Texas state now 100% open for business - Gov. Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order on Tuesday to allow the state's businesses to open "100%" and to lift the state's mask mandate effective March 10 as federal health officials warn states against relaxing restrictions too soon.
After a devastating winter storm, reported COVID-19 cases in Texas rebounded from a seven-day average of 4,412 on February 20 to 7,693 by Monday, according to The New York Times.
Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state: Ten counties have reported more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the past seven days.
—Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) March 2, 2021
A study recently identified Houston as the first US city where scientists had confirmed the presence of all the major COVID-19 variants, the Houston Chronicle reported on Monday.
Nationwide, a six-week decline in cases has leveled off, while hospitalizations and deaths have continued to decrease.
So far, according to The Times, just over 12% of Texans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 6% have been fully vaccinated, putting Texas toward the bottom of the pack of US states. The winter storms in February disrupted vaccine operations in Texas and nearby states.
Abbott's executive order is precisely the type of action that Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned against on Monday.
"These data are evidence that our recent declines appear to be stalling — stalling at over 70,000 cases a day. With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public-health measures we have
recommended to protect people from COVID-19," Walensky said in a briefing of the White House's COVID-19 task force.
"At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," she said, adding that "now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities."
Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, tweeted that reopening Texas was "not what I'd recommend."
"Infections are still high. Variants of concern are spreading. And TX is 48th among states in vaccinations," he said. "With more vaccines on the way, doing this in a couple of months would be far more reasonable. Doing it now? Big risk with people's lives."
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi also announced on Tuesday that his state would fully reopen.
"Starting tomorrow, we are lifting all of our county mask mandates and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules," he tweeted. "Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time!"
Coronavirus restrictions — and by extension Abbott — have been at the center of a partisan tug-of-war in Texas. The conservative wing of Abbott's party has hammered him over imposing any restrictions at all, while Democrats have criticized him as not going nearly far enough.
Abbott's administration was also scrutinized after Texas' independent power grid, ERCOT, which was developed during the 1970s to evade federal regulations, failed during the winter storm.
Problems with the power grid left millions of people without power or potable water as freezing temperatures and extreme weather descended on the state. Reporting later revealed that Texas' power grid was minutes away from collapsing.
The Texas Democratic Party released a statement on Tuesday slamming the governor, who is up for reelection in 2022.
"What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous," Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. "He is the worst Governor in modern Texas history. This will kill Texans. Our country's infectious disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn't care."
Solon wants to intensify Covid-19 vaccine info drive
By Filane Mikee Cervantes March 3, 2021, 7:33 pm PNA
MANILA, Philippines – A leader of the House of Representatives on Wednesday urged the Department of Health (DOH) to boost its information dissemination campaign on the national vaccination program to increase public confidence in the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine.
In a media forum, House Committee on Health Chair Angelina Tan said the vaccination challenge is to persuade Filipinos to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
Tan said if there are only a ‘few takers” because of existing doubts and uncertainty about the vaccine, then the goal to achieve herd immunity through vaccination won’t happen.
“Since day one, I think naging maayos po ‘yung pag rollout ng ating National Vaccination Program.
Maganda ‘yung proseso. Siguro lang, nabigyan ko na rin naman ng diin ito sa DOH, na paigtingin pa nila ‘yung pagpapaliwanag sa ibaba katulong ang local government units (Since day one, I think the rollout of our national vaccination program has been smooth. The process was good. The only thing that needs to be improved on --which I already stressed to the DOH -- is how they could convince the grassroots to take it with the help of local government units,” Tan said.
Tan said while she understands the apprehensions of some health care workers on the Chinese vaccine because of the recommendations of the Food and Drug Association (FDA), she encouraged them to read on the studies and published data on CoronaVac.
She, however, noted that vaccination is voluntary and that health workers will not be forced to be inoculated.
“Pag sinabi nilang ‘no’ and they are willing to wait, ginagalang naman iyon (But if they said ‘no and they are willing to wait, then we respect that),” she said.
She also urged the barangay health workers to grab the opportunity to be vaccinated once vaccines are available since they do not have direct contact with Covid-19 patients. (PNA)
Scrapping of UP deal raises furor
IBy Bernadette E. Tamayo, TMT, January 20, 2021
MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to review the termination of the pact because it does not solve any problem with regard to communist insurgency.
“We are not saying that UP should be beyond the law. If there are issues of violations of the law, a search warrant is a remedy available to the authorities not only in other places but also in UP,” said Drilon, a graduate of UP Law.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan filed Resolution 616 expressing the sense of the Senate to oppose the unilateral termination of the 1989 UP-DND accord and to urge the UP and DND to start a dialog and find a common ground that promotes peace and security and protects academic freedom.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said with the termination of the 1989 pact, the security sector should come up with an agreement with the UP on boundaries to be observed.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense said this is to prevent the move from negatively affecting academic freedom in UP.
“Once the pact is terminated, what will the security sector do? We don’t know that yet. Probably they could come to an agreement that there are boundaries to be observed,” Lacson said in a television interview.
Sen. Ana Theresia Hontiveros said, “If the administration is determined to look for communists, they must turn their attention to the communists who openly encroach in the West Philippine Sea.”
“The University of the Philippines is a bastion of student activism and its grounds must continue to be a safe space for dissent and peaceful assembly,” Hontiveros said.
Lacson warned that the security sector would overstep its bounds if the move was designed to muzzle the academic and other freedoms enjoyed by the UP community.
He noted that during the Senate hearings on red-tagging, it was established that students were being recruited by the New People’s Army not only in UP but in other universities.
“To join the militant organizations, that’s fine. You can protest all you want. But when you bear arms against government and you are very young, you are vulnerable, you are easily radicalized, and the hotbed of recruitment would be UP, PUP (Polytechnic University of the Philippines) and other universities, then I think the security sector has studied all the factors involved before they acted on the matter,” he said.
But he added the termination of the pact will affect the culture of academic freedom in UP, whose community is known to be independent.
“They enjoy so much freedom. And then all of a sudden you take it away from them, that really hurts. Definitely there will be outcry, protests and disagreements. Let’s see how it shapes up in the future,” he said.
Members of the UP community held a rally on Tuesday as university president Danilo Concepcion urged Lorenzana to reconsider his decision.
Concepcion said the termination of the agreement was “totally unnecessary and unwarranted.”
“Instead of instilling confidence in our police and military, your decision can only sow more confusion and mistrust, given that you have not specified what it is that you exactly aim to do or put in place in lieu of the protections and courtesies afforded by the agreement,” he said in a letter to Lorenzana.
President Rodrigo Duterte stood by the decision of the Defense department.
“Si Secretary Lorenzana po is an alter ego of the President. Of course, the President supports the decision of Secretary Lorenzana,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in atelevised Palace press briefing.
Roque, a UP alumnus and former professor, also defended the DND decision, saying academic freedom would not be affected.
He also pointed out that campuses in the United States and United Kingdom have police presence, but academic freedom has never been violated.
The 1989 agreement, according to Lorenzana, had been a hindrance to operations against communist rebels, especially the recruitment of cadres in UP.
Amid fears that the scrapping of the deal would lead to militarization in the university, the Philippine National Police gave assurances that there will be no crackdown inside UP campuses.
BGen. Ildebrandi Usana, the PNP spokesman, said academic freedom will be respected.
“No crackdown. No arrests without warrant. No militarization. The police will just normally do their daily work in communities,” Usana said.
In a statement, the PNP said the agreement “did not serve the best interest of public order and security.”
“The PNP wishes to state that the termination of the agreement does not diminish our mandate to uphold the law at all times. Any abuse or criminal behavior committed by men in uniform shall be dealt with accordingly,” it said in a statement. With Catherine Valente and Darwin PESCO
Red Cross rolls out saliva testing
By John Eric Mendoza TMT, January 25, 2021
The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) will begin today, January 25, administering saliva tests for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), after the government approved its use.
Sen. Richard Gordon, PRC chairman, said the cheaper and less invasive procedure would cost P2,000, half the price of a swab test.
“The Philippine Red Cross brings the RT-PCR saliva test to the country for the first time,” he said in a statement, referring to reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction.
The humanitarian organization told The Manila Times its molecular laboratories in Port Area, Manila and Mandaluyong City could do up to 22,000 tests daily. The labs will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The saliva test will be initially available only in the National Capital Region, but Gordon gave assurances that it will be available by February in 13 Red Cross laboratories nationwide.
Those interested in a saliva test can visit: book.redcross1158.com/index.php/book-a-saliva-test/.
Gordon said those who would undergo the test must not eat anything, drink, gargle and smoke or use e-cigarettes 30 minutes prior to the procedure.
The Red Cross also called on the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to include saliva testing in its Covid-19 package.
Philhealth only funds swab tests so far.
“If more people would avail the saliva test, we can lower the cost in the future,” Gordon said.
Unlike swabs, the saliva test does not require a specimen collector to wear personal protective equipment and requires less equipment and reagents.
It is also less invasive than swab tests in which specimens are obtained by swabbing the nasopharyngeal area. The turnaround time is also only around 12 hours, which is much faster than swab tests’ 24 hours.
Despite the saliva test’s advantage, Red Cross molecular laboratory head Dr. Paulyn Ubial has said the organization will continue to do swabs because it remains the “gold standard” when testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV 2) — the virus causing the new coronavirus disease.
Ubial noted, however, that the saliva test is “closest to swab test” in terms of accuracy at 98.11 percent.
The Department of Health requires a validation study involving 1,000 individuals before granting authorization for testing procedures.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing the Red Cross is the only organization authorized to do saliva tests so far.
“We need to wait for the result of the validation test from RITM so other laboratories could use saliva tests,” Vergeire said in Filipino, referring to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which is conducting a separate validation study.
Ubial said other laboratories could use the technology which “has no patent and rights,” as long as they use the same re-agent the Red Cross is using.
The saliva test was explored as another way to detect SARS-CoV 2 after Red Cross officials met with Dr. Diana Roana, a Filipino scientist at the University of Illinois, who developed the technology.
Saliva testing is also being used in Japan and Singapore to screen passengers in airports, according to Gordon.
As of Sunday, the country’s Covid-19 caseload has reached 513,619, with 475,612 recoveries and 10,242 deaths, according to the Health department.