The Latest COVID-19 Updates (May 18)

Staff Writer

5 p.m. NEW YORK (AP) — Federal authorities are urging governors to use “extreme caution” in deciding when to resume visits at nursing homes, saying it shouldn't come before all residents and staff have tested negative for the coronavirus for at least 28 days.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ criteria for relaxing restrictions at nursing homes come more than two months after the agency ordered homes to ban visitors. Instead of firm dates, it lists a variety of factors state and local officials should consider, such as adequate staffing levels at homes and the ability to regularly test all residents and workers.
“We’re urging governors to proceed with extreme caution because these are the most vulnerable citizens. We know that nursing homes have struggled,” Seema Verma, head of CMS, told The Associated Press.
Already, outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities have claimed more then 32,000 lives, more than a third of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S., according to a count by the AP.
The recommendations bolster the Trump administration’s broader guidelines that say senior care facilities should be among the last in a community to reopen, given the vulnerability of their elderly residents. And they noted that some homes may have to wait even longer than 28 days from the last negative test if they have had problems with infection controls, staffing or other issues.

4 p.m. SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed county reopening criteria on Monday, a move he said will allow most of the state’s 58 counties to begin allowing dining in restaurants and other services.
“Bottom line is: People can go at their own pace, and we are empowering our local health directors and county officials that understand their local communities and conditions,” Newsom said.
The new criteria he outlined applies to counties that want to reopen faster than the state. While retail may open for curbside pickup statewide, restrictions on dining in at restaurants and other services are still in place statewide. Counties can move faster if they win state approval.
Twenty-four counties in mostly rural Northern California already won approval under the old guidance.
The new criteria eliminates requirements that a county have zero deaths and no more than than one case per 10,000 residents over a two-week period. Instead, counties must have no more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents or no higher than an 8 percent positive rate among people testing for the coronavirus. They also must have no higher than a 5 percent increase in hospitalizations over a 7-day period or fewer than 20 hospitalizations total over 14 days. The latter will ensure small counties don’t get penalized for just one or two extra hospitalizations.
Newsom also said counties will soon be able to allow shopping in stores and hair salons to reopen. He also suggested professional sports could begin in June without spectators. He said the reopening of churches could begin within weeks.

2 p.m. GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization bowed to calls Monday from most of its member states to launch an independent probe into how it managed the international response to the coronavirus, which has been clouded by finger-pointing between the U.S. and China over a pandemic that has killed over 300,000 people and leveled the global economy.
The “comprehensive evaluation," sought by a coalition of African, European and other countries, is intended to review "lessons learned” from WHO’s coordination of the global response to COVID-19, but would stop short of looking into contentious issues such as the origins of the new coronavirus. U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed he has proof suggesting the coronavirus originated in a lab in China while the scientific community has insisted all evidence to date shows the virus likely jumped into humans from animals.

1:30 p.m. An experimental vaccine against the coronavirus showed encouraging results in very early testing, triggering hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers, its maker announced Monday.
Study volunteers given either a low or medium dose of the vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. had antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19.
In the next phase of the study, led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers will try to determine which dose is best for a definitive experiment that they aim to start in July.
In all, 45 people have received one or two shots of the vaccine, which was being tested at three different doses. The kind of detailed antibody results needed to assess responses are only available on eight volunteers so far.
The vaccine seems safe, the company said, but much more extensive testing is needed to see if it remains so. A high dose version is being dropped after spurring some short-term side effects.
The results have not been published and are only from the first of three stages of testing that vaccines and drugs normally undergo.
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NEW YORK (AP) — Western New York, including the city of Buffalo, has met coronavirus containment goals and can begin to reopen its economy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Hospitals will be able to schedule elective surgeries as the region enters the first phase of reopening on Tuesday, but gatherings such as church services and sports events will still be banned, Cuomo said.
“Personal disclosure — I want to watch the Buffalo Bills," said Cuomo, who held Monday's briefing in Buffalo. "But I’m still objective, I’m acting as governor.”
Most of upstate New York will have started reopening by the end of this week, but it will likely be weeks before New York City and its suburbs meet metrics for reopening including the availability of hospital beds and the hiring of enough contact tracers to contain the spread of the virus.

12:30 p.m. HARRISBURG — Jefferson County still has seven confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s statistical update on Monday. The surrounding counties stood as follows: Clearfield, 33 cases; Indiana, 84 cases, six deaths; Armstrong, 58 cases, five deaths; Clarion, 24 cases, one death; Forest, seven cases; and Elk, six cases, one death.

9 a.m. GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says he will begin an independent evaluation of the U.N. health agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic “at the earliest appropriate moment.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the pledge Monday after an independent oversight advisory body published its first interim report about the U.N. health agency’s response to COVID-19 from January to April.
The 11-page report raised questions such as whether WHO’s warning system for alerting the world to outbreaks is adequate, and suggested member states might need to “reassess” WHO’s role in providing travel advice to countries.
The advisory body’s review and recommendations appeared unlikely to appease the United States administration, which has been scathing in its criticism of WHO — in part over President Donald Trump’s allegation that it had criticized a U.S. travel ban that he ordered on people arriving from China, where the outbreak first appeared late last year.
Trump ordered a temporary suspension of funding for WHO from the United States — the health agency’s biggest single donor — pending a review of its early response. But the review panel, echoing comments from many countries, said such a review during the “heat of the response” could hurt WHO’s ability to respond to it.
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GENEVA — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says countries need to work together to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
In a video address Monday to the annual World Health Assembly, Merkel said that “no country can solve this problem alone.”
She backed the World Health Organization’s efforts to combat the outbreak but added that countries should “work to improve procedures” at the global body and ensure its funding is sustainable.
Merkel made no direct reference to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to cut funding for WHO over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
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GENEVA — Chinese President Xi Jinping says China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
XI’s announcement by videoconference at the start of the World Health Organization’s annual assembly marks a sharp contrast to the United States: The Trump administration has announced a suspension of its funding for WHO over its alleged mishandling of the outbreak and praise of China’s response.
Xi did not specify where the injection of Chinese funds would go, but said “China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response.”
Xi also said that vaccine development and deployment of vaccines in China will be made a “global public good” and said that China supported a review of the global response to the outbreak after it is brought under control.
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LONDON — The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called the ongoing coronavirus pandemic “the greatest challenge of our age” and said it’s still unclear when we will have effective treatments or vaccines against the disease.
In a virtual address to the World Health Organization’s decision-making body on Monday, Antonio Guterres echoed the WHO's repeated calls for global solidarity, saying “we are all paying a heavy price” for the sometimes contradictory national responses to the pandemic.
“Many countries have ignored the recommendations of the World Health Organization,” he said. “As a result, the virus has spread across the world and is now moving into the global south, where its impact may be even more devastating and we are risking further spikes and waves.”
Guterres said it was a “false dichotomy” to assume governments would be choosing between saving their citizens or their economies.
“Unless we control the spread of the virus, the economy will never recover,” he warned. He called for the G20 countries to urgently consider a large-scale stimulus package that would amount to a “double-digit percentage of global GDP.”

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