COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
West Virginia's Vaccination Rate Ranks Among Highest In World
West Virginia isn't known for its good health outcomes. It leads the nation in deaths from diabetes, accidents and drug overdoses. But when it comes to distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, the state has been a shining star.

It didn't start out that way. In late December, on what was the day that Gov. Jim Justice announced West Virginians over the age of 80 would be able to receive doses of the vaccine from their county health departments, seniors began lining up right away — even before doses of the vaccine were available. Chris Dorst, a Charleston Gazette-Mail photographer for 30 years, was sent out by his editor to photograph the serpentine line of senior citizens she'd seen waiting outside the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, under the gray December sky.

"Some people had wheelchairs or walkers — elderly people, and maybe some family members with them in line, just waiting. It seemed to move really slow," Dorst says.

Behind the scenes at Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, things were chaotic. The staff received a call from the governor's office at 11 a.m. letting them know they would receive vaccines to distribute to seniors, just one hour before Justice's public announcement. As soon as the governor made the announcement, octogenarians came down to stand outside the health department. By the time County Health Director Dr. Sherri Young returned to the building with the doses of the Moderna vaccine, it was nearly 2 p.m. But the vaccine she'd just picked up still needed to thaw, the line of elderly constituents was only getting longer and rain was in the forecast. Young's office was able to repurpose thawed doses of vaccine meant for first responders and deliver 210 shots to the people in line that day.

... Maj. Gen. James Hoyer is the head of the state's COVID-19 Joint Interagency Task Force for Vaccines. Hoyer, who retired as head of the West Virginia National Guard before assuming his role at the head of the vaccine task force, saw Dorst's striking photograph in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in his morning paper the following day.

"I remember seeing the picture," Hoyer says. People didn't have any information yet about where and when to go, so they just showed up. Hoyer says it was a communications problem he needed to solve as quickly as possible. He got on the phone with Young to discuss "how we're going to help her get folks in."

... Hoyer's team decided on a simple solution: a telephone hotline. Call it and residents can ask questions about how and where to get the vaccine, as well as schedule appointments.

Elsewhere, state COVID-19 hotlines have crashed, impacting cell service generally as networks strain under too many calls. West Virginia's population of 1.8 million reduced the chances of that happening. The state decided not to outsource the hotline to a private company as some states have done, housing it instead under the Department of Health and Human Resources' Office of Constituent Services. Gov. Justice gets a report every night on call volume, wait times and appointments scheduled.

"The last time I looked, it was 6 minutes," Hoyer says disapprovingly, of the hotline's average wait time. "What that tells us is we probably need more people manning the hotline."

West Virginia has administered almost 450,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 9 percent of its population has gotten both doses. Alaska and West Virginia trade off for first place among states for the percentage of the population that have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. If broadened out to look at the whole world, the percentage of the population of West Virginia already fully vaccinated would rank third.

"Not bad for a bunch of hillbillies," Hoyer says.

The US is about to top 500,000 Covid-19 deaths. That's why it's critical to keep up safety measures, Fauci says
Death Toll
"It's something that is historic. It's nothing like we've ever been though in the last 102 years since the 1918 influenza pandemic," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"It really is a terrible situation that we've been through and that we're still going through. And that's the reason why we keep insisting to continue with the public health measures -- because we don't want this to get much worse than it already is."

More than 498,700 people have died from Covid-19 in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.

And another 91,000 Americans are projected to die from the disease by June 1, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

... "The most uncertain driver of the trajectory of the epidemic over the next four months is how individuals will respond to steady declines in daily cases and deaths," the IHME team wrote. "More rapid increases in mobility or reductions in mask use can easily lead to increasing cases and deaths in many states in April."

... Rapid, widespread vaccinations are important to stay ahead of "the inevitable evolution of variants that could dangerously accelerate the trajectory of the pandemic," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky co-wrote in the medical journal JAMA.

... Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins on Sunday expressed disappointment that mask-wearing had not been more widespread during the pandemic, saying there was clear evidence by March or April that they helped prevent viral transmission.

"A mask is nothing more than a life-saving medical device, and yet it got categorized in all sorts of other ways that were not factual, not scientific, and frankly dangerous, and I think you could make a case that tens of thousands of people died as a result," Collins said during an interview Sunday evening on Axios on HBO.

Collins said he would remember 2020 as a "pretty difficult year" for mask-wearing and remains confused why people would refuse masks on the basis of personal freedom.

U.S. Reaches 500,000 Covid Deaths
The United States reached a staggering milestone on Monday, surpassing 500,000 known coronavirus-related deaths in a pandemic that has lasted almost a year. The nation’s total virus toll is higher than in any other country in the world. It has far surpassed early predictions of loss by some federal experts. And it means that more Americans have died from Covid-19 than did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

“The magnitude of it is just horrifying,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University who has modeled the virus’s spread and says that the scale of loss was not inevitable, but a result of the failure to control the virus’s spread in the United States. “It’s been a failure,” he said.

The United States accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s known Covid deaths, but makes up just 4.25 percent of the global population.

About one in 670 Americans has died of Covid-19, which has become a leading cause of death in this country, along with heart disease and cancer, and has driven down life expectancy more sharply than in decades. The losses, monumental for the country, have been searingly personal for the relatives and friends of the 500,000.

... The harrowing milestone comes amid hopeful news: New virus cases and deaths have slowed dramatically, and vaccine distribution has gradually picked up pace. But uncertainty remains about emerging variants of the virus, some more contagious and possibly more lethal, so it may be months before the pandemic is contained. Scientists say the trajectory of the U.S. death toll will depend on the speed of vaccinations, the effects of the variants and how closely people stick to guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing.

... The virus has reached every corner of America, devastating dense cities and rural counties alike through surges that barreled through one region and then another.

Biden and Harris Honor 500,000 Americans Lost During Pandemic

As the nation passed a “truly grim, heartbreaking milestone” on Monday, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris observed a moment of silence during a ceremony at the White House.

Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead. That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth. We often hear people described as “ordinary Americans.” There’s no such thing. There’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations. Born in America, immigrated to America. But just like that, so many of them took their final breath alone in America. As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. While we’ve been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news. We must do so to honor the dead, but equally important, care for the living those they left behind.

500,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 less than a year after the pandemic took hold
  • The US passed the bleak milestone of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday.
  • It is the highest death toll any country has recorded from the virus.
  • The US hit 250,000 deaths in mid-November, meaning the toll doubled in three months.
The US passed the landmark figure of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, less than a year after the pandemic took hold.

The US has recorded the highest death toll from the virus in the world. It is more than double the number of deaths reported by Brazil, which as of February 22 had the next-highest number, at just more than 246,000.

According to Johns Hopkins University's tracker, the US has seen more than 28 million cases of the virus since it was first detected in China in December 2019. The virus has disproportionately affected Black and Asian Americans.

The first reported COVID-19 death in the US was of a Washington state resident in his 50s on February 29, 2020, prompting the state to declare an emergency. It was later discovered that two people had died with the virus even earlier.

By the time the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, only a handful of Americans had been reported to have died with the virus. Former President Donald Trump was initially optimistic, saying last spring he expected the virus to one day "disappear."

A wave of state lockdowns and safety measures started from March, with many states easing restrictions by June.

Cases and deaths once again rose steeply from October amid growing public debate around measures like mask mandates and business closures.

Some 250,000 Americans had died from the virus by November 18. It has taken just over three months for that figure to double.

... Though the US has reported the largest number of COVID-19 deaths worldwide, several countries fare worse when the deaths are measured on a per capita basis.

Belgium, Slovenia, Czechia, the UK, Italy, and Portugal have all had worse death tolls per 100,000 people, according to the BBC.

Biden Marks Covid Milestone in Emotional White House Ceremony
President Biden urged the nation on Monday night to “resist becoming numb to the sorrow” that the novel coronavirus had inflicted, marking the staggering milestone of more than a half-million Americans dead from the pandemic in a solemn ceremony at the White House.

The country passed the grim toll around 5 p.m., and bells began tolling at the National Cathedral, resounding across a capital with flags lowered to half-staff. About an hour later, Mr. Biden appeared in the Cross Hall of the White House and pulled a card from his jacket pocket that he said was updated each day with the number of those infected — and those who died — from Covid-19.

Speaking somberly and drawing on his own personal experience, Mr. Biden sought not only to honor the dead, but also to comfort those who have lost loved ones, many of whom “took their final breath alone.”

Looking into the camera, the president addressed the survivors directly, alluding several times to the loss of his first wife, an infant daughter and, later, his eldest son.

“I know all too well,” he said. “I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens. I know what it’s like when you are there holding their hands; there’s a look in their eye and they slip away. That black hole in your chest — you feel like you’re being sucked into it. The survivors remorse, the anger, the questions of faith in your soul.”

It was a strikingly emotional moment, and a testament to a nation’s failure to act in the face of a calamity that would take the lives of more Americans in a year’s time, Mr. Biden noted, than died in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. “More lives lost to this virus,” he said, “than any other nation on Earth.”

Later, Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, exited the White House en route to the South Lawn through a door that was draped in black cloth; the stairs leading up to the Truman Balcony were seen dotted with votive candles.

The two couples, wearing black masks, bowed their heads in a moment of silence as a military band played “Amazing Grace.” When the music stopped, the president made the sign of the cross and turned to walk back inside.

The White House ceremony was particularly notable because President Donald J. Trump refused to mark the losses or hold such remembrances, knowing that any focus on the individual lives lost would quickly raise the question of how the government failed to respond more quickly and aggressively.

... Time after time, Mr. Trump played down the virus, first arguing that it would disappear, then that it would be contained to a few lives that would be lost, and then boasting that his government would hold the death count to “substantially below the 100,000” mark. At one point, he told the journalist Bob Woodward that he would not talk about the dangers “to reduce panic.”

Hotel that hosted a mostly maskless rally for Florida's governor is under investigation
About 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, the county was notified that many in the audience of about 100-150 people were not wearing facial coverings or masks, Palm Beach County Deputy Director of Public Affairs John Jamason told CNN in a statement.

A mask mandate aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19 is in effect in the county until March 19. Facial coverings must be worn by anyone obtaining any goods or services, or otherwise visiting or working in any business or establishment in the county.

... The event was held at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport Hotel. Jamason said the event was not coordinated by the county and it is up to businesses to enforce the mask mandate.

... A Hilton Palm Beach Airport spokesperson said in an email to CNN that, in part, "We have been made aware of video that appears to show a group of individuals within close proximity of one another and not wearing masks. We are disappointed in their apparent failure to comply with our mask regulations which are prominently displayed throughout the hotel. Moving forward, we will continue to do our best to monitor and enforce these guidelines as long as they remain in place."

The Palm Beach Code Enforcement and Compliance Team is investigating the incident and will determine if the hotel faces fines or penalties, Jamason said.

False claims tying coronavirus vaccines to infertility drive doubts among women of childbearing age
Health officials worry their hesitation may affect efforts to reach immunization targets

As the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine ramps up across the United States, women of childbearing age have emerged as a surprising roadblock to efforts to halt the pandemic by achieving herd immunity. Officials have encountered hesitancy among other groups, including some Black and Hispanic adults and those who believe the pandemic is a hoax. But the reluctance of women in their 20s and 30s — largely around disinformation spread on Facebook, Twitter and other social media — has been more unexpected. With such women making up a large share of the health-care workforce, vaccine uptake at nursing homes and hospitals has been as low as 20 to 50 percent in some places — a far cry from the 70 to 85 percent population target that health officials say may be needed to stop the virus.

“I’m worried, frankly,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. “There are stories out there on the Internet about how vaccination can lead to infertility. There’s absolutely nothing to that. But when we look at people who are expressing hesitancy, in many instances those are women of childbearing age.”

... The infertility myth is just one of many reasons women are hesitant, doctors and community organizers say, with others having more general concerns about a vaccine that has only recently been approved and the fact that early trials did not specifically look at pregnant or lactating women, leading to conflicting guidance from health authorities.

The World Health Organization says only those who are at a high risk of contracting the virus or of having a severe case should take the vaccine. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the United Kingdom has said that while there’s nothing to indicate any safety concerns for pregnancy, there also isn’t enough evidence to recommend routine use of the vaccine in pregnant women.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been more neutral, saying women should make individual decisions in consultation with their doctors.

Attacks on Asian Americans during pandemic renew criticism that U.S. undercounts hate crimes
A spate of high-profile assaults on Asian Americans has renewed long-standing criticism from Democrats and civil rights groups that the U.S. government is vastly undercounting hate crimes, a problem that they say has grown more acute amid rising white nationalism and deepening racial strife.

The attacks — including several in Northern California over the past month that attracted national attention — followed months of warnings from advocates that anti-China rhetoric from former president Donald Trump over the coronavirus pandemic was contributing to a surge in anti-Asian slurs and violence.

Although President Biden last month signed an executive action banning the federal government from employing the sort of “inflammatory and xenophobic” language Trump used to describe the virus — such as “China plague” and “kung flu” — Asian American leaders said the recent attacks demonstrate a need for greater urgency in dealing with such threats.

Among other incidents, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old San Francisco resident who had immigrated from Thailand, was killed in late January, in a brazen attack captured on a video that went viral on social media. Antoine Watson, a 19-year-old African American man, was charged in connection with Ratanapakedee’s death and has pleaded not guilty.

... During his Senate confirmation hearing Monday, Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee for attorney general, pledged to support such efforts.

“Hate crimes tear at the fabric of our society. They make our citizens worried about walking the streets and exercising even the most normal rights,” Garland said. “The role of the [Justice Department’s] Civil Rights Division is to prosecute those cases vigorously and I can ensure you that it will if I am confirmed.”

A 1990 federal law mandates that the FBI collect data specifically on hate crimes each year, but the effort has long been plagued by incomplete and inconsistent data provided by the nation’s estimated 18,000 state, municipal and tribal law enforcement agencies.

The administration is in the early stages of identifying strategies to compel broader participation. Among the ideas advocates have pushed for is tying federal funding from the Justice Department’s extensive grant programs to increased training and reporting on hate crimes.

... Some big-city law enforcement agencies have publicly reported an increase in bias attacks against Asian Americans. For example, New York City’s hate crimes task force investigated 27 incidents in 2020, including 24 tied to the coronavirus, a ninefold increase from the previous year.

But experts said local police agencies lack training and funding to properly investigate hate crimes, and many treat it as a low priority. Some conservative Republicans have opposed more stringent reporting requirements to determine whether crimes are motivated by hate, arguing that such measures are redundant.

... In a statement, the FBI said participation in its data program is “voluntary.” The agency added that it anticipates the reporting methods would improve in the coming years as a greater percentage of local police agencies transitions into the National Incident Based Reporting System, which requires more detailed and consistent data.

Tanzania’s leader declared the pandemic over. Now he’s asking the country to listen to health experts.
Officially, Tanzania has not reported a single coronavirus case since April 2020. According to government data, the country has had only 509 positive cases and 21 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Almost no one believes those numbers to be credible. But they fit with President John Magufuli’s declaration that the pandemic was “finished.”

Now, facing criticism from the World Health Organization and skepticism from the public as Tanzanians take to social media to voice concern about a growing number of “pneumonia” cases, Mr. Magufuli is changing course and asking people to take precautions against the coronavirus and wear masks.

Speaking during a church service in the port city of Dar es Salaam, the president asked congregants to continue praying for the disease to go away but also urged them to follow “advice from health experts.”

In a statement released by his office, Mr. Magufuli said his government had never barred people from wearing masks but urged them to use only those made in Tanzania.

“The masks imported from outside the country are suspected of being unsafe,” the statement said.

... Mr. Magufuli, 61, who was re-elected last October, has derided social distancing, publicized unproven treatments as a cure for the virus, questioned the efficacy of coronavirus testing kits supplied by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said that “vaccines don’t work.”

Yet health experts, religious entities and foreign embassies have issued warnings about the rising number of cases — and as deaths follow, the reality is harder to dismiss.

Developing Potent Antivirals Is the ‘Direction of the Future’, Fauci Says

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said on Monday the next phase in the fight against Covid-19 is developing “potent antivirals” that directly act on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The bottom line of what we need to do looking forward, and the clear need in this is the development of potent antivirals directly acting on SARS-CoV-2, very similar to what was done with the highly successful drug development program for H.I.V., as well as for Hepatitis C. And what I refer to as the future development of therapeutics will be based on the identification of vulnerable targets in the SARS-CoV-2 replication cycle, and the design of drugs to inhibit these vulnerable targets. As I mentioned, we are beginning this, and this is going to be the direction of the future. Baricitinib and remdesivir have earned emergency use authorization and a number of immunomodulators, including those that block a variety of cytokines and cytokine receptors, are currently in clinical trials. The F.D.A. will give guidance to how these companies can address a problem that we know is with us already, and that will be a problem in the future.

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