End New Jersey's school mask mandate and study New York's sewage

Hello. It’s Monday. We’ll be checking in on the latest developments on several fronts of the coronavirus pandemic, starting with an an...


Hello. It’s Monday. We’ll be checking in on the latest developments on several fronts of the coronavirus pandemic, starting with an announcement on mask requirements in schools that is expected today from Governor Philip Murphy of New Jersey. We will also see why New York City resisted the Omicron variant and hear about it viral fragments with unique mutation patterns in New York.

Removing masks in schools, Governor Philip Murphy of New Jersey said, is a “big step towards normality”.

It’s a step he should take this afternoon. My colleague Tracey Tully writes that Murphy should announce the removal of a mask mandate for school students and employees.

It signals a deliberate shift towards dealing with coronavirus as part of everyday life. And the change affects one of the most controversial issues of the pandemic.

The new policy will take effect in the second week of March, two years after New York and New Jersey became the first epicenters of a virus that has spread across the country, mutated and re-emerged. increases. He has now killed more than 900,000 people at national scale – just over 65,000 in New York State and nearly 32,000 in New Jersey.

In New York state, where a school mask mandate is due to expire in two weeks, Governor Kathy Hochul hinted Friday that she is also considering revising rules around masks and vaccines. “We will make short-term announcements as we see these numbers progress,” she told reporters. Children 5 years and older are eligible for a shot. Last week, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, has asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize two doses of their coronavirus vaccine for children under 5.

Murphy met with President Biden at the White House last week and later suggested it was time to rethink how to handle the virus. “The overwhelming feeling on both sides of the aisle,” he said Wednesday, “is that we want to get to a place where we can live with this thing in as normal a way as possible.”

New Jersey has required students to wear masks since September 2020, when most schools reopened. If the requirement is lifted, school districts could keep the face covering rules in place or reduce them.

Murphy’s long-awaited announcement is eagerly awaited as the number of cases declines. In hindsight, the highly contagious variant of Omicron pushed New York’s healthcare system to breaking point, but the system held on.

Some epidemiologists estimate that 40% or more of residents have been infected. According to state statistics.

But the assessment of health officials is encouraging. Experienced health workers treated patients more effectively and deaths were limited to a small fraction of the previous toll – 2,846 from December 5 to January 22, compared to 18,700 during the first three-month wave in 2020 This was partly because Omicron was less lethal than previous variants, with fewer patients ending up in intensive care units, and also because millions of New Yorkers had been vaccinated.

[How New York City’s Hospitals Withstood the Omicron Surge]

Many questions remain unanswered. One involves something scientists found while sampling New York City’s sewage: viral fragments with unique mutation patterns never reported before in human patients. Was this a sign of a new, previously undetected variant?

Scientists are looking for the coronavirus in the city’s sewage shortly after the pandemic gripped the city. Sampling sewage can provide an early warning that new variants are circulating, as people with the virus often start shedding it before getting tested or seeking medical attention – if they ever do. Several communities Omicron detected in wastewater before test samples from infected residents showed they had the variant.

But the sequences found in New York waters remain an enigma. The researchers published their findings in Nature Communications last week. The only certainty is that the sequences, or what scientists call “cryptic lineages”, continue to appear. Some lean toward the idea that the virus came from people whose infections are not captured by sequencing. Others suspect they come from infected animals, possibly rats – and by some estimates there is one rat for every four people in New York City.

I asked my colleague Emilie Anthesa science journalist who covers the pandemic and virus testing, to explain.

Is it the rats?

Nobody knows! They certainly seem like a possibility – the strange bloodlines seem capable of infecting them, and we know there are plenty of rats roaming the town. But there are also arguments against rats. The virus is not known to circulate among rats, and researchers have yet to find any infected rats.

Are these sequences unique? How are they different from footage from coronavirus patients?

They seem to be unique. In other words, the researchers couldn’t find them in any of the genomic databases they searched. But it’s possible that the same sequences are circulating elsewhere and simply haven’t been detected yet.

That said, do these lines pose a risk to human health?

There are a few threads to separate here. The virus itself is clearly a risk to humans. So you wouldn’t want to be infected with these lineages any more than you would want to be infected with any other version of the virus. But there’s no reason to think that these particular bloodlines are particularly dangerous to humans. We know, for example, that they have been circulating for at least a year and have not overtaken Delta or Omicron – there is no indication that these lineages will become the next major variant of concern. But there’s still a lot we don’t know about these bloodlines in general, which is why scientists are trying to find out more.

You wrote that these lineages have been circulating long enough that researchers would expect to see them in an infected person. Why didn’t they?

Another thing we don’t know! There aren’t many good answers here, which is part of what makes this a good mystery. But it’s theoretically possible that we’re just missing these infections. After all, we know that not everyone who gets the virus gets tested, and not everyone who gets tested has their virus sequenced. It is therefore possible that people infected with these lines do not realize that they are infected – perhaps because they have no symptoms – or have not sought to be tested or have not done so. part of the subset of New Yorkers whose virus has been sequenced.

How did the researchers do their job?

They have been taking samples weekly from 14 wastewater treatment plants across the city since June 2020. In January 2021, they also began performing targeted sequencing of samples. The virus is fragmented in the sewage, so instead of sequencing the entire genome, they focus only on the spike protein, which is a vital part of the virus and in which many mutations tend to appear.


Weather

There is a chance of freezing rain this morning, then a chance of drizzle noon and a chance of rain in the afternoon. The high will be around 40. There is also a chance of rain this evening, with temperatures in the 30s.

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Newsrust - US Top News: End New Jersey's school mask mandate and study New York's sewage
End New Jersey's school mask mandate and study New York's sewage
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