The U.S. government database that keeps track of deaths from vaccine side effects has exploded by 10-fold since the advent of COVID-19, and the experimental vaccines that have been developed in response.
“Many of those have come from within the last month and a half with around 3,300 deaths. That’s about 70 per day!” the report said.
A chart of the death reports looks like a hockey stick, with the surge over just the last year or so.
Vaccine-related deaths reported to the CDC through Sept. 3, 2021. (Courtesy the Beltway Report)
“The big thing that people who are the hardcore pro-vaccine folk who think that they can do no wrong will typically offer the objection that anyone can report something to VAERS. My response to that is, so what? That’s supposed to be a bad thing?”
Are COVID vaccines more dangerous than COVID-19 itself?
The report explained, “They want to try and discredit the deaths from vaccines by saying this. But they don’t want to put the shoe on the other foot. On the other side of the coin, people can say that they’re manipulating the data on the side of those who die from COVID. It’s a two-sided coin here.”
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Sweden became the second European Union country to ban Israeli residents from entry due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Israel, despite the country being one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.
Portugal on Wednesday became the first EU country to ban travel from Israel due to a rise in cases. Both countries are following the EU’s recommendation to remove Israel from its list of green countries.
Sweden also banned the entry of citizens from the United States, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
Interior Minister Mikael Damberg told news outlets that the sharp increases in COVID-19 cases in Israel, the United States, and other countries are the reason why they were removed from Sweden’s travel ban exemption. Despite Israel’s mass vaccination campaign, the virus has continued to spread, Damberg said.
Several Israeli politicians criticized the EU’s directive and Portugal’s mandate.
“Unfortunately, following the EU’s directive, according to which it was decided to remove Israel from the list of green countries, the Portuguese government aligned itself with [the EU’s recommendation] which prohibits entry from Israel to Portugal except for justified reasons,” Itay Mor, the head of Zionist NGO Over The Rainbow Portugal, told YNET.
Interior Minister Mikael Damberg cited the sharp increases in coronavirus infections as the reason the countries were removed from the travel ban exemption, saying that despite Israel’s successful vaccination campaign, the country is still home to large groups of unvaccinated people that have allowed the outbreak to spread.
“We are troubled by this decision, all the more so because most Israelis have been vaccinated. At this stage, the EU should have recognized Israel’s vaccination certificates,” Mor added.
On Aug. 30, the European Union removed the United States, Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and others from its safe travel list. The list is nonbinding and countries are free to determine their own border policies.
“Non-essential travel to the EU from countries or entities not listed in Annex I is subject to temporary travel restriction. This is without prejudice to the possibility for member states to lift the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for fully vaccinated travelers,” the EU said in a statement at the time.
The United States doesn’t allow European citizens to visit the country freely, despite appeals from the EU. The United States also extended a moratorium on cross-border travel with Canada, as well as Mexico, despite Canada having rescinded travel restrictions for Americans and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Israel over the weekend announced that individuals who have not received a third booster vaccine shot will not be able to use their vaccine passports.
Even though Israel is one of the most vaccinated countries on Earth against COVID-19, cases are rising. The small nation’s seven-day average for COVID-19 infections on Monday was over 1,000 per one million people, which is double the rate of numbers seen in the United States and the United Kingdom, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.
Jack Phillips is a reporter at The Epoch Times based in New York.
A La Joya, Texas, police officer was waved into the local Whataburger this week by an individual who was concerned about a group of individuals there who appeared to be ill. The officer discovered a family of migrants who claimed they had been apprehended several days before by the Border Patrol and had tested positive for COVID-19. This suggests there are serious flaws in DHS’s quarantine policies.
Back in March, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a statement on the situation at the Southwest border. He asserted that the Biden administration would continue to expel migrants—including migrant families—under Trump-era orders issued by the CDC under Title 42 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayorkas admitted that the department could only expel family migrants if the Mexican government agreed to take them back, which is becoming a rarity; of the more than 50,000 migrants in family units that were apprehended by Border Patrol at the Southwest border in June, fewer than 8,100 were expelled under Title 42.
The secretary asserted, however, that DHS was taking steps to contain the spread of the coronavirus by such migrants and had “partnered with community-based organizations to test and quarantine families that Mexico has not had the capacity to receive.”
He further contended that his department had “developed a framework for partnering with local mayors and public health officials to pay for 100% of the expense for testing, isolation, and quarantine for migrants”.
Which brings me back to the Whataburger in La Joya, a border town just west of McAllen.
According to La Joya Police Sgt. Manuel Casas, no one had told his city or his police department that the migrants were there, “and no one told us that these people were possibly ill.” I suppose that DHS’s ability to “partner” only goes so far.
Apparently, the family was staying at the nearby Texas Inn & Suites, in rooms that had been booked by Catholic Charities of The Rio Grande Valley to house migrants who had been apprehended by the Border Patrol and released.
Sgt. Casas explained: “The information we have is that everyone that is staying in that hotel is COVID-19 positive because it’s being rented out for them.”
The hotel denies that they have “any problems” with COVID-19 (although “officers observed 20 to 30 people outside not wearing masks”, according to Fox News). This article suggests, however, that DHS’s quarantine regime poses a danger to those living in towns along the Southwest border (and elsewhere), because it appears to be no “quarantine” at all.
CDC explains that the concept of quarantine is deeply rooted in world immigration history:
The practice of quarantine, as we know it, began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days.
