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.

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

Inmates sue Arkansas doc, jail after unknowingly taking dangerous doses of ivermectin

Tablets of ivermectin.

Enlarge / Tablets of ivermectin. (credit: Getty | Nurphoto)

Detainees at an Arkansas jail were given ivermectin without their knowledge or consent, a new lawsuit alleges. As early as November 2020, Dr. Robert Karas, the jail’s doctor, told inmates who had contracted COVID that he was giving them a cocktail of vitamins, antibiotics, and steroids when in fact he was administering dangerously high doses of the dewormer. Ivermectin is not authorized by the FDA to treat or prevent COVID, and the agency has repeatedly told people not to take it outside its approved use as an anti-parasitic. 

“At no point were Plaintiffs informed that the medications they were consuming included Ivermectin,” the lawsuit says. “Further, Plaintiffs were not informed of the side effects of the drug administered to them or that any results would be used for research purposes.”

Four detainees are suing Dr. Karas and his company, the Washington County sheriff, and the Washington County Detention Center and 10 of its employees, alleging that they violated the inmates’ rights to informed consent. The ACLU of Arkansas filed the lawsuit on their behalf. The plaintiffs are seeking medical evaluations by independent providers and an injunction preventing Dr. Karas from administering ivermectin to COVID patients.

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#civil-rights, #covid-19, #ivermectin, #jail, #policy

Pfizer and Moderna expect seasonal booster shots after omicron wave

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - 2022/01/08: A vial containing Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a vaccination centre.

Enlarge / EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS – 2022/01/08: A vial containing Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a vaccination centre. (credit: Getty | SOPA Images)

As the US weathers record COVID-19 cases from the ultra-transmissible omicron variant, vaccine makers are thinking about future waves—and the shots that could help prevent them.

Leading mRNA vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech are currently working up omicron-specific versions of their vaccines, which could be ready in a matter of months. And according to recent interviews, they expect that such boosters will be used as annual shots, which could be given in the fall for the next several years until global transmission dies down.

“I think the reality is that this is going to become an annual vaccination, at least for a period of time,” Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and Pfizer board member, said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We don’t know what the epidemiology of this infection is going to be over the long run, but certainly over the next couple of years, you can envision boosters becoming an annual affair.”

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#boosters, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #moderan, #pfizer, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

Pregnant people are still not getting vaccinated against Covid

Pregnant people are still not getting vaccinated against Covid

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Dmitry Rogulin )

Calendar year three into the pandemic, and vaccination coverage among pregnant people remains staggeringly low.

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of January 1, just over 40 percent of pregnant people in the United States between age 18 and 49 were fully vaccinated prior to pregnancy or during their pregnancy, compared with 66 percent of the general population over the age of 5. For Black pregnant people, the figure plummets to about 25 percent. Data for the United Kingdom is a little less up to date, but in August 2021 just 22 percent of women who gave birth were fully vaccinated.

And with Omicron running rampant, this is a problem. At the end of 2021, the UK’s vaccine watchdog, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, announced that pregnant women would be made a priority group for vaccination, after reams of research has shown just how vulnerable the group is to Covid.

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Supreme Court on vaccine mandates: Hospitals OK, general employment a no

Statuary and facade outside neoclassical federal building.

(credit: Getty Images)

The Biden administration has made vaccine mandates central to its attempts to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Or at least it has tried to; various states and other organizations have used the courts to challenge the federal government’s authority to impose these mandates. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding two of the most significant mandates: one for all hospital workers issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and a second for all employees of large companies issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

By the time the cases were argued before the Supreme Court, the HHS rule was already blocked by a stay issued by a lower court. By contrast, the OSHA rules had seen a lower court lift earlier stays, leaving it on the verge of enforcement.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued expedited rules that reflected the tone of the questioning the week before. The OSHA rule is now subject to a stay that blocks its implementation, a decision that saw the court’s three liberal justices issue a dissent. The stay against the HHS rules, by contrast, was lifted, but only by a close 5-4 ruling.

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Immune system vs. virus: Why omicron had experts worried from the start

Illustration of antibodies responding to an infection of SARS-CoV-2.

Enlarge / Illustration of antibodies responding to an infection of SARS-CoV-2. (credit: Getty Images/Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library)

Right from omicron’s first description, researchers were concerned about the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Looking over the list of mutations it carried, scientists could identify a number that would likely make the variant more infectious. Other mutations were even more worrying, as they would likely interfere with the immune system’s ability to recognize the virus, allowing it to pose a risk to those who had been vaccinated or suffered from previous infections.

Buried in the subtext of these worries was a clear implication: Scientists could simply look at the sequence of amino acids in the spike protein of a coronavirus and get a sense of how well the immune system would respond to it.

That knowledge is based on years of studying how the immune system operates, combined with a lot of specific information regarding its interactions with SARS-CoV-2. What follows is a description of these interactions, along with their implications for viral evolution and present and future variants.

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CDC to update advice on best masks—but just wants you to wear one, any of them

A masked woman in a business suit.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Shawn Thew)

As cases of the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant continue to increase in the US, many experts have pushed for Americans to upgrade their masks to better protect themselves—i.e., ditch the handmade cloth masks that were fashionable in spring 2020 for options like the high-quality N95s and KN95s that are now more available.

Taking note of the shift, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that it is working to update the mask guidance on its website, which hasn’t been refreshed since last fall, prior to omicron’s rise. Meanwhile, the White House is actively considering providing high-quality masks to Americans.

In a press briefing Wednesday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients offered little detail on what a federal mask distribution program might look like or when it could come, noting only, “We’re in the process right now of strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans.”

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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.”

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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.

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#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.

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

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.

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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.

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

Twitter permanently suspends Marjorie Taylor Greene’s account over COVID disinfo

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) answers questions in front of the House steps on November 17, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) answers questions in front of the House steps on November 17, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Twitter permanently suspended the personal account of Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) yesterday, though her professional account remains active.

Greene has been an outspoken opponent of COVID-19 vaccines, routinely posting disinformation about the disease, the vaccines, and other health-related information. Her fifth strike on Twitter (yes, her fifth) came after she posted false claims about vaccine safety based on unverified raw data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, also known as VAERS.

“We’ve been clear that, per our strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations of the policy,” Katie Rosborough, a Twitter spokeswoman, said in a statement.

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#anti-vaxxer, #covid-19, #covid-19-vaccination, #disinformation, #marjorie-taylor-greene, #policy, #twitter

New data on using J&J vaccine to boost itself

Image of injection syringes.

Enlarge (credit: RAJESH JANTILAL / GETTY IMAGES)

Based on various measures, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has appeared to be less effective than those based on mRNA technology. It has also been associated with some rare blood clotting complications that recently caused the CDC to revise its endorsement of the vaccine. Still, the vaccine is easy to produce, transport, and store, and there have been some indications that it provides longer-lasting protection than some alternatives. And there have also been indications that at least some of the efficacy differences came from its use as a single-dose vaccine.

With all vaccines now expected to include a booster significantly after the initial vaccine dose, we’re starting to get a sense of how the J&J vaccine performs in more than one dose. Early results indicated that a J&J vaccine boosted by an mRNA dose provides a big increase in protective antibodies. But a J&J/J&J combination didn’t look to be as effective.

Recent research preprints, however, may indicate that the protection continues to increase over time, engages non-antibody-producing immune cells, and provides some protection against the omicron variant.

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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.

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#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.

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With US swamped by omicron, Biden scraps travel bans

With US swamped by omicron, Biden scraps travel bans

Enlarge (credit: Craig Hastings | Getty Images)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued a proclamation revoking controversial travel restrictions targeting southern Africa where the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant was first detected in late November.

The travel restrictions on eight countries in southern Africa—Botswana, Eswatini/Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe—will be lifted at 12:01am ET on December 31.

The revocation was long sought by public health experts, who say such travel bans are ineffective and harmful.

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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.

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Omicron cases less likely to require hospital treatment, studies show

Cartoon of a virus surrounded by small, Y-shaped molecules.

Enlarge / Illustration of antibodies (red and blue) responding to an infection with Covid-19 (purple). (credit: Getty Images)

A lower share of people infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant are likely to require hospital treatment compared with cases of the Delta strain, according to healthcare data from South Africa, Denmark, and the UK.

The findings by separate research teams raise hopes that there will be fewer cases of severe disease than those caused by other strains of the virus, but the researchers cautioned that Omicron’s high degree of infectiousness could still strain health services.

