COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Rural Alaska is getting Covid-19 vaccinations right. Here's what the rest of the US can learn
At 40 doses administered per 100 people, Alaska is one of the leading states when it comes to Covid-19 vaccinations. In many ways, Alaska was already prepared for a massive vaccine rollout -- they've used similar methods to deliver the flu vaccine statewide. But much of its success comes from learning on the fly, coming up with creative ways to get vaccines into arms and prioritizing the state's most at-risk residents.

What works in Alaska won't work everywhere -- it's over 660,000 square miles, after all, and not every state requires health care workers to travel by dog sled to administer vaccines. But the rest of the US can take cues from the state's unique approach to its problems.
Read the full article:

Around 300,000 people are expected at a Florida motorcycle rally despite the pandemic
Bike Week in Daytona Beach, which includes concerts, races and bike shows, started Friday and is scheduled to end this coming Sunday.

"This year we know because of continued Covid-19 concerns and the loss of income many have had over this past year, it will be less. A reasonable estimate would be around 300,000+," Kersey wrote. Good weather and increased vaccinations could drive that number even higher.

"We know our hotels are doing well with strong occupancy numbers reported to the Volusia County Hotel & Lodging Association," Kersey wrote.

Kersey said the City Council considered canceling the event because of the pandemic, but was "very meticulous in its decision to move forward."

Daytona Beach officials said they were altering the event to help prevent the spread of the virus. That includes limiting some merchants to 60% indoor capacity.

The city also is asking residents and visitors to wear masks indoors, and when physical distancing isn't possible. Florida does not have a statewide mask mandate.

Kersey said the city also has introduced more signage urging precautions like masking, and is implementing motorcycle-only traffic zones to allow for better social distancing.

The Daytona Police Department has implemented safety precautions as well. The department is using drones instead of people for surveillance in certain places, and limiting the number of officers responding to a situation.

As for masking at the events, a spokesperson for the department said there has been very little.
Read the full article:

Convalescent Plasma Strikes Out As COVID-19 Treatment
More than half a million Americans have received an experimental treatment for COVID-19 called convalescent plasma. But a year into the pandemic, it's not clear who, if anyone, benefits from it.

That uncertainty highlights the challenges scientists have faced in their attempts to evaluate COVID-19 drugs.

On paper, treatment with convalescent plasma makes good sense. The idea is to take blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 and infuse it into patients with active infections. The antibodies in the donated plasma, in theory, would help fight the virus.

... A year later, the study at Hopkins still doesn't have results. And it's not just a question of funding. The entire U.S. medical research system isn't set up to do what's needed to identify new treatments during a pandemic.

Dr. Derek Angus, chair of critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, says that in a public health emergency scientists should be able to evaluate new treatments at hundreds of hospitals, in a matter of months.

"People might roll their eyes and say that's impossible, but that's largely what the United Kingdom has done," Angus says. "For all our capacity in the United States, it's depressing that we can't do a U.S. version."

... "We pride ourselves on having a very federated, independent system," Angus says. "But, gosh, that is very hard to turn on a dime to solve national problems."
Read the full article:

In Australia, Hollywood Stars Have Found an Escape From Covid. Who’s Jealous?
Though the quickened pace of vaccinations in the United States has raised hope of returning to some semblance of normalcy by the summer, the country still leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths. Movie theaters reopened only last week in New York City. Some fans are cautiously creeping back, while others are still wary of contracting the virus.

But thousands of miles away, many stars who appear on the big screens can be seen frolicking, or filming, on location in Australia. (Mr. Hemsworth is himself a permanent fixture — he moved back to Australia in 2017 after several years of living in Los Angeles.) In the United States, where hundreds are still dying every day, some fans have looked on with envy.

“These Hollywood stars have been transported to another world where the problems of this world aren’t,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in New York. He added that the temporary exodus from the United States revealed a further crumbling of the myth that Hollywood was the endgame for celebrities.

Australia has become the “hip place” where “fabulous people want to go,” Professor Thompson said. “When you’re trying to be a star, you’ve got to go out to the West Coast to make your bones.” When you become “a really big star,” you buy property somewhere exotic, like Australia, he added.

... “Everyone knows there’s a separate set of rules, it seems, for everyone that’s a celebrity or has money,” said Daniel Tusia, an Australian who was stuck overseas with his family for several months last year. “There are still plenty of people who haven’t been able to get home, who don’t fall into that category, who are still stranded,” he added.

In an emailed statement, the Australian Border Force said that travel exemptions for film and television productions were “considered where there is evidence of the economic benefit the production will bring to Australia and support from the relevant state authority.”

... More than 20 international productions, including “Thor: Love and Thunder,” a Marvel film starring Mr. Hemsworth, Mr. Damon, Ms. Portman, Taika Waititi, Tessa Thompson and Mr. Bale; “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” a fantasy romance starring Mr. Elba and Tilda Swinton; and “Joe Exotic,” a spinoff of the podcast made following the popular Netflix series “Tiger King,” starring the “Saturday Night Live” actress Kate McKinnon as the big-cat enthusiast Carole Baskin, are all either in production or set to be filmed in the coming year.

Ron Howard is directing “Thirteen Lives,” a dramatization of the 2018 Thai rescue of a soccer team from a cave, in Queensland (the coast of Australia makes a good stand-in for the tropics). And later this year, Julia Roberts and George Clooney are set to arrive in the same state to shoot “Ticket to Paradise,” a romantic comedy.

Though a number of American stars have landed in the country for temporary work, some like Ms. McCarthy, originally in Australia to work on “Nine Perfect Strangers,” have decided to stay on to shoot other projects, said those in the industry. “Oh, the birds!” she gushed in a YouTube video. “I love that I’ve seen a spider the size of my head.”

Others, like Zac Efron, appear to have settled here permanently.
Read the full article:

Chaos in the Streets: Protests Turn Violent in Athens

Around 6,000 people gathered to protest against police violence and officers’ coronavirus lockdown tactics in Athens on Tuesday night. Police said 10 officers were wounded and 16 people were arrested.
Read the full article:

Facing recall, California Gov. Newsom pleads for optimism and patience
Newsom delivered his speech from Dodger Stadium, a hallowed Los Angeles landmark that the city has turned into one of the largest vaccination sites in the country. Standing on the field, under the bright lights in an empty stadium, he said the number of vacant seats behind him was roughly equivalent to the more than 54,000 lives lost in California -- "a silent tribute to loved ones who live forever in our memories."

He defended his own controversial leadership during the pandemic, from his decision to enact the first statewide stay-at-home order in the country about a year ago to the later restrictive orders that he put in place during the winter holiday months as a deadly spike in cases pushed California's hospital and ICU capacities to their limits.

"We agonized about the sacrifices it would require," Newsom said of the stay-at-home order. "We made sure that science -- not politics -- drove our decisions."

Though his orders throughout the last year sparked anger and helped fuel the energy among Republicans to remove him from office, he said that "it was the right thing to do."

"People are alive today because of the public health decisions we made -- lives saved because of your sacrifice," he said. "Even so, I acknowledge it's made life hard and unpredictable, and you're exhausted by all of it."

... Newsom implicitly addressed the recall in his remarks, stating that he would not "change course just because of a few nay-sayers and dooms-dayers."

"To the California critics, who are promoting partisan political power grabs and outdated prejudices, and rejecting everything that makes California great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again," he said. "This is a fight for California's future."
Read the full article:

Biden is about to win his first big congressional victory with his $1.9 trillion stimulus. Republicans were powerless to stop it.
  • Biden's $1.89 trillion stimulus is due be approved by Congress on Wednesday, likely with zero GOP votes.
  • Tight congressional math made it difficult to get this far, and Republicans fought back.
  • But despite stalling tactics, Biden is poised to seal a major victory.
Republicans opposed the bill, claiming it was excessively costly and unnecessary, and resorted to spoiling measures to slow its progress.

The tactics were also a signal that Republicans disapproved of Democrats deciding to bypass them in the Senate and pass the bill in the chamber using a mechanism, known as budget reconciliation, that required no GOP support.

The spoiling measures included proposing scores of amendments to the bill, which are then voted on in lengthy congressional sessions known as a "vote-a-rama" stretching for hours on end.

In a measure even some Republicans queried, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin forced Congressional staff to read aloud the entire 628-page stimulus bill last Thursday in a process that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes.

Democrats now control Congress and the White House, though their majorities in both houses are small. In the 50-50 Senate it is practically non-existent, relying on tie-breaker votes from Vice President Kamala Harris.

The slender margins made it necessary to use reconciliation, a procedural move which denies Republican senators the chance to use the filibuster to impose a 60-vote threshold on bills progressing.

Unable to stop the bill, the GOP sought to score messaging victories instead, reviving the playbook employed by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during the Obama administration.

