371 people have died from COVID-19 since March, including a record 13 reported on Wednesday
Grocery store work in Boston puts employees at serious risk for infection, a new study found, particularly those who have to interact with customers.
These workers likely became a “significant transmission source” for COVID-19 without even knowing it because most in the study were asymptomatic.
The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is the first to demonstrate the significant asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risks and psychological distress grocery workers have felt during the pandemic.
In the study, 20% of the 104 grocery workers tested at a store in Boston in May had positive nasal swab tests.
This was a significantly higher rate of infection than what was seen in the surrounding communities, the researchers said. Workers who dealt with customers were five times as likely to test positive for COVID-19 as colleagues in other positions.
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But three out of four of those who tested positive had no symptoms.
“We were definitely surprised to see that there were that many people that were asymptomatic,” said Dr. Justin Yang, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health who worked on the study. “This is definitely very alarming as it means that retail grocery store employees are exposed to customers and sort of serve as a middleman for the virus – like a super spreader almost.”
Workers in the study had tried to take precautions. Nearly all, 91%, said they wore a face mask at work and 77% said they also wore masks outside of work. Yet only about 66% said they were able to practice social distancing consistently on the job.
This inability to social distance had an emotional, as well as a physical impact. Nearly a quarter of the people in customer service jobs said they had problems with anxiety and depression compared to 8% of workers who did not have to interact with customers. Employees who commuted to work by bike, car or by walking were less likely to experience depression than those who used public transportation, the study found.
“If you are in an environment when you’re literally in front of a customer, you can’t be more than six feet and that is really stressful for essential employees,” Yang said.
At least 108 grocery workers have died and more than 16,300 have been infected or exposed to Covid-19, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, said Thursday. The union represents 1.3 million employees.
The rates of infection among the workers in this study do seem high, Yang said. By comparison, an earlier study of Covid-19 infections among Dutch health care workers found the infection rate was about 10%.
Yang said he hopes this study prompts the government and store owners to provide better guidance, routine testing and protection for grocery store workers.
There has been a national movement to designate grocery workers as first responders which would give them priority access to testing and personal protective equipment.
In an editorial for CNN in August, Marc Perrone, the President of UFCW and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris argued that grocery workers should also get hazard pay.
Non-union grocery workers often have little to no healthcare coverage, meaning they could potentially face expensive health care bills if they contracted COVID-19.
Some states have increased support for grocery workers by increasing access to childcare and requiring shoppers to wear masks. Three states offer free testing for these workers and four offer worker’s compensation, according to UFCW, but none of the states provide the full first responder status to grocery workers, and rules are inconsistent from state-to-state.
“We spend a lot of time talking about healthcare workers, and they are important, but we’re missing a lot of the pieces of the puzzle if we don’t look at non-health care workers exposure,” Yang said. “Their voices are really not being heard. I thought it was important to get this published so government agencies and store owners could take note of this and see that they should be protecting their employees more.”
B.C. reports 738 coronavirus cases and 13 deaths, marking deadliest day of pandemic – CTV News Vancouver
British Columbia added 738 cases of COVID-19 to its total Wednesday, as well as 13 more deaths from the disease.
The 13 fatalities is the most B.C. has ever recorded in a single 24-hour period.
There have now been 29,086 cases of COVID-19 in B.C. since the pandemic began and 371 deaths.
B.C. currently has 7,616 active cases of the disease, including 294 people who are in hospital, 61 of whom are in intensive care.
The new numbers came at a news conference from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
The pair also announced a correction to data on new cases released in recent weeks. Among the changes was a reduction in the total number of cases reported on Tuesday. While health officials reported 941 new cases – a new record – there were actually 695, Henry said.
“I know we had a dramatic increase in the daily numbers,” the provincial health officer said. “That was a result of some of these data coming in at a different time.”
Henry apologized for the changes, which she said were the result of “challenges with a data system” in the Fraser Health region. She provided updated totals for that region for Nov. 17 through 24, as well as updated overall totals for some of those days.
“It’s always complex when we have many data systems trying to feed into a single report on a daily basis,” Henry said.
The changes mean B.C.’s record for new cases in a day is 835, which should have been the total reported for Saturday, Nov. 21. B.C. initially reported 713 for that day.
The total for other dates in that range have also been revised, with no other days topping 800 cases.
Before November, B.C. had never recorded more than 400 cases in a 24-hour period.
Wednesday’s update included no new outbreaks in the provincial health-care system, as well as the end of an outbreak at Royal Columbian Hospital.
That means there are 57 ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C. health-care facilities, including 52 in long-term care and assisted-living homes, as well as five in acute care.
Most of the new cases B.C. is recording continue to be located in the Lower Mainland. Wednesday’s update included 443 new cases in Fraser Health and 169 in Vancouver Coastal Health.
Elsewhere in the province, there have been 70 new cases recorded in Interior Health, 35 in Northern Health, and 21 in Island Health.
AstraZeneca manufacturing error raises questions about vaccine study results – CBC.ca
AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.
In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90 per cent effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62 per cent effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70 per cent effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.
The partial results announced Monday are from large ongoing studies in the U.K. and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.
Before they begin their research, scientists spell out all the steps they are taking, and how they will analyze the results. Any deviation from that protocol can put the results in question.
