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With hope high for vaccine, Britain prepares to roll it out – Associated Press

https://apnews.com/article/science-coronavirus-pandemic-london-boris-johnson-europe-9ee117e77a3acfc92b42af31276afe19

With hope high for vaccine, Britain prepares to roll it out - Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April.

Even before regulators have approved a single vaccine, the U.K. and countries across Europe are moving quickly to organize the distribution and delivery systems needed to inoculate millions of citizens.

“If we can roll it out at a good lick … then with a favorable wind, this is entirely hypothetical, but we should be able to inoculate, I believe on the evidence I’m seeing, the vast majority of the people who need the most protection by Easter,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday after vaccine makers in recent weeks have announced encouraging results. “That will make a very substantial change to where we are at the moment.”

The U.K. has recorded more than 55,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, the deadliest outbreak in Europe. The pandemic has prevented families from meeting, put 750,000 people out of work and devastated businesses that were forced to shut as authorities tried to control the spread. England’s second national lockdown will end Dec. 2, but many restrictions will remain in place.

The British government has agreed to purchase up to 355 million doses of vaccine from seven different producers, as it prepares to vaccinate as many of the country’s 67 million people as possible. Governments around the world are making agreements with multiple developers to ensure they lock in delivery of the products that are ultimately approved by regulators.

The National Health Service is making plans to administer 88.5 million vaccine doses throughout England, according to a planning document dated Nov. 13. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are developing their own plans under the U.K.’s system of devolved administration.

The first to be vaccinated would be health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by older people, starting with those over 80, according to the document, first reported by the London-based Health Service Journal. People under 65 with underlying medical conditions would be next, then healthy people 50 to 65 and finally everyone else 18 and over.

While most of the injections would be delivered at around 1,000 community vaccination centers, about a third would go to 40 to 50 “large-scale mass vaccination centers,” including stadiums, conference centers and similar venues, the document indicates.

The NHS confirmed the document was genuine but said details and target dates are always changing because the vaccination program is a work in progress.

Professor Mark Jit, an expert in vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said Britain has the advantage of having a well-developed medical infrastructure that can be used to deliver the vaccine.

But this effort will be unlike standard vaccination programs that target individuals one at a time.

“The challenge now is to deliver the biggest vaccine program in living memory in the U.K. and other countries around the world,” Jit said. “We’re not vaccinating just children or pregnant women like many other vaccination programs…. We’re trying to vaccinate the entire U.K. population. And we’re trying to do it very quickly.’’

Other European countries are also getting ready, as are the companies that will be crucial to the rollout.

For example Germany’s Binder, which makes specialized cooling equipment for laboratories, has ramped up production of refrigerated containers needed to transport some of the vaccines under development. Binder is producing a unit that will reach the ultra-cold temperatures needed to ship the Pfizer vaccine.

The German government has asked regional authorities to get special vaccination centers ready by mid-December. France, meanwhile, has reserved 90 million vaccine doses, but has not yet laid out its plan for mass vaccination. A government spokesman said last week that authorities were working to identify locations for vaccination centers, choose companies to transport vaccines and set the rules for shipping and storage.

In Spain, health workers will get priority, as will residents of elder care homes. Spain hopes to vaccinate some 2.5 million people in the first stage between January and March and have most of the vulnerable population covered by mid-year. The vaccinations will be administered in 13,000 public health centers.

But sticking syringes in people’s arms is just the last part of the enormous logistical challenge the worldwide mass vaccination campaign will pose.

First, drugmakers must ramp up production, so there is enough supply to vaccinate billions of people in a matter of months. Then they have to overcome distribution hurdles such as storing some of the products at minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 Fahrenheit). Finally, they will need to manage complex supply chains reminiscent of the just-in-time delivery systems carmakers use to keep their factories humming.

“It will be the challenge of the century, basically, because of the volumes and everything else which are going to be involved … ,″ said Richard Wilding, a professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management. “It’s just the absolute scale.″

Vaccines from three drugmakers are considered leading candidates. Pfizer and Moderna have released preliminary data showing their vaccines were about 95% effective. AstraZeneca on Monday reported interim results of its vaccine developed with Oxford researchers that were also encouraging. Dozens of other vaccines are under development, including projects in China and Russia.

Britain and other Northern Hemisphere countries may also get a boost from the weather, said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer. Transmission of respiratory viruses generally slows during the warmer months.

“The virus will not disappear, but it will become less and less risky for society.”

