The U.S. death toll from coronavirus has surpassed 250,000 and hospitalizations across the nation have exploded, but some governors remain unconvinced that mandatory facial coverings are necessary.
Thirty-six states have plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have some type of mask requirement. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a fast-rising GOP star, are among the headliner holdouts.
Ducey, in his first news briefing on the pandemic since Oct. 29, held a moment of silence and prayer for victims but suggested that a statewide mask mandate would not help halt the surge. He added that it is nearly impossible to participate in the Arizona economy without wearing a mask. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, responded on Twitter, decrying the Republican governor’s “lack of leadership.”
The South Dakota State Medical Association issued a statement urging a statewide mask mandate. Noem, in her first news conference to address the pandemic in over three months, was unmoved. She said cases were increasing in many states with mandates, adding that communities were free to approve localized mandates.
“I don’t want to approach a policy or a mandate just looking to make people feel good,” Noem said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 11.5 million cases and more than 250,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 56.2 million cases and 1.34 million deaths.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.
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Almost 100,000 long-term care U.S. residents have died in the coronavirus pandemic, and advocates for the elderly say tens of thousands more are succumbing to neglect by overwhelmed staffs and slow declines from isolation imposed as protection from COVID. Stephen Kaye, professor at the Institute on Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed data from 15,000 facilities, finding that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those “excess deaths” beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March, he said.
Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, disputed claims of widespread inability of staff to care for residents and dismissed estimates of tens of thousands of non-COVID-19 deaths as “speculation.”
“There have been some really sad and disturbing stories that have come out,” Gifford said. “But we’ve not seen that widespread.”
Although the COVID-19 outbreak is looking worse than ever, news from vaccine makers is fueling optimism. Normally restrained and cautious, a panel of experts convened by USA TODAY could barely contain its enthusiasm over the 95% vaccine effectiveness figures from both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. The panel judges the time on a clock that began at “midnight” with the discovery of the dangerous new virus in early 2020, and will end at “noon,” when a vaccine is freely available across the U.S. In June, the panel’s first median time was 4 a.m. For November, the time reached 9:30 a.m. with word that authorization of at least one COVID-19 vaccine is anticipated within weeks.
“That means we can begin inoculating health care and other essential workers even before we’re done with the Thanksgiving leftovers,” said Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a New York-based think tank.
Hurdles that remain: getting the vaccines delivered, get them in people’s arms, reminding people to come back weeks later for a second shot and record any problems.
– Elizabeth Weise, and Karen Weintraub
England’s University of Oxford on Thursday announced encouraging early testing results for yet another vaccine candidate. The vaccine being developed Oxford researchers and U.K.-based AstraZeneca appears to trigger a “robust immune response” in healthy adults, including those aged 56 and older, the university said in a release. The Phase II testing data is crucial for elderly adults who are among the most vulnerable to face serious illness and death from COVID-19. Phase III trials involving more than 30,000 volunteers are underway. Two other vaccine candidates, from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, have displayed encouraging results in Phase III trials.
The U.S. has become the first country to have 250,000 people die from COVID-19, nearly 19% of the global total of 1.35 million fatalities. With approximately 330 million people, the U.S. has 4.3% of the world’s population. The U.S. also has far more coronavirus infections with close to 11.5 million. India has the next most with 2.5 million.
The death toll the virus has inflicted among Americans is more than twice as large as the number of U.S. service members who died in World War I. Only two American conflicts have claimed more lives than the coronavirus – the Civil War (nearly 500,000, including non-combat deaths) and World War II (405,000), according to figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Despite the development of therapeutics that have saved an untold number of lives, the worst impacts of the virus may be yet to come. The nation is in the midst of a major spike in cases that has produced 16 consecutive days of at least 100,000 new infections and a daily average for November of more than 130,000.
Raiden Gonzalez will be turning 5 years old soon, and while he will be surrounded by love and support, he will be missing his parents. Adan and Mariah Gonzalez died months apart this year after contracting COVID-19. Both were under the age of 35. Raiden now lives with his Raiden’s maternal grandmother Rozie Salinas in San Antonio. He “just wishes he could have them back,” Salinas told USA TODAY. Her advice to those who hear Raiden’s story: “They need to take COVID seriously because it’s no joke.”
