"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 14th May 2021

Isolation Tips
COVID-19 Loneliness
As the world slowly sheds the weight of COVID-19, there is an opportunity for psychiatrists to pause and consider the role they are about to play in the coming months and years. Never before has the entire modern world been subjected to such collective feelings of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and sorrow—and loneliness. Psychiatry often relies on pharmaceuticals to treat mental illness; this pandemic serves as a good reminder that the best cure for loneliness can be as simple as kindness and compassion.
Covid patients in Karnataka to get home isolation kits within one hour of test results
In order to help Covid-19 affected patients in the state, Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan announced medical kits will be sent to those under home isolation. According to the DCM of the state, five lakh kits will be procured, and measures will be taken to see that they reach the doorstep of the infected within 1 hour of getting the Covid-19 positive test result. He said authorities had been directed to ensure the systematic delivery of home isolation medical kits starting from May 15.
Hygiene Helpers
CDC’s U-Turn Puts Business in ‘Damned If You Do’ (Or Don’t) Bind
Companies are rushing to assess their mask policies after a sudden announcement by U.S. officials put newly relaxed federal guidelines in conflict with the rules at many businesses. Home Depot Inc. and TJX Cos. said they don’t immediately plan to change their policies advising face coverings be worn inside their stores, while Macy’s Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and Gap Inc. said they’re reviewing the new guidance. The National Restaurant Association is also looking at the recommendations and is evaluating its Covid-19 operating guidance and best practices for restaurants, while some banks are indicating they’ll continue to require face coverings -- at least for now.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine seeks to incentivize coronavirus vaccines with chance to win $1 million
As demand for the coronavirus vaccine plateaus, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is giving state residents a shot to win $1 million. The Republican governor announced Wednesday night that vaccinated adults will be eligible to enter a lottery that will pay out $1 million each to five winners beginning May 26. Separately, DeWine is offering five vaccinated teenagers full-ride scholarships to the state’s public universities, which includes all four years of tuition, room, board and textbooks. “I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money.’ But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to covid-19,” DeWine said in a statewide address.
COVID-19 vaccination drive again exposes India’s digital divide
For anyone aged between 18 and 44, getting a slot in India’s expanded vaccination drive – already plagued by shortages and political squabbles – has been like buying tickets for a rock concert where popular bands sell out in minutes. The expansion came with restrictions, including only online registrations for the 18-44-year-olds, locking out up to half of India’s population, particularly in poor and rural areas, who do not have smartphones or internet access. A report by The Indian Express newspaper on Thursday said 85 percent of those who got vaccinated since May 1 belong to just seven of the 28 states, raising “critical questions on vaccine equity”.
Pediatricians primed to lead Covid vaccination efforts as kids become eligible
Now that both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have green-lighted Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in kids ages 12 to 15, pediatricians will soon find themselves on the front lines of the country's vaccination efforts, playing an essential role in communicating to parents the safety and importance of getting their kids the shot. That's a tall order for pediatricians who say they're facing skyrocketing vaccine hesitancy among families.
COVID cases across India being traced to weeks-long Kumbh Mela
As a second wave of the coronavirus began in India in early April, millions of Hindus congregated at Haridwar, a Himalayan city in Uttarakhand state, to take a holy dip in the Ganges. When the devotees returned home in crowded buses and trains, they spread the infection in villages and towns, prompting officials in some states to track and quarantine them. But many did not turn up for coronavirus tests, despite officials making public announcements urging devotees to report and be screened.
Lifesaving tips on reopening the US
Widespread vaccine coverage in the US is rapidly reducing new infections, illnesses and deaths from Covid-19. States and cities are quickly removing restrictions on business and leisure activities. Yet, while the public enjoys the return to normalcy, governments behind the scenes should be ramping up public health systems to guard against another possible wave and to build more competency for the inevitable next epidemic, whenever it may arise. First, a note of warning. Newly confirmed cases in the US are now below 40,000 per day. This is down from the peak in January, when new cases reached over 300,000 per day. And daily cases continue to decline, even more rapidly. Yet, just before India's recent surge to over 400,000 cases per day, that country had reported just over 10,000 cases per day as recently as early March. It's a reminder that the Covid-19 epidemic can spread from very few cases to a devastating surge at a terrifying rate, in just a few weeks.
Community Activities
Covid 19 coronavirus: Vaccine conspiracy campaign raises $50,000 for 'misleading' flyer drop
An organisation attacking public faith in New Zealand's Covid-19 strategy claims it has raised $50,000 towards printing two million virus "fact" flyers to be dropped nationwide - and is considering printing more. The flyers, which Voices For Freedom intends to deliver to every letterbox in the country, outlines multiple conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines and their effects. Their contents have been described as "misleading" and in some cases "palpably false". Voices For Freedom co-founder Claire Deeks claimed $50,000 had been raised from "hundreds of donors" for the mass drop. People across the country have contacted the Herald, saying they had received the flyer. A mass printing retailer estimated the cost of printing two million of these flyers would be about $30,000. When asked when she expected the entire two million flyers to be delivered, Deeks said the flyer drop would end when there were no more flyers, before suggesting more could be printed.
NGOs set up isolation centre for poor COVID patients
In India, a host of voluntary organisations joined hands with the town-based Bodepudi Vignana Kendram (BVK) to lend a helping hand to COVID-19 patients from poor and lower middle-class families amid the unabated surge in COVID-19 cases. The BVK in association with the District NRI Foundation, the NRI Parents Association, Chetana Foundation and several other like-minded organisations and individuals have set up a COVID-19 isolation centre with 30 beds on the campus of a private school hostel at Gattaiah Centre
Vaccinated Americans can go maskless in most places: CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took a significant step in moving the United States beyond the COVID-19 pandemic by easing indoor and outdoor mask-wearing guidelines for fully vaccinated people on Thursday. The new guidance allows those who have been immunised to go mask-free in most places, the CDC announced, crediting data showing the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines that are being administered across the US. The CDC also no longer recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds.
Working Remotely
A return to normal? Young people heading back to the office want anything but
Many of us have been working from home for over a year now. What was meant to be a temporary solution to what was at the time an unpredictable threat has turned into a way of life that looks set to continue way beyond Covid’s lifespan. But what this pandemic left behind is scarcely populated buildings with hefty rents and empty desks that some companies will inevitably want filling — and fast. Bosses and business experts have claimed that young people are the group that not only wants, but needs to be in the office. Goldman Sachs executive David Solomon said earlier this year that he doesn’t want “another class of young people arriving [remotely] that aren’t getting more direct contact, direct apprenticeship, direct mentorship.”
Microaggressions at the office can make remote work even more appealing
For those of us lucky enough to have had a job that can be done from home throughout the pandemic, remote work offers certain freedoms that many of us are loath to give up after a year: freedom from the time, expense and effort of commuting and traveling; freedom from in-person interruptions and distractions (aside from cohabitants and dependents in our homes); and, in some cases, freedom from rigid business hours within which all tasks must be completed and all hands, busy or not, must be on deck. There’s another freedom that particular subsets of remote workers are experiencing: freedom from dealing with subtle, often unintended expressions of bias known as microaggressions. Individually, these incidents are seldom serious enough to merit HR confrontations. But experiencing them daily is like death by a thousand paper cuts, and processing internal reactions to them drains mental energy and satisfaction.
Virtual Classrooms
Student survey shows students less engaged in virtual learning
In Virginia, one local student conducted her own survey and found students who are less engaged in virtual learning had lower grades. Cameras off and muted mics are two frustrations all teachers faced with virtual learning this past year. Western Albemarle High School junior Jenna Stutzman conducted a survey among almost 90 of her own classmates about how much they pay attention during virtual classes. Stutzman says those who are more engaged with their teachers, peers, and class material thrived, and those who didn't participate saw their grades suffer.
How the Camera Has Changed the Dynamics of the Classroom
Over the past year of online teaching, instructors and students have struggled, not just with the digital divide but with a tense binary: online classroom work versus privacy violation. A recent study from Cornell published in the journal Academic Practice in Ecology and Evolution found that some students felt it was a violation of privacy (because their personal settings, their homes and family were visible), possible distraction when watching others on screen, self-consciousness, among others. Class, race, ethnicity and appearance were factors in their reluctance, the study found. Another report by Margaret Finders and Joaquin Muñoz, deemed the practice of asking students to turn on the cameras to be a form of surveillance. (Although it seems odd that for a generation of Instagrammers and Facebookers, the camera, of all things, is a source of anxiety!)
