The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday canceled in-person undergraduate classes for two weeks after a spike of coronavirus cases that occurred since the semester began Aug. 10.

Virus_Outbreak_Notre_Dame_99750

Students are shown on Aug. 7 after returning to the Notre Dame campus for the fall semester, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame University has canceled in-person undergraduate classes for two weeks after a spike of coronavirus cases that occurred since the semester began Aug. 10. Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via Associated Press

University president the Rev. John Jenkins said there have been 147 confirmed cases of coronavirus on campus since the start of classes for the university’s approximately 12,000 students.

Jenkins said he decided against sending students home after consulting with the St. Joseph County Health Department. Instead, university officials decided steps could be taken short of closing the campus while still protecting students’ health and safety.

The university is advising off-campus students not to visit the campus and on-campus students not to venture off-campus and is restricting student gatherings to 10 people or less. The university is allowing graduate student access to research laboratories and libraries. Athletic teams subject to surveillance testing can continue to gather for sanctioned activities, but will be closely monitored.

“The virus is a formidable foe,” Jenkins said in announcing enhanced testing for students experiencing symptoms and surveillance testing for those without symptoms. “For the past week, it has been winning. Let us as the Fighting Irish join together to contain it.”

According to Jenkins, the university has traced the spike in COVID-19 cases to off-campus gatherings where neither masks were worn nor physical distancing observed. He said students infected at those gatherings passed it on to others, who in turn passed the virus on to others, resulting in the positive cases, with all but one a student.

Jenkins asked students to help in identifying others who have been flagrantly violating safety protocols.

Some inaccurate results underscore complexity of developing reliable COVID-19 tests

WASHINGTON — A widely used coronavirus test is under scrutiny this week after federal health officials warned that it could deliver inaccurate results if laboratory technicians don’t follow the the latest updates from the manufacturer.

The Food and Drug Administration’s warning over Thermo Fisher’s TaqPath test underscores the complexity of COVID-19 tests and how easily they can be skewed by faulty processing and equipment.

The FDA action follows a report last month by Connecticut public health officials that the test resulted in at least 90 people receiving false positive results for the coronavirus.

Thermo Fisher’s test is one of the standard tools used to screen for COVID-19, run on large, automated machines found in many U.S. hospitals and laboratories. The FDA flagged two separate issues that could potentially result in false results: the chemical mixing process and computer software that runs on the company’s machine. Thermo Fisher has provided new instructions for mixing. And a software update fixes the second problem, the FDA said.

For all positive results, FDA said labs should review the instrument settings.

Thermo Fisher said in a statement that its data shows the issues are rare and most users get accurate results by following company directions.

Read the full story about testing here.

S&P 500 closes at a record, erasing last of pandemic losses 

Wall Street clawed back the last of the historic, frenzied losses unleashed by the coronavirus, as the S&P 500 closed at an all-time high Tuesday. The benchmark index notched a modest 0.2% gain to beat its previous record high set on Feb. 19, before the pandemic shut down businesses around the world and knocked economies into their worst recessions in decades. The S&P 500′s milestone caps a furious 51.5% rally that began in late March. Tremendous amounts of aid from the Federal Reserve and Congress helped launch the rally, which built momentum on signs of budding growth in the economy.

Trading has been very quiet in recent days, after a tremendous rally since March wiped out virtually all of the nearly 34% drop the S&P 500 suffered earlier from its all-time high. Tremendous amounts of aid from the Federal Reserve and Congress helped launch the rally, which built higher on signs of budding growth in the economy. More recently, corporate profit reports that weren’t as bad as expected have helped boost stock prices.

Now, analysts say markets are taking a pause with less news flowing in amid a seasonally slow period of trading. Big U.S. companies are mostly finished reporting their earnings for the spring, while investors are waiting to see if Congress and the White House can get past their partisan differences and agree on more aid for the economy.

It’s mostly just retailers left in the S&P 500 to report their second-quarter results, and several continued the strong recent trend of delivering better results than expected.

Walmart and Home Depot reported better results than analysts expected. Walmart benefited from surging sales for its online business, as customers looked to buy necessities without having to go to a store. Home Depot, meanwhile, saw more people picking up do-it-yourself projects as the pandemic kept many working from home.

Their stocks, though, were muted. Walmart was down 0.3% after waffling between small gains and losses. Home Depot slid 1.2%.

Home Depot’s report coincided with data from the Commerce Department showing a recovery is continuing for home construction. Builders broke ground on more new homes in July than economists expected, and at a faster pace than June. The report helped push homebuilder shares broadly higher. KB Home was up 1.6%

The housing report echoes other data that have shown budding improvements across the economy since the spring, as widespread shutdowns have eased. The worry, though, is that conditions could backtrack if coronavirus counts worsen or if Washington can’t broker a deal on more aid for an economy that investors say absolutely needs it. Extra unemployment benefits for workers and other stimulus for the economy have already expired.

