While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for December 3

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Vaccine approved. Britain became the first country in the world to authorize a rigorously tested COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday and could be dispensing shots within days — a historic step toward eventually ending the outbreak that has killed more than 1.4 million people around the globe.

In giving the go-ahead for emergency use of the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, Britain vaulted past the United States by at least a week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not scheduled to consider the vaccine until Dec. 10.

“This is a day to remember, frankly, in a year to forget,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

The announcement sets the stage for the biggest vaccination campaign in British history and came just ahead of what experts are warning will be a long, dark winter, with the coronavirus surging to epic levels in recent weeks in the U.S. and Europe.

Officials cautioned that several tough months still lie ahead even in Britain, given the monumental task of inoculating large swaths of the population. Because of the limited initial supply, the first shots will be reserved for those most in danger, namely nursing home residents, the elderly and health care workers.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recommended the vaccine after clinical trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers showed it was 95% effective and turned up no serious side effects. The vaccine is still considered experimental while final testing is done.

“This is an unprecedented piece of science,” given that the vaccine was authorized less than a year after the virus was discovered, said David Harper, senior consulting fellow in global health at the Chatham House think tank.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that the “searchlights of science” had picked out the “invisible enemy,” which has been blamed for close to 60,000 deaths in Britain. He said that in developing the vaccine, scientists had performed “biological jujitsu” by turning the virus on itself.

U.S. vaccine outlook. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says as many as 20 million Americans could get a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year and he believes by the spring of 2021 the country will have enough doses for every American who would like to get vaccinated.

On December 10, an FDA advisory committee will meet regarding the Pfizer vaccine. Secretary Azar said the FDA could grant authorization within days of that meeting.

“We will get that product shipped 24 hours of FDA authorization and at that point Governor Holcomb and others will tell us where they want it to go and they will have prioritized who should get it,” he said.

Moderna is about a week behind Pfizer. Their hearing will take place on December 17.

Secretary Azar said he thinks by the end of the spring of next year the country will have enough vaccine for every American who would like to have it. Along the way, millions of Americans will get vaccinated. The federal government hopes to add additional vaccines, such as AstraZeneca’s candidate, as clinical trials come to a conclusion.

On Tuesday a CDC panel recommended healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities should get vaccinated first. These are just recommendations so governors will determine who gets it first. Indiana plans to also give the first doses of vaccine to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Once there is FDA approval, Secretary Azar said they will ask an advisory committee for additional input on who should receive the next batch of vaccine.

100,000 hospitalizations. The U.S. smashed yet another COVID-19 record Wednesday, recording more than 100,000 hospitalized patients for the first time ever.

The COVID Tracking Project data showed 100,226 people hospitalized because of the virus as of Wednesday evening. Nearly 20,000 of them were in the ICU and 6,855 were on a ventilator.

U.S. hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement, recruiting students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licenses and offering eye-popping salaries in a desperate bid to ease staffing shortages.

California officials recently announced that the state could run out of ICU beds by Christmas, and Gov. Gavin Newsom warned residents that “drastic” measures may become necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

The grim hospitalization milestone comes on the same day that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to stay home during the holidays this year amid a tide of new cases across the country. Those who decide to travel despite the CDC’s warning are encouraged to get a test before and after the trip.

“The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel,” Henry Walke, who serves as the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said Wednesday. “Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing, deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase.”

The U.S. has recorded more than 264,500 COVID-19 deaths and 13,711,150 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Death rates. Nearly 37,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in November, the most in any month since the dark early days of the pandemic, engulfing families in grief, filling newspaper obituary pages and testing the capacity of morgues, funeral homes and hospitals.

Amid the resurgence, states have begun reopening field hospitals to handle an influx of patients that is pushing health care systems — and their workers — to the breaking point. Hospitals are bringing in mobile morgues, and funerals are being livestreamed or performed as drive-by affairs.

As with the first wave, the rate of infections surged well before the death toll. As we turn the calendar to December, four states seeing at least one in 100,000 residents die over the prior seven days, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are the death rates per 100,000 residents over the last week, according to the CDC.

South Dakota2.1
North Dakota1.3
New Mexico1.2
Illinois1
Iowa0.9
Michigan0.9
Montana0.9
Rhode Island0.9
Guam0.8
Indiana0.8
Minnesota0.8
Wisconsin0.8

All other states have a death rate of .6 per 100,000 or lower over the prior seven days, as of Wednesday.

Even with the recent surge of deaths in the upper Midwest, the number of deaths per capita this year still remains lower in those states than in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the states hit hardest in the initial wave of fatalities. New York state has seen 376 deaths per 100,000 so far this year. By comparison, North Dakota has lost 125 out of 100,000, according to the CDC.Couple with coronavirus arrested after boarding San Francisco flight to Hawaii 

Health officials fear the crisis will be even worse in coming weeks, after many Americans ignored pleas to stay home over Thanksgiving and avoid people who don’t live with them.

“I have no doubt that we’re going to see a climbing death toll … and that’s a horrific and tragic place to be,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “It’s going to be a very dark couple of weeks.”

November’s toll was far lower than the 60,699 recorded in April but perilously close to the next-highest total of almost 42,000 in May, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Deaths had dropped to just over 20,000 in June after states closed many businesses and ordered people to stay at home.

Staying virtual. Hamilton Southeastern Schools (HSE) announced Wednesday that Pre-K through 12th-grade students will remain 100% virtual through January 15, 2021.

According to the HSE website, the decision was made during a special of the Board of School Trustees on Wednesday, December 2.

HSE previously said all students PreK-12 will participate in 100% Virtual Instruction, effective on Thursday, November 19 through Friday, December 4.

The latest decision by the Board of School Trustees extends the ending date until January 15.

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