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Calls grow for US to rely on rapid tests to fight pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — When a Halloween party sparked a COVID-19 outbreak at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, school officials conducted rapid screening on more than 1,000 students in a week, including many who didn’t have symptoms. Although such asymptomatic screening isn’t approved by regulators and the 15-minute tests aren’t as sensitive as the […]



WASHINGTON (AP) — When a Halloween party sparked a COVID-19 outbreak at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, school officials conducted rapid screening on more than 1,000 students in a week, including many who didn’t have symptoms.

Although such asymptomatic screening isn’t approved by regulators and the 15-minute tests aren’t as sensitive as the genetic one that can take days to yield results, the testing director at the historically Black college credits the approach with quickly containing the infections and allowing the campus to remain open.

“Within the span of a week, we had crushed the spread. If we had had to stick with the PCR test, we would have been dead in the water,” said Dr. Robert Doolittle, referring to the polymerase chain reaction test that is considered the gold standard by many doctors and Food and Drug Administration regulators.

With President Joe Biden vowing to get elementary and middle school students back to the classroom by spring and the country’s testing system still unable to keep pace with the spread of COVID-19, some experts see an opportunity to refocus U.S. testing less on medical precision than on mass screening that they believe could save hundreds of thousands of lives. As vaccines slowly roll out, they say the nation could suppress the outbreak and reopen much of the economy by easing regulatory hurdles to allow millions more rapid tests that, while technically less accurate, may actually be better at identifying sick people when they are most contagious.

“Our whole testing approach, which has failed, has tried to tackle this pandemic as though it’s a bunch of little medical problems,” said Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard University testing specialist. “Instead, we need to take a big step back and say, ‘Wait, this isn’t a lot of medical problems, it’s an epidemic. And if we resolve the epidemic, we resolve the medical problems.’”

The U.S. reports about 2 million tests per day, the vast majority of which are the slower, PCR variety. The initial tests developed to detect COVID-19 all used the cutting-edge technique, which quickly became the standard at U.S. hospitals and labs. It also became the benchmark for accuracy at the FDA, which has greenlighted more than 230 PCR tests but only about a dozen rapid tests. Priced as low as $5, the quick tests look for viral proteins, which are generally considered a less rigorous measure of infection.

The FDA said in a statement it supports “innovation in testing” and “has not hesitated” to make rapid tests available.

But most experts agree that the current U.S. system, which relies heavily on lab testing, is still incapable of containing the virus that is killing more than 3,000 Americans per day and has pushed the country’s death toll to nearly 460,000.

Compounding the problem is that an estimated 40% of people infected don’t develop symptoms. It’s among these silent spreaders that Mina says rapid tests have the clear advantage over lab tests. With its medical precision, he argues that the PCR test continues to detect COVID-19 in many people who have already fought off the virus and are no longer contagious. The rapid test, while less sensitive, is better at quickly catching the virus during the critical early days of infection when it can spread explosively through communities.

“This isn’t a clinical test — it’s a public health screening test,” Mina said.

The case for widescale rapid testing is getting a boost from universities and school systems that have used the approach to stay open through the latest waves of the pandemic. And proponents point to apparent success stories like the small European nation of Slovakia, which saw infections drop after screening two-thirds of its roughly 5 million people with the tests.

But many lab specialists worry about vastly expanding the use of rapid tests, which are more prone to false results, and have never been used at the massive scale being proposed.

“There’s a lot of people trying to portray things as black and white, and there’s a lot of gray here, unfortunately,” says Susan Butler-Wu, of the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

She points out that testing campaigns in Slovakia, the U.K. and elsewhere have been paired with strict lockdown orders. Without such measures in the U.S., critics say there is no way to predict whether people who test positive will self-isolate.

That’s a particular worry with proposals from Mina and others to blanket the U.S. in millions of rapid, home tests that would allow people to regularly screen themselves without medical supervision.

“I want to believe in people making good decisions when left to their own devices,” said Butler-Wu. “But the fact that we are where we are right now really shows you people don’t make good decisions when left to their own devices.”

One area where consensus may be emerging is in public schools, where many parents and districts are eager for a return to in-person instruction. Biden has proposed spending $50 billion to vastly expand rapid testing as part of his push to return most K-8 students to classes within his first 100 days.

One of his first executive orders called for using the Defense Production Act to scale up supplies needed for rapid tests. And key members of his administration, including the new surgeon general and head of the Centers for Diseases and Control and Prevention, vigorously support a revamped testing strategy focused on such screening. This week, the White House said it enlisted six manufacturers to mass produce the tests, with the goal of providing 60 million by the end of the summer.

Biden’s team has been in discussions with the nonprofit Rockefeller Foundation, which has outlined a plan to use 300 million tests per month to return most U.S. students to the classroom beginning in March.

The initial results from a new pilot study in six city school systems give an early glimpse of the potential opportunity and pitfalls.

Weekly screening of teachers, students and staff appeared to reduce infections by 50%, according to the study commissioned by the foundation, which is coordinating the effort. That’s a bigger impact than requiring students and teachers to wear masks when not eating but less effective than enforcing social distancing, the study found.

It also flagged major logistical challenges, including schools that faced difficulty providing the staff, technical expertise and community outreach needed to roll out their testing programs.

“People are doing it and it’s possible, but it’s not easy,” said Andrew Sweet, a managing director with the foundation.

Food Blogger USA

Rare case of Denmark variant identified in North Carolina

Here you can find up-to-the-minute information on the coronavirus in the Piedmont Triad, North Carolina and the surrounding region. © WBAL vaccine Click the video player above for the latest information from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. Sign up for our Newsletters Live Updates: © Provided by WXII 12 Greensboro-Winston-Salem There are 4,674 new cases, […]



Here you can find up-to-the-minute information on the coronavirus in the Piedmont Triad, North Carolina and the surrounding region.

a bottle of water: vaccine


Click the video player above for the latest information from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

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Live Updates:

text: There are 4,674 new cases, 2,378 people are in the hospital, 9,983 people have died, and the daily percent positive is at 7.4%.

© Provided by WXII 12 Greensboro-Winston-Salem
There are 4,674 new cases, 2,378 people are in the hospital, 9,983 people have died, and the daily percent positive is at 7.4%.

12:45 p.m. Monday: As COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina near 10,000, new cases and the number of those in hospitals across the state continue to decline.

table: Coronavirus variant cases in states MAKO Medical conducts tests

© MAKO Medical
Coronavirus variant cases in states MAKO Medical conducts tests

9 a.m. Monday: Thomasville Community Schools reopened to students Monday morning for alternating A/B groups.

Group A will attend classes Mondays and Thursdays. Group B will learn in-person Tuesday and Thursdays.

Fridays will be remote learning for all students.

12:45 p.m. Sunday: North Carolina reported 57 deaths and the lowest percent positive rate, 7.4%, that has been seen in more than a month Sunday.

3:10 p.m. Saturday: There’s a misconception when it comes to suicide that the winter months foster higher numbers of people in crisis. Charlotte-native and suicide prevention instructor Fonda Bryant argues that it’s an everyday health crisis.

text: COVID-19

© Provided by WXII 12 Greensboro-Winston-Salem

“Mental health isn’t one size fits all,” Bryant said. “People think it’s just on an individual, case-by-case basis. But people are dying every day. It’s a huge problem.”

Bryant had just started teaching QPR Suicide Prevention Training courses (QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer), with only a couple of in-person lessons under her belt, when the pandemic forced everyone to go virtual. She quickly transitioned to running training classes online and realized the internet gave her the opportunity to reach more people.

Click the link below to read more.

12 p.m. Saturday: NCDHHS added new demographic data for coronavirus vaccinations per county on the vaccination page of its dashboard.

Data is now available for the first dose as well as the first and second dose of the vaccine for race, ethnicity, gender and age group. This data does not include information administered through the federal long-term care facilities program.

“North Carolina continues to lead the country on data transparency with a focus on race and ethnicity data,” said NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. “More importantly, we use this critical data to drive our vaccine operations work to ensure equity across our state.”

North Carolina was one of the first states to release statewide race and ethnicity data for the vaccines.

11:30 a.m. Saturday: A coronavirus test facility identified a rare case of a Denmark “cluster five” variant in North Carolina Saturday.

Scientists are still determining more about this variation. “Preliminary findings suggested that there was a lower capability of antibodies to neutralize the Cluster 5 strain, which requires further investigation,” according to the World Health Organization.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the U.K. variant, is the most widespread variant with 611 known cases in the country as of Feb. 4. MAKO Medical identified five total cases in North Carolina.

The CDC does not have the Denmark variant on its variant tracking chart at this time.

“As we continue our sequencing of indicated samples, we have found a continued rise in variant occurrences,” said Steve Hoover, vice president of laboratory operations at MAKO Medical. “Over the past week, indicated samples are now returning positive variant cases at a fifty-percent rate, up from a twenty-five percent rate last week. The information we are collecting is shared directly with state health officials to assist in understanding the presence of the variants in communities across the country.”


READ THE FULL STORY:LIVE BLOG: Rare case of Denmark variant identified in North Carolina

CHECK OUT WXII:Get the latest Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem news of the day. Catch the top stories, sports and weather from the team at WXII12.

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Food Blogger USA

How a four-ingredient recipe went from Finnish blog post to viral sensation on TikTok and beyond



Have you heard of pancake cereal? Greek yoghurt bagels? Vodka pasta sauce?

If the answer is no, it’s probably because you’re not on TikTok.

The recipes for all of these have recently gone viral on the video sharing platform, drumming up millions of millennial views and lining millions of millennial stomachs, but gathering little traction elsewhere.

This baked feta pasta dish has had two viral lives.


This baked feta pasta dish has had two viral lives.

But the latest viral TikTok recipe is different. After amassing tens of millions of views on TikTok, it’s expanded its fan base to Gen X-ers and beyond; a search on that most boomer of social media platforms, Facebook, yields dozens of hits.

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So what is this recipe so delicious it’s bringing generations together?

Why, it’s a baked feta pasta. You might even have heard of it.

The origins of this simple recipe – it requires just four ingredients, one of which is dry pasta – appear to lie with a post from Finnish blogger Jenni Hayrinen, who posted the recipe for a dish called “uunifetapasta” just over two years ago.

Pancake cereal is huge on TikTok but little-known elsewhere.


Pancake cereal is huge on TikTok but little-known elsewhere.

According to Hayrinen, sales for feta cheese shot up by 300 per cent in Finland after she posted the recipe. The blog post, she said in September last year, had over 2.7 million views.

“Finland has 5.5 million inhabitants, to put things in perspective,” she added.

Hayrinen posted the recipe in Finnish, which limited her reach somewhat, but she credits its global spread to American food influencer MacKenzie Smith (grilledcheesesocial on Instagram and Tik Tok), who was alerted to uunifetapasta by a friend who was dating a Finnish chef.

How popular is it online?

On January 29, Smith shared the recipe on TikTok, where it was quickly picked up by other influential accounts like feelgoodfoodie, who shared it with her 900,000 followers on January 31.

Her video has been viewed 7.8 million times, and all up, posts tagged #bakedfetapasta have been played more than 48 million times on TikTok.

While those numbers might sound avocado-smashingly high to the non-TikTokkers among us, they’re actually only medium beans for viral recipes; #pancakecereal has well over a billion views.

Why is it so popular?

What’s interesting about baked feta pasta is that it’s made the leap from TikTok’s largely millennial user base all the way to Facebook’s decidedly older one.

There’s a section of the social media venn diagram that uses both Facebook and TikTok, and it’s populated with those who don’t find the idea of a pancake cereal appetising (that recipe appears to be entirely absent from Facebook, despite its TikTok domination) but who love anything that involves an abundance of cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.

Thanks to them, baked feta pasta has been picked up in the last week or so by Facebook pages like Cookist Wow, with over 19 million followers, and has found a second viral life on a second platform.

But what is it?

Like any virus, the dish has mutated as it’s spread and there are low-carb, vegan, keto, and gluten-free versions out there, but in essence little of this Finnish recipe has been lost in translation: You throw a couple of punnets of cherry tomatoes into a dish along with a couple of whole cloves of garlic and a block of feta. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil, and bake it for half an hour or so, until the feta is brown and the tomatoes have burst. Then squeeze your garlic out of its skin, add some fresh basil and toss the whole thing with cooked pasta. Voila.

Of course, we all know that as soon as the oldies like something it immediately stops being cool, so #bakedfetapasta might be coming to the end of its run.

But look out for it on your Nana’s dinner table.

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Food Blogger USA

Can Biden Save Canada-U.S. Agri-Food Trade



Although international trade has long been affected by domestic politics, former U.S. president Donald Trump dramatically increased trade irritants between the United States and Canada. This was especially challenging in the agricultural sector where political interference in international trade is more prevalent than in the non-agricultural sector.

In our recent article in the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, we analyzed how Trump’s presidency affected agri-food trade between the two countries and how the situation might change under President Joe Biden.

We argue that Trump’s negative rhetoric and actions heightened trade uncertainty and undermined global trading rules, which tends to disrupt international trade. This was a major challenge for a small open economy like Canada that depends largely on the American market. In particular, the politically sensitive nature of the agri-food sector makes agricultural trade highly dependent on diplomatic ties between countries.

Canada more reliant on the U.S.

Canada’s relationship with the U.S. is important for the agri-food sector in both countries, but it’s somewhat one-sided in terms of Canadian reliance on the American market.

Canada is the top destination for American agricultural exports, accounting for 15 per cent of the country’s total agricultural exports in 2019. Conversely, the U.S. is the foremost buyer of Canadian agri-food products, accounting for 58 per cent of total Canadian agri-food exports. This isn’t surprising due to the countries’ close proximity and similar consumer tastes and values.

But the Canada-U.S. political relationship became hostile during the Trump presidency due to the former president’s erratic foreign policy decisions, tariff wars and his verbal attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The tense political relationship created an environment of uncertainty, adversely affecting the bilateral trading relationship.

Major trade disputes between the two countries at both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and within the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have largely involved the agricultural sector. WTO trade disputes over softwood lumber, hard wheat and durum and the compulsory country-of-origin labelling requirements, for example, were all within the agricultural sector.

The long-standing softwood lumber dispute predates Trump, but was escalated during his presidency and could not be sorted out under NAFTA and WTO dispute settlement mechanisms. It was resolved only through political negotiations when both parties signed a memorandum of understanding.

Canada diversifying?

The graph below shows that although bilateral agri-food exports from Canada to the U.S. increased marginally from 2015 and 2019, Canadian agri-food imports from the U.S. remained flat.

Agri-food imports and exports. Author provided

The increasing number of agri-food imports to Canada from nations other than the U.S., and the flat-lining of imports from south of the border, shows the Canadian economy may be diversifying away from the U.S. and not relying solely on Americans to be the main suppliers of its food basket.

Continuing trade uncertainty with the U.S. could push Canada to pursue its market diversification agenda more aggressively. Canada has shown serious signs of market diversification through its membership in two major free-trade agreements — the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union and the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with Pacific Rim countries.


Biden’s presidency

In his inaugural speech, Biden promised to immediately work to repair and renew relationships with U.S. allies and return America to a leadership role in the world. His first call to a foreign leader was made to Trudeau, and he assured the prime minister that “Buy American” policies weren’t aimed at Canada.

Biden is facing significant domestic political challenges, and it’s too soon to know how he’ll deal with trade irritants and address the harm done by the Trump administration. But it’s clear he’s intent on returning to multilateralism.

The American dissatisfaction with the World Trade Organization (WTO) predates Trump and runs deep in the U.S. Barack Obama’s administration also blocked appointments to the appellate body based on this dissatisfaction. However, Biden has been clear about supporting a strong multilateral trading system and isn’t expected to be obstructionist like the Trump administration, but instead will likely work with allies to address concerns with the WTO.

When it comes to trade deals, Biden has acknowledged the importance of deals like the CPTPP that Trump pulled out of on his third day in office. But he’s also promised to protect American workers.

Protectionist forces

Protectionist forces will continue to disrupt trade between the two countries, but we can expect a closer and more constructive relationship under Biden. Trade disputes won’t disappear, but the approach to them will change, and improved U.S.-Canada diplomatic relations will have a positive impact on Canada’s agri-food sector.

Canada’s prime minister and Biden are much closer in terms of ideology, policy objectives and leadership style than Trump and Trudeau were, and they share views on eliminating trade barriers instead of imposing them.

The past four years of trade tensions between the U.S. and Canada were largely politically motivated, especially Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs in the name of national security, which Canada responded to by imposing retaliatory tariffs on a number of agri-food products from the United States.

Such unilateral decisions will probably be minimal under Biden. Bilateral trade flows between both countries are unlikely to be affected by the types of erratic trade actions favoured by Trump.

Closer political ties between the Biden administration and the Canadian prime minister means a more constructive and co-operative approach to solving challenges between the two countries in the agri-food sector. Trade disputes will undoubtedly continue, but diplomatic efforts will work to resolve these disputes. This is a positive development for the Canadian agri-food industry.

The Conversation

Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor, Assistant Professor, Agri-Food Trade and Policy, University of Guelph and Eugene Beaulieu, Professor, Economics, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

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