Read the full story about the stock market here.

Trump warns of a ‘big surge’ of coronavirus in New Zealand, which just recorded 9 new cases

While the novel coronavirus continues to surge through the United States, President Donald Trump noted on Monday that other countries have also seen recent rises. Case in point, he told supporters at a Minnesota airport: New Zealand.

“You’ve seen what’s going on in New Zealand?” Trump said of the island nation, which went months without any new COVID-19 cases. “Big surge in New Zealand. It’s terrible. We don’t want that.”

New Zealand has seen the virus return this month – but on Monday, it recorded just nine new cases. On Tuesday, 13 more were reported. The United States, where at least 167,000 have now died, has recently averaged around 50,000 new cases each day.

Politicians in New Zealand reacted with anger to Trump’s attempt at contrasting their widely hailed pandemic strategy with the U.S., which has had more than 5.4 million confirmed cases to date.

Virus_Outbreak_New_Zealand_Election_32096

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, arrives to announce a new date for national elections, at a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, Aug. 17. Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP

“Anyone who is following will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day do not compare to the United States’ tens of thousands,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters on Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s patently wrong.”

Trump’s swipe at New Zealand follows a familiar pattern for the president, who has sought repeatedly to highlight a resurgence of the virus abroad to mitigate America’s failures to contain its spread at home. Trump often cites misleading statistics, The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan reported, to obscure the fact the U.S. has just 4% of the world’s population but about one quarter of global cases.

Speaking in Mankato, Minn., on Monday, Trump made a similar argument.

“When you look at the rest of the world … now all the sudden, a lot of the places that they were using to hold up, they’re having a big surge,” Trump said. “They were holding up names of countries, and now they’re saying, ‘Whoops.’ In fact, even New Zealand.”

The contrast remains stark between the U.S. and New Zealand, which has had just 22 total COVID-19 deaths. Until last week, the island nation went 102 days without recording a new coronavirus case, allowing Ardern to loosen many restrictions.

Read the full story here.

Mask advocates are demanding mandates, fines — and common courtesy

Susan van Vonno has strong feelings about masks. At 82, with a compromised immune system, she has little patience for bellicose anti-maskers who refuse to cover their faces because they believe it infringes on their personal liberty.

Virus_Outbreak_Airline_Survival_86043

A passenger wears personal protective equipment on a Delta Airlines flight after landing at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, in Minneapolis in May. AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

“Do you want to be free, or do you want to be dead?” she asks.

So far, van Vonno has kept those feelings mostly to herself. But at a recent museum board meeting in Melbourne, Fla., she was one of only two people out of 10 wearing a mask. She said nothing at the time, but she wishes she had.

“I thought about it,” she said, “and I need to bring it up.”

In a country stumbling to control a rampant and deadly virus, masks are effective and popular weapons. Three-quarters of Americans favor requiring people to wear face coverings in public to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, including 89% of Democrats and 58% of Republicans, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in July.

Read the rest of this story here.

Germany’s Merkel against relaxing of virus rules

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken out against further relaxing coronavirus restrictions in the country, citing the recent rise in the number of new cases.

Merkel says Germany is “in the middle of the pandemic” and called on Germans to respect social distancing and hygiene rules.

Virus_Outbreak_Germany_Merkel_19841

German chancellor Angela Merkel, right, wears a face mask as she meets Governor Armin Laschet, left, during her visit at Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, Aug. 18. AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Speaking after a meeting with the governor and ministers of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, Merkel expressed support for uniform rules for some aspects of the pandemic.

Germany’s 16 states largely set their own rules, often leading to a mix-mash of differing regional regulations that have prompted confusion and frustration in the country of 83 million.

Merkel and Gov. Armin Laschet say possible future lockdowns shouldn’t unduly burden children and students.

Germany’s disease control agency on Tuesday reported 1,390 new confirmed coronavirus cases.

Finnish prime minister self-isolating after showing symptoms

HELSINKI — Finnish prime minister says she has self-isolated and will take a corona test due to mild symptoms of an infection.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin tweeted on Tuesday: “I have mild respiratory symptoms. I will take a corona test and work remotely.”

The 34-year-old Marin, who assumed Finland’s top job in December and was the world’s youngest serving head of government at the time, told the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that her child attended a daycare center after a summer break.

In recent weeks, the number of corona cases have gradually increased in Finland. Last week, the government for the first time recommended the use of masks in public.

Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, has so far recorded 7,776 confirmed corona cases with 334 deaths.

British government will scrap health agency

LONDON — The British government is scrapping a public health agency that’s taken some of the blame for the country’s uneven response to the coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the work of Public Health England will become part of a new body, the National Institute for Health Protection, which will guard against infectious diseases and biosecurity threats.

The new institute will be headed by Dido Harding, a former telecoms executive who leads the much-criticized test and trace program set up in recent months to help contain the coronavirus.

