A leading group of infectious disease specialists Tuesday called efforts to discredit the nation’s top infectious disease expert “disturbing” while four former heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chastised U.S. leaders for politicizing the country’s Covid-19 response.
Reports of the Trump administration’s campaign to discredit and diminish the role of White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the leading voices in the country’s response to the coronavirus, “at this perilous moment are disturbing,” Thomas M. File, Jr., president of the Infectious Disease Society of America, said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“The only way out of this pandemic is by following the science, and developing evidence-based prevention practices and treatment protocols as new scientifically rigorous data become available. Knowledge changes over time. That is to be expected,” File said in his statement in support of Fauci on Tuesday.
The rift between Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and President Donald Trump widened last week after Fauci told the Financial Times in an interview that he hasn’t seen Trump at the White House since early June and hasn’t briefed him on the pandemic in at least two months.
His comments came as Trump told Fox News Thursday that “Dr. Fauci’s a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.”
“They’ve been wrong about a lot of things, including face masks,” Trump said in the interview. “Maybe they’re wrong, maybe not. A lot of them said don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Now they’re saying wear a mask. A lot of mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes.”
The Trump administration has increasingly disregarded advice from its top scientific advisors on Covid-19 with Trump himself calling the CDC’s guidelines on school reopenings too cumbersome and expensive.
The White House further tried to distance itself from and discredit Fauci over the weekend, saying “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things,” according to a statement first reported by The Washington Post. The White House pointed to comments and positions taken by Fauci early in the outbreak that have since changed.
File, of the Infectious Disease Society, said “all of America must support public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, and stand with science” if there’s any hope to ending the pandemic.
Past directors of the CDC also criticized the Trump administration of dismissing advice from public health officials in a separate op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday. Four former CDC directors wrote that the U.S. faces “two opponents” in its efforts to reopen the country: Covid-19 and politicians and others attempting to undermine the CDC.
“It is not unusual for CDC guidelines to be changed or amended during a clearance process that moves through multiple agencies and the White House. But it is extraordinary for guidelines to be undermined after their release,” wrote the former CDC directors: Tom Frieden, who served under former President Barack Obama; Jeffrey Koplan, who served under former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; David Satcher, who served under Clinton and Richard Besser, who served under Obama.
“Through last week, and into Monday, the administration continued to cast public doubt on the agency’s recommendations and role in informing and guiding the nation’s pandemic response,” they said.
The former CDC directors, while not naming Fauci, noted that that there are “thousands of experts” at the CDC who are “best positioned to help our country emerge from this crisis.” However, their advice has been challenged with “partisan potshots” that have caused confusion. The CDC and NIH are both divisions under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The rebuke from the former directors come after Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent days pressuring schools to reopen amid a surge in Covid-19 cases nationwide. Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from states that don’t reopen their schools.
Vice President Mike Pence confirmed on Wednesday that the Trump administration is looking to the upcoming phase four coronavirus relief bill as a potential way to exert leverage over schools.
“As the debate last week around reopening schools more safely showed, these repeated efforts to subvert sound public health guidelines introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk,” the directors wrote.
A sign marks the headquarters of Moderna Therapeutics, which is developing a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 18, 2020.
Brian Snyder | Reuters
Moderna will begin its late-stage trial testing a potential vaccine to prevent Covid-19 on July 27, according to a posting published Tuesday on ClinicalTrials.gov.
The trial will enroll 30,000 participants, according to the website. Participants in the experimental arm will receive a 100 microgram dose of the potential vaccine on the first day and another 29 days later. Some patients will also receive a placebo.
Moderna’s experimental vaccine contains genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA. The mRNA is a genetic code that tells cells what to build — in this case, an antigen that may induce an immune response to the virus. It became the first candidate to enter a phase one human trial in March.
In May, the company released data from its early-stage trial, which showed the vaccine produced neutralizing antibodies against Covid-19 in at least eight participants. The vaccine also produced binding antibodies in all participants.
The effort by Moderna is one of several working on a potential vaccine for Covid-19, which has infected more than 13 million people and killed at least 573,200 as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 100 vaccines are under development globally, according to the World Health Organization.
Earlier this month, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer released positive results from its closely watched early-stage human trial of a coronavirus vaccine.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
File photo of a squirrel looks out from a tree.
Matt Jonas | MediaNews Group | Boulder Daily Camera | Getty Images
A squirrel in Colorado has tested positive for the bubonic plague, also known as “Black Death,” according to local health authorities.
The squirrel was found in a town in Jefferson County, which is west of Denver, and is the first case in the region, health authorities said in a statement released Sunday.
The case comes about a week after authorities in a city in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia issued a warning after a hospital reported a case of suspected bubonic plague in a human. There were at least four reported cases of plague in people from Inner Mongolia late last year, according to the New York Times. Two of them were pneumonic plague, a deadlier variant of plague.
The bubonic plague, infamous for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages, is an often fatal disease caused by bacteria. Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms may high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes. The disease can cause serious illness or death without proper treatment, according to the CDC. Antibiotics are effective in treating it.
Plague is found on most continents but most human cases since the 1990s have occurred in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
Local authorities in Colorado are asking residents to take precautions, including avoiding contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents and keeping pets from roaming freely outside. Cats are highly susceptible to plague and may die if not treated promptly with antibiotics, they said.
The new case comes as the world continues to fight Covid-19, another serious disease that emerged six months ago. As of Tuesday, the virus has infected more than 13 million people worldwide and killed at least 573,200, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has compared it to the 1918 pandemic flu, which killed around 50 million people, according to the CDC.
Gavin Newsom, governor of California.
Rich Pedroncelli | AP | Bloomberg via Getty Images
California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Monday all counties in the state to close indoor operations for a handful of businesses, including restaurants, bars, movie theaters and museums, as Covid-19 cases continue to climb.
The order comes after Newsom previously ordered these businesses to close in counties on the state’s “watch list.” The new order, which will now apply across the state, will be issued effective immediately, Newsom said. The businesses will be allowed to operate outdoors, if possible, he said.
This is breaking news. Please check back later for updates.
WHO says U.S. and Brazil accounted for half of new daily coronavirus cases: ‘Too many countries are headed in the wrong direction’
A health worker measures the temperature to a man during an operation to identify COVID-19 cases amid the Coronavirus pandemic on July 12, 2020 in La Paz, Bolivia.
Gaston Brito | Getty Images
The United States and Brazil accounted for half of the new daily coronavirus cases as countries across the globe struggle to contain their outbreaks, the World Health Organization said Monday.
The U.S. and Brazil reported 111,319 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, roughly half of all the new cases reported worldwide, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference at the agency’s Geneva headquarters.
“Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction,” Tedros said at a press conference from the agency’s Geneva headquarters.
“In several countries across the world, we are now seeing dangerous increases in Covid-19 cases, and hospital wards filling up again,” he added. “It would appear that many countries are losing gains made as proven measures to reduce risk are not implemented or followed.”
In the U.S., Covid-19 cases continued to hit record levels over the weekend with Florida reporting on Sunday more than 15,000 new cases, shattering the daily record reported by any single state. Florida now has more cases than several major nations with much larger populations such as Spain, Italy and France.
Overall, the U.S. has reported more than 3.3 million Covid-19 cases and at least 135,205 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. As of Sunday, cases are growing by 5% or more in 37 states and also Washington D.C. The seven-day average of U.S. cases is more than 59,100.
Last week, the WHO warned world leaders that the pandemic “is not under control” and is getting worse.
Tedros on Monday criticized some countries’ responses to the virus, saying their actions haven’t matched the seriousness of the pandemic.
“The only aim of the virus is to find people to infect. Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most critical ingredient of any response: trust,” he said. The virus “is going to get worse and worse and worse but it doesn’t have to be this way.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
Coronavirus deaths tick up in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona as states grapple with growing outbreaks
Medical staff wearing full PPE push a stretcher with a deceased patient to a car outside of the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on June 30, 2020 in Houston, Texas.
Go Nakamura | Getty Images
Reported coronavirus-related deaths appear to be on the rise in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and some other states that are struggling to contain rapidly expanding outbreaks, a CNBC analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University shows.
After peaking at an average of more than 2,000 deaths per day just three months ago, primarily driven by New York and New Jersey, fatalities in the U.S. have been slowly declining — falling to an average of less than 600 fatalities a day from June 23 through July 8. Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. have declined or remained relatively stable for weeks, even though cases have more than doubled since mid-May. But the daily death toll appears to be on the rise again in the U.S., epidemiologists say.
Covid-19 fatalities have steadily ticked up across the nation with the average number of fatalities a day rising over the last three straight days to over 600 on July 9, based on a seven-day average of daily reported deaths, driven by surges in several hot spots. Epidemiologists say it is cause for concern that deaths are beginning to accelerate again, even if it’s just a few days of data.
U.S. officials and the general public should have seen the rise in deaths coming, Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNBC. Deaths tend to lag new cases because it can take weeks for a patient to get sick enough to be hospitalized and eventually die.
“This was predictable. We seem to have had difficulty in this country looking a few weeks in advance,” Levitt said. “But we know the pattern that as more people get infected, more people get hospitalized and ultimately more people die.”
Florida, Texas, California and Arizona have all seen their daily death tolls rise to record highs over the past three days, according to Hopkins data.
California has reported an average of about 85 new coronavirus-related deaths per day over the past seven days as of Thursday, up more than 29% compared with a week ago, according to CNBC’s analysis of data compiled by Hopkins. The state’s Covid-19 death toll now stands at 6,859, according to Hopkins.
Florida has recorded an average of 56 deaths per day over the past seven days, up over 35% compared with a week ago, CNBC’s analysis shows. Hopkins’ data shows more than 4,000 people have died of the disease in the state so far.
On Thursday, Texas reported an average of about 66 new deaths per day over the past seven days, up more than 106% over the past week, according to CNBC’s analysis. More than 3,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the state so far, according to Hopkins.
To be sure, the fatality data is imperfect, epidemiologists say. If a Covid-19 patient has an underlying ailment, such as heart disease, and the virus worsens their condition and they die, the doctor can categorize cause as either. Elderly patients who die in nursing homes often have the coronavirus but aren’t often tested, they’ve said.
“Record keeping can be all over,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York.
The country, however, is much better equipped today to handle an influx of Covid-19 patients than it was at the beginning of the outbreak, epidemiologists said. That should help avoid the same kind of spike in fatalities that overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes in the Northeast and Washington state in March and April. Nonetheless, three epidemiologists in Florida and Texas all said they expect deaths to continue to rise for at least a few weeks.
“Our cases started to increase right around the beginning of June and now as I’m looking through, you can see that the deaths have started to trend upward a little bit as well,” said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida. “Initially, a lot of people were saying, well, it’s flat, it’s flat. And the concern there was, well, we haven’t caught up with data, and now we are starting to see that increase, which is definitely a concern.”
State officials in Florida and other states have noted that the recent surge in cases is driven largely by younger patients, which is significant because young people are less likely to become severely sick and die from Covid-19. However, the Covid-19 data shows that those infections are increasingly spreading to older, more vulnerable people, which could be driving the uptick in deaths, Prins said.
“There is more testing now than there was then, so that may account for some of this, but I think we’re seeing a true increase in cases in older adults, which makes sense given the overall large increase in cases,” she added.
