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Photo shows doctor embracing a vulnerable, lonely COVID-19 patient on Thanksgiving – USA TODAY

Photo shows doctor embracing a vulnerable, lonely COVID-19 patient on Thanksgiving - USA TODAY
Dr. Joseph Varon hugs and comforts a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center on November 26 in Houston, Texas.

Photographer Go Nakamura has visited a COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston about 20 times, but he never gets used to what he sees there.

Taking photos too graphic to share; seeing patients one day who will be gone when he returns later in the week — there’s no getting used to that, he told USA TODAY on Saturday.

But on Thanksgiving, Nakamura captured an image of compassion that has gained national attention as the United States reels under a record number of daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The photo shows Dr. Joseph Varon, clad in protective equipment, embracing a patient who has collapsed into his arms. 

In the moments before the photo was taken, the patient was clearly feeling “vulnerable … lonely,” Nakamura said. 

The patient had confused the photographer with a medical professional. Soon, those professionals arrived to help.

Watch:Dad beats virus and has joyful reunion with family

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Varon often gets close to patients, in Nakamura’s experience. The doctor is known for offering cheerful words of encouragement. But a hug is something rarely seen.

Nakamura was focused on capturing the moment, so he didn’t hear the soft words spoken after the shutter clicked. But based on his experience at the United Memorial Medical Center, he’s sure they were kind and comforting.

To the public, Varon has offered different words: “America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history” if the nation doesn’t “do things right” in coming weeks.

That was his message to CNN on Wednesday, hours before the Thanksgiving image was captured.

He told the network he has worked for more than 250 days straight. He said his hospital is full and is increasing capacity, bracing for an expected surge in cases following the holiday.

Nakamura plans to continue documenting, knowing he will see more of the same: patients on life support; “people suffering and dying.”

But through it all Nakamura pays tribute to those on the front lines: “I am grateful to witness a wonderful moment and I thank all the medical staffs for their hard work even during the holiday season,” he wrote as he shared the photo on social media.

Photo shows doctor embracing a vulnerable, lonely COVID-19 patient on Thanksgiving - USA TODAY

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Coronovirus outbreak at massive remote Trident seafood plant in Akutan now extends to 135 workers – Anchorage Daily News

Coronovirus outbreak at massive remote Trident seafood plant in Akutan now extends to 135 workers - Anchorage Daily News

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Trident Seafoods plant in the tiny, remote community of Akutan now encompasses 135 workers including several sick enough to require medevacs to Anchorage.

The plant, North America’s largest, right now has about 700 workers quarantined on an island in the Bering Sea with the nearest hospital hundreds of miles away. Trident is taking the unusual step of stockpiling medical supplies including ventilators in case weather grounds air ambulances.

Two COVID-positive workers were sick enough to get flown Monday to Anchorage for hospitalization, according to state health officials. Another worker with breathing problems was medevaced earlier.

“We arranged Coast Guard-assisted evacuations yesterday for two employees whose condition was quickly worsening,” Trident spokeswoman Stefanie Moreland said in a statement Tuesday. “We now have more private-sector resources lined up in case further emergency evacuations are needed and weather permits.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said Tuesday that 135 out of 307 employees tested so far came back positive for COVID-19.

Five workers have been medevaced in recent days, not all for virus-related problems, including the two COVID-19 patients flown out Monday, officials say. Three others have been released and are staying in Anchorage.

As a precaution, Trident sent out ventilators, oxygen and CPAP breathing machines, spokesman Shannon Carroll said Tuesday. “No one is on ventilators or oxygen currently.”

Trident is also taking the unusual step of sending off-island employees with underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk of more severe infections if they get the virus. The company is sending those employees by boat to Unalaska about 35 miles away where they are being flown to quarantine in Anchorage.

Fifteen had left or were departing by mid-day Tuesday, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin.

Such outbreaks can take weeks to play out, state health officials say.

The Trident plant sits about a half mile from Akutan but operates as a closed campus, a policy that started in March when the pandemic began. The workforce dwarfs the community’s population of about 100. Workers complete a 14-day quarantine before getting on the island.

It’s unclear how the virus got into the facility.

