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Vaccine rollout hits snag as health workers balk at shots

By BERNARD CONDON, MATT SEDENSKY and CARLA K. JOHNSON
January 8, 2021
Source: Associate Press

Source: Associate Press, Jae C. Hong
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

In this Jan. 7, 2021, file photo, a nurse puts on protective gear in a COVID-19 unit in California. The nation’s biggest immunization rollout in history is facing pushback from an unlikely source: health care workers who witnessed COVID-19′s devastation firsthand but are refusing shots in surprising numbers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The desperately awaited vaccination drive against the coronavirus in the U.S. is running into resistance from an unlikely quarter: Surprising numbers of health care workers who have seen firsthand the death and misery inflicted by COVID-19 are refusing shots.

It is happening in nursing homes and, to a lesser degree, in hospitals, with employees expressing what experts say are unfounded fears of side effects from vaccines that were developed at record speed. More than three weeks into the campaign, some places are seeing as much as 80% of the staff holding back.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a guinea pig,” said Dr. Stephen Noble, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in Portland, Oregon, who is postponing getting vaccinated. “At the end of the day, as a man of science, I just want to see what the data show. And give me the full data.

Alarmed by the phenomenon, some administrators have dangled everything from free breakfasts at Waffle House to a raffle for a car to get employees to roll up their sleeves. Some states have threatened to let other people cut ahead of health care workers in the line for shots.

“It’s far too low. It’s alarmingly low,” said Neil Pruitt, CEO of PruittHealth, which runs about 100 long-term care homes in the South, where fewer than 3 in 10 workers offered the vaccine so far have accepted it.

Many medical facilities from Florida to Washington state have boasted of near-universal acceptance of the shots, and workers have proudly plastered pictures of themselves on social media receiving the vaccine. Elsewhere, though, the drive has stumbled.

While the federal government has released no data on how many people offered the vaccines have taken them, glimpses of resistance have emerged around the country.

In Illinois, a big divide has opened at state-run veterans homes between residents and staff. The discrepancy was worst at the veterans home in Manteno, where 90% of residents were vaccinated but only 18% of the staff members.

In rural Ashland, Alabama, about 90 of some 200 workers at Clay County Hospital have yet to agree to get vaccinated, even with the place so overrun with COVID-19 patients that oxygen is running low and beds have been added to the intensive care unit, divided by plastic sheeting.

The pushback comes amid the most lethal phase in the outbreak yet, with the death toll at more than 350,000, and it could hinder the government’s effort to vaccinate somewhere between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population to achieve “herd immunity.

Administrators and public health officials have expressed hope that more health workers will opt to be vaccinated as they see their colleagues take the shots without problems.

Oregon doctor Noble said he will wait until April or May to get the shots. He said it is vital for public health authorities not to overstate what they know about the vaccines. That is particularly important, he said, for Black people like him who are distrustful of government medical guidance because of past failures and abuses, such as the infamous Tuskegee experiment.

Medical journals have published extensive data on the vaccines, and the Food and Drug Administration has made its analysis public. But misinformation about the shots has spread wildly online, including falsehoods that they cause fertility problems.

Stormy Tatom, 30, a hospital ICU nurse in Beaumont, Texas, said she decided against getting vaccinated for now “because of the unknown long-term side effects.”

“I would say at least half of my coworkers feel the same way,” Tatom said.

There have been no signs of widespread severe side effects from the vaccines, and scientists say the drugs have been rigorously tested on tens of thousands and vetted by independent experts.

States have begun turning up the pressure. South Carolina’s governor gave health care workers until Jan. 15 to get a shot or “move to the back of the line.” Georgia’s top health official has allowed some vaccines to be diverted to other front-line workers, including firefighters and police, out of frustration with the slow uptake.

“There’s vaccine available but it’s literally sitting in freezers,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. “That’s unacceptable. We have lives to save.”

Nursing homes were among the institutions given priority for the shots because the virus has cut a terrible swath through them. Long-term care residents and staff account for about 38% of the nation’s COVID-19 fatalities.

In West Virginia, only about 55% of nursing home workers agreed to the shots when they were first offered last month, according to Martin Wright, who leads the West Virginia Health Care Association.

“It’s a race against social media,” Wright said of battling falsehoods about the vaccines.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said only 40% of the state’s nursing home workers have gotten shots. North Carolina’s top public health official estimated more than half were refusing the vaccine there.

SavaSeniorCare has offered cash to the 169 long-term care homes in its 20-state network to pay for gift cards, socially distanced parties or other incentives. But so far, data from about a third of its homes shows that 55% of workers have refused the vaccine.

CVS and Walgreens, which have been contracted by a majority of U.S. nursing homes to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, have not released specifics on the acceptance rate. CVS said that residents have agreed to be immunized at an “encouragingly high” rate but that “initial uptake among staff is low,” partly because of efforts to stagger when employees receive their shots.

Some facilities have vaccinated workers in stages so that the staff is not sidelined all at once if they suffer minor side effects, which can include fever and aches.

The hesitation isn’t surprising, given the mixed message from political leaders and misinformation online, said Dr. Wilbur Chen, a professor at the University of Maryland who specializes in the science of vaccines.

He noted that health care workers represent a broad range of jobs and backgrounds and said they are not necessarily more informed than the general public.

“They don’t know what to believe either,” Chen said. But he said he expects the hesitancy to subside as more people are vaccinated and public health officials get their message across.

Some places have already seen turnarounds, such as Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“The biggest thing that helped us to gain confidence in our staff was watching other staff members get vaccinated, be OK, walk out of the room, you know, not grow a third ear, and so that really is like an avalanche,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer. “The first few hundred that we had created another 300 that wanted the vaccine.”

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; Candice Choi in New York; Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Bryan Anderson in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Why are so many medical professionals one of the main communities hesitant to take a vaccine created within their own industry? Some say it was politicized? Others say it has not been adequately tested? What do you say?

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Researchers find correlation between consistent mask-wearing and improved well-being

Source: News Medical Life Sciences
Dec 24 2020

Since the emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), universal masking has been implemented in many countries.

Wearing face masks or coverings can help reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by preventing infectious respiratory droplets from COVID-19 positive individuals from spreading to others when they sneeze, cough, talk, or breathe.

A team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh, UK, found that consistent mask-wearing was associated with positive well-being among their participants.

Study: Face covering adherence is positively associated with better mental health and wellbeing: a longitudinal analysis of the CovidLife surveys. Image Credit: r.classen / ShutterstockStudy: Face covering adherence is positively associated with better mental health and wellbeing: a longitudinal analysis of the CovidLife surveys. Image Credit: r.classen / Shutterstock
Source: News Medical Life Sciences

The study, published on the pre-print medRxivserversurveyed more than 11,000 participants across the UK.

Face covering

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends wearing a face mask as part of a comprehensive strategy of mitigating the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide adequate protection, but it is effective along with other infection control measures.

The health agency also recommends that people wear a mask if they are around other people. When wearing the mask properly, it should cover the nose, mouth, and chin.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge the public to wear face coverings made with cloth. Surgical and medical masks are intended for healthcare workers. This is to avoid depleting the supply of this medical equipment, which is crucial in protecting frontline workers.

The study

The team conducted longitudinal analyses that collected data via the Qualtrics platform between April and June 2020. To arrive at the study findings, the researchers recruited 11,000 participants across the UK who completed the CovidLife surveys, which is an initiative set up by the University of Edinburgh to try and measure and understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s health and well-being. Using this data, the mental health outcomes of the participants were then evaluated.

The researchers found that adherence to face-covering guidelines had no association with poorer mental health. The team also found that people who wore masks consistently had better mental health than those who did not.

Hence, the study offers evidence to suggest that wearing face coverings or masks more often will not negatively impact mental health.

The study found that the odds of feeling anxious were 58% lower among those who always wore their masks. The likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms was 25% lower among people who wore their masks most of the time. Lastly, the odds of feeling lonely were 67% lower among those who always wore their masks.

Indeed, the opposite appears to be the case: stronger adherence to guidelines is associated with less anxiety and loneliness, and higher life satisfaction and wellbeing,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

They also emphasized that wearing face masks alone is insufficient in preventing infection with SARS-CoV-2. Adhering to infection control measures such as washing the hands regularly, maintaining social distance, and avoiding crowded places are crucial factors that should be applied alongside face coverings.

Conclusion

Our data provide strong evidence that following government guidance on face coverings is associated with better rather than poorer mental health and wellbeing,” the team concluded.

Correlation is not to be conflated with causation here. However, the study offers an interesting finding which, the researchers believe, provides evidence that challenges assumptions that consistent mask-wearing can negatively impact mental health and well-being. They thus suggest that their findings “could be an important motivator for continued advocacy by policymakers and adherence by members of the public.”

More research would be needed to fully understand this correlation and it should be weighed up against the ways in which consistent mask-wearing can have negative effects on one’s physical and mental well-being. In short, further study would clarify the implications of this finding.

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.Journal reference:

  • Altschul, D., Ritchie, C., Kwong, A., Hartley, L., Nangle, C., Edwards, R. et al. (2020). Face covering adherence is positively associated with better mental health and wellbeing: a longitudinal analysis of the CovidLife surveys. medRxiv. doi.

The study findings agree with past studies that found that not adhering to the rule of wearing face masks can be viewed negatively by others. It reveals the other side to adherence behavior, even though stigmatization or discomfort of wearing masks do or do not harm mental health and well-being.

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo, BSNBy Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo, BSN
Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master’s Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

Do you wear masks to prevent COVID? What do you do to prevent the spread of COVID? Why? Why not?

