A clinical trial to evaluate a vaccine designed against the novel coronavirus started on Monday, a U.S. health official confirmed.
"The vaccine candidate that was given the first injections for the first person took place today," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told reporters at a White House briefing on Monday.
The trial has begun at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle, and is funded by the NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The open-label trial enrolling 45 healthy adult volunteers aged 18-55 got its first participant receiving the investigational vaccine Monday, according to an NIH statement.
The study is evaluating different doses of the experimental vaccine for its safety and ability to induce an immune response in participants. This is the first of multiple steps in the clinical trial process to evaluate the potential benefit of the vaccine.
"This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step" toward achieving the goal of finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection, Fauci said.
Study participants will receive two doses of the vaccine, which does not contain the virus itself, via intramuscular injection in the upper arm approximately 28 days apart, according to NIH.
Participants will be asked to return to the clinic for follow-up visits between vaccinations and be followed across the span of a year after the second shot, said Fauci.
Lisa Jackson, senior investigator at KPWHRI, who led the Phase 1 trial, said this work is critical to national efforts to respond to the threat of this emerging virus.
The vaccine is called mRNA-1273 and was developed by NIAID scientists and their collaborators at the biotechnology company Moderna, Inc., based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine as COVID-19 cases continue to grow.
Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Texas, told Xinhua his group at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at BCM is working to develop a vaccine in collaboration with other U.S. institutions such as the University of Texas Medical Branch, and the New York Blood Center, and with the Virology Center at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.
"This is a great collaboration," Hotez said in an interview with Xinhua. "But vaccine development is not a fast process, and it's not clear whether we would have a vaccine ready to use before this current epidemic ends."
According to Fauci, even if initial safety tests go well, it may take about a year to 18 months before any vaccine could be ready for public use.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States topped 4,645 as of Monday afternoon, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that Hong Kong will quarantine for 14 days all arriving passengers from outside the region starting from Thursday to curb the spread of the COVID-19.
The new measure is included in a red outbound travel alert to be issued by the HKSAR government, which advises residents to avoid all non-essential trips abroad.
For the past two weeks, 50 new confirmed COVID-19 cases were imported ones out of all the 57 confirmed cases, Lam said at a media session before the HKSAR Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning.
Washington, D.C., is shutting down all movie theaters and gyms, and ordering restaurants and bars to serve only takeout, as the nation's capital continues to ramp up its social distancing measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday that she is also placing local National Guard units on standby, but not actively deploying them yet. She said she envisions the National Guard playing a role in organizing mass virus testing sites in the future.
"There is of course a lot more that we need to learn about COVID-19, but one thing we do know is that social distancing can mitigate the spread of the virus," Bowser said at a press conference. "At the moment, social distancing is our main tool."
All restaurants and bars will be able to offer to offer carry-out to customers or to food delivery services, but all dining or drinking in the establishments is prohibited, starting at 10 p.m. Monday.
The order represents one of the final available steps for Bowser's government, short of simply closing all restaurants and bars. It also reflects the sheer speed with which public alarm over the virus has taken over daily life in the America.
Less than a week ago — on March 11, when Bowser declared a state of emergency — her government was recommending that all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people be postponed. Within days, that maximum number had been revised down to 250 people, and restaurants were told to function normally but to ban should-to-shoulder bar seating and not to use any attached banquet rooms. Now the government has concluded that just about any size of public gathering is too large.
"We want to be as responsive of a community as we can in the U.S. to help be on the forefront of flattening the curve and helping to end this pandemic," said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the District of Columbia's Department of Health.
Bowser warned against restaurants or bars attempting to flout the new rules, and encouraged residents to report any transgressions.
"As mayor, I don't wake up in the morning thinking about how I can shut down a business or order a fine," she said Monday, "But I'll do it."
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
Washington, D.C., reported five new cases of coronavirus infection Monday, bringing its official total up to 22. But that tally doesn't include people who may have been infected in Washington but live in nearby northern Virginia or southern Maryland.
The virus has devastated what would normally be the start of Washington's high season for tourists and school trips. The popular Cherry Blossom Festival, which was supposed to start Friday, March 20, has been largely cancelled, tours of the White House and Capitol suspended, and the National Zoo, Kennedy Center and the entire Smithsonian network of museums shut down.
The most elemental act of American democracy — voting — will be tested Tuesday as four states set to hold presidential primaries confront the impact of a global pandemic that has turned everyday life upside-down.
Leaders sent conflicting signals about how to approach the next steps amid the coronavirus outbreak. As health officials warned against gatherings of greater than 10 people, President Donald Trump said elections should proceed. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine went to court and tried, unsuccessfully for now, to push his state's primary into June while elections officials in Arizona, Illinois and Florida said they were moving forward with plans to vote.
