As the search for survivors of yesterday’s explosion in Beirut continues, at this point we know that it left more than 100 people dead and thousands of others injured. The blast happened near the Lebanese capital’s port, though it could be felt from more than 150 miles away in Cyprus, the New York Times reports.
It appears as though the explosion was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate—a chemical used in everything from bombs to fertilizers—which had been stored in a warehouse near the port. To put that in perspective, two tons of the chemical went into bomb used to attack a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, which killed 168 people. (Read this explainer from Al Jazeera to learn more about ammonium nitrate.)
The Lebanese Red Cross has been actively requesting donations via their social media channels. Some potential donors reported not being able to contribute without setting up an account. Use this link as a way around that, where you can make a donation as a guest. Also, the LRC is warning those who want to contribute to the organization not to do so through a third-party fundraising site:
Following the explosion, several members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) went to local health facilities to help out. According to a post on Twitter, “MSF is donating wound kits, seeing if patients needing further surgery can be treated in one of our hospitals, and identifying additional ways to help.” You can make a donation to the organization using this link.
United Mission for Relief & Development
A fundraiser organized through the United Mission for Relief & Development organization is specifically focusing on raising money for health kits currently needed at Beirut hospitals. Visit their crowdfunding page to donate.
Save the Children
Save the Children already had an active fundraising campaign to assist those in Lebanon, and have an even greater need than before. Here’s how to donate.
According to a statement from the organization, Relief International will continue to provide “cash assistance, healthcare, education, economic opportunities, and other lifelines to communities in Lebanon” following the explosion. Here’s how to donate.
If you happen to be in Beirut now, you may be considering donating blood. As of this morning, Lebanese NGO Donner Sang Computer (which facilitates blood donations), posted a message on Twitter indicating that they have enough blood—for now. The blood banks are currently stocked, but that could change in a matter of days or hours. For now, you can register for blood donation, or make a monetary contribution to the organization.
But in the United States, where at least 4.6 million people have been infected and nearly 155,000 have died, the promise of that vaccine is hampered by a vexing epidemic that long preceded Covid-19: obesity.
Scientists know that vaccines engineered to protect the public from influenza, hepatitis B, tetanus and rabies can be less effective in obese adults than in the general population, leaving them more vulnerable to infection and illness. There is little reason to believe, obesity researchers say, that Covid-19 vaccines will be any different.
“Will we have a Covid vaccine next year tailored to the obese? No way,” said Raz Shaikh, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
More than 107 million American adults are obese, and their ability to return safely to work, care for their families and resume daily life could be curtailed if the coronavirus vaccine delivers weak immunity for them.
In March, still early in the global pandemic, a little-noticed study from China found that heavier Chinese patients afflicted with Covid-19 were more likely to die than leaner ones, suggesting a perilous future awaited the US, whose population is among the heaviest in the world.
And then that future arrived.
As intensive care units in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere filled with patients, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that obese people with a body mass index of 40 or more — known as morbid obesity or about 100 pounds overweight — were among the groups at highest risk of becoming severely ill with Covid-19. About 9% of American adults are in that category.
As weeks passed and a clearer picture of who was being hospitalized came into focus, federal health officials expanded their warning to include people with a body mass index of 30 or more. That vastly expanded the ranks of those considered vulnerable to the most severe cases of infection, to 42.4% of American adults.
Obesity intereferes with immune response
Obesity has long been known to be a significant risk factor for death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. But scientists in the emerging field of immunometabolism are finding obesity also interferes with the body’s immune response, putting obese people at greater risk of infection from pathogens such as influenza and the novel coronavirus.
In the case of influenza, obesity has emerged as a factor making it more difficult to vaccinate adults against infection. The question is whether that will hold true for Covid-19.
A healthy immune system turns inflammation on and off as needed, calling on white blood cells and sending out proteins to fight infection. Vaccines harness that inflammatory response. But blood tests show that obese people and people with related metabolic risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels experience a state of chronic mild inflammation; the inflammation turns on and stays on.
Adipose tissue — or fat — in the belly, the liver and other organs is not inert; it contains specialized cells that send out molecules, like the hormone leptin, that scientists suspect induces this chronic state of inflammation. While the exact biological mechanisms are still being investigated, chronic inflammation seems to interfere with the immune response to vaccines, possibly subjecting obese people to preventable illnesses even after vaccination.
An effective vaccine fuels a controlled burn inside the body, searing into cellular memory a mock invasion that never truly happened.
