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What’s the Latest COVID-19 (Coronavirus) News and Headlines? August 3, 2020
By admin August 1, 2020

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The COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus) pandemic continues to pose serious challenges to health systems, governments and the population at large.  Staying on top of the latest news and information is critical. With that in mind, we will continue to provide regular updates via this blog and our COVID-19 Response Team.

  • Global Numbers: 18m million cases, 689,000 deaths.

  • United States: At least 4.5m cases have now been reported in the U.S. and the country has reached a grim milestone as 153,314 Americans have died.   The situation in California, Florida, Arizona and Texas continues to worsen. The United States reported 67,023 new coronavirus cases and 1,259 new deaths on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

  • Hydroxychloroquine Fiasco: Researchers on Wednesday published scathing critiques of a study President Trump repeatedly touted on Twitter. That study, published earlier this month in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, claimed to show that hydroxychloroquine saved lives.President Trump tweeted about it enthusiastically and continues to promote the drug.But the study Trump cites had multiple errors, flaws and biases, according to letters to the journal’s editors: “As a result of the flaws in the analysis the conclusions reached in [the study] are invalid,” Graham Atkinson, an independent consultant in health care policy, wrote in one of the letters.

 

  • America Unmasked:  There are not nearly enough Americans using masks to bend the curve on the coronavirus infection rate, the head of one of the main teams forecasting the pandemic said Friday. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) revised its forecast this week for coronavirus deaths because of rising infection rates and because too few Americans were using face masks regularly, IHME’s Dr. Chris Murray told CNN. This week’s IHME forecast of 230,822 US deaths from the virus by November is up about 11,000 from last week’s projection of 219,864 deaths.

 

  • Trump vs Fauci: Dr. Fauci has said that the U.S. is still “knee deep in the first wave — it’s a serious situation we have to address immediately”. Conversely, Pres. Trump has claimed that the U.S. is “in a good place” and is pushing to reopen schools while threatening to cut off federal funds (fact check: 90% of school funding is actually at the state level). Meanwhile, the White House recently launched a smear campaign designed to discredit Dr. Fauci, who is widely viewed as the world’s leading Infectious Disease expert. More recently, Trump attacked Fauci for (correctly) noting that the drop in European cases as a result of countries shutting up to 95 per cent of their economies, while the US only reached 50 per cent. Trump (incorrectly) claims that more cases are a result of more testing.

 

  • VP Biden Frames Trump Failure re Pandemic/Economic Response: Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden lambasted President Trump on Tuesday saying he’s proven he is incapable of keeping Americans safe from harm: “Donald Trump faces a real test and he’s failed it, the basic threshold of being President, the duty to care for the entire country, not just his re-election prospects,” said the former vice president in a speech Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. “He’s shown that he can’t beat the pandemic and keep you safe,” continued Biden. “He can’t turn the economy around and get America back to work.”

 

  • Georgia: At least 78 new coronavirus deaths and 3,797 new cases were reported in Georgia on July 31. Over the past week, there have been an average of 3,373 cases per day, an increase of 14 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Saturday morning, there have been at least 171,342 cases and 3,674 deaths in Georgia since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed two executive orders extending existing Covid-19 safety measures and extending the Public Health State of Emergency, he said today in a press release. The Public Health State of Emergency now runs through Sept. 10 Tensions between Gov. Kemp and mayors continues to rise Atlanta’s mask order remains in effect, Mayor Lance Bottoms’ office told CNN, despite the governor’s earlier executive order suspending all local government mask mandates. In further escalating the situation, Gov Kemp sued Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

  • Miami Reaches 95% Capacity: Miami hospitals have reached 95% capacity due to the growing Covid-19 pandemic, the city’s mayor, Francis Suarez, told reporters. The percentage of positive cases is growing at a smaller rate, Suarez said. The highest category of people who are getting infected are people between the ages of 18 and 34, who represent 27% of the population, Suarez said.

