Will the coronavirus get worse than the delta variant? No one knows.

Health

Vox.com 30 July, 2021 - 08:00am 53 views

August's First PS Plus Game Confirmed As Hunter's Arena: Legends

Baldur's Gate 3 Patch 5 Coming July 13, And Here's What It Does

Head to the Xbox Store from your console and search for the Xbox Insider Hub app, which you'll need to access beta apps. From here, go to Previews, choose Halo Infinite - Insider, and then register for the build.

From here, you should see a "Manage" prompt, after which you'll need to go through some terms and conditions before you can install the beta build. Once it's installed, you'll be able to access and run it just like you would any other game via the My Games & Apps section of the Xbox UI.

For PC, you'll be going through Steam. Using a key sent to you via Halo Waypoint (where you registered for the beta), sign into your Steam account and choose "Activate a Product on Steam" like you would with any other Steam code. Once you've entered the code you were given, you'll see Halo Infinite - Insider as a title within your game library.

Start the game and when prompted, make sure you use the same Xbox Live account you used when you registered for the beta. Once that's done, you're ready to play.

Halo Infinite will release this holiday season for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. It features new accessibility settings that should make it easier to play for those with colorblindness.

Read full article at Vox.com

Over half the deer in Michigan seem to have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2

Reuters UK 30 July, 2021 - 10:30am

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On Wednesday, the US Department of Agriculture released some rather disturbing news: a survey of wild deer populations has found that large numbers of the animals seem to have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The finding indicates that there's a very large population of wild animals in North America that could serve as a reservoir for the virus, even if we were to get its circulation within the human population under control.

Why check deer in the first place? The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is studying a variety of species "to identify species that may serve as reservoirs or hosts for the virus, as well as understand the origin of the virus, and predict its impacts on wildlife and the risks of cross-species transmission." This is the same group that identified the spread of the virus to a wild mink in 2020.

Using a captive deer population, the USDA had already determined that deer can be infected by the virus, although the animals display no symptoms. So although direct interactions between deer and humans are relatively limited, checking the wild populations made sense. The USDA checked populations in a total of 32 counties in four different states, obtaining blood samples to look for antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2.

The antibodies were quite common, ranging from a low of 7 percent of the samples in Illinois to a high of 60 percent in Michigan. All told, a third of the deer tested had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

The USDA also took reasonable precautions to make sure the data was accurate. Agency scientists tested samples that were around prior to the pandemic to confirm that the rate of false positives was low (it was). The researchers also ran antibody tests using two different machines to make sure the conclusion wasn't due to some sort of hardware problem (it wasn't). So in all likelihood, a large number of deer have been exposed to the virus.

By now, we've spent a lot of time studying how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and prolonged exposure to respiratory droplets is the most efficient method. There aren't many contexts in which this kind of exposure is likely to be happening between humans and wild deer. It's possible that these numbers are generated by a rare transmission to deer that is followed by extensive spread within the population. Or another species, possibly a domesticated one, might be carrying the virus between humans and deer.

Understanding how the transmission takes place will be critical to determining whether the existence of a large viral reservoir in deer poses a threat to humans. While there's been no indication of a human picking up an infection from deer, the virus is so common in the US population that it would be difficult to rule out human-to-human transmission as an alternative explanation for any cases. Still, if the US ever does manage to control the spread of the virus, being aware of any alternative routes of infection would be a good idea.

Another issue is that the virus can pick up mutations that help it adapt to deer as a host and prove dangerous to humans if the virus jumps back to humans. So far, the one case where this has been studied with SARS-CoV-2 is a strain that is adapting to mink. That virus is becoming less efficient at infecting human cells, but it's also changing in ways that make it less susceptible to the immune response generated by vaccines or prior infections. There is, of course, no reason to think that a deer-adapted SARS-CoV-2 would follow a similar trajectory.

In any case, both of these issues—the presence of a difficult-to-control reservoir and the prospect for further evolution of the virus—means that it will be important to understand how the virus is reaching the deer population and whether it's spreading between deer.

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Rethinking the Covid-19 pandemic

IOL 29 July, 2021 - 03:04pm

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the world globally. There have been more than 193 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 so far, including more than 4 million deaths. On the African continent, more than 6.4 million confirmed cases were recorded, and more than 164 000 people died due to SARS-CoV-2 infection. The pandemic has also caused crucial economic challenges all over the world by creating job losses, increasing poverty, social dislocation, loss of life and social insecurity.

