July 22 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Steve George, Tara John, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 3:10 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020
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10:00 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

47% of Covid-19 deaths in Florida linked to long-term care facilities

From CNN’s Rosa Flores and Denise Royal

Medical personnel work at a mobile Covid-19 testing site in Miami Beach, Florida, on July 17.
Medical personnel work at a mobile Covid-19 testing site in Miami Beach, Florida, on July 17. Jayme Gershen/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In Florida, 47% of all Covid-19 deaths are linked to long-term care facilities, according to data released by the Florida Department of Health. 

This comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the deployment of incident management teams to all long-term care facilities across the state. 

To date, at least 2,445 out of the 5,206 total reported deaths in Florida are associated to long-term care facilities.

10:08 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

US commercial labs won't be able to cope with a testing surge during flu season, Quest executive warns

From CNN's Health Gisela Crespo

People in cars line up in Pittsburgh on March 16 for drive-by Covid-19 testing. The testing is done in partnership with Quest Diagnostics.
People in cars line up in Pittsburgh on March 16 for drive-by Covid-19 testing. The testing is done in partnership with Quest Diagnostics. Gene J. Puskar/AP

US labs won't be able to cope with a surge in demand for Covid-19 tests in the fall during flu season, and time lags to process the tests will likely worsen, James Davis, an executive vice president at Quest Diagnostics, told the Financial Times.

In an interview published Tuesday, Davis said, “There is no way that PCR capacity is going to double in the next three months,” referring to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests – the most common and most accurate tests for determining whether someone is currently infected with coronavirus.

Where testing stands now: Quest said in a Monday news release Covid-19 test results are lagging by up to two weeks in some cases, as the company works to handle the increased load from surging cases. The average turnaround time for test results in priority patients is now more than two days compared to one day a week ago, the lab said.

The shortage of chemical reagents and testing machines is what is keeping Quest from being able to expand its testing capacities, Davis told FT. The Quest executive called for academic institutions and the industry to find other solutions to resolve testing problems. He added that pool testing and a blood test that detects a type of antibody early in the infection could help.

The US Food and Drug Administration on Saturday granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Quest to conduct pool testing for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, LabCorp, another prominent diagnostic company, said in a news release Sunday that it is processing 165,000 coronavirus tests per day and is delivering results between 3-5 days from specimen pickup.

Speaking on CNBC's Closing Bell Tuesday, LabCorp CEO Adam Schechter said he is also concerned about the fall, when students go back to school, and called on states to do everything they can to control the spread of the virus.

“We’re continuing to increase capacity every single week over week,” Schechter told CNBC. “The problem is that the number of tests being asked to be performed each week is growing faster than the capacity that we can build.”

9:46 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

Commercial scale vaccines for Covid-19 are already being made, HHS secretary says

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

The commercial scale vaccine for Covid-19 is already being made and the supply chain is not a concern, according to US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“This is what’s really unprecedented with President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed. We are literally making the commercial scale vaccine now, as we’re going through the clinical trials,” Azar said Wednesday on CNBC. “We’re doing that at-risk using the full power of the US government and our financial resources to do that. No one’s ever done this before.”

Azar said he is not concerned with the supply chain when it comes to manufacturing vaccines for Covid-19.

“We’re not concerned about the supply chain and it’s domestic manufacturing across the portfolio that we’re investing in,” he said.

 Azar also said that they have sufficient supplies for the vaccines once they are approved.

 “We – right at the beginning of Operation Warp Speed – worked to lock down fill-finish capacity, as well as syringes, needles and glassware, so we’ve secured that to be able to ensure that we’ll be able to vaccinate the American people once we get vaccines that are demonstrated safe and effective to the FDA’s gold standard of approval or authorization,” he said.

The partnership with the US Department of Defense is critical, Azar said, because “they bring just incredible logistics and procurement capabilities to the table for this historic effort.”

9:45 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

1,000 public health figures ask Congress to expand vote-by-mail this fall

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Liberal groups continue to press Congress to give more US election funds to states in the next coronavirus stimulus bill.  

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, released a letter on Wednesday from 1,000 “public health experts” who called on Congress to approve $4 billion for states to expand vote-by-mail and take other health precautions in November in case of another coronavirus outbreak.

The letter was signed by doctors, professors, researchers, nurses, and other health professionals. 

The letter reads:

“In order to ensure the integrity of the electoral process and protect the public health at the same time, it is incumbent on our leaders to prepare for a presidential election by mail, in which ballots are sent to all registered voters, to allow them to vote from home and ensure their health and safety in the event of a new outbreak of SARS-CoV-2.”

Some background: Democratic and Republican officials across the county have dramatically expanded mail-in voting during the pandemic, and Congress approved $400 million in March for states to use on elections. But experts say billions of dollars are needed for states to handle the surge of mail-in ballots and to deal with other pandemic-related challenges this November. 


