By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
Just one week after the U.S. surpassed 100,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day for the first time, it has set a one-day record of almost 143,000, while hospitalizations rose above 65,000 for the first time since the start of the outbreak.
The U.S. counted 142,860 new infections on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 1,431 people died. The U.S. has set record case numbers six times in just eight days and has averaged 128,096 cases a day in the past week, a 69% increase from just two weeks ago. Cases are higher and rising in 49 states and territories and the Dakotas are seeing the worst per-capita increases.
There are currently a record 65,368 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, up 89% from a month ago, and the pandemic shows no sign of stopping, alarming pubic health experts as the holiday season approaches. The U.S. leads the world with 10.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 241,809 fatalities, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The White House has made no comment on the surge in new infections, leaving it to individual states and municipalities to take charge. Since Election Day, more than a third of governors have at the least appealed to their residents to follow safety measures — frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face mask in public — if not actually mandating those practices, according to the New York Times.
Examples include Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who announced restrictions on bars, restaurants and gatherings in his state and said he wished the neighboring Dakotas would be more aggressive in attempting to contain the spread, the AP reported.
Walz criticized South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem for allowing the summer’s Sturgis Motorcyle Rally to take place, describing it as “absolutely unnecessary” and noting that data shows it was a superspreader event. About half a million bikers are estimated to have attended the event and many were filmed gathering closely in bars and restaurants without wearing face masks. He also said he wishes Noem, a Republican, had imposed a statewide face mask mandate, as Minnesota did.
Noem has not just declined to do so, but has expressed doubts about the science that shows that face coverings are effective in blocking transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set out its most explicit message on face masks this week, explaining that they protect the individual wearer and the economy.
In Wisconsin, meanwhile, one health-care network is temporarily shutting down testing sites to allow health-care workers to tend to its growing number of patients, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other local news outlets.
Aurora Health Care will suspend its drive-through and walk-up testing sites and reallocate staff.
“I know that they, and the other systems, are inundated with patients right now, so I’m sympathetic to that, but we have an obligation, I believe, to continue this community testing,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told radio station WDJT.
In the meantime, health experts welcomed the news that Democrat Joe Biden, winner of the 2020 presidential race, has named Ron Klain as his chief of staff.
Klain, 59, is a lawyer and longtime adviser to Democratic presidents, vice presidents and candidates, including Hillary Clinton, and was a top aide to Biden in the late 1980s. He also served as then-President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” during that outbreak in 2014.
“Ron Klain’s deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again,” Biden said in a tweet.
Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Obama, said he would breathe easier knowing Klain would be bringing his expertise to the crisis.
Don’t miss: Joe Biden’s pandemic plan
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. cold still make it through winter without a lockdown if Americans comply with the recommended safety measures, especially during the holiday season.
Help is really on the way. If you think of it metaphorically, the cavalry is coming here,” Fauci said during a Thursday morning appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Vaccines are going to have a major positive impact.”
In other news:
• The U.K. became the first European country to record more than 50,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to the latest government figures. The U.K. has the fifth highest death toll in the world at 50,551, after the U.S., Brazil, India and Mexico. It counted another 22,950 cases on Wednesday and has 1.2 million confirmed cases.
• Germany is seeing early signs that a surge in COVID-19 cases is easing, the Guardian reported, with officials crediting anti-transmission measures for the trend. However, they warned that they would have to be maintained through winter and beyond. “The curve is flattening,” said Lothar Wieler, who heads the country’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). Falling daily new infection figures show “we are not helpless against this virus” and that restrictions such as social distancing and mask wearing can help halt the march of Covid-19, he said. Germany cited 21,866 new cases on Wednesday, according to RKI data.
• A study of more than 1,800 Marine recruits found that screening methods such as temperature checks and personal questions do not reliably detect COVID-19 cases in individuals who are not showing symptoms, ABC News reported. The study was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and conducted by Navy medical researchers and Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. It suggests testing may need to be added to limit the spread of the virus in group settings.
• Officials in India’s capital Delhi are warning that the Diwali festival that kicks off on Nov. 14 could become a super spreader event, Reuters reported. The city’s 20 million residents celebrate the event with mass gatherings and fireworks, increasing air pollution and the risk of getting COVID-19. Delhi counted 8,593 new infections on Wednesday, its highest level yet. Intensive care units are rapidly filling, the agency reported.
Guest Farmworkers Risk Covid-19 Inside Crowded Motels
While the agriculture industry is increasingly taking improved coronavirus safety measures in the fields, H-2A guest farmworkers are often returning to crowded motels where coronavirus outbreaks have already spread. WSJ reporter Alejandro Lazo reports from Santa Maria, Calif.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 163,368 and is third by cases at 5.7 million.
India is second in cases with 8.7 million, and third in deaths at 128,121. Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 96,430 and 10th highest case tally at 986,177.
China, where the disease was first reported late last year, has had 91,775 cases and 4,742 fatalities, according to its official numbers.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW:DJIA) recently was down 223 points, or 0.8%, while the S&P (S&P:SPX) was down 0.7%.
What‘s the economy saying?
The number of Americans who applied for state unemployment benefits during election week fell by 48,000 to a pandemic low of 709,000, suggesting a record outbreak in coronavirus cases has not made a big dent in the labor market, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
At least not yet.
The decline was bigger than expected. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast initial jobless claims to fall to 731,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 7.
Another 298,154 people, however, applied for benefits through a temporary federal-relief program that expires at the end of the year, the government said Thursday.
If both state and federal claims are combined, the number of new applications for unemployment benefits has yet to fall below 1 million a week since the onset of the pandemic.
“This is the fourth week in a row unemployment claims have fallen, and while the pace is slow, we are seeing the jobs market clawing its way back,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Still, with more than 1 million weekly claims total, there are millions of Americans each month laid off. And with COVID-19 cases hitting new daily records, the downward trend in claims could reverse.”
What are companies saying?
• Consumer products company Edgewell Personal Care Co. (NYS:EPC) posted stronger-than-expected earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter, despite the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. The parent of Schick and Wilkinson Sword shaving brands said sales fell to $488.8 million from $528 million, ahead of the $466.0 million FactSet consensus. “North American Wet Shave and Sun Care, and continued expansion of our Wet Ones brand, were all areas of strength,” Chief Executive Rod Little said in a statement. The company expects its Project Fuel savings program to generate $265 million to $275 million in total annual gross savings by the end of the fiscal 2021 year. It expects to book one-time, pretax charges of about $160 million to $165 million in the same period. For fiscal 2020, Edgewell expects sales to grow in the mid-single digits and EPS to range from $2.18 to $2.38.
• Battery maker Energizer Holdings Inc. (NYS:ENR) reported a fiscal fourth-quarter profit that fell short of expectations, while revenue rose above forecasts. While demand for batteries remained elevated amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the auto care business improved, a continued focus on employee health and safety and meeting needs of customers resulted in higher costs and lower earnings. “We expect the increased costs related to COVID-19 will be substantially reduced by the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2021,” said Chief Executive Alan Hoskins. For the quarter to Sept. 30, Energizer swung to a net loss of $55.6 million, or 81 cents a share, from net income of $41.9 million, or 61 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Excluding nonrecurring items, such as losses on debt extinguishment and acquisition costs, adjusted earnings per share fell to 59 cents from 93 cents, and missed the FactSet consensus of 81 cents. Revenue rose 6.1% to $763.0 million, above the FactSet consensus of $747.2 million.
• Moderna Inc. said the first batch of data from its late-stage test of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine was ready for analysis. The company said the first batch of data, which is being sent to a data-safety monitoring board, is on 53 patients, some of whom were given the vaccine, the others a placebo. In late October, Moderna completed enrollment of 30,000 participants in the study, and said it was “actively preparing” for a launch of the vaccine.
• Southwest Airlines Co. (NYS:LUV) reported October operational data that was at the better part of previously provided guidance ranges, while providing a somewhat downbeat outlook for the rest of the year. October operating revenue fell approximately 65% from a year ago, compared with a previous estimate of down 65% to down 70%; load factor was about 55%, versus a previous estimate of 50% to 55%; and capacity (available seat miles) was down about 44%, compared with expectations of down about 45%. Looking ahead, Southwest expects revenue to be down 60% to 65% in November and to remain down 60% to 65% in December. Load factor expected to be 50% to 55% in November and improve 60% to 70% in December, while capacity is expected to down about 35% in November and decline further to down 40% to down 45% in December. After experiencing a “stall” in improving revenue trends in July, due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, there was “modest improvements” in August through October. The company said it has experienced a deceleration in improving revenue trends for November and December in recent weeks. “While the company expected the election to impact trends, it is unclear whether the softness in booking trends is also a direct result of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases. As such, the Company remains cautious in this uncertain revenue environment,” the company said.
• Online used car seller Vroom Inc. (NAS:VRM) reported third-quarter results that beat Wall Street expectations but said it expects wider losses in the fourth quarter. Sales fell 5.1% to $323 million, the company said. “After the initial disruption in our e-commerce operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer demand for used vehicles has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels and, in the three months ended September 30, 2020, we experienced continued strong consumer demand for our e-commerce solutions and contact-free delivery,” Vroom said. For the fourth quarter, Vroom said it expects sales between $372 million to $414 million and a per-share loss between 41 cents and 35 cents. The analysts surveyed by FactSet expect a fourth-quarter loss of 36 cents a share on sales of $399 million. Vroom went public in June,| hoping to catch a tailwind from its contactless car-buying options.