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Infighting within the White House’s coronavirus task force has reportedly left its members deadlocked on the appropriate pandemic response, even as COVID-19 cases in the United States are expected to surge in the coming weeks with seemingly no end in sight.
A report in The Washington Post on Monday details exhaustive feuds and stalemates among President Donald Trump’s health advisers, based on interviews with 41 administration officials, Trump advisers, public health leaders and others with knowledge of the internal government deliberations.
In addition to disagreements on mask-wearing, testing and vaccines, Scott Atlas — a radiologist who joined the task force in August after his controversial Fox News commentary caught Trump’s eye — has been outspoken in challenging the accuracy of his fellow members’ work and analysis, particularly the infection rate data collected and analyzed by White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx.
Rather than focusing on ways to mitigate the spread of the virus, Trump and many of his advisers have resolved to obtain a vaccine as the only way to revive the economy and return to normality, even as outside experts warn that developing a vaccine would not be a silver bullet, the Post reported.
“They’ve given up on everything else,” said a senior administration official involved in the pandemic response, per the Post. “It’s too hard of a slog.”
— Nina Golgowski
Worldwide coronavirus cases topped 40 million on Monday as the pace of infection picked up with the onset of winter, taking just 32 days to go from 30 million to 40 million cases. It took three months to reach 10 million cases from when the first cases were reported in early January.
There have been more than 1.1 million deaths globally, Reuters reported.
The true numbers of both cases and deaths are likely much higher, given inconsistencies in reporting and deficiencies in testing by some countries.
The U.S., India and Brazil remain the worst affected countries in the world.
— Liza Hearon
More than 1,000 current and former officers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed a letter criticizing the federal government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and demanding “our nation’s leaders to allow CDC to resume its indispensable role.”
The signees were current and former members of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, sometimes known as “disease detectives.” Founded nearly 70 years ago, the EIS is a two-year postdoctoral program for epidemiologists to get hands-on experience in the field.
“The absence of national leadership on COVID-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” the letter said. “The U.S. epidemic is sustained by deadly chains of transmission that crisscross the entire country. Yet states and territories have been left to invent their own differing systems for defining, diagnosing and reporting cases of this highly contagious disease. Inconsistent contact tracing efforts are confined within each state’s borders — while coronavirus infections sadly are not. Such chaos is what CDC customarily avoided by its long history of collaboration with state and local health authorities in developing national systems for disease surveillance and coordinated control.”
The Trump administration has been criticized for sidelining the CDC. It reportedly went so far as to interfere in the agency’s reports as it has largely failed in its response to the virus’s spread.
— Sara Boboltz
Small towns and rural counties in the Upper Midwest and northern Plains are seeing surging COVID-19 rates as hospitals worry about sufficient resources.
Health officials have seen resistance to mask-wearing by residents who feel that it is “some kind of a political statement,” Tom Dean, one of only three doctors working in South Dakota’s Jerauld County, told the Associated Press.
Jerauld County, with a population of around 2,000, has a death rate that’s about four times higher than the nationwide rate.
— Hilary Hanson
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday, according to a campaign aide.
The test is at least the third one that the Democratic vice presidential nominee has taken in the last week.
Harris temporarily canceled in-person campaign events until Monday, Oct. 19, after two people who regularly travel with her tested positive this week.
— Ryan Grenoble
Coronavirus cases across the country have surpassed the 8 million mark as flu season begins — a combination that worries public health experts.
More than 218,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far.
Because virus particles are known to spread most easily in enclosed spaces, large swaths of the country could see a spike in cases as people begin to spend more time indoors. In general, cold and dry air conditions in the fall and winter allow viruses to spread more easily.
— Sara Boboltz
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla released an open letter Friday stating that the drugmaker expects to seek emergency authorization for its coronavirus vaccine in the second half of November — if all goes according to plan.
Bourla explained that Pfizer’s vaccine — like all vaccines — needs to pass three important safety tests. It needs to be proven to help a majority of those who take it, needs to be tested in thousands of patients, and needs to be consistently manufactured at a high quality.
Pfizer will likely know whether the vaccine is effective by the end of October but will not pass the second test for a few weeks after that. Despite claims made by President Donald Trump, it is extremely unlikely that any coronavirus vaccine will be available before Election Day.
“So let me be clear, assuming positive data, Pfizer will apply for Emergency Authorization Use in the U.S. soon after the safety milestone is achieved in the third week of November,” Bourla wrote. “All the data contained in our U.S. application would be reviewed not only by the FDA’s own scientists but also by an external panel of independent experts at a publicly held meeting convened by the agency.”
Public health experts say most of the U.S. won’t be vaccinated until well into 2021.
— Sara Boboltz
The World Health Organization said the antiviral drug remdesivir — one of the many drugs President Donald Trump was given to treat his coronavirus infection — has “little to no effect” on mortality for patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, CNN reported.
WHO looked at four therapeutics in a study covering more than 11,000 coronavirus patients in 30 countries. Along with remdesivir, the study analyzed the use of hydroxychloroquine, a combination of the anti-HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, and interferon.
“For each drug in the study, the effect on mortality was disappointingly unpromising,” WHO said. The study hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but WHO published the results itself.
The disappointing result differs from an earlier study in the U.S. that found that remdesivir shortens recovery time by about a third in those hospitalized with serious illness.
— Liza Hearon
Sen. Kamala Harris’ campaign team announced Thursday that she and her husband had both tested negative for the coronavirus earlier in the day.
The news comes a day after two people on the Democratic vice presidential nominee’s traveling campaign team tested positive for the COVID-19.
— Lydia O’Connor
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Wednesday night, his campaign said.
The test was administered as part of routine testing, but Biden’s results are receiving extra attention after two people who regularly travel with Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), tested positive.
