Posts tagged with "COVID-19"

Jabra unveils research on the sounds we’ve missed most during lockdown

June 25, 2021

 Jabra, a Danish brand specializing in audio equipment and teleconferencing, has unveiled a new research report that pinpoints which sounds people worldwide missed the most during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Respondents overwhelming missed the sounds of social activities, the study found, according to a release posted on PR Newswire.

Indeed, the top five sounds that respondents missed include the following:

  1. Live music at concert (65%)
  2. Splashing and laughter around a swimming pool (60%)
  3. Cutlery and dinner noises at a restaurant (58%)
  4. Theatre applause (56%)
  5. Bar/pub noises (53%)

However, just 31% of participants overall said they missed the sounds of the gym—with those in the UK being particularly averse (only 20% of Britons yearned for gym sounds).

Europeans as a group craved live music the most—with 77% in Italy placing it at number one; 73% in Spain; and 68%, in Germany. In fact, the research found that music is the sound and experience missed most everywhere but in the United States; where respondents put the sound of splashing and laughter at a swimming pool at the top of the list (74%).

The past year has been a trying one, but has given most people a greater appreciation for the smaller things in life, and this is reflected in some of the sounds people have been missing. It’s no surprise that the sounds of the beach and the sea were high on most people’s lists, in addition to the sound of nightlife and crowds cheering at sports events.

Interestingly enough, sounds that previously would have gone unnoticed now appear to coveted—including children playing in schoolyards, the noise of traffic,

Others missed the real-life voices of their family and friends, the tune of ‘Happy Birthday,’ or the simple request to “give me a hug.”

Research contact: @PRNewswire 

Taking ‘extraordinary measures,’ White House backs suspending patents on vaccines

May 7, 2021

The Biden Administration came out on Wednesday, May5, in support of waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines—thereby, siding with international efforts to bolster production amid concerns about vaccine access in developing nations, The New York Times reports.

Under former President Trump, the United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend some of the world economic body’s intellectual property protections—enabling drugmakers worldwide to gain access to the closely guarded trade secrets of how the vaccines have been made.

However, the Times notes, President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, drafted by India and South Africa and backed by many congressional Democrats.

Katherine Tai, the United States Trade Representative, announced the Administration’s position on Wednesday afternoon, as the pandemic continued to spiral in India and South America.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”

Support from the White House is not a guarantee that a waiver will be adopted. The European Union has also been standing in the way, and changes to international intellectual property rules require unanimous agreement. Tai said the United States would participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization over the matter, but that they would “take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”

Standing against her will be the pharmaceutical industry, which responded angrily to the extraordinary decision. Stephen J. Ubl, the president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), called the announcement “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety.”

“This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” he said in a statement, adding that the move would have the effect of “handing over American innovations to countries looking to undermine our leadership in biomedical discovery.”

The pharmaceutical industry has argued that a suspension of patent protections would undermine risk-taking and innovation.

“Who will make the vaccine next time?” Brent Saunders, the former chief executive of Allergan, which is now part of AbbVie, wrote on Twitter.

However, the Times reports, global health activists, who have been pressing for the waiver, praised the Administration’s decision. It is “a truly historic step, which shows that President Biden is committed to being not just an American leader, but a global one,” said Priti Krishtel, an executive director of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK).

But the activists said a waiver alone would not increase the world’s vaccine supply. It must be accompanied by a process known as “tech transfer,” in which patent holders supply technical know-how and personnel. Activists also are demanding that Biden use his leverage to ensure that manufacturing is scaled up around the globe, and not just by the pharmaceutical companies that now hold the patents.

“Handing needy countries a recipe book without the ingredients, safeguards and sizable work force needed will not help people waiting for the vaccine,” Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, the president and chief executive of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), said in a statement. “Handing them the blueprint to construct a kitchen that — in optimal conditions — can take a year to build will not help us stop the emergence of dangerous new Covid variants.”

Shares of the pharmaceutical companies BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax dropped on Wednesday afternoon as news broke of the Biden administration’s decision.

