COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Wearing Masks, Even After Getting Vaccinated
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that masks were no longer needed for fully vaccinated people in most indoor and outdoor situations, it was a welcome development for much of the pandemic-weary public.

But not for everyone.

Some fully vaccinated people — driven by a combination of anxiety and murky information about new virus variants — plan on continuing to wear masks for at least several more months. And they say they are now facing backlash for choosing to do so.

Masking has been a critical tool in slowing the spread of Covid-19, according to scientists. But it has also been the source of fierce cultural clashes.

Last year, protesters staged rallies against official requirements to wear masks and built pyres to burn them in protest. A map of states that have enforced mask mandates corresponds closely with how people in those states voted for president.
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They’re Vaccinated and Keeping Their Masks On, Maybe Forever
Face coverings have been a political flash point for more than a year. But now, the backlash is directed at people who don’t plan to take them off.

Whether made of bedazzled cloth or polypropylene, masks have emerged as a dystopian political flash point during the pandemic. A map of states that enforced mask mandates corresponds closely with how people in those states voted for president.

Last year, protesters staged rallies against official requirements to wear masks, built pyres to burn them in protest and touched off wild screaming matches when confronted about not wearing them inside supermarkets.

But as more Americans become vaccinated and virus restrictions loosen, masks are at the center of a second round in the country’s culture brawl. This time, people who choose to continue to cover their faces have become targets of public ire.

In interviews, vaccinated people who continue to wear masks said they are increasingly under pressure, especially in recent days; friends and family have urged them to relax, or even have suggested that they are paranoid.

“I’m confused,” the retired news anchor Dan Rather wrote on Twitter last week as backlash mounted on the platform to those still masked. “Why should people care if someone wants to wear a mask outside?”

... But for some people, no newfound freedom will persuade them to reveal their faces just yet. After a year, they say they have grown accustomed to the masks and glad for the extra safety they provide.

... Public health data shows that masking and social distancing have most likely had far-reaching positive impacts, beyond slowing the spread of Covid-19. While over 34,000 adults died from influenza in the 2018-19 season, this year deaths are on track to remain in the hundreds, according to C.D.C. data. Mask wearers say their seasonal allergy symptoms seem to be lessened.

... For a number of so-called perma-maskers, the decision is informed by trauma: They endured the coronavirus or witnessed loved ones die, and they say taking off their mask makes them feel terrifyingly vulnerable.

... A few say they’ve been surprised to find that they’ve grown to enjoy being hidden behind a mask, expressionless and anonymous.
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Biden Says U.S. Will Be an ‘Arsenal of Vaccines’ for the World

President Biden said on Monday the U.S. will send at least 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson and Johnson, and Moderna coronavirus vaccines overseas by the end of June to help fight the pandemic.

We need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home, and to do the right thing of helping other people. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the strong thing to do. In March, we shared over four million doses of our AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada and Mexico. At the end of April, we announced that we would provide another 60 million doses of our AstraZeneca vaccine overseas. Remember, this is the vaccine that’s not authorized for use in the United States yet. So we’re going to be sending it to folks once the F.D.A.’s reviewed this, and said it’s safe. This is all the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in the United States — all of it will be sent to other countries. And today I’m announcing they will also share U.S.-authorized vaccine doses of Pfizer and Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson, as they become available with the rest of the world as well. These are vaccinations and vaccines that are authorized to be put in arms of Americans and by the end of June, when we will have taken delivery of enough of such vaccines to protect everyone in the United States, the United States will share at least 20 million of those doses, that extra supply, with other countries. This means over the next six weeks, the United States of America will send 80 million doses overseas. Just as in World War II, America was the arsenal of democracy, in the battle against Covid-19 pandemic, our nation is going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world. We’ll share these vaccines in the service of ending the pandemic everywhere, and we will not use our vaccines to secure favors from other countries. We’ll work with Covax, the international organization set up, and other partners to ensure that the vaccines are delivered in a way that is equitable and follows the science and the public health data.
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The new mask guidance relies on an honor system. Do we trust each other enough to make it work?
Just more than 1 in 3 people in the United States are fully inoculated, leaving most of the population among those instructed to keep their face coverings securely over their noses when indoors. But with federal officials repeatedly rejecting the possibility of vaccine passports, enforcement relies on an honor system.

Asked Thursday how people will know if others had been vaccinated, Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said they wouldn’t.

“You’re gonna be depending on people being honest enough to say whether they are vaccinated or not,” he told CNN.

As a result, the public’s lack of confidence in each other foments “a sort of existential crisis,” said Richard Carpiano, a medical sociologist and public-health scientist at the University of California at Riverside. He said trust functions as a social glue to hold together society.

“If that’s undermined substantially in relation to a potential threat to the health of ourselves or loved ones or other people in our community,” he said, “it’s not a good situation.”
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ISPs are using the Emergency Broadband Benefit to push Americans onto new data plans
The government has a new program to help Americans pay their Internet bills. Unfortunately, companies like Verizon are twisting it into an opportunity for an upsell.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit, or EBB can cut $50 off monthly Internet bills and is available to tens of millions of Americans hit economically by the coronavirus pandemic. There’s $3.2 billion up for grabs, until the program ends when money runs out in the months ahead.

None of this should stop eligible Americans from trying to claim their broadband benefits — read this piece for my advice — but it’s important to call out some of the shenanigans.

