Moderna expects to start late-stage COVID-19 vaccine trial on July 27

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Moderna Inc said on Tuesday it plans to start a late stage clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate on or around July 27, according to its listing for the phase 3 study at clinicaltrials.gov.

Moderna said it will conduct the trial at 87 study locations, all in the United States.

The experimental vaccine will be tested in 30 states and Washington, D.C. Around half of the study locations are in hard-hit states like Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and North and South Carolina.

The United States has reported record numbers of new coronavirus cases in recent days, with much of the surge coming from those states.

The federal government is supporting Moderna’s vaccine project with nearly half a billion dollars and has chosen it as one of the first to enter large-scale human trials.

Tensions between the company and government scientists contributed to a delay of the trial launch, Reuters reported earlier this month.

Shares of Moderna rose about 2.5% on Nasdaq at midday.

(Reporting by Michael Erman, Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)

Where COVID-19 is spreading fastest as U.S. cases rise 46% in past week

By Chris Canipe and Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – The United States saw a 46% increase in new cases of COVID-19 in the week ended June 28 compared to the previous seven days, with 21 states reporting positivity test rates above the level that the World Health Organization has flagged as concerning.

Nationally, 7% of diagnostic tests came back positive last week, up from 5% the prior week, according to a Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The World Health Organization considers a positivity rate above 5% to be a cause for concern because it suggests there are more cases in the community that have not yet been uncovered.

Arizona’s positivity test rate was 24% last week, Florida’s was 16%, and Nevada, South Carolina and Texas’s were all 15%, according to the analysis.

Thirty-one states, mostly in the U.S. West and South, reported more new cases of COVID-19 last week compared to the previous week, the analysis found. Florida, Louisiana, Idaho and Washington state saw new cases more than double over that period.

In response to the new infections, Louisiana and Washington state have temporarily halted the reopening of their economies. Washington also mandated wearing masks in public.

Florida ordered all bars and some beaches to close. Idaho was not immediately available for comment.

Nationally, new COVID-19 cases have risen every week for four straight weeks. While part of that increase can be attributed to a 9% expansion in testing, health experts have also worried about states relaxing stay-at-home orders that had been credited with curbing the outbreak.

State officials across the country report the same trend in the new cases: People under 35 years old are going to bars, parties and social events without masks, becoming infected, and then spreading the disease to others.

Cases continue to decline in Northeast states, but some Midwest states that had new infections under control are seeing cases once again rise, including Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

 

(Reporting by Chris Canipe in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

‘Wear a mask!’ Republicans change tune as COVID-19 surges

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican lawmakers are making a public push for face coverings, splitting with mask-averse U.S. President Donald Trump on the issue as COVID-19 cases surge in some Republican-leaning states.

The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said on Monday every American has a responsibility to follow recommendations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“They should wear a mask,” McCarthy told CNBC after his home state of California began to roll back efforts to reopen the economy. “If you cannot social distance, you need to be wearing a mask and you need to be respectful to one another.”

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, where cases are spiking, posted a similar message on Twitter.

“I am encouraging everyone to WEAR YOUR MASKS!” he said.

While a number of Republican politicians have donned masks themselves, some have shied away from insisting Americans cover their faces in public, saying it was a matter of personal choice.

That began to change as coronavirus cases nationwide soar to record levels day after day, prompting Republican-led states like Texas and Florida to re-impose restrictions, such as closing recently reopened bars.

Vice President Mike Pence encouraged Americans to wear masks during a visit to Texas on Sunday.

In one of the more compelling images, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming on Friday tweeted a photo of her father, Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a surgical mask with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

COVID-19 cases surging in Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma

By Chris Canipe and Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – New cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in Alabama and South Carolina in the second week of June compared to the prior seven days, a Reuters analysis found, as 17 U.S. states reported weekly increases in the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Alabama’s new cases rose 97% to 5,115 for the week ended June 14, with 14% of COVID-19 tests coming back positive compared to 6% in the prior week, according to the analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

New cases in South Carolina rose 86% to 4,509, while the positive test rate rose to about 14% from 9% over the same period, according to the analysis and state data.

When asked to comment on the increases, South Carolina and Alabama health officials said some residents were not following recommendations to maintain social distance, avoid large gatherings and wear a mask in public.

In Oklahoma, where President Donald Trump plans to hold an indoor campaign rally on Saturday, new cases rose 68% to 1,081 in the second week of June, while the positive test rate increased to 4%, from 2% the previous week.

Oklahoma officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The three states are among hot spots throughout the South and Southwest that helped push the total number of new infections in the United States up 1% in the week ended June 14, the second increase after five weeks of declines, Reuters found.

(Open https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR in an external browser for a Reuters interactive)

The state that reported the largest number of new cases was California at 20,043, up 10% from the previous week.

Nationally, the rate of positive tests has hovered around 5% for several weeks, according to the analysis. More than 583,000 tests were reported in a single day last week, a new record.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended states wait for new COVID-19 cases to fall for 14 days before easing social distancing restrictions.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have met that criteria, the analysis showed. Pennsylvania and New York lead with nine straight weeks of declines, followed by Rhode Island and Indiana.

Graphic – Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S.:

Graphic – World-focused tracker with country-by-country interactive:

(Reporting by Chris Canipe in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

Where U.S. coronavirus cases are on the rise

By Chris Canipe and Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Several southern U.S. states reported sharp increases in COVID-19 infections, with Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia all seeing new cases rise 35% or more in the week ended May 31 compared with the prior week, according to a Reuters analysis.

South Carolina health officials said they expected more increases in the future due to a lack of social distancing and mask-wearing at protests triggered by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota.

“If people don’t follow current recommendations for social distancing and avoiding crowds of any kind, we can anticipate seeing increased numbers,” the South Carolina health department said in a statement to Reuters.

Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S.

South Carolina said the recent rise in its new cases, which have been going up for three weeks, was in part due to the completion of testing in the state’s 194 nursing homes.

Alabama’s health department attributed the state’s steady increase in cases since early May to community transmission, clusters of outbreaks, and more testing.

Virginia officials were not immediately available for comment.

Nationally, new COVID-19 cases fell for a fifth straight week, down 4.7% last week compared with a 0.8% drop the prior week, according to the Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

As all 50 states have partially reopened, cases are rising in 17 states compared with 20 in the prior week. (For an interactive graphic, click here)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended states wait for their daily number of new COVID-19 cases to fall for 14 days before easing social distancing restrictions.

Thirteen states have met the criteria for the week ended May 31, compared with 14 states and the District of Columbia the prior week, the analysis showed. Pennsylvania and New York lead with seven straight weeks of declines, and new cases are also falling in New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

(Graphic: World-focused tracker with country-by-country interactive, )

(Reporting by Chris Canipe in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

U.S. states from Minnesota to Mississippi to reopen despite health warnings

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. states from Minnesota to Mississippi this week prepared to join other states that have eased coronavirus restrictions to try to revive their battered economies, although some business owners voiced reluctance in the face of health warnings.

Colorado, Montana and Tennessee were also set to allow some businesses deemed nonessential to reopen after being shut for weeks even as health experts advocated for more diagnostic testing to ensure safety.

Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina previously restarted their economies following weeks of mandatory lockdowns that have thrown millions of American workers out of their jobs.

The number of known U.S. infections kept climbing on Monday, topping 970,000 as the number of lives lost to COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus, surpassed 54,800.

Public health authorities warn that increasing human interactions and economic activity may spark a new surge of infections just as social-distancing measures appear to be bringing coronavirus outbreaks under control.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a Twitter message late on Sunday that he would announce a roadmap for “responsibly reopening” the state at a Noon ET (1600 GMT) news conference on Monday.

Although unprecedented stay-at-home orders have put many businesses in jeopardy, many owners have expressed ambivalence about returning to work without more safeguards.

‘I WOULD STAY HOME’

“I would stay home if the government encouraged that, but they’re not. They’re saying, ‘Hey, the best thing to do is go back to work, even though it might be risky,’” Royal Rose, 39, owner of a tattoo studio in Greeley, Colorado, told Reuters.

The state’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, has given the green light for retail curbside pickup to begin on Monday. Hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors may open on Friday, with retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters to follow.

Business shutdowns have led to a record 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since mid-March and the White House has forecast a staggering jump in the nation’s monthly jobless rate.

President Donald Trump’s economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters on Sunday the jobless rate would likely hit 16% or more in April, and that “the next couple of months are going to look terrible.”

On Monday, White House adviser Peter Navarro said the Trump administration is focusing on protocols to keep U.S. factories open as the country grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, including screening workers for potential cases.

“You’re going to have to reconfigure factories,” Navarro told Fox News. “You’re going to have to use things like thermoscanners to check fever as they come in.”

Trump was scheduled to hold a video call with the country’s governors on Monday afternoon before the White House coronavirus task force’s daily briefing.

The rise in the number of U.S. cases has been attributed in part to increased diagnostic screening. But health authorities also warn that testing and contact tracing must be vastly expanded before shuttered businesses can safely reopen widely.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Nicholas Brown and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by Howard Goller)

 

Democrats turn to Nevada, South Carolina after Sanders’ New Hampshire win

By John Whitesides and Amanda Becker

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) – Democrats vying for the right to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump turned their focus to Nevada and South Carolina after Bernie Sanders solidified his front-runner status with a narrow victory in New Hampshire, with Pete Buttigieg close behind him.

While Sanders, a U.S. senator from neighboring Vermont, and Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, finished first and second in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary respectively, the contest also showed the growing appeal of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who placed third after surging over the past few days.

Two Democrats whose fortunes have been fading – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden – limped out of New Hampshire, finishing fourth and fifth respectively amid fresh questions about the viability of their candidacies.

New Hampshire was the second contest in the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump, a Republican, in the Nov. 3 election. Sanders and Buttigieg finished in a virtual tie in the first contest last week in Iowa and won an equal number of delegates – who formally vote at the party’s convention in July to select a nominee – in New Hampshire, according to early projections.

The campaign’s focus now begins to shift to states more demographically diverse than the largely white and rural kickoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The next contest is on Feb. 22 in Nevada, where more than a quarter of the residents are Latino, followed a week later by South Carolina, where about a fourth are African-American.

After that, 14 states, including California and Texas, vote in the March 3 contests known as Super Tuesday, which will also be the first time voters see the name of billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the Democratic presidential ballot.

Democrats must decide whether their best choice to challenge Trump would be a moderate like Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden or Bloomberg – or a candidate further to the left like Sanders or Warren.

Only one of the candidates has public events planned on Wednesday. Bloomberg, a billionaire media mogul, plans rallies in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee.

With an eye toward a potential general election campaign against Trump, Bloomberg on Wednesday also announced the opening of a campaign office in New Hampshire headed by Democratic strategist Liz Purdy.

Bloomberg also picked up endorsements from three black members of the U.S. House of Representatives after he came under scrutiny over his past support for a policing tactic known as stop and frisk, which disproportionately affected racial minorities.

In New Hampshire, Sanders had 26% of the vote and Buttigieg had 24%. Klobuchar had 20%, Warren 9% and Biden 8%.

Buttigieg on Wednesday said his strong results in Iowa and New Hampshire showed he had momentum going forward, “settling the questions of whether we could build a campaign across age groups and different kinds of communities.”

Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay U.S. president if elected, still faces questions about what opinion polls show is his weakness with black voters, one of the most loyal and vital Democratic voting blocs.

‘A WHOLE NEW LOOK’

Asked about how he could gain the confidence of racial minority voters, Buttigieg told MSNBC he was focused on economic empowerment and suggested he had learned lessons, sometimes “the hard way,” as mayor of South Bend. He pointed to a plan he released last summer aimed at fighting racism.

“I think we’re getting a whole new look from black and Latino voters who have so much riding on making sure that we defeat Donald Trump, because they are among those with most to lose if they have to endure yet another term of this president,” he told MSNBC.

In a sign of the growing rivalry between Sanders, 78, and Buttigieg, 38, supporters for the senator booed and chanted “Wall Street Pete!” when Buttigieg’s post-primary speech was shown on screens.

“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” Sanders told supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, late on Tuesday.

The Democratic field shrank to nine main candidates after businessman Andrew Yang and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who had trailed in the polls and performed poorly on Tuesday, dropped out.

Biden, 77, who was once the front-runner in the Democratic race, stumbled to his second consecutive poor finish after placing fourth in Iowa. He is certain to face growing questions about his ability to consolidate moderate support against a surging Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

Klobuchar’s campaign said it was spending more than $1 million on ads in Nevada.

“We have beaten the odds every step of the way,” Klobuchar, 59, told supporters in Concord. “Because of you, we are taking this campaign to Nevada. We are going to South Carolina. And we are taking this message of unity to the country.”

 

(Reporting by John Whitesides, James Oliphant, Simon Lewis, Michael Martina and Amanda Becker in New Hampshire, additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Floodwaters rise on Charleston’s streets as Hurricane Dorian skirts U.S. coast

Nathan Piper, 11, is swamped by increasingly rough waves while body surfing as Hurricane Dorian approaches, in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Nick Carey and Amanda Becker

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Deserted, rain-lashed streets in Charleston, South Carolina, vanished beneath water on Thursday as Hurricane Dorian churned a few dozen miles offshore after reducing parts of the Bahamas to rubble.

Water pooled a few inches deep near the centuries-old waterfront. In certain low-lying blocks, it rose to a foot or more, as high tide approached and forecasters warned of storm surges of up to 8 feet (2 meters).

John Rivers, 74, and his three children were among the few to be seen in the streets on Thursday. They cleared drains of branches, leaves and debris, using a shovel, a rake and their bare hands.

“We’re giving the water somewhere to go,” Rivers said, sheltering temporarily from the driving rain and gusts of wind under a covered walkway. His daughter Caroline, 12, pulled off her rubber boots one at a time, emptying a stream of water from each. “I see this as a good life lesson for my kids,” Rivers said.

Officials said Thursday afternoon that more than 7 inches (18 cm) of rain had fallen in parts of Charleston.

Dorian was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Charleston on Thursday, wavering in strength between a Category 2 and 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale. It was forecast to possibly make landfall in North Carolina late Thursday or early Friday.

Life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds were possible in much of the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the National Weather Service said.

Dorian whipped up at least three tornados in the region, officials said. One in North Carolina damaged scores of trailers in a campground in Emerald Isle, but no one was injured, North Carolina’s News & Observer reported.

Governors in the region declared states of emergency, closed schools, opened shelters, readied national guard troops and implored residents to take warnings seriously, as fresh images of the devastation wrought by the storm in the Bahamas earlier this week continued to circulate in the media.

At least 70,000 Bahamians needed immediate humanitarian relief after Dorian became the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.

In the Carolinas alone, more than 900,000 people had been ordered to evacuate their homes. It was unclear how many did so.

In Kill Devil Hills, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Mark Jennings decided to ignore the order, lining his garage door with sandbags and boarding up his home with plywood.

The retired firefighter planned to stay put with his wife and two dogs: “We are ready to go. If something happens, we can still get out of here.”

FOUR DEATHS IN THE U.S.

At least four storm-related deaths have already been reported. Three people died in Orange County, Florida, during storm preparations or evacuation, according to the Orange County mayor’s office. In North Carolina, an 85-year-old man fell off a ladder while barricading his home for Dorian, the governor said.

More than 210,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Carolina and Georgia early on Thursday, according to local electric companies.

On Charleston’s historic South Battery Street, which runs down to the harbor, Brys Stephens tried to keep the water away from his stately home, built in the veranda-wrapped Southern style that lures crowds of tourists to the city.

He and his family pumped water out of the yard and tried to reattach metal flood gates into the perimeter wall.

“The gates worked pretty well so far and we’ve managed to keep water away from the house,” Stephens said. “But we’ve got another storm surge coming later on, so we’ll see then if it holds.”

