US coronavirus: The country could see ‘further suffering and further death’ if coronavirus isn’t controlled, Fauci says
“If you look at the deaths as they’re occurring right now — about 1,000 per day — unless we get our arms around this and get it suppressed, we are going to have further suffering and further death,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. “That’s the reason why, as I’ve often said many, many times, there are things that we can do right now in the absence of a vaccine that can turn us around,” he added.
States crack down on social gatherings
Birx said that among the states officials are tracking, there seems to be a “household” pattern of infections that starts with young people, usually less than 30 years old. Those residents, who are usually asymptomatic, then transmit the virus to their parents who then transmit it to other, older residents, she said.
In Mississippi, about 80% of surveyed coronavirus patients said they had attended a social gathering, including funerals and birthday parties, where people weren’t adhering to social distancing. And in New Jersey, health officials said they have seen multiple outbreaks arising from gatherings of young people.
To stop those infections, states have cracked down on congregate settings — like bars — and pleaded with younger groups to heed guidelines including wearing masks and social distancing.
“Our city like many others across the country are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, and there is clear evidence of community spread — especially indoors in places where groups are gathering,” Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement. “We’re also seeing a clear increase among younger people, and we know that bars and nightclubs have been the source of outbreaks locally.”
In Kentucky, the governor also imposed new restrictions on restaurants, shut bars down for the next two weeks and recommended schools postpone in-person instruction until late August.
“It’s time to do the things that we got to do, given the stage that we’re in, to control this virus,” the governor said. “And I know there ended up being questions out there about ‘why didn’t you take this step four weeks ago, or six weeks ago?’ Listen, this virus doesn’t care about our schedules.”
New York and Miami issuing hundreds of coronavirus-related citations
But in Miami and New York, officials have doubled down on enforcement.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday the state had issued at least 132 violations over the weekend to bars and restaurants for not following coronavirus-related regulations. Most of them were in New York City, Cuomo said.
Since the state began reopening, at least 40 establishments have had their liquor licenses suspended as a result of violations and 10 of those suspensions occurred since Friday, the governor said. The lack of compliance with social distancing policies in bars and restaurants among young people is a concern for his administration, Cuomo said.
Meanwhile, in Miami-Dade County — which has reported more cases than all but 12 states — police issued more than 300 citations in 10 days to individuals and businesses who weren’t abiding by the local mask order.
“The growth rate (of cases) has shown flattening since we implemented the masks in public rule and we’re following the advice of our health care professionals and our hospital administrators who are telling us that what we have to do now is focus on enforcement,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told CNN Sunday. “We created a special task force just for that and we’ve been issuing hundreds of tickets over the course of the week.”
Phase 3 of vaccine trial in US underway
Officials are now using precautions like face masks and social distancing to curb the spread of the virus, but soon the country may have even more help.
Vaccine maker Moderna started its final trial of a coronavirus vaccine in the US Monday, and volunteers from dozens of sites across the country will participate in the study, Fauci said Monday.
“There are 89 sites distributed throughout the country,” Fauci said. “They are widely distributed as a matter of fact in areas where there is clearly as of right now active infection going on.”
There are expected to be 30,000 adult volunteers in the Phase 3 trial. The first patient was dosed at a site in Savannah, Georgia, on Monday.
“I think we are going to get a good sampling of the activity of virus transmission that’s currently going on in the country.”
Fauci said that a vaccine likely won’t be widely available to people in the US until “several months” into 2021.
And this part of the US trial can’t be sped up, a vaccine expert told CNN Monday.
“Typically vaccine development programs take 15 years on average. This vaccine development program is probably going to take a year and a half,” said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center and professor of pediatrics at the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“The one thing you can’t truncate or coalesce or overlap is the Phase 3 trial,” Offit said. “The proof is in the pudding. The Phase 3 trial’s the pudding and now you’re going to test hopefully 10, 15, 20,000 people that will get this vaccine, 15,000 people that will get placebo and you’ll see to what extent this is really safe and you’ll see to what extent it’s effective.”
CNN’s Shelby Lin Erdman, Elizabeth Cohen, Jacqueline Howard, John Bonifield, Jamie Gumbrecht, Artemis Moshtaghian, Janine Mack and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.
The President has been flailing for days, as a vicious surge in infections races across the sunbelt, caused in part by governors who heeded his calls to open states before the pathogen was suppressed.
