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Fauci says Indian COVID-19 variant makes up 6% of all cases in the US and could become dominant

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Dr Anthony Fauci warned on Tuesday that the coronavirus variant that first emerged in India could be come the dominant strain in the U.S.

Known as B.1.617.2 – and also called the Delta variant – it has been referred to as a ‘double mutant’ by India’s Ministry of Health, because it has two mutations on parts of the virus that help it hook onto our cells.

In the UK, the mutation has overtaken B.1.1.7, the so-called Alpha variant, which originated in Britain.

Fauci, who is America’s top infectious diseases expert, said the Indian variant accounts for six percent of all cases being sequenced in the U.S. and he is worried that the percentage could rise further.

‘We cannot let that happen in the United States, which is such a powerful argument…to get vaccinated,’ Fauci said at the White House COVID-19 task force briefing. 

‘Particularly if you had your first dose, make sure you get that second dose – and for those who have been nor vaccinated yet, please get vaccinated.’ 

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Dr Anthony Fauci warned during a press conference on Tuesday (pictured) that the Indian variant is overtaking the UK and that the same could occur in the U.S. if people don’t get vaccinated

The Indian variant, known as B.1.617.2 or the Delta variant, currently makes up 6% of all coronavirus cases sequenced in the U.S.

The variant was first discovered in the Maharashtra state, which is the second most-populous state in India and where Mumbai is located.

Cases has been plummeting since September, but began spiking in April with a 50 percent increase in cases in the first week of May alone.

It was due to sequencing such a high number of cases that the county’s Health Ministry was able to identify the variant.

In a statement, officials said the variant was linked to between 15 to 20 percent of samples sequenced from Maharashtra state.

Indian health authorities have labeled the variant a ‘double mutant’ because it carries two mutations: L452R and E484Q.

L452R is the same mutation seen with the California homegrown variant and E484Q is similar to the mutation seen in the Brazilian and South African variants.

Both of the mutations occur on key parts of the virus that allows it to enter and infect human cells. 

It has the worst of two very bad mutations out there and that’s a big concern,’ Dr Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told DailyMail.com last month.

Mokdad said the variant could be both more infectious variant like the California variant and an ‘escape variant’ like those from Brazil and South Africa, making vaccines less effective.  

Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), said that the Indian variant is the more prevalent in the UK, particularly among young people, who are the least likely to have been vaccinated.

‘In the UK, the Delta variant is the rapidly emerging as the dominant variant, [accounting for] greater than 60 percent. It is replacing the B.1.1.7,’ he warned.

‘When talking to their health authorities, the transmission is peaking in the younger group of 12- to 20-year-olds – mainly that group that we’re concerned about here, about making sure they get vaccinated.’

Fauci added that several studies have found there is poor protection against the Delta variant with one dose, but strong protection with two.

As of Tuesday, more than 63 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of the  COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, President Joe Biden has set a goal of reaching a 70 percent threshold by July 4.

At the same briefing, CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said vaccinations were behind the plummeting numbers of cases and deaths in the US, and urged that more people roll up their sleeves. 

‘There is more work to be done,’ she said.  

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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Fewer Americans than ever are still social distancing and more are visiting stores and restaurants

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Americans are leaving their homes more and easing up on social distancing, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxing guidelines for vaccinated Americans. 

A new Gallup poll found that more ore people are visiting stores and restaurants than at any time since spring 2020.

Still, the vast majority of Americans report still wearing masks outside their homes, and significant minorities are still avoiding crowds and public spaces.

The poll shows the country is inching ‘back to normal’ in the wake of vaccinations and relaxed CDC guidance, while some Americans remain cautious.

Fewer Americans are staying isolated than ever before, according to a May Gallup poll

About 79 percent report using a face mask in the last week – lower than any time since May 2020 but still the vast majority 

On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a major announcement: vaccinated Americans could safely go out in public without a mask.

In announcing the change, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky explained that the vaccines in use in the U.S. are highly effective – including against variants – and protect against coronavirus transmission.

