Rebecca Lambertsen/iStockBy KIERAN MCGIRL, JESSICA MENDOZA, HENDERSON HEWES and KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- A coronavirus outbreak a summer camp in Georgia left 260 campers and staffers testing positive for the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The YMCA Camp High Harbour, which hosted more than 600 campers and staffers, quickly shut down for the summer in late June after a teen staffer tested positive for COVID-19.
All campers and staff had tested negative within 12 days of arriving; however, one staff member developed symptoms and eventually tested positive for COVID-19, according to the report.
Out of 344 people from the camp who were tested, 260 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, a positivity rate of around 76%, according to the CDC.
"These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 spread efficiently in a youth-centric overnight setting, resulting in high attack rates among persons in all age groups, despite efforts by camp officials to implement most recommended strategies to prevent transmission," CDC researchers wrote in an analysis released on Friday. "This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission."
The camp took precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including requiring everyone to have a negative COVID-19 test on file before arriving at camp, requiring staff members to wear face coverings and requiring campers to stay in their designated groups.
"I was surprised because they had done such a great job with precautions, with pre-screening the counselors and making sure that they were tested," said Karin Jessop, the parent of a camper. "Because the camp was mostly outdoors, I didn't understand how it could've happened based on the precautions and the space."
Campers, though, were not required to wear face masks. The CDC found that "daily vigorous singing and cheering" may have helped lead to the spread of COVID-19, and that windows and doors at the camp were not left open for better ventilation.
The YMCA told ABC News in a statement it made every effort to follow the best practices outlined by the CDC, the state of Georgia and the American Camp Association. Many parents also reached out to the YMCA in the spring, asking to reopen for the summer, according to the YMCA.
"Attending Camp High Harbour is a tradition numerous generations of Y families look forward to every summer, the YMCA said in its statement. "Many of these individuals reached out to the Y to express their desire for us to open our resident camps in an effort to create normalcy in their children’s lives due to the detrimental impact of COVID-19. This weighed heavily in our decision to open, a decision in retrospect we now regret."
The state of Georgia has been one of the hot spots for COVID-19 in the United States.
To date, the state has reported more than 193,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, nearly 4,000 deaths and more than 19,000 hospitalizations.
"Given how bad of an outbreak Georgia was experiencing, I don’t think it was wise to open that camp and then they didn’t do all the [precautions] around ventilation and getting kids to wear masks," Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said Monday on Good Morning America. "It is a warning sign of what could happen if you don’t follow the guidance."
As schools around the country begin to reopen, Jha said the experience of the YMCA camp should be looked at closely.
"I think we’ve been a little cavalier about this and have sort of assumed that kids are fine and they don’t spread at all or they don’t get infected very often," he said. "I think we’re seeing data that suggests that may not be true."
He went on, "Kids that are 10 and younger do seem to transmit less and therefore maybe we have a lower threshold for getting them back [to school]. High schoolers, they essentially function like adults, and we really have to think about them very differently than I think the younger kids."
Jha also pointed out that whether children-centric activities like schools and camps reopen has to do with where they are located and what precautions they will take.
"I do think that schools can reopen but not in communities with large amounts of spread and not without really vigorous planning," he said. "I feel like too many communities are just not doing that -- they’re just sending kids back to school without all that extra work."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
jetcityimage/iStockBy SONY SALZMAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- In many ways, America's nursing homes have become the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, as the facilities are linked to about 40% of COVID-19 deaths.
Now, the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company is launching a late-stage study of its monoclonal antibody technology, and has employed a unique mobile treatment van to travel door to door to deliver this promising therapy to the residents and staff of America's long-term care facilities.
While progress on a vaccine is moving at a never-before-seen pace, the nation's top scientists have said that a treatment called monoclonal antibodies might offer some protection from infection until we get a vaccine capable of delivering longer-term immunity.
Given by infusion, monoclonal antibodies are similar to the convalescent plasma treatments harvested from blood that's been donated by people who have already recovered from COVID-19.
But unlike convalescent plasma, which relies on blood donors, monoclonal antibodies are manufactured as a pharmaceutical product, meaning they should be much easier to produce in large quantities.
Now, experts are waiting for the results of large-scales studies to prove definitively that monoclonal antibodies can protect people from becoming infected, and to determine how long this protection might last.
Prior research has been promising.
"We know from preclinical experimentation that the antibody has the potential to block transmission of the disease," said Dr. Dan Skovronsky, the chief scientific officer of Eli Lilly.
"In other words, if we give it to an individual, we're testing to see whether they're now protected from getting infected with the virus," Skovronsky added.
Eli Lilly is not the only company working on these synthetic antibodies. The pharmaceutical company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. also announced the start of its own late-stage trial in July, and has received funding from Operation Warp Speed, the United States government program designed to make safe and effective medication available as quickly as possible during the pandemic.
But Eli Lilly calls its study the "first of its kind." Typically, in clinical research, volunteers are asked to travel to large academic medical centers for such infusions. Eli Lilly's study is unique because it uses customized mobile treatment vans to deliver the antibody infusions to nursing home residents and staff.
"They're choosing a good population, going into extended chronic care facilities," said Dr. Todd Ellerin, the director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts.
Monoclonal antibodies are promising because they should, in theory, block the virus from entering the cells, Ellerin explained.
"The virus wants to enter the cell, so this monoclonal antibody blocks that molecular doorway and doesn't allow the virus to enter the cell," he said.
At least, said Ellerin, "That's the hope."
Eli Lilly is planning to enroll about 2,400 residents and staff of long-term care facilities in its treatment plan. The study, called BLAZE-2 study, is being conducted in partnership with NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
If the late-stage study goes according to plan, Eli Lilly said it could have results by fall.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Amornrat Phuchom/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(ATLANTA) -- A Georgia teenager who lost both his parents to COVID-19 within a week is urging people to take precautions during the pandemic.
Justin Hunter told Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB-TV that he and his parents had all tested positive for the coronavirus last month. He was asymptomatic, but soon his mom and dad started having symptoms.
"Their temperature skyrocketed, they had headaches, a horrible cough," Hunter, 17, told WSB. "They just felt very lazy."
After both his parents were admitted to the same hospital, his father, Eugene Hunter, 59, a musician, died on July 26, WSB reported.
"The last thing he said was, 'I love you and I'm going to get better, and I'm going to keep fighting,'" Hunter, a senior at Johns Creek High School in the Atlanta metro area, told WSB.
His mother, Angie Hunter, 57, a human resources executive, died just four days later, on July 30, according to WSB. Before she passed, she told Hunter she loved him and "God has you," he told WSB.
Johns Creek is in Fulton, the hardest-hit county in Georgia, with more than 18,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 398 deaths, according to state data.
Hunter said his family was careful and doesn't know how they contracted the virus.
"We were a regular family, just trying to stay safe during this pandemic," Hunter told the station. "My mom, when she would go to the store, she would be wearing a mask, she would be wearing gloves."
Now, he's urging other people to wear a mask.
"If you don't wear it for yourself, wear it for the next person, because you could be saving that person's life," he told WSB.
Hunter, an only child, will now be staying with relatives, according to WSB.
A GoFundMe for the teen has already raised more than $216,000. In a post on social media, Hunter thanked people for the support and further reflected on his parents.
"Thank you for always believing in me when nobody else would," Hunter wrote. "Thank you for teaching me what real love is."
A football player, Hunter told WSB he plans to dedicate his senior season to his parents.
"Since I started playing, we always talked about me playing in college and then playing in the pros," Hunter said. "They would have wanted me to keep going and get a scholarship and my schoolwork done."
"They never raised me to sit around and feel sorry for myself in any situation," he added. "I just gotta keep going and pushing."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Nikki Mullen-CruzBy NICOLE PELLETIERE, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- A mom is sharing her positive pathway to parenting with a viral TikTok video showing her alternative approach to punishments.
Nikki Mullen-Cruz of Chicago built a special space for her 6-year-old son, Kalev, for whenever he needs to reset his emotions.
