MADISON, Wis. — Rising coronavirus cases in key presidential battleground states a little more than two weeks before Election Day are the latest worry for election officials and voters fearing chaos or exposure to the virus at polling places despite months of planning.

The prospect of poll workers backing out at the last minute because they are infected, quarantined or scared of getting sick has local election officials in Midwest states such as Iowa and Wisconsin opening more early voting locations, recruiting backup workers and encouraging voters to plan for long lines and other inconveniences.

Confirmed virus cases and deaths are on the rise in the swing states of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.

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Voters fill out ballots during early voting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland. Tony Dejak/Associated Press, file

Wisconsin broke records this week for new coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations, leading to the opening of a field hospital to handle COVID-19 patients. Gov. Tony Evers said he plans to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to fill any staffing shortages at election sites.

While holding a competitive presidential election during a pandemic is “tricky business,” the governor said, “People are ready to have this election over, and I think it will be a successful election with very few hiccups.”

In Iowa, Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz opened additional early voting sites in and around Davenport, the state’s third-largest city, to try to reduce the number of people casting ballots on Election Day and to keep the virus from spreading in large precincts.

Read the full story here.

Thousands of travelers arrive in Hawaii on first day of pre-testing program

HONOLULU — About 8,000 people landed in Hawaii on the first day of a pre-travel testing program that allowed travelers to come to the islands without quarantining for two weeks if they could produce a negative coronavirus test.

Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to get on a plane to Hawaii Thursday morning.

“Vacation, peace of mind,” said Margos, a nurse from San Carlos, California, of why she’s flying to Hawaii. “I need time to relax, unwind.”

The new testing program is an effort to stem the devastating downturn the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy. Officials had touted the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii’s early success in keeping the coronavirus at bay.

But gaps in the pre-travel testing program coupled with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. have raised questions about whether Hawaii is ready to safely welcome back vacationers.

And when local restrictions were eased before summertime holidays, community spread of the disease spiked to alarming levels, forcing a second round of stay-at-home orders for residents and closures for non-essential businesses.

Margos ran into hiccups with getting her test. She first did it at the hospital where she works, only to find out it wasn’t an approved site for United Airlines and the state of Hawaii. She then paid $105 for a drive-thru test, but she was later informed there was an error with that test.

Margos ultimately paid $250 for a fast-result test Thursday at the airport in San Francisco, which came back negative.

Opponents of the testing program have said a single test 72 hours before arrival — especially when coupled with the option to fly without a test and still quarantine — is not enough to keep island residents safe.

White House puts political operatives at CDC to try to control information

NEW YORK — The Trump White House has installed two political operatives at the nation’s top public health agency to try to control the information it releases about the coronavirus pandemic as the administration seeks to paint a positive outlook, sometimes at odds with the scientific evidence.

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This image from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention website shows part of page for Nina Witkofsky, new acting chief of staff of the agency. CDC via Associated Press

The two appointees assigned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Atlanta headquarters in June have no public health background. They have instead been tasked with keeping an eye on Dr. Robert Redfield, the agency director, as well as scientists, according to a half-dozen CDC and administration officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal government affairs.

The appointments were part of a push to get more “politicals” into the CDC to help control messaging after a handful of leaks were “upsetting the apple cart,” said an administration official.

When the two appointees showed up in Atlanta, their roles were a mystery to senior CDC staff, the people said. They had not even been assigned offices. Eventually one, Nina Witkofsky, became acting chief of staff, an influential role as Redfield’s right hand. The other, her deputy Chester “Trey” Moeller, also began sitting in on scientific meetings, the sources said.

It’s not clear to what extent the two appointees have affected the agency’s work, according to interviews with multiple CDC officials. But congressional investigators are examining that very question after evidence has mounted of political interference in CDC scientific publications, guidance documents and web postings.

The White House declined to comment. A CDC spokesperson confirmed that Witkofsky and Moeller were working at the agency reporting to Redfield, but did not comment further.

Moeller said in an email to The AP, “I work for Dr. Redfield who is 100% committed to the science and the thousands of incredibly dedicated employees at the CDC working on behalf of the American people.”

Read the full story here.

Mid-November is earliest Pfizer will seek virus vaccine approval

NEW YORK — Pfizer Inc. cannot request emergency authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine before the third week of November – and that’s if everything goes well, the company’s CEO announced Friday.

Despite President Trump’s repeated promises of a vaccine before Election Day, scientists have been cautioning that it’s unlikely data showing a leading shot actually works would come until November or December.

