No COVID-19 vaccine, no normal life, UK minister suggests

https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-britain-vaccines/no-covid-19-vaccine-no-normal-life-uk-minister-suggests-idUSKBN28A24R?fbclid=IwAR2V5IfikBf64K7KvQwr3kr5CLwQv-4DJ-H2eXTNScN6VLhh3BPNbS-C0Tc

No COVID-19 Vaccine, No Normal Life, UK Minister Suggests | World News | US  News

People who refuse a vaccine for COVID-19 could find normal life curtailed as restaurants, bars, cinemas and sports venues could block entry to those who don’t have proof they are inoculated, Britain’s new vaccine minister said on Monday.

Several major COVID-19 vaccines have been announced in recent weeks, raising hopes that the world could soon return to some semblance of normality after the coronavirus killed 1.46 million people and wiped out a chunk of the global economy.

The British minister responsible for the vaccine rollout, Nadhim Zahawi, said getting vaccinated should be voluntary but that Google, Facebook and Twitter should do more to fact-check opposing views of vaccines.

Asked by the BBC if there would be an immunity passport, Zahawi said a person’s COVID-19 vaccine status might be included in a phone app that would inform local doctors of a person’s status.

“But also I think you’d probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system as they’ve done with the app,” Zahawi told the BBC.

“The sort of pressure will come both ways: from service providers – who will say ‘look, demonstrate to us that you have been vaccinated’ – but also we will make the technology as easy and accessible as possible.”

Health authorities in many countries have become increasingly concerned in recent years by the growth of anti-vaccine groups, which are especially active on social media.

Asked if it would become virtually impossible to do anything without the vaccine, Zahawi said: “I think people have to make a decision but I think you’ll probably find many service providers will want to engage in this in the way they did with the app.”

Zahawi declined to give any specific date on a vaccine rollout as none have yet been approved for public use.

The message, he said, should be that a vaccine is good for the community and the country.

What will the world look like after COVID-19?

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Like a lot of people, I have really gotten into listening to podcasts over the last year. They’re such an immersive way to learn about the world, and I like how the format lets you dive as deep on a topic as you want. So, I was inspired to start one of my own—but I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.

I couldn’t ask for a better partner on this project than Rashida Jones. A mutual friend suggested that the two of us might have a lot to talk about, and it turned out he was right. I already knew she was a talented actor, but I was impressed by her thoughtful perspective on the world. So, we decided to start a podcast that lets us think through some of today’s most pressing problems together. In our first episode, Rashida and I explore a big question that is top of mind for many people: what will the world look like after COVID-19?

I know it’s hard to imagine right now while new cases are surging around the world, but there will come a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. I think it’s safe to assume that society will be changed forever, given how disruptive the virus has been to virtually every part of our lives.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before life truly gets back to “normal.” Rashida and I were joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to discuss what to expect in the months to come. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Dr. Fauci on a number of global health issues over the years, including the quest for an HIV vaccine and cure. He’s such a quiet and unassuming guy normally, so it’s been wild to watch him become a huge celebrity.

Dr. Fauci and I are both optimistic that a vaccine will bring an end to the pandemic at some point in the near future. But what the world looks like after that is a lot less clear. I suspect that some of the digitization trends we’ve seen—especially in the areas of online learning, telemedicine, and remote work—will become a regular part of our lives. I hope this episode leaves you hopeful about the future and curious about what comes next.

Cartoon – Greatest Threat to America?

Editorial Cartoons for Wednesday from Times Wire Services

U.K. upgrades COVID alert level as Europe sees worrying rise in infections

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-united-kingdom-european-cdc-4856ab47-29b2-43f2-b6c4-9a62d6867830.html

U.K. upgrades COVID alert level as Europe sees worrying rise in infections  - Axios

The U.K. could see up to 50,000 coronavirus cases per day by mid-October if current growth continues, top scientific advisers warned in a televised address from Downing Street on Monday.

The big picture: The U.K. has upgraded its coronavirus alert level from three to four as infections appear to be “high or rising exponentially.” Meanwhile, recent European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data shows that over half of all European Union countries are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases.

What they’re saying: “At the moment, we think that the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days” in the U.K., chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said.

  • England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty stressed that unemployment and poverty are risks of taking strong action against the virus — like enforcing stay-at-home orders — but that more deaths will occur if aggressive action is not taken.

Where it stands: ECDC data shows that Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Romania have recorded more than 120 confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days, according to AP.

  • In Madrid, the rate of infection is nearly three times higher than the national average, at 683 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, per AP. Spain, one of the first epicenters of the virus in Europe, is faring the worst of countries tracked by the ECDC.
  • France has seen 31,285 deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the highest death tolls in Europe. This weekend, France reported a record 13,000 new infections in 24 hours.
  • The Czech Republic reported 3,000 new cases on Thursday, almost as many as the country saw in all of March.
  • Croatia has recorded over 14,000 new COVID-19 cases per day since Sept. 16, while Romania is seeing over 11,000 new infections per day, according to Johns Hopkins data.

What to watch: Analysts expect the British government to announce short-term restrictions after Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with ministers over the weekend, AP reports.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning second-wave prevention with her “Coronavirus Cabinet.” These plans include walk-in “fever clinics” to separate coronavirus patients from others.
  • Police in Madrid are limiting travel in working-class neighborhoods that have seen high transmission rates, while parks are closed and restaurants and shops must limit their occupancy at 50%.
  • Czech Republic’s Health Minister Adam Vojtech resigned Monday because of rising cases.
  • There are 20 new testing centers set to open in Paris and surrounding suburbs this week.

 

 

 

More cities and states are opening bars and restaurants despite mounting evidence of potential danger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/09/14/covid-spread-restaurants-bars/?arc404=true&itid=lk_inline_manual_28&itid=lk_inline_manual_10&itid=lk_inline_manual_9

More cities and states are opening bars and restaurants despite mounting  evidence of potential danger — TodayHeadline

In New York City, diners will be able to have a meal inside a restaurant at the end of the month, something that hasn’t happened there since the coronavirus pandemic began. In some parts of Florida, bars reopened Monday for the first time since late June.

One decision appears to be riskier than the other, according to an analysis of cellphone and coronavirus case data by The Washington Post.

States that have reopened bars experienced a doubling in the rate of coronavirus cases three weeks after the opening of doors, on average. The Post analysis — using data provided by SafeGraph, a company that aggregates cellphone location information — found a statistically significant national relationship between foot traffic to bars one week after they reopened and an increase in cases three weeks later.

The analysis of the cellphone data suggests there is not as strong a relationship between the reopening of restaurants and a rise in cases, nor with bar foot traffic and cases over time, except for a handful of states.

But like with so much in the pandemic, easy answers can prove elusive.

study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of nearly 300 adults who tested positive for the coronavirus found that they were more than twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant in the two weeks before getting sick than people who were uninfected. Those who tested positive and did not have close contact with anyone sick were also more likely to report going to a bar or coffee shop. The same effect was not seen in visits to salons, gyms and houses of worship, or in the use of public transportation.

“You’re sitting there for a long time, everyone’s talking,” said Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech. “And that’s just a recipe for spread.”

Few states make their contact-tracing data available, but in two that do — Colorado and Louisiana — bars and restaurants are responsible for about 20 percent of cases traced to a known source. San Diego traced nearly one-third of community outbreaks to restaurants and bars, more than any other setting.

But Louisiana’s experience suggests bar patrons contribute more to the spread of the virus than restaurant diners. There have been 41 outbreaks tied to restaurants and the same number of outbreaks associated with bars, but bar outbreaks appeared to result in more infections, with 480 cases traced to those establishments compared with 180 from restaurants.

Marr said indoor dining can be reasonably safe in a restaurant operating at 25 percent capacity and with a ventilation system that fully recirculates air every 10 minutes. New York City’s policy will allow for only 25 percent capacity at first, with a scheduled increase to 50 percent in November if transmission rates remain low.

Still, Marr said, she “will not eat inside a restaurant until the pandemic is over.” As one of the first scientists to begin emphasizing that the virus was spread primarily by air, she has been concerned about indoor drinking and dining since March.

“People go to restaurants to talk,” she said, “and we know that it’s talking that produces a lot — 10 to 100 times more — aerosols than just sitting.”

Other countries facing outbreaks imposed stricter and longer shutdowns on bars and restaurants. Ireland has yet to open its pubs. Countries that did reopen bars and restaurants have, like American states, scaled back in the face of fresh outbreaks.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say that because U.S. policies vary by state and county, waves of closures and reopenings may have perversely led to more viral spread, as people traveled to enjoy freedoms not allowed closer to home.

The National Restaurant Association argues that restaurants are safe if they follow proper mitigation guidelines and that the industry has been unfairly maligned by the actions of an irresponsible few.

“Bars become particularly risky,” said Larry Lynch, who handles food science for the restaurant trade group. “Anybody who had been in bars knows that conversations get louder, people get closer.”

But, he said, “we haven’t seen … any kind of systemic outbreaks from people going into a restaurant that’s practicing what we ask them to practice.”

Lynch questioned the methodology of the CDC study, noting it covered only 295 people and did not identify the sources of transmission.

The American Nightlife Association, which represents the bar and nightclub industry, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kristen Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health, agreed that when restaurants and bars abide by guidelines designed to reduce transmission, few cases of the coronavirus have been traced to those establishments.

But there are more than a few bad actors, she said: 1,592 cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have been tied to 66 bars and restaurants in Minnesota. And in 58 other establishments, cases were reported among only staff members, resulting in 240 illnesses. One bar in St. Cloud, Minn., the Pickled Loon, was the only place visited by 73 people who got sick and was one stop among several for 44 other people.

“The bottom line is, we’re seeing a big chunk of our cases associated with these venues, and those cases go on to get other cases in other settings,” Ehresmann said. “We can’t ignore the impact.”

Iowa’s first big spike in coronavirus cases originated in the meatpacking industry. Then, says University of Iowa epidemiologist Jorge Salinas, came bars in college towns such as Iowa City, where he is based.

“It was very clear,” Salinas said. “We reviewed records for patients, and they all shared that common exposure of having been to a bar in the previous five days or so. Usually, the same bars that tend to be very crowded and very loud, rather than a place you just sit down to go and have a beer.”

He said those bars began closing not because of government intervention, but because so many staff members fell ill. By that point, the young people who got infected at bars had begun spreading the virus to an older population through family and work.

After about two months, the outbreak in Iowa City started to burn out. But then college students started returning to campus.

“It’s just a different group of young people but similar exposures — going to bars, hanging out, going to large parties,” he said.

He said an order from Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) closing bars in Iowa City and five other hard-hit counties was welcome but overdue. In the past two weeks, more than 1,000 young people in the region have become infected.

“Unfortunately, it’s late in the game,” Salinas said. “It would have been better if it had been done to prevent this rather than as a reaction to this.”

Politicians who favor an aggressive approach to containing the coronavirus have been hesitant to shut down bars and restaurants. Expanded federal unemployment benefits lapsed more than a month ago. Loans to small businesses are forgiven only if they can keep workers on the payroll, which is usually impossible while running at reduced capacity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.5 million jobs in bars and restaurants have been lost since February. Although that’s an improvement from the spring, many restaurant owners say they are barely hanging on.

“Winter is coming, and I’m staring down the barrel of the gun of what’s going to happen,” said Ivy Mix, owner of a restaurant called Leyenda in New York and author of the book “Spirits of Latin America.” Even when indoor dining reopens, Mix said she is not sure she and her staff would be comfortable serving enough people inside her Brooklyn restaurant to make a profit.

“This is almost like being thrown a deflated life-jacket — the action and the symbolism is there, but the actual aid is not,” she said.

That’s why she says the only solution is federal legislation introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that would issue $120 billion in grants to independent bars and restaurants. A Senate version would cover some chains as well.

“Eleven million people work for these independent restaurants,” Blumenauer said. “If we don’t do something, the evidence suggests that 85 percent of them are not going to survive this year.”

His office estimates that the legislation would more than pay for itself, generating $186 billion in tax revenue and unemployment savings. He said President Trump was receptive in a meeting with supporters earlier this year, but that in recent weeks the administration “has basically shut down meaningful negotiations.”

Arizona reopened indoor restaurants and some bars at the end of August, after a hasty spring reopening and more than 5,000 deaths.

“We really kind of reaped the whirlwind,” said David Engelthaler, a former state epidemiologist now at the Translational Genomics Research Institute. “A lot of that was driven by people going into bars and nightclubs, typically the 20- to 30-year-old set, interacting, socializing like they did prepandemic. And that just supported a kind of wildfire of cases.”

He said he thinks it is probably feasible to reopen restaurants at reduced capacity, but bars are a different story.

“One thing that all bars have in common is that they create a lowering of inhibition, and I think more than anything, this will cause the spread of covid,” he said. “We get more complacent, more comfortable, covid starts spreading.”

With temperatures still regularly topping 100 degrees in Arizona, the appeal of outdoor food and drink is limited. After a rapid May reopening led to a spike in cases and deaths, the state has just begun trying a more cautious approach.

Under Arizona’s new, more deliberate reopening, businesses must apply to reopen and bars must serve food to qualify. But Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist based in Phoenix, said it is unclear whether those requirements are sufficiently stringent.

“If you put out two items does that count?” she asked. “I just worry that we’re kind of all doing this at once.” She noted that more than 500 new cases a day continue to be reported in Arizona, about the same as during the first reopening: “We’ll see if we learn from our lessons.”

 

 

The Pandemic’s Most Treacherous Phase

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/us-pandemic-crisis-will-worsen-in-october-by-barry-eichengreen-2020-09?utm_source=Project+Syndicate+Newsletter&utm_campaign=d57658f7c7-sunday_newsletter_13_09_2020&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73bad5b7d8-d57658f7c7-105592221&mc_cid=d57658f7c7&mc_eid=5f214075f8

The most dangerous phase of the COVID-19 crisis in the US may actually be now, not last spring. If the economy falters a second time, whether because of inadequate fiscal stimulus or flu season and a second COVID-19 wave, it will not receive the additional monetary and fiscal support that protected it in the spring.

April marked the most dramatic and, some would say, dangerous phase of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Deaths were spiking, bodies were piling up in refrigerated trucks outside hospitals in New York City, and ventilators and personal protective equipment were in desperately short supply. The economy was falling off the proverbial cliff, with unemployment soaring to 14.7%.

Since then, supplies of medical and protective equipment have improved. Doctors are figuring out when to put patients on ventilators and when to take them off. We have recognized the importance of protecting vulnerable populations, including the elderly. The infected are now younger on average, further reducing fatalities. With help from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, economic activity has stabilized, albeit at lower levels.

Or so we are being told.

In fact, the more dangerous phase of the crisis in the US may actually be now, not last spring. While death rates among the infected are declining with improved treatment and a more favorable age profile, fatalities are still running at roughly a thousand per day. This matches levels at the beginning of April, reflecting the fact that the number of new infections is half again as high.

Mortality, in any case, is only one aspect of the virus’s toll. Many surviving COVID-19 patients continue to suffer chronic  and impaired mental function. If 40,000 cases a day is the new normal, then the implications for morbidity – and for human health and economic welfare – are truly dire.

And, like it or not, there is every indication that many Americans, or at least their current leaders, are willing to accept 40,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths a day. They have grown inured to the numbers. They are impatient with lockdowns. They have politicized masks.

This is also a more perilous phase for the economy. In March and April, policymakers pulled out all the stops to staunch the economic bleeding. But there will be less policy support now if the economy again goes south. Although the Federal Reserve can always devise another asset-purchase program, it has already lowered interest rates to zero and hoovered up many of the relevant assets. This is why Fed officials have been pressing the Congress and the White House to act.

Unfortunately, Congress seems incapable of replicating the bipartisanship that enabled passage of the CARES Act at the end of March. The $600 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits has been allowed to expire. Divisive rhetoric from President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders about “Democrat-led” cities implies that help for state and local governments is not in the cards.

Consequently, if the economy falters a second time, whether because of inadequate fiscal stimulus or flu season and a second COVID-19 wave, it will not receive the additional monetary and fiscal support that protected it in the spring.

The silver bullet on which everyone is counting, of course, is a vaccine. This, in fact, is the gravest danger of all.

There is a high likelihood that a vaccine will be rolled out in late October, at Trump’s behest, whether or not Phase 3 clinical trials confirm its safety and effectiveness. This specter conjures memories of President Gerald Ford’s rushed swine flu vaccine, also prompted by a looming presidential election, which resulted in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and multiple deaths. This episode, together with a fraudulent scientific paper linking vaccination to autism, did much to help foster the modern anti-vax movement.5

The danger, then, is not merely side effects from a flawed vaccine, but also widespread public resistance even to a vaccine that passes its Phase 3 clinical trial and has the support of the scientific community. This is especially worrisome insofar as skepticism about the merits of vaccination tends to rise anyway in the aftermath of a pandemic that the public-health authorities, supposedly competent in such matters, failed to avert.

Studies have shown that living through a pandemic negatively affects confidence that vaccines are safe and disinclines the affected to vaccinate their children. This is specifically the case for individuals who are in their “impressionable years” (ages 18-25) at the time of exposure, because it is at this age that attitudes about public policy, including health policy, are durably formed. This heightened skepticism about vaccination, observed in a variety of times and places, persists for the balance of the individual’s lifetime.

The difference now is that Trump and his appointees, by making reckless and unreliable claims, risk aggravating the problem. Thus, if steps are not taken to reassure the public of the independence and integrity of the scientific process, we will be left only with the alternative of “herd immunity,” which, given COVID-19’s many known and suspected comorbidities, is no alternative at all.

All this serves as a warning that the most hazardous phase of the crisis in the US will most likely start next month. And that is before taking into account that October is also the beginning of flu season.

 

 

A New Front in America’s Pandemic: College Towns

The coronavirus is spiking around campuses from Texas to Iowa to North Carolina as students return.

Last month, facing a budget shortfall of at least $75 million because of the pandemic, the University of Iowa welcomed thousands of students back to its campus — and into the surrounding community.

Iowa City braced, cautious optimism mixing with rising panic. The university had taken precautions, and only about a quarter of classes would be delivered in person. But each fresh face in town could also carry the virus, and more than 26,000 area residents were university employees.

“Covid has a way of coming in,” said Bruce Teague, the city’s mayor, “even when you’re doing all the right things.”

Within days, students were complaining that they couldn’t get coronavirus tests or were bumping into people who were supposed to be in isolation. Undergraduates were jamming sidewalks and downtown bars, masks hanging below their chins, never mind the city’s mask mandate.

Now, Iowa City is a full-blown pandemic hot spot — one of about 100 college communities around the country where infections have spiked in recent weeks as students have returned for the fall semester. Though the rate of infection has bent downward in the Northeast, where the virus first peaked in the U.S., it continues to remain high across many states in the Midwest and South — and evidence suggests that students returning to big campuses are a major factor.

In a New York Times review of 203 counties in the country where students comprise at least 10 percent of the population, about half experienced their worst weeks of the pandemic since Aug. 1. In about half of those, figures showed the number of new infections is peaking right now.

Despite the surge in cases, there has been no uptick in deaths in college communities, data shows. This suggests that most of the infections are stemming from campuses, since young people who contract the virus are far less likely to die than older people. However, leaders fear that young people who are infected will contribute to a spread of the virus throughout the community.

The surge in infections reported by county health departments comes as many college administrations are also disclosing clusters on their campuses.

*Brazos County, Tex., home to Texas A&M University, added 742 new coronavirus cases during the last week of August, the county’s worst week so far, as the university reported hundreds of new cases.

*Pitt County, N.C., site of East Carolina University, saw its coronavirus cases rise above 800 in a single week at the end of August. The Times has identified at least 846 infections involving students, faculty and staff since mid-August.

*In South Dakota’s Clay and Brookings counties, ballooning infections in the past two weeks have reflected outbreaks at the state’s major universities. In McLean County, Ill., the virus has been spreading as more than 1,200 people have contracted the virus at Illinois State University.

*At Washington State University and the University of Idaho, about eight miles apart, combined coronavirus cases have risen since early July to more than 300 infections. In the surrounding communities — rural Whitman County, Wash., and Latah County, Idaho — cases per week have climbed from low single-digits in the first three months of the pandemic, to double-digits in July, to more than 300 cases in the last week of August.

The Times has collected infection data from both state and local health departments and individual colleges. Academic institutions generally report cases involving students, faculty and staff, while the countywide data includes infections for all residents of the county.

It’s unclear precisely how the figures overlap and how many infections in a community outside of campus are definitively tied to campus outbreaks. But epidemiologists have warned that, even with exceptional contact tracing, it would be difficult to completely contain the virus on a campus when students shop, eat and drink in town, and local residents work at the college.

The potential spread of the virus beyond campus greens has deeply affected the workplaces, schools, governments and other institutions of local communities. The result often is an exacerbation of traditional town-and-gown tensions as college towns have tried to balance economic dependence on universities with visceral public health fears.

In Story County, Iowa, a local outcry following a burst of new Iowa State University cases pressured the university on Wednesday to reverse plans to welcome 25,000 football fans for its Sept. 12 opener against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In Monroe County, Indiana, the health department quarantined 30 Indiana University fraternity and sorority houses, prompting the university to publicly recommend that members shut them down and move elsewhere.

In Johnson County, where the University of Iowa is located, cases have more than doubled since the start of August, to more than 4,000. Over the past two weeks, Iowa City’s metro area added the fourth-most cases per capita in the country. The university has recorded more than 1,400 cases for the semester.

With a population of roughly 75,000, Iowa City relies on the university as an economic engine. The University of Iowa is by far the community’s largest employer, and its approximately 30,000 students are a critical market. Hawkeye football alone brings $120 million a year into the community, said Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District.

When the pandemic first hit in March, the university sent students home and pivoted to remote instruction, like most of the country’s approximately 5,000 colleges and universities. That exodus, heightened by health restrictions, has been an existential challenge for many downtown businesses, Ms. Bird said.

Jim Rinella, who owns The Airliner bar and restaurant, said the 76-year-old landmark across the street from campus “had zero revenue the whole month of April.” May was almost as scant, he said, and in June, he shut down after a couple of employees became infected.

By the time he reopened after July 4, too few students were in town to come close to making up the losses. He and his wife, Sherry, had hoped the campus reopening in August might be a lifeline.

The Rinellas live in Detroit, where they have other businesses, and Mr. Rinella said he was out of town when crowds jammed downtown on the weekend before the Aug. 24 start of classes. He said he immediately called his manager to make sure they were following state and local health rules.

But the photos taken by the local press from outside his establishment and others were damning. In an open letter, the university president lashed out, saying he was “exceedingly disappointed” in the failure of local businesses to keep students masked and socially distanced. Days later, the governor cited high infection rates among young people as she closed bars and restricted restaurants in Johnson County and five other counties with high concentrations of students.

Now The Airliner — where a booth is named for the University of Iowa’s most famous dropout, Tom Brokaw, and a modeling scout is said to have discovered Ashton Kutcher — has to close at 10 p.m. as well as require customers to buy a meal and sit far apart if they want to drink there.

“I’m at a pain point,” Mr. Rinella said. “If my grandfather hadn’t started the place, I’d question whether I want to be in the restaurant business.” A recent lunch hour visit found one customer at the bar drinking a beer.

The rise in local case counts reverberated at the county’s community college, which decided to start its fall semester with continued online instruction. Iowa City’s K-12 schools followed suit, which also meant canceling extracurricular activities, including sports, until students come back to the classroom in person.

“This is one of our last chances for college coaches to see us play or to get recent films sent out to college coaches. For some of us, playing in college is a goal we have been working toward since we were 11 or 12,” Lauren Roman, a 17-year-old high school volleyball player, told the school board last month. She burst into tears as she explained that she has waited since March for college recruiters to see her play. “Some of us really do need that scholarship money.”

“This sucks,” the board vice-president Ruthina Malone, agreed at the same meeting, choking up as she described emails she had received from families of children whose education relies on in-person instruction. But, she told the board, “we do not operate in isolation.” Her husband, she said, is an art teacher who would like nothing more than to teach again in person, and she works at the university.

The pandemic has hurt colleges’ finances in multiple ways, adding pressure on many schools to bring students back to campus. It has caused enrollment declines as students have opted for gap years or chosen to stay closer to home, added substantial costs for safety measures, reduced revenue from student room and board and canceled money-generating athletic events.

Governments have not always stepped into the breach: In Iowa, the state cut $8 million from its higher education appropriation even after the Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s universities, requested an $18 million increase. Over the summer, the University of Iowa announced a salary freeze and other significant cuts. This was before the Big Ten Conference postponed fall competition, erasing more than $60 million from the university’s athletics program.

When the university announced its plans for reopening with a combination of in-person and virtual instruction, it did not mention its finances as a factor, though it froze tuition rather than reduce it, as some universities have done. It also mandated mask wearing inside buildings and said it would test students with symptoms or who had been exposed to the virus.

Still, its decision to hold in-person classes drew criticism from some faculty. “We’re scared for our health and yours,” one group of instructors wrote in an open letter to students in July.

And its decision not to test asymptomatic students unless they had been exposed unnerved some city officials. Dr. Dan Fick, the campus health officer, said the university wanted to avoid a false sense of security.

But Janice Weiner, who represented the City Council in meetings with the business community and campus, questioned the approach. “We have a robust and capable medical community, we have good public health officials, we have everything we need,” she said. “But then the university didn’t require everyone coming back to campus to be tested.”

Iowa City is a blue town in a state with a pro-Trump Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, who has clashed with the state’s cities over masks and Covid policies.

Though the governor in March restricted large gatherings, closed Iowa schools and banned indoor operations of many businesses, she began relaxing those orders in May and has argued that face-mask mandates couldn’t be legally enforced.

Several municipalities have nonetheless passed ordinances requiring face masks, including Johnson County and Iowa City — largely in preparation for the return of students. But because state health rules have become a patchwork, not all returning students come from places where mask wearing is required, said Ms. Weiner. And, she said, the inconsistency offers an excuse to those who don’t want to wear them.

Interviews with students suggested that concern had at least some justification.

“If people get sick, they get sick — it happens,” Mady Hanson, a 21-year-old exercise science major, said last week on campus. She added that she and her family had survived Covid-19 and that she resented the city’s “ridiculous” restrictions.

“We’re all farmers and don’t really care about germs, so if we get it, we get it and we have the immunity to it.”

Both university and city officials said they believe the spike in cases has been a wake-up. “When we look back,” said Dr. Fick, “I think we’ll be proud that when students got the message, a majority stepped up.”

On the City Council, Ms. Weiner was less upbeat.

“There’s not a whole use in placing blame — we have to figure out a way forward,” she said. “But it’s going to take a herculean effort here for our numbers to start to go down.”

 

 

 

The coronavirus and a $12 billion motorcycle rally

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-9f3757d6-dde4-4b75-a994-9572837e9d3f.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

The coronavirus outbreak tied to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, ended up generating more than $12 billion in public health costs, according to a new discussion paper.

Why it matters: The analysis puts a point on just how bad these superspreader events can be — and the difficulty of preventing them solely with voluntary policies.

Background: The annual rally was held this year over 10 days in August, and included a Smash Mouth concert. The nearly 500,000 attendees came from all over the country, and social distancing and mask-wearing were mostly optional.

By the numbers: The rally led to 266,796 additional cases, or 19% of the new cases in the U.S. between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2., the paper found.

  • The event led to a 35% increase in cases in South Dakota. In counties that are home to the highest number of rally attendees, cases rose by 10.7% compared to counties without any attendees.
  • If each coronavirus case costs $46,000, that’s an additional $12.2 billion added on to the pandemic’s price tag.

The other side: “Overall, I think the ‘Sturgis Effect’ that the authors document is in large part just a Midwest surge that took place during this time period. There is likely still a small Sturgis Effect … but the results are likely biased upward,” tweeted Devin Pope, a professor at the University of Chicago.

The big picture: Given the state of contact tracing in the U.S. (bad), we’ll never know how many coronavirus cases were actually tied to the Sturgis rally.

  • But it’s a reminder that it takes collective action to contain the virus: As Sturgis revelers head back home, this South Dakota-centered outbreak has the potential to infect people who never went anywhere near Sturgis and thought they were doing everything right.

 

 

 

 

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Is Now Linked to More Than 250,000 Coronavirus Cases

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Is Now Linked to More Than 250,000 Coronavirus Cases

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Is Now Linked to More Than 250,000 Coronavirus  Cases – Mother Jones

One study estimates the public health cost of the super-spreading event is near $12 billion.

The inevitable fallout from last month’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual event that packed nearly 500,000 people into a small town in South Dakota, is becoming clear, and the emerging picture is grim.

According to a new study, which tracked anonymized cellphone data from the rally, over 250,000 coronavirus cases have now been tied to the 10-day event, one of the largest to be held since the start of the pandemic. It drew motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country, many of whom were seen without face coverings inside crowded bars, restaurants, and other indoor establishments.

The explosion in cases, the study from the Germany-based IZA Institute of Labor Economics finds, is expected to reach $12 billion in public health costs.

“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for super-spreading occurred simultaneously,” the researchers wrote, “the event was prolonged, included individuals packed closely together, involved a large out-of-town population, and had low compliance with recommended infection countermeasures such as the use of masks.”

The conclusion, while staggering, is unlikely to surprise to public health officials who warned that proceeding with the rally could be disastrous, particularly given the region’s relaxed attitude towards social distancing guidelines and some of the attendees’ mockery of the pandemic. “Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis,” read one t-shirt from the rally, where overwhelming support for President Trump was the norm.

The study comes on the heels of the first reported death from the event, a Minnesota man in his 60’s who attended the rally who died last week. South Dakota now has one of the country’s highest rates of coronavirus cases. 

 

 

 

 

US surpasses 6 million coronavirus cases nationwide

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/514364-us-passes-6-million-coronavirus-cases-nationwide

US surpasses 6 million coronavirus cases nationwide | TheHill

The United States has passed six million confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The country has also passed 183,000 deaths nationwide.

President Trump and his 2020 Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, have battled for months over the U.S.’s coronavirus response, with allies of the Democratic nominee hammering the administration over the U.S.’s status as the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world.

In July, Biden accused Trump of giving up on the U.S.’s efforts to control the disease’s spread, claiming that the president “raised the white flag.”

“He has no idea what to do. It’s zero. It’s only one thing he has in mind — how does he win reelection? And it doesn’t matter how many people get COVID and or die from COVID because he fears that if the economy is strapped as badly as it is today that, in fact, he is going to be in trouble,” the former vice president told MSNBC.

Trump, meanwhile, has struck an optimistic tone on the virus when addressing it in recent months and claimed that he believes a vaccine could be available before the election. He also claimed in a recent Axios interview that the virus is “under control as much as you can control it” in the U.S.

“They are dying, that’s true. And you have — it is what it is,” Trump said earlier in August. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague.”