"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 5th Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
COVID-19 pandemic has increased loneliness and other social issues, especially for women
Social distancing guidelines have reduced the spread of COVID-19, but lockdowns and isolation also have created or aggravated other well-being concerns, reports new research. Mayo Clinic investigators found a significant increase in loneliness and a decrease in feelings of friendship during the pandemic. The study, published Feb. 20 in the journal Social Science & Medicine, also showed disproportionate negative effects among women and those with poorer health. "A conscious effort should be made to make meaningful social connection with others," says Jon Ebbert, M.D., a Mayo Clinic internal medicine physician and senior author of the study. "During times of social strain and stress, it is important to not only be helpful to one another, but also be present."
More than 90% of students ‘struggling with loneliness and stress in pandemic’
More than 90% of students say they are struggling with loneliness, stress and feeling disconnected, a Sinn Fein survey has found. The Student Wellbeing Survey found that four out of five students say their college experience is negatively impacting their mental health in the pandemic. More than 90% reported feeling increasingly lonely, while some 93% of students have found it difficult to stay connected with friends. The survey of 600 students reveals how many are struggling to receive an education while living and studying in “inappropriate environments”.
Hygiene Helpers
Biden’s announcement moves teachers up in the vaccine line. Will it make a difference?
In school systems where classrooms remain shuttered, or where children may only attend school once or twice a week, President Biden hopes his move to press states into prioritizing teachers for coronavirus vaccination will help them move toward normalcy. But his announcement Tuesday — and his pledge to make vaccination available to all educators and day-care workers by the end of March — was met with mixed emotions. Union leaders, who had lobbied hard for the move, applauded the action. But critics charged it comes far too late in the school year to make much of a difference for schoolchildren.
British Airways prepares for travel restart with testing kit plan
British Airways has struck a deal with a COVID-19 testing kit provider as airlines prepare for the desperately-needed restart of summer travel, which is likely to include tests for passengers. After months of lockdown, airlines hope Britain will give the go-ahead from mid-May for holidays to restart, boosting an industry whose finances have been slammed by the pandemic. But it is not yet clear how mass foreign travel will resume. The government will provide more information on April 12.
Alabama extends mask mandate as other US states lift restrictions
Alabama’s governor said on Thursday she was extending the state’s mask mandate for another month, heeding the advice of health experts and breaking with decisions by neighbouring Mississippi and Texas earlier this week to lift their requirements. Alabama’s mandate, due to expire on Friday, will remain in effect until April 9, but no longer than that, Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, said. “After that, it’ll be personal responsibility,” Ivey said at a briefing. “Even when we lift the mask order,” she added, “I will continue to wear my mask while I’m around others and strongly urge my fellow citizens to use common sense and do the same,” Ivey said.
Community Activities
California to give 40% of vaccine to Latino, high-risk areas
California will begin sending 40% of all vaccine doses to the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the state to try to inoculate people most at risk from the coronavirus and get the state’s economy open more quickly, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday in the latest shake-up to the state’s rules. The doses will be spread among 400 ZIP codes where there are about 8 million people eligible for shots, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary. Many of the neighborhoods are in Los Angeles County and the central valley, which have had among the highest rates of infection.
An Uncertain Public — Encouraging Acceptance of Covid-19 Vaccines | NEJM
Having explored multiple polls, we believe that there is great potential for public willingness to receive Covid-19 vaccines but that effective public education and outreach are needed to maximize the proportion of the population that will do so quickly. We also believe that clinical physicians, rather than pharmaceutical companies, political leaders, or even medical scientists, should be at the fore of education and outreach strategies. Featuring clinicians in messaging is particularly important given that many people will not see their own physician when making vaccination decisions: current vaccine policy and cold-chain logistics mean that people will largely be attending mass-vaccination clinics. To reach communities that are less trusting of vaccine efforts, outreach should be led by, or should meaningfully incorporate, physicians reflecting the diversity of the relevant communities.