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Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer says that his company won’t seek authorization for a vaccine before mid-November or December, reflecting estimates from leading scientists that it will take until then to show if any of the leading vaccine candidates work. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Another leading U.S. contender, Moderna Inc., previously announced the earliest it could seek authorization of its own vaccine would be Nov. 25.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has long said it’s possible testing might reveal by the end of October if his company’s vaccine actually protects against the coronavirus. But in Friday’s announcement, he made clear that effectiveness is only part of the equation.

The vaccine also must be proven safe. And to qualify for an “emergency use authorization,” any COVID-19 vaccine must track at least half the participants in large-scale studies for two months after their second dose, the time period in which side effects are likely to appear.

Bourla estimated Pfizer’s 44,000-person study will reach that milestone in the third week of November.

“We are operating at the speed of science,” he wrote in a letter posted to the company’s website.

How an ice hockey game turned into a ‘superspreader’ event

They ranged in age from 19 to 53, weekend warriors who likely grew up playing hockey on ponds, in youth leagues and on high school teams. Even as adults, they couldn’t leave the ice behind. Yet despite their combined athleticism and skill, they were no match for the coronavirus.

Their fateful match-up occurred on June 16 in Tampa, Fla. For 60 minutes, the 22 men took turns grunting, sweating, spitting and checking their way up and down the ice in a bid to reach a hard rubber puck and control its trajectory with a stick.

Five days later, 14 of 22 players had developed symptoms of COVID-19. A 15th person, a staffer at the ice rink, also became ill. Thirteen of these 15 people went on to test positive for a coronavirus infection. The other two were not tested.

All of those sickened appear to have been infected by a single person who didn’t develop any outward symptoms of COVID-19 until the day after he had suited up for the evening game.

None of the remaining eight players exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, so none were tested for infection. But if they had been, the documented infection rate might have been even higher.

For hockey players eager for a chance to lace up their skates, hit the ice and escape the pandemic for a while, the implications are grim.

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WHO study finds 4 drugs have little to no effect on COVID-19

GENEVA — The world’s largest randomized trial of COVID-19 treatments found “conclusive evidence” that remdesivir, a drug used to treat U.S. President Trump when he fell ill, has little or no effect on severe cases, the U.N. health agency said Friday.

The World Health Organization announced the long-awaited results of a six-month trial that endeavored to see if existing drugs might have an effect on the coronavirus.

The study, which was not peer-reviewed, found that four treatments tested — remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon — had “ little or no effect” on whether or not patients died within about a month or whether hospitalized patients recovered.

Most of those had already been ruled out. But remdesivir, an antiviral, has been classified as standard-of-care in the United States, and it has been approved for use against COVID-19 in the UK and EU. Supplies of the drug have been limited, and the European Medicines Agency is now reviewing whether remdesivir is causing kidney problems as reported by some patients.

The results of the global trial are in sharp contrast to a large study in the United States, which found remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by about five days on average.

Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Oxford University, said the WHO trial results for hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir were in line with a previous British study he co-led.

“The big story is the finding that remdesivir produces no meaningful impact on survival,” he said in a statement. He said the drug is now recommended in some countries but there have been significant concerns about supply, cost and access.

Read the full story here.

Swiss virus outbreak blamed on yodeling 

The Swiss pastime of yodeling appears to have led to a major coronavirus cluster in the country, potentially providing more evidence to back up concerns that singing heightens the risk of virus transmission.

Roughly 600 people attended two indoor yodeling shows in late September in the rural canton of Schwyz, according to Agence France-Presse. Social distancing was required, although masks were not.

Several of the yodelers later tested positive for the coronavirus, organizer Beat Hegner told Swiss broadcaster RTS.

Swiss yodelers at the International Alpine Horn Festival 2013 in Nendaz, Switzerland in 2013.

While it’s unclear exactly how many cases are linked to the events, infections have surged in Schwyz in recent weeks. Until mid-September, only about 500 people in the canton had tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, AFP reported. That number has more than doubled over the past four weeks.

Many public health experts believe that singers have a high risk of spreading the coronavirus because they tend to emit large volumes of aerosols. In the United States, a March choir practice in Washington state became a “superspreading event” that infected dozens of participants.

In Schwyz, hospital officials have asked residents to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, saying that the number of people hospitalized with serious symptoms is growing rapidly and that the health-care system will be overwhelmed if the current surge continues.

New regulations authorized Monday require masks at gatherings of more than 50 people and in other public settings where social distancing is not possible.

Cases continue to climb in Europe

BERLIN — Germany has confirmed more than 7,000 new coronavirus infections for the first time, its second consecutive daily record.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, said early Friday that 7,334 new cases were confirmed in the previous 24 hours. That compares with 6,638 a day earlier.

Until this week, Germany’s highest recorded figure was nearly 6,300 in late March, though testing has expanded vastly since then. Figures tend to peak around the end of the week, but the latest reading underlines a sharp upward trend in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, the federal and state governments agreed to toughen mask-wearing rules and make bars close early in areas where infections are high.

Germany has confirmed more than 348,000 cases in total since the pandemic began, including 9,734 deaths — an increase of 24 compared with Thursday.

MILAN — The Italian region of Campania, which includes Naples, closed schools until the end of the month as the number of infections there surged above 1,000.

Italian health officials have declared the country in an “acute phase” after the country set records for new daily cases higher than even during the March-April peak, when the death toll surged well over 900 in one 24-hour period.

The death toll Thursday rose to 83, one third of those in Lombardy, after days hovering at half that nationally.

Premier Giuseppe Conte expressed displeasure at Campania’s decision to shut schools, which opened only a month ago.

Still, other regions have urged the government to allow distance learning for the upper grades of high school to take pressure off public transport which remains a major concern due to crowding.

PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have set a new one-day record for the second straight day.

Health Ministry figures show the day-to-day increase reached 9,721 on Thursday, 177 more than the previous record set a day earlier.

The nation of more than 10 million has had a total of 149,010 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Almost 50,000 of them were registered last week. It has also seen 1,230 deaths.

Hospitals across the country have been postponing nonvital planned operations to focus on the growing number of COVID-19 patients. The government said their full capacity could be reached around the end of October.

The Czech military will start build a field hospital at Prague’s exhibition center over the weekend for 500 patients. A similar plan is ready for the second largest city of Brno, while the government is negotiating with neighboring Germany and some other countries for Czechs to be treated there if the local health system is overwhelmed.

Navajo Nation reports 31 new cases

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 31 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, but no deaths for the second consecutive day.

The latest figures bring the total number of cases to 10,819. The known death toll remained at 571.

Tribal health officials say 114,515 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

Chinese administer 10 million tests after 13 cases of virus in Qingdao

BEIJING — Authorities say they have completed coronavirus tests on more than 10 million people in the northern Chinese port city of Qingdao after a hospital outbreak there blamed on “inappropriate disinfection.”

Testing is set to continue to cover 11 million people.

Authorities say a total of 13 cases have been discovered in the city, but none since the mass testing program was launched earlier this week.

Health officials say the cluster of infections, the first locally transmitted cases reported in China in about two months, appears to be linked to “inappropriate disinfection” in the CT room at the Qingdao Chest Hospital. Officials said the possibility of community transmission outside the hospital had been ruled out.

The National Health Commission on Friday reported 24 new cases, all of them imported.

Chinese hospitals are currently treating 253 people for COVID-19, with another 381 people being monitored in isolation for having testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms or for being suspected cases.

India warns of virus danger during upcoming religious festivals

NEW DELHI — India’s new coronavirus fatalities jumped to 895 in the past 24 hours, a day after recording the lowest daily deaths of 680 in nearly three months.

The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 63,371 new cases, raising India’s total since the pandemic began to more than 7.3 million.

According to the Health Ministry, India’s average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9-15, when the virus peaked. It is recording an average of around 70,000 cases daily so far this month.

Health officials have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month.

Soutj Korea keeping a lid on new infections

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally has dropped below 50 for the first time in more than two weeks despite reports of small-scale local infections.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday the 47 cases added in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 25,035 with 441 deaths.

It’s a decline from the 110 reported a day earlier, about half of them tied to a hospital for the elderly in the southeastern city of Busan.

Health official Son Youngrae says South Korea’s caseload is currently showing a downward trend. But he says the public must stay vigilant as cluster infections have also been detected sporadically in hospitals and other high-risk facilities.

Earlier this week, South Korea relaxed its social distancing rules, allowing high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bars to reopen and spectators to return to sport stadiums.

Melbourne marks 100th day of lockdown

SYDNEY — Australia’s largest city Sydney lifted quarantine restrictions on travelers from New Zealand on Friday while the second largest city, Melbourne, marked the 100th day of one of the world’s longest pandemic lockdowns.

More than 350 passengers are scheduled to take three flights from Auckland on Friday and will not have to undergo hotel quarantine on arrival in Sydney.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: “This is great news for tourism. It’s also great news for family reunification and grateful businesses.”

New Zealand will continue to insist that travelers from Australia quarantine in hotels for 14 days on arrival.

The Victoria state government has resisted pressure from businesses and the federal government to relax a second lockdown that began when stay-at-home orders took effect in Melbourne on July 9.

Victoria recorded only two new COVID-19 cases in the latest 24-hour period. The state last recorded such a low number on June 8, with daily tallies peaking at 725 on Aug. 5.


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