The Brief // By Ben FrankelFundamental Questions about COVID-19 Still to Be Answered

Published 6 July 2020

One of the keys to slowing the spread of the coronavirus – and alerting carriers so they do not infect members of vulnerable communities – is testing. Matthew Perrone writes about pool testing, while Kylie Foy describes how MIT engineers can now process vocal recordings of infected but asymptomatic people to reveal potential indicators of COVID-19.

Kevin Hartnett writes that while determining that threshold for COVID-19 herd immunity is critical, a lot of nuance is involved in calculating exactly how much of the population needs to be immune for herd immunity to take effect.

More than six months into the pandemic, the coronavirus has infected more than 11 million people worldwide, killing more than 525,000. But despite the increasing toll, scientists still do not have a definitive answer to several fundamental questions about the virus. Donald G. McNeil Jr.; Peter Fimrite; Ewen Callaway, Heidi Ledford, and Smriti Mallapaty; and Sarah Kaplan and Joel Achenbach analyze some of the mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding COVID-19.

Most antivirals in use today target parts of an invading virus itself. Unfortunately, SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – has proven hard to kill, but Nevan Krogan writes that many drugs show promise in doing just that. One such drug is remdesivir, but Hannah Denham, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Christopher Rowland write that the company which makes it, Gilead Sciences, will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 for the typical patient with private insurance.

The number of studies on COVID-19 is increasing just as rapidly as the number of infections. Felicitas Witte writes that today there are more than 2,200 studies under way. “This is more mass than class,” one expert told her. “Many of the ongoing studies are so badly planned that it is already clear that a reliable result will not come out.”

And conspiracy theories are never too far away: Anti-vaxxers have been spreading their lies and misinformation in Africa, using social media in several African countries to accus the World Health Organization (WHO) of mixing poison into “COVID-Organics,” an unproven herbal tonic touted across Africa as a cure for COVID-19, in an attempt to kill Africans.