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Friday, April 9, 2021:

Last year we knew so little about this virus. Now we are seeing the results of a full year of research along with six months of vaccine experience. Every day headlines announce openings, changing regulations, and new areas of concern. This week has been full of COVID news and it certainly is a mixed bag. Today I’ve sorted the major stories into three categories: Openings, research, and regulations.

OPENINGS:

  1. The (International Monetary Fund) IMF and the World Bank are meeting this week to consider monetary policies in a global economy that is reopening but struggling amid pandemic damage. The fact that the meeting is virtual for the second time tells that us this isn’t over yet.
  2. California’s governor has announce the complete removal of the color-coded pandemic restriction tiers as of June 15, provided vaccinations continue and there is no surge in hospitalizations. Opening soon: Disneyland, Legoland, the Hollywood Bowl, and more that thirty museums.
  3. Australia and New Zealand are opening travel between their two countries on April 18, 2021. Prescreened travelers will be able to travel between the two countries without having to be quarantined. They will travel on flights that are restricted to prescreened travelers. Closing travel between countries has been one of the major economic and personal impacts of the pandemic.
  4. The UK has announced a roadmap to reopening this summer provided current progress holds up. There are detailed provisions for every aspect of public life. I didn’t see any predictions for opening up travel, but Globus is offering tours in the UK for as early as June 2021. (https://www.globusjourneys.com/)

RESEARCH:

  1. Vaccine protection remains strong after six months: Pfizer and Moderna now have data showing vaccine efficacy after six months. Better than that, the strength of the antibody response indicates that they may protect you for years. We’ll be getting data from the other vaccines when their data gets past the six months mark. Booster shots may be needed to protect against some variants, but more research is needed in that area.
  2. The UK variant (B.1.1.7) is now dominant in the U.S. This variant is 50% more contagious, so it can spread much more quickly when unprotected people gather together. More cases means more of everything: hospitalizations, deaths, long-term effects, and variants. Take your cue from the Monkees song and don’t be its stepping stone.
  3. One-third of COVID patients have neurologic symptoms: This headline item stems from a recent study in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal (link below). This was a retrospective study based on the electronic medical records of 236,379 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and comparing them with two similarly large groups of patients who had been diagnosed with (1) influenza or (2) other respiratory tract infections but not COVID-19. The investigators looked for 14 different neurological or psychiatric disorders.
    1. The 236,379 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 had a 33.62% incidence of a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis in the following 6 months.
    2. Most of the 14 neurologic disorders were more common in patients with COVID-19 than in control groups who had the flu or another respiratory infection.
    3. The incidence of neurological disorders was higher in patients with more severe disease, but occurred in outpatients as well.
  4. What about the double mutant? This variant, recently found in California, is the one thought to be responsible for the current surge of infections in Maharashtra, the state in India where Mumbai is located. It has two gene mutations that are associated with faster spread and resistance to antibodies, but at this point the implications are still being studied.

REGULATIONS:

  1. The CDC says surface transmission is low. The important question is: are you in a well-ventilated space? The virus mainly spreads through the air you breathe and hardly ever through touching surfaces.
  2. CDC eases travel restrictions. New guidelines give approval for fully-vaccinated people to travel within the U.S. without additional testing or quarantine. Routine precautions are still in place and it’s a good idea to check with the state (or country) you are visiting to see what their requirements for entry are.
  3. FDA approves COVID tests without prescriptions for serial screening. These are rapid over-the-counter tests especially for use in schools or workplaces where periodic testing is part of the safety protocol.

Where does that leave us? I’m optimistic. We are in a much better place than we were a year ago. This new viral environment caught us by surprise, but we are learning fast and using that knowledge to cautiously open up our world.

More Information on these Topics:

Openings:

“The big issues at play in the IMF and World Bank spring meetings,” New Atlanticist, April 5, 2021. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/the-big-issues-at-play-in-the-imf-and-world-bank-spring-meetings/

“Governor Aims To Reopen California By Mid-June, Contingent On Public Health Metrics,” NPR, April 6, 2021.https://www.npr.org/2021/04/06/984794054/governor-aims-to-reopen-california-by-mid-june-contingent-on-public-health-metri

“Things to do in Southern California after you’re vaccinated,” Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-03-29/things-to-do-southern-california

“Australia and New Zealand’s travel bubble officially opens April 18,” CNN, April 6, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/australia-new-zealand-travel-bubble-open-intl-hnk/index.html

“What’s the roadmap for lifting lockdown?” BBC. April 7, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/explainers-52530518

Research:

“How Long Will COVID-19 Vaccine Protection Last? Here’s What Doctors Know So Far,” Prevention, April 6, 2021. https://www.prevention.com/health/a36014090/how-long-does-covid-19-vaccine-immunity-last/

“CDC Says More Virulent British Strain Of Coronavirus Now Dominant In U.S.” NPR, April 7, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/04/07/985079617/cdc-says-more-virulent-british-strain-of-coronavirus-now-dominant-in-u-s

“6-month neurological and psychiatric outcomes in 236 379 survivors of COVID-19: a retrospective cohort study using electronic health records,” The Lancet, Psychiatry, April 6, 2021. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(21)00084-5/fulltext

“A third of Covid-19 survivors suffer ‘brain disease,’ study shows,” CNN, April 8, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/06/health/covid-neurological-psychological-lancet-wellness/index.html

“Researchers identify five new cases of ‘double mutant’ Covid variant in California,” NBC, April 8, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/08/researchers-identify-five-new-cases-of-double-mutant-covid-variant-in-california-.html

Regulations:

“Covid-19 Live Updates: Can You Really Get Infected From Surfaces? Not Very Likely, C.D.C. Now Acknowledges.” The New York Times, April 8, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/04/08/world/covid-vaccine-coronavirus-cases

“CDC Says Travel Is Low Risk If You’re Fully Vaccinated,” Healthline, April 7, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cdc-says-travel-is-low-risk-if-youre-fully-vaccinated

“Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Continues to Advance Over-the Counter and Other Screening Test Development,” FDA Press Release, March 30, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-continues-advance-over-counter-and-other-screening-test-development

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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