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WHO sees more evidence that Omicron causes milder symptoms

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More evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants and resulting in a “decoupling” in some places between soaring case numbers and low death rates, a World Health Organization official said on Tuesday.

“We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike other ones, the lungs who would be causing severe pneumonia,” WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud told Geneva-based journalists.

“It can be a good news, but we really require more studies to prove that.”

Since the heavily mutated variant was first detected in November, WHO data shows it has spread quickly and emerged in at least 128 countries, presenting dilemmas for many nations and people seeking to reboot their economies and lives after nearly two years of COVID-related disruptions.

However, while case numbers have surged to all-time records, the hospitalisation and death rates are often lower than at other phases in the pandemic.

“What we are seeing now is….the decoupling between the cases and the deaths,” he said.

His remarks on the reduced risks of severe disease chime with other data, including a study from South Africa https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/safrica-study-suggests-lower-risk-hospitalisation-with-omicron-versus-delta-2021-12-22, which was one of the first countries where Omicron was detected.

However, Mahamud also sounded a note of caution, calling South Africa an “outlier” since it has a young population, among other factors.

And he warned that Omicron’s high transmissibility meant it would become dominant within weeks in many places, posing a threat to medical systems in countries where a high proportion of the population remains unvaccinated.

VACCINATION, NOT VACCINES, ARE THE CHALLENGE

While Omicron seemed to be slipping past antibodies, evidence was emerging that COVID-19 vaccines still provided some protection, by eliciting a second pillar of the immune response from T-cells, Mahamud said.

“Our prediction is protection against severe hospitalization and death (from Omicron) will be maintained,” he said, saying this also applied to vaccines developed by Sinopharm and Sinovac that are used in China, where Omicron cases remain very low.

“The challenge has not been the vaccine but the vaccination and reaching those vulnerable populations.”

Asked about whether an Omicron-specific vaccine was needed, Mahamud said it was too early to say but voiced doubts and stressed that the decision required global coordination and should not be left to manufacturers to decide alone.

“You may go ahead with Omicron and put all your eggs in that basket and a new variant that is more transmissible or more immune-evasive may appear,” he said, adding that a WHO technical group had held recent meetings on vaccine composition.

The best way to reduce the impact of the variant would be to meet the WHO’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the population in each country by July, rather than offer third and fourth doses in some countries, he said.

As case numbers due to Omicron have soared, some countries, including the United States https://www.reuters.com/world/us/cdc-cuts-quarantine-time-all-americans-with-covid-19-5-days-2021-12-27, have cut down isolation or quarantine periods in a bid to allow asymptomatic people to return to work or school.

Mahamud said that leaders should decide based on the strength of the local epidemic, saying Western countries with very high case numbers might consider trimming isolation periods to keep basic services functioning.

However, places that have largely shut it out would do better to maintain the full 14-day quarantine period.

“If your numbers are very small, you better be invested in keeping that number very, very low.”

 

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Mrinalika Roy in Bangalore; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson)

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Patients with COVID in Fraser Health may now share hospital rooms with uninfected – Chilliwack Progress – Chilliwack Progress

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A policy introduced to hospital staff last Friday by Fraser Health means some COVID-19 positive patients can share rooms with fully-vaccinated patients who are not infected with the virus.

Black Press received a copy of the memo issued Jan. 14 to staff at Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) announcing the revised recommendations “for COVID-19 patient placement in acute care settings.”

The memo states that due to evolving epidemiology of the Omicron variant, and that “this virus generally causes mild disease,” areas for COVID patients will be reserved for only those with significant respiratory symptoms.

“A single occupancy room… is the preferred accommodation for any patients with respiratory symptoms. If a single occupancy room is not available, accommodate the patient in a multi-bed room ensuring at least two metres of space from other beds.

“Place COVID-19 positive patients only with fully vaccinated roommates.”

Hospital staff are directed to follow Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) droplet precaution guidelines, and the memo made it clear that COVID-positive patients should not share a room with immunocompromised patients, patients with chronic cardiac or respiratory disease, newborns, or others with respiratory illnesses.

At a briefing Friday morning with Health Minister Adrian Dix and Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Black Press asked about the rationale behind this revised policy, and she made it clear it was not unique to CGH.

Henry said the increased number of people being admitted to hospitals means that space is at a premium, and this policy helps maximize space with additional precautions in place.

She said the type of COVID-positive patients who might be placed with a non-COVID patient are those who come to hospitals for other reasons, they are tested, and the positive result is considered “incidental” to the reason they are in hospital.

“That is an infection prevention control team decision made at a hospital by hospital, and actually room by room and ward by ward basis, depending on the needs in that facility.”

Dix added that yesterday there were 891 people hospitalized in the province with COVID-19, and the pre-Omicron record was 500.

“When you have a lot of people in the hospital, you have to manage within the space you have and ensure infection control stays high and that’s what our teams are doing across B.C.”


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COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, Jan. 21: weekly recap, 94 hospitalized, 601 new cases – Halifax Examiner

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Jump to sections in this article:
Overview
Vaccination
Testing

There are now now 94 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID symptoms, 13 of whom are in ICU. Those 57 range in age from 0 to 100 years old, and the average age is 68.

