August 20 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Emma Reynolds, Ed Upright and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0451 GMT (1251 HKT) August 21, 2020
25 Posts
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7:20 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

Costa Rica to allow US residents from 6 northeastern states entry next month

From CNN's Jennifer Landwehr in Chicago and Sharif Paget in Atlanta 

People arrive at Juan Santamaria airport where they are greeted by a tour operator with a sign saying "Welcome to Costa Rica, Pura Vida" in San Jose, on August 3.
People arrive at Juan Santamaria airport where they are greeted by a tour operator with a sign saying "Welcome to Costa Rica, Pura Vida" in San Jose, on August 3. Ezequiel Becerra/AFP/Getty Images

Costa Rica has announced that US residents flying from six northeastern states will be allowed entry next month to help revitalize its tourism sector, which has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Starting in September, Costa Rica will allow six weekly flights for residents from New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut, the country’s tourism minister Gustavo Segura said at a news conference on Wednesday. 

“In these six states there has been a very positive evolution of the pandemic and their epidemiological indicators are of high quality, even comparable to the same indicators in Costa Rica,” Segura said.

People entering Costa Rica must show an official identification from one of the six US states, Segura said. Travelers must also present a negative Covid-19 test result taken no more than 48 hours before the flight and have travel insurance to cover any possible medical care.

“This gradual opening is still slight, but it is a message of hope not to lose strength and to understand that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Segura said.

7:05 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

EU concludes talks to buy 225 million vaccine doses

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

The European Commission has concluded exploratory talks with German firm CureVac to purchase a potential Covid-19 vaccine, the Commission said in a statement Thursday.

"The envisaged contract with CureVac would provide for the possibility for all EU Member States to purchase the vaccine, as well as to donate to lower and middle income countries or re-direct to European countries," the statement reads.

The Commission will have a contractual framework in place "for the initial purchase of 225 million doses on behalf of all EU Member States, to be supplied once a vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19."

The European Commission "will have an agreement soon with CureVac. This is the 4th company with which we enter into an agreement," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Thursday, referring to the previous steps with Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

6:58 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

Sweden records highest death tally in 150 years in first half of 2020

From CNN's Hilary McGann

Sweden recorded its highest death tally in 150 years for the first half of 2020, according to the country’s official statistics office. 

Between January and June this year, 51,405 deaths were registered in the country -- more than 6,500 fatalities (or 15%) over the same period in 2019. 

This is the highest number of deaths in Sweden during the first half of the year since 1869, when the country was struck by famine and 55,431 people died.

The country also experienced the lowest population increase since 2005, with a surplus figure of 6,860 in 2020 that was less than half that of the previous year. 

Immigration figures also saw a reduction of 34.7% from the same period in 2019, with the figures primarily dropping in the second quarter between April and June. 

The background: Unlike most countries, Sweden did not go into a lockdown when the pandemic spread across Europe in early spring. Instead, there was an emphasis on personal responsibility, with most bars, schools, restaurants and salons remaining open. 

By early June, the country’s coronavirus death toll was at more than 4,500. According to Johns Hopkins University, it now stands at 5,802. 

6:17 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

US is seeing hopeful trends in new cases but official says that could quickly change if people aren't careful

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

It's been a devastating summer across the US with tens of thousands of American deaths recorded and millions of new coronavirus infections.

But thanks in part to safety protocols like masks and social distancing, new case trends are now "going in the right direction," said Adm. Dr. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration official overseeing US coronavirus testing.

Despite the hopeful signs, now isn't a time to let up or ease measures, he cautioned.

"This could turn around very quickly if we're not careful," Giroir said. "We saw that early on after Memorial Day and the couple weeks afterward that sort of started the current outbreak."

The surge in cases over the summer came weeks after states lifted restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. Much of the progress made during stay-at-home orders was quickly lost, officials said, as some Americans celebrated the start of summer by packing beaches and parties with little distance between them. 

It's unclear what could happen next, but experts have offered grim predictions as flu season approaches. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said the consequences of reopening the country too quickly could be devastating, noting Americans already saw what happened when states skipped over the guideposts.

Meanwhile, states across the South and West continue to report the most daily infections when adjusted for population.

Read the full story:

5:54 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

The odds of catching Covid-19 on an airplane are slimmer than you think, scientists say

From CNN's Tamara Hardingham-Gill

Sitting squeezed between strangers on board an aircraft might feel like a risky position during these uncertain times.

But according to some experts who point to the very few documented cases of in-flight transmission, the chances of catching Covid-19 while on board a flight are actually relatively slim.

Fear of flying during the pandemic has drastically reduced global air traffic, which has also been restricted due to border closures. If new scientific claims are borne out, the perceived heightened risk of boarding an airplane could be unfounded.

In one case, about 328 passengers and crew members were tested for coronavirus after it was learned that March 31 flight from the US to Taiwan had been carrying 12 passengers who were symptomatic at the time. However, all the other passengers tested negative, as did the crew members.

And while there have certainly been cases of infected passengers passing the virus on to an airplane's crew or fellow travelers in recent months, the transmission rates are low.