Harris tested negative twice in the last week but has temporarily canceled in-person campaign events until Monday, Oct. 19.
— Ryan Grenoble
More than 2,000 inmates are in quarantine and another 824 are in isolation in Wisconsin this week as the state grapples with several COVID-19 outbreaks at its correctional facilities.
The total number of positive test results among inmates since late March has nearly tripled within the last month, going from 953 on Sept. 14 to 2,587 on Wednesday, according to records released by the state’s Department of Corrections.
The facilities with the highest number of cases are the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution and the Oshkosh Correctional Institution. Within the last month, they’ve reported 777 and 388 positive test results, respectively, among their inmates. The Racine Correctional Institution/Sturtevant Transitional Facility has also reported 137 positive test results among its inmates within the last month.
Statewide, Wisconsin set new record highs for positive COVID-19 cases and deaths this week. Its health department on Tuesday reported 3,279 new confirmed cases ― breaking its prior daily case record of 3,132, set just five days earlier ― and 34 new deaths ― breaking the prior record of 27 deaths set on Sept. 30.
— Nina Golgowski
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is temporarily canceling in-person campaign events after her communications director and a member of her campaign flight crew both tested positive for COVID-19.
“Senator Harris was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with either of these individuals during the two days prior to their positive tests; as such, there is no requirement for quarantine,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement Thursday. “Regardless, out of an abundance of caution and in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution, we are canceling Senator Harris’s travel through Sunday, October 18th, but she will keep a robust and aggressive schedule of virtual campaign activities to reach voters all across the country during this time.”
According to the campaign, Harris has twice tested negative for COVID-19 in the last week.
— Marina Fang
Billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch is telling people in his circle that Democratic nominee Joe Biden will defeat President Donald Trump in a landslide due to Trump’s abysmal handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from The Daily Beast.
Murdoch — whose media empire includes Fox News and The New York Post — has long taken jabs at Trump, even as his brands refuse to. (For example, he tweeted in 2015, “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?”) But he reportedly sees Trump’s response to the COVID-19 crisis as his downfall.
In an emailed response to the Beast about the report, Murdoch said, “No comment except I’ve never called Trump an idiot,” in reference to a 2018 report that Murdoch called Trump a “fucking idiot.”
— Andy Campbell
University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, one of the most recognized names in the sport, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The university made the announcement Wednesday, adding that the school’s athletic director, Greg Byrn, has also tested positive.
“I found out earlier this afternoon that I had tested positive for COVID-19,” Saban, 68, said in a statement. “I immediately left work and isolated at home. At this time, I do not have any symptoms relative to COVID, and I have taken another PCR test to confirm my diagnosis.”
The university said it will test everyone in the football program on Thursday.
― Lydia O’Connor
President Donald Trump’s son Barron Trump had COVID-19, according to his mother, first lady Melania Trump.
In a statement Wednesday on the White House website, Melania Trump said her 14-year-old son tested positive for the coronavirus after she and the president both had earlier this month. Barron Trump “exhibited no symptoms” and has since tested negative, the first lady said.
Donald and Melania Trump tested positive for the virus two weeks ago, and the president was hospitalized for three days at Walter Reed Military Medical Center before returning to the White House for continued treatment. The White House said Monday that Donald Trump had tested negative for the virus, though his medical and communications teams have been consistently opaque about the details of his health.
When reporters asked the president about his youngest son, Donald Trump told them “Barron’s fine.” Melania Trump said Wednesday that she has now tested negative, but not without first experiencing “a roller coaster of symptoms” that included a cough, headaches, body aches and fatigue.
“Along with this good news, I want people to know that I understand just how fortunate my family is to have received the kind of care that we did,” the first lady wrote in her statement. “If you are sick, or if you have a loved one who is sick — I am thinking of you and will be thinking of you every day.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, and he continued to do so even after he tested positive. He called it a “blessing from God” that he was infected and has told Americans not to fear the virus even though more than 216,000 people in the United States have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
— Sanjana Karanth
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) announced Wednesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating while he awaits the results of a second test.
Huizenga said the positive result came from a rapid test he took ahead of an appearance with Vice President Mike Pence. The two men were expected to attend a campaign rally in Grand Rapids on Tuesday.
— Ryan Grenoble
Trish Scalia, the wife of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the U.S. Labor Department announced Tuesday night.
Doctors confirmed her positive result on Tuesday afternoon, the agency said in a statement, adding that she was “experiencing mild symptoms but doing well.“
The labor secretary had tested negative and was experiencing no symptoms.
In late September, Eugene and Trish Scalia attended the Rose Garden ceremony that appears to be the source of a COVID-19 outbreak among more than 30 White House insiders. Photos from the event show the labor secretary seated in the second row near Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who tested positive as well.
Other photos show the labor secretary, who is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, mingling inside the White House without a face mask. His mother, Maureen, was also in attendance.
— Dave Jamieson
President Donald Trump has tested negative for COVID-19 on consecutive days, his physician said Monday.
The news comes more than a week after the president revealed he was ill with the coronavirus and was hospitalized for three nights.
His results were determined by the Abbott BinaxNOW antigen card, a type of rapid test, his doctor said. His medical team is now confident that “the president is not infectious to others.”
― Lydia O’Connor
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Monday refused to keep his mask on to address reporters, despite a recent coronavirus outbreak that infected at least 10 people in the White House, including President Donald Trump.
In a video the incident, Meadows can be seen stopping to talk to members of the press as he walks down a hallway in the U.S. Capitol.
“I tell ya what. Let me do this. Let me pull this away,” Meadows, donning a black mask, tells the reporters while grabbing a microphone stand and walking backward for a few feet.
“And then, that way, I can take this off to talk,” he says as he removes his mask, prompting at least one reporter to let out a groan.