A Look Back at COVID’s Origin, and Forward at Mandates & Kids

How did the pandemic start, and how do we stop ourselves from repeating our mistakes? A closer look back lends weight to the lab-leak theory. In Pennsylvania, the state constitution was amended to prevent executive overreach in the future, while the Michigan governor ignored her own mandates. Meanwhile, children in New York will be in school full time next fall (…but with COVID precautions), while multiple lines of research suggests that the risk to kids is overblown.

In other news:

  • Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times lead reporter on the Covid-19 pandemic, talks about the timeline of the lab-leak theory and how his perspective has changed.
  • COVID numbers are trending down and it’s time to stop living in fear, according to Mart Makary at the New York Post.
  • Robby Soave at Reason looks at how COVID restrictions / mandates are now focusing on children, and to what benefit?
  • A look at how the pandemic may end by Helen Branswell at STAT.

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COVID News

Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate on Covid-19 Origin

https://www.wsj.com/articles/intelligence-on-sick-staff-at-wuhan-lab-fuels-debate-on-covid-19-origin-11621796228

WASHINGTON—Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.

The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”

The disclosure of the number of researchers, the timing of their illnesses and their hospital visits come on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into Covid-19’s origins.

Current and former officials familiar with the intelligence about the lab researchers expressed differing views about the strength of the supporting evidence for the assessment. One person said that it was provided by an international partner and was potentially significant but still in need of further investigation and additional corroboration.

Another person described the intelligence as stronger. “The information that we had coming from the various sources was of exquisite quality. It was very precise. What it didn’t tell you was exactly why they got sick,” he said, referring to the researchers.

Pennsylvania Republicans celebrate amendment curbing governor’s emergency powers: ‘Voice of the people’

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/penn-republicans-celebrate-constitutional-amendment-curbing-govs-emergency-powers-voice-of-the-people

Republican Pennsylvania State Senate President-Pro-Tempore Jake Corman joined “The Ingraham Angle” on Thursday – two nights after Keystone State voters approved two landmark state constitutional amendments curbing emergency powers of Gov. Tom Wolf and future executives. 

For more than 13 months, Wolf, a Democrat, largely acted alone in issuing socioeconomic coronavirus restrictions under his emergency powers, as well as via the state’s 1955 Disease Prevention and Control Act, which irked the legislature and many Pennsylvania business owners affected by the lockdowns and the at-times abrupt nature of new, additional restrictions.

The first new amendment essentially provides the legislature the ability to end emergency declarations by majority vote, while the second requires the governor to return to the legislature to seek renewal of emergency orders at the 21-day mark.

Corman, R-Centre, told host Laura Ingraham that his branch, the legislative branch, is the “voice of the people” and that the Founders did not intend for a governor to wield such power, independent of the General Assembly.

“To be shut out for this period of time is unacceptable. It’s not what the framers had intended… I believe other states will follow,” he said.

Michigan’s Whitmer apologizes after photo emerges on social media

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/michigans-whitmer-apologizes-after-photo-emerges-on-social-media

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the embattled Michigan Democrat who was hit with a recent ethics complaint after allegedly accepting a discounted private jet trip to Florida while cautioning residents against leaving the state, apologized Sunday after a photo emerged on social media that appeared to show her disregarding social distancing guidelines at a bar in the state.

The Detroit Free Press reported that the photo showed the governor with a large group at The Landshark Bar & Grill, which is in East Lansing. The paper pointed out that the group was unmasked and there seemed to be no social distancing.

“Yesterday, I went with friends to a local restaurant,” Whitmer said in a statement obtained by the paper. “As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it. In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”

Her office did not immediately respond to an after-hours email from Fox News. The paper reported that the photo first appeared on social media after an attendee posted the picture and quickly deleted it. The report said Whitmer appeared to be with a dozen people with tables pushed together. The Free Press pointed out that the state still requires social distancing at restaurants, with no more than six people at tables.

NYC schools will return to in-person classes in the fall with no option for remote learning, mayor says

https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/24/us/nyc-schools-reopen-fall/index.html

New York City schools will fully return to in-person learning in September with no remote option, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday on MSNBC.

De Blasio said that the increase in vaccinations, decrease in cases and layering of health measures will make the move possible. New York City has the biggest school district in the nation, with 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools.

“It’s just amazing the forward motion right now, the recovery that’s happening in New York City,” de Blasio said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “But you can’t have a full recovery without full-strength schools, everyone back sitting in those classrooms, kids learning again.”

To address some hesitancy to go back to in-person learning, parents will be able to visit their student’s classrooms starting in June to see all the measures taken to reduce Covid-19 transmission, such as cleaning and ventilation, de Blasio said.

