Mink look out from their cage at the farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen as they have to kill off their herd, which consists of 3000 mother mink and their cubs on their farm near Naestved, Denmark, on November 6, 2020 (MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)Facebook56TwitterRedditEmailcomments
Scott Beckstead remembers the mink that died from terror.
“The foreman pulled out this sapphire female, and she struggled and she screamed,” Beckstead told Salon, describing an incident occurred in one of the last year that he visited his grandfather’s southern Idaho mink farm. “Then she went limp. She literally died. There is no doubt that she was terrified. She had watched what was happening to the mink next to her. I think, honestly, the only explanation is that she died of sheer terror.”
His grandfather “cursed” when he saw that; “the sapphires are so fragile,” he rued. Beckstead was struck by the fact that his grandfather was genuinely upset at how that mink died. Though she was to be killed for her fur ultimately, he did not want her life to end in the way that it did.Advertisement:
Beckstead is now the director of campaigns for animal wellness action at the Center for a Humane Economy. The organization, a non-profit that tries to change how businesses behave in order to create a humane economic order, is supporting a recently-proposed bill that would ban mink farms in Oregon. There are many reasons to ban mink farms strictly from the perspective of animal rights, but a new reason has incentivize that movement: The COVID-19 pandemic.
For biological reasons, the novel coronavirus is particularly prevalent among mink, as mink and other mustelidae such as ferrets are notorious for unwittingly serving as virus mutation factories. Mink are so prone to developing COVID-19 infections that outbreaks have repeatedly disproportionately cropped up in areas with mink farms. The problem is extremely serious, to the point that last year Denmark ordered thousands of mink to be killed and buried in shallow graves to halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2. This led to the unappealing sight of bloated, decayed mink carcasses literally rising out of their graves as their corpses filled with gas.
“When they’re put in confinement, they are in this very unnatural situation,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Salon. Unlike pigs, cows, chickens and other animals that have spent generations being domesticated, mink don’t have that history; they still think and behave like wild animals. This is not to say that factory farms aren’t already vectors for disease and pollution (they are), or that mink won’t already be particularly prone to illness from living in such close quarters (they will).
In any case, minks strongly resist being held captive in small cages. And those wild instincts exacerbate matters.Advertisement:
“They’re extremely stressed in those situations,” Burd explained. “Because that confinement is so unnatural, mink are extraordinarily good escape artists.” There was already one instance where an Oregon farm had a COVID-19 outbreak and, despite being under quarantine, three of the mink managed to escape. Of those mink, two tested positive for COVID-19.
“We don’t have any exact numbers on the percent of mink that escape, but it’s obvious that escapes are common,” Burd explained. “They happen even when the facility is supposed to be under a strict quarantine.”
Not surprisingly, Oregon mink farmers are fighting against Senate Bill 832, which would ban mink farms in the state. Burd told Salon that to address this reality, the bill would offer assistance to people who would lose their jobs as a result of the ban. Yet many Oregon officials seem inclined to sweep the issue under the rug.Advertisement:
“They said, you know, ‘Don’t worry about it. We have everything under control,'” Burd recalled when describing how Oregon authorities reacted after her organization contacted them with concerns about mink farming and COVID-19 outbreaks. “That very day, the first outbreak at an Oregon farm was reported.” The Center for Biological Diversity reached out again to express concern that mink could spread the disease to wild animals, which subsequently happened.
Despite their concerns being validated, however, the facility ended its quarantine after testing a “minuscule” percentage of the mink and found them to be negative.
“Workers can come and go freely,” Burd told Salon. “Mink breeding is continuing and we’re very, very concerned because just because a few of the mink tested negative. [That] does not mean it’s not in this facility and COVID-19 in mink is unpredictable in its manifestations.”Advertisement:
Beckstead echoed Burd’s concerns, describing how the mink farming crisis has reached a new level of urgency because the conditions there make them ripe for COVID-19 outbreaks. He also spoke from the heart about how, when one understands the mind of a mink, it is easy to see how the farming practices are inherently cruel.
“This is an animal that has the instinct to be out roaming over vast territory,” Beckstead explained. “The animals are semi-aquatic, so they have a strong instinct to spend a lot of time in the water. To take a wild species and raise it on factory farm conditions is inherently cruel, which I think is why the animal welfare community has long wished that they would eventually become obsolete or extinct.”
He recalled another story from the days on his grandfather’s mink farm, the fact that he was not allowed to visit the mink yard when the females were having their babies because “the slightest disturbance would cause them to cannibalize their litters.”