The plant is a processing hub for Bering Sea harvests of pollock, crab and cod. The workforce is expected to swell to 1,400 in the weeks ahead, provided normal operations resume. The company last week said it opted to hold about 365 workers in Anchorage once their quarantine ended.

Trident officials say the number of positive cases out of total tests is relatively high for now, partly because they tested high-risk populations and known close contacts of infected workers first. The company won’t report the final rate of positive test until it has rapid results from mosts employees.

The outbreak was first discovered on Jan. 17 when a plant worker with breathing problems was tested prior to the Coast Guard flight out. Three of their roommates tested positive that day.

More testing is continuing, Trident officials said. Weather delays last week initially slowed that process but supplies and additional medical professionals are now on site.

A medical team is conducting rapid antigen tests for quick results and is also collecting samples for PCR tests, which detect the virus’ genetic material and are slower but more accurate, to be shipped to a lab outside of the region, the company said.

Trident is paying the Akutan employees during the shutdown, officials said.

“We’re providing safe activities, wellness support, WIFI data cards for downloading books, magazines and other entertainment, and are providing a safe checkout and return process for on-site games and movies,” Moreland said. “We’re grateful for our people’s strength and resilience in a challenging situation.”

The Daily News has been unable to reach workers at the plant.

The Trident outbreak is the third in a seafood processing plant in the Aleutian Islands, about a week into the billion-dollar Bering Sea pollock fishery. Crab and cod seasons were underway. The pollock season began Jan. 20.

Pollock, a small white-fleshed fish found in abundance in the Bering, is part of a multi-billion-dollar industry that churns out everything from fish sticks to sushi.

Westward Seafoods, owner of Alyeska Seafoods Inc. in Unalaska, on Friday became the third Aleutian plant to temporarily shut down. The plant halted production based on a cluster of positive COVID-19 cases identified during surveillance testing of workers at the Alyeska plant, according to a city update.

Alyeska “has enacted their plans for responding to positive cases identified within their workforce” which includes isolating people who test positive, helping with contact tracing, quarantining people found to be close contacts of infected workers and conducting more testing.

A message left at the company’s Seattle headquarters Tuesday was not returned.

An outbreak at another Unalaska plant, operated by UniSea, shut down earlier though officials have said they hoped to reopen by this weekend. A UniSea representative did not return a request for information Tuesday about the reopening schedule.

As of Monday, 30 of the 32 active cases in Unalaska were industry-related, according to the city website. Five new industry cases were reported that day. Overall, that’s a decline from the 50 active industry cases reported Friday.

The sudden plant shut down left some fishermen stuck at the docks with holds full of fish, according to a report by Alaska Public Media.

Last year’s crab, cod and pollock seasons didn’t trigger any major outbreaks. That’s because plants already had workers contained on site when the pandemic surfaced in Alaska. This year, workers traveled from the Lower 48, where transmission is ongoing. Many companies also operate open campus facilities in Alaskan communities with high rates of COVID-19 spread.

The situation is bad but not as bad as it could be, at least for now, industry observers say. Unlike derby-style salmon fisheries, pollock is managed on a quota basis in which shares are assigned to cooperatives that decide when they want to harvest their fish.

The growing concern, however, is for continued outbreaks that push plant closures for weeks, deeper into the current fishing season that runs into April.

“We have a great team focused on making sure we’re preventing further spread of the virus while we continue to assess each individual employee’s health, care for the sick and understand who has already been infected,” Trident CEO Joe Bundrant said in Tuesday’s statement. “We will take every step possible to ensure our people and plant are safe before restarting production.”

— Reporter Annie Berman contributed to this story.

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CDC officials say schools can re-open during pandemic — but precautions are crucial – NBC News

CDC officials say schools can re-open during pandemic — but precautions are crucial - NBC News

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Staff at Jerusalem hospital says it’s collapsing under wave of COVID infections – The Times of Israel

Staff at Jerusalem hospital says it’s collapsing under wave of COVID infections - The Times of Israel

Medical staff and patients at a Jerusalem hospital said it is collapsing under the strain of the third wave coronavirus outbreak in Israel in a report published on Tuesday.

A Channel 12 news crew went into the sealed coronavirus ward of the capital’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem to report on the struggle to care for patients there amid a shortage of beds and equipment.

“The first wave was a shock for us because we weren’t familiar with the disease. After a few shifts we said, ‘Ok, I understand what’s going on.’ But the third wave has hit us hard,” said Claudia Foji, a nurse in the intensive care unit for coronavirus patients. “We’re at war,” she said.

“The turnover here isn’t fast enough. The beds don’t stay empty for long. Every time, new sick people come in,” said Anat Heretz, a social worker in the unit.

“This wave is much more complex. The sick people have more complications. The respiratory problems are more complex. The fear is in their eyes. It’s not easy to see,” said nurse Tehila Harel.

Earlier this month, a coronavirus patient died at Ichilov Hospital after the breathing tube for his ventilator detached and the overworked staff failed to notice for several minutes.

Harel said the Hadassah staff feared something similar could happen to them.

“We’re always afraid, that we won’t be able to see, we won’t notice. It’s a big department. There are 30 beds, and it’s spread out,” she said. “The fear is constant.”

Staff at Jerusalem hospital says it’s collapsing under wave of COVID infections - The Times of Israel

Tehila Harel, a nurse in the coronavirus ward of Hadassah medical center in Jerusalem. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

One of the patients in the ward, Yaffa Elimelech, was hospitalized at the beginning of last week and was still in intensive care. She told the news crew, “You can’t breathe. I’m fighting for my life.”

She derided Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push to distribute cash handouts to the public to cope with the economic fallout from the pandemic. Netanyahu’s plan has been widely criticized and is not expected to be approved.

“There aren’t any beds here, there’s no equipment, people are being thrown into the hallways,” Elimelech said. “I’m calling on the prime minister — you don’t need to give people NIS 750 when all the hospitals are collapsing. If not for the medical team, I’m dead.”

New virus variants have been blamed for the severity of the third wave outbreak, along with other factors, despite more than two weeks of a national lockdown. After hitting a peak of over 10,000 daily cases last week, the numbers continue to remain stubbornly high.

Israel’s death toll reached 4,512 on Tuesday. More than one-quarter of the country’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic have been registered this month alone.

The Health Ministry said 8,680 cases were diagnosed Monday, with the test positivity rate rising to 9.8 percent, one of the highest figures in more than three months.

Staff at Jerusalem hospital says it’s collapsing under wave of COVID infections - The Times of Israel

A man receives the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination center in Tel Aviv, Jan. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Total cases since the start of the pandemic have reached 613,578, including 74,392 active cases. Of them, 1,174 are in serious condition. Tuesday saw more than 160 new serious cases, one of the highest daily rates since the pandemic began.

The lockdown rules are currently set to expire on Sunday, but the Health Ministry is expected to push for an extension of the current lockdown restrictions until infections start going down considerably, which is expected to be aided by a high rate of vaccination.

Officials do not see a possibility of reopening schools, the culture industry or businesses under the current conditions.

The outbreak rages as Israel’s largely successful vaccination campaign moves forward. The Health Ministry said Tuesday night that 2,735,008 of Israel’s population of 9.3 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 1,325,795 have received both shots. Israel leads the world by far in vaccinations per capita.

On Monday night, Israel shuttered Ben Gurion Airport to nearly all flights until the end of January due to fears over the coronavirus variants entering the country.

The airport closure began at midnight and will remain in effect until Sunday, January 31, when national lockdown measures are currently set to expire unless the government renews them.

Staff at Jerusalem hospital says it’s collapsing under wave of COVID infections - The Times of Israel

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past the check-in desk for Israel’s flag carrier El-Al at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on January 25, 2021, before boarding one of the last flights out of Israel. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

It was the first time since the start of the pandemic that Israel prevented its own citizens from entering the country. Even new immigrants, who have continued to arrive during the pandemic despite limits on non-citizen entry, will have to wait until the shutdown ends to travel to the country.

The British variant of the virus is circulating widely in Israel, accounting for around half of recent cases, according to health officials. At least twenty-seven cases of a South African strain have been found in the country, in addition to four cases of a mutation originating in the US state of California. Officials fear the variants might prove resistant to the vaccines or mutate further to become resistant. The Israeli government’s precautions come as studies indicate the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer protection from the variants.

In what appears to be a world first, the Health Ministry on Tuesday issued a directive in favor of vaccinating children under the age of 16 who are at high risk of developing serious symptoms if they contract COVID-19.

The decision still must receive final approval from Dr. Boaz Lev, the health official tasked with delineating priority groups for the coronavirus vaccine. It comes against the backdrop of rising morbidity rates among children in Israel.

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More than 49,000 people sign up for Harris County COVID-19 vaccine waitlist on Day 1 –

More than 49,000 people sign up for Harris County COVID-19 vaccine waitlist on Day 1 -

Officials at Harris County Public Health blame a surge in traffic with causing the website to go down for two hours.

HOUSTON — More than 49,000 people signed up for Harris County’s new COVID-19 vaccine waitlist during its first few hours of operation.

According to the Harris County Judge’s Office, 49,287 people had signed up as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The portal launched around noon.

Officials at Harris County Public Health blame a surge in traffic with causing the website to go down for two hours.

Unlike vaccine sign-ups in other counties and cities in the Houston area, Harris County’s process is not first-come, first-serve.

RELATED: Harris County’s COVID-19 vaccine portal is now online — all residents can sign up

“Getting a COVID-19 vaccine shouldn’t be like the Hunger Games,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, during a Monday press conference on the portal launch. “It shouldn’t be about who can hit refresh on a browser the fastest.”

Hidalgo said the selection process will be randomized and use prioritization based on state guidelines.

All residents can sign up for the waitlist, even if they’re not yet eligible for the vaccine. Currently, Texas is offering the vaccine to people in Phases 1A and 1B.

“The benefit of that is that in a couple of months, once the state makes vaccines available to another segment of the population, we’ll have those folks already on the waitlist, and we’ll be able to reach out to them according to whatever the state designates,” said Hidalgo.

People can register at or call 832-927-8787.

On Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Hidalgo reminded residents via social media that they can still call Wednesday or visit the signup website later in the week.

Harris County is currently receiving about 9,000 vaccines per week from the state.

Hidalgo says they’re building more capacity for when they get more supply. County officials hope to eventually operate six vaccination sites and a mobile location.

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Tyler Perry Explained Why He Got Both Doses Of The COVID-19 Vaccine – BuzzFeed

Tyler Perry Explained Why He Got Both Doses Of The COVID-19 Vaccine - BuzzFeed

“The information that I’ve found has been very helpful.”

You know Tyler Perry.

Christopher Polk / Getty Images

The media mogul recently appeared on CBS This Morning to discuss with cohost Gayle King his experience receiving both shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, after he was asked by health officials to take it in order to encourage confidence.

View this video on YouTube

CBS / YouTube / Via

“I took my first one Jan. 4, and I took the second one yesterday,” he explained. “I had no reaction to the first shot. This shot that I just took yesterday, I woke up with some aches and pains. But I took some Advil about an hour ago and I feel fine now.”

“I didn’t really feel like I could trust it,” Perry also said while discussing the science behind the vaccine. “But once I got all of the information, found out the researchers, I was very, very happy.”

Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images

And now that Perry’s educated himself and received the vaccine, he’s hosting a TV special on BET this Thursday night at 9 p.m. EST called COVID-19 Vaccine and the Black Community: A Tyler Perry Special.

“If you look at our history in this country, the Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks, it raises flags for us as African American people,” Perry told King while discussing the special, which will include him interviewing medical experts. “So I understand why there’s a healthy skepticism about the vaccine.”

Nathan Congleton / NBC / Getty Images

“I have a crew that works for me, and they’re largely African American people who were all skeptical about the vaccine. When they sat in the room, as they worked on the cameras, and doing hair and makeup…they listened to all the information and by the time we got to the end of it, they all wanted to take it.”

“it all goes back to getting the correct information and getting it from people that you trust and you understand. I think this last administration did a lot of damage in eroding trust, when it comes to this vaccine. But the information that I’ve found has been very helpful.”

Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images

COVID-19 is still spreading across the United States. There are safety precautions you can take in your everyday life to prevent getting or giving COVID-19: wear a mask, practice social distancing, and get tested when necessary. Head to the CDC’s website for information about how to get a COVID-19 test in your state.

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