US COVID-19 hospitalizations up as officials respond to Memorial Day festivities

After videos of crowded Memorial Day celebrations in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, went viral, health officials in St. Louis are calling for partygoers to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to their jobs.

"This reckless behavior endangers countless people and risks setting us back substantially from the progress we have made in slowing the spread of COVID-19," said St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, MD. "I encourage everyone to follow the Department of Public Health advisory to determine a safe path forward in the workplace."

The viral videos showed crowded pool parties with no social distancing and no mask use. The Mayor of St. Louis, Lyda Krewson, took to Twitter to admonish the activity.

"If you were part of a group that didn't socially distance or wear masks, please, for the health of your family, coworkers and friends, stay home for the next 14 days," she tweeted.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also issued a statement today urging anyone who went to Lake of the Ozarks to self-isolate for 2 weeks.

Mass public gatherings and large parties have been identified as spreading events for COVID-19, including Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and more recently an Arkansas high school pool party.

More hospitalizations as death toll tops 98,000

According to the tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University, the US today has 1,671,728 COVID-19 cases and 98,717 deaths.

As the grim milestone of 100,000 looms this week, former Food and Drug Administrator Scott Gottlieb, MD, warned today on CNBC that the country is likely seeing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations linked to the reopening of states.

"We now see a trend in an uptick in hospitalizations. It's a small uptick, but it is an uptick and it's unmistakable and it is probably a result of reopening," he said. Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator in COVID-19, as patients typically worsen over a period of weeks, not days. Still, Gottlieb said the United States must remain vigilant with physical distancing and mask-wearing until a vaccine is developed.

New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, and Michigan have had the highest US case counts. Now New Jersey is seeing decreasing case counts and the other states have seen new cases hold steady in the past week, according to a New York Times analysis.

Meat plants, nursing homes face more challenges

Tyson Foods, the largest meat processor in the country, now reports 7,000 COVID-19 cases among employees, according to the Washington Post, despite spending millions in the last month on protective gear, employee testing, and facility cleaning.

An analysis into growing meat processing outbreaks shows the challenges facing the industry, even as it aggressively tries to fight infections, the Post said.

In the past month, there have been at least 11,000 COVID-19 infections tied to Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS employees. And meat packing employees represent 18%, 20%, and 29% percent of Iowa's, Nebraska's, and South Dakota's cases, respectively.

Likewise nursing homes across the country are confronting liability issues as residents continue to get sick and die in clusters and outbreaks. Twenty states in the past 2 months have taken legislative action to limit nursing home liability via multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts, Politico reports.

So far, the nation has reported more than 28,000 nursing home deaths.

Pharmacies prepare for flu vaccine push

CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid are preparing for record demands of seasonal flu vaccine beginning in September and October, as more people may choose to vaccinate themselves so as not to contract influenza during a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus.

Drug makers are also ramping up manufacturing of flu vaccine, Reuters reported.

Merck advances COVID vaccines, treatment

In COVID-19 vaccine news, Merck announced today it would test two different vaccine candidates this year. The drug maker also said it has developed an oral therapeutic for the virus.

Merck said it was acquiring Austria biopharmaceutical company Themis to develop its measles-based experimental COVID-19 vaccine candidate. And it announced a collaboration with IAVI, a nonprofit scientific research organization, to develop a vaccine candidate based on Merck's Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, Ervebo, most recently used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Merck has also entered into a new partnership with Ridgeback Therapeutics LP to develop an oral antiviral candidate.

"In addition to our efforts to develop potential vaccines to SARS-CoV-2, we have also been evaluating our own anti-viral assets and those from external sources for their potential to treat individuals with COVID-19," said Roger M. Perlmutter, MD, PhD, president, Merck Research Laboratories, in a press release.

"Clinical evaluation of EIDD-2801 in COVID-19 patients is just beginning, now that phase 1 studies have demonstrated that the compound is well-tolerated. Since preclinical studies demonstrate that EIDD-2801 has potent antiviral properties against multiple coronavirus strains including SARS-CoV-2, we are eager to advance the next phase of clinical studies as rapidly and responsibly as possible."

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