COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
A growing number of US colleges and universities are requiring students to get Covid-19 vaccinations
A growing number of US colleges have said all students must be fully vaccinated before returning to campus, in a move likely to anger some state governors.

At least 14 colleges have said vaccination will be required so far, according to a CNN tally, and that number is expected to grow.

In late March Rutgers University became one of the first institutions to declare that having all students vaccinated will allow for an "expedited return to pre-pandemic normal."

Cornell, Brown, Notre Dame, Northeastern, Syracuse, Ithaca and Fort Lewis have made similar announcements, though all will make exceptions for medical or religious reasons. Cornell has also created an online registration tool so students and staff can register their vaccination status.

... The White House has made clear that it will not create a federal "vaccine passport" or require shots for travelers or businesses. But President Joe Biden’s administration does expect the private sector to create such documents. For many college students returning to campus, proof of inoculation may be the quickest way back to university life.
Read the full article:

Japanese doctors perform world's first living donor lung transplant to a Covid-19 patient
A Japanese woman whose lungs were severely damaged by Covid-19 has received what doctors say is the world's first lung transplant from living donors to a recovered coronavirus patient.

A 30-strong medical team operated on the woman for 11 hours Wednesday to transplant lung tissue from her husband and son, according to Kyoto University Hospital.

The virus can cause severe lung damage in some patients, and people around the world -- including the US -- have received lung transplants as part of their recovery. But the Kyoto hospital said this case was the first in which lung tissue was transplanted from living donors to a patient.

The woman, who is from Japan's western region of Kansai, contracted Covid-19 late last year, and spent months on a life support machine that worked as an artificial lung. She remains in intensive care and her husband and son are both in a stable condition.
Read the full article:

More than half of rural residents have received a Covid-19 vaccine or plan to, but hesitancy remains high, analysis finds
More than half of rural residents in the US have received a Covid-19 vaccine or plan to, but one in five still say they will definitely not get vaccinated, according to an analysis released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Friday.

KFF researchers surveyed 1,001 adults living in rural America and reported that 54% said they have received a Covid-19 vaccine or plan to.

"There’s nothing inherently unique about living in a rural area that makes people balk at getting vaccinated," KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement.

"It’s just that rural areas have a larger share of people in the most vaccine-resistant groups: Republicans and White Evangelical Christians."

The report suggests that access to vaccines is not the major problem for rural communities but researchers did note a gap in access among Black rural residents.

Black respondents were less likely than their White or Hispanic counterparts to report adequate supply of vaccine doses or vaccine sites in their communities.
Read the full article:

Ford launches PSA to combat vaccine misinformation
Over the last eight months the company has donated masks to communities with limited access to PPE. In conjunction with the Ford Fund, the company's philanthropic arm, they have provided masks to nonprofits, Ford dealers, schools, state and local officials, and first responders in all 50 states.

"We're so grateful for all of our philanthropic partners and the hundreds of Ford dealers nationwide who helped us in this incredible effort, but we're not stopping there," said Mary Culler, President of the Ford Fund. "We are proud to be partnering with leading organizations on a PSA to help raise awareness about the facts regarding the Covid vaccine.

The new PSA showcases 11 leaders from top nonprofit organizations like NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, Hispanic Federation President Frankie Miranda, and Walid Gammouh, Director of the Arab American and Chaldean Council. The PSA, called #VaxWithFacts, aims to combat the spread of vaccine misinformation in multicultural communities as part of Ford's 'finish strong initiative' in the battle against COVID-19, the company said Wednesday. The PSA is in both English and Spanish.

Since the pandemic began, Ford (F), in partnership with the United Auto Workers union, produced 22.5 million face shields, 50,000 ventilators, 32,000 respirators. The company says it is also donating up to 20,000 air filtration kits to underserved communities.
Read the full article:

Backlash after mayors marked homes with Covid-19 warning signs in Venezuela
In a video posted on his official Instagram account on Tuesday, Mayor Luis Adrian Duque of Guama, a small village in the central Venezuelan state of Yaracuy, announced the measure as part of the town lockdown policy.

