Coronavirus update: Officials urge safety on Black Friday

Here are some significant developments:

  • Traditional Black Friday “doorbuster” sales have mostly moved online, and retailers are staggering their in-store offers to allow for social distancing.
  • The Transportation Security Administration reported screening 560,902 people on Thanksgiving, about one-third of the nearly 1.6 million screened on the holiday last year.
  • Questions swirled about the coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford, one of three early contenders for approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Critics suggested the company was less than transparent and wondered whether its most promising results would survive scrutiny.
  • Daily coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have reached levels not seen since early in the pandemic, an ominous sign of difficult months to come. The country logged more than 2,200 new deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily increase since May 6.
  • British officials are attempting to swab the entire population of Liverpool to test whether mass screening can help curtail the virus.

Even with several states not reporting their new infections Thursday, the United States still logged more than 127,500 cases, nearly 1,400 new deaths and roughly 90,500 current hospitalizations, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. The impact of the holiday on the virus’s spread may not be apparent until next week, when jurisdictions return to reporting their data regularly and people who may have gotten the virus at family gatherings receive their test results.

As cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to trend upward, eyes are trained on the possibility that vaccine distribution could begin as soon as December, pending regulatory approval. Amid that hopefulness, AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg News that his company was likely to run a new trial to test the most positive portion of its data, which reported a 90 percent effectiveness when a small group of people mistakenly received only half the initial dose of a two-dose regimen.

AstraZeneca narrowly avoided another significant problem when suspected North Korean hackers tried to gain access to the company’s internal systems in recent weeks, Reuters reported. The attempts are not believed to have been successful.

Until a vaccine is widely available, government officials across the United States are scrambling to impose new restrictions to curtail the spread while avoiding wholesale shutdowns like those in the spring. In the past week, Nevada, New York and the D.C. area, among other regions, have seen tightened rules on public gatherings.

Some jurisdictions implemented especially stringent rules for Thanksgiving weekend, including San Antonio and Bexar County, Tex., where residents are not allowed to gather outside their homes between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they are traveling to or from a business. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) shut down liquor sales in bars and restaurants on Wednesday night, putting the kibosh on a popular annual nightlife event.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in contrast, on Tuesday extended an executive order that bans city and county governments from enforcing mask ordinances or limits on restaurant capacity.

But most governors have been striking a cautious tone, urging residents to wear masks and maintain social distance from others, despite pandemic fatigue. On Friday, several governors instructed people not to let their guards down for Black Friday shopping.

“Please support Ohio businesses on #BlackFriday!” tweeted Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R). “Online, delivery, or contactless pickup are your safest shopping options, but if you do shop in person, remember that social distancing/mask-wearing are essential! These measures will help prevent #COVID19 spread while you shop.”

Amid the worsening pandemic in the United States, the United Kingdom reported hopeful news about the spread of the virus there. British officials estimated that the virus’s reproduction rate, known as R0 and pronounced “r-naught,” was below zero and falling by up to 2 percent per day. R0 measures how many other people a person with the virus infects on average, and it sheds light on whether an outbreak is worsening in a particular area.

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