- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2020

A front-runner in the pursuit of a coronavirus vaccine said doses sparked a “robust” immune response in human trials, but the pandemic continued to exact a toll from coast to coast, with California pushing football and other sports from the fall to spring and President Trump announcing he will resume daily briefings about the worsening crisis.

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca on Monday said the vaccine candidate it developed with Oxford University produced vital “T cells” in a phase one and two trial involving more than 1,000 adults, cheering Mr. Trump as he prepares to take a firmer hand in the response after pivoting to racial justice protests and the debate over historic symbols.

Mr. Trump’s briefings were must-see-TV in March and April, but he faced ridicule when he strayed from the science, including a musing that injecting disinfectant into the body could be a treatment for COVID-19. He decided to resume the sessions as soon as Tuesday as cases and hospitalizations across the South and West are surging.

“We’ve have had this big flare-up in Florida, Texas, a couple of other places,” Mr. Trump said. “And so I think what we’re going to do is I’ll get involved and we’ll start doing briefings.”

He said the spring briefings received great ratings but the U.S. hadn’t made enough progress in treatments.

“We had a good slot. And a lot of people were watching, and that’s a good thing,” Mr. Trump said. “[The pandemic] is something that’s very tough, but we’re going to get it solved, and I think we’re going to get it solved in numerous ways, but the two best would be vaccines and therapeutics.”

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump says he’s bringing coronavirus briefings back

Mr. Trump has repeatedly pointed to progress in cutting the death rate from COVID-19 as doctors deploy drugs such as remdesivir and the Sun Belt surge hits young people who are less likely to die.

Yet governors and health experts say patients face an array of complications from COVID-19 and rapid transmission eventually will spill into the vulnerable population. States such as Florida and Texas are monitoring hospital space carefully and reporting an uptick in daily deaths.

Senior Democrats and state leaders are calling on Mr. Trump to take a more aggressive role in providing protective equipment and access to testing.

“He still has no adequate national testing strategy and continues to underutilize the Defense Production Act, wasting valuable time and resources,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Lawmakers also have pressed Mr. Trump to be more vocal about mask-wearing. The president, who has poor poll numbers on his handling of the pandemic, tweeted a rare photo of himself in a mask Monday, suggesting it was “patriotic” to wear one when “you can’t socially distance.”

The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December and has killed more than 600,000 worldwide. More than 140,000 of the deaths from COVID-19 were in the U.S.

SEE ALSO: Congress begins another round of negotiations over coronavirus relief bill

Spring lockdowns across the nation “flattened the curve” of transmission, yet some states tried to reopen before the virus was under control. They are facing the consequences of those decisions as schools map out plans for in-person or virtual learning later this summer.

The California Interscholastic Federation released a modified schedule that says fall sports won’t begin until December or January and that playoffs and championship games will end up in midspring. Fall activities such as football would end on April 17 and cross country on March 27. Spring sports would extend into June, with baseball and softball ending June 26.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Monday that parents should be able to choose whether they want their children to learn in person or virtually. He said some children may struggle to learn outside of a classroom environment, though he stressed the need to accommodate staff and children who have underlying medical conditions.

“Of course they should be able to opt for virtual,” Mr. DeSantis said. “And the same for employees.”

Mr. DeSantis, a key Trump ally, also said people who test positive for antibodies, meaning they have acquired the virus, should donate blood plasma that can help patients survive the disease.

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, threatened to halt some of the state’s reopening plans if local officials don’t crack down on overcrowded bars and restaurants.

“If young people are going to come out and do something stupid, the local governments have to enforce the law,” he said. “The police department has to enforce the law, and they are not doing it.”

Mr. Cuomo said the “bad” restaurant and bar owners are threatening to ruin business for the “good” ones.

“The local governments are not doing their job. We cannot allow those congregations to continue,” he said. “If it happens, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen: We’re going to have to roll back the opening plan, and we’re going to have to close bars and restaurants.”

Mr. Trump has cheered state efforts to reopen economies. He said young people are often healthy enough to survive COVID-19 and that focusing on therapies and safe practices can protect the vulnerable.

He highlighted emerging therapies in comments from the White House while emphasizing China’s failure to stop the virus at its source and point out that nations such as Brazil, Mexico and Russia are having a hard time, too.

“They’re going to have therapeutics, and it’s going to start taking place very shortly, and that will be a great thing. For the world, that will be a great thing,” he told reporters. “But this is happening all over the world, not just the United States. And it’s a tough one. It’s very tough. It’s very sad when you see the death.”

He said he’s “pretty damn certain” that a successful vaccine will be developed. He wants one before the end of the year and is highlighting promising reports from a series of efforts.

More than 100 vaccine candidates are in development, though the Trump administration is offering financial support for several leading candidates as part of Operation Warp Speed.

The results of the AstraZeneca-Oxford study were published Monday in The Lancet, an esteemed science journal.

The team seems to be at the head of the pack in the aggressive effort to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, which is considered crucial to returning life to normal.

The vaccine candidate, which relies on a modified adenovirus, will enter phase two and three trials in the U.S. soon. Those trials are underway in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.

AstraZeneca has committed 2 billion doses of its trial vaccine to the U.S., Britain and Europe and is working with global alliances to ensure equitable access elsewhere.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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