COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Biden and Obama urge Americans to get vaccinated in star-studded television special
The event, titled "Roll Up Your Sleeves" and hosted by singer Ciara and her NFL quarterback husband, Russell Wilson, saw Biden pitch vaccinations as "the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from Covid-19, including the new variants we're seeing."

"If you've been fully vaccinated, thank you," the President said. "If you're planning to get vaccinated, make sure you follow through. Please."

The television special comes the night before all Americans 16 years and older will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine. An administration official told CNN the White House is launching a media blitz Monday to raise awareness about Americans' vaccine eligibility.

Part of their outreach will target specific constituencies, including Black, Latino and rural communities, through interviews with outlets such as the Rickey Smiley Morning Show, Telemundo and All Ag News. There will also be a series of national media hits featuring doctors.

It comes as concerns around access and vaccine hesitancy loom large over the US coronavirus response.

Though roughly 25.4% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, experts estimate somewhere between 70-85% of the country needs to be immune to the virus -- either through inoculation or previous infection -- to suppress its spread.

Appearing alongside former NBA stars Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal during the special, Obama said, "I want to make sure our communities -- particularly ones ... African American, Latino, as well as young people -- understand that this will save lives and allow people to get their lives back to normal. And the sooner we get more people vaccinated, the better off we're going to be."

Barkley responded by noting how excited he is to get his second vaccine dose, saying, it's "important for us to keep talking about the vaccine."

"So I'm telling all my friends," he continued. "Yo, man. Forget what happened back in the day. Every Black person, please go out and get vaccinated."

In another part of the special, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, spoke with actor Matthew McConaughey about the stringent safety protocols that were followed as the vaccines were developed.

"It wasn't cutting corners. It wasn't sacrificing safety. It was merely a reflection of the extraordinary science," Fauci said of the speed with which the vaccines were developed.

The common enemy, Fauci continued, "is the virus. Not each other. So the thing to do is put aside any kind of political differences, any kind of hostility you have and figure we have to pull together if we really want to get through this."

The special also featured cameos from former first lady Michelle Obama and a whole list of celebrities, including Sterling K. Brown, Lana Condor, Billy Crystal, Eric Dane, Ryan Eggold, Dr. Vin Gupta, Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson, Dale Jarrett, Ken Jeong, Joe Jonas, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Joel McHale, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kumail Nanjiani, Ellen Pompeo, Amanda Seyfried, Jane Seymour and Wanda Sykes.

"Now is the time to take care of ourselves and each other so we can get back to normal," Biden said in concluding his remarks.

"We can do this. We will do this. But don't let up now."
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J-Lo, H.E.R. and Selena Gomez will headline a streamed concert to support Covid-19 vaccine distribution
Hosted by Selena Gomez and featuring Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Vedder, Foo Fighters, J Balvin, and H.E.R., the "VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World" will take place on May 8.

It will be a part of Global Citizen's Recovery Plan for the World campaign to end the pandemic and help people recover.

"The Concert to Reunite the World is celebrating the hope that COVID-19 vaccines are offering families and communities around the world," Global Citizen said in a news release. "We are calling on world leaders to step up to make sure vaccines are accessible for all so we can end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere."

The goal will be to "ensure equitable vaccine distribution around the world, tackle COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and celebrate a hopeful future as families and communities reunite after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine," according to the international advocacy group.

Multiple organizations and political leaders have supported the concert, including the World Health Organization (WHO), European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and the State of California, the release said.

"I'm honored to be hosting VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World," Gomez said in a statement. "This is a historic moment to encourage people around the world to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, call on world leaders to share vaccine doses equitably, and to bring people together for a night of music in a way that hasn't felt possible in the past year. I can't wait to be a part of it."

The event will air at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, YouTube, and iHeart broadcast radio stations and app. It will also be broadcast at 11 p.m. ET on FOX.
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‘Ripe for fraud’: Coronavirus vaccination cards support burgeoning scams
Officials warn that falsified cards could endanger lives and undermine efforts to end the pandemic

Federal regulators are going after online sellers illegally hawking counterfeit or blank vaccine cards. Using sites such as eBay, scammers sell the cards for about $10 each. “This is exactly the scenario that you want to guard against. It undermines the entire effort by having falsified cards out there,” a global health policy expert for Kaiser Family Foundation told The Post. Officials worry the fake cards could harm public health by allowing people to misrepresent their vaccination status.

At least 129.5 million Americans have gotten at least one or both doses of a coronavirus vaccine and have received a free proof-of-vaccination card with the logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as officials push to inoculate the nation. But that vaccination drive has pitted people like asianjackson, selling blank or fake credentials, against law enforcement officials rushing to stop them — and warning that the full scope of the problem is impossible to grasp.

The clash has escalated as businesses and universities say they’ll require proof of vaccination before allowing Americans to board cruises, enter some stores and even return to college classes, prompting some vaccine-hesitant people to search for false IDs or make their own. And the showdown is unfolding amid a bitter national debate about whether Americans should have digital “vaccine passports” instead of paper cards, and whether the government should be involved in credentialing such efforts.

... Even as public health officials warn about the risk of fraud, some states have inadvertently boosted it. The Post identified several states, including Tennessee and Texas, that posted blank card templates to their health department websites among their coronavirus-related resources. Some social media users have boasted that they had printed the documents to produce their own fake cards.

... “Anything that’s going to delay the end of this pandemic is incredibly unfortunate and counterproductive,” he added. “These vaccine cards will do just that.”
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All about your coronavirus vaccine card (and what to do if you lose it)
If you've obtained that slip of paper properly and you're wondering what to do with that vaccine card, look no further. Keep the card safe and make a copy.

There are various ways to document that you received a coronavirus vaccine. Some people have snapped selfies proudly displaying the Band-Aid on their upper arm. Some vaccination sites are handing out stickers. But the official form of documentation is the small white vaccination record card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which you receive after your first shot.

“You do want to make sure you keep it safe,” says Kelly Moore, deputy director of the Immunization Action Coalition. “You do want to make a copy of it and keep that on file, not because it’s the only record, but because it’s the one that you control.”

The primary function of a vaccination card is to serve as a personal immunization record, Moore says, much like your childhood immunization records. “These cards that you’re given when you’re vaccinated are important for you to keep up with because they’re your personal record of what you have had and they remind you of when your next dose is due.”

In its guidance on getting a coronavirus vaccine, the CDC says you should be given a card at your first appointment that tells you which vaccine you received, its lot number, the date and the vaccination site. If you need a second dose, referencing the card is a quick way for providers to make sure you’re getting the right shot at the right time without having to access your electronic records. The card should then be updated with details about the second shot. (If you are not provided a card, make sure to ask for one before leaving. For those who do not receive a card, the CDC recommends contacting your vaccination site or state health department to find out how you can get one.)

The cards also can be convenient proof of coronavirus vaccination, but experts emphasize that they are not legal documents and should not be thought of as such at this point in the pandemic.

“It is not magical. It is not the only record that exists,” Moore says. Still, she notes, if you have the card, “it’s much easier than having to go back to your doctor’s office or to some health department to request a copy of your proof of immunization. It can save you a lot of hassles down the line if you maintain your personal copy of this official record.”

It’s widely recommended to take a photograph of the card as a backup copy and keep the original stored in a safe place where you can easily access it if needed.
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Their neighbors couldn’t get to vaccine sites. So they created ‘Joe’s Covee Car’ and offered free rides.
In the past two weeks, Cicchetti and his partner, Shirley Limburg, 59, have given at least a dozen rides to residents unable to get to appointments on their own. The service, which launched at the beginning of the month and was first reported by, is free and mainly funded by the couple, Cicchetti and Limburg told The Washington Post.

