In theory, double masking helps control the spread of COVID-19

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Daily coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom could reach 100,000 this summer as the government moves to end almost all COVID-19-related restrictions later this month, the country’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, said today.

Javid told BBC Radio 4 that COVID-19 case numbers, currently around 25,000 each day, are expected to double ahead of the July 19 deadline to lift pandemic restrictions as the more transmissible delta variant drives a surge in infections.

“As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise significantly, and they could go as high as 100,000 case numbers,” Javid said.

Even at its worst peak in January 2021, Britain’s daily cases never surpassed 60,000 a day, reported The Washington Post.

According to Public Health England (PHE), the delta variant accounts for at least 95 percent of new cases in the United Kingdom.

WHO declares lambda variant a ‘variant of concern’

The lambda variant, which is believed to be first detected in Peru about 1 year ago, is a new concern to scientists who say these virus mutations are potentially resistant to COVID-19 vaccines, reported Fox News.

The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source said these mutations could increase the lambda variant’s transmissibility or even its resistance to “neutralizing antibodies,” with the WHO declaring it a “variant of interest.”

7/2/21 2:40 p.m. PDT — Moderna and Pfizer vaccines prime T cells to fight virus variants, study finds

Researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) have found that T cells, or immune cells, from people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 or received doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are able to recognize several coronavirus variants, reported San Diego News.

The new study, recently published in Cell Reports Medicine, finds both CD4+ “helper” T cells and CD8+ “killer” T cells continue to recognize mutated forms of the coronavirus.

This response is key to our body’s complex immune response to the virus, and allows the immune system to eliminate infected cells and stop severe infections.

“This study suggests that the impact of mutations found in the variants of concern is limited,” said LJI professor Alessandro Sette, Dr.Bio.Sci., study senior author and member of the LJI Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research, in a statement. “We can presume that T cells would still be available as a line of defense against viral infection.”

The current study includes data on four of the most common variants of concern (VOC), according to an LJI press release.

LJI also announced that ongoing studies have been expanded to a larger panel of variants, including the delta variant, which became common after the study was initiated.

The research team has established relationships with more than 20 different laboratories around the world to help monitor T cell reactivity to VOCs.

“These variants are still a concern, but our study shows that even if there is a decrease in antibodies, as other studies have shown, the T cells remain largely unaffected,” said LJI instructor Alba Grifoni, PhD, in a statement. “The vaccines still work.”

NJ governor weighs in on reinstating mask mandates

According to NJ.com, it’s been just over a month since New Jersey dropped its statewide mask mandate in most places amid increasing vaccinations and plummeting COVID-19 cases.

The rapid spread of the delta variant has prompted new and occasionally contradictory guidance on mask use in many areas worldwide, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source continues to recommend that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most settings because they’re protected against variants.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was asked Wednesday if the delta variant might lead him to reinstate mask mandates in the state, according to NJ.com.

“I hope we don’t have to go back,” Murphy said. “We would not have taken the steps we’ve taken with any expectation that we would have to go backward.”

“If we have to, we will, clearly,” he added. “We’ll continue to monitor the data points that we’ve talked about every time we’ve been at this table for the past 16 months, and right now it’s hard to argue anything other than we are in really good shape, and we just hope it stays that way.”

Over 1,000 counties in U.S. have less than 30% vaccination coverage

While the overall vaccination rate for adults is hovering around 57 percent nationwide, pockets of the United States have vaccination rates far below that number.

Officials from the CDC reported that 1,000 counties have a COVID-19 vaccination rate under 30 percent.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said these counties are primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, and they remain at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially as the more infectious delta variant continues to spread.

“There are communities that are vulnerable and where we are now seeing surges in cases, and indeed also hospitalizations, due to what could be the spread of the delta variant and low vaccination rates in these communities,” she said.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine appears to protect against variants, effective for at least 8 months

New data from Johnson & Johnson has found that its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be protective against the new infectious delta variant.

Additionally, the vaccine appears to provide durable protection against infection for at least 8 months. The study has been ongoing for 8 months, and there’s no sign the vaccine is likely to stop working at the 8-month mark.

“Current data for the eight months studied so far show that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine generates a strong neutralizing antibody response that does not wane; rather, we observe an improvement over time. In addition, we observe a persistent and particularly robust, durable cellular immune response,” Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement.

7/1/21 2:39 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 cases up 72% in U.K. last week as delta variant spreads

Officials in Britain said nearly 28,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the last week, a 72 percent increase compared with the previous week, according to Reuters.

While Britain has been able to push for a significant portion of the population to get vaccinated, it still has not reached herd immunity.

As the delta variant, believed to be more infectious, continues to spread, unvaccinated people are at significant risk of developing COVID-19.

The delta variant now accounts for more than 90 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom.

New study finds pets may get COVID-19 from their owners

Researchers have found that pets may develop COVID-19 if their owners are sick.

The study, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, is being presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases next weekend.

Researchers looked at pets in the homes of people known to have tested positive for COVID-19. They found pets in more than 20 percent of these households had antibodies to the coronavirus.

This doesn’t mean the animals were severely ill, but it does show they can harbor the virus and potentially pass it on to other people or animals later.

“If you have COVID-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people,” Els Broens, PhD, associate professor for veterinary medicine at Utrecht University and a study co-author, said in a statement.

“The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health — they had no or mild symptoms of COVID-19 — but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population,” she said.

Vaccinated people likely have fewer symptoms, lower viral load in rare cases of breakthrough infection

COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be very protective against the virus, but they’re not perfect.

In rare cases, often in less than 5 percent of cases, breakthrough infections, or when a vaccinated person develops COVID-19, have been known to occur.

New research from an ongoing University of Arizona Health Sciences study finds that in these rare cases, the vaccines still provide protection.

Researchers from the University of Arizona found that vaccinated study participants tended to have milder symptoms, a shorter infection time, and a lower viral load, meaning less viral material in the body, than unvaccinated study participants who developed COVID-19.

“If you get vaccinated, about 90 percent of the time you’re not going to get COVID-19,” Dr. Jeff Burgess, associate dean for research and professor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and principal investigator of the study, said in a statement.

“Even if you do get it, there will be less of the virus in you and your illness is likely to be much milder,” he said.

6/30/21 3:28 p.m. PDT — CDC director says vaccines should protect people from delta variant

In a television interview, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that the rise of the delta variant is concerning, but that vaccinated people are likely still safe.

She also addressed seemingly contradictory mask policies, like those advised by the World Health Organization and Los Angeles County health officials, that recommend people continue to wear masks regardless of vaccine status.

Walensky said those masking policies are really to protect unvaccinated people from the delta variant.

“Areas where we have low vaccination, that is where the virus is likely to take hold,” she said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Those masking policies are really to protect the unvaccinated.”

She reiterated that with nearly 2 out of 3 U.S. adults fully vaccinated, the delta variant is unlikely to cause many breakthrough infections.

“The vaccinated population we believe is still safe,” Walensky said.

Engineers create a face mask that can detect the coronavirus

Engineers from Harvard and MIT say they have created a face mask that can detect the coronavirus while being worn.

The masks have tiny disposable sensors that could potentially be altered to detect other viruses as well. The researchers were able to use freeze-dried synthetic biology sensors to detect virus material.

The sensors can be activated by the wearer, and the results are only visible inside the mask for privacy purposes.

It takes about 90 minutes to get test results after the test has started.

“This test is as sensitive as the gold standard, highly sensitive PCR tests, but it’s as fast as the antigen tests that are used for quick analysis of COVID-19,” said Peter Nguyen, PhD, a research scientist at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and one of the lead authors, according to a press release.

The face mask is currently a prototype, but the engineers have filed a patent and are reportedly looking for manufacturers.

6/29/21 1:06 p.m. PDT — LA officials ask everyone to mask up indoors due to spread of coronavirus variants

Los Angeles County public health officials are asking all residents, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to still wear masks indoors to avoid another spike of coronavirus infections.

The recommendation is a precautionary measure that officials hope will curb the spread of the new delta variant that’s rapidly spreading throughout the globe.

The variant has led to a surge in COVID-19 cases in other countries, like Australia, that previously managed to keep a low case count during the pandemic.

According to Los Angeles County health officials, the delta variant now makes up half the variants being sequenced in the county, and it accounts for 1 in 5 new infections nationwide.

Europe may see ‘fourth’ wave of COVID-19 due to delta variant

The delta variant could cause another surge in COVID-19 cases in Europe, warned Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin, reported Yahoo! News.

Martin also said indoor dining would not reopen as planned in Ireland. Instead, it will be restricted to people who are fully vaccinated or those who have had a previous infection.

