Yesterday's phrase du jour: viral blizzard-- millions of Americans within a few weeks! "Already, reported CNN, "hospitalizations are rising as the holiday season gets into full swing. The Delta variant remains a problem. And Omicron, with its high transmissibility, could strike millions more soon, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. 'We're really just about to experience a viral blizzard,' Osterholm told CNN's Erin Burnett on Thursday. 'In the next three to eight weeks, we're going to see millions of Americans... infected with this virus, and that will be overlaid on top of Delta, and we're not yet sure exactly how that's going to work out.'"
It's already pretty horrible in NYC, where something like 94% of adults have had at least one jab. But yesterday was New York's worst ever day for new cases-- 21,027 new cases according to the governor, surpassing the previous record of 19,942 set last January. That's a warning bell for what's coming nationally... especially in red counties, where healthy living and vaccination rates are still low-- as if Darwinian, survival of the fittest laws are being tested and challenged. (I'm extremely optimistic about one thing though: just a couple of weeks ago, the reddest, most Trumpified state, other than Wyoming, was wallowing in a pathetic 41% vaccination rate. Something smartened those West Virginians up fast! Look at this list of states with over 70% of people fully vaccinated:
Rhode Island- 75%
West Virginia- 71%
New York- 71%
New Jersey- 70%
By way of comparison, here are the the states with 50% or fewer fully vaccinated (as of yesterday):
Back to that CNN report:
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday the Omicron coronavirus variant is "increasing rapidly" and expected "to become the dominant strain in the United States as it has in other countries in the coming weeks."
Andy Slavitt, a former senior pandemic adviser to President Joe Biden, said that while tools such as vaccines are now available rather than during last winter's surge, "a very rough January" lies ahead due to Omicron.
"For the health care workers, the hospitals, for people who are sick, even sick with things other than Covid, that represents a real danger and a real threat," Slavitt told CNN's Don Lemon on Thursday.
Two indicators are up about 40 percent in the last month, according to data from Johns Hopkins University: the seven-day average of new cases topped 120,000; and the total number of hospitalizations stands at more than 68,000.
The seven-day average for deaths was 1,286 as of Thursday, an 8% increase from a month ago, the data show.
Getting vaccinated or boosted remains key as millions of Americans get ready for holiday travel.
Recent lab studies of blood taken from vaccinated people and exposed to Omicron showed the variant can evade some protection offered by two doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine, but a booster dose restores much of that immunity, researchers reported Wednesday. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has shown similar results.
On Thursday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendations for Covid-19 vaccines to make clear that shots made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech are preferred over Johnson & Johnson's vaccine.
The daily rate of vaccinations is up around 22% from a month prior, according to CDC data, with more than half being booster doses. At the current pace, it will take more than two months for at least half of adults to get a Covid-19 booster, according to a CNN analysis of CDC data.
Late yesterday, The Hill reported that though the new COVID pill, Paxlovid, "can drastically cut down the number of hospitalizations and deaths," demand "is expected to far outrun supply, blunting its ability to help fight what medical professionals say is an oncoming wave of infections from the omicron variant.
I want to get on to the politics of the pandemic now. NBC News reported that a just-released House select subcommittee report accused the Trump White House of making "deliberate efforts" to undermine COVID response, repeatedly overruling public health and testing guidance from the nations top infectious disease experts and silencing officials.
Trump is gone but right wing assholes-- worldwide-- are still causing big problems, according to the Associated Press.
“The Jews own COVID just like all of Hollywood,” the accompanying text says. “Wake up people.”
The post is one of many that white supremacists and far-right extremists are using to expand their reach and recruit followers on the social media platform Telegram, according to the findings of researchers who sifted through nearly half a million comments on pages-- called channels on Telegram-- that they categorized as far-right from January 2020 to June 2021.
The tactic has been successful: Nine of the 10 most viewed posts in the sample examined by the researchers contained misleading claims about the safety of vaccines or the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing them. One Telegram channel saw its total subscribers jump tenfold after it leaned into COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
“COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for radicalization,” said the study’s author, Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “It allows conspiracy theorists or extremists to create simple narratives, framing it as us versus them, good versus evil.”
Other posts downplayed the severity of the coronavirus or pushed conspiracy theories about its origins. Many of the posts contain hate speech directed at Jews, Asians, women or other groups or violent rhetoric that would be automatically removed from Facebook or Twitter for violating the standards of those sites.
Telegram, based in the United Arab Emirates, has many different kinds of users around the world, but it has become a favorite tool of some on the far-right in part because the platform lacks the content moderation of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
...O’Connor said he believes the people behind these posts are trying to exploit fear and anxiety over COVID-19 to attract new recruits, whose loyalty may outlast the pandemic.
Indeed, mixed in with the COVID-19 conspiracy posts are some direct recruitment pitches. For example, someone posted a link to a news story about a Long Island, New York, synagogue on a channel popular with the far-right Proud Boys and added a message urging followers to join them. “Embrace who you were called to be,” read the post, which was accompanied by a swastika.
The researchers found suggestions that far-right groups on Telegram are working together. ISD researchers linked two usernames involved in running one Telegram channel to two prominent members of the American far-right. One was a scheduled speaker at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white supremacist deliberately drove into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring 35.
That channel has grown steadily since the pandemic began and now has a reach of around 400,000 views each day, according to Telegram Analytics, a service that keeps statistical data on about 150,000 Telegram channels on the site TGStat. In May 2020 the channel had 5,000 subscribers; it now has 50,000.
The data is especially concerning given a rash of incidents around the world that indicate some extremists are moving from online rhetoric to offline action.
This is a threat to red America. "In the U.S.," reported David Leonhardt yesterday, "partisanship is the biggest factor determining vaccination rates. If Democratic voters made up their own country, it would be one of the world’s most vaccinated, with more than 91 percent of adults having received at least one shot. Only about 60 percent of Republican adults have done so. This vaccination gap has created a huge gap in death rates, one that has grown sharply during the second half of the year.
One telling detail is that Covid deaths in both swing counties and heavily Biden counties have not risen over the past two months, even as nationwide case numbers have surged. In heavily vaccinated communities, rising caseloads don’t automatically lead to rising death tolls.
In hundreds of U.S. counties, though, most adults still have not received a Covid vaccine shot. “Just since this summer, 150,000 unvaccinated Americans have needlessly lost their lives despite the widespread availability of vaccines,” Dr. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, said yesterday.
Vaccine skepticism stems in part from messages on social media and conservative outlets like Fox News, the Sinclair Broadcast Group and talk radio. Pundits on these platforms often stop short of telling people not to get vaccinated, even as they send a general negative message about the shots.
They criticize vaccine mandates, sensationalize rare side effects and describe vaccination as a personal choice. They certainly do not deliver the clear message that scientists and Democratic politicians have: Get vaccinated, please, as soon as possible.