The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed the number of World War II combat fatalities on Thursday night, just hours after a committee of leading U.S. vaccine scientists recommended the Food and Drug Administration authorize the first COVID-19 vaccine for Americans.
The vaccine, though, won’t help soon enough, said Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warning that the country’s daily death count will likely rival national tragedies such as the 9/11 terror attacks and Pearl Harbor for months.
“We are in the timeframe now that probably for the next 60 to 90 days we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor,” Redfield said during at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, The Hill reported.
One day after reporting more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths for the first time, the U.S. topped 292,000 total deaths, several hundred more than the number of battlefield deaths in WWII, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Johns Hopkins University data dashboard reported 3,124 deaths on Wednesday, a single-day toll worse than 9/11, when about 2,900 people were killed, and Pearl Harbor, which resulted in about 2,400 deaths.
Other news you need to know today:
- A CDC scientist told a House committee that she was ordered to destroy an email regarding attempts by political appointees to interfere with the publication of weekly CDC reports.
- The European Union agency responsible for approving vaccines said it has been the subject of a cyberattack. The European Medicines Agency said it “swiftly launched an investigation” but provided no details.
- The number of people applying for unemployment aid jumped last week to 853,000, the most since September. Before the coronavirus paralyzed the economy in March, weekly jobless claims typically numbered only about 225,000.
- Some states continue to increase restrictions. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has imposed an overnight curfew, starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced a series of restrictions, including shutting down indoor dining and on-site alcohol consumption.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 15.5 million cases and 292,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 69.5 million cases and 1.58 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: It may not have started here, but the novel coronavirus became a US tragedy. In the earliest days of a historic pandemic, the virus had unfettered access into and throughout the United States.
This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.
Key committee endorses Pfizer vaccine for FDA authorization
A committee of leading U.S. vaccine scientists recommended Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration authorize the first COVID-19 vaccine for Americans. The endorsement paves the way for a final decision by the FDA.
Mass vaccinations may begin within days in thousands of frontline heath care workers and nursing homes residents.
After an day-long public hearing, the independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted 17 to 4, with 1 abstention, to recommend the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech called BNT162b2. The FDA is expected to clear the vaccine for emergency use as early as Friday.
One last important meeting will take place Sunday, when an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meets to make a final recommendation on who the vaccine should go to first. While the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices doesn’t have regulatory power, providers receiving COVID-19 vaccine sign agreements to comply with ACIP guidelines. Thursday’s meeting of VRBPAC (pronounced verb-pack) came a day after the U.S. set a new daily record for COVID-19 deaths, topping 3,000.
– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub
A county in Hawaii became the United States’ final county to have a resident test positive for COVID-19, the Maui News reported Thursday. An adult resident of Kalaupapa, Hawaii, has become the first person to contract COVID-19 in Kalawao County, reportedly the last county in the U.S. without a case in eight months of the pandemic, according to the Hawaii Department of Health, the Maui News said.
The person received a positive test result after returning on a local flight to Kalaupapa and is now in self-isolation with no symptoms.
Commonwealth Attorney General Maura Healey announced Florida-based BookIt.com and its CEO Arthur Paul Finlaw will reimburse 539 Massachusetts consumers for canceled trips.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen travel companies take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis by cheating consumers and pocketing payments for canceled trips,” Healey said in Wednesday’s announcement of the settlement over alleged unfair and deceptive acts.
Massachusetts is the first to win a substantial legal action against BookIt after it sued the company in June. Consumer protection officials there say they received more than 60 complaints about the single company.
– Nick Penzenstadler
For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, a bipartisan group of governors has vowed to put politics aside to issue a comprehensive plan to defeat COVID-19 across state lines. The plan focuses on five key pillars as part of an effective response to the pandemic: testing, contact tracing, public health and social measures, vaccines and treatments, and common measures of success.
The call to action was developed and released by the COVID Collaborative, a national assembly that has brought together leading experts and institutions across health, education and the economy to support state and local leaders. As part of the plan, the National Governors Association and Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy released a review of state vaccine distribution plans that highlight challenges and strategies to help states refine their efforts.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Ellen DeGeneres has tested positive for COVID-19 but is “feeling fine right now,” she announced Thursday. Production on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has been paused until January, a Telepictures spokesperson confirmed to USA TODAY. The television host, 62, said in a tweet that “anyone who has been in close contact with me has been notified, and I am following all proper CDC guidelines.” In October, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” became one of the first TV productions to return to inviting a limited number of in-studio audience members. On Oct. 28, 40 fans attended the “Ellen” taping in person in a studio generally holds about 300.
“I’ll see you all again after the holidays,” DeGeneres said. “Please stay healthy and safe.”
– Hannah Yasharoff
U.S. production of N95 masks will reach 180 million per month in January, up from 20 million a year ago, federal officials said Thursday. About 150 million of the U.S.-made masks are being produced now, senior Health and Human Services officials said in a press call.
“Anyone can find a disgruntled nurse on the street to talk about someone not getting an N95 mask. We can’t account for that,” said Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS. “We are in a significantly better position than we’ve ever been, and a dramatically better position than we were in in January 2020.”
Before the pandemic, the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile, which harbors emergency medical supplies, contained less than 13 million N95 masks, said Brigadier General David Sanford, director of the Supply Chain Task Force. It now contains “15 times that number of masks,” between the stockpile and FEMA counterparts, Sanford said.
– Grace Hauck
The chairman of a House subcommittee is demanding more information after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist told the committee this week that she was ordered to destroy an email regarding attempts by political appointees to interfere with the publication of weekly CDC reports.
Panel Chairman Rep. James Clyburn revealed the information in a letter sent to CDC Director Robert Redfield and HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Thursday seeking to interview Redfield about the allegation.
Dr. Charlotte Kent, chief of the Scientific Publications Branch and editor-in-chief of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report at the CDC, told the committee she was instructed to delete an Aug. 8 email sent by HHS senior adviser Dr. Paul Alexander, and that she understood the direction came from Redfield, according to the letter.
In the email, Alexander demanded that the CDC insert new language in a previously published scientific report on coronavirus risks to children or “pull it down and stop all reports immediately,” according to the letter.
An HHS spokesperson said in a statement Thursday that the subcommittee’s “characterization of the conversation with Dr. Kent is irresponsible” and that releasing the full transcript of Kent’s testimony would show no political interference. Redfield said in a statement that he had instructed CDC staff to ignore Alexander’s email and was “fully committed to maintaining the independence of the MMWR.”
– Grace Hauck
Hours after Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother from the United Kingdom, became the first person to get the COVID-19 vaccine, anti-vaxxers heated up social media with claims that Keenan didn’t exist, that she was dead or that she was part of a Bill Gates scheme to implant microchips.
Researchers warn this is just the beginning of viral hoaxes on social media that will feed off the unknowns of the virus and the vaccines to undercut public trust in the coming wave of immunizations.
“I am deeply concerned,” said Emerson Brooking, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “The same information campaign which initially downplayed the severity of COVID-19, downplayed the number of cases, then downplayed the number of deaths is now shifting to focus on the vaccine.”
People who get one of the new COVID-19 vaccines will be expected to get their second shot 21 or 28 days after the first one, depending on the manufacturer. But what happens if someone misses that deadline by a day, a week or even longer?
Moncef Slaoui, co-leader of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine development effort, says that from a scientific perspective, such precision is not that important and the immune system generally responds better when there’s a wider gap between vaccinations. But during a pandemic, when the risk of infection is high, he noted that people are better off getting the second shot – and being fully protected – according to the authorized schedule.
“If there is significant transmission of disease, as is the case here, we should absolutely get the second dose exactly as has been studied,” he said.
– Karen Weintraub
States are prioritizing frontline health workers and other vulnerable populations as the first to be immunized, but remaining unclear is the place in line for college students. The overwhelming majority of young adults are not among the nation’s most vulnerable. But students fueled some of the nation’s top outbreaks this fall, and they’re expected to return to campuses early in 2021.
Will they — can they — be required to get the vaccine once it’s readily available? And why are college students different than schoolchildren? It’s complicated, education experts across the country say — and we’re a long way from answers. Read more here.
– Lindsay Schnell
Millions of health care workers are slated to receive the first batch of potentially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines by the end of this month. But not all of them want to be first in line. Only one-third of a panel of 13,000 nurses said they would voluntarily take a vaccine, another third said they wouldn’t and the rest said they were unsure, according to a late October survey by the American Nurses Association.
“I actually even hate getting a flu shot, but I’ve had to get one every year since I became a nurse,” said Nina Siegrist, a registered nurse with Hospice of the Piedmont in Charlottesville, Virginia. “If my medical director says, ‘Listen, all hospice clinicians are going to get vaccinated,’ then I’ll get vaccinated. But I definitely want to read the details on the clinical trials first.”
– Christine Vestal, Stateline
The U.S. reported a record 3,124 deaths Wednesday, meaning about 130 people died of the virus every hour or one died every 28 seconds. That’s far worse than any day of the spring or summer surges. And another dark record was broken – most deaths over a seven-day period. The 15,927 deaths equals 95 per hour, or one death every 38 seconds, breaking a record set in April.
At the current pace, the U.S. death toll from the entire pandemic could reach 300,000 in just a few days.
The U.S. also reported 227,828 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the second-worst day on record. And the number of infections in a week set a record of almost 1.5 million, 145 new cases per minute.
Wednesday also saw a record in current hospitalizations, with 106,688. Hospitalizations never reached 60,000 at the peak of the spring or summer virus surges.
– Mike Stucka
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press