This means that, not only does vaccination protect you from getting sick yourself, it also means that you are unlikely to give COVID to someone else.

Thanks to this protection, the CDC said that fully vaccinated people should be able to go mask-less in any public space – at the grocery store, at the football stadium, and everywhere in between.

After the announcement, states from Kentucky to New York relaxed their own mask requirements and made other steps towards full reopening.

At the time, many Americans said they would continue to wear a mask in public, regardless of vaccination status.

But a new Gallup poll conducted one week after the CDC’s guidance changed shows that Americans are starting to get more comfortable with a reopened world.

The Gallup poll was conducted from May 18 to May 23, including a random sample of about 3,600 adults.

Only 22 percent of the adults included in the poll said they were completely or mostly isolating from people outside their household.

This is a far cry from spring 2020 – that April, 75 percent of adults were completely isolating. Just 3 percent were not making any attempt to isolate.

Americans are also returning to public spaces. The share of adults polled who say they’re avoiding places where people congregate was the lowest Gallup has recorded since March 2020.

Events with large crowds, travel, and other activities that seemed taboo in spring 2020 are now becoming commonplace once again – but many remain cautious

Still, many Americans are still taking precautions. Gallup reports that 44 percent have avoided events with large crowds during the week they were polled.

About 40 percent avoided traveling by airplane or public transportation, while 34 percent avoided going to public places in general. Just over one-fourth of Americans (26 percent) still avoided small gatherings with family or friends.

These numbers are all way down from this winter, when the country’s biggest surge hit. In January, 72 percent reported they were avoiding large crowds.

Americans are also getting more comfortable visiting stores, restaurants, and other establishments.

People are getting more comfortable going out in public, to restaurants and stores

More people are going to grocery stores, pharmacies, and other stores

More Americans are visiting restaurants – both getting takeout and dining in

In the May poll, 60 percent of respondents said they’d gone to a grocery store in the past day, 35 percent said they’d gone to another type of store, and 24 percent said they’d gone to a pharmacy – all six percent higher than these figures in April.

The number of respondents who had recently visited a restaurant increased even more sharply – from 30 percent in April to 38 percent in May. People were dining in, too – 26 percent reported dining in the past day, compared to 22 percent in April.

More Americans reported going to doctors, salons, and other service providers as well, though these areas saw lower use jumps compared to stores and restaurants.

The CDC no longer requires face masks for fully vaccinated Americans, and people are starting to get comfortable with that option

The Gallup poll also saw a decrease in face mask use, likely inspired by the CDC’s guidance shift.

In the May survey, the poll found that 79 percent of respondents said they had worn a face mask in the past week – compared to 86 percent in April.

This still indicates that the vast majority of the country is using masks, though. And mask use is higher among vaccinated adults, indicating that those people who are more likely to get their COVID shot are also more likely to remain cautious afterwards.

Among those poll respondents who said they don’t plan to get vaccinated, only 49 percent said they’d worn a face mask in the past week.

Unvaccinated Americans are less likely to wear a face mask than those who are vaccinated – and who don’t actually need the mask

Those unvaccinated Americans are the most likely to need a mask, experts say.

For this group, wearing a mask not only protects individuals from catching COVID – it also prevents the coronavirus from spreading to those Americans who currently cannot get vaccinated. This includes children under the age of 12 and those who are immunocompromised due to medical conditions

Continued vaccinations and other public health measures will be important to ensure that this spring’s reopening – coupled with the highly contagious variant from India – do not lead to surges in future months.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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Death rate disparity between rural and urban Americans TRIPLED over past 20 years, study finds

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The gap in deaths from chronic diseases and ‘diseases of despair’ in rural and urban areas has tripled over the past 20 years, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed death counts from lung disease, heart disease, opioid overdoses and similar causes of death in rural and urban areas across the country, using a database from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

They found that age-adjusted mortality rates (AAMRs) declined in both rural and urban populations from 1999 to 2019, but they declined much further in urban areas.

What’s more, white people aged 25 to 64 in rural areas were among a small group whose AAMRs increased over this period.  

While deaths from chronic illness and ‘diseases of despair’, like opioid addiction or alcoholism, have decreased in the past two decades, the gap between urban and rural America has tripled

The overall AAMR in urban America fell from 861.5 deaths out of every 100,000 people to 664.5 deaths, a 22 percent decrease.

In rural areas it decreased from 923.8 out of every 100,000 to 834, a decrease of less than ten percent.

The gap between urban and rural areas increased from 62.3 to 169.5, or 172 percent. 

‘One might think that with medical advancements over the course of two decades, differences in mortality rates became narrower, but what we’ve seen is quite the opposite,’ said co-author Dr Haider Warriach, a member of Brigham’s Heart and Vascular Center.

‘Instead, we saw an unprecedented reversal in the mortality rates of middle-aged white people, both men and women.

‘Traditionally, researchers focusing on rural populations have highlighted the effect of the opioid epidemic and what have been called “diseases of despair,” including alcohol abuse and suicide, but our previous work has shown that chronic conditions may also be driving this gap,

‘Rural areas have a higher prevalence of risk factors for these conditions like smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity.’

There are a variety of reasons for these issues arising among rural populations. 

A rural American is 30 percent more likely to be living in poverty than someone who lives anywhere else. 

People in poverty are much more likely to use drugs and alcohol, and are also more likely to have a poor diet, leading to other health problems like obesity.

Additionally, rural Americans also have a harder time accessing health care.

More than 100 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, leaving a population with already sparse options for medical care with even fewer options. 

More than 100 rural hospitals have closed in the past decade, including 20 last year, leaving rural Americans with little options for health care. The closures of rural hospitals have contributed to the death gap

‘A parallel crisis is the record number of hospital closures in rural areas, which will make solving this problem even more difficult with limited accessibility to primary and emergency care,’ Warriach said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, which was not examined as part of this study, exacerbated the issue, with 20 rural hospitals closing in 2020. 

The researchers indicate that the pandemic likely made the disparities found in the study even worse.

Racial disparities in AAMR decreased over the past two decades.

Black people in both rural and urban areas have been living longer and are less likely to die from a chronic condition. 

While there is still a gap, as white Americans are still less likely to die of these conditions than Black Americans, the gap across the country has been sliced in half.

Black Americans did suffer more heavily from the pandemic than white Americans did, though, so the results may look different for a study conducted that included last year. 

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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‘Are cigarettes next?’ Trump’s surgeon general blasts Biden and states’ unhealthy vaccine incentives

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Lotteries, free beers, and other incentives have been touted as methods of increasing COVID-119 vaccination rates among those who might be hesitant – but officials say they might be promoting unhealthy behaviors along the way.

Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general under former  President Donald Trump blasted current President Joe Biden and states for offering liquor if people get immunized.

‘Do public health advocates who’ve tried to raise the alarm about the health complications of increasing alcohol consumption really not have a problem with a federally sanctioned beer giveaway?’ he tweeted on Tuesday.

‘I’m all for incentives/rewards, and I’m not against people making personal choices to drink, but even the current Surgeon General put out a report warning about the health effects of alcohol consumption.’ 

Adams suggested that the incentives may promote alcoholism, gambling, and other unhealthy behaviors at vaccination’s expense.

Ohio did see a 55 percent increase in vaccinations after putting the lottery in place, and Krispy Kreme has given away 1.5 million donuts, but experts say it’s hard to say whether incentives are really pushing the needle nationwide – or whether anyone is really going to become an alcoholic because of one free beer.

Jerome Adams, former U.S. surgeon general under President Trump, questioned the value of free beer as a vaccine incentive

 

Adams referenced a 2016 report written under current surgeon general Vivek Murthy

Everyone from the U.S. president to major sports teams has been announcing creative incentives to promote vaccination.

As the daily rate of vaccinations continues slowing nationwide, experts worry that the U.S. may fall short of President Biden’s latest vaccine goal – 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.

