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"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 7th Oct 2021

Isolation Tips
The Psychological Benefits of COVID-19 Boosters
Scientists don’t agree on whether approving COVID-19 boosters for certain non-elderly Americans, as the CDC did recently, was the right move. The president, the CDC, and the FDA have issued a series of conflicting statements on the issue. Some experts have indignantly resigned. Others have published frustrated op-eds. President Joe Biden, who got a booster shot this week and called on other eligible Americans to do the same, remains enthusiastic. The split between Biden-administration scientists, such as Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and other scientists over boosters might seem confusing. One possible explanation for it has largely escaped notice: Vaccinated Americans seem to really want boosters, which means that the shots could have benefits that go well beyond extra protection against COVID. Those benefits could be psychological and economic—and, for the president, political.
Hygiene Helpers
UK readying payment systems to charge for rapid COVID-19 testing -sources
Britain is aiming early next year to be ready to start charging for some previously free COVID-19 tests, two sources close to the health service said, a step one described as driven by the finance ministry's desire to rein in spending. The government and health officials have said that rapid testing, via easy-to-use lateral flow tests, is crucial for tracking the spread of COVID-19, with regular testing of those without symptoms identifying around a quarter of all cases.
Canada to put federal workers who refuse COVID-19 vaccination on unpaid leave
Canada will place unvaccinated federal employees on unpaid leave and require COVID-19 shots for air, train and ship passengers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, as he unveiled one of the world's strictest vaccine mandate policies. Federal employees will be required to declare their full vaccination status through an online portal by Oct. 29. Workers and passengers age 12 and older on trains, planes and marine transport operating domestically - which are federally regulated - must show they have been inoculated by Oct. 30.
COVID-19 infections dropping throughout the Americas, more vaccine needed, says health agency
The number of new COVID-19 infections has been dropping over the past month throughout the Americas, even though only 37% of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said. PAHO also said it has closed vaccine supply agreements with Sinovac and AstraZeneca for the delivery of 8.5 million doses this year, and with China's Sinopharm for next year. Jamaica, Nicaragua and Haiti have yet to reach even 10% vaccination coverage, PAHO said.
‘Complex EU’ leads Europe to diverge from US on coronavirus vaccine booster
The world's two leading medicines regulators have reached different decisions on a third dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine — and it’s partly because of the complexity of the EU, according to the European Medicines Agency. On September 22, the U.S. FDA authorized the use of the vaccine as a third, or booster, dose for all over 65s, and only those over 18 who are at greater risk from infection, such as those with underlying illnesses or frequently exposed to the virus, like health workers. By contrast, the European Medicines Agency said on Monday that the third dose can be given to all healthy people over 18 at least six months after their second dose.
Los Angeles requires proof of vaccination to enter many businesses, one of the nation’s strictest rules.
Los Angeles will require most people to provide proof of full coronavirus vaccination to enter a range of indoor businesses, including restaurants, gyms, museums, movie theaters and salons, in one of the nation’s strictest vaccine rules. The new law, which was approved by the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, will allow people with medical conditions that do not allow them to be vaccinated, or who have a sincerely held religious objection, to instead show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within the preceding 72 hours. It will take effect on Nov. 4, which city officials have said should give the city and businesses enough time to figure out how the rule should be enforced.
Community Activities
BofA Gives $200 to Merrill Staff Who Confirm Vaccination Status
Bank of America Corp. is offering $200 awards to Merrill Lynch Wealth Management branch employees who return to the workplace and confirm they’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The company will give the award to client associates, administrative support and operations staff “in recognition of the important work they are doing as the business has transitioned back into the office,” a Merrill spokesman said in a statement to Bloomberg News. While the new policy stops short of being a mandate like those put in place by United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Microsoft Corp., Bank of America is following other U.S. companies in providing a financial incentive to get the shots. Delta Air Lines Inc. is imposing a $200 monthly surcharge on employees who aren’t vaccinated.
Anti-vaxxers tear down Covid testing site in New York
Two anti-vaxx demonstrators attacked a Covid-19 testing site on Monday, during a protest against New York state’s vaccine mandate. A video caught the men in Union Square flipping over a table next to a mobile coronavirus testing van, tearing down the tent erected next to it and tossing a chair, before police intervened to stop them permanently destroying any property. Protesters at the rally shouted “boo” and “shame on you” at the staff member working at the Covid-19 testing site as they went past, followed by chants of “no vaccine mandate”.
Texas man sentenced to 15 months in prison for posting Covid-19 hoax on social media
A Texas man was sentenced to more than a year in federal prison for spreading a hoax related to Covid-19 on social media, prosecutors said. Evidence showed Christopher Charles Perez, 40, posted two threatening messages on Facebook in April 2020, falsely claiming he paid someone infected with Covid-19 to "lick items at grocery stores in the San Antonio area to scare people away" from the businesses, the US Attorney's Office in the Western District of Texas said in a news release Monday.
Working Remotely
Over two thirds of final year students and graduates are prioritising hybrid working over salary in perspective jobs
A survey was commissioned by www.nationalgraduateweek.co.uk to over 2,200 final year university students and recent graduates from UK universities to find out what they’re looking for and prioritising when looking for future work. It was found that over two thirds of recent graduates and final year university students are looking for opportunities that offer hybrid working options (68% of respondents). Just over half of final year students and recent graduates (52%) have said that they are looking for roles that boast mental health support, with many priortising this over a high starting salary (11%).
Virtual Classrooms
The pandemic changed American education overnight. Some changes are here to stay.
Why do most classrooms look the same as they did a century ago, with desks and rows and a teacher lecturing? That observation has been repeated for years, and it took a pandemic to finally change it. Almost every kid got a tablet or a laptop, plus an internet connection – though shortages continue for lower-income students and many who live in rural areas. Though some schools jettisoned virtual learning in favor of in-person instruction this year, others blended aspects of virtual learning with traditional instruction. Confident in the ability of teachers and students to pivot quickly to remote learning at home, some districts ended snow days and kept kids learning even in the face of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and fires, that would shutter buildings. Other districts, aiming to meet the needs of students who thrived virtually, created options for students to continue learning online this year.
DC Council Passes Emergency Legislation Expanding Virtual Learning
The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation expanding the virtual learning option in schools -- a plan Mayor Muriel Bowser pushed back on, saying it goes against the best interests of students. Since the school year began with full-time in-person learning, almost 200 D.C. Public Schools staff members and more than 500 students have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in more than 1,000 students and teachers quarantining. The D.C. Council voted to offer a virtual option to any student who is either at high risk or lives with someone who is at high risk for COVID-19.
Public Policies
Biden to Spend $1 Billion to Boost Supply of Rapid Covid Tests
The White House on Wednesday announced a billion-dollar investment in at-home rapid coronavirus tests that it said would help quadruple their availability by later this year. By December, 200 million rapid tests will be available to Americans each month, with tens of millions more arriving on the market in the coming weeks, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s Covid-19 coordinator, said at a news conference. Mr. Zients also said the administration would double the number of sites in the federal government’s free pharmacy testing program, to 20,000. The changes reflect the administration’s growing emphasis on at-home testing as a tool for slowing the spread of Covid-19.
China Is Last Holdout on Covid-Zero Strategy
For much of the pandemic, a group of places in the Asia-Pacific brought infections to zero, becoming virus-free havens in a world ravaged by the pathogen. Now, with the rise of the delta variant and the proliferation of vaccines, only one is still holding fast to that goal of eliminating Covid-19: China. With New Zealand preparing to shift away from the zero-tolerance strategy, China’s isolation is complete, raising the stakes on how long it can stick to a playbook that requires closed borders, abrupt lockdowns, and repeated disruption of social and economic activity. One by one, Covid Zero places like Singapore and Australia have decided that the approach is unsustainable, pivoting instead to vaccination to protect people from serious illness and death while easing off on attempts to control the number of infections.
