Wednesday COVID-19 Briefing

Top news, reports and insights for today:

Starting in September, I will be posting my COVID-19 briefings twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday (instead of 3 times a week). Please continue to send me feedback and questions. Thanks for visiting my blog. -Thomas

  1. Curated headline summaries for Wednesday:
  • Pandemic seems to be leveling off in U.S., but numbers remain troublingly high, experts say (Washington Post)
  • Former FDA commissioner and COVID-19 “influencer” Dr. Scott Gottlieb says a safe vaccine for the general population is “unlikely” before January 2021. You should believe him (MSNBC)
  • New audio recordings of interviews with journalist Bob Woodward proves that President Trump deliberately deceived America about the threat posted by coronavirus (Vox)
  • Many patients are avoiding seeking essential health care due to fear of becoming infected in U.S. hospitals. An important new study of a Boston Medical center that cared for more than 9000 patients over 3 months finds only a single confirmed case (and 1 possible) acquired in the hospital. This study suggests that tight infection control procedures mean that the chance of getting COVID-19 in the hospital is very small (JAMA Network Open)
  • Young American’s often believe they are safe from coronavirus and that only old people are at risk. A new study shows that severe COVID-19 poses a larger risk of death in young adults than a heart attack in this age group (JAMA Internal Medicine)
  • Early in the pandemic, there was a belief that an anti-malaria drug (Hydroxychloroquine) along with a broad-spectrum antibiotic (azithromycin) might be an effective treatment. Now, hydroxychloroquine has been completely debunked and rejected. What about the antibiotic? An important study from Brazil shows that azithromycin does not seem to benefit patients with severe disease who are hospitalized (The Lancet)
  • A study of the effectiveness of a promising COVID-19 vaccine was just put on temporary hold to investigate a safety concern in a study participant. Believe it or not, this is good news. It means the slow, painstaking and careful process of testing the vaccine and paying close attention to every detail is working as it should and that the public can trust the process (Vox)
  • Evidence mounts that White House officials are pressuring top Health officials to promote political messages instead of science. The latest: emails from a Senior HHS official demanding “Uncle Toni” Fauci downplay the risk of COVID-19 in children when he appears before the media (Politico)
  1. U.S. daily cases plummet by half since Saturday; 18 states report 0 deaths on Monday, more than since 4th of July
     After spiking to over 50,000 cases on September 4, U.S. cases plummeted this weekend. After the Sunday/Monday slowdown, I wondered if the Tuesday numbers would spike back up. Thankfully, that number was lower than any Tuesday since June 9 (See Figure A). The weekly case total is 255,000, which is half what it had been in mid-August. The trend in deaths is similar with just 354 reported on Tuesday, the lowest numbers for that day since the epidemic started (Figure B). More welcome news: eighteen U.S. states reported zero deaths yesterday.
     So, what is there for a disease detective to worry about next? The answer may be in Figure C showing new case growth factors for the last week (>1 means cases are growing last week compared to the previous 7 days, <1 means new cases are shrinking). Thankfully, all Southern states are seeing slowing transmission intensity (except Arkansas). Risers and fallers are about even in the Midwest; it’s mostly good news in the West where nine of thirteen states are on the decline.
     The worry is in the numbers for the Northeast where six states are reporting rising cases. Two states recorded more than 30% jumps (Delaware and New Hampshire). Cases are up in Maryland (+15%), New Jersey (+5%), New York (7%), and Pennsylvania (+17%).
     What it means: The overall picture looks rosier today than in weeks. My newest worry is that cooler weather, cold season and a new round of coronavirus infections may be on the horizon in the Northeast, a region that has been calm for most of the summer.
Figure A
Figure B
Figure C
  1. Nine states now with higher rates of COVID-19 infection then New York/New Jersey; worrisome jump in new cases in the Northeast
    Figure D3 shows you where we stand in a state-by-state comparison of the cumulative rate of COVID-19 cases (lab-confirmed cases per 100,000 population). I last showed you this graph a month ago when four U.S. states had eclipsed the rate of New York (Figure D2). Why does this matter? In the carousel of images below, look at where things stood on April 16 (Figure D1). Back then, New York didn’t even fit on the graph with an incidence rate of over 1,100 while no state except New Jersey was over 500 and the average was only 202. Now (Figure D3), seven states in the south and two in the West have passed New York. Since April 16, New York’s rate doubled from 1,100 to 2,265. Arizona skyrocketed from 58 to 2,831 cases per 100,000, a rise of 4,781%! Other stratospheric leaps happened in Nevada (+2068%), Alabama (+2,853%), Florida (2,838%), Georgia (+1,650%), Louisiana (+581%), Mississippi (+2,307%), South Carolina (+3,064%) and Tennessee (+2,537%).
    The bottom line: In the four and a half months since Tax day, New York state’s rate of COVID-19 infections doubled. Now, nine states have done what then looked impossible: surpassing New York. Those states saw cases climb an average of more than 25-fold. Politicians and public health authorities have failed the residents of those states.
  1. Quirky Qorner: What sparked the pandemic “legs race”? Peloton! Guess what, they just came out with an even more expensive fake bike for people to see in the background during zoom meetings
     You have seen it right, the peloton bike in the background during the zoom meeting. At nearly $2,000 bucks, they have been flying off the shelfs as home-bound weekend warriors seek to keep up with Joneses. Now, CNBC reports that the folks at Peloton have grabbed the epidemic bull by the handle bars, announcing an even more expensive model. The new “Bike+”, available Wednesday, will cost $2,495. Peloton, whose sales surged 66% after then pandemic started, saw stock prices surge on the news. The CEO told CNBC “We feel like we’re just getting started”.
    The peloton strikes me as the perfect status symbol for a national emergency where we are all worrying so much and working so hard and still seeming to go nowhere.
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