COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
These are the two key things that can help curb another Covid-19 surge, Fauci says
The US has hit "category five hurricane status" with the pandemic as the Midwest approaches a fourth wave of cases, Michael Osterholm, University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy director, said Sunday.

"Let me say that, at this time, we really are in a category five hurricane status with regard to the rest of the world," Osterholm said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

"At this point, we will see in the next two weeks the highest number of cases reported globally since the beginning of the pandemic. In terms of the United States, we’re just at the beginning of this surge, we haven’t even really begun to see it yet."

Osterholm pointed to Michigan, which has recorded an alarming rise in infection in recent days. The state reported 8,413 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, its highest tally since December 7, according to health officials. Michigan also has the second highest number of cases of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, behind Florida.

Osterholm said surges of cases usually cycle between US regions, starting in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. These surges then subside, and move to the southern sunbelt states, which then subside in turn, with the case spike returning to the original regions.

Not all experts are convinced -- Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that he didn’t think a true fourth wave was likely.

"I don’t think it’s going to be a true fourth wave,” Gottlieb said. “I think we’ve probably delayed the point at which we can get this behind us for the summer, but we haven’t forestalled that opportunity."

Osterholm’s dire warning comes amid good news for the US vaccine rollout -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a record number of shots over the weekend with more than 4 million doses administered in 24 hours.
Read the full article:

Some Americans are acting like the pandemic is over. It's not
The polling and real world data clearly shows that Americans are starting to come out of their pandemic shells, as state governments loosen restrictions. While plenty of Americans are doing so as they become vaccinated against Covid-19, many are doing so regardless of vaccination. This drop in social distancing is occurring as new cases of Covid-19 are beginning to rise.

Indeed, the way some Americans are behaving and the ongoing transmission of the virus reflect a world in which Americans are clearly tired of thinking about a pandemic that is unfortunately very much still with us.

Scarily, the people who are putting themselves at the most risk through a lack of social distancing are the people who are the least likely to get vaccinated. For example, just 22% of those who say they'll never get vaccinated say they have avoided public places in the last week compared to 54% of those who are fully vaccinated, according to Gallup polling.

There is a partisan angle to this risky behavior too. Republicans were nearly twice as likely (60%) in a late March Ipsos poll to say they have eaten out in the previous week than Democrats (33%). Republicans (62%) were also more likely to say they have visited friends or relatives in the past week than Democrats (38%).

This comes even as more Democrats (40%) said they have been vaccinated compared to 27% of Republicans in Gallup's last poll.

The issue with fewer Americans social distancing is that the pandemic isn't over.

While case counts were falling for the past few months in the US, the decline has clearly stopped. New case counts are rising now and stand at well north of 50,000 in the seven day average. Hospitalization rates, which had been declining and tend to be a lagging indicator of cases, are now pretty much flat at around 40,000.

Some parts of the country have it worse. In Michigan, for example, cases and hospitalizations have been up over 100% from where they were the past few weeks. New York's case rate is rising rapidly as well.

In some ways, though, it shouldn't be surprising that Americans are taking their foot off the pedal when it comes to social distancing. Many have been social distancing for a year, and their news habits clearly indicate a shift in interest from thinking about the pandemic.

... Hopefully, even as Americans' concerns about the virus are dropping, enough Americans stay vigilant and get vaccinated soon so that before long, the virus won't be a major problem.
Read the full article:

Mariah Carey hits a high note for her Covid-19 vaccine

In a video posted on Instagram, Carey said she was "excited and nervous a little bit" about getting her first shot. But she took a breath, rolled up her sleeve and let out one of her famous high notes as the needle went into her arm.

"Vaccine side effect: G6," Carey wrote in the caption.

Speaking to her 10 million followers, Carey made a nod to the state of the pandemic today compared to where it was a year ago. She referenced a video she posted with her kids in March 2020, encouraging people to properly wash their hands as the pandemic was just getting started. "We're still in this battle together," Carey said before getting her shot.

Carey is one of several celebrities calling on people to get vaccinated when they can. Dolly Parton also brought her singing chops when getting her shot, singing a vaccine-inspired version of "Jolene."

While Carey didn't say whether she was getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, she did say this shot was just part one, so stay tuned for the sequel in three or four weeks.
Read the full article:

Fauci pushes back on GOP criticisms, calling claims ‘bizarre’
The most recent slight came Friday from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who in a series of tweets urged Fauci to visit the U.S.-Mexico border, where authorities are grappling with an influx of migrants, and asked him to witness firsthand what he called the nation’s “biggest super spreader event.”

Graham claimed thousands of Central American migrants are spreading the virus while being detained in overcrowded facilities.

The migrants, he said, are staying “on top of each other” and “dumped off in Texas” and elsewhere in the country. “If you are worried about the spread of COVID, you should be gravely concerned about what is happening at our southern border,” Graham wrote.

Homeland Security officials have said all migrants who are brought into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody are tested and, when needed, isolated or quarantined. The government also has said it is working closely with the Mexican government and international organizations who are helping test migrants before entering the United States. Yet federal officials have admitted there have been “instances” in which migrants have been released without a coronavirus test because of the soaring numbers of migrants coming in.

Some of the arriving migrants who tested positive are being directed to local hotels for isolation in Texas, according to the Associated Press.

On Friday, Fauci told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto that he was attempting to link him to issues he has no connection with.

“I have nothing to do with the border,” the White House chief medical adviser said, adding that he acknowledged there is a “very difficult situation at the border” that Biden administration officials are “trying as best as they can” to solve.

Fauci also rejected Graham’s suggestion to go down to the border: “Having me down at the border, that’s really not what I do,” he said.

In the same interview, Fauci addressed attacks by other Republican figures — such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — saying that he found the criticisms “a little bizarre” and suggesting that he had become a sort of scapegoat for Republicans.

“I’ve become sort of, for some reason or another, a symbol of anything they don’t like” related to anything “contrary to them or outside of their own realm,” he said.

Fauci, 80, did not linger long on the increasingly bizarre criticisms. In a Monday morning podcast interview with Politico, he did not address the attacks and instead focused on the promising data from the country’s vaccination program. He doubted the government would mandate a federal “vaccine passport” program and estimated that pre-pandemic activities such as going to a movie theater without a mask could resume by late fall or early winter if vaccination rates keep pace.

During the interview, Fauci also noted that he had not enjoyed “a single day off in over 14 months.”

In that time, Fauci has gone from being a figure known largely within medical circles to a prominent national figure with all the attendant fandom — and criticism.

... Asked whether the attacks bothered him, Fauci tried to brush them off. He said he is too busy “trying to preserve the health and safety of the American people that I cannot be bothered with getting distracted with these people that are doing ad hominems.”
Read the full article:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is offering two at-home coronavirus tests a week to everyone in England
Britain has run one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world, having given almost half the population in the United Kingdom a first dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday is expected to announce his plan to bolster Britain’s vaccination rollout with the mass testing of England’s entire population, in order to identify those who are unwittingly infectious and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Johnson’s government is betting that relentless, frequent testing for as many people as possible — including those who feel perfectly fine — will help break transmission chains, dampen future outbreaks and get people back to work and normal life.

The prime minister promised the free, simple tests will help “to stop outbreaks in their tracks, so we can get back to seeing the people we love and doing the things we enjoy.”

Starting on Friday, people in England will be offered lateral flow testing kits, which can be used at home, with nasal and throat swab, and give results in less than 30 minutes. The regional governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales may soon follow.

... “As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine program and with our road map cautiously easing restrictions under way, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted,” Johnson said in a statement.

The program remains controversial among some scientists, who question whether the billion-dollar costs and efforts are really worth it, and they warn of the large number of possible false positives and negative results. They also say without money or better incentives for people who test positive to stay at home, most will not.

Speaking on the BBC, Health Minister Edward Argar said the tests would be paid for by a $50 billion NHS fund to support its test-and-trace effort, which has struggled.

... The health minister said the latest data showed that fewer than one in every 1,000 tests gave a false positive result.

Supporters of mass testing say it doesn’t really matter — on a population scale — if the inexpensive tests miss some cases, as long as the test helps alert a large number of people with no symptoms that they might be infected and urge them to stay at home.

Those who test positive will be told to self-isolate, along with their household. They will also be encouraged to get a more accurate PCR test, and if that one says they are not infected, then they are free to go about their lives.
Read the full article:

Some of America’s wealthiest hospital systems ended up even richer, thanks to federal bailouts
As the crisis crushed smaller providers, some of the nation’s richest health systems thrived, reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in surpluses after accepting huge grants for pandemic relief

Last May, Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest nonprofit hospital system in Texas, laid off 1,200 employees and furloughed others as it braced for the then-novel coronavirus to spread. The cancellation of lucrative elective procedures as the hospital pivoted to treat a new and less profitable infectious disease presaged financial distress, if not ruin. The federal government rushed $454 million in relief funds to help shore up its operations.

But Baylor not only weathered the crisis, it thrived. By the end of 2020, Baylor had accumulated an $815 million surplus, $20 million more than it had in 2019, creating a 7.5 percent operating margin that would be higher than most hospitals’ profits in the flushest of eras, a KHN examination of financial statements shows.

Like Baylor, some of the nation’s richest hospitals and health systems recorded hundreds of millions of dollars in surpluses after accepting a substantial share of the federal health-care bailout grants, their records show. Those included the Mayo Clinic, Pittsburgh’s UPMC and NYU Langone Health. But poorer hospitals — many serving rural and minority populations — got a tinier slice of the pie and limped through the year with deficits, downgrades of their bond ratings and bleak fiscal futures.

“A lot of the funding helped the wealthy hospitals at a time, especially in New York, when safety-net hospitals were hemorrhaging,” said Colleen Grogan, a health policy professor at the University of Chicago. “We could have tailored it to hospitals we knew were really suffering and taking on a disproportionate amount of the burden.”

In Baylor’s case, the system, which runs Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and 51 other hospitals, said it spent $257 million last year on pandemic-related costs, including protective clothing for employees and patients and creating isolation rooms. Baylor has $197 million in unspent federal relief funds to use this year to cover costs of battling the virus and refrigerating vaccines, it said.

“Our covid-19-related expenses and lost revenue continue to exceed the funding we have received to date,” Baylor said in a statement to KHN.

Other well-heeled hospitals or large systems faced bigger problems. Both NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and CommonSpirit Health, a 140-hospital Catholic system that operates in 21 states, lost money despite federal grants in the vicinity of a billion dollars each. A few systems, including the for-profit chain HCA Healthcare, returned federal funds when they saw they had skirted their worst-case scenarios. But most spent the aid and held onto any leftover money and new grants to cover anticipated pandemic costs this year because hospital executives fear more case spikes.
Read the full article:

Covid drug remdesivir was developed with $162 million from U.S. government
Members of Congress asked for a GAO review of taxpayer spending that went toward developing Gilead’s drug to treat coronavirus

A new government report says the United States spent $162 million getting Gilead’s covid-19 drug remdesivir to market but opted against seeking government patents because Gilead invented the experimental medicine years earlier.

The drug sells for $3,120 for a five-day course of treatment for covid 19. It brought in $2.8 billion in revenue for Gilead last year and the company expects to make a similar amount in 2020.

The Government Accountability Office documented government spending and its role in developing remdesivir — which won full Food and Drug Administration approval last year and is now sold under the brand name Veklury — at the request of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, after Gilead set its price.

Critics complained the cost was excessive for a pandemic-related drug developed with such a large government role. The GAO released its findings Wednesday.

Remdesivir was initially invented as a hepatitis C drug a decade ago but was shelved by Gilead. It then was tested again by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army as an antiviral drug against other infectious diseases including Ebola. The drug fizzled against Ebola in a clinical trial in Africa but showed promise against coronaviruses.

The largest share of the $162 million was for clinical trials after the coronavirus outbreak began last year, when the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases sponsored a nationwide clinical trial, the GAO report said.

Remdesivir does not significantly prevent covid-19 deaths, but it has shortened hospital stays to 11 days from 15, according to clinical trial findings.

``Federally supported remdesivir research conducted by CDC, DOD, NIH, and NIH-funded universities has not resulted in government patent rights, because, according to agency and university officials, federal contributions to the research did not generate new inventions,'' the GAO report said.
Read the full article:

He said he spent $15,000 on a Disney World trip. He refused a temperature check and got arrested.

Kelly Sills paid a small fortune for an enchanting trip to “the most magical place on Earth.”

Instead, the Baton Rouge resident — like several other Disney World guests who have defied coronavirus restrictions — visited the Orange County jail.

Amid heightened precautions for the virus at the major Florida tourist attraction, Sills, 47, skipped the temperature screening required of guests, authorities said. He was confronted by security about it at a Disney Springs restaurant, the Boathouse, when he yelled and refused to leave, according to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrest report from Feb. 13. When deputies insisted he would be charged with trespassing, he pointed to how much he spent on his vacation, according to body-camera footage released this week.

“I paid $15,000,” said Sills, handcuffed. “You can’t trespass me if I paid $15,000.”

He pleaded not guilty to a trespassing charge, according to Orange County court records.

In an interview Saturday with The Washington Post, Sills said he would have “happily” consented to a temperature screening but he had inadvertently walked in through an exit and not realized his error. He partly blamed the security manager for escalating the conflict — and compared Disney security to Nazis and the mafia — but also admitted he was in “a bit of a mood” after a day of travel.

He was arrested on the first night of what was a five-day trip with his family, a rare reprieve for which he had paid thousands, he said. Two hotel rooms, air travel and admission to Disney and Universal for seven to eight people set him back, he said.

“Covid is a very serious thing, but so is my vacation with my family,” he said.

Sills’s arrest, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, is not the first instance guests have been reprimanded over defying coronavirus restrictions at a Disney park. The newspaper reported several skirmishes have stemmed from angry refusals to follow the theme park’s rules, including guests spitting on, yelling at and pushing employees tasked with reminding visitors to follow restrictions instated to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
Read the full article:

The once-battered Navajo Nation has gained control of the virus, for now.
The Navajo Nation has vaccinated more of its population than any state, and recently reached an extraordinary milestone: zero cases and zero deaths in a 24-hour period.

It is, perhaps, the place in the continental U.S. that has best contained the coronavirus pandemic. Once, the Navajo Nation had one of the worst coronavirus case rates in the country, and imposed curfews and checkpoints as entire families grew sick. Now more than half of its 170,000 residents living on tribal lands are fully vaccinated.

Navajo have followed strict lockdown orders and a mask mandate, which was imposed nearly a year ago. In the spirit of community protection, many have lined up to get a shot.

“I think just because of how hard hit the Navajo Nation was, we’ve seen a big increase in participation in taking the vaccine,” said Jonathan Nez, the president.
Read the full article:

White Evangelical Resistance Is Obstacle in Vaccination Effort
Millions of white evangelical adults in the U.S. do not intend to get vaccinated against Covid-19, presenting a significant obstacle as the country races to reach herd immunity.

Their opposition is rooted in a mix of religious faith and a wariness of mainstream science, fueled by broader cultural distrust of institutions and gravitation to online conspiracy theories. Some have been energized by what they see as a battle between faith and fear, and freedom versus persecution.

While many high-profile conservative pastors have endorsed the vaccines, other influential evangelical voices have sown fears. In churches, on talk shows and on TikTok, they warn the devout that “globalist entities” will “use bayonets and prisons to force a needle into your arm,” or that the vaccines are “an experimental biological agent.”

Some pastors have largely remained quiet, in part because politics has increasingly shaped faith among white evangelicals. Hesitation is further complicated by longstanding distrust between evangelicals and the scientific community.

Elaine Ecklund, director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University, said that there has been a “sea change” over the past century in how evangelical Christians see science, rooted largely in the debates over evolution and the secularization of the academy.

For slightly different reasons, the distrust of vaccines is sometimes shared by Asian, Hispanic and Black Christians, who are skeptical that hospitals and medical professionals will be sensitive to their concerns, Dr. Ecklund said.

“We are seeing some of the implications of the inequalities in science,” she said. “This is an enormous warning of the fact that we do not have a more diverse scientific work force, religiously and racially.”
Read the full article:

Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine
A new vaccine for Covid-19 that is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic. The vaccine, called NDV-HXP-S, is the first in clinical trials to use a new molecular design that is widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. And the new vaccine could be far easier to make.

Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs — the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world.

If NDV-HXP-S proves safe and effective, flu vaccine manufacturers could potentially produce well over a billion doses of it a year. Low- and middle-income countries currently struggling to obtain vaccines from wealthier countries may be able to make NDV-HXP-S for themselves or acquire it at low cost from neighbors.

“That’s staggering — it would be a game-changer,” said Andrea Taylor, assistant director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

First, however, clinical trials must establish that NDV-HXP-S actually works in people. The first phase of clinical trials will conclude in July, and the final phase will take several months more. But experiments with vaccinated animals have raised hopes for the vaccine’s prospects.

“It’s a home run for protection,” said Dr. Bruce Innis of the PATH Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, which has coordinated the development of NDV-HXP-S. “I think it’s a world-class vaccine.”
Read the full article:

C.D.C. Issues New Guidance for Cruise Lines
The technical instructions will allow cruise lines to prepare their ships for simulation voyages, designed to test health and safety protocols and operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with paying passengers.

The new recommendations include increasing from weekly to daily the reporting of Covid-19 cases, implementing routine testing of all crew based on a ship’s Covid-19 status and making contractual arrangements with medical facilities on shore for passengers who may fall ill during a voyage.

Once cruise lines have prepared their ships, they must give 30 days notice to the C.D.C. before starting test cruises and will have to apply for a conditional sailing certificate 60 days before a planned regular voyage.

Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the industry’s biggest operators, submitted a letter to the C.D.C. on Monday outlining its plan to resume cruises from U.S. ports in July, which included mandatory vaccination of all guests and crew. The company said that its vaccination requirement and multilayered health and safety protocols exceeded the agency’s Conditional Sailing Order requirements.

But in a statement released on Monday, the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, called the guidelines “so burdensome and ambiguous that no clear path forward or timetable can be discerned.”
Read the full article:

Gayle Smith Appointed to Lead Global Covid-19 Response

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced on Monday that Gayle Smith, a leader in the Obama administration’s Ebola response, would head up vaccine diplomacy for the Biden administration.

This pandemic won’t end at home until it ends worldwide. And I want to spend a minute on this because it’s critical to understand, even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be fully safe from the virus. Not while it’s still replicating around the world, and turning into new variants that could easily come here and spread across our communities again. And not if we want to fully reopen our economy or start traveling again. Plus, if other countries’ economies aren’t rebounding because they’re still afflicted with Covid, that’ll hurt our recovery too. The world has to come together.”

Our challenges now are two: First, to shorten the lifespan of a borderless pandemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods all over the world. And the second is to ensure that we can prevent, detect and respond to those future global health threats we know are coming. American leadership is desperately needed, and I’m extremely confident we can rise to the occasion. I’m honored to be here. And thank you, very, very much.”
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