The CDC’s suggestion to block middle seats on planes is flawed but I’m still in favor of it after taking 32 flights during the pandemic

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
My blocked middle seat and me.

  • Airlines are rejecting the CDC’s study suggesting blocking middle seats, citing newer findings.
  • Blocking middle seats, however, serve as a peace of mind measure for those returning to flying.
  • Not all airlines are following some of the recommendations of the studies they tout.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Airlines seemed to flat out reject a new suggestion from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday that middle seats should be blocked in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The airlines cited more recent studies that prove the efficacy of mask-wearing and air filters on aircraft.

“Since the onset of this crisis, U.S. airlines have relied on science, research and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the trade organization Airlines for America, which represents the likes of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, told Insider.

“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” the organization said.

Delta is currently the last airline to still block middle seats but will stop doing so on May 1, the longest run of any US airline to block seats. The CDC’s study hasn’t deterred the airline either, which held firm on the policy shift when asked by CNBC on Thursday.

“Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said.

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Airlines and at least one aviation expert agree that the CDC study is flawed in multiple aspects including that it was performed in 2017 using maskless mannequins – while wearing masks on an airplane is now mandated by federal law – and wasn’t conducted on an actual airplane, unlike more recent studies.

But science aside, blocking middle seats served a valuable purpose during the pandemic: inspiring peace of mind among travelers returning to flying after months of being grounded.

My experience with blocked middle seats

I’m a life-long flyer and returning to the skies in June 2020 was not an easy decision. Like many, I’d feared catching the novel coronavirus and had a brief moment of panic when I boarded my first flight amid the pandemic.

I was lucky to be flying Delta, however, as I’m sure my panic would have been worsened if I was on a packed plane.

More Americans are returning to flying, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, and awaiting them come May are crowded flights now that every major US airline is filling aircraft to capacity. Plus, what traveler doesn’t appreciate having more room to spread out with an open middle seat?

I do realize that airlines need to be profitable in order for me to keep enjoying their services. Delta, after all, estimated that it lost up to $150 million in potential revenue from blocking seats in March.

But, not all of the country is vaccinated and even those that are still might not feel comfortable with being packed into a plane.

My hope is that airlines giving up on seat-block will double down on other efforts to drive home the fact that flying is safe. I’ve seen this on airlines like Delta and United but some have a way to come in their efforts.

The findings of studies promoting air travel as safe are predicated on airlines following their recommended precautions. But even the industry-funded study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health specifically gives recommendations that some airlines aren’t following or enforcing.

One recommendation, for example, states: “Reduce the density of passengers embarking/disembarking the jet bridge at any one time.” Southwest Airlines just reverted to boarding in groups of 30 and doesn’t install social distancing placards, as Insider found on recent Southwest flights in February, even though the study recommends as much.

The Harvard study also mentions, “When one passenger briefly removes a mask to eat or drink, other passengers in close proximity should keep their masks on,” a rule not mandated by most US airlines.

So while crowded flights are here once more and justified by science, airlines aren’t completely off the hook and will still need to do their utmost to keep flyers safe.

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Delta CEO Ed Bastian declares ‘it’s absolutely safe to sit in the middle seat’ in defiance of CDC suggesting airlines should block them

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

  • Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said on CNBC Thursday flying in the middle seat is “absolutely safe.”
  • The airline will fill planes to capacity starting May 1 in an end to the year-long seat-blocking policy.
  • Guiding the airline’s decision are experts from the Mayo Clinic and Emory University.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Delta Air Lines is holding firm on its commitment to end a year-long middle seat block despite a newly released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends keeping middle seats open to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

CEO Ed Bastian appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Thursday morning and criticized the report’s shortcoming when asked, saying: “Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat.”

Guiding Delta’s decision, according to Bastian, are experts from the Mayo Clinic, Emory University, and Delta Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting, formerly of the Mayo Clinic. The airline deferred to trade organization Airlines for America when asked for comment on the CDC report.

“Since the onset of this crisis, US airlines have relied on science, research, and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement to Insider. “Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low. “

Read more: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that the CDC study and its release were flawed for multiple reasons, chiefly because it doesn’t take into account the new realities of travel. Researchers ran the trials in 2017 using maskless mannequins while masks are now mandatory in airplanes under federal law.

Harteveldt and airlines instead point to more recent studies, including one by the US Department of Defense where masked mannequins were tested onboard a United Airlines wide-body aircraft. Airlines similarly tout a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study that declares the risk of air travel to be “below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out” when precautions are taken.

Both support the claims by airlines that flying is safe thanks to measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, regardless of whether seats are blocked. Harteveldt noted, however, that the Harvard study was funded by the airline industry while the DOD study was not.

Delta was an early and ardent adopter of the seat-blocking policy and kept seats blocked the longest of any major US airline, most of which started filling planes in late 2020. The policy cost Delta up to $150 million in potential revenue in March but even still, the month was successful as the airline saw positive daily cash flow thanks to a surge in travelers.

“Thanks to the incredible efforts of our people, we achieved positive daily cash generation in the month of March, a remarkable accomplishment considering our middle seat block and the low level of demand for business and international travel,” Bastian said in an earnings statement, adding that he expects the airline to be profitable once more in September.

Come May 1, however, the American traveling public will not have an option to travel on a major commercial airline where middle seats are blocked.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why every major US airline will ignore the CDC’s new suggestion to block middle seats

CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Airlines will likely not be blocking middle seats despite a new CDC recommendation.
  • Mask-wearing policies and high-efficiency particulate air filters have greatly reduced onboard outbreaks.
  • Airlines have also begun selling summer flights based on flights being sold to capacity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Airlines are not convinced by the newly-released report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says blocking middle seats will better reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, more so than what they’re doing now.

All major US airlines, confident in measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, are moving away from the practice with no signs of reverting back to it while others never adopted it and are not likely to. Delta Air Lines is the last hold out with its policy slated to end on May 1.

But the reasoning goes well beyond the desire of airlines to turn a profit by filling planes.

“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” Airlines for America, the trade organization representing many of the country’s major airlines including Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines, said in a statement to Insider.

Airlines are already walking a fine line to prevent an onboard outbreak while trying to get flyers to come back. If an outbreak were to occur, the industry could go right back to where it was in March 2020 with mass cancellations and billions of dollars being lost.

Masks have been required onboard commercial airline flights for almost a year now and any major outbreak would have been well noted and investigated. The 2017 study also doesn’t take into account the measures being taken by airlines, one industry expert says.

“This is months-old data that overlooks a lot of changes in the real world policies and practices that the air transport industry has implemented since the study was first conducted,” Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, said of the just-released CDC report. Researchers ran the tests in a laboratory setting using mannequins that were not wearing face masks.

More recent studies from the US Department of Defense and Harvard School of Public Health better-simulated pandemic conditions by using actual airplanes – the DOD partnered with United Airlines and used commercial aircraft, for example – and by masking up the mannequins.

Harteveldt noted that each stud likely isn’t perfect, as the Harvard study was industry-funded. And while the DOD study is more dependable, it only used wide-body aircraft for its testing, a factor that Harteveldt says isn’t a major limiting issue considering the filtration systems are comparable on narrow-body aircraft.

Reverting back to the days of blocking middle seats would also wreak havoc on airlines that have begun selling tickets on planes to capacity for the summer.

“If you were to tell a passenger now, ‘oh, we have to rebook your vacation because we’re blocking middle seats,’ I think you’d have a lot of upset travelers,” Harteveldt said, noting airlines would like demand compensation from the government if it became law.

Travelers have indicated time and time again that they’re willing to fly on any airline if the price is right, regardless of the seat block. American Airlines and United Airlines had no trouble filling some flights in the first summer of the pandemic when flights were sold to capacity, as Insider found on multiple flights in June 2020.

“The consumers went where they could get the flights and fares that they could afford,” Harteveldt said. “And this was before vaccines were available and before wearing a mask was a federal mandate.”

Delta Air Lines is set to end its middle-seat block on May 1, at which point none of the 11 major US airlines will offer the policy. Airlines are also not alone as Amtrak and Megabus have also announced definitive ends to their seat blocking policies, as well.

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Crowded flights are back and here to stay.

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Johnson & Johnson takes over COVID-19 vaccine production at Baltimore plant after 15 million doses were ruined

johnson and johnson covid vaccine
Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine is delivered as a single shot, while both Pfizer and Moderna’s require two jabs.

  • Johnson & Johnson has been put in charge of COVID-19 vaccine production at a Baltimore plant.
  • The move comes after 15 million COVID-19 vaccine doses were ruined in a mixup.
  • The error did not impact any vaccines that are currently being delivered or used.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Johnson & Johnson, with the aid of President Joe Biden’s administration, has been put in charge of a Baltimore vaccine production plant that ruined 15 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine and has moved to stop British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc from utilizing the facility to avoid any future mistakes, senior federal health officials said on Saturday.

The extraordinary decision, which was first reported by The New York Times, was put into action by the US Department of Health and Human Services and will allow the Emergent BioSolutions plant to focus on making the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson confirmed the move on Saturday, stating that it was “assuming full responsibility regarding the manufacturing of drug substance” at Emergent.

“Specifically, the company is adding dedicated leaders for operations and quality, and significantly increasing the number of manufacturing, quality and technical operations personnel to work with the company specialists already at Emergent,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.

The change comes after the disclosure that Emergent, which is a manufacturing partner to both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, mixed up ingredients from the two coronavirus vaccines in a case of human error, causing regulators to delay authorization of the facility’s vaccine production.

The mixup ruined nearly 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses.

The error did not impact any vaccines that are currently being delivered or used, according to the Times report.

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

The Biden administration has made note of the delay and has not shifted its stated goal of having enough vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May.

According to the Times report, federal officials are concerned that the mixup could dampen confidence in the vaccines just as Biden is aggressively pushing for mask mandates to remain in place as new COVID-19 variants spread throughout the US.

Meanwhile, there are concerns about the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine, which has had a troubled rollout in Europe due to a risk of rare blood clots possibly linked to the vaccine. However, the United Kingdom’s drug regulator deemed the vaccine as safe.

AstraZeneca said that it would work with the Biden administration to find an alternative site for its vaccine production, which has not yet been authorized in the US.

“AstraZeneca and the US government continue to work closely together to support agreed upon plans for the development, production and full delivery of the vaccine,” the company wrote in a statement.

With three vaccines authorized in the US – from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna – it is unclear if there will even be a need for an additional vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said as much in a recent interview with Reuters.

“That’s still up in the air,” Fauci said. “My general feeling is that given the contractual relationships that we have with a number of companies, that we have enough vaccine to fulfill all of our needs without invoking AstraZeneca.”

However, a federal official said that the HHS is in talks with AstraZeneca “to adapt its vaccine to combat new coronavirus variants,” according to the Times report.

As of Sunday, nearly 30.7 million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 554,000 people have died of the illness, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The elusive oligarch making Russian COVID-19 vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ criticized the EU for vaccine nationalism

Sputnik V
Russia’s vaccine is now set to go global, with plans for Sputnik V to be used in one in 10 vaccinations worldwide.

  • Dmitry Morozov of pharmaceutical Biocad is the oligarch behind Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Sputnik V is now being rolled out worldwide, with plans to use it in one in 10 global vaccinations.
  • However, it faces hurdles in the EU and US as well as Russia with reluctance and supply bottlenecks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In Russia, the name Sputnik is associated with innovation, progress, and one of the greatest successes in Soviet history.

When Sputnik 1 became the first human object to reach Earth’s orbit in 1957, Americans watched in amazement.

Over 60 years later, Sputnik is taking the world by storm again, this time as Russia’s flagship COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V.

Mass production started in September and, despite Russians initially being divided about its potential efficacy, it’s now been rolled out across the country.

Russia’s vaccine is set to go global, with plans for Sputnik V to be used in one in 10 vaccinations worldwide and particularly in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

Vladimir Putin was vaccinated against Covid-19 with Sputnik V, partly to coax those Russians who remain hesitant to go and get the jab.

Dmitry Morozov, an elusive oligarch who heads pharmaceutical company Biocad, is the man behind Sputnik V.

The pharmaceutical company behind the vaccine

Sputnik V is still viewed with a fair degree of skepticism especially in the EU and the US.

Earlier this month, a top official of the European Medicines Agency said approving the vaccine too early would be “somewhat comparable to Russian roulette.”

The vaccine’s official Twitter account then demanded a public apology, saying the official’s comments “raise serious questions about possible political interference in the ongoing EMA review.”

However, Russia is also struggling with supply bottlenecks and according to information from an independent pollster reported by Reuters, over 60% of Russians are unwilling to be vaccinated with Sputnik V.

Biocad is a well-known and well-connected name in the pharmaceutical industry and has been producing drugs for HIV and cancer for years.

US-based Pfizer, which is producing its own vaccine together with BioNTech, was even interested in acquiring Biocad.

Morozov owns 30% of the company and, in September, the company established one of Russia’s most modern production facilities in Zelenograd, north of Moscow.

The company employs 2,500 employees and has 1,500 people working on Sputnik V alone.

The team is also developing a drug for COVID-19 lung disease.

A camera team from Spiegel TV got a rare glimpse into the production of the vaccine, which revealed high levels of security at the factory in St Petersburg.

Complexity inhibits production

According to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, 10 million doses of Sputnik V have been produced so far.

However, many more doses are needed to vaccinate Russia and meet global demand.

Vladimir Putin
Russia has approved two other homemade vaccines, CoviVac and EpiVacCorona.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Sputnik V is a vector-based vaccine.

This means fragments of the genetic material of the coronavirus are placed in attenuated viruses like adenoviruses.

The adenoviruses deliver genetic information from the coronavirus into the human body.

The body’s cells then respond and produce the virus’s protein, which the immune system can recognize and for which it can produce the body’s required defense substances.

With Sputnik V, however, two different adenoviruses are found in each of the required two doses, administered three weeks apart.

While this makes the vaccine more effective, it also increases the complexity of production.

According to data published in The Lancet, Sputnik V is just under 92% effective and so is roughly as effective as the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

Morozov finds the EU countries’ hesitation baffling and has spoken about vaccine nationalism and bureaucracy in the EU, according to World Today News.

In addition to Sputnik V, Russia has approved two other homemade vaccines, CoviVac and EpiVacCorona.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A $400,000 house got 122 offers in 2 days, highlighting the desperate frenzy buyers are facing amid skyrocketing real-estate prices and a dearth of homes for sale

Suburban neighborhood aerial view
  • A central California home for sale received 122 offers in a single weekend.
  • The selling price was “in the mid-$400,000 range,” according to Fox affiliate KTXL.
  • It’s a symptom of a soaring real estate market where inventory is low and demand is high.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A California home received 122 offers in a single weekend amid a skyrocketing US real estate market.

The 1,400-square-foot home – located in Citrus Heights, California, a suburb of Sacramento – was listed at $399,900. It spans 1,400 square feet and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a swimming pool, according to a report from KTXL, the local Fox affiliate.

The house received 122 offers in two days, including one above $500,000, and has since been sold for an undisclosed amount – KTXL reports the selling price was “in the mid-$400,000 range.”

The home’s current owners predicted they would receive eight or 10 offers for their home. They’re planning to move to Idaho, KTXL reports.

Read more: It’s actually a horrible time to buy a house

The unprecedented number of offers is a symptom of a pandemic-related surge in home sales. According to a September report from the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales reached a 14-year high last August. Similarly, housing inventory hit a record low in September, and dipped even lower one month later to 2.5 months of supply.

Those who already own homes are opting not to sell, and new home construction has dipped over the years. But according to Bloomberg, new home construction rose to a new high last August, its highest since 2006.

Given the low inventory, home prices are also on the rise. Prices soared through the end of 2020, jumping the most in seven years by December, according to the S&P Case-Shiller US home-price index. Phoenix, Seattle, and San Diego saw price increases among the 19 cities surveyed.

A rush to buy up homes may lead to regret for new homeowners

The real estate frenzy is driven by a combination of factors. Mortgage rates hit record lows a dozen times in 2020 alone, and the pandemic induced a desire for outdoor space or a more comfortable work-from-home arrangement.

According to research from investment management firm Cowen and Company published late last year, there’s been a noticeable migration among people ages 25 to 34 from urban areas to suburban ones. Among the 2,700 people Cowen surveyed, 48% of millennials reported living in the suburbs compared with 44% in 2019.

Those who reported living in cities fell to 35%, down from 38% last year.

“This suburbanization trend has been slowly occurring since 2017, and we expect it to accelerate with the COVID-19 disruption,” Cowen analyst John Kernan wrote. “These results are also corroborated by a shift in home ownership.”

The rush to snap up homes during the pandemic has already led to regrets for many buyers. The Wall Street Journal’s Candace Taylor reported last month that buyers were making hasty purchases, skipping due diligence, and waiving inspections. One family discovered a wasp infestation after closing on the house, while another learning they’d have to spend $150,000 on siding to alleviate a woodpecker issue.

A LendEDU survey from September found that roughly 55% of Americans who bought houses during the pandemic reported buyer’s remorse – 30% of those people said they should have waiting to buy a home for financial reasons.

Scott Trench, the CEO of the real-estate-investing resource BiggerPockets, recently told Insider’s Taylor Borden that it may not make sense to try to buy a house right now.

“Frantically trying to buy ‘something’ is a great way to make a bad purchase,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson calls COVID-19 vaccine skepticism among Trump supporters ‘a natural resistance to government’

Asa Hutchinson
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas).

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson said GOP vaccine skepticism is rooted in “a natural resistance to government.”
  • A Yahoo News/YouGov poll revealed that 50% of Trump voters said they would “never” get the vaccine.
  • Hutchinson is set to lift the mask mandate in Arkansas at the end of March.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas on Sunday said that the reluctance of many supporters of former President Donald Trump to receive COVID-19 vaccination shots is rooted in “a natural resistance to government,” a sentiment he described as “worrisome.”

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Hutchinson remarked at the conservative nature of his state’s electorate when host Dana Bash informed him of results from a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll which revealed that a full 50 percent of Trump voters indicated that they would “never” get the vaccine.

“I’ve thought a lot about that and I think it’s a natural resistance to government and skepticism of it,” he said. “But you look at the breadth of support here in Arkansas for President Trump, and you have rural voters, you have minority voters, and their hesitancy is worrisome, not just here but all across the country.”

He added: “I expect, as a country, we’ll get the 50 percent vaccination rate of the population, but we’re going to have a harder time getting from 50 percent to 70 percent, and it’s about overcoming the skepticism.”

Read more: Trump inner circle tightens grip on the GOP’s most valued prize – the former president’s endorsement – sparking a new brawl among top MAGA lieutenants

While former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter all participated in a recent series of public service announcements touting the vaccine, Trump did not to participate.

When asked if Trump should be more vocal about the merits of the vaccine, which the former president and former first lady Melania Trump received shortly before leaving the White House in January, Hutchinson said that messages of support from all leaders would be beneficial.

“Well, I’m delighted that he did get the vaccine [and] promoted that,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t know the story behind as to why he wasn’t in the PSA with the other presidents. Any message is helpful and I think we have to have our leaders, we have to have sports figures, we have to have different representatives of our community, including our political leaders, say [the] vaccine is important.”

Despite Hutchinson reflecting on the severity of the coronavirus, which has killed over 5,500 Arkansans and infected over 328,000 state residents, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, he said that he planned to lift the mask mandate at the end of March.

“We’re a year into this and we know so much more today than we did a year ago,” he said. “We had to educate people to understand the importance of the mask, and I expect even though we take the mask mandate away that people will continue to use the mask when you cannot socially distance. Common sense is going to replace mandates and I think that’s where we are right now.”

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Biden denounced the attacks on Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling them ‘un-American’

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks on the anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the East Room of the White House on March 11, 2021.

  • President Biden in his prime-time address Thursday denounced attacks on Asian Americans.
  • “It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop,” Biden said in the address.
  • Research showed a 150% increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden in his Thursday address to the nation denounced a surge in attacks on Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the prime-time address marking the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 outbreak being declared a pandemic, Biden said that Asian Americans had been subjected to “vicious hate crimes” and been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” during the pandemic.

“At this very moment, so many of them – our fellow Americans on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives – and still, still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” said Biden.

“It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.”

The remarks come after a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, this month found that while overall hate crimes had fallen 7% during the pandemic, those targeting Asian Americans had increased 150%.

It followed a report by the UN last October which found an “an alarming level” of racist violence and abuse against Asian Americans during the pandemic.

Former President Donald Trump has long been criticized for calling the coronavirus the “China virus” and “kung flu” in multiple public statements because the novel coronavirus was first found in China. The phrases were echoed by Republican politicians and administration officials.

E. Tendayi Achiume, one of the authors of the UN report, said the president had fostered an environment in which Asian Americans were being scapegoated for the pandemic.

“I think it’s absolutely the case that if you have the head of government speaking about groups in ways that stigmatizes them and associates them with the virus, it creates an environment where violence is more permissible and attacks are more permissible,” she told NBC News. “It really does legitimize those kinds of acts.”

After taking office, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to combat the resurgence of xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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I took Johns Hopkins University’s 21-hour COVID-19 contact tracing course, and I think everyone should too

Shot of an unrecognisable gloved woman using a smartphone in an airport
Students learn to become contact tracers, to identify contacts, and to support both patients and healthcare workers.

  • I took the free online COVID-19 contact tracing course offered by John Hopkins University.
  • I learned how to become a contact tracer and save lives, and I think everyone should take it.
  • The course is taught by experts and my version included an online help forum – I’d give it a B+.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Although most of us are now overloaded with information about COVID-19, there’s always more to learn.

New variants have led to more research and there is still no clear picture of when exactly the pandemic will end.

A John Hopkins professor, Dr. Martin Makary, said the US would reach herd immunity by April, but other experts disagree.

Until that happens, contact tracing and self-isolation will have to continue.

I decided to take the COVID-19 contact tracing course offered by John Hopkins so that I could learn more about the work of the trackers and how they’re helping to reduce the impact of the pandemic.

I took the Spanish version but the US course listed on Coursera is a free seven-hour class taught by Emily Gurley, Ph.D., MPH, an infectious disease epidemiologist with a background in outbreak response.

What you’ll learn and how

The course covers the science of COVID-19, including its infectious period and why contact tracing is a particularly effective method of stopping the virus in its tracks.

Course students will learn how to become contact tracers, identify contacts, and support both patients and healthcare workers in the process.

They will be given simulations to explain some of the challenges posed by contact tracing.

In my course, which was 21 hours long, we had a Virtual Campus Forum where people could ask classmates or tutors any questions they had about the course.

healthcare workers coronavirus
People who aren’t healthcare workers will have had a different experience of the pandemic.

There’s also a final exam that’s easy enough to pass if you’ve studied and are clear on the key concepts.

There are several questions and it’ll take longer than you think as you have to really understand what they’re saying.

Unlike most exams, you won’t have to wait to find out your grade – they’ll tell you straight away.

After completing the course, you’ll get a certificate too.

You should take it even if you don’t work in healthcare

A lot of people asked me why I was taking the course if I wasn’t a healthcare professional.

My answer was always the same.

The course is a great way to learn more about what’s happening in our world right now and the important work contact tracers do.

People who aren’t healthcare workers will have had a different experience of the pandemic and there are worries that complacency is on the rise – testing has already declined in the US.

india contact tracing
Course students will learn how to become contact tracers, identify contacts, and support both patients and healthcare workers.

It could be a wake-up call, or it could prepare you if you ever have to deal with a COVID-19 case in your home or local community, as a lot of people don’t immediately know what to do and there’s a lot to take in.

I found the course very useful, although I think certain things could be improved – like having notes available in writing, for example. I’d give the course a B+.

Ultimately, I learned that being a contact tracer isn’t just about looking for positive cases, but also about saving lives.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How 11 women in science are working to combat the spread of COVID-19

Sara Bertran de Lis
A number of women are at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Female scientists are changing the game when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic response.
  • From reducing mortality by 50% to studying virus replication, they may be able to end the pandemic.
  • For International Women’s Day, here are 11 women at the forefront of COVID-19 response. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A number of women are at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, both at a Spanish and global level – from the first female president of the Spanish National Research Council to a researcher whose work in AI could reduce COVID-19 mortality by 50%.

In 2017, women occupied just 24% of STEM jobs.

While that percentage is slowly changing, there remain prominent gender gaps in STEM fields and women face more challenges than men in these sectors.

A study of 194 countries released last year suggested women-led countries handled the pandemic better than those led by men – and they’ve also played key roles in revolutionizing the pandemic response.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, here are 11 Spanish women who could hold the key to tackling COVID-19.

Sánchez-Felipe is researching a single-dose vaccine for long-term protection

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Sánchez-Felipe believes her vaccine could be especially vital in countries where yellow fever is still a problem.

Spanish researcher Lorena Sánchez-Felipe is working at the Rega Institute in Leuven, Belgium, to develop a vaccine that could change the course of the pandemic.

Her research group is creating a vaccine based on the yellow fever vaccine which carries a coronavirus antigen to train the immune system to recognize it. Sánchez-Felipe’s vaccine would protect people against both yellow fever and COVID-19.

She believes her vaccine could be especially vital in countries where yellow fever is still a problem and will also protect against COVID-19 in the long-term.

“We expect long-term immunity, given previous results we’ve seen with this type of vaccine,” Sánchez-Felipe told Business Insider España.

 

Sola is working on developing a COVID-19 vaccine in Spain

Isabel Sola
Isabel Sola has spent years researching the coronavirus family of infections.

Senior scientist and co-director of the coronavirus laboratory at the National Center for Biotechnology at the Spanish National Research Council, Isabel Sola, has spent years researching the coronavirus family of infections.

Sola is now working to develop a vaccine based on a smallpox virus and is created using a virus that has been genetically modified to retain its reproduction properties. It thus goes from cell to cell with a controlled dose acting as a vector.

“From our experience with similar coronaviruses, this vaccine is 100% effective,” Sola told Business Insider España.

 

Del Val is a virologist and coordinates the Global Health platform

Margarita del Val
Margarita del Val has been one of the most visible faces of the pandemic response in Spain.

Spanish National Research Council virologist Margarita del Val has been one of the most visible faces of the pandemic response in Spain.

The expert coordinates the 150 teams brought together by the council on a large multidisciplinary research platform called “Global Health.”

Among the tasks carried out by the platform are the improvement of COVID-19 diagnostic systems, and they have pioneered a system for testing wastewater to identify whether the virus is spreading in a community.

Del Val has also been carrying out educational work during the pandemic and has warned of the need to be cautious about future possible waves and other pandemics.

 

Fernández-Sesma researches immune responses to COVID-19

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Ana Fernández-Sesma is one of the five best-funded researchers by the National Institute of Health.

Ana Fernández-Sesma directs a laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York which studies how certain types of viruses modulate our immune system, with a special focus on dengue.

The research she conducts on dengue places her among the five best-funded researchers by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States.

Fernández-Sesma told Business Insider España she aims to understand “what the virus does to evade barriers in a host and how the host protects itself.” Uncovering this could change the pandemic response, as our immune response to the virus has still not been fully understood.

She has also joined a group of researchers evaluating the immune system’s response to the virus in an effort to understand how it differs among patients.

 

Oliver is an AI expert working on predicting the evolution of the pandemic

Nuria Oliver
Nuria Oliver has established herself as one of the world’s leading artificial intelligence experts.

Nuria Oliver has established herself as one of the world’s leading artificial intelligence experts. In her capacity as authority-appointed high commissioner for AI in Valencia.

Oliver works with a research group that tries to communicate the real data of the pandemic to those in charge of making decisions.

The group tries to predict the behavior of the virus using different potential scenarios, answering key questions like how many people will be infected and modeling human mobility.

During the 2009 influenza pandemic in Mexico, Oliver analyzed aggregate data from cell phone networks to investigate the effectiveness of government measures.

She also spearheaded a macro-survey to assess the impact of the measures adopted during lockdown that has warned of the increased socialization in risky environments.

Marco leads a project that focuses on preparing for subsequent waves

Pilar Marco
Marco leads a team researching devices that can detect biomarkers of COVID-19 infection.

Spanish National Research Council professor Pilar Marco is the head of Nanobiotechnology for Diagnostics (Nb4D). The tool could revolutionize the pandemic response.

Marco leads a team researching devices that can simultaneously and rapidly detect several biomarkers of COVID-19 infection.

These quick detection diagnostic systems could prepare the world better for any future outbreaks of COVID-19.

Rodríguez is improving diagnoses and treatments through AI at IBM

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The computational biologist works with IBM.

Astrophysics and cosmology specialist María Rodriguez uses her knowledge of quantitative technical tools to help doctors provide better diagnoses and suggest individual treatments.

The computational biologist works with IBM applying artificial intelligence to the healthcare sector, focusing on integrating high-throughput molecular datasets to build comprehensive models of disease.

This sector could transform the treatment of cancer and immune and degenerative diseases, Rodriguez told Business Insider España.

García Vidal is working on an AI solution that could cut mortality in COVID-19 patients by 50%

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García Vidal’s technique could reduce patient mortality rates by 50%.

Head of the Covid Digital Control Center at the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, Dr. Carolina García Vidal, is leading one of the 207 projects named by the European Institute of Innovation as providing a better response to the healthcare crisis.

García Vidal’s initiative uses artificial intelligence to monitor the evolution of patient systems, anticipating the worsening of the disease.

Her technique could reduce patient mortality rates by 50% according to findings published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Silleras became a developer to fight the pandemic

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Rocío Silleras was one of 40 students selected for the final part of Samsung’s DesarrollAdoras course.

Rocío Silleras was one of 40 students selected for the final part of Samsung’s DesarrollAdoras course, focused on artificial intelligence and big data.

After the program, Silleras joined the multidisciplinary team led by Dr. Joaquín López Herraiz, from the Universidad Computense de Madrid.

The team was tackling the development of a tool to identify infectious diseases.

Their project, which won the UNESCO hackathon #CodeTheCurve, studies X-rays with artificial intelligence to detect COVID-19.

Bertrán de Lis is a data scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Civic Impact

Sara Bertran de Lis
Data scientist Sara Bertrán de Lis works at the John Hopkins University Civic Impact Center.

Data scientist Sara Bertrán de Lis works at the John Hopkins University Civic Impact Center and previously worked as a trainee at the European Space Agency.

Bertrán de Lis works on collecting data as part of a map that acts as an international reference for analyzing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rosa Menéndez is the first female president of the Spanish National Research Council

Rosa Menendez
Rosa Menéndez became the first female president in the 80-year history of the Spanish National Research Council.

In 2017, Rosa Menéndez became the first female president in the 80-year history of the Spanish National Research Council.

An organic chemistry graduate from the University of Oviedo, Menéndez is confident that the council will produce the first Spanish vaccine to fight COVID-19, with reports suggesting it could be ready by the end of 2022.

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