6/28/21 2:03 p.m. PDT — Study finds mRNA COVID-19 vaccines may protect against disease for years

new studyTrusted Source published today in Nature found evidence that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech may provide lasting protection against the disease.

Researchers found evidence that the vaccine set off an immune response that may last indefinitely.

“It’s a good sign for how durable our immunity is from this vaccine,” Ali Ellebedy, PhD, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis who led the study, told The New York Times.

One major caveat is that the protection provided by these vaccines may not last if the coronavirus drastically mutates.

However, current virus variants do not appear to cause high rates of symptomatic infection in people who are vaccinated.

Australia grapples with new COVID-19 surge

Australia is grappling with a new surge of COVID-19 cases that has led to lockdowns in major cities, including Sydney.

This is the first time the country has seen multiple outbreaks in different territories at the same time, according to the BBC.

Experts say the new delta variant, which is likely more infectious, may be behind the rise in cases.

Brad Hazzard, New South Wales health minister, called the delta variant a “very formidable foe,” according to the BBC.

“No matter what defensive steps we’re taking at the moment, the virus seems to understand how to counter-attack,” he said.

Officials are pushing people to get vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus.

Just 5 percent of Australia’s population is currently fully vaccinated.

6/25/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — NIH starts COVID-19 vaccine study in people who are pregnant

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)Trusted Source is starting a study on how the COVID-19 vaccine affects people who are pregnant. The study will follow 750 pregnant individuals and 250 people postpartum to see the impact the vaccine has on their health.

The participants and their newborns will be followed for the first year after birth to see the impact of the vaccines.

Experts have mostly been pushing people who are pregnant to get vaccinated, even though pregnant people were not included in original trials. Experts point out that the dangers of COVID-19 are particularly severe for people who are pregnant, since they’re considered immunocompromised.

COVID-19 cluster seen in kindergarteners

Despite a nationwide drop in COVID-19 cases, Nevada officials are dealing with multiple outbreaks of the new delta variant.

One cluster, involving nine cases, was seen in 5- and 6-year-old students at an elementary school in Reno, Nevada, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

While young children are less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, they’re still at risk for developing the disease.

U.S. Surgeon General warns against misinformation

With a dangerous COVID-19 variant on the rise, health experts urge hesitant people to get vaccinated. However, the U.S. Surgeon General warns that a big obstacle stands in their way: misinformation.

“There is so much misinformation out there about the vaccine, coming through so many channels — a lot of it being spread on social media,” Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN. “It’s inducing a lot of fear among people.”

“Two-thirds of those who are unvaccinated in polls say that they either believe the myths about COVID-19 or think that they might be true,” he said, adding that he’s worried about those who are unvaccinated as the variant spreads.

Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, estimate that 70 to 85 percent of Americans will need to become immune to COVID-19 either through vaccination or developing the disease in order to control community spread, reported CNN.

But after initial surges, vaccination rates have slowed, and only about 54 percent of the population has received at least one dose.

Critically, more than 1 in 10 people who received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have missed their second dose, according to data shared with CNN by the CDC.

Australia and Israel face COVID-19 outbreaks despite high levels of vaccination

According to NPR, rising COVID-19 cases around the world are forcing some governments to reimplement lockdown measures to control disease transmission.

From Australia to Israel and around Europe, health officials are announcing new restrictions ahead of the weekend as they report clusters of outbreaks and try to mitigate further transmissions, reported NPR.

Decisions have come as the more transmissible COVID-19 delta variant becomes the dominant strain in several countries.

NPR lists Australia, Portugal, and Israel as nations reinstituting pandemic measures amid surges in new cases. This is occurring even while in the United States, many places are reopening despite warnings from health officials.

6/24/21 2:17 p.m. PDT — Delta variant has new mutation called ‘delta plus’

A mutation of the delta coronavirus variant has emerged. Called “delta plus,” it’s starting to worry global experts, according to CNBC.

India has dubbed delta plus a “variant of concern,” and there are fears that it could potentially be more transmissible.

In the United Kingdom, where the delta variant is now responsible for most new COVID-19 cases, Public Health England noted in its last summary that routine scanning of COVID-19 cases in the country found almost 40 cases of the newer variant, which has acquired a spike protein mutation called K417N, or delta plus, reported CNBC.

