Sunday CoronaBuzz, December 26, 2021: 46 pointers to updates, health information, research news, and more.

Please get a booster shot. Please wear a mask when you’re inside with a bunch of people. Much love.


WPRI: RI health officials ‘concerned’ with lagging K-12 vaccination rates. “The R.I. Department of Health recently launched a new website showing vaccination rates among all eligible public-school students five years and older across the state. The most recently available data shows 48% of students are partially vaccinated and 42% are fully vaccinated. The rates are substantially lower than statewide trends, which is concerning to state health officials.”


Associated Press: Coronavirus dampens Christmas joy in biblical Bethlehem. “The biblical town of Bethlehem marked its second straight Christmas Eve under the shadow of the coronavirus — with small crowds and gray, gloomy weather dampening celebrations Friday in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.”

NBC News: Moviegoers felt a mix of old-fashioned joy, Covid-era anxiety in returning to theaters. “In the face of the omicron variant and renewed anxiety about breakthrough infections, many continue to feel that shuffling into a dark room with a bunch of strangers is too much of a risk, even if some theaters require proof of vaccination. The spread of the variant could spell more troubles for the industry in 2022. The financial hardships of the pandemic weigh heavily on much of the country, too. A night at the movies is a luxury that many simply cannot afford.”

New York Times: The Dreaded Return of the ‘Park Hang’. “‘The whole notion of having to stay away from people again is mind-numbing,’ said Manny Fidel, 29, a video producer who lives in Brooklyn. While he acknowledged the gravity of the current Covid-19 surge in New York City, which has set records for new cases and caused a mad dash for testing, Mr. Fidel also expressed fear that the Omicron variant would reduce social life in New York to its socially distant diminutives: stoop cocktails in puffer coats, long walks with friends to nowhere and a long line of park hangs.”

Houston Chronicle: Despite vaccines, more Texans died of COVID-19 in 2021 than in first year of pandemic . “The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was recorded in February 2020, and the pandemic was declared the following month. The current year began amid a winter surge of infections, which was followed by a rapid rise in vaccinations in the spring that later ebbed. The climbing death toll, public health experts said, is almost entirely driven by people who are unvaccinated. From mid-January through October, just 8 percent of Texas virus deaths were among inoculated residents.”


HuffPost: Anti-Vax Podcaster Reportedly On Ventilator For COVID After Attending Right-Wing Rally. “Podcast network Frog News reported in a message on the right-wing Telegram social media site that Doug Kuzma shared a photo a week ago posing with stores of dewormer Ivermectin and other chemicals after the three-day ReAwaken America event that featured Donald Trump’s short-time national security adviser and felon Michael Flynn. As of Saturday, Kuzma was ‘sedated and on a ventilator;’ he is ‘not conscious,’ noted a Frog News message. ‘Doug needs heavy, heavy prayers,’ the message added.”


WWNY: New York sees largest population loss in history. “New York led the way this year in population loss. The U.S. Census Bureau put that loss at more than 319,000 New Yorkers between July 2020 and July 2021 – the highest of any state in the nation. Percentage-wise, it was 1.6 percent of the state’s population.”

Associated Press: COVID-19 Spike Worsens Africa’s Severe Poverty, Hunger Woes. “Nearly two years into a global pandemic, a new spike in coronavirus cases driven by the omicron variant is once again shuttering businesses, halting travel, reviving fears of overwhelmed hospitals and upending travel and holiday plans in countries around the world. But in Zimbabwe and other African nations, the virus’s resurgence is threatening the very survival of millions of people who have already been driven to the edge by a pandemic that has devastated their economies. When putting food on the table is not a given, worries about whether to gather with family members for the holiday or heed public announcements urging COVID-19 precautions take a back seat.”

Mashable: What will dating be like in 2022?. “Given the ride the last couple years have been, what will 2022 bring us in terms of finding love? Dating experts have a few predictions, including a continued use of virtual dating, a push towards serious relationships for some and non-monogamy for others, and an emphasis on mental health and vulnerability.”

Washington Post: The pandemic has caused nearly two years of collective trauma. Many people are near a breaking point.. “Nearly two years into a pandemic coexistent with several national crises, many Americans are profoundly tense. They’re snapping at each other more frequently, suffering from physical symptoms of stress and seeking methods of self-care. In the most extreme cases, they’re acting out their anger in public — bringing their internal struggles to bear on interactions with strangers, mental health experts said.”


BBC: Omicron: Rising numbers of NHS staff off work because of Covid. “Nearly 19,000 NHS staff were absent for Covid-related reasons on 19 December – up 54% on the previous week. A further 119,789 Covid infections were recorded in the UK on Thursday, setting another new record for daily cases.”


Washington Post: Omicron and children: Pediatric hospitals in parts of U.S. filling fast. “Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York have been hit particularly hard. As of Thursday, there were 1,987 confirmed or suspected pediatric covid-19 patients hospitalized nationally, a 31 percent jump in 10 days, according to a Washington Post analysis. Since the pandemic began, nearly 7.4 million children and adolescents have been infected, with 170,000 more added to that total in the last week alone, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.”


NBC News: Hospitals in New York region say they’ve run out of antibody treatment for omicron variant. “Major hospitals in the New York region say they have stopped using monoclonal antibody therapies because they have run out of the one treatment that appears to be effective against the omicron variant of the coronavirus, leaving doctors without a vital tool to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients.”


CNET: CES 2022: Google latest to drop out over COVID-19, joining Intel, T-Mobile and more. “CES 2022 on Thursday lost Google, the latest company to confirm the cancellation of its in-person plans to be in Las Vegas for the tech trade show and to shift to a virtual presence. The search company and its sister company Waymo join T-Mobile, Intel, Lenovo, TikTok, Meta and many others making such a change over concerns about the uptick in coronavirus cases and the omicron variant.”

Stateline: Western ‘Zoom Towns’ Take Aim at Short-Term Rentals. “Even before the pandemic, the destination towns of the West had a shortage of affordable housing. Limited supply, the remote nature of some of the communities, zoning restrictions and even short construction seasons all contributed. But the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated everything, including the rise of so-called Zoom towns. Freed from physical offices, suddenly people could live, work and recreate in the vacation communities of the West, with few needs beyond a high-speed internet connection to do jobs that formerly required their presence in major cities.”

The Verge: Apple closes several stores due to COVID-19 outbreaks, encourages online shopping. “Over the last couple of weeks, several Apple Stores around the US have closed due to rising COVID-19 infections among staff members, and a report by Bloomberg lists seven locations in the US and Canada that have shut down operations within the last day or so. The Apple Stores listed include Dadeland and The Gardens Mall in Florida, Lenox Square in Atlanta, GA, Highland Village in Houston, TX, Summit Mall in Ohio, Pheasant Lane in New Hampshire, and Sainte-Catherine in Montreal, Canada.”

The Verge: Intel will put unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave. “Intel has reportedly notified employees that anyone who remains unvaccinated will need to get the COVID-19 vaccine or submit an exemption by January 4th. Otherwise, they face being put on unpaid leave, according to The Associated Press and The Oregonian.”

Associated Press: COVID: Airlines cancel dozens of flights over Christmas. ” At least three major airlines have reported canceling dozens of flights as illnesses largely tied to the omicron variant of COVID-19 take a toll on flight crew numbers during the busy holiday travel season.”

European Supermarket Magazine: US Meat Plants Relaxed Some COVID-19 Safety Protocols After Outbreaks: Unions . “Across the country, US meat and chicken plants that reported some of the country’s largest coronavirus outbreaks last year have eased or adjusted protective measures implemented near the start of the pandemic, according to interviews with ten plant employees, union officials and advocates for workers.”

Sky News: COVID-19: At least 4,500 flights around the world cancelled as coronavirus causes travel chaos. “Globally on Christmas Eve there were 2,401 flights cancelled and 10,000 delayed as operators struggled with staff absences. According to the online flight tracker, 1,779 routes were not scheduled to operate as planned on Christmas Day, with a further 409 down on Boxing Day.”


ProPublica: This Scientist Created a Rapid Test Just Weeks Into the Pandemic. Here’s Why You Still Can’t Get It.. “Irene Bosch developed a quick, inexpensive COVID-19 test in early 2020. The Harvard-trained scientist already had a factory set up. But she was stymied by an FDA process experts say made no sense.”

CNN: Biden to lift travel restrictions on southern African countries that were put in place due to Omicron. “The Biden administration is lifting restrictions on eight southern African countries that were put in place last month after the Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa, two administration officials told CNN.”

Washington Post: Coronavirus outbreak sidelines ship whose crew is fully immunized, Navy says. “A coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Milwaukee, whose entire crew was ‘100 percent immunized,’ has forced the ship to remain in port after a scheduled stop in Cuba barely one week into its deployment, the Navy announced Friday.”


BBC: Covid: Ecuador makes vaccination mandatory for most citizens. “Ecuador has announced that the Covid-19 vaccine will be mandatory for most citizens, saying the measure is needed because of a rise in infections and the spread of variants such as Omicron. The health ministry said there were enough doses to ‘immunise the entire population’. Those with a medical justification will be exempt.”

Reuters: Chinese officials punished over COVID outbreak that led to Xian lockdown. “Officials in the northwestern Chinese city of Xian are facing punishment after a COVID-19 outbreak led to the lockdown of its 13 million residents, authorities said on Friday, as the number of new cases declined. All domestic flights out of Xian and most trains originating from the city scheduled for Friday were cancelled. Officials in Xian, which is famed for its terracotta warriors buried with China’s first emperor, say the outbreak has been traced to the arrival of a plane from Pakistan.”

AFP: Dutch PM Admits Making ‘Mistakes’ in Covid Communication, Says ‘Failed to Convince People About Basic Measures’. “Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted to making communication ‘mistakes’ in handling the pandemic, in an interview published Friday as his country braced for second Christmas under lockdown.”

Reuters: S.Africa scraps isolation for those without COVID symptoms. ” South Africans without symptoms of COVID-19 will no longer need to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government announced on Friday, saying developments around the virus justified a shift from containment measures towards mitigation.”

BBC: Covid-19: New rules in force for three UK nations. “New Covid restrictions have come into force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the nations try to halt the surge in infections. All three nations have introduced curbs on the hospitality and leisure industry, resumed social distancing rules and put limits on the size of gatherings. Boris Johnson has not announced any further restrictions in England.”


State of California: Governor Newsom Announces New Actions to Protect Californians from COVID-19 . “Governor Gavin Newsom today announced new booster requirements and testing measures to better protect all Californians as the Omicron variant becomes the dominant COVID-19 strain in the nation. The COVID-19 booster requirement for health care workers will mitigate potential staffing shortages while helping to safeguard the state’s hospital capacity and protect the health and safety of Californians.”


Route Fifty: More Cities Move to Adopt Vaccine Requirements for Indoor Spaces. “Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia are among the places that announced these types of measures in recent days. Other places, including New York City, King County, Washington, where Seattle is located, San Francisco and Los Angeles, already had requirements along these lines in place. The new mandates come as the highly contagious omicron variant of Covid-19 is surging.”

City of New York: Mayor de Blasio Announces Scaled Back New Year’s Eve Times Square Celebration. “Mayor de Blasio today announced details for a scaled back Times Square New Year’s Eve, with additional protections in place to ensure a safe celebration. In addition to requiring proof of full vaccination with valid photo identification and being fully outdoors, attendees will also be required to wear masks. Viewing areas will be filled with fewer people to allow for social distancing.”


NBC News: 3 members of K-pop superstars BTS test positive for Covid-19. ” Three members of the K-pop group BTS on Saturday tested positive for Covid-19 following their return to South Korea from the band’s first pandemic-era concerts in the United States, their management company Big Hit Music said. Rapper RM, 27, and vocalist Jin, 29, were diagnosed with Covid-19 a day after Suga, a songwriter and rapper for the seven-member group, tested positive.”


24/7 Sports: Hawaii Bowl canceled after Rainbow Warriors withdraw, citing COVID-19 cases, transfers and injuries. “The Hawaii Bowl has been canceled after Hawaii was forced to withdraw from the game due to a combination of COVID-19 cases, transfers and injuries, it was announced Thursday night. The game was to pit the Rainbow Warriors against the Memphis Tigers Friday at Clarence T. C. Ching Athletics Complex in Honolulu.”


NPR: There’s a surge of mental health issues for kids back for in-school learning. “For kids around the country, this school year was supposed to bring a return to normalcy, ending the isolation and stress of remote or hybrid learning. But halfway through the year, schools and health care providers say they’re seeing a massive rise in students struggling with mental and behavioral health problems. NPR’s Rhitu Chatterjee has the story.”


KABC: USC students will stay remote for now amid omicron surge. “The explosion in COVID-19 omicron cases is leading to the change. Los Angeles County on Friday announced nearly 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in one day, the highest number in 11 months. The spike is driven by the highly-contagious omicron variant, as well as holiday travel and get-togethers.”


BBC: Omicron: Half of colds will be Covid, warn UK researchers. “If you have a sore throat, runny nose and a headache there is a good chance it will be Covid, warn UK researchers. The Zoe Covid study team has been tracking the pandemic using feedback from the general public, and estimates half of people with cold-like symptoms actually have Covid.”

