Virus Updates: Late-Stage Vaccine Trial Begins; Georgia Gov. Backs Out of Mask Order Hearing

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The director of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted Monday morning that the coronavirus pandemic is "easily the most severe" global health emergency of the six that have ever been declared.

Ghebreyesus' statement comes after the number of confirmed virus cases worldwide topped 16 million Sunday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the count with nearly 4.3 million cases and 148,000 deaths, according to NBC News.

Florida surpassed New York on Sunday to become the state with the second highest number of virus cases, with more than 9,000 new cases pushing Florida's case count close to 424,000. California currently has the most cases in the U.S. with more than 455,000.

Meanwhile, two large COVID-19 vaccine studies got underway Monday with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers helping to test shots created by Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech. They are several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race.

White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that a virus vaccine likely won’t be "widely available" to the American public until "several months" into 2021, CNBC reported.

In brighter news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decreased the amount of time people with mild to moderate COVID-19 need to stay in isolation from 14 to 10 days. The new guidance comes as more evidence shows that most people are no longer infectious 10 days after they begin showing symptoms, NBC News reported.

Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

Pfizer and BioNTech Began Late-Stage Human Trial for Vaccine Monday

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech BioNTech said they began their late-stage human trial for a potential coronavirus vaccine on Monday as pharmaceutical companies race to win regulatory approval before the end of the year, CNBC reported.

The trial will include up to 30,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 85 across 120 sites globally, including 39 U.S. states, the companies announced. If successful, they expect to submit it for final regulatory review as early as October. They plan to supply up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and approximately 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

The decision to start the trial reflects "our primary goal to bring a well-tolerated, highly effective vaccine to the market as quickly as possible, while we will continue to evaluate our other vaccine candidates as part of a differentiated COVID-19 vaccine portfolio," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a release. "Many steps have been taken towards this important milestone and we would like to thank all those involved for their extraordinary commitment."

The companies’ experimental vaccine, uses messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA molecules, to provoke an immune response to fight the virus. Scientists hope mRNA, which relays genetic instructions from DNA, can be used to train the immune system to recognize and destroy the virus.

Read the full story here.

Georgia Governor Backs Out of Hearing on Atlanta Mask Order

Georgia's governor said he's withdrawing a request for an emergency hearing in a lawsuit that aims to block the state's largest city from ordering people to wear masks in public or imposing other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this month sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the City Council, but a spokesman announced late Monday that the governor wanted “to continue productive, good faith negotiations.” As a result, the governor decided to withdraw the request for a hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday morning, spokesman Cody Hall said.

The move doesn't withdraw the underlying lawsuit, but it means a judge won't immediately weigh in on whether Kemp or Bottoms is right in a dispute about the extent of Kemp's powers under Georgia's public health state of emergency. The Republican governor argues local leaders cannot impose measures that are more or less restrictive than those in his executive orders.

Bottoms' office did not immediately have a comment late Monday night on the withdrawal of the request for a hearing.

FDA Warns Americans of Toxic Hand Sanitizers

U.S. health officials are warning Americans again to avoid a growing list of imported hand sanitizers that may be contaminated with the toxic chemical methanol.

The Food and Drug Administration said Monday there have been increasing reports of injury due to people using-- sometimes ingesting—the unauthorized sanitizers, which can lead to blindness, heart problems and death.

The active ingredient that kills germs in legitimate sanitizers is ethyl alcohol, which is consumable. But some Mexican companies have been replacing it with poisonous methanol, or wood alcohol, which is used in antifreeze.

The FDA first issued a consumer warning about the products last month.

Last week the agency issued a warning letter to Mexican manufacturer Eskbiochem SA de CV for marketing sanitizer containing more than 80% methanol and falsely claiming that it was “FDA approved.”

The FDA has posted a “do-not-use” list of more than 80 sanitizers on its website and blocked their importation. The agency said it is working with retailers to recall products remaining on U.S. store shelves. The illegitimate gels generally don’t list methanol as an ingredient on their packaging.

Google to Allow Work-From-Home Option Through Next Summer

Google will allow "nearly all" workers to do their jobs remotely through next June, CNBC reported.

“To give employees the ability to plan ahead, we are extending our global voluntary work from home option through June 30, 2021 for roles that don’t need to be in the office,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees.

The policy will affect full-time workers as well as contractors, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news.

Google announced on Monday that it is extending its work from home option through June 2021 due to the coronavirus.

Many other tech companies have said workers could remain at home through January or the end of the year.

Read the full story here.

Planet Fitness to Require Masks at All Times

Planet Fitness, the giant gym franchise, said that members and visitors working out in their clubs will have to wear masks beginning Aug. 1, NBC News reported.