Additionally, there are:
• 73 people admitted to hospital for other reasons but who tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening or who were admitted for COVID but no longer require specialized care
• 113 people in hospital who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks

The 94 people now hospitalized because of COVID have the following vaccination status:
The vaccination status of those 94 is:
• 11 (11.7%) have had 3 doses
• 60 (63.8%) have had 2 doses but not 3
• 4 (4.3%) have had 1 dose
• 19 (20.2%) are unvaccinated
Note that only 9.3% of the population is unvaccinated

My very rough calculation of the rate by vaccination status of those hospitalized (based on numbers of the population in each category two weeks ago) is as follows:
• (11) a rate of 6.1 per 100K with 3 doses
• (60) a rate of 9.8 per 100K with 2 doses (but not 3)
• (4) a rate of 5.7 per 100K with 1 dose only
• (19) a rate of 18.0 per 100k unvaccinated

Additionally, the province announced 601 new cases of COVID-19 today. The new cases are people who received a positive PCR test result from a Nova Scotia Health lab; it does not include people who tested positive using a take-home rapid (antigen) test.

By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 269 Central
• 120 Eastern
• 49 Northern
• 163 Western

Public Health estimates that there are 5,241 active cases in the province; the actual number is undoubtedly much higher.

The graph above shows the weekly (Sat-Fri) number of new cases for the duration of the pandemic.

The graph above shows the number of weekly cases (green, left axis) and weekly deaths (red, right axis). If deaths lag three weeks behind cases, we may (nothing is certain) see 10-20 more deaths in the next couple of weeks.

The graph above shows the number of weekly cases (green, left axis) and the number hospitalized on Fridays (orange, right axis) for the duration of the pandemic.

Jail outbreak

“Active COVID-19 cases at the provincial jail in Burnside are down to 11,” reports Zane Woodford:

The Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility has had an outbreak since late-December, and Justice Department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn told the Halifax Examiner there have now been a total of 140 cases at the jail.

“As of Jan. 21, there are 11 active cases among those currently in custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility,” Fairbairn wrote in an email.

As has been the case throughout, according to Fairbairn, none of the prisoners is in hospital and there are no cases in the jail’s women’s unit.

Fairbairn said since January 1, five people have been approved for temporary absences or early release. The population at the jail, as of January 20, was 223. That means about 63% of prisoners at the facility have had COVID-19.

Hospital outbreaks

There are two new cases at ongoing hospital outbreaks, one each at:
• Cape Breton Regional Hospital for a total of fewer than 10 in that ward
• Victoria General for a total of fewer than 10


Vaccination

Vaccination data were not reported today “due to a technical issue.”

The graph above shows the vaccination progress as captured on Fridays through the pandemic, except Thursday for this week. The yellow line is people with at least one dose of vaccine The blue line is people with only one dose. The green line is people with two doses but not three. The grey line is people with three doses. The red line is 80% of the population.

Appointments for boosters are now open to people 30 and over for whom 168 days have passed since their second shot.

Vaccination appointments for people 5 years of age and older can be booked here.

People in rural areas who need transportation to a vaccination appointment should contact Rural Rides, which will get you there and back home for just $5. You need to book the ride 24 hours ahead of time.

There are many drop-in Pfizer vaccine clinics scheduled, starting next week, several for kids five years old and older.


Testing

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 3,975 PCR tests yesterday, with a positivity rate of 15.1%.

If you test positive with a rapid (antigen) test, you are assumed to definitely have COVID, and you and your household are to self-isolate as required.

But take-home rapid testing kits are no longer widely available.

Pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites:

Saturday
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Glace Bay Legion, 11am-3pm

Sunday
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Knights of Columbus (KOC) Hall (New Waterford), 11am-3pm

Monday
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Hubbards Lions Club, 11am-3pm

You can volunteer to work at the pop-up testing sites here or here. No medical experience is necessary.


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Mexican president has cardiac catheterization, health said to be good

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Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador underwent a cardiac catheterization in hospital on Friday and was found to be in good health, the interior ministry said in a statement.

“In this procedure, the heart and the arteries of the president were found to be healthy and functioning appropriately,” the statement said.

Lopez Obrador, 68, who had a serious heart attack in 2013 and recently recovered from his second coronavirus infection, underwent the procedure as part of a check-up every six months that include lab tests, electrocardiograms, stress tests and CT scans, the government said.

The medical team said the latest results indicated the need for a cardiac catheterization, without providing further details on why they performed what they described as a 30-minute procedure.

The government said “no other type of intervention” was needed and that Lopez Obrador was in “perfect health.”

The procedure inserts a thin tube into a large blood vessel leading to the heart and can detect how well the heart is working.

Lopez Obrador said he had mild symptoms from both bouts of COVID-19. In the most recent case earlier this month, he went into isolation for a week before returning to public activities, including lengthy daily news conferences.

On his first day back, he praised honey, pain reliever paracetamol and VapoRub, a topical ointment popular in Mexico, for helping ease his symptoms.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Dave Graham and Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Editing by William Mallard)

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