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New York Declares State of Emergency After Finding Polio Virus in Wastewater

New York declared a state of emergency Friday after detecting polio virus in Long Island wastewater. The discovery in Nassau County, Long Island, signals a more extensive virus spread within the state’s population.

In July, Rockland County confirmed the first case of polio in the United States since 1993. The county is less than 50 miles from New York City. Officials began testing waters in surrounding counties shortly after and found the virus in Orange and Sullivan counties’ wastewater.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T Basset warns that one observed case of the paralytic disease usually signals hundreds of asymptomatic infected individuals. Even if an infected individual is asymptomatic, they may be contagious for days to weeks.

“Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected.”

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Polio is highly contagious. If infected, most people will have mild or no symptoms. A smaller percentage of infected individuals may develop more severe symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord. According to the state’s health department, “New Yorkers should know that paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio because it can lead to permanent disability and death.”

The World Health Organization states that one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among the most vulnerable are children under five, who comprise a large percentage of the infected population.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Friday to expand the medical personnel who can administer the vaccine. EMS workers, midwives and pharmacists will be able to vaccinate individuals. Health care providers will also need to send immunization data to the New York State Department of Health so that officials can determine which counties are at the most risk and have the highest vaccine demand.

Officials are urging the public to vaccinate if they have not already done so. Dr. Basset told the public Friday, “do not wait to vaccinate” and “on polio, we simply cannot roll the dice.”

“If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real.”

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Children can be vaccinated if they are two months or older. The statewide polio vaccination rate sits at around 79%. The counties with contaminated wastewater all had lower rates of vaccinations, and the confirmed case in July was in an unvaccinated adult.

Polio spreads through person-to-person contact. In the 1940s, polio disabled an average of more than 35,000 individuals and caused 15,000 cases of paralysis a year. Due to a widespread vaccine campaign beginning in 1955, polio cases fell to less than 100 in the 1960s.

People most susceptible to infection are those who never had the polio vaccine, who never completed the vaccine regimen or those who will be traveling to areas that could put them at a high risk of catching the virus.

Study Says Merck COVID-19 Pill Cuts Risks Of Hospitalization, Death In Half

According to results of a clinical trial released, an experimental COVID-19 pill known as molnupiravir could assist in cutting the chances of hospitalization or death for at-risk patients by up to 50%.

Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company that developed the pill in partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, announced in a press release that it is planning to submit an application for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Merck stated that it expects to produce 10 million courses of molnupiravir by the end of 2021, with more courses on the way in 2022.

Back in June, Merck announced a procurement agreement with the U.S. Government, where the company would supply 1.7 million molnupiravir courses at the cost of $1.2 billion. Merck is also discussing supply and purchase agreements with other governments worldwide.

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If the EUA is approved by the FDA, molnupiravir will be the first oral medicine made available to combat the risks of COVID-19. The pill will require a prescription, and is intended for those with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

ScienceDaily detailed how molnupiravir works, with the agent targeting the RNA genomes of the COVID-19 virus:

“When it [Molnupiravir] enters the cell, it is converted into RNA-like building blocks. In the first phase, the viral copying machine, called RNA polymerase, incorporates these building blocks into the RNA genome of the virus. However, unlike Remdesivir, which slows down the viral RNA polymerase, Molnupiravir does not directly interfere with the function of the copying machine. Instead, in the second phase, the RNA-like building blocks connect with the building blocks of the viral genetic material.”

Thanks to multiple mutations in the replications of viral RNA, pathogens are thus rendered unreproducible.

Merck noted that in their “MOVe-OUT” study, which consisted of 1,550 patients with varying COVID-19 symptoms and underlying conditions, only 7.3% of participants (28 out of 385) who received molnupiravir were hospitalized or died.

That number was significantly lower than the 14.1% of participants (53 out of 377) who were hospitalized or died while being treated with placebo. Additionally, no molnupiravir patients died through the 29th day, as opposed to eight placebo deaths.

Wendy Holman, the chief executive officer of Ridgeback, stressed how important it is to have a form of antiviral medicine that isn’t intertwined with healthcare facilities, which are currently swamped with COVID-19 related cases.

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According to Our World In Data, there are over 71,000 COVID-19 patients that are currently hospitalized in the United States. Despite hitting just around the 12,000s in July, the lowest hospitalization total in over a year, the U.S. saw that number skyrocket to nearly 99,000 in early September.

For a country that has dealt with wave after wave of the virus for months on end, it is hard not to be excited by the game-changing developments that molnupiravir could bring. It’s easy-to-obtain, practical nature could be attractive to those who have been hesitant of vaccination, or cannot take the vaccine for medical or personal reasons.

While vaccines remain the best method of protection against COVID-19, alternatives in any form are sorely needed in order to help speed up recovery processes and assist in preventing deadlier cases.

Merck and Ridgeback are not the only pharmaceuticals that have been developing COVID-19 oral drugs. Pfizer Inc., which started the first phase of their oral agent in March, is close to reporting clinical trial results, as is Swiss Roche Pharmaceuticals.

According to Retuers, Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Pardes Biosciences, and Japan-based Shionogi & Co. are all in the processes of producing oral treatments as well. Rest assured, there should be no shortage of medicine such as molnupiravir.

Dr. Fauci Claims It May Take ‘Many More Vaccine Mandates’ To End Covid-19 Pandemic

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently spoke about the current rate of vaccination in America, claiming that millions of Americans still need to get their vaccinations in order to slow or stop the spread of Covid-19.

President Biden Announces New Vaccine Mandate For Working Americans 

President Joe Biden announced this week that he would be imposing a new stringent set of vaccine requirements for federal workers, large employers, and health care staff in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. 

The new requirement is set to apply to over 100 million Americans; about two-thirds of the workforce in the nation. 

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us. Vaccinated America is growing frustrated with the 80 million people who have not received shots and are fueling the spread of the virus. While America is in much better shape than it was seven months ago when I took office, I need to tell you a second fact: We’re in a tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said.

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The new plan requires the Labor Department to force businesses with 100 or more employees to either get everyone vaccinated or get tested once a week. Companies that refuse could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee who refuses to comply.

Biden also signed an executive order that requires every government employee to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and they can’t opt for regular testing. The same standard will also be applied to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government. 

“300,000 educators in federal Head Start programs must be vaccinated, governors need to require vaccinations for school teachers and staff. The 17 million health care workers at facilities receiving funds from Medicare and Medicaid will also need to be fully vaccinated, we’re expanding the mandate to hospitals, home care facilities and dialysis centers around the country. We have the tools to combat the virus if we come together to use those tools,” Biden said.

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The new “emergency temporary standard” from the Labor Department will also require all large employers to give their employees paid time off to receive their vaccines if they haven’t done so yet.  “If businesses don’t comply, the government will take enforcement actions, which could include substantial fines up to nearly $14,000 per violation,” according to officials.

“Each employer will decide exactly what they want to do, but what we’re saying through the Department of Labor rule making process is a minimum of testing once a week or full vaccination,” a senior administration official said.

“Federal employees will have 75 days to get vaccinated or risk being fired. The expectation is if you want to work in the federal government or want to be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated,” press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Additionally, Biden announced a slew of new health and safety measures as a means of slowing the spread of the Delta variant. The Defense Production Act will be evoked in order to accelerate the production of rapid Covid tests. The administration is hoping to send 25 million free tests to US health clinics. 

Biden overall unveiled a six-pillar plan to cobatting the pandemic. According to reports, “The six pillars of Biden’s plan include: vaccinating the unvaccinated; further protecting the vaccinated through booster shots; keeping schools open; increasing testing and requiring masks; protecting the economic recovery; and improving care for those with Covid-19.”

USA Covid-19 Virus

US Hits 40 Million Cases Of Covid-19, 4 Million Of Which Were Reported This Month Alone

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the US has now tallied more than 40 million Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with 4 million of them being reported within the last four weeks alone.

American Airlines

United Airlines Now Requiring All US Employees To Get Covid-19 Vaccinations 

United Airlines will now require all of its 67,000 US employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 by October 25th or they will risk termination. This is a first for major US travel agencies that will likely ramp up the pressure for rival services. 

Airlines have mainly been offering incentives for vaccinated employees, like extra pay or time off for being inoculated. Delta Air Lines in May started requiring all new employees show proof of vaccination in order to get hired and United followed suit in June. 

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United’s requirements mark the strictest mandate implemented by a travel service in the US so far. Other companies like Facebook and Walmart have announced that they are requiring all corporate employees to show proof of vaccination before returning to the office. 

 United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart sent out a note to all employees this Friday detailing why this requirement is so important for the future of the company and air travel in general. 

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”

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The note detailed that United Airlines employees must upload proof that they received either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s single dose five weeks after federal officials give them approval, or by October 25th, whichever comes first. 

The mandate will not apply to regional airlines that fly shorter express flights for United. 

About 90% of all pilots and 80% of all flight attendants working for United Airlines claim to already be fully vaccinated, according to company officials. So the mandate is more so for employees working on the ground in the airports who see tens of thousands of flyers every day. 

About 60% of all American Airlines pilots are also vaccinated, according to a letter from the company’s union, the Allied Pilots Association, which has been working to get more employees vaccinated. 

The rise in Covid-19 cases last fall combined with the new highly-contagious Delta variant is motivating travel employees to create new ways to protect themselves from future travel. Time will tell what other agencies will follow United’s lead in terms of vaccination requirements.

CDC Claims Covid-19 Delta Variant Is As Transmissible As Chickenpox

The US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an internal document this week that claims the Delta variant of the coronavirus is as contagious as chickenpox and could cause severe illness. 

The variant was already more likely to impact vaccinated Americans as well, which is why the report went on to explain that the CDC will be reversing their current mask guidelines for vaccinated Americans and will likely enforce all citizens to wear masks in public again. 

Previously the CDC said it was okay for vaccinated individuals to be unmasked indoors. Data has proven that the vaccines are still highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death in vaccinated people against the variants. 

The report claimed that the Delta variant is more transmissible than the viruses caused by MERS, SARS, Ebola, the common cold, flu, and smallpox. 

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CDC director Rochelle Walensky told the New York Times that new research was showing vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant carried a majority of the virus in their nose and throats. 

Officials in general have been warning Americans about major increases in new Covid-19 infections all throughout the nation; particularly among unvaccinated individuals.

Vaccine hesitancy is prominent throughout the entire country, fueled largely by a slew of misinformation that has been spreading about Covid-19 since the Trump administration. Federal employees in Washington are either to get vaccinated or be subject to multiple Covid tests a week, these types of requirements will likely appear throughout multiple industries as the pandemic continues. 

The Biden Administration recently called on state and local government leaders to offer $100 stimulus payments for newly vaccinated Americans; which would be funded by the $350 billion federal aid grant approved of under the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Former Surgeon General Says Unvaccinated Americans Are Causing Pandemic To ‘Spiral Out Of Control’ 

Former surgeon general Vice Admiral Dr. Jerome Adams recently spoke to the media about how unvaccinated Americans are causing the coronavirus pandemic to “spiral out of control.”

In an interview with CBS, Adams urged all unvaccinated Americans to go get their inoculations as the highly contagious Delta variant is a growing problem in the nation.

“There’s also real harm to you because, guess what? More mitigation is coming, whether it’s masking or whether it’s closures or whether it’s your kids having to return to virtual learning, that is coming.”

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Adams then explained how more legal mitigation would be “coming because this pandemic is spiraling out of control yet again, and it’s spiraling out of control because we don’t have enough people vaccinated. So get vaccinated because it helps your neighbors, but get vaccinated because it’s going to help every single American enjoy the freedoms that we want to return to.”

All 50 states have seen a ride in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and the Delta variant is responsible for around 83% of those new cases. The variant has also proven to be a significant rest among the unvaccinated; currently unvaccinated individuals account for nearly all Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already updated their national guidance and has recommended that all Americans should continue to wear their masks when in public. 

“If you’re out in public, if you’re around people who you don’t know whether they’re vaccinated or not, and especially if you’re in a community where prevalence is going up … it is probably going to be safest for you to mask it whether or not you’re vaccinated or not.”

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“Your public health officials who don’t have a good way of knowing, or your businesses who don’t have a good way of knowing who’s vaccinated or not, they’re going to find that they have no other choice but to call on more people to mask it. And the CDC needs to give those businesses, those health officials, a little bit of cover by clarifying the guidance that they have out there,” Adams explained. 

According to the CDC just under 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while 57.3% of every American over the age of 12 has received their shots. 

Adams said there are many people “who have legitimate questions and who have legitimate barriers that have kept them from getting their vaccines, but also said the lack of full approval of the vaccines from the Food and Drug Administration is also a hurdle.”

“We still have no clear timetable on when we can expect FDA licensure of these vaccines for adults. And a lot of people say that that is still causing their hesitancy, number one,” he said. 

“But number two, I can tell you the quickest way to get people vaccinated is through mandates. And we can’t have mask mandates. We won’t — you’re hearing this from the military and from other businesses until you have full licensure of these vaccines. So if you want to get a bunch of people vaccinated, really quickly, get the vaccines licensed and then you’ll see the military make it mandatory. You’ll see businesses make it mandatory.”

