Brazos County ICU occupancy at 133%, 59 county residents hospitalized for COVID-19 – KBTX

BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) -The Brazos County Health District has reported 172 additional positive cases of COVID-19 in Brazos County. Currently, there are 1,749 active cases.

No new deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours. There have been 151 total deaths in Brazos County related to COVID-19.

11,980 patients are classified as recovered, which means they have been fever-free for 72 hours without fever-reducing medications, and it has been 10 days after onset of symptoms.

17 percent of the new confirmed cases are from the 18-24-year-old age group.

There have been 2,754 probable cases in Brazos County since June 18, 2020. A probable COVID-19 case is determined by a positive antigen test. Confirmed COVID-19 cases are determined by a positive PCR test. The health district conducts case investigations on all confirmed and probable cases.

There are currently 359 active probable cases and there have been 2,395 probable recovered cases.

The total number of confirmed positive cases in the county since testing began is 13,880. There have been 141,214 tests performed.

Brazos County’s total hospital bed occupancy is at 88 percent, and total ICU bed occupancy is at 133 percent.

Currently, there are 59 Brazos County residents hospitalized for COVID-19.

State Trauma Service Area N

Most of the Brazos Valley falls under state trauma service area N (Brazos, Burleson, Grimes, Leon, Madison, Robertson, and Washington counties). Trauma Service Area N currently reports 639 staffed hospital beds with 76 beds available. According to the state’s latest data, the region has 2 available ICU beds and 56 available ventilators. The state’s last update listed 161 lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients currently in the hospital.


County Active Cases Total Cases Recovered Cases Fatalities One Dose
Austin 163 1,305 1,125 17 983 33
Brazos 1,749 13,880 11,980 151 3,820 387
Burleson 131 1,053 901 21 356 12
Grimes 161 1,940 1,728 51 492 16
Houston 130 1,272 1,114 28 813 8
Lee 225 1,145 886 34 380 8
Leon 122 857 707 28 317 4
Madison 56 1,153 1,079 18 229 7
Milam 153 1,577 1,424 18 681 11
Montgomery 10,774 32,575 16,022 194 11,773 1,558
Robertson 154 1,022 845 23 371 12
San Jacinto 108 588 459 21 462 18
Trinity 83 464 370 11 352 1
Walker 474 6,799 6,232 93 1,287 27
Waller 303 2,482 2,156 23 659 45
Washington 160 1,631 1,402 69 822 41

The Texas State COVID-19 Dashboard has undergone some updates and has changed how they define numbers. Total cases is now the combination of confirmed cases and probable cases.

To view the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, click here.

For the latest updates from TDCJ, click here.

Texas A&M University

The Texas A&M COVID-19 Dashboard reported 31 new cases and 383 active cases on Jan. 12.

Currently, the university has reported 4,890 positive cases, 7.2 percent of tests have come back positive.

The dashboard’s last update was provided on Jan. 14, 2021.


[View the state’s coronavirus dashboard for the latest COVID-19 case information.]

[View the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard]

Statewide, Texas has an estimated 366,475 active cases and 1,630,778 recoveries. There have been 2,045,699 total cases reported and 17,585,800 total tests (both viral and antibody).

To date, 31,050 Texans have died from COVID-19.

Currently, 889,115 Texans have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 132,396 Texans have been fully vaccinated. Across Texas, 1,716,850 doses have shipped.

254 of 254 counties in the state of Texas are currently reporting cases. Harris County leads the state in total cases with 269,089 cases reported.

The state’s last update was provided on January 14 at 4:00 p.m.

Editor’s note: Leon County updates their cases every Wednesday. KBTX uses the State Dashboard, which updates daily, for a more accurate reading of cases.

Copyright 2020 KBTX. All rights reserved.


Facebook develops A.I. to predict likelihood of worsening Covid symptoms – CNBC

Dr. Dan Ponticiello, 43, and Dr. Gabriel Gomez, 40, intubate a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in the COVID-19 ICU at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, January 8, 2021.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Artificial intelligence researchers at Facebook claim they have developed software that can predict the likelihood of a Covid patient deteriorating or needing oxygen based on their chest X-rays.

Facebook, which worked with academics at NYU Langone Health’s predictive analytics unit and department of radiology on the research, says that the software could help doctors avoid sending at-risk patients home too early, while also helping hospitals plan for oxygen demand.

The 10 researchers involved in the study — five from Facebook AI Research and five from the NYU School of Medicine — said they have developed three machine-learning “models” in total, that are all slightly different.

One tries to predict patient deterioration based on a single chest X-ray, another does the same with a sequence of X-rays, and a third uses a single X-ray to predict how much supplemental oxygen (if any) a patient might need.

“Our model using sequential chest X-rays can predict up to four days (96 hours) in advance if a patient may need more intensive care solutions, generally outperforming predictions by human experts,” the authors said in a blog post published Friday.

William Moore, a professor of radiology at NYU Langone Health, said in a statement: “We have been able to show that with the use of this AI algorithm, serial chest radiographs can predict the need for escalation of care in patients with Covid-19.”

He added: “As Covid-19 continues to be a major public health issue, the ability to predict a patient’s need for elevation of care — for example, ICU admission — will be essential for hospitals.”

In order to learn how to make predictions, the AI system was fed two datasets of non-Covid patient chest X-rays and a dataset of 26,838 chest X-rays from 4,914 Covid patients.

The researchers said they used an AI technique called “momentum contrast” to train a neural network to extract information from chest X-ray images. A neural network is a computing system vaguely inspired by the human brain that can spot patterns and recognize relationships between vast amounts of data.

The research was published by Facebook this week but experts have already questioned how effective the AI software can be in practice.

“From a machine learning perspective, one would need to study how well this translates to new, unseen data from different hospitals and patient populations,” said Ben Glocker, who researches machine learning for imaging at Imperial College London, via email. “From my skim reading, it appears that all data (training and testing) is coming from the same hospital.”

The Facebook and NYU researchers said: “These models are not products, but rather research solutions, intended to help hospitals in the days and months to come with resource planning. While hospitals have their own unique data sets, they often don’t have the computational power necessary to train deep learning models from scratch.”

“We are open-sourcing our pretrained models (and publishing our results) so that hospitals with limited computational resources can fine-tune the models using their own data,” they added.


Only one state is doing worse than California in administering COVID-19 vaccines – SFGate

According to a Thursday evening update to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker, there’s only one state in the country that is doing a worse job than California is in administering its available COVID-19 doses.

California currently ranks 49th out of 50 states with a usage rate of 27.5%, beating only Alabama, which is locked into last place with a paltry 21.2% usage rate. For reference, the national usage rate is 38.8%, meaning California lags behind the rest of the country’s pace by double digits.

The Golden State is in the same ballpark as Georgia (48th place with a usage rate of 28.0%) and Virginia (47th with a rate of 28.4%), and dramatically trails the other larger states. Of the nation’s six largest states, California is the only one with a usage rate below 40.0%:

-California 27.5% (49th)

-Texas 49.6% (eighth)

-Florida 43.0% (23rd)

-New York 41.0% (26th)

-Pennsylvania 40.0% (27th)

-Illinois 43.2% (22nd)

The five states with the highest usage rates are West Virginia (78.6%), North Dakota (71.3%), South Dakota (61.4%), Rhode Island (57.2%) and Louisiana (54.4%).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday his state is now allowing individuals age 65 and older to get vaccinated, but the rollout has been far from smooth.

Counties and health care providers make the final call on who gets vaccinated, and some, including Los Angeles County — the state’s largest county — have brushed off the governor’s announcement and said only health care workers can receive the vaccine for now, citing short supply.

“We’re not done with our healthcare workers,” said L.A. County public health director Barbara Ferrer. “We haven’t heard back from the state about vaccine availability and how it would be distributed.”

Meanwhile, Orange County decided to allow residents aged 65 and older to book appointments at its new Disneyland super site, but its registration website crashed due to high demand.

Many counties are asking the state for more doses before moving on to the elderly. For example, Santa Clara County wants to begin to vaccinate those who are 75 and older, but after requesting 100,000 additional doses, was told this week it would be getting only 6,000.


Life Expectancy In US Shortened By Pandemic, Study Concludes : Coronavirus Updates – NPR

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COVID-19 in Pa: Philadelphia-area woman diagnosed with UK variant of COVID-19 – WPVI-TV

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — A variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom has been discovered in a woman from the Philadelphia region.

The news was announced following an investigation by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Bucks County Health Department.

Officials say the patient, a woman in her 50s, started experiencing symptoms during the last week of December and was briefly hospitalized.

The woman, who is a resident of both Philadelphia and Bucks County, is currently recovering.

Both health departments say they have are working together to perform contact tracing.

Scientists in the UK have said there’s no evidence this variant causes any more severe illness, but it may be able to spread more easily.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said while it’s not yet proven the variant is more contagious than others, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does seem to show that is the case.

“We are concerned that it is present in Philadelphia. Everyone in the area should take this information as a reminder to be even more consistent in wearing masks and keeping distance from others,” Farley said.

This is the second case of the variant found in Pennsylvania. In the first case, a patient from Dauphin County experienced mild symptoms.

Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.


CDC says U.K. coronavirus variant could become predominant strain in U.S. by March – NBC News

The U.K. variant of the coronavirus could become the predominant strain in the United States by March, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Friday.

So far, only 76 cases of the variant, called B.1.1.7, have been identified in the country, in 10 states, the CDC said.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

But models project that the variant could see “rapid growth” in coming months, putting further strain on the health care system.

“We are very concerned about this variant,” said Michael Johansson, one of the study’s authors and co-lead of the modeling team for the CDC’s Covid-19 response.

Johansson said the CDC is working to increase efforts to do more testing for such variants in the U.S.

The report comes as the U.S. continues to see cases surpass 200,000 each day. Thursday was the third consecutive day that more than 3,000 people died of Covid-19 in the United States, with a daily total of 3,957. Hospital systems across the country are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

There is no evidence to suggest that the U.K. variant might make people sicker. But a faster spread is sure to lead to more cases overall, the study authors wrote, “exacerbating the burden on an already strained health care system, and resulting in more deaths.”

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

The variant’s increased contagiousness means the U.S. must double down on mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking, as well increasing vaccination rates, the CDC said.

“The increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking,” the study authors wrote.

Those mitigation measures include rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, the CDC wrote, and are crucial to slow the initial spread of the U.K. variant, the CDC said.

“We know that people are tired and discouraged by what’s happened with this pandemic,” Johansson said. “But we know that we can act decisively now, and we can turn the corner, and really help prevent another wave coming in the spring.”

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Fear over COVID variant grows; L.A. County mulls more closures – Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County and the rest of the nation are in a race against time to vaccinate as many people as possible against the coronavirus before a variant thought to be even more contagious takes hold.

Those concerns were underscored in a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday, which stated that new modeling indicates the variant “has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months,” with the projection showing “rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.”

The new strain, first identified in Britain, weighs heavily in the minds of L.A. County public health officials as they weigh potential new health orders aimed at stymying the spread of the disease.

Settings that could be scrutinized further include outdoor gyms, which have been allowed to open at 50% capacity, and indoor malls and retail, which are supposed to be open at only 20% capacity, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday night.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week that she, too, is worried about the variant — which, though it has yet to be officially found in L.A. County, has already been identified in San Diego and San Bernardino counties.

Ferrer said the CDC is urging public health officials nationwide to do whatever it takes to prevent transmission “so that that variant doesn’t get hold as being the most dominant form of the virus that circulates for as long as possible.”

“What we’re really trying to do here is really sort of create the opportunity for us to actually get as many people vaccinated as possible before that variant gets hold,” Ferrer said. “That means we have to go back to the drawing board and look at everything we’re doing, and really assess how, in a very short period of time, can we get more control over the surge, more ability to actually slow rates of transmission?”

Scientists believe the variant, known as B.1.1.7, isn’t more likely to be fatal or make people sicker once they are infected. There’s also no evidence that the newly developed coronavirus vaccines won’t be effective against it.

But because the variant is believed to be more easily transmitted, it’s considered particularly dangerous. Health officials have long warned of the cascading effect of the coronavirus: The more people who get infected, the more people will need to be hospitalized and the more people will die.

Current expert projections show that, if left unchecked, the U.K. variant could dominate locally by March, according to Ferrer.

“This is our time to try to get the surge under control — before the variant is widespread,” she said.

Increased transmission, the latest CDC report warned, “might threaten strained healthcare resources, require extended and more rigorous implementation of public health strategies and increase the percentage of population immunity required for pandemic control.”

“The increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant warrants rigorous implementation of public health strategies to reduce transmission and lessen the potential impact … buying critical time to increase vaccination coverage,” the report stated. “CDC’s modeling data show that universal use of and increased compliance with mitigation measures and vaccination are crucial to reduce the number of new cases and deaths substantially in the coming months.”

Though “there is no known difference in clinical outcomes” when it comes to the variant, the CDC report noted a sobering reality: “A higher rate of transmission will lead to more cases, increasing the number of persons overall who need clinical care, exacerbating the burden on an already strained health care system and resulting in more deaths.”

According to the CDC, the variant is estimated to have first emerged in Britain in September.

At least 38 cases have been identified so far in California, among the most of any state. At least 22 have been identified in Florida, and cases have also been confirmed in Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.

“Absolutely, it’s a concern of ours,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California health and human services secretary, said at a briefing Tuesday.

For one thing, the variant’s presence illustrates why out-of-home activities carry a higher risk now than they did months, even weeks ago.

“We’re worried that if it takes off, if it does become more widespread, that we’re going to see even [more] increased transmission versus where we are now,” Ghaly said. “The rates of transmission are going to be significantly more challenging to contain if we see more widespread proliferation of this U.K., or this B.1.1.7 variant.”

The faster vaccines can get in Californians’ arms, Ghaly added, the less of an impact the variant will have in California, “but in the short run, [we are] very much concerned about it.”

Ghaly has previously characterized the new variant as “a little bit more sticky than the COVID virus that we’ve been seeing to date.”

In other words, the variant seems to have a much easier time sticking onto a human cell so that it can hijack it, begin to replicate and spread though the body.

The B.1.1.7 variant accounted for 20% of new infections in southeastern England in November.

The cases identified in San Bernardino and San Diego counties so far come from at least 20 different households that don’t seem to be particularly related, with no clear link to overseas travel, said Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco.

“That would all suggest that there is much wider spread transmission of this variant than we’re detecting right now,” Rutherford said at a campus town hall meeting last week.

Increasing study has confirmed some scientists’ early suspicions: The variant is a super-spreader, capable of expanding the pandemic and supplanting less transmissible strains of the virus.

Once it becomes established in the U.S. — a prospect experts view as inevitable — thwarting it will require public health measures more stringent than those adopted so far, a speedier vaccine rollout, and a greatly increased willingness among residents to be immunized.

“We’re losing the race with coronavirus — it’s infecting people much faster than we can get vaccine into people’s arms, and it’s overcoming our social distancing,” said University of Florida biologist Derek Cummings, an expert in emerging pathogens. “Now there’s this variant that will make that race even harder.”

No decision has yet been made about further restrictions under the L.A. County stay-at-home order.

“I will support what [the Department of] Public Health recommends and our public health professionals recommend,” Garcetti said Thursday night.

He said it’s possible that additional closures may not be necessary if it seems the pandemic is stabilizing, “but the moment it goes up, like we saw in December — at any pace like that — absolutely, that is something we cannot sustain and most importantly, our hospitals cannot.”

In the past week, most regions of L.A. County had at least one day where they reported zero or one available ICU beds, including central L.A., the Antelope Valley, San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley and Southeast L.A. County. The Westside reported as few as three ICU beds available, and the South Bay and Long Beach region reported as few as six.

One of the county’s hardest-hit hospitals is Kaiser Permanente’s Downey Medical Center, where 90% of the patients are currently COVID-positive. On Thursday, Dr. James Lee, the hospital’s area medical director, said they had 68 patients in an ICU intended for closer to 30.

“In our hospital, there is a deep sadness,” he said, noting that the medical center has more than “tripled and quadrupled” its capacity in recent weeks.

Like much of the region, Kaiser Downey began experiencing a surge back in November. They hit a high last week, Lee said — about two weeks after Christmas — and are now bracing for an additional bump related to New Year’s Eve.

To manage the surge, the hospital has been doubling and sometimes tripling up patients in rooms to avoid having to keep people in the hallway. It has also erected negative-pressurized surge tents outside to help manage intake and triage, Lee said.

But handling an influx of critical patients has as much to do with staff as it does with space. Almost any bed can be converted into an intensive care unit with the right physicians and equipment.

“If we can find a space in the hospital where a nurse and physician with ICU expertise, and equipment that is needed for an ICU, can be provided, that becomes an ICU room,” Lee said.

Lee said dealing with COVID-19 has been a long road for the community and healthcare workers alike.

“This pandemic has impacted us in more ways than one. We went through anxiety and fear, we went through fatigue, and then we went through sadness,” he said.

That sadness has only just begun to dissipate with the COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon.

“Now we’re going through hope because of the vaccine,” Lee said. “The vaccine is the best way that we can help many of these families moving forward.”

As hospitals contend with a steady stream of new COVID-19 patients, the pandemic’s death toll continues to ominously swell.

L.A. County reached yet another milestone Thursday, officially surpassing 13,000 local deaths from COVID-19.

Cumulatively, the county has reported 13,244 deaths and 976,075 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

More than 2,000 of the county’s COVID-19 deaths have been reported in just the last nine days.

Times staff writer Melissa Healy contributed to this report.


This is not a game: Global virus death toll hits 2 million – Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The global death toll from COVID-19 topped 2 million Friday, crossing the threshold amid a vaccine rollout so immense but so uneven that in some countries there is real hope of vanquishing the outbreak, while in other, less-developed parts of the world, it seems a far-off dream.

The numbing figure was reached just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The number of dead, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna. It is roughly equivalent to the Cleveland metropolitan area or the entire state of Nebraska.

“There’s been a terrible amount of death,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, a pandemic expert and dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. At the same time, he said, “our scientific community has also done extraordinary work.”

In wealthy countries including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, millions of citizens have already been given some measure of protection with at least one dose of vaccine developed with revolutionary speed and quickly authorized for use.

But elsewhere, immunization drives have barely gotten off the ground. Many experts are predicting another year of loss and hardship in places like Iran, India, Mexico and Brazil, which together account for about a quarter of the world’s deaths.

“As a country, as a society, as citizens we haven’t understood,” lamented Israel Gomez, a Mexico City paramedic who spent months shuttling COVID-19 patients around by ambulance, desperately looking for vacant hospital beds. “We have not understood that this is not a game, that this really exists.”

Mexico, a country of 130 million people, has received just 500,000 doses of vaccine and has put barely half of those into the arms of health care workers.

That’s in sharp contrast to the situation for its wealthier northern neighbor. Despite early delays, hundreds of thousands of people are rolling up their sleeves every day in the United States, where the virus has killed about 390,000, by far the highest toll of any country.

All told, over 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford.

While vaccination drives in rich countries have been hamstrung by long lines, inadequate budgets and a patchwork of state and local approaches, the obstacles are far greater in poorer nations, which can have weak health systems, crumbling transportation networks, entrenched corruption and a lack of reliable electricity to keep vaccines cold enough.

Also, the majority of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been snapped up by wealthy countries. COVAX, a U.N.-backed project to supply shots to developing parts of the world, has found itself short of vaccine, money and logistical help.

As a result, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist warned it is highly unlikely that herd immunity — which would require at least 70% of the globe to be vaccinated — will be achieved this year. As the disaster has demonstrated, it is not enough to snuff out the virus in a few places.

“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said this week.

Health experts fear, too, that if shots are not distributed widely and fast enough, it could give the virus time to mutate and defeat the vaccine — “my nightmare scenario,” as Jha put it.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the 2 million milestone “has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort.” He added: “Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed.”

Meanwhile, in Wuhan, where the scourge was discovered in late 2019, a global team of researchers led by WHO arrived Thursday on a politically sensitive mission to investigate the origins of the virus, which is believed to have spread to humans from wild animals.

The Chinese city of 11 million people is bustling again, with few signs it was once the epicenter of the catastrophe, locked down for 76 days, with over 3,800 dead.

“We are not fearful or worried as we were in the past,” said Qin Qiong, a noodle shop owner. “We now live a normal life. I take the subway every day to come to work in the shop. … Except for our customers, who have to wear masks, everything else is the same.”

It took eight months to hit 1 million dead but less than four months after that to reach the next million.

While the death toll is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real number of lives lost to is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of inadequate testing and the many fatalities inaccurately attributed to other causes, especially early in the outbreak.

“What was never on the horizon is that so many of the deaths would be in the richest countries in the world,” said Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious diseases expert at Britain’s University of Exeter. “That the world’s richest countries would mismanage so badly is just shocking.”

In rich and poor countries alike, the crisis has devastated economies, thrown multitudes out of work and plunged many into poverty.

In Europe, where more than a quarter of the world’s deaths have taken place, strict lockdowns and curfews have been reimposed to beat back a resurgence of the virus, and a new variant that is believed to be more contagious is circulating in Britain and other countries, as well as the U.S.

Even in some of the wealthiest countries, the vaccination drives have been slower than expected. France, with the second-largest economy in Europe and more than 69,000 known virus deaths, will need years, not months, to vaccinate its 53 million adults unless it sharply speeds up its rollout, hampered by shortages, red tape and considerable suspicion of the vaccines.

Still, in places like Poissy, a blue-collar town west of Paris, the first shots of the Pfizer formula were met with relief and a sense that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

“We have been living inside for nearly a year. It’s not a life,” said Maurice Lachkar, a retired 78-year-old acupuncturist who was put on the priority list for vaccination because of his diabetes and his age. “If I catch the virus I am done.”

Maurice and his wife, Nicole, who also got vaccinated, said they might even allow themselves hugs with their two children and four grandchildren, whom they have seen from a socially safe distance only once or twice since the pandemic hit.

“It is going to be liberating,” he said.

Throughout the developing world, the images are strikingly similar: rows and rows of graves being dug, hospitals pushed to the limit and medical workers dying for lack of protective gear.

In Peru, which has the highest COVID-19 fatality rate in Latin America, hundreds of health care workers went on strike this week to demand better pay and working conditions in a country where 230 doctors have died of the disease. In Brazil, authorities in the Amazon rainforest’s biggest city planned to transfer hundreds of patients out because of a dwindling supply of oxygen tanks that has resulted in some people dying at home.

In Honduras, anesthesiologist Dr. Cesar Umaña is treating 25 patients in their homes by phone because hospitals lack the capacity and equipment.

“This is complete chaos,” he said.


Cheng reported from Toronto, Leicester from Poissy, France, and Goodman from Miami. Associated Press writers Victoria Milko in Jakarta, Indonesia, and David Biller in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report, along with AP video journalist Sam McNeil in Wuhan, China.


2543 more COVID-19 cases, 12 deaths reported Friday in Utah –

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New COVID Variant in U.S. May Now Be Dominant Form, Scientists Say – Newsweek

Scientists say they have identified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2—the virus which causes COVID-19—in the United States that may be the most dominant form in the country.

The variant—referred to as 20C-US—appeared to have taken root in the southern portion of the country in the late spring and early summer of 2020, with the researchers tracing its earliest appearance to Texas in May, according to a study submitted on the pre-print server bioRxiv.

The paper is a preliminary report that has yet to be peer-reviewed, and thus should not be regarded as conclusive. But the scientists from Southern Illinois University (SIU) wrote in the study that the variant has “likely… become the most dominant variant in the U.S.”

“It’s here. We found it,” Keith Gagnon, an author of the study from SIU‘s School of Medicine, said in a statement. “It’s definitely home-grown and widespread, and we’re the first to characterize it.”

The variant does not appear to have spread widely beyond the U.S., although it has also been detected at very low levels in a handful of other countries, including Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Poland and Israel, the researchers said.

Within the U.S., it seems to be most highly prevalent in the Upper Midwest, the team found in their analysis, noting that 20C-US is expected to continue spreading across the country.

Scientists have yet to determine whether or not the variant is more transmissible than others. But Gagnon and his team say the rise of 20C-US coincides with the second and third wave of COVID infections in the U.S.—circumstantial evidence that it may be more infectious than other variants.

“There are hundreds of variants floating around, so for this one to rise to prominence suggests it might be more transmissible,” Gagnon said.

The rise of the variant also coincides with a substantially reduced case fatality rates across the U.S. despite the recent rise in cases. While many factors contribute to case fatality rates, the scientists say in the study it is “plausible that 20C-US represents a SARS-CoV-2 variant with higher transmissibility but milder illness.”

“Such variants could conceivably generate a fitness advantage for the virus as they are more likely to spread quietly,” the authors wrote.

As SARS-CoV-2 has spread around the world, the virus has undergone genetic mutations that have led to the rise of several new variants. New mutations are not always beneficial to the virus, but in some cases they alter its characteristics in noticeable ways.

New variants that have recently been detected in the U.K. and South Africa, for example, appear to be more transmissible than the original.

Daniel Davis, a professor of Immunology at the University of Manchester in the U.K., who was not involved in the research, told Newsweek: “As more and more samples of this virus are genetically analyzed, we are understanding a lot more about how the virus varies across the globe. Variation is to be expected and not alarming in itself. It is well established that different versions of viruses arise and fall over time.”

“This new variant, dubbed 20C-US, is now known to be one of the common versions of the virus present in the U.S., but there are still many other versions of the virus circulating in the U.S.”

It is also currently unclear whether or not the genetic changes present in the new U.S. variant will affect the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, although Gagnon said there was not likely to be a large impact for now.

“Based on the mutations so far, I don’t think it will significantly impact the vaccine’s effectiveness. The catch is that the virus continues to evolve, and since May, it has acquired three mutations, and two of them are in the spike protein, one of which might affect antibody binding. There are a lot of unknowns.”

The spike protein, located on the outside of the virus, enables it to bind and enter human cells.

Ian Jones, professor of virology at the U.K.’s University of Reading told Newsweek there is currently no reason to suggest that the vaccine will not be effective against the new variant, or that it causes more severe disease.

“This is yet another example of the COVID virus adapting to the human population” he said. “Changes that increase transmission are expected as these would be selected naturally as the epidemic spreads. In this case the suggested key mutation may not alter virus binding to the cell but the entry step that immediately follows it, equally effective for increased transmission.”

Coronavirus particles
Stock image: Artist’s rendering of coronavirus particles. Scientists say a new coronavirus variant may now be dominant in the United States.