Covid hits U.S. Navy warship in Mideast; possible cases on 2nd ship

Feb. 26, 2021, 1:41 AM PST
By Phil Helsel
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The Navy’s 5th fleet said about a dozen cases had been confirmed aboard the USS San Diego in Bahrain.

Around a dozen service members on a U.S. Navy ship in Bahrain have tested positive for Covid-19, officials said, and another U.S. warship with several possible cases is expected to go to port for further testing.

Approximately 12 service members have tested positive aboard the USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock which is in Bahrain, the Navy’s 5th Fleet said in a statement late Thursday.

All those who tested positive have been isolated on board “and the ship remains in a restricted COVID bubble,” according to the statement.

There are also several “persons under investigation” aboard the guided missile cruiser the USS Philippine Sea, the Navy said.

Once the ship gets into port there will be testing of everyone who may have been exposed, it added.

The Navy would not disclose the location of the port in advance, citing security reasons, but the Middle East and the North Africa area is known as the 5th Fleet’s area of operations.

The USS Philippine Sea on Jan. 30 stopped a dhow — a type of sailing vessel commonly used in the region — with around 600 pounds of suspected heroin on board in the North Arabian Sea, officials said earlier this month.

The 5th Fleet tweeted that as soon as it became aware of possible Covid-19 aboard the USS San Diego and USS Philippine Sea “we took immediate actions to identify, isolate, test & treat affected Sailors & Marines aboard the two ships.”

The San Diego sails with nearly 600 sailors and Marines aboard, while the Philippine Sea carries some 380 sailors.

Last year, more than 1,000 sailors were infected with Covid-19 on board the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. One sailor died and the aircraft carrier was sidelined in Guam for weeks.

At the time of the outbreak the ship’s commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, raised the alarm in a strongly worded letter to Navy leadership.

Crozier was relieved of his command after the letter was leaked to the media. Acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly later ridiculed Crozier to the crew, apologized for the remarks and resigned.

A Defense Department inspector general report released earlier this month said that commanders of the Roosevelt failed to enforce social distancing and withdrew sailors too early from quarantine last year, which aggravated the outbreak.


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Black women feel outsize burden from the Covid-19 economy, survey finds

By Michelle Fox, CNBC
Sharon Epperson, CNBC
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“I am counting on the stimulus check,” said one single mother working and helping her child through virtual school. According to a new survey, she is not alone.

Like many single parents, JoAnn Hargrove has been struggling throughout the pandemic.

Her 7-year-old daughter has spent the past year at home, learning virtually. That meant Hargrove, a postal carrier in Pittsburgh, had to stop working during the week. She’s now collecting partial unemployment and working on Saturdays and Sundays, while her mother watches her daughter.

“I am literally living paycheck to paycheck,” said Hargrove, 37.

“Food is so expensive,” she added. “I didn’t realize that when I was making the money I was making.”

Fortunately, Hargrove has some savings, which are dwindling. She’s trying to hold off using what’s left so she has a cushion when government aid runs out.

“I am counting on the stimulus check,” Hargrove said, referring to the next payment working its way through Congress.

She’s not alone. Almost one-third, or 29 percent, of U.S. adults are counting on another round of government relief to get by, and another 24 percent say they need it but doubt it will happen, a new CNBC + Acorns Invest in You survey conducted by SurveyMonkey found.

People of color are more likely to be relying on the relief, especially Black women. Half of Black Americans and 40 percent of Latinos said they were counting on it, while 57 percent of Black women said the same. In addition, 24 percent of Blacks and Latinos need it but don’t think it will come to fruition.

Like you’ve ordered a big cake

By Alexander Smith
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Senior COVAX officials remain bullish about hitting their 1.8 billion vaccine target this year, covering 3.3 percent of those populations. However, top supply chain analysts are skeptical.

“We don’t buy it,” said Andrea Taylor, assistant director of Duke Global Health Innovation Center, an authority on Covid-19 vaccine supply data.

The forecast assumes COVAX will be able to obtain almost every dose made this year by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine supplier by volume. But that manufacturer has signed deals with almost a dozen other countries, too.

“It may be they know things about their supply chain that we don’t know,” Taylor said. “But in terms of data that we do have access to, I don’t think their forecast for 2021 is realistic at all.”

In any case, the officials running COVAX are more eager to talk about the bigger picture.

They point out that without the program, the situation would be much grimmer for the world’s most vulnerable.

“It’s like you’ve ordered a big cake, and you look on your plate but nothing has arrived,” said Schreiber at UNICEF. “But it’s cooking, and the cake will come out, hopefully soon. And hopefully nobody will fall as the cake is coming from the kitchen to the table.”

Nothing like this has ever been attempted before, they say. And even after its sluggish and troubled start, vaccinating poor countries 12 months after the pandemic was declared looks like lightspeed when compared with any other global immunization program in history.

Most of all, Aylward at the WHO believes that initiatives like COVAX have dramatically shifted people’s expectations about what is ethically acceptable. Global access to medicine has always been deeply unfair — but this is the first time he’s seen such widespread calls for change in the way vital medicines and treatments are distributed.

“I’ve spent 30 years in international public health and disease eradication and I have never seen this,” he said. “The world is changing. It’s changing before our eyes, and that is fantastic. Because once you get there, you can’t go back.”

Variants and misplaced snobbery

By Alexander Smith
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One looming potential flaw in COVAX’s short-term rollout is that it depends largely on just the one vaccine developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

One study has suggested this vaccine offers slightly less protection against a new variant identified in South Africa. Data is limited, and there’s no evidence the vaccine is any less effective at stopping serious illness. But almost immediately South Africa and neighboring Eswatini halted its deployment.

Officials involved in the deployment say they have no plans to significantly modify their strategy, however.

Some also believe COVAX should have expanded its horizons.

Chinese and Russian vaccines were initially met with skepticism in much of the West due to a lack of data transparency. But studies suggest they may be just as safe and effective as the best Western shots.

“We started with quite a high degree of snobbery about non-Western countries lacking our regulatory scrutiny,” said Danny Altmann, an immunology professor at Imperial College London. “In fact, the majority of these vaccines have been safe, efficacious and should all be in the toolkit.”

COVAX has been working to add Chinese vaccines to its portfolio, Aylward at the WHO said, but it’s taken longer because China’s drugmakers aren’t as familiar with COVAX’s approvals process.

Some COVAX countries, including Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and Ukraine, have already taken matters into their own hands, striking their own side deals with Beijing, according to Airfinity, a pharmaceuticals analytics company.

“It is frustrating because every time one country is making a bilateral deal, the neighboring countries may say, ‘OK, maybe I should also do a bilateral deal,'” said Benjamin Schreiber, the lead COVAX coordinator at UNICEF, tasked with deploying these shots globally.

In contrast to Western vaccine nationalism, China opted for vaccine diplomacy — exporting more shots than it’s deploying at home. It’s also ahead on sharing, donating 10 million vaccines through COVAX itself.