Coronavirus update: Global cases top 40 million; White House task force reported to be hive of infighting over new adviser

Coronavirus update: Global cases top 40 million; White House task force reported to be hive of infighting over new adviser

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 40 million on Monday, as new infections continued to rise in Europe and the U.S. and experts warned the pandemic could worsen during the cold winter months.


The tally climbed to 40 million from 30 million in just a month, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while it took six months to go from a first case to 10 million, indicating that the spread is accelerating.



The U.S. continues to lead the world by case numbers and fatalities. With just 4% of the global population, the U.S. has 8.2 million cases, or about 20% of the global total, and almost 220,000 deaths, more than a fifth of the global total of 1.2 million.


Average daily hospitalizations in the U.S. rose by 10.7% in the past week, compared with the prior one, according to Raymond James analysts, and average daily tests rose by 2.9% to more than 1.04 million a day.


“However, this growth was significantly outpaced by the growth of daily average identified cases, which grew by 12.1% from 49,178 last week to 55,128 this week, causing the average positivity rate to continue its upward trajectory to 5.3% this week,” analysts led by Chris Meekins wrote in a note to clients.


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“Increases in positivity rates and increases in overall case counts typically lead to more surges in hospitalizations and, eventually, fatalities. Deaths have not ticked up yet, but we anticipate they will in the week ahead,” said the note.


The White House Task Force created to manage the pandemic has become a hive of internal strife since the appointment of Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases who was brought into the task force in August, the Washington Post reported.


Atlas, who was a regular commentator on Fox News, has caused controversy by supporting what experts deem to be fake science, and has said social distancing and face mask wearing are useless in preventing infection. On Saturday, a tweet Atlas sent saying masks don’t work was removed by Twitter for breaching its rules on spreading misinformation.


Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the task force, who has been sidelined since Atlas joined it, confronted Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the force, about Atlas and the unsound advice he is giving President Donald Trump, including his repeated assertion that a vaccine will be available by the Nov. presidential election, which drug companies have said is not possible.

Birx told Pence that Atlas should be removed, the paper reported, but he declined to take sides and told her the two should resolve their differences themselves.


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Birx is not alone in being unhappy about Atlas. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield was overheard by an NBC News reporter in late September, criticizing Atlas for spreading misinformation. “Everything he says is false,” Redfield said on the call.


The next three months are going to be “the darkest of the entire pandemic,” Dr. Michael Osterholm warned Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”


“We do have vaccines and therapeutics coming down the pike,” Osterholm said, though any availability of a vaccine in a “meaningful way” won’t be until perhaps the third quarter of 2021.


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“Even then, half of the U.S. population, at this point, is skeptical of even taking the vaccine,” he said, pointing to a lack of clear leadership. “What we have right now is a major problem in messaging.”


Osterholm said he expects Friday’s 70,000 cases in the U.S. will get much worse. “That number, we’re going to blow right through that,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “And between now and the holidays, we will see numbers much, much larger than even the 67,000 to 75,000 cases.”


In other news:


• UNICEF is purchasing and distributing more than half a billion single-dose syringes to make sure it has the equipment needed in the countries it operates once a COVID-19 vaccine is available. In a statement, the United Nations agency said the stockpiling is part of a larger plan to buy 1 billion syringes by 2021. “Vaccinating the world against COVID-19 will be one of the largest mass undertakings in human history, and we will need to move as quickly as the vaccines can be produced,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “In order to move fast later, we must move fast now. By the end of the year, we will already have over half a billion syringes pre-positioned where they can be deployed quickly and cost effectively. That’s enough syringes to wrap around the world one and a half times.”


• China’s economy grew by 4.9% in the third quarter, according to government statistics released Monday, quicker than the 3.2% growth rate seen in the second quarter, as the world’s second biggest economy continues to recover from the havoc caused by the pandemic. China is one of few countries to avoid a pandemic-related recession, although growth was weaker than the 5.2% forecast of analysts polled by Refinitiv.


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• Belgium is losing control of the pandemic’s second peak and is close to being overwhelmed by a “tsunami” of infections, as the Guardian reported. Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told the broadcaster RTL that Belgians needed to radically alter their behavior. He described the situation in francophone Wallonia in the south and in the country’s capital, Brussels, as “the worst, and therefore the most dangerous in all of Europe.” Belgium has 222,253 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10,413 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins data. On a per capita basis, it has 91.17 deaths per 100,000 people, second in the world only to Peru, which has 105.35 deaths per 100,000 population.


• Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced new rules that allow mayors to close public squares after 9 p.m., to discourage people from gathering in close quarters, Reuters reported. The move is less restrictive than the full 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. nighttime curfew imposed in France. Daily cases in Italy, an early pandemic hot spot, hit a record of 11,705 on Sunday, but Conte said he is determined not to fully lock down again. Conte also halted amateur sporting competitions and local fairs.


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Latest tallies

At least 27.5 million people have recovered from COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins data shows.


Brazil has the second highest death toll at 153,675 and is third by cases at 5.2 million. India is second in cases with 7.6 million, and third in deaths at 114,610.


Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 86,167 and ninth highest case tally at 851,227.


The U.K has 43,816 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 744,101 cases.


China, where the disease was first reported late last year, has 90,989 cases and 4,739 fatalities, according to its official numbers.

What are companies saying?

• AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. AMC, +20.16%  will resume operations at several New York state cinemas starting Oct. 23, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed movie theaters to reopen after being closed due to the pandemic. The biggest U.S. cinema chain said about a dozen theaters will resume operations, mostly in upstate New York and on Long Island. A full list of locations will be made available later this week. AMC expects to have about 530 of its 600-theater circuit open and serving guests by the end of the month. “The reopening of movie theaters around the country is essential to the theatrical industry and the entire entertainment ecosystem,” AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron said in a statement. “It has become clear that movie studios are not willing to release blockbuster product until key major markets are open.”


• CVS Health Corp. CVS, -0.06% announced plans to hire 15,000 full-time and part-time workers in the fourth quarter as it prepares for rising cases of COVID-19 and flu season. Two-thirds of the jobs are for licensed pharmacy technicians, a group of professionals that CVS wants to be allowed to administer COVID-19 vaccines, if and when they become available. There are currently only six states - Idaho, Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington - that allow pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines, according to a CVS spokesperson. The company is also looking to fill jobs for pharmacists, nurses, physician assistants, and distribution center and customer-service workers. The Trump administration on Friday announced a deal with CVS and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. [s: wba] for the drugstore chains to administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities in the future.


• Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc. PLAY, +7.85% will offer $500 million in senior secured notes in a private offering. Once the offering closes, Dave & Buster’s will have about $299.1 million in liquidity. The company will use the proceeds to pay the balance outstanding on both the term loan facility and revolving credit facility. In a business update issued last week, Dave & Buster’s said comp sales have steadily increased, but were still down 62% in September as it continues to feel the impact of the pandemic.


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• Starwood Property Trust Inc. [s: stwd] is offering $300 million in unsecured senior notes that mature in 2023 in a private offering, joining the many companies issuing record levels of debt during the pandemic. Proceeds will be used to finance or refinance recently completed of future eligible green and/or social projects. The company is also planning to use proceeds to redeem the remaining $250 million outstanding principal amount of its 3.625% bonds due 2021.


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