Covid-19 has reinforced China's role as global leader in edtech
What made the transition to online learning in China in early 2020 relatively successful was not only being able to build on the existing edtech ecosystem but years of investing in infrastructure, forward-looking policies and ICT tools for colleges and universities. For starters, there are about 1 billion internet users in China, according to the government’s own figures. And while internet networks across the country are fairly impressive, one of the immediate steps by the authorities was to involve the telecom companies to ensure capacity to provide bandwidth-heavy online education services. In some cases, the universities themselves have negotiated deals with telecom providers to subsidise the data plans of their faculty and students.
Public Policies
'Covid Zero' Havens Find Reopening Harder Than Containing Virus
A smattering of places, mainly across the Asia Pacific region, have posted breathtaking victories in the battle against Covid-19 by effectively wiping it out within their borders. Now they face a fresh test: rejoining the rest of the world, which is still awash in the pathogen. In some ways, the success of “Covid Zero” locations is becoming a straitjacket. As cities like New York and London return to in-person dealmaking and business as usual -- tolerating hundreds of daily cases as vaccination gathers pace -- financial hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong risk being left behind as they maintain stringent border curbs and try to stamp out single-digit flareups.
Double world's coronavirus vaccine production, pleads U.N. chief
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for the need to double the capacity of COVID-19 vaccine production and for fairer redistribution of the shots in the developing world, which faces new waves of the coronavirus. Many countries are experiencing shortages of the vaccine, especially India, worsening a dire second wave of infections that has left hospitals and morgues overflowing while families scramble for increasingly scarce medicines and oxygen. At the same time, the European Union has reserved a surplus of the vaccines.
Taiwan proposes $7.5 bln in spending as domestic COVID-19 cases rise
Taiwan's government proposed an extra T$210 billion ($7.5 billion) in spending to help the economy deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, as it reported 13 new domestic cases amid a rare spike in infections that has spooked the stock market. Early and effective prevention steps, including largely closing its borders, succeeded in shielding Taiwan from the worst of the pandemic. The island of 24 million people has reported just 1,256 infections so far, most of them imported. But markets and the government have been on edge since renewed domestic outbreaks began late last month, with 16 new domestic cases announced on Wednesday setting a record daily high
New Zealand sets out plans to reconnect with post-pandemic world
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said her government will explore more travel “bubbles” and lead trade delegations later this year to reconnect with a post-pandemic world. With a majority of New Zealand’s essential workers vaccinated against COVID-19 and inoculation for the wider population set to start in July, Ardern said on Thursday that her government was now ready to rebuild contact with the rest of the world. Ardern’s plan for a partial and phased reopening comes after more than a year of a tough border closure, which has helped New Zealand – a Pacific nation of five million people – eliminate the coronavirus within its borders. The first step in New Zealand’s re-opening was a “travel bubble” with Australia, which began last month. Ardern said her government will also allow quarantine free travel with South Pacific’s Cook Islands on Monday.
Australia signs deal for 25M Moderna doses through next year
Australia has reached a supply agreement for 25 million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in a deal that the government hopes will ensure all Australian adults have access to inoculation this year. The deal included 10 million doses of the vaccine against the ancestral strain to be delivered in 2021 and 15 million doses of an updated variant booster to be delivered in 2022, U.S.-based Moderna said on Thursday. The vaccines have yet to be approved by the Australian regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Pfizer and AstraZeneca are the only coronavirus vaccines approved for use in Australia.
Ontario, Canada to keep ban on outdoor recreation for two weeks
Ontario’s premier is keeping outdoor recreational activities like golf courses closed for at least two more weeks despite calls by health officials to resume them for physical and mental health. Premier Doug Ford on Thursday extended what he calls a “stay-at-home” order for Canada’s largest province until at least June 2.
Maintaining Services
Brazil to pause production of AstraZeneca vaccine due to lack of ingredients
Brazil's Fiocruz biomedical institute said on Thursday it would interrupt production of the AstraZeneca AZN.L vaccine for certain days next week due to a lack of ingredients, until new supplies arrive on May 22. Fiocruz, a government-backed center in Rio de Janeiro, said on Twitter that production based on current supplies would allow it to continue delivering vaccines through the first week of June, with additional supplies to sustain production beyond that.
