By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
AFP via Getty Images
The global death toll from the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed to 1.009 million on Wednesday, while the U.S. death toll rose above 206,000, and the first presidential debate found President Donald Trump again blaming China for the outbreak, while opponent Democrat Joe Biden slammed Trump’s handling of the crisis.
Trump said the damage to the U.S. economy during the pandemic can be blamed on China, where the illness was first reported late last year. Biden responded by using an expression used by Trump in a recent Axios interview regarding the U.S. death toll: “It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden said.
The debate came on a day with more than 43,000 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and 918 deaths, according to a New York Times tracker. In the last week, the U.S. has counted an average of 43,128 cases a day, up 13% from the average two weeks ago.
The U.S. has the most cases and deaths of any country in the world at 7.2 million cases and 206,351 fatalities, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. That’s about a fifth of the global death toll. Experts have lamented the U.S. government’s handling of the crisis and failure to follow a consistent strategy on testing, contact tracing and isolation, and convince the public of the need to socially distance and wear face masks.
A group of seven former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioners added their voices to the chorus on Wednesday in an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which they warned that political interference from Trump administration officials is undermining the credibility of the country’s leading public health agencies.
That, in turn, could have dire consequences for the development and rollout of a coronavirus vaccine, said the op-ed, which was written by Robert Califf, Scott Gottlieb, Margaret Hamburg, Jane Henney, David Kessler, Mark McClellan and Andy von Eschenbach.
“For decades, when we and our predecessors spoke as FDA commissioners about issues of regulation and people’s health, the public knew we were speaking on behalf of experts whose judgments were grounded in science,” they wrote. “That is changing in deeply troubling ways.”
The group cited as examples statements from the White House that it may try to influence scientific standards for vaccine development followed by the FDA, or even prevent it from issuing further written guidance, despite key leaders of the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health supporting the guidance. Then there was the move by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to remove the FDA’s authority to establish rules for food and drug safety, and make himself the sole authority.
“This came in the wake of acknowledged acts of political influence on the FDA’s coronavirus communications, significant misstatements by the secretary and other political leaders about the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma, and the overruling of FDA scientists on the regulation of covid-19 laboratory tests. At risk is the FDA’s ability to make the independent, science-based decisions that are key to combating the pandemic and so much more,” the doctors wrote.
Polls consistently show that Americans are turning away from science as the number willing to take a vaccine is declining. A recent Pew Research Center report found 78% of those surveyed were concerned that the approval process will be rushed. Just 21% of those polled said they would definitely take a vaccine, or about half the percentage that said that just four months ago.
“If the FDA makes available a safe and effective vaccine that people trust, we could expect to meaningfully reduce Covid-19 risk as soon as next spring or summer. Without that trust, our health and economy could lag for years,” the commissioners wrote.
In other news:
• Belgium has recorded more than 10,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to local media reports. Belgium has the highest mortality rate in Europe, according to the Johns Hopkins data, at 87.44 deaths per 100,000 people. The country of about 11.5 million has 117,115 confirmed cases, the data show. That’s followed by Spain, with 67.33 deaths per 100,000 people, and the U.K, with 63.30 deaths per 100,000.
• A number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe set record one-day new case tallies on Wednesday, the Guardian and news agencies reported. Slovakia counted 567 new cases, according to health ministry data, its highest number since the start of the outbreak. Ukraine registered 4,027 cases, according to its National Security Council, and Romania recorded a daily spike of 2,158 new cases, bringing its total to 127,572.
• New York City will start fining people who do not comply with its face mask mandate, after the percentage of people who tested positive for COVID-19 surged above 3% for the first time since early June. The increase is being driven by a cluster of cases in a handful of Brooklyn and Queens ZIP Codes, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We’re dealing with specific challenges in specific neighborhoods,” de Blasio said at his morning briefing, in which he and top health officials soberly raised the alarm about the cluster’s potential to lead to wider community spread. The latest data showed the city’s positivity rate rose to 3.25% on Sunday, doubling from the 1.41% recorded the previous day. England has introduced fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($12,852) for citizens who refuse to self-isolate when instructed to do so.
There are now 33.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, the Johns Hopkins data shows. At least 23.4 million people have recovered.
Brazil has the second-highest death toll at 142,921, but third-highest case tally at 4.8 million. India is second to the U.S. by case tally at 6.2 million, and has the third-highest death toll at 97,497.
Mexico is fourth with 77,163 deaths and seventh with 738,163 cases. The U.K. has 42,162 deaths and 448,734 cases, the highest death toll in Europe and fifth-highest in the world.
China has 90,536 cases and 4,739 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the latest medical news?
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203149337/composite REGN +0.71% said its trial antiviral drug cocktail reduced the coronavirus load and the time needed to ease symptoms in non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19. The cocktail, named REGN-COV2, also showed “positive trends in reducing medical visits,” the company said.