It’s been a mixed bag with the vaccine rollout in Washington state, but officials say availability of the shots is improving every day.
Yesterday’s snowstorm didn’t help things, forcing closure of some vaccine sites and slowing attendance to those that stayed open. Still, progress is evident, both at home and abroad. Oxford University has announced it has started testing its coronavirus vaccine in children as young as six in a move that expands coronavirus vaccine trials to the youngest age group yet.
New Zealand city enters 3-day lockdown after virus found
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland has begun a three-day lockdown following the discovery of three unexplained coronavirus cases in the community.
Health officials said Monday the cases were of the more contagious variant first found in Britain and that genome testing hadn’t linked them to any previous known cases.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the lockdown after an urgent meeting with other top lawmakers in the Cabinet. She said they decided to take a cautious approach until they find out more about the outbreak.
The lockdown, which extends through Wednesday, is the first in New Zealand in six months and represents a significant setback in the nation’s largely successful efforts to control the virus. It has also forced a delay in the America’s Cup sailing regatta.
New Zealand had successfully stamped out community spread, and many people elsewhere in the world looked on in envy as New Zealanders went back to work and began attending concerts and sporting events without the need to wear masks or take other precautions.
Indeed, Ardern on Sunday had planned to attend the Big Gay Out, an Auckland festival that celebrates the rainbow community and attracts tens of thousands of people. She ended up canceling those plans and returning to Wellington to manage the outbreak.
College housing staff push for vaccination access
As colleges allow more students to live on campuses again, staff who keep dorms running say their jobs carry more responsibilities – and new risks.
In addition to hosting virtual floor events and mediating conflicts, resident assistants, community directors and other residential staff say they’re counseling students thinking about suicide or struggling with homesickness. In many cases, they’re also enforcing mask-wearing and social distancing and escorting their sick peers to quarantine housing.
While schools have made some modifications – assigning students to single bedrooms, requiring negative coronavirus tests before move-in and issuing masks and other protective gear to staff – some campus housing staff are pushing to make sure they’re vaccinated alongside other essential workers.
Do new school guidelines make it too hard to reopen?
For months, President Joe Biden has been urging schools to reopen, and public health experts said available evidence suggested schools could safely open as long as precautions were in place.
But the much-anticipated Centers for Disease Control guidelines released Friday were more measured than some expected, with full in-person schooling recommended only when levels of community transmission are quite low, a standard that almost no place in the United States meets today.
Under the rubric laid out, the CDC recommends either fully remote or hybrid plans in which students spend some time in school and some at home, for areas with substantial community spread.
If all schools adhered to the CDC guidelines, many that are fully now open would close for in-person learning or need to return to a hybrid system.
Read more from The Washington Post.
7 virus variants found in U.S. carrying the same mutation
As Americans anxiously watch variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa spread in the United States, scientists are finding a number of new variants that originated here. More concerning, many of these variants seem to be evolving in the same direction — potentially becoming contagious threats of their own.
In a study posted Sunday, a team of researchers reported seven growing lineages of the novel coronavirus, spotted in states across the country. All of them have evolved a mutation in the same genetic letter.
“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport and a co-author of the new study.
Amid falling case numbers, CDC head warns against complacency in face of faster-spreading variant
A top Biden administration health official warned Americans not to get complacent about rapidly falling coronavirus cases as a potentially more lethal variant spreads in the U.S.
The U.S. has seen more than 1,000 cases of the strain first identified in the U.K., with infections across at least 39 states, said Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is around 40% to 50% more transmissible, meaning “we’re likely to have more cases and more deaths from this,” and early data “have suggested there might in fact be increased morbidity and mortality,” Walensky said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of three scheduled interviews on Sunday.
Even with more than 52 million vaccines administered in the U.S., the country continues to see close to 100,000 cases per day — although infections, hospitalizations and deaths have declined steadily from January peaks.
Read more on Walensky's comments here.
All of Washington is in Phase 2 with correction of South Central hospital's data error
All of Washington state is officially in Phase 2 of the reopening plan, which allows limited indoor dining, live entertainment and other activities, after a correction of misreported data brought the South Central Region into compliance.
The region, including Yakima, Kittitas, Benton, Franklin, Columbia and Walla Walla counties, was held back as others advanced last week. But a hospital — Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla — had been incorrectly reporting COVID admissions data, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said Sunday. The error was discovered Friday.