The reduction in severe illness was likely to stem from Omicron’s greater propensity, compared with other variants, to infect people who have been vaccinated or previously infected, experts stressed, though the UK studies also hinted at a possible drop in intrinsic severity.

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FDA gives emergency authorization to Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill

FDA gives emergency authorization to Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill

Enlarge

COVID-19 patients as young as 12 can now be treated with Paxlovid, an antiviral pill developed by Pfizer, after the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization on Wednesday. 

“Today’s authorization introduces the first treatment for COVID-19 that is in the form of a pill that is taken orally—a major step forward in the fight against this global pandemic,” said Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This authorization provides a new tool to combat COVID-19 at a crucial time in the pandemic as new variants emerge and promises to make antiviral treatment more accessible to patients who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19.” 

In early November, Pfizer published trial results for the new oral medication, saying that it reduced hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 by 89 percent. Although the results had not undergone peer-review, Paxlovid’s strong effectiveness moved an independent data-monitoring committee to recommend ending the trial early.

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Biden’s omicron battle plan includes 500 million home test kits

Rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Enlarge / Rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits. (credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images)

In an address to the nation today, President Joe Biden outlined his administration’s plans to battle the omicron variant. The federal government plans to purchase 500 million rapid COVID-19 test kits for home use, set up new testing sites, and mobilize 1,000 military medical personnel to pitch in at hospitals slammed by the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I want to start by acknowledging how tired, worried and frustrated many of you are,” Biden said at the onset of his remarks.

Biden then encouraged vaccine holdouts to take action as omicron spreads across the country. “If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned.” He additionally called on folks who have not received boosters to schedule them.

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Details released on the Trump administration’s pandemic chaos

Image of a man speaking from behind a podium.

Enlarge / Scott Atlas, a White House adviser, used his position to advocate for allowing the SARS-CoV-2 virus to spread and tried to block testing for it, which would further that goal. (credit: MANDEL NGAN / Getty Images)

Over the past few months, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has been investigating the previous administration’s haphazard and sometimes counterproductive response to the pandemic. As testimony was taken and documents were examined, some of the details of the conflicts between politicians and public health would sporadically come out via press releases from subcommittee members. But on Friday the group issued a major report that puts these details all in one place.

The report confirms suspicions about the Trump administration’s attempt to manipulate the public narrative about its response, even as its members tried to undercut public health officials. So, while reading may trigger a sense of “I thought we knew this,” having it all in one place with the evidence to back it up still provides a valuable function.

Sidelining the CDC

In late February of 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning to pick up in the US, the CDC held a press conference in which Nancy Messonnier issued stark warnings about the potential for COVID-19 to interfere with life in the US. The subcommittee heard testimony that her somber warning angered then-President Trump and, as a result, the CDC was blocked from holding any further press conferences for over three months, during which time the US experienced its first deadly surge of infections.

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Third dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine leads to 37-fold jump in antibodies

Image of a building with the Moderna logo behind a security fence.

Enlarge (credit: JOSEPH PREZIOSO / Getty Images)

Moderna announced Monday that its booster provides protection against COVID-19 variant omicron. In its testing, Moderna found a 50-microgram dose resulted in a 37-fold increase of antibodies compared to vaccinated, unboosted individuals. 

A 100 µg dose, which is the same amount used in the first two vaccine doses, provided even more protection, increasing antibody levels 83-fold. But that increased immune response was paired with slightly worse side effects than with the smaller dose. 

Moderna’s data is preliminary and has not been reviewed, but CEO Stéphane Bancel said the results are “reassuring” all the same and touted the company’s work on a booster targeted specifically at omicron. “To respond to this highly transmissible variant, Moderna will continue to rapidly advance an Omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future. We will also continue to generate and share data across our booster strategies with public health authorities to help them make evidence-based decisions on the best vaccination strategies against SARS-CoV-2.”

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Vaccine trial finds a glitch with children in one age range

Image of a health worker preparing an injection.

Enlarge (credit: Reshi Irshad / Getty Images)

On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their latest vaccine trial was showing some odd results in children within a specific age range. Children in the 2- to 5-year age group didn’t produce as strong of an antibody response to the vaccine as older and younger children did. As a result, the trial is being modified to include a third dose of vaccine for participants in this age group.

