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
29 Posts
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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.

8:59 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

At least 53 hospital ICUs are out of beds in Florida   

From CNN's Rosa Flores and Denise Royal

In Florida, at least 53 hospitals have reached intensive care unit capacity and show zero ICU beds available, according to data released by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). 

Eleven of those hospitals are in Miami-Dade County, the epicenter of the virus in the state. In the past 14 days, the county has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 patients being hospitalized (36%), in the number of ICU beds being used (46%) and in the use of ventilators (74%), according to the latest data released by the county's government.

Another 45 hospitals in the state have 10% or less ICU capacity available, per AHCA. The Baptist Hospital in Miami, for example, only has one ICU bed is available.

AHCA reports 15% ICU beds available across the state of Florida.

9:14 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

There's a "tsunami" of patients in this Texas Covid-19 hot spot

From CNN's Ashley Killough, Ed Lavandera and Kay Jones

Dr. Federico Vallejo, a critical care pulmonologist.
Dr. Federico Vallejo, a critical care pulmonologist. Courtesy Federico Vallejo

Jessica Ortiz said she and her twin brother, Jubal, were inseparable. Even when Jubal lay dead in an open casket with plexiglass over his body — out of fear he could still be contagious with coronavirus — she couldn't help but lean down and touch him at his viewing earlier this month.

Now, weeks later, she wears a necklace with his ashes.

"He meant the world," Jessica, who is from Hidalgo County in South Texas, said, remembering her 27-year-old brother. "I just wish it wasn't him."

Health experts say there's no evidence that bodies are contagious after death, but the moment speaks to the fear and concern in Hidalgo County, where health officials say Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on communities. Hospitals started reaching capacity earlier this month in the Rio Grande Valley, which has become the main hotspot in Texas.

"It's a tsunami what we're seeing right now," said Dr. Federico Vallejo, a critical care pulmonologist. Vallejo said he's treating nearly 50 to 60 patients a day. Sometimes he takes care of 70. Normally, a critical care doctor sees about 15 to 20 patients during a rotation for a critical care doctor, according to Vallejo.

Vallejo said walking through the hallways at the hospital is a "massive shock," and he worries about the mental health of his colleagues who are overwhelmed with the sheer number of patients. "It's not easy to handle something like this."

The situation has grown so dire that Hidalgo County officials threatened this week to criminally prosecute people who don't quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19. Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued a shelter-at-home order for all residents starting Wednesday.

Read the full story here:

8:48 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

This Virginia school district will begin it's fall with online-only classes

From CNN’s Nicky Robertson

Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, one of the largest public schools systems in the nation, has announced it will begin the school year virtually on Sept. 8. 

In a message addressed to county parents, caregivers and staff, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said they had determined that “full-time online instruction is the only safe option at this time.”  

“The pandemic looks much different now than it did even three weeks ago,” Brabrand said, “Although infection rates in Fairfax County have declined and are relatively stable, 33 percent of our employees live outside the county. The threat posed by the virus does not recognize borders or boundaries.” 

“We will reassess health conditions regularly to determine when students can begin in-person instruction, if science and data suggest it is safe to do so, “ Brabrand added. 

This is a change from the county's first back-to-school plan: The original plan for Fairfax County Public Schools was to open with two days a week in the classroom and the rest will be virtual. Parents could have chosen the option to have their children engage in only virtual learning, Brabrand told CNN’s Dana Bash.

The White House has been pushing for schools nation-wide to open for in-person teaching. 

In an interview on Fox News last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said of Fairfax County’s original plan, “What kind of family can orient their schedules around that kind of a schedule? And for kids, it’s just the wrong thing.”

8:32 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

Americans should embrace "personal responsibility" and wear masks, CDC director says

From CNN's Health Gisela Crespo

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a coronavirus briefing in Washington on July 8.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a coronavirus briefing in Washington on July 8. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that wearing masks is one of the most powerful tools to combat the spread of Covid-19, and that Americans should embrace their "personal responsibility" by wearing one.

"We're not defenseless. We have powerful tools. Probably the most powerful tool that we have is a simple face mask," Redfield said during an interview on Good Morning America. "If all Americans would embrace that as part of their personal responsibility to confront this outbreak, we could actually have a very significant impact on the outbreak that we're seeing across the country in the next four, six, eight, 10, 12 weeks."

Redfield said he doesn't think a mask mandate would work, adding that he's focusing his efforts on letting people know "they could be part of making this get better before it gets worse by wearing a face covering. And that's what I'm going to continue to do. I think we have clear data now that face masks work and we really know — the key is now how to get everybody to embrace them."

Remember: President Trump said he would not consider a national mandate on mask wearing in a new interview with Fox airing Sunday.

When asked by Fox News' Chris Wallace whether he would consider instituting a mandate, Trump responded, "No, I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don't believe in that, no."

Surgeon General Jerome Adams has echoed Trump, saying he does not think a national mask mandate is necessary. At the same time he urged all Americans to continue to wear face coverings. 

Meanwhile, a growing number of US states have mandated the use of masks and face coverings while in public. See where your state stands here.

With reporting from CNN's Nicky Robertson and Holly Yan.

1:46 p.m. ET, July 22, 2020

US government and Pfizer reach deal to produce millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

The US Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense announced an agreement with Pfizer Inc. on Wednesday for “large-scale production and nationwide delivery of 100 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine in the United States following the vaccine’s successful manufacture and approval,” according to a press release. It also allows the US government to acquire an additional 500 million doses.  

