Fauci hopes for vaccine in early 2021; new ‘pandemic potential’ found in China; Arizona delays school openings

A new pandemic threat could be simmering in China while at home the nation’s leading infectious disease expert expressed hope that a vaccine would be widely available early in 2021.

For now, though, more states are tightening restrictions aimed at tamping down an alarming boom in coronavirus cases. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut doubled the number of states on its quarantine list, to 16. Arizona delayed the start for in-class learning for the 2020-21 school year. Oregon and Kansas are the latest states that will begin to require face masks in public.

In China, researchers are concerned about a new swine flu strain in pigs that could have “pandemic potential.” At least one U.S. health official said the strain was not an immediate threat to Americans.

Here are some major developments:

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top health officials testified before Congress Tuesday on the state of the pandemic. 

  • Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir that is shown to shorten recovery time for severely ill patients, said Monday that it will charge $2,340 for a typical treatment course for people covered by government health programs in the U.S. and other developed countries. 

  • The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service are sticking to its July 15 deadline to file taxes. The IRS had postponed the tax-filing deadline from April 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a webcast Monday the surge of COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks is “very discouraging.”

📈Today’s stats: The number of confirmed cases globally is over 10.3 million, and the death toll is more than 505,500. There are more than 2.5 million cases in the U.S. and an excess of 129,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.

📰 What we’re reading: As coronavirus cases surge in Arizona and Gov. Doug Ducey orders bars, gyms and theaters to close again, this town’s mayor says he won’t cancel events nor require masks. “My response from the onset of COVID-19 pandemic has been that we will err on the side of freedom,” Eagar Mayor Bryce Hamblin said in a statement.

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Fauci still hopes vaccine will be available in early 2021

There is no guarantee that a safe and effective vaccine will soon be ready, but public health experts remain “cautiously optimistic” that doses will be available to the public early next year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate panel Tuesday. Fauci said that federal dollars have helped “harmonize” the development of several vaccine candidates.

Fauci, citing animal data and early, preliminary data on humans, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee the efficacy of the vaccines should be known sometime in the winter and early part of next year.

“There are a number of platforms that are being pursued so that we don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” he said.

CDC chief concerned by ‘significant increases’ in COVID-19 cases

The head of the National Institutes of Health said that he was concerned about the “significant increases” in coronavirus cases  across the nation, which he attributed to increased testing, community transmission and individual outbreaks. Redfield said hospitalizations are rising in 12 states and daily deaths are increasing in Arizona. Hospitalizations are six times higher, and deaths 12 times higher among those with underlying conditions, Redfield added. The CDC was planning to release recommendations on K-12, higher ed, and business reopenings, Redfield said.

“It’s imperative that we take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of Covid-19 and embrace the universal use of face coverings,” Redfield told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “I’m addressing the younger members of our society, the millennials and the generation Zs. I ask those that are listening to spread the word.”

Grace Hauck

Swine flu in Chinese pigs monitored for ‘pandemic potential’

A swine flu virus found in Chinese pigs has the potential to jump to humans and even spark a pandemic, researchers say.

The Chinese and British scientists, writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, urge immediate measures to control the virus in pigs and to closely monitor workers who handle them. The predominant G4 EA H1N1 virus has acquired increased human infectivity, the researchers say, which greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and “raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses.”

Martha Nelson, an evolutionary biologist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, told Science magazine the likelihood of this variant causing a pandemic is low. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate committee Tuesday that the virus was “not an immediate threat” but something to “keep your eye on.”

Headed for New York? Almost half of Americans would need to quarantine

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut added travelers from California, Tennessee and six other states to its quarantine list Tuesday morning, pushing the total to 16 states representing 48% of the U.S. population. Travelers from the affected states will now have to isolate for 14 days upon arriving in the three northeastern states, doubling the original list of eight states included in the joint travel advisory issued last week.

“We’ve set metrics for community spread just as we’ve set metrics for everything the state does to fight COVID-19,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Eight more states have reached the level of spread required to qualify for New York’s travel advisory.”

Joseph Spector

Americans banned from traveling to European Union

Americans will not be allowed to travel to European Union countries when the bloc opens up to international visitors July 1, the European Council announced on Tuesday. Travelers from 14 countries will be welcomed to the EU, including Canada, South Korea and Australia. But Americans and citizens of many other nations will be barred as too risky because of spiking coronavirus cases in their home countries. Chinese travelers will be allowed to visit if that country’s government confirms a policy of reciprocity, the council’s announcement said.

The United States leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases with nearly 2.7 million infections as of June 30, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Julia Thompson and Deirdre Shesgreen

USA TODAY panelists: We’re one-third of the way toward vaccinations for all

If you think of a clock ticking from midnight (when the pandemic began around Jan. 1) to noon (when vaccines will be widely available in the United States), then a panel of experts assembled by USA TODAY saya it’s now about 4 AM. We are about one-third of the way there, the panel of 10 physicians and scientist estimates. That timeline gets us to the promised land of near normalcy sometime next spring. That’s a bit less optimistic than Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has repeatedly said he hopes a vaccine could be available by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

“I think we’ll have a vaccine by the middle of next year,” said panel member Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.

Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub

Arizona delays opening of public schools

Arizona schools will delay reopening for in-person classes this year until at least Aug. 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Doug Ducey announced, adding that “we’ll continuously reevaluate this target date.” The state’s schools usually open in early August. But a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state has schools facing difficult decisions – including whether to offer in-person classes at all. Schools can offer online instruction before the reopening date.

The state has more than 74,000 confirmed cases, with 3,000-plus new cases reported on five of the past seven days. People younger than 20 make up about 11% of the cases. 