Sweden pauses use of Moderna COVID vaccine, cites rare side effects
Sweden will pause the use of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for people born 1991 and later after reports of possible rare side effects, such as myocarditis, the Swedish health agency said on Wednesday. "The Swedish Public Health Agency has decided to suspend the use of Moderna's vaccine Spikevax, for everyone born 1991 and later, for precautionary reasons," it said in a statement. "The cause is signals of an increased risk of side effects such as myocarditis and pericarditis. However, the risk of being affected is very small," it said.
Hearings resume on Ohio House anti-vaccine mandate bill
The right of individuals to decline the coronavirus vaccine and the right of businesses to require it as a condition of employment are at the center of debate over proposed House Republican legislation limiting employers’ ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccination. Lawmakers on Wednesday began additional hearings on the bill after a failed effort last week to fast-track a full House vote on the legislation. All major business and health care organizations oppose the legislation that would allow public and private sector employees to seek exemptions from employer-mandated coronavirus vaccines. The hearing is meant to explore “the line between personal freedom and company rights to mandate your vaccination in terms of employment,” said House Commerce and Labor Chairman Dick Stein, a Norwalk Republican.
Merck says deal signed with Singapore on COVID-19 antiviral pill
Merck announced on Wednesday a supply and purchase agreement that will provide Singapore with access to its experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, the latest Asian country to try to snap up supplies. Molnupiravir is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus and would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19. Merck is seeking approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration for the pill.Singapore's health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of the Merck agreement.
Kazakhstan to buy 4 mln doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
Kazakhstan has signed a deal to buy about 4 million doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, healthcare minister Alexei Tsoi said. The Central Asian nation's government has said it will offer the Pfizer shots, at least initially, only to children aged 12 and older, and to pregnant women.
UAE authorises Sputnik Light COVID-19 vaccine -Russia's RDIF
The United Arab Emirates has authorised the Russia-developed one-shot Sputnik Light as both a standalone COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot, Russia's sovereign fund RDIF said on Wednesday.
Maintaining Services
Hospital system says it will deny transplants to the unvaccinated in 'almost all situations'
A Colorado-based health system says it is denying organ transplants to patients not vaccinated against the coronavirus in “almost all situations,” citing studies that show these patients are much more likely to die if they get covid-19. The policy illustrates the growing costs of being unvaccinated and wades into deeply controversial territory — the use of immunization status to decide who gets limited medical care. The mere idea of prioritizing the vaccinated for rationed health resources has drawn intense backlash, as overwhelmingly unvaccinated covid-19 patients push some hospitals to adopt “crisis standards of care,” in which health systems can prioritize patients for scarce resources based largely on their likelihood of survival.
England urged to step up vaccinations to avoid winter Covid surge
The distribution of Covid boosters for the most vulnerable people and second shots of vaccine for teenagers should be accelerated to help prevent a winter surge of coronavirus overburdening the NHS, a senior scientist has said. Prof Neil Ferguson said England’s vaccine strategy had been “cautious” in recent months, with many teenagers having only one jab, and boosters for the most vulnerable people given no sooner than six months after their second dose. Ferguson said it was unclear whether the winter would bring another substantial wave of infections, but with new cases already high, at about 30,000 a day, even a moderate rise could put the NHS under pressure.
Hospitalization rates are down across the US, but these 8 states still have fewer than 15% of ICU beds available
The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to require patrons at indoor spaces such as restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to show proof of full Covid-19 vaccination -- starting November 4. The ordinance will also apply to personal care establishments such as spas and hair salons, as well as city buildings. And while the measure doesn't go into effect until next month, businesses must display advisory notice of the requirement by October 21. Individuals with medical or religious exemptions must provide a form declaring that. People who do not meet those requirements can use the outdoor spaces of a business and will be allowed in the covered spaces to use restrooms or pick up takeout orders.
