Coronavirus: Health workers dying at ‘horrific rates’; More universities send students home

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The U.S. reported 39,670 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, slightly below the previous seven-day average, but continuing a plateau seen over the past week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day average of daily new cases rose by at least 5% in 23 states and the District of Columbia, according to a CNBC analysis of Hopkins data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is instructing states to be ready to distribute a potential vaccine by Nov. 1. 

Here are some of the day's important headlines:

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 26.3 million
  • Global deaths: At least 869,290
  • U.S. cases: More than 6.15 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 186,806

More than 7,000 health workers have died as a result of the pandemic, rights group says

Healthcare workers at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital hold a rally outside their hospital for safer working conditions during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Fountain Valley, California, U.S., August 6, 2020.
MIke Blake | Reuters

At least 7,000 health workers around the world have died as a result of contracting the coronavirus, according to analysis published by Amnesty International.

The human rights group said at least 1,320 health workers were confirmed to have died as a result of Covid-19 in Mexico alone, the highest known figure for any country worldwide. Health worker fatalities related to the virus were also high in the U.S. (1,077) and Brazil (634), Amnesty International said.

"Many months into the pandemic, health workers are still dying at horrific rates in countries such as Mexico, Brazil and the USA, while the rapid spread of infections in South Africa and India show the need for all states to take action," Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"There must be global cooperation to ensure all health workers are provided with adequate protective equipment, so they can continue their vital work without risking their own lives," he added. — Sam Meredith

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi reportedly has pneumonia after positive Covid-19 test

Silvio Berlusconi appears as a guest on the talk show ''L'aria che tira' television channel La7 on January 18, 2018 in Rome, Italy.
Stefano Montesi | Corbis | Corbis | Getty Images

Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been diagnosed with the early stages of double pneumonia, according to ANSA news agency. It comes shortly after the 83-year-old tested positive for the coronavirus.

Paolo Emilio Russo, Berlusconi's spokesperson, told NBC News that he could not confirm reports of the double pneumonia diagnosis.

Double or bilateral pneumonia is a condition that affects both lungs and can make breathing difficult. It has been seen to develop in some severe cases of Covid-19.

Berlusconi was taken to a hospital in the city of Milan on Thursday evening. — Sam Meredith

"The Batman" star Robert Pattinson reportedly tests positive

Robert Pattinson dons the cowl in Matt Reeves' "The Batman."
Warner Bros.

"The Batman" star Robert Pattinson has tested positive for Covid-19, according to multiple media reports.

On Thursday, Warner Bros. confirmed that the production of Matt Reeves' upcoming take on Batman had halted in the U.K. after a crew member tested positive for the virus, but did not respond to requests for comment about the person's identity.

The production shutdown comes just days after the comic book movie had restarted filming. "The Batman" had been delayed for months due to the pandemic, having only previously completed around seven weeks of filming. The movie was expected to wrap shooting by the end of the year and debut in Oct. 2021. — Sarah Whitten

Senate Democrats work to reverse Trump's payroll tax suspension

Senate Democrats are working to reverse President Donald Trump's payroll tax deferral, CNBC's Darla Mercado reports.

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked the Government Accountability Office to determine whether the payroll tax suspension is considered a "rule." If it's deemed a rule, Congress has the ability to overturn it under the Congressional Review Act.

Undoing the regulation would require a joint resolution that is unlikely to pass, according to policy experts. The president is expected to veto any attempted measures, so it would require a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Republican-controlled Senate to pass.

The temporary suspension, which went into effect on Sept. 1, allows employers to delay collecting workers' Social Security taxes until the end of the year. Any employees receiving biweekly paychecks under $4,000 are eligible for the deferral. While workers would receive a 6.2% pay bump now, those delayed taxes would then be withheld from workers' paychecks early next year.