The trial was designed to enroll as many as 4,500 children to test the safety and efficacy of the companies’ messenger RNA vaccine. It included an early test of how well the vaccine was tolerated in different age groups. Based on these results, the companies went ahead with a two-tiered strategy: children from 5 to 11 years of age got two doses of 10 µg; younger children (down to six months in this trial) received two doses of 3 µg.

The trial is ongoing, and both the participants and doctors involved remain blinded to the status of the participants. But blood samples were obtained from some participants one month after the second dose and analyzed by a separate group of researchers who were not blinded as to the vaccine/placebo status of the participants. The analysis they performed showed an unexpected pattern.

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#biology, #covid-19, #immunology, #medicine, #pandemic, #science, #vaccines

After months-long battle, Apple takes the due date off its return-to-office plans

An enormous ring-shaped building on a green campus.

Enlarge / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California. (credit: Sam Hall/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It’s been a rocky road for Apple’s return-to-office plans. Over the past few months, we’ve reported on numerous stops and starts, but the industry behemoth seems to have come to the hardest stop yet, according to a Bloomberg report.

According to a memo sent to Apple employees by CEO Tim Cook, the company’s return-to-office date (which was last set at February 1 a few weeks ago) has once again been delayed—but this time, it has been delayed to a “date yet to be determined.” Up to this point, previous delays had set a new target. Not so this time.

Cook wrote in the memo that the delay is due to “rising cases in many parts of the world” as well as “the emergence of a new strain of the virus.” He described the change in plans as a delay, though, not a cancellation. Employees will get at least four weeks of notice before a new return-to-office date, he added.

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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.

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Pfizer’s anti-COVID drug still looks effective after further analysis

Scenes like this might become less common if a new SARS-CoV-2 protease inhibitor becomes widely available.

Enlarge / Scenes like this might become less common if a new SARS-CoV-2 protease inhibitor becomes widely available. (credit: Getty Images)

On Monday, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer released more data on its anti-COVID-19 drug, named Paxlovid. The company had released its initial data on the drug in early November, and it looked extremely promising: a drop in hospitalization and death of 89 percent in high-risk patients. But preliminary results like that don’t always hold up, as we saw with a drug from Merck. But there’s good news in this case: Paxlovid appears to be just as effective once more patients and numbers from a second trial are included.

On trial

Paxlovid inhibits a viral protein called a protease, which normally breaks chemical bonds in other viral proteins, converting them into their mature, functional forms. This processing is needed before the virus is able to copy its own genome, so inhibiting the protease should block viral reproduction.

Pfizer started at least two clinical trials with Paxlovid. One involved unvaccinated individuals who are at high risk from COVID-19 due to age or health issues. The second trial involved moderate risks: either unvaccinated individuals with no risk factors, or those who have been vaccinated but are at elevated risk. In both trials, treatments started within days of a confirmed infection.

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Omicron is rising rapidly in the US—3% of cases nationally, 13% in NY and NJ

A woman on a stretcher is pulled from an ambulance.

Enlarge / Medical workers carry a patient to a hospital in New York, the United States, Dec. 13, 2021. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency )

Health officials sounded the alarm Tuesday over the fast spread of the omicron coronavirus, which has now been detected in 77 countries worldwide and 33 states in the US—and is expanding quickly.

Only two weeks have passed since health officials detected the first omicron case in the US, and the variant is already accounting for 3 percent of cases overall in the country—which is still swept up in a powerful wave of the delta variant. In New York and New Jersey, omicron accounts for 13 percent of cases, according to Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Surge upon surge

Currently, the US is seeing around 120,000 new COVID cases per day, a 49 percent increase over two weeks ago. The country is averaging 66,500 hospitalizations a day, which is a 22 percent increase. For now, nearly all of the cases and hospitalizations are due to delta, but that will likely change quickly with omicron.

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#covid-19, #delta, #disease, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #severity, #transmission, #vaccine, #variant

“The situation is critical”: Minnesota hospitals beg people to get vaccinated

An older couple in a hospital.

Enlarge / A man prays at the bedside of his wife, who is intubated and remains critically-ill after a COVID infection in the South Seven Intensive Care Unit Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minn. (credit: Getty | Aaron Lavinsky)

Nine Minnesota hospital systems published a joint letter Sunday saying that all of their beds are full, doctors and nurses are overwhelmed and demoralized, and their ability to provide care is threatened.

“We’re heartbroken, we’re overwhelmed… The situation is critical,” they wrote in the letter, which was published as full-page ads in newspapers statewide. It was signed by executives from Allina Health, Children’s Minnesota, CentraCare, Essentia Health, Fairview Health Services, HealthPartners, Hennepin Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, and North Memorial Health.

Minnesota currently has the third-highest rate of new daily COVID-19 infections of any state in the US, with 76 cases per 100,000 people. Cases have risen 24 percent over the last two weeks, and they are expected to continue rising. Test positivity in the North Star State is currently over 11 percent, and only 64 percent of the state is fully vaccinated.

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Amid violent threats, lawmaker ditches bill to make unvaxxed pay hospital bills

Intensive Care Unit nurse monitors patients in the ICU ward at Roseland Community Hospital on December 14, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois.

Enlarge / Intensive Care Unit nurse monitors patients in the ICU ward at Roseland Community Hospital on December 14, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois. (credit: Getty | Scott Olson)

Illinois Representative Jonathan Carroll is scrapping his proposed legislation to make willfully unvaccinated people pay COVID-19 hospital bills out of pocket after he received violent threats that also targeted his family, staff and synagogue.

The Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Northbrook introduced legislation earlier this week that would have amended the state’s codes for health and accident insurance. The proposed bill aimed to prevent insurance policies from covering COVID-19 hospital bills for people who choose to remain unvaccinated without a medical reason.

The bill was quickly politically divisive—and legally dubious. Federal law prevents health insurance providers from denying or reducing coverage based on a change in a person’s health status, including a diagnosis of COVID-19.

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Missouri tells health depts to “stop enforcing and publicizing” COVID measures

A man in a suit speaks in front of a Neoclassical building.

Enlarge / Eric Schmitt, Missouri Attorney General. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise sharply in Missouri, local health departments are abandoning efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic disease, saying their hands have been tied by the state’s attorney general and a recent court ruling.

One local agency, the Laclede County Health Department, northeast of Springfield, announced that it has ceased all COVID-19 related work, including case investigations, contact tracing, quarantine orders, and public announcements of current cases and deaths.

“While this is a huge concern for our agency, we have no other options but to follow the orders of the Missouri Attorney General at this time,” the department wrote in a Facebook post on December 9.

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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.

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FDA authorizes boosters for ages 16 and 17 ahead of holidays, omicron

FDA authorizes boosters for ages 16 and 17 ahead of holidays, omicron

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Noam Galai)

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use as a single booster dose in teens ages 16 and 17.

The authorization stands to expand access to boosters amid a crushing wave of delta transmission, fears over the looming omicron variant, and the approach of end-of-year holiday gatherings. Currently, boosters are open and recommended for all adults ages 18 and up.

Earlier this week, a crop of preliminary data suggested that boosters will likely be necessary to protect against the omicron variant, which appears to dodge protective immune defenses from both vaccination and prior infection. Previously, data indicated that vaccine effectiveness wanes against delta and previous variants after six months.

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Early omicron data finds vaccine protection stumbles—but recovers with boosters

Pedestrians walk in front of a COVID-19 vaccination site in Brooklyn, New York, on Nov. 19, 2021.

Enlarge / Pedestrians walk in front of a COVID-19 vaccination site in Brooklyn, New York, on Nov. 19, 2021. (credit: Xinhua News Agency)

The first batch of preliminary laboratory data on the omicron coronavirus variant has come out, and the results are largely what health experts have anticipated: protective antibodies from two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are considerably less effective at thwarting the new variant than older versions of the virus. However, antibody potency appears to rebound to fight omicron after a booster dose.

The results suggest that people who have only two doses of the mRNA vaccine may not be protected from infection but would likely remain protected from severe disease. The findings also suggest that maintaining high levels of protection against omicron will require a booster dose of the current vaccines—or even an omicron-specific shot in the future.

The top-line findings and conclusions come from three separate sets of laboratory experiments—all of which are extremely preliminary, involve small sample numbers, and have not been peer-reviewed or published in scientific journals.

