WASHINGTON — Temperature-scanning devices that check for fevers in schools, workplaces and public venues across the United States distort the results in a way that could overlook the telltale sign of a coronavirus infection, according to new research that casts doubt on the systems’ effectiveness in helping people resume normal life.

A festival attendee gets a temperature check before the Venice Film Festival in Italy on Sept. 1. On Thursday, the FDA issued a warning that improper use of temperature-scanning devices could lead to inaccurate measurements and “present potentially serious public health risks.” Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP

The thermal cameras and “temperature tablet” kiosks have been heralded as a critical first line of defense against new pandemic outbreaks. But in a new study of the scanners by the surveillance research organization IPVM, researchers warn that the tools are dangerously ineffective, raising the risk that infected people could be waved through medical screening checkpoints and go on to spread the virus unchecked.

On Thursday night, shortly after The Washington Post discussed the research findings with the Food and Drug Administration, the agency issued a public alert warning that improper use of the devices could lead to inaccurate measurements and “present potentially serious public health risks.”

The agency also announced that it was sending official “warning letters” to one of the discussed companies, as well as three others, for selling “unapproved, uncleared, and unauthorized thermal imaging systems.”

The researchers found that seven widely used scanners attempt to compensate for the imprecisions of lower-cost sensors and the unpredictable factors of real-world tests by “normalizing” the readings of people’s temperatures.

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Major retailers stick with mask mandates despite some states lifting restrictions

Many of the largest retailers in the country will continue to require customers in Texas to wear masks inside of their stores, maintaining basic safety measures to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, even as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is lifting a statewide mandate for face coverings.

Target, Starbucks, CVS and Kroger are among the companies that will keep their mask rules in place. Some retailers, however, including Albertsons, plan to drop the requirement for patrons but will encourage them to wear masks. While face coverings serve as a foundational safeguard to prevent the spread of coronavirus, retailers have in many ways become the de facto enforcers of public health measures — to protect front-line workers, customers and their communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks in any public setting. The agency requires commuters and travelers to wear face masks on public transit and at transportation hubs nationwide.

Contrary to public health guidance designed to halt new infections, many Republican leaders have railed against mask mandates. Texas imposed statewide masking eight months ago, but earlier this week, Abbot declared the mandate would be rolled back, boasting on Twitter that “Texas is OPEN 100%.”

Abbot’s decision has drawn widespread criticism, including from Biden, as health officials plead with states to keep up safety measures as more transmissible variants could endanger progress that’s been made.

“The last thing — the last thing — we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask. Forget it. It still matters,” Biden said Wednesday.

Health experts and government officials say getting rid of mask mandates as the vaccine effort is just getting underway is irresponsible and premature. While new cases in the past week are down overall for the country, infections have risen by 16 percent in Texas.

Florida governor faces growing charges of vaccine favoritism toward wealthy

MIAMI  — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health officials came under deeper scrutiny amid revelations that seniors in a wealthy enclave in Key Largo received hundreds of life-saving vaccinations as early as mid -January, giving ammunition to critics who say the Republican governor is favoring wealthy constituents over ordinary Floridians.

The revelations were the latest example of wealthy Floridians getting earlier access to coronavirus vaccines, even as the state has lagged in efforts to get poorer residents vaccinated.

DeSantis pushed back Thursday, saying a local hospital — not the state — was behind the vaccinations of more than 1,200 residents of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida, and that the state “wasn’t involved in it in any shape or form.”

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the press after giving his State of the State speech on the first day of the 2021 Legislative Session in Tallahassee, Fla. Tuesday, March 2. Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP

Officials from Monroe County, home to Key Largo, said the affluent club’s medical center, which is an affiliate of Baptist Health Hospital, received the vaccines through the hospital as part of the governor’s program to vaccinate communities with a populations of people 65 and older. County spokeswoman Kristen Livengood said the allocations were coordinated through Baptist and the state of Florida.

Revelations about Ocean Reef residents getting vaccinated were first reported by the Miami Herald.

The inequitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines is becoming a public relations challenge for the governor. Of the 3.2 million people who have received one or two doses of the vaccines, less than 6% have been Black, when they make up about 17% of the total population.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried joined Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in calling for federal officials to probe the DeSantis administration’s vaccine distribution programs.

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U.S. traffic deaths spike even as pandemic cuts miles traveled

DETROIT  — Pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders kept many drivers off U.S. roads and highways last year. But those who did venture out found open lanes that only invited reckless driving, leading to a sharp increase in traffic-crash deaths across the country.

The nonprofit National Safety Council estimates in a report issued Thursday that 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years.

Plus, the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven spiked 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.

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An Oregon man crashed a Tesla while going about 100 mph, destroying the vehicle, a power pole and starting a fire in Nov. 2020. Corvallis Police Department via Associated Press

And even though traffic is now getting close to pre-coronavirus levels, the bad behavior on the roads is continuing, authorities say.

“It’s kind of terrifying what were seeing on our roads,” said Michael Hanson, director of the Minnesota Public Safety Department’s Office of Traffic Safety. “We’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior.”

Last year’s deaths were the most since 2007 when 43,945 people were killed in vehicle crashes. In addition, the safety council estimates that 4.8 million people were injured in crashes last year.

Federal data shows that Americans drove 13% fewer miles last year, or roughly 2.8 trillion miles, said Ken Kolosh, the safety council’s manager of statistics. Yet the number of deaths rose at an alarming rate, he said.

“The pandemic appears to be taking our eyes off the ball when it comes to traffic safety,” Kolosh said.

Of the reckless behaviors, early data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show speed to be the top factor, Kolosh said. Also, tests of trauma center patients involved in traffic crashes show increased use of alcohol, marijuana and opiods, he said.

After rise in cases, U.S. Naval Academy moves 200 midshipmen to hotels off campus

The U.S. Naval Academy moved nearly 200 midshipmen to hotels in downtown Annapolis this week following an uptick of coronavirus cases.

Officials said the students were moved off campus to create more quarantine and isolation space in Bancroft Hall, the academy’s dormitory complex. The announcement came after the academy enacted a “restriction of movement” order on Sunday, confining students to their rooms and shifting to virtual classes for at least 10 days, officials said.

“This is a dynamic situation and decisions are made on a daily basis in a way that prioritizes the health care needs of the midshipmen and well-being of our entire Naval Academy community,” Vice Adm. Sean Buck, the superintendent, said in a statement on Tuesday. “I am thankful for the flexibility and adaptability of the brigade and our entire team here on the yard and in the local community as we navigate this challenging period, especially the hotels for their responsiveness and hospitality.”

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A midshipman sanitizes a desk before the start of a class at the U.S. Naval Academy in August. Associated Press/Julio Cortez

The academy did not say how many midshipmen have been sickened by the virus, citing Defense Department policy. But officials said it had moved 196 students to hotels — half to the Hilton Garden Inn and the rest to the Graduate Hotel.

“These midshipmen are recovering from the . . . virus and are from a variety of classes within the brigade,” Jenny Erickson, a spokeswoman for the academy, said in an email.

Officials have not tracked the spike in cases to a single source, but said they started to notice numbers rise around Feb. 18. Cases typically take between five and seven days after initial contact to manifest, suggesting students were exposed over Valentine’s Day weekend, Erickson said.

“While it might be satisfying to attribute this to just one variable, or one group, doing so would be an oversimplification,” Erickson said in an email. “That said, actions taken during liberty that weekend is most likely the primary issue leading to that rise.”

The academy did not say how many midshipmen who remain on the Annapolis campus are recovering from the virus.

The entire student body, called the brigade, has more than 4,500 midshipmen, federal education data show.

The midshipmen who were moved off campus this week will live in hotel rooms with a roommate, Erickson said. They will be required to stay in their rooms, except when escorted outside for two hours of physical activity.

Drugmakers to study giving coronavirus vaccine to children

NEW YORK  — When will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines?

It depends on the child’s age, but some teenagers could be rolling up their sleeves before too long.

The Pfizer vaccine already is cleared for use starting at age 16. That means some high schoolers could get in line for those shots whenever they become eligible in their area, either because of a medical condition or once availability opens up.

Pfizer and Moderna both have completed enrollment for studies of children ages 12 and older, and expect to release the data over the summer. If regulators clear the results, younger teens likewise could start getting vaccinated once supply allows. The Moderna vaccine is currently cleared for people 18 and older.

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Students wear masks as they work in a fourth-grade classroom in Buckley, Wash. in February. Associated Press/Ted S. Warren

Researchers started with older children because they tend to respond to vaccines most similarly to adults. Testing even younger groups is more complex, because they may require a different dose or have differing responses.

“Children are not just small adults,” said pediatrician Dr. James Campbell of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “The younger you get, the higher the odds are that things could be different.”

Children develop serious illness or die from COVID-19 at much lower rates than adults, but can still spread the virus.

“There’s no question: we do want to immunize children,” said Drexel University pediatrics professor Dr. Sarah Long.

Pfizer and Moderna expect to start studies in children 11 and younger later this year.

“It’s unlikely we could get community protection without immunizing children,” Long added. “This is the lynchpin to getting everything back to some kind of normalcy.”

Italy blocks export of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia, angry that company has failed to deliver promised doses

Italy has blocked the export of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia amid a dispute with the drug manufacturer over delivery shortfalls inside the European Union, officials said, a decision that could inflame global tensions about access to vaccines.

The move to block the vaccines, which were made at an AstraZeneca plant in Italy, was the first time an E.U. member state barred shipments under new powers granted by the European Commission at the end of January. The E.U. gave its members the power to block vaccine exports after AstraZeneca announced it would deliver sharply fewer doses to the E.U. than promised for the first quarter of the year.

