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

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s former state epidemiologist warned that President Trump’s rally in Tulsa in June could lead to as many as nine deaths and 228 new cases of COVID-19, according to documents released Wednesday.

The documents released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health in response to an open records request show that the state’s former epidemiologist, Aaron Wendelboe, warned state and Tulsa health officials of the dire consequences if the rally were held, though his projection was based on it drawing an estimated 19,000 Trump supporters and only about 6,200 actually showed up.

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is recognized as President Trump speaks at his campaign rally June 20 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. Oklahoma’s former state epidemiologist warned that as many as nine deaths and 228 new cases of coronavirus could result from the rally in Tulsa, according to documents released Wednesday. Associated Press/Sue Ogrocki

“I am advocating here for clear communication of the risk of holding a mass gathering,” Wendelboe wrote in an email to Dr. Bruce Dart, the director of the Tulsa Health Department, five days before Trump’s June 20 rally at a downtown Tulsa arena. “I’m not sure of any instance where we would hold a public event and say ‘…and by the way, there is a chance that attending this could lead to a minimum of two deaths.’”

In another email to two of his former colleagues at the University of Oklahoma, Wendelboe expressed reservations about how forcefully he should share his concerns.

“As the state epidemiologist, I feel I have a responsibility to speak out and warn of the estimated risk,” Wendelboe wrote in a different June 15 email. “However, that responsibility also lies with the health commissioner and the secretary of health; both with whom I have shared my concerns. I am acutely aware that Governor (Kevin) Stitt has invited President Trump to the state.”

Read the full story here.

Colorado workers protest ‘measly’ COVID-19 fine issued to meat plant

DENVER  — A union representing workers at a Colorado meatpacking plant where six workers died of COVID-19 and hundreds more were infected staged a protest Wednesday, claiming that federal officials should have fined the company more for its alleged failure to provide safe working conditions.

Carolina Sanchez, of Greeley, Colo., reacts as her daughter Patty Rangel speaks outside the offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Wednesday in downtown Denver, during a protest staged by the union representing employees at a Colorado meatpacking plant where six workers died of COVID-19. Rangel, who works as a nurse, cared for her father, Saul, who worked for decades at the JBS plant, after he contracted COVID-19. Her father died from the disease in April. David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The JBS USA-owned plant in Greeley was issued a $15,615 fine on Sept. 11 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union called the fine for the multibillion-dollar company “insulting” and “ineffectual,” but JBS says it’s unwarranted. The union’s Local 7, which represents about 3,000 workers at the plant, asked co-workers and relatives of those who died and were infected to protest outside OSHA’s Denver offices.

“After seven deaths and seven months they issued a lousy, measly $15,000 fine,” local president Kim Cordova declared to several dozen demonstrators, some holding signs that read “Shame on OSHA” and “Life is cheap for JBS.”

“Fifteen thousand dollars is not going to stop them or force them to be a better and more responsible employer,” Cordova said.

Fifteen thousand dollars “doesn’t even cover one funeral,” said Rosario Hernandez, the wife of Alfredo Hernandez, a janitor at the plant who was sickened by the virus and still uses a breathing machine.

OSHA said JBS Foods Inc. in Greeley — operating as Swift Beef Co. — failed to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus. The fine followed a plant inspection in May and is the maximum allowed by law, OSHA said.

JBS failed to protect workers from getting sick and didn’t adequately compensate them for working under the risk of contracting the virus, the union said in a statement. At least 290 workers at the plant tested positive for COVID-19, the Colorado health department has said. One corporate supervisor at the facility also died.

In a statement Wednesday, JBS USA said the fine “is entirely without merit” and “attempts to impose a standard that did not exist in March as we fought the pandemic with no guidance.”

Study hints that antibody drug may reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations

A drug company says that partial results from a study testing an antibody drug give hints that it may help keep mild to moderately ill COVID-19 patients from needing to be hospitalized, a goal no current coronavirus medicine has been able to meet.

Eli Lilly announced the results Wednesday in a press release, but they have not been published or reviewed by independent scientists.

The drug missed the study’s main goal of reducing the amount of virus patients had after 11 days, except at the middle of three doses being tested. However, most study participants, even those given a placebo treatment, had cleared the virus by then, so that time point now seems too late to judge that potential benefit, the company said.

