The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing for potential community spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States — which has 34 confirmed cases as of today — and is not ruling out the future need for school and business closures such as those implemented in China.
“This new virus represents a tremendous public health threat. We don’t yet have a vaccine for this novel virus, nor do we have a medication to treat it specifically,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC, said during a telephone news briefing today.
On February 20, the US Department of State issued a travel alert advising citizens to “reconsider travel by cruise ship to or within Asia,” Ian Brownlee, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State, said during the news briefing.
“While the US government has successfully evacuated hundreds of our citizens in recent weeks, such repatriation flights do not reflect our standard practice and should not be relied upon as an option for US citizens under potential risk for quarantine by local authorities,” Brownlee said.
“We urge US citizens to evaluate the risks of choosing to remain in an area that may be subject to quarantine and to take all appropriate proactive measures.”
Brownlee encouraged travelers to enroll their trips on the US Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
The CDC is working with the state department to provide “up-to-the-minute” information for travelers, Messonnier explained.
Earlier this week, 329 passengers from the Diamond Princess returned to the United States on two state department-chartered flights. Of those, 18 have tested positive for virus by the CDC and 10 were reported positive in Japan. Of the 18 cases here in the United States, 11 are being cared for at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, five are being cared for at Travis Air Force Base, and two are being cared for at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
These individuals are considered at high risk for infection and the CDC expects to see additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 among them.
Changes Made to Case Tracking
The CDC has changed the way it is tracking cases to separate infection in individuals who were repatriated to the United States from other cases.
“We are keeping track of cases resulting from repatriation efforts separately because we don’t believe those numbers accurately represent the nature of what is happening in the community in the United States at this time,” Messonnier explained.
Separating cases out in this way, there are 13 US cases versus 21 cases among individuals who were repatriated as of February 21, for a total of 34. Repatriated cases include 18 passengers from the Diamond Princess and three from the Wuhan repatriation flights.
Almost all remaining individuals who have returned to the United States from Wuhan, China, on state department-chartered flights and who have been quarantined at Department of Defense installations have completed their 14-day quarantine and are not at risk of spreading the virus to others, Messonnier said.
Many of these individuals are older than 60 years; therefore, the CDC is preparing for these patients to develop additional issues that will require hospitalization.
Several US citizens are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Japan and are seriously ill.
Community Spread: “Very Possible, Even Likely”
Messonnier said the CDC believes their aggressive approach is effective.
The fact that the number of cases in the United States is still low is “good news given what we are seeing among some countries in Asia that are beginning to experience community spread,” she said.
Community spread, when cases are detected in the community but the source of the infection is unknown, is being reported in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The United States issued Level 1 travel notices for Hong Kong and Japan earlier this week.
“We never expected that we would catch every single traveler with novel coronavirus returning from China, given the nature of this virus and how it’s spreading,” Messonnier said, emphasizing that community spread of the virus is not being seen in the United States yet but it is “very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen.”
“The day may come” when the United States implements school and business closures such as those currently being enforced in Asia, Messonnier warned.
The CDC’s goal continues to be slowing the spread of the virus in the United States, which will “buy us more time to prepare our communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread.”
No new Covid-19 cases reported in Northwest Territories – Cabin Radio
The NWT on Friday reported no new cases of Covid-19, only the third day of reporting to come back blank since the territory’s latest Delta-variant outbreak began in mid-August.
The active case count across the territory dropped from 42 to 35. Twenty-eight are in Tuktoyaktuk – which now has a rabies warning to contend with – while four are in Yellowknife and one each in Inuvik, Norman Wells, and Hay River.
There was no change to the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, or deaths.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday dubbed the globe’s latest variant of concern Omicron.
Omicron, identified in South Africa, has a large number of mutations. Early evidence suggests it could be significantly more transmissible than Delta and present an increased reinfection risk.
However, the amount of evidence related to Omicron is low. The variant was only identified last week and the number of cases studied to date numbers in the low dozens.
Some countries, including Canada, moved swiftly on Friday to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring nations.
Canada currently has no direct flights to or from the affected region, but nevertheless banned the entry of all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, or Eswatini in the past 14 days.
Some observers criticized the rush to travel bans, arguing South Africa was in effect being punished for operating a particularly effective variant surveillance program.
Kids on P.E.I. receive first vaccinations against COVID-19 – CBC.ca
One hundred and thirty children in P.E.I. received the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday — the first day the shot was available to five to 11-year-olds.
A pediatric vaccine clinic was held at the County Fair Mall in Summerside, P.E.I.
“I think it’s important because it can help protect others,” said 10-year-old Alex DesRoche. “I was worried that I’d get COVID and spread it to my papa … because he has cancer.”
Her mom, Robin DesRosche, is happy to have gotten her daughter vaccinated.
“At any point in time, something can weigh in on your family and if you can do anything to try to prevent it, as a parent, I would,” said DesRoche.
There are 13,000 kids in the five to 11 age group in the province, and 2,500 have appointments booked so far.
Madeline Goguen, 10, said she was a little nervous to get the shot, but in the end, she said it didn’t hurt and was well worth it.
“I’m excited because it’s been a while since I’ve gone on vacation,” Goguen said. “It was just quick. It was a tiny pinch and that was it.”
Getting the vaccine will make going to see her dad in New Brunswick less stressful, she said.
“Every time that I had to get tested I was always worried,” said Goguen.
Her mother, LeAnne Weeks, shares that sense of relief.
“Now that Madeline is done, that’s our whole family, and we’re just excited that we feel safe now,” Weeks said.
The clinic has been set up just for kids and other community clinics will be too. With decorations from the movie Frozen and a free toy with every shot, it’s about making the kids feel more comfortable.
“I think kids and adults too are a little bit nervous about coming and getting needles, even if they know they really want it, and need it,” said Marion Dowling, chief of nursing on P.E.I.
“We just want to make it as welcoming as possible, and try to give them a bit of privacy with the stations, so they can sit as a family unit, and have the conversation, ask any questions they might have too, and be comfortable.”
PEI’s chief public health officer made an appearance at the clinic on Friday. Dr. Heather Morrison said she’s pleased to see so many parents booking shots for their children.
“I almost got goosebumps in there. There are children who are excited, there are parents who are that excited. Just to be a part of it was pretty special” Morrison said.
In a survey by the province, about 70 per cent of parents said they would get their child vaccinated, while others said they were undecided.
Morrison said she thinks word of mouth will convince many of them to sign up.
“We know it can influence others if we know that your friends have booked their vaccine,” she said.
“I saw children here today wearing stickers saying, ‘I got my COVID vaccine.’ They will start talking amongst their friends that ‘I got mine, and it feels good.'”
Five community clinics across P.E.I. are currently offering the vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.
In the new year, the plan is to set up school clinics for kids in grades four to six.
UK COVID genomics head says new variant likely to come to UK
A ban on flights from southern Africa came into force in Britain on Friday, and numerous other countries also restricted travel from the region.
“(B.1.1.529 is) something that I would guess is likely to be transmitted into the UK at some point, but it buys that time,” COG-UK Chair Sharon Peacock told reporters.
“I think buying time is important and it’s worthwhile, because we can find out what we need to know about that particular variant.”
Speaking at a briefing with other experts, Peacock praised the quick work of South African scientists who shared what they knew about the variant after a surge in cases centred on Gauteng province.
That early warning could be crucial in preventing the variant taking over rapidly from the Delta variant as the world’s dominant one, even as South Africa bristles at the swift imposition of barriers to travel.
“This is a different circumstance than Delta, and there might be some hope for maybe some amount of containment,” said Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
“The difference really is that the surveillance was so good in South Africa and other nearby countries that they found this, understood that it was a problem, and told the world extremely fast.”
Peacock said it was important not to assume that the variant had arisen in South Africa just because it had been detected there.
“Variants will fly under the radar in countries where there’s no sequencing capability,” she said.
A distinctive trait known as an “S-gene target failure”, which distinguishes the new variant from Delta, means that PCR tests can give a clue to the presence of the new variant without full genomic sequencing.
However, Wendy Barclay, a virologist who leads the UK National Virology Consortium G2P-UK, cautioned that some other variants also had the trait.
Many parts of Europe have been struggling with high and rising COVID rates for weeks, but Barrett said these were unlikely to be driven by B.1.1.529, even in places with less sequencing.
“They are consistently finding a mix of Delta variant, basically,” he said.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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