The United States leads the world in cases of COVID-19. We'll provide the latest updates on coronavirus cases, government response, impacts to our daily life, and more.

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CDC Forms Consortium to Share COVID-19 Sequencing Data

May 2, 2020, at 11:40 a.m. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is bringing together public and private laboratories, universities, corporations, and health agencies to share research about how the coronavirus is spreading across the nation.

Participants will put data about COVID-19 genomic sequencing into the public domain, according to a news release from the CDC.  That real-time information, which will show how the virus mutates and spreads, is designed to help public health officials interrupt chains of transmission, prevent new cases of illness and guide contact tracing and infection control strategies.

Ultimately, the data-sharing should save lives, the CDC said.

"The U.S. is the world's leader in advanced rapid genome sequencing,” CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., said in the release. “This coordinated effort across our public, private, clinical, and academic public health laboratories will play a vital role in understanding the transmission, evolution, and treatment of SARS-CoV-2. I am confident that our finest, most skilled minds are working together to help us save lives today and tomorrow." 

The group is called SPHERES, which stands for SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology and Surveillance. SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name for the novel coronavirus.

The CDC listed 21 state health departments, 20 academic institutions, 13 corporations and 10 federal agencies and laboratories that were involved in the launch, including its own Office of Advanced Molecular Detections.

The data will be placed in public repositories at the National Library of Medicine's National Center for Biotechnology Information (NLM/NCBI), the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID), and other public sequence repositories.

The CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) program will lead SPHERES. That program has worked with federal, state and local health agencies to strengthen infectious disease surveillance and outbreak response, the CDC says.

Duncan MacCannell, the unit’s chief science officer, told the New York Times that the United States would coordinate its efforts with international partners.

New Study to Track National Response to Coronavirus Efforts

May 2, 2020, at 10:20 a.m. 

Even as some states begin to reopen parts of their economies, scientists can’t say for sure which elements of the restrictions are most important. A new study announced Thursday  by the City University of New York Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health (ISPH) hopes to help determine that.

Researchers say the study, named “Communities, Households, and SARS/COV-2 Epidemiology (CHASING) COVID,” is designed to further our understanding of the pandemic—how it’s affecting American life, how it’s spreading, and whether efforts to slow the spread are working.

“For this pandemic and future pandemics where there is no vaccine or treatment, we need to understand which components of the public health response—like masks, stay-at-home orders, avoiding gatherings, and hand washing—are being taken up in communities and households, as well as which ones work best at reducing community transmission,” says Denis Nash, PhD, executive director of ISPH and principal investigator of the study. “We also need to understand the impact of reopening society, and how the public health response adapts to what happens next with the pandemic.”

For the study, Nash’s team recruited more than 7,000 people from across the country, representing a geographically and demographically diverse sample of the population. Roughly one-quarter are age 60 and above; one-quarter are Black or Hispanic; and just over half are men. At least one-quarter identified themselves as frontline workers in healthcare or other essential fields.

Participants will be contacted monthly for at least six months to assess what they’re doing to control the epidemic: Are they wearing face masks, staying home, washing hands? They’ll also be asked about COVID-related issues like any symptoms they may be experiencing, testing and diagnosis, and healthcare access. Twice during the six months, participants will provide dried blood spot specimens, which ISPH will store until a proven antibody test is available.

The researchers will integrate publicly available data on population mobility, diagnoses, and deaths with the data they compile, which will allow them to determine how public health efforts affect the spread of the virus.

In addition, Nash expects the results to generate evidence about exactly which antibodies provide immunity, what measures might help address the racial and socioeconomic disparities in treatment and outcomes we’ve seen with COVID, and how the public health response is affecting things like mental health, food security, and domestic violence.

“Our study focuses on a wide range of things that aim to provide a more holistic view of the impact of the public health response beyond its direct impact on SARS/COV2,” he says.

 

2 More Years of COVID-19 Pandemic Likely, Experts Say

May 1, 5:05 p.m. 

The coronavirus will likely spread for the next 18-24 months and infect up to 70% of the population, several pandemic experts said in a new report.

Even in a “best-case scenario,” people will continue to die, and ongoing infections will occur throughout this year and next year, according to the report released Thursday.

“This thing's not going to stop until it infects 60 to 70 percent of people,” Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, told CNN. “The idea that this is going to be done soon defies microbiology.”

Osterholm, who has advised several presidents on pandemics during the past 2 decades, co-authored the nine-page report, titled “COVID-19: The CIDRAP Viewpoint,” with epidemiologists from the Harvard School of Public Health and formerly from the CDC.

The team used prediction models, historic pandemic data, and published reports about COVID-19 to forecast the next 2 years. Based on that, they said government officials should prepare for a long-term pandemic. They discussed three scenarios:

  1. The first scenario could be that the first wave of COVID-19 this spring is followed by several smaller waves during the summer and the next 2 years, gradually decreasing throughout 2021. This could vary by geography and require periodic shelter-in-place recommendations.
  2. The second scenario could be that the first wave is followed by a larger wave in the fall or winter, and then smaller waves in the 2021, which could require shelter-in-place measures again in the fall. This scenario mimics the 1918-1919 pandemic.
  3. The third scenario could be a “slow burn” of transmission during the next 2 years, which may not require additional shelter-in-place orders but will continue to cause new cases and deaths.

To prepare, states should plan for the second scenario, or the “worst-case scenario,” they wrote, especially since the coronavirus has a long incubation period and is spread easily by people without symptoms. A vaccine could help, of course, but a widespread vaccine may not be likely until 2021, they added.

The report is focused on the Northern Hemisphere. But the pandemic could be even harsher in developing countries in the Southern Hemisphere that lack health care infrastructure and have a high number of infections and illnesses that make COVID-19 symptoms more severe, according to the report.

“Government officials should develop concrete plans, including triggers for reinstituting mitigation measures, for dealing with disease peaks when they occur,” the authors wrote.

“Risk communication messaging from government officials should incorporate the concept that this pandemic will not be over soon and that people need to be prepared for possible periodic resurgences of disease over the next two years,” they said.

University of Oxford Starts Human Clinical Trials for Vaccine

May 1, 12:08 p.m.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have started clinical trials with humans for a coronavirus vaccine and might have results in a couple of months, the university said in a news release.

The school said around 1,110 people who have not tested positive for COVID-19 will take part, with half receiving the vaccine and the other half -- the control group -- receiving a meningitis vaccine. They will keep a diary and have blood samples taken to show how they're responding to the vaccine.

To see if the vaccine works, infection rates in the two groups will be compared. A number of participants will need to develop COVID-19, the release said.

“If transmission remains high, we may get enough data in a couple of months to see if the vaccine works, but if transmission levels drop, this could take up to 6 months,” the release said.

Oxford professor John Bell told the BBC that researchers “hope to get some signal about whether it's working by the middle of June."

Drug manufacturer AstraZeneca has agreed to distribute the vaccine if it works, the company said in a news release.

U.S. Must Face COVID-19 Vaccine Challenges, Experts Say

May 1, 11:26 a.m.

Besides coming up with a coronavirus vaccine, the United States must also figure out the best, fastest way to manufacture and deliver a vaccine to the populace, two experts said Friday morning during an Infectious Diseases Society of America media briefing.

“Vaccines don't save lives. Vaccinations save lives,” said Walter A. Orenstein, MD, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “When first licensed, we won't have 7 billion doses the next day to vaccinate the whole world.”

Orenstein said the government should “incentivize” manufacturers to start making vaccines while a vaccine is still going through clinical trials, so that the vaccine could be quickly put into use after approval. But if the vaccine fails the trials, the product would have to be destroyed, he said.

“We need to be thinking about those issues now,” Orenstein said.

Another challenge is figuring out who gets the vaccine first.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will decide that, he said, but he thought that essential workers, people suffering the most like the elderly, and people identified as “transmitters” would most likely be at the top of the list.

Kathryn M. Edwards, MD, the scientific director at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in Nashville, said the United States already has a system in place to deliver vaccinations to children that could help develop a system for the coronavirus. The U.S. also has experience providing vaccines for the Ebola pandemic in West Africa, she noted.

She said another question that must be addressed is whether the coronavirus vaccine will be a one-time event for a person, or whether the virus is mutating and will require follow-up shots with different vaccines.

At all times in the development process, safety must be emphasized, Edwards said. “We want the vaccine, but we want a safe vaccine,” she said.

Edwards and Orenstein said one of the bright spots in developing the vaccine is that a lot of testing is underway. Orenstein said the World Health Organization reported eight vaccines are now in clinical trials, and 94 are in pre-clinical trials.

Federal Government to Increase PPE Shipments to Nursing Homes

April 30, 6:35 p.m. 

The federal government will increase inspections and shipments of equipment to nursing homes, which have been hotbeds of coronavirus cases, according to a news release on the White House website.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will start sending supplemental shipments of personal protective equipment to all 15,400 Medicaid- and Medicare-certified nursing homes in the United States, the release said, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will provide $81 million to the states to increase inspections.

A new rule being put in place will require nursing homes to report information about COVID-19 cases directly to the CDC, the release said. Nursing homes will also have to report cases to family members.

The administration will set up a Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes made up of industry experts, doctors, scientists, and patient advocates.

NYC to Stop Subway Service 4 Hours Daily to Disinfect Trains

April 30, 5:15 p.m.

New York City will shut down subway service from 1 to 5 a.m. starting May 6 so trains and stations can be disinfected, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Thursday on its website. 

The city is the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic, with at least 12,571 confirmed deaths and 5,295 probable deaths, according to the city website.

The MTA said it has launched a free “essential connector” service to transport essential workers, such as health care workers and first responders, during those 4 hours of cleaning. 

“Essential Connector riders will be limited to two trips per night on for-hire-vehicles and must show proof of essential travel with appropriate credentials. Riders who do not have a smartphone will be able to request a ride through a dedicated number,” the MTA said.

MTA bus service will continue to operate 24/7.

"It is a massive undertaking that we have never done before," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference, according to NY1.