COVID-19 Update: July 20th Edition

The following is a new contribution to the Baker Institute’s Weekly Covid-19 Blog 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 17, data from the Covid Tracking Project showed that the 7-day average (smoothed) number of new U.S. daily cases rose to 65,557, a 20% increase relative to 54,561 the previous Friday. The smoothed percent of cases testing positive rose to 8.7% from 8.3% one week earlier. The smoothed number of deaths in the U.S. rose 11%, from 854 a week earlier to 951 last Friday. Here in Texas, the growth in the number of smoothed daily cases rose 16% between July 10 and July 17, and the smoothed number of daily deaths increased from 63 to 103. The smoothed percent of people testing positive rose from 12.9% on July 10th to 14.8% last Friday.

Risk Factors and Disease Effects

The number of daily coronavirus tests being conducted in the United States is only 35 percent of the level considered necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus. Harvard researchers say that at minimum there should be enough daily capacity to test anyone who has flu-like symptoms and an additional 10 people for any symptomatic person who tests positive for the virus.

A report by a distinguished panel of experts assembled by the Rockefeller Foundation, which included former FDA commissioners, recommends an additional $75 billion in federal funds to cover the additional costs of testing and tracing as well as to incentivize test development and production. The report contains detailed strategies for boosting testing to get the economy back on track.

An editorial in the New York Times promotes the adoption of faster, cheaper, though less accurate coronavirus testing based on saliva and paper-based test strips. The strategy is explained in more detail on a TWIV podcast and involves widespread daily testing for workers and school children using these $1 tests that provide results within minutes.

A Wall Street Journal article on the risks of flying cites an analysis by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Arnold Barnett based on current Covid-19 prevalence in the U.S. When all coach seats are full on a US jet aircraft, the risk of contracting Covid-19 from a nearby passenger is about 1 in 4,300 as of early July 2020. Under the “middle seat empty” policy, that risk falls to about 1 in 7,700.

Vaccines and Treatments

The first COVID-19 vaccine tested in the U.S. revved up people’s immune systems just the way scientists had hoped, and the shots are poised to begin key final testing. Findings on the first 45 volunteers were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. A 30,000-person study to prove if the shots protect against the coronavirus may begin July 27th.

Two coronavirus drug and treatment trackers list the 20-most-talked about treatments for Covid-19 and describes the evidence underlying their current use or potential for future use as well as the state of vaccine trials.

Hospitals across the country are stocking up on drugs for treating Covid-19, hoping to avoid another scramble for critical medications should a second wave of the virus hit them. About 90% of hospitals and health systems are building safety stocks of about 20 critical medications, including those for patients on mechanical ventilation. However, hospitals from Houston to Miami are running short of remdesivir.

Policy Interventions

The United States could get the coronavirus pandemic under control in one to two months if every American wore a mask, said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield last Tuesday.

Scientists have been looking at international models to determine how and when to open schools, if masks should be required, what do if someone test positive. Unfortunately, with limited data most answers are still unknown.

The US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a report this week which promotes re-opening school, but specifically focused on K-5 grades and students with special needs. Previously the American Pediatrics Association also recommended re-opening schools, but backed down on their recommendation after pushback because of recent outbreaks of Covid-19 across the country.

As universities plan for fall terms, the NCAA updated its guidance for collegiate sports to mandate testing and isolation practices.  Some conferences have cancelled their fall athletics.  Others, particularly those generating the most revenue for their colleges, have limited their games.

As business leaders and health experts debate when to reopen national borders, an emerging spaghetti bowl of travel regulations will likely act as a brake on the global economic recovery for a long time. As much as $5.5 trillion of the global economy and nearly 200 million jobs related to travel are at risk from the curbs. Manufacturing and other sectors face steep losses as well.

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