About 64 percent of adults have gotten at least one dose, as of June 7. Thirteen states have met President Biden’s goal – while many others have vaccinated fewer than half of their adult populations.

Only one million Americans are getting vaccinated every day now – compared to over three million a day during the vaccination effort’s peak in mid-April.

The vast majority of Americans who urgently wanted to get vaccinated have already done so, as indicated by polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation and other organizations.

Those people who haven’t yet been vaccinated are either facing access issues or do not view a COVID shot as a necessity. Incentive programs aim to bridge the gap for these Americans, giving them an extra reason to get their shots.

One well-known incentive program is Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery – in which vaccinated Ohio residents can enter to win one million dollars.

In the days after that program was announced, the state saw a 55 percent increase in its vaccination rate for young adults. In some parts of the state, the increase was even more dramatic – vaccination rates doubled in a few counties.

Only one million Americans are vaccinated each day, compared to over three million in mid-April

Some states in the South and Midwest lag behind in getting their populations vaccinated

Inspired by the success of Ohio’s Vax-a-Million program, the federal government allowed states to use funding from the American Rescue Plan for similar incentives. States from West Virginia to California now have lotteries.

Companies are offering vaccine incentives, too. The federal government’s vaccine website lists almost a hundred rewards.

To name a few: Dating apps Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge offer premium content to vaccinated users. Sports teams will give discounts to vaccinated fans. United Airlines is running a sweepstakes with free airline tickets for vaccinated flyers.

President Biden announced one of the biggest incentives yet on June 2, at a speech declaring June a ‘month of action’ to promote vaccinations.

If the nation meets Biden’s 70 percent goal, brewery Anheuser-Busch will ‘buy Americans 21+ a round of beer.’ Any American (of drinking age) who uploads a picture of themselves to an Anheuser-Busch website will get a five-dollar drink voucher.

This beer giveaway drew Adams to comment on the ‘unhealthy’ nature of some vaccine incentives on Tuesday. 

Adams pointed out that Vivek Murthy – current Surgeon General under Biden – put out an extensive report on the risks of alcohol and drug consumption in 2016, when he was surgeon general under former President Obama.

Adams argued that the rewards could have unintended consequences such as promoting alcoholism and other unhealthy behaviors. Pictured: Adams speaks after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at the White House, December 2020

The report includes many concerning statistics about alcohol abuse in the U.S.: For example, in 2015, 67 million Americans reported binge drinking. That represents about one-fifth of the population.

Alcohol deaths have risen in recent years, as Kate Julian reported in The Atlantic. 

The number of such deaths doubled in the U.S. from 199 to 2017, to now more than 70,000 deaths a year.

Adams also called out the cash lotteries held in many states for promoting gambling and mentioned donuts, referencing Krispy Kreme’s giveaway.

The Krispy Kreme giveaway – vaccinated Americans can get a free donut every day – drew criticism when it was announced back in March.

Emergency room physician and former Planned Parenthood head Dr Leana Wen tweeted, ‘donuts are a treat that’s not good for health if eaten every day.’

Other health experts pushed back on Dr Wen’s comments at that time, saying that she encouraged fatphobia and that COVID is much more dangerous than regular donut eating. 

The same argument could be made about Anheuser-Busch’s beer giveaway – a single free beer does not make someone an alcoholic.

Still, Adams’ tweets point to an unhealthy trend in America’s vaccine incentives.

‘Are cigarettes next?’ Adams in his tweet.

‘I’ve tried to hold off as I know my message is likely to be seen by some as attacking the administration, but I’m not. I’m just really starting to get uncomfortable with the public health trade offs here. And the messages we’re subtly sending our youth. Is it really worth it?’

So far, there is little data on the effectiveness of vaccination programs in actually raising vaccination rates. Ohio’s lottery did inspire higher vaccination rates, at least for a short time, and Krispy Kreme has given away 1.5 million free donuts.

But it will take more time and more careful study to determine whether the incentives are ‘really worth it,’ as Adams put it.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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