to medics and temporarily exempt them from legal responsibility for mistakes that take place while treating people for COVID-19.

The country of some 38 million has almost 203,000 total cases, including about 3,900 deaths.

Parts of northern England put on tightest restrictions

LONDON — The South Yorkshire region of northern England is being placed under the country’s tightest restrictions to curb the coronavirus — joining a densely populated swathe of the country where the measures have already been imposed.

Sheffield Mayor Dan Jarvis said the Tier 3 restrictions will come into force on Saturday. He said local authorities had struck a deal with the British government on financial support for the area to accompany the measures.

“We all recognize the gravity of the situation and have taken the responsible route to ensure we save lives and livelihoods, and protect our (health service),” Jarvis said.

Under the new rules, pubs have to close, people are barred from mixing with members of other households and travel in and out of the area is discouraged.

The measures have caused tension between Britain’s Conservative government and local authorities in northern England, which has the country’s highest infection rates.

On Tuesday the government imposed the same restrictions on Greater Manchester, the U.K.’s second-biggest urban area.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with almost 44,000 confirmed deaths.

 


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