COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Biden to re-engage with World Health Organization, join global vaccine effort
The Biden administration is expected to re-engage with the World Health Organization and opt into a multilateral effort to distribute vaccines around the world, reversing two decisions by the Trump administration that ripped the country away from public health diplomacy in the middle of a pandemic.

The Covid-19 plan published on the White House website vows to “immediately restore our relationship with the World Health Organization, which — while not perfect — is essential to coordinating a global response during a pandemic.”

Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken said in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the U.S. will participate in Covax, an international effort to source and distribute vaccines, particularly in low and middle-income countries.

By moving quickly on both issues, the incoming administration is signaling a return to a more cooperative approach to global health amid a crisis that has already claimed more than 2 million lives. But after months of WHO-bashing, threats and domestic chaos, America’s future role and influence remain an open question.
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More than 16,000 vaccine doses potentially spoiled in Maine and Michigan by temperature problems
When trucks arrived at 35 sites across Maine on Monday, workers opened them to inspect hundreds of vials of the Moderna vaccine — another key shipment in the state’s efforts to inoculate residents from the coronavirus.

But when they looked at the electronic thermometers outside the boxes, they quickly found a problem: a red “X” on the monitors’ screens, alerting them that the vials had spoiled because of improper temperatures at some point along the journey.

Now, the state announced Tuesday, it may have to throw out 4,400 doses.

“It’s always unfortunate when logistical issues of this nature crop up but it’s also good to remember that the system has these safeguards in place so that if they happen, we know about them immediately,” Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news briefing.

The news came the same day that authorities in Michigan announced that an even larger shipment of the Moderna vaccine containing nearly 12,000 doses had been ruined by temperature control issues during shipment, as reported by the Detroit Free Press.

Those discoveries have prompted separate investigations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Moderna and a distributor to determine exactly how and why the vials were ruined.
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Coronavirus Briefing: The next 100 days
Moving with an urgency not seen from any other modern president, Mr. Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from the Oval Office this afternoon aimed at undoing parts of former President Trump’s legacy. Here’s a look at the orders related to the pandemic.

Mask requirements. His first executive order mandated mask wearing on federal property, by federal employees and contractors. He is also starting a “100 days masking challenge” urging Americans to wear masks and state and local officials to implement public measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Rejoining the World Health Organization. Mr. Biden reversed a move by the Trump administration to withdraw from the W.H.O., a United Nations agency. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, plans to participate in a W.H.O. executive board meeting in Geneva tomorrow, marking a high-profile return.

Designating a Covid coordinator. Mr. Biden signed an executive order to bring back a National Security Council position — the director for global health security and biodefense, which was created by the Obama administration after the 2014 Ebola epidemic. The office was scrapped by the Trump administration, a move that Biden aides say made the U.S. less prepared for the pandemic.

Pandemic relief. Mr. Biden extended a pause on student loan payments and extended eviction moratoriums meant to help those struggling during the pandemic.
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Much of Texas remains overrun by the virus, threatening U.S. progress.
The persistently rapid spread of the coronavirus in Texas, the second most populous state in the U.S., is threatening the gradual progress the country has been making toward flattening the curve of new cases.

Counties along the Mexican border in particular have seen steep spikes.
The city of Laredo sent residents an emergency cellphone alert over the weekend — the second in three days — warning that local hospitals were near capacity.

... New cases in Texas were averaging more than 20,000 a day on Monday. The state has seen a steady increase in new cases since October, when there were approximately 4,000 a day on average, according to a New York Times database.

Since the start of the pandemic, Texas has reported more than 2.1 million cases, the second highest total in the country after California, which in recent weeks has been in the throes of a devastating flood of cases that has pushed hospitals to the brink.

... On Monday, Texas reported 111 deaths, bringing the total number of people lost to the virus in the state to more than 32,000 — a sizable portion of the more than 400,000 total deaths reported in the United States.
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Zimbabwe’s foreign minister dies from Covid-19.
Zimbabwe’s minister of foreign affairs and international trade, Sibusiso Busi Moyo, has died, the office of the president said on Wednesday. The cause was complications related to Covid-19. Mr. Moyo became the fourth high-ranking official in Zimbabwe to succumb to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

“The late minister succumbed to Covid-19 at a local hospital,” read a short statement from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, giving no further detail.

Mr. Moyo, 58, became famous as the face of the military coup that ended former President Robert Mugabe’s nearly-four decade rule in 2017. He was at the time a major general in the Zimbabwean armed forces.
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Ford donated 15,000 custom face masks for those attending the inauguration following months of PPE efforts and early criticism from Trump (F)
  • Ford produced 15,000 face masks and donated them to attendees of the inauguration.
  • The masks bore the logos of the 59th inauguration and the JCCIC, which plans presidential inaugurations.
  • Ford has produced PPE throughout the pandemic, including millions of ventilators, gowns, and face shields.
"As a storied American company that employs more autoworkers than any other manufacturer, it's a huge honor for Ford to support a tradition so fundamental to our democracy," Jim Farley, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company, said in a statement. "We've been a leader in COVID mitigation efforts since April, and donating these masks only furthers our commitment to keep families and communities safe as we gather for this important moment in history."

Ford has been working to produce personal protective equipment and ventilators since last spring, when it launched Project Apollo, a partnership with the United Autoworkers to help meet demand at the onset of the pandemic. Since then, Ford says it has produced 50,000 ventilators, 32,000 respirators, and millions of gowns and face shields.

... Ford's extensive PPE efforts began prior to former President Donald Trump's public visit to a Ford plant in Michigan in May, at a time when Trump had made a public show of not wearing a mask. Ahead of his visit, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that Trump had a "legal responsibility" to wear a mask, though he opted to wear one only while he toured part of the plant, not in front of the press.

Trump had also previously lashed out at Ford, as well as General Motors, about the automakers' ventilator efforts, saying in late March that the companies weren't moving fast enough. The company said at the time it was "pulling out all the stops" to produce the medical devices.
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More Americans have now died from COVID-19 than the number of US troops killed during World War II
  • The US military saw 405,399 deaths during World War II, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths has surpassed that grim milestone.
  • As of Wednesday, 405,400 American coronavirus deaths had been reported.
And by about mid-May, the US COVID-19 death toll had already surpassed the combined number of Americans killed in battle in every major US war since 1945 — nearly 87,000. The number of Americans killed by COVID-19 is now equivalent to almost half of the total death toll in the Civil War — approximately 620,000 — which was the bloodiest war in American history.

The US has consistently recorded the most COVID-19 cases and fatalities in the world.
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