The calming corner, or as Kalev calls it, a "cool-down" corner, is an area with soft toys, plants, books and posters showing different calming strategies.
Whenever Kalev is angry or sad, he visits the corner to reset his emotions, while reading, journaling and relaxing.
Mullen-Cruz shared a video of the serene space onto TikTok, where millions watched.
"When my son came into my life, I was pretty arrogant and was set on being this tiger mother," Mullen-Cruz told ABC News' Good Morning America. "A few years later I found it wasn't very effective. I made the shift from the authoritarian tiger mother-style to an authoritarian-nurturing approach."
With Mullen-Cruz's positive pathway to parenting, she did away with timeouts and made a commitment to stop yelling.
Mariko Fairly, a board-certified behavioral analyst, said a calming corner is beneficial opposed to the negativity that's associated with timeouts.
"You're not leaving your child alone, you're still present and you're walking them through calming and coping strategies," Fairly told GMA.
"It's a really positive parenting approach to not punish them for what they shouldn't be doing and show them what they should be doing instead," she added.
Fairly said a calming corner should be more neutral than fun, and shouldn't include any favorite toys or favorite music.
"If you have all their favorite things, it may be reinforcing," she explained. "You may see more inappropriate behavior in a way to get to the calming corner."
For kids to understand how to regulate emotions, Fairly said it's helpful to include a chart with pictures or a menu on what to do if you're feeling mad or frustrated.
Mullen-Cruz said the calming corner has helped Kalev independently put his feelings in check.
"I'm in shock of this transformation," she said. "He's no baby Buddha, he definitely has his moments, but he's really on his way."
Mullen-Cruz said she's built more than one calming corner in her home, and even has one for travel.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
iStock/Pornpak KhunatornBy: DR. LAITH ALEXANDER AND SONY SALZMAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- Ensuring Black and ethnic minority participation in coronavirus vaccine trials is key if we want a truly effective coronavirus vaccine, according to top epidemiology experts.
This past week, as two massive phase 3 trials slated to enroll 30,000 people each launched in the United States, researchers running those trials are working to ensure a significant portion of the people who volunteer hail from the communities that are hardest-hit by the pandemic.
"We know that there are higher mortality rates in Black and ethnic minority people and infections are being propagated at much higher in these groups," Dr. Sam Oh, director of epidemiology for the University of California, San Francisco Asthma Collaboratory, told ABC News. "When we look at these communities, COVID-19 takes its toll on people with specific comorbidities. Is there something specific about these minority races that puts them at risk? We don't know that yet."
But here's the issue: Historically, investigations into treatments, including vaccines, have not fairly represented people of Black and minority ethnic people.
"When you look deeper into it, medications were made for the average person," said Oh. But when it comes to most research studies, "the average person is white, older and male."
Doctors look at a files at the Respiratory & Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, on July 14, 2020. Six senior clinicians in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University have volunteered to participate in South Africas first COVID-19 vaccine trial.
Researchers have been worried that clinical trials investigating vaccines haven't been diverse enough. It's a problem because the effectiveness of vaccines can be influenced by many factors, including socioeconomic, genetic and environmental, with racial differences potentially affecting many of these.
There are concerns about treatment effectiveness if trials don't include people from different ethnic backgrounds. These lessons have cropped up in medicine time and time again -- tests and treatments that were developed in predominantly white people, that don't work nearly as well in ethnic minorities or people with particular genetic variants.
There is a whole discipline called pharmacogenetics, which investigates how genetic factors might influence treatment effectiveness. While vaccines might be less affected than medications when it comes to genetic factors, it's still possible that the immune responses generate to vaccines are subtly different.
If the vaccines aren't tested in specific populations, there might also be issues with compliance if the vaccine does eventually get distributed to the general public. "If the vaccine is not tested in the groups that need it the most, I think there is less likelihood those groups will be accepting of it, because it wasn't specifically shown to work in that population," said Dr. Dan Barouch, William Bosworth Castle professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
"You really need the buy in from the community from the start," Oh explained.
In addition, several clinical trials are partly funded by taxpayer money. "The U.S. taxpayer base is getting more and more diverse," Oh told ABC News, "and as our taxpayer diversifies, that base is becoming increasingly underrepresented in the research they fund."
"The vaccine needs to be tested in those that are highest risk, and ultimately needs to be accepted in groups that are in highest risk," Barouch told ABC News.
It's clear that engaging minority ethnicities in clinical trials is an important issue to address. But it has been a longstanding challenge with multiple underlying reasons.
"The reasons why biomedical studies are under representing minority population is partly in the design and execution of studies themselves, and also because of either preferences or characteristics of study subjects that you would like to bring in," Oh said to ABC News.
"Looking at study design, if your study has eligibility criteria and you need to assess people, most assessments are Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. If you have time during the week to go to the study center to be evaluated, you are more likely to enter the study. If you are working a job or several jobs that don't allow you to take time off, you can't," he explained.
From the perspective of study subjects, that has been a sad history of unethical experiments on ethnic minorities, the most infamous of which is the Tuskegee Syphilis Trial, where Black participants weren't told that they had contracted syphilis and were not treated effectively for it.
"There's a concern about mistrust of science and government," Dr. Eliseo Perez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health, told ABC News. "People don't believe things coming from Washington, and the mistrust of science has been promoted by certain segments of leadership in the U.S. Minorities are also concerned if vaccine trials only have young white adults in the study sample -- people won't believe it's safe in them, because it wasn't tested in them."
So, when drug companies and universities are looking for an answer to the coronavirus, how are they ensuring that their study populations are racially and ethnically diverse?
Part of the solution lies in the diversity of the researchers in universities and drug companies who are carrying out the trials.
"It's important to have diversity in people with decision-making power. Companies have to actively recruit people into those positions; some executives may have to cede some of their own power and authority and give it over to other people," Oh said. "Organizations can also partner with existing networks to increase the likelihood of getting more diversity in their recruitment."
Of course, improving diversity don't just happen overnight. Similarly, there is a lot of logistics that goes into recruitment -- so dramatic changes in study populations can't happen too quickly.
Progress is being made.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there have been encouraging signs from the people who have pre-registered for the phase 3 trial conducted by the biotech company Moderna and the NIAID.
"I think, up to 15 or more thousand, who are pre-enrolled, of those 19% are African American and 19% are Latinx, which is really good news now because we want, we want to get that, and even more because of the disproportionate numbers, and seriousness among that demographic group," Fauci said, speaking during an Instagram live interview with ABC News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton.
"The topic of inclusion has been a long-standing effort in NIH," Perez-Stable told ABC News. "The last data 40% of all participants in NIH-funded clinical trials were racial and ethnic minority groups as classified in the U.S. census."
However, there is still a long way to go. "There has been an FDA requirement since 2017 that trials report the ethnic composition of the studies," Perez-Stable said. "The drug companies still only had around 10% of their participants coming from ethnic minorities -- they haven't yet embraced diversity as their way of operating."
Never has the pace of scientific research and clinical trials been so rapid and so intense. There are now lots of opportunities to get this right -- and make sustainable, permanent change in how we design clinical trials to be more inclusive and diverse.
According to experts, lives depend on it.
Dr. Laith Alexander is an academic doctor at St. Thomas' Hospital, London, working with ABC News Medical Unit. Sony Salzman is the unit's coordinating producer.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
simon2579/iStockBY: DR. LAITH ALEXANDER AND SONY SALZMAN, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) -- When it comes to vaccines, experts agree that a hassle-free single shot is always preferred over a two-shot vaccine requiring multiple trips to the doctors' office.
"In the history of vaccines, anything that has been a two-shot vaccine has been a pain in the neck," said Professor Arthur Caplan, the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor of bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.
When it comes to new vaccine candidates for coronavirus, scientists need to answer a lot of questions: Is the vaccine safe? How should it be delivered? How long can immunity last?
But another key question is how many doses are needed.
