August 18 coronavirus news

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6:53 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

South Korea suspends in-person church services in bid to prevent "nationwide epidemic" 

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul 

Public officials disinfect a church in Seoul, South Korea, on August 18.
Public officials disinfect a church in Seoul, South Korea, on August 18. Lee Ji-eun/Yonhap/AP

All in-person church services will be suspended in light of the recent virus outbreak in South Korea's capital city and surrounding provinces, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Tuesday.

In a televised address, Chung said that South Korea was at a critical crossroads, where failure to contain the current cluster would lead to a nationwide epidemic.

The number of virus cases remained in triple digits, with 246 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday. 

“On August 16, the government strengthened virus control measures, including raising the social distancing level to 2 for Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, but as the spread has not subsided and is fast, concerns are raised over the possibility of a nationwide epidemic,” Chung said. 

Seoul church cluster: Tracing congregations who attended church services is proving difficult in South Korea, Chung said, as inaccurate attendee lists made it hard to contact trace after a cluster was identified.

On Monday, Seoul's government reported a cluster of cases related to a church in the city. More than 450 people linked to the Sarang-jeil church have tested positive for the virus, authorities said. 

Chung said that church members are spread throughout the country increasing "the possibility of transmission to other districts."

Online church services would be permitted but all other gatherings and events were banned, Chung said.

Churches are among 12 high-risk venues which will be shuttered. Clubs, karaoke bars, buffet restaurants, and internet cafes will also be closed in Seoul, the neighboring Gyeonggi Province and Incheon.

The city of Seoul, Greater Seoul and the neighboring Gyeonggi Province are subject to level two social distancing restrictions, meaning indoor gatherings are limited to 50 and outdoor gatherings to 100. 

6:35 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Faster tests and "robust" immune response could help curb the pandemic, experts say

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

Faster tests combined with a "robust" immune response against Covid-19 could soon mean a slower spread, researchers said.

Tests have been delayed and in short supply as the United States surpassed 5.4 million cases, leaving many uncertain about their risk of spreading the virus. And as researchers rush to develop vaccines, they've had little evidence to tell if antibodies that protect against Covid-19 last long enough to get the virus under control.

But developments from researchers Monday brought optimistic outlooks to both fronts.

Faster testing: SalivaDirect, a test that does not require specialized supplies and can deliver results in under three hours, could be available to the public in a matter of weeks, according to Anne Wyllie, an epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health who was part of the team responsible for the protocol.

On immunity: Though many are in early stages and have not been peer-reviewed, a recent batch of studies show that humans have a "robust" immune response to coronavirus that could provide evidence that a vaccine may protect the public for more than just a short period of time, said Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

"This is very good news and it's optimistic," said Lipkin. "You know, it is a bit of blue sky that we've been looking for."

How long that protection lasts is still unclear, but the studies indicate it could last for months.

Read more:

6:03 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

It's 11 a.m. in London and 10 p.m. in Auckland. Here's the latest on the pandemic

People watch a performance at a water park in Wuhan, China, on August 15.
People watch a performance at a water park in Wuhan, China, on August 15. STR/AFP/China OUT/Getty Images

More than 774,000 people have died from the coronavirus, and more than 21.9 million cases of the virus have been reported around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Here's the latest:

Wuhan hosts massive water park party: Wuhan was ground zero in the coronavirus pandemic with the world's first -- and arguably strictest -- lockdown. Now, the central Chinese city appears to have moved on from the virus, as thousands of revelers gathered in an open air water park over the weekend for an electronic music festival -- without any masks or social distancing measures in sight.

"Critical" week for South Korea: Seoul is now experiencing the "early stages of massive recurrence" of the virus, South Korea's Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said Tuesday, as a church cluster spreads in the capital, including to other churches, medical facilities and call centers. Yesterday, Seoul's government reported a cluster of cases related to a church, with more than 450 people linked to the Sarang-jeil church testing positive for the virus. This week could be the "critical turning point" of whether the city's cluster becomes a nationwide epidemic, Kim added.

New Zealand PM hits back at Trump: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday responded to US President Donald Trump's comments calling the country's surge in Covid-19 cases "terrible." "I don't think there's any comparison between New Zealand's current cluster and the tens of thousands of cases that are being seen daily in the United States," Ardern told reporters. "Obviously, every country is experiencing its own fight with Covid-19; it is a tricky virus, but not one where I would compare New Zealand's current status to the United States."

Younger patients driving virus surge in Asia-Pacific: Several countries in the Asia-Pacific region have entered a "new phase of the pandemic," World Health Organization (WHO) officials said Tuesday. Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said that people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread of the virus. Patients in these age groups are more likely to have mild or no symptoms -- a cause the concern, as the virus becomes harder to detect early enough to prevent its spread.

Finnish PM to be tested: Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin will be tested for Covid-19 after experiencing mild flu symptoms, she announced in a tweet on Tuesday.

5:45 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Finnish PM to be tested for Covid-19 after experiencing mild flu symptoms

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in Dublin

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin attends a press conference in Berlin on February 19.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin attends a press conference in Berlin on February 19. Janine Schmitz/Photothek/Getty Images

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin will be tested for Covid-19 after experiencing mild flu symptoms, she announced in a tweet on Tuesday.

“I have mild respiratory symptoms,” Marin wrote, announcing that she’d be working from home until she was tested for the virus.

According to Päivi Anttikoski, the Director General of the government’s communications department, Marin only experienced “mild flu symptoms,” not “straight Covid-19 symptoms,” but has nonetheless been working from Kesäranta, her official residence in Helsinki, while she awaits the test.

On Monday, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare reported that “nationally, the number of new infections remains relatively low, but the number of reported cases and incidence have increased notably compared to the low figures at the beginning of July.”

A further 52 cases were reported on Monday with the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital districts reporting the largest increases, the report also said.

In relative terms, Finland has reported 5.0 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

5:19 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

UNC-Chapel Hill reverses plans for in-person classes after 130 students test positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Eric Levenson

Students attend their first day of classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 10 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Students attend their first day of classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 10 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Ted Richardson/For The Washington Post/Getty Images

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill abruptly decided it will no longer hold in-person classes on campus after about 130 students and five employees tested positive for Covid-19 in the first week since classes began.

As of Monday morning, 177 students were in isolation and 349 were in quarantine, both on and off campus. 

Most students with Covid-19 have demonstrated mild symptoms, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin said in a letter to the community.

Effective Wednesday, all undergraduate in-person instruction will shift to remote learning, they wrote. The university also expects the majority of undergraduate residential students to change their residential plans for the fall.

"As much as we believe we have worked diligently to help create a healthy and safe campus living and learning environment, we believe the current data presents an untenable situation," Guskiewicz and Blouin said.

Multiple clusters on campus: On Sunday, UNC announced a fourth cluster of Covid-19 cases on campus, defined as five or more cases in proximity. Two clusters were identified at residence halls, one at a private apartment complex that houses some students, and another among members of a fraternity.

Read more here:

4:44 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

As schools reopen across the US, teachers are exploring holding classes outdoors

From CNN's Jen Rose Smith

When students return to Augustana University in South Dakota this month, they'll find a campus transformed by Covid-19. Masks are required outside of dorm rooms; fall sports are delayed.

Many courses will be a hybrid of virtual offerings and in-classroom time. But one professor will be holding class outdoors as long as possible.

"I will be teaching my environmental studies class outside whenever the weather is non-lethal," said David O'Hara, a professor who is also the university's director of sustainability.

Now, as educators return to work amid the pandemic, that decision seems prescient.

That's because scientists believe that transmission of Covid-19 is far less likely outdoors than indoors. Maintaining physical distance can be easier outside, and infected droplets dispel more quickly in fresh air. The sun and wind, studies have suggested, may help reduce the presence of viable viruses on surfaces.

Some educators are asking if bringing students outside is a feasible way to safely hold in-person classes, which the American Academy of Pediatrics said are important for students' academic progress, mental health, safety and psychosocial development. Even the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that school administrators consider repurposing outdoor space for teaching.

Read more:

4:14 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Asia-Pacific is in a "new phase of the pandemic" with young patients driving the surge, WHO says

From CNN's Zehra Jafree in Hong Kong 

World Health Organization Regional Director for Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai addresses the media at the start of the five-day annual session in Manila, Philippines, on October 7, 2019,
World Health Organization Regional Director for Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai addresses the media at the start of the five-day annual session in Manila, Philippines, on October 7, 2019, Bullit Marquez/AP

Several countries in the Asia-Pacific region have entered a "new phase of the pandemic," World Health Organization officials said today.   

“What we are observing is not simply a resurgence, we believe it is a signal that we have entered a new phase of the pandemic in the Asia-Pacific," said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at a virtual news conference. 

Kasai added that "the epidemic is changing. People in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, are increasingly driving its spread.” 

Patients in these age groups are more likely to have mild or even no symptoms -- a cause for concern, as the virus becomes harder to detect early enough to prevent its spread.

“For example, in the Philippines and Victoria, Australia, more than half of the reported cases (are) people below the age of 40," said WHO official Dr. Tamano Matsui. "The same is true in Japan, where 65% of the infections reported from July through August are among people aged 39 and below."

Return of surging cases: This new phase may see some countries experience surges that are even larger than their initial outbreaks, Kasai said -- but after months of practice, governments are more able now to minimize disruptions and respond to the health threat.

He added that the rise of cases in younger age groups is because they are the most active members of society, and also due to better testing.

He also noted that it's "still an open question" on whether people who have tested positive can be reinfected. WHO still doesn't have any definitive evidence on immunity.

4:02 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Researchers hope this old-fashioned treatment will work for coronavirus

From CNN's Jen Christensen

A medical worker carries Covid-19 convalescent plasma from a donor at Bloodworks Northwest on April 17, in Seattle, Washington. 
A medical worker carries Covid-19 convalescent plasma from a donor at Bloodworks Northwest on April 17, in Seattle, Washington.  Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The US-based company Plasma Technologies LLC has signed a $750,000 contract with the Department of Defense to develop scaled-up Covid-19 convalescent plasma technologies, the DoD announced Monday.

It's the latest development in the effort to use a 19th century treatment to help 21st century patients.

The contract is to develop a new convalescent blood plasma process that makes more serum-derived products, and faster.

What is the treatment? Convalescent plasma is a treatment created out of blood from people who have recovered from an infection such as Covid-19.

Plasma is the liquid portion of blood containing immune cells and antibodies -- proteins the body makes to fight infection. The plasma can be infused into a sick person to help recovery.

Since the Victorian era, doctors have used this treatment to fight severe cases of the flu. The treatment has also shown success with two other deadly coronaviruses - MERS and SARS.

Does it work? Nearly 67,000 people have been infused with the treatment and nearly 14,000 physicians are using it, according to UScovidplasma.org -- but it's still not clear if it works.

Early on, a handful of small studies in China looked promising. Several studies are still under way.

Absent other treatments for Covid-19, doctors in the US have opted to use the treatment as it was still being studied.

Read the full story:

3:45 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

New Zealand prime minister hits back at Trump calling the country's coronavirus surge "terrible"

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends a news conference in the parliament building Beehive, on August 17, in Wellington, New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends a news conference in the parliament building Beehive, on August 17, in Wellington, New Zealand. Xinhua/Guo Lei via Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday hit back at US President Donald Trump's comments calling the country's surge in Covid-19 cases "terrible."

"I don't think there's any comparison between New Zealand's current cluster and the tens of thousands of cases that are being seen daily in the United States," Ardern told reporters. "Obviously, every country is experiencing its own fight with Covid-19; it is a tricky virus, but not one where I would compare New Zealand's current status to the United States."

"New Zealand's nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States' tens of thousands, and in fact does not compare to most countries in the world. I'm not concerned about people misinterpreting our status," she added.

Trump's comments: Speaking in Minnesota on Monday, Trump said: "Even New Zealand, did you see what's going on in New Zealand? 'They beat it, they beat it.' It was like front page, they beat it, because they wanted to show me something."

"The problem is, big surge in New Zealand ... it's terrible," he added.

Some context: New Zealand is currently grappling with a reemergence of cases, which came shortly after the country went 100 days with no local transmissions.

Ardern announced Monday that the country’s election would be delayed by four weeks, to October 17, due to concern over the spread of coronavirus.

New Zealand confirmed 13 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, all locally transmitted.