Monday CoronaBuzz, March 21, 2022: 47 pointers to updates, health information, research news, and more.


New York Times: Another Covid Surge May Be Coming. Are We Ready for It?. “The clearest warnings that the brief period of quiet may soon be over have come, as they often have in the past two years, from Western Europe. In a number of countries, including Britain, France and Germany, case numbers are climbing as an even more contagious subvariant of Omicron, known as BA.2, takes hold. In interviews, 10 epidemiologists and infectious disease experts said that many of the ingredients were in place for the same to happen in the United States, though it was unclear if or when a wave might hit or how severe it might be.”


Ars Technica: Please stop putting COVID-19 test solution in your eyes and nose, FDA says. “The Food and Drug Administration is alerting Americans to the potential dangers of at-home COVID-19 tests after receiving reports of people egregiously misusing them, resulting in injuries. In a safety communication released Friday, the FDA said it had received reports of injuries after people used the kits’ liquid test solution as eye drops or stuck the solution up their noses.”


Wall Street Journal: Ivermectin Didn’t Reduce Covid-19 Hospitalizations in Largest Trial to Date. “Researchers testing repurposed drugs against Covid-19 found that ivermectin didn’t reduce hospital admissions, in the largest trial yet of the effect of the antiparasitic on the disease driving the pandemic.”


Route Fifty: Pandemic Ushering in Rental Housing Crisis. “A recent analysis shows landlords are tightening screening criteria, using alternative eviction practices and increasing rent rates. The housing shortage is only making things worse.”


New York Times: How Oni and Uché Blackstock, Doctors, Spend Their Sundays. “Oni and Uché Blackstock, 44, are twin sisters and Harvard-educated doctors who have been on the front lines of the pandemic. Both run businesses that address racial inequity in health care. And both are divorced parents of sons.”

Chicago Tribune: Two years. 33,000 dead. Tracing the pandemic’s toll across Illinois and one doctor’s family.. “It was the early weeks of the pandemic. A mystery illness was spreading across the Chicago area. And Dr. Sandra McGowan-Watts felt powerless. She was a family doctor but could do little as her husband and mother-in-law fell ill. Her mother-in-law soon died. Her husband clung to life for a week longer before the virus claimed him too, at age 51. ‘I’m a doctor,’ she said last week, the pain fresh in her voice. “I’m supposed to be able to fix people and change things, and I can’t even help the person I love the most.””

San Francisco Chronicle: Here’s why hospital nurses, the pandemic’s ‘health care heroes,’ are so ticked off. ” Understaffing at Bay Area hospitals predates the pandemic, but two years of COVID-19 have made it worse. All told, hospitals in California are short the equivalent of more than 40,000 full-time nurses, a UCSF study reported in August. That’s almost 14% fewer than needed, a shortage the researchers expect to last until 2026 when enough nursing students graduate to match pre-COVID levels. Older nurses are leaving the profession faster than new ones can begin, and many in mid-career say they can’t wait to leave, the study found.”

Politico: The South’s health care system is crumbling under Covid-19. Enter Tennessee.. “Of the 50 counties with the highest Covid deaths per capita, 24 are within 40 miles of a hospital that has closed, according to a POLITICO analysis in late January. Nearly all 50 counties were in rural areas. Rural hospital closures have been accelerating, with 181 since 2005 — and over half of those happening since 2015, according to data from the University of North Carolina. But that may be just the beginning. Over 450 rural hospitals are at risk of closure, according to an analysis by the Chartis Group, one of the nation’s largest independent health care advisory firms.”


The Guardian: ‘Roll on the summer of love’: UK music festivals on song after Covid closures. “For a while it felt so far away: listening to your favourite artist, pints flying overhead, queueing for portable toilets, losing your friends and finding new ones. But after two years of cancellations and delays, music lovers can once again look forward to an array of festivals and gigs this summer.”


Smithsonian: Smithsonian Collects COVID-19 Artifacts in Pandemic’s Second Year. “The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History continues to document how communities and individuals across the U.S. have coped with the health and safety challenges of a global pandemic, protested hate crimes, raised funds for charity and reimagined work, culture and education. As the nation enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a death toll nearing 1 million, the museum has added numerous artifacts to its collections, responded to more than 500 donation offers and is conducting several oral history projects, including one focused on the Latina/o COVID-19 experience in New York City and another on educational equity and digital access in Washington, D.C.”


BBC: China lockdowns: The economic cost of a zero-Covid policy. “If you’re buying something online there’s a very good chance it was made in Shenzhen – a city of 17.5 million in the south east where roughly half of all China’s online retail exporters are based. So, when Shenzhen went into a six-day lockdown on Sunday after a massive surge in Covid cases, it sent shockwaves through the world’s businesses.”