The rapidly shifting developments amounted to a kind of chaos rarely seen in an election season. And it may not end soon as some states that have presidential contests in the coming weeks have already moved to postpone them and others were being pressed to follow.
"These are unusual restrictions," Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said of recommended federal limits to try and control the spread of the virus. Her group is urging the delay of that state's 2020 presidential primary from April 28 to June 23, when congressional and legislative primaries are already scheduled.
"Normally, we do not support postponing elections, but these are extraordinary circumstances," Lerner said.
Campaigns spent Monday sifting through data and talking to contacts on the ground to assess the impact of the coronavirus on turnout in places that will hold elections on Tuesday. Former Vice President Joe Biden is moving closer to securing the Democratic presidential nomination, but could face a setback if the older voters who tend to support him don't show up. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, can't afford to lose support from young voters who have been his most loyal supporters.
The tumult has left the campaign in a state of suspended animation. In-person rallies have been replaced with sometimes-awkward virtual events.
Sanders, the last Democrat standing between Biden and the nomination, isn't planning to drop out. Although his campaign looked to have nowhere to go after a big loss last week in Michigan, top advisers now see no downside to staying in the race as they assess how the coming days and weeks unfold.
On Monday night, Sanders staged a virtual rally featuring himself, rocker Neil Young and activist actress Daryl Hannah. He also released a video criticizing Biden for suggesting as a senator that he'd be willing to cut Social Security benefits — a line of attack he employed frequently during Sunday's debate.
"I don't have to tell anybody that we are living in a very unprecedented and strange moment in the history of our country," Sanders said, urging supporters that it may be time to "rethink our value system, rethink many of the systems we operate under."
Sanders' team had expected Biden to do well in all four states that were set to vote on Tuesday. But the Vermont senator has also cast some doubt about the entire process, saying no one should risk being infected while voting and noting that it's important "to make sure that everybody who wants to vote has the right to vote, and that may not be the case now."
Still, Sanders faces an increasingly tough path to the nomination. About half of the delegates in the Democratic primary have already been awarded and, if Biden has another big night Tuesday, he will pad an already large and perhaps insurmountable lead. Sanders trails Biden by more than 150 delegates nationally, meaning he'd need to win more than 57% of those yet to be allocated to clinch the Democratic nomination.
Biden's campaign is trying not to look presumptuous about its prospects at this sensitive moment. Still, the former vice president is making moves to rally more voters to his campaign, including his announcement during the debate that he would choose a woman as a running mate.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana congressman and one of Biden's campaign co-chairs, said the former vice president has "started the process of looking at people seriously."
Biden appeared to keep his focus Monday on winning the nomination, as he encouraged voters in a telephone town hall to participate in Tuesday primaries but to do so safely. Joining him was former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served during President Barack Obama's second term. Murthy encouraged voters at high risk of contracting coronavirus to vote by mail or use curbside voting, if available, but he also explained precautions elections officials are planning in the Tuesday primary states.
The call came three days after Biden's initial effort at remote campaigning was marred by technical difficulties, a testament to the challenge of balancing what amounts to a national shut-in with the demands of a presidential campaign. "I appreciate everyone bearing with us as we figure out all the logistics of campaigning in a new way here," Biden said Monday night.
The coming weeks will present additional uncertainties. After Tuesday, the campaign had been set to shift to Georgia next week, but officials there have already postponed their Democratic primary until May 19. That means voting isn't scheduled again anywhere until March 29 in Puerto Rico — and island officials are also seeking a delay.
The first week in April, meanwhile, would have featured Louisiana, but its decision to delay the primary until May leaves only primaries in farflung Alaska and Hawaii and caucuses in Wyoming through April 4. That could leave the campaign in further limbo, perhaps prolonging a primary race that might otherwise have been wrapped up.
Voting rights groups have advocated for upcoming elections to be postponed, or for states holding them as scheduled to adopt more lenient vote-by-mail and absentee ballot rules so that people don't have to choose between showing up at a polling place and putting their health at risk.
Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic strategist with ties to many of the party's top donors, noted that Americans voted during World War I and World War II. More recent voting during crisis came on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when balloting was already underway but was suspended for two weeks in New York's mayoral primary because of the terrorist attacks.
"There should be no circumstance in which we say, because of a crisis — regardless of the crisis — that we stop our electoral government," Tameez said.
With each day that the coronavirus outbreak spreads and claims more lives, the damage to global airlines rises too. U.S. carriers on Monday put a price tag on their pain: They asked the federal government for more than $50 billion in rescue aid.
It is a staggering request for an industry that has chalked up tens of billions in profits over the past decade. It would far exceed the bailout that airlines got after the terror attacks of September 2001.
Airlines CEOs have been making the rounds in Washington and making phone calls to lobby for assistance in the last few days. Airlines for America, the trade group representing all the leading U.S. passenger and cargo airlines, finally provided some details about what the airlines want.
They are asking for $29 billion in federal grants: $25 billion for passenger airlines, $4 billion for cargo carriers. They also want up to $29 billion in zero-interest loans or loan guarantees, split the same way between passenger and cargo carriers. And they want federal excise taxes on fuel, cargo and airline tickets to be suspended through the end of next year and possibly longer.
That package would easily surpass the $5 billion in grants and up to $10 billion in loan guarantees that Congress approved after the terror attacks of September 2001, which temporarily grounded all U.S. flights and led to a long slump in domestic travel.
Without help, the carriers could run out of money in the second half of this year, according to their trade group.
President Donald Trump wasted little time in saying that his administration will support the industry, although he didn't discuss dollars or say what an assistance package might look like.
"We are going to back the airlines 100%. It's not their fault," Trump said during a press conference in the White House. He added that airlines were "having a record season" before the virus outbreak.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are evaluating possible steps to help the airlines, including federal loans and tax relief, according to a Republican aide on the House Transportation Committee.
Meanwhile, airlines continued to outline drastic plans to slash flights, hunker down and wait for the outbreak to pass. They said travel demand is still falling. Nobody, it seems, wants to be cooped up in a plane, even a half-empty one, during a pandemic.
Things are so bad, Southwest Airlines said Monday, that for some days this spring cancellations are outnumbering new bookings. The airline gave this new phenomenon a name: net negative bookings.
Southwest expects revenue trends to get worse during the rest of March and the second quarter, and so it withdrew its 2020 financial forecast, said it will cut capacity 20% from mid-April through early June, and imposed a hiring freeze. The airline also said it completely drew down a new $1 billion credit facility as soon as the deal closed.
Starting Friday, Delta, American and United on successive days seemed to outdo each other in announcing deeper cuts in flying than they were contemplating just a few days earlier. They have grounded hundreds of planes, imposed hiring freezes and asked employees to consider voluntary unpaid leave.
Despite those measures, airline stocks have continued to nosedive, as investors join travelers in shunning the airlines.
U.S. airlines are coming off a decade marked by record profits. Since the start of 2014, Delta, United, American and Southwest have reported a combined, cumulative profit more than $70 billion. Critics say the airlines have spent too much on buying back their own stock, which keeps the share price higher, and could have done more to protect themselves from the current downturn.
Kevin Mitchell, who leads a group that represents business travelers, said airlines have opted not to buy pandemic insurance that has been available since 2018.
"Airlines use record profits to buy back shares but not to secure insurance for predictable virus crises," Mitchell said. In his view, airlines should be required to carry such insurance before they get any help from taxpayers or airline customers, a consumer advocates should have a stronger role in advising the government on federal policy toward airlines.
Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Congress should put conditions on aid to airlines. "Financial assistance may be needed for some of our most impacted industries," he said, "but any infusion of money to the airlines must have some major strings attached," including a ban on "unfair" fees for changing or canceling a ticket, and targets for reduce carbon emissions from airline planes.
Around the globe, airline bookings are plummeting and cancellations soaring as governments restrict travel and people fear being enclosed in an airplane for several hours during a pandemic that has already sickened about 170,000 people and killed more than 6,500.
Late Sunday night, United Airlines announced that it would slash 50% of its flying capacity in April and May and warned that the cuts could extend into the peak summer travel season. Even with thousands fewer flights every week, the airline expects its planes to be only 20% to 30% full at best, and March revenue will be down by $1.5 billion.
"The bad news is that it's getting worse," CEO Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby said in a letter to United's roughly 96,000 workers. "We expect both the number of customers and revenue to decline sharply in the days and weeks ahead."
American Airlines on Monday suspended about 75% of its long-haul international flights through at least May 6 and began grounding about 135 planes. It will cut passenger-carrying capacity in the U.S. by 20% in April and 30% in May.
Just a week ago, airline CEOs were confident they could manage through the outbreak. Their companies are stronger and more profitable than during the dark days after 9/11. Despite their stellar decade of the 2010s, however, the airlines haven't been tested in a recession.
American's CEO, Doug Parker, said last week that the coronavirus crisis will test the industry's ability "to withstand the types of shock that we have never been able to withstand before."