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Coronavirus update: Pfizer’s reassuring research, a heavy blow to the job market

The FDA is warning the public about an unreliable COVID-19 test

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 21,617,462 (21,342,187)

Total U.S. deaths: 365,882 (361,900)

Total global cases: 88,339,935 (87,384,218)

Total global deaths: 1,904,122 (1,887,970)

Pfizer says its vaccine works against new virus strain

When a new variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) was discovered in the U.K. last month, health officials’ worst fear was that it would be resistant to the newly released vaccines. That doesn’t appear to be the case, at least as far as one vaccine is concerned.

Pfizer said this week that the vaccine it developed with BioNTech appears to be effective against this new mutation of the virus. 

The company’s research, published Thursday but not yet peer-reviewed, suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked to neutralize the so-called N501Y mutation, which causes the virus to spread more easily.

Virus takes a toll on the job market

As cases of the virus mounted last month, causing new restrictions to be placed on businesses, layoffs resumed with greater frequency. The Labor Department’s December employment report displays the damage in graphic detail.

The economy lost 140,000 jobs during the month, the first time the report has posted a negative number since April. Since then, employers had restored about 12 million of the lost jobs.

It came as no surprise that the biggest job losses came in the hospitality industry, especially bars and restaurants. The sector lost a total of 498,000 jobs last month.

FDA warns of faulty test

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert to tell patients and health care providers about problems with a commonly used COVID-19 test. Specifically, the agency warns that there is a risk of false results, particularly false-negative results, with the Curative SARS-Cov-2 test. 

Patients getting a false negative could face delayed treatment and run the risk of spreading the virus to others, since the patient would have no reason to take precautions. The lack of treatment could allow the symptoms to worsen before the patient finally seeks treatment.

“To reduce the risk of false-negative results, it is important to perform the test in accordance with its authorization and as described in the authorized labeling, e.g., the Fact Sheet for Healthcare Providers,” the FDA said in its alert. “When the test is not performed in accordance with its authorization or as described in the authorized labeling, there is a greater risk that the results of the test may not be accurate.”

Supermarkets to the rescue

The nation’s supermarket pharmacy chains are being asked to come to the rescue of the nationwide rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, which admittedly hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned.

Originally, this network of pharmacies was being held in reserve until after the high-priority population was inoculated and the vaccine was opened up to the general population. But federal and state officials have concluded that their help is needed now to complete the first phase of the rollout.

“We’re getting calls just because of the need,” Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger’s health care business, told The Wall Street Journal

Gottlieb: One-third of the population infected by the end of January

January’s going to be a tough month, according to former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottleib. He predicts that by the end of the month, one-third of the U.S. population will have been infected since the start of the pandemic.

That would be a huge increase between now and the end of the month, but Gottlieb told CNBC he believes many more than the 21 million people in the official count have actually had the virus.

Meanwhile, the death toll keeps picking up speed. According to the official count, there were more than 4,000 deaths from the virus on Thursday.

Around the nation

  • Nevada: State health officials are expressing concern about what they call a potential “surge on top of a surge.” The state reported 3,402 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, a single-day record.

  • Arkansas: Despite the fact that cases of the coronavirus are surging, several Arkansas bar owners have filed a lawsuit against the state in an attempt to have some COVID-19 restrictions thrown out. Specifically, the suit seeks to overturn a state-mandated closing time of 11 p.m.

  • Michigan: An analysis of coronavirus cases in the state backs up Michigan’s decision to impose stringent measures to control the virus. “I’d rate [lockdowns] among our more effective tools right now simply because they stop people from coming into contact with each other,” said University of Michigan epidemiologist Ryan Malosh. "It reduces a susceptible person from coming into contact with an infectious person. That’s going to cut the number of infections down pretty much no matter what you do, pretty much no matter how you look at it.”

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