coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus Updates: FDA Approves 1st Home COVID Test; Sen. Grassley Tests Positive

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From California to Pennsylvania, governors and mayors across the U.S. are ratcheting up COVID-19 restrictions amid the record-shattering resurgence of the virus that is all but certain to get worse because of holiday travel and family gatherings over Thanksgiving.

Leaders are closing businesses or curtailing hours and other operations, and they are ordering or imploring people to stay home and keep their distance from others to help stem a rising tide of infections that threatens to overwhelm the health care system.

A record-breaking nearly 70,000 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Sunday, 13,000 more than a week earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Deaths in the U.S. are running at more than 1,100 per day on average, an increase of over 50% from early October. The virus is blamed for more than 249,000 deaths and over 11.4 million confirmed infections in the U.S.

Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic:

FDA Allows 1st Rapid Virus Test That Gives Results at Home

U.S. regulators on Tuesday allowed emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed entirely at home and delivers results in 30 minutes.

The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration represents an important step in U.S. efforts to expand testing options for COVID-19 beyond health care facilities and testing sites. However, the test will require a prescription, likely limiting its initial use.

The FDA granted emergency authorization to the single-use test kit from Lucira Health, a California manufacturer.

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Sen. Grassley, 87, Tests Positive for COVID-19

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator, on Tuesday said he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Grassley, 87, did not say how he was exposed.

“I’m feeling well and not currently experiencing any symptoms, but it’s important we all follow public health guidelines to keep each other healthy,” Grassley said in a statement earlier on Tuesday.

The Iowa Republican is the president pro tempore of the Senate, meaning he presides over the Senate in the absence of Vice President Mike Pence and is third in the line of presidential succession, behind Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The president pro tempore is the senator in the majority party who has served the longest.

By missing votes this week, Grassley will break a 27-year streak of not missing a single Senate vote. According to his office, the last time he missed a vote was in 1993, when he was in Iowa assisting with relief efforts after severe flooding.

Grocery Stores Cap More Customer Purchases as Lockdowns Loom

As coronavirus cases top daily records and city and state lockdowns come into effect, grocery stores are taking new steps to avoid the empty shelves that were the hallmark of the first weeks of the pandemic.

Supermarket chains like Kroger, Publix, and H-E-B have started to limit in-store and online purchases on products such as toilet paper, cleaning supplies and paper towels to reduce stress on supply chains.

“What we are trying to do is to make sure that we don’t have hoarding," Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Food and Drug, told NBC News’ Jo Ling Kent in an interview. “One of the things that we found in particular with the recent run on paper goods is that we want to be able to spread it as far as we can, amongst as many shoppers as possible.”

Tops Friendly Markets and Wegmans are the most recent chains to roll out new purchase limits, updating the ongoing lists of personal care and cleaning supply limits they have each had in place since March. Wegmans added napkins and facial tissues, while Tops added trash bags, freezer bags and paper plates, among other items.

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COVID Vaccine Front-Runners: Efficacy, Price Tag and Who's Bought Them

U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna said Monday that preliminary clinical trial data showed its vaccine was more than 94% effective in preventing COVID-19. It consists of two injections four weeks apart and costs between $32 and $37 per dose, though Moderna said in August it was in discussion for larger volume agreements that would have a lower price.

Moderna has committed to supply the U.S. with 100 million doses of its vaccine, Canada with 56 million doses, the U.K. with 50 million, and Switzerland has procured 4.5 million.

Pfizer and BioNTech found a similar level of efficacy — over 90% — in their vaccine. The companies are reportedly charging $20 per dose for its vaccine, significantly lower than Moderna. Pfizer and BioNTech have secured agreements with several countries across the globe, including providing the U.S. with 100 million doses.

AstraZeneca said late last month that its vaccine candidate, developing in collaboration with the University of Oxford, had produced a similar immune response in older and younger adults. The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which requires two doses, is priced at approximately $3 to $4, according to the Financial Times, citing supply deals agreed through to Oct. 7. The U.S. has agreed to procure 500 million doses of the vaccine candidate, as has several other countries.

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United Launches Free COVID-19 Testing Pilot Program on Newark-London Route

United Airlines' flight from Newark to London will now offer a transatlantic COVID-19 testing program free of charge to all crew and passengers over the age of 2. The airline said that the Abbott rapid tests, administered by Premise Health at the airport, guarantees everyone eligible will have tested negative immediately prior to taking off.

Passengers going from Newark to London on the thrice-weekly flight can schedule a testing appointment at least three hours before their flight departs.

While the testing may help provide travelers with some more peace of mind, it doesn't act as a workaround for those looking to avoid the UK's entry requirements, which includes a 14-day quarantine upon arriving. United is hoping the pilot program can serve as a test for alternatives to the mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions.

GOP Sen. Portman Says He Joined J&Js COVID-19 Vaccine Trial to Encourage Vaccination

Sen. Rob Portman told CNBC on Tuesday that he’s participating in Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial, hoping to underscore the importance of vaccines in ending the pandemic.

“The most important thing we can do right now is get these vaccines out and on the market, and we’ve got to ensure people are actually going to get vaccinated,” the Ohio Republican said on “Squawk Box,” while also stressing the need to wear a mask and maintain social distancing as U.S. coronavirus cases spike to record highs. He was wearing a mask during his interview from Capitol Hill.

“It’s one thing to have the vaccines, which I think will be ready by the end of this year, so really in just a month and a half, but we’ve got to be sure that people are willing to be vaccinated,” Portman added. “So the reason I participated in this trial was because I think the vaccines are so important.”

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California Governor Imposes New Restrictions to Curb COVID-19

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was pulling the “emergency brake” Monday on reopening the state's economy as coronavirus cases surge at the fastest rate since the start of the outbreak.

“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet — faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes."

Newsom's “emergency brake" will halt reopening plans and put most of the state under the strictest set of rules that keep most schools closed, halt indoor worship and force most indoor business to close or operate at significantly reduced capacity.

Newsom also said he was also strengthening a mask requirement outside homes with limited exceptions, and he was considering a curfew on business hours.

The dramatic rise in cases in November has come at a faster pace than a spike in mid-June and could quickly surpass the peak of the hospitalizations at the time. The state became the second in the U.S. last week to surpass 1 million case of the virus.

More than 11 million cases have been recorded nationwide as virus surges almost everywhere. While California has the second-highest number of cases, it is the nation's most populous state with 40 million residents and ranks 40th in cases per 100,000 residents.

The Associated Press/NBC
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