Coronavirus weekly need-to-know: Vaccine failure, outdoor masks, flushing toilets & more

Katie Camero
·5 min read

Each week, we offer you a round-up of our noteworthy coronavirus coverage.

More than 31.9 million people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday morning, April 23, according to Johns Hopkins University. That includes more than 570,000 people who have died nationwide.

Globally, there have been more than 144 million confirmed cases of the highly infectious virus, with more than 3 million reported deaths.

More than 89.2 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of April 22 — about 27% of the total population, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker shows.

Here’s what happened between April 16 to April 22.

COVID-19 ‘vaccine failure’ in immunocompromised people

The CDC says it hasn’t found any “unexpected patterns” tied to patient demographics or specific vaccines among the reported breakthrough infections in the U.S., which includes those that occur two weeks or more after completing COVID-19 vaccination.

But emerging evidence suggests those who are immunocompromised may face greater risks of coronavirus infection after complete vaccination than those without weakened immune systems.

That’s because studies have found this population, including people with AIDS, cancer and organ transplants, may not respond to vaccines as healthy adults do. Experts call the phenomenon “vaccine failure” or those who experience it, “vaccine non-responders.”

Here’s everything we know about vaccine failure in people with weakened immune systems so far.

COVID ‘vaccine failure’ may be more likely if you have a weakened immune system. Why?

Do you still need to wear your face mask outdoors?

Masks have been recommended in public for more than a year now, and while some states have lifted mask mandates, several still require masks to be worn outside when social distancing isn’t possible.

Medical experts have said there’s a lower chance of COVID-19 transmission outside than inside since viral particles disperse more quickly when not in an enclosed location. But the need for masks outside depends on several factors.

Continue reading to learn more.

Do you still need to wear your face mask outdoors? Here’s what experts are saying

COVID-19 long-haulers at higher risk of developing fatal illnesses months later

A massive study involving more than 87,000 COVID-19 patients found that recovered patients face about a 60% increased risk of death from long-term complications of the disease in the six months after initial infection compared to people who’ve never tested positive. Some of the fatal illnesses brought on by the disease include heart failure, stroke and chronic kidney disease.

What’s more, the health risks from overcoming COVID-19 increased the more severe a person’s case was, with hospitalized patients who required intensive care at the highest risk of long-COVID-19 complications and death.

Here’s what else the study found.

COVID long-haulers at higher risk of developing fatal illnesses months later, study says

Paid time off for COVID-19 vaccinations encouraged under Biden tax credit

President Joe Biden called for tax credits for some businesses that would give workers paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The credits are part of an effort to get more people vaccinated against the coronavirus. The paid leave tax credit will apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

What to know.

Paid time off for COVID vaccinations encouraged under Biden tax credit. What to know

Fauci estimates when we will know if booster COVID-19 shots are needed

Dr. Anthony Fauci says we’ll likely know by this fall whether booster COVID-19 vaccines will be necessary, though the need depends on “correlate immunity” against the coronavirus.

Fauci’s comments come as drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have indicated a third dose of their vaccines — both of which currently require two doses for maximum effectiveness — could be necessary.

When will we know if booster COVID shots are needed? Fauci estimates a timeline

Can flushing toilets spread COVID-19 in the air?

Research on viruses past and some on the novel coronavirus has shown that toilets can generate microscopic aerosols with each flush — a somewhat nauseating fact when recalling visits to public restrooms.

Now, a new study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University shows that “up to tens of thousands” of droplets can be thrown up to 5 feet in the air and linger for 20 seconds or longer during each flush plume. These numbers dropped when researchers closed the toilet lid, “although not by much,” suggesting aerosolized droplets that may contain viruses can escape through gaps between the cover and seat.

Because the coronavirus has been found in urine and feces samples from infected people, the team of engineers suggests public restrooms could be a “hotbed for airborne disease transmission, especially if they do not have adequate ventilation” or toilet lids.

Flushing toilets can launch poopy droplets, but do they spread COVID? Study adds data

Are dogs really that good at sniffing out COVID-19?

Canine presence is already normal at airports where dogs search for weapons, explosives, drugs or other dangerous materials. But they have been gradually making appearances at large events to sniff out COVID-19 following research that revealed their powerful noses could detect if a person was carrying the virus.

But just how accurate are they? A new “proof-of-concept investigation” by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania adds more evidence to the pile.

In its study, nine dogs were able to identify positive coronavirus samples with 96% accuracy on average after three weeks of training.

Read on to learn more dogs’ ability to sniff out COVID-19.

Are dogs really that good at sniffing out COVID? Another study leaves no doubt

Otters test positive for COVID-19 at Georgia Aquarium

Otters at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta have tested positive for the coronavirus after they began experiencing “mild respiratory symptoms,” including coughs, runny noses, sneezing and “mild lethargy.”

The otters were taken out of their exhibit, and experts are caring for them “behind the scenes.”

The CDC says there is no evidence that animals play a “significant role” in spreading the virus to people but that “it appears” the virus can spread from humans to animals in some cases, especially when in close contact.

Otters with runny noses and coughs test positive for COVID-19 at Georgia Aquarium