Holiday crossroads: Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised against traveling for Thanksgiving because of climbing coronavirus cases around the country, more than 3 million people passed through Transportation Security Administration lines at airports this weekend, Shannon McMahon writes for The Washington Post, making for the busiest travel weekend since March. Meanwhile, nine states—including Arizona, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Vermont—are reporting more than twice as many new cases each day as they had two weeks ago, The New York Times reports. The United States has logged more than 12.4 million cases and more than 258,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned that if this trend continues, the country could see over 300,000 deaths from Covid, Jessie Hellman writes for The Hill. “I don’t want this to be a doomsday statement. It is within our power to not let those numbers happen,” Fauci added. “The fact is, you don’t have to accept those numbers as being inevitable.”
- Also: Skipping or scaling back the big meal on Thursday isn’t all doom and gloom. Laura Todd Carns writes for The Lily that many people, especially women, are breathing a big sigh of relief.
Small gatherings at fault?: Even as experts fret that Thanksgiving dinners will contribute to the steady rise in coronavirus cases around the country, especially if vulnerable family members are included in the celebration, others say that small, private gatherings are not the primary driver of the fall surge despite widespread claims to the contrary, Apoorva Mandavilli writes for The New York Times. The Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, described them as “a major vector of disease spread,” but epidemiologists aren’t so sure. Part of the problem is that community spread is so rampant it can be hard to figure out how an individual got infected, but what data there is points to the same primary drivers as earlier in the pandemic: long-term care facilities, food processing plants, prisons, health care settings, and restaurants and bars. That hasn’t stopped public officials from warning against private get-togethers. “It seems like they’re passing off the responsibility for controlling the outbreak to individuals and individual choices,” Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told The Times. “A pandemic is more a failure of the system than the failure of individual choices.” The result is some truly baffling state directives: In Minnesota, for example, the governor has banned people from different households from meeting, whether indoors or outdoors, but places of worship, funeral homes and wedding venues can still host up to 250 people indoors. In Vermont, you can dine indoors at a restaurant before 10 p.m., but you can’t meet your neighbors for a socially distanced and masked walk.
Subscribe to receive occasional alerts in your inbox
Shots, shots, shots: The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced Monday that its coronavirus vaccine, developed by Oxford University, is up to 90 percent effective in some of the trial groups, William Booth and Carolyn Y. Johnson report for The Washington Post. While that’s less effective than the vaccines developed by Moderna and by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is less expensive and easier to store, making it a more viable option for large parts of the world. Experts celebrated the third round of good news. “I’m totally delighted,” said Hildegund C.J. Ertl, a vaccine expert at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia. “What it tells me is this virus can be beaten quite easily: 90 to 95 percent efficacy is something we’d dream about for influenza virus, and we’d never get it.”
- Also: The nonprofit advertising group Ad Council is planning a $50 million campaign to persuade people to get a coronavirus vaccine when one or more becomes widely available, Tiffany Hsu reports for The New York Times. The organization ran a similar campaign in the 1950s urging Americans to get vaccinated against polio.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: A mutation of the coronavirus first identified in eastern China in January quickly became the primary strain spread across the globe, James Glanz, Benedict Carey and Hannah Beech report for The New York Times. The mutation appears to have made the virus especially easy to spread, even more so than the already contagious version that originated in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, for reasons not yet fully understood by scientists.
- Also: By now, the loss or distortion of smells is a well-known symptom of Covid, and scientists say that understanding that mechanism could hold clues to coronavirus patients’ road to recovery, Robbie Whelan writes for The Wall Street Journal.
Well-ventilated: After a concerted push to produce ventilators this spring and summer, the country now has plenty of the medical devices—but not enough people who know how to run them, Andrew Jacobs reports for The New York Times. There are only some 37,400 critical care doctors, or intensivists, in the United States, and many rural hospitals don’t have one on staff. That leaves them without enough expertise on hand to minister to the wave of seriously-ill coronavirus patients overwhelming health care facilities in parts of the country. “We can’t manufacture doctors and nurses in the same way we can manufacture ventilators,” Dr. Eric Toner, an emergency room doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Times. “And you can’t teach someone overnight the right settings and buttons to push on a ventilator for patients who have a disease they’ve never seen before.”
Betting on deaths: Tyson Foods has suspended managers at an Iowa pork plant after a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of a former employee who died in April after contracting the coronavirus in which the family alleges that managers wagered on the number of workers who would become infected with Covid-19, Jacob Bunge reports for The Wall Street Journal. The company has hired the law firm Covington & Burling LLP to investigate the claims, a process that will be overseen by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a partner at the firm. “It’s almost surreal that people where their loved ones worked would be betting on human lives,” said Mel Orchard, an attorney for the family. “The fact that Tyson is investigating is a step in the right direction, but it feels like from my standpoint, they’ve been sprinting in the wrong direction for far too long.”
Wind bags: General Motors will recall 5.9 million SUVs and pickup-trucks to replace potentially faulty Takata air-bag inflaters, which are susceptible to deadly explosions, Dave Sebastian reports for The Wall Street Journal. The fix could cost the automaker more than $1 billion, an expense GM sought to avoid by asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration not to order the recall because GM thought the inflaters were safe even though they have caused deadly explosions in other automakers’ cars. As reported by FairWarning, GM had been battling recall orders from the highway safety agency for years.
- Also: GM has switched sides in a standoff between President Trump and California over auto emissions. The company will withdraw support from the Trump administration in court battles against California and environmental groups over whether the state has the authority to impose its own auto emissions standards, stricter than the federal government’s. GM said it changed its position because it supports President-elect Joe Biden’s plans to expand electrification of cars, Rachel Becker writes for CalMatters.
Colorado crackdown: The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has approved an ambitious, sweeping set of rules for the oil and gas industry in the state, including some of the strictest rules in the nation on issues such as routine flaring or methane gas venting (now banned), and the permitting process for new wells, Sam Brasch reports for Colorado Public Radio. The state will also require 2,000-foot setbacks between new wells and occupied buildings, a controversial measure that companies can try to avoid by creating “substantially equivalent” protections for public health and safety.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
Do you like this column? Your support means a lot! Your tax-deductible donation in any amount will advance our mission of delivering strong watchdog reporting in the public interest.