WASHINGTON — Dr. Scott Atlas, a science adviser to President Trump who was skeptical of measures to control the coronavirus outbreak, is leaving his White House post.

Dr. Scott Atlas Evan Vucci/Associated Press, file)

A White House official confirmed that the Stanford University neuroradiologist, who had no formal experience in public health or infectious diseases, resigned at the end of his temporary government assignment. Atlas confirmed the news in a tweet Monday evening.

Atlas joined the White House this summer, where he clashed with top government scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, as he resisted stronger efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 267,000 Americans.

Atlas has broken with government experts and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community to criticize efforts to encourage face covering to slow the spread of the virus. Just weeks ago on Twitter he responded to Michigan’s latest virus restrictions by encouraging people to “rise up” against the state’s policies.

Read the full story here.

The pandemic is driving everyone to shop from home

NEW YORK — The viral pandemic is accelerating a transformation of America’s holiday shopping season.

Few people showed up at the mall this weekend, with millions of pandemic-wary shoppers staying home to shop online.

The result? Overall holiday sales are projected to rise a slight 0.9% in November and December — and even that modest gain will be due to an explosion in online shopping, according to the research firm eMarketer. It expects online sales to jump nearly 36%, while sales at physical stores fall 4.7%.

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Amanda Perrone shops for Christmas decorations on Black Friday, at Corky’s Garden Path Greenhouse in Scott Twp., Pa. on Friday, Nov. 27. Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP

The online rush was on fully display Monday, known as Cyber Monday, a day of sales promoted by retailers back in 2005. Once the final numbers are tallied up, this year’s Cyber Monday is projected to become the biggest online shopping day in American history.

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U.S. concerned about adequate supplies for vaccine

WASHINGTON — A government watchdog agency says most states are concerned they won’t have adequate supplies to administer COVID-19 vaccines, which are expected to start becoming available for high-priority groups in the next few weeks.

The congressional Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday that 17 states are “greatly” or “completely” concerned about having adequate supplies to administer vaccines, while another 21 states said in an agency survey they were “moderately” concerned.

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A vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University in England. University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP

The federal government’s “Operation Warp Speed” campaign aims to start shipping vaccines within 24 hours of an emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration. But there’s concern about the final, local delivery links in getting vaccines finally into people’s arms, sometimes referred to as the “last mile” in the chain.

Initially vaccines are expected to go to health care workers, with nursing home staff and residents, and essential workers getting the next highest priority.

GAO said senior officials from six states stated they were specifically concerned about the federal government’s ability to supply needles given reports of shortages. Three of those states also said they were scrambling to maintain supplies of needles for flu vaccination.

The GAO report did not identify the states.

Yes, you can get COVID twice. Don’t be alarmed, scientists say

SAN DIEGO — Data from San Diego County suggest that few residents have gotten COVID-19 twice so far, echoing findings from researchers across the globe.

The Union-Tribune asked the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency for the number of people who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus twice, with their second test at least three months after their first. That cutoff is based on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an infected person can shed virus for up to three months after they first show symptoms

“Fewer than 10” San Diegans met those criteria, according to communications officer Sarah Sweeney.

That’s a tiny fraction of the more than 70,000 people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in the region. And Sweeney cautions that the county isn’t certain these are genuine cases of reinfection and not tests picking up remnants of a person’s first infection.

To figure that out, researchers would have to sequence viral samples from both tests and compare them. Clear genetic differences between the samples would be a strong sign that someone was infected twice.

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Healthcare workers perform tests in a tent at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Antwerp, Belgium in August. AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File

That’s what scientists did to identify the first confirmed case of COVID-19 reinfection — a man living in Hong Kong who tested positive for the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in late March and again in mid-August.

UC San Diego infectious disease expert Chip Schooley is the editor of the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases, where the study published. He says it’s no surprise that researchers are finding instances of COVID-19 reinfection.

“We knew this would be the case,” Schooley said. “Other coronaviruses had the same experience: You develop immunity during a bout of infection, the immunity wanes and then the virus comes back around again and you get infected. And that’s what’s happening with this coronavirus as well.”

Local researchers say that’s not necessarily cause for concern.

Notably, the first person with a confirmed COVID-19 reinfection had mild symptoms during his first bout of disease and no symptoms the second time.

That’s reminiscent of a 1990 United Kingdom study in which volunteers were deliberately exposed to a coronavirus that causes the common cold. Most of the participants who were exposed twice still got infected again, but they didn’t develop symptoms or shed virus for as long as they did the first time — which presumably means they were less infectious.

