COVID-19 cases climb in the US and Europe

A third COVID-19 spike in the United States continues to intensify, as several European countries take more steps to reverse steep case rises, some of which are at record levels.

In other developments, a large international group of scientists pushed back against calls for a herd immunity approach to managing the pandemic. The global total today reached 38,744,784 cases, and 1,094,979 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

US rise prompts holiday gathering caution

Yesterday, the United States added 59,494 new cases and 985 deaths to its totals, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. The trend shows the start of a third rise in infections, which is coming as the weather cools and more people are gathering indoors. In another key statistic, the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to 898,000 last week, signaling a hiring slowdown as the economy struggles with the pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

Tony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and member of the White House coronavirus task force, in a CBS Evening News interview last night urged Americans to be cautious during the Thanksgiving holiday, especially with out-of-town visitors who could pose a risk to older relatives or those with underlying health conditions.

"Namely, you may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering unless you're pretty certain that the people that you're dealing with are not infected," said Fauci, who is 79 and said his three children living in other states have decided not to come home for the holiday, due to concerns about putting him at risk.

The cautious recommendation for the holidays tracks with two new polls that indicate Americans are wary of traveling during the pandemic, USA Today reported. An AAA Travel survey found that 67% of respondents are uncertain about taking a vacation, and a Travelocity survey revealed that 57% wouldn't travel this year for year-end holidays.

COVID-19 spread impacted the presidential campaign again today, with the Biden campaign announcing that vice-presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris would not travel over the weekend after two people from the campaign tested positive—her communications director and a flight crew member, CNN reported.

Virus activity also continues to impact the sports world, with the University of Alabama announcing that football coach Nick Saban and athletic director Greg Byrne tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolating at their homes.

On a positive note, Los Angeles officials are linking a dramatic decline in COVID-19 deaths and cases among blacks and Latinos over the past 2 months to aggressive workplace enforcement and opening tip lines to report violations, Kaiser Health News reported.

In other US developments:

  • Pfizer and BioNTech will enroll children as young as 12 in the phase 3 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine, which follows Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permission earlier this month to enroll younger participants, Reuters reported.

  • Pandemic-related drops in mammograms and other screening tests are leading to missed and delayed cancer diagnoses, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of insurance claims and other metrics. It said delays in testing could limit treatment options and worsen illness outcomes.

  • White House economic advisers in private briefings gave some investors an early warning that the coronavirus would have a much bigger impact on the economy than the Trump administration was publicly acknowledging at the time, the New York Times reported.

Europe's cases soar to weekly pandemic high

Europe's fall and winter surge continues to unfold, with exponential increases in daily cases and matching percentage increases in daily deaths, Hans Henri Kluge, MD, MPH, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) European regional office, said today at a briefing.

He added that the region just registered its highest weekly incidence since the start of the pandemic, adding about 700,000 cases.

The region isn't in the same situation as it was in March, because deaths are five times fewer and hospitalization doubling time is still two to three times longer, Kluge said. Lower mortality could reflect higher testing rates among younger, healthier people, but he warned that the situation could worsen dramatically if the disease spreads back into older age-groups with more indoor multigenerational social gatherings.

Epidemiological models show that simple measures like greater use of masks and stricter social distancing measures could save up to 281,000 lives across the region by Feb 1. "These projections do nothing but confirm what we always said: the pandemic won’t reverse its course on its own, but we will," Kluge said.

Many European countries have already taken steps to tighten their measures, he said, urging residents to accept and comply with them to avoid the need for much stricter ones. Kluge added that the word "lockdown" has taken on a new meaning, away from shutting down every part of society and more toward stepwise, targeted, time-limited measures. "Our message is that any nationwide tightening-up decision must consider both the direct risks and the collateral damage associated with the pandemic," he said.

Meanwhile today, several European countries reported daily record-high case numbers. For example, the Czech Republic reported 9,544 cases, and pressure on hospitals has prompted health officials to forge working agreements with German hospitals, ask doctors to return from abroad, and make plans for field hospitals, Reuters reported. Other countries that reported record-high cases include Russia, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Italy.

In the United Kingdom, government officials announced tighter measures for London that take effect at midnight tomorrow, Reuters reported. The alert level for the area has been raised from medium to high, and people can't meet with other households indoors and they have been asked to limit travel.

In other global headlines:

  • India had about 67,000 cases, the world's highest total for today, though the lowest for the country since August, Reuters reported. Health officials fear another resurgence as India enters its holiday season.

  • China has tested nearly 10 million residents of Qingdao to stem a recent hospital cluster of 12 cases, and so far, no other illnesses have been detected, CNN reported.

Scientists mobilize against 'herd immunity' approach

An international group of scientists has written a response to a push for a "herd immunity" approach to managing the pandemic, which would involve letting the virus spread unchecked among those at low risk of severe COVID-19 while protecting the vulnerable.

The WHO last week denounced the herd immunity approach as "scientifically and ethically problematic," because it could greatly boost deaths and expose more people to a virus that may have long-term health consequences. However, a document, known as the Great Barrington declaration, with a list of supporters of the approach was reportedly embraced by the White House.

"Herd immunity" is used properly with vaccines to refer to reaching high vaccination coverage in order to protect the unvaccinated.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America has denounced the Great Barrington declaration, and pushback gained more steam today with the publication in The Lancet of the John Snow Memorandum, which includes scientific references and has now been signed by more than 2,000 scientists, researchers, and health professionals.

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