COVID-19 Update: July 10th Edition

The following originally appeared on the Baker Institute Blog and is coauthored by Vivian Ho, Ph.D. (@healthecontx), James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics, Kirstin Matthews, Ph.D. (@stpolicy), Baker Institute Fellow in Science and Technology Policy and Heidi Russell, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine and Associate Director, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine.

By the Numbers

As of Friday, July 10, data from the Covid Tracking Project showed that the 7-day average (smoothed) number of new U.S. daily cases rose to 54,561, a 15% increase relative to 47,244 the previous Friday. The percent of cases testing positive rose to 8.4% from 7.4% one week earlier. The smoothed number of deaths in the U.S. rose 16%, from 529 a week earlier to 614 last Friday. Here in Texas, the growth in the number of smoothed daily cases rose 20% between July 3 and July 10, and the smoothed number of daily deaths increased from 36 to 63. The percent of people testing positive rose from 12.7% on July 3rd to 12.9% last Friday.

Risk Factors and Disease Effects

We are six months into the pandemic, and scientists still face multiple unresolved questions including: why people respond differently; is immunity achievable and how long will it last; is the virus developing worrisome mutations; how well will vaccines work; and where did the virus originate from.

Two distinct strains of SARS-CoV-2 are recognized – the D variant that originated in Wuhan and a G variant.  International tracking reported in Cell reveals that the newer G variant is currently the dominant strain in the US and is more infective.  A video depiction of spread by strain is viewable  online.

More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them occurring over the last month.

The personal protective gear that was in dangerously short supply during the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. is running low again as the virus resumes its rapid spread and the number of hospitalized patients climbs. Test shortages are also pervasive.

After an international group of 239 experts called on the World Health Organization to review the research on airborne transmission of the coronavirus, the W.H.O. finally acknowledged that the virus can linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next.

Vaccines and Treatments

So many coronavirus vaccines are nearing the pivotal testing phase, that researchers and companies are going to extraordinary lengths to recruit the tens of thousands of healthy volunteers needed for testing. Volunteers can sign up here.

An editorial co-authored by former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explains how antibody drugs that potentially could protect the elderly and the immune-compromised for months could be ready for use as early as this fall. However, the federal government must invest substantial funds to enable drug makers to ready these drugs for mass-production.

Policy Interventions

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not revise its guidelines for reopening schools despite calls from President Donald Trump and the White House to do so, agency Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Thursday. The president tweeted that the guidelines were “very tough” and “expensive,” while in another tweet threatened to cut off school funding if schools resisted opening.

Sweden, which never locked down during the pandemic, has suffered higher Covid-19 deaths per capita than other developed countries, and reaped no economic benefit from keeping their economy open.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is the top U.S. agency charged with preparing for a pandemic and overseeing the medical stockpile. ASPR had a $2.6 billion budget for fiscal 2020 and prioritized preparation for a possible bioweapon, chemical, or nuclear attack, and did little to prepare for a pandemic.

Young people in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, hometown of the University of Alabama, were reported to be throwing Covid-19 parties, where people who have coronavirus attend and the first person to get infected receives a payout, local officials said. Meanwhile, Tulane University warned students of suspensions or expulsions if they are found to have hosted parties or gatherings of more than 15 people.

The Texas Medical Board emailed members this week to remind them of emergency medical licensure changes making it easier for out-of-state or retired practitioners to practice in Texas. With the rise in Covid-19 patients in Texas, these providers are badly needed.

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