COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Cases are "absolutely not" low enough to relax restrictions, Fauci says
Fauci said cases need to fall below 10,000 per day in order to comfortably lift restrictions, such as wearing face masks.

The good news is that vaccinations are increasing nationally, particularly among the elderly, he said. For instance, it's now safe for grandchildren to hug their grandparents if the grandparents are vaccinated and if the grandchildren are healthy.

Looking back a year after Covid-19 began to sweep the US, Fauci explained that measures to curb virus spread might have been stronger earlier if public health officials had known how highly transmissible the novel coronavirus was.

"If we had known that fully early on, there likely would have been differences in how we approached it," he said.
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Different Covid-19 variants caused simultaneous infection in two cases, Brazil study suggests
Both cases were women in their 30s who had typical mild-to-moderate flu-like symptoms and did not become severely ill or require hospitalization. In one case, the two variants identified had been circulating in Brazil since the beginning of the pandemic. In the other case, the person was simultaneously infected with both an older strain of the virus, and with the P.2 variant first identified in Rio de Janeiro.

The findings, based on analysis of genomic sequencing from 92 samples taken from Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state, will appear in April's edition of Virus Research, a scientific journal.

According to the study, co-infection raises the possibility of recombination of the genomes of the different strains, which can generate new variants of the coronavirus.

"Although there are a few reported cases of reinfection, the possibility of co-infection by E484K adds a new factor to the complex interaction between immune response systems and SARS-CoV-2 Spike mutations," wrote the authors.

... Meanwhile Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro -- himself under fire for his government's handling of the pandemic -- continues to reject lockdown measures, invoking instead the health of the economy.

"How long will our economy resist? If it (the economy) collapses it will be a disgrace. What will we have soon? Supermarket invasions, buses on fires, strikes, pickets, work stoppages," he said in a video conference with lawmakers Thursday.
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U.S. Will Partner to Expand Global Vaccine Supply

On Friday, the Quad, which includes the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, held a virtual conference where the four countries agreed to join together to expand global vaccine supply.

And we’ve launched an ambitious new joint partnership that is going to boost vaccine manufacturing and — for the global benefit — and strengthen vaccinations to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific. We’re establishing a new mechanism to enhance our cooperation, and raise our mutual ambitions as we address accelerating climate change. We’ve got a big agenda ahead of us, gentlemen, as you well know. But I’m optimistic about our prospects. The Quad is going to be a vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. And I look forward to working closely with all of you in the coming years.
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The billionaire boom
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and six other tech titans made more than $360 billion during the pandemic, which may finally shatter the myth of the benevolent billionaire

The pandemic has been a boom time for America’s richest billionaires.

The wealth of nine of the country’s top titans has increased by more than $360 billion in the past year. And they are all tech barons, underscoring the power of the industry in the U.S. economy. Tesla’s Elon Musk more than quadrupled his fortune and jockeyed with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for the title of world’s wealthiest person. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg topped $100 billion. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin gained a combined $65 billion.

Nearly all this wealth accumulation was tied to the share price in the companies the men co-founded or lead, and in which they remain significant shareholders. Amazon benefited while consumers shopped from home, as many of its bricks-and-mortar rivals struggled to keep pace. Google, Facebook and Microsoft helped power the new work-and-learn-from-home reality.

But the staggering rise in their gains contrasts with the economic devastation of millions of Americans, amid soaring unemployment and evictions, drawing attention to issues of inequality and distribution of wealth. In fact, the $360 billion increase in top billionaire wealth approaches the $410 billion the U.S. government is spending on the latest round of $1,400 stimulus checks, passed with the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package this week.

“In my view, we can no longer tolerate billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk becoming obscenely rich at a time of unprecedented economic pain and suffering,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in an email to The Washington Post.

The scrutiny of tech billionaires’ wealth is also driven by the role their companies played during the pandemic. Social media including Facebook appeared to make the situation worse because it was used to spread disinformation about covid-19 and the vaccines, undermining efforts to control the virus. Musk railed against stay-at-home mandates and reopened Tesla’s factory in defiance of local orders, arguing that Tesla should be allowed to continue building cars during California’s lockdown.

