COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Slovakia’s prime minister is the first world leader to step down over covid controversy
In late February, a Slovakian military jet secretly took off for Moscow in the dead of night. When it returned to the eastern city of Kosice the next day, Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovic was there to meet it on the tarmac, announcing that the plane held the first shipment of an expected 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

Top government officials were stunned. Many said they had been given no advance warning that Matovic planned to buy the vaccine, which has not been cleared by European Union regulators.

Rather than being hailed as a hero, Matovic soon faced mounting pressure to resign amid a mass exodus of top government officials. Once considered a pandemic success story, Slovakia now has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the Western world, and its fragile governing coalition has grown increasingly splintered over the past year. For some cabinet members, Matovic’s decision to unilaterally purchase millions of unapproved vaccine doses was the final straw.

On Sunday, Matovic announced that he would step down as prime minister and swap places with Finance Minister Eduard Heger, a member of his Ordinary People party, “in order for the coalition to continue.”

His resignation came after Slovakia’s health, economic, justice, education, and foreign affairs ministers stepped down from their posts, while multiple members of parliament walked away from Matovic’s center-right coalition. One of the MPs who quit, Tomas Valasek, expressed concerns that buying Russia’s vaccine meant “spitting in the face of our European partners,” according to news outlet SME.
Read the full article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/03/29/slovakia-sputnik-matovic/

'Fiasco Waiting To Happen': Millions At Risk Of Losing Power Over Unpaid Bills
Millions of people are at risk of losing electricity in the coming weeks because of unpaid power bills, even as Congress has authorized billions of dollars in supplemental relief.

Overdue power bills have mushroomed during the pandemic as job losses mounted and residential power consumption soared.

Many states restrict power shutoffs during the winter. But with those safeguards expiring in more than a dozen states this month, the threat of widespread power interruption is growing.

"It's a fiasco waiting to happen," said Owen Quinlan, vice president of data science and analytics at Arcadia, a renewable power marketing firm. He's been monitoring the rise in unpaid bills, which put millions of people in danger of having their power turned off.

Anyone who's ever lost power because of a thunderstorm or downed tree limb knows the hardship of being without electricity for even a few hours.

... For many residential power customers, the pandemic has been a double whammy — cutting their income just as they're having to use more electricity while stuck at home.
Read the full article: https://www.npr.org/2021/03/30/982325413/fiasco-waiting-to-happen-millions-at-risk-of-losing-power-over-unpaid-bills

Many World Leaders Call For Treaty On Future Pandemics
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta are among about two dozen world leaders who have signed onto a letter calling for an international agreement to "dispel the temptations of isolationism and nationalism" as part of an effort to prepare for future pandemics.

However, given a lack of international coordination that has beset the current coronavirus pandemic and an ongoing tussle over vaccine deliveries to combat COVID-19, whether such a treaty could be reached or adhered to is an open question.

In the letter published Tuesday in newspapers around the world, the leaders — which include others in Europe, Africa and Asia and World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — called COVID-19 the biggest global challenge since the 1940s. It said an international settlement similar to the one that ended World War II was needed to address the problem.

... "The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe," the leaders wrote. "We are, therefore, committed to ensuring universal and equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for this and future pandemics."

"Our solidarity in ensuring that the world is better prepared will be our legacy that protects our children and grandchildren and [minimizes] the impact of future pandemics on our economies and our societies," they said.

The United States, Russia and China did not sign the letter.
Read the full article: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/30/982628814/many-world-leaders-call-for-treaty-on-future-pandemics

Should Masking Last Beyond The Pandemic? Flu And Colds Are Down, Spurring A Debate
A study released this month in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, led by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, found that across 44 children's hospitals, the number of pediatric patients hospitalized for respiratory illnesses is down 62%. Deaths have dropped dramatically too, compared with the last 10 years: The number of flu deaths among children is usually between 100 and 200 per year, but so far only one child has died from the disease in the U.S. during the 2020-2021 flu season.

Adults aren't getting sick either. U.S. flu deaths this season will be measured in the hundreds instead of thousands. During the 2018-2019 flu season, which experienced a moderate level of flu activity, an estimated 34,200 Americans died.
Read the full article: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/03/30/981303287/should-masking-last-beyond-the-pandemic-flu-and-colds-are-down-spurring-a-debate

‘It Felt Like Deception’: An Elite NYC Hospital Charges Huge Covid Test Fees
Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan advertised its “Covid-19 Testing” on a large blue and white banner outside its Greenwich Village division’s emergency room. The banner said nothing about cost.

But cost turned out to be the testing’s most noteworthy feature. Lenox Hill, one of the city’s oldest and best-known hospitals, repeatedly billed patients more than $3,000 for the routine nasal swab test, about 30 times the test’s typical cost.

“It was shocking to see a number like that, when I’ve gotten tested before for about $135,” said Ana Roa, who was billed $3,358 for a test at Lenox Hill last month.

Ms. Roa’s coronavirus test bill is among 16 that The New York Times reviewed from the site. They show that Lenox Hill arrives at its unusually high prices by charging a large fee for the test itself — about six times the typical charge — and by billing the encounter as a “moderately complex” emergency room visit.


In one case, a family accrued $39,314 in charges for 12 tests this winter, all taken to fulfill requirements for returning to work or school. In another, an asymptomatic patient walked in because she saw the banner outside and wanted a test after traveling. Her insurance was charged $2,963. Federal legislation last year mandated that coronavirus testing be free for patients, so individuals are typically protected. None of the patients tested at the Lenox Hill emergency room were billed directly for the service. But eventually, American patients bear the costs of these expensive tests in the form of higher insurance premiums.

Patient bills show that at least one additional hospital owned by Lenox Hill’s parent group, Northwell Health, has charged emergency room fees to patients at a mass testing site.

“It felt like deception, and an effort to try and get money that they are not entitled to,” said Ute Tabi. She was reviewing her family’s insurance claims and saw a $2,793 charge for a drive-through coronavirus test her husband got at a Northwell hospital in the New York suburbs, Huntington Hospital on Long Island. The hospital pursued the family for a share of the bill, which Ms. Tabi has so far refused to pay.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/upshot/covid-test-fees-lenox-hill.html

White House Calls for ‘Transparency’ on Pandemic’s Origin

On Tuesday, the White House called for more answers into the origins of the coronavirus, stating the report released by the World Health Organization lacked crucial data.

The American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors, all of the people who have been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones, all deserve greater transparency. They deserve better information. They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that. There are steps from here that we believe should be taken. There’s a second stage in this process that we believe should be led by international and independent experts. They should have unfettered access to data. They should be able to ask questions of people who are on the ground at this point in time. And that’s a step the W.H.O. could take. Well, the report is still being reviewed by our team of experts, 17 experts are reviewing it.” Reporter: “We know the headline of it, and it’s not sufficient.” “We agree. And we have long said, as I just stated, it lacks crucial data, information. It lacks access, it lacks transparency. It certainly — we don’t believe that in our review to date that it meets the moment, it meets the impact that this pandemic has had on the global community. And that’s why we also have called for additional forward-looking steps.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007683115/psaki-who-coronavirus-origin-investigation.html

More Eager for Covid Vaccine but Skeptics Remain, U.S. Poll Says
According to the Kaiser survey as well as other polls, Republicans have budged little in their views on vaccine acceptance in recent months, although they were more open last fall, before the November presidential election. The partisan divide over the Covid shots is wide, with just 46 percent of Republicans saying they have received at least one shot or want to get it, compared with 79 percent of Democrats.

No group is monolithic in its reasons to oppose or accept the vaccines. Those who are skeptical say they mistrust the government generally and are apprehensive about the speed of the vaccine’s development. Awash in online misinformation, many cling to a fast-spreading myth — that tracker microchips are embedded in the shots.

For rural residents, access to the vaccine is so problematic that they see the logistics and travel time involved as simply not worth it.


With so many reasons cited to avoid the vaccine, crafting messages to coax vaccine confidence can be difficult. But the latest Kaiser report identified some approaches that seem to be successful in moving people to consider the shots.

At least two-thirds of the so-called wait and see group said they would be persuaded by the message that the vaccines are “nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death from Covid-19.” Other strong messages included information that the new vaccines are based on 20-year-old technology, that the vaccine trials included a broad diversity of candidates, and that the vaccines are free.

The survey also noted that many people who are hesitant would be amenable to certain incentives. As the country begins to open up and on-site work returns, the role of the employer in vaccination is becoming increasingly pertinent. A quarter of those who are hesitant and have a job said that they would get the shot if their employer arranged for workplace vaccination. Nearly as many would agree if their employers gave them financial incentives ranging from $50 to $200.

But over all, the strong growth in adults who have either gotten one dose of the vaccine or are inclined to get it is most likely because of their increasing familiarity with the notion. Surveys show that as they begin to know more friends and relatives who have gotten the shot, they can more readily imagine getting it themselves.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/health/covid-vaccine-confidence.html

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