But Johnson, who credited NHS nurses with saving his life after he was hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this year, warned restrictions will continue for months and Christmas celebrations will be curtailed this year.

“We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill, but they are not here yet,” Johnson said.

___

Associated Press writers David Rising and Geir Moulson in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris and Ciarán Giles in Madrid contributed.

___

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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Many scientists citing two scandalous COVID-19 papers ignore their retractions – Science Magazine

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/01/many-scientists-citing-two-scandalous-covid-19-papers-ignore-their-retractions

Many scientists citing two scandalous COVID-19 papers ignore their retractions - Science Magazine
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Many scientists citing two scandalous COVID-19 papers ignore their retractions - Science Magazine

E. Petersen/Science

This story was supported by the Science Fund for Investigative Reporting. Please help Science pursue ambitious journalism projects.

In June 2020, in the biggest research scandal of the pandemic so far, two of the most important medical journals each retracted a high-profile study of COVID-19 patients. Thousands of news articles, tweets, and scholarly commentaries highlighted the scandal, yet many researchers apparently failed to notice. In an examination of the most recent 200 academic articles published in 2020 that cite those papers, Science found that more than half—including many in leading journals—used the disgraced papers to support scientific findings and failed to note the retractions.

COVID-19 “is such a hot topic that publishers are willing to publish without proper vetting,” even in the face of retractions that made global headlines, says Elizabeth Suelzer, a reference librarian at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has written about problematic citations to a retracted 1998 study in The Lancet falsely linking vaccination to autism.

Both of the retracted COVID-19 papers, one in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the other in The Lancet, were based on what appeared to be a huge database of patient records compiled from hospitals worldwide by Surgisphere, a small company operated by vascular surgeon Sapan Desai, who was a co-author on each article. The 22 May 2020 Lancet paper ostensibly showed that hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug promoted by President Donald Trump and others, could harm rather than help COVID-19 patients. Its publication led to a temporary halt in a major clinical trial and inflamed an already-divisive debate over the drug, which has proved to be no help against COVID-19. The 1 May NEJM article corroborated other evidence that people already taking certain blood pressure medicines did not face a greater risk of death if they developed COVID-19.

Questions soon arose about the validity, and even existence, of the Surgisphere database, however, and the retractions followed on 4 June. But of the 200 papers examined by Science—all published after the retractions—105 inappropriately cited one of the disgraced studies. In several cases it was a primary source for a meta-analysis combining multiple studies to draw overarching conclusions. In most, the studies were cited as scientific support or context. Science also found a handful of articles that uncritically cited an influential April preprint based on the same Surgisphere data set, which described the antiparasitic drug ivermectin as beneficial in critical COVID-19 cases. (There is no standard way to retract preprints, however.)

Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the website Retraction Watch, says such blunders occur because “people are either willfully or negligently not checking references.” Many authors copy and paste lists of apparently relevant citations from similar papers without actually reading them, he says. “It’s frightening. It’s terrible, but common.”

Many of the tainted citations appeared in papers published by little-known journals, but at least a dozen found their way into major publications. For example, three articles in PLOS ONE, the prominent open-access journal, cited the retracted papers in discussions of pandemic conditions in Europe. A 28 December paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)—one of the most influential journals—discussed the risks and benefits of drugs to treat COVID-19 and noted the Lancet retraction in its citations, yet the text merely noted the paper’s hydroxychloroquine findings as “controversial.”

Editors at those two publications said they would correct the references and take steps to prevent such problems in the future. Renee Hoch, a PLOS ONE editor and publication ethics manager, wrote in an email that the publication relies on authors and its outside, volunteer editors to check citations, and she was caught by surprise when contacted by Science. “We are currently following up on this issue with high priority in light of the implications for public health and ongoing COVID-19 research,” she wrote.

Hoch added that reliance on retracted work, “either directly or in the form of supporting references,” can be harmful. “[W]here the retracted work has clinical implications, this can result in direct risks to patients.”

In a written response to questions about the citation of the Lancet paper, May Berenbaum, editor-in-chief of PNAS, said, “The authors really should have either removed the citation, added more text about why they included it, or cited the retraction notice itself.” Given that no editor or reviewer caught the problem, she said, “I plan to discuss with the staff incorporating such screening into manuscript processing.” A co-author of the paper, biostatistician Clelia Di Serio of Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, later said the reference to the Lancet paper would be expunged.

Some journal editors noted extenuating factors. In Stroke, a leading medical journal, a December article about ischemic stroke in COVID-19 patients referenced the NEJM paper without mentioning the retraction. Stroke Editor-in-Chief Ralph Sacco wrote in an email that the retraction occurred after the article was initially received. However, a revision of the article was resubmitted months after the event, according to the paper itself. Sacco said he would issue no correction because the retraction “is not material to the findings.”

A 16 December paper on SARS-CoV-2 genetics in Nature Communications, another high-profile journal, also cited the NEJM article without reference to the retraction. Elisa De Ranieri, the journal’s editor-in-chief, told Science her journal does not routinely check for “retractions or other postpublication updates.” A lead author of the paper, biomathematician Maik Pietzner at the University of Cambridge, said that although the paper was submitted after the retractions occurred, it was written beforehand, and “the current pandemic requires immediate response.” However, the paper was published 4 months after its submission.

Suelzer says inappropriate citations of retracted articles are hard to excuse. Retraction Watch publishes a free retraction database that has been integrated into a number of automated services to check citations, including scite.ai, Zotero, and RedacTek. The failure to use such tools “is a disservice to the readers and researchers,” Suelzer says. “They are pretty low bars.”

Yet Oransky estimates that in biomedicine, up to 90% of citations to retracted papers don’t mention their fall from grace. “Half the time [as seen with the Surgisphere papers] is an improvement. That’s what’s shocking about it.”

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Natural immunity after Covid-19 could last at least 5 months – Vox.com

https://www.vox.com/22230667/covid-immunity-natural-infection-symptoms-asymptomatic

Natural immunity after Covid-19 could last at least 5 months - Vox.com

For the nearly 100 million people around the world who’ve been infected with the coronavirus, new science offers some comfort: Reinfections appear to be rare, and you may be protected from Covid-19 for at least five months.

The study, the largest of its kind, followed more than 20,000 health workers in the UK, regularly testing them for infection and antibodies. Between June and November, the researchers — from Public Health England (PHE) — found 44 potential reinfections out of the 6,614 participants who had tested positive for antibodies or had a previous positive PCR or antibody test when they joined the study. (The full results aren’t yet published, but PHE told Vox a preprint would soon be shared online.) Meanwhile, of the 14,000-plus people who had tested negative for the virus at the start of the study, there were 409 new infections.

Only two of the 44 potential reinfections were designated “probable” and the rest were considered “possible,” “based on the amount of confirmatory evidence available,” the health agency press release said. According to the BMJ, 15 people — or 34 percent — had symptoms.

So if all 44 reinfections are real, that translates to an 83 percent lower risk of reinfection compared to health workers who never had the virus. If only two are confirmed, that rate of protection goes up to 99 percent. Either way, it means natural immunity provides a similar level of protection as the approved Covid-19 vaccines.

As with the vaccines, it’s not yet clear how long immunity after an infection lasts. Antibodies may fade after five months or last much longer, something the researchers behind the ongoing study, which will run for a total of 12 months, plan to investigate.

“This [new] study does provide some comfort that naturally acquired antibodies are pretty effective in preventing reinfections,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale University, told Vox. The findings also square with another paper on health workers, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December: Researchers found people who had Covid-19 antibodies were better protected from the virus for six months than people who did not.

That said, Iwasaki said, “You can also interpret these data to mean that protection against reinfection is not complete — especially for people who had Covid during the first wave, say in March-April 2020.”

People who had the virus may still be able to pass it on if reinfected

The good news for individuals who have had Covid-19 also comes with a warning about the risk they can still pose to other people. While antibodies might protect against a second case of Covid-19 in most people, “early evidence from the next stage of the study suggests that some of these individuals carry high levels of virus and could continue to transmit the virus to others,” PHE warned in the press release.

“We now know that most of those who have had the virus, and developed antibodies, are protected from reinfection, but this is not total,” Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser at PHE and the study lead, said in a statement, “and we do not yet know how long protection lasts.”

In other words, even if you’ve had Covid-19, while you’re unlikely to get really sick again anytime soon, you should still consider yourself a potential risk of spreading it to others if you catch the virus again and may be asymptomatic. That means continuing to take precautions — like mask-wearing and social distancing, Iwasaki added. And it’s one reason why immunologists have said people who’ve already been infected with the virus should still plan to get the vaccine when their turn comes.

There’s also still a lot we don’t know about immunity after Covid-19: How exactly does it compare to immunity after vaccination? How will the new coronavirus variants affect it?

Who is most likely to have a lasting immune response? We do have some evidence that different individuals mount different antibody responses after Covid-19 infections. And it’s possible factors like gender and disease severity influence the strength of a person’s immune response.

For now, though, the research suggests that survivors of the virus might just help us get to herd immunity faster — if their immunity lasts long enough. But given the virus has only been known to humans for a little over a year, it may take a while to authoritatively answer the question.

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Post-COVID lungs worse than the worst smokers lungs, surgeon says – CBS News

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-lungs-scarring-smokers-lungs/

Post-COVID lungs worse than the worst smokers lungs, surgeon says - CBS News

A Texas trauma surgeon says it’s rare that X-rays from any of her COVID-19 patients come back without dense scarring. Dr. Brittany Bankhead-Kendall tweeted, “Post-COVID lungs look worse than any type of terrible smoker’s lung we’ve ever seen. And they collapse. And they clot off. And the shortness of breath lingers on… & on… & on.”

“Everyone’s just so worried about the mortality thing and that’s terrible and it’s awful,” she told CBS Dallas-Fort Worth. “But man, for all the survivors and the people who have tested positive this is — it’s going to be a problem.”

Bankhead-Kendall, an assistant professor of surgery with Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, has treated thousands of patients since the pandemic began in March.

texas-tech-university-trauma-surgeon-dr-brittany-bankhead-kendall.jpg
Lubbock, Texas trauma surgeon Dr. Brittany Bankhead-Kendall.

CBS Dallas


She says patients who’ve had COVID-19 symptoms show a severe chest X-ray every time, and those who were asymptomatic show a severe chest X-ray 70% to 80% of the time.

“There are still people who say ‘I’m fine. I don’t have any issues,’ and you pull up their chest X-ray and they absolutely have a bad chest X-ray,” she said.

In X-ray photos of a normal lung, a smoker’s lung and a COVID-19 lung that Bankhead-Kendall shared with CBS Dallas, the healthy lungs are clean with a lot of black, which is mainly air. In the smoker’s lung, white lines are indicative of scarring and congestion, while the COVID lung is filled with white.

“You’ll either see a lot of that white, dense scarring or you’ll see it throughout the entire lung. Even if you’re not feeling problems now, the fact that that’s on your chest X-ray — it sure is indicative of you possibly having problems later on,” she said.

normal-smokers-covid-chest-x-rays.jpg
X-rays of a normal lung, a smoker’s lung and a COVID patient’s lung. 

Dr. Brittany Bankhead-Kendall via CBS Dallas


Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CBSN that some patients with severe COVID-19 could feel the impact for years to come.

“When someone recovers from pneumonia, whether it’s a bacterial pneumonia or a viral pneumonia, it’s going to take some time for their chest X-rays to improve. Chest X-rays lag your clinical improvement. So you may be better, but your chest X-ray still looks bad,” he said. “And we know that people with COVID-19 can get severe pneumonia, and some of that pneumonia will lead to damage to the lungs that will take time to heal. And some of it may be permanent.”

He said the potential long-term health consequences are another reason people should take warnings about the disease seriously. 

“It’s not something you can blow off. This isn’t something you want to have. Because even if you survive, you still may be left with some severe complications that make it very hard for you to go back to your baseline functioning.”

Bankhead-Kendall said it’s important that if you’re experiencing shortness of breath after your COVID-19 goes away, you stay in touch with your primary care doctor.

She also points out, “There is no long-term implication of a vaccine that could ever be as bad as the long-term implications of COVID.”

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Maine records more than 800 new COVID-19 cases for third straight day, 16 new deaths reported – WMTW Portland

https://www.wmtw.com/article/maine-records-more-than-800-new-covid-19-cases-for-third-straight-day-16-new-deaths-reported/35225673

Maine records more than 800 new COVID-19 cases for third straight day, 16 new deaths reported - WMTW Portland

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 16 new coronavirus-related deaths on Friday and 823 new cases.This is the third day in a row that Maine has topped more than 800 new cases. There are now 32,781 total cases since the beginning of the outbreak.The 16 new COVID-19-related deaths bring the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 477.Aroostook County reported five new deaths, Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Penobscot and Washington counties each reported two new deaths and Oxford County reported one new death.Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah is scheduled to provide an update on coronavirus in the state at 2 p.m. Beginning next week, his briefings will switch to Tuesdays and Thursdays.MAINE CORONAVIRUS DATA: Deaths: 477 Total cases: 32,781 Confirmed cases: 26,923 Probable cases: 5,858 Cumulative positivity rate: 2.82% 14-day positivity rate: 5.6% Currently hospitalized: 193 Patients in intensive care: 63 Patients on ventilators: 23Get more detailed COVID-19 data from the Maine CDCCOVID-19 symptomsPer the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the symptoms you should watch out for: Fever or chills Cough Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing Fatigue Muscle or body aches Headache New loss of taste or smell Sore throat Congestion or runny nose Nausea or vomiting DiarrheaThis list does not include all possible symptoms. The CDC will continue to update this list as they learn more about the virus.Should I get tested for COVID-19? Where can I get a test in Maine?The CDC recommends that you should consider taking a COVID-19 test if you: have symptoms of COVID-19. have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone with confirmed COVID-19. have been asked or referred to get testing by their health care provider, local/external icon or state ​health department.You can look up where to get a COVID-19 test in Maine by visiting Get Tested COVID-19Emergency care for COVID-19 symptomsThe CDC says to look for emergency warning signs for coronavirus. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately: Trouble breathing Persistent pain or pressure in the chest New confusion Inability to wake or stay awake Bluish lips or faceThis list is not all possible symptoms. Call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you. Call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility: Notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.Maine COVID-19 Resources StrengthenME: The Maine Department of Health and Human Services created StrengthenME to help Mainers cope with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. The program offers a hotline that is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Anyone in need of assistance can call the hotline at 207-221-8198. Maine Helps: The Maine Helps website offers ways Mainers can directly help nonprofits, health care and businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. FrontLine WarmLine: Maine Department of Health and Human Services phone line to help Mainers who are working on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. The phone line will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day by calling 207-221-8196 or 866-367-4440. The service will eventually include a text option, officials said. 211 Maine: The state’s 211 system can answer general questions about coronavirus from callers. Mainers can also text 898-211 to have their questions answered. NAMI Maine Resources: NAMI Maine is offering several programs to help people with mental health concerns due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 16 new coronavirus-related deaths on Friday and 823 new cases.

This is the third day in a row that Maine has topped more than 800 new cases. There are now 32,781 total cases since the beginning of the outbreak.

The 16 new COVID-19-related deaths bring the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 477.

Aroostook County reported five new deaths, Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Penobscot and Washington counties each reported two new deaths and Oxford County reported one new death.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah is scheduled to provide an update on coronavirus in the state at 2 p.m. Beginning next week, his briefings will switch to Tuesdays and Thursdays.

MAINE CORONAVIRUS DATA:

  • Deaths: 477
  • Total cases: 32,781
  • Confirmed cases: 26,923
  • Probable cases: 5,858
  • Cumulative positivity rate: 2.82%
  • 14-day positivity rate: 5.6%
  • Currently hospitalized: 193
  • Patients in intensive care: 63
  • Patients on ventilators: 23

Get more detailed COVID-19 data from the Maine CDC

COVID-19 symptoms

Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the symptoms you should watch out for:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

This list does not include all possible symptoms. The CDC will continue to update this list as they learn more about the virus.

Should I get tested for COVID-19? Where can I get a test in Maine?

The CDC recommends that you should consider taking a COVID-19 test if you:

  • have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone with confirmed COVID-19.
  • have been asked or referred to get testing by their health care provider, local/external icon or state ​health department.

You can look up where to get a COVID-19 test in Maine by visiting Get Tested COVID-19

Emergency care for COVID-19 symptoms

The CDC says to look for emergency warning signs for coronavirus. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

This list is not all possible symptoms. Call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you. Call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility: Notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.

Maine COVID-19 Resources

  • StrengthenME: The Maine Department of Health and Human Services created StrengthenME to help Mainers cope with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. The program offers a hotline that is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Anyone in need of assistance can call the hotline at 207-221-8198.
  • Maine Helps: The Maine Helps website offers ways Mainers can directly help nonprofits, health care and businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • FrontLine WarmLine: Maine Department of Health and Human Services phone line to help Mainers who are working on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. The phone line will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day by calling 207-221-8196 or 866-367-4440. The service will eventually include a text option, officials said.
  • 211 Maine: The state’s 211 system can answer general questions about coronavirus from callers. Mainers can also text 898-211 to have their questions answered.
  • NAMI Maine Resources: NAMI Maine is offering several programs to help people with mental health concerns due to the COVID-19 crisis.

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Arizona Is America’s Covid-19 Hot Spot and on the Brink of Crisis – The Wall Street Journal

https://www.wsj.com/articles/arizona-is-americas-covid-19-hot-spot-and-on-the-brink-of-crisis-11610719203

Arizona Is America’s Covid-19 Hot Spot and on the Brink of Crisis - The Wall Street Journal

Arizona has the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the U.S. and is on the brink of running out of space in crowded hospitals, according to public-health and hospital officials.

The state hit a record for new infections last week, with 11,324 in a single day. It has the highest per capita rate of new Covid-19 infections in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the highest rate of Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to the Covid tracking project.

As of Monday, roughly 16% of Covid-19 tests in the state were coming back positive, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and health officials estimate that one in 10 residents is currently infected.

“We’re the hottest spot in the U.S. and among the hottest spots in the entire world,” said Keith Frey, chief medical officer for hospital chain Dignity Health’s Arizona division. “If we don’t slow this down over the course of the next days and weeks, then we will be fully into that crisis zone.”

Mr. Frey spoke at a press conference Wednesday where the heads of Arizona’s largest health systems gathered to express how dire the situation has become.

As of Wednesday, 7% of Arizona’s ICU beds were available, according to state data. Nearly 60% of all people hospitalized in Arizona have Covid-19 and close to 65% of ICU beds are being used for Covid-19 patients. That means patients with other conditions are being displaced, said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

Mr. Humble estimated that if current trends continue, the Covid-19 situation in Arizona will in a few weeks be as bad as that in nearby Southern California, where ICU availability has been at 0% since December. Arizona has 19% more ICU beds, per capita, than California, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Ross Goldberg, president of the Arizona Medical Association, said hospitals are preparing by converting nonspecialized units into Covid-19-only areas. “We’re still seeing that Christmas surge,” he said.

Throughout 2020, Arizona was home to some of the nation’s most dramatic coronavirus waves and most intense debates over whether government-imposed restrictions on activity were the solution. The state followed the rest of the country in shuttering non-essential businesses after the pandemic took hold in mid-March.

By summer, a stay-at-home order had expired and cases jumped. In June, Republican

Gov. Doug Ducey

reversed a prior order barring local officials from implementing some Covid-19 restrictions, including mandating masks be worn in public places.

As new coronavirus variants sweep across the world, scientists are racing to understand how dangerous they could be. WSJ explains. Illustration: Alex Kuzoian/WSJ

After a decline in the late summer, cases began climbing again in the fall, as they did in much of the country. On Oct. 1, Arizona had a seven-day average of 480 new cases a day. One month later, that rate had nearly tripled, and by the start of 2021, it had grown twelvefold.

In December, Mr. Ducey signed an executive order that allowed restaurants to expand outdoor dining but didn’t ban indoor dining, as other hard-hit regions have done.

Representatives for the governor declined to comment and referred to his state-of-the-state address Monday, in which he said, “If we’re really all in this together, then we have to appreciate that for many families ‘lockdown’ doesn’t spell inconvenience; it spells catastrophe: zero income, inability to make a payment, eviction, foreclosure and real personal anguish.”

Some local governments have issued their own stricter rules, however. Pima County, which includes Tucson and is the second-largest metro area in the state, issued a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in mid-December and has mandated the use of face coverings in public since June.

Arizona Is America’s Covid-19 Hot Spot and on the Brink of Crisis - The Wall Street Journal

People lined up to get their Covid-19 vaccination cards after getting the vaccine in the parking lot of State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Tuesday.



Photo:

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

In December, a group of public-health officials sent a letter to Mr. Ducey, requesting he take more measures to close businesses like bars and nightclubs, and issue a statewide mask mandate.

Mr. Ducey has repeatedly declined to issue a statewide mandate, saying in December that it wasn’t necessary, as there was “almost nowhere you can go in the state of Arizona and no part of our economy that you can participate in without wearing a mask.”

At their press conference Wednesday, the hospital officials urged members of the public to stay home, wear masks in public and avoid large gatherings. They also said in-person schooling was dangerous. Mr. Ducey on Monday encouraged schools offering virtual learning to reopen.

Stephanie Jackson, chief clinical value officer at HonorHealth, begged Arizona residents to stay away from businesses that are legally open, particularly restaurants.

“Regardless of what the various messages are from a myriad of government officials…if you want to keep your friends and family safe, indoor dining at this time is not a good idea,” Dr. Jackson said. “We have extremely widespread levels of Covid-19. So my advice to you would be to order out.”

Write to Alicia A. Caldwell at [email protected] and Ian Lovett at [email protected]

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