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Wisconsin hospital employee fired, arrested after ‘intentionally’ destroying 500 doses of Covid vaccine

Source: NBC News

“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed,” the hospital said.Dec. 31, 2020, 12:44 PM EST / Updated Dec. 31, 2020, 5:16 PM ESTBy Elizabeth Chuck and Ben Kesslen

A Wisconsin hospital employee has been fired and arrested after removing dozens of vials of the coronavirus vaccine from a pharmacy refrigerator, intentionally destroying more than 500 doses, a hospital investigation found.

The incident happened over the weekend at the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, north of Milwaukee. Grafton police announced the arrest of the pharmacist Thursday, but did not name the man or identify a motive.

Police said in a statement they arrested the former employee on suspicion of recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. The damage he caused “was estimated to be between $8,000 and $11,000,” police said.

Initially, it appeared that the 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine — which must be kept between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit — had been left out overnight accidentally, hospital officials said. Each vial holds approximately 10 doses of the vaccine.

But Wednesday, the Aurora Medical Center announced the hospital worker involved “acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration.”

Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis.
Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis.Google Maps
Source: NBC News
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed,” the hospital said in a statement, adding that the employee has been terminated. “This was a violation of our core values.”

The Moderna vaccine has a 12-hour window once it has been thawed. Most doses of the vaccine that had been left out of the pharmacy refrigerator had to be discarded, although hospital officials later believed they could salvage some. After the hospital administered more than 50 doses of the vaccines that had been thawed, it learned the shots had actually been thawed twice, rendering them ineffective, a hospital official said Thursday at a press conference. The hospital said all those who received an ineffective vaccination have been notified and that those individuals are not at risk.

News of the spoiled vaccine doses in Wisconsin comes as the United States struggles to meet its goals for vaccination. So far, only about 2.8 million people have been vaccinated, far short of the 20 million the Trump administration had hoped for by year-end.

The vaccine is not yet widely available, and health care workers and nursing home residents have priority for the first doses.

On Wednesday, Advocate Aurora Health, the health system that Aurora Medical Center is part of, said it has vaccinated more than 21,000 health care workers so far.

The pharmacist is currently being held at Ozaukee County Jail.

Image: Elizabeth ChuckElizabeth Chuck

Elizabeth Chuck is a reporter for NBC News.Image: Ben KesslenBen Kesslen

Ben Kesslen is a reporter for NBC News. Matteo Moschella contributed.

Why do you think this medical professional destroyed the vaccine? Why? Why not?

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Seeing the COVID-19 Pandemic from Space

By Abigail Seadler,
NASA’s Earth Science Division

Source: NASA
Photos Source: NASA

Economic and social shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to noticeable changes in Earth’s environment, at least for the short term. NASA researchers are using satellite and ground-based observations to track these impacts on our airlandwater, and climate. These datasets have been collected in a free and openly available online dashboard.

Average NO2 levels over San Francisco for the past 5 years
Source: NASA
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NO2 levels over San Francisco in March 2020
Source: NASA
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Nitrogen Dioxide Levels Over San Francisco, California

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an air pollutant, decreased significantly over urban areas during the pandemic. The left image above shows average NO2 levels over San Francisco for the past 5 years, and the right image shows NO2 levels over San Francisco in March 2020. These data are from NASA’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI). Credit: NASA COVID-19 Dashboard

The NASA COVID-19 Dashboard features data collected by Earth-observing satellites, instruments aboard the International Space Station, and sensitive ground-based networks. The global maps are searchable by several categories of observable change, including economic indicators, such as shipping and construction activity, and environmental factors, such as water quality and climate variations. Investigate the data layers yourself or take a guided tour of how NASA Earth scientists are studying – and learning about – the pandemic’s effects on the Earth system.

NASA scientists use many different tools, datasets, and methods to investigate COVID-related changes in the Earth system. Comparing complementary datasets on the dashboard helps reveal a deeper story of how the environment is changing due to COVID-related shutdowns.

satellite data of air pollution over California airport

Thermal data from the joint NASA-U.S. Geological Survey Landsat satellite show decreases in the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon where urban areas are significantly warmer than adjacent rural areas, during the pandemic. The left image shows temperatures over San Francisco in April 2018, while the right image shows temperatures over San Francisco in April 2020. Scientists found that large parking lots, highway corridors, and commercial rooftops were on average 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit (5-8 degrees Celsius) cooler from March to May 2020, compared to previous years. Credit: NASA COVID-19 Dashboard.
Source: NASA
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For example, scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center discovered that emptier parking lots near closed, non-essential businesses, in combination with cleaner air from less surface transportation, meant that heat from the sun radiating off dark asphalt and cement surfaces did not stay trapped near the ground as long. Instead, heat dissipated quickly, cooling the urban environment. Comparing the data to pre-pandemic years, scientists found that large parking lots, highway corridors, and commercial rooftops were, on average, 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit (about 5-8 degrees Celsius) cooler from March to May 2020.

The NASA COVID-19 Dashboard will be updated with more data and discoveries throughout the pandemic and beyond.

What does this information from NASA tell us about the impact of human activity on global warming? How can you help improve the environment? Do you ride a bike or recycle? Are you a Community Champion…read more about the environment below.

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Environmental Impacts of Solar Power

PHOTO: PIOTR ZAJDA/SHUTTERSTOCK
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Source: Union of Concerned Scientist

The sun provides a tremendous resource for generating clean and sustainable electricity without toxic pollution or global warming emissions.

The potential environmental impacts associated with solar power—land use and habitat loss, water use, and the use of hazardous materials in manufacturing—can vary greatly depending on the technology, which includes two broad categories: photovoltaic (PV) solar cells or concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP).

The scale of the system—ranging from small, distributed rooftop PV arrays to large utility-scale PV and CSP projects—also plays a significant role in the level of environmental impact.

Land use

Depending on their location, larger utility-scale solar facilities can raise concerns about land degradation and habitat loss. Total land area requirements varies depending on the technology, the topography of the site, and the intensity of the solar resource. Estimates for utility-scale PV systems range from 3.5 to 10 acres per megawatt, while estimates for CSP facilities are between 4 and 16.5 acres per megawatt.

Unlike wind facilities, there is less opportunity for solar projects to share land with agricultural uses. However, land impacts from utility-scale solar systems can be minimized by siting them at lower-quality locations such as brownfields, abandoned mining land, or existing transportation and transmission corridors [12]. Smaller scale solar PV arrays, which can be built on homes or commercial buildings, also have minimal land use impact.

Water use

Solar PV cells do not use water for generating electricity. However, as in all manufacturing processes, some water is used to manufacture solar PV components.

Concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP), like all thermal electric plants, require water for cooling. Water use depends on the plant design, plant location, and the type of cooling system.

CSP plants that use wet-recirculating technology with cooling towers withdraw between 600 and 650 gallons of water per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. CSP plants with once-through cooling technology have higher levels of water withdrawal, but lower total water consumption (because water is not lost as steam). Dry-cooling technology can reduce water use at CSP plants by approximately 90 percent [3]. However, the tradeoffs to these water savings are higher costs and lower efficiencies. In addition, dry-cooling technology is significantly less effective at temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many of the regions in the United States that have the highest potential for solar energy also tend to be those with the driest climates, so careful consideration of these water tradeoffs is essential. (For more information, see How it Works: Water for Power Plant Cooling.)

Hazardous materials

The PV cell manufacturing process includes a number of hazardous materials, most of which are used to clean and purify the semiconductor surface. These chemicals, similar to those used in the general semiconductor industry, include hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and acetone. The amount and type of chemicals used depends on the type of cell, the amount of cleaning that is needed, and the size of silicon wafer [4].  Workers also face risks associated with inhaling silicon dust. Thus, PV manufactures must follow U.S. laws to ensure that workers are not harmed by exposure to these chemicals and that manufacturing waste products are disposed of properly.

Thin-film PV cells contain a number of more toxic materials than those used in traditional silicon photovoltaic cells, including gallium arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and cadmium-telluride[5]. If not handled and disposed of properly, these materials could pose serious environmental or public health threats. However, manufacturers have a strong financial incentive to ensure that these highly valuable and often rare materials are recycled rather than thrown away.

Life-cycle global warming emissions

While there are no global warming emissions associated with generating electricity from solar energy, there are emissions associated with other stages of the solar life-cycle, including manufacturing, materials transportation, installation, maintenance, and decommissioning and dismantlement. Most estimates of life-cycle emissions for photovoltaic systems are between 0.07 and 0.18 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour.

Most estimates for concentrating solar power range from 0.08 to 0.2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. In both cases, this is far less than the lifecycle emission rates for natural gas (0.6-2 lbs of CO2E/kWh) and coal (1.4-3.6 lbs of CO2E/kWh) [6]. 

References:

[1] Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Renewable Energy at Mining Sites

[2, 3, 4] National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 2012. Renewable Electricity Futures Study. Hand, M.M.; Baldwin, S.; DeMeo, E.; Reilly, J.M.; Mai, T.; Arent, D.; Porro, G.; Meshek, M.; Sandor, D. eds. 4 vols. NREL/TP-6A20-52409. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

[5] National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Best Research-Cell Efficiencies.

[6] IPCC, 2011: IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1075 pp. (Chapter 7 & 9).

What are the commercial implications of the solar panel industry? Why? Why not?

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Fauci: US taking hard look at variant of coronavirus

Source: Associate Press

In this Dec. 22, 2020, file photo Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, prepares to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health officials believe the coronavirus mutation that set off alarms in parts of Britain is no more apt to cause serious illness or be resistant to vaccines than the strain afflicting people in the United States but it still must be taken “very seriously,” the government’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci endorsed the decision of U.S. officials to require negative COVID-19 tests before letting people from Britain enter the U.S. He declined to weigh in on whether that step should have been taken sooner. He said the variant strain is something “to follow very carefully” and “we’re looking at it very intensively now.”

He said: “Does it make someone more ill? Is it more serious virus in the sense of virulence? And the answer is, it doesn’t appear to be that way.” British officials are telling their U.S. colleagues it appears that the vaccines being rolled out will be strong enough to deal with the new variant but, Fauci said, “we’re going to be doing the studies ourselves.”

Fauci said the U.S. is at a critical phase of the pandemic, with the worst probably still ahead. He predicted the general population would be getting immunized widely by late March or early April — beyond the front-line workers, older people and certain other segments of the public given priority for the vaccines.

Fauci spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Great Britain was the first country to give the vaccine to its citizens. Why do you think they are seeing a mutation of the corona virus? Do you think this is associated with the vaccine? Why? Why not?

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Virginia’s average new daily COVID-19 cases topped 4,000 on Christmas Day

covid 19 shidonna raven garden and cook

Source: Inside NOVA
Virginia’s seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases topped 4,000 for the first time on Christmas Day before falling Saturday as significantly fewer cases were reported on the holiday itself.

The Virginia Department of Health reported 4,078 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, the third straight day with more than 4,000. That brought the state’s seven-day average to a new high of 4,086.4.  On Saturday, however, just 1,584 cases were reported, lowering the average to 3,800.7.

As was seen over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a surge in testing leading up to the holiday will likely be followed by a decline in test results reported over the holiday weekend itself, before numbers pick back up again next week. Even at the lower number, the state’s current seven-day average of new cases is still up 9.2% in the past week and 46.9% in the past month. 

The trend was similar in Northern Virginia, which reported 1,145 new cases on Friday — the third straight day with more than 1,000 — before adding just 428 on Saturday. The region’s seven-day average now stands at 1,035.6, slightly below its peak of 1,124.4 on Dec. 12. 

The health department reported a total of 49 new deaths related to COVID-19 on Friday and Saturday, with seven of those in Northern Virginia: five in Fairfax County, and one apiece in Alexandria and Manassas.  

Northern Virginia data by locality (Dec. 26, 2020)

SOURCE: Virginia Department of Health

LocalityCasesHospitalizationsDeaths
Alexandria6,98542486
Arlington8,475647176
Fairfax41,7692,870671
Fairfax City2822510
Falls Church166166
Loudoun13,441629154
Manassas2,80314730
Manassas Park904628
Prince William24,2921,202249
Totals99,1176,0221,390
OTHER AREA JURISDICTIONS
County/CityCasesHospitalizationsDeaths
Fredericksburg978638
Spotsylvania4,46420867
Stafford4,88622123
Fauquier2,2058928
Culpeper2,84213318

Hospitalizations for treatment of the virus tracked by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association have fallen over the past few days from Wednesday’s record high of 2,586 to 2,454 on Saturday.  However, the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive-care units, 548, and on ventilators, 299, both set records Saturday. 

In Northern Virginia, 569 patients were hospitalized Saturday, significantly fewer than the region’s peak of 808 on April 30.

In its weekly model update, the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute projected the number of cases statewide will peak in early February at just over 47,000.  That is down from last week’s projection, but the institute noted that the surge and decline in testing around the holidays has led to abrupt shifts in data, which make modeling more difficult. 

Although the state’s seven-day average test positivity rate has topped 12% for the first time since May 26, average positivity rates are down across most of Northern Virginia, with the exception of the Prince William health district.

Seven-day average test positivity rate by health district (Dec. 26,2020)

SOURCE: Virginia Department of Health

Health DistrictPeakLowCurrentTrend
Alexandria40.1% / April 233.2% / Oct. 187.7%Down
Arlington42.8% / April 202.4% / June 265.9%Down
Fairfax38.6% / April 223.3% / Oct. 1610.2%Down
Loudoun27.9% / April 284.0% / Sept. 30 & Oct. 311.0%Down
Prince William36.7% / April 185.4% / Oct. 2016.6%Up
Rappahannock17.2% / May 83.5% / July 312.4%Down
Statewide20.6% / April 224.5% / Sept. 30, Oct. 1,2,12 & 1312.1%Up

The health department’s report of the number of COVID-19 vaccines available and administered shows that just over 43,000 Virginians have now received their first dose of the vaccine.

Did you get tested before the holidays? Did you get tested after the holidays? How is routine testing impacting our prospective on COVID 19 information?

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Medicinal Properties of Echinacea

echinacea plant shidonna raven garden and cook

Source: Healthline

With the oncoming winter and the lingering pandemic, taking advantage of the medicinal properties of echinacea is beneficial. Be careful to read the below medicinal benefits of echinacea. Use the below lose leaf tea to enjoy the medicinal benefits of echinacea. Stay healthy!

Echinacea Tea

Echinacea tea is an extremely popular remedy that’s said to prevent and shorten the common cold.

Evidence has shown that echinacea may help boost the immune system, which could help the body fight off viruses or infections (33Trusted Source).

Many studies have found that echinacea can shorten the duration of the common cold, lessen the severity of its symptoms or even prevent it (33Trusted Source).

However, results are conflicting, and most studies have not been well designed. This makes it difficult to tell if positive results are due to echinacea or random chance.

Therefore, it’s not possible to say definitively that taking echinacea will help with the common cold.

At the very least, this warm herbal drink may help soothe your sore throat or clear up your stuffy nose if you do feel a cold coming on (34Trusted Source).

SUMMARY: Echinacea tea is commonly used to prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold. While several studies have found it to be effective for this use, the evidence on the matter is conflicting.

What medicinal benefits are beneficial to you? How well do you think echinacea will help with preventing and curing a cold? How useful is echinacea during the autumn and winter months and during a pandemic?

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From Tuskegee to a COVID Vaccine: Diversity and Racism Are Hurdles in Drug Trials

Drug companies pushing to fight the coronavirus with a vaccine must overcome a legacy of suspicion, even as Black communities have been hit hard by the pandemic.

By Joseph P. Williams, Senior Editor
Nov. 19, 2020, at 1:35 p.m.
Source: US News

The Search for Diversity in Drug Trials

In this 1950's photo released by the National Archives, a black man included in a syphilis study has blood drawn by a doctor in Tuskegee, Ala. U.S. public health officials in the 1930s began a study in which syphilis was left untreated in Black men. Known colloquially as the Tuskegee experiment, the study didn’t end until 1972, and has become shorthand among African Americans for a legacy of racism and mistreatment in the medical industry.
Source: US News
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

In this 1950s photo released by the National Archives, a Black man included in the Tuskegee syphilis study has blood drawn by a doctor in Tuskegee, Ala. The once-secret Tuskegee experiment has become shorthand among African Americans for a legacy of mistreatment in medicine.(NATIONAL ARCHIVES)

AMID A SEEMINGLY endless pandemic, as a spiraling number of COVID-19 deaths presage what could be a long, dark winter, the news broke through like thin rays of sunshine: Two American pharmaceutical giants racing to find a vaccine separately reported that human tests of their experimental drugs have shown highly promising results.

The potentially game-changing data from drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, however, obscured what some say is anotherkey development: Both companies reported that the pools of volunteers receiving the drugs included significant numbers of Black participants.[ 

The inclusion of Black people in trials for a highly anticipated drug might seem like a no-brainer, particularly for a vaccine to fight COVID-19, a contagion that’s been killing Black Americans at a rate higher than whites. Indeed, PhRMA, the drug industry’s influential trade group, just announced a new set of principles that urge diversity in human trials for new drugs to boost health equity, increase participation by people of color, ensure drug effectiveness – and tackle lingering suspicion of the medical industry among some African Americans.

“Between Latinx and Black or African American populations, we’re running at about 19% or so,” Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, told Reuters this summer, describing a trial pool of 11,000 people for a vaccine being developed with German partner BioNTech. “We’re trying to push even higher than that.”

The company appears to have improved, saying as of Monday that 30% of U.S. trial participants had “diverse” backgrounds, with Black people and those identified as either Hispanic or by the gender-neutral term Latinx accounting for approximately 10% and 13% shares, respectively. Moderna, meanwhile, said its 30,000-person phase three vaccine study included more than 11,000 people from communities of color, including more than 6,000 Hispanic or Latinx people and more than 3,000 Black or African American participants.

Yet while the industry insists it is moving with deliberate speed toward diversity and inclusion in experimental drug trials, some say it’s taking baby steps and has a long way to go toward building trust with African Americans and other minority communities.

“There are a lot of outstanding questions,” says Jonathan Jackson, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Community Access, Recruitment, and Engagement Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The center investigates the effects of diversity and inclusion on human subject research.

“A lot of people who have been running the COVID-19 vaccine studies have been really excited because they have recruited a more diverse population, compared to what they’re used to,” Jackson says. “The bar that you’re trying to clear shouldn’t be a study that you ran last year,” but the goal should be to mirror the population most affected by the targeted disease.

“So if those are our baselines, then what we’re seeing – even though it is a significant increase in diversity – is still nowhere near representative of COVID hospitalizations or COVID deaths,” Jackson says. “It’s hard to get excited when we still have so far to go.”

Jackson and others say the lack of diversity in medical trials has roots extending deep into U.S. history.

Dr. J. Marion Sims, onetime president of the American Medical Association and an esteemed physician dubbed “the father of modern gynecology,” made groundbreaking medical strides through research he conducted on female slaves, without anesthesia. Medical journals reportedly indicate it was common to conduct medical experiments on slaves with no pain relief; procedures ranged from amputations to brain surgery.

While research on slaves gradually faded over the decades, experiments on African Americans never completely went away.

World Braces For Another Wave of Coronavirus

In 1951, doctors at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore – though segregated, one of the only leading hospitals to treat Black patients – harvested cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman being treated for cancer, without her knowledge or permission. Though such harvesting reportedly was standard at Hopkins regardless of race, Lacks’ cells were abnormally reproductive and widely shared, and her “HeLa” cells are still in use for research today.

In perhaps the most egregious example, U.S. public health officials in the 1930s began a study in which syphilis was left untreated in Black men. Known colloquially as the Tuskegee experiment, the study didn’t end until 1972, and has become shorthand among African Americans for a legacy of racism and mistreatment in the medical industry.

Facing that ugly history is part of building trust and boosting participation in clinical trials by historically underrepresented communities, according to the PhRMA industry principles, which explicitly state that the Tuskegee experiment was unethical and featured serious mistakes. Still, the industry principles state that the horrible experiment became a conduit for “major changes in how clinical trials are conducted in order to protect the rights, safety, and well-being of clinical trial participants.”

Rather than lean into diversity and inclusion in medical trials, however, experts say the industry went in the other direction. For years, it wasn’t unusual for a drug to be tested on volunteers from the pharmaceutical research community, without any people of color in the pool.

In that world, “it’s not that we struggle to recruit racial and ethnic minorities; it’s that we’re really good at recruiting one type of person into clinical research,” says Jackson, the CARES director. “And that person is usually (a) white, wealthy male, and lives in an urban center, along the East or West Coast of the United States, and has some kind of advanced educational degree.”

Decades ago, the group that was easiest to reach were poor, minority individuals that were unlikely to speak up or speak out,” he says. “Now, the group that’s easiest to reach are extremely privileged individuals” who have the means and the time to participate

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says diversity in clinical trials is important for two reasons.

“One is that it’s just better science – you then get a better idea of how your drug or your vaccine or anything else works in a more representative population,” particularly among people dealing with issues tied to social determinants of health, Benjamin says. “And the other aspect is, it helps with trust” among African Americans and other marginalized populations.

The data underscores the need: As of August and compared with whites, Black people had a COVID-19 case rate nearly three times higher, were hospitalized at a rate nearly five times higher and had a death rate more than two times higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An APM Research Lab analysis as of Nov. 10 also shows Black Americans with a death rate close to double that of whites.

Yet recent polling indicates nearly half of African Americans are either reluctant or will refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccination. That’s despite the fact that some believe the disproportionate effects the coronavirus has had on their communities should put people of color near the front of the line for inoculation.

“Having a racial preference for a COVID-19 vaccine is not only ethically permissible, but I think it’s an ethical imperative,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told STAT. It’s justifiable, he said, because of “historic structural racism that’s resulted in grossly unequal health outcomes for all kinds of diseases, and because COVID-19 has so disproportionately impacted the lives of people of color.”

To be sure, the racial and ethnic makeup of trial participants can vary: In 2019, for example, federal data snapshot says Blacks or African Americans – who make up about 13% of the U.S. population – accounted for 4% of participants in trials that led to the approval of 11 new oncology drugs, but for 25% of participants in trials that led to the approval of six hematology drugs and 29% in trials that led to the approval of five drugs in the psychiatry and sleep disorder category. Notably, a 2018 study indicated that African Americans were overrepresented in trials that did not require informed consent but are to be aimed at life-threatening, emergency conditions.

In its vaccine pursuit, Pfizer appeared to recognize the need for diversity and inclusion: A fact sheet sent by a company representative states that COVID-19 “is an urgent health crisis that disproportionately impacts diverse communities,” a problem that requires focused action.

The drug company’s efforts include information and ad campaigns to educate the public and recruit volunteers in “diverse” communities hit hard by COVID-19, according to the fact sheet. In addition to outreach in several languages and partnerships with grassroots community organizations, Pfizer also set up a website that shows its progress in including minorities in its vaccine trials.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that the demographics of our trial population reflect the demographics of the states and communities that have been most impacted by COVID-19,” according to the fact sheet.

Benjamin says Pfizer and other drug manufacturers are making the right moves to increase inclusion in drug trials, including by embedding representatives in the community. Still, he says, it’s a long-term process that will yield concrete results in years, not months.

“You have to make sure you have the right people at the table,” Benjamin says. Drug companies, he says, have to “make a conscious effort” to include those affected by the disease they’re trying to cure, and “actually go to the patients and take that added step to ensure that you have a representative population” for a drug trial.

Jackson, for his part, says while the diversity numbers reported by Pfizer and Moderna are sunny, “I’m probably going to be the rain cloud.”

Outstanding questions include whether the percentages equate to the number of minorities affected by the coronavirus. Moreover, “even if we had exactly the percentage in the studies that we see, there are other issues that are really problematic” and could determine how effective the drug is when accounting for social determinants of health, Jackson says.

“It actually makes a difference where your racial and ethnic minorities come from,” he says. “Do they come from areas of town that are more rural? Poorer? Have worse insurance access than the white people that are enrolling in these studies?”

Ultimately, “it really comes down to one thing, which is just the importance of community engagement, which drives more inclusive enrollment, rather than just a record of diverse enrollment,” Jackson says. When a vaccine is developed, trust has to be there in order to get the African American community to buy in and get the shot to curb the spread of disease.

“And so you need to build that trust, when the vaccine is still being tested, rather than waiting for the vaccine to be approved by the FDA,” Jackson says. “Because that’s what’s really going to drive trust, is that people understand the whole process and can attest to their involvement in it.”

How do you feel about the COVID 19 vaccines? What questions do you have? Why?

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SKIP RICHTER: Give the gift of gardening this year

Bundle some herbs with an herb book or a group of terra cotta pots. A topiary rosemary can be planted outside after it’s done being a holiday decoration. 

Plants provide a link between people and across time. It may be a seedling from a special tree, some bulbs from the old family home place, a rose propagated from a bush at a grave site or an herb division from your own garden with a note about your friendship. 

The season for gift giving is upon us, and gardeners have a unique advantage. We know the joy of growing things and the way that plants and gardening can provide ongoing interest and satisfaction over time.

Gardening itself is a gift to give, and there are many ways to provide someone else this wonderful experience. Here are a few ideas to consider as you plan your holiday gifts this year, for both the gardeners and the wish-to-be gardeners on your list.

Indoor gardening

Houseplants are hot items ever since COVID left us spending more time at home. Local garden centers offer a nice variety of choices, while hard-to-find species can be purchased online. Check a plant’s light requirements, and when in doubt, go with lower light-tolerant species.

A windowsill herb garden may be a great fit for a bright kitchen window. Place a few herbs in small terra cotta pots and set them in a long narrow tray to catch any excess water.

If you want to take it up a notch, an indoor plant-growing system may be the perfect gift. These come as a tabletop system with grow lights. Often, these units are hydroponic or at least self-watering.

Seed starting indoors

There are a variety of kits for seed starting, from a simple tray with a clear lid to sturdy plant-growing trays with humidity domes that resemble a mini greenhouse for starting seeds and rooting transplants.

Include a bag of seed-starting medium, some seed packets, plant labels and a when-to-plant chart that usually can be obtained free in print or online from the recipient’s local AgriLife Extension office.

Good lighting is the key to growing great transplants, so consider including a light with a stand to help ensure success.

Gardening starter basket

Put together some seed packets, plant labels, gloves, hand tools, hose end watering wand and a simple how-to gardening book written for the recipient’s area of the country. Include some free planting guides from the recipient’s land grant university’s extension system or local extension office. For an attractive package, place it all in a harvesting basket or gardening tool bag.

Share your garden

I am struck by the number of times a gardener has said, “That plant was given to me by an old friend,” or “This rose came from a cutting we took from my grandmother’s home.”

Plants provide a link between people and across time. It may be a seedling from a special tree, some bulbs from the old family home place, a rose propagated from a bush at a grave site or an herb division from your own garden with a note about your friendship.

You get the idea. The possibilities are limitless for giving someone a living reminder of your friendship or a connection to family history that will last long after all the other gifts of the holidays are gone.https://8d6fdb908466db4cd903b38ca49a6ab1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

A theme garden

Bundle some herbs with an herb book or a group of terra cotta pots. A topiary rosemary can be planted outside after it’s done being a holiday decoration. Gather plants and/or seeds for a butterfly garden and include a book on butterfly gardening. How about a group of seeds/plants along with a book on cut flower gardening? Perhaps a bird house or feeder?

Give gardening wisdom

Every gardener has something to learn and those new to gardening may enjoy a book or magazine on the basics. Printed materials are great for sharpening their skills over the upcoming weeks of winter in preparation for a great spring garden.

Look for materials that are written for their area, as garden writing is often very regional in application. We have many great books and magazines written by Texans for Texas to choose from, such as Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac or Neil Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening. A magazine such as Texas Gardener is another good example.

An exception to “read local” rule would be topics that are not region-specific such as how to propagate plants or prune a tree.

Quality equipment and accessories

A good quality tool will last for years and make gardening work easier and more enjoyable. I appreciate well-made pruning shears, a quality spade or garden fork, a cobrahead weeder, a soil knife (hori hori) or a specialty hoe. Accessories such as a kneeling pad — or my favorite, a folding kneeling/sitting bench — are nice, too.

Gifts of your time

In addition to giving a plant, you can give the planting. Some folks may be physically unable to do some gardening tasks. With your gift plant, include a coupon good for “planting this rose bush and visiting over a cup of coffee.” That time spent will be more important for many folks than any store-bought gift they received during the holidays.

This holiday season give gardening, a gift that will grow in the hearts of your friends and family.


Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Brazos County, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. For local gardening information and events, visit brazosmg.com. Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email rrichter@ag.tamu.edu.

How many gifts can you give that keep giving and bare fruit? Why do you think gardening and indoor gardening has become so popular during COVID 19? Which plants do you currently have indoors (houseplants)?

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