  • Unpublished WH Report Mentions Rollbacks for Red Zone States: An unpublished document prepared for the White House coronavirus task force and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom, recommends that 18 states in the coronavirus “red zone” for cases should roll back reopening measures amid surging cases. The “red zone” is defined in the 359-page report as “those core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) and counties that during the last week reported both new cases above 100 per 100,000 population, and a diagnostic test positivity result above 10%.”

  • New CDC Report: People who were 65 or older, men and people of color who were younger than 65 make up disproportionate shares of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, according to a report released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Rising Infections Across U.S and Lagging Tests: The U.S. recently reported 63,247 new Covid-19 cases nationwide, a single-day record, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The new high comes as many states set their own records in infection rates and hospitalizations. The three most populous US states — California, Texas and Florida — continue to see a surge in coronavirus cases. Meanwhile, the lagging test results have compounded the problem.  States depend on testing data to make crucial decisions on re-openings and resources. But that data is lagging as testing sites get backed up. Tests are being done in much larger numbers — a positive development. But the increase is also slowing down results, and officials want to reduce wait times for results.

  • Florida: At least 77 new coronavirus deaths and 8,892 new cases were reported in Florida on July 27. Over the past week, there have been an average of 10,336 cases per day, a decrease of five percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Tuesday evening, there have been at least 441,900 cases and 6,116 deaths in Florida since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. After an outbreak, the Miami Marlins said on Tuesday that the team will stop playing games until at least Monday. At least 17 members of the team’s traveling party, including 15 players, have tested positive for the virus just days after the Major League Baseball season resumed. The news was a stark reminder of the challenge in trying to find a more normal routine.

 

  • Texas now reported 409,253 infections and 6641 deaths as of July 28. At least 6,557 new coronavirus cases were reported in Texas on July 27. Over the past week, there have been an average of 8,089 cases per day, a decrease of 12 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Tuesday evening, there have been at least 409,200 cases and 6,441 deaths in Texas since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. The state became a hot spot in the U.S. while politicians debated a mask mandate, and it is among the 21 states with outbreaks serious enough to place them in the “red zone,” according to a federal report dated July 26. The virus has hit particularly hard in the Rio Grande Valley, where poverty and chronic illness have aggravated the outbreak.

  • Arizona: At least 7 new coronavirus deaths and 1,877 new cases were reported in Arizona on July 27. Over the past week, there have been an average of 2,657 cases per day, a decrease of 17 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Tuesday evening, there have been at least 165,966 cases and 3,424 deaths in Arizona since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. New efforts seek to expand supplies and bandwidth for people wanting to get tested and to boost processing capacity so that results can come back faster.

  • California: At least 93 new coronavirus deaths and 7,765 new cases were reported in California on July 27. Over the past week, there have been an average of 9,558 cases per day, an increase of 15 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Tuesday evening, there have been at least 471,300 cases and 8,633 deaths in California since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.

 

  • Kentucky: At least 8 new coronavirus deaths and 568 new cases were reported in Kentucky on July 27. Over the past week, there have been an average of 610 cases per day, an increase of 60 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Tuesday evening, there have been at least 28,846 cases and 736 deaths in Kentucky since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.

  • Mayors vs Governors:  While some governors are resisting full rollbacks, some mayors are pushing back.  For example, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is planning to roll back the city’s reopening to phase one (home lockdown) due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, her spokesperson said Friday. She has also mandated masks in defiance of Gov. Kemp. July 17 update: Kemp has now sued Mayor KLB.

  • Oxford is Vaccine Frontrunner; May Offer Double Defense: The University of Oxford candidate, led by Sarah Gilbert, might be through human trials in September. AstraZeneca has lined up agreements to produce 2 billion doses. The researchers believe they have made a breakthrough after discovering the jab could provide “double protection” against the virus, the Daily Telegraph reported. The newspaper said the phase 1 trial in healthy adult volunteers, which began in April, showed the vaccine generated an immune response, with blood samples indicating it stimulated the body to produce both antibodies and “killer T-cells”.

  • Rapid Test Breakthrough? Researchers in Australia have devised a test that can determine novel coronavirus infection in about 20 minutes using blood samples in what they say is a world-first breakthrough. The research team was led by BioPRIA and Monash University’s Chemical Engineering Department, including researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent BioNano Science and Technology (CBNS). Meanwhile, in Singapore, Clinician-scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore’s (NTU Singapore) Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) have demonstrated a way to improve the speed, handling time and cost of COVID-19 laboratory tests. The improved testing method yields results in 36 minutes – a quarter of the time required by existing gold-standard tests.

 

  • Promising UK Antibody Study: About 7% of participants in a British study tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, according to results from the first month of the nationwide study.  The test results, which indicate previous infection with coronavirus, ranged from 10.4% of Londoners to about 4.4% of people living in the southwest of England and Scotland. The widespread United Kingdom serology, or antibody, study uses volunteers for a much larger, ongoing health study called the UK Biobank. UK Biobank has collected samples and health information from 500,000 volunteers for research. The researchers have recruited more than 20,000 volunteers from regions across the UK for the coronavirus antibody study. They are being asked to provide monthly blood samples that the Oxford University-based Target Discovery Institute will test for the antibodies.

 

  • GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur: Drug giants GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur said Friday they had won a commitment from the US federal government to pay up to $2.1 billion to help the two companies move forward with their proposed joint coronavirus vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed.The companies had said in April they would work together to make a vaccine against Covid-19, using Sanofi’s flu vaccine technology and Glaxo’s adjuvant — a compound that boosts the power of a vaccine

  • FDA Authorizes Asymptomatic Test: The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first coronavirus test for asymptomatic Covid-19 cases and for those who don’t think they’re infected with the virus at all. The agency reissued an emergency use authorization for a LabCorp Covid-19 RT-PCR test after the company provided scientific proof that the test was able to detect the virus in asymptomatic people. RT-PCR tests amplify genetic matter from the virus so it’s detectable.

  • Antibody Drug Hope: Eli Lilly believes that a new antibody drug could be on the market by the end of the year, according to the CEO of a biotech firm working with the pharmaceutical giant.

  • Professional Sports: While the NBA successfully restarted inside the Disney bubble on August 30th, MLB as hit a snag as eleven Marlins players tested positive. Meanwhile, The National Football League clubs and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have approved an agreement that that will allow training camps to begin as scheduled, commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. The league is also testing new helmets with enclosed masks or visors.

  • Extensive Organ Damage: Coronavirus damages not only the lungs, but the kidneys, liver, heart, brain and nervous system, skin and gastrointestinal tract, doctors noted in a review of reports about COVID-19 patients (source: (Columbia University/Irving Medical Center)

  • The European Union: The EU banned American citizens from travel to the bloc due to the ongoing surge of infections. Meanwhile, citizens of other former “hot zone” countries are allowed to enter the EU.

  • MENA & sub-Saharan Africa: The IMF warned of deeper Middle East and North Africa (MENA) recession and rising social unrest risks. The economic outlook was already grim as the region struggles to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, in SS Africa, South Africa extended measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases in the country continued to rise. SA represents the highest total in SS Africa with 276,242 cases and over 4000 deaths (as of July 13).

  • Caution in Africa: The continent has surpassed 640,000+ Covid-19 cases and 14,000 deaths, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa, said on Thursday. During a news conference, Moeti said some countries should expect a rise in cases as their governments ease lockdown measures “that have been put in place and bought some time in scaling up the public health capacities.”

  • Latin America & Caribbean: Coronavirus infections in Latin America and the Caribbean surpassed 3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with Brazil, Peru and Chile reporting the highest number of infections. Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina declared a state of emergency in the country for the next 45 days due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Medina issued a presidential decree on Monday announcing the decision due to “the concerning increase of Covid-19 transmission and in order to avoid our public and private health system from overflowing.”

  • Argentina: Argentina’s death toll due to Covid-19 has reached 2,072, with 22 new deaths in the last 24 hours, according to data released by the Ministry of Health on Thursday morning. The total number of coronavirus cases stands at 111,160, with 4,250 new cases, a record daily increase.

  • Brazil & President Bolsanaro: Brazil has now registered 2.2m infections and 85,238 deaths. Brazil’s health ministry said it recorded 55,891 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 2,343,366. It also registered 1,156 new fatalities due to the virus, raising the total death toll to 85,238.With Friday’s new cases, Brazil has added a total of nearly 300,000 new Covid-19 infections in the last seven days. Brazil’s Minister of Education Milton Ribeiro tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday, just hours after another cabinet minister revealed he was infected earlier in the day. Meanwhile, Pres. Bolsanaro has famously resisted and rejected the danger of COVID-19, has now tested positive again,

  • Mexico recorded a new daily record of 8,458 new coronavirus cases on Friday bringing the total number of infections to 424,637, its health ministry announced. The ministry also recorded 688 new coronavirus related deaths, raising the total death toll to 46,688.

  • Peru: The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Peru rose to at least 129,751 on Tuesday — a jump of 5,772 from the previous day, according to the country’s health ministry. Peru imposed one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in Latin America to stop the spread of coronavirus – but has still seen cases rise rapidly.

  • Japan: Japan reported 1,579 new Covid-19 cases and five deaths on Friday, according to the health ministry. It’s the third day in a row that the country has reported its highest daily infections. The total number of confirmed cases in Japan stands at 36,548, with 712 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. There have been 1,024 deaths, with 13 from the cruise ship.

  • Germany: The German government and its sixteen federal states agreed to extend social distancing restrictions to June 29, the government announced in a statement on Tuesday.

  • Italy: The number of active COVID-19 cases in Italy has dropped to 52,942, the Civil Protection Agency said Tuesday. The number marks an encouraging decrease – close to half of the highest number of cases recorded during the peak of the pandemic, which stood at 108,257.

  • Spain: The Iberian nation recorded 628 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, the highest number since May 8, the Spanish Health Ministry’s data showed on Friday. The total number of cases in Spain has now reached at least 260,255. The data also shows that more than half of those new cases were registered in the outbreak-hit regions of Catalonia and Aragon. The country’s Covid-19 death toll rose by 4 in the last 24 hours and 10 in the last 7 days, in line with the past few weeks. A total of 28,420 people have died of Coronavirus in Spain to date.

  • Spanish Study Challenges Herd Immunity Theory: Meanwhile,  Spanish study has cast doubt on the feasibility of herd immunity as a way of tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The study of more than 60,000 people estimates that around just 5% of the Spanish population has developed antibodies, the medical journal the Lancet reported.

Spotlight Article:

