COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Former Italian PM Berlusconi hospitalised with Covid-related illness
Italy's former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been hospitalised with a covid-related illness, just weeks after being discharged.

Berlusconi was admitted to San Raffaele Hospital in Milan due to “consequences of Covid,” his “Forza Italia” party press office told CNN. Berlusconi is president of the party.

Berlusconi, 84, contracted the virus in September last year, and spent 24 days in the same hospital. He was discharged on April 30.

The party press office described his medical condition as “good,” but did not give further details.
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Your guide to avoiding Covid-19 at church and other religious services
Many churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship have continued to offer virtual or outdoor services. But if you do attend in-person services inside, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people still need to follow public health guidance.

So, it’s best to mask up, stay at least six feet away from people who don't live in your household, and avoid poorly ventilated spaces. Try to sit near an open window or door, or choose a service in which people tend to sing less. You can also ask your house of worship if it's regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces like pews, pens or offering plates -- and of course, you can BYOS (bring your own sanitizer) too.

Houses of worship can also use stationary collection boxes for offerings instead of passing a basket, or accept contributions online. If food is offered at or after services, choose pre-packaged foods instead of buffet or potluck meals, if possible.
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Covid-19 testing is a financial windfall for hospitals and other providers
Hospitals are charging up to $650 for a simple, molecular covid test that costs $50 or less to run, according to Medicare claims analyzed for KHN by Hospital Pricing Specialists (HPS). Charges by large health systems range from $20 to $1,419 per test, a new national survey by KFF shows. And some free-standing emergency rooms are charging more than $1,000 per test.

Authorities were saying "get tested, no one's going to be charged, and it turns out that's not true," said Valfer, a professor of visual arts who lives in Pasadena, California. "Now on the back end it's being passed onto the consumer" through high charges to insurers, she said. The insurance company passes on its higher costs to consumers in higher premiums.

As the pandemic enters its second year, no procedure has been more frequent than tests for the virus causing it. Gargantuan volume — 400 million tests and counting, for one type — combined with loose rules on prices have made the service a bonanza for hospitals and clinics, new data shows.

Lab companies have been booking record profits by charging $100 per test. Even in-network prices negotiated and paid by insurance companies often run much more than that and, according to one measure, have been rising on average in recent months.

Insurers and other payers "have no bargaining power in this game" because there is no price cap in some situations, said Ge Bai, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has studied test economics. When charges run far beyond the cost of the tests "it's predatory," she said. "It's price gouging."
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The government wants to pay your Internet bill for a few months. Here’s what you need to do.
A surprising number of Americans can get $50 each month from the new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit. That includes tens of millions who lost work during the pandemic.

Washington wants to pick up the tab for tens of millions of Americans’ Internet connections. That may include yours.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit, or EBB, was launched Wednesday to help a surprisingly wide range of people hit economically by the coronavirus pandemic. It can pay $50 every month toward the cost of your Internet service, and it is available to all families who lost some income in the last year and earn less than $198,000, among others. With $3.2 billion up for grabs, the EBB is the largest federal program to help with Internet bills in the three decades Americans have been going online.

But there’s a catch. You can get the EBB discount on your home Internet or cellphone bill only if you sign up. I’ll show you how. Just know it may require some patience: So many people are applying, the government’s website to prove you’re eligible for the EBB went down for some people on Wednesday morning.

The program reflects one clear lesson from covid-19: An Internet connection has become just as important to American life as electricity and water. Watching many people struggle to go to school, consult the doctor or work online during the pandemic helped Congress realize that the high price of broadband is a root cause of America’s digital divide. Okay, maybe it took Congress a few too many months to realize that — but better late than never. Lawmakers authorized the EBB in December as part of a $2 trillion coronavirus aid package. Now the Federal Communications Commission finally has the program up and running in every state and territory with more than 875 Internet service providers, or ISPs.

For many, the EBB discount may make going online totally free. The money goes straight to your ISP, which will deduct it from your bill every month until six months after the pandemic is officially over — or, more likely, until the program runs out of money. That’s one good reason to sign up as soon as possible.

But before you can get the EBB, you have to prove you’re eligible. The good news: Many, many Americans are eligible for a range of reasons — so many, that not even the FCC has been able to figure out exactly how many people the EBB could affect or how long the money will last.

I went through the application process with some of the country’s largest Internet providers. For most people, signing up is a two-part process of proving your eligibility to the government, and then telling your ISP that you want the discount. It involves uploading (or physically mailing) some paperwork, but the FCC says the process shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
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Experts Call for Sweeping Reforms to Prevent the Next Pandemic
Swift mask mandates and travel restrictions, an international treaty and the creation of new bureaucracies are among the recommendations presented to the W.H.O.

The next time the world faces an outbreak of a fast-spreading and deadly new pathogen, governments must act swiftly and be ready to restrict travel or mandate masks even before anyone knows the extent of the threat, according to a pair of new reports delivered to the World Health Organization.

The studies are intended to address missteps over the past year that led to more than 3.25 million deaths, some $10 trillion in economic losses and more than 100 million people pushed into extreme poverty.

“Current institutions, public and private, failed to protect people from a devastating pandemic,” concluded one of the reports, released on Wednesday, which called the Covid-19 pandemic “the 21st century’s Chernobyl moment.”

“Without change,” it said, these institutions “will not prevent a future one.”

The reviews, released in advance of this month’s meeting of the W.H.O.’s governing assembly, were written by appointees who donated countless hours in the midst of their own countries’ pandemic fights to interview hundreds of experts, comb through thousands of documents, gather data and seek counsel from public and private institutions around the world.

Pandemics, the authors concluded, are an existential threat on the order of a chemical or nuclear weapon, and preparing for them must be the responsibility of the highest levels of political leadership rather than only health departments, often among the least powerful of government agencies.

... Both reports supported the creation of an international pandemic treaty that would establish consequences if countries failed to live up to their commitments. Those might include quickly sharing samples and sequences of emerging pathogens, providing rapid access to teams deployed by the W.H.O. for early investigation and response, and ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines, medicine and tests around the world.

... Her group contends that if its recommendations on political leadership, financing and surveillance systems had been in place, the coronavirus outbreak would not have become a pandemic. It also said that digital tools, such as those that scrape social media for rumors of new outbreaks, should be better incorporated into official responses.

... The worst performing countries had underfunded, fragmented health systems and “uncoordinated approaches that devalued science.” Those with the highest death tolls, including Brazil and the United States, denied the seriousness of the pandemic and discouraged action, the panel members said in interviews.
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Scientists warn U.S. lawmakers about the continued threat of coronavirus variants.
Coronavirus variants will pose a continuing threat to the United States, with the potential to spread quickly and blunt the effectiveness of vaccines, scientists told a House panel on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that the tools we use to detect, treat, and forecast the virus are keeping up with emerging variants,” said Rep. Bill Foster, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the House subcommittee that heard the scientists’ testimony.

Last month, the White House announced almost $2 billion in funding for tracking coronavirus variants. The plan calls for large-scale sequencing of virus genomes, as well as research to understand how mutations alter the biology of viruses.

The funding is needed urgently, said Salim S. Abdool Karim, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “Over the coming months, we can reasonably expect new variants to emerge that are able to escape vaccine-induced immunity, because the virus is being put under pressure from wide-scale vaccination,” he said.

The world is not doing enough to track such variants, said Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. “These global and national genomic surveillance gaps severely limit our ability to detect new and emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, and should be considered as a threat to U.S. public health,” he said.

In addition to sequencing more genomes, scientists said that they needed ways to share their data quickly. That data should include more than just mutations carried by viruses, according to Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Dr. Rivers said that scientists also needed a way to learn about the health of people after they get infected with variants.