Verizon elicited the most ire from readers. It requires customers to call a phone line to register for the EBB, rather than just signing up online. And when you do, Verizon tells some customers the EBB can’t be used on “old” data plans, so they’ll have to switch. That might be allowed by the letter of the law but certainly isn’t the spirit of the program.

Verizon spokesman Alex Lawson said the company makes it clear on its site that the EBB can be used on only “qualifying plans.” And those include only its newer Mix & Match plans.

... And unfortunately, Verizon isn’t the only ISP saying it won’t support older plans. AT&T, which also makes customers call to activate the EBB for home Internet, says existing customers will have to select from one of a handful of options, and the plan they select will become their plan after the EBB program ends. Charter says that “an extremely small percentage of customers” who have legacy Internet plans will have to switch to a Spectrum Internet plan as part of enrolling in the EBB.

One refreshing standout was Comcast, the nation’s largest ISP. “If a customer is on an old plan that’s not offered anymore, they are still eligible as long as they meet the qualification criteria for EBB,” spokesman Joel Shadle said.
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Taiwan raises coronavirus alert level as residents stockpile toilet paper and food
Taiwan limited gatherings and ordered entertainment businesses closed as it raised its coronavirus alert in the capital to the second highest level to contain a new surge in locally transmitted covid-19 cases.

Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said in a briefing on Saturday that Taipei and the surrounding city, New Taipei City, accounting for a total population of about 6.5 million people, was now placed under coronavirus alert level three, one stage short of a full lockdown.

Authorities on Saturday reported 180 new local infections, the largest single-day increase of community transmission since the pandemic began.

The measures, which will be in place for two weeks, limit indoor gatherings to five people and outdoor ones to 10 people. Residents, urged to avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings, must wear face masks at all times when outside of their homes.

Night clubs, bars, karaoke bars and other entertainment venues were ordered to shut while restaurants were required to register customers and implement social distancing. Businesses were encouraged to offer remote working and flexible hours. Schools would be closed to the public but classes were not suspended.

“The epidemic is gaining intensity,” Chen said, speaking to reporters. “Only by doing this can infections be dealt with and controlled.” The health minister said a full lockdown would be imposed only if an average of more than 100 new daily cases was reported for 14 consecutive days.

The mayor of Kaohsiung, Chen Chi-mai, said the southern port city on Saturday also implemented new rules requiring face masks and social distancing. Several universities in Taipei said they would move to online classes, while officials said night markets in the city of Taichung in central Taiwan would be closed.

The latest outbreak is a setback for Taiwan, which has for the last year been held up as a model for dealing with the outbreak. It has never had to impose lockdowns, with residents carrying on as usual in sharp contrast with much of the rest of the world. As of Saturday, Taiwan had reported 1,475 cases among its population of about 24 million people, with 12 deaths.

The surge in local cases also underlines the challenges facing countries where early successes over the outbreak led to slow vaccination roll outs as residents felt less urgency to get inoculated.

On Saturday, residents rushed to stores in Taipei, clearing shelves of toilet paper, instant noodles, canned food and rice — prompting authorities to limit purchases of daily necessities to only two of each product.

In a post on Facebook, Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs urged residents not to stockpile and to avoid crowding grocery stores. It said that authorities were working with manufacturers to make sure supplies were replenished.

Assuring residents that new stocks of toilet paper would soon be available, the ministry reminded the public that many had loaded up on such products last year at the beginning of the outbreak.

The ministry’s said: “Remember that last year many of you bought quite a lot [of toilet paper]. Check your home first to see if you have any.”
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Walmart drops mask requirements for vaccinated shoppers and employees
The retailer joins Costco and Trader Joe’s in easing restrictions after a shift in CDC guidelines.

Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, said it will stop requiring masks for fully vaccinated customers and employees, joining Costco and Trader Joe’s in easing store mandates after a contentious change in national guidelines.

The retailers’ decision comes a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks in most situations. Workers unions blasted the policy change, saying it creates confusion and puts store employees at increased risk of getting sick.

Walmart announced its policy change in a memo to employees Friday, but noted that its 5,300 U.S. stores will continue to abide by local and state mask mandates. Unvaccinated shoppers and employees should continue wearing masks, the company said, though it did not offer details on how it would confirm whether customers have been inoculated. It also encouraged all employees to get vaccinated, and said it would give $75 to those who did.

... But other major retailers, including Target, Home Depot, CVS and Harris Teeter, say they will continue to require masks in store as they review new CDC guidance and reevaluate store policies.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said the CDC’s revised guidelines conflict with some state and local orders, creating ambiguity for retailers and their employees.

“We urge all retail customers and guests to follow a store’s safety protocols including wearing a mask and social distancing,” Lisa LaBruno, a senior executive vice president for the trade group, said in a statement. “Frontline workers deserve this respect. Retailers encourage customers that do not want to wear a mask to shop online or via curbside pickup offerings.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, said the CDC’s guidance fails to consider the impact on essential workers “who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks.” More than 200 retail workers have died of the coronavirus, and thousands more have been infected, according to workers groups and media reports, though actual numbers are probably much higher.

“Vaccinations are helping us take control of this pandemic, but we must not let our guard down,” Marc Perrone, the union’s president, said in a statement. “Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”

Mask usage has become an increasingly heated issue during the pandemic, sometimes resulting in store workers being berated, even assaulted, by anti-maskers. Although most retailers have explicit rules requiring face coverings, employees say they are generally discouraged from enforcing those policies.
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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