Public Health England also noted that, as of June 16, cases of the delta plus variant have also been identified in the United States (83 cases when the report was published last Friday) as well as Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, and Turkey.

The Indian health ministry released a statement on June 22 that said INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories genome sequencing the virus in India during the pandemic, had informed the ministry that the delta plus variant has three worrying characteristics:

  • increased transmissibility
  • stronger binding to receptors of lung cells
  • potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response

Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist as well as vaccines and health systems expert based in New Delhi, told CNBC that while the government should remain alert to the progress of the variant, there’s “no reason to panic.”

“Epidemiologically speaking, I have no reason to believe that ‘Delta plus’ alters the current situation in a manner to accelerate or trigger the third wave,” Lahariya told the network via email.

Israel says as many as 50% of new COVID-19 cases from delta variant are in people already vaccinated

As Israel faces a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant, the country’s health officials say as many as half of those cases are among people who were vaccinated, reported Business Insider.

According to Dr. Chezy Levy, Israel’s health ministry director-general, fully vaccinated people in contact with the delta variant will now have to quarantine.

“Even though the numbers are low, the fact that this is reaching vaccinated people means… that we are still checking how many vaccinated people have also been infected,” Levy said, Haaretz reported.

Speaking with state broadcaster Kan public radio, Levy said that approximately 40 to 50 percent of new cases were people who had been vaccinated. He did not appear to specify a time frame for the new cases, according to news reports.

6/23/21 3:12 p.m. PDT — CDC group reports 12.6 cases of heart inflammation per 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

A few rare cases of heart inflammation are “likely” associated with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, according to experts on a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to CNBC, panel experts reported there have been more than 1,200 cases of myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) or pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart) in people who have received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

Most of the people affected were men under 30. Nearly 80 percent of those affected have recovered, and nine people were hospitalized. Two were in intensive care as of June 11.

Over 70% of people over 30 have received at least 1 vaccine dose

The Biden administration won’t reach its goal of getting 70 percent of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said yesterday, reported USA Today.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have reached the goal already. But some states have less than 50 percent of their adults vaccinated, Zients said at a White House briefing.

Still, the goal of at least partially vaccinating 70 percent of people ages 30 and older has been reached, he emphasized, adding that the administration is also on track to hit the 70 percent target for ages 27 and older by Fourth of July weekend.

“And let’s remember, when the president took office, we were at approximately 5 percent of adults with one shot. So, in just 5 months, we have been racing from 5 percent to 70 percent,” Zients said.

Zients explained that achieving 70 percent of adults vaccinated was an “aspirational target,” and pointed out that the administration has met or exceeded it for most of the adult population, calling this a “remarkable achievement.”

Delta variant ‘greatest threat’ to U.S. efforts against COVID-19, declares Fauci

White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that the highly contagious delta variant is the “greatest threat” to the nation’s attempt to eliminate COVID-19, reported CNBC.

The virus strain makes up about 20 percent of all new cases in the United States, up from 10 percent about 2 weeks ago.

Fauci added that the delta variant appears to be “following the same pattern” as the alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, with infections in the United States doubling roughly every 2 weeks.

“Similar to the situation in the U.K., the delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19,” Fauci said, reported CNBC.

According to the network, health officials say there are reports that the delta variant causes more severe symptoms, but more research is needed to confirm those conclusions.

6/22/21 1:40 p.m. PDT — Delta variant likely to become the dominant variant within weeks in U.S.

The highly transmissible delta variant is likely to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the United States within a few weeks, according to new data.

Originally detected in India, the delta variant is now being found throughout the United States, even as cases decline amid increasing vaccinations.

While vaccinations continue, the rate of people being vaccinated has been declining since a high in April. Experts are concerned that new coronavirus variants could continue to spread among unvaccinated people, prolonging the pandemic.

Missouri hospital sees surge of COVID-19 cases as vaccinations slow

With only 45 percent of U.S. people fully vaccinated and only 16 states that have fully vaccinated more than half their populations, health experts worry about the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, reported CBS News.

It’s 60 percent more contagious than the alpha variant first detected in the United Kingdom, which was the previous variant of concern, according to infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm, PhD.

“In the areas where they have large pockets of unvaccinated people, we can surely expect to see surges in cases, in some situations challenging the healthcare capacity of that local area,” Osterholm told CBS News.

According to the CBS, one hospital over capacity is Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Mercy Hospital President Craig McCoy told CBS the hospital is “holding patients in the ER, waiting on admissions, waiting on discharges on any given day.”

McCoy told the network that at Mercy hospital, almost every COVID-19 patient is unvaccinated.

“We’ve only had two that have come out as inpatients that have been fully vaccinated. The vaccine, from everything we can see, does appear to be effective against the delta variant,” he said.

6/21/21 2:35 p.m. PDT — Ugandan coach tests positive for COVID-19 in Japan weeks before Olympics

A member of the Ugandan Olympic team tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Japan, according to the BBC.

The Ugandan team is only the second foreign Olympic team to arrive in Japan ahead of the Olympic Games scheduled to take place next month.

In recent months, Japan has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, which has led to criticism that the Olympic Games should be canceled.

Officials have rebuffed these criticisms. This week, Japan announced that up to 10,000 spectators will be allowed to watch the games.

Additionally, COVID-19 cases are now declining.

The states lagging in vaccinations

While many states are making great strides in vaccinating residents against COVID-19, the ones that aren’t may soon need to deal with a more transmissible variant, experts say, reported CNN.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows about 45 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But states like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming have only fully vaccinated less than 35 percent of residents, according to CNN.

The delta variant, believed to be more transmissible and able to cause more severe disease, might cause an upsurge in infections, but those levels will vary depending on each region’s rates of vaccination, Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told “Face the Nation.”

“When we look across the United States, we see wide variance in terms of vaccination rates,” said Gottlieb, comparing places like Vermont and Connecticut that have high vaccination rates with other states currently struggling to achieve 50 percent of residents vaccinated.

Biden likely to miss goal of 70% partial vaccination in adults

It’s looking like the United States might miss President Biden’s target of 70 percent of adults being, at least partially, vaccinated by July 4.

A vaccine expert said time is running out to get ahead of the potential spread of virus variants, reported CNN.

“Vaccines are our only way out of this,” Dr. Paul Offit told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “Unless we vaccinate a significant percentage of the population before winter hits, you’re going to see more spread and the creation of more variants, which will only make this task more difficult.”

To attain herd immunity, or the point at which the virus is not easily transmitted in the community, experts have estimated it would require the inoculation through infection or vaccination of between 70 and 85 percent of the population, reported CNN.

“You would have thought at the beginning of this, knowing that vaccines are our only way out of the pandemic, the hardest part would have been figuring out how to construct these vaccines,” Offit continued. “The hardest part is convincing people to get it, which is remarkable.”

6/17/21 1:39 p.m. PDT — Delta variant now variant of concern

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that the delta variant, first detected in India, is now a variant of concern (VOC), meaning it poses a significant threat to unvaccinated people, reported NPR.

“A very recent data — literally yesterday and the day before — shows that, in fact, it is a more dangerous virus in the sense that it can potentially make people more severely ill,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told NPR.

“So the combination of more transmissibility and a greater severity of disease appropriately prompted the CDC to elevate it to a variant of concern,” he said.

According to NPR, this virus variant is the most contagious yet, and the CDC estimates it may be responsible for nearly 10 percent of all new cases in the United States.

In certain western states, the delta variant may be responsible for nearly 20 percent of cases.

This risk has public health officials stressing the benefits of vaccination, which is shown to be highly effective against the delta variant.

“If you are vaccinated, you’re going to be protected, which is another very good reason to encourage people strongly to get vaccinated,” Fauci told NPR. “If you are not vaccinated, you are at risk of getting infected with the virus that now spreads more rapidly and gives more serious disease.”

Rising COVID-19 cases in England are driven by unvaccinated people

COVID-19 cases are rising exponentially across England and are driven by younger and mostly unvaccinated people, according to scientists, reported the Guardian.

According to the Guardian, a study commissioned by the U.K. government called the REACT study found that infections increased by 50 percent between May 20 and June 7, which coincided with the rise of the delta variant that now dominates in the United Kingdom.

“We observed that growth was being driven by younger age groups, with five-fold higher rates of swab-positivity among younger children (ages 5 to 12 years) and young adults (18 to 24 years) compared with those aged 65 years and older, and 2.5-fold higher rates among those below 50 years compared with those 50 years and above,” the study authors wrote.

The study authors added that their findings suggest that imminent expansion of the vaccine program to people ages 18 and above “should help substantially to reduce the overall growth of the epidemic.”

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