9:46 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

Vaccines sponsored by the US government will be free or affordable, health secretary says

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar listens during a Covid-19 media conference in Rockville, Maryland, on June 30.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar listens during a Covid-19 media conference in Rockville, Maryland, on June 30. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Any Covid-19 vaccine that is sponsored by the government will be free or affordable for Americans, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on CNBC Wednesday. 

“For any vaccine that we have bought – so for instance the Pfizer vaccine – those hundred million doses would actually be acquired by the US government, then given for free to Americans,” Azar said.

He said it was the same with the AstraZeneca and the Novovax vaccine, and they continue to be in discussion about the others.

“We will ensure that any vaccine that we’re involved in sponsoring is either free to the American people or is affordable,” Azar said.

9:43 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

At least 153 coronavirus cases among US military bases in Japan

From CNN’s Junko Ogura

The United States Forces Japan (USFJ) said it will start publicly releasing numbers of “active” coronavirus cases in every military base in Japan twice weekly, according to a statement from USFJ.

 “The leadership at United States Forces Japan felt that additional transparency at the community level was necessary to accurately depict the scope of the issue,” the statement read. “Our installations are now permitted to release numbers associated with new positive COVID-19 cases.”

At least 7 new cases were reported in Yokosuka Naval Base on Tuesday and one case was reported at Camp Hansen in Okinawa on Wednesday, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases among US military bases in Japan to 153 since July 1.

Previously, infection cases among US military personnel had been reported to Okinawa prefectural government and few other municipal governments where the bases are located. 

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said during a news conference on Tuesday that the ministry plans to have Japanese workers at US bases, beginning with those in Okinawa, receive a coronavirus test. Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki said the test will begin within this week at the earliest. 

9:33 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

Here's where development of a coronavirus vaccine stands now

Researchers are continuing to work on developing Covid-19 vaccines, and several have started showing positive results.

Here's the latest on where the process stands:

  • One vaccine appears safe (but more research is needed): Early results of a closely watched Phase 1/2 trial published in The Lancet suggest a coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is safe and induces an immune response. However, researchers stressed more study is needed to know whether the vaccine protects people against the virus.
  • About the timetable: AstraZeneca told a US congressional hearing on Tuesday that it is on track to have a possible vaccine ready as early as September. But hours later, the head of the UK vaccine task force warned a possible coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be made widely available before 2021. Meanwhile, other company executives said they were aiming for early 2021.
  • Companies are moving quickly, but safely: A number of representatives from pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies testified before Congress yesterday. When asked whether the speed at which they are moving to develop a Covid-19 vaccine could influence safety, they insisted that was not the case.
  • Other results: A Covid-19 vaccine candidate being developed by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech was shown to elicit "robust" antibody and T cell immune responses in an early phase one/two study, the companies announced in a press release on Monday. That data has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal
  • How a vaccine would be distributed in the US: The US Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense announced an agreement today with Pfizer Inc. for “large-scale production and nationwide delivery of 100 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine in the United States" after it is successfully developed and approved. If the vaccine is successful and receives EUA or licensure, nationwide delivery would begin in the fourth quarter of 2020. The doses would be delivered to locations at the US government’s direction and it would be available to American people at no cost, a released said.
9:37 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

Masks and social distancing will play important role in reopening schools, CDC director says

From CNN's Health Gisela Crespo

A fleet of Broward County school buses are parked in a lot on July 21 in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
A fleet of Broward County school buses are parked in a lot on July 21 in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Johnny Louis/Getty Images

Face masks and social distancing will play an important role in reopening schools, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday.

"It's not public health versus opening the schools or the economy. It's public health versus public health. I think there really are a number of negative public health consequences that have happened to our K-12's by having these schools closed," Redfield said on reopening schools during an interview on Good Morning America.

"It's so important now to work together with school districts to figure out how they can take our guidelines and operationalize them in a practical way. And to do it in a way that is safe for those who are vulnerable, particularly the teachers and those children. … And one of the most important things is going to be the role of face masks and the role of social distancing in those classrooms," Redfield added.


9:26 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

US health secretary says Pfizer vaccine investment is “historic”

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Alex Azar, US secretary of Health and Human Services, speaks during a coronavirus briefing in Washington on June 26.
Alex Azar, US secretary of Health and Human Services, speaks during a coronavirus briefing in Washington on June 26. Erin Scott/Bloomberg/Getty Images

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called the US government’s agreement with Pfizer “historic” on CNBC Wednesday morning.

“This Pfizer one’s really historic,” Azar said. “It is a contract, an advance purchase contract, where we can acquire 100 million doses of this vaccine as early as December of 2019, of 2020 and have the option to buy an additional 500 million doses.” (Azar misspoke in the interview, first saying 2019, then correcting himself to say 2020).

Azar said that clinical data from the phase 1 trial of the Pfizer vaccine shows that it produces what is looked for in the early stages of a vaccine: “neutralizing antibodies [at] levels equal to or better than what we see in recovered Covid patients and their convalescent plasma.”

“So, really a historic agreement that President Trump led us to here,” Azar said.

The Pfizer news comes on the heels of four other major investments, Azar said. The other four investments are in AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novovax and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine from its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical.