"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 8th Oct 2021

Isolation Tips
Lone, remote workers and business travellers
The UK’s successful vaccination programme means employees are now starting to return to offices and travel more on company business. However, even with this hybrid and agile working pattern, employees continue to work alone more than ever before. This means that, as we move into a post-lockdown environment, it’s now more important than ever to protect the safety and well- being of employees. However, the new and different working landscapes present further challenges to employers and employees alike. Here is the conundrum for the pharma and life sciences sectors: whilst employers have always had long-standing health and safety at work and duty of care obligations to protect their lone/remote working staff – historical evidence shows that in practice, this employee population has been overlooked by employers.
Hygiene Helpers
Companies face pressure to act on vaccine mandates even as they wait for clear rules.
Last month, President Biden asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write rules that would require companies with more than 100 employees to mandate coronavirus vaccinations or weekly testing. But with OSHA still going through a lengthy rule-making process, which could take several more weeks, the White House is urging companies to act now. Several big employers have imposed mandates since Biden’s announcement, including 3M, Procter & Gamble and the airlines American, Alaska and JetBlue. IBM said on Thursday that it will require all of its U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, regardless of how often they come into the office. It will allow for “limited” medical or religious exceptions.
IBM Vaccine Mandate: Unvaxxed Employees Will Be Suspended in December
International Business Machines Corp. said all of its U.S.-based employees must be vaccinated by Dec. 8 or be put on unpaid suspension. The Armonk, New York-based company told workers that because it’s a government contractor, it’s required to adhere to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors. IBM said the new mandate will apply to all U.S. employees regardless of where they work or how often they go into a company office and will offer “limited” medical or religious exemptions. The decision was prompted by “the continued spread of Covid-19, local clinical conditions around IBM sites, and the reality that vaccines are readily available nationwide,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.
Canada imposes COVID-19 vaccine mandate on federal workers, transportation
Canada will place unvaccinated federal employees on unpaid leave and require COVID-19 shots for air, train and ship passengers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, as he unveiled one of the world's strictest vaccine mandate policies. Federal employees will be required to declare their full vaccination status through an online portal by Oct. 29. Workers and passengers age 12 and older on trains, planes and marine transport operating domestically - which are federally regulated - must show they have been inoculated by Oct. 30.
Los Angeles will require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine for indoor establishments
By next month Los Angeles will require residents and visitors to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to eat, drink, or shop in indoor establishments across the city. Under this mandate, eligible patrons will need to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, coffee shops, stores, gyms, spas or salons. People attending large, outdoor events will also need to show evidence of either vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test to attend the event. Proof of vaccination includes a vaccination card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a photo of both sides of the card, documentation from a health care provider, or a digital record of vaccination issued by California, another state or country.
Biden administration boosts at-home COVID-19 test supply
President Joe Biden today announced he is investing $1 billion dollars to quadruple the national supply of at-home COVID-19 tests by December. "We will have a 200 million test supply by December," said Jeff Zients, COVID-19 coordinator, during a White House press briefing. "At the same time we are increasing the supply of at-home tests, we are expanding access to free testing. Every American, no matter their zip code, can access free testing." Zients said the Biden administration was also focused on expanding the number of free, community-based testing sites to 30,000 across the country, including 20,000 sites at pharmacies. Earlier this week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Acon home test, an antigen test that provides results in less than 15 minutes. Zients said the Acon test will increase the home-testing supply significantly.
Community Activities
Divorced parents are going to court over vaccinating their kids against the coronavirus
Veronica was in her garden in New England when she got the email ping from her ex-husband in early May. “I started to have a panic attack,” says Veronica, who is not using her last name for privacy reasons. Her ex wanted a court to decide whether their 12-year-old daughter could be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The timing was terrible. “It was the day before I had her appointment scheduled,” she says. Divorced parents who disagree about coronavirus vaccination are taking their fights to court. The tensions have been fueled by inconsistent mask rules, misinformation and reports of more children hospitalized for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Man sentenced to 15 months in prison for spreading COVID-19 hoax on Facebook
Christopher Charles Perez, 40, made a Facebook post in April 2020 falsely claiming that he paid a COVID patient to lick items at a San Antonio grocer. He also made a post threatening to spread the virus at another area store. Investigators and Perez's confession revealed his posts to be false. He was found guilty of criminal false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons. Perez was sentenced to 15 months in prison, three years of supervised release that requires him to seek mental health treatment, and fined $1,000
Covid-19: NI schools warned about hoax vaccine letters
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has warned post primary schools in Northern Ireland about hoax Covid vaccine consent letters. Some schools have received emails claiming to come from the NHS, which contain a "consent checklist" for vaccination. The email asks them to share the checklist with parents and pupils. But the PHA said "the false email and 'consent form' content contains a number of important inaccuracies". It should "not be forwarded to parents," the PHA said. BBC News NI has been contacted by some principals in Northern Ireland whose schools have received the hoax consent forms. They are presented as a form with information to be sent to parents ahead of pupils being given Covid vaccinations.
More than 120,000 US kids had caregivers die during pandemic
The number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests. More than half the children who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic belonged to those two racial groups, which make up about 40% of the U.S. population, according to the study published Thursday by the medical journal Pediatrics. “These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic, and where additional resources should be directed,” one of the study’s authors, Dr. Alexandra Blenkinsop of Imperial College London, said in a statement.
‘Reaching a detente’ with SARS-CoV-2: Helen Branswell on covering Covid-19, misinformation and more
On Wednesday, STAT senior writer Helen Branswell spoke with Seth Mnookin, director of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing. The AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards sponsored the talk as part of its annual fall lecture series and in honor of Sharon Begley. Branswell spoke about Begley’s legacy, reporting on infectious diseases, and the past and future of the Covid-19 pandemic. Highlights from the conversation have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Working Remotely
U.S. employers look to prioritize well-being of remote workers- survey
Several U.S. companies are looking to prioritize employee well-being by offering perks such as home delivery of meals and subsidized furniture to meet the rigors of working from home, a survey showed on Wednesday. One of five employers have such plans for next year, according to early results from a national survey. With a majority of people working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are looking for at-home alternatives for offerings such as subsidized healthy food choices in cafeterias or onsite gyms.
Aussie company pays more than 1,000 employees $1,200 each to work from home - admitting 'we are renting space in people's homes'... so will others follow suit?
Employees at one of Australia's biggest private health insurers will get paid $1,200 on top of their annual salary to stay at home, as the firm pivots into a post-Covid remote working model. The announcement by CEO Mark Fitzgibbon comes as newly-appointed premier Domonic Perrotet is desperate to rush workers back into the struggling CBD as NSW vaccination rates surge. Mr Fitzgibbon says those days are 'long gone' and that other companies should get onboard a more flexible working model which could even mean an end to the five-day work week.
Virtual Classrooms
Academics from Japan and Hong Kong say virtual learning no substitute
While online classes have become the norm for some amid the COVID-19 pandemic, academics from Japan and Hong Kong believe that online classes cannot truly be a substitute for face-to-face learning despite the merits of technology in communicating with students. Oussouby Sacko, president of Kyoto Seika University, said professors at his university have struggled to teach, for example, art-related courses online, and students were also losing interest in attending classes. To motivate the students, Sacko has introduced a hybrid system of direct interactive sessions between teachers and students once a week and online classes on other days. Recognizing the challenges teachers face in holding virtual classes, he said there is a need to develop a program for the faculty to train them to become accustomed to the new teaching style.
Public Policies
Italy loosens COVID-19 restrictions on leisure activities
Italy increased the maximum attendance capacity allowed at cultural and sporting venues on Thursday, continuing its progressive easing of COVID-19 curbs for those who can show documents of immunity from the disease.
Pfizer Asks F.D.A. to Authorize Its Covid-19 Vaccine for Children 5 to 11
Pfizer and BioNTech said on Thursday morning that they had asked federal regulators to authorize emergency use of their coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, a move that could help protect more than 28 million people in the United States. The companies have said they were submitting data supporting the change to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency has promised to move quickly on the request and has tentatively scheduled a meeting on Oct. 26 to consider it. A ruling is expected between Halloween and Thanksgiving. “With new cases in children in the U.S. continuing to be at a high level, this submission is an important step in our ongoing effort against Covid-19,” Pfizer said on Thursday.
WHO Wants Less Talk, More Action From Rich Nations on Doses
The World Health Organization called on countries with high vaccination rates to swap their places in line and prioritize the delivery of Covid-19 shots to lower-income nations. The WHO set out a strategy for countries to follow to reach a goal to inoculate 40% of the population in every nation in the world by the end of the year, and 70% by mid-2022. The health body urged countries with high vaccine coverage to change their vaccine delivery schedules for the coming months to make room for Covax, which will ensure countries in need can receive doses and catch up. Manufacturers should be transparent on total monthly production and schedules for supplies to Covax.
Germany recommends booster shots for over 70s
Germany's vaccination authority, STIKO, recommended COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for people older than 70 on Thursday. All residents of care homes, as well as workers who come into direct contact with them, should also be offered a third vaccine dose, the body said. The same was also recommended for medical workers in direct contact with patients. STIKO gave its recommendation on the grounds that vaccine protection "declines over time, particularly in terms of preventing asymptomatic and mild infections." Previously booster shots had only be recommended in Germany for people with a weakened immune system.
Malaysia buys 150000 courses of Merck's COVID-19 pill
Malaysia has struck a deal with U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co to buy 150,000 courses of its experimental antiviral pill, the health ministry said on Thursday, joining other Asian countries in a rush to secure supplies. Molnupiravir, which would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19 if it gets regulatory approval, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalised for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19, clinical data has shown. The data sparked large demand for the drug in Asia, with South Korea, Singapore and Australia announcing similar deals to buy the Merck pill this week. Taiwan and Thailand are also in talks to buy it.
Finland joins Sweden and Denmark in limiting Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
Finland on Thursday paused the use of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for younger males due to reports of a rare cardiovascular side effect, joining Sweden and Denmark in limiting its use. Mika Salminen, director of the Finnish health institute, said Finland would instead give Pfizer's vaccine to men born in 1991 and later. Finland offers shots to people aged 12 and over. "A Nordic study involving Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark found that men under the age of 30 who received Moderna Spikevax had a slightly higher risk than others of developing myocarditis," he said.
The WHO has started shipping COVID-19 medical supplies to North Korea
The World Health Organization has started shipping COVID-19 medical supplies into North Korea, a possible sign that the North is easing one of the world's strictest pandemic border closures to receive outside help. WHO said in a weekly monitoring report that it has started the shipment of essential COVID-19 medical supplies through the Chinese port of Dalian for "strategic stockpiling and further dispatch" to North Korea. Edwin Salvador, WHO's representative to North Korea, said in an email to the Associated Press Thursday that some items, including emergency health kits and medicine, have reached the North Korean port of Nampo after North Korean authorities allowed the WHO and other U.N. agencies to send supplies that had been stuck in Dalian.
Decline in global COVID-19 cases, deaths continues
Continuing a trend that began in August, global COVID-19 cases and deaths declined again last week, with activity decreasing in most regions except Europe, where infection levels stayed the same, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday in its latest weekly snapshot of the pandemic. Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said on Twitter that hard work is paying off, and vaccinations are significantly cutting hospitalizations and deaths. She added, however, that vaccine equity is desperately needed, and the world is not out of the woods yet.