It's possible that employers may avoid utilizing the suspension even without Congressional action. If they're not able to accurately pay back the amount at the beginning of next year, they'll face financial repercussions. They'd also have to educate their employees about the mechanics of the trade-off. — Hannah Miao

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine prevents severe illness in hamsters

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020.
Dado Ruvic | Reuters

Johnson & Johnson's potential coronavirus vaccine prevented severe disease in hamsters, according to new data published in the medical journal Nature Medicine. 

Vaccinated hamsters produced neutralizing antibodies, which researchers believe are necessary to build immunity to the virus, and appeared to lose less weight than unvaccinated hamsters in the preclinical study. The vaccinated hamsters also didn't experience severe illness like pneumonia, the J&J researchers said.

The promising results in hamsters do not necessarily mean the vaccine will provide the same level of protection in humans. But J&J researchers noted the findings are important as Covid-19 is known to progress into severe disease in some humans. The company expects to begin a large, late-stage trial testing its vaccine on humans sometime this month. –Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

More universities suspend in-person learning for fall semester

Students wearing protective masks walk on the San Diego State University campus in San Diego, California, on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.
Bing Guan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The coronavirus is forcing more universities across the U.S. to pause or cancel in-person learning for the fall semester. 

SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris announced the New York state institution is drafting a plan to send its on-campus students home after reporting more than 380 Covid-19 cases since Aug. 24. The announcement comes after the college placed a two-week "pause" period on its in-person learning plans on Aug. 30. 

Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also announced it would move most of its classes online for the fall semester after an increase in cases among students, President Richard Englert said in a statement. Students who need to live on campus because of family circumstances will be allowed to stay, he said. 

"Unfortunately, the risks associated with the Covid-19 pandemic are simply too great for our students, faculty, staff and neighboring community," Englert said. 

San Diego State University, which began its semester last week, said on Wednesday that it will pause its in-person instruction for the next month after San Diego County health department officials reported at least 64 cases among students since the semester began, according to NBC 7 in San Diego. The university said it will reevaluate whether to return students to campus, though many of its classes were already held online, according to the report. — Noah Higgins-Dunn

Google alters predictions in Google Maps to reflect coronavirus-related traffic reduction

The Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, Illinois.
Getty Images

Traffic reduction due to Covid-19 has forced Google to adjust how it predicts driving conditions in Google Maps, CNBC's Todd Haselton reports. Google says global traffic fell by 50% after lockdowns started earlier this year. To give a more accurate estimated time of arrival, Google now prioritizes traffic data from the last two to four weeks in its calculations rather than historical patterns. — Hannah Miao

Fauci has ‘confidence' vaccine approval won’t be political

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, D.C.
Erin Scot | Pool | Reuters

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said he has "confidence and some faith" a U.S. approval for a Covid-19 vaccine won't be politically motivated.

Public health experts and scientists are concerned an approval will be based on politics, not science, and President Donald Trump may be pressuring regulators to get a vaccine to the market ahead of the presidential election. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked governors and health departments to prepare to distribute a vaccine as soon as Nov. 1, two days before the election.

Fauci told CNN that the Food and Drug Administration has been "very explicit" that it is going to make a decision based on data from clinical trials. The trial results will also be reviewed by the Data and Safety Monitoring Board, an independent group of experts who monitor patient safety and treatment data, he said. –Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Sen. Schumer calls latest Republican stimulus bill 'inadequate'

Americans hoping Congress will throw them a lifeline as the pandemic grinds on likely won't find one in the latest Senate Republican proposal. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he opposes the coronavirus stimulus bill the GOP aims to vote on next week. He said the reported legislation, which is not yet final, "appears to be completely inadequate and, by every measure, fails to meet the needs of the American people." 

The Republican-held Senate hopes to pass a roughly $500 billion plan that addresses issues including extra unemployment insurance, small business loans and funding for Covid-19 testing and vaccines. Based on Schumer's comments, the package is unlikely to earn much Democratic support in the Senate or get through the Democratic-held House. 

Coronavirus relief talks between Democrats and the Trump administration collapsed last month amid disagreements over how much money to spend to combat economic and health-care crises. Disagreements include disputes over how much aid to send to state and local governments, and whether to provide additional food assistance money. —Jacob Pramuk

Gov. Cuomo allows New York City malls to return, holds off on indoor dining

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a daily briefing following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City, New York, July 13, 2020.
Mike Segar | Reuters

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City malls with proper high-quality air filtration systems to prevent the coronavirus' spread will be allowed to reopen beginning Sept. 9 at 50% occupancy. Casinos across the state can begin operating that same day at 25% occupancy, he said. 

The Democratic governor has yet to OK indoor dining in the Big Apple unlike other parts of the state, however, even as colder temperatures approach and local officials and business owners criticize the decision. Cuomo said he would like to allow indoor dining to return, but the city has been unable to enforce the state's orders for previous reopenings.

"I understand the tension on the issue," Cuomo said, adding that the state has the legal authority to reopen the restaurants, not the city. "We have major problems in New York City with the compliance on the bars." —Noah Higgins-Dunn

Pfizer CEO confirms vaccine trial may have results in October

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company could have the results from its late-stage coronavirus vaccine trial as early as October.

The U.S.-based pharmaceutical company has already enrolled 23,000 volunteers in the phase three trial that began in late July, Bourla said during a Q&A with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, a trade group. It hopes to enroll at least 30,000 participants, he said. 

Pfizer's potential vaccine is one of three backed by the U.S. that's currently in late-stage testing. The drug giant has been working alongside German drugmaker BioNTech. The companies' experimental vaccine contains genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA. In July, the company released promising data from its early-stage trial. —Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

HHS secretary says Nov. 1 vaccine deadline has nothing to do with presidential election

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, February 26, 2020.
Amanda Voisard | Reuters

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar insisted the federal government's Nov. 1 deadline for states to set up coronavirus vaccine distribution sites has nothing to do with the U.S. presidential election two days later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked state governors and health departments to prepare to distribute a vaccine as soon as November. In a letter dated Aug. 27, CDC Director Robert Redfield said states will receive permit applications from medical supply company McKesson, which HHS tapped to help distribute the vaccine, "in the near future" and may need to waive some licensing and permit requirements that could delay the process.

"It has nothing to do with elections. This has to do with delivering safe, effective vaccines to the American people as quickly as possible and saving people's lives," Azar said in an interview with CBS. "Whether it's Oct. 15, whether it's Nov. 1, whether it's Nov 15, it's all about saving lives but meeting the FDA standards of safety and efficacy." —Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

U.S. productivity surged to a record in the second quarter as the economy reeled

U.S. productivity surged at a record pace in the second quarter, as the number of hours worked plunged by the largest amount since the government keeping records more than 70 years ago, the Associated Press reported.

Productivity rose at a 10.1% rate in the quarter, the Labor Department said.

The number of hours worked dropped by 42.9%, contributing to a 37.1% decline in output, as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy. The decline in output was the biggest dropoff since the government began tracking the data in 1947, according to the wire service. —Terri Cullen

Technology used to film ‘The Mandalorian’ could ease Covid-19 film production woes

A shot of Industrial Light and Magic's StageCraft, an LED stage production technology created for "The Mandalorian."

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused filming delays and hindered widespread travel for production crews, but LED technology developed for the Disney+ series "The Mandalorian" could aid production.

More than 50% of "The Mandalorian's" first season was filmed using this new technology, basically eliminating the need for on-location shoots. 

Pinewood Studios in Atlanta announced plans to bring a similar LED stage to its facility. The technology can reduce the cost of productions, as film crews won't have to travel to international locations, and can make post-production work easier. —Sarah Whitten

U.S. stocks fall as Wall Street takes a breather following big rally

U.S. stocks opened lower as investors paused in the wake of already-robust gains so far this week. 

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were up 2.1% and 3.1%