Until now just Planet Fitness employees have been required to wear masks. The company will provide a mask to those who forget to bring one.

Those with medical exemptions or who don't want to wear a mask can have their accounts frozen until masks are no longer required.

Reuters recently reported on Yelp data that showed the surge in coronavirus cases around the country has coincided with a jump in consumer interest in social activities at restaurants, bars and gyms.

Trump's National Security Adviser Has Coronavirus

President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus, NBC News reported.

He’s the highest-ranking White House official to test positive so far.

Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, has tested positive for COVID-19 according to the White House.

The news was first reported by Bloomberg News, which said O’Brien came down with the virus after a family event and has been isolating at home. 

The White House confirmed that O'Brien has mild symptoms and “has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site,” adding that: “There is no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice President" and that the "work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted.”

It's not clear when he last met with Trump. Senior White House staff and anyone who comes into close contact with the president and vice president are tested for the virus every day.

Read the full story here.

Marlins' Home Opener Postponed as Team Faces Outbreak; Phillies-Yankees Game Also Postponed

Two major league games scheduled for Monday night were postponed as the Miami Marlins deal with a coronavirus outbreak that stranded them in Philadelphia.

The Marlins' home opener against Baltimore was called off, as was the New York Yankees' game at Philadelphia. The Yankees would have been in the same clubhouse the Marlins used last weekend.

The Marlins postponed their flight home Sunday night after their series finale against the Phillies.

Multiple sources, including ESPN, say as many as eight more players and two coaches tested positive for COVID-19 in addition to the four who reportedly tested positive ahead of Sunday’s win.

Major League Baseball announced the cancellation of both games about 7 1/5 hours before the scheduled first pitch, saying additional COVID-19 testing was being conducted. “The members of the Marlins’ traveling party are self-quarantining in place while awaiting the outcome of those results,” MLB said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Moderna Begins Testing Vaccine on First of 30,000 Planned Volunteers for Phase Three Trial

The world's biggest COVID-19 vaccine test got underway Monday with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers.

The experimental vaccine is made by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., and it's one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race.

The needed proof: Whether more people who get dummy shots become infected than those given two doses of the real vaccine.

The U.S. government plans separate huge studies of several leading vaccine candidates through fall, each in hot spots where the virus still is spreading. 

Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University earlier this month began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries.

In August, the final study of the Oxford shot begins, followed by plans to test a candidate from Johnson & Johnson in September and Novavax in October -- if all goes according to schedule. Pfizer Inc. plans its own 30,000-person study this summer.

It normally takes years to create a new vaccine from scratch, but scientists are setting speed records this time around, spurred by knowledge that vaccination is the world's best hope against the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

More Than 2 Dozen Jersey Shore Lifeguards Test Positive

More than two dozen lifeguards from two New Jersey beach towns have tested positive for the coronavirus after having been together socially, authorities said.

Officials said the lifeguards are from Harvey Cedars and Surf City, neighboring boroughs on Long Beach Island.

Mayor Jonathan Oldham of Harvey Cedars said island health officials alerted the borough to the cluster Thursday and the lifeguards were being quarantined until they are cleared by doctors. Long Beach Island's health director told WHYY that the guards were apparently together at two “social gatherings” earlier this month.

Read the full story here.

White House, Senate GOP Try Again on $1 Trillion Virus Aid

Suggesting a narrower pandemic relief package may be all that's possible, the White House still pushed ahead with Monday's planned rollout of the Senate Republicans' $1 trillion effort as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assailed the GOP “disarray” as time-wasting during the crisis.

The administration’s chief negotiators — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — spent the weekend on Capitol Hill to put what Meadows described as “final touches” on the relief bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to bring forward Monday afternoon.

“We’re done,” Mnuchin said as he and Meadows left Capitol Hill on Sunday after meeting with GOP staff.

But looming deadlines may force them to consider other options. By Friday, millions of out-of-work Americans will lose an $600 federal unemployment benefit that is expiring and federal eviction protections for many renters are also coming to an end. President Donald Trump’s standing is at one of the lowest points of his term, according to a new AP-NORC poll.

With the virus death toll climbing and 4.2 million infections nationwide, the administration officials converged on the Capitol to revive the Republican package that unraveled last week. Republican senators and the White House are at odds over various items, including how to cutback the jobless benefit without fully doing away with it.

Meadows said as the White House was “looking for clarity” on a “handful” of remaining issues with Republicans, but they had yet to talk to McConnell. “We have an agreement in principle,” he said.

The Associated Press/NBC
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