Today, the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at CDC “is empowered to detain, medically examine, or conditionally release individuals and wildlife suspected of carrying a communicable disease.”
That division still runs 20 quarantine stations, mostly at major ports of entry. The closest one to La Joya is in Houston, but it is the relatively far away El Paso quarantine station that has jurisdiction over the town.
If COVID-positive migrants (or anyone else for that matter) are free to leave a hotel in which they are being housed and head down the road for burger, they aren’t in “quarantine”.
Sgt. Casas made clear that his department does not have the authority to “stop any of the migrants from leaving the hotel and moving on to another destination in the United States”. That means that La Joya’s problems are your problems, too.
But assuming he’s correct (and there is no reason to believe he isn’t), even if the police could restrict the movements of a group of COVID-positive migrants in order to protect the community, town officials were never told those migrants were there to begin with.
When it comes to COVID and the border, it seems like DHS is saying one thing and doing another. Worse, at the same time that President Biden is warning of “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”, it seems his administration is handing COVID-positive migrants over to NGOs with no restrictions on their movement, and no notice to local officials in the places they are housed.
The county’s seven-day case rate has doubled in less than a month, going from a low of 22 cases per 100,000 people on June 16 to 48 per 100,000 as of Tuesday.
At the pandemic’s height, Larimer County reported a seven-day case rate of 522 per 100,000 people on Nov. 19, 2020.
“We still have some work to do,” Larimer County Population Epidemiologist Jared Olson said during a virtual COVID-19 update Monday afternoon. “Vaccination is by far our most powerful tool.”
Given how much more transmissible Delta is compared to previous COVID-19 variants, it quickly overtook the U.S. this spring and summer, becoming the dominant strain in Colorado by the week of June 6, per Colorado’s state health department.
In Larimer County, 97.4% of COVID-19 cases reported since March 1, 2021, have been among unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people, health officials said Monday. In the rare breakthrough cases seen in fully vaccinated individuals, most have led to mild symptoms or fully asymptomatic responses, Olson said.
If you opted to forego your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, a single dose is less effective against the Delta variant compared to previous variants, Olson said.
In Larimer County, 7,033 people have not received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine within 42 days, though it’s possible some received a second dose outside of Larimer County, according to the county health department.
Even if you have gone longer than 42 days since your first vaccine dose, the county still recommends getting your second dose.
As August — and a full return to in-person schooling — nears, Olson said one of the health department’s biggest concerns is a fall surge of COVID-19 cases in Larimer County schools.
Children younger than 12 remained the only age group without an approved COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday.
Since the Delta variant became dominant in Colorado last month, 45 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 17 probable cases have been reported among children under the age of 11 in Larimer County, according to the county’s case data. The youngest person to get COVID-19 in that time was 1-year-old.
Larimer County has not experienced any juvenile deaths related to COVID-19 infection.
When school does start this fall, the county hopes to see 60% of high school-age children have at least one vaccine dose. About 47% of that age group — ages 14-17 — had received one dose of the vaccine as of Monday.
For middle schoolers, the county is shooting for a one-dose vaccination rate of 45%, up from its current 27%.
More information on the fate of masks in schools this fall is expected next week, Larimer County Public Health Director Tom Gonzales said Monday.
Despite the recent bump in COVID-19 cases, Gonzales said Larimer County likely won’t have to revert back to any of the restrictions imposed during the height of the pandemic, citing a good handle on COVID-19 hospitalization rates.
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.
Buddy liked dog stuff: running through the sprinklers, going on long car rides, swimming in the lake. He cuddled the Mahoneys—his owners and family—at the end of tough days. He humored them when they dressed him up as a bunny for Halloween. He was a protective big brother to 10-month-old Duke, the family’s other German shepherd. He loved everyone. He lived up to his name.
In mid-April, right before his seventh birthday, Buddy began struggling to breathe.
Medical records provided by the Mahoneys and reviewed for National Geographic by two veterinarians who were not involved in his treatment indicate that Buddy likely had lymphoma, a type of cancer, which would explain the symptoms he suffered just before his death. The Mahoneys didn’t learn that lymphoma was being considered as the probable cause of his symptoms until the day of his death, they say, when additional bloodwork results confirmed it. It’s unclear whether cancer made him more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, or if the virus made him ill, or if it was just a case of coincidental timing. Buddy’s family, like thousands of families grappling with the effects of the coronavirus around the world, is left with many questions and few answers.
Until now, Buddy’s identity, the details of his case, and his death were not public. A press release issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in early June revealed his general location (Staten Island, New York), his breed (German shepherd), his likely source of transmission (a COVID-positive owner), and his status (expected to recover). Public records for the few other pets to have tested positive in the U.S. are similarly sparse.
Upon announcement, Buddy’s milestone case appeared fairly open and shut, but the Mahoneys’ experience over the two and a half months between their dog’s first wheeze and his death was one of confusion and heartbreak. Their story puts a spotlight on the rare experience of being an owner of COVID-positive pet—a distinction shared by only a handful of individuals around the world. While more than four million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S., fewer than 25 pets have. There’s no rubric for how to navigate COVID-19 in your pet dog.