Research contact: @nytimes

Pfizer’s new at-home pill to treat COVID could be available by the end of this year

April 28, 2021

Pfizer’s experimental oral drug to treat COVID-19 at the first sign of illness could be available by the end of the year, CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC on Tuesday, April 27.

In March, the company—which developed the first FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine in the United States in cooperation with German drugmaker BioNTech—began an early-stage clinical trial testing a new antiviral therapy for COVID. The drug is part of a class of medicines called protease inhibitors and works by inhibiting an enzyme that the virus needs to replicate in human cells.

Protease inhibitors are used to treat other viral pathogens, such as HIV and hepatitis C.

If clinical trials go well and the Food and Drug Administration approves it, the drug could be distributed nationwide by year-end, Bourla told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Health experts say the drug, taken by mouth, could be a gamechanger because people newly infected with the virus could use it outside of hospitals. Researchers hope the medication will keep the disease from progressing and prevent hospital trips.

In addition to the drug, Pfizer is still testing its vaccine in 6-month to 11-year-old children. Vaccinating children is crucial to ending the pandemic, public health officials and infectious disease experts say.

Earlier this month, the company asked the FDA to expand its vaccine authorization to adolescents ages 12 to 15 after the shot was found to be 100% effective in a study.

Bourla told CNBC on Tuesday he is “very optimistic” that the FDA will approve the use of the shot in adolescents.

Research contact: @CNBC

Kimbal Musk’s quest to start one million gardens

March 29, 2021

While Elon Musk, age 49, is intent on reaching for the skies with SpaceX, his younger brother, Kimbal, age 48, is more concerned with the ground beneath his feet—with a goal of creating one million home gardens within the next year, according to an article first published by Rolling Stone and picked up by Yahoo.

Since 2010, the junior Musk has:

  • Launched an initiative to put “learning gardens” in public schools across America (now at 632 schools and counting);
  • Courted Generation Z into the farming profession by converting shipping containers into high-tech, data-driven, year-round farms; and
  • Spoken out vociferously against unethical farming practices and vociferously forthe beauty and community of slow food.

What’s more, this year, on the first day of spring, is kicking off a new campaign with Modern Farmer’s Frank Giustra to create one million at-home gardens in the the next 12 months.

Aimed at reaching low-income families, the Million Gardens Movement was inspired by the pandemic, during which food insecurity—and a desire to go back to nature to address the problem— have been at the forefront of so many people’s lives.

“We were getting a lot of inquiries about gardening from people that had never gardened before,” Giustra told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “People were looking to garden for a bunch of reasons: to supplement their budget, because there was a lot of financial hardship, to help grow food for other people, or just to cure the boredom that came with the lockdown. To keep people sane—literally, keep people sane—they turned to gardening.”

The program offers free garden kits that can be grown indoors or outdoors, and will be distributed through schools that Musk’s non-profit, Big Green, already has partnered with. It also offers free curriculum on how to get the garden growing and fresh seeds and materials for the changing growing seasons.

“I grew up in the projects when I was young, in what we now call food deserts,” says EVE, one of the many celebrities who have teamed up with the organization to encourage people to pick up a free garden or to donate one. “What I love about this is that it’s not intimidating. Anyone can do this, no matter where you come from, no matter where you live. We are all able to grow something.”

Musk told Rolling Stone that, while the idea for a million gardens was not his, he was enthusiastic about it from day one” “Frank [Giustra] and his team pitched us on joining forces and doing the Million Gardens Movement. And we loved it. We thought it was a great idea.

“Because of COVID, we had been forced to pivot our model from the learning gardens because we couldn’t really teach people in the gardens anymore. And so we had done this trial of what we call little green gardens, which are round, beautiful sort of beige sacks, and you can come in and pick these up from a local school in your community. You can grow them on a windowsill as long as there’s some light. You can grow them indoors, which enables any city to be able to use them.”

He further explained, “What we would be doing with these little green gardens is inspiring people to garden and empowering them to garden. The average garden generates about $600 to $700 worth of food a year. So it provides actual food to your family. You’re having a lower carbon footprint because you’re not shipping food around. It’s great for mental health. Think about COVID and how crazy we all are. This gets you out there. It connects you to your kids. Gardening is such a beautiful thing to do for yourself, for the community, for the environment.”

