COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
A year of trauma: More than 3,600 US health workers died in Covid's first 12 months
More than 3,600 US healthcare workers perished in the first year of the pandemic according to "Lost on the Frontline," a year-long investigation by The Guardian and KHN to track such deaths.

The project reveals deep inequities tied to race, ethnicity and economic status in America's health care workforce. It found that 70% of deceased health care workers, for whom researchers have data, identified as people of color.

More than a third of those who died were born outside the US, with workers from the Philippines accounting for a disproportionate number of deaths.

Lower-paid workers who handled everyday patient care, including nurses, support staff and nursing home employees, were also far more likely to die in the pandemic than physicians were.

More than 100 journalists contributed to the project to record every death and memorialize those who died.
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Bollywood star hospitalized with Covid-19 as pandemic sweeps through industry
Indian actor Akshay Kumar has become the latest top Bollywood star to test positive for Covid-19, as India's second wave of coronavirus infections tears through its film industry.

Kumar, one of Bollywood's most profitable actors and the star of dozens of popular movies, tweeted Monday that he had been hospitalized "as a precautionary measure under medical advice."

He confirmed his positive results a day earlier, saying he had "immediately isolated" himself, asking those he had come into contact with to get tested.

He joins a number of Indian stars to have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks, with coronavirus infections mounting in the country.

Leading Bollywood director and Oscar-nominated producer Aamir Khan confirmed last month that he had contracted the virus, and actor Ranbir Kapoor has also tested positive.

... Other well-known names that have tested positive in recent weeks include the south Indian actor R Madhavan and Vicky Kaushal, whose work includes the Netflix films "Love per Square Foot" and "Lust Stories."

India's Hindi film industry, known as Bollywood, is located in the financial capital of Mumbai in western Maharashtra state, which has contributed to more than half of the new Covid cases reported in the country. The state has also enforced weekend lockdowns and night curfews.

India reported 96,982 new cases on Tuesday, taking the total case count above 12.6 million since the pandemic began, according to official figures.
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Customs officials have seized over 20 million counterfeit masks since the beginning of the year
Millions of counterfeit masks have been seized by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials since the start of the pandemic. But the last few months have seen an "exponential increase" in counterfeit mask seizures, a CBP official told CNN.

Since the start of the pandemic, CBP has seized more than 34 million counterfeit masks, most of them modeled to resemble N95 or KN95 masks. Around 20 million of those masks were caught in 2021, said John Leonard, acting executive assistant commissioner of the agency's Office of Trade.

"The mask is really the most visible symbol of this pandemic," Leonard told CNN. "[Counterfeiters] look into taking advantage of this situation."

The counterfeit masks resemble N95 respirators, considered the most effective mask in preventing coronavirus transmission, but don't offer the same level of protection, Leonard said. They might be missing some of the components that make N95 masks so effective, such as headbands to maintain a sealed fit.

... Counterfeit masks make up most of the seizures, but CBP officers have also seized around 180,000 unauthorized Covid-19 tests. Nearly 39,000 chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine tablets were seized, a measure the agency takes when drugs are imported into the US without FDA approval. CBP provided no details on these tablets.

If consumers don't know the products are ineffective, they could give users a "false sense of security," which could further coronavirus transmission, CBP said in a report.

Fake masks may have the following, according to the CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):
  • No NIOSH approval. NIOSH only certifies facepiece respirators like N95 masks if they filter at least 95% of particles. Without NIOSH approval, you can't be sure your mask is equally protective.
  • Ear loops. A true N95 mask has headbands instead of ear loops, which help the mask form a seal against your face.
  • Sequins or other appliques. Per NIOSH, altering an N95 mask in any way could make it less effective, and NIOSH doesn't approve a mask that's been changed or decorated.
  • Other tells: Look for typos in product descriptions or on packaging. Unbelievably low prices may be too good to be true. And if the seller says the mask is approved for children, it's not -- NIOSH doesn't approve N95 masks for kids.
The full list of NIOSH-approved N95 masks is available through the CDC.
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Online Scammers Have a New Offer for You: Vaccine Cards
Hundreds of sellers are offering false and stolen vaccine cards, as businesses and states weigh proof of vaccinations for getting people back to work and play.

On Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter, little rectangular slips of paper started showing up for sale in late January. Printed on card stock, they measured 3 by 4 inches and featured crisp black lettering. Sellers listed them for $20 to $60 each, with a discount on bundles of three or more. Laminated ones cost extra.

All were forgeries or falsified copies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards, which are given to people who have been inoculated against Covid-19 in the United States.

“We found hundreds of online stores selling the cards, potentially thousands were sold,” said Saoud Khalifah, the founder of Fakespot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The coronavirus has made opportunists out of many people, like those who hoarded bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic or those who cheated recipients out of their stimulus checks. Now online scammers have latched on to the latest profit-making initiative: the little white cards that provide proof of shots.

Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, Mr. Khalifah said. The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items.

Selling fake vaccination cards could break federal laws that forbid copying the C.D.C. logo, legal experts said. If the cards were stolen and filled out with false numbers and dates, they could also violate identity theft laws, they said.
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Intelligence forecast sees a post-coronavirus world upended by climate change and splintering societies
Every four years, the National Intelligence Council releases a “Global Trends” report, which offers a forecast for the next two decades. The most recent outlook is troubling: It states the pandemic is "the most significant, singular global disruption" since the Second World War and describes the coronavirus as a preview of crises to come. In its wake, climate change will be another significant and disruptive force, which will propel mass migration, the report notes.

