WHO's Science in 5 on COVID-19: Why are experts concerned about Omicron? - WHO Youtube Channel
All COVID-19 variants remains dangerous - protect yourself and others - WHO Youtube Channel
Why Getting COVID on Purpose Is a Dangerous Idea
From WebMD :
In a Senate hearing Tuesday, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, even told the panel, "most people are going to get COVID."
Because it’s a really bad idea, public health experts say.
- In late December, an epidemiologist told BBC News: "We have to be realistic; we are not going to stop Omicron."
- Now, posts are popping up on social media resurrecting ideas similar to chickenpox parties, where you intentionally mingle with infected people.
- So, if it's highly likely everyone will be infected, why not listen to the chatter out there, just get infected on purpose, and get it over with?
- "No, it is not inevitable that everybody will get Omicron infection," said Greg Poland, MD, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Rochester, MN, and editor-in-chief of the journal Vaccine.
- "There may well be higher rates of infection and high rates of exposure, but vaccinated, boosted, and mask-wearing individuals have a very high chance of protecting themselves from infections."
- Becoming infected requires a chain of events that is not inevitable, he says.
- "I think that it is certainly spreading like crazy," says Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, NY.
- "It is highly contagious and is going to impact even the vaccinated and boosted."
- Even so, he says, "There's no way to say, 'Everyone is going to get it.'
With intensive care units packed across the country and tests as hard to find as truffles, "'it certainly isn't the time to throw our hands up in the air and say, 'Everyone is going to get it,' " says Omai B. Garner, PhD, director of clinical microbiology for the UCLA Health System in California.
The Get-It-on-Purpose Narrative
- It sends the wrong message, he says.
- Saying that Omicron will affect us across the board "means we should stop trying to fight it," he says.
- If that happens, he says, "you will put the immunocompromised and the unvaccinated at risk. This is still a very dangerous disease for people who aren't vaccinated."
- And the unvaccinated, Garner reminds people, include "an entire population under age 5" for whom no COVID vaccine has yet been authorized.
- The idea to deliberately catch COVID is also faulty reasoning, Poland says.
- People may assume, mistakenly, that what they call "natural immunity" -- and what he prefers to more accurately term "illness-induced immunity" -- won't have any negative consequences, and that once they are infected, their immunity will be long-lasting.
- Another issue, Poland says, is misunderstanding what “milder” means when saying Omicron is generally milder than the Delta variant.
- If you are unvaccinated or insufficiently vaccinated and become infected with the Omicron variant, he said, the prognosis is better than with Delta, but you could still get very sick and die.
- "I would certainly not recommend that people go out and try to get Omicron," Glatt says.
- "If someone gets infected and recovers and does well, that would boost immunity, like [from] any infection."
- But "that means you have to get sick," and that's not a good idea.
- The other misguided thinking, Poland says, is figuring that experts already know everything there is to know about Omicron.
- Not true, he says. He cites recent studies, such as newly published research from the CDC that found a higher risk for a diabetes after children were infected with COVID-19.
Today (also called The Today Show or informally, NBC News Today) is an American news and talk morning television show that airs on NBC. The program debuted on January 14, 1952. It was the first of its genre on American television and in the world, and after 70 years of broadcasting it is fifth on the list of longest-running United States television series. - Wikipedia
Explainer: N95? KF94? Which mask is best at protecting against COVID-19
How To Order Free N95 Masks And COVID-19 Tests From The Government - TODAY Youtube Channel
From Reuters :
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said Americans should wear the most protective mask they can, but stopped short of recommending an N95 or similar face covering. Here are some facts to consider when choosing a mask:
WHAT ARE N95 MASKS?
WHAT ABOUT FAKE MASKS?
- These masks and their international counterparts known as KN95s and KF94s are often made of multiple layers of polypropylene, a synthetic fiber.
- They are designed to achieve a very snug facial fit, with straps that go around the back of the head and edges that form a tight seal around the nose and mouth.
- N95 respirators worn correctly are designed to filter out at least 95% of particulate matter in the air, preventing anything larger than .3 microns from passing through.
- KN95s and KF94s are certified in China and South Korea, respectively, and offer similar protection to N95 masks. KF stands for "Korean filter" and indicates 94% filtration.
- -The best masks are some version of N95," said Eric Toner, senior scientist of environmental health and engineering at Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University. "N95s, KN95s and KF94s are functionally equivalent."
- Masks with an exhaust valve do not prevent the spread of the virus to other people.
WHY CHANGE MY MASK NOW?
- The CDC lists manufacturers of authorized N95 masks on its agency website. Masks should have a printed logo of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and an approval number.
- The CDC has warned that about 60% of KN95 respirators it tested in 2020 and 2021 are below standards.
ARE THEY REUSABLE?
- With the Omicron variant driving COVID-19 cases so high, experts said a better mask will help protect against transmission.
- The CDC said a NIOSH-approved N95 provides the most protection.
- Well-fitting surgical masks and KN95 masks offer the next best protection, followed by cloth masks with multiple layers.
- Loosely woven cloth masks are the least effective but can provide an additional layer of protection when worn over a surgical mask.
- Some cloth masks have built-in pockets for a filter that blocks small particles, but these are not as effective and data on their use is limited.
WHEN TO WEAR AN N95?
- The CDC said masks are meant for single-use but can be used more than once when there is a shortage. The agency says N95s should not be used more than 5 times.
- Dr. Gregory Poland, infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic, said when a mask becomes wet from exhalation or sweat, its efficacy decreases and advised rotating masks by day.
IS DOUBLE MASKING BETTER?
- The CDC recommends people consider wearing an N95 when caring for someone with COVID-19, if at risk for serious illness or in a high risk job, when riding on public transportation for an extended time, in crowded indoors spaces or outdoors if not up to date on vaccinations.
From CNET :
- The CDC recommends that a surgical mask under a cloth mask can offer increased protection if using an N95 is not possible.
- "The best possible protection is being vaccinated and boosted, wearing an N95 or KN95. If that's not possible, double the surgical mask," Poland said.
- "If that's not possible, a surgical or cloth mask with a face shield. If that's not possible, then as many layers of a cloth mask as you can wear," Poland continued, adding, "If that's not possible, then you're just playing Russian roulette."
Before discussing masks, it's important to underline that the best way to protect yourself against severe COVID-19 disease is to get vaccinated, including getting your booster shot as soon as you're eligible.
Experts agree that wearing a face mask is an effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 infection by way of virus particles, regardless of your vaccination status.
- The omicron variant may be more successful at evading vaccine protection and causing breakthrough COVID-19 infections, but vaccines are still highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and death.
Disposable N95, KN95, KF94 masks vs. cloth masks
- And because the omicron variant is so contagious, many experts have cautioned that cloth masks don't cut it anymore.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance on Jan. 14, clarifying that "loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection."
- Surgical masks and KN95s provide more protection, while approved and well-fitting respirators such as N95s provide the most protection, the CDC says.
- We talked to two infectious disease specialists to determine the best face mask and face covering to protect yourself against the coronavirus in 2022, given the rapidly changing landscape. Their advice is below, followed by some updated recommendations based on their expertise.
Another way to maximize protection is to double mask with a combination of cloth, surgical masks and respirators.
- According to the CDC's updated guidance, a well-fitting respirator that is approved by the the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers the "highest level of protection" out of any face covering.
- These include N95 respirators, a disposable face covering that filters out at least 95% of airborne particles.
- "An N95 is the best, if you can get it," said Dr. Bob Lahita, director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at St. Joseph Health and author of Immunity Strong.
- The CDC recommends N95s labeled "surgical" for health care personnel.
- One popular alternative to the N95 is the KN95 respirator, which is the Chinese equivalent of the US standard. KN95s are made from the same material as N95s and are also designed to filter at least 95% of airborne particles.
- Another alternative is the KF94, the South Korean equivalent to an N95, which has a slightly different shape and 94% filtration efficacy. (Neither KN95s are KF94s are NIOSH-approved.)
- "I would recommend a high-quality KF94 or KN95 for high-risk situations," said Dr. Bob Bollinger, professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and founder of Emocha Health.
- Whether you're wearing an N95, a KN95 or a KF94, it won't be effective unless the face mask fits your face properly and you can wear it consistently, the CDC says.
- "Make sure it fits snugly, without gaps around your nose, face and mouth," Bollinger said.