Evidence that obese people have a blunted response to common vaccines was first observed in 1985 when obese hospital employees who received the hepatitis B vaccine showed a significant decline in protection 11 months later that was not observed in non-obese employees. The finding was replicated in a follow-up study that used longer needles to ensure the vaccine was injected into muscle and not fat.
Researchers found similar problems with the hepatitis A vaccine, and other studies have found significant declines in the antibody protection induced by tetanus and rabies vaccines in obese people.
“Obesity is a serious global problem, and the suboptimal vaccine-induced immune responses observed in the obese population cannot be ignored,” pleaded researchers from the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in a 2015 study published in the journal Vaccine.
Vaccines also are known to be less effective in older adults, which is why those 65 and older receive a supercharged annual influenza vaccine that contains far more flu virus antigens to help juice up their immune response.
By contrast, the diminished protection of the obese population — both adults and children — has been largely ignored.
“I’m not entirely sure why vaccine efficacy in this population hasn’t been more well reported,” said Catherine Andersen, an assistant professor of biology at Fairfield University who studies obesity and metabolic diseases. “It’s a missed opportunity for greater public health intervention.”
In 2017, scientists at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill provided a critical clue about the limitations of the influenza vaccine. In a paper published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers showed for the first time that vaccinated obese adults were twice as likely to develop influenza or flu-like illness compared with adults of a healthy weight.
Curiously, the study found that adults with obesity did produce a protective level of antibodies to the influenza vaccine, but these adults still responded poorly.
“That was the mystery,” said Chad Petit, an influenza virologist at the University of Alabama.
One hypothesis, Petit said, is that obesity may trigger a metabolic dysregulation of T cells, white blood cells critical to the immune response. “It’s not insurmountable,” said Petit, who is researching Covid-19 in obese patients. “We can design better vaccines that might overcome this discrepancy.”
Historically, people with high BMIs often have been excluded from drug trials because they frequently have related chronic conditions that might mask the results. The clinical trials underway to test the safety and efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine do not have a BMI exclusion and will include people with obesity, said Dr. Larry Corey, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who is overseeing the phase III trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
Although trial coordinators are not specifically focused on obesity as a potential complication, Corey said, participants’ BMI will be documented and results evaluated.
Dr. Timothy Garvey, an endocrinologist and director of diabetes research at the University of Alabama, was among those who stressed that, despite the lingering questions, it’s still safer for obese people to get vaccinated than not.
“The influenza vaccine still works in patients with obesity, but just not as well,” Garvey said. “We still want them to get vaccinated.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 700,000 people worldwide.
Over 18.5 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some national governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their outbreaks.
Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 4.7 million diagnosed cases and at least 156,906 deaths.
Biden won’t travel to Milwaukee for Democratic National Convention
NYC to begin checkpoints enforcing state quarantine orders
Chicago Public Schools will start with all-remote learning, officials say
Here’s how the news is developing today. All times Eastern. Please refresh this page for updates.
12:35 p.m.: Florida has 50 hospitals with no open ICU beds
Florida has 50 hospitals with no available ICU beds, the state’s Agency for Healthcare Administration reported.
Two counties — Jackson and Nassau — have no open ICU beds, the agency said.
In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, only 13 ICU beds remain, the agency said.
These numbers are expected to fluctuate throughout the day as hospitals and medical centers provide updates.
11:58 a.m.: Biden won’t travel to Milwaukee for Democratic National Convention
“After ongoing consultation with public health officials and experts—who underscored the worsening coronavirus pandemic—the Democratic National Convention Committee announced today speakers for the 2020 Democratic National Convention will no longer travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in order to prevent risking the health of our host community as well as the convention’s production teams, security officials, community partners, media and others necessary to orchestrate the event,” the statement said.
Biden will now give a speech accepting the nomination from Delaware.
11:40 a.m.: NYC to begin checkpoints enforcing state quarantine orders
New York City is beginning traveler registration checkpoints at some entry points to the city to make sure visitors and returning residents are complying with quarantine rules, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday.
The “Sheriff’s Office in coordination with other law enforcement agencies will undertake traveler registration checkpoints at major bridge and tunnel crossings into New York City,” said New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have a travel advisory in place for states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a week average, or any state with 10% of higher positivity rate over a week average. Travelers arriving in the Tri-state area from those states must quarantine for two weeks.
Those coming to New York must also complete a traveler form.
Nonessential workers who do not follow quarantine orders could be fined $10,000. People who do not fill out New York’s travel form could be fined $2,000.
States on the list as of Wednesday are: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
11:02 a.m.: US clinches deal with Johnson & Johnson for potential vaccine
Johnson & Johnson has agreed to supply 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate to the United States for more than $1 billion.
Both the American pharmaceutical company and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the deal in separate statements Wednesday.
The agreement will support the company’s efforts to scale up doses of the experimental vaccine through large-scale domestic manufacturing; the U.S. government will own the first 100 million doses. The federal government also has an option to purchase an additional 200 million doses under a subsequent agreement, according to a press release from Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate, Ad26.COV2.S, is still in the first and second phases of clinical trials. The company, which has committed to making the drug available on a “not-for-profit” basis, said it will launch a phase three study by September.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that the Trump administration is assembling a “portfolio of vaccines” which will increase “the likelihood that the United States will have at least one safe, effective vaccine by 2021.”
10:32 a.m.: Chicago Public Schools will start with all-remote learning, officials say
All of Chicago’s public school students and teachers will begin the new school year at home next month due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced Wednesday.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said at a press conference that remote learning will be conducted for at least the first quarter of the school year, which runs through Nov. 6. The district will then work with the Chicago Department of Public Health to determine if it is safe to open schools with a “hybrid learning model” in the second quarter.
“By that point,” Jackson said, “we will evaluate the situation and make a determination about how we will move forward.”
Jackson noted that students will be engaged for the entirety of a normal school day — from their time with teachers, independent studying and small group learning.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the decision to start the school year remotely “is rooted in public health data and the invaluable feedback we’ve received from parents and families.” She added that it “makes sense” for a school district of such size and diversity.
“As we build out this remote learning model and seek to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, we will continue to support and collaborate with parents and school leaders to create safe, sustainable learning environments for our students,” Lightfoot said.
The move comes on the heels of protests across the country held by teachers and activists demanding adequate classroom safety measures as schools debate reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
9:44 a.m.: Moderna on track to enroll 30,000 people in phase 3 trial
American biotechnology company Moderna announced Wednesday that it’s on track to recruit enough volunteers for the third phase of clinical trials for its potential COVID-19 vaccine.
The phase three study of Moderna’s vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, began on July 23 and is being conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health as well as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
The trial will ultimately include 30,000 volunteers and Moderna said it expects to complete enrollment by September. It’s the final stage before the vaccine candidate could potentially be authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration.
Each volunteer will be given either a dose of the vaccine candidate or a placebo. Researchers will monitor whether the drug protects the group from getting infected.
8:30 a.m.: Fourth-graders to be quarantined after student tests positive in North Carolina
Thales Academy said it was notified Monday that one of its student at its Wake Forest campus had tested positive after being exposed by a family member. The school then sent a letter home to parents explaining what happened and how it planned to move forward, WTVD reported.
The last time the infected student was on campus was Friday. The student was asymptomatic throughout their time at school, passing the temperature check and symptom-screening checklist for entry, according to WTVD.
Students potentially exposed have been contacted and will be quarantined for 14 days along with the teaching staff, WTVD reported.
Thales Academy welcomed students back to its campuses across North Carolina for the new school year in July. Vice President Mike Pence visited the school’s campus in Apex last week.
7:50 a.m.: Bolivia cancels the rest of its school year
Schools across Bolivia will remain closed for the rest of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Interim Bolivian President Jeanine Anez announced the decision earlier this week.
“Today we make the decision to close the school year,” Anez wrote in Spanish on Twitter. “It is very hard, but we do it to take care of the health of Bolivians, especially our children. Health is the most important thing, especially at this time.”
Last week, the South American nation’s highest electoral authority postponed the presidential election from Sept. 8 to Oct. 18 due to the pandemic, marking the third time the vote has been delayed.
More than 83,000 people in Bolivia have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and at least 3,320 of them have died, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
6:39 a.m.: Democratic and Republican governors band together to fill testing void
A bipartisan group of at least seven governors has teamed up with the Rockefeller Foundation to try to expand the use of rapid antigen tests to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, clinched the deal with the New York City-based private foundation in “the first interstate testing compact of its kind among governors during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a press release. The governors of Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia have all signed on to the agreement.
The governors are now in talks with the U.S. manufactures of the FDA-authorized fast-acting tests, which deliver results in 15-20 minutes, to purchase 500,000 per state, for a total of 3 million tests.
“With severe shortages and delays in testing and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing, the states are banding together to acquire millions of faster tests to help save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Hogan said in a statement Tuesday night. “I want to thank my fellow governors for signing on to this groundbreaking bipartisan agreement, which we have just finalized after weeks of discussions with the Rockefeller Foundation. We will be working to bring additional states, cities, and local governments on board as this initiative moves forward.”
5:14 a.m.: Global death toll tops 700,000
More than 700,000 people around the world have now died from the novel coronavirus — another grim milestone in the pandemic.
As of early Wednesday morning, the global death toll from COVID-19 was at 700,741, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
3:37 a.m.: US daily case count shoots back up over 50,000
More than 57,000 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the United States on Tuesday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The latest daily caseload is about 10,000 more than the previous day’s increase but still lower than the country’s record set on July 16, when more than 77,000 new cases were identified in a 24-hour reporting period.
A total of 4,771,519 people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 156,830 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.
By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up and crossing 70,000 for the first time in mid-July.
Many states have seen a rise in infections in recent weeks, with some — including Arizona, California and Florida — reporting daily records.
However, new data suggests that the national surge in cases could be leveling off, according to an internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by ABC News on Tuesday night. Only seven states and territories are on an upward trajectory of new cases, while 10 states are at a plateau and 39 states are going down, according to the memo.
Nationwide, the last week saw a 9.2% decrease in cases from the previous seven-day period. There was also a 7% increase in new deaths compared to the previous week, but the figure is lower than the 20-30% week-over-week increase the country has seen of late, according to the memo.
ABC News’ Gio Benitez, Josh Margolin, Molly Nagle, Sony Salzman and Scott Withers contributed to this report.
Seven months into the pandemic, the U.S. needs to rethink its approach to testing for COVID-19, experts say, by shifting to cheaper tests that can return results in less than an hour, potentially finding people when they are most infectious and containing outbreaks before they explode.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA), however, appears reluctant to approve those tests for sale in the U.S. because they are typically less likely to detect small amounts of virus compared to the gold standard, high-sensitivity lab tests the U.S. has been relying on.
As demand for tests surges, those lab tests have taken longer and longer to return results, making it extremely difficult to contain outbreaks.
The rapid tests, some of which can be used at home, aren’t the gold standard and can miss infections but experts say they make up for it through their speed and low cost. Because they’re cheaper, they could be made available to millions of people to use several times a month, experts say.
Additionally, the tests are actually very good at detecting virus when it matters most: at high or peak levels, when an individual is most contagious to others, experts say.
“If you want to be certain about whether somebody is infected or not these tests are not so great. If you want to identify whether they’re infectious or not going to go out and spread to other people, these tests are actually quite good,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The United States ran about 5 million tests the last week of July, a significant improvement from the early days of the pandemic when tests were hard to come by. Commercial labs now run about half of the COVID-19 tests across the country. But turnaround times have grown longer as demand surges for testing in states in the south and west, where outbreaks are leading to thousands of new COVID-19 cases per day.
Demand for tests is expected to grow in the fall when students return to school, and the flu season hits.
Experts say rapid tests would allow individuals to regularly screen themselves for COVID-19 before they go to work, school, or other areas where they could potentially spread the virus to others.
Harvard’s Michael Mina envisions a $1 antigen paper strip test — similar to pregnancy tests — that could be manufactured by the government and distributed to millions of people to regularly screen themselves.
Several companies are working on similar tests now, but have been slow to ask for FDA approval because it doesn’t meet the agency’s standard for high sensitivity.
“Our goal is to make an at-home test, but because of FDA criteria, we believe there’s a longer path to get there,” said Carlos-Henri Ferré, spokesman for E25Bio Inc., a company that has its roots in developing rapid tests for mosquito-borne illnesses.
Within the next few weeks, E25Bio plans to ask the FDA to approve a rapid antigen test that will initially only be available in clinical settings because that is what the FDA will approve.
But eventually, the company hopes to have a home-based test that could be easily used and accessible to anyone.
“I think FDA is not quite there yet. I think that they could come around to it, but I think there will be a lot of steps required to get to a place where we can have an at-home antigen test,” Ferré said.
While the at-home rapid tests are less sensitive than the lab tests, Ferré said they could be of critical help to the United States.
“A test like ours is very effective in detecting high viral loads, meaning people like super spreaders,” Henri Ferré said. “We think this is a very effective screening tool to separate infected individuals who have the highest chance of spreading virus and continuing the outbreak versus people who don’t.”
Experts say rapid antigen tests should ideally be used multiple times a week, especially for essential workers and others who have a higher risk for exposure.
A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean someone doesn’t have COVID-19. It could also mean they have lower levels of the virus that the test can’t detect yet.
“We have to stop thinking about this as somebody gets a negative test they get a clean bill of health, they can do whatever they want,” Jha said.
“That’s not what the point of these tests are. The point of these tests is we’re doing them frequently you’re getting results frequently. And if you tell somebody who has a negative test, ‘you’re not infectious today, but you could be infectious tomorrow, you still need to wear a mask, you still need to do social distancing, and we’re going to retest you in three days’ — if we have that strategy for high-risk people, we really can make a big difference.”
Only one out of 10 COVID-19 infections are being detected through testing, according to a recent CDC estimate.
That is partly because a high percentage of infections — up to 45 percent — are thought to be asymptomatic, meaning they harbor the virus, and can transfer it to others, but won’t experience symptoms themselves.
Regular screening using rapid tests will do a better job of finding people who have COVID-19 but aren’t showing symptoms, experts say.
Without regular screening, an asymptomatic person might not even have reason to get a test, and could potentially spread it to more vulnerable people who could experience serious illness or even die.
A study led by Daniel Larremore at the University of Colorado, and several other colleagues, modeled the benefits of frequent testing in a paper that is not yet peer-reviewed and found frequency and speed of testing outweighs high sensitivity.
“The purpose of a screening test is to identify as many infections as quickly as possible,” Larremore said.
If moving to a less sensitive test “means we can do 10 times as many tests, from the screening point of view, that’s a great trade-off to make” because you’ll catch more infections than if you tested fewer people using a higher sensitivity lab test, he said.
“The key thing rapid turnaround tests do is they give you highly sensitive results around the time you’re most infectious to others,” he added.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two point of care tests, by Quidel Corporation and BD, that detects COVID-19 antigens. These tests can return results in 15 minutes and have a higher sensitivity than paper strip antigen tests but are more expensive and are not intended for home use. The tests require machines, most of which are in nursing homes and doctors’ offices.
Governors of six states announced Tuesday they would band together to buy 300 million rapid antigen tests to be used with BD and Quidel machines to “better detect outbreaks more quickly” and expand long-term testing in congregate settings such as schools, workplaces and nursing homes.
The tests are about as accurate as the gold-standard lab tests but still aren’t widely available or accessible to the general public.
As far as paper antigen tests go, the Trump administration has indicated it sees a role for them, as long as they’re as accurate or sensitive as possible.
“The FDA standard is over 80 percent and I think with what we’re seeing with the antigen tests, that is not too high of a bar to achieve because several have achieved it,” Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s testing czar, told reporters last week, referring to the BD and Quidel machines.
“There are several more that are very low cost that would be in that range that are being considered.”
“It could also be that people in low-income communities just received different information, and they are following different sources of information. That may have been playing down the role of the pandemic early on,” says Weill. “And that’s especially true in the US, where the debate has been so heavily polarized.”
While the rich can easily stock up on essentials like food and medicine, those living paycheck to paycheck might have to pop over to the store more frequently as money comes in. And the rich might actually be exacerbating the problem for the poor if they are outsourcing or increasing their shopping, or relying more heavily on home delivery, because so many people with low incomes work in retail, warehouse, or delivery jobs. After all, when you order from Amazon or any other online seller, humans have to physically prepareyour package, and other humans have to get that package to your doorstep. Other essential workers like farm laborers and meat packers still have to report to work to get those supplies on shelves in the first place. And all of that increases the chances that workers will be exposed to the virus—indeed, Amazon laborers have organized sick-outs to protest what they say is the company’s lackadaisical measures to keep them safe during the pandemic.
“What I liked about the study is that it provides data on something that people have been saying for some time, in sort of hand waves,” says Andrew Noymer, a demographer at the University of California, Irvine, who wasn’t involved in this research. “People have been talking about the revolution of working from home, Zoom and all that. But if your job is welding pieces of metal together or something like that, Zoom—as good as it’s gotten—has not quite perfected that yet. This actually shows, based on these mobile device pings, that what we thought was happening is happening.”
People have been talking about Covid-19 as a sort of equalizer: If you’re a human, you can get it. The virus is so vicious, sometimes the best health care that money can buy still isn’t enough to fend off death. Rich or poor, the virus doesn’t give a damn. But that’s conflating lethality (or how likely a person is to die from the virus) with exposure risk (or how likely a person is to be infected in the first place). “I’m not really sure where that came from, except that people always say this about catastrophes, and it’s never true,” says Noymer. “Some people said, ‘Well, Tom Hanks can get it, and anyone can get it.’ But that doesn’t mean that anyone will get it, or that or that Mr. Hanks and people in his tax bracket are equally likely to be affected by it.”
