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  1. These are the states most at risk of a COVID-19 resurgence thanks to a drop in vaccinations Vaccination rates have dropped to almost half of their peak last month. States with the lowest vaccinations per capita could be at risk of a COVID-19 resurgence. In Wyoming, less than 30% of people are fully immunized, the lowest rate in the country. Vaccinations across the country are down by close to 50% from their peak last month. The country was vaccinating an average of almost 3.4 million people a day in mid-April but only 1.8 million vaccine doses were given out each day over the last week. While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been on the decline as more people get vaccinated, experts are worried the slowing of vaccinations could leave groups of unvaccinated people vulnerable to infection, especially during the summer when people are likely to congregate indoors to avoid the heat, CNN reported. Specifically, experts are worried about states with the lowest vaccination rates per capita, including Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Georgia, and Tennessee. "If we have large numbers of unvaccinated people in those states, we may very well see a surge in those states, so I think a lot of us are worried about that," Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday. Data from Johns Hopkins University showed that less than 30% of people in Wyoming are fully immunized, which is the lowest rate of any state, compared to the less than 40% of Americans that are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. More than 60% of American adults have already received at least one shot. Read the original article on Business Insider Source: These are the states most at risk of a COVID-19 resurgence thanks to a drop in vaccinations
  2. Apple reportedly will continue to require masks in its US retail stores Per the CDC, fully-vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most settings Apple will keep its mask mandate in place at its US retail stores Getty Images Despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Apple will keep its mandatory mask policy in place at its US retail stores for the time being, Bloomberg reported. The company informed stores that it is continuing to evaluate COVID-19-related health and safety measures, but that the policy requiring customers and employees at its Apple stores would stay in effect. The CDC announced Thursday that people who had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus could do away with wearing masks indoors and outdoors, and did not have to continue social distancing. There are some exceptions to the CDC guidance, which recommends people continue masking on public transit, airplanes, and trains, and in health care settings such as a doctor’s office. Immunocompromised people are advised to consult their healthcare professional before discontinuing masks, and someone who develops new COVID-19 symptoms should start wearing masks again to be safe. Some retail stores across the US began lifting their mask requirements on Friday, with large companies including Walmart, Trader Joe’s, and Costco updating their policies. But Target and CVS were among the retailers who said they would keep their mask requirements in place as they assessed the CDC guidance. In its stores that have reopened— some are open on a limited basis — Apple currently requires customers and store employees to wear masks, and provides masks for customers that don’t have their own. The company’s FAQ page also says it requires temperature checks before anyone is allowed to enter an Apple store. Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment Saturday. Source: Apple reportedly will continue to require masks in its US retail stores
  3. Warriors' Damion Lee reveals he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated Only around 6,000 people are known to have tested positive after getting vaccinated Getty Images Golden State Warriors forward Damion Lee revealed Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Statistically speaking, this is a very rare phenomenon, with only around 6,000 people known to have tested positive after being fully vaccinated. While none of the approved vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, all have been remarkably effective at preventing serious cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the disease. Lee did not need to be hospitalized but explained that he suffered through a variety of common symptoms despite receiving the vaccine in March. "I had headache, chills, sneezing, congestion, soreness, body aches," Lee said. "It felt like I was hit by a car. Like hit by two cars at once every step I took. It hurt, it was pain, soreness. It felt like there was a weight on my chest for a couple of days, like it was just hard to breathe." Lee has been cleared to return to the Warriors' facility but has not yet resumed basketball activities. His recovery is still being monitored, and there is no timeline for him to return to the floor this season. The Warriors have five regular-season games left on the schedule before they are slated to participate in the play-in round of the postseason. Many NBA players have been vaccinated, but other than those who have volunteered that information freely, we do not who or exactly how many of them have done so. After making it through the Orlando bubble without any major disruptions in play due to the virus, the NBA is about to embark on its first postseason during the pandemic without the protection Disney world provided. NBA cases have fortunately been minimal in recent months, but the specter of the disease continues to have over the league. Source: Warriors' Damion Lee reveals he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated
  4. Variant Hunters Race to Find New Strains Where Testing Lags In countries without much sequencing, new versions of the Covid virus can go unnoticed. Scientists across Africa are collaborating to track them down. DATA VISUALIZATION: MARINA DEKHNIK/GETTY IMAGES IN MID-FEBRUARY, THREE travelers were stopped at the airport in Luanda, Angola. Even during the pandemic, the country, a hub for the oil industry, had seen plenty of passengers from Europe and South Africa, where two concerning variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 hold sway. But the strains weren’t yet circulating widely in Angola, so this winter, health officials battened down the hatches. Before any passports get stamped, travelers receive a rapid antigen test and wait 30 minutes for a result. A negative test means self-quarantine, followed by another test a few days later. A positive test means a two-week stay at a quarantine hotel. For the three travelers, it was option two. A few weeks later, samples taken from their noses arrived 2,000 miles south in South Africa, at the lab of Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He was in for a surprise. The virus that had infected these three travelers didn’t resemble the strains circulating in most other places, including those labeled as “variants of concern” for their ability to spread faster and evade certain types of immunity. If those variants are like siblings, this one was more like a forgotten second cousin. It came from a lineage of the virus that emerged in the early days of the pandemic but had disappeared soon thereafter, apparently outcompeted by other variants. And yet here it was, a year later. And it had been busy. The virus had since accumulated dozens of mutations, including many of the same ones that made those other strains worrisome because of increased transmissibility and immune evasion. It had arrived at a similar genetic conclusion all on its own. The new variant seemed to have stepped out of an epidemiological void. Which, in a way, it had, because the travelers had arrived from a country where the pandemic did not officially exist. Last June, the president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, declared the country Covid-free, having rid itself of the virus through three days of national prayer. Since then, reports from doctors and nonprofits within the country told of a “hidden epidemic” raging as fiercely as it was anywhere. But the government’s data had evaporated: no tests or case numbers or genome sequences. With so little information—just three genomes—it was hard to say what this new variant meant. Where had it come from, and where were its closer relatives? Was it spreading widely, or were these cases just a fluke? Were its mutations as worrisome in practice as on paper? De Oliveira and his colleagues are now racing to answer those questions. Such surprises are somewhat common in de Oliveira’s line of work. Since the pandemic began, African labs have uploaded fewer than 12,000 genomes to GISAID, the leading database for viral sequences, compared with 280,000 from North America, a continent with less than half the population. About half of those African genomes come from South Africa, where de Oliveira’s lab is the centerpiece of a national sequencing effort. That means there are plenty of gaps to be explored. “It’s concerning,” says Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of Bern. “It’s a huge continent, and we know that there are Covid outbreaks happening. But, apart from South Africa, we don’t have a good idea of what’s happening anywhere else.” In recent months, De Oliveira has been working to change that. In early December, the lab’s genomic sleuthing amidst a surge of cases in South Africa led to the identification of a strain now known as B.1.351. That variant is now spreading globally, causing headaches because it is more resistant to the protection of some vaccines. It was also a wake-up call for South Africa’s neighbors. So earlier this year, de Oliveira’s lab, in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, began receiving weekly or biweekly samples from 10 countries in southern Africa, part of an effort to track the newly uncovered variant and others around the continent. A second lab, Nigeria’s Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, or ACEGIP, handles the northern half of the continent. The research from Angola, which was co-led by the country’s health minister, Silvia Lutucuta, appeared as a preprint Monday and has not yet been peer reviewed. In the past year, emerging variants have changed the calculus of the pandemic, forcing countries back into lockdowns and to reconsider vaccine strategies. Basically, it’s now a race: Getting shots to more people will help quell the variants’ spread and slow the emergence of new ones. But in Africa, where only a few countries have so far received a trickle of vaccines, that process is expected to take longer. And as the virus continues to replicate and spread among people, it will also keep changing—with implications for the whole world. “It’s going to be bumpy,” says Christian Happi, ACEGIP’s director. “Within the continent, we have found a number of major variants, and there are likely many more.” It’s not unusual for African states to work together to stifle epidemics, he notes. Not every country has access to the sequencing machines that crunch these genomes quickly, and those that do are often relying on a single commercial lab. So governments and labs have learned to collaborate, forming networks that make use of advanced sequencing centers like his and de Oliveira’s to tackle emergent diseases, rather than sending samples overseas. So far in 2021, the initiative has helped double the number of viral genomes sequenced in Africa compared with all of 2020, with a goal of producing 50,000 genomes by year’s end. Even as the capacity to sequence picks up, the process remains challenging, Happi says. A high rate of asymptomatic cases and limited health care access means the Covid-19 tests that lead to genome sequencing are limited in some areas. And it’s not easy to gather and store samples from across a country like Somalia and send them to Nigeria, via multiple planes and handlers, while keeping them perfectly intact. From a few hundred samples in a recent delivery from Mogadishu, the lab retrieved complete sequences from only 10 of them. One way of thinking about SARS-CoV-2 variants is as a series of epidemics within the pandemic. When variants first emerge, or when they arrive for the first time in a new place, they’re like embers, ready to catch fire if the opportunity to spread arises and if their mutations make them competitive with other strains. But embers are also easier to extinguish than widespread conflagrations. Variants can be stopped at borders, and outbreaks in hot spots can be identified and quashed—provided variant hunters move fast and cast a wide net. “We need consistent and quick turnaround, because these variants tend to dominate quickly,” de Oliveira says. “You don't want to discover six months late that you have an epidemic of a strain that escapes vaccines.” The type of border checks being done in Angola, a response to surges linked to variants found in nearby countries, is a good example of putting surveillance into action, de Oliveira says. Samples from the airport have turned up not only the new strain, but plenty of examples of B.1.351 and B.1.1.7, the variants of concern first identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom and now circulating worldwide. He thinks catching those kinds of cases early is a crucial part of why Angola didn’t experience the same surge its neighbors did at the beginning of this year. Conducting surveillance at travel hubs also increases overall coverage; the researchers had no way of doing genomic surveillance in Tanzania, for example, until those three travelers happened upon the border check. Even when worrisome variants take hold, the ability to track them has bearing on what public health measures officials can take. “Sequencing really helps because you understand the patterns of human migration for a variant,” Happi says. In Nigeria this winter, for example, the government grew concerned about a surge of unknown origin. It was impossible at first to tell if the virus was spreading faster, or if human behavior was the cause. Genome sequencing revealed it was driven by B.1.1.7, the variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom, allowing health officials to identify hot spots and, importantly, give the public an explanation for why it was necessary to hunker down. Similarly, when researchers at the Uganda Virus Research Institute identified a novel variant circulating there, surveillance led to more testing in prisons and on cross-country trucking routes, where the strain was found to be most densely concentrated. What has shocked researchers about the variant identified in the Tanzanian travelers is that it is so distantly related to other variants of concern. It’s a member of the so-called “A lineage”—sometimes dubbed the “19 lineage” since it appeared in 2019—and is the closest known relative to the virus that first spilled into humans. “My postdoc sent me a Slack message saying, ‘WTF the A lineage??’” says Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University who studies viral evolution. Variants of the A lineage are still picked up from time to time, but by early 2020, most of them had been outcompeted by members of the still-reigning B lineage. The finding underlines the power of human networks in how viruses spread, Hanage adds. B-lineage variants clearly acquired mutations that made them fit to spread across the world, but what if they also got boosted by luck? It’s possible that viruses of the B lineage simply happened to take root early on in densely populated places like New York City and Italy, and from there they took over the world. Meanwhile, it appears A-lineage viruses continued to circulate with little detection in places where testing and sequencing was scant. Along the way, this variant acquired many of the same mutations identified in those worrisome strains. That’s another good piece of evidence that the virus is exhibiting what’s known as convergent evolution, says Jeremy Kamil, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University Health in Shreveport. That’s when certain mutations that help the virus thrive—to be better at replicating, perhaps, or better at finding its way into cells—emerge independently, because they help the virus eclipse other variants. “The convergence is so striking,” he says. In the case of this new strain, that convergence includes a mutation called E484K, nicknamed “Eek” by researchers studying it for how it helps the virus evade certain immune defenses. The mutation occurs on the virus’s receptor binding domain, which it uses to enter cells. But at least one of those mutations hasn’t been seen in the other variants of concern: a mutation elsewhere on the binding domain, at a location called R346. Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 are grouped into classes that refer to their ability to stick to different parts of the virus. Three of those classes are the most potent, and so far variants of concern have had mutations, like E474K, that hinder the effectiveness of two of them. According to research from the lab of Jesse Bloom at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, R346 affects the third class. The next step is to see how those antibodies generated by vaccines and past infections perform against this virus in lab tests. “It is possible that R346 mutations will further erode antibody neutralization by some serum,” Bloom writes in an email. That kind of research is already happening in South Africa, where the variant was cultured within weeks of its identification in a biosafety level 3 lab. There’s plenty of evidence to make the variant interesting to virologists, and worth tracking, but not yet cause for alarm. Lab studies to understand the functional effects of all those mutations are still to be done, and having three genetic samples is not enough to draw clear conclusions about how and where the variant is spreading. More sequences would help. But given the situation in Tanzania, they’re difficult to acquire. There are signs that change is happening. In March, around the time de Oliveira’s team was communicating news of the strain to the Tanzanian government through diplomatic channels at the African Union, Magufuli reportedly fell ill and died. (Officially, the cause was a heart condition, though some observers suspect Covid-19.) On Tuesday, the day after de Oliveira’s preprint was posted online, Tanzania’s new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, announced that the country was again acknowledging Covid-19 and would form a scientific committee to get a better grip on the pandemic. In the meantime, de Oliveira is working with the Africa CDC to strengthen surveillance near the Tanzania border—in Malawi, for example, and in the northern reaches of Mozambique. “Our main dream is that this is a variant that can be extinguished as quickly as possible,” he says. And the broader surveillance effort will continue to grow, he says. The point isn’t to induce panic. It’s far from certain that new variants will cause more trouble than the ones we’ve already found. Even the nastiest variants identified so far only reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines; they don’t escape them entirely. But it will be important to remain vigilant, especially in places where the virus is going to keep moving for some time. “If we don’t vaccinate the whole world, the variants could spread quite quickly,” de Oliveira says. New variants are also a reminder that world leaders can’t be lulled into complacency, even as their nations’ vaccination levels rise. They’ll need to keep testing and tracing, doing screenings at borders. But it will take a balanced approach. It may be tempting to treat new discoveries with alarm, and to ostracize people from nations where those strains are found to be circulating. But that could discourage those governments from participating in testing and sequencing efforts. The important thing is that those efforts keep growing. “A far worse outcome will be a variant of concern that we only discover too late because people weren’t looking for it,” Hanage says. Source: Variant Hunters Race to Find New Strains Where Testing Lags
  5. US government launches $500,000 competition to find a better mask design Could you come up with something? In brief: Mask wearing has become a familiar sight across the world, but many people dislike wearing them for a variety of design-related reasons. If you think you can come up with something better, the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is willing to pay up to $500,000 for your ideas. The Mask Innovation Challenge aims to find designs that address some of the issues discouraging people from wearing masks. Anyone who uses glasses, for example, will know the frustration of walking around blind as their lenses fog up. There’s also the skin irritation that some wearers experience, the actual discomfort masks cause, and the nightmare of trying to communicate with someone who can neither hear you properly nor see your mouth. Additionally, some masks tout levels of protection without any scientific evidence backing up these claims. Designing the masks, which must be mass-producible and low-cost-per-use devices, is broken into two phases. Phase one is split into two tracks: improving upon already existing designs, and incorporating new technologies and materials that have not yet been included in current masks. Up to ten winners of this phase will receive up to $10,000 each. Phase two is the proof-of-concept stage. This part requires participants to submit their solutions in response to a hypothetical scenario with a brand-new design not based on current masks. Finalists must present prototypes for proof-of-concept testing by NIOSH laboratories. A total prize pool of $400,000 will be divided among five winners. Entries for phase one must be submitted by April 21, 2021, using the provided template and be no more than 7 pages maximum, including a cover page, proposed design description, and schematics/figures. More details on phase two will arrive at a later date. Last month we heard that Razer really would be making its RGB-packed Project Hazel mask shown off at CES. It solves some usual issues thanks to its transparency and embedded microphones that amplify and enhance voices. Source: US government launches $500,000 competition to find a better mask design