- This is why these masks typically have an adjustable nose wire for a better fit.
- Then there are surgical-style masks -- the disposable kind of protective mask that you can find in every convenience store these days.
- These surgical mask-style coverings offer less protection than respirators, leading some experts to caution against depending on them amid the highly contagious omicron variant.
- According to the CDC, a respirator such as an N95 "has better filtration, and if worn properly the whole time it is in use, can provide a higher level of protection than a cloth or procedural mask."
- That said, a well-fitting surgical mask is still effective at filtering respiratory droplets, and it's useful in lower-risk situations or when it's all you can find. Look for a mask with at least three layers of material and a snug fit around the mouth, nose and face.
- Further, if the elastic ear loops aren't tight enough, try tying a knot or twisting the loop to make the fit tighter.
- Whatever you do, don't rely on a fabric mask alone any more.
- They're good at protecting others from your respiratory droplets, but not at protecting you against theirs, even with a filter pocket.
- "I would say people should choose disposable masks, not cloth," Lahita said.
- "A cloth face mask is better than no mask if you don't have access to the disposable ones.
- It helps protect others if you sneeze or cough -- but it's less effective than the disposable version or the N95 face mask, especially because many people don't wash their cloth masks often."
Different masks for different tasks
- If you can't find an N95, KN95 or KF94, Bollinger said, "a good-quality disposable mask under a cloth mask is a reasonable alternative, as long as the fit on the face, nose and mouth is tight."
- You can also put an N95, KN95 or KF94 under a regular disposable mask for a tighter seal.
Different types of face masks offer varying amounts of protection. But not everyone needs the exact same level of protection, and specific situations may call for more or less caution.
- In the context of the omicron surge, for example, there's a higher risk of transmission, so it's a good idea to upgrade your face covering accordingly.
- That means wearing a well-fitting N95, KN95 or KF94 if you can, or double masking.
The CDC says that "a respirator may be considered in certain situations and by certain people when greater protection is needed or desired."
Some of the situations that call for a respirator include:
- Crowded indoor or outdoor public settings
- Workplaces that involve interacting with the public
- Caring for someone who has COVID-19
- If you're not up to date on your COVID vaccinations (including boosters)
- If you're immunocompromised or have underlying medical conditions
Opting for higher protection is also a good idea whenever you're in a riskier public setting, like traveling on public transportation or visiting a health care facility, no matter your health status.
How to avoid counterfeit face masks
- "Certainly, if you're in a nursing home or a hospital, you must wear an N95," Lahita said. "If you're in a classroom with kids, the teacher should be wearing an N95."
- If you're up to date on your shots, low-risk and in a region with less transmission, a well-fitting surgical mask is fine for regular, daily use.
- And when you're outdoors, masking is less necessary, Lahita said. That's unless you're in a crowded area, or will be in close contact with unvaccinated people.
In the US, N95s must be approved by NIOSH, as well as by the US Food and Drug Administration in order to qualify for medical use.
Our current best face mask suggestions
- Because the KN95 and KF94 aren't regulated by US authorities, it's a bit trickier to know you're getting the real deal, and counterfeit masks have proliferated throughout the pandemic.
- The FDA approved certain KN95s under an Emergency Use Authorization in 2020, and while that authorization has expired, the list of FDA-approved face mask manufacturers is still a helpful resource.
- The CDC also maintains a list of non-NIOSH-approved masks that have gone through filtration testing.
- When it comes to KF94s, your best bet is to buy from a manufacturer in South Korea, which has its own strict testing associated with the KF94 label.
- Another important note: Ignore the term "FDA registered" when shopping for masks.
- As the FDA notes on its website, facilities "involved in the production and distribution of medical devices intended for use in the United States are generally required to register annually with the FDA."
- But, importantly, the "FDA's registration and listing database does not denote approval, clearance or authorization of that facility or its medical devices."
Below, is a list of N95, KN95, KF94, surgical-style and cloth masks (which, again, are recommended when doubling up). While CNET hasn't expressly "tested" most of these masks, they conform to the expert mask recommendations above.
Project N95 - Trusted reseller
- Project N95 is a nonprofit that vets personal protective equipment to help shoppers make sure they're buying legitimate, tested products.
- The shop sells N95s, KN95s, surgical masks and other types from a variety of brands.
- By shopping directly from Project N95, you can be more confident that your face covering is tested and trustworthy.
- WWDoll's KN95s are manufactured in a factory in China that's on the FDA's EUA list.
- They have five layers of fabric, a foldable 3D shape, ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge to help you achieve a more secure fit.
- If white respirators are a bit too clinical-looking for you, these also come in a variety of colors, including black and pink.
- A previous favorite in the cloth mask space, Vida now makes disposable KN95s as well, and they're from EUA-approved factories in China.
- Choose from a range of face mask colors, and regular or kids' sizes.
- You can buy anywhere from a 10-pack to a 1,000-pack of these KN95s, and send your used ones back to Vida to be recycled.
- Powecom's KN95s are affordable, with a pack of 10 ringing up at around $22.
- They feature the standard five-layered adjustable design with ear loops and come from an EUA-authorized Chinese manufacturer.
- Reviewers say they're comfortable and form a nice tight seal around the face, with no gaps around the edges.
Please check the CNET link  for links to the sellers' websites and more mask recommendations. I only included trusted sellers here.
U.S. Faces Wave of Omicron Deaths in Coming Weeks, Forecasts Say
From WebMD :
COVID-19 deaths from the Omicron variant are climbing and will likely increase quickly in the upcoming weeks, according to new forecasts.
- Based on national forecasts, 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the current wave subsides in March.
“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible Omicron has been,” Jason Salemi, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, told The Associated Press.
- “It, unfortunately, is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.
- The 7-day average for daily new COVID-19 deaths has been increasing since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,900 on Tuesday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
- What’s more, COVID-19 deaths began rising among nursing home residents about 2 weeks ago, the AP reported.
- Although the Omicron variant appears to cause milder disease, the high number of infections has led to more hospitalizations.
- If the higher end of the national forecast happens, the total number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths could surpass 1 million by early spring.
“Overall, you’re going to see more sick people, even if you as an individual have a lower chance of being sick,” Katriona Shea, PhD, an epidemiologist at Pennsylvania State University, told the AP.
- Shea co-leads a team that assembles pandemic models through the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub and shares the projections with the White House. The forecast includes models from 11 universities across the country.
- The upcoming wave of Omicron deaths will peak in early February, she said, and weekly deaths could exceed the peak from the Delta variant and the previous peak seen in January 2021.
- The combined models project 1.5 million COVID-19 hospitalizations and 191,000 COVID-19 deaths from mid-December through mid-March.
- But due to uncertainty in the models, the deaths from the Omicron wave could range from 58,000 to 305,000.
WHO warns covid-19 pandemic nowhere near over - WION
Analysis: How Omicron highlights fading hope of herd immunity from COVID
From Reuters :
The Omicron variant, which is spreading far faster than previous versions of the coronavirus, is not likely to help countries achieve so-called herd immunity against COVID-19, in which enough people become immune to the virus that it can no longer spread, leading disease experts say.
- From the earliest days of the pandemic, public health officials have expressed hope that it was possible to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, as long as a high enough percentage of the population was vaccinated or infected with the virus.
- Those hopes dimmed as the coronavirus mutated into new variants in quick succession over the past year, enabling it to reinfect people who were vaccinated or had previously contracted COVID-19.
- Some health officials have revived the possibility of herd immunity since Omicron emerged late last year.
- The fact that the variant spreads so quickly and causes milder illness might soon expose enough people, in a less harmful way, to the SARS-COV-2 virus and provide that protection, they argue.
- Disease experts note, however, that Omicron’s transmissibility is aided by the fact that this variant is even better than its predecessors at infecting people who were vaccinated or had a prior infection.
- That adds to evidence that the coronavirus will continue to find ways to break through our immune defenses, they said.
“Reaching a theoretical threshold beyond which transmission will cease is probably unrealistic given the experience we have had in the pandemic,” Dr. Olivier le Polain, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization (WHO), told Reuters.
NOT LIKE MEASLES
- That is not to say that prior immunity offers no benefit.
- Instead of herd immunity, many experts interviewed by Reuters said there was growing evidence that vaccines and prior infection would help boost population immunity against COVID-19, which makes the disease less serious for those who are infected, or become reinfected.
- “As long as population immunity holds with this variant and future variants, we'll be fortunate and the disease will be manageable,” said Dr. David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Current COVID-19 vaccines were primarily designed to prevent severe disease and death rather than infection.
- But clinical trial results in late 2020 showing that two of the vaccines had more than 90% efficacy against the disease initially sparked hope that the virus could be largely contained by widespread vaccination, similar to the way measles has been curbed by inoculation.
With SARS-CoV-2, two factors have since undermined that picture, said Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
- "The first is that immunity, especially to infection, which is the important kind of immunity, wanes quite quickly, at least from the vaccines that we have right now," he said.
- The second is that the virus can quickly mutate in a way that enables it to elude protection from vaccination or prior infection - even when immunity has not waned.
"It changes the game when vaccinated people can still shed virus and infect other people," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
- He cautioned against assuming that infection with Omicron would increase protection, especially against the next variant that might arise.
- "Just because you had Omicron, maybe that protects you from getting Omicron again, maybe," Wohl said.
Vaccines in development that provide immunity against future variants or even multiple types of coronaviruses could change that, said Pasi Penttinen, the top influenza expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, but it will take time.
- Still, the hope for herd immunity as a ticket back to normal life is hard to shake.
- "These things were in the media: 'We’ll reach herd immunity when 60% of the population are vaccinated.' It didn't happen.
- Then for 80%. Again, it didn't happen,” Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology at University College London, told Reuters.
- “As horrible as it sounds, I think we have to prepare ourselves to the fact that the vast majority, essentially everyone, will get exposed to SARS-CoV-2," he said.
Global health experts expect that the coronavirus will ultimately become endemic, circulating persistently in the population and causing sporadic surges.
- The emergence of Omicron, however, has raised questions about exactly when that might happen.
- “We will get there," said the WHO's le Polain, "but we are not there at the moment.”
Covid UK: coronavirus cases, deaths and vaccinations
The red map to the left is the hotspot, the blue map (middle) is change and the green map is vaccinations. Chart from The Guardian :
Compilation: What you need to know about the coronavirus right now
From Reuters :
COVID disrupts aid flight to tsunami-hit Tonga:
- As aid trickles into the South Pacific nation of Tonga, devastated by a volcanic eruption and tsunami, an Australian aid flight was forced to return to base due to a positive COVID-19 case onboard, a defence official said on Friday.
- All crew had returned negative rapid antigen tests before departure, but PCR tests later showed the positive result. The supplies were moved to another flight that took off on Friday.
- Tonga is COVID-free and has a strict border control policy, and is requiring contactless delivery of aid that began arriving by plane on Thursday.
Hong Kong warns people trying to prevent hamster cull:
- Hong Kong police will deal with pet lovers who try to stop people giving up their hamsters to be put down, or who offer to care for abandoned hamsters, authorities said, after they ordered a cull of the cuddly rodents to curb the coronavirus.
A divided nation: Western Australia stays shut:
- Australia will remain a divided nation with the vast mining state of Western Australia cancelling plans to reopen its borders on Feb. 5, citing health risks from a surge in the Omicron COVID-19 variant in eastern states.
- Instead, reopening will be delayed indefinitely or at least until the percentage of triple dose vaccinations reached 80%. It is currently around 26%.
- Australia’s most populous state New South Wales (NSW) on Friday reported its deadliest day of the pandemic, with 46 deaths.
Canadian provincial leader wants to pause truckers’ vaccine mandate:
- The premier of Canada’s Alberta province on Thursday called on the federal government to pause a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers that companies say will disrupt the supply chain and fuel inflation.
- The mandate, imposed by Ottawa to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, has cost Canadian trucking companies about 10% of their international drivers, six top executives said this week.
- They said they are hiking wages to lure new operators during the worst labour shortage they have experienced.
Israel to scrap quarantine for children exposed to COVID carriers:
- Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said on Thursday, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron variant.
- Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that as of Jan. 27, children will instead be required to take twice-weekly home antigen tests for the virus and, if they prove positive or feel unwell, absent themselves from school until they recover.
- The home kits will be supplied free of charge, he said.
List of sources:
Global daily statistics - Reuters COVID-19 Global Tracker
PS: I will post here again next week, same time as usual. Thanks for reading, everyone.