Health Highlights: Jan. 14, 2021

WHO Experts Finally Arrive in Wuhan for COVID Investigation

After a long wait for approval from the Chinese government, a World Health Organization team of experts arrived in the city of Wuhan on Thursday to try to pinpoint the origins of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The first known cases of the new coronavirus appeared in the city more than a year ago.

Scientists say it could take months or years to identify the source of the coronavirus, or it may never be known, CBS News reported.

The Chinese government has long been attempting push the blame for the pandemic onto other countries, promoting theories that the novel coronavirus may have emerged elsewhere.

According to CBS News, the WHO team includes 13 experts from 10 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and Vietnam.

When they arrived in Wuhan, they were taken to quarantine accommodations, where they’ll remain there for at least the next two weeks, current standard procedure for anyone traveling into China from abroad, CBS News reported.

The team will start work immediately to determine how Wuhan became the world’s first COVID-19 epicenter, the WHO said.

That includes interviewing people at area hospitals, and from the Southwest China Wholesale Seafood Market suspected of being where the virus jumped from animals into humans, CBS News reported.

China will “support and offer convenience for the WHO experts’ joint international investigation” in the country, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

“Chinese scientists and medical experts will engage in deep communications” with the team via video conferencing, according to Lijian.

New Coronavirus Strain Found in Ohio

Ohio State University researchers said they’ve identified a new, more infectious COVID variant in Columbus in recent weeks.

The new variant has three previously unseen mutations that “are likely to make the virus more infectious, making it easier for the virus to pass from person to person,” according to a university news release, CBS News reported.

There’s no evidence that coronavirus vaccines will be less effective against this Columbus variant, said study co-author Peter Mohler.

“At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use,” Mohler told CBS News.

Meanwhile, another more infectious variant that surfaced in the U.K. in recent months has now been detected in at least 12 states.

Negative COVID-19 Test to be Required For People Flying to U.S.

People flying to the United States will soon need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The order will take effect on Jan. 26 and expands on an existing one for passengers arriving from the United Kingdom, the Associated Press reported.

Air passengers will have to provide written proof of a negative COVID-19 test they had within three days of their flight. Passengers without proof of a negative test will not be allowed to board flights to America.

The new order, which applies to both foreign travelers and U.S. citizens, is an attempt to prevent travelers from bringing in new variants of the novel coronavirus that are more infectious, the AP reported.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement. “But when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

The CDC order is “a reasonable approach” to reducing the risk of new variants from abroad entering the United States, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told the AP.

It’s likely that the recently identified version of the virus from the United Kingdom is “probably in every state or most states. This is going to do nothing for that,” Jha said. So far, 10 states have reported 72 cases of the British variant, the AP reported.

But the new order may stop or diminish spread of other new, more infectious versions of the virus, like one recently identified in South Africa.