BATON ROUGE, La. — The death of a newly elected U.S. representative from Louisiana of complications related to COVID-19 stunned the state’s political circles Wednesday and became the latest brutal reminder of how dangerous the coronavirus can be.

Luke Letlow speaks after signing up in July to run for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District seat. Associated Press/Melinda Deslatte

Luke Letlow, who was only 41 and had no known underlying health conditions, died Tuesday night at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport – days before he was scheduled to be sworn into office, according to his spokesman Andrew Bautsch. Bautsch asked for privacy for Letlow’s family “during this difficult and unexpected time.”

Dr. G.E. Ghali, of LSU Health Shreveport, told The Advocate that Letlow didn’t have any underlying health conditions that would have placed him at greater risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

The congressman-elect had been inconsistent in his precautions against the coronavirus, though he acknowledged the severity of COVID-19 and said in a debate that he personally knew people who had died from the disease.

Photos posted on social media from campaign events show Letlow sometimes wearing a mask when interacting with potential voters, but other times – including at his victory party, two weeks before his hospitalization – without a face covering as he posed for pictures with supporters.

Read the full story here.

UK authorizes Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

LONDON — Britain on Wednesday became the first country to authorize a coronavirus vaccine from the University of Oxford and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, adding a second shot to the fight against a surging outbreak here driven by a highly infectious variant of the virus.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca doses are cheaper than other coronavirus vaccines and easier to transport, as they can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.

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Heath Secretary Matt Hancock gives a thumbs up as he leaves Millbank in Westminster, central London, after the news that a COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been approved for use in Britain, Wednesday, Dec. 30. Britain on Wednesday authorized use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.” Steve Parsons/PA via AP

Health Minister Matt Hancock praised the homegrown vaccine as a “game-changer” and said clinical trials have proved it to be safe and effective – but he did not put to rest questions about how effective.

Researchers from the Oxford-AstraZeneca team earlier this month published interim results that showed their vaccine was 62% effective for volunteers given two full doses and 90% effective for a smaller subgroup who received a half dose followed by a full dose. The scientists said they were studying why the different regimens produced such different results.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency authorized the vaccine at two full doses for people 18 and older, concluding the results of the half-dose regimen could not yet be supported.

British regulators also noted data is limited on how well the vaccine works in those over 65, who are among the most vulnerable to the virus but who represented less than 6% of the clinical trial participants. Still, the regulators okayed use in older populations. Health officials stressed that the vaccine has been shown to greatly reduce severe illness from COVID-19, which will cut the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

Moncef Slaoui, the head of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, said at a Wednesday briefing he anticipates the AstraZeneca vaccine gaining U.S. authorization in April, based on successful completion of Phase 3 clinical trials in the United States.

He said he has “no doubt the vaccine is very effective against severe disease” but that the “biggest question mark is efficacy in the elderly population that needs to be further documented.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines already rolled out in the United States use a different technology and had simpler trial designs, showing them to be 95% effective.

Canada to require negative test for people entering country

TORONTO — The Canadian government said Wednesday that passengers must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before they arrive in the country.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the measure will be implemented in the next few days.

Canada already requires those entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days and it has already banned all flights from the United Kingdom because of the new variant of COVID-19 spreading there.

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People walk through the snow in the village of Blue Mountain Ski Resort in The Blue Mountains, Ontario, on the first day of a provincial lockdown amid a 12-day trend of over 2,000 daily COVID-19 cases, Saturday, Dec. 26. Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

The decision came a day after the premier of Canada’s largest province said he had ordered his finance minister to end a Caribbean vacation, saying he is “extremely disappointed” the official went abroad at a time the government is urging people to avoid nonessential travel because of the pandemic.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said it was “completely unacceptable” that Finance Minister Rod Phillips went to the French island of St. Barts for the holidays. A source familiar with his travel said Phillips flew commercial on Dec. 13 from Toronto to Antigua and then on to St. Barts, a popular vacation spot for the rich and famous over the Christmas holidays. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about his travel.

The finance minister’s Twitter account had suggested that he was in Ontario while he has been in St. Barts.

Phillips also travelled to Switzerland in August.

“Some Canadians are still travelling for nonessential reasons. This is deeply concerning. We must reiterate that now is not the time to travel,” Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Wednesday.

Ontario began a provincewide lockdown on Dec. 26 and Ford has been blaming travelers for bringing the new coronavirus to the province.

Canada’s national government and the Ontario government have both repeatedly asked Canadians not to travel abroad during the pandemic.

The Ford government already was being criticized for halting vaccination operations over the holidays and for delaying a provincewide lockdown until the day after Christmas.

Ontario set a new daily record for cases on Wednesday with 2,923, with just over one-third of them in the country’s largest city of Toronto.

 

Colorado National Guardsman has first reported U.S. case of mutated virus

DENVER — A Colorado National Guard member has the first reported U.S. case of a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus that has set off alarm in Britain, while a second case is suspected in another Guard member, health officials said Wednesday.

The Colorado National Guard assists at a a COVID-19 drive-up testing station in Telluride, Colorado, March 17, 2020. Maj. Jason Reed

The two were sent on Dec. 23 to work at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak of the virus in a small town outside Denver, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist.

A state laboratory detected the cases after it began looking for signs of the variant after its spread was announced in England earlier this month, she said. Staff and residents at the nursing home who have tested positive for the coronavirus are having their samples screened for signs of the variant, and so far no evidence of it has been found, Herlihy said.

The confirmed case is in a Colorado man in his 20s who hadn’t been traveling and has mild symptoms, officials said. He’s isolating at his home near Denver, and the person with the suspected case is isolating in a hotel on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, Herlihy said.

Read the full story here.

 

 

Most of Britain under strictest restrictions as virus variant surges

LONDON — The British government has extended its highest tier of restrictions to three-quarters of England’s population, saying a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus has reached most of the country.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the top Tier 4 would be extended beyond London and the southeast to large swaths of central, northern and southwest England.

Under the measures, people are advised to stay home, household mixing is banned, nonessential shops are closed and restaurants and bars can only offer takeout.

Hancock says the authorization of a new vaccine for use in the U.K. was good news, but “sharply rising cases and the hospitalizations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading.”

U.S. has vaccinated only a fraction of the 20 million it projected by year’s end

Although officials projected that the United States would be able to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11.4 million doses had been sent to states and only about 2.1 million people had received the vaccine’s first dose.

While officials have cautioned that a delay in reporting vaccinations means that the tally is almost certainly an undercount, the number of inoculations stands at only a fraction of predicted levels.

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U.S. Air Force Veteran Robert Aucoin, 78, receives a COVID-19 vaccine dose at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Mass. on Tuesday. Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen/The Republican via Associated Press

Gustave Perna, who oversees vaccine distribution for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, apologized earlier this month for a “miscommunication” that caused states to receive far fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine than they had expected.

In a live-streamed address, Biden said the Trump team’s plan to distribute and administer the vaccines “is falling behind, far behind.”

“If it continues to move as it is now, it’s going to take years — not months — to vaccinate the American people,” Biden said.

He pledged to ramp up the pace of vaccinations to 1 million per day, aiming for 100 million shots in the first 100 days of his presidency. He said he would “move heaven and earth” to get it done.

“This will take more time than anyone would like and more time than the promises from the Trump administration have suggested,” Biden said. “This is going to be the greatest operational challenge we have ever faced as a nation, but we’re going to get it done.”

Questioned Tuesday about the pace of vaccinations, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, acknowledged the lag and said he was cautiously optimistic that vaccinations would pick up momentum to reach previously projected levels.

“The people who are responsible for it are really on it,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN. “The question is: Are they going to be able to get back to the pace that we set early on?”

LA hospitals switch to ‘crisis care,’ allowing them to ration treatment

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s top health official says hospitals in hard-hit Los Angeles County are turning to “crisis care” and bracing for the coronavirus surge to worsen in the new year.

Dr. Mark Ghaly’s comment came Tuesday as he extended strict stay-home orders in areas where intensive care units have few beds.

Ghaly says Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley have virtually no ICU capacity to treat COVID-19 patients. He says some overwhelmed hospitals don’t have space to unload ambulances or get oxygen to patients who can’t breathe.

The state’s “crisis care” guidelines allow for rationing treatment when staff, medicine and supplies are in short supply.

California reported more than 31,000 new coronavirus infections Tuesday and 242 deaths. Nearly 25,000 people in the state have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Tokyo experiencing biggest virus surge of pandemic

TOKYO — Tokyo’s surge in infections is bigger than earlier waves, Gov. Yuriko Koike has told reporters as the Japanese capital reported 944 new cases, its second highest since the pandemic began.

Koike urged residents to stay home during the New Year holidays, saying that “the infections can turn explosive anytime.”

She called her request a last-ditch effort to slow infections without requiring another state of emergency.

COVID task force experts said nearly three-quarters of the 4,000 beds currently available in Tokyo are full and all beds could be full within two weeks unless the people reduce their activities immediately.

 


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