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Global COVID-19 total passes 7.5 million as health officials warn about impact on women and children




The pandemic total topped 7.5 million cases today, with COVID-19 totals surging in low- and middle-income countries and those that are past their peaks working, with mixed success, to keep illness levels from rising again.

The global total today rose to 7,570,801 cases, and 423,155 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Most of world still in first pandemic wave

At a World Health Organization (WHO) media briefing today, Mike Ryan, MD, director of the group’s health emergencies program, said most of the world is very much in the throes of the pandemic’s first wave, with some slowly making their way out of it. Brazil, one of the nations where infections are surging, is facing pressure on its health system, but it is still coping with a number of severe cases, he said. Most hospitals are below 80% intensive care unit bed capacity.

Regarding the situations in other countries, Ryan said clusters of cases following the peak don’t necessarily mean that a country has entered its second wave. Some increases reflect difficulties some countries are having as they exit their lockdowns, and he said there’s a careful balance between keeping people at home and reopening economies.

An alternative to reordering lockdowns, Ryan said, is sophisticated, detailed surveillance that shows exactly where illness levels are going up and down, so that health officials can target interventions at the geographic level where infections are rising, rather than taking blanket measures.

The WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said he is concerned about the global battle against the virus, because the world is divided. He added that countries need unity and solidarity to have better outcomes. “When the world unites to fight a common virus, it succeeds. We should learn from history,” he said.

Pandemic’s impact on maternal, child, and adolescent health

At today’s media briefing, several speakers detailed the effect the pandemic—and its response actions—is having on women, children, and adolescents. The spotlight is part of efforts to recognize the pandemic’s secondary impact on a range of other health issues. In earlier briefings, for example, the WHO highlighted the challenges of maintaining childhood immunizations and essential health services.

Tedros said overwhelmed health systems in many places have put women at a greater risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. He added that the WHO has carefully investigated the risk of COVID-19 transmission from mother to baby during breastfeeding, and based on current evidence, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential COVID-19 transmission risks. Though viral RNA has been found in breast milk, no live virus has been found, and the WHO has issued detailed advice on how to breast feed safety.

The WHO has released self-care resources to help maintain essential sexual and reproductive health services, which cover topics such as HIV self-testing and self-administration of injectable contraceptives.

The WHO is also concerned about the impact on adolescents and young people, with school and university closures having a dramatic impact on their ability to access preventive mental health services for conditions such as anxiety, depression, and sexual violence, Tedros said. And he added that school closures have caused hardships for millions of children who depend on school meal programs.

Natalia Kanem, MD, MSc, PhD, MPH, executive director for the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), was one of four speakers today who detailed the pandemic’s impact on women, children, and adolescents and discussed possible solutions. She said the UNPF estimates, for example, that during a 6-month lockdown, 4.7 million women lose access to contraception, which could result in 7 million unintended pregnancies. Kanem also noted that gender-based violence has become “a pandemic within a pandemic.”

Cases surge in India and Brazil

India over the past day reported 10,956 cases, its biggest single-day rise, CNN reported. With 297,535 cases, India has now passed the United Kingdom to become the country with the fourth highest total. New Delhi and Mumbai are among the country’s main hot spots, and a report today from the Associated Press said crematoriums in the capital city of New Delhi are overwhelmed with people who have died from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Brazil—the world’s second hardest hit country—reported 30,412 more cases yesterday, lifting its total above 800,000, Reuters reported. To protest the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, a group dug 100 graves into the sand of Copacabana beach in Rio and marked them with black crosses as a tribute to the 40,000 who have died, according to a separate report.

In other global developments:

  • Beijing education officials delayed the planned start of lower primary school classes next week after new COVID-19 cases were detected in the city, CNN reported today. The city’s health commission said two cases were confirmed today in people who worked for the same meat research center plant. Earlier this week, the country reported its first case from Beijing in 2 months, and of seven new cases reported by China’s National Health Commission today, one is a local case from Beijing, and the other six are imported.
  • Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was questioned today by prosecutors as part of an inquiry demanded by relatives of COVID-19 victims, the BBC The inquiry focuses on the lockdown policy in northern Italy hot spots, with relatives arguing that the locations should have been isolated sooner. Other government officials were questioned, too, as part to the probe.

Vaccine makers worry about a glass vial shortage for COVID-19 vaccines that are under development, but vial makers say the rush to secure supplies may make matters worse, Reuters reported. It quoted officials from Schott AG, the world’s largest vaccine vial glassmaker, as saying they’ve turned down requests to reserve output, because they don’t want to commit resources before knowing which vaccines will work.



Trump Announces Partnership With CVS, Walgreens For Nursing Home COVID Vaccination




President Trump announced a partnership with two national pharmacy chains to administer coronavirus vaccines to nursing homes at an event in Fort Myers, Fla. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration announced a new partnership with two major national pharmacy chains to facilitate the distribution of a future coronavirus vaccine to nursing homes on Friday.

“Today, I’m thrilled to announce that we have just finalized a partnership with CVS and Walgreens,” President Trump told a group in Fort Myers, Fla., at an event centered on seniors. He said the plan was for the pharmacies to “deliver the vaccine directly to nursing homes at no cost to our seniors.”

The Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care Program is part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed effort. No coronavirus vaccines have yet been authorized by the government, though several vaccine candidates are in the final stages of clinical trials.

“Early in the COVID-19 vaccination program, there may be a limited supply of vaccine and our planning efforts need to focus on those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19,” Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters on a press call.

That includes people older than 65, who are much more likely to get severely ill and die from the coronavirus than other age groups. The details of which would be the first groups to get a vaccine once one is authorized is still in flux, but seniors would likely be among the first to be eligible.

The pharmacy program “provides end-to-end management of the COVID-19 vaccination process,” Butler explained. That includes scheduling on site clinic dates with each facility, ordering supplies like syringes, and ensuring cold-chain management of the vaccine. Once the vaccine is on site, pharmacy staff will administer it to residents and staff and report it to the required public health department.

The program will be free for facilities, but optional. “This is voluntary. They have to opt-in,” Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services told reporters. “This will be something that will be available to every nursing home and senior living facility in the country.”

“This is really significant,” Claire Hannan, Executive Director of the Association of Immunization Managers wrote to NPR. “We’ve never really had coordinated partnership between pharmacies and public health across all states.”

Friday was the deadline for states to deliver a vaccine distribution plan to CDC, which will be evaluating the plans and providing feedback over the next two weeks, according to federal health officials.

One of the leading vaccine candidates, made by Pfizer, requires ultra-cold storage, which “could pose a major challenge to getting nursing home and long term care residents vaccinated,” explains Hannan, “so the value of this partnership can’t be understated.”

That aspect of the program stood out to Stacie Dusetzina, professor of health policy at Vanderbilt as well.

“Cold storage and the cold chain management has been a huge sticking point — how do you get [vaccine] to everyone who needs it and maintain these super cold temperatures?” she says. If CVS and Walgreens are going to be managing that challenge, she says, “that seems like a really big, positive thing.”

A federal government partnership early in the pandemic with retail pharmacies to provide COVID-19 testing ended up yielding much less testing than promised.


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$3.1 Trillion: Pandemic Spending Drives The Federal Budget Deficit To A Record




The government shortfall for the fiscal year that just ended is far greater than was seen during the height of the Great Recession. The national debt now exceeds the size of the U.S. economy. Patrick Semansky/AP hide caption

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Patrick Semansky/AP

Updated at 3:16 p.m. ET

The U.S. budget deficit soared to a record $3.1 trillion, following a massive surge in government spending aimed at containing the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

The deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was more than triple that of fiscal 2019 and easily eclipsed the previous record of $1.4 trillion recorded in 2009.

