The Novel Science Newsletter

 Science & Society

Aug 25, 2020


The Latest

Global Numbers

  • 23,677,221 cases
  • 813,802 deaths
  • 15,358,658 recovered

Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

United States Numbers

  • 5,924,778 cases
  • 181,486 deaths
  • 3,220,168 recovered

Note: Almost half of all cases confirmed in the US are active now, with just over 54% recovered.


How many children have asymptomatic coronavirus infections?

From Christopher Sampson, MD, FACEP from Brief19:

“New data released. A new study suggests that children with asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection is relatively low in many parts of the United States. But the numbers are high enough that school closures may result, if children are as contagious as some recent studies imply.

As schools and other institutions reopen in the United States, one of the many debates has been centered on whether similar to influenza, children will serve as spreaders of COVID-19, thereby exposing their fellow classmates and more importantly at-risk adult teachers. Aggressive screening methods may hopefully identify children who are ill without the need for universal testing, but what about those with asymptomatic infections who are still capable of spreading COVID-19?

What is unclear is whether a small number of infected children might contribute to a large number of infections. So-called “super-spreaders” could portend a very short school year.”

Competing Protocols for Terrifying Scenarios

Yet another issue US teachers must contend with this school year: COVID-19 safety measures that are at odds with plans for active shooter scenarios. Teachers have been advised to take classes outdoors or mimic outdoor spaces by keeping windows and doors open. But some of these protocols conflict with active shooter policies—which focus on teaching with doors shut.

The Quote:

“Do I keep my classroom door open to improve air circulation or close it to protect my students from an active shooter? This is just one of the impossible questions teachers are facing this year,” tweeted high school English teacher Tiffany Munn.

Science & Society Headlines

Clinical practice

Apples and Oranges: International Comparisons of COVID-19 Observational Studies in ICUs (The Lancet Respiratory Medicine) Multiple observational cohorts describing the outcome of patients with COVID-19 from across the world have been published. Typically, these studies have reported regional or national cohorts and no two countries have had the same experience. The reasons for these differences are complex and difficult to quantify. Nonetheless, to be able to draw meaningful inferences from these data we must tackle the issues associated with international comparison.

Public Health

Four Scenarios on How We Might Develop Immunity to Covid-19 (STAT) As the world wearies of trying to suppress the SARS-CoV-2 virus, many of us are wondering what the future will look like as we try to learn to live with it. Will it always have the capacity to make us so sick? Will our immune systems learn — and remember — how to cope with the new threat? Will vaccines be protective and long-lasting?

COVID-19 Care in India: the Course to Self-reliance (The Lancet Global Health) The public health response to COVID-19 in India has been highly centralized, resulting in a homogenous strategy applied across a sixth of the world’s population. India was placed in a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020, with restrictions being relaxed in three phases since June. In May 2020, the prime minister called upon the Indian people to be self-reliant. We discuss here opportunities to modify several aspects of the medical response to echo this sentiment.

Diagnostic Yield of Repeat Testing for SARS-CoV-2: Experience from a Large Health System in Los Angeles (International Journal of Infectious Diseases) We found a low diagnostic yield of repeat testing for SARS-CoV-2 in our health system. Repeat testing might prove useful in certain clinical scenarios, such as in healthcare workers, when symptoms develop after a negative test, and in hospitalized patients with a high clinical suspicion for COVID-19.

Science & Tech

Preparing for the Vaccine Results (Science) So let’s take a few minutes to think about what happens when the vaccine trials start to read out. I’m making the assumption that the data will be freely available in a timely manner (which means before any decisions are made), because the alternative to that is Not Real Good. Another not-real-good alternative would be to declare the first one to read out the instant winner, because (as noted by Anthony Fauci) that would certainly screw up the trials of the others. But if we avoid these mistakes (no guarantees are expressed or implied), there are still several likely things for which the public is not ready.

Domestic Preparedness & Response

Genetic Data Show How a Single Superspreading Event Sent Coronavirus Across Massachusetts — and the Nation (Washington Post) Now, a sweeping study of nearly 800 coronavirus genomes, conducted by no less than 54 researchers at the Broad Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and several other institutions in the state, has found that viruses carrying the conference’s characteristic mutation infected hundreds of people in the Boston area, as well as victims from Alaska to Senegal to Luxembourg. As of mid-July, the variant had been found in about one-third of the cases sequenced in Massachusetts and 3 percent of all genomes studied thus far in the United States.

See also: Phylogenetic Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in the Boston Area Highlights the Role of Recurrent Importation and Superspreading Events (MedRxiv)

San Francisco Becomes First US Airport with Rapid COVID-19 Results for Workers (The Hill) San Francisco International Airport (SFO) will become the first U.S. airport to provide free on-site rapid coronavirus testing for its employees. SFO announced Monday that it will use Dignity Health’s GoHealth Urgent Care to administer testing inside the airport, with results in about 15 minutes. Airport officials said the goal is to eventually extend the service to passengers.

Government Affairs & National Security

FDA Chief Apologizes for Overstating Plasma Effect on Virus (ABC News) Responding to an outcry from medical experts, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn on Tuesday apologized for overstating the life-saving benefits of treating COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma.

Global Health Security

Africa Declared Free of Wild Polio in ‘Milestone’ (BBC) Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from wild polio, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago. The vaccination campaign in Nigeria involved a huge effort to reach remote and dangerous places under threat from militant violence and some health workers were killed in the process.

Smallpox Vaccine: Bavarian Nordic Announces Topline Results from Study on Freeze-dried Formulation (Outbreak News Today) Bavarian Nordic A/S announced topline results from the pivotal Phase 3 study of the freeze-dried formulation of its MVA-BN® smallpox vaccine. The Phase 3 lot-consistency study was agreed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the only Phase 3 study required to support licensure of the freeze-dried formulation.

Science & Technology

How Bacteria-Eating Bacteria Could Help Win the War Against Germs (New York Times) Predatory bacteria carry immense promise in an extraordinarily small package. Deployed under the right circumstances, they could help people beat back harmful microbes in the environment, or purge pathogens from the food supply. Some experts think they could someday serve as a sort of living therapeutic that could help clear drug-resistant germs from ailing patients in whom all other treatments have failed.

Other 21st Century Threats

California Wildfires have Charred 1.2 Million Acres, with More Than 100,000 Evacuees (Washington Post) Thousands of firefighters continued corralling two of the biggest wildfires in California history on Monday as dangerous weather that threatened to roll back recent gains turned out to be far milder than forecast.


Headline Roundup

FDA ‘Grossly Misrepresented’ Blood Plasma Data, Scientists Say
Experts discuss a statistic used by administration officials when announcing the FDA’s emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma treatment. The number has no clear origin.

Prisoners and guards agree about federal coronavirus response: ‘We do not feel safe.’
Prisoners and guards don’t always find themselves on the same team, but in a pandemic, everyone’s fates are intertwined as both groups face the risk of infection.

How China Controlled the Coronavirus
During the lockdown, the Chinese government never trusted people to set the terms of their behavior, but it depended heavily on their willingness to work hard for various organizations that fought the coronavirus.

Emergency plasma authorization sparks concern for those leading charge on treatment
In the high-pressure push to combat COVID-19, two things have become abundantly clear: 1) we need effective treatment, and 2) we need further data to inform our findings.

FDA Head Walks Back Claim of Dramatic Benefit From Covid Therapy
The head of the US Food and Drug Administration has reversed the claim that an experimental therapy had provided a dramatic benefit to Covid-19 patients. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction, not an absolute risk reduction,” said Stephen Hahn.

‘Rolling hotspots’ are the new normal: Sun Belt states see progress on coronavirus as rates drift up in the Midwest
Just as states start getting coronavirus cases under control in one geographic area, they rise in another. Sun Belt states hit hard by the coronavirus in summer — including Florida, Texas, Arizona — have finally seen their numbers go down, only to have cases insidiously creep up across parts of the Midwest.

Colleges need COVID-19 tests to reopen, scientists say. Some have littlefor plans.
COVID-19 outbreaks are already interrupting colleges’ plans to reopen their campuses across the country. But just how significant those interruptions are — and whether schools can contain the outbreaks — hinges in part on colleges’ plans to test students rapidly.

Inaccurate results from rapid COVID tests raise concerns about widespread screening
As companies and universities create their strategies to widely test employees and students—even those with no symptoms of COVID-19 or no known exposure to the virus—experts warn such confusion over conflicting results is inevitable.

Experts see progress on a COVID vaccine but worry about who gets it first and how it gets to them
A coronavirus vaccine or even several could be ready in just a few months, so experts are worrying about how to get it into people’s arms.

How the Current Administration let Covid-19 win
The virus rages on, affecting every aspect of American life, from the economy to education to entertainment. Nearly 180,000 Americans are dead. Schools are closing down again after botched attempts to reopen, with outbreaks in universities and K-12 settings.

Colleges struggle to balance housing needs with quarantine rules
Coordinating students’ return to campus during the pandemic is challenging anywhere, though especially for schools in states with stringent quarantine requirements.

In FDA’s green light for treating COVID-19 with plasma, critics see thin evidence—and politics
The authorization for convalescent plasma could allow more hospitalized patients to receive the antibody-rich plasma, which is donated by people who have recovered from the disease. But in the wake of Trump’s announcement, which came a day before the start of the Republican National Convention, researchers struggled to sort the politics from the medical and scientific import of the EUA.

The US braced for a political row over who gets first Covid-19 vaccines
Poor and minority communities must be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once it is approved for use in the US, the head of the national vaccine distribution committee has said, ahead of what public health experts warn could become a politicized fight over who gets vaccinated.

The EPA approves long-lasting disinfectant to kill COVID-19, but experts call potential impact ‘modest.’
Over the past few months, the Environmental Protection Agency has added to its list of disinfectants that are approved for use to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But now there’s a new disinfectant the agency has approved that — and it has much bigger claims than its predecessors.

Health experts urge Md. educators to deepen plans for coronavirus cases
School officials should do more to plan for potential cases of COVID-19, according to researchers with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The advice comes as school systems around Maryland prepare to pick up the new academic year in virtual classes, much the same as when the 2019-2020 year ended.

Can you blow out a birthday candle? How to tell if your mask is effective
Cloth mask? Disposable mask? Gaiter? With so many face coverings available, it may seem overwhelming to figure out which one will provide the best protection against the coronavirus. This test may help determine which type of mask or covering is the right choice.
Does reopening UNCW increase COVID-19 risk for Wilmington?
UNCW has branded their reopening campaign “Best for the Nest,” a nod to their Seahawks mascot. But is what’s “best for the nest” also what is best for the “rest” — meaning the 235,000 residents of New Hanover County?

FDA OKs convalescent plasma for COVID-19 amid questions about its usefulness
The FDA allowed the emergency use of convalescent plasma as a therapy for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, saying the “known and potential benefits” of the technique outweigh any risks. However, others questioned the timing of the emergency use authorization (EUA), while trials assessing convalescent plasma for COVID-19 therapy are ongoing.

Ohio’s Forgotten Epidemic
Many of the worst-hit regions in Ohio have suffered from economic uncertainty, job loss and poverty for decades. In 2016, most non-college-educated white Ohioans from these areas voted for Trump. As we head into November, the opiate crisis in this key battleground state has only gotten worse, amplified by a pandemic that shows no sign of stopping.