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Post: Jan. 3, 2021

COVID and “Winter Cluster Plan” Update

Governor Cuomo issues a press release yesterday afternoon providing an overview of New York’s COVID-19 tracking data from Saturday, January 2nd. 

Hospitalization tracking data for the Mid-Hudson region and the rest of the State are below.  

  • Hospitalizations Statewide
    • Patients Currently in Hospital =  7963
    • COVID Hospitalizations as Percent of  Population =  .004%
    • Percent of Hospital Beds Available in State  = 30%
  • Hospitalizations Mid-Hudson Region: 
    • Patients Currently in Hospital in Region   =  926
    • COVID Hospitalizations as Percent of Region Population =  .004%
    • Percent of Hospital Beds Available in Region  = 34%
  • ICU Beds Statewide
    • Total ICU Beds   =  5720
    • Occupied ICU Beds =  4035
    • Percent of ICU Beds Available  = 29%
  • ICU Beds Mid-Hudson Region: 
    • Total ICU Beds   =  687
    • Occupied ICU Beds =  414
    • Percent of ICU Beds Available  =39%
  • Transmission Rate (R0): 1.02
  • Statewide Positivity Rate: 7.98%

Here are some useful websites:

Senate Overrides Trump’s Veto of NDAA Defense Bill

The Senate voted to override President Trump’s veto of a $740.5 billion defense bill Saturday 81-13.  The National Defense Authorization Act is an annual measure that secures hazard-pay raises for troops and authorizes funds for aircraft, ships, nuclear weapons, and other national-security programs. Mr. Trump had threatened to veto this year’s bill before it passed Congress, but lawmakers had moved forward anyway, approving it with wide majorities.

Mr. Trump has objected to several provisions in this year’s NDAA. He has criticized it for including measures that would strip military bases of names honoring Confederate military leaders and regulate troop withdrawals he has sought in Afghanistan and Germany. 

Read more at the WSJ

Georgia Senate Runoff Election

Georgia’s Senate run-off elections arrive tomorrow after a whirlwind two-month campaign that smashed fundraising records, inspired historic voter turnout, bombarded the airwaves with ads, and loomed over congressional negotiations on major spending legislation.

The stakes may never have been higher in such a narrow election. Amid President Donald Trump’s incessant attacks on Georgia’s election integrity, four people are seeking two seats that will determine which party controls the Senate. For President-elect Joe Biden, nothing less than his entire agenda is on the table.

Empire Center: NYS Summary of COVID-19 Contact Tracing Data Raises More Questions Than It Answers

The Empire Center’s Bill Hammond writes that as part of his Dec. 11 briefing, Gov. Cuomo shared a table listing the percentages of 46,000 COVID-19 cases that contact tracers had linked to various exposure sources in September, October and November. Topping the list was a category called “household/social gatherings,” which was said to account for 73.84 percent of the traced cases. “Healthcare delivery” was second at 7.81 percent, followed by “higher education student” at 2.02 percent, “restaurants & bars” at 1.43 percent and another 26 groupings with lower percentages.

Cuomo cited the high number for “household/social gatherings” as bolstering his policy against in-home parties of more than 10. But the category in question seemed to encompass a range of possibilities, including transmission within a household (say, from a husband to a wife, or a child to a parent) as well as get-togethers involving outside guests. Lumping these two common scenarios together made it difficult to judge the risk of either exposure source on its own.

Read more at Empire Center

Unemployment Claims Fall

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week but remain elevated more than nine months into the health and economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.  Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slid to a seasonally adjusted 787,000 for the week ended Dec. 26, compared with 806,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 833,000 applications in the latest week.

Though jobless claims have dropped from a record 6.867 million in March, they have held persistently above their 665,000 peak hit during the 2007-09 Great Recession. The weekly unemployment claims report, the most timely data on the economy’s health, aligns with other recent weak economic reports, including a decline in consumer confidence to a four-month low in December and drops in both consumer spending and income last month.

Read more at Reuters

Covid-19 Vaccine’s Slow Rollout Could Portend More Problems

Of the more than 12 million doses of vaccines from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. with BioNTech SE that have been shipped, only 2.8 million have been administered, according to federal figures. 

Public health officials and states say uptake is lagging for several reasons, beginning with holiday seasons that have kept staff of hospitals and nursing homes away from work. They also note they are facing high percentages of people, including some health-care workers, who are skeptical of taking the shots.  Hospitals and other sites are staggering appointments to avoid pulling too many workers from caring for patients amid a nationwide surge in Covid-19 cases. Administration of the vaccines also takes more time than a typical flu shot, particularly since they are being done in a socially distant way and may be preceded by a Covid-19 test.  In addition, people who receive vaccines are being monitored for at least 15 minutes in case of allergic reactions. 

Read more at the WSJ

Vaccine Tracker Now Available On Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center has launched a tracking tool to offer daily updates and nationwide perspective on the progress of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in the United States.

The vaccine tracker shows the latest numbers for doses administered by U.S. states that have started to make this data available. As of Monday, Dec. 21, data for 21 states is included, and the tracker will expand as more states make this data available, new vaccines are approved, and consistent data standards are established.

National Geographic: What We’ve Learned About How Our Immune System Fights COVID-19

Scientists have made significant strides in understanding one of the pandemic’s biggest mysteries: Why some people recover quickly while others develop severe cases of the coronavirus.
Twelve months of study have shown that our bodies, in many cases, develop a robust and persistent immune response to SARS-CoV-2, but for some people with severe cases, it can go haywire and hurts more than helps.

Our fundamental comprehension of immune responses to the coronavirus has grown significantly, but more questions—like the longevity of immunity—are still to be answered, especially amid concerns that mutations may help SARS-CoV-2 evade our immunological defenses. With vaccination on the horizon for many at-risk individuals, the immune response’s intricacies are even more critical to understand.

Read more at NatGeo

SARS-CoV-2 Variants are Optimized for Spreading – Following the Evolutionary Rule Book

Natural selection is a powerful force. In circumstances that are still disputed, it took a bat coronavirus and adapted it to people instead. The result has spread around the globe. Now, in two independent but coincidental events, it has modified that virus still further, creating new variants which are displacing the original versions. It looks possible that one or other of these novel viruses will itself soon become a dominant form of sars-cov-2.

So far, the evidence suggests that despite their extra transmissibility, neither new variant is more dangerous on a case-by-case basis than existing versions of the virus. In this, both are travelling the path predicted by evolutionary biologists to lead to long-term success for a new pathogen—which is to become more contagious (which increases the chance of onward transmission) rather than more deadly (which reduces it). And the speed with which they have spread is impressive.

Read more in The Economist