The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rose above 30 million on Friday, and the death toll rose above 946,000, with the U.S. death toll edging closer to 200,000 — almost a fifth of the global tally.
Controversial coronavirus-testing guidelines posted on the CDC website that said asymptomatic people don’t need to get tested even if they have been exposed to the virus were not actually written by the CDC, the New York Times reported, and were posted over the objections of CDC scientists.
Citing internal documents and sources described as familiar with the matter, the Times said the Department of Health and Human Services rewrote the testing guidelines in late August and “dropped” them into the CDC’s website without proper vetting.
The recommendation contained numerous errors (including suggesting tests are for COVID-19, the disease, rather than for the virus), the Times reported, and was inconsistent with the CDC’s messaging, especially as asymptomatic people are considered major vectors of COVID-19’s spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly walked back the new guidelines after an uproar. A new version of testing guidelines is expected to be announced Friday, the Times said, which also has been revised by the HHS and has apparently not been properly vetted.
The incident appears to be yet another instance of the politicization of an historically apolitical agency, which threatens to undermine its credibility during the worst pandemic in a century. HHS has been viewed as more susceptible to political influence, particularly of late.
The report comes a day after President Donald Trump engaged in a dispute with the head of the nation’s main public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the timeline for a possible COVID-19 vaccine. Trump said a vaccine will be ready “in weeks,” contradicting CDC head Robert Redfield, who had testified under oath that it was more likely to be available in mid-2021.
Trump’s rival in the presidential race, Democrat Joe Biden, said at a CNN town-hall event on Thursday that he would not mislead the American public on a vaccine if elected.
“Mark my words: If I’m president, I’ll always level with the American people, and I’ll always tell the truth,” Biden said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.
Dr. Atul Nakhasi, a physician and policy adviser to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, told MSNBC that the CDC’s timeline as described by Redfield was appropriate.
“If we do get evidence that suggests a vaccine is effective by year-end, we still need 300 million syringes, we need 300 million needles, we need 300 million products, and we need to get it to Americans across this country,” Nakhasi said in an interview. “So … I think the CDC is being realistic here that it may not be till spring or summer of 2021 that we really get this to the American people at a large scale.”
Dr. Michael Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who co-invented the rotavirus vaccine, told MarketWatch that even when a vaccine is ready, it will not be a panacea.
“People now see vaccines as a magic dust that’s about to be sprinkled over this country and make this all go away,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Offit outlined the logistical challenges of what is expected to be a two-dose regimen, the challenges of storage and refrigeration needs that will come with messenger RNA vaccines, and the fact that early vaccines are not expected to be more than 50% to 75% effective.
“Even if it’s highly effective, it’s still not going to be a sure shot. If you get 75%, that means one out of every four people who get it could still get moderate to severe disease, which can cause them to be hospitalized or die, which is why they’re still going to need to wear a mask,” he said. “It will probably be a greater percentage, more than 25%, who could still get either mild infections or asymptomatic infections or they could still shed and be contagious.”
A former Republican official in the Trump White House — Olivia Troye, onetime homeland-security deputy to Vice President Mike Pence — endorsed Biden on Thursday, saying Trump mishandled of the pandemic because his focus was always on re-election rather than public health.
In other news:
• The U.S. Postal Service was prepared to mail face masks to every American household in April, but the White House scrapped the plan at the last minute over fears it would cause a panic, according to multiple reports. The Washington Post first reported Thursday that the post office had a draft news release prepared announcing a plan from the Department of Health and Human Services to deliver more than 600 million face masks to every residential address in the country. The Post obtained the draft release as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. NBC News later independently confirmed the Post report. About 135,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus since April.
• Mainland China counted 32 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, Reuters reported, marking the biggest one-day increase in more than a month and a sharp rise from the nine cases reported on Wednesday. The National Health Commission said all new cases were imported infections, 13 of which were in the northwestern Shaanxi Province with another 12 in Shanghai. China has not confirmed any cases involving local transmission of the virus since mid-August.
