Rural Areas Hardest Hit In Third Surge; WHO Fights Misinformation

ACROSS AMERICA — The United States’ worst coronavirus hot spots today are not in big cities. Instead, Midwest and Mountain West counties with fewer than 50,000 residents are dominating lists of counties with the worst per capita outbreaks.

While overall case numbers in these counties appear small because of their low populations, even slight upticks in cases can severely strain already limited health care resources, the New York Times reports.

The largest number of cases per capita this week was Norton County, Kansas, which had an average of 44 cases a day per 10,000 people. Seven more of the top 20 counties were in South Dakota, and six of those are home to fewer than 10,000 people.

Also facing a high number of cases, North Dakota officials announced the state will temporarily suspend contact tracing while workers, including National Guard soldiers, sort through a three-day backlog of positive tests, the New York Times reports.

As the U.S. enters what appears to be a third significant surge of the virus, the World Health Organization is teaming up with Wikipedia to help curb the spread of misinformation around the COVID-19 virus.

In a news release, WHO said it will release infographics, videos and other public health assets through the Wikimedia Commons, a digital library of multimedia assets that are free to the public.

"Our new collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation will increase access to reliable health information from WHO across multiple countries, languages, and devices," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Meanwhile, drugmaker Moderna announced this week it has fully enrolled its coronavirus vaccine trial with 30,000 participants, more than 25,000 of whom have already received a second trial vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.

Over a third of the enrollees are from minority communities, the company said, citing an intention to ensure all Americans are represented in trials.

The outcome of the trial will determine whether Moderna asks the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.

Pfizer, another drugmaker leading the effort to release an effective vaccine against the coronavirus, is also expected to report early results from human trials this month or in November.

Food and Drug Administration independent advisers will meet later this week to discuss if they will recommend specific vaccines for public use. The decision will ultimately be based on findings from FDA advisory committees.

Meanwhile, Florida's Department of Health said it will conduct a more thorough review of all fatalities reported to the state after significant delays were found between when some people tested positive for the virus and when they died.

"During a pandemic, the public must be able to rely on accurate public health data to make informed decisions," Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said in a news release. "To ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 related deaths, the department will be performing additional reviews of all deaths. Timely and accurate data remains a top priority of the Department of Health."

Across the Gulf, 16 of Houston's 280 public schools were forced to close one day after reopening because a person on campus tested positive for the coronavirus, the New York Times reports.

In response, school administrators announced campuses would no longer close after a single person tested positive but would instead require two on-campus cases before closing.

Teachers from at least 35 schools in the district staged a “sick out” Thursday to protest the change of policy, as well as large class sizes and a social distancing policy that allows students to be within 3 feet of one another.

Santa Claus himself is also calling in sick this year. Department store chain Macy’s announced its usual in-store “Santaland” will go virtual this winter.

Macy’s Santaland at Home, as the online experience is called, lets children take a journey through Santaland before meeting Santa in an interactive video. Kids can even snap a selfie with Santa.

The virtual Santaland experience will be offered from Nov. 27 to Dec. 24.

Puerto Rico's two 911 call centers were closed this week after two employees tested positive for the coronavirus, leaving Puerto Ricans to call one of two other phone numbers for police or ambulance services in the event of an emergency.

Shortly after the announcement was made, the two alternate numbers became overwhelmed by people calling to see if they worked. Call forwarding was later set up so 911 calls could be routed to emergency dispatchers at the emergency management bureau headquarters, the Times reported.

The call centers will be decontaminated, officials said, and employees who were exposed to the virus will quarantine and be tested in the coming days.

As the virus continues impacting Americans across the country, unemployment claims remain high. The federal government reported that 757,000 new claims for unemployment were filed last week, a decrease of 73,000 claims from the week prior.

Economists said unemployment has become a long-term problem for many people who have already exhausted their 26 weeks of employment benefits.

“We’re in a new phase of jobless claims,” Ernie Tedeschi, managing director and policy economist for Evercore ISI, told the Times. “More and more people are exhausting their initial 26 weeks of state unemployment.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, DC. The White House is hoping to reach a deal on a COVID-19 stimulus package in the next two days, after Senate Democrats blocked a $500 billion bill Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, DC. The White House is hoping to reach a deal on a COVID-19 stimulus package in the next two days, after Senate Democrats blocked a $500 billion bill Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

At least 1,170 new coronavirus deaths and 62,751 new cases were reported in the United States on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. Over the past week, there have been an average of 60,572 cases per day, an increase of 32 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

As of Wednesday, 35 states and Puerto Rico remained above the positive testing rate recommended by the World Health Organization to safely reopen. To safely reopen, the WHO recommends states remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days.

More than 8.39 million people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday evening, and more than 222,900 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Stay up to date on the latest coronavirus news via The New York Times or Washington Post.

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This article originally appeared on the Across America Patch