“You tell people that your dog was positive, and they look at you [as if you have] ten heads,” Allison Mahoney says. “[Buddy] was the love of our lives….He brought joy to everybody. I can’t wrap my head around it.” The Mahoneys say they are frustrated that health experts didn’t more closely probe possible connections between COVID and the cascading health problems. After Buddy’s diagnosis, Allison’s husband, Robert, asked New York City veterinary health officials, who were in charge of the case, whether they were interested in doing more testing on Buddy. Robert Mahoney says the officials never asked for further testing or exams.
The narrative for the coronavirus in animals has so far been consistent and narrow: They are rarely affected. When they do get the virus, it’s almost always from an owner. They have mild symptoms. They usually recover. In reality, little is known about how the virus affects the average pet dog.
The New York City Department of Health told National Geographic that because Buddy was severely anemic, it did not want to collect additional blood out of concern for the dog’s health, and that confirmation results indicate it was unlikely that he was still shedding virus—meaning he was probably no longer contagious—by May 20, when he was tested the second time. Buddy wasn’t tested after that date.
For humans, the signs and symptoms of infection vary widely. In some, its presence is barely a flicker. In others, it causes total organ failure. For many, it’s somewhere in between. Having an underlying medical condition increases susceptibility, doctors think. We’re learning more every day.
The narrative for the coronavirus in animals, however, has so far been consistent and narrow: They are rarely affected. When they do get the virus, it’s almost always from an owner. They have mild symptoms. They usually recover.
In reality, little is known about how the virus affects the typical pet dog.
The Mahoneys’ detailed accounts and Buddy’s veterinary records now comprise some of the most comprehensive and granular information the public has on an infected animal. Their story also sheds light on the gaps in public knowledge regarding animals and the novel coronavirus, highlighting what may be a need for a more unified, consistent approach to monitoring and investigating positive cases, and bringing that information back to the research community.
When Buddy, who’d never been sick, developed thick mucus in his nose and started breathing heavily in April, no one except Robert Mahoney believed the dog might have COVID-19. Mahoney himself had been suffering through the virus for three weeks—he was weak, had a scratchy throat, and had lost his sense of taste. “They called me on Easter and said, ‘By the way, here’s your Easter gift: you’re positive,’ ” he recalls.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, I thought [Buddy] was positive” too, he says.
At first, it was difficult to find someone to examine Buddy. His usual vet wasn’t seeing patients because of the pandemic. Another local clinic wouldn’t allow Robert Mahoney to come into the office because he had COVID-19, so they prescribed Buddy antibiotics over the phone. Mahoney says the vet was skeptical that Buddy might have the coronavirus, and the office didn’t have test kits anyway.
The next week, Buddy was still struggling to breathe and had lost his appetite, so the Mahoneys’ 13-year-old daughter, Julianna, who had tested negative, was permitted to bring the dog into the office.
From April 21 to May 15, Buddy continued to lose weight. He became increasingly lethargic. The Mahoneys took him to three different veterinarians on Staten Island, none of whom thought the coronavirus was likely. He got an ultrasound and X-rays, which indicated an enlarged spleen and liver, and he saw a cardiologist, who detected a heart murmur. Buddy spent two and a half weeks on antibiotics and two heart medications, and he was subsequently put on steroids. At this point, Robert Mahoney says, Buddy’s doctors were still doubtful he had the coronavirus, and they had not yet identified lymphoma as a probable cause of his illness.
It was at the third veterinary clinic, Bay Street Animal Hospital, where Mahoney was finally able to have Buddy tested for COVID-19. That was on May 15, one month after Buddy’s breathing trouble began.
A few days later, the clinic called. Buddy’s test results were in: He was positive. Mahoney was told to bring both the family’s dogs to the clinic immediately because health officials needed to confirm Buddy’s results and test Duke, their puppy. When Mahoney arrived at the clinic with the dogs on May 20, he says that “they came greeting me looking like space martians with hazmat suits.”
“For us it was a shock factor for a moment there…how do we protect our staff?” says Robert Cohen, veterinarian at Bay Street who treated Buddy, because little is known about infected dogs’ ability to transfer the virus to other dogs or humans. “We were well-PPE’d,” he says, referring to personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
Officials collected samples from Buddy and Duke, then sent them home.
First dog to test positive
On June 2, the New York City Department of Health called Mahoney to tell him that Buddy had indeed contracted the virus. They confirmed that Buddy’s original samples collected on May 15 by his vet were positive for SARS-CoV-2, but the additional samples they collected on May 20 were negative, indicating that the virus was no longer present in the dog’s body, a department spokesperson told National Geographic. Duke had tested negative, but he did have antibodies, indicating he had been infected at some point.
Yet Buddy’s health continued to decline. He soon started urinating uncontrollably and had blood in his urine. Later that month, his breathing became so labored that it sounded “like a freight train,” Allison Mahoney says. In early July, Buddy began to have trouble walking.
Robert Mahoney took him back to the vet each time his health seemed to get worse, which was about every two weeks. He and Allison say they were surprised that no one seemed to consider that the coronavirus—though no longer in his system—may have had lasting effects on Buddy’s health.
“If [health officials] had said, ‘Mahoney family, get in the car and come to [a veterinary lab],’ I would have done it,” says Allison, Nobody even mentioned it.”
Cohen, the veterinarian at Bay Street Animal Clinic, said that his team’s focus was on treating Buddy’s symptoms. “We know that we had a very sick patient,” he says, adding that the clinic was only “peripherally involved in the [SARS-CoV-2] case in a lot of ways.”
