Why Vaccinated People Are Getting ‘Breakthrough’ Infections

A wedding in Oklahoma leads to 15 vaccinated guests becoming infected with the coronavirus. Raucous Fourth of July celebrations disperse the virus from Provincetown, Mass., to dozens of places across the country, sometimes carried by fully vaccinated celebrants.

As the Delta variant surges across the nation, reports of infections in vaccinated people have become increasingly frequent — including, most recently, among at least six Texas Democrats, a White House aide and an aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The highly contagious variant, combined with a lagging vaccination campaign and the near absence of preventive restrictions, is fueling a rapid rise in cases in all states, and hospitalizations in nearly all of them. It now accounts for about 83 percent of infections diagnosed in the United States.

But as worrying as the trend may seem, breakthrough infections — those occurring in vaccinated people — are still relatively uncommon, experts said, and those that cause serious illness, hospitalization or death even more so. More than 97 percent of people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

“The takeaway message remains, if you’re vaccinated, you are protected,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. “You are not going to end up with severe disease, hospitalization or death.”

Reports of breakthrough infections should not be taken to mean that the vaccines do not work, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top pandemic adviser, said on Thursday at a news briefing.

“By no means does that mean that you’re dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine,” he said. “The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness.”

Still, vaccinated people can come down with infections, overwhelmingly asymptomatic or mild. That may come as a surprise to many vaccinated Americans, who often assume that they are completely shielded from the virus. And breakthrough infections raise the possibility, as yet unresolved, that vaccinated people may spread the virus to others.

Given the upwelling of virus across much of the country, some scientists say it is time for vaccinated people to consider wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces like shopping malls or concert halls — a recommendation that goes beyond current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends masking only for unvaccinated people.

The agency does not plan to change its guidelines unless there is a significant change in the science, said a federal official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

The agency’s guidance already gives local leaders latitude to adjust their policies based on rates of transmission in their communities, he added. Citing the rise of the Delta variant, health officials in several California jurisdictions are already urging a return to indoor masking; Los Angeles County is requiring it.

“Seatbelts reduce risk, but we still need to drive carefully,” said Dr. Scott Dryden-Peterson, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We’re still trying to figure out what is ‘drive carefully’ in the Delta era, and what we should be doing.”

The uncertainty about Delta results in part from how it differs from previous versions of the coronavirus. Although its mode of transmission is the same — it is inhaled, usually in indoor spaces — Delta is thought to be about twice as contagious as the original virus.

Significantly, early evidence also suggests that people infected with the Delta variant may carry roughly a thousandfold more virus than those infected with the original virus. While that does not seem to mean that they get sicker, it does probably mean that they are more contagious and for longer.

Dose also matters: A vaccinated person exposed to a low dose of the coronavirus may never become infected, or not noticeably so. A vaccinated person exposed to extremely high viral loads of the Delta variant is more likely to find his or her immune defenses overwhelmed.

The problem grows worse as community transmission rates rise, because exposures in dose and number will increase. Vaccination rates in the country have stalled, with less than half of Americans fully immunized, giving the virus plenty of room to spread.

Unvaccinated people “are not, for the most part, taking precautions, and that’s what’s driving it for everybody,” said Dr. Eric J. Rubin, the editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. “We’re all susceptible to whatever anyone’s behavior is in this epidemic.”

Dr. Gounder likened the amount of protection offered by the vaccines to a golf umbrella that keeps people dry in a rainstorm. “But if you’re out in a hurricane, you’re still going to get wet,” she said. “That’s kind of the situation that the Delta variant has created, where there’s still a lot of community spread.”

For the average vaccinated person, a breakthrough infection is likely to be inconsequential, causing few to no symptoms. But there is concern among scientists that a few vaccinated people who become infected may go on to develop long Covid, a poorly understood constellation of symptoms that persists after the active infection is resolved.

Much has been made of Delta’s ability to sidestep immune defenses. In fact, all of the existing vaccines seem able to prevent serious illness and death from the variant. In laboratory studies, Delta actually has proved to be a milder threat than Beta, the variant first identified in South Africa.

Whether a vaccinated person ever becomes infected may depend on how high antibodies spiked after vaccination, how potent those antibodies are against the variant, and whether the level of antibodies in the person’s blood has waned since immunization.

In any case, immune defenses primed by the vaccines should recognize the virus soon after infection and destroy it before significant damage occurs.

“That is what explains why people do get infected and why people don’t get seriously ill,” said Michel C. Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York. “It’s nearly unavoidable, unless you’re going to give people very frequent boosters.”

There is limited evidence beyond anecdotal reports to indicate whether breakthrough infections with the Delta variant are more common or more likely to fan out to other people. The C.D.C. has recorded about 5,500 hospitalizations and deaths in vaccinated people, but it is not tracking milder breakthrough infections.

Additional data is emerging from the Covid-19 Sports and Society Workgroup, a coalition of professional sports leagues that is working closely with the C.D.C. Sports teams in the group are testing more than 10,000 people at least daily and sequencing all infections, according to Dr. Robby Sikka, a physician who worked with the N.B.A.’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

Breakthrough infections in the leagues seem to be more common with the Delta variant than with Alpha, the variant first identified in Britain, he said. As would be predicted, the vaccines cut down the severity and duration of illness significantly, with players returning less than two weeks after becoming infected, compared with nearly three weeks earlier in the pandemic.

But while they are infected, the players carry very high amounts of virus for seven to 10 days, compared with two or three days in those infected with Alpha, Dr. Sikka said. Infected players are required to quarantine, so the project has not been able to track whether they spread the virus to others — but it’s likely that they would, he added.

“If they’re put just willy-nilly back into society, I think you’re going to have spread from vaccinated individuals,” he added. “They don’t even recognize they have Covid because they think they’re vaccinated.”

Elyse Freitas was shocked to discover that 15 vaccinated people became infected at her wedding. Dr. Freitas, 34, a biologist at the University of Oklahoma, said she had been very cautious throughout the pandemic, and had already postponed her wedding once. But after much deliberation, she celebrated the wedding indoors on July 10.

Based on the symptoms, Dr. Freitas believes that the initial infection was at a bachelorette party two days before the wedding, when a dozen vaccinated people went unmasked to bars in downtown Oklahoma City; seven of them later tested positive. Eventually, 17 guests at the wedding became infected, nearly all with mild symptoms.

“In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the vaccination rates in Oklahoma and the emergence of the Delta variant and adjusted my plans accordingly,” she said.

An outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., illustrates how quickly a cluster can grow, given the right conditions. During its famed Fourth of July celebrations, the small town hosted more than 60,000 unmasked revelers, dancing and mingling in crowded bars and house parties.

