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Wastewater data sends mixed signals amid dip in Boston-area COVID-19 cases – GBH News



Anyone closely watching the wastewater data noticed a change last week: an uptick in the Northeast’s COVID-19 prevalence for the first time since late December 2021. It was up 24% over the prior week. Then, new data as of Wednesday showed the region’s numbers falling again, slightly.

It’s a mixed signal at yet another uncertain moment in the pandemic. Cases are low, but the CDC estimates the more infectious BA.2 subvariant of omicron is now dominant in the Northeast. Many experts attributed the wastewater increase to BA.2.

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And — for the first time in two years — Tufts Medical Center in Boston has no COVID patients in its ICU.

“Today is the first day since the beginning of the pandemic, specifically March 23, 2020, when we admitted our first COVID ICU patient, that we started the day with zero COVID ICU patients,” hospital epidemiologist Shira Doron said Thursday.

Doron said the recent spike in wastewater levels bears watching, but experts are not overly concerned.

“We are always going to be cautiously optimistic,” Doron said. “We are always going to be reluctant to declare the pandemic over and the worst behind us, I think forever more.”

Dr. Matthew Fox, a professor in the departments of epidemiology and global health at Boston University, says the rise in Boston’s wastewater follows a similar pattern to an rise in cases in Europe with BA.2.

“We are seeing the Boston wastewater case numbers, or the Boston wastewater projections are starting to go back up, which suggests that that’s probably driven in part by this new variant,” Fox said.

“I don’t think that’s cause for panic at the moment because, you know, we are in a much more mature stage of the epidemic than we have been previously,” Fox said, adding that “we’re starting to get to the point where future waves are not nearly as severe as prior waves.”

Even after detecting the uptick, Cambridge-based Biobot Analytics noted in a Twitter thread that the rise in wastewater still leaves the virus concentration at 3% of levels at the omicron surge’s peak.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health uses wastewater surveillance as an early indicator of COVID-19’s prevalence in a community, usually preceding trends in case counts by several days or weeks.

Fox says the amount of virus transmission at this stage of the pandemic depends on three variables: interactions between people, steps to reduce the spread such as masking and community immunity, which is reliant on vaccines and prior infection.

Though Massachusetts has a highly vaccinated population, residents are starting to gather with one another more frequently — and Fox warns that, with a more infectious variant circulating, cases will start to go back up.

But many people who are immunocompromised or who live with chronic illnesses and disorders are afraid to let down their guard. 25-year-old Britt Dorton, who lives in Chicago and has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, uses her Twitter account to ask people to think of disabled people and continue to wear a mask.

“It’s such a small act,” she told GBH News, “and I don’t know what to say to anyone whose response is that they don’t care about our lives.”

Dorton works from home and rarely goes out. She said it’s important to continue to be mindful of others who are at greater risk, even if people are tired of quarantining or limiting socializing.

“It really is a matter of life or death for us,” she said.

Even with less severe variants, COVID-19 carries risks of death or long-term health impairments. Doron pointed out that the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States now are omicron, which is more contagious.

“It ebbs and flows, and increases and decreases are really what we can expect for the future for an indefinite period of time, whether it’s weeks, months, years or decades,” Doron said. “It’s hard to say.”

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Bird flu continues to spread among domestic, wild animals throughout North America – Just The News



Strains of H5N1 avian influenza continue to pop up in birds around the country, with authorities reporting infections in both domestic and wild animals, including some wild mammals.

Officials in Washington state late this week confirmed two more outbreaks among flocks of birds there, stating that the infections were found in non-commercial backyard flocks of poultry. 

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, meanwhile, said the infection had been detected in three wild baby red foxes which subsequently died from the illness. 

“At this point, it is unclear how the fox kits became infected, but it’s possible that they were exposed by consuming infected birds, such as waterfowl,” DNR Veterinarian Megan Moriarty told media.

Moriarty predicted additional infections in mammals in the state but said “they likely will be isolated cases.”

Another baby fox reportedly died in Minnesota after testing positive for avian flu, as did two in Ontario, Canada. 

Three wild red foxes in Wisconsin also reportedly tested positive for the virus, with officials stating that they likely ate infected birds in the wild. 

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Wildlife rescue on Vancouver Island to limit visitors as avian flu continues to spread in B.C. –



A wildlife rescue in the Comox Valley, on Vancouver Island, is closing its visitor centre starting Monday due to the spread of avian flu in B.C.

The Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) Wildlife Rescue Centre, in Merville, B.C., announced it would be limiting visitors due to the risk that the disease poses to its captive birds, which include owls, eagles, and albino crows.

The decision comes after a small poultry flock in the Comox Valley tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus last week, the first such case on Vancouver Island.

It is part of a rapidly-spreading outbreak of the flu throughout North America, with eight cases recorded in B.C. since April 13.

The concern is that a visitor could inadvertently bring the virus to the MARS centre on their vehicle, shoes or clothing.

“All of the species that we have in permanent captivity here … they are especially susceptible to the avian flu,” said Gylaine Andersen, manager of wildlife rehabilitation at MARS. “They are more likely to get severe symptoms, and actually die from the flu, than other types of animals.”

“It was a really difficult decision to close the visitor centre because we need the visitor centre to support the wildlife rehab program. But we just had to do it for the safety of our resident birds.”

The centre hosts two bald eagles and multiple owls that were previously rescued, as well as a red-tailed hawk. MARS also has two albino crows in residence named Nimpkish and Kokish.

Nimpkish and Kokish, two albino crows, are seen here at the MARS Wildlife Rescue. They are particularly susceptible to avian flu, according to Gylaine Andersen. (MARS Wildlife Rescue)

Andersen said the temporary closure comes at the busiest time of year for the centre. It might struggle to weather the loss of income without public donations, she said.

“At this time of year, we’re getting lots of little baby birds and baby mammals at the hospital,” she told CBC News. “Over at the visitor centre, this is when we would have the most visitation from the public.”

The MARS wildlife hospital remains open, according to the rescue’s website, but Andersen said it would be “an expensive time of year” without funds for PPE and other medical equipment.

Andersen asked poultry owners to be extra vigilant as avian flu continues to spread in the province, and also reiterated a call to take down bird feeders to stop the spread among wild birds.

Avian flu cases have been confirmed in several other provinces, but no infections have been detected in humans.

Officials say the illness is not considered a significant concern for healthy people who are not in regular contact with infected birds.

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Mental Health Issues Demand Resolution



Should those who hold public office show that they are of sound mind and body before taking office and during the years they serve? Are those bureaucrats who truly run our government ever tested or investigated for various mental health issues that could surely affect their performance as public employees?

Imagine what the mental state of public servants is like these days? Besides the Pandemics’ influence upon us all, these men and women are responsible for public service to their communities and nation. Man public employees are under vigorous scrutiny for their honesty and performance as employees, but what about their mental health challenges? Various municipal, State and Federal authorities make attempts to pinpoint an employee in need, someone needing assistance and direction in their professional and personal lives, but it is difficult to do. Privacy and union issues often stand in between the person in need and those who would assist them. Furthermore, many employees refuse to seek assistance, for reasons of professional survival. Say an employee has an important job where many decisions are made influencing the community at large(ie Police). That person needs assistance for some mental health issues but fears either losing their jobs or being declared problematic employees, slowing promotions or professional advancement. They clam up, interiorizing their pain, fear or distress.

Most public institutions will honestly admit they do not invest enough into mental health services for their fellow employees.

Our elected officials have much to hide away from their future or present-day electors. What if they have a skeleton in their closet? A colourful personal history, a criminal record, possible mental health or physical health issue. Issues that are allowed to be hidden from the transparency portfolio. If asked, tell the truth(as they see it), otherwise hide what can be hidden. Politicians performing their service to the community, are placed under a microscope by the electorate and media alike. This must be stressful to them and their families too. Are elected officials ever evaluated for mental health status ever, before being elected and during their service?

Do you think anyone with a criminal record or under investigation should be removed or barred from holding office or in a position of public trust? Is the trust of the electorate easily given? A public official or employee could mishandle a portfolio, or commit a crime while in public service. How often have you seen such an individual stand before the media’s camera, proclaiming their innocence or sorrow of their actions?

We have heard many public officials call for hugely needed investments in the treatment of mental health issues, yet these investments are either moving at a snail’s pace or not at all. Our military and police have been calling for assistance regarding their need for mental health programs for two decades with little happening. The government’s response is usually words, words, and more words with little accountable assistance given. Our government has enough revenue to invest in weapons for the police and military, building structures and community centers, highways and new computers, but when asked to invest in people, their employees and the electorate, it’s either too costly or they have not the funds.

The Police and Military: Have an immediate need for trained mental health professionals, therapists and therapy-recoup centers. If the government can send them into harm’s way, they are responsible to maintain their mental health.

Government Agencies: Due to privacy issues, the government should make allotments to their employees available to find and go to therapy. A healthy employee is a trusted effective one. The government should source mental health professionals for those who serve them. Furthermore, Governments and their agencies are responsible to encourage, initiate and plan for the training of these professionals. A well-paid professional will make their placement a long-term investment. If our public employees can rely upon their employer to care for them, we can rely upon our public sector.

An established long-term mental health program needs to be established. This can be all-inclusive to the entire community. For example, gun owners, and drivers of vehicles should be required to invest their time in an interview and possible retraining every five years. Should a mental health issue be recognized, it can be dealt with appropriately and calmly. Bad habits, addictions, attitudes and illnesses developed over time can be recognized and something is done about them promptly and privately.

We have forgotten that much that we receive from and within our society is a privilege, something that should be earnt, and not awarded. Our mental health changes over time, and so too our responsibility to our communities, family and society. Is the public sector becoming our parents, our caregivers? In many ways, it is, and so our overall health, and that of our minds may be calling for community maintenance.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario

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