Daily Archives: October 15, 2021

Coronavirus in Illinois: 15,669 New COVID Cases, 184 Deaths, 189K Vaccinations in the Past Week – NBC Chicago

Posted: October 15, 2021 at 9:20 pm

Illinois health officials on Friday reported 15,669 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, along with 184 additional deaths and over 189,000 new vaccine doses administered.

In all, 1,665,777 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the state since the pandemic began, according to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The additional deaths reported this week bring the state to 25,407 confirmed COVID fatalities.

The state has administered 780,699 tests since last Friday, officials said, bringing the total to more than 33 million tests conducted during the pandemic.

The states seven-day positivity rate on all tests dropped to 2.5% from 2.6% last week, officials said. The rolling average seven-day positivity rate for cases as a percentage of total tests also dropped to 2.0% from 2.1% last week.

Over the past seven days, a total of 189,357doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered to Illinois residents. The latest figures brought the states average to 27,051 daily vaccination doses over the last week, per IDPH data.

More than 14.9 million vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois since vaccinations began in December. More than 54% of Illinois resident are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with more than 69% receiving at least one dose.

As of midnight Thursday, 1,500 patients were hospitalized due to COVID in the state. Of those patients, 341 are in ICU beds, and 172 are on ventilators.

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Coronavirus in Illinois: 15,669 New COVID Cases, 184 Deaths, 189K Vaccinations in the Past Week - NBC Chicago

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W.H.O. Will Announce New Team to Study Coronavirus Origins – The New York Times

Posted: at 9:20 pm

The new committee, known as the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, will differ in several respects from the team that the W.H.O. sent to China. Because that team visited Wuhan, China had considerable influence over its membership. That is not the case for the new committee, a permanent panel that Dr. Van Kerkhove said would begin with frequent, closed-door meetings on the coronavirus.

In soliciting applications, the W.H.O. asked potential committee members for a statement about any conflicts of interest, in addition to a cover letter and rsum. That appeared to be an attempt to head off critics who complained that a member of the previous team, Peter Daszak, an animal disease specialist, was too closely tied to a Wuhan virology institute at the center of lab leak theories to offer a dispassionate assessment. Dr. Daszak has said that his expertise on China and coronaviruses made him well-suited to participate in the earlier trip.

Conflicts of interest of members of the last group put a huge cloud over the head of the World Health Organization, said Lawrence Gostin, who directs the ONeill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. Of the new advisory group, he added: Its a committee with a proper charge, and a proper global mandate none of that happened before.

For the W.H.O., Professor Gostin said, the new committee serves several purposes. In choosing a larger group reflecting a wider range of expertise and geographic regions, the organization can try to amass widespread international support for its work and underscore Chinas intransigence, he said.

Crucially, forming the new group could also help shore up the W.H.O.s standing with its key Western backers, none more important than the United States. Despite the agencys attempt to act deferentially toward China during the pandemic, Professor Gostin said, China had repeatedly stonewalled the organization and concealed crucial information.

Now, he said, the organization needed to pay heed to the desires of Europe and the United States not least because Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. director-general, is counting on their support as he seeks re-election in May.

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W.H.O. Will Announce New Team to Study Coronavirus Origins - The New York Times

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Coronavirus Today: Are we there yet? – Los Angeles Times

Posted: at 9:20 pm

Good evening. Im Karen Kaplan, and its Friday, Oct. 15. Heres the latest on whats happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.


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If the pandemic were a road trip, this would be the time for kids in the backseat to start asking, Are we there yet?

Theres good reason to think we might be getting close, at least in California.

The Delta surge is on the downswing. Schools have been operating safely at pretty much full capacity. The Golden State continues to post the lowest rate of COVID-19 community transmission 54.7 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days of any state in the country. More than two-thirds of all Californians are at least partially vaccinated, and that figure continues to rise.

Heck, Dr. Anthony Fauci even gave us permission to resume trick-or-treating this Halloween.

All of those accomplishments are worth celebrating. But, unfortunately, we still have quite a ways to go before were really out of the woods.

We seem to have turned a corner in our fight against COVID, said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of UC San Franciscos Department of Medicine. But weve turned corners before only to run into oncoming trains.

Were likely to encounter more oncoming trains as fall turns to winter. The coronavirus spreads more readily in drier, colder weather. And since that kind of weather forces people to spend more time indoors, the virus could get an additional boost.

Last years mild flu season might make us more vulnerable this time around, increasing the potential for a twindemic.

Theres also the risk that the Delta variant will be replaced by something even worse. With so much of the world still unvaccinated, theres plenty of opportunity for the virus to evolve into a more dangerous strain.

Our future will be determined in part by the answer to this question: Is Delta as bad as it gets? Wachter said.

USC students display Trojan Check QR codes to gain admission to campus. We still have a ways to go before COVID-19 precautions like this will be unnecessary.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

To answer that metaphorical road trip question, we first need to define what we mean by there. Fauci says it would be getting to a point where COVID-19 is under control, a low level of infection that doesnt disrupt society in any meaningful way.

Thats an accurate description of the malaria situation in some countries in Africa, but its nowhere close to where we are here with the coronavirus, my colleagues Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money point out.

Getting the outbreak under control would mean having fewer than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases per day across the United States. The most recent figures on the Center for Disease Control and Preventions COVID-19 Data Tracker indicate the country has had an average of about 92,217 new cases per day over the past week.

Thats less than half the recent peak of 192,185 daily new cases from Sept. 1. But its still more than nine times higher than Faucis goal.

So, unfortunately, the answer is no. Were not there yet. And we may not be for quite a while.

California cases and deaths as of 3:10 p.m. Friday:

Track Californias coronavirus spread and vaccination efforts including the latest numbers and how they break down with our graphics.

In the first year of the pandemic, the biggest risk factors for developing a serious case of COVID-19 were older age and having a health condition that would make it easier for the coronavirus to wreak havoc on your body. But after COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, the people most likely to get sick enough to go to the hospital were the ones who opted not to get the shots.

Unfortunately, that put pregnant women at a dangerous disadvantage.

Though the vaccines were being wholeheartedly endorsed for most adults, there was hesitation about recommending them for people who were pregnant. The reason: a lack of clinical trial data showing the vaccines would be safe for women and the developing babies they carried.

The dearth of data was no accident. Pregnant women were routinely excluded from clinical trials. Though it was a well-intentioned sort of exclusion motivated by the kind of do-no-harm mindset embodied in the Hippocratic Oath it wasnt always helpful in the long run if it wound up depriving patients of a much-needed medication.

The prevailing idea is that pregnant people need to be protected from research, said Dr. Diana Bianchi, head of the National Institutes of Healths Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Its a very paternalistic attitude, and we are trying to change the culture, to protect pregnant people through research, instead of from research.

Bianchi felt so strongly about this that she and some of her colleagues organized a task force that spent more than two years developing guidelines for safely conducting research in women who were pregnant or breastfeeding. That advice was made public in 2018, and was updated several times to include recommendations on how it could be implemented.

Unfortunately, the guidelines did not make their way to the companies developing COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer and Moderna gave pregnancy tests to women being considered for inclusion in their clinical trials and kept out those whose tests came back positive.

Despite those tests, 23 people in the Pfizer trial and 13 in Modernas had pregnancies that werent far enough along to be detected by the tests, or that began after they got their first injections. The results from these patients were reported to the Food and Drug Administration, but the numbers were too small to offer meaningful guidance to pregnant people trying to decide whether to accept the new vaccines.

Dr. Emily Fay conducts an ultrasound exam on Gabrielle Stein at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Stein, who is vaccinated against COVID-19, is 16 weeks pregnant.

(Karen Ducey / For The Times)

The health experts theyd normally rely on werent much help either.

In the early days of the vaccination campaign, the CDC said people who were pregnant may choose to get a COVID-19 shot, but the agency neither encouraged nor discouraged it.

The World Health Organization, on the other hand, said it did not recommend the vaccines for pregnant people unless they faced a high risk of coronavirus exposure. That stance alarmed both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, who issued a joint statement stressing that the vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who choose to receive them.

Over a period of months, the CDC and the two medical groups went from being neutral on the vaccines to actively encouraging them. That evolution was made possible in part by pregnant women who chose to get vaccinated and allowed researchers to keep tabs on them. The data that emerged from those registries showed the vaccines were indeed safe.

But the delay had tragic consequences for some women who put off getting vaccinated because they were pregnant (or trying to become pregnant) and wound up severely ill or worse. Even now, two-thirds of pregnant women remain unvaccinated, CDC data show.

Dr. Linda Eckert could see the consequences of this at the University of Washington Medical Center, where she is an obstetrician-gynecologist. As the Delta variant filled the hospital with COVID-19 patients, more of them were pregnant than at any previous point in the pandemic. Some of the expectant mothers were on mechanical ventilators and a few didnt make it.

I have rarely seen any condition confer this much risk to pregnant individuals, Eckert said. Its actually just ... horrifying.

See the latest on Californias vaccination progress with our tracker.

Less than two weeks after the U.S. recorded its 700,000th COVID-19 death, California crossed a grim milestone of its own by racking up the 70,000th death in the Golden state.

That means Californias loss is equivalent to emptying an entire mid-sized city like San Clemente, Camarillo or Walnut Creek.

Nearly 12% of all Americans live in California, so it should come as little surprise that the states death toll is the highest of any state. However, when measured on a per-capita basis, it ranks 35th among the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

If you add up all the casualties over the course of the pandemic, Californias COVID-19 fatality rate stands at 178.8 deaths per 100,000 residents. Thats significantly below the 244.7 per 100,000 for Texas, 278.2 per 100,000 for Florida and 284.7 per 100,000 for New York. Mississippi currently tops the list, with 331.2 deaths per 100,000 residents, while Vermont has the lowest cumulative fatality rate at 54.4 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Health officials credit Californias relatively high vaccination rate for keeping people safe, and more Angelenos are getting the shots to comply with vaccine mandates.

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced Friday that about 97% of its teachers and 97% of administrators met its deadline to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A day earlier, United Teachers Los Angeles said about 95% of its members including nurses, counselors and librarians, as well as teachers were fully vaccinated.

Among the 3% of teachers who havent submitted proof of vaccination, its unclear how many received an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Even so, the new figures are a big jump from late September, when only about 80% of district employees had sent in proof of vaccination.

L.A. city workers face a Wednesday deadline to get vaccinated in order to keep their jobs. But with just days to go, it remains unclear what will happen to those who dont comply. Officials have been discussing the matter with employee unions, but no agreements have been reached.

The city already pushed back a deadline for seeking medical or religious exemptions, and the process of reviewing those requests is still ongoing.

Were heading into the second weekend of L.A. Countys vaccine mandate for certain indoor businesses, and during the first weekend, health inspectors issued a grand total of zero citations for noncompliance.

Instead of writing up the bars, breweries, nightclubs and other businesses that didnt request proof of vaccination before allowing patrons to be served indoors, the inspectors provided additional training. Of the 129 businesses that were visited, 24 needed some remedial education, the countys public health department said.

Customers arent the only ones who need to get vaccinated. At least one dose is required for employees, and theyll have to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 4.

