Covid-19 🦠 Newsbites
Masks made Czech Republic the envy of Europe. Now they've blown it

More new Covid-19 cases per million people are being recorded in the Czech Republic than in any other major country in the world. It’s a stunning development for what was one of the most successful countries in Europe at controlling the spread of the virus in the spring.

Like many other countries, early in the pandemic the Czech Republic locked down its borders and enforced a nationwide lockdown. But what set the Czechs apart was their requirement that everyone wear face masks outdoors. Even the country’s populist Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, was a convert. He tweeted some advice to US President Donald Trump on March 29: "Try tackling virus the Czech way. Wearing a simple cloth mask decreases the spread of the virus by 80% ... God bless America!"

By the summer, the country had returned to the normal life craved by many Europeans. Travel restrictions were lifted, theaters opened, indoor dining resumed and mask rules were dropped -- factors that made a fall surge all but inevitable. But the government has avoided reinstating the same strict mask mandate that was so effective in spring.

Why? It comes down to populist political calculation during the country’s October Senate election campaign, says Czech data scientist Petr Ludwig. "During the first wave, [the government] was convinced that people wanted masks, so they pushed masks. Now, they are convinced that people don't want to wear masks. So they are against [the mask mandate]."

Americans will recognize this calculus. Trump has been accused of politicizing masks ahead of November’s presidential election.

Trump's campaigning stoops to new lows as Covid cases spike
Dr. Anthony Fauci -- a key member of the administration's coronavirus task force who has been marginalized -- told CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday that it didn't make sense to him why Trump "equates wearing a mask with weakness."

He added that "meta analysis studies show that, contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection … When you find out you're wrong, it's a manifestation of your honesty to say, 'Hey, I was wrong. I did subsequent experiments and now it's this way.'"

Covid-19 vaccine company under federal investigation after allegedly misrepresenting its role in government program Operation Warp Speed
California biotech company Vaxart, which is working on a Covid-19 vaccine, is under federal investigation and is being sued by a number of investors for allegedly exaggerating its involvement in the US government's Operation Warp Speed program to find vaccines and treatments for the virus.

In June, Vaxart issued a press release saying its Covid vaccine had been selected for the government program. The news helped propel Vaxart's stock price up from approximately $3 to nearly $17, and hedge fund Armistice Capital, which partly controlled Vaxart, sold shares for a profit of more than $200 million, according to its SEC filings.

The following month, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told the New York Times that it had not entered into a funding agreement or negotiations with Vaxart. Armistice and HHS did not respond to requests for comment.

This 14-year-old girl won a $25K prize for a discovery that could lead to a cure for Covid-19
As scientists around the world race to find a treatment for the coronavirus, a young girl among them stands out.

Anika Chebrolu, a 14-year-old from Frisco, Texas, has just won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge -- and a $25,000 prize -- for a discovery that could provide a potential therapy to Covid-19.

Anika's winning invention uses in-silico methodology to discover a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

... "Her work was comprehensive and examined numerous databases. She also developed an understanding of the innovation process and is a masterful communicator. Her willingness to use her time and talent to help make the world a better place gives us all hope."

Coronavirus could drive the last nail into the mink fur trade
As coronavirus tears through the world's mink farms, the pandemic is accelerating the shuttering of a controversial industry.

... Although fur farms are banned in many countries, millions of animals are killed every year for their pelts, which are used in clothing. HSI said that 60 million mink were farmed for fur around the world in 2018, with China accounting for 20.7 million of the total.

A recent study conducted in the Netherlands found "strong evidence" that at least two people from four mink farms in the country contracted coronavirus from the animals, and study co-author Marion Koopmans, a virologist at ErasmusMC in Rotterdam, said that her team's research has confirmed mink-to-human transmission.

... Mink, which are closely related to weasels, otters and ferrets, appear to suffer similar Covid-19 symptoms to humans.

Difficulty breathing and crusting around the eyes are usually seen, but the virus progresses rapidly, and most infected mink are dead by the day after symptoms appear, according to Dean Taylor, state veterinarian for the US state of Utah.

Conditions at the farms mean the virus is able to rip through captive populations, said Jo Swabe, senior director of public affairs at HSI Europe. "The animals are being kept in small wire cages, there's just rows and rows and rows of them," she said. "The animals can't escape each other."

From the pandemic declaration to the fall surge, here's a timeline of Covid-19 in the US
Experts say the fall Covid-19 surge is here. Infections and hospitalizations are rising across the country. And one leading health official says daily Covid-19 deaths could soon begin climbing, too.

The alarming trends come ahead of a season that will likely be especially challenging. Students across the country have returned to class and college students -- some of whom live in campuses that reported Covid-19 outbreaks -- will soon return to visit their families and could unknowingly bring the virus back with them. And Covid-19 will also be stacked up against the flu season and could create what doctors call a "twin-demic."

What happens next is unclear. But here's how we got here:
  • On April 10, about a month after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the US hit its first high point during the pandemic, peaking at an average of a little more than 31,800 daily cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
  • By June 9, the US had flattened the curve and was averaging about 20,340 new cases daily, Johns Hopkins data showed. States were opening back up after weekslong lockdowns that were put in place to help curb the spread of the virus.
  • By July 22, the nation reached its highest peak of the pandemic, to date, averaging more than 67,000 cases daily. The US was seeing huge spikes in cases in the West and South.
  • By September 12, the summer peak had slipped down to a little more than 34,300 average new cases daily, according to data from Johns Hopkins. That baseline was higher than what it was in the spring and experts warned Americans should work to lower it as the nation was heading into the colder fall and winter months.
  • Now, we're seeing another rise in cases. The US just surpassed eight million infections and more than 218,000 Americans have died.

    The nation is averaging more than 53,000 new cases per day and at least 26 states reported more than 1,000 new infections in a day this week.

    Unlike previous times, states that are reporting alarming trends are scattered across all regions of the US. The crush of new cases in the Midwest hasn't let up and now places like the Northeast, which has remained relatively stable since the spring, is seeing a rise in cases.

University of Florida head football coach tests positive for Covid-19
University of Florida head football coach Dan Mullen tested positive for Covid-19, according to a statement he posted on Twitter on Saturday.

"I'm continuing to self-isolate from my family, who all remain healthy, and am following the guidelines set forth by UF Health, the CDC and our public health officials," Mullen tweeted. "I am proud of how our players, staff, and campus community have navigated this unprecedented time and hope all continue to be safe."

Mullen's positive test comes after Florida was forced to postpone their game against Louisiana State University initially scheduled for Saturday and tentatively rescheduled to December 12. The Southeastern Conference also announced Friday that Florida's October 24 game against the University of Missouri would be postponed until October 31, among other schedule changes within the conference.

Earlier in the week, Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin said 21 total football players tested positive for Covid-19, including 18 scholarship players and three walk-ons.

"When you add in those who are quarantined through contact tracing as a result of those positives in addition to a handful of players on the non-Covid injury list, it gives the Gators less than 50 scholarship players available currently," Stricklin said.

After the announcement of the new positive tests, the university paused the football team's activities. Before that, Mullen had been advocating for an increase in fan attendance at the team's home games.