Here’s all the WIRED coverage in one place, from how to keep your children entertained to how this outbreak is affecting the economy.
It’s critical to note that 43 percent of essential workers are people of color, says Chandra Farley, director of the Partnership for Southern Equity’s Just Energy program. “We sometimes automatically characterize people as vulnerable, without saying they are made to be more vulnerable to certain things because of systemic racism and historic inequities,” Farley says. “People are not low-income. People earn lower incomes because they’ve been marginalized, in a lot of cases, into earning low wages because of their essential work.”
Not all essential workers get health insurance from their jobs, and that’s another underlying factor in the disparities among who is most vulnerable to the virus. The Covid-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 3.7 times higher than the rate for white Americans, due in large part to unequal access to health care. Latinx people are 2.5 times more likely to die of the disease than white people. In San Francisco, the divide is particularly stark: One study in the city’s Mission neighborhood found that 96 percent of those who tested positive were Latinx, even though that group only accounted for 40 percent of participants. Fully 90 percent said they couldn’t shelter in place at home.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a call to action to warn of a potential outbreak between the end of this summer and winter of a rare, but potentially lethal disease that affects young children, where seeking medical attention right away could make all the difference.
Acute flaccid myelitis “is a medical emergency that requires immediate recognition and care,” urged CDC director Robert Redfield, on a conference call with the media Tuesday.
AFM is a rare, rapid onset neurological disease affecting the spinal cord leading to paralysis. Symptoms of AFM include sudden arm or leg weakness, difficulty walking, limb pain, back pain or neck pain. AFM can cause paralysis over the course of hours to days, which may require a ventilator for breathing.
It most commonly affects young children. Parents are being asked to seek medical care immediately if a child develops a sudden arm or leg weakness.
Most children with AFM will have a fever or respiratory illness about six days before weakness occurs. For this reason, AFM has been associated with viruses, and specifically one called Enterovirus D68.
But why some children get AFM and some don’t isn’t yet clear.
“We’ve learned a lot, but we have a lot to learn about AFM … We are working at CDC and collaborating with the NIH on a couple of prospective large studies, which will help us better understand risk factors for AFM,” said Redfield.
The CDC began tracking cases of AFM in 2014 and a wave of cases has occurred every other year since then. In 2018, the US experienced the third and largest outbreak of AFM with 238 cases in 42 states between August and November.
The average age was just 5 years old.
At least 98% of those children were hospitalized, and over half were admitted to the intensive care unit, while 20% required a ventilator to breathe.
And while most parents sought medical attention within one day of developing AFM symptoms, a concerning 10% were not hospitalized after four days of weakness.
While many children will recover to their usual state of health after AFM, unfortunately, many kids will have permanent disability.
“Early and aggressive physical therapy and occupational therapy can help strengthen the functioning they will retain and go about their lives with the best functioning possible,” said Dr. Thomas Clark, a pediatrician and CDC deputy director of the division of viral diseases.
With the 2020 peak season looming, AFM is a priority for CDC as it prepares for an outbreak this year.
“As a parent and a grandparent my heart goes out to the families affected by AFM,” Redfield said.
Parents should look out for any sudden weakness of the arms or legs in addition to pain in these areas, the neck or the back. If your child recently had a viral cold or fever, this should heighten your suspicion for AFM.
Clark urged pediatricians and other health care providers to “consider and properly recognize [AFM], hospitalize immediately, take specimens as soon as possible and report [the case] to local health authorities.”
If suspecting AFM, health care providers should order an MRI in order to distinguish AFM from other neurological conditions.
“It’s vital that all health care providers maintain a high index of suspicion for AFM in children with acute limb weakness or neck or back pain that develops after an upper respiratory illness from late summer through fall,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an Emergency Physician at Lenox Hill in New York City.
“We expect that AFM will likely have another peak in 2020. That said, it’s still unclear if or how COVID-19’s recommended social distancing measures and attention to mask wearing and hand hygiene will impact how much enterovirus we end up seeing, along with cases of AFM,” Glatter said.
The same hygiene precautions for COVID-19 apply to viruses that cause AFM.
As some of the symptoms of COVID-19 may overlap with AFM, parents should be on high alert this season.
