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Coronavirus live updates: Nurse speaks out from the picket line

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(NEW YORK) — A novel coronavirus pandemic has now killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide.

Over 55.7 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 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. The criteria for diagnosis — through clinical means or a lab test — has also varied from country to country.

The United States is the worst-affected nation, with more than 11.3 million diagnosed cases and at least 249,430 deaths.

Nearly 200 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are being tracked by the World Health Organization, at least 10 of which are in crucial phase three studies. Of those 10 potential vaccines in late-stage trials, there are currently five that will be available in the United States if approved.

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

Nov 18, 1:39 pm
US facing ‘worst rate of rise in cases’
White House coronavirus task force member Adm. Brett Giroir saod the U.S. is facing “the worst rate of rise in cases that we’ve seen.”
Though “vaccines are around the corner,” Giroir said, state and local officials must be “very rigorous” about limiting certain businesses, limiting crowds in indoor spaces and enforcing mask use.
“If we do not do that, we will lose tens of thousands of Americans by the time the vaccine is out and widely distributed,” he said.
Giroir also urged Americans to remember that a negative test is not a “free pass” to forgo masks and social distancing over the holidays.
“That negative test today does not mean you’re going to be negative tomorrow or the next day, and certainly not by Thanksgiving. And it is not a free pass to go without all the important measures that we want, particularly mask wearing, physical distancing and following all the recommendations that the CDC has for the holidays,” Giroir said.
ABC News’ Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

Nov 18, 12:28 pm

New surge hits South Korea

South Korea is on edge after a surge in new COVID-19 cases this week.

Since the outbreak in late February, South Korea has mostly maintained low COVID-19 number.

But this week this country is seeing a steady increase and hit the highest in 81 days at 313 newly confirmed cases.

South Korea now has 29,311 cases and 496 deaths.

ABC News’ Joohee Cho Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

Nov 18, 11:31 am
Delta Air Lines extending middle-seat block through March

Delta Air Lines will continue to block middle seats through March 2021 “because customers tell us that adds confidence to their travel experience,” CEO Ed Bastian told “GMA 3: What You Need to Know.”

Bastian stressed that Delta hasn’t “pulled back at all with our safety and cleaning protocols.”

“Every airplane gets sanitized with electric spray fogging before we take off. We continue to focus on the filtration systems ,and they’re state-of-the-art, and customers are required to wear masks,” he said. “We don’t have a single documented transmission of COVID aboard any of our planes.”

“While travel is slow, it’s steadily improving,” Bastian said. “We’re expecting over the Thanksgiving holiday period, starting on Friday for the next 10 days, about 2 million customers.”

ABC News’ Andrea Amiel and Lataya Rothmiller contributed to this report.

Nov 18, 10:17 am
Nurse on the picket line speaks out: ‘We’re putting our foot down’

Jim Gentile is one of hundreds of registered nurses who have gone on strike at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, some 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The nurses and their union say the main issue is inadequate staffing due to low wages, which they fear will only worsen as COVID-19 hospitalizations increase over the winter months.

“We’re putting our foot down now because we know it’s going to get twice as bad,” Gentile told “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

Gentile, who works in the surgical services unit, said the hospital suspended all elective and non-emergency surgeries when the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year. He and his coworkers were then sent to other floors to take care of COVID-19 patients.

“I did postmortem care on more bodies in two months than I have in 42 years of nursing. That’s how bad it was,” he said. “That’s not my job. Usually, we wake people up from surgery and everybody’s happy and we send them home. So this was really quite a shift.”

The hospital resumed all surgeries over the summer and Gentile was able to return to his unit. But as COVID-19 hospitalizations tick back up, Gentile worries he and his coworkers will again be taken out of their area of expertise and sent to the coronavirus wards.

“In two weeks, we’ve doubled the number of COVID patients in our hospital,” he said. “There are not enough nurses to take care of the patients.”

The nurses on the picket line are fighting for a fair contract and better wages.

Gentile said the hospital desperately needs to hire more nurses to help care for the influx of COVID-19 patients, but the wages are too low and can’t compete with other area hospitals. In the last two years, 243 nurses have left St. Mary’s Medical Center, according to Gentile.

“When they showed us the wages, we realized no nurses are going to come to our institution with wages this low,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to recruit, we’re not going to be able to retain.”

Gentile, who has watched coworkers and friends die from COVID-19, said it’s a matter of life and death.

“They don’t understand the PTSD that nurses are going through and all they care about is keeping, you know, the budget, the bottom line, the margin,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve lost. We’ve lost family, we’ve lost friends. We put our lives at stake.”

When asked for comment, a St. Mary Medical Center spokesperson told ABC News the hospital has offered a wage increase, which the nurses rejected, and that outside nurses have been hired to fill in during the strike.

“We respect the union members’ right to strike, and we remain committed to negotiating in good faith to reach agreement on a fair, consistent and sustainable initial contract for St. Mary nurses,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We look forward to the day productive negotiations can resume.”

Nov 18, 8:38 am
Europe sees decline in cases for first time in months, but deaths continue to rise: WHO

The European region saw a 10% decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases over the past week for the first time in more than three months, according to the latest weekly epidemiological report from the World Health Organization.

The report, dated Tuesday, said the decline is attributed to “the strengthening of public health and social measures across the region.”

However, the number of new deaths from the disease “has increased substantially” in Europe, with an 18% jump over the past week in comparison to the previous one.