Coronavirus: Over-50s and vulnerable in Indian variant hotspots will get second jabs rushed through
Older people living in areas of high infection to be offered second dose of the vaccine early to protect them. The JCVI also been asked to examine the case for 'targeted vaccinations' of all over-17s in the worst-hit areas. Surge testing for the new coronavirus variant will also be deployed in areas where it is now spreading rapidly. Boris Johnson said he was 'anxious' about variant and refused to rule out local lockdowns to try to contain it. Government sources played down the risk that outbreaks of the 'variant of concern' could derail June 21 plans
LA Times owner offers $210million to create new Covid vaccines in South Africa
A US billionaire has announced he will offer 3bn South African rand (£152m) to South Africa, where he was born, to help create coronavirus vaccines. The New York Times reports that Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns The Los Angeles Times, said on Wednesday that his business and philanthropic foundation would donate the money. The money will be used to send the technology for producing vaccines and biological therapies to get ahead of the pandemic and make shots that will combat the new variants of the disease. “Our goal and our commitment is to come back to South Africa and transfer this kind of technology,” Dr Soon-Shiong reportedly said at an international meeting on the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines. Referring to South Africa, he said, “Not only do we have the science, we have the human capital and the capacity and the desire.”
Biotech company pushing to begin Australian production of mRNA coronavirus vaccines
An international biotech company says it could manufacture mRNA COVID-19 vaccines — including Pfizer's — in Australia, but would need support and investment from the federal government. BioCina last year purchased Pfizer's former manufacturing plant at Thebarton in Adelaide's west and said it had the capability to develop key ingredients for coranavirus vaccines. "We already have a really good facility in Thebarton that is commercially approved to manufacture microbial products," BioCina's chief executive Ian Wisenberg told ABC Radio Adelaide.
Indian states turn to anti-parasitic drug to fight COVID-19 against WHO advice
At least two Indian states have said they plan to dose their populations with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to protect against severe COVID-19 infections as their hospitals are overrun with patients in critical condition. The move by the coastal state of Goa and northern state of Uttarakhand, come despite the World Health Organization and others warning against such measures. "The current evidence on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients is inconclusive," WHO said in a statement in late March. "Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug only be used within clinical trials."
Kids 12 and up are eligible for COVID vaccine in Virginia
Children ages 12 to 15 were expected to start getting the coronavirus vaccine in Virginia on Thursday, with state health officials stressing that inoculating that age group will help prevent the overall spread of the disease in the state. Many adolescents who contract the disease are far less likely to get severely ill. But they can still pass on the virus, particularly if they’re not showing symptoms, Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said during a news conference.
Indian variant hotspots will RUSH through second doses for over-50s and vulnerable people as Boris admits he's 'anxious' over 100% increase in some areas and national infection rate creeps up
Older people living in areas of high infection to be offered second dose of the vaccine early to protect them. The JCVI also been asked to examine the case for 'targeted vaccinations' of all over-17s in the worst-hit areas. Surge testing for the new coronavirus variant will also be deployed in areas where it is now spreading rapidly. Boris Johnson said he was 'anxious' about variant and refused to rule out local lockdowns to try to contain it. Government sources played down the risk that outbreaks of the 'variant of concern' could derail June 21 plans
Healthcare Innovations
COVID-19: Delaying second dose of coronavirus vaccine could cut deaths by up to 20%, study suggests
Delaying the second dose of a COVID vaccine so more people can get a first dose could cut deaths by up to 20%, a study suggests. The UK chose to use this strategy at the start of its rollout in December, with most people getting their second dose around 12 weeks after their first. That's despite a recommended interval of three weeks for the Pfizer jab and four to 12 weeks for the AstraZeneca vaccine. The peer-reviewed paper, published in the British Medical Journal, used a simulation model to test a daily rollout rate of 0.1%, 0.3% and 1% of the population. Researchers found estimated deaths per 100,000 people fell from 442 to 402, 241 to 204, and 86 to 50 respectively - comparing standard dosing with a delayed strategy.
CureVac-GSK coronavirus variant vaccine generates good immune response in rats
A second-generation COVID-19 vaccine developed by CureVac and GlaxoSmithKline, designed to protect against coronavirus variants, produced a high level of immune response in a trial in rats, the companies said on Thursday. CureVac in February said it would team up with GlaxoSmithKline on a COVID-19 vaccine aimed at targeting several variants with one shot. The shot uses messenger RNA technology, similar to successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and clinical trials of the shot in humans are expected to start in the third quarter of this year. The mRNA "backbone" of the shot differs from CureVac's first COVID-19 vaccine candidate, and it is designed to work well at lower doses.
Period changes could be a harmless side effect of the Covid vaccine
A survey has been launched to probe whether or not menstrual changes could be a side effect of the Covid-19 vaccine. The survey, started last month, came after Dr Kate Clancy, a medical anthropologist, shared on Twitter her experience of an unusually heavy period following the Moderna jab. Her post was met with dozens of similar accounts in response and one woman claimed she had not stopped bleeding since she got her second Pfizer vaccine back in January.