The Treasury Department said the surge was partly due to a drop in corporate and personal tax revenue, which fell by 1%.

But the overwhelming factor driving the deficit higher was a huge increase in federal spending to prop up businesses and keep people employed after the economy nearly ground to a halt in March.

“The increase in the deficit from FY 2019 reflects the effect of COVID-19 on the economy and legislation that created or enhanced programs to protect public health and support hard-hit industries, small businesses, and American individuals and families,” the Treasury statement said.

The higher deficit comes just as Congress and the White House are negotiating a new coronavirus relief package.

While lawmakers and the administration agree on the need for a bill, they remain far apart on the size. While Democrats have pushed for more than $2 trillion in aid, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called that “outlandish.”

The federal debt — the total owed by the government — has grown to more than $21 trillion, larger than the size of the U.S. economy.

“This astronomical level of debt is only going to get bigger,” says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“Borrowing to combat the pandemic and economic crisis makes sense. But that’s no excuse for the massive tax cuts and spending increases enacted before the pandemic, nor the failure to control the rising costs of our health and retirement programs once normalcy returns,” she added.


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Israel To Relax Its 2nd Nationwide Coronavirus Lockdown On Sunday




Ultra-Orthodox Jews watch a funeral for Rabbi Mordechai Leifer from their balconies in the port city of Ashdod, Israel, on Oct. 5. The rabbi, who had been the spiritual leader of a small ultra-Orthodox community founded a century ago in Pittsburgh, died after being infected with COVID-19. Tsafrir Abayov/AP hide caption

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Tsafrir Abayov/AP

Israel, which imposed the world’s strictest second nationwide lockdown, will be loosening some restrictions this weekend.

After a four-week lockdown, including a ban on movement beyond one-third of a mile from home, the country has dramatically brought down its number of infections.

On Sept. 30, Israel’s health ministry reported there were 9,013 new cases, among the world’s highest per capita daily infection rates. On Thursday, there were 1,608 new cases.

Israel’s cabinet voted Friday to partially relax the country’s lockdown beginning Sunday. Earlier this week, the country lifted a ban on travel abroad and a ban on Israelis protesting in groups larger than 20. Critics accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to quash months of protests outside his residence. Demonstrators were calling for his resignation due to a corruption indictment.

Israeli police scuffle with protesters during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Oct. 6. Protests continued despite a government ban on large public gatherings, including protests against Netanyahu. The sign reads: “Bibi you failed the wrong generation.” Ariel Schalit/AP hide caption

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Ariel Schalit/AP

The ban limiting public protests achieved the opposite result, spurring thousands to protest against Netanyahu and the protest ban, as demonstrations spread across the country.

Jerusalem’s three main holy sites — the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — will reopen to the general public with distancing measures, the prime minster’s office said in a statement.

People will be allowed to move without restriction and visit each other’s homes, capping gatherings at 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors. Israel will also reopen beaches and national parks.

Shops can operate without in-store customers. Restaurants will not be able to offer dining inside, but can sell takeout meals. Public transportation will operate at 50% capacity.

Most schools will remain closed, but preschools and kindergartens will reopen for children up to age 6. A group of Hebrew University scientists concluded that children up to age 10 are less likely to spread the virus.

But Israel’s teachers union opposes the reopening, saying authorities have not offered assurances it will be done safely or provided support for preschool and kindergarten teachers who are at home with their own elementary school-age children.

“We believe it is a mistake and that lessons were not learned from the hasty exit of the first lockdown,” when infections spiked among schoolchildren, the union said in a statement.

In a public Facebook post, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox interior minister Aryeh Deri protested Friday against restrictions on large weddings, an important element of ultra-Orthodox Jewish life.

Several cities with mostly ultra-Orthodox populations will remain under restrictions as they continue to suffer high infection rates. Some Orthodox communities flouted the lockdown and held large Jewish holiday gatherings, driving up Israel’s virus rate.


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