By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
THURSDAY, May 28, 2020 (HealthDay News) — As the U.S. coronavirus death toll passed 100,000 on Wednesday, there was more evidence of the collateral damage the virus has caused: New numbers released Thursday show the number of unemployed has now passed 40 million.
The death toll is “a striking reminder of how dangerous this virus can be,” Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, told the Associated Press.
COVID-19 is also a virus of opportunity: A jump in cases is being seen in nearly a dozen U.S. states, at least half of which reopened early, as the country’s coronavirus case count passed 1.7 million on Thursday.
Though the overall national trend has been staying steady or dropping, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are some of the states seeing upticks, The New York Times reported. All five states were among the first to loosen social distancing restrictions.
To some degree, the increase in cases may be due to increased testing, but it also suggests that the virus’s spread in this country is nowhere near over, the Times reported.
In a sign that the mental health toll of the coronavirus pandemic is also on the rise, new Census Bureau data shows that nearly a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Meanwhile, safety concerns over a malaria drug that President Donald Trump has touted as a coronavirus treatment prompted the World Health Organization to remove the medication from a global trial of potential COVID-19 therapies earlier this week.
Disappointing drug trials
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the international health agency’s director-general, said Monday that the WHO decided to take a “pause” in testing hydroxychloroquine after a study published last week in The Lancet medical journal found people who took the drug were more likely to die, the Times reported. Several other studies have found the medication has no benefit and could possibly harm COVID-19 patients.
Hopes for another drug being tested against coronavirus infection dimmed on Friday, after a major, new study found the drug on its own won’t be enough to significantly curb cases and deaths.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that, “given high mortality [of patients] despite the use of remdesivir, it is clear that treatment with an antiviral drug alone is not likely to be sufficient.”
The remdesivir study involved 1,063 COVID-19 patients and was led by Dr. John Beigel and Dr. Clifford Lane at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The researchers found that the drug, delivered by infusion, did help ease the illness: Patients who got the antiviral recovered after an average of 11 days versus 15 days for those who hadn’t received it.
Patients who were so sick they required supplemental oxygen, but did not need a ventilator to breathe, appeared to benefit most from remdesivir.
But the difference in the overall death rate — 7.1% of patients on the drug vs. 11.9% of those who didn’t get it — did not reach statistical significance, the researchers added.
The study does suggest that early treatment works best. “Our findings highlight the need to identify COVID-19 cases and start antiviral treatment before the pulmonary disease progresses to require mechanical ventilation,” the researchers said.
Early evidence had suggested that remdesivir might help fight coronavirus illness, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave it “emergency use authorization.”
Already, combinations of remdesivir and other drugs are being tried, to see if dual-drug treatments might boost outcomes even more. For example, one federally funded clinical trial is combining remdesivir with a potent anti-inflammatory drug called baricitinib, while a trial from biotech firm CytoDyn is pairing it with an antiviral called leronlimab.
Vaccine efforts continue
Meanwhile, the search for an effective vaccine goes on. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Thursday it would provide up to $1.2 billion to the drug company AstraZeneca to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine from Oxford University, in England.
The fourth, and largest, vaccine research agreement funds a clinical trial of the potential vaccine in the United States this summer with about 30,000 volunteers, the Times reported.
The goal? To make at least 300 million doses that could be available as early as October, the HHS said in a statement.
However, many experts have said that the earliest an effective, mass-produced vaccine would be available won’t be until sometime next year, and billions of doses would be needed worldwide.
On Tuesday, pharmaceutical giant Merck also jumped into the fight against the coronavirus, announcing two separate efforts to develop a vaccine and a partnership to develop a promising antiviral drug that can be taken as a pill, the Times reported.
The United States has already agreed to provide up to $483 million to the biotech company Moderna and $500 million to Johnson & Johnson for their vaccine efforts. It is also providing $30 million to a virus vaccine effort led by the French company Sanofi, the Times reported.
According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Thursday are: New York with nearly 370,000; New Jersey with more than 156,600; Illinois with almost 115,000; California with nearly 102,000, and Massachusetts with more than 94,000.
Of course, testing will be key to further efforts to control the spread of the new coronavirus. But only about 3% of the population has been tested so far.
Serious illness in kids
Meanwhile, troubling news has emerged from New York City: A total of 170 children have contracted a new, serious inflammatory syndrome that seems to be linked to COVID-19 infection, according to the city’s health department.
The CDC has confirmed the link, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week, adding that the city will work under the CDC’s latest definition of what it now calls multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children.
“The CDC has confirmed a link to COVID-19. This is important, we assumed it, but they have done additional research to 100 percent confirm it and released a national standard definition,” de Blasio told NBC New York.
A small number of cases have been reported in other states, including New Jersey, California, Louisiana and Mississippi, the Times reported. At least 50 cases have been reported in European countries.
Nations grapple with pandemic
In Asia, where the coronavirus first struck, several countries are finally returning to a new normal.
In China, public officials were trying to test all 11 million residents in the city of Wuhan in the hopes they can extinguish any remaining cases of coronavirus in the pandemic’s original epicenter, the Post reported.
But a small cluster of cases in the northeastern province of Jilin has prompted officials to employ many of the strict lockdown measures that were used in Wuhan, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, South Korea on Thursday reported its biggest jump in cases in more than 50 days, the AP reported.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 67 of the 79 new cases reported were from the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. The government has shut public facilities such as parks, museums and state-run theaters in the metropolitan area over the next two weeks, to stem any further spread of the virus.
Elsewhere, the situation remains challenging. On Thursday, the United Kingdom’s coronavirus death count passed 37,500, the second highest in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Britain has now surpassed Italy, Spain and France for COVID-19 deaths in Europe. Still, Prime Minister Boris Johnson continued to move the country toward a full reopening.
Brazil is fast becoming the next hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic. By Thursday, the South American country had reported nearly 26,000 deaths and nearly 412,000 confirmed infections, according to the Hopkins tally. Only the United States has more cases. On Monday, Trump issued a ban on all foreign travelers from Brazil because of the burgeoning number of COVID-19 cases in that country, CNN reported.
Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Thursday, that country reported the world’s third-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at more than 379,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 5.7 million on Thursday, with almost 356,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.
SOURCES: New England Journal of Medicine, May 22, 2020; Associated Press; The New York Times; Washington Post; CBS News; NBC News, The LancetNew York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygeine