Covid-19 🦠 Newsbites
Weird science: How a 'shoddy' Bannon-backed paper on coronavirus origins made its way to an audience of millions
It was a blockbuster story. A respected Chinese virologist appeared on Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News in mid-September to share the results of her just-completed report. The conclusion: The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was likely engineered in a Chinese lab. On Carlson's show, she claimed it was intentionally released into the world.

Then, its validity began to unravel. The publication of the paper by lead author Li-Meng Yan -- an expatriate from China seeking asylum in the US -- was quickly linked to former White House adviser Steve Bannon, long a strident critic of China's government. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security -- a leading authority on the pandemic --  criticized the science behind the report, and pointed out that Yan and her co-authors "cite multiple papers in their reference section that have weaknesses or flaws."

Belgium's deputy prime minister in ICU with Covid-19
Wilmès was admitted to the ICU on Wednesday night.

The news comes days after the country's health minister said the outbreak in the Belgian region of Wallonia and the capital Brussels is “close to a tsunami."

Frank Vandenbroucke warned “the health situation in Wallonia and in Brussels is the worst and the most dangerous in the whole of Europe.”

However, during a Sunday news conference, the health minister defended the government’s policy of installing a curfew from midnight, and not earlier in the evening, saying that the government “did not want to make life impossible."

A Covid-19 vaccine should be available in "next couple of months," NIH director says
The United States should have a viable vaccine against the coronavirus in the “next couple of months,” Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said Wednesday.

Collins said it’s “truly breathtaking” that a Covid-19 vaccine will have been developed in under a year given that it can take a decade to create a successful vaccine.

“We are on the path towards having, I believe, a very good likelihood, and within the next couple of months of having at least one vaccine directed against SARS CoV-2 that will be found to be safe and effective in Phase 3 trials of tens of thousands of individuals,” Collins said during the closing session of the Milken Institute 2020 Global Conference, which is sponsored by the former banker Michael Milken’s think tank.

Before you get a flu shot, get good sleep to increase its effectiveness, experts say
Getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever. Not only will it help prevent you from getting sick from the flu, it will also make it easier to tell if any symptoms you are experiencing are more likely to be Covid-19. It is also critical to stopping a double pandemic by saving healthcare resources for the care of those with the coronavirus.

But in order to make sure that flu shot is effective, sleep specialist Matthew Walker, the bestselling author of "Why We Sleep," told CNN's Christiane Amanpour practicing "good sleep hygiene" is key. Insufficient sleep in the week before getting a flu shot can lead to the production of less than 50% of the normal antibody response -- a reaction that would render the flu shot largely ineffective, Walker told Amanpour.

Covid-19 is surging in small-town America
The CDC data reveals that for the last month, the micropolitan and non-core counties have had a sustained, multiweek run of the highest rate of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population for the first time in the pandemic. In contrast, the new infection rate for large metropolitan areas, once by far the highest, now is the lowest in the country.

In other words, the current increase in the US Covid-19 pandemic is, for now, being felt most acutely by small-town America. Alarmingly, the death rate per 100,000 people for the "non-core" counties is now the highest in the US.

It is unclear why the pandemic is rising so rapidly in these areas but surely it is not because the rest of the country is "immune:" even in the areas hardest hit in spring and summer, the vast majority of the US population remains susceptible to infection.

Perhaps the adherence to social distancing in rural areas is weaker, given that the population density already is so low. Perhaps there is less belief in masking and other interventions to decrease the risk of viral spread. The role of the ongoing outbreaks across colleges also must be considered since many campuses are in small towns.

Another plausible explanation is the impact of the extensive network of correctional facilities in sparsely-populated areas throughout the country. In many small US towns, a correctional facility is a key local employer.

... But the endless stream of outbreaks here, there, and everywhere will not stop until we have an actual evidence-based, thoughtfully enforced national plan to reduce spread at places -- prisons, nursing homes, meatpacking facilities, schools, stadiums, political rallies -- where people gather.

Until then, we should anticipate that every few months will just be déjà vu all over again.

'He has blood on his hands': Columbia University study shows that Trump could have avoided over 130,000 COVID-19 deaths with a more robust pandemic response
  • President Donald Trump could have avoided an estimated 130,000 COVID-19 deaths had his administration acted sooner, according to a new study from Columbia University.
  • The report, which was published on Wednesday, compared the United States' coronavirus response to that of six other high-income countries that had better success in handling the pandemic.
  • The authors found that if the White House had replicated its allies' public health strategies, the US death count could have been far lower.
  • Already, more than 222,300-plus fatalities have been confirmed, and Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that the US could surpass 300,000 deaths by the end of 2020 in the absence of stricter restrictions.

CDC expands definition of ‘close contacts,’ after study suggests Covid-19 can be passed in brief interactions
Previously, the CDC described a close contact as someone who spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone who was infectious. Now, the agency says it’s someone who spent a cumulative 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone who was infectious over 24 hours, even if the time isn’t consecutive, according to an agency spokesperson.

The new study “adds to the scientific knowledge of the risk to contacts of those with Covid-19 and highlights again the importance of wearing face masks to prevent transmission,” the CDC spokesperson said.

Wikipedia and W.H.O. Join to Combat Covid Misinformation
As part of efforts to stop the spread of false information about the coronavirus pandemic, Wikipedia and the World Health Organization announced a collaboration on Thursday: The health agency will grant the online encyclopedia free use of its published information, graphics and videos.

The collaboration is the first between Wikipedia and a health agency.

... Since its start in 2001, Wikipedia has become one of the world’s 10 most consulted sites; it is frequently viewed for health information.

The agreement puts much of the W.H.O.’s material into the Wikimedia “commons,” meaning it can be reproduced or retranslated anywhere, without the need to seek permission — as long as the material is identified as coming from the W.H.O. and a link to the original is included.

“Equitable access to trusted health information is critical to keeping people safe and informed,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general.

His agency translates its work into six official languages, which do not include, for example, Hindi, Bengali, German or Portuguese, so billions of people cannot read its documents in their native or even second language.

Wikipedia articles, by contrast, are translated into about 175 languages.

The Coronavirus Has Claimed 2.5 Million Years of Potential Life in the U.S., Study Finds
In less than a year, the coronavirus has killed more than 220,000 Americans. But even that staggering number downplays the true toll of the pandemic, according to a recent analysis.

Every death represents years of potential life lost, years that might otherwise have been filled with rich memories of family, friends, productivity and joy — trips to the grocery store, late night conversations on the phone, tearful firsts with a newborn baby.

“Think of everything that a person does in a year,” said Stephen Elledge, a geneticist at Harvard. “Who among us would not give anything to have one more year with a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter, a close friend?”

In the new analysis, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Dr. Elledge added up those years. He tabulated the ages of Americans known to have died of Covid-19, and tallied the number of years they might have lived had they reached a typical life expectancy.

His calculations show that the coronavirus has claimed more than 2.5 million years of potential life in the United States since the start of 2020. Nearly half of those years were taken from people under the age of 65.