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Coronavirus updates: Global cases surpass 30M; Moderna targets November for candidate vaccine; 790K more Americans file for unemployment

The worldwide total of known COVID-19 cases surpassed 30 million on Thursday and global fatalities crept closer to one million, both signs of the virus' continuing global impact.

The World Health Organization said cases are surging again in Europe, with more than half of European countries seeing a 10% or greater spike in cases in the past two weeks. COVID-19 is also disproportionately affecting healthcare workers, according to WHO data. 

Health workers make up 2-3% of the global population but account for about 14% of reported COVID-19 cases. "Thousands of health workers infected with COVID-19 have lost their lives worldwide," the organization said.

Meanwhile, progress toward a vaccine continued Thursday: Moderna said it was moving up its trial results timeline. The company said it could have enough clinical trial results for its candidate vaccine as soon as November.

That news followed cautions from Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday. While urging the use of face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, Redfield warned a vaccine may not be available to the public until next year.

Some significant developments:

  • North Carolina elementary schools will soon be allowed to return to daily, in-person classes.
  • New York City pushed back its start date for most students to return to elementary, middle and high school classrooms — again.
  • Attorney General William Barr drew criticism after calling lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 the worst infringement on civil liberties other than slavery. 
  • More than 790,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, the Labor Department said, as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount.
  • Six states set records for new cases in a week while four states had a record number of deaths in a week, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Wednesday. 

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 6.6 million cases and 197,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been more than 30 million cases and 943,000 fatalities.

📰 What we're reading: The CDC has received widespread scrutiny for yielding to political pressure from the White House. These interviews and records provide the most extensive look yet at how the CDC, paralyzed by bureaucracy, failed to consistently perform its most basic job: giving public health authorities the guidance needed to save American lives during a pandemic.  

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak, state by state

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

Wynn Las Vegas reveals 548 positive COVID-19 cases among employees

Wynn Las Vegas has logged almost 500 positive COVID-19 cases among employees since the resort reopened in June.

Wynn Resorts on Thursday revealed the data tied to the company’s testing and contact tracing program, which tests groups of up to 700 employees every two weeks, reports the Reno Gazette Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.

With the help of University Medical Center, the company has conducted 15,051 tests, aiming to catch any employees who are positive for the virus but asymptomatic. Of those tests, there have been 548 positive cases – a positivity rate of 3.6%. Of the total, 51 positive cases were recorded pre-reopening and 497 were post-reopening, according to the company.

Wynn Las Vegas has hosted more than 500,000 guests since reopening in early June. Six guests have tested positive, according to the company.

— Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

Moderna says vaccine trial results could come in November

Moderna, one of the companies leading the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, announced Thursday it could have enough clinical trial results as soon as November to confirm the effectiveness of its candidate vaccine.

Results of the vaccine’s effectiveness will be presented to an independent review committee after 53 people in the trial contract COVID-19, and again after 106 and 151 infections. Half the participants are getting a placebo and half the active vaccine, called mRNA-1273.

Statistically, if the vaccine is effective 75% of the time, it should take only 106 infections in both groups to prove its effectiveness, Dr. Jacqueline Miller, Moderna’s senior vice president of infectious disease development, told company investors on Thursday. ­­At that point, which will likely come in November, Moderna could apply for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin distributing the vaccine.

The FDA has said a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to win federal approval, but the companies developing vaccines have said they are aiming for at least 60% and hopefully even higher effectiveness. Moderna had originally predicted that it might take until May 2021 to prove its vaccine’s effectiveness, but pushed up that timeline because participants joined quickly, the COVID-19 infection rate remained high around trial sites and the company was able to start the trial earlier than originally expected.

— Karen Weintraub

Flu circulation plunges to historic lows in the US, CDC says 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu circulation in the U.S. “is currently at historical lows,” sharply dropping after widespread implementation of school closures, social distancing and mask wearing to curb COVID-19 spread, according to the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published Thursday. 

According to the report, clinical laboratories reported a 98% decrease in influenza activity between September 2019 to February 2020 and March to May 2020. Other northern hemisphere countries also experienced a sharp decline in influenza circulation, and southern hemisphere countries with temperate climates have had virtually no circulation at all. 

– Adrianna Rodriguez

8 Chicago school workers have died of COVID-19 since start of pandemic

At least eight employees of the nation’s third-largest school district have died and another 250 have had COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with about half of those cases causing a pause in school operations, Chicago Public Schools said this week.

