The Latest: Cheap, widely available steroids found to reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths

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The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

Cheap, widely available steroid drugs reduced the number of deaths in the sickest patients with COVID-19, show a trio of newly published clinical trials.


New studies confirm that steroids like dexamethasone improved survival for severely ill COVID-19 patients. Associated Press/Nati Harnik

The World Health Organization, citing evidence from these and similar trials, announced Wednesday it strongly recommends doctors use the medications to combat severe or critical forms of disease caused by coronavirus infections.

Finding a treatment that saves lives is “electrifying … it gives us hope. Maybe we’re gaining on this virus,” said Todd W. Rice, a critical care physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who was not involved in the studies.

WHO’s decision brings the international agency in line with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which earlier this summer released guidelines for clinicians to use a synthetic steroid, dexamethasone, to treat hospitalized patients who require ventilators or oxygen.

The evidence that persuaded the WHO included a meta-analysis, sponsored by the organization, which evaluated three new studies, plus four other randomized, controlled trials. Each trial involved a medication from the family of anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids.

“These three trials, and then the World Health Organization meta-analysis, sets steroids as the standard and the expectation that patients are critically ill will get treated with this,” Rice said.

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Cases continue to climb at world’s largest nudist resort

An additional 140 people have tested positive for the coronavirus at France’s Cap d’Agde naturist resort, bringing the total number of confirmed cases at the popular summer destination to at least 240. Tens of thousands of holidaymakers and swinger couples visit the sprawling village, also known as the Naked City, each year.

An estimated 100 people, including two employees, tested positive for the virus on Aug. 23, with regional health authorities calling the outbreak at the world’s largest naturist resort “very worrying.” Data from a testing unit set up outside the village revealed that 30 percent of the 800 naturists recently tested have produced a positive result.

The rate of infection at Cap d’Agde is four times as high as in the surrounding area, the SKYCHURP reported, citing evidence from local authorities.

In line with government advice, it is mandatory for guests to wear a face covering at all times, but some have expressed concern that the lack of social distancing is driving transmission of the virus.

“Everyone is in close contact all day long and of course naked,” one swinger couple told the SKYCHURP as authorities urged those with plans to visit the resort to rethink their trip and for those leaving to take a test before traveling home.

According to the resort’s manager, David Masella, around 40 percent of visitors to Agde come from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Britain. Visitors are free to roam the beach in the nude and visit its shops, nightclubs, banks and other amenities.

With more than 30,600 lives lost to the virus, France is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe. Some 323,968 cases have been confirmed in the country.

On Friday, France recorded 7,379 new cases of the virus, its highest daily increase since March, sparking President Emmanuel Macron to say he had not ruled out the possibility of another nationwide lockdown.

Judge drops suit vs Minnesota governor’s virus orders

ST. PAUL — A Ramsey County judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirteen Republican legislators and a group of businesses contended the Democratic governor abused his power and interfered with the legislative process when he closed schools, issued a mask mandate and limited businesses’ operations.

District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan upheld the governor’s actions Tuesday. A group called Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition argued the governor is usurping the powers of the Legislature. The Walz administration and DFL legislators have maintained that an emergency declaration is necessary to deal with the pandemic.

Thousands of Spanish teachers and staff line up in street to take coronavirus test

MADRID — Thousands of Spanish teachers and auxiliary staff are standing in long lines in the street in Madrid after being told to take a coronavirus test just days before the start of classes.

Labor groups say some 100,000 teachers were informed less than 24 hours beforehand about five locations in the city where they had to take the coronavirus tests. The tests are mandatory for school employees.

The tests are taking place between Wednesday and next Monday. School re-openings are staggered, with preschool starting Thursday. Older children go back next week.

The Madrid region is a coronavirus hot spot, with almost 32,000 new cases officially recorded in the past two weeks.

Hong Kong eases tough social distancing requirements

HONG KONG — Hong Kong will further relax social distancing measures from Friday, allowing gyms and massage parlors to reopen and extending dining-in hours at restaurants as new daily coronavirus infections dwindle to single digits.

Tough restrictions had been imposed in July when a new surge of coronavirus hit Hong Kong, temporarily shuttering such businesses and limiting public gatherings to two people. Daily infections have since steadily decreased from a peak of more than 100 in July to eight on Wednesday, the lowest number in two months.

Officials started easing measures last week, allowing cinemas and beauty salons to re-open with social distancing measures in place.

While gyms can operate from Friday, gym-goers must wear masks while exercising, and gym classes will only be restricted to four people, government officials said Wednesday.

Swimming pools, bars and karaoke lounges will remain closed.

The term ‘covidiots’ is not slander in Germany

BERLIN — Berlin prosecutors have thrown out hundreds of criminal complaints against a leader of one of Germany’s governing parties over her use of the word “covidiots” to describe protesters who demonstrated against coronavirus restrictions without masks or social distancing.

Saskia Esken, a co-leader of the center-left Social Democrats, used the term in a tweet on Aug. 1 as around 20,000 people demonstrated in Berlin. Police ultimately ended the rally because organizers failed to get participants to keep their distance or wear masks.

Berlin prosecutors on Wednesday said they had decided against opening an investigation after receiving several hundred criminal complaints alleging slander.

They said Esken’s use of the expression was covered by constitutionally protected freedom of expression.

Pope Francis holds first general audience in almost 6 months

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has held his first public general audience after a pause of nearly six months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Francis used Wednesday’s audience to call for solidarity as the way to exit the crisis.

Francis said: “The current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence: We are all linked to each other, for better or for worse.”

He added: “To come out of this crisis better than before, we have to do so together, all of us, in solidarity.”

About 500 faithful attended the audience in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.

Under strict safety rules, faithful kept social distances as they sat in the courtyard and were all required to wear masks. The Pope didn’t wear one as he met the crowd, but kept a safety distance from the faithful, who were cheering and waving at him.

Some UAE schools switch to online days after reopening

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates —The United Arab Emirates says several schools across the country will switch to remote learning in response to suspected coronavirus outbreaks among employees, just days after schools reopened for in-person instruction.

The country’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority made the announcement Wednesday as the UAE reported 541 new coronavirus infections, its biggest one-day jump in almost two months. Virus cases in the Gulf country have been steadily rising in recent weeks, with 70,231 infections, including 384 deaths, reported by health authorities since the pandemic began.

Schools welcomed students back across the seven emirates on Sunday with conditions, including mandatory masks, social distancing and temperature checks.

Bereaved British families call Boris Johnson ‘heartless’

LONDON — Some families of those who died in the pandemic are accusing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “heartless” for refusing to meet with them.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, which represents more than 1,400 families, wants a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Organizers say Johnson previously agreed to meet with them, but on Wednesday they shared a letter in which the prime minister declined to do so.

Campaign co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her father to the virus, says Johnson dodged five letters requesting a meeting and now he is “telling us he’s too busy. It’s heartless.”

India eases pandemic restrictions as number of cases rise

NEW DELHI — India registered 78,357 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising its total over 3.7 million as the government eases pandemic restrictions nationwide to help the battered economy.

India, a nation of 1.4 billion people, is fast becoming the world’s coronavirus epicenter. It has been reporting the highest daily increases in new cases for more than three weeks, and at its current rate is likely to soon pass Brazil and ultimately the United States in total reported cases.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 1,045 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 66,333. It now has the third-most deaths after recently passing Mexico’s toll, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Infections have been spreading fast from people in India’s big cities to smaller towns and rural areas.

Its testing capacity of nearly 100,000 per day has been increasing but experts say it is not enough.

On Wednesday, the Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s top medical research body, said the country had conducted nearly 44 million tests for the virus since the pandemic began.

Australian hotspot extends state of emergency for 6 months

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hot spot Victoria state on Wednesday extended its state of emergency for another six months as its weekly average of new COVID-10 infections dipped to 95.

The Victorian Parliament’s upper chamber passed legislation by a 20-19 vote to extend the state of emergency, which enhances the government’s powers to impose pandemic restrictions.

The government had wanted a 12-month extension.

The state health department reported 90 new infections and six deaths in the latest 24-hour period. There were only 70 new infections on Tuesday.

But the latest seven-day average has dropped into double-digits for the first time in weeks. The previous week’s average was 175 infections a day.


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