New Research Suggests Number of Kids Hospitalized for COVID Is Overcounted

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/study-number-of-kids-hospitalized-for-covid-is-overcounted.html

The reported number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, one of the primary metrics for tracking the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, was grossly inflated for children in California hospitals, two research papers published Wednesday concluded. The papers, both published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics, found that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 were overcounted by at least 40 percent, carrying potential implications for nationwide figures.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, and Amy Beck, an associate professor of pediatrics, also at UCSF, wrote a commentary for Hospital Pediatrics that accompanied the two studies. They wrote, “Taken together, these studies underscore the importance of clearly distinguishing between children hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2 found on universal testing versus those hospitalized for COVID-19 disease.” The studies demonstrate, they said, that reported hospitalization rates “greatly overestimate the true burden of COVID-19 disease in children.” Gandhi told Intelligencer that while the studies were both conducted with data from California hospitals, “there is no reason to think these findings would be exclusive to California. This sort of retrospective chart review will likely reveal the same findings across the country.” 

Commentary/Analysis

How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory*

https://donaldgmcneiljr1954.medium.com/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-lab-leak-theory-f4f88446b04d

In early spring 2020, I reported an article for The New York Times on which I put the tentative headline: “New Coronavirus Is ‘Clearly Not a Lab Leak,’ Scientists Say.”

It never ran.

For two reasons.

The chief one was that inside the Times, we were sharply divided. My colleagues who cover national security were being assured by their Trump administration sources — albeit anonymously and with no hard evidence — that it was a lab leak and the Chinese were covering it up. We science reporters were hearing from virologists and zoologists — on the record and in great detail — that the odds were overwhelming that it was not a lab leak but an animal spillover.

Frankly, the scientists had more credibility.

The other reason my story never ran was that it was 4,000 words long and full of expressions like “polybasic cleavage site,” “RNA-dependent RNA polymerase gene” and “O-linked glycan shields.” Editors would open it, their eyeballs would bleed, and they would close it and find something else to do.

(Back then, editors blanched even at “spike protein” and “receptor binding domain,” but we’ve all had a crash course in virology this year, haven’t we?)

Although it never ran, others like it did elsewhere. The experts all agreed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not a deliberate weaponization of a previously known virus and that it had no obvious signs of lab manipulation (more details below). They noted that blood sampling showed that brief “spillovers” of animal viruses into humans happen often without causing large outbreaks.

Risk of COVID is now very low — it’s time to stop living in fear: doctor

https://nypost.com/2021/05/21/risk-of-covid-is-now-very-low-its-time-to-stop-living-in-fear-doctor/

COVID cases are collapsing in front of our eyes. Daily cases are now one-tenth the number of daily flu cases in the middle of a mild flu season, with a now-identical case fatality rate. That’s because the few Americans testing positive are often young, feel fine, and underwent testing as a screening requirement for playing sports or attending gatherings.

The US positive rate is now at a record low, below 3%. Projections for the coming weeks and months are even more favorable. That’s because roughly 80% to 85% of adults are now immune — more than 6 in 10 adults are now vaccinated and more than half of unvaccinated adults have natural immunity from prior infection. In public health, when a virus has trouble jumping around because more than 8 in 10 adults in a community are blocking its transmission, we call that herd immunity.

Yet some people want the pandemic to stretch out longer, insisting on a futile goal of absolute risk eradication.

Posturing to be on the side of science, they ignore the science on the effectiveness of vaccinated and natural immunity and dangle variant fears. They wear masks after being fully vaccinated even though there has never been a documented cases of a fully vaccinated person who is asymptomatic transmitting the virus.

They’ve paralyzed the nation with fear.

New York and Michigan Will Force 2-Year-Olds To Wear Masks at Camp

The COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end—cases and deaths are declining throughout the U.S. as more people become vaccinated—and government officials are finally repealing mask mandates and easing other restrictions.

But for very young children, government restrictions are actually growing more onerous. In Michigan and New York, for example, state officials recently expanded mask requirements for kids at camps and day cares. Now, for the first time, kids between the ages of 2 and 4 will be expected to mask up as well.

“To help ensure maximum protections for staff and children at child care and camp programs, we are issuing this guidance so the facilities can implement basic but critical measures that will allow them to operate safely,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in a statement.

How the Covid pandemic ends: Scientists look to the past to see the future

We’re approaching the year-and-a-half mark of the globe’s collective experience with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Covid-19 pandemic it has triggered. At this point, it’s fair to assume people the world over are asking themselves the same two questions: How will this end? And when?

There may have been a fleeting chance humans could have halted spread of SARS-2 and driven it back into nature, as happened with its cousin, SARS-1. But that door was firmly shut long ago. It also seems that another option — vaccinating our way out of the pandemic — is an expensive toll highway that few countries will be able to access in the near term.

That probably sounds bleak, but don’t despair. The truth of the matter is that pandemics always end. And to date vaccines have never played a significant role in ending them. (That doesn’t mean vaccines aren’t playing a critical role this time. Far fewer people will die from Covid-19 because of them.)

Research

mRNA vaccine-induced SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells recognize B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants but differ in longevity and homing properties depending on prior infection status

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.12.443888v1

ABSTRACT

While mRNA vaccines are proving highly efficacious against SARS-CoV-2, it is important to determine how booster doses and prior infection influence the immune defense they elicit, and whether they protect against variants. Focusing on the T cell response, we conducted a longitudinal study of infection-naïve and COVID-19 convalescent donors before vaccination and after their first and second vaccine doses, using a high-parameter CyTOF analysis to phenotype their SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells. Vaccine-elicited spike-specific T cells responded similarly to stimulation by spike epitopes from the ancestral, B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variant strains, both in terms of cell numbers and phenotypes. In infection-naïve individuals, the second dose boosted the quantity but not quality of the T cell response, while in convalescents the second dose helped neither. Spike-specific T cells from convalescent vaccinees differed strikingly from those of infection-naïve vaccinees, with phenotypic features suggesting superior long-term persistence and ability to home to the respiratory tract including the nasopharynx. These results provide reassurance that vaccine-elicited T cells respond robustly to the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants, confirm that convalescents may not need a second vaccine dose, and suggest that vaccinated convalescents may have more persistent nasopharynx-homing SARS-CoV-2- specific T cells compared to their infection-naïve counterparts.

SUMMARY BULLET POINTS

  • mRNA vaccine-elicited T cells respond identically to B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 spike
  • Second mRNA dose affects quantity but not quality of vaccine-elicited T cells
  • Convalescents’ spike CD4 T cells express more CD127 and lung-homing receptors
  • Spike CD4 T cell levels in blood inversely correlate with tissue migration markers

BRIEF SUMMARY Neidleman et al. conducted CyTOF on antigen-specific T cells in longitudinal samples from infection-naïve and COVID-19 convalescent mRNA vaccinees. Vaccine-elicited T cells respond identically to variants, and change in quantity but not quality after first dose. Convalescents’ T cells preferentially express the longevity-associated marker CD127 and respiratory tract homing receptors.

Competing Interest Statement

The authors have declared no competing interest.

COVID-19 Mitigation Practices and COVID-19 Rates in Schools: Report on Data from Florida, New York and Massachusetts

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.19.21257467v1

Abstract

This paper reports on the correlation of mitigation practices with staff and student COVID-19 case rates in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts during the 2020-2021 school year. We analyze data collected by the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard and focus on student density, ventilation upgrades, and masking. We find higher student COVID-19 rates in schools and districts with lower in-person density but no correlations in staff rates. Ventilation upgrades are correlated with lower rates in Florida but not in New York. We do not find any correlations with mask mandates. All rates are lower in the spring, after teacher vaccination is underway.

Competing Interest Statement

The authors have declared no competing interest.

Clinical Trial

Retrospective study; not a clinical trial.

Funding Statement

Funding provided by : Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Arnold Foundation, Templeton Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Brown University Role on the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard: Providing funding for the dashboard, including funding for the engineering support at Qualtrics to host the overall and district-specific dashboards, and funding for staff to clean and review data from districts and states. None of the funding partners have had any influence on which data are displayed in the dashboard or how the data are presented.

Charts and Graphics

International News

Cork woman (66) jailed for weekend after refusing to wear a mask

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/district-court/cork-woman-66-jailed-for-weekend-after-refusing-to-wear-a-mask-1.4571444

A 66-year-old Cork woman has been jailed for the weekend for her defiance in refusing to wear a mask in court.

Margaret Buttimer of The Cottage, St Fintan’s Road, Bandon appeared before Clonakilty District Court earlier this week for refusing to wear a mask at Dunnes Stores in the town on February 12th.

She was found guilty of the offence of not wearing a mask in breach of Covid-19 regulations.

Judge Colm Roberts was told that Ms Buttimer abused the store manager when he asked her if there was a medical reason why she was not wearing a face covering.

He flew to India because his dad was sick with Covid-19. He almost got stuck there until 2022 because of tightening travel restrictions

https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/25/us/covid-nj-stuck-india-trnd/index.html

When Ashu Mahajan got word that Covid-19 was taking a toll on his 73-year-old father’s health, he booked a flight to India to be by his side.

“When I was leaving for India, I knew my dad was sick. I was still debating whether I should go or not. If I go, I knew I would have visa issues, but still, I had taken that decision because that was my dad that we were thinking about,” Mahajan said during a news conference Monday.

Within days of Mahajan’s arrival on April 17, his father died.

India is currently at the center of the global coronavirus pandemic and although new infection rates appear to be dropping — from 2.7 million the week of May 2-8 to just under 1.8 million in the week up until May 24 — the past week has seen a record number of deaths: 29,330. On May 24 alone, 4,454 people lost their lives. The record daily death rate is 4,529, registered on May 18.

But before the software solutions architect, who lives and works in the US on an H-1B employment visa, could return to his home in Scotch Plains — 12 miles north of Edison, New Jersey, he needed to get his passport reviewed and stamped from the US Consulate in India.

The problem was that he couldn’t get an appointment until Feb. 2022 because of tightening Covid-19 restrictions that forced closures of US embassies and consulates in India.

“While he (Mahajan’s dad) was in the hospital, I was not even thinking about visa issues,” he said. “After that, it hit me that now I would be separated from my family for more than a year.”

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