The European region recorded 46% of all cases and 49% of all deaths reported globally over the past week, with nearly two million new cases and almost 30,000 new deaths. The countries reporting the highest number of cases during that time were Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Poland, Russia, Germany, Spain, Ukraine, Romania and Austria, according to the report.

The nations with the highest weekly mortality rates — exceeding 60 deaths per 1 million population — were the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, North Macedonia, Armenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, France, Croatia and Montenegro. The United Kingdom was the first country in the region to record over 50,000 cumulative deaths, the report said.

Nov 18, 6:57 am
Pfizer vaccine 95% effective in final analysis, plans to seek emergency authorization ‘within days’

Pfizer and partner BioNTech announced Wednesday that their COVID-19 vaccine candidate is more than 95% effective in the final analysis of its massive Phase 3 trial and has reached a key safety milestone that will allow the company to apply for authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “within days.”

If the FDA gives the vaccine the green light, Pfizer will likely make history as the first company with an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine. It has plans to start delivering millions of doses of the potentially lifesaving vaccine to the most vulnerable overnight once the government gives a green light, possibly before the end of 2020, the company said.

Just last week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced their vaccine was more than 90% effective, according to a preliminary analysis based on the first 94 patients to develop symptomatic COVID-19 in a trial of more than 43,000 volunteers.

But with the pandemic raging in the United States and across the globe, it didn’t take long for even more volunteers to become infected, quickly bringing Pfizer’s trial to 170 COVID-positive cases — exceeding the threshold needed for a “final” analysis on the vaccine’s effectiveness.

In a press release, delivered before the stock market opened, Pfizer announced that among the 170 volunteers to develop COVID-19 in the clinical trial, 162 had been given placebo shots, while only eight volunteers to become infected were given the real vaccine.

This means Pfizer’s vaccine is roughly 95% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. The updated efficacy data follows news from competitor Moderna, which announced earlier this week that its vaccine was 94.5% effective in its own preliminary analysis.

It’s not known yet what level of immunity or how long the immunity lasts after receiving the vaccines. Trial volunteers will be followed for two years to answer questions like durability of protection.

Pfizer also announced another major milestone Wednesday — enough safety data to merit FDA authorization. The FDA requires at least two months of safety data among at least half of the trial volunteers before it will consider granting a limited emergency authorization. Pfizer has now hit key milestones that will allow the company to apply for this limited authorization, which could happen in the coming days.

Nov 18, 6:02 am
Tokyo reports highest daily increase in cases

Tokyo confirmed 493 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest single-day tally for Japan’s capital since the pandemic began.

According to local media reports, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is preparing to raise the COVID-19 alert level to the highest of four ranks and is also considering asking bars and restaurants to shorten their hours again as part of efforts to curb the rising infection rate.

Meanwhile, Japan confirmed more than 2,000 new cases on Wednesday for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Overall, the East Asian country has reported more than 120,000 cases including just under 2,000 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

The recent surge in infections comes amid the Japanese government’s controversial “Go to Travel” campaign, which encourages domestic travel to help boost the economy by providing residents with subsidies of up to 50% on hotels, restaurants and transportation within Japan.

Nov 18, 5:24 am
Russia sees record-high deaths for second straight day

Russia registered 456 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, setting a new single-day record for the second straight day.

An additional 20,985 new cases of COVID-19 were also confirmed nationwide over the past day. Russia’s cumulative total now stands at 1,991,998 cases with 34,387 deaths, according to the country’s coronavirus response headquarters.

Moscow remains the epicenter of the country’s outbreak and recent surge. Nearly 20% of the newly confirmed cases — 4,174 — and more than 16% of the new deaths — 76 — were reported in the capital, according to Russia’s coronavirus response headquarters.

Despite the growing number of infections and deaths, Russian authorities have repeatedly said they have no plans to impose another nationwide lockdown.

The Eastern European country of 145 million people has the fifth-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the world, behind only the United States, India, Brazil and France, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Nov 18, 5:06 am
France becomes first country in Europe to reach two million cases

France’s tally of COVID-19 cases has hit the two million mark, becoming the first country in Europe to do so and the fourth in the world.

French Director General of Health Jerome Salomon announced Tuesday evening that the country had reached the grim milestone of 2,036,755 confirmed cases, along with an “unprecedented number of hospitalizations” of over 33,000.

“Whether in cities or in rural areas, all regions, all metropolitan departments are affected,” Salomon said. “This second wave, which we are all facing, is massive, deadly and is straining all of our caregivers and our health system as a whole.”

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Tuesday that while the country was regaining control over COVID-19, it’s still too soon to lift the second nationwide lockdown, which was imposed on Oct. 30 to contain the spread of the virus.

The French government has set a Dec. 1 deadline for ending the lockdown but said it could extend it if case numbers don’t decline fast enough.

Nov 18, 4:27 am
US reports over 150K new cases for fifth straight day

There were 161,934 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the United States on Tuesday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

It’s the fifth day in a row that the country has reported over 150,000 newly diagnosed infections. Tuesday’s count is slightly less than the all-time high of 177,224 on Nov. 13.

An additional 1,707 fatalities from COVID-19 were also registered nationwide on Tuesday, the highest since mid-May but still under a peak of 2,609 new deaths on April 15.

A total of 11,359,804 people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 248,687 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.

Much of the country was under lockdown by the end of March as the first wave of pandemic hit. 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 100,000 for the first time on Nov. 4.

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