US may soon reach a tipping point on Covid-19 vaccine demand. Here’s why that’s concerning

By Christina Maxouris | CNN

As US health officials race to get more Covid-19 shots into arms to control the virus, experts now warn the country will run into another challenge in the next few weeks: vaccine supply will likely outstrip demand.

“While timing may differ by state, we estimate that across the U.S. as a whole we will likely reach a tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm in the next 2 to 4 weeks,” the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a new report published Tuesday.

“Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed.”

Health officials — including Dr. Anthony Fauci — estimate that somewhere between 70% to 85% of the country needs to be immune to the virus — either through inoculation or previous infection — to suppress is spread.

So far, roughly 40.1% of the population has gotten at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And about 26% of the population is fully vaccinated, that data shows.

A slowing vaccine demand now, experts say, could give dangerous coronavirus variants the opportunity to continue to mutate, spread and set off new surges — and it could delay the country’s return to a semblance of normalcy.

‘We have slots going unfilled’

Parts of the US are already seeing fewer people sign up for a shot.

Kristy Fryman, the emergency response coordinator and public information officer for the Mercer County Health District in Ohio, told CNN on Tuesday that vaccine demand in the county is “slowing down.”

The county’s younger population isn’t as eager to get vaccinated, Fryman said, and “have the sense that if they get Covid, it may not be as bad.”

Others, she said, are opting to wait “to see how the side effects are.”

“We’ve been going back to the drawing board trying to figure out how to get more people vaccinated but … we can only do so much,” Fryman added.

A little more than 27% of the county’s residents have started their Covid-19 vaccinations, according to Ohio’s Covid-19 vaccine dashboard.

Earlier in the pandemic, Mercer County was among the hardest hit parts of the state. Now, Fryman said, the county is again reporting a rise in Covid-19 cases.

“It’s concerning that we’re seeing an increase and that population does not want to get vaccinated,” she said.

In Spring Lake, Michigan, emergency room physician Dr. Rob Davidson said Tuesday that local officials there are also growing increasingly concerned over the hesitancy they’re seeing.

“We have slots going unfilled, I know in West Michigan and other parts, particularly in rural Michigan,” he said.

Experts recommend people continue mask-wearing post-vaccine

For Americans who are fully vaccinated, experts said it’s best to keep wearing a mask.

“If you are vaccinated, you are protecting yourself and you probably won’t get sick but we don’t know how long the virus is going to live in your respiratory system after you catch it,” Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, internal medicine specialist and CNN medical analyst, said Tuesday. “So therefore, you are potentially contagious to others.”

As for gatherings, Rodriguez said fully vaccinated Americans should be opting to meet only with others who are also vaccinated.

Experts have highlighted that even as vaccinations climb, it will be important for people to keep following Covid-19 safety measures until the country is able to suppress the spread of the virus.

But as more shots are administered, fewer Americans are practicing public health mitigation measures, according to poll results from Axios-Ipsos published Tuesday. The poll was conducted April 16 to 19 and was made up of a representative sample of more than 1,000 US adults.

About 61% of respondents are social distancing, which is down six percentage points from last month and 13 points from two months ago.

The percentage of people wearing a mask at all times when they leave the house — 63% — is the lowest since the summer and down 10 percentage points since two months ago.

And, at a time when Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, the perceived risk of returning to pre-coronavirus life is the lowest it has ever been — 52%.

Meanwhile, the perceived risks associated with activities like shopping in retail and grocery stores and attending sporting events is also declining.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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The IRS has no plans to bring back a tool that helped low-income Americans get their stimulus checks. Here’s what to do instead

By Katie Lobosco | CNN

About 8 million low-income people were eligible for stimulus payments last year but never received the money, raising concerns about getting the latest round of help to those most in need — yet there’s no sign the Internal Revenue Service plans to restore a tool that would make it easier.

Early in the pandemic, the IRS created a simple online form to allow low-income people who aren’t usually required to file tax returns to provide their contact information to the agency. But that tool has remained offline since November, even after Congress approved two more rounds of stimulus payments.

Now, people who missed out must file a 2020 tax return in order to get the money they’re owed from the first two stimulus checks, along with the third one. People who used the non-filer tool before it went offline will automatically receive their third stimulus payment without taking action.