"We are protecting our people, [this sign] indicates a positive case or a potential case, so that people are aware," Duque says in the video, pointing to a red prohibition sign placed on the window of a local house.

People caught removing the Covid-19 signs on their homes would be fined 10 million bolivars, a sum out of reach for many in Venezuela, where the minimum monthly salary is less than a US dollar. Those who were not able to pay the fine would be required to serve days of "voluntary" community services, Duque said.

A photo posted by mayor's office in the neighboring city of San Felipe also showed local officers standing next to a similar "quarantine" sign. The photo, which touted Mayor Rogger Daza's campaign against the coronavirus, has since been removed from social media.

Some users on social media commended Mayor Duque for taking a strong stance against the pandemic, which has piled stress on a health sector already damaged by seven years of economic crisis.

... But criticism of the strategy was also fierce. Local Venezuelan NGO "Access to Justice" condemned the signs as harmful to the dignity of the patients, and a civil rights group in Yaracuy has called for a virtual protest on social media, since public gatherings are banned in Venezuela under lockdown rules.

Miguelangel Delgado, 33, of San Felipe, deplored the signs as a way of instilling fear. "People are afraid, there's a lot of rejection towards this way of dealing with the pandemic, but there's also a lot of fear to be singled out."

Henry Narvae, 23, a local resident, told CNN the practice that such extreme containment measures were distraction from an actual lack of health services. "The only solution the authorities put in place is to limit the citizens without providing any assistance," he said.

"Here in Guama, the Mayor has taken to mark houses and terrify the population with the military, which reminds me of the Nazis, while the town only has one ambulance to move patients," he added.
Read the full article:

Trump officials celebrated efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus, emails show
Political appointees also tried to blunt scientific findings they deemed unfavorable to Trump, according to new documents from House probe.

Trump-appointed officials in the Department of Health and Human Services celebrated when they changed or blocked reports authored by federal scientists, as seen in emails released from a congressional investigation. Those officials pushed language that downplayed certain scientific findings they considered unfavorable to the president, such as adding a caveat to viral spread observed among people under 21. They also planned op-eds timed to blunt reports on deaths and transmission.
Read the full article:

CDC data shows increase in U.S. cases due to more contagious P.1 variant
A variant first identified in Brazil, known as P.1, accounts for at least 434 infections in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on the rising variants in the country on Thursday. Among the variants of concern, the B.1.1.7 variant first found in Britain is dominant, but P.1 has risen to the second most-identified by genomic surveillance and tracked by the CDC.

The largest number of cases have been found in Massachusetts, where an outbreak first emerged in Cape Cod, a popular beach destination that is also home to a sizable community of Brazilian immigrants. More than 100 infections in Massachusetts were identified as the P.1. variant.

The variant has also been spotted in Illinois (93 cases), Florida (87 cases) and California (39 cases), among other states.

Read the full article:

Inside the U.S. government’s new $30 million effort to combat pandemic profiteering
Scammers are going after the billions in stimulus payments. The FTC says it’s going after the scammers.

Fraud is on the rise, as thieves prey on a population made more vulnerable by the virus. U.S. consumers reported losing $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020, almost double the losses in 2019. Fraudsters are targeting stimulus payments, and they have hatched schemes involving the Paycheck Protection Program. To stop this, the Federal Trade Commission received $30.4 million in the latest pandemic aid package.
Read the full article:

Essential, invisible: Covid has 200,000 merchant sailors stuck at sea
Global trade depends on maritime workers, but the pandemic has thrust them into ‘humanitarian and economic crisis’

The work is risky, demanding and essential — 90 percent of the world’s goods are transported by water — and merchant mariners typically work in months-on, months-off rotations to guard against burnout and the pervasive dangers of life at sea. But in March 2020, a global pandemic gave rise to new and unprecedented pressures: Shipping ports and airports closed. Cargo carriers prohibited shore leave for their crews.

And Mossman was faced with a simple fact: If one person became infected, the virus would spread greedily and easily in the close confines of the ship.

No lessons from Captain Ahab, his 38 years of seafaring or those of his forebears — a line of “able-bodied seamen” dating to 1757 — prepared Mossman for what came next: His crew was trapped aboard, with no certainty on when they could go home.

Mossman was forced to tell his mariners they had to keep working, a conversation that was replicated by captains and ship operators around the world. The U.S. Navy instituted a “gangways up” order that prevented military and civilian sailors alike from leaving their ships. Ports in even the most avidly seafaring nations refused to allow mariners ashore.

Roughly 400,000 seafarers were stranded on ships around the globe at the peak of the “crew-change crisis” in late 2020, according to the International Maritime Organization; now, about 200,000 are stuck. Some have been at sea for as long as 20 months, though 11 months is the maximum time allowed by the IMO. The situation threatens to grow more dire in the coming months, industry experts say, as mariners desperately try to access to coronavirus vaccines, their situation complicated by a web of complex logistics and workplaces often situated thousands of miles offshore.

World leaders have called the crew-change crisis a humanitarian emergency. It is also a cautionary tale about essential but oft-ignored global supply chains. Industry officials told The Washington Post there’s been an increase in severe injuries and mental health concerns — including suicide at sea — as mariners have yearned to leave their ships and return home.
Read the full article:

Australia made a plan to protect Indigenous elders from covid-19. It worked.
From Alaska to the Amazon, Indigenous people are more likely to get sick with or die of covid-19, as the pandemic magnifies deep-rooted health and socioeconomic inequities.

That is not the case in Australia.

Not only have Indigenous Australians recorded far fewer infections per capita than their global counterparts, they are six times less likely than the wider Australian population to contract the coronavirus, government data shows.

There have been no cases in remote communities, and not a single Aboriginal elder has died. Of the 149 cases involving Indigenous people since the start of the pandemic nationwide, few were serious enough to require hospitalization. By contrast, covid-19 is killing Native Americans at a faster rate than any other group in the United States.

Health experts say Australia’s pandemic experience offers a potential model for Indigenous health care — after a history of discrimination and neglect that typically led to poor health outcomes.

The vaccine rollout is also proceeding more smoothly in many Indigenous communities than elsewhere in Australia, where some clinics are complaining of empty vaccine fridges. Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders are being prioritized for vaccinations because of their higher risk of developing serious illness if infected.

On the first day of the vaccine rollout in Sydney, one Aboriginal clinic booked all of its appointments in an hour, according to Aboriginal health officials. In the remote Australian-controlled islands of the Torres Strait — near Papua New Guinea, which is battling an outbreak — over 80 percent of adults have been vaccinated, officials said.

“This is a most amazing response to the pandemic from a community that is so marginalized,” said Fiona Stanley, an Australian epidemiologist specializing in public health. “This is probably the best evidence we have that if you put Aboriginal people in charge, then you get better outcomes.”
Read the full article:

A new key to covid success: Not states but societies
A few months after covid-19 burst onto the world stage, it seemed clear why some countries were doing well and others poorly. Places that had strong, effective governments — China, Taiwan, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Germany — suffered few deaths from the virus. Places with weak leadership and bureaucracies that were dysfunctional — the United States, Britain, Italy, Chile, Brazil — did poorly.

But now, one year into the pandemic, the situation is somewhat more complicated. Many European countries that had gotten the virus under control have now seen sharp spikes in cases. Some countries that were pummeled by the virus have done very well with vaccinations. How to make sense of these new facts?

It remains true that the single strongest ingredient to successfully handling the pandemic has been strong and effective governmental institutions, particularly in the public health domain. But it turns out, that’s not enough. In addition to the state, we have to look at society.

