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Live Coronavirus News: Global Tracker


Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, took issue on Wednesday with President Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine would be available by Election Day, as he repeatedly sought to reassure senators and the public that a vaccine would not be made available to the public unless it was safe and effective.

“Certainly, to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you and be confident they know what they are saying,” Dr. Collins told a Senate panel at a hearing on the effort to find a vaccine.

Wednesday’s hearing, before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, came amid growing concern over whether people would be reluctant to take a coronavirus vaccine, and whether Mr. Trump would apply political pressure on his administration to quickly approve one to give him a lift in his re-election bid against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

On Tuesday, a group of drug companies all in the race to develop vaccines pledged that they would not release any vaccines that did not follow rigorous efficacy and safety standards. Hours later, a leading vaccine developer, AstraZeneca, announced that it had suspended a large-scale clinical trial of a vaccine candidate after a patient experienced what may be a severe adverse reaction. Dr. Collins pointed to that development as “a concrete example of how even a single case of unexpected illness is sufficient to hold a clinical trial in multiple countries” — and evidence that “we cannot compromise” on safety.

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, echoed that sentiment.

“That’s the reason why you have various phases of trials, to determine if in fact these candidates are safe,” Dr. Fauci said, adding that such a halt was “not uncommon at all.”

At the hearing, Democrats on the panel grilled both Dr. Collins and Surgeon General Jerome Adams on the effect of Mr. Trump’s false statements about the vaccine, and whether they would erode trust in the development process. Dr. Collins demurred, however, as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, asked him point blank whether Mr. Trump’s misinformation would discourage people from taking the vaccine and hurt the effort to distribute it.

“I’m not sure I know the answer to that question,” Dr. Collins said. When Ms. Warren pressed him again, he added, “I just hope Americans will choose to take the information they need from scientists and not from politicians.”

Three companies are in late-stage, Phase 3 clinical trials that seek to enroll 30,000 Americans, half of whom will be injected with the vaccine candidate and half of whom will get a placebo.

Dr. Collins said he had “cautious optimism” that a safe and effective vaccine would emerge by the end of the year, though he added, “but even that is a guess.”

Even as the trials proceed, there are huge questions about who will get a vaccine first and how it will be distributed. Dr. Adams told the panel that the administration intended to release guidelines later Wednesday that would allow state-licensed pharmacists to vaccinate anyone older than age 3.

AstraZeneca, a front-runner company in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, on Tuesday announced a global pause in late-stage trials for its product because of a suspected adverse event.

Several individuals familiar with the event, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that an individual in Britain who was enrolled in a Phase 2/3 trial had experienced symptoms consistent with a condition called transverse myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord.

The trial’s suspension will allow an independent board of experts to determine whether the participant’s condition was linked to the vaccine or merely coincidental, said Saad Omer, a vaccine expert at Yale University.

Part of this process will include generating a timeline of the participant’s symptoms to see if they match up roughly with when the vaccine was administered. The committee will also investigate other potential causes of the symptoms, in a process of elimination. After determining whether AstraZeneca’s vaccine is a probable culprit, experts will advise the company on whether to resume their trials.

In the interim, no further doses of the vaccine will be administered. It remains unclear how long the evaluation process will take. AstraZeneca representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment and clarification.

The suspension is the second time that AstraZeneca has halted coronavirus vaccine administration in Britain because of severe neurological symptoms, according to information sheets uploaded to a clinical trial registry that was first reported by Nature News. Another participant developed symptoms of transverse myelitis, researchers reported in July, and was later diagnosed with an “unrelated neurological illness.” After a safety review, trials resumed.

Transverse myelitis is relatively rare, prompting symptoms in roughly 1,400 people each year in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Its root cause is often mysterious, although doctors believe that the syndrome generally results when inflammatory responses in the body go awry, sometimes in response to an ongoing or past infection, said Dr. Felicia Chow, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s not uncommon that we never figure out the cause,” Dr. Chow said.

There has been some past speculation that vaccines might be able to cause transverse myelitis, she added, but “there’s never been really any clear-cut, definitive proof.”

Should other participants in the AstraZeneca trials develop symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis, “that would raise these questions again,” Dr. Chow said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that the ban on indoor dining in New York City would be lifted on Sept. 30, a boost to the city’s recovery from the pandemic that would end its status as one of the few places in the nation with a complete ban.

