Coronavirus Update: Week 18

As fall approaches and the new school year begins, the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S. Some universities have started allowing students to return to campuses, and their return has been accompanied by an upswing in cases of the illness. Many students have been hanging out at college bars and having house parties, despite university authorities warning against large gatherings. This new source of spread is alarming since there are currently over 5 million coronavirus cases in the United States, and at least 182,069 deaths have been reported. Case numbers will most likely continue to rise as in-person schooling begins for children; studies show that children can remain contagious but asymptomatic for weeks. 

U.S. Records More Than 46,000 Cases in 24 Hours

According to John Hopkins University, 46,156 new cases of coronavirus were diagnosed  in the U.S. on August 29th. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the U.S. to almost 6 million. In addition, there were almost 1,000 new deaths recorded on Friday, August 28th.

States Recording More Coronavirus-Related Deaths

colorful US map with each state in a different color
Many states have seen a surge in coronavirus deaths.

There have been more deaths as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the states. Currently, numbers are rising in :

  • Illinois- recorded more than 8,000 total deaths as of Saturday, August 29th.
  • Georgia- reported 106 new deaths statewide on August 29th, bringing the state’s total death toll to over 5,500.
  • South Carolina- reported 42 deaths on the 29th, bringing the state’s total death toll to over 2,500.
  • Florida- reported 148 deaths on the 29th, bringing the state’s total death toll to over 11,100.

Universities Creating More Cases

A new survey has found that there are more than 26,000 cases of the coronavirus at more than 750 colleges and universities in the U.S. Numbers are high among students who are living at dorms and Greek houses, and among those who have spent time at college bars. Universities with rising case numbers include: 

  • University of Alabama had 481 students test positive this week, bringing the total number of infections to over 1,000.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill currently has a total of over 800 confirmed positive cases.
  • Western Michigan University reported 16 new cases last week, bringing their total number of cases to 69.
  • Illinois State University reported 102 more cases this week, bringing their total to over 500 cases. statue of Penn States's nittany lion
  • Penn State reported 28 students testing positive for the coronavirus, with over 1,000 still waiting for their results. 
  • University of Iowa reported 500 new cases among their students, with a total of over 600 cases for the semester so far.
  • University of Dayton announced 116 new positive cases, bringing their total number of cases to almost 500.

Study Shows How Long Coronavirus Can Be Present in Children

A study conducted in South Korea suggests that children can carry the coronavirus in their noses and throats for weeks even if they do not show any symptoms of the illness. This could be the reason that the virus continues to spread silently within communities and states.

“Interestingly, this study aligns with adult data in which up to 40% of adults may remain asymptomatic in the face of infection,” Dr. Roberta DeBiasi and Dr. Meghan Delaney, both of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, wrote in an editorial.

Possible Case of Coronavirus Reinfection

A 25-year-old Nevada man is the first documented case of reinfection of the coronavirus in the U.S. Genetic tests showed that the patient was infected with the virus in 2 different forms. He was diagnosed once in April, when he had a sore throat, cough, headache, nausea and diarrhea, and again in May, when he had a fever, headache, dizziness, cough, nauseous and diarrhea. 

“After one recovers from COVID-19, we still do not know how much immunity is built up, how long it may last, or how well antibodies play a role in protection against a reinfection,” Mark Pandori, the director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, said in a press release on  Thursday, August 27th.

“If reinfection is possible on such a short timeline, there may be implications for the efficacy of vaccines developed to fight the disease. It may also have implications for herd immunity,” Pandori said. “It is important to note that this is a singular finding. It does not provide any information to us with regard to the generalizability of this phenomenon.”

illustration in black and white of a man with a suit on in fear while looking at a paper with the word bill in his hand
Trump’s coronavirus health program has left many people with a large bill due to discrepancies.

Trump Program Leaves Many With Huge Bills

A plan to help cover uninsured individuals that President Trump announced earlier in the pandemic has ended up causing chaos. Speaking about his plan in April, the President had said,  “This should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans may have about seeking the coronavirus treatment.” The plan was supposed to allow money from the federal stimulus package to cover testing and treatment for uninsured people with the Coronavirus.

Unfortunately, however, the program has not delivered on its promises. It has caused confusion at participating hospitals, who have ended up billing patients directly for their treatment. Some providers have chosen not to participate in the program at all. In addition, the program has not been not well-publicized, so many people do not know about it and are not receiving money to help with their medical bills. Not only that, but a large number of patients are disqualified from the program, because coronavirus has to be their main diagnosis in order for their bills to be covered. 

Doctors Unhappy With Coronavirus Tests

Doctors are currently dissatisfied with the state of coronavirus testing in the U.S. While the commonly used PCR test for coronavirus does determine how much of the virus is present in a patient’s body, the only information being sent to doctors and patients is whether the test was positive or negative. Information about viral load could help to determine how contagious a patient is, and how long they should be isolating themselves. 

“We’ve been using one type of data for everything, and that is just plus or minus — that’s all,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We’re using that for clinical diagnostics, for public health, for policy decision-making.”

yes and no checkbox with a pencil laying next to the two words.
Doctors are unhappy that coronavirus test results only come in yes or no form without more detail.

“But yes-no isn’t good enough,” he added. “It’s the amount of virus that should dictate the infected patient’s next steps. It’s really irresponsible, I think, to forgo the recognition that this is a quantitative issue,” Mina said.

Another problem is that the tests are just too sensitive. A review by The New York Times found that the PCR tests collected in Massachusetts, New York and Nevada showed that almost 90% of people who tested positive carried barely any of the virus. Currently the threshold to consider a person positive for coronavirus is 40, which means that a patient is considered positive for the coronavirus if the test process required up to 40 cycles to detect the virus. Many scientists consider this too high of a threshold to be useful.

“Tests with thresholds so high may detect not just live virus but also genetic fragments, leftovers from infection that pose no particular risk — akin to finding a hair in a room long after a person has left,” Mina said.

“Any test with a cycle threshold above 35 is too sensitive,” agreed Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. “I’m shocked that people would think that 40 could represent a positive,” she said.

“A more reasonable cutoff would be 30 to 35,” she added, while Mina said he “would set the figure at 30, or even less.”

Coronavirus Update: Week 15

Many businesses are operating remotely, schooling is being done virtually, weddings have been postponed, masks and social distancing are the new norm, and it seems like no one has been left untouched by the rising death toll. On Wednesday, July 29, more than 1,400 coronavirus related deaths were reported nationwide- that equates to about one death every minute. Multiple states have been seeing record-high numbers of cases and deaths, and although numbers continue to climb, President Trump has dismissed any talk of another national shutdown. Instead he is urging children to go back to school, as well as urging coronavirus patients who have recovered from the disease to donate plasma in the hope that this will help treat those who are infected. 

res gates locked with a padlock and chains
Having another widespread shutdown is “not a viable option.” 

Trump Dismisses Wider Shutdowns

Trump has made clear his position that having another widespread shutdown is “not a viable option.” 

“The primary purpose of a shutdown was to ‘flatten the curve,’” to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and to buy time for new treatments and therapies”, Mr. Trump said in a briefing at the White House. “And we’ve done that,” he said.

“A blanket shutdown to achieve a temporary reduction in cases is certainly not a viable long-term strategy for any country,” said Mr. Trump.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Expires July 31st

The CARES Act that was passed in March provided an extra $600 in unemployment benefits to those who lost their jobs to the pandemic, but those benefits expired at the end of July. The GOP has now proposed a stimulus package called the HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools) Act, which would reduce the extra unemployment benefit from $600 to $200 per week

The question of  how much to give unemployed individuals has been a sticking point between Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Democrats are pushing to give the full $600 for the rest of the year, while Republicans argue that this extra money would be a  disincentive to return to work.  Many on the right have stated their belief that people who receive these benefits would choose to stay home rather than go back to work. 

