Weekly Coronavirus Update: Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Here is your update on Coronavirus-related research and news from the past week. Apologies for coming to you a little later than normal today. I am officially on annual leave from work until January 11 and I have been greatly enjoying a much-needed lazy lifestyle the past two days, so I didn’t get around to writing this until now. Please note this will be my last post of 2020; I’m going to take a break next week and will be back in the new year!

1) People with Down’s Syndrome are four times more likely to be hospitalized due to Covid-19 and 10 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population. A peer-reviewed study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined health data for 8.26 million people in the UK and adjusted for factors such as other health conditions, age, sex, and ethnicity. This study, along with others that have not yet undergone peer review, have prompted researchers and experts to call for people with Down’s Syndrome to be prioritized in terms of vaccinations. You can read the full study here: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-4986
And an in-depth article about this issue in Science Magazine here: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/12/covid-19-10-times-deadlier-people-down-syndrome-raising-calls-early-vaccination?utm_campaign=news_daily_2020-12-15&et_rid=715507499&et_cid=3599198

2) The breast milk of women who had recovered from Covid-19 was found to contain antibodies to the virus. The milk was tested between four to six weeks after infection and 100% of the 15-person sample had milk containing the antibodies. Obviously, this was a very small sample size and the authors note that future research is necessary, specifically to test whether immunity is passed on to babies and whether breast milk with antibodies may be used for therapeutic reasons. One positive finding from the study is that breastfeeding through the pandemic is safe. This was peer-reviewed and published in the journal iScience. You can read the full study here: https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(20)30932-9

3) Another study focused on people with Systemic Autoimmune Rheumatic Diseases (SARDs) such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren Syndrome, scleroderma, and lupus found that those who contract Covid-19 are more likely to experience severe complications from the virus. Studying 2,379 SARDs patients with Covid-19 and a group of 2,379 non-SARDs Covid patients, the researchers found that those with SARDs had significantly higher risks of hospitalization, admission to the ICU, and developing blood clots. The peer-reviewed study was published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology. You can read the full study here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.41619

4) A peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology revealed that board-certified dermatologists in New York City reported a 400% increase in cases of hair shedding (clinical term is telogen effluvium, or TE) in July and August 2020. TE is brought on by extreme stress. The researchers studied clinics in predominantly low-income, non-White populations in neighborhoods that experienced some of New York’s highest Covid-19 death and infection rates. The authors noted that it is unknown whether stress from Covid-19 was the cause of the increase, but warned that it is possible and dermatologists may begin to see more incidences of TE in communities that have been badly affected by Covid-19. I was able to access the full text of the study via my university’s library, but it is not available in full text to the general public. Here is a link to the journal page: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0190962220330693?via%3Dihub

5) Researchers studied the nonpharmaceutical interventions (e.g., stay-at-home orders, closing schools, closing businesses, etc.) used by 41 countries to understand which interventions were most effective in curbing transmission of Covid-19. Using modelling to study interventions implemented between January 22 and May 30, the findings showed that the following measures significantly reduced transmissions: closing all schools and universities, limiting gatherings to 10 people or less, and closing face-to-face businesses. Adding stay-at-home orders to these other measures only resulted in a minimal reduction in transmissions, though. The authors concluded, “Our work offers insights into which areas of public life are most in need of virus containment measures so that activities can continue as the pandemic develops; however, our estimates should not be taken as the final word on NPI effectiveness.” The study was peer-reviewed and published in the journal Science. You can read the full study here: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/12/15/science.abd9338

6) A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature found that at least 90,000 symptomatic people with Covid-19 went undetected in France between mid-May to late June. This accounted for 9 out of 10 cases of Covid-19 going undetected during that time period, and only 31% of those with Covid symptoms actually consulted a doctor during that time. The authors noted that studying nations’ shortcomings in Covid-19 responses could help to understand what should be done in subsequent waves of the virus. In light of their findings from France, the authors concluded that “substantially more aggressive, targeted, and efficient testing with easier access is required to act as a pandemic-fighting tool. Testing strategy will be once again of critical value to lift current restrictive measures in Europe and avoid a third wave.” You can read the full study here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-03095-6

7) You have probably heard about the Covid-19 variant, or sometimes called the “mutant virus” that has emerged in the United Kingdom and has caused a very long list of nations to halt all air travel to/from the UK. While I do not know of any peer-reviewed research published about the new variant, I have been reading quite a lot about it and here are some of the things we do know at this point. The variant was first detected on September 20 and by mid-November it was responsible for 26% of cases in the UK, and by December 9 at least 60% of all cases in London were attributed to this variant. Given that it has been around since September, it is likely that it is not just in the UK anymore. Indeed, cases of it have also been identified in Denmark, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, and Gibraltar. A similar strain has been identified in South Africa, though we do not yet know if it is the same. The variant is thought to be 70% more infectious than previous strains, but it has so far not been shown to cause more severe cases of Covid-19. It is still detectable in PCR tests (meaning it will show up if you get tested for Covid and have this strain), and experts believe the current vaccines will still protect against this strain. Here are a few articles that provide additional details if you’re interested:
Article from Science: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/12/mutant-coronavirus-united-kingdom-sets-alarms-its-importance-remains-unclear
NY Times Q&A (very good article for answering any q’s you may have): https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/21/health/new-covid-strain-uk.html
Article from the BBC: https://news.sky.com/story/covid-19-new-strain-found-in-denmark-netherlands-and-australia-says-who-12169262

8) Is Covid-19 behind negative candle reviews on Amazon? This is genuinely my favorite research I’ve read about thus far during the pandemic. I will warn you that it was not peer-reviewed and it was just a fun side-project for a researcher, but it’s hilarious and fascinating. First, someone tweeted, “There are angry ladies all over Yankee Candle’s site reporting that none of the candles they just got had any smell at all. I wonder if they’re feeling a little hot and nothing has much taste for the last couple days too.” Then Kate Petrova, a research assistant with the Harvard Study of Adult Development at Bryn Mawr College, decided to test whether the positivity/negativity of candle reviews were correlated with Covid-19. Scraping over 20,000 reviews of the most popular scented and unscented candles, she found that since January the reviews of the most popular scented candles have fallen by a full star (they previously received an average of between 4–4.5 stars). Meanwhile, unscented candles did not suffer the same drop. Additionally, she studied the text of the reviews and found that complaints of candles not having any scent tripled from January to November. Could it be that people who didn’t realize they had Covid-19 were suffering a common symptom, loss of smell, and this is why reviews have dropped so drastically? The Washington Post reported, “Taken together, the data collected by Petrova amounts to what social scientists might call ‘strongly suggestive’ evidence that people unknowingly infected with the coronavirus are dragging reviews of some scented products down.” You can read more about it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/01/covid-scented-candle-reviews/
And you can see Petrova’s tweets and data visualizations here: https://twitter.com/kate_ptrv/status/1332398737604431874

9) Finally, your world update. First, the US has had many Covid-19 milestones in the past week. Last Monday the nation surpassed 300,000 total deaths due to Covid. That number is now at 319,763. Additionally, last Wednesday the US shattered its single-day record for number of deaths, with 3,611 in just one day. Finally, last Friday the country had its highest number of daily new infections at 251,447. Over the past two weeks the number of daily new infections has risen 7%, number of daily deaths has risen 19%, and hospitalizations have increased 13%. Tennessee now leads the nation in number of infections per capita, followed by California, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Indiana. The New York Times has a cool new tool you can use to view hospital ICU capacity at every hospital in the nation (see link in the list of sources below). For example, I can look at Evansville, Indiana and see that Deaconess Hospital’s ICU is at 93% capacity and St. Vincent Hospital is at 100% capacity.
— In the UK, the number of new daily cases today 36,804 and over the past two weeks the number of new daily infections has increased 88%. Deaths are up by 8% during the same time period. Today there were 691 new deaths. London and parts of the Southeast have been placed on a new “Tier 4”, which basically equates to staying at home other than essential shopping trips and outdoor exercise.
— In other parts of the world, Antarctica has finally recorded its first cases of Covid-19, with 36 people at a Chilean research base being infected. They have since been evacuated back to Chile and are in isolation. South Africa is now struggling with a second wave amidst a new variant of the virus, which is similar to the one in the UK. Officials said the new variant carries a heavier viral load and seems to be more prevalent in younger populations. Elsewhere, Taiwan recorded its first case in 253 days. It was a woman in her 30s who was a close contact of a Taiwanese airline pilot who was announced as quarantining on Sunday.
Sources:
US data: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
NY Times Hospital Capacity Tool: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/covid-hospitals-near-you.html
UK data: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/europe/united-kingdom-coronavirus-cases.html and https://www.theguardian.com/world/coronavirus-outbreak
Covid outbreak in Antarctica: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/22/covid-cases-recorded-in-antarctica-for-first-time?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
South Africa information: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/22/south-africa-struggles-contain-second-covid-wave-new-strain
Taiwan information: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/22/taiwan-confirms-first-local-covid-case-in-more-than-250-days

Please stay safe during this holiday season, everyone. Here’s hoping by this time next year we will be able to experience something resembling more “normal” holidays.

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