He urges readers to go the Million Gardens Movement website: “If you sign up now to grow a garden AND donate $20, we will give a garden to a family in need, and send you a limited edition Million Gardens Movement bracelet!”

Research contact: @RollingStone

Study finds that roughly 40% of the USA’s coronavirus deaths could have been prevented

February 12, 2021

About 40% of the nation’s coronavirus deaths could have been prevented if the United States’ average death rate matched that of other industrialized nations, a new Lancet Commission report on public policy and health during the Trump era has found, USA Today reports.

The commission faulted former President Donald Trump’s “inept and insufficient” response to COVID-19, but its report also finds that the roots of the nation’s poor health outcomes are much deeper.

Commission co-chairs Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein— professors at the City University of New York’s Hunter College and longtime advocates for a single-payer health system, such as Medicare for All—said the report, published on Thursday, February 11, underscores decades of health, economic and social policies that have accelerated the nation’s disparities.

The report found U.S. life expectancy began trailing other industrialized nations four decades ago. In 2018, two years before the pandemic, the report said 461,000 fewer Americans would have died if U.S. mortality rates matched other Group of Seven nations: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

“The overriding thing that we need to do in our country is to decrease the huge and widening inequalities that have emerged in our nation,” Himmelstein told USA Today.

Indeed, the report finds that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color—with the death rates among Blacks increasing 50%, compared with whites. Coronavirus deaths for people of color are 1.2 times to 3.6 times higher than for whites; the disparities were especially high among middle-aged adults, possibly a sign of crowded living conditions and jobs that did not allow people to safely distance..

Public health measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing could have saved lives, Woolhandler said, but Trump failed to create a national response— instead leaving crucial decisions to states.

His actions “caused a lot of citizens to fail to take it seriously and interfered with the kind of coordinated response they have been able to use in a lot of countries that are more successful than the U.S. in controlling the epidemic,”  Woolhandler said.

“We’re still in a very deep hole. We have 30 million uninsured people. We have tens of millions of more who are underinsured,” Woolhandler said. “The thing that would be best for the health of the population would be Medicare for All.

“A Medicare for All program would substantially increase economic equality,” Himmelstein said. “Poor people spend a much larger share of their incomes for their healthcare even though they get much less for their healthcare.”

Woolhandler and Himmelstein are co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a single-payer health system.

Research contact: @USATODAY

GOP plan is ‘just not in the cards,’ Biden says during call with House Democrats

February 4, 2021

President Joe Biden has reassured House Democrats that he is committed to his COVID-19 relief package in its current form, and that—despite his “cordial” meeting with Senate Republicans on February 1—“the idea that we’re going to go out and compromise and go from a trillion-nine to six hundred billion is just not in the cards,” The Daily Beast reports exclusively.

Biden’s remarks, made on a call with House Democrats on Wednesday morning—a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast—represent the surest indication yet that he plans to push for passage of the American Rescue Planhis $1.9 trillion relief package to address the coronavirus pandemic and the damage it has done to the nation’s economy, through the budget reconciliation process. That process, which allows the Senate to pass budget-related legislation through a simple majority, would circumvent attempts by Republicans to filibuster the relief plan.

“We’ve got to be up to the moment,” Biden said on the call. “That’s what the American people, I think, are expecting of us, and frankly, that’s what they have a right to expect. And that’s why I’ve asked for the package proposed.”

Biden took particular exception to the Republican proposal on direct payments to cash-strapped Americans. Under his plan, direct payments would begin at $1,400 per person, as well as for dependents, gradually phasing out for individuals with a gross income of more than $75,000. Under the Republican plan, those payments would be cut to a $1,000 maximum, phasing out for individuals who made more than $40,000 in taxable income, with a $50,000 cap.

The president said that the GOP proposal would leave out almost the entire middle class, which he called a non-starter.

“Who are we helping is just as important as who’s being left out,” Biden said on the call. “I don’t think we need to be in the business of helping those folks making three hundred grand a year, but a family making 60, 70 grand, maybe 80, who’s barely hanging on, middle-class folks?”

“We want to make sure we get the poor,” Biden continued, “but we can’t leave out the middle class.”

The adjective “targeted” is most often used by the Republicans to describe a plan under which direct payments would be cut from $1,400 to $1,000 per person—phasing out for individuals who made more than $40,000 in taxable income in 2019 with a $50,000 cap, according to The Daily Beast.

Democrats have not yet outlined an income bracket where they’d limit check eligibility, but it’s likely to be more in line with the $75,000 threshold in the CARES Act, and the administration is aiming to expand eligibility to adult dependents. Given their belief that the last round of checks worked well, many Democrats see no problem in getting more money into the economy, especially with the relatively negligible dollar difference between a “targeted” plan and what they may propose.

The president’s private assurances that slashing a more than a trillion dollars from his COVID relief bill, particularly cuts to direct payments to Americans and assistance for schools to reopen their doors, “is just not in the cards” come as Democrats on Capitol Hill have been preparing to pass the relief plan with minimal Republican support.

Democrats—who owe their razor-thin majority in the Senate to victories in the Georgia runoff elections in which $2,000 stimulus checks played a key role—have already put the reconciliation process into motion. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) invoked the memory of the onset of the Great Recession as a moment when Congress was “too timid and constrained” in its response, a line that centrist Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) echoed on Tuesday morning.

“If it’s $1.9 trillion, so be it,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, stressing that while he wants the process to be bipartisan, he won’t stand in the way of passing much-needed relief. “If it’s a little smaller than that and we find a targeted need, then that’s what we’re going to be. I want it to be bipartisan.”

Research contact: @dailybeast

 

President Biden to sign executive actions aimed at ending COVID pandemic

January 22, 2021

On first full day in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden is expected to sign a second set of executive actions, aimed at making good on his plans to use the might of the federal government to end the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian reports.

His administration plans a coordinated federal coronavirus response aimed at restoring trust in the government and focused on boosting vaccines, increasing testing, reopening schools, and addressing inequalities thrown up by the disease.

“We can and will beat COVID-19. America deserves a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is driven by science, data and public health—not politics,” the White House said in a statement outlining the administration’s national strategy on COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness.

The administration’s new strategy is based around seven major goals:

  1. Restoring public trust in government efforts;
  2. Getting more vaccine doses into more arms;
  3. Mitigating the spread—including mask mandates;
  4. Emergency economic relief;
  5. A strategy to get schools and workers functioning ag;
  6. Establishing an equity task force to address disparities in suffering involving issues of race, ethnicity and geography; and
  7. Preparing for future threats.

According to The Guardian, Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days and reverse the impact of a year of mismanaged response under Donald Trump that saw more than 400,000 people die and more than 24 million infected – by far the worst rates in the world.

But his executive orders are set to go far beyond just boosting vaccination efforts.

The 46th U.S. president plans to re-engage with the World Health Organization—a reversal from the Trump administration’s move to cut ties during the pandemic. In other moves, the new administration says it plans to set up pandemic testing and vaccination sites, and devise a speedy vaccine distribution program.

On traveling, Biden will sign an executive order requiring people to wear a mask on trains, airplanes and maritime vessels. Another Health and Human Services to give guidance on safely reopening schools.

Biden also will release a presidential memorandum utilizing the FEMA disaster relief fund for providing reimbursement for personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning, and costs needed to safely reopen schools.

The Biden administration is also looking to fix supply shortfalls. Biden plans to direct federal agencies to fulfill supply shortfalls using the Defense Production Act.

Biden will restore a White House team on global health risks set up under Barack Obama and dismantled under Donald Trump.

The executive orders aim to help people of color in particular. One will set up the COVID-19 health equity taskforce.

Biden will issue an order to develop a national strategy to reopen schools, hoping to meet his goal of having most elementary and middle schools open within his first 100 days in office and will ask Congress to provide $130 billion additional aid to schools, $35 billion for colleges and universities, $25 billion for child care centers at risk of closing and $15 billion in childcare aid for struggling families.

Research contact: @GuardianUS

You can use Yelp to report businesses that aren’t enforcing social distancing and mask use

January 13, 2021

Businesses that do not enforce social distancing or that do not require their employees to wear masks now can be reported in a new Yelp update that launched on Tuesday, January 12, Business Insider divulged this week.

Yelp users can specify what type of pandemic precautions a business is—or is not—taking by answering survey questions on the business’ page or through the edit button on a company’s COVID-19 updates section.

What’s more, businesses on Yelp will either receive a green check mark or orange question mark to indicate whether they are following COVID-19 guidelines.

Multiple customers must report a business within 28 days for it to appear on the company’s page.

Yelp said that every decision the company has made to date to prioritize COVID-19 information on its site has only increased consumer interest.

“This new update further highlights how businesses have adapted to keep their customers safe, and aims to instill confidence in consumers to continue supporting local businesses,” Yelp’s Head of Consumer Product, Akhil Ramesh, said in the announcement.

Businesses with multiple locations only will receive feedback based on each individual location—and will not be rated overall. Yelp also plans to send users notifications when a company updates its COVID-19 information.

The review aggregation site has actively updated coronavirus data on the app since the pandemic started. In June, Yelp launched its coronavirus safety section where companies were able to update their pages with their own COVID-19 information.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Sweetgreen will pilot a drive-in restaurant as part of suburban push

December 17, 2020

These are the “salad days” for the restaurant chain Sweetgreen, which has been been offering contact-free delivery and pickup at its 91 restaurants throughout the pandemic, CNBC reports..

Now, Chief Concept Officer Nic Jammet says that the business pivot that the company has taken since the virus took hold in the USA earlier this year has accelerated its decision to pilot test a new type of eatery—slated to open next winter in Highlands Ranch, Colorado next winter. At the test site, customers will be encouraged to order on-site using dedicated parking spaces with intercom boxes connected to the chain’s app; and to pick up their food from drive-thru lanes.

As Sweettgreen expands from urban settings into suburban America, it joins the flood of restaurant companies that have unveiled new designs inspired by the coronavirus pandemic. Fast-food chains like Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and Restaurant Brands International’s Burger King have focused their new designs on making delivery and digital orders even more convenient.

But the fast-casual segment, which includes Sweetgreen and Chipotle Mexican Grill, has been influenced by the success of drive-thru lanes. Drive-thru orders grew by 24% across the restaurant industry in October, according to the NPD Group.

Like Sweetgreen, Shake Shack will open its first ever drive-thru lane in 2021, says CNBC. And Chipotle, which has been building its “Chipotlanes” for several years, is planning to add even more drive-thru lanes as same-store sales at those restaurants outpace the rest of its footprint.

Already, says Jammet, “A lot of our customers [… already are adopting this] behavior of using the Sweetgreen app to order ahead and come in ahead to pick it up.”

Research contact: @CNBC

Moderna’s vaccine is highly effective, FDA says, clearing way for second vaccine

December 16, 2020

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective at preventing symptomatic illness—and appears to prevent the spread of the virus, as well—according to an FDA briefing document released on Tuesday, December 15, NBC News reports. .

The findings set the Moderna vaccine up for emergency use authorization by the FDA—which would double the number of COVID-19 vaccines available, after the first shots of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine were given to healthcare workers nationwide in the USA on Monday.

The high efficacy of the Moderna vaccine was achieved after two doses given 28 days apart. This is about the same level of effectiveness as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.E

But there is also evidence that just one dose of Moderna’s may stop the virus’s spread. A second document published on the FDA website shows asymptomatic infection was reduced by 63% after the first shot.

Still, it is expected that regulators will require two doses of the vaccine for maximum protection, NBC News notes.

A committee independent of the FDA, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, will meet Thursday to decide whether to recommend that the agency greenlight the Moderna vaccine. The meeting will largely mirror the one from last Thursday, when the panel of experts ultimately recommended that the FDA authorize Pfizer’s vaccine.

The vaccines from both drugmakers use similar technology.

It is widely anticipated that the Moderna vaccine’s path to approval will be similar to Pfizer’s. Indeed, NBC reports, an authorization could come as soon as Friday. And officials with Operation Warp Speed are already planning for widespread distribution of the Moderna vaccine.

Research contact: @NBCNews