WASHINGTON — A Federal Reserve survey of business conditions around the country found that economic activity in several regions slowed in November as coronavirus cases surged.

The Fed report released Wednesday said that overall, the Fed’s 12 regional banks characterized the economic expansion as “modest or moderate.” But it noted that three Midwest regions and the Philadelphia region reported activity had begun to cool in early November as COVID-19 cases surged.

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Customers shop for books Saturday at the Strand Bookstore in New York. A Federal Reserve survey of business conditions around the country found that economic activity in several regions slowed in November as coronavirus cases surged. Associated Press/Mary Altaffer

Four districts reported “little or no growth” during November, while five others reported that activity remained well below pre-pandemic levels in some sectors.

Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist for Oxford Economics, said the latest Fed survey showed the recovery continues to be uneven across many sectors of the economy.

The report said that among the sectors doing better were manufacturing, housing construction and existing home sales. But banks said there had been deterioration in their loans, particularly those to retailers and the leisure and hospitality industries.

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Nurses wanted: Swamped hospitals scramble for pandemic help

Registered nurse Chrissie Burkhiser puts on personal protective equipment as she prepares to treat a COVID-19 patient in an emergency room in Memphis, Mo. in November. Associated Press/Jeff Roberson

OMAHA, Neb. — U.S. hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement, recruiting students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licenses and offering eye-popping salaries in a desperate bid to ease staffing shortages.

With the virus surging from coast to coast, the number of patients in the hospital with the virus has more than doubled over the past month to a record high of nearly 100,000, pushing medical centers and health care workers to the breaking point.

“Nurses are under immense pressure right now,” said Kendra McMillan, a senior policy adviser for the American Nurses Association. “We’ve heard from nurses on the front lines who say they’ve never experienced the level of burnout we’re seeing right now.”

Governors in hard-hit states like Wisconsin and Nebraska are making it easier for retired nurses to come back, including by waiving licensing requirements and fees, though it can be a tough sell for older nurses, who would be in more danger than many of their colleagues if they contracted the virus.

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Children unlikely to get vaccinated in time for the new school year, experts fear

As the United States eagerly awaits the availability of a safe, effective vaccine for the coronavirus that has plagued the nation for months, a significant group, making up more than one-fifth of the population, will need to wait longer for immunization: children.

On Sunday, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged it is going to take time, perhaps even months, before those younger than 18 can get a coronavirus vaccine, as trials to test the vaccine candidates’ immunogenicity are either underway or have yet to begin. Pfizer, which is developing a vaccine with German partner BioNTech, announced in October they were expanding testing of their vaccine to those 12 and older. A similar announcement is expected soon from Moderna, which has partnered with the National Institutes of Health on an experimental vaccine, with Fauci hinting an expedited process to test the vaccine in children would begin “very likely in January.”

Juliet Chiu, 7, from Los Angeles, gets influenza vaccinein Los Angeles in October. Associated Press/Damian Dovarganes

“Before you put it into the children, you’re going to want to make sure you have a degree of efficacy and safety that is established in an adult population, particularly an adult, normal population,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” NIAID and Moderna did not respond to requests for comment about the pediatric trials or Fauci’s suggested timeline.

The wait has prompted pediatricians and other public health experts to voice concerns that further delays endanger at-risk children, hinder efforts to return schools to normalcy and stall herd immunity.

Children’s immune responses are different from that of adults, so there is a consensus that pediatric trials are critical for testing the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity (or effective immune response) of vaccines on kids. But some experts have said testing on children should have begun sooner, especially after the successful adult trials.

Stay home for the holidays or get tested twice, CDC urges

Don’t travel over the upcoming holidays. But if you must, consider getting coronavirus tests before and after, U.S. health officials urged Wednesday.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the best way to stay safe and protect others is to stay home.

The agency also announced new guidelines that shorten recommended quarantines after close contact with someone infected with coronavirus. The agency said the risk in a shorter quarantine is small, but that the change makes following the guidance less of a hardship.

