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What to Know About Coronavirus Immunity and Chances of Reinfection

Troubling headlines have been cropping up across Asia: Some patients in China, Japan and South Korea who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and seemingly recovered have been readmitted to the hospital after testing positive for the virus again.

Because SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was only discovered a few months ago, scientists are still trying to answer many big questions related to the virus and the disease it causes. Among them is whether patients can be reinfected by the virus after they seem to recover from the symptoms.

With other coronavirus strains, experts say the antibodies that patients produce during infection give them immunity to the specific virus for months or even years, but researchers are still figuring out if and how that works with COVID-19.

The answer has huge implications for the spread of the disease, since researchers believe it will continue to crash across the world in waves, hitting the same country multiple times.

Can you get re-infected after recovering from COVID-19?

There remains a lot of uncertainty, but experts TIME spoke with say that it’s likely the reports of patients who seemed to have recovered but then tested positive again were not examples of re-infection, but were cases where lingering infection was not detected by tests for a period of time.

Experts say the body’s antibody response, triggered by the onset of a virus, means it is unlikely that patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can get re-infected so soon after contracting the virus. Antibodies are normally produced in a patient’s body around seven to 10 days after the initial onset of a virus, says Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Instead, testing positive after recovery could just mean the tests resulted in a false negative and that the patient is still infected. “It may be because of the quality of the specimen that they took and may be because the test was not so sensitive,” explains David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who also studied the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is caused by a coronavirus in the same family as SARS-CoV-2.

A positive test after recovery could also be detecting the residual viral RNA that has remained in the body, but not in high enough amounts to cause disease, says Menachery. “Viral RNA can last a long time even after the actual virus has been stopped.”

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Where have patients tested positive for COVID-19 after seeming to have recovered?

A study on recovered COVID-19 patients in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen found that 38 out of 262, or almost 15% of the patients, tested positive after they were discharged. They were confirmed via PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, currently the gold standard for coronavirus testing. The study has yet to be peer reviewed, but offers some early insight into the potential for re-infection. The 38 patients were mostly young (below the age of 14) and displayed mild symptoms during their period of infection. The patients generally were not symptomatic at the time of their second positive test.

In Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began, researchers looked at a case study of four medical workers who had three consecutive positive PCR tests after having seemingly recovered. Similar to the study in Shenzhen, the patients were asymptomatic and their family members were not infected.

Outside of China, at least two such cases have also been reported in Japan (including one Diamond Princess cruise passenger) and one case was reported in South Korea. All three of them reportedly showed symptoms of infection after an initial recovery, and then re-tested as positive.

Does recovering from COVID-19 make you immune?

There hasn’t been enough time to research COVID-19 in order to determine whether patients who recover from COVID-19 are immune to the disease—and if so, how long the immunity will last. However, preliminary studies provide some clues. For example, one study conducted by Chinese researchers (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) found that antibodies in rhesus monkeys kept primates that had recovered from COVID-19 from becoming infected again upon exposure to the virus.

In the absence of more information, researchers have been looking at what is known about other members of the coronavirus family. “We are only three and a half months into the pandemic,” Hsu Li Yang, an associate professor and infectious disease expert at the National University of Singapore, says. “The comments we’re making are based on previous knowledge of other human coronavirus and SARS. But whether they extrapolate across COVID-19, we’re not so sure at present.”

One study conducted by Taiwanese researchers found that survivors of the SARS outbreak in 2003 had antibodies that lasted for up to three years—suggesting immunity. Hui notes that survivors of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS, which is also caused by a virus related to the one that causes COVID-19) were found to last just around a year.

Menachery estimates that COVID-19 antibodies will remain in a patient’s system for “two to three years,” based on what’s known about other coronaviruses, but he says it’s too early to know for certain. The degree of immunity could also differ from person to person depending on the strength of the patient’s antibody response. Younger, healthier people will likely generate a more robust antibody response, giving them more protection against the virus in future.

“We would expect that if you have antibodies that neutralize the virus, you will have immunity,” Menachery says. “How long the antibodies last is still in question.”