(Reporting by Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, and Amanda Becker in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Peter Szekely, Matt Lavietes and Scott DiSavino in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Charleston mass shooting victims can sue U.S. over gun purchase: court

FILE PHOTO: Dylann Roof sits in the court room at the Charleston County Judicial Center to enter his guilty plea on murder charges in state court for the 2015 shooting massacre at a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Grace Beahm/Pool/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Survivors of a 2015 mass shooting at a South Carolina church can sue the U.S. government over its alleged negligence in allowing Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine African-Americans, a federal appeals court said on Friday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government was not immune from liability under either the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) or the Brady Act to prevent handgun violence.

Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel revived 16 lawsuits that challenged lapses in how the government vetted prospective gun purchasers, including the FBI’s management of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

William Wilkins, a former chief judge of the 4th Circuit representing the victims, said Congress had charged the FBI with adopting procedures “to stop people like Roof who could obtain assassins’ weapons” from doing so.

“The government has to do what the law requires,” Wilkins said in an interview. “It failed to do that in this case.”

Roof, a white supremacist, had been admitted to a Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, where he then used his .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol in the shooting.

Victims said a proper background check would have shown that Roof had recently admitted to drug possession, which would have disqualified him from buying the gun from a federally licensed dealer two months earlier.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court that no one disputed that a proper check would have stopped Roof.

But he said U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston was wrong to dismiss the lawsuits on immunity grounds in June 2018, even as Gergel faulted the government’s “abysmally poor policy choices” in managing the background check system.

Gregory said the case turned on the NICS examiner’s alleged negligence in disregarding mandatory procedures. “The government can claim no immunity in these circumstances,” he wrote.

Circuit Judge G. Steven Agee partially dissented, saying the government was not immune from Brady Act claims, but that Gergel properly dismissed the FTCA case.

Roof, now 25, was sentenced to death in January 2017 after being convicted on 33 federal counts related to the shooting, including hate crimes. He pleaded guilty three months later to state murder charges, and was sentenced to nine consecutive life terms without parole.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

Heavy snowstorm kills three, snarls travel in U.S. Southeast

An aerial view shows snow over the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video. Nelson Aerial Productions/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – An intense snowstorm headed out to sea on Monday after dumping up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow on parts of the Southeastern United States, leaving three people dead in North Carolina and some 138,000 customers in the region still without power.

School districts across North and South Carolina and Virginia canceled classes for the day and emergency officials warned that heavy snow and icy roads were slowing their responses to problems such as hundreds of stranded motorists.

The storm dropped its heaviest snow in the appropriately named Whitetop, Virginia, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains along the western end of the Virginia-North Carolina border, the U.S. National Weather Service said. Whitetop received 2 feet of snow, while Greensboro, North Carolina, had 16 inches (41 cm) and Durham, North Carolina, got 14 inches (36 cm).

Slippery conditions on roadways in central and western North Carolina and southwest Virginia were expected on Monday night as temperatures were forecast to drop below freezing, Daniel Petersen, NWS meteorologist, said.

But temperatures were expected to rise later in the week, reaching into the 50s F in North Carolina east of the mountains on Friday, when there is a chance of rain.

There were three storm-related deaths, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office said in a statement. A person died from a heart-related condition while en route to a shelter, and a terminally ill woman died when her oxygen device stopped working.

A motorist also died and a passenger was injured in Matthews in southwestern North Carolina on Sunday when a tree fell on their vehicle as it was traveling, Matthews police officials said in a statement.

The number of customers without power in the Carolinas and Virginia had decreased to about 138,000 by Monday evening from more than 220,000, Poweroutage.us reported.

The storm prompted the cancellation of one in four flights into and out of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the sixth-busiest in the country, and other airports across the region, flight-tracking website FlightAware said.

The mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, Nancy Vaughan, who declared a state of emergency for the city on Sunday, said online that its police and fire departments had responded to over 100 accidents and 450 stranded motorists.

“Stay off the roads if you can,” Vaughan tweeted on Monday.

More than 100 counties across Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia delayed or canceled classes on Monday because of severe weather.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Gina Cherelus and Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Richard Chang and Peter Cooney)