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

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The federal government has told states to prepare for a coronavirus vaccine to be ready to distribute by Nov. 1.

The timeline raised concern among public health experts about an “October surprise” – a vaccine approval driven by political considerations ahead of a presidential election, rather than science.

In a letter to governors dated Aug. 27, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said states “in the near future” will receive permit applications from McKesson Corp., which has contracted with CDC to distribute vaccines to places including state and local health departments and hospitals.

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Laboratory technicians work Aug. 14 in Garin, Argentina, on an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press, file

“CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020,” Redfield wrote.

He wrote that any waivers will not compromise the safety or effectiveness of the vaccine. The Associated Press obtained the letter, which was first reported by McClatchy.

The CDC also sent three planning documents to some health departments that included possible timelines for when vaccines would be available. The documents are to be used to develop plans for early vaccination when the supply might be constrained, according to one of the documents, which outlined a scenario in which a vaccine could be available as soon as the end of October.

Read the full story here.

Q: Can I use a face shield instead of a mask?

A: No. Health officials don’t recommend the clear plastic barriers as a substitute for masks because of the lack of research on whether they keep an infected person from spreading viral droplets to others.

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People wearing both face masks and face shields to help curb the spread of COVID-19 ride a bus in Quezon city, Philippines last month. Aaron Favila/Associated Press

However, those who want extra protection may want to wear a face shield in addition to a mask.

Face shields have the added benefit of protecting your eyes and discouraging you from touching your face by acting as a physical barrier, says Christopher Sulmonte, project administrator of the biocontainment unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Meanwhile, the available research so far indicates that the best face shields for preventing viral spread are hooded or wrap around the sides and bottom of the face, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s because those shields leave less space for droplets from sneezing, coughing and talking to escape.

If you do wear a reusable face shield in addition to a mask, the CDC notes the importance of cleaning it after each use. The agency also says you should wash your hands before and after taking it off, and avoid touching your face while removing it.

The AP is answering your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Submit them at: [email protected]

COVID-19 death in Minnesota is tied to Sturgis bike rally

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A Minnesota man who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last month has died from COVID-19, Minnesota health officials reported on Wednesday.

The death is the first reported from the biker rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people. Infections linked to the event have been reported among people in states spanning coast to coast. The rally went forward despite fears it could become a super-spread event, with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem welcoming bikers and the tourist dollars they spend.

Rallygoers crowded into bars and rock shows, mostly ignoring social distancing recommendations. Few wore masks.

The man who died in Minnesota was in his 60s, had underlying health conditions and was in an intensive care unit at a hospital before he died, said Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Washington Post first reported the death.

For 10 days in August, the rally created a travel hub in western South Dakota comparable to a major U.S. city, according to an analysis of anonymous cellphone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cellphone activity for health researchers. The researches found that 61% of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis.

South Dakota has seen the bulk of cases tied to the rally, with the Department of Health reporting 105 tied to the rally. The city of Sturgis made coronavirus tests available to residents and city employees after the rally in an attempt to uncover people who had infections but no symptoms.

Cases among people who attended the rally have been reported in 11 other states, from Washington state to New Jersey.

COVID-19 has killed more police officers this year than all other causes combined, data show 

In a speech this week in Pittsburgh, Joe Biden linked the Trump administration’s mismanagement of the coronavirus to its handling of protests and riots with a surprising statistic: “More cops have died from COVID this year than have been killed on patrol,” he said.

The Democratic presidential nominee’s claim is true, according to data compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, two nonprofits that have tracked law enforcement fatalities for decades.

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Chicago police officers work the scene of a shooting in Chicago on Tuesday, Sept. 1. Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP

As of Sept. 2, on-the-job coronavirus infections were responsible for more officer deaths than all other causes combined, including gun violence and car accidents, according to the Officer Down group, which received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for its work.

NLEOMF reported a nearly identical number of COVID-related law enforcement deaths. It also noted that fatalities due to non-COVID causes are actually down year-over-year, undermining President Donald Trump’s claims that “law enforcement has become the target of a dangerous assault by the radical left.”

Both organizations only count COVID deaths “if it is determined that the officer died as a result of exposure to the virus while performing official duties,” as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund put it. “Substantive evidence will be required to show the death was more than likely due to the direct and proximate result of a duty-related incident.”