One explanation for the apparently low risk level is that the air in modern aircraft cabins is replaced with new fresh air every two to three minutes, and most planes are fitted with air filters designed to trap 99.99% of particles. 

Read the full story here:

5:23 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

Many leaders used Covid as cover to dent democracy. Trump may be the first to openly admit it

From CNN's Luke McGee

In the months since Covid-19 swept the globe, leaders the world over have been accused of exploiting the pandemic for political gain while laying waste to democratic norms. Few, if any, have gone as far as to reveal those plans publicly. 

A notable exception is President Donald Trump, who has openly admitted that he is trying to block much-needed funding for the US Postal Service because he wants to limit the number of Americans who can vote safely by mail in November's election. 

The reason? Trump says postal ballots will hurt his campaign, and has repeatedly made the unfounded claim that widespread mail-in voting will result in the "most fraudulent election in history."

By refusing to take steps to allow as many Americans as possible to participate in the election -- and by openly casting doubt over the legitimacy of the poll -- Trump is embracing tactics used by authoritarian leaders in countries with compromised democratic institutions, experts said.

"On one hand, he is claiming that postal voting could delegitimize the election while openly admitting that he opposes funding the post office to suppress the vote," said Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham. "It's a move from the populist playbook: blame someone else for the thing you yourself are doing."

Trump's moves come at a time when some countries are expanding the availability of mail-in ballots and other early voting initiatives in an effort to allow people to take part in elections without risking their health at polling stations. 

Read the full story here:


4:58 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

FDA warns about UV lights to disinfect coronavirus and other germs

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Lamps that use ultraviolet light to kill germs can inactivate coronavirus, but they are not all safe and it is not clear how good a job they do at killing the virus, the US Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

The FDA said ultraviolet-C (UVC) wavelengths are better than UVA and UVB light at destroying viruses, but UVC lamps still have their limits.

“The effectiveness of UVC lamps in inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus is unknown because there is limited published data about the wavelength, dose, and duration of UVC radiation required to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the FDA said in a newly posted statement.

 Plus the lamps only work in limited circumstances. 

“It is important to recognize that, generally, UVC cannot inactivate a virus or bacterium if it is not directly exposed to UVC. In other words, the virus or bacterium will not be inactivated if it is covered by dust or soil, embedded in porous surface or on the underside of a surface,” the FDA said. 

There’s been an explosion of products on offer to fight coronavirus, including germicidal lamps. The World Health Organization warns against trying to use them to disinfect human skin, including the hands.

In addition, some UVC lamps generate ozone, which can irritate airways.

“Some UVC lamps contain mercury. Because mercury is toxic even in small amounts, extreme caution is needed in cleaning a lamp that has broken and in disposing of the lamp," the FDA added.

4:33 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

Germany records its highest daily number of Covid-19 cases since April

From CNN’s Sara Mazloumsaki in Atlanta

A rescue worker takes a swab at a drive-in test centre for students and teachers of several schools in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bielefeld, Germany on August 19.
A rescue worker takes a swab at a drive-in test centre for students and teachers of several schools in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bielefeld, Germany on August 19. Friso Gentsch/picture alliance/Getty Images

Germany recorded 1,707 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours -- the highest number of daily infections since the end of April, according to the country's infectious diseases department, the Robert Koch Institute.

The last time the number of new cases was this high was on April 26, when the country registered 1,737 new infections, according to German public broadcaster ARD.

Germany saw its peak in new daily Covid-19 cases at the beginning of April, when more than 6,000 infections were reported in one day. In the following weeks, the number of cases fell significantly.

But the number of positive tests has been increasing since the end of July.

4:15 a.m. ET, August 20, 2020

US FDA authorizes third antigen test to diagnose coronavirus quickly

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A healthcare worker performs a swab test on a person at a Covid-19 drive-through testing site in Mesquite, Texas, on Tuesday, August 18.
A healthcare worker performs a swab test on a person at a Covid-19 drive-through testing site in Mesquite, Texas, on Tuesday, August 18. Cooper Neill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The US Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it had authorized a new antigen test to diagnose coronavirus infection -- the third test of its kind to receive emergency use authorization from the agency.

The British-made LumiraDx test can analyze a sample within 12 minutes, the FDA said.

What are antigen tests: Unlike time-consuming PCR tests, antigen tests look for specific parts of a virus rather than multiplying any viral genetic material present.

How it works: The test requires a nasal swab and can give results right away, instead of having to be sent off for analysis. Health officials hope such tests can help the US ramp up coronavirus testing.

 “LumiraDx Platform is a novel, flexible, highly scalable and low cost rapid point-of-care test that will significantly contribute to our scaling up and expanding testing platforms for SARS-CoV-2. This technology has built-in digital connectivity, almost everything we hope for in new testing platforms coming to market,” Adm. Dr. Brett Giroir, the testing “czar” on the White House coronavirus task force, said in a statement.

Reliability: The FDA published data from company submission showing the test has 97.6% sensitivity, meaning it catches 97.6% of cases correctly, and 96.6% specificity, meaning it correctly rules out infection 96.6% of the time.