The no-travel advice echoes recommendations for Thanksgiving but many Americans ignored it. With COVID-19 continuing to surge, the CDC added the testing option.

“Cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing, deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase,” the CDC’s Dr. Henry Walke said during a briefing.

He said any travel-related surge in cases from travel would likely be apparent about a week to 10 days after Thanksgiving.

The virus has infected more than 13.5 million Americans and killed at least 270,000 since January.

“The safest thing to do is to postpone holiday travel and stay home,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, another CDC official. “Travel volume was high over Thanksgiving,” and even if small numbers were infected, that could result in ’’hundreds of thousands of new infections.”

‘’Travel is a door-to-door experience that can spread virus during the journey and also into communities that travelers visit or live,” she added.

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Belgians can invite guests for Christmas, but only one can use the bathroom

In Belgium, having a few people over for Christmas dinner is not necessarily out of the question this year. But only one lucky guest will be allowed to use the bathroom, if the government has any say in the matter.

Belgium has reported more coronavirus-related deaths per capita than any other nation and a higher rate of infection than all but three other countries. While some restrictions, such as the closure of nonessential stores, were lifted Tuesday in time for Christmas shopping, social gatherings are still limited to four people and must take place outdoors.

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Shoppers walk by Christmas-themed shop windows in downtown Brussels on Tuesday. Associated Press/Francisco Seco

The four-person rule will apply for Christmas, and authorities are trying to make sure that people who show up for backyard celebrations do not end up spending time indoors. Anyone inviting guests over needs to have a garden or backyard that can be accessed without walking through the house, which essentially means that people who live in detached homes can have guests over but those who live in rowhouses cannot. “You are not allowed to go through an interior space first, because then there is a risk that many people will be together in a small space,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told Het Laatste Nieuws on Monday.

A spokesperson for Verlinden added another major caveat: Only one guest who is chosen as a “close contact” can be allowed inside the house to use the bathroom. Other visitors are banned from going inside for any reason, including grabbing a drink or food.

New Hampshire lawmakers are ‘bundling up’ and starting their session outdoors

At the warmest point of the day on Wednesday, the temperature in Concord, N.H., will be just 10 degrees above freezing. But sun is in the forecast — which should come as a relief to New Hampshire lawmakers, who plan to kick off the new legislative session outdoors.

“People will be bundling up,” Steve Shurtleff, a Democratic state representative, told the Associated Press. “I think we could relax our dress codes so people can dress appropriately.”

In June of 2020, the New Hampshire House of Representatives convened at a University of New Hampshire arena. The legislature is beginning its fall session outside. Associated Press/Charles Krupa

With 400 members, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives is the largest in the country. But its chamber has room for only about 130 people if proper social distancing protocols are being followed, staffers told the Union Leader — and even that would require having some legislators sit in the public gallery on a different level from the House floor.

Originally, legislators had planned to spread out on a basketball court at the University of New Hampshire, but surging coronavirus caseloads around the country prompted them to change plans over the weekend and move Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony to an outdoor field hockey pitch instead. The wisdom of that decision became abundantly clear on Tuesday, when officials revealed that a number of Republican lawmakers had tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a caucus meeting at a ski resort on Nov. 20.

Whether the legislature will continue meeting outdoors as temperatures drop and snow begins to fall is another story. New Hampshire’s constitution requires lawmakers to be sworn in on the first Wednesday of December, but the real work of the session won’t begin until early January, when the weather could be substantially worse with an average high temperature hovering around freezing. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has proposed using empty conference centers or arenas, according to the Union Leader, while some lawmakers would prefer to see the proceedings move online.

Britain approves coronavirus vaccine, will begin shots within days

LONDON — Britain became the first country in the world to authorize a rigorously tested COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday and could be dispensing shots within days — a historic step toward eventually ending the scourge that has killed more than 1.4 million people around the globe.

