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Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 2 deaths and 656 new cases reported Saturday – Anchorage Daily News

https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2020/11/28/tracking-covid-19-in-alaska-2-deaths-and-656-new-cases-reported-saturday/

Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 2 deaths and 656 new cases reported Saturday - Anchorage Daily News
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In total, 120 Alaskans and a nonresident have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic began here in March. The two deaths reported Saturday involved an Anchorage woman in her 70s and an Anchorage woman over 80, according to the state health department.

Saturday’s COVID-19 numbers represent a continuation of high case counts statewide that have grown for weeks alongside a nationwide virus surge. Concern surrounding the state’s strained hospital and health care system continues to grow as daily tallies climb.

And health officials say that daily counts may be underreporting new case numbers as lags in data entry persist. They say looking at trends, such as two-week averages, may give a fuller picture of the state’s current virus situation. Almost every region in the state is now in a high-alert level based on the average number of cases per 100,00 people over the last 14 days, with that number steeply rising in multiple regions over the past week. That means there’s widespread community transmission, frequent outbreaks and many undetected cases across Alaska.

People in Alaska are largely getting the virus from friends, family members and co-workers, according to health officials, and many people who tested positive reported going to social gatherings, community events, church services and social venues while they were contagious but did not yet know they had COVID-19.

Officials recommend that Alaskans stay away from gatherings with people they don’t live with and avoid crowds, and they continue to encourage people to stay 6 feet from others and wear masks around non-household members.

As of Saturday, 141 people were currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and another 12 hospital patients were suspected of being infected with the virus. Close to a fifth of all hospital patients statewide had COVID-19 by the weekend. Hospitalizations are rising and the limited availability of staffing is a significant concern, health officials said this week.

Of the 639 new cases reported by the state Saturday among Alaska residents, 262 were in Anchorage, plus 16 in Chugiak, 13 in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; 91 in Wasilla, 29 in Palmer, two in Big Lake, one in Houston and one in Sutton-Alpine; 16 in Soldotna, 12 in Kenai, four in Sterling, two in Seward, two in Homer, one in Fritz Creek and one in Nikiski; 37 in Fairbanks and seven in North Pole; 11 in Kodiak; 10 in Nome; seven in Utqiagvik; seven in Juneau; seven in Sitka; six in Bethel; three in Delta Junction; three in Kotzebue; two in Dillingham; two in Chevak; one in Ketchikan; one in Petersburg; and one in Unalaska.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were 55 resident cases in the Bethel Census Area; eight in the Kusilvak Census Area; four in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; four in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; two in the Northwest Arctic Borough; two in the North Slope Borough; one in the Kodiak Island Borough; one in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; one in the Denali Borough; one in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; and one in the Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon region.

Seventeen cases were reported among nonresidents: seven in Anchorage, two in Delta Junction, one in Fairbanks, one in Wasilla, one in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and five in unidentified regions of the state.

The percentage of positive cases among people arriving in Alaska is five times what it was just weeks ago, at around 5%, officials said in a weekly report. Traveling by air risks exposure in airports, on planes, in taxis or rideshares and after arriving, they said.

While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.

Among the new cases, it is not reported how many people were showing symptoms when they tested positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about a third of people who have the virus are asymptomatic.

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Some COVID-19 mutations may dampen vaccine effectiveness – The Associated Press

https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-coronavirus-vaccine-845ef3fed4125ab271f6b5de641aae1a

Some COVID-19 mutations may dampen vaccine effectiveness - The Associated Press

Scientists are reporting troubling signs that some recent mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19 may modestly curb the effectiveness of two current vaccines, although they stress that the shots still protect against the disease.

Researchers expressed concern Wednesday about the preliminary findings, in large part because they suggest that future mutations could undermine vaccines. The research tested coronaviruses from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, and was led by Rockefeller University in New York with scientists from the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere.

A different, more limited study out Wednesday gave encouraging news about one vaccine’s protection against some of the mutations.

One way vaccines work is to prompt the immune system to make antibodies that block the virus from infecting cells. The Rockefeller researchers got blood samples from 20 people who had received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and tested their antibodies against various virus mutations in the lab.

With some, the antibodies didn’t work as well against the virus — activity was one-to-threefold less, depending on the mutation, said the study leader, Rockefeller’s Dr. Michel Nussenzweig.

“It’s a small difference but it is definitely a difference,” he said. The antibody response is “not as good” at blocking the virus.

Earlier research established that the two vaccines are about 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 illness.

The latest findings were posted late Tuesday on an online website for researchers and have not yet been published in a journal or reviewed by other scientists. Nussenzweig is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports science coverage at The Associated Press. The university has applied for a patent related to his work.

The coronavirus has been growing more genetically diverse, and scientists say the high rate of new cases is the main reason. Each new infection gives the virus a chance to mutate as it makes copies of itself.

Recent variants, or versions of the virus that emerged in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil seem to spread more easily and scientists say that will lead to more cases, deaths and hospitalizations. The new variants do not seem to cause more serious disease but their ability to eventually undercut vaccines is a concern.

E. John Wherry, an immunology expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Rockefeller scientists are “among the very best in the world” at this work and their results are concerning.

“We don’t want people thinking that the current vaccine is already outdated. That’s absolutely not true,” he said. “There’s still immunity here … a good level of protection,” but the mutations “do in fact reduce how well our immune response is recognizing the virus.”

The news comes at “a really important time in the pandemic,” said Dr. Buddy Creech, a vaccine specialist at Vanderbilt University,

“We’ve got an arms race between the vaccines and the virus. The slower we roll out vaccine around the world, the more opportunities we give this virus to escape” and develop mutations, he said.

Dr. Matthew Woodruff, an immunology researcher at Emory University, agreed.

“This is going to be kind of a slow walk of evolution. We’re going to have to have tools that slowly develop with it,” such as treatments that offer combinations of antibodies rather than one, he said.

Dr. Drew Weissman, a University of Pennsylvania scientist whose work helped lead to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, said the antibody findings are worrisome, but noted that vaccines also protect in other ways, such as spurring responses from other parts of the immune system. The new work involved only 20 people and not a huge range of ages or races, “and all of that matters” in how generalizable the results are, he said.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech reported a second round of reassuring findings about its vaccine against one of the variants.

Earlier this month, Pfizer and researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch said that the vaccine remained effective against a mutation called N501Y from new variants found in the U.K. and South Africa. Likewise, there was no sign of trouble when they tested some additional mutations.

The latest work tested all the mutations from the variant from the U.K. at once rather than one-by-one. Tests from 16 vaccine recipients showed no big difference in the ability of antibodies to block the virus, the researchers said in a repor t.

Pfizer didn’t immediately comment about the Rockefeller findings, but its chief scientific officer, Dr. Philip Dormitzer, previously said next steps include testing the vaccine against additional mutations found in the variant from South Africa.

Moderna and AstraZeneca, which makes a different type of COVID-19 vaccine used in some countries, also have been testing how their vaccines hold up against different mutations.

If the virus eventually mutates enough that the vaccine needs adjusting — much like flu shots are altered most years — tweaking the recipe wouldn’t be difficult for vaccines made with newer technologies. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with a piece of the virus genetic code that is simple to switch.

It’s “wishful thinking” to believe that first-generation vaccines will be enough, or that vaccines alone will solve our problems, said Mayo Clinic vaccine expert Dr. Gregory Poland.

“We are shooting ourselves in the foot by allowing unmitigated transmission of this virus” and not doing “common sense” measures such as mandating mask-wearing as some other countries are doing, he said.

“How can the bars and restaurants be full? It’s like ‘what pandemic?’ We’ve reaped the seeds we’ve sown,” he said.

___

Medical writer Lauran Neergaard contributed reporting.

__

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Alabama to take vaccine doses from providers that don’t give it out fast enough – AL.com

https://www.al.com/news/2021/01/alabama-to-take-vaccine-doses-from-providers-that-dont-give-it-out-fast-enough.html

Alabama to take vaccine doses from providers that don’t give it out fast enough - AL.com

Amid criticism from state lawmakers about a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Alabama, the state announced Wednesday it would begin “removing” unused vaccine doses from clinics or pharmacies that are not giving it out quickly enough and send the limited vaccine supplies elsewhere.

The Alabama Department of Public Health issued a news release Wednesday afternoon to address “misunderstandings” about the vaccination efforts in the state and announce that the new policy of “removing” unused vaccine doses from hospitals, pharmacies or other providers and sending them to places that can use it faster.

“In response to concerns that some providers are failing to administer their allotments of vaccine on a timely basis, ADPH will begin removing vaccine supplies from providers who are not administering vaccine in a timely way,” the department said. “Unused vaccine will be redirected to other providers who will administer vaccine faster.

“ADPH is surveying all providers in the state to ensure that all administered doses have been properly reported to ADPH, and to determine whether there is any available vaccine that needs to be redistributed elsewhere.”

Alabama has consistently finished at or near the bottom of vaccine distribution statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, still ranking last among states in the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated as of Jan. 20. The ADPH data dashboard shows more doses given than the federal dashboard, and ADPH has said it is in ongoing communication with the CDC to ensure that all doses given in Alabama are counted.

But the state is under pressure to distribute the vaccine more quickly. In the waning days of the Trump administration, the CDC announced a policy to reward states that distribute the vaccine quickly with larger allocations in the future.

Tuesday, four Alabama lawmakers distributed a letter to the media saying that ADPH’s slow rollout and recordkeeping issues could cost the state from getting additional doses in the future. ADPH responded that the government currently allocates vaccine doses based on population.

The CDC policy announced last week under the Trump administration has not yet taken effect and it is unclear whether it ever will under the Biden administration.

In Wednesday’s news release, the ADPH said it had redirected its employees from their regular duties to help county health departments administer the vaccine.

“Every person who receives a COVID-19 shot is deserving of one and will receive it, as we are determined to make sure that no vaccine is sitting unused on the shelf,” Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said. “We are making every effort to get shots into arms as quickly as possible.”

ADPH says the state has received 446,150 doses of vaccine from the federal government so far and administered 184,618. Alabama has been allocated a total of 640,150 doses, but not all have been delivered. ADPH says no vaccine doses have been discarded in Alabama thus far, and the ADPH now offers a map of providers that offer the vaccine on its web site.

The state has more than 346,000 people in Phase 1a of its vaccine allocation plan and another 348,000 residents age 75 or older who currently qualify to receive the vaccine.

The state has not yet launched a promised online registry for people to sign up to get on the list to receive a vaccine. A statewide vaccine appointment hotline exists, but has been flooded with callers and is often difficult to get through. Still, Harris says supply is the state’s biggest limiting factor.

“The biggest obstacle to vaccination is still the limited vaccine supply,” Harris said. “We are attempting to manage expectations, because the timeline for receipt of vaccine has not changed and we cannot give people a resource we don’t have yet.”

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told AL.com Wednesday that while it’s clear there were some data reporting issues with the federal database, the biggest problem is the lack of supply.

“We’ve got a number of hospitals, where the problem is not they’ve got vaccine and can’t give it,” Williamson said. “It’s that they’re out of vaccine.”

*AL.com reporter Sarah Whites-Koditschek contributed to this report.

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Covid: No evidence virus levels decreasing in England – BBC News

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55736239

Covid: No evidence virus levels decreasing in England - BBC News

The past few days have seen .css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:link{color:#3F3F42;}.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:visited{color:#696969;}.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:link,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:visited{font-weight:700;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:visited:focus{border-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;}@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em){.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:link,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:visited{border-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;}.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-1xgj2ad-InlineLink:visited:focus{-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;}}a clear slowdown in the number of lab-confirmed cases reported daily by the government.

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Portland’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site opened today: Here’s what you need to know – OregonLive

https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2021/01/oregon-convention-center-covid-19-vaccination-site-opens-wednesday-to-limited-groups-plans-2000-doses-a-day-for-teachers-next-week.html

Portland’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site opened today: Here’s what you need to know - OregonLive

Leaders from the Portland area’s four largest hospital systems celebrated the opening Wednesday of the Portland area’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland.

The site held a soft open Wednesday for about 1,500 healthcare workers and others in Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout who are eligible to be immunized against COVID-19. The site plans to start vaccinating about 2,000 childcare, preschool and K-12 workers per day.

The site is expected to be open seven days a week by appointment only. Organizers say educators will be contacted by their employers with instructions on how to book appointments.

Officials plan to offer an online or phone booking system by the time the vaccines are eventually made available to segments of the general population not linked to particular employers — such as the planned rollout to Oregonians ages 80 and older starting Feb. 8.

The site could ramp up to 7,500 vaccinations per a day or more — if Oregon’s vaccine allotments from the federal government allow.

“This isn’t a short-term event, we will have it open for months,” said Wendy Watson, chief operating officer of Kaiser Permanente Northwest, during a Wednesday news conference with the four hospital systems that will be running the site.

Joining Kaiser are Legacy Health, Providence Health & Services and Oregon Health & Science University.

Organizers expect it to be the major vaccination center for the Portland area, although OHSU is planning a smaller drive-through vaccination site at one of Portland International Airport’s parking lots. The state also plans to rely on some mobile vaccinations sites to supply vaccination access to hard-to-reach communities.

When asked by a reporter why the Oregon Convention Center site was vaccinating people indoors, where the coronavirus and especially its more contagious U.K. variant can spread more easily, organizers said people will be spaced out at least 6 feet apart and organizers believe the site will be safe. Watson said bad weather was one reason for not holding vaccinations outdoors. Another was a drive-through site can’t vaccinate as many people each day as the indoor site.

“In and out, it’s pretty quick,” Watson said.

Oregon Convention Center

The Oregon Convention Center is home to the Portland area’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site. (Courtesy of Kaiser Permanente)

Portland’s new site is one of a few such mass vaccination sites in Oregon. That includes one at the Polk County Fairgrounds and another at the state fairgrounds in Salem. This week, educators started receiving vaccinations in Marion County — days earlier than the state’s official immunizations start date for daycare, preschool and K-12 employees Jan. 25, according to KATU.

Oregon as of Wednesday has administered about 225,000 doses, with the pace of inoculations picking up since a slow rollout. In fact, Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said the big problem Oregon is bumping into now is getting enough vaccines to vaccination sites.

“Every single vaccinator that we had contact with last week, while we were doing 15,000 (vaccinations) a day, begged for more vaccine that just wasn’t available to allocate to them,” Allen said.

Allen said although the federal government is providing the vaccines at no direct cost to vaccine recipients, the health systems will be reimbursed for their operational costs running the Portland vaccination site. Allen said the Oregon Health Plan, Medicare, private insurance or a special fund for people without insurance will pay the health systems a set amount for each vaccination. But because that won’t likely cover their expenses, the state is looking into dipping into federal money recently passed by Congress for coronavirus-related costs.

Oregon on Dec. 16 began vaccinating health care workers, residents in long-term care and other medical professionals. Gov. Kate Brown is prioritizing teachers next, followed by Oregonians 80 and older, with an equity committee set to chime in with its recommendations before the governor sets the order after that.

Trent Green, chief operating officer of Legacy Health, asked for the public’s patience as the site ramps up.

“I know people are anxious,” Green said. “After months of this pandemic, it’s really hard to wait. I can tell you that our phones are ringing off the hook with people wanting to know when and where they can be vaccinated.”

Green continued: “Calling your doctor’s office or calling the hospital cannot speed up the process. Nor can calling your doctor’s office or the hospital change what phase you’re in.”

Coronavirus in Oregon: Latest news | Live map tracker |Text alerts | Newsletter

— Aimee Green; [email protected]

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3,987 new COVID-19 cases, 78 additional deaths reported in Massachusetts – WCVB Boston

https://www.wcvb.com/article/massachusetts-covid-19-cornonavirus-numbers-daily-update-january-20-2021/35269928

3,987 new COVID-19 cases, 78 additional deaths reported in Massachusetts - WCVB Boston

3,987 new COVID-19 cases, 78 additional deaths reported in Massachusetts

Number of estimated active cases drop to 90,154

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported an additional 3,987 confirmed COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 458,089 since the start of the pandemic. State health officials also added 78 new confirmed COVID-19-related deaths to the state’s total, which is now 13,547. An estimated 90,154 cases are active across Massachusetts, according to the report.Click here to see a graphical look at COVID-19 dataLatest town-by-town breakdown released by state The report said 2,209 patients with confirmed coronavirus cases were hospitalized in Massachusetts, of which 444 were reported to be in an intensive care unit.In the state’s weekly report released on Thursday, 229 communities were in the “Red,” or at high risk of COVID-19, up from 219 communities last week. The state also says there have been 324,203 recoveries. PHNjcmlwdCBpZD0iaW5mb2dyYW1fMF85MTUyMTg3My03NmRhLTQ0ZmUtOTA0Ny1mMTllZWFlZGFjNmQiIHRpdGxlPSJDb3JvbmF2aXJ1cyBpbiBNYXNzYWNodXNldHRzIiBzcmM9Imh0dHBzOi8vZS5pbmZvZ3JhbS5jb20vanMvZGlzdC9lbWJlZC5qcz9yeXoiIHR5cGU9InRleHQvamF2YXNjcmlwdCI+PC9zY3JpcHQ+New data is typically published daily around 5 p.m. and weekly reports are typically released on Thursdays, also around 5 p.m.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported an additional 3,987 confirmed COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 458,089 since the start of the pandemic.

State health officials also added 78 new confirmed COVID-19-related deaths to the state’s total, which is now 13,547.

An estimated 90,154 cases are active across Massachusetts, according to the report.

The report said 2,209 patients with confirmed coronavirus cases were hospitalized in Massachusetts, of which 444 were reported to be in an intensive care unit.

In the state’s weekly report released on Thursday, 229 communities were in the “Red,” or at high risk of COVID-19, up from 219 communities last week. The state also says there have been 324,203 recoveries.

New data is typically published daily around 5 p.m. and weekly reports are typically released on Thursdays, also around 5 p.m.

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