He says he had three or four conversations with the New York City Health Department and the USDA about Buddy and whether COVID-19 could be related to any of his health problems. “We had zero knowledge or experience with the scientific basis of COVID in dogs,” he says. Even with all the experts on one call, he says, “there was a lot of silence on the phone. I don’t think anybody knew. I really don’t think anybody knew at that point.”
If [health officials] had said, ‘Mahoney family, get in the car and come to [a veterinary lab],’ I would have done it. But nobody even mentioned it.
Allison Mahoney, Buddy’s owner
On the morning of July 11, Allison found Buddy in the kitchen throwing up clotted blood. “It looked like it was his insides coming out. He had it all over. It was coming from his nose and mouth. We knew there was nothing that could be done for him from there. What are you going to do for a dog with this? But he had the will to live. He didn’t want to go.”
She and her husband rushed Buddy to the vet, and they made the decision to euthanize him. No one asked Robert about a necropsy, he says—only if he wanted to do cremation or a burial. He chose to have Buddy cremated. Although that day was a blur, he says he knows that if he’d been asked about a necropsy to learn more about the virus in his body, “I would have said, ‘Take whatever you need,’ because I don’t want any other dog to suffer like he did.”
After Buddy’s death, Cohen says he asked the New York City Department of Health whether they needed the dog’s body for any follow-up research. The city had to consult with the USDA and other federal partners, Cohen says they told him. By the time the Department of Health got back to him with the decision to do a necropsy, Buddy had been cremated.
On the day Buddy was euthanized, the vet told Robert that new blood work results indicated that he almost certainly had lymphoma, which could explain many of his symptoms.
The Mahoneys say they’re confident the team at Bay Street did their best for Buddy. They acknowledge that these are uncharted waters for everyone. “I think they are learning as well. It’s all trial and error. And they tried to help us the best way they can,” Allison says, although they still wonder whether COVID played a role in Buddy’s fatal illness.
Cohen says he personally relates to the Mahoneys’ confusion and heartbreak because his father died of COVID-19 two weeks ago in a Florida nursing home at age 94.
“I was unable to see him. And I could say exactly the same criticisms [as the Mahoneys] about how his case was handled—the people didn’t act fast enough,” he says. But like the Mahoneys, he acknowledges that “everyone has good intentions,” grappling with the challenges of treating a horrific, widespread, and little-understood disease.
Buddy’s case highlights an important question: Are animals with underlying conditions more likely to get sick from the coronavirus, just as humans are? It also highlights just how little information is available about infected pets.
Most of what’s known about the coronavirus in companion animals comes from research done on dogs and cats in labs, says Elizabeth Lennon, a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, who reviewed Buddy’s medical records for National Geographic. The coronavirus in dogs and cats in the real world could look and act differently than in a lab, and that’s what Lennon’s research is trying to discern.
Despite this being her area of study, Buddy’s vet records were the first she’d seen of an infected pet. While writing a funding proposal to study the virus in dogs and cats recently, she says she realized “this is the first time in my life I’ve ever written a grant proposal where I’ve cited more press releases and media reports than actual scientific reports.”
Besides the published research on cats and dogs in labs, scientists also have access to the USDA’s public database of every positive animal case in the U.S., with only basic information. The World Organization of Animal Health maintains a similar database of global cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an extensive toolkit on its website that includes a regularly updated list of known symptoms in animals, but more specific case data is not currently available to the public or the broader research community.
Twelve dogs and at least 10 cats have tested positive in the U.S. Lennon says few case details have been made available to researchers. “What are their signs? How long did they present? What are the blood work changes?” Lennon asks. (Researchers are scrambling to understand which animals the novel coronavirus—which is believed to have originated in bats—can infect.)
Experts involved in these cases will likely publish the details in scientific journals in the next six to 12 months, she says, but while publication of the scientific research on COVID-19 in humans has generally been fast-tracked, “on the vet side of things, we haven’t seen that acceleration yet.”
Buddy’s case also highlights the need to take a more holistic look at all the known cases of infected pets. There has been “no analysis of all cases as a single unit to determine whether there are risk factors other than living in a house with a positive human,” says Shelley Rankin, chief of clinical microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and a colleague of Lennon’s.
It seems that potentially helpful specific case information isn’t always shared among state veterinarians either. State veterinarians typically take the lead when a pet tests positive, and they report details up to the CDC and USDA. Casey Barton-Bahravesh, director of the CDC’s One Health Office in the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, says she has a weekly call with state veterinarians to share what the CDC is learning about the virus in animals. It’s not clear, however, whether states are learning enough details of each other’s cases. When National Geographic contacted state veterinarians in the seven states where dogs have tested positive, several said that each state is focused on its own cases and communicating directly with the CDC and USDA.
‘Cart before the horse’
Lennon says that based on research so far, people can feel fairly confident that healthy dogs and cats don’t pose a big risk of infection to humans or each other in most situations. The primary message from the CDC and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is similar: There is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of the virus. Because of that, they do not recommend widespread testing of pets.
If we’re telling the world that prevalence [of animal cases] is low, then we have to look at high [test] numbers.
Shelley Rankin, Chief of clinical microbiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
That doesn’t necessarily make sense to Rankin, who says that broader testing of pets would allow public health experts to say with more confidence that pets aren’t being infected on a broad scale (or playing a significant role in the spread off the virus). “We’ve sort of put the cart before the horse,” she says. “If we’re telling the world that prevalence [of animal cases] is low, then we have to look at high numbers.”