• Israel is marking the Jewish New Year with a second nationwide lockdown as officials work to contain a surge in coronavirus cases, the BBC reported. The lockdown will last for three weeks and require Israelis to stay with 1 kilometer of their homes. The number of people allowed in synagogues has also been reduced, with no more than 10 people allowed to meet indoors. Israel has 176,933 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 1,169 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
What Does a Second Coronavirus Lockdown Look Like? Ask Israel
• The U.K. government has been advised by its leading scientific experts to proclaim a national lockdown to help contain a second coronavirus spike, as the Boris Johnson government’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, declined on Friday to comment on whether such a step would have to be taken in the coming weeks, MarketWatch’s Pierre Briançon reported. Many U.K. regions and cities are currently under local lockdowns, after infections started rising significantly in August, following other European countries such as Spain and France. The latest restrictions were ordered in Newcastle and other English northeast cities on Thursday. But the government had until now pledged to do everything possible to avoid such measures on a national scale.
There are now 30.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, the Johns Hopkins data show, and 946,847 people have died. At least 20.6 million people have recovered.
The U.S. has the highest tallies in the world with 6.7 million cases and 197,644 deaths. Brazil has the second highest death toll at 134,935 and third highest case tally at 4.5 million.
India is third with 84,372 deaths and second with 5.2 million cases. Mexico is fourth with 72,179 deaths and seventh with 684,113 cases.
The U.K. has 41,794 deaths and 384,087 cases, the highest death toll in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the illness was first reported late last year, has 90,297 cases and 4,737 fatalities, according to its official numbers.
What’s the latest medical news?
Swiss drug company Roche AG ROG, +1.84% said hospitalized COVID-19 patients taking rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra were less likely to need mechanical ventilation than those receiving placebo, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported.
The company’s Phase 3, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study focused on enrolling minority patients with COVID-19-related pneumonia; there are 389 participants enrolled in the trial.
However, the drug did not lead to a difference in mortality, Roche said. Roche is also testing Actemra with Gilead Sciences Inc.’s GILD, -0.89% remdesivir, which is the only not previously approved drug to receive an emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration as a COVID-19 treatment during the pandemic.
Earlier this week Eli Lilly & Co. LLY, +0.54% and Incyte Corp. INCY, -4.00% said their rheumatoid arthritis drug Olumiant when paired with remdesivir shortened recovery time for hospitalized coronavirus patients.
Both findings, neither of which have been published yet in a peer-reviewed medical journal, for the first time in months point to a clinical benefit for rheumatoid arthritis drugs when treating some COVID-19 patients after a series of setbacks over the summer.
The European Commission has signed a contract with Sanofi SA SAN, +0.46% SNY, +0.71% and GlaxoSmithKline PLC GSK, -0.19% GSK, +0.31% to secure up to 300 million doses of their potential COVID-19 vaccine, according to Dow Jones Newswires.
The contract marks the second deal the EU has struck for the supply of vaccines against coronavirus, following a deal it already signed with British drug maker AstraZeneca PLC. AZN, +0.62% AZN, +1.13%.
“Agreements with other companies will be concluded soon and build a diversified portfolio of promising vaccines, based on various types of technologies, increasing our chances to find an effective remedy against the virus,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
Sanofi and GSK aim to have the vaccine available by the second half of 2021, after starting a Phase 1 and 2 study in September, with a Phase 3 study by the end of 2020.
What’s the economy saying?
Economists polled by MarketWatch expected a reading of 75.9.
The sentiment indicator covers how consumers view their personal finances as well as business and buying conditions.
The amount of confidence Americans have in the economy and their own financial security has a good record of predicting the future. Until they feel more secure, the economy is unlikely to make a rapid recovery from the coronavirus recession.
What could help restore some confidence are further measures from the federal government to support the economy, but analysts have said it’s likely that a divided Washington won’t deliver another big coronavirus relief package before the Nov. 3 elections.
Separately, the index of leading economic indicators rose 1.2% in August, the Conference Board said Friday. This is a slower pace than the revised 2% rise in July and 3.1% gain in June.
“The slowing of the improvement suggests that this summer’s economic rebound may be losing steam heading into the final stretch of 2020,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, director of business-cycles research at the board.
The LEI is a weighted gauge of 10 indicators designed to signal business-cycle peaks and valleys.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press, Mike Murphy, Greg Robb and Tim Rostan