Conflicting Virus

Conflicting Virus Data in Texas Raises Distrust of the Government – The New York Times

Delays, discrepancies and abrupt leaps in coronavirus case and death counts in Texas have baffled residents and frustrated local officials. Here is what has gone awry.

Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

Inconsistencies and problems with Covid-19 data collection in Texas have clouded the picture of the pandemic’s trajectory in the state, to the point that some residents and officials say they cannot rely on the numbers to tell them what is really going on.

The state has overlooked thousands of cases, only to report them weeks after infection. It has made major adjustments to its case and death counts, defining them one way and then another, suddenly reporting figures for some counties that were vastly different from those posted by the local health department.

“The changing of gears and data reporting at the state has a lot of public health departments feeling a significant case of whiplash,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio said.

The daunting task of reporting coronavirus cases and deaths in real time has strained public health departments across the country. But none have shown more repeated cracks than Texas.

The state has faced these data problems as infections surged in the summer and schools and colleges began to reopen for the fall. Changes in the state’s figures have been large enough to affect national trends, and have sown confusion and distrust at a time when the state says it needs public support to avoid another surge.

“If everyone was counted in a timely way, then maybe people would be more careful, and maybe people would understand that this is real,” said Debra Zukonik of Rockwall County, where the deaths of her brother and a friend did not appear to be reflected in state and local figures for weeks afterward.

Cases and deaths peaked over the summer in Texas and have been trending downward since then, according to a New York Times database that uses both state and county figures. But the virus is still spreading rapidly in many areas of the state, with an average of more than 3,500 new cases a day in September.

Public health officials and researchers place the blame for the state’s data problems on Texas’ antiquated data systems and a reliance on faxed test results, which limit the state’s ability to track every infection and death in many of its 254 counties. They also say that the vast state’s decentralized structure — with many local governments, some of them tiny, running their own public health operations — is ill-suited to coping with the crush of Covid-19.

“It’s a colossal undertaking, and because it’s happening in real time, there will inevitably be situations where we have to update or correct something,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Texas has these 57 strong, independent organizations that will do what they do,” he said, referring to the state’s local health departments. “That’s just the situation we’re in.”

Other states have also grappled with some of these data challenges, including glitches and backlogs in California and a debate over transparency in Florida. But Texas, even as it has tried to make improvements, has been troubled by multiple issues.


Credit…Callaghan O’Hare for The New York Times

In August, after upgrading one of its reporting systems, Texas discovered backlogs of thousands of positive test results that the state and its laboratories had overlooked or miscoded from late spring and summer. That meant case counts in some counties had been artificially low for months — and would be artificially high in the final weeks of August and into September as the omitted cases were belatedly added.

Dallas County reported 5,361 confirmed cases on a day in mid-August when the county had just 166 actual new cases; the rest were from the state’s backlog. The state has added a few thousand more backlogged cases since then, many dating from June or July.

“It’s definitely very frustrating for all of us,” said Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services. “If there’s a big backlog or delay, it doesn’t reflect the actual number of people who test positive today, or even two days ago.”

Public health experts and local officials say the backlogs represent thousands of missed chances to perform timely contact tracing, and have given the public reason to be skeptical of the data.

But state officials said that knowing about the backlogged cases earlier would not have changed the overall trend in the state or the guidance given to the public. And they say the reporting system upgrade, despite its flaws, shows that Texas is moving in the right direction.

“The data that we have now is far more accurate than what we had last month, and maybe even a couple of weeks ago,” Gov. Greg Abbott said on Aug. 23, after the backlog issue came to light. “That data should be very close to being perfectly accurate in the coming weeks and coming months.”

Even as the backlogs subside, confusion about cases persists because state and local health departments do not report them uniformly. While the state includes confirmed cases based on a molecular test, at least 17 counties also report probable cases based on antigen testing, symptoms or exposure to an infected person, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The case count differences raise doubts among the public, said Annette Rodriguez, health director for the Corpus Christi Nueces County Public Health District, which reported 4,000 more cumulative cases than the state on Sept. 11.

“It makes them question: Who’s right? Who isn’t? Who’s credible?”


Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

In late July, Texas changed the way it tallies coronavirus deaths. It started basing its counts on death certificates filed with the state, instead of gathering figures from local health department websites, which often rely on reports from hospitals and physicians. The change was intended to make the tallies for all 254 counties consistent and comparable, but it has distorted data for several locations, confusing residents and local officials alike.

The change led the state to add 675 deaths to its tally in a single day — a jump plainly visible on the national death curve.

Then, the next day, the state lowered its new figure by more than 200, citing an “automation error.”

The state’s tally for Harris County, which includes Houston, took one of the largest leaps: from 636 deaths on July 26 to 1,100 on July 27. In the same 24-hour period the county noted only 10 deaths; the spike was due mainly to the state’s change of method.

In other counties, the state’s new method yielded lower figures than local health departments’ websites were reporting. The day after the change, Hidalgo County in the hard-hit Rio Grande Valley said its cumulative death toll was 531; the state’s figure was 254.

Hidalgo officials said the discrepancy was probably caused by delays of up to three weeks in issuing death certificates in the county. In a detailed letter on Facebook, they said the state had made the change without consulting them.

Mr. Van Deusen, the state public health spokesman, said it “could have done a better job communicating about that to the local jurisdictions.”

In one of more than 100 comments posted on Facebook in response to the county’s letter, a Facebook user wrote, “Do you understand that these discrepancies lead us all to think that you are hyping the numbers?”

Dave Montgomery contributed reporting.

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Vietnam Virus

Vietnam says up to 800,000 have left virus epicentre Danang – Yahoo! Voices

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam’s health ministry said on Saturday up to 800,000 visitors to Danang city, the country’s new novel coronavirus epicentre, have left for other parts of the country since July 1.

Vietnam last week detected its first locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in more than three months in Danang, a tourism hot spot.

The total number of infections in the country has since risen to 558 from 413, with most of the new cases linked to three hospitals in Danang.

More than 41,000 people have visited the three hospitals since July 1, the ministry said in a statement.

The Southeast Asian country reported its first two COVID-19 deaths on Friday, and the toll rose to three on Saturday.

(Reporting by Khanh Vu; editing by Jason Neely)

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Vaccine Virus

Virus vaccine put to final test in thousands of volunteers – FOX 11 Los Angeles

The world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine study got underway Monday with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers helping to test shots created by the U.S. government — one of several candidates in the fin…
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emerging Virus

A new virus emerging in Chinese pig farms has the ‘essential hallmarks’ for a pandemic – MarketWatch

The Margin

Fauci says the emergent flu is not ‘an immediate threat,’ but ‘it’s something we need to keep our eye on’

What is G4 EA H1N1? An emerging influenza.

Bloomberg News

An emergent strain of flu in China is attracting the attention of scientists just as the world is wrestling with the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu.

Chinese researchers identified a novel strain of influenza that is infecting pigs in China and that has characteristics of the so-called swine flu, or H1N1, that resulted in the 2009 pandemic.

Researchers earlier this week published a report in peer-reviewed science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, that identifies a strain of flu — G4 EA H1N1 — that has traits akin to H1N1 and could be transmitted to humans.

The scientists, who conducted research on Chinese pig populations in various provinces from 2011 to 2018, described the novel flu as having all the necessary attributes for a pandemic.

“G4 viruses have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” the report read. “Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in swine industry, should be urgently implemented,” the researchers wrote.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines swine flu as a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza in pigs.

Talk of a emergent illness comes as the world is dealing with SAR-COV2, the novel strain of coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December.

There are more than 10 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and at least 507,014 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. continues to lead the world, with a case tally of 2.6 million and death toll of 126,360. The data have been revised down since this morning.

On Tuesday, The U.S.’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that there’s “the possibility that you might have another swine flu-type outbreak as we had in 2009,” in testimony to a Senate committee about the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s something that still is in the stage of examination,” the public-health expert said. Fauci said the flu was not “an immediate threat where you’re seeing infections, but it’s something we need to keep our eye on, just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu.”

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Qantas Virus

Qantas to cut 6000 jobs due to virus impact – BBC News

Qantas has cancelled all international flights until late October except for those to New Zealand.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Australia’s national carrier says it has been hit “very hard” by the virus

Qantas will axe 6,000 jobs as part of its plans to survive the coronavirus pandemic, the airline says.

The cuts equate to about a fifth of the airline’s workforce prior to the Covid-19 crisis. In March, it furloughed more than 80% of its staff.

Australia’s national carrier said the collapse in global air travel had devastated revenues.

Last week, the Australian government said its border would most likely remain closed into next year.

It prompted Qantas to cancel all international flights until late October, except for those to New Zealand.

On Thursday, chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline expected smaller revenues in the next three years, forcing it to become a smaller operation to survive.

“The actions we must take will have a huge impact on thousands of our people,” he said in a statement.

“But the collapse in billions of dollars in revenue leaves us little choice if we are to save as many jobs as possible, long term.”

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Media captionCoronavirus: How to fly during a pandemic

Qantas to cut 6,000 jobs due to virus impact

Mr Joyce added that Qantas, and its budget subsidiary Jetstar, would continue to extend a furlough for about 15,000 workers “as we wait for the recovery we know is coming”.

Australia has flattened its virus curve faster than other nations, meaning demand for domestic flights has returned and is expected to fully recover by 2022.

But international demand at that time is forecast to be half of what it was, Qantas said.

The airline also plans to raise A$1.9bn (£1.05bn; $1.3bn) in equity – its first such move in 10 years – to bring in new funds and help “accelerate” its recovery.

Other short-term savings will be found by grounding up to 100 planes, including its A380 fleet, and deferring the purchase of new planes, it said.

Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of FlightGlobal, told the BBC that the measures should help support the airline as it deals with the fallout from the pandemic.

“Qantas’s mix of job cuts, fleet reductions, and capital raising are designed to reduce costs during a demand crisis for the industry, and retain a solid core for the eventual rebound. In the short to medium term, Australia’s strong domestic market should help Qantas’s revenue partially revive.”

Decisions offer insight on Australia border question

Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Sydney

Australia’s borders remain pretty much shut in and out – apart from returning citizens or for passengers with exceptional circumstances. And the comments by Qantas today are telling.

By grounding most of its international fleet “for at least the next year”, the airline is clearly not expecting international borders to open up in a meaningful way until at least June 2021.

Should the much talked-about trans-Tasman bubble between Australia and New Zealand open up, Qantas will doubtless be part of that.

But for non-Australians hoping to visit family abroad – or for Aussies eyeing a holiday to Bali – there’s no need to pack the passport for a while yet.

Of course today the biggest thoughts go to the 6,000 or so Qantas staff who are losing their jobs, and the 15,000 employees who remain stood down.

Mr Joyce is hopeful about half of that latter group will be back helping the airline run domestic routes by the end of the year on the back of ramped-up demand to fly around this vast country. That hinges on Australia’s states opening borders to allow free travel.

And that depends on Australia keeping Covid-19 well under control – so outbreaks like the one we’re seeing right now in Melbourne do not become the norm.

The airline said its massive loyalty programme – which has 13 million members or around half Australia’s population – would be its best hope of recovery while borders remain closed.

Australia’s other large carrier, Virgin Australia, slumped into voluntary administration in April and is currently undergoing a sale process.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) – the peak body for airlines – has warned that global airline revenue has seen a 55% decline on 2019 levels. IATA says it will take more than three years for global travel to return to 2019 levels.

Aviation industry analyst Shukor Yusof from Endau Analytics warned that worse is still to come for the world’s airlines as they deal with the impact of the coronavirus.

“The crisis is deeper and wider than what many think it is, and it will have a debilitating effect on the industry. We are seeing just the beginning of what is going to be at least 12 to 18 months of pain and suffering before airlines slowly recover.”

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therapy Virus

UN virus therapy trial pauses hydroxychloroquine testing – 13WHAM-TV

UN virus therapy trial pauses hydroxychloroquine testing – 13WHAM-TV
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Fight Virus

U.K. Virus Fight Boosted by Clearance of Roche Antibody Test – Bloomberg

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'eminently Virus

Virus ’eminently capable’ of spreading through speech: study – FRANCE 24

Washington (AFP)

Microdroplets generated by speech can remain suspended in the air in an enclosed space for more than ten minutes, a study published Wednesday showed, underscoring their likely role in spreading COVID-19.

Researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) had a person loudly repeat the phrase “Stay healthy” for 25 seconds inside a closed box.

A laser projected into the box illuminated droplets, allowing them to be seen and counted.

They stayed in the air for an average of 12 minutes, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) showed.

Taking into account the known concentration of coronavirus in saliva, scientists estimated that each minute of loudly speaking can generate more than 1,000 virus-containing droplets capable of remaining airborne for eight minutes or more in a closed space.

“This direct visualization demonstrates how normal speech generates airborne droplets that can remain suspended for tens of minutes or longer and are eminently capable of transmitting disease in confined spaces,” the researchers conclude.

The same team had observed that speaking less loudly generates fewer droplets, in a work published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April.

If the level of infectiousness of COVID-19 through speech can be confirmed, it could give a scientific boost to recommendations in many countries to wear a face mask, and help explain the virus’s rapid spread.

© 2020 AFP

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