COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
A concerning variant is about to become dominant in the US, experts say, and how Americans act could help fuel or curb a surge
At least a dozen US states have eased Covid-19 restrictions this month, often citing improving trends and growing vaccination numbers. But experts are worried some Americans are letting up too early -- at a critical time when cases of a more dangerous new variant of the virus are spiking.

The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK, is projected to become the dominant strain in the US by the end of this month or early April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday. It has so far been found in 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, according to CDC data.
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Pandemic lockdowns improved air quality in 84% of countries worldwide, report finds
Coronavirus lockdowns led to air quality improvements in 84% of countries worldwide. But a new report has warned the level of pollutants will likely rise as governments lift restrictions and economies swing back into gear.
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Covid-19 antibodies present in about 1 in 5 blood donations from unvaccinated people, according to data from the American Red Cross
Between mid-June 2020 and early March 2021, the American Red Cross tested more than 3.3 million donations from unvaccinated people in 44 states for the presence of Covid-19 antibodies. Overall, about 7.5% of the donations tested in that time frame were positive for Covid-19 antibodies, meaning the donors had likely been infected with the coronavirus at some point.

The American Red Cross notes that "a positive antibody test result does not confirm infection or immunity," but it may indicate whether a person has been exposed to the coronavirus, "regardless of whether an individual developed symptoms." The antibody prevalence among unvaccinated blood donors increased over time, as cases grew across the country.

... According to a recent report from Pew Research Center, 1 in 4 Americans say they have had Covid-19. One in 3 Hispanic adults say they had the virus and younger adults are more likely than older adults to say they had the virus. The results suggest that the pandemic has touched most Americans.

In the survey, 67% say they know someone who has been hospitalized or died from the virus. This response was echoed in majorities across all demographic groups, the report notes.

There have been about 29.5 million reported cases of Covid-19 in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, representing about 9% of the population. But experts estimate the actual number of cases is much higher, which tracks with the findings from the American Red Cross.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were more than 83 million cases by the end of December, meaning more than a quarter of the population would have been infected at the end of 2020.
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U.S. pushed Brazil to reject Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, HHS report says
Buried deep in the dry, 72-page annual report of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lay a startling admission: U.S. health officials under President Donald Trump worked to convince Brazil to reject Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

The document, released in January, drew little attention at first. But that changed on Monday when the official Twitter account for the Sputnik V vaccine posted a screenshot of the previously overlooked claim, citing a report by Brasil Wire, and criticized the United States for effectively blocking Russia’s attempts at vaccine diplomacy.

“We believe countries should work together to save lives,” the tweet read. “Efforts to undermine the vaccines are unethical and are costing lives.”

Brazil, which has the second-highest coronavirus death toll worldwide, has struggled to obtain adequate vaccine supplies. But the Health AttachΓ© office within HHS’s Office of Global Affairs pushed the country to turn down offers of help from the Russians last year, according to the report.

Under a section titled “Combating malign influences in the Americas,” the HHS report states that countries including Russia “are working to increase their influence in the region to the detriment of US safety and security.” The global affairs office coordinated with other U.S. government agencies “to dissuade countries in the region from accepting aid from these ill-intentioned states,” it says.

In a Monday night statement, the U.S. Embassy in Brazil said that its diplomats “have never discouraged Brazil from accepting vaccines against Covid-19 that have been authorized by their respective regulatory bodies.” But that response didn’t amount to a full denial, since Brazilian regulators have yet to approve the Sputnik V vaccine.
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Why European countries have suspended AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine
The decisions are centered on concerns about a rare type of brain clot In the past few days, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland and France became some of the latest countries to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. They say they want time for the European Medicines Agency, the European drug regulator, to assess new data after a number of new blood-clotting incidents emerged.

Several of them had initially said they would keep using the vaccine, developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, despite earlier suspensions by Norway and Denmark over blood-clot concerns. Their decisions to change course have sparked fierce debate in the scientific community.

In Britain, where 11 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he sees no reason to discontinue using it. AstraZeneca has fought back against the suspensions, saying there is no proven link between its vaccine and the blood clots. The World Health Organization has said it has an ongoing review of the safety concerns, but benefits outweigh the risks of side effects. European regulators are also carrying out an urgent review based on new clotting reports.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved for use in the United States, but doses have been bought.

... As it carries out its urgent review, the European Medicines Agency says that thousands of people develop blood clots for various reasons and that overall numbers don’t seem to be a concern. “The number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population,” it said, adding that a “rigorous analysis” of all the data will be carried out in coming days.

AstraZeneca says there is “no evidence” that cases of blood clots are linked to the vaccine and that there have only been 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and Britain.