– Joel Shannon
College students are preparing to fan out across the nation for Thanksgiving, taking their possible coronavirus infections — symptomatic or not — into their loved ones’ homes. Colleges are scrambling to prevent a massive spread, with some urging or requiring students to quarantine or receive a negative coronavirus test before traveling home. Without those precautions, college leaders say, students should consider abstaining from their holiday plans and instead opt for a celebration closer to campus.
Boston University’s recommendation is that students either stay in Boston for the holiday or go home and not come back. Kenneth Elmore, dean of students, says the school is urging students to think of the greater good.
“We’ve been pushing that very hard, very strongly, to the point where we’re just on the verge of being mean about it,” Elmore said.
– Chris Quintana
As Arizona’s COVID-19 trends spike, the state is giving hospitals $25 million to bolster staffing, but Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday that he won’t impose a statewide mask mandate. In his first news briefing since Oct. 29, Ducey, a Republican, said rising COVID-19 numbers in the state mean “getting back to normal is not in the cards right now.” He also held a moment of silence, prayer and reflection for the 6,365 Arizonans known to have died from COVID-19, and their families.
But Ducey did not announce any new restrictions or requirements on Arizonans to stop the spread of COVID-19, despite increasing calls for a statewide mask mandate and other measures in recent days as COVID-19 cases in Arizona continue to climb. Ducey suggested that a statewide mask mandate would not effectively curb the spread of the virus, and emphasized that about 90% of the state is under a local mask mandate. He also said it is nearly impossible to participate in the Arizona economy without wearing a mask.
– Stephanie Innes, Lily Altavena and Maria Polletta, Arizona Republic
School officials on Wednesday announced that public schools in Denver, Colorado, are temporarily pausing in-person learning as coronavirus cases continue to spike. More than 90,000 students in the state’s largest school district will return to virtual learning starting Nov. 30 through the end of the semester.
The district reported about 13 cases per week when it first opened early childhood education centers. Cases have now surpassed 300 per week. Superintendent Susana Cordova in a statement said the district plans to bring all elementary students back into classrooms in January.
Nearly 1 in 4 Michigan households are reporting an increase in rats and mice since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to a survey by a pest management company. There are some reasons for this. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledging the nation’s pandemic-related rodent problem, points out restaurants have reduced service, which means fewer food scraps are ending up in the dumpsters on which rats and mice often feed.
And, according to Smith’s Pest Management, a California-based service that commissioned the survey via Google Surveys, our houses are the perfect substitute. We’re home more, which means we’re producing more garbage. Nationwide, 1 in 3 households report a notable increase in garbage accumulation, the Smith’s survey said. We’re also cleaning less with 1 in 4 households across the nation reporting they’re not cleaning as thoroughly as they did prior to the pandemic.
– Georgea Kovanis, Detroit Free Press
Montana Sen. Steve Daines said Wednesday he has been part of Pfizer’s trial for a COVID-19 vaccine trial, saying he wanted to help build confidence and trust for Montanans and others wondering if they should take the vaccine when it is approved. Daines, R-Mont., said in a news conference that he received a call from his mother in August, saying Pfizer was looking for people to enroll in their COVID-19 vaccine trial in Bozeman.
“Thanks to that call, my sweet wife Cindy and I decided to go online and enroll in the trial – joining over 100 everyday Montanans participating. While this was a blind trial, I have since tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies,” he said in a news release.
Pfizer and its collaborator BioNTech on Wednesday announced their vaccine is 95% effective in preventing the spread of the respiratory illness.
– Phil Drake, Great Falls Tribune
Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging Americans to “think twice” about traveling and having indoor gatherings for the holidays. During a meeting with USA TODAY’s Editorial Board Wednesday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said seemingly “innocent” family and friend dinner gatherings at home are where many of the infections are now stemming from.
“Because of the almost intuitive instinct that when you’re with people you know … and no one appears to be physically ill that it’s OK to congregate 10, 12 people for drinks or a meal or what have you, but it’s indoors because the weather is cold, that’s where we’re seeing these types of outbreaks,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explained.
“As we get into the colder weather, we should really think twice about these kind of dinner parties where you’re not sure of whether the people that are in your bubble (are safe),” he said. “Then you’re going to start seeing these unanticipated infections related to innocent home gatherings, particularly as we head into the holiday season.”
Fauci’s recommendation? He advises that each person and family unit “should make a risk-benefit assessment.”
– Sara M. Moniuszko
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press