The initially produced vaccines will belong to the federal government, and Pfizer will deliver the doses in the United States if the vaccine receives emergency use authorization or licensure from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Remember: Pfizer still needs to complete a large Phase 3 clinical trial.  

“Through Operation Warp Speed, we are assembling a portfolio of vaccines to increase the odds that the American people will have at least one safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year,” Health Secretary Alex Azar said in the release. “Depending on success in clinical trials, today’s agreement will enable the delivery of approximately 100 million doses of vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.” 

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority collaborated with the DoD Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense and Army Contracting Command to provide $1.95 billion for the production and nationwide delivery of the first 100 million doses after an OK for the FDA. 

How this could play out: 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 Americans at no cost, the release says. Health care professionals could charge insurers for vaccine administration. 

“We’ve been committed to making the impossible possible by working tirelessly to develop and produce in record time a safe and effective vaccine to help bring an end to this global health crisis,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer chair and CEO said in a separate release. “We made the early decision to begin clinical work and large-scale manufacturing at our own risk to ensure that product would be available immediately if our clinical trials prove successful and an Emergency Use Authorization is granted.”

Preliminary data released in a pre-print paper this week by Pfizer and BioNTech said its Covid-19 vaccine appeared safe and elicited antibody and T cell immune responses in a Phase 1/2 trial. More research is needed. The company has said it could start a Phase 3 trial of the vaccine in late July if it receives regulatory approval.

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to indicate that $1.95 billion will be provided for the production and nationwide delivery of the first 100 million doses.

8:08 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

Brazil's president again tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Shasta Darlington in São Paulo

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro looks on in front of Alvorada Palace in Brasília, Brazil, on July 18.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro looks on in front of Alvorada Palace in Brasília, Brazil, on July 18. Bruna Prado/Getty Images

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro told CNN affiliate CNN Brasil on Wednesday that he had tested positive again for Covid-19, just over two weeks after his initial test came back positive.

Bolsonaro, who spoke to a CNN Brasil reporter on the phone, has been working in semi-isolation from the presidential residence since July 7, when he first announced he had tested positive.

He initially said he had a low-grade fever, but he didn’t come down with any serious symptoms. A long-time proponent of the controversial malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, Bolsonaro announced he was taking it and has repeatedly said he believes the drug has helped him.

The Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases, in a report published last week, urged medical professionals to stop using hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, because it has been proved ineffective and can cause collateral damage.

Bolsonaro, who spent months downplaying the virus, often strolls out on the grounds of the presidential palace to greet supporters, and has continued to do so since his positive diagnosis earlier this month.

On Tuesday, he told the crowd gathered there that he hoped his latest test, the third since becoming infected, would come back negative so he could get back to work.

Read more:

8:12 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

United Airlines passengers must wear masks at airports

From CNN's Pete Muntean

A person at San Francisco International Airport in California uses a kiosk to check-in at a United Airlines counter on July 1.
A person at San Francisco International Airport in California uses a kiosk to check-in at a United Airlines counter on July 1. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

United Airlines is expanding its mask requirements for passengers, requiring that its fliers wear a face covering in all 360 airports United serves, at every step from check-in to baggage claim. Since May, the airline had only been requiring that passengers wear a mask while on board a flight.

Now passengers who believe they have “extraordinary circumstances” preventing them from wearing a mask must get permission from the airline not to wear one. United says passengers who do not comply with updated rules could be kept from boarding a flight or banned from flying again. 

The policy goes into effect on Friday.

The move comes as the airline announced a $1.6 billion loss in the second quarter of the year — the worst loss in its nearly hundred-year history. The airline reports that it is still burning $40 million in cash each day as the coronavirus pandemic has cratered revenues by 80 percent.

Where other airlines stand: Delta Air Lines, which also require passengers wear masks starting at check-in, updated its mask policy on Monday. It is now telling customers who have a health condition preventing them from wearing a face covering to maybe reconsider flying. Those who do still want to fly will need to submit to a health consultation at the airport with a doctor provided by the airline.

Southwest requires a mask at all times. American requires a mask during the boarding process.

8:26 a.m. ET, July 22, 2020

US returns to 1,000 coronavirus deaths in a day and officials warn pandemic will only get worse

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

Nurses work on July 21 at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing site in El Paso, Texas.
Nurses work on July 21 at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing site in El Paso, Texas. Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

At least 1,000 American deaths linked to coronavirus were reported Tuesday, and the spread shows no sign of slowing down.

The harrowing death toll comes as states across the country report record-breaking numbers of new cases. More governors are making masks a requirement as overwhelmed testing labs and hospitals are raising alarm. And officials are debating whether to send children back to school.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, a quarter of all days this year have seen a US death toll exceeding 1,000.

Experts say the virus is now running rampant within American communities, and new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also show infections could be more than 10 times higher than the number of reported cases in some parts of the US. At least 27 states have hit the pause button on their reopening plans or set new restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus.

But President Donald Trump said Tuesday the pandemic is likely to "unfortunately get worse before it gets better," a prediction that's been echoed by other experts who have shared a bleak outlook on the next few months in the country.

Last week, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said the fall and winter will likely be "one of the most difficult times that we experienced in American public health."

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