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Baker names 17-member coronavirus vaccine advisory group

A 17-member group of doctors, public health experts, lawmakers and community activists will guide Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration on how to distribute a coronavirus vaccine — once one is available — equitably, safely and efficiently.

There are currently 11 vaccine candidates in the last phase of clinical trials testing for safety and efficacy, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker. Massachusetts’ own Moderna is currently conducting some of its trials at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. Moderna and Pfizer are leading the pack, most likely to cross the finish line to a viable vaccine first, experts have said.

The advisory group held its first meeting last week and the governor’s office said its work will build on vaccine planning that has been underway since August.

Members are working closely with leaders from the Department of Public Health and adding to the commonwealth’s state-of-the-art Massachusetts Immunization Information System, which serves as the state’s vaccine registry, ordering and inventory mechanism. More than 3,000 provider sites currently report their data to this system. The DPH is adding 1,000 clinical sites to track the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the governor’s office.

Members of the advisory committee include:

  • Dr. Paul Biddinger, chair of Mass General Brigham
  • Dr. Barry Bloom of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Dr. Vincent Chiang of Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Michael Curry of Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers
  • Dr. Robert Finberg of University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • Sen. Cindy Friedman, chairperson of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing
  • Dr. Marc Lipsitch of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Rep. Ronald Mariano, House majority leader
  • Wanda McClain of Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Dr. Asif Merchant of Mass Medical Society
  • Mayor Daniel Rivera of Lawrence
  • Dr. John Rocchio of CVS Health
  • Dr. David Twitchell of Boston Medical Center
  • Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church
  • Phoebe Walker of Franklin Regional Council of Governments
  • Dr. Simone Wildes of South Shore Hospital
  • Dr. Sharon Wright of Beth Israel Lahey Health

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L.A. County reports 971 new coronavirus cases, 3 deaths

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 11: A couple in face masks walk down Cesar E. Chavez Blvd on Saturday morning in Los Angeles. Life around Cesar E. Chavez Blvd. and Soto St. has slow down as California officials extended stay-at-home orders into May and residents entered Easter weekend with unprecedented limits on their movements. Most of the people are adhering to the orders by mayor to wear masks while out running errands. Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A couple walk down Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard near downtown Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County public health officials on Sunday reported 971 new coronavirus cases and three related deaths.

The number of new cases and deaths is usually lower on Sundays and Mondays because of laboratory reporting delays.

The county now has logged a total of 282,135 cases of the virus, and 6,771 people have died.

Officials continued to report encouraging signs of progress in the county’s fight against the virus.

There were 693 people with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in county hospitals as of Saturday, down from more than 2,200 at the peak of the crisis in mid-July.

L.A. County last week saw a slight uptick in the number of new coronavirus cases reported each day, on Wednesday reporting its highest daily count of infections since Aug. 22, but experts said it’s too early to say whether it represents the start of a larger surge in infections.

Even so, the percentage of tests that came back positive for the virus each day declined slightly over the course of the week, from a seven-day average of 3.2% Monday to 3% Sunday, officials said. The positivity rate, which helps officials determine whether more new cases are being identified because of increased transmission or because more people are being tested, has hovered around 3% for several weeks, officials said. In July, about 8% of tests were coming back positive.

The positivity rate is one of several metrics officials are keeping an eye on to gauge whether transmission of the virus is increasing and weigh whether more businesses should be allowed to reopen.

The state also recently created an equity metric that establishes specific positive case rate numbers that larger counties must meet in their poorer cities and neighborhoods.

L.A. County remains in the strictest tier of the state’s four-tier reopening system — Tier 1, or purple — because it continues to report more than 7 cases per 100,000 residents each day. That means that many nonessential businesses remain closed for indoor operations.

Officials have said they plan to proceed cautiously through the stages, directing business sectors to reopen slowly and in a staggered manner to avoid a surge in new infections that could threaten to overwhelm hospitals. Most recently, casino card rooms were permitted to resume outdoor operations Monday and indoor shopping malls were allowed to reopen at limited capacity Wednesday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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Coronavirus On The Rise; Avoid These 2 NJ Counties

HOBOKEN, NJ — Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla said on Friday that coronavirus cases are on the rise in the mile-square city, and he cautioned residents to avoid indoor parties and travel to places with spikes.

Bhalla updated the city’s coronavirus case numbers Friday, saying the city had confirmed 28 new cases in the previous five days, a larger increase than in months.

“The Hoboken University Medical Center (HUMC) has reported additional hospitalizations, as well as patients on ventilators,” Bhalla said.

He said that the Hoboken Health Department has reported the following new COVID-19 cases in Hoboken:

Oct. 4: 5
Oct. 5: 7
Oct. 6: 4
Oct. 7: 4
Oct. 8: 7
Oct. 9: 1

That meant that as of Friday, 833 residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Fatalities remain unchanged at 31 total, with no new resident deaths since May.

The age group with the highest rise in cases remains those residents in the 17-30 age group, he said.

(Also on Friday, a local charter school went all-remote after a student tested positive for the virus. Related story here).

Avoiding the shore counties, and indoor birthday parties

Bhalla said in his Friday update that there are surges in Monmouth and Ocean counties — popular shore destinations for North Jersey residents. He urged residents to avoid traveling there.

“The State of New Jersey has reported significant recent increases in positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and patients in intensive care as well,” he wrote. “On Thursday, the State saw the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases (1,301) since May. The statewide positivity rate from Oct. 4 was 3.69 percent, while the statewide rate of transmission is currently 1.22. (anything above a rate of 1 means the virus is spreading). Gov. Murphy has reported a surge of cases in Ocean County and Monmouth County, and I urge residents to avoid traveling to cities in these two counties if at all possible.”

Bhalla also reminded people to avoid maskless indoor gatherings. He said he’s been concerned about house parties as well as birthday parties.

“As always, the best way to stay safe is to take the following precautions: wear a face mask when around others, social distance, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands,” he wrote. “And, as mentioned in the previous update, please continue to assume that anyone you come into contact with could have the virus, especially now that cases are rising in New Jersey.”

He noted, “Additionally, we’re also hearing reports of house parties that have occurred over the past several weeks, with the police having to be called in one instance, as well as residents attending house parties in other locations. I am urgently asking all residents, of all ages — please avoid indoor parties, which could easily turn into superspreader events with cases that are difficult to trace, like ones we have seen on the news.”

Hoboken coronavirus testing, dining, reopening info

To read a Patch report last week about reopenings and

Charter School In Hoboken Goes Remote For Now Due To Coronavirus

HOBOKEN, NJ — Elysian Charter School, one of the city’s three charter schools, confirmed over the weekend that it’s going all-remote for now. Sources said that the decision was made after a student at the K-8 school tested positive for coronavirus.

Vijay Chaudhury, a spokesman for Mayor Ravi Bhalla, said over the weekend, “Elysian Charter School has made the decision to go remote given recent developments and in consultation with the Hoboken Health Department. We are confident their precautions will help keep our children safe.”

A representative for the school, located at the north end of town, declined to discuss the matter further or say how long they’ll be closed, but said that they had informed the school community. This story will be updated if more information is received, such as a reopening date.

Charter schools in New Jersey are considered public and do not charge tuition, but receive state funding distributed through the public Board of Education. Each charter school is considered its own school district, although they are subject to state regulations.

Elysian’s reopening plan and coronavirus safety protocol can be found on their website here.

Hoboken’s regular public school buildings remain open for parents who chose the on-site learning option. They also offer the option of full-time remote learning, as required by the state.

Hoboken Superintendent of Schools Christine Johnson said on Sunday that she didn’t have more information on Elysian, but that the Hoboken School District has a protocol to respond if a student within the Hoboken community, but attending another district, tests positive.

“We have a plan that we are following with fidelity,” she said. “The plan includes directives for when there is a positive case of one of our district students or staff members. When it comes to a positive case of a child from another school in town that is outside of our district, we follow the very clear guidelines set forth by the Health Department. They conduct the contact tracing and inform those families required to quarantine a child on the basis of those who have been in contact with the individual that has tested positive within 6 feet and for 10 or more minutes. That means that we do not quarantine classes of students that are not in direct contact. Principals will inform parents in the classroom of a student who is quarantining (out of precaution) and parents may certainly take measures if they so choose to do so, but it will not kick us into a closure unless there is a direct positive.”

She added, “We did have an individual in one of our [pre-K] cohorts at St. Francis that tested positive. That cohort will quarantine for 14 days. We checked the sibling list and there aren’t any siblings that attend our schools in the upper grades. The Department of Health was notified.”

She noted, “At this time, we are not aware of a K-12 student or staff member who have tested positive for covid 19.”

How kids

Coronavirus pandemic and election-year politics collide, eroding trust in science

The positive development immediately became entangled in election-year politics, with President Trump repeatedly making false and exaggerated claims about the new therapeutics. He called them a cure, which they’re not. He said he was about to approve them — a premature promise given that the FDA’s career scientists are charged with reviewing the applications.

This has been the 2020 pattern: Politics has thoroughly contaminated the scientific process. The result has been an epidemic of distrust, which further undermines the nation’s already chaotic and ineffective response to the coronavirus.

The White House has repeatedly meddled with decisions by career professionals at the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other science-based agencies. Many of the nation’s leading scientists, including some of the top doctors in the administration, are deeply disturbed by the collision of politics and science and bemoan its effects on public health.

“I’ve never seen anything that closely resembles this. It’s like a pressure cooker,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview.

Trust has been damaged by White House intrusions and the FDA’s own mistakes. Earlier this year, the agency granted emergency authorization to hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug wrongly touted by Trump as a treatment for covid-19, then reversed course when it became clear the medication could cause dangerous complications. In August, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn drew sharp criticism for inaccurately describing the benefits of convalescent plasma, statements for which he later apologized.

Millions of Americans have embraced some version of a conspiracy theory that imagines the pandemic as a wildly exaggerated threat, or even an outright hoax, pushed by politically motivated scientists and the mainstream media to undermine the president. This is a form of science denial that leads many people to refuse to wear masks or engage in social distancing.

Scientists, meanwhile, worry that the politicization of the regulatory process could undermine the rollout of a vaccine even if it is approved by career professionals at the FDA. This is shaping up as a communications challenge for the government: Many people will want to know who, exactly, is greenlighting a vaccine.

“If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic nominee for vice president, said in Wednesday’s debate with Vice President Pence. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”

Moments later Pence said it is “unconscionable” for Harris “to undermine public confidence in a vaccine.” He added, “Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

The scolding by Pence was remarkable given that Trump has repeatedly framed the vaccine effort in terms of the November election — including just hours before Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate, when he came close to accusing his own government’s scientists of trying to delay a vaccine.

“We’re going to have a great vaccine very, very shortly. I think we

Jane Seymour watched Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman with her grandchildren

Jane Seymour posing for a picture

© Bang Showbiz
Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour watched ‘Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman’ with her grandchildren amid the coronavirus lockdown.

The 69-year-old actress plays Dr. Michaela Quinn-Sully on the TV drama series, and she revisited the show – which ran on CBS between 1993 and 1998 – during the health crisis.

Jane shared: “The parents don’t usually let them watch TV.

“Every once in a while, they get to either watch ‘War With Grandpa’ or ‘Dr. Quinn’ or something.”

The actress joked that the show feels “very appropriate right now”.

Speaking to Us Weekly magazine, Jane explained: “I couldn’t believe that episode two is about an epidemic. We made that how many years ago? Way ahead of our time.”

The film and TV star has also killed time amid the health crisis by having fun in her garden.

She said: “We have an organic garden at the backside of our property.

“We go down, we pick vegetables, they cook with us, it’s been magic. We have enough space here that everyone is safe.”

Meanwhile, Jane previously admitted that she still gets recognised for her starring role in ‘Dr. Quinn’.

The actress also revealed that Mikhail Gorbachev, the former President of the Soviet Union, was a fan of the drama series.

Asked if she still gets recognised for her role, she replied: “Oh absolutely. And all over the world. It’s in, I think, a hundred countries now.

“You know, when President Gorbachev comes up to me and goes, ‘Oh Dr. Quinn, Dr. Quinn.’ You realise that the show probably had even more of an impact in other countries than it did in America.”

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Another L.A. County child diagnosed with rare COVID-related syndrome

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 04 , 2020 - L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer addresses a press conference held at the steps of Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration to declare a health emergency as the number of coronavirus cases increased to seven, with six new cases in Los Angeles County. None of the new cases are connected to "community spread," officials said. All individuals were exposed to COVID-19 through close contacts. The additional cases were confirmed Tuesday night. Officials said three of the new cases were travelers who had visited northern Italy, two were family members who had close contact with someone outside of the county who was infected, and one had a job that put them in contact with travelers. One person has been hospitalized, and the others are isolated at home. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Department of Public Health director, speaks at a news conference earlier this year. (Irfan Khan/Irfan Khan/Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Another Los Angeles County child has been diagnosed with a rare, potentially deadly syndrome believed to be related to the coronavirus, according to the county Health Department, bringing the total number of children with the ailment in the region to 41.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said all of the children in the county diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome since the beginning of the pandemic had been hospitalized. The department said in a written statement Friday that 70% of the children with MIS-C were Latino, reflecting the high incidence of COVID-19 among Latinos overall.

Although none of the children reported to have the condition in Los Angeles County have died, nearly half have been sick enough to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Children with the syndrome may have a fever and other symptoms including stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, bloodshot eyes and exhaustion. The syndrome can cause different parts of the body to become inflamed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“MIS-C is a new syndrome, and many questions remain about why some children and adolescents develop it after a COVID-19 illness or contact with someone with COVID-19 while others do not,” the CDC says.

As of Oct. 1, the CDC has reported 1,027 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children; 20 of the children with the ailment have died. Cases have been confirmed in 44 states and Washington, D.C.

Arizona, California, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia are among the 10 states reporting the highest number of cases.

Just days before the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced the county’s 41st MIS-C case, federal health officials reported that multisystem inflammatory syndrome began to show up in adults in the United States and the United Kingdom in June.

Friday’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” from the federal agency cited 27 adult cases and acknowledged that the data were limited. The CDC called it “an emerging syndrome” in adults and said more research was needed.

Like the childhood version of the ailment, MIS-A seems to affect Latinos and Blacks more than other populations. And, while it can kill, it usually does not.

“All but one of the patients with MIS-A described in this report belonged to racial or ethnic minority groups,” the CDC reported. “The majority (24 of 27) of patients with MIS-A survived, similar to those with MIS-C, associated with receiving care in acute, often intensive, health care settings.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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Trump says he’s not contagious. Health experts say that’s not certain.

“A total and complete sign off from White House Doctors yesterday,” Trump said. “That means I can’t get it (immune), and can’t give it. Very nice to know!!!”

Trump’s claim came one day after his physician said he is “no longer considered a transmission risk to others,” in a memo that seemed to clear Trump to return to his normal activities a little more than a week after he announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump is expected to hold a campaign rally Monday in Florida.

Some experts said the letter provided some reassurance that Trump is no longer contagious, but they noted that there is no way to know for sure so soon after a covid-19 diagnosis. The White House has never made clear the severity of Trump’s illness, which could influence how long he should isolate.

The letter from Sean Conley said Trump had met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria for “safe discontinuation of isolation” and that “an assortment of diagnostic tests” found no evidence of actively replicating virus, which must be present for someone to infect others.

It did not say that Trump had tested negative for the virus, however, and its brevity left experts puzzling over what evidence had led the White House physician to conclude the president is no longer contagious.

“The honest answer is, of course, we don’t know, because they haven’t really been fully forthcoming with information either about his treatment or his clinical status,” said Arthur Reingold, who chairs the epidemiology division at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health.

Trump, Conley wrote, was 10 days from the onset of symptoms, had been fever-free for well over 24 hours and his symptoms had improved. That would mean he had met standards at which the CDC says people with mild to moderate cases of covid-19 can stop isolating.

But people with severe cases are advised to isolate for up to 20 days, the CDC says. Trump was hospitalized, administered supplemental oxygen and treated with the steroid dexamethasone, a drug typically used for serious cases, said Albert Ko, an infectious-disease expert at the Yale School of Public Health.

“I think the big question is whether the president had severe or he had mild, moderate disease,” Ko said. “Regardless of what the rules are, I think most physicians would want to be cautious not only about protecting the president, but protecting the people around him. That’s usually our rules of practice. Why risk it?”

Tests can provide other clues as to a person’s contagiousness, but none are foolproof, experts said.

Conley’s memo did not detail the “assortment of diagnostic” tests Trump’s health-care team has used to assess his level of illness. But it said testing throughout the president’s illness had “demonstrated decreasing viral loads that correlate with increasing cycle threshold times, as well as decreasing and now undetectable subgenomic mRNA.”

A negative PCR test, the common laboratory test that detects the virus from nasal and throat swabs,

The Best Time to Switch From a Medicare Advantage Plan to a Medigap Plan

Last of a three-part series.

Medicare’s annual election period runs from Oct. 15 through December 7.

And that’s the best time to switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to a Medigap plan, according to Jae Oh, author of Maximize Your Medicare.

According to Oh, it’s critical that your Medigap carrier your application before you switch out of your Medicare Advantage and sign up for a standalone Part D plan. The worst outcome, he says, would be to have your Medigap application denied and choose a Part D plan. That would “eject” the Medicare Advantage plan that you may have in place and leave you without additional health benefits, said Oh.

Watch Oh’s videos on the topics on YouTube. Also read Buying your Medigap policy.

So, why might you switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to a Medigap plan?

There are a few reasons, according to Oh. The annual contracts are subject to change every year. And those changes could include premiums, copays, deductibles and doctors. By contrast, under Medigap, there is no concept of network. Every health care provider accepts a Medigap plan. To be sure, the premiums might cost more. But buying a Medigap plan could be one way to manage and mitigate the risk of unexpected health care costs in retirement,

So, what’s the best way to search for and select a Medigap policy?

1. Start with Medicare’s Plan Finder tool. One drawback with the tool, according to Oh, is this: The transparency of Medigap premiums is not very good. “The prices don’t accurately reflect the most updated premiums from carrier to carrier,” he says.

And as a result, it can be too high in certain instances. And that can be a disincentive; people might look at the list and think it’s too expensive when in fact the actual price in the marketplace is much lower. “It’s just been my general observation that the prices are not exactly at the razor’s edge of where the market sits at that time,” said Oh.

One bit of good news, according to, is this: Every Medigap policy must follow federal and state laws designed to protect you, and it must be clearly identified as “Medicare Supplement Insurance.” Insurance companies can sell you only a “standardized” policy identified in most states by letters. All policies offer the same basic benefits but some offer additional benefits, so you can choose which one meets your needs. In Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, Medigap policies are standardized in a different way.

When selecting a plan, Oh said the two most important factors to consider are the type of plan that best suits your needs and the carrier. And it’s really important to get the carrier right. You shouldn’t choose just any carrier, he says. Since underwriting is involved, there are certain instances where oh might suggest one carrier that is more likely to accept an applicant versus another.

2. Your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) will provide you in-depth, one-on-one insurance counseling and

Donald Trump chooses denial and recklessness as he’s set to resume campaign rallies

As President Donald Trump stood on a White House balcony Saturday — spewing mistruths about his opponent’s plan for policing and claiming the coronavirus is “disappearing” while hundreds of people watched from below — it was clear that his illness has taught him very little and he will continue to endanger Americans until Election Day.

Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump removes his face mask to speak from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House to a crowd of supporters, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

© Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump removes his face mask to speak from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House to a crowd of supporters, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

There was a chance for a strategic pivot by the President after he contracted Covid-19 that would have helped him shore up his flagging approval ratings on the handling of the virus. After learning a great deal about coronavirus, as he claimed during his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he could have chosen a path of responsibility by using his platform to educate the public about the risks of the virus at a time when US cases are surging and doctors fear that the nation is entering a second wave.

But nine days after he announced his coronavirus diagnosis — and hours before his physician said he is no longer considered “a transmission risk to others” but did not say he had tested negative — Trump chose his familiar tactics of denial, risk and ignorance. Two weeks after one super-spreader event in the White House Rose Garden, he held another on the South Lawn with no social distancing. This time, it was before an audience of Black and Latino Americans, groups who have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.

a group of people posing for the camera: Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump makes remarks on law and order on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday, where there was little social distancing. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

© Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump makes remarks on law and order on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday, where there was little social distancing. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Rather than mitigating risk, Trump is planning at least three campaign rallies next week in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa, stating Saturday, “We are starting very, very big with our rallies and with our everything” as he again threw caution to the wind.

In his speech from the White House balcony and during his interviews with right wing outlets like the Rush Limbaugh radio show on Friday, he embraced the only political strategy he knows — playing to his base, rather than attempting to broaden his appeal, as his campaign spirals toward Election Day. He still appears either unwilling or unable to see the huge drag that the public’s lack of confidence in his handling of the pandemic is having on his election prospects.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week showed only 37% of Americans approved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, while 59% disapproved. And the Pew Research Center found that Biden had a 17-point advantage over Trump when registered voters were asked who could better handle the public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

View Trump and Biden head-to-head polling

The President continued downplaying Covid-19 on Saturday, referring to it with