Countries are endlessly striving to battle and overcome this economic as well as social crisis. It has certainly obstructed the direction of the countries in accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030.

Countries around the world have achieved tremendous accomplishments in controlling the spread of this virus after the outbreak in 2019 by doing surveillance, monitoring and tracking, virus sequencing and testing, with the development of different types of vaccines as well as the mass vaccination campaign all over the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has attached great importance to the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa, and provided systematic support to African countries by developing the preparation and response plan for this pandemic, improving the testing and surveillance capability and purchasing the Covid-19 vaccine via the COVAX initiative.

China, as a model country, has greatly contributed to the world in fighting this pandemic. Chinese scientists shared the sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 in the first place, and helped to develop the testing kits and pave the road to the development of different Covid-19 vaccines.

Chinese medical doctors have undertaken the epidemiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, treatments and prevention that can be shared, particularly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and the rest of the world.

The Chinese government also donated thousands of millions of PPEs as well as Covid-19 vaccines to countries around the world, especially to African countries, helping to fight this pandemic.

The SARS-CoV-2 is a totally new virus to us and we know virtually nothing about it when the pandemic broke out, especially in respect of its origin, its characteristics and its transmission pathways. However, some countries have been bent on going down the road of politicisation, stigmatisation and ideological framing. Former US president Donald Trump claimed that the virus was deliberately created in a laboratory, but could not even justify it himself. The Wall Street Journal also published an exclusive report which quoted the so-called unclassified US intelligence report, to once again hype up the “lab leak” hypothesis. The purpose is self-evident. It is aimed at obstructing co-operation on the global origin-tracing, deflecting responsibility for its own poor Covid-19 response at home, and using this as an opportunity to defame and blame China.

Countries did not or were not willing to take the right action to control this pandemic. Some of them were inactive and failed to focus on fighting this pandemic, resulting in a wide spread of the SARS-CoV-2, both domestically and abroad. In South Africa, the earliest confirmed cases were all from European or American countries. Now most of them have acknowledged their previous mistakes and understood the necessity of isolation and social distancing to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Vaccine nationalism and competition is another problem. The richest countries have secured billions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, while developing economies are still struggling to access supplies. The huge imbalance in the access to Covid-19 vaccines is still there, especially between rich and poor countries. Until now the African continent has only administered about 21 million doses, while some countries are stockpiling millions of doses. No country in need of vaccines should be left behind, nor should any people waiting for the vaccine be forgotten. Otherwise the global anti-pandemic efforts will be derailed and the pandemic will never end.

We should conduct sourcing-tracing of the virus in a scientific way, rather than in a political way. The virus sourcing-tracing is a matter of science. Scientists across the world should co-operate with each other to find the right origin of SARS-CoV-2. Early this year, the WHO released a report on the joint WHO-China study of SARS-CoV-2 originated, which analysed the four means of transmission, and has drawn clear conclusions, including acknowledging that “the lab leak is extremely unlikely”.

This is an important first step. Recently, the WHO has planned to conduct the phase 2 origin tracing study. This study is necessary, but should be conducted based on what we have known, and should continue to look for more possible early cases in a wider range around the globe and to further understand the role of cold chain and frozen food in virus transmission. Those with clear conclusions, such as the laboratory leakage hypothesis, are not necessary to waste more time by focusing on all the sources of the virus to find lasting solutions.

Countries should co-operate with each other and be more responsible to their citizens and to the world. We have seen a lot of evidence that countries suffered wave after wave of this pandemic due to negative attitudes and failure to take the right action in time. This caused the virus to quickly spread domestically as well as to the rest of the world. There must not be competition in handling this virus, as it has now spread globally. The outbreak of the pandemic is a natural disaster and nobody should be condemned due to the first detection of new viruses. What we should do is to upgrade the capacity of human beings to respond and reduce the impacts of the disaster to all humanity, as one societal community. There are several similar events in history, such as the outbreak of Ebola, HIV or other viruses. If we do want to blame someone or some countries for the losses during this pandemic, it should be those which did not care about their people and did not take the right action to contain the virus, rather than to blame the country where the virus is said to have originated first.

Covid-19 vaccine is a global public good. All countries need to work together to speed up the vaccine production and distribution to control the SARS-CoV-2 mayhem spreading across different parts of the world by closing the vaccination gaps between rich and poor countries. Let the world enter a virus-free era by removing the gravity burden of the Covid-19 virus, by creating with the relativity of the speed of light square a totally healthy and socially secure world for all, by sharing all the vaccinations equitably to all in the world, by appreciating all differences and celebrating our one, and only one, humanity.

Mammo Muchie is a DSI/NRF-Rated Research Professor in Innovation Studies at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, and Senior Research Associate at the Technology, Management, Development Centre (TMDC), Oxford University, UK.

The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL

Please visit the official Government information portal for Coronavirus by clicking HERE

Flawed Variant Information Fuels Baseless COVID-19 Theory - FactCheck.org

FactCheck.org 29 July, 2021 - 11:46am

A conspiracy theory online baselessly suggests that the World Health Organization and other groups preplanned the variants of the novel coronavirus — citing a dubious timeline. But the timeline doesn’t square with the reality of when variants have been identified and designated thus far.

The exact origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, remains unknown. The scientific consensus has been that the virus likely originated in bats and then jumped to humans either directly or indirectly, through contact with an animal. Such zoonotic transfers have happened before with the coronaviruses responsible for SARS and MERS. Lacking proof of that transfer, however, some scientists say more investigation is needed, and that there could have been an accidental laboratory leak, either of a naturally occurring virus or a lab-enhanced one. 

An article published in Nature Medicine in March 2020 found that SARS-CoV-2 “is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” The authors, who analyzed genomic data, said that the virus likely originated through “natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer,” or “natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer.”

The authors said an accidental laboratory release of the naturally occurring virus can’t be ruled out, but they “do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”

But on May 14, 2021, the journal Science published a letter from 18 scientists calling for “more investigation” to determine the pandemic’s origin. “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable,” they wrote. “Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.”

Many scientists with expertise in coronaviruses nevertheless consider a lab escape unlikely, and a leak of an engineered virus highly implausible, if not impossible.

The World Health Organization in late May moved to a new system for naming certain variants of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Specifically, the WHO said it would use letters of the Greek alphabet for labeling variants of interest and variants of concern. As we’ve explained, viruses mutate as they replicate. A mutation is one change to the genetic sequence of a virus, and a variant is a distinct virus, typically with several mutations.

A conspiracy theory shared on social media, however, is baselessly suggesting that public health officials and others somehow preplanned the variants. But the posts spreading the theory ignore the facts of how — and, more importantly, when — SARS-CoV-2 variants have been identified to date.

“These are the PLANNED COVID-19 VARIANTS – just look at the dates when they will be ‘released’ to the media,” reads one image shared in a July 26 Instagram post, which was liked more than 1,000 times. “DON’T BE STUPID, YOU ARE BEING PLAYED AND MANIPULATED.”

The image includes a table with a list of the letters of the Greek alphabet (though the table begins with delta) under the Spanish label “Cepa/variante,” meaning “strain/variant.” Next to each letter is a month and year for “Lanzamiento,” Spanish for “launch,” through February 2023.

Beside the table are the logos of various groups — including the World Health Organization, World Economic Forum, Johns Hopkins University and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — seeming to suggest the groups are behind the purported plan to announce a new variant every month.

It’s unclear where the table actually originated though, and there’s no proof it came from the entities cited. Representatives for the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum and the Gates Foundation all told us the table did not come from their organizations.

What we do know is that the dubious timeline has been circulating on social media since at least early July, and has been spread with posts in various languages — such as English, Spanish and Italian.

For example, the table indicates that the delta variant will be launched in June 2021. But that variant was first documented in India in October 2020, according to the WHO, and was deemed a variant of interest in April 2021. It became a variant of concern in May and has now become the dominant variant in the U.S.

A number of other variants also have been identified months ahead of what the timeline purports will happen.

The eta, iota, kappa and lambda variants were all first documented in late 2020, and were deemed variants of interest between March and June 2021. But the social media table suggests those variants wouldn’t be announced until later this year or early 2022.

Baseless claims that the pandemic was somehow preplanned have been circulating since the very start of the spread of the novel coronavirus. The social media posts now citing a purported variant timeline don’t make that theory any more credible.

Drysdale, Carla. Spokesperson, World Health Organization. Email to FactCheck.org. 28 Jul 2021.

Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Meme Trumpets Falsehood About Delta Variant.” FactCheck.org. 9 Jul 2021.

Media Relations, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Email to FactCheck.org. 28 Jul 2021.

Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants.” World Health Organization. Accessed 27 Jul 2021.

Robertson, Lori. “So Far, Vaccines Remain Effective Against Variants.” FactCheck.org. Updated 12 Jul 2021.

Russo, Amanda. Spokesperson, World Economic Forum. Email to FactCheck.org. 28 Jul 2021.

WHO announces simple, easy-to-say labels for SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Interest and Concern.” Press release, World Health Organization. 31 May 2021.

Does This Chart Show When COVID-19 Variants Will Be 'Released'?

Snopes.com 28 July, 2021 - 05:39pm

In several places online, the chart was framed as evidence of a nefarious plan by unspecified forces to discuss COVID-19 variants on a predetermined schedule. The table included a column labeled “Cepa/variante” — the Spanish words for “strain/variant” — and another titled “lanzamiento,” which is Spanish for “launched.” Underneath the columns were letters of the Greek alphabet and the months those alleged variants would appear in news reports.

“These are the PLANNED COVID-19 VARIANTS – just look at the dates when they will be ‘released’ to the media,” one tweet claimed.

In short, the image was bogus. However, similarly to most conspiracy theories, it was based on a small nugget of truth: All viruses’ genetic codes mutate over their lifespan — which meant that strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, would indeed keep surfacing in the future — and the World Health Organization (WHO) does label new viral strains after letters of the Greek alphabet.

Let us elaborate on that former concept. Even in the early days of the pandemic, epidemiologists were tracking various strains of SARS-CoV-2 to see how they differed from the virus’ original genetic code. The CDC summarized the process like this:

If you think about a virus (SARS-CoV-2) like a tree growing and branching out; each branch on the tree is slightly different than the others. By comparing the branches, scientists can label them according to the differences. These small differences, or variants, have been studied and identified since the beginning of the pandemic.

And since the variants’ scientific names are complicated (they note their genetic lineages), the WHO adopted the Greek alphabet classification system as an “easier and more practical” way for everyone to talk about the variant strains.

For examples, variants that emerged in the United Kingdom and South Africa in late 2020 were dubbed “alpha” and “beta,” respectively. And as of this writing, public health officials were ringing the alarm on the “delta” variant, a mutation that was up to 60% more infectious than previous SARS-CoV-2 strains.

(On July 27, due to infection surges, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended all people — regardless of their vaccination status — to wear masks indoors in communities with high transmission rates. Most new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. were among unvaccinated people, and studies showed existing inoculations prevented most recipients from getting sick from delta.)

Now, let’s address some errors in the chart’s alleged future-telling. For starters, it claimed “delta” would be “launched” in June — in reality, the variant was first detected in India in December 2020, and the first U.S. case was diagnosed in March. The purported timeline made similar errors (said ‘X’ variant would surface in ‘Y’ month that hasn’t happened yet) when actually a strain with that name already existed.

Note: Some variants of SARS-CoV-2 were barely different from the original virus, while others such as delta, included significant alterations in their genetic code that changed how they spread or attacked hosts’ immune systems.

Next, let us address the image’s misleading design. Logos for agencies leading COVID-19 research, such as the Johns Hopkins University, the World Economic Forum, and the WHO, were positioned next to the chart, as if it originated from those credible institutions. However, that was not the case. No evidence links the groups — nor anyone else in the science community — to the alleged timeline.

There was, however, ongoing research by reputable scientists to try to predict how, and by what rate, new COVID-19 variants would surface in the future. (According to Ed Feil, a professor of microbial evolution at the University of Bath, epidemiologists know the SARS-CoV-2’s genome typically acquires one or two mutations a month on average — a rate that is about four times slower than the mutation process of the influenza virus.) But, unlike the chart appeared to do, that type of forecasting could not be turned into a simple month-to-month table. Feil said of predicting COVID-19 variants in May:

“Predictions about the evolutionary course of the virus, and specifically changes in virulence, will always be riddled with uncertainty. The vagaries of randomly mutating RNA, chaotic patterns of transmission and expansion, and partially understood forces of natural selection, present challenges to even the most insightful evolutionary soothsayer.”

In other words, if credible scientists were facing an uphill challenge to try to predict the random, naturally occurring process of virus mutations, it was unlikely the unidentified creators of the viral chart had actually made the revelation first.