Hancock says it can learn from public health agencies in South Korea and Germany, which have been praised for their strong response to the pandemic.

Public Health England has been criticized for taking an overly centralized approach to testing and contact-tracing and abandoning widespread testing for the virus in mid-March because it lacked the diagnostic capacity.

Its defenders argue that Britain’s Conservative governments have been cutting public health budgets for years, leaving the country ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic.

WHO says planet is nowhere near herd immunity

LONDON — The World Health Organization says the planet is nowhere near the amount of coronavirus immunity needed to induce herd immunity, where enough of the population would have antibodies to stop the spread.

Herd immunity is typically achieved with vaccination and most scientists estimate at least 70% of the population must have antibodies to prevent an outbreak. But some experts have suggested that even if half the population had immunity, there might be a protective effect.

WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan largely dismissed that theory at a press briefing on Tuesday, saying we should not live “in hope” of achieving herd immunity.

“As a global population, we are nowhere close to the levels of immunity required to stop this disease transmitting,” he said. “This is not a solution and not a solution we should be looking to.”

Most studies conducted to date have suggested only about 10% to 20% of people have antibodies.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to WHO’s director-general, added that any mass immunization campaign with a COVID-19 vaccine would aim to cover far more than 50% of the world’s population.

“We don’t want to be wrong,” he said. “You want to plan to get high coverage and not get lulled into a dangerously seductive suggestion that (the herd immunity threshold) could be low.”

South Africa finally begins to relax lockdown after 5 months

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa, which had one of the world’s strictest anti-coronavirus lockdowns for five months, relaxed its restrictions on Tuesday in response to a decrease in new cases.

The country loosened its regulations to permit the sales of alcohol and cigarettes, and the reopening of bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship, all limited to no more than 50 people. Schools will reopen gradually starting Aug. 24.

With more than 589,000 confirmed cases, South Africa has more than half of all reported cases in Africa. The 54 countries of the continent reported a total of more than 1.1 million cases on Tuesday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa has recorded more than 11,900 deaths from COVID-19, while overall the continent has reported just over 25,800 deaths. The actual numbers of cases and deaths are estimated to be much higher, say health experts.

South Africa’s new confirmed cases have dropped from an average of 12,000 per day at the peak in July to less than 5,000 per day last week. The country confirmed 2,541 new cases on Tuesday.

South Korea will ban large public gatherings, close churches

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will ban large public gatherings and shut down churches and nightspots in the greater capital area following an alarming surge in coronavirus cases.

In a nationally televised announcement on Tuesday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said strengthening social distancing restrictions for the Seoul metropolitan area — home to around half of the country’s 51 million people — was inevitable because a failure to slow transmissions there could result in a major outbreak nationwide.

The measures, which will take effect Wednesday in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province and the city of Incheon, prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Nightclubs, karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants, computer gaming cafes and other “high-risk” facilities will be shut, while churches will be required to entirely convert their worship services online.

Chung or other government officials didn’t immediately say how long the measures would be in place.

South Korea reported 246 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, raising its total for the last five days to 959. The national caseload rose to 15,761, including 306 deaths.

New Zealand’s leader responds to false Trump claims

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s leader has hit back at President Donald Trump’s claim that New Zealand is experiencing a big surge in coronavirus cases.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday that Trump’s comments were “patently wrong.”

“I think for anyone who’s following COVID and its transmission globally will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States’ tens of thousands,” Ardern told reporters.

Trump made the comments Monday at a campaign stop in Mankato, Minnesota. He said some countries held up as models for their virus response were now saying “whoops.”

“You see what’s going on in New Zealand,” Trump said. “They beat it, they beat it. It was like front page, they beat it. Because they wanted to show me something. The problem is, big surge in New Zealand. So, you know, it’s terrible, we don’t want that.”

The U.S., with a population of about 330 million, has reported more than 170,000 virus deaths. New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, has reported 22 deaths.

Australian outbreak traced back to quarantined travelers at 2 hotels

MELBOURNE, Australia — An epidemiologist told an inquiry on Tuesday that almost all of a second wave of coronavirus infections in Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state can be traced back to returned travelers quarantined in two Melbourne hotels.

Department of Health and Human Services epidemiologist Charles Alpren was testifying at a state government-appointed inquiry into failures in a quarantine system that required Australians returning from overseas to isolate in Melbourne hotels for two weeks.

Alpren said “99%” of Victoria’s current coronavirus infections were linked to the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels.

He said the Rydges outbreak started with a family of four who returned from overseas on May 9.

Some 46 workers from the Stamford Plaza and their close contacts were found to have caught COVID-19 from a man who returned from overseas on June 1 and a couple who returned on June 11, Alpren said.

Melbourne has been locked down for a second time due to the second wave of infections that has resulted in as many as 725 new cases and 25 deaths in a day.

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: