NEW YORK — A new government study finds that wearing two masks can be better than one in protecting against coronavirus spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday reported the results of a lab experiment. The researchers found that particles were blocked twice as much when two masks were worn.
The CDC is updating its guidance to address wearing two masks. It says that a cloth mask worn over a surgical mask can tighten the gaps around the mask’s edges that can let virus particles in.
The researchers found that wearing one mask — surgical or cloth — blocked around 40% of the particles coming in during an experiment. When a cloth mask was worn on top of a surgical mask, about 80% were blocked.
Some Americans have already started doubling up. Experts believe that’s at least partly out of concern about new strains of coronavirus that possibly spread more easily. The U.S. has registered 2.7 million confirmed cases and more than 468,000 confirmed deaths, the highest numbers in the world.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
AP poll: Some US adults skeptical of vaccine, but 67% say they’ll take it. South Africa to offer 1-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. EXPLAINER: What the WHO coronavirus experts learned in Wuhan. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox reject criticism of their virus defiance, say they’re defending their way of life. What quarantine is like in Japan and what it might look like for the Tokyo Olympics.
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PHOENIX — State officials say Arizona will expand a COVID-19 vaccination site on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson and convert it into a state site with higher capacity for administering shots.
It will be the third state site and the first in metro Tucson, where Pima County already has distribution points. State officials say the new state site will be a partnership between the state, the university and the county.
The transition to the state site will begin with appointments starting on Feb. 18. Arizona on Wednesday reported 1,997 more confirmed cases and 176 deaths.
WASHINGTON — The White House is announcing three new mass vaccination sites in Texas, capable of delivering 10,000 shots per day among them.
The federally supported sites at stadiums in Dallas, Arlington and Houston will pair federal troops with local health officials to expand COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas.
White House coronavirus co-ordinator Jeff Zients announced the new facilities on Wednesday, saying they will be operational on Feb. 22.
Zients adds the Biden administration has plans to open similar sites in more states in the coming weeks.
GENEVA — A group of experts on immunization working with the World Health Organization is recommending the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine against the coronavirus even in countries that have variants.
It comes after the South African government announced it wouldn’t deploy the AstraZeneca vaccine as widely as first planned out of concerns about its effectiveness against a variant that first emerged in the country.
The U.N.-backed COVAX Facility, which aims to deploy coronavirus vaccines to people in need around the world, hopes to start shipping hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine later this month.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, noted the AstraZeneca vaccine requires storage at refrigerator temperatures — not the far colder temperatures required of the Pfizer vaccines.
So far, only Pfizer’s vaccine has received the emergency use authorization from WHO, though other countries and regions have individually authorized other vaccines.
MADRID — Spain will begin using the AstraZeneca vaccine for essential workers such as police, fire fighters and the military.
Vaccine guidelines were published Wednesday by Spanish health authorities. They are expected to be approved later in the day by regional health officials for the AstraZeneca shots and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The latter two already have been given to vulnerable groups, including the elderly and infirm.
The guidance says the AstraZeneca vaccine shouldn’t be given to people over 55 years or people with serious illness, because there is no data to show it works on them.
In line for the AstraZeneca vaccine are teachers and staff at nursery, primary and secondary schools, pharmacies, day centres for the elderly and those who provide home help for the elderly.
BRUSSELS — The chief of the European Union’s executive commission says the 27-nation bloc’s criticized coronavirus vaccine rollout can be partly blamed on the EU being overly optimistic the doses would be delivered on time.
As the EU’s reported COVID-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defended the overall approach of the bloc’s 27 nations working together to fight the pandemic. But von der Leyen acknowledged mistakes in the strategy to quickly obtain sufficient vaccine doses for the bloc’s 447 million citizens.
She promised action to speed up the vaccine authorization process following earlier approvals that put the EU three weeks behind Britain in starting its mass vaccination campaign.
The United States, with a population of 330 million, has the world’s highest national death toll in the pandemic with more than 468,000 deaths.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal says COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and cases are continuing their downward trend after a January surge.
The Health Ministry says the number pandemic patients in hospital fell below 6,000 for the first time since Jan. 23.
The 161 deaths in the previous 24 hours were the fewest since Jan. 17. The nearly 4,400 new infections were fewer than half the number a week ago.
The country went into lockdown on Jan. 15 and schools closed a week later.
TIRANA, Albania — Albanian authorities toughened virus preventive measures to cope with a recent surge of the daily infections.
In the next two weeks, the curfew will take effect from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m., two hours earlier. All bars and restaurants should close, except for delivery. High schools will turn to remote learning.
Albania has seen a significant rise in the daily infections, reaching 1,239 new cases and 16 deaths on Tuesday. Four virus-related hospitals are reaching their capacities.
The health ministry registered 87,528 total confirmed cases and 1,488 confirmed deaths.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s minister for planning and development says vaccinations will next month for people 65 and over.
Asad Umar took to twitter saying the registration of people in this category will start next week.
The announcement comes hours after Pakistan reported additional 62 deaths from coronavirus and 1,072 new cases in the past 24 hours, amid steady decline in confirmed cases.
The development comes less than two weeks after Pakistan started vaccinating frontline health workers after it received 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.
Pakistan has reported 12,128 confirmed deaths among 557,591 cases of the coronavirus in the past year.
NEW YORK — About 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that while 67% of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, 15% are certain they won’t and 17% say probably not.
Many expressed doubts about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, even though few if any serious side effects have turned up more than a month and a half into the vaccination drive.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease scientist, has estimated that somewhere between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to get inoculated to stop the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 470,000 Americans. More recently, he says the spread of more contagious variants of the virus increases the need for more people to get their shots — and quickly.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s health minister says the country will begin administering the unapproved Johnson & Johnson vaccine to its front-line health workers next week.
The workers will be monitored to see what protection the J&J shot provides from COVID-19, particularly against the variant dominant in the country.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said Wednesday that South Africa scrapped its plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because it “does not prevent mild to moderate disease” of the variant dominant in South Africa.
Mkhize asserts that the J&J vaccine, which is still being tested internationally, is safe.
He says those shots will be followed by a campaign to vaccinate an estimated 40 million people in South Africa by the end of the year. The minister said the country will be using the Pfizer vaccine and others, possibly including the Russian Sputnik V, Chinese Sinopharm and Moderna vaccines.
BRUSSELS — European lawmakers have approved a 672.5 billion euro ($815 billion) recovery package of loans and grants to help member states bounce back faster from the coronavirus pandemic.
The regulation for the Recovery and Resilience Facility was adopted Wednesday with 582 votes in favour, 40 against and 69 abstentions.
The RRF is the central pillar of the the bloc’s 750 billion-euro ($910 billion) recovery plan that was adopted by EU leaders last year.
To receive their share of the money, which is linked to respecting the rule of law, the EU’s 27 nations must submit their plans for the funds by the end of April. The funding will be available for three years and EU countries can request up to 13% pre-financing for their recovery and resilience plans.
Each plan has to dedicate at least 37% of its budget to fighting climate change and at least 20% to improving digital access and other actions.
ACCRA, Ghana — Ghana’s parliament has been suspended for at least three weeks following a surge in coronavirus cases among parliament members and staff.
Speaker Alban Bagbin announced the suspension late Tuesday, saying that at least 17 members of parliament and 151 staffers have tested positive for the virus. He has urged lawmakers and other parliament staffers to get tested.
Meetings, however, will continue of the parliament appointments committee to nominate ministry posts for the administration of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who was re-elected in December.
Ghana’s Health Services confirmed that there have been 73,003 cases and 482 deaths in the West African nation since the outbreak began last year.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top official expressed regret for creating a row with Britain last month when the bloc briefly considered applying an emergency restriction on exports of COVID-19 vaccines also to the U.K.’s Northern Ireland.
Amid a dispute with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, the EU introduced tighter rules on exports of COVID-19 vaccines that could hit shipments to nations like the United Kingdom. To implement its plan, EU officials thought about also introducing controls on exports to Northern Ireland from Ireland, which is part of the EU.
That would have created a hard border. And since the Brexit deal guarantees that goods flow freely between the EU and Northern Ireland to protect the Irish peace process, the plans sparked concerns and outrage in Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Speaking at the European Parliament on Wednesday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was sorry for the confusion.
“The bottom line is that mistakes were made in the process leading up to the decision,” von der Leyen said. “And I deeply regret that. But in the end we got it right.”
LONDON — Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The prince’s Clarence House office says the 72-year-old heir to the throne and his wife, Camilla, 73, received the inoculations as part of the government’s drive to offer a first dose of the vaccine to the most vulnerable people in the population, including everyone over 70, by Feb. 15.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, received their shots last month.
The Associated Press
Canada plots course to fully vaccinated return to gatherings in fall
Canada on Friday said there would be a gradual return to a world with indoor sports and family gatherings as more people get vaccinated, but it did not go as far as the United States in telling people they could eventually ditch their masks.
Canada has administered one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to just over half its adult population, and the country may be over the worst of its current third wave of infections, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said.
On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, guidance the agency said will allow life to begin to return to normal.
On Friday, Canada‘s public health agency offered guidelines to the 10 provinces, which are responsible for public health restrictions.
The agency says once 75% of Canadians have had a single dose and 20% are fully vaccinated, some restrictions can be relaxed to allow small, outdoor gatherings with family and friends, camping, and picnics.
Once 75% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in the fall, indoor sports and family gatherings can be allowed again.
“I think masks might be the last layer of that multi-layer protection that we’ll advise people to remove,” Tam told reporters, noting that in Canada colder temperatures meant people would start spending more time indoors in the fall.
“We are taking a bit of a different approach to the United States,” she added. While in most of Canada masks are not required outdoors, they are mandatory indoors.
Less than 4% of Canada‘s adult population has been fully vaccinated compared to more than 36% of Americans.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has promised that everyone who wants to can be fully vaccinated by September, this week spoke of a “one-dose summer” and a “two-dose fall” without explaining what that might look like.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
Delayed 2nd Pfizer/BioNTech shot boosts antibodies in elderly; COVID-19 obesity risk higher for men
The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Delaying second Pfizer/BioNTech dose boosts antibodies in elderly
Delaying the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine beyond the originally recommended three-week gap used by the companies in clinical trials appears to induce a stronger antibody response in the elderly, UK researchers found. Shortly after the vaccine became available, UK health officials advised that the second dose should be given 12 weeks after the first to allow more people to get protected by a first dose early on. In a new paper seen by Reuters and expected to appear on medRxiv on Friday ahead of peer review, researchers found that among 175 people ages 80 to 99, those who got their second dose at 12 weeks had antibody responses that were 3.5 times higher than those who got it after three weeks. Antibodies are only one part of the immune system, and vaccines also generate T cells that fight infections. The peak T cell responses were higher in the group with a three-week interval between doses, and the authors cautioned against drawing conclusions on how protected individuals were based on which dosing schedule they received. (https://reut.rs/3wjPK9B)
Impact of obesity on COVID-19 risks may be greater in men
The known increased risk of severe COVID-19 and death linked to obesity may be even more pronounced for men than women, new data suggest. Researchers studied 3,530 hospitalized COVID-19 patients with an average age of 65, including 1,469 who were obese. In men, moderate obesity was associated with a significantly higher risk of developing severe disease, needing mechanical breathing assistance and dying from COVID-19. (The threshold for moderate obesity is a body mass index (BMI) of 35. In an 5-foot, five-inch tall (1.65 m) adult, that would correspond to a weight of 210 pounds (95 kg). In women, however, only a BMI of 40 or higher, indicating severe obesity, was linked with the increased risks. In a report published in European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, the researchers note that while obesity is known to be linked with body-wide inflammation, patients’ levels of inflammatory proteins did not appear to explain the association between obesity and severe illness. For now, they conclude, “particular attention should be paid” to protecting patients with obesity from the coronavirus, “with priority to vaccination access, remote work, telemedicine, and other measures given the higher risk of adverse outcomes once they are diagnosed with COVID-19.” (https://bit.ly/3eO6GiA)
COVID-19 testing rates low among symptomatic Americans
Sick Americans appear to be passing up opportunities to get tested for coronavirus and thus are likely unknowingly spreading the infection throughout their communities, new research shows. Among 37,000 adults across the United States who participated in a smartphone app survey between March and October 2020, nearly 2,700 reported at least one episode of fever and chills. But according to a report published in JAMA Network Open, only a small fraction reported receiving a COVID-19 test result within seven days of the onset of illness. At first, as tests became more accessible, the numbers improved. In early April 2020, less than 10% of survey participants reporting illness with fever received test results within a week. By late July, that proportion had increased to 24.1%. Throughout the summer and fall, as tests became easier to find, the number of sick participants who reported getting tested remained flat. By late October, only 26% reported receiving a test result within a week of febrile illness. “It’s shocking to me that when people have a fever they’re still not getting tested,” said coauthor Dr. Mark Pletcher of the University of California, San Francisco. “Tests are easy to come by. People might have coronavirus, might be spreading it to their friends and neighbors, and they’re not getting tested.” (https://bit.ly/2QUyMzf)
Open in an external browser for a Reuters graphic on vaccines in development.
(Reporting by Nancy Lapid, Alistair Smout and Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Bill Berkrot
U.S. CDC says Fully vaccinated people can remove their masks in most places
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, updated guidance the agency said will allow life to begin to return to normal.
The CDC, which hopes the guidance will prod more Americans to get vaccinated, also said fully immunized people will not need to physically distance in most places.
The turnaround came just 16 days since CDC issued revised guidance that left many restrictions in place for vaccinated people. The agency came under fire in March for initially discouraging immunized grandparents to fly to visit loved ones.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the new guidance was based on a sharp reduction in cases, expansion of vaccines to younger people and vaccine efficacy against coronavirus variants.
“We followed the science here,” Walensky.
President Joe Biden emerged at the White House for remarks without a mask. “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day,” he said.
“If you’re fully vaccinated and can take your mask off, you’ve earned the right to do something that Americans are known for all around the world: greeting others with a smile,” he said, flashing a brief smile himself.
Biden earlier shed his mask during a meeting with lawmakers, Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito told reporters. Some journalists at the White House also removed their masks.
The CDC had faced criticism, even from public health officials, that it has been too cautious in its guidance. Critics have said people need to see more benefit of getting vaccinated in terms of returning to normal activities.
“In the past couple of weeks, we have seen additional data to show these vaccines work in the real world, they stand up to the variants, and vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus,” the agency said in a news release.
It added, “We needed to take the time to review the full body of evidence to get this right, and that’s how we came to this decision.”
‘NEED A REWARD’
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said he supports the new guidance that many had been calling for.
“People in state health departments and infectious disease doctors have been saying this for some time because they’re so impressed with the effectiveness of the vaccine, and also, they have the feeling that people who are vaccinated need a reward,” he said.
Republican Senator Susan Collins called the guidance “overdue.”
“If people find they cannot do anything differently after a vaccine, they will not see the benefit in getting vaccinated,” she said.
The revised guidance is a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, but the agency still recommends vaccinated people wear masks on planes and trains, and at airports, transit hubs, mass transit and places like hospitals and doctor’s offices.
Officials in several states said they would immediately review existing mask requirements.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association said the announcement creates ambiguity because it fails to fully align with state and local orders.
“It is critical for customers to remember the CDC announcement is guidance and that many state and local jurisdictions still have mask mandates in place that retailers must follow.”
Supermarket chain Kroger Co said it would keep its mask requirements in place “at this time.”
Target Corp said it will continue requiring coronavirus safety measures in all stores, including masks and social distancing, while it reviews the guidance.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million retail and grocery workers, called the new guidelines “confusing,” adding it “fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks.”
The U.S. government last month extended mask requirements across transportation networks through Sept. 13. The Transportation Security Administration said it would “work closely with the CDC to evaluate the need for these directives.” Walensky said CDC will soon issued updated transit guidance.
The new guidance says vaccinated Americans can resume all travel, do not need to quarantine after international trips and do not need to be tested for COVID-19 if exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic.
However, Americans still face some international travel restrictions, including non-essential trips to Canada.
Masks became a political issue in the United States with then-President Donald Trump resisting mandating face coverings while President Joe Biden embraced masks and mandated them for transit hubs. Some U.S. states issued aggressive mask mandates while others declined or dropped them months ago.
The CDC said fully vaccinated people should still wear masks where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, and abide by rules and regulations set by local businesses and workplaces.
In late April, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can safely engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking without masks, but recommended their continued use in public spaces where they are required.
Immune-compromised individuals should consult doctors before shedding masks, and those who are not vaccinated should continue wearing them, Walensky said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Nandita Bose in Washington, Richa Naidu, Lisa P. Baertlein and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)
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