"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 26th Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
Focus - Covid-19 pandemic leaves lasting toll on mental health in France
Successive lockdowns, social distancing and travel bans have sparked a global mental health crisis, with global rates of anxiety and depression soaring in recent months. To mark one year since France entered its first Covid-19 lockdown, our reporters visited psychiatric wards in the centre of the country to get a better understanding of the impact of the pandemic on citizens' mental health.
‘Shielding isn’t the right word – the Government isolated us’: Covid shielders reflect on a year of quarantine
This week marks a year since health authorities began contacting 1.3 million people across England considered clinically extremely vulnerable and told them to shield from Covid-19. The guidelines, advising those affected to stay at home, were originally expected to last no longer than 12 weeks. Instead, increasing numbers of people were included under the guidelines, reaching around 2.2 million by the time shielding advice ended in August last year. But when England went back into lockdown in January millions of people were told to shield again. Some hadn’t ever stopped over fears of contracting the virus, and in February the sheilding criteria was changed causing a further 1.7 million people to be added to the list.
The High Cost Of Loneliness: The Other Price Older Adults Are Paying For Covid-19
For months, families and operators of long-term care facilities have been telling me about the indirect toll the covid-19 pandemic has taken on residents. Not on those who have sickened or died from the virus, but on those whose quality of life has been severely harmed by the social isolation it caused. Now, we are beginning to learn more about the devastating consequences for seniors who may have been spared by the virus but suffered nonetheless. An important new study by the research firm Mathematica for the Connecticut Dept of Public Health finds that during the early months of the pandemic, nursing home residents were significantly more likely to become depressed, lose substantial amounts of weight, suffer incontinence, and lose cognitive function. And most striking, these conditions occurred at high rates even among those residents who did not contract the virus.
Hygiene Helpers
Thousands of ambassadors help VDH get COVID-19 information to community members
Whether you’re wearing a mask or keeping your distancing from others, a lot of small actions have a big impact in the fight against coronavirus. That’s why the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is looking for people to take small steps to share important COVID-19 information in their community. They created the COVID Community Ambassador Program in January with the goal of having citizens share accurate information with the people they’re already talking to. “Whether it be their neighbors, their family, their book club, their religious facility; whatever their network is — whether it’s two people or 2,000, it’s the idea that they could share with each other,” explained Virginia Department of Health Public Information Officer Brookie Crawford.
Vaccination race enlists grassroots aides to fight mistrust
His last job was selling cars, but in his new gig, working to turn the tide against a pandemic, Herman Simmons knows not to be too pushy or overbearing. He’s one of more than 50 outreach workers a Chicago hospital has enlisted to promote vaccination against COVID-19 in hard-hit Black and brown neighborhoods. Their job is approaching strangers at laundromats, grocery stores and churches, handing out educational material and making vaccination appointments for those who are willing. “I see myself as my brother’s keeper. I don’t try to force them. I’m persistent,” he said.
Covid-19 vaccine: Trust 'key' to care home staff jab take-up
"Respectful conversations" and building trust will be key to convincing care home workers who have refused to have a Covid-19 jab, a health chief has said. About 10% of Middlesbrough care staff had turned down the offer, councillors at a health security panel were told. Mark Adams, director of public health for South Tees, said they were working to increase the coverage. Myth-busting sessions have been held between staff and GPs to debunk misconceptions and ease concerns. Mr Adams told the panel that refusals tended to be seen among younger people in the workforce who were concerned about their fertility on the back of disinformation, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
Community Activities
Teens organize free virtual tutoring programs to aid kids with remote learning amid pandemic
Many children in the U.S. have spent more than a year attending school virtually, raising significant concerns about a growing inequality gap. For the "CBS This Morning" series A More Perfect Union, Jan Crawford introduces high school students around the country who are on a mission to bridge that divide by teaching what they've learned to younger students.
