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Coronavirus update: NY's Cuomo OKs sending students back to school as vaccine optimism rises

New York’s school districts will welcome students back into classrooms in the fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday, as the former coronavirus epicenter continues on its recovery.

Cuomo’s decision will clear the way for students to attend schools in person at least part time, depending largely on whether an area’s COVID-19 positivity rate stays below a certain threshold. The uncertainty has been particularly acute in the Big Apple, where over 1 million students have been in limbo awaiting a final decision — which also affects the plans of working parents.

“Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established,” Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. “If there’s a spike in the infection rate, if there’s a matter of concern in the infection rate, then we can revisit.”

However, the decision also heightens an agonizing nationwide debate over remote learning vs. physical school attendance, with President Donald Trump a vocal advocate for reopening schools across the country.

The polarizing conversation comes as confirmed infections in the world’s largest economy have been on the rise, mainly because of a surge in Sun Belt states. However, hospitalizations and deaths have been slowing, and new diagnoses have shown signs of tapering off.

With that as a backdrop, U.S. health officials remain cautiously optimistic that an effective vaccine can be ready to go by late fall, with at least one emergency approval expected by the end of the year. The debate over a workable inoculation has been stirred by Trump, who recently floated the idea a vaccine could be ready by Election Day.

The aggressive timeline has worried some, but top officials — including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert— expect that they’ll have an indication of whether a vaccine can be deployed by year’s end.

“Everyone should understand that when I, or anyone, talk about projections...you’ve got to realize there is no guarantee, at all, that we are going to have a safe and effective vaccine. We feel...cautiously optimistic that we will have one,” Fauci told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview. He added that there will be doses by the end of the year or early 2021, at best.

Other experts have also made similar comments, pointing to the fact that monitoring patients during Phase 3 requires time. Despite a compressed testing and development timeline, the time needed to monitor patients for safety and efficacy cannot be compressed.

Cases declined in the U.S. over the past week. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
Cases declined in the U.S. over the past week. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

In the meantime, companies are still working on producing their candidates— at-risk and without knowing if they are effective yet. It means that despite stated goals of having millions of doses ready by the end of the year, some of those could end up being dumped if the vaccine fails.

There are only a small clique of candidates currently in Phase 3 trials, with more slated to begin before 2020 ends. The most prominent in the U.S. are Moderna (MRNA), Pfizer (PFE), Novavax (NVAX) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ); Globally, Oxford University in partnership with AstraZeneca (AZN), is a frontrunner, as well as several Chinese candidates and a couple in India.

Novavax (NVAX) has been ramping up production with relationships in India and Japan, giving the once-small biotech a global presence with its potential vaccine candidate.

The company announced two new production deals in the past day, including with the Serum Institute of India, as well as Takeda Pharmaceutical Company (TAK).

The Serum Institute is a major global vaccine manufacturer, with relationships among many of the global frontrunners in the COVID-19 vaccine race. such as Oxford and the Gates Foundation. The manufacturer is focused on distributing the vaccine at a low cost to low and middle income countries.

Treatments in demand

Separately, in the treatment space, Pfizer announced Friday it is working with Gilead Sciences (GILD) to produce remdesivir, helping Gilead meet the growing global demand for its drug.

Although it has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it did receive emergency use authorization (EUA) earlier this year. The drug has been used, along with steroid treatments like dexamethasone and convalescent plasma, to treat COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

Hospitals have also been able to keep patients off ventilators as proning — laying on the stomach— has proven effective.

The FDA issued a new EUA for Subsalve USA and Lombardi Undersea for an oxygen treatment hood — typically used for hyperbaric medicine — to treat COVID-19 patients, the companies announced Thursday. The helmet is a less invasive way to provide oxygen to the most severe patients, and has proven effective according to a recent University of Chicago study.

Meanwhile, concerns over suspicious trading activity prior to a public announcement of a $765 million federal loan to Eastman Kodak (KODK) has come under scrutiny by Congress, regulators — and now the company’s own board. The board announced a special committee to oversee an internal review of trading activity by company executives prior to the loan announcement.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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