Facebook Remains Under Fire For Continuously Spreading Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation 

President Joe Biden called out tech giants and social media platforms like Facebook for failing to tackle the problem of misinformation being spread regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. The White House released a statement in which they claimed to have zeroed in on the “disinformation dozen,” which is in reference to 12 major social media accounts that have shown to be responsible for spreading a majority of the anti-vaccine misinformation online. 

“Facebook has repeatedly said it is going to take action, but in reality we have seen a piecemeal enforcement of its own community standards where some accounts are taken off Instagram but not Facebook and vice versa. There has been a systemic failure to address this,” said Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the organization behind the “disinformation dozen” study.

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The report identified 12 “superspreader accounts,” and a Facebook spokesperson claims the company has permanently banned all pages groups and accounts that “repeatedly break the rules on Covid misinformation including more than a dozen pages groups and accounts from these individuals.”

The CCDH confirmed that they have removed 35 accounts across multiple social media platforms so far. There are currently about 8.4 million followers spread across 62 active accounts that are still spreading anti-vaccine misinformation.

The main issue with these accounts is the amount of followers who believe that the information is real. Many of these accounts post false facts about the vaccine that claim its unsafe, ineffective, and not worth getting despite the overwhelming amount of evidence from a multitude of studies on these vaccines before they were distributed to the public. 

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Jessica Gonzalez is the co-CEO at Free Pass, a media equity group, who recently spoke out about how a lot of these posts are prevalent on Spanish-language Facebook.

“Facebook needs a much better mechanism to stop the spread of false information about the vaccine, and they need to make sure they’re doing that across languages. It’s difficult to gauge the scope of the issue when Facebook doesn’t share figures.”

According to the social media watchdog Accountable Tech, “11 out of the top 15 vaccine related-posts on Facebook last week contained disinformation or were anti-vaccine.”

Vaccination rates in the US are currently plateauing as new cases continue to rise among unvaccinated individuals almost exclusively. 67% of Americans have received at least one vaccination and 58% are fully vaccinated. 

“Action needs to be taken regarding vaccine misinformation. Social media has greatly contributed to this misinformation – there’s no doubt. When we have a public health crisis and people are dying every day, enough is enough,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Disneyland Sign

Disney’s US Parks To Remove Mask Mandates For Vaccinated Individuals 

Starting this Tuesday, June 15th, both Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, are lifting their mask mandates for fully individuals who decide to visit their parks from this point forward. Disney also revealed that they won’t even be asking for proof of vaccination. 

Disneyland’s site posted this week that “while guests will not be required to show proof of vaccination, vaccinated guests with self-attest that they are in compliance prior to entry.”

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“In addition, all guests will need to attest that they are aware of the state of California’s strong recommendation that guests be fully vaccinated or receive a negative covid-19 test prior to entering the theme parks.” 

The Disneyland page also reads: “Guests (ages 2 and up) who are not fully vaccinated must continue wearing face coverings indoors, except when dining.” 

Disney World, on the other hand, told their guests this week: “While we will not require proof of vaccination, we expect guests who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, and upon entering and throughout all attractions and transportation. Guests must observe current policies on face coverings until June 15.”

Both parks add that Disney “encourages[s] people to get vaccinated. Physical distancing will also be relaxed or self-determined at both parks, and temperature checks will no longer take place at Disneyland where out-of-state guests will officially be allowed back as well. One thing that’s not changing is the reservations—guests still can’t just show up to the parks unannounced, they must have previous reservations to get in,” according to reports from Gizmodo Magazine. 

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June 15th is the official date that the state of California decided on for removing all restrictions put in place over the past year in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Disney parks themselves have been reopened within the past few months as vaccination efforts have increased in the US as well. 

Germain Lussier is an entertainment writer who recently visited Disneyland this weekend to get one last look at the park before the mask mandates are fully lifted. 

“Having personally been to Disneyland this past weekend, while masks seemed to be monitored well, distancing was only partially enforced, simply because there aren’t enough Disney employees to check every place in the park. Also, no one checked to make sure I was a California resident. So half of this was already self-determined by the guests anyway which is probably not the safest way to operate.”

It’s important to remember that even if you’re vaccinated, you can still carry and spread Covid-19, you’re just much less likely to get sick yourself. So continue to take all the precautions you find necessary in the coming months as the world begins to reopen and we all navigate the rest of this year.