States forging ahead with reopening plans can now use a 60-page guidance document published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) originally deemed too prescriptive by the White House.
The guidance follows a three-step or phased approach to reopening schools, child-care facilities, restaurants, and mass transit. The first "gating" criteria—or when to move to the next step—for each sector is a decrease in newly identified cases, followed by a decrease in emergency department or outpatient visits for COVID-19 or influenza-like illnesses. The final gating criteria is a robust testing program, with 14 days of 20% or less of tests turning out positive for the novel coronavirus.
"Decisions and strategies about how to operate are implemented at the state, tribal, local, and territorial levels because every locale is different, and individual jurisdictions have the authority and local awareness needed to protect their communities," the CDC said in an emailed media statement.
"CDC is continuing to work with state, tribal, local, and territorial leaders to provide technical assistance, and resources that can help support decisions about how Americans begin to re-engage in civic life while adhering to mitigation strategies such as social distancing, hand-washing and wearing face coverings."
For schools and day camps, which for the most part have not started reopening in all states, the CDC recommends enhanced hygiene, physical distancing of desks, and keeping children with the same group when possible. If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends a 2- to 5-day closing for cleaning.
For restaurants, which are still closed in some states or open only for curbside pickup or delivery, the CDC suggests employees at risk for serious complications from COVID-19 infections be placed in roles that limit customer interaction. The CDC also recommended social-distancing seating.
Churches left out of guidelines
The guidelines do not address religious services or faith communities, an area that has become a political football in recent weeks. Yesterday the Justice Department warned in a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom that the state must act faster in allowing places of worship to reopen, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The letter referenced Attorney General William Barr’s Apr 14 letter, which stated, "Even in times of emergency ... government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not apply to similar nonreligious activity," and followed Newsom's announcement earlier this week that it would be weeks before church services are open in California, well after schools, restaurants, factories, offices, and shopping malls reopen.
The Chronicle reports that some churches plan on defying Newsom's order and plan to reopen by May 31.
In related news, the Associated Press reported today that Republican operatives are recruiting pro-Trump doctors to appear on television and promote the quick reopening of states. The AP received a transcript of a May 11 call with high-level political operatives who produced a list of 27 doctors who would publicly appear in favor of reopening states.
Source: CDC muzzled by White House
Today CNN published an interview with six anonymous sources from the CDC who said the agency has been muzzled in recent weeks and pushed out of key decisions. Tensions between the CDC and White House started in February, when the CDC had early testing failures.
The sources said they urged the White House to close travel to and from Europe at least 1 week before Trump announced a 30-day travel ban on Mar 12. Doing so would have prevented more than 60,000 European travelers from entering the country.
In related news, a top data scientist for Florida said she was ousted for refusing to manipulate information on case counts in favor of reopening the state. Rebekah Jones, PhD, developed Florida's COVID-19 tracker, and said upon her firing the dashboard may not be as reliable.
The Georgia Department of Health has also been criticized for manipulating bar graphs on their website to show cases having a downward trajectory. But cases have not been entered in correct chronological order.
According to the New York Times tracker, the country now has 1,547,300 cases and 92,600 fatalities. The CDC has projected the nation will see 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 by Jun 1.
Vaccine shows promise in rodents
Today Inovio said its DNA-based vaccine for COVID-19 produced antibodies in animal models, including mice and guinea pigs.
"These positive preclinical results from our COVID-19 DNA vaccine (INO-4800) not only highlight the potency of our DNA medicines platform, but also build on our previously reported positive Phase 1/2a data from our vaccine against the coronavirus that causes MERS," said Inovio's Senior Vice President of R&D, Kate Broderick, PhD, in a press statement.
Vaxart, a biotechnology company, said it has selected its lead oral vaccine candidate. Vaxart will contract with two other companies to develop the vaccine for clinical trials.