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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.

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Willfully unvaccinated should pay 100% of COVID hospital bills, lawmaker says

People associated with the far-right group America First attend an anti-vaccine protest in front of Pfizer world headquarters on November 13, 2021, in New York City.

Enlarge / People associated with the far-right group America First attend an anti-vaccine protest in front of Pfizer world headquarters on November 13, 2021, in New York City. (credit: Getty | Stephanie Keith)

People who choose to remain unvaccinated and subsequently become severely ill with COVID-19 should be responsible for paying the entirety of their hospital bills out of pocket, according to Illinois Representative Jonathan Carroll.

The Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Northbrook introduced legislation Monday that would amend the state’s insurance code so that accident and health insurance policies in 2023 would no longer cover COVID-19 hospital bills for people who choose to remain unvaccinated. Carroll said the rule would not apply to those with medical conditions that prevent vaccination.

The bill will likely face considerable political and legal opposition. Most notably, federal law prevents insurers from denying coverage or increasing rates based on a change in a person’s health status, such as a new diagnosis of COVID-19.

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#covid-19, #hospitalization, #infectious-disease, #insurance, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #unvaccinated, #vaccine

Traffic bounces back in year two of the pandemic, minus the commuters

This became a more common sight in 2021 as drivers returned to the roads.

Enlarge / This became a more common sight in 2021 as drivers returned to the roads. (credit: Getty Images)

As we head towards the end of the second year of a global pandemic, the effect of COVID-19 on road traffic around the world is clear to see. Congestion has begun to return, though not everywhere, and not to 2019 levels. Traffic patterns have changed, too, with more traffic popping up in the middle of the day as commuters continue to stay away from the office. That’s according to the 2021 Inrix Global Traffic Scorecard, an annual report prepared by the traffic analytics company.

Here in the US, Chicago and New York are the worst cities for traffic, with their drivers giving up 104 hours and 102 hours of their lives respectively to congestion in 2021. Inrix actually ranks New York as number one in the country due to the higher costs this imposes on the city, despite the fact that Chicagoans spent an extra couple of hours behind the wheel. However, traffic in both cities remains almost 30 percent down from pre-pandemic levels.

Other cities have yet to show as much recovery. Washington DC stands out, with traffic still 65 percent lower than in 2019, which translates to 80 fewer hours in traffic per person.

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#cars, #congestion, #covid-19, #inrix, #road-traffic

Omicron suspected in cruise-ship outbreak in New Orleans; 17 cases so far

A cheerfully painted cruise ship towers over a rocky port.

Enlarge / MARSEILLE, FRANCE – 2020/05/25: The Norwegian Getaway cruise ship arrives in Marseille. (credit: Getty | SOPA images)

A Norwegian Cruise Line ship with 3,200 passengers and crew disembarked in New Orleans Sunday amid an onboard COVID-19 outbreak that includes a suspected case of the omicron coronavirus variant. So far, a total of 17 people who were aboard have tested positive.

The news raises concern that the outbreak could continue to grow and put those on land at further risk of the variant. Cruise ships are notorious for harboring outbreaks. At the dawn of the pandemic, several outbreaks at sea demonstrated just how easily the coronavirus can spread in such tightly packed and highly social vessels. And the omicron variant may be the most transmissible variant yet identified. Early data from South Africa suggests it could spread more than twice as quickly as the already hypertransmissible delta variant.

Over the weekend, state, local, and federal health officials worked with Norwegian Cruise Line to put disease-prevention protocols in place as people disembarked from the ship, Norwegian Breakaway. In a media statement Sunday, Norwegian Cruise Line said that everyone who disembarks will be tested. “Any guests who have tested positive for COVID-19 will travel by personal vehicle to their personal residence or self-isolate in accommodations provided by the Company according to CDC guidelines,” the cruise line said.

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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.”

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The omicron variant is a mystery. Here’s how science will solve it

The omicron variant is a mystery. Here’s how science will solve it

Enlarge (credit: Remko De Waal | Getty Images)

Starting last Friday, the race was on—between a virus and information about it. And for a while, the information moved faster, even though there was hardly any of it.

Scientists in South Africa identified a new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19—within days the World Health Organization gave it the spy-sci-fi name Omicron—and because of the abundant smorgasbord of mutations in its spike protein, the nanomechanical tentacle that attaches and cracks into cells, science alarms started going off.

But to be clear, they were the “We should check this out” alarms, not the “Everybody lose their effing minds” alarms. Apparently they sound alike, though. Panic took flight as scientists identified Omicron in 18 countries, triggering travel bans, border closures, stock market crashes, and, in the United States, holiday weekend worries that the world was headed back to March of 2020. Researchers in South Africa and Botswana have found the most cases thus far, though that may be an artifact of looking for them; on Tuesday, Dutch authorities announced that the earliest case they can identify is 11 days old, predating Omicron’s identification in South Africa.

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#boosters, #covid-19, #omicron, #science, #vaccines

Show Me State governor hid data showing that masks work

Gov. Mike Parson standing in front of a podium at a press conference.

Enlarge / Gov. Mike Parson at a press conference on May 29, 2019, in Jefferson City, Missouri. (credit: Getty Images | Jacob Moscovitch )

As the delta wave rose in Missouri last summer, much of the state remained unmasked. Four jurisdictions, though, restored their mask mandates, creating a natural experiment that was studied by the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services. It confirmed that, in cities and counties with mandates, masks significantly reduced infections and deaths from COVID.

Yet Gov. Mike Parson’s office, which had requested the data, kept it hidden from the public, according to a new report from the Missouri Independent.

The data was initially requested by Alex Tuttle, Gov. Parson’s legislative liaison for DHSS, on November 1, 2021. “Can you provide examples of local mandates and how those mandates impacted the spread of COVID in those areas?” he wrote.

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#covid-19, #masks, #missouri, #policy, #public-health

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.

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Moderna plans omicron booster for March as Biden unveils winter COVID plan

US President Joe Biden at the White House on December 01, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden at the White House on December 01, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Anna Moneymaker)

President Joe Biden will announce plans today to increase protections against COVID-19 this winter as the delta coronavirus variant continues to ravage the country and the worrisome omicron variant looms. Biden will make the announcement this afternoon in remarks during his visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The president’s plan includes expanding access to free at-home rapid testing and setting policy to ensure that over-the-counter, at-home tests are covered by health insurance plans. It also tightens health protocols for travel. Starting early next week, every inbound international traveler to the US will need to test negative within one day of their departure, regardless of nationality and vaccination status. The plan also calls for extending mask requirements on airplanes, trains, and public transit into March.

To fight surges in cases from delta and omicron, the administration is assembling over 60 emergency medical response teams to deploy to states in crisis. The administration is also working to secure 13 million doses of antiviral treatments.

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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.

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Womp, womp: Efficacy of Merck’s Thor-inspired COVID pill crumbles, vexing experts

A Merck sign stands in front of the company's building on October 2, 2013, in Summit, New Jersey.

Enlarge / A Merck sign stands in front of the company’s building on October 2, 2013, in Summit, New Jersey. (credit: Getty | Kena Betancur)

In a 13-to-10 vote, advisors for the Food and Drug Administration narrowly supported authorizing Merck’s Thor-inspired antiviral pill molnupiravir for use against severe COVID-19.

The FDA’s panel of advisors—the Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee (AMDAC)—struggled in an all-day meeting Tuesday to weigh the drug’s risks, its modest benefits, and the limited available data. The latest analysis suggests that the pill is only 30 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19 in people at high risk of severe disease. Meanwhile, the drug has the worrisome potential to cause mutations, leading advisors to agonize over whether it should be offered to pregnant people.

Molnupiravir’s final data and today’s vote is a significant disappointment from the early fanfare around the drug, which initially promised to be an easy-to-use oral drug to effectively prevent severe COVID-19. “Our prediction from our in vitro studies and now with this data is that molnupiravir is named after the right [thing]… this is a hammer against SARS-CoV-2 regardless of the variant,” Merck’s head of research and development, Dean Li, said last month.

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#anti-viral, #clinical-trial, #covid-19, #efficacy, #fda, #merck, #molnupiravir, #science

US preps vaccine contingencies amid panic over poorly understood omicron

Two white-haired men in suits speak at a podium.

Enlarge / WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 29: Anthony Fauci (R), Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President, speaks alongside US President Joe Biden as he delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting of the COVID-19 response team at the White House. (credit: Getty | Anna Moneymaker)

Amid global panic over the recently identified omicron coronavirus variant, US President Joe Biden on Monday urged Americans to stay calm and continue following health measures known to be highly effective at combating COVID-19—namely, masking, vaccination, and boosting.

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks delivered from the White House Monday. He touted the power of current vaccines and America’s scientific prowess in being able to address the potential threat. “We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed—not chaos and confusion.”

Flanking Biden during the remarks was top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. Earlier today, Biden huddled with Dr. Fauci and the rest of the White House COVID-19 Response Team to discuss the threat of omicron. Biden reported that, so far, Fauci and the team believe that current vaccines will “provide at least some protection” against omicron—particularly against severe disease—and that booster doses “strengthen that protection significantly.”

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To help people with long COVID, scientists need to define it

A white-haired woman in a wheelchair looks out a window.

Enlarge (credit: Morsa Images | Getty Images)

Almost from the beginning of the COVID pandemic, reports have accumulated of persistent, weird, disabling symptoms in survivors, a syndrome that’s come to be known as long COVID. The complex of fatigue, confusion, heart arrhythmias, gut disorders, and other problems—which may persist months after an infection begins or arise months after it seems to have concluded—has attracted attention and sympathy, intense patient activism, substantial research interest, and huge government investment. Last December, the US Congress voted in $1.15 billion to fund four years of research into long COVID, and this February, the US National Institutes of Health announced it would use those funds to create a nested set of large studies examining adult and child experiences of the syndrome.

What makes long COVID research urgent is also what makes it, at this point, so challenging. No one has yet been able to determine its cause, beyond the association that it occurs in people who have had COVID—or who think they did but weren’t able to get a test to prove it. This makes it difficult to understand and therefore to predict who is vulnerable: why one patient develops lasting symptoms and another does not.

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Pandemic skyrockets in Europe; COVID is the No. 1 cause of death

North Rhine-Westphalia, Herten: The crew of a Dutch ambulance brings a COVID-19 patient from Rotterdam to St. Elisabeth Hospital in Herten.

Enlarge / North Rhine-Westphalia, Herten: The crew of a Dutch ambulance brings a COVID-19 patient from Rotterdam to St. Elisabeth Hospital in Herten. (credit: Getty | Picture alliance)

Health officials in Europe are pleading for people to adopt more health precautions as the region grapples with its most dramatic surge of COVID-19 cases yet in the pandemic.

Cases have been skyrocketing across the European region since the start of October, with cases rising from around 130,000 per day to the current all-time high of more than 330,000 per day. For the week ending November 21, the region of 53 countries—including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Russia, and several countries in Central Asia—reported 2,427,657 new cases, representing 67 percent of all COVID-19 cases reported globally.

The region also accounted for 57 percent of all COVID-19 deaths worldwide, with 29,465 deaths in the week ending on November 21, according to a weekly report by the World Health Organization. During the week, daily COVID-19 deaths increased to close to 4,200, doubling from 2,100 daily deaths seen at the end of September, the WHO noted.

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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.

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COVID surge underway with daily cases already above 93K ahead of holiday

Masked travelers move through crowded airport.

Enlarge / LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 19: Travelers at the United Terminal 7 at LAX airport as people prepare to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday. (credit: Getty | Al Seib)

Cases of COVID-19 are high and getting higher in the US as Americans head into a holiday week, marked by nationwide travel and jam-packed family gatherings

The country’s daily average of new cases has jumped 29 percent over the last two weeks, and the current average for daily new cases is nearing 94,000, according to data tracking by The New York Times. Previously, national cases were this high at the beginning of November last year and at the beginning of this past August—as the country headed into two of the largest surges in the pandemic so far.

While cases are largely holding steady at high levels in the South and West, the Northeast and Midwest are seeing rapid surges. In the Northeast, Connecticut is seeing the fastest rise in cases nationwide, with a 117 percent jump in new daily cases over the last two weeks. New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts rank after Connecticut for the country’s sharpest case increases. Maine, meanwhile, is seeing its highest levels of cases and hospitalizations yet in the pandemic.

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#cases, #covid-19, #holiday, #hospitalization, #infections, #public-health, #science, #surge, #thanksgiving, #travel, #vaccines