LA County recommends indoor masks, regardless of vaccines

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New York Post 29 June, 2021 - 02:26am 53 views

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The Delta variant will cause 'very dense outbreaks' in these five states, expert says

CNN 29 June, 2021 - 09:51am

Updated 2:25 PM ET, Mon June 28, 2021

CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas and Nicky Robertson contributed to this report.

Is the pandemic really over? | TheHill

The Hill 29 June, 2021 - 09:51am

But is this an idyllic bubble that will soon burst? Or has the major danger passed? Caution should be the order of the day; it seems that is not the case.

About 10 percent of all Americans, or some 33 million, have contracted COVID-19 so far. More than 600,000 have died. As of last week, a daily average of 340 cases proved fatal. 

Of course, the trajectory of the pandemic is headed in the right direction here. But globally the picture is much grimmer. In preparing for a trip to Europe next week, my first travel in nearly 18 months, I found that only one country, Finland, has been assigned a Level Two status for travel, meaning it is relatively safe. Among our 29 NATO allies, all but four have been issued Level Three status, meaning travel is not recommended and should be reconsidered in large part because of the Delta variant.

Four NATO countries are now Level Four: Do not travel. These include the three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Belgium, where NATO headquarters are located. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has deferred a full reopening of that nation because of the variant. And India has reported that there may be a new strain of Delta

According to Johns Hopkins, so far the number of global deaths due to COVID is approaching 3.8 million, with more fatalities in the first six months of 2021 than in all of 2020. And the infection rate in many parts of the world is still rising. Even though the U.S. requires a negative COVID-19 PCR test or proof of recovery for entry, keeping the virus out is impossible.

It is thus imprudent and probably dangerous to assume that the U.S. will remain relatively isolated from the rest of the world, certainly in not taking precautions should conditions reverse and contagion spread. 

The patently obvious first preventive action is widespread vaccination of at least 70 percent of the entire population. Given resistance to vaccinations among many Americans and the challenges in inoculating the young, achieving social immunity remains an aspiration rather than a reality. 

So, for a moment, assume that another wave of COVID strikes the U.S. this fall. What are the possible consequences? Masks, social distancing and shutting down large gatherings would be required. Whether schools would remain open would depend on how contagious new strains and variants of COVID are to younger Americans. The same issue of closings applies to businesses, and thus we could see widespread job losses.

Would that mean returning to the conditions of last year, when much of the nation was closed down? Or have we learned enough to navigate through another wave of COVID? And is anyone planning or thinking about a worst-case scenario? Or is that contingency too frightening to discuss publicly?

Then there is the issue of money. The government has already allocated about $6 trillion in new spending. Given the proposed bipartisan infrastructure bill that calls for about a further trillion dollars and the president’s intention to sign it with an additional package that could amount to several trillion dollars more, is the U.S. risking potential insolvency as the national debt soars well over 150 percent of GDP?

Having endured one crisis does not mean that preparations for another crisis will be made. 

We must be prepared for the worst, but is anyone listening?

Harlan Ullman, Ph.D, is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council. His latest book due out this year is “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large.”  

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mRNA vaccine immunity could last for years

Popular Science 29 June, 2021 - 09:51am

Here’s what you need to know about the pandemic this week.

With the Delta variant becoming increasingly widespread, US health experts are concerned about scattered unvaccinated communities, even in highly vaccinated states, and several countries have imposed new restrictions to curb the variant’s spread. Researchers have more information about the length of immunity granted by vaccines and boosters. Plus, a new study gives hope for those who lost their sense of smell after contracting the virus. Here’s what’s new this week.

As predicted, the proportion of Delta variant COVID-19 cases in the US is on the rise. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top coronavirus adviser, confirmed at a White House press briefing on Tuesday that 20.6 percent of new US cases are due to the Delta variant, calling the variant “the greatest threat in the US to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19.” He also noted that the proportion of new causes caused by Delta is doubling every two weeks, affirming the variant’s trajectory towards becoming the dominant strain in the US by the end of the summer.

Experts are especially concerned about a surge in Delta cases in states where vaccination rates have stalled, and unvaccinated pockets in states with a high overall vaccination rate. “It’s not going to be as pervasive,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, told CBS on Sunday. “It’s going to be hyper-regionalized. There’s certain pockets of the country where you’re going to have very dense outbreaks.”

In particular, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming have yet to reach the 35 percent fully-vaccinated mark. And the statewide fully-vaccinated proportion of 37 percent in Tennessee masks disparities in uptake from county to county. While Davidson County, which houses Nashville, is 45 percent fully vaccinated, more rural counties are hovering around 20 percent. Urban hospitals, like the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, have reported an uptick in COVID-19 patients from rural areas.