“We must be able to observe how the variant behaves in individuals and populations,” Dr. Rivers said.
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Donations to India Get Blocked by Modi's Tough New Rules
International donors are raising millions, but the Modi administration has erected hurdles for overseas organizations and guided money toward officially endorsed groups. Bake sales on Instagram. Online fund-raisers involving Hollywood celebrities. Pledges of aid from companies like Mastercard and Google. A middle-of-the-night flight by a FedEx cargo plane transporting thousands of oxygen concentrators and masks.

India’s devastating surge in Covid-19 cases has galvanized corporations, nonprofit organizations and individuals in the United States into raising millions of dollars and sending medical supplies to the nation of 1.4 billion.

But a sweeping change to India’s decades-old law governing foreign donations is choking off foreign aid just when the country needs it desperately. The amendment, passed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September with little warning, limits international charities that donate to local nonprofits.

The effect is far reaching. Almost overnight, the amendment gutted a reliable source of funding for tens of thousands of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, that were already stretched thin by the pandemic. It prompted international charities to cut back giving that supported local efforts — and supplemented the government’s work — in fields such as health, education and gender.

The amended law has forced newly formed charities to rush to find NGOs that can accept their donations without tripping legal wires. And it has smothered nonprofits in red tape: To receive foreign funds, charities must get affidavits and notary stamps and open bank accounts with the State Bank of India, which is government-owned.
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For Some Anti-Vaccine Advocates, Misinformation Is Part Of A Business
Health experts worry that the misinformation being spread is doing real damage. Without sufficient vaccination, communities could see a resurgence of the virus, particularly in the coming fall and winter months.

... As people have searched online for information on the virus and vaccines, Ji and others have upped their rhetoric, while continuing to promote their books, workshops and other products. Research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate shows it can work, as 147 key anti-vaccination accounts have managed to grow their followings by at least 25% since the start of the pandemic.

... "One of the things that antivaxxers have to do to sell their own remedies ... is to persuade people not to trust authorities they've trusted in the past," Ahmed says.

By using their debunked theories to turn people away from mainstream medicine, these entrepreneurs are creating customers: "Once they've managed to hook someone, they can then sell to them for a lifetime."
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South Carolina Governor Bans Mask Mandates
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a coronavirus mandate Tuesday preventing schools and local governments from creating mask mandates. His order also bans the use of so-called vaccine passports in the state.

Under the 15-page executive order, parents — not public school officials or school districts — will decide whether students wear masks in class.

... McMaster ordered the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, in consultation with state's Department of Education, to develop and distribute a standardized form parents and legal guardians may sign to opt their child out of mask requirements.

County or other local governments in South Carolina are also explicitly prohibited from relying on earlier public health orders or using a state of emergency to require masks.

... Despite the downward trend in confirmed cases, public health officials have cautioned against reopening and ditching face coverings too soon.

National trends show the patients being hospitalized with COVID-19 now are overwhelmingly young and middle-aged adults.

Masks have repeatedly been shown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends people wear them, even if they've been vaccinated.
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Citizens Work To Expose COVID's Real Toll In Nicaragua As Leaders Claim Success
COVID-19 is ravaging Latin America, but one country, Nicaragua, insists it's tackling the pandemic better than any of its neighbors.

There's just one problem: Doctors and critics of the government say Nicaragua's numbers are fake.

They accuse the Central American country's longtime president, Daniel Ortega, of hiding the pandemic's real toll, and are struggling to get the real numbers and data out to the public.

That's a difficult feat as much of broadcast and print media in Nicaragua is controlled by the government and members of Ortega's family. News reports are filled with Ortega's supposed successes at battling the coronavirus and bringing vaccines to the impoverished country.

... But contrary to the narrative playing out in state media, Ortega has long downplayed the coronavirus. From the beginning, he has denounced lockdowns and mask mandates. His wife, Rosario Murillo, who is also vice president, encouraged large gatherings. Early in the pandemic, health care workers said they were even barred from wearing protective gear, so as not to alarm the public.
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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