MISSION, Kan. — The coronavirus positivity rate in Kansas has topped 20 percent, among the highest in the country.

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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly plans to speak with House and Senate leadership to work toward a bipartisan mask requirement with more teeth, as the state’s coronavirus positivity rate is the highest in the nation. Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via Associated Press

The 14-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Kansas rose from 15.04 percent on Oct. 7 to 20.64 percent on Wednesday, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day average for new cases was a record 757 on Wednesday, with many cases in rural parts of the state.

More than 90 of the state’s 105 counties have opted out of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask order. She plans to speak with House and Senate leadership to work toward a bipartisan mask requirement with more teeth.

The state’s top public health official, Dr. Lee Norman, this month blamed the state’s worsening numbers on residents’ refusal to consistently follow public health guidelines for mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding large public gatherings.

Some lawmakers have resisted imposing statewide restrictions, wanting the decisions left to local officials. Kelly says there will be legislative challenges, but the research is clear: Masks work.

Virus could deplete Social Security funds by 2030, report says

The Social Security trust fund could be depleted by 2030, five years earlier than the official government estimate before the coronavirus hit, because of the recession and long-term near-zero interest rates triggered by the pandemic.

The trust fund that pays retirement benefits would run out in a decade if the current economic downturn is as severe as the recession following the 2008 financial crisis, the Bipartisan Policy Center said in a report issued Thursday. Even under the most optimistic economic projections, the fund could run out of money by 2034, the report said.

“If policymakers fail to address Social Security’s financial imbalance soon, they will be left with only drastic solutions or financing a portion of promised retirement benefits through general revenues,” according to the report. “Tax increases will be sharper, benefit cuts will be more severe, and the cohorts of workers who bear these changes will have less time to plan their finances accordingly.”

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Trays of printed social security checks wait to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Management services facility in Philadelphia. AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower, File

Prior to the pandemic, the Social Security Administration had estimated the the Social Security trust fund would be depleted by 2035. At that point, payroll taxes and other income would cover only about 79 percent of program costs, meaning that the government would need to raise taxes, cut benefits or pull revenue from other sources.

There have been several dire warnings about the pandemic’s effect on the long-term solvency of the popular retirement benefit program. The Congressional Budget Office in September estimated that the funds would be depleted by 2031.

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Q&A: Do I need to wear a mask if I’m 6 feet away from others?

Health experts recommend wearing masks in public and keeping your distance from others in most cases, but whether you should do both could depend on the situation.

“There’s no invisible force field at 6 feet,” said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spread of the virus beyond 6 feet is uncommon but more likely in poorly ventilated spaces. Some health experts say the virus can spread more easily than the agency indicates, and suggest wearing masks even in prolonged outdoor gatherings when people are more than 6 feet apart.

Other factors could also influence whether it’s best to keep your distance while also wearing a mask. When people raise their voices or pant — such as when they sing, shout or exercise — they can expel more respiratory droplets or aerosols, and send them traveling farther through the air. The longer you’re in a situation with potential for exposure to the virus, the greater your risk of infection.

“The reason this stuff is so confusing is people want clear answers, and there’s not a straightforward answer,” said Lisa M. Lee, a public health expert at Virginia Tech.

Since no protective measure is entirely effective, Lee suggests layering safeguards like masks, social distancing and hand washing.

“And your mask is your basic layer,” she said.

Getting in the habit of wearing a mask anytime you leave the house also eliminates having to decide when you should, said Bob Bednarczyk, an expert in infectious diseases at Emory University.

“It’s one less thing to worry about,” he said.

Stop wiping down groceries and focus on bigger risks, say experts

Although studies continue to show that the novel coronavirus can be detected on contaminated objects after days or weeks, a consensus has emerged among scientists that the virus is rarely transmitted through contact with tainted surfaces and that it’s safe to stop taking such extreme measures as quarantining your mail and wiping down your groceries.

“To the best of my knowledge, in real life, scientists like me — an epidemiologist and a physician — and virologists basically don’t worry too much about these things,” said David Morens, a senior adviser to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony S. Fauci.

That’s in line with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has updated its “How Covid-19 Spreads” Web page to say that “spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way” the virus is transmitted.

Although ongoing research can sound alarming — such as an Australian study published Oct. 7, which found that SARS-CoV-2 could be detected on surfaces such as glass and stainless steel after 28 days — Morens said the public should not be concerned.

Spain’s health minister says country is failing to control spread; Germany resumes panic-buying

Spain is not succeeding at controlling the spread of the coronavirus and will need to take more drastic measures to stop it, Health Minster Salvador Illa said Thursday, according to Reuters. His warning came hours after Spain became the first Western European nation to report more than 1 million cases, amid record-breaking numbers of infections in other parts of Europe.

Early Thursday, France also surpassed 1 million coronavirus cases, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, Germany logged more than 11,200 new cases in the past 24 hours, the first time that the daily tally has topped 10,000. The country’s statistical agency also reported that “hamsterkauf” — a German term for “panic-buying” that loosely translates to “hoarding purchases” — is also on the rise once again.

A worker prepares to close a bar in Pamplona, northern Spain where all bar and restaurants will be closing for 15 days. Associated Press/Alvaro Barrientos

Sales of toilet paper were up nearly 90 percent last week, compared to pre-pandemic levels, the agency said. Disinfectant sales rose by almost 73 percent, and soap purchases were up by 62 percent.

Also reporting record numbers of infections on Thursday was Ukraine, with 7,053 new cases, and Greece, with 865. Britain, Italy, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands all shattered their previous records for new daily cases on Wednesday.

Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine trial is fully enrolled, 37 percent of participants are minorities

Moderna, the biotechnology firm partnering with the National Institutes of Health to develop a coronavirus vaccine, announced Thursday that it has fully enrolled its trial, with 30,000 participants – more than a third of whom are minorities.

The coronavirus vaccine trials have been closely watched to ensure they reflect the diversity of the U.S. population at a minimum, and Moderna’s enrollment was slowed in September to recruit more minorities. A fifth of the participants are Hispanic and 10 percent are Black, according to data released by the company. People over 65, a population also at high risk for coronavirus, make up 25 percent of the study population.

“I think that we have done quite well – I think the demographics of the Moderna trial have markedly changed,” Larry Corey, a virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said in an interview last week. Corey is heading up the clinical trials under Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to speed vaccine development.

“We hope that we continue to improve upon that, this is the first trial,” Corey said. ‘There are two others in the field, and two more scheduled to go – so our journey in covid-19 vaccines is just starting.”

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine trial is also nearing completion. Pfizer’s trial, which is not part of Operation Warp Speed, has enrolled 39,862 of its planned 44,000 participants. Of those, 34,601 have received their second, booster dose.

Half the participants in both trials receive the study vaccine and half receive a placebo, and more than 25,000 of Moderna’s participants have already received their second dose.

More than half of the volunteers in Moderna’s trial are healthy and not at high risk of severe covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. But 25 percent are at elevated risk due to age and 17 percent are younger, but have conditions such as diabetes or obesity that put them in a high risk group.

Moderna has projected having early data in the next month that may show whether its vaccine is effective, but will not apply for emergency authorization until it has accumulated two months of safety follow-up on half the study participants, a milestone anticipated slightly before Thanksgiving.

Oxford vaccine trial continues amid death report

LONDON — The University of Oxford says the late-stage trial of its COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil will continue following reports of a participant’s death.

The university said it can’t comment on specific incidents but an independent review found no reason to be concerned about the safety of the Brazilian trial.

It says an “independent review, in addition to the Brazilian regulator, have recommended that the trial should continue.”

The Oxford vaccine is being developed in conjunction with the international pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Trials are underway in the United States and the U.K., as well as Brazil, to determine whether the potential vaccine is safe and effective in humans.

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Alabama’s GOP lieutenant governor called mask rules an ‘overstep.’ Now he’s tested positive for the coronavirus.

When Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) ordered a statewide mask mandate in July as coronavirus deaths surged to record levels, her second-in-command blasted the move.

“Wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing are among the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19,” tweeted Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R) at the time. “However, it’s an overstep that infringes upon the property rights of business owners and the ability of individuals to make their own health decisions.”

Now, as Alabama once again sees an alarming rise in COVID-19, Ainsworth, 39, announced Wednesday that he is among the newly confirmed cases.

Belgian foreign minister in intensive care

BRUSSELS — Belgian Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès has been hospitalized in intensive care with the coronavirus.

Wilmès, who was in charge when the first wave of infections hit the country this spring, now serves in the new government led by Alexander De Croo.

Elke Pattyn, a spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press that Wilmès is in a stable condition and conscious. She said her condition “is not worrying.”

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès, shown her on Oct. 12, Wilmès has been hospitalized in intensive care after getting infected with the coronavirus. Christophe Verhaegen via Associated Press

The 45-year-old Wilmès, who was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday evening, said last week she thought she got infected within her family circle.

Belgium, a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, has been severely hit by the coronavirus and is currently seeing a sharp rise in new cases. More than 10,000 people have died from coronavirus-related complications in Belgium.

Britain to announce help for pubs, bars and restaurants

LONDON — U.K. Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is expected to announce increased help for bars, pubs and restaurants that have seen business collapse because of COVID-19 controls.

Hospitality businesses are under pressure because the measures severely limit social gatherings, even under the lower levels of restrictions imposed on areas with less severe outbreaks. That reduces the number of people who go out for dinner or to meet up with friends, reducing income and forcing employers to lay off workers.

But most can’t take advantage of current government aid programs, which are focused on businesses that are ordered to close under the highest level of restrictions.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street told the BBC that the support programs were designed with the assumption that the pandemic would ease, reducing the need for government assistance. That didn’t happen and infection rates are now rising across the country.

The government “didn’t expect us to be in a position through the autumn where we were having a rising level of the virus to this extent, so if you look at the design of the winter economy package, at the time that seemed rational but clearly events have moved very quickly.”

After easing restrictions, South Korea sees jump in cases

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has 121 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, its first triple-digit daily jump in a week amid concerns about the country easing social distancing restrictions just last week to cope with a weak economy.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Thursday that South Korea’s caseload is now at 25,543 for the pandemic, including 453 deaths.

Hundreds of recent infections have been tied to hospitals in major cities such as Seoul and Busan. Officials are testing 130,000 workers at hospitals, nursing homes and senior facilities in the Seoul metropolitan area hoping to reduce outbreaks.

South Korea has enforced its lowest level of social distancing measures since Oct. 13, allowing high-risk businesses and karaoke bars to reopen and fans to return to professional sports.

Mexico estimates it has had over 1 million coronavirus cases

MEXICO CITY — Mexican health officials estimated Wednesday that the country has risen above 1 million coronavirus cases, though the figure includes both confirmed infections as well as suspected cases.

Officials put the country’s apparent deaths from COVID-19 at 102,293, again including cases in which patients were not tested for the virus.

The Health Department says its pandemic caseload tally has reached 1,005,938. That includes people who have displayed symptoms of COVID-19 but were not given tests or whose samples could not be processed. Test-confirmed cases total 867,559.

The agency attributes 102,293 deaths to the pandemic, adding in deceased patients who weren’t tested but had symptoms judged to be caused by COVID-19. Test-confirmed deaths stand at 87,415.

Mexico has an extremely low testing rate.


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