COVID-19 rattles US election lead-up as global total tops 36 million

distanced debate


COVID-19 developments—including President Donald Trump's infection and the spread of the virus in White House ranks—continue to stir up the final weeks of the US presidential campaign, as the global total passed 36 million and a number of European countries reported new record daily highs.

COVID takes center stage in VP debate

At last night's vice-presidential debate in Salt Lake City, the pandemic was one of the main topics, with California's Democratic Senator Kamala Harris calling the Trump administration's response "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," and Vice President Mike Pence defending Trump's record, citing the China travel ban as proof of how serious he took the threat.

Meanwhile, with no information about when President Trump was infected and uncertainty about when he will be clear of the virus, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced today that the Oct 15 presidential town-hall format debate will be virtual to "protect the health and safety of all involved," CNBC reported.

Shortly after, Trump told Fox Business that he would not participate in the debate, calling the virtual format "ridiculous." Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said through his campaign office that he was prepared to accept the commission's switch to the virtual format and that he will find an appropriate place to take questions directly from voters on Oct 15.

In a related and unprecedented development, the New England Journal of Medicine today published an editorial calling the Trump administration's pandemic response "dangerously incompetent," pointing to shortages in tests and personal protective equipment and undermining science. The authors said voters should not enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing current leaders to keep their jobs. The editorial marked the first time since 1812, when the journal was founded, that it has weighed in on a presidential election, National Public Radio reported.

As a webinar on COVID-19 vaccines hosted today by the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, the publisher of CIDRAP News, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, rejected the editorial's claims that the FDA has been "shamefully politicized." "On behalf of the 17,000-plus incredibly dedicated career staff at FDA, I vigorously disagree with that conclusion."

Trump health status

As the President continues to recover at the White House, officials still refuse to disclose when he last tested negative for the virus, keeping open the possibility that he may have exposed dozens of people before his positive test result was announced early on Oct 2, the Washington Post reported. Trump had been at several events the week before, including the first presidential debate, a campaign rally, and fundraisers.

The White House had said Trump was regularly tested, but officials are now declining requests for details, citing privacy and that they are unwilling to look back through records.

So far, 36 cases have been linked to a recent outbreak centered around the White House, including several people who attended a Sep 26 Rose Garden event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. The latest White House linked case is Crede Bailey, the head of White House security who reportedly got sick before the other patients in the cluster and has been hospitalized since late September and is in grave condition, USA Today reported.

Regeneron applies for EUA for antibody therapy

Regeneron, maker of an antibody cocktail for treating COVID-19, yesterday announced that it has submitted an application to the FDA for emergency use authorization (EUA). It said if the FDA grants the EUA, it would make doses available to Americans at no cost, enough for 50,000 patients with 300,000 doses available within the next few months.

The drugs REGN-COV2 contains two monoclonal antibodies designed to block SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

REGN-COV2 is in clinical trials, and President Trump last week received an 8-gram dose as a precautionary measure. In a video message yesterday, Trump called the drug a "cure" and suggested that it would be approved quickly.

Experts say more data are needed on antibody treatments before they are used more widely, and doctors at trial sites for antibody therapy say they've been fielding more requests from patients to take part in the trials, based on Trump's treatment, Reuters reported.

In a related development, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and four other professional groups today called for treatment approvals to be based on science. They emphasized that promising results among few patients pertaining to approaches that include antibody therapies are not a substitute for rigorous scientific review. And they added that relying on limited data can put patients at risk for adverse events, noting that an EUA can reduce the ability to conduct clinical trials needed to assess safety and efficacy.

"For this reason, we urge FDA to apply its highest standards and act with appropriate deliberation on the EUA application filed by Regeneron today, and on the planned application announced by Eli Lilly this week," the groups said in their statement. Yesterday, Eli Lily announced that it submitted a EUA request for LY-CoV555, a monoclonal antibody for treating mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infection.

In other US developments:

  • The United States yesterday reported 50,341 new cases and 915 more deaths yesterday, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker. The nation's totals are currently at 7,589,353 cases, with 212,466 deaths.

  • Wisconsin's average daily COVID-19 count has climbed to 2,346, nearly three times higher than a month ago, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. Fifty-five of the state's 72 counties have very high disease activity.

  • Health experts are harshly criticizing North Dakota's new quarantine exception, which says people who have been in close contact with an infected person don't need to quarantine as long as both parties were wearing a mask, the Fargo-Moorhead Forum reported. North Dakota is among the Midwestern states experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

  • Unemployment claims dropped slightly last week but stayed elevated at 840,000 as the economy struggles to recover from the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Stimulus talks continued today, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., saying she wouldn't support aid for airlines without a broader deal for the rest of the country, CNBC noted. Two days ago, President Trump called off stimulus action until after the election, but he has since pushed for aid for airlines, which have started furloughing workers, and signaled the possibility of direct payments to Americans.

International headlines

In Europe, case numbers in the region's second COVID-19 wave climbed higher, with several countries reporting new daily highs, such as France, Poland, the Netherlands, and Croatia.

French President Emmanuel Macron today signaled that more restrictions will be ordered for the country's hot spots, and health officials said COVID-19 hospitalizations are now at a 3-month high. In Spain, a Madrid court has struck down the central government's partial lockdown for the country's capital and surrounding areas, and in Germany, officials with the Robert Koch Institute warned that COVID-19 activity could return to uncontrolled spread if residents don't follow distancing and hygiene recommendations.

Elsewhere, Iran reported a daily record of 4,392 cases amid reports that ambulances in Tehran are going from hospital to hospital to find available beds for COVID-19 patients, Reuters reported. And in Brazil, where cases have been declining since the middle of August, infections topped 5 million.

The global total today has risen to 36,353,763 cases, and 1,058,764 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

CIDRAP News reporter Chris Dall contributed to this story.

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