COVID-19 Update: June 23rd 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, June 19, data from the Covid Tracking Project showed that the 7-day average (smoothed) number of new U.S. daily cases rose to 24,591, a 19% increase relative to 20,686 the previous Friday. The percent of cases testing positive rose from 4.1% a week earlier to 5.5% last Friday. An encouraging note is that the smoothed number of daily deaths has been falling steadily in the U.S. from a peak of 2,047 on April 21st to 610 last Friday. As testing has increased, the share of patients with less severe cases may be increasing, and healthcare professionals may have improved their ability to treat the virus. Here in Texas, the growth in the number of smoothed daily cases rose 71% between June 12 and 19, and the smoothed number of daily deaths rose from 22 to 29. The smoothed percent of people testing positive rose from 6.1% on June 12th to 8.8% last Friday.

Risk Factors and Disease Effects

Early coronavirus testing data from a handful of U.S. cities and states suggest that recent protests against racial injustices haven’t yet led to a marked uptick in new cases.

Sweden, which decided not to initiate a lockdown during the pandemic, reported that only 14% of Stockholm residents tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the past 6 weeks. Meanwhile, a study published last month indicates that 57% of residents in Bergamo, Italy had antibodies.

While the Chinese government suggested that in late January there were just 495 cases of Covid-19, their actions, which include erecting 2 large hospitals in Wuhan in early February, suggest the number was significantly higher. Several research groups have tried to estimate the real number with counts ranging from only 1000 to more than 75,000 Covid-19 cases– with the majority of models suggesting at least 15,000.

A new article in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that differences in the severity of an individual’s response to Covid-19 might be linked to their blood type. Studying the genes of patients infected by SARS-Cov-2, the scientists found those individuals with type A blood had a higher risk compared to the O type which was protective.

The New York Times reports that a paper published in Nature Medicine on June 18th suggests that antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection — may last only two to three months, especially in people who never showed symptoms while they were infected. A second paper, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, suggests that even low levels of antibodies might be enough to thwart the virus.

In New York, the front lines of the virus fight have shifted from intensive care units to recovery areas. For the most severe Covid cases, recovery can be a long and arduous process. Some must relearn to swallow without choking. Others must relearn to walk, have crippling nerve pain, or face cognitive deficits.

Vaccines and Treatments

Scientists at the University of Oxford on Tuesday claimed that an inexpensive steroid called dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth. However, the study behind these claims has not been peer-reviewed or published.

Drug makers worldwide are rushing to test and manufacture vaccines against the coronavirus, but they are facing a shortage of vials and the special glass they are made from. Glass for pharmaceuticals contains chemicals that make it resistant to drastic temperature changes and keep vaccines stable.

After polls indicating that as many as half of Americans would not take a Covid-19 vaccine, the nonprofit Public Good Projects launched Stronger, a campaign against anti-vaccine rhetoric. The campaign aims to counter misleading and inaccurate information on vaccines on social media with evidence-based, scientific information.

Policy Interventions

While many worry that Governor Abbott’s reopening criteria have been too lax to contain the spread of the coronavirus, some Houston restaurants where an employee has tested positive are taking matters into their own hands and closing for several days, deep cleaning, and/or testing all employees before reopening. Information on San Antonio restaurants and bars where coronavirus exposure occurred is circulating on Facebook.

Since the pandemic began, workers have filed roughly 5,000 COVID-related complaints spanning all industries. In mid-June, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union released updated estimates suggesting that 225 of its members have died and more than 29,000 have been infected or exposed. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has only issued on Covid-related citation so far.

Most coronavirus tests costs about $100. But insurers report having paid Gibson Diagnostic Labs in Dallas as much as $2,315 for the test. The recent CARES Act requires that insurers cover the full cost of coronavirus testing.

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