• President-elect Biden will ask Americans to wear face masks for 100 days after inauguration
• California issues regional stay-at-home orders as cases spike
The U.S. set yet another record for new cases and fatalities in a single day from the coronavirus illness COVID-19, and the nation’s leading public health agency said there could be up to 19,500 deaths in the week ended Dec. 26.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said forecasts for deaths over the next four weeks that it received from 37 modeling groups created a so-called national ensemble forecast that predicts 303,000 to 329,000 COVID-19 deaths in the four-week period. An ensemble forecast combines each of the independently developed forecasts into one aggregate forecast to improve prediction over the next four weeks.
“The state- and territory-level ensemble forecasts predict that over the next 4 weeks, the number of newly reported deaths per week will likely increase in 23 jurisdictions,” the CDC said.
President-elect Joe Biden said he plans to urge Americans to wear a face mask in public for 100 days after his inauguration in January. “On the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever, just 100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction” in the virus, Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview.
The president-elect also said he asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay on in his administration, “in the exact same role he’s had for the past several presidents,” as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He said he’s asked Fauci, viewed as the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, to be a “chief medical adviser” as well as part of his COVID-19 advisory team.
The moves mark a stark contrast to the pandemic approach of presidential lincumbent Donald Trump, who has played down the gravity of the crisis throughout, pooh-poohed the wearing of face masks to the point that many of his supporters continue to refuse to do so, said the virus would just disappear, and belittled Fauci. Trump has made no comment in recent days as cases and deaths have set fresh records. Experts fear those records will be shattered in the next week or so, as infections caused by Thanksgiving travel start to emerge.
The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1 million passengers at airports on at least four days during the Thanksgiving period, the Associated Press reported. Vehicle travel was 20% lower than a year ago but peaked on Thanksgiving Day at just 5% less than in 2019, according to an analysis conducted by StreetLightData for the Associated Press.
“People were less willing to change their behavior than any other day during the pandemic,” Laura Schewel, founder of StreetLight Data, told the AP.
If only a small percentage of those travelers were asymptomatically infected, it could mean hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another, Dr. Cindy Friedman, a CDC official, said this week in a press briefing.
The U.S. recorded another 217,664 new cases on Thursday and at least 2,879 deaths, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has counted more than 100,000 new cases every day since the Nov. 3 election.
There were a record of 100,667 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, breaking the high-water mark set a day earlier. The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases at 14.2 million, and deaths at 277,412. With 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for about 20% of global cases and deaths.
Things are so dire in California that the government has issued regional stay-at-home orders for those areas with overloaded intensive-care units. Gov. Gavin Newsom said four of the state’s five regions — Northern California, Greater Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California (excluding only the Bay Area) — could meet that threshold “within a day or two.” A litany of changes would take effect, including closing hair salons, barber shops and movie theaters. Restaurants would only serve takeout and delivery, and playgrounds would be off-limits.
In medical news, Moderna Inc.
said its COVID-19 vaccine candidate has potential to confer longer-term immunity, and it expects to have 20 million doses of the trial vaccine at hand in the U.S. this year.
Moderna said that, according to a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases study, participants in an earlier trial stage of the vaccine candidate retained “high levels of neutralizing antibodies” for three months following their first vaccination (two months following their second vaccination).
The study said that the vaccine has the potential to provide durable immunity, with no serious adverse effects after two months.
In other news:
• The World Health Organization is considering introducing electronic vaccination certificates for individuals to show they have received one, WHO Europe expert Siddartha Datta said in on online news briefing. It would not be an immunity passport, which is supposed to assure that its carrier is protected against the disease because they have been infected and recovered. “We do not recommend immunity passports, said Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer for the organization’s Europe region.
• Teachers, doctors and social workers in Moscow are signing up at a rate of 1,000 an hour for the coronavirus vaccination drive that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier this week, the Moscow Times reported. Neighboring Ukraine’s health minister, Maskym Stepanov, told Ukraine 24 TV that Ukraine will not be deploying the Russian vaccine because of its questionable efficacy. “As for the Russian vaccine, I have said multiple times that it does not exist,” he said. “There is no point in discussing it because they already registered a vaccine that is yet to go through the [most important] Phase 3 trials.”
• Chinese drug company Clover Biopharmaceuticals said two vaccine candidates it is developing achieved strong immune responses in an early-stage clinical trial, Reuters reported. The vaccine candidates, one containing an adjuvant from GlaxoSmithKline
and the other from Dynavax
induced strong immune responses including neutralizing antibodies and cell-mediated immunity in a Phase 1 clinical trial, Clover said. Adjuvants are ingredients that can boost immune responses.
• Italy is banning travel between towns over the Christmas holiday period, after the country recorded its highest daily death toll since the start of the outbreak, the Guardian reported. The ban will last from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6, with exemptions for work, health or emergency reasons. Residents will not be allowed to leave their towns on Christmas Day, Dec. 26 or New Year’s Day.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 65 million on Friday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll is 1.51 million. At least 42 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 175,270 and is third by cases at 6.5 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 9.6 million, and third in deaths at 139,188.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 108,173 and 11th highest case tally at 1.14 million.
The U.K has 60,714 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 1.7 million cases, or sixth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 93,333 confirmed cases and 4,746 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
The U.S. regained 245,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate declined again, but hiring fell to a seven-month low in a clear sign that the record rise in coronavirus cases is damaging the economy and making it harder for people to return to work, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The increase in jobs last month fell short of the 432,000 consensus forecast of economists polled by MarketWatch.
Private-sector payrolls rose by a stronger 344,000, but a nearly 100,000 drop in government jobs reduced overall employment gains.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell for the seventh month in a row to 6.7% from 6.9%, marking a new pandemic low.
Yet the decline mostly reflected 400,000 people dropping out of the labor force because they either stopped looking for work or had to care for a family member.
The American labor market “hit a major speed bump in November due to the second wave of the coronavirus,” said senior economist Sal Guatieri of BMO Capital Markets.
“With the significant drop in private job creation, prospects for a continued strong recovery in consumer spending may be at risk,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network. “This is a wake-up call for the Congress and should support more federal stimulus.”
What are companies saying?
• American Airlines Group Inc.
has witnessed a “slowing” in demand and bookings, as a result of the recent acceleration in new COVID-19 cases. The slowing follows a “strong start” to the fourth quarter, and follows travel restrictions in the period leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. As a result of slowing demand, the air carrier now expects fourth-quarter average daily cash burn to be at the “high end” of previously provided guidance of $25 million to $30 million a day. The company now expects to end the fourth quarter with more than $14 billion in total available liquidity, compared with previous guidance of $13 billion in available liquidity excluding proceeds from a $1 billion equity offering.
• Shattering movie-release norms, AT&T Inc.’s
Warner Bros. will release 17 films — including “Dune,” “The Matrix 4” and “The Suicide Squad” — to its HBO Max streaming service for 31 days on the same day they debut on the silver screen. News of the Warner move sent shares of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.
down sharply. The unprecedented strategy comes amid the worst stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the closure of movie theaters nationwide. Warner previously said “Wonder Woman 1984” would be available on HBO Max as well as theaters on Dec. 25. The studio’s slate of 2021 releases include the aforementioned three movies plus “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” The bold moves come as Warner Bros. competes with streaming services from Apple Inc.
Walt Disney Co.
and others as more Americans view their entertainment from digital devices.
• Big Lots Inc.
reported third-quarter profit, net sales and same-store sales that beat expectations. Net sales grew 18% to $1.38 billion, above the FactSet consensus of $1.35 billion, as an 17.8% rise in same-store sales beat expectations of 15.3% growth. The company paid $100 million to repurchase 2.2 million shares during the third quarter. Of the fourth quarter, Chief Executive Bruce Thorn said this: “Although we expect business to moderate given the elongated season, we are pleased with the strong start we have made to the fourth quarter.”
• The Cheesecake Factory Inc.
has settled charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against the restaurant chain for making “misleading disclosures” about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business and financial condition. The company, which did not admit to the findings, agreed to pay a $125,000 penalty and agreed to a cease-and-desist order, the SEC said. The charges followed the company’s disclosures in SEC filings on March 23 and April 3 in which the said its restaurants were “operating sustainably” during the pandemic. The SEC said the statements were “materially false and misleading,” as internal documents at the time indicated the company was losing about $6 million per week, and that it projected it had only 16 weeks’ worth of cash remaining. The SEC said the action against Cheesecake Factory was the first against a public company for misleading investors about the effects of the pandemic. “When public companies describe for investors the impact of COVID-19 on their business, they must speak accurately,” said Stephanie Avakian, director of the SEC’s enforcement division.
• Eli Lilly & Co.
and UnitedHealth Group Inc.
are joining forces for a study of Lilly’s bamlanivimab in high-risk COVID-19 infected patients. Bamlanivimab is an antibody treatment that recently won emergency-use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 patients, who are at high risk of getting a severe case of the virus and/or requiring hospitalization. “The study will identify and treat a large, diverse population of high-risk individuals for COVID-19 with bamlanivimab under real-world conditions with a goal of reducing the severity of illness and hospitalizations,” the companies said in a joint statement. “Larger pragmatic studies in diverse populations can help us further understand the efficacy and safety of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies in real world settings,” said Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories.
• Francesca’s Holdings Corp.
became the latest retailer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, after it proved unable to meet its obligations during the pandemic. The company will continue to operate its business as a “debtor-in-possession” under the care of the Bankruptcy Court with a DIP loan of $25 million, $10 million of which will be made available immediately to allow it to finance operations and pay wages and vendors. In November, Francesca’s said it would close 140 stores by Jan. 31, 2021, and expected to incur charges totaling $29 million $33 million through Oct. 31 of this year. It also flagged that it may have to resort to bankruptcy.
• Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Holdings Inc.
reported third-quarter sales and adjusted profit that topped Wall Street expectations, benefiting from increased consumer spending during the pandemic. Net sales increased 27% to $414.4 million, the company said, with same-store sales rising 15.3% thanks to “robust” growth during the quarter due to “a significantly larger average basket and higher transactions.” The company did not provide guidance. Analysts polled by FactSet had expected Ollie to report adjusted earnings of 58 cents a share on sales of $406 million. Same-store sales were seen rising 12%.
• Southwest Airlines Co.
told more than 6,800 employees that their jobs are at risk without concessions from labor unions or federal aid as the pandemic continues to cut demand for air travel, the Wall Street Journal reported. The furloughs, if they come to pass, would be a first in Southwest’s history, the report said.