Coronavirus updates: ‘Saturday Night Live’ may be violating New York rules; Moderna vaccine won’t come until spring 2021

USA World

Despite President Donald Trump repeatedly assuring the nation that a vaccine would be approved before Election Day, a key vaccine developer said Thursday that theirs won’t be released to the public until March 2021 at the earliest. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci rebutted some of the president’s claims during Tuesday’s debate with former vice president Joe Biden, telling ABC News his views on masks were “taken out of context.”

A new study out of Cornell found that Trump is the “single largest” transmitter of misinformation surrounding COVID-19, touting false “miracle cures” and giving credence to dubious claims about the origins of the virus. 

“Saturday Night Live,” which is set to come back this week, may be in some hot water with the state of New York. The show’s producers announced that it would welcome a live audience for the recording despite regulations prohibiting most live audiences. A spokesman for the state’s health department said “that restriction has not changed.”

Some significant developments:

  • Globally, September was the worst month for India during the pandemic. The country reported 86,821 new coronavirus cases and 1,181 fatalities on Thursday. 
  • Researchers from Kansas State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have found that mosquitoes cannot transmit COVID-19.
  • The NFL postponed the Tennessee Titans’ scheduled game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers indefinitely following an outbreak with Titans’ staff and players.
  • As of Wednesday, seven states set records for new cases in a week while three states had a record number of deaths in a week.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 7.2 million cases and over 207,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been 34 million cases and more than 1 million fatalities.

📰 What we’re reading: Colby College in Waterville, Maine, is running one of the nation’s most rigorous COVID-19 testing programs. So far, it’s working to keep coronavirus cases at bay while colleges across the nation are experiencing outbreaks.

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak, state by state.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

More than half of all states had higher cases, deaths last month

About every 2 seconds another American tested positive in September, and about every 2 minutes another American died from coronavirus, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data for the month shows. But overall, cases fell 17.5% and deaths fell 21.1% from August totals.

Twenty-seven states reported more cases in September than they had in August, while 25 states, Guam and Puerto Rico reported more deaths. Epidemiologists have also warned of a possible fall surge. In the latest two weeks, 23 states along with the District of Columbia and Guam reported more cases than they had in the previous two weeks. The rate of those new cases more than doubled in Alaska and North Dakota; rapid increases are also seen in Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania.

– Michael Stucka

One school is keeping cases down as colleges nationwide struggle

In Colby College, a small liberal arts school in Waterville, Maine, students are almost always wearing masks. They’re required by the college at almost all times, which surpasses state guidance. The results are impressive: The campus has recorded fewer than a dozen coronavirus cases since the semester began in August. The state has among the lowest caseloads in the nation, with only about 5,400 cases. 

Among the school’s other mandates: A stringent testing program, mandatory contact tracing by phone and no visitors on campus. Such requirements during pre-pandemic times likely would have been met with resistance or indifference from students. Now, they’re welcomed. What remains unknown is what will happen to Colby and other colleges as the winter months draw closer, people move inside and coronavirus fatigue sets in. 

– Chris Quintana, USA TODAY

As patients fill Wisconsin hospitals, front-line workers sound the alarm

Almost 700 Wisconsin patients were in the hospital with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the state hospital association reported, nearly double what it was two weeks earlier. At ThedaCare in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, where hospitals have been among some of the state’s hardest hit, vice president and chief medical officer for acute care Dr. Michael Hooker said the surge of coronavirus patients is happening much faster than they’d expected. 

“We’re really fighting a war in the hospital,” he said, adding that the surge could overwhelm hospitals in as little as two weeks if not managed. The state’s top health officials said this week Wisconsin is nearer than ever to needing to open an emergency field hospital built in spring at the state fairgrounds.

– Madeline Heim, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Report: Moderna vaccine won’t come until spring 2021

One of the key companies developing a COVID-19 vaccine will not have it ready until March 2021, at the earliest. Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of the pharmaceuticals company Moderna, told the Financial Times in an interview that the company will be unable to request emergency authorization from the FDA until at least November. Guidelines mandate that trial participants be screened for at least two months after the vaccine is taken.

“I think a late (first quarter), early (second quarter) approval, is a reasonable timeline, based on what we know from our vaccine,” he told the publication, noting that vaccines by other manufacturers — such as Pfizer — may be out sooner due to a different trial procedure.

Fauci responds to Trump’s mask claims after debate

After President Donald Trump pointed out that Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts initially discouraged the use of masks — which is partially true, according to a USA TODAY fact check — Fauci said he was “taken out of context” in an interview with ABC News.

Speaking on the “Start Here” podcast, he said that he discouraged mask use “very early on” due to a severe shortage of masks. “The feeling was that people who were wanting to have masks in the community,” he said, “might be hoarding masks and making the shortage of masks even greater.”

By April, with findings pointing toward the importance of mask-wearing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended masks for public use. Fauci has since made it very clear that masks are crucial when stepping out in public. “Anybody who has been listening to me over the last several months know that a conversation does not go by where I do not strongly recommend that people wear masks.”

Is ‘SNL’ following New York’s COVID-19 rules?

The decision by “Saturday Night Live” to welcome a live audience for its upcoming season premiere has drawn concern from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, which questioned whether the venerable show’s plan complies with state COVID-19 restrictions. The NBC sketch comedy show has been taking requests through a third party for tickets to its show this Saturday, when it is scheduled to open its 46th season and make a return to the famed Studio 8H in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.

New York’s COVID-19 rules, however, make clear television shows and other media productions are prohibited from having a live audience unless it is made up entirely of paid employees, cast or crew. Asked whether “SNL” live audience plan complies with state rules, Department of Health spokesman Gary Holmes noted the state banned ticketed events on March 16 and “that restriction has not changed.”

– Jon Campbell, New York State Team

Trump is the ‘single largest driver’ of COVID-19 misinformation, study says

Mere days after President Donald Trump sparred with former Vice President Joe Biden on the national stage, disseminating multiple falsehoods on voting and mail-in ballots, a study by Cornell has found that the president is the “single largest driver of misinformation around COVID.” 

The findings, first reported on by the New York Times, identified 11 topics of misinformation, including false theories about the provenance of the virus and ineffective “miracle cures” such as the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine, that circulated in “traditional media” outlets. Researchers also found “that the majority of COVID misinformation is conveyed by the media without question or correction.”

“That’s concerning in that there are real-world dire health implications,” lead author Sarah Evanega told the Times.

Study: Mosquitoes cannot spread COVID-19

Researchers from Kansas State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have found that mosquitoes cannot transmit COVID-19 from an infected person to an uninfected person. They gave mosquitoes blood infected with COVID-19 and found that the virus did not replicate in the mosquitoes. “We conclude that (the) biting (insects) do not pose a risk for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans or animals following a SARS-CoV-2 infected blood meal,” researchers wrote in the journal bioRxiv. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

The bugs, which are notorious for disseminating dengue, Zika and other viruses, resulted in Florida Keys officials releasing more than 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes over the span of the next two years to limit the spread of dengue. 

Outbreak in Washington infected 25 people linked to spa resort

An outbreak in Washington state that has infected at least 25 people is linked to a spa.  King County’s public health department is advising individuals who visited Salish Lodge and Spa in Snoqualmie, Washington, between Sept. 16 and Sept. 30 to get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine for two weeks. The spa has since temporarily suspended operations, and is cooperating with the department on reopening efforts. 

“We have further intensified (safety) efforts by proactively partnering with Public Health – Seattle & King County to provide widespread and expedited testing for our team members, as well as engaging a third-party for full-property sanitization on top of our already elevated standards,” said spa manager Alan Stephens in a statement.

The state of Washington has reported 87,522 cases and 2,126 deaths as of Thursday morning, per the state’s Department of Health.

India reports 86K new cases, close to becoming most infected country

India is on track to surpass the U.S. as the worst-hit country during the pandemic within weeks as officials reported an additional 86,821 coronavirus cases and 1,181 fatalities Thursday, making September its worst month. The Health Ministry’s update for the past 24 hours raised India’s total to more than 6.3 million people infected and 98,678 dead from COVID-19. India added 41% of its confirmed cases and 34% of fatalities in September alone.

The government announced further easing of restrictions to start Oct. 15, allowing cinemas, theaters and multiplexes to open with up to 50% of seating capacity. India’s 28 states can also decide on reopening of schools after Oct. 15. Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the world’s stringent lockdown across the country late March, but started easing restrictions after two months to revive the severely-hit economy that cost more than 10 million impoverished migrant workers their jobs in the cities.

NBA commissioner: Vaccine isn’t needed to open 2021 season with fans

As the NBA pursues its hope to begin next season sometime in January with fans in home arenas, commissioner Adam Silver downplayed whether that scenario hinges on the availability of a safe and proven vaccine.  

“Based on everything I’ve read, there’s almost no chance that there will be a vaccine at least that is widely distributed at least before we start the next season. I do not see the development of a vaccine as a prerequisite,” Silver said Wednesday in a press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.

“My sense with rapid testing is we may not have 19,000 people in the building. We’ll see. But that, with appropriate protocols in terms of distancing and with advanced testing, you will be able to bring fans back into the arenas,” he added.

– Mark Medina

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp extends coronavirus restrictions again

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday extended Georgia’s coronavirus restrictions for an additional two weeks as the state topped 7,000 confirmed deaths. The governor made minor changes to the state’s restrictions, including allowing restaurant and bar employees to return to work after being symptom-free for 24 hours following a positive or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Georgia has more than 318,000 cases, ranking 24th in the nation for new cases per capita in the last two weeks.

First smoke-free resort on Las Vegas Strip opens amid pandemic

The MGM Resorts property in Las Vegas reopened Wednesday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the resort for seven months, but its return came with a new rule and the first of its kind on The Strip: No smoking. As the COVID-19 death toll rises across the U.S., smoking inside casinos has resurfaced as a make-or-break detail for travelers planning vacations, and companies like MGM Resorts are now restricting where visitors can puff tobacco. 

“It’s the greatest thing in the world,” said Jane Stalls, 72, of Storden, Minn. “I hate sitting next to people who smoke. Anytime someone sits next to me smoking, I move.”

– Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

CDC to extend ‘no-sail’ order – but lift it before Election Day

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will extend its “no-sail” order for the U.S. cruise industry through Oct. 31, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY. The CDC’s previous order had been scheduled to expire Sept. 30 after extensions to the original mid-March order in April and again in July.

The CDC requested that the order be extended to Feb. 15, but compromised with the White House Task Force to extend until Oct. 31, four days before the Nov. 3 election. 

– Morgan Hines

Travel industry layoffs set to begin Thursday

With the federal stimulus due to run out Thursday, airlines, hotels and other travel-related businesses are urging Congress to act on a new relief plan to head off mass layoffs.

“The clock is ticking and time is quickly running out for Congress to extend the effective and successful Payroll Support Program that has kept critical frontline airline employees on the job and off unemployment,” said Nicholas Calio, CEO of trade group Airlines for America in a statement Tuesday. “Tomorrow, tens of thousands of airline workers will be furloughed if the program is not extended.”

The entire U.S. travel industry employed 15.8 million Americans, about one of every 10 jobs, before the pandemic. More than half those jobs have been wiped out, said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

– Chris Woodyard

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves eases face mask mandate

Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday lifted the statewide mask mandate in Mississippi that was in place since early August, though face coverings will still be required in schools and certain businesses. 

“We should not use the heavy hand of government more than it is justified,” Reeves said at a news conference. “We have to tailor our actions to the current threat, and make sure they do not go beyond what is reasonable.” 

Even while recognizing masks were highly effective in cutting virus transmission, Reeves let the mandate expire Wednesday instead of extending it by several weeks as he has done before. Masks will still be required on school campuses under the order, as well as inside close-contact businesses such as barber shops. The order’s language strongly encourages Mississippians to keep wearing masks everywhere in public, and Reeves said he would continue to do so.

– Luke Ramseth, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

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