  6. Biden moves up deadline for states to open COVID-19 vaccines to all adults The president wants all US adults to be eligible for a shot by April 19. Americans above the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine nationwide later this month. Sarah Tew/CNET President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced that he wants states to make all adults eligible for coronavirus vaccines by April 19, taking nearly two weeks off his previous May 1 deadline. "We aren't at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We still are in a life-and-death race against this virus," Biden said during a White House briefing Tuesday afternoon. The Biden administration has been working to ramp up availability of COVID-19 vaccines, including increasing the number of pharmacies in the federal vaccine program from 17,000 to nearly 40,000 stores. The government is also working to open a dozen more federally run mass vaccinations sites. In March, Biden said the US was on track to have enough doses of COVID-19 vaccine for every adult in America by the end of May. In total, more than 167 million vaccines doses have been administered in the US, according to John Hopkins University, with over 48 million people being fully vaccinated. Three coronavirus vaccines have been rolled out in the US -- two-shot vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna as well as a one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson -- after being authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. Biden visited a vaccination site in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday and later delivered remarks on the state of vaccinations during a briefing at the White House. Here's where to get a COVID-19 shot and how to track how many vaccines are available in your state. CNET reporter Corinne Reichert also contributed to this report. First published on April 6, 2021 at 6:58 a.m. PT. Source: Biden moves up deadline for states to open COVID-19 vaccines to all adults
  7. Covid: More than 5m people fully vaccinated in UK Two doses have now been given to 9.9% of adults, government figures show The latest figures show an additional 246,631 second doses, bringing the total to 5.2 million. It means 9.9% of over-18s have received both injections. First doses have been given to 31.4 million people. As the vaccination programme takes effect, daily reported deaths fell to 10, their lowest number since 14 September. However, reporting lags may mean lower than usual figures for deaths because of the bank holiday. The UK also reported another 3,423 confirmed coronavirus cases. In a post on Twitter, Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the "milestone" in the vaccination programme, adding: "I urge everyone to take up their second dose as soon as they are offered it." Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it meant that 50% of over-80s have now had their second jab. It comes as the UK begins to relax some coronavirus restrictions. England has allowed gatherings outside of up to six people or as two households since Monday, while the reopening of outdoor hospitality and all shops is planned from 12 April. Rules on visits to care homes in England will also be relaxed from 12 April to allow two regular visitors indoors, the government has announced. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also begun to allow outdoor socialising. But Mr Johnson has warned people against mixing with other households indoors over the Easter weekend, even if they have been vaccinated. Source: Covid: More than 5m people fully vaccinated in UK
  8. Amazon is launching on-site Covid-19 vaccinations at some warehouses KEY POINTS Amazon announced Thursday that it’s setting up on-site vaccination clinics at fulfillment centers in Missouri, followed by Nevada and Kansas in the coming weeks. The company said it expects to launch vaccination clinics at additional warehouses across the country as more vaccine supply becomes available to front-line employees in other states. A worker loads customer orders into a waiting tractor-trailer inside the million-square foot Amazon distribution warehouse that opened last fall in Fall River, MA on Mar. 23, 2017. John Tlumacki | Boston Globe | Getty Images Some Amazon warehouse workers will soon be able to get vaccinated against Covid-19 at their workplace. Amazon announced Thursday that it’s setting up on-site vaccination clinics at fulfillment centers in Missouri, followed by Nevada and Kansas in the coming weeks. At the clinics, which are expected to run for about five days, vaccines will be administered to employees by licensed health-care providers. The company said it expects to launch vaccination clinics at additional warehouses across the country as more vaccine supply becomes available to front-line employees in other states. It comes as the U.S. continues to pick up the pace of vaccinations, with the nation administering more than 2.5 million shots per day. Companies with essential workers, including Amazon, have been vying to give their workers priority access to the shots. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that employers with a large workforce can begin setting up Covid-19 vaccine clinics on site. Agriculture giant Cargill, Tyson Foods and some automakers and manufacturers in Detroit are among a growing list of employers that have launched on-site clinics at some of their facilities. Heather MacDougall, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide workplace health and safety, told CNBC in an interview that the company has been working with a third-party administrator who secures the Covid vaccines on Amazon’s behalf. “Most of these conversations go on at the state and local level where those decisions are being made, in terms of who’s eligible for the vaccine,” MacDougall added. Some of Amazon’s front-line workers have already been vaccinated in states where they’re eligible. The company has nudged its front-line workers to get vaccinated off-site by offering them a bonus of up to $80, or $40 for each dose. Employees who experience side effects from the Covid vaccine are eligible to take unpaid time off, Amazon said. Inside its warehouses, Amazon has taken steps to alleviate fears or concerns around the vaccine among its front-line workers. In private Facebook groups, some warehouse workers in the U.S. have expressed skepticism and uncertainty around the vaccine’s side effects or the potential that Amazon will mandate vaccinations among its workforce. Amazon has posted educational information and positive messaging about the vaccine around warehouses, including in “inSTALLments,” the informational sheets posted in facility bathrooms. One message viewed by CNBC told workers the vaccine is “safe and effective” and is the “quickest way for life to return to normal.” The company also sent out a questionnaire to warehouse workers via Amazon Connections, an internal survey system, to gauge their attitudes about the Covid vaccine and other coronavirus safety measures. One prompt sent to workers said “Covid vaccines and regular Covid testing can help keep you and those you care about safe,” with workers given the option to answer “OK” or “I’d rather not answer,” according to a separate document viewed by CNBC. Amazon is already seeing sizable interest in the on-site vaccination clinics. More than 1,000 front-line employees have signed up to get vaccinated at Amazon’s first on-site clinic at a warehouse outside of St. Louis, Missouri, which opened Thursday, the company said. — CNBC’s Bertha Coombs contributed reporting to this article. Source: Amazon is launching on-site Covid-19 vaccinations at some warehouses
  9. Ola to provide free COVID-19 vaccination to all employees and their dependents The vaccination drive will include all Ola employees and dependents, advisors, consultants, and contractual employees. Ola is one of the first global mobility companies to announce such a vaccination drive Ola will provide requisite infrastructure and logistics for the vaccination with the drive being conducted across all the geographies it operates in globally. Ola, one of the world’s leading mobility companies, on Wednesday announced that it will cover the COVID-19 vaccination cost for all employees and dependents, as the world continues its fight against the pandemic. This makes Ola among the first global mobility companies to announce a COVID vaccination drive. The vaccination drive will also be extended to all the direct contractual employees, consultants, advisors of the company and their immediate dependents including spouse, kids and parents, comprising more than 24,000 people. The COVID vaccination drive will be over and above Ola's existing medical insurance policy. The company is partnering with relevant authorities to conduct the vaccination drive. The vaccination will be offered on a voluntary basis. Ola will provide requisite infrastructure and logistics for the vaccination with the drive being conducted across all the geographies it operates in globally. “We are happy to announce that Ola has decided to cover vaccination costs across the group. At Ola, we prioritize the health and well-being of not only our employees and their loved ones but also our extended family who work directly with us including advisors and consultants," Varun Dubey, Ola spokesperson, said. "While this vaccine is voluntary, it is also one of the most effective tools to fight against COVID-19. As the Government gears up for the next phase of the vaccination drive, we encourage all our employees and their families to opt for the vaccine and fight against COVID-19," he added. Ola will start extending end-to-end support to those applicable starting with the ones above the age of 60 and those 45+ with co-morbidities. It will expand this process to include the rest as soon as the government rolls out the next phase of the vaccination drive. Source: Ola to provide free COVID-19 vaccination to all employees and their dependents
