Case Counts/Testing in Texas Sunday, August 23rd (3:20 PM data)
Total Tests Performed — 5,063,576
Confirmed Cases — 577,537 (3,493new cases)
Active Cases —114,391
Hospitalizations — 5,186 (12,356 available beds, 1,310 available ICU beds)
Fatalities — 11,370 (104 new deaths)
Recovered Cases — 451,776
Inside the Numbers
Positivity rate as of Saturday, August 22nd was 16.24%. One week ago, there were 6,474 new cases reported, compared to 3,474 yesterday. The 5,186 in hospitals now is 1,081 less than a week ago, and COVID patients make up 9.4% of total hospital beds.
Storms Headed to Texas
With an unprecedented situation of two storms headed towards Texas at the same time, a state of disaster was declared for 23 Texas counties yesterday. The good news is, what was Hurricane Marco has weakened into a tropical storm, and is expected to make landfall in Louisiana on Monday evening, carrying winds of 40 MPH. The storm is then expected to weaken further, and then move west into east Texas. In addition to that, tropical storm Laura is advancing in the central Gulf of Mexico this afternoon and could strengthen into a Hurricane by the time it makes landfall later in the week near the Texas/Louisiana border. Laura is now the much bigger threat, and could strengthen into a Category II Hurricane by the time it is expected to make landfall on Wednesday evening. The storm is then expected to move east once it makes landfall.
These storms would mark the second and third storm systems to impact the Texas coast this hurricane season. Hurricane Hannah moved inland less than a month ago, dumping 15 inches of rain in areas of the Rio Grande Valley. Again, Texans affected will not only face the challenge of dealing with the elements brought by a tropical system, but must do so while continuing to battle the pandemic.
School Districts to Report COVID Data
The state of Texas will begin reporting information on COVID cases in public schools among students and staff. On Friday, the Texas Education Agency said they will require school districts to report confirmed cases to the state that will be tracked by state Department of Health Services. The goal is to provide all information available to local and state policymakers so they are aware of the number of COVID cases happening on each campus, what the implications are, and allow local officials to take appropriate action if necessary.
Conservatives Sue to Block Early Voting Extension
The normal early voting period for elections in Texas is for a two week period prior to election day. Due to the pandemic and in an attempt to allow for greater flexibility and additional safety measures for the voters, Gov. Abbott has extended that period by six days for this November election. Early voting is now scheduled to start on October 13th, instead of October 20th. Led by a conservative activist in Houston, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that Gov. Abbott has again infringed on the personal liberties of the voters by suspending laws that only the Legislature should be allowed to suspend. The suit, filed in Travis County state District Court, asks for an immediate restraining order against the order granting the extended voting period.
Senate District 30 Special Election
Senate District 30 incumbent Pat Fallon (R, Prosper) has notified Gov. Abbott that he will resign his seat effective January 4th. Fallon was selected to replace then incumbent Congressman John Ratcliff who resigned his seat to head the Office of National Intelligence. Fallon is waiting until January to officially leave the Senate seat so he can add an additional calendar year to his retirement account. With a regular session of the Legislature looming in January, there is a need to go ahead and set a date for a special election so the seat is not vacant during the session.
The special election will be held on September 29th. The Senate seat runs from the Wichita Falls and Denton areas, down to Weatherford, and over to eastern Dallas County. Three candidates have already declared their candidacy. State Rep. Drew Springer (R, Muenster), Denton Mayor Chris Watts, and Shelly Luther, the salon owner from the Dallas area who defied Gov. Abbott’s shutdown orders and opened her business to the delight of many small business owners. The winner of the special election will serve out the remainder of the term, which runs through 2022.
Update on Vaccines
Currently, more than 170 teams of researchers are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before reaching the clinic, but scientists are racing to produce a safe and effective vaccine by next year.
138 of those teams are in the “pre-clinical” stage, meaning the vaccines have not yet made it to human trials and are being given to animals to see if it triggers an immune response. 25 teams are in Phase 1 of clinical testing – small scale safety trials in which the vaccine is given to a small group of people. 15 teams are in Phase 2 of clinical testing – expanded safety trials. And the 7 closest teams are in Phase 3 – large scale efficacy trials, these trials involve a control group which is given a placebo.
The 7 teams closest to reaching an approved vaccine are the following:
University of Oxford/AstraZeneca
The University of Oxford vaccine is delivered via a chimpanzee virus, called the vaccine vector. The vector contains the genetic code of the protein spikes found on the coronavirus and triggers a strong immune response in the human body. The vaccine is in a combined phase 2/3 trial in the UK and has recently gone into phase 3 trials in South Africa and Brazil.
The German company BioNTech entered into collaborations with Pfizer, based in New York, and the Chinese drug maker Fosun Pharma to develop an mRNA vaccine. In May they launched a Phase 1/2 trial on two versions of the vaccine. They found that both versions caused volunteers to produce antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, as well as immune cells called T cells that respond to the virus. They found that one version, called BNT162b2, produced significantly fewer side effects, such as fevers and fatigue, and so they chose it to move into Phase 2/3 trials. On July 27, the companies announced the launch of a Phase 2/3 trial with 30,000 volunteers in the United States and other countries including Argentina, Brazil, and Germany.
In that same month, the Trump administration awarded a $1.9 billion contract for 100 million doses to be delivered by December and the option to acquire 500 million more doses. Meanwhile, Japan made a deal for 120 million doses. In August, Pfizer said it was on track to seek regulatory review of their vaccine as early as October 2020. If approved, Pfizer has said they expect to manufacture over 1.3 billion doses of their vaccine worldwide by the end of 2021.
American biotech company Moderna is developing a vaccine candidate using messenger RNA (or mRNA for short) to trick the body into producing viral proteins itself. No mRNA vaccine has ever been approved for an infectious disease, and Moderna has never brought a product to market. But proponents of the vaccine say it could be easier to mass produce than traditional vaccines.
Chinese company Sinovac is developing a vaccine based on inactivated Covid-19 particles. The vaccine has shown a promising safety profile in the early stages of testing and is now moving into Phase 3 trials in Brazil.
Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
Sinopharm is also testing a second inactivated virus vaccine, this one developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products. In Phase 3 trials in the United Arab Emirates, 5,000 people are receiving the Wuhan Institute version, while another 5,000 are receiving the Beijing Institute one.
Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products developed an inactivated virus vaccine, which the state-owned Chinese company Sinopharm put into clinical tests. The Phase 1/2 trial showed that the vaccine produced antibodies in volunteers, some of whom experienced fevers and other side effects. They launched Phase 3 trials in the United Arab Emirates in July, and in Peru and Morocco the following month. Sinopharm’s chairman said in August that the vaccine could potentially be ready for public use by the end of 2020.
University of Melbourne/Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia is conducting a phase 3 trial using a nearly 100-year-old tuberculosis vaccine. The vaccine is not thought to protect directly against Covid-19 but might boost the body’s non-specific immune response.