“Both Republicans and Democrats agree that in these extraordinary times it makes sense for the federal government to provide historic additional help on top of normal unemployment,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But the speaker [of the House] and the Democratic leader say they won’t agree to anything unless the program pays people more to stay home than to work.”

the back of a kid walking down a road with a backpack on.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that “we should try as best as we possibly can to get the children back to school.”

Dr. Fauci Says Children Should Go Back To School

Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that “we should try as best as we possibly can to get the children back to school… Because we know the consequences on the children when they’re kept out of school, as well as the downstream deleterious, unintended consequences on families, of parents who have to get off work to take care of their kids,” Fauci said during CNN’s global coronavirus town hall on the night of Thursday, July 30.

The noted infectious disease expert is urging  people to send their children to school on a case-by-case basis, depending on the number of coronavirus cases in their area. “So if you have a level of virus that really is very, very low, then you could likely proceed with impunity, depending on the local situation, with getting the child back to school with no restrictions. If you’re in an area where there is some virus involved, the local authorities may do things like try to modify the school situation,” Fauci added.

Coronavirus Model Projects 230,822 Deaths in US By November

Based on the current situation, The University of Washington is projecting that there will be 230,822 deaths from the coronavirus by November. 

“If 95% of Americans wore masks each time they left their homes, infection rates would drop, hospitalizations would drop, and forecasted deaths would drop,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at IHME. “Unfortunately, people let down their guard until the media reported the risk of increased infections.”

Several States Report Record-High Numbers In One Day

US map

On Thursday, July 30, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio recorded their highest ever numbers of cases in a single day:

  • Mississippi reported 1,755 cases
  • Missouri reported more than 1,600 cases
  • Ohio reported 1,733 cases

Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi also reported record-high deaths in a single day:

  • Arizona had 172 deaths
  • Florida had 252 deaths
  • Mississippi had 48 deaths

New Jersey’s Numbers On The Rise Again

New Jersey had been seeing its lowest numbers since the pandemic began, but case numbers have been rising for the past week, with the state averaging about 416 new cases per day. Some are blaming parties that were thrown in Middletown, NJ and Jackson, NJ for the spread of the virus all over the state. 

Hawaii Reports High Case Numbers Second Day In A Row

On Thursday, July 30, 124 new cases were reported in Hawaii, which is a 14% increase over the previous day’s report. The Mayor of Honolulu is considering closing all bars on the island of Oahu for 3 weeks. The proposal is waiting for the Governor’s approval.

Trump Urges Recovered Coronavirus Patients To Donate Plasma

President Trump issued a national call-to-action asking people who have recovered from the virus to donate plasma in order to help others who are fighting it. People who recover from the disease have virus-blocking antibodies in their blood weeks after recovery, which can be transfused into people who are sick, helping to boost their immune systems. 

“If you’ve had the virus, if you donate, it would be a terrific thing,” Trump said on a visit to the American Red Cross headquarters. “We really need donations of the plasma. To those that have had the virus, you’ve gotten through this. And I guess that means you have something very special there.”

Johnson & Johnson Create Coronavirus Vaccine That Protects Monkeys

three monkeys sitting next to each other.

The company Johnson & Johnson has created an experimental vaccine that is showing promising results: it seems to have protected monkeys from becoming infected with the coronavirus. “This week has been good — now we have two vaccines that work in monkeys,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University who was not involved in the studies. “It’s nice to be upbeat for a change.”

Although this vaccine candidate is showing good results so far, scientists involved in the project  are not rushing large-scale trials in humans because they do not want to take any shortcuts.

Coronavirus Update: Week 14

Coronavirus continues to spread through the US like wildfire, with cases now topping 4 million. Some states, like California, are still seeing a large rise in case numbers, and death tolls in other states are rising everyday. Although these numbers continue to soar, many districts are planning to reopen schools for in-person learning in the fall. The CDC has said that children are less likely than adults to get the virus and so should be able to begin in-person learning. President Trump agrees with the CDC’s assessment and has offered aid to those districts that open schools for in-person learning. Amid all of this virus spread and confusion over reopening schools, there is a glimmer of hope: the government has reached an agreement with Pfizer to produce hundreds of millions of doses of a covid-19 vaccine, which they hope to get out to the public by late fall. 

