Hope on vaccine; Biden backs masks
As US drug giant Pfizer Inc announced Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine may be 90 percent effective, Joe Biden appealed to Americans to wear face masks to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Pfizer said the results were based on early and incomplete test results, but that it was on track to file an emergency-use request with regulators later this month. Shares of New York-based Pfizer jumped more than 7.5 percent after the company's announcement.
Biden, whom major US media on Saturday declared the winner of the US presidential election, called the development "excellent news" in a statement, but said "for the foreseeable future, the mask remains the most potent weapon against the virus''. "Today's news does not change that reality," he added.
"We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives," Biden said.
"I implore you, wear a mask, do it for yourself, do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together,'' he said in a speech from Wilmington, Delaware.
While Biden has repeatedly called on Americans to wear face masks, President Donald Trump at times has endorsed them but sometimes downplayed wearing masks.
"The election is over," Biden said. "It's time to put aside the partisanship and the rhetoric designed to demonize one another. ... We're united in our shared goal: defeating this virus."
Biden's speech followed a briefing from the 13-member coronavirus advisory task force task force he named earlier Monday that he said would "advise on detailed plans built on a bedrock of science".
Biden's task force plans to focus on a number of initiatives, including ramping up the production and distribution of personal protective equipment to medical centers nationwide.
"I will spare no effort to turn this pandemic around once we're sworn in on January 20," Biden said. "We'll follow the science."
The task force includes former surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr David Kessler, Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University, and Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Biden also named Rick Bright, a former top vaccine official in the Trump administration who submitted a whistleblower complaint to Congress, as a member of the COVID-19 task force, advising him during the transition, officials announced Monday morning.
Bright, who was ousted as the head of a federal medical research agency, told lawmakers that officials in the government had failed to heed his warnings about acquiring masks and other supplies and that the failure to act may have cost American lives.
"Infection rates are going up. Hospitalizations are going up. Deaths are going up," Biden said after listening to his coronavirus advisers, who called into the meeting remotely.
As of Monday, there have been nearly 10 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and more than 237,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In the past week, 1 of every 433 Americans was diagnosed with the virus, and hospitals in several states are running out of beds.
Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in September called face coverings "the most powerful public health tool" in the fight against COVID-19 — possibly even more effective than a potential vaccine.
In a tweet Monday, Trump questioned the timing of the vaccine announcement.
"The @US_FDA and the Democrats didn't want to have me get a vaccine WIN, prior to the election, so instead it came out five days later – As I've said all along!" he tweeted.
The Pfizer news also helped push the Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 3 percent, or 835 points, after it soared as much as 1,610 points in the morning. It was the Dow's best performance since June.
The broader S&P 500 jumped as much as 3.9 percent to more than 3,600 at session highs. It fell short of a record closing high, finishing up 1.2 percent.
The Nasdaq Composite lagged and closed in negative territory.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday he expected the rate of positive tests for the virus to continue rising into the winter.
Both the state and New York City have seen positive test rates creep above 2 percent again in recent days in what Cuomo called a "new phase" of the virus' spread.
"The numbers are undeniable," he told reporters on a conference call. "The best you can do is manage the increase."
Earlier on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the city may soon enter a second wave of infections after grappling with what at the time was the world's worst outbreak earlier this year.
He said New Yorkers might see restrictions reintroduced, saying he now believed that indoor dining at restaurants, even at restricted capacity, should be reconsidered, though he said that decision ultimately rested with Cuomo.
In New Jersey, bars and restaurants will have to close early and youth interstate sports will be canceled under new restrictions announced Monday by Governor Phil Murphy as virus cases rise in the state.
The new restrictions take effect Thursday, which means bars and restaurants must close inside by 10 pm as they approach what is usually one of the busiest times of the year, said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association. Seating at bars also will be prohibited, Murphy said.
"As the night wears on, people let their hair down and folks are just not social distancing as they should," Murphy told a news conference.
In Utah, Governor Gary Herbert ordered a statewide mask mandate for the first time late Sunday. He also is pausing extracurricular school activities, along with most sports and social gatherings with people outside the household.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts required masks Monday in businesses where customers and employees are in close contact for more than 15 minutes.
In Idaho, where 1 of every 223 residents tested positive for the virus over the last week, Governor Brad Little wrote an opinion piece Monday imploring people to wear masks, though he said he does not have the authority to issue a statewide mandate.