“Those kinds of stories just speak to me of how unnatural of a setting these mink farms are,” Beckstead explained. “This is not a species that belongs on factory farms. I mean, no species belongs in factory farms, but to factory farm an inherently wild species, I think, adds an additional layer of suffering and misery.”
As the United States this week mourned the devastating milestone of 500,000 lives lost to the coronavirus, a report out Wednesday shows that the nation’s billionaires have seen their collective wealth grow by $1.3 trillion since the deadly pandemic began last year.
According to the new analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), America’s 664 billionaires now have a combined net worth of $4.2 trillion — a figure that stands in staggering contrast to the economic pain being felt by countless families across the U.S. as joblessness, uninsurance, and hunger remain sky-high.
“It is unseemly that billionaires have experienced such gains as we mark a half a million lives lost and millions more who have lost their health, wealth and jobs,” Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality at IPS, said in a statement. “Taxing those who have experienced windfall wealth gains to pay for Covid relief and recovery is a matter of equity and justice.”
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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world — and SpaceX founder Elon Musk saw their wealth grow by $76.3 billion and $158 billion respectively between March 18, 2020 and February 19, 2021 — bigger gains than any other U.S. billionaire. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, saw his net worth jump by $41 billion during that period.
“Even as congressional Republicans try to nickel-and-dime suffering Americans by opposing President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, including its $1,400 relief checks, American billionaires have reaped $1.3 trillion in pandemic profits,” said ATF executive director Frank Clemente. “The need for the kind of fair-share tax program Biden ran and won on becomes clearer every day, as billionaire wealth balloons while working-family hopes deflate.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1364582878181527553&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Ftruthout.org%2Farticles%2Fas-us-mourns-500000-lives-billionaires-gained-1-3-trillion-during-pandemic%2F&siteScreenName=truthout&theme=light&widgetsVersion=889aa01%3A1612811843556&width=500px
The U.S., which has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world, reached 500,000 lives lost to Covid-19 on Monday. “About one in 670 Americans has died of Covid-19, which has become a leading cause of death in the country, along with heart disease and cancer, and has driven down life expectancy more sharply than in decades,” the New York Timesnoted.
While declining cases and an improving vaccine rollout have prompted some optimism, the grim milestone and still-rising death toll served as urgent reminders of how much work remains to be done to bring the catastrophic pandemic under control.
“We are still at about 100,000 cases a day. We are still at around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two-and-a-half-fold times what we saw over the summer,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, toldNBC earlier this month. “It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place.”
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
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Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.
Dose No. 2 is more likely to pack a punch—in large part because the effects of the second shot build iteratively on the first. My husband, who’s a neurologist at Yale New Haven Hospital, is one of many who had a worse experience with his second shot than his first.
But much like any other learning process, in this one repetition is key. When hit with the second injection, the immune system recognizes the onslaught, and starts to take it even more seriously. The body’s encore act, uncomfortable though it might be, is evidence that the immune system is solidifying its defenses against the virus.
“By the second vaccine, it’s already amped up and ready to go,” Jasmine Marcelin, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told me. Fortunately, side effects resolve quickly, whereas COVID-19 can bring on debilitating, months-long symptoms and has killed more than 2 million people.
When the immune system detects a virus, it will dispatch cells and molecules to memorize its features so it can be fought off more swiftly in the future. Vaccines impart these same lessons without involving the disease-causing pathogen itself—the immunological equivalent of training wheels or water wings.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines accomplish that pedagogy via a genetic molecule called mRNA that’s naturally found in human cells. Once delivered into the upper arm, the mRNA instructs the body’s own cells to produce a coronavirus protein called spike—a molecule that elicits powerful, infection-fighting antibody responses in people battling COVID-19.
To ensure safe passage of mRNA into cells, the vaccine makers swathed the molecules in greasy bubbles called lipid nanoparticles. These strange, fatty spheres don’t resemble anything naturally present in the body, and they trip the sensors of a cavalry of fast-acting immune cells, called innate immune cells, that patrol the body for foreign matter. Once they spot the nanoparticles, these cells dispatch molecular alarms called cytokines that recruit other immune cells to the site of injection. Marshaling these reinforcements is important, but the influx of cells and molecules makes the upper arm swollen and sore. The congregating cells spew out more cytokines still, flooding the rest of the body with signals that can seed system-wide symptoms such as fever and fatigue.
“It’s the body’s knee-jerk reaction to an infection,” or something that looks like it, Mark Slifka, a vaccine expert and an immunologist at Oregon Health and Science University, told me. “Let’s spray the area down with antiviral cytokines, which also happen to be inflammatory.”
The mRNA itself might also tickle a reaction out of the immune system, simply because of how unusual it looks. “All of a sudden, you have a lot of new RNA that the cell didn’t make,” says Donna Farber, an immunologist at Columbia University, who got her second shot of Moderna’s vaccine last month, with very few side effects.
The provocative nature of mRNA might help explain why Moderna’s shot, which contains three times as much of the genetic material as Pfizer’s, was linked to more side effects in clinical trials.
The innate immune system acts fast. But its actions aren’t very long-lived or discerning: These cells just clobber anything that looks a little weird. Within a day or two of the injection, they start to lose steam. Cytokine production sputters; side effects start to fade. Around this time, innate immune cells start to pass the baton to another division of the immune system, called adaptive immunity, which includes sniperlike molecules and cells, such as antibodies and T cells, that will launch an attack on specific pathogens if they try to infect the body again.
T cells and B cells, the cells that make antibodies, need several days to study the spike’s features before they can respond. But by the time the second injection rolls around, adaptive cells are raring to go, and far faster to react. Some of these cells have even been lingering at the site of injection, out of suspicion that their target would return. Stimulated anew, these sentinel cells will blast out their own cytokines, layering on an extra wave of inflammation. In some people, like my beleaguered neurologist husband, these complex reactions can manifest in fevers, aches, and prolonged exhaustion.
My husband had side effects after his first dose too: a headache, some fatigue, a touch of dizziness—all of which I can safely blame on his innate immune system. Those same innate responses return for another round of inflammation after the second shot. But the ruckus raised after the second injection might be a double whammy: The expected innate cells might be further egged on and amplified by a less sluggish surge of adaptive cells, concentrated near where the needle goes in.
“With the second dose, now everything is responding within that same short time period,” Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, told me.
Pepper described her first shot of Pfizer’s vaccine as “a piece of cake.” The second injection saddled her with flu-like symptoms, tougher to take. But the side effects also signify that both branches of the immune system are being engaged as they should—cementing the memory of the coronavirus’s spike protein in some of the body’s most powerful cells.
That’s a big part of why vaccine boosts are so important, Slifka said. Although the first shot stimulates both innate and adaptive immunity, the second injection reminds B and T cells that the threat of the coronavirus cannot be taken lightly, and ensures that the sharpest and strongest immune players will be used for any subsequent response.
“They’re asking, ‘Why is this happening 21 or 28 days later? I thought we took care of this four weeks ago,’” Slifka said.
The side effects didn’t faze her, though. She’s now about three weeks out from her second dose—past the point when the vaccine’s full protective effects are expected to kick in. “I would do it again,” she says. “It was definitely worth it.”
People shouldn’t be perturbed by a lack of vaccine side effects either. As our bodies churn through new information, “some people’s immune systems are louder than others’,” Marcelin said. But the quiet ones are still hard at work.
My husband’s immune system certainly fell into the diva category. The night after his second shot, he pinwheeled between cold and hot, alternately bundling himself in blankets and tossing them away. The flux seemed to bleed a bit into his emotional valence too. After snoozing on the couch for several hours, he perked up and couldn’t stop laughing at a picture of an orange cat curled up next to a box of similarly crescent-shaped croissants.
But within 24 hours of his shot, he was feeling well enough to run (yes, run) to work and finish an 11-hour shift. In a couple of weeks, he’ll join the millions of other Americans who, thanks to a pair of injections, will be cloaked in an extra layer of armor against the coronavirus.
As he told me Wednesday night, shivering through the cushion of two comforters: “This is a million times better than getting COVID.”
FDA moved too fast to authorize coronavirus antibody tests, two top officials admit
From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox
The US Food and Drug Administration moved too quickly to allow the marketing of antibody tests for coronavirus without authorization last spring and ended up with a lot of tests that did not work well, two top officials said Saturday.
The FDA won’t be doing that again, and agencies need to prepare ahead of time for quick development of tests in pandemics, Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health and Dr. Timothy Stenzel, director of the FDA’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health, wrote in a joint commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Flawed” policy: At the time it seemed important to get antibody tests onto the market so researchers could assess just how widespread the virus was, they said. So, FDA published guidance in March allowing developers to market tests without emergency use authorization as long as the test was validated, and the tests carried warnings that they were not FDA-reviewed.
“In hindsight, however, we realized that the policy outlined in our March 16 guidance was flawed,” they wrote.
By April, they wrote, “the market was flooded with serology tests, some of which performed poorly and many of which were marketed in a manner that conflicted with FDA policy.”
Later, the FDA worked with the National Cancer Institute to evaluate antibody tests developed by university labs. That worked better, they said.
“Knowing what we know now, we would not have permitted serology tests to be marketed without FDA review and authorization, even within the limits we initially imposed,” Shuren and Stenzel wrote.
Lessons learned: “First, our experience with serology tests underscores the importance of authorizing medical products independently, on the basis of sound science, and not permitting market entry of tests without authorization,” they wrote.
Plus, the federal government needs to coordinate research better, and evaluate tests before they are needed so they can be checked quickly in an emergency.4 hr 54 min ago
Covid passports could deliver a “summer of joy,” Denmark hopes
From CNN’s Nina dos Santos, Antonia Mortensen and Susanne Gargiulo
Like many countries around the world, Denmark is desperate to reopen the parts of its economy frozen by the pandemic.
The kingdom of under 6 million people has become one of the most efficient vaccination distributors in Europe and aims to have offered its whole population a jab by June.
But before that target is reached, there’s pressure for life to return to normal for Danes already inoculated and to open up borders for Covid-immune travelers from overseas.
Morten Bødskov, Denmark’s acting finance minister, last week raised the prospect of a so-called coronavirus passport being introduced by the end of the month.
“Denmark is still hard hit by the corona pandemic,” he said. “But there are parts of Danish society that need to move forward, and a business community that needs to be able to travel.”
The government has since indicated that a February deadline might be ambitious, but the relatively small Scandinavian country could still become the world’s first to formally embrace the technology to open its borders in this controversial way.
Nina dos Santos, Antonia Mortensen and Susanne Gargiulo, CNN5 hr 32 min ago
For the first time in 100 days, the US is averaging fewer than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases per day
From CNN’s Amanda Watts and Haley Brink
For the first time in 100 days, the United States is averaging fewer than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The nation has a current 7-day average of 96,609 new cases per day, according to JHU data. The last time this metric was below 100,000 was on Election Day, November 3, 2020.
On November 3, the US saw an average of 925 deaths per day. Right now, the US is seeing an average of 3,024 deaths per day, which is more than a 200% increase in daily deaths since November.
Over those 100 days — from November 3, 2020 to February 12, 2021 — the US tallied 18,141,364 new Covid-19 cases and 248,148 reported deaths, JHU data shows. 6 hr 19 min ago
The AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine will be tested in kids as young as 6
From CNN’s Maggie Fox and Jo Shelley
University researchers plan to start testing AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on children as young as six in Britain on Saturday.
A team at the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine, said it will test the vaccine on children and teens aged 6-17 there and at sites in London, Southampton and Bristol.
Few trials of coronavirus vaccine involve children as yet. In the US, Pfizer/BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines are being tested in children as young as 12.
“This new trial, a single-blind, randomized Phase II trial, will enrol 300 volunteers, with up to 240 of these volunteers receiving the (AstraZeneca) vaccine and the remainder a control meningitis vaccine, which has been shown to be safe in children but is expected to produce similar reactions, such as a sore arm,” the Oxford team said in a statement.
Grace Li, a pediatric researcher in the Oxford Vaccine Group, said in a statement: “We’ve already seen that the vaccine is safe and effective in adults, and our understanding of how children are affected by the coronavirus continues to evolve.”
While children are much less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from Covid-19, children are as just as likely as adults to become infected.
“While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination,” added Dr. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the trial at Oxford. “These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 to younger age groups.” 7 hr 1 min ago
UK could live with Covid-19 “like flu,” says Health Secretary
From CNN’s Amy Woodyatt in London
The UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hopes that vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 will turn the disease into something we “live with, like we do flu” by the end of the year.
Hancock said he hoped that by the end of the year, Covid-19 “will become a treatable disease,” and that he anticipated new drugs to tackle the virus should arrive.
In an interview with the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Hancock said new treatments would be key in “turning Covid from a pandemic that affects all of our lives into another illness that we have to live with, like we do flu. That’s where we need to get Covid to over the months to come.”
Some 14 million people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine as of Thursday, according to the UK government, and more than 530,000 have received a second dose.
Hancock said he was “confident” that the vaccine would be offered to all adults in the UK by September.
Here’s some context: There have been more than 4 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
At least 109 employees at a Colorado ski resort test positive for Covid-19
From CNN’s Leslie Perrot, Chris Boyette and Leah Asmelash
A ski resort in Colorado has had a Covid-19 outbreak, with more than 100 active infections among its employees.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced the outbreak at Winter Park Resort in January but released the data in its weekly outbreak summary on Wednesday.
There are at least 109 employees with active infections, they said.
“It has been determined that these cases have not been traced back to transmission through interaction with visitors but, rather, from social gatherings outside of the workplace and congregate housing,” Grand County, Colorado, officials said Monday in a joint statement with Winter Park Resort.
With ski season in full swing in Colorado, other resorts have also reported Covid-19 cases. But the outbreak at Winter Park is currently the largest, according to CDPHE data.
“We have been working closely with public health authorities since the pandemic began,” said Jen Miller, communications manager at the ski resort. “We did extensive planning and had to get approval from the state on our operations before we could open on December 3.”
Cases linked to socializing and living situations: Most of the cases have been traced back to social gatherings outside of work and to congregate housing, Miller said.
Precautions, according to Miller, include: reconfiguring lift corrals and lift-loading procedures, extra staff, new signage reminding visitors about mask requirements, limitations on dining, a reservation system to manage visitation and the number of people at the resort, contactless lodging and a state-approved testing site for their 1,700 active employees.
But some visitors have reported that mask mandates were not being enforced.
When asked about those reports, Miller said, “We’ve done extensive work and continue to evolve our operations as necessary. I can’t speak to one individual’s experience, but we do appreciate feedback and will continue to make modifications with the health and well-being of our employees, guests and community as our top priority.”
Conor Cahill, press secretary for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, said ski resorts across the state need to “do a better job planning for and managing surge weekends.”
Nearly a third of US adults are undecided about the Covid-19 vaccine. They say friends and family could sway them
From CNN’s Madeline Holcombe
Though officials and health experts say the end of the Covid-19 pandemic will rely on a large proportion of Americans being inoculated, nearly a third of US adults say they have not decided if they will get the vaccine when it is offered to them.
Could be swayed: About 31% of US adults say they plan to “wait and see” how it works out for other people, according to a report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Friday. Many said that a close friend or family member getting vaccinated would be most likely to sway their decision.
US records 97,525 more coronavirus cases and 5,323 related deaths
From CNN’s Alta Spells in Atlanta
The United States recorded an additional 97,525 new coronavirus cases and 5,323 more deaths Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally.
Friday’s toll includes more than 2,400 backlogged deaths from Ohio. The state’s health department said on February 10 that some 4,000 deaths “may have been underreported through the state’s reporting system” and would be added to future tallies.
“Process issues affecting the reconciliation and reporting of these deaths began in October. The largest number of deaths were from November and December,” the department said in a statement. “Although being reported this week, the deaths will reflect the appropriate date of death on the state’s Covid-19 dashboard.”
Friday’s figures bring the national total to 27,490,037 cases and 480,767 deaths, across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories.
So far, at least 69,014,725 vaccine doses have been distributed, with some 48,410,558 shots administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.13 hr 5 min ago
Flights to Australian state of Victoria suspended during snap lockdown
From CNN’s Angus Watson in Melbourne
Flights to Victoria have been suspended as the Australian state begins a hard five-day lockdown, Premier Daniel Andrews said Saturday.
No flights will be allowed into Victoria until next Thursday, other than those carrying more than 100 passengers who have already commenced travel to the state.
“A lot of people will be hurting today,” Andrews said at his daily news briefing, adding “we can’t have a situation where in two weeks’ time, we look back and wish we had taken these decisions now.”
Victoria recorded one additional Covid-19 case Saturday, connected to the recent Holiday Inn cluster. A total of 14 confirmed cases of the UK variant have been linked to the cluster.
The state entered the five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown at 11:59 p.m. local time on February 12. 13 hr 8 min ago
California to expand vaccine eligibility to millions with pre-existing conditions
From CNN’s Stephanie Becker and Cheri Mossburg
The US state of California is adding millions of people to its Covid-19 vaccination priority list, including residents “at high risk with developmental and other disabilities” and those with “serious underlying health conditions.”
The plan, outlined by state health officials in a briefing Friday, will begin March 15 and allow cancer patients, pregnant women, and other disabled individuals to join health care workers, seniors, teachers, and farm staff in line for a vaccine. The expansion could add as many as 6 million more Californians to the priority list.
It also broadens the ages from 65 and over to ages 16 to 64 in those categories.
California Health and Human Service Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters the March 15 start will give officials time to work out details on how to get vaccines to those with various disabilities and could include at-home visits.
Ghaly acknowledged the timing could be optimistic, cautioning “we are still dealing with the scarcity of vaccine. This week the drastic shortfall of vaccines in the state led to the closure of the mass vaccination centers in Los Angeles.”
The expanded list of those eligible includes people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, oxygen-dependent heart disease, Down Syndrome, immune-suppressed organ transplant recipients, pregnant women, people with sickle cell disease, severe obesity and certain type-2 diabetes.
Ghaly expressed concern about the inequity of distribution among communities of color and low-income areas. There are plans to reach out to community clinics, public health systems and what they’re calling “trusted messengers in communities that data shows are reluctant to get vaccinated.”
Senior state health officials acknowledged complaints from rural counties that they have not been given their fair share of vaccines. However, officials say these areas have historically been medically underserved and much of the early distribution was in areas with high numbers of medical workers.
Officials say the focus will now be shifting to rural areas in California’s agricultural community, which has been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic.
Officials also believe a focus on Californians with development disabilities and severe underlying conditions will allow more vaccinations in vulnerable settings, like jails, homeless shelters and areas where homeless reside.
The state estimates 13 million Californians are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, including 3 million health care workers, 3.4 million food and agricultural workers, 1.4 million in the education sector, a million in emergency services and more than 6 million people over the age of 65.
The Godfather of Shock Rock got his jab, and he wants you to get one too.
Alice Cooper, the Hall of Fame-inducted rock icon, visited the Abrazo West Campus hospital in Goodyear, Arizona, a suburb of his hometown of Phoenix, where he rolled up his sleeve for the COVID vaccine.
“We’re out here getting vaccinated,” he says. “We’ve already had COVID but we got vaccinated anyways.”
Team Rubicon, who Cooper quipped was one of his favorite bands, administered the shots. “Come on out,” the 73-year-old enthused. “if you haven’t been vaccinated come on out.”https://uw-media.azcentral.com/embed/video/6710648002?placement=snow-embed
During his visit to the hospital, Cooper signed autographs and thanked the volunteers and hospital staff for their good work, AZ Central reports.
Cooper has stayed active during the pandemic. Last May, he cut a single “Don’t Give Up,” which addresses the health crisis and brings it into focus for listeners. “It almost sounds like I’m threatening the virus,” he said at the time.
Cooper is prepping a new album Detroit Stories, due out Feb. 26. The set, his first since 2017’s Paranormal, features a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Rock n’ Roll and the recently-released “Social Debris”.
Akey congressional panel launched an investigation this week into the wave of COVID-19 infections that killed hundreds of workers at meatpacking plants nationwide last year and highlighted longstanding hazards in the industry.
Since the start of the pandemic, the meat industry has struggled to contain the virus in its facilities, and plants in Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas have endured some of the biggest workplace outbreaks in the country.
The meat companies’ employees, many of them immigrants and refugees, slice pig bellies or cut up chicken carcasses in close quarters. Many of them don’t speak English and aren’t granted paid sick leave. To date, more than 50,000 meatpacking workers have been infected and at least 250 have died, according to a ProPublica tally.
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The congressional investigation, opened by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, will examine the role of JBS, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods, three of the nation’s largest meat companies, which, the subcommittee said, had “refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers” and had “shown a callous disregard for workers’ health.”
The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House.
In response to the subcommittee’s announcement, officials for JBS and Tyson said that the companies had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to implement coronavirus protections and to temporarily increase pay and benefits, and they looked forward to discussing their pandemic safety efforts with the panel. Smithfield said in a statement that it had also taken “extraordinary measures” to protect employees from the virus, spending more than $700 million on workplace modifications, testing and equipment.
The House subcommittee noted that reports from a variety of news organizations had illuminated problems with how the meatpacking companies handled the pandemic, and with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts. The subcommittee cited ProPublica’s reporting on how meat companies blindsided local public health departments, and on Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts’ efforts to intervene when local health officials tried to temporarily shutter a JBS plant amid an outbreak.
The subcommittee’s inquiry will also scrutinize the federal government’s shortcomings in protecting meatpacking workers. “Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths,” according to the subcommittee’s letter to OSHA.
The subcommittee also said that the agency had issued only a “few meager fines” and “failed to show urgency in addressing safety hazards at the meatpacking facilities it inspected.” The letter noted that OSHA had received complaints about JBS and Smithfield plants months before the agency conducted inspections.
David Seligman, a lawyer who helped meatpacking workers in Pennsylvania file a lawsuit against OSHA during the pandemic, said he hopes the subcommittee’s efforts are “just one of the initial steps” to holding companies accountable and ensuring workers are safe. “The harm inflicted on meat-processing workers during this pandemic, in service of the profits of corporate meat-packing companies and under a government that seemed happy to turn a blind eye, is a grave scandal,” Seligman wrote in an email.
In a statement, a Department of Labor spokesperson said that the subcommittee’s inquiry is “focused on the Trump administration’s actions surrounding the protection of workers from COVID-19 related risks,” and the agency is committed to protecting workers, and that new guidance on coronavirus enforcement that was issued in late January will serve as a “first step.”
In its Feb. 1 letters to OSHA, JBS, Tyson and Smithfield, the subcommittee has requested documents related to government inspections at meatpacking plants and COVID-19 complaints lodged with the companies. OSHA was asked to brief the subcommittee by Feb. 15.
The novel coronavirus has developed a number of worrisome mutations, resulting in multiple new variants popping up around the world. Now, a new study sheds light on how the virus mutates so easily and why these mutations help it “escape” the body’s immune response.
The study researchers found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, often mutates by simply deleting small pieces of its genetic code. Although the virus has its own “proofreading” mechanism that fixes errors as the virus replicates, a deletion won’t show up on the proofreader’s radar.
“It’s devilishly clever,” study senior author Paul Duprex, director of the Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, told Live Science. “You can’t fix what’s not there.”
What’s more, for SARS-CoV-2, these deletions frequently show up in similar spots on the genome, according to the study, published Feb. 3 in the journal Science. These are sites where people’s antibodies would bind to and inactivate the virus. But because of these deletions, certain antibodies cannot recognize the virus.
Duprex likened the deletions to a string of beads where one bead is popped out. That might not seem like a big deal, but to an antibody, it’s “completely different,” he said. “These tiny little absences have a big, big effect.”
Duprex and his colleagues first noticed these deletions in a patient who was infected with the coronavirus for an unusually long time — 74 days. The patient had a weakened immune system, which prevented them from clearing the virus properly. During the lengthy infection, the coronavirus started to evolve as it played “cat and mouse” with the patient’s immune system, ultimately developing deletions, the researchers said.
They wondered how common such deletions were. They used a database called GISAID to analyze some 150,000 genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 collected from samples around the world. And a pattern emerged. “These deletions started to line up to very distinct sites,” said study lead author Kevin McCarthy, assistant professor of molecular biology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh.
“We kept seeing them over and over and over again,” in SARS-CoV-2 samples collected from different parts of the world at different times, he said. It seemed that these viruses strains were independently developing these deletions due to a “common selective pressure,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
The researchers dubbed these sites “recurrent deletion regions.” They noticed that these regions tended to occur in spots on the virus’s spike protein where antibodies bind in order to disable the virus. “That gave us the first clue that possibly these deletions were leading to the ‘escape’ or the evolution [of the virus] away from the antibodies that are binding,” McCarthy said.
Predicting new variants
The researchers started their project in the summer of 2020, when the coronavirus wasn’t thought to be mutating in a significant way. But the deletions that popped up in their data said otherwise. In October 2020, they spotted a variant with these deletions that would later come to be known as the “U.K. variant,” or B.1.1.7. This variant gained global attention beginning in December 2020, when it took off rapidly in the United Kingdom.CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.438.0_en.html#goog_1475731710Volume 0% PLAY SOUNDRELATED CONTENT
“Our survey for deletion variants captured the first representative of what would become the B.1.1.7 lineage,” the authors wrote. Their finding underscores the importance of closely monitoring the virus’s evolution by tracking these deletions and other mutations.
“We need to develop the tools, and we need to reinforce our vigilance for looking for these things and following them … so we can begin to predict what’s going on,” McCarthy said.
Although the virus may mutate to evade some antibodies, other antibodies can still effectively bind to and inactivate the virus.
“Going after the virus in multiple different ways is how we beat the shape-shifter,” Duprex said in a statement. “Combinations of different antibodies [i.e. different monoclonal antibody treatments] … different types of vaccines. If there’s a crisis, we’ll want to have those backups.”
The findings also show why it’s important to wear a mask and implement other measures to prevent the virus from spreading — the more people it infects, the more chances it has to replicate and potentially mutate.
“Anything that we can do to dampen the number of times it replicates … will buy us a little bit of time,” Duprex said.
Mink fur farming poses such a risk that fur farmers in Wisconsin will be eligible for the next round of vaccines in the state, along with educators and essential workers. Above, a mink in the wild. Photo by Wendy Keefover/The HSUS
One more nation, Sweden, announced today that it will suspend all mink fur farming this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and its mutations.
Sweden’s announcement contrasted starkly with a media report in the United States this week that authorities in Utah, one of the nation’s largest fur producing states, allegedly did not disclose the fact that a worker at an infected mink fur farm had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As we have been reporting, the United States has failed to act on concerns about the pandemic risk posed by fur farms even as other nations with infected mink have acted swiftly to curtail it, with some even ending mink fur farming for good.
A Utah Department of Health spokesperson, in an interview with Newsweek, appeared to continue to downplay the risk, saying, “At the time the person became ill, community spread had been increasing rapidly in the surrounding area. No additional deaths associated with mink farms have been reported. Currently, there is no evidence of mink-to-human transmission in the United States.”
Such continuing failure to acknowledge and act on the terrible risk mink fur farming poses to public health is appalling and dangerous. Utah residents—and residents of Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin, the other fur-producing states in the United States where mink have tested positive—deserve more transparency and concern for public health from their authorities. In December, there were reports of a mutation of the virus discovered on a mink fur farm in Utah.
Mink fur farming poses such a risk that fur farmers in Wisconsin will be eligible for the next round of vaccines in the state, along with educators and essential workers.
We are hopeful that the Biden administration will take steps to end the fur farming industry in the United States. Around the world, we have seen nations act swiftly and decisively to temporarily or permanently shut down the mink fur farming industry over fears of pandemic spread. The Netherlands, the first country where such infections were reported, moved swiftly last year to announce a permanent end to its mink fur farming industry, two years ahead of a previously set deadline. By December last year, all mink cages on fur farms in that country stood empty.
While Sweden’s ban is temporary, we are urging it to use this opportunity to shut down this cruel industry altogether. Denmark, which suspended mink fur farming temporarily until 2022, is moving to proactively shut down the industry, by offering fur farmers funding to transition to other industries.
In November, Hungary announced a ban on fur farming for certain species like fox and mink, which are not farmed in the country now, to prevent fur farmers from other parts of Europe moving there. Officials attributed the ban to fears of zoonotic disease spread from fur farming.
France also announced plans to end mink fur production and one of the farms there has already shut its doors following a coronavirus outbreak.
With the pandemic raging through U.S. mink fur farms, we need similar action here. There is already great momentum for ending fur farming in this country, and in 2019, California became the first state to ban fur sales. Lawmakers in Hawaii and Rhode Island introduced similar proposals last year. The town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, passed a fur sales ban last year.
As we’ve also reported, the mink industry in the United States is in free fall, with 2019 being the industry’s worst on record, according to latest data in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Fashion designers, retailers and consumers are increasingly turning away from fur.
Millions of animals live and die in extremely inhumane conditions on fur farms each year for this unnecessary commodity, as our investigations have revealed. They are denied the most basic needs, confined in tiny cages, bludgeoned to death, and sometimes skinned alive. The pandemic has given us one more compelling reason why every nation that still allows fur farming needs to stop this cruelty for good.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Dr. Fauci Said We Have to Assume the COVID-19 Mutation Can Cause More Death
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday at a news briefing: “We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant—the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast [of England]—may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”
Dr. Fauci, who had previously said there was no evidence of it being more deadly, now says it may be. “The data that came out was after they had been saying all along that it did not appear to be more deadly,” he told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation. “So that’s where we got that information. But when the British investigators look more closely at the death rate of a certain age group, they found that it was one, two per thousand, we’ll say, and then it went up to 1.3 per thousand in a certain group. So that’s a significant increase. So their most recent data is in accord with the Brits are saying, we want to look at the data ourselves, but we have every reason to believe them. They’re a very competent group. So we need to assume now that what has been circulating dominantly in the U.K. does have a certain degree of increase in what we call virulence, namely the power of the virus to cause more damage, including death.“
The U.K. mutation has been discovered in the following U.S. states: