Tens of thousands of cruise enthusiasts have offered to volunteer for “test voyages” that the cruise lines have been ordered to run before they’ll be allowed to resume operations out of United States ports.

And while cruise lines are so far keeping mum about what the actual test cruises will entail, requirements by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggest they’re not intended to be fun days at sea.

Still, responses so far show many sea-starved cruise fans are desperate to escape dry land.

Kelli Holder Guffey, one of the fans posting on Royal Caribbean’s volunteer Facebook page, Volunteers of the Seas, said she’d be “happy to be a test cruiser and docking there for a few days. Anything anything on a ship will make me happy.”

More than 100,000 people have clicked a sign-up link posted by Royal Caribbean International last week seeking volunteers for “simulated trial sailings” that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are necessary to perfect their COVID-19 prevention measures.

Volunteers likely won’t be lounging all day on the Lido decks if chosen. A 40-page framework outlining what cruise lines must do to get back in operation requires the simulations to include run-throughs of check-ins, evacuation procedures, on-board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues, evacuation procedures, transfer of symptomatic passengers and crew members from cabin rooms to isolation rooms, quarantining of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew members, plus lab tests of all passengers before getting on and after getting off the ships.

Read the full story here.

Death of Greek bishop revives concerns over safety of Holy Communion

THESSALONIKI, Greece — A senior clergyman in Greece’s Orthodox Church was buried Monday after dying of COVID-19, reviving a debate over the safety of receiving Holy Communion before the Christmas season.

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Priests wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus attend the funeral of senior clergyman Ioannis of Lagadas after he died of COVID-19, in Greece’s Orthodox Church, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Monday. Giannis Papanikos/Associated Press

Metropolitan Bishop Ioannis of Lagadas, 62, was an outspoken advocate of maintaining Communion ceremonies — at which worshippers are given bread and wine with a shared spoon — during the pandemic, arguing that there was no risk of transmission. His stance was backed by other church officials.

The town of Lagadas, outside Greece’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki, is a northern region experiencing the highest rate of infection in the country.

Churches across Greece are closed as part of a three-week nationwide lockdown that started Nov. 7, but are due to reopen before the Christmas period.

The Church’s governing Holy Synod said Monday that it was complying with public safety restrictions, and hit back at critics who have accused the church of acting irresponsibly.

“Certain aspiring leaders of public opinion are insisting in a neurotic manner on concentrating exclusively on Holy Communion,” a statement from the Synod said. “They cite unscientific correlations with the spread of the coronavirus, in defiance of epidemiological evidence.”

Greek health experts have mostly avoided commenting on church practices, but have noted that World Health Organization guidelines list saliva as a leading means of contamination.

Christos Giannoulis, a Thessaloniki lawmaker for the left-wing Syriza party, said the conservative government should have sought stronger support from the Church in its public health campaign.

“I do believe places of worship have contributed to the rapid spread of the pandemic though they are certainly not the only one: Add that to overcrowding on public transport, crowding outside schools, and the tragic lack of testing and we are where we are now,” he told the Associated Press.

“If the Church had been the lead advocate for wearing masks, for example, things might have been different now.”

Governors, mayors ratchet up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving

An increasing number of governors and mayors across the U.S. are ratcheting up COVID-19 restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving for fear that holiday travel and family gatherings will only worsen the record-breaking, coast-to-coast resurgence of the virus.

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On a mostly empty street, an employee of Justin’s BBQ closes up for the night in Newark, N.J., this month. An increasing number of governors and mayors are imposing restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving for fear that holiday travel and family gatherings will only worsen the record-breaking, coast-to-coast resurgence of the coronavirus. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

In states like New Mexico and Washington and cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago, leaders are ordering or imploring residents to stay home and keep their distance from others to help stem a rising tide of infections that threatens to overwhelm the health care system.

“I must again pull back the reins,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. “It gives me no joy.”

A record-breaking nearly 70,000 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Sunday, 13,000 more than a week earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Deaths in the U.S. are running at more than 1,100 per day on average, an increase of over 50 percent from early October.

The virus is blamed for more than 246,000 deaths and over 11 million confirmed infections in the the U.S.

Murphy on Monday said he is tightening the limits on indoor and outdoor crowds. The Democrat acknowledged that restricting indoor gatherings to 10 people, down from 25, will lead to frustration but said that little about this year has been normal.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stay-at-home order went into effect Monday. Only essential businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, will be open.

Washington’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee ordered gyms, bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums and zoos to shut down indoor operations. Stores must limit capacity to 25 percent.

Read the full story here.

Texas surpasses 20,000 virus deaths, second-highest in U.S.

AUSTIN, Texas  — Texas surpassed 20,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths Monday, as COVID-19 continues to surge in the United States.

That is the second highest death count overall in the U.S., trailing only New York, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University. It’s the 22nd highest per capita at 69.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks after Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the reopening of more Texas businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Monday, May 18. Lynda M. Gonzalez/The Dallas Morning News via AP

So far, Texas leaders have given no indication of forthcoming restrictions to keep people from gathering and spreading the virus. Instead, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in recent days has been emphasizing that new therapeutics and vaccines are expected to become available soon.

A state appeals court last week sided with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and lifted a local shutdown order in El Paso, where mobile morgues are being trucked in to help overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes.

Just last week, it became America’s first state to record more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. Texas also recently surpassed California, the most populous state, in recording the highest number of positive coronavirus tests. The true number of infections is likely higher because many people haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

During the summer, people with COVID-19 overwhelmed hospitals in Houston and in the Rio Grande Valley, along the border with Mexico. But in the fall case numbers dipped, and Abbott began relaxing some coronavirus restrictions, allowing restaurants and gyms to let more people inside. He also let county leaders decide if they wanted to reopen bars at 50% capacity.

Since then, the virus has spread.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 3,430.4, an increase of 53.6%.

Texas now ranks 31st in the country for new cases per capita, with 428.3 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. One in every 417 people in Texas tested positive in the past week.

Rhode Island psychiatric hospital deals with virus outbreak

WARWICK, R.I. — A state-run psychiatric hospital in Rhode Island is dealing with a “significant” coronavirus outbreak caused in part by employees showing up to work sick, authorities said.

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Shoppers walk near a social distancing arrow on a carpet in a hallway at Providence Place shopping mall in June in Providence, R.I. The mall has taken safety measures in response to the pandemic, including safe-distancing signage and hand-sanitizing stations in common areas. Steven Senne/Associated Press

The outbreak includes a dozen staff members and six patients, according to an email sent to staff Friday by Brian Daly, the chief medical officer at Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston, and obtained by The Providence Journal.

Randal Edgar, a spokesperson for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which oversees the hospital, said in an email to the Associated Press on Monday that the newspaper’s report was accurate, but did not provide additional details or updates.

“The most troubling information we uncovered in doing contact tracing is that some staff members worked even while they had significant symptoms of cold or flu-like illness,” Daly’s email said. “This means that they signed the attestation we all sign every day saying they did not have these symptoms when they did.”

The email went on to say that many patients are vulnerable and at an increased risk of having serious health complications from the illness.

Amid surge, New Jersey slashes gathering limits

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says he will be reducing indoor and outdoor gathering limits because of the COVID-19 resurgence.

The Democrat told MSNBC on Monday that he will order indoor gatherings to fall from 25 to 10 and outdoor get-togethers from 500 to 150 people. The new indoor limit goes into effect Nov. 17, while the outdoor level kicks in Nov. 23.

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Jakaya Lewis, left, waits in line with her mother Trina Ayers to get tested for COVID-19 at an urgent care clinic in Newark, N.J., Monday, Oct. 26. Gov. Phil Murphy has once again signed an executive order to extend New Jersey’s public health emergency, citing a steep increase in coronavirus cases in recent days. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The lower levels come just before Thanksgiving and ahead of the winter holidays.

New Jersey’s coronavirus levels have been spiking, which Murphy has said amounts to a “second wave.”

The average increase over the first seven days of this month reached roughly 2,135, up from about 590 cases a day in early October. The average caseload increase for the first week of September was nearly 340 cases, according to state Health Department figures.

Michigan governor ready to issue 2nd stay-at-home order

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she has the authority to issue a second stay-at-home order to curb spiking coronavirus infections if necessary.

Whitmer also called “incredibly reckless” a comment by President Donald Trump’s science adviser Scott Atlas who urged people to “rise up” against Michigan’s latest restrictions. Atlas later tweeted that he “NEVER” would endorse or incite violence.

