The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 moved closer to 30 million on Wednesday, and the U.S. tally rose to 6.6 million, as President Donald Trump denied that he had played down the virus, even though he admitted as much in a taped recording released last week.
Trump faced questions from voters during an ABC town-hall style event, at which he said he had actually “up-played the virus.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action,” Trump told the audience, despite his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he had deliberately played it down in taped interviews for Woodward’s new book, “Rage.”
Trump told Woodward in February that the coronavirus was “deadly stuff,” even as he minimized the health threat publicly by telling Americans that COVID-19 was “under control” and “going to disappear.”
The questions from uncommitted voters included; a diabetic man who said he felt he’d been thrown “under the bus” by mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic; a Black woman with a disease that left her uninsurable until the Obama health care law came along who is worried that she could lose coverage again; a Black pastor who questioned Trump’s campaign motto to “Make America Great Again.”
“When has America been great for African Americans in the ghetto of America?” the pastor asked.
In one bizarre moment, Trump blamed his presidential rival, Democrat Joe Biden, for failing to implement a face mask mandate, but also again undermined face masks, in a direct contradiction of the advice of his own health experts and members of the White House Task Force created to manage the pandemic.
Biden responded on Twitter.
Trump also said eventually the U.S. would achieve “herd mentality.” Herd immunity, not mentality, is the notion that once a high proportion of a population has contracted or been vaccinated against an infectious disease, the likelihood of others in the population being infected is drastically reduced.
Herd immunity is a controversial notion as it would inevitably result in more deaths and suffering, particularly of elderly or immuno-compromised people.
In other news:
• India has passed 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Guardian reported, citing health ministry data. India now has a total of 5.02 million cases of the virus, second only to the U.S. India has been recording the biggest daily increases in infections for some time and counted just over 90,000 on Wednesday. India took 167 days to reach one million cases, but just 21 days to rise to 2 million, according to the Times of India. It hit four million 29 days later.
• Madrid is planning to lock down selective areas in mostly working-class neighborhoods where COVID-19 contagion rates have been steadily climbing, according to media reports. “Madrid wants to flatten the curve before the arrival of autumn and the complications that cold weather could bring,” deputy regional health chief Antonio Zapatero told reporters at a briefing. Madrid and its environs have accounted for nearly a third of new daily infections, which have averaged 8,200 a day for the past week. The restrictions are expected to be announced by the end of the week.
• Texas has become the second U.S. state to count more than 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 after California, according to a New York Times tracker. In mid-August, five metropolitan areas in South Texas — Brownsville-Harlingen, Eagle Pass, Rio Grande City, Corpus Christi and Laredo – had the highest number of new cases relative to their populations.
• A wedding celebration at the Big Moose Inn near Millinocket, Maine in early August has been traced to more than 175 confirmed coronavirus infections as well as the deaths of seven people, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as the Washington Post reported. In a sign of how the virus can quickly spread when people gather without social distancing or face masks, six of the deaths were of people who had no link to the wedding, including six residents of Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison, Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah told reporters at a briefing. The state suspended the inn’s business license after the outbreak. Health experts are concerned about other “superspreader” events, including the Sturgis Motorbike Rally in August that brought an estimated 400,000 people to the small town in South Dakota, who were filmed in crowded bars without face masks.
There are now 29.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and 935,591 people have died. At least 20 million people have recovered.
The U.S. has the highest tallies in the world with 6.6 million cases and 195,942 deaths.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 133,119 and third highest case toll at 4.4 million. India is third with 82,066 deaths and second with 5 million cases. Mexico is fourth with 71,678 deaths and seventh with 676.487 cases.
The U.K. has 41,753 deaths and 376,670 cases, the highest death toll in Europe and fifth-highest in the world.
China, where the illness was first reported late last year, has 90,244 cases and 4,736 deaths, according to its official figures.
What’s the latest medical news?
