Human World

EarthSky’s essential coronavirus links

Coronavirus testing site in Philadelphia.
A health care worker talks with a patient at a COVID-19 testing site in Philadelphia. According to an April 8 report on NPR, the federal government had planned to close this site and several other sites around the country on Friday. However, NPR now reports that after local officials complained about it, the government reversed its position late Thursday. See Item #2 below for the updated report. Image via Matt Slocum/ AP/ NPR.

Note: the Twitter boxes you see here are links to the original tweet on Twitter. Click inside the box to open the post in Twitter. Some tweets are “threads:” consecutive tweets by one author and/or with responses from others. To see all that – and that’s where the meat is – click on the link on this page, then click again once you’re inside Twitter. Try looking for the words “show this thread.”

Updated April 9, 2020:

1. According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, as of April 8, 2020, there were 1,485,981 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide that have resulted in 88,567 deaths. In the U.S., there were 432,438 confirmed cases with 14,808 fatalities.

Here’s a plot of COVID-19 cases by country, created by the Financial Times. See their article for more trends.

2. Several countries around the world, and a few states in the U.S. like Washington and California, are showing decreases in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, demonstrating that social distancing works.

But what comes next? How are decisions made about when stay-at-home orders should be lifted? Epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers, at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, wrote about how the U.S. should move forward in this April 8 Twitter thread.

According to many experts, in order to move forward safely, the U.S. must increase its testing capacity. Ashish K. Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, wrote about this urgent need in Forbes. He said the most important thing we need is a widespread testing infrastructure to track the extent of the disease in order to deal with hotspots as they emerge.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported on April 8 that the federal government was ending funding for COVID-19 testing sites this Friday — they said many sites would be transitioning to state-run operations, and some sites would be closed. However, late in the day on Thursday, April 9, they reversed that decision.

3. In the past couple of days, there has been widespread coverage of the disproportionate number of African Americans who have been infected by COVID-19.

An article dated April 7 in the New York Times said:

In Illinois, 43 percent of people who have died from the disease and 28 percent of those who have tested positive are African-Americans, a group that makes up just 15 percent of the state’s population. African-Americans, who account for a third of positive tests in Michigan, represent 40 percent of deaths in that state even though they make up 14 percent of the population. In Louisiana, about 70 percent of the people who have died are black, though only a third of that state’s population is.

Similar trends have been seen in North Carolina, South Carolina, Connecticut and Las Vegas, Nevada. Many states have not been reporting on the ethnicity of patients in test results, and some are now working to make this data available.

Why is it happening? The Times outlined some reasons:

At a time when the authorities have advocated staying home as the best way to avoid the virus, black Americans disproportionately belong to part of the work force that does not have the luxury of working from home, experts said. That places them at high risk for contracting the highly infectious disease in transit or at work.

Longstanding inequalities also make African-Americans less likely to be insured, and more likely to have existing health conditions and face racial bias that prevents them from getting proper treatment …

One factor that might make the coronavirus more devastating for African-Americans is that they experience high levels of stress-mediated wear and tear known as “weathering,” said Arline Geronimus, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan who studies the concept.

On April 8, at the White House COVID-19 task force press conference, Anthony Fauci commented on the “weathering” phenomenon.

Troubling trends are also emerging about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Latino community. NPR reported on April 8:

Citing data from New York City’s health department, [Mayor Bill] de Blasio said Latinos – who make up about 29% of the city’s population – represent nearly 34% of the patients who had died of COVID-19 as of Monday. And almost 28% of the city’s 2,472 known deaths were among black people, who represent about 24% of the population.

In the article, Mayor deBlasio said:

There’s still a reality that folks with more resources get more health care. There are a lot of people – particularly seniors in communities of color – that were more vulnerable because their conditions had not been treated the way they could have and should have, if the resources had been given to them that they deserved.

4. Wuhan, China, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, had been under lockdown since January 23, which was finally lifted on April 7. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)‘s Stephen McDonell wrote about it in a Twitter thread.

5. India, an ethnically diverse country of over 1.3 billion people, has been in a 21-day lockdown since March 24. Virologists think the country is still in the initial stages of the outbreak, and that lifting the lockdown as scheduled could cause fresh outbreaks. The BBC correspondent in India, Soutik Biswas, wrote about it on April 9.

6. A report from the United Nations University warns that half a billion people could be propelled into poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic. In an article, The Guardian quoted Andy Sumner of King’s College London, one of the report’s authors, as calling it a “poverty tsunami.”

7. Scientists are beginning to look backwards at the history of the pandemic in the U.S. They are finding that most of the COVID-19 cases in New York came from Europe as early as mid-February. The New York Times reported that two teams independently analyzed SARS-CoV-2 virus genetic material collected in New York and arrived at the same conclusion. Italy had shut down the country in late February and President Trump barred travelers from most European countries on March 11, said The Times. Apparently, by then, the virus was already spreading in New York.

8. When seriously ill COVID-19 patients recover and go home, many will continue to need medical treatment for the damage done to their bodies, not to mention mental health treatment for their ordeal. An article in Science by Kelly Servick discusses what these patients will face as they move forward.

9. Some people are not properly wearing their masks. Please have a look at this article in the New York Times with illustrations of common mistakes. The mask should extend up the bridge of your nose and below the chin, and fit snugly to the face.

10. New guidelines were issued on April 8 for critical infrastructure workers. In the past, if these workers suspected they were exposed to COVID-19, they had to self-quarantine for 14 days. New guidelines say they should keep working if they don’t have symptoms, wear a mask, disinfect their workplaces, and maintain social distancing.

11. Some tweets from the frontlines:

Drawing of a person wearing a mask, showing it tightly fitting at top and bottom.
The CDC recommends that masks fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction, be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape. NYC ER doctor Craig Spencer (@Craig_A_Spencer on Twitter) adds: “When using a mask, touch it as little as possible. Every you time you touch and readjust, you risk infecting yourself. Remove the mask by using the loops, not by grabbing the front. You don’t need to wear a mask at home, unless you’re sick and can’t isolate. Or others are. Wash your mask frequently or get a new one. Obviously, don’t share masks.” Image via CDC.

Updated April 6, 2020:
According to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking page, as of April 6 there have been 1,277,962 confirmed cases worldwide, including 337,646 cases in the U.S. The actual number of confirmed cases, however, is much higher due to the scarcity of tests.

The New York Times has an interactive map of the U.S. that provides details by state and county.

1. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the use of cloth masks.

Here are additional insights on the correct use of masks by New York City ER doctor Craig Spencer (@Craig_A_Spencer). After you click into the post, be sure to click “show this thread”:

2. Why are some young people being hit hard by COVID-19? Scientists aren’t sure. The Guardian wrote about it:

Several theories have been proposed. Some researchers believe the amount of virus that infects an individual may have crucial outcomes. Get a huge dose and your outcome may be worse. Others argue that genetic susceptibility may be involved: in other words, that there are individuals whose genetic makeup leaves them more vulnerable to the virus as it spreads through their bodies.

CNN‘s medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, also reported about a young man who suddenly passed away, just as he seemed to be recovering.

3. U.S. state governments trying to source protective personal equipment (PPEs) and ventilators for their local hospitals are finding themselves bidding against each other, other countries, and even bidding against the federal government. Reportedly, the competition has resulted in a sharp increase in prices.

The Associated Press (AP) reported that N95 masks that used to cost less than a dollar each are now fetching steep prices; $3.70 is considered a bargain, and some buyers are willing to pay as much as $10. The AP article also said that small ventilators that used to cost under $14,000 are going for as much as $30,000.

Many governors have been asking the Trump administration to centralize the purchasing process, but, so far, this has not occurred.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan spoke to the AP about this procurement crisis:

It is the greatest frustration. We have states out-competing on the open markets with totally uneven distribution of these things, and now the federal government competing with us – and other countries competing against us – and then a very limited supply of all of these things and no real coordination of where it’s going.

4. So far, there is still no concrete scientific evidence that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is a viable treatment for COVID-19. Proponents of the drug cite studies from China and Italy about patients who recovered, but many scientists point out those studies were not well-designed and that the sample sizes were too small. Clinical trials currently underway in several countries, including the U.S., will soon provide more definitive information. Meanwhile, the FDA has approved HCQ for compassionate use but has not approved it as a treatment for COVID-19.

There are rumors that people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who take HCQ do not get COVID-19. This is not true. Rheumatology researchers have determined that RA and lupus patients taking HCQ have, in fact, contracted the virus. So far, they have documented 110 cases.

RA and lupus are autoimmune disorders, where the immune system is unable to distinguish between healthy cells and pathogens, resulting in healthy cells being targeted by the immune system. HCQ acts to modulate the immune system, reducing the misguided attacks on healthy tissue. Because of the buzz around HCQ, many lupus and RA patients in the U.S. have been unable to get the drug. Some have been advised by their rheumatologists to cut their dosage by half.

Ashira Blazer, MD, a rheumatologist at NYU Langone Health, said in a statement:

Hydroxychloroquine is a safe, effective, and inexpensive therapy for conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. If there is a big shortage, it will exacerbate health disparities. People who need an effective and affordable drug won’t be able to get it. There is a risk of mortality, especially for minority women who are disproportionately affected by serious lupus complications, if hydroxychloroquine is not made available to our most vulnerable patients.

5. Most people infected with COVID-19 will recover at home. What should you expect? Here’s some useful advice from New York City Councilman Mark Levine.

Are you caring for someone who has COVID-19? Here are some guidelines from the CDC.

6. Since many countries have instituted “lockdowns” to keep COVID-19 from spreading, there has been a sharp increase in domestic violence around the world.

Here’s a message from the United Nations Secretary-General:

In the U.S., if you need help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

7. A Malayan tiger named Nadia, at the Bronx Zoo, has tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the first known case of a tiger contracting the virus. Currently, another Malayan tiger, two Amur tigers, and three African lions have developed dry coughs. All of them are expected to recover.

The zoo commented on the animals in a statement:

Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers. It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.

Bottom line: Essential coronavirus links, from April 6, 2020 on. For more, try EarthSky’s essential coronavirus links for March 17-23 and EarthSky’s essential coronavirus links for March 24 to April 2.

April 9, 2020
Human World

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