Their motto is simple: “Help stop covid-19. One ride, one shot at a time.”

“Any one person who gets vaccinated and has immunity and doesn’t spread it, that’s a lot of lives saved,” Limburg told The Post.

The retired couple is part of a network of informal volunteers across the nation who have stepped in to help strangers secure vaccines amid a rollout process that has, at times, been bumpy, competitive and confusing.

... Once the couple was fully vaccinated earlier this month, they took “Joe’s Covee Car” to the streets. Anyone who lives in their county or a neighboring one can contact them via Facebook, phone or email. “As long as one of us is available, we will pick them up,” Limburg said.

To keep everyone safe, they only allow one passenger, require masks and check temperatures. They have received calls from all over the state and had to turn down some requests because the riders live too far away. But Cicchetti said many callers have more general questions, like whether the vaccine is safe.

“That’s really a big question. I cannot tell you how many times a day the question comes up,” he said.

For, Limburg, who was left impaired of hearing in one ear after contracting mumps when she was a child before a vaccine was available, vaccine hesitancy pushes her to keep the volunteer services running.

The couple is already in conversation to expand the service to other parts of the state with the help of drivers who are fully vaccinated, have a clean driving record and meet all coronavirus safety guidelines, they said. Prompted by requests to donate to the cause, the couple has also created a Facebook page to cover some expenses.

“We are not rich people by far,” Cicchetti said. “We are doing something that makes a difference. Yeah, money is important, but people’s lives are really important. If we can do something like this on a very limited budget, anyone can do it.”
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India faces new lockdowns plus oxygen and drug shortages as cases spiral, and other news from around the world.
Delhi enacted a weeklong citywide lockdown on Monday, as infections and deaths in India hit new daily records and several local governments, including in the national capital, reported shortages of oxygen, beds and drugs.

India reported more than 272,000 cases and 1,619 deaths on Monday, as a second wave of the coronavirus continued to spread across the country. The worsening situation has caused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to cancel a planned trip to the country next week, a decision the British and Indian governments announced on Monday. Britain also said that most people who have traveled from India in the last 10 days will be refused entry beginning Friday.

Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, announced on Monday a citywide lockdown beginning at 10 p.m. and ending around 5 a.m. on April 26.

“Our health systems have reached its limit,” he said. “We have almost no I.C.U. beds left. We are facing a huge shortage of oxygen.”

All essential services, including grocery stores, pharmacies and food delivery, will be allowed, he said. Wedding ceremonies will be restricted to 50 people.

“If we don’t place a lockdown now, it could lead to a big tragedy,” Mr. Kejriwal said.
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Some in New York got too much unemployment money and may have to give it back, the state says.
A number of New Yorkers who have received unemployment benefits during the pandemic were overpaid by mistake, and may have to return a portion of the money, the New York State Department of Labor said.

The department alerted recipients with a text message and email late Friday afternoon. The messages did not specify how much money they might owe.

In emails to a reporter on Sunday, the department did not indicate how many recipients were affected or the total amount overpaid.

The department’s Twitter account said on Friday that “a small portion of claimants received duplicate payments” in April and May 2020, and a later message on Twitter mentioned amounts of $600 and $1,200.

The department told recipients that they could appeal the claim of overpayment or request a financial hardship waiver online. If they do not do so within 30 days, the department said, their future benefits would be reduced by 20 percent until the overpayment was recouped.

“This is a valid communication from the NYS DOL to people who, through no fault of their own, may have been overpaid through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC),” the department said in an email on Sunday. “The federal government requires NYS to recover any overpaid funds.”

Similar problems have come up in other states, involving accidental overpayments or fraudulent claims. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office said that states had identified more than $3.6 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance overpayments and fraud across the country so far.

