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U.S. colleges and universities are planning for a “kind of normal” fall ’21 semester, reports Mark Kreidler at Kaiser Health News (4/6/21). By normal, administrators mean a campus that is open, with students in residence halls and attending classes in person. Some schools expect to stagger student attendance in class, and “all plan to have vaccines and plenty of testing available,” the story states. Most administrators are not requiring students and staff to get vaccinated because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only authorized the use of the COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, to date. Approval could come later and change that thinking. Schools can keep students safe from the virus in dorms so long as community infection rates remain low, according to the University of Southern California’s chief health officer, the story states.

The U.S. is struggling to distribute COVID-19 vaccines equitably by race and income. But this month, Vermont started giving COVID-19 vaccine priority to Black adults and people in other minority communities, reports Phil Galewitz at Kaiser Health News (4/5/21). Officials say that “they hope the change will lower the risk for people of color, who are nearly twice as likely as whites to end up in the hospital with COVID-19,” Galewitz reports. In January, officials in Montana announced that the state was giving priority status for COVID-19 vaccines to Native Americans and other people of color. To get COVID-19 vaccines to more people in minority communities, states should set up vaccination sites in Black neighborhoods and in churches, says the American Public Health Association’s executive director, the story states.

Surveys suggest that many of us are experiencing “behavioral anhedonia” in response to the prolonged stress, social isolation and monotony of the pandemic, reports Sarah Lyall at The New York Times (4/3/21). Sources in the story describe fatigue, low productivity, diminished enthusiasm for life tasks, difficulty focusing one’s mind, and general burn-out. “Stress is OK in small amounts, but when it extends over time it’s very dangerous. It disrupts our cycles of sleep and our regular routines in things like exercise and physical activity — all these things make it very difficult for the body to be resilient,” according to a University of California, Irvine, neuroscientist who is quoted in the piece.

Stores are expected to soon start selling over-the-counter rapid tests, with various degrees of accuracy, for SARS-CoV-2 at prices typically ranging from $10 to $110, reports Hannah Norman at Kaiser Health News (4/1/21). Some of these tests are already in use by Google, sports leagues, and the federal government, the story states. The federal government requires health insurance plans, in most cases, to cover the cost of tests that have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the story states. The availability of such tests are important to coronavirus public-health efforts as more people return to work and school, the story suggests, in part because almost half of people (44 percent) with active SARS-CoV-2 infections feel no symptoms, according to a July 2020 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

New cases of U.S. children testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 dropped slightly in the week ending April 1, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, reports Richard Franki at Medscape (4/7/21). For that week, “children represented 18.1 percent of all new cases reported in the United States, down from a pandemic-high 19.1 percent the week before,” Franki writes. A total of 284 children have died of COVID-19 in the “43 states, along with New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam, that are sharing age-distribution data on mortality,” the story states.

“The end of the pandemic is in sight” [in the U.S], writes Tara Haelle for National Geographic (4/2/21), but we won’t get there without vaccinating children. “Even if the U.S. reached [70 percent to 90 percent immunity in the nation’s population] without children, the disease would continue spreading because it’s herd immunity at the local, not national level that matters,” the story describes a North Carolina-based epidemiologist as saying. It’s likely that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will authorize the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 12 year olds to 15 year olds before school starts this fall, the story states, but results from Pfizer and other vaccine makers’ studies of their COVID-19 vaccines in younger children “aren’t likely until at least fall of 2021.” Kids who seek health care nowadays exhibit symptoms of social isolation far more often than they do symptoms of COVID-19, the story suggests. Children who cannot return to school are suffering from mental health problems and negative effects on their socialization and development, Haelle reports. Communities need to balance the benefits of in-person school with the risk of community infection, a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine pediatrician is described as saying. “Until widespread vaccination in kids returns them to normal classrooms, the rest of the country won’t be returning to true normal either,” the story concludes. By the way, if a web site requires an email sign-up to read a story and you don’t want to share your everyday email address, search online for “disposable email” for sites that generate a temporary address for such purposes, like this one.

You might enjoy this TikTok video explanation of “How the mRNA Vaccine Works,” by actor, director, and writer Vick Krishna (3/8/21).

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