Coronavirus update: Worldwide count tops 5M as US inches toward reopening; AstraZeneca gets $1B

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The global case count hit a new grim milestone Thursday, surpassing 5 million, as the World Health Organization said the virus is showing no signs of slowing down, even as states continue to chart their own individual paths toward relaxing lockdowns.

In the U.S. has surpassed 1.5 million cases with more than 93,000 deaths. Major hotspots like New York and New Jersey — which have announced measures to relax lockdown protocols — are seeing sustained declines in hospitalizations and day-over-day case counts, although the numbers are still rising.

Meanwhile, some states are seeing worrisome gains in hospitalizations and case counts. The decision of how to resume school in the fall is also on the table, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took summer session off the table, but left open the question of a fall reopening. The Empire State reported 105 deaths from COVID-19, Cuomo said, calling it “relatively better than it’s been.”

All 50 states are now reopened to some degree, against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic and a race to find viable vaccines and treatments. Many pharmaceutical companies are fast-tracking treatment candidates in order to meet the potential demand, which could easily top 1 billion doses.

While a number of U.S. based drug companies, including Moderna (MRNA), are pursuing viable candidates, only a handful have made it into clinical trials.

Of those, Oxford University’s candidate is among the leaders globally, and has partnered with AstraZeneca (AZN) to distribute its vaccine. AstraZeneca received $1 billion in funding from the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Thursday.

The vaccine is still in the first phase of clinical trials, with results expected this month and late stage trials slated for mid-summer. Yet BARDA has pushed forward aggressively to spend $3 billion it recently received from Congress to pursue vaccine development and production. The AstraZeneca award is the largest to-date for production, and the company is pledging several hundred million doses to the U.S. if the vaccine succeeds.

According to its announcement, AstraZeneca noted this strategy of government funding is the way it is pursuing production partnerships, which avoids any impact to its 2020 guidance. However, there are no blockbuster treatments for the virus yet, surveillance of the outbreak remains a key tool to controlling it.

There are over 1.5 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
There are over 1.5 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Working from home debate heats up

Ford (F), for example, had to close two manufacturing plants in a span of two days, after an employee tested positive. The two plants, in Chicago and Michigan, reopened this week after shuttering in mid-March.

The concerns over the continued spread of the virus have caused a number of employers to maintain work from home for the remainder of the year, but some are still targeting June, July or later. On Thursday, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke declared his web commerce platform a “digital by default” platform that was heralding the end of “office-centricity.”

As a result, most of Shopify’s 5,000-plus workforce would be allowed to stay remote “permanently,” the billionaire added. Facebook (FB) also announced a broad strategy that could see half of its workforce do their jobs remotely by 2030.

Overall, the verdict is still out on whether employees of large corporations will return to the office once the COVID-19 crisis has ended — which has broad implications for the future of office space.

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