For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, if the image’s authors had actually mapped out the virus’ evolution timeline, the chart would be eminently newsworthy. Reputable news outlets or journalists would be scrambling to corroborate the purported schedule and write headlines like, “Research shows a new COVID-19 variant will emerge every month for the next two years.”

Lastly, it was unclear who, or what, exactly created the chart, though it was primarily circulating among people who shared this baseless belief: that unidentified evil forces were were trying to deceive non-believers into thinking the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was a force of nature for their own gain.

PLANdemic,” one commenter alleged in a thread discussing the chart.

In sum, the image was nothing but a piece of misinformation in a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy that tech companies, journalists, politicians, and/or scientists were all coordinating together to undermine everyone else via COVID-19. For that reason, and those outlined above, we rate this claim “False.”

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Does This Chart Show When COVID-19 Variants Will Be 'Released'?

The Hill 28 July, 2021 - 05:39pm

In several places online, the chart was framed as evidence of a nefarious plan by unspecified forces to discuss COVID-19 variants on a predetermined schedule. The table included a column labeled “Cepa/variante” — the Spanish words for “strain/variant” — and another titled “lanzamiento,” which is Spanish for “launched.” Underneath the columns were letters of the Greek alphabet and the months those alleged variants would appear in news reports.

“These are the PLANNED COVID-19 VARIANTS – just look at the dates when they will be ‘released’ to the media,” one tweet claimed.

In short, the image was bogus. However, similarly to most conspiracy theories, it was based on a small nugget of truth: All viruses’ genetic codes mutate over their lifespan — which meant that strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, would indeed keep surfacing in the future — and the World Health Organization (WHO) does label new viral strains after letters of the Greek alphabet.

Let us elaborate on that former concept. Even in the early days of the pandemic, epidemiologists were tracking various strains of SARS-CoV-2 to see how they differed from the virus’ original genetic code. The CDC summarized the process like this:

If you think about a virus (SARS-CoV-2) like a tree growing and branching out; each branch on the tree is slightly different than the others. By comparing the branches, scientists can label them according to the differences. These small differences, or variants, have been studied and identified since the beginning of the pandemic.

And since the variants’ scientific names are complicated (they note their genetic lineages), the WHO adopted the Greek alphabet classification system as an “easier and more practical” way for everyone to talk about the variant strains.

For examples, variants that emerged in the United Kingdom and South Africa in late 2020 were dubbed “alpha” and “beta,” respectively. And as of this writing, public health officials were ringing the alarm on the “delta” variant, a mutation that was up to 60% more infectious than previous SARS-CoV-2 strains.

(On July 27, due to infection surges, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended all people — regardless of their vaccination status — to wear masks indoors in communities with high transmission rates. Most new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. were among unvaccinated people, and studies showed existing inoculations prevented most recipients from getting sick from delta.)

Now, let’s address some errors in the chart’s alleged future-telling. For starters, it claimed “delta” would be “launched” in June — in reality, the variant was first detected in India in December 2020, and the first U.S. case was diagnosed in March. The purported timeline made similar errors (said ‘X’ variant would surface in ‘Y’ month that hasn’t happened yet) when actually a strain with that name already existed.

Note: Some variants of SARS-CoV-2 were barely different from the original virus, while others such as delta, included significant alterations in their genetic code that changed how they spread or attacked hosts’ immune systems.

Next, let us address the image’s misleading design. Logos for agencies leading COVID-19 research, such as the Johns Hopkins University, the World Economic Forum, and the WHO, were positioned next to the chart, as if it originated from those credible institutions. However, that was not the case. No evidence links the groups — nor anyone else in the science community — to the alleged timeline.

There was, however, ongoing research by reputable scientists to try to predict how, and by what rate, new COVID-19 variants would surface in the future. (According to Ed Feil, a professor of microbial evolution at the University of Bath, epidemiologists know the SARS-CoV-2’s genome typically acquires one or two mutations a month on average — a rate that is about four times slower than the mutation process of the influenza virus.) But, unlike the chart appeared to do, that type of forecasting could not be turned into a simple month-to-month table. Feil said of predicting COVID-19 variants in May:

“Predictions about the evolutionary course of the virus, and specifically changes in virulence, will always be riddled with uncertainty. The vagaries of randomly mutating RNA, chaotic patterns of transmission and expansion, and partially understood forces of natural selection, present challenges to even the most insightful evolutionary soothsayer.”