On top of growing concern about the original Delta variant, a new version of the highly transmissible COVID-19 strain called “Delta Plus” has been reported in 11 countries, with 200 confirmed cases as of Monday morning. As the virus continues to spread, existing variants will continue to adapt and accumulate new mutations—and while some mutations prove to be harmless, many are not. There is not, however, enough data to evaluate whether the Delta Plus variant is any more transmissible or vaccine-resistant than the original Delta strain. 

As the Delta variant continues to spread in the US and abroad, coronavirus-related recommendations and restrictions are rapidly changing. At a press briefing on Friday, Dr. Mariangela Simao, an assistant director-general of the World Health Organization, urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks and observe physical distancing in order to curb the spread of the variant. Other officials said they are asking people to “play it safe” because most of the world population remains unvaccinated. 

Israel, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, with 80 percent of its over-16 population fully vaccinated, reinstated its indoor mask mandate on Friday, citing a Delta variant outbreak in the country that included vaccinated individuals, according to the Wall Street Journal. On Sunday, South Africa extended its nightly curfew and banned gatherings, indoor dining, alcohol sales, and some local travel for the next two weeks, the Washington Post reported. Government officials in Bangladesh have halted all public transportation in light of an increase in Delta variant cases, prompting thousands to flee the capital city, Dhaka.

Following months of relatively few new COVID-19 cases, parts of Australia are back under full lockdown after several small outbreaks of the Delta variant across the country. Government officials are concerned that the variant could spread very quickly without decisive action, since less than 5 percent of Australians are fully vaccinated against coronavirus. Sydney, the country’s most populous city, and its smallest state capital, Darwin, are under full lockdown for two weeks. Mask mandates have been renewed in Canberra, Queensland, and Perth, while the state of Victoria has imposed restrictions on its borders with other states.

A new study led by researchers at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine suggests that the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna induce a prolonged immune response in the body that could last for years. “It’s a good sign for how durable our immunity is from this vaccine,” Dr. Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis and one of the leaders of the study, told the New York Times. The study has been accepted by the journal Nature and is under accelerated review.

Ellebedy and his colleagues recruited 41 people who had been immunized with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. From there, the team collected blood samples from each individual at time intervals of three, four, five, seven, and 15 weeks out from the first vaccine dose to measure antibody and immune cell levels in the blood over time.

The study’s main conclusions are based on tissue samples extracted from the lymph nodes of 14 of the 41 volunteers, where immune cells are engineered and conditioned to recognize and fight off specific pathogens after exposure via vaccine or infection.

At 15 weeks, the researchers found that the lymph node activity of all 14 participants remained high, which means the body was still producing new immune cells that recognize the coronavirus at a high level, months after vaccination. Typically, lymph node productivity peaks at one to two weeks after vaccination, with stimulation completely ceasing between week four and week six, Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona, told the New York Times. If lymph node activity remained that high for months—when it usually only lasts a few weeks—then immunity imparted by mRNA COVID vaccines could last for years, and possibly even a lifetime, the researchers concluded.

In addition, these results suggest that most individuals who received one of the mRNA-based vaccines may not need an additional booster shot against existing variants. That could always change, though, depending on how the virus continues to mutate. Older adults and immunocompromised individuals, however, may still need boosters. 

A third dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca mRNA vaccine boosted the immune response in clinical trial volunteers, Oxford University researchers reported on Monday. Ninety study volunteers in Britain, who had received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in earlier clinical trials, were given a third dose about 30 weeks after their second this past March. The data was released in a pre-print and has not yet been peer-reviewed, according to the New York Times.

The researchers’ analyses suggest that the third dose raised the antibody levels of the volunteers to a value above the levels observed a month after their second dose, indicating that the third dose could extend an individual’s immunity and boost protection if the effectiveness of the first two doses diminishes as time goes on. 

Other clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of existing vaccines as boosters, including one evaluating the Moderna vaccine that was announced by the National Institutes of Health this month, are ongoing.

A new study from medical researchers at the University of Strasbourg in France and McGill University in Quebec, Canada, may shed some light on a distinct symptom of COVID-19: anosmia, the partial or total loss of smell. 

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the study documents the progression of 97 patients who reported losing their sense of smell for at least seven days post-positive COVID test. Every four months over the course of a year, 51 participants were both surveyed about their self-perceived ability to smell and given an objective smell test.

According to the study, 45 percent of the surveyed-and-tested patients reported having recovered their full sense of smell at the four-month mark. About half, or 53 percent, said they had only partially recovered, and one participant reported no change.

After eight months, 96 percent of the 51 patients reported a full recovery of smell. At the one-year mark, only two of the participants reported little to no change.

The remaining 46 patients were only surveyed and not objectively tested. Of those 46, more than half reported “satisfactory recovery” after four months, and the entire cohort reported “satisfactory recovery” by the end of the year-long study period.

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Young, unvaccinated, over 50 or just had one dose? You're most at risk from the Covid delta variant

CNBC 29 June, 2021 - 09:51am

The delta variant is the most closely watched coronavirus mutation yet and with good reason: It's more contagious than previous variants and there's evidence it increases the risk of hospitalization and is more resistant to vaccines.

The delta variant, first discovered in India late last year where it caused a second wave of infections and thousands of deaths, is now rapidly spreading throughout the world.

Last week, the World Health Organization warned that delta is the fastest and fittest coronavirus strain yet, and it will "pick off" the most vulnerable people, especially in places with low Covid-19 vaccination rates.

The U.K. is being closely watched by other countries, particularly the U.S., because it has seen the delta variant become dominant despite its high vaccination rate. It has also proved to be a harbinger of things to come during the pandemic, for good and bad.

Now, data has been released in England showing just how far the delta variant has spread — and which groups are most vulnerable to the mutation.

Delta is dominant in the U.K., comprising 95% of all sequenced cases, according to the latest data from Public Health England, with younger people, the unvaccinated and the partially vaccinated (with many people belonging to one or more of those categories) more at risk from infection while older people are still most at risk of dying from an infection.

Number crunching the latest data from England, 92,029 cases were analyzed between early February and mid-June and were attributed to the delta variant.

Almost 82,500 of these total cases were recorded in people under 50 years old and a majority (53,822 cases) were found in unvaccinated individuals.

Among those cases in the unvaccinated cohort, the vast majority were in the under-50 age group (52,846 cases) and only 976 cases were in the over-50s.

Nonetheless, the data showed that there have been 117 deaths among people in England who had the delta variant with the majority being in the over-50 age group.

There have been eight fatalities among the under-50s with six of them in unvaccinated individuals and the other two in people who had received one dose.

The data from England shows that cases of the delta variant were found in both partially and even fully vaccinated people, to a lesser extent, showing the importance of being fully vaccinated.

Out of the 92,029 total infections attributed to delta, almost 20,000 were recorded in people who had received one dose of a Covid vaccine (both before and following 21 days after a first dose) and 7,235 infections were confirmed in people who had received two doses.

The data serves as a reminder that no Covid vaccine currently on offer provides 100% protection, although most authorized vaccines currently come very close and experts are urging anyone not yet vaccinated to come forward, as well as the importance of having both doses to achieve the best protection possible.

Separate data from Public Health England has shown that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot are highly effective against hospitalization from the delta variant.

Read CNBC's latest global coverage of the Covid pandemic:

The U.K. has vaccinated its population according to age and health needs. Its vaccination program started with health-care workers and the elderly last December, progressing through the older age groups until the under-50s began to be offered Covid shots in mid-April.

Currently, all over-18s are being offered their first doses while others in their 30s and 40s are tending to receive their second doses; almost 85% of U.K. adults have now received one dose of a vaccine and 61.9% have received two doses, making it one of the most rapid vaccination programs in the world.

Updating its risk assessment on the delta variant published Friday, PHE said delta is "predominant" and "continues to demonstrate a substantially increased growth rate" compared with the alpha variant first discover in the U.K. which itself went on to dominate globally.

On just a weekly basis, data released by PHE last Friday showed that the number of cases caused by delta in the U.K. had risen by 35,204 since the previous week (representing a 46% increase) to a total of 111,157 cases.

PHE noted that the delta variant also brings with it an increased risk of hospitalization compared with the alpha variant and there are now analyses from England and Scotland supporting earlier evidence that delta reduces vaccine effectiveness compared with the alpha variant, and that this is more pronounced when someone has received only one dose.

On a positive note, PHE reiterated that "analysis continues to show vaccine effectiveness against Delta is high after 2 doses" and that the evidence continues to suggest that vaccines are effective against hospitalization.

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Former FDA commissioner says Indian Delta variant will cause 'very dense outbreaks'

Daily Mail 29 June, 2021 - 09:51am

By Mary Kekatos Acting U.S. Health Editor For Dailymail.Com

The former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that the country is likely to see outbreaks of the Indian 'Delta' coronavirus variant in some communities.

In an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, Dr Scott Gottlieb said he expects cases to rise in areas with low vaccination rates.

'It's not going to be as pervasive,' Gottlieb said. 

'It's going to hyper-regionalized. There's certain pockets of the country where you're going to have very dense outbreaks.'   

