COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
US surgeon general says Covid-19 projections are "scary," but urges Americans to keep following precautions
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams called on the American people to continue to take Covid-19 precautions as cases surge following the Thanksgiving holiday, and the impacts of travel over the Christmas holiday continue to unfold.

"I want people to know the projections are pretty scary, but they are projections. What we do now matters. If you gathered over the holidays outside of your household without a mask, there are still measures you can take right now," Adams told CNN's Jake Tapper.

"You still can self-quarantine. You can still get tested knowing that greater than 50% of the spread now among people who are asymptomatic. You can still wear a mask and wash your hands and watch your distance. If we do that we will be able to temper this surge," he continued.

"I want people to understand that if we get over this current surge, then things will start to get better but it depends on the actions that we all take right now," Adams said.

The official said that he's still optimistic amid the tragedy.

Japan poised for state of emergency as Covid-19 cases soar
Speaking at a New Year press conference Monday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said an emergency declaration was being considered, and would apply to Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa. The governors of all four regions have all urged Suga to do so already, as cases rise.

"lf necessary, we won't hesitate to dispatch the medical staff from Self Defense Force," Suga added, saying the government will support medical facilities to ensure they are not overwhelmed.

Suga did not say when the government would make a decision, or what restrictions could be enacted. Japan's first state of emergency, declared last spring, relatively early in the pandemic, lasted more than a month, and saw schools and non-essential businesses closed.

Japanese authorities are currently limited in their powers to punish those who breach restrictions, even in a state of emergency, something Suga's government is reportedly planning to change to enable local governments to force compliance.

The Prime Minister, who took power last September after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, has seen his approval rating plummet in recent weeks, in part due to his handling of the pandemic.

On Sunday, Japan recorded 3,150 new cases, and 51 deaths, bringing the national total to 244,559, with over 3,612 fatalities. The greater Tokyo region has been among the worst hit, with 816 new cases Sunday after last Thursday recording a new single-day record of 1,337.

Japan confirmed its first cases of the new, potentially more infectious UK coronavirus variant last week, prompting the government to ban all foreign travelers from entering the country.

Cases throughout the country have been on the rise recent weeks thanks in part to cold winter weather and social distancing fatigue.

Japan was one of the first countries hit by the pandemic, but the government was able to keep cases at bay by enacting stringent border controls, investing efforts in contact tracing and pushing its citizens to practice social distancing. The efforts had been largely successful, with Japan able to avoid the type of strict lockdowns enacted in other parts of the world.

Japanese health officials have continuously urged citizens to reduce their daily activities, remain vigilant and only dine out in small numbers, but that no longer appears to be enough to stop the pandemic from spreading.

"Japan's response is too slow and confusing, which reflects the lack of leadership and strategy. On one hand they encouraged domestic travel and eating out, on the other they just asked people to take caution," said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College London. "The government is basically asking people voluntarily to behave properly, but does not do more than that."

Suga dismissed calls to declare a state of emergency in November, citing advice from an advisory panel that hospitals were still relatively empty. However, Japan's total case count has more than doubled since then.

The Navajo Nation faces a battle to protect its elders and traditions as Covid-19 deaths spike
"Every time one of those elders leaves this world, it's like a whole library, a whole beautiful chapter of our history, of our ceremonies -- all that knowledge, gone," Clayson Benally, a member of Navajo Nation, said. "It's not written, it's not dictated, you're not going to find it on the internet."

Native Americans are particularly susceptible to the coronavirus because they suffer from disproportionate rates of asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

The Navajo Nation is the largest tribe in the US, with over 300,000 members, and had reported 22,776 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 783 deaths as of Thursday. The tribe has been on lockdown since November 16 and will continue to stay at home until January 10, according to a recent announcement from the Navajo Department of Health. The new measures also include 57-hour weekend lockdowns.

Some 10% of Navajos on the reservation reportedly do not have electricity and nearly 40% live without running water. These conditions have made living through a pandemic more challenging, especially for the elders,
according to Jeneda, whose family lives off-reservation in a border town.

"It's devastating to see our people being impacted not only by this pandemic, but by the lack of infrastructure, which allows for us to even have a chance to support ourselves," she said. "I mean, how can you wash your hands for 20 seconds under running water if you don't have that?"

Additionally, without resources like grocery stores nearby on the reservation, residents rely on trips to border towns for supplies, risking the potential of bringing the virus home with them.

... The Benallys believe the coronavirus has helped shine a light on the injustices Native Americans face every day. Many of the infrastructure problems hindering Native Americans today go back to how reservations were established by the Department of War, they said. "If you think of what a prison looks like, the concept of a reservation is: here's wasteland that we can move population onto and control them as a resource," Clayson said.