Other tests suggest the drug was reducing virus sooner, and the results are an encouraging “proof of principle” as this and other studies continue, Lilly said.

The company said it would talk with regulators about possible next steps but that it was too soon to speculate on whether these interim results might lead to any action to allow early use.

“I’m strongly encouraged” by the results, said Dr. Myron Cohen, a University of North Carolina virologist. He had no role in the Lilly study but helps direct antibody studies for a public-private research group the federal government formed to speed testing of these drugs.

“This seems to demonstrate what we thought” — that such drugs would give a benefit, he said.

Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help it be eliminated. The blood of survivors is being tested as a treatment for COVID-19 patients because it contains such antibodies, but the strength and types of antibodies varies depending on each donor, and doing this on a large scale is impractical.

The drugs that Lilly and other companies are testing are concentrated versions of specific antibodies that worked best against the coronavirus in lab and animal tests, and can be made in large, standardized doses.

They are being tested to treat newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients in hope of preventing serious disease or death, and to try to prevent infection in people at high risk of that such as nursing home residents and health workers.

Wednesday’s results come from 450 people in a mid-stage study testing an antibody jointly developed by Indianapolis-based Lilly and the Canadian company AbCellera in people with COVID-19 symptoms not severe enough to warrant hospitalization. The drug is given once through an IV and was tested at three doses. Neither the patients nor their doctors knew which patients received the drug or placebo infusions.

Hospitalization or ER visits occurred in 1.7 percent, or 5 of 302 patients given the drug and 6 percent or 9 of 150 of those given placebo. The company did not disclose whether those results met scientific tests to rule out that they could have occurred by chance alone.

With a Coast Guard crew sidelined, cadets are called to fill out crucial patrol 

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Branyelle Carillo was facing the prospect of a summer marooned by the pandemic at the Coast Guard Academy in New London when she was called up for a mission: The U.S Coast Guard cutter Munro, bound for a patrol of the U.S. maritime border with Russia, had lost a tenth of its crew to quarantine and needed reinforcements.

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From back left, Coast Guard Academy cadets Henry Smith, Branyelle Carillo, Mia Haskovec, Jordan Park and Tyler Huynh, shown at the Seamanship Sailing Center at the United State Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Within two days, Carillo and 15 other students from the academy, some of whom had never been on a ship before, were part of its crew. She and 10 other second-year students, known as 3rd Class cadets, were sent to join five seniors, or 1st Class cadets, who had earlier been assigned to the cutter.

“The list came out and we just got up and went,” she said. “They just ‘voluntold’ us. It was exciting.”

The Munro had been embarking from California in late June for the patrol when one of its crew members tested positive for the coronavirus. Contact tracing resulted in 14 shipmates being ordered into quarantine for two weeks.

Capt. Blake Novak said that didn’t leave him with enough service members to sail. He came up with the idea of replacing them with cadets, having heard that much of the fleet was canceling internships and summer shadowing opportunities because of the pandemic.

“We were the only option to be up there and patrolling; there was no backup option,” Novak said. “I needed to be there.”

The cadets, tested and coronavirus-free, took over the menial jobs on the 418-foot Munro, such as washing dishes and cleaning its small boats.

But they also became qualified to handle the ship’s lines, become lookouts and perform safety duties such as firefighting. They received initial training in how to steer the cutter at the helm.

The cadets helped launch the boats that boarded fishing vessels, kept an eye out for Russians and were charged with preventing the ship from running into the pods of orcas and other whales they would spot along the way.

“There was this one time we were doing a boarding and there was a blue whale that breached out of the water, right next to the boat,” said 19-year-old Cadet Tyler Huynh, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. “I was on lookout for that. It was just so sick, but it was also kind of scary because it was so close.”

The cadets spent 52 days at sea, traveling from the Arctic Circle to Hawaii to participate in naval exercises. They explored an uninhabited island that was filled with hot springs and spent time alongside a Russian patrol boat, communicating with it using just signal flags.

Trump calls for stimulus payments and massive relief bill, upending Republicans’ limited approach

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday called on congressional Republicans to support a massive economic relief bill that would include stimulus payments for Americans, offering a much different plan than what Senate Republicans sought to advance in recent days.

House Democrats in May passed a $3.4 trillion bill that would include new $1,200 stimulus checks for millions of Americans. But that measure never became law because the White House rejected many other parts of the bill. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to advance a bill that would exclude the stimulus checks.

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President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, in Washington. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Trump mischaracterized Democrats’ position by saying they were “heartless” for not wanting “to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China. Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway(one way or another!.)”

Congress and the White House passed the Cares Act in March, which sent $1,200 checks to millions of Americans as a way to try and contain some of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Those checks went to more than 100 million Americans, and Trump signaled on Wednesday that he wants to send another round of those checks, something Democrats have long supported.

But they have not been able to reach agreement because of other things Democrats want to put in the next relief bill, such as state aid, that the White House doesn’t support.

Senate Republicans recently sought to advance a roughly $300 billion bill that would approve more unemployment benefits and small business aid, among other things, but the measure couldn’t advance because it was blocked by Senate Democrats. House Democrats, meanwhile, are struggling to come up with a unified plan for how to negotiate with the White House after Trump keeps rejecting their proposals.

Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday said a deal might not come together until after the November elections.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., several weeks ago, said Democrats would offer concessions to their May proposal and agree to a more narrow package that was around $2.2 trillion.

Read the full story here.

Trump criticizes Biden, who is not the president, for not mandating mask-wearing nationally

Pressed by voters on his resistance to mask-wearing, Trump pivoted to attacking Biden for considering promoting a national mask mandate and then not doing so.

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a roundtable discussion with veterans, Tuesday, Sept. 15, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

“They never did it. … He didn’t do it; he never did it,” Trump said of Biden, who isn’t president, at an ABC News town hall Tuesday.

Trump then claimed “there are people that don’t think masks are good,” despite the widespread consensus among public health experts that wearing them dramatically reduces the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Asked by moderator George Stephanopoulos who exactly doesn’t think masks are good, Trump cited “waiters,” saying they touch their masks and touch the plates. “That can’t be good,” he said.

Trump refused for much of the pandemic to recommend that people wear masks, leaving it to states and localities to set those policies. He has worn a mask publicly only a few times and continues to hold large events where mask-wearing is not required.

‘Most’ of LSU’s football team has contracted coronavirus, coach says

Louisiana State University football coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday that “most” of the team’s 105 players had contracted the coronavirus at some point in the season, suggesting that they may have the antibodies necessary for immunity and will be unlikely to be miss out on future games.

“Not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it,” Orgeron told reporters. “So I think that hopefully they won’t catch it again, and hopefully they’re not out for games.”

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Louisiana State University football coach Ed Orgeron reacts to a touchdown during a 2019 matchup against Alabama. Associated Press/John Bazemore

Orgeron later said that he did not know the exact percentage of players who had tested positive for the coronavirus, and the university has not made testing data for athletes publicly available. Last month, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported that most of the team’s offensive line had been placed in quarantine due to either positive test results or potential exposure. During June preseason training, Sports Illustrated reported that at least 30 players were quarantined due to an outbreak linked to local bars.

“I’m not a doctor,” Orgeron said Tuesday. “I think they have that 90-day window, so most of the players that have caught it, we do feel like they’ll be eligible for games.”

Some studies have found that coronavirus antibodies last for approximately three months, or 90 days, but the science remains unsettled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that patients who have contracted the coronavirus do not need to self-isolate if they are exposed to the virus again within three months of recovering. But the CDC has also emphasized that people should not assume they are immune for the duration of the three-month period.

Orgeron had pushed for college football to resume in the fall despite the pandemic, telling Vice President Pence at a July roundtable, “I don’t think we can take this away from these players, take this away from our state and our country. We need football.”

India drug maker, Russia agree on virus doses

NEW DELHI — An Indian pharmaceutical company and Russia’s sovereign wealth fund have agreed to distribute 100 million doses of the Russia’s experimental Sputnik V vaccine in India.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) says it had paired with Indian company Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. The pharmaceutical company will be conducting phase three trials in India to meet the country’s regulatory requirements.

Press secretary Arseniy Palagin confirmed the 100 million doses of the experimental vaccine were meant for “population wide use” as long as they met regulatory requirements and clinical trials were successful.

Palagin confirmed RDIF was in talks with several Indian companies for manufacturing the vaccine.

Indian officials said last week that Russia had asked for assistance for the vaccine to be manufactured by Indian companies and the government was facilitating this.

Dr. V.K. Paul, who heads a government task force on vaccines, has called a partnership with Russia a “win-win for India and the world.”

Madrid to lockdown areas of the capital with high number of cases

MADRID — The Spanish capital will introduce selective lockdowns in urban areas where the coronavirus is spreading faster.

Deputy regional health chief Antonio Zapatero says the measures will most likely affect southern, working-class neighborhoods of Madrid where infection rates have been steadily soaring since August.

Zapatero says Madrid wants to “flatten the curve before the arrival of autumn and the complications that cold weather could bring,” adding that the measures to be taken will be decided by this weekend.

Madrid and its surrounding region of 6.6 million people have accounted for nearly one third of Spain’s new cases, which have averaged 8,200 per day for the past week.

Overall, Spain has more than 600,000 cases and just over 30,000 deaths.

British government admits its testing is flawed months after promising ‘world beating’ service

LONDON — Justice Secretary Robert Buckland admitted Wednesday that the British government faces “real challenges” to get its widely scrutinized test-and-trace system working successfully, adding that officials would do “whatever it takes” to provide people with better access to testing, amid the threat of a second outbreak of the coronavirus.

Buckland’s comments come as thousands reported having to travel hundreds of miles to test centers, while others have been denied access or had hours of lining up for tests.

An investigation by national radio station LBC this week revealed that there were no tests available in any of England’s top 10 virus hot spots, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing that a “world beating” service would be available by June.

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A coronavirus testing facility in Sutton Coldfield, England. Jacob King/Assocaited Press

Some swabs are being sent to be processed in Italy and Germany because of the strain on the system, British media reported this week.

Buckland told Sky News that laboratories across the country had been inundated and that “capacity has been an issue,” but echoed recent remarks by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said Tuesday that some groups may need to be prioritized to deal with demand on the system, including care homes and hospitals.

Buckland said schoolchildren and parents would be next in line for testing.

Hancock sparked further criticism last week by saying that people who are not experiencing symptoms should not request tests, estimating that about 25 percent of those seeking swabs were “not eligible.” He cited schools in particular that wanted to be tested.

Some opposition Labour Party lawmakers swiftly pointed out that officials and scientists had recently blamed young and often asymptomatic people for spreading the virus that has claimed more than 41,700 lives in the country.

Seoul sees a leveling off of new cases

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally has stayed below 200 for two weeks, but the government is urging people not to lower their guard.

Authorities say the 113 cases added in the last 24 hours took the country’s total to 22,504 and 367 confirmed deaths.

Eighty-one were in the Seoul metropolitan area, the heart of a recent viral resurgence.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip called on people to refrain from having unnecessary gatherings and visiting crowded places.

UN head calls for global cooperation in distribution of vaccine

UNITED NATIONS — The new president of the U.N. General Assembly is warning that unilateralism will only strengthen the COVID-19 pandemic and is calling for a new commitment to global cooperation including on the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Turkish diplomat and politician Volkan Bozkir, who took over the reins of the 193-member world body on Tuesday, announced that the General Assembly will hold a high-level special session on the COVID-19 pandemic in early November, though diplomats said the date may slip.

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United Nations General Assembly President-elect Volkan Bozkir at a press conference in Pakistan in August. Associated Press/Anjum Naveed

Bozkir takes over from outgoing General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, who presided over a unique year-old session that he said was “defined by a pandemic” and included virtual meetings and new voting procedures.

Bozkir told diplomats from U.N. member nations, seated at socially distanced spaces in the assembly chamber, that “confronting the effects of the coronavirus in all their dimensions will be an overarching priority for my presidency.”

He said “no state can combat this pandemic alone,” and it is the members’ responsibility “to strengthen people’s faith in multilateral cooperation and international institutions, with the U.N. at their center.”

 


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