“We were hopeful that schools could reopen and that with mitigation strategies that our schools could still offer in-person instruction,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said. “But more recently, it’s become more clear that’s not advised.” 

Lily Altavena, Arizona Republic

Hundreds of US kids developing serious inflammatory condition

At least 286 U.S. children have developed a serious inflammatory condition linked to the coronavirus and while most recovered, the potential for long-term or permanent damage is unknown, two new studies suggest. 

The papers, published online Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, provide the fullest report yet on the condition, known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. It is considered uncommon and deaths are rare; six children died among the 285 in the new studies. Including cases in Europe, where it was first reported, about 1,000 children worldwide have been affected, a journal editorial said.

Youth sports march on despite boom in new cases

Many privately run youth sports leagues and tournaments have largely carried on as the pandemic, even in recent coronavirus hot spot states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and South Carolina. Jon Solomon, the editorial director for the Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, believes many youth sports entities will continue to push forward unless or until government officials determine otherwise, even in states where the virus is spreading rapidly.

“There’s a lot of money at stake for these competitive organizations,” he said. “There are a lot of parents who are fine and they don’t necessarily see hospitalizations or positive tests within the people that they’re associating with. … It’s sort of like out of sight, out of mind.”

Tom Schad

Schools, students brace for outbreaks as fall semester nears

Colleges and universities are rolling out their plans for the fall semester as students and teachers brace for what could be a new burst of COVID-19 cases. Some schools will end the fall semester before Thanksgiving but forego the customary fall break to prevent students from leaving campus in October and returning with the virus. Some will stagger arrival dates, delay the start of classes to September and restrict access to residential and academic buildings. There are no national guidelines, and some experts have little faith the protocols will prevent outbreaks.

“The expectation would be that COVID-19 will run through campuses like wildfire,” said Dave Blake, an associate professor at Augusta University’s Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine. “That’s probably what’s going to happen if you don’t have really good surveillance testing procedures in place. And I don’t see universities setting those up in a way to do that and be effective.”

Suzanne Hirt

What we’re reading

Infection rates highest in lower-income, non-white neighborhoods

A USA TODAY analysis of ZIP code-level data shows neighborhoods with the highest rates of infection from the coronavirus are more densely populated, and they have lower household incomes and higher percentages of non-white residents. 

USA TODAY’s exclusive analysis draws from reported cases of COVID-19 by ZIP code of residence of those testing positive for the virus. It affirms a set of trends revealed by case counts available in April, when far fewer jurisdictions reported such granular data.

The data from more than 8,500 ZIP codes – about 26% of all U.S. ZIPs – was collected during the week of June 15 from 49 state, county and local health departments that publish data at that geographic level. 

Mark Nichols, Mitchell Thorson, and Carlie Procell

CDC official on coronavirus: ‘We are not even beginning to be over this’

The uptick in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks is “very discouraging,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a webcast Monday.

“We are not even beginning to be over this,” she said.

In the outbreak’s early days in the U.S., the New York region bore the brunt of infections. Now, she said, infections are much more widespread, making it much harder to contain. 

The only way to bring infection rates down again, she said, is to stay physically distant from each other, wear masks, wash hands and stay away from others after a possible exposure. “In terms of the weather or season helping us, I don’t think we can count on that,” she told Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who was conducting the online interview.

“Face-covering is something that each one of us can do,” she said, advising people to wear a mask every time they leave home and around people they don’t live with. 

– Karen Weintraub

New Jersey bans smoking, drinking at Atlantic City casinos

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday postponed the resumption of indoor dining, and banned drinking and smoking at Atlantic City’s casinos as they reopen this week, causing one casino to scrap plans to reopen anytime soon.

Murphy said he acted because of a lack of compliance over the use of face masks and social distancing as the coronavirus outbreak continues to rage in many parts of the country.

The decisions had an immediate effect: Atlantic City’s top-performing casino, the Borgata, dropped its plans to reopen soon. It had planned to hold an invitation-only “soft opening” on Thursday and open its doors to the general public starting July 6.

Now, neither of those things is happening for the immediate future, and it was unclear late Monday whether the one-two punch of a smoking and drinking ban would cause other casinos to also postpone their reopenings.

San Diego County to close all bars, wineries and breweries

Bars, wineries and breweries that don’t serve food in San Diego County have been ordered to close temporarily, county health officials announced Monday. The order goes into effect at midnight July 1.

“The pandemic is not over,” County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said. “The virus is still pervasive in our communities. Now more than ever, it is vital that we all take precaution to guide our personal, as well as our collective health.”

The county had a new single-day record 498 new COVID-19 cases Monday, reported local broadcasting station KPBS. The closures comes as several California counties curtail plans to reopen some businesses after an increase in hospitalizations throughout the state.

Elinor Aspegren

Oregon, Kansas will begin requiring face masks in public this week

Oregon and Kansas are the latest states set to require residents to wear face masks in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Starting Wednesday, face masks in indoor public spaces will be required for all Oregonians, Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday. Brown said there has been an “alarming rate” of cases spread in urban and rural counties in the last month. 

“The upcoming July 4th holiday weekend is a critical point for Oregon in this pandemic, and we can all make a difference,” Brown said in a news release. She said she does not want to close businesses as other states have done.

In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly said she will issue an executive issue requiring face masks in public starting Friday. “The evidence could not be clearer – wearing a mask is not only safe, but it is necessary to avoid another shutdown,” Kelly told reporters Monday.

The order will require people to wear a mask around others. Specific guidance will be issued later this week, Kelly said.

More on the coronavirus from USA TODAY

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How do you stay safe on flights during the pandemic? Experts say flying is safer than it was earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic because of airlines’ changes, but travelers can take precautions, too. Here’s how.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus update: Swine flu in China; Arizona schools; Kansas masks

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