COVID-19: 'Light at the end of the tunnel' as pubs and bars announce outdoor area reopening plans
Wetherspoons will open patios, beer gardens and rooftop gardens at 394 of its pubs in England from 12 April as COVID-19 restrictions ease, the pub chain has announced. Revolution Bars, another chain, said it would reopen 20 venues from April as its boss said "the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter".The announcement comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended a business rates holiday and VAT cut for the hospitality sector in the budget, as well as extending the furlough scheme.
Croydon organisation works to dispel Covid-19 vaccine myths in BAME communities
Croydon BME Forum is joining forces with local organisations in a bid to inform the black community about the Covid-19 vaccines following the recent low uptake. A recent study by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that 21 per cent of black people over the age of 80, who are currently eligible to have the vaccine, have been vaccinated compared to 43 per cent of their white counterparts.Croydon BME Forum is partnering with South West London CCG and the Asian Resource Centre to deliver an outreach programme aimed at those from BAME communities to inform and answer questions. Upcoming plans include interactive Zoom events, smaller community sessions held online and video interviews with health experts.
'Vaccine hunters': Online community helps people find COVID vaccine appointments
Since it launched on Feb. 1, the vaccine hunters Facebook group has grown to more than 20,000 members and now helps people across Minnesota find and sign up for appointments each day. Members share tips about when vaccine appointments open online, photos of themselves or their parents getting vaccines and stories of what they went through to get COVID-19 shots. The administrators also update a separate website several times a day. Winnie Williams, a freelance software developer, manages the vaccine hunter website and helps individuals book appointments from her home in Woodbury, Minn.
Working Remotely
Why we should be allowed to request remote working from day one
Although the pandemic has normalised remote working, UK workers still face challenges when it comes to requesting flexible working. At present, the law states that employees can only request to work flexibly after 26 weeks of employment, with a limit of one request per 12-months. In particular, research suggests those in lower paid, more manual occupations often don't have access to the same flexible working opportunities as those in higher paid, managerial professions. “While many have hailed the pandemic as a driver for the adoption of flexible working practices, particularly around home working, the reality for many is that this is not the case,” says Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
Five Ways Companies Can Help Mothers Struggling With Remote Work
In the early months of the pandemic, employees seemed pleased with the way their companies handled the nearly instantaneous pivot to remote work. But now that we’re reaching the one-year anniversary of that pivot, it’s becoming apparent that parents, particularly mothers, are struggling. For parents working remotely, there’s a big difference between having the kids at school or underfoot all day. Eventually, kids will go back to school, but employees will remember how their companies responded to their needs during this relatively brief time
Virtual Classrooms
West Lothian schools have made huge strides in quality of remote learning
Councillors and teaching officials have praised the “huge strides” forward in the quality of remote learning delivered by schools across West Lothian during the latest lockdown. In older primary age children what had most impressed was the way that the age group had positively engaged with remote learning. The only downside had been from the children who prefer to learn in school environments. At secondary level that feeling of wanting to be with the peer group was also reflected in responses frompupils as was the need for access to practical lessons in senior subjects.
As schools reopen, Asian American students are missing from classrooms
As school buildings start to reopen, Asian and Asian American families are choosing to keep their children learning from home at disproportionately high rates. They say they are worried about elderly parents in cramped, multigenerational households, distrustful of promised safety measures and afraid their children will face racist harassment at school. On the flip side, some are pleased with online learning and see no reason to risk the health of their family.
1 in 3 N.J. students could need ‘strong support’ after virtual learning, state data says
An optional exam that about 90,000 New Jersey students participated in this fall suggests that roughly 1 in 3 may need “strong support” academically after spending months away from the classroom. It’s only one test with a small sample size — about 10% of the students who typically participate in state exams — but the results of the state’s “Start Strong” assessments offer the first official state data on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected student learning.
Living and Learning in a Virtual World
We’ve come a long way in recent years with the introduction of various online learning platforms and more diversified course content. We’re truly living in a virtual world and this has become even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing is currently the norm and it has infiltrated all aspects of our lives, including the way we learn. The delivery of virtual learning has been put to the test as we navigate the demands of educating students outside of the walls of the classroom. The results of this experiment have yet to be revealed and there are many unanswered questions still hanging in the balance.
Professors need to make their virtual classes more inclusive
As we progress through another semester of virtual learning, it’s vital that college professors create an equitable learning environment. An equitable classroom is perhaps one of the most important components of online learning and can be defined simply as giving the students what they need to succeed in a particular course. However, what each student needs varies based on their lives. There is no way for a professor to know what a student needs unless they ask. Student surveys are a great way for professors to gain the information about the obstacles their students face that’s necessary for making their virtual classroom more equitable.
Public Policies
Japan to extend Tokyo area state of emergency to March 21
The Japanese government plans to extend a state of emergency to combat COVID-19 for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures until March 21, two weeks longer than originally scheduled, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday. Under the state of emergency, the government has requested restaurants and bars close by 8 p.m. and stop serving alcohol an hour earlier. People are also asked to stay home after 8 p.m. unless they have essential reasons to go out. Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, which make up 30% of the country’s population, sought the extension past the originally scheduled end date of March 7 as new coronavirus cases had not fallen enough to meet targets. The government had an early-morning meeting with advisers and they approved the extension, Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s coronavirus response, told reporters.
Covid: Germany approves AstraZeneca vaccine for over-65s
Germany's vaccine commission has approved the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab in people aged over 65. The country previously approved it for under-65s only, citing insufficient data on its effects on older people. That led to public scepticism about its effectiveness, with some Germans spurning it and leaving many doses unused. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recent studies had now provided enough data to approve it for all ages. Announcing the commission's decision on Thursday, Health Minister Jens Spahn said the move was "good news for older people who are waiting for an injection".
European Regulator Begins Review of Russia's Sputnik V Coronavirus Vaccine
The European Medicines Agency has started its rolling review of Sputnik V, the coronavirus vaccine developed by Russia. The agency said on Thursday that its decision to begin the review process is "based on results from laboratory studies and clinical studies in adults." The studies indicate that Sputnik V triggers the production of antibodies and immune cells that target the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and protects people against the virus.
Germany's Merkel set to agree to cautious easing of COVID-19 lockdown
Chancellor Angela Merkel and German state leaders have agreed a phased easing of coronavirus curbs along with an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers spike again. With elections looming, Merkel and the regional leaders have faced growing pressure to set out plans to restore normal activities after four months of lockdown. However, daily cases are creeping up again and only around 5% of the population have received a first vaccine shot.
Italy, EU block AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia
A shipment of a quarter-million AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia has been blocked from leaving the European Union in the first use of an export control system instituted by the bloc to make sure big pharma companies would respect their contracts. Italy’s order blocking the dispatch of 250,000 doses was accepted by the European Commission, which has fiercely criticised the Anglo-Swedish company this year for supplying just a fraction of the vaccine doses it had promised to deliver to the bloc.
Hungary toughens COVID-19 lockdown to curb 'very strong' third wave
Hungary announced new COVID-19 lockdown measures on Thursday to try to curb a “very strong” third wave of the pandemic, closing most shops and shifting to remote learning in primary schools. With new cases hitting a three-month daily high of 6,278 on Thursday, mainly because of the spreading coronavirus variant first found in Britain, Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces a growing political challenge. Orban, who faces an election battle early next year, had kept shops and industries open to try to limit the economic effects of the pandemic, which caused a 5% recession last year. “The third wave (of the pandemic) is strong, very strong and worse than the second wave had been,” Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s chief of staff, told reporters.
Buenos Aires reopens as virus surge forces Sao Paulo to shut
Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires were a tale of two cities this week, with Brazil’s megalopolis partially shutting down and bracing for possibly the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while residents of Argentina’s capital were stepping out to movie theaters and restaurants. The two biggest cities in the South American neighbors are headed in opposite directions, a trend that experts say demonstrates how places that loosen restrictions against the advice of scientists see a spike in the pandemic while those that keep social distancing measures in place can reopen their economies sooner.
