"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 23rd Sep 2021

Isolation Tips
Birds Thrived During Covid-19 Lockdowns, New Study Shows
From hummingbirds to eagles, birds across North America flocked to once frenetic urban areas that had locked down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study based on millions of observations by amateur bird-watchers. Populations of dozens of bird species rose significantly around city centers, major roads and airports apparently in response to the lull in human activity, a research team led by scientists at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg found. Some species were as much as 14 times more numerous during the lockdowns than before pandemic restrictions were imposed.
Hygiene Helpers
Why the NFL Wants Its Personnel to Get Covid Tests—Even When They’re Vaccinated
Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel woke up one August morning feeling mostly fine, but just a little bit off. His throat was sore, and his ear ached. It could have easily been explained by a long summer day at training camp barking at players. Yet when Vrabel arrived at the team facility that morning, he asked for a coronavirus test. Vrabel, who is vaccinated against Covid-19, waited in his car until the result came back. It was positive. So was a follow-up test. And so instead of possibly exposing colleagues and players, he was placed into isolation. It was a model response for an organization like the NFL—or for anybody trying to conduct business as usual—in the age of vaccines. As mass mandatory testing recedes as a containment strategy, monitoring symptoms and voluntary testing is now a front line of defense.
NYC's Vaccine Mandate for Teachers Is Cleared by State Judge
New York City’s requirement for teachers to be vaccinated was cleared by a state judge following a legal challenge from labor unions. New York State Supreme Court Justice Laurence L. Love removed a temporary restraining order he had imposed to stop the vaccine mandate from being enforced while the case is being litigated. Love dismissed the unions’ argument that the mandate violates the due process rights of teachers and staff, saying state and federal courts have “consistently held” that a mandatory vaccine requirement doesn’t impede such rights and is within the government’s power.
United says more than 97% of U.S. employees are vaccinated
United Airlines said more than 97% of its U.S. employees have been vaccinated ahead of the company's Sept. 27 deadline for staff vaccination. The airline has taken a tough stance on employees who decline to get vaccinated and became the first U.S. carrier in early August to announce it would mandate vaccines for employees.
UK to send 1m Pfizer vaccine doses to South Korea in swap deal
One million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are being sent from the UK to South Korea as part of a swap deal. South Korea will return the same “overall volume of doses” before the end of the year, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said. The initiative will help South Korea hit its target of administering a second dose to 70% of its population by the end of October, the DHSC said. The first batch of doses is due to be shipped within weeks.
Panama to give immunocompromised people third COVID-19 vaccine shot
Panama will offer a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to moderate and severely immunocompromised people starting this week, Health Minister Luis Sucre said. The decision follows similar moves by other Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Chile, which are already giving a booster vaccine dose to people at risk, for instance those with immunodeficiencies or the elderly. Among those eligible to get an extra shot during the first phase of the Panamanian plan are people undergoing cancer treatment and transplants, as well as those who received stem cells in the last two years or suffer from an advanced or untreated HIV infection.
Covid-19 vaccines for teenagers: conversations and consent
On 13 September, the UK chief medical officers recommended that all 12-15 year olds be offered a single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine.1 This followed a previous recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation2 not to offer covid-19 vaccines to healthy 12-15 year olds. The UK now joins a growing list of countries offering vaccination to those aged 12 and over, but it is providing only one dose rather than the two given in other countries because of concerns about rare side effects such as heart inflammation. The health benefits of covid-19 vaccination are small in this age group since covid-19 infection is not a serious threat to their health.5 However, the chief medical officers’ decision was influenced by the wider benefit of reducing further disruption to education. Parents are understandably concerned about vaccine safety. It’s not yet clear how schools and healthcare professionals will cope with delivering up to 2.6 million covid-19 vaccines, answering parents’ questions,6 and supporting teenagers to make informed decisions.