An IRS spokesman told CNN Thursday that there are no plans to bring back the tool but encouraged people to file returns so that they can claim a credit for all three payments as well as claim any other expanded credits they may be eligible for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the child tax credit.

Filing a return ensures that families may get other benefits they qualify for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the now expanded child tax credit — but it can be a challenging process for someone who hasn’t filed in years.

“The stakes are high with billions of federal dollars not reaching low-income people in California and across the country. The IRS reposting its online non-filers tool immediately would be a good first step,” Aparna Ramesh, senior research manager at the California Policy Lab at UC Berkeley, said in a statement.

The group found that at least 1.5 million Californians could potentially miss out on $3.5 billion in stimulus payments. It estimated that about 25% of low-income Californians didn’t get the money automatically last year.

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Still waiting for the latest round

Most Americans had their stimulus payments directly deposited into their bank accounts or sent in the mail without them having to take any action. In the weeks since President Joe Biden signed the most recent stimulus bill, the IRS has swiftly delivered more than 156 million payments — but those who likely need the money the most may still be waiting.

“I think the IRS has limited resources and has to decide how much to devote to its traditional lines of business, like processing tax returns and audits, or becoming more of a customer service agency focused on benefits delivery,” said Elaine Maag, a principal research associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It certainly doesn’t look like that’s the priority when they’re taking down these tools rather than creating them.”

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told lawmakers at a hearing last month that the agency had extended its reach far beyond its normal contacts to try to reach lower-income people, working with “hundreds of local community groups and religious organizations” as well as “thousands of homeless organizations.”

A challenging year for the IRS

It will be a challenging year for the IRS, an agency whose budget has been cut about 20% over the past decade, leaving it with antiquated technology and a smaller staff.

The agency is also grappling with several changes to the tax law made by the Covid relief bills. The one passed in March also directs the IRS to send out periodic payments for an expanded child tax credit, as well as waive income taxes on up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020, helping some laid-off workers who faced surprise tax bills on their jobless benefits.

The changes create work for the IRS, tax preparers and taxpayers. Facing pressure from lawmakers, the agency recently extended the tax filing deadline to May 17.

“This has been the most challenging tax seasons I’ve experienced, hands down,” said Courtney O’Reilly, the director of Tax Help Colorado, an IRS-certified tax assistance center.

There’s more need and fewer volunteers due to the pandemic, even though most work is still done remotely. It’s a challenge to help out brand new filers, unfamiliar with the tax system, seeking desperately needed benefits over the phone.

Taxpayers earning less than $72,000 a year can use a tax preparer site for free to file a federal return. But they still need to gather the documents showing their income, have an email address and a phone number. New filers are sometimes hesitant to submit a return at all, fearing they might owe more in back taxes than they are set to receive from the stimulus benefits.

“These new benefits will be really helpful to families, but it’s so hard to make sure people who need it the most get them. It takes time to create the foundation to provide the support,” O’Reilly said.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Here’s how to tell if your Facebook account was one of the half billion that were breached

By Jordan Valinsky | CNN Business

Over the weekend, cybersecurity experts revealed that about half a billion Facebook users’ personal information was breached — a treasure trove of data the includes full names, birthdays, phone numbers and their location.

Facebook said that massive leak stems from an issue in 2019, which has since been fixed. Still, there’s no clawing back that data. More than 30 million accounts in the United States were affected and the company isn’t making it easy to find out if your data was included in the breach.

But a third-party website, haveibeenpwned.com, makes it simple to check by inputting your email. For now, it just checks if your email was among those stolen.

That’s a pretty big catch: Although 533 million Facebook accounts were included in the breach, only 2.5 million of those included emails in the stolen data. So you’ve got less than a half-percent chance of showing up on that website, even though you’ve got about a 20% chance of being hacked if you’ve got a Facebook account.

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HaveIBeenPwned creator and security expert Troy Hunt said on Twitter that he’s examining whether to add phone numbers.

“The primary value of the data is the association of phone numbers to identities; whilst each record included phone, only 2.5 million contained an email address,” Hunt’s website said.

Although this data is from 2019, it could still be of value to hackers and cyber criminals like those who engage in identify theft.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to CNN on Monday about whether if it will create a way to see if their information was leaked.