Many of the front-runner vaccine candidates -- those that have entered phase 3 trials with around 30,000 people -- need two shots. These include vaccine candidates from Moderna and Pfizer, which entered phase 3 trials in late July.
Others, such as the one being developed by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca, are testing a single shot as well as a two-shot regimen to see which works best.
The answer to why different vaccines need different numbers of shots may lie in both the safety and effectiveness of current candidates.
"These single-shot vaccines are often limited to one shot because of limitations in technology," Joseph Payne, president and CEO of Arcturus Therapeutics -- which is also developing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate -- told ABC News. "These vaccines use viral delivery systems, and they are limited to one shot because there is an undesired immune response to the second administration."
The amount of immune response a vaccine generates is called its immunogenicity. Too little immunogenicity and the vaccine is ineffective. Too much, and the vaccine produces side effects, including skin reactions.
There are two sides to every story, however. Sometimes, having more than one shot is actually beneficial.
Two-shot vaccines have the added benefit of stimulating a longer, sustained immune response.
"We know that a second shot will likely increase the immune responses," Dr. Dan Barouch, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. "We do think a two-shot vaccine would raise more robust response."
"In humans we're actually testing both," added Barouch, referring to Johnson & Johnson's vaccine candidate, which this week moved into phase 1/2 trials in people.
New vaccine technologies are, however, being developed -- ones that only need one shot, but generate a sustained, yet controlled, immune response.
For example, the Arcturus vaccine developed by Payne and his colleagues uses a special technique. The vaccine contains a small piece of genetic material, which not only instructs the body to produce a protein that will trigger an immune response, but also adds an extra packet of instructions that effectively helps turbocharge the amount of protein produced.
This turns up the immune response, without using a viral mimic -- reducing the side effects.
"Our vaccine mimics the [corona]virus, without just 'killing' the coronavirus and injecting it, meaning it's safer," Payne told ABC News.
But with current data, it isn't clear whether the vaccine can generate immunity after just one dose. Amidst ongoing questions about the nature and duration of coronavirus immunity, it might be the case that these vaccines will need booster doses later down the line.
But Payne is hopeful.
He explained that vaccine durability relies on stimulating two key "arms" of our adaptive immune system: antibodies and T-cells.
"There are two aspects of vaccine durability -- one is the antibody response, the other is the T-cell response," Payne told ABC News. "Most vaccines generate antibodies, but what everyone wants to get is T-cells. If you can do both, you can use a single shot and be done."
Early evidence suggests their vaccine does trigger both antibody and T-cell production.
There are undoubtedly benefits of a single-dose vaccine, including convenience. People don't want to come back for second shots, which means some people have incomplete courses of the vaccine, offering minimal protection and potentially wasting the first shot.
The second benefit of a single-dose vaccine is cost. It's no surprise that producing just one dose of a vaccine is cheaper than having to produce two or more per person.
"A single-shot vaccine would have particle advantages for global deployment. We think a single-shot vaccine has incredible value in terms of pandemic control," Barouch told ABC News.
But it's worth noting that even with the single-shot vaccines, there will likely be subgroups of people who might need more than one dose to get full immunity. So an ideal single-shot vaccine should also be able to be administered more than once in the people who need it.
Having a vaccine is important to curtail the pandemic, but also crucially important if the virus becomes endemic with a constant background rate of infection.
When it comes to developing vaccines, each virus behaves differently and needs its own tailor-made solution. The race for a coronavirus vaccine is well underway, and one-shot vaccines could emerge as the most competitive candidates.
Dr. Laith Alexander is an academic doctor at St. Thomas' Hospital, London, working with ABC News Medical Unit. Sony Salzman is the unit's coordinating producer.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Supersmario/iStockBy OLIVIA RUBIN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- A number of the nation's top public health officials have said in recent days that Americans searching for extra layers of protection against the novel coronavirus while out in public may want to try face shields -- clear pieces of plastic that cover the face and can further prevent respiratory droplets from spreading when worn over a mask.
"If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, told ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton on Wednesday.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House task force coordinator, made similar statements about the benefits of face shields on Fox News on Thursday.
Fauci and other experts stress, though, that face shields are just that: an added layer of potential protection to be in addition to masks, not an alternative.
"We can't view them as direct replacements of masks," said ABC News contributor John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and the chief innovation officer for the Boston Children's Hospital. "High quality masks should still be considered the gold standard."
This week an outbreak in a Swiss hotel affected staffers wearing only face shields, according to a report, and the Swiss government has since warned against relying on them alone.
"It has been shown that only those employees who had plastic visors were infected," said Rudolf Leuthold, a Swiss health official, according to the report. "There was not a single infection among employees with a mask."
Still, some communities are turning to shields, despite the evidence that they are not sufficient.
Josh Hildebrand, an Ohio resident who pivoted his tech company to start 3D printing face shields for front-line workers when he heard about personal protective equipment shortages in March, told ABC News he has begun to receive orders from all parts of the community: school districts, retail business and individuals. Many of these orders are for people who want an added layer of protection, Hildebrand said, but he is also noticing a willingness from people have resisted masks.
"We are seeing that people who otherwise wouldn't wear a mask say, 'You know what, I'll try one of those," Hildebrand said.
"We found that we've been able to win some of those folks over [with face shields]," Hildebrand continued. "If we can get some of the population who are not willing to wear masks, it's a huge improvement."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend face shields for the general public, citing uncertainty in their effectiveness.
"It is not known if face shields provide any benefit as source control to protect others from the spray of respiratory particles," the agency warns on its website.
Shields are recommended for health care workers because they can help prevent the virus from being contracted through the eye. The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living also told ABC News shields can be helpful because "they can help protect individuals from touching their own face and spreading the virus in that way."
Brownstein agreed that "wearing a face shield is clearly better than no protection at all."
"If a less cumbersome alternative means someone will actually comply with guidelines, then we have to at least consider it," he said.
Some schools districts in Ohio and Florida are allowing either masks or face shields on school grounds to satisfy face covering requirements, in some instances as a last-ditch effort to provide a barrier for those they fear won't comply with mask mandates. At least four school districts in Ohio have ordered face shields for students and teachers as an alternative to face masks, according to a report by The Daily Record.
Steve Dickerson, superintendent of the Hillsdale School District in Ohio, told ABC News that while it has ordered and will require masks when school resumes in the fall, they have also ordered face shields as a last ditch effort to ensure safety.
"It is not the most effective, but we know we are going to have difficulty with students wearing masks," Dickerson told ABC News.
Dickerson said he is planning for his "toughest" scenario: all 800 students in the district back in small classrooms in older buildings with no air conditioning.
"We're gonna highly recommend the mask, but there will be those that will come up with medical reasons, and we deemed the face shields as a better alternative to nothing," he continued. "No matter what the rules are -- there are going to be those that try not to play the rules. And we're hoping that if nothing else, this will suffice for our safety."
A spokesperson for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who enacted a statewide mask mandate earlier this month after new cases continued to rise, did not respond to ABC News' request for comment. It is not clear if the shields violate the governor's order.
The Manatee School District in Florida, where no statewide mask mandate has been enacted, has also said that either shields or masks will be sufficient to fill its face-covering policy.
Michael Barber, a spokesperson for the school district, declined a request for an interview when reached by ABC News but said that "cloth face masks are our primary means of protection and will distributed to every student and school district employee," and that they were "still clarifying" the situations in which shields would be used instead of masks.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
franckreporter/iStockBy DR. JAY BHATT and LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- As the summer heat and new cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge in much of the country, scientists are warily watching what potential impact retreating into air conditioned spaces may be having on the further spread of the virus.
Under normal circumstances, health care professionals encourage the public to seek refuge from high temperatures in the comfort of an air-conditioned space. But these are hardly normal circumstances.
While individuals can take steps to protect themselves, a growing body of research suggests that indoor spaces with poor ventilation or lack of new air can raise the risk of the virus' spread, according to infectious disease aerobiologist Dr. Donald Milton of the University of Maryland.