In addition to the 100 confirmed coronavirus fatalities listed on the Officer Down website, the nonprofit said it’s in the process of verifying an additional 150 officer deaths due to COVID-19 and presumed to have been contracted in the line of duty, said Chris Cosgriff, executive director of ODMP, in an email.

“By the end of this pandemic, it is very likely that COVID will surpass 9/11 as the single largest incident cause of death for law enforcement officers,” he wrote. Seventy-one officers were killed in the attacks on the twin towers, one officer was killed on United Flight 93, and more than 300 have passed away since then as a result of cancer contracted in the wake of the attacks, according to ODMP.

At the state level, Texas stands out for having the highest number of law enforcement COVID fatalities with at least 21, according to NLEOMF. At least 16 of those represent officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which manages the state’s correctional facilities. Louisiana has 12 COVID-related officer deaths. Florida, New Jersey and Illinois round out the top five with eight each.

According to both organizations, officers in correctional facilities account for a substantial number of COVID-related law enforcement deaths, reflecting the dire epidemiological situation in many of the nation’s prisons and jails.

Read the full story here.

Italy’s ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi has coronavirus

ROME — Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has tested positive for the coronavirus after a precautionary check.

Silvio Berlusconi, Flavio Briatore, Adriano Galliani

Silvio Berlusconi, left, sits next to businessman Flavio Briatore, and former AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani, right as he attends a match in the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy in November 2019. Italy’s former prime minister and right-wing leader Silvio Berlusconi has tested positive to coronavirus after a precautionary check, his press office said on Wednesday. AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

His press office says he’s currently isolated in his Arcore residence, near Milan. He’ll continue to work from there as he completes the necessary quarantine period.

The three-time-premier and media tycoon had been recently pictured with his friend and businessman Flavio Briatore, who was recently hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus last month. The 83-year-old Berlusconi had tested negative at the time.

Italy registered a new surge in coronavirus infections, which rose by 1,326 on Wednesday.

That’s up from 978 a day before, according to the latest Health Ministry figures.

The data confirm the rising trend in new cases observed in the country over the past month, but also reflect the wider number of swab tests performed daily, which for the first time topped the 100,000 level. The testing reached almost 103,000 in the past 24 hours.

Italy now has 271,515 confirmed infections and 35,497 known deaths, including six in the last day.

Health experts are encouraging Italy to boost testing and tracing of contacts of the newly infected before schools open on Sept. 14.

Cheap, widely available steroids found to reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths

Cheap, widely available steroid drugs reduced the number of deaths in the sickest patients with COVID-19, show a trio of newly published clinical trials.

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New studies confirm that steroids like dexamethasone improved survival for severely ill COVID-19 patients. Associated Press/Nati Harnik

The World Health Organization, citing evidence from these and similar trials, announced Wednesday it strongly recommends doctors use the medications to combat severe or critical forms of disease caused by coronavirus infections.

Finding a treatment that saves lives is “electrifying … it gives us hope. Maybe we’re gaining on this virus,” said Todd W. Rice, a critical care physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who was not involved in the studies.

WHO’s decision brings the international agency in line with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which earlier this summer released guidelines for clinicians to use a synthetic steroid, dexamethasone, to treat hospitalized patients who require ventilators or oxygen.

The evidence that persuaded the WHO included a meta-analysis, sponsored by the organization, which evaluated three new studies, plus four other randomized, controlled trials. Each trial involved a medication from the family of anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids.

“These three trials, and then the World Health Organization meta-analysis, sets steroids as the standard and the expectation that patients are critically ill will get treated with this,” Rice said.

Read the full story.

Cases continue to climb at world’s largest nudist resort

An additional 140 people have tested positive for the coronavirus at France’s Cap d’Agde naturist resort, bringing the total number of confirmed cases at the popular summer destination to at least 240. Tens of thousands of holidaymakers and swinger couples visit the sprawling village, also known as the Naked City, each year.

An estimated 100 people, including two employees, tested positive for the virus on Aug. 23, with regional health authorities calling the outbreak at the world’s largest naturist resort “very worrying.” Data from a testing unit set up outside the village revealed that 30 percent of the 800 naturists recently tested have produced a positive result.

The rate of infection at Cap d’Agde is four times as high as in the surrounding area, the BBC reported, citing evidence from local authorities.

In line with government advice, it is mandatory for guests to wear a face covering at all times, but some have expressed concern that the lack of social distancing is driving transmission of the virus.

“Everyone is in close contact all day long and of course naked,” one swinger couple told the BBC as authorities urged those with plans to visit the resort to rethink their trip and for those leaving to take a test before traveling home.

According to the resort’s manager, David Masella, around 40 percent of visitors to Agde come from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Britain. Visitors are free to roam the beach in the nude and visit its shops, nightclubs, banks and other amenities.

With more than 30,600 lives lost to the virus, France is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe. Some 323,968 cases have been confirmed in the country.

On Friday, France recorded 7,379 new cases of the virus, its highest daily increase since March, sparking President Emmanuel Macron to say he had not ruled out the possibility of another nationwide lockdown.

Judge drops suit vs Minnesota governor’s virus orders

ST. PAUL — A Ramsey County judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirteen Republican legislators and a group of businesses contended the Democratic governor abused his power and interfered with the legislative process when he closed schools, issued a mask mandate and limited businesses’ operations.

District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan upheld the governor’s actions Tuesday. A group called Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition argued the governor is usurping the powers of the Legislature. The Walz administration and DFL legislators have maintained that an emergency declaration is necessary to deal with the pandemic.

Thousands of Spanish teachers and staff line up in street to take coronavirus test

MADRID — Thousands of Spanish teachers and auxiliary staff are standing in long lines in the street in Madrid after being told to take a coronavirus test just days before the start of classes.

Labor groups say some 100,000 teachers were informed less than 24 hours beforehand about five locations in the city where they had to take the coronavirus tests. The tests are mandatory for school employees.

The tests are taking place between Wednesday and next Monday. School re-openings are staggered, with preschool starting Thursday. Older children go back next week.

The Madrid region is a coronavirus hot spot, with almost 32,000 new cases officially recorded in the past two weeks.

Hong Kong eases tough social distancing requirements

HONG KONG — Hong Kong will further relax social distancing measures from Friday, allowing gyms and massage parlors to reopen and extending dining-in hours at restaurants as new daily coronavirus infections dwindle to single digits.

Tough restrictions had been imposed in July when a new surge of coronavirus hit Hong Kong, temporarily shuttering such businesses and limiting public gatherings to two people. Daily infections have since steadily decreased from a peak of more than 100 in July to eight on Wednesday, the lowest number in two months.

Officials started easing measures last week, allowing cinemas and beauty salons to re-open with social distancing measures in place.

While gyms can operate from Friday, gym-goers must wear masks while exercising, and gym classes will only be restricted to four people, government officials said Wednesday.

Swimming pools, bars and karaoke lounges will remain closed.

The term ‘covidiots’ is not slander in Germany

BERLIN — Berlin prosecutors have thrown out hundreds of criminal complaints against a leader of one of Germany’s governing parties over her use of the word “covidiots” to describe protesters who demonstrated against coronavirus restrictions without masks or social distancing.

Saskia Esken, a co-leader of the center-left Social Democrats, used the term in a tweet on Aug. 1 as around 20,000 people demonstrated in Berlin. Police ultimately ended the rally because organizers failed to get participants to keep their distance or wear masks.

Berlin prosecutors on Wednesday said they had decided against opening an investigation after receiving several hundred criminal complaints alleging slander.

They said Esken’s use of the expression was covered by constitutionally protected freedom of expression.

Pope Francis holds first general audience in almost 6 months

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has held his first public general audience after a pause of nearly six months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Francis used Wednesday’s audience to call for solidarity as the way to exit the crisis.

Francis said: “The current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence: We are all linked to each other, for better or for worse.”

He added: “To come out of this crisis better than before, we have to do so together, all of us, in solidarity.”

About 500 faithful attended the audience in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.

Under strict safety rules, faithful kept social distances as they sat in the courtyard and were all required to wear masks. The Pope didn’t wear one as he met the crowd, but kept a safety distance from the faithful, who were cheering and waving at him.

Bereaved British families call Boris Johnson ‘heartless’

LONDON — Some families of those who died in the pandemic are accusing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “heartless” for refusing to meet with them.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, which represents more than 1,400 families, wants a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Organizers say Johnson previously agreed to meet with them, but on Wednesday they shared a letter in which the prime minister declined to do so.

Campaign co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her father to the virus, says Johnson dodged five letters requesting a meeting and now he is “telling us he’s too busy. It’s heartless.”

 


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