Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — May 11, 2022

“Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

536.   Remote learning during the pandemic has reduced learning by 5-10 year-olds.

         QAre there studies that show the difference between learning remotely and in-person classes?

         A:  At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, 2020, schools everywhere closed.  Remote learning became the national policy.  Some months later, many areas of the country resumed in-person classes.  In many other areas, classes remained online for months.  This created a huge experiment, testing how well remote learning worked.

The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University released a study called the Consequences of Remote and Hybrid Instruction during the Pandemic.  The study examined student scores in the standardized Measure of Academic Progress test, which measures reading and math capabilities and is given in grades K through 5th grade.

Students who stayed home for most of 2020-21 fared much worse than those who returned to in-person classes. On average, they lost the equivalent of about 50 percent of a typical school year’s math learning during the study’s two-year window.

The findings are consistent with other studies. “It’s pretty clear that remote school was not good for learning,” said Emily Oster, a Brown University economist and co-author of another related study.

One of the most alarming findings is that school closures widened both economic and racial inequality in learning.  Pre-pandemic, math, and reading skills improved, especially for Black and Latino students.  The Covid closures have reversed much of that progress.  Low-income students, as well as Black and Latino students, fell further behind than students who are high-income, white, or Asian. “This will probably be the largest increase in educational inequity in a generation,” stated Thomas Kane, an author of the Harvard study.

There are two main reasons. First, schools with large numbers of poor students were more likely to go remote.  Second, low-income students tended to fare even worse when schools went remote. They may not have had reliable internet access, a quiet room in which to work, or a parent who could take time off from work to help solve problems.

537.  A major research effort is launched to study long Covid.

         Q:  What causes long Covid?

         A:  It is well-known that what we don’t understand enhances fear.  Since the pandemic began, we have all learned there are long-term consequences that sometimes occur after a patient recovers from the acute phase of Covid-19. This phenomenon appears in so many different ways, lasts from weeks to longer than a year, and is so unpredictable in its outcomes that the resulting fear of its consequences demands answers.  The answer – many answers – are the goal of a new initiative being undertaken with the start of a major research project called “Researching Covid to Enhance Recovery” (RECOVER). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) received funding from the American Rescue Plan to create this project, and the parent award of $470 million has been given to New York University (NYU) Langone Health based in New York City.  Multiple sub-awards to more than 100 researchers at more than 30 institutions will be made.  This major new award to NYU Langone supports extensive studies of Covid-19 survivors.

NIH launched RECOVER to learn why some people have prolonged symptoms or develop new or returning symptoms after the acute phase of the infection The most common symptoms include pain, headaches, fatigue, “brain fog,” shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, fever, chronic cough, and sleep problems.  “We know some people have had their lives completely upended by the major long-term effects of Covid-19,” said Francis Collins, MD, NIH Director, when announcing the award. “These studies will aim to determine the cause and find much-needed answers to prevent this often-debilitating condition and help those who suffer move toward recovery.”

538.   The FDA limits the use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

         Q:  What is happening to the J & J authorization for its vaccine? 

         A:  On May 5, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration limited the authorized use of the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine to individuals 18 years of age and older for whom other authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or clinically appropriate and to individuals 18 years of age and older who elect to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because they would otherwise not receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  The FDA has determined the risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a syndrome of rare but potentially life-threatening blood clots.  This in combination with low levels of blood platelets with the onset of symptoms after about two weeks following administration of J&J vaccine, warrants limiting the authorized use of the vaccine.

The FDA and CDC have identified 60 confirmed cases, including nine fatalities. The FDA has determined that the reporting rate of TTS is 3.23 per million doses of vaccine administered and the reporting rate of TTS deaths is 0.48 per million doses of vaccine administered.  Examples of individuals who may still receive the J & J Covid-19 vaccine include:  individuals who experienced an anaphylactic reaction after receipt of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, individuals who have personal concerns with receiving mRNA vaccines and would otherwise not receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and individuals who would remain unvaccinated for COVID-19 due to limited access to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

539.  New York City is in a higher CDC category of infection but is not taking action.

         Q: Does the government have to follow CDC guidelines?

         A:  New York City entered a higher risk level for the coronavirus on Monday, May 2, 2022, a troubling reminder that the pandemic is not over and that the virus still has the power to harm.  The city moved into the medium, or yellow, risk category as cases continued their steady rise, a development that could trigger the return of public health restrictions, although they are not required to be reinstated at this point.  The new CDC guidelines recommend individual, not governmental actions.  Case levels in New York and around the country are probably much higher than the official statistics because many residents are testing at home, and positive at-home tests are not typically included in official tallies.

State health officials recently announced a troubling new development: two new versions of the subvariant — BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, which appear to spread more rapidly than BA.2 — seem to be behind steep case increases in upstate New York, where more than 30 counties, including those that contain Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Binghamton, have already entered the high community transmission level, according to the CDC.

Dr. Jay Varma, the director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response, said that he was skeptical about the utility of the alert level, because changes to it do not trigger actual policy shifts, and because it doesn’t take into account the rate at which things are worsening.

540.  New subvariants BA-4 and BA-5 are identified in South Africa.

         Q:  Are we seeing an end to mutations of Covid-19?

         A:  No.  Coronavirus cases are surging again in South Africa, and public health experts are monitoring the situation.  South Africa experienced a decline in cases after hitting an Omicron-fueled, pandemic peak in December. But health officials have said in the past week, cases have tripled, positivity rates are up and hospitalizations have also increased.  The surge has the country facing a possible fifth wave.  The spike is linked to BA.4 And BA.5, two new subvariants that are part of the Omicron variant.  Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, said that BA.4 and BA.5 demonstrate how the virus is evolving differently as global immunity increases.

“What we are seeing now, or at least maybe the first signs, is not completely new variants emerging, but current variants are starting to create lineages of themselves,” Dr. de Oliveira said. Since its initial identification in South Africa and Botswana last November, Omicron has produced several subvariants.  Some scientists are trying to understand how the BA.4 and BA.5 are affected by the immunity from previous Covid 19 infections in South Africa.