WHO should have more power to investigate outbreaks

LONDON (AP) — European countries are calling for the World Health Organization to be given greater powers to independently investigate outbreaks and compel countries to provide more data, after the devastating coronavirus pandemic highlighted the agency’s numerous shortcomings.

After a meeting between European Union ministers to discuss how the U.N. health agency should be strengthened, German health minister Jens Spahn said Friday the WHO should receive more political support and financial backing for its international efforts to manage acute health crises.

“The WHO can’t be on its own and carry the weight of this pandemic alone,” he said at a press briefing.


Stella Kyriakides, the EU Health Commissioner, noted that EU institutions provided $100 million to WHO last year.

The agency was repeatedly criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump for “colluding” with China to cover up the initial extent of the pandemic. Trump later withdrew U.S. funding for WHO — the U.S. was the agency’s single-biggest donor — and later pulled the U.S. out of the organization altogether.

In a draft document provided by the German Health Ministry and the European Commission on Friday, EU member states said the extraordinary demands of COVID-19 “outweigh the current WHO capacities and its ability to support member states.”

The countries underlined their support for the WHO, but suggested several proposals to revamp the agency.

Most notably, the EU raised “the possibility of an independent epidemiological assessment on-site in high risk zones,” although this would still be done in collaboration with the country involved.

WHO currently has no powers to independently investigate epidemics and must instead rely on countries to approve its list of proposed experts for any visit and is largely subject to an agenda set by the countries.

The EU also called for “increased transparency … in addition to a more effective reporting system for countries to provide WHO with data in health emergencies.” In the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, WHO publicly complained that countries were not sharing enough information, but declined to name any countries in particular.

The EU proposals for WHO reform are expected to be discussed at a meeting of the agency’s member states next month.

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Samuel Petrequin in Brussels and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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Scientists Can Detect COVID Outbreaks in Communities by Testing Sewage Samples

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Scientists have found another way to identify clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks in communities across the country.

According to a new report from CNN, researchers now test sewage for the coronavirus, checking the samples for signs of COVID-19 infections that often show up in human waste before people present symptoms. “It’s a leading indicator,” researcher Rosa Inchausti told the outlet. “The proof is in the poop.”

Mariana Matus, the CEO of Biobot Analytics, told CNN that testing sewage can often indicate a COVID outbreak before hospitals begin to crowd. Plus, the method can identify more infections since it doesn’t rely on individuals to submit to a COVID test — although the sewage method doesn’t flag sick people individually.

“People start shedding virus pretty quickly after they are infected and before they start showing symptoms,” said Matus, who added: “We are seeing an upturn in the wastewater data, which I think broadly matches what we are seeing across the country. It’s been interesting seeing this almost second wave.”

New U.S. infections have increased 41 percent in the last two weeks and hospitals in several states — primarily in the Midwest — are running out of ICU beds.

RELATED: More Than 40 States Have Spiking COVID Cases and Midwestern Hospitals Are ‘Struggling’ to Keep Up

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On Wednesday, the U.S. recorded the second-highest number of new infections in one day with 81,457, just below the all-time record of 85,085, set last Friday.

As of Thursday morning, more than 8.9 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 227,697 have died from the virus, according to The New York Times.

The White House’s head of coronavirus testing said that the record-breaking numbers of new infections in the U.S. are “real,” and not because of an increase in testing. Testing czar Admiral Brett Giroir confirmed that U.S. COVID-19 cases are rising.

RELATED: More Than 62,000 Used Masks and Gloves Found in Oceans and on Beach Shorelines: ‘A Significant Threat’

“Testing may be identifying some more cases, I think that’s clearly true, but what we’re seeing is a real increase in the numbers,” he told the Washington Post.

“Compared to the post-Memorial Day surge, even though testing is up, this is a real increase in cases,” he said. “We know that not only because the case numbers are up and we can calculate that, but we know that hospitalizations are going up.”

Giroir urged Americans to keep up hygiene practices, wear masks and social distance as the crisis could get worse. “We really have to reengage the public health measures that we know work or those hospitalizations can go up substantially,” he said.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information

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Why COVID Outbreaks Could Worsen This Winter

Winter is fast approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, and researchers warn that COVID-19 outbreaks are likely to get worse, especially in regions that don’t have the virus’s spread under control.

“This virus is going to have a heyday,” says David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University in California. “We are looking at some pretty sobering and difficult months ahead.”

Infections caused by many respiratory viruses, including influenza and some coronaviruses, swell in winter and drop in summer. Researchers say it’s too early in the COVID-19 pandemic to say whether SARS-CoV-2 will become a seasonal virus. But growing evidence suggests that a small seasonal effect will probably contribute to bigger outbreaks in winter, on the basis of what is known about how the virus spreads and how people behave in colder months.

People will be interacting more often indoors in places with poor ventilation, which will increase the risk of transmission, says Mauricio Santillana, a mathematician at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who models disease spread.

But even if there is a small seasonal effect, the main driver of increased spread will be the vast number of people who are still susceptible to infection, says Rachel Baker, an epidemiologist at Princeton University in New Jersey. That means people in places that are going into summer shouldn’t be complacent either, say researchers.

“By far the biggest factor that will affect the size of an outbreak will be control measures such as social distancing and mask wearing,” says Baker.

Evidence so far

Seasonal trends in viral infection are driven by multiple factors, including people’s behaviour and the properties of the virus—some don’t like hot, humid conditions.

Laboratory experiments reveal that SARS-CoV-2 favours cold, dry conditions, particularly out of direct sunlight. For instance, artificial ultraviolet radiation can inactivate SARS-CoV-2 particles on surfaces and in aerosols, especially in temperatures of around 40 °C. Infectious virus also degrades faster on surfaces in warmer and more humid environments. In winter, people tend to heat their houses to around 20 °C, and the air is dry and not well ventilated, says Dylan Morris, a mathematical biologist at Princeton. “Indoor conditions in the winter are pretty favourable to viral stability.”

To assess whether infections with a particular virus rise and fall with the seasons, researchers typically study its spread in a specific location, multiple times a year, over many years. But without the benefit of time, they have tried to study the seasonal contribution to SARS-CoV-2 transmission by looking at infection rates in various places worldwide.

A study published on 13 October looked at the growth in SARS-CoV-2 infections in the first four months of the pandemic, before most countries introduced controls. It found that infections rose fastest in places with less UV light, and predicted that, without any interventions, cases would dip in summer and peak in winter. In winter, “the risk goes up, but you can still dramatically reduce your risk by good personal behaviour”, says Cory Merow, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut in

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Coronavirus outbreaks connected to hockey are happening in New England states

Multiple New England states are experiencing issues with the coronavirus for hockey players, prompting suspensions in play.

Some states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, have paused ice skating and hockey activities for two weeks as facilities find ways to better prevent COVID-19 among people visiting and using the rinks.

Above video: Hockey parents speak out prior to mandatory COVID-19 testing announcement in New Hampshire

A rink is Vermont was linked to dozens of cases, and earlier this month, New Hampshire’s governor said over 150 cases in recent months were linked to hockey.


Hockey organizers and health experts in states have detailed ways to reduce risks in spreading the virus, stressing physical distancing and other measures. Materials typically cite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Health officials have also noted an adult recreational game being connected with the virus, saying it happened in Florida and led to around a dozen positive cases.

“The ice rink provides a venue that is likely well suited to COVID-19 transmission as an indoor environment where deep breathing occurs, and persons are in close proximity to one another,” a Florida health official said.

NH introduces testing requirement for players

A new requirement says rink staff, players and coaches must undergo a COVID-19 test before Nov. 6.

It comes as New Hampshire is “pausing” all hockey activities in indoor rinks for two weeks following positive COVID-19 tests for 158 people associated with the sport over the last two months, Gov. Chris Sununu and health officials said Oct. 15.

The suspension, which also affects ice skating in general, is in effect until Oct. 29. Play can resume Oct. 30, and the state’s reopening task force has provided guidance, which includes wearing face coverings when people are not playing.

Dr. Ben Chan, state epidemiologist, previously said the cases are from 23 different hockey-related New Hampshire organizations and teams, “and there are additional connections with out-of-state ice hockey organizations.”

Chan said people who have acquired the virus through hockey have been associated with, and potentially exposed others, in at least 24 different K-12 schools throughout the state.

“This type of spread and exposure to other facilities and organizations within the community increases the risk of introduction and spread of COVID-19 in other settings outside of hockey,” Chan said.

Rinks will be cleaned and sanitized and guidance on the sport will be revised and more testing will be conducted.

College team activity is on hold, in addition to youth and amateur organization activities.

“We don’t know exactly where the pinpoints are here, whether it’s something on the ice or something in the locker rooms,” Sununu said.

Indoor hockey, skating suspended for 2 weeks in Mass.

Suspended play comes as outbreaks have been linked to 108 confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, according to the Massachusetts health department.

Indoor ice hockey and skating have been suspended as of 5 p.m. Oct. 23, to at least Nov. 7 for youth hockey and adult leagues at both public and private facilities.

“This order is

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Sewage can reveal COVID outbreaks, UK project finds

FILE PHOTO: The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. January 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via REUTERS.

LONDON (Reuters) – Traces of COVID-19 can be successfully detected in sewage, helping to give health officials an early warning of local outbreaks of the virus, the British government said on Friday.

A project, originally launched in June, has now proved that fragments of genetic material from the virus can be detected in waste water, indicating if a local community or institution is experiencing a spike in cases.

The government said this would allow health officials to identify large outbreaks especially where there were carriers not displaying any symptoms and to encourage people to get tested or take precautions.

“This is a significant step forward in giving us a clearer idea of infection rates both nationally and locally, particularly in areas where there may be large numbers of people who aren’t showing any symptoms and therefore aren’t seeking tests,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.

The sewage-testing project has been working successfully in southwest England and has now been extended to 90 wastewater sites covering 22% of England, the government said, adding it aimed to expand it in future.

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison

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Wastewater coronavirus testing helps scientists around the world track outbreaks

Elsewhere in the world, countries have been expanding their use of sewage sampling. Here are some of their key findings.

Canada

Every morning at 5, a group of scientists in Ottawa receives samples of the previous day’s sewage to test for traces of the coronavirus in wastewater pooled from “over a million souls,” said Alex MacKenzie, a senior scientist at the CHEO Research Institute.

MacKenzie is part of a team at CHEO and the University of Ottawa that piloted the program, which Ottawa’s public health department uses to provide daily reports on the coronavirus’s spread. In early October, MacKenzie’s team reported that concentrations of the virus in the area’s wastewater had doubled in the past month and increased tenfold since June.

Other cities and provinces across Canada, as well as several universities, are watching sewage systems for signs of the virus.

Such testing provides crucial information at little cost, MacKenzie said. Each sample costs only several hundred dollars and gives a reliable snapshot of the big picture, and there are few privacy concerns because the tests do not detect individual infections.

“There’s a general realization that we should be doing this as much as possible,” he said.

The model could have applications for vulnerable populations, he said, such as those living in homeless shelters, prisons and elder-care homes, if plumbing systems in buildings or apartment blocks were frequently tested.

While many countries and cities test wastewater for virus RNA, MacKenzie said his team is also looking for the protein that surrounds the genetic matter. The virus’s RNA, he said, “is a fragile beast,” while the protein is sturdier and could provide an even more accurate picture of the virus’s spread.

Netherlands

In early February, over a month before the global pandemic was declared, scientists from the Dutch KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein began periodically testing sewage samples from seven cities and one airport, according to a paper they published in July. Initial tests came back negative. But on March 5, Dutch scientists detected the coronavirus in wastewater at a treatment plant in the city of Amersfoort, about 32 miles southeast of Amsterdam. Weeks later, Amersfoort’s first case of the virus was confirmed.

Since March, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment has been taking weekly samples from sewage systems across the country. As in the first study, researchers were able to detect small traces of the virus before cases or outbreaks were confirmed. While the program began with a few dozen sites, since Sept. 7 the institute has been testing systematically each of the country’s more than 300 sewage treatment centers, according to its website.

Hong Kong

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, researchers in Hong Kong were puzzled by the question of how the virus had infected hundreds of people in a 33-story apartment building. Their conclusion: SARS, a coronavirus related to the one causing covid-19, had probably aerosolized and spread through the plumbing system. Scientists narrowed in on a patient zero, who had diarrhea in

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Fauci: COVID-19 outbreaks would have to ‘get really, really bad’ before advocating for national lockdown

New COVID-19 cases are accelerating across the U.S., rising swiftly above previous record case counts set during the tumultuous spring and summer months. 

There has been a documented 30 percent increase in testing positivity rates over the past two weeks and more than 8 million COVID-19 cases reported in the country. But, even as the U.S. enters a potentially troubling winter season, Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert, says that a nationwide lockdown may not be the best solution at this time. 

Speaking to “60 Minutes,” Fauci says outbreaks would have to “get really, really bad” before he would advocate for a national lockdown. 


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First of all, the country is fatigued with restrictions. So we wanna use public health measures not to get in the way of opening the economy, but to being a safe gateway to opening the economy,” Fauci said. “So instead of having an opposition, open up the economy, get jobs back, or shut down. No. Put ‘shut down’ away and say, ‘We’re gonna use public health measures to help us safely get to where we want to go.’” 

Instead, Fauci says, the emphasis remains on practicing now-familiar public health measures like wearing masks, physically distancing and washing hands frequently — key steps in controlling virus transmission. 

He elaborated that these practices are not intended to halt the reopening of public spaces, but to facilitate a gradual reopening while still mitigating transmission levels or how quickly the virus spreads.

Responding to President Trump’s criticism that he suddenly reversed course on his stance regarding the public wearing facial coverings, Fauci explained that his initial decision to discourage public mask-wearing came during the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

When masks, especially homemade ones, became widely available and were shown to prevent virus transmission, Fauci advocated for their universal use.

“It became clear that cloth coverings…not necessarily a surgical mask or an N95, cloth coverings, work,” Fauci said. “Now there’s no longer a shortage of masks. Number two, meta-analysis studies show that, contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection.”

Still, he admits he was wrong in his initial decision to discourage widespread mask-wearing.

“When you find out you’re wrong, it’s a manifestation of your honesty to say, ‘Hey, I was wrong. I did subsequent experiments and now it’s this way,’” he said. 

Many are looking toward an upcoming COVID-19 vaccine as a final piece to the puzzle of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. A treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the distant horizon, with multiple pharmaceutical companies in late stage clinical trials with their vaccine candidates.

Public confidence in a forthcoming vaccine, however, is relatively low, with only just more than half of the population

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