The crowds this year were much larger than usual, said Adam Hunt, 55, an advertising executive who has lived in Provincetown part time for about 20 years. But the bars and clubs didn’t open until they were allowed to, Mr. Hunt noted: “We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought we were OK.”

Mr. Hunt did not become infected with the virus, but several of his vaccinated friends who had flown in from places as far as Hawaii and Alabama tested positive after their return. In all, the cluster has grown to at least 256 cases — including 66 visitors from other states — about two-thirds in vaccinated people.

“I did not expect that people who were vaccinated would be becoming positive at the rate that they were,” said Steve Katsurinis, chair of the Provincetown Board of Health. Provincetown has moved swiftly to contain the outbreak, reinstating a mask advisory and stepping up testing. It is conducting 250 tests a day, compared with about eight a day before July 1, Mr. Katsurinis said.

Health officials should also help the public understand that vaccines are doing what they are supposed to — preventing people from getting seriously ill, said Kristen Panthagani, a geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine who runs a blog explaining complex scientific concepts.

“Vaccine efficacy isn’t 100 percent — it never is,” she said. “We shouldn’t expect Covid vaccines to be perfect, either. That’s too high an expectation.”

By:

Source: Why Vaccinated People Are Getting ‘Breakthrough’ Infections – The New York Times

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The Lambda Coronavirus Variant Has Arrived In Australia Here’s What We Know So Far

We’ve seen the Alpha, Kappa and Delta variants cross our borders, but it turns out another strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 has reached our shores.

The variant, named Lambda by the World Health Organization (WHO) last month, was detected in an overseas traveller who was in hotel quarantine in New South Wales in April, according to national genomics database AusTrakka.

Some reports suggest the new variant could be fast spreading and difficult to tackle with vaccines. So what sets this variant apart from others and should we be concerned?

Here’s what we know so far.

Where did it originate?

Previously known as C.37, Lambda was first detected in Peru in December 2020. Since then, it’s spread to 29 countries, seven of which are in South America.

In April and May this year, Lambda accounted for over 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Peru, with a high proportion of cases also in Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador.

On 14 June, Lambda was listed as a ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization due to its vast spread in South America.

Variants of interest are listed as such because they have the potential to be more infectious and severe, but haven’t yet had the devastating impact of those listed as variants of concern.

On 23 June, Public Health England classified it as a ‘variant under investigation’, after six cases were detected in the UK to date, which were all linked to overseas travel.

What makes it different from other variants?

There are now 11 official SARS-CoV-2 variants listed by the WHO.

All SARS-CoV-2 variants are distinguished from one another by mutations in their spike proteins — the components of the virus that allow it to invade human cells.

For instance, the Delta variant first detected in India has two key spike protein mutations — T478K and L452R  — that allow it to infect cells more easily and evade the body’s immune response.

According to research published last week but yet to be peer reviewed,  Lambda has seven unique spike protein mutations.

A Chilean team of scientists analysed blood samples from health workers in Santiago who had received two doses of the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech in China.

They found  the Lambda variant has a mutation called L452Q, which is similar to the L452R mutation seen in the Delta and Epsilon variants.

As the L452R mutation is thought to make Delta and Epsilon more infectious and resilient against vaccination, the team concluded that Lambda’s L452Q mutation might also help it spread far and wide.

While it’s possible that Lambda is indeed more infectious than other variants, it’s too early to know for sure, said Kirsty Short, a virologist at the University of Queensland.

“It’s very preliminary,” said Dr Short, who was not involved in the study.

“It’s a good starting point, but I certainly wouldn’t infer anything from that into the clinic.”

Are vaccines still effective against the Lambda variant?

The study also found signs that Lambda’s unique spike mutations could help it slip past the body’s immune response.

The results of the study suggested that the CoronaVac vaccine produces fewer neutralising antibodies — proteins that defend cells against infections — in response to the Lambda variant.

But according to Paul Griffin, who specialises in infectious diseases and vaccines at the University of Queensland, it’s important to remember that these antibodies are just one aspect of immunity.

“We know that [neutralizing antibodies] only tell a part of the story,” said Dr Griffin, who was not involved in the study.

“If that further immunity remains intact, then even with a reduction in neutralizing antibodies, sometimes that protection can still be enough.”

It’s also worth remembering that different vaccines work in different ways to respond to the virus and its variants.

“You can’t really extrapolate from one vaccine,” Dr Short said.

CoronaVac uses inactive versions of SARS-CoV-2 to kick the immune system into gear.

On the other hand, Pfizer contains a single strand of the genetic code that builds the virus’s spike proteins, while AstraZeneca contains a double-strand.

Dr Griffin said that more traditional inactivated vaccines like CoronaVac have proven to be less effective overall than others.

“As a broad category, the inactivated ones have been a little bit underwhelming, particularly compared to others that have such high rates of efficacy,” said Dr Griffin, who was not involved in the study.

While not much is known about how effective the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are against Lambda, their response to the Delta variant can offer clues.

A recent study from the UK found that two doses of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca are over 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation due to the Delta variant.

Should Australia be worried?

While there has only been one case of Lambda recorded in hotel quarantine in Australia so far, it’s worth keeping an eye on the emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants around the world, Dr Short said.

“There’s a reason why it’s a variant that we’re watching and looking into more, but it’s certainly not at a point of panic or anything like that.”

Dr Griffin added that Lambda would need to out-compete Delta to become a major concern. “That’s certainly not what we’re seeing,” he said.  But as more people get infected, the more chance the virus has to evolve into new variants, Dr Short said.

The best way to tackle this is to focus on getting more people vaccinated, not just in Australia, but globally. “What this should emphasise to everyone is that we need global effort in the vaccination campaign,” Dr Short said.

 By: ABC Health & Wellbeing Gemma Conroy

Source: The Lambda coronavirus variant has arrived in Australia. Here’s what we know so far – ABC News

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COVID-19 Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think

You’ve probably heard that the coronavirus pandemic triggered a worldwide mental-health crisis. This narrative took hold almost as quickly as the virus itself. In the spring of 2020, article after article—even an op-ed by one of us—warned of a looming psychological epidemic.

As clinical scientists and research psychologists have pointed out, the coronavirus pandemic has created many conditions that might lead to psychological distress: sudden, widespread disruptions to people’s livelihoods and social connections; millions bereaved; and the most vulnerable subjected to long-lasting hardship. A global collapse in well-being has seemed inevitable.

We joined a mental-health task force, commissioned by The Lancet, in order to quantify the pandemic’s psychological effects. When we reviewed the best available data, we saw that some groups—including people facing financial stress—have experienced substantial, life-changing suffering. However, looking at the global population on the whole, we were surprised not to find the prolonged misery we had expected.

We combed through close to 1,000 studies that examined hundreds of thousands of people from nearly 100 countries. This research measured many variables related to mental health—including anxiety, depression, and deaths by suicide—as well as life satisfaction. We focused on two complementary types of evidence:

Surveys that examined comparable groups of people before and during the pandemic and studies tracking the same individuals over time. Neither type of study is perfect, but when the same conclusions emerged from both sets of evidence, we gained confidence that we were seeing something real.

Early in the pandemic, our team observed in these studies what the media was reporting: Average levels of anxiety and depression—as well as broader psychological distress—climbed dramatically, as did the number of people experiencing clinically significant forms of these conditions.

For example, in both the U.S. and Norway, reports of depression rose three-fold during March and April of 2020 compared with averages collected in previous years. And in a study of more than 50,000 people across the United Kingdom, 27 percent showed clinically significant levels of distress early in the pandemic, compared with 19 percent before the pandemic.

But as spring turned to summer, something remarkable happened: Average levels of depression, anxiety, and distress began to fall. Some data sets even suggested that overall psychological distress returned to near-pre-pandemic levels by early summer 2020. We share what we learned in a paper that is forthcoming in Perspective on Psychological Science.

We kept digging into the data to account for any anomalies. For example, some of the data sets came disproportionately from wealthy countries, so we expanded our geographic lens. We also considered that even if the pandemic didn’t produce intense, long-term distress, it might have undercut people’s overall life satisfaction. So, members from our team examined the largest data set available on that topic, from the Gallup World Poll.

This survey asks people to evaluate their life on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best possible life and zero being the worst. Representative samples of people from most of the world’s countries answer this question every year, allowing us to compare results from 2020 with preceding years. Looking at the world as a whole, we saw no trace of a decline in life satisfaction: People in 2020 rated their lives at 5.75 on average, identical to the average in previous years.

We also wondered if the surveys weren’t reaching the people who were struggling the most. If you’re barely holding things together, you might not answer calls from a researcher. However, real-time data from official government sources in 21 countries showed no detectable increase in instances of suicide from April to July 2020, relative to previous years; in fact, suicide rates actually declined slightly within some countries, including the U.S. For example, California expected to see 1,429 deaths by suicide during this period, based on data from prior years; instead, 1,280 occurred.

We were surprised by how well many people weathered the pandemic’s psychological challenges. In order to make sense of these patterns, we looked back to a classic psychology finding: People are more resilient than they themselves realize. We imagine that negative life events—losing a job or a romantic partner—will be devastating for months or years. When people actually experience these losses, however, their misery tends to fade far faster than they imagined it would.

The capacity to withstand difficult events also applies to traumas such as living through war or sustaining serious injury. These incidents can produce considerable anguish, and we don’t want to minimize the pain that so many suffer. But study after study demonstrates that a majority of survivors either bounce back quickly or never show a substantial decline in mental health.

Human beings possess what some researchers call a psychological immune system, a host of cognitive abilities that enable us to make the best of even the worst situation. For example, after breaking up with a romantic partner, people may focus on the ex’s annoying habits or relish their newfound free time.

The pandemic has been a test of the global psychological immune system, which appears more robust than we would have guessed. When familiar sources of enjoyment evaporated in the spring of 2020, people got creative. They participated in drive-by birthday parties, mutual-assistance groups, virtual cocktail evenings with old friends, and nightly cheers for health-care workers.

Some people got really good at baking. Many found a way to reweave their social tapestry. Indeed, across multiple large data sets, levels of loneliness showed only a modest increase, with 13.8 percent of adults in the U.S. reporting always or often feeling lonely in April 2020, compared with 11 percent in spring 2018.

But these broad trends and averages shouldn’t erase the real struggles—immense pain, overwhelming loss, financial hardships—that so many people have faced over the past 17 months. For example, that 2.8 percent increase in the number of Americans reporting loneliness last spring represents 7 million people. Like so many aspects of the pandemic, the coronavirus’s mental-health toll was not distributed evenly.

Early on, some segments of the population—including women and parents of young children—exhibited an especially pronounced increase in overall psychological distress. As the pandemic progressed, lasting mental-health challenges disproportionately affected people who were facing financial issues, individuals who got sick with COVID-19, and those who had been struggling with physical and mental-health disorders prior to the pandemic.

The resilience of the population as a whole does not relieve leaders of their responsibility to provide tangible support and access to mental-health services to those people who have endured the most intense distress and who are at the greatest ongoing risk.

But the astonishing resilience that most people have exhibited in the face of the sudden changes brought on by the pandemic holds its own lessons. We learned that people can handle temporary changes to their lifestyle—such as working from home, giving up travel, or even going into isolation—better than some policy makers seemed to assume.

As we look ahead to the world’s next great challenges—including a future pandemic—we need to remember this hard-won lesson: Human beings are not passive victims of change but active stewards of our own well-being. This knowledge should empower us to make the disruptive changes our societies may require, even as we support the individuals and communities that have been hit hardest.

By: Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki, and Elizabeth Dunn

Lara Aknin is a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University and the chair of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force for The Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission. Jamil Zaki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory. He is the author of The War For Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Elizabeth Dunn is a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending.

Source: COVID-19 Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think – The Atlantic

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Critics:

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of people around the world. Similar to the past respiratory viral epidemics, such as the SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and the influenza epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in different population groups, including the healthcare workers, general public, and the patients and quarantined individuals.

The Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee of the United Nations recommends that the core principles of mental health support during an emergency are “do no harm, promote human rights and equality, use participatory approaches, build on existing resources and capacities, adopt multi-layered interventions and work with integrated support systems.”COVID-19 is affecting people’s social connectedness, their trust in people and institutions, their jobs and incomes, as well as imposing a huge toll in terms of anxiety and worry.

COVID-19 also adds to the complexity of substance use disorders (SUDs) as it disproportionately affects people with SUD due to accumulated social, economic, and health inequities. The health consequences of SUDs (for example, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, type 2 diabetes, immunosuppression and central nervous system depression, and psychiatric disorders) and the associated environmental challenges (e.g., housing instability, unemployment, and criminal justice involvement) increase risk for COVID-19.

References

The Symptoms of The Delta Variant Appear To Differ From Traditional COVID Symptoms. Here’s What To Look Out For

We’ve been living in a COVID world for more than 18 months now. At the outset of the pandemic, government agencies and health authorities scrambled to inform people on how to identify symptoms of the virus.

But as the virus has evolved, it seems the most common symptoms have changed too.

Emerging data suggest people infected with the Delta variant — the variant behind most of Australia’s current cases and highly prevalent around the world — are experiencing symptoms different to those we commonly associated with COVID earlier in the pandemic.