US Surpasses 4 Million Coronavirus Cases

On Thursday, July 23, the US officially recorded 4,032,430 cases of coronavirus, with a quarter of that number coming in within the last 15 days. So far there have been at least 144,167 deaths.

“We’ve rolled back essentially two months’ worth of progress with what we’re seeing in number of cases … in the United States,” Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health, told CNN on Thursday.the red san fransisco bridge

California Sets Record With Most Daily Coronavirus Deaths

The death toll topped 8,027 in California, with the state’s average daily number of deaths reaching 157. On July 23, the state saw 12,040 new Coronavirus infections, which was slightly below the previous day’s total of 12,807. California is currently recording the highest numbers of new daily cases in the nation.

The Health Director of Los Angeles said on Wednesday, July 23 that “COVID-19 appears to be on track to claim more lives in L.A. County than any other disease other than coronary heart disease.”

Georgia Passes 150,000 Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

Georgia’s Department of Public Health reported 3,314 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, July 22. This brings the total number of cases in the state to a minimum of 152,302. The total death toll for the state is 3,335 so far; the state saw 81 deaths on July 22, which was their second highest daily number of deaths. 

New CDC Guidelines Now In Favor of Opening Schools

Last week the CDC issued strict guidelines for the reopening of schools, with which President Trump expressed strong disagreement. Now they have changed their guidelines to favor reopening schools, stating that children aren’t as likely to suffer from coronavirus as adults and are also less likely to spread the disease to adults. The guidelines recommend that local officials should close schools if the virus cannot be controlled in that area. 

caucasian child with red hair sitting at a desk with a mask on
“Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting Covid-19 compared to adults.”

“The best available evidence indicates that Covid-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children,” an unsigned statement said. “Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting Covid-19 compared to adults. To put this in perspective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of Covid-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of Covid-19-related deaths.”

“CDC does not currently recommend universal symptom screenings (screening all students grades K-12) be conducted by schools,” the guidelines read. “Parents or caregivers should be strongly encouraged to monitor their children for signs of infectious illness every day,” they add. “Students who are sick should not attend school in-person.”

Trump On Reopening Schools

At a news conference on Thursday, July 24, Trump talked more about his plan for school reopenings. He announced the new CDC guidelines and said that the White House is recommending that the Senate include $105 billion in aid money for schools- but only if schools reopen in-person. If a district chooses not to reopen schools for in-person learning, then he believes that the money should go to parents who are homeschooling, private schools, and religious schools.

Some Schools Require Corona Waiver Before Returning

Some school districts are requiring that parents sign Covid-19 waivers before their children can go to school in-person. So far California, Florida, Missouri, and South Carolina have introduced these waivers. These waivers basically state that if a child gets sick or dies from coronavirus, the school will not be held accountable. 

Trump Administration & Pfizer Create Deal to Produce 100 Million Doses Of Covid-19 Vaccine

Pfizer has reached a $1.95 billion agreement with the government to produce 100 million doses of its covid-19 vaccine, which they hope to get to the public by the fall. The vaccine would be completely free to Americans, as long as it is given by healthcare providers. 

Pfizer is working on the vaccine with German company BioNTech. They began clinical trials in April, and Pfizer has so far been reporting positive results. “If the ongoing studies are successful, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be ready to seek Emergency Use Authorization or some form of regulatory approval as early as October 2020,” the company said in a statement.

Second Stimulus Check Underway

different money bills rolled up

Senate and White House negotiators said on Wednesday, July 22 that they have reached a deal on a piece of their stimulus package. The stimulus package is still being worked on, and is to hopefully be released by next week. So far, we know it will include a $1,200 stimulus check; however, it is still in the works as to who will qualify for the money. United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the proposal might only allow those who make $40,000 or less to receive a check.

“The president’s preference is to make sure that we send out direct payments quickly so that in August people get more money. There is no question this worked before,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday.