COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
South African government minister Jackson Mthembu dies of Covid-19
Mthembu was one of the government's key leaders in its response to the pandemic and the public face during many Covid-19 press briefings.

"It is with deep sorrow and shock that we announce that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu passed away earlier today from COVID-related complications. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time of loss," President Ramaphosa tweeted.

"Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy. He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss," Ramaphosa added.

On January 11 Mthembu tweeted that he had contracted Covid-19.

... As of Wednesday South Africa's Department of Health reported 1,369,426 cases of Covid-19 and 38,854 deaths.
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Paula Badosa becomes first Australian Open tennis player to reveal positive Covid-19 test
The 23-year-old Spaniard is among dozens of players now quarantining in Melbourne ahead of the Grand Slam event next month.

"I have some bad news. Today I received a positive Covid-19 test result. I'm feeling unwell and have some symptoms, but I'll try to recover as soon as possible listening to the doctors. I've been taken to a health hotel to self-isolate and be monitored," Badosa posted on Twitter, thanking her supporters.

A number of competing players had generated public anger in Australia after they expressed frustration at being kept in quarantine ahead of the first grand slam of the tennis season.

In what appeared to be a reference to the backlash, Badosa added in a separate post afterward, "quarantine & preventive measures are pivotal right now. I talked about rules that changed overnight but I understand the sad situation we are living. Sorry guys."
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Texas doctor charged with stealing a vial of Covid-19 vaccine
District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement Thursday that Dr. Hasan Gokal is accused of theft by a public servant, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Gokal is accused of taking a vial with nine doses on December 29, 2020.
He was working at a vaccination site in Humble, north of Houston, Ogg said.

Authorities contend the doctor "disregarded county protocols in place to ensure vaccine is not wasted but administered to vulnerable populations and front-line workers on a waiting list."

"He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there," Ogg said in the statement. "What he did was illegal, and he'll be held accountable under the law."
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The final U.S. county to get the coronavirus? A remote Hawaiian outpost and former leper colony.
The coronavirus has now reached every county in the United States — even a remote Hawaiian outpost that was the last remaining holdout.

Until recently, Kalawao County, which has fewer than 100 residents and was used as a leper colony for decades, was the only county in the nation that hadn’t reported a single case of the coronavirus. But even though it’s so isolated from the rest of the world that basic supplies have to be brought in by barge once a year,
as the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, the virus still managed to make its way there.

According to Hawaii health officials, a resident who had traveled outside the community tested positive after flying home in December, ending Kalawao County’s impressive run. What could have been a disastrous outbreak was narrowly avoided, because that individual followed the county’s self-quarantine guidelines upon arrival — as did the other passengers the individual had close contact with during the flight.
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Half of U.S. adults don’t wear masks when in close contact with non-household members
Though a large majority of Americans believe wearing a mask is an effective way to protect themselves from COVID-19, many still don’t wear them — including three in 10 Angelenos — even while engaging in higher risk activities, according to new findings from the USC Dornsife Understanding Coronavirus in America Study.

Activities People Engaged in During Previous 7 Days, including Percentage Who Wore Masks
... “These findings indicate a need to redouble efforts to convey consistent messages about the overall importance of wearing masks, but more than that, where and when to wear them,” said Kapteyn. “Too many seem to lack a clear understanding of the risks posed by friends and family outside their immediate households.”

“Despite L.A.’s soaring infection rates, it is clear from our data that Angelenos are more willing to wear a mask than people in other parts of the country on average,” noted Thomas. “Still, rates of mask-wearing are far from where they need to be in L.A. to slow the spread of the virus, especially among those who are young, white or socially active.”
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A Vaccine Road Trip
The U.S. now faces two main virus problems. First, our efforts to minimize the virus’s spread remain halfhearted, with many Americans refusing to wear masks or practice social distancing. Second, the early stages of the mass vaccination campaign have been a mess, far behind schedule and full of frustration for people trying to get shots.

... Almost everywhere I stopped — gas stations, rest stops and hotels, across Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois — there was a sign on the door saying that people had to wear masks to enter. And almost everywhere, most people ignored the sign.

... Wearing a mask isn’t much fun. It’s hard to speak clearly, and if you wear glasses, the fogging is annoying. But the inconvenience sure seems worth the benefits.

Study after study has shown that masks reduce the virus’s spread. Yet millions of Americans have decided they would prefer more Covid — for their communities and potentially for their families and themselves — to more masks.

... What might work better? Perhaps a prime-time Oval Office address that’s light on policy and focused on a simple call to action. Or maybe the calls to action can come from a diverse array of celebrities, politicians and business executives. As behavioral psychologists often explain, the messenger can matter more than the message.
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Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump's Covid-19 coordinator, said she considered quitting
Dr. Deborah Birx, who had been one of the White House's chief coronavirus response coordinators, said Friday she considered quitting under former President Donald Trump, whose cavalier attitude toward combatting the disease created consternation among public health officials.

Birx, in a clip of released by CBS News' "Face The Nation," said she "always" considered quitting, particularly once colleagues began to view her differently after becoming one of the faces of the response to the coronavirus pandemic under Trump. The full interview will air on Sunday.

"I mean, why would you want to put yourself through that every day? Colleagues of mine that I've known for decades — decades — in that one experience, because I was in the White House, decided that I had become this political person, even though they've known me forever," she said in the interview.

"I had to ask myself every morning: is there something that I think I can do that would be helpful in responding to this pandemic? And it's something I asked myself every night," Birx said.
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