“States are continuing to identify overpayments in all the unemployment insurance programs, and we expect this number to increase, which is one reason it is so critical that the federal government and the states continue to track and recover these federal dollars,” Thomas M. Costa, an acting director at the office, said in an email on Monday.
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U.S. to Begin Offering Vaccines to Detainees at Guantánamo Bay
The plan, initiated during the Trump administration, had been delayed after a political and public outcry.

The United States military will begin offering to vaccinate the detainees at Guantánamo Bay on Monday in an effort to protect troops stationed there and help restart the stalled war crimes hearings, an administration official with knowledge of the Pentagon plan said.

The U.S. Southern Command, which has oversight of the prison, sought permission during the Trump administration to vaccinate the detainees, who include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men accused of conspiring to carry out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A memo dated Dec. 23 described the detainees as “a high-risk community,” and invoked both “the Geneva Convention and Department of Defense guidance.”

But the Pentagon postponed plans to start the vaccinations on Feb. 1, after elected officials and victims of the attacks accused the Defense Department of putting terrorism suspects ahead of the American people, who were only just starting to get access to the vaccines in substantial numbers at that point.

By Monday, the official said, all of the adults at the remote base in Cuba had been offered a vaccine, including the troops and civilian Defense Department employees — 1,500 in all — who work at the detention operation. An undisclosed number of staff members at the prison had declined.

The Pentagon began notifying Congress on Monday of its intention to begin making the vaccine available to the detainees within hours.

The vaccines are not mandatory for the military or civilian Defense Department employees.

The administration official said the decision to vaccinate the detainees was intended in part to protect those service members who had declined to be vaccinated.

“This is very much about the force protection of our people down there and the ability to move forward with the military commissions,” said the official. Also, “We have a legal obligation under international law to properly vaccinate these detainees.”

Taking the vaccine is also voluntary for the detainees, and it was not immediately known how many of the 40 who remained at Guantánamo Bay would accept the first shot of the two-shot Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Monday. Many of them are approaching their second decade in U.S. detention and have chronic illnesses. The oldest is 73, and has a heart condition, diabetes and other geriatric illnesses.
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Cambodia accused of using Covid to edge towards ‘totalitarian dictatorship’
New law means people could face 20 years in prison for lockdown breaches, as campaigners warn of ‘human rights disaster’

Cambodians who break Covid rules could face 20 years in prison under a new law that human rights groups say takes the country “a step towards a totalitarian dictatorship”.

Prime minister Hun Sen warned that Cambodia was “on the brink of death” as a two-week lockdown was imposed in Phnom Penh on Thursday to try to control the spread of the virus.

The law means those convicted could face fines of up to $5,000 (£3,627) as well as prison terms, and grants the government the power to ban or restrict any gathering or demonstration indefinitely.

“For the Cambodian people, the Covid-19 pandemic has been not only a public health and economic tragedy, but also a human rights disaster courtesy of a government determined to move the country step by step towards totalitarian dictatorship,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

Sopheap Chak, executive director at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the new law, which was introduced last month, lacked transparency, used “vague and broad terminology” and had no oversight.

She said: “The law’s ill-defined offences open the door to subjective interpretation and arbitrary enforcement, and the disproportionate criminal sanctions they carry represent a threat for critical and dissenting voices in Cambodia, against whom the repressive legislative framework has frequently been used as a weapon in recent years.”

Cambodia has among the fewest coronavirus cases in Asia, but an outbreak that started in late February has seen cases rise to 5,480 within two months and 38 fatalities.

Police have barricaded areas in Phnom Penh to prevent people from travelling over Khmer New Year and checkpoints were set up between areas under lockdown.

“Please my people – join your efforts to end this dangerous event,” the prime minister said in a recorded address on state-run television on Wednesday night.

“We are on the brink of death already,” he said. “If we don’t join hands together, we will head to real death.”
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New York Spent $1.5 Billion on Its Convention Center. Will Anyone Come?
New York has just spent $1.5 billion to entice very large groups of people to gather under the same roof. When will that seem like a good idea again?

Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a major expansion of New York City’s main convention hall, the Javits Center. By early summer, it should be ready again to host trade shows, corporate meetings and public events.

But the pandemic wiped out mass gatherings more than a year ago, and it is not clear when or if most of them will return. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still warning people to “avoid large events and gatherings.”

New York is expanding the Javits Center “just in time to see the absolute collapse of the convention and trade show business,” said Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who studies the convention business.

The biggest annual events at the Javits Center, including the New York International Auto Show, Comic Con and trade shows like Toy Fair, have been canceled over the last 13 months. Some, like Book Expo, an annual gathering of publishers and booksellers, have been shelved for good.

“Event activity has fallen off the cliff nationally,” Professor Sanders said.

The Javits expansion, funded primarily by a $1 billion allocation in the state budget backed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, was intended to make New York more competitive in the escalating competition for trade shows and the crowds they attract.

Several other cities, including Las Vegas, Seattle and San Francisco, have invested billions of dollars in the last several years to make their convention halls bigger and more appealing.

Then the pandemic struck.
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State Department To Issue Travel Warnings Amid 'Unprecedented' COVID-19 Risks
The U.S. State Department on Monday announced plans to expand travel advisories, urging U.S. citizens to stay home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose "unprecedented risks" around the globe.

The updated travel guidelines are intended to curb visits "to approximately 80% of countries worldwide" which are currently experiencing dramatic spikes in cases, the department said in a statement. New guidance is expected be released later this week.
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Trump is desperate to get credit for the COVID-19 vaccines, but his political heartlands are reluctant to actually take them
  • Trump has long been anxious to get credit for the COVID-19 vaccines developed during his presidency.
  • But Trump-voting counties show higher rates of vaccine hesitancy, Axios reported.
  • Other factors, such as poverty and lack of vaccine access, could also help explain the correlation.
Former President Donald Trump makes no secret of wanting to take credit for the existence of COVID-19 vaccines — but data shows his supporters are still less likely to want the shot.

Trump has long been anxious that nobody forgets one of the biggest advances from during his presidency: the vaccines.

Of the major shots developed in the US in record time, one of them — made by Moderna — was a major beneficiary of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed.

In November he went as far as to take credit for Pfizer's vaccine, despite it not having been developed under the government initiative.

That has lasted well into his post-presidency. At an event at Mar-A-Lago last week, he reportedly remarked to GOP donors that the vaccine should be called the "Trumpcine."

Vaccine rollouts have accelerated fast under Joe Biden's presidency, which has seen 100 million people getting at least their first shot within his first three months.

But according to Axios, that uptake is slower in Trump's own heartlands.

Axios processed data from the CDC and New York Times to show that counties with a higher rates of people voting for Trump in the last presidential election correlated with a higher rate of hesitancy.

... That said, it may be a mistake to overly characterize the issue along political lines, an expert told Axios. Many red states have higher proportions of Black Americans, a demographic that is more likely to "wait and see" before getting the vaccine, the outlet said.

Also, hesitancy is far from the only factor causing a low uptake in the vaccine in Trump-supporting areas.

"It could be that people who believe in Trump and voted for Trump don't want to get vaccinated. It could also be that those places did a lousy job making vaccines available," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the outlet.

He added that it could be "really, really" harmful to oversimplify the correlation.

Either way, the problem is worrisome because of another connection — that people in the areas with the lowest rates of vaccination are also the most vulnerable to the virus in the first place, Axios reported.

According to the CDC's Social Vulnerability Index, these areas have worse transportation, higher rates of poverty, and more crowded housing — all adding to the risk during a public health crisis.

Trump has been far more vocal about the success of the vaccine development as a political achievement than about its medical benefits.

... Meanwhile, pro-Trump outlets have continued to peddle skepticism around the vaccine and even the deadliness of the virus itself.
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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