The pandemic’s coming new normal

Photo illustration of the Freedom from Want image by Norman Rockwell with all the participants of the dinner wearing surgical masks.

As both vaccinations and acquired immunity spread, life will likely settle into a new normal that will resemble pre-COVID-19 days— with some major twists.

The big picture: While hospitalizations and deaths are tamped down, the novel coronavirus should recede as a mortal threat to the world. But a lingering pool of unvaccinated people — and the virus’ own ability to mutate — will ensure SARS-CoV-2 keeps circulating at some level, meaning some precautions will be kept in place for years.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky told CNBC that people might well need a new coronavirus vaccine annually in the years ahead, much as they do now for the flu.

  • Gorsky’s comments were one of the clearest signals that even as the number of vaccinated people rises, the mutability of SARS-CoV-2 means the virus will almost certainly be with us in some form for years to come.

Be smartThat sounds like bad news — and indeed, it’s much less ideal than a world in which vaccination or infection conferred close to lifelong immunity and SARS-CoV-2 could be definitively conquered like smallpox.

  • With more contagious variants spreading rapidly, “the next 12 weeks are likely to be the darkest days of the pandemic,” says Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
  • But the apparent effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 — even in the face of new variants — points the way toward a milder future for the pandemic, albeit one that may be experienced very differently around the world.

Details: From studying what happened after new viruses emerged in the past, scientists predict SARS-CoV-2 will eventually become endemic, most likely in a seasonal pattern similar to the kind of coronaviruses that cause the common cold.

  • That’s nothing to sneeze at — literally, it will make us sneeze — but as immunity levels accumulate throughout the population, our experience of the virus will attenuate, and we’ll be highly unlikely to experience the severe death tolls and overloaded hospitals that marked much of the past year.

Yes, but: The existence of a stubborn pool of Americans who say they won’t get vaccinated — as well as the fact that it may take far longer for children, whom the vaccines have yet to be tested on, to get coverage — will give the virus longer legs than it would otherwise have.

  • “This will be with us forever,” says Osterholm. “That’s not even a debate at this point.”

What’s next: This means we can expect the K-shaped recovery that has marked the pandemic to continue, says Ben Pring, who leads Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work.

  • With the virus likely to remain a threat, even if a diminished one, “those who are more stuck in the analog world are really going to continue to struggle,” he says.
  • Health security will also become a more ingrained part of daily life and work, which means temperature checks, masks, frequent COVID-19 testing and even vaccine passports for travel are here to stay.

The catch: That’s not all bad — the measures put in place to slow COVID-19 have stomped the flu and other seasonal respiratory viruses, and if we can hold onto some of those benefits in the future, we can save tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

  • If the inequalities seen in the early phase of the vaccine rollout persist, COVID-19 could become a disease of the poor and disadvantaged, argues Mark Sendak, the co-founder and scientific adviser for Greenlight Ready, a COVID-19 resilience system that grew out of Duke Health.
  • Sendak points to the example of HIV, a disease that is entirely controllable with drugs but continues to exert a disproportionate toll on Black Americans, who take pre-exposure prophylactic medicine at much lower rates.

“If we go back to ‘normal,’ then we have failed.”

— Mark Sendak

What to watch: Whether the vaccine rollout can be adapted to reach hard to find and hard to persuade populations.

  • The Biden administration announced yesterday that it will start delivering vaccines directly to community health centers next week in an effort to promote more equity in the vaccine distribution process.
  • As the administration rolls out new COVID-19 plans, it needs to “invest in the community health care personnel” who can ensure that no one is left behind, says Sendak.

The bottom line: While SARS-CoV-2 has proven it can adapt to a changing environment, so can we. But we have to do so in a way that is fairer than our experience of the pandemic has been so far.

Where the pandemic has been deadliest

Image result for Ratio of COVID-19 deaths to population Map: Michelle McGhee and Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

In the seven states hit hardest by the pandemic, more than 1 in every 500 residents have died from the coronavirus.

Why it matters: The staggering death toll speaks to America’s failure to control the virus.

Details: In New Jersey, which has the highest death rate in the nation, 1 out of every 406 residents has died from the virus. In neighboring New York, 1 out of every 437 people has died.

  • In Mississippi, 1 out of every 477 people has died. And in South Dakota, which was slammed in the fall, 1 of every 489 people has died.

States in the middle of the pack have seen a death rate of around 1 in 800 dead.

  • California, which has generally suffered severe regional outbreaks that don’t span the entire state, has a death rate of 1 in 899.
  • Vermont had the lowest death rate, at 1 of every 3,436 residents.

The bottom line: Americans will keep dying as vaccinations ramp up, and more transmissible variants of the coronavirus could cause the outbreak to get worse before it gets better.

  • Experts also say it’s time to start preparing for the next pandemic — which could be deadlier.

“I got the vaccine…now what can I do?”

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A family member in her 70s called with the great news that she received her first dose of the COVID vaccine this week. She mentioned that she was hoping to plan a vacation in the spring with a friend who had also been vaccinated, but her doctor told her it would still be safest to hold off booking travel for now: “I was surprised she wasn’t more positive about it. It’s the one thing I’ve been looking forward to for months, if I was lucky enough to get the shot.” 

It’s not easy to find concrete expert guidance for what it is safe (or safer?) to do after receiving the COVID vaccine. Of course, patients need to wait a minimum of two weeks after receiving their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to develop full immunity.

But then what? Yes, we all need to continue to wear masks in public, since vaccines haven’t been proven to reduce or eliminate COVID transmission—and new viral variants up the risk of transmission. But should vaccinated individuals feel comfortable flying on a plane? Visiting family? Dining indoors? Finally going to the dentist?
 
It struck us that the tone of much of the available guidance speaks to public health implications, rather than individual decision-making. Take this tweet from CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. A person over 65 asked her if she could drive to visit her grandchildren, whom she hasn’t seen for a year, two months after receiving her second shot. Walensky replied, “Even if you’ve been vaccinated, we still recommend against traveling until we have more data to suggest vaccination limits the spread of COVID-19.” 

From a public health perspective, this may be correct, but for an individual, it falls flat. This senior has followed all the rules—if the vaccine doesn’t enable her to safely see her grandchild, what will? It’s easy to see how the expert guidance could be interpreted as “nothing will change, even after you’ve been vaccinated.”

Debates about masking showed us that in our individualistic society, public health messaging about slowing transmission and protecting others sadly failed to make many mask up.

The same goes for vaccines: most Americans are motivated to get their vaccine so that they personally don’t die, and so they can resume a more normal life, not by the altruistic desire to slow the spread of COVID in the community and achieve “herd immunity”. 

In addition to focusing on continued risk, educating Americans on how the vaccinated can make smart decisions will motivate as many people as possible to get their shots.

Disparities may worsen as vaccine eligibility widens

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Early data on vaccine distribution by race and ethnicity show a mismatch between those population groups receiving the vaccine, and those that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. As the graphic above shows, Black and Hispanic Americans have thus far been vaccinated at considerably lower rates in many states compared to their share of population as a whole—and these disparities are likely to worsen as states shift focus to senior populations for priority access, moving away from prioritizing essential workers, who tend to be more racially diverse.

The White population skews older, which stands to widen disparities in the near-term. Another compounding issue: vaccine hesitancy.

A recent Morning Consult poll found that, despite an overall increase in overall vaccine willingness, Black Americans remain the most hesitant, with only 48 percent willing to get the vaccine.

Meanwhile, Black and Hispanic Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID, with hospitalization and death rates nearly three to four times greater than those of White Americans.

Hesitancy will become an increasingly urgent problem as larger swathes of the population become eligible for vaccination, especially given that communities of color tend to be younger, as shown above.

Turning the tide in the battle against the virus

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The national COVID indicators all continued to move in the right direction this week, with new cases down 16 percent, hospitalizations down 26 percent, and deaths (while still alarmingly high at more than 3,000 per day) down 6 percent from the week prior.

More good news: both nationally and globallythe number of people vaccinated against COVID now exceeds the total number of people infected with the virus, at least according to official statistics—the actual number of coronavirus infections is likely several times higher.

On the vaccine front, Johnson & Johnson filed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an Emergency Use Authorization for its single-dose COVID vaccine, which could become the third vaccine approved for use in the US following government review later this month. The J&J vaccine is reportedly 85 percent effective at preventing severe COVID disease, although it is less effective at preventing infection than the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

Elsewhere, TheLancet reported interim Phase III results for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine trials, showing it to be 91 percent effective at preventing infection, and a new study found the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be 75 percent effective against the more-contagious UK virus variant.

Amid the positive vaccine news, the Biden administration moved to accelerate the vaccination campaigninvoking the Defense Production Act to boost production and initiating shipments directly to retail pharmacies. With the House and Senate starting the budget reconciliation process that could eventually lead to as much as $1.9T in stimulus funding, including billions more for vaccines and testing, it feels as though the tide may be finally turning in the battle against coronavirus.

While the key indicators are still worrisome—we’re only back to Thanksgiving-week levels of new cases—and emerging variants are cause for concern, it’s worth celebrating a week that brought more good news than bad.

Best to follow Dr. Fauci’s advice for this Super Bowl weekend, however: “Just lay low and cool it.”

How soon can we achieve immunity through vaccinations?

Over the weekend I realized that my son Henry, born in June 2019, has lived more than half of his life in the pandemic era. He’s too young to be cognizant of it, of course, but my wife and I are acutely conscious of the experiences his older brother had already enjoyed by the time he was Henry’s age, things that are impractical or impossible in the moment.

He’s not alone in that, of course. Most Americans are experiencing some ongoing deprivations because of the pandemic. (Most of those for whom the pandemic is not imposing unusual restrictions are, ironically, probably contributing to the pandemic’s extent and duration.) Just about everyone in the United States is eagerly scanning the horizon for signs of normalcy — as we have been for months, occasionally spotting oases that too often turn out to be mirages.

So when will we return to some semblance of normal? It’s hard to say with certainty. The best tool we have to reach that point, though, is the broad deployment of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the government. But even the existence of those vaccines can’t completely answer the question.

For example, the rate at which the vaccines are deployed makes a massive difference. A pace of 2 million shots per day as opposed to 1 million seems like a subtle distinction but, obviously, means achieving immunity for recipients twice as fast.

What level of immunity is necessary is a question of its own. Do we need 70 percent of the country to have been immunized? Or, as infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci has recently said, is the figure closer to 80 or 85 percent?

When doing this calculation, do you include the 26 million Americans who have already had coronavirus infections? What about young people? The vaccine trials included only those age 16 and over. Those younger have constituted about a 10th of the total infections. And what vaccine are we talking about? The Pfizer and Moderna iterations require two shots; the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson requires only one.

All of these factors affect how we can figure out when the country might hit the herd-immunity mark. If we assume that young people will be included among those needed to be vaccinated — a complicated question on its own — the calculator below will allow you to figure out when immunity might be achieved at various immunization rates.

At this rate, the country would reach 70 percent herd immunity through vaccinations by Nov. 10

How we calculate this:
There are about 330 million Americans, meaning that we need 231 million to be resistant to the virus to hit 70 percent immunity. We can take out the 5.8 million Americans who’ve already been vaccinated. That leaves 211.3 million people to be vaccinated.

From there the math is straightforward: doing two-shot vaccinations at a rate of 1.5 million shots per day means it will take 282 days to complete the job.

Bear in mind that sliding the little bar to determine how quickly shots are administered is far easier than actually scaling up the infrastructure to do so. President Biden’s original target for daily vaccinations was 1 million; he recently increased it to 1.5 million. At that rate, we’re still months from resolution. But because administering the vaccine is more complicated and requires more tracking than vaccinations such as that for the seasonal flu, it’s necessarily trickier to scale up.

At this point, the more urgent concern is the efficacy of the vaccine against any variants of the virus that might emerge. Manufacturers have already noted that the vaccine works less well against a virus variant first identified in South Africa, though the vaccines are still broadly effective, particularly at protecting the recipient from severe illness or death after infection.

Well, that and the fact that a fifth of Americans said in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll that they won’t get the vaccine or would do so only if it was required. Happily, more Americans are now saying they’re eager to get a vaccine.

The faster we get people immunized, the better we protect against the emergence of new mutations that prove less able to be controlled by the vaccines. The faster we get shots in arms, as the phrasing has it, the faster we get back to normal.

Which would be nice for all of us, including my 1-year-old.

Cartoon – Specimens used for Covid-19 Testing and Experimentation

Letters to editor for Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020

What America’s Richest Ski Town’s Handling of COVID-19 Says About the Country

A view of the JHMR slopes and the village at the base of the mountain in Jackson, Wyoming.

Tucked in the shadow of the Tetons, the town of Jackson, Wy., and surrounding Teton County is home to less than 25,000 fulltime residents, but annually hosts over 2.5 million visitors. The valley’s natural beauty attracts an influx of tourists, who in turn are responsible for roughly 30% of the region’s jobs and over $1 billion in annual revenue, but this year, visitors came with an unwelcome price tag for locals: “Every time in this pandemic that we’ve had an influx of visitation, whether that’s second homeowners, or people just coming for a weekend, it follows with an uptick in cases and hospitalizations” says Dr. Jeff Greenbaum, medical director at the Emergency Department for St. John’s hospital and the Jackson Hole Mountain Ski Resort (JHMR) ski patrol.

With just one major hospital and eight emergency room physicians serving Teton County, any increase in COVID-19 cases is cause for concern. And in January, following the Christmas and New Year’s tourism rush, COVID-19 cases in Teton County skyrocketed to some of their highest levels since the pandemic began. Despite these developments, the ski resort, hotels, bars and restaurants remain open in the town. And Greenbaum remains optimistic that with the right strategies and precautions, the small hospital will not be overwhelmed by cases and skiing can stay open during the season for both visitors and locals. “The nightmare scenario is if the patients are stacking up in the emergency room and we don’t have enough personnel to treat them,” says Greenbaum. “But we’ll see that coming in advance, and we are not there yet.” The local hospital still has over 50% of its ICU beds unoccupied and has no COVID-19 patient on a ventilator. JHMR is similarly optimistic that it can stay open the entire season, trusting in the protocols it has put in place to protect both guests and staff.

Teton is the wealthiest county in the U.S., with a per capita income of over $250,000. At the start of the pandemic, a flurry of private jets landed at the Jackson Hole Airport, sometimes with a private ventilator in tow, as second homeowners and new buyers escaped to this rural paradise. Greenbaum posits that part of the reason why St. John’s hasn’t been overrun by cases is that many of the tourists that get COVID-19 in Teton County might not stay to get treatment in Teton County. At a time when millions of Americans are out of work, when daily infection rates are at an all-time high, and when thousands across the country are dying daily from the virus, should the wealthy indulge in an après ski, looking out onto the beautiful Teton mountains, all while potentially shuttling COVID-19 into and out of Jackson?

This place is pretty much a gigantic country club, relying on second homeowners and tourism for its revenue,” says Jesse Bryant, a doctoral candidate in American Sociology at Yale University and creator of Yonder Liesa podcast exploring the history of Jackson Hole. “But Jackson has to balance the ultra-wealthy with the real reality of people eking out a living here. Teton County has the largest income gap of any county in the U.S., with the top 1% making almost 150 times more than the other 99%. From mountain guides to house cleaners to bartenders, much of the employment in Jackson cannot easily be transitioned to remote work, meaning that Jackson’s working class are among the most susceptible to unemployment from the pandemicAll across America the costs of the pandemic are being born by the poorest members of society; Pew Research Center survey from September found that about 50% of low-income Americans say they or someone in their household has lost employment or had take a pay cut due to the pandemic, and similarly about 50% of low-income Americans reported having trouble paying their bills since the pandemic started.

During the spring and summer, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed by the federal government at the start of the pandemic had provided $600 in additional unemployment payment per week, assuring many local and seasonal workers that their livelihoods were safe even if their jobs weren’t. But almost a year into the pandemic, Jackson’s working class are left with far fewer options: federal unemployment relief dropped to $300 and state unemployment benefits in Wyoming, although extended by 13 weeks, dry up after 39 weeks. “Many of the workers here don’t have a six-month buffer saved up,” said one restaurant worker who wished to remain anonymous for risk of losing their job, “so, while tourism presents a risk, we’re willing to take it to keep our paychecks coming in.”

This is the predicament that America has put herself in: a country with a limited safety net during the pandemic forces her workers to choose between the risk of getting sick, or losing their livelihoods. The mountain and the town are left trying to find a balance between keeping the economy open for tourists, and keeping COVID-19 out. As the second largest employer in Teton County, JHMR takes center stage in this unfolding drama. The resort is responsible for the livelihood of around 2,000 seasonal and local workers, and if the mountain were to shut down, many of the ancillary services in the town, like hotels, restaurants, rental shops, clothing stores and other retailers, would likely shutter their doors as well. In 2017, when the resort had to close for five days because of a power outage, the net economic impact to the local economy topped $5.5 million. “What’s happening in Jackson isn’t just a story of wealthy people coming into the rural west and getting the locals sick,” says Bryant. “This place has become more like a symbiotic relationship.”

One particularly vulnerable population is the Latino community, a significant number of which is undocumented, that lives in Jackson, and in the neighboring towns of Victor and Driggs. While it’s difficult to get exact numbers of their contribution to the economy, these workers keep Jackson running by filling jobs in all sectors, from house cleaners and construction workers to cooks and waiters.

“I’ve lived in Jackson for 25 years and used to go back to Mexico every winter because it was just too cold,” says Jorge, an undocumented construction worker in the town. “But then I got used to the cold and began skiing every single day.” Asked whether opening up the resort is worth the risk of bringing more COVID-19 into Jackson, Jorge says that by and large the Latino community welcomes the tourism with open arms, because it means job security. This lines up with findings from a survey undertaken by the Yale School of Environment this past summer, showing that Latino residents in the rural West had some of the highest rates of COVID-related unemployment in the country. “My wife and I work hard, her as a house cleaner, me in construction,” said Jorge. “The resort opening up and tourists coming to town is how many of us make our living.”

For its part, JHMR has been doing nearly everything within its power to keep COVID-19 from spreading on its slopes, iterating as the situation evolves to try to keep the 2021 season operating. In March of 2020, as the first wave of the pandemic was sweeping across the globe, the Wyoming State Health Officer shut down JHMR for the remainder of the season. The resort reopened in May, first for hikers and then mountain bikers—the summer tourists that in total are only about 10% the size of the winter tourist population. Before reopening for the summer crowd, it tested every single one of its staff members for COVID-19, and the resort’s human resources department transitioned into a contact-tracing team, coordinating with town officials whenever a case arose. While Wyoming didn’t issue a statewide mask mandate until Dec. 7, the resort instituted a mandatory mask policy during the summer. JHMR also learned to be more flexible in its operations: staff are now trained to perform a number of different functions, so they can sub in if there’s a shortage in a department, and shifts function as separate pods, meaning that if a person in one group has been exposed to COVID-19, another totally isolated pod can come in to take its place.

Over the summer and fall, tourists came in droves to Jackson, with as many as 40,000 total visitors in a dayAccording to the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks—both within a quick drive from of Jackson—had about 50% more visitors in October of 2020 than they did for the same month in 2019. While many of the outdoor activities that bring people to Teton County during the summer—hiking, biking, climbing—have been deemed relatively safe during the pandemic, tourists also flocked indoors to the bars, restaurants and stores that remained open throughout most of the summer and fall. As a result, Teton County experienced large COVID-19 spikes in July and again at the end of October and into November.

Unsurprisingly, workers got sick. In response, Teton County’s Health Officer, Travis Riddell, sent out a series of recommendations pressing citizens to not gather with groups outside of their immediate family, avoid crowded indoor spaces and not congregate at trail heads, parks or other outside spaces. Still, most businesses stayed open as patrons kept coming. Riddell noted that the town had little choice: “Economic disasters are public health disasters,” Riddell said in an interview in July 2020 to National Geographic. “We know that when there are economic downturns, where there is an increase in poverty, an increase in uninsured numbers—that has direct health effects.”

Once JHMR opened for skiing the weekend after Thanksgiving, it was clear that demand for outdoor recreation would carry into winter; even with almost no international travel, JHMR expects demand during the 2021 winter months to be comparable to past years, at least. “If we just opened up [completely], the mountain would be packed, because demand itself is through the roof,” says LaMotte, “but we’ve imposed a maximum daily capacity for the mountain, to keep guests and staff safe.”

On a bluebird day near Christmas, the resort was sold out. It had snowed almost 15 inches the day before, and cars inched into the packed parking lot. Skiers and snowboarders waited in line for the lot shuttle bus, which, despite operating at 25% capacity, still felt uncomfortably full. The restaurants and bars looking out onto the sunny mountain were similarly capped at 25% capacity, and while masks and social distancing were required, patrons waiting for tables escaped the cold by standing shoulder to shoulder in the foyer.

At the resort, the socially distanced lines for the gondola were dangerously compressing. A resort worker cheerfully reminded guests from every corner of the U.S. to keep their distance and their masks above their noses. “We’re going to make it all the way through the season, without closing” yelled the worker, to cheers from the crowds. The lines moved slow—normally eight people fit onto the gondola, but under the new policies there was no mixing between groups, so often times the gondola ascends with just one or two passengers. At the top of the mountain, with views of the valley floor against the backdrop of the jagged Tetons, everyone breathed a bit easier.

Rob Kingwill and Emilé Zynobia, professional snowboarders based out of Jackson, stepped off the gondola into the cold Wyoming air, about 4,000 feet above the valley floor. Both sported COVID-19 masks made by Kingwill’s apparel company, Avalon 7. “I feel like this is almost an essential service, to give people the opportunity to be outside, said Kingwill. “We need this for our mental health.” When JHMR shut down in March of 2020, Kingwill strapped his snowboard to his backpack and hiked up Teton Pass’s infamous 1,300-foot Glory Boot Pack—every day for 77 days until all the snow had melted. But, he points out, most recreational skiers don’t have the knowledge and skills to navigate such technical terrain—and without the money those tourists bring in, Jackson’s working class would suffer. “It seems like the benefits outweigh the costs of keeping the resort open,” agreed Zynobia, as she and Kingwill strapped onto their boards. “Even though this is an activity skewed towards to wealthier people, it is helping a remote economy, and it is getting people outside at a time when we feel caged in.”

By the middle of January, Teton County’s COVID-19 cases were skyrocketing. Teton County currently has the highest caseload per capita of any county in the state of Wyoming and the highly contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 was found to be circulating in the area. While the state of Wyoming had loosened COVID-19 gathering restrictions, the county reissued a series of guidelines on Jan. 25 that kept indoor gatherings capped at 25% and limited outdoor gatherings to 250 guests. At the resort, group ski lessons have been replaced by private lessons (at no extra cost), and the gondolas and lifts are ascending the mountain with minimal group mixing. Still JHMR can only control what happens on the mountain; “My main concern is not skiing itself,” says Greenbaum. “But rather I’m concerned about peripheral activity to skiing that lead people indoors, whether it’s a bar, a restaurant, a hotel lobby, a rental shop, a bus.”

Across the nation cases are surging, and other Colorado mountain towns like Telluride and Crested Butte have had similar spikes, likely due to an influx of winter tourism. The infection rate in Pitkin County, Colo., home to the Aspen and Snowmass ski resorts, was skyrocketing in the middle of January, with an incidence rate of about 3,500 per 100,000 people. In response, the county’s health department shut down all indoor dinning operations, but left the ski resorts open. The results were promising: in the past two weeks the COVID-19 rates for Pitkin County dropped by over 50%. “We’re on pace to be below 700 [cases per 100,000 people] in early February and I don’t think any of us thought that would happen so quickly,” said Josh Vance, the county’s epidemiologist, in an interview with the Aspen Times. “I’ll be honest—I think not having indoor dining plays a role.”

In Teton County, restaurants and bars remain open for indoor operations long as they follow social distancing guidelines. The reliance on the ultra-rich creates an undeniable risk to the livelihood of Jackson residents and workers. In the early days of the pandemic, ski resorts across Europe became super spreaders, with visitors transporting the virus like carry-on luggage, threatening other tourists and locals alike. As a result, resorts have been closed this winter across much of Europe, including in France, Germany and Italy. These precautions protect remote mountain towns from an influx of the virus, but there are other, massive costs associated with closing down. Without government support, there is little option for communities like Jackson but to stay open, follow existing public health guidelines and hope for the best. “When the pandemic first started coming to work felt like entering the lion’s den,” said the restaurant worker from Jackson who wished to remain anonymous. “But by now we’re all used to the risk, and really what choice do we have?”

Teachers want the vaccine, but they’ll have to wait

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Some teachers don’t want to return to the classroom until they’ve been vaccinated — setting up potential clashes with state and local governments pushing to reopen schools.

Why it matters: Extended virtual learning is taking a toll on kids, and the Biden administration is pushing to get them back in the classroom quickly. But that will only be feasible if teachers are on board.

Where it stands: Although the rise of new, more contagious variants has scrambled the calculus on school reopening, for now the expert consensus is that vaccinations aren’t essential to safely reopening schools.

  • A pair of studies from the CDC this week reiterated the agency’s stance that schools can operate safely with the proper precautions, along with other mitigation measures in the broader community.
  • Most states haven’t put teachers at the front of the line for vaccines. Only 18 have included teachers in the early priority groups that can get vaccinated now, and in all but four of those states, teachers are competing for shots with other higher-risk populations, including the elderly.

Yes, but: Teachers in some large school districts don’t want to return to the classroom without being vaccinated — which could mean several more months of virtual classes.

  • The Chicago teachers union has asked to delay reopening until teachers receive at least the first dose of the vaccine, but the city’s public health commissioner has said it could take months for teachers to be vaccinated, the Chicago Tribune reports.
  • “If you are required to work with students in person — which thousands of educators have been doing for months now — you should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in statement after teachers were bumped behind the elderly in the state’s priority line, per Boston.com.

What they’re saying: “The issue is that we should be aligning vaccination with school opening. That doesn’t mean every single teacher has to be vaccinated before you open one school, it means there has to be that alignment,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told ABC News.

  • Teachers should be eligible for vaccination by “late January,” she wrote in a USA Today op-ed over the weekend.

The other side: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said school staff will be prioritized for vaccination, with the goal of having students return to classrooms by March 1.

  • But prioritizing teachers can be controversial. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been criticized for the decision to vaccinate teachers ahead of the elderly, high-risk essential workers and other vulnerable communities.
  • In a rural county in Georgia and at a private school in Philadelphia, teacher vaccine clinics were shut down by their state health departments, which said that educators were not yet eligible.