It’s not clear how many animals in the U.S. have been tested. The CDC’s Barton-Bahravesh says her team is working to collect that data, but it’s difficult because reporting of animal testing is not mandatory.
Lennon says more testing would also shed light on whether animals in certain circumstances—such as those with underlying conditions—are more likely to contract the virus or have the virus for longer.
The second dog to test positive in the U.S., in Georgia, and the sixth dog, in South Carolina, have both died, for example, and their deaths were attributed to other conditions. Similar to Buddy’s case, state veterinarian Boyd Parr says that while there was no compelling evidence that the South Carolina dog’s condition made it more susceptible to the virus, there also wasn’t enough data to say that it didn’t.
“Certainly it is likely the underlying condition could weaken the dog’s natural defenses to a lot of things,” he said in an email.
The CDC’s toolkit includes guidance on caring for and treating a positive pet, and safety guidelines for caregivers, but Lennon says it would be helpful to see guidance that specifies what information veterinarians should collect and what tests they perform on a coronavirus-positive animal to build a consistent and complete picture of how the virus affects pets.
There’s also room to create more opportunities for owners of pets with the virus to connect with researchers. In the Mahoneys’ case, they were keen to have Buddy more closely examined but say that they struggled to connect with experts. “It highlights a missed connection for people who are interested in researching this and owners interested in donating samples,” Lennon says.
“My pet was like my son,” Allison Mahoney says. “When he was passing away in front of me, he had blood all over his paws. I cleaned him up before we drove to the vet and stayed with him in the back seat. I said, ‘I will have your voice heard, for all our furry friends. Your voice will be heard, Buddy.’ ”
One of those furry friends is Duke, the Mahoney’s surviving dog. Even though he didn’t get sick, the Mahoneys worry about possible long-term effects of the virus. The puppy has been visibly depressed since Buddy died, the Mahoneys say, and he lies in all of Buddy’s old napping spots.
The Mahoneys hope to pick up Buddy’s ashes this week.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA. – The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the preeminent legal advocate for animals, released the first in a series of white papers providing policy recommendations to reduce our heightened risk from zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 and the next global pandemic, which need only a human-animal interaction to arise. The paper — COVID-19 and Animals — asserts that, even as the government mobilizes to limit the staggering impact of COVID-19, it is imperative it also address immediate and gradual changes to mitigate the ongoing risk from zoonotic disease outbreaks.
Live markets, where diverse live animals are sold and slaughtered on demand, originally received significant attention and criticism due to suspicion that COVID-19 originated in a live market in Wuhan, China — as SARS had originated in a similar market in 2002. Alternatively, the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s paper raises the alarm around the rate of zoonotic disease being produced in the industrial animal agriculture industry in the U.S.
Factory farms engage in many of the same risky practices as live markets, but on a scale orders of magnitude greater. Factory farming is already responsible for numerous zoonotic disease outbreaks, including the 1997 Bird Flu (H5N1) and the 2009 Swine Flu (H1N1). In April 2020, a highly pathogenic strain of Bird Flu (H7N3) — a strain which has caused illness in humans — was discovered in a turkey farm in South Carolina. It is simply a matter of time before a zoonotic disease outbreak has the combination of high level of contagion and high fatality rate. In that respect, COVID-19 is a dress rehearsal, with a fatality rate predicted to be under one percent (still fluctuating as cases progress) — compared to 60 percent of H1N1 and 90 percent of Ebola, another zoonotic disease, which have lower levels of contagion.
The legal and illegal wildlife trade, animal habitat loss and human encroachment, climate change, and recent regulatory obstruction by the federal government are also examined — as well as the failure of U.S. laws and regulatory oversight, including public health agencies, to prepare for a pandemic scientists and experts have predicted for decades — and the absence of any proactive measures.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is grateful for its collaborating partners in the production of these recommendations, including Co-Directors Ryan Gordon and Vanessa Shakib of Advancing Law for Animals and Jackie Bowen, MS, MPH, of Clean Label Project.
(Bloomberg) — There are four critical facets of pandemic prevention, according to Lee Hannah, senior scientist at Conservation International. Three of them make immediate sense against the backdrop of our current emergency: stockpile masks and respirators; have testing infrastructure ready; and ban the global wildlife trade, including the open animal markets where COVID-19 may have first infected people.
His fourth recommendation is more grandiose: “Take care of nature.”
The assault on ecosystems that allowed COVID-19 to jump from animals to humans went far beyond merchants hunting and selling rare wildlife. Biodiversity—that is, the health of the entire ecosystem—can restrain pathogens before they ever leave the wild. “We need to tell people right now that there is a series of things we need to do once we’re out of this mess to make sure it never happens again,” Hannah says.
The role of biodiversity in disease prevention has received increased attention of late. In a 2015 “state of knowledge review” of biodiversity and human health by the United Nations, scientists wrote that “an ecological approach to disease, rather than a simplistic ‘one germ, one disease’ approach, will provide a richer understanding of disease-related outcomes.” Recent research has given more support to the idea that biodiversity protection in one part of the world can prevent novel diseases from emerging and leaping into another.