“We don’t know whether that can be extrapolated to SARS-CoV-2, but that would be a good scenario,” said Alessandro Sette, a researcher at La Jolla Immunology.

Sette and colleagues recently looked at the immune responses of 185 people who recovered from COVID-19. Their study, which has not yet gone through scientific peer review, showed that most of these people’s immune responses were still detectable six to eight months after they got sick.

“We don’t see any ‘red flags,'” Sette said. “From what we’re seeing, it’s not hard to imagine that the response could last years.”

Air travel rises to post-pandemic high despite U.S. warning

U.S. air travelers rose to the most in more than eight months as fliers brushed aside the advice of public health officials to avoid trips around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Passengers at domestic airport checkpoints totaled 1,176,091 on Sunday, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said Monday. That’s the most since March, when the coronavirus pandemic gutted travel demand.

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Travelers walk through Terminal 3 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Sunday, Nov. 29. The Transportation Security Administration said nearly 1.2 million people went through U.S. airports on Sunday, the highest number since the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country back in March, despite the pleadings of public health experts for people to stay home over Thanksgiving. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File

The uptick in airline travel came even as public health officials and state leaders urged people to stay home and limit holiday gatherings to prevent a further surge in covid-19 cases. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, before the holiday said that people should “think twice” about traveling.

Despite the increase, Sunday’s passenger total was only 41% of last year’s level. Before the holiday week, travelers in November had been at about 35% of 2019 levels.

American Airlines Group Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. had warned before Thanksgiving that bookings were softening with news of growing infections, hospitalizations and deaths due to covid-19.

A Standard & Poor’s index of major U.S. airlines fell 1.8% at 11:21 a.m., paced by American’s 4.3% drop to $14.33.

Driving was also off last week, with U.S. gasoline demand falling more than 25% compared with year-earlier levels, according to GasBuddy.

Rhode Island hospitals reach COVID-19 capacity

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s hospitals reached their COVID-19 capacity on Monday, the same day the state’s two-week pause meant to control the rise in new coronavirus cases took effect.

The state pushed an emergency alert to residents’ cell phones that read: “Hospitals at capacity due to COVID. Help the frontline by staying home as much as possible for the next two weeks.”

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Gov. Gina Raimondo gives an update on the coronavirus during a news conference, in Providence, R.I. in March. Kris Craig/Providence Journal via AP, Pool, File

Under the restrictions announced earlier in November by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, some businesses will be required to shut down for two weeks, while others are restricted.

Recreational businesses including bowling alleys, theaters, and casinos, as well as indoor sporting facilities and gyms must close. Bars and bar areas in restaurants are also required to close, while restaurants are limited to 33% of indoor capacity. Residents are also asked to close their social circles to only people in their own household.

“This will not be easy, but I am pleading with you to take it seriously. Choosing to gather with those outside your household will have ripple effects that will increase the strain on our hospitals and put lives at risk,” Raimondo said in a statement.

Raimondo did not rule out another economic shutdown if the pandemic get worse.

Beware of COVID-19 scams as vaccine approaches FDA approval

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus vaccine inching toward approval in the U.S. is desperately anticipated by weary Americans longing for a path back to normal life. But criminals are waiting, too, ready to use that desperation to their advantage, federal investigators say.

Homeland Security investigators are working with Pfizer, Moderna and dozens of other drug companies racing to complete and distribute the vaccine and treatments for the virus. The goal: to prepare for the scams that are coming, especially after the mess of criminal activity this year with phony personal protective equipment, false cures and extortion schemes.

“We’re all very excited about the potential vaccine and treatments,” said Steve Francis, assistant director for global trade investigations with Homeland Security Investigations. “But I also caution against these criminal organizations and individuals that will try to exploit the American public.”

No vaccine has yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has approved the first treatment for COVID-19, the antiviral drug remdesivir. With vaccines and treatments both, it has warned about the potential for fraud.

“The FDA is particularly concerned that these deceptive and misleading products might cause Americans to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm,” the agency said in a recent statement.

Steve Francis

Director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center Steve Francis, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, Tuesday, Nov. 24, in Arlington, Va. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The drug companies are to have safeguards and brand-protection features in place to help avoid fraud, but that may not be available until the second generation of vaccine because everything is operated on such an emergency basis, said Karen Gardner, chief marketing officer at SIPCA North America, a company that works as a bridge between the government, businesses and consumers. She said that makes it more important to educate health care providers on what the real thing looks like.

“When you have anything in high demand and limited supply, there is going to be fraud,” she said. Desperation will drive people around normal channels.

Meanwhile, investigators are learning about how the vaccine will be packaged and getting the message out to field agents, creating a mass database of information from more than 200 companies, so they can be prepared to spot fakes and crack down on dangerous fraud. They are monitoring tens of thousands of false websites and looking for evidence of fake cures sold online.

Earlier this year as cases exploded, hospitals and governments grew short on masks, gloves and other protective gear. Scams grew, too. Tricksters preyed on unwitting citizens to hand over money for goods they’d never receive.

Read the full story here.

Lawmaker learns of positive test while meeting with Trump

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania state senator abruptly left a West Wing meeting with President Trump after being informed he had tested positive for the coronavirus, a person with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano had gone to the White House last Wednesday with like-minded Republican state lawmakers shortly after a four-hour-plus public meeting that Mastriano helped host in Gettysburg – maskless – to discuss efforts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

Trump told Mastriano that White House medical personnel would take care of him, his son and his son’s friend, who were also there for the Oval Office meeting and tested positive. The meeting continued after Mastriano and the others left, the person said.

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Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano speaks to supporters of President Trump on Nov. 7 in Harrisburg.  Mastriano was informed of his positive coronavirus test result as he was meeting with Trump in the White House on Wednesday. Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private session because the matter is politically sensitive.

Positive coronavirus cases are surging across the United States and the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday that the U.S. may see “surge upon surge” in the coming weeks. The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the United States topped 200,000 for the first time Friday.

Everyone who will be in close proximity to the president must take a rapid test. Trump was himself hospitalized in October after he contracted the virus. Dozens of White House staffers and others close to the president have also tested positive, including the first lady and two of the president’s sons.

All participants in Wednesday’s meeting took COVID-19 tests, but the positive results were not announced until they were in the West Wing of the White House, the person said.

“The president instantly called the White House doctor in and he took them back to, I guess, the medical place,” the person said. The meeting with Trump was to strategize about efforts regarding the election, the person said.

After Mastriano and the others left, the discussion with Trump continued for about a half-hour. Mastriano did not return to the meeting.

Mastriano sought the meeting of the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Policy Committee earlier Wednesday that drew Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, a second Trump lawyer, several witnesses and a crowd of onlookers. Only a few of them were masked.

The committee let Giuliani and others, for several hours, air their beliefs that there had been problems with how the Pennsylvania vote was conducted and counted. All claims were baseless; no evidence was presented to support any of the allegations they made.

Trump even participated, calling from the White House while one of his lawyers held a phone up to a microphone. He reiterated the same unfounded claims of fraud he’s been tweeting about for weeks.

Those beliefs have persisted despite Trump losing repeatedly in state and federal courts, including a Philadelphia-based federal appeals court’s decision Friday that said the Trump campaign’s “claims have no merit,” and a state Supreme Court decision Saturday that threw out a legal challenge to the election and effort to stop certification of its results.

Mastriano, a conservative from a rural district in central Pennsylvania and outspoken Trump supporter, did not return several messages left Sunday seeking comment.

Republican state Sen. Dave Argall, who chairs the policy committee, declined Sunday in a text message to discuss Mastriano’s medical condition and the White House visit.

“I’ve received some conflicting information that I’m trying to resolve,” Argall said in the text. “It’s my understanding a Senate statement later today will help us all to understand this better.”

Argall said he would not talk publicly about the matter “until I know more.”

Senate Republican spokeswoman Kate Flessner declined comment, describing it as a personnel matter.

The person with knowledge of the White House visit said several people rode in a large van from Gettysburg, where the policy committee met in a hotel, to the White House. Mastriano, his son and his son’s friend drove in another vehicle.

It’s not clear why Mastriano’s son and his friend accompanied the state senator to the meeting, which the person said was also attended by Trump and the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who tested positive in early November.

Mastriano has aggressively opposed policies under the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and keep people safe.

He has led rallies where he advocated to reopen businesses despite the risk of infection and he has repeatedly and sharply denounced Wolf’s orders. Mastriano also spoke to a few thousand Trump supporters who gathered outside the Capitol on Nov. 7, hours after Democrat Joe Biden’s national win became evident.

New York City to reopen school system

NEW YORK — New York City will reopen its school system to in-person learning and increase the number of days a week many children attend class even as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies in the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that some elementary schools and pre-kindergarten programs will resume classes Dec. 7. Others will take longer to reopen their doors. The announcement marks a major policy reversal for the nation’s largest school system.

It comes just 11 days after de Blasio announced that schools were shutting down because of a rising number of cases. The plan for reopening middle and high schools is still being developed.

Some elementary schools and pre-kindergarten programs will resume classes Dec. 7, a week from Monday, the mayor said. Others will take longer to reopen their doors.


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