The shift from younger people to older people is beginning to show up in the data, said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an epidemiologist at Florida International University. Last month, the state reported that the daily median age of newly diagnosed Covid-19 patients hit a record low of 33. On Thursday, however, the median age of newly infected people had risen to 40, according to the state’s health department.
With that median age ticking upward, both Prins and Trepka said they expect deaths to continue to rise in the coming weeks. However, Trepka noted that deaths won’t likely rise at the same rapid pace as New York City, which was hit particularly hard early on in the U.S. pandemic. Public health officials have since instituted measures to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals have improved patient care since then.
“It doesn’t appear to be the same rates as back in April, and I think health care has dramatically improved. Care providers are much more skilled at caring for people with Covid-19,” she said. “Nevertheless, with these large numbers of cases, I do think that we’re going to be seeing continuously more deaths.”
‘It’s everywhere’ in Texas
Deaths caused by Covid-19 began to increase slightly in Texas about two weeks ago, according to Spencer Fox, associate director of the University of Texas-Austin Covid-19 Modeling Consortium.
“I don’t think it’s anything unexpected,” he said in an interview with CNBC. “I think it was more so a question of when we would start seeing an uptick, rather than if we would start seeing an uptick.”
His team’s model does not predict as rapid an increase in deaths as was seen in March and April in the Northeast and some other parts of the country, he said. But hospitalizations have risen at a worrying pace, he said, indicating that older and more vulnerable people are getting infected. He added that infections in younger people was a “leading indicator” of a worsening outbreak that was bound to affect the more vulnerable populations in the state.
“This resurgence might have started in younger populations; maybe they were the first to be infected. But clearly those populations aren’t insulated from older individuals,” Fox said. “This is a real resurgence in the epidemic. It’s not limited to just younger individuals who are more likely to survive it. It’s everywhere.”
Deaths to follow
He added that his team’s model predicts that deaths will continue to increase for two weeks “at least, if not longer, depending on really how the state reacts.”
It’s difficult to get an accurate understanding of the reality of the outbreak by looking only at the national numbers, Kaiser’s Levitt said, because the progress places like New York have made in combating the outbreak offsets the worrying numbers elsewhere. He added that the death toll is an especially difficult figure to track because of differences in reporting standards across states.
He said now that there’s an observable increase in deaths, the trend is likely to continue for a number of weeks or even months as people who recently got infected fall ill, get hospitalized and eventually die.
“I think in the next week, the pattern of increasing deaths is going to become clear,” he said. “And it will no longer be possible to claim that the declining mortality is somehow a success.”
One room at a temporary hospital is viewed at the Georgia World Congress Center, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia.
Ron Harris | Pool | AP
Georgia is planning to reopen a field hospital at Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center as the state struggles with increasing hospitalizations and record-breaking new Covid-19 cases, according to Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.
The convention center first turned one of its exhibit halls into a 200-bed makeshift alternative care facility in April, but officials closed the facility in May. The state has since reported record-breaking jumps in additional new Covid-19 cases since mid-June.
According to a release from Kemp’s office, the facility will utilize state-owned equipment, such as hospital beds and medical equipment, procured through the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency earlier this year.
The state first plans to “leverage a new contract for enhanced bed capacity with a metro-Atlanta area hospital” before using the center, according to the release.
“Over the past two weeks, we have experienced an increase in cases and hospitalizations, and following a drop-off in specimens collected over the holiday weekend, we now expect a trend of higher case numbers as new results arrive,” according to a release from Kemp’s office.
The need for additional space could be a sign of a worsening outbreak in Georgia, which was the first state to begin reopening its economy in late April.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 4,484 new cases Friday, a record-breaking daily tally. Most of the state’s cases are being reported in four counties in the greater Atlanta area.
There were more than 2,300 people in the state’s hospitals with Covid-19 as of Thursday, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project, an independent volunteer organization launched by journalists at The Atlantic.
The state has reported a 43% increase in its number of hospitalizations, based on a seven-day average, compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of the data.