“Anytime we are going into a closed environment, we are at higher risk,” Milton told ABC News. He added that he was most concerned about people “going to a cooling center where ... the air conditioning is not filtering air or bringing in outside air -- and a lot of people are close together.”
Milton's worries were in part formed by research he and an international team of scientists published earlier this month that looked at the spread of the influenza virus, which causes the seasonal flu. The research found that the flu virus might be spread through the air, as fine droplets, rather than through large droplet spray, as was previously believed.
Moreover, the research revealed the virus’ infection rate appeared to drop in well-ventilated areas. Since both influenza and COVID-19 are respiratory viruses, Milton said his findings could mean that the types of closed spaces people typically go to escape the summer heat, when crowded with people close together, could also be ideal locations for virus spread.
And though Milton said he was especially concerned about cooling centers, a study recently published by researchers at the University of Minnesota and undergoing peer review suggested that the particular indoor setting and even the position of the ventilation could impact how well it did against potential viral-containing particles. With schools scrambling to prepare for fall, the University of Minnesota study included a classroom simulation.
Dr. Edward Nardell, a professor at Harvard Medical School, previously said that lower-risk spaces, such as office buildings, still often also force people to rebreathe non-fresh air.
In a recent presentation, Nardell cited his work with drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis as a possible parallel to the current coronavirus situation, noting to The Harvard Gazette in late June that, “As people go indoors in hot weather and the rebreathed air fraction goes up, the risk of infection is quite dramatic.” Nardell added that the same principle applies to extremely cold weather, which also forces people indoors.
Some infectious disease experts also suggest that recycled airflow caused by air conditioners could alter the widely held understanding -- shared by both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- that virus-carrying air droplets rarely travel further than six feet. It was a fear raised months ago in a CDC-published, peer-reviewed study drafted by Chinese government researchers.
The Chinese study focused in on the circumstances surrounding a small outbreak that was traced back to a restaurant in Guangzhou, China -- a coastal city of 13 million situated just north of Hong Kong. At the restaurant, according to the studies, 10 diners seated at three different tables inside the restaurant’s windowless, third-floor dining space became infected with the virus within two weeks of having lunch there.
Some of the infected diners sat more than 14 feet, or more than double the accepted distance of droplet distance, away from the “index patient” -- the person believed to have brought the virus into the restaurant.
The expanse between diners led researchers to conclude that “strong airflow from the air conditioner could have propagated droplets” between the restaurant's tables, effectively suggesting that air conditioning units spread infectious droplets with impunity.
Milton told ABC News that the initial Chinese study “does point to the virus being able to survive in air for a while and travel a little bit farther.”
For individuals looking to take refuge indoors, Nardell said they can better protect themselves by using face coverings and exercising social distancing.
But Nardell and others said people who own or run the facilities can take steps as well.
To combat the spread of the virus in settings like offices, Nardell suggested administrators invest in germicidal lamps, which use ultraviolet light to kill floating pathogens as they circulate through the air.
Others suggested the current situation can be used as an opportunity to upgrade air conditioning filtration systems.
Dr. Erin Bromage, a biology professor who researches infectious diseases at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, says that “hotter weather will make fewer commercial buildings acceptable.”
Since most of these buildings recirculate air, Bromage said building operators should install air filters. These air filters are measured in strength by what is known as a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value -- or MERV -- rating, which indicate how small of a particle they are capable of trapping.
New York State, for example, recently issued guidelines requiring large shopping malls to install MERV-13 rated filters before they re-open, which is the filter strength Bromage has endorsed.
And what about taxis and ride-sharing vehicles, where passengers likely do not have the ability to swap out air filters?
“Sharing a car is one of the highest-risk interactions I have had to look at in my life,” warned Bromage.
To reduce the risk, Bromage said passengers should ask their driver to turn on the air conditioning, turn off the air recycler, and, perhaps most importantly, lower the windows.
“In cars and ride sharing, we want the windows open,” said Bromage. “It makes things safer.”
What also appears to make things safer are the basic steps experts have long advocated. James Malley, Jr. is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He has spent decades studying ways to root out pathogens in air and water.
Malley Jr. told ABC News the best ways to protect yourself and others against the virus are also the easiest.
“A lot of common sense things like increasing fresh air, not having a lot of people in an enclosed space, wearing masks,” he said. “That all makes a difference.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Meyer & Meyer/iStockBy SONY SALZMAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- The pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson took a step forward with its COVID-19 vaccine candidate Thursday, releasing promising data after testing on monkeys and at the same time announcing the start of clinical testing on humans.
According to results published in the scientific journal Nature, scientists found that the vaccine appeared to protect a group of monkeys that were vaccinated, and then later deliberately exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. The monkeys that were not vaccinated became sick with the infection.
These promising results in monkeys follow similar findings from another vaccine company, Moderna, which published similarly promising findings in monkeys in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday.
Unlike many other vaccine efforts, scientists say the recent monkey data shows that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, called Ad26, could be given as one shot rather than two.
"We showed a single immunization of the Ad26 COVID-19 vaccine induces neutralizing antibody response protection," said Dan H. Barouch, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
"These data essentially provide the groundwork for the clinical development program," said Barouch, who collaborated with Johnson & Johnson on the recently published research.
Now, Johnson & Johnson is advancing its vaccine candidate into human testing. It announced the launch of a Phase 1/2 trial in the United States and in Belgium this week.
Volunteers in this trial will be monitored for safety, and their blood will be analyzed for clues that the vaccine is likely to trigger an immune system reaction -- the hallmark of a good vaccine.
If everything goes well, the company has announced it will move forward with a much larger Phase 3 trial in September, which will be the true test of whether the vaccine is effective.
Johnson & Johnson is one of a handful of companies that has been awarded funding as part of the U.S. government's Operation Warp Speed, including Moderna and AstraZeneca, partnered with Oxford.
Although other companies are already enrolling patients in Phase 3 trials, vaccine experts say society will need more than one successful vaccine to ensure everyone has the chance to be immunized against the virus that causes COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Barouch said he's hopeful that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might be easier to roll out if it is able to be given successfully as a single shot.
"A single shot vaccine would have particle advantages for global deployment," he said. "We think a single shot vaccine has incredible value in terms of pandemic control."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
rypson/iStockBy IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- Despite rising coronavirus cases across the nation, many people have been packing into some of their favorite hotspots over the summer, flouting social distancing guidance and rules as well as mask-wearing.
There have been several incidents across the country that have sparked criticism and warnings from leaders such as packed beaches in Florida and California in May and June and large outdoor parties in New York City and the Hamptons in July.
Crowding, specifically large gatherings where social distancing is difficult and attendees travel from outside the area are of particular concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Risk increases with the number of people, length of the event and higher levels of community transmission.
Sociological and political experts say that those behaviors may be a reaction to the rhetoric from their elected officials, even from those who stress caution during the reopening process.
While some people deliberately ignored the warnings from day one, others who stuck to the social distancing rules may have relaxed their caution after seeing reports that the coronavirus curve was flattened in the spring, Allison Earl, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who specializes in health messaging, told ABC News
"People rely on their experts when it comes to an assessment of risk," she told ABC News. "People may recalibrate their judgment but they may not be accurate when they do."
Although it is impossible to change everyone's risk assessment, Earl and other experts say consistent messaging, which relies on education rather than fear, could help change these behaviors.
Mixed messages muddy the waters
One of the biggest factors behind people disregarding social distancing is the mixed messaging they have been receiving from their leaders since the pandemic began, according to Will Howell, the head of the University of Chicago's political science department.
President Donald Trump's frequent downplaying of coronavirus dangers and mixed messages on the pandemic, in sharp contrast to many health experts and local leaders, confused some Americans and influenced their decisions to keep going on with their lifestyles, according to Howell.
There was also tremendous pressure, even at the height of the initial surge of the pandemic in the Northeast, to reopen the economy -- pressure that influenced states that are now coping with outbreaks of the virus.
"Ours is a political culture where significant numbers of the American public don't want to be told what to do," he told ABC News.
The messaging from leaders who rolled back shelter-in-place orders starting in late April, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, only amplified that notion, Howell said. While both leaders urged their residents to wear masks and avoid large crowds when they could, they also encouraged people to enjoy the outdoors.
"I think that to be able to get people out in the sunshine and be able to get some fresh air. I've always promoted essential activities with recreation," DeSantis told reporters on April 17. At the time, Florida had 24,753 total COVID-19 cases, according to the Florida Health Department.
By contrast, leaders in New York, which had 236,742 cases on April 17, urged socially distanced outdoor recreation but did not open beaches or other venues until a month later.
When Abbott announced Texas' phase 2 reopening on May 18, when the state's Health Department recorded 48,693 total confirmed cases, he offered the public assurances that they were successful in their efforts to contain the disease. The reopening included several indoor businesses including bars.
"We've seen no evidence, no signs that raise any concerns about the possibility of retrenchment in Texas," he said during his news conference that day.
When Abbott began phase 3 of Texas' reopening plan on June 3, where all businesses, including indoor dining, could reopen at 50% capacity, he touted the state's COVID-19 data at the time. At that point, the state had 68,271 confirmed cases, according to Texas' Health Department.
"The people of Texas continue to prove that we can safely and responsibly open our state for business while containing COVID-19 and keeping our state safe," Abbott said in a statement on June 3.
Images of crowds, including some not wearing masks, began to be common in Florida and Texas following the reopenings, especially in restaurants and beaches. In the subsequent weeks, the COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalization rates began to rise in those states.
A Memorial Day pool party in the Ozarks where people were seen crowded and without masks drew heavy criticism from health officials. And in New York, which has not allowed indoor dining since the pandemic began, there have been reports of secret parties and pictures of large crowds outside bars.
DeSantis attributed the increase in Florida cases to young people gathering and although he pushed for more residents to wear masks and socially distant, he did not implement more restrictions on preventing such crowds from gathering.
"You have to have society function, you have to be able to have a cohesive society," he said on June 17.
As of July 29, Florida recorded nearly 442,000 total cases and Texas has recorded 394,265 total cases, according to states' respective health departments.
Florida's seven-day average of daily reported cases jumped from 1,038 at the beginning of May to 10,306 on July 29, according to Florida's health department. The seven-day average of newly daily reported cases in Texas has risen from 1,142 cases at the beginning of May to 7,504 on July 29, according to the state's health department.
Representatives for Abbott didn't return messages for comment. On July 3, after calls from local leaders and health officials across Texas, Abbott instituted a mandate for masks.
Fredrick Piccolo, a spokesman for DeSantis, told ABC News in a statement that the governor's administration has taken several measures to keep crowd sizes down. On July 21, the state's surgeon general, Scott Rivkees, issued a public health advisory that forbids crowds of more than 10 people.
"Additionally, the governor has held dozens of press conferences and roundtables with medical professionals over the past few months where he emphasizes this guidance and implores the elderly and medically vulnerable to avoid large crowds whenever possible," Piccolo said in a statement.
Even states that flattened the curve are having crowd problems
Earl said that people generally take their cues on risk from their leaders and the one constant messaging from all officials was, "flatten the curve." This message on its own, however, can be problematic for long-term solutions against the pandemic, since it provides people who may have adhered to the restrictions an early out from their social distancing behaviors, according to Earl.
"Once people reach their goals, they stop putting effort into those goals," Earl said. "The idea that some people have is 'I have this goal that is important to me…I no longer need to put the effort because it's done.'"
Earl noted that this issue is happening among people who live in states that still have restrictions and decreased COVID-19 cases, like New York and New Jersey. Even though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy have repeatedly warned their constituents that their states aren't out of the woods, there have been recent examples of large gatherings.
New York had roughly 417,000 total coronavirus cases as of July 29; however, the state's seven-day average for newly reported cases has gone from a peak of 4,300 cases a day in April to 671 on July 29, according to the New York health department.
New Jersey had roughly 182,000 total cases as of July 29; however, its seven-day average for newly reported cases has gone from a peak of 2,697 cases a day in April to 434 on July 29, according to the state's health department.
On July 25, an estimated 2,000 people showed up to an outdoor charity concert in the Hamptons, on Long Island, and the next day, police in New Jersey said they broke up a party at an Airbnb location where 700 people attended.
Both incidents are being investigated by state officials.
Earl said those incidents demonstrate the notion that people have a mental breaking point when it comes to health advisories. As a result, some will eschew the health dangers for their pleasure, she said.
"That [health] vigilance is energy expensive and we as humans we can't do it forever," she noted.
Elected officials have been changing their messaging to encourage more people to avoid crowds, and experts say this a good first step.
"In a political climate like ours where distrust runs rampant… and there is a sense that a lot of our elected officials don't have our best interest in mind, it's hard to do that," Howell said. "We need people to say this is a common threat."
Gov. Murphy tweeted harsh warnings to residents following the Airbnb incident. New Jersey, one of the states that managed to get a handle on the virus after thousands of cases and deaths, is now seeing a resurgence in cases, with eight emerging hotspots on the latest map from FEMA.
"This is no time for anyone to be vying for induction into the Knucklehead Hall of Fame. Coronavirus is more easily transmitted indoors. Crowded indoor house parties are not smart or safe," he tweeted.
A spokesman for Murphy's office added in a statement to ABC News the governor "has made a commitment to ensure that timely, fact-driven information related to the State's ongoing response efforts is readily accessible to New Jerseyans."
Gov. Cuomo, who in the past called some of the gatherings in the state "stupid," has also repeatedly urged New Yorkers to remain vigilant while at the same time shutting down establishments that violate state reopening guidelines.
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, told ABC News his office is working to get the message across.
"We're moving heaven and earth is continue this momentum with ad campaigns, constant messaging through social and earned media and tackling the places where we've seen clusters in other states -- large indoor areas, crowded bars, gyms, etc," he said in a statement.
The best way forward
Earl warned that leaders have to watch their words carefully as the public continues to gauge their risk. She noted that numerous psychological studies have proven that tactics that involve invoking fear or shaming are worse for people in the long term.
"If you engage in a behavior because you're afraid, the minute you're not afraid is when you re-engage in the behavior," she said.
Earl suggested that leaders should focus on explaining to the public the benefits of increased social distancing and mask wear.
"Help people understand the actions you want to take," she recommended. "It will change their attitudes about engaging in the risky behavior or not."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
fizkes/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- The back to school season for Jillian Glawson, a mom of three in Texas, looks much different this year.
Instead of just shopping for pencils and backpacks for her two older kids, ages 8 and 5, Glawson is searching for curriculum plans. She and her husband have decided to homeschool their kindergartener and third-grader instead of sending them back to their local public school during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Probably the primary reason was the inconsistency of whether or not they were going to shut down and how they're going to do it," Glawson said of her school district's plan to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks. "Right now they said they'll close for five days if there's a positive [COVID-19 case]. How often are they going to do that? How strict are they going to be?"
"For kindergarten and for third grade to be interrupted all year long was not going to be feasible for us," said Glawson, adding that she also found it frustrating last spring to watch her older child sit in front of a computer for hours each day when her school switched to virtual learning.
Glawson is one of a growing number of parents who are turning to homeschooling as school districts across the country struggle to respond as the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to grow.
In Texas, Glawson's home state, the Texas Home School Coalition, a coalition of three homeschool-focused organizations, has experienced triple its usual call volume in the two weeks since the state's education agency announced its guidelines for school reopenings, according to Stephen Howsley, the coalition's public policy analyst.
"We see a lot of families coming to us asking, 'How do we get started? We want to make this big change,'" Howsley told ABC News' Good Morning America. "We've seen that the public view of homeschool has increased."
Two national homeschool organizations, the National Homeschool Association and the Home School Legal Defense Association, also told GMA the volume of inquiries they are each receiving is "through the roof." Both groups said they are receiving interest from not just stay-at-home parents but working parents as well who are anticipating having to juggle their full-time jobs with education and childcare responsibilities.
"One of the things we're seeing is just an enormous amount of innovation and creativity in how families are organizing themselves to be able to meet the needs of their children today," said Jim Mason, vice president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit organization. "With homeschooling, parents can pick from a huge range of options that can be tailored specifically to not just your children, but to each one of your children."
The surge of interest in homeschooling comes at a perilous time for the public school system in the U.S., which consistently faces budget cuts and is now facing a pandemic that has seemingly stretched the system to the limit.
"It could be the case that many families once they go to [homeschool], may choose to leave public education, which is already vulnerable in terms of its funding, in terms of its support," said Prudence L. Carter, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley. "I would hate to see [school] districts’ resources diminished if we have a massive outflow of students to homeschooling, because if you see a decline in demographics, you’re going to see a decline in the amount of resources that come into a district."
There are currently more than 50 million students enrolled in public elementary, middle and high schools in the U.S. As of 2016, the most recent data available, 1.7 million children were enrolled in homeschool programs, a number that nearly doubled from 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
As more parents consider the option, here are six common questions about homeschooling answered by experts:
1. How do I know if homeschooling is right for my family?
The decision to homeschool is of course a very personal decision based on factors ranging from a child's situation in school to their learning style and the dynamics of the family, experts say.
"Teaching is not easy. It’s actually an art," said Carter. "It is the case that there are some natural teachers among us, and it is also the case that some parents are not going to be patient enough for their children."
"There’s no one particular learning style and sometimes it’s repetitive and you have to do it over and over again," she said, adding that parents of children with special needs and learning disabilities need to take extra steps to make sure their children will be supported in a homeschool environment.
When it comes to academics, Dr. Joseph Murphy, associate dean at the Peabody College of Education of Vanderbilt University, recommends parents ask three questions to see whether their children are succeeding in a school environment or need a change.
"Are your kids engaged meaningfully [with learning]? Did they build their own understanding, or was it passed to them on a piece of paper? Has that been molded into an understanding of why things are the way they are," he said. "Those are the only three issues that parents need to have their fingers on."
2. What do I need to do legally to homeschool my child?
It depends on where you live, according to Mason.
Oversight of homeschooling is a "state and local responsibility," according to the U.S. Department of Education, which does not "regulate or provide financial support" for homeschooling students. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has a map of state laws on its website that parents can access for free.
In Texas, a state where homeschooling is not heavily regulated, Glawson said she simply had to email the registrar at her children's school to say they were withdrawing.
In New York, a state with more oversight, homeschool parents must submit an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP) each school year and file quarterly reports to a school district official, among other requirements, according to the HSLDA's analysis of state laws.
3. What is the cost of homeschooling?
Because of the resources available online -- many of them free -- homeschooling can be very inexpensive, according to Mason.
There are also curriculums available online that can cost as much as $1,500 and include materials and access to online classes.
"It can be very inexpensive to really expensive, depending on what you want to do," said Mason, who added that homeschooling expenses cannot be written off on taxes. "But typically the expense of actual schooling is not as high as many people fear it would be."
In Texas, for example, the average out-of-pocket cost for homeschooling is $300 to $500 per student, according to Howsley, of the Texas Home School Coalition.
4. Is homeschooling the same as virtual learning?
No, homeschooling a child is not the same as what happened last spring when schools turned to virtual learning amid the pandemic, according to J. Allen Watson, the founder of the National Homeschool Association, which offers a membership option for homeschooling families.
"So many parents think that doing school at home is homeschooling, but it's not," Watson told GMA. "Homeschooling is a mindset. It's a lifestyle. It's a way of trying to bring joy to learning for a child or maintaining that joy of learning."
Watson said learning to homeschool often requires parents to unlearn how they and their kids were taught in traditional classrooms.
"Parents are often tied into the schools' way of doing things, where it's a reward and punishment system, where you feel pride if you get a good grade and shame if you get a bad grade and it's all about the external rewards of doing your 'job' at school," he said. "Homeschooling is really about finding ways to make learning organic, to make it fun and interesting and not have to focus on the minutiae of all that kids are taught in schools."
5. How do I find the right curriculum for my child?
Glawson, the mom in Texas, said finding a curriculum to use has been the hardest part of her homeschooling journey simply because there are so many options available.
"I have an education degree and I think that's definitely helped me filter out the fluff and find what I feel like is a good, solid curriculum versus things I don't think are going to work the best for my kids," she said. "But I don't think you have to have an education degree by any means. There's just so many resources available for those who are looking for it."
West suggests that parents first ask themselves whether they want to follow a faith-based or secular curriculum.
The next step is to decide whether they want to go a more traditional route -- i.e. trying to recreate a school environment at home -- or if they prefer "unschooling," which gives more freedom to kids to decide what they are interested in studying.
From there, homeschooling parents have even more options, from joining homeschooling groups and co-ops to doing project-based learning.
In pre-pandemic times, homeschooling groups and co-ops allowed homeschool kids to meet in group settings, usually weekly.
Project-based learning involves coming up with a project your child is interested in and then incorporating all the school subjects in that one project, according to Watson.
"Maybe your child is interested in Superman," he said. "You'd come up with a way to integrate science and say, 'Let's talk about Superman, who shoots lasers. What are lasers and how do they work and why do they burn through things? How long would it take for Superman to fly around the planet?'"
When it comes to choosing a curriculum, the benefit for homeschooling parents is they can take parts of different options and also quickly pivot if the curriculum isn't working for their child, according to Mason.
"When you're making this decision, you really have to do what's best for your family and for your child," he said. "In general, I think the flexibility that homeschooling allows really does meet the needs of most children, which is great because it's not very one size fits all and you're able to customize the education for each child."
6. Can a working parent also homeschool their child?
Yes, working parents can homeschool their kids because it allows for flexibility but parents need to understand the level of commitment required, both in time and philosophy, according to Mason.
"You have to really commit to it, and that’s different for every family and every family’s circumstance," he said. "But you have to really commit yourself to this idea that you’re going to do it."
In terms of the flexibility homeschool allows, parents and kids can set their own schedule instead of being tied down to a school schedule of virtual lessons or in-person classroom time and homework. Homeschooling also allows parents to zero in on their kids' learning for a concentrated amount of time, and to incorporate the learning into everyday activities, according to Watson.
"Parents have it in their head that they have to be doing this book stuff for eight hours a day or sitting in front of a screen and being productive," he said. "But if they're playing games like Monopoly, where they can learn math, or cooking and learning fractions, those are the ways that kids learn, because they're experiences that they enjoy doing and they see the relevance."
"And you don't have to know everything [about the subjects], because you ask [your child] to teach you, and that's a much better way to learn," Watson added.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
ABC Photo IllustrationBy ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- The United States' coronavirus response is failing and needs to get back on track, according to the nation's doctors.
This month, the U.S. hit an abysmal 4.4 million infections and 150,000 deaths from the virus. Cases, fatalities and hospitalizations continue to rise.
"Instead of a truly comprehensive approach and a more coordinated national response, there has been a patchwork system where it’s every state for itself, every lab for itself when it comes to testing supplies, and every community, including the most vulnerable, on its own," Dr. David Skorton, a cardiologist and president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, told ABC News.
"America needs to change course, and quickly, to save lives," Skorton said.
To that end, doctors, scientists and medical educators from the AAMC put together a roadmap for resetting the United States' response to the pandemic, based on scientific evidence.
The AAMC's roadmap includes immediate actions the government can take, such as increasing production of key supplies, like personal protective equipment for doctors, through the Defense Production Act and creating national standards for face coverings.
Ramping up testing is also key, according to the AAMC. Based on current U.S. positivity rates, our national goal should be to conduct 2.3 million COVID-19 tests each day.
Longer-term recommendations include working more seriously to close the black-white health care gap; investing in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments, which have been stripped of funding for year; and reconsidering the American health care system, which relies heavily on employer-based health care plans.
"Stopping the pandemic is everyone’s responsibility -- our elected officials, health professionals, public health experts, the private and public sectors, academic medical centers, communities, families, and each of us as individuals," Skorton said.
"To succeed, we must act together and now," he added.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Ochsner BaptistBy TOMMY BROOKSBANK, ABC News
(NEW ORLEANS) -- When Aria Mason first laid eyes on her baby girl three days after giving birth prematurely, she couldn't help breaking out in song.
"I was wondering if she'd know I was her mom, we didn't have that moment at delivery," Mason explained. "She took my hand once I started and her pulse evened out, other vital signs came up instantly. That meant the world to me."
As expecting parents, Mason and husband Henri Folse already had enough to worry about during the coronavirus pandemic. The cause for concern only heightened in late March when Mason began experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia, a common but life-threatening pregnancy complication. The loving mother gave birth prematurely to Amara Mason-Folse, weighing just one pound, eight ounces.
The newborn was immediately rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center in New Orleans and began the long road to recovery.
"Having the ability to connect with her this way has been its little ray of sunshine through all of this," Mason said.
With the challenges of COVID-19, Amara had never seen her parents' faces entirely. Infection risks meant "strict scrubbing precautions" and face masks during visits. Only one parent could stop by at a time. Mom and dad became concerned covering up would hinder their child's development of social cues and non-verbal communication skills. A speech therapist mentioned she might have a solution.
"A team at the hospital was working on creating clear masks for people who work with deaf patients," Folse said. "We thought it would be a great way to solve our problem."
The high school sweethearts agreed to try the masks as part of a pilot program, and noticed a change with their daughter almost immediately.
"You can see her watching our mouths, especially when I was singing to her," Mason said. "She likes the silly faces we make too. I feel excited by that, that she is responding so well to it. It's really reassuring that we made the right decision."
Aimee Quirk, CEO of innovationOchsner -- the team that came up with the transparent face covering design at the hospital -- explained while the masks were originally designed for medical professionals attending to those with hearing disabilities, it's clear patients and visitors alike from all walks of life can benefit from the unconventional design.
"It allows for connection at a time when it's hard to do," Quirk said. "Seeing a person smile, it makes a big difference to somebody's day and the feedback we've received has been overwhelmingly positive."
That includes those with special needs, early childhood education, people with neurocognitive disorders, and dementia among others, Quirk said.
Quirk's team at the hospital has partnered with local entrepreneurs to create the masks and have "a lot more coming" that will be "available as needed" to those in positions like the Mason-Folse family.
Baby Amara remains in the NICU as her lungs continue to mature, and while the trio can't rest at home together for now, the silly faces and smiles seen through Quirk's face masks seem to be the ripple of hope underneath it all, promising what is to come.
"The time with each other bonding as parents and with her -- you can only describe that as a blessing," Mason said.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Courtesy Brian MurphyBy ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News
(SAN ANTONIO) -- As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, one couple is helping to save lives one plasma donation at a time.
Brian and Dina Murphy of San Antonio, Texas, have made it their mission to help others by donating plasma to 68 people after both fell ill with the virus in March.
"I felt that really, God really saved me and to be a survivor," Dina, 60, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "I felt that this is really what he wants me to do -- to help others."
Like so many who contracted coronavirus when the pandemic first began, they didn't have all the answers at first to confirm that they had the disease.
Brian, 59, who is prone to sinus infections said he felt a sickness coming on in early March. But because he didn't have all the symptoms of COVID-19 at the time, he said doctors diagnosed him with the normal headache and stuffiness that he frequently had with a sinus infection.
"It really was a glorified sinus infection because I was really tired most of the time, lethargic, if you will," he told GMA. "And then the last four days of my illness, I was really in bed, just down and out and just didn't want to do anything -- everything was so different."
For Dina, the disease hit differently.
"I started getting a fever," she said, noting she saw the doctor after about five days of experiencing symptoms. "They checked my lungs and they said, 'You know, I just don't think you have it.'"
Doctors gave Dina strep and flu tests, but after those came back negative they administered a COVID-19 test, which came back positive five days later.
Some symptoms Dina had included an amplified sense of taste and nausea -- certain scents would make her feel sick.
Although Brian was never tested for the disease, Dina believes she caught coronavirus from her husband. It wasn't until she started donating plasma at the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center that Brian's blood work was done and he found out that he also had coronavirus.
"He had high antibody levels," said Dina. "So he's the one who gave it to me because he had what he thought was a sinus infection."
According to experts, people who have been infected with the coronavirus can begin to form antibodies shortly after being infected. Antibodies are "tailor-made by the immune system to fight the novel coronavirus and are felt to be a key component of recovery," according to Dr. Mark Abdelmalek, a medical investigative reporter for ABC News. "Antibodies are believed to work by neutralizing the virus."
Since then, they've both been donating plasma ever since. Dina started mid-April as soon as she started feeling better and Brian began donating in June.
Together with their donations, they've been told that they've been able to help 68 people.
"We want to give back, I mean that's who we are," said Brian. "We were raised that way and to do work in the community."
With their mission to help those in need during the pandemic with plasma donations, they also want to let others know that the process is easier than many think. All it takes is a prick of a small needle, Dina said, which is done by highly trained phlebotomists.
"Giving them plasma is really -- it's a lot easier than believe it or not, donating blood," said Dina. "They pull the plasma out of your blood and then they put your blood back in you. You don't feel it, you just feel a little coolness when it's going back in. So it's pretty simple and it takes a little bit more time."
For those who still need a reason to donate, Brian and Dina urge those who can donate to think of others in need during these challenging times.
"It's a critical time for everybody to be providing [plasma] because there are so many more people in the hospital right now that could use plasma donations," said Brian.
"We just really hope that people will realize that this is something that if they're a survivor, they just need to do it," added Dina. "It's so important and you're saving mankind. That's what's really important."
If you'd like to donate plasma and think you're a candidate, visit The American Red Cross' website to find a donation center near you.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
smolaw11/iStockBy TENZIN SHAKYA and ANTHONY RIVAS, ABC News
(PENSACOLA, Fla.) -- Florida is one of a handful of states that have mandated in-person learning in schools this fall. Parents, educators and students talk about balancing the risks as the state fights high transmission.
As Florida cases of the coronavirus continue to rise, Pensacola mom Latoya Floyd says she doesn't want to risk her children’s health by sending them back to school next month but that she doesn’t have a choice, either.
The single parent of two elementary school kids, one of whom has asthma, works at a Publix where she has been an associate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While there, her kids stay at a daycare that she says is poised to become overwhelmed with children, making it difficult for them to learn adequately and maintain social distance, she says. She says she works too many hours to ensure her kids are getting a proper education on her own.
“I absolutely have no choice but to send them to school because I work 45 hours a week, so it would be extremely hard to try to juggle making sure that their curriculum is on task,” Floyd told “Nightline,” adding that her kids get too distracted learning from home. “I feel like they should have an environment that they can sit and learn, and know that when they’re in this environment, it’s all about education, it’s all about school.”
Over the weekend, Florida surpassed New York, the former U.S. epicenter of the virus, to become the state with the second most COVID-19 cases. There were record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths last week, as its rate of positive cases has begun to trend downward.
As Florida began seeing a surge in cases in early July, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order requiring schools to open for traditional in-person learning. In response to the order, some educators in Florida have sued the governor, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, asking for an injunction to stop state officials from taking action if schools don’t reopen for in-person learning, arguing that it violates the Florida constitution to open schools if it is unsafe.
“I would rather actually keep them home than to send them back right now because the virus is still yet rising,” Floyd said. “Nothing has really happened to decrease people being sick and there hasn’t really been a cure for COVID-19. So if my children contract COVID-19 then it’s all a waiting game on if they will get better, and with my son having asthma, that just puts a little bit more on him and his conditions.”
Floyd is not alone. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday found 55% of American parents were against schools reopening for in-person instruction in the fall. Only 44% of parents said they’d be willing to send their kids back to school in the fall despite 59% of them saying they were concerned their children were falling behind in school because of the pandemic.
Floyd said her children, 10-year-old Tyler Floyd and 6-year-old Skylar Woods, are supposed to begin fifth-grade and first-grade classes at Ferry Pass Elementary School in Pensacola next month. The school, which is part of the School District of Escambia County, had given parents three choices for their kids 2020-2021 education: remote learning, virtual school and traditional.
The school had previously been scheduled to start classes on Aug. 10, but its start date was postponed to Aug. 24 last week after the school district’s superintendent Malcolm Thomas said twice the expected number of parents chose remote learning and virtual school over traditional.
“The number of students participating in the Remote Learning/Virtual School option means additional training for a number of our current instructors,” Thomas said in a statement on the school’s website. “Pushing the student start date … is necessary to provide our educators with the professional development required for quality virtual instruction. This also means students returning to Traditional School can improve social distancing within the classroom and school buses.”
Still, educators within the Escambia school district expressed concerns about the safety precautions their schools will have when they reopen. Math teacher Willie Craig is also the director of Camp Magnolia Summer Day Camp in Milton, Florida. When the pandemic began in the U.S. in March, he made the decision to shut down the program, saying the risk of “kids being sick and just spreading that among the other kids was too high.”
His sister, a music teacher and pastor, has been on a ventilator with COVID-19 for 19 days now. He says he’s concerned reopening in an area of high transmission will place teachers and students at risk of exposure. As a member of the Pensacola Citywide Choir, Craig said at least four other members are in the hospital fighting COVID-19.
“I really want to be there and see the students,” Craig told “Nightline.” “I have a passion for the kids. I absolutely love my kids. However … life is just too precious and we can’t get this wrong. … Safety has to be first before anything else.”
Carol Cleaver, a science teacher in the Escambia school district, says that while she wants schools to reopen, she thinks “we need to be realistic about in what fashion is the safest way.”
“I certainly have elderly people in my family that I’m concerned about. There are other people in my family that have immuno-compromised issues,” she told “Nightline.” “And so, I’m terrified that I might bring something back to their household. A lot of my students are being raised by their grandparents … and it’s just not realistically a safe situation for anyone.”
Cleaver had also been part of a task force charged with creating a reopening plan for the Florida Education Association teachers union. She says the group presented their plan to DeSantis and Corcoran in early June.
“I’m disappointed that the governor has issued a unilateral order… I really think that, especially in light of the rising numbers in Florida, we need a little more leadership. I feel like that the governor has put superintendents in a very difficult position -- that he’s kind of making them make the tough decision of closing schools when I think it should be a statewide decision. I think we need leadership at the state level and we’re not getting that.”
Cleaver said the Escambia school district had “pre-purchased 400,000 paper masks” and “installed hand sanitizing stations,” but said she was worried the schools would run out of paper towels and soap, which typically “ran out early in the day.”
“We are not certain that we will be given anything else to help us keep our classrooms clean, like paper towels or … disinfectant” Cleaver said, adding that family members have been collecting these items so they’d be available.
As part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for reopening K-12 schools, the agency says it’s critical that school administrators implement multiple COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including using cloth face coverings and social distancing, maintaining a healthy environment through frequent cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and making decisions that take into account the level of community transmission of COVID-19.
The School District of Escambia Superintendent Malcom Thomas did not respond to a request for comment on the school’s masks requirements or other steps it would be taking to ensure safety in schools.
However, the school district’s website says that “face coverings will be worn in district facilities as directed by staff and instructional leaders. If a situation arises whereas a student, member of staff, or a visitor is not wearing, or is incapable of wearing a face covering, such individual may be assisted or guided by appropriate authorities within the district to undertake alternative, reasonable and accommodating actions to protect self and others.”
The site also says “no one is expected to wear face coverings for six to seven hours at a time,” and that it’s particularly important to comply on school buses, in hallways and in shared spaces. Students will also be socially distancing “to the extent possible,” according to the website. Maintenance staff and custodians will also clean “frequently touched surfaces throughout the day and conduct overall cleanings at the conclusion of every day.” Non-custodial staff will be given spray bottles and microfiber cloths for additional cleanin, and “teachers will have access to cleaning supplies for their classrooms.” The schools are also changing their air conditioning filters and giving temperature checks to students and staff “as appropriate.”
In Clay County, Florida, kindergarten teacher Megan Carrigan has been teaching 18 students in an in-person summer school program at Charles E. Bennett Elementary School in Green Cove Springs, Florida, since July 8th.
“We take risk in all that we do each day. But given the circumstances that I've already gone through, I feel like I need to do the best that I can to live my life the fullest,” she said. “And as long as I know that I am taking all the precautions that I need to take. Then I'm going to be OK.”
Carrigan is a cancer survivor and diabetic who says she’s aware of the risks she’s taking every time she walks into the classroom.
“My family had to take extra measures to help keep my immune system strong. ... We would naturally come in and sanitize our hands, change clothes, take showers -- things like that,” she said. “And so, with COVID, we're doing the exact same thing.”
She says that experience helped her with implementing new rules and procedures within her classroom.
“I actually have written it into our schedule … when they come in, we hand sanitize. We start our morning work. Then, we do bathroom break with hand washing, and then we do an activity and then we do bathroom break and hand washing,” she says. “So, we just built into the schedule more hand washing and sanitizing. And then, when they line up to go anywhere -- the student center for lunch or dismissal -- we've taught them to line up with social distancing.”
For these tough decisions parents and teachers across the U.S. will soon need to make, Carrigan says “to each their own.”
"As a teacher, as a person, as a parent, you need to do what's best for you and your family,” she said. “And if you do not feel like it's a place that you need to be at that time, then you need to stand true to what you feel. ... For me, personally, being in the classroom is where I want to be and where I feel safe going."
Dr. Jason Wilson, an emergency physician at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida, says it was difficult deciding whether he’d send his son to school, but that he ultimately decided he would.
“If this is so hard for me, how can any other parent make this decision right now,” he said. “I don't even understand that, when the world is shifting so much, when our cases are as high as they are.”
Wilson says that after weighing the risks, he decided enrolling his son was the best option for his family. However, he’s hoping his son’s school district will consider delaying the reopening date until COVID-19 hospitalization rates go down.
“We're having to make decisions about science and about policy and about our own children based on this serious virus that we know very little about. It takes time to make these things and bring these things out. And we really haven't gotten it yet.”
Like many parents, Wilson is still struggling with his decision.
“I don't feel completely safe in this decision I have made. I felt it was the best decision and that gave me the most options at the time that I signed the letter. But I don't see how anyone can feel perfectly safe in this current place where I am right now in Tampa.” he said. “It's a risk calculation and I'm not sure where the risk is going to sit three weeks from now, or a month.”
When compared to the speed at which schools had to transition to remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic, Craig says reopening the schools can be different.
“If we take time now and plan correctly, then we can make huge strides as far as education is concerned. But if we don’t … and we go back into brick and mortar [schools] and there is going to have to be quarantines here and quarantines there -- we don’t do this effectively -- then learning would be limited.”
It may already be too late. Like many other parents, Floyd is concerned her kids have fallen behind during the pandemic. She said “there’s a lot of pressure” right now to ensure her daughter is prepared for first grade and that her daughter is in a structured setting to “ensure she is grasping” the curriculum.
“They took children out of school like mid semester … and that slowed things down tremendously. Me, having a kindergartner, we were still in a really tight learning spot because [of] having to make sure she knows her sight words,” Floyd said. “There’s a lot of pressure before going into the first grade because you have to know these words to be able to read in the first grade.”
Floyd said her children’s education is “super important” to her because it’ll equip them to be self-sustaining, confident adults. Having spent several months making sure their school work gets done after day care and working full-time, she said she has a “newfound respect” for educators.
“I love them,” she said. “I wish them the best and I hope things are really, really normal again."
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