Montserrat Covid Surge, 400m Free N95 Masks for Americans, England Ends Virus Restrictions, More

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Omicron & delta cause COVID-19 cases to surge on Montserrat

Dillon De Shong’

Loop

 

Montserrat’s Ministry of Health and Social Services received confirmation that the highly infectious omicron and delta variants of coronavirus (COVID-19) are circulating in the community.

The island is currently experiencing a surge of infections and that forced authorities to send samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) lab in Trinidad for genomic sequencing.

The samples were made up of both imported and locally contracted infections.

Ministry officials are unable to say which variant is the dominant strain. According to the Pan American Health Organisation, omicron has been found in at least 42 countries and territories in the region.

“In light of this latest update, the Ministry of Health is repeating the need for continued caution. All residents should wear face coverings in public spaces, preferable high filtration masks such as surgical masks or kn95. Additionally, persons should continue to social distance and practice frequent hand sanitization. It is also imperative that persons exhibiting flu-like symptoms, self-isolate and seek medical attention by calling 496-7437 or 493-4755,” the ministry said in a statement.

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400 million N95 masks to be available

© Associated Press/Rogelio V. Solis, file

The White House announced Wednesday that it is making 400 million N95 masks available for free, part of a string of actions aimed at fighting the surging omicron variant.

The masks will be available for pickup at “tens of thousands of local pharmacies” as well as thousands of community health centers, the White House said. The masks will begin shipping later this week and will start to become available late next week, before being “fully up and running” in early February.

Making high-quality masks more available has been one of the areas where President Biden has been under pressure to step up the response to the virus.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and more than 50 Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill last week, for example, to send three N95 masks to every person in the U.S.

Caveat: Similar to action on testing, experts say the Biden administration should have acted months ago to make high quality masks more available, but the new steps are still progress.

The masks are being deployed from the Strategic National Stockpile, which currently has more than 750 million N95 masks, triple the number in January 2021, the White House said.

Why they’re needed: Experts have been stepping up calls for people to use higher quality masks like N95s, which offer much better protection than simple cloth masks, especially in the face of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

CDC: Prior infection more protective for delta

coronavirus CDC U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 community spread united kingdom uk level 4 travel advisory warning delta variant spike new cases

© Getty Images

Vaccinated Americans with prior COVID-19 infections had the highest protection against hospitalization and reinfection from the delta variant, according to a new study the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Wednesday.

The study found protection against reinfection and hospitalization grew significantly among both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals who had previously recovered from COVID-19, in the time period before the delta variant emerged to after it became the dominant strain in the U.S.

Prior infection provided better protection than vaccination alone, the study found.

The study is likely to further fuel the people who insist natural immunity is just as protective and  who won’t get vaccinated because they’ve been infected with COVID-19 at some point.

Major caveats: While the study period ranged from the time before delta took over to when it was the dominant variant, data ends in November, before omicron took over. The CDC also noted that the analysis did not include information on the severity of initial infection, and does not reflect the risk of severe disease or death from a COVID-19 infection.

CDC conclusion: “We know that vaccination remains the safest strategy for protecting against Covid-19,” said Benjamin Silk, a CDC epidemiologist and one of the authors.

STARBUCKS ENDS VACCINE REQUIREMENT

Starbucks is scrapping its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for U.S. workers after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden’s administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers last week.

“We respect the court’s ruling and will comply,” Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver wrote in a memo sent to employees on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

Culver said in the memo that the Seattle company will continue to strongly encourage its employees to get their vaccines and booster shots, according to the AP.

This reversal comes after Starbucks announced earlier this month that it would enforce a vaccine-or-test mandate for the company’s 220,000 U.S. employees. The original order required workers to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or undergo weekly testing.

Culver said at the time that the “vaccine is the best option we have, by far, when it comes to staying safe and slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

The Supreme Court last week ruled 6-3 against the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers, blocking it from taking effect while other legal challenges play out.

Covid: Masks off in England’s schools, but is it right to end Plan B?

Masks no longer required in England’s classrooms

The government no longer requires secondary school pupils and staff in England to wear masks in classrooms, after a change in the rules was announced on Wednesday. Offices should also be busier, after working from home guidance ended yesterday. Other measures in “Plan B” will end from next Thursday – masks will no longer be mandatory in most indoor settings, and Covid passes for large events won’t be needed. It doesn’t mean the end of masks though – Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has already said they will still be needed on public transport in the capital, and other places can choose to require them.

Is it right to end Plan B in England?

There are plenty of reasons for ministers and their advisers to say the data supports the case for a relaxation, writes our health correspondent Nick Triggle. And the restriction that reduces spread of the virus most – the requirement to isolate – remains. The outgoing Plan B measures, by comparison, all have a more marginal impact, if any. Of these, working from home was the measure scientists always argued had the most effect – but the jury was out over the exact effectiveness of the others.

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Was anti-African racism why Omicron data was ignored?

South African scientists – praised internationally for first detecting the Omicron variant – have accused Western nations of ignoring early evidence that the new Covid variant was “dramatically” milder than previous versions. Two of South Africa’s most prominent coronavirus experts told the BBC that Western scepticism about their work could be construed as “racist” – or at least a refusal “to believe the science because it came from Africa”.

 

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