The governor’s announcement, which would allow restaurants to open indoor tables at 25 percent capacity, could be a major milestone in the coronavirus crisis in New York City, where restaurants form a critical part of the city’s economy and its currently moribund tourist trade, and are a vital part of its usually vibrant social fabric.

The announcement came more than two months after the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio halted a plan to reopen indoor dining at restaurants, citing ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, which has killed more than 30,000 people in New York. But the infection rate in the state has been kept below 1 percent for weeks, allowing for the easing of some restrictions. Indoor dining resumed in neighboring New Jersey at 25 percent capacity last week.

“Because compliance is better, we can now take the next step,” the governor said.

The timing coincided with a date, still three weeks away, that is around when fall weather is likely to put a chill on outdoor tables. Additional restrictions would also be placed on restaurants and their patrons, including temperature checks and a requirement to wear face coverings when not seated. Bars will be used to make drinks to serve tableside and restaurants must close at midnight.

Even with the reopening plan, the restrictions in New York City will still be more stringent than other parts of the state, where restaurants are operating with half their indoor tables in use.

“This may not look like the indoor dining that we all know and love,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement after the governor’s announcement, “but it is progress for restaurant workers and all New Yorkers.”

The lungs are the coronavirus’s foremost target in the body, and it has been clear for some time that the virus can attack the kidneys, liver and blood vessels as well. About half of Covid-19 patients also report neurological symptoms, including headaches, confusion and delirium — suggesting that the virus might attack the brain.

A new study offers the first clear evidence that in some people, it does just that, in two ways: The virus invades brain cells, hijacking them to make copies of itself, and it appears to suck up all the oxygen near the host cells, starving other cells to death.

It’s unclear exactly how the virus gets into the brain or how often it touches off this trail of destruction. Infection of the brain is likely to be rare, but some people may be susceptible because of their genetic backgrounds, because of a high viral load or for other reasons.

“If the brain does become infected, it could have a lethal consequence,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who led the work.

The study was posted online on Wednesday and has not yet been vetted by experts for publication. But several researchers said it was careful and elegant, showing in multiple ways that the virus can infect brain cells.

In the new study, Dr. Iwasaki and her colleagues documented brain infection in three contexts: in brain tissue from a person who died of Covid-19, in a mouse model, and in organoids — clusters of brain cells in a lab dish meant to mimic the brain’s three-dimensional structure.

Other pathogens, including the Zika virus, are known to infect brain cells. Immune cells then flood the damaged sites, trying to cleanse the brain by destroying infected cells.

The coronavirus is much stealthier than some other pathogens: It exploits the brain cells’ machinery to multiply, but doesn’t destroy the cells. Instead, it chokes off oxygen to adjacent cells, causing them to wither and die.

The researchers didn’t find any evidence of an immune response to remedy this problem. “It’s kind of a silent infection,” Dr. Iwasaki said. “This virus has a lot of evasion mechanisms.”

Britain, undergoing a spike in new coronavirus cases, will ban most gatherings of more than six people beginning next week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday.

“I wish we did not have to take this step,” Mr. Johnson said. “As your prime minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus.”

He stressed hand washing and wearing face coverings, and said the new rule would be in place only “as long as necessary.”

He said the order, which he referred to as the “Rule of Six,” superseded old guidelines and would apply to public and private gatherings.

The government’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the uptick the country is seeing is not just a matter of testing more people and compared the situation Britain is facing to the one in France, where cases are surging.

Restaurants and other hospitality venues will also now be required by law to take customers’ personal details for contact-tracing purposes. And Mr. Johnson said there would be stronger enforcement of quarantine rules for those entering the country.

The new rules will take effect Monday and people who break them can be fined and possibly arrested.

“You must not meet socially in groups of more than six,” Mr. Johnson said. “If you do you will be breaking the law.”

About 3,000 new cases were reported on both Sunday and Monday of this week, the highest daily figures in Britain since May. And about 2,500 more new cases and 32 deaths were reported on Tuesday.

In other developments around the world:

School started this week in Detroit, where teachers had threatened to strike over safety concerns.

Less than three weeks after Detroit teachers authorized their union to strike over concerns about safety precautions in the city’s public schools, the school year started on Tuesday for the district’s roughly 50,000 students, with buildings only 20 percent full.

Administrators and the union reached an agreement late last month to limit in-person classes to 20 students each and to require that social-distancing measures be in place. But despite the precautions, 80 percent of families opted for remote learning, Chrystal Wilson, a district spokeswoman, said.

Teachers spent time on the first day showing students who attended classes in person how to wear their masks properly and to stay socially distant, Ms. Wilson said.

