Archive for the ‘pandemic’ Category

Want to worry about the next pandemic? Spillover.global has you covered

April 6th, 2021
Researchers with Franceville interdisciplinary Medical Research Centre (CIRMF, Centre Interdisciplinaire Medical de Recherches de Franceville) collect samples from a bat on November 25, 2020 inside a cave in the Zadie region in Gabon.  Working in remote recesses in the heart of the Gabonese forest, scientists scour caves populated by bats, animals suspected of being at the origin of many epidemics transmitted to humans in recent years: the SARS in 2003, MERS in 2012, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2 or novel coronavirus Covid-19. (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN / AFP) (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Enlarge / Researchers with Franceville interdisciplinary Medical Research Centre (CIRMF, Centre Interdisciplinaire Medical de Recherches de Franceville) collect samples from a bat on November 25, 2020 inside a cave in the Zadie region in Gabon. Working in remote recesses in the heart of the Gabonese forest, scientists scour caves populated by bats, animals suspected of being at the origin of many epidemics transmitted to humans in recent years: the SARS in 2003, MERS in 2012, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2 or novel coronavirus Covid-19. (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN / AFP) (Photo by STEEVE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images)

We didn't know about the SARS-CoV-2 virus until it showed up in humans. But previous experience with other coronaviruses that had jumped into humans (SARS and MERS) had told us that something like COVID-19 could pose a risk. Coronaviruses are prevalent in a number of species that have frequent contact with humans, and they have a clear history of being able to adapt themselves to human cells.

Being aware of viruses that have similar properties can help us recognize threats for future pandemics. Now, researchers are taking the results of a massive virus survey and releasing a public database of hundreds of viruses, all rated for how much risk the viruses pose to humans. And any viruses that we discover can be plugged into the framework they've developed so that we can get quick information on whether they're threatening.

What’s out there?

The effort grew out of a USAID-sponsored program called PREDICT, which was part of a set of efforts focused on zoonotic diseases, those that can cross species barriers and infect humans. Collectively, the PREDICT project did a massive survey of animal viruses, using over a half-million individual samples taken from 75,000 animals. Out of that data, the project identified over 700 new viruses and another that had never been seen in the animal in which it was found.

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Posted in Biology, medicine, pandemic, public health, science, virology, zoonosis | Comments (0)

Factory mix-up spoils 15 million doses of J&J COVID vaccine

April 1st, 2021
A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California.

Enlarge / A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

About 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine were ruined, and future vaccine shipments will be delayed. This all follows a mix-up at a manufacturing facility in Baltimore, according to multiple media reports.

Johnson & Johnson had partnered with Emergent BioSolutions to manufacture the active ingredient of its vaccine. But according to two US officials who spoke with Politico, workers at the West Baltimore facility mixed up the ingredients in Johnson &Johnson’s vaccine with those for a different coronavirus vaccine. Emergent BioSolutions is also a manufacturing partner of AstraZeneca, according to the New York Times, which first reported the problem.

The mishap with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine began before the Food and Drug Administration had authorized the facility to produce the vaccine. Now, that authorization has been delayed and shipments are stalled.

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Posted in Biden, biden administration, COVID-19, fda, Infectious disease, Johnson & Johnson, pandemic, public health, science, vaccine | Comments (0)

“Are schools safe?” is the wrong question to be asking

March 27th, 2021
Image of mask-wearing students in a classroom.

Enlarge (credit: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images )

Is it safe to open schools? From the moment it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had set up shop in the US, answers to that question have been scrutinized, analyzed, and even politicized. Lost in all of this is the realization that it's a terrible question—because there's no single answer to it.

Instead, any answer to that question only applies to individual communities and, in many cases, individual schools. It's also subject to change with the evolving dynamics of the pandemic, including the appearance of new variants. Fortunately, a detailed understanding of why the question is bad can help people understand which questions they should be asking instead.

Schools are part of a community

A couple things that are relevant to school safety have become clear over the course of the pandemic. One is that school-aged children are the least likely to be hospitalized or die of any age group tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of the over half-million COVID-19 deaths in the US, only a few hundred have been kids under the age of 17. In addition, in a few cases where new infections were tracked in detail, schools that adopted adequate safety measures saw lower infection rates than the surrounding community.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, Health, medicine, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, schools, science | Comments (0)

Authorities raise red flags about AstraZeneca’s vaccine press release [Updated]

March 23rd, 2021
Authorities raise red flags about AstraZeneca’s vaccine press release [Updated]

Enlarge (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

Update 4 pm EDT: The board of experts monitoring the clinical trial of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine determined that the vaccine is actually between 69 percent and 74 percent effective at preventing symptomatic disease—not 79 percent effective, as AstraZeneca announced Monday.

According to a report by The Washington Post, the trial’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) had been in meetings with the company through February and March and saw data that indicated the 69-to-74 percent efficacy range. The board “strongly recommended” that the latest information be included in the company’s Monday press release.

However, the press release Monday only stated an efficacy of 79 percent and, in a second press release Tuesday, the company noted that they had used a data cut-off of February 17.

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Posted in Astrazeneca, clinical trial, COVID-19 vaccine, Infectious disease, niaid, NIH, pandemic, public health, science, vaccine | Comments (0)

The moments we realized the pandemic would change everything

March 12th, 2021
The moments we realized the pandemic would change everything

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We're roughly at the one-year point of the global COVID-2 pandemic—Ars' initial explainer on the virus first published on March 8, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, and the US declared a national emergency on March 13. As we all grapple with the realization 12 months have passed, various anniversaries are being marked. There are lots of major mileposts to mark; moments that made the severity and global scale of the pandemic clear, or were the first signs of the new reality of social isolation, remote schooling, and offices created out of any available spare space.

For many of us at Ars, the big mileposts were abstract—things that happened to other people or society as a whole as we continued to work from home. But as we talked about the experience of last March, each of us seemed to come up with a different moment when the severity of the pandemic really clicked.

What follows is a collection of the experiences that drove home the severity of COVID-19 to each of us—the moments we knew things weren't going to be the same. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

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Posted in COVID-19, Features, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

COVID herd immunity may be unlikely—winter surges could “become the norm”

March 10th, 2021
Empty vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a first-come, first-serve drive-thru vaccination site operated by the Lake County Health Department on January 28, 2021 in Groveland, Florida. Seniors 65 and older waited in line for hours to be vaccinated.

Enlarge / Empty vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a first-come, first-serve drive-thru vaccination site operated by the Lake County Health Department on January 28, 2021 in Groveland, Florida. Seniors 65 and older waited in line for hours to be vaccinated. (credit: Getty | NurPhoto)

Some experts speculate that the pandemic coronavirus will one day cause nothing more than a common cold, mostly in children, where it will be an indistinguishable drip in the steady stream of snotty kid germs. Such is the reality for four other coronaviruses that have long stalked school yards and commonly circulate among us every cold and flu season, to little noticeable effect.

But that sanguine—if not slightly slimier—future is shaky. And the road to get there will almost certainly be rocky. For the pandemic coronavirus to turn from terror to trifle, we have to build up high levels of immunity against it. At the population level, this will be difficult—even with vaccines. And with the uncertainty of how we’ll pull it off, some experts are cautioning that we should prepare for the possibility that the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, will stick with us for the near future, possibly becoming a seasonal surge during the winter months when we’re largely indoors.

“The prospect of persistent and seasonal COVID-19 is real,” write public health expert Christopher Murray of the University of Washington and infectious disease expert Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the two warn that if that happens, it “could require both health system change and profound cultural adjustment for the life of high-risk individuals in the winter months. There is an urgent need to prepare for such a scenario.”

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Posted in COVID-19, immunity, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

Traffic congestion dropped by 73 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic

March 9th, 2021
A traffic jam at night.

