August 18 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Amy Woodyatt and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, August 19, 2020
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10:23 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Trump administration official says testing alone can't take on the coronavirus

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Adm. Brett Giroir testifies in Washington, DC, on June 23.
Adm. Brett Giroir testifies in Washington, DC, on June 23. Kevin Dietsch/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Adm. Brett Giroir, the White House coronavirus testing coordinator, said on Tuesday that he is not dismissive of testing, but that it has to be part of a comprehensive plan that focuses on other coronavirus prevention measures.

“I’m not at all dismissive of testing, testing is critically important, and it plays an important role in surveillance, particularly going back to school,” Giroir said on Good Morning America.

“The only thing I’ve been trying to say is that it’s part of a comprehensive plan,” he said. People have to wear a mask, watch their distance and wash their hands," Giroir said, “That’s the core.” 

Still, he said, there are continued investments being made in testing, and point-of-care testing will be particularly important to supporting the reopening of schools and businesses.

10:54 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Mexican health ministry says the country is "in a decreasing phase" of Covid-19

From Karol Suarez in Mexico City

Face masks are laid out for sale in Mexico City, on Monday, August 17.
Face masks are laid out for sale in Mexico City, on Monday, August 17. Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Mexico's health ministry announced what it called "good news" Tuesday morning, saying the country is "in a decreasing phase" of the coronavirus outbreak.

"The trend is clear and proves that consistently in most of the country, the new cases are decreasing, the number of deaths, there is a decrease over the past six weeks, hospital beds are being unoccupied," the health ministry said in a government briefing Tuesday morning.

On Monday, Mexico recorded its lowest number of new cases since June, adding 3,571 new Covid-19 cases. The rolling average of new daily cases, measured over the week since Aug. 10, stood at 5,700. The average has fallen steadily from an all-time peak of 7,022 on Aug. 1. However, the daily average of deaths (measured across one week) from coronavirus peaked only on Aug. 11 at 702, and has fallen only slightly since then. 

Mexico has 525,733 total confirmed coronavirus cases and 57,203 deaths from the virus.

11:02 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

UNC-Chapel Hill campus newspaper blasts leadership's response to Covid-19 in editorial

People walk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 10.
People walk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 10. Ted Richardson for The Washington Post/Getty Images

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, criticized the administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in an editorial after about 130 students tested positive for Covid-19.

"We all saw this coming. In his fall semester welcome message, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote, 'As always, remember that it is our shared responsibility to keep each other safe. Every person you walk by on campus will be counting on you to diligently work to prevent the spread of the virus,'" the editorial said.

But University leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless. Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on."

"The administration continues to prove they have no shame, and the bar for basic decency keeps getting lower."

The university on Monday abruptly decided it will no longer hold in-person classes on campus. The university will shift to remote learning starting Wednesday.

The Covid-19 positivity rate among students rose to 13.6% of the 954 students tested in the past week, and five employees also tested positive, according to the university's Covid-19 dashboard. As of Monday morning, 177 students were in isolation and 349 were in quarantine, both on and off campus.

"We’re angry — and we’re scared. We’re tired of the gaslighting, tired of the secrecy, tired of being treated like cash cows by a University with such blatant disregard for our lives," the editorial said. 

With reporting from CNN's Eric Levenson


9:35 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Here's where things stand on coronavirus around the world

A medical staff member takes samples from someone at a Covid-19 testing station in Seoul on August 18.
A medical staff member takes samples from someone at a Covid-19 testing station in Seoul on August 18.  Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images

It's 9:30 a.m. in New York and 2:30 p.m. in London, here is the latest on coronavirus cases and testing across the world:

  • Expert blasts US coronavirus response: The United States' response to the virus isn't just lacking, it's the "worst response of any major country," director of the Harvard Global Institute of Health Dr. Ashish Jha said Monday. "We didn't get here overnight. This has really been one mishap after another," Jha said. "The single factor that really differentiates us from everybody else is denialism that has pervaded our entire approach."
  • New Covid-19 test could bring fast results: SalivaDirect, a test that does not require specialized supplies and can deliver results in less than 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.
  • Seoul monitors new cluster: Seoul is now experiencing the "early stages of massive recurrence" of the virus, South Korea's Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said Tuesday. 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.
  • Cases increase in Paris: The number of daily new Covid-19 cases in the Paris region has increased to six times what it was at the beginning of the month, the French health authority told CNN.
  • 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.
  • New Zealand's prime minister hits back at Trump: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday responded to President 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."

With reporting from CNN's Madeline Holcombe

9:30 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Notre Dame reports 58 Covid-19 cases since students returned to campus

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Notre Dame University is seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases since students returned to campus on Aug. 3. 

As of Tuesday morning, 58 students have tested positive, according to the school's online health dashboard.

On Sunday alone, 15 of the 30 tests were positive. Sunday had the highest number of positive cases in a single day to date for the university.

The spike started on Aug. 10, when four out of 197 people tested positive. Between Aug. 3 and 10, there were no new positive cases. The university updates its numbers at noon every day.

The university began testing students before they arrived on campus. In that batch of 11,836 tests, just 33 tests came back positive, which amounts to 0.28%.


9:19 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Catch up: Coronavirus trends vary across the US

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

A health care worker in Los Angeles takes someone's information at a drive-in Covid-19 testing center on August 11.
A health care worker in Los Angeles takes someone's information at a drive-in Covid-19 testing center on August 11. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Coronavirus and its spread vary greatly across different US states.

Los Angeles County, a hotspot in California, has seen steady progress in the fight to curb the virus, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday. Daily hospitalizations have dropped 37% in the last month.

"We do continue to be cautiously optimistic that all the sacrifices and the hard work that we've seen across our county is working and that we're in fact back to slowing the spread," said Ferrer.

But other states are not seeing such optimism. 

Texas surpassed 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths Monday. And Florida nearly doubled the count of coronavirus deaths in just a month, bringing the total to 9,539.

However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted on Monday that the state is reporting the lowest number of cases of Covid-19 in one day since mid-June at 2,760; adding that the number of coronavirus-positive patients currently hospitalized in the state is down almost 40% since July 21.

8:35 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Do you have immunity from coronavirus once you've had it?

From CNN's Melissa Mahtani 

Months into the coronavirus pandemic the question of immunity is still unclear. As states continue to open up, schools restart in-person learning and the flu season approaches, the question of whether you can get the virus a second time is top of mind.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains what we know about this to date and the best practices going forward.


8:39 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

UK government axes England's health agency to create institute focused on pandemic response 

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite and Sarah Dean in London

The UK government has axed Public Health England (PHE) — the agency behind England's pandemic response — to replace it with a new national health institute.

The agency will be called The National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) and will be headed by conservative peer Dido Harding, who has been running England’s widely criticized National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace system.

UK media reports have likened it to Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, a federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention, which handled the country’s coronavirus response. The UK has recorded 41,454 coronavirus deaths — with the majority in England — while Germany has recorded 9,240, according to the John Hopkins University map.

NIHP will be formalized and operating from Spring 2021 but its work will start immediately “with a single command structure to advance the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to the UK government’s website.

“From today [Tuesday] it will bring together Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) under a single leadership team. This is the first step towards becoming a single organization, focused on tackling Covid-19 and protecting the nation’s health,” the government statement said.

Some background: PHE has come under repeated fire for its handling of the pandemic, including testing issues and personal protective equipment procurement problems. However, ultimately it is a government agency that reports to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Hancock announced the axing of PHE, saying the new National Institute for Health Protection "will have a single and relentless mission: protecting people from external threats to this country's health."

This includes biological weapons, pandemics and of course infection diseases of all kinds, he said.

"It will combine our world class talent and science infrastructure with the growing response capability of NHS test and trace and the sophisticated analytical capability that we are building in the joint bio-security centre," Hancock added.

He said the changes would strengthen the UK's response to the pandemic in a joined-up response and admitted "we did not go into this crisis with the capacity for a response to a once in a century scale event."

Hancock explained the institute will also work closely with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales "taking on existing UK-wide responsibilities and supporting all four."

"My single biggest fear is a novel flu, or another major health alert, hitting us right now in the middle of this battle against coronavirus. Even once this crisis has passed, and it will pass, we need a disease control infrastructure that gives us the permanent, standing capacity to respond as a nation and the ability to scale up at pace," Hancock said.

The NHS coronavirus tracing app Dido spearheaded was set to play a key part in helping the country out of lockdown, and government officials had said it would be rolled out nationally in mid-May. However, it was never launched nationally and was scrapped in a government U-turn in favor of a system developed jointly by Google and Apple in June. It is still in the trial stage. 

8:29 a.m. ET, August 18, 2020

Flu and maybe other viruses can spread via dust, study indicates

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Influenza and possibly other viruses such as coronavirus can be carried on little particles of dust that float in the air, researchers reported Tuesday.

Studies using guinea pigs showed the animals could infect one another via virus painted onto their fur. Plus, tissues soaked with virus and allowed to dry out could send off potentially infectious particles when they were crumpled, researchers from the University of California Davis and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai reported in the journal Nature Communications.

“These results show that dried influenza virus remains viable in the environment, on materials like paper tissues and on the bodies of living animals, long enough to be aerosolized on non-respiratory dust particles that can transmit infection through the air to new mammalian hosts,” the team wrote.

It's known that viruses can spread in tiny droplets of saliva and mucus known as aerosols. They can also spread from surfaces in a process known as fomite transmission.

The researchers say their findings that the viruses can sometimes spread on specks of floating fiber, animal dander and dust indicate a new method. “We call these virus-contaminated dust particles ‘aerosolized fomites,’ to differentiate them not only from virus-laden respiratory droplets that are exhaled, coughed, or sneezed into the air by an infectious person or animal, but also from the macroscopic virus-contaminated objects that are traditionally thought of as fomites,” they wrote.

"It's really shocking to most virologists and epidemiologists that airborne dust, rather than expiratory droplets, can carry influenza virus capable of infecting animals," chemical engineer William Ristenpart of UC Davis, who helped lead the research, said in a statement.

"Transmission via dust opens up whole new areas of investigation and has profound implications for how we interpret laboratory experiments as well as epidemiological investigations of outbreaks."

Wider implications: The findings don’t necessarily apply to humans, but the possibility should be tested, the researchers said. Plus, there are obvious implications for coronavirus, which, like flu, is a respiratory virus.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic in China, air sampling in various hospital locations found the highest airborne genome counts of SARS-CoV-2 in rooms where health care workers doffed their personal protective equipment, hinting that virus was possibly being aerosolized from contaminated clothing as it was removed,” they wrote.

“In light of our experiments, we conclude that the contribution of aerosolized fomites to respiratory virus transmission in both humans and animal models requires further scientific consideration and rigorous investigation.”