A COVID triple-mutant found in India could be much more deadly, and may be resistant to existing vaccines

india covid
Medics attend to COVID-19 patients at Shehnai Banquet Hall, temporarily converted into an isolation ward, as coronavirus cases surge across the country in New Delhi, India.

  • A new threat has emerged in India’s fight against COVID – a triple mutant variant of the virus.
  • The mutant strain was found in samples in Bengal, and may have evolved from preexisting double mutations.
  • Researchers say this could affect vaccine efficacy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As India contends with its second major wave of COVID cases and a double-mutated variant of the virus, it now faces a new threat – a triple-mutant variant.

Scientists found two triple-mutant varieties in patient samples in four states: Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal, and Chhattisgarh. Researchers in the country have dubbed it the “Bengal strain” and say it has the potential to be even more infectious than the double-mutant variant.

This is because three COVID variants have merged to form a new, possibly deadlier variant.

The Times of India spoke to Vinod Scaria, a researcher at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in India, who said that the triple mutant was also an “immune escape variant” – a strain that helps the virus attach to human cells and hide from the immune system.

He added that it could have evolved from the double-mutant variant – which experts say is likely behind the recent surge of COVID in the country.

Sreedhar Chinnaswamy, a researcher from the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics in India, told the Times of India that the variant also carried the E484K mutation, a characteristic found in both the South African and Brazilian variants.

“In other words, you may not be safe from this variant even if you were previously infected by another strain, or even if you have been vaccinated,” said Chinnaswamy.

This new threat is worrying. India’s healthcare system has already reached a breaking point as it grapples with the second wave of COVID cases. Hospitals across the country are dealing with critical shortages of medical oxygen supplies. Yesterday, six hospitals in the country reportedly ran out of oxygen as the country grappled with a sudden surge in patients.

Oxygen supplies have been diverted from shipbreaking facilities and steel plants. Still, hospitals remain overwhelmed – with some desperate families even resorting to stealing oxygen cylinders from hospitals to keep their family members alive.

India recorded a daily high of 314,835 COVID cases on Thursday, but that worldwide record was broken within 24 hours when the country announced that it recorded 332,730 new cases and 2,263 deaths on Friday. The country now has over 16 million COVID cases, second only to the US’s record of 32 million cases.

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The most common coronavirus variant in the US is no worse for kids than adults, despite more children showing up at hospital, experts say

kid hand sanitizer coronavirus
  • The most common coronavirus variant in the US infects kids more than the original virus.
  • But the variant, first found in the UK, is no more infectious or deadly in kids than in adults, experts told Insider.
  • This is despite anecdotal reports that, proportionally, more kids are showing up to hospital.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The most common coronavirus variant in the US is estimated to be twice as infectious as the original, and can spread quickly amongst children. Anecdotal reports suggest young people are increasingly filling up US hospitals – but experts tell Insider that the variant, called B.1.1.7, isn’t affecting kids any worse than adults.

The variant became the most common strain of the virus in the US on April 7. In Michigan, the state with the most B.1.1.7 cases, hospitalization rates were higher for kids in recent weeks, “therefore they must be sicker,” Rudolph Valentini, chief medical officer for Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, told Bloomberg on Monday.

“Until now we haven’t seen transmission like this in kids in the pandemic,” Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Minnesota and former advisor to President Joe Biden, told Meet the Press early April. “This B.1.1.7 variant infects kids very readily,” he said.

Higher numbers of kids in hospital doesn’t necessarily mean the variant affects kids differently. Younger people, especially those under 16, are the least likely to be vaccinated. So while many adults are protected from COVID-19, including the variant, kids aren’t, and some are ending up in hospital.

And many experts – including from the UK, where the variant was first detected in December – aren’t convinced it is more infectious for children than adults, and say the variant doesn’t appear to make kids sicker, either.

No evidence variant is not more infectious in kids than adults: Experts

There’s no evidence that B.1.1.7, the name of the variant, is more infectious in children than adults, Damian Roland, honorary associate professor in pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Leicester, told Insider.

“Denmark has kept schools open for young kids (even without masks) and hasn’t exploded,” Dr. Alasdair Munroe, clinical research fellow in pediatric infectious diseases at University Hospital Southampton, said on Twitter March 11.

In Denmark, where there are high numbers of B.1.1.7, those under 20 years old were least likely to transmit the virus to others in the household, and those younger than 10 were less likely to catch it than young adults aged 25 to 45, according to a pre-print study from the University of Copenhagen posted March 5.

Read more: Just 3 governors haven’t gotten their COVID-19 vaccine, Insider found. Here’s who – and why.

Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who has served on infectious disease advisory panels for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told CNBC that kids were getting infected more frequently because of how contagious the virus is, not because the variant poses a particular risk to them.

Roland told Insider that “it’s not the variant, cases rise when you’ve got a lot of coronavirus around.”

A spokesperson for The Royal College of Pediatrics & Child Health (RCPCH) told Insider that “cases in children continue to reflect cases in adults generally.” They said that the best way to protect the children is to maintain “low community infection rates.”

B.1.1.7 appears no more harmful to kids

Dr. Stephen Schrantz, an infectious disease expert at University of Chicago Medicine, told CNBC that young people, especially school-aged children, didn’t tend to get sick because their immune systems react less severely to the virus.”

Roland told Insider that kids “very rarely” get sick with COVID-19. “Often it’s children presenting with non-COVID illness and then happen to have it.”

About one-third of kids testing positive with COVID-19 in a London hospital during the second wave of the virus in the UK – when 70% of the capital’s coronavirus infections were caused by B.1.1.7 – were admitted for another illness, according to correspondence published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health medical journal in February.

A London-based study published in the same journal around the same time found that severe illness and death from COVID-19 in children was rare, accounting for just under 0.2% of all UK deaths in 10 to 19 year olds, and just under 2% for those under 9. More kids died from COVID-19 when there were lots of infections in the wider community, the study authors said.

Kids coronavirus
A temperature check is taken as students return to St. Joseph Catholic School in La Puente, California on November 16, 2020.

Some children who contracted coronavirus have experienced Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare condition that can sometimes cause severe illness or death.

It doesn’t appear that the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant increases the likelihood of developing MIS-C.

Dr Liz Whittaker, consultant pediatrician at St Mary’s Hospital in London, said in a statement January, when London had high levels of B.1.1.7 cases, that there were lots of children with positive COVID-19 tests, but “only small numbers” with severe disease or MIS-C, and these were within expected levels given the high infection rate at the time.

The number of children hospitalized, admitted to intensive care, or dying from COVID-19 hasn’t changed on a national level following the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in the UK, the RCPCH spokesperson said.

In Michigan, those aged 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 years-old are most likely to be infected with coronavirus, according to state data. But while hospital admissions are going up in all age groups by 25% each week, the highest rate remains those 50 to 59 and 60 to 69 – not younger people.

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Dow tumbles 257 points as spike in COVID-19 cases spurs economic-recovery concern

wall street new york stock exchange
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

  • The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered their second straight losses on Tuesday.
  • COVID-19 cases worldwide have risen by more than 10% over the past week.
  • Nike dropped on the Dow but IBM was a winner.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US stocks dropped Tuesday, with their grip on record highs further loosening as investors worry about the prospects for global economic growth as COVID-19 cases worldwide increase.

The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average each fell for a second consecutive session, pulling back from last week’s strongest finishes on record.

As “stocks fall on back-to-back days for the first time this month, you can probably blame an old culprit: COVID,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade, in comments sent to Insider.

Here’s where US indexes stood at 4 p.m. on Tuesday:

Cumulative coronavirus cases worldwide have risen by more than 10% over the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and cases topped 142.3 million on Tuesday. Officials in Japan were considering declaring a virus state of emergency, and the UK imposed a travel ban for visitors from India as that country becomes the new epicenter of the outbreak behind the US. Argentina, meanwhile, is battling another wave of cases.

“Higher-than-expected earnings might not be packing as big a punch as normal, partly because analysts had been raising their earnings estimates before earnings season began,” Kinahan said. “At this point, it’s really more about what companies forecast and less about what happened in Q1.”

IBM shares rose and performed the best among the Dow industrials after the technology company’s first-quarter earnings and revenue beat Wall Street’s targets. But fellow Dow component Nike dropped sharply following a Citi downgrade to neutral from buy on concerns that recent boycotts in China will hurt sales at the athletic wear maker.

Apple shares were lower. The company at its virtual event on Tuesday unveiled, among other products, its AirTags tracking accessory.

Around the markets, Johnson & Johnson shares rose after the company planned to resume COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union.

GameStop stake held by Alaska’s revenue department soared by more than 700% last quarter. Alaska also said its Tesla bet had grown to $85 million in 18 months.

Bitfarms, a Canadian bitcoin-mining company, is planning a new mining site in Argentina that it said would be its largest yet.

Gold rose 0.3%, to $1,776 per ounce. Long-dated US Treasury yields fell, with the 10-year yield down to 1.56%.

Oil prices rose. West Texas Intermediate crude lost 1.2% to $62.61 per barrel. Brent crude, oil’s international benchmark, fell 1%, to $66.51 per barrel.

Bitcoin rose to $56,524.

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US stocks slump as global COVID-19 cases increase

worried trader
  • The S&P 500 and the Dow on Tuesday continued their slide from last week’s record highs.
  • Global COVID-19 cases are rising, and the US State Department is set to issue a travel advisory.
  • The VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” was advancing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Stocks moved lower on Tuesday, edging further from their strongest levels on record over concerns about rising COVID-19 cases worldwide.

The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones industrial average were in the red for the second straight session after notching record closing highs at the end of last week.

But on the rise was the VIX, Wall Street’s so-called fear gauge. It climbed by the most in three weeks, indicating that investors expect increased volatility over the next 30 days. A recent survey by Allianz found that many Americans want to stay on the sidelines of the stock market this year, worried that volatility will accelerate and hurt their investments.

Here’s where US indexes stood at 9:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday:

The S&P 500’s consumer-discretionary sector was losing the most ground, with airline stocks down after the US State Department said on Monday that it planned to issue a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for nearly 80% of countries as the coronavirus continues to spread. Shares of United Airlines were lower after the carrier indicated that quarterly losses would continue until air travel recovers to 65% of 2019 levels.

Officials in Japan are weighing a virus state of emergency, and the UK imposed a travel ban for visitors from India because of high case counts there. Argentina is battling another wave of cases.

Elsewhere, Apple will be in focus as it hosts a “Spring Loaded” virtual event at 1 p.m. ET during which it is expected to introduce two iPad Pro models.

Around the markets, a GameStop stake held by Alaska’s revenue department soared by more than 700% last quarter. Alaska also said its Tesla bet had grown to $85 million in 18 months.

Bitfarms, a Canadian bitcoin-mining company, is planning a new mining site in Argentina that it said would be its largest yet.

Gold fell 0.1%, to $1,767 per ounce. Long-dated US Treasury yields rose, with the 10-year yield at 1.61%.

Oil prices rose. West Texas Intermediate crude gained 0.4%, to $63.60 per barrel. Brent crude, oil’s international benchmark, gained 0.8%, to $67.57 per barrel.

Bitcoin rose to $56,079.

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State Department to issue ‘Level 4: Do Not Travel’ for ‘approximately 80%’ of countries worldwide due to coronavirus spread

airport travel
  • The State Department said on Monday that it plans to issue a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for close to 80% of countries worldwide.
  • The move is due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The State Department said on Monday that it plans to issue a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for close to 80% of countries worldwide, as coronavirus continues to spread.

The update also asked US citizens to “reconsider all travel abroad.”

“This does not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country, but rather reflects an adjustment in the State Department’s Travel Advisory system to rely more on CDC’s existing epidemiological assessments,” the statement said.

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Fauci hopeful on upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccine decision: ‘We will get it back in some manner or form’

Anthony Fauci
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in the White House in January 2021.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he hopes there’s a decision on the paused Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Friday.

“I do think we will get it back in some manner or form, but what I hope that we don’t see anything beyond Friday,” Fauci told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

Fauci’s remarks come after the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was paused after six women ranging from ages 18 and 48 developed blood clots after receiving the shot, as Insider previously reported.

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority. We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our COVID-19 vaccine,” Johnson & Johnson wrote in an April 13 statement.

“The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases out of more than 6.8 million doses administered,” the statement said.

The CDC plans to meet on Friday to discuss the vaccine pause, and Fauci said hopefully “we’ll get back on track one way or the other.”

“I think by that time we’re going to have a decision,” Fauci said. “Now, I don’t want to get ahead of the CDC and the FDA and the advisory committee but I would imagine that what we will see is that it would come back and it will come back within some sort of either warning or restriction.”

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An AI-powered version of Albert Einstein has joined UneeQ’s growing lineup of ‘digital humans’

Digital Einstein image 7
UneeQ’s virtual version of Albert Einstein.

  • UneeQ’s virtual version of Albert Einstein is among its latest batch of ‘digital humans.’
  • A digital COVID-19 health advisor and doppelgänger of a famed banker are also available.
  • Virtual companions could solve feelings of isolation and loneliness, the company says.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The latest virtual companions created by UneeQ, a New Zealand and Austin-based company specializing in “digital humans,” include an Albert Einstein chatbot.

The launch was timed to mark the 100th anniversary of his Nobel Prize in Physics. You can talk to Einstein via UneeQ’s website and he will answer back in his own special way.

According to its website, UneeQ’s mission is to revolutionize customer experiences with AI-powered ambassadors.

The German mastermind is not the only personality users can engage with on the firm’s website. UneeQ’s range companions also include a COVID-19 health advisor named Sophie and a version of Daniel Kalt, UBS’ chief economist.

Danny Tomsett, UneeQ’s CEO, said in a statement: “As part of our new Companions series, Digital Einstein, among other digital humans, can communicate with people in a way that comes most naturally – using conversation, human expressions, and emotional responses to best provide daily interactions that we hope make a difference in people’s lives.”

Here’s how some of its companions stack up.

Digital Einstein

The AI experience was created in conjunction with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Greenlight, who provided Einstein’s likeness including, his voice, image, and mannerisms, the company stated in a press release.

You can talk to Einstein about a variety of topics through his daily quiz, or chat about his life’s work and research. Insider asked him a bunch of questions, including whether the Earth was flat. “Of course the Earth is not flat. Don’t be ridiculous,” he answered.

We were also curious to know his views on COVID-19 vaccines but his response was evasive: “Let’s hope sooner rather than later we will have some form of resolution and normal life. Please be safe, stay healthy, and give your loved ones a hug as much as possible,” he said.

He, naturally, spoke with authority on the theory of relativity but was not able to answer more ponderous questions on how he thinks history has judged him. He simply replied: “Sorry, I didn’t understand what you said.”

Sophie

Launched in April 2020, Sophie is very much a product of our times. The digital companion was created to converse with users about the most common questions surrounding COVID-19.

The company said it used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organisation to launch Sophie as a public health advisor.

She is able to update users on the latest news and guidance around the pandemic, while also providing real-time advice on ways to stay safe based on credible sources of information.

Users of many dialects can converse with Sophie, since she is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Japanese, and more.

In terms of her personality, Sophie was designed to be empathetic, friendly, and non-judgemental.

Daniel Kalt

Uneeq’s website shows a range of companions it has created for large companies. Among these is the digital doppelganger of UBS’s chief economist, Daniel Kalt.

Kalt’s chatbot was developed for the bank’s Swiss arm to help people find the crucial banking and finance information they need.

According to the company, Kalt is able to draw on a deep trove of UBS’s financial forecast data and present insights to high-wealth clients “face to face.” Like Sophie, he is available at any time of day to have a personalized conversation with users.

Helpful heroes or fairweather friends?

There is clearly potential for this type of technology but it’s unclear at this stage whether “digital humans” can fully live up to expectations.

The world is facing an undeniable mental-health crisis, including a significant rise in anxiety and depressive conditions.

On the one hand, AI-powered pals are unlikely to be any kind of substitute for the appropriate treatment of serious mental-health conditions. But on the other hand, they could at least provide a bit of cheer and lightness for those facing prolonged isolation during the daily gloom of an ongoing pandemic.

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3 ways officials can improve COVID-19 public health messaging, according to science communication experts

public health officials Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci, center, has been one of the most prominent US public health officials during the pandemic.

  • Public health officials have struggled to find persuasive ways to convince people to get vaccinated.
  • Researchers in science communication say being straightforward is the best way to make an impact.
  • They suggest being honest with uncertainty, ensuring consistency, and tapping into a crowd mentality.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Persuading people to get a COVID-19 vaccine remains a challenge even as more than a 120 million people in the US have received at least one dose.

Public health officials have struggled to find persuasive and accessible approaches throughout the pandemic, from explaining where COVID-19 originated to how the virus spreads among individuals, along with steps to prevent its transmission, its inequitable impacts on people’s lives, and now relevant risks and benefits information about vaccines.

COVID-19 is not just a medical issue. It is also a social justice, economic, and political issue. That makes it hard to figure out how best to share information about it, especially since messages come from a range of communicators – including elected officials, journalists, scientists, physicians, and community leaders – and are delivered to diverse audiences.

And the science itself has been uncertain and evolving. New information can change what’s known almost daily, making clear, accurate communication a “moving target.”

As researchers focused on the science of science communication, we can suggest several communication strategies, based on a July 2020 report from the National Academies for Science, Engineering and Medicine, that encourage protective behaviors related to COVID-19.

Clear and open, even about uncertainty

Decades of research in risk communication show that people’s perception of their own risk is key to motivating them to take preventive measures. For that to work, public health messages must be clear, consistent, and transparent.

One way to ensure that, especially for issues that have high uncertainty, like the pandemic, is for science and health messages to include context that connects the news to people’s concerns and prior experiences. What does risk or uncertainty about how the virus is transferred mean for the audience? How can they act on that information in their own lives? The “so what” of the message has to feel relevant. One approach, for example, is to emphasize how adoption of preventive behaviors – such as mask-wearing and hand-washing – leads to local businesses reopening and faster economic recovery.

Ensuring consistency in messaging, even for a rapidly changing issue, also means considering context – the bigger-picture processes shaping the issue. In other words, where do both the information and the uncertainty come from? What do scientists, policymakers, and health care workers know or not know at this point? Then, most crucially, what are people doing to address that uncertainty and what can audiences still do to act in the face of it?

Tap into a crowd mentality

At various points during the pandemic, public health officials needed to persuade people to change aspects of their daily lives. To do this effectively, it helps to remember that people change their behavior and beliefs to better match what they perceive other people are doing – especially those they most identify with. It’s human nature to want to go along with social norms.

Health messages should avoid putting a spotlight on “bad” behaviors, since that can actually exacerbate the problem. Disproportionate attention paid to vaccine hesitancy or people refusing to wear masks, for example, gives the impression that these behaviors are more common than they actually are. Rather, attention to “good” behaviors, such as small business successfully implementing social distancing practices, can be more effective.

But even well-intended efforts to promote social norms, such as vaccination selfies, may provoke significant backlash, including jealousy, anger, and feelings of injustice.

One way to avoid unintended backlash is to consider, before sharing, who is likely to see this message beyond the intended audiences. Are those who might see the message able to act on this information? If people can’t sign up for their own vaccination yet, a photo of a happy newly vaccinated person may make them feel angry and trigger negative feelings about systemic unfairness and resentment toward those who do have access.

Balancing the good news with the bad

The fear of a threat can motivate action. But a fear-based message often leads to people feeling helpless unless it’s paired with clear actions they can take to mitigate the threat.

Alternatively, hope is a powerful motivator, much more so and more consistently than fear or anger in many cases. Fortunately, for science communication in particular, surveys find that the majority of Americans remain hopeful about the promise of science to improve people’s lives.

Communicating hope can happen implicitly, through highlighting what does work and the benefits of actions. For example, clients following mask-wearing policies permitted many small businesses like hair salons to remain safely open.

What tends to be more common, especially in news coverage, is an emphasis on the negative – both in the current situation and in hypothetical futures and risks that could come if people don’t change course. You can see this focus in the coverage of gatherings that violate health regulations, like crowded beaches during spring break.

The weight of constant bad news reduces how equipped individuals feel to deal with a problem or avoid a risk. And this negative tendency can paint an unrealistic picture of an issue that has both wins and losses to report.

Without a fuller picture of the good news – what does work and what people are doing right – it becomes very difficult to envision how the world could look any different, or what anyone can do to move forward to a better place.

Todd Newman, assistant professor of life sciences communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of life sciences communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Emily Howell, postdoctoral fellow in life sciences communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Conversation
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I’m a millennial who bought a Brooklyn apartment this year, and I was only able to because of the pandemic

Moving, milennial home ownership
Moving: It’s no fun at all.

  • Late last year, in the middle of the pandemic lockdown, my wife and I bought a Brooklyn apartment.
  • After graduating college into the financial crisis, the odds of homeownership were not in our favor.
  • The pandemic forced banks to offer historically low mortgage interest rates and allowed us to buy an apartment.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

For the last decade, as friends and relatives bought homes, my wife and I paid rent.

More specifically, we paid rent in New York City – which is to say we paid a lot of money in rent. So, so much. I try not to think about it, honestly.

We did it because we love living here, and Brooklyn is home. I considered it a necessary evil of living in the greatest city in the world.

But this January, just after the most uneventful New Year’s Eve in New York City history, we closed on a one bedroom Brooklyn co-op apartment. If you’d asked me in January 2020, “Will you ever buy a home in New York City?” the answer would’ve been simple: “No, not unless we win the lottery.”

Real estate prices in New York are notoriously high, of course, but that’s just one of several issues facing potential buyers. Not only is it expensive, but it’s extremely competitive. Before the pandemic hit, just going to see an available place in Brooklyn meant competing against people with, frankly, a lot more money than me. I am never going to outbid someone who makes $500,000 annually.

So, how did a couple of avocado toast-eating, cold brew-swilling, MacBook-using millennials manage to buy a home in Brooklyn?

Millennial homeowners
The avocado toast tastes so much better when you make it in the kitchen of the home you own.

It boils down to several key factors:

1. We are immensely lucky and privileged.

My wife and I graduated from college directly into the 2008/2009 subprime mortgage-spurred market collapse that led to a massive recession. Unlike so many of our peers, we were both tremendously lucky to get jobs directly out of college doing what we went to college to do: I am a journalist and my wife is an environmental scientist. I consider myself particularly lucky in this respect, as the media business isn’t known for its stability.

We are also both white Americans, which confers a variety of privileges throughout our lives. Literally everything was easier because of these factors, and must be acknowledged up front.

Because we were lucky enough to have steady employment for years after college, we had good credit scores from years of paying bills on time. That steady employment history coupled with good credit scores meant we were easily pre-qualified for home loans at low rates.

Notably, we don’t have kids, and we saved money steadily for several years before beginning this process.

2. The pandemic.

QUEENS, NEW YORK - MARCH 30: Two members of the Fire Department of New York"u2019s Emergency Medical Team wheel in a patient with potentially fatal coronavirus to the Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York City on March 30, 2020. New York City is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, putting historic pressure on a world-renowned healthcare system as the number of confirmed cases in the area grows. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
Two members of the Fire Department of New York Emergency Medical Team wheel in a patient with potentially fatal coronavirus to the Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, New York City on March 30, 2020. New York City was the epicenter of the American coronavirus outbreak.

Above all else, the global pandemic was the most immediate reason we were able to buy an apartment.

If it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, the housing market wouldn’t have been in the gutter. If it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, we would’ve had to compete with crowds of interested buyers. If it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, mortgage rates would’ve priced us out of the market.

It’s horrifically sad that this is the case, but it’s very much the truth. We locked in a 30-year fixed-rate home loan at a 2.75% interest rate. That is a historically low rate, and enables us to afford the monthly payments. In fact, our monthly payment is just a touch higher than our last rent price.

Unlike rent, though, our mortgage price doesn’t increase over time. If we choose to move, we can sell the place and are likely to earn some money on the sale thanks to Brooklyn’s already rebounding real estate market. The benefits of homeownership over renting, at least in this respect, are so profound that they’re almost comical. In 10 years, when our mortgage is the same but average NYC rent prices have increased dramatically, we’ll really feel the difference.

3. Timing was critical.

In mid-August 2020, about five months into pandemic lockdowns, a really obnoxious piece was published in the New York Post where a former hedge fund manager Manhattanite declared New York City “dead forever” because he saw a video of Black Lives Matter protesters trying to break into his skyscraper. It was part of a gaggle of trend pieces that summer in which panicked rich people speculated that the pandemic would be the end of New York City.

That struck me as the perfect time to start looking for apartments: If the rich are fleeing, and the home loan rate is low, I figured, maybe there would be a chance for us.

It turns out that was more or less accurate: We only saw five, maybe six places, and we saw them at our leisure. Because of the pandemic, all showings were by appointment only, so there was no pressure to outbid other buyers on the spot.

Also because of the pandemic, a lot of people in our situation – married millennials in their mid-30s – were fleeing to the suburbs. It was as close as Brooklyn gets to a buyer’s market for a young-ish couple.

In the end, our offer was accepted for (slightly) below the listing price. For what we paid for a one bedroom apartment, we could own a pretty nice suburban home. But we don’t want a pretty nice suburban home, and we didn’t have to settle for one.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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AMC climbs 9% as CEO makes pledge not to sell newly authorized shares this year

adam aron, AMC CEO
AMC CEO Adam Aron.

  • AMC climbed as much as 9% on Thursday after its CEO said the company won’t sell any of the 500 million shares its seeking to authorize.
  • Adam Aron said if the company needs to raise short-term cash it still has some shares left from a prior authorization.
  • AMC, which has been a popular meme stock, is now up more than 365% in 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

AMC Entertainment shares climbed as much as 9% on Thursday after CEO Adam Aron said it will not sell in 2021 any of the 500 million shares it’s asked investors to authorize.

The company’s shareholders will vote on May 4 on whether to approve AMC’s request to increase its number of shares outstanding, which Aron plans to deploy in the coming years.

“We hereby pledge at AMC that if the shareholders approve this authorization for 500 million new shares to be issued, we will not use one of those 500 million shares in calendar year 2021. Not one,” CEO Adam Aron said in an interview published Wednesday on a YouTube program called Trey’s Trades, hosted by an independent investor.

AMC included Aron’s comments in a Thursday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company has roughly 450 million shares outstanding, according to Bloomberg.

The movie-theater operator has been working to recover from the hit the business took from the COVID-19 pandemic. The chain recently started to reopen its theaters after they closed to help reduce the spread of the respiratory disease.

Aron said in the YouTube interview that AMC still has about 43 million shares outstanding that were authorized in 2013. The company could use those shares to raise cash in the short-term if needed but that no decisions have yet been made on that matter, he said.

Asking for authorization to issue 500 million shares is part of the company’s preparation for operations on a longer-term basis, Aron said.

“If you give us the flexibility to use those shares when it makes sense for you, the shareholder, that’s when we’ll use them and not before,” said Aron.

AMC stock has surged from about $2 at the start of this year in part during major short-squeeze rallies that were fueled by retail investors active on Reddit’s Wall Street Bets forum. Shares are up more than 365% year-to-date.

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