(CNN) — After weeks under stay-at-home orders, Americans should feel free to go outside and enjoy Memorial Day weekend as long as they practice social distancing and follow other guidelines, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert said.
“We’ll be having people who want to get out there and get fresh air,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at CNN’s coronavirus town hall Thursday night. “You can do that. We’re not telling people to just lock in unless you’re in a situation where you have a major outbreak going on, we don’t have too much of that right now in the country.”
But that does not mean throw caution to the wind.
“Go out, wear a mask, stay six feet away from anyone so you have the physical distancing,” he said. “Go for a run. Go for a walk. Go fishing. As long as you’re not in a crowd and you’re not in a situation where you can physically transmit the virus.”
As of Friday afternoon, more than 1.5 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 95,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
All 50 US states have now taken steps to ease stay-home restrictions. In some states that effort includes reopening beaches in some states for the weekend, the unofficial start of summer. But officials have issued social distancing restrictions and capacity limits to keep beachgoers and communities safe due the threat of the coronavirus.
Public and private beaches in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware reopen Friday with certain restrictions, the governors of those states said in a joint announcement. Further south, most Florida beaches will be open, while those in hard-hit areas like Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade County will remain closed.
“Please, as you go out this weekend, understand you can go out, you can be outside, you can play golf, you can play tennis with marked balls, you can go to the beaches if you stay six feet apart,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in a briefing Friday.
“But remember that that is your space, and that’s a space that you need to protect and ensure that you’re social distancing for others,” she said.
Mayor Derrick Henry of Daytona Beach, Florida, told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that beachgoers should stay at least 10 feet apart this holiday weekend. But even though masks are advised, Henry said it’s “not realistic or practical to ask people to go to the beach and wear a mask.”
Some local officials are wary, like Paul Kanitra, the mayor of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. He told CNN that police will be on the beach this weekend to enforce social distancing by giving warnings or asking people to leave.
“Nobody wants to be the mayor from ‘Jaws’ who lets everyone back in the water a little too soon, right?” he said.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Friday announced his administration would deem houses of worship as “essential,” and said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would provide guidance for their reopening.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential, but have left our churches and houses of worship,” the President said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
Trump went on to call on governors to “allow churches and places of worship to open right now,” and threatened to “override” governors if their states did not follow the recommendations — though he does not have the authority to do so. The recommendations are voluntary.
Drug touted by Trump as treatment linked to greater risk of death, study finds
Seriously ill COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were more likely to die or develop dangerous heart arrhythmias, according to a large observational study published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet.
Researchers looked at data from more than 96,000 COVID-19 patients from 671 hospitals. All were hospitalized from late December to mid-April and had died or been discharged by April 21. Just below 15,000 were treated with the antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, or one of those drugs combined with an antibiotic.
Those treatments were linked with a higher risk of dying in the hospital, the study found. About 1 in 6 patients treated with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine alone died in the hospital, compared to 1 in 11 patients in the control group.
About 1 in 5 patients treated with chloroquine and an antibiotic died and almost 1 in 4 treated with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic died.
“Previous small-scale studies have failed to identify robust evidence of a benefit and larger, randomised controlled trials are not yet completed,” Dr. Frank Ruschitzka, director of the Heart Center at University Hospital Zurich and the study’s coauthor, said in a statement.
“However, we now know from our study that the chance that these medications improve outcomes in COVID-19 is quite low,” he said
President Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential coronavirus cure. Earlier this week he claimed he was taking daily doses of it as a prophylaxis to prevent infection.
There have been no published studies on the use of the antimalarial drug to prevent COVID-19.
The President said he started taking it after consulting the White House doctor, though he didn’t say his physician had actually recommended the drug.
Additionally, the study found serious cardiac arrhythmias were more common among patients who received any of the four treatments. The largest increase was among the group treated with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic — 8% of those patients developed a heart arrhythmia, compared to 0.3% of the control group.
Fauci ‘cautiously optimistic’ about Moderna vaccine
Meantime, the race for a vaccine continues with more than 124 potential vaccines in development around the globe, according to the World Health Organization. Ten potential vaccines are in clinical trials.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, is “cautiously optimistic” about a vaccine candidate from Moderna, he said Thursday.
The company, which is working with NIAID, announced this week that early data from its phase 1 clinical trial showed positive results in volunteers who received the vaccine. Of the dozens of study participants, eight developed neutralizing antibodies at levels reaching or exceeding those seen in people who have naturally recovered from COVID-19.
Neutralizing antibodies bind to the virus, disabling it from attacking human cells.
“Importantly, it induced the kind of response that you would predict would be protective against the virus,” Fauci said.
“So although the numbers were limited,” he added, “it was really quite good news because it reached and went over an important hurdle in the development of vaccines.”
Moderna’s vaccine received clearance to begin Phase 2 trials — and it’s not alone.
A vaccine developed by CanSino Biological Inc. and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology has begun a phase 2 trial in Wuhan, China.
The vaccine, one of the first to begin human trials, was found to be safe and generated an immune response, according to another set of results published Friday in The Lancet — the first published results from human trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine. No serious adverse events were reported within 28 days of the vaccination.
Another vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca has also started recruiting participants for phase 2 human trials, according to a statement from the university. The study will enroll more than 10,000 adults and children. The group has not released any data about phase one.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday reiterated his pledge to have the Department of Defense deliver a coronavirus vaccine at scale by the end of the year, despite skepticism about such an ambitious timeline.
“Absolutely it’s possible,” he told NBC. “And I’ve spoken to our medical experts about this, we are completely confident that we can get this done.”
CDC issues new guidance on symptoms
About a third of coronavirus infections have no symptoms, the CDC said in new guidance.
The CDC said its “best estimate” is that 0.4% of people who show symptoms and have COVID-19 will die. And an estimated 40% of coronavirus transmission occurs before people feel sick.
In the most severe scenario, the CDC assumes that 1% of people overall with COVID-19 and symptoms will die. In the least severe scenario, it puts that number at 0.2%.
The guidance is intended for modelers and public health officials. The CDC notes that its numbers could change as it learns more about COVID-19, saying they do not “reflect the impact of any behavioral changes, social distancing or other interventions.”
The new numbers are based on real data received before April 29, it said. It characterized the numbers as preliminary estimates from federal agencies.