• Signs of COVID-19 May Be Hidden in Speech Signals

    Processing vocal recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of COVID-19. Kylie Foy writes for the MIT Lincoln Lab that it’s often easy to tell when colleagues are struggling with a cold — they sound sick. Maybe their voices are lower or have a nasally tone. Infections change the quality of our voices in various ways. But Lincoln Laboratory researchers are detecting these changes in COVID-19 patients even when these changes are too subtle for people to hear or even notice in themselves.

  • The Tricky Math of Herd Immunity for COVID-19

    While much about the COVID-19 pandemic remains uncertain, we know how it will likely end: when the spread of the virus starts to slow (and eventually ceases altogether) because enough people have developed immunity to it. At that point, whether it’s brought on by a vaccine or by people catching the disease, the population has developed “herd immunity.” “Once the level of immunity passes a certain threshold, then the epidemic will start to die out because there aren’t enough new people to infect,” said Natalie Dean of the University of Florida. Kevin Hartnett writes in Quanta Magazine that while determining that threshold for COVID-19 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 and protect the people who aren’t immune.

  • The Pandemic’s Big Mystery: How Deadly Is the Coronavirus?

    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 one of the most fundamental questions about the virus: How deadly is it? Donald G. McNeil Jr. writes in the New York Times that a firm estimate could help governments predict how many deaths would ensue if the virus spread out of control. The figure, usually called the infection fatality rate, could tell health officials what to expect as the pandemic spreads to densely populated nations like Brazil, Nigeria and India.

  • Why Coronavirus Cases Are Rising but Deaths Are Not, for Now

    The number of new coronavirus cases exploded in California last week while the death toll held steady, prompting predictions that the low body count, instead of a bright spot, might represent the calm before an ever-growing storm. Peter Fimrite writes for the San Francisco Chronicle that even as cases increased, the average number of deaths per day from COVID-19 dropped in the Bay Area by 14% from May to June. Statewide, average daily deaths fell by about 8%. There were 100 deaths statewide on July 2 and 50 on July 3 — both well below California’s peak of 115 deaths on April 22. Infectious-disease specialists say the low death rate is partly because of drugs that control COVID-19 better than before. But mainly, they say, it’s because most recent COVID-19 victims have been young people who are less likely to develop serious complications.

  • Six Months of Coronavirus: The Mysteries Scientists Are Still Racing to Solve

    From immunity to the role of genetics, Nature looks at five pressing questions about COVID-19 that researchers are tackling. Six months and more than ten million confirmed cases later, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the worst public-health crisis in a century. Ewen Callaway, Heidi Ledford, and Smriti Mallapaty write in Nature that scientists have learnt how the virus enters and hijacks cells, how some people fight it off and how it eventually kills others. They have identified drugs that benefit the sickest patients, and many more potential treatments are in the works. They have developed nearly 200 potential vaccines — the first of which could be proved effective by the end of the year. But for every insight into COVID-19, more questions emerge and others linger. Among them: Why do people respond so differently? What’s the nature of immunity and how long does it last? Has the virus developed any worrying mutations? How well will a vaccine work? What is the origin of the virus?

  • African COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Reignite Hostile Narratives against World Health Organization

    In May 2020, false information began spreading in several African countries that implied the World Health Organization (WHO) had mixed poison into “COVID-Organics,” an unproven herbal tonic touted across Africa as a cure for COVID-19, in an attempt to kill Africans. Tessa Knight and Kanishk Karan write for DFRLab that the narratives contributed to a conspiracy ecosystem of anti-vaxxers who frequently attack global public health efforts. The false narrative gave fuel to the ongoing conspiracy fire, resonating because it targeted an international organization — in this case, WHO ­– that is a common target for conspiracies

  • Software Tool Could Be Used to Limit Lockdowns, Safeguard Economy

    People hunkered down at home while many businesses, churches, and schools closed this spring to curtail the spread of the COVID-19, but one George Mason University Engineering researcher says that drastic lockdown strategy may not fit all areas of the United States. Sai Dinakarrao, an engineering professor, is working with other researchers to develop a software tool that factors in differences between parts of the country.

  • Global COVID-19 Cases Pass 10 Million, Deaths Top Half Million

    Global COVID-19 numbers crossed two grim thresholds Sunday, with cases passing 10 million and deaths topping 500,000, with cases still rising in a number of hot spots and countries that have controlled their outbreaks battling pockets of resurgence. The world has been adding about 1 million COVID-19 cases a week, and yesterday the total reached 10,199,798 cases, and 502,947 people have died from their infections.

  • “Pooled Testing” for COVID-19 Holds Promise, Pitfalls

    The nation’s top health officials are banking on a new approach to dramatically boost U.S. screening for the coronavirus: combining test samples in batches instead of running them one by one. Matthew Perrone writes for AP that the potential benefits include stretching laboratory supplies, reducing costs and expanding testing to millions more Americans who may unknowingly be spreading the virus. Health officials think infected people who aren’t showing symptoms are largely responsible for the rising number of cases across more than half of states.

  • U.S. Biotech Firm Inovio Reports Encouraging Virus Vaccine Results

    The US biotech firm Inovio reported preliminary but encouraging results Tuesday from tests of an experimental coronavirus vaccine. AFP reports that the vaccine, administered to 40 volunteers, triggered an immune system response in 94 percent of those who completed the so-called phase one clinical trial, meaning they received two injections, four weeks apart. Inovio’s vaccine, called INO-4800, is designed to inject DNA into a person so as to set off a specific immune system response against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

  • Coronavirus: The Antibody Drugs Few People Have Been Discussing – Until Now

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have been working around the clock to find an effective treatment. The first drug to show promise is dexamethasone, a cheap, widely available steroid. A large clinical trial run by the University of Oxford showed that the drug cut the risk of death for COVID-19 patients on ventilators by a third, and by a fifth for those on oxygen. Lara Marks writes in The Conversation thatwhat is encouraging about dexamethasone is that it provides a proof of concept for future therapies. The drug works by blocking the overactive immune response triggered by SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This can cause excessive inflammation – a complication often far more damaging than the virus itself.

  • Coronavirus and Cancer Hijack the Same Parts in Human Cells to Spread – and Our Team Identified Existing Cancer Drugs that Could Fight 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 viruses rely on cellular mechanisms in human cells to help them spread, so it should be possible to change an aspect of a person’s body to prevent that and slow down the virus enough to allow the immune system to fight the invader off. Nevan Krogan writes in The Conversation, “I am a quantitative biologist, and my lab built a map of how the coronavirus uses human cells. We used that map to find already existing drugs that could be repurposed to fight COVID-19 and have been working with an international group of researchers called the QBI Coronavirus Research Group to see if the drugs we identified showed any promiseMany have.

  • Gilead Sets Price of Coronavirus Drug Remdesivir at $3,120 as Trump Administration Secures Supply for 500,000 Patients

    Gilead Sciences, the maker of the first covid-19 treatment found to have worked in clinical trials, remdesivir, said Monday it will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 for the typical patient with private insurance. Hannah Denham, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Christopher Rowland write in the Washington Post that sSoon after the announcement, the Trump administration said it had secured nearly all of the company’s supply of the drug for use in U.S. hospitals through September, with a contract for 500,000 treatment courses, which it will make available to hospitals at Gilead’s price.

  • This Coronavirus Mutation Has Taken over the World. Scientists Are Trying to Understand Why.

    When the first coronavirus cases in Chicago appeared in January, they bore the same genetic signatures as a germ that emerged in China weeks before. Sarah Kaplan and Joel Achenbach write in the Washington Post that as Egon Ozer, an infectious-disease specialist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, examined the genetic structure of virus samples from local patients, he noticed something different. At a glance, the mutation seemed trivial. About 1,300 amino acids serve as building blocks for a protein on the surface of the virus. In the mutant virus, the genetic instructions for just one of those amino acids — number 614 — switched in the new variant from a “D” (shorthand for aspartic acid) to a “G” (short for glycine). But the location was significant, because the switch occurred in the part of the genome that codes for the all-important “spike protein” — the protruding structure that gives the coronavirus its crownlike profile and allows it to enter human cells the way a burglar picks a lock.

  • The Danger of Drug Research in a Hurry

    The number of studies on COVID-19 is increasing just as rapidly as the number of infections at the beginning of the pandemic. Felicitas Witte writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [in German] that in mid-March there were still 84, today there are more than 2,200. Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, chairman of the drug commission of the German medical profession and an oncologist in Berlin, is concerned about the number. “This is more mass than class,” he says. “Many of the ongoing studies are so badly planned that it is already clear that a reliable result will not come out.” The corona crisis culminated in what he had been criticizing for a number of years: Medicines should come onto the market faster and faster, but the quality of the studies and ultimately the patient suffered as a result.