Compiled by veteran medical journalist Brian Owens, this roundup of some of the newest science on the COVID-19 pandemic, straight from the scientific journals, is presented by Hakai Magazine in partnership with The Tyee.
How to deal with Zoom fatigue
The feeling of mental exhaustion that follows a long video conference call is due to an overload of the nonverbal aspects of communication, suggests a new study. Four aspects in particular contribute to this overload: the amount of perceived eye contact is intense, even when you are not the speaker; constantly seeing yourself in real time is fatiguing; your mobility is reduced; and you have to work harder to send and interpret nonverbal cues in the context of a video call.
To help reduce the mental load, the study suggests reducing the size of the video window, turning off “self-view,” and occasionally turning off your camera to look away from the screen or move around the room and give yourself a break from having to interpret gestures and facial expressions.
Overcoming vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous peoples
Indigenous people in Canada are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, but a history of racially-segregated health care and medical experimentation means that many are hesitant or even outright opposed to getting vaccinated. To help overcome this hesitancy, a new study suggests that doctors and other health-care workers need to educate themselves about this history and the nature of vaccine hesitancy before going into communities to administer vaccines.
Public health messaging about the risks of COVID-19 infection and the benefits of receiving a vaccine must also speak to Indigenous peoples’ historical and contemporary experiences with Canadian colonialism, the study says.
Indigenous Elders, leaders, and health practitioners who have trust and credibility in their communities should deliver the information. In addition, when health practitioners converse with patients about health and wellness, they should include the effects on families, communities, the land, and future generations in that conversation.
Good news from first real world results on vaccine effectiveness
The first results from a study of how the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine performs in the real world have arrived, and the news is promising.
A study of the vaccine rollout in Israel found that in fully vaccinated individuals (those who had received both doses), the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 decreased by 94 per cent compared with unvaccinated people, while the risk of severe disease decreased by 92 per cent. After one dose the effectiveness was lower but still substantial — the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 decreased by 57 per cent, and the risk of severe disease by 62 per cent. A substantial reduction in mortality was also seen after one dose. The effectiveness was consistent across all age groups.
Immune memory lasts a long time, but can’t recognize some variants
The antibody-producing B cells that serve as your immune system’s memory stick around for a long time after infection with SARS-CoV-2, according to a new study that followed several patients for up to five months. The finding suggests that immunity to COVID-19 will be long-lasting. But the study also found that the antibodies produced by these cells could not recogize some of the emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as those that emerged in Brazil and South Africa.
Speaking normally can spread the virus
Most studies of how COVID-19 spreads through the air have focused on how coughing or sneezing can send small virus-containing aerosol droplets long distances through the air. But a new study has found that simply speaking normally could spread the virus in many common customer service and health care situations, such as in hair salons, medical exam rooms, or long-term care facilities.
Researchers in Japan used smoke and laser light to study the flow of expelled breath near and around two people conversing in various postures commonly found in these situations. They found that expelled breath tended to drift down from one person standing over another, such as when cutting hair or doing a medical exam. Masks, combined with face shields, helped reduce the risk, the researchers found.
'Empathy calls' can help reduce mental stress during pandemic
Volunteers with a meals on wheels service in Texas experimented with using short phone calls focused on empathetic listening to help reduce feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety in people who use the service. Volunteers were given brief training in empathetic conversational techniques — mainly just asking specific questions about topics raised by participants — and called to check in with clients as often as once a day for four weeks. By the end, those who received calls reported better mental health than the control group who did not.
Rehab could help with COVID-19 recovery
Progressive exercise, and getting people mobile early, are two elements of rehabilitation programs that could help patients recover from severe cases of COVID-19.
Researchers reviewed evidence on whether rehabilitation benefited patients who were admitted to intensive care with other respiratory illnesses. They found that it could help people get back on their feet quickly — and that the findings would likely apply to those with COVID-19. They found that rehabilitation can give hope and confidence to patients, although approaches need to be tailored to each person.
Toronto bike lane expansion boosted access to work and play
As part of its efforts to make it easier for people to keep their distance from each other while getting outside, Toronto expanded its cycling network with 25 kilometres of temporary bike lanes — the city’s largest ever one-year expansion. A study of the network found that the additional bike infrastructure increased low-stress road access to jobs and food stores by between 10 and 20 per cent, while boosting access to parks by an average of 6.3 per cent. The impact of the new lanes was greatest where they were added to already existing networks, such as in the downtown core.