What is COVID-19 currently looking like in Minnesota?

By: Grace Blumer-Lamotte

COVID-19 better known as COVID or Corona, is a virus. According to Hopkins Medicine, COVID-19 is the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that emerged in December 2019. The way coronavirus is spread as of now, researchers know that the spread is through droplets and virus particles released into the air when an infected person breathes, talks, laughs, sings, coughs, or sneezes. 

The cases in Minnesota have increased due to the widely known delta variant. According to StarTribune, there are increased demands for hospitalization including a surge of newly reported infections, exceeding the state’s capacity for logging cases. 

The symptoms of COVID-19 are flu like symptoms. That includes fevers or chills, a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. If you have any of these symptoms the CDC strongly encourages those to get tested. To learn more about COVID-19 tests, visit this website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html.

According to Mayo Clinic, one of the ways you can help prevent the spread of COVID is wearing a mask properly. This means wearing it above your nose and having it cover both your nose and mouth.

Maintaining social distancing, getting a flu shot, if you haven’t already, washing your hands frequently, and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces are also ways to help prevent spreading COVID.

Another way to help prevent the spread is getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If you are interested in getting the vaccine, you may find this website helpful: https://www.vaccines.gov/.

I interviewed a freshman and asked them these questions: How has COVID-19 affected you personally? How has it affected your household? What precautions are you taking to prevent it? How do you feel about the vaccine?

*Note, the following are simply the freshman’s responses to my questions. They were not verified for facts.

The freshman responded saying, “It stops me from visiting my friends. I also can’t go into public spaces without a mask. It is difficult for me to focus in school because I am thinking about a huge pandemic that is spreading throughout the world rather than my learning.” 

The freshman responded to the second question saying, “It affects my daily life inside my house. It affects me by making me clean literally anything inside my house. You have to be super sanitary. Any visitors I have inside my house, also have to go through the same thing. It is just a huge pain.”

The freshman responded to the third question saying, “Hand sanitizer, mask, the alcohol wipes, eat healthy, avoid areas with a large amount of people, and try not to touch everything.”

The freshman responded to the fourth question saying, “The vaccine is actually really helpful because it helps protect you from getting the virus. And I support it because over 60% of the people in the world would be infected by it if they didn’t have the vaccine.”

Quarantine’s effect on mental health in teens

By: Mary Koch

Quarantine had overwhelming effects on everyone, especially teenagers. Spending months at home and not being able to see friends in person isn’t healthy, and teens’ mental health is an example.

Not being able to go to school in person made things more difficult, and it was harder to keep up with classes and assignments. Stress of staying on top of working and trying to understand lessons without having as easily accessible help wasn’t easy.

Things like school dances, performances, and sports were cancelled or postponed, so students ended up missing out on things they won’t have a chance to do again. Graduations and school events were socially distanced or virtual, and the overall experience wasn’t the same.

A poll taken in New York indicated that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys, from the ages of 13 to 18, have had more severe anxiety since quarantine began.

Without the pandemic, 14.3% of teens will experience depression or bipolar disorder. Adding on the effects of quarantine over 22% of teens are meeting criteria for having one or both of those mental illnesses.

When people are suffering from depression, it’s recommended that people don’t isolate themselves, but with the lockdown, there was no other option. Kids have to stay home, they couldn’t see their friends or non-immediate family, and they had fewer activities.

Having a good steady sleep schedule can make positive changes in people’s lives. With lockdown school was done online, so students didn’t need to wake up at the same time everyday. Instead of going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep, they stayed up doing homework, watching TV, and going on their phones.

Lockdown also strained relationships with friends, and many teens came out with fewer than they had when the lockdown started. With fewer friends and less of a support system, people’s mental health will decline.

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How does the Pfizer vaccine work?

By: Sarah VonBerge

Pfizer is 1 of 3 COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States. The ones currently available are Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Pfizer and Moderna are both Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, meaning they recognize proteins and help our body learn how to fight an illness so we don’t feel the serious symptoms. This type of RNA does not stay in the body for long, but it helps the body remember how to deal with illnesses.

These vaccines do not release a live virus, but instead a harmless protein called a spike protein, which sits on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. These spike proteins are then displayed on the cells.

When the immune system realizes that that protein is not supposed to be there, the body begins to fight it as if there is an infection even though there is no danger, which is why people may feel sick after they get a vaccine.

Even though the spike protein sits on the cell, it never goes into the nucleus, which is where DNA is kept. Because it doesn’t get into the nucleus, it does not alter DNA in any way even though this is a popular belief.

Just because the spike protein eventually leaves the body, the body doesn’t forget it. Our immune system will continue to remember it, so if the same protein were to come into the body again, it knows how to fight it.

Many are hesitant to get a COVID vaccine because they don’t believe that mRNA vaccines have enough research when, in reality, they have been tested and developed for decades, but only recently became available to the public. They have been studied for the flu, Zika, rabies, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and even cancer.

To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ in our body, whereas mRNA vaccines do not. This immune response is what causes our bodies to release antibodies and fight an illness. Although mRNA vaccines can not prevent an illness, they do help our bodies know how to fight an illness and help us not feel the serious symptoms, if any symptoms at all.

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How does social media affect the way people view COVID-19?

By Ella Sutherland

Fear is a big component of COVID and social media. There is a lot of different, wrong, exaggerated, and misleading information on social media apps.

The main social media apps that became a source of that information were Twitter and TikTok. Both of the apps allow anyone to post anything on them, and a lot of the information is false. On TikTok you can make short videos, and it is mostly Gen Z. On Twitter you can make short messages called “tweets”.

Before COVID was super well known there were a lot of accusations about what COVID really was. When there was wrong information out there, it scared a lot of people, and the reason for that was that we didn’t have a lot of information from real scientists.

Social media also helped influence people in different ways on how to handle the coronavirus. Lots of people looked to popular influencers on how to handle the whole situation. Many influencers were not doing a good job of staying safe and even with them knowing that they have a big fan base that looks to them for guidance, they didn’t really seem to care. They were still going to parties and going out to eat at busy restaurants, while some of them still weren’t wearing masks.

When the COVID vaccine came out I’m guessing many of them got it, but they didn’t make that clear. However, there were a few influencers that were promoting the vaccine and making it crystal clear that they were all for it and had gotten it. Many celebrities were promoting and talking about the vaccines and masks a lot more than influencers were, which definitely increased the amount of people getting vaccines and wearing their masks. Many politicians also joined celebrities in spreading the word about masks and vaccines.

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A perspective on Highlands response to COVID-19

By: Musab Mohamud

A growing concern among Highland Park students is that the reopening of schools may spike COVID. Conversely, many students are excited to return to friends, teachers, and sports. A quote taken from one student, who is conflicted about both, reads “It’s better for learning, but not peoples health.” Released from the confines of quarantine, students are more likely to contract COVID evidenced by the spike of cases that has been surging since July.

However, Highland Park’s response to COVID has been exceedingly positive with no outbreaks or school closures. This is in part due to the school’s insistence on a mask mandate and teachers giving gentle reminders to students.

Students are pleasantly surprised with their peers following mask rules and being courteous with sanitation.

Lunchrooms might however pose a problem with students being seated in close quarters with their masks down. However, with the implementation of contract tracing and scanning where students sit in the cafeteria, I believe, that Highland is being responsible for their students.

Many students fear that their sudden reintegration into a school environment will affect their grades negatively. A quote that shows this is: “I think Highland has had a fair response to COVID, my teachers should definitely assign less work though.” This sentiment is shared by many students whose grades continue to falter.

However, on the opposite side of the spectrum there are multiple students who I’ve interviewed who believe that seeing their teachers will help academically. A quote by one of those individuals goes: “I like it more because we can experience real life learning again, it’s more efficient.”

Overall, most students share the belief that Highland has shown competence in their dealings with reopening. Some may have apprehension and fear about going back, but the feeling is overwhelmingly positive.

How has COVID-19 impacted students across Saint Paul?

By: Musab Mohamud

While COVID-19 has been sweeping across the globe, schools, religious sites, and sports venues have been shut down. Even that is an understatement, as it seems the world has been put on hold by the fear of this dangerous virus.

Saint Paul Public Schools were postponed in early March of 2020, which according to many students feels like it was many years ago. A quote taken from one student reads, “It feels like we’ve been gone for a lot longer than 18 months. I had to find other ways to communicate with my friends because I couldn’t meet with them in the early months of lockdown.”

Another common theme with the students I interviewed was their fear of getting sick without prior knowledge of the virus. During the first spike of COVID many doctors and health officials were still scrambling to find the cause and nature of the virus. You can only imagine what kind of effect this would have upon an uninformed student base.

Many students across the district suffered lower grades during asynchronous and online school. The principal of Highland Park Senior High had to implement methods of credit recovery, which would ensure every student could receive their credits. One quote that pertains to this subject is: “I really had trouble keeping up with the work we received at the end of freshman year because I had no face-to-face connection with my teacher.” This is a sentiment shared by many students across the school. While online school made things a great deal easier, many students still struggled without a school presence.

Even now, during In-person classes, people are still in resentment of the mask rule and would love to see their friends’ faces. With many different perspectives upon the impact that COVID had upon students, a common answer is a resounding negative impression about it.

What happened at the YouTube town hall meeting concerning the COVID-19 vaccine

By: Hayat Osman

Image taken from: https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/ 2020/11/12/joe-biden-anthony-fauci-refugees-coro navirus

On May 24th, the President, Joe Biden, and Dr. Fauci, held a virtual town hall. The town hall meeting was held on YouTube. The town hall was with YouTube stars: Manny Mua, Brave Wilderness, and Jackie Aina. Joe Biden and Dr. Fauci addressed the concerns, about the COVID-19 vaccinations, brought to them by the YouTube stars.

With the help of the social media platform YouTube, the President, Joe Biden, was able to reach the target audience of those who are eligible to receive the vaccine, but were hesitant to take it. Biden used the chance to have trusted influencers help alleviate the concerns about the COVID-19 vaccinations.

In the first interview, Manny Mua asked Biden about rumors surrounding requirements for vaccine passports to travel to, or to go to, concerts. Biden responded saying “Federally, we are not going to mandate, and we don’t keep records, Federally, of people who have gotten the vaccine”. He also stated that rumors of vaccine passports would “Just play into paranoia in some people, in particular young people”.

To Peterson and Vins, who run the Brave Wilderness channel on YouTube, Biden talked of those who got the vaccine being able to travel with masks. Dr. Fauci added that “The gateway to safe travel is to be vaccinated”.

To Aina, YouTube beauty guru, who asked if the vaccines were safe and wanted to know about the science behind the vaccinations, Dr. Fauci emphasized the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Fauci claimed that the science that went into the vaccine was absolutely pristine.

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Pfizer vaccine for kids

By: Alexandra Rimbu

On Monday, May 10th, the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) made the critical decision to expand the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 12-15, making it the first vaccine in the U.S. authorized for this age group. Previously, the Pfizer vaccine was authorized only for persons ages 16 and up. The two other COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are still only authorized for persons ages 18 and up.

The authorization of this vaccine came after the FDA’s review of a clinical trial, conducted by Pfizer, involving 2,260 12-to-15-year-olds, which showed the vaccine’s efficacy to be 100%.

The FDA also took into consideration the immune response of these persons aged 12-15 in comparison to the immune response of persons ages 16 and above who were vaccinated as well. Results yielded that the response to the vaccine was good, and, in fact, the younger age group (12-15 years old) had better responses than those in the older age group.

With the vaccine authorized, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and its Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, met on Wednesday, May 12th, to advise the CDC on whether to recommend use of the vaccine in this age group. CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, decided the agency will recommend the vaccine’s use in the new group.

Following this recommendation, the Biden administration quickly mobilized to get vaccinations ready for 12-15 year olds through the federal pharmacy program, pediatricians, and family doctors. 

However, states make the decisions on who gives the vaccine and when, so there is no fixed date on which 12-15 year olds may begin to be vaccinated. As of now though, state licensing boards are discussing the distribution of the vaccine, and hopefully soon, the vaccine will be approved to be distributed throughout the whole state, a decision which will strive towards the eradication of COVID-19.

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The world’s worst ongoing COVID-19 outbreak

By: Alexandra Rimbu

India is now home to the world’s worst ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, having nearly more than 17.6 million reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic. And while this number may seem high, experts speculate the total number of cases (both reported and unreported) may be up to 30 times higher, reaching more than half a billion cases.

The great disparity between the total number of COVID-19 cases and the reported number of COVID-19 cases could be caused by several factors, including low testing levels and undercounting deaths. 

Last year, in late April, the country was only testing fewer than half a million people per day, compared to the 2 million tests they do per day now. However, it appears this is still not enough.

“That’s still not sufficient because the national average positivity rate is about 15% — in some cities like Delhi it’s up to 30% or higher. That means there are lots of people out there who are infected and not being detected just because of the capacity of testing … we will know only later how many was really the number of people infected,” says Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist for the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking on the low testing levels. 

The country also suffers an underfunded public health infrastructure. In normal times, according to CNN, only 86% of deaths nationwide are registered in government systems. During this pandemic, this number has decreased greatly. As hospitals have run out of space, more and more people die at home or in other places, where there are no doctors present to assign a cause of death, and these deaths then go unreported. 

As of April 27th, India reported nearly 198,000 COVID-19 deaths. However, Bhramar Mukherjee, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan, estimates COVID-19 fatalities could be underreported by a factor of between two and five, meaning the real death toll could be close to 990,000.

While India still continues to struggle, it is receiving aid from overseas and taking steps itself towards lowering COVID-19 cases.

If you would personally like to help with the COVID situation in India, here are some links to sites where you can make a donation: 

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AstraZeneca vaccine concern

By: Alexandra Rimbu

Following a recent concern raised around thrombotic events (the event in which a blood clot forms inside a blood vessel), AstraZeneca offered its reassurance on the safety of its vaccine by conducting trials across the UK and EU in order to evaluate the vaccine’s effectiveness based on scientific evidence. The AstraZeneca report showed the vaccine to be 76% effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms. Not only this, but the vaccine showed 100% efficacy against severe or critical disease or the need for hospitalization.

Reports from the UK and EU show that there have only been 15 events of DVT (deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the legs) and only 22 events of pulmonary embolism (a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked by a blood clot) reported among those given the AstraZeneca vaccine. This number is actually quite impressive, and it turned out to be much lower than would be expected to occur in populations of that size. 

Ann Taylor, Chief Medical Officer, said: “Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population. The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety.”

In terms of quality, there have been no confirmed issues regarding any batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine used across Europe, or the rest of the world. However, additional testing has, and will continue to be conducted, although so far, testing has indicated no reason for concern, according to officials. 

AstraZeneca has stated that they will always put the public’s safety first and that they encourage those invited to get the vaccine, and hopefully, we will soon overcome this pandemic.

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