COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Covid-19 hospitalizations drop, but January has been the deadliest month of the pandemic. Here's what to expect next
January was the deadliest month of the pandemic in America: At least 95,245 people died from Covid-19.

And the situation doesn't look likely to turn a corner anytime soon. Even in a best-case scenario, close to another 200,000 Americans are likely to die between now and May 1,
according to a new projection from the University of Washington.

While officials scramble to get more vaccines into arms, the most optimistic forecasts suggest that many, if not most, Americans will have to wait until the summer to get a shot. And it's a race against time as two new highly contagious strains of the coronavirus spread in the United States.

Health experts are urging all Americans to step up social distancing and mask-wearing -- with President Joe Biden introducing a federal mask order and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considering a double-mask recommendation.

There's also a clamor for more testing. The new administration has issued tighter testing requirements for international travel and is debating whether to require testing for domestic travel, too.

"The emergence of variants underscores the need for public health action. First, get vaccinated when it's your turn," the new CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told a White House briefing last week.

"Second, wear a mask. Practice social distancing and wash your hands. And finally, now is not the time to travel. But, if you must, be safe and follow the CDC guidance."

But public health experts are pessimistic that Americans are going to change their ways, one year into the pandemic.
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100-year-old UK fundraising hero Tom Moore hospitalized with Covid-19
Moore became a national celebrity and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in July after raising nearly £33 million ($40 million at the time).

Moore was taken to a hospital on Sunday because of breathing problems after being treated for pneumonia for the last few weeks, his daughter said, adding that he was not in intensive care.

"The medical care he has received in the last few weeks has been remarkable and we know that the wonderful staff at Bedford Hospital will do all they can to make him comfortable and hopefully return home as soon as possible," she said.
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Homeland Security gives TSA workers authority to enforce Biden's mask mandate
Acting Secretary David Pekoske on Sunday signed a Determination of National Emergency, which said the TSA can "take actions consistent with the authorities" of its federal jurisdiction so it can enforce the mask mandate order laid out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Friday.

"This includes supporting the CDC in the enforcement of any orders or other requirements necessary to protect the transportation system, including passengers and employees, from Covid-19 and to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 through the transportation system, to the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law," Pekoske wrote.

The CDC order issued last week requires people to wear a mask while using any form of public transportation, including on board planes, trains, buses, boats, subways, taxis and ride-shares, as well as inside airports and other transportation hubs. The order goes into effect Monday at 11:59 p.m.

The TSA said in a news release Sunday that passengers without a mask "may be denied entry, boarding, or continued transport" and that failure to comply with the mask requirement can result in civil penalties.

... The TSA said Sunday that people without a mask "will be asked to wear or obtain one to proceed" through the security screening process. "Depending on the circumstance, those who refuse to wear a mask may be subject to a civil penalty for attempting to circumvent screening requirements, interfering with screening personnel, or a combination of those offenses," the agency said.

The CDC order, signed by the agency's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine director, says people must wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth while on public transportation and while waiting for their ride. The mask needs to have at least two or more layers of breathable fabric and needs to be secured to the head with ties, ear loops or elastic bands.

Additionally, the masks need to fit snugly and should not have exhalation valves or punctures. If someone chooses to wear a gaiter, it must be made with two layers of fabric or be folded to have two layers. Face shields and goggles can supplement a mask, according to the order, but cannot be worn in place of a mask. Scarves and bandanas do not fulfill this new requirement, which exempts children under the age of two or people with a disability who cannot wear a mask.

The CDC said it reserves the right to enforce the order through criminal penalties, but it "strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance" and expects support from other federal agencies to implement the order.
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Single Covid case in Western Australia leads to 5-day lockdown for 2 million
The Perth metropolitan area and the Peel and South West regions of the Australian state are now under "full lockdown," Premier Mark McGowan announced Sunday, with residents only able to leave their homes for essential shopping, medical needs, exercise, and for jobs that cannot be done at home or remotely.

Schools, most businesses, entertainment venues and places of worship are all closed, and restaurants restricted to takeaway only.

... The drastic measures come after a man in his twenties who worked as a security guard at the Sheraton Four Points, a hotel quarantine facility, tested positive for the coronavirus. Of the four active cases at the hotel while the man was on shift, two were carrying the United Kingdom strain and one the South African strain of the virus, which are believed to be more contagious than other variants.
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Babies get Covid-19 antibodies from mothers while in the womb, study finds
The findings also suggest that vaccinating pregnant women might protect their unborn babies, as well, the researchers said -- and it's worth studying the possibility. Pregnant women are advised to get influenza vaccines to protect both themselves and their babies.

Newborn specialist Dr. Dustin Flannery of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and colleagues studied more than 1,400 mothers and newborns. They found that protective IgG antibodies were transferred across the placenta in 72 out of 83 infected or previously infected pregnant women they studied.

"Our findings demonstrate the potential for maternally derived SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies to provide neonatal protection from coronavirus disease 2019," the team wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Pediatrics.

None of the babies of infected mothers developed coronavirus infection. And 60% of the women who had antibodies to coronavirus had no symptoms, the researchers reported.
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Coronavirus variant first found in South Africa has now arrived in Maryland
The new variant of the coronavirus first found in South Africa has emerged in a Maryland resident, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Saturday, confirming the arrival of a highly transmissible mutation as the region struggles to meet demand for the vaccine.

The case of the new variant, which was identified by state health officials in consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involves an adult in the Baltimore area who has not traveled outside of the country, “making community transmission likely,” the governor’s statement read. Officials are working to quickly identify the man’s potential contacts and ensure they are quarantined and tested, Hogan said.