... However there are big risks for the GOP in the steadfast opposition they presented to a bill which polls show is backed by most Americans — including 60% of Republicans.
Read the full article:

U.S. failure to lock down magnified impact of coronavirus surges, Fauci says
The U.S. refusal to completely shut down over the course of the pandemic led to an increasingly high baseline of new coronavirus infections, according to top infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci, a failure he said has allowed the pathogen to mutate and spread. Fauci, who serves as the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that the nation’s “historic negative experience” with the virus was due in part to the fact that the outbreak was never fully tamed through lockdowns — ensuring that each surge in cases grew from an ever-higher starting point.

“If you recall the history, which I painfully have lived through, is that in the very beginning … what we had was a surge in the Northeast which went up and then it came down and never got to a good baseline,” he said in a conversation with Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly. The event was hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The baseline was so high that that magnified the impact of the [next] surge” in the summer, he said. “And now, as we’re coming way down, we are reaching a point where we’re beginning to, if not plateau, but the slope of the deflection is starting to maybe go down a little bit more slowly, which means we might plateau again at an unacceptably high level.”

Fauci praised Australia’s pandemic response, including snap lockdowns that have kept total infections at fewer than 30,000. The country has reported just 909 coronavirus-related deaths.

“When Australia shuts down, they shut down, and they really do get the cases, like, almost to nothing. We’ve never had that in the United States,” Fauci said.

He added that the spread of new, more contagious variants in the United States was the result of allowing the virus to run rampant for months. The United States has recorded more than 29 million cases and over 526,000 deaths.

“A fundamental tenet of virology is that viruses don’t mutate unless they replicate, and the more spread that you have in the community the greater chance you’re going to have of the initiation of and propagation of variants,” he said. “And that’s what we’re seeing in the United States.”
Read the full article:

An Uber passenger refused a mask and coughed on her driver. Then she ripped off his mask.

Subhakar Khadka’s Uber passenger started screaming profanity and racial slurs at him shortly after he picked her and two friends up in San Francisco on Sunday. He had just stopped to let her buy a mask at a gas station, but now she was refusing to wear it.

“F--- the mask,” the woman said.

Then, leaning toward the driver, she ripped off her mask and coughed on him several times.

“And I got corona,” another passenger said, laughing. Then the woman who had coughed grabbed the driver’s phone and tore his mask off his face.

... San Francisco police said Tuesday that they are investigating the incident, while both Uber and Lyft said they have banned the rider who stole the driver’s mask, who has yet to be named, from using their apps.

Violent conflicts over mask policies have become common since governments and companies have mandated face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In October, two sisters in Chicago allegedly stabbed a security guard 27 times when he asked them to put on masks before entering a shoe store. Last month, a man in New Orleans fatally shot a police officer who intervened as he fought an employee trying to stop him from entering a basketball game without a mask.

Khadka, 32, picked up the three passengers seen in the viral video around 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, San Francisco police said. After the women entered his car, he noticed one wasn’t wearing a mask. He asked her to put one on but she said she didn’t have one. Khadka drove to a gas station so her friend, who was wearing a mask, could buy one.

By the time the friend returned, the two other passengers were already taunting Khadka and berating him for picking them up in the first place, according to videos captured by one of the passengers and posted on her Instagram. Fed up with how they were treating him, Khadka told the women that he was ending the ride and asked them to get out of his car.

“You can get out. Please. I don’t want to drive you. Please get out,” he said, according to the passenger’s videos. “I’m confirming it the last time. I’m going home, you are free to get out of my car.”

But the passengers refused to get out and the altercation escalated. The woman sitting behind Khadka reached over him, grabbed his phone out of his hand and ripped off his mask, breaking one of the ear loops.

“You don’t touch my property,” he said, according to his surveillance video.

“You were going to kick us out in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “Are you stupid?”

Police said that when the women finally exited his car, one of them “reached into an open window and sprayed what is believed to be pepper spray into the vehicle and toward the driver.” Then they fled.

Khadka told KPIX that the spray was so suffocating that he had to get out of his car. The spray lingered and left a blue residue in his car. After several pleas for help, Uber gave Khadka $120 to get his car thoroughly cleaned, according to messages posted by KGO-TV.

Khadka, who immigrated to the United States from Nepal eight years ago and sends money back to his family, said in an interview with KPIX that he didn’t deserve to be treated that way.

“I never said anything bad to them, I never cursed, I was not raised that way. I don’t hit people, I am not raised that way, so they were not getting out of my car,” he said.

He added that he thinks the passengers were harassing him because he’s South Asian.

“If I was another complexion, I would have not gotten that treatment from them,” he said. “The moment I opened my mouth to speak, they realized I’m [not] one of them, so it’s easy for them to intimidate me.”

... In response to the video and the minimal funding Khadka received from Uber to cover cleaning and lost wages, Cyan Banister, a venture capitalist who was an early Uber investor, started a GoFundMe with a goal of raising $20,000. By Wednesday morning, the page had raised more than $29,000. Banister also pledged to match the $20,000 to assist with legal fees.

“He shared his video simply because he wanted justice. He didn’t expect any of us to step forward, but we did,” Banister wrote after speaking with Khadka. “No person should have to go on the news and raise awareness this way to get justice but sometimes we have to be loud and we have to use our voices and influence to stick up for others around us.”
Read the full article:

White House Covid-19 Team Makes Remarks on Vaccine Supply

Members of the White House coronavirus team discussed the need for more vaccine supply on Wednesday.

Today, President Biden will direct Jeff and the Health and Human Services team to procure an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This order allows for the president to plan for the future in the latter part of the year. This is wartime, and as facts still emerge, it gives us maximum flexibility for our upcoming needs.”

We are at a critical point in this pandemic, and on the cusp of having enough vaccine to protect every adult in the United States. We ask for your patience in practicing proven prevention measures for just a little while longer. We ask for your participation by rolling up your sleeve when it is your turn to be vaccinated. And we ask for your leadership in helping others do both of the same. With the above actions, we are so very close. We can turn the tide on this pandemic.
Read the full article:

Antibiotic Use Ran High In Early Days Of COVID-19, Despite Viral Cause
Doctors treating COVID-19 patients early in the pandemic often reached for antibiotics. But those drugs were not helpful in most cases, and overuse of antibiotics is a serious concern.

... The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 3 million Americans a year get an infection that's caused by a drug-resistant microbe. An estimated 35,000 Americans die from these hard-to-treat infections annually.

As a result, hospitals are supposed to follow rules to limit unnecessary use of antibiotics. Overuse of these medications hastens the development of new drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

But those rules haven't been closely followed during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in its early days.

... Patients usually got the antibiotics right away, before doctors had time to run tests to rule out bacterial infections.
Read the full article:

Biden Orders 100 Million More Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Doses

President Biden announced on Wednesday that the government would secure another 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and touted a joint production deal between the company and the pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Today, we’re seeing two health companies, competitors, each with over 130 years of experience, coming together to help write a more hopeful chapter in our battle against Covid-19. During World War II, one of the country’s slogans was, “We are all in this together.” We are all in this together. And the companies took that slogan to heart. For example, one automaker didn’t have the capacity to build enough Jeeps. The competitors stepped in to help. The result is that we’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May, months earlier than anyone expected. And today, I’m directing Jeff and my H.H.S. team to produce another 100 million doses and purchase another 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On Saturday, we hit a record of 2.9 million vaccinations in one day in America. And beyond the numbers are the stories. A father says he no longer fears for his daughter when she leaves to go to work at the hospital. The children are now able to hug their grandparents. The vaccines bring hope and healing in so many ways. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of the past year, but we cannot let our guard down now or assume the victory is inevitable. Together, we’re going to get through this pandemic, and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future.”
Read the full article:

New stimulus package saves 13,000 jobs at American Airlines, company says
  • American Airlines said Wednesday the new $1.9 stimulus package is saving 13,000 jobs.
  • The company had been planning to furlough the workers on April 1.
  • Those furloughs "are happily canceled," the airline said in a message.
"We are grateful for the support of our government leaders and their continued acknowledgement of all you do," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said.

In total, the package will prevent 27,000 airline workers from being furloughed, The Washington Post reported, thanks to some $8 billion in direct support.

... Under the new stimulus, employee pay and benefits will be covered by the federal government through the end of September 2021.
Read the full article:

GOP Sen. Roger Wicker praised funding for restaurants included in the COVID-19 stimulus bill that he voted against
  • Sen. Roger Wicker helped pass an amendment in the American Rescue Plan and then voted against the bill.
  • The RESTAURANTS Act secured $28.6 billion of targeted funding for ailing restaurants and workers.
  • Wicker praised the passage of the bill but zero Republicans voted in favor of the $1.9 trillion package.
After voting against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, GOP Sen. Roger Wicker was singing its praises.

"Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief," he tweeted after the bill passed in the House on Wednesday, after previously passing the Senate.

... In a February press release, Wicker suggested that Americans didn't need more relief, and wrote that, "After a year of economic uncertainty, America received some encouraging news from the Congressional Budget Office this month. This non-partisan agency projected that our economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year," adding that the $4 trillion included in past stimulus bills was sufficient.
Read the full article:

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