With one poll showing him down 20 points to Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden on who can best handle the situation, Trump has taken the rare step of performing a partial reversal — on the wearing of masks — though he is still reluctant to model one in public. He also decided that outright denial of the worst public health crisis in 100 years was not working and has returned to the White House briefing room to spin the disaster as best he can.
The anchor of Trump’s new, punchier briefings is a scripted opening in which he cherry picks the most hopeful aspects of a pandemic that has destroyed the rhythm of American daily life and turned the economy upside down.
But in his two briefings so far, his rejigged approach seems more like a cosmetic political exercise than an attempt to provide the country with meaningful public health advice as the pandemic gets worse.
One problem is that he will not appear alongside public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx.
“They’re briefing me, I’m meeting them. I just spoke to Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx is right outside and they’re giving me all of everything they know as of this point in time and I’m giving the information to you,” Trump said Wednesday.
“I think it’s probably a very concise way of doing it. It seems to be working out very well.”
Trump, however, went on to make misleading statements that would never have been uttered by a public health expert but that he seems to think are politically helpful. He blamed migrants from Mexico crossing the closed border for causing a spike in cases, along with young people attending anti-racism protests.
The President also claimed that kids with strong immune systems don’t bring the coronavirus home and that all schools can open in the fall. He did not provide any scientific evidence for the assertion or explain, for instance, why children who often pick up the flu and colds in class would not be at similar risk for transmitting the coronavirus.
And yet again, Trump claimed falsely that the United States is doing “amazing things” in comparison to other countries as it fights the virus. In fact, the US lags fellow highly industrialized nations in suppressing infection curves and leads the world in infections and deaths.
“The President doesn’t want doctors Fauci or Birx there because they are real time fact checkers,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan.
“Without them he can say things which are either misleading or out and out false,” Reiner said, using as an example the President’s misleading interpretation of statistics on a positive rate in testing.
“The truth is the truth and the more the public understands, the better the public will adhere to, you know, prudent policy,” he said.
Trump twists science on school openings
Trump’s approach to managing the virus — that tends to put his own political interests ahead of science-based reasoning — extends to reopening schools, which he wants to do so that the country will look like it’s back to some semblance of normality ahead of the fall election.
But experts disagree with his calls.
“He wants to open the schools, regardless of what the science says. And the science is pretty clear. If you open schools in areas or school districts where there’s a high level of virus transmissions, say if you were going to do this in Houston today or San Antonio or Phoenix, it will fail,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University.
“It will fail because not only are the kids transmitting the virus but adults, vendors are going in and out of the schools,” Hotez said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”
“What will happen within two weeks, teachers will start going into the hospitals, going into ICUs. It’ll be bus drivers, cafeteria workers and parents will start getting sick. It’s untenable. It’s not sustainable.”
The President also dwells on the few positive developments amid a grim time as the country battles a virus that has already killed more than 140,000 Americans.
On Wednesday, he touted a new deal with Pfizer to produce and deliver 100 million doses of a vaccine when it becomes available. With an eye on older voters who have cooled on him, according to latest polls, he announced new measures to help nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Still, for once, and despite much of his presentation being highly misleading, the President did not destroy his own strategy with ill discipline.
He largely avoided getting sucked into ill-tempered clashes with reporters and got out of the encounter after only a few questions. So if his return to the podium is a political tactic rather than a genuine effort to change his approach on a virus he has minimized and mismanaged, he may have at least done himself a modicum of good in the eyes of his campaign team.
Trump’s law-and-order pitch to the suburbs
Another prong of the President’s refashioned electoral strategy was on display earlier Wednesday when he announced he would “surge” federal law enforcement agents to Chicago and other cities, despite the opposition of local and state officials.
The plan, another way in which Trump has used his executive power to fulfill personal political goals, solidifies his effort to portray Democrats as weak on crime and to create a picture of a nation under siege from radical, anarchistic elements and staggering under what he says are liberal efforts to destroy policing. The move follows the dispatch of federal officials to Portland, Oregon, who have been seen arresting protesters while wearing camouflage uniforms and without identifying their name and rank. Critics have warned that the President is indulging authoritarian tendencies and hyping a law-and-order crisis to discredit Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
“We’ll work every single day to restore public safety, protect our nation’s children and bring violent perpetrators to justice,” Trump said. “We’ve been doing it and you’ve been seeing what’s happening all around the country.”
“We’ve just started this process and frankly we have no choice but to get involved,” the President said, announcing deployments for the FBI, US Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
From Trump’s point of view, the effort makes political sense. As Democratic mayors and governors balk at his pressure and say they will not accept Trump’s “troops” and “secret police” on their streets, he can accuse them of not taking the safety of Americans seriously. It’s a pitch aimed directly at suburban voters who have peeled away from Republicans since the 2016 election. Trump has repeatedly hit on law-and-order themes, apparently designed to play on fears of White voters, who Trump thinks see others as an enemy that threatens their vision of traditional American culture.
As a Trump campaign press release put it in an email on Wednesday: “Your family won’t be safe in Biden’s America.”
“The way he deals with people based on the color of their skin, their national origin, where they’re from, is absolutely sickening,” Biden said at a virtual town hall hosted by the Service Employees International Union.
“No sitting president has ever done this,” he said. “Never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed, that tried to get elected president; he’s the first one that has.”
Trump escalates showdown with China
In another example of the way Trump is using presidential power to bolster a campaign theme, the administration on Wednesday announced the shock closure of China’s consulate in Houston, Texas.
The State Department accused Beijing of engaging in massive illegal spying and influence operations for years, but did not say whether there was an individual incident that triggered the move.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been touring Europe seeking to get the support of US allies in a broad front against Beijing.
There is credible evidence to suggest that China has been stealing US intellectual property and has used its espionage services to try to infiltrate US government, military, science and intelligence establishments.
But the new crackdown, which is accelerating a serious deterioration in ties between the established superpower and the rising power, comes as the White House seeks to scapegoat China — the origin of the novel coronavirus — to cover up Trump’s earlier denials that the pandemic would threaten the US.
But just as he cannot control what happens next with the virus, Trump is now vulnerable to however China might react to the closure of its Houston consulate. While bashing Beijing has long been a tactic in presidential campaigns, it’s not clear that all voters will welcome a new epochal clash with a powerful foreign rival — especially one exacerbated for personal political gain.
US attorney requests DHS investigation after video shows masked, camouflaged federal authorities arresting protesters in Portland
The request is aimed specifically at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel who have been captured on various videos arresting protesters and putting them in unmarked SUVs.
Demonstrators in Portland have been protesting racial inequality and police brutality for the last 50 nights, US Attorney Billy J. Williams said in a statement. Federal authorities have protected the Mark O. Hatfield US Courthouse and, at times, interaction between protesters and law enforcement has gotten violent. Last weekend, one protester was seriously injured after the man was shot in the head with impact munition.
Oregon’s governor and Portland’s mayor demanded the troops be withdrawn and a US senator joined them in condemning the arrests.
“Authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters,” tweeted US Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat representing Oregon.
Merkley also tweeted one video of such an arrest showing two masked, camouflaged individuals with generic “police” patches, detain a person dressed in a black outfit and place them in an unmarked van before driving away.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) admitted to being one of the agencies involved in arresting protesters.
“Violent anarchists have organized events in Portland over the last several weeks with willful intent to damage and destroy federal property, as well as, injure federal officers and agents,” the agency said in a statement to CNN. “These criminal actions will not be tolerated.”
The statement said CBP agents suspected the individual seen in the video Merkley re-tweeted of “assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property,” and that they moved the individual to a safer location for questioning after they saw “a large and violent mob move towards” them. CNN could not independently verify what happened before or after the video was recorded.
CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan tweeted the agency will continue to arrest “violent criminals that are destroying federal property.” He also said CBP personnel are clearly marked as federal officers and have unique identifiers.
“You will not see names on their uniforms b/c these same violent criminals use this information to target them & their families, putting both at risk. As Acting Commissioner, I will not let that happen!” Morgan tweeted.
Portland Mayor Tim Wheeler demanded Friday that President Donald Trump send the federal officers home.
“This is not the America we want. This is not the Portland we want,” Wheeler said at a news conference. “We’re demanding that the President remove these additional troops that he sent to our city. It is not helping to contain or de-escalate the situation it’s obviously having exactly the opposite impact.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who visited the city Thursday, defended the actions of his officers, saying in a tweet, “DHS officers were assaulted with lasers and frozen water bottles from violent criminals attempting to tear down federal property. 2 officers were injured.”
“Our men and women in uniform are patriots,” he said in another tweet that featured uniformed officers who looked to be similar to the ones shown in the video from earlier in the week.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, described the arrests as “a blatant abuse of power by the federal government” in a tweet Thursday.
Brown tweeted she told Wolf “that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets.”
“His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” she tweeted. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
ACLU files lawsuit against DHS
Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old Portland resident, told CNN he was taken by unknown federal agents Wednesday.
“I was kidnapped off the street in my own city for non-violently protesting and showing up in solidarity,” Pettibone said. “About four people just out of the van that pulled up in front of me, and my first reaction was I tried to get away.”
Pettibone said he was held for about two hours and plans to talk to the National Lawyers Guild, but will follow up with the ACLU.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon sued DHS Friday over the arrests.
The ACLU says DHS agents “have been deployed over the widespread objections of local leaders and community members, have been indiscriminately using tear gas, rubber bullets, and acoustic weapons against protesters, journalists, and legal observers.”
“This is a fight to save our democracy,” said Kelly Simon, interim legal director with the ACLU of Oregon.
“Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US,” the ACLU’s tweet read. “These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.
In a statement Saturday, a White House official told CNN that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” The official went on to provide a lengthy list of examples, citing Fauci’s comments early in the pandemic and linking to past interviews.
These bullet points, which resembled opposition research on a political opponent, included Fauci downplaying the virus early on and a quote from March when Fauci said, “People should not be walking around with masks,” among other comments.
The move by the White House comes as President Donald Trump and Fauci are not speaking. The tension between the two men has grown publicly as the two have responded to one another through interviews and statements.
Fauci did not return a request for comment by CNN.
“As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not,” Fauci said in one interview. In another, Fauci responded to the President’s claim that “99%” of coronavirus cases in the United States were “totally harmless,” saying he didn’t know where the President got the number, and suggesting Trump’s interpretation was “obviously not the case.”
Trump has taken to publicly criticizing Fauci on national television.
“Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes,” Trump said last week, undermining the public health expert whom Americans say in polls they trust more than the President.
In recent interviews, he openly questioned the advice he’d received from Fauci at the start of the outbreak.
“I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” Trump said in an interview Tuesday when questioned about Fauci’s assertion the US is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.
One senior administration official told CNN that some officials within the White House do not trust Fauci. According to the source, those officials think Fauci doesn’t have the best interest of the President, pointing to interviews where he openly disagrees with what Trump has said.
Other administration officials have told CNN that while they have disagreements with Fauci’s methods, they don’t doubt his motives, and that his only concern was public health.
“We need people more than ever to speak truth to power, to be able to level with the American people about what we’re facing with this pandemic, how to get it under control, how to protect ourselves and our families,” Schiff continued. “That’s what Dr. Fauci has been trying to do and by sidelining him the President is once again interfering with an effective response to this pandemic.”
Kathleen Sebelius, who served as secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Barack Obama, told CNN efforts to discredit Fauci and other scientists are “potentially very, very dangerous” as the US and other countries work toward a coronavirus vaccine.
“I think people want to know from the scientists that the vaccine is safe, that it is effective, that it will not do more harm than good,” she told Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
“And if the public scientists have been discredited, if the President says ‘don’t believe them, you can’t listen to them, they’re often wrong,’ we have then undermined a national vaccination campaign which is an essential step to bringing this horrible period to an end.”
In response to questions about the White House appearing to actively discredit Fauci, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, said there was no White House-versus-the scientists narrative, and provided a statement.
“We have great faith in the capacity of all of our scientists and doctors on the coronavirus taskforce to impart necessary public health information. People like Admiral (Brett) Giroir, Surgeon General (Jerome) Adams and others are carrying these messages very effectively,” Caputo said in the statement, although he did not directly answer questions about Fauci.
This story has been updated with comments from Rep. Adam Schiff and Kathleen Sebelius.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this story.
Dr. Benedetta Alleganzi, WHO Technical Lead for Infection Prevention and Control, said during a briefing Tuesday, that the agency has discussed and collaborated with many of the scientists who signed the letter.
Infectious disease epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkove, with WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said many of the letter’s signatories are engineers, “which adds to growing knowledge about the importance of ventilation, which we feel is very important.”
“We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of Covid-19, as well as droplet. We’ve looked at fomites. We’ve looked at fecal oral. We’ve looked at mother to child. We’ve looked at animal to human, of course as well,” Van Kerkove said.
She said the agency is working on a scientific brief summarizing the current knowledge around transmission of the deadly virus, which should be available in the coming weeks.
Alleganzi emphasized more research is still needed on Covid-19 transmission.
“So, these are fields of research that are really growing and for which there is some evidence emerging but is not definitive,” she said.
“And therefore, the possibility of airborne transmission in public settings, especially in very specific conditions crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described cannot be ruled out. However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted.”
“It is now the dominant form infecting people,” Erica Ollmann Saphire of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, who worked on the study, told CNN.
Now the team has not only checked more genetic sequences, but they have also run experiments involving people, animals and cells in lab dishes that show the mutated version is more common and that it’s more infectious than other versions.
“We do know that the new virus is fitter. It doesn’t look at first glance as if it is worse,” Saphire said.
The mutation affects the spike protein — the structure the virus uses to get into the cells it infects. Now the researchers are checking to see whether this affects whether the virus can be controlled by a vaccine. Current vaccines being tested mostly target the spike protein, but they were made using older strains of the virus.
The study, published in the journal Cell, confirms earlier work suggesting the mutation had made the new variant of virus more common. The researchers call the new mutation G614, and they show that it has almost completely replaced the first version to spread in Europe and the US, one called D614.
No effect on patient survival
“Our global tracking data show that the G614 variant in Spike has spread faster than D614,” theoretical biologist Bette Korber of Los Alamos National Laboratory and colleagues wrote in their report. “We interpret this to mean that the virus is likely to be more infectious,” they added. “Interestingly, we did not find evidence of G614 impact on disease severity.”
This could be good news, said Lawrence Young, a professor of medical oncology at the UK’s University of Warwick, who was not involved in the study.
“The current work suggests that while the G614 variant may be more infectious, it is not more pathogenic. There is a hope that as SARS-CoV-2 infection spreads, the virus might become less pathogenic,” he said in a statement.
The team tested samples taken from patients across Europe and the US and sequenced the genomes. They compared these genome sequences to what’s been shared publicly. Comparing these sequences helped them draw a map of the spread of the two forms.
“Through March 1, 2020, the G614 variant was rare outside of Europe, but the end of March it had increased in frequency worldwide,” they wrote.
Even when the D614 form had caused widespread epidemics, in places such as Wales and Nottingham in England, as well as in Washington state, G614 took over once it appeared, they found.
“The increase in G614 frequency often continues well after stay-at-home orders are in place and past the subsequent two-week incubation period,” they added. There are a few exceptions, including the Santa Clara, California, area and Iceland, where the older, D614 form was never replaced by the newer, G variant.
Three to nine times more infectious
The new version seems to multiply faster in the upper respiratory tract — the nose, sinuses and throat — which would explain why it passes around more easily, the researchers said.
But tests on 1,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients in Britain showed those infected with the new version did not fare any worse than those who caught the original strain.
David Montefiore of Duke University and colleagues tested the virus in the lab. “We were able to test whether the G form of the virus was more infectious than the D form,” Montefiore, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development, told CNN.
“All the results agreed that the G form was three to nine times more infectious than the D form,” he added. “We now had experimental evidence that supported, in part, what Bette was seeing in her analysis of the sequences across the globe — the G form had a fitness advantage in terms of infectivity.”
The lab tests of the virus in action confirmed what the genetic maps had shown.
“These findings suggest that the newer form of the virus may be even more readily transmitted than the original form. Whether or not that conclusion is ultimately confirmed, it highlights the value of what were already good ideas: to wear masks and to maintain social distancing,” Korber said in a statement.
Other mutations often go along with the G614 mutation, but it’s not clear what effect they have. “The earliest sequence we detected that carried all four mutations was sampled in Italy on Feb. 20,” they wrote. “Within days, this haplotype was sampled in many countries in Europe.”
The G614 mutation can be neutralized by convalescent serum — the blood product taken from people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection, Saphire said. Her team tested blood donated by six coronavirus survivors in San Diego.
“We looked to see whether the range of antibodies in the blood of the people was just as effective at neutralizing the new virus as the old virus and it was. It was, in fact, a little better,” she said.
“That was a relief.”
The researchers had worried that if the new mutation made the virus grow faster and to higher levels, it would take more immune system effort to neutralize it. “In these six San Diegans, that wasn’t the case,” Saphire said.
More work is needed, of course, to solidify the findings and to see what the changes mean for the epidemic and for patients, the researchers said.
“There are potential consequences for the vaccines. We are actively investigating those possible consequences,” Montefiore said.
And, of course, they’re keeping an eye out for other mutations. “We might have dodged a bullet with this particular mutation, Saphire said. “However, that is not to say that another mutation couldn’t come on top of this one,” she added.
“It would behoove us to remain vigilant.”