COVID-infected hamsters in pet shop trigger animal cull in Hong Kong

People in protective gear stand outside a colorful storefront.

Enlarge / Workers with Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department inspect the Little Boss pet store in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Authorities in Hong Kong are planning to cull around 2,000 small animals after a pet store employee and several imported hamsters tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report by the Associated Press.

On Monday, the pet store employee tested positive and was found to be infected with the delta coronavirus variant. Several hamsters in the store, which had recently been imported from the Netherlands, were also positive. The city, meanwhile, has been grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.

It’s unclear if the pet store cases are linked and, if they are, if the employee was infected by the hamsters or vice versa. But Hong Kong authorities say they can’t exclude the possibility that the hamsters spread the virus to the employee. As such, they aren’t taking any chances.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#animal-reservoir, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #hamster, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #zoonosis

FDA head: Omicron is a “natural disaster… most people are gonna get COVID”

A masked woman with a gray bob.

Enlarge / Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Getty | Shawn Thew)

US officials are comparing the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant to a natural disaster as the country continues to shatter records, logging over 1.4 million new COVID-19 cases Monday and seeing hospitalizations at all-time highs of over 140,000.

Officials are now bracing for the weeks ahead, which are expected to bring yet higher numbers of cases that will hamstring health care systems and other essential services nationwide.

“I think that we’re talking about a natural disaster,” Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food Drug Administration, said in a Senate Health Committee hearing Tuesday. “I think right now, we need to focus on continuity of operations for hospitals and other essential services as this variant sweeps through the population.”

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #hospitalizations, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #woodcock

Doctors fear health care collapse amid omicron surge

Emergency workers as seen through a window.

Enlarge / A medical worker in PPE works with a patient with Covid-19 in a negative pressure room in the ICU ward at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts on January 4, 2022. The hospital says it is overflowing with patients and doesn’t have many beds left. (credit: Getty | Joseph Prezioso)

Hospitals nationwide are once again buckling under the strain of COVID-19 cases as the ultratransmissible omicron wave crashes into health care systems that are already critically short-staffed and exhausted from previous waves of the pandemic.

The current situation is forcing states and hospitals to declare emergencies, deploy the National Guard, delay or cancel elective procedures, institute crisis standards of care, and allow health providers to stay at work even if they themselves are positive for COVID-19 because there is no one available to take their place. Together, the situation has some doctors openly worrying that the omicron wave will cause some systems to collapse in the coming weeks.

“The comforting news that this variant generally causes milder disease overlooks the unfolding tragedy happening on the front lines,” Craig Spencer, an emergency medicine physician and director of global health in emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece Monday.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #hospitalizations, #hospitals, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science

CDC head talks screwups, 4th doses, omicron’s wave in long-awaited briefing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday held its first COVID-19 press briefing in over a year. The briefing covered a wide range of pandemic-related topics, from the rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases to the trajectory of the omicron wave and the agency’s own missteps in communicating with the public.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky fielded most of the questions herself during the roughly 35-minute phone conference, as reporter after reporter expressed the need for more briefings and thanked her for being available today. Walensky noted that she had been in over 80 COVID-19 briefings held by the White House. However, the CDC had not given its own briefing on its pandemic-related work since January 6, 2021.

In the intervening year, the CDC has experienced periodic missteps and has taken heavy criticism for muddled messaging around ever-evolving pandemic guidance. The latest such episode unfolded last week after the agency said that certain individuals infected with COVID-19 could leave isolation periods early without having to test negative. The agency has stood by the decision, despite science-based criticisms and concerns that the CDC’s decision was influenced by political interests, namely avoiding the problem of test shortages.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #walensky

Omicron is not mild and is crushing health care systems worldwide, WHO warns

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference on December 20, 2021, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference on December 20, 2021, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (credit: Getty| Fabrice Coffrini)

The World Health Organization on Thursday pushed back against the consistent chatter that the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus is “mild,” noting that the variant is causing a “tsunami of cases” that is “overwhelming health systems around the world.”

“While omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta—especially in those vaccinated—it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild,'” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing Thursday. “Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people, and it is killing people.”

The warning comes as the US is still experiencing a vertical rise in cases and hospitalizations from the quick-spreading variant. In the week ending on January 1, omicron was estimated to account for 95 percent of all cases in the US, according to the latest analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The delta variant, which was making up over 99 percent of US cases as recently as the week ending on December 4, has now been relegated to just 5 percent of cases.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #coronavirus, #hospitalizations, #infections, #omicron, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #variant, #who

US sets global record with over 1 million COVID cases in one day

Long lines at a mobile COVID-19 testing tent in Queens, New York, on December 29, 2021.

Enlarge / Long lines at a mobile COVID-19 testing tent in Queens, New York, on December 29, 2021. (credit: Getty | Universal Images Group)

The United States reported over one million new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, setting a global record for a single-day total as the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant continues its savage spread.

The daily high likely includes a backlog of cases from the holiday weekend. But with more people relying on at-home testing for identifying COVID-19 infections, the number is still probably an underrepresentation of recent cases.

Though cases are rising nationwide, the Eastern US is seeing the highest case rates and steepest increases. New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC, have the top-three highest infection rates in the country. Louisiana, Maryland, and Alabama are reporting the largest increase in cases over the last two weeks.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #hospitalizations, #infections, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #variant

FDA authorizes booster doses for 12- to 15-year-olds, shortens interval for adults

A health worker administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to an elderly resident at Ichilov medical center in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.

Enlarge / A health worker administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to an elderly resident at Ichilov medical center in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

As the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant bears down on the US, the Food and Drug Administration on Monday announced a set of sweeping changes to the availability of Pfizer-BioNTech booster doses.

The regulator expanded access to third doses by authorizing their use for kids 12 to 15 years old. The agency also shortened the interval at which adults and children 12 and up can get a booster after their second dose—moving the time from six months to only five months. Last, the FDA made third doses available to immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11 who may not mount a strong response from only the first two doses.

The FDA’s moves are motivated by omicron and backed by data from Israel, which has a booster program further along than that of the US. In fact, Israeli officials on Monday began offering fourth doses (second booster doses) of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people ages 60 and over in an effort to sustain high levels of protection in the population. The omicron variant, which is currently powering a vertical rise in cases in the US, has been found to thwart protection from only two vaccine doses, but it can still be defeated with booster doses.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biontech, #booster, #cases, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #pfizer, #science, #vaccines

Children’s hospitals are filling nationwide amid tidal wave of omicron

A Boston Medical Center pediatrician performs a checkup on an 8-month-old while her father provides her comfort in a pediatrics tent set up outside of Boston Medical Center in Boston on April 29, 2020.

Enlarge / A Boston Medical Center pediatrician performs a checkup on an 8-month-old while her father provides her comfort in a pediatrics tent set up outside of Boston Medical Center in Boston on April 29, 2020. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US is skyrocketing amid the omicron wave, with new admissions up 66 percent in the last week and now past the all-time record high for the pandemic.

