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It’s time to ‘move on’ from the pandemic, says Harvard medical professor

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It’s time to let the young, healthy and “anyone who wants to move on” from the pandemic do so, said Dr. Stefanos Kales, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

In a paper posted on LinkedIn last month, Kales said that for the majority of children and adults, “Covid-19 is not a serious threat, only a nuisance that impedes schooling, work and travel.”

“Once Omicron peaks, subsequent variants are likely to be even more mild,” he said. “We badly need to allow the general public, particularly the young, to get back to normal life.”

He said he favors focusing Covid-19 efforts on “the vulnerable” rather than the population as a whole.

“Many reasoned, outspoken and honest scientists have been making the point that Covid-19 is moving rapidly from a ‘pandemic’ … to an ‘endemic’ respiratory infection comparable to the common cold and flu,” he said.

In light of this, it’s “past due” to rethink some Covid protocols, he said.

Less testing and fewer restrictions

With the exception of older people, those with health problems and the unvaccinated, Kales said, for most people, Covid-19 is “much more of a logistical nightmare than a health threat.”

It’s therefore time to stop — or dramatically reduce — testing healthy people who show no Covid symptoms, he said, calling this strategy “doomed to failure.”

“As expressed by another physician I recently heard on the radio, it is like trying to stop a snowstorm by catching each and every snowflake, rather than keeping the roads open by plowing,” he said.

Widespread testing — for travel and work — makes it harder for sick and vulnerable people to get tested, said Kales.

“We would never screen well people for the cold or flu virus. Let’s stop testing healthy kids in schools and universities,” he said. “At this point, the teachers, faculty and staff have had the opportunity to be vaccinated and thus, their risk is minimal as well.”

Those with Covid-19 symptoms are a different matter, he said. Regardless of vaccination status, they need to be tested, diagnosed and given effective medications, he said, adding that sick people — “whether it’s Covid or a cold” — should stay home for five days.

The risk perception here is way off.

Dr. Stefanos Kales

Harvard Medical School

Kales said many current protocols are from medical professionals who focus exclusively on infectious diseases, rather than public health.

“Public health is a balance,” he said.

‘Overestimating’ danger of Covid

Kales said he’s a strong advocate for vaccinations, despite their inability to prevent infections caused by the omicron variant.

“The vaccines … they’re excellent,” he said. “They’ve saved many lives, and they’ve prevented many hospitalizations and much illness.”

Vaccinated people, however, are still fearful of being infected, said Kales.

Dr. Stefanos Kales cited the National Football League’s decision to stop testing asymptomatic players because “they were sidelining too many healthy” players. But, he said, he supports surveillance testing for those who work in nursing homes and with other immunocompromised people.

Jorge Lemus | NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty Images

He said vaccinated people are overestimating the danger that Covid poses to them. He recalled younger vaccinated people telling him they aren’t comfortable dining inside restaurants yet.  

“I just think that the risk perception here is way off,” he said.

Still, some say there may be reason to continue exercising caution. Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, posted on Twitter today that the notion that Covid “will evolve to a less virulent strain may exemplify wishful thinking.”

Not there yet

Kales’ opinions differ from many in the medical community, which as a group has been among the staunchest proponents of pandemic protocols.

One such person is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, who said this week that the United States may be heading into a new phase of the pandemic. But, he cautioned, it isn’t there yet.

“I have said, and continue to say, that currently we are still at war with the virus,” he said Monday on “The Daily,” a podcast published by The New York Times. “We have 2,300 deaths a day, 156,000 hospitalizations, and we have the danger of new variants occurring.”

Though he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci said another variant could arise that eludes current immunity. “I hope that’s not the case,” he said. “I don’t think it will be, but we have to be prepared.”

Shawn Thew-Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Kales said he believes the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has been overestimated. He pointed to an “Incidental Covid-19 Report” published this week by the Massachusetts Department of Health, which showed 49.5% of the state’s Covid-19 patients were hospitalized due to “primary” Covid infections, while 50.5% patients tested positive after being hospitalized for other reasons.

