COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Otters at Georgia Aquarium test positive for coronavirus
Asian Small-Clawed Otter
The aquarium announced on Sunday that it tested the otters after they showed "mild respiratory symptoms including sneezing, runny noses, mild lethargy, and coughing." The seven creatures are being cared for off-exhibit. Despite being geriatric, they are improving and expected to make a full recovery, the aquarium said.

... The aquarium suspects the otters got the infection from an asymptomatic staff member and it tested all staff that were in contact with them. These animals do not have direct contact with guests and have always been separated from them by acrylic barriers, the aquarium said.

... In December, three snow leopards tested positive for coronavirus at the Louisville Zoo. Thousands of mink died at fur farms in Utah and Wisconsin after a series of coronavirus outbreaks. A small number of cats and dogs also have tested positive throughout the pandemic.
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He raised over $40,000 on Facebook to feed hungry neighbors during the pandemic. Now he owes $16,000 in taxes.
When Louis Goffinet, a middle school science teacher in Connecticut, first started buying groceries for struggling families, he never expected to be handling tens of thousands of dollars.

Determined to help a few elderly or laid-off neighbors last April, he appealed to his Facebook friends to throw him a few bucks on an online fundraiser.

Much to his surprise, that effort quickly drew hundreds of donors from around the world. By July, Goffinet had raised more than $30,000, using the money to buy and deliver bags of food — as well as gas and rental assistance — for more than a hundred families in Mansfield Center, Conn.

The bad news came in January, in an envelope from the Internal Revenue Service: He owed about half that amount in taxes.

“I was so shocked,” Goffinet, 27, told the Hartford Courant. “It’s such a big amount. It’s not like I can say, ‘Oh, for the next month or two, I’ll dial down my expenses and I’ll save $16,000.’”

Unknown to him at the time, third-party transaction sites like Facebook Fundraisers are required to issue a 1099-K form to the IRS on any transactions that exceed $20,000. While those guidelines are posted on the social media giant’s donation platform, Goffinet said he never thought his volunteer grocery effort would get so big.

In fact, the endeavor was not really his idea to begin with. It started when an elderly neighbor was worried about the risk of heading to the supermarket, and Goffinet’s dad volunteered his son to go shopping.

That supermarket trip went so well that the 27-year-old decided to offer his help to others on their Connecticut town’s Facebook page. Given he was young, healthy and stuck at home teaching on Zoom, it was the least he could do.

... As Goffinet explained it, his use of a third-party fundraising system like Facebook’s platform meant any donations he received actually qualified as personal income, because he is not an accredited nonprofit organization. Likewise, any of his donations to needy families — through cash, check, or goods like groceries — were a legal gift, not a deductible expense.

His accountant, Dawn Brolin, told WVIT that while he can try to fight the IRS, the agency could disagree. Either way, “it will likely still result in some sort of a tax burden,” Goffinet told the Courant.

Goffinet, who is pursuing his master’s degree on a public school teacher’s salary, said a total in the thousands is untenable. So he has had to return to Facebook to ask his project’s backers — and other do-gooders online — to offset his tax payment.

“It’s so uncomfortable,” he told the Courant. “I had a similar discomfort when I set up the fundraiser. This is a pandemic. People are in a tough spot. It feels weird to be asking anyone for money. And now to be asking it purely for myself is so bizarre and really out of my comfort zone.”

This time, however, he’s steering clear of any online platforms. Goffinet said that he’s only accepting donations sent in the mail by check.
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This is the most dangerous moment to be unvaccinated
If covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is straightforward. We know that people who are fully vaccinated are greatly protected against infection and serious illness and are far less likely to transmit covid-19 to others. The vaccines truly are a miracle.

But here’s the bad news: Life has become even riskier for unvaccinated people, particularly those who have never had covid-19. (People with prior infections fall into a middle category, since they are at least partly protected but still require vaccination to increase the level and durability of immunity.)

The reasons that the unvaccinated are at higher risk are biological, behavioral and political.

