While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for October 26

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INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

U.S. cases on the rise. About half of U.S. states have seen their highest daily coronavirus infection numbers so far at some point in October, and the country as a whole came very close to back-to-back record daily infection rates on Friday and Saturday.

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that 83,718 new cases were reported Saturday, just shy of the 83,757 infections reported Friday. Before that, the most cases reported in the United States on a single day had been 77,362, on July 16.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which federal health officials have used as a source for their pandemic projections, currently forecasts that the U.S. COVID-19 death toll could exceed 318,000 by Jan. 1.

As of Sunday, there were more than 8.6 million confirmed infections in the U.S., with deaths climbing to over 225,000, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

At least seven states — Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Oklahoma — saw record high infection levels Saturday. And some Northeastern states hit hard in the spring are seeing numbers bounce back; New Jersey’s toll of 1,909 new infections Saturday was the most it had seen in a day since early May.

The virus also is surging in the Mountain West, especially Idaho and Utah.

In Twin Falls, Idaho, new data suggest that 1 in 24 residents has contracted the coronavirus, said Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. Amid a crush of new cases, the hospital brought in nurses from Boise, scaled back elective surgery and, as of Friday, stopped admitting pediatric patients.

Dr. Birx on COVID-19 in Indiana. Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House coronavirus task force came to Indiana to meet with state health officials, and afterwards, Birx spoke with FOX59 about the fight against COVID-19.

“We are all together as a country anxiously awaiting any evidence of efficacy and safety in (the ongoing vaccine trials) so that people know how long and for how much longer are we going to ask people to make these personal sacrifices,” said Birx. “We really need to make those personal sacrifices now in a place like Indiana we see really quite significant spread across every county in Indiana.”

Birx acknowledged a clearer national message may be needed, amidst conflicting opinions that have at times emerged among members of the task force, though she was careful to avoid any direct criticism of the president himself.

Her message largely focused on what average Americans can do to fight the spread.

“We see it spreading within families and within small social gatherings where people have let their guard down and taken their mask off and they’ve just been with their friends and family and that has really resulted in really ever-increasing spread,” warned Birx. “I think in this moment, when we can see these cases rising, we have to change our behaviors along with preventing these new cases. You’ve seen the numbers, increased test positivity, increased cases, increased hospitalizations, increased fatalities. We have the ability to change that now, and we will as a community of Americans.”

Pence keeping up schedule. Vice President Mike Pence plans to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week despite an apparent outbreak of the coronavirus among his senior aides, the White House says.

Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and “a couple of key staff surrounding the vice president” have tested positive for the virus, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday.

The vice president, who along with his wife, Karen, tested negative on Sunday, according to his office, is considered a “close contact” of the aides under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria but will not quarantine, his spokesman said.

Devin O’Malley said Pence decided to maintain his travel schedule “in consultation with the White House Medical Unit” and “in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.” Those guidelines require that essential workers exposed to someone with the coronavirus closely monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and wear a mask whenever around other people.

O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen, both tested negative on Saturday “and remain in good health.”

President Donald Trump commented on Short early Sunday after his plane landed at Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington. “I did hear about it just now,” he said. “And I think he’s quarantining. Yeah. I did hear about it. He’s going to be fine. But he’s quarantining.”

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, called Pence’s decision to travel “grossly negligent” regardless of the stated justification that Pence is an essential worker.

“It’s just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response,” she said. “I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally” and the people on Pence’s own staff who will accompany him.

“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” she added. “Campaign events are not essential.”

After a day of campaigning in Florida on Saturday, Pence was seen wearing a mask as he returned to Washington aboard Air Force Two shortly after the news of Short’s diagnosis was made public. Pence held a rain-soaked Sunday evening rally in Kinston, North Carolina. He’ll campaign in Minnesota Monday and return to North Carolina on Tuesday.

Deaths in Mexico. Mexican health authorities acknowledge the country’s true death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is far higher than previously thought, saying there were 193,170 “excess” deaths in the year up to Sept. 26.

Of those, 139,153 are now judged to be attributable to COVID-19. Mexico’s official, test-confirmed death toll is only about 89,000, but officials previously acknowledged many people didn’t get tested or their tests were mishandled.

Authorities had previously presented an estimated death toll of 103,882, after taking into account mishandled tests. But the Health Department said Sunday they had analyzed databases to come up with the latest figure.

The analysis picked up symptoms related to COVID-19 mentioned on death certificates even if they weren’t listed as the cause of death.

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