  10. Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October Key points: Prime Minister says it has been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines to Australia He has announced an additional $1.1b for the nation's COVID-19 response The government has set up a website in the hope of stopping misinformation about the vaccine Nearly 160,000 people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination, including the Prime Minister who received his second Pfizer dose on Sunday. However, the figure is well below what the federal government had hoped to achieve, with a target of inoculating 4 million people initially set for early April. Scott Morrison has blamed international supply issues but is hopeful vaccination rates will ramp up in the coming weeks. "The critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines — that is the critical swing factor," he said "In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we had anticipated to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That's been 700,000." Australia's vaccination figures as of March 12.(Supplied: Australian Government) Italy recently blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia and Mr Morrison said it had been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines here, given ongoing international issues. Look back on all the coronavirus news from Sunday in our blog. Biotech company CSL has been tasked with manufacturing more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia to ensure the rollout is less reliant on imports. Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said discussions were underway with CSL to determine if it could "churn out" more than 1 million doses a week as currently planned. "We have lots of people who want to give more vaccines … the critical limitation at the moment is simply vaccine supply," he said. Professor Murphy also said the Health Department expected the Novavax vaccine to be made available later this year, but the department was "not counting on that in our vaccination strategy". Vaccination time line could change Professor Murphy said he was "pretty confident" most Australians would get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by October and a small proportion would have to get their second dose next year. However, he said if the supply of the vaccine ramped up, the end date could be brought forward. Questions about the time line of the rollout were raised on Thursday when a parliamentary hearing grilled Health Department staff about whether the targets could be met. The Prime Minister said he remained hopeful that most Australians could have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination by October but he insisted that could change. "Where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think, the achievement of the first dose goal," he said. "Supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region — anything like this can, of course, impact on what we're talking about today. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules." Extra money for COVID-19 support Speaking at a Sydney medical centre, Mr Morrison also announced an additional $1.1billion in funding for the nation's COVID-19 response. It includes extending until the end of June telehealth services and care, which were due to end in just a few weeks. The extra funding will also help cover the costs of testing and treating people with COVID-19, as well as providing financial assistance for electronic prescription services and delivering medication through the Home Medicine Services. The demand for mental health support is still high and some of the cash will be handed to Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service. Stopping the spread of misinformation In an attempt to ensure most Australians are on board with getting the jab, the Federal Government has set up a website to try to stop the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. There are more than a dozen questions listed on the Is it true website such as, "Do COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?". However, there are no questions about whether it is safe for pregnant women to get the jab, which has been a regular topic of conversation. Additional questions will be continually added to the website. Mr Morrison said the website would give some reassurance to Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. "Don't go to Dr Google, don't go to Dr Facebook where everyone has an opinion but no-one has responsibility," he said. Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns that people were looking at information that was not relevant to the situation in Australia. "Go to the Australian information because there are different vaccination programs in different countries [and] they are in different pandemic situations than Australia," he said. Source: Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October
  11. Serimmune launches new immune response mapping service for COVID-19 Image Credits: Serimmune Immune intelligence startup Serimmune hopes to better understand the relationship between antibody epitopes (the parts of antigen molecules that bind to antibodies) and the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The company’s proprietary technology, originally developed at UC Santa Barbara, provides a new and specific way of mapping the entire array of an individual’s antibodies through a small blood sample. They do this through the use of a bacterial peptide display — a sort of screening mechanism that can isolate plasmid DNA from antibody-bound bacteria in the sample. This DNA can then be sequenced to identify epitopes, which provide information about which antigens someone may have been exposed to, as well as how their immune system responded to them. “It’s a very highly multiplexed and exquisitely specific way of looking at the epitopes found by antibodies in a specimen,” said Serimmune CEO Noah Nasser, who has a degree in molecular biology from UC San Diego and has previously worked for several diagnostics companies. This week, Serimmune announced the launch of a new application of their core technology to help understand the disease states of and immune responses to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “So what we do is we take these antibody profiles we build, and we’re able to then map those back with about a 12 amino acid specificity to the SARS-CoV-2 proteome,” said Nasser. “And what we find is that antibody expression is highly correlated to disease state, so we can distinguish mild, moderate, severe and asymptomatic disease on the basis of antibodies that are present in the specimen.” The more patient data Serimmune can collect, the better its core technology becomes at finding patterns across different antigen exposure and disease severity. Noticing those patterns sooner won’t only help physicians and researchers to better understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus operates, but can also inform new approaches to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for any antigen. Serimmune’s launch of its new COVID antibody epitope mapping service is a way of making this data more accessible to customers like vaccine companies, government agencies and academic labs that have shown interest in better understanding the immune response to SARS-CoV-2. “The key was to zero in on the information that researchers wanted to know and standardize that,” said Nasser. “We can actually now provide these results back in as few as two days from sample receipt.” Beyond this new service, Serimmune also has plans to launch a longitudinal clinical study on immunity to SARS-CoV-2. Using a painless at-home collection kit, study participants send in small blood samples to Serimmune, which then uses its core technology to outline an individual immunity map. “We provide their results back to them in the form of a personal immune landscape to COVID,” said Nasser. “And what we’re trying to do is to understand over time how that immune response changes, and what happens to that immune response on repeated exposure to COVID.” The mapping technology is now so specific that it can tell whether a patient has antibodies from natural exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus or from a vaccine, he added. While the primary focus for Serimmune remains these applications to the COVID-19 pandemic for now, Nasser also mentioned that the company has plans to move into personalized medicine, potentially offering their mapping service directly to interested patients. “We believe that this has value to individual patients in understanding their immune status and what antigens they’ve been exposed to,” he said. Until then, Serimmune plans to continue growing its database with more patient samples. Source: Serimmune launches new immune response mapping service for COVID-19
  12. Covid-19: Nearly 20 million people in UK have first vaccine dose Nearly 20 million people in the UK have now had their first dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to the government's latest figures. As of Friday, more than 19.6 million people had received their first dose - an increase of more than half a million in a day. Meanwhile, the number of people who have had their second jab has risen to 768,810. The government is aiming to offer all adults the vaccine by the end of July. The next target is to offer a first dose to all over-50s by 15 April, as well as people aged 16-64 with certain underlying health conditions and unpaid carers for disabled and elderly people. After that, they will start offering jabs to people by age group. There are no plans yet to vaccinate children, although trials have been announced to test the Oxford University jab on children. The latest government statistics show a total of 20,450,858 jabs have been administered in the UK - including 19,682,048 first doses, equivalent to more than one in three adults in the UK. This includes more than 16.6 million first doses in England, more than 1.5 million in Scotland, 916,336 in Wales and 515,678 in Northern Ireland. The figures also show another 7,434 cases and a further 290 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus. In a tweet on Saturday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was "delighted" at the latest figures. "The vaccine roll-out shows what we can achieve when we work together," he said. Meanwhile, Labour is calling on the government to set out a "proper plan" for how the local elections in May will be run safely. Earlier this month it was announced the elections would go ahead on 6 May but with some changes - for example plastic screens in polling stations and people told to bring their own pens. But deputy leader Angela Rayner accused the government of a "failure to take any action to encourage people to sign up to vote safely from home", meaning people could be disinclined to vote or face "dangerous crowds at polling stations". A Cabinet Office spokesman said a "strong set of measures" had been put in place to make polling stations Covid-secure and a comprehensive public information campaign would be launched soon "so that voters are fully informed about how to participate". Source: Covid-19: Nearly 20 million people in UK have first vaccine dose
  13. A troop of monkeys snatched the blood samples of suspected coronavirus patients at a government hospital in the Meerut district of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The incident happened on Thursday when a lab assistant working with the COVID-19 facility of the hospital was carrying blood samples due for testing, Dr Dheeraj Baliyan, medical superintendent of Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Medical College and Hospital, told CNN. The monkeys attacked the lab assistant and stole the sample box with three samples, added Baliyan. A file image of a long-tailed macaques kept for use in the clinical research inside cages. (AP/AAP) S.K. Garg, head of the hospital, told a local newswire that the samples were blood samples, and not the swabs usually taken to test for COVID-19. Garg said that the samples belonged to people who had tested positive for COVID-19, but were taken as part of routine blood tests for the patients. The monkeys climbed the trees with the samples and threw them after chewing the packets, Baliyan added. The medical superintendent confirmed to CNN that no individual came into contact with the samples, and the hospital authorities have sanitised the area and disposed of the samples snatched by the monkeys. The district administration has ordered an inquiry against the hospital authorities for alleged mishandling of the samples. According to India's health ministry, the total number of coronavirus cases in the country as of Friday stands at 165,799, including 4,706 deaths. Source
  14. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant drop in emergency room visits among patients with other ailments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Visits to hospital U.S. emergency rooms have dropped by more than 40 percent so far in 2020, compared to the same period last year, according to figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics indicate that a significant number of Americans may have delayed or declined emergency care because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said. In their analysis of ER visit trends, CDC researchers analyzed data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program for the period of Jan. 1 through May 30. The program includes data from all U.S. states except Hawaii, South Dakota and Wyoming. Changes in how hospitals, and specifically ERs, are used could be a lasting legacy of the new coronavirus, according to some public health experts. Many patients who once addressed health concerns by heading to the ER could be managed remotely, using telemedicine, Dr. Paul Biddinger, during a conference call with reporters on May 26. Biddinger, vice chair for emergency preparedness in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, was not part of the CDC analysis. "People have been working for years, probably really fair to say decades, on telemedicine, when it's appropriate for patients not to have to come to the hospital, but they can see their doctor remotely," Biddinger said. "And the pandemic forced a lot of that on us," he said. The CDC researchers compared total visits so far this year to the same five-month period in 2019. The number of ER visits declined from a mean of roughly 2.1 million per week between March 31, 2019, and April 27, 2019, to a mean of 1.22 million per week during the "early pandemic" period of March 29 to April 25 of this year, according to the CDC. ER visits declined for every age group, with the largest proportional declines in children 10 years old and younger at 72 percent and children 11 to 14 years old at 71 percent, the agency said. Researchers found the largest declines in ER visits occurred in the New England states at 49 percent, as well as in the mid-Atlantic region at 48 percent. That region includes New York and New Jersey, which has been the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak. ER visits related to abdominal pain and other digestive problems fell by more than 66,000 per week from year to year, while those among patients reporting musculoskeletal pain -- excluding low-back pain -- dropped by more than 52,000 per week, according to the CDC report. Visits for "sprains and strains" declined by nearly 34,000 per week, and those related to "superficial injuries" fell by nearly 31,000 per week, the researchers said. Conversely, ER visits for "exposure, encounters, screening or contact with infectious disease" increased by nearly 19,000 per week from 2019 to 2020, the analysis found. Specifically, some 18,000 ER visits occurred per week across the country for COVID-19 symptoms through the end of May, the researchers said. Still, additional research is needed to determine whether the decline in ER visits could be also attributed to "actual reductions in injuries or illness [due] to changing activity patterns during the pandemic" lockdown, the CDC researchers wrote. "The striking decline in [ER] visits nationwide, with the highest declines in regions where the pandemic was most severe, suggests that the pandemic has altered the use of the [ER] by the public," researchers said. Source
  15. LONDON (Reuters) - European shares fell on Monday as rising COVID-19 infection rates in Europe prompted renewed lockdown measures in some countries, casting doubt over the economic recovery, with a lack of U.S. stimulus also weighing on sentiment. The MSCI world equity index .MIWD00000PUS, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was down 0.5% at 0748 GMT. European indexes opened lower, with the pan-European STOXX 600 down 1.7% .STOXX, at its lowest in nearly two weeks. London's FTSE 100 was at a two-week low, down 2.4% .FTSE and Germany's DAX fell 2% .GDAXI. Banking shares slid after a media report on how several global banks moved large sums of allegedly illicit funds over nearly two decades. HSBC [HSBCUK.UL] shares sunk to a 25-year low in Hong Kong. Investors are becoming more cautious about Europe, amid a sharp uptick in new COVID-19 cases. European countries including Denmark, Greece and Spain have introduced new restrictions on activity. Britain is considering a second national lockdown as new cases rise by at least 6,000 per day. Germany’s health minister said the rising new infections in countries like France, Austria and the Netherlands is worrying. Investors will be looking ahead to flash PMI data on Wednesday for the first hints of how economies have fared in September. “Concerns are rising that the summer recovery is probably as good as it gets when it comes to the recent rebound in economic activity,” wrote Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK. “This reality combined with the growing realisation that a vaccine remains many months away, despite President (Donald) Trump’s claims to the contrary, has made investors increasingly nervous, as we head into an autumn that could see lockdowns reimposed,” he said. The dollar declined for the second week running last week, hurt by the U.S. Federal Reserve’s commitment to keeping rates lower for longer. It was trading less than 0.1% up against a basket of currencies at 92.997 at 0750 GMT =USD. Seven members of the Fed will speak this week - including chairman Jerome Powell appearing before Congressional committees - so investors will be looking for hints to determine the dollar’s direction. The safe-haven yen was in its sixth consecutive session of gains versus the dollar, up around 0.4% at 104.185 JPY=EBS. Japan has public holidays on Monday and Tuesday this week, meaning volumes are thin in Asian trading. The euro was flat against the dollar at $1.18325 EUR=EBS, while the safe Swiss franc rose against both the dollar and euro EURCHF=EBSCHF=EBS. The benchmark 10-year German government bond yield was down 2 basis points at -0.507% DE10YT=RR, with most high-rated euro zone government bond yields down by a similar amount. The European Central Bank will review how long its emergency pandemic bond-purchase scheme should go on, the Financial Times reported. The European Council meets in a summit on Thursday and Friday this week. Elsewhere, oil prices fell, with Brent crude LCOc1 down 1.8% at $42.39 a barrel at 0745 GMT, while U.S. crude CLc1 was down 1.9% at $40.34 a barrel. Gold prices edge higher, helped by the weaker dollar, with spot gold XAU= up 0.1% at $1,950.93 per ounce by 0747 GMT. Source
  16. Walmart is expanding its drone delivery tests with the announcement of a pilot project involving Quest Diagnostics. The company, which is best known for allowing consumers to order their own blood tests, will work with Walmart to deliver at-home COVID-19 tests to consumers, enabling them to test themselves in the safety of their own homes. The catch? This isn’t a widespread service yet, so you must live in one of two particular parts of the US. In addition to partnering with Quest Diagnostics for the testing kits, Walmart has also tapped DroneUp to serve as its drone delivery partner. The trio of companies are limiting the scope of the pilot delivery service at this point, according to Walmart, which says that consumers will be able to order the drone-delivered COVID-19 tests if they live in North Las Vegas or Cheektowaga, New York. Quest Diagnostics offers a COVID-19 swab test that can detect an active infection, as well as an antibody test that can look for signs that someone was infected in the past and potentially is at lower risk of reinfection. For those who live in a state that allows the service to operate, Quest offers an at-home COVID-19 swab test under an FDA EUA, enabling people who think they may be infected to collect the sample at home. The test costs $119 USD and is typically shipped using FedEx. Under this new pilot drone delivery service, consumers located in the covered regions have the option to instead get the test from a DroneUp delivery drone shipped off from the nearest Walmart store. The obvious benefit here is that the potentially infected person doesn’t have to leave home. There are some conditions customers will need to meet to qualify for one of these drone deliveries, however. Walmart says the customer must be located within a 1-mile radius of either the Cheektowaga or North Las Vegas Walmart Supercenter stores, and that they must also live in a single-family residence, not an apartment building or other similar structure. This restriction is because the drone will land on the customer’s backyard, driveway, or the front sidewalk, depending on the home’s configuration (whether there are trees blocking the porch, etc). The upside is that customers who request a drone delivery kit won’t be charged for the testing kit or the delivery under the pilot service. The collection kit is delivered with a shipping label so that it can be mailed back to the company for testing in its labs. Walmart indicates that such deliveries may be available at a wider scale in the future, but no details on such an expansion are provided. Source
  17. October is nearly upon us and it’ll naturally bring with it a variety of spooky events and festivities. While the theme of death that permeates Halloween is in good fun, this year may actually be deadly for those who decide to participate in social events, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned. The pandemic is still underway and it will soon be joined by the flu season in many regions, making such gatherings particularly risky for those who participate and those who come into contact with careless partygoers. The CDC notes in its new guidance for the fall and winter holidays this year that common Halloween activities can be particularly high risk when it comes to spreading the SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses. For that reason, the agency is encouraging the public to find ‘safer alternative ways’ to celebrate the holiday, including: There are other festivities you may want to participate in that are what the CDC considers ‘moderate risk,’ including an outdoor costume party where everyone keeps 6ft apart and wears face masks (costume masks don’t count, the CDC notes), as well as one-way trick-or-treating with individually wrapped treats, going to spooky outdoors one-way events as long as people socially distance and wear masks, and having outdoor movie nights with friends and family who stay apart and wear masks. However, there are many Halloween activities that the CDC says are high risk for infecting someone else or becoming infected, which could then pass the infection to other people in your household. These are the most common activities of the season, including traditional trick-or-treating, hayrides, tractor rides, visiting rural fall festivals that are in a different community (because you may bring the virus to them), going to crowded parties, ‘trunk or treating,’ and indoor haunted houses. The CDC is also warning partygoers to avoid consuming drugs and alcohol because they may reduce one’s inhibitions and common sense, resulting in more risky behavior that could result in becoming infected. In addition to the Halloween guidance, the CDC has also published guidance for a huge variety of other fall and winter activities and holidays — you can find it here. Source
  18. Linux Foundation launched a public health unit in July to use open source software to combat the coronavirus pandemic and future epidemics. The foundation now has two apps: COVID Green, which is built by NearForm developers in Ireland, and COVID Shield, which is built by Shopify developers in Canada. Currently, contact tracing apps are not widely used, but the general manager of the initiative is optimistic that adoption will improve thanks to this tech. People wearing protective face masks use a smartphone on a street in Kiev The Linux Foundation has formed a new group to provide public health authorities with free technology for tracking the spread of the coronavirus and future epidemics. Linux Foundation Public Health, launched in July to focus on using open source software to respond to the pandemic, has so far hosts two apps that notify users if they've been in contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19. A volunteer team of over 40 developers at Shopify in Canada built one, called COVID Shield, while a team at Irish enterprise software developer NearForm built another, called COVID Green. Both codebases were then contributed to Linux Foundation Public Health. Since these apps are open source, people can contribute code and customize them, allowing regions with similar needs to collaborate, general manager at Linux Foundation Public Health, Dan Kohn, told Business Insider. Developers that want to build an app off these projects can access or download the source code. These apps take advantage of technology launched by Apple and Google , which can be integrated into any app, that uses Bluetooth on people's smartphones to track who a user has been in close proximity with, without identifying the specific people. If anyone tests positive for COVID-19 and uploads that information to a database run by a local public health authority, any user who has been in close contact with that person will get a notification through their app saying they may have been exposed – again, without identifying who has COVID-19. If someone knows that they may have been exposed, they can either self-quarantine or get tested. "Essentially we think exposure notification could have a big impact on reducing the overall rate of exposure," Kohn said. An Oxford University study in April said that if about 60% of the population used a contact tracing app, it could grind the diseases spread to a halt. Researchers on the team also found that digital contact tracing can cut down spread even at much lower levels of usage. Another recent study from Oxford that focused on Washington state found that if 15% of the population participates in using exposure notification, it could reduce infections and deaths by approximately 8% and 6%, although this study has not yet been peer-reviewed. At this point, exposure notification apps have not been widely used in the US, but Kohn believes that the initiative from Linux Foundation Public Health could help with adoption because being open source makes them free and flexible for developers and public health authorities to work with. "It's definitely been an issue that states have been quite slow in rolling out those apps," Kohn said. "I'm optimistic for speeding that up." While Apple and Google say their technology focuses on preserving privacy by allowing users to turn it on and off at any time, randomizing Bluetooth identifiers, and ensuring that people who test positive are not identified by the system, trust and privacy concerns could be one of the reasons for sluggish adoption of exposure notification apps so far. Also, this technology can only be integrated into an app developed by a public health authority. Kohn says there's "constant discussion going on" in the projects about Bluetooth interference and how to bolster privacy. Public health authorities in Ireland, Canada, and 12 US states are using source code hosted by the Linux Foundation Public Health in their applications today, though they are not mandated by state governments. Still, Colorado had 10% adoption with the first week of launching, the foundation says. While these apps are for exposure notification — meaning that people can get notified if they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 — the foundation also plans to build apps that further help with contact tracing, providing information about getting tested, and later on, information on vaccinations. Source
  19. In higher education, the rapid move to remote learning last spring followed by a need to plan for a certain fluid fall semester opened up endless opportunities for information technology teams and their leadership to flail reactively and over-invest in systems, solutions and widgets. But, did they? A top question asked of chief information officers today is, “Of the technology investments made since Covid-19, what will those investments look like in one year, three years, five years? Will they still be in use?” At a time where higher education technology desperately needed a catalyst, Covid-19 arrived and one tiny silver lining may be the dramatic improvement to campus and culture that will result from escalated technology deployments. If done right, Covid-19 technology investments should absolutely be scalable, sustainable and future-proof. What will last? Last spring the saying, “Never waste a good crisis” permeated and, frankly, fit our reality as long as deliberate, intentional work followed. Improved wi-fi. From tweaks to all-campus lifts and shifts, if investments were made in remedying connectivity issues, these improvements, assuming an included ingredient of scalability, will pay for themselves over time. Updated classroom technology. Most higher education institutions have a handful of innovative classrooms, but few boast environments that are wholly consistent, refreshed and capable of meeting all classroom players - students, faculty and the staff that support them - wherever they may be. Each investment driving consistency and simplicity in classroom technology is money well spent. Service-oriented mobile applications. Mobile applications, while requiring thoughtful development on the front-end, easily transform all future transactions and interactions with a campus. From dorm and classroom door access management through online food ordering and panic buttons, applications that are opt-in and reside on a student’s personal cell phone decrease risk today and promise to supply excellent service tomorrow. A smart investment. Reality check These - and other similar - improvements executed during Covid-19 have empowered many universities to get back in the game and will certainly aid in future student recruitment efforts. Of course there are cases of over-investment as well. What won’t last? Nestled between chaos, anxiety and an influx of Covid Relief dollars, certainly there are examples of reactive overspend whose pandemic-usefulness will evolve into unsustainable financial risk. Complex in-house application development. Introducing new words like contact tracing to some technicians instantly sparks visions of homegrown applications sure to hit a wormhole of complex dependencies, finite use cases and wasted time. Hopefully, most put down the Raspberry Pi swiftly and focused on simple, low-code options (example, Power Apps via a campus Microsoft site license) to meet tracking needs. There will be little return on investment for overly-specific, high cost, time-intensive mobile apps. Inconsistent devices. Panic-buying happened. Were bulk devices purchased using negotiated pricing on campus standards or were any-and-all available items purchased wherever, whenever and for whatever price listed? Did you stick with one standard tablet option or was it a free-for-all? Tech-heavy classrooms. Did you over-invest in classroom technology? Do your classrooms feel like the Taj Mahal or look like something you might see on Star Trek? Think about sustainability and supportability. Faculty will not use all the knobs and features of overly-complex classrooms. Short-term needs. One example of a short-term need might be wireless hotspots. Were wireless hotspots purchased or were they leased? Small, high-quantity costs add up. And if contracts were required, those expenses have a long tail and a need for management. Reality check Flash forward to today and, in reviewing current inventory, deployed devices, apps and new classroom technologies, are these Covid-19 investments consistent and integrative with university systems and services? Will you fold these technologies into current refresh plans or are they anomalies within the pre-Covid environment? Lack of integration and over-investment will not pay off. You need to be thinking exit strategies now. Chalk it up to lessons learned and the art of grace It is likely very-few-to-no technology leaders in higher education responded to today’s pandemic by spending and investing stretched university dollars frivolously and with intentional malice. To fully understand that statement, it is important to revisit spring 2020 and that moment in time; the instinctual and immediate feeling of helplessness, shock and utter inability to fully grasp the uncertainty surrounding how to respond to, react on and plan for any next steps. Hopefully, your institution today is dramatically improved operationally and technically after a rapid fire of smart investments driving consistency, accessibility and connectivity. Did you experience some wasteful spending? Lesson learned. Show some grace and work together for a smarter, more sustainable investment future. Source
  20. The COVID-19 outreach is turning out to be not only health, social, and economic hazard but also a cybersecurity crisis. The pandemic has presented new challenges for businesses in the areas of remote collaboration and business continuity. With increased remote working for better business continuity, employees are using numerous Internet tools. As businesses and people have started relying more on technology and are busy fighting with the pandemic, the attackers now have plenty of options to target them more than ever. According to PWC's April report, the number of security threats to the Indian company doubled in March 2020—especially what's more worrying is a 100% rise between March 17 and 20—from Jan 2020. Sanjay Dhotre, the Union Minister of State for Electronics & Information Technology (MeITY), said that India has seen over 350,000 cyberattacks in the second quarter, triple the number of recorded events in the first quarter of 2020. He also highlighted that there were 700,000 cybersecurity incidents until August 2020. Key Cybersecurity Crises in Numbers According to ACRONIS Cyber Readiness Report 2020, 31% of companies worldwide are faced with at least one cybersecurity incident per day. However, India reported twice as many cyberattacks per day, where most of the cyberattacks comprise phishing, DDoS, video conferencing, exploiting weak services, and malware. Image source: Acronis The phishing campaign is the most worrying attack as they attained the peak during this pandemic. Though malware hit fewer numbers, it remains a more critical issue in India – reports almost 2x times Malware issues than the global average. Image source: Acronis Further, 39% of all organizations surveyed experienced video conferencing attack. Among them, India, Canada, Switzerland, and the UK are the most affected countries. Coronavirus themed phishing emails and malicious websites claiming useful information on COVID-19 have emerged as the top threats to the companies. Also, 400,000 new ransomware assaults are recognized from April – June 2020 as per the report of Seqrite. Most of these cyber-attacks were succeeded by obtaining access to a remote system by exploiting vulnerable services. Why is India So Vulnerable to Cyberattacks? Increased use of the Internet and Mobile technology — The NITI Aayog report states that India positions 3rd rank in the list of the highest number of internet users worldwide after the USA & China. With the exponential rise on the Internet and mobile phone users, there is a significant rise in the number of cyberattack incidents in India and globally. Ignoring Internal Security Threats — Enterprises are more focused on guaranteeing business continuity with seamless operations than bridging the gaps in their remote infrastructure. If sensitive data flows between various departments without a proper monitoring and logging process, then it becomes tricky to identify the loopholes in case any attack happens. Confronting External Threats — With the ever-increasing external threats, an organization can't be 100 % prepared. Only a few Indian companies maintain security measures in place like Web Application Firewalls to monitor external threats and stop cyberattack incidents as and when they happen. Detectable Weak Points During Remote Work — The main weak points, which get exposed during the sudden shift to remote work include Weak Authentication Techniques, Insufficient Monitoring, and Exposed Servers (DNS, VPN, RDP, etc.) Moreover, many employees usually ignore personal online security hygiene. With this 'work from anywhere culture,' employees begin to access their personal emails as well as social media sites on their official machine. Overall, with the merging of the personal and work-life online, cyber-attacks can easily occur through unsecured personal accounts. Missing Expertise in Cloud Technology — To ensure ease of accessing the data from any device and anywhere, many companies have adopted cloud technology. However, they don't have adequate in-house resources to manage and protect APIs, SaaS, or containers. The increasing number of poorly configured cloud architectures will inevitably open doors for the attackers. The Pandemic Landscape Demands Modern Protection Here are the golden tips to keep you away from these recent cybersecurity incidents: Train your employees in security principles Be cautious with attachments, links, or text received via emails, especially with a subject line related to COVID-19 Frame robust remote work policy Use only trusted sources like legitimate websites for up-to-date information Don't disclose your financial or personal information in an email or phone calls from unknown persons Encourage the use of office devices only for official purpose Don't reuse passwords between different accounts and applications Take data backups and store it separately Use multi-factor authentication Modernize your stack with Cloud-based WAF, such as AppTrana, a next-generation cybersecurity protection suite that includes vulnerability assessments, virtual patching, zero false positives, DDoS attack prevention, and many more features. The Closure In the cybersecurity space, attackers lead the learning curve, with security professionals following the lead to boost preventive measures. However, with advanced technologies, this scenario begins to change. The next-gen threat monitoring tools and predictive analytics go beyond the rule-based system and detect cyber risks, thereby flags potential threats in a secure and faster way. With adequate nationwide cybersecurity awareness and robust policies in place, companies should be capable of battling cyber threats effectively in the future. Source
  21. Following Hope Hicks, President Trump and the First Lady tested positive for COVID-19 Donald and Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19, the president said in a tweet late Thursday. "Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately," Trump tweeted. Tweeted the first lady: "We are feeling good and I have postponed all upcoming engagements." Earlier in the evening, the president revealed he and the first lady had entered quarantine after learning that top White House aide Hope Hicks tested positive for the virus. White House physician Dr. Sean Conley said in a memorandum late Thursday that the president and first lady were "both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence." The doctor continued, "Rest assured I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering, and I will keep you updated on any further developments." The announcement of the president and first lady's positive coronavirus test results came just hours after the revelation about Hicks' results. The president indicated in an earlier tweet Thursday that he and the first lady had begun the quarantine process. Hicks has accompanied Trump on several campaign trips in recent days, including to the presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday evening and a campaign rally in Minnesota on Wednesday. While the candidates tackled topics including race relations, climate change and the Supreme Court during Tuesday's face-off, the coronavirus dominated much of the debate. Trump defended his decision to often appear in public without a facial covering, explaining that he wears a mask "when needed." "I think masks are OK," Trump said, when asked by moderator Chris Wallace why he typically appears in public without wearing one. He pulled out a mask from his suit jacket to show he carried it with him. "I put a mask on, you know, when I think I need it. Tonight is an example, everybody has had a test," Trump said. "I wear a mask when needed. When needed, I wear masks." Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, said the president "takes the health and safety of himself and everyone who works in support of him and the American people very seriously." "White House Operations collaborates with the physician to the president and the White House Military Office to ensure all plans and procedures incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on complex and when the president is traveling," Deere continued in a statement sent to CNN. Earlier this week, the world passed a grim milestone when Johns Hopkins University reported that more than 1 million people had died as a result of the novel coronavirus. That revelation came less than a week after the number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in the US surpassed 200,000. Source
  22. A COVID-19 nasal swab test punctured a US woman's brain lining, causing fluid to leak from her nose and putting her at risk of life-threatening infection, doctors reported in a medical journal Thursday. The patient, who is in her 40s, had an undiagnosed rare condition and the test she received may have been carried out improperly, a sequence of improbable events that means the risk from nasal tests remains very low. But her case showed health care professionals should take care to follow testing protocols closely, Jarrett Walsh, senior author of the paper that appeared in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, told AFP. People who've had extensive sinus or skull base surgery should consider requesting oral testing if available, he added. "It underscores the necessity of adequate training of those performing the test and the need for vigilance after the test has been performed," added ear, nose and throat specialist Dennis Kraus of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who wasn't involved in the paper. Walsh, who practices at the University of Iowa Hospital, said the woman had gone for a nasal test ahead of an elective hernia surgery, and afterward noticed clear fluid coming out of one side of her nose. She subsequently developed headache, vomiting, neck stiffness, and aversion to light, and was transferred to Walsh's care. "She had been swabbed previously for another procedure, same side, no problems at all. She feels like maybe the second swab was not using the best technique, and that the entry was a little bit high," he said. In fact, the woman had been treated years earlier for intracranial hypertension - meaning that the pressure from cerebrospinal fluid that protects and nourishes the brain was too high. Doctors at the time used a shunt to drain some of the fluid and the condition resolved. But it caused her to develop what's called an encephalocele, or a defect at the base of the skull which made the brain's lining protrude into the nose where it was susceptible to rupture. This went unnoticed until old scans were reviewed by her new doctors, who carried out surgery to repair the defect in July. She has since fully recovered. Walsh said he believes the symptoms she developed were a result of irritation to the lining of the brain. If the problem hadn't been treated, she could have developed a potentially life-threatening brain infection from bacteria that traveled up the nose. Or, air could have entered the skull and placed excess pressure on the brain. Most testing protocols call for clinicians to follow the path of the floor of the nose, which lies above the roof of the mouth, rather than pointing the swab up - or if they point it up, to do so with great care. Walsh said that though this was likely a very rare occurrence, it was a reminder of the need for high-quality training, given that hundreds of millions more tests will be performed before the pandemic is over. https://www.sciencealert.com/improperly-done-nasal-swab-test-caused-a-brain-fluid-leak-in-us-patient
  23. Buyers aren't super-keen to jump through geopolitical hoops VMworld The US-China trade war has made more trouble for VMware's business in Asia than the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Duncan Hewett, Virtzilla's senior vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific & Japan (APJ). Speaking to The Register as part of this year's virtual VMworld, Hewett said the trade war has caused "some challenges" and that "both sides" are contributing to the strife. "The Chinese government is putting increased requirements on customers on how they choose tech," he said. "And the US government is asking for increased certifications that our products are not going to military end users. Both sides slow down the ability to adopt technology in a fast-growing market." Hewett said VMware has not been asked to do anything beyond ensuring it adheres to published rules. "We are just following the requirements on both sides," he said. VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger is a member of America's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, a position he was nominated to by President Trump. Perhaps he'll share Hewett's experiences at its next meeting on 6 October, although as that meeting's agenda [PDF] runs for all of 25 minutes and mentions only one item – deliberating and voting on the committee's "letter to the President on communications resiliency" – it may be tricky to sneak in VMware's experience. But we digress. While the trade war has made life hard for VMware, it hasn't dented its overall performance. On its last earnings call the company said that the APJ and EMEA regions had displayed "a bit more strength" than the Americas and racked up results such as 30 per cent increase in bookings for the company's NSX network virtualization product. Hewett also characterised VMware's cloud partnership with Alibaba as a "small installation to give customers an option to run in China". But he said VMware intends to expand the relationship as Alibaba Cloud expands its footprint to make it an option to rank with other VMware partners. "The key is to provide customers with choice," he said. Source
  24. A new report fresh from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the stark difference between covid-19 and the seasonal flu. For hospitalized patients, the report found, the risk of serious complications like pneumonia and shock was significantly higher from covid-19 than from the flu. People hospitalized with covid-19 were over five times more likely to die than hospitalized flu patients. The analysis, published Tuesday as an early release in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, looked at medical records from hospitalized patients who had gotten their medical care covered through the Veterans Health Administration, the single largest integrated healthcare system in the U.S. They looked at the outcomes of around 5,500 people diagnosed with influenza between October 2018 and February 2020 and compared them to nearly 4,000 people diagnosed with covid-19 between March and May 2020. Compared to flu patients, those with covid-19 were at increased risk for 17 respiratory and nonrespiratory complications, the researchers found. In particular, covid-19 patients were 19 times more likely to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition that fills the lungs with fluid. Heart inflammation, pneumonia, liver failure, shock, bloodstream infections, and bleeding inside the brain were among the other complications more likely for covid-19. Even the typical hospital stay was lengthier for covid-19 patients, taking nearly three times as long on average (8.6 days vs 3 days). Of the covid-19 patients in the study, 21% died, compared to 3.8% of flu patients—a more than fivefold gap between the two. The mortality rate from covid-19 was similar across racial and ethnic groups, but certain complications were more common among Black and Hispanic patients, such as kidney problems and sepsis. These disparities provide “further evidence that racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by covid-19,” the authors wrote. The findings are not shocking, given the deaths caused by the pandemic in the U.S. so far, now at over 220,000 officially reported. That still-growing and likely undercounted number dwarfs the average 30,000 to 60,000 deaths estimated from a typical flu season, and it has eclipsed the U.S. death toll of the previous three pandemics seen in the past 100 years, all of which were caused by a flu virus. (You have to look back to the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, to find one deadlier). But in the face of persistent misinformation, even from the White House, that covid-19 is little more than a bad flu, this study is a sobering reminder of just how untrue that is. There have been some positive developments since May, when the analysis in this study ended. Hospitals and doctors have become better at managing patients’ care and avoiding intensive interventions like invasive ventilation, for instance, while steroids have become a standard lifesaving treatment for the most severe covid-19 cases. These improvements are modest, but are likely reducing the odds of any one person in the hospital developing serious complications or dying from covid-19 now compared to early on. As encouraging as that is, the U.S. is currently in the midst of its third peak of the pandemic, with daily new cases and hospitalizations once again on the rise. As long as the virus spreads unimpeded, lots of people will get sick enough to need a hospital. And unfortunately, far too many will continue to suffer serious illness and die. Source
  25. Aunty Mabel on Facebook thinks he is a Bond baddie (spoiler: he's not) Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates stuck an oar into tinfoil-hat-infested waters once again today with a pretty reasonable plan to deal with the ongoing global pandemic. In an opinion piece for Tortoise Media, His Billness laid out a three-part plan for eliminating the grim threat of coronavirus and, unsurprisingly, it all hinges on those pesky vaccines. Gates reckoned that likely more than one vaccine will be available by the early part of next year, but dealing with the pandemic would first require the capacity to make enough of the stuff, and then ensure a global reach for dosages. "Right now," he said, "most of the world's supply of COVID-19 vaccines is slated to go to rich countries." Those countries at the other end of the scale are not so lucky: "As things stand now, these countries will be able to cover, at most, 14 per cent of their people." Taking the ethics and morality of the situation aside, the result, according to Gates, is the virus continuing its rampage through large chunks of the world and wealthy nations risking reinfection because, after all, not everybody will leap at the chance of a needle stuffed full of special sauce. "The only way to eliminate the threat of this disease somewhere is to eliminate it everywhere," insisted Gates. "New modeling from Northeastern University helps illustrate what will happen if vaccine distribution is so unequal. The researchers there analyzed two scenarios. In one, vaccines are given to countries based on their population size. Then there’s another scenario that approximates what’s happening now: 50 rich countries get the first 2 billion doses of vaccine. In this scenario, the virus continues to spread unchecked for four months in three quarters of the world. And almost twice as many people die." "This would be a huge moral failing. A vaccine can make Covid-19 a preventable disease, and no one should die from a preventable disease simply because the country they live in can’t afford to secure a manufacturing deal," he added. As well as upping manufacturing capacity (and noting the unusual sight of pharmaceutical companies sharing facilities), Gates also called for more funding to pay for both the vaccines and infrastructure to get doses to patients. "There's a lot to be learned from the ongoing effort to eradicate polio," he said. And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation knows a lot about polio. Gates has been forced in recent months to deny that his support for vaccine research is actually a cover for something altogether more nefarious. Lurking within the recent Windows XP source code leak were all manner of conspiracy videos, and social media posts concerning Gates' involvement in the spread of the virus have fanned the flames licking up those 5G (or, indeed, 4G) masts. When asked in a recent interview if he wanted to use vaccines to implant microchips into people, the billionaire responded simply: "No." Indeed, in terms of tracking people and controlling their moods, the social media giants are already way ahead of the game. Gates went on to point out that building the system to identify and eliminate COVID-19 regardless of a nation's wealth will also give the world a running start when the next pandemic rolls around. "The self-interested thing and the altruistic thing," he said, "are one and the same." Source
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