"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 6th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
U.S. CDC backs previous advice for 5-day isolation; no test needed
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday backed its week-old guidance for people seeking to end their COVID-19 isolation at five days, adding they could take a rapid antigen test if they want to and can access one, but is not requiring that. The agency had been pressured by health experts to institute a test requirement after it cut in half its guidance last week for people to isolate after a COVID-19 infection to 5 days from 10. It said the move was based on science around transmission of the virus. On Tuesday, the CDC added an explanation on its website, saying that a review of 113 studies from 17 countries showed that most transmission occurs early in the course of infection. It said the average period of infectiousness and risk of transmission was "between 2-3 days before and 8 days after symptom onset."
Yuzhou: Second Chinese city forced into Covid lockdown
China has put a second city into total lockdown after just three asymptomatic Covid cases were discovered. Yuzhou - which has a population of 1.1 million - saw its transport system shut down and all but essential food stores closed overnight. It follows a similar lockdown in Xi'an, where 13 million have been confined to their homes since 23 December. The strict measures come ahead of the Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics due to be held in Beijing.
Hygiene Helpers
Cuba’s vaccine success story sails past mark set by rich world’s Covid efforts
The island nation struggles to keep the lights on but has inoculated 90% of population with home-developed vaccines General Máximo Gómez, a key figure in Cuba’s 19th-century wars of independence against Spain once said: “Cubans either don’t meet the mark – or go way past it.” A century and a half later, the aphorism rings true. This downtrodden island struggles to keep the lights on, but has now vaccinated more of its citizens against Covid-19 than any of the world’s major nations. More than 90% of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of Cuba’s homegrown vaccines, while 83% have been fully inoculated. Of countries with populations of over a million, only the United Arab Emirates has a stronger vaccination record.
Covid-19: Demand for lateral flow tests 'outstrips supply'
People in Northern Ireland who get a positive lateral flow test no longer need a PCR test to confirm that result. The Department of Health has said those who receive a positive lateral flow test should assume that they have Covid-19 and self-isolate immediately. It comes amid business closures and health service pressures due to staff absences caused by self-isolation. Pharmacists have warned the demand for lateral flow tests in Northern Ireland is outstripping supply. Northern Ireland has reported 12% of its total number of positive Covid-19 cases since in the start of the pandemic in just the last seven days.
Israel earmarks COVID PCRs for high-risk groups, expands home-testing
Israel changed its COVID-19 quarantine and testing policy on Wednesday as part of efforts to husband resources and ensure continued protection for vulnerable people amid a surge in infections fueled by the Omicron variant. PCR tests will be earmarked for people aged 60 and over or with weak immune systems, while those at lower risk will be checked with rapid antigen tests, the health ministry said.
England to suspend PCR confirmation of positive rapid COVID tests
People who test positive for COVID-19 on rapid lateral flow tests will not need to confirm their results with a follow-up PCR test if they are not showing symptoms, the UK Health Security Agency said on Wednesday. Britain is reporting record daily case numbers, and the UKHSA said that the high prevalence meant the chance of a false positive from a lateral flow device (LFD) was low. The move could also reduce the burden on the testing system, and reduce confusion if the test results contradict each other. At current levels of prevalence, officials say a positive LFD result is likely to be accurate, even if a follow-up PCR were negative.
Ireland to drop COVID-19 test requirement for vaccinated arrivals
Ireland will drop its requirement for vaccinated arrivals to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test and return to seeking a proof of vaccination or recent infection upon entry, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said on Wednesday. Ireland introduced the measure a month ago to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant. Omicron now accounts for almost all Irish infections, which have rocketed to record levels in the last two weeks. Martin also said he believed Ireland's current restrictions to slow the spread of infection are effective and that it remained to be seen whether health chiefs will suggest any changes later this week.
Italy to Require Covid Shots for Those Over 50 to Blunt Record Cases
Italy made vaccination compulsory for people over 50 and further reduced what the unvaccinated can do in its latest bid to fight the surge in Covid-19 cases. “We want to slow down the growth of the contagion curve and push Italians who still aren’t vaccinated to do so,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said during the cabinet meeting, according to a statement. “We are acting in particular on age groups that are most at risk of hospitalization, to reduce pressure on hospitals and save lives.”
Community Activities
Rio cancels Carnival street parades due to rising COVID-19 cases, Omicron threat
Rio de Janeiro has canceled street parades and parties during its world-famous Carnival for a second year due to an increase in COVID-19 cases and the threat from the arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the city's mayor said on Tuesday. However, the spectacular parade by Rio's samba schools, which the public watches from the stands of the city's Marques de Sapucai Sambadrome, will go ahead, unlike last year, with health precautions to prevent spreading the virus, he said. Rio mayor Eduardo Paes announced after a meeting with health authorities that the city would call off the street events that draw hundreds of thousands of Carnival revelers each year.
Bank of America to staff: Get a booster, we'll give a food bank $100
Bank of America Corp told workers on Wednesday it will donate $100 to local food banks for every one of its employees who gets a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot and notifies the bank before Jan. 31, according to a memo seen by Reuters. It is a new spin on the $100 financial incentives that some cities and states offered newly vaccinated residents, and comes as companies look for ways to protect staff and ultimately return to work in offices. Bank of America, the United States' second-largest bank, said it would donate up to $10 million for workers who get booster shots this month or who have already gotten the shot if they register that information with the bank.
Working Remotely
Has remote working killed company culture?
Lindsay Wall is General Manager EMEA at Wongdoody, a human experience company powered by consultancy Infosys. He explains how bosses can continue to get the best out of their staff, as they return to home-working amid a massive spike in coronavirus cases. "Remote working has in fact led to the adoption of entirely new - and arguably more productive - ways of working and accelerated the use of collaboration tools like Miro and Slack to help enable communication and build and drive positive company culture. It’s accelerated the need for businesses to re-think how they work and how they deliver Employee Experience"
The era of flexible work in higher education has begun
The COVID-19 pandemic immediately and drastically altered our collective relationship with work. But how will faculty, staff and administrative jobs look different going forward? In mid-November, in the brief lull between the onset of the Delta and Omicron variants, Inside Higher Ed’s The Key podcast interviewed administrators at two universities that were out in front in addressing questions a lot of individuals and organizations are wrestling with.
Virtual Classrooms
10 school classrooms go virtual as Covid cases rise in East Lothian
More than 10 classes at schools across East Lothian were learning from home on Wednesday. Schools opened their doors following the festive break but staff shortages, due to Covid-19, meant some classrooms were empty.
Schools shift to virtual learning in Ontario amid surge in COVID-19 cases
Students across Ontario logged on to virtual classrooms as a new school term began on Wednesday, triggering renewed frustration for some families who said their children have a tough time with remote learning. Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Karen Littlewood said teachers are feeling a “slight sense of relief” that the return to in-person learning has been delayed since many of the safety measures called for are not currently in place. But she said educators are frustrated at having to revert to online schooling once more.
Chicago cancels classes after union backs remote learning
Leaders of Chicago Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday after the teachers union voted to switch to remote learning due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, the latest development in an escalating battle over pandemic safety protocols in the nation’s third-largest school district. Chicago has rejected a districtwide return to remote instruction, saying it was disastrous for children’s learning and mental health. But the union argued the district’s safety protocols are lacking and both teachers and students are vulnerable.
Public Policies
CDC advisory panel in favor of Pfizer vaccine booster for ages 12 to 15
A panel of outside experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday voted to recommend booster shots of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE's COVID-19 vaccine be made available to 12- to 15-year-olds. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted 13 to 1 to recommend that the U.S. health agency support booster shots for those aged 12 to 15 at least five months after their second dose. The panel also said the CDC should strengthen its recommendation for boosters ages 16 and 17. The agency had previously made the shots available to those teenagers, but had stopped short of suggesting that all of them should receive the additional jab.
Hong Kong bans flights from 8 countries, tightens COVID curbs
Hong Kong has announced a two-week ban on incoming flights from eight countries and tightened coronavirus restrictions after detecting cases of the Omicron variant. Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, told reporters on Wednesday that incoming flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States, including interchanges, would be banned from January 8 to January 21.
Pfizer to supply U.S. with 10 mln more courses of COVID-19 pills
The Biden administration doubled its order for Pfizer Inc's oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, the company and the White House said on Tuesday, providing the government a total of 20 million courses as it fights a record surge in COVID-19 cases. The White House now expects some 4 million treatment courses of the pills to be available by the end of January and 10 million by June, three months sooner than previously planned, according to an administration official. "We're getting them as soon as they come off the line," the official said.
Italy extends COVID vaccine mandate to everyone over 50
Italy on Wednesday made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for people from the age of 50, one of very few European countries to take a similar steps, in an attempt to ease pressure on its health service and reduce fatalities. The measure is immediately effective and will run until June 15. Italy has registered more than 138,000 coronavirus deaths since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain.
Maintaining Services
Scarce At-Home Covid Tests Leave Some Consumers Paying $40 a Pop
High prices for at-home Covid-19 tests are hitting the wallets of U.S. families who need them to get back to school and work — if they can find any to buy at all. One restaurant worker in New York said she paid an acquaintance double the retail price in a sidewalk exchange for a test kit. A mom in Missouri said she’s rationing her last two-pack for if her kids show serious symptoms. Another parent is keeping her daughter home from school, where tests are required before returning after the holiday, until an in-person appointment later this week because the $80 price tag she saw in online community groups was too steep.
COVID case counts may be losing importance amid omicron
The explosive increase in U.S. coronavirus case counts is raising alarm, but some experts believe the focus should instead be on COVID-19 hospital admissions. And those aren’t climbing as fast. Dr. Anthony Fauci, for one, said Sunday on ABC that with many infections causing few or no symptoms, “it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations as opposed to the total number of cases.” Other experts argue that case counts still have value. As the super-contagious omicron variant rages across the U.S., new COVID-19 cases per day have more than tripled over the past two weeks, reaching a record-shattering average of 480,000. Schools, hospitals and airlines are struggling as infected workers go into isolation.
China reports major drop in virus cases in locked-down Xi’an
China on Wednesday reported a major drop in COVID-19 infections in the northern city of Xi’an, which has been under a tight lockdown for the past two weeks that has sharply disrupted the lives of its 13 million residents. The National Health Commission announced just 35 new cases in Xi’an, home to the famed Terracotta Warriors statues along with major industries, down from 95 the day before. Health officials said they have basically achieved the goal of halting community transmission because the new cases were among people already quarantined.
Healthcare Innovations
Omicron estimated to be 95.4% of coronavirus variants in U.S. - CDC
The Omicron variant was estimated to be 95.4% of the coronavirus strains circulating in the United States as of Jan. 1, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday. The variant has swiftly spread across the country since its detection on Dec. 1, replacing Delta as the dominant strain and sparking a new wave of infections that pushed daily cases near the 1 million mark on Monday. The CDC said the variant accounted for an estimated 77% of cases in the week ended Dec. 25, up from the 58.6% projection it had disclosed last week.
Fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose boosts antibodies five-fold in Israeli study, PM says
A fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine boosts antibodies five-fold a week after the shot is administered, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday, citing preliminary findings of an Israeli study. "A week into the fourth dose, we know to a higher degree of certainty that the fourth dose is safe," Bennett said at Sheba Medical Center, which is giving second booster shots in a trial among its staff amid a nationwide surge in Omicron variant infections.