In giving the go-ahead for emergency use of the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, Britain vaulted past the United States by at least a week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not scheduled to consider the vaccine until Dec. 10.

“This is a day to remember, frankly, in a year to forget,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

The announcement sets the stage for the biggest vaccination campaign in British history and came just ahead of what experts are warning will be a long, dark winter, with the coronavirus surging to epic levels in the U.S. and Europe and putting pressure on hospitals and businesses.

Officials cautioned that several tough months still lie ahead even in Britain, given the monumental scale of the operation needed to vaccinate large swaths of the population. Because of the limited initial supply, the first shots will be reserved for those most in danger, namely nursing home patients, the elderly and health care workers.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recommended the vaccine after clinical trials showed it was 95% effective and offered significant protection for older people. The vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done.

“This is an unprecedented piece of science,” given that the vaccine was authorized less than a year after the virus was discovered, said David Harper, senior consulting fellow in global health at the Chatham House think tank.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that the “searchlights of science” had picked out the “invisible enemy.” He said that in developing the vaccine, scientists had performed “biological ju jitsu” by turning the virus on itself.

Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators not only in the U.S. but in the European Union and Canada also are vetting the Pfizer vaccine along with a shot made by Moderna Inc. British and Canadian regulators are also considering a vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Amid growing concern in the U.S. that Americans will greet vaccines with skepticism, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Britain’s decision “should give Americans additional confidence in the quality of such a vaccine.”

Read the full story here.

Criminals could exploit vaccine demand, Interpol warns

The global police cooperation agency Interpol said Wednesday that the distribution of coronavirus vaccines could be exploited by criminals, with “falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines” posing growing risks.

“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” said the agency’s secretary general, Juergen Stock, according to the Interpol website. “Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.”

Interpol said it has warned all of its 194 member states to prepare for such potential criminal schemes “both physically and online.”

Britain became the first country on Wednesday to grant emergency approval to the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, with other countries and blocs poised to make a decision in coming weeks.

CDC to shorten recommended quarantine after virus exposure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to shorten the recommended length of quarantine after exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19, as the virus rages across the nation.

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Dr. Deborah Birx, left, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, during a round table discussion with state and local government and medical leaders in Bismarck, North Dakota in October. Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP

According to a senior administration official, the new guidelines will allow people who have come in contact to someone infected with the virus to resume normal activity after 10 days, or 7 days if they receive a negative test result. That’s down from the 14-day period recommended since the onset of the pandemic.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement, said the policy change has been discussed for some time, as scientists have studied the incubation period for the virus. The policy would hasten the return to normal activities by those deemed to be “close contacts” of those infected with the virus, which has infected more than 13.5 million Americans and killed at least 270,000.

Read the full story here.

New Orleans swingers convention becomes superspreader event

With no dance floor and strict, new coronavirus guidelines, attendees at the 2020 Naughty N’awlins swingers convention swayed in place at their tables and flirted behind face masks from a distance.

After being tested for coronavirus and agreeing to wear masks, about 250 people checked into a New Orleans hotel for the swingers convention on Nov. 14 to reconnect a community separated by the pandemic.

A little more than two weeks later, 41 attendees have tested positive for the virus, according to the event’s organizer, in an outbreak that led local officials to call the convention a “superspreader event.”

Read the full story here.

Iceland will let some travelers skip quarantine if they’ve already contracted the coronavirus

People traveling to Iceland won’t be subject to quarantine and screening requirements if they have already contracted the coronavirus, according to the latest guidance from health officials.

The policy applies only to residents of the 26 states in Europe’s Schengen area, since Iceland’s border restrictions bar virtually all other travelers. (Last month, the government quietly began allowing some Americans to enter the country on remote work visas. But people applying to the program need to prove that they earn at least $88,000 a year, according to Bloomberg News.) Typically, those visitors must either spend 14 days in quarantine or get tested for the coronavirus twice upon arrival, with a mandatory five-day quarantine in between the two tests.

Reykjavik, Iceland Shutterstock

To be exempt from quarantine requirements, travelers can take a PCR test and have Icelandic health authorities certify that they previously contracted the coronavirus and completed a period of isolation, according to the new guidelines published Sunday. Alternatively, they can present proof that they have coronavirus antibodies.

Iceland’s decision is an unusual one: Though uncommon, there have been documented instances of reinfection occurring in people who have already been infected with covid-19. It’s not clear how long antibodies provide protection against the virus.

While Iceland has developed a reputation as a coronavirus success story — the island nation has reported just 5,413 infections, one of the lowest tallies worldwide — tough border restrictions have led to lean times in what was once a booming tourism destination. Iceland’s Ministry of Health announced this week that coronavirus testing for travelers would be free for the next two months, the latest move aimed at encouraging visitors to return.

UK authorizes Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use

British officials authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Wednesday, greenlighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous science and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.

The go-ahead for the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech comes as the virus surges again in the United States and Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and morgues in some places and forcing new rounds of restrictions that have devastated economies.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the U.K., recommended the vaccine could be used after it reviewed the results of clinical trials that showed the vaccine was 95% effective overall — and that it also offered significant protection for older people, among those most at risk of dying from the disease. But the vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done.

“Help is on its way,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC, adding that the situation would start to improve in the spring.

“We now have a vaccine. We’re the first country in the world to have one formally clinically authorized but, between now and then, we’ve got to hold on, we’ve got to hold our resolve,” he said.

Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc. British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

California officials tell people to stay home, then they dine out

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Mayor London Breed dined at a posh Napa Valley restaurant the day after California’s governor was there. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo went to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving. And a Los Angeles County supervisor dined outdoors just hours after voting to ban outdoor dining there.

All three local officials were on the hot seat Tuesday after various reports that they violated rules aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus — or at a minimum, violating the spirit of the rules as they repeatedly urged others to stay home.

Breed joined seven others at the three Michelin-starred French Laundry on Nov. 7 to celebrate the 60th birthday of socialite Gorretti Lo Lui, the mayor’s spokesman confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle. She dined in the same kind of partially enclosed indoor/outdoor room Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated in a day earlier.

Newsom, who has appealed to Californians to “do your part” and stay home, apologized when the 12-person dinner was reported, then again when photos emerged showing him, his wife and others sitting close together without masks.

One in 41 people in Colorado believed to be contagious

DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis joined the nation’s top infectious disease expert Tuesday and urged people to wear masks and socially distance to help prevent stay-at-home orders and overwhelmed hospitals as cases of the coronavirus surge during the holidays.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned during a virtual news conference that Colorado is not alone in seeing a spike in cases and pleaded with people not to travel or gather in large groups.

“If you look across the United States, we are really in a public health crisis right now,” Fauci said.

He added that “we are likely going to see a surge upon a surge” of cases, based on the number of people who gathered for Thanksgiving and on those who are expected to shop and attend holiday parties before celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in large groups.

Colorado has been hit with a substantial spike in COVID-19 cases, with one in 41 residents believed to be contagious.

France to institute border check to prevent skiers from going to Swiss resorts

PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced that “random border checks” will be put in place over the holiday season targeting French skiers trying to get to foreign resorts, particularly in Switzerland.

“The goal is to avoid French citizens getting contaminated. That will be done by putting in random border checks,” Castex said on BFM TV Wednesday.

He said the controls will include virus tests and a seven-day quarantine will be imposed on returning French skiers.

On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron had indicated that the government was considering taking “restrictive and dissuasive measures” to prevent the French from going abroad to ski, especially in Switzerland, at Christmas.

France will apply restrictions to prevent vacationers from going to ski resorts abroad and French slopes will remain closed during the Christmas period amid the coronavirus pandemic Macron said.

France has reported over 52,800 dead in the pandemic, the third-worst death toll in Europe after Britain and Italy.


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