COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Immunity to the Coronavirus May Last Years, New Data Hint
Immunity to the coronavirus may last for years, according to an encouraging new study.

That’s good news for people who have survived the virus, but even more important for the success of in-development vaccines, which “tend to produce stronger, more durable immune responses than natural infections”.

How long might immunity to the coronavirus last? Years, maybe even decades, according to a new study — the most hopeful answer yet to a question that has shadowed plans for widespread vaccination.

Eight months after infection, most people who have recovered still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness, the new data show. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests, happily, that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.

The research, published online, has not been peer-reviewed nor published in a scientific journal. But it is the most comprehensive and long-ranging study of immune memory to the coronavirus to date.

The Vaccines Will Probably Work. Making Them Fast Will Be the Hard Part.
The promising news that not just one but two coronavirus vaccines were more than 90 percent effective in early results has buoyed hopes that an end to the pandemic is in sight.

But even if the vaccines are authorized soon by federal regulators — the companies developing them have said they expect to apply soon — only a sliver of the American public will be able to get one by the end of the year. The two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have estimated they will have 45 million doses, or enough to vaccinate 22.5 million Americans, by January.

Industry analysts and company executives are optimistic that hundreds of millions of doses will be made by next spring. But the companies — backed with billions of dollars in federal money — will have to overcome hurdles they’ve encountered in the early days of making vaccines. Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines use new technology that has never been approved for widespread use. They are ramping up into the millions for the first time. Other challenges include promptly securing raw vaccine ingredients and mastering the art of creating consistent, high-quality batches.

... But it turns out, it’s a lot easier to make thousands of doses for a clinical trial than to churn out millions a month. Making vaccines is a complex, sometimes finicky process, requiring sterile conditions and precise control of temperature and humidity.

At the same time, the global scramble for vaccines is straining supplies of everything from stainless steel tanks to the custom-made plastic bags that line them.

... Unlike most of its competitors, Pfizer did not accept federal money to ramp up its manufacturing, instead agreeing to sell the government 100 million doses for $1.95 billion. It has made similar advance purchase agreements with the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan, among others.

Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, has said the company can produce up to 50 million doses by the end of the year, and half of that supply will go to other countries. Because the vaccine requires two doses, there will initially be enough for only 12.5 million of 330 million Americans.

... The global race for a vaccine, as well as the pandemic’s disruption of factories and transportation, has severely taxed supply chains, causing delays or shortages for everything from glass vials to syringes.

All of Switzerland’s intensive care beds are full.
Switzerland has reached capacity in its intensive care wards, a national medical association said Tuesday. The group urged people who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus to consider writing a living will, specifying whether they would want to be put on life support.

All of the country’s 876 adult intensive care beds, which are certified by the Swiss Society of Intensive Care Medicine, “are currently completely full,” the society said in a statement on Tuesday.

The country, with a population of 8.5 million, has seen new infections explode recently, with more than 83,500 reported since Nov. 3, according to government figures. In that same period, 986 people have died.

Switzerland has been reluctant to introduce far-reaching measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and images from the country’s ski resorts have shown people packed together, most without face masks, as they wait for lifts up the mountain, despite a requirement to wear nose and mouth coverings in crowded public spaces.

The country’s health care system has been widely lauded in the past as a model for other countries. But with its intensive care wards now at capacity, doctors are having to face difficult choices about who receives care.

In asking for Swiss residents to consider writing a living will, the medical society explained: “That will make it easier for your own relatives, as well as the intensive care ward teams, to make decisions, so that we can provide the best possible and individualized care.”

Colleges are eliminating spring break from their calendars.
From move-in day to commencement, colleges across the country have been disrupted by the pandemic in myriad ways. The latest is the demise of spring break, with the risks it poses of super-spreading beach parties and cross-country debauchery.

Academic calendars for the next semester increasingly are omitting the traditional week off near the end of winter. Instead, they are starting later or are including scattered shorter breaks instead, to deter the spread of the virus by discouraging travel during the term.

... Students who traveled for spring break early in the pandemic contributed significantly to the virus’ spread, according to a study by Daniel Mangrum, a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Paul Niekamp, an assistant professor of economics at Ball State University. Although many colleges canceled fall breaks this term, Halloween parties were linked to Covid-19 outbreaks at a number of colleges.

In Florida, a popular spring break destination, dozens of cases and at least two deaths were traced to the delay of a statewide stay-at-home order until after the traditional early March spring break season. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who did not issue the order until April 1, said at the time that the state was supportive of local governments that ordered event cancellations and beach closures, but that it was not his role to step in first.

