Warp Speed officials to distribute vaccine within 24 hours of approval; CDC director touts benefits of universal masking — 5 COVID-19 updates

The U.S. has reported an average of 39,054 new COVID-19 cases daily in the past week, down 3 percent from the average seen two weeks ago, reports The New York Times.

Five updates:

1. If all Americans wore masks, the U.S. could have COVID-19 under control within six to 12 weeks, said Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC. "I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine," Dr. Redfield told a Senate committee Sept. 16, adding that vaccines aren't 100 percent effective, but properly worn masks do what they are designed to do. Following the comments, President Donald Trump said "the mask perhaps helps" but that it "is a mixed bag," and a "vaccine is much more effective than the masks," according to The New York Times. 

2. Federal officials said they plan to distribute a vaccine within 24 hours of any emergency authorization and for no cost to Americans, reports The New York Times. Operation Warp Speed officials outlined their vaccine distribution plan Sept. 16 but said the timeline is still unclear. Officials said they intend to distribute the vaccine to a limited group of high-priority people, such as healthcare workers, in the final three months of 2020. At a Sept. 16 Senate hearing, Dr. Redfield reiterated these intentions and said a vaccine wouldn't be widely distributed until mid-2021 or later. Following Dr. Redfield's comments, President Trump told reporters: "I think he made a mistake when he said that," and "under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said," according to NYT.  

3. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden shared a three-question assessment any potential COVID-19 vaccine will need to pass before he endorses it during a Sept. 16 campaign speech in Wilmington, Del. The three questions are: What criteria will be used to ensure the vaccine meets scientific standards? Who will validate that the decision to approve the vaccine was driven by scientists? How will we ensure that distribution of the vaccine will take place safely, cost-free and without any favoritism?

4. COVID-19 is complicating care for many Americans with sickle cell disease, reports STAT. The pandemic has temporarily halted numerous clinical trials involving gene therapies for sickle cell and postponed the introduction of two new drugs the FDA approved last year. The pandemic has also made it harder for many patients to access care, as sickle cell patients are immunocompromised and at higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications. Physicians say they're concerned that patients may not be seeking the care and pain management they need for fear of contracting COVID-19 in the hospital or emergency room. 

5. HHS communications official Michael Caputo is taking a leave of absence days after he blasted CDC scientists during a Facebook Live video, according to NBC News. HHS said Mr. Caputo, the agency's assistant secretary for public affairs, will be on leave for the next 60 days "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family."

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 6,631,751
Deaths: 196,831
Recovered: 2,525,573

Counts reflect data available as of 8:35 a.m. CDT Sept. 17.

More articles on public health:
States closing, pausing, reopening
CMS kicks off flu shot campaign
20 states where COVID-19 is spreading fastest, slowest: Sept. 17

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