The surge in pediatric hospitalizations comes amid a record-smashing vertical rise in overall cases, which is being driven by the ultratransmissible omicron coronavirus variant. Though preliminary data continues to link omicron waves to milder disease and fewer hospitalizations compared with previous variants, it’s still unclear if the variant is intrinsically less virulent in people generally, and specifically children, specifically.

Laboratory studies continue to indicate that omicron causes milder lung disease in rodents than previous variants. But, mild omicron waves in humans have largely been seen in populations with high levels of preexisting protection from prior COVID-19 infection and/or vaccination. Such populations are expected to have less severe disease overall.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #children, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #hospitalization, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #pediatric, #public-health, #science

Omicron smashes US case records as experts are still trying to understand it

A healthcare worker conducts a test at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the Dan Paul Plaza on December 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. In response to the increasing demand for COVID-19 tests, Miami-Dade County opened two new testing sites and expanding hours at the Zoo Miami testing location.

Enlarge / A healthcare worker conducts a test at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the Dan Paul Plaza on December 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. In response to the increasing demand for COVID-19 tests, Miami-Dade County opened two new testing sites and expanding hours at the Zoo Miami testing location. (credit: Getty | Joe Raedle)

Average daily COVID-19 cases in the US reached over 267,000 Tuesday, a record high largely driven by an ultratransmissible coronavirus variant that experts are still scrambling to understand.

The current seven-day average of 267,305 daily cases has leapt above the previous record of around 250,000 cases, which was set in early January, 2021. And the current vertical rise in cases is expected to continue in to the coming weeks.

“The rapid increase in cases we are seeing across the country is in large part a reflection of the exceptionally transmissible omicron variant,” Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a White House press briefing Wednesday.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #disease-severity, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #rapid-tests, #science, #transmission

CDC draws criticism for shorter COVID quarantine, isolation as omicron bears down

Travelers wait in line to check-in at LaGuardia Airport in New York, on December 24, 2021. -On Christmas Eve, airlines, struggling with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, have canceled over 2,000 flights globally, 454 of which are domestic, into or out of the US.

Enlarge / Travelers wait in line to check-in at LaGuardia Airport in New York, on December 24, 2021. -On Christmas Eve, airlines, struggling with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, have canceled over 2,000 flights globally, 454 of which are domestic, into or out of the US. (credit: Getty | YUKI IWAMURA)

As the ultratransmissible omicron coronavirus variant bears down on the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday made a controversial decision to ease COVID-19 isolation and quarantine rules.

The country’s omicron surge has sent graphs of case counts vertical, and is already causing severe strain on health systems, shuttering businesses, and wreaking havoc on holiday travel and festivities. The US is currently averaging over 243,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, near the country’s all-time high of an average just over 250,000 per day set in early January 2021. Still, federal officials and public health experts say this is only the beginning of omicron’s towering wave, which may not peak until next month.

The CDC’s decision Monday is intended to ease the economic burden of the skyrocketing cases and follows an accumulation of data suggesting that infectiousness tends to wane two to three days after the onset of symptoms. However, some public health experts called the new rules “reckless” for not incorporating testing requirements.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-diseases, #infectiousness, #isolation, #omicron, #pandemic, #public-health, #quarantine, #rapid-tests, #science, #testing, #transmission, #variant

Current vaccines are enough to fight omicron, but massive wave is coming fast

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, during the daily press briefing at the White House on December 1, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, during the daily press briefing at the White House on December 1, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Anna Moneymaker)

Though booster doses of current vaccines can foil the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant, a towering wave of omicron cases may peak in the US as soon as January, officials warn.

Scientists are still racing to fully understand the variant, which first gained international attention in late November. But a few things are becoming increasingly clear: The variant spreads stunningly fast, and it can largely circumvent protection from two vaccine doses. However, people who have received a third vaccine dose are well-protected against severe disease.

In a White House press briefing Wednesday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci reviewed the early laboratory and real-world data on vaccine effectiveness. Numerous laboratory studies have all shown that levels of neutralizing antibodies from two doses of a vaccine are significantly lower against omicron—potentially so low that they do not protect against the variant. But studies looking at neutralizing antibodies after a third dose consistently find a substantial increase in protection. One study found a 38-fold rise in the level of neutralizing antibodies against omicron after a third dose of an mRNA vaccine.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science

Hospital beds full, National Guard deployed amid crushing delta wave

A nurse in the ICU looks into a COVID patient's room filled with flowers and balloons at CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

Enlarge / A nurse in the ICU looks into a COVID patient’s room filled with flowers and balloons at CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

The wave of COVID-19 driven by the hypertransmissible delta variant continues to grow throughout the US, with hospitals in Northeastern and Midwestern states now being crushed by a deluge of patients.

One of Pennsylvania’s largest health systems, Geisinger, announced Wednesday that it was overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated patients and running at 110 percent. Geisinger CEO Jaewon Ryu told the Associated Press that he only expects the situation to worsen in the coming weeks as case counts and test positivity numbers continue to rise in the state.

Meanwhile, New York and Maine have deployed members of the National Guard to their health systems overburdened by COVID-19 cases, which are largely in people who are not fully vaccinated.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #hospitalizations, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science

Anime convention of 53K is first US case study for omicron spread, CDC says

Costumed attendees take a break during Anime NYC at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on November 20, 2021. Anime NYC is an annual three-day anime convention held in New York City.

Enlarge / Costumed attendees take a break during Anime NYC at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on November 20, 2021. Anime NYC is an annual three-day anime convention held in New York City. (credit: Getty | Ken Betancur)

An anime convention held in New York City last month may inadvertently offer the US its first case study on the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fifty-three thousand anime fans from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 27 other countries traveled to New York City for the Anime NYC convention, which ran from November 19 and 21 in the city’s Javits Center. Organizers reported afterward that they were overwhelmed by the large attendance and struggled with packed rooms and crowding—conditions ideal for coronavirus transmission.

Last week, officials in Minnesota reported that a resident tested positive for the omicron variant after attending the convention. At the time, it was only the second omicron case detected in the US. But since then, officials have identified cases in at least 18 other US states, as well as over 50 countries worldwide.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#anime, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #transmission, #variant

COVID vaccinations spike in US as delta rages and omicron looms

People line up outside of a free COVID-19 vaccination site that opened today in the Hubbard Place apartment building on December 3, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / People line up outside of a free COVID-19 vaccination site that opened today in the Hubbard Place apartment building on December 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Samuel Corum)

Amid a raging delta wave and fears of omicron, the United States on Thursday administered 2.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the highest single-day vaccination total since May, shortly after the shots were made widely available to adults.

More than 1 million of the shots given yesterday were booster doses, according to Jeff Zients, White House COVID-⁠19 Response Coordinator. To date, nearly 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, which is roughly 60 percent of the population, and 44 million are fully vaccinated and boosted.