With updated and corrected admissions information, the hospital admissions metric for the broader region was below the threshold to advance to the second reopening phase, which it may do immediately, the DOH said. A dashboard showing this information is set to be updated on Tuesday.
To qualify for Phase 2, a region must meet criteria regarding at least three of these four metrics: trend in 14-day per capita new COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions; 7-day average ICU staffed bed occupancy rates; and 7-day average COVID-19 test positivity rates.
King County coronavirus vaccination, testing sites adjust schedules for weather
COVID-19 vaccinations at the Kent and Auburn sites run by Public Health — Seattle & King County are on hold due to expected icy conditions, the agency said.
The Kent mass-vaccination site is scheduled to reopen at noon on Monday. People with Monday morning appointments should expect a text or email with their new afternoon time.
No vaccination appointments are planned for the Auburn site on Monday. Both the Kent and Auburn sites are expected to return to a regular schedule on Tuesday.
King County's medium- and high-volume testing sites — Auburn, Tukwila, Federal Way, Highline College, Enumclaw, Renton and Bellevue — will remain closed Monday due to weather conditions. Testing at the Bellevue College site is scheduled to be open on Monday.
More information on the county's testing and vaccination sites is available here.
Washington’s vaccine planning fell short on logistics, sowing disorder and mistrust
In the months leading up to the first COVID-19 vaccine shipments, Washington state health officials agonized over which residents should be vaccinated before others. They surveyed 18,000 people and convened focus groups, debating race, age and essential occupations.
But unlike some other states, the state Department of Health (DOH) neglected to plan for basic logistics that would have allowed for quick vaccination of those most vulnerable to the disease.
They didn’t enlist the National Guard. They didn’t centralize vaccine appointments. Key scheduling and reporting software arrived late. Providers were given vials but no strategy to process patients.
Then, despite a constrained federal supply, the state opened up vaccines to everyone 65 and older. Chaos ensued. Some wealthy hospital donors and those able to navigate a labyrinth of websites have secured shots. Trust in the system frayed.
After two months and more than a million doses administered, the state has struggled to vaccinate some of the people at highest risk for disease, including home care workers, Hispanic residents and homeless people eligible for vaccine.
Read the whole Seattle Times investigation into the state's vaccine rollout here.
Life in Wuhan a year after COVID-19 emerged
One year ago, these streets of Wuhan, China, were a barren landscape of fear. Wuhan’s residents shrank indoors, forbidden from leaving, as a virus claimed thousands of lives. Hospitals were overwhelmed, patients struggling to breathe in waiting rooms and parking lots, while relatives cried for help on the internet and through government hotlines that were often impossible to reach.
Few in Wuhan — a factory city on the Yangtze River — want to remember that time. Similar scenes have replayed across the world as COVID-19 spreads, killing more than 2.3 million people so far. But here where the pandemic began, life has returned to familiar rhythms.
Read this Los Angeles Times dispatch from Wuhan, a year after COVID-19 emerged.
Japan formally approves its first COVID-19 vaccine
Japan on Sunday formally approved its first COVID-19 vaccine and said it would start nationwide inoculations within days, but months behind the U.S. and many other countries.
Japan’s health ministry said it had approved the vaccine co-developed and supplied by Pfizer Inc.
The announcement comes after a government panel on Friday confirmed that final results of clinical testing done in Japan showed that the vaccine had an efficacy similar to what overseas tests showed.
Read the whole story here.
U.S. Public Health Service, called on for pandemic response, still awaits vaccinations
Hundreds of government health workers called on to help respond to the pandemic and potentially administer vaccines are still waiting for the opportunity to be vaccinated themselves, according to three officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.
Two months after federal officials authorized the first coronavirus vaccine for use, there is still no plan to allot vaccine supply to fully inoculate the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, a 6,000-person force that has been deployed to care for coronavirus patients, set up vaccination sites and perform other health tasks on behalf of the federal government. Instead, members of the corps have been encouraged to visit military treatment facilities such as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – where some officers have been turned away, unable to convince staff they were eligible for the vaccine – or try to get shots in states where they’ve been deployed.
The corps is a uniformed service of the government, just like the military, and health department leaders have said all of its members should be eligible for shots under the Pentagon’s vaccination priority list.
Read the whole story here.
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