October 21 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Emma Reynolds, Ed Upright, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, October 22, 2020
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6:00 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

FDA says there is no timeline for a Covid-19 vaccine, but the goal is spring 

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

A health worker works in a lab during clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on September 9.
A health worker works in a lab during clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on September 9. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images

US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said Wednesday that the agency does not have a set timeline to review a Covid-19 vaccine.

The goal, he said, is that everyone could get a vaccine by spring. But it “really depends on a number of factors.”

“We want to expedite it,” Hahn said at a conference sponsored by the Milken Institute, a nonpartisan think tank founded by ex-banker Michael Milken.

“We've said that we will schedule a vaccine advisory committee to review those data. We have committed for every application to have a vaccine advisory committee,” Hahn said.

“We will make that public, as I mentioned. Our scientists will make an initial determination, will ask specific questions about the product from the vaccine advisory committee. And then we will incorporate that in our decision making,” Hahn said.

“At the end of the day, only our career scientists in the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research will be making this decision, and they will be making it solely upon the science and data that come from the clinical trials.”

To speed up the process, Hahn said the FDA has been working with manufacturers from day one and have stayed in touch throughout the manufacturing process, rather than reviewing everything at the end of the process. 

“We need to make sure that there's quality and consistency and that every lot has the same ability to provide protection to all of Americans,” Hahn said. “We have a lot of confidence in the manufacturing of these developers, and we will be doing our part with respect to working with them to make sure that manufacturing can be ramped up as quickly as possible.”

5:44 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

USA Wrestling will skip world championships due to Covid-19 concerns

From CNN's Homero De La Fuente

USA Wrestling announced Tuesday night that it won’t be sending a team to Belgrade, Serbia, for the 2020 Senior World Wrestling Championships in December due to Covid-19 concerns. 

“The health and safety of US athletes, coaches and staff is always the No. 1 concern for USA Wrestling. After reviewing updated medical, scientific and government data, and providing an opportunity for athlete and stakeholder input, the executive committee concluded that it would not be in the best interest of all involved to organize a delegation to travel to and participate in the Senior World Championships in Serbia,” USA Wrestling President Bruce Baumgartner said in a statement.

Some context: This isn’t the first time USA Wrestling has opted to skip the World Championships due to safety concerns. In 2002, a team was not sent to the Senior World Freestyle Championships in Iran due to a potential threat to the team’s safety.

“My heart breaks for our athletes, as nobody is more affected by this decision than they are,” said Veronica Carlson, executive committee member and chairperson of the USA Wrestling Athlete Advisory Committee. “In the same breath, abstaining from the 2020 World Championships is the right decision. I am proud that the athlete voice was solicited and considered through every step of this process. In choosing to make this decision now, versus delaying it, the athletes have time to recover and refocus on what is most important — the 2021 Olympic Games.”

7:15 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

CDC redefines close contact with someone with Covid-19 to include cumulative exposure

From CNN's Maggie Fox and Elizabeth Cohen

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its definition of a close contact with a Covid-19 patient to include multiple, brief exposures, director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday.

The new definition includes exposures adding up to a total of 15 minutes spent six feet or closer to an infected person. Previously, the CDC defined a close contact as 15 minutes of continuous exposure to an infected individual. 

Some background: The agency changed the definition after a report from Vermont of a corrections officer who became infected after several brief interactions with coronavirus-positive inmates – none of them lasting 15 minutes, but adding up over time.

“As we get more data and understand the science of Covid, we are going to incorporate that in our recommendations,” Redfield said at a news conference held at CDC headquarters in Atlanta. “Originally, contact that was considered to be high risk for potential exposure to Covid was someone within six feet for more than 15 minutes."

The new data is being incorporated into recommendations, he said.


4:20 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

Stocks finish lower as investors wait on potential stimulus deal

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

US stocks closed modestly lower on Wednesday. The market was trapped in a tight trading range for the whole session, with the three major stock benchmarks repeatedly flipping into positive and negative territory.

All that’s to say that stocks lacked clear direction on Wednesday. Earnings season is in full swing but investors are awaiting a potential stimulus deal out of Washington before the election.

Here's where the market closed:

  • The Dow finished 0.4%, or 99 points, lower.
  • The S&P 500 fell 0.2%.
  • The Nasdaq Composite closed down 0.3%.
2:38 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

New Jersey governor tests negative for Covid-19 after senior staffer tests positive

From CNN's Melanie Schuman

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife tested negative for coronavirus today after coming in contact with a senior staff member who tested positive.

The governor is canceling in-person events through the weekend and will continue to test.

2:22 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

German health minister tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN’s Josefine Ohema

German Health Minister Jens Spahn attends the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. 
German Health Minister Jens Spahn attends the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.  Markus Schreiber/Pool/AP

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has tested positive for coronavirus, his office told CNN on Wednesday.

The minister's office said so far Spahn has only developed cold symptoms and is currently in isolation at home. 

In response, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wished him well, tweeting, ''Good and quick recovery, Jens Spahn and we will keep our fingers crossed for you.''

People who have been in contact with the health minister are currently being informed, the spokesperson said. 

1:48 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

Rhode Island governor says state is "not in a good place" with Covid-19 trends 

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos 

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo told reporters Wednesday that the state recorded at least 156 new Covid-19 cases and five deaths Tuesday. 

“The numbers aren’t good. I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Raimondo said. 

Raimondo said the state is approaching a 3% positivity rate, which she said “is high. It’s too high.” 

“The bottom line is we are not in a good place. These are not the trends that we would like to be seeing and it’s clear we have community spread all across the state,” the governor said and emphasized “pretty much every state in America right now is seeing their cases increase.”

Raimondo said while they haven’t yet approached the threshold of “a runaway train,” she pleaded with residents to “buckle down” to ensure there isn’t a second surge requiring businesses and schools to close again. 

1:39 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

New Jersey governor says he came in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Anna Sturla

New Jersey Office of the Governor/YouTube
New Jersey Office of the Governor/YouTube

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced today he was informed that he was in close proximity to someone on Saturday that has tested positive for Covid-19. 

“I was just informed by my colleagues that I was in close proximity to someone on Saturday who has just tested positive.” Murphy said at a press event.

“I will now unfortunately have to take myself off the field. I can’t ask President Trump to not come to Bedminster and do a fundraiser and have me sit here," he added.

Murphy said hospitalizations in the state are at the highest they have been in three months.

“Today, another over a thousand positive cases we're reporting,” the governor said. 

He added there were 18 deaths reported.

1:32 p.m. ET, October 21, 2020

Amtrak predicts travel slump will continue beyond the next year

From CNN’s Greg Wallace

A passenger catches a commuter train out of Union Station on April 28, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. 
A passenger catches a commuter train out of Union Station on April 28, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.  Scott Olson/Getty Images

Amtrak is in a “precarious position” because of insufficient federal funding and a continuing plunge in ridership due to the coronavirus pandemic, CEO William Flynn told Congress on Wednesday.

Flynn said ridership is still down 80% compared to 2019, and he warned that “it has become clear that the pandemic’s impacts will extend through, and almost certainly beyond” the next year.  

Revenue in the financial year that ended in September was only 53% of the prior year, he said.     

Amtrak has restored some of the service it had initially cut along the Eastern seaboard, but new cuts to other long-distance trains that crisscross the nation just took effect. Flynn said Amtrak is targeting “late May and June 2021” to restore service if health and demand conditions improve.  

But some of Amtrak’s future projections are based on the widespread distribution of an effective coronavirus vaccine in the next year – “which we know is not a guaranteed outcome,” he warned.   

Flynn said the service cuts and nearly 2,000 layoffs were unavoidable.   

“I must emphasize the Amtrak really had no choice but to take these actions,” he said.