Indonesia courts controversy with private COVID vaccine scheme
The Indonesian government has approved a controversial new scheme that will allow cashed-up private companies in the developing Southeast Asian nation to pay to independently inoculate their staff from COVID-19 and avoid the long wait for public vaccination. The country is aiming to vaccinate 181.5 million out of the 270 million population by 2021. But since the public rollout began on January 13, only one million people have been fully vaccinated with two doses, according to Our World in Data, an online resource tracking global COVID-19 vaccination releases. Nearly 2.7 million have had their first jab.
Maintaining Services
1 year of COVID-19: A doctor's perspective Medical News Today
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. As we approach the 1-year mark, Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Leo Gurney, who works at Birmingham Women’s hospital in the United Kingdom, about his experience during the pandemic.
First great apes at U.S. zoo receive COVID-19 vaccine made for animals
Orangutans and bonobos at the San Diego Zoo have received a coronavirus vaccine, Nat Geo has learned, after some zoo gorillas tested positive in January.
States navigate COVID-19 vaccine distribution
From California to New York, states are grappling with how best to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable residents as quickly as possible. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered three mass vaccination sites to operate 24 hours per day, according to the New York Times. The state has 164,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to distribute this week. That vaccine will be distributed at the three 24-hour sites, which are located at Yankee Stadium, the Javits Center in Manhattan, and at the New York State Fairground in Syracuse until supplies are exhausted.
CureVac, Novartis team up in latest pandemic vaccine manufacturing collaboration
CureVac has already attracted two Big Pharma partners for its COVID-19 vaccine work, and now Novartis is getting involved. Tübingen, Germany-based CureVac and Novartis have signed an initial manufacturing agreement that’s expected to boost the mRNA biotech’s overall vaccine capacity by 50 million doses in 2021 and 200 million doses in 2022. The partners are prepping for technology transfers and test runs, and deliveries from Novartis’ site in Kundl, Austria, are expected to start this summer. Under the deal, Novartis is expected to produce mRNA and bulk drug product for the vaccine. Novartis “is a pioneer and has decades of experience in pharmaceutical production of proteins and in more recent years of nucleic acids,” global head of technical operations Steffen Lang said in a statement. The company is building its mRNA capacity at its facility in Kundl to meet growing demand, he added.
Healthcare Innovations
Emergent BioSolutions Capable Of Manufacturing 1B COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Annually, CEO Says
Emergent BioSolutions Inc has built the capacity to produce vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson around the clock, said CEO Bob Kramer on CNBC. “We are operating at a level where our capacity is well in excess of 1 billion doses annually for those products.” said the CEO. The company bagged a five-year deal with JNJ to produce its COVID-19 vaccine, valued at about $480 million for the first two years. It also entered into a multi-year contract production pact for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. The three-year contract is valued at $174 million through 2021.
COVID-19: UK to fast-track modified coronavirus vaccines designed to combat new variants
Coronavirus vaccines that have been tweaked to deal with new variants of the disease will be fast-tracked for authorisation, the UK regulator has said. According to new guidance, manufacturers must provide robust evidence that the modified jab triggers an immune response, but lengthier clinical studies that don't offer data on safety or effectiveness won't be required. The new guidance has come from Access Consortium - a group made up of regulatory bodies from the UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland.
More bad news for Covid-19 sufferers: Almost HALF of patients experience painful swollen salivary glands after infection, study warns
From a high fever to a loss of sense of smell, Covid-19 is associated with a range of unpleasant symptoms. Now, a new study has warned that infection with the coronavirus can also lead to swollen salivary glands in the mouth. Researchers studied 122 Covid-19 patients in Italy who caught the virus and were admitted hospital between July 23 and September 7, 2020. Follow-up appointments over three months found more than eight out of ten patients had some form of facial or mouth issue as a result of the infection.
COVID-19: 5 blood proteins predict critical illness and death
A study suggests that among people hospitalized for COVID-19, blood levels of five proteins are higher in those who will go on to require critical care. These proteins are associated with a type of immune cell that may promote excessive inflammation and blood clotting in the lungs. Some of the same proteins are at elevated levels in people with obesity. If further studies confirm the findings, the discovery could lead to new tests and treatments for severe COVID-19.