“This is important progress,” Zients said in a press briefing Friday. “Vaccines clearly remain our most important tool… If you were fully vaccinated before June, it’s time for you to go get your booster. If you’re unvaccinated, go get your first shot today. And if your kids are five years or older and not yet vaccinated, get them the protection of the vaccine as well.”

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science

2nd US omicron case just traveled to NYC anime convention with 53K attendees

Costumed people attend Anime NYC at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on November 20, 2021.

Enlarge / Costumed people attend Anime NYC at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on November 20, 2021. (credit: Getty | Kena Betancur)

US health officials have identified a second case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a Minnesota man, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. Unlike the first case, the man had not traveled internationally but had recently returned home to Minnesota from an anime convention in New York City attended by 53,000 people.

The case suggests that there is domestic transmission of the worrisome variant and that it has been circulating in the US undetected until now.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC, the man is a resident of Hennepin County and traveled to New York City to attend the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from November 19 to 21. The man had been vaccinated. He developed mild symptoms on November 22 and sought COVID-19 testing on November 24. He has since recovered from the infection.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #variant

Omicron found in US—plus 23 other countries in 5 of 6 global regions

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, delivers an update on the Omicron COVID-19 variant during the daily press briefing at the White House on December 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. The first case of the omicron variant in the United States has been confirmed today in California.

Enlarge / Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, delivers an update on the Omicron COVID-19 variant during the daily press briefing at the White House on December 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. The first case of the omicron variant in the United States has been confirmed today in California. (credit: Getty | Anna Moneymaker)

The omicron coronavirus variant has now been detected in at least 24 countries in five of six global regions—and as of this afternoon, that includes the United States.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this afternoon that the first US case was detected in a person in California who had returned to the US from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive on November 29. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco carried out genomic sequencing identifying the omicron variant in the person, and the CDC confirmed that sequencing.

The CDC reported that the person was fully vaccinated and had only mild symptoms that are improving. In a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said it appeared the person had not yet received a booster shot. Public health experts suggest that booster shots will significantly improve protection against the new, still poorly understood variant.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #variant, #who

Child COVID cases are on the rise, jumping 32% in latest surge

A health care worker prepares to administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines at an elementary school vaccination site for children ages 5 to 11.

Enlarge / A health care worker prepares to administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines at an elementary school vaccination site for children ages 5 to 11. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Cases of COVID-19 are increasing in children, and they continue to account for an out-sized proportion of infections, according to the latest data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The fresh data comes at the start of a holiday week and a new surge in cases, worrying experts that the pandemic—and its impact on children—will only worsen as the country heads into the winter months. Travel during this week will likely rival pre-pandemic levels, according to estimates by AAA and the Transportation Security Administration. And many families are anxious to resume holiday traditions and packed family gatherings, in which unvaccinated children are at risk of getting and transmitting the virus.

In the week of November 11 to 18, nearly 142,000 children reported getting COVID-19. That’s an increase of 32 percent from two weeks ago. Overall, cases of COVID-19 in the US have increased 27 percent in the past two weeks.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#children, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infection, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

White House hails vaccine mandates as number of unvaccinated drops 40%

FLORIDA, 11/09/2021: A boy gives a nurse a high-five before receiving a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site for children aged 5 to 11.

Enlarge / FLORIDA, 11/09/2021: A boy gives a nurse a high-five before receiving a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site for children aged 5 to 11. (credit: Getty | SOPA images)

The White House touted the success of COVID-19 vaccine mandates Wednesday as more of the country’s unvaccinated are rolling up their sleeves.

In the last seven days, the country has averaged 300,000 first doses per day, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients noted in a press briefing today. The weekly total is the highest in nearly a month, Zients added.

Overall, the number of unvaccinated people eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine (people ages 12 and up) has dropped 40 percent since July. That is, the number of unvaccinated fell from about 100 million to less than 60 million.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biden, #boosters, #children, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #mandate, #public-health, #science, #vaccination, #vaccine

Passengers couldn’t fly after NHS vaccine passport went offline

Passengers couldn’t fly after NHS vaccine passport went offline

Enlarge (credit: VOO QQQ)

England’s COVID Pass system went offline for hours on Wednesday, causing British travelers to remain stranded at airports. Some passengers couldn’t board their flights, while others suffered delays as both the National Health Service (NHS) website and app experienced issues.

Delays and missed flights

An NHS system outage lasting approximately four hours left many British travelers unable to access their vaccination records and present their COVID Pass to the airlines. Prior to letting passengers board, most airlines in the UK require proof of vaccination in printed or digital form. But those without a paper copy were left in limbo as the NHS smartphone app kept throwing up errors.

Journalist Caroline Frost, who is vaccinated, is one of the many passengers who had a hard time getting by at the airport:

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#air-travel, #biz-it, #coronavirus, #covid, #nhs, #outage, #tech, #vaccine-passport

Idaho COVID crisis: Hospitals overflowing with sicker, younger patients

Large tents set up outside a brick building.

Enlarge / A coronavirus preparedness tent setup outside a hospital emergency room entrance at Gritman Medical Center in the northern Idaho city of Moscow in March 2020. (credit: Getty | Education Images)

Health officials in Idaho are reporting dire circumstances as hospitals around the state continue to crumble under the delta-fueled surge of COVID-19 cases.

“We continue to set record highs,” Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said in a press briefing Tuesday. With the latest data through September 18, the state saw a new record high of 686 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a record high of 180 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, and a record high of 112 COVID-19 patients on ventilators. The number of ventilated COVID-19 patients is nearly double what was seen in the last surge of COVID-19 cases in December.

“These numbers continue to increase, and we expect them to continue to increase,” Jeppesen added.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #crisis-standards-of-care, #deaths, #hospitalizations, #icu, #idaho, #infectious-disease, #science

COVID in children: Infections skyrocket 30X, now account for 30% of cases

A health care worker administers a COVID-19 test to a child at the Austin Regional Clinic drive-thru vaccination and testing site in Austin, Texas, US, on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.

Enlarge / A health care worker administers a COVID-19 test to a child at the Austin Regional Clinic drive-thru vaccination and testing site in Austin, Texas, US, on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

COVID-19 cases in children have risen 30-fold since late June and are now at record highs, with nearly 500,000 new child cases reported in the past two weeks, according to the latest data released by the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday. Pediatric cases have “increased exponentially,” the AAP said in a statement.

The rise coincides with a dramatic surge in overall COVID-19 transmission driven by the hypertransmissible delta variant. But with more adults vaccinated, children are getting hit harder in this wave than ever before, and they make up a larger and larger share of the cases.

At this point, the US has recorded 5.3 million cumulative cases in children, accounting for 15.5 percent of total cases in the pandemic. That percentage has risen steadily during the current surge, up from 14.2 percent at the end of June.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#american-academy-of-pediatrics, #cases, #children, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #pandemic, #science

Unvaccinated are 5X more likely to catch delta, 11X more likely to die

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

COVID-19 vaccines are largely holding up against the hyper-transmissible delta coronavirus variant, particularly when it comes to preventing severe disease and death, according to three studies published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, fully vaccinated people are about five times less likely to become infected with delta, 10 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 from delta, and 11 times less likely to die from the variant, according to the studies.

The fresh data lands just a day after President Biden announced sweeping vaccine mandates—the administration’s most aggressive action yet to push vaccine holdouts into getting the life-saving shot. About 80 million Americans eligible vaccination have yet to receive the free and readily available shots. Meanwhile, delta has spread across the country like wildfire since June, leading to one of the largest COVID-19 surges yet in the pandemic. Currently, the US is seeing nearly 150,000 new cases every day, with 100,000 hospitalizations and over 1,500 daily deaths—almost all of which are preventable with vaccination.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #fda, #pandemic, #science, #vaccine, #vaccine-effectiveness

Idaho begins rationing care as hospitals crumple under COVID load

Large tents set up outside a brick building.

Enlarge / Coronavirus preparedness tent set up outside hospital emergency room entrance at Gritman Medical Center in the northern Idaho city of Moscow in March 2020. (credit: Getty | Education Images)

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare on Monday activated its “crisis standards of care” in 10 northern hospitals hard-hit by staff shortages, hospital bed shortages, and a “massive increase in patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization,” the department announced Tuesday.

The crisis standards mean that the quality of care in those hospitals will be reduced for all patients. Resources will be rationed, and patients with the best chances of survival may be prioritized.

In practice, that could mean that: emergency medical services may prioritize which 9-1-1 calls they respond to; some people who would normally be admitted to the hospital will instead be turned away; some admitted patients may be sent home earlier than typical or may find their hospital bed in a repurposed area of the hospital, like a conference room; and, in the worst cases, hospital staff might not be able to provide an intensive care unit bed or a ventilator to a patient that has a relatively low chance of survival.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #crisis-standards, #hospital, #hospitalization, #idaho, #infectious-disease, #ration, #science

US sees jump in vaccinations amid devastating delta surge

A nurse administers a COVID-19 shot at a vaccination site in Florida on August 18, 2021.

Enlarge / A nurse administers a COVID-19 shot at a vaccination site in Florida on August 18, 2021. (credit: Getty | Sopa images)

The US reached a milestone of having 200 million people vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday. And for two days in a row now, over one million people rolled up their sleeves for a shot. Those are daily highs not seen in nearly seven weeks.

Of those one million vaccinations each day, approximately 562,000 and 534,000 shots went to people receiving their first dose, according to White House COVID-19 Data Director, Cyrus Shahpar. Earlier this week, the seven-day average of new first doses nationwide has been hovering around 400,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The boost in vaccinations comes amid a devastating wave of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths driven by the hypertransmissible delta variant, which now accounts for nearly all cases in the US. The surge stands to rival the country’s worst wave of the pandemic, which peaked in January 2021 with average daily new cases around 200,000. The country is now averaging over 130,000 cases a day, and that figure is still climbing.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #covid-19-vaccines, #deaths, #delta, #hospitalizations, #science, #vaccinatation, #vaccines

“We are set on a path that looks disastrous”: Alabama hospitals near collapse

Scott Harris, Alabama's State Health Officer, discusses his state's vaccination data in his office on June 29, 2021, in Montgomery, Alabama.

Enlarge / Scott Harris, Alabama’s State Health Officer, discusses his state’s vaccination data in his office on June 29, 2021, in Montgomery, Alabama. (credit: Getty | ELIJAH NOUVELAGE)

Medical professionals in Alabama are sounding the alarm over the monstrous surge of COVID-19 cases that is overwhelming the state’s hospitals—which are quickly running short on staff and space.

“We are set on a path that looks disastrous,” Dr. Donald Williamson, president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association, said in a state medical association COVID-19 update Thursday.

Currently, Alabama is reporting around 4,000 new cases per day. Medical experts in the Yellowhammer State expect that, sometime next week, Alabama will exceed its previous record in average daily cases, which was set in January at around 4,500 new cases per day.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#alabama, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #hospital, #icu, #infectious-disease, #masks, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #surge, #vaccines

What to know about the US COVID booster plan—and why WHO hates it

 A health professional holds a vial of the Moderna vaccine against Covid-19

Enlarge / A health professional holds a vial of the Moderna vaccine against Covid-19 (credit: Europa Press News)

US officials on Wednesday formally announced plans to offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to Americans—and the plans are already under fire from experts at the World Health Organization.

US officials are recommending that all Americans vaccinated with two doses of an mRNA vaccine (either the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine) get a third booster dose of the same vaccine eight months after receiving their second dose. As such, boosters will be rolled out based on the order in which people were initially offered vaccines, i.e., with frontline health workers, nursing home residents, and other seniors at the front of the line.

US officials are prepared to begin offering booster shots the week of September 20. However, the timing of the boosters is pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an independent committee of experts that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boosters, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta-variant, #fda, #infectious-disease, #moderna, #pandemic, #pfizer, #public-health, #science, #vaccine, #who

Florida is ablaze with COVID-19—and its case data reporting is a hot mess

A man in a suit gestures while speaking at a podium

Enlarge / Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event on August 10, 2021. (credit: Getty | Joe Raedle)

With the hypertransmissible delta variant on the rampage, Florida has become the epicenter of transmission in the US. The state is experiencing its largest surge of COVID-19 cases yet in the pandemic. Hospitalizations have reached record levels, and deaths are on the rise.

But instead of focusing on the response to the dire public health emergency, state officials appear to be squabbling over pandemic data and health measures.

On Monday night, Florida’s health department blasted media outlets for reporting the state’s most recent daily COVID-19 cases counts—as the counts were relayed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #data, #florida, #infectious-disease, #masks, #pandemic, #public-health, #ron-desantis, #science

Record-setting COVID surge in Florida spurs pro-mask uprising against DeSantis

A man in a suit gestures while speaking into a microphone.

Enlarge / Florida man and Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Assault Brigade 2506 Honorary Museum on August 05, 2021, in Hialeah, Florida. (credit: Getty | Joe Raedle)

The dire COVID-19 situation in Florida continues to worsen as local and federal leaders push back against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his efforts to thwart public health measures.

DeSantis has banned businesses, local governments, and schools in Florida from requiring proof of vaccination. Last Friday, DeSantis issued an executive order barring schools from requiring children to wear masks. In signing the executive order, the governor’s office called federal recommendations for masks “unscientific” and claimed the order would “protect parents’ freedom.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has also recommended universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Meanwhile, the delta coronavirus surge continues. On Wednesday, Florida recorded 20,133 new cases, its second-highest daily total of new cases in the entirety of the pandemic. The Sunshine State accounted for 22 percent of new cases detected in the US yesterday, despite making up just 6.5 percent of the country’s population. Today, a record-high of 12,888 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. It is the fourth straight day of record-breaking hospitalizations.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #florida, #hospitalization, #infectious-disease, #masks, #pandemic, #science

After a COVID-free year, delta arrives in Wuhan, China

Residents line up for nucleic acid testing of COVID-19 on August 3, 2021, in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

Enlarge / Residents line up for nucleic acid testing of COVID-19 on August 3, 2021, in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. (credit: Getty )

After going a full year without any locally spread cases of COVID-19, the city where the coronavirus pandemic first began has now detected its first cases involving the delta variant.

