The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, March 25, 2020 1:00 am

Coronavirus roundup

Liberty under fire for students' return

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Officials in Lynchburg, Virginia, said Tuesday they were fielding complaints about the hundreds of students who have returned from spring break to Liberty University, where President Jerry Falwell Jr. welcomed them back amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

“We could not be more disappointed in the action that Jerry took in telling students they could come back and take their online classes on campus,” Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek told The Associated Press.

As many colleges nationwide began announcing campus closures this month, Liberty, which is among the nation's largest and most prominent evangelical institutions, initially planned to continue on-campus instruction. But last week, after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restricted gatherings of more than 100, Liberty said it would transition most classes online effective Monday.

Residential students were told they were “welcome” to return to campus, according to an email to students. The move was at odds with many other institutions of higher education that urged students to stay home as the outbreak upended daily life around the globe.

Legendary national parks shuttered

Three of America's best-known national parks – Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Great Smoky Mountains – closed their gates as parks struggle to keep popular recreation areas open while heeding warnings from officials urging them to prevent spreading the coronavirus at congested sites.

Social distancing wasn't working at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, where about 30,000 people lured by good weather, wildflowers and spring break visited each day last week, park officials said. The visitation that was higher than at the same time last year led to congestion at popular sites like Laurel Falls, Newfound Gap and Cades Cove prompted calls by local government leaders to close.

The decision to close Yellowstone, the world's first national park, and neighboring Grand Teton came after pressure from state and local officials.

Russia expects big jump in cases

Russian authorities acknowledged that a low number of coronavirus cases in the country could be a result of insufficient screening and warned that the nation must brace for the worst.

President Vladimir Putin donned a yellow protective suit to visit the top Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients and conferred with officials on how to stem the outbreak. Hospital chief Denis Protsenko told Putin the country needs to “prepare for the Italian scenario.”

Russia has reported 495 cases and no deaths. Critics have argued for weeks that the numbers are too low for a country with a 2,600-mile border with China, blaming a low level of testing and a long tradition of hiding unpleasant truths.

“They themselves don't know how many actual cases they have, because testing is of such low quality” said Anastasia Vasilyeva, a doctor for Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and leader of the Alliance of Doctors union.

Vasilyeva and some others pointed at a 37% increase in pneumonia cases in Moscow in January as a sign that the figure could include some unreported coronavirus cases.

Seniors left to die in Spain

Spanish army troops disinfecting nursing homes have found, to their horror, some residents living in squalor among the infectious bodies of people that authorities suspect have died from the new coronavirus. Prosecutors have launched a judicial probe.

Defense Minister Margarita Robles said the elderly were “completely left to fend for themselves, or even dead, in their beds.” She said the discovery included several nursing homes and several bodies but did not give exact locations for the nursing homes or exactly how many bodies were found.

The news came as Spain announced a record daily rise of 6,584 new coronavirus infections, bringing the overall total to 39,673. The number of deaths also jumped by a record number of 514 to 2,696.

3 on US aircraft carrier test positive

Three sailors on the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for COVID-19, Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy, announced at a Pentagon press briefing.

The affected sailors were flown off the ship and taken to a Defense Department hospital, said Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations.

The ship left San Diego in January and is deployed to the western Pacific. On March 5, the ship made a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, a place with known COVID-19 cases.

Drugmaker seeking tax breaks

The pharmaceutical giant that makes a promising coronavirus drug has registered it as a rare disease treatment with U.S. regulators, a status that can potentially be worth millions in tax breaks and competition-free sales.

What that specialty status will actually mean for the marketing or profitability of Gilead Science's experimental drug remdesivir isn't clear. The drugmaker did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Experts who have studied the so-called “orphan drug” program say the company's request – and the Food and Drug Administration's decision to grant it – seem inappropriate given the rapidly expanding threat of the viral outbreak.

A financial analyst, though, called Gilead's request “pretty standard.”

The FDA granted the status on Monday, according to the agency's website. If approved for coronavirus, Gilead Sciences would receive seven years of exclusive U.S. marketing for the drug and tax credits on its research and development costs.


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