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Coronavirus live updates: HHS responds to CDC’s updated testing guidelines

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Myriam Borzee/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 819,000 people worldwide.

Over 23.9 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The criteria for diagnosis — through clinical means or a lab test — has varied from country-to-country. Still, the actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some national governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the virus has rapidly spread to every continent except Antarctica. The United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 5.7 million diagnosed cases and at least 178,524 deaths.

Nearly 170 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are being tracked by the World Health Organization, six of which are in crucial phase three trials.

Here’s how the news is developing today. All times Eastern:

Aug 26, 1:07 pm
NY has positivity rate below 1% for 19 straight days

New York state has had 19 straight days with less than 1% of people being tested for COVID-19 coming back positive, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

There were 71,189 tests reported to the state on Tuesday and only 566 tested positive — a 0.79% rate.

The statewide total of confirmed coronavirus cases for the Empire State now stands at 431,340.

The state reported an additional three deaths on Tuesday — the state now has 25,305 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Aug 26, 12:03 pm
South Korea reports 40% rise in coronavirus infections

South Korea has seen a more than 40% jump in COVID-19 cases over the past month, as the virus spreads to every province across the country.

The total number of confirmed cases increased from 12,890 on July 26 to 18,265 on Aug. 26, a 41.7% increase, according to data from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in just the last two weeks, cases increased by 24% from the 14,714 reported on Aug. 12.

South Korea once had the largest COVID-19 outbreak outside China, where the virus first emerged, but health authorities were able to bring it under control with an extensive “trace, test and treat” strategy. Now, infections are on the rise in the capital and other parts of the country.

Some 6,800 schools will be closed across South Korea through Sept. 11 due to the growing outbreak. The country has implemented a Level 2 social distancing scheme, but authorities are hesitating to implement even tighter measures, according to Yonhap News Agency.

ABC News Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

Aug 26, 11:07 am
World Economic Forum postpones Davos due to pandemic

The World Economic Forum has decided to postpone its 51st Annual Meeting in Davos due to safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The elite conference at the Swiss Alps resort town, frequented by billionaires and heads of state, will be rescheduled for early next summer. The gathering was originally slated to take place in January 2021.

“The decision was not taken easily, since the need for global leaders to come together to design a common recovery path and shape the ‘Great Reset’ in the post-COVID-19 era is so urgent,” Adrian Monck, managing director of public engagement at the World Economic Forum, said in a statement Wednesday. “However, the advice from experts is that the Forum cannot do so safely in January.”

ABC News’ Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

Aug 26, 10:50 am
Gaza Strip reports 1st coronavirus death since May

The Gaza Strip reported its first coronavirus-related fatality since May on Wednesday, after the besieged Palestinian territory went into a 48-hour lockdown prompted by a fresh cluster of COVID-19 cases.

A 61-year-old man died there after contracting COVID-19, according to the Palestinian health ministry. The death came just two days after a family of four tested positive for the disease in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in the center of the Gaza Strip.

The new cluster of cases and death are the first known instances of the novel coronavirus spreading through the local community of the coastal enclave, which is ruled by the militant group Hamas. Prior to that, all cases and the lone death reported there were linked to Palestinians returning to the territory from abroad, who were placed into quarantine.

Palestinian authorities believe the new cases came from a woman who had contracted COVID-19 while receiving medical treatment in Jerusalem. Although Israel has imposed restrictions on movement in and out of the neighboring Gaza Strip for over a decade, some Palestinians are still permitted access to Jerusalem’s hospitals to receive essential health treatment, such as chemotherapy.

ABC News’ Nasser Atta and Guy Davies contributed to this report.

Aug 26, 9:36 am
New Zealand reports five new cases amid fresh outbreak

New Zealand reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, three of which were locally transmitted.

The other two cases had been imported from abroad and were detected in isolation facilities. The national total of confirmed cases now stands at 1,344, of which 134 are active, according to data published on the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s website.

Health officials in New Zealand are trying to control a fresh outbreak there after going 102 days without any local transmission of the novel coronavirus. The new cluster of cases was discovered earlier this month in Auckland, the country’s most populous city, prompting authorities to impose a lockdown in the region and to reschedule national elections.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has extended Auckland’s lockdown, which is now slated to end Sunday night.

Aug 26, 7:26 am
Germany says infection abroad has ‘markedly increased’

The proportion of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Germany who were likely infected abroad has “markedly increased to 42%,” according to the country’s public health institute.

That figure hit 45% earlier this year, the highest so far, but then fell steadily to 0.3% in the following weeks as a result of travel restrictions. Since borders have reopened, initially in Europe, the proportion of Germany’s cases with a probable place of infection abroad “has increased significantly in recent weeks,” the Robert Koch Institute said in Tuesday’s daily situation report.

Kosovo, Croatia, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Spain and Romania were most frequently reported as the country of exposure.

“Through consistent prevention and early case identification, transmission and subsequent cases can be greatly reduced,” the institute said. “It remains essential that people follow the rules of physical distancing and hygiene and avoid crowds, and that anyone who develops symptoms compatible with COVID-19 be tested immediately. In addition, travelers who stayed in a COVID-19 risk area within 14 days of entry must maintain a 14-day quarantine unless they have a negative test result.”

As of Wednesday, Germany had reported 236,429 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 9,280 deaths. There were 1,567 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data from the Robert Koch Institute.

Aug 26, 6:20 am
Arizona State University reports 161 cases

Arizona State University said it has 161 known cases of COVID-19 among its students and staff.

“Please keep in mind this number includes students and employees across our four metropolitan campuses and includes students living on and off campus throughout the broader community,” Arizona State University president Michael Crow said in a statement Tuesday night. “I know there has been and will continue to be interest in this number. What I am committing to are regular updates about our COVID management strategy.”

Since Aug. 1, the public research university has collected test results from 32,729 students and employees so far, according to Crow.

Crow also released clarification on the school’s coronavirus-related policies, including a no-visitor policy in the residence halls, a face covering requirement in all of the university’s buildings and outdoors spaces at all times (except when eating), and the barring of social gatherings among students on or off campus that don’t adhere to public health protocols.

Aug 26, 5:43 am
HHS comments on CDC’s updated testing guidelines

ABC News contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday night inquiring about the updates to its COVID-19 testing guidelines, what evidence exists to justify the changes and whether the agency can address concerns from the public that this was done for political reasons to reduce case numbers.

But the answer that came back was from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, not the CDC.

“CDC recommends the decision to be tested should be one made in collaboration with public health officials or your health care provider based on individual circumstances and the status of community spread,” an HHS spokesperson told ABC News in an email. “The Guidance fully supports public health surveillance testing, done in a proactive way through federal, state, and local public health officials.”

The HHS spokesperson listed the following as bullet points on the intent of the CDC’s updated guidance: “Ensure testing is used appropriately and individuals are protecting themselves and others; Place an emphasis on testing individuals for both clinical and/or public health reasons, including the testing of asymptomatic people when directed by public health leaders or health care providers; Emphasize how negative tests should be interpreted, and how they should (and should not) be acted on.”
The White House declined to comment on whether the president or any administration staff was involved with or had any communications with the CDC or HHS about the updated guidelines.

Aug 26, 5:29 am
US daily death toll jumps back up over 1,000

There were 38,174 new cases of COVID-19 identified in the United States on Tuesday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Tuesday’s tally is well below the country’s record set on July 16, when 77,255 new cases were identified in a 24-hour reporting period. It’s the third straight day that the country has reported less than 40,000 new cases.

An additional 1,242 coronavirus-related deaths were also recorded Tuesday, a nearly threefold increase from the previous day. The latest daily death toll is still under the record 2,666 new fatalities that were reported on April 17.

A total of 5,779,371 people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 178,524 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up and crossing 70,000 for the first time in mid-July.

However, the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and new deaths in the United States have both decreased by substantial amounts in week-over-week comparisons, according to an internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by ABC News Tuesday night.

Aug 26, 4:53 am
CDC now says most people without symptoms don’t need to be tested

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly updated its COVID-19 testing guidelines online Monday to suggest that people probably don’t need a test, even if they have been in close contact with someone who is infected or if they have attended a large gathering.

The new guidance directly contradicts what CDC director Robert Redfield told ABC News last month: “Anyone who thinks they may be infected — independent of symptoms — should get a test.”

Redfield’s comments came as political protests erupted and President Donald Trump insisted on large indoor campaign rallies where most attendees didn’t wear masks. The CDC had updated its guidelines in July to specifically urge people without symptoms to get tested if they have come in contact with someone who has COVID-19, such as working the same shift at a job.

But now, the CDC says testing isn’t necessary so long as the individual doesn’t show symptoms.
“You do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one,” the CDC states on its website.

ABC News has reached out to the CDC for comment.

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