"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 4th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
Covid-19 news: WHO reports 25 per cent rise in depression and anxiety
A World Health Organization (WHO) briefing suggests that depression and anxiety have risen substantially during the coronavirus pandemic, with women and young people among the worst affected. Based on a review of existing evidence into covid-19’s impact on mental health, the briefing largely attributes the rise to the unprecedented stress of social isolation, as well as grieving loved ones, financial worries and fear of infection. Most of the countries surveyed (90 per cent) have included mental health support in their covid-19 recovery plans, however, the WHO has stressed there are still gaps in care.
Hygiene Helpers
Why are COVID vaccination rates still low in some countries?
Why are COVID-19 vaccination rates still low in some countries? Limited supplies remain a problem, but experts say other challenges now include unpredictable deliveries, weak health care systems and vaccine hesitancy. Most countries with low vaccination rates are in Africa. As of late February, 13 countries in Africa have fully vaccinated less than 5% of their populations, according to Phionah Atuhebwe, an officer for the World Health Organization's regional office for Africa. Many rich countries had planned to donate doses once their own populations were vaccinated, but the emergence of the delta and omicron variants spurred booster campaigns that further delayed those plans. Vaccine makers have largely declined to share their formulas or technology, further restricting production.
Covid News: C.D.C. Drops Contact Tracing Recommendation
Almost two years after the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for 100,000 contact tracers to contain the coronavirus, the C.D.C. said this week that it no longer recommends universal case investigation and contact tracing. Instead it encourages health departments to focus those practices on high-risk settings. The turning point comes as the national outlook continues to improve rapidly, with new cases, hospitalizations and deaths all continuing to fall even as the path out of the pandemic remains complicated. It also reflects the reality that contact-tracing programs in about half of U.S. states have been eliminated.
Turkey relaxes mask mandate amid drop in COVID-19 cases
Turkey relaxed its mask mandate on Wednesday and is also scrapping the use of codes assigned to citizens that allowed authorities to track those who have been in contact with infected people. Turkey relaxed its mask mandate on Wednesday, allowing people to ditch them in open-air spaces and in places with sufficient ventilation and where social distancing can be maintained. In a news conference following a meeting of the country’s Covid-19 advisory council, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said people would be required to continue wearing masks in planes, buses, theatres, cinemas, hospitals and classrooms. In other steps, Turkey will no longer close down classes where two or more students have tested positive for the virus, the minister said.
Greece lifts mask-wearing outdoors as COVID infections recede
Greece will lift its requirement of mask-wearing outdoors from Saturday, its health minister said on Wednesday, as COVID-19 infections are trending lower. The advisory committee of infectious disease experts recommended the lifting and the government accepted the recommendation, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said. "But it is highly recommended to wear masks outdoors when there is a lot of crowding," he said. The move comes after the lifting of curbs that barred standing customers at bars and night entertainment establishments earlier this month and the resumption of school excursions.
As Omicron recedes, White House shifts to a more targeted Covid strategy
The threat of the Omicron variant is receding and cities around the country are lifting their mask mandates, but the Biden administration isn’t ready to declare an end to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, the White House is out with a new plan focused on continued, commonsense public health measures like expanding access to coronavirus therapies and improving ventilation in indoor spaces. While the new strategy is largely a continuation of existing efforts, it represents a shift from policies aimed at preventing the spread of Covid and toward more targeted efforts to prevent society’s most vulnerable from becoming severely ill. The overarching goal is to move to a world in which the government allows life to proceed as normal, while keeping a watchful eye for new outbreaks or viral variants.
Community Activities
Education Scotland partners with cybersecurity firm to help young learners stay safe online
Scotland’s national education agency is partnering with a leading cybersecurity firm to provide interactive learning and ‘demystify’ the subject for young people. Palo Alto Networks is working with Education Scotland to equip children with the right information to help them manage their online interactions safely and securely. Together, they are launching the Cyber Citizens programme, which will be available from 3 March, 2022, to coincide with CyberScotland Week. The lessons are designed so that they can be delivered by anyone, regardless of their prior knowledge, with modules catering for children from ages five to 15-years-old.
Working Remotely
5 Practices To Maximize Remote Meetings And Prevent Them From Taking A Toll
In just two years, the paradigm of work has shifted along with its impact on our mental health and well-being. For Webex by Cisco, this means it’s time to make meetings better, according to chief marketing officer Aruna Ravichandran: “The pandemic has taught us a lot. At its inception, organizations were focused on business continuity, including getting employees up-and-running on video conferencing tools. As companies look at a hybrid approach to working, we’re focused on purposeful innovations that create value and enable people to strengthen their own work-life balance such as real-time translations, AI-powered technology to capture body language, build stronger connections and monitor your digital footprint.” By implementing healthier meeting practices and prioritizing wellness, remote and hybrid working no longer has to take a toll.
Twitter to reopen offices March 15, though remote work remains an option
Twitter will reopen its offices in the middle of this month, though employees will still be allowed to work remotely, according to an email from CEO Parag Agrawal to staffers. Agrawal, who was promoted to CEO in November, is taking a slightly different approach than Jack Dorsey, his predecessor and a Twitter co-founder. Dorsey told employees in the early days of the pandemic two years ago that they could work remotely “forever” if they wanted to. Agrawal said he’ll still honor that policy, but he warned that “distributed working will be much, much harder” and said “there will be lots of challenges.”
Virtual Classrooms
Students with disabilities are not getting help to address lost opportunities
Even before the pandemic hit, 98% of U.S. school districts said they didn’t have enough special education teachers to serve all the students who needed their help. During the pandemic, short-handed school districts were even more stretched to provide learning support to students with disabilities. Now, those students are struggling to catch up with where they should be. When then the pandemic forced schools to rapidly shift from traditional in-person teaching to virtual classes on laptops and smartphones in students’ homes, the sorts of services common in special education – additional support within a child’s classroom, and dedicated time with specialists outside the classroom – became difficult, or even impossible, to provide.
Online tutoring effective at making up for COVID-19 learning loss
A pilot program intended to measure the results of online tutoring for K-12 students has shown promising results in helping them recover from pandemic-driven learning loss, researchers at UC San Diego announced Wednesday. Conducted in partnership with the volunteer mentorship nonprofit CovEducation, the program matched students with volunteer student tutors from research universities. According to the findings, students who got more hours of online tutoring experienced better results.
Public Policies
White House unveils Covid strategy to usher in new normal as pandemic eases
The White House released a 96-page plan on Wednesday to shift the fight against Covid-19 and “help move America forward safely”, past a crisis footing to a new “normal”. Announcement of the plan follows promises made in Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech, which emphasized rapid rollout of a new “test to treat” model with free anti-viral pills after a positive test. This comes just a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened mask guidance nationally, as more and more Democratic leaders have lifted pandemic-era restrictions and with the president urging workers to return to the office in-person.
The surgeon general calls on Big Tech to turn over Covid-19 misinformation data.
President Biden’s surgeon general on Thursday formally requested that the major tech platforms submit information about the scale of Covid-19 misinformation on social networks, search engines, crowdsourced platforms, e-commerce platforms and instant messaging systems. A request for information from the surgeon general’s office demanded that tech platforms send data and analysis on the prevalence of Covid-19 misinformation on their sites, starting with common examples of vaccine misinformation documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The notice asks the companies to submit “exactly how many users saw or may have been exposed to instances of Covid-19 misinformation,” as well as aggregate data on demographics that may have been disproportionately exposed to or affected by the misinformation.
Biden's Covid-19 Promises Aren't All Scientifically Possible Yet
Biden’s most notable comment on the virus was the promise to make testing widely available at pharmacies and allow those who test positive to get free access to antiviral pills. That makes sense because in clinical trials, Pfizer’s drug Paxlovid showed close to 90% efficacy at reducing hospitalizations when given to people who test positive for Covid-19 within five days of reporting symptoms. But giving away Paxlovid isn’t quite that simple, because the drug interferes with the absorption of other drugs. Many people who are vulnerable enough to be good candidates for Paxlovid are going to be on multiple other drugs and would need a doctor’s supervision to take the five-day course of pills safely.
U.S. to share some coronavirus technologies with World Health Organization
The Biden administration will share U.S. government-devised coronavirus technologies with the World Health Organization, a policy shift intended to allow other countries to replicate some American scientific breakthroughs and better fight the pandemic abroad, federal officials said Thursday. Under the plan, some technologies now being developed by the National Institutes of Health will be licensed to the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, senior NIH official Anthony S. Fauci told reporters. The technologies will also be sub-licensed to the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool.
Pfizer to supply 10M courses of COVID drug Paxlovid to developing nations in 2022- Reuters
Pfizer (PFE) is expected to provide about 10M courses its COVID-19 therapy Paxlovid to low and middle-income nations in 2022, Reuters reported
Too early for China to seek 'coexistence' with COVID - govt expert
It is still too early for China to consider easing its stringent coronavirus restrictions, with the highly infectious Omicron strain still capable of causing large numbers of deaths, said Liang Wannian, head of an expert group on COVID-19 prevention. Describing China's so-called 'dynamic clearance' strategy as a "magic weapon", Liang said in an interview with China's state broadcaster CCTV that "coexisting" with the virus was still not an option. He said Omicron was still significantly more deadly than influenza and capable of putting great strain on the country's medical resources.
WHO recommends Merck's COVID pill for high-risk patients
A World Health Organization (WHO) panel on Wednesday backed the use of Merck & Co Inc's COVID-19 antiviral pill for high-risk patients. The expert panel conditionally recommended the pill, molnupiravir, for patients with non-severe disease who are at high risk of hospitalisation, such as the immunocompromised, the unvaccinated, older people and those with chronic diseases. The recommendation was based on new data from six clinical trials involving 4,796 patients.
Maintaining Services
Brazil Is Now Producing Its Own Covid-19 Vaccine Doses
On Valentine’s Day, scientists in Brazil produced a special gift: the first Covid-19 vaccine doses produced fully within the country. These used active pharmaceutical ingredients from Brazil, drew on a technology-transfer agreement with AstraZeneca, and were produced in a new vaccine production facility run by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Immunobiological Technology Institute (Instituto de Tecnologia em Imunobiológicos, or Bio-Manguinhos). The new lab expects to produce 120 million Covid-19 doses by the middle of 2022. This would allow for one dose each for over half of Brazil’s population
Additional doses of covid-19 vaccine recommended for immunocompromised patients
Additional doses of covid-19 vaccine are recommended for immunocompromised patients, especially for organ transplant recipients who are least able to make antibodies to fight off coronavirus, say experts in The BMJ today. The findings reinforce the importance of additional doses of covid-19 vaccine to protect people with a weakened immune system. It is already known that after vaccination, people with a weakened immune system (immunocompromised) are less able to make antibodies to fight off viruses, such as influenza, than people with a healthy immune system (immunocompetent). But less is known about the response to covid-19 vaccines, particularly mRNA vaccines.
COVID-19: How ventilation, filtration, humidity prevent transmission
Researchers from the University of Oregon measured the amount of virus particles that 11 students with COVID-19 released during certain activities. The research team found higher ventilation, filtration, and humidity levels decreased the amount of virus particles in the air. Scientists believe their findings can assist building operators with creating safer indoor environments.
Regeneron must face patent lawsuit over COVID-19 treatment
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc on Wednesday failed to persuade a federal judge in New York to throw out a lawsuit over its alleged misuse of a patented protein to test its breakthrough COVID-19 treatment. U.S. District Judge Philip Halpern said during an oral argument that he could not grant Regeneron's request at an early stage of the case to find it immune from Allele Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals Inc's infringement claims.
WHO sees little impact on COVID-19 vaccine supplies to Africa from Ukraine war
The World Health Organization does not expect any immediate impact on vaccine supply to Africa from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, senior officials on the continent said on Thursday. Russia's Sputnik vaccines are part of an effort by wealthier countries to plug the COVID-19 vaccine gap in Africa, but so far they remain a minimal component of imports to the continent. Russia's invasion entered its second week on Thursday and there are concerns that the focus on the war could interrupt vaccine shipments to Africa.
Why formally ending the pandemic is going to be a huge headache for the entire health care system
President Biden made it clear this week he wants to transition toward a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic — one where people are “moving forward safely, back to more normal routines,” as he said this week.
Healthcare Innovations
Lilly, Incyte Arthritis Drug Baricitinib Cut Covid Deaths in Study
Eli Lilly & Co. and Incyte Corp.’s rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib reduced the risk of death from Covid-19 in a large U.K. study, bolstering evidence that the class of inflammation-fighting medicines can help infected patients. Adding baricitinib to standard treatments lowered the risk of death among hospitalized Covid patients by 13%, according to results from the U.K. trial, called Recovery, in 8,156 people with the disease. Most of the patients also received steroids, and about one-quarter also got a different type of arthritis drug, Roche Holding AG’s Actemra.
How Covid-19 Could Shift From Pandemic to Endemic Phase
What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage.
Survival after in-hospital cardiac arrest 35% lower in COVID-19 patients
Adult COVID-19 patients who had an in-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA) were 35% less likely to receive potentially life-saving defibrillation without delay and survive to hospital release, according to a study today in JAMA Network Open. University of Iowa at Iowa City researchers led the study of 24,915 patients with IHCA from 286 US hospitals, of whom 5,916 (23.7%) had COVID-19, from March to December 2020. The research team analyzed data from the American Heart Association's Get With the Guidelines Registry (GWTG-R), which compiles information on patients who have IHCA at participating US hospitals. Among the 24,915 patients with IHCA, average age was 64.7 years, 39.5% were women, 24.8% were Black, 61.1% were White, 3.8% were of other races, and 10.3% were of unknown race.
COVID-19 vaccine prior to infection may reduce long COVID symptoms
A new study investigates whether receiving two doses of a coronavirus vaccine before a SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with reduced long COVID symptoms after 12 weeks. COVID-19 vaccines given prior to infection appear effective in resisting long COVID following breakthrough infections or infection after two doses. These findings have relevance for United Kingdom public health initiatives aimed at reducing the prevalence of long Covid in the U.K. population, especially in disadvantaged communities where prevalence is higher.