... The Baltimore-area man who contracted the new variant did not require hospitalization and is recovering at home in self-isolation, Maryland Health Department spokesman Charles Gischlar told The Post. He added the variant was discovered on Friday by “public health officials who routinely sequence specimens to identify variants.”

... This is the second mutation of the novel coronavirus to be identified in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Health announced that it identified the mutation first found in the United Kingdom on Jan. 12. Health officials in the state have since identified seven cases of that variant, known as B.1.1.7.

More than 430 cases of the three variants, including the one initially found in Brazil, have been identified in at least 31 states, according to federal data, an alarming spread that Fauci described as a “wake-up call.”

“It is an incentive to do what we’ve been saying all along: to vaccinate as many people as we can, as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci said Friday.
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Two lawmakers test positive for coronavirus, one after receiving both doses of vaccine
Two members of Congress from Massachusetts have tested positive for the coronavirus, one after receiving both doses of the vaccine, a reminder that people can still be vulnerable to infection after being vaccinated, particularly in the two weeks after receiving the second dose.

... Occasional cases of people testing positive after receiving one or both doses are not unexpected, medical experts say. Clinical trial data published by Pfizer show that the vaccine is about 52 percent effective at preventing illness after the first shot, compared to 95 percent effectiveness seven days after the second dose.

A small number of patients can still become mildly sick even after they are fully vaccinated. But only one of the roughly 20,000 people who received both doses in the clinical trial developed severe covid-19, suggesting the vaccine is powerful protection against the most dangerous cases of the disease.
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Anti-vaccine protesters temporarily shut down major coronavirus vaccine site at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
One of the largest vaccination sites in the country briefly shut down Saturday afternoon because maskless, anti-vaccine protesters blocked the entrance, officials said.

For nearly an hour, thousands of motorists in line to get a coronavirus vaccine shot at Dodger Stadium were stalled as about 50 people demonstrating against immunization efforts caused officials to temporarily close the site’s gates, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman David Ortiz told The Washington Post. The protest had no impact on the number of shots given Saturday at the site, which can vaccinate 8,000 people a day, Ortiz said.

No arrests were made, according to police.

... Dozens of protesters arrived at the site Saturday, many carrying signs with messages undermining efforts to curb infections and calling the pandemic that has killed more than 438,000 Americans a “scam.” “END THE LOCKDOWN,” read one sign. “COVID=SCAM,” another said. One protester wore a Grim Reaper costume. Some shouted and gestured at people waiting in their cars.

With limited vaccine supply and high demand, coronavirus vaccines are difficult to come by. Saturday’s disruptive protest further complicated a strenuous process for those with appointments.
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The other rebellion: Dozens of Michigan restaurants defy state coronavirus order
It's a Monday morning, and the Sunrise Family Diner is full. Retirees in jeans and plaid sit by the window, chatting over coffee and the local newspaper. A sign posted at the entrance urges customers to wear masks, but some don't. They get seated anyway, within arm's length of strangers in other booths.

Michigan is under shutdown, but inside Sunrise Family Diner, you might assume there is no pandemic.

This is the other rebellion. While armed extremists gathered outside the statehouse in Lansing a week after a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in support of President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, dozens of restaurateurs across Michigan held their own protests against reality.

The restaurants are operating in open defiance of the state’s polarizing governor and the restrictions she ordered in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The businesses say the science on which the rules are based — pushed by the state health department, World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — is politicized and untrustworthy.

“I don’t think it’s as bad as they’re saying it is,” diner owner David Koloski said. “The whole thing with the coronavirus is political. I think [Democrats] are dug in and unwilling to move on this.”

Their protests have thrived for weeks thanks to law enforcement officers who support their cause and state residents willing to travel hours in some cases to patronize businesses where they can flaunt their distaste for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and her rules. So far, cease-and-desist orders and fines have done little to dissuade the businesses, and state officials have declined to discuss what recourse they have for dealing with the revolt.

But the consequences are clear, some health professionals say: Even as Michigan’s coronavirus rates have declined, many of the state’s hospitals remain at capacity because of covid-19 patients.
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As Virus Variants Spread, ‘No One Is Safe Until Everyone Is Safe’
Rich countries are buying up coronavirus vaccines, leaving poorer regions vulnerable — and as potential breeding grounds for variants, like one found in South Africa, that could make vaccines less effective.

While more than 90 million people worldwide have been vaccinated, only 25 in all of sub-Saharan Africa, a region of about one billion people, have been given doses outside of drug trials, according to the World Health Organization.

But as new variants like the one discovered in South Africa migrate to more countries — including the United States — it is becoming ever clearer that the tragedy for poorer countries could become a tragedy for every country. The more the virus spreads, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the greater chance it has to continue to mutate in ways that put the whole world at risk.

Recent studies suggest that at least four vaccines that are effective at preventing infection with the original virus did not perform as well against the variant found in South Africa. That variant is also more infectious — as is another one, discovered in Britain — and it is now estimated to make up 90 percent of all cases in South Africa, according to data compiled by researchers. It has turned up in dozens of other countries.

Inoculation prompts the immune system to make antibodies to the virus, but as mutations change its shape, the virus can become more resistant to those antibodies. In the worst case, failing to stop the spread of the virus globally would allow more mutations that could make existing vaccines less effective, leaving even inoculated populations vulnerable.

“This idea that no one is safe until everyone is safe is not just an adage, it is really true,” said Andrea Taylor, the assistant director at Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

Even in the most optimistic scenarios, Ms. Taylor said, at the current pace of production, there will not be enough vaccines for true global coverage until 2023. The current rollout plans across Africa are expected to vaccinate only 20 to 35 percent of the population this year if everything goes right.

And while some wealthy countries have secured enough vaccine to cover their populations multiple times, South Africa has secured just 22.5 million doses for its 60 million people, and many nations lag further behind.
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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia