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UN warns against pursuing herd immunity to stop coronavirus

LONDON (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization warned against the idea that herd immunity might be a realistic strategy to stop the pandemic, dismissing such proposals as “simply unethical.”

At a media briefing on Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health officials typically aim to achieve herd immunity by vaccination. Tedros noted that to obtain herd immunity from a highly infectious disease such as measles, for example, about 95% of the population must be immunized.

“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said. Some researchers have argued that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are not obviously vulnerable will help build up herd immunity and is a more realistic way to stop the pandemic, instead of the restrictive lockdowns that have proved economically devastating.

“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak,” Tedros said.


Tedros said that too little was known about immunity to COVID-19 to know if herd immunity is even achievable.

“We have some clues, but we don’t have the complete picture,” he said, noting that WHO had documented instances of people becoming reinfected with coronavirus after recovering from an initial bout of the virus. Tedros said that while most people appear to develop some kind of immune response, it’s unclear how long that lasts or how robust that protection is — and that different people have varying responses.

“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” he said.

WHO estimates less than 10% of the population has any immunity to the coronavirus, meaning the vast majority of the world remains susceptible.

Tedros also noted countries had reported record-high daily figures of COVID-19 to the U.N. health agency for the last four days, citing surges in Europe and the Americas in particular.

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Frenchman in right-to-die case to stop food, medicine

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Dijon (France) (AFP)

A terminally ill Frenchman who had planned to live stream his death on social media told AFP Saturday that he would refuse all food and medication “until the very end”.

Alain Cocq, 57, had earlier announced he was refusing all food, drink and medicine from September 5 after French President Emmanuel Macron turned down his request for euthanasia.

But he accepted palliative care after refusing food and medication for over three days because the pain had become unbearable.

“From midnight on Monday, October 12, I will stop all hydration, food and treatment apart from painkillers,” he told AFP.

“I will go right till the end.”

Cocq suffers from a rare genetic condition which causes the walls of his arteries to stick together.

He has used his plight to draw attention to the situation of terminally ill patients in France who are not allowed to die in line with their wishes.

Cocq said that when he had accepted palliative care after his abortive first attempt, the medical emergency team had to put him back on hydration and food for the pain killers to work.

He said he had drawn a lesson from that.

“This time round, I will put my wish in writing … even if I seek medical aid at a given moment, it does not mean I wish to live.

“It would mean that I cannot bear the suffering any longer and that I seek a deep and continued sedation,” he said.

Right-to-die cases have long been an emotive issue in France.

Most polarising was the case of Vincent Lambert, who was left in a vegetative state after a traffic accident in 2008 and died in July last year after doctors removed life support following a long legal battle.

The case divided the country as well as Lambert’s own family, with his parents using every legal avenue to keep him alive but his wife and nephew insisting he must be allowed to die.

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As pandemic restrictions on indoor shopping ease, mall owners sue to stop another shutdown

ARCADIA, CA - OCTOBER 07, 2020 - Shoppers walk past a "Sanitize on the Go," station to keep shoppers safe from coronavirus at the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia on October 7, 2020. This is the first day customers return to indoor shopping after Los Angeles County eases restrictions and have reopened the malls and the individual stores. Such stores have been closed for weeks, but reopened Wednesday at 25% capacity. Westfield Santa Anita has placed Covid-related signage with one-way traffic, 6 feet distancing when waiting to get into individual stores, hand sanitizing stations and mask are required before entering the mall. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Shoppers walk past a “Sanitize on the Go,” station at the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Indoor shopping centers opened Wednesday as Los Angeles County officials eased pandemic-related restrictions on businesses, but one of the biggest mall operators in the region is suing to stop the county from shutting down centers again.

The owners of Westfield-branded malls, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the county in late September that called for the county to lift prohibitions it called “unlawful and unjustifiable” in part because they are targeted at indoor centers, which were then mostly closed.

Although the county gave the green light to indoor mall stores operating with limits on the number of customers who can be inside, Westfield is suing in federal court to stop officials from repeatedly opening and closing stores to blunt the impact of the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has likened such openings and closings of businesses to a dimmer switch that the state can raise or lower in relation to the transmission of COVID-19. When fewer new cases are diagnosed, restrictions on occupancy of stores, restaurants and other businesses will be loosened. If more people get sick, restrictions will retighten.

En Route Institute book store opens as customers return to indoor shopping at Westfield Santa Anita.
Frank Capurro opens the En Route Institute bookstore as customers return to indoor shopping at the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia on Oct. 7. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County has lagged behind other parts of California in reopening businesses because of its continued high numbers of new cases and deaths. But on Wednesday, “nonessential” stores in indoor shopping centers reopened with limited capacity for the first time since July.

Westfield and the owner of Del Amo Fashion Center, a regional indoor mall in Torrance, have both filed lawsuits intended to stop the county from effectively shutting down their shopping centers as a coronavirus prevention measure. Merchants including a sports apparel seller and a children’s clothing boutique operator have joined the lawsuits.

The county has not commented on the litigation, but its public information office said in a statement last month that the county “has been intensely committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents through an unprecedented crisis using science and data and responding in real time to a deadly and previously unknown virus that has tragically claimed thousands of lives and upended life for millions of people.”

County officials continue “to assess the data, the science and the state guidelines to safely guide the reopening” of local businesses, the statement said.

Jean-Marie Tritant, president of U.S. operations, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield
Jean-Marie Tritant, president of U.S. operations, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield)

In an interview with The Times, Jean-Marie Tritant, president of U.S. operations for Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, discussed his company’s litigation and efforts to conduct business prudently during the pandemic. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your company has been in discussions with state and local officials since the early days of the pandemic about how to operate safely in a dangerous time. What

Plexiglass Barriers Won’t Stop the Virus at the Debate, Experts Warn

A box fan, an air filter — and duct tape to attach them.

With four such cobbled together devices, at perhaps a total of $150, the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday night could be made much safer, according to experts in airborne viruses.

Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will be seated more than 12 feet apart on the podium, with plexiglass barriers between them. Mr. Pence and his aides had objected to the barriers, but relented on Tuesday night.

The barriers might make more sense if Mr. Pence and Ms. Harris were seated more closely together on the podium, scientists said. But the risk in this setting is airborne transmission of the coronavirus, and the barriers will do nothing to protect Ms. Harris and the moderator, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, if Mr. Pence were infected.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines confirming that the virus can be carried aloft by aerosols — tiny droplets — farther than six feet indoors. In one recent study, scientists isolated infectious virus some 16 feet from an infected patient in a hospital.

Linsey Marr, an expert on airborne viruses at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., laughed outright when she saw a picture of the debate setup. “It’s absurd,” she said.

When she first heard there would be plexiglass barriers, Dr. Marr said, she had imagined an enclosure with an open back or top: “But these are even smaller and less adequate than I imagined.”

Other experts said the barriers might have made some sense if the debaters were to be seated close together.

“Those plexiglass barriers are really only going to be effective if the vice president or Kamala Harris are spitting at each other,” said Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. “Those are really just splatter shields.”

The C.D.C. on Tuesday cleared Mr. Pence for the debate, saying he had not been in close contact with anyone known to be infected. The agency’s definition of close contact is being within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes.

Yet Mr. Pence said at a rally on Tuesday evening that he had met with President Trump, who last week tested positive for the coronavirus, that morning in the Oval Office.

“What we’ve been seeing over the past week is that there are a lot of spaces in the White House that are pretty enclosed, pretty poorly ventilated, where people can come into close contact even if they are more than six feet away,” Dr. Murray said.

“I would be very surprised if he has not been close enough to some of these people to at least potentially have been infected.”

Mr. Pence has cited multiple negative tests as proof that he is not infected. But tests for the coronavirus may not yield positive results for up to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Given the risk that Mr. Pence may be infected, experts said, the Commission for

Plexiglass barriers at Pence-Harris debate ‘are a joke,’ won’t stop coronavirus, medical experts say

The Commission on Presidential Debates is taking extra precautions at Wednesday night’s Vice Presidential debate given the coronavirus outbreak in the White House, but pictures of two curved plexiglass barriers they plan to use has some epidemiologists and airborne pathogen specialists scratching their heads.

Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris will be seated more than 12 feet apart and separated by two plexiglass barriers. But those barriers are “entirely symbolic,” according to Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University.

The commission became worried after President Donald Trump and several White House staff contracted Covid-19 shortly after last Tuesday’s presidential debate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Pence was not in “close contact” with Trump, who announced that he was infected with the virus early Friday morning.

Nonetheless, a person familiar with the debate planning told NBC News that Harris’ campaign asked for the plexiglass to be used at the event at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The plexiglass is “minimal protection,” Schaffner said in a phone interview, adding that the barriers are mostly “cosmetic.” 

However, he added that barriers are one part of a “layered approach” that includes testing and distancing of everyone on stage. Everyone in the debate hall is required to wear a mask and there will be no handshake or physical greeting between Pence and Harris, according to the commission. Altogether, he said, the steps have likely reduced the risk of spread occurring.

The plexiglass barriers are just one “part of the CPD’s overall approach to health and safety,” according to a fact sheet distributed by the commission.

The debate is due to take place indoors and, of course, plenty of talking is expected. That’s important because the CDC released new guidance on Monday that said the virus can spread through particles in the air between people who are further than six feet apart in certain environments. The CDC said the risk of that occurring increases indoors and when people are doing certain activities, including speaking.

Jeff Siegel, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto and a specialist in indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration, said the risk of virus-carrying particles going airborne in an environment like a debate when people are talking loudly is “huge.”

“On the plus side, it’s a pretty big space, so there’s a big dilution effect,” he said over the phone, adding that Harris, Pence and the moderator, Susan Page, will be spaced out appropriately. The high ceiling and large room will also help to reduce risk, he said.

“But they’re not addressing things like ventilation,” Siegel said, adding that he hopes the debate hall has appropriately up-to-date air filtration and ventilation systems. “If I was Vice President Pence’s staff or Harris’ staff, I would certainly want to get a portable HEPA filter in there.”

HEPA filters are high-performing air filters that capture very small particles in the air. The commission did not return CNBC’s request for comment on the building’s

When Can You Stop Wearing A Face Mask To Protect From COVID-19?

#PandemicLife has been going for what feels like forever (real time: six months), and the whole thing is starting to feel endless. With restrictions on just about every aspect of life and the constant need to wear face masks in public, it’s only natural to wonder when the novel coronavirus pandemic will end. Or, at the very least, when you can stop wearing face masks everywhere.

Sure, you already know that face masks are one of several crucial ways you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). With more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. and seven million confirmed cases (and counting!), per Johns Hopkins, strapping on a mask is a pretty small sacrifice to make for the greater good of all. Especially the elderly or immunocompromised among us. But no one is denying that face masks can be uncomfortable, hot, and annoying at times.

So . . . when can you be done with them? Here’s what you need to know about when you might be able to stop wearing a face mask for good:

There’s no hard end date when you can stop wearing a face mask.

To be honest, there’s not even a clear timeline in place. “It’s very difficult to say, considering the number of cases in the world are still increasing,” says Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious-disease expert in Southampton, N.Y. “We just have to watch and wait.”

Fernando anticipates that mask wearing will continue “at least through the winter season, but possibly longer.”

Given how common face masks are now, experts expect that they’ll continue to be used even in a post-pandemic world—when we eventually get there.

“There are thousands of respiratory viruses out there, and masks can help protect against them,” Fernando says. “Eventually, it will become good practice to always wear face masks out in public, especially during the winter.”

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The face mask timeline also depends on whether there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.

A good vaccine for COVID-19 needs to be developed before we can stop wearing face masks, says Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious-disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.

Even then, he says, people will need to wait until “the vaccine is widely available and experts think herd immunity has been reached.” (Herd immunity, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a situation where a sufficient enough portion of the population is immune to an infectious disease, through infection or vaccination, to make person-to-person spread unlikely.)

It’s unclear at this point exactly what percentage of the population would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity, Fernando says.

But Watkins doesn’t expect mask mandates to loosen up much before then. “It is

After Wildfires Stop Burning, a Danger in the Drinking Water

Two months after a wildfire burned through Paradise, Calif., in 2018, Kevin Phillips, then a manager for town’s irrigation district, walked from one destroyed home to another.

Burned out cars, the occasional chimney and the melted skeletons of washers and dryers were the only recognizable shapes.

“You started to actually be shocked when you saw a standing structure,” he said.

Mr. Phillips, now Paradise’s town manager, was following the team taking samples from intact water meters connected to homes that were now reduced to gray ash. He knew from the Tubbs Fire in 2017 that harmful toxins were likely in the water distribution system: Rapid action would be needed to protect people returning to the community from the dangers of toxins like benzene, which can cause nausea and vomiting in the short-term, or even cancer over time.

Wildfires, which turned skies a dim orange over cities from Seattle to Santa Cruz this year, are increasingly engulfing people’s homes, continuing to rage in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado in recent weeks. But even when homes don’t burn, other dangers arise in the aftermath, and experts are focusing more attention on what happens to municipal water systems after a fire, when released toxins can get pulled into plumbing systems, and other damage can linger in pipes for years.

After the Paradise Fire, for example, tests reported in a new study showed benzene levels in drinking water at 2,217 parts per billion. The Tubbs Fire led to levels as high as 40,000 parts per billion. California health authorities say 1 part per billion is dangerous over the long-term, and 26 parts per billion is dangerous for short-term exposure. And many other compounds that end up in water after fire can also create health risks.

“It’s hard enough having the pandemic restrictions,” said Angela Aurelia, a resident of Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County, whose home was partially damaged in August. “And then you have a wildfire, and you lose access to your home and then we can’t even go back home because the water isn’t likely safe to use.”

Mr. Phillips and some others who work to ensure the water flowing into homes is safe say they are following guidelines that are not designed for this kind of disaster.

After a fire, water in houses and in the underlying pipes “can become contaminated with an array of volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds” at levels that exceed the regulatory limits set by the state of California as well as the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said Amisha Shah, a water quality engineer at Purdue University. “It’s very clear it needs to be addressed.”

Volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, naphthalene and methylene chloride, have a low boiling point and can be dispersed into the air easily. Semi-volatiles, including chrysene and benzo(b)fluoranthene, have a higher boiling point but can be dispersed during, for example, a warm shower. Although not all of these compounds are harmful, some have been found to cause cancer in the

Colleges must do more to stop coronavirus spread, CDC says




a close up of a sign


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WASHINGTON — The coronavirus is spreading among young people on college campuses, a trend that college administrators and the public health officials working with them must do more to prevent. Those are the conclusions of two studies published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. 

One of those studies looked at national trends, while the other examined a series of recent coronavirus outbreaks at the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus at Chapel Hill. The conclusions were the same: Close living conditions, a renewal of social gatherings and disregard for mask wearing can result in viral spread. And since some 33 percent of college students live with their parents — and virtually all somehow interact with older members of their communities — that spread can afflict more vulnerable people.



a man and a woman standing on a sidewalk: Safety ambassadors Paul Ensslin, left, and Matthew Porter, right, assist a UNC-Chapel Hill student into class on Aug. 10. (Ted Richardson/Washington Post via Getty Images)


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Safety ambassadors Paul Ensslin, left, and Matthew Porter, right, assist a UNC-Chapel Hill student into class on Aug. 10. (Ted Richardson/Washington Post via Getty Images)

“To prevent cases on campuses and broader spread within communities,” the CDC researchers wrote, “it is critically important for students, faculty, and staff members at colleges and universities to remain vigilant and take steps to reduce the risk for SARS-CoV-2 transmission in these settings.”

Researchers recommended limits on social gatherings, mask-wearing requirements and living arrangements that do not crowd students into dormitories. At the same time, they acknowledged that “institutes of higher education present a unique set of challenges because of the presence of congregate living settings and difficulty limiting socialization and group gatherings.”

Some colleges have moved to expel or otherwise punish students who break rules by holding parties. That has resulted in backlash among some elected officials, particularly those close to President Trump. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, has gone as far as to propose a “bill of rights for students” that would protect them from repercussions for partying in the midst of the pandemic. 

“That’s what college kids do, and they’re at low risk,” DeSantis explained. While that is accurate in the narrowest sense, someone who is at a low risk for serious health complications can easily transmit the virus to a person at higher risk, such as an elderly parent or grandparent, or a peer who has a disorder that makes them more susceptible to the virus.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 18 coronavirus clusters — that is, groups of five or more related cases — appeared within days of students returning to campus on Aug. 3. In-person classes began on Aug. 10 but were moved online the following week as case counts increased. By Aug. 25, there were 670 coronavirus cases on campus. Encouragingly, none of them resulted in either hospitalization or death.

Of the 18 clusters, eight could be traced back to dormitories, while another five were centered on the school’s robust fraternity and sorority system. Four of the outbreaks affected athletic teams. 

Nationally, cases among people between the ages of 18