In other words, if credible scientists were facing an uphill challenge to try to predict the random, naturally occurring process of virus mutations, it was unlikely the unidentified creators of the viral chart had actually made the revelation first.

For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, if the image’s authors had actually mapped out the virus’ evolution timeline, the chart would be eminently newsworthy. Reputable news outlets or journalists would be scrambling to corroborate the purported schedule and write headlines like, “Research shows a new COVID-19 variant will emerge every month for the next two years.”

Lastly, it was unclear who, or what, exactly created the chart, though it was primarily circulating among people who shared this baseless belief: that unidentified evil forces were were trying to deceive non-believers into thinking the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was a force of nature for their own gain.

PLANdemic,” one commenter alleged in a thread discussing the chart.

In sum, the image was nothing but a piece of misinformation in a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy that tech companies, journalists, politicians, and/or scientists were all coordinating together to undermine everyone else via COVID-19. For that reason, and those outlined above, we rate this claim “False.”

This material may not be reproduced without permission.

Snopes and the Snopes.com logo are registered service marks of Snopes.com

In case of sale of your personal information, you may opt out by using the link "Do Not Sell My Personal Information".

To find out more about the categories of personal information collected and the purposes for which such information will be used, please refer to our privacy policy.

Dr. Nicole Saphier: CDC, kids and masks – COVID guidance continues to miss the mark

Fox News 28 July, 2021 - 02:16pm

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Fox News contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier discusses some counties reinstating mask mandates amid a rise in Delta variant cases.

The updated CDC guidance announced on Tuesday endorsing universal indoor masking in K-12 schools is an open-ended recommendation that will have negligible benefit in lowering severe outcomes and community transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

So why the recommendation to mask children heading into the new school? The rising cases of the Delta variant has people on edge; and it should. 

Delta has proven much more contagious and is causing higher viral loads, which is sending more people to the hospital. While children are making up a higher percentage of new cases, which is expected since over 163 million Americans are fully vaccinated, severe disease in kids still appears to be rare. 

If we compare what has occurred in the U.K., which is coming down from its Delta wave, the younger people (15-39 years) drove new cases but hospitalizations and deaths in those <15 years approached zero. Not to mention, the U.K. had their schools open without mask mandates for much of the Delta wave.

According to the CDC, in the United States 337 COVID-related deaths have occurred in kids under 18 years since the start of the pandemic, virtually none in otherwise healthy children without pre-existing illness. Over 4 million children have reportedly been infected by SARS-CoV-2 and the CDC estimates the true number of infections is up to four times that.  If the U.S. did a deep dive into pediatric deaths like England did, it’s quite possible the number of actual pediatric deaths directly caused by COVID-19is even less.

Bottom line: the risk of severe outcomes in healthy kids is extremely low.

There remains a pervasive narrative around COVID-19 that has upended our previously acceptable level of risk when it comes to children and public health. It has divided the country into polar extremes: universal masking until zero cases or let the virus have a free-for-all. 

It is time to regain a centrist perspective regarding public health as it pertains to schools, respiratory infections, and children.  

For example, schools should consider levels of community transmission and risk of severe outcome when making any decisions about policy changes, similar to what occurs when there is a flu outbreak. If there is a local outbreak of COVID-19, the school can utilize mitigation efforts to lessen transmission (temporary masking, testing etc) until the local outbreak and surrounding community transmission has lowered.  

While the majority of children are at minimal risk from COVID-19, children with chronic illnesses or in lower socioeconomic settings are at slightly higher risk.  Because of difficulties navigating social norms amongst children, it challenging to tell children only the high risk should be wearing a facemask because segregating kids in such a way can lead to insecurities, bullying and other mental health consequences.  

It is crucial that communities increase their vaccination rates to lessen local transmission, while other measures are implemented in schools to further reduce risk of exposure, such as cohorting, improving ventilation and maximizing outdoor spaces. 

The CDC continues to miss the mark in helping Americans understand the risk of severe outcomes of COVID-19 in children.

Since the mantra during the pandemic has always been to "follow the science," unless there is overwhelming new evidence showing children wearing facemasks in a school setting where the adults are vaccinated significantly lessens viral transmission and saves lives, mask policies should be reserved for high-risk scenarios based on local infection rates with clear metrics of when they should be instituted and removed. 

The best way to protect our children is to get vaccinated and allow them to return to school without masks so they can resume some level of normalcy.

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