"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 4th Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
Countering the Stress and Loneliness of Covid-19
Stay-at-home orders, quarantining, and other public health measures have forced people indoors, leading to increases in loneliness and mental health issues. While the stress persists, it is important for people to maintain both their physical health and their mental health, says Jocelyn McDonnell, a therapist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. Even though it can be hard to work up the motivation, exercising and maintaining physical health can relieve anxiety. “With the uptick of anxiety and depression due to isolation, exercise is a proven way of decreasing both of these diseases,” says Kristen Neisler, clinical assistant faculty in exercise science at DePaul University. McDonnell says it is imperative for people to have a balance when following the news and pandemic developments in order to maintain their well-being and prevent extra anxiety and stress. She recommends that people set timers and be intentional about how much news they consume, as well as how much time they spend on social media.
The Detail: Covid-19 lockdowns make us lonely, but why does it matter?
It's Auckland's fourth time locking down because of Covid-19, but for many it's not just about being locked inside; it's being locked out of meaningful, face-to-face connections. Today The Detail's Jessie Chiang looks at the impact of loneliness for different communities and why it's such a big issue.
Teens' mental health claims skyrocket in pandemic
Mental health insurance claims for US teens roughly doubled early in the COVID-19 pandemic over the same period in 2019, according to a Fair Health report released yesterday. The white paper, the New York nonprofit's seventh in a series on the pandemic, is the result of analysis of more than 32 billion private healthcare claims filed on behalf of people aged 0 to 22 from January to November 2020 compared with those filed during the same period in 2019. The study found that mental health claims for patients aged 13 to 18 skyrocketed 97.0% in March and 103.5% in April 2020. In contrast, medical claims fell 53.3% in March and 53.4% in April.
Hygiene Helpers
Brazil's Covid outbreak is global threat that opens door to lethal variants – scientist
Duke University neuroscientist urges international community to challenge Brazilian government over its failure to contain - “The world must vehemently speak out over the risks Brazil is posing to the fight against the pandemic,” said Nicolelis, who has spent most of the last year confined to his flat on the west side of São Paulo. “What’s the point in sorting the pandemic out in Europe or the United States, if Brazil continues to be a breeding ground for this virus?”He said: “It’s that if you allow the virus to proliferate at the levels it is currently proliferating here, you open the door to the occurrence of new mutations and the appearance of even more lethal variants.” Already, one particularly worrying variant (P1) has been traced to Manaus, the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon, which suffered a devastating healthcare breakdown in January after a surge in infections. Six cases of that variant have so far been detected in the UK.
US coronavirus: CDC director urges people to keep masking and distancing 'regardless of what states decide'
The director of the US Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said she hopes people will decide to individually "do the right thing" about distancing and wearing masks, even in states moving to eliminate restrictions against the CDC's recommendations. "I think we at the CDC have been very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions," Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing. Walensky's comments come after governors of Texas and Mississippi said they were lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at full capacity, starting now or within days.
Vaccine passports: false dawn or golden ticket?
Vaccine passports are a classic case of possible good news accompanied by massive complications. These digital certificates promise a golden key to living a normal life again: but they risk distracting us from the greater need for vaccines in arms and responsible behavior from all. With so much money and power at stake, the world’s biggest brains — from IBM to airlines — are working on systems to allow the vaccinated class access to a wider range of venues and countries.
UK government may start offering financial rewards for becoming healthier
The government is expanding access to weight loss services and may start offering people financial rewards for maintaining a healthy lifestyle as part of the fight against obesity. The Department of Health and Social Care is giving the NHS and local councils in England £70m to pay for up to 700,000 overweight or obese people to go on weight management courses, such as those provided by Weight Watchers or Slimming World, or work with a personal coach to help them shed unwanted pounds. In addition, it has asked Sir Keith Mills, the creator of the Nectar and air miles reward schemes, to look into whether financial incentives would motivate people to eat better and exercise more.
Biden says 'big mistake' for states to lift mask mandates given virus toll
U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said decisions to end the required wearing of masks - such as those by governors of Texas and Mississippi - amounted to “Neanderthal thinking” given the rising death toll from the coronavirus pandemic. Asked if he had a message to Texas and Mississippi, Biden told reporters: “I think it’s a big mistake. Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference.” Biden said the increasing availability of vaccinations was making a difference in containing the pandemic, but it was critical to remain vigilant about wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. “The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it.’ It still matters,” Biden said before a brainstorming meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to address cancer.