In response, Kales said: “With all due respect, I do think it’s time to move on.”

Loosening travel curbs

Kales said he doesn’t believe testing and vaccination requirements for travel are effective public health measures. He said countries are moving away from these types of restrictions.

In the past week, Puerto Rico and Aruba announced they are dropping testing requirements for some vaccinated travelers.

Airlines and other travel industry groups on Wednesday asked the Biden administration to drop testing requirements for inbound vaccinated travelers to the United States. A letter to the White House that was seen by CNBC cited the pervasiveness of Covid-19 in the United States, increased immunity and vaccination rates, and the availability of new medical treatments.

Dr. Stefanos Kales said N95 and other high-grade medical masks work, but there is “essentially universal consensus that cloth masks don’t.”

Liudmila Chernetska | iStock | Getty Images

Professor Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, agreed that vaccination-based travel restrictions are making “less and less sense.”

But, he said, since unvaccinated people are more at risk of severe disease, countries may want to keep measures that help prevent hospitalizations, particularly if their medical systems are strained.  

Cohen, who said he does not believe that Covid-19 is endemic yet, said he supports testing requirements for international travel “until the situation stabilizes.”

“We know that variants are still developing around the world,” he said. “We do believe that the omicron may help transitioning from [a] pandemic state to an endemic state. But until that happens, I think we should continue with testing before getting on the plane.”

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‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ tops $108 million as parents flock back to cinemas, kids in tow

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“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is the sequel to the 2015 film, “Minions,” and spin-off/prequel to the main “Despicable Me” film series.

Universal

Families have gone bananas for “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Over the weekend, the Universal and Illumination animated feature tallied more than $108 million in ticket sales.

The fifth film in the Despicable Me franchise generated an additional $93.7 million from international markets, bringing its estimated opening weekend haul to $202 million globally.

“With the incredible success of ‘Minions,’ the notion that family audiences were avoiding movie theaters due to Covid concerns can be shelved,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Box office analysts had wondered if this segment of moviegoers was still avoiding cinemas after Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear” took in just $51 million during its domestic debut last month, below expectations of $70 million and $85 million.

It was unclear if tough box office competition led to “Lightyear’s” less than stellar debut or if consumers were confused about the film’s release. After all, there has not been a theatrical release of a Pixar film since 2020′s “Onward.” The last three from the animation studio, “Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red,” were all released on streaming service Disney+.

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” represented 54% of all domestic moviegoers over the weekend, with 68% of ticket holders being part of family groups, according to data from EntTelligence.

“What this weekend has showcased is a triumphant return to cinemas by families, laying to rest any lingering and outdated pandemic narrative that parents and kids only want to watch movies at home,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “When the right content is out there, people will show up.”

The film is expected to add another $20 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada on Monday, bringing its holiday weekend total to $128 million.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

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American Airlines scheduling glitch allows pilots to drop thousands of July flights

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An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner approaches for a landing at the Miami International Airport on December 10, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

A glitch in a scheduling platform allowed American Airlines pilots to drop thousands of July assignments overnight Saturday, their union said, a headache for the airline as it tries to minimize flight disruptions during a booming travel season.

American said it didn’t expect the problem to affect its operation, including during the busy July Fourth holiday weekend. The union and airline are now discussing additional pay for pilots whose dropped trips the airline reinstated, the Allied Pilots Association said.

“As a result of this technical glitch, certain trip trading transactions were able to be processed when it shouldn’t have been permitted,” the airline said in a statement. “We already have restored the vast majority of the affected trips and do not anticipate any operational impact because of this issue.”

More than 12,000 July flights lacked either a captain, first officer, or both, after pilots dropped assignments, the Allied Pilots Association said Saturday. APA said the airline reinstated about 80% of the trips.

Pilots can routinely drop or pick up trips, but time off in the summer or holidays is hard to come by for airline employees as schedules peak to cater to strong demand.

On Saturday alone, American had more than 3,000 mainline flights scheduled and they were 93% full, according to an internal tally. Flights left unstaffed, however, are an additional strain on any airline.

The glitch occurred during a rocky start to the Fourth of July weekend when thunderstorms and staffing issues caused thousands of U.S. flight delays and hundreds of cancellations.

A similar issue occurred in 2017, when a technology problem let American’s pilots take vacation during the busy December holiday period. The carrier offered pilots 150% pay for pilots that picked up assignments.

American and its pilots’ union, whose relationship has been fraught, are in the middle of contract negotiations and the airline most recently offered nearly 17% raises through 2024.

Union president Capt. Ed Sicher, who started his term Friday, told American’s roughly 15,000 pilots Saturday night that American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said he is committed to paying an “inconvenience premium” to aviators whose trips American put back on their schedules after the glitch.

“To Mr. Isom’s credit, he called me four times today to commit to mitigating the damage from this debacle,” Sicher wrote late Saturday. “We started at a 200% override, although the details of this pay are still the subject of negotiations and there is no guarantee of the details or the amounts.”

American Airlines declined to comment on Sicher’s message to pilots.

American’s pilots have picketed recently against grueling schedules, something they want to be addressed in a new contract. Pilots at Delta and Southwest have picketed in recent weeks for similar reasons.

Sicher also struck an upbeat tone about contract talks with American, particularly about quality-of-life issues.

“Please understand that no firm commitments have yet been made, but I feel that we have, at least for the first time since negotiations began, received positive indications that management is motivated to achieve collaborative solutions to longstanding problems with our current contract that will greatly enhance our ability to trade our trips and consequently enhance our quality of life,” he wrote.

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Trump media company subpoenaed in federal criminal probe of SPAC deal

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump gives the keynote address at the Faith & Freedom Coalition during their annual “Road To Majority Policy Conference” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center June 17, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Seth Herald | Getty Images

Donald Trump’s media company was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with a criminal probe, according to the company with which the former president’s firm plans to merge.

Digital World Acquisition Corp. said in a filing Friday that Trump Media and Technology Group received a subpoena from the grand jury in Manhattan on Thursday. The Trump company also received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding a civil probe on Monday, DWAC said.

DWAC also said some current and former TMTG employees have also recently received grand jury subpoenas.

The filing came days after DWAC said the government investigations could delay or even prevent its merger with Trump’s newly formed company, which includes Truth Social, a social media app intended to be an alternative to Twitter.

Neither TMTG nor a spokeswoman for Trump immediately responded to CNBC’s requests for comment.

The Justice Department and the SEC, which regulates the stock market, are investigating the deal between DWAC and Trump Media. By merging with DWAC, which is a kind of shell company called a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, Trump’s firm would gain access to potentially billions of dollars on public equities markets.

Trump established Truth Social months after Twitter banned him for his tweets on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Trump Media’s CEO is former Rep. Devin Nunes, one of the former president’s most ardent loyalists in the Republican Party. Trump is also considering whether to run for president in the 2024 election.

Trump has continued to spread the lie that the election was stolen from him. His alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection is being probed by a House select committee that has accused the former president of being at the center of a multipronged conspiracy to block the peaceful transfer of power to Biden.

Early criticism of the Trump-DWAC deal came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. In calling for an investigation, she wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler in November, telling him that DWAC “may have committed securities violations by holding private and undisclosed discussions about the merger as early as May 2021, while omitting this information in [SEC] filing and other public statements.”

DWAC shares are far off their highs, closing Friday at $24.20. The stock had surged above $90 in October, after the deal with Trump’s group was announced.

DWAC on Monday revealed in a securities filing that it learned June 16 that each member of its board of directors received subpoenas from the same federal grand jury.

The grand jury sought documents similar to those the SEC already requested as part of its civil probe, DWAC said. The company itself was served with a subpoena a week ago with similar requests, along with other requests relating to communications, individuals and information involving Rocket One Capital.

DWAC also revealed Monday that a board member, Bruce J. Garelick, had told management that he would quit the board during the previous week. Garelick said his resignation “was not the result of any disagreement with Digital World’s operations, policies or practices,” according to the company filing.

— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Thomas Franck contributed to this story.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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