Thursday CoronaBuzz, February 18, 2021: 35 pointers to updates, useful stuff, research news, and more.

Please wear a mask (or even two). Wash your hands. Stay at home if you can. Please be careful. I love you.


Johns Hopkins: Johns Hopkins launches vaccine prioritization dashboard for people with disabilities. “A new Johns Hopkins data tool helps people with disabilities determine when they qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine and compares how different states prioritize people with disabilities in their vaccine rollout plans.”


WLKY: Kentucky launches new website, hotline for residents to determine COVID-19 vaccine eligibility. “The website will ask for age, occupation and health status. It will then tell you if you’re currently eligible to receive the vaccine, and if not which phase you are in.”

Chicago Tribune: Is the COVID-19 pandemic growing or shrinking in Illinois? New website tracks a key metric.. “A group of Illinois COVID-19 researchers has launched a webpage to try to help residents see and make sense of the latest pandemic trends, including one of the easiest metrics to understand: the reproduction rate. Though it’s based on complicated math, the reproduction rate offers a simple gauge of the pandemic’s trajectory. A number above 1 means the epidemic is growing. Below 1 means it’s shrinking.”

KRQE: State rolls out index map tracking pandemic impact on tourism. “The state has a new tool to track the pandemic’s economic impact on tourism. The Tourism Department is launching a new injury index heat map that examines data like lost revenue, the percentage of short-term rentals compared to hotels, and a counties’ reliance on visitor spending. Each county will receive a score based on those metrics. A high score indicates a county has s slower timelines for recovery.”

KING5: Volunteers build ‘easier, less frustrating’ COVID-19 vaccine website for Washington. “A new website, built by volunteers, is helping thousands of people find COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Washington. Patients must no longer surf through dozens of pages, clicking refresh for hours on end, only to find everything booked up.”

Fox9: COVID-19 Vaccine Connector will alert Minnesotans when they’re eligible for vaccine. “Minnesota is launching a new vaccination website to help people find out when, where and how to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Minnesotans who have not yet been vaccinated are encouraged to sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector, regardless of their current vaccine eligibility status. There is no cost and no deadline for signing up. ”


The Conversation: COVID killed your sense of smell? Here’s how experts train people to get theirs back . “The link between COVID and smell and taste disturbance became apparent in March 2020 as the pandemic swept around the globe. To date, nearly 100 million people have been infected with coronavirus. Around 60% will have experienced smell and taste disturbance – with 10% having persistent symptoms. This means that about 6 million people – and rising – have this symptom. So what can be done about it?”


BBC: Another new coronavirus variant seen in the UK. “Scientists have identified another new variant of coronavirus in the UK with some potentially troubling mutations. B.1.525 appears similar to the South African variant which prompted door-to-door tests in areas where it has been found.”

AP: US jobless claims jump to 861,000 as layoffs stay high. “Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, which was revised sharply higher, the Labor Department said Thursday. Before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.”


AFP Fact Check: Social media posts mislead on New Zealand’s Covid-19 vaccination drive. “Multiple Facebook posts shared thousands of times in Thailand in February 2021 claim New Zealand has ‘returned to normal’ as ‘the majority of people have been vaccinated [for Covid-19]’. The posts shared screenshots of a video featuring New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alongside a claim it shows her ‘encouraging people to do outdoor activities to prove that New Zealand has finally returned to normal’. ”

BBC: Pete Evans: Instagram ban for Australian chef over conspiracy theories. “Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans has been banned from Instagram, weeks after his Facebook page was removed for repeatedly sharing misinformation about the coronavirus.”


The Burg: Pandemic Plot Twists: It’s a storyline with screen fatigue, “real” books and blue light glasses.. “There’s never been a better time to get lost in a book. ‘An ironic positive side effect of the pandemic is that people are falling back in love with reading,’ said Alex Brubaker, manager of Harrisburg’s Midtown Scholar Bookstore. One downside of a work-from-home lifestyle is screen fatigue. But an upside of a stay-at-home lifestyle seems to be a return to reading—real, hold-in-your-hand, paper books.”

BBC: Coronavirus: Priest providing ‘takeaway ashes’ for Ash Wednesday. “A priest in the Republic of Ireland has made ‘takeaway ashes’ available for parishioners to administer at home on Ash Wednesday. Fr Brian Brady teamed up with a shop in Clonmany, County Donegal, to provide holy ashes in sauce containers.”

