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China denies it subjected US diplomats to anal COVID-19 tests

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BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday denied subjecting U.S. diplomats to COVID-19 anal tests following reports from Washington that some of its personnel were being made to undergo the procedure.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing that “China has never asked U.S. diplomats in China to go through anal swab tests.”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Washington was “committed to guaranteeing the safety and security of American diplomats and their families while preserving their dignity, consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as well as other relevant diplomatic law provisions.”

The Washington Post reported last week that some U.S. personnel had told the department they had been subjected to the anal tests.

The procedure has been applied in China because it is reportedly more accurate than nasal or mouth swabs.

China has not reported a new local case of COVID-19 in more than a week, but has maintained strict testing, especially for people arriving from abroad. Diplomats and other foreigners with special status are exempted from a ban on most foreigners entering the country.

Maintenance team credited with stopping fire from spreading at St. Ignatius High School

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – In-person classes are canceled at St. Ignatius High School Thursday, following a small fire in a storage closet in the basement of the main building.

#CLEFIREONSCENE fire in a utility/storage closet at @SIHSCleveland at W.30th/Carroll in 4th Battalion. Fire quickly extinguished. No injuries reported. Cause of fire under investigation. School cancelled for today. pic.twitter.com/y3g63079u7

— ClevelandFire (@ClevelandFire) February 25, 2021

The fire broke out around 7 a.m.

The school tweeted that out of an abundance of caution, offices are also closed for ventilation.

Due to a small but contained fire in the basement of the Main Building, on campus classes are cancelled today, Thursday, February 25, 2021. Out of an abundance of caution, offices are also closed to allow time for ventilation and clearing smoke.

— Saint Ignatius CLE (@SIHSCleveland) February 25, 2021

The Cleveland Fire Department reports the fire was under control quickly.

No one was hurt.

They credited the maintenance team with closing the door to the storage closet.

Nice job by @SIHSCleveland Maintenance Staff who discovered the fire, CLOSED THE CLOSET DOOR, and pulled the fire alarm. A closed door makes a big difference in keeping a fire from spreading. #CLEFIRE encourages closing bedroom doors at night. #closewhileyoudoze

— ClevelandFire (@ClevelandFire) February 25, 2021

Fire crews say that prevented the fire from spreading.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

CDC warns of queso fresco linked to listeria outbreak

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Cheese made by the brand El Abuelito Cheese Inc. may be contaminated with listeria, investigators warned after an outbreak left 10 people sick across four states.

Federal health officials are cautioning against eating all cheese sold under the El Abuelito brand name, as well as queso fresco products that were recalled earlier this month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s warning comes after three new illnesses were reported this week. Out of the 10 total people infected with listeria, nine were hospitalized. Four were reported in New York, four in Maryland and one each in Connecticut and Virginia, the CDC said.

Last week, El Abuelito Cheese, of Paterson, New Jersey, recalled all of its queso fresco products due to the potential listeria contamination. Other brands of queso fresco products made at the same facility were also recalled. Those include Rio Grande and Rio Lindo.

The products recalled all have sell-by dates through March 28.

“Investigators are concerned that additional El Abuelito brand cheeses made or handled in the same facility as the queso fresco may be contaminated with Listeria,” the CDC said in a statement. “CDC and FDA are expanding our advice to recommend people not eat, sell, or serve any cheeses sold under the brand name of El Abuelito, in addition to the recalled queso fresco cheeses.”

Connecticut officials identified the outbreak strain in samples of El Abuelito queso fresco collected from a store where a sick person bought the product.

Beyond Connecticut, the products were distributed to Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Health officials recommend throwing away or returning any recalled cheeses, and they’ve offered steps to help clean surfaces and containers that may have touched the products.

Listeria can survive in the refrigerator and spread to other foods or surfaces, the CDC said.

It can cause severe illness when the bacteria spreads beyond the gut to other parts of the body, and pregnant women or those with weakened immune system are particularly at risk.

Queso fresco is a fresh, soft cheese made from pure cow’s milk and not aged for more than a few days. It was originally brought to Mexico from Spain, and has become a staple in Mexican cuisine.

Vote scheduled to bring John Glenn statue to Ohio Statehouse

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A vote has been scheduled for Thursday on bringing a statue of the late astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn to the Ohio Statehouse to mark major future milestones, such as his birthday and the anniversary of his famous space flight.

Glenn, a native Ohioan, became the first American to orbit the Earth and an instant national hero in 1962. He returned to space in 1998, at age 77, as part of NASA research on aging.

