A national surge in COVID-19 cases continues as the United States recorded its 13 millionth case on Black Friday, a day typically marked by crowds of bargain hunters. This year, however, many shoppers across the country turned to online deals, keeping crowds thin.
Even so, experts worried that testing disruptions over the holiday will lead Americans to falsely believe the virus’ spread has slowed. That’s because testing sites have shorter hours and fewer people are expected to be swabbed.
“I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans,” Dr. Leana Wen, a professor at George Washington University and an emergency physician, told the Associated Press.
In vaccine news, AstraZeneca hit a setback when it was revealed that a dosing error was behind a high effectiveness rate among some overseas trial participants.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 13 million cases and over 264,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. This week, five states set death records and 23 states had higher case counts than last week. The global totals: more than 61 million cases and 1.4 million deaths.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.
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Los Angeles County announced a new stay-home order Friday as coronavirus cases surge out of control in the nation’s most populous county.
The three-week order takes effect Monday, and comes as the county confirmed 24 new deaths and 4,544 new cases of COVID-19. The five-day average of new cases was 4,751.
The order advises residents to stay home “as much as possible” and to wear a face covering when they go out.
It also bans people from gathering with people who aren’t in their households, whether publicly or privately. Exceptions are made for church services and protests, “which are constitutionally protected rights,” the county Department of Public Health said in a statement. Businesses and outdoor trails are also allowed to remain open.
Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new requirement that non-essential work, movement and gatherings stop between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. for counties in the “red tier,” which most in the state are currently under.
– Associated Press
Ohio State University football coach Ryan Day has tested positive for COVID-19, the school announced Friday afternoon.
Day, who has guided the No. 3 Buckeyes to an undefeated start through four games and serves as the primary play-caller for one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country, will miss Saturday’s game at the University of Illinois.
The positive test puts him in jeopardy of missing the Buckeyes’ next game at Michigan State on Dec. 5. Big Ten coaches who test positive for COVID-19 are required to be out for 10 days, according to the conference’s protocols.
In a statement, OSU athletic director Gene Smith said the 41-year-old Day is “doing well physically,” but he did not say if he has experienced any symptoms since contracting the virus. Day is currently in isolation.
– Joey Kaufman, Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
Republican Congresswomen-elect Lauren Boebert has drawn criticism from Colorado’s Democratic governor for saying she rebranded her Thanksgiving gathering as an animal funeral to skirt the state’s social distancing regulations.
“Congresswomen-elect Boebert is calling her Thanksgiving a ‘turkey funeral’ and hosting over 30 people. My hope and prayer is that it doesn’t turn into a real funeral for any of the attendees,” Gov. Jared Polis said on Facebook.
In most areas of the state, personal gatherings are restricted to 10 people, but funerals have less stringent rules.
On Wednesday, Boebert tweeted that she could host about 90 people if she hosted funerals for a turkey, pig and duck. Previously she suggested calling her Thanksgiving gathering a “peaceful protest in honor of my deceased turkey.”
It’s early in the season, but wholesale tree farmers and small, cut-your-own lots are reporting strong demand for real Christmas trees, with many opening well before Thanksgiving.
Businesses say they’ve seen more customers, earlier, as more Americans appear to be seeking a bright spot amid the virus’ worsening toll.
“The season is running approximately six to seven days ahead of what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve never seen the demand like we’ve had this year,” said McKenzie Cook, who ships between 1.8 million and 2 million trees a year from farms in Oregon and North Carolina.
Customers flocked to some pick-your-own-tree farms before Thanksgiving to tag the perfect tree to cut down once the business opened. As demand surges, big-box stores are seeking fresh trees up to a week earlier than last year. Walmart is offering free home delivery for the first time.
— Associated Press
A Toronto barbecue restauranteur has been charged with trespassing, obstruction and violating COVID-19 guidelines after allegedly breaking into his own restaurant to serve food to his supporters.
Skelly was permitted entry into a “rear compartment” of his restaurant, an officer told CTV News, but Skelly and a large crew of supporters allegedly smashed drywall and broke locks set by the city.
Toronto Mayor John Tory told CNN that the congregation was “like a festival” to “celebrate some of their unorthodox views,” including anti-mask sentiments. Video of the scene showed few people in the crowd, aside from police, wearing masks.
More stores were closed on Thanksgiving than in recent years. Old Navy had the earliest opening time, with some stores opening at midnight.
“This Thanksgiving period, shoppers are interested in two things, getting a good deal on items and feeling safe,” Rod Sides, U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader for consultancy Deloitte, said in a statement.
This will be the first Black Friday that more shoppers scoop up deals online than at an actual store, Deloitte says, with 61% making purchases with the click of a button as compared to 54% who venture out.
— Charisse Jones and Kelly Tyko
AstraZeneca said it plans to conduct a new global clinical trial to assess the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s efficacy. The news comes after the company and the university acknowledged a dosing error in trials.
It’s not clear what effect, if any, these results will have on a separate, 30,000-person trial underway of the candidate vaccine in the United States.
All 11,000 people who have participated in the U.S. trial so far have received two equal doses of the vaccine, said Moncef Slaoui, co-director of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration program to develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
AstraZeneca said an additional trial shouldn’t delay regulatory approval in Britain or the European Union – but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could take longer.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot does not need to be stored at freezer temperatures, making it easier to distribute. AstraZeneca has agreed not to profit from its vaccine during the pandemic.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered at least two people executed, banned fishing at sea and locked down the capital, Pyongyang, as part of frantic efforts to guard against the coronavirus.
North Korea made an unsuccessful hacking attempt on at least one South Korean pharmaceutical company that was trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine, according to South Korea’s intelligence agency. Reuters reported Friday that AstraZeneca, a key company in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, was targeted by North Korean hackers.
The United Kingdom’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, cautioned families over the holidays not to hug their elderly relatives “if you want them to survive to be hugged again” beyond the holidays.
The nation has granted its residents permission to congregate among themselves in a “Christmas bubble” of up to three households and eight people from Dec. 23 to 27. The lax holiday restrictions, however, will likely lead to an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom.
Clearing snow from roads and sidewalks is never a cakewalk in Vermont. This winter, the COVID-19 pandemic has delivered to plow crews — and the general public — more uncertainty.
Predictions are tough when it comes to a new disease like COVID, said Dennis Lutz, director of public works in Essex, Vermont: “We’ve never been down this road before.” He spelled out the three-tier alerts his department might issue if COVID cases rise — green, yellow and red. Red signals delays from 24 to 48 hours, with half of the town’s licensed plow-truck drivers unable to work.
Lutz’s counterparts in other communities have similar contingency plans. As usual, some plans will fall short, Lutz said: “At the end of the day, nothing’s foolproof.”
– Joel Banner Baird, Burlington Free Press
Experts warn of worsening COVID surge during holidays
Thanksgiving may be the beginning of a dark holiday season as the surge in coronavirus cases is likely to persist, or even get worse, through December, January and February.
“If the surge takes a turn of continuing to go up and you have the sustained greater than 100,000 infections a day and 1,300 deaths per day and the count keeps going up and up … I don’t see it being any different during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays than during Thanksgiving,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with USA TODAY last week.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director said the country is in a vulnerable position heading into the holiday season because infections are too high to control a likely winter surge.
Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations and chief strategy officer for population health at the University of Washington, said, “We need to be extra careful these upcoming extra couple of weeks in order to avoid pain and suffering.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Oregon fines gym $90K for violating COVID order
Oregon officials have fined Courthouse Club Fitness $90,000 for defying Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 order and remaining open throughout the state’s two-week “freeze.”
Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency tasked with enforcing compliance with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, said the penalty is the result of citations against each of the club’s four facilities near Salem.
Last week, Gov. Kate Brown ordered a statewide “freeze” to limit group activities and slow the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon, where cases have reached a record. The freeze will last until Dec. 3, except for 21 counties in the state that still will be under coronavirus restrictions.
– Whitney Woodworth, Salem Statesman Journal
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press, Karen Weintraub