Trump returns to White House as outbreak expands to more staff and military

In the wake of his return to the White House yesterday from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for COVID-19 treatment, President Donald Trump continued to downplay the threat from the virus, with more infections reported in a growing circle of people around him and in upper military ranks.

In another development, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today released its COVID-19 vaccine standards for developers, following an earlier block by the White House due to its concerns that the guidelines would delay the arrival of the first doses until after Election Day.

Trump returns with defiant messaging

After Trump returned to the White House by helicopter last night, he climbed stairs to a balcony, took off his mask, and posed for pictures, drawing a contrast to reports yesterday of infections in White House staff, including housekeepers, and news photos of workers in personal protective equipment disinfecting the press room in the facility's West Wing. Two people with confirmed COVID-19 are now being isolated treated at the White House: Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.

As Trump prepared to leave the hospital yesterday, he tweeted that Americans shouldn't fear the virus or let it dominate them. His comments, followed by his mask removal, prompted sharp blowback from public health officials, who accused the President of downplaying the virus again and pointed out that Trump received a combination of experimental and state-of-the-art treatments that most patients don't get.

Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said yesterday on CNN, "How we behave over the next few months will determine whether we have 270,000 dead Americans by the end of this year or over 400,000 dead Americans. And the President has sent a message to the American people: 'Let's go for the 400,000 number'."

This morning, Trump downplayed the virus again, erroneously tweeting that COVID-19 is less deadly than flu and that Americans should learn to live with COVID-19 like they do for flu. Twitter flagged the tweet as violating its rules for misleading and potentially harmful information.

Meanwhile, White House doctor Sean Conely, DO, released a statement that said after meeting with Trump in the White House today following his first night back in the White House, the president reports no symptoms, that his vital signs remain stable, and that he continues to do "extremely well."

More infections in Trump's circle, military ranks

In related developments, two more people who apparently were close to Trump have tested positive, Jennifer Jacobs, a senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, reported today on Twitter. One is Jayna McCarron, a military aide, and another an active duty military member who serves as the president's valet.

In a breaking development, Roll Call reported, citing a White House administration spokesperson, that so far 123 frontline workers in the Capitol complex have tested positive for COVID-19 or are presumed to have it.

The White House has decided not to trace the contacts of people who attended a Sep 26 Rose Garden event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, though at least eight people who attended the event became infected, the New York Times reported. Officials with the Washington, DC, health department haven't been successful in connecting with the White House to help with contact tracing, according to NBC News.

The Coast Guard today announced that Admiral Charles Ray, its second-in-command, tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday after experiencing mild symptoms over the weekend, The Hill reported.

Ray met with other top military officials on Oct 2 at The Pentagon, which prompted reports from other media outlets that Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Milley and other Joint Chiefs are quarantining at home.

FDA prevails in vaccine standard showdown

The White House today cleared the COVID-19 vaccine standard that it tried to block after the FDA published it anyway in a briefing document posted online ahead of the Oct 22 FDA Vaccine and Related Biological Product Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) meeting.

Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in a statement today called the VRBPAC post a promising development, because it discloses the advice the FDA has been providing to individual sponsors. He said the White House has been blocking the release to maintain the perception that a vaccine might be available by Election Day and that emergency authorization could be forced with limited follow up.

In other US developments:

  • Trump today called for Republican lawmakers to end stimulus negotiations until after Election Day, according to Twitter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been discussing proposals this week, and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell today warned that uncontrolled COVID-19 spread further threatens the economy.

  • A group of doctors pushing herd immunity to manage COVID-19 met with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar yesterday, The Hill reported. They said uncontrolled spread in the young and healthy, while protecting vulnerable people, would stop the spread of the virus and avoid lockdowns. However, critics of the concept have said a herd immunity approach would come with a surge in deaths and that no disease has ever been controlled before with a herd immunity approach.

  • Midwestern governors and those from other states are loosening COVID-19 restrictions, despite a wave of new infections in states like North Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Politico reported, noting that North Dakota's governor rescinded a requirement for close contacts of infected people to quarantine, and legislators from Wisconsin are trying to overturn the state governor's mask order.

  • The United States reported 39,557 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and the nation's total is at 7,485,331 cases, which includes 210,616 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Global COVID-19 headlines

In evolving global developments, cases in India—which has been reporting the world's highest daily totals—dipped into the 60,000s today, after the past few days of hovering above 70,000 cases a day.

And in Europe, where many countries are well into a second wave of COVID-19 activity, the director of the World Health Organization (WHO) regional office today warned about rising fatigue to measures to fight COVID-19. In a statement, Hans Henri Kluge, MD, MPH, acknowledged that citizens have made great sacrifices, which has come at a cost, with fatigue as a natural consequence. "Although fatigue is measured in different ways, and levels vary per country, it is now estimated to have reached over 60% in some cases," he said.

He recommended that countries, ahead of the upcoming holiday seasons, take the pulse of how communities are feeling and use the information gained to involve them in finding new ways to meet people's needs.

In Russia, Moscow—the country's main hot spot—reported more than 4,000 cases today and barred students and older people from riding public transport, Reuters reported. Officials have opened two temporary hospitals in the capital to handle the extra caseload.

Elsewhere in Europe, Scotland imposed a 2-week lockdown due to rising cases on the advice of doctors; however, Ireland opted not to order a lockdown and instead tightened its other measures for the next 3 weeks.

In other global developments, the head of the International Monetary Fund today signaled during a speech in London that the group will revise its 2020 estimate for how much the global economy would shrink due to COVID-19, which will be slightly less dire than first feared, the Washington Post reported. Kristalina Georgieva said the global economy is rebounding, but the problems are far from over and not all countries showing recovery.

Meanwhile, China is in talks with the WHO to have the country's COVID-19 vaccines assessed by the group's experts, Reuters reported. If prequalified by the WHO, the vaccines would be listed as available for emergency use.

Today the pandemic total climbed to 35,632,890 cases, and 1,046,325 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

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