8h ago / 5:44 PM UTC
Brazil registers highest COVID-19 daily death toll in almost a month
BRASILIA, Dec 8 – Brazil reported 51,088 additional confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 842 fatalities from COVID-19, its Health Ministry said on Tuesday, marking the highest death toll since Nov. 14.
The South American country has now registered 6,674,999 cases since the pandemic began, while its official death toll has risen to 178,159, according to ministry data. Brazil has the world’s third highest case count, after the United States and India, and second highest death toll.
Easing quarantines in Brazilian cities have led to crowded bars and restaurants, giving some the impression that life has returned to normal. With the approaching holiday season, experts worry that COVID-19 will spread even faster.
9h ago / 5:16 PM UTC
Facebook removes some large health misinformation pages
Facebook has removed several large pages associated with a coordinated network of websites pushing health misinformation around natural cures and vaccines.
The removal of at least nine pages follows new research from the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan public policy think tank. The GMU research linked the networks back to five so-called alternative health websites, which they found operating 20 Facebook pages with a combined 65 million followers.
The most popular removed Facebook page, The Idealist, had 16 million followers and mixed funny or inspirational posts alongside links to the junk news websites, a common growth tactic of spammers. The websites garnered more than 71 million interactions on Facebook this year, according to the research.
The websites behind the network have a history of publishing content that misleads readers about health topics, including misinformation about vaccines and false claims that the flu vaccine is dangerous.
The pages flagged by GMF were removed under Facebook’s spam policies, according to company spokesperson Andy Stone.
The removal comes as Facebook faces pressure to contain health misinformation around the pandemic and as Covid-19 cases and deaths spike around the country. In the last month, Facebook has removed several of the largest anti-vaccination pages and groups, and announced it would start removing false claims about Covid-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts.
“Content from the sites our researchers found swamped information coming from authoritative sites like the CDC and WHO — nearly 10 to 1,” said Karen Kornbluh, GMF’s senior fellow and director of its Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative. “It undermines faith in scientific and medical experts and softens the ground for more dangerous conspiracy theories.”
9h ago / 4:55 PM UTC
American Airlines offering at-home Covid-19 tests for travelers flying to U.S. states with restrictions
American Airlines passengers, starting Wednesday, are able to purchase at-home Covid-19 testing kits if they are planning to fly to a U.S. state with coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
The domestic preflight testing program was announced by the airline on Tuesday in partnership with LetsGetChecked, a company that offers a variety of health-related at-home tests. Customers can purchase the testing kits for travel on or after December 12.
American Airlines previously offered at-home Covid-19 testing kits for travelers flying to international destinations that required a negative test prior to or upon arrival.
“We’ve made great strides to help open international travel with our testing partners, and we recognize the need for similar domestic travel solutions,” Chief Customer Officer for American Airlines Alison Taylor said in a press release. “As travel requirements continue to quickly evolve, we’re simplifying the research and COVID-19 testing fulfillment process for an overall more seamless travel experience.”
The airline said it will continue working with LetsGetChecked to expand the testing as state requirements change. Currently, 14 U.S. states of territories have Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the airline industry. In late September, as many as 50,000 airline workers were furloughed and tens of thousands were laid off after Congress failed to pass relief aid to the industry.
9h ago / 5:34 PM UTC
Health Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
The Canadian government, on Wednesday announced the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19.
Health Canada said the vaccine was submitted for review on October 9 and “after a thorough, independent review of the evidence, Health Canada has determined that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine meets the Department’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements for use in Canada.”
The vaccine is indicated for use in patients ages 16 and up. “Pfizer-BioNTech are running further clinical trials on children of all age groups and the indication could be revised in the future to include children if the data from these studies support it,” Health Canada wrote.
David K. Li
7h ago / 7:32 PM UTC
Coach K wonders out loud: Should college basketball be played in pandemic?
Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on Tuesday night questioned whether his sport should be played, as America embarks on what’s feared to be a dark winter of coronavirus spread.
“I don’t think it feels right to anybody,” Krzyzewski said following his team’s 83-68 loss to Illinois. “I mean everyone is concerned.”
Krzyzewski stopped short of calling for a halt to college basketball. But he seemed to hint the sport could stop temporarily, as vaccinations roll out in early 2021.
