Virus Updates: Over 154K US Deaths as Florida Faces Storm

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The United States, India and South Africa are struggling to rein in their first wave of infections while South Korea and other countries where the disease abated try to avert a second wave as curbs on travel and trade ease.

The United States has the world’s biggest number of cases at 4.6 million, or one-quarter of the total, and over 154,000 deaths.

Governments worldwide have reported over 684,000 deaths and 17.8 million cases, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.

In Florida, authorities were trying to prepare storm shelters while enforcing social distancing as Tropical Storm Isaias churned toward the heavily populated state. It was due to be near the coast early Sunday.

Florida reported 179 deaths on Saturday, raising its total to more than 7,000.

The governor warned residents to expect power outages and said they should have a week’s supply of water and food.

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

MLB Commissioner Confident Baseball Can Last Through Playoffs Despite Virus

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says he's confident his sport can get through the regular season and postseason without being stopped by the coronavirus, though not every club might play all 60 games and winning percentage could be used to determine playoff teams.

During an interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Manfred said Major League Baseball knows which player introduced COVID-19 into the clubhouse of the Miami Marlins. Miami and Philadelphia both postponed games for an entire week.

“I think that if everybody does what they are supposed to do, we can continue to play, have a credible season and get through the postseason,” Manfred said.

Just 1 1/2 weeks into a pandemic-delayed regular season shortened from 162 games per team to 60, the coronavirus has forced 19 postponements in 11 days, including St. Louis' three-game weekend series at Milwaukee.

The virus also prompted at least two more players to opt out Saturday: Brewers All-Star outfielder Lorenzo Cain and Miami second baseman Isan Díaz.

At least 18 Marlins players have been infected along with three St. Louis Cardinals. One St. Louis player has an inconclusive test.

Manfred had what he said was a constructive conversation Friday with union head Tony Clark, and expects stepped-up efforts by players and teams to adhere to special virus protocols put in place by MLB and the players’ association.

“It is what the public health experts have been saying from the beginning about this, that there is no one big magic fix,” Manfred said.

US Sinks Another $2.1 Billion Into a Potential Vaccine

Pharma giants GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur have announced they will supply 100 million doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine to the United States as governments buy up supplies in hopes of securing a candidate that works.

The two companies based in Europe said Friday that the U.S. will pay up to $2.1 billion “for development including clinical trials, manufacturing, scale-up and delivery" of their vaccine. Sanofi will get the bulk of the funds.

The U.S. government also has an option for the supply of an additional 500 million doses longer term. The European Union says it had concluded exploratory talks with Sanofi on an option for all EU member states to purchase the vaccine.

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$600-a-Week Unemployment Benefits Expire

Negotiators on the next coronavirus relief bill appeared as far as ever from an agreement Friday and rushed to lay blame as a key financial lifeline expires, CNBC reports.

Underscoring the gulf between Democrats and Repbulicans as they try to boost an economy and health-care system buckling under the weight of the pandemic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows offered derision during dueling news conferences Friday morning. The pair met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday night but appeared to make little progress toward cracking the impasse. 

Schumer said the lack of a Republican consensus on pandemic aid has hindered progress toward a deal. Multiple GOP senators have said a large share of the caucus does not support the legislation Republicans released this week

The current $600 per week enhanced federal unemployment benefit lapses at the end of the day, though states stopped paying it out last week. After last-ditch efforts to pass an extension failed Thursday, the Senate left for the weekend, guaranteeing the money buoying roughly 30 million people during an economic crisis will at least temporarily dry up. 

While the House was scheduled to leave for all of August, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told members their recess would not start until the chamber passes a coronavirus relief bill. He said he would give representatives 24 hours’ notice before a vote. 

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Redfield: CDC Wasn't Involved in Decision to Change Data Reporting

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testified Friday that his agency wasn't "directly involved in the final decision” to reroute hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic away from the CDC.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration ordered hospitals to bypass the CDC and send a range of data meant to assess the impact of the coronavirus on them to a central database in Washington. TeleTracking Technologies, a private technology firm based in Pittsburgh, now collects that information.

The change was criticized by some public health experts who expressed concern over the possible politicization of the data.

“We weren't directly involved in the final decision, but what I can say is this: CDC then and now continues to have access to all data, does all the data analytics, so there's no restriction of any of the data,” Dr. Robert Redfield told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Redfield also emphasized that he agreed with the decision, which he said was done to streamline access to real-time hospitalization data so the administration can have a better idea of where to allocate remdesivir — a medication that has been shown to shorten average hospitalization times.

Asked by Rep. Maxine Waters when he learned of the change, Redfield said he was told after the decision was made by the office of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azars.

Fauci 'Cautiously Optimistic' US Could Have Safe, Effective Vaccine in 'Late Fall and Early Winter'

Dr. Anthony Fauci says a possible coronavirus vaccine entering a phase three trial has been promising.

The nation's top infectious disease expert testified Friday that while one can "never guarantee the safety or effectiveness" of a vaccine, he is cautiously optimistic" that the United States would likely have a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year or early in 2021.