This means southern and western states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Wyoming  - who have less than one-third of their population fully vaccinated - are at high risk, and already seeing a rise in cases.

It comes as the variant continues to ravage the UK, with Delta driving an explosion of new cases, and COVID-19 infections up 60 percent from a week ago,

Gottlieb warned that the U.S. is only 'about a month or two' behind the UK and that America should expect to see a similar situation. 

Former FDA commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb said on Sunday (pictured) he expects outbreaks of the Indian 'Delta' variant to rise in areas with low vaccination rates

The variant makes up 20% of American cases and Gottlieb said U.S. is only a month behind the UK, which saw daily cases hit 22,000 cases per day on Monday from 2,000 in April

Southern states with a small percentage of the population fully vaccinated are seeing an increase in cases due to Delta

Known as B.1.617.2, the Delta variant has been labeled as a 'double mutant' by India's Health Ministry because it carries two mutations: L452R and E484Q.

L452R is the same mutation seen with the California homegrown variant and E484Q is similar to the mutation seen in the Brazilian and South African variants.

Both of the mutations occur on key parts of the virus that allows it to enter and infect human cells.   

Its transmissibility has been clear as it wreaks havoc in the UK.

On Monday, the UK recorded 22,868 new cases of COVID-19, which is the most reported since late January.

This is a 1040 percent increase from 2,000 cases recorded in late April, when the Delta variant first took hold.   

Additionally, deaths have nearly tripled in the last week, with 122 COVID-related fatalities recorded in the last seven days compared to 48 the previous seven days.  

Last week, Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team press briefing that the variant is also rapidly in the U.S., currently accounts for 20.6 percent of infections. 

Gottlieb says he believes that what is happening in the UK is a foreshadowing of what's to come in the U.S.

That means the 20 percent figure is only expected to rise.

'I think as you look across the United States, if you're a community that has low vaccination rates and you also think that there was low immunity from prior infection, so the virus really hasn't coursed through the local population, those communities are vulnerable,' he told Face the Nation . 

'So, I think governors need to be thinking about how they build out health care resources in areas of the country where you still have a lot of vulnerability.' 

One of those states in Arkansas, which currently only has xx percent of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Arkansas has seen an average of 300 cases per day, an increase from 200 the last month, and health officials say the Delta variant is to blame.

Currently, 56 percent of all cases in the state that undergo genetic sequencing are linked to Delta. 

'That tells us that the variant is spreading widely and that it's spreading quickly,' Dr Jennifer Dillaha, the Director of Epidemiology for the Arkansas Department of Health told Action News 5

'My concern is that if people are not immune to it, then this variant will find them and infect them and cause illness.'  

Arkansas has seen an average of 300 cases per day in the last week, an increase from 200 the last month, and 56% of all cases are linked to the Delta variant

In Mississippi, there has been 18% increase in the seven-day rolling average of cases from 111 to 132, and at least 60 cases are associated with Delta

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said hospitalizations are up 30 percent and encouraged residents to get vaccinated. 

'The Delta variant is a great concern to us. We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations,' Hutchinson told Face the Nation.

'We've got to make sure we do everything we can to get the word out, which we have. We have used incentives that have not been very successful. We've obviously done marketing for our vaccines. We are educating, doing everything we can.'

In Mississippi, health officials said there a growing number of cases linked to the Delta  variant.

According to WAPT, state epidemiologist Dr Paul Byers said there have been at least 60 cases associated with the variant since the fist infection was identified a few weeks ago.

The state is currently averaging 132 COVID-19 infections per day, an 18 percent increase from 111 from earlier this month.

Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.  

'The vaccine is still effective against it, but remember that a vaccine is not 100 percent,' Byers said. 

'And when you have an individual in congregate settings in very close contact and put in a place with highly infectious variants, there is a possibility of transmission.' 

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New Concerns Over COVID Delta Variant As Summer Travel Surges

KPIX CBS SF Bay Area 29 June, 2021 - 09:51am

Delta COVID variant 'more transmissible' in children | Sky News Australia

Sky News Australia 29 June, 2021 - 09:51am

While the Delta variant of COVID-19 might not be deadlier than other strains, it appears to be more transmissible in children, says Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid. “It certainly is affecting younger people more, that’s what we saw in India and we’re seeing in the UK as well, with it going through schools,” Dr Khorshid said. “Remembering of course that children are not vaccinated in the UK - it isn’t necessarily making those children particularly ill but it is affecting them more than the original strains did.” He said the Delta variant is “50, 60, 70 per cent more transmissible” than the Alpha variant, saying it infects five to seven people per index case. “That’s significantly more than the original strains of the virus and that’s why it’s such a concern in Australia at the moment.”

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