“You have 2,000 deaths a day,” said Krzyzewski, who leads all active coaches in wins. “You have 200,000 cases, a million and a half last week. You have people saying that the next six weeks are going be the worst. To me, it’s already pretty bad. And on the other side of it, there are these vaccines that are coming out that where people say by the end of the month 20 million vaccine shots will be given, especially to our healthcare (workers) and the other who need it. By the end of January or in February, another 100 million. Well, should we not reassess that? And see just what would be best?”
The NCAA’s wildly popular postseason basketball tournament, known as March Madness, was one of the first major cultural casualties of the pandemic earlier this year. The annual competition is usually held in cities across America, but the NCAA announced last month that its 2021 tournament would be played entirely in one region, so to limit travel and lessen the chance of spread.
10h ago / 4:31 PM UTC
Texas launches program to provide Covid-19 rapid tests to small businesses
Texas announced a program to provide Covid-19 rapid tests to the state’s small businesses in an effort to keep them open during the pandemic.
Governor Greg Abbott announced the program on Monday in partnership with the Texas Department of Emergency Management. The program will provide testing supplies to small businesses who choose to participate in the program, allowing them to administer rapid tests to their employees.
“This effective strategy will help us detect and mitigate this virus while ensuring that Texas remains safely open for business,” Governor Abbott said in a press release.
The launch will include participation from Chamber of Commerce organizations in Amarillo, Edinburg, El Paso, Laredo and Lubbock with plans to ramp up the program across the state. The program is similar to one designed for the Texas school system that provided access to rapid tests for all teachers in the state, which was implemented in October.
Texas has reported more than 1.3 million cases and more than 23,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to the latest NBC News data. It is just one of three U.S. states that has reported more than one million cases, the data shows.
The Associated Press
10h ago / 3:44 PM UTC
U.K. probing if allergic reactions linked to Pfizer vaccine
LONDON — British regulators warned Wednesday that people who have a history of serious allergic reactions shouldn’t receive the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as they investigate two adverse reactions that occurred on the first day of the country’s mass vaccination program.
The U.K.’s Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is looking into whether the reactions were linked to the vaccine. The two people affected were staff members with the National Health Service who had a history of allergies, and both are recovering. Authorities have not specified what their reactions were.
In the meantime, the regulator has issued the warning for anyone who has had a significant allergic reaction to a vaccine, medicine or food. That includes anyone who has been told to carry an adrenaline shot or others who have had potentially fatal allergic reactions.
11h ago / 3:33 PM UTC
Britain settles in for arduous reality of coronavirus vaccination after euphoria of being first
LONDON — Now the camera flashes have stopped, an arduous journey begins.
The United Kingdom drew the gaze of the world Tuesday by administering the first clinically approved vaccine to patients. It was a rare moment of optimism in a hellish year.
But for all the morale-boosting symbolism and political tubthumping, this vaccine will make little practical difference to the vast majority of people for months to come.
A procession of mostly elderly patients — one memorably named William Shakespeare — earned rounds of applause and global attention as the first recipients of this groundbreaking medicine. But British doctors and nurses now face an unglamorous slog this winter that will be repeated in countries across the world.
The number of people receiving shots will be low at first — and it will take time to make any dent in a pandemic that’s killed more than 62,000 people in the U.K. and more than 1.5 million around the world.
11h ago / 3:14 PM UTC
Santa’s gone remote, but video calls take some extra magic
Santa Claus is just like the rest of us in the pandemic, pivoting to remote, practicing social distancing, and working harder for the same pay.
Men who professionally portray Santa estimate they have seen a 30 to 50 percent drop in income from doing video call visits instead of a traditional mall, retail, or hired event, all while putting in as many hours.
Some say they miss the old magic. “I can’t hold babies, I don’t have any children on my knee,” one Santa said.
And, like everyone else, Santas are weighing their choices and risks. One Santa portrayal artist said he turns down multiple requests per week from families contacting him through a gig message board who want a completely “old-fashioned” experience.
“They’re looking for Santa to come to the house for an hour. Five kids and 20 adults, and they want the kids to sit on Santa’s knee without a mask,” he said.
“I get where you’re coming from, and feel for you folks,” he said. “But let’s try again next year.”