Health Highlights: June 15, 2021

COVID-19 Likely in U.S. by December 2019: Study

It's likely that COVID-19 was in the United States by December 2019, weeks before the first documented cases in the country, according to a new study that adds to previous similar findings.

The latest results are from an analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year and were published online June 15 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the Associated Press reported.

While some experts have doubts, U.S health officials increasingly believe that small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world became aware of the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China in late 2019.

The first official case of COVID-19 in the U.S. occurred in a Washington state man who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15 and sought care at a clinic on Jan. 19, the AP reported.

"The studies are pretty consistent," said Natalie Thornburg, principal investigator of the respiratory virus immunology team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There was probably very rare and sporadic cases here earlier than we were aware of. But it was not widespread and didn't become widespread until late February," said Thornburg, the AP reported.


Christiane Amanpour Reveals Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

After revealing that she's been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, CNN's chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour urged women to learn about and get regular cancer screenings.

"I've had successful major surgery to remove it, and I'm now undergoing several months of chemotherapy for the very best possible long-term prognosis, and I'm confident," she said Monday at the beginning of her daily television program, CNN reported.

Amanpour, 63, has been off work for the past four weeks due to her condition. As she undergoes chemotherapy, she expects to anchor Mondays through Wednesdays. She also has three weeks of previously booked time off that starts at the end of June.

Amanpour noted that ovarian cancer is all too common, affecting "millions of women around the world."

She said she revealed her diagnosis "in the interest of transparency but in truth really mostly as a shoutout to early diagnosis," and wanted to "urge women to educate themselves on this disease; to get all the regular screenings and scans that you can; to always listen to your bodies; and of course to ensure that your legitimate medical concerns are not dismissed or diminished."

Amanpour is based in London, and said she feels "fortunate to have health insurance through work and incredible doctors who are treating me in a country underpinned by, of course, the brilliant NHS [National Health Service]," CNN reported.

CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker wished Amanpour a full recovery.

"I want to applaud Christiane Amanpour for her candor, bravery and always working towards the greater good," he said in a statement. "As a cancer survivor, I too encourage people to listen to their bodies and get all early cancer screenings available to them."

    Some of Amanpour's counterparts also offered well-wishes on Monday.

    "Thank you for being open" about the diagnosis, NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent and anchor Andrea Mitchell wrote to Amanpour on Twitter. "It is so important and typical of how strong and brave you've always been. Courage and honesty is your trademark. You will beat this too."


    California Lifts Most COVID-19 Restrictions

    Most of California's COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on Tuesday and the nation's most populous state is "poised to come roaring back," according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

    State social distancing rules and capacity limits at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums and other locations have been rolled back, and masks will no longer be required for vaccinated people in most settings, the Associated Press reported.

    However, businesses and counties can still require them.

    In March 2020, California became the first in the United States to impose a statewide shutdown. More people tested positive for the virus (3.8 million to date) and more people died (more than 63,000) in California than anywhere else in the country, but it had a lower per capita death rate than most others, the AP reported.

    California now has one of the lowest infection rates (below 1%) in the U.S.

    That low rate and a rising number of vaccinated residents -- over 70% of adults have had at least one shot -- led Newsom to announce in April that most pandemic restrictions would be lifted June 15, the AP reported.

    However, the governor has repeatedly said the reopening doesn't mean the pandemic is over, and some public health measures will still be in place for "mega events."

    For example, people who go to indoor concerts, sporting events or other large gatherings for more than 5,000 people will have to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, and those who go to outdoor events with more than 10,000 people are "strongly encouraged" to do the same, the AP reported.


    No Masks Required for Fully Vaccinated Visitors to Disney World

    Lovers of Mickey Mouse, rejoice: Starting Tuesday, face masks will be optional for visitors to Walt Disney World in Florida who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

    Face masks will still be required indoors and on all attractions for visitors who aren't fully vaccinated, as well as children under age 12. Vaccines aren't yet available for that age group.

    All visitors, fully vaccinated or not, will still have to wear face coverings on buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner, the resort's aerial gondola, CBS News reported.

    Last month, the theme park started allowing visitors to go mask-free outdoors. An easing of physical distancing guidelines is expected in the near future, park officials said.

    Disney World closed for two months last year at the start of the outbreak and reopened last summer with strict safety guidelines that involved masking, social distancing and crowd limits.

    "It's important to remember that some experiences and entertainment may still be operating with limited capacity or may remain temporarily unavailable," the company said on its website. "We're not quite ready to bring back everything yet, but we are optimistic and look forward to the day when Disney pals and princesses are able to hug once again."


    U.S. Issues Temporary Ban on Dogs From Countries With High Rabies Risk

    The United States has suspended imports of dogs from more than 100 countries where there's a high rabies risk.

    A number of factors influenced the decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including the COVID-19 pandemic, too few facilities to quarantine dogs safely and three recent incidents where rabies-infected dogs were brought into the country, CNN reported.

    "This suspension applies to all dogs, including puppies, emotional support dogs, and dogs that traveled out of the United States and are returning from a high-risk country," the CDC said in a statement.

    The agency said dog rescue missions, imports from dog breeders and people bringing in pets will be affected by the decision, CNN reported.

    "If these dogs coming from high-risk countries haven't been properly vaccinated, there is a risk they could bring it into the country," Dr. Emily Pieracci, a veterinary medical officer in CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told CNN.

    "I think it is important to stress that this is a temporary suspension. We recognize that this is not the long-term solution," she said, with the initial suspension likely to be 12 months.

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