Let’s start with the biological. The human body has not evolved to be any better at fighting the novel coronavirus, so unless our immune system is primed to fight the virus, our vulnerability remains unchanged. While treatments for covid-19 have improved somewhat since early 2020, the chances of hospitalization and death after a covid infection have not gone down much.

But while humans haven’t evolved, the virus surely has. The B.1.1.7 variant, first reported in Britain, is now the most prevalent form of the virus in the United States. This variant is far better at its job than the original coronavirus in two crucial ways: It’s about 50 percent more transmissible and, for someone who catches it, up to 60 percent more likely to be serious.

Then there’s the matter of human behavior: As more of the population is vaccinated, case rates, hospitalizations and deaths are likely to fall (although the current surges in Michigan and a few Northeast states — largely driven by infections in unvaccinated younger individuals — illustrate that improvement is not invariable). Seeing these numbers, unvaccinated people might well conclude that things have become safer and let down their guard.

... The problem is that the aggregate numbers — even if they show down-trending test positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths — may be masking an important duality. The situation may be getting enormously better in the growing vaccinated population, while at the same time growing somewhat worse in the unvaccinated group. Taken together, the overall curve shows moderate improvement. It would be like looking at a graph of lung cancer cases in a population whose rate of nonsmokers is growing. The overall curve looks good, but the risk to an individual smoker hasn’t budged. And if smokers saw the falling case rates, concluded that smoking had become safer and decided to add a pack a day, their risk would go up.

The inclination to act on sunny but partly misleading news will also influence political leaders. These officials are under tremendous pressure to open up their economies and may well see the overall improvements as reason enough to return to normalcy. Their optimistic messaging, along with the practical impact of opening settings such as bars, restaurants and gyms, will further promote virus exposure and cases in unprotected people.

... The solutions to the problem of heightened risk among unvaccinated people range from very difficult to extremely easy. Very difficult: Convince unvaccinated people that — notwithstanding the general optimism — they may, in fact, be at higher risk than before. Particularly if they’re planning to be vaccinated, now is the worst possible time to let down their guard. They should continue to wear their masks, keep their distance and avoid risky situations — even as they see their vaccinated brethren enjoying their newfound freedom. Equally challenging: Require proof of vaccination (so-called immunity passports) to access places that don’t require masks and social distancing.

Easy: Everyone gets vaccinated when their number comes up. Problem solved.
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‘I’m still a zero’: Vaccine-resistant Republicans warn that their skepticism is worsening
Johnson & Johnson pause appears to have little effect, but other messages continue to alienate GOP holdouts

Stop talking about the possibility of coronavirus booster shots. Don’t bully people who are vaccine holdouts. And if you’re trying to win over skeptics, show us anyone besides Dr. Fauci.

That’s what a focus group of vaccine-hesitant Trump voters urged politicians and pollsters during the weekend, as public health officials work to understand potential roadblocks in the campaign to inoculate Americans against the coronavirus. Among the most pressing questions are why so many GOP voters remain opposed to the shots and whether the recent decision to pause Johnson & Johnson vaccinations was a factor.

Although more than half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, more than 40 percent of Republicans have consistently told pollsters they’re not planning to be vaccinated — a group that could threaten efforts to tamp down the virus’s spread, public health officials fear.

Many vaccine-hesitant Americans are increasingly entrenched in their decisions to resist the shots, said Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP communications expert who convened Sunday’s focus group over Zoom.

“The further we go into the vaccination process, the more passionate the hesitancy is,” Luntz said after the session. “If you’ve refused to take the vaccine this long, it’s going to be hard to switch you.”

That was the case in the weekend’s focus group, the latest in a series Luntz has convened. It included 17 participants who heard pro-vaccine pitches from four doctors, including three Republican politicians and Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration.

Unlike a similar focus group five weeks ago, when most participants told Luntz and Frieden that the session persuaded them to get shots, attendees Sunday said they were swayed only moderately by doctors’ urging — or not moved at all.
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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