As they continue to do what they can to protect their elders and community members, the Benallys are keeping positive mindsets..

"It's hard not to be frustrated, but it is so important to carry that seed of hope within us," Jeneda said. "This heartbeat right here is one of resilience."

Pope criticizes people going on holiday to avoid Covid-19 lockdowns
Pope Francis has condemned people who traveled abroad for a vacation and avoid Covid-19 lockdowns, adding that holidaymakers were not considering the effect of their actions on others..

The pontiff said Sunday he was "saddened" by news reports claiming that people were flying abroad to have fun amid the pandemic..

"They are good people, but they didn't think about those who were staying at home, of the economic problems of many people who have been hit hard by the lockdown, of the sick people," Pope Francis said Sunday.

"[They thought] only about going on holiday and having fun. This pained me a lot," the Pope said at the end of his Sunday Angelus prayer.

... Renewing his best wishes for the New Year, Pope Francis said: "What each of us -- and all of us together -- can do is commit ourselves a little more to take care of each other and of what was created, our common home."

In the past, the Pope has also criticized people who refuse to wear masks or who protest against coronavirus restrictions, commenting that they move in "their own little world of interests."

Larry King has been hospitalized with Covid-19
King, 87, has been hospitalized at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for more than a week, the source said. Due to protocols at the hospital, King's three sons have been unable to visit him, according to the source.

King, who has Type 2 diabetes, has confronted a series of medical issues over the years, including several heart attacks and quintuple bypass surgery in 1987. In 2017, King revealed he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and successfully underwent surgery to treat it. He also underwent a procedure in 2019 to address angina.

New Year's Eve parties involving hundreds in NYC busted for violating Covid-19 rules
One celebration in Queens had in excess of 300 patrons, who were "consuming alcohol, singing karaoke, and dancing." Congregants went unmasked, according to the sheriff.

The party, held at a lounge, allegedly operated like a speakeasy, with an emergency exit that "required an employee to open it from the inside,"
according to the sheriff's office.

The alleged organizer of the party, Man Phan, told CNN that he was not aware of rules against congregating in large groups ahead of the event. He said the party had only been intended for friends, and that no one was paying for alcohol or entry.

"It was not supposed to be that many people," Phan said, adding that he thought the actual number of partygoers was much less than the 300 approximated by the sheriff's office. "Things got out of control. We didn't mean it, but it happened that way."

Phan was issued violations for an unlicensed bottle club, violating executive and emergency orders, and obstructed egress, among others. His wife, a DJ and an employee also were issued violations, while the lounge was fined $15,000 for failing to protect health and safety.

Private indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people statewide. Indoor dining in New York City remains closed, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new Covid-19 restrictions in December.

Deputies raiding a party in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan found 145 people, also with many unmasked and dancing, while a Brooklyn gathering of 80 people blasted music through an open door, according to the sheriff.

The office shared a photo of the SoHo party, which showed boxes of Moet champagne and Patron tequila, alongside bottles of Bombay Sapphire and Ketel One vodka. Organizers were charged $1,000 each for violating orders against mass gatherings, while the promoter was charged with violating the orders and alcohol violations and fined $15,000 for failing to protect health and safety, according to the sheriff's office.

Pharmacist Accused of Tampering With Vaccine Was Conspiracy Theorist, Police Say
A pharmacist who was arrested on charges that he intentionally sabotaged more than 500 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine at a Wisconsin hospital was “an admitted conspiracy theorist” who believed the vaccine could harm people and “change their DNA,” according to the police in Grafton, Wis., where the man was employed.

The police said Steven Brandenburg, 46, who worked the night shift at the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis., had twice removed a box of vials of the Moderna vaccine from the refrigerator for periods of 12 hours, rendering them “useless.”

“Brandenburg admitted to doing this intentionally, knowing that it would diminish the effects of the vaccine,” the police said.

The attempt to destroy precious doses of the vaccine came over the holidays as the state worked to administer vaccines quickly to frontline health care workers. As of Saturday, the state had received 159,800 doses of vaccines and had administered 64,657, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the Moderna product is sometimes described as a “genetic” vaccine, it does not alter a person’s genes in any way.

A Virginia state senator, Ben Chafin, has died from complications of Covid-19.
Ben Chafin, a Republican state senator from Virginia, has died of complications of Covid-19, the State Senate’s Republican Caucus confirmed on Friday evening. He had been receiving treatment at the VCU Medical Center in Richmond for two weeks, his family said in a statement.

Mr. Chafin, 60, was first elected to Virginia’s Senate in 2014. Before his time as senator he served as a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. He was also the owner and operator of a cattle farm in Moccasin Valley, in the state’s southwest.