New saliva test a ‘huge step forward’; Birx urges Americans to wear masks indoors and outdoors

Eufemia Didonato

A sliver of help may be on the way for the relentless coronavirus testing issues hampering efforts to slow a U.S. death toll that inched toward 170,000 on Sunday. The average number of daily tests across the nation has begun to fall, according to the COVID Tracking  Project. Delays sometimes stretching to […]

A sliver of help may be on the way for the relentless coronavirus testing issues hampering efforts to slow a U.S. death toll that inched toward 170,000 on Sunday.

The average number of daily tests across the nation has begun to fall, according to the COVID Tracking  Project. Delays sometimes stretching to a week or more in obtaining test results have severely disrupted efforts at contact tracing. And when results are finally obtained, accuracy issues have often delayed proper treatment.

This weekend, however, the Food and Drug Administration approved a saliva-based test that Yale University researchers hope will clean up some of those testing issues.

“This is a huge step forward to make testing more accessible,” said Chantal Vogels, a Yale postdoctoral fellow, who led the laboratory development and validation along with Doug Brackney, an adjunct assistant clinical professor. 

Here are some significant developments:

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 5.3 million confirmed infections and more than 169,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 768,000 deaths and more than 21 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.

📰 What we’re reading: Across the U.S., faith leaders are debating how they can continue to pray in fellowship with others while keeping staff and members safe in the age of coronavirus. Some churches have moved completely online, others have embraced drive-in service, and some are adamant about holding in-person gatherings. 

Rocky start for in-class learning as thousands forced to quarantine

It’s not even September and already thousands of students and teachers have been moved to the sidelines, just days after starting in-class instruction. Positive tests or coronavirus outbreaks have scrambled schedules and forced quarantines. More than 1,200 students at two Alabama schools were ordered to isolate days before school began. One school’s entire football team was forced to isolate after five players tested positive. More than 1,000 students in Cherokee County, Georgia, were forced to quarantine after scores of students and staff tested positive. And only a small fraction of districts across the nation have yet to begin the new school year.

Social distancing may put kibosh on ‘cool lunch table’ for 2020-21

Traditional school lunches and accompanying socializing are being re-engineered at schools that decide to open for in-person instruction. Most students will eat lunch in their classrooms or will sit by class in the cafeteria as schools try to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Some other changes include mandatory handwashing and prepackaged meals. And the “cool lunch table” may be on hiatus.

“They need to have some space between the children because they have to take their masks off,” said John Christenson, medical director of infection prevention at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

– Anne Snabes, Indianapolis Star

Testing issues cast doubt on decline in daily U.S. 

Testing for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has dropped nationwide the past two weeks even as the evidence builds disease spread is picking up in many states. In Mississippi, more than one in five tested for the virus in the past week were positive, the highest rate in the nation as of Friday. The average number of daily tests in Texas and Florida dropped but the ratio of positive tests in each state is more than double what the World Health Organization recommends. Official case counts have dropped nationally but reporting problems and generally reduced testing in some states makes it hard to confidently determine that infection rates are improving.

“The enhanced positivity rate is the thing that bothers people more than anything else,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Because it suggests this virus is circulating still very briskly.”

Ken Alltucker and Dan Keemahill

Saliva test developed at Yale wins FDA approval

A saliva-based laboratory diagnostic test developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health to determine whether someone is infected with the coronavirus has been granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The method, called SalivaDirect, is being validated as a test for asymptomatic individuals through a program that tests players and staff from the National Basketball Association. SalivaDirect is simpler, less expensive, and less invasive than nasopharyngeal swabbing, the researchers say.

“With saliva being quick and easy to collect, we realized it could be a game-changer in COVID-19 diagnostics,” said Anne Wyllie, assistant professor and associate research scientist at Yale. 

Birx: Masks should we born indoors and outdoors, in cities and rural areas

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, urged all Americans to wear masks indoors and outdoors to help curb the pandemic. Birx said when communities start seeing a rise in positive cases, leaders need to close the bars, restrict indoor dining, decrease social gatherings and ensure there’s a mask mandate. Birx, speaking in Kansas City, Kansas, warned that the outbreak is not just an urban issue.

“So we are really asking all communities, whether you are urban or rural communities, to really wear a mask inside, outside, every day,” she said. “Much of the spread is asymptomatic. I know we all want to believe that our family members cannot be positive. They are.”

Teacher builds database of school closings, cases, deaths

As schools across the nation struggle to find a safe way to educate students in-person, a Kansas teacher has dedicated herself to tracking school closings, cases and deaths in a budding national database. 

“I was seeing a lot of articles about schools that were opening up and issues already happening on Day 1,” Alisha Morris, who teaches theater in Kansas’ Olathe School District said. “As I was researching, I thought, oh my gosh, this is happening all over.”

The project comes amid a torrent troubling news about the prospects of safely reopening schools. Experts have expressed skepticism that schools’ attempting to head off outbreaks using routine symptom screenings will have success. Nurses have described keeping kids safe at school an “uphill fight.” And — despite President Donald Trump’s push to open all schools — half of the Defense Department’s schools in America will not open for in-person learning.

— Greg Tufaro and Joel Shannon

Annual light display honoring victims of 9/11 is back on

The annual light display honoring victims of 9/11 is back on, officials announced Saturday, saying New York health officials will supervise this year’s tribute to ensure workers’ safety amid concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This year it is especially important that we all appreciate and commemorate 9/11, the lives lost and the heroism displayed ‎as New Yorkers are once again called upon to face a common enemy,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The announcement came days after the National September 11 Memorial & Museum canceled the Tribute in Light over concerns the coronavirus might spread among crews creating twin columns of light to represent the World Trade Center in the Manhattan sky.

School district cancels classes after teachers refuse to show up

A school district outside Phoenix voted to return to in-person classes on Monday but has been forced to reverse course after pushback from staff. J. O. Combs Unified School District announced Friday afternoon that it would not open at all on Monday because too many teachers refused to show up. Superintendent Gregory A. Wyman in a statement said the district had received an “overwhelming response” from staff indicating that they did not feel safe returning to classrooms with students.

“Due to these insufficient staffing levels, schools will not be able to re-open on Monday as planned,” Wyman wrote. “At this time, we do not know the duration of these staff absences, and cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume.”

– Lorraine Longhi, Arizona Republic

What we’re reading

Postal Service may not be able to meet state deadlines for returning ballots

The U.S. Postal Service is warning that it may not be able to meet many state deadlines for returning early voting ballots for the November election. The issue is arising as states gear up for an expected avalanche of early ballot requests by voters fearful of going to the polls in person because of the pandemic. The warnings, blamed on USPS changes this summer to limit overtime and increase efficiency, have gone out to almost every state, notably including the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona.

The warning letters to state election officials, first reported by The Washington Post, prompted immediate questions from the League of Women Voters and suspicion from the American Postal Workers Union that the warnings were politically motivated.

– Kevin McCoy, Donovan Slack and Katie Wedell

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus news: Yale saliva test, wear masks indoors and outdoors

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