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Coronavirus update: Birx memo warns of a worsening pandemic, small businesses slow their hiring

An approved vaccine may only protect half the population

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 9,309,298 (9,220,933)

Total U.S. deaths: 231,754 (231,125)

Total global cases: 47,370,241 (46,688,370)

Total global deaths: 1,209,172 (1,202,605)

Birx memo takes issue with Trump

President Trump in recent weeks has clashed repeatedly with government health experts who are trying to manage the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The latest to take issue with the president is Dr. Deborah Birx, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force.

In a leaked memo published in the Washington Post, Birx contradicted Trump’s assertion that we are “rounding the corner” of the pandemic, saying that the nation is “entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality.”

Birx said in the internal report that the government should be embarked on “an aggressive, balanced approach,” but she said such a policy isn’t being implemented.

Slowdown in small business hiring

Recent weeks have seen a declining number of people applying for unemployment benefits, but that doesn’t mean the economic damage from the coronavirus is healing. The latest report from Paychex reveals a modest slowdown in small business hiring from the previous month, declining 0.13 percent nationally to 94.32. 

Hourly earnings growth stood at 2.88 percent in October, while weekly hours worked remained positive, up 0.38 percent from last year. Economists suggest the pace of hiring is directly related to the increase in cases of the virus.

"The Small Business Jobs Index dipped again in October, coinciding with the recent surge in COVID-19 cases," said James Diffley, chief regional economist at IHS Markit.

Vaccine may only be 50 percent effective

The world is waiting for a coronavirus vaccine to be approved, but it’s unlikely to protect everyone when that happens, health experts say. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set the bar rather low, saying clinical trials must show a vaccine is at least 50 percent effective.

But most health experts are not turning up their noses at a vaccine that only protects half the people who get it. They say even that would make a big difference in the spread and might also reduce the severity of the illness in people for whom the vaccine doesn’t protect.

There are two vaccine candidates nearing the end of clinical trials. The companies developing them say they could be ready to apply for emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA by next month.

Colleges face Thanksgiving break dilemma

The return of college students to campus in August and September coincided with a surge in new coronavirus cases. Now colleges are faced with questions about the impact of thousands of students going home for Thanksgiving and then returning to campus.

According to Inside Higher Education, some schools have changed their schedules so that students will end the semester with online instruction after Thanksgiving, limiting personal contact as much as possible. 

Student travel is already a suspect in the uptick in cases that began in June. Research by two economists shows that counties with an abundance of young people returning from spring break experienced the greatest growth in COVID-19 cases.

Report explores dark side of stay-at-home orders

A new report published in the New Jersey Law Journal found the number of domestic violence restraining orders issued in the state has spiked since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in March. The authors say this could be a leading indicator of just how dramatically the pandemic impacted domestic violence rates in the state.

Family law specialist Bari Weinberger used data from the New Jersey Superior Courts and Newark Police Department to reach conclusions about the risk victims faced as a consequence of pandemic lockdown measures.

"New Jersey's 'stay at home' orders were intended to save lives,” Weinberger said. “However, we need to acknowledge that for victims of domestic violence, lockdown brought increased risk. To stop the spread of coronavirus, victims suddenly found themselves isolated at home with their abusers…often in harm's way." 

Around the nation

  • Pennsylvania: Health officials say Pennsylvania is a model of the spread of the coronavirus. While cases were confined mostly to the urban center of Philadelphia in the early months, Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, now says “it’s everywhere.”

  • Nevada: Gov. Steve Sisolak reports that a staffer in his Carson City office has tested positive for COVID-19. Other staff members who came in contact with the person have been asked to work from home for a quarantine period.

  • Louisiana: It may be up to the courts to determine whether coronavirus restrictions remain in force. Gov. John Bell Edwards says they do, but Attorney General Jeff Landry has ruled that they have been suspended for seven days.

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