Dodford farm in fundraising drive to help children post-Covid
A children's farm which supports disadvantaged children with mental and physical health difficulties is trying to raise funds to enable it to continue its services post-Covid. Dodford Children's Farm, in Dodford, Worcestershire is seeking funding so that it can get children out into the countryside and be active, thus supporting their mental health and wellbeing, to kick-start their recovery after the pandemic. This will involve supporting children, many of them being from inner-cities, in a Covid-safe environment, outside in bubbles.The project will involve refocusing the Children's farm and re-engaging with the local community after the lockdown, and developing a team of local supporters and funders to build a community within Dodford and Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, to help in achieving its goals.
Covid-19: Bristol BS3 group offers 'amazing' lockdown support
In Bristol, a Covid-19 community support group has helped 700 people since it was set up during the first national lockdown. BS3 Covid Response offers support, shopping and prescription collections, and phone call chat services. The group based in Bedminster and Southville was set up in March 2020 using social media and messaging services to co-ordinate help. Since its creation, it has grown to include 5,500 members and 1,000 registered volunteers. Analytics manager Becky Lewis-Jones, 39, has coordinated a 20-strong core team from her home in Southville, despite shielding due to asthma. "The community really has come together in so many ways and many connections and friendships have been forged through this," she said.
Working Remotely
Over half of London firms to continue remote working when Covid pandemic ends
Half of London businesses will support some form of remote working when the coronavirus crisis ends, new research suggests. A survey of 500 business leaders in the capital showed that one in two plans to continue offering remote working to staff, while a third expect to cut down on office space. London Chamber of Commerce said its study revealed that almost two-thirds of employers have allowed staff to work from home at least two days a week as a result of the pandemic. Just over half of respondents said they will continue remote working in some form each week when the pandemic is over.
COVID-19 impact: Work from home more appealing than return to 'business as usual,' Harvard survey shows
Despite potentially longer hours, most Americans enjoy working remotely and want the option to keep doing so after the pandemic, according to a new Harvard Business School Online survey. As COVID-19 forced companies to let employees work remotely and presented new challenges such as readjusting their home life and fighting Zoom fatigue from numerous virtual meetings, most of the 1,500 people surveyed say they excelled and even grew in their professions. But the survey also showed that while most employees miss their colleagues and other aspects of office life, they don't want to go back to "business as usual" because they want more flexibility doing their jobs
Virtual Classrooms
Ontario government considers making virtual learning permanent
Two of Ontario’s teachers’ unions say the provincial government is considering making virtual learning a permanent fixture of the post-pandemic world. The minister of education didn’t rule out the option and says no decisions will be made without first consulting with all stakeholders.
Wrexham school's virtual reading sessions help students' progress and wellbeing
Students at Ysgol Bryn Alyn, in Gwersyllt have not let the pandemic stand in the way of their reading progress, by taking part in virtual one-to-one reading sessions with dedicated reading coaches during lockdown. Each day, participating students meet with their coaches for 20 minutes to read the sometimes gruesome and often funny, Kay's Anatomy - a non-fiction science book by Adam Kay. Deputy headteacher Alison Kipping is delighted with the impact of the sessions. She said: "Encouraging reading of all our students is a key to developing successful learners. Maintaining provision at home for our vulnerable learners is part of our innovative online learning provision at Ysgol Bryn Alyn, which is ensuring students are receiving high quality provision at home that matches our in-school provision
COVID-19 remote learning is an opportunity to adopt active learning in STEM
Research published in Cell suggests online teaching presents an opportunity to develop and integrate new active learning approaches in STEM. The research team, led by Dr Stefano Sandrone and Dr Gregory Scott from Imperial College with colleagues from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, advocate a global adoption of active learning in STEM education. Integrating active learning tools into teaching practice has the potential to transform long-term educational practice in-person and online as well as improving standards of educational delivery.
Public Policies
Denmark prolongs suspension of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Danish officials decided Thursday to prolong their suspension of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by three weeks while they continue evaluating a potential link with blood clots even though European Union regulators who looked into the issue have cleared the vaccine for use. Denmark's decision “was made on the basis of presumed side effects,” Tanja Erichsen of the Danish Medicines Agency said during a news conference. ”It can’t be ruled out that there is a connection between the vaccine and the very rare blood clot cases,” she said.
