R-0 may be the most important scientific term you’ve never heard of when it comes to stopping the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña and his wife come from large families and typically split the holiday festivities, getting together with one group of relatives for Thanksgiving and another one at Christmas.
This year, they’ll reluctantly keep their distance from both.
“We’re going to have to make sacrifices,” said Cioe-Peña, an emergency room physician and director of Global Health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York. “My wife and I decided this year’s going to be nuclear family, and we’re not inviting anybody over.”
As the holidays approach and the number of coronavirus cases surge, millions of Americans face the decision whether to eschew traditional gatherings with family and friends or risk spreading the virus among loved ones.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost authority on infectious diseases, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned about the potential for a spike in infections stemming from holiday parties, even if they’re small and only among relatives.
Memorial Day get-togethers were partly blamed for an increase in COVID-19 cases the USA experienced early in the summer. Events such as a Sweet 16 party late last month in Long Island, New York – linked to 37 positive tests – and a wedding in August in Maine – which led to more than 175 infections – underscore the danger of relatively small social functions turning into superspreaders.
Last week, health officials in the Washington area said small gatherings have been a factor in the region hitting a two-month high in coronavirus cases.
“All along, there have been issues about attending weddings, funerals, religious gatherings and other events that are part of our normal life,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They bring people together and potentially become vectors for the virus. As many public health experts mention, the virus is attending these events and can be transmitted from person to person.”
The traditional gatherings of relatives and friends during Thanksgiving and other holidays are a source of concern for public health experts, who fear they may lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. (Photo: Getty Images / skynesher)
Don’t let the virus get to Grandma
The CDC, which discourages traditional trick-or-treating this Halloween, updated its guidance Monday about holiday celebrations with advice on how to reduce risk of infection.
The tips for in-person gatherings include commonly known mitigation measures such as holding events outdoors, limiting their size, having participants wear masks and maintaining social distance. The CDC encourages hosts to request that guests avoid contact with people from outside their household for two weeks before the activity.
Safe inside: Fauci warns against Thanksgiving celebrations: How to stay safe indoors from the coronavirus during cold seasons?
The impracticality of some of the safety measures – it’s hard to fit everybody at a table 6 feet apart
The UK will carry out a million COVID-19 tests a day by Christmas with results being given in as little as 15 minutes, scientists have predicted.
The government has already set a target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October but this could be doubled by the end of the year, according to a report in the Times.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed senior scientist who claimed it seemed “perfectly possible” the country could reach a million tests by the festive period.
The source said: “It’s going pretty well. They have really scaled up their capabilities.
“By Christmas we’ll be at a million a day, I think. That seems perfectly possible.”
Watch: PM hopes to resist national lockdown
Boris Johnson announced on Friday the UK is developing the capacity to manufacture millions of fast turnaround tests for coronavirus which could deliver results in just 15 minutes.
The prime minister told a No 10 press conference the new tests were “faster, simpler and cheaper” and that work was being done to ensure they could be manufactured and distributed in the UK.
He said: “We’ve already bought millions of these tests, some of which are very simple, meaning you simply need to wipe the swab inside your mouth and can give a result as quickly as in 15 minutes.”
“We’ve started building the infrastructure for domestic manufacture of these tests, ensuring that Britain has the ability to produce millions of fast tests here.
“Over the next few weeks we will start distributing and trialling these tests across the country.”
Downing Street has also announced further pilots of new testing technologies will begin from next week, across some of the UK’s worst-affected regions.
The government said that hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Basingstoke and Southampton will test asymptomatic NHS staff, and use the data to assist with Track and Trace.
These pilots will see individuals tested weekly as a minimum.
In addition, trials of new “lateral flow tests” – swab tests that do not require lab processing and can be returned within an hour – would be sent to adult social care settings, schools and universities in the hardest-hit areas.
Johnson said that Liverpool, Lancashire, and any other areas which enter the “very high” alert level would be “immediately prioritised” for fast turnaround tests.
The government will also make tests available to local public health directors to help control localised outbreaks.
Johnson added: “In time we want to use tests to keep open more parts of the economy that have sadly been closed but it is crucial that we make sure such systems work safely,
“I must level with you that it will take time to get this right before many organisations can buy and operate these tests themselves.”
Watch: Can you catch the coronavirus twice?
Coronavirus: what happened today
Click here to sign up
There’s a slim chance a COVID-19 vaccine may be ready by Christmas, says chair of U.K. Vaccine Taskforce
With so much on the line in the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, it was bound to get ugly.
When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took aim at the MHRA, Britain’s version of the FDA, saying it’s “not on par with ours,” the chair of the U.K.’s Vaccine Taskforce had to call her out.
“With great respect to Nancy Pelosi, I just don’t think she’s correct,” said Kate Bingham. “I think the MHRA standards for safety and efficacy and our track record of robust evaluation as a regulator is world class. So I just don’t think she is right to say that the FDA standards are held to a higher standard than those of the MHRA.”
Pelosi’s comments may be a preemptive in case President Trump plans on invoking emergency powers to greenlight a vaccine, saying “if Boris Johnson decides he’s going to approve a drug and this president embraces that, that’s the concern I have.”
But it underlines the tensions even between traditional allies as several vaccine candidates get closer to reality.
Bingham said there is a slim chance there may be a vaccine by Christmas.
“There is a slim chance,” she said. “I think it’s more likely that it’ll be in early next year.”
That optimism comes with caveats. Bingham said it’s not a one-size-fits-all, or a one-and-done. “So I think we’re going to have to find vaccines that will provide as much protection as possible, and then we’re likely to have to give booster vaccines, much like, again, a flu shot.”
She said initial recipients will be those who need it most: the elderly, the vulnerable and health care workers.
A vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca continues to be among the frontrunners in the U.K., but it has fallen behind in the United States, where clinical trials remain on pause under FDA orders.
Pfizer has been the most aggressive in its timeline, but the company has said it has no intention of applying for emergency authorization before the end of November, taking itself out of the running in President Trump’s promise a vaccine will be ready before Election Day.
The final stretch of this race may ultimately come down to the regulators.
“As soon as they’ve got the data, they can file with the regulatory authorities around the world. And then there will be a race between the regulatory authorities as to who approves. Who will be quicker? I have no idea,” said Bingham. “What I do know is that I think it’s unlikely that the MHRA will be subject to political pressure and certainly as reported in the press, that may not be always the case in the States.”
But she added: “I don’t think any amount of political pressure will affect what the FDA actually does and what the vaccine companies do, because there is a very clear commitment to safety and efficacy. And it’s not in anybody’s interest to approve a vaccine that isn’t safe and efficacious and that