Michele Gelfand, a cultural psychologist at the University of Maryland, has long argued that a key distinction among countries is whether they have “tight” or “loose” cultures. Tight cultures like China tend to be highly respectful of rules and norms; loose ones like the United States tend to defy and break them. In a January 2021 paper in the Lancet Planetary Health, she and several colleagues studied 57 countries and concluded that loose countries had five times the rate of covid cases and nine times the rate of covid deaths as tight countries.

Gelfand points out that this distinction between rule-observant societies vs. rule-breaking ones was first observed by Herodotus and has been noted by many anthropologists and scholars over the centuries. But she has tried to study the phenomenon systematically and determine the consequences of these cultural traits. In March 2020, as the pandemic was growing, she presciently warned that loose cultures were likely to have a hard time unless they managed to “tighten up.”

The numbers speak for themselves. When looking at cumulative deaths per million among large countries, loose cultures such as Britain, the United States, Brazil and Mexico have been some of the worst performers. Tight cultures such as those in East Asia — China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam — have all maintained very low rates of covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Gelfand wisely does not claim that these cultural differences are rooted in some innate differences between East and West but rather are a rational product of historical realities. Societies that have faced chronic threats — war, invasion, famine, plagues — tend to develop tight cultures in which following rules becomes a mode of survival. Think of Taiwan, constantly under the threat of Chinese military intervention, vs. the United States, sheltered by two vast oceans and two benign neighbors. Places that have been secure and prosperous for a long time tend to become more lax about observing norms.

... The vaccine rollout highlights another dimension of this phenomenon. Some of the loosest countries, which fared poorly in managing the pandemic through measures such as social distancing — the United States, Britain, Israel, Chile — were the most innovative and dynamic at developing, procuring and distributing the vaccine. The very traits that made it hard to follow social distancing rules were ones that helped generate the solution to the problem — and now they are benefitting from that creativity, risk-taking and rule-breaking.

Gelfand told me that this is not a case of one trait being better than the other. “Whether you are a country, a company or even a family, sometimes you want to be tight, sometimes loose. The key is, do you know how to move from one side of the spectrum to the other.” She points out that New Zealand, generally considered a loose country, tightened up when confronting covid. Greece, under the leadership of an extremely able prime minister, did the same. “The goal should be,” she said, “to be ambidextrous — tight or loose, depending on the problem we face.”
Read the full article:

Yosemite National Park will limit the number of visitors this summer.
Reservations will be required for day visitors to Yosemite National Park beginning next month, the park said on Thursday, a system that officials hope will reduce the risk of Covid-19 exposure as the demand for domestic travel increases around the United States.

Yosemite, in central California, has seen more than four million annual visitors in recent years, with people drawn to its giant sequoia groves, wilderness and waterfalls. Last year, that number was cut nearly in half, according to the National Park Service.

Day-use reservations will be required for all visitors this year, including annual and lifetime pass holders, the park said in a news release. Reservations will be valid for three days and will be required from May 21 through Sept. 30, or until local public health conditions improve.

“The health and safety of park visitors, employees and partners continues to be our number one priority,” the park said. It added that it would continue to work with local public health officials to ensure that visitation would not overwhelm the region’s “limited rural health care system.”

Yosemite National Park also instituted a reservation system last summer, and this summer similar programs have been announced by Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Glacier National Park in Montana.
Read the full article:

Michigan’s Governor Urges Caution as Virus Cases Surge

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan called on residents of the state to exercise caution and practice upholding social distancing measures as coronavirus cases across the state spread.

Anyone who looks at a Covid map knows Michigan is unquestionably a national hotspot, right now. My team and I have been in regular conversation with the national Covid response team, and we have asked for more vaccines. But as we take a hard look at the data and observe the spread of the variants, we all need to go above and beyond the rules we already have in place. We all have to step up our game for the next two weeks to bring down rising cases. And that’s why I’m calling on high schools to voluntarily go remote for two weeks past spring break. Calling on youth sports to voluntarily suspend games and practices for two weeks. And I’m strongly encouraging all Michiganders to avoid dining indoors and avoid gathering with friends indoors for two weeks. This is my ask to you, the people of Michigan. Please redouble your efforts on these fronts for the next couple of weeks. I know Michiganders are concerned about the latest rise in cases, and I am too. We’ve come so far, we’ve sacrificed so much. This has changed every aspect of our lives for over a year. We can’t let up now, not when we’re so close.
Read the full article:

India Covid-19 Crisis Deepened by Missteps and Complacency
When the coronavirus first struck India last year, the country enforced one of the world’s strictest national lockdowns. The warning was clear: A fast spread in a population of 1.3 billion would be devastating.

Though damaging and ultimately flawed, the lockdown and other efforts appeared to work. Infections dropped and deaths remained low. Officials and the public dropped their guard. Experts warned fruitlessly that the government’s haphazard approach would bring a crisis when a new wave appeared.

Now the crisis is here.

India on Friday reported a daily record of 131,878 new infections as Covid-19 races out of control. Deaths, while still relatively low, are rising. Vaccinations, a mammoth task in such a large nation, are dangerously behind schedule. Hospital beds are running short.

Parts of the country are reinforcing lockdowns. Scientists are rushing to track new strains, including the more hazardous variants found in Britain and South Africa, that may be hastening the spread. But the authorities have declared contact tracing in some places to be simply impossible.

Complacency and government missteps have helped turned India from a seeming success story into one of the world’s worst-hit places, experts say. And epidemiologists warn that continuing failure in India would have global implications.

But politicians in India, still stinging from the pain of the last national lockdown, have mostly avoided major restrictions and have even returned to holding big election rallies, sending mixed messages to the public. India’s vaccine rollout was late and riddled with setbacks, despite the country’s status as a major pharmaceutical manufacturer.

The sheer number of infections during the first wave led some to believe the worst was over. India’s youthful population, less susceptible to symptoms and death, created misperceptions about how damaging another outbreak could be.

What India needs now, epidemiologists and experts say, is concerted and consistent leadership to contain infections and buy time to make vaccinations more widely available and faster.
Read the full article:

Woman Who Coughed on Pier 1 Shopper Is Sentenced to 30 Days
A Florida woman who was seen in a widely watched video intentionally coughing on a shopper at a Pier 1 home-goods store last summer, as fears about the pandemic raged, was sentenced on Thursday to 30 days in jail, court records show.

The woman, Debra Hunter, 53, had been charged with misdemeanor assault in June after she walked up and coughed on the shopper, Heather Sprague, who had been recording video of Ms. Hunter’s dispute with employees at the store, in Jacksonville.

Ms. Sprague said in court that she had started recording Ms. Hunter after watching her berate store employees for 15 minutes in an argument over an item that Ms. Hunter wanted to return.

Ms. Sprague said she had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor 10 months earlier and was still undergoing treatment when Ms. Hunter saw that she was recording and made an obscene gesture.

“I think I’ll get real close to you and cough on you, then, how’s that?” Ms. Hunter says in the video as she approaches the cellphone and then coughs. Ms. Sprague, who said she was wearing a mask at the time, testified that Ms. Hunter had left spittle on her face.

“The defendant’s act of coughing in my face at the height of a pandemic was an act that was calculated to attack me at my weakest point, physically and psychologically,” Ms. Sprague told Judge James A. Ruth of Duval County Court, according to a recording of an online sentencing hearing that was posted by First Coast News. “I was stunned in the moment and increasingly fearful in the aftermath.”

After the encounter, Ms. Sprague said, she struggled to find a Covid test, as diagnostics were not widely available at the time, and ultimately tested negative.

... In addition to 30 days in jail, Ms. Hunter was sentenced to six months of probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Judge Ruth also ordered her to take an anger-management class and to undergo a mental-health evaluation and participate in follow-up treatment, if appropriate.
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