Britain’s regulator says it is monitoring the situation, but people should still go out and get their vaccine.

“We are closely reviewing reports but given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause,” said Phil Bryan, vaccines safety lead at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, according to the BBC.

But in Germany, the concern is that the seven cases of the more rare cerebral blood clots in a 1.6 million-dose vaccination program that has lasted a month and a half does appear higher than normal. Johns Hopkins Medicine says CVST normally affects about five people in 1 million each year.

... AstraZeneca has been approved in more than 60 countries, but has yet to be authorized in the United States. It is awaiting results from the results of its U.S. trial, which involves more than 30,000 participants, before it applies to the Food and Drug Administration for approval. That’s expected to happen later this month or in April. The company’s European trials had come under criticism from some scientists for a lack of transparency, a dosing error and the fact that few elderly people were included.
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Colleges Canceled Spring Break, But Students Are Traveling Anyway
According to new research from the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, about 60% of colleges have done away with spring break this year. Many campuses are instead offering smaller, shorter breaks or wellness days. Of the more than 600 colleges offering alternative breaks, scheduling days off mid-week was the most common option, likely an attempt to curb travel away from campus, and ultimately keep coronavirus cases down.

But these campus health efforts have hit a major roadblock: The rise of online classes means students can now do college from anywhere — even next to a pool with palm trees gently swaying in the background.

"You can make all of the rules and tell students to stay on campus, but at the end of the day, they're going to do what they want to do," says Daniel Mangrum, an economist who has studied the connection between last year's spring break and the spread of COVID-19. Mangrum found that student travel in March 2020 was associated with the virus spreading more on campuses and in nearby communities. It was also associated with higher mortality rates.

... "Paying students is probably the perfect route to go," says Mangrum. "If you can change their cost benefit analysis to make it so it's a little bit better for them to stay on campus, then maybe you can affect their decisions."

For students who decide to travel anyway, the traditional spring break rituals can come with increased risk, especially when not everyone is wearing masks. Gathering outside on a beach is safer, in principle, when it comes to mitigating the spread of the coronavirus, but it can become dangerous when people are packed in close together. Sharing hotel rooms and spending time in crowded indoor spaces — like bars and clubs — also gives the virus more opportunities to spread. Masks can offer a layer of protection, but in the course of NPR's reporting from Miami Beach, masks appeared on visitors' chins and in pockets more often than on their faces.
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'I still think about it every day': Former White House advisor Deborah Birx says she 'didn't know how to handle' Trump's comments about injecting disinfectants
  • Deborah Birx said she still thinks about Trump's comments to inject disinfectants into the body.
  • "Frankly, I didn't know how to handle that episode," the former White House COVID-19 advisor said.
  • Trump made the suggestion last April as the virus began to spread across the country.
Trump made the bizarre comments during a White House coronavirus briefing on April 23 as the virus started to spread across the country. He speculated that scientists could potentially inject light, heat, or disinfectants into the human body to treat the disease.

"Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether its ultraviolet or just very powerful light," Trump said at the time. "And I think you said, that hasn't been checked but you're gonna test it."

"Is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?" Trump said. "It sounds interesting to me, so we'll see."

... Democrats and public health experts criticized Birx while she served on the White House coronavirus task force for not being more outspoken against Trump when he spread misleading information about the virus. Last month, she revealed that the criticism made her consider quitting.

Birx on Monday explained that her nearly-three decades of public service in the military had taught her to remain composed in such situations.

"I guess some people thought I should run up on stage and interrupt this dialogue," Birx said. "But I was just not trained, in my years of training, to react that way."
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Biden's stimulus may have just saved NYC — and countless state and local governments
  • The recently passed $1.9 trillion stimulus plan contains $350 billion in state and local aid.
  • That includes $5.6 billion for New York City, which has been seeking federal aid.
  • Many local governments have warned of drastic budget cuts absent funding from the federal government.
An ominous question lingered over much of 2020 and early 2021: What will happen to all the cities and states facing huge revenue shortfalls from the coronavirus recession?

Most famously, some commentators have gone so far as to say 2020 killed New York City, a metropolis in which interpersonal contact is a fact and a way of life. Some Wall Street executives voted with their feet late in the year, moving to Florida along with some of their operations.

The recently signed $1.9 trillion stimulus may have just solved the issue, pumping billions of dollars into not just New York but state and local governments across the country; it spends $350 billion on state and local governments, to be exact.

The package targets areas that saw higher levels of unemployment over the last three months of 2020. According to a Fitch report, it will significantly boost near-term revenues for states, local governments, transit systems and education providers.
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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