Community Activities
‘Don’t get vaccinated’: Fake funeral home used to promote coronavirus shot
An ad truck appearing to spread anti-vax messaging caused a stir among US football fans in Charlotte, North Carolina, over the weekend. The vehicle, which had a funeral home’s name and website at the bottom of its giant advert, was emblazoned with a plain black board and a slogan which read: “Don't get vaccinated”. As it happens, though, the advert contains a hidden message. There is no “Wilmore Funeral Home”, which the ad claims to represent, and going to its website takes visitors to a landing page instructing them to do the opposite of what it says. “Get vaccinated now” appears on the site, along with a message that says, “If not, see you soon”. The ad agency, BooneOakley, said it was time to get creative and tackle America’s waning Covid-19 vaccine take-up
California woman who said she was ‘unmasked, unmuzzled, unvaccinated, unafraid’ has died of Covid-19, aged 40
A vocally anti-mask, anti-vaccine woman in California has died of Covid-19. Kristen Lowery, 40, was the mother of four school-age children in Escalon, California. In her Facebook posts, she proclaimed herself a “free thinker” who was “unmasked, unmuzzled, unvaccinated, unafraid”. In one photo, she held up a protest sign reading “Give a voice to the vaccine injured”. In September, her sister wrote that Ms Lowery had been hospitalised with the coronavirus.
Melbourne police arrest 200 at COVID-19 lockdown protests
Police in Australia's second largest city of Melbourne arrested more than 200 people after projectiles thrown by protesters injured two officers on Wednesday, the third consecutive day of demonstrations against COVID-19 curbs. Golf balls, batteries and bottles were among the items thrown at police during the protests held in defiance of stay-at home orders after a two-week closure of building sites to rein in infections, which rose again in the state of Victoria.
U.S. parents weigh risks, benefits as COVID-19 vaccine for kids nears approval
Monday's announcement from Pfizer and BioNTech that a low dose of their coronavirus vaccine proved safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11 in a clinical trial has come as a relief to many parents anxiously awaiting the chance to protect their children. The highly contagious Delta variant of the virus has collided with the start of the U.S. academic year, sending infections among young children soaring - including many cases requiring hospitalization - and forcing thousands of schools to shut for days or even weeks. The companies said they plan to file for regulatory authorization as soon as possible for a 10-microgram dose for children ages 5 to 11 after it led to a strong immune response in a 2,268-participant trial.
German cashier shooting linked to Covid-19 conspiracies
A man suspected of shooting dead a cashier at a German petrol station has been linked to Covid-19 conspiracy theorists and the far right. The 20-year-old student employee was shot after a row over face masks, in what is thought to be the first killing linked to German Covid rules. Researchers believe the suspect, named only as Mario N, was a far-right supporter and Covid-denier. Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the "heinous" killing. Prosecutors said the killer had initially tried to buy beer at the petrol station in the western town of Idar-Oberstein on Saturday, but left after the cashier refused to serve him as he was without a mask.
Working Remotely
Employees working from home four days a week slashes pollution by 10%, study finds
As companies debate whether to allow workers continuing working remotely, come into the office or have a hybrid work week, workers that telecommute four days a week could cut nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels by as much as 10 percent, a new study finds. Researchers at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) looked at three different scenarios — telecommuting two, three or four days a week — and found that NO2 levels would decline by 4 percent, 8 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
Making an office of a makeshift desk at home
While remote working allows for greater flexibility and can contribute to more productivity, it also comes at the expense of social contact with colleagues. This can prove challenging at times, but can be more pronounced for younger workers and graduates especially when the downsides can include workplace disconnect, less one-on-one time with a manager or colleagues and the dangers associated with overworking. To get a broader perspective on what it was like to transition from student life to working life under these unusual circumstances we spoke with three graduates who each began their placement during the pandemic.
The hidden aspects of (hybrid) work you should consider
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to remote and hybrid work. From tech companies in Silicon Docks to your yoga studio around the corner, most companies seem now convinced that remote and hybrid work are not just work arrangements for global teams in high-tech. Quite the contrary, the future workplace - across industries and countries - entails combinations of on-site presence and working-from-everywhere opportunities. To confirm this tendency, a recent study from Ipsos for the World Economic Forum has revealed that 66% of the 12,500 employees surveyed across 29 countries want employers to offer flexible work arrangements post-pandemic.