Read more: What’s the Delta COVID variant found in Melbourne? Is it more infectious and does it spread more in kids? A virologist explains

Clear explanations about the pandemic from a network of research experts

We’re all different

Humans are dynamic. With our differences come different immune systems. This means the same virus can produce different signs and symptoms in different ways.

A sign is something that’s seen, such as a rash. A symptom is something that’s felt, like a sore throat.

The way a virus causes illness is dependent on two key factors:

  • viral factors include things like speed of replication, modes of transmission, and so on. Viral factors change as the virus evolves.
  • host factors are specific to the individual. Age, gender, medications, diet, exercise, health and stress can all affect host factors.

So when we talk about the signs and symptoms of a virus, we’re referring to what is most common. To ascertain this, we have to collect information from individual cases.

It’s important to note this data is not always easy to collect or analyse to ensure there’s no bias. For example, older people may have different symptoms to younger people, and collecting data from patients in a hospital may be different to patients at a GP clinic.

So what are the common signs and symptoms of the Delta variant?

Using a self-reporting system through a mobile app, data from the United Kingdom suggest the most common COVID symptoms may have changed from those we traditionally associated with the virus.

The reports don’t take into account which COVID variant participants are infected with. But given Delta is predominating in the UK at present, it’s a safe bet the symptoms we see here reflect the Delta variant.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

While fever and cough have always been common COVID symptoms, and headache and sore throat have traditionally presented for some people, a runny nose was rarely reported in earlier data. Meanwhile, loss of smell, which was originally quite common, now ranks ninth.

There are a few reasons we could be seeing the symptoms evolving in this way. It may be because data were originally coming mainly from patients presenting to hospital who were therefore likely to be sicker. And given the higher rates of vaccination coverage in older age groups, younger people are now accounting for a greater proportion of COVID cases, and they tend to experience milder symptoms.

It could also be because of the evolution of the virus, and the different characteristics (viral factors) of the Delta variant. But why exactly symptoms could be changing remains uncertain.


Read more: Coronavirus: how long does it take to get sick? How infectious is it? Will you always have a fever? COVID-19 basics explained


While we still have more to learn about the Delta variant, this emerging data is important because it shows us that what we might think of as just a mild winter cold — a runny nose and a sore throat — could be a case of COVID-19.

This data highlight the power of public science. At the same time, we need to remember the results haven’t yet been fully analysed or stratified. That is, “host factors” such as age, gender, other illnesses, medications and so on haven’t been accounted for, as they would in a rigorous clinical trial.

And as is the case with all self-reported data, we have to acknowledge there may be some flaws in the results.

Does vaccination affect the symptoms?

Although new viral variants can compromise the effectiveness of vaccines, for Delta, the vaccines available in Australia (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) still appear to offer good protection against symptomatic COVID-19 after two doses.



Importantly, both vaccines have been shown to offer greater than 90% protection from severe disease requiring hospital treatment.

A recent “superspreader” event in New South Wales highlighted the importance of vaccination. Of 30 people who attended this birthday party, reports indicated none of the 24 people who became infected with the Delta variant had been vaccinated. The six vaccinated people at the party did not contract COVID-19.

In some cases infection may still possible after vaccination, but it’s highly likely the viral load will be lower and symptoms much milder than they would without vaccination.

We all have a role to play

Evidence indicating Delta is more infectious compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 and other variants of the virus is building.

It’s important to understand the environment is also changing. People have become more complacent with social distancing, seasons change, vaccination rates vary — all these factors affect the data.

But scientists are becoming more confident the Delta variant represents a more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 strain.


Read more: What’s the difference between mutations, variants and strains? A guide to COVID terminology


As we face another COVID battle in Australia we’re reminded the war against COVID is not over and we all have a role to play. Get tested if you have any symptoms, even if it’s “just a sniffle”. Get vaccinated as soon as you can and follow public health advice.

By: Research Leader in Virology and Infectious Disease, Griffith University

Source: The symptoms of the Delta variant appear to differ from traditional COVID symptoms. Here’s what to look out for

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Critics:

Deltacoronavirus (Delta-CoV) is one of the four genera (Alpha-, Beta-, Gamma-, and Delta-) of coronaviruses. It is in the subfamily Orthocoronavirinae of the family Coronaviridae. They are enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA viruses. Deltacoronaviruses infect mostly birds and some mammals.

genesis

While the alpha and beta genera are derived from the bat viral gene pool, the gamma and delta genera are derived from the avian and pig viral gene pools.

Recombination appears to be common among deltacoronaviruses.Recombination occurs frequently in the viral genome region that encodes the host receptor binding protein. Recombination between different viral lineages contributes to the emergence of new viruses capable of interspecies transmission and adaptation to new animal hosts.

References

  1. Lau SKP, Wong EYM, Tsang CC, Ahmed SS, Au-Yeung RKH, Yuen KY, Wernery U, Woo PCY. Discovery and Sequence Analysis of Four Deltacoronaviruses from Birds in the Middle East Reveal Interspecies Jumping with Recombination as a Potential Mechanism for Avian-to-Avian and Avian-to-Mammalian Transmission. J Virol. 2018 Jul 17;92(15):e00265-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00265-18. Print 2018 Aug 1. PMID: 29769348

External links

Why Your Return to the Office Requires Two Workplace Safety Policies

Operating amid the pandemic has entered a new phase of difficulty–particularly for employers of both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. Shortly after the CDC updated its guidelines on May 13, noting that vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear facemasks indoors, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency that oversees workplace health and safety, updated its Covid-19 guidance.

On June 26, OSHA updated guidance in compliance with the CDC to help employers protect workers who are still not vaccinated, with a special emphasis on industries with prolonged close-contacts such as meat processing, manufacturing, seafood, and grocery and high-volume retail. The guidance includes protocols for social distancing, mask wearing, and other health procedures meant to keep both parties safe.

Considering that just 52 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, chances are some of your employees have yet to get a jab. That means if you’re planning a return to the office, you’ll also need to create two separate workplace health policies.

These policies will be different from business to business, depending on the level of community spread in a given location and the level of contact employees have with the public. But acting is a must, says David Barron, labor and employment attorney at Cozen O’Connor. Failing to address a stratified workplace–or even just relying on the honor system–could lead to legal trouble, a loss of morale, turnover, and employees falling sick.

Founders like Dominique Kemps aren’t taking any chances. Her business, GlassExpertsFL, a commercial glass repair company, is located in Miami. Florida overall has been particularly hard hit by the Delta variant, a more contagious strain of the coronavirus. Daily, about 10 in 100,000 people are contracting the coronavirus by way of the Delta variant. As of July 2, only 46 percent of the population of Florida was fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Kemps has devised two separate physical workspaces: one for vaccinated employees and another for those who remain unvaccinated. Also for unvaccinated employees, meetings are held virtually, while vaccinated employees can wear a mask and attend if desired. Vaccinated employees can also eat lunch together, while Kemps has asked unvaccinated employees to eat in a designated area. “Frankly,” she says, “it hasn’t been easy.”

Here’s how to ease the transition:

1. Request vaccination information.

Before you make any decisions regarding which policies to enact, first ask and keep track of who is vaccinated and who isn’t, says Dr. Shantanu Nundy, chief medical officer at Accolade, a benefit provider for health care workers. An employer can request a copy of an employee’s vaccination card or other proof, which should help you determine how much of your workforce falls under one policy or another.

If you opt to review vaccination information, note that anything you collect must be considered confidential information that has to be kept private in files that are separate from personnel files. A failure to do so may result in anti-discrimination violations under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, two laws that protect workers from health status discrimination.

2. Overcommunicate any policy changes.

It’s also crucial to communicate any change in policy openly. Robert Johnson, founder of Sawinery, a Windsor, Connecticut-based creator of woodworking projects, divided workers into two shifts, the first for vaccinated individuals, and another for unvaccinated workers. He’s made it clear to his staff that he’s waiting until everyone is vaccinated before returning to the original schedule.

“The structure won’t compromise anyone’s safety and everyone can work without any worries in mind,” says Johnson.

3. Stay flexible.

If anything has been true about the pandemic, it’s that things can change rapidly. As such, Nundy recommends clarifying that policies are flexible and may be subject to change. Some unvaccinated folks may want to leave if they feel they’re being treated differently, such as not being allowed into the office. Some smart wording can easily allay these concerns, he says. Instead of telling unvaccinated employees that they’re not welcome in the office again, make it clear that the policies are temporary–if that’s the case, of course–and that you’re open to feedback, adds Nundy.

The occupational safety and health policy defines the goals for the occupational health and safety work in the workplace and for activities that promote the working capacity of the staff. The policy also describes occupational health and safety responsibilities and the way of organizing the cooperation measures. The preparation of the occupational safety and health policy is based on the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The policy is employer-specific and applies to all employers.

By: Brit Morse, Assistant editor, Inc.@britnmorse

Source: Why Your Return to the Office Requires Two Workplace Safety Policies | Inc.com

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Critics:

Workplace wellness is any workplace health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behavior in the workplace and to improve health outcomes. Known as ‘corporate wellbeing’ outside the US, workplace wellness often comprises activities such as health education, medical screenings, weight management programs, on-site fitness programs or facilities.

Workplace wellness programs can be categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention efforts, or an employer can implement programs that have elements of multiple types of prevention. Primary prevention programs usually target a fairly healthy employee population, and encourage them to more frequently engage in health behaviors that will encourage ongoing good health (such as stress management, exercise and healthy eating).

Secondary prevention programs are targeted at reducing behavior that is considered a risk factor for poor health (such as smoking cessation programs and screenings for high blood pressure). Tertiary health programs address existing health problems (for example, by encouraging employees to better adhere to specific medication or self-managed care guidelines).

References:

Long Working Hours Killing 745,000 People a Year, Study Finds

 

The first global study of its kind showed 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to long hours.The report found that people living in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region were the most affected.

The WHO also said the trend may worsen due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The research found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.

The study, conducted with the International Labour Organization (ILO), also showed almost three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men.

Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the long hours were worked.Five weeks ago, a post on LinkedIn from 45-year-old Jonathan Frostick gained widespread publicity as he described how he’d had a wake-up call over long working hours.

The regulatory program manager working for HSBC had just sat down on a Sunday afternoon to prepare for the working week ahead when he felt a tightness in his chest, a throbbing in his throat, jawline and arm, and difficulty breathing.

“I got to the bedroom so I could lie down, and got the attention of my wife who phoned 999,” he said.While recovering from his heart-attack, Mr Frostick decided to restructure his approach to work. “I’m not spending all day on Zoom anymore,” he said.

His post struck a chord with hundreds of readers, who shared their experiences of overwork and the impact on their health.Mr Frostick doesn’t blame his employer for the long hours he was putting in, but one respondent said: “Companies continue to push people to their limits without concern for your personal well-being.”

HSBC said everyone at the bank wished Mr Frostick a full and speedy recovery.”We also recognise the importance of personal health and wellbeing and a good work-life balance. Over the last year we have redoubled our efforts on health and wellbeing.

“The response to this topic shows how much this is on people’s minds and we are encouraging everyone to make their health and wellbeing a top priority.”

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While the WHO study did not cover the period of the pandemic, WHO officials said the recent jump in remote working and the economic slowdown may have increased the risks associated with long working hours.

“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.

The report said working long hours was estimated to be responsible for about a third of all work-related disease, making it the largest occupational disease burden.

The researchers said that there were two ways longer working hours led to poor health outcomes: firstly through direct physiological responses to stress, and secondly because longer hours meant workers were more likely to adopt health-harming behaviours such as tobacco and alcohol use, less sleep and exercise, and an unhealthy diet.

Andrew Falls, 32, a service engineer based in Leeds, says the long hours at his previous employer took a toll on his mental and physical health.”Fifty to 55 hour weeks were the norm. I was also away from home for weeks on end.”

“Stress, depression, anxiety, it was a cauldron of bad feedback loops,” he says. “I was in a constant state of being run down.”After five years he left the job to retrain as a software engineer. The number of people working long hours was increasing before the pandemic struck, according to the WHO, and was around 9% of the total global population.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people working from home during the pandemic were putting in an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week. People who did not work from home put in an average of 3.6 hours a week overtime, the ONS said.

The WHO suggests that employers should now take this into account when assessing the occupational health risks of their workers. Capping hours would be beneficial for employers as that had been shown to increase productivity, Mr Pega said. “It’s really a smart choice to not increase long working hours in an economic crisis.”

Source: Long working hours killing 745,000 people a year, study finds – BBC News

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References

“Spain introduces new working hours law requiring employees to clock in and out”. Idealista. Retrieved 30 April 2020.

Vaccine To Have Marginal Impact On Winter Pressures As Rollout Work Continues

The UK’s chief medical officers have warned the coronavirus vaccine will only have a “marginal impact” on hospital numbers over the winter as each of the four nations prepares to start administering the first doses next week.

Festive gatherings are likely to put additional pressure on healthcare services, with a tough few months still ahead, experts said.

It comes as preparations are continuing to roll out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from as early as Tuesday in what has been described as “one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced”.

GP surgeries in England have also been told to be ready to start staffing Covid-19 vaccination centres by December 14.

In a letter to colleagues, the four chief medical officers said this winter would be “especially hard” for the health service due to coronavirus.