India blocks vaccine exports in blow to dozens of nations
India, one of the world’s biggest vaccine producers, has imposed a de facto ban on jab exports as it seeks to prioritise local vaccinations amid an accelerating second wave of coronavirus infections. The Serum Institute of India, the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world and the biggest supplier to the international Covax programme, has been told to halt exports and that the measures could last as long as two to three months, according to two people familiar with the situation. Gavi, the UN-backed international vaccine alliance, immediately warned that the controls would have a direct impact on the Covax scheme, set up with the World Health Organization to ensure the equitable global distribution of at least 2bn Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021.
WHO urges equitable COVID-19 vaccine access to widen reach in Africa
Africa urgently needs more COVID-19 vaccine supplies as deliveries begin to slow down and initial batches are nearly exhausted in some countries. The continent has so far administered 7.7 million vaccine doses mainly to high-risk population groups. Forty-four African countries have received vaccines through the COVAX Facility or through donations and bilateral agreements, and 32 of them have begun vaccinations. While the COVAX deliveries have enabled many African countries to roll out vaccinations, a critical proportion of the population targeted in the initial phase of the vaccination campaign may remain unvaccinated for months to come due to global supply chain constraints. In 10 African countries, vaccines have not yet arrived.
South Sudan receives first batch of COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX Facility
Today 132,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine arrived at the Juba International Airport. This is the first of several vaccine shipments scheduled to arrive over the coming months to South Sudan through the support of the COVAX Facility. The COVAX Facility is a global partnership comprised of Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and WHO established to ensure all countries can equitably access COVID-19 vaccines. The first COVAX supported shipment of vaccines will target health care workers as well as persons aged 65 years and older, given their increased risk of severe disease and death due to a potential COVID-19 infection.
India Locks Down Some Towns as Coronavirus Cases Hit Five-Month High
Authorities ordered people indoors in some towns in western India as the number of new coronavirus infections hit 53,476 infections overnight, the highest in five months, data showed on Thursday. Cases have surged across several states in since late February, following a near-full reopening of the economy and flouting of safety measures such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing, health officials say. More than half the new infections were reported from western Maharashtra state, home to financial capital Mumbai, where millions have returned to work in offices and factories. The local government imposed a full lockdown for ten days in the worst-affected towns Nanded and Beed following a cabinet meeting, an official said.
Advocates call on US to use vaccine patent to boost global access
A group of academics and activists are calling on the United States government to make sure an upcoming patent for technology at the heart of several coronavirus vaccines is used to increase access to the inoculants globally. A patent is expected to soon be issued for a particular form of molecular engineering developed by US government scientists that is currently used by five manufacturers of mRNA coronavirus vaccines. In a letter to US health officials, six health advocacy organisations and 15 public health academics said the upcoming patent is an “important policy tool that the US government could use to facilitate scale up of production” for mRNA vaccines that use the technology.
Biden should use emergency powers to license Covid-19 vaccine technologies to the WHO for global access
Following the WTO’s failure to act, Biden’s best option to lead the world toward equitable vaccine access is by using his executive powers to extricate the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine patents from the grip of stifling monopolies and license the Covid-19 vaccine technology to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, which would enable a rapid scale-up of generic vaccine manufacturing worldwide. This would give Biden a chance for a rare triple win: Licensing Covid-19 vaccine technologies to the pool would be a major victory for global social justice, a win for the self-interested American public, and a foreign policy victory for world order and stability.
Pakistan extends school closures amid third wave of coronavirus
Pakistan’s government has ordered educational institutions in 18 high-risk districts to remain closed until April 11, the education minister said, as the country continues to battle a third wave of coronavirus infections. Speaking to the press in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said the decision to extend closures first ordered on March 15 had been taken as virus infection numbers had stayed high.
