Many pandemic restrictions in the United States and Canada have been relaxed, but that has not stopped protesters from gathering outside some government officials’ homes. Although vaccination and masking rules have generally eased in the past few months, protests have continued outside officials’ residences in states like Massachusetts, and in Nova Scotia and Alberta in Canada.
In Washington, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center north of the Tri-Cities is in the midst of the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in the state prison system. The state Department of Corrections reported Friday that 186 of the 199 active cases in all of the state’s prisons are currently at the Connell facility.
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AP sources: $10B Senate COVID deal, but without global money
Bipartisan Senate bargainers have agreed to a slimmed-down $10 billion package for countering COVID-19, but without any funds to help nations abroad combat the pandemic, Democrats and Republicans familiar with the talks said Monday.
The agreement comes with party leaders hoping to move the legislation through Congress this week, before lawmakers leave for a two-week spring recess. It also comes with BA.2, the new omicron variant, expected to spark a fresh increase in U.S. cases.
The accord represents a deep cut from the $22.5 billion President Joe Biden initially requested, and from a $15 billion version that both parties’ leaders had negotiated last month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., abandoned that plan after Democratic lawmakers rejected proposed cuts in state pandemic aid to help pay for the package.
The $15 billion plan had included about $5 billion for the global effort to fight COVID-19, which has run rampant in many countries, especially poorer ones.
—Alan Fram, The Associated Press
With students in turmoil, US teachers train in mental health
As Benito Luna-Herrera teaches his 7th grade social studies classes, he is on alert for signs of inner turmoil. And there is so much of it these days.
One of his 12-year-old students felt her world was falling apart. Distance learning had upended her friendships. Things with her boyfriend were verging on violent. Her home life was stressful. “I’m just done with it,” the girl told Luna-Herrera during the pandemic, and shared a detailed plan to kill herself.
Another student was typically a big jokester and full of confidence. But one day she told him she didn’t want to live anymore. She, too, had a plan in place to end her life.
Luna-Herrera is just one teacher, in one Southern California middle school, but stories of students in distress are increasingly common around the country. The silver lining is that special training helped him know what to look for and how to respond when he saw the signs of a mental emergency.
Since the pandemic started, experts have warned of a mental health crisis facing American children. That is now playing out at schools in the form of increased childhood depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, fights and thoughts of suicide at alarming levels, according to interviews with teachers, administrators, education officials and mental health experts.
—Jocelyn Gecker, The Associated Press
Judge blocks Air Force discipline over vaccine objections
A federal judge has blocked the military from disciplining a dozen U.S. Air Force officers who are asking for religious exemptions to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine.
The officers, mostly from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, along with a handful of airmen and reservists, filed a lawsuit in February after their exemption requests were denied.
U.S. District Court Judge Matthew McFarland in Cincinnati granted a preliminary injunction last Thursday that stops the Air Force from acting against the officers, airmen and reservists until their lawsuit is resolved.
The plaintiffs accuse the Air Force of using a double standard when it comes to approving exemption requests, saying it had allowed thousands of medical and administrative exemptions but only a handful for religious reasons.
Last week, a federal judge in Texas barred the Navy from taking action for now against sailors who have objected to being vaccinated on religious grounds.
—John Seewer, The Associated Press
Medicare enrollees to get free COVID-19 tests at drug stores
Amid worries that the latest coronavirus variant could spark another rise in cases, Medicare announced Monday that millions of enrollees will finally have access to free over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at drug stores.
More than 59 million people with Medicare’s “Part B” outpatient coverage will be able to get up to eight free at-home tests per month, or enough for an individual to test twice a week, as some doctors have recommended.
Medicare has lagged private insurance in following the Biden administration’s directive to cover at-home tests because rules and regulations stood in the way, and officials had to find a work-around. This is the first time the health insurance program for older people and those with disabilities has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to recipients.
Medicare’s move could turn out to be prescient.
The BA.2 omicron variant now accounts for more than half of U.S. cases, having rapidly overtaken the original strain. That initial omicron wave this winter caused the biggest spike yet in virus cases, straining many hospitals to the limit. Since then, cases nationally have rapidly dropped to the lowest level since before last summer’s delta surge. Coronavirus restrictions have been largely lifted. But some areas where BA.2 took hold early are seeing increasing cases.
Monday’s announcement followed another precautionary move last week, when government health officials authorized a second round of booster shots for people 50 and older as well as those with weakened immune systems.
—Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press
Easter delays for UK travelers as COVID cancels flights
British travelers going abroad for the Easter holidays faced disruptions Monday as two main carriers, British Airways and easyJet, canceled dozens of flights due to staff shortages related to soaring cases of COVID-19 in the U.K.
Budget carrier easyJet grounded 62 flights scheduled for Monday after canceling at least 222 flights over the weekend, while British Airways said some three dozen out of its 115 flights canceled Monday were due to pandemic-related problems.
An easyJet spokesman said it is “experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness” as a result of high rates of COVID-19 infections across Europe.
The airline added that the number of cancellations “represents a small proportion” of the total of more than 1,600 flights planned for Monday.
Several of the British Airways cancellations were made at the last minute due to staff calling in sick, and about 25 others were a result of a decision taken in recent weeks to reduce its overall flight schedule.
—Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press
COVID, diabetes collide in public health train wreck
After older people and nursing home residents, perhaps no group has been harder hit by the pandemic than people with diabetes. Recent studies suggest that 30-40% of all coronavirus deaths in the United States have occurred among people with diabetes, a sobering figure that has been subsumed by other grim data from a public health disaster that is on track to claim 1 million American lives sometime this month.
People with diabetes are especially vulnerable to severe illness from COVID, partly because diabetes impairs the immune system but also because those with the disease often struggle with high blood pressure, obesity and other underlying medical conditions that can seriously worsen a coronavirus infection.
“It’s hard to overstate just how devastating the pandemic has been for Americans with diabetes,” said Dr. Giuseppina Imperatore, who oversees diabetes prevention and treatment at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Diabetes patients hospitalized with COVID spend more time in the ICU, are more likely to be intubated and are less likely to survive, according to several studies, one of which found that 20% of hospitalized coronavirus patients with diabetes died within a month of admission.
Compounding the concerns, some studies suggest that a coronavirus infection can heighten the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a disease that is largely preventable through a healthy diet and exercise. More than 90% of all diabetes cases in the United States are type 2.
One study published last month found that patients who recovered from COVID were 40% more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes within 12 months compared with the uninfected, though researchers have yet to determine a connection between the two conditions.
Over the past two years, doctors have also reported a sharp rise in young people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, an increase that many believe is tied to the drastic spike in childhood obesity during the pandemic.
—Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times
China sends in military to help with Shanghai virus outbreak
China has sent more than 10,000 health workers from around the country to Shanghai, including 2,000 from the military, as it struggles to stamp out a rapidly spreading outbreak in its largest city under its zero-COVID strategy.
Shanghai was conducting a mass testing of its 25 million residents Monday as what was announced as a two-phase lockdown entered its second week.
The highly contagious omicron BA.2 form of the virus is testing China’s ability to maintain its zero-COVID approach, which aims to stop outbreaks from spreading by isolating everyone who tests positive, whether they have symptoms or not. Shanghai has converted an exhibition hall and other facilities into massive isolation centers where people with mild or no symptoms are housed in a sea of beds separated by temporary partitions.
China on Monday reported more than 13,000 new cases nationwide in the previous 24 hours, of which nearly 12,000 were asymptomatic. About 9,000 of the cases were in Shanghai. The other large outbreak is in northeastern China’s Jilin province, where new cases topped 3,500.
The Shanghai lockdown has sparked numerous complaints, from food shortages to limited staff and facilities at hastily constructed isolation sites.
—Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press
Man in Germany gets 90 COVID-19 shots for the vaccine cards
A 60-year-old man allegedly had himself vaccinated against COVID-19 dozens of times in Germany in order to sell forged vaccination cards with real vaccine batch numbers to people not wanting to get vaccinated themselves.
The man from the eastern Germany city of Magdeburg, whose name was not released in line with German privacy rules, is said to have received up to 90 shots against COVID-19 at vaccination centers in the eastern state of Saxony for months until criminal police caught him this month, the German news agency dpa reported Sunday.
The suspect was not detained but is under investigation for unauthorized issuance of vaccination cards and document forgery, dpa reported.
He was caught at a vaccination center in Eilenburg in Saxony when he showed up for a COVID-19 shot for the second day in a row. Police confiscated several blank vaccination cards from him and initiated criminal proceedings.
It was not immediately clear what impact the approximately 90 shots of COVID-19 vaccines, which were from different brands, had on the man’s personal health.
—Kirsten Grieshaber, The Associated Press
How long COVID is accelerating a revolution in medical research
The experiences of patients with long COVID are advancing a revolution in research not just for COVID but also many other conditions. Patients, who have typically been only subjects in the research process, are becoming partners in it. They are documenting their symptoms online in real time, as well as helping to come up with questions and strategies for surveys and, eventually, to disseminate results.
“We bring experiential knowledge and have enough of an outsider’s perspective to see inefficiencies that people enmeshed in the system can’t see,” said Diana Zicklin Berrent, founder of Survivor Corps, a patient advocacy group that has been collaborating with researchers at Yale and other medical centers.
It is the latest step in the growing understanding that partnering with patients is not only the just and equitable thing to do but also that it can improve research. In the late 1980s, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic gained momentum, ACT UP and other groups successfully pushed to move drugs more quickly through the development pipeline. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act injected funding into patient-centered research.
All the while, advances in technology have mobilized patients to share emotional support, as well as real-time data about their symptoms online. Those forces have coalesced around long COVID, prompting studies at major medical centers such as the University of South Carolina and Yale University that involve patients in every stage of research.
—Frances Stead Sellers, The Washington Post
Seattle Times staff & news services
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