Enlarge / A photo shows a traffic jam at 1905 Street and Third Ring Road in Moscow, Russia, on March 3, 2021. Moscow ranked fourth-worst in the world for traffic congestion in 2020, with an average of 100 hours spent in jams. (credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image)

In 2020, the average US driver spent 26 hours stuck in traffic. While that's still more than a day, it's a steep decline from pre-pandemic times; in 2019 the average American sacrificed 99 hours to traffic jams. Around the world, it's a similar story. German drivers averaged an identical 26 hours of traffic in 2020, down from 46 the year before. In the UK, 2019 sounded positively awful, with 115 hours in traffic jams. At least one thing improved for that island nation in 2020: its drivers only spent 37 hours stationary in their cars.

This data was all collected by traffic analytics company Inrix for its 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard that tracks mobility across more than 1,000 different cities around the world based on travel times, miles traveled, trip characteristics, and the effect of crashes on congestion in each city.

And unless you've spent the past 12 months in a cave—in which case, gee, do I have some crappy news for you—you'll instinctively know that there were big declines in traffic in 2020, and in particular a drop in people traveling to downtowns and central business districts.

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Posted in cars, congestion, coronavirus, COVID-19, Inrix, pandemic, traffic | Comments (0)

Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

March 6th, 2021
Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

Enlarge (credit: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Unemployment in the US remains stubbornly high at 6.3 percent. Job growth has stalled, with 9.6 million fewer jobs in January than the same month a year earlier. But gig companies say they’re having trouble finding people to drive, pick up, and deliver for them.

“I'm worried about one thing going into the second half of the year: Are we going to have enough drivers to meet the demand that we're going to have?” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told an analyst last month. DoorDash chief financial officer Prabir Adarkar called the situation “a tale of two cities,” with hordes of new customers racing to order takeoutbut fewer drivers offering to deliver it. DoorDash orders more than tripled in the last part of 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier.

The looming driver shortage confounds executives’ predictions. “With record unemployment, we expect driver supply to outstrip rider demand” for the “foreseeable future,” Lyft CEO Logan Green said in May. For a time early in the pandemic, Lyft blocked new drivers from signing up. It was understandable, because today’s tech gig companies were born during the Great Recession. They benefited from a deep pool of workers newly outfitted with smartphones and suddenly in need of supplemental income.

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Posted in doordash, gig economy, pandemic, Policy, postmates, Uber | Comments (0)

Under intense pressure, WHO skips summary report on coronavirus origin

March 5th, 2021
Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on Feb. 9, 2021.

Enlarge / Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on Feb. 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency )

Facing intense international pressure and criticism, the World Health Organization has abandoned plans to release a summary report of its investigation into the possible origin of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Instead, the health agency of the United Nations is skipping the summary report and plans to release a full report the week of March 15. The WHO had previously said it would release a summary report in mid-February.

“By definition, a summary report does not have all the details,” Dr. Ben Embarek, a WHO expert who led the investigation, told The Wall Street Journal. “So since there [is] so much interest in this report, a summary only would not satisfy the curiosity of the readers.”

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Posted in coronavirus, epidemiology, Infectious disease, Origin, outbreak, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, science, WHO | Comments (0)

CDC to release guide for life after vaccination—with normalcy still far off

March 3rd, 2021
A woman in a suit speaks from a podium.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidance this week—possibly as early as Thursday—on activities that are considered safe for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But, while much of the country is hankering for some return of normalcy, the guidance is unlikely to deliver any satisfying taste of it. People who are fully vaccinated will be advised to continue adhering to most public health measures, such as mask wearing and physical distancing in most settings. Though they will get the greenlight for limited social gatherings, those should be kept small and home-based, and they should only include other fully vaccinated adults, according to early reports.

In a press conference Monday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci laid out an example:

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, science, vaccine, Walensky | Comments (0)