Across the country, the county that is home to Tallahassee was fined $3.5 million by the state of Florida for enforcing its local vaccine mandate.

Leon County fired 14 workers who refused to get COVID-19 shots. The Florida Department of Health said that action violated a new state vaccine passport law that prevents businesses and governments from requiring proof of vaccination.

The law is being challenged in court. But in the meantime, dozens of local governments, healthcare systems, performing arts centers and others are being sued by the state for disregarding it and requiring proof of vaccination. Among those targeted are the Miami Marlins and an arena that hosted a Harry Styles concert, according to a public records request from the Orlando Sentinel.

In other vaccine news, the group that advises the Food and Drug Administration about COVID-19 shots has had a busy few days.

On Thursday, the panel examined Modernas application to offer booster shots to certain groups of people who were at least six months out from their second dose. Their unanimous recommendation was to make the shots available to senior citizens as well as to younger adults who had health problems, jobs or living situations that made them more vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19.

Those are the same higher-risk groups that are now eligible for a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. But unlike the Pfizer booster, which is identical to the first two shots, Modernas proposed booster dose is only half the original.

Panel members emphasized that there was no evidence that either booster should be made available to everyone at average risk.

On Friday, the panel made another unanimous endorsement of booster shots for Johnson & Johnsons single-dose vaccine. The J&J boosters could be given to adults as soon as two months after the initial dose, the panel said. Some members even suggested the FDA consider the booster a second dose in a two-shot series.

A recent study suggested that as many as 5 million people who received the J&J vaccine had a poor immune response and might be at increased risk of hospitalization if they become infected with the coronavirus. Data like that prompted panel members to set aside some of their concerns about wanting more evidence of the boosters efficacy.

Offering a J&J booster could be a public health imperative, said member Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School.

FDA officials arent obligated to follow the panels advice, though they usually do. The CDC also has to sign off on the boosters before theyre made available to the public. The CDCs independent advisory panel will meet to discuss the issue next week.

With the holiday season approaching, the Biden administration is making plans to reopen its borders to international travelers as long as they are vaccinated.

The White House said Friday that U.S. borders would reopen to foreign travelers starting Nov. 8. Foreign nationals will be able to board flights directly to the U.S. from anywhere in the world if they are vaccinated against COVID-19 and tested negative for a coronavirus infection in the previous 72 hours. That will replace a system that prevented most non-U.S. citizens from entering the U.S. directly from Europe, China, India, Brazil and certain other places.

Foreigners who are not vaccinated can expect to be barred from entering the U.S., while unvaccinated Americans will need a negative COVID-19 test to return home. The policy changes were initially announced last month, but the date for them to take effect is new.

Land borders will also reopen early next month for nonessential travel, the first time that will be the case in 19 months. International visitors will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country from Canada or Mexico by car, bus, rail or ferry. Unlike with air travel, no negative coronavirus test will be necessary.

Essential travelers, such as truck drivers, will also be subject to the vaccine requirement starting in mid-January.

The new policies will mark a shift toward focusing on the risk profiles of individual travelers, rather than the risks associated with the country theyre traveling from.

Todays question comes from readers who want to know: Does it really matter if I get vaccinated against COVID-19 at this point?

Yes. The higher the vaccination rate in a community or geographic region, the lower the rate of COVID-19 deaths there. In other words, your shot protects not just you but the people around you as well.

Californias experience illustrates this quite well. During the devastating surge of last fall and winter, Southern Californias densely populated urban communities were among the hardest-hit areas of the state. Before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available, the virus spread readily in a target-rich environment.

But the shots have changed the trajectory of the outbreak here. When the Delta wave hit, the places that got hammered were rural and agricultural areas with low vaccination rates.

(Sean Greene/Los Angeles Times)

The graph above shows the relationship between COVID-19 vaccination rates and COVID-19 mortality rates quite clearly. In Northern California, there were 33.4 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents during the summer; by the time the first day of fall arrived, the regions vaccination rate was just below 44%.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Bay Area, where there were 6.7 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents this summer. On Sept. 22, the regions vaccination rate was 70.1%.

The way the dots cluster close to the black line indicates that this is not a coincidence.

The take-home message for everyone is that vaccines save lives, Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, an infectious-disease expert at UCLA, told my colleagues. Get vaccinated and save yours and your loved ones lives.

We want to hear from you. Email us your coronavirus questions, and well do our best to answer them. Wondering if your questions already been answered? Check out our archive here.

Staffers at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles play with chief nurse Joyce Leidos dog, Lani, left, and Feta, who belongs to another employee.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

That adorable Wheaten terrier with the red leash is Lani, a certified therapy dog. Once a week, Lani visits Kaiser Permanentes Los Angeles Medical Center to help burned-out staffers recharge and de-stress.

Joyce Leido is Lanis owner. She is also the medical centers chief nurse executive, so she has spent a lot of time thinking about the mental state of the caregivers there who have been on the front lines of the pandemic for more than a year and a half. When the death of a COVID-19 patient causes a nurse to second-guess his or her actions, Leido reassures them that theyre doing their best under difficult circumstances and thats the most anyone can do.

Leido realized that when she was the one in need of rejuvenation, she could find it in Lani. So she began sharing her four-legged support system with her staff. Its just one example of the ways nurses have coped with the relentlessness of pandemic. Read this story to learn more; you might be able to adapt some of their strategies to bolster your own mental health.


Need a vaccine? Keep in mind that supplies are limited, and getting one can be a challenge. Sign up for email updates, check your eligibility and, if youre eligible, make an appointment where you live: City of Los Angeles | Los Angeles County | Kern County | Orange County | Riverside County | San Bernardino County | San Diego County | San Luis Obispo County | Santa Barbara County | Ventura County

Practice social distancing using these tips, and wear a mask or two.

Watch for symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. Heres what to look for and when.

Need to get tested? Heres where you can in L.A. County and around California.

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Coronavirus Today: Are we there yet? - Los Angeles Times

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Millions of lives depend on how the pandemic ends – The Economist

Posted: at 9:20 pm

Oct 16th 2021

ALL PANDEMICS end eventually. Covid-19 has started down that path, but it will not be eradicated. Instead, it will gradually become endemic. In that state, circulating and mutating from year to year, the coronavirus will remain a threat to the elderly and infirm. But having settled down, it is highly unlikely to kill on the monstrous scale of the past 20 months. Covid will then be a familiar, manageable enemy, like the flu.

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Although the destination is fixed, the route to endemicity is not. The difference between a well-planned journey and a chaotic one could be measured in millions of lives. The end of the pandemic is therefore a last chance for governments to show they have learned from the mistakes they made at its start.

As the pandemic fades, weekly recorded cases and deaths have been falling globally, including in America, since the end of August. Britain is one country where cases are high and rising, but it has had a lot of disease and has run a successful vaccination campaign. Because 93% of Britons have antibodies, roughly 250,000 cases a week are leading to hundreds of deaths instead of thousands. That is the path to endemicity.

Nobody knows how many people around the world enjoy such protection, but you can hazard a very rough guess. About 3.8bn people have had at least one dose of the vaccine. The Economist estimates that during the pandemic excess deaths lie between 10m and 19m, with a central estimate of 16.2m. Working backwards, using assumptions about the share of fatal infections, this suggests that 1.4bn-3.6bn people have had the disease, amounting to 6-15 times the official count. There is an overlap, as many have been both vaccinated and infected.

The reservoir of people with immunity makes covid less dangerous. However, in bringing the pandemic to an end, the world is likely to face several tests.

One is the wave of winter infections in the northern hemisphere. Covid thrives when people spend their time indoors. If cases start to overwhelm hospitals, governments will need to intervene. One line of defence is treatments, including promising new antiviral drugs such as molnupiravir, which cuts rates of serious illness by half if administered early, but is still awaiting approval. Another is measures such as mask-wearing, shielding care homes and closing hotspots, including clubs and bars. The question is whether governments have learned to act promptly, but proportionately.

A second test is mutation. The genetic sampling of infections serves as an early warning if the Delta variant is displaced, yet poorer, unvaccinated parts of the world still go unmonitored. A new variant may require vaccines to be redesigned. That is far easier than starting from scratch, but it would require the production and approval of new jabs and perhaps jettisoning the stocks of old ones. It could trigger a replay of the fights over supply that marred the start of 2021.

The greatest test is how to protect the billion or more people without immunity. Chinas answer is to try to shut the virus out with harsh and costly quarantines and lockdowns. This allows time for vaccination and stockpiling medicines. The Communist Party has used the countrys tiny number of cases as proof its system is better than democracy, so abandoning its zero-covid strategy is politically awkward. However, as places including New Zealand have accepted, the coronavirus is not going away. One day China will have to relent.

Ultimately, people will gain immunity either through infection or vaccination. Because vaccination is so much safer, governments must get as many needles into arms as possible. According to Airfinity, a data firm, 11.3bn doses should have been produced before the end of the year and 25bn by June 2022. If so, global supply will soon no longer be a constrainthow soon, depends on the demand for boosters. Not all vaccines are equally effective, but all of them are far better than being infected.

This approaching vaccine glut means that exporters should already be shipping doses wholesale. Instead many are holding back supplies for boosters and to vaccinate children, who very rarely die from covid. Doses are promised for next year, but they are needed now.

The last barriers to vaccination will be hesitancy and the capacity of local health care. The World Health Organisation has set a target of 40% of every country to be jabbed by the end of the year. A global vaccine summit set a target of 70% by September 2022. But different countries have different needs for vaccines depending on their demography, their ability to administer jabs, and the threat of covid compared with other diseases like malaria and measles. Blanket targets risk turning sensible priorities into failures.

It is a daunting to-do list. Will governments rise to the challenge? Therein lies the last test. As covid fades into the background, rich countries may start to lose interest in the coronavirus. The disease it causes risks becoming a poor-country killer, like so many of the rest.

Dig deeper

All our stories relating to the pandemic can be found on our coronavirus hub. You can also find trackers showing the global roll-out of vaccines, excess deaths by country and the viruss spread across Europe.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Covid-19s rocky road"

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Millions of lives depend on how the pandemic ends - The Economist

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Is karaoke still risky or does a COVID vaccine give you license to trill? : Goats and Soda – NPR

Posted: at 9:20 pm

Each week, we answer frequently asked questions about life during the coronavirus crisis. If you have a question you'd like us to consider for a future post, email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: "Weekly Coronavirus Questions." See an archive of our FAQs here.

I'm vaccinated. I love karaoke. Is it safe to sing in public again?

Other than impromptu balcony sing-a-longs, 2020 felt like the year the music died for folks who enjoy singing with others.

Because of COVID precautions, "they lost their sense of community from singing in a group environment," says Matthew Naunheim, an otolaryngologist in the Laryngology Division at Boston's Mass Eye and Ear.

That's true for choir members. And for those who are lovers of karaoke.

Among certain cultures and in particular countries, not having access to karaoke has led to a significant void in people's lives. In the Philippines, for instance, the country's Department of Health had to ask folks not to include karaoke as part of their family's 2020 holiday plans. "For a change, let us opt to have a solemn celebration with joyful Christmas songs from our favorite artists played on radios or online music platforms," Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque suggested. Karaoke bars remain closed there, and given the country's currently high rate of infections, it's looking like more silent nights are in store.