CNN: Moderna seeks FDA authorization for second Covid-19 booster shot for all adults. “Moderna announced Thursday that it’s asked the US Food and Drug Administration for authorization for a second Covid-19 booster shot for everyone 18 and older. Moderna is seeking an amendment of the FDA’s emergency use authorization for its Covid-19 vaccine to allow a fourth vaccine dose for any adults who’ve gotten an initial booster of any of the authorized or approved vaccines.”

Fierce Pharma: J&J inks vaccine licensing deal with Aspen, paving the way for Africa’s first local COVID-19 shot. “South Africa’s Aspen has clinched its COVID-19 vaccine licensing deal with Johnson & Johnson in a move the company last year said could be a “game-changer” on the path to Africa’s vaccine sovereignty. Under the deal, Aspen will be able to manufacture and distribute J&J’s COVID shot in Africa, with the goal to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates across the continent, J&J said in a release.”

Reuters: AstraZeneca COVID Drug Neutralises Omicron Sub-Variants in Lab Study. “-AstraZeneca said on Monday its antibody-based cocktail to prevent and treat COVID-19 retained neutralising activity against Omicron coronavirus variants, including the highly contagious BA.2 sub-variant, in an independent lab study.”

Associated Press: Shanghai Disneyland closes amid rise in coronavirus cases as Shenzhen reopens. “Shanghai Disneyland has closed as China’s most populous city tried to contain its biggest coronavirus flare-up in two years, while the southern business centre of Shenzhen allowed shops and offices to reopen after a week-long closure. Meanwhile, the cities of Changchun and Jilin in the north east began another round of city-wide virus testing following a surge in infections.”


Los Angeles Times: Video game workers found their voices in the pandemic. Could unions be next? . “Known as ‘crunch,’ the brutal stretch leading up to a game’s release is an industry rite of passage. Workers have described working as many as 20 hours a day, sleeping at their offices and scarcely seeing their families — all without getting paid overtime. But lately, a growing segment of the industry’s workforce has made it clear they’re not willing to abide by the status quo. In a bid to change it, they’ve begun taking up the traditional tools of labor organizing, including petitions, walkouts and full-blown unionization.”

New York Times: As Offices Open and Mask Mandates Drop, Some Anxieties Set In. “After several false starts in calling workers back, company leaders now seem eager to press forward. A flurry of return-to-office plans have rolled out in recent weeks, with businesses including American Express, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft calling some workers back to their desks. Many of those companies followed state and local governments in easing Covid-19 restrictions, arguing that ending mask mandates could make workplaces more pleasant. But some workers, especially those with compromised immunity or unvaccinated children, feel uncomfortable with the rush back to open floor plans.”

Route Fifty: NYC Employees Eyeing the Exits as Mayor Insists on In-person Work. “Mayor Eric Adams has been adamant that workers come into their offices full time. But municipal employees looking for remote work flexibility warn of a morale crisis and service slowdowns.”

The Guardian: Workplaces are in denial over how much Americans have changed. “On one hand, companies are acknowledging change: they’re willing to be somewhat flexible with hybrid or remote work, and have signaled that a “transition” will be necessary to adjust to the new normal. But the core of these messages are all the same: where you do work may change, but what you do and why you do it will remain the same. It’s clear that company leaders still want the old version of the all-American work ethic that was dependent on hustle culture and productivity. But I can’t help but wonder whether that’s incompatible with who we’ve become – and, more importantly, the realities of the world in which we live.”


Los Angeles Times: ‘It’s a nightmare’: Hong Kong runs low on coffins as omicron exacts deadly toll . “In just a matter of weeks, the city of more than 7 million has transformed from one of the safest places to be during the global pandemic to having what’s believed to be the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths in the world. On Feb. 18, Hong Kong had a total of 259 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began. A month later, the number had soared to nearly 4,600 — on par with the total in China, a country of 1.4 billion people. With an alarmingly low vaccination rate among its seniors, about 90% of Hong Kong’s deaths in the latest wave have been of patients 60 or older. Morgues and hospitals have run out of room to store bodies. The city is awaiting a fresh batch of coffins arriving by sea.”

The Guardian: Hong Kong Covid crisis: why is the death rate so high?. “Before the fifth wave, Hong Kong had reported a total of 212 coronavirus-related deaths. Now it is recording above that amount daily. Virologist Siddharth Sridhar at Hong Kong University’s Department of Microbiology said Hong Kong’s Covid-19 death rate – among the worst in the world – was ‘tragic but expected’, pinning it on a ‘perfect storm’ of low vaccination rates among elderly people, low rates of prior infection and an overwhelmed healthcare system.”

New York Times: In South Korea, a Spike in Covid Cases Meets a Collective Shrug. “With the vast majority of its adult population vaccinated and about nine out of 10 of those 60 and older with a booster, South Korea is pushing ahead with plans to ease social distancing measures, relax border restrictions and learn to live with the virus’s risk, even as it is experiencing some of the highest per-person infection rates anywhere in the world.”

ITV News: China reports first Covid-19 deaths in more than a year. “China’s health authorities reported the country’s first Covid-19 deaths since January 2021 as infections surge due to the Omicron variant. The two deaths, both in north-eastern Jilin province, bring the country’s coronavirus death toll to 4,638.”

ABC News: German lawmakers vote to abolish most pandemic restrictions. “German lawmakers voted Friday to abolish most of the country’s coronavirus pandemic restrictions despite a surge in infections, with almost 300,000 new daily cases reported.”

The Mainichi: Tokyoites asked to refrain from cherry blossom parties even after quasi-emergency lifted. “The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will call for people in the capital to continue implementing basic coronavirus infection prevention measures thoroughly and refrain from gathering to see cherry blossoms as part of responses to be taken after the quasi-state of emergency ends across Japan on March 21.”

Associated Press: Hong Kong to lift flight bans on UK and eight other countries. “Chief executive Carrie Lam announced during a press conference on Monday that a ban on flights from nine countries — Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the US — would be lifted from April 1.”


Washington Post: The omicron wave’s unequal toll. “Fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant, the coronavirus infected more than 29 million people in the United States over the past three months. It reached individuals across race, class and location. But it hit unvaccinated and under-vaccinated people hardest, data shows, wounding communities with inadequate access to health care and where officials have failed to stamp out vaccine misinformation and distrust.”

Business Insider: Federal prison working conditions are getting worse despite Biden’s promise to improve conditions, staffers say. “President Joe Biden pledged to overhaul the criminal justice system and improve conditions within federal prisons. But more than a year since he took office, some federal prison workers tell Insider their working conditions at federal prison facilities have worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.”


Route Fifty: Arizona’s Statehouse Lifted Covid Precautions. Two Lawmakers Worry About What It Means for Their Family.. “Arizona lawmakers now must participate in committee work in person. They can cast floor chamber votes remotely from their offices at the Capitol, but only with a doctor’s note. The public is no longer permitted to give remote testimony. The actions follow similar moves in statehouses and other workplaces around the country, as governors lift mask mandates and other mitigation measures related to the pandemic.”

New York Times: Utility Bills Piled Up During the Pandemic. Will Shut-offs Follow?. “At the start of the pandemic two years ago, as millions of unemployed Americans were unable to pay their bills, state-imposed moratoriums generally barred utilities from shutting off power. But most states, including New York, have lifted those restrictions in recent months. New Jersey’s moratorium, one of the last in effect, expired on March 15.”

Chicago Tribune: New first probable COVID death in Illinois uncovered — a 64-year-old woman from Chicago who thought she had a cold. “For two years, the first confirmed death from COVID-19 in Illinois was believed to be that of Patricia Frieson, a retired Black nurse from Chicago, on March 16, 2020. But new information uncovered by the Tribune shows that another woman, an office worker from Chicago, was the first probable fatal case in the state, six days earlier.”


Route Fifty: Mayors Call on Congress to Extend Expiring Pandemic Era Food Aid. “With millions of Americans facing the possibility of getting cut off from food assistance in the coming months, mayors on Friday urged Congress to extend pandemic era aid programs designed to help ensure that people have enough to eat.”


BBC: Covid trapped me at home for more than seven months. “Ian [Lester] was born with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, which makes it harder for him to fight off infections. Even a common cold can linger. He shielded during the first wave of Covid, but coronavirus eventually found him in December 2020. He had one of the classic symptoms – a slight loss of sense of taste and smell – which cleared up within a month. For most of us that would be the end of it, but Ian’s Covid journey was only just beginning.”

Washington Post: Lagging ticket sales, sets stuck on ships: The dance world is struggling to get back on its feet. “…shipping woes are only some of the troubles dance groups face as they get back on the road to perform. Arriving at this point after nearly two years without in-person audiences has been challenging enough, with revenue drying up, salaries reduced or eliminated, all under the persistent health threats unique to dance, with its reliance on bodies moving together in time and space. Training and creative processes have been profoundly strained. Now there are new hurdles. To better understand the pressures facing these artists and how they’ll affect audiences, I spoke with presenters, consultants and company leaders about what’s happening now, and what the longer-term story may be.”


ABC News: How athletes can return to exercise after COVID-19 infection: New guidance released. “After two years of research, the American College of Cardiology released guidance Tuesday that states the incidence of heart inflammation among athletes after COVID-19 is lower than originally thought, but they still suggest a step-by-step plan to help competitive athletes and weekend warriors alike that will help them safely return to their activities.”


NPR: 6 in 10 teachers experienced physical violence or verbal aggression during COVID. “Educators are taking blows from all sides, and they sometimes feel like no one is hearing them. That is the key finding of a big, new COVID-19-era survey from an American Psychological Association task force. Responses, collected between July 2020 and June 2021, came from nearly 15,000 school personnel – from psychologists to bus drivers – in all 50 states.”


UVA Today: UVA Announces Covid-19 Policy Changes, Beginning Monday. “The changes come following ‘encouraging trends with respect to the pandemic that we hope will allow students, faculty, and staff to enjoy the final weeks of this academic year,’ Provost Ian Baucom and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis wrote Friday in an e-mail message to the University community.”

Oregon State University: New Oregon State project asks college students, faculty about pandemic coping strategies. “The Bright Side Project is a follow-up to OSU’s ‘Punch Through Pandemics’ online course, which reached nearly 3,700 people in 2020 with lessons about the psychological effects of stress and ways to counter it at the onset of the pandemic. Now, one of the instructors behind that class is asking what people have learned in the meantime.”


New York Times: Shrugs Over Flu Signal Future Attitudes About Covid . “The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t prompted most Americans to take influenza more seriously. Instead, more people are likely to think of Covid the way they think of flu, experts say.”

Changing America: Adult cigarette smoking fell to all-time low in first year of pandemic. “According to new data from the CDC, 19 percent of U.S. adults, 47.1 million people, used tobacco products in some form in 2020. Cigarettes remained the most commonly used tobacco product, with 12.5 percent of U.S. adults having smoked cigarettes, the lowest number since data collection began in 1965.”

The Globe and Mail: What does ‘living with’ COVID-19 mean? HIV/AIDS activists offer lessons from pandemics past. “What does it mean for a population to ‘live with’ COVID-19, in the long term? What can be done to temper the social divisions that persist around this virus? How do we deal with its lingering effects, including long COVID? Two years since the pandemic took hold, how do we calibrate risk and function alongside it? One population has significant experience with similar questions: gay men who either came of age during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1990s or adapted in subsequent generations.”


Sydney Morning Herald: Feeling addicted to your phone since the pandemic? You’re not alone. “During Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdowns, Molly George’s phone was her window to the world. Working from home, cut off from friends and family, she treasured the connection she could maintain with loved ones online. But it came at a cost: the time the 28-year-old spent scrolling social media went up, and up, and up. During work, in bed, on the toilet – reaching for the phone every five minutes became a hard habit that, two years on, she’s still trying to break.”


CNN: ‘This is just the start’: Research into Covid-19 opens doors to understanding other diseases and conditions. “The billions of dollars invested in covid vaccines and covid-19 research so far are expected to yield medical and scientific dividends for decades, helping doctors battle influenza, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and far more diseases.”

University of Alabama at Birmingham: Preclinical demonstration of a potent, universal coronavirus monoclonal antibody therapy for all COVID-19 variants. “The overall goal of researchers at UAB, Texas Biomedical and Aridis is to find antibodies that do not permit immune escape by mutated variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This includes Omicron and any future variants of concern. It is hoped that identifying and studying such antibodies can lead to the development of vaccines that protect from all coronaviruses.”


Pew: Two Years Into the Pandemic, Americans Inch Closer to a New Normal. “Two years after the coronavirus outbreak upended life in the United States, Americans find themselves in an environment that is at once greatly improved and frustratingly familiar.”


Schneier on Security: Why Vaccine Cards Are So Easily Forged. “I design computer security systems for a living. Given the challenge, I could design a system of vaccine and test verification that makes cheating very hard. I could issue cards that are as unforgeable as passports, or create phone apps that are linked to highly secure centralized databases. I could build a massive surveillance apparatus and enforce the sorts of strict containment measures used in China’s zero-COVID-19 policy. But the costs—in money, in liberty, in privacy—are too high. We can get most of the benefits with some pieces of paper and broad, but not universal, compliance with the rules.”

NPR: To try or not to try — remotely. As jury trials move online, courts see pros and cons. “NPR talked to nearly two dozen judges, attorneys and jurors who have participated in online jury trials to see how things are going. After nearly 18 months, some evidence is in but the verdict is still out. Some fears were realized, but there were unexpected benefits as well, including higher participation rate among people called to serve.”

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