EU turns up heat on Astrazeneca as new COVID-19 wave surges
EU leaders voiced frustration on Thursday over a massive shortfall in contracted deliveries of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, as a third wave of infections surged across Europe. With inoculation programmes running far behind those of Britain and the United States, the bloc’s executive warned that vaccine exports by the British-Swedish company would be blocked until it delivers the shots it promised to the EU. “We have to and want to explain to our European citizens that they get their fair share,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference after a video-conference summit of the European Union’s leaders. “The company has to catch up, has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines,” she said.
UK extends emergency coronavirus powers by 6 months
British lawmakers agreed Thursday to prolong coronavirus emergency measures for six months, allowing the Conservative government to keep its unprecedented powers to restrict U.K. citizens’ everyday lives. The House of Commons voted to extend the powers until September, and approved the government’s road map for gradually easing Britain’s strict coronavirus lockdown over the next three months. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s large Conservative majority in Parliament guaranteed the measures passed by a decisive 484-76 margin. But Johnson faced rebellion from some of his own party’s lawmakers, who argued that the economic, democratic and human costs of the restrictions outweigh the benefits
Maintaining Services
As some states open Covid-19 vaccines to all, many others are still weeks away. Here's a timeline.
John McGee, 21, told CNN on Tuesday that he was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter last Monday when he saw Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves' post: "Starting tomorrow, ALL new appointments will be open to ALL Mississippians. Get your shot friends - and let's get back to normal!" Mississippi is 1 of 5 states that have expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older, and a CNN analysis finds that at least 20 more plan to open up to people 16 and older by the end of April. Alaska was the first state in the US to stop prioritizing certain groups for Covid-19 vaccines and open vaccination appointments to everyone 16 and older who lives or works in the state.
More than 700,000 get first Covid-19 vaccine jab in Northern Ireland
More than 700,000 people in Northern Ireland have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccines, the North’s health department reported on Thursday. The department reported that so far 703,334 have got their first jab of vaccine with 104,907 having got their second dose. The department says it is on target to have vaccinated the entire Northern Ireland adult population of 1.4 million people by July.
Covid-19: Over-50s urged to book jabs before vaccine supplies dip
The Covid-19 vaccination programme has saved more than 6,000 lives, an analysis by Public Health England says. Most would have been among the over-80s and some among people in their 70s, estimates up to the end of February suggest. It comes as people in England aged over 50 and in at-risk categories are being urged to book their Covid jabs before Monday, when slots are set to dry up. The NHS said appointments should be arranged by 29 March.
New Jersey’s vaccine rollout is mostly working. In Pennsylvania, it’s more complicated.
Plenty of Pennsylvanians have gotten covid-19 shots — the state ranks above average in percentage of residents with first doses — and many New Jerseyans by turn have been frustrated by the process. But by most measures, New Jersey is ahead of its neighbor when it comes to delivering vaccinations. New Jersey has a phone hotline for people without internet access; Pennsylvania has a website with limited utility that offers only information and no appointments. New Jersey has had mass vaccination sites for months; Pennsylvania is only now planning them.
Why Supply Isn’t the Only Thing Stymying Europe’s Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout
The mayor of Cremona, one of the northern Italian towns first hammered by the coronavirus during the pandemic’s initial explosion in Europe, received a call over the weekend that the local vaccination center was empty. The region’s booking system had failed to set up appointments with older residents, leaving more than 500 doses of vaccine at risk of going to waste. “There was staff, there were also vaccines, but there were no people,” said the mayor, Gianluca Galimberti, adding that the situation had been bad for weeks. Similar scenarios are playing out throughout the country, as the authorities struggle to get vaccines to older and vulnerable Italians who most need them.
