May 19, 2020

Rebekah Jones, the architect and onetime manager of Florida's COVID-19 dashboard, said on Monday she was removed from her post after she would not censor data.

In an email to CBS12 News, Jones said she refused to "manually change data to drum up support" for Florida's plan to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. The dashboard shares data on coronavirus cases, testing, and deaths by county and ZIP code, and is used by the public and academic and private researchers working on coronavirus models. Jones led a team of Florida Department of Health data scientists and public health officials to create the dashboard, which was praised last month by Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force.

Earlier Monday, Florida Today reported that on May 5, Jones sent an email to researchers letting them know that she had been removed from her position, and for "reasons beyond my division's control," they would no longer be publishing or fixing data. Jones wrote that she did not know "what data they are now restricting," and "as a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months."

Over the last few weeks, the dashboard has gone offline, data has disappeared without explanation, and it's been difficult to gain access to underlying data sheets, Florida Today reports. The Florida Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment on the data and Jones' removal from her position. Catherine Garcia

8:13 a.m.

The CEO of Pfizer is expressing confidence in the company's coronavirus vaccine candidate, which he says could potentially receive approval from the FDA this October.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla spoke with Time this week after the pharmaceutical company recently released the first clinical data on its COVID-19 candidate, which showed it generated neutralizing antibodies at levels 1.8 to 2.8-times the levels found in patients who recovered from COVID-19. There were, however, some side effects including fevers.

"What we learned is that this vaccine can neutralize the virus," Bourla told Time. "...For me, it was the moment when I saw the data, plus many other data that we haven't published yet, [that] made me say that until now I was thinking if we have a vaccine. Now I'm discussing when we're going to have a vaccine."

Bourla added that "we have a lot of indications that make me feel that really it should make it," noting that it won't be until "we have the final study" that it's clear whether the vaccine candidate works but saying that this answer should come around September.

"So for a potential approval in October, if we are lucky," he said. "It's feasible."

If that happens, Bourla says "we will have already manufactured doses that will be readily available" as soon as the FDA approval comes. In announcing its recent data, Pfizer said it's looking to "manufacture up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and potentially more than 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021." Brendan Morrow

8:12 a.m.

Two-thirds of Americans now disapprove of President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and race relations, two of the biggest issues roiling the U.S. in the lead-up to November's election, ABC News and Ipsos find in a national poll released Friday morning. Roughly mirroring the U.S. COVID-19 case count graph, Trump's disapproval numbers on his coronavirus response held relatively steady from April until June, then rose sharply through July.

Overall, 67 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Trump's coronavirus response while 33 percent approve. Trump saw some slippage among Republicans — 78 percent approve of his response, down from 90 percent in June — but his numbers among independents tanked. In mid-June, 40 percent of independents approved of Trump's COVID-19 oversight and 59 disapproved; now, only 26 percent approve and 73 percent disapprove. Men (66 percent) and women (67 percent) equally disapprove of the president's response, and even white Americans without a college degree narrowly disapprove, 50 percent to 49 percent approving.

The percentage of American who said the economy was being pushed to open too quickly rose 3 percentage points, to 59 percent, ABC News/Ipsos found, versus 15 percent who said it is opening too slowly. On Trump's handling of race relations, 59 percent of white Americans, 92 percent of Black Americans, and 83 percent of Latinos disapprove.

The ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted July 8-9 among 711 U.S. adults in English and Spanish. The poll's margin of sampling error is ±4.1 percentage points. Peter Weber

7:41 a.m.

Starbucks announced Thursday that it would require customers in its company-operated coffee cafés in the United States to wear masks starting July 15, Yahoo Finance reports. The policy is intended to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection as COVID-19 cases spike in the U.S. The company said it was "prioritizing the health and well-being of partners (employees) and customers" despite resistance to wearing masks by many Americans.

In some states and cities, authorities have made masks mandatory in places where social distancing is impossible, such as enclosed restaurants and stores. "It is our responsibility to protect our partners and comply with local public health mandates," the company said. "As such, our partners have the right and responsibility to refuse service to customers who are not wearing facial coverings." Harold Maass

7:33 a.m.

Authorities across the United States reported another day of record new coronavirus infections on Thursday, marking the sixth new high in 10 days, The New York Times reports. The surge of about 60,000 new cases was driven by spiking infections across the South and the West, mostly in states that eased lockdowns and reopened their economies early after the first spike in the spring.

At least six states — Alabama, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, and Texas — reported single-day infection records. At least two states saw their biggest death toll increases yet, with Florida reporting 120 deaths and Tennessee 22. Hospitalizations rose sharply in some areas, too, forcing many hospitals across the South and West to open up beds by canceling elective surgeries and discharging patients early. Harold Maass

7:08 a.m.

A rural mail carrier in West Virginia pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of attempted election fraud and another count of "injury to the mail," the U.S. Attorney's Office for Northern West Virginia announced. The contract mail man, Thomas Cooper, used black ink to alter eight primary ballot requests, marking five of them from "Democrat" to "Republican" and changing three in other ways, prosecutors said.

The Pendleton County clerk spotted the obvious alterations and alerted state officials, sparking an investigation involving the state attorney general's office, U.S. postal inspectors, and federal prosecutors. West Virginia mailed all registered voters absentee ballot requests to encourage mail-in voting in the state's June 9 primary. If the tampered ballot requests had not been caught, five people requesting to vote in the Democratic primary would have received Republican primary ballots.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted several states to move to mail-in voting out of safety concerns. Mail-in vote fraud does happen but it's very rare, and this case was pretty inconsequential. One of the investigators interviewing Cooper, 47, asked if he was "just being silly" and he replied yes, he did it "as a joke." He will be sentenced at a later date. Peter Weber

5:57 a.m.

The people in charge of putting together President Trump's Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, next month have several large, intertwined challenges: time, the state's raging COVID-19 outbreak, and money. The convention planners are "under pressure to raise tens of millions of dollars in the next five weeks to help finance the three-day convention," and as they struggle against this "almost impossibly rushed time frame," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is actively "hindering those efforts," The New York Times reports.

DeSantis "has directed his top fund-raiser, Heather Barker, to tell donors not to give to the convention because of a personal dispute between the governor and Susie Wiles, his former campaign manager who is serving as an informal adviser to the convention planners," the Times reports, citing multiple people familiar with his actions. DeSantis fell out with Wiles, a longtime, well-connected Florida GOP operative who lives in Jacksonville, last fall over suspicious she leaked an embarrassing personal memo suggesting DeSantis charge lobbyists for access.

Trump's campaign credits Wiles with helping it win Florida in 2016, when she served as its Florida political director, and when DeSantis told Trump over the phone that Wiles was overrated as an operative, "Trump did not respond, and changed the subject," the Times reports. DeSantis lobbied Trump to move the convention to Florida after North Carolina required masks, social distancing, and other measures from turning the RNC into another super-spreader event.

Most of the contributions for the Jacksonville convention are coming from national donors, so convention fund-raisers say DeSantis' alleged sabotage is having little effect, the Times reports. But still, "the governor's threat to hold up resources in his own state was seen by Republican officials as a stunning act of political pettiness." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

4:37 a.m.

Texas A&M College of Medicine is leading a consortium of research hospitals and medical schools in a Phase 4 trial to determine if the century-old tuberculosis vaccine can help blunt the damage from COVID-19, at least until a vaccine for the new coronavirus has been proven safe and effective.

"Scientists have known for decades that the tuberculosis vaccine, called bacille Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, improves immunity against some viruses," The Texas Tribune reported back in May, when the trial was just getting started. Jeffrey Cirillo, the Texas A&M microbial pathogenesis and immunology professor who is leading the trial, told Politico on Thursday that about 100 people have already been vaccinated, 200-300 more will get their shots over the next two weeks, and the goal is 1,800 subjects in the "randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled trial."

The TB vaccine has been used more than a billion times around the world, but it's not commonly used in the U.S., except to fight bladder cancer. The researchers at Texas A&M, Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard's School of Public Health, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are hoping the vaccine ramps up the immune system to fight off the disease, as it does the cancer cells. A similar trial is being conducted in the Netherlands.

The U.S. researchers will monitor the volunteers for six months, looking for statistically significant differences between those who get the BCG vaccine and the group that gets a placebo shot. "We're also doing a cognitive study in parallel to evaluate the cognitive effects of COVID-19," Cirillo told Politico's Myah Ward, using before-and-after MRIs and cognitive assessments to see if the vaccine reduces COVID-19's mental impairments. The vaccine is most effective in the first two to three years, he added, and if it is found to be effective, it could be used either as a stop-gap measure until a coronavirus vaccine arrives or in tandem with that vaccine to make it more effective. Peter Weber

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