State Rep. Adam Holmes, a Zanesville Republican, is seeking Capital Square Review and Advisory Board approval to temporarily place a sculpture of Glenn created by a constituent on Statehouse grounds — beginning with what would have been Glenn’s 100th birthday this July 18. Under his plan, the piece would return again on Feb. 20, 2022, for the 60th anniversary of Glenn’s orbital flight in Friendship 7.

The vote on the proposal was delayed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rules governing the Statehouse grounds do not allow for the permanent placement of a Glenn statue at this time. They say the person depicted must have been dead at least 25 years before that can happen. Glenn died in 2016 at age 95.

The $80,000, 7-foot (2-meter) bronze sculpture at the center of Holmes’ proposal was crafted by Alan Cottrill, who was born and raised in Zanesville, a short drive from New Concord, where Glenn and his late wife, Annie, met and grew up.

Annie Glenn died in June of COVID-19. She was 100.

A resolution urging Congress to award the Glenns a joint Congressional Gold Medal was reintroduced in the Ohio Legislature last week after lawmakers failed to act on it last session.

Family donates organs of 11-year-old boy struck, declared brain dead in Sunny Isles Beach

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A South Florida family is sharing their pain after a young boy was killed while crossing the street.

A memorial has been built in honor of 11-year-old Anthony Reznik, who was struck and killed crossing the pedestrian crosswalk on 163rd Street and Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles Beach on Feb. 10.

“This is my first night at home,” said Resnick’s mother Inna Trakhtenburg. “I was there with Anthony’s dad. We were there 24/7.”

Trakhtenburg still wears the visitor sticker from Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

Reznik was a happy, athletic child. Just two months shy of his twelfth birthday, he was declared brain dead.

His older sister, Tatiana, was with him when he was hit.

The family is now trying to move forward by giving the gift of life to others.

“We were getting so close, so it really hurts to see this happen to him,” said Tatiana, “but I’m happy he had friends that really looked up to me and him.”

“We decided to help other kids with his organs because his body is completely healthy, and we decided to help other kids who are in need for the organs because a majority of the organs can be donated for others to save lives,” Trakhtenburg said.

People from the community have created a change.org petition to change the name of Sunny Isles Beach Boulevard to Anthony Reznik Boulevard.

‘We fight the daily battle of misinformation’: leaders work to improve vaccine equity in Tennessee

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As vaccine options expand, health officials warn leaving certain minority communities unvaccinated could prolong the pandemic.

“The key to the vaccine being effective: it’s not the vaccine that’s gonna make this work, it’s the vaccinations,” said Lipscomb University Associate Provost of Health Sciences Dr. Quincy Byrdsong. “The key is access. The key is more places that will administer the vaccine and make sure those places are in multiple areas of the community.”

The Tennessee Health Department reported just under seven percent of people vaccinated in the state were Black, 71-percent were White, and 10 percent were unknown.

“The reason for the disparity is that the Black community is not getting vaccinated at the rate we would expect – 16 percent of the population, 7 percent of the vaccinations,” Dr. Byrdsong said. “It’s not that White people are getting vaccinated at a higher rate than we expect. It’s that the Black community is getting vaccinated at a rate lower than what we expect.”

Leaders in Metro Nashville launched an initiative to get more COVID-19 vaccinations to communities of color. Metro Public Health reported 18 percent of virus cases to happen among Black Nashvillians, but that group experienced about 31 percent of COVID deaths in the metro.

“We fight daily the battle of misinformation,” Dr. Kimberly Lamar told viewers of a virtual town hall hosted by Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville.

She serves as assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Office of Health Disparities Elimination and was one of the panelists for the town hall.

“This is so important tonight to make certain that we get the information necessary to help us navigate through this coronavirus pandemic and the vaccinations and getting clarity about that,” said Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III. “Let’s get this word out. Our community needs it.”

Dr. Lamar said churches have played a vital role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Making sure that as a beacon of light we’re here but we’re making sure that our people and our community and our family of churches really get the information that they need because right now more than ever before it’s critical that you did not just get the information but that you get the right information,” said Dr. Stephaine Walker.

Dr. Lamar said another factor impacting minorities and the elderly was not knowing how to actually sign up for a vaccine appointment. She said the health department relied on community partners to help with registrations as some people don’t have access to the right technology or the internet.

“We have partnered with hundreds of non-profits such as academic institutions across the state of Tennessee and really paying close attention to our metropolitan areas – Memphis, Shelby County, and Nashville and Davidson where we have the higher number of minorities in those communities,” Dr. Lamar said.

Dr. Byrdsong said it’s important to educate minority communities about the vaccine development process and the safety of vaccines.

MORE: Meharry Medical College encouraging minorities to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trial

“Part of that is the hesitancy of the Black community based on the historical situations that have occurred,” said Dr. Byrdsong.

He also added that access remained an issue and he feared some people got the vaccine not because of their phase, but because of who they knew.

“I talk to people all the time – they say ‘yeah, Quincy I just got the vaccine’ and I’m like ‘really, how? You’re a 45-year-old, you’re not a healthcare worker, you don’t live in a nursing home, how’d you get the vaccine’ and then you hear the thing about well ‘I have a doctor friend who had good supply or I’m good friends with the CEO of x-y-z company and they made the vaccine available to the entire company,'” said Dr. Byrdsong. “The other part of its it appears to be connected to access. That is partially a race issue. It’s also a socio-economic issue. It’s an employment status issue. What probably is my biggest fear is that COVID 19 becomes a vaccine that’s associated with your socio-economic status.”

From availability to current phases, find vaccine information for every Tennessee county using News 2’s Vaccine Tracker map.

Video shows plow driver and crew using old sled to rescue COVID-19 patient trapped by snow

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CAMAS, Wash. (KOIN) — New video shows how a snowplow driver and crew of city workers were able to rescue a stranded COVID-19 patient in a city outside Portland, Ore. during last week’s storm.

According to his wife, a man in his 50s had come down with the virus and was in “bad shape” on Feb. 15. That day, longtime City of Camas plow driver Scott Purkeypyle said he got a call from firefighters who needed his help immediately.

Purkeypyle and some City of Camas workers used the city’s largest plow and started clearing the man’s long and steep driveway. However, Purkeypyle says his plow got stuck for the first time in a quarter-century.

Instead of waiting around, the crew jumped out and hiked in the deep snow all the way to the top of the hill where the house was.

According to Purkeypyle, the COVID-19 patient was delirious and unable to walk, so his wife offered the group their old toboggan.

“They wanted us there, and I was glad to knock on that door,” said Purkeypyle. “I could see it in her eyes. We did the best we could; she said she had a sled out in the barn, and she said check on the sheep when we were there! So we did [and the] baby sheep were OK. [Then] we got [the man] all strapped in and away we rolled.”

Purkeypyle and his crew carefully slid the patient about 500 yards down the hill. They used ropes to make sure that the sled didn’t get away from them. An ambulance was waiting at the bottom of the driveway and could get the man to a hospital where he has been in quarantine since.

On Tuesday, the man told NewsNation affiliate KOIN he has since tested negative for the coronavirus and has left the hospital. His wife said she was incredibly grateful to Purkeypyle and everyone involved in the rescue.

They found love and their calling at the Cleveland Clinic; now this couple is celebrating 46 years together

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — A hundred years for the Cleveland Clinic, and a lifetime for Peggy and Bill Schneck. Two employees with a love story that began at age 17 at a hospital even before it became part of the clinic’s network. 

“We met in 1975, I was working at Brentwood Hospital which is now Southpoint Hospital in the linen room,” recalled Bill.

Peggy was a service aid. “I had to go in the linen room to get the linen from him and that’s how we met.”

After six months as lunch buddies, they started dating. The relationship continued to grow through computer school for him and nursing school for her.

While Bill went on to work in IT.

Eventually back at Brentwood, Peggy found what would be her calling for the next 30 years. 

“One day they floated me to the emergency department, and we had an exciting case and I became hooked on the ED.”

In 1979, they tied the knot. “It was a Christmas proposal, so, wrapped up like a Christmas gift,” said Peggy.

As their daughter and four sons grew up, Bill moved to the Clinic’s Main Campus and Brentwood would eventually become part of the Clinic in the 90s. “And we have eight grandchildren, five boys, three girls,” said Bill.

Peggy did change course in 2008, combining nursing with her love for computers through nursing informatics, which she now teaches. “So basically, I develop the education for the nurses on technology and the electronic record.”

Like their careers, the Clinic has evolved; and they still marvel at what it’s become. “It was so different. It was smaller, there were no regional hospitals, no offices or anything so everything was just right there,” said Bill. “It’s blossomed,” Peggy finished.

Each of them is proud of their contributions in making the Clinic what it is today. “I don’t see patients, but I feel as if I do have a part in the overall organization, so you’re helping build that and that’s really neat,” said Bill.

“Those patients are much sicker and we can do so much more for them now than we used to be able to do. Through innovation,” said Peggy.

Researchers find worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City

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(CNN) — Two separate teams of researchers said this week they have found a worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast that carries mutations that help it evade the body’s natural immune response — as well as the effects of monoclonal antibody treatments.

Genomics researchers have named the variant B.1.526. It appears in people affected in diverse neighborhoods of New York City, they said, and is “scattered in the Northeast.”

One of the mutations in this variant is the same concerning change found in the variant first seen in South Africa and known as B.1.351. It appears to evade, somewhat, the body’s response to vaccines, as well. And it’s becoming more common.

“We observed a steady increase in the detection rate from late December to mid-February, with an alarming rise to 12.7% in the past two weeks,” one team, at Columbia University Medical Center, write in a report that has yet to be published, although it is scheduled to appear in pre-print version this week.

It’s the latest of a growing number of viral variants that have arisen in the US, which has had more coronavirus cases — 28 million — than any other country and where spread is still intense.

It’s “home grown, presumably in New York,” Dr. David Ho, Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia, who led the study team, said by email.

Viruses mutate all the time. The more people who are infected, and the longer they are infected, the more chance the viruses have to change. A patient’s body will be loaded with billions of copies of a virus, and may will be slightly changed, or mutated. Most will come and go.

But sometimes a mutation or pattern of mutations takes hold and gets passed along. If viruses with such patterns become more common, they’re called variants. Again, it’s not unusual for variants to arise but if they give the virus worrying properties, such as better transmissibility or the ability to evade treatments and vaccines, that’s when doctors start to worry.

The mutation in this variant that most concerns researchers is called E484K and it gives the virus the ability to slip past some of the body’s immune response, as well as the authorized monoclonal antibody treatments. This mutation is popping up independently in many different cases but appears in one particular variant, as well — the one called B.1.526.

“It is this novel variant that is surging, alarmingly, in our patient population over the past few weeks,” the Columbia team wrote in a copy of their report provided to CNN.

“We find the rate of detection of this new variant is going up over the past few weeks. A concern is that it might be beginning to overtake other strains, just like the UK and South African variants,” Ho told CNN.

“However, we don’t have enough data to firm up this point now.”

But the E484K mutation is seen in at least 59 different lineages of coronavirus, they said — which means it is evolving independently across the nation and across the world in a phenomenon known as convergent evolution. It may give the virus an advantage.

“Everything we know about this key mutation suggests that it appears to escape from antibody pressure,” Ho said.

Separately, a team at the California Institute of Technology said they developed a software tool that also spotted the rise of B.1.526 in New York. “It appears that the frequency of lineage B.1.526 has increased rapidly in New York,” they wrote in a pre-print — a report that has not been peer-reviewed but has been posted online.

On Tuesday, two teams reported on another variant that appears to be on the rise in California.

They fear that the variant might not only be more contagious, but may cause more severe disease, as well. As with the New York reports, their research is in its very early stages, has not been published or peer reviewed, and needs more work.

A team at the University of California, San Francisco, tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across California and found it was becoming far more common. It wasn’t seen in any samples from September but by the end of January it was found in half the samples.

This variant, which the team calls B.1.427/B.1.429, has a different pattern of mutations than the variants first seen in the UK, called B.1.1.7 or B.1.351. One mutation, called L452R, affects the spike protein of the virus, which is the bit that attaches to cells the virus infects.

“One specific mutation, the L452R mutation, in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein may enable the virus to dock more efficiently to cells. Our data shows that this is likely the key mutation that makes this variant more infectious,” Dr. Charles Chiu, associate director of the clinical microbiology lab at UCSF, who led one of the studies, told CNN.

And they found some evidence it is more dangerous. “In this study, we observed increased severity of disease associated with B.1.427/B.1.429 infection, including increased risk of high oxygen requirement,” they wrote in their report, which is to post to a pre-print server later this week after public health officials in San Francisco review it.

Chiu said it should be designated a variant of concern and should be made a priority for study.

A second team at Unidos en Salud, a San Francisco-based nonprofit offering fast testing in San Francisco’s Mission District, tested 8,846 people over the month of January and sequenced the virus from 630 of the samples. They also found a rapid increase in the variant.

“The research findings indicate that the L452R variant represents 53% of the positive test samples collected between January 10th and the 27th. That is a significant increase from November when our sequencing indicated that this variant comprised only 16% of the positive tests,” Dr. Diane Havlir, an infectious diseases expert at UCSF who is helping lead the study, said in a statement.

Havlir’s team is also preparing findings for publication.

Researchers find worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City

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(CNN) — Two separate teams of researchers said this week they have found a worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast that carries mutations that help it evade the body’s natural immune response — as well as the effects of monoclonal antibody treatments.

Genomics researchers have named the variant B.1.526. It appears in people affected in diverse neighborhoods of New York City, they said, and is “scattered in the Northeast.”

One of the mutations in this variant is the same concerning change found in the variant first seen in South Africa and known as B.1.351. It appears to evade, somewhat, the body’s response to vaccines, as well. And it’s becoming more common.

“We observed a steady increase in the detection rate from late December to mid-February, with an alarming rise to 12.7% in the past two weeks,” one team, at Columbia University Medical Center, write in a report that has yet to be published, although it is scheduled to appear in pre-print version this week.

It’s the latest of a growing number of viral variants that have arisen in the US, which has had more coronavirus cases — 28 million — than any other country and where spread is still intense.

It’s “home grown, presumably in New York,” Dr. David Ho, Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia, who led the study team, said by email.

Viruses mutate all the time. The more people who are infected, and the longer they are infected, the more chance the viruses have to change. A patient’s body will be loaded with billions of copies of a virus, and may will be slightly changed, or mutated. Most will come and go.

But sometimes a mutation or pattern of mutations takes hold and gets passed along. If viruses with such patterns become more common, they’re called variants. Again, it’s not unusual for variants to arise but if they give the virus worrying properties, such as better transmissibility or the ability to evade treatments and vaccines, that’s when doctors start to worry.

The mutation in this variant that most concerns researchers is called E484K and it gives the virus the ability to slip past some of the body’s immune response, as well as the authorized monoclonal antibody treatments. This mutation is popping up independently in many different cases but appears in one particular variant, as well — the one called B.1.526.

“It is this novel variant that is surging, alarmingly, in our patient population over the past few weeks,” the Columbia team wrote in a copy of their report provided to CNN.

“We find the rate of detection of this new variant is going up over the past few weeks. A concern is that it might be beginning to overtake other strains, just like the UK and South African variants,” Ho told CNN.

“However, we don’t have enough data to firm up this point now.”

But the E484K mutation is seen in at least 59 different lineages of coronavirus, they said — which means it is evolving independently across the nation and across the world in a phenomenon known as convergent evolution. It may give the virus an advantage.

“Everything we know about this key mutation suggests that it appears to escape from antibody pressure,” Ho said.

Separately, a team at the California Institute of Technology said they developed a software tool that also spotted the rise of B.1.526 in New York. “It appears that the frequency of lineage B.1.526 has increased rapidly in New York,” they wrote in a pre-print — a report that has not been peer-reviewed but has been posted online.

On Tuesday, two teams reported on another variant that appears to be on the rise in California.

They fear that the variant might not only be more contagious, but may cause more severe disease, as well. As with the New York reports, their research is in its very early stages, has not been published or peer reviewed, and needs more work.

A team at the University of California, San Francisco, tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across California and found it was becoming far more common. It wasn’t seen in any samples from September but by the end of January it was found in half the samples.

This variant, which the team calls B.1.427/B.1.429, has a different pattern of mutations than the variants first seen in the UK, called B.1.1.7 or B.1.351. One mutation, called L452R, affects the spike protein of the virus, which is the bit that attaches to cells the virus infects.

“One specific mutation, the L452R mutation, in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein may enable the virus to dock more efficiently to cells. Our data shows that this is likely the key mutation that makes this variant more infectious,” Dr. Charles Chiu, associate director of the clinical microbiology lab at UCSF, who led one of the studies, told CNN.

And they found some evidence it is more dangerous. “In this study, we observed increased severity of disease associated with B.1.427/B.1.429 infection, including increased risk of high oxygen requirement,” they wrote in their report, which is to post to a pre-print server later this week after public health officials in San Francisco review it.

Chiu said it should be designated a variant of concern and should be made a priority for study.

A second team at Unidos en Salud, a San Francisco-based nonprofit offering fast testing in San Francisco’s Mission District, tested 8,846 people over the month of January and sequenced the virus from 630 of the samples. They also found a rapid increase in the variant.

“The research findings indicate that the L452R variant represents 53% of the positive test samples collected between January 10th and the 27th. That is a significant increase from November when our sequencing indicated that this variant comprised only 16% of the positive tests,” Dr. Diane Havlir, an infectious diseases expert at UCSF who is helping lead the study, said in a statement.

Havlir’s team is also preparing findings for publication.