The Democratic governor spoke a day after announcing limits amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that has led to increased hospitalizations and deaths. She has urged the public to “double down” with precautions to avoid a shelter-in-place order like what was instituted in the spring.

Under the new restrictions that start Wednesday, Michigan high schools and colleges must halt in-person classes, restaurants must stop indoor dining and entertainment businesses must close for three weeks. Gathering sizes also will be tightened.

Sweden imposes 8-person limit on gatherings

Sweden has placed a nationwide limit of eight people for all gatherings in an effort to bring down coronavirus infections. The limit takes effect Nov. 24 and will last for four weeks.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Monday urged fellow Swedes to cancel plans and stay at home because a ban is needed now more than ever to curb a record number of coronavirus infections in recent weeks that are burdening the country’s healthcare system.

Sweden had opted for a different – and much debated – approach to handling the pandemic by keeping large sections of society open.

But Lofven told a news conference that the situation will get worse and appealed to Swedes to “do your duty” and “take responsibility to stop the spread” of COVID-19.

The Swedish government said last week that it would impose a nationwide, 10:00 pm ban on the sale of alcohol in bars, restaurants and night clubs as of Nov. 20.

Fauci says Moderna vaccine news is ‘quite impressive’

WASHINGTON — The United States’ top infectious disease expert says news from Moderna that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 94.5% effective “is really quite impressive.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s “Today” on Monday that Moderna’s finding, along with similar results from Pfizer last week for its vaccine, “is something that foretells an impact on this outbreak.”

“So now we have two vaccines that are really quite effective, so I think this is a really strong step forward to where we want to be about getting control with this outbreak,” Fauci said.

Asked about the timeline for vaccinating people, Fauci projected that by the end of December, there will be doses available for people at high risk from the coronavirus.

Fauci said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have different platforms than other vaccines now in the pipeline. But he said the other vaccine platforms are using the “spike protein” of the coronavirus which has been researched very intensively, giving him hope that more than two of these vaccines will also be effective.

Moderna says early tests show vaccine could be 95% effective

A second COVID-19 candidate vaccine is offering more good news about prospects to beat back the spread of the virus. Amid a coronavirus surge in the U.S. and around the world, Moderna said Monday its shots provide strong protection against the disease.

Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from the company’s still ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own COVID-19 vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, welcomed the “really important milestone” but said having similar results from two different companies is what’s most reassuring.

If the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of Moderna’s or Pfizer’s candidates, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year. Both require people to get two shots, several weeks apart.

Moderna expects to have about 20 million doses, earmarked for the U.S., by the end of 2020. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech expect to have about 50 million doses globally by year’s end.

Read the full story here.

Greek Orthodox clergyman who refused to limit communion ceremonies dies of virus

THESSALONIKI, Greece — A senior clergyman in Greece’s Orthodox Church was buried after dying of COVID-19. Monday’s burial of Metropolitan Bishop Ioannis of Lagadas has revived a debate over the safety of receiving communion ahead of the Christmas holiday.

The 62 year-old Bishop was an outspoken advocate of maintaining communion ceremonies — at which worships are given bread as well as wine with a shared spoon — during the pandemic, arguing that there was no risk of transmission.

The town of Lagadas, outside Greece’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki, is a northern region currently experiencing the highest rate of infection in the country.

Churches across Greece are currently closed as part of a three-week lockdown introduced nationwide on Nov. 7, but are due to reopen ahead of the Christmas holidays.

The Church’s governing Holy Synod said Monday that it was complying with public safety restrictions, and hit back at commentators and critics who have accused the church of acting irresponsibly.

Virus infections in Russia hit another all-time high

MOSCOW — Coronavirus infections in Russia have hit a new record as a region in Siberia has shut down some non-essential businesses for two weeks in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 22,778 new coronavirus cases on Monday and a total of over 1.9 million confirmed infections. The task force has also registered nearly 33,500 COVID-19 deaths. The resurgence of the virus has swept through the country since September, with the number of daily new cases increasing from roughly 5,000 in early September to over 22,000 this week.

Russian authorities have said there were no plans to introduce a second nationwide lockdown, but on Monday the Siberian republic of Buryatia became the first region to close a wide range of non-essential businesses.

Buryatia authorities have ordered shut cafes, restaurants, bars, malls, cinemas, beauty parlors and saunas starting Monday and until the end of the month. Grocery stores, pharmacies and shops selling essential goods will be allowed to operate.


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