"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 3rd Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
Talking on the phone for 10 minutes a day can help beat loneliness, says new study
Talking to a loved one on the phone for 10 minutes a day could help to ease the pangs of loneliness, new research has found. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, those who received brief phone calls over the course of a month reported feeling 20% less lonely on average. While the way we communicate with others has changed since the start of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, this research highlights just how important picking up the phone is.
Public Health England launches free Psychological First Aid training course for caregivers, to help protect children and young people
Public Health England has launched a psychological first aid training course for anyone who works with or cares for children and young people aged up to 25. The COVID-pandemic has had a huge impact on children, with many reporting that it has made them feel more stressed, lonely, and worried. The online Psychological First Aid (PFA) course offers training on how to provide practical and emotional support to children and young people affected by emergencies or crisis situations. Commenting on the training course, Clare Perkins, Director of the Mental Health Programme at PHE explained how children are amongst the worse impacted by the significant disruption caused by the pandemic, due to being stuck at home and unable to interact with friends.
Why kids are hitting the pandemic wall
As we near the one-year anniversary of the pandemic and associated social distancing measures, kids and parents alike are grieving the end of how our lives used to be. It doesn't even matter how dramatically kids' lives have changed, experts say. The fact that disruption has become normalized is traumatizing enough. Leslie Forde, founder of Mom's Hierarchy of Needs, a think tank in Boston that researches how mothers can reduce stress and prioritize self-care, has surveyed or interviewed more than 1,600 families about the effects of the pandemic on school-age children since Covid-19 began. Her takeaway: Navigating constant change has gotten old for all of us.
Therapists Say A Year Of Isolation Has Taken Its Toll On Many Chicagoans’ Mental Health
As the world begins to return to normal, many people remain mentally scarred by the seismic life changes caused by an ongoing pandemic that has already left a death toll not seen since the 1918 influenza outbreak. Therapist John Hughes, co-founder of the Chicago Center for Relational Health, said it’s important to reach out to friends and family who live alone and might be struggling with isolation — and make sure to follow up. He also suggested avoiding text messages that ask questions like “how are you doing?,” which can be “burdensome” if it forces an explanation of struggles. Instead, Hughes suggests acknowledging that a friend or relative is having a tough time at the outset of a conversation and then go from there.
Covid-19: Quarantine hotels 'unsafe' for returning pupils
Parents and teachers have called for international pupils to be allowed to self-isolate at their school, rather than in a "quarantine hotel". In a letter to the government on behalf of 500 schools, the Boarding Schools Association said hotel accommodation was unsafe for pupils. James Davidson said the thought of his daughter quarantining on her return to school from Abu Dhabi made him anxious. The government said parents should accompany children during quarantine.
COVID-19: Pair fined £10,000 each for avoiding hotel quarantine after Dubai trip
In the UK, a man and woman have been fined £10,000 each for failing to quarantine after returning from Dubai, police have said. Merseyside Police said fixed penalty notices for failing to comply with travel regulations were handed to two people from the Wirral after they avoided a direct flight back from the country, which is currently on the foreign travel red list, to one of the specified ports of entry required for quarantine.
Hygiene Helpers
Vaccine passports could allow people back into Scots pubs, says government advisor
A system of vaccine passports could ultimately allow the return of international travel, MSPs have been told, while some countries are already requiring vaccination "green passes" for entertainment venues. Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University spoke to the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee about international travel regulations during the pandemic. The Scottish Government adviser said that if coronavirus vaccines significantly reduced transmission of the disease, as initial evidence suggested, electronic vaccine passports could help to restart international tourism. She said EU countries were already developing plans for a digital green pass, with countries like Spain and Greece keen to welcome visitors again. Prof Sridhar said: "I think if these vaccines stop transmission, which they look like they might, we will reach a stage of vaccine passports.
Covid-19: Regular tests a 'game-changer' for schools, says science adviser
Regular testing of secondary pupils will be a "game-changer" in giving confidence that schools are safe, a government science adviser has said. Prof Calum Semple told the BBC better ventilation and face masks would also contribute to a safe reopening in England from 8 March. Rates of infection in schools had been "quite low", he said. But a school leaders' union warned the testing demands may mean a staggered return for many. Secondary pupils in England will be asked to take a rapid lateral flow test twice a week to help identify anyone who might be infectious.