By Hillary Leung April 3, 2020

Source: What to Know About Coronavirus Immunity and Chances of Reinfection

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Will the Coronavirus Ever Go Away? Here’s What a Top WHO Expert Thinks

Dr. Bruce Aylward has almost 30 years experience in fighting polio, Ebola and other diseases, and now, he’s turned his attention to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Aylward, the senior adviser to the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), is one of the world’s top officials in charge of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The doctor, who led a joint WHO mission to China in February to study the effectiveness of the coronavirus response in the country, has seen firsthand the measures Beijing took to fight the virus. Now he’s sharing what he learned with governments and communicating with the WHO response teams working to fight COVID-19 in virus epicenters around the globe.

In an extensive teleconference interview with TIME from his office in Geneva, Aylward shared what he thinks needs to be done to stop the pandemic, and what the future might hold.

The following excerpts from the conversation have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Do you expect COVID-19 to continue to spread?

We can get little glimpses into the future from places that are recently getting infected, places that aren’t infected, but also the places where it all started. And if you go back and look at China right now, they [identified the virus] in early January, they had a full on response, sort of threw everything at it, and it’s middle of March now and they estimate maybe end of March they’ll be coming out of it, so a full three months.

When you look around the world in Europe, North America, the Middle East, you can see that we’re really at the period of exponential growth, we’re still seeing the virus going up very, very rapidly, even in hard hit places like Italy, for example. These countries still have months of this challenge in front of them.

When you look to other parts of the world, like Africa, for example, and parts of the Indian subcontinent you can see that it’s just beginning. Even though they have very, very few cases, if you look carefully at that curve, it’s also in a phase of exponential growth.

What do you think the coronavirus pandemic will look like six months from now?

I expect we will be emerging—still with disease in various parts of the world—but we should be emerging from a bad wave of this disease across a large swathe of the planet. The challenge is we’re going to be back into the flu season. And one of the big questions is, are we going to see a surge of it again at that period?

Looking further into the future, what do you anticipate? Will COVID-19 ever disappear?

What it looks like is that we’re going to have a substantial wave of this disease right through basically the globe unless something very different happens in the southern hemisphere. And the question then is: What’s going to happen? Is this going to disappear completely? Are we going to get into a period of cyclical waves? Or are we going to end up with low level endemic disease that we have to deal with? Most people believe that that first scenario where this might disappear completely is very, very unlikely, it just transmits too easily in the human population, so more likely waves or low level disease.

A lot of that is going to depend on what we as countries, as societies, do. If we do the testing of every single case, rapid isolation of the cases, you should be able to keep cases down low. If you simply rely on the big shut down measures without finding every case, then every time you take the brakes off, it could come back in waves. So that future frankly, may be determined by us and our response as much as the virus.

The U.S. and Europe had quite a head start to get ready for this. Was a major outbreak inevitable, or could it have been stopped?

I don’t like to use the word “squandered,” that’s a big word. But we probably haven’t optimized how we used that time. Now what we’ve done is, we’ve gained time again by putting in place these big shutdowns. All they do is they buy time, they don’t actually stop the virus, they suppress it, they slow it. What you want to do now is use that time well to get the testing in place, to get the systems in place, so that you can actually manage the individual level cases that are going to be fundamental to stopping this.

And the big question right now is “Are countries going to use this time during these shutdown periods optimally?” Because if you just shut it down your societies, your economies and hope for the best… This is guerrilla warfare against a virus, the virus is just going to sit you out, it’ll just circulate quietly among households and then you’re going to let them all go again and phoom there’s no reason it shouldn’t take off again, unless you’re ready for it.

How long do you think this outbreak will impact daily life in the U.S. and western Europe? How long do you think it’ll take for life to return to normal?

You have to compare it to the few examples you have that have been through this, hence you have to go back to China, look at [South] Korea, look at Singapore. These countries in the very early stages, if they were to throw everything at it, probably a solid two months in front of them, if not a bit longer, maybe three months.

What we’re seeing is that they’re throwing bits and pieces at it. Most countries in the west frankly are really struggling with, “Can we really test all these cases? Can we really isolate all the confirmed cases?” They’re struggling with that. So they’re approaching it a bit differently than China did and the big question is going to be: Is that approach going to work and limit it to just a few months, that hard hit China took? Or is it going to drag it out so long that the bigger societal, economic impacts linger longer than anyone want?

Do you think the U.S. lost critical time with its testing rollout issues?

