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Coronavirus

New York has First Case of Brazilian Coronavirus Variant

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The state of New York has discovered its first case of the Brazilian variant of the coronavirus.

What We Know:

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced on Saturday that a New York resident has tested positive for P.1, a mutated strain of COVID-19 that was first detected in Brazil. The statement reports that the patient is a Brooklyn woman in her 90s “with no travel history.”
  • NBC News reports that the discovery was made by scientists at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and was later verified by the state Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center Laboratories. The state health department is now working with the city Department of Health to learn more about the patient and conduct contact tracing.
  • Health officials are working against time to distribute enough vaccines to halt what the CDC calls “variants of concern,” meaning any varying strain of COVID-19 that is more transmissible, fatal, or vaccine-resistant.

“This is a race between the vaccine and the variants, and we continue to make tremendous progress of getting shots in the arms of eligible New Yorkers,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said during the announcement.

  • The Brazilian P.1 variant was first detected in the United States at the end of January 2021. As of late, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported a total of 48 cases of the mutated strain across the country. The CDC is also keeping a close eye on other variant strains like the B.1.526 strain in New York, the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant, the B.1.351 strain from South Africa, and the California variant called B.1.427/B.1.429.

Governor Cuomo called the incident a reminder to fellow New Yorkers to continue to take health precautions seriously. “While it’s normal for a virus to mutate, the best way to protect yourself is to continue to wear a well-fitted mask, avoid large crowds, social distance, wash your hands, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn,” he said.

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Coronavirus

Journal of Neuroscience Study Finds Psychological Importance of Face-to-Face Interaction

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Image credit: Naeblys/Shutterstock.com

Following a pandemic filled with online social events and strict gathering restraints, many Americans are now accustomed to socializing, working, and spending leisure time online. Bonding in-person, however, has strong mental, physical, and emotional benefits originating in distinct brain stimulation.

What We Know:

  • Evidence using EEG (electroencephalogram) brain scans suggests real-life socialization activates stronger connections and comfort levels compared to digital socialization. The study created three groups: one that was exposed to photos of a person, another that was exposed to a television show with a person in it, and the last actually meeting a person. EEGs were taken for members of each group both before and after the exposure, measuring familiarity and identity activity in the brain.
  • Researchers discovered a high familiarity quality for the physical interaction group, a low familiarity quality for the group exposed to a TV show, and nonexistent familiarity for the group exposed to only photos of a person. Strong familiarity is tied to faster and more intense connections, demonstrating the importance of face-to-face interaction for building relationships.
  • The face-to-face interaction group only spent 3 hours with a person while the other groups spent 20 hours watching a person on television or 20 hours looking at photos, yet the face-to-face group still made stronger connections. Exemplified is the rapid familiarity and connection built between two people interacting in person.
  • In the digital age, as well as during COVID, online communication is normal. Consequentially, with in-person communication falling second, communicators miss out on reading body language and picking up on nearly unrecognizable facial changes. In-person communication is especially important for children, many of which have been out of school due to pandemic safety measures. Face-to-face communication helps children build skills that enhance their socioemotional development.

Face-to-face meetups provide the dopamine and oxytocin that support trust, bonding, and connection to others. For overall health, wellbeing, and happiness, socializing in real life is a scientifically significant aspect.

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Coronavirus

France, Belgium Ease Virus Curbs

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On Wednesday, France and Belgium announced they would begin easing their COVID-19 restrictions; the countries would do this by allowing cafes and restaurants to serve indoors, dropping overnight curfews, and more.

What We Know:

  • The two nations’ leaders made the announcements, respectively. France’s Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter for his declaration. In his tweet, he emphasized the French citizens’ longing to return to normalcy while also advising people to continue following precautions. French people may now enjoy outdoor dining and stay out past 11 P.M. Additionally, Macron intends on removing the overnight curfew by June 30.

  • Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated the country will now permit parties of up to four people to dine indoors. Indoor events can now function with no more than 200 people, or 75% capacity. Furthermore, their work-from-home mandate is still in effect, but employees may request to spend one day in the office. Employers may accept this request as long as larger offices maintain a daily capacity of 20% of workers.
  • The vaccine rollout across Europe facilitated the newfound lenience. Across the continent, nations are encouraging their subjects to get vaccinated in an attempt to “strike a balance” between public health and reviving industries. Europe wants to renew tourism across the continent, as pandemic travel restrictions devastated the sector the most.

  • To boost travel, the European Parliament voted on Wednesday to approve the Digital Covid Certificate. The new document will permit those who received the vaccine, tested negative, or recently recovered from COVID-19 to travel across the European Union (EU) countries.

Currently, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, and Spain already issued millions of certificates to EU residents.

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Biden Administration Purchases 500 Million More Vaccines For Global Distribution

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(Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Biden administration is slated to purchase 500 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer to donate globally.

What We Know:

  • Previously, the Biden administration’s goal was to distribute 80 million doses worldwide by the end of the month. However, global demand for richer countries with excess doses to distribute has increased significantly.
  • 200 million of the vaccines are going to be distributed through COVAX, a World Health Organization-backed initiative. 300 million will be distributed in the first half of 2022. All of these vaccines are going to low or middle-income countries.
  • Britain is hosting the Group of Seven summit, which will primarily focus on how to close the vaccine gap and end the pandemic. Currently, more than half the populations of the U.S. and Britain have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. In Africa, this number is less than 2%. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, told reporters, “The president is focused on helping to vaccinate the world because he believes it is the right thing to do; it’s what Americans do in times of need.”
  • Jennifer Nuzzo, epidemiologist and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, applauded the effort, saying it “sends a profound signal in terms of U.S. commitment to global health security”. The hope is that, by announcing this at G7, other countries in the EU will be encouraged to do the same. International Health Organizations warn that the virus needs to be curtailed in order to prevent more dangerous variants.
  • As the Biden administration looks globally, vaccination rates in the U.S. have begun to drop. This decrease, coupled with exposure to a new variant called “delta”, has been a cause for concern. The ability for this and other new strains to spread due to a stagnation in vaccination is on the mind of health officials. Despite this, they said the global effort needs to take priority.
  • COVAX aimed to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of the year and vaccinate 20% of the populations of countries in need. These hopes have seemed unattainable due to a lack of funding and a severe supply crunch. To date, they have delivered just under 82 million doses to 129 countries.
  • The efforts of the Biden administration to distribute vaccines globally have garnered both worldwide and bipartisan support. Republican Senator Richard Burr stated, “This is exactly what the federal government should be doing: working with the companies who developed lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines to make them available to the rest of the world.”

Biden is expected to announce his plan at the G7 meeting with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. “We have to end COVID-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” Biden said. 

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