U.S. to send millions of rapid COVID-19 tests to states to support school reopenings

The latest:

  • U.S. to send millions of rapid COVID-19 tests to support school reopenings, day care centres.
  • Tens of millions of pupils return to school in Europe with coronavirus precautions in place.
  • Health Canada says it is willing to consider approving home COVID-19 tests to screen for the virus.
  • Egypt reopens ancient sites for the first time since they were closed in March.
  • High proportion of coronavirus infections among U.S. health-care personnel appear to go undetected, report says.
  • Russia’s coronavirus cases surpass one million.
  • Hong Kong begins mass testing for virus amid public doubts.
  • India’s coronavirus surge eases slightly as millions take exams.

The U.S. government said on Tuesday it will send an “overwhelming majority” of the rapid COVID-19 tests it purchased from Abbott Laboratories last week to governors of states and territories to support school reopenings and other critical tasks.

Other top priorities for the newly purchased tests include day care centres, first responders and “critical infrastructure,” according to Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir.

The U.S. government purchased 150 million rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 from Abbott in a roughly $750 million deal.

The portable tests can deliver results within 15 minutes and will sell for $5. They require no additional equipment and can use a less invasive nasal swab than traditional lab tests.

Antigen tests are cheaper and faster than molecular diagnostic tests but are somewhat more likely to fail to identify positive cases of the virus than lab-based diagnostic tests.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed for schools to reopen, but most of the country’s largest school districts — including in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston — have said they would start the school year with online classes, as states across the country have battled a spike in cases over the summer.

New York City has delayed the start of its school year by several days to give teachers more time to prepare for having students back in classrooms, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

In a deal struck with unions representing teachers, staff and administrators, instruction that was supposed to begin on Sept. 10 will be delayed until Sept. 16. All students will spend the first few days learning from home via computer before in-person instruction begins for some students Sept. 21.

Fake body bags and coffins are seen near the entrance of the United Federation of Teachers building in New York City as a symbol of students dying from COVID-19 as people take part in a rally during the National Day of Resistance to schools re-opening in New York City on Aug. 3, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Among the other safety measures being instituted will be a medical monitoring program that includes random virus testing for a sampling of both students and staff each month.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the union’s independent medical experts had signed off on the reopening plan.

“We can now say that New York City’s public school system has the most aggressive policies and greatest safeguards of any school system in the United States of America,” he said.

New York suffered the deadliest coronavirus spike in the country before getting the virus’ spread in check in late spring, even as it climbed anew in many other parts of the country.

The city’s plan to restart schools includes mask-wearing, staggered schedules to reduce the number of students in rooms, supplying every school building with a nurse and asking all staffers to get tested shortly before school starts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still supports testing asymptomatic individuals for COVID-19 who are prioritized by local health officials or in high risk populations. Last week, the CDC sparked outcry among many public health officials when it said testing some asymptomatic people may not be necessary.

As of Monday, U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus have passed six million as many states in the Midwest report increasing infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had 129,200 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 114,428 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,165.

Health Canada is willing to consider approving home COVID-19 tests to screen for the virus, a spokesperson for the minister of health told Reuters, in a win for public health experts and doctors who have argued that frequent and inexpensive testing could beat back the pandemic.

The health ministry had previously said it was concerned that people might misuse home tests or misinterpret the results.

“In response to the evolution of the pandemic, Health Canada is now considering applications for home testing devices for screening purposes,” said Cole Davidson, spokesperson for the minister of health, said in a statement.

WATCH | Isolating new COVID-19 cases as schools reopen is key, epidemiologist says:

Schools are doing the best they can within some practical limitations, but isolating new cases is paramount, says Montreal epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos. 3:04

In June of this year, Health Canada had indicated that it would not review applications for home test kits, as at that time, “the Department’s position was in relation to the use of home tests for diagnostic purposes,” the statement said.

Screening tests are meant to monitor large groups of seemingly healthy people for illness, while diagnostic tests investigate symptoms.

The change could allow for self collection, where samples are sent to a lab for processing, and spur the development of new tests to detect the virus at home.

On the vaccine front, Canada’s federal government has signed agreements with two U.S. drug companies to secure up to 114 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines under development.

WATCH | Infectious disease specialist lauds Canada’s vaccine deals:

“We just need to have as many sticks in the fire as possible,” says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. 3:00

Maryland-based biotechnology company Novavax announced in a media release Monday that it has struck a deal to produce 76 million doses of a vaccine it is working on for the Canadian government, should the vaccine ever get Health Canada approval.

Later in the day, Ottawa announced it has signed a separate deal with a subsidiary of New Jersey-based drug conglomerate Johnson & Johnson to secure up to 38 million doses of the company’s potential vaccine, which is completely different from Novavax’s.

Here’s what’s happening around the world

According to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases is now more than 25.5 million. More than 852,000 people have died, while 16.8 million have recovered.

Across Europe, tens of millions of pupils returned to school on Tuesday, their backpacks loaded with exercise books, geometry sets and, for many, face masks to protect them from a resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

Some classrooms look starkly different from previous years, with plastic shields around desks and virus warning signs plastered everywhere.

Students with protective masks stand in the courtyard in Brequigny high school in Rennes, western France, on the first day of school Tuesday. In France, only students over the age of 11 have to wear face masks. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

With France reporting thousands of new infections daily — more than any of its neighbours — all French students over the age of 11 must wear masks all day. 

The French health ministry reported 4,982 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday, up from the 3,082 reported on Monday, but below the highs of nearly 7,400 seen last week.

WATCH | Students return to classrooms in France, with COVID-19 protocols in place: 

Despite a surge in coronavirus infections, students returned to classrooms in France with thorough protocols to reduce the spread of the disease. 0:52

In Britain, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson sent an open letter to parents about their children saying school “really is the best place for them to be. Nothing can match being in a classroom with a real teacher to inspire them and their friends to share their discoveries.”

Parents of British students can face fines if they refuse to send their kids back. Schools have introduced measures to reduce contact between children, such as staggering break times and keeping pupils in “bubbles” with their class or year group.

Global data on the spread of the coronavirus shows that children and young people make up only one to two per cent of cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Most reported infections in children are mild or asymptomatic, with few recorded deaths.

WATCH | Back-to-school shopping in the COVID-19 era:

As kids prepare to go back to school in September, masks and sanitizer are essential shopping items. One family shares how they are adapting, and a mask maker on how they’re trying to make the experience more kid-friendly. 2:16

In the United States, a report released by Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday indicated tens of thousands of loans worth billions of dollars may have been subject to fraud, waste and abuse in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) aimed at helping small U.S. businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Over $1 billion US that went to companies that received multiple loans are in violation of the program’s rules, the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said.

At an afternoon hearing, the U.S. House panel’s chairman, Democratic Representative James Clyburn, blamed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for saying previously that delivering aid quickly made it inevitable that the Treasury would run into issues of waste.

“Taxpayers should not have to choose between quickly getting aid to those who need it and wasting federal funds. And there are simple steps that could have been taken to improve oversight and reduce fraud,” Clyburn said.

A pedestrian walks by The Framing Gallery on May 7, 2020, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

Mnuchin told the committee that “there is more work to be done and certain areas of the economy [that] require additional relief.”

The PPP is a $659 billion US taxpayer-funded initiative and provided more than 5.2 million forgivable loans 
through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) by the time it ended on Aug. 8.

Egypt on Tuesday reopened its ancient sites in Cairo and elsewhere in the country for the first time since they were closed in March to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The reopening came despite a recent upward trend in new infections. Antiquities Minister Khalid el-Anany says museums, temples and other sites are reopened at 50 per cent capacity.

In the southern ancient city of Luxor, tourists from France and Ukraine visited the famed Karnak Temple, arriving from the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, according to the ministry.

Muslim worshippers, mask-clad and distanced from each other, perform Friday prayers in the courtyard of the historic al-Azhar mosque in Cairo on Aug. 28, when Egypt allowed Friday prayers to resume in major mosques. (Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt’s Health Ministry has reported more than 98,900 confirmed cases and 5,421 deaths.

Russia’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed one million on Tuesday as authorities reported 4,729 new cases.

With a total of 1,000,048 reported cases, Russia has the fourth largest caseload in the world after the U.S., Brazil and India. Over 815,000 people have so far recovered, authorities said, and more than 17,000 have died.

Students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations wear protective masks as they attend a meeting with the Russian foreign minister on the first day of the academic year on Tuesday. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Experts say the true toll of the pandemic is much higher than all reported figures, due to limited testing, missed mild cases and concealment of cases by some governments, among other factors.

As of Tuesday, Russia has lifted most lockdown restrictions in the majority of the country’s regions.

Hong Kong tested thousands of people for coronavirus Tuesday at the start of a mass-testing effort that’s become another political flashpoint in the semi-autonomous Chinese region.

Volunteers stood in lines at some of the more than 100 testing centres, though many residents are distrustful over the resources and staff being provided by China’s central government and some have expressed fear DNA could be collected.

Health-care professionals conduct swab tests at a makeshift testing site in the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

The Hong Kong government has dismissed such concerns, and leader Carrie Lam urged the public to see the program in a fair and objective light and appealed to critics to stop discouraging people from being tested since participation was crucial to the program’s success.

India’s tally of coronavirus infections rose to nearly 3.7 million on Tuesday, as millions of masked students sat for college admission exams after the government refused to defer them.

India, the world’s third most affected country by the pandemic after the United States and Brazil, reported 69,921 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the lowest in six days.

A health worker collects a swab sample from a woman to test for the coronavirus from an ambulance in front of a municipal market in Kolkata, India, on Tuesday. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

It took the overall number of cases to 3.69 million, while the death toll from COVID-19 rose by 819 to 65,288. On Sunday, India reported 78,761 new cases, the world’s biggest, single-day tally.

More than two million masked students filed into exam centres across India on Tuesday to take tests for admission to medical and engineering schools, with physical distancing guidelines, hand sanitization stations and temperature checks in place.



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