President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that his administration will have a coronavirus vaccine ready for Americans before the year ends.
The lofty promise came during his acceptance speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention.
“In recent months, our nation and the entire planet has been struck by a new and powerful invisible enemy,” Trump said to a largely mask-less crowd of 1,500 supporters gathered on the White House lawn. “We are delivering lifesaving therapies. And we’ll produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner.”
The pledge is ambitious by any measure. Several companies are vying for vaccine approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of this year or by early 2021, but approval is just the beginning, The New York Times reported. Patients must be willing to take the vaccine, and there must be enough doses produced to be distributed widely.
Medical experts noted that the audience setting for Trump’s speech posed the danger of community spread and set another bad example when Americans are being told they need to continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing and limit large gatherings, the Washington Post reported.
“When you look at the way the president has handled the pandemic, it has basically been one evasion after another evasion,” Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security in Baltimore, told the Post. “And when you see this type of event and the way he is acting and the way he is allowing his supporters to act, it cements the fact that they have never taken this outbreak seriously from the beginning.”
Meanwhile, University of Arizona officials reported Thursday that they may have prevented an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus with a novel testing technique: They are screening the sewage from each dorm for any evidence of coronavirus.
When a wastewater sample from one dorm came back positive this week, the school quickly tested all 311 people who live and work there and found two asymptomatic students who tested positive, the Post reported. They were quickly quarantined.
“With this early detection, we jumped on it right away, tested those youngsters, and got them the appropriate isolation where they needed to be,” Richard Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general who is directing the school’s reentry task force, said during a Thursday news briefing.
FDA approves new rapid coronavirus test
In other positive testing news, the first rapid coronavirus test that doesn’t need any special computer equipment to produce results was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.
Made by Abbott Laboratories, the 15-minute test will sell for $5, giving it an edge over similar tests that need to be popped into a small machine, the Associated Press reported. No larger than a credit card, the Abbott test is based on the same technology used to test for the flu, strep throat and other infections.
On Thursday, the White House announced a $760 million deal with Abbott to produce 150 million of the tests.
BinaxNOW is the fourth rapid test in the United States that detects COVID-19 antigens, proteins found on the surface of the coronavirus, rather than the virus itself, the AP reported. It’s considered a faster, but less precise, screening method.
Abbott’s entry into the rapid COVID-19 test market offers yet another option to expand testing, the AP reported. The FDA also recently gave its blessing to a saliva test from Yale University that bypasses some of the supplies that have led to testing bottlenecks, the wire service said. Neither test can be performed at home.
But several companies are developing rapid at-home tests, though none have yet won FDA approval, the AP reported. Abbott’s new test still requires a nasal swab be taken by a health worker, like most older coronavirus tests. The Yale saliva test eliminates the need for a swab, but can only be run at high-grade laboratories.
Since the start of the pandemic, nasal swab tests that are sent to a lab have been the standard for COVID-19 screening. While considered highly accurate, the tests rely on expensive, specialized machines and chemicals. Shortages of those supplies have led to repeated delays in reporting results, the AP reported.
“Those [rapid] screening tests are what we need in schools, workplaces and nursing homes in order to catch asymptomatic spreaders,” Dr. Jonathan Quick, an adjunct professor of global health at Duke University in North Carolina, told the wire service.
Thousands of cases reported on college campuses
More testing could not come soon enough: Just weeks after colleges across the United States began to reopen their campuses for the fall semester, thousands of coronavirus infections are cropping up in students and staff alike.
More than 1,500 American colleges and universities were tallied in the Times survey. They included every four-year public institution, every private college that competes in NCAA sports and others that identified cases. The case total: At least 26,000 cases and 64 deaths have been reported since the pandemic began, the Times reported.
The trend is unfolding everywhere. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sent most undergraduates home after COVID-19 clusters popped up in campus housing. In-person classes were delayed at Notre Dame as students tested positive by the hundreds. Clemson, Baylor, Louisville and dozens of other Division I universities have confirmed COVID-19 cases in their athletic departments. And aggressive testing of students moving into dorms turned up scores of cases at Iowa State, the Times reported.
By Friday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 5.9 million as the death toll passed 180,000, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Friday were: California with nearly 693,000; Texas with more than 623,600; Florida with almost 612,000; New York with nearly 437,000; and Georgia with more than 247,000.
Nations grapple with pandemic
Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.
India has passed Britain to have the fourth-highest death toll in the world from the coronavirus, after the United States, Brazil and Mexico, the Post reported.
By Friday, India had nearly 3.4 million confirmed cases of the infection and over 61,500 deaths, a John Hopkins tally shows. Britain remains the worst-hit country in Europe, the Post reported.
Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with over 3.7 million confirmed infections by Friday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.
Cases are also spiking in Russia: As of Friday, that country reported the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at over 977,700, the Hopkins tally showed.
Even New Zealand, a country that hadn’t seen a new coronavirus case in 100 days, hasn’t been spared.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has extended a lockdown in Auckland until Sunday night, the Times reported. The restrictions had been set to expire Wednesday, but Ardern said the extra time was necessary to ensure that a virus cluster of more than 100 cases in Auckland had been brought under control. Arden also said masks were now mandatory on public transportation nationwide.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 24.4 million on Friday, with more than 832,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.