Americans exercised less and drank more during COVID pandemic: Study

Americans drank more, smoked more, exercised less and spent more time in front of a computer or television compared to pre-pandemic levels, a study led by UCLA researchers found.

Across those surveyed, research found that alcohol consumption increased by 23% and cigarette smoking by 9%, respectively. Smoking, especially, could have adverse effects on those who contract COVID-19: Current and former smokers are 2.4 times more likely to need intensive care unit support or die from the disease, compared with non-smokers, the study showed.

Exercise decreased by almost a third and screen time increased 60%, the researchers found. Other countries such as Canada, Italy, Brazil and Poland have observed similar behaviors during the pandemic.

Dr. Liwei Chen, lead author of the study and UCLA epidemiology professor, said restrictions on non-essential activities and stay-at-home orders have negatively impacted some behaviors in American adults – especially in minorities.

“As bad as these changes have been for all Americans, they disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S., who already bear a higher disease burden from COVID-19,” she said.

Also in the news:

►About 90,000 Americans likely died from June through September for failure to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

►A California judge partially blocked an order taking effect Friday that requires state prison employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The temporary restraining order prevents enforcement of the order for unionized guards, while other workers at prisons that have health care facilities will have to be vaccinated.

►More than 100 performing arts centers, cruise lines and other businesses, along with some public officials throughout Florida are being investigated by the Department of Health for possible violation of a state law prohibiting the use of a COVID-19 vaccine passport or other mandates.

►New Hampshire’s Executive Council on Wednesday rejected $27 million in federal funds for vaccination outreach. The money would have allowed the state to hire a public health manager and a dozen workers to promote COVID-19 vaccines and address concerns about it.

►The Archbishop for the Military Services said Catholic U.S. service members who object to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine based on their conscience should not be punished.

► About 800 San Francisco city workers have asked for medical or religious exemptions to avoid a looming deadline for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or lose their jobs. So far, the city has not approved a single request.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 44.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 719,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 239.2 million cases and 4.8 million deaths. More than 187 million Americans – 56% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Parents have already been weathering a shortage of child care providers – the workforce is down about 10% from pre-pandemic levels. Vaccine mandates could make it that much harder for day cares to hire otherwise qualified staff.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Hospitals weigh COVID vaccine mandates for patients in need of lifesaving organ transplants

After a recent uproar over a hospital requiring a Colorado woman to get a coronavirus vaccine before being considered for an organ transplant, several high-profile health systems are also considering rules to add COVID-19 vaccines to the required list of immunizations.

Hospitals that transplant hearts, livers, lungs or other organs have strict requirements and prioritize patients based on a range of factors, including medical need, suitability and likelihood of success.

“Organs are a scarce resource,” said Deepali Kumar, president-elect of the American Society of Transplantation. “We have a duty to make sure that gift is protected.”

There are two main reasons transplant doctors recommend patients get a COVID-19 vaccine before they received a transplant: Studies have shown people with an organ transplant are more likely to die if they contract COVID-19 compared to the general population. And vaccines are less effective in post-transplant patients who must take anti-rejection medications.

“It’s just adding to a list of prudent and required vaccines to prevent the death of an immunosuppressed person after transplant,” said Dr. Art Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

– Ken Alltucker

Study finds Pfizer or Moderna boosters may be best for J&J COVID vaccine

The best booster for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may be either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, according to a National Institutes of Health study posted Wednesday.

“The Mix and Match was a big study people were waiting for, it gave a lot of new data, and there hadn’t been any about Johnson & Johnson with an mRNA booster before,” said Dr. Eric Topol, vice president for research at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, and a national expert on the use of data in medical research.

The study, which included nearly 500 people, found that the J&J shot followed by one of the mRNA vaccines as a booster produced a stronger immune response than two doses of J&J. For people who got either the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose series, a booster dose of either mRNA vaccine was effective.

The new study came just a day before a crucial Food and Drug Administration advisory committee begins to meet to discuss possible booster doses of the Moderna and J&J vaccines. Pfizer boosters were approved on Sept. 24.

– Elizabeth way

World Health Organization: Global cases decline 7% in last week

The World Health Organization says the number of global coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a downward trend that began in late August.

In its latest weekly assessment of the pandemic published on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency says there were about 2.8 million new cases and 46,000 confirmed deaths in the last week, a drop of 7% and 10% respectively. Europe reported a 7% rise in cases, while all other world regions reported a decrease.

WHO says Europe also had the biggest rise in deaths in the previous week, with 11% more COVID-19 deaths. WHO says the highest numbers of new cases in Europe were reported in Britain, Turkey and Russia.

Border residents rejoice as US says it will lift travel ban

Beleaguered business owners and families separated by COVID-19 restrictions rejoiced Wednesday after the U.S. said it will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze.

Travel across land borders from Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to workers whose jobs are deemed essential. New rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason starting in early November.

Shopping malls and big box retailers in U.S. border towns such as San Diego, Calif., Nogales, Ariz., and Del Rio, Texas, whose parking spaces had been filled by cars with Mexican license plates were hit hard by travel restrictions.

In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau in the city of 35,000 people.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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