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WHO says measures used against delta should work for omicron

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WHO says measures used against delta should work for omicron

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Measures used to counter the delta variant should remain the foundation for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, even in the face of the new omicron version of the virus, World Health Organization officials said Friday, while acknowledging that the travel restrictions imposed by some countries may buy time.

While about three dozen countries worldwide have reported omicron infections, including India on Thursday, the numbers so far are small outside of South Africa, which is facing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and where the new variant may be becoming dominant. Still, much remains unclear about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, or whether it can evade vaccine protection.

“Border control can delay the virus coming in and buy time. But every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases,” Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, told reporters Friday during a virtual news conference from the Philippines. “The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response.”

That means continuing to push for higher vaccination rates, abiding by social-distancing guidelines, and wearing masks, among other measures, said WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure.

He added that health systems must “ensure we are treating the right patients in the right place at the right time, and so therefore ensuring that ICU beds are available, particularly for those who need them.”

Kasai warned: “We cannot be complacent.”

WHO has previously urged against border closures, noting they often have limited effect and can cause major disruptions. Officials in southern Africa, where the omicron variant was first identified, have decried restrictions on travelers from the region, saying they are being punished for alerting the world to the mutant strain.

Scientists are working furiously to learn more about omicron, which has been designated a variant of concern because of the number of mutations and because early information suggests it may be more transmissible than other variants, Kasai said.

A few countries in Western Pacific region are facing surges that began before omicron was identified, though COVID-19 cases and deaths in many others have decreased or plateaued, Kasai said. But that could change.

Among the places that have found the variant in the region are Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia — and it is likely to crop up in more places.

The emergence of omicron is of particular concern for organizers of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, now about two months away.

Beijing is adopting a series of measures to reduce the risk the virus will spread during the Games, Zhao Weidong, spokesperson for the organizing committee, told reporters at a briefing on Friday.

China has adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward COVID-19 transmission and has some of the world’s strictest border controls. Games participants will have to live and compete inside a bubble, and only spectators who are residents of China and have been vaccinated and tested will be permitted at venues.

Globally, cases have been increasing for seven consecutive weeks and the number of deaths has started to rise again, too, driven largely by the delta variant and decreased use of protective measures in other parts of the world, Kasai said.

“We should not be surprised to see more surges in the future. As long as transmission continues, the virus can continue to mutate, as the emergence of omicron demonstrates, reminding us of the need to stay vigilant,” Kasai said.

He warned especially about the likelihood of surges due to more gatherings and movement of people during the holiday season. The northern winter season will also likely bring other infectious respiratory diseases, such as the flu, alongside COVID-19.

“It is clear that this pandemic is far from over and I know that people are worried about omicron,” Kasai said. “But my message today is that we can adapt the way we manage this virus to better cope with the future surges and reduce their health, social and economic impacts.”

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The Chicago Bears interviewed Ryan Poles for their GM vacancy. Here’s what to know about the Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel.

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The Chicago Bears interviewed Ryan Poles for their GM vacancy. Here’s what to know about the Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel.

The Chicago Bears have reached out to at least 15 general manager candidates and 11 coaching candidates for interviews. As they go through the process, we’re looking at each of the prospective hires.

Ryan Poles interviewed for the GM opening Friday, the team announced.

Ryan Poles

Title: Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel

Age: 36

Experience

Poles has been with the Chiefs for nearly 13 years, working his way up from player personnel assistant to college scouting administrator and coordinator, director of college scouting, assistant director of player personnel and now executive director of player personnel this season. He was part of the Chiefs team that won Super Bowl LIV.

Poles was an offensive lineman at Boston College, where he was part of the line that protected quarterback Matt Ryan. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bears before working as a recruiting assistant for BC in 2008-09.

You should know

Poles also is interviewing with the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings this year and made it to the second round of Giants interviews. He was a finalist for the Carolina Panthers GM job last year.

Chicago connection

Poles’ time with the Chiefs has spanned multiple GMs and coaches. He was on the Chiefs staff when former Bears coach Matt Nagy was the quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator under coach Andy Reid.

What has been said

Poles spoke to his hometown paper two years ago about finding leadership among the players he scouts: “We see these guys on TV as athletes every week, but they’re around each other all the time, too. So the locker room has to be good. If you don’t have a strong locker room, if you don’t keep everyone on the same page and if you don’t have leaders to keep the focus forward, you’ll lose it.”

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The Chicago Bears interviewed Leslie Frazier for their head coaching vacancy. Here’s what to know about the Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator.

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The Chicago Bears interviewed Leslie Frazier for their head coaching vacancy. Here’s what to know about the Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator.

The Chicago Bears have reached out to at least 15 general manager and 11 coaching candidates for interviews. As they go through the process, we’re looking at each of the prospects.

Leslie Frazier interviewed for the head coaching position Friday, the team announced.

Leslie Frazier

Age: 62

Title: Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator

Experience

Frazier has been coaching in the NFL since 1999, including a stint as the Minnesota Vikings head coach which began on an interim basis for the final six games of the 2010 season. Frazier was then hired full-time and coached the Vikings for the next three seasons, posting a 21-32-1 record during that span. In the eight years since, he has spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills. He has been the Bills defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Sean McDermott since 2017.

You should know

Under Frazier’s watch, the Bills defense led the NFL in total yardage allowed during the regular season (272.8 per game). The Bills also tied for third with 30 takeaways, finishing in the top 10 of that category for the fifth consecutive season.

Chicago connection

Frazier entered the NFL with the Bears as an undrafted defensive back out of Alcorn State in 1981 and was an invaluable piece in the vaunted defense that coordinator Buddy Ryan built. During the Bears’ iconic 1985 season, Frazier recorded a team-high six interceptions and finished in the top 10 in the league in that category as the Bears recorded 61 takeaways and held opponents to 12.4 points per game. Frazier tore his ACL during a trick punt return in Super Bowl XX and never played again.

What’s been said: “Leslie is special. With his connection to the Bears and knowing that city, the organization and the mentality there, I don’t know how you couldn’t give him serious consideration. … Les knows how to galvanize people. He brings players together. And he has always had a good vision for how to get the most out of people.” — Hall of Fame coach and NBC analyst Tony Dungy

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US military medical team to help with COVID staffing at a St. Louis County hospital

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‘Winter Surge’ pushes St. Louis area pediatric numbers to highest levels in three months

CLAYTON, Mo. – A team of US military personnel will be deployed to the St. Louis region to help hospital staff deal with the record numbers of COVID patients. They are expected to be at Christian Hospital in north St. Louis County next week.

The U.S. Navy team is coming to the region after a request from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. On Thursday, Dr. Alex Garza, Task Force Leader, told FOX2 that it’s the first time hospitals here have needed to make the request, as hospitals not only see the most patients they’ve seen during the pandemic, but are losing staff to sick days brought on by their own COVID cases or those close to them.

Christian Hospital was selected by the Pandemic Task Force to receive federal assistance. A team of 44 health care professionals, including doctors and registered nurses, will begin arriving on January 26.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force submitted requests to support 11 facilities in the region. The United States Department of Health and Human Services indicated that could only deploy resources to only one local hospital. The hope is that by adding resources to North County other facilities will benefit as well. 

“This is a reflection of where we are in the pandemic. We’re seeing more patients now than we have ever seen before in the pandemic. Unfortunately, we have our workforce is either getting ill or having that second order effect from the virus… having to take care of family members, schools closing down, things like that. We’re typically very self-sufficient in health care, we don’t like to ask for help but I think we’re at that point where we need to ask for help,” Garza said Thursday.

A 17-member Health Care Task Force team is currently helping to support staff at Research Medical Center in Kansas City. They have been in place since January 7 and were granted an extension to continue providing care through February 4.

“This team will help support our dedicated local medical professionals who work hard each day to care for Missourians. The best way Missourians can help aid our hospitals and health care workers is by considering vaccination to protect themselves and their families,” states Governor Parson.

“As we made clear in our letter to Governor Parson more than two weeks ago, St. Louis needed him to step up and request federal assistance to help our region respond to the Omicron variant,” writes US Rep. Cori Bush.

The move comes roughly three weeks after Missouri Governor Mike Parson ended the state of emergency which had been in place since the beginning of the pandemic.

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