Community Activities
Rochdale charity helps older adults keep active and get online to avoid lockdown loneliness
In England, Rochdale based culture and leisure charity, Link4Life, is continuing to support the local community get through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic even as the doors remain closed on their leisure centres, Touchstones Museum and Art Gallery and their other live event venues. The charity launched ‘Link4Life at Home’ during the first lockdown to offer a virtual alternative to the pre-pandemic sessions, which take place at Link4Life’s venues, helping people stay active, creative and healthy at home. This virtual support is planned to continue for the foreseeable future to ensure accessibility for all.
COVID-19: Twitter expands 'warning labels' to target misleading vaccine posts
Twitter is expanding its use of warning labels, targeting tweets that contain misleading details about coronavirus vaccines. The decision has been made to strengthen the social network's existing COVID-19 guidance, which has led to the removal of more than 8,400 tweets and challenged 11.5 million accounts worldwide. Labels providing additional context are already attached to tweets with disputed information about the pandemic. However, this is the first time the firm has focused on posts about vaccines specifically. Twitter said it is starting a strike system that "determines when further enforcement action is necessary".
A third of all military personnel are refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine
A third of all military personnel in the U.S. are refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and in some units just 30% of enlistees are willing to have a shot, according to a new report. The figure is alarming commanders as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the United States. Personnel who refuse the vaccine will face no repercussions due to a federal law that 'prohibits the mandatory application of medicines within the military that are not fully licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration', The Nation reports.
Google and University of Oxford launch global Covid-19 tracker platform
Google.org, the charitable arm of Google, along with the University of Oxford and others have launched a global data repository to help track Covid-19 variants and future infectious diseases. Global.health is an open-access store and builds on an idea first initiated by University of Oxford researchers in January 2020, which involved building a Covid-19 database which pulls together anonymised data on as many individual cases as possible. The university also launched an online tool for tracking and comparing the policy responses of governments around the world tackling the coronavirus outbreak in July 2020. Following early investment by the Oxford Martin School at the start of the pandemic, Google.org provided funding and a team of 10 fulltime Google.org Fellows and seven part-time Google.org volunteers to scale up the project. The Rockefeller Foundation has also provided funding.
Working Remotely
34% will return to office full time post-pandemic
Just over a third of workers in Ireland will be returning to the office on a full time basis once Covid restrictions are fully lifted. This is according to a survey of CEOs, Human Resource and other executives with responsibility for employees at over 250 companies in Ireland. Just over a fifth - 22% - of employees are expected to work full-time remotely with the remaining 44% working between the home and the office, the survey found. Of the latter cohort, over 90% will spend three days or less in the office.
How to Stay Social When You Never See Your Work Friends
One of the hardest parts of working remotely is losing the built-in social life an office environment provides. But just because you’re not in the same building as others doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be a hermit. Start building your out-of-office social life by reaching out to coworkers you like—and talking about things besides work. There are plenty of reasons why this might feel awkward at first, says Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert. But it’s a good idea to push through your discomfort. Any form of social connection is great for your mental and physical health; loneliness is linked to a higher risk of health problems like anxiety, depression and heart conditions, while having strong social ties is linked to the opposite
Virtual Classrooms
Teacher Transforms Old Treehouse into Stunning Virtual Classroom: It 'Has Made My Year'
Nellie Williams of Fairfax, Virginia, says she is "up a tree" at school — and she is loving every minute of it! The Haycock Elementary School teacher spent much of the 2019-2020 school year teaching remotely. Over the summer, Williams learned she would continue teaching out of a virtual classroom to start the 2020-2021 school year and decided to spruce up her daughters' old treehouse into something special. She was able to transform the structure into a bright, inviting classroom complete with insulation, flooring, and Wifi. "My students love it," Williams adds of the reactions she received from her class.
Public Policies
Serbia donates COVID-19 vaccines to Bosnia's Bosniak-Croat Federation
Former wartime enemy Serbia donated 5,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Bosniak-Croat region of neighbouring Bosnia on Tuesday, allowing it to launched its inoculation campaign. The Bosniak-Croat Federation, one of Bosnia's two autonomous entities alongside the Serb Republic, has ordered 1.2 million doses under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme, and nearly 900,000 from the European Union, but has not received any yet.
COVID-19: France approves AstraZeneca vaccine for over-65s - as Angela Merkel urged to get jab
France approves AstraZeneca vaccine for over-65s. The new stance comes just weeks after President Emmanuel Macron said the Oxford vaccine was "quasi-ineffective" in older people.
Venezuela approves use of China's Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine
Venezuela has approved the use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine against the novel coronavirus, the South American country’s health ministry said on Monday, after it began administering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine last month. The ministry did not specify how many Sinopharm doses it would acquire or when they would arrive. President Nicolas Maduro had previously said the country was in talks with China over the possible use of its vaccines. “Thanks to the cooperation between China and Venezuela we are able to attend to the health and life of our people,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
Austria and Denmark eye alliance with Israel on coronavirus vaccines
Israel is to hold talks with Austria and Denmark on teaming up to manufacture coronavirus vaccines, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen plan to visit Israel on Thursday to discuss “an international corporation for manufacturing vaccines," Netanyahu was quoted by Reuters as saying. The Austrian and Danish leaders' move is the latest blow to the EU's vaccination strategy, coming the same day that Poland asked China for vaccines and Slovakia ordered 2 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, and only a day after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received his first dose of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Slovakia joins Hungary and buys Russian coronavirus vaccine
Slovakia has purchased 2 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, making it the second country in the EU to go ahead and purchase the shot, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency. Prime Minister Igor Matovič held a press conference Monday at the Košice Airport, where the first delivery of the vaccine arrived, reported local newspaper SME. He declared that the Russian vaccine will allow the country to speed up its vaccination program by 40 percent. Health Minister Marek Krajčí said the shot won't be administered right away because it still requires a sign-off from the national drug regulator, the newspaper wrote.
Covid-19: Isle of Man in 'circuit-breaker' lockdown after spike in cases
A 21-day "circuit-breaker" lockdown has been announced to limit the spread of Covid-19 on the Isle of Man, the chief minister has said. The island has seen a sharp rise in cases in recent days, which stemmed from an infected ferry crew member. Howard Quayle said an increase in unexplained cases indicated that there was transmission "that we cannot see and do not understand". The new restrictions will come into force from 00:01 GMT on Wednesday. Under the new measures, people will be required to stay at home unless for exercise or essential travel, avoid mixing with other households and socially distance when outside.
Brazilian states blast Bolsonaro over pandemic during worst phase yet
Disgruntled with President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of a pandemic in its most severe phase, 16 Brazilian governors accused the far-right leader of misleading the country and state authorities urged a nationwide curfew and closure of airports. A year after Brazil’s COVID-19 outbreak began, it has killed over 255,000 Brazilians and yet little more than 3% of the 210 million population has been vaccinated, raising criticism of Bolsonaro for failing to secure timely supplies of vaccines. Last week was the deadliest yet for Brazil’s outbreak, averaging nearly 1,200 confirmed deaths per day according to Health Ministry data. Intensive care units in the country’s main cities have reached critical occupancy levels not seen since the first peak of the pandemic last July.
Australia armed forces called in to support COVID-19 immunization drive
Australia will seek the support of the defence forces in its COVID-19 immunisation drive, authorities said on Wednesday, as it looks to ramp up a vaccination rollout programme that is running behind schedule. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will provide help in rolling out vaccines to aged care residents in rural and regional areas not readily accessible by other medical providers, acting Defence Minister Marise Payne said. ADF teams are expected to start next week and will focus on the planning, logistics and operations support.
Biden moves to get all teachers a vaccine shot by the end of March
President Biden said Tuesday that he would use federal authority to offer coronavirus vaccinations to K-12 teachers and child care workers, with the aim of getting at least the first shot administered to all educators by the end of March. The goal is to remove one of the major barriers to reopening schools — an urgent step for parents and children alike — but one that has been enormously controversial and complicated. Teachers, who have resisted going back in many communities, have said that they would be much more willing to return to school buildings if they are vaccinated first.
The Trump administration quietly spent billions in hospital funds on Operation Warp Speed
The Trump administration quietly took around $10 billion from a fund meant to help hospitals and health care providers affected by Covid-19 and used the money to bankroll Operation Warp Speed contracts, four former Trump administration officials told STAT. The Department of Health and Human Services appears to have used a financial maneuver that allowed officials to spend the money without telling Congress, and the agency got permission from its top lawyer to do so. Now, the Biden administration is refusing to say whether the outlay means there will be less money available for hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and other providers.
COVID: Despite concerns, Chinese vaccines sweep the world
While the US and other Western nations have focused on vaccinating their own people, China has pledged roughly half a billion doses of its vaccines to countries around the globe. Despite questions about their effectiveness and safety, people from Chile to Zimbabwe and Indonesia are among those lining up to get the shots. “We’re seeing certainly real-time vaccine diplomacy start to play out, with China in the lead, in terms of being able to manufacture vaccines within China and make them available to others, largely low- and middle-income countries around the world,” said Dr Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University in the US.
WHO sounds alarm over COVID-linked oxygen crisis
More than 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen are needed by COVID-19 patients in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) every day and patients are going without because hospitals can't keep up with demand, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). To fix shortages in 20 of the countries, the WHO and its partners need $90 million in immediate funding. To fix the deficit for the next 12 months, the WHO Access to COVID Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) estimates a $1.6 billion need.
WHO advises against hydroxychloroquine to curb COVID-19
A WHO expert panel that reviewed hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 preventive based their firm conclusion on a review of six randomized controlled trials that included more than 6,000 participants who did and didn't have exposure to someone infected with the virus. They published their findings today in BMJ, as well as on the WHO's website. With high certainty, the evidence showed no meaningful effect on death and hospital admission, and with moderate certainty found no effect on lab-confirmed infection. Also, the group wrote that the drug probably increases the risk of adverse effects. Given the lack of evidence for any benefit, the panel said hydroxychloroquine shouldn't be a research priority anymore and that resources are better targeted to more promising drugs for preventing COVID-19.
Maintaining Services
Amid a chaotic COVID-19 vaccine rollout, states find ways to connect shots with arms
States and counties are getting better at the nitty-gritty of what's required to get COVID-19 vaccine into arms, but distribution still varies because of the nation's fractured and underfunded health system. It's led to broad disparities in state vaccination rates. “This is really a function of the total chaos of 50 state health systems in an uncoordinated, unresponsive, underreported system to the federal government,” said Barry Bloom, an immunologist and former dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Crazy as that may be, that’s the American way.”
With COVID vaccine maker pact, Biden vows wide vaccine access by May
Today President Joe Biden announced the partnership of two pharmaceutical giants—Johnson & Johnson and Merck—who will work together to increase the supply of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, which received emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this past weekend. "This is the type of collaboration we saw during World War II," Biden said today during a formal announcement of the partnership.
Merck, Johnson & Johnson to strike 'wartime' COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing deal: WaPo
Merck & Co., a leading vaccine player worldwide, has been largely absent during the COVID-19 vaccine race. Not anymore: The drugmaker is set to partner with Johnson & Johnson to boost production of its newly authorized shot, The Washington Post reports. President Joe Biden is set to unveil the deal Tuesday, the newspaper reports. During the first days of his administration, officials realized J&J had fallen behind on production targets, so officials jumped in to coordinate a tie-up between the companies. Recognizing it's a "wartime effort," the companies agreed to join forces when they might otherwise be rivals, one unnamed official told the newspaper.
Using a collective ‘virtuous cycle’ to break the pandemic
Medical schools teach students a four-part “virtuous cycle” in which one step positively reinforces the next: Assess the patient. Implement a therapeutic plan. Assess the patient’s response. Revise the therapeutic plan as needed. In an emergency department, this cycle can be completed in minutes. In the cancer clinic, it can take months. Mastering the virtuous cycle is understood to be a central measure of medical competence. Yet when the patient is not one person but an entire society, this cycle is fractured and ad hoc in ways that would make any patient demand a new doctor.
COVID-19: Italy closes schools in 'red zone' coronavirus areas amid concerning growth in new variants
Italy's government has ordered the closure of all schools in regions hardest hit by the coronavirus amid rising fears over new variants of the disease. Italy was one of the first countries in Europe to see COVID-19 on a large scale in February 2020, and it has registered nearly three million confirmed cases since then. It is now seeing around 15,000 new cases per day and the trend is rising, putting the health system under strain.
Thousands of Farmworkers Are Prioritized for the Coronavirus Vaccine
A landmark initiative in California is taking vaccines to the fields, targeting an immigrant work force that is at high risk for Covid-19. Many of the workers are undocumented, raising questions about whether they should have priority.
Healthcare Innovations
Africa, Southeast Asia ask drug companies to share coronavirus vaccine knowledge
A proposal to suspend intellectual property rights during the pandemic. That option would force drug companies to share. The idea has been blocked in the World Trade Organization by the United States and Europe, home to the companies responsible for creating coronavirus vaccines. That drive has the support of at least 119 countries and the African Union. Drug companies say instead of lifting IP restrictions, rich countries should give more vaccines to poorer countries through COVAX, the public-private initiative WHO helped create to distribute vaccines more equally. The organization and its partners delivered its first doses last week in very limited quantities.
Single Shot Of Coronavirus Vaccine After Illness Could Extend Supply : Shots - Health News
Public health officials say it's important to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible to reduce the risk posed by new coronavirus variants. One strategy to stretch existing supplies – albeit with huge logistical challenges — would be to give just one dose of the vaccine to people who have recovered from COVID-19. About half a dozen small studies, all consistent with one another but as yet unpublished, suggest this strategy could work. Dr. Mohammad Sajadi, at the University of Maryland medical school's Institute of Human Virology studied health care workers who were just getting their first of two vaccine shots. His research team homed in on those who had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19. "We saw a much faster response and a much higher response," he says, based on the protective antibodies his team measured in the blood. The infection served the same priming role as an initial dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine would have, so the first shot they got was in effect a booster. It amplified and solidified immunity to COVID-19. The study was published Monday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.
COVID-19: Government's strategy of delaying second coronavirus vaccine dose further vindicated
Now we have the first robust data on the real world effectiveness of these vaccines. And it shows that both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections among older people aged 70 and over. That means a reduction in hospital admissions and that means a reduction in the number of people dying of coronavirus.
Why Second Doses Of Covid-19 Coronavirus Vaccines May Have More Side Effects
Some people have reported experiencing more side effects when getting their second doses of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine compared to when they got their first doses. For example, the COVID Symptom Study website states that “after effects are more common the second time around, with around one in five who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine logging at least one systemic effect.” Indeed, a December 31, 2020, publication in the New England Journal of Medicine had indicated that in the Phase 3 clinical trial of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, side effects that involved more than just the injection site were reported “more often after dose 2 than dose 1.”
Covid: Brazil variant more infectious and capable of evading natural immunity, Manaus study suggests
The coronavirus variant first detected in Brazil, known as P1, is estimated to be roughly twice as infectious as other mutated forms of the virus and can partially evade immunity elicited by previous infection, early research suggests. A study into people infected with P1 in the Amazonas city of Manaus has shown the variant carries a “unique constellation of mutations” which makes it between 1.4 and 2.2 times more transmissible. And in a sign that P1 may diminish the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines, it is also “able to evade 25-61 per cent of protective immunity” caused by previous infection with other variants, the scientists said, adding that their data was preliminary.
Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines may offer high efficacy in elderly
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccines significantly reduce severe illness, hospitalization, and death in older adults and offer protection against the B117 variant, suggests a real-world, observational, non–peer-reviewed study from the United Kingdom. The study, led by researchers from Public Health England (PHE) and published yesterday on a preprint server, compared the rate of vaccination in symptomatic people older than 70 who tested positive for coronavirus with that of those who weren't vaccinated from Dec 8, 2020, to Feb 19, 2021. A total of 44,590 participants with available vaccination data tested positive for COVID-19, while 112,340 tested negative.