Happy New Year from the RG Team!

Happy New Year! 2020 may have gone in the rearview mirror, but COVID and our politicians are still with us. 

Despite having some of the most restrictive policies in the nation, California’s COVID case count, hospitalizations, and deaths are still skyrocketing. In Texas, the state supreme court blocked local orders establishing an overnight curfew for restaurants.

In other news:

  • Our Megan Mansell reveals the tragedy of Franca Panettone, a 46-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, who died alone from COVID, without access to her healthcare. surrogate. How often has this happened over the past 10 months?
  • A recent study suggests a prior COVID infection provides at least 6 months of protection from symptomatic reinfection. 
  • New York Magazine takes an in-depth look at the COVID lab leak hypothesis. Author’s take: “What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out.”
  • As of Monday, Britain has gone back into a full national lockdown.

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Additionally, we just released an update on how COVID-19 is playing out on university campuses.

COVID News

Locked-down California runs out of reasons for surprising surge

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/23/california-covid-surge-450315

OAKLAND, Calif. — California has had some of the toughest restrictions in the country to combat the coronavirus, from a complete ban on restaurant dining to travel quarantines and indoor gym closures.

It hasn’t been enough.

America’s most populous state has become one of the nation’s worst epicenters for the disease, setting new records for cases, hospitalizations and deaths almost every day. Things are so bad in Southern California that some patients are being treated in hospital tents, while doctors have begun discussing whether they need to ration care.

The turnabout has confounded leaders and health experts. They can point to any number of reasons that contributed to California’s surge over the past several weeks. But it is hard to pinpoint one single factor — and equally hard to find a silver bullet.

Austin won’t be allowed to restrict dining-in at restaurants, Texas Supreme Court says

https://www.texastribune.org/2021/01/01/texas-paxton-austin-restaurants/

The Supreme Court of Texas on Friday blocked Austin-area orders that restricted dining-in and drinking at restaurants through January 3. The order followed a New Year’s Day appeal by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown announced the orders on Dec. 29 in a bid to slow spiraling coronavirus infections and hospitalizations going into New Year’s Eve. They were quickly challenged by Gov. Greg Abbott and by Paxton, who described the orders as “needlessly oppressive.” Both officials exhorted Texas restaurants to remain open in defiance of the orders, which were upheld by a district judge Thursday. In a further blow to the state, Texas’ Third Court of Appeals swiftly rejected an appeal later that night.

Schools Rethink Covid Rules. ‘We’re Over-Quarantining Kids Like Crazy.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-surge-schools-reopen-rethink-quarantines-11608247643

Superintendent Jonathan Cooper this summer helped write a fall reopening plan for his southwestern Ohio school district with a rule based on the state’s policy: Any student potentially exposed to Covid-19 in Mason City Schools had to quarantine for two weeks, no exceptions.

This fall, he began rethinking it.

A growing body of research and data suggested the virus wasn’t spreading widely in schools. An email from a star football player who had been sidelined from a playoff game became a turning point. The student, senior Brady Comello, had been seated in class, masked, near another student who later tested positive.

“I am so upset right now that I have to miss my first playoff game and possibly my last high school game ever,” Mr. Comello wrote, pleading for Mr. Cooper to reconsider the rule.

Even with coronavirus cases beginning to rise again across the country, student quarantines were more stringent than they needed to be, Mr. Cooper decided. He forwarded the email to Gov. Mike DeWine with his own appeal for an exception. The office denied his request.

Commentary/Analysis

Fighting for the voiceless: Franca Panettone’s family hopes her tragic COVID death will bring changes

Franca Panettone was born on November 3, 1973, and died on April 6, 2020.

For Franca Panettone, the quick path to a tragic demise began March 28, 2020, with a fever and cough. Franca was a vibrant, spirited, 46-year-old woman who had a passion for going to church and singing, was close-knit with her family, and was largely nonverbal with Down Syndrome. She also loved the color purple. Franca’s sister Maria, who served as her healthcare surrogate, was with her during the fateful emergency room visit, as Franca was unable to advocate for herself or understand medical terminology.

The first doctor they saw told Maria she would be able to stay alongside Franca, but once Franca was admitted and transferred to a different part of the hospital, a temperamental charge nurse told Maria she was not allowed to be there, going so far as walking her to car. Maria was denied entrance in spite of identifying herself as Franca’s healthcare surrogate and was told that her presence as Franca’s advocate was against hospital policy. She said it was as if her sister had been taken – but what came next was both unexpected, inhumane, and  a disgusting abuse of power that resulted in a heinous act against a defenseless woman that can never be undone.

People started breaking Covid rules when they saw those with privilege ignore them

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/02/follow-covid-restrictions-break-rules-compliance

We’ve heard repeatedly during the past year that until mass vaccination is achieved, the key to managing the Covid-19 epidemic is controlling human behaviour. Yet as cases in the UK continue to spiral, with stricter social restrictions being implemented every few days, a key question remains: is anyone complying any more?

Compliance has been one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented concepts of this pandemic. During the first wave of the virus back in the spring, there was concern that a lengthy lockdown would lead to “behavioural fatigue” and diminishing compliance with social restrictions. In fact, “behavioural fatigue” was not a scientific concept but a political one, neither supported by research from previous epidemics nor by data that subsequently emerged from our lockdown (over 97% showed good compliance with the rules, with no meaningful decrease from March to May). During emergencies, humans are actually primed to act in the collective interest, as we saw from the sacrifices made by people in the spring of 2020 across the UK.

The Lab-Leak Hypothesis

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/coronavirus-lab-escape-theory.html

What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began its existence inside a bat, then it learned how to infect people in a claustrophobic mine shaft, and then it was made more infectious in one or more laboratories, perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine. SARS-2 was not designed as a biological weapon. But it was, I think, designed. Many thoughtful people dismiss this notion, and they may be right. They sincerely believe that the coronavirus arose naturally, “zoonotically,” from animals, without having been previously studied, or hybridized, or sluiced through cell cultures, or otherwise worked on by trained professionals. They hold that a bat, carrying a coronavirus, infected some other creature, perhaps a pangolin, and that the pangolin may have already been sick with a different coronavirus disease, and out of the conjunction and commingling of those two diseases within the pangolin, a new disease, highly infectious to humans, evolved. Or they hypothesize that two coronaviruses recombined in a bat, and this new virus spread to other bats, and then the bats infected a person directly — in a rural setting, perhaps — and that this person caused a simmering undetected outbreak of respiratory disease, which over a period of months or years evolved to become virulent and highly transmissible but was not noticed until it appeared in Wuhan.

Research

Prior SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with protection against symptomatic reinfection

https://www.journalofinfection.com/article/S0163-4453(20)30781-7/fulltext

It has been recently suggested that prior exposure to seasonal coronaviruses might confer cross-protection against SARS-CoV-2. Whether SARS-CoV-2 infection itself confers immunity to reinfection has not been established. Immunity is probable, at least in the short term, because reinfections are infrequently reported, despite over 55 million primary infections occurring worldwide since December 2019. Protection against short term reinfection has been observed in a non-human primate model of SARS-CoV-2. A small clinical study was also suggestive.

Immunity to seasonal coronaviruses is maintained for up to 12 months.

Charts and Graphics

CDC Case Surveillance File – Key Stats

California – Current Hospitalizations Per 1 Million 

We’re now a month into the closure of outdoor dining in California. Hospitalizations are up 140% We’re 1.5 months into the closure of indoor dining for the few areas that still had it. Hospitalizations are up 463%

Daily New Deaths – Denmark

Daily Cases Per 1 Million – Canada

International News

India Grants Emergency Approval to Astra-Oxford Covid Shot

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-02/india-grants-emergency-approval-to-astra-oxford-covid-19-vaccine

India has followed the U.K. and granted emergency approval for the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, the first step in its plan to inoculate citizens in the country that’s home to the world’s second-largest Covid-19 outbreak.

In a brief statement on Sunday, the Drugs Controller General of India V.G. Somani, confirmed the approval of the AstraZeneca shot being produced locally by the Serum Institute of India Ltd. — the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume.

Somani also said the locally developed Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin — which has yet to complete vital phase three trials — had been granted permission “for restricted use in emergency situation in public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode, to have more options for vaccinations, especially in case of infection by mutant strains.”

UK Prime Minister imposes harsh lockdown as new Covid-19 variant spreads

https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/04/uk/uk-lockdown-covid-19-boris-johnson-intl/index.html

(CNN)UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reimposed a lockdown in England on Monday as a more transmissible variant of Covid-19 fuels a surge in infections and hospitalizations in the country.

“It is clear that we need to do more to bring this new variant under control,” Johnson said. “That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home.”

During his televised address to the nation, Johnson reimposed measures seen during the first lockdown last spring, including closures of secondary and primary schools to all except the children of key workers and vulnerable children. People will be allowed to leave their homes for limited reasons like shopping for essentials, exercise, and medical assistance.

Johnson also said people could still leave home “to escape domestic abuse” — an issue that arose earlier during the pandemic, as isolation and lockdown conditions exacerbated barriers to escape for victims of domestic violence.

Outdoor sports venues will have to close. But unlike spring’s lockdown, nurseries will not be shuttered, elite sports can go ahead, and places of worship will remain open on the basis that attendees adhere to social distancing rules.

The lockdown is expected to remain in place at least through the middle of February.