Officials in Wuhan, China, on Monday confirmed three delta cases, prompting them to order coronavirus testing for all 12 million or so of the city’s residents.

“To ensure that everyone in the city is safe, city-wide nucleic acid testing will be quickly launched for all people to fully screen out positive results and asymptomatic infections,” Wuhan official Li Qiang said at a news briefing, according to the Associated Press.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#china, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #testing, #variant, #wuhan

Facebook will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to campus

Earlier today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work on-site. It was part of a larger letter sent to Google/Alphabet staff that also noted the company will be extending its work-from-home policy through October 18, as the Covid-19 Delta variant continues to sweep through the global population.

In a message to TechCrunch, Facebook’s VP of People, Lori Goler, confirmed a similar policy for the social media giant.

“As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated,” Goler writes. “How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations. We will have a process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and will be evaluating our approach in other regions as the situation evolves. We continue to work with experts to ensure our return to office plans prioritize everyone’s health and safety.”

The statement is worded similarly to the long letter penned by Pichai, which carved out an exception for “medical or other protected reasons.” The comment doesn’t offer an adjusted timeline for the return, which had initially planned to go half-capacity in September and full by October.

Last week, a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal, “Expert guidelines state that vaccines are highly effective at preventing variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant. Our timelines to reopen our offices haven’t changed.”

Both statements offer some wiggle room for the company, based on things like local and state regulations, medical or personal concerns and, presumably, access to the vaccine, which can vary greatly based on region.

Amazon also responded to TechCrunch’s inquiry on the matter, noting, “We strongly encourage Amazon employees and contractors to be vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 vaccines are available to them.”

The company’s current guidelines don’t appear to require vaccination in order to return to its offices, though unvaccinated employees are required to wear masks. Face coverings are optional for those who have verification of being fully vaccinated.

#amazon, #apps, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #facebook, #health, #vaccination

Want to work at a Google campus? You’ll need to be vaccinated

Even for tech companies who create the tools for remote work, returning to the office is proving a major challenge. After early work from home recommendations last March, companies like Google eventually closed up shop, requiring employees to take their work home with them. The intervening year and change have been a fraught balancing act for the company (along with most of the world), which began outlining return to work plans for some employees as early as May 2020.

As Delta and other Covid-19 variants threaten anticipated returns to normalcy, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai offered a clearer look at the company’s new normal. In a letter to employees reprinted on the Google Keyword blog, Pichai notes that all employees working out of one of Google’s campuses will need to be vaccinated.

“We’re rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months,” Pichai writes. “The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area.”

Further complicating matters is the second bullet point. While the rise of the Delta variant is expanding the company’s work-from-home policy through October 18, it’s not entirely clear what happens after that date (assuming the virus doesn’t force another goal post shift) to unvaccinated employees, who may not be able work out of a Google office or remotely.

The post does, however, note some exception for those unvaccinated for “medical or other protected reasons.” Google hasn’t clarified how it will enforce such exceptions.

“For those of you with special circumstances, we will soon be sharing expanded temporary work options that will allow you to apply to work from home through the end of 2021,” Pichai writes,.“We’re also extending Expanded Carer’s Leave through the end of the year for parents and caregivers.”

Other tech giants like Apple have also pushed back return-to-office plans and implemented masks in retail stores, as mandates have gone into effect amid increasing Covid-19 rates. Others, including Facebook, are sticking with original Fall reopening plans.

“Expert guidelines state that vaccines are highly effective at preventing variants of Covid-19, including the Delta variant,” a spokesperson for the social media giant recently told The Wall Street Journal. “Our timelines to reopen our offices haven’t changed.”

#alphabet, #apps, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #google, #health, #remote-work, #sundar-pichai

Class, a Zoom-only virtual classroom, nears unicorn status after SoftBank check

Class, a virtual classroom that integrates exclusively with Zoom, announced today that it has raised $105 million in a financing led by SoftBank Vision Fund II. The 10-month old startup has now raised a total of $146 million in known venture funding to date, which eclipses the amount of capital raised by founder Michael Chasen’s now-public previous company, Blackboard.

Despite its infancy, Class is rapidly nearing unicorn status, confirming that it currently sports a post-money valuation of $804 million. Other investors in Class include GSV Ventures and Emergence Capital, who led the startups’ pre-seed round, as well as top U.S. edtech funds including Reach Capital, Owl Ventures, Insight Partners and Learn Capital.

Class, formerly Class for Zoom, uses management and instruction tools to bolster the video conferencing call experience. Since launch, Class has integrated exclusively with the videoconferencing giant, which rose to household name prominence during the initial months of the pandemic and continues to be a mainstay in synchronous communication. It’s part of a wave of Zoom alternatives and enhancements that have launched over the past year – and to date has over 250 customers.

Today’s announcement of the SoftBank stamp of approval means that Class is making two statements: one, that it’s taking global expansion seriously, and two, I’d argue that it’s signaling that it is not looking to be just an acquisition target for Zoom.

Globalization of edtech

SoftBank likes to back what it views as “winner” in one sector and throw millions into it to help it foothold international markets. Earlier this month, the Japanese conglomerate put millions into Clearco, formerly Clearbanc, to help the alternative financing startup grow into new geographies beyond Europe, Canada and the United States. At this point, I imagine SoftBank is looking for opinionated startups that are naturally pulled internationally, and then funds the heck out of them.

Class is no different. Chasen explained how international demand for the product has been high since Class announced its seed round. Schools from Europe, the Middle East and Japan reached out before Class had rolled out general availability. Now, with Class’ general availability rolled out on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Chromebook, Chasen is focusing on turning those on the waitlist into customers.

Class’ international expansion will see it build up local teams in target regions such as the UK and Ireland, EMEA, Latin American and APAC. The startup is expecting to add 100 new team members across the world to its already 200-person team.

 

Chasen estimates that 65% of the financing will fuel Class’ internationalization and that the remaining will be allocated toward product development. One critique of Class is that the platform offers the same experience to a second grade class as it does to a higher-ed class. Chasen agreed that the startup needs to add more specificity to its product – perhaps gamification for K-12 and exam proctoring for higher ed – in future versions.

“V1 gives you what we believe is the bare minimum you need to teach online,” he said, noting features such as testing and grade trackers. “Right now, we need a product that works well across every market, and in the future we’ll make enhancements that are specific for the markets.”

And so far, users are paying for it. Class said that its revenue grew almost 4X quarter over quarter in 2021.

Friends with Zoom benefits

While there’s a numbing effect around big rounds and flashy valuations, Class’ recent raise could squash questions around whether it’s teeing itself up for an eventual acquisition by Zoom.

When TechCrunch first spoke to Chasen, he said that Zoom is focused more on scale than the sort of in-depth specialization that Class wants to provide.

Still, the company was in kahoots with Zoom’s earliest investors and acted as a Zoom reseller in multiple markets, suggesting that consolidation wouldn’t be too wild of an assumption down the road. After today, though, it’s clear Class views itself as a standalone business. Startups don’t just raise nine-figure funding rounds from savvy investors unless they have ambitions to be bigger than an integration.

Going forward, Class may use some of those millions to establish its brand as the go-to option for schools or institutions that want a classroom-friendly Zoom environment. Per Class’ careers page, marketing is its most aggressive hiring focus right now. The company has six open roles in the marketing team, which include an international marketing manager and a content marketing manager.

Class’ closest competitor is Engageli, which last raised a $33 million Series A in May 2021. Engageli’s co-founder and COO, Jamie Farrell, left in February 2021 for another edtech startup, and the company doesn’t appear to be hiring too aggressively via online job boards. While the details are anecdotal, Engageli may face steeper competition in terms of bandwidth and marketing now that Class has fresh capitalization – and a growing team of global employees.

#class, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #edtech, #education, #michael-chasen, #remote-school, #tc, #video, #zoom

COVID surge in unvaccinated is pushing US to more mandates, masks, mitigation

Signs requiring masks line the entrance to a grocery store.

Enlarge / People shop at a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles on July 23, 2021. (credit: Getty | Chris Delmas)

The ongoing COVID-19 surge among unvaccinated people is pushing the US toward more vaccine mandates, renewed mask use, and other mitigation efforts.

With around 51 percent of the country not fully vaccinated and the hypertransmissible delta variant spreading rapidly, the country’s pandemic outlook is grim and getting grimmer. Cases are still increasing in all 50 states and up 170 percent in the last two weeks, with the pace of case increases also accelerating.

COVID-19 is thriving in places with relatively low vaccination rates. Arkansas and Louisiana have the highest rates of new cases, and both states have only 36 percent of their residents vaccinated. Florida, Missouri, and Mississippi are also seeing surges among the unvaccinated.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ama, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #jerome-adams, #mask, #mitigation, #n95, #pandemic, #science, #vaccine-mandates

“Get vaccinated! Take delta seriously!” US experts plead as cases skyrocket

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on July 20, 2021.

Enlarge / Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on July 20, 2021. (credit: Getty | J. Scott Applewhite)

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the country—with some states seeing vertical rises—public health experts are once again emphatically imploring Americans to get the highly effective, safe COVID-19 vaccines that are readily available.

Despite an oversupply of vaccine doses, only about 49 percent of the country is fully vaccinated overall—and many states and areas have lower vaccination coverage still. Meanwhile, the hyper-transmissible delta coronavirus variant continues to blaze through unvaccinated communities. It now accounts for 83 percent of sequenced cases nationwide.

While cases are rising overall, they’re rising fastest in places with low vaccination rates. Louisiana, for instance, only has about 36 percent of its population fully vaccinated, and it is seeing one of the steepest rises. Daily new case counts now rival those seen in the winter surge. But about one in every five new cases in the country is in Florida. The state’s top hot spot is the area around Jacksonville, which has the highest rates of infection in the state. That area includes Baker county, which has only 20 percent of its population vaccinated. Arkansas, Missouri, Nevada, and Mississippi are also seeing sharp rises—all with relatively low vaccination coverage.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccines, #walensky

Olympic COVID bubble already “broken” with 71 cases, 3 in athlete village

A barge carrying the Olympic Rings crosses Tokyo Bay.

Enlarge / A barge carrying the Olympic Rings crosses Tokyo Bay. (credit: Getty | Valery Sharifulin )

The number of COVID-19 cases linked to the Tokyo Olympics has risen to 71, with at least three cases confirmed within the Olympic Village that is housing athletes, according to reports out of Japan.

At least one public health expert says the rising case count indicates that the protective COVID bubble designed around the games has already burst days before the international sporting event even starts.

Olympics organizers said Tuesday that the tally hit 71, including 31 international travelers who had arrived in Tokyo to compete or work at the games, the Associated Press reports. The count also includes Olympic-accredited contractors and volunteers in Japan who have tested positive for the pandemic coronavirus.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cases, #coronavirus, #covid-10, #infectious-disease, #olympics, #pandemic, #public-health, #science

Pandemic of unvaccinated rages with delta’s spread; cases up in all 50 states

Anthony Church says goodbye through glass windows to his daughter, who is recovering from COVID-19 at Johnston Memorial Hospital's ICU on June 16, 2021, in Abingdon, Va.

Enlarge / Anthony Church says goodbye through glass windows to his daughter, who is recovering from COVID-19 at Johnston Memorial Hospital’s ICU on June 16, 2021, in Abingdon, Va. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

With the rapid rise of the highly transmissible delta variant and national vaccination efforts largely stalled, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage among the unvaccinated in the US—and things are looking grim.

Cases of COVID-19 are rising in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Right now, the states with the highest averages for daily new cases per 100,000 people are Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Louisiana, and Nevada, which all have below-average vaccination rates. Nationwide, average daily cases are up 140 percent over the past two weeks. Hospitalizations and deaths, which lag behind increases in cases by weeks, are also up 34 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Relative to the rest of the pandemic, the nationwide numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are low—they’re matching or are below numbers seen back in April of 2020. But rates of cases among the unvaccinated in some places rival those seen at the heights of the pandemic. And areas with low vaccination coverage are seeing surges.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#antibodies, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #fda, #infectious-disease, #outbreak, #public-health, #science, #vaccine, #variant

Once-dreaded Alpha variant is falling fast—Delta and Gamma take over

People line up outside Bridge Park Community Leisure Center to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in Brent, northwest London, June 19, 2021. A new wave of coronavirus infections is "definitely under way" in England due to the Delta variant first identified in India, a British government advisory scientist said Saturday.

Enlarge / People line up outside Bridge Park Community Leisure Center to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in Brent, northwest London, June 19, 2021. A new wave of coronavirus infections is “definitely under way” in England due to the Delta variant first identified in India, a British government advisory scientist said Saturday. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

Two dreaded coronavirus variants are swiftly overthrowing the previously most-dreaded variant in the US. Their ascendance is making experts worry that the country could see continued outbreaks and resurgences of COVID-19 unless the current sluggish pace of vaccination quickens.

Alpha—the variant formerly known as B.1.1.7 and first identified in the UK—swept the country at the start of the year. It’s estimated to be around 50 percent more transmissible than the version of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that mushroomed out of Wuhan, China, in 2020. Alpha’s rise in the UK last fall was linked to a surge in cases as the virus variant quickly accounted for more than 90 percent of cases there. Likewise, in the US, Alpha became the predominant strain in a matter of months this year and accounted for around 70 percent of the circulating strains by the end of April.