“Although the very welcome news about vaccines means that we can look forward to 2021 with greater optimism, vaccine deployment will have only a marginal impact in reducing numbers coming into the health service with Covid over the next three months,” they said.

“The actions and self-discipline of the whole population during lockdowns and other restrictions have helped reduce the peak and in most parts of the four nations hospital numbers are likely to fall over the next few weeks, but not everywhere.

“The social mixing which occurs around Christmas may well put additional pressure on hospitals and general practice in the New Year and we need to be ready for that.”

The letter, signed by chief medical officer of England, Professor Chris Whitty; of Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith; of Wales, Dr Frank Atherton; and of Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride, said they did not expect the virus to “disappear” even once full vaccination had occurred.

The first jabs will be administered in each of the UK nations on Tuesday. In Northern Ireland it will be administered at a mass vaccination centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, while in Wales frontline NHS and social care staff will receive the country’s first coronavirus vaccine.

The first vaccinations will also take place in Scotland next week, while jabs will be administered at hospital hubs in England.

Meanwhile, in a letter sent out across England’s primary care networks, NHS England and NHS Improvement said GP-led vaccination centres would start administering doses from December 14.

The letter said centres would be set up with the necessary IT equipment and a fridge, while staff would be given training to ensure they are ready to administer 975 doses of the vaccine to priority patients within three-and-a-half days of delivery.

The first to receive the vaccine in these centres will be those aged 80 and over, as long as other risk factors, “clinical or otherwise”, have been taken into account.

There remain issues around how to ensure elderly residents in care homes, who have been recommended as the top priority, get access to a jab due to difficulties in storing and transporting the Pfizer/BioNTech version as its cold temperature – minus 70C – limits how often it can be moved.

HEALTH Coronavirus Oxford
(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

NHS England has not yet committed to a date to roll the vaccine out in English care homes, but Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, told the BBC on Friday that she estimated the vaccine would begin to be delivered to care homes “within the next two weeks”.

In total, some 40 million doses of Pfizer’s inoculation are on order – enough to administer it to 20 million people, with two jabs required 21 days apart.


By: https://www.itv.com

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Healthy Lifestyle

Vaccines will only have ‘marginal impact’ on NHS winter pressures, chief medical officers warn COVID-19 will keep hospitals under continued strain in the coming months as new vaccines will only have a “marginal impact” on patient numbers over winter, the UK’s chief medical officers have warned. In a letter written to healthcare colleagues, the group – which includes England’s Professor Chris … Home remedies refer to “practical cure or treatment that cures, heals or relieves” using certain common substances such as spices, vegetables, fruit, herbs and modern materials. Click Here: https://remediesnew.com

Why Even A Small Thanksgiving Is Dangerous

We all thought we knew what kinds of places to avoid: the ballparks, the Sunday services, the packed train cars. If we didn’t want to catch COVID-19, we should stay away from crowds. That was the mantra. So we skipped the summer street parties and we did virtual church. We had a nice little evening at home, ordering takeout and maybe inviting our closest friends and family over.

But now, with COVID-19 rates on the rise basically everywhere in the U.S., those small gatherings are being blamed for spreading the virus, and experts say they don’t want us to have Thanksgiving celebrations with people outside our household bubbles. But experts are always telling us not to do the fun stuff that nourishes our souls — like eating huge meals or festively increasing our drinking — while the darkness of winter encroaches from every side. Having 10 people around a Thanksgiving table can’t be that much of a risk to society, right? Surely you can’t have a superspreader event without, at least, enough people to field a football team?

Unfortunately, the last month has changed the sacrifices we must make to try to avoid the coronavirus. Across the nation, especially in the Midwest, cases have skyrocketed — with some states seeing more cases in the last six or so weeks than they’d previously had all year up to that point. Small gatherings have gotten more risky. And Thanksgiving now represents a very serious threat.

[Related: What We Know About ‘Long COVID’]

That’s because no matter how much we try to pretend otherwise, COVID-19 is a disease you get from being around other people. Technically, the size of the group doesn’t matter, said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. What matters is the likelihood that one of those people comes to the table infected.

Imagine a Thanksgiving dinner with 10 people. Unless all those people have been in strict quarantine for a couple of weeks, you have no way of knowing they’re COVID-19-free. Even getting a pre-dinner test isn’t a great way to ensure you’re not contagious, experts told me, because the results are only a snapshot of a moment in time. “You could test negative today and be infectious tonight, with no symptoms until tomorrow morning,” said Donald Milton, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Maryland.

How likely is it one of those 10 people is infected? That depends on where you are. Some states are estimated to have as much as an 80 percent chance of having someone with COVID-19 attend a 10-person gathering. But even if there’s a far lower chance at your individual dinner, the risk to the community of a bunch of dinners quickly becomes clear.

That is the thing that really changed in recent months. It was a slow process, said Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the University of Michigan. Over the summer, many stores, restaurants and attractions opened back up, which meant people could get together easily outside. As the weather cooled, it seems those gatherings didn’t stop, they just moved indoors. “Things started increasing, and my colleague calls it the rising water,” Malani said.

The more people who are infected in a community, the higher the likelihood that the everyday workings of a social scene will put one of them at someone’s dinner table, or on the porch at a crowded party. The more frequently that happens, the higher the waterline creeps. You can see it in action at Georgia Tech’s COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool, a website that calculates the likelihood that a gathering of a given size includes at least one person infected with COVID-19.

Hawaii, for example, has largely avoided the worst of this current surge. Even if you assume there are 10 times as many cases circulating in the state as have been formally diagnosed — something the folks behind the Georgia Tech tool recommend because of inconsistent testing and the ability of people to spread the disease without showing symptoms themselves — the risk in Hawaii is still only about 6 percent at a 10-person gathering. North Dakota, on the other hand, is one of the states that’s been hardest-hit by this current wave of outbreaks, with 1 in every 1,000 residents now dead from the virus.

There, the risk of encountering a COVID-19-infected person at your small, intimate gathering was about 82 percent, factoring in the same 10x multiplier. “In February or March, when we had very few cases, there was less of a risk,” said Aditya Shah, a consultant in infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “Now it’s so widespread … that’s different.”The upcoming holiday season is also different, both in the literal sense and in the way Midwesterners like me use it: as a metaphor for “bad.”

Thanksgiving does not exist in isolation. It’s not a thing one family is doing alone. And it will be followed, over the next month and a half, by a series of gathering-friendly events, including Black Friday, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s. Those two factors together explode a personal risk into a community crisis.

“I think about social gatherings and their impact on a community with an analogy to fire,” said Pinar Keskinocak, director of the Center for Health and Humanitarian Systems at Georgia Tech. “If you build a fire in a BBQ or a small brick fire pit, it is contained. That is how we often think about small gatherings. But if you build a fire on the ground in a pine forest which has not seen rain in months, and many other small groups do the same, you can imagine what happens very quickly.”

[Related:What A Summer Of COVID-19 Taught Scientists About Indoor vs. Outdoor Transmission]

Risks are multiplied by dozens of dinner parties across town, and then grow over time as those dinner party attendees interact with other people in stores, waiting rooms and other small gatherings in the following weeks. This is how you get exponential growth, and it’s why experts are warning you against gathering a few loved ones at home now, even though throughout the summer all you heard about was the dangers of parties and rallies and protests and festivals, attended by dozens or hundreds or thousands of people instead of just the handful who might come to your dinner table. When there were fewer cases, it took a big gathering to make it likely that someone there was infected. But the water rose and now it’s threatening to drown us.

Again, the basic principles here aren’t new, Benjamin said. The same thing basically happens with the flu every year, he told me. Kids get exposed at school and spend the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s passing it around from one family gathering to another. As the holidays end, flu season starts to peak.

But COVID-19 is not the flu. It’s far more deadly. It’s far more debilitating in the long term. It’s far easier to spread even if you don’t have symptoms, or don’t have symptoms yet. The virus is common enough now in a lot of places that you can’t really be confident that even a small event doesn’t include someone contagious. And holding many small events on the same day creates an opportunity for COVID-19 to spread exponentially, and disperse from Thanksgiving tables back into the community of each person who sat at them. Which just makes the risk of the next holiday higher.

It might seem unfair to ask people not to see relatives and friends they’ve missed, not to let a college student travel home for Thanksgiving dinner, not to enjoy this small pleasure. It might seem inconsistent to have focused on the dangers of large gatherings all year and begin warning about small gatherings just as they feel the most valuable. But this is a new phase of the pandemic. There’s more virus, in more places, and avoiding it has become harder. Even knowing where you caught it is harder. “The prevalence is so high in the community right now,” Shah said. “You have to see and treat everybody as infected.”

Maggie Koerth is a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight. @maggiekb1

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CBS News

Emergency care physician Dr. Ron Elfenbein joined CBSN to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic ahead of the 2020 presidential election and upcoming holidays. Subscribe to the CBS News Channel HERE: https://bit.ly/2uz8qYE Watch CBSN live HERE: http://cbsn.ws/1PlLpZ7 Follow CBS News on Instagram HERE: https://www.instagram.com/cbsnews/ Like CBS News on Facebook HERE: http://facebook.com/cbsnews Follow CBS News on Twitter HERE: http://twitter.com/cbsnews Get the latest news and best in original reporting from CBS News delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to newsletters HERE: http://cbsn.ws/1RqHw7T Get your news on the go! Download CBS News mobile apps HERE: http://cbsn.ws/1Xb1WC8 Get new episodes of shows you love across devices the next day, stream CBSN and local news live, and watch full seasons of CBS fan favorites like Star Trek Discovery anytime, anywhere with CBS All Access. Try it free! http://bit.ly/1OQA29B — CBSN is the first digital streaming news network that will allow Internet-connected consumers to watch live, anchored news coverage on their connected TV and other devices. At launch, the network is available 24/7 and makes all of the resources of CBS News available directly on digital platforms with live, anchored coverage 15 hours each weekday. CBSN. Always On.

FDA Approves Remdesivir For Covid-19 Treatment

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved remdesivir as a treatment for hospitalized coronavirus patients, Gilead Sciences said, making it the first FDA-approved drug for Covid-19.

Key Facts

The drug was previously granted an emergency use authorization in May, which allowed healthcare providers to administer the treatment even though it wasn’t formally approved by the FDA.

Remdesivir, which is sold under the brand name Veklury, “should only be administered in a hospital or in a healthcare setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care,” Gilead said.

The drug is approved for adults and children 12 and older weighing at least 88 lbs. for coronavirus treatment requiring hospitalization.

Clinical trial data has been mixed: A randomized trial from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found remdesivir improved recovery time, but a study from the World Health Organization, which has not yet been peer reviewed, found last week the drug did not increase the chances of survival or result in faster recovery.

Gilead shares jumped 3.8% in after hours trading following the announcement. 

Crucial Quote

“It is incredible to be in the position today, less than one year since the earliest case reports of the disease now known as COVID-19, of having an FDA-approved treatment in the U.S. that is available for all appropriate patients in need,” said Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day in a statement.

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Key Background

President Donald Trump took remdesivir when being treated for the coronavirus earlier this month. Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tipRachel SandlerI’m a San Francisco-based reporter covering breaking news at Forbes. I’ve previously reported for USA Today, Business Insider, The San Francisco Business Times and San Jose Inside. I studied journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and was an editor at The Daily Orange, the university’s independent student newspaper. Follow me on Twitter @rachsandl or shoot me an email rsandler@forbes.com.

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Remdesivir is a prodrug of an adenosine triphosphate (ATP) analog, with potential antiviral activity against a variety of RNA viruses. Upon administration, remdesivir, being a prodrug, is metabolized into its active form GS-441524. As an ATP analog, GS-441524 competes with ATP for incorporation into RNA and inhibits the action of viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. This results in the termination of RNA transcription and decreases viral RNA production.

Remdesivir has an FDA Emergency Use Authorization for use in adults and children with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in hospital with an SpO2 ≤94%.[L13239] This is not the same as an FDA approval.[L12609] The FDA Emergency Use Authorization suggests a loading dose of 200mg once daily in patients ≥ 40 kg or 5 mg/kg once daily in patients 3.5 kg to less than 40 kg, followed by a maintenance dose of 100mg once daily in patients ≥ 40 kg or 2.5 mg/kg once daily in patients 3.5 kg to less than 40 kg.[L13239] Patients not needing invasive mechanical ventilation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) should be treated for 5 days (including the loading dose on day 1), up to 10 days if they do not show improvement.[L13239] Patients requiring invasive mechanical ventilation or ECMO should be treated for 10 days.[L13239]

Clinical trials used a regimen of 200mg once daily on the first day, followed by 100mg once daily for another 9 days.[A191931,L12174,L12177] Early data suggests that some patients may benefit from only 5 days of treatment.[A198810] Remdesivir was originally investigated as a treatment for Ebola virus, but has potential to treat a variety of RNA viruses.[A191379] Its activity against the coronavirus (CoV) family of viruses, such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, was described in 2017,[A191382] and it is also being investigated as a potential treatment for SARS-CoV-2 infections.[A191427,A193254]

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CNBC Television 1M subscribers The FDA has approved Gilead’s Remdesivir as a Covid-19 treatment. Previously, the drug was approved only for emergency authorization. Gilead stock was up 4 percent after the news. Meg Tirrell joins ‘Closing Bell’ to discuss. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2NGeIvi » Subscribe to CNBC TV: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBCtelevision » Subscribe to CNBC: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBC » Subscribe to CNBC Classic: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBCclassic Turn to CNBC TV for the latest stock market news and analysis. From market futures to live price updates CNBC is the leader in business news worldwide. The News with Shepard Smith is CNBC’s daily news podcast providing deep, non-partisan coverage and perspective on the day’s most important stories. Available to listen by 8:30pm ET / 5:30pm PT daily beginning September 30: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/29/the-n… Connect with CNBC News Online Get the latest news: http://www.cnbc.com/ Follow CNBC on LinkedIn: https://cnb.cx/LinkedInCNBC Follow CNBC News on Facebook: https://cnb.cx/LikeCNBC Follow CNBC News on Twitter: https://cnb.cx/FollowCNBC Follow CNBC News on Instagram: https://cnb.cx/InstagramCNBChttps://www.cnbc.com/select/best-cred…#CNBC

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Women Risk Losing Decades of Workplace Progress Due To COVID-19 – Here’s How Companies Can Prevent That

American women have made strides in the workplace over the past half-century in terms of earnings, employment and careers – in no small part thanks to the efforts of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing many of these gains in a matter of months. Without concrete action, I believe a generation of women may never fully recover.

One group of women who are at particular risk are those in professional fields. While fortunate enough to have quality jobs, many are being forced by the increased demands of child care to reduce working hours – or to stop working altogether. Mothers have always handled more of a household’s child care than fathers have, but it has become further lopsided since lockdowns began earlier this year.

As a result, more than one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely, according to a study of 317 companies released Sept. 30. And the latest jobs report out on Oct. 2 found that women’s participation rate in the labor market continues to fall faster than for men.

With schools across the country struggling to open classrooms for in-person learning, many women will have little choice but to either continue juggling the needs of their children with the demands of their jobs or give up on the latter. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more it threatens to cause permanent damage to women’s ability to advance in their careers and earn more income.

However, this outcome is not inevitable. As an expert in business ethics, I believe companies have the ability – and duty – to prevent many of these negative outcomes.

Child care responsibilities

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of all working women.

Since April, for example, women – especially Black women – have lost jobs at much higher rates than men, in large part because they tend to hold jobs in sectors that have been most devastated by the pandemic, such as service, travel and retail.

At the same time, women do a majority of the low-paid essential jobs. Women make up 77% of health care workers, 77% of teachers, 94% of child care workers and 70% of cashiers – jobs that tend to be underpaid and undervalued and also put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

But it’s professional women, such as lawyers, analysts, engineers and other executives, who have the most to lose because of the great advances they’ve made in their careers compared with women a generation ago – even if there’s still a ways to go to achieve gender equality.

Since women are generally responsible for organizing child care for their families, the demands on their time have increased significantly during the pandemic. A study looking at the period of time prior to the first widespread U.S. outbreak in February through the first peak in April showed that mothers with young children had reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers, exacerbating the gender gap in work hours by 20% to 50%.

Another study, which examined data from the Census Household Pulse survey in late April and early May, found that over 80% of U.S. adults who were not working because they had to care for their children not in school or daycare were women.

And with the school year currently in full swing, women continue to cite child care at a much higher rate than men do as a reason that they are not able to work. Management consultancy Boston Consulting Group found women are spending 15 more hours a week on domestic labor during the pandemic than men. And Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on helping companies better serve women, reported that women are twice as likely as men to be responsible for homeschooling.

We know that part of the reason for all of this is because of workplace norms and societal gender biases. Some of it, however, has to do with what’s most practical for a family. If someone needs to reduce hours, families will choose the person who makes less – and usually, that is the woman. And since women also tend to work fewer hours and are more likely to work part-time, their jobs are the lower priority when there is a disruption.

But it’s not just mothers. Women without children are also more likely to be in caregiving roles, even more so during the pandemic. Two-thirds of caregivers in the U.S. are women, meaning they provide daily or regular support to children, adults or people with chronic illnesses or disabilities – and are also at risk of losing job-related ground due to stress and burnout.

What companies can do

Fortunately, companies can do a lot to soften the impact and offset disparities altogether.

It begins with communication. The first thing companies should do is survey their employees to determine what they need. The results can guide the types of policies that could best address workers’ unique concerns and situations.

Whatever management changes are made, it’s imperative that businesses communicate clearly and often with all employees and set appropriate and reasonable workloads. Given the increased strains workers are under, it’s also very helpful to organize and distribute mental health resources and encourage employees to use them.

Increased flexibility is something all women need right now. Women taking care of young children especially need more flexibility to help them juggle competing demands on their time.

Flexible work can mean many things, such as allowing employees to continue working from home even after others return to the office, helping them balance hours and scheduling key meetings and other duties at particular times. For example, many parents are driving their children to school to avoid the bus, so companies can help by simply not scheduling important meetings at common pickup and drop-off times. In my own department, some shared their personal calendars with management to help with this kind of scheduling.

Other families may have their children home all the time because of online school or child care issues, so recording meetings and events for people who cannot attend – or who have disruptions – will ensure everyone has access to important information.

But it’s not just about providing flexibility to women. Men need flexibility too so they can handle more of the child care duties – including after having a baby – allowing women to spend more time doing their professional jobs. Some men have been reporting that they do not have the same flexibility as women to manage family care even when they say they want or need to take on more of the responsibilities.

And when workers are expecting a baby, offering equivalent leave to both mothers and fathers can make a big difference in helping women stay in the workforce and advance in their careers during the pandemic. Most states and companies have policies that are more generous to mothers than fathers – often twice as much.

One more step companies can take is to more actively assist with child care, whether by providing outright subsidies or simply information and guidance about available resources.

Companies can also correct for some of these issues during performance reviews by adjusting unrealistic productivity expectations.

Helping women thrive

Companies need to understand how gender bias further disadvantages women during times of crisis. Women are typically penalized for being “visible caregivers,” while fathers benefit from a “fatherhood bonus.”

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

And even when companies have supportive policies in place, there’s often a disconnect in how these policies are implemented and integrated.

That’s why I believe the best and most important strategy for ensuring women thrive and continue to make gains in business – and society – is to increase representation and inclusion at all levels of planning and decision-making.

By: Stephanie M.H. Moore Lecturer, Indiana University

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CNBC Television 999K subscribers CNBC’s Julia Boorstin reports new data from LeanIn and McKinsey’s annual ‘Women in the Workplace’ report that shows the effects of coronavirus in one year could erase years of progress women have made in the workforce.

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