Community Activities
CRISPR rivals put patents aside to help in fight against Covid-19
Coronavirus made the rivalry less cutthroat because patents were not a paramount concern. “The awesomely good thing about this terrible situation is that all the intellectual property questions have been put aside, and everyone’s really intent on just finding solutions,” said Chen. “People are focused on getting something out there that works, rather than on the business aspect of it.” The ultimate goal for both teams is to create CRISPR-based coronavirus tests that would be like a home pregnancy test: cheap, disposable, fast, and simple, something you could buy at the corner drugstore and use in the privacy of your home. Harrington and Chen of the Mammoth team unveiled their concept for such a device in May 2020 and announced a partnership with the London-based multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to manufacture it. It would provide accurate results in 20 minutes and require no special equipment.
US Catholic group tells followers to avoid Johnson & Johnson vaccine
An American Catholic church body on Tuesday urged its followers to avoid the coronavirus vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, alleging that it was “developed, tested and produced using abortion-derived cell lines.” The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) urged Catholics to choose between the alternatives offered by Pfizer and Moderna because the J&J vaccine raised questions about “moral permissibility.” “The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines,” said Bishop Kevin C Rhoades, chairman of USCCB. The body said the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are preferable “if one has the ability to choose a vaccine.”
Covid-19: Sprinter urges BAME groups to 'have conversation' about the jab
A British sprinter has urged black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities to "have the conversation" about the coronavirus vaccine. Eugene Amo-Dadzie, from east London, said he had overcome his concerns after discussing them with a family member. New research shows people from ethnic minorities have been less likely to want to get vaccinated and trust family members' views over the government. Amo-Dadzie said he had "responsibility" over his career and family. "Let's have the conversation, let's ask the questions, let's understand what our fears and hesitancies are, and then let's deal with those and move forward," he said.
Chinese groups in UK are being taught how to handle Covid hate crimes after brutal attack on lecturer
Community groups supporting Chinese and other East Asian communities in the UK are being trained to support victims of Covid-related racial attacks, after a Chinese lecturer was assaulted last week. Peng Wang, 37, was brutally attacked by four men while he was jogging near his home in Southampton last Tuesday. He sustained facial injuries and an injury to his elbow in the attack, which took place at around 4.15pm on Vosper Road, Southampton. The men drove past Mr Wang in a car and shouted abuse at him. When the University of Southampton lecturer shouted back to defend himself, they stopped the car and assaulted him. Police arrested a 23-year-old man from Southampton on suspicion of racially aggravated assault. He was released from custody but remains under investigation.
Working Remotely
How do successful remote teams communicate?
What’s the best way to communicate with your team when you’re not all in the same place? It’s a vexing question that Christoph Riedl and Anita Williams-Wolley, associate professors at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business respectively, have been researching for more than half a decade. Their research, summarised in the Harvard Business Review, reveals that the best virtual teams communicate with each other in short bursts. Rapid-fire interactions help to focus workers on the task at hand, while the preceding periods of extended radio silence enable them to think deeply and develop relevant ideas that they can then discuss in detail.
How To Build Team Culture Within Remote Or Hybrid Working Models
A new workplace blueprint is being created that merges working from the office and remote work. As the workforce leans towards this hybrid model, it is important for businesses to build an inclusive culture for remote workers into their plan. Virtual work has turned into lots of transactional interactions and is lacking the relational connections that can take place in an office space. Without being in the same room as co-workers it can be difficult to collaborate and build meaningful relationships that are helpful for team morale. More than 50% of executives say that company culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, firm value and growth rates. If you add lightness, fun and connection the work still gets done, but it doesn’t feel cumbersome and will enhance work outcomes.
Virtual Classrooms
How Virtual Learning Is Falling Short on Preparing Students for Future Careers
The shift to widespread virtual learning has made it clear that students need more help with certain skills that will likely be essential to the digital workplace of the future. For instance, more than 60 percent of educators thought students needed more help learning how to work independently, manage their time, and/or show self-motivation. More than half of educators said their students needed to get better at paying attention in a remote context. Also high on the list: communicating and collaborating in a virtual context.
Bill Would Allow Maryland Students To Enroll In Tuition-Free, Public Virtual School
As some Maryland students begin to head back to the classroom nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, some state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would give students the option to take part in a full-time online public school program.
In virtual classrooms, UW–Madison instructors find meaningful ways to connect with students
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many courses online last year, UW–Madison instructors have been investing great thought and effort into making their virtual classrooms engaging and inclusive. A campus project is now collecting some of those stories. The project provides a forum for instructors to share what has worked for them while spotlighting some of the hard work undertaken by faculty members during a challenging time. “While we look forward to the end of the global pandemic, it has forced us to rethink how we work with our students,” says Steve Cramer, vice provost for instructional continuity and academic affairs. “As difficult as this time has been for everyone, I truly believe most instructors will come out of this time as better and more effective teachers.”
CoSN2021: Tips to Support Students with Special Needs in Virtual Learning
Special-needs education has traditionally taken a predominantly student-to-teacher, face-to-face approach. But when K–12 schools switched to virtual formats last year, students with special needs had to rely more heavily on parents and teams to succeed. “Continuity of learning for students with disabilities and support for their families and teachers are critical,” said Christy Carucci, director of special education in Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit 5, to a CoSN2021 audience attending a session titled “Continuity Planning for Special Needs Students in a Virtual World.”
Public Policies
Report Covid vaccine could be made mandatory for some people
In Britain, the Government is reported to be looking at a plan to make the Covid vaccine mandatory for some people, according to reports. Ministers are looking into whether to force all healthcare staff to have the vaccine, according to the Daily Mail. The rule would apply to everyone from NHS staff to care home workers, the paper says. According to the Daily Mail, 200,000 NHS and care employees have refused the offer of a vaccine so far.
Mississippi, Texas lift COVID-19 restrictions despite warnings
Texas and Mississippi announced yesterday that they were ending mask mandates and opening indoor businesses after a year of restrictions because of COVID-19. "I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING. I also ended the statewide mask mandate," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted yesterday afternoon. Abbott said in a press conference he was not suggesting the threat of COVID-19 was over, but with the arrival of vaccines and a significant drop in cases, the state was ready to reopen beginning Mar 10. Abbott also said his state was vaccinating 1 million people per week, a rate that should comfort those doubtful about lifting restrictions.
Saudi Arabia says COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for Hajj 2021
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry says only people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to attend the Hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported. “The COVID-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the Hajj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come),” Monday’s report said, citing a circular signed by the health minister. Saudi Arabia takes pride in its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its smooth organisation of the annual Hajj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots. In 2020, the kingdom dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims allowed to attend Hajj to about 1,000 Saudi citizens and residents of the kingdom, in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.
Covid, the Brazilian variant is the second most prolific in Italy. What do we know so far
The Brazilian variant is now the second most prolific in ITaly. It could be 1.4-2.2 times more transmissible and able to evade the protective immunity brought on by a previous Covid infection, but the vaccine data wouldn't be as bad as the South African variant as the drop-off in antibody protection is not as severe
Sao Paulo shuts down as raging virus prompts Brazil Pfizer deal
The partial lockdown in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most-populous state, underscored mounting concerns about a surging new wave of infections. The country is facing its deadliest stretch since the pandemic began due to a homegrown variant dubbed P1, scarce restrictions to slow the virus and the patchy vaccine rollout. Brazil is setting single-day death records as outbreaks ebb in North America and parts of Western Europe. That risks internationally isolating Latin America’s biggest country as other nations seek to shore up their gains against the virus.
Maintaining Services
COVAX COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin In Africa
Health care and frontline workers in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana are the first to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with vaccine doses shipped by the COVAX Facility. In total, COVAX aims to deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, including at least 1.3 billion to the 92 countries eligible for support through the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment (AMC), the mechanism to provide donor-funded vaccines to lower-income countries, including Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.
Shortfall on Covid-19 vaccines to be made up in coming days – Taoiseach
The Taoiseach said the shortfall of Covid-19 vaccines last week will be made up in the coming days. The HSE missed its target of administering 100,000 doses of coronavirus. Figures published on Monday shows that 81,843 doses were administered last week, falling short of its 100,000 target. The HSE said it was told by AstraZeneca late last week that its deliveries were being deferred.
Kenya hails first vaccines as 'bazookas' against COVID-19
Kenya received over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, while Rwanda said it was the first in Africa to secure shots from Pfizer, as efforts to inoculate the world’s poorest nations accelerated. Kenya’s batch, which arrived on a Qatar Airways passenger flight, is the first of an initial allocation of 3.56 million doses by the global COVAX facility. “We have received ... machine guns, bazookas, and tanks to fight this war against COVID-19,” Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe exulted as the doses arrived at Nairobi’s main airport
UK to receive 10 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses from India's Serum Institute
The UK will receive 10 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the UK government said on Tuesday. Reuters reported in February that Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was auditing the manufacturing processes at SII to pave the way for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be shipped from there to the UK. The move is likely to stir concerns that wealthy Western countries are procuring vaccine doses at the expense of poor countries.
Blast strikes Dutch COVID-19 test centre; police call it an attack
A blast struck a coronavirus testing centre north of Amsterdam before sunrise on Wednesday, shattering windows but causing no injuries in what police called an intentional attack.
COVID-19: Police arrest 84 people as thousands of fake coronavirus vaccines seized in China and South Africa
Police have arrested 84 suspects and seized thousands of fake COVID-19 vaccines in raids in China and South Africa. It comes weeks after the head of Interpol warned that criminal networks would try to cash in on the global vaccination rollout. South African police seized 400 ampoules, providing 2,400 doses, of a fake vaccine in Germiston, Gauteng, along with a big supply of fake 3M brand masks. They arrested a Zambian national and three Chinese suspects.
Healthcare Innovations
Turkish study revises down Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine efficacy to 83.5%
The COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech has an efficacy of 83.5% based on final results of Phase III trials, Turkish researchers said on Wednesday, a downward revision from a preliminary finding of 91.25%. The final efficacy rate was based on 41 infections, 32 of which had received a placebo, said Murat Akova, head of the Phase III trials conducted in Turkey. The rate is based on participants who presented at least one symptom of COVID-19 along with a positive PCR test at least 14 days after the second dose of the vaccine, Akova said.
'When will it end?': How a changing virus is reshaping scientists’ views on COVID-19
Chris Murray, a University of Washington disease expert whose projections on COVID-19 infections and deaths are closely followed worldwide, is changing his assumptions about the course of the pandemic. A new consensus is emerging among scientists, according to Reuters interviews with 18 specialists who closely track the pandemic or are working to curb its impact. Many described how the breakthrough late last year of two vaccines with around 95% efficacy against COVID-19 had initially sparked hope that the virus could be largely contained, similar to the way measles has been. But, they say, data in recent weeks on new variants from South Africa and Brazil has undercut that optimism. They now believe that SARS-CoV-2 will not only remain with us as an endemic virus, continuing to circulate in communities, but will likely cause a significant burden of illness and death for years to come. As a result, the scientists said, people could expect to continue to take measures such as routine mask-wearing and avoiding crowded places during COVID-19 surges, especially for people at high risk.
South African scientists find antibodies from variant may offer cross-protection
The findings in laboratory studies offer hope that COVID-19 vaccines based on the 501Y.V2 variant first identified late last year could protect against multiple variants circulating in different parts of the world. The more contagious variant drove a second wave of infections in South Africa that peaked in January and is believed to have spread to many other countries in Africa and other continents. “We used plasma ... from people that were infected in this latest wave with the 501Y.V2 and we used it against the first-wave virus, ... what we found is that it could neutralise, OK not as well as it could neutralise itself but it’s not bad at all,” Alex Sigal from the Africa Health Research Institute told a news conference.
India's Bharat Biotech says Covid-19 vaccine shows 81% interim efficacy
India’s COVID-19 vaccine produced by Bharat Biotech has shown an interim vaccine efficacy of 81 percent in late-stage clinical trials, the company based in the southern city of Hyderabad said. The interim analysis was based on 43 recorded cases of COVID-19 in the trial of 25,800 participants, conducted in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) – India’s premier medical research body. Thirty-six of the 43 cases were recorded in participants who received a placebo, compared with seven cases in people who were given the Bharat Biotech vaccine, pointing to an efficacy rate of 80.6 per cent, the company said on Wednesday. India had approved the vaccine, branded COVAXIN, in January without late-stage efficacy data, raising questions about its effectiveness. But the move was hailed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a success in India’s push towards self-reliance.