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Coronavirus update: U.S. experiences its deadliest week, vaccine rolls out in the U.K.

The FDA is ready to study Moderna’s vaccine

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 14,975,348 (14,779,499)

Total U.S. deaths: 284,131 (282,436)

Total global cases: 67,803,057 (67,250,219)

Total global deaths: 1,549,332 (1,539,559)

Last week was the deadliest week

A New York Times analysis of coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality data shows that last week was the deadliest week for the virus since the pandemic began. However, officials are worried it won’t remain a record for long.

The analysis shows that the U.S. recorded a seven-day average of 2,249 deaths last week, slightly more than in April in the early days of the outbreak. There have now been more than 283,000 deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 nationwide.

The current wave of cases sweeping the country is largely responsible for the rising death toll. But unlike in April, when outbreaks were centered in New York and other urban areas, the biggest increase in cases is occurring in rural areas of the Midwest.

Vaccine rollout begins in the U.K.

Health services in the U.K. have begun administering the coronavirus vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. A 90-year old retired shop clerk was the first to roll up her sleeve today.

The U.K. is the first Western country to begin inoculating its citizens, starting with seniors and those with underlying health issues. The initial shots were given at private hospitals, but Britain’s National Health Service will be the main distribution point once the process ramps up.

An advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came in for some criticism over the weekend from pundits who claimed the agency was acting too slowly in reviewing clinical trial data. However, an adviser to the committee said Monday that Pfizer’s vaccine could get the green light as early as Friday. The agency said today that results suggest the vaccine is consistent with the requirements for emergency use authorization.

FDA turns attention to Moderna vaccine

The FDA has scheduled a meeting of a key review committee for December 17 to begin looking at data from the recently completed Moderna vaccine clinical trial. 

“In keeping with the FDA’s commitment to ensuring full transparency, dialogue and efficiency, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, made up of outside scientific and public health experts from around the country, will meet to discuss the totality of the safety and effectiveness data provided by Moderna for their EUA submission,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn. 

Hahn said the agency understands the intense public interest in vaccines and remains “committed to keeping the public informed about the evaluation of the data of a potential COVID-19 vaccine so that once available, the public and the medical community can have trust and confidence in receiving the vaccine for our families and ourselves.”

Researchers probe COVID-19’s damage to organs

Doctors treating severely ill COVID-19 patients have been perplexed as to why some patients suffer severe organ damage from the virus -- organs other than the lungs. Researchers at UCLA say they may have the answer.

Experimenting on mice, the researchers discovered that the virus can shut down energy production in cells of the heart, kidneys, spleen, and other organs. It’s the loss of energy in those organs that can cause damage.

“This mouse model is a really powerful tool for studying SARS-CoV-2 in a living system,” said Dr. Arjun Deb, a co-senior author of a paper. “Understanding how this virus can hijack our cells might eventually lead to new ways to prevent or treat the organ failure that can accompany COVID-19 in humans.”

The pandemic is contributing to Austin’s boom

The pandemic has had quite an impact on the housing market. Realtor.com’s list of 2021’s housing hotspots is top-heavy with centers of technology, especially in mid-sized cities.

The Wall Street Journal has singled out Austin as another housing market that is attracting newcomers because of the pandemic and abundant tech jobs. The prospect of working remotely is contributing to the exodus from urban centers. The fact that Austin is the state capital is an added bonus.

“Texas’ capital is attracting more corporate jobs and remote workers than ever before, lured by lower costs and lower taxes,” The Journal reported. “Business relocations to Austin announced this year are expected to create nearly 10,000 jobs.”

Around the nation

  • Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott has announced a program to administer rapid-results tests for workers at small businesses in five cities. The tests will be available in Amarillo, Edinburg, El Paso, Laredo, and Lubbock.

  • New Jersey: State health officials have been stymied by citizens’ lack of cooperation with contract tracing, which they say is needed to control the spread of the virus. Officials say as many as 74 percent of people diagnosed with COVID-19 have refused to reveal their contacts.

  • Nevada: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments today regarding the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on churches throughout the state. Calvary Chapel’s Lone Mountain and Dayton locations have challenged Gov. Steve Sisolak’s 50-person limit on places of worship.

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