It’s a numbers game, in part. Not all species in a community are equally susceptible to a given disease, nor are they all equally efficient transmitters. In diverse ecosystems well separated from human habitations, viruses ebb and flow without ever having a chance to make it to the big time. null
But as people move in, those protections begin to break down. Disrupted ecosystems tend to lose their biggest predators first, and what they leave behind are smaller critters that live fast, reproduce in large numbers, and have immune systems more capable of carrying disease without succumbing to it. When there are only a few species left, they’re good at carrying disease, and they thrive near people, there may be nothing between a deadly pathogen and all of humanity.
“Virus spillover risk” from wildlife to people rises as contact increases between them, according to research published Tuesday by a team of researchers led by Christine Kreuder Johnson of the One Health Institute at University of California, Davis. Almost half of the new diseases that jumped from animals to humans (called zoonotic pathogens) after 1940 can be traced to changes in land use, agriculture, or wildlife hunting. SARS, Ebola, West Nile, Lyme, MERS, and others all fit the profile. There may be 10,000 mammalian viruses potentially dangerous to people.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.390.0_en.html#goog_798448485null
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Share: Will Coronavirus Ever Go Away? Here’s What One of World Health Organization’s Top Experts Thinks
Dr. Bruce Aylward was part of the WHO’s team that went to China after the coronavirus outbreak there in January. He has urged all nations to use times bought during lockdowns to do more testing and respond aggressively.
“We are messing with natural systems in certain ways that can make them much more dangerous than they would otherwise be,” says Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. “And biodiversity loss is one of those. Climate change is another.”
A longer-term strategy can help nations see the benefits of rethinking resource use. “The revenue from clearing new forest is extremely high—briefly,” says William Karesh, executive vice president at EcoHealth Alliance, a research nonprofit. “But the cost to the public-health system also goes up because you get very common diseases like malaria.” And as we’re now seeing, new zoonotic pathogens can be even more expensive to deal with.
Despite years of creative and resource-intensive work by governments and nonprofits, companies’ actions to mitigate habitat loss aren’t adding up. Many large companies have pledged to halt deforestation, the largest driver of biodiversity loss, through initiatives like the Consumer Goods Forum, the Banking Environment Initiative and their Soft Commodities Compact. “All have missed the mark,” according to a new report by the Rainforest Action Network.
Hannah, of Conservation International, is working to make sure that the reasons to promote biodiversity, including its pathogen-dulling potential, align with the other endangered elephant in the room: climate change.
In February, Hannah and colleagues announced findings on what the effects of achieving climate and conservation targets might be. Using data on 290,000 species, they were able to squint into the future and see where ecosystems might be saved from mass extinction if nations preserve 30% of natural habitats and meet UN limits for global warming. All told, meeting the goals would cut biodiversity losses in half.
The international community is positioned to make some progress. The Convention on Biological Diversity is a 196-nation effort to protect the richness of living things, tap natural resources sustainably, and share the benefits of the environment’s naturally occurring genetic innovations. (The U.S. and the Vatican are non-members.) The next phase of the biodiversity treaty, currently in draft form, proposes that at least 30% of land and ocean be conserved, up from 17% in the previous round. If governments agree to that goal, then nations and conservation scientists must take on the complicated step of figuring out which 30% is most important to protect and how to do it. null
The way those areas are drawn today rarely reflects the scientific ideal of how to guard biodiversity. Looking at the existing protected lands, a paper in Nature last month found that 90% of conservation space fails to give bird, amphibian and mammal species the full range of environmental conditions across their existing habitats.
“We could be doing a much better job of getting things in the right places,” says Hannah. “There’s going to be right places for disease control and they may largely overlap the right places for biodiversity.”
Chief, a white-and-orange English setter, knifes through a forest of pale-barked aspen, so thick in places the trees seem to gobble him up, the ding ding ding of his collar the only clue to his whereabouts.
These impenetrable thickets in central Pennsylvania known as the Scotia Barrens make for hard hiking. But they’re prime habitat for ruffed grouse—crow-size birds whose mottled, russet coloring blends into the fallen leaves Chief is sniffing feverishly. If he flushes out a ruffed grouse on this November afternoon, he’ll get an extra hearty pat from his owner, Lisa Williams. That’s because Pennsylvania’s official state bird is getting harder to find.
“Depending on who you talk to, the ruffed grouse is either the king of the game birds, or it’s a forest chicken,” says Williams, grouse biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, a state agency whose mission is to conserve birds and mammals for present and future generations. Hunters prize ruffed grouse because they’re canny—elusive on the ground and tricky targets in the air.
They’re native to the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes region, and large swaths of Canada. In the spring mating season, males hop onto a log and beat their wings rapidly and rhythmically in a crescendoing womp womp womp— “drumming” that carries more than a quarter of a mile,even through thick cover such as we’re tromping through following Chief’s helter-skelter lead.
But after a few hours of searching, the setter comes up short.
A male ruffed grouse in Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming, puts on a courtship display. These spectacular, elusive birds are a favorite among hunters.
A ruffed grouse perches on a branch in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. In 2005, a biologist found West Nile antibodies in birds killed at the Annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt, in north-central Minnesota. Crows, blue jays, and owls are some of the 300 species hit hard by the mosquito-borne disease.
Photograph by Michael Quinton, Minden Pictures (top) and Photograph by Benjamin Olson, Minden Pictures (bottom)
Between 1978 and 2000, flush rates for ruffed grouse reported by hunters in Pennsylvania declined by 2 percent, reflecting the aging of the thick, young forests the birds need for food and shelter, Williams says. But then, between 2001 and the end of 2018, flush rates plummeted by 54 percent.
West Nile virus: a mosquito-borne pathogen that dominated the news when it appeared in New York City in the summer of 1999. Many expected the virus to race through the human population as a pandemic, but the disease peaked four years later with just under 10,000 cases nationwide. The fear waned.
The virus lingered in the woods, however, spreading from bird to bird— not just ruffed grouse but more than 300 species, causing brain lesions, and killing millions of birds. “Some of our best-loved backyard birds are missing,” Williams says. Crows, owls, and blue jays are among those that have suffered severe losses to West Nile virus. Ruffed grouse numbers have fallen in states from Minnesota and Michigan to North Carolina and New Jersey, a problem exacerbated by climate change.
In Pennsylvania, Williams says, ruffed grouse declined by an estimated 23 percent between 2017 and 2018—“a horrendous year.” West Nile virus, she adds, is “a classic climate change disease.” Earlier springs in the forests give mosquitoes more time to pump out larvae, and increases in precipitation, also spurred by climate change, create more stagnant pools in which the insects can reproduce.
For all the seriousness of the situation, ruffed grouse numbers have yet to fall to a level that would trigger Endangered Species Act protections. That’s all the more reason to act now, Williams says. “The time to intervene is before you’re in that emergency-room situation. You want to do something while you still have enough animals to respond and work with.”
Following a hunch
Williams spent nearly two decades as a bat expert at the Pennsylvania Game Commission before switching to ruffed grouse in 2011. She had witnessed firsthand how white nose syndrome, a fungus that infects the faces and wings of bats, devastated local bat populations, and the more she examined ruffed grouse population information, the more she suspected that something similar was happening to the birds. But no one could say for sure, because in the early years after the virus showed up, most research focused on human health. (Read more about the killer fungus wreaking havoc on bats.)
In 2004, for example, Pennsylvania’s largest breeder of captive grouse reported that 24 out of 30 birds died during a two-week period. This prompted him to send one of the dead birds to a lab for testing, which determined West Nile virus as the cause of death. In 2005, a biologist found West Nile antibodies in birds killed at the Annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt, in north-central Minnesota. In 2006, experiments showed that West Nile could be particularly lethal to greater sage grouse, a relative of ruffed grouse native to the American West.
“There were all these different things that came together as I was sort of working through this hunch,” Williams says.
To get a better idea of what was going on, Williams mined information provided by hunters—an “amazing” trove going back to 1965. In Pennsylvania, ruffed grouse hunts are permitted from mid-October to the end of November, as well as for another 10 days in mid-to-late December. Each hunter is allowed to take up to two grouse a day but isn’t permitted to have more than six in the freezer at one time to prevent overexploitation of the birds.
In November 2019, I joined Duane Diefenbach, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and his English setter Chelsea, in Susquehannock State Forest, in north-central Pennsylvania. Diefenbach is one of hundreds of hunters who report to the commission everything from the number of hours they spend looking for grouse and where they search to how many times their dogs flush out birds.
When cornered, a ruffed grouse explodes out of the forest undergrowth with thunderclapping wings. So when Chelsea freezes, signaling that she’s scented a grouse, Diefenbach closes in, shotgun poised. But no bird erupts. “This is probably where the grouse was 10 minutes ago,” he says ruefully.
By the end of our outing, though, Chelsea and a younger setter named Parker have flushed out eight grouse. Diefenbach doesn’t bag a single one, though. “That’s how it goes with grouse hunting,” he says with a grin.
Eight ruffed grouse may seem a good number, but 30 years ago, a day in this forest would likely have yielded 20 or so, according to Diefenbach. “Everyone I know agrees there’s fewer grouse, and that’s because there’s less habitat…but if you’re a dedicated grouse hunter, you know that the changes over the past 10 years have nothing to do with habitat.”
To get a deeper understanding of the effects of West Nile virus on ruffed grouse, in 2014 Williams began asking hunters to mail in feathers and blood samples, which she tested for the disease. Counterintuitively, she says, in a bad West Nile year, only about 4 percent of hunted birds have antibodies that indicate previous West Nile infection. But in years when West Nile ebbs, up to a quarter of the hunted birds may test positive for antibodies. That’s because when the virus is hitting hard, exposed grouse don’t survive long enough to be shot by hunters in the fall.
Williams says this suggests that the virus’s true toll is likely even higher, because there’s no way to estimate how many ruffed grouse die from it before the hunting season begins.
Since 2014, states from Minnesota to Maine and North Carolina have followed Pennsylvania’s example and collected ruffed grouse blood samples. Most places register declines similar to Pennsylvania’s, but Maine, inexplicably, seems largely unaffected. This could be because most hunting—and 98 percent of the testing—takes place in the northern part of the state where the climate is generally cooler, says Kelsey Sullivan, migratory bird biologist at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Or, he adds, it could be “that quality habitats reduce occurrence and increase the ability of grouse to withstand and diffuse the virus.” And Maine’s north woods are as close to paradise for ruffed grouse as it gets.
Lisa Williams has been pushing the importance of habitat for a while. And in 2019, she teamed up with Bob Blystone and Jeremy Diehl, geographic information system analysts at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, to develop a computer model to assess habitat quality. It’s called the Grouse Priority Area Siting Tool (G-PAST), and it can help wildlife managers identify the best and worst areas for conserving ruffed grouse.
