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‘Tidal wave’: Omicron could put U.S. COVID-19 surge into overdrive

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Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the United States is confronting another dark winter, with the red-hot Omicron variant threatening to worsen an already dangerous surge of cases.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have jumped 45% over the last month, and confirmed cases have increased 40% to a weeklong average of 123,000 new U.S. infections a day, according to a Reuters tally.

Pfizer Inc, one of the chief vaccine makers, on Friday predicted the pandemic would last until 2024 and said a lower-dose version of its vaccine for children ages 2 to 4 generated a weaker-than-expected immune response, which could delay authorization.

The National Football League rescheduled three weekend games after multiple teams were hard hit by outbreaks.

The National Hockey League added another game to its recent list of postponements, heightening doubts about the league’s plan to send the world’s top players to the Beijing Olympics in February.

In New York City, Radio City Music Hall announced it has canceled all remaining dates of the Rockettes’ annual Christmas Spectacular “due to increasing challenges from the pandemic,” after staging more than 100 shows over the past seven weeks.

The Michael Jackson musical “MJ” on Broadway canceled performances through Dec. 27, joining other Broadway productions that have called off shows after cast and crew members tested positive.

The Omicron variant appears to be far more transmissible than previous iterations of the virus, and more agile in evading immune defenses, according to early studies.

Public health officials say it is likely to become the dominant variant in the country, following fast-moving spreads in countries such as South Africa and the United Kingdom, and could strain hospitals still struggling to contain this summer’s Delta variant surge.

“GET BOOSTED NOW. Tidal wave of Omicron likely coming to a hospital near you soon,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), posted on Twitter.

Preliminary data in South Africa suggests Omicron leads to milder illness than the Delta variant, which is still driving much of the current wave of infections. But a British study released on Friday found no difference in severity between the two variants.

Either way, Omicron’s extraordinary level of infectiousness means it could cause many additional deaths, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on Friday.

“When you have a larger number of people getting infected, the total amount of hospitalizations is going to be more. That’s just simple math,” Fauci told CNBC.

Fauci also said officials are discussing whether to redefine what it means to be “fully vaccinated” to include booster shots.

PULLING THE PLUG?

The latest surge is creating yet another round of disruptions to daily life, though widespread lockdowns of workplaces and social gatherings have not been put in place.

A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated a nationwide vaccine-or-testing COVID-19 mandate for large businesses – an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule that covers 80 million American workers.

Some Americans have reconsidered holiday plans. Winifred Donoghue, a New York City advertising writer, canceled a Jan. 8 disco party at her family’s vacation home in Highland Lakes, New Jersey, that was intended to be a joint celebration of her 60th birthday and the new year.

“Two weeks ago, everyone was boosted. Then the infections went up exponentially,” she said. “By January, who is going to feel safe? I just pulled the plug on it.”

Eric Hrubant, the chief executive of CIRE Travel, said he hadn’t yet seen a wave of cancellations, as he did in August when the Delta variant swept the country. But worried clients have inundated the agency with calls about new COVID-19 protocols, such as mandatory travel quarantines.

“People aren’t panicking,” he said. “People are making educated decisions.”

Several states have hit alarming levels of cases and hospitalizations. The U.S. states reporting the highest seven-day average of infections were New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan, according to a Reuters tally.

In Ohio, exhausted hospital workers will be getting some help starting on Monday from 1,050 National Guard troops – including 150 nurses, emergency medical technicians and others with medical training, Governor Mike DeWine said on Friday.

The CDC released a new “test-to-stay” strategy on Friday that allows unvaccinated children to remain in school even if they are exposed to the virus.

The protocol is intended to replace automatic quarantines, which have required tens of thousands of students to miss school days this fall.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey, and Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose, Carl O’Donnell, Roshan Abraham, Jill Serjeant, Susan Heavey, Caroline Humer, Mrinalika Roy, Leroy Leo and Frank Pingue; Editing by Howard Goller, Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall)

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Third COVID-19 outbreak declared this month at Cambridge Memorial Hospital – TheRecord.com

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Cambridge Memorial Hospital (CMH) has declared its third COVID-19 outbreak of the month.

The outbreak was announced on Jan. 18 in medicine B (wing B, level 4) with two patients and one staff member testing positive.

A hospital outbreak is declared when two or more patients and/or staff test positive for a respiratory illness that was acquired in hospital within a time frame that is consistent with the epidemiology of the disease, and when there is a link between the cases.

According to CMH, safety precautions added include: enhanced surveillance by increased swabbing and testing non-infected patients and staff; enhanced cleaning, especially to high touch areas; and visits to inpatients have been paused for the entire hospital as of Jan. 8.

Virtual visits and phone connections for patients and families can be arranged.

The outbreak in medicine B could be declared over on Jan. 28 after 10 consecutive days with no new infections.

The hospital is still in outbreak in two other units, rebab and inpatient surgery.

The rehabilitation unit outbreak was declared Jan. 4.

As of Jan. 19, 12 patients and three staff have been infected, with the last positive test detected on Jan. 16, targeting the earliest possible end date at Jan. 26 if there are no new cases.

The inpatient surgery outbreak was declared Jan. 7 and at this time, seven patients and six staff have been infected. The last positive test was detected on Jan. 15, which targets the outbreak’s end date at Jan. 25 should there be no new cases.

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Those who had COVID-19 and are vaccinated have best protection, study finds – National | Globalnews.ca – Globalnews.ca

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A new study in two states that compares coronavirus protection from prior infection and vaccination concludes getting the shots is still the safest way to prevent COVID-19.

The study examined infections in New York and California last summer and fall and found people who were both vaccinated and had survived a prior bout of COVID-19 had the most protection.

But unvaccinated people with a past infection were a close second. By fall, when the more contagious delta variant had taken over but boosters weren’t yet widespread, that group had a lower case rate than vaccinated people who had no past infection.

Read more:

Vaccination may lower risk of ‘long COVID’ studies say — but experts aren’t so sure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the study Wednesday, noted several caveats to the research. And some outside experts were cautious of the findings and wary of how they might be interpreted.

“The bottom line message is that from symptomatic COVID infection you do generate some immunity,” said immunologist E. John Wherry of the University of Pennsylvania. “But it’s still much safer to get your immunity from vaccination than from infection.”

Vaccination has long been urged even after a prior case of COVID-19 because both kinds of protection eventually wane — and there are too many unknowns to rely only on a past infection, especially a long-ago one, added immunologist Ali Ellebedy at Washington University in St. Louis.

“There are so many variables you cannot control that you just cannot use it as a way to say, `Oh, I’m infected then I am protected,”’ Ellebedy said.


Click to play video: 'Quebec’s COVID-19 death toll highest in the country'



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Quebec’s COVID-19 death toll highest in the country


Quebec’s COVID-19 death toll highest in the country

The research does fall in line with a small cluster of studies that found unvaccinated people with a previous infection had lower risks of COVID-19 diagnosis or illness than vaccinated people who were never before infected.

The new study’s findings do make sense, said Christine Petersen, a University of Iowa epidemiologist. She said a vaccine developed against an earlier form of the coronavirus is likely to become less and less effective against newer, mutated versions.

However, experts said, there are a number of possible other factors at play, including whether the vaccine’s effectiveness simply faded over time in many people and to what extent mask wearing and other behaviors played a part in what happened.

Another thing to consider: The “staunchly unvaccinated” aren’t likely to get tested and the study only included lab-confirmed cases, Wherry said.

“It may be that we’re not picking up as many reinfections in the unvaccinated group,” he said.

Read more:

4,132 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID, 589 in intensive care

CDC officials noted other limitations. The study was done before the omicron variant took over and before many Americans received booster doses, which have been shown to dramatically amplify protection by raising levels of virus-fighting antibodies. The analysis also did not include information on the severity of past infections, or address the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

The study authors concluded vaccination “remains the safest strategy” to prevent infections and “all eligible persons should be up to date with COVID-19 vaccination.”

The researchers looked at infections in California and New York, which together account for about 18 per cent of the U.S. population. They also looked at COVID-19 hospitalizations in California.

Overall, about 70 per cent of the adults in each state were vaccinated; another five per cent were vaccinated and had a previous infection. A little under 20 per cent weren’t vaccinated; and roughly five per cent were unvaccinated but had a past infection.


Click to play video: 'Toronto to collect COVID-19 data through wastewater'



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Toronto to collect COVID-19 data through wastewater


Toronto to collect COVID-19 data through wastewater

The researchers looked at COVID-19 cases from the end of last May until mid-November, and calculated how often new infections happened in each group. As time went on, vaccine-only protection looked less and less impressive.

By early October, compared with unvaccinated people who didn’t have a prior infection, case rates were:

— Six-fold lower in California and 4.5-fold lower in New York in those who were vaccinated but not previously infected.

— 29-fold lower in California and 15-fold lower in New York in those who had been infected but never vaccinated.

— 32.5-fold lower in California and 20-fold lower in New York in those who had been infected and vaccinated.

But the difference in the rates between those last two groups was not statistically significant, the researchers found.

Hospitalization data, only from California, followed a similar pattern.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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Over 1.2 million people died from drug-resistant infections in 2019 – study

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More than 1.2 million people died in 2019 from infections caused by bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics, higher than HIV/AIDS or malaria, according to a new report published on Thursday.

Global health officials have repeatedly warned about the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and other microbes due to the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which encourages microorganisms to evolve into “superbugs”.

The new Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance report, published in The Lancet, revealed that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) was directly responsible for an estimated 1.27 million deaths and associated with about 4.95 million deaths. The study analysed data from 204 countries and territories.

“These new data reveal the true scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide… Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from AMR by 2050, but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought,” said Chris Murray, co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Washington.

Last year, the World Health Organization warned that none of the 43 antibiotics in development or recently approved medicines were enough to combat antimicrobial resistance.

Cornelius Clancy, professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said one of the ways to tackle AMR is to look at a new treatment model.

“The traditional antibiotic model that we’ve had for past number of decades since penicillin. I think it is tapped out.”

Most of 2019’s deaths were caused by drug resistance in lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, followed by bloodstream infections and intra-abdominal infections.

AMR’s impact is now most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, while around one in five deaths is in children aged under five years.

There was limited availability of data for some regions, particularly many low and middle-income countries, which may restrict the accuracy of the study’s estimates.

Clancy said the focus has been on COVID-19 for the past two years, but AMR is a “long-term kind of challenge”.

 

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Devika Syamnath)

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