The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbed above 210,000 on Tuesday, as doctors and health experts lamented President Donald Trump’s latest comments on COVID-19, with many saying he is sending the wrong message to the American public.
Trump, who was released from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, where he had been treated since Friday after his positive COVID-19 diagnosis, immediately told the nation not to be “afraid” of COVID, adding that there are “some really great drugs and knowledge” that have been developed under his administration. Trump also appeared on a balcony of the White House, where he removed his face mask on live TV. Prior to Trump’s Walter Reed departure, Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, said Trump was “not out of the woods yet.”
Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., was shocked that Trump had removed his face mask.
Experts were hoping that Trump’s experience of the illness would lead him and his administration to act more decisively to persuade the public of the need to wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands frequently, the key measures they agree are needed to contain the spread.
Others noted that Trump has access to experimental and state-of-the-art treatments that are not available to the average American.
“ ‘Don’t be afraid’? I wish every American had access to the same health care you’re getting — but they don’t,” Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said on Twitter.
There was further alarm at a report that the White House has decided not to trace the contacts of guests and staff members in attendance at a Rose Garden ceremony 10 days ago for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, where at least eight people, including the president, may have been infected.
The New York Times, citing a White House official described as familiar with the plans, said that, instead, the White House is limiting efforts to the notification of people who came into close contact with Trump during the two days before he tested positive on Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has had a contact-tracing team ready to take up the task, has been cut out of the process. USA Today reported that the CDC had explicitly offered the White House its expertise and was rebuffed. The White House official reportedly said the White House is following CDC guidelines that recommend focusing on contacts within a two-day window from diagnosis.
But health experts called it irresponsible to ignore the earlier event.
“You cannot argue against the fact that five or six people who attended that event all got infected, unless you argue that that was all random chance,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an epidemiologist and contact-tracing expert, told the Times. “There were a lot of people working at that event, and so they need to be contact tracing that whole event.”
Health experts have lamented the U.S.’s failure to conduct the contact tracing, isolation and quarantine procedures that have helped some countries and regions contain the spread of the deadly illness. Trump has jeered at face-mask wearers, including Vice President Joe Biden, his Nov. 3 opponent; has said the virus would simply disappear; has promoted ineffective or even harmful treatments; and has admitted to journalist Bob Woodward in recorded interviews that he deliberately downplayed the virus earlier in the outbreak.
There was further dismay at the news that the White House has blocked new Food and Drug Administration guidelines on bringing potential vaccines for COVID-19 to market that would almost certainly have prevented their introduction before the Nov. 3 election.
At issue was the FDA’s planned instruction that vaccine developers follow patients enrolled in their trials for at least two months to rule out safety issues before seeking emergency approval from the agency, the Associated Press reported. A senior administration confirmed the move Monday evening, saying the White House believed there was “no clinical or medical reason” for the additional requirement.
In other news:
• Top military leaders are under self-quarantine after a senior Coast Guard official tested positive for the coronavirus, the Pentagon said Tuesday. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, was among those affected, U.S. officials said, as the AP reported. Military leaders who were in contact with Adm. Charles W. Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, have been tested, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. None have exhibited symptoms or have so far tested positive. Hoffman’s statement did not identify those affected, but multiple U.S. officials said that besides Milley, they included the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the head of U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Paul Nakasone.
• Twenty-one percent of respondents to the latest wave of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index said the news of Trump testing positive for the coronavirus had made them more likely to wear a mask, including 15% who said it made them “much more likely” to do so. All told, 88% reported wearing a mask “at all times” or “sometimes” when leaving their home. Another 21% said the news of Trump’s diagnosis had made them more likely to maintain a distance of at least six feet from other people, including 14% who indicated they were “much more likely.” Overall, 89% said they practiced social distancing “at all times” or “sometimes” when leaving their home.
• China is in talks with the World Health Organization to have its COVID-19 vaccines assessed as a first step toward making them available for international use, Reuters reported. China has already vaccinated hundreds of thousands of essential workers and groups deemed to be at high risk, even though clinical trials have not been completed. WHO’s Socorro Escalate, coordinator for essential medicines and health technologies in the Western Pacific region, told a news conference that China had held early talks with WHO with the aim of having its vaccines included in a list for emergency use. China has at least four experimental vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials.
• Italy is considering mandating nationwide the wearing of face masks outdoors in a bid to fight the pandemic, according to Health Minister Roberto Speranza, according to another Reuters report. Italy was an early hot spot in the pandemic and appeared to have succeeded in containing the virus until cases began climbing again in the last two months. Two regions — Lazio, around the capital Rome, and Campania, around Naples in the south — already have in place mask mandates. Italy counted 2,844 new cases on Saturday, its highest one-day count since April. Italy has 327,586 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and at least 36,002 people have died.
• The CDC said tiny particles that linger in the air can spread the coronavirus, revising its guidelines just a few weeks after it had acknowledged a role for the particles and then abruptly removed that statement from its website. “There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away,” the new guidelines say. “These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example while singing or exercising.”
• The Irish government has rejected a return to a full lockdown for the nation as recommended by its public health experts and will instead implement Level 3 restrictions, at the midpoint of a 1-to-5 range, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters. “If we all act now we can stop the need to go further, with introducing level four and five restrictions,” he said, moves that would risk hundreds of thousands of jobs. Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommended that it move to level five on Sunday, returning it to restrictions last seen in March. Ireland has 38,549 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 1,810 people have died.
There are now 35.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, the Johns Hopkins data show, and at least 1.05 million people have died. Almost 25 million people have recovered.
The U.S. has the highest numbers in the world with 7.5 million cases and 210,464 deaths.
Brazil has the second highest death toll after the U.S. at 146,675, but third highest case tally at 4.9 million.
India is second to the U.S. by case tally at 6.7 million, and has the third highest death toll at 103,569. Mexico is fourth with 81,877 deaths and ninth with 789,782 cases.
The U.K. has 42,535 deaths and 518,237 cases, the highest death toll in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the illness was first reported late last year, has 90,660 cases and 4,739 fatalities, according to its official numbers.
What’s the latest medical news?
and BioNTech SE
said the European Medicines Agency has decided to review data from their COVID-19 vaccine candidate on a rolling basis and has already started to evaluate data from pre-clinical trials.
The decision “follows the encouraging preliminary results from pre-clinical and early clinical studies in adults, which suggest that BNT162b2 triggers the production of neutralizing antibodies and TH-1 dominant CD4+ and CD8+ T cells that target SARS-CoV-2,” the companies said in a joint statement.
That combination of antibody and T cell response is viewed as an important protection against viral infection and disease. A formal Marketing Authorization Application may follow if the vaccine proves efficacious and safe and submitted data are adequate, the statement said.
The vaccine candidate is currently in a Phase 3 trial at more than 120 clinical sites around the world and has enrolled about 37,000 participants.
“By reviewing the data as they become available, the CHMP can reach its opinion sooner on whether or not the investigational medicine or vaccine should be authorized,” the companies said. “After a positive opinion, if adopted by the CHMP, it is the European Commission’s role to grant a Marketing Authorization.”
Vir Biotechnology Inc.
is expanding the Phase 3 clinical trial for an experimental COVID-19 treatment. The treatment, a monoclonal antibody called VIR-7831, is aimed at patients with COVID-19 who are at high risk of hospitalization.
The randomized, placebo-controlled late-stage study will evaluate 1,300 nonhospitalized patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and whether they need to be hospitalized or die within 29 days.
Results are expected in January.
is also involved in the development of the therapy, as part of a coronavirus-focused development agreement announced by Vir and GSK in April.
What’s the economy saying?
The U.S. trade deficit climbed almost 6% in August to $67.1 billion and hit the third highest level on record, reflecting an ongoing struggle by American exporters to recover all the ground lost in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, as MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
Economists polled by MarketWatch has forecast a $66.7 billion trade gap.
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Imports of foreign goods and services rose 3.2% in August to $239 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.
Exports increased a smaller 2.2% to $171.9 billion.
Imports have rebounded faster than exports, largely reflecting a stronger recovery in the U.S. economy compared to many of its trading partners. Imports are just 3% below prepandemic levels.
Exports, on the other hand, are about 18% lower compared to the last month before the pandemic. Disruptions in global supply chains and weaker demand overseas have hindered the ability of U.S. exporters to recover all the sales lost early in the pandemic.
“As [U.S.] production continues to ramp up, there is plenty of scope for exports to catch up over the coming months,” said senior U.S. economist Andrew Hunter of Capital Economics.
What are companies saying?
said it would temporarily close its 536 Regal theaters in the U.S. and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theaters in the U.K. starting Oct. 8. More than 80% of AMC’s U.S. theaters are now open, and more than 90% of its Odeon Cinemas theaters across Europe are now open, while all of its theaters in the Middle East are open. AMC said there are “many new movie titles” that will be released in October and November. “Fortunately for AMC, our groundbreaking agreement with Universal Studios announced earlier this summer puts AMC in a position where we can open our theaters when others may feel the need to close,” said Chief Executive Adam Aron.
• The Children’s Place Inc.
has entered an $80 million term loan agreement, joining the many companies borrowing at record rates during the pandemic. Proceeds will be used to repay borrowings under the apparel retailer’s secured revolving credit facility. The term loan “will provide the Company with additional capital, further strengthening our financial position and providing financial flexibility,” Chief Financial Officer Michael Scarpa said in a statement.
• Exxon Mobil Corp.
will cut its workforce in Europe as it works to cut costs in face of diminished demand with the pandemic. Exxon did not detail where or when the layoffs will take place, but expects that up to 1,600 positions would be impacted by the end of next year across the company’s affiliates in Europe and that country-specific numbers depend on the unit’s footprint and market conditions. The cuts “result from insight gained through reorganizations and work-process changes made over the past several years to improve efficiency and reduce costs,” Exxon said in a statement. “The impact of COVID-19 on the demand for ExxonMobil’s products has increased the urgency of the ongoing efficiency work.” Europe remains “an important market” for the company, Exxon said.
• Group 1 Automotive Inc.
offered upbeat guidance for the third quarter, unveiled a $200 million share buyback and said it will reinstate its quarterly cash dividend, which was suspended during the pandemic. The company expects higher gross margins on new and used cars in the U.S. has offset lower sales volumes. “Group 1’s U.K. operations also contributed to the significant third quarter profit improvement with vehicle sales and service levels recovering from the extensive lockdowns that occurred over April and May,” the company said. UJ.K. new vehicle same-store sales rose about 20%, while used-vehicle sales rose by a mid-single-digits percentage. The company will reinstate its dividend after a board meeting in mid-November and expects it to be payable in mid-December.
• Southwest Airlines Co.
is asking employees to “sacrifice more” as the pandemic continues to devastate the travel industry, saying it will ask union representatives for concessions because of the “inaction” of the federal government. In a video message to employees Monday, Chief Executive Gary C. Kelly said the goal is to avoid furloughs and layoffs through the next year, but furloughs would be the company’s “last resort” if it fails to “reach agreement on reasonable concessions,” and quickly, with unions. Cost cutting related to salaries and benefits would be reversed or halted if the federal government extends its bailout, he said. Southwest is “playing offense” and seeking to add cities to its schedule and gain customers, Kelly said. Government support “just didn’t last long enough,” he said. “The pandemic has devastated travel and tourism. … Costs and spending have been cut dramatically, but not nearly enough to offset a 70% revenue loss,” he said. “Absent substantial improvements in our business, our quarterly losses could be in the billions until vaccines are available, distributed, and effectively kill the pandemic — and at best that is looking like late next year.”
•XpressSpa Group Inc.
a popular fixture in airports, will begin rapid testing for COVID-19 at JFK and Newark airports on Wednesday. “We believe rapid COVID-19 testing at airports can play a major role in slowing the virus spread and decreasing the risk of new community outbreaks linked to travel as cases continue to rise throughout many states,” XpressSpa Chief Executive Doug Satzman said in a statement. The company is offering the new portable, rapid molecular ID NOW test from Abbott
which can deliver results in minutes. The company is also working with major airlines to support the creation of potential air bridges between U.S. cities and international destinations. It is also in talks with multiple health-passport apps.