Swindon site to produce Covid-19 vaccines, PM says
Doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine are to be made in Swindon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced. It will be made at the Thermo Fisher Scientific site and production is expected to start in 2022. The firm already makes the vaccine at its facility in Monza, Italy. A statement from Pfizer said that regulatory approval, transfer of technology and on-site development work means production cannot immediately begin. It added: "The support from Thermo Fisher - one of more than 20 contract manufacturers across four continents that are - or will be - helping manufacture the vaccine is an example of our efforts to deliver the vaccine to people around the world as quickly as possible."
Healthcare Innovations
Booster shot improves immune response of chemotherapy patients; post-COVID depression helped by widely used drugs
A new study helps quantify the improved protection against COVID-19 achieved with a third booster dose of the vaccine from Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNTech SE in cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. "Chemotherapy can weaken the ability of cancer patients to fight off infections and to respond appropriately to vaccines," said Deepta Bhattacharya of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, coauthor of the study reported in Nature Medicine. Her team studied 53 patients receiving chemotherapy for solid-tumor cancers who received two shots of the vaccine. Almost all of the subjects had an immune response after vaccination. But "the magnitude of these responses was worse than in people without cancer in almost every metric that we measured," Bhattacharya said. "In all likelihood, this leaves cancer patients more susceptible to infection and COVID-19 than healthy vaccinated people." The researchers were able to bring back 20 of the study participants for a third vaccine dose, to see if immune responses would improve.
FDA Is Reviewing Data on Mixing and Matching Boosters, Fauci Says
A study of adults who received booster doses of different Covid-19 vaccines than their original shots has been completed, Fauci said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power with David Westin,” and the data have been presented to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The National Institutes of Health study looked at the safety, immunogenicity and efficacy of mixing and matching of the three U.S. authorized vaccines for booster purposes. The vaccine from partners Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE has been cleared as a booster for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and immunocompromised. Next up for the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is consideration of boosters from Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.
Italy says mRNA COVID jab effectiveness stable after 7 months, but not for all
Seven months after the second dose, there is no reduction in the efficacy of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in the general population in Italy, while a slight decline is seen for some specific groups, the National Health Institute (ISS) said on Wednesday. The report led by ISS and the health ministry examined data up to Aug. 29 from more than 29 million people who had received two doses of an mRNA vaccine such as those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. It said that in the general population, effectiveness against infection after seven months remained at 89%, while against hospitalisation and death, this time six months after the second dose, it remained at 96% and 99% respectively.
Long COVID may affect almost 37% of COVID-19 patients
Individuals with long COVID exhibit lingering symptoms, such as fatigue and brain fog, that persist beyond the typical recovery period of 3–4 weeks after the symptom onset. A recent study assessed the incidence of long COVID symptoms using data extracted from de-identified electronic health records. The study found that more than one in three individuals experienced long COVID symptoms 3–6 months after receiving a COVID-19 diagnosis. The study also reports that women, older adults, and individuals with severe illness during the initial phase of a SARS-CoV-2 infection had an increased likelihood of experiencing long COVID symptoms.
Covid-19 reinfection rate remains low, analysis shows
The rate of Covid-19 reinfections “remains low”, according to new analysis. When people do get infected for a second time, the virus is much less likely to cause serious illness, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Reinfections become more likely as time goes on, the analysis suggested. It also highlighted how some people are more likely to be reinfected than others. Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “The analysis shows that the estimated number of Covid-19 reinfections in the UK remains low.
Cloth vs N95: Which coronavirus mask should you wear?
Mask wearing has been a hotly debated topic, but most scientists agree that face coverings do help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, though the degree to which they do so depends on the quality of the masks themselves. Because about one in three people who have COVID-19 display no symptoms at all, widespread use of masks remains important. A study which reviewed the evidence on mask wearing found in favour of widespread mask use by infected people as a way to help reduce community transmission, concluding that the available evidence suggests that near-universal adoption of any face covering at all, in combination with complementary public health measures, could successfully reduce the community spread of COVID. Models suggest that public mask wearing is most effective at reducing the spread of the virus when compliance is high.