COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
UK becomes first country to approve Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, first shots roll out next week
The United Kingdom has become the first Western nation to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, a landmark moment in the pandemic that paves the way for the first doses to be rolled out across the country next week.

UK regulators granted emergency authorization for a vaccine made by US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. The companies published data last month that showed it was 95% effective with no serious safety concerns.

The UK health secretary said 800,000 doses would be available by next week. Elderly people in care homes, along with health workers and other vulnerable people, will be top of the priority list. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called the UK approval "a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19."

Elton John honors Anthony Fauci on World AIDS Day
"What a wonderful and fitting way to mark World AIDS Day, by honoring one of the biggest champions in the history of the AIDS epidemic," John said in remarks at the US Global Leadership Coalition's virtual tribute celebration, where Fauci was presented with the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.

"There are very few people on this planet who have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of service to save millions of lives like Dr. Fauci," said the global music superstar, who founded an eponymous foundation that works to combat HIV/AIDS and its stigma.

"His unwavering commitment to public health and innovation has transformed the approach to HIV," John said. "And it is his leadership and persistence that will ultimately help us overcome the Covid-19 pandemic."

Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, served as the National Institutes of Health's AIDS coordinator before becoming the first director of the NIH's Office of AIDS Research, where he served from 1988 to 1994.

Fauci faced protests and condemnation from activists in organizations like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, also known as ACT UP, for his handling of the deadly disease as it claimed more than 100,000 lives in the United States. However, he would go on to collaborate with activists on research and drug trial development.

Michigan couple married for 47 years die of coronavirus within a minute of one another
"They literally did everything together and although we're shocked about it, when we look at it, we also think it's not so surprising, because they were together all the time and they had so much fun together in life," said one of their two daughters, Joanna Sisk.
The McWaterses are among the more than 270,600 people to have died from the coronavirus in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And as the number of hospitalizations consistently reaches new highs, experts worry higher numbers of deaths will follow.
At first glance, the two were quite different: She was a no-nonsense retired nurse, and he was a fun-loving veteran and retired truck driver. She was the boss, and he was the king of one-liners. But the common denominator everyone saw between Patricia and Leslie "LD" McWaters, Sisk said, was their genuine kindness and care for other people.

Florida becomes the third state to reach 1 million coronavirus cases
After 8,847 new cases were added Tuesday, the state has now recorded 1,008,166 cases and 18,679 deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health. The only other states to have reported more than 1 million cases are Texas and California.

The daunting milestone came the day after Gov. Ron DeSantis held his first news conference in 26 days, doubling down on keeping schools open for in-person instruction in the spring.

"Closing schools due to the coronavirus is the biggest public health blunder in modern American history," DeSantis said, adding that the vast majority of parents in Florida opted to enroll their children in brick-and-mortar schools.

He also scoffed at questions over mask mandates, claiming that similar policies have not stopped surges in other states.

"I'm opposed to mandates, period. I don't think they work," he said.

New Orleans swingers event becomes ‘superspreader’ after 41 test positive for coronavirus
With no dance floor and strict, new coronavirus guidelines, attendees of the 2020 Naughty N’awlins swingers convention swayed in place at their tables and flirted behind masks from a distance.

After being tested for the coronavirus and agreeing to wear masks, about 250 people checked into a New Orleans hotel for the swingers convention on Nov. 14 to reconnect a community separated by the pandemic.

A little more than two weeks later, 41 attendees have tested positive for the virus, according to the event’s organizer, in an outbreak that led local officials to call the convention a “superspreader event.”

A spokesman for New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) said the event was a “very stark example of what can happen when you don’t obey the social distance guidelines.”

... Hannaford said in his Friday post that attendees had to either test negative for the coronavirus or prove that they had antibodies for the virus. Event organizers assumed people with coronavirus antibodies were “not contagious,” Hannaford said. Everyone else was required to have a negative coronavirus test just before the event.

Organizers also asked attendees to keep detailed diaries of everyone they had contact with for more than 10 minutes at the convention, regardless of whether that contact involved sex, Hannaford said. Groups socializing in the hotel were limited to nine or fewer individuals, and people were encouraged to wear masks unless they were eating or drinking.

Redfield warns this winter may be ‘the most difficult time in the public health history’ of the U.S.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Wednesday that the nation is facing a devastating winter, predicting that total deaths from Covid-19 could reach “close to 450,000” by February unless a large percentage of Americans take more precautions.

“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the C.D.C., in an address to the Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

... Dr. Redfield said the death toll could be held down if the public embraced practices like mask wearing.

“It’s not a fait accompli,” he said. “We’re not defenseless. The truth is that mitigation works. But it’s not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. Probably not even if three-quarters do.”

In his address, Dr. Redfield indirectly criticized President Trump and Scott Atlas, the president’s recently departed coronavirus adviser, both of whom have questioned the value of masks. The C.D.C. was blocked from its plan to require masks on all public transportation, and Dr. Redfield was publicly skewered by the president after saying, at a congressional hearing, that masks might be as protective as a vaccine.

“When you really want to get everybody on board, you’ve got to have clear, unified, reinforced messaging,” Dr. Redfield said on Wednesday. “The fact that we were still arguing in the summer about whether masks work,’’ he said, “was a problem.”

“The time for debating whether or not masks work or not is over,” he said. “We clearly have scientific evidence.”

3,000 Americans died from COVID-19 yesterday, with 100,000 more in hospital. The president was obsessing over an election he lost a month ago.
  • The US coronavirus outbreak set grim new records on Wednesday: 3,100 Americans died, a new high, whilst the number of virus hospitalizations passed 100,000.
  • The US is still the worst-affected country in the world, and officials are issuing dire warnings about the months ahead.
  • But President Donald Trump is barely mentioning the virus, still fixating on his election loss a full month after voting ended.
  • On Wednesday, Trump released a 46-minute speech — which he termed the "most important" of his life — that showed clearly where his priorities are.
The same day, President Donald Trump's focus was squarely elsewhere — disputing the outcome of an election which is now a full month ago.

As US healthcare workers and officials are giving dire warnings that the pandemic will worsen still further, Trump is almost totally disengaged.

... While treatments are better than they used to be, the grim reality is that many will never leave hospital alive, instead joining the death statistics in days to come.

Through the whole pandemic, Trump has been criticized for his relatively hands-off approach.

After an initial burst of interest, advisers began to note him going longer and longer without speaking to his COVID-19 task force, or mentioning the virus in public.

... A brief exception was to cheer positive results from vaccine trials, which focused on him seeking to claim credit for the breakthroughs, while baselessly suggesting they were purposely held back until after the election.