Half of Israelis fully vaccinated as Palestinians lag
More than half of Israel’s 9.2 million people have received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, the health ministry has said. Yet vaccination is far slower in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has relied on donations and limited supplies from Israel. The 5.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip have received only about 120,000 vaccines so far. With more than 4.6 million residents vaccinated, Israel continues its world-beating campaign that sent infection rates plummeting and allowed for some limited loosening of restrictions. But it has come under international criticism for not doing more to enable Palestinian vaccination
Novavax delays EU vaccine supply deal amid production problems - source
Novavax is delaying signing a contract to supply its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union, an EU official involved in the talks told Reuters, as the U.S. biotech company warned it was struggling to source some raw materials. Prolonging the talks might further complicate the EU’s vaccination plans as the bloc had planned to sign a deal early this year for at least 100 million doses of Novavax’s vaccine, with an option for another 100 million. The EU official, who asked not to named as the talks are confidential, said the company had postponed signing a deal for weeks, citing legal issues in meetings with the bloc’s vaccine negotiators. “They are slowing down the process of finishing the contract,” the official, who attended the meetings, told Reuters.
Healthcare Innovations
Study says COVID-19 vaccines provide protection for pregnant and lactating women -- and their newborns
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are effective in pregnant and lactating women, who can pass protective antibodies to newborns, according to research published Thursday in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard looked at 131 women who received either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Among the participants, 84 were pregnant, 31 were lactating and 16 were not pregnant. Samples were collected between December 17, 2020 and March 2, 2021.
Regeneron Antibody Cocktail May Reduce COVID-19 Hospitalization by 70%
Results from a phase 3 clinical trial show that Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has the ability to cut the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and death by 70 percent. The treatment also shortened the duration of COVID-19 symptoms by 4 days. The two antibodies work similarly to the antibodies the immune system naturally produces to fight the coronavirus.
U.S. COVID response could have avoided hundreds of thousands of deaths - research
The United States squandered both money and lives in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, and it could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths with a more effective health strategy and trimmed federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars while still supporting those who needed it. That is the conclusion of a group of research papers released at a Brookings Institution conference this week, offering an early and broad start to what will likely be an intense effort in coming years to assess the response to the worst pandemic in a century. U.S. COVID-19 fatalities could have stayed under 300,000, versus a death toll of 540,000 and rising, if by last May the country had adopted widespread mask, social distancing, and testing protocols while awaiting a vaccine, estimated Andrew Atkeson, economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles.
AstraZeneca COVID vaccine 76% effective in new US trial analysis
AstraZeneca said its COVID-19 vaccine was 76 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness in a new analysis of its key trial in the United States – slightly lower than the level announced earlier this week in a report that was criticised for using outdated information. US health officials had publicly rebuked the drugmaker for not using the most up-to-date information when it published an interim analysis on Monday that said the vaccine was 79 percent effective.
Study: Remdesivir speeds recovery in hospitalized COVID patients
The antiviral drug remdesivir (Veklury) was associated with faster clinical improvement in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a multicenter comparative-effectiveness study published yesterday in JAMA Network Open. The retrospective study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers, involved 2,299 COVID-19 patients receiving care in a 5-hospital health system in the Baltimore and Washington, DC, area from Mar 4 to Aug 29, 2020. About 15% percent received remdesivir (342) as part of their treatment, of which 285 were matched with controls for primary statistical analysis.
Pfizer and BioNTech to begin testing Covid-19 vaccine in children
Pfizer and BioNTech said Thursday they are beginning a study aimed at showing their Covid-19 vaccine can be used in children as young as 6 months. The study follows the launch of a separate and ongoing trial in children ages 12 to 15, which was fully enrolled in January. That study could lead to results by the end of the first half of the year, depending on the data, and then to an emergency use authorization. That will depend on the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccine already has an EUA for people 16 and older.
Africa experienced 30% rise in COVID cases during 2nd wave: Study
Africa experienced a 30 percent rise in infections in its second wave of coronavirus last year but implemented fewer public health measures than in the first, research showed on Thursday. Writing in The Lancet medical journal, researchers said the loosening of public health measures such as distancing and intermittent lockdowns probably contributed to higher death tolls during the second wave. The study looked at COVID-19 case, death, recovery and test data carried out across all 55 African Union member states between February 14 and December 31 2020. Using publicly available data, it also analysed health control measures such as school closures and travel restrictions.