Blood Expert Says He Found Why Some Covid-19 Vaccines Trigger Rare Clots
Scientists world-wide are racing to understand why Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are causing rare but potentially deadly blood clots. Determining the connection would help patients, doctors and health agencies better assess any risks posed by the vaccines and safely calibrate their use. In recent weeks, the U.S., the Canadian province of Ontario and several European countries including Norway and Denmark either paused or completely halted rollouts involving these vaccines. “Understanding the cause is of highest importance for the next-generation vaccines, because [the novel] coronavirus will stay with us and vaccination will likely become seasonal,” said Eric van Gorp, a professor at Erasmus University in the Netherlands who heads a group of scientists studying the condition.
Covid-19: Fever, chills, and aches more common when AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are mixed, early data show
Mixing doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca and the Pfizer BioNTech covid-19 vaccine leads to more frequent mild to moderate reactions compared with standard dosing schedules, researchers have reported. Researchers running the University of Oxford led Com-COV study—which is investigating the reactogenicity and immunogenicity from mixing doses of the two vaccines—reported their preliminary results in a peer reviewed research letter in the Lancet. Matthew Snape, associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford and chief investigator on the trial, said, “While this is a secondary part of what we are trying to explore through these studies, it is important that we inform people about these data, especially as these mixed doses schedules are being considered in several countries. “The results from this study suggest that mixed dose schedules could result in an increase in work absences the day after immunisation, and this is important to consider when planning immunisation of healthcare workers.”
COVID-19: 'Ultra rapid' 25-second coronavirus test hailed as a 'game-changer' in British Airways trial
An "ultra rapid" coronavirus test which can produce results within 25 seconds has been hailed as a "game-changer". British Airways (BA) is conducting trials of the "highly intelligent" saliva test which can detect variants of the virus. Flight and cabin crew members will be invited to take the Pelican COVID-19 antigen test in a trial with medical company Canary Global. The airline will then compare the results against those achieved by existing tests. British Airways has described the test as a "game-changer" amid hopes it could play a role in opening up travel.
England's coronavirus infections halved since March, study finds
The prevalence of coronavirus infections in England has halved since March helped by the swift rollout of vaccines, but new variants remain a threat, according to the findings of a closely watched survey released on Thursday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday gave the green light to hugging and the serving of pints inside pubs from next week after months of strict restrictions as he set out the next phase of easing the pandemic lockdown. The REACT study, run by scientists at Imperial College London, found that the number of infections has fallen again with an average of only one in 1,000 people infected. "Today's findings demonstrate the impact our incredible vaccination rollout is having on COVID-19 infection rates across the country," said Matt Hancock, the health minister. "We're going in the right direction but with variants present, we must continue to exercise caution."
The ancestor of SARS-CoV-2’s Wuhan strain was circulating in late October 2019
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was first reported in a case from Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and subsequently became the cause of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that is ravaging the world today. A new study in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution tracks its variants all over the world since the onset of the pandemic. Genomic sequencing has occurred using hundreds of thousands of viral genomic samples. The researchers used the best of these sequences to reveal how the virus has mutated and changed in different periods and regions of the pandemic.
Physics - A Recipe for Universal Vaccines
Just over a year ago, physicists around the world shifted their research efforts to the field of infectious diseases to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In the US, soft-matter physicists trialed a technique for detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19; in Switzerland, high-energy physicists tested an inexpensive ventilator technology that could help sufferers breathe; and in the UK, condensed-matter physicists donated their personal and protective equipment to the country’s hospitals. Applying the tools of physics to infectious diseases is an old idea, however, as physicists have worked for decades on understanding how diseases spread and how viruses evolve. Arup Chakraborty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one such physicist. He and his postdoc Raman Ganti now present results of their recent project to use statistical-mechanics methods to predict the characteristics of the optimal antigens for “universal” vaccines for rapidly mutating viruses, such as influenza. Their insights should also be applicable to creating broad-coverage vaccines for a range of viruses from HIV to SARS-CoV-2. “Vaccinations have saved more lives than any other medical procedure,” Chakraborty says. “Nonetheless, effective vaccines do not exist for highly mutable pathogens—that’s why we need a seasonal flu shot. Now that COVID-19 is mutating, we could end up needing repeated vaccinations for that virus too.”