The block was confirmed by two E.U. officials and an Italian one, all speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential decision. A spokesman for AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision to block the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine was made by Italian leaders, and E.U. policymakers in Brussels had the final say, two officials familiar with the discussions said.

Many E.U. countries say AstraZeneca is not being transparent about its manufacturing process and why it has failed to meet contractual targets for vaccine deliveries in the E.U., even while it does not appear to have that problem elsewhere.

“It’s a measure which is very much targeted at companies not fulfilling their obligations,” one of the officials familiar with the discussions said. The official wasn’t certain if those doses will be used in Italy or spread across the E.U.

Although AstraZeneca has fallen well short of its E.U. delivery targets, both Italy and the E.U. as a whole are well ahead of Australia in administering vaccines to their citizens. Australia has given out 47,759 doses, or 0.19 per 100 people. Italy has about two-and-a-half times the people, but has administered about 100 times the doses.

Prioritize overweight for vaccines, says study showing strong link between weight and virus deaths

The vast majority of global coronavirus deaths occurred in nations with high levels of obesity, according to a new report linking overweight populations with more severe coronavirus-related illness and mortality.

A subject’s waist is measured during an 2010 obesity prevention study in Chicago. Associated Press/M. Spencer Green

The report, by the World Obesity Federation, found that 88 percent of deaths due to COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic were in countries where more than half of the population is classified as overweight, which it defines as having a body mass index (BMI) above 25.

Among the nations with overweight populations above the 50 percent threshold were also those with some of the largest proportions of coronavirus deaths — including countries such as Britain, Italy and the United States. Some 2.7 million people have died around the world of COVID-19, more than 517,000 of which were in the United States.

The report also found that in countries where less than half of the adult population is classified as overweight, the likelihood of death from covid-19 was about one-tenth of the levels in countries with higher shares of overweight adults. A higher BMI was also associated with increased risk of hospitalization, admission to intensive or critical care and the need for mechanically assisted ventilation.

These findings were near-uniform across the globe, the report said, and found that increased body weight was the second greatest predictor after old age of hospitalization and higher risk of death of covid-19.

As a result, the London-based federation urged governments to prioritize overweight people for coronavirus testing and vaccinations.

Virus cases soar in Europe as weeks-long downtrend ends, WHO says

A coronavirus resurgence across Europe has ended a six-week decline in new cases on the continent, the World Health Organization said Thursday, reflecting a broader global trend that has seen infections on the rise again.

New COVID-19 cases in the European region rose by 9 percent over the past week, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said in a briefing. More than half of the region is seeing an increase in new infections, he said, including a particularly worrying surge in the east of the region.

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A man wearing a face mask walks across the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague on Feb. 25. Associated Press/Petr David Josek

“We are seeing a resurgence in central and eastern Europe. New cases are also on the rise in several western European countries where rates were already high,” he said. “Continued strain on our hospitals and health workers is being met with acts of medical solidarity between European neighbors. Nonetheless, over a year into the pandemic, our health systems should not be in this situation.”

Among the countries with the biggest upswings over the past 14 days, according to the WHO database, are Bosnia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Serbia. In the Czech Republic, new infections driven by a more contagious variant have overwhelmed hospitals and sent the nation back under lockdown.

The variant, first identified in Britain, was also driving an outbreak in Hungary, which on Thursday recorded 6,278 new cases — its highest daily tally in three months, Reuters reported.

Elsewhere, in western Europe, countries such as Austria, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands have all seen an increase in cases, according to the WHO. Places where cases have dropped over the past two weeks include Ireland, Monaco, Montenegro, Spain and Portugal.

Global authorities have seized thousands of fake vaccine doses. Interpol warns that’s just the ‘tip of the iceberg.

First came the fake medical-grade masks and coronavirus tests. Now, a new threat has emerged, global police organization Interpol warns: fake doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Interpol said Wednesday that police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of doses of fake vaccines — a cache it said was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Now joining the fight against coronavirus: The world’s armed rebels, drug cartels and gangs

South African authorities recently seized 400 vials, which held around 2,400 doses, of counterfeit vaccines from a warehouse outside Johannesburg, Interpol said in a report Wednesday. The illicit stash also included fake 3M masks. South African officers apprehended three Chinese citizens and one Zambian national in relation to the raid.

In China, police seized a large cache of fake vaccine and arrested about 80 suspects during a recent raid on a manufacturing site, Interpol said.

“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine related crime,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock in a statement. “Following our warning that criminals would target the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, both on and offline, Interpol continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens.”

In December, Interpol warned of a likely growing threat of crime related to coronavirus vaccines, “with the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior,” the statement said.

The report said cases of counterfeit vaccine sales had already begun.

“In addition to the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products, an analysis by the Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit revealed that of 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1,700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware,” the crime agency said.

Interpol has repeatedly stressed that coronavirus vaccines cannot be bought or sold over the Internet and has urged the public to report such cases of criminal activity.


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