COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
U.S. Issues More Than 115 'Do Not Travel' Advisories, Citing Risks From COVID-19
The U.S. State Department has vastly expanded its "Do Not Travel list," issuing new Level 4 advisories for more than 115 countries and territories this week. The agency cites "ongoing risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

The U.S. Do Not Travel list now includes Canada, Mexico, Germany and the U.K. A Level 3 warning is in place for a smaller group of nations, such as China, Australia and Iceland. Japan is also on the Level 3 list, despite a worrying rise in new coronavirus cases there.

Just a week ago, only 33 countries were on the U.S. Do Not Travel list, according to a cached version of the advisory site. But the State Department warned on Monday that the list would soon include roughly 80% of the world's countries.

More than 150 highest-level travel advisories are in effect — more closely reflecting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Department says.

The CDC's own travel health notices also use a four-tier warning system. For many countries newly added to the State Department's Level 4 list, the CDC cites "a very high level of COVID-19."

As of last week, Brazil and Russia were two of the only large COVID-19 global hotspots on the State Department's most serious warning list. They're now joined by India and virtually all of Europe — places that have seen alarming spikes in new cases.

Bhutan is the only international destination designated as Level 1 — "exercise normal precautions" — on the State Department's travel advisory list.

Sixteen countries are categorized as Level 2 — meaning travelers should exercise increased caution when visiting places such as Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Belize and Grenada.

Many of the new or updated Do Not Travel notices cite high levels of coronavirus transmission in the relevant country. But the State Department says it also takes other factors into account, from the availability of coronavirus testing to any travel restrictions the countries might have against U.S. citizens.

In roughly 35 countries or destinations, the CDC says, details about the level of COVID-19 risk are unknown. The health agency urges Americans to avoid traveling to those spots, which include Afghanistan, Nicaragua and the Solomon Islands.

Regardless of a particular country's advisory status, the State Department wants all U.S. citizens to reconsider any travel abroad.

"The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose unprecedented risks to travelers," the agency said.
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As At-Home Coronavirus Tests Hit Pharmacies, What Role Can They Play In The Pandemic?
As of this week, you can buy relatively low-priced COVID-19 rapid tests to take at home. The tests are available through pharmacies and do not require a prescription to buy one.

This bit of good news comes the same week that all people ages 16 and up in the U.S. are eligible to get a vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration authorized Abbott's BinaxNOW and Quidel's QuickVue at-home tests in late March. Both are antigen tests. The BinaxNOW test is currently available and Quidel says it expects to start shipping the QuickVue tests next week.

In some cases, antigen tests aren't as reliable as genetic PCR tests, which are often considered the "gold standard" of testing, but the antigen tests do provide rapid results and are helpful for those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

"They are very reliable, if the question that you're asking and the reason that you're taking the test is, am I infectious right now and a risk of transmitting the virus to other people?" says Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist who has advocated for at-home testing.

The BinaxNOW test retails for $24 for two tests. Mina says he hopes the price will decrease to roughly $1-3 per test as time goes on.

"Right now in the United States, there's no market competition, so I hope that more tests will be authorized to either drive down the prices or that the government could subsidize the price of these tests," says Mina. "Using a test like this is a public health good."
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UC And Cal State Systems To Require COVID-19 Vaccinations For In-Person Fall Classes
The California State University and University of California systems announced on Thursday that all 33 campuses will require students and staff returning for in-person instruction this fall to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The new directive will go into effect once the Food and Drug Administration gives "full approval" to a COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots currently going into people's arms only have an Emergency Use Authorization.

CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said the two higher education systems enroll and employ more than 1 million students and employees, and called the directive "the most comprehensive and consequential university plan for COVID-19 vaccines in the country."

"Receiving a vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19 is a key step people can take to protect themselves, their friends and family, and our campus communities while helping bring the pandemic to an end," said Dr. Michael Drake, president of the University of California, in the joint statement.

The university leaders said the timing of the announcement is intended to give students, faculty and other staff ample time to obtain vaccinations before the start of the fall term. Both UC and Cal State have said schools are preparing for mostly in-person instruction and activities this fall.

Students will be required to update immunization documents with their respective universities as they do with other infectious diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. Medical exemptions or approved exceptions will have to be cleared prior to campus arrival, according to the latest notice.

Universities across the country have been facing similar decisions as they plan to resume in-person instruction and vaccine availability has become more widespread. As of April 19, all states in the U.S. are offering vaccinations to people ages 16 and up.
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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