These sorts of regulations make sense given how high the risks of karaoke can be. "The truth of the matter is that when we sing, we put more droplets into the air than when we speak," explains Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Projecting our voices requires heavier breathing, and that makes all kinds of vocal performances a challenge right now.

With karaoke, it's not just the singing that's an issue, Naunheim adds. "It's more about the environment typically a windowless, small area where a lot of people are gathered. They may be uninhibited because of the effects of alcohol, so people let their guard down," he says.

And we need to talk about the microphone. "We've all seen those people we swear are trying to eat the microphone. The microphone is literally on their lips even before COVID, we didn't enjoy that," Althoff says. "There could be lingering moisture on a microphone because most have mesh or foam coverings that could hold droplets." And if those are COVID droplets, you definitely don't want them so close to your mouth.

So yes, it's not so shocking that karaoke has been the source of COVID outbreaks around the world. A Quebec City bar's karaoke event was linked to more than 80 cases in 2020. Early this year, there was a karaoke-fueled cluster in Oregon. In July, more than 40 cases were traced to Singapore's karaoke lounges, which were supposed to be operating as food and beverage outlets only. And in August, seven fully vaccinated food service workers got COVID after singing together in an Oahu karaoke bar. Hawaii's health department reported, "No masks were worn by the employees and no social distancing was practiced. Vaccination reduces but does not eliminate the risk of becoming infected and transmitting COVID-19 to others."

But that doesn't mean karaoke die-hards need to stop believin'. "A lot has changed since those early outbreaks, we know a lot more and we're getting back to doing things," Althoff says.

There are some pretty obvious ways to make a karaoke environment safer, including moving your singing sessions outside, says Naunheim, who notes that "porchfests" have been a popular way for his neighbors to present and enjoy music. Or you can experiment with tech options that let you sing in the safety of your own home. "With karaoke, you're often looking at a screen and using a microphone connected to speakers," Naunheim says, so it's not such a huge leap to Zoom crooning. (Although if anyone wants to duet or do a group number, be prepared for a time lag, he warns. Collective singing will prove that you're not perfectly synched up.)

For more of a pre-COVID karaoke experience, prepare to take a whole lot of precautions.

"First of all, get fully vaccinated. That's our first step not just for karaoke but so many things," Althoff says. Then it's time to ask questions, like, "Who are you doing this with?" Even if they're all vaccinated, she adds, "Are they people you'd trust that if they woke up that morning with a scratchy throat, they would take a rapid test?" You're better off in a private room where you have control over which people are around, she adds.

Another recommended step is to check on the number of cases in your area. If you have high community spread, you're at higher risk. And even if you're vaccinated, you need to recognize that you can still carry disease onward, which is especially dicey if you have anyone immunocompromised at home, notes Abraar Karan, an infectious disease fellow in Stanford University's Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine. For anyone in line for a booster, he recommends getting that jab before joining a group celebration of '80s rock ballads.

Althoff also suggests considering your upcoming plans for the next two weeks. If you have a big trip you're scheduled to take or an important project due for work, think through what would happen if you test positive, she says.

Other key factors include cleanliness and ventilation. Just walking into a space, it can be hard for a layperson to evaluate air quality or hygiene level, so Althoff recommends doing some homework ahead of time by calling or seeing what you can find online.

Certain karaoke businesses have been trumpeting the changes they've made to help customers feel more comfortable. These include temperature checks, contactless song menus and single-use microphone covers, which kind of look like little shower caps. Taking that image a step farther, one Canadian bar has its customers sing from a "shower stall" behind a plastic curtain.

Voicebox, a chain of private-suite karaoke bars based in Portland, Ore, brought in an epidemiologist from Oregon Health & Science University to consult on its reopening plan. "His biggest piece of advice is that there's no silver bullet it's all about layers of protection," says co-owner Scott Simon (no relation to the NPR host). That's why Voicebox boosted its HVAC systems with Merv 13 filters and needlepoint bipolar ionization and added HEPA filtration devices to each suite. And it created a multi-step microphone cleaning strategy that involves screwing off the entire top, and running the various pieces through the sanitizer of a commercial dishwasher.

Even with all of these safety measures in place, Simon adds, some guests still wear masks the entire time.

Masking is a smart karaoke precaution, notes Naunheim, who points out that professional singers in his town of Watertown, Mass., are expected to wear a mask unless they can maintain a distance of at least 25 feet from the audience. "It's harder for the singers I take care of to sing with masks in place," he says, so he recommends searching for styles that provide enough room to move the lips comfortably. "It's not a perfect solution, but it's adequate for now."

And during a pandemic, we have to face the music.

Vicky Hallett is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to NPR.

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Is karaoke still risky or does a COVID vaccine give you license to trill? : Goats and Soda - NPR

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Japan’s Q3 growth forecast trimmed further on COVID-19 drag – Reuters

Posted: at 9:20 pm

People wearing protective masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, make their way at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

TOKYO, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Japan's economy likely grew at a slower pace than previously expected last quarter and faces ongoing risks from soaring raw material prices and coronavirus-linked production and supply disruptions, a Reuters poll of economists showed on Friday.

Government and central bank policymakers are hoping a jump in consumer activity put the export-reliant economy firmly on a recovery path after Japan saw COVID-19 case numbers plummet and made progress on vaccinations.

Analysts, however, warned of risks such as an unexpected economic slowdown in China and semiconductor chip and factory parts shortages due to the pandemic.

"There is a risk problems due to supply chain disruption will last longer, putting downward pressure on the global economy," said Harumi Taguchi, principal economist at IHS Markit.

Japan's economy grew an annualised 0.8% in the third quarter, weaker than a 1.2% expansion projected last month, according to the median forecast of 39 analysts polled.

Growth is expected to accelerate to 4.5% this quarter as an end to state of emergency curbs boosts consumption and corporate activity, the poll showed.

The projection was roughly in line with last month's forecast for 4.4% growth, the Oct. 6-14 poll showed.

Parts shortages and factory disruptions in Southeast Asia have forced Japanese automakers to cut output in recent months, clouding the outlook for the export-reliant economy.

Japanese companies also face rising raw material costs, aggravated by a weaker yen, that could erode margins.

For a major importer of raw materials like Japan, rising input costs will worsen terms of trade, said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities.

"That will lead to a decrease in corporate profits and real purchasing power for consumers," Iwashita said.

The poll also showed Japan's new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, boosting digitalisation of the economy and stimulating domestic demand and consumption.

Kishida, who became leader earlier this month after taking over from Yoshihide Suga as premier, on Thursday called a general election in which he is hoping to solidify his grip on power.

Asked which areas the government should focus on under the new prime minister, 27 economists selected "response to the coronavirus pandemic".

The next most popular picks were "digitalisation in society and among firms" and "stimulate domestic demand and private consumption", which were picked by 17 and 14 economists, respectively.

Six economists chose "social security issues" such as the pension system and care for elderly and children. Three analysts picked "foreign and security policy", while none chose "fiscal reform".

The poll allowed respondents to choose up to two areas.

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll )

Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Additional reporting by Kantaro Komiya; Polling by Shaloo Shrivastava, Md. Manzer Hussain and Devayani Sathyan; editing by Richard Pullin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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5 more Mainers have died and another 551 coronavirus cases reported across the state – Bangor Daily News

Posted: at 9:20 pm

Fivemore Mainers have died as health officials on Friday reported another 551coronavirus cases across the state.

Fridays report brings the total number of coronavirus cases in Maine to 97,183,according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Thats up from 96,632 on Thursday.

Of those, 69,788have been confirmed positive, while 27,895were classified as probable cases, the Maine CDC reported.

Three women and two men have succumbed to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,093.

Of those, one was 20 or younger, another in their 40s, two in their 70s and another was 80 or older. They came from Cumberland (1), Franklin (1), Penobscot (2) and York (1) counties.

The number of coronavirus cases diagnosed in the past 14 days statewide is 6,456. This is an estimation of the current number of active cases in the state, as the Maine CDC is no longer tracking recoveries for all patients. Thats down from 6,643 on Thursday.

The new case rate statewide Friday was 4.12 cases per 10,000 residents, and the total case rate statewide was 726.11.

Maines seven-day average for new coronavirus cases is 412.1, up from 400 the day before, down from 517 a week ago and down from 449.7 a month ago. That average peaked on Jan. 14 at 625.3.

The most cases have been detected in Mainers younger than 20, while Mainers over 80 years old make up the majority of deaths. More cases have been recorded in women and more deaths in men.

So far, 2,643 Mainers have been hospitalized at some point with COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Of those, 166 are currently hospitalized, with 60 in critical care and 31 on a ventilator. Overall, 44 out of 338 critical care beds and 200 out of 305 ventilators are available.

The total statewide hospitalization rate on Friday was 19.75 patients per 10,000 residents.

Cases have been reported in Androscoggin (10,282), Aroostook (3,630), Cumberland (21,187), Franklin (2,086), Hancock (2,560), Kennebec (9,270), Knox (1,829), Lincoln (1,718), Oxford (4,765), Penobscot (11,539), Piscataquis (1,240), Sagadahoc (1,887), Somerset (3,951), Waldo (2,268), Washington (1,681) and York (17,276) counties. Information about where an additional 14 cases were reported wasnt immediately available.

An additional 2,238 vaccine doses were administered in the previous 24 hours. As of Friday, 891,509 Mainers are fully vaccinated, or about 75.3 percent of eligible Mainers, according to the Maine CDC.

New Hampshire reported 648 new cases on Friday and five deaths. Vermont reported 151 new cases and two deaths, while Massachusetts reported 1,789 new cases and 14 deaths.

As of Friday morning, the coronavirus had sickened 44,783,838 people in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as caused 721,848 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

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The Mysterious Case of the COVID-19 Lab-Leak Theory – The New Yorker

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There are twelve hundred different mutations between the genomes of RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2scattered variations that demonstrate the messiness of evolution. The number and distribution of these mutations are too large for RaTG13 to be the direct progenitor of SARS-CoV-2; they split from a common ancestor at least twenty years ago. But its genetic proximity means we should look for the ancestors of SARS-CoV-2 in locations where relatives like RaTG13 are found, Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told me in September. At this point, the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2 are known to have existed in two locations: bat caves in Yunnan, and at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Geography aside, the nature of the experiments undertaken by the W.I.V. and its partners has raised concerns. In 2015, Shi was a co-author on a groundbreaking study, in Nature, with Ralph Baric, a coronavirus expert at the University of North Carolina. Through the use of pioneering genetic technology, Baric examined which viral structures could give a coronavirus the ability to infect humans. The work involved synthesizing what is known as a chimeric virus, named for the mythical beast with its parts taken from various animals; in this case, a modified clone of SARS was combined with a spike protein taken from one of the bat coronaviruses that Shi had discovered in Yunnan.

Their research took place during a fraught time for virologists. Four years earlier, a Dutch scientist named Ron Fouchier decided to see if he could make the lethal avian influenza virus, H5N1, more transmissible. After failing to genetically rengineer the virus, Fouchier turned to a classic method: he passaged the virus through live ferrets repeatedly, forcing the virus to evolve in its new host. After ten rounds, the virus was airborne. He had created a pandemic-ready pathogen in his lab.

The experiment, which constituted a type of research known as gain-of-function, provoked alarm. There were high-level meetings, op-eds, and reports decrying such work as far riskier than it was valuable. In 2014, President Barack Obama mandated a pause on gain-of-function studies involving influenza, SARS, and MERS, until a new regulatory process could be created. Baric, however, was in the middle of his chimeric-virus experiment. He petitioned the N.I.H. biosecurity board, which granted him, and other researchers, an exemption from the pause.

When Baric tested the chimeric virus in a culture of human airway cells, its spike protein proved able to bind to the cell receptor ACE2, suggesting that the virus was now poised to jump species. In live mice, it caused disease. Given this unexpected outcome, Baric concluded, scientific review panels may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue.

That didnt happen. Barics experiments, which the N.I.H. had determined were not gain-of-function, continued at the University of North Carolina. Shis lab developed its own platform for creating chimeric viruses. She crossed another bat coronavirus from Yunnannamed WIV1with clones of different novel spike proteins, and tested the creation in humanized mice. The viruses quickly replicated. One made the mice emaciated, a sign of severe pathogenesis. What made this work especially risky was that WIV1 was already known to be potentially dangerous to humans. Baric himself had made this clear in a 2016 study titled SARS-Like WIV1-CoV Poised for Human Emergence.

Some of these experiments at the W.I.V. were funded by the U.S. government, according to Shis published papers, as well as N.I.H.-funded grant applications and progress reports obtained by the Intercept. In 2014, N.I.H. had awarded a New-York-based nonprofit called the EcoHealth Alliance a five-year, $3.7-million grant, a portion of whichroughly six hundred thousand dollarswent to the W.I.V. Fauci and the N.I.H. have maintained that the W.I.V.s work, like Barics, did not qualify as gain-of-function research, and so did not violate the Obama-era pause. (The Trump Administration lifted the pause in 2017, after three years of workshops and deliberations across multiple agencies resulted in a new regulatory process.) Dont mislead people by saying we havent taken this seriously for years, Fauci told me, his voice rising. According to our definition, it was not gain-of-function, period. If you dont like the definition, lets change the definition.

In recent months, skeptics of natural origins have pointed to the fact that Shi was running her chimeric-virus experiments in a Biosafety Level 2 lab, which, compared with Biosafety Level 3, doesnt require the same precautions, such as full P.P.E., medical surveillance for researchers, mandatory biosafety cabinets, controlled airflow, and two sets of self-closing, locking doors. (Shi did conduct live-animal experiments in a BSL-3 lab at a separate facility.) Because they were working with novel bat viruses rather than viruses known to infect humans directly, the low biosecurity setting was in accordance with Chinese laws. But Susan Weiss, a coronavirus expert at the University of Pennsylvanias medical school, who co-authored a recent paper with Andersen and others that outlines the evidence for a natural origin, was surprised when I told her that they had been working in BSL-2. Thats not a good idea, she said.

Still, none of Shis documented work on chimeric viruses resulted in the creation of SARS-CoV-2. (If youre trying to say that that particular experiment could have led to SARS-CoV-2, thats completely impossible, Fauci said.) The chimeric viruses that the W.I.V. engineered are far from SARS-CoV-2 on the coronavirus family tree. According to Shi, the W.I.V. has only isolated and grown in culture three novel coronaviruses out of their nineteen thousand samples. What this chapter of her work demonstrates, however, is a high tolerance for risk. They were essentially playing Russian roulette with the virus that the worlds expert had labelled poised for human emergence, David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford, said. Its the willingness to manipulate them without due concern.

In January, the World Health Organization sent a team of international scientists to Wuhan to conduct the first phase of a search for SARS-CoV-2s origins. The groups report, published in March, ranked a zoonotic spilloverfrom a bat, through an intermediate animal, to a humanas the most likely origin pathway. They ruled a lab incident as extremely unlikely, dedicating just three of more than a hundred pages in the primary report to the theory. As Andersen frequently says when surveying the evidence, Anything is possible, but Im interested in whats plausible.

First, a natural origin has historic precedence. SARS spilled over from bats to civets at an urban market in November, 2002. MERS, which emerged in Saudi Arabia, in 2012, went from bats to camels to people. The civet was identified as the most probable source of SARS within four months of the outbreak; camels were identified within nine months of MERS. And yet, SARS-CoV-2s intermediate animalamong the only things, at this point, that could definitively prove that it did not originate in the Wuhan labshas not been found. Such a discovery is becoming less likely, too. As members of the W.H.O. mission wrote in an August letter to Nature, The window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility of conducting the critical trace-back of people and animals inside and outside China.

One member of the W.H.O. team was Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, which is dedicated to mitigating the emergence of infectious diseases. Since the first SARS outbreak, he has been one of the W.I.V.s closest partners, facilitating the N.I.H. subcontracts and working extensively with Shi and her team in the field. He has unwaveringly vouched for Shi, and led the charge to call any suggestion of a lab accident a conspiracy theory. The problem with this lab-release hypothesis, he told me, is that it depends on a critical thing: that the virus was in the lab before it got out. But I know that that virus was not in the lab.

Daszak, a widely published disease ecologist, also knows that the diversity of viruses in nature is nearly limitless. Most recently, he and other EcoHealth scientists built a model analyzing how frequently coronaviruses might spill over from bats to people across southern China and southeast Asia. They overlaid the habitats of all twenty-three bat species known to harbor SARS-related coronaviruses with maps of human populations. Based on bat-human contact and antibody data, they estimated that roughly four hundred thousand people could be infected with SARS-related coronaviruses annually. People are getting exposed to them every year, Daszak told me. They may not know it. They may even get sick and die.

In other words, spillovers happen far more often than anyone realizes. People are exposed to bats when they shelter in caves, harvest bat guanothe worlds best fertilizerand hunt, butcher, and eat bats, which is a well-documented practice in various pockets across the region. These small villages are at the edge of disappearing forests, Kendra Phelps, a bat biologist with the EcoHealth Alliance and a co-author on the recent study, told me. Inside that forest is densely packed wildlife, which is super stressed by things like encroaching palm oil and rice monocultures. Stressed animals (just like us) are more likely to get sick and shed virus.

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Why are Britons so much more relaxed about Covid than Europeans? – The Guardian

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Compared with some other countries, along with high numbers of Covid cases and deaths, the UK has relatively relaxed Covid restrictions, with no mandatory vaccine passports, no social distancing measures, and no mask mandate in England.

Four people from the UK and in Europe share their views on the countrys approach to Covid restrictions compared with others they are visiting or living in.

Liz, 60, who is in Turkey, said people there are excellent at wearing masks, which makes her feel safer than in the UK. I was on the Metro in Newcastle before I left and I was a nervous wreck because people werent wearing them, she said.

Liz, who is retired and lives in the north-east of England and is in Turkey to help look after an ill friend, said people wear masks nearly all the time indoors and around 50% do so outdoors.

A lot of the older generations here live with their families so I think people are more aware of not taking germs home to their parents and grandparents.

She feels a lot of the complacency in the UK comes from the example set by the government and that the message given to the public is not clear and consistent.

I get the impression that the government policy is deliberate and is about herd immunity. I also think its partly cultural. British people seem to think, It wont happen to me, we know best, like theyre invincible. Sadly, I think its been proven to not be the case.

When Jimmy, 40, a video producer from Leeds, spent four days watching the Paris Roubaix cycling race in France earlier this month, the difference in peoples attitudes to Covid from those in the UK was immediately apparent, he said.

When you go to a bar or restaurant, you have to show your vaccine pass and you wear a mask, said Jimmy. In the UK, everything is just a free-for-all. If restrictions here were a bit more strict, I think it would reduce the impact on us all.

Jimmy believes the UK should follow Frances example, with tighter restrictions in the short term. I fear that if we carry on as we are, Covid will continue to disrupt our daily lives. Im having to work extra hours this week as my colleagues are self-isolating.

The UK government likes to think theyre giving people a choice, and people are embracing this idea of free thinking. But I think theres nothing wrong with having some basic public health rules. Its not inhibiting peoples freedom of thought, its just sensible, isnt it?

Luca, who is in Zaragoza, Spain, looking after her 90-year-old mother, said she feels the government has failed people in the UK. Im clinically extremely vulnerable and feel totally restricted in what I do and where I go because people dont consider it important to protect themselves and others, said the semi-retired 60-year-old.

Normally living in London, Luca said shes in no hurry to return to the UK. I havent done it yet, but I was planning to see a film, and when I looked at booking online, I saw that once you book your seat, the ones next to you get booked up too, so theyre empty.

She feels there is no rejection of face masks in Spain and that theyre seen as protection, not an imposition. In contrast, she believes the image the UK government projects when they have meetings without face masks tells people they dont need to wear them. From the beginning of the pandemic, I feel the government has given people a false idea of freedom instead of showing precautions as something positive.

In Milan, Italy, Nigel I Ross, a university lecturer, said restrictions are still very much in place, with green passes needed to enter public buildings. From today, all employees will also need a pass to enter their workplaces.

Its far from perfect, but its going extremely well, said Ross, who is British and has lived in Italy for more than 30 years. There are around 2,000 new cases a day, which is in part due to us having some of the strictest restrictions in Europe.

He believes that its the message from the top that reflects the blase approach to Covid in the UK. My sister works in a school and with some family members extremely susceptible to infection, its like living in semi-terror in some ways. It feels like people are dying unnecessarily, and its no wonder Britain is seen as the sick man of Europe. I was there this summer for a couple of weeks and I really noticed the difference. Its a real contradiction because we have more restrictions, but I feel so much freer here.

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In the time of COVID-19, here’s what ‘close contact’ really means – WISHTV.com

Posted: at 9:20 pm

FILE - In this March 2, 2021, file photo, socially distanced and with protective partitions students work on an art project during class at the Sinaloa Middle School in Novato, Calif. Public schools have struggled for years with teacher shortages, particularly in math, science, special education and languages. But the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The stresses of teaching in the COVID-era caused a spike in teacher retirements and resignations. Now that California schools have welcomed students back to in-person learning, they face a new challenge: A shortage of teachers and all other staff, the likes of which some districts say they've never seen. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

by: Dr. Mary Gillis, D.Ed.

Posted: Oct 15, 2021 / 06:24 PM EST / Updated: Oct 15, 2021 / 07:42 PM EST

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) Limiting close contact is an important way to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, researchers say.

But, what is really considered close contact?

Researchers consider close contact as being less than 6 feet away from a potentially infected person for 15 minutes.

But its not just 15 minutes in one sitting. Dr. Christopher Doehring, at Franciscan Health, says theres more to it.

One of the criteria for close contact is a total of 15 minutes of time, either in close contact for that duration or cumulative throughout the day. So, if youre just passing someone or in reasonably close proximity, but its for a brief period of time there shouldnt be much of a concern, Doehring said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention echoes Doehrings statement and considers close contact as anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. For example, three individual five-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes.

The agency also says a person is still considered in close contact if one or both people were wearing masks during the times they were together.


In the time of COVID-19, here's what 'close contact' really means - WISHTV.com

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