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China on Monday denied a report that three Wuhan Institute of Virology employees were hospitalized with possible coronavirus symptoms in November 2019, a claim that if true would further fuel debate over the origins of the pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal cited a U.S. intelligence report saying the previously undisclosed information provides fresh details on the timing of the hospital visits about a month before China reported the first infections. China and the World Health Organization have downplayed calls for a broader investigation into whether the virus could have escaped from the laboratory.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, asked about the controversy Monday, said the administration has been pressing for an international investigation led by the WHO.
"We need that data. We need that information from the Chinese government," she said. "What we can't do, and what I would caution anyone doing, is leaping ahead of an actual international process."
Yuan Zhiming, director of the lab, told the Global Times that the Journal report was "groundless." China's foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, also called the claim "completely untrue."
"The U.S. continues to hype the lab leak theory. Is the real intention to express concern over the virus origin or to divert attention?" Zhao asked
Also in the news:
►“Hadestown,” the brooding musical about the underworld, has set its Broadway reopening date on Sept. 2, jumping ahead of such megahits as “Hamilton” and “Wicked” as the first show to return since the pandemic.
►The State Department on Monday raised its travel advisory for Japan -- host country of the Summer Games scheduled to start July 23 -- to Level 4, saying, "Do not travel to Japan due to COVID-19.''
►Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne reported that more than 1 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have died from COVID and called on the world to intensify efforts to improve the region’s access to vaccines.
►Massachusetts on Monday started bringing vaccines to people in their homes, rather than making them travel to a vaccination site. Appointments can be made over the phone, with translation services available in more than 100 languages.
►Florida is joining a growing list of Republican-led states dropping a federal program that gave an extra $300 per week in benefits to the unemployed during the pandemic. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced Monday that the state will withdraw from the program June 26.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 590,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 167 million cases and 3.46 million deaths. More than 357.2 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 286.8 million administered, according to the CDC. More than 130.6 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 39.3% of the population.
📘 What we're reading: As the pandemic continues, more information is accumulating about the loss of smell that afflicts as many as 70% to 80% of people who catch COVID-19 and seems particularly common among those with mild disease.
Kentucky's Rand Paul, a frequent Fauci antagonist, says he won't get vaccinated
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has frequently challenged infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci during congressional hearings, says he won't get vaccinated against COVID-19 because he has already had the disease.
His stance runs counter to the CDC's guidance, which says those who have been infected should still get the vaccine because "experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19."
Paul, a Republican, was the first member of the Senate known to contract the illness, in March 2020.
"Each individual assumes their own risk, and the thing is, if someone chooses not to be vaccinated and you are vaccinated, they're not a risk to you," Paul said in a podcast released Sunday with businessman John Catsimatidis. "They're taking a risk for themselves."
-- Ayana Archie, Louisville Courier Journal
Unvaccinated Americans increase risk to people with compromised immune system
The loosening of pandemic-related restrictions across the U.S. brings welcome relief to many, but for those with a compromised immune system it only adds to their concerns. The notion that unvaccinated people could transmit the virus is particularly worrisome, because those with immune deficiencies may not get all the protection from COVID that vaccines usually provide.
Those most at risk are people who have had solid-organ transplants, such as kidney and liver, and cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. But some people with autoimmune conditions — such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and multiple sclerosis — also may be more vulnerable to infection.
As many as 23.5 million people in the U.S. have an autoimmune disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“That really is one of the values of getting vaccinated,” said Robert Citronberg, chief of infectious disease and prevention at Advocate Aurora Health in Milwaukee. “You are not only protecting yourself, but you are protecting other people who are vulnerable to the disease.”
-- Guy Boulton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin priest who flouted restrictions says he has been asked to resign
A Catholic priest in Wisconsin who called Democrats godless and referred to COVID-19 protocols as “Nazi-esque controls” told his congregation he has been asked to resign as pastor.
The Rev. James Altman announced the request from Bishop William Callahan during his sermon Sunday at St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse. The sermon was recorded and posted to YouTube.
Altman, who has ignored gathering restrictions at his masses, said Callahan told him he was "divisive and ineffective.''
Can you be fired for refusing vaccination?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorizations for three vaccines has prompted debate among legal scholars and health experts about whether employers can require vaccines that are not yet fully approved. Experts have come down on both sides of the argument. Although COVID-19 shots are readily available, vaccine hesitancy remains an issue. Melissa Fisher would rather be fired than get one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Fisher, a 53-year-old caregiver from Cleveland, Tennessee, and her employer, an assisted living facility in nearby Athens, are at an impasse over vaccine requirements.
"We have a freedom of choice in this country," Fisher said. "I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize my residents' health and safety, and that's not my intention of not taking the vaccine."
– Holly Meyer, Nashville Tennessean
New York public schools won't offer remote option in 2021-22 school year
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said all the city's public schools will be back full time, in person in September. No remote option will be offered, the mayor said in an interview on MSNBC. Classrooms are open now, but most parents have opted for online learning for their children. That won't be an option for the city's 1 million students who attend traditional public schools next school year. De Blasio said some version of the coronavirus protocols now in place, such as mask wearing and COVID-19 testing, could be in force in September.
“We can’t have a full recovery without full-strength schools, everyone back, sitting in those classrooms, kids learning again,” he said. “It’s time. It’s really time to go full strength now."
CDC reviewing cases of heart inflammation in vaccinated youths
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into reports that a very small number of young adults and teenagers vaccinated against the coronavirus may have experienced myocarditis, or heart inflammation. A CDC work group of experts has concluded that the reports of myocarditis to date seem to occur predominantly in adolescents and young adults, more often in males than females, more often following dose 2 than dose 1, and typically within four days after vaccination. Most cases appear to be mild, and follow-up on the cases is ongoing, the work group said.
"Information about this potential adverse event should be provided to clinicians to enhance early recognition and appropriate management of persons who develop myocarditis symptoms following vaccination," the work group concluded.
WHO acknowledges missteps, looks to strengthen readiness
The World Health Organization opened its annual assembly in Geneva on Monday with a draft resolution that acknowledges missteps in the response to the pandemic. The resolution would set up a six-person working group, tackling the issue of how to strengthen WHO's readiness, and would report back to the assembly next year.
“We have to have institutions that are up to the task, that meet our ambitions,” French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron said by video during the mostly virtual meeting. WHO, he said, must be “robust” and “flexible” in times of emergency and crisis. “And it must be completely transparent to make sure that people trust the organization."
Dogs being trained to sniff out COVID at airports
A new study says dogs can be trained to identify the unique odors associated with coronavirus infection, and the researchers say one dog can screen up to 250 people in an hour. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University ran the study and say the next stage of research will involve screening infected people in real-world settings.
"Then we will work with other experienced partners to scale-up our operations rapidly to deploy COVID-19 detection dogs in airports or other venues to screen large numbers of people, providing a rapid, non-invasive screening for COVID-19," the researchers said.
US tally of new infections, deaths continue steep decline
The United States is now averaging about 25,000 reported coronavirus cases a day, barely more than one-tenth the average from earlier this year, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The country had been reporting about 230,000 infections per day in January.
The weekly average number of daily deaths is around 550 deaths per day, down from a peak of about 3,300 in January. And the U.S. is on track to have about 1 million reported cases this month, the lowest figure since June 2020. It could report about 18,000 deaths in May, the fewest since March 2020.
– Mike Stucka
India struggles with rising death totals, shortage of vaccines
India's confirmed death total surpassed 300,000 on Monday as the nation of 1.4 billion people struggled with a shortage of vaccines. India has reported more than 26 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began, with almost half occurring in the past two months. India’s death toll is the third-highest reported in the world after the U.S. and Brazil, accounting for 8.6% of the nearly 3.47 million coronavirus fatalities globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater.
COVID is now surging in the country's smaller towns and villages, causing desperation among people there and in families overseas. Across India, families scour cities for coronavirus tests, medicine, ambulances, oxygen and hospital beds. When none of that works, some have to deal with the deaths of loved ones.
COVID breath test wins provisional authorization in Singapore
A 60-second breath test for the coronavirus has won provisional authorization in Singapore. The BreFence Go COVID-19 Breath Test System, developed by Singapore-based Breathonix, is intended for use in clinical laboratories, clinical settings, hospitals or by personnel trained to the operation of the system. The test achieved more than 90% accuracy in a clinical trial, the company says. Singapore, which reported 24 new homegrown cases and 12 cases "imported" from other countries Monday, has re-imposed restrictions on social gatherings to halt the infection's spread.
Florida's positivity rate remains under 4%; state vaccinates 10 million
Florida's positivity rate for new COVID-19 cases increased slightly Sunday but remained under 4% for the third time in four days. Florida also hit a milestone Sunday with more than 10 million residents vaccinated, according to the Florida Department of Health. That includes nearly 8 million people who have completed their dosage.
The state announced 2,069 new cases of the virus Sunday and 13 total deaths, marking the fewest deaths in one day since April 11. More than 37,000 people in Florida have died after being infected with the coronavirus.
– Jorge Milian, Palm Beach Post
'Massive increases' in cases of eating disorders during pandemic
Months of isolation and anxiety brought on by the pandemic have led to a spike in eating disorders, which under normal circumstances cause an estimated 10,000 deaths a year in the U.S. “We are absolutely seeing massive increases,’’ said Jennifer Wildes, an associate psychiatry professor and director of an outpatient eating disorders program at the University of Chicago Medicine. She said some patients have to wait four to five months for treatment or medication, about quadruple the previous wait time.
An analysis of electronic medical records data from about 80 U.S. hospitals found a 30% increase in cases of eating disorders starting after March 2020. Dietitian Jillian Lampert of The Emily Program, a multistate treatment center for eating disorders, said the pandemic has created conditions that are especially suited for the development of these issues.
‘’We know that anxiety and isolation are typically very significant components of eating disorders,’’ she said.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: CDC Wuhan report; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won't get vaccine