While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for September 9

Coronavirus

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

Here’s a look:

GOP unveils coronavirus relief package. The Senate prepared to vote this week on a trimmed-down Republican coronavirus relief package, though it only has a slim chance of passage in the face of Democrats’ insistence for more sweeping aid.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the approximately $500 billion measure on Tuesday as senators returned to Washington for an abbreviated pre-election session, but hopes were dimming for another coronavirus relief bill — or much else.

Republicans struggling to retain their Senate majority this fall have been divided, with some GOP senators in close races anxious to respond further to the pandemic, even as conservatives are tiring of all the spending and passing legislation in concert with liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

McConnell called the package “a targeted proposal that focuses on several of the most urgent aspects of this crisis, the issues where bipartisanship should be especially possible.” They included school aid, new money for vaccines and testing, and a second round of the popular Paycheck Protection Program for smaller businesses.

Democrats demanded a far larger bill, including hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, more generous jobless benefits, and help for renters and homeowners, along with other provisions in the House Democrats’ $3.5 billion relief bill that passed in May.

Uncertainty for small businesses. Some small businesses in Indiana feel uncertain headed into the holiday season.

Many are weighing whether to cut back on inventory and others could face total shutdown in a matter of days.

“I’ve been in business 12 years and we did over a million and a half dollars per year and I’m getting ready to shut the doors, possibly,” said Rick Harris, owner of Upland Management Services.

His company sets up exhibits for trade shows but those were canceled due to the pandemic.

“Since March 3, my company hasn’t made a penny, so they need to look at the companies that are completely shut down,” said Harris.

He is hoping for another round of the Paycheck Protection Program from Congress and he needs it as soon as possible. Harris runs out of money to pay his employees from his previous PPP loan this week.

Downtown streets reopening. This weekend, Massachusetts Avenue and Broad Ripple will open for traffic after months of being closed.

“The latest we expect Mass Ave to be open to motorists is this weekend,” said Hannah Scott with Indianapolis Department of Public Works (DPW). “We started out as as temporary thing.”

DPW crews began opening Broad Ripple on Tuesday before they head downtown for more work. Restaurants will be allowed to keep their extended patio spaces open with barriers into the street until Nov. 30.

In certain spots, some of these barriers extend into the road, and could become an issue for scooter riders, bikers or pedestrians trying to share the road with vehicles.

“I do worry a little bit about safety, people have grown accustomed to just walking up and down the street,” said Mark Weghorst, owner of Slapfish Seafood. “I would like to see it closed permanently, as it’s just so neat. But that’s hard to say to someone who relies on parking in front of the store.”

“We encourage bikers, drivers, and scooters that are all on the road to be safe, and keep an eye out, and be mindful of who is around you,” said Scott. “[Scooter and bike riders] should still be on the roads using those like they always are.”

COVID-19 vaccine study paused. Late-stage studies of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate are on temporary hold while the company investigates whether a recipient’s “potentially unexplained” illness is a side effect of the shot.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, the company said its “standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data.”

The IU School of Medicine is one of the sites for the clinical trial and is seeking volunteers.

AstraZeneca didn’t reveal any information about the possible side effect except to call it “a potentially unexplained illness.” The health news site STAT first reported the pause in testing, saying the possible side effect occurred in the United Kingdom.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson confirmed the pause in vaccinations covers studies in the U.S. and other countries. Late last month, AstraZeneca began recruiting 30,000 people in the U.S. for its largest study of the vaccine. It also is testing the vaccine, developed by Oxford University, in thousands of people in Britain, and in smaller studies in Brazil and South Africa.

Two other vaccines are in huge, final-stage tests in the United States, one made by Moderna Inc. and the other by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Those two vaccines work differently than AstraZeneca’s, and the studies already have recruited about two-thirds of the needed volunteers.

Temporary holds of large medical studies aren’t unusual, and investigating any serious or unexpected reaction is a mandatory part of safety testing. AstraZeneca pointed out that it’s possible the problem could be a coincidence; illnesses of all sorts could arise in studies of thousands of people.

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