And there were technical problems in the virtual classrooms. Some teachers had too many students in their online classes — more than 50, in some cases — said Terrence Martin, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. Others logged on to find no students in their classes, he said.

Voncile Campbell, who is teaching math virtually at Bow Elementary-Middle School this year, said she spent much of her time on Tuesday and Wednesday helping her fourth-grade students learn how to use the district’s multiple technology platforms. She said she was supposed to teach her first real lesson on Thursday

“Is that going to happen?” she said. “I’m not sure.”

There were also misunderstandings about digital etiquette rules. One student showed up partially dressed.

“I had to ask him, ‘Could you please go put on a shirt?’” Ms. Campbell said.

A study suggests that Type O blood may provide some resistance to the virus.

Since the start of the pandemic, researchers have been searching for variations in the human genome that may influence the course of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Early studies pointed to two spots in our DNA. One of them contained a gene that determines our blood type.

But with subsequent studies, the link between Covid-19 and blood type seemed to dissolve into uncertainty. Some experts declared that the jury was still out.

Now, studying the DNA of over one million people, researchers at the consumer genetics company 23andMe have concluded that Type O blood may lower the risk of developing Covid-19.

The scientists posted the results of their study online Monday. Their findings have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

Starting in April, 23andMe scientists surveyed customers, asking who among them had tested positive for the coronavirus. Over a million people wrote back, including 15,434 who said they had done so and 1,131 who reported that they had been hospitalized for Covid-19.

The researchers asked a number of other questions on the survey to look for Covid-19 risk factors. In line with previous studies, the researchers found that men were more likely to report having tested positive, as were people of Hispanic and Black descent. African-Americans who tested positive were also more likely to have been hospitalized. Obesity, too, was linked to a high risk of hospitalization.

Like millions of schoolchildren across the country, students in Des Moines’s public schools started classes remotely on Tuesday, despite orders from the governor and a ruling by a state judge requiring the district to hold at least half of its classes in person.

The litigation in Iowa is one of numerous legal battles that have emerged across the country as school districts, elected officials, educators and parents wrangle over balancing educational needs with public health concerns. In North Carolina, a group of parents filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board demanding in-person classes.

In Des Moines, District Judge Jeffrey Farrell on Tuesday denied the school district’s request for an injunction that would allow it to continue holding all of its classes remotely amid rising coronavirus caseloads, which school officials said make their classrooms unsafe.

Despite the ruling, the district again held remote classes on Wednesday, although the school board was meeting with lawyers to discuss options. Another judge made a similar ruling Tuesday against schools in Iowa City, which also started remotely under a two-week waiver from the state that Des Moines did not receive.

Des Moines schools sued the Iowa Department of Education and Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, in August after the governor issued an order requiring schools in the state to offer in-person instruction for at least 50 percent of their classes if the coronavirus positivity rate in their communities is less than 15 percent — triple the rate recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Polk and Warren Counties, home to Des Moines’s public schools, both exceed that federal threshold. Tuesday’s ruling denied the district a temporary injunction while the lawsuit proceeds.

Despite the denial, Des Moines schools will remain closed “until further notice” in order to protect public health, even if that puts the district at risk of losing state funding, the Des Moines superintendent, Thomas Ahart, said in a statement.

Elsewhere in the United States:

Mnuchin expressed little optimism about another stimulus bill.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin raised doubts on Wednesday about the likelihood of another economic stimulus package being passed this year and said his current focus was on a measure to extend government funding this month.

The comments come as Republicans and Democrats in Congress remain far apart in their views about the scope and cost of another relief bill and as Mr. Trump has been largely disengaged from the negotiations.

Asked about the prospects of another bill, Mr. Mnuchin showed little optimism.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Mnuchin said outside the White House. “We’ll see. I hope there is. It’s important to a lot of people out there.”

He said that he had been having discussions with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about a “clean” bill to keep the government funded until after the election, avoiding a government shutdown.

Mr. Mnuchin has also been in touch with Senate Republicans about the scaled-back stimulus bill that they unveiled on Tuesday that would provide federal aid to unemployed workers, schools, farmers, the Postal Service and small businesses. The legislation, which cuts billions of dollars from the original $1 trillion Republican proposal unveiled in July, does not include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks or additional funding for state and local governments.

A vote on that bill that is scheduled for Thursday in the Senate is expected to fail to meet the necessary 60 vote threshold, as Democrats continue to push for a more robust and costly package.

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