— CNN Business’ Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Trial review board raises concerns about AstraZeneca vaccine data

By Michael Nedelman | CNN

The independent board that reviews data from multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates has expressed concern over AstraZeneca’s announcements on its latest findings, according to a statement posted early Tuesday by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Late Monday, the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) notified NIAID, BARDA, and AstraZeneca that it was concerned by information released by AstraZeneca on initial data from its COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial,” the statement says. “The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.

“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible.”

AstraZeneca has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

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Early Monday, AstraZeneca issued a press release saying its Covid-19 vaccine showed 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization, citing long-awaited US trial data. The latter figure was based on five events in the placebo arm, NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a coronavirus briefing Monday.

The DSMB is an independent expert group that sees trial data before the pharmaceutical companies, the doctors running the trials, or even the US Food and Drug Administration. It has the power advise a company of positive interim findings, or to halt a trial over safety concerns. That’s what happened to the AstraZeneca trial in September after a study participant developed neurological symptoms, for example.

Last year, the National Institutes of Health appointed a common DSMB to monitor Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials that were being funded by the federal government — including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. This DSMB has 10 to 15 members with specialties including vaccine development, statistics and ethics.

DSMBs sometimes disagree with investigators over the interpretation of trial results, Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement to the Science Media Centre in the UK. But that’s usually done in private, he said, “so this is unprecedented in my opinion.”

However, he noted, he isn’t concerned unless there’s a safety issue, “which does not appear to be the case.”

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California could get $150 billion from federal coronavirus relief bill

By ADAM BEAM | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — The massive COVID-19 relief bill Congress approved Wednesday will pump more than $150 billion into California’s economy, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said Wednesday, including a $26 billion windfall for the state’s already burgeoning budget surplus.

Nearly half of the money will go to Californians directly in the form of $1,400 checks and expanded unemployment benefits. Another $15.9 billion will go to public and private schools while $3.6 billion will boost the state’s vaccination, testing and contact tracing efforts. There’s also money for public transit agencies, airports and child care.

About $16 billion will go to local governments and be split in half between cities and counties. And $26 billion will go directly to state government for services impacted by the pandemic.

Toni Atkins, Democratic president pro tempore of the California Senate, called it the state’s “fair share.”

“California has been a ‘donor state’ for decades, paying more to the federal government than we receive in federal services and investments,” Atkins said. “We’re fortunate that our budget is healthy and balanced, but it’s because we prioritized responsible fiscal planning.”

Like most states, California budget forecasters predicted a steep drop-off in revenue during the pandemic as businesses were forced to close and millions of people lost their jobs. Newsom and the Legislature reacted quickly by raising taxes, cutting spending and pulling from the state’s savings accounts to cover what they expected to be a $54.3 billion shortfall.

Instead, California’s revenues went up, buoyed by taxes paid by a wealthy population that made a lot of money from the surging stock market.

In January, Newsom announced the state had a $15 billion one-time surplus. The state has already spent $7.6 billion of that in the form of a state stimulus package that will, among other things, send $600 payments to millions of low- to moderate-income Californians.

Lawmakers also set aside $6.6 billion to help schools return students to classrooms. And they are preparing another bill that would give $2.3 billion in tax breaks to businesses, bringing the state’s total aid package to more than $16 billion. Despite that, Atkins said “the need is still much greater than the resources we have.”

Now, state leaders are preparing for $26 billion in aid from the federal government with few limits on how they can spend it. Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said Newsom will announce his plans for the money in May when the state updates its budget projections.

The Legislature will have to sign off on whatever Newsom proposes. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said lawmakers are interested in using the federal money to continue direct relief to families and small businesses.

He also suggested using some of the money to increase access to high-speed internet and to make up shortfalls in the state’s cap and trade program that requires big polluters to purchase credits to let them pollute. The state uses that money to pay for various climate-related programs, including wildfire prevention and drinking water.

Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting, chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, said priorities include restoring previous spending cuts and doing more to help small businesses and the unemployed. He also said the state could spend the money on construction projects that include expanding access to high-speed internet and create jobs that last for years.

In January, state lawmakers agreed to use $2.6 billion in prior federal relief funding to pay off up to 80% of some tenants unpaid rent. Ting said he’d like the state to also help pay off unpaid commercial rents to prevent evictions of small businesses.

“The one thing we’ve learned about this year is the environment constantly shifts, the virus kind of moves and the impact constantly changes every day,” Ting said. “We have to keep monitoring how Californians and all the different small businesses are doing.”

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law on Friday. The U.S. Treasury Department has told state governments they can’t cut taxes and use the federal money to make up the money. But they can use the money to respond to the public health emergency, provide government services or invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

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Prince William says royals are ‘very much not a racist family’

By Angela Dewan and Schams Elwazer | CNN

Prince William has denied the royal family is racist in his first public remarks since his brother Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan, made explosive claims in a TV interview.

Asked by a reporter during a visit to a school in east London if the royals were a “racist family,” the Duke of Cambridge said: “We’re very much not a racist family.”

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made a series of damning accusations against the royal family in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired in the UK on Monday night.

In response to a question on whether he had spoken to his brother since the interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince William said, “I haven’t spoken to him yet but I will do.”

Harry and Meghan’s interview has sent the Palace into a tailspin and triggered a nationwide debate on the royals, race and the role of the media in perpetuating xenophobia.

In the interview, the Duchess said that the skin tone of the couple’s child, Archie, was discussed as a potential issue before he was born. The couple would not reveal who had made the remarks.

In the interview, Meghan described having regular suicidal thoughts during her brief time as a working royal, and said the palace had offered her and her son inadequate security and protection.

Buckingham Palace broke its silence on Tuesday evening, saying in a statement on behalf of the Queen that the allegations of racism were concerning and were being “taken very seriously.”

“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the statement reads.

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Biden faces questions about commitment to minimum wage hike

By WILL WEISSERT and ALEXANDRA JAFFE

WASHINGTON (AP) — Union activist Terrence Wise recalls being laughed at when he began pushing for a national $15 per hour minimum wage almost a decade ago. Nearly a year into the pandemic, the idea isn’t so funny.

The coronavirus has renewed focus on challenges facing hourly employees who have continued working in grocery stores, gas stations and other in-person locations even as much of the workforce has shifted to virtual environments. President Joe Biden has responded by including a provision in the massive pandemic relief bill that would more than double the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $15 per hour.

But the effort is facing an unexpected roadblock: Biden himself. The president has seemingly undermined the push to raise the minimum wage by acknowledging its dim prospects in Congress, where it faces political opposition and procedural hurdles.

That’s frustrating to activists like Wise, who worry their victory is being snatched away at the last minute despite an administration that’s otherwise an outspoken ally.

“To have it this close on the doorstep, they need to get it done,” said Wise, a 41-year-old department manager at a McDonald’s in Kansas City and a national leader of Fight for 15, an organized labor movement. “They need to feel the pressure.”

The minimum wage debate highlights one of the central tensions emerging in the early days of Biden’s presidency. He won the White House with pledges to respond to the pandemic with a barrage of liberal policy proposals. But as a 36-year veteran of the Senate, Biden is particularly attuned to the political dynamics on Capitol Hill and can be blunt in his assessments.

“I don’t think it’s going to survive,” Biden recently told CBS News, referring to the minimum wage hike.

There’s a certain political realism in Biden’s remark.

With the Senate evenly divided, the proposal doesn’t have the 60 votes needed to make it to the floor on its own. Democrats could use an arcane budgetary procedure that would attach the minimum wage to the pandemic response bill and allow it to pass with a simple majority vote.

But even that’s not easy. Some moderate Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have expressed either outright opposition to the hike or said it shouldn’t be included in the pandemic legislation.

The Senate’s parliamentarian may further complicate things with a ruling that the minimum wage measure can’t be included in the pandemic bill.

For now, the measure’s most progressive Senate backers aren’t openly pressuring Biden to step up his campaign for a higher minimum wage.

Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has said he’s largely focused on winning approval from the parliamentarian to tack the provision onto the pandemic bill. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who like Sanders challenged Biden from the left for the Democratic nomination, has only tweeted that Democrats should “right this wrong.”

Some activists, however, are encouraging Biden to be more aggressive.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said Biden has a “mandate” to ensure the minimum wage increases, noting that minority Americans were “the first to go back to jobs, first to get infected, first to get sick, first to die” during the pandemic.

“We cannot be the last to get relief and the last to get treated and paid properly,” Barber said.

The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009, the longest stretch without an increase since its creation in 1938. When adjusted for inflation, the purchasing power of the current $7.25 wage has declined more than a dollar in the last 11-plus years.

Democrats have long promised an increase — support for a $15 minimum wage was including in the party’s 2016 political platform — but haven’t delivered.

Supporters say the coronavirus has made a higher minimum wage all the more urgent since workers earning it are disproportionately people of color. The liberal Economic Policy Institute found that more than 19% of Hispanic workers and more than 14% of Black workers earned hourly wages that kept them below federal poverty guidelines in 2017.

Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans in the U.S. also have rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 that are two to four times higher than for whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People of color are a vital part Biden’s constituency, constituting 38% of his support in November’s election, according to AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of the electorate.

Adrianne Shropshire. executive director of BlackPAC, noted that Biden has promised to address racial inequalities and create a more fair economy. That means he now has a chance to ensure that hourly wage earners “come out of this pandemic in better shape than they went into it.”

“The recovery around COVID shouldn’t just be about how to stabilize and get people back to zero,” Shropshire said. “It should be about how do we create opportunities to move people beyond where they were.”

The White House says Biden isn’t giving up on the issue. His comments to CBS, according to an aide, reflected his own evaluation of where the parliamentarian would rule based on his decades of experience in the Senate dealing with similar negotiations.

Biden suggested in the same interview that he’s prepared to engage in a “separate negotiation” on raising the minimum wage, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki offered no further details on the future of the proposal if it is in fact cut from the final coronavirus aid bill.

One option could be forcing passage by having Vice President Kamala Harris, as the Senate’s presiding officer, overrule the parliamentarian. But Psaki was clear in opposing that: “Our view is that the parliamentarian is who is chosen, typically, to make a decision in a nonpartisan manner.”

Navin Nayak, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political arm of the progressive think tank, said he wasn’t surprised at Biden’s assessment, but still feels the White House is making good faith efforts.

“They’re not putting this in there to lose it — they put it in there to win it,” Nayak said.

Nayak also noted Biden’s comments came before a Congressional Budget Office projection that found the proposal would help lift millions of Americans out of poverty but increase the federal deficit and cost 1.4 million jobs as employers scale back costlier workforces.

Sanders and other supporters argue that the CBO’s finding that raising the minimum wage will increase the deficit means it impacts the budget — and should therefore be allowed as part of the COVID-19 relief bill. But that will ultimately be up to the Senate parliamentarian.

For Wise, potential congressional hurdles pale in comparison to real world realities.

He makes $14 an hour and his fiancé works as a home health care professional. But when she went into quarantine because of possible exposure to the coronavirus and he missed work to care for their three daughters, it wasn’t long before the family was served with an eviction notice.

People “figure it’s something we’re doing wrong. We’re going to work. We’re productive. We’re law-abiding citizens,” Wise said. “It shouldn’t have to be that way.”

___

Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Kevin Freking contributed.

___

Eds: This story has been updated to CORRECT the spelling of Terrence Wise’s first name and Kyrsten Sinema’s first name.

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Florida led the world in shark attacks again in 2020

By Sydney N. Walton | CNN

The US is once again the shark attack capital of the world in 2020. Thanks, Florida!

Last year, the US reported 33 unprovoked shark attacks, accounting for about 58% of the total number of unprovoked shark attacks that occurred worldwide, according to the Yearly World Shark Attack Summary from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).

This is a decrease from 2019, when 64% of the global unprovoked bites occurred in the US.

ISAF categorizes shark attacks by first deciding if they were provoked or unprovoked.

“Unprovoked attacks are defined as incidents in which an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark,” ISAF said.

“Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, bites on spearfishers, bites on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net and so forth.”

ISAF said it investigated 129 alleged shark-human interactions worldwide in 2020 — 57 were unprovoked shark bites on humans, and 39 were provoked bites.

Of the 33 unprovoked shark attacks in the US, 16 of them were in Florida. The state’s 16 cases represent 28% of unprovoked bites worldwide.

“For decades, Florida has topped global charts in the number of shark bites, and this trend continued in 2020,” ISAF said in its summary. “However, the state saw a significant drop from its most recent five-year annual average of 30 incidents.”

Eight of the shark bites in Florida, or 50% of the state’s total in 2020, occurred in Volusia County, according to the ISAF.

How the pandemic impacted shark attack reporting process

ISAF said that while the incidence of bites both in the US and globally have been declining over time, “2020’s numbers represent a more drastic drop than would be expected.”

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said that Covid-19’s impact was something he and his colleagues speculated about back in March.

According to Naylor, the pandemic hasn’t necessarily caused a drop in cases — but it has impacted researchers’ ability to follow-up and confirm cases when they are reported.

“We typically talk to emergency room doctors and nurses to create our reports,” Naylor said. “However, they’ve been so overwhelmed with the Covid-19 response that they haven’t always had time to talk to a bunch of scientists that are asking detailed questions about a shark attack.”

Based on its research in the last year, ISAF said the “observed drop in shark bite incidents may have been caused by the widespread quarantines, closed beaches and minimized vacation travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Spike in shark-related fatalities reported worldwide

There were 13 shark-related fatalities this year, 10 of which were confirmed to be unprovoked, ISAF said in its Yearly Worldwide Shark Attack Summary.

“This number is above the annual global average of four unprovoked fatalities per year,” ISAF wrote.

But, “despite 2020’s spike in fatalities, long-term trends show a decreasing number of annual fatalities. Year-to-year variability in oceanographic, socioeconomic and meteorological conditions significantly influences the local abundance of sharks and humans in the water.”

Of the global fatalities, Australia saw “a higher incidence of fatal bites than normal in 2020,” ISAF said. The country had six confirmed fatal shark attacks.

“Australians are not naive when it comes to the inherent dangers of surfing and swimming,” Naylor said. “So I was surprised that the number was as high as it was this year.”

Meanwhile, in the US, there were three confirmed fatal shark attacks last year. This is an increase from 2019, when there weren’t any confirmed cases in the US.

The three fatal attacks happened in Hawaii, California and Maine. Although Florida is usually home to most of the unprovoked attacks, the state didn’t have any confirmed fatalities last year.

How to avoid a shark attack

Most bites — 61% of the total cases in 2020 — were related to surfing and board sports, ISAF said.

But don’t worry: “Short-term trends still show both fatal and non-fatal bites to be decreasing,” ISAF said.

“The total number of unprovoked shark bites worldwide is extremely low, given the number of people participating in aquatic recreation each year.”

Should you find yourself in the sea, ISAF said there are many ways to avoid a shark attack.

ISAF encourages people “avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.”

The organization also urges people to not enter the water if they are bleeding, because “a shark’s olfactory ability is acute.”

Shiny jewelry can also attract sharks, as “the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.”

ISAF also encouraged people to avoid wearing bright swimwear or dive gear, because “any high contrast color apparel or gear used by a human in the water is especially visible to sharks.”

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Indian village cheers for Kamal Harris before swearing-in as US Vice President

By RISHI LEKHI and AIJAZ RAHI | The Associated Press

THULASENDRAPURAM, India — People in a tiny Indian village surrounded by rice paddies flocked to a Hindu temple, burst crackers and uttered prayers Wednesday hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office to become the U.S. vice president.

Groups of women in bright saris and men wearing white dhotis thronged the temple with sweets and flowers, offering special prayers for Harris’ success.

“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.

The ceremony in Thulasendrapuram, where Harris’ maternal grandfather was born about 350 kilometers (215 miles) from the southern coastal city of Chennai, saw the idol of Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest. Shortly after, the village reverberated with a boom of firecrackers as people held up posters of Harris and clapped their hands.

Harris is set to make history as the first woman, first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency. What makes her achievement special in this village is her Indian heritage.

Harris’ grandfather was born in Thulasendrapuram more than 100 years ago. Many decades later, he moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the U.S. to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”

In several speeches, Harris has often spoken about her roots and how she was guided by the values of her Indian-born grandfather and mother.

So when Joe Biden and Harris triumphed in the U.S. election last November, Thulasendrapuram became the center of attention in entire India. Local politicians flocked to the village and young children carrying placards with photos of Harris ran along the dusty roads.

Then and now, villagers set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.

Posters and banners of Harris from November still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.

“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.

On Tuesday, an organization that promotes vegetarianism sent food packets for the village children as gifts to celebrate Harris’ success.

In the capital New Delhi, there has been both excitement — and some concern — over Harris’ ascend to the vice presidency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invested in President Donald Trump, who visited India in February last year. Modi’s many Hindu nationalist supporters also were upset with Harris when she expressed concern about Kashmir, the disputed Muslim-majority region whose statehood India’s government revoked last year.

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Joe Biden’s COVID team is nervous about what the Trump team hasn’t told them

By Sara Murray, MJ Lee and Kristen Holmes | CNN

With the hours dwindling until Joe Biden is sworn in — officially taking the helm of the US government during its worst health crisis in 100 years — a sense of nervousness has set in among those advising the incoming President on the pandemic.

The overarching, nagging concern: “They don’t know what they don’t know,” said a source close to the Biden Covid-19 team.

Biden is set to inherit a nation grieving hundreds of thousands of Americans who have perished from the virus, a health care system buckling under the strain of the pandemic, new variants of the disease popping up around the world and a public that is both stressed about the prospect of when they can get vaccinated, as well as dubious about whether to trust the vaccine when it’s their turn in line.

Multiple officials familiar with the transition said the lack of full cooperation and transparency from the outgoing Trump administration has contributed to Biden’s Covid team feeling frustrated and concerned about having a full understanding of the scope of the problems they will confront on Day One.

But the President-elect’s team feels ready for the fight.

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“We’re not going to hide from the fact that is going to be a tremendous effort that is going to require the hard work of millions of Americans,” said Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat on the House coronavirus subcommittee who has participated in briefings with Biden’s transition team and was describing their posture coming into office. “It’s not going to be some magical solution.”

The President-elect understands just how much the success of his presidency will depend on his ability to get the virus under control, the source close to Biden’s Covid operation said. The President-elect is anxious and focused on the pandemic right now, which looms large over Wednesday’s inauguration.

Chief among the Biden team’s concerns right now is vaccine supply and turning around the lackluster distribution effort, though new strains of the virus are another persistent worry for the incoming team.

One source familiar with the Biden effort acknowledged a major gap the incoming team will have to confront is that there is currently no effective and trustworthy line of communication between states and the federal government.

Ramping up federal involvement in coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution starts with building up communications with each state to better understand their infrastructure and supply challenges, something that’s expected to be a focus in the early days of Biden’s presidency.

States are clamoring for the federal government to release larger batches of vaccine. But it’s still not clear if there will be enough vaccine available to drastically speed up the pace at which they can be distributed and administered.

While there is optimism that additional vaccines will be soon approved for use in the United States, including the potential of a single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there are questions about whether it can be produced fast enough to significantly address any potential supply problems.

Foster, the Illinois congressman, said getting information from the Trump administration on delivery schedules and production progress for vaccines “has been like pulling teeth.”

“And I understand the frustration of the Biden (team), if they were seeing the same sort of resistance we saw, on not what was contracted and promised but what the actual milestones in the vaccine production are along the way,” he added.

Outgoing health officials in the Trump administration, meanwhile, insist they have been cooperative with the Biden team and have had hundreds of meetings with Biden’s transition team.

Still, the Biden team likely won’t get a full scope of the vaccine production landscape until he takes office Wednesday.

The President-elect’s team has expressed concerns about trying to get a grasp on exactly how the vaccine distribution is playing out — and what’s slowing it down — across all 50 states.

Even though Biden’s team is fully aware they can’t federalize the vaccine distribution process with the snap of a finger, the President-elect has vowed that the federal government will play a much more aggressive role in streamlining the vaccine distribution and Covid containment efforts.

But even when it comes to some signature promises — like deploying the National Guard to run vaccination sites — it will most likely fall to each state to determine what works best for them.

New variants of the coronavirus could prove to be another vexing problem for the incoming administration.

The worst-case scenario for Biden’s team would a variant that cannot be treated by currently approved vaccines. But America’s inferior screening systems for monitoring new strains of the virus, combined with the fraught relationship with the outgoing Trump administration, adds emerging variants to the thorny list of problems a Biden administration won’t be able to fully tackle until he takes office.

Containing any new variant of the disease played into the Biden team’s decision to immediately throw cold water on President Donald Trump’s order lifting some travel restrictions on incoming travelers from much of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil. While the outgoing President ordered those restrictions to be lifted on January 26 — nearly a week after Biden takes office — Biden’s team said the President-elect would block the order once he’s in office.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Monday. “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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