• COVID-19 Cases Are Rising, So Why Are Deaths Flatlining?

    COVID-19 cases have soared to terrifying levels since June. Yesterday, the U.S. had 62,000 confirmed cases, an all-time high—and about five times more than the entire continent of Europe. Several U.S. states, including Arizona and Florida, currently have more confirmed cases per capita than any other country in the world. Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic that average daily deaths are down 75 percent from their April peak. Despite higher death counts on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weekly average has largely plateaued in the past two weeks. There are five possible explanations for the case-death gap. Take them as complementary, rather than competing, theories: 1. Deaths lag cases—and that might explain almost everything; 2. Expanded testing is finding more cases, milder cases, and earlier cases; 3. The typical COVID-19 patient is getting younger; 4. Hospitalized patients are dying less frequently, even without a home-run treatment; and 5. Summer might be helping—but probably only a little bit. “After all the graphs, statistics, science, and interpretations, we’re left with a simple fact: Hundreds of Americans are dying every day of a disease that is infecting several hundred thousand of them every week,” Thompson writes. “If that’s success, let’s pray we never see failure.”

  • Scientists Hail “Stunning” Results that Show Areas of New York May Have Reached 68 Percent Immunity

    Areas of New York have recorded a nearly 70 percent rate of immunity to COVID-19, in what scientists have described as “stunning” findings that suggest they could be protected from any second wave. Josie Ensor writes in The Telegraph that some 68 percent of people who took antibody tests at a clinic in the Corona neighborhood of Queens received positive results, while at another clinic in Jackson Heights, 56 percent tested positive. The results, shared by healthcare company CityMD with the New York Times, appear to show a higher antibody rate than anywhere in the world, based on publicly released data.

  • After COVID-19, Public Transport in Intensive Care

    Many certainties fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. Director of forecasting for the French urban transport operator Keolis, Eric Chareyron is no exception to this reality. “The problem with public transport is that there is “public” or “communal” in the name, he says. The term “communal,” in a period when we are being urged to limit what we do in a communal manner, “inevitably, that handicaps us.” Eric Béziat writes in Le Monde [in French] that thought is being given in the public transportation sector to looking for a new, less anxiety-provoking name. This line of thinking is an indication to what extent the sector was hit by the crisis, and questions are being raised about its very foundations. The train, the metro, the bus, the tram are all enclosed and collective spaces, and as such are the designated victims of health vigilance.

  • The High Cost of Conspiracy Theories

    Conspiracy theories have been rampant on the Internet since the Corona crisis began. One of the most curious conspiracy theories involves Bill Gates: He wants to implant microchips into people with the help of vaccinations and thus control humanity, according to many online forums. Gustav Theile writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [in German] that surveys repeatedly show that these conspiracies are not a niche phenomenon. According to a Yougov survey, 44 percent of Republicans in the United States believe in the Gates microchip conspiracy. One in two Britons, according to a study by Oxford University, tends towards conspiracy theories. In Germany, the belief in the Gates conspiracy seems to have more followers than the fear that the new 5G mobile communications standard is the cause of the coronavirus epidemic. Web searches for both conspiracy theories shot up in April and May, but overall, Googling for 5G was only about half as often as for Bill Gates. Why conspiracies, which are supposed to be top secret, should be unmasked by simply Googling is, of course, not clear.

  • Hateful Extremists Have Been Exploiting the Current Pandemic

    The U.K. Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) has published a report Thursday, looking at the way in which extremists have sought to exploit the current pandemic. The CCE say that the government needs to ensure that their response to dealing with COVID-19 and future crises takes into account the significant threat of hateful extremism and the dangerous narratives spread by conspiracy theories.

  • Making Bioweapons Obsolete

    The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) and Sandia National Laboratories convened experts and thought leaders in government, academia, and the private sector to discuss the ways to make a future in which the threat of biological weapons is greatly reduced.

  • Coronavirus: Why Everyone Was Wrong

    “This is not an accusation, but a ruthless taking stock [of the current situation],” Beda M. Stadler writes in Medium. Stadler, the former director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Bern and an emeritus professor of biology, stresses that his article is about Switzerland, and that the situation in different countries may differ. He continues: “I could slap myself, because I looked at Sars-CoV2- way too long with panic. I am also somewhat annoyed with many of my immunology colleagues who so far have left the discussion about Covid-19 to virologist and epidemiologist. I feel it is time to criticize some of the main and completely wrong public statements about this virus. Firstly, it was wrong to claim that this virus was novel. Secondly, it was even more wrong to claim that the population would not already have some immunity against this virus. Thirdly, it was the crowning of stupidity to claim that someone could have COVID-19 without any symptoms at all or even to pass the disease along without showing any symptoms whatsoever.”

  • Fundamental Questions about COVID-19 Still to Be Answered

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?