Most of the cases involved employees who were exposed to community spread or sick family members, the district said. Nearly 13% of the cases are believed to have been part of a cluster discovered at a school, most of which occurred in the spring, the district said.

Chicago Public Schools had initially planned to try out a hybrid model this fall but opted for a fully online approach before the start of school.

– Grace Hauck

USA TODAY's vaccine panel: We're over halfway there but need more data

If midnight is the start of the pandemic in the U.S. and noon is the time a vaccine is freely available for anyone who wants it, the United States is at about 7 a.m, says USA TODAY's panel of experts in medicine, virology, immunology, logistics and supply chain issues who are estimating how close we are to securing a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

That's an hour closer to noon than last month but still just over halfway to the goal.

With three experimental coronavirus vaccines now in large, human clinical trials in the U.S. and a government expectation at least one could be approved by January, the mantra among experts is “data, data, data” — we need more data.

While efforts to create candidate vaccines have been heroic and followed eagerly by the public, in many ways that's been the easy part, said Prakash Nagarkatti, an immunologist and vice president for research at the University of South Carolina.

“Vaccine technology is not complicated — any research-intensive university has the technology to develop the vaccine,” he said. The challenge is to get through the clinical trials gauntlet with a product proven to be safe and effective.

– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub

New York City delays first day of in-person classes – again

New York City has pushed back the first day of in-person classes for most of its elementary, middle and high school students, the second delay in a rocky return to the classroom for the nation's largest school district.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that most students would continue online-only learning and transition to its planned hybrid model on Sept. 29 for elementary school students and on Oct. 1 for middle and high school students.

Pre-K and some students with special needs will return to the classroom Monday, the target return date, which had already been pushed back once.

New York's plan to become the first major school district in the country to bring students back to the classroom in some capacity has faced criticism as some parents and teachers worry buildings aren't safe, staffs aren't large enough and testing capacity isn't adequate. De Blasio says in-person classes will help ease the burden of juggling children and jobs for working parents.

Another 790,021 Americans file for unemployment amid pandemic

More than 790,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount.

In a little more than six months, over 56 million workers have filed for benefits. The latest weekly tally has dipped significantly from the 6.2 million who filed first-time claims in March, when the economy ground to a virtual halt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But the weekly volume of initial claims still hovered near what had previously been the all time high — roughly 1 million — on a non-seasonally adjusted basis during a recession in 1982.

– Charisse Jones

Dozens of Massachusetts high schoolers quarantining after positive test

After a Massachusetts high school student who tested positive for COVID-19 attended in-person classes, dozens of other students are under quarantine.

The student went to class Monday at Attleboro High School, and nurses said 30 students had close contact with them. “This unacceptable outcome was caused by delays in the reporting timeline, not a breakdown in our safety protocols,” Superintendent David Sawyer said.

Donald Trump appointees shelved report on threats to voting rights during pandemic

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights spent months analyzing threats to minority voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic, coming up with what one commissioner called a “behemoth” set of recommendations. 

But no one will see them. Conservative commissioners recently appointed by President Donald Trump voted to shelve the report, its findings and recommendations, even commissioners' statements.

The commissioner who led the research provided a glimpse of the report's contents during an August meeting, noting it covers problems with in-person and mail-in balloting faced by voters of color, people with disabilities, and those with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.

The commission, an independent federal agency whose work has informed landmark civil rights laws, is made up of eight members. Trump’s appointments in May and August created a four-four split between conservatives and liberals. A move to release the voting-rights report failed in a tie.

"I am deeply dismayed that after months of work on a topic that is core to the commission's congressional charge — and has been now for six decades — for the commission not to speak to this moment, which is unlike any other in terms of an effort to vote in the history of this country,” said Catherine Lhamon, the chair of the commission, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016.

– Donovan Slack

Montana, Wisconsin among states to see record week in virus cases, deaths

Six states set records for new cases in a week while four states had a record number of deaths in a week, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Wednesday. 

New case records were set in Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Through last Wednesday, only Guam had recorded a new record in number of deaths in a week. And two weeks ago, only three states set new case records and two states set records in numbers of deaths.

– Mike Stucka

Hawaii to start pre-travel testing program for out-of-state visitors on Oct. 15

Hawaii officials announced the start of a pre-travel testing program that has been delayed twice due to a spike in coronavirus infections.

Starting Oct. 15, out-of-state travelers won't need to quarantine for 14 days if they tested negative for the virus, Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday. Ige said travelers must get tested within 72 hours before arriving to Hawaii.

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press