Real or quirk?
In a statement Wednesday, Oxford University said some of the vials used in the trial didn’t have the right concentration of vaccine so some volunteers got a half dose. The university said that it discussed the problem with regulators, and agreed to complete the late-stage trial with two groups. The manufacturing problem has been corrected, according to the statement.
Experts say the relatively small number of people in the low-dose group makes it difficult to know if the effectiveness seen in the group is real or a statistical quirk. Some 2,741 people received a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose, AstraZeneca said. A total of 8,895 people received two full doses.
Another factor: none of the people in the low-dose group were over 55 years old. Younger people tend to mount a stronger immune response than older people, so it could be that the youth of the participants in the low-dose group is why it looked more effective, not the size of the dose.
Another point of confusion comes from a decision to pool results from two groups of participants who received different dosing levels to reach an average 70 per cent effectiveness, said David Salisbury, and associate fellow of the global health program at the Chatham House think tank.
“You’ve taken two studies for which different doses were used and come up with a composite that doesn’t represent either of the doses,” he said of the figure. “I think many people are having trouble with that.”
Oxford researchers say they aren’t certain and they are working to uncover the reason.
‘The Goldilocks amount’
Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford scientists leading the research, said the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to trigger the best immune response.
“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well,” she said. “So you want just the right amount and it’s a bit hit and miss when you’re trying to go quickly to get that perfect first time.”
Details of the trial results will be published in medical journals and provided to U.K. regulators so they can decide whether to authorize distribution of the vaccine. Those reports will include a detailed breakdown that includes demographic and other information about who got sick in each group, and give a more complete picture of how effective the vaccine is.
Moncef Slaoui, who leads the U.S. coronavirus vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday in a call with reporters that U.S. officials are trying to determine what immune response the vaccine produced, and may decide to modify the AstraZeneca study in the U.S. to include a half dose.
“But we want it to be based on data and science,” he said.
COVID-19: B.C. ready for vaccine distribution by January, says provincial health officer – Gananoque Reporter
Rapid COVID-19 testing is on its way in B.C. and the province will be vaccine-ready by January, the provincial health officer said Wednesday.
Dr. Bonnie Henry reported a record day for COVID-19 deaths in B.C. with 13 deaths between noon on Tuesday and noon on Wednesday, with 738 new cases.
Henry said the federal government had given the province 131 ID Now rapid-test machines that can provide a result in less than 15 minutes, and 27,000 test kits. B.C. also has 500,000 COVID-19 antibody tests.
“We are expecting more of the tests to arrive, both the machines and the test kits, in the coming months,” Henry said. “And we will be looking at how to best deploy them across the province to rapidly detect outbreaks.”
Henry said these rapid tests still required a nasopharyngeal swab, which was uncomfortable for the person being tested.
These were not same test used by the film industry in B.C. or by the NHL during the playoffs.
Henry said the downside of a rapid test was that it could not detect COVID when the person had no symptoms.
“Right now, we’re limited in how we can use these,” she said.
“They are also only licensed for use in people who are symptomatic – so people who have symptoms. And we know that even in that case, they’re not as sensitive. They’re not as able to pick up the virus as the regular NAT tests that we do on an ongoing basis that go to the lab.”
She said a promising development was a self administered swab that would go into the nose, but not all the way back to the throat. Rapid testing still requires a health-worker to insert the swab, she said.
Henry said the bright light in this second wave of B.C.’s COVID fight was that vaccines were in sight.
Two vaccines have received emergency use approval – Pfizer and Moderna – and both have deals in place to supply the Canadian government.
She said a B.C. COVID-19 vaccine program has been created and she was confident the B.C. Centre for Disease Control would be ready to distribute either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in January 2021.
“We know, for example, that the Pfizer vaccine will come in frozen trays of 975 doses and it has to be reconstituted,” Henry said.
The federal government has not revealed how the vaccines will distributed to the provinces.
“But we expect and what we’re planning for is first week of January, week 1 of 2021, to be ready to deliver the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And we will have phases after that.”
COVID-19 cases in Fraser Health were underreported between Nov. 17-24 by 255 cases due to data transfer errors, Henry said.
The reporting gaps between the laboratories and the health authority during those days were detected on Tuesday.
Some days were under-reported and some were over-reported, with and overall 255 cases not reported. The new data will appear on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website within two days, Henry said.
Fraser Health has been a COVID hotbed in B.C., accounting for around 70 per cent of cases.
There have been 108 deaths so far in November, mostly in Fraser Health.
Henry said that of the 7,616 active cases of the disease, 294 people were in hospital including 61 in intensive care.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. hospital beds were 72.3 per cent full, while 66 per cent of intensive care beds are occupied.
Henry said there had been no new health-care facility outbreaks. There are 57 active health-care outbreaks, with 52 in long-term care homes. There were no new community outbreaks reported in B.C., while the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster has been declared over.
Henry said her office was reviewing its tougher COVID-19 restrictions as the Dec. 7 expiry loomed.
“We are looking at every option that we have. We’ve never had a lockdown in that sense here in B.C., and we are looking at the important things that we can do to make a difference where transmission is happening.
“We are going through all of the options over the next ten days to two weeks. So by Dec. 7, we will know what we need to do from here.”
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