IMF says $50 billion is needed to end Covid pandemic in 2022

A vial with the Pfizer Biontech vaccine.

Enlarge / A vial with the Pfizer Biontech vaccine. (credit: Thomas Lohnes | Getty Images)

The world could “end the pandemic” in mid-2022 by vaccinating 60 percent of the population at a cost of $50 billion, the IMF has said, as rich countries and vaccine manufacturers pledged to address the inequality undermining the global response to coronavirus.

Countries with sufficient vaccine supplies could afford to donate 1 billion doses in 2021, even while continuing to prioritise the immunisation of their own populations against Covid-19, the IMF said in its report released at a virtual G20 Health Summit on Friday.

Combined with upfront financing, the vaccine donations would bring a faster end to the pandemic, saving millions of lives and yielding economic benefits of about $9tn to global gross domestic product by 2025, it estimated.

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#covid-19, #healthcare, #imf, #mrna, #pandemic, #policy, #science, #vaccination

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Ohio’s 53% vaccination surge tied to $1M lottery; NY and MD announce lotteries

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan stands next to a person dressed as a lottery ball during a press conference on May 20 announcing the state's VaxCash promotion.

Enlarge / Maryland Governor Larry Hogan stands next to a person dressed as a lottery ball during a press conference on May 20 announcing the state’s VaxCash promotion. (credit: Patrick Siebert)

The governors of New York and Maryland on Thursday each announced big cash lotteries to entice their residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The announcements came as westward-neighbor Ohio celebrated the success of its “Vax-a-Million” lottery campaign, which helped boost week-to-week vaccination numbers 53 percent.

The lotteries appear to be part of a growing trend of states and officials offering cash prizes or other incentives to combat slumping vaccination rates. The country’s seven-day average for daily vaccinations has dropped to around 1.8 million, down from a peak of nearly 3.4 million in mid-April.

In a White House COVID-19 press briefing Friday, Senior White House Advisor Andy Slavitt said that, based on the data the administration has seen, the lotteries “appear to be working.”

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#covid-19, #incentives, #infectious-disease, #lottery, #maryland, #new-york, #ohio, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccination

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Researchers show neutralizing antibodies correlate with COVID protection

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

Enlarge / Illustration of antibodies (red and blue) responding to an infection with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (purple). (credit: Getty Images)

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of researchers’ nagging questions involved trying to understand what constitutes immunity to future infections. People who had been infected by the virus produced varying amounts of antibodies, and it wasn’t clear what levels were needed to provide protection. Similar issues applied to figuring out how long protection lasted, given that antibody levels appeared to decline over time. Those questions have implications for whether we will eventually need booster shots to maintain our immunity.

The most common way of looking at immunity at the beginning of the pandemic was to check for neutralizing antibodies, which could block the virus’s ability to infect new cells. But we’ve gone through much of the pandemic without knowing exactly how levels of these antibodies relate to protection.

Evidence has been building that neutralizing antibodies directly correlate with protection, and a new paper provides some of the most decisive evidence yet. The authors also provide some hints about the sort of decline in immunity we might expect.

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#antibodies, #biology, #covid-19, #immunology, #medicine, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science

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Vaccinated people can now go maskless in most indoor locations

A masked woman walks along a treelined city street.

Enlarge / If you’ve been vaccinated, the CDC now says you can skip the mask and spacing. (credit: Luis Alvarez / Getty Images)

As part of an ongoing press conference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded to recent data on the effectiveness of vaccines and updated its guidance on mask use and physical distancing. Under the new guidance, anyone who is fully vaccinated (meaning two weeks after the final dose of their vaccine) can now skip mask use and social distancing both indoors and outdoors.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities—large or small—without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. There are some exceptions; vaccinated people should still mask up in places like hospitals, airplanes, and other forms of public transport. But for the most part, people who have been vaccinated can return to normal activities.

The press conference is ongoing, and we’ll update this story once it’s over.

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#covid-19, #medicine, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

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CDC advisory committee recommends COVID vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds

A masked child watches a healthcare worker perform an injection.

Enlarge / With new data, we’re able to expand vaccinations to ever-younger populations. (credit: Roberto Jimenez Mejias / Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the CDC approve the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the 12- to 15-year age group. The decision comes two days after the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for the same age group and will help the US further limit the pool of people who can spread infections or foster the evolution of new viral variants. Formal CDC approval could come quickly, given recent history.

Given the FDA’s earlier decision, the move might seem anticlimactic. But having the FDA and CDC officially on the same page is reassuring, and several state-run vaccination programs are awaiting the CDC’s OK before expanding into that age group. Private providers and insurance companies were also varied in their response to the FDA’s decision and were waiting for the CDC.

The data that supported the approval was pretty decisive, as a small Phase III clinical trial of 2,260 adolescents saw 16 cases of COVID-19, with every single one occurring in the placebo group. Side effects were similar to those experienced by older people, with a brief period of flu-like symptoms. The committee was tasked with considering whether the benefits outweighed the risks; given the minor side effects and the increasingly obvious benefits of vaccination, it’s not a surprise that the vote in favor of approval by the committee was 14 in favor, none opposing, and a single recusal. The CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, is overwhelmingly likely to follow the committee’s recommendation, most likely before the day is over. (We’ll update this story if and when this occurs.)

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#cdc, #covid-19, #fda, #medicine, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccines

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Biden shifts strategy as national vaccination rate continues to slow

An older man in a suit gestures while addressing an unseen crowd.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

By July 4—two months from today—the Biden administration wants to have 70 percent of American adults vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 160 million adults fully vaccinated.

Currently, over 147.5 million people have received at least one shot, which is 44 percent of the overall population and includes 56 percent of adults (people ages 18 and up). Over 105 million people are fully vaccinated, which is nearly 32 percent of the overall population and includes nearly 41 percent of adults.

The administration’s new goal would mean that close to 100 million shots would have to go out in the next 60 days or so, President Joe Biden said in an address Tuesday afternoon.

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#biden, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #us, #vaccinations, #vaccines

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US COVID vaccinations fall nearly 11% in a week as demand wanes

Nurses wait at empty tables for more patients to arrive to receive a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in Gardena, California, on April 17, 2021.

Enlarge / Nurses wait at empty tables for more patients to arrive to receive a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in Gardena, California, on April 17, 2021. (credit: Getty | Patrick Fallon)

Though COVID-19 vaccines are now open to all US adults, vaccinations in the country are on the decline.

In the past week, the rolling seven-day average of daily vaccinations has slipped nearly 11 percent, falling from a high on April 13 of nearly 3.4 million shots per day to the current average of just over 3 million. And scores of counties across the US have begun declining shipments of vaccine doses, according to reporting by The Washington Post.

It’s the first time since the nationwide vaccination effort began last December that the country has seen a sustained decline in vaccinations—except for a brief dip in February which was linked to winter weather-related delays and cancellations.

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

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More J&J troubles: Vaccine manufacturing halted and more possible clot cases

The Emergent BioSolutions plant, a manufacturing partner for Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 9, 2021.

Enlarge / The Emergent BioSolutions plant, a manufacturing partner for Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Saul Loeb)

The US Food and Drug Administration last week asked Emergent BioSolutions to stop making Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine at its troubled facility in Baltimore, according to a regulatory filing Emergent released Monday.

The FDA had begun an inspection of the contract manufacturer’s facility on April 12 but requested on April 16 that production be halted “pending completion of the inspection and remediation of any resulting findings,” the filing reads. Any vaccine materials already made at the plant will be held in quarantine.

The production halt follows news last month that a mishap at the plant led to the ruin of 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine. The ruined doses had reportedly been contaminated with ingredients from AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was also being manufactured at the plant at the time.

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#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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Outschool is the newest edtech unicorn

Outschool, a marketplace providing small-group, virtual after-school activities for children has raised a $75 million Series C led by Coatue and Tiger Global Management. TechCrunch first learned of the round from sources familiar with the transaction; the company confirmed the deal to TechCrunch later today.

The new funding values Outschool’s at $1.3 billion, around 4 times higher than its roughly $320 million valuation set less than a year ago.

To date, Outschool has raised $130 million in venture capital to date, inclusive of its new round.

The company’s valuation growth curve is steep for any startup, let alone an edtech concern that saw the majority of its growth during the pandemic. But while CEO and co-founder Amir Nathoo says his company’s new valuation is partially a reflection of today’s fundraising frenzy, he thinks revenue sustainability is a key factor in his company’s recent fundraise.

The new unicorn’s core product is after school classes for entertainment or supplemental studies, on an ongoing or one-off basis. As the company has grown, ongoing classes have grown from 10% of its business to 50% of its business, implying that the startup is generating more reliable revenue over time.

The change from one-off classes to enduring engagements could be good for the company and its students. On the former, recurring revenue is music to investor ears. On the latter, students need repetition to develop close relationships with a course and a group. Ongoing classes about debate or a weekly zombie dance class makes for a stickier experience.

Nathoo says everyone always asks what the most popular classes are, but said it continues to change since its main clientele – kids – have evolving favorites. One week it might be math, the other it might be minecraft and architecture.

Its changing revenue profile helped Outschool generate more than $100 million in bookings in 2020, compared to $6 million in 2019 and just $500,000 in 2017. Nathoo declined to share the company’s expectations for 2021 beyond “projecting to grow aggressively.”

Outschool reached brief positive cash flow last year as a result of massive growth in bookings, but Nathoo shared that that has since changed.

“My goal is to always stay within touching distance of profit,” he said. “But given the fast change in the market, it makes sense to invest aggressively into opportunities that will make sense in the long-term.”

What’s next

Nathoo expects to grow Outschool’s staff from 110 people to 200 by the end of the year, with a specific focus on international growth. In 2020, Outschool launched in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK, so hiring will continue there and elsewhere.

On the flip side, Outschool isn’t  teachers at the same clip it was at the height of the pandemic in the United States. When the pandemic started, Outschool had 1,000 teachers on its platform. Within months, Outschool grew to host 10,000 teachers, a screening process that the founder explained was resource-heavy but vital. Outschool makes more money if teachers join the platform full-time: teachers pocket 70% of the price they set for classes, while Outschool gets the other 30% of income. But, Nathoo views the platform as more of a supplement to traditional education. Instead of scaling revenue by convincing teachers to come on full-time, the CEO is growing by adding more part-time teachers to the platform.

Similar to how Airbnb created a host endowment fund to share its returns with the people who made its platform work, Outschool has dedicated 2% of its fundraise to creating a similar program to reward teachers on its platform in the event of liquidity.

One of Outschool’s most ambitious goals is, ironically, to go in school. While some startups have found success selling to schools amid the pandemic, district sales cycles and tight budgets continue to be a difficult challenge for scaling purposes. Still, the startup wants to make its way into students’ lives through contracts with schools and employers, which could help low income families access the platform. Nathoo says enterprise sales is a small part of its business, but the strategy began just last year as part of COVID-19 response. It is currently piloting its B2B offering with a number of schools.

Outschool will also consider acquiring early-stage startups focused on direct-to-consumer learning in international markets. While no acquisitions have been made by the startup to date, consolidation in the edtech sector broadly is heating up.

Nathoo stressed that Outschool’s continued growth, even as schools reopen, has de-risked the company from post-pandemic worries.

“There’s going to be a big spike of in-person activities because everyone is going to want to do that at once,” he said. “But then we’re going to settle at some more even distribution because the future of education is hybrid.”

He added that Outschool’s ethos around online learning hasn’t changed since conception. The company has never seen opportunity in the for-credit, subject-matter digital education sector, and instead has focused more on supplemental ways to support students after school.

“That’s the piece of the education system that is underserved and that was missing,” he said. “The advantages of online learning will remain in the convenience, the cost, and the variety of what you can get that isn’t always available locally.”

#amir-nathoo, #covid-19, #early-stage, #edtech, #education, #funding, #fundraising, #outschool, #pandemic, #series-c, #tc, #tiger-global, #unicorn

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US COVID cases “disturbingly high” as Michigan sees dire spike

An A frame sign tells diners in a downtown patio how to behave.

Enlarge / A sign requiring protective face masks in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, March 21, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Even as the pace of vaccination in the US nears a heartening 3 million per day, the country hovers on the brink of a fourth surge, with current cases lingering at a “disturbingly high level,” according to top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

The current seven-day average of new daily cases is now over 63,000—levels seen at the base of the record winter surge. “When you’re at that level, there is the risk of getting a surge back up,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN.

Adding to the precarious situation is the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, first identified in the UK. It is now the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the US, Rochelle Walensky (director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said in a White House Press Briefing Wednesday.

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#b-1-1-7, #cases, #cdc, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #michigan, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #surge

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Want to worry about the next pandemic? Spillover.global has you covered

Researchers with Franceville interdisciplinary Medical Research Centre (CIRMF, Centre Interdisciplinaire Medical de Recherches de Franceville) collect samples from a bat on November 25, 2020 inside a cave in the Zadie region in Gabon. - Working in remote recesses in the hearth of the Gabonese forest, scientists scour caves populated by bats, animals suspected of being at the origin of many epidemics transmitted to humans in recent years: the SARS in 2003, MERS in 2012, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2 or novel coronavirus Covid-19. (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN / AFP) (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Enlarge / Researchers with Franceville interdisciplinary Medical Research Centre (CIRMF, Centre Interdisciplinaire Medical de Recherches de Franceville) collect samples from a bat on November 25, 2020 inside a cave in the Zadie region in Gabon. – Working in remote recesses in the hearth of the Gabonese forest, scientists scour caves populated by bats, animals suspected of being at the origin of many epidemics transmitted to humans in recent years: the SARS in 2003, MERS in 2012, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2 or novel coronavirus Covid-19. (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN / AFP) (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images)

We didn’t know about the SARS-CoV-2 virus until it showed up in humans. But previous experience with other coronaviruses that had jumped into humans (SARS and MERS) had told us that something like COVID-19 could pose a risk. Coronaviruses are prevalent in a number of species that have frequent contact with humans, and they have a clear history of being able to adapt themselves to human cells.

Being aware of which viruses have similar properties can help us recognize threats for future pandemics among the ones we find circulating in animals. Now, researchers are taking the results of a massive virus survey and releasing a public database of hundreds of viruses, all rated for how much risk the viruses pose to humans. And any viruses that we discover can be plugged into the framework they’ve developed so that we can get quick information on whether they’re threatening.

What’s out there?

The effort grew out of a USAID-sponsored program called PREDICT, which was part of a set of efforts focused on zoonotic diseases, those who can cross species barriers and infect humans. Collectively, the PREDICT project did a massive survey of animal viruses, taking over a half-million individual samples taken from 75,000 animals. Out of that data, the project identified over 700 new viruses and another that had never been seen in the animal in which it was found.

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#biology, #medicine, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #virology, #zoonosis

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Factory mix-up spoils 15 million doses of J&J COVID vaccine

A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California.

Enlarge / A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

About 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine were ruined, and future vaccine shipments will be delayed. This all follows a mix-up at a manufacturing facility in Baltimore, according to multiple media reports.

Johnson & Johnson had partnered with Emergent BioSolutions to manufacture the active ingredient of its vaccine. But according to two US officials who spoke with Politico, workers at the West Baltimore facility mixed up the ingredients in Johnson &Johnson’s vaccine with those for a different coronavirus vaccine. Emergent BioSolutions is also a manufacturing partner of AstraZeneca, according to the New York Times, which first reported the problem.

The mishap with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine began before the Food and Drug Administration had authorized the facility to produce the vaccine. Now, that authorization has been delayed and shipments are stalled.

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#biden, #biden-administration, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

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“Are schools safe?” is the wrong question to be asking

Image of mask-wearing students in a classroom.

Enlarge (credit: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images )

Is it safe to open schools? From the moment it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had set up shop in the US, answers to that question have been scrutinized, analyzed, and even politicized. Lost in all of this is the realization that it’s a terrible question—because there’s no single answer to it.

Instead, any answer to that question only applies to individual communities and, in many cases, individual schools. It’s also subject to change with the evolving dynamics of the pandemic, including the appearance of new variants. Fortunately, a detailed understanding of why the question is bad can help people understand which questions they should be asking instead.

Schools are part of a community

A couple things that are relevant to school safety have become clear over the course of the pandemic. One is that school-aged children are the least likely to be hospitalized or die of any age group tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of the over half-million COVID-19 deaths in the US, only a few hundred have been kids under the age of 17. In addition, in a few cases where new infections were tracked in detail, schools that adopted adequate safety measures saw lower infection rates than the surrounding community.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #health, #medicine, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #schools, #science

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Authorities raise red flags about AstraZeneca’s vaccine press release

Authorities raise red flags about AstraZeneca’s vaccine press release

Enlarge (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

A board of independent experts tasked with monitoring the data and safety of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trial has raised a red flag about the company’s Monday press release, which trumpeted that the vaccine was 79 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19.

In the wee hours of Tuesday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released an unusual statement indicating that the trial’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) had been in touch with the federal agency as well as the company. The statement read:

The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data. We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible.

In an interview with Good Morning America Tuesday morning, NIAID director and top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci tried to add more context to the situation. He noted that the DSMB, which has access to all of the data from the AstraZeneca trial, was left surprised by what the company said in its press release.

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#astrazeneca, #clinical-trial, #covid-19-vaccine, #infectious-disease, #niaid, #nih, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

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The moments we realized the pandemic would change everything

The moments we realized the pandemic would change everything

Enlarge

We’re roughly at the one-year point of the global COVID-2 pandemic—Ars’ initial explainer on the virus first published on March 8, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, and the US declared a national emergency on March 13. As we all grapple with the realization 12 months have passed, various anniversaries are being marked. There are lots of major mileposts to mark; moments that made the severity and global scale of the pandemic clear, or were the first signs of the new reality of social isolation, remote schooling, and offices created out of any available spare space.

For many of us at Ars, the big mileposts were abstract—things that happened to other people or society as a whole as we continued to work from home. But as we talked about the experience of last March, each of us seemed to come up with a different moment when the severity of the pandemic really clicked.

What follows is a collection of the experiences that drove home the severity of COVID-19 to each of us—the moments we knew things weren’t going to be the same. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

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#covid-19, #features, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science

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COVID-19 could become a persistent, seasonal plague, experts warn

Empty vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a first-come, first-serve drive-thru vaccination site operated by the Lake County Health Department on January 28, 2021 in Groveland, Florida. Seniors 65 and older waited in line for hours to be vaccinated.

Enlarge / Empty vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a first-come, first-serve drive-thru vaccination site operated by the Lake County Health Department on January 28, 2021 in Groveland, Florida. Seniors 65 and older waited in line for hours to be vaccinated. (credit: Getty | NurPhoto)

Some experts speculate that the pandemic coronavirus will one day cause nothing more than a common cold, mostly in children, where it will be an indistinguishable drip in the steady stream of snotty kid germs. Such is the reality for four other coronaviruses that have long stalked school yards and commonly circulate among us every cold and flu season, to little noticeable effect.

But that sanguine—if not slightly slimier—future is shaky. And the road to get there will almost certainly be rocky. For the pandemic coronavirus to turn from terror to trifle, we have to build up high levels of immunity against it. At the population level, this will be difficult—even with vaccines. And with the uncertainty of how we’ll pull it off, some experts are cautioning that we should prepare for the possibility that the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, will stick with us for the near future, possibly becoming a seasonal surge during the winter months when we’re largely indoors.

“The prospect of persistent and seasonal COVID-19 is real,” write public health expert Christopher Murray of the University of Washington and infectious disease expert Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the two warn that if that happens, it “could require both health system change and profound cultural adjustment for the life of high-risk individuals in the winter months. There is an urgent need to prepare for such a scenario.”

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#covid-19, #immunity, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science

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Traffic congestion dropped by 73 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic

A traffic jam at night.

Enlarge / A photo shows a traffic jam at 1905 Street and Third Ring Road in Moscow, Russia, on March 3, 2021. Moscow ranked fourth-worst in the world for traffic congestion in 2020, with an average of 100 hours spent in jams. (credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image)

In 2020, the average US driver spent 26 hours stuck in traffic. While that’s still more than a day, it’s a steep decline from pre-pandemic times; in 2019 the average American sacrificed 99 hours to traffic jams. Around the world, it’s a similar story. German drivers averaged an identical 26 hours of traffic in 2020, down from 46 the year before. In the UK, 2019 sounded positively awful, with 115 hours in traffic jams. At least one thing improved for that island nation in 2020: its drivers only spent 37 hours stationary in their cars.

This data was all collected by traffic analytics company Inrix for its 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard that tracks mobility across more than 1,000 different cities around the world based on travel times, miles traveled, trip characteristics, and the effect of crashes on congestion in each city.

And unless you’ve spent the past 12 months in a cave—in which case, gee, do I have some crappy news for you—you’ll instinctively know that there were big declines in traffic in 2020, and in particular a drop in people traveling to downtowns and central business districts.

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#cars, #congestion, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #inrix, #pandemic, #traffic

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Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

Enlarge (credit: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Unemployment in the US remains stubbornly high at 6.3 percent. Job growth has stalled, with 9.6 million fewer jobs in January than the same month a year earlier. But gig companies say they’re having trouble finding people to drive, pick up, and deliver for them.

“I’m worried about one thing going into the second half of the year: Are we going to have enough drivers to meet the demand that we’re going to have?” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told an analyst last month. DoorDash chief financial officer Prabir Adarkar called the situation “a tale of two cities,” with hordes of new customers racing to order takeoutbut fewer drivers offering to deliver it. DoorDash orders more than tripled in the last part of 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier.

The looming driver shortage confounds executives’ predictions. “With record unemployment, we expect driver supply to outstrip rider demand” for the “foreseeable future,” Lyft CEO Logan Green said in May. For a time early in the pandemic, Lyft blocked new drivers from signing up. It was understandable, because today’s tech gig companies were born during the Great Recession. They benefited from a deep pool of workers newly outfitted with smartphones and suddenly in need of supplemental income.

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#doordash, #gig-economy, #pandemic, #policy, #postmates, #uber

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Under intense pressure, WHO skips summary report on coronavirus origin

Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on Feb. 9, 2021.

Enlarge / Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, on Feb. 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency )

Facing intense international pressure and criticism, the World Health Organization has abandoned plans to release a summary report of its investigation into the possible origin of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Instead, the health agency of the United Nations is skipping the summary report and plans to release a full report the week of March 15. The WHO had previously said it would release a summary report in mid-February.

“By definition, a summary report does not have all the details,” Dr. Ben Embarek, a WHO expert who led the investigation, told The Wall Street Journal. “So since there [is] so much interest in this report, a summary only would not satisfy the curiosity of the readers.”

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#coronavirus, #epidemiology, #infectious-disease, #origin, #outbreak, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #who

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CDC to release guide for life after vaccination—with normalcy still far off

A woman in a suit speaks from a podium.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidance this week—possibly as early as Thursday—on activities that are considered safe for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But, while much of the country is hankering for some return of normalcy, the guidance is unlikely to deliver any satisfying taste of it. People who are fully vaccinated will be advised to continue adhering to most public health measures, such as mask wearing and physical distancing in most settings. Though they will get the greenlight for limited social gatherings, those should be kept small and home-based, and they should only include other fully vaccinated adults, according to early reports.

In a press conference Monday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci laid out an example:

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#cdc, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccine, #walensky

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All US Apple stores are open for the first time in almost a year

Masked people mill about the glass walls adorned with the Apple logo.

Enlarge / NEW YORK, June 17, 2020 – Staff workers serve customers outside an Apple store on Fifth Avenue. (credit: Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images)

For the first time in just a few days shy of a year, all Apple Store retail locations in the United States are open this week, reports 9to5Mac.

Apple first closed all retail locations outside of China on March 13, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company originally planned to reopen its stores by the end of that month, but history had other plans.

Apple has periodically reopened and reclosed certain locations in the United States and elsewhere based on local case levels and government guidance—for example, a major push was attempted to reopen on May 31 as the virus’s spread slowed as a result of lockdown measures. But that was before COVID cases began rising sharply again. The last locations to reopen in the US this week were located in Texas.

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#apple, #apple-store, #covid-19, #pandemic, #retail, #tech

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B.1.1.7 variant now 10% of US cases—and cases are once again ticking up

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff participate in a moment of silence and candle light ceremony at sundown with 500 candles for the 500,000 dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the South Portico at the White House on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff participate in a moment of silence and candle light ceremony at sundown with 500 candles for the 500,000 dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the South Portico at the White House on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

After weeks of dramatic decline, COVID-19 cases in the US have hit a plateau—and in some places are ticking up. Officials are sounding the alarm in hopes of averting a fourth surge in the devastating pandemic.

“We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press briefing last week. Though cases are down from their astronomical peak in early to mid January, the overall numbers are still quite high, matching averages seen in late October, at the base of the holiday surge.

“Things are tenuous,” she noted. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”

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#b-1-1-7, #cases, #cdc, #covid-19, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #variants, #walensky

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We’ll likely have a 3rd COVID vaccine soon; J&J vaccine clears last hurdle

A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California.

Enlarge / A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

After a day-long meeting Friday, an advisory panel for the US Food and Drug Administration voted 22 to 0 to recommend issuing an Emergency Use Authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot, refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccine.

If the FDA accepts the panel’s recommendation and grants the EUA—which it likely will—the country will have a third COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use. Earlier this week, FDA scientists released their review of the vaccine, endorsing authorization.

Agency watchers expect the FDA to move quickly on the decision, possibly granting the EUA as early as tomorrow, February 27. The FDA moved that fast in granting EUAs for the two previously authorized vaccines, the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccines.

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#covid-19, #eua, #fda, #infectious-disease, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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A 3rd shot? A new booster? Vaccine makers race to trials to beat variants

COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Madrid on Feb. 26, 2021.

Enlarge / COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Madrid on Feb. 26, 2021. (credit: Getty | NurPhoto)

With worrisome coronavirus variants seemingly emerging and spreading everywhere, lead vaccine makers are wasting no time in trying to get ahead of the growing threat.

This week, Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech announced they have kicked off new vaccine clinical trials aimed at boosting the effectiveness of their authorized vaccines against new, concerning SARS-CoV-2 variants—primarily B.1.351, a variant first identified in South Africa.

In a set of studies published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, both the Moderna mRNA vaccine and Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine spurred antibodies in vaccinated people that could neutralize the B.1.351 variant. But the levels of those neutralizing antibodies were significantly lower than what was seen against past versions of the virus. (Both vaccines performed well against the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK, which is expected to become the dominant strain in the US next month.)

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#biontech, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #moderna, #mutation, #pandemic, #pfizer, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine, #variant

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CDC unveils site to help you find COVID-19 vaccine—but only in 4 states

A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021.

Enlarge / A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021. (credit: Getty | Grant Hendsley)

In its efforts to help Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quietly working on a new website that will let people see every location in their community offering COVID-19 vaccinations, how many shots each of those locations has for the current day, and provide links to set up vaccination appointments.

That’s the ideal, at least; there’s a lot of work to do to get there.

Right now, the site—vaccinefinder.org—only has the full lists of vaccine providers for four states—Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, and Tennessee. Those lists include providers at hospitals, clinics, public health centers, doctor’s offices, drug stores, and grocery store pharmacies.

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#covid-19, #infectious-disease, #moderna-cdc, #pandemic, #pfizer, #science, #vaccine, #vaccinefinder

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Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine safe and effective, FDA review concludes

A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California.

Enlarge / A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine is effective and has a “favorable safety profile,” according to scientists at the Food and Drug Administration.

The endorsement comes out of a review released by the regulatory agency Wednesday. The FDA has been looking over data on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine since February 4, when the company applied for Emergency Use Authorization. The agency’s green light is a positive sign ahead of this Friday, February 26, when the FDA will convene an advisory committee to make a recommendation on whether the FDA should grant the EUA. The FDA isn’t obligated to follow the committee’s recommendation, but it usually does.

If Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is granted an EUA, it will become the third COVID-19 vaccine available for use in the US. The other two vaccines are both two-dose, mRNA-based vaccines, one made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and the other from Moderna, which developed its vaccine in collaboration with researchers at the US National Institutes of Health.

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#covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #science, #vaccine

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Garden-variety germs may explode in COVID’s wake, study suggests

Masked girls in matching uniforms wait for school to begin.

Enlarge / Young children go back to kindergarten following COVID-19 lockdown. (credit: Getty | TPG)

In our cushy COVID bubbles, our immune systems may be getting soft.

Physical distancing, lockdowns, masking, and spirited sanitizing all mean we are coming into contact with fewer garden-variety germs than normal. This year’s flu season was basically cancelled.

While that may seem like a welcome reprieve from seasonal ailments and pesky sniffles, experts fear that our immune systems may be losing their defensive edge in the lull. And with the usual microscopic suspects lying in wait for our return to some sense of normalcy, it could mean that nasty bursts of common colds and flu-like illnesses are in our post-COVID futures—ones that may not be avoidable even if we carry on with some of our COVID precautions.

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#common-cold, #immunity, #infectious-disease, #influenza, #pandemic, #rhinovirus, #sars-cov-2, #school-children, #science

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As coronavirus variants spread, the US struggles to keep up

As coronavirus variants spread, the US struggles to keep up

Enlarge (credit: Bing Guan | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Across the US, the coronavirus is in retreat. The pandemic is still raging, mind you, with more than 70,000 new cases still reported each day. But since the post-holiday peak in mid-January, the seven-day average of new cases has fallen by nearly 64 percent. Hospitalizations have plunged too. And with vaccinations accelerating, there is a glimmer of hope that this downward trend might be the start of Covid’s long slide toward containment, at least in the US and other wealthy countries that are hogging the shots.

But retreat does not always mean defeat. And the emergence of several worrisome new coronavirus variants with new tricks for spreading faster or evading immune responses presents another possibility: that the current reprieve will only be temporary. Public health experts are urging governments to prepare for a possible new wave of infections driven by variants like B.1.1.7, which has already been identified in more than 1,200 US cases and in nearly every state, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

That’s more than double the number reported two weeks earlier. But the real number is likely far higher. How much higher? No one knows. That’s because the only way to tell which version of the coronavirus is causing an infection is to sequence its genome. In this country, that should be easy enough—the US is a sequencing superpower. It has dozens of academic institutions and massive commercial labs with the capacity to crank out genomes at a rapid clip. But the federal government’s response through much of the pandemic didn’t include a plan to mobilize America’s DNA-mappers into a coordinated coronavirus-monitoring corps. SARS-CoV-2 surveillance, well, sucked.

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#b-117, #covid-19, #pandemic, #science, #sequencing

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Pfizer vaccine doesn’t need ultra-cold storage after all, company says

A picture taken on January 15, 2021 shows a pharmacist holding with gloved hands a vial of the undiluted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.

Enlarge / A picture taken on January 15, 2021 shows a pharmacist holding with gloved hands a vial of the undiluted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19. (credit: Getty | JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER)

In a bit of good news, Pfizer and BioNTech announced today that their highly effective COVID-19 vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage conditions after all and can be kept stable at standard freezer temperatures for two weeks.

The companies have submitted data to the US Food and Drug Administration demonstrating the warmer stability in a bid for regulatory approval to relax storage requirements and labeling for the vaccine.

If the FDA greenlights the change, the warmer storage conditions could dramatically ease vaccine distribution, allowing doses to be sent to non-specialized vaccine administration sites. The change would also make it much easier to distribute the vaccine to low-income countries.

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#biontech, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #pfizer, #science, #ultra-cold, #vaccine

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“Shameful and inhumane”: DeSantis threatens to withhold vaccine amid criticism

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference about the opening of a COVID-19 vaccination site at the Hard Rock Stadium on January 06, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Enlarge / Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference about the opening of a COVID-19 vaccination site at the Hard Rock Stadium on January 06, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (credit: Getty | Joe Raedle)

As large swaths of the country face snags in COVID-19 vaccine distribution due to crippling snow and ice, some communities in Florida may face snags due to political windstorms from their governor, Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis was criticized this week after the state unveiled plans to open a “pop-up” clinic near Tampa that would offer vaccine doses only to residents in affluent, mostly white, mostly Republican areas of Manatee County. The clinic will vaccinate 3,000 residents of just two ZIP codes in the county, which were reportedly hand-selected by DeSantis and County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh—instead of being selected using the Sunshine State’s vaccine lottery system.

Plans for the clinic were born from a deal struck between DeSantis, Baugh, and real estate developer Rex Jensen, according to the Bradenton Herald. DeSantis reportedly reached out to Jenson, who agreed to host the clinic on his development, Lakewood Ranch. The master-planned community covers much of the two selected ZIP codes served by the clinic. The ZIP codes also overlap with Baugh’s district.

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#covid-19, #desantis, #equity, #florida, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccination

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CDC releases updated “science based” school guidelines

Image of a woman wearing a face mask.

Enlarge / Rochelle Walensky during the announcement of her nomination to head the CDC. (credit: Jim Watson, Getty Images)

As the US approached the start of the school year in 2020, the guidance it received from the federal government was a mess. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a series of documents in late July that was a mix of evidence-based risk analysis and full-throated endorsement of having children back in school, with no consideration of risk at all.

Now, with a new administration in charge and promoting evidence-based policymaking, the CDC has revisited its advice on pandemic safety in schools. The result is a set of documents that are far more coherent in their approach to managing risk. Several documents all promote a single approach to keeping schools open, focused on mask use and distancing, and back that up with an analysis of the latest research on the pandemic’s spread in children. And, in introducing them, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced “I can assure you this is free from political meddling.”

Science-focused

In a press conference announcing the release of the new documents, the count of Walensky’s use of the term “science based” probably reached double digits. Backing that up is one of the three documents released by the CDC on Friday, which focuses entirely on the evidence that was used to formulate the new guidelines. The document makes clear that a lot of the information we now have has come from analyses of what happened after schools were reopened in the autumn, both in the US and overseas. This makes it clear that, even if it weren’t for the change in administration, we were due to revisit our thinking about school safety.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #pandemic, #policy, #sars-cov-2, #schools, #science

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The digital divide is giving American churches hell

The digital divide is giving American churches hell

Enlarge (credit: Leon Neal | Getty Images)

For Clay Scroggins, preaching on Zoom was never part of the plan. As lead pastor at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, he was accustomed to services in a 3,000-seat auditorium, with live music and a jumbotron for people in the back. But God’s plan is often mysterious, so when the city of Atlanta forced him to shut the church’s doors last spring, Scroggins faithfully moved his ministry online. “Ultimately, we were really informed by Jesus’ calling for us to love our neighbors,” he says, “and the most loving thing we could do was to continue to meet virtually.”

And continue to meet virtually they have. Sunday sermons are broadcast live and posted to the church’s YouTube channel for congregants to watch anytime. Bible study and small group meetings have moved to Zoom. Buckhead has even managed to replicate spontaneous church lobby “bump-ins” with video chat breakout rooms for some events. Donations, which provide all of the church’s operating income, remain the same, they just come via a digital collection plate. At Buckhead Church, virtual worship is going so well that some parts of it might be here for good. But not every congregation has been so blessed.

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#christianity, #gaming-culture, #pandemic, #policy, #religion, #zoom

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China refused to hand over key data to WHO team probing pandemic’s origin

Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 9, 2021.

Enlarge / Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, Feb. 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency )

The Chinese government failed to share key data on early COVID-19 cases with a team of international scientists investigating how the pandemic began.

The researchers had requested raw data on 174 of the very first COVID-19 cases identified in Wuhan, China during December 2019, as well as other cases. But the team—assembled by the World Health Organization—was only given a summary of those early cases, according to multiple media reports.

Having such detailed patient data from the start of an outbreak is “standard practice for an outbreak investigation,” Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert and WHO team member, told Reuters in an interview Saturday. Dwyer emphasized that data on those 174 cases is particularly key because only half of them were connected to the Huanan seafood market, which was initially thought to be the source of the outbreak.

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#china, #coronavirus, #outbreak, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #who, #wuhan

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New details emerge of how pandemic began: WHO team still eyes animal source

Peter Ben Embarek (R) talks with Liang Wannian (L) during a press conference following a visit by the international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021.

Enlarge / Peter Ben Embarek (R) talks with Liang Wannian (L) during a press conference following a visit by the international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province on February 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Hector Retamal)

After 12 days of field work in Wuhan, China, an international team of scientists assembled by the World Health Organization have wrapped up its investigation into the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that mushroomed out of the city in December of 2019.

The team’s findings support researchers’ previous leading hypothesis of how the pandemic began—that the virus used a still-elusive intermediate animal host as a bridge to infect humans from a distant reservoir host, such as horseshoe bats. But the team did fill in new, intriguing details of the pandemic’s first, crucial month—and ruled out sensational theories that the pandemic was born from a laboratory incident.

“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction [to humans] through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway,” Peter Ben Embarek, WHO International Team Lead, said in a 3-hour press conference on the team’s findings, livestreamed from Wuhan on February 9. Though researchers in China have already surveyed 11,000 animals around the country in search of that host, all have tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 so far, the team noted. Identifying the intermediary host “will require more studies and more specific, targeted research,” Embarek added.

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#pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #virology, #who, #wuhan

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Scary 22% vaccine efficacy in South Africa comes with heaps of caveats

Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

Dismal preliminary data on AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa—where the B.1.351/ 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant is spreading widely—lead the government there to rethink its vaccination rollout and raised further international concern about the variant.

But the small study has so many limitations and caveats, experts caution that drawing any conclusions from it is difficult.

The study, which has not been published or peer-reviewed but presented in a press conference Sunday, began in June and enrolled only around 2,000 participants, about half of which received a placebo. Early in the study—before B.1.351 emerged—the vaccine appeared over 70 percent effective at preventing mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19. That is largely in line with the conclusion of an international Phase III trial released by AstraZeneca and vaccine co-developer Oxford University, which showed mixed results for the replication-deficient adenovirus-based vaccine but an overall efficacy of around 70 percent.

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#astrazeneca, #clinical-trial, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #pandemic, #science, #south-africa, #vaccine, #variants, #who

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FDA now reviewing a third COVID vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson

The head office of Janssen pharmaceutical company on February 5, 2021 in Leiden, the Netherlands. The American mother company of Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, has requested quick approval in the United States for the coronavirus vaccine that was developed by Janssen Vaccines in Leiden.

Enlarge / The head office of Janssen pharmaceutical company on February 5, 2021 in Leiden, the Netherlands. The American mother company of Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, has requested quick approval in the United States for the coronavirus vaccine that was developed by Janssen Vaccines in Leiden. (credit: Getty | BSR Agency)

Johnson & Johnson on Thursday announced it has applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorization for its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

If the EUA is granted, the vaccine will be the third authorized for use in the US against the pandemic coronavirus, likely boosting the vaccine supply in the coming months and helping to hasten immunization country-wide.

J&J’s application to the FDA comes just a week after the company revealed top-line results of its Phase III clinical trial, which found the vaccine to be 66 percent effective overall at preventing moderate and severe COVID-19. J&J’s vaccine—made by its vaccine developer Janssen Pharmaceuticals—was 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease. In the trial, severe disease was defined as testing positive for the virus as well as having signs consistent with severe systemic illness, respiratory failure, shock, or organ failure, or being admitted to an intensive care unit, or dying. The company reported that no one who received the vaccine was hospitalized or died during the trial.

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#authorization, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

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New COVID cases dropping, but worrying signs on the horizon

Image of an orange dirt lot with a tractor digging near the edge of a grid of individual coffins.

Enlarge / Aerial view showing a tractor digging graves in a new area of the Nossa Senhora Aparecida, where COVID-19 victims are buried, in Manaus, Brazil. (credit: Marcio James / Getty Images)

While attention has been focused on the worrying new variants of SARS-CoV-2, there has been some good news: despite the evolution of a number of strains that appear to spread more readily, total COVID-19 cases have been dropping, both in the United States and globally. While there are a number of nations that are still seeing an increase in infections, a combination of reduced post-holiday spread and increased social interventions appear to be getting the surges seen in January under control.

That said, there are worrying signs that, at least in the US, a number of states are making the same mistakes that ensured that the virus never really went away after the first surge in cases. And the spread of many new variants drives home the need to avoid complacency.

Going down

The general fall in cases came up at a recent press briefing from the World Health Organization. “For the third week in a row, the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported globally fell last week,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “There are still many countries with increasing numbers of cases, but at the global level, this is encouraging news.”

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#biology, #covid-19, #epidemiology, #medicine, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #virology

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Media frenzy, skepticism engulf virus origin probe—and WHO is over it

A frustrated man speaks in front of World Health Organization logo.

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan talks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on March 11, 2020. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Coffrini)

An international team of scientific experts is on the ground in Wuhan, China, finally making progress in its long-sought attempt to understand how the pandemic coronavirus first jumped from animals to humans. But the tedious scientific investigation has become a media frenzy there, and it continues to be plagued by conspiracy theories and thorny international politics.

On Monday, a top official with the World Health Organization had clearly had enough, scolding skeptics and essentially telling conspiracy theorists to show hard evidence or be quiet.

Members of the 15-person team arrived in Wuhan last month and finished their mandatory two-week quarantine last Thursday. Since then, they have made several trips around Wuhan—swarmed by media—including a visit to the hospital that treated the first known COVID-19 cases and the Huanan seafood market, where authorities linked many of the earliest cases. The team also plans to meet with COVID-19 survivors and visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is the center of much speculation and many conspiracy theories that the pandemic virus was engineered and/or accidentally released from a laboratory.

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#infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #who, #wuhan

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Cable ISP warns “excessive” uploaders, says network can’t handle heavy usage

A pair of scissors cutting an Ethernet cable.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Bosca78)

Mediacom, a cable company with about 1.4 million Internet customers across 22 states, is telling heavy uploaders to reduce their data usage—even when those users are well below their monthly data caps.

Mediacom’s fastest Internet plan offers gigabit download speeds and 50Mbps upload speeds with a monthly data cap of 6TB. But as Stop the Cap wrote in a detailed report on Wednesday, the ISP is “reach[ing] out to a growing number of its heavy uploaders and telling them to reduce usage or face a speed throttle or the possible closure of their account.” Mediacom told Ars that it is contacting heavy uploaders “more frequently than before” because of increased usage triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said that heavy uploaders “may be under their total bandwidth usage allowance but still have a negative impact on Mediacom’s network.”

Mediacom’s terms and conditions say the company charges $10 fees for each additional block of 50GB used by customers who exceed the data cap. But users may be warned about their usage long before they risk overage fees. One user in East Moline, Illinois, who described the predicament on a DSLReports forum in early January, said they paid for the 6TB plan “to make sure we wouldn’t go over the cap” and had never used more than 4TB. The user wrote:

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#biz-it, #cable, #mediacom, #pandemic, #policy, #upload

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COVID variants throw J&J vaccine a curveball, lowering efficacy to 66%

COVID variants throw J&J vaccine a curveball, lowering efficacy to 66%

Enlarge (credit: Getty | SOPA Images)

Johnson & Johnson’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine was 72 percent effective at preventing moderate and severe disease in the United States and 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease globally. But the one-shot vaccine struggled to fight off emerging virus variants in other countries, lowering its overall efficacy to 66 percent.

The topline results from Johnson & Johnson’s Phase III ENSEMBLE trial, announced Friday, suggest the vaccine will be yet another much-needed weapon against the pandemic virus, which has now infected over 100 million worldwide and killed nearly 2.2 million.

“Changing the trajectory of the pandemic will require mass vaccination to create herd immunity, and a single-dose regimen with fast onset of protection and ease of delivery and storage provides a potential solution to reaching as many people as possible,” said Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development at Janssen Pharmaceutical (owned by J&J). “The ability to avoid hospitalizations and deaths would change the game in combating the pandemic.”

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#clinical-trial, #covid-19, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

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Coronavirus variants: What they do and how worried you should be

Coronaviruses

Enlarge / Coronaviruses (credit: Getty | BSIP)

Ever since the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, began jumping from human to human, it’s been mutating. The molecular machinery the virus uses to read and make copies of its genetic code isn’t great at proofreading; minor typos made in the copying process can go uncorrected. Each time the virus lands in a new human victim, it infects a cell and makes an army of clones, some carrying genetic errors. Those error-bearing clones then continue on, infecting more cells, more people. Each cycle, each infection offers more opportunity for errors. And, over time, those errors, those mutations, accumulate.

Some of these changes are meaningless. Some are lost in the frenetic viral manufacturing. But some become permanent fixtures, passed on from virus to virus, human to human. Maybe it happens by chance; maybe it’s because the change helps the virus survive in some small way. But in aggregate, viral strains carrying one notable mutation can start carrying others. Collections of notable mutations start popping up in viral lineages, and sometimes they seem to have an edge over their relatives. That’s when these distinct viruses—these variants—get concerning.

Scientists around the world have been closely tracking mutations and variants since the pandemic began, watching some rise and fall without much ado. But in recent months, they have become disquieted by at least three variants. These variants of concern, or VOCs, have raised critical questions—and alarm—over whether they can spread more easily than previous viral varieties, whether they can evade therapies and vaccines, or even whether they’re deadlier.

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#covid-19, #features, #genetics, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #spike-protein, #variants, #who

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Basic pandemic safety limits spread in schools

Image of a classroom with widely spread desks.

Enlarge / Masks and distancing work in the classrooms, too. (credit: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Can schools be kept open safely even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues largely unchecked? So far, the data has been mixed. Studies of spread in schools seem to suggest they’re not a major source of infections. But when countries that shut their schools as part of a package of pandemic restrictions were compared to those that didn’t, the ones that had schools shut down had a lower overall rate of infection. So, the record on opening schools seems a bit mixed.

Yesterday, the CDC released a detailed look at the spread of SARS-CoV-2 within a single school system in rural Wisconsin. While the results come from a time before the new, more easily spread strains had evolved, they show that some of the measures laid out in guidelines on how to safely reopen schools work. Thanks to those precautions, infections in the school were down by 37 percent compared to infections in the community at large, and there were very few infections that occurred within the school. But it also raises an obvious question: if these measures work, why aren’t we all using them?

Appropriate cautions

The study started at the end of August 2020 and continued on through to the end of November. It focused on the schools of Wood County, Wisconsin, and tracked infections that took place among its faculty and staff as well as comparing those to the spread of the pandemic in the county as a whole. Overall, there were 4,876 students and 654 staff members included in the data.

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“We’re failing”: Ex-Warp Speed leader proud, deflects blame on vaccines

President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

Moncef Slaoui, the former head scientist for the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, is proud of his team’s work in helping to develop and distribute vaccine in an unprecedented timeframe amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to immunizing the population, “overall, we’re failing,” he says.

The immunologist and former head of vaccines for GlaxoSmithKline resigned from his role on Warp Speed at the request of the Biden Administration nearly two weeks ago. Though the Administration also quickly scrubbed away the “Warp Speed” name—which was repeatedly criticized for giving the impression that vaccines would be hastily developed without proper testing—Slaoui agreed to stay on into February to help with the transition. With his time in the federal position dwindling, he sat down for an interview with Science magazine to review how things have gone.

Overall, Slaoui is proud of his work, his team, and the monumental tasks they accomplished, he said. “Between May [2020] and now, we’ve moved five vaccines into Phase III trials, two have been authorized, two are completing Phase III—and one of those could be approved imminently… By all standards, this is absolutely exceptional,” he said.

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#covid-19, #infectious-disease, #operation-warp-speed, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #slaoui, #trump, #vaccines

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The art and science of boarding an airplane in a pandemic

During the pandemic, several airlines have switched boarding procedures to create more distance between passengers.

Enlarge / During the pandemic, several airlines have switched boarding procedures to create more distance between passengers. (credit: Nicholas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Jason Steffen studies planets in other solar systems. His most famous work—OK, second-most famous work—was with NASA’s Kepler Mission, a survey of planetary systems. But you’re more likely to have heard of Steffen, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, in a very different context: as a student of the airplane boarding process. Years ago, after waiting in yet another line on a jam-packed jetway, the physicist thought to himself, “There has to be a better way than this.”

Airlines are invested in boarding times—and to a lesser extent, offboarding—because time equals money. Flying people around the world is a low-margin business, and the faster you can get a flight loaded, into the air, and then emptied on the ground, the faster you can get the next round of paying customers into the air.

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#air-travel, #airlines, #covid-19, #pandemic, #science

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Why Medical Tourism Is Drawing Patients, Even in a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated medical tourism, but pent-up demand remains for affordable treatment in foreign lands.

#budget-travel, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #costa-rica, #istanbul-turkey, #medical-tourism, #medicine-and-health, #mexico, #pandemic, #surgery-and-surgeons, #thailand, #travel-and-vacations, #travel-warnings, #united-states

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With Trump’s vaccine rollout in chaos, Biden unveils five-point plan

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Wilmington, Delaware on January 15, 2021.

Enlarge / US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Wilmington, Delaware on January 15, 2021. (credit: Getty | Angela Weiss)

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday unveiled a five-point plan to try to rescue the country’s beleaguered COVID-19 vaccination campaign and achieve his stated goal of reaching 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.

The five steps include, in brief:

  • Working with states to open and clarify eligibility for vaccination
  • Help set up additional vaccination sites
  • “Fully activate” pharmacies to act as vaccination sites
  • Ramp up manufacturing of vaccine and supplies
  • Commit to transparency and rollout a massive public information campaign to combat disinformation

“The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said in speech. These five things are an attempt to turn things around, to “turn frustration into motivation.”

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#biden, #covid-19, #fema, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #trump, #vaccination

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“Selfish Idiocy:” Infected lawmaker blasts Republicans for bunkering maskless [Updated]

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, July 29, 2020.

Enlarge / Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, July 29, 2020. (credit: Getty | Graeme Jennings)

UPDATE 1/12/2021, 11:15am EST: And now there is a third. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill) announced Tuesday morning that he, too, has tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering with maskless Republican colleagues.

In a statement, Schneider said that during the insurrection, he was “forced to spend several hours in a secure but confined location with dozens of other Members of Congress,” and “several Republican lawmakers in the room adamantly refused to wear a mask.”

Schneider reported that so far, he has not experienced symptoms but was nevertheless concerned. “Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he said. “Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it is public health guidance, common courtesy, and simply what should be expected of all decent people.”

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#capitol, #congress, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #insurrection, #pandemic, #public-health, #science

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Biden plans to release full vaccine supply, reversing Trump policy

President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks January 07, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Enlarge / President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks January 07, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly planning to ditch the current Trump administration policy of withholding half of all available COVID-19 doses to ensure that the requisite second doses are available, according to a report by CNN.

Instead, the incoming administration plans to release the full available supply to states and jurisdictions.

“The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible. He supports releasing available doses immediately and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now,” TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden’s transition, told CNN. “He will share additional details next week on how his administration will begin releasing available doses when he assumes office on January 20th.”

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#biden, #covid-19, #dose, #fauci, #fda, #hhs, #immunization, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #trump, #vaccine

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Private party app pulled from App Store by Apple

Private party app pulled from App Store by Apple

Enlarge (credit: Hinterhaus Productions | Getty Images)

Despite over 82 million cases and over 1.75 million deaths due to COVID-19, many people are bound and determined to carry on with normal life. For some, that includes attending Saturday night ragers, just like they did in the Before Times. Reports of yet another secret party being broken up by law enforcement have become distressingly common.

Getting guests for these secret parties is at least slightly more difficult now that Apple has pulled Vybe Together—an app with a tagline that invited users to “get their party on”—from the App Store. The Verge pointed out that the app had largely been flying under the radar until a tweet from Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times brought some unwelcome, but much-needed scrutiny to the app. One of Lorenz’s tweets highlighted Vybe Together’s TikTok account, which had posted videos of unmasked people partying indoors while advertising New Years Eve parties. According to Business Insider, TikTok has since removed Vybe Together’s account for violating community guidelines.

Vybe Together’s FAQ at least acknowledged the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are aware that Covid is a major health problem to the country, our communities, our friends and family. If we could all just be in isolation this could actually go away.” So far, so good.

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#app-store, #apple, #covid-19, #pandemic, #party, #policy, #science, #tech, #vybe-together

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US seed-stage investing flourished during pandemic

As the United States entered its first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns, there were wide expectations in startup land that a reckoning had arrived. But the expected comeuppance of high-burn, high-growth startups fueled by cheap capital provided by venture capitalists raising ever-larger funds, failed to arrive.

Instead, the very opposite came to pass.

Layoffs happened swiftly and aggressively during the early months of the pandemic era. But by the middle of Q2, venture activity had warmed and third quarter dealmaking felt swift and competitive, with some investors describing it as the hottest summer in recent years.

Venture capital as an asset class has survived the pandemic’s stress test.

But somewhat lost amongst the splashy megarounds and high-interest IPOs that can dominate the news cycle were seed-stage startups. The raw little companies that represent the grist that will shape itself into the next set of giants.

TechCrunch explored what happened in seed investing to uncover what was missed amidst the storm and fury of late-stage startup activity. According to a TechCrunch analysis of PitchBook data and a survey of venture capitalists, a few trends became clear.

First, the pattern of rising seed-check sizes seen in prior years continued despite the tumultuous business climate. Second, more expensive and larger seed deals were not only caused by excessive capital present in the private markets. Instead, COVID-19 shook up which startups were considered attractive by private investors. And the changeup did not necessarily raise their number.

Let’s dig into the data and see what it can teach us about this wild year. Then we’ll hear from Eniac VenturesNihal Mehta, Freestyle’s Jenny Lefcourt, Pear VC’s Mar Hershenson and Contrary Capital’s Eric Tarczynski about what they saw in 2020 while writing a chunk of the checks that our data encompasses.

The American seed market in 2020

If you didn’t think much about seed in 2020, you’re not alone. Late, huge rounds consumed most of the media’s oxygen, leaving smaller startups to compete for scraps of attention. There was so much late-stage activity — around 90 $100 million or larger rounds in Q3, for example — it was difficult for smaller investments to command attention.

But despite living in the background, the dollars invested into seed-stage startups in the United States had an up-and-down year that was fascinating:

Image Credits: PitchBook

Seed dollar volume fell as Q1 progressed, reaching a 2020 nadir in April, the start of Q2. But as May arrived, the pace at which investors put money into seed-stage startups accelerated, recovering to January levels — which is to say, pre-pandemic — by June. The COVID dip, for seed, then, was a short-term affair.

#accelerator, #covid-19, #early-stage, #pandemic, #pre-seed, #seed, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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