The U.S. death toll from coronavirus has surpassed 250,000, including 1,700 reported Wednesday alone. Hospitalizations across the nation have exploded, with almost 80,000 Americans now receiving inpatient treatment.
Still, some governors remain unconvinced that mandatory facial coverings are a necessary tool in curbing the pandemic.
Thirty-six states have some type of statewide mask requirement. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require them, too. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a fast-rising GOP star, are among the headliner holdouts. Both spoke to the media this week. Neither budged from their position.
Ducey, in his first news pandemic briefing since Oct. 29, held a moment of silence and prayed for victims. But he suggested that a statewide mask mandate would not help halt the surge, adding that it is nearly impossible to participate in the Arizona economy without wearing a mask due to various local restrictions.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, responded on Twitter, decrying the Republican governor’s “lack of leadership.”
The South Dakota State Medical Association issued a statement urging a statewide mask mandate. Noem, in her first news conference to address the pandemic in over three months, was unmoved. She said cases were increasing in many states with mandates, adding that communities were free to establish local regulations.
“I don’t want to approach a policy or a mandate just looking to make people feel good,” Noem said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 11.5 million cases and more than 250,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 56.4 million cases and 1.35 million deaths.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.
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Lawsuit: Pork plant managers bet on how many workers would get sick
As state officials and lawmakers urged the shutdown of a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Iowa, managers at the plant reportedly placed bets on how many would end up getting sick. That is one of the many new allegations leveled against Tyson Foods in an amended lawsuit filed this week. Around 1,000 employees at the Waterloo plant contracted COVID-19, five of whom died. That includes Isidro Fernandez, whose family filed the suit against the meat empire earlier this year.
In April, per the suit, plant manager Tom Hart allegedly began organizing the “winner-take-all” betting ring among managers and supervisors over how many employees would get sick. Representatives from Tyson Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
– Joshua Bote
COVID crisis fails to bring divided America together
As COVID-19 cases pile up at a staggering rate, Republicans and Democrats remain in stark disagreement over the threat of the virus and the steps necessary to mitigate its spread. That has surprised political scientists and public health experts who thought that, if the pandemic worsened, the partisan gap would begin to close. They believed the reality of what was happening in people’s cities and towns would trump political identity, unifying the nation in its fight against a deadly threat. It has not. And it may never.
“I thought at some point, reality would come back in for people and they would have a hard time balancing their motivations to stay consistent with their partisanship with what’s going on on the ground,” said Shana Gadarian a political psychologist at Syracuse University. “That was wholly optimistic on my part.” Read more here.
– Alia E. Dastagir
Europe sees dip in new cases
European officials announced a modest gain in the continent’s battle against the virus. New cases of COVID-19 decreasing to 1.8 million cases last week, down from over 2 million the week before. Dr Hans Henri Kluge, World Health Organization regional director for Europe, credited adherence to “risk-reducing behavior.” Still, an average of 4500 lives are lost to COVID-19 in Europe every day, Kluge said. He described further lockdowns as a last resort and said that if mask use reached 95%, lockdowns would not be needed.
“I would like to emphasize that every time we choose to follow guidance, stop the spread of misinformation or address denial, we contribute to preventing lives lost,” he said.
COVID blamed for thousands of non-virus deaths among elderly
Almost 100,000 long-term care U.S. residents have died in the coronavirus pandemic, and advocates for the elderly say tens of thousands more are succumbing to neglect by overwhelmed staffs and slow declines from isolation imposed as protection from COVID. Stephen Kaye, professor at the Institute on Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed data from 15,000 facilities, finding that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those “excess deaths” beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March, he said.
Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, disputed claims of widespread inability of staff to care for residents and dismissed estimates of tens of thousands of non-COVID-19 deaths as “speculation.”
“There have been some really sad and disturbing stories that have come out,” Gifford said. “But we’ve not seen that widespread.”
COVID vaccine ‘clock’ rolls forward after good news from drug makers
Although the COVID-19 outbreak is looking worse than ever, news from vaccine makers is fueling optimism. Normally restrained and cautious, a panel of experts convened by USA TODAY could barely contain its enthusiasm over the 95% vaccine effectiveness figures from both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. The panel judges the time on a clock that began at “midnight” with the discovery of the dangerous new virus in early 2020, and will end at “noon,” when a vaccine is freely available across the U.S. In June, the panel’s first median time was 4 a.m. For November, the time reached 9:30 a.m. with word that authorization of at least one COVID-19 vaccine is anticipated within weeks.
“That means we can begin inoculating health care and other essential workers even before we’re done with the Thanksgiving leftovers,” said Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a New York-based think tank.
Hurdles that remain: getting the vaccines delivered, get them in people’s arms, reminding people to come back weeks later for a second shot and record any problems.
– Elizabeth Weise, and Karen Weintraub
Third vaccine shows promise
England’s University of Oxford on Thursday announced encouraging early testing results for yet another vaccine candidate. The vaccine being developed Oxford researchers and U.K.-based AstraZeneca appears to trigger a “robust immune response” in healthy adults, including those aged 56 and older, the university said in a release. The Phase II testing data is crucial for elderly adults who are among the most vulnerable to face serious illness and death from COVID-19. Phase III trials involving more than 30,000 volunteers are underway. Two other vaccine candidates, from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, have displayed encouraging results in Phase III trials.
US coronavirus death count reaches 250K
The U.S. has become the first country to have 250,000 people die from COVID-19, nearly 19% of the global total of 1.35 million fatalities. With approximately 330 million people, the U.S. has 4.3% of the world’s population. The U.S. also has far more coronavirus infections with close to 11.5 million. India has the next most with 2.5 million.
The death toll the virus has inflicted among Americans is more than twice as large as the number of U.S. service members who died in World War I. Only two American conflicts have claimed more lives than the coronavirus – the Civil War (nearly 500,000, including non-combat deaths) and World War II (405,000), according to figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Despite the development of therapeutics that have saved an untold number of lives, the worst impacts of the virus may be yet to come. The nation is in the midst of a major spike in cases that has produced 16 consecutive days of at least 100,000 new infections and a daily average for November of more than 130,000.
Tiny Texan lost both parents to virus
Raiden Gonzalez will be turning 5 years old soon, and while he will be surrounded by love and support, he will be missing his parents. Adan and Mariah Gonzalez died months apart this year after contracting COVID-19. Both were under the age of 35. Raiden now lives with his Raiden’s maternal grandmother Rozie Salinas in San Antonio. He “just wishes he could have them back,” Salinas told USA TODAY. Her advice to those who hear Raiden’s story: “They need to take COVID seriously because it’s no joke.”
– Joel Shannon
Some colleges tell students heading home for holiday not to come back
College students are preparing to fan out across the nation for Thanksgiving, taking their possible coronavirus infections — symptomatic or not — into their loved ones’ homes. Colleges are scrambling to prevent a massive spread, with some urging or requiring students to quarantine or receive a negative coronavirus test before traveling home. Without those precautions, college leaders say, students should consider abstaining from their holiday plans and instead opt for a celebration closer to campus.
Boston University’s recommendation is that students either stay in Boston for the holiday or go home and not come back. Kenneth Elmore, dean of students, says the school is urging students to think of the greater good.
“We’ve been pushing that very hard, very strongly, to the point where we’re just on the verge of being mean about it,” Elmore said.
– Chris Quintana
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey says he won’t issue mask mandate
As Arizona’s COVID-19 trends spike, the state is giving hospitals $25 million to bolster staffing, but Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday that he won’t impose a statewide mask mandate. In his first news briefing since Oct. 29, Ducey, a Republican, said rising COVID-19 numbers in the state mean “getting back to normal is not in the cards right now.” He also held a moment of silence, prayer and reflection for the 6,365 Arizonans known to have died from COVID-19, and their families.
But Ducey did not announce any new restrictions or requirements on Arizonans to stop the spread of COVID-19, despite increasing calls for a statewide mask mandate and other measures in recent days as COVID-19 cases in Arizona continue to climb. Ducey suggested that a statewide mask mandate would not effectively curb the spread of the virus, and emphasized that about 90% of the state is under a local mask mandate. He also said it is nearly impossible to participate in the Arizona economy without wearing a mask.
– Stephanie Innes, Lily Altavena and Maria Polletta, Arizona Republic
Colorado’s largest school district temporarily halts in-person learning
School officials on Wednesday announced that public schools in Denver, Colorado, are temporarily pausing in-person learning as coronavirus cases continue to spike. More than 90,000 students in the state’s largest school district will return to virtual learning starting Nov. 30 through the end of the semester.
The district reported about 13 cases per week when it first opened early childhood education centers. Cases have now surpassed 300 per week. Superintendent Susana Cordova in a statement said the district plans to bring all elementary students back into classrooms in January.
Nearly 1 in 4 Michigan houses report increase in rodents during pandemic
Nearly 1 in 4 Michigan households are reporting an increase in rats and mice since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to a survey by a pest management company. There are some reasons for this. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledging the nation’s pandemic-related rodent problem, points out restaurants have reduced service, which means fewer food scraps are ending up in the dumpsters on which rats and mice often feed.
And, according to Smith’s Pest Management, a California-based service that commissioned the survey via Google Surveys, our houses are the perfect substitute. We’re home more, which means we’re producing more garbage. Nationwide, 1 in 3 households report a notable increase in garbage accumulation, the Smith’s survey said. We’re also cleaning less with 1 in 4 households across the nation reporting they’re not cleaning as thoroughly as they did prior to the pandemic.
– Georgea Kovanis, Detroit Free Press
Montana Sen. Steve Daines says he’s been part of Pfizer vaccine trial
Montana Sen. Steve Daines said Wednesday he has been part of Pfizer’s trial for a COVID-19 vaccine trial, saying he wanted to help build confidence and trust for Montanans and others wondering if they should take the vaccine when it is approved. Daines, R-Mont., said in a news conference that he received a call from his mother in August, saying Pfizer was looking for people to enroll in their COVID-19 vaccine trial in Bozeman.
“Thanks to that call, my sweet wife Cindy and I decided to go online and enroll in the trial – joining over 100 everyday Montanans participating. While this was a blind trial, I have since tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies,” he said in a news release.
Pfizer and its collaborator BioNTech on Wednesday announced their vaccine is 95% effective in preventing the spread of the respiratory illness.
– Phil Drake, Great Falls Tribune
Dr. Anthony Fauci urges Americans to ‘think twice’ about holiday travel plans
Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging Americans to “think twice” about traveling and having indoor gatherings for the holidays. During a meeting with USA TODAY’s Editorial Board Wednesday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said seemingly “innocent” family and friend dinner gatherings at home are where many of the infections are now stemming from.
“Because of the almost intuitive instinct that when you’re with people you know … and no one appears to be physically ill that it’s OK to congregate 10, 12 people for drinks or a meal or what have you, but it’s indoors because the weather is cold, that’s where we’re seeing these types of outbreaks,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explained.
“As we get into the colder weather, we should really think twice about these kind of dinner parties where you’re not sure of whether the people that are in your bubble (are safe),” he said. “Then you’re going to start seeing these unanticipated infections related to innocent home gatherings, particularly as we head into the holiday season.”
Fauci’s recommendation? He advises that each person and family unit “should make a risk-benefit assessment.”
– Sara M. Moniuszko
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press