The late Snickers the Wonderdog, who could sniff things out with the best

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 1,259th day of the pandemic.


Amidst Maui Wildfires, ‘Fire Brain’ Enters the Vocabulary

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Covid brain” tossed around, and research suggests that some survivors of the Maui wildfires will face “fire brain,” due to both the trauma and the inhalation of smoke particles.

Covid brain, more properly brain fog, is one of Long Covid’s most misunderstood symptoms and has gained traction to encompass and refer to a range of symptoms that include feeling slow, difficulty in thinking or concentrating, confusion and forgetfulness.

There is a growing body of research that suggests that breathing in tiny particles from wildfire smoke can cause cognitive deficits.  These typically surface within six to 12 months, although sometimes it takes more time for these to make their appearance.

Research over the past decade suggests that Maui wildfire survivors will face a number of cognitive challenges but it is too soon to tell how this will play out.

Some survivors of past wildfires referred to their condition as “fire brain” and the label stuck.

Indeed, research suggests that survivors of the Maui wildfires face a long road of physical and cognitive challenges because of trauma and breathing in smoke particles.

A study of the Camp Fire survivors found that more than those directly exposed to the smoke had symptoms of post-traumatic stress as well as a cognitive deficit in warding off distractions that impair individuals from focusing on a task.

What’s happening here is at least partially clear: The body responds to the particulate matter an individual breathes in with inflammatory responses, which in turn can affect brain processes.  Exactly how, however, remains an open question.

In other news we cover today, the new Novavax coronavirus vaccine works against two fast-growing omicron subvariants, and dogs can detect Covid faster and better than PCR tests.


The physical effects of Long Covid may last two years or longer according to a new study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Medicine.

The researchers involved in the study said that the condition can take its toll on quality-of-life issues even for patients who didn’t require hospitalization.

“I think this is a sobering reminder that SARS CoV-2 infection can have long-lasting risks on people even among the non-hospitalized, that they really need to consider this data very seriously,” said Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and the senior author of the study, in an interview with Fortune.


An ever-increasing body of research shows that dogs are able to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in most cases better than PCR tests, long considered the gold standard.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reviewed dozens of studies from across the globe.  The conclusion: scent-trained canines can detect the virus as well as, if not better, than PCR tests and at-home antigen tests.

The dogs can, in general, detect the presence of the virus faster than PCR tests and in both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients.

Meanwhile, Novavax reported that its new Covid vaccine generated a broad immune response against the now-dominant EG.5 omicron subvariant and XBB.1.16.6, another fast-spreading subvariant, in small animal trials.

The Biden Administration plans to strongly urge all Americans to get the latest coronavirus vaccine, which is slated to become available in the fall, a White House official told reporters Sunday.

The move is intended as an attempt to counter a new wave of Covid infections. Evidence of a new late-summer wave of cases is already visible.

Meanwhile, a new study found that more than 1 in 5 patients who had been hospitalized due to a severe case of SARS-CoV-2 – as well as 1 in 10 who were not – developed high blood pressure approximately six months later.

The study was published Tuesday in the journal Hypertension.

When compared with people who had influenza, another upper respiratory virus, those hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2 were over twice as likely to develop hypertension.

“Given the sheer number of people affected by Covid-19 compared to influenza, these statistics are alarming and suggest that many more patients will likely develop high blood pressure in the future, which may present a major public health burden,” said Dr. Tim Duong, a study author and professor of radiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in a statement.


Hollywood studio Lionsgate reinstated a strict mask mandate for over half of its workers at its main office in Santa Monica amidst a resurgence in cases.


Russia’s first moon mission in some 47 years failed when its Luna-25 space craft spun out of control and crashed into the moon. The incident came after a problem preparing for a pre-landing orbit arose.  The move shows the limitations of the current Russian space program compared with the Soviet Union’s far more successful one, including having sent the first astronaut, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, into space.


Now here are the daily statistics for Tuesday, August 22.

As of Tuesday morning, the world has recorded 694 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.31 million from the previous day, and 6.91 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 665.8 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.06 million from the prior day.

The reader should note that infrequent reporting from some sources may appear as spikes in new case figures or death tolls.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Tuesday at press time is 21,310,859, an increase of 266,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 21,273,389, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 37,470, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past eight months.

The test positivity rate for Covid for the week ending August 12 was 21.6%, up from 17.76% the prior week, according to data from the CDC Respiratory Virus Laboratory Emergency Department Network Surveillance, or RESP-LENS By comparison, the test positive rate for influenza was 1.09%, down from 1.24%  and, for RSV, that figure was 0.81%, up from 0.78%.

The percentage of deaths due to Covid was 1.3% in the week ending August 12, 2023, a figure that is up 8.3% over the week.

Finally, the number of hospital admissions from Covid for seven days ending August 5 was 10,320, a figure that is up 14.3% over the preceding week.

As of March 25, 2023, the Morning News Brief began to update case data as well as death tolls on a weekly basis.  In addition, as of May 15, 2023, the Morning News Brief has pressed pause on certain data sets as we assess the update of changes in reporting by U.S. health authorities at the CDC.  Where appropriate, the Morning News Brief has reintroduced data sets are they have become available.

Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has, as of Tuesday, recorded 107.84 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 1.17 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 45 million, and a reported death toll of 531,926.

The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July 2022, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States.  Rosstat last reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July 2022, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.

Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 40.14 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 38.43 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 705,054, has recorded 37.71 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.

The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are South Korea, with 34.2 million cases, as number six; Japan, with 33.8 million cases placing it in the number seven slot; and Italy, with 25.93 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.66 million, and Russia, with 22.98 million, as nine and ten respectively.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of August 5, the total number of updated bivalent doses given in the United States was 152.5 million, an increase of 8 million doses over the past month.

Older – and no longer updated – data from the CDC shows that over 270.2 million people in the United States – or 81.4% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of May 11, 2023. Of that population, 69.5%, or 230.6 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now over 676.7 million. Breaking this down further, 92.23% of the population over the age of 18 – or 238.2 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 79.1% of the same group – or 204.3 million people – is fully vaccinated.

Some 70.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Tuesday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.5 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 47,617 doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 32.53% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.

In addition, with the beginning of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.

Anna Breuer contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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