COVID-19 News Briefs for Thursday, July 30, 2020

July 30, 2020

 Muslim pilgrims, wearing masks and moving in small groups after days spent in isolation, began arriving at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday for the start of a historically unique and scaled-down haji experience reshaped by the Covid-19 pandemic. The haji is one of Islam’s most important requirements, performed at least once in a lifetime and is intended to bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims. But for the first time in Saudi history, the government barred Muslims from entering from abroad to limit exposure to coronavirus. Instead, as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected including foreign residents from 160 different nationalities that would normally be represented at the haji which usually draws 2.5 million from around the world

 As $6 billion has been allocated and clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine are entering a crucial third phase, recently released federal guidelines say a vaccine can be authorized for use if it is safe and proves effective in as few as 50% of those who receive it. And “effective” doesn’t necessarily mean stopping people from getting sick from Covid-19. It means minimizing its most serious symptoms, experts say, and keeping people out of the hospital and ICU. 14 promising vaccine candidates have been identified with 7 front-runners. And to whatever extent a vaccine prevents infections, it could reduce the spread of the virus and create pockets of immunity throughout the country. However, experts add that the Covid-19 vaccine will likely not eliminate the need for other health measures such as masks and social distancing

 As the state now grapples with surging infection rates and looming test supply shortages, the task force of public health officials and private industry executives overseeing testing has shrunk in size and the senior health official who oversaw the team has resigned. Experts and former members say that the public sector alone can’t coordinate a response that involves distributing millions of swabs to test sites and synchronizing data with more than 50 laboratories, with supply chains extending across the globe. California is still conducting less than half the daily tests necessary to stop the virus, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute and supplies are likely to dry up in the coming months as states compete for supplies

 On Wednesday, the FDA cleared the way for commercial testing lab Quest Diagnostics to use a new method to cut down testing delays. Quest, which has 2,200 labs through the US, says the FDA approval speeds the process of extracting viral RNA from specimens. In weeks, the turnaround time should be 2-3 days for most people. This comes as state health officials are saying people should only get tested if they really need it so labs don’t get backlogged even more than they are right now

 The pandemic has isolated many children from their friends and extended families — and appears to be leading to a rise in mental health problems. In 1 recent survey, almost 80% of adolescent girls reported feeling more lonely since the pandemic began, according to the Wall Street Journal. Here are some advice from experts: 1) Show empathy and recognize the very real losses than young people are feeling right now; 2) Create structure with a daily schedule that can give children a needed sense of control; 3) Limit screen time — many girls are spending more time talking to friends on social media, while boys are turning to video games and both can deepen loneliness; 4) Seek help — though the pandemic has made it harder for many adolescents to receive mental health treatment, online services may fill the gap

 The US economy shrank at a 32.9% annual rate in the April – June quarter, by far the worst quarterly plunge ever as the coronavirus crisis shut down businesses, throwing tens of millions out of work, and sending unemployment surging to 14.7%, the government announced today. The contraction in the spring was driven by a deep pullback in consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of economic activity. Spending by consumers collapsed at a 34.6% annual rate as travel all but froze and shutdown orders forced many restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and other retail establishments to close

 The Federal Reserve expressed concern Wednesday that the persistent viral outbreak will act as a drag on the economy and hiring in the coming months and said it plans to keep its benchmark short-term interest rate pegged near zero, at least through 2022, to help provide support

 Facing a flood of complaints from jobless Californians who have been unable to obtain unemployment benefits, Governor Newsom said Wednesday he has formed a strike team to address issues with the system and will streamline the process for resolving claims. The team will draft a plan in 45 days for improvements at the state EDD, including an overhaul of its inefficient technology systems. California has processed an unprecedented 8.7 million claims for unemployment benefits since March because of the coronavirus pandemic order which shut down businesses

 California has now recorded nearly 9,000 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began and broke a single-day record on Wednesday with 185 fatalities from Covid-19. In comparison, New York has seen 32,653 deaths. However, the cumulative death toll is 1,000 in Japan, 300 in South Korea, 176 in Australia, 22 in New Zealand,
and 7 in Taiwan. Japan and South Korea each have populations greater than California. Countries that have done a better job slowing infections have done so through the widespread wearing of masks, quarantining of travelers, aggressive testing and contact tracing, isolating the sick, and strict safety protocols

 Modoc County, in California’s far northeast corner, reports its first 2 Covid-19 infections Tuesday, which means that all 58 counties in the state have now experienced at least 1 case of coronavirus  The Orange County Board of Education voted to sue Governor Newsom in an effort to open campuses across high-risk counties, coming after the board approved recommendations on July 13 calling for Orange County schools to teach students in person and suggesting guidance against students wearing masks and social distancing. 4 days later, the governor issued new rules mandating that schools in counties being monitored by the state for high Covid-19 spread remain closed, including Orange County

 Men, outside of congregate living facilities, make up about two-thirds of LA County’s coronavirus-related deaths, and overall, men account for 57% of the county’s coronavirus fatalities. But considering over half of the county’s deaths occurred in living facilities like jails, nursing homes, and shelters, the death rate is even higher for men living outside of such settings. In the general public at large outside of those institutions, two-thirds of the deaths are men, and one-third are women. And data earlier in the pandemic showed men were more likely to become seriously ill and die from Covid-19 with some experts suggesting high blood pressure, liver disease, and other ailments were more prevalent in men and contributed to the negative outcomes

 LA County reported an additional 2,628 positive cases and 41 deaths. Totals are now 185,872 cases and 4,552 deaths. City Breakouts (Cases/Deaths): City of LA 75,663/2,099; Long Beach 7,948/170; Carson 1,234/39; El Segundo 97/0; Gardena 842/34; Hawthorne 1,354/29; Inglewood 1,947/76; Lawndale 449/9; Lomita 164/7; Manhattan Beach 260/4; PV Estates 72/2; Rancho PV 218/12; Redondo Beach 387/9; Rolling Hills 5/0; Rolling Hills Estates 31/2; Torrance 1,012/57

Compiled by Charlene Nishimura

Media Sources: Los Angeles Times; New York Times; Washington Post; Wall Street Journal; Forbes Magazine; Business Insider; USA Today; CBS News; CNN; KTLA; OZY; ABC World News Tonight; Spectrum News 1; The; WebMD; AP, Politico, Newsweek, Reuters, televised briefings from the White House, Governor Newsom, LA County Health Department, Mayor Garcetti; City of Torrance press releases; Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce press releases