As lockdowns ease across the United States, millions of Americans are set to take tentative steps outdoors to celebrate Memorial Day. But public health officials are still concerned that if people congregate in crowds or engage in other risky behavior, the long weekend could cause the coronavirus to come roaring back.
The CDC continues to recommend that people stay home, avoid crowds and connect with family and friends by phone or video chat. But for the tourism and hospitality industry hit hard by the pandemic, there is modest hope that Memorial Day will mark the start of a return to something resembling recovery.
“I don’t want people to think that any of us feel that staying locked down for a prolonged period of time is the way to go,” top infectious disease scientist Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Friday.
Fauci said that now is the time to begin reopening the economy but people should still "proceed with caution" and states not reduce social distancing measures too quickly.
The U.S. has confirmed 1.6 million cases and nearly 96,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:
Remdesivir Clinical Trial Results Published in New England Journal of Medicine
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases published long-awaited results of its first study of remdesivir, an antiviral medication that Dr. Anthony Fauci previously said has a "clear-cut, significant, positive effect" on patients with COVID-19.
On Friday, NIAID published the preliminary analysis of the drug in the New England Journal of Medicine. The analysis included data on 1,059 hospitalized patients. About half received remdesivir, and half received a placebo.
Patients who received remdesivir were in the hospital for about 11 days, on average, compared with 15 days for those who received the placebo.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for remdesivir. The move was intended to increase physicians' access to the drug. It's not a cure, but it's the only treatment so far shown in clinical trials to have a moderate impact on the illness.
CDC Releases Guidelines for 'Communities of Faith'
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released guidelines to "help communities of faith discern how best to practice their beliefs while keeping their staff and congregations safe."
"For many faith traditions, gathering together for worship is at the heart of what it means to be a community of faith," the CDC said in a statement. "But as Americans are now aware, gatherings present a risk for increasing the spread of COVID-19 during this public health emergency."
Guidelines include houses of worship encouraging staff and congregants to wear face coverings, particularly when social distancing proves difficult; to promote healthy hygiene practices; and to intensify cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation.
The CDC also urges communities of faith to minimize the sharing of worship materials and other items.
"Consistent with the community’s faith tradition, consider temporarily limiting the sharing of frequently touched objects that cannot be easily cleaned between persons, such as worship aids, prayer rugs, prayer books, hymnals, religious texts and other bulletins, books, shared cups, or other items received, passed or shared among congregants as part of services," the CDC added.
President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon called for houses of worship to "open right now," speaking at a brief news conference where he called them "essential."
He said if state governors don't open houses of worship this weekend, "I will override them." It was not immediately clear what authority he had to mandate this and he did not cite any.
Patients Treated With Hydroxychloroquine at Higher Risk of Death, Study Says
Malaria drugs pushed by President Donald Trump as treatments for the coronavirus did not help and were tied to a greater risk of death and heart rhythm problems in a new study of nearly 100,000 patients around the world.
Friday’s report in the journal Lancet is not a rigorous test of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, but it is by far the largest look at their use in real world settings, spanning 671 hospitals on six continents.
“Not only is there no benefit, but we saw a very consistent signal of harm,” said one study leader, Dr. Mandeep Mehra, a heart specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Researchers estimate that the death rate attributable to use of the drugs, with or without an antibiotic such as azithromycin, is roughly 13% versus 9% for patients not taking them. The risk of developing a serious heart rhythm problem is more than five times greater.
Even though it is only observational, the size and scope of the study gives it a lot of impact, said Dr. David Aronoff, infectious diseases chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“It really does give us some degree of confidence that we are unlikely to see major benefits from these drugs in the treatment of COVID-19 and possibly harm,” said Aronoff, who was not involved in the research.
Earlier this week, Trump said he was taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent being infected with the coronavirus. He has repeatedly made misleading comments and downplayed safety concerns about the drug, which is approved for malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis and is being studied in clinical trials for COVID-19.
"Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19," the FDA says.
Experimental Coronavirus Vaccine Moves Into Next Phase of Human Trials
British researchers testing an experimental vaccine against the new coronavirus are moving into advanced studies of human trials and aim to immunize more than 10,000 people to determine if the shot works.
Last month, scientists at Oxford University began vaccinating more than 1,000 volunteers in a preliminary study designed to test the shot’s safety. Those results aren't in yet but on Friday, the scientists announced they're expanding to 10,260 people across Britain, including older people and children.
If all goes smoothly, "it's possible as early as the autumn or toward the end of the year, you could have results that allowed use of the vaccine on a wider scale," predicted Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group.
AstraZeneca received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Health’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to produce at least 400 million doses and secured total manufacturing capacity to produce 1 billion doses by the end of 2021, with first deliveries this September.
The Oxford shot is one of about a dozen experimental vaccines in early stages of human testing or poised to start, mostly in China, the U.S. and Europe. Scientists have never created vaccines from scratch this fast and it’s far from clear that any of the candidates will ultimately prove safe and effective.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on TODAY Friday it was “absolutely” possible to have a vaccine ready by the end of this year.
“Absolutely it’s possible, and I’ve spoken to our medical experts about this,” Esper told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “We are completely confident that we can get this done.“
"DoD has the expertise and the capability of course to get the manufacturing done and the logistics, and I’m confident that we will deliver,” he added.
A draft Pentagon memo, however, has warned there may not be viable vaccine “at least the summer of 2021,” Task and Purpose reported.
Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said Friday it was “conceivable” for a vaccine to begin rolling out by December, CNBC reported. He previously predicted in January that a vaccine could be ready in 12 to 18 months.
“I think it is conceivable, if we don’t run into things that are, as they say, unanticipated setbacks, that we could have a vaccine that we could be beginning to deploy at the end of this calendar year, December 2020, or into January, 2021,” Fauci said on NPR's “Morning Edition.”
He added: “When you’re dealing with vaccines there could be so many things that get in the way like it might not be entirely effective."
Esper Responds to Criticism Over Plan to End National Guard Deployment Before Benefits Kick In
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked on TODAY Friday whether it was by design that a coming deadline for tens of thousands of National Guard deployments was intentionally set to end just one day before many of them would be entitled to early retirement and education benefits.
More than 40,000 National Guard members' deployments are slated to end on June 24, one day short of a 90-day threshold before they would qualify for the benefits under a post-9/11 GI bill, Politico reported this week.
Esper declined to comment "on the details of what's being reported out there in the media," but said he was "fully committed" to supporting National Guard members and would advocate for them.
“I’m not worried about the number of days," Esper said. "What I’m worried about is making sure we win the fight against coronavirus and we fully support the young men and women who are serving on the streets of America in the National Guard.”
Many are assisting with testing, treatment, helping out at nursing homes and delivering food, he said.
"If they have a valid, what we call mission assignment that's verified by FEMA, then my view is that we should extend those tours of duty," he said.
Esper said he has shared that view with the White House.
Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., has said that choosing 89 days wasn't a coincidence and was "spitting at our soldiers who have done the right thing."
Mississippi Church Opposed to Coronavirus Restrictions Burned to the Ground
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he's "heartbroken and furious" after a fire this week at a church that has challenged coronavirus restrictions. The fire is being investigated as arson, NBC News reports.
The fire Wednesday in Holly Springs destroyed the First Pentecostal Church, and investigators found graffiti in the church parking lot that reads, "Bet you stay home now you hypokrits," NBC affiliate WMC of Memphis reported.
The church was "burned to the ground" and had been trying to open services, Reeves tweeted Thursday.
First Pentecostal filed a lawsuit last month against the city over its public health order on in-person worship services, the station reported. The lawsuit deals with alleged police disruption of a Bible study and Easter service.
Read the full story on NBCNews.com
NHLPA Board Voting on Playoff Format to Return, Source Says
The NHL Players' Association's executive board is voting on a 24-team playoff proposal as the return to play format, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday night because the vote was still ongoing. Results of the vote could be in as soon as Friday night.
Even if the executive board votes to approve the format, it doesn't yet seal the deal for the NHL season resuming. The league and players union still need to negotiate other details, including health and safety protocols.
But the format is a substantial piece of the return to play puzzle.
Under the plan proposed by the joint NHL/NHLPA Return To Play Committee, the top four teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences would play each other for seeding while the remaining 16 teams face off in a best-of-five series play-in round to set the final 16 to compete for the Stanley Cup.
How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart
New York has quickly become the epicenter of the American coronavirus outbreak. This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 10th case.
Source: Johns Hopkins University
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC