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Coronavirus update: Florida gets more good news, no CDC guidance on reopenings

A new vaccine has been cleared for a Phase 2 clinical trial

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 1,231,992 (1,210,822)

Total U.S. deaths: 73,573 (71,463)

Total global cases: 3,784,085 (3,709,800)

Total global deaths: 264,679 (259,695)

Florida’s story keeps getting better

Health officials are still trying to figure out how Florida avoided becoming a coronavirus (COVID-19) hot spot after it was slow to close down and quick to reopen.

Despite that, it’s case total and death toll puts it at eighth-highest in the nation, even though it’s the third-largest state in terms of population. When you consider its miles of beaches, its large population of elderly residents, and its tourist attractions, the state was expected to be a disaster area.

Instead, most of the state has entered into a phase one reopening, with retail stores and restaurants allowed to operate at up to 25 percent capacity. “The fact of the matter is, Florida has met all the gating criteria to be into phase one,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press briefing.

No guidance from CDC

States, cities, and counties expecting guidance from federal health officials on how to reopen their jurisdictions are apparently not going to get it. The Associated Press reports that the blueprint, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is apparently being withheld. It was supposed to be released at the end of last week.

The AP cites two sources as saying CDC scientists were told the document “would never see the light of day.” It was developed to help local governments determine when and how to reopen businesses and churches closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb expressed surprise at the report, tweeting that “a lot of business literally can’t reopen without it (the guidance) because CDC is a de-facto regulator in a public health crisis.”

Vaccine cleared for Phase 2 clinical trial

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved drugmaker Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for Phase 2 clinical trials, which will determine whether it’s effective against the virus. The vaccine entered a Phase 1 trial in mid-March. The company said the next trial, using 600 volunteers, will begin soon. 

“The imminent Phase 2 study start is a crucial step forward as we continue to advance the clinical development of mRNA-1273, our vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO.

The company is already looking ahead to a Phase 3 trial, which Bancel said could begin as early as this summer.

Jobless claims rise but at a slower pace

Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 3.3 million in the last week, about half the rate from the first couple of weeks of the economic shutdown. About 33 million people have filed for jobless benefits in the last seven weeks.

“The steady decline in jobless claims over the past five weeks signals that the initial shock to the jobs market is over,” John Silvia, an economist at Dynamic Economic Strategy, told The Wall Street Journal.

But a lot of the damage has been done, with many jobs in hard-hit industries disappearing for good. Tomorrow, the government will issue its employment report for April, which is likely to show a record high jobless rate.

New York may have spread COVID-19 throughout the U.S. 

If the coronavirus originally came from Wuhan, China, new research suggests it spread in the U.S. largely from New York City. The New York Times cites research suggesting that travelers from New York to other parts of the U.S. spread the virus.

Scientists say they tracked signature mutations of the virus, reviewed travel histories of infected people, and examined models of the outbreak by infectious disease experts.

“We now have enough data to feel pretty confident that New York was the primary gateway for the rest of the country,” Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, told the Times.

Around the nation

  • Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee has taken sharp exception to a lawsuit filed against his administration that seeks to overturn his stay-at-home order and reopen the state. “It’s about biological ignorance and human heartlessness,” Inslee said on CNN. “It’s just trying to ignore the clear science of biology, which from an epidemiological standpoint is very clear that if we abandon our efforts, this beast is going to get off the floor and bite us back.”

  • Virginia: Gov. Ralph Northam says some parts of the state may keep coronavirus-related restrictions in place longer than the rest of the state. The Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and the Richmond area have most of the state’s cases while rural areas have far fewer. Virginia is set to begin reopening May 15.  

  • Kansas: The state legislature is scheduled to convene for a single day on May 15. Republicans are floating a proposal to limit Gov. Laura Kelly’s power to keep the economy closed down.

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