Friday, December 4, 2020

Joe Biden task force; Pfizer vaccine effectiveness

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As the United States nears 10 million coronavirus cases, President-elect Joe Biden announced his COVID-19 task force early Monday.

Former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler will lead the task force. Yale University professor Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith will also help guide the group.

The news comes as Pfizer announced Monday that early data show its vaccine candidate is more than 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.

Meanwhile, worldwide infections surpassed 50 million, with more than 1.2 million deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Some major developments:

  • All but one U.S. state had more cases last week than the week before.
  • In the sports world, the Mountain West Conference canceled Air Force’s scheduled football game at Wyoming on Saturday
  • Utah’s governor issued a statewide mask mandate while New Jersey is poised to announce more restrictions Monday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 9.97 million cases and more than 237,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 50 million cases and 1.2 million deaths.

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

In a major boost to vaccine development, Pfizer and its collaborator BioNTech released early study results Monday indicating that their vaccine, BNT162b2, prevented more than 90% of infections with the virus that causes COVID-19.

In newly released data on the first 94 trial participants to come down with COVID-19, the vaccine was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing the disease. Half the participants received a placebo and half the vaccine, so the new data shows that many more people who received the placebo than the vaccine were infected.

Pfizer is the first drug company to release data from a large, Phase 3 trial as it and several other companies are working to produce a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe and effective.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO said in a statement. “We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”

– Karen Weintraub

South Dakota was the lone state with fewer COVID-19 cases in the week ending Sunday compared to the week prior, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows.

The data show that 49 states had more cases in the latest week than in the week before, and 43 states had a higher rate of people testing positive than the week before, an analysis of COVID Tracking Project data shows.

Twenty-eight states also broke their records for the number of new cases in a week, too, the USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows.

On Saturday, the United States reported 105,927 new cases, the fifth day in a row that the country past the 100,000 mark.

– Mike Stucka

President-elect Joe Biden announced his COVID-19 advisory task force Monday.

The group of public health experts, almost all doctors, will offer guidance to Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their coronavirus staff as they prepare to take over the presidency.

“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement.

“The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”

Here are the names on the list:

Co-chairs

  • Dr. David Kessler
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy
  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith

Members

  • Dr. Luciana Borio
  • Dr. Rick Bright
  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel
  • Dr. Atul Gawande
  • Atul Gawande, MD, MPH
  • Dr. Celine Gounder
  • Dr. Julie Morita
  • Dr. Michael Osterholm
  • Ms. Loyce Pace
  • Dr. Robert Rodriguez
  • Eric Goosby, MD

The inclusion of Rick Bright could raise some eyebrows from within the Trump administration.

Bright resigned from the federal government after criticizing the Trump administration’s pandemic response.

He filed a lengthy whistleblower complaint claiming his early warnings about the virus were ignored. Bright was director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

– Kim Hjelmgaard

New coronavirus cases in Ohio surged again Sunday, bringing the state’s total to over a quarter of a million cases. The Ohio Department of Health reported 4,541 new cases of COVID-19 in the state Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in Ohio to 250,268.

There were 11 deaths reported, increasing the state’s coronavirus death toll to 5,517. Ohio saw two days in a row of more than 5,000 new cases this weekend. Before Friday, the state had not seen more than 5,000 new cases in a single day. Cases and deaths are reported days or even weeks after someone gets sick or dies.

On Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine reported that 56 of Ohio’s 88 counties are considered red zones.

– The Cincinnati Enquirer

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statewide mask mandate late Sunday, hoping to stem a troubling spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The orders go into effect Monday and are set to remain in effect until Nov. 23.

The mask mandate will be in effect “until further notice,” requiring residents to wear masks in public and when they are within six feet of anyone with whom they don’t live. All casual social gatherings are restricted to household-only until Nov. 23.

Additional orders include weekly COVID-19 testing for students enrolled at public and private institutions of higher education who either live on campus or attend at least one in-person class per week, starting by at least Jan. 1.

All extracurricular activities, including athletic and intramural events, are on hold until Nov. 23. That does not apply to intercollegiate athletic events or high school championships as long as teams and schools follow instructions for testing and crowd size

— The Spectrum & Daily News

The day President Donald Trump turns the White House over to Joe Biden, COVID-19 will remain just as big a threat to Americans. But the strategy for tackling it will change dramatically.

Public health experts expect a major reset, including a renewed emphasis on science, better communication and efforts to simultaneously boost the economy and public health rather than pitting the two against each other.

The shift is expected to be swift once Biden takes office.

“The public will immediately notice a vast change in science messaging from the White House,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. “The Biden administration will both convey pro-science messages and model the best behavior from among all White House and Cabinet staff.”

– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

New coronavirus restrictions in Alaska’s largest city will take effect Monday as infections continue to rise. Acting Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson last week announced new changes to two of its COVID emergency orders, including a face mask mandate, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The new order will allow people who can’t wear masks to wear face shields. If they can’t do so, people are encouraged to use services like delivery, takeout or curbside pickup. Children over the age of 5 will be required to wear face masks without parent supervision and face coverings are now required at gyms and fitness facilities for everyone.

Indoor gatherings are now limited to 10 people if there will be food or drinks and to 15 people if not. Outdoor gatherings with refreshments are limited to 20 and to 30 people without. Public and private schools must limit classroom capacity to 50%.

New Jersey, which along with New York was hit hard early in the pandemic, is facing fast-rising numbers once again. An additional 5,250 people residents were diagnosed with coronavirus infection over the weekend, including 3,207 in one day – the highest number in a single day since last spring. Four deaths were reported in New Jersey on Sunday, for a total of 14,629 since the pandemic began.

Details of new restrictions may come at Gov. Phil Murphy’s regular press briefing on Monday. He has already warned residents not to travel out of state unless it is absolutely necessary and warned he was “close” to announcing new steps to try to control the spread.

“We will clearly be taking action,” Murphy said. “I hope it will be action that balances all the various challenges and interests.”

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