Improved Testing Method Produces COVID-19 Results in 36 Minutes

NEWS   Jul 28, 2020 | Original story from Nanyang Technological University

Improved Testing Method Produces COVID-19 Results in 36 Minutes

Credit: NTU Singapore

 Read Time: 4 min
Clinician-scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore’s (NTU Singapore) Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) have demonstrated a way to improve the speed, handling time and cost of COVID-19 laboratory tests. The improved testing method yields results in 36 minutes – a quarter of the time required by existing gold-standard tests.Their new approach could enable the wider adoption of COVID-19 testing for diagnosis in academic or research laboratories, and allow for screening and research especially in countries and regions with limited laboratory capabilities. The test, which can be done with portable equipment, could also be deployed in the community as a screening tool.Currently, the most sensitive method for testing for COVID-19 is through a laboratory technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), in which a machine amplifies viral genetic material by copying it over and over again so any trace of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be detected.A big bottleneck in sample testing is RNA purification – separating RNA from other components in the patient sample – a laborious process that requires chemicals that are now in short supply worldwide. Its steps have to be performed by highly trained technical staff and can take a few hours. Currently, automated equipment for sample preparation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and requires specialised laboratory facilities.The method developed by NTU LKCMedicine combines many of these steps and allows direct testing on the crude patient sample, cutting down the turnaround time from sample-to-result, and removing the need for RNA purification chemicals.Details of the new approach were published in the scientific journal Genes in June.Mr Wee Soon Keong, a PhD candidate at NTU LKCMedicine and the first author of the paper, said: “While polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a venerable technology that has proven to be a workhorse for biological research, it has some drawbacks when used outside of the laboratory environment. The process is fiddly and time-consuming. Our rapid COVID-19 test involves a single-tube reaction that reduces hands-on time and biosafety risk for lab personnel, as well as the likelihood for carryover contamination during the processing of samples.”Aside from testing for COVID-19, the same method developed by the NTU LKCMedicine team can also be used to detect other viruses and bacteria, including the dengue virus, which is set to plague Singapore as the country braces itself for one of the worst dengue outbreaks amid the coronavirus pandemic.Leader of the research team, Associate Professor Eric Yap, who also heads the Microbial Genomics Laboratory, said: “We previously demonstrated that this method works for dengue virus as well. When used directly on a crude blood sample with dengue virus, the test yielded results in 28 minutes. As Singapore battles the dual outbreak of dengue and COVID-19, both with similar early symptoms, our test could help in differentiating between the two infectious diseases.”Professor James Best, Dean of NTU LKCMedicine, said: “As Singapore continues with proactive testing to detect, isolate, and contain the possible spread of the coronavirus, rapid portable screening tools like the one developed by Assoc Prof Yap and his team could come in handy at testing sites in the community, allowing for infected patients to be identified quickly, and swift action to be taken to prevent transmission.”From benchtop to portable testingTypically, in PCR tests, the genetic material on a swab sample collected from a patient has to be extracted to remove any substances in the sample that prevent the PCR test from working. An example of an inhibitor in respiratory samples is mucin (a main component of mucus).The test designed by the NTU LKCMedicine team, which includes senior research fellow Dr Sivalingam Paramalingam Suppiah, uses the ‘direct PCR’ method, removing the need for RNA purification, a time-consuming and costly step. Instead, they added inhibitor-resistant enzymes and reagents targeting compounds that obstruct RNA amplification, such as mucin, a main component of mucus. These enzymes and reagents, which are commercially available, have high resistance to such compounds that otherwise inhibit PCR, rendering the test inaccurate.The biochemical mix of crude sample and inhibitor-resistant enzymes and reagents is placed into a single tube, which is inserted into a laboratory thermocycler, a machine used to amplify genetic material in PCR. After 36 minutes, results reveal whether there is any trace of COVID-19 with confidence.”By skipping the RNA extraction step with our direct-PCR method, we see cost savings on nucleic acid extraction kits, and avoid the problem of reagents in short supply when lab testing is ramped up and the demand increases globally,” said Dr Sivalingam.The team also tested this method on a portable thermocycler, which can be deployed in low-resource settings and endemic areas, pointing to the possibility of having this test done in community healthcare settings by frontline healthcare workers.Assoc Prof Yap said: “We are now trying to deploy such direct-PCR methods, developed by ourselves and others, for routine diagnostics. We need to determine the actual utility and benefits in a real-world setting, and to understand if there are any trade-offs. When one bottleneck is removed, other challenges may emerge – like ensuring quality control, or reducing manual errors.”The team is now looking to use this method for COVID-19 testing at the NTU Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory at LKCMedicine that Assoc Prof Yap heads.”Our goal is to develop ultrafast and automated tests that yield results in minutes, and that can be performed by healthcare workers in the clinic with similar accuracy and sensitivity as in specialised laboratories. This will allow us to take PCR testing out of conventional laboratories nearer to the point-of-care, and into the low-resource settings that need them the most,” he said.Reference: Wee, S. K., Sivalingam, S. P., & Yap, E. P. (2020). Rapid Direct Nucleic Acid Amplification Test without RNA Extraction for SARS-CoV-2 Using a Portable PCR Thermocycler. Genes, 11(6), 664. doi:10.3390/genes11060664

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