G-PAST predicts, for example, that the Scotia Barrens—previously some of the best ruffed grouse habitat in the state—is unlikely to regain that status region-wide because of its low elevation (where mosquitoes tend to thrive), its flat terrain (conducive to standing water where mosquitoes breed), and its lack of proximity to existing grouse populations (which hold potential for repopulating the area). By contrast, G-PAST finds that parts of Susquehannock State Forest, where the terrain is higher, could serve as critical ruffed grouse sanctuaries.
With that information, the Pennsylvania Game Commission can target forest areas for management strategies such as cutting stands of older trees to encourage the new growth preferred by ruffed grouse, which will also invigorate more than 30 other species, including deer, bears, turkeys, and rattlesnakes.
Another way to help grouse is by adjusting the pressures people put on them. New Jersey has banned ruffed grouse hunting indefinitely and is working with Pennsylvania to create its own version of G-PAST. Both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have shortened their hunting seasons, and Ohio is considering doing the same. Hunters have been supportive of the measures.
“Grouse hunters are their own unique breed,” Williams says. “They’re highly passionate about the species, and they’re willing to give up their own recreation to try to help.”
Meanwhile, in coordination with hunters and other Great Lakes states, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, based in Saint Paul, recently started a two-year study of West Nile virus in ruffed grouse. According to Charlotte Roy, the department’s grouse project leader, the state is experiencing more frequent extreme rainfall events, which may lead to more West Nile-carrying mosquitoes.
“I think we should be aware of the impacts that we’re having on natural processes and potentially take corrective action where we can,” she says. “West Nile virus is going to be out there whether we pay attention to it or not.”
“The Navajo Nation experiences some of the highest rates of water poverty in the United States,” which makes it difficult to take basic precautionary measures like washing your hands, says Navajo artist and activist Emma Robbins. Robbins is also director of the Navajo Water Project, a community-managed utility alternative that brings running water to homes without access to water or sewer lines. She says mutual aid efforts like these are crucial for community survival during this crisis, but adds that the government needs to step up.
“I’ve seen many Navajo women step up and fight for communities. … We are…
Eric Alm, one of the authors of the study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, stressed that the public is not at risk of contracting the virus from particles in the wastewater, but they may have the potential to indicate how widespread the virus has become, Newsweek reported.
“Even if those viral particles are no longer active or capable of infecting humans, they may still carry genetic material that can be detected using an approach called PCR (polymerase chain reaction,) which amplifies the genetic signal many orders of magnitude creating billions of copies of the genome for each starting virus,” Alm told the outlet.
The researchers, along with a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, analyzed the samples and found the number of coronavirus particles was on par with if there were 2,300 people infected with the virus.
But at the time of tests, there were only 446 confirmed cases in the region, according to the study.
“It was interesting that our estimation was definitely higher than the number of confirmed cases in the area,” said Mariana Matus, CEO and co-founder of Biobot, according to Stat News.
The researchers shared their findings with local health officials who said it was plausible there were hundreds of undetected cases.
“They could believe that [our] numbers could be correct and not out of the realm of possibility,” Matus told the outlet.
In a Saturday afternoon press conference, the White House coronavirus task force warned that Americans should consider avoiding leaving their homes this week as the deadly outbreak, which has so far infected more than 300,000 and killed nearly 9,000, is expected to reach its peak.
“The next two weeks are extraordinarily important,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Saturday. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe.”
Although the White House coronavirus team was reticent to put a timeline on the virus itself, at least three regions of the United States — the midwest, the northeast, and the areas surrounding New Orleans, Louisiana — are projected to reach peak infections within the next seven days, according to the New York Post. Other areas of the United States, like the south and west, are expected to see their numbers rise until they hit a peak within the next fourteen days.
“Asked when the worst day of the outbreak will be, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, talked about the three hotspots being watched most closely: Detroit, Louisiana and New York. She said each are on the upside of their curve of mortality, and that officials anticipate them hitting their peaks in the next six to seven days,” per NPR.
“This will probably be the toughest week – between this week and next week,” President Donald Trump told the press conference, grimly. “There will be a lot of death, unfortunately…there will be death.”
“We are coming up to a time that is going to be very horrendous,” Trump added. “We probably have never seen anything like these kind of numbers. Maybe during the war, during a World War One or Two or something.”
New York governor Andrew Cuomo expressed similar sentiments during his own press conference Saturday, noting that the peak appears to be approaching in his state: “We’re not yet at the apex, we’re getting closer … Our reading of the projections is we’re somewhere in the seven-day range.”
Sunday morning, administration officials were no more rosy. The Surgeon General, appearing on Fox News Sunday, compared the coming seven days to a terrorist attack.
“This is going to be hardest and the saddest week of most American’s lives, quite frankly. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment,” Vice Admiral Jerome Adams said.
The president was, at least, bullish on the idea of the country reopening within the foreseeable future, suggesting on Saturday that he is pursuing the possibility of bringing together a second coronavirus team, this one tasked with laying the groundwork for an economic recovery, and plotting how to slowly return Americans to the workforce, while balancing the threat of a second outbreak.
“At a certain point,” the president said, “some hard decisions are going to have to be made,” referencing the idea that risk management efforts, designed to contain the virus, are having an unprecedented impact on American businesses. “Social distancing” policies and state-mandated lockdowns have created an unemployment crisis; millions of Americans have now applied for unemployment and millions more are facing slowdowns and pay reductions.
“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” - Blaise Pascal. "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard