By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The U.S. set a fresh record for hospitalizations with the coronavirus illness COVID-19 on Thanksgiving Day, with more than 90,000 Americans in U.S. hospitals, the most since the start of the pandemic.
The U.S. counted at least 103,116 new cases on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s below recent daily tallies that have come closer to 200,000, but some states did not report their numbers for the holiday, which means the true tally is likely higher.
There are now 90,481 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, breaking the record of 89,959 set a day ago. The U.S. leads the world by cases, at 12.9 million, and fatalities, at 263,462, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
Case numbers have been rising across the U.S. in recent weeks, and health-care workers are reported to be exhausted and stressed as hospitals and intensive-care-unit beds fill. The governors of Iowa and North Dakota have reversed their stances on face masks and mandated them in public spaces.
In Wisconsin, hundreds of health-care workers at one system signed an open letter pleading with Dairy State residents to follow safety measures and avoid gatherings that would put them at risk.
“Wisconsin is in a bad place right now with no sign of things getting better without action,” said the letter from UW Health, the state university’s medical center and health system.
“We are, quite simply, out of time. Without immediate change, our hospitals will be too full to treat all of those with the virus and those with other illnesses or injuries,” said the letter.
Local officials elsewhere who have resisted mask wearing are continuing to test positive for COVID-19. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, tested positive on Wednesday. His office said he has mild symptoms and would continue to work while isolating.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized a Supreme Court ruling late Wednesday that would block him from imposing limits on attendance at religious services in places with high case numbers. The court voted 5-4 to set aside attendance limits that Cuomo had already lifted that sought to reduce the number gathering for a service to 10 people in red zones and 25 in orange zones, the Wall Street Journal reported.
New York classifies places where coronavirus infections are of increasing severity as yellow, orange or red. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization, alleged that the limits violated their First Amendment rights of religious exercise. Newly installed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett cast the crucial vote in a ruling that marked a departure from past cases that deferred to state officials on public health measures.
“The basic point is, you know, why does the court rule on an issue that is moot unless — and which they had just decided several months before in other cases which presented the same argument — why rule on a case that is moot and come up with a different decision than you did several months ago on the same issue? You have a different court, and I think that was the statement that the court was making,” Cuomo said at a news briefing.
In medical news, the U.K. government has asked its medicine regulator to evaluate the COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by AstraZeneca PLC (NAS:AZN) (LON:UK:AZN) and Oxford University, the first step toward getting it approved for deployment. Chief Executive Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg that an additional study of the vaccine is needed following efficacy data released on Monday, which has since been questioned by a number of experts.
The data showed the experimental vaccine was at least 70% effective in protecting individuals from COVID-19 in late-stage trials in the U.K. and Brazil. That rose to 90% when volunteers were given half a dose initially followed by a full dose a month later. However, it was only 62% effective when two full doses were given.
Some experts, including Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for the U.S. government’s “Warp Speed” vaccine program, questioned the gaps in the trial data because the trial’s most promising result of 90% was based on a subgroup of fewer than 3,000 people under the age of 55.
Slaoui, and others, said it was important to establish whether the vaccine can work as well in those aged over 55, who face a greater mortality threat from COVID. Soriot said the development was unlikely to delay regulatory approval in the U.K.
In other news:
• A group of scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the actual number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. reached nearly 58 million at the end of September and is now closer to 100 million, based on a model that calculates the true number to be about eight times the reported one. The model, reported on in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, seeks to account for the fact that reported numbers are based on positive tests but that most people with mild symptoms, or those entirely unsymptomatic, are not being counted because they don’t get tested. “Reported case counts are recognized to be less than the true number of cases because detection and reporting are incomplete and can vary by disease severity, geography, and over time,” the CDC scientists wrote.
• Germany has passed 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to local broadcaster Deutsche Welle, boosting the number of countries with more than a million cases to 12. The milestone was passed after Germany counted 22,268 new cases on Thursday, along with 389 fatalities. At least 15,160 Germans have died of COVID-19. The country has extended its partial lockdown into December to avoid overwhelmed hospitals.
• Russia set a new daily case record of 27,543 on Thursday and 496 deaths, the Moscow Times reported . Moscow has seen a 300% month-on-month increase in COVID-19 deaths in November, according to data from the health department . Indian drug company Hetero will produce 100 million doses of Russia’s controversial Sputnik V vaccine as part of an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The vaccine was approved and is in use even though Phase 3 trials have not yet been completed.
• Hackers from North Korea attempted to disrupt attempts made by South Korea to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, the Guardian reported . The effort was uncovered by South Korea’s intelligence agency, who said most attempts were aimed at stealing the log-in information and other details of people associated with drug companies working on potential vaccine candidates. Microsoft said a week ago that three hacker groups working for the Russian and North Korean governments had tried to break into the networks of seven leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers in South Korea, Canada, France, India and the U.S.
• Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, said he would not take a vaccine once one is available and said the country’s Congress was unlikely to mandate one, Reuters reported . The right-wing politician, who tested positive for the virus in July, made the comments on social-media platforms. Brazil has the second-highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world after the U.S., but Bolsanaro has spent much of the year playing down the gravity of the illness.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 61 million on Friday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll is 1.4 million. At least 39 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has 171,460 fatalities and is third by cases at 6.2 million.
India is second in cases with 9.3 million, and third in deaths at 135,715.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 104,242 and 10th highest case tally at 1 million.
The U.K has 57,128 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 1.6 million cases, or seventh highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 92,580 confirmed cases and 4,742 deaths, according to its official numbers.