COVID-19 Update: June 29th 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 26, data from the Covid Tracking Project showed that the 7-day average (smoothed) number of new U.S. daily cases rose to 34,476, a 41% increase relative to 24,414 the previous Friday. The percent of cases testing positive rose to 6.4% from 4.9% one week earlier. We do not have accurate measures of national death trends, because New Jersey added 1,854 prior deaths to their statistics for last Thursday after a review of death records. Here in Texas, the growth in the number of smoothed daily cases rose 73% between June 19 and 26, and the smoothed number of daily deaths fell slightly from 29 to 26. The percent of people testing positive rose from 8.8% on June 19th to 10.9% last Friday.

Risk Factors and Disease Effects

Scientists’ estimates of how deadly the coronavirus is have varied over time. Now they believe that roughly .5 to 1% of those who have been infected with the virus have died.

Latin America is the grim new center of the pandemic, with more than two million people infected and 100,000 deaths. The region has 8% of the world’s population, but accounted for 47% of coronavirus deaths recorded in the past two weeks.

In a press conference on June 25th, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield announced that 20 million, about 6% of the nation’s 331 million people have likely been infected with the coronavirus. The number is 10 times higher than the officially reported statistic. The new estimate is based on CDC studies of blood samples collected nationwide.

The CDC reported that people with chronic conditions were 12 times more likely to die from the virus compared with those who didn’t have underlying conditions. In addition, pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, although they are not at greater risk of death from the virus.

Three research studies have concluded that conservative media amplifies misinformation about COVID-19, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others.

In The New Yorker magazine, a Texas physician describes what it’s like to treat Covid-19 and non Covid-19 patients in one of Houston’s public county hospitals.

Vaccines and Treatments

Public-health officials and scientists are concerned that a weakened immune system could limit the effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine among the elderly. Companies are exploring possible options such as increasing the doses or adding a booster to the shot. At least one vaccine specifically for the elderly is in development, and some companies have started testing their coronavirus vaccine candidates in older adults.

Gilead Sciences said it will soon begin clinical studies of an inhaled form of remdesivir with the aim of expanding the drug’s use to healthier, nonhospitalized Covid-19 patients. Remdesivir is currently only approved to be administered via daily intravenous infusions, limiting its use to patients in the hospital.

Hydroxychloroquine diminished as a potential treatment for Covid-19. The NIH halted the ORCHID Study early, and the WHO ended the hydroxychloroquine arm of its trial due to midpoint analyses showing the drug was unlikely to be beneficial. The FDA added warnings to remdesivir labelling that it not be given simultaneously with hydroxychloroquine because of antagonistic effects in in vitro testing.   This change leaves a national stockpile of 63 million doses.

Policy Interventions

As states ease their lockdowns, bars are emerging as fertile breeding grounds for the coronavirus. As a result of the alarming outbreak in Texas, Governor Abbott ordered bars to close at noon on June 26th except for delivery and takeout.

Roughly 30 countries, including Singapore, Israel and China, have rolled out or are planning Covid-tracking apps at the national level. The kaleidoscope of U.S. apps, deployed at the state or county level, risks confusing users and could make it harder to track potential Covid-19 exposure when people travel across state lines.

European Union countries rushing to revive their economies and reopen their borders on July 1 are likely to block Americans from entering, because the United States has failed to control the coronavirus. Countries on the E.U. draft lists have been selected as safe based on a combination of epidemiological criteria. The benchmark is the E.U. average number of new infections — over the past 14 days — per 100,000 people, which is currently 16 for the bloc. The comparable number for the United States is 107.

In 2015, during the Ebola epidemic, the Government Accountability Office recommended that the Department of Transportation develop a comprehensive national aviation-preparedness plan for communicable disease outbreaks. However, DOT has yet to do so. GAO’s new report found that the Federal Aviation Administration has conducted only limited research on disease transmission during air travel or in airports.

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