How to manage employees who work remotely
As employees increasingly demand flexibility and desire the hybrid-work model, employers need to think seriously about what they can do to make this happen while still getting the results they want – and this means prioritising staff happiness and autonomy and stepping back from micromanagement. It may be tempting to micro-manage when most of your employees are working remotely, but now is not the time to prioritise process – or even results – over the wellbeing of your workforce. Research shows that healthier and happier people are more productive, and that workers who feel their employer cares about their wellbeing are more likely to work better and harder.
Virtual Classrooms
Remote learning ‘partial substitute’ for classroom, with disadvantaged pupils hit hardest, analysis finds
In the UK, remote learning was “at best a partial substitute” for classroom lessons, with schools with more disadvantaged pupils particularly hard hit, according to new analysis. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that students on the whole covered “substantially less material” at home compared to peers physically in school. The difference between remote schooling and in-person learning was “particularly acute” in schools with more pupils eligible for free school meals, the ONS analysis found. “Remote learners at these schools covered a smaller fraction of in-class learning materials than remote learners at schools with a lower proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals,” the statistics body said.
University of Exeter and Learning on Screen launch virtual field trip software InVEnTA
The @UniofExeter and Learning on Screen (@LearnonScreen) are holding an online launch event of innovative software tool InVEnTA to the academic market on Friday 22 October 2021 at 3pm. Developed with support from Exeter's Education Incubator, InVEnTA (Interactive Virtual Environments for Teaching and Assessment) uses geospatial and visualisation technology to create and explore immersive free-roaming interactive virtual environments. It offers "virtual field trips" where students can visit locations such as the Arctic Circle or the Patagonian glacial sheets without leaving home.
Public Policies
U.K. Faces Backlash Over Selective Vaccine Policy at Border
The U.K. government is facing a rising backlash over its refusal to recognize visitors as vaccinated unless they received their shots in a handful of select countries. Under travel rules unveiled last week, fully dosed arrivals from nations such as the U.S., Israel and Australia will be allowed to enter England without quarantine starting Oct. 4. But vaccinated people from vast swathes of the world still face tougher restrictions, including a 10-day home isolation period. The measure applies even if the visitor has had a vaccine approved and used in the U.K., such as the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE version or the shot produced by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University. It doesn’t matter whether the country is on the “red list” of those facing additional restrictions on entry or not
Argentina talks up 'last stage' of pandemic as controls loosened
Argentina unveiled plans to ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions, including loosening strict border controls, allowing more commercial activities and getting rid of the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors. Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said the easing of rules would allow more economic, industrial and commercial activities in closed places, while borders would gradually reopen from this month, with all tourists allowed back in from November. "We are in a very positive moment, we know that the pandemic has not ended, we have to maintain care," Vizzotti said in a news conference in Buenos Aires. "We are moving toward the full recovery of activities."
U.N. Climate Summit Attendees Push U.K. for Vaccines
Known as COP26, the climate summit will be one of the largest in-person international gatherings since the start of the pandemic. The British government says it’s on track to provide promised shots for attendees,
Under pressure, U.S. donates half billion more COVID-19 vaccine doses to world
The United States promised to buy 500 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses to donate to other countries as it comes under increasing pressure to share its supply with the rest of the world. President Joe Biden made the announcement during a virtual summit aimed at boosting global vaccination rates against the coronavirus and rallying world leaders to do more. "To beat the pandemic here we need to beat it everywhere," Biden said as he kicked off the summit, which included leaders from Britain, Canada, Indonesia and South Africa as well as World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Global coronavirus vaccine inequity is 'an obscenity', UN chief says
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has reprimanded the world for the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, describing it as an "obscenity" and giving the globe an "F in ethics". Addressing the annual UN gathering of world leaders in New York, Mr Guterres said images from some parts of the world of expired and unused vaccines in rubbish told "the tale of our times" - with the majority of the wealthier world immunised while more than 90 per cent of Africa has not even received one dose. "This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity. We passed the science test. But we are getting an F in ethics," Mr Guterres told the UN General Assembly.