The bottom line: “It’s challenging to make those decisions about how to prioritize different populations, all of whom are at significant risk,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jennifer Tolbert said.

Go deeper: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic

Two lawmakers test positive for coronavirus, one after receiving both doses of vaccine

Politics - The Washington Post

Two members of Congress from Massachusetts have tested positive for the coronavirus, one after receiving both doses of the vaccine, a reminder that people can still be vulnerable to infection after being vaccinated, particularly in the two weeks after receiving the second dose.

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) tested positive for the virus on Friday afternoon after a staff member in his Boston office tested positive earlier in the week, his spokeswoman Molly Rose Tarpey said.

Lynch received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before the inauguration of President Biden on Jan. 20, but his office declined to specify the date it was administered. Lynch had tested negative for the virus before attending the inaugural ceremonies, Tarpey said.

“While Mr. Lynch remains asymptomatic and feels fine, he will self-quarantine and will vote by proxy in Congress during the coming week,” she said.

Tarpey added that Lynch “has followed CDC guidelines and continues to do so since he received the vaccine.”

Another Democrat from Massachusetts, Rep. Lori Trahan, announced Thursday that she had tested positive for the virus and was asymptomatic. Trahan, whose staff members have been working remotely, also said she planned to vote by proxy next week.

“I encourage everyone to continue taking this virus seriously and to follow the science and data-driven guidance to wear a mask, maintain a safe social distance from others, avoid large gatherings and stay home whenever possible,” Trahan said.

Trahan received her first shot of one of the vaccines last week, spokeswoman Francis Grubar told The Washington Post.

Occasional cases of people testing positive after receiving one or both doses are not unexpected, medical experts say. Clinical trial data published by Pfizer show that the vaccine is about 52 percent effective at preventing illness after the first shot, compared to 95 percent effectiveness seven days after the second dose.

A small number of patients can still become mildly sick even after they are fully vaccinated. But only one of the roughly 20,000 people who received both doses in the clinical trial developed severe covid-19, suggesting the vaccine is powerful protection against the most dangerous cases of the disease.

Members of Congress began getting vaccinated as early as Dec. 18, but Lynch at the time said he was “waiting for the vaccine to be first offered to health care personnel, first responders and vulnerable seniors” in his district, the Boston Herald reported. It is unclear when Lynch ultimately received his first dose of the vaccine; he would have received the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine about three to four weeks after the first.

Public health experts have emphasized that it usually takes one week after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to reach 95 percent efficacy and two weeks after the second dose of the Moderna vaccine to reach 94 percent efficacy.

“There’s no vaccine that I know that protects you the same day you get it,” Onyema Ogbuagu, the principal investigator for Pfizer’s vaccine trial at Yale University, told The Post’s Allyson Chiu. “On a population level, 95% efficacy still translates to 5/100, or 50/1,000, or 500/10,000 vaccinated persons still being vulnerable to symptomatic disease and maybe even more having asymptomatic carriage.”

At least 23.2 million people in the United States have received one or both doses of the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that vaccinated people continue to wear masks, socially distance, avoid poorly ventilated spaces and wash their hands frequently to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We also don’t yet know whether getting a covid-19 vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus that causes covid-19 to other people, even if you don’t get sick yourself,” CDC guidelines state. “While experts learn more about the protection that covid-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic.”

Mask-wearing in particular has become politicized, including in the hallways of Congress. After the Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol, several Democrats said they feared they had been exposed to the virus after sheltering with Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks. In the following, at least three lawmakers tested positive for the virus.

On Friday, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) accused Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of berating her in the hallways after she told Greene to put on a mask. The incident, coupled with other hostile rhetoric and Greene’s refusal to abide by rules and protocols put in place because of the pandemic, prompted Bush to decide to move her office away from Greene’s for safety reasons, the Missouri lawmaker said.