But according to fresh data, two other variants now threaten Alpha’s reign in the US: Delta (aka B.1.617.2, first detected in India) and Gamma (aka P.1, first detected in Brazil and Japan). Delta is considered the most concerning variant seen yet. Though vaccines are still effective against Delta, the variant is estimated to be 50 percent to 60 percent more contagious than Alpha, and evidence suggests that it may cause more severe disease. When Delta first appeared in the UK at the start of April, it rapidly overcame Alpha and now accounts for around 90 percent of cases. Gamma, on the other hand, is not such a rapid spreader, but it does slightly knock back the effectiveness of vaccines.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#alpha, #b-1-1-7, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #gamma, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #variants

Experts “extremely worried” about Delta variant as US death toll hits 600,000

A serious woman in military fatigues prepares an injection.

Enlarge / Combat medics from Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps vaccinate members of the public at a rapid vaccination centre, set up outside Bolton Town Hall on June 09, 2021 in Bolton, England. (credit: Getty | Christopher Furlong )

By many metrics, the US is currently doing relatively well against the pandemic coronavirus. National tallies of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all at lows not seen since early last year. Several states have hit the goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose, and many areas are easing or lifting health restrictions in response to squashed transmission levels.

But those hard-fought gains are accompanied by a grim milestone today: the national death toll reached 600,000. That’s roughly the population size of Milwaukee or Baltimore. And experts are voicing concerns that the state of the pandemic could once again take a turn for the worse in the US.

New threat

The menacing coronavirus variant B 1.617.2 first seen in India—now dubbed Delta by the World Health Organization—is spreading rapidly around the globe, including in the US. It is estimated to be even more contagious than the worrisome B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the UK. That variant, now dubbed Alpha, is estimated to be about 50 percent more transmissible than the original coronavirus that mushroomed out of Wuhan, China, at the start of 2020. Delta is estimated to be 50 percent to 60 percent more contagious than Alpha.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #england, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #scotland, #vaccine, #vaccine-efficacy, #variants

US may miss July 4 vaccination target as number of daily doses plummet

A mostly deserted convention center.

Enlarge / A deserted walk-in COVID-19 mass vaccination site at the Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC, on June 1, 2021. (credit: Getty | ANITA BEATTIE )

The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in the US has now slowed to a crawl after weeks of decline in the number of doses given out each day. The continued trend threatens to further drag out the devastating pandemic. It also now imperils a goal set just last month by President Joe Biden to have 70 percent of American adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.

On Monday, the country’s seven-day average of doses administered per day was again below 1 million, where it has been now for several days. The average hasn’t been this low since January 22. In mid-April, the average peaked at nearly 3.4 million doses a day, following a record of over 4.6 million doses administered in a single day.

With less than a month to go until Independence Day, there’s a real possibility that the US will fall shy of Biden’s 70-percent goal. Currently, about 63.7 percent of adults in the country have received at least one dose. But a chunk of daily doses are now going to adolescents ages 12 to 17, who became eligible for vaccination last month. And total vaccination numbers are still on a significant decline. If current trends hold, the US may only have about 67 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by the Fourth of July, according to one analysis conducted by USA Today.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biden, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

Efficacy of Chinese vaccines is “not high”—officials back 3rd dose

A vial and boxes of the Sinopharm Group Co Ltd. Covid-19 vaccine.

Enlarge / A vial and boxes of the Sinopharm Group Co Ltd. Covid-19 vaccine. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Officials in Beijing are reportedly planning to roll out third doses of China’s COVID-19 vaccines. These shots have long been dogged by doubts of their efficacy.

According to a report by The Washington Post, health experts in China say that protection from the vaccines may not last after six months and that people who are at high risk of COVID-19 should get a third dose. Now, state-run media outlets suggest Beijing is on board with the suggestion and is preparing to offer the third doses.

Last week, both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said they would offer third doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to try to boost protection. UAE is offering the extra shots to anyone who was vaccinated six or more months ago. Bahrain is offering third doses to high-risk groups.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boosters, #china, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #inactivated-virus-vaccine, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #sinopharm, #sinovac, #vaccine, #vaccine-efficacy

IFA Berlin 2021 is canceled, citing ‘uncertainties’ around vaccine rollouts

After IFA became one of an extremely small number of in-person trade shows in 2020, the gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH is pulling the plug on this year’s event. Initially planned for September 3-7 at the Messe in Berlin, the large-scale consumer electronics trade show is going on hiatus.

Among other concerns, organizer are citing the emergency of Covid-19 variants and concerns around the speed and consistency with which vaccines have been rolled out globally.

“Ultimately, several key global health metrics did not move as fast in the right direction as had been hoped for – from the rapid emergence of new COVID-19 variants, for example in South Asia, to continued uncertainties about the speed of the rollout of vaccination programmes around the world,” the organization said in a press release. “This in turn is adding uncertainty for the companies that were committed or interested in coming to Berlin, as well as media and visitors – all of whom have to plan well ahead with regards to budgets, investments and travel – not just for IFA, but all similar events around the world.”

Another key issue here is the Messe Berlin (convention center) has been – and continues to be – used as both an emergency medical facility and a vaccination center. The planned Berlin Photo Week at ARENA Berlin and SHIFT Mobility events will continue. IFA, meanwhile, is set to return on September 2, 2022.

The news comes as a number of high profile exhibitors have opted not to exhibit in-person at MWC late next month in Barcelona. The list, thus far, includes Qualcomm, Google, IBM, Nokia, Sony, Oracle, Ericsson, Samsung and Lenovo. As with IFA before it, MWC’s organizers are citing a number of safety precautious and likely – given travel restrictions, MIA exhibitors and a general sense of caution even among vaccinated people – a scaled back event.

MWC will be something of a hybrid event, with both online and in-person exhibits. IFA, meanwhile, appears to be canceled outright. The Berlin show is notably different than other consumer trade shows in that it is partially open to the public.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #events, #hardware, #ifa

CDC defends its abrupt reversal on masks after backlash from experts

A woman adjusts her face mask while sitting in front of a microphone.

Enlarge / Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adjusts her protective mask during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Criticism and confusion have erupted following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s abrupt recommendation last Thursday that fully vaccinated people can immediately shed masks in most settings. The agency is yet again on the defense over its mask guidance.

Mask usage has been one of the most contentious issues throughout the pandemic—and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon. Just last Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky faced a grilling from Senate Republicans, who suggested that the agency was being too slow and too conservative in its health guidance, particularly on the issue of outdoor mask use.

At the time, the agency recommended that fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks in many uncrowded indoor settings as well as in crowded outdoor settings. “We will continue to recommend this until widespread vaccination is achieved,” Walensky said in an April 27 briefing. On that day, around 29 percent of the US population was fully vaccinated.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health-policy, #infectious-disease, #masks, #public-health, #science, #vaccination, #walensky

Google begins surfacing vaccine centers, hospital beds, oxygen info in India

Google, which reaches more than half a billion people in India, is turning its services into tools to help the world’s second largest internet market fight the pandemic.

Google said on Monday it has rolled out a range of updates to its Search, Maps, YouTube, and Google Pay services in India to display and boost authoritative and credible information about the coronavirus to help people in the South Asian nation find vaccination centers and other resources to navigate the crisis.

Google Search, which has been offering updates on the virus for more than a year, now also displays information panels with vaccine registration details in India and highlights the official Indian government website for the vaccine at the top.

Search and Maps that have been showing 2,500 testing centers in India now similarly also show locations of over 23,000 vaccination centers across the country in English and eight Indian languages. The company said it is working with India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to source this information.

Google, which identifies India as its biggest market by users, said it is also testing a Q&A function in Google Maps in India to enable people to ask about and share local information on the availability of beds and medical oxygen in select locations in the country.

The new features rollout comes as India reports over 350,000 infections and over 3,500 fatalities everyday. The nation’s healthcare infrastructure is struggling to serve patients, having largely run out of beds and medical supplies. On May 1, India opened vaccination to those aged between 18 to 45, leaving people in scrambles as they struggled to register on the government website and secure the appointment for a vaccination dose.

In recent weeks, scores of firms, startups, entrepreneurs and investors have stepped up to fill this gap. And Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp have become the real-time helpline as people exchange leads with one another.

Google said it is also using its various channels to help extend the reach of health information campaigns in India. This “includes the ‘Get the Facts’ around vaccines campaign, to encourage people to focus on authoritative information and content for vaccines. We’re also surfacing important safety messages through promotions on the Google homepage, Doodles and reminders within our apps and services,” it wrote in a blog post.

On YouTube, Google has curated a set of playlists with videos that offer authoritative information about the vaccine, the spread of the virus, and facts from experts. The company said it has also rolled out a COVID Aid campaign on Google Pay to enable users to donate to non-profit organizations such as GiveIndia, Charities Aid Foundation, Goonj, Save the Children, Seeds, UNICEF India (National NGOs) and United Way.

The company said a similar campaign to support several other foundations has raised over $4.6 million.

“As India battles this devastating wave, we’ll keep doing all we can to support the selfless individuals and committed organizations on the front lines of the response. There’s a long way to go—but standing together in solidarity, working together with determination, we can and will turn the tide,” read a blog post signed by Covid Response team at Google India.

#apps, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid, #facebook, #google, #google-pay, #google-maps, #india, #youtube

Walmart’s Flipkart to cover insurance for all sellers in India and waive additional fees

Walmart-owned Flipkart is exempting storage and cancellation fees for sellers on its marketplace and also providing them with insurance coverage as the top e-commerce platform in India looks to maintain cordial relationships with more than 300,000 sellers who are facing severe disruption amid an unprecedented rise in the spread of coronavirus infections in the South Asian nation.

The Bangalore-headquartered firm said Friday evening that it is exempting storage fees to sellers who use the company’s fulfilment centres, and also waiving off the cancellation fees until the end of the month. (Several Indian states, as they did during the first wave of the virus, have imposed restrictions on sale and delivery of non-essential items.)

Flipkart will bear 100% premium of COVID insurance to all sellers that transact on the platform, covering any hospitalization and consultation fees between 50,000 Indian rupees ($685) to 300,000 Indian rupees ($4095).

The news today comes a week after Amazon, Flipkart’s chief rival in India, announced it was waiving 50% of the referral fee sellers are required to pay the e-commerce firm for this month, though not all sellers are qualified to avail this benefit. (The company said earlier this week that it was also postponing Prime Day in India and Canada due to the growing cases of the infection.)

Flipkart said it is also making it easier for sellers to access working capital from the firm without any incremental cost, though it did not specify the steps it had made.

It is also extending the window for the Seller Protection Fund to 30 days (from 14) to make claims on returned products. Flipkart said it will also ease its policies and performance metrics to ensure that they are not impacted by state-led lockdowns.

Flipkart, which as of last year was working to go public this year, said it has partnered with Vriddhi, Walmart’s Supplier Development Program in India, to organize webinars for small businesses to share best practices to ensure safety of workforce and provide insights to stay afloat amid the crisis.

“Through these testing times it is our constant effort to support our seller partners who face immense operational challenges as a result of the pandemic. As a democratic marketplace, we want to ensure that our lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of seller partners are able to continue operations and keep the economic engine running,” said Jagjeet Harode, senior director and head of Marketplace at Flipkart, in a statement.

“With them and their family’s financial and health safety in mind, we have rolled out these initiatives that will bring them the much-needed respite to keep their businesses active.”

India has been reporting over 400,00 daily infections this week, more than any other nation, as the world’s second-most populated nation struggles to contain the second wave of the virus. Scores of firms, startups, investors and people alike are uniting to help the nation fight the virus, which has severely impacted the healthcare facilities.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #coronavirus, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #walmart

Facebook rolls out vaccine finder tool in India, donates $10 million

Facebook has announced a $10 million grant to support emergency response efforts in India and has rolled out its Vaccine Finder tool in the country as the South Asian nation grapples with the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The American social network said that it has partnered with a number of organizations including United Way, Swasth, Hemkunt Foundation, I Am Gurgaon, Project Mumbai and US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) to help augment critical medical supplies with over 5,000 oxygen concentrators and other life-saving equipments such as ventilators, BiPAP machines and to increase hospital bed capacity.

Facebook also said it has partnered with the Government of India to roll out a Vaccine Finder tool on the company’s marquee app. The tool, available in 17 languages, is designed to help people identify and spot vaccine centres in their vicinity.

Last week, India opened vaccination to people aged between 18 to 45, though its website quickly crashed and wasn’t immediately accepting appointment requests from most people in that age group.

Also worth checking out: Folks over at WiFi Dabba, a Bangalore-based startup that is working to build a low-cost ISP, have also developed a tool to help people easily find vaccination slots.

A bigger challenge confronting India currently, however, is the shortage of vaccine.

Facebook said it is also supporting non-government organizations and United Nation agencies in India with ad credits to reach the majority of people on Facebook with Covid-19 vaccine and preventive health information.

Additionally, the company said it is providing health resources to people from UNICEF India about when to seek emergency care and how to manage mild Covid-19 symptoms at home.

Scores of firms, startups, entrepreneurs, and investors have stepped up their efforts in recent weeks to help India, the world’s second most populous country, fight the pandemic after the federal and state governments were caught ill-prepared to handle it.

On Monday, Pfizer said it was sending medicines worth $70 million to India. “We are committed to being a partner in India’s fight against this disease and are quickly working to mobilize the largest humanitarian relief effort in our company’s history,” said company’s chairman and chief executive Albert Bourla.

#apps, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #facebook, #india

India’s entrepreneurs and investors are mobilizing to help the nation fight COVID-19 — and you can too

At a time when much of the world has asserted great control over containing the spread of the coronavirus, with countries increasingly vaccinating its citizens, a different story is playing out in India, the world’s second-most populous natio