Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

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Brazil halted a Chinese vaccine trial after a “serious adverse incident” in a participant.

U.S. federal health officials have begun providing details about how Americans may start to get vaccines, once authorized, and treatments.

Philadelphia public schools shelved plans to resume in-person classes.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and vaccines in development.

U.S. hospitalizations surge to record high

The United States reached another dismal milestone in the pandemic: Covid-19 hospitalizations hit an all-time high of 61,964 today.

The country has seen two previous spikes in hospitalizations following surges in the spring and summer, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The record was 59,940, recorded on April 15, and a similar peak of 59,718 on July 23.

But unlike the last two spikes, when the number of hospitalizations declined following a drop in infection rates, this time cases are soaring with no end in sight. The U.S. recorded more than 130,000 new cases yesterday, its second highest ever, and more than 800,000 cases in the last week — around three times as many as have been recorded in Canada since the pandemic began.

As hospitals fill up, they are facing critical shortages of staff, which are limiting their ability to add more beds to care for virus patients. The problem is particularly acute in Western states that have historically struggled to attract doctors and other medical workers, and it’s causing some states to take previously unthinkable measures.

In North Dakota, which has the worst infection and death rates per capita in the country, the governor announced that asymptomatic health care workers who have tested positive for the virus could continue to work, with restrictions, including treating Covid-19 patients.

To fight a wave of cases in El Paso, Texas, the Department of Defense deployed three military medical teams and the state sent more than 1,400 health care workers. The county is more than doubling its supply of mobile morgues, from four to 10, to handle the spike in deaths.

But there is a limit to the amount of help available.

When cases spiked in the Northeast in the spring or in the South during the summer, nurses and doctors flew in from across the country to lend a hand. But with cases surging in so many places, health officials are describing a kind of national gridlock.

“Everywhere is either hard hit or is watching their Covid numbers go up, and are expecting to get a lot of flu patients,” said Nancy Foster, vice president of the American Hospital Association. “The ability of health care professionals to pick up and leave their hometowns is very limited.”

What we’ve learned about the spread

Much of the world may have spent the last week glued to coverage of the U.S. presidential election, but scientists and researchers remained focused on uncovering the mysteries of the virus. Here are a few recent studies that have broken new ground.

It’s scary indoors. A new study using cellphone mobility data in 10 U.S. cities found that crowded indoor venues like restaurants, gyms and cafes, accounted for eight out of 10 infections in the spring.

The study, a collaboration between scientists at Stanford, Northwestern University, Microsoft Research and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, also offered an explanation of why so many low-income neighborhoods were hard hit. Residents in those communities were more mobile than residents in more affluent neighborhoods, likely because of work demands, and public venues in low-income neighborhoods were more crowded. Grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods, for example, typically have around 60 percent more people per square foot, on average, than in more affluent areas, and shoppers stay inside longer.

A virus shield for children. Why are children so much less likely than adults to become infected with the virus, or fall seriously ill if they catch it?

A provocative new study from the Francis Crick Institute in London suggests that many children already have antibodies to other coronaviruses, which may help block the novel coronavirus from entering their cells. The study, published Friday in Science, found that on average, 5 percent of adults have antibodies that can block coronaviruses, while 43 percent of children do.

Disproportionate effects on the disabled. An analysis of insurance data claims found that people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders who get Covid-19 are three times as likely to die from it, compared with others who have the disease.

The finding raises complex questions about the guidelines for the distribution of a vaccine, which call for prioritizing people at heightened risk for the disease, but have so far not specifically emphasized children and adults with disabilities like Down syndrome and developmental disorders.

Resurgences

Italy locked down more regions as a second wave swamps hospitals and the number of new cases keeps rising.

Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska went into quarantine after dining with someone who later tested positive, just a day after announcing new measures to halt an alarming spike in virus cases and hospitalizations.

Officials in Newark, New Jersey, announced a nightly curfew, effective at 9 p.m., in three ZIP codes with high positivity rates.

A number of virus cases in Thailand and Cambodia have been tied to a visit last week by the Hungarian foreign minister.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

What else we’re following

The science behind the Pfizer vaccine is the work of a married couple, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, both from families of Turkish immigrants who moved to Germany. On the day they were married, Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci found time to return to their lab after the ceremony.

Denmark’s environment minister suspended a plan to kill all its farmed mink. Last week, the country announced that it would kill all its farmed mink because of coronavirus infections and virus mutations.

Employees are returning to the office with both eagerness and reluctance.

A report by the British school inspection body found that children across the U.K. have lost basic skills and regressed in learning because of school closures resulting from the pandemic.

“Lockdown” — something experienced, dreaded and needed by much of the world in 2020 — is the Collins English Dictionary’s word of the year.

Airlines and airports are increasingly offering travelers ways to get tested for the virus ahead of a trip.

What you’re doing

For more than a decade our family has been driving the eight hours from Austin to Big Bend State Park, pitching a tent and sleeping in under the vastest dome of stars the continental United States has to offer. This year we’ll do it with friends, social-distance style. We’ll grill our sliced potatoes and heat our cowboy chili over the coals. We’ll toast to democracy. When we go to sleep nestled among the craggy canyons, mesas and plains — the branchy ocotillo and yucca will reach sky-high, unseen. And we’ll wish the whole world could join us. Twelve feet away, please. It seems possible — there are nearly a million acres out there.

— Stacy Muszynski, Austin, Texas

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