The Russian Direct Investment Fund, or RDIF, Russia’s sovereign-wealth fund, and Indian drug company Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. RDY, +4.03% , have agreed to cooperate on clinical trials and distribution of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine named Sputnik V in India.
In a joint statement, the partners said RDIF will supply Dr. Reddy’s with 100 million doses of the vaccine. Delivery could begin in late 2020, said the statement.
Russia surprised — and alarmed — experts when it said on Aug. 11 that it was registering its vaccine before completing Phase 3 clinical trials. The vaccine “is based on well-studied human adenoviral vector platform with proven safety, is undergoing clinical trials for the coronavirus pandemic,” said the statement.
On Sept. 4, medical journal The Lancet released a research paper on the Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials of Sputnik V, showing no serious adverse effects and a stable immune response. The vaccine is now being tested in a trial involving 40,000 volunteers, with the first results expected in October or November.
Eli Lilly & Co. LLY, +1.55% said interim data from a mid-stage clinical trial assessing its experimental antibody treatment reduced the rate of hospitalization as well as viral load in some COVID-19 patients. The investigational therapy, LY-CoV555, is produced using neutralizing antibodies gathered from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.
The ongoing, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase 2 study is expected to enroll a total of 800 participants, all of whom have mild to moderate symptoms and are being treated with LY-CoV555 in an outpatient setting.
Lilly said the rate of hospitalization and emergency room visit was 1.7% for patients taking the drug, while the rate of hospitalization and ER visits for patients taking the placebo was 6.0%.
“The results reinforce our conviction that neutralizing antibodies can help in the fight against COVID-19,” Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientific officer, said in a news release.
The full data is expected to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
AstraZeneca’s AZN, +0.66% AZN, -0.48% Phase 3 trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate is still on hold in the U.S., according to remarks from Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn during an Instagram Live with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
Hahn said the FDA is working with the drug maker “to figure out if there’s a significant safety issue or not” after the company confirmed last week that it had halted its trial in the U.K. after a participant reported a “potentially unexplained illness.” The New York Times reported that the illness is transverse myelitis, a rare spinal disorder sometimes associated with vaccines.
“If a serious adverse event occurs, that’s a trigger to stop the trial so that we can pause — it’s really a pause, not a stop — and we can take a look at that,” Hahn said.
What’s the economy saying?
Sales at retail stores across the country rose in August for the third month in a row in another display of the economy’s resilience, but the momentum appears to be waning after a big burst of demand earlier in the summer once the U.S. reopened for business, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
Retail sales increased 0.6% last month, the government said Wednesday, a tick below the forecast of economists polled by MarketWatch.
The pace of sales has slowed, however, from earlier in the summer, when the economy reopened and many retailers experienced a sharp rebound in customer traffic. Sales gains are likely to be harder to come by in the months ahead, especially after the end of generous federal aid for the unemployed and businesses struggling to survive.
Retail sales are a big part of consumer spending and typically increase when the economy improves and Americans feel more confident to spend. Sales have exceeded precrisis levels since June, reflecting a remarkable turnaround that few economists would have predicted early in the pandemic.
“The recovery is still on track,” said senior economist Jennifer Lee of BMO Capital Markets. “It is swaying a little, from left to right, but it is still on track.”
What are companies saying?
• Adobe Inc. ADBE, -2.65% reported fiscal third-quarter results that bested Wall Street estimates. Revenue rose 14% to a record $3.23 billion from $2.8 billion a year ago. Fourth-quarter guidance was also above estimates. “Normally, Q3 is a seasonally slow quarter for us, but small businesses and education fully embraced digital tools during the pandemic,” Adobe Chief Financial Officer John Murphy told MarketWatch in a phone interview after the results were announced. “This is a long-running trend.”
• Carnival Corp. ‘s CCL, +2.98% CCL, -2.27% Germany-based cruise line AIDA Cruises is expanding tits cruise offerings to Italy for the fall. AIDA said starting Oct. 17, it will offer a 7-day cruise departing from Civitavecchia near Rome, and traveling to Palermo and Catania in Sicily, Naples and La Spezia. The new cruises will be offered weekly, until Nov. 28. AIDA has been operating cruises in Germany since early-August.
• Caterpillar Inc. CAT, +1.09%, the construction and mining equipment maker, reported August total machines retail sales that fell in line with July’s decline, while energy and transportation retail sales fell further during the pandemic. Three-month rolling total machine retail sales through August fell 20% from a year ago, after falling 20% in July and 23% in June. Within machines sales, resource industries retail sales dropped 27%, after declining 19% in July, while construction industries retail sales declined 17% after falling 20% in July. In North America, total machines retail sales fell 35% after falling 38% in July, while Asia/Pacific retail sales slipped 1% after rising 5% in July. Global energy and transportation retail sales fell 17% through August, after declining 16% in July and falling 18% in June.
• Eventbrite Inc. EB, +9.67% saw 17% growth in paid tickets in August compared with July, and 26% growth in paid tickets to in-person events. Still, the online-ticketing company’s business is down sharply relative to a year ago, with August’s paid-ticket volume falling 65% on a year-over-year basis during the pandemic. The decline marked an improvement from the second quarter, when paid-ticket volume plunged 82%. “Many creators have rescheduled their events for 2021 and have funded the majority of attendee refund requests on their own.” Options like event credits have “helped reduce the company’s advance payout balance to $230 million,”, and “additional company-funded chargebacks and refunds” totaled less than $300,000 since the company last reported results in early August. Eventbrite executives will be speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference at 2:05 p.m. ET Wednesday.
• FedEx Corp. FDX, +5.76% reported better-than-expected profit and sales for its fiscal 2021 first quarter, saying the world “has accelerated to meet our strategies” and that its workers’ effort had kept “the world’s health care, industrial and at-home supply chains moving despite the challenges of the global pandemic.” Results increased in part due to volume growth in FedEx’s international priority and U.S. domestic residential package services, the company said. Better yields for its ground and freight services also helped, FedEx said. Higher costs related to “strong demand,” employee compensation, and COVID-19 precautions offset some of the gains, the company said. FedEx declined to provide an outlook for fiscal 2021, citing the ongoing pandemic, and forecast its capital spending for the year to be $200 million higher to $5.1 billion, “driven by additional capacity initiatives to support increased volume levels.”
• Kohl’s Corp. KSS, +2.42% has cut 15% of corporate positions, part of a restructuring that the department store retailer is undertaking as a result of the impact of COVID-19. The company will take a $23 million pre-tax charge as a result. Kohl’s expects an annualized cost savings of $65 million after the headcount reduction. Along with other restructuring measures, the company expects total annualized cost savings of $100 million.
• Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International Inc. QSR, -1.63% has launched an offering of C$1 billion ($795.5 million) in second lien senior secured notes that mature in 2030. Proceeds will be used to redeem a portion of the outstanding 4.00% second lien senior secured notes that mature in 2025. The company, which also owns Tim Hortons, joins the many companies issuing record levels of debt during the pandemic.
• Southwest Airlines Co. LUV, +3.22% updated its financial guidance trends, including an upbeat outlook for load factor and reduced its third-quarter outlook for daily cash burn, which has been high during the pandemic. The August load factor was 42%, in line with previously provided guidance of 40% to 45%. The company lifted its estimate for September load factor to 45% to 50% from 40% to 50% and expects October load factor of 45% to 55%. Operating revenue was down 70% in August, compared with expectations of down 70% to 75%. Southwest affirmed its September outlook for revenue to be down 65% to 70%, and expects October revenue to fall 65% to 75%. The company said August daily cash burn averaged $19 million. Southwest now estimates third-quarter average daily cash burn of $17 million, down from a previous estimate of $20 million, citing improvements in close-in leisure demand and booking trends. The airline will keep its middle seats open through Nov. 30, as it bolsters its commitment to its “Southwest Promise” which includes enhanced cleaning and physical-distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.