"We hope that by the time we get into late fall and early winter, we will have in fact a vaccine that we can say that would be safe and effective. One can never guarantee the safety or effectiveness unless you do the trial, but we are cautiously optimistic this will be successful," Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Fauci told House lawmakers that 250,000 people have registered on a National Institutes of Heath website to take part in experimental vaccine trials. The study of the first vaccine involving 30,000 people began this week. The U.S. government plans to launch studies of additional vaccines every month through the fall.

Trials are pivotal for establishing the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. Not all patients who volunteer for clinical trials are eligible to participate.

With hospitalizations and deaths on the rise, Fauci says Americans must again embrace public health basics such as social distancing and mask wearing.

Pressed by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, if the government should limit protesting over concerns of transmission in crowds, Fauci refused to opine and reiterated that crowds of all kinds, especially when not wearing face coverings, should be avoided.

“Any crowd, whether it's a protest – any crowd of people close together without masks is a risk. And I'll stick by that statement,” Fauci said. “It's a public health statement. It's not a judgment.”

Jordan complained that government officials "are stopping people from going to church," but not shutting down protests.

Dems, GOP Clash Over National Response Plan to Combat Outbreak

A top Democrat lawmaker is calling on the Trump administration to release a comprehensive plan to combat the coronavirus, blasting the national response effort as the U.S. death toll recently surpassed 150,000.

North Carolina Rep. James Clyburn warned another 150,000 Americans could lose their lives “if we do not make drastic changes now.” Clyburn chairs the House subcommittee overseeing the COVID-19 response.

His Republican counterpart on the panel countered that thousands of lives could have been saved if governors had followed the Trump administration’s guidelines. Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana brandished a stack of federal documents on testing and reopening schools and nursing homes to demonstrate the detailed scope of the administration’s response.

The lawmakers are questioning top federal health officials, including National Institutes of Health infectious disease chief Dr. Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield and Health and Human Services testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir.

Virus Testing Turnaround Times Reveal Wide Disparity

As coronavirus cases surge in hard-hit Florida, so do the turnaround times for test results.

The reasons are many: Often it has to do with lab staffing, backlog, or equipment shortages. Some tests are done in house, while others are sent to overloaded labs out of state. Health experts say test results that come back after two or three days are nearly worthless, because by then the window for tracing the person’s contacts to prevent additional infections has essentially closed.

But there’s one place in Central Florida where people are being tested and getting results within a day: the NBA. Basketball players, team staff, news media and anyone else inside the “bubble” at the practice compound at Walt Disney World are tested daily — and get their results within 15-18 hours on average. This rankles some in Central Florida, who wonder why local, state and federal leaders can’t coordinate large-scale, organized testing, but the NBA can.

“It speaks to a larger problem about how we treat people with wealth and in high places as opposed to regular folks,” Cameron Settles said. 

Tracking the Outbreak: Where Are Coronavirus Cases Increasing and Decreasing?

As the U.S continues to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns and governors ease restrictions on social gatherings and business activities, several states are seeing an upward trend in the number of COVID-19 cases. See all states here

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

House Democrats Find Administration Overspent for Ventilators By as Much as $500 Million

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted his administration's supply of ventilators, a critical tool for treating patients with life-threatening respiratory symptoms.

But internal emails and documents obtained by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee suggest that the Trump administration failed to enforce an existing contract with a major medical manufacturer, delayed negotiations for more than a month and subsequently overpaid as much as $500 million for tens of thousands of the devices — a costly error at a time when officials from some of the biggest states were warning of shortages.

The communications between administration officials and Philips Respironics, a global medical equipment manufacturer that finalized a $643.5 million contract with the Trump administration in April, are included in a 40-page report shared with NBC News.

The information raises serious concerns about an estimated $3 billion in taxpayer dollars spent on ventilators from a number of suppliers, according to committee staff members who briefed NBC News.

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Young Children Carry as Much Coronavirus in Their Noses as Adults, Study Finds

Children under 5 can carry just as much of the coronavirus in their noses as older children and adults, researchers at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago reported Thursday.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, raises the possibility that young kids may be able to spread COVID-19 as easily as adults, even if they aren't that sick.

Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children's, and her colleagues analyzed data from the diagnostic tests of 145 COVID-19 patients who had mild to moderate cases of the illness. The tests look for pieces of the virus's RNA, or genetic code, to make a diagnosis.

Compared to adults, the young kids had anywhere from 10 to 100 times the amount of viral RNA in their upper respiratory tract, the study authors wrote.

"This supports the idea that children are able to get infected and replicate virus and therefore shed and transmit virus just as much as older children and adults," she said, noting that more research is needed to confirm this.

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The Ebb and Flow of New Coronavirus Cases and Deaths

The graphs below illustrate the distribution of new coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. While New York accounted for the lion’s share of new cases and deaths in March and April, its numbers have declined in May as some states have increased. Hover or tap to see new daily cases and deaths across the country. States with the most are ordered top to bottom.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

The Associated Press/NBC
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