COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
He should be on the frontline of the pandemic response. Instead, he is facing deportation
Microbiologist by training, Nigerian by birth, Charles Oti has spent four years working for the UK’s National Health Service as an infection control specialist. Oti's skills are in short supply and among the UK government's priorities for recruitment. But instead of taking a position on the front line of the pandemic response, he has been prevented from working and threatened with deportation.

The case represents a personal ordeal and a wider issue. At a time when Britain is heavily reliant on immigrants to staff its essential services, many of these same workers are fighting for their right to remain in the country.
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Covid-19 PPE litter is killing wildlife
Waste from personal protective equipment is killing birds, fish and other wildlife across the globe, a study by Dutch scientists has found. Animals are fatally ingesting or becoming entangled in discarded latex gloves and disposable face masks, while others have started building their homes using the same material.

The researchers have so far recorded more than 50 incidences globally where wildlife was harmed, but they warned the actual number is likely to be far larger.
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Pfizer/BioNTech says its Covid-19 vaccine is 100% effective and well tolerated in adolescents
Clinical trial results of Pfizer/BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine showed its efficacy is 100% and it is well tolerated in youths ages 12 to 15, the companies said today. Pfizer/BioNTech plan to submit the data to the US Food and Drug Administration as soon as possible for expanded emergency use authorization of the two-dose vaccine.

In a Phase 3 trial of 2,260 participants ages 12 to 15 in the US, the vaccine elicited strong antibody responses one month after the second dose -- exceeding those demonstrated in people ages 16 to 25 in previous trials, Pfizer reported. The vaccine is currently authorized in the US for emergency use in people 16 and older.
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Macron Returns France to Lockdown as Vaccinations Lag
The French president rebuffed his advisers in January and opted against more restrictions, betting that inoculation would curb the pandemic. Instead, a new wave of infections is battering France.

France will enter a third national lockdown in a move to halt a new wave of coronavirus infections.

President Emmanuel Macron announced that schools would be closed for three weeks as part of the new restrictions. In January, Mr. Macron rebuffed his advisers and opted against more restrictions, betting that vaccinations would curb the pandemic. But with infections rising sharply across the country, hospitals in Paris overflowing and a slow vaccine rollout, he was left with little choice.
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Peter Navarro warned Trump on virus supply shortages, then pursued deals worth more than $1 billion
A top adviser privately urged President Donald Trump to acquire critical medical supplies in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak — and after the warning was ignored, pursued his own ad hoc strategy that committed more than $1 billion in federal funds and has since prompted multiple probes, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators.

Peter Navarro, who served as Trump’s trade adviser, warned the president on March 1, 2020, to “MOVE IN ‘TRUMP TIME’” to invest in ingredients for drugs, handheld coronavirus tests and other supplies to fight the virus, according to a memo obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak. Navarro also said that he’d been trying to acquire more protective gear like masks, critiquing the administration’s pace.

“There is NO downside risk to taking swift actions as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency,” Navarro wrote to the president. “If the covid-19 crisis quickly recedes, the only thing we will have been guilty of is prudence.” At the time, there were about 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States and just two deaths linked to the outbreak.

But after Trump ignored Navarro’s recommendations, the trade adviser embarked on his own strategy to acquire supplies with little oversight, Democrats said. Navarro subsequently steered a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to produce ingredients for generic drugs, a $354 million sole-source contract for pharmaceutical ingredients to a start-up called Phlow, and a $96 million sole-source contract for powered respirators and filters from AirBoss Defense Group.

The administration’s loan to Kodak, which had never previously manufactured drugs, was paused last year amid probes by multiple congressional committees. House investigators also learned that Kodak executives had warned federal officials in March 2020 that the company would need a waiver from the Food and Drug Administration’s current good manufacturing practices — federal standards intended to ensure that firms have the necessary equipment, facilities and other components needed to produce safe and effective pharmaceuticals.

Meanwhile, leaders of Phlow — a company that also had never manufactured drugs and was incorporated only in January 2020 — strategized with Navarro’s office on its proposal to produce pharmaceutical ingredients in Virginia. Company leaders had previously won Navarro’s favor by making the argument that the United States was too dependent on Chinese manufacturing — a big concern of Navarro’s. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) subsequently awarded a $354 million contract to the firm with an additional $458 million in contract options, amid pressure from Navarro, who urged officials to “please move this puppy in Trump time.”

House investigators also obtained documents showing retired Gen. Jack Keane, a Trump ally who was a paid AirBoss consultant, touting the company to Navarro on March 22, 2020, and helping arrange an immediate conversation between its leaders and White House officials. The next day, the company submitted a $96.4 million proposal, and Navarro assured AirBoss leaders to “consider it done.” Navarro’s team subsequently pressured the Federal Emergency Management Agency to finalize an updated version of the contract within a week.

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the subcommittee chair, on Wednesday urged Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other senior Biden administration officials to release further information about Navarro’s arrangements. Clyburn said his prior requests had been stalled by the Trump administration, and he raised questions about other contracts that he said Navarro may have been involved in.

“These documents provide further evidence that the Trump administration failed to react quickly to the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020 despite urgent warnings, failed to implement a national strategy to alleviate critical supply shortages that were putting American lives at risk, and pursued a haphazard and ineffective approach to procurement in which senior White House officials steered contracts to particular companies without adequate diligence or competition,” Clyburn and fellow Democrats wrote in letters shared with The Washington Post.
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States have found billions in unemployment benefit overpayments during pandemic, watchdog reports
The government made $6.2 billion in overpayments across two unemployment insurance programs during the first year of the pandemic, according to a watchdog report released Tuesday.

Millions of Americans lost their jobs as the coronavirus slammed the economy in spring 2020, forcing many to rely on jobless benefits and straining state unemployment systems. In March 2020, Congress passed legislation that boosted and supplemented regular unemployment benefits, including a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which extended help to workers left out of their state’s systems.

The report by the Government Accountability Office said the Labor Department reported that “states had identified more than $3.6 billion in PUA overpayments from March 2020 through February 2021.” In addition, states identified $2.6 billion in regular unemployment insurance overpayments in the last three quarters of 2020.

The report noted that “overpayments are not necessarily a result of fraud, though some may be.” States generally must require people to repay overpayments, but they can also waive that requirement if they find an individual was “without fault.” For instance, in October the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment forgave $1.4 million in PUA overpayments to 9,000 Coloradans after acknowledging that confusing forms for gig workers may have led some people to overestimate their incomes.

The numbers reported by the GAO represent a much higher overpayment amount than was previously known. When the GAO addressed the issue in a January report, it found that Labor Department data showed $1.1 billion in PUA overpayments between March and December 2020, and it recommended that the agency collect the data from states.

The GAO’s January report also repeated and elaborated on concerns about fraud in an emergency relief program run by the Small Business Administration (SBA), called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program, which offers up to $10,000 to businesses and nonprofit organizations. By the end of December, the SBA had approved 3.6 million low-interest loans worth $197 billion.

The GAO reported that the SBA’s independent auditor stated in December that the agency “was unable to provide adequate documentation to support a significant number of transactions and account balances related to EIDL due to inadequate processes and controls.”

The auditor also found over 6,000 EIDL loans worth more than $212 million “issued to potentially ineligible borrowers,” the GAO found.

Between May 2020 and February, the Justice Department announced charges against more than 50 defendants in more than 30 fraud cases connected with EIDL loans, the GAO said. As of February, at least five people had pleaded guilty to federal charges of defrauding the program.

The SBA told the watchdog that it was working to better document its processes and controls for future audits, and that it agreed with a GAO recommendation that it put in place an oversight plan for the disaster loans.
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Poll: Americans have coronavirus concerns over attending sports in person
As Major League Baseball opens its new season under a lingering coronavirus cloud and NBA and NHL teams begin making a final push for the playoffs, fewer than half of Americans say they would feel comfortable attending a live sporting event, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

Baseball’s Opening Day is Thursday, and stadiums across the country will open their gates and welcome back fans with a range of restrictions and protocols in place, including mask mandates and caps on attendance. While 42 percent of Americans are comfortable attending a live, ticketed sporting event in general — compared with 40 percent who are not and 18 percent who are unsure — people say their own comfort levels vary widely based on conditions.

About two-thirds say they would feel comfortable attending an outdoor event such as baseball (66 percent), but fewer than half as many (32 percent) feel comfortable attending an indoor event such as basketball. Nearly 2 in 3 people (64 percent) say they would feel comfortable if all attendees were required to wear masks, compared with 22 percent who would feel comfortable if there was no mask requirement.

Post-UMD Poll Results
In the poll, 63 percent of Americans say it is a large or moderate risk to attend a sporting event right now, including 26 percent who say it’s a large risk. That marks a sharp decline in risk over the past year: In a May 2020 Axios-Ipsos poll, 84 percent said attending a sporting event was a large or moderate risk, including 65 percent who said it was a “large risk.”

The Post-UMD poll was conducted from March 12 to 18 as coronavirus infection rates started to plateau and vaccinations increased across the country. It was done online and included a random sample of 1,500 adult Americans, carrying a margin of error of plus or minus three points. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the University of Maryland’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and its Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement.
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Virus Variants Can Infect Mice, Scientists Report
Bats, humans, monkeys, minks, big cats and big apes — the coronavirus can make a home in many different animals. But now the list of potential hosts has expanded to include mice, according to an unnerving new study.

Infected rodents pose no immediate risk to people, even in cities like London and New York, where they are ubiquitous and unwelcome occupants of subway stations, basements and backyards.

Still, the finding is worrying. Along with previous work, it suggests that new mutations are giving the virus the ability to replicate in a wider array of animal species, experts said.

... “It’s like a moving target — it’s crazy,” he added. “There’s nothing we can do about it, other than try and get people vaccinated really fast.”
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CDC: COVID-19 Was Third Leading Cause Of Death In 2020, People Of Color Hit Hardest
COVID-19 was the third underlying cause of death in 2020 after heart disease and cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Wednesday.

A pair of reports published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report sheds new light on the approximately 375,000 U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 last year, and highlights the pandemic's disproportionate impact on communities of color — a point CDC Director Rochelle Walensky emphasized at a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing on Wednesday.

She said deaths related to COVID-19 were higher among American Indian and Alaskan Native persons, Hispanics, Blacks and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander persons than whites. She added that "among nearly all of these ethnic and racial minority groups, the COVID-19 related deaths were more than double the death rate of non-Hispanic white persons."

"The data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us [to] continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and get people vaccinated as soon as possible," she said.

Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at New York University who served as a COVID-19 adviser on the Biden transition team, told NPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday that she remains concerned about the rate of new infections, even as the country has made considerable progress with its vaccination rollout.

She compared vaccines to a raincoat and an umbrella, noting they provide protection during a rainstorm but not in a hurricane.

"And we're really still in a COVID hurricane," Gounder said. "Transmission rates are extremely high. And so even if you've been vaccinated, you really do need to continue to be careful, avoid crowds and wear masks in public."
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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