covid19

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Disney and Walmart, two of America's largest employers, announced Friday that they are requiring employees be vaccinated.
Disney (DIS) is requiring all its salaried and non-union hourly employees in the US to be vaccinated. Workers who are working on-site but are not yet vaccinated must do so within the next 60 days, according to a statement from the company to CNN Business. All new hires must be fully vaccinated before beginning their jobs.
Employees who aren't already vaccinated and are working on-site will have 60 days to do so; employees still working from home must provide proof of vaccination prior to their return to work. The company also said it has started discussing vaccine mandates with the unions representing its workers.

Walmart (WMT), the nation's largest retailer, said all its US-based corporate employees must be vaccinated by October 4, according to a Friday memo from Doug McMillon, the company's president and CEO.

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For the past 30 years, Carol Anniuk has provided accommodation and guides for recreational fishing trips in northwestern Ontario. In normal times, 99% of her clients are American. But more than 15 months after Canada's restrictions on nonessential travel went into effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, Anniuk, the owner of Young's Wilderness Camp, doesn't know when her U.S. clients will be able to cross the border.

"I'm just frustrated," she sighs. Anniuk has taken on a lot of debt since the coronavirus pandemic began in her tourism-dependent area, a six-hour drive from Minneapolis. She bemoans "the lack of communication and the lack of a plan" from the Canadian government on when to begin admitting most visitors from the United States.

Canadians can fly to the U.S. but can't cross by land, and most non-Canadians cannot enter Canada either by land or by air. The two countries continue to extend their travel measures — which are not the same in both directions — month by month.

In the latest step, which began July 5, the Canadian government lifted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada. However, federal ministers have resisted providing a timeline or clear benchmarks for next steps in admitting more visitors.

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The coronavirus variant is on track to become the dominant version of the virus in the U.S. Here's what you need to know about it and the delta plus variant.

A more contagious variant of the coronavirus, known as delta, is spreading in the United States and around the world, causing a surge of cases in some countries and prompting several nations to introduce new lockdowns.

The delta variant, which was first identified in India, now accounts for 25 percent of new Covid-19 cases in the U.S., and is on track to become the dominant version of the virus circulating in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a news briefing last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the delta variant the “greatest threat” to eliminating Covid-19 in the U.S.

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The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

COVID-19 survivors may have loss of brain tissue

Even mild cases of COVID-19 may lead to loss of brain tissue, according to findings from a long-term study involving 782 volunteers. As part of the ongoing UK Biobank study, participants underwent brain scans before the pandemic. For a before-and-after comparison, researchers invited 394 COVID-19 survivors to come back for follow-up scans as well as 388 healthy volunteers. Most of the COVID-19 survivors had had only mild-to-moderate symptoms, or no symptoms at all, while 15 had been hospitalized. Among the COVID-19 survivors, researchers saw "significant" loss of gray matter in regions of the brain related to smell and taste - the left parahippocampal gyrus, left orbitofrontal cortex and left insula. Some of the affected brain regions are also involved in the memory of experiences that evoke emotional reactions, the researchers noted in a report posted on medRxiv on Tuesday ahead of peer review. The changes were not seen in the group that had not been infected. The authors said more research is needed to determine whether COVID-19 survivors will have issues in the longer term with their ability to remember emotion-evoking events. They also do not yet know whether the loss of gray matter is a result of the virus spreading into the brain, or some other effect of the illness.

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One of the Big Questions about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has for a while been about its origins. Most viruses that cause disease in humans have long, fascinating origin stories, with jumps from animal to animal until they finally make it into people and start killing them.

But COVID-19, goes the theory, must be lab-grown - either from an intentional lab leak or a mistake of epic proportions - there's simply too much circumstantial evidence to ignore! This idea doesn't really make sense. There's no special reason to believe that COVID-19 must have been grown in a lab.

Sure, there's political reasons that we might think the Chinese government is untrustworthy, but that's a slim basis for a theory. As humans, when we are given two possibilities, we assume that they are somewhat equivalent in likelihood, so when you hear "lab leak or natural origin" it's not unreasonable to assume that those two things are about as likely as one another, even though that makes no sense whatsoever.

We know from decades of evidence that new diseases jump from animals to humans all the time. There are literally dozens of cases in the last few decades alone where an entirely new disease has transferred from a non-human host to people.

This has even happened twice in recent memory with coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2, which gives you some idea of just how unsurprising it is when a novel pathogen of likely animal origin is identified.

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The Canadian government is talking to international partners about the development of COVID-19 vaccination certificate systems that might one day help facilitate travel across international borders but bureaucrats in Ottawa, as well as some politicians, wonder if such a system is the best way to proceed.

“We are working on it on a scientific basis and we will have more to announce when we have it to announce,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. “Right now we’re focussed on getting through this pandemic and being prepared to come roaring back once we’re through it.”

The lack of enthusiasm in federal government circles to develop vaccination certificates is matched by the World Health Organization which argued in a paper it published in February that “national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.”

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One of the last times I stepped outside my Brooklyn apartment without a mask on was in early spring 2020, just before the state issued a mask mandate. I remember because as my dog peed on a tree, a neighbor asked me pointedly where my mask was. Where I live, almost everyone wears a mask when they go outside. If a person sipping from an iced coffee with their mask pulled down approaches someone else on the sidewalk coming the other way, they will usually yank the mask back up, as if they’ve been caught partially dressed. The other day I noticed a woman sitting on a hill in the middle of a field with her face covered. There was no one near her.

For a while now, this has felt a little unnecessary, if understandable, given that we were still learning things about the virus and were trying to be as careful as possible. But now, as we’ve come to know more about the virus, as vaccinations are ramping up, and as we’re trying to figure out how to live with some level of COVID in a sustainable way, masking up outside when you’re at most briefly crossing paths with people is starting to feel barely understandable. Look: I believe masks (and even shaming) are indispensable in controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Despite early waffling, public health experts are virtually unanimously in support of them and have remained so even as our early dedication to scrubbing surfaces and Cloroxing veggies wound down.

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Research has long shown that regular exercise has a slew of health benefits like helping to prevent high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Now researchers say regular activity could help protect against severe Covid hospitalizations.

In a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers and physicians at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in Southern California, the University of California, San Diego, and other institutions found that Covid patients who regularly exercised before becoming sick were the least likely to be hospitalized, admitted to the ICU and die as a result of their illness.

The study looked at data from nearly 50,000 adult patients in California diagnosed with Covid-19 from January 2020 to the end of October 2020.

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Companies and countries that depend on travel or large gatherings are counting on a totally unproven concept.
In a harbor on the Greek island of Paxos, Panagiotis Mastoras checks over his fleet of pleasure craft and counts down the days to the return of the tourists who fuel the economy of the 8-mile speck in the Ionian Sea.

For the rental-boat skipper, the easing of travel curbs imposed as the Covid-19 outbreak swept the world appears tantalizingly close. Greece said it would welcome back visitors starting on May 14, as long as they’ve had a vaccination, recovered from the novel coronavirus, or tested negative before flying out. “It’s the safest way,” says Mastoras, one of 850,000 people working in a holiday sector that accounted for almost a quarter of Greece’s gross domestic product before the pandemic, the highest proportion in Europe. “We’ve reached a point where it can’t go on like this.”

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Three million face masks are thought to be thrown away every minute, research suggests.

In June 2020, researchers at the University of Aveiro in Portugal estimated that 129 billion face masks are used monthly across the world.

Experts at the University of Denmark have described the worrying statistic, which amounts to three million face masks a minute, as a ‘ticking time bomb’.

In the paper, titled Preventing masks from becoming the next plastic problem, scientists said the world must ‘urgently recognise this potential environmental threat’.

One key factor which could be contributing to the problem is that face coverings are a new phenomenon in most countries across the world. While we are quite used to recycling items such as plastic bottles, there is no official guidance on mask recycling. Researchers said this makes it more likely that they would be disposed of as solid waste.

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It will boil down to two predominant factors that control how a virus behaves in a population: the virus’s biology and the immunity of the host population.

Endemic viruses are those that have constant presence within a geographical area. Such viruses are all around us, though they vary by location. Examples in Europe and North America include the rhinovirus (a cause of the common cold) and influenza virus, while the dengue and chikungunya viruses are endemic in many Asian countries.

Endemic diseases are often milder, but it’s important to note that this isn’t always the case. Flu, for instance, is estimated to cause up to 810,000 hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths annually in the US.

There are currently four endemic coronaviruses that, for most people, just cause a cold. Whether SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will join them will be down to two predominant factors that control how a virus behaves in a population: the virus’s biology and the immunity of the host population.

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Drug makers are increasingly turning to monoclonal antibodies to protect the millions of people who can't use vaccines. But questions swirl about their cost and long-term viability.

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout gathers pace, a population is at risk of being left behind: the millions of people around the globe who lack fully functional immune systems.

While the exact number of the immunocompromised worldwide is unknown, estimates suggest that about 10 million live in the U.S. alone, or around 3 percent of the national population. The number encompasses a diverse range of vulnerabilities, including rare genetic immune deficiencies, chronic illnesses that impair the immune system such as rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer and organ-transplant patients who must take immune-suppressing medications.

For them, vaccines will not be effective, because they are incapable of making their own antibodies to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Instead, pharmaceutical companies around the world are racing to develop alternative treatments that bypass the immune system altogether.

The most common option is called monoclonal antibody treatments. These artificially generated antibodies mimic the body’s natural immune response by binding to key sites on the virus’ spike protein, preventing it entering cells and reproducing. Companies including AstraZeneca, Regeneron, and Eli Lilly are currently testing whether monoclonal antibodies can protect immunocompromised people from SARS-CoV-2.

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