I think every country may not have optimized the use of the time it had available, and for different reasons. Some people just continued to think this might be flu and some cases they may not have had the testing capacity.

Is there reason to be concerned about a second wave of infections in China?

Absolutely, and China is concerned. As we traveled around China, one of the most striking things that I found, especially in contrast to the West, as I spoke to governors, mayors, and their cases were plummeting—in some of the places they were down to single digit cases already—as I spoke to them and I said, “So what are you doing now?” They said, “We’re building beds, we’re buying ventilators, we’re preparing.” They said, “We do not expect this virus to disappear, but we do expect to be able to run our society, run our economy, run our health system. We cannot end up in this situation again.”

Have you seen examples of politics overruling public health or slowing down responses?

No. I know a lot of people will challenge my assessment. The reasons that there have been problems in some countries is they haven’t had a consensus on the severity of the disease, or they haven’t had a consensus around the transmissibility. You have to have that consensus that you’re dealing with something serious and severe and dangerous for your society and individuals. Otherwise you just cannot generate the public support which is fundamental to accepting the measures, but also the implementing.

Why does the fatality rate in Italy looks to be so high?

It’s a combination of factors. If you look at Italy, and the age distribution, it’s the second-oldest country in the world after Japan, people forget that. You have an older population number one, they get the more severe disease and they’re more likely to die.

What countries are in the most vulnerable situation?

Everyone is vulnerable, but the big question of course is what’s going to happen when this really starts to take off in those low-income countries where they don’t have as much medical capacity such as in Africa.

It’s one of those things that you don’t want to imagine because the numbers could be so grave. The population distribution could help. Is the humidity and the temperature going to help make a difference? I would hope so, but look at the situation in Singapore, that’s a hot, humid country. So the situation in these countries could be very difficult.

The WHO is urging countries to “test, test, test.” Are there any countries in particular that you think are not doing enough testing?

That’s much easier answered the other way around. Is anyone doing enough testing? There it’s limited. It’s China, [South] Korea, Singapore.

There are reports of people dying of coronavirus who are otherwise healthy. What have your teams seen in terms of who the virus is killing?

One of the things that terrifies me now is, as this is spread in the west is, there’s this sense of invulnerability among millennials. And absolutely not. Ten percent of the people who are in [intensive care units] in Italy are in their 20s, 30s or 40s. These are young, healthy people with no co-morbidities, no other diseases.

We don’t understand why some young healthy people progress to severe disease and even die and others don’t. We don’t have clear predictors.

What would your message be for young people around the world?

This is one of the most serious diseases you will face in your lifetime, and recognize that and respect it. It is dangerous to you as an individual. It is dangerous to your parents, to your grandparents and the elderly in particular and it is dangerous to your society in general. You are not an island in this, you are part of a broader community, you are part of transmission chains. If you get infected you are making this much more complicated and you are putting people in danger, not just yourself.

Never, never underestimate a new disease, there’s just too much unknown. What we do know is it will kill young people, it will make young people sick in large numbers. You’ve gotta respect this.

What should a country’s first priority after locking down be?

Test, test, test, test, test. Not test, test, test, test, test everyone, but test the suspects, test the suspects, test the suspects.

Then, effectively isolate the confirmed cases. The third piece is the quarantine piece.

How do you think this will end?

This will end with humanity victorious over yet another virus, there’s no question about that. The question is how much and how fast we will take the measures necessary to minimize the damage that this thing can do. In time, we will have therapeutics, we will have vaccines, we’re in a race against that.

And it’s going to take great cooperation and patience from the general population to play their part because at the end of the day it’s going to be the general population that stops this thing and slows it down enough to get it under control.

By Amy Gunia March 23, 2020

Source: Will the Coronavirus Ever Go Away? Here’s What a Top WHO Expert Thinks

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Dr. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization talks about how the world has passed the tipping point with the COVID-19 outbreak and while countries tried to curb the spread, none of them were prepared for the scope of the disease. Aylward says small, incremental measures are not going to curb the spread and steps need to be taken with the same speed that the disease itself is spreading. For more info, please go to https://globalnews.ca/tag/coronavirus/ Subscribe to Global News Channel HERE: http://bit.ly/20fcXDc Like Global News on Facebook HERE: http://bit.ly/255GMJQ Follow Global News on Twitter HERE: http://bit.ly/1Toz8mt Follow Global News on Instagram HERE: https://bit.ly/2QZaZIB #GlobalNews

Bill Gates On COVID-19: ‘Best-Case Scenario Is Six To Ten Weeks Of Total Isolation In U.S.’

Topline: Bill Gates said that total isolation for six to ten weeks is the only viable option to minimize lives lost and economic damage for the United States to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

  • The billionaire philanthropist predicted, during a virtual TED interview, that if the United States enacts such stringent isolation, there could be positive results within 20 days.
  • Gates argued that the United States missed the critical period to develop comprehensive testing—which would’ve needed to occur in February—that could’ve been used as an alternative to total, sustained nationwide isolation.
  • “There really is no middle ground; It’s very tough to say, ‘Keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies in the corner.’ It’s very irresponsible to suggest to people they can have the best of both worlds,” said Gates.
  • He reiterated that the United States needs to maintain isolation at this moment to avoid devastating outcomes like those of Wuhan and northern Italy.
  • Gates maintained his optimism about the crisis, saying that the world’s experience with COVID-19 will enable us to prepare for the next pandemic.
  • Gates is confident the innovation occurring in the rich countries in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment will fortify developing Southern Hemisphere countries, who may expect to meet up with the virus as seasons shift.

Background: Microsoft founder Bill Gates is the second-richest person in the world, with a $97.4 billion net worth. He has donated 25% of his wealth to charitable causes through his philanthropic organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given $50 million to COVID-19 therapies so far.

Even as the coronavirus outbreak takes the world by storm, a number of other diseases are also rearing their ugly heads. Cases of swine flu and bird flu have already been reported in India and other countries. Now, a man from China has tested positive for hantavirus.

I’m the assistant editor for Under 30. Previously, I directed marketing at a mobile app startup. I’ve also worked at The New York Times and New York Observer. I attended the University of Pennsylvania where I studied English and creative writing.

Source: Bill Gates On COVID-19: ‘Best-Case Scenario Is Six To Ten Weeks Of Total Isolation In U.S.’

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‘We’re not ready for the next epidemic’ — Watch Bill Gates remind us many, many times about the potential impact of a pandemic like coronavirus COVID-19. » Subscribe to NowThis: http://go.nowth.is/News_Subscribe » Sign up for our newsletter KnowThis to get the biggest stories of the day delivered straight to your inbox: https://go.nowth.is/KnowThis In US news and current events today, we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. American business magnate, software developer, investor, and philanthropist Bill Gates has been warning us about our under-preparedness for future pandemics for years. Bill Gates is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. In 2015 he gave a TED Talk on the issue of viruses, vaccines, epidemics, and pandemics, and how they affect the world greatly. #BillGates #TEDTalk #Coronavirus #COVID19 #News #NowThis #NowThisNews Connect with NowThis » Like us on Facebook: http://go.nowth.is/News_Facebook » Tweet us on Twitter: http://go.nowth.is/News_Twitter » Follow us on Instagram: http://go.nowth.is/News_Instagram » Find us on Snapchat Discover: http://go.nowth.is/News_Snapchat

Total Cost of Her COVID-19 Treatment: $34,927.43

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When Danni Askini started feeling chest pain, shortness of breath and a migraine all at once on a Saturday in late February, she called the oncologist who had been treating her lymphoma. Her doctor thought she might be reacting poorly to a new medication, so she sent Askini to a Boston-area emergency room. There, doctors told her it was likely pneumonia and sent her home.

Over the next several days, Askini saw her temperature spike and drop dangerously, and she developed a cough that gurgled because of all the liquid in her lungs. After two more trips to the ER that week, Askini was given a final test on the seventh day of her illness, and once doctors helped manage her flu and pneumonia symptoms, they again sent her home to recover. She waited another three days for a lab to process her test, and at last she had a diagnosis: COVID-19.

A few days later, Askini got the bills for her testing and treatment: $34,927.43. “I was pretty sticker-shocked,” she says. “I personally don’t know anybody who has that kind of money.”

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Like 27 million other Americans, Askini was uninsured when she first entered the hospital. She and her husband had been planning to move to Washington, D.C. this month so she could take a new job, but she hadn’t started yet. Now that those plans are on hold, Askini applied for Medicaid and is hoping the program will retroactively cover her bills. If not, she’ll be on the hook.

She’ll be in good company. Public health experts predict that tens of thousands and possibly millions of people across the United States will likely need to be hospitalized for COVID-19 in the foreseeable future. And Congress has yet to address the problem. On March 18, it passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which covers testing costs going forward, but it doesn’t do anything to address the cost of treatment.

While most people infected with COVID-19 will not need to be hospitalized and can recover at home, according to the World Health Organization, those who do need to go to the ICU can likely expect big bills, regardless of what insurance they have. As the U.S. government works on another stimulus package, future relief is likely to help ease some economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but gaps remain.

Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine Test Begins as U.S. Volunteer Receives First Shot

U.S. researchers gave the first shot to the first person in a test of an experimental coronavirus vaccine Monday — leading off a worldwide hunt for protection even as the pandemic surges.

Here is everything you need to know about what getting treated for COVID-19 could cost you.

How much does it cost to be hospitalized for COVID-19?

Because of our fragmented health care system, it depends on what kind of insurance you have, what your plan’s benefits are, and how much of your deductible you’ve already paid down.

A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the average cost of COVID-19 treatment for someone with employer insurance—and without complications—would be about $9,763. Someone whose treatment has complications may see bills about double that: $20,292. (The researchers came up with those numbers by examining average costs of hospital admissions for people with pneumonia.)

How much of that do I have to pay?

Most private health insurance plans are likely to cover most services needed to treat coronavirus complications, but that doesn’t include your deductible—the cost you pay out-of-pocket before your insurance kicks in. More than 80% of people with employer health insurance have deductibles, and last year, the average annual deductible for a single person in that category was $1,655. For individual plans, the costs are often higher. The average deductible for an individual bronze plan in 2019 was $5,861, according to Health Pocket.

Spotlight Story
Will COVID-19 Ever Really Go Away?
Here’s what one of the WHO’s top experts thinks

In both complicated and uncomplicated cases, patients with employer-based insurance can expect out-of-pocket costs of more than $1,300, the Kaiser researchers found. The costs were similar regardless of complications because many people who are hospitalized reach their deductible and out-of-pocket maximum.

Many health insurance plans also require co-pays or co-insurance, too. Those costs are often 15-20% for an in-network doctor, meaning you would pay that portion of the cost, and can be much more for out-of-network doctors.

Medicare and Medicaid will also likely cover the services needed for coronavirus treatment, but the details on deductibles (for Medicare) and potential co-pays will again depend on your plan, and which state you’re in for Medicaid.

What if I’m uninsured?

It’s not pretty. Some hospitals offer charity care programs and some states are making moves to help residents pay for COVID-19 costs beyond testing. Several states, including Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, have created “special enrollment periods” to allow more people to sign up for insurance mid-year.

Other states are requiring coverage of future vaccines or changing rules about prescription medication refills to help people stock up on essential medicines. So far, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Oregon have required insurers to waive costs for a COVID-19 vaccine once one is ready, and the states that have loosened rules to help people fill prescriptions include Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Washington.

The Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare think tank, has a coronavirus tracker that’s keeping a list of the moves each state has made so far.

There’s no way I could afford to pay out-of-pocket for care. What can I do?

The U.S. health care system doesn’t have a good answer for you, and it’s a problem. But there are a few things to keep in mind that could help minimize costs.

If you think you may have the virus, the first step is to call your doctor or emergency department before showing up, the CDC says. This will let them prepare the office and give you instructions ahead of time, but it could also save you money. Getting treated in a hospital will generally start off more expensive than a visit to a doctor’s office. Another cost comes from the “facilities fee,” which many hospitals charge anytime a patient comes through their doors. For Danni Askini’s first trip to the hospital in Boston on Feb. 29, for example, she was charged $1,804 for her emergency room visit and another $3,841.07 for “hospital services.”

Other costs to watch out for include lab tests, which can be “out-of-network” even if the doctor treating you is in your insurance network. It’s always best to ask for information in writing so that you can appeal the bills if necessary, says Caitlin Donovan of the National Patient Advocate Foundation. And appealing is worth it. Often, providers and insurers have reversed or lowered bills when patients go public or are covered by the media.

These problems aren’t coming out of the blue. Even when we’re not weathering a global pandemic, Americans face uniquely high health care costs, compared to the rest of the world, and millions of us already put off medical care because of concerns about how much it’ll cost. But with COVID-19 sweeping across the country, an old problem becomes increasingly urgent: many Americans could still face massive treatment bills, or seek to prevent those by avoiding testing and treatment—worsening the outbreak further.

“If you’re sick, you need fewer barriers,” Donovan says. “But also, it doesn’t help society to have people still crawling around going to their job and getting other people sick.”

By Abigail Abrams March 19, 2020

Source: Total Cost of Her COVID-19 Treatment: $34,927.43

I shot this video to share my experiences living with the Coronavirus (COVID-19). I discuss the symptoms I’ve experienced, the treatments that have helped with recovery and the process I’ve been enduring to keep my family safe. Thank you for all of your kind words and support during this event. Positive energy, and prayers will get us all through this and let’s hope for the best outcome in the near future. For more information, including my COVID-19 survival guide, read: https://www.audioholics.com/editorial…  Audioholics Recommendations Amazon Shop: https://www.amazon.com/shop/audioholics Audioholics Recommended Cables: 250ft CL2 12AWG Speaker Cable: https://amzn.to/2vwS9QH Locking Banana Plugs: https://amzn.to/2ZQt15x 9ft 4K HDR HDMI Cables: https://amzn.to/2WiIXeD Audioholics Recommended Electronics: Denon AVR-X4600H 9.2CH AV Receiver: https://amzn.to/2ZTbsCe Yamaha RX-A3080 9.2CH AV Receiver: https://amzn.to/2VzA03v Denon AVR-X6400H 11.2CH AV Receiver: https://amzn.to/2LelABB Audioholics Recommended Speakers: SVS Prime 5.1 Speaker / Sub System: https://amzn.to/2GWoFCn Klipsch RP-8000F Tower Speakers: https://amzn.to/2Vd8QQn Pioneer SP-FS52 Speakers: https://amzn.to/2n7SyIJ Sony SSCS5 Speakers: https://amzn.to/2ndEn56 SVS SB-3000 13″ Subwoofer: https://amzn.to/2XYxqBr Follow us on: Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audioholics FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/Audioholics GOOGLE PLUS https://plus.google.com/+Audioholics TWITTER https://twitter.com/AudioholicsLive #coronavirus #covid-19

Critics: USCIS Policies Make Immigration Difficult And Dangerous

In the age of coronavirus, policies imposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are making it difficult for businesses, high-skilled professionals and others to file applications and meet deadlines. Attorneys say that although USCIS has made one positive accommodation their clients deserve policies that better take into account the new health and safety realities of doing business under social distancing, remote work and USCIS office closures.

In general, USCIS policies are years behind and have not adapted to the modern work environment, which has become more evident in the face of worldwide concerns about coronavirus. A glaring example, attorneys say, is USCIS still does not permit electronic filing for the most commonly used employment-based forms.

While USCIS service centers continue to operate, many businesses are following the recommendations of health experts and have moved to remote work. Paper-based applications and hard copy checks to pay filing fees are still required for most employment-based petitions. Vic Goel, managing partner of Goel & Anderson, said USCIS has not indicated it will relax or grant leniency on required filing dates and Requests for Evidence (RFE) response dates.

“Employers and law firms are straining to maintain paper-based processes while working remotely,” said Goel in an interview. “Particularly in areas where people have been told to temporarily close, as in California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, it has become difficult to comply with USCIS requirements and meet filing deadlines.”

On March 20, 2020, USCIS made an accommodation welcomed by attorneys and employers by relaxing the requirement to obtain “wet” signatures on forms. “For forms that require an original ‘wet’ signature, per form instructions, USCIS will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency,” USCIS said in a statement. “This temporary change only applies to signatures. All other form instructions should be followed when completing a form.”

“The relaxation of the signature requirement helps but USCIS has not addressed the fact that applications are still paper-based or that the agency requires hard copy checks,” said Goel.

A practical solution would be for USCIS to allow filing fees to be charged on a credit card for all form types using Form G-1450, which is now permitted only for applications processed at a USCIS lockbox and, therefore, excludes the major employment-based applications filed at USCIS service centers. Goel notes USCIS also could issue an interim final rule to allow ACH payments direct from a bank using Form G-1450. Applications (or petitions) filed at service centers include H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, L-1, O-1, TN and a few others.

While the annual H-1B lottery garners most of the media attention, USCIS adjudicates more than twice as many H-1B petitions each year for continuing employment. (These are extensions for existing H-1B visa holders.) In addition, employers often need to file amendments for H-1B employees, including when they must work in a new metropolitan statistical area (MSA). There are also many applications for L-1 visa holders and employment-based immigrants that need processing.

Goel and other attorneys note current USCIS practices go against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for controlling coronavirus. The process of gathering documents, forms and checks means Goel’s law firm has been forced to circulate employees in and out of the firm’s offices rather than permit everyone to work from home.

USCIS is not the only government agency whose policies have been questioned. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been criticized for requiring attorneys to provide their own protective gear to visit clients in detention. “ICE/ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] now requires all legal visitors, CODELs, and STAFFDELs to provide and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) (disposable vinyl gloves, N-95 or surgical masks, and eye protection) while visiting any detention facility,” according to ICE guidelines. Attorneys point out there is currently a shortage of such equipment.

Many foreign nationals are facing crucial deadlines and, unlike in a number of other countries, USCIS has not relaxed immigration deadlines. France has extended all expiring residence permits for 90 days, according to the Fragomen law firm, while Ireland has provided a “blanket two-month automatic renewal of immigration status for all foreign nationals whose status is due to expire March 29 to May 20, 2020.”

USCIS offices are closed at least until April 1, 2020. However, a new government directive discourages people gathering in federal offices. Combined with other concerns, the directive could delay reopening USCIS offices to the public.

The problem, Jeffrey Gorsky, a senior counsel with Berry Appleman & Leiden, said in an interview is many applications require in-person interviews or access to a USCIS office. For example, USCIS requires interviews as part of the process to obtain family-based and employment-based adjustment of status (to obtain a green card inside the United States). The same is true for naturalization. For several other immigration applications, biometrics collection (photos and fingerprints) must be done at USCIS offices.

The spouses of H-1B visa holders and individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), among others, are likely to miss deadlines to renew Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) if USCIS office closures continue, note attorneys. Without an EAD many individuals cannot work legally in the United States. “USCIS remote work agreements, office closures and staff reductions portend more and more interview cancellations, appointment reschedulings, adjudication delays and backlog buildups that will likely become worse over time,” according to  the Seyfarth law firm.

“If the effects of the virus severely disrupt USCIS’s operations, the agency will likely not be able to decide requests to extend or renew work visa status or temporary employment authorization (for persons in the employment-based green card queue filing for adjustment of status) within an acceptable turnaround time,” writes Seyfarth. “Current regulations allowing interim employment authorization while an extension or renewal request is pending – up to 240 days to extend status for most work-visa holders and 180 days for adjustment of status applicants under current regulations – could thus prove to be insufficient.”

Seyfarth concludes: “Unless USCIS takes action to prolong and expand interim grants of employment authorization for pending immigration benefits requests, or otherwise excuse status violations, the situation for employers and their noncitizen temporary workers (and families) will become dire.”

In a March 16, 2020, statement, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL) urged U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the State Department and other federal agencies to “announce the immediate suspension of all immigration compliance deadlines in order to help minimize harms to public safety and business continuity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In sum, critics say USCIS can adapt its policies to the new realities of coronavirus – or it can continue its old ways that have made life more difficult and dangerous for attorneys, employers and immigrants.

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I am the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan public policy research organization focusing on trade, immigration and related issues based in Arlington, Virginia. From August 2001 to January 2003, I served as Executive Associate Commissioner for Policy and Planning and Counselor to the Commissioner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Before that I spent four and a half years on Capitol Hill on the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, first for Senator Spencer Abraham and then as Staff Director of the subcommittee for Senator Sam Brownback. I have published articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other publications. I am the author of a non-fiction book called Immigration.

Source: Critics: USCIS Policies Make Immigration Difficult And Dangerous

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