Non-COVID-19 emergency room visits dropped off sharply in 2020 due to fear of COVID-19. If this trend continues, parents need to know that time is critical and potentially lifesaving with AFM, so even in the age of COVID-19 seek medical attention immediately if your child has sudden numbness in their arms or legs.
“We are concerned in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that cases [of AFM] might not be recognized or that parents might be concerned about taking their kids to the doctor,” Clark said.
Molly Stout, M.D. is a dermatology resident at Northwestern in Chicago and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.
Moderna is charging between $32 to $37 per dose for its coronavirus vaccine for some customers, under cheaper “pandemic pricing,” it said Wednesday.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is currently in discussion for larger volume agreements that will have a lower price, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said on a conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter financial results.
“We are working with governments around the world and others to ensure a vaccine is accessible regardless of ability to pay,” he said.“We’re currently in a pandemic as defined by WHO. At Moderna, like many experts, we believe the virus is not going away and there will be a need to vaccinate people or give them a boost for many years to come.”
Moderna defines a small order of its vaccine as “in the millions,” he said. The price the company is charging for small orders is higher than the $19.50 per dose agreed to by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech BioNTech in a deal with the U.S. government.
Bancel said the vaccine will be priced “well-below value” during the pandemic period. After the virus is under control and considered endemic, the pricing will follow the traditional market in line with other commercial vaccines, he said.
“We’ll work with the market,” Bancel said.
Moderna said it has begun talks with multiple countries to supply its potential coronavirus vaccine, called mRNA-1273, and has already received about $400 million in deposits as of July 31. Last week, the company started a phase three trial testing how safe and effective it is on 30,000 people with results expected as early as October. The company said it anticipates completing enrollment for its phase three trial in September.
Moderna’s experimental vaccine, which is being developed with the help of the National Institutes of Health, contains genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA, which scientists hope provokes the immune system to fight the virus.
The company received $483 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in April to support its vaccine development. Last month, it announced it received an additional $472 million from the U.S. government.
Earlier Wednesday, Moderna reported a fivefold increase in second-quarter revenue primarily on its coronavirus vaccine work. Revenue jumped to $66.4 million during the quarter, more than five times the $13.1 million it took in during the same period last year.
With so much being written about the COVID-19 pandemic every day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the sheer amount information available. And given that, it is harder than ever to suss out which ones actually provide quality reporting and are worth paying attention to. So how do we know what to read and who to trust?
Dr. Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington (and a former guest on The Upgrade), recently spoke with Scientific American about how to consume and evaluate COVID-19 news coverage without “freaking out” (their words). As an expert in identifying and calling bullshit, Bergstrom shared tips to help you figure out which COVID news is worth reading and believing. Here are some of our favorites.
Wait 12-18 hours to read an article on ‘breaking news’
There are some news stories where speed and immediate reporting make sense, like deaths of public figures or major global events. But this type of instant “breaking news” reporting isn’t always the best option—like, for instance, if it involves medical or scientific details related to an ongoing global pandemic. Bergstrom recommends that we slow down:
“High-quality information doesn’t have a whole lot to do with timeliness on the scale of minutes to hours. It has everything to do with how well that information has been vetted and triangulated and presented. What I encourage people to do in a crisis like this one is to slow down and [read] a newspaper story that was posted 12 hours ago—or 18 hours ago or 36 hours ago—that was written by a professional reporter who’s been covering infectious disease for years [and] who has talked to a bunch of experts to synthesize what’s going on and interpret things and put [them] into context.
I encourage people to turn to their trusted traditional media sources rather than turning to Twitter or Facebook or WhatsApp, because when you do that, you do get information that’s a little bit more recent, but the quality of that information is far, far lower. You’re very susceptible to whatever rumors go spreading out across the Internet, and that can be a big problem.”
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Find and follow specific journalists who have experience writing about health and/or infectious disease
Regardless of what a journalist’s beat was prior to the pandemic, pretty much everything has shifted to COVID coverage. The problem here is that not everyone has the background and training to handle that type of reporting. This, combined with the need for speed, means that many COVID articles may include information or analyses that aren’t accurate.
Bergstrom says that for him, finding the best news sources comes down to analyzing individual reporters. The list of those he reads includes Helen Branswell at STAT, because, he says, she has more than 20 years of experience reporting on infectious disease. “She understands the entire picture and does a brilliant job of presenting it,” he tells Scientific American. “I think it’s a matter of finding those voices that you trust and then relying on those voices.”
Changing views or advice is a good thing
The chief challenges of reporting on the pandemic are the evolving science and shifting public health messaging. One day we’re told not to wear masks, and a few weeks later they’re mandatory—that kind of thing. Some media consumers may think that if a publication or journalist changes their position or advice on something, it means that their reporting is inaccurate. But, as Bergstrom points out, it’s actually the opposite:
“The first thing to recognize [is that] because the science changes, the advice that you get from health professionals changes over time as well. You’ll see people saying, ‘Well, you can’t trust [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony] Fauci, because he was saying one thing in February, and he’s saying something else in July.’ This is completely backwards. The people you can’t trust are the ones who have not changed their views and advice, despite having enormously more evidence. The ones who are changing their views and advice, based on evidence, are the ones who are doing science and the ones who are giving good recommendations.”
Although there’s still no cure, researchers are continuing to develop a better understanding of what increases a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study that looked at 396 studies has even been able to identify ten risk factors that are shown to increase the likelihood of developing the disease.
Here are the factors researchers identified – and why they’re associated with a higher risk.
1. Education level
A lower education level is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Previous evidence shows the longer you spend in education, the lower your risk of developing dementia. Research looking at the brains of people from different educational backgrounds also showed that people who were more educated had heavier brains. As you lose one third of your brain weight because of dementia, a heavier brain may make you more resilient.
This latest study shows that we need to continue keeping our brains active, even in older age. Other studies agree that challenging our brains does indeed reduce our chances of developing dementia.
3. Hypertension in mid-life
Healthy hearts have long been linked to a healthy brain. Here, the current study indicates that high blood pressure (hypertension) in middle age increases Alzheimer’s risk.
Higher incidence of heart disease in those suffering from high blood pressure impacts on the blood and nutrient supply to the brain. Interestingly, this association still exists even for those who have high blood pressure on its own. The bottom line is that reduced blood supply to the brain is linked with Alzheimer’s.
4. Orthostatic hypotension
The study also highlighted orthostatic hypotension as a risk factor. This is when someone experiences low blood pressure when standing after sitting or lying down.
Because the body is unable to maintain sufficient blood supply to the brain during posture changes, this can have a long-term debilitating influence on brain activity, as a result of lack of oxygen to the brain, which increases risk of dementia.
The study found diabetes was associated with higher incidence of Alzheimer’s. As diabetes makes our body unable to properly regulate insulin, this changes both the way our brain cells communicate and our memory function – both of which are disrupted in Alzheimer’s disease.
Insulin is essential, as it regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein by helping blood glucose absorb into the liver, fat and muscles. Alzheimer’s disease appears to disrupts the brain’s ability to react to insulin.
A higher body mass index (BMI) in under 65s is linked to an increased risk of dementia. The study suggests a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 for those under 65 – a healthy weight, in other words – may lower dementia risk. However, being underweight in middle age and later life can increase dementia risk.
It’s thought that a mixture of genetics, cardiovascular diseases and inflammation all contribute to this association between BMI and dementia.
However, it’s uncertain whether single or repetitive head trauma is the contributing factor. It’s clear that brain damage from head trauma is similar to that of dementia. This makes people more susceptible to further damage later from dementia.
High levels of the chemical homocysteine are a risk factor. Homocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid involved in the production of our body’s defence mechanisms, including antioxidants that prevent cellular damage.
Those living with Alzheimer’s also often suffer from depression, though it’s uncertain if depression causes Alzheimer’s or is just a symptom of the disease. However, a wealth of evidence supports that depression is indeed a risk factor, as this latest study has found. Research has even indicated a link between the number of depressive episodes – especially ten years prior to dementia onset – and higher risk.
Depression increases levels of harmful chemicals in our brain. An imbalance in these chemicals can lead to loss of brain cells. This, coupled with the loss of brain cells in dementia, increases likelihood of Alzheimer’s.
This study offers a complex picture of how we can combat the onset of Alzheimer’s – as well as ten areas that scientists need to concentrate on researching in the future. Though the findings may seem bleak, there is some promise in that many of these risk factors can be managed or modified through lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.
Hospitalized Covid-19 patients who received transfusions of blood plasma rich with antibodies from recovered patients reduced their mortality rate by about 50%, according to researchers running a large national study.
The researchers presented their data analysis Saturday in a webinar for physicians interested in learning about so-called convalescent plasma, with data slides that were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The researchers said they saw signs that the treatment might be working in patients who received high levels…