COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Not a single Senate Republican voted to advance the stimulus package that would give most Americans a $1,400 one-time check
Senate Republicans issued a mass rebuke of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion rescue package when not a single one voted to advance the stimulus package Tuesday night.

In a strict party-line vote, all 50 Senate Democrats voted to advance a budget resolution to speed the aid package through Congress without Republican support. Forty-nine Republicans voted against the resolution. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, did not vote because he was delayed by snow.

The phrase "No Republicans" was trending on Twitter following the vote.

"We are not going to dilute, dither or delay," New York Sen. and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor. "There's nothing about the process itself that prevents bipartisanship."

The package on the line includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans, $350 billion to state and local governments, an increase in federal jobless aid to $400, and a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15, among other aid.

All four measures have proven to be sticking points between the two parties.

... Senate Democrats could approve the resolution as soon as Friday.

According to Roll Call, the house will vote on its nearly identical measure Wednesday, then will have to vote again on final adoption of the joint measure after the Senate makes additions.
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South Dakota Governor says COVID-19 response better than 'virtually every other state,' despite having overall second-highest rate of cases
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem touted her response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a Fox News interview Tuesday night, suggesting that her state has fared better than almost all other states, despite having a higher rate of overall cases than every state but one.

One out of every 500 South Dakotans has died from COVID-19, and one in every eight residents has contracted the virus. The Midwestern state has a population of 884,659 according to a 2019 population estimate by the US Census Bureau and has had 108,431 total probable cases and 1,779 confirmed deaths since the pandemic started.

Noem detailed her approach to handling the dual health and economic crises, saying the state took "a very different path" in protecting the vulnerable while still allowing people to "put food on the table."

"We did have tragedies and we did have losses," Noem said in the interview. "But we also got through it better than virtually every other state."

Noem, a Republican, has struck a "freedom-first" strategy, refusing to issue a statewide mask mandate and stressing the importance of protecting the state's economy.

...Still, it was unclear what numbers Noem was referring to when she suggested the state had made it through the pandemic better than almost every other. And it's not the first time she's suggested the state is faring better than it really is.
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A global program to supply vaccine to poorer countries plans to ship over 300 million doses by June 30.
But even with that help, many of the world’s poorest countries are likely to lag far behind in vaccinating their citizens, and may not be able to mount any large-scale effort this year.

Scientists say that could leave the entire world, even people in widely vaccinated countries, more vulnerable, at a time when worrisome new variants of the virus are cropping up and spreading worldwide.

The assistance program, known as Covax, was set up by international organizations to try to counteract “vaccine nationalism” and ensure that the scramble for vaccines among rich countries did not leave poorer nations out in the cold.

Covax said on Wednesday that it hoped to ship 336 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to 145 countries in the first half of the year, with shipments to begin late this month or early in March. The vaccine deliveries would be among the first to reach low- and middle-income countries.

Some 96 million of the doses would come directly from AstraZeneca, Covax said, and the rest from the Serum Institute of India. The program said that close to 100 million doses of the total would be delivered by the end of March.

Covax cautioned that its figures and delivery dates were “indicative” estimates, based on what manufacturers had said would be available. Production hiccups and other problems could result in lower deliveries.
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AstraZeneca vaccine appears to substantially reduce transmission of the coronavirus, study shows
The Covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca not only prevents people from developing symptomatic coronavirus infections, but also appears to slow down transmission of the coronavirus.

The findings, released in a preprint paper that has not yet been peer reviewed, are the first evidence that a Covid-19 vaccine can reduce the virus’ spread, and underlines the importance of mass vaccination as a way out of the pandemic.

Researchers at the University of Oxford measured transmission by swabbing participants every week to detect signs of the virus, and found that the rate of positive PCR tests declined by about half after two doses of the vaccine. If the vaccine were simply making infections more mild, PCR positivity would not change, the authors argued.

The study also found that a single shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine provided 76% protection against symptomatic Covid-19 when the second shot was delayed by up to three months, supporting the vaccination plan rolled out by Britain and other countries stretching time between the first and second doses (Note: The data does not mean the same will be true for other vaccines).

The researchers said spacing doses by three months was "an effective strategy for reducing disease, and may be the optimal for rollout of a pandemic vaccine when supplies are limited in the short term." That is good news, especially in the United Kingdom, where the race is on to vaccinate as much of the population as possible while a new, more transmissible variant spreads.
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Russia's Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19, interim trial results suggest
After criticism last year for an early rollout, Russia's Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 and 100% effective against severe and moderate disease, according to an interim analysis of Phase 3 trial results published in The Lancet.

The results deliver a big geopolitical victory for Moscow, as well as a potential piece of the global vaccine market pie. Sputnik V joins only two other vaccines whose efficacy is higher than 90%, but unlike Pfizer and Moderna's shots, the Russian vaccine is cheaper and can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.

Praising the "good data," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told German public broadcaster ARD on Tuesday that "every vaccine is welcome in the European Union."
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More people in the US have received one dose of vaccine than have been infected with Covid-19, CDC says
According to the CDC, 6,064,792 people have received both doses of a vaccine and are fully vaccinated. This is about 1.84% of the United States.

However, Covid-19 infections across the nation are estimated to be much higher than the actual number of cases reported, the CDC says. In mid-January CDC estimated the US has actually seen 83.1 million Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began.
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Dolly Parton hasn't gotten the coronavirus vaccine yet, even though she donated $1 million for it
"I'm going to get it, though," she said Thursday. "I didn't want to jump line. I didn't donate the money so I could be protected. I did it for everybody."

In typical Parton style, she gave the seven-figure sum to help partly fund creation of the Moderna vaccine.
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Stuck between the pandemic and politics, some countries ban rivals’ vaccines
Governments around the world are desperate for coronavirus vaccines, with many battling publicly for limited doses and accusing others of hoarding. Yet amid this rush, some countries are not only refusing potential doses produced by rivals but officially banning them.

Ukraine recently banned Russian vaccines, despite new peer-reviewed data that suggests a high efficiency for Moscow’s leading candidate, Sputnik V. The Iranian government, on the other hand, has banned all U.S.- and British-made vaccines and approved Sputnik V.

In Taiwan, where officials have spoken out since last year against vaccines made in China, authorities recently reiterated that imports of these vaccines are banned and warned that Taiwanese civilians living in China could face quarantine when they return home.

It is an inversion of the logic of vaccine nationalism, which has led powerful nations to scoop up as many doses as they can in hopes of emerging from the pandemic. More than 80 million vaccine doses have been given out in more than 50 countries, with some speeding well ahead.

But Ukraine, Iran and Taiwan have not formally begun their vaccination programs. And while Taiwan has been widely praised for its successful handling of the pandemic, Ukraine and Iran have struggled, resulting in considerable death tolls.

To experts, it’s an alarming, although not necessarily surprising, trend.
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A Missouri lawmaker sold a ‘potential cure’ for coronavirus. It was a fake stem cell treatment, feds say.
As she planned a run for the Missouri House last April, Patricia Ashton Derges went on local TV to trumpet a stem cell treatment offered at three clinics she owns as a “potential cure” for the coronavirus.

But when federal officials began investigating the claim, they found Derges was making “misleading statements” about the treatment, prosecutors said — it didn’t actually include any stem cells.

Derges, a 63-year-old Republican who was elected to the state House in November, now faces 20 criminal charges, including wire fraud and distribution by means of the Internet without a valid prescription, a federal grand jury indictment unsealed on Tuesday revealed.

“This defendant abused her privileged position to enrich herself through deception,” said U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison in a statement on Monday. “As an elected official and a health care provider, she deserves to be held to a high standard.”

... Derges claimed her Regenerative Biologics stem cells could treat patients suffering from “tissue damage, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (‘COPD’), Lyme Disease, erectile dysfunction, and urinary incontinence,” according to the indictment.

But the amniotic fluid was “acellular,” meaning it did not contain stem cells or any other cells,
federal investigators found.

... The charges against Derges go beyond the amniotic fluid sales. Despite being the only assistant physician at her clinics certified through the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe medication, it was “standard practice” that the other assistant physicians would see patients and later tell Derges which controlled substance to prescribe, according to the indictment. Derges would then send in the prescriptions electronically without evaluating the patient herself, which prosecutors said constitutes wire fraud.

Federal investigators also said Derges lied to them twice. She told agents the “amniotic fluid allograft she used in her practice contained mesenchymal stem cells,” which she knew “was false,” the indictment said. She also allegedly told agents she did not use the treatment on a patient for urinary incontinence, which she knew “was false,” the indictment said.

The state lawmaker faces eight counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of distributing Oxycodone and Adderall online without valid prescriptions, and two counts of making false statements to federal agents, federal authorities said. Derges could face extensive jail time. One count of wire fraud has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
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Fed up with lockdown, Polish businesses open doors in defiance of government.
Hundreds of businesses in Poland, including gyms, bars and restaurants, are in revolt against the government and risking hefty fines by reopening despite the country’s coronavirus restrictions.

What started last month with an online initiative called #OtwieraMY, meaning #WeAreOpening, has increasingly been taken up as a call to action by beleaguered business owners.

The movement has produced maps pinpointing the hundreds of restaurants, hotels, cafes and even ski slopes that claim to be open despite measures which require them to remain shut.

The Polish government on Monday allowed museums, art galleries and stores to start welcoming customers again. But sports facilities, hotels, bars and restaurants were told they must remain closed until at least mid-February.

... Businesses can face fines of up to $8,000 for violating the measures, but that has not deterred anti-lockdown activists who say their approach has been backed by the courts.
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Jim Justice, a G.O.P. Governor, on Why Biden Needs to ‘Go Big’ on Covid Aid
The odds that Democrats will succeed in passing a large economic rescue package received a boost this week from an unexpected source: Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, a Republican. Mr. Justice said on Monday, in back-to-back interviews with CNN and MSNBC, that Congress should “go big” and not worry about the federal deficit.

Or, as the governor put it in his signature folksy style: “We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move.” (Rough translation: Stop nit-picking about details and pass a bill.)

... We absolutely need to quit thinking first and foremost, “What is the right Republican or right Democrat thing to do?” I have been a business guy all my life, and I know that when you have a real problem, you can’t cut your way out of the problem. Too often we try to skinny everything down and not fund it properly.

If we ended up wasting a few dollars and it jump-started the economy, and it helped all those that were out there, as many as we can that are really hurting, would we not be one heck of a lot better off than trying to just match the shoe size to the foot and undersizing the shoe size to where you couldn’t even walk?

I would a whole lot rather give somebody a pair of shoes that was a little too big than a pair of shoes that was too small to put on their feet.
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Kroger To Close 2 Long Beach Stores Following City-Mandated Pandemic Pay Increase
On Jan. 19, the Long Beach City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring grocery stores that employ more than 300 workers across the country and more than 15 per store in Long Beach to pay their local employees an additional $4 per hour.

The ordinance is set to last for 120 days, or until the city terminates the order, which could be extended.

Following the order, Kroger says it has decided to close two of its stores in the area. A statement released by Kroger said two stores in its Ralphs and Food 4 Less divisions will close at their Long Beach locations.

"As a result of the City of Long Beach's decision to pass an ordinance mandating Extra Pay for grocery workers, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close long-struggling store locations in Long Beach," said a company spokesperson. "This misguided action by the Long Beach City Council oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city."

Kroger said it has invested $1.3 billion since the pandemic began, as both rewards to employees and to implement safety measures. It also provided financial support to employees experiencing certain pandemic hardships through its $15 Million Helping Hands fund.
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'Lay Low And Cool It': Fauci Warns Against Super Bowl Parties Becoming Superspreaders
Many Americans will likely want to celebrate this Sunday's Super Bowl as they have in previous years, with large, snack-filled watch parties. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser and the nation's top infectious disease official, is urging people to break from tradition to prevent a potential spike in COVID-19.

In appearances on NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America on Wednesday morning - and again at a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing - Fauci implored people to limit their gatherings to household members only.

"You don't want parties with people that you haven't had much contact with, you just don't know if they're infected," he told Good Morning America. "So as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it."

While acknowledging that the Super Bowl is not officially a national holiday, Fauci on Today compared it to other major events that have prompted upticks in the country's COVID-19 case count, like Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

"Every time we do have something like this, there always is a spike," he said, adding that "now is not the time" for mixed-household gatherings.
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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