COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Russian Campaign Promotes Homegrown Vaccine and Undercuts Rivals
Russian news outlets with connections to the Kremlin ran disingenuous Spanish-language stories targeting vaccines made in the United States and Europe, researchers said.

Russian news outlets connected to election disinformation campaigns in the United States have set their sights on a new target: convincing Spanish-speaking countries that the Russian coronavirus vaccine works better than its American competitors, according to researchers and State Department officials.

The Russian campaign has focused on Latin American nations, including Mexico, which this week signed a deal to acquire millions of doses of the Russian vaccine, and Argentina, which last month began vaccinating its citizens with it.

Conducted on Spanish-language social media and reinforced by the official Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in Mexico City, the campaign signaled a new wrinkle in Russian influence operations, promoting Russian industry and scientific cachet over its competitors as governments around the world race to vaccinate their populations.

The Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, was named after the first satellite to orbit the earth, which the Soviet Union launched in 1957. Sputnik V is considered less expensive and easier to transport than vaccines made by the American companies Pfizer and Moderna. But some researchers say the criticism in Russian outlets of the Western vaccines has been misleading.

“Almost everything they are promoting about the vaccine is manipulated and put out without context,” said Bret Schafer, a fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an advocacy group that tracks Russian disinformation. “Every negative story or issue that has come out about a U.S.-made vaccine is amplified, while they flood the zone with any positive report about the Russian vaccine.”

Media outlets backed by the Russian government posted to Facebook and Twitter hundreds of links to news stories that reported potential ties suggesting American vaccines may have had a role in deaths, the researchers said. The accounts left out follow-up reports that found the vaccines most likely played no role in the deaths.

“This was a coordinated effort that was part P.R. campaign and part disinformation. It is one of the largest operations we’ve seen to promote a narrative around the vaccine in Latin America, and it appears to have had an effect,” said Jaime Longoria, a disinformation researcher at First Draft, a nonprofit that supports journalists and independent researchers. “Russia steadily seeded a narrative that has grown and been, to some degree, accepted.”

Researchers have tracked similar Russian efforts in Eastern European countries that are still negotiating with Russia to buy the vaccine. Disinformation researchers have also monitored Russia spreading similar narratives in a half-dozen languages, targeting countries in central and West Africa.

China has also joined the fray, striking a similar anti-American vaccine tone aimed at a domestic audience, according to disinformation researchers. While Russia and China do not appear to be working together, their shared interests have led to a shared narrative. Last month, a Twitter account dedicated to Sputnik V included a Chinese report that falsely claimed the U.S. media had remained silent on deaths related to Pfizer’s vaccine.

... The influence campaign in Mexico has become the best understood of the efforts by the outlets with ties to the Kremlin. It was different from previous Russian disinformation campaigns, which leaned on posting false and misleading information online. As social media companies have become more aggressive in rooting out disinformation, Russian operations have focused on promoting selective news stories that skirt the truth, rather than reject it.
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Senate vote paves way for passage of Biden’s economic relief plan
Vice President Harris breaks tie on budget resolution after all-night Senate session

After a 15-hour “vote-a-rama” session in Congress, senators approved a budget bill that clears the path for a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan. The Senate was split 50-50, with Vice President Harris casting the decisive vote. The House, voting mostly by party lines, swiftly approved the budget early Friday afternoon. The next steps will take weeks to complete. But the approval of the budget makes the plan – which includes $1,400 stimulus payments – viable without Republican support.
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Vaccines alone won’t solve the pandemic. Here are 3 other things we must do.
To effectively manage current and future variants, we need a three-pronged response that goes beyond the focus on current vaccines.

First, we need substantially more genomic surveillance. We don’t know how many variants are in the United States or how widespread they are, and we don’t have a rapid-response system to evaluate the effectiveness of the available vaccines and treatments against them. To fix this, the United States must sequence the genome of about 3 to 5 percent of cases — currently as many as 50,000 viruses a week — especially in cases of those who get covid-19 after being infected or vaccinated. Fortunately, President Biden’s administration is hard at work on these urgent responses, including adding sufficient resources in its rescue plan.

Second, we must develop multivalent vaccines — that is, vaccines that can immunize against more than one strain of the same disease. The annual flu vaccine is multivalent against three or four different influenza viruses. We will need the same for covid-19, which the administration is also working on.

Finally, and most importantly, we need greater focus on developing scalable treatments to prevent severe covid-19, shorten the duration of the disease and reduce deaths. At every turn, we have underestimated this virus. The current vaccines are effective — for now. But we should not assume that will remain the case as the virus mutates.

... The coronavirus has one goal: to multiply and spread. It is doing this quite well and gaining strength as it goes. We humans may be done with the virus, but it will not let us rest. If we want to get back to a normal life, we must implement this three-pronged strategy as soon as possible.
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Companies are charging hidden ‘covid fees’ to make up for lost profits. They may be illegal.
Attorneys general and consumers say surcharges from $5 to $1,200 are being charged to cover PPE and cleaning at dentist offices, senior living facilities and restaurants

Nearly a year into the pandemic’s gutting of the economy, businesses across the country are increasingly charging coronavirus-related fees, ranging from a $5 disinfection charge in a hair salon to $1,200 for extra food and cleaning in a senior living center, which are often undisclosed until the customer gets a bill.

According to a survey by The Washington Post of attorney general offices and financial departments in 52 states and territories, U.S. consumers in 29 states have filed 510 complaints of coronavirus-related surcharges at dentist offices, senior living facilities, hair salons and restaurants.

Hidden fees are a legitimate concern for consumers, especially for economically vulnerable Americans or senior citizens without much income, but not every state protects consumers from them. While medical insurance law in some states requires health-care providers to offer refunds to patients who have been unfairly charged for personal protective equipment, other states allow for businesses to tack on extra fees, as long as they’re disclosed upfront.

It’s unclear exactly how widespread coronavirus surcharges are, as anecdotal social media posts of customer receipts and reports filed with attorneys general and state consumer protection departments are the only way to track them. But health-care providers and residential facilities are some of the worst-affected sectors.

... Some insurance providers subsidize PPE costs, and other contracts don’t allow for customers to be held liable for additional fees tacked on later. But the rules vary from state to state and provider to provider, depending on whether the fee is disclosed upfront and what a client’s insurance policy covers.
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White House Is Lining Up 6 More Contracts To Boost At-Home Coronavirus Tests
The Biden administration is finalizing contracts with six companies to increase the supply of at-home coronavirus tests – a plan that would bring more than 60 million tests to the U.S. market by the end of this summer, officials from the White House COVID-19 Response Team said on Friday.

The investment will "rapidly surge domestic testing capability," said Tim Manning, supply coordinator for the COVID-19 Response Team, during an online briefing. The tests would not require a prescription.

"The country is well behind where we need to be in testing, particularly the rapid, at-home tests that will allow us all to get back to normal activities like work and school," Manning said.

He added that the plan is being streamlined by invoking the Defense Production Act. The contracts will be finalized in the coming weeks, Manning said, declining to go into detail about which companies are involved and where they're located.

The contracts call for the U.S. to help companies "construct new plants and build new production lines here in the United States," Manning said.
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‘We’re Still in the Teeth of This Pandemic,’ Biden Says

We’re still the teeth of this pandemic. In fact, January was the single-deadliest month of the whole pandemic. We lost nearly 100,000 lives. I know some in Congress think we’ve already done enough to deal with the crisis in the country. Others think that things are getting better, and we can afford to sit back. And either do little or do nothing at all. That’s not what I see. I see enormous pain in this country. A lot of folks out of work, a lot of folks going hungry, staring at the ceiling tonight, wondering, what am I going to do tomorrow? And I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help, to do our job, to not let them down. So I’m going to act, and I’m going to act fast. I’d like to be — I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans. I’ve met with Republicans and some really fine people want to get something done, but they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go. I’ve told both Republicans and Democrats that’s my preference, to work together. But if I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now. That’s why I’m so grateful to the House and the Senate for moving so fast on the American Rescue Plan. Job No. 1 of the American Rescue Plan is vaccines, vaccines. The second, the American Rescue Plan is going to keep the commitment of $2,000 — $600 has already gone out, $1,400 checks to people who need it. I’m not cutting the size of the checks. They’re going to be $1,400, period. That’s what the American people were promised.
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Pentagon Will Deploy Troops to Assist Vaccine Efforts

I want to announce that the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, has approved FEMA’s request to augment and expedite vaccinations across the country. He’s ordered the first contingent of more than 1,000 active-duty military personnel to support state vaccination sites. Part of this group will start to arrive in California within the next 10 days to begin operations there around Feb. 15, with additional vaccination missions soon to follow. The military’s critical role in supporting sites will help vaccinate thousands of people per day, and ensure that every American who wants a vaccine will receive one.
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NFL Offers All 30 Stadiums For Use As Coronavirus Vaccine Sites
Every NFL team will offer their stadium as a possible mass vaccination site to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to President Biden. The move would expand an effort that currently includes seven teams.

Each team "will make its stadium available for mass vaccinations of the general public in coordination with local, state, and federal health officials," Goodell wrote in the letter, which was sent on Thursday. The effort would be helped, he said, by the experience the teams already have with transforming parts of their facilities into coronavirus testing sites.

The NFL has 32 teams, but the offer comprises 30 stadiums, because pairs of teams share facilities in both New York and Los Angeles.

Other sports have taken similar actions. Last month, the Los Angeles Dodgers converted their stadium from a mass coronavirus testing site into a vaccination center. And on Friday, the New York Yankees opened a vaccination site at their stadium in the Bronx. A similar plan for the New York Mets' stadium has been stalled by a shortage of available vaccine doses, as the Gothamist website reports.

Some colleges have also made their stadiums available for use as vaccination sites, including the University of Michigan and the University of Kentucky. When reached for comment on Friday, the NCAA said that such decisions are up to each college.
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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