Covishield: UK recognises Covid jab after India outcry
The UK government has amended its foreign travel guidance to clarify that the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine is an approved jab. But it is not clear whether people from India can travel to the UK without having to self-isolate for 10 days. The UK's refusal to recognise Covishield had triggered a firestorm of protests in India. With more than 721 million doses administered so far, Covishield is India's primary vaccine. On Tuesday, India described the rule as "discriminatory" and asked the UK to stop requiring fully-vaccinated Indians to self-isolate on arrival. At present, India is not listed as a country where people are recognised as fully vaccinated even if they've had both doses of an approved jab.
New Zealand says it may not get to zero COVID-19 cases again
Its biggest city Auckland is still in lockdown with a small number of new cases being reported everyday. "We may not get back to zero but the important thing is we are going to keep finding any infections and basically continue to contact trace, test and isolate people so that we stop the virus circulating in the community... that's the aim," Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health told Radio New Zealand. Bloomfield said the aim now was to try and get on top of the outbreak while also ramping up vaccination rates.
Amnesty blames top COVID jab makers for vaccine inequality
Six top manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine “are fuelling an unprecedented human rights crisis through their refusal to waive intellectual property rights and share vaccine technology”, Amnesty International said in a report. In the report titled “A Double Dose of Inequality”, the rights group denounced AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer for “wheeling and dealing in favour of wealthy states”. “Vaccinating the world is our only pathway out of this crisis,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general. “It should be time to hail these companies, who created vaccines so quickly, as heroes. But instead, to their shame and our collective grief, Big Pharma’s intentional blocking of knowledge transfer and their  wheeling and dealing in favour of wealthy states has brewed an utterly predictable and utterly devastating vaccine scarcity for so many others.”
Maintaining Services
COVID-19 creates dire US shortage of teachers, school staff
One desperate California school district is sending flyers home in students’ lunchboxes, telling parents it’s “now hiring.” Elsewhere, principals are filling in as crossing guards, teachers are being offered signing bonuses and schools are moving back to online learning. Now that schools have welcomed students back to classrooms, they face a new challenge: a shortage of teachers and staff the likes of which some districts say they have never seen. Public schools have struggled for years with teacher shortages, particularly in math, science, special education and languages. But the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The stress of teaching in the COVID-19 era has triggered a spike in retirements and resignations.
Supplier Contracts Get Revamped After Covid-19 Disruptions
Pandemic-driven strains in supply chains are triggering changes in contract terms between suppliers and their manufacturing and retail customers as companies try to address the risks and added costs brought on by persistent delays and disruptions. Procurement experts say that when drafting new contracts and renewing existing ones, companies increasingly are seeking to add provisions that cover the impact of pandemics or epidemics and accelerating inflation. The moves come as commodity costs and shipping prices have soared far faster during the past two years than considered in traditional contract terms. A fourfold increase in container shipping rates has made ocean freight for some shippers more expensive than the products they are shipping.
A North Carolina-based health care system has suspended hundreds of employees for not getting a Covid-19 vaccine
A North Carolina-based health care provider announced Tuesday it has suspended hundreds of employees for not meeting the company's Covid-19 vaccine requirements.
Unvaccinated should get priority for an effective early covid-19 treatment, some officials say
Faced with a new federal push to conserve a highly effective covid-19 treatment, some officials are urging health-care providers to put the unvaccinated first. Demand for once-obscure monoclonal antibodies has skyrocketed as federal authorities and particularly Republicans such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promote the treatment’s success at preventing mild or moderate covid-19 cases from escalating to hospitalization. The Biden administration moved last week to take over distribution of the therapy, drawing an outcry in Southern states that have used the treatments heavily and will probably have to cut back. The recommendation to prioritize the unvaccinated — who are far more likely to be hospitalized — comes after intense backlash to the idea of penalizing the unvaccinated while rationing hospital care.
Between Covid-19 and the flu, health care professionals are bracing themselves for the winter ahead, expert says
The current pace in Covid-19 vaccinations is the slowest it has been since July, according to data released Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest data comes as flu season is around the corner, which could increase death tolls and put more of a strain on hospitals that are already struggling with an influx of patients and depleted resources. More than 312,000 people have initiated the vaccination process -- or getting their first shot -- over the last week, CDC data shows. That's a 7% drop from last week and a 35% drop from the previous month. An average of 742,703 doses are being administered each day and about 182 million people, or 54.9%, of the US population, are fully vaccinated, the data shows. That leaves 71 million people, or 25.1% of the population, who are not vaccinated
‘It’s scary’: record Covid absences cause concern in England’s schools
Last week more than 100,000 children were absent from school in England with confirmed or suspected Covid infections, the highest number during the pandemic, according to the Department for Education. Five parents and teachers in England share their experiences since the start of the new school year, including how they, their families and their pupils have been affected.
Iran eyes normalisation as COVID vaccination drive accelerates
The rollouts of Iran’s vaccination campaign against COVID-19 has gathered significant pace, after months of public anger about slow imports, raising hopes of a relative return to normal life in the Middle East’s worst-hit country. More than 30 million jabs alone were imported during the sixth month of the Iranian calendar which ends on Wednesday – higher than all doses imported since the start of February combined. Another 13.4 million doses were imported in the previous Iranian month, in the middle of which President Ebrahim Raisi took office. Iran’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that 60 million more doses are expected to be imported during the next month. The overwhelming majority of imported doses so far have been that of China’s Sinopharm, followed by AstraZeneca jabs from several countries and via the global COVAX initiative.
Healthcare Innovations
Moderna vs. Pfizer: Both Knockouts, but One Seems to Have the Edge
Roughly 221 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been dispensed thus far in the United States, compared with about 150 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine. In a half-dozen studies published over the past few weeks, Moderna’s vaccine appeared to be more protective than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the months after immunization. The latest such study, published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines at preventing symptomatic illness in about 5,000 health care workers in 25 states. The study found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had an effectiveness of 88.8 percent, compared with Moderna’s 96.3 percent.
Pfizer Study of Covid-19 Vaccine in Pregnant Women Delayed by Slow Enrollment
Changing guidelines and the possibility of being given a placebo made the trial unappealing to some expectant mothers. fizer closed enrollment at many U.S. sites this summer, after fewer than expected numbers of subjects entered the study, researchers say. The slow enrollment was driven by revised guidelines from government and physician groups that recommend pregnant women receive the shots based on new real-world research, according to trial-site researchers. They also say increased vaccine supply made a trial that included the possibility of being given a placebo instead of a vaccine unappealing to expectant mothers and raised questions about the ethics of seeking volunteers.
Llama antibodies have 'significant potential' for Covid-19 treatment
Tiny antibodies produced by llamas could provide a new frontline treatment against coronavirus in the form of a nasal spray, research suggests. Scientists at the Rosalind Franklin Institute have found that the nanobodies – a smaller, simple form of antibody generated by llamas and camels – can effectively target the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. Short chains of the molecules, which can be produced in large quantities in the laboratory, significantly reduced signs of Covid-19 when given to infected animal models, according to the study. The nanobodies bind tightly to the virus, neutralising it in the laboratory, and could provide a cheaper and easier alternative to human antibodies taken from recovered from Covid-19 patients.
Has the Delta variant changed the symptoms of COVID-19?
It has been said many times that the arrival of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has changed the course of the pandemic. It is more transmissible than previous variants and has quickly become the dominant variant across the world. And because the vaccines are less effective against it, although still effective enough, it has brought the need for booster shots to the forefront of the debate. A new study has shown that the symptoms that the infection presents have also changed. According to the World Health Organization, the most common symptoms of COVID are...
Trials begin on Covid booster jab hoped to protect against new variants
The first trials have begun of a Covid booster jab that it is hoped will offer good protection against a wide range of variants, researchers have revealed. Covid jabs currently used in the UK trigger an immune response towards the coronavirus spike protein, which helps the virus get into human cells. However, different variants of the coronavirus have different mutations in this protein, meaning a vaccine that works well against one variant may not be as effective against another. The team behind the new booster jab hope to get around this problem by triggering an immune response towards the spike and non-spike proteins of the coronavirus.