In Bezos’s case, profits were possible in part because Amazon hired more than 500,000 workers to stow, sort, pick and pack goods in 2020, even as warehouse workers sounded alarms about safety and nearly 20,000 Amazon employees in the United States tested positive for the coronavirus by October. (Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, owns The Washington Post.)

“There is no doubt that big-tech billionaires and the companies they own have endangered our democracy and control far too much of our economic and political life,” Sanders said. “The time has come to tax their wealth and break up tech giants and other huge conglomerates that have monopolized nearly every sector of our economy.”

... “While millions are out of work and being evicted, the billionaire class thrived and prospered as they seldom have in any year,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of the 2018 book “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”

Just six tech stocks — Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Google — were responsible for more than 60 percent of the S&P 500’s return in 2020, according to Yardeni Research.

As summer turned to fall, economists switched from reminding people that the stock market is not the same as the economy to declaring that the stock market had become fully unhinged from reality. Meanwhile, the shift to working, communicating and buying from home enriched the tech giants.

Wealthy consumers, who were less likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic and who had more disposable income by staying home, were part of a rally that helped Tesla’s stock balloon 525 percent during the past year.

Amazon’s gains of 86 percent since the beginning of the pandemic came as consumers shifted in droves to online shopping, worried that running to the store to grab basics endangered them. The demand at the dawn of the pandemic was so great that Amazon, like many retailers, struggled to stock such items as toilet paper and disinfectant. Global retail e-commerce sales grew 27.6 percent in 2020, even as total worldwide retail sales declined by 3 percent, according to research firm eMarketer.

... Tech billionaires invested comparatively little of that increased wealth back into the public sphere for the pandemic. Bezos donated $150 million, or roughly 0.26 percent of the profits he accrued during the pandemic, to covid-related causes, “while also having his workers work in Dickensian conditions,” said Tompkins-Stange, the University of Michigan professor. Musk reportedly gave $5 million, or 0.004 percent of his newfound gains, to covid-19 research, in addition to donating ventilators built to help patients with sleep apnea.
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Italy will tighten restrictions next week, with a wider lockdown over Easter.
Italy’s government said Friday that coronavirus restrictions would be severely tightened across much of the country starting Monday and that the entire country would be under lockdown over Easter weekend to beat back surging infections amid a slow vaccine rollout.

The office of Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Draghi, announced the measures, which will force more than half of Italy’s population into lockdown. Starting Monday, health authorities will shut down schools, restaurants and many shops in most northern regions as well as the regions of Rome and Naples. People will also be restricted from leaving their homes except for work, health care visits and emergencies.

For Easter weekend, April 3-5, which is usually celebrated with large family gatherings, a lockdown will limit movement to one trip a day out of the home.

The measures are among the strongest since last March, when Italy became the first Western country to impose a lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
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Americans support restricting unvaccinated people from offices, travel: Reuters poll
A growing number of Americans want to get the coronavirus vaccine, and a majority also support workplace, lifestyle and travel restrictions for those not inoculated against COVID-19, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday.

The national opinion poll of 1,005 people, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, suggested the pace of vaccinations may pick up as more vaccines become available and more people want them.

Altogether, 54% of respondents said they were “very interested” in getting vaccinated. That was up from a January survey, when 41% expressed the same level of interest, and 38% in a May 2020 poll before a coronavirus vaccine was developed.

Interest in the vaccine increased over the past year among whites and racial minorities, with about six in 10 whites and five in 10 members of minority groups now expressing a high level of interest.

Twenty-seven percent of Americans said they were not interested in getting vaccinated, which was relatively unchanged from a similar poll that ran in May.

But foreshadowing the social challenges that may emerge as the United States begins to pull out of the yearlong pandemic, the latest poll showed a majority of Americans want to limit the ways in which unvaccinated people can mix in public.

Seventy-two percent of Americans said it was important to know “if the people around me have been vaccinated,” according to the poll.

A majority - 62% - said unvaccinated people should not be allowed to travel on airplanes. Fifty-five percent agreed that unvaccinated people should not work out at public gyms, enter movie theaters or attend public concerts.

When asked about the workplace, 60% of Americans said they wanted to work for an employer “who requires everyone to get a coronavirus vaccine before returning to the office” and 56% thought unvaccinated workers should stay home.
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Why Older People Managed to Stay Happier Through the Pandemic
New surveys over the last year show that the ability to cope improves with age.

For all its challenges to mental health, this year of the plague also put psychological science to the test, and in particular one of its most consoling truths: that age and emotional well-being tend to increase together, as a rule, even as mental acuity and physical health taper off.

The finding itself is solid. Compared with young adults, people aged 50 and over score consistently higher, or more positively, on a wide variety of daily emotions. They tend to experience more positive emotions in a given day and fewer negative ones, independent of income or education, in national samples (work remains to be done in impoverished, rural and immigrant communities).

But that happiness gap always has begged for a clear explanation. Do people somehow develop better coping skills as they age?

Or is the answer more straightforward: Do people sharpen their avoidance skills, reducing the number of stressful situations and bad risks they face as they get older?

... “The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an outbreak of ageism, in which public discourse has portrayed older adults as a homogeneous, vulnerable group,” the authors conclude. “Our investigation of the daily life amid the outbreak suggests the opposite: Older age was associated with less concern about the threat of Covid-19, better emotional well-being, and more daily positive events.”

These results hardly rule out avoidance as one means of managing day-to-day emotions. Older people, especially those with some resources, have more ability than younger adults to soften the edges of a day, by paying for delivery, hiring help, staying comfortably homebound and — crucially — doing so without young children underfoot.

... After middle age, people become more aware of a narrowing time horizon and, consciously or not, begin to gravitate toward daily activities that are more inherently pleasing than self-improving.

They’re more prone to skip the neighborhood meeting for a neighborhood walk to the local bar or favorite bench with a friend. They have accepted that the business plan didn’t work out, that their paintings were more fit for the den than for a gallery. They have come to accept themselves for who they are, rather than who they’re supposed to become. Even those who have lost their jobs in this tragic year, and face the prospect of re-entering the job market — at least they know their capabilities, and what work is possible.

These differences will be important to keep in mind in the near future, if only to blunt a widening generational divide, experts say. A pandemic that began by disproportionately killing the elderly has also savagely turned on the young, robbing them of normal school days, graduations, sports, first jobs, or any real social life — and shaming them, often publicly, if they tried to have one. Now, in a shrinking economy, they’re at the back of the vaccine line.
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W.H.O. Grants Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Emergency Authorization

The World Health Organization’s approval on Friday makes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine eligible for distribution by Covax, an initiative providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. W.H.O. gave emergency-use listing to Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, making it the fourth vaccine to receive W.H.O.’s approval. Emergency-use listing is the green light for a vaccine to be procured and rolled out by Covax. As you know, the J&J vaccine is the first to be listed as a single-dose regime. W.H.O. will convene its strategic advisory group on immunization experts next week to formulate recommendations on the use of this vaccine. We hope that this new vaccine will help to narrow vaccine inequalities, and not deepen them. The Covax facility has booked 500 million doses of the J&J vaccine, and we look forward to receiving them as soon as possible.
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Psaki refuses to give Trump credit for vaccine rollout, says it was an 'incredible effort by science and by medical experts'
  • Psaki again refused to give Trump credit for the COVID-19 vaccine development and rollout.
  • It "was Herculean incredible effort by science and by medical experts," Psaki said Friday.
  • Trump has expressed frustration at the lack of praise he's received on the vaccine development.
"Americans are looking for facts, they're looking for details, they're looking for specifics," Psaki said. "And I don't think they're worried too much about applause from six months ago when the president has already delivered that publicly."
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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