BBC: Parosmia: Coping with distorted smell and taste at Christmas. “Christmas is a cruel holiday for sufferers of Covid-induced parosmia. The condition, which causes smell and taste distortions, can mean tucking into a roast turkey with all the trimmings becomes a nauseating nightmare. But as more research is done and our understanding improves, is there hope for those whose festivities were plunged into repugnant ruin?”

NBC Washington: Long COVID Patients Are ‘Terrified’ of Omicron. “Emerging research about omicron has so far been cautiously reassuring: Despite its ability to spread at a dizzying pace, the illness it causes appears to be milder overall, at least among the vaccinated and those who have received the booster shot. Such encouraging data, however, are meaningless to people with long Covid-19: those who have suffered from its symptoms for months to more than a year following their initial infection.”


Mashable: Thought virtual watch parties were dead? 2022 would like to have a word.. “I’m not happy that we have to rely on virtual watch party software again and I assume you aren’t either. But if we have to deal with constantly shifting circumstances, it’s good to keep in mind the growing list of digital tools we have at our disposal to make the most of a bad situation. These apps even have utility outside the context of a pandemic, as loved ones can be physically far apart for any number of reasons while still wanting to experience movies together.”

Ubergizmo: A COVID-19 Home Testing Kit Was Hacked To Display Fake Results. “Thanks to technology, we are seeing an increasing number of home testing kits for various diseases that can be uploaded onto our phones and then uploaded online to our doctors, so that they can monitor our health remotely and get the latest information. It sounds convenient, but there is also some danger to that. A good example would be recently, F-Secure researcher Ken Gannon discovered a vulnerability in Ellume’s nasal swab test, which is a home testing kit for COVID-19.”

Texas A&M Today: When Churches Closed, Religious Leaders Turned To Tech. “One Methodist pastor had to lend her own digital camera to the church, which had no digital resources. Another duct taped a borrowed smartphone to a ladder in order to stream a service. An Episcopal priest from Indianapolis described feelings of exhaustion and fatigue, saying that her online services fell flat and ‘wasn’t the job I signed up for.’ They are among the pastors, volunteers and staff members who provided insight into their experiences with technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Heidi A Campbell, a professor at Texas A&M University who studies media and religion, prepared a report issued last month on their decision-making processes and the sources of tension or challenges they faced.”


IANS: COVID-19: Booster Shot Protection Fades Within 10 Weeks Against Omicron, says New Study. “While countries are racing to administer booster shots to protect against the Omicron variant of COVID-19, a new study released by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has shown that protection wanes even after taking the third dose of a vaccine within 10 weeks.”


Sentinel & Enterprise: Massachusetts reports highest daily coronavirus case count of pandemic for second straight day. “The daily count of 9,042 new COVID-19 cases is the highest daily case total of the pandemic, breaking Wednesday’s tally of 7,817 cases. The prior record high before this week was Jan. 8’s count of 7,635 cases. The daily average percent positivity has been surging in recent weeks. The average percent positivity is now 7.6%. The rate for Thursday’s report was 8.07%.”


Washington Post: A man strung Christmas lights from his home to his neighbor’s to support her. The whole community followed.. “Kim Morton was home watching a movie with her daughter when she received a text from her neighbor who lives directly across the road. He told her to peek outside. Matt Riggs had hung a string of white Christmas lights, stretching from his home to hers in the Rodgers Forge neighborhood, just north of the Baltimore city line. He also left a tin of homemade cookies on her doorstep. The lights, he told her, were meant to reinforce that they were always connected despite their pandemic isolation.”


The Mary Sue: Dear TV Shows, It’s Very Weird to Watch You Pretend Like COVID-19 Is Over. “When these characters talk about the pandemic in the past tense and eat in crowded indoor restaurants and sit shoulder to shoulder at a children’s music recital without a mask in sight, that is—outside of a few major cities that still have enforced mandates—what is happening all across the country. It is very hard to separate that infuriating reality that we all have to deal with daily from that of the show, where this behavior is supposed to be perfectly fine and safe.”


NPR: For some secular Jews, their pandemic hobby has been learning Yiddish. “From noshing to schmoozing to schlepping, many Americans know a handful of Yiddish words. But outside of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, few people actually speak Yiddish as a language. And yet, Deena Prichep reports the pandemic has created a wave of new Yiddish learning.”

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