... Their work is not all doomsaying. The forces shaping the world “are not fixed in perpetuity,” the authors say. Countries that exploit technology and planning, particularly those that plan ahead for the seemingly inevitable consequences of climate change, will be poised to best manage the crisis. And countries that harness artificial intelligence could boost productivity and expand their economies in ways that let government deliver more services, reduce debt and help cover the costs of caring for aging populations.

Ultimately, the societies that succeed will be those that can adapt to change, but also forge social consensus around what should be done, the authors write. In a splintering world, that may be the hardest scenario to imagine.
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Brazil’s Bolsonaro resists calls for lockdown as pandemic rages
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown to halt the out-of-control spread of coronavirus cases, even as the nation reached several grim milestones, including a record number of deaths.

“We’re not going to accept these policies of ‘stay home, close everything, lock down,’ ” he said on a visit to the southern city of Chapeco, Agence France-Presse reported.

“There’s not going to be a national lockdown,” said Bolsonaro, who fell ill with covid-19 last year. “Our army isn’t going into the streets to force the Brazilian people into their homes.”

The country’s public health institute, Fiocruz, had recommended stricter regulations to prevent the collapse of the health-care system. On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities said that nearly 4,200 people died due to covid-19 in a single day — the highest daily death toll there since the pandemic began.

The recent outbreak has been fueled by the more virulent P.1. variant first identified in the Amazonian city of Manaus. It has since spread across Brazil, driving waves of more severe illness, hospitalization and death, including among younger patients.

Now scientists there say that they have identified Brazil’s first case involving a similar, more transmissible variant discovered in South Africa. That discovery could portend an even worse phase of the pandemic.

Local officials in Brazil’s most-populous city, Sao Paulo, said Wednesday that they are adding 600 new graves to municipal cemeteries each day to grapple with the rising number of dead.
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Congrats on the vaccination. You still need to keep your mask up.
The science behind vaccination is simple. We develop immunity from antibodies both from infection of the virus, or vaccination from any of the available vaccines. Those antibodies, and certain cells in our immune system, allow our bodies to mount an immune response — a defense — when exposed to covid-19, preventing us from getting sick.

We know all the vaccines available to us in this country do a phenomenal job of protecting people against hospitalization and death. To varying degrees, the vaccines also protect us against getting infected in the first place. And early evidence shows that a vaccinated person is less likely to pass covid-19 to other people. It has been shown that vaccinated individuals who contract the virus have a lower viral load — the number of virus particles — than unvaccinated individuals. Previous studies have shown that a lower viral load equaled less infectiousness. This is promising because substantially reducing covid-19 infection can bring down disease levels, further suppressing transmissions in the United States.

But, there’s a caveat. Like most things in life, vaccines are not entirely foolproof. Immunity is neither guaranteed, nor likely to last forever.

Our bodies are imperfect learners: While the human body can and does build natural responses to protect itself against future covid-19 infections, reinfections can and do occur.

Vaccinations are ramping up at a critical time. Mutated covid-19 variants from Britain, South Africa, Brazil, California and other places are spreading fast and showing up in communities across the nation. These mutations are more contagious and potentially deadlier.

While data are still emerging, current research suggests that the vaccines are somewhat less effective against some of these variants. As of this writing, only 63 million people have been fully vaccinated in the United States — around 19 percent of the U.S. population. On the long road toward community immunity, we’ve only covered a fraction of the journey. We’re in no position to be cavalier or complacent.

... No matter where you live, then, this isn’t the time to ditch your masks, gather in large groups or drop your guard.
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Has the Era of Overzealous Cleaning Finally Come to an End?
This week, the C.D.C. acknowledged what scientists have been saying for months: The risk of catching the coronavirus from surfaces is low.

The end of “hygiene theater”

You can put away the disinfectant and stop wiping down your groceries.

This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on the dangers of coronavirus infection from touching a doorknob, a subway pole, or other surface. The risk is extremely low.

The announcement was an about-face from the early days of the pandemic when the C.D.C. warned that the virus could survive on surfaces for days, and potentially infect people who touched a contaminated surface and then touched their faces.

That early guidance ushered in an era of what The Atlantic described as “hygiene theater,” in which Americans obsessively scrubbed their homes, quarantined packages, and ransacked drugstores for Clorox wipes. Companies and schools closed regularly for deep cleanings, and New York City subway cars were disinfected every night.

We now know those elaborate steps did not provide much — if any — protection from the virus.

“There’s really no evidence that anyone has ever gotten Covid-19 by touching a contaminated surface,” said an expert on airborne viruses.

In the early days of the pandemic, many experts believed the virus was spread primarily though large respiratory droplets that could theoretically fall onto surfaces, and then be picked up by touch and then passed to mucous membranes in the nose and the eyes. But we’ve learned over the past year that the virus spreads almost entirely through the air.

Experts now say that while it’s theoretically possible to catch the virus from a surface, it requires something of a perfect storm: lots of recently deposited virus particles on a surface that are then quickly transferred to someone’s hand, and then to the face. The updated guidelines from the C.D.C. say that chemical disinfectants are not needed to keep surface transmission low — just hand-washing, mask wearing and, in most cases, cleaning surfaces with regular soap and water.
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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