Washington Post: A mass-casualty event every day. “It’s the first day back at work for Scott E. Lynn, the Montour County coroner. He’s been sick with covid-19. He was out for a month and lost 25 pounds. As he arrives at his office in a remote corner of Geisinger Medical Center, he still feels weak. Lynn doesn’t know how he contracted covid. Deceased people do not spread the virus under normal circumstances. And Lynn mostly handles corpses enclosed in two layers of body bags.”


CNN: Grocery store workers have been on the front lines for a year, but they’re struggling to get the Covid vaccine. “Although coronavirus risks are high and new variants of the virus are spreading, most of the more than 2.4 million low-wage grocery workers in this country have not yet been made eligible for the vaccine. Guidance on vaccine eligibility continues to evolve, leaving these frontline workers unsure of when they’ll be able to receive the vaccine.”


Washington Post: U.S. handling of American evacuees from Wuhan increased coronavirus risks, watchdog finds. “As the first American evacuees from Wuhan, China, touched down at a California military base a year ago, fleeing the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, they were met by U.S. health officials with no virus prevention plan or infection-control training — and who had not even been told to wear masks, according to a federal investigation. Later, those officials were told to remove protective gear when meeting with the evacuees to avoid ‘bad optics,’ and days after those initial encounters, departed California aboard commercial airline flights to other destinations.”

BBC: Peru vaccine scandal: Ex-president asked for early jab, doctors says. “Former Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra requested and received an early vaccination against Covid-19 out of turn, a doctor has told lawmakers. Mr Vizcarra has said he and his wife were vaccinated as clinical trial volunteers in October last year. But testifying in parliament on Tuesday, Dr German Malaga, who led the vaccine trial, disputed this.”


New York Daily News: Florida governor threatens to pull COVID vaccines from counties that criticize state rollout. “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened Wednesday to withhold or transfer COVID vaccines from counties that criticize the state’s distribution plan. DeSantis was responding to criticism after allocating 3,000 extra vaccines for wealthy west Florida areas, including a planned community that is owned by the family of one of his campaign donors, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.”


Seattle Times: Seattle woman, 90, walks 6 miles through snow for her COVID-19 vaccine. “Walking 6 miles through nearly a foot of snow to get to her first COVID-19 vaccine appointment was nothing, compared to what 90-year-old Fran Goldman went through to get it.”

CNET: Dr. Fauci wins $1 million Dan David prize for ‘defending science’. “Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, won one of the three Dan David Prizes, Israeli awards that each grant $1 million ( £720,440, AU$1.29 million) to recipients. The international awards are given in the categories Past, Present and Future, with Fauci winning the Present award, given for ‘achievements that shape and enrich society today.'”


The Guardian: The future of online learning: the long-term trends accelerated by Covid-19. “For Prof John Domingue, director of the Open University’s pioneering research and development lab, the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI), the ‘online genie’ is out of the bottle and won’t go back in.”

BuzzFeed News: A Former Comcast Employee Explains Why Low-Income WiFi Packages Aren’t Helping Students. “As remote learning dragged on through 2020, the coronavirus pandemic pitted Comcast against an unlikely opponent: a group of teenagers. Since last spring, Baltimore-based student activists have been waging a campaign for faster internet speeds and arguing that the telecom behemoth’s Wi-Fi offering for low-income households, Internet Essentials, isn’t always fast enough for successful distance learning.”

Science: Keeping schools open without masks or quarantines doubled Swedish teachers’ COVID-19 risk. “A careful analysis of health data from Sweden suggests keeping schools open with only minimal precautions in the spring roughly doubled teachers’ risk of being diagnosed with the pandemic coronavirus. Their partners faced a 29% higher risk of becoming infected than partners of teachers who shifted to teaching online. Parents of children in school were 17% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than those whose children were in remote learning.” This is important to note, but I think it’s also important to note that I’m not hearing anybody advocate reopening schools in the US without precautions.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: ‘They have the skills and are ready to go’: College health care students step up to help massive COVID-19 vaccine effort.. “Jamie Reit has spent months on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior has always liked to keep busy, juggling rigorous science classes, playing on the university’s basketball team and working as a nanny. This semester, with her basketball eligibility over, she couldn’t help but feel it was her responsibility to help her community fight the COVID-19 pandemic and to take the chance to hone her medical skills. Reit started looking for contact tracing jobs, and in October ended up working as a COVID-19 tester at Miller Park.”


Leafly: How to share weed during a pandemic. “Now, more than ever, we’re looking for ways to experience that magical connection that comes from sharing weed with others. And while passing the joint to the left is on indefinite leave, there are still a few lifestyle hacks and activities that can help you get high together.”

Futurity: 1 In 3 Adults Are Anxious Or Depressed Due To Covid-19. “The finding is particularly true for women, younger adults, and those of lower socioeconomic status, the researchers report. COVID-19 continues to pose serious threats to public health worldwide, and interventions such as lockdowns, quarantine, and social distancing are having an adverse impact on mental well-being.”

Washington Post: LGBTQ people face higher covid-19 risks. But no one knows the true toll on the community.. “It was mid-November when Gerard Tyler received the text message from his longtime friend, the music-loving former neighbor who would go to nightclubs with him almost every weekend in the early ’90s. ‘Hey…been in the hospital since Thursday,’ his friend, Michael Campbell, 63, texted him. ‘I have coronavirus pray for me.’ Tyler, a 67-year-old D.C. resident, asked whether there was anything he could do. ‘You’re in my prayers,’ he said. The next day, Tyler texted him again, asking how he was feeling. He got no answer.”

Phys .org: Tourists could be spreading the virus causing COVID-19 to wild mountain gorillas by taking selfies with the animals. “Tourists could be spreading the virus causing COVID-19 to wild mountain gorillas by taking selfies with the animals without following precautions. Researchers from Oxford Brookes University examined nearly 1,000 Instagram posts and found most gorilla trekking tourists were close enough to the animals, without face masks on, to make transmission of viruses and diseases possible.”


The Conversation: As scientists turn their attention to COVID-19, other research is not getting done – and that can have lasting consequences. “When a new virus is ravaging the planet, scientists should help. This is an all-hands-on-deck emergency, and researchers with different backgrounds can bring new perspectives that can lead to major breakthroughs. Yet there is some evidence that as labs have shifted attention to SARS-CoV-2, efforts have been duplicated, and precious time and resources have been used ineffectively. This rapid scientific reorientation has implications far beyond SARS-COV-2 and potentially leaves the world vulnerable to other health crises.”

Arizona State University: ‘Time Zero’ tool adds dimension to COVID-19 arrival, spread and mutations. “Using data from confirmed U.S. infections, Ying-Cheng Lai, an Arizona State University professor of electrical engineering and physics, and his international team of researchers have developed a predictive modeling tool that pinpoints COVID-19’s U.S. arrival, or ‘time zero,’ as Jan. 6, 2020. The paper, ‘Optimal inference of the start of COVID-19,’ presented in Physical Review Journal this week, also identifies Dec. 28, 2019, as the earliest date of the virus’s arrival in Europe.”

BBC: Covid-19: World’s first human trials given green light in UK. “Healthy, young volunteers will be infected with coronavirus to test vaccines and treatments in the world’s first Covid-19 ‘human challenge’ study, which will take place in the UK. The study, which has received ethics approval, will start in the next few weeks and recruit 90 people aged 18-30.”

Phys .org: Researchers have proved that that ozone is effective in disinfecting coronavirus. “Studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 remains active on aerosols and surfaces for between several hours and several days, depending on the nature of the surface and environmental conditions. Presently, researchers from Tel Aviv University have demonstrated that ozone, which has already long been used as an antibacterial and antiviral agent in water treatment, effectively sanitizes surfaces against Coronavirus after short exposure to low concentrations of ozone.”

Science News: Some Neandertal genes in people today may protect against severe COVID-19. “A new study looked at a stretch of DNA on chromosome 12 where a haplotype — a cluster of genetic variants that are inherited together — that affects susceptibility to the coronavirus is located. For each copy of the Neandertal haplotype a person inherited, the risk of needing intensive care fell approximately 22 percent, researchers report in the March 2 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”


Geeks are Sexy: Mark Hamill Performs “Will You Wear A Mask? I Ask” #Staysafe. “Listen as beloved geek icon Mark Hamill performs “Will You Wear A Mask? I Ask,” a rhyming read-aloud picture book featuring two opposing characters discussing the need to wear a mask in public. The poem comes from the illustrated book of the same name by author Tom Ruegger. Naturally, Hamill, using his legendary voice acting skills, play the role of both characters, a shopkeeper asking the customer to wear a mask, and a patron who refuses to do so.”


Vox: I’m an epidemiologist and a father. Here’s why I’m losing patience with our teachers’ unions.. “Educators’ anxiety is based on reasonable concerns. Covid-19 is a serious illness. And schools are an indoor group setting with the potential to spread infection. But schools, it turns out, with a few basic safety measures, including masks and reasonable distancing, are not a high-risk venue for Covid-19 transmission. In fact, they appear to have far lower rates of the virus than their surrounding communities. Still, some education union leaders are beginning to lay the foundation for schools remaining shuttered into the 2021-22 school year.”

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