- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Pfizer will provide 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine if and when it is approved later this year under a “historic” deal with the government, President Trump said Wednesday, as three states and the District of Columbia scrambled in the meantime to stanch the spread of the virus by mandating masks outside the home.

Mr. Trump used a White House briefing to trumpet the nearly $2 billion agreement with Pfizer and its partner, German company BioNTech, which includes rights to obtain 500 million more doses and is part of a broader effort to begin administering a vaccine by next year.

Federal officials said the shots would be provided to Americans at no cost after a Food and Drug Administration review, which is on track for the fall.

“Hopefully the approval process will go very quickly,” Mr. Trump said. “We think we have a winner there.”

He also said his administration is surging testing to nursing homes, where many COVID-19 deaths have occurred, and sent a “message of love” to seniors who are hunkered in their homes because of the dangers the virus poses to them.

The president took the briefing-room podium solo, without his top scientists, for the second day in a row after holding his first coronavirus briefing in more than two months on Tuesday. Mr. Trump, who is locked in a reelection battle with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, said he is relaying information the scientists provide to him.

Mr. Trump is highlighting progress on vaccines and therapeutics even as he acknowledges a surge in infections and hospitalizations across the Sun Belt.

The president partly blamed the increase on racial-justice protests that erupted in late May and early June after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. He also blamed social events at bars and beaches, though he said states such as Arizona are showing some signs of improvement.

“They’re all doing a good job, they’re very talented people,” Mr. Trump said of hard-hit states with Republican governors.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signaled support for local curfews to hinder the virus’s spread but stopped short of blessing the shelter-in-place orders that some South Texas leaders want.

“I want to go back to the things that worked for us when we had it totally under control,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told CNN.

Meanwhile, California, which is also part of the spike, surpassed New York on Wednesday as the state with the most confirmed cases from the pandemic — at more than 409,000 — although it does have about 20 million more residents than the Empire State.

In the nation’s capital, Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered everyone to wear a mask outside the home, with exceptions for eating, drinking and vigorous exercise.

Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota also instituted mandates requiring masks where social distancing isn’t possible or in indoor spaces outside the home, meaning more than half the states have some form of mask requirement.

Mr. Trump said the federal government is taking a look at face-mask rules for its properties and is “going to make a decision over the next 24 hours.”

The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December and quickly spread about the globe. The pandemic appears to be accelerating, with worldwide cases surpassing 15 million.

The virus has killed about 618,000, with 142,000 of those deaths reported from the U.S.

The Western Hemisphere has been hit particularly hard in recent weeks, as developed nations in Europe and Asia get a better handle on their outbreaks.

“During the last week, there were almost 900,000 new cases and nearly 22,000 deaths reported in our region — most of these within Brazil, Mexico and the United States,” Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne said Tuesday.

She said the pandemic “is showing no signs of slowing down.”

Mr. Trump said one way to thwart the virus is to practice good hygiene.

“You have to look at it differently. Wash your hands often,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m finding more and more people are saying, ‘Wash your hands.’”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who leads infectious-disease research at the National Institutes of Health, said he doesn’t see the coronavirus disappearing completely, the way the first “SARS” outbreak of 2003 did.

“I don’t really see us eradicating it,” Dr. Fauci told CNN, though he added: “I think we will get very good control of this. Whether it’s this year or next year, I’m not certain. But I think ultimately with a combination of good public health measures and a vaccine, that we may not eradicate it, but I think we will bring it down to such a low level that we will not be in the position that we’re in right now for an extended period of time.”

Shares of Pfizer rose upon news of its vaccine deal with the Department of Health and Human Services and closed up 5% on the day.

The company said phase 2/3 trials of its leading vaccine candidate could begin later this month, setting the table for emergency-use authorization or some level of regulatory approval as soon as October.

“If you want to do it correctly, with safety, and real attention to safety and efficacy, I think we are going as fast as we possibly can,” Dr. Fauci said of vaccine development.

While the world waits for a vaccine, whether to reopen American schools this fall remains a hot debate.

Only one in 10 people think daycare centers, preschools and K-12 schools should open this fall without restrictions, according to a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs.

Nearly half, or 46%, said major adjustments are needed to reopen K-12 schools while 14% think minor ones are needed. Three in 10 people said in-classroom learning shouldn’t resume at all.

The president reiterated his push to open the schools “100 percent,” though said: “Ultimately, it’s up to the governors of the states.”

He highlighted data that suggest children aren’t main transmitters of the virus.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday he would “absolutely” be comfortable with his grandchildren returning to their classrooms in the fall.

He said there might be some reservations with a grandson who has cystic fibrosis.

“But my other 10 grandchildren — of those, eight of them are school age — I’m 100% that they can get back to school,” Dr. Redfield said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

He said it is important for schools to reopen, citing “a number of negative public health consequences that have happened to our K-12 [students] by having these schools close.”

In the meantime, Dr. Redfield said face masks and social distancing in classrooms will be important to try to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

A simple face mask is “probably the most powerful tool” to combat the virus, he said.

“If all Americans would embrace that as part of their personal responsibility to confront this outbreak, we could actually have a very significant impact on the outbreak that we’re seeing across the country in the next 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks,” he said. “So that’s the first thing I would encourage.”

Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian told NBC that his company banned 100 people from flying with them because they violated mask policy.

United Airlines, meanwhile, announced Wednesday it is extending its face-mask requirement to places within the airport.

“In addition to on board our aircraft, face masks must be worn at customer service counters and kiosks, United Club locations, gates and baggage claim areas,” the airline said.

• Lauren Meier and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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