COVID-19 policy change cannot wait

Encouraging vaccine news, president-elect taps top scientists and public health experts, and the USA's COVID-19 epidemic gets even worse as holiday gatherings prompt new cautions from the CDC.

Lots of news as this week starts. Top items:

  • “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases,” says the CDC in its new guidance discouraging people at high risk for severe illness and some other groups from attending holiday gatherings.

  • Pfizer announced preliminary results on its COVID-19 vaccine, showing that the experimental vaccine is 90% effective at preventing new infections — much higher than expected.

    • Although this is good news, the research does not yet reveal how long the immune response lasts. The company said it expects to be ready for FDA review later in November.

    • If cleared by the FDA, the vaccine could begin reaching people before the end of the year, but most people would not have access to it until after January.

    • Pfizer and its partner BioNTech of Germany are developing the vaccine without support from the White House “Operation Warp Speed.”

  • More than 106,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the USA today so far, the total number of cases has exceeded 10 million, and the death toll is approaching 240,000.

    • Most alarming is that the percent of positive tests is climbing in most states — making the 7-day average 8%. Canada’s rate is 5%. The USA’s death toll has climbed steadily since the pandemic emerged in March.

    • North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin are seeing the steepest rate of new cases, but increasing spread of COVID-19 is appearing in places like Maryland and New York, where the virus had been relatively controlled.

  • President-elect Biden’s new panel of top public health scientists started working on plans to confront the pandemic starting Jan. 20, when the new administration takes charge.

  • Housing Secretary Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, tested positive for COVID-19. He and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who also tested positive, both attended the president’s Election Night event.

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