Fauci calls for a ‘uniform approach’ rather than a ‘disjointed’ state-by-state pandemic response.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said on Tuesday that the nation needed “a uniform approach” to the coronavirus pandemic, rather than “a disjointed” state-by-state response — a remark that echoed the views of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and contrasted sharply with President Trump’s coronavirus strategy. ... “We need some fundamental public health measures that everyone should be adhering to, not a disjointed, ‘One state says one thing, the other state says another thing,’” Dr. Fauci said. ... Dr. Fauci said that there were two elements to a successful vaccine: its level of efficacy and how many people take it. On Monday, Moderna announced that its vaccine appeared to be 94.5 percent effective; the drug maker Pfizer announced last week that its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. But those figures will not matter unless most people are inoculated, Dr. Fauci said. Unless the “overwhelming majority” of Americans, about 75 to 80 percent, receive a vaccine, the country will continue to face serious public health challenges, he said. ... “We’ve got to get public health issues out of the realm of political divisiveness — this is not a political issue,” he said. “We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to pull together as a nation.” He said that public health measures, like mask wearing and social distancing, would still be required, albeit to a lesser degree, while the public is vaccinated. If a sizable majority of Americans do get a vaccine, “we could be quite close to some degree of normality” by the fall of 2021, he predicted.

Chuck Grassley, the oldest Senate Republican, tests positive for the virus.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, at 87 the oldest Republican serving in the chamber, on Tuesday announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the second octogenarian member of Congress to be diagnosed in the past week.

Mr. Grassley, who had said earlier that he was quarantining after exposure to the virus, said on Twitter that he was “feeling good” and would “keep up on my work” for Iowans from home, following his doctor’s orders and public health guidelines.

... His positive test result marked the latest alarming development in what is threatening to become a mini-outbreak on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers continue to meet in close quarters with inconsistently applied health precautions.

The Texas County With No Coronavirus Cases? No Longer
... Ten months after the first infection was recorded in the United States, the coronavirus has made its way into every corner of the country. More than 11 million people have tested positive for the virus, which causes Covid-19, with more than 164,000 new cases emerging on Monday alone.

Now even rural areas, which escaped the brunt of the pandemic early on, have become serious centers of new infections. In recent months, a diminishing number of small, remote counties, including Loving County, remained the only places in the continental United States with no positive cases. (Kalawao County in Hawaii, which has even fewer people than Loving County, still has reported no known cases.)

... Those who live in Loving County full-time — the U.S. mainland’s smallest population, with no more than 169 people stretched across 669 square miles of sand, mesquite and greasewood — credit their relative antiviral success to the landscape and the sparseness of the population. They joke that they were socially distant before it was cool.

How bad is Russia's Covid crisis? Packed morgues and excess deaths tell a darker story than official numbers suggest
Grisly footage from cell phone videos obtained by CNN reveal appalling conditions inside overcrowded health facilities in Russia, adding to evidence that the country’s actual Covid-19 death toll is likely far higher than official figures suggest.

Morgues with bodies stripped naked, piled on top of each other on grimy floors make for scenes that look more like war zones than hospitals. In one video, obtained by the prominent opposition-linked Doctors' Alliance union, an elderly woman gasps for breath, her desperate panting a grim soundtrack to the scene, where the limbs of a lifeless body hang off a stretcher just feet away from other patients battling for their lives.

"This is how our nights look: horrifying," says a male voice narrating the footage, which the union says was taken in mid-October in Ulyanovsk, around 500 miles east of Moscow. "Two more down in our ward," he says, while filming a corpse. "This is how Covid-19 is killing everybody."

... As Russia struggles to get the pandemic under control, the videos are one of several signs pointing to an actual death toll far higher than official figures suggest.

Russia says as of November 16 more than 33,000 people have died of Covid-19. But that number is disputed by critics who say the Kremlin is underreporting the numbers.

"I think the real figure is [around] 130,000 people," said Alexey Raksha, a former government statistician who has made his estimates based on official data on excess deaths -- the number of fatalities above what would normally be expected -- to assess the toll of the pandemic.

... One ambulance driver in the Saratov region of southwest Russia -- who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity due to fear of repercussions at work -- said the situation in his hospital is "a mess."

"Doctors even refuse to admit elderly patients with breathing difficulties," he said. "They tell them there's no need to hospitalize them. But the real reason is there are not enough places on the ward."

And in another video given to CNN, filmed in an overloaded morgue, a male voice speaks over the gruesome images: "We could hardly find any place here. It's like a horror film."