Weekly Coronavirus Update: Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Happy Tuesday, everyone. I’m back with another weekly update on the latest research and news relating to Coronavirus. I hope you find some of this to be useful.

1) Research on monkeys showed that those with low levels of antibodies to Covid-19 were still able to effectively fight off the virus. Additionally, T cells responded to the virus and were able to prevent infection, especially when the antibody levels were low. The researchers took antibodies from monkeys who were recovering from Covid-19 and gave these to other monkeys who were thus far unaffected by the virus. The antibodies and T cells protected the unaffected monkeys from catching the virus when exposed. When the level of T cells was purposely reduced in the monkeys, however, their immune response was not as strong and they became infected with the virus. The researchers concluded that their data “have important implications for the development of vaccines, immune-based therapeutics, and public health strategies.” This research was peer-reviewed and published in the journal Nature. You can read the full article here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-03041-6

2) A new study shows that people with rare autoimmune rheumatic diseases (RAIRD) are at higher risk of death at a younger age from Covid-19, with those aged 35 and over at higher risk compared to those aged 55 and older in the general population. Additionally, women with RAIRDs were shown to be at greater risk of death than men, which is opposite to the general population, in which men are higher risk. RAIRDs fall into two categories: connective tissue disorders (lupus, scleroderma, myositis, primary Sjögren’s syndrome) and systemic vasculitis (ANCA-associated vasculitis, giant cell arteritis, Takaysu’s Arteritis and Behcet’s disease). Published in the peer-reviewed journal Rheumatology, the study examined the health records of nearly 169,000 people with RAIRDs. This one was especially eye-opening for me, as I have an RAIRD, I’m over the age of 35, and I’m a woman. You can read the full study here: https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/advance-article/doi/10.1093/rheumatology/keaa855/6015211?searchresult=1

3) A peer-reviewed study published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases examined false negative Covid-19 tests. Tracking test results of nearly 15,000 people who had Covid-19 symptoms, the researchers found that 2.2% of these received an initial false negative test, when they were actually Covid positive. This can have obvious public health implications if someone thinks they are negative and believes it is okay to go about their normal life and then has close contact with others. The research concluded that the false negative tests are likely a result of people testing too early or too late in their infection. They recommended that people with symptoms should be retested if their first test is negative. They also recommended lower respiratory tract testing (collection of sputum, tracheal aspirate, or BAL) as their study revealed that all of the people who tested negative a second time with upper respiratory tract testing (nasal swabs or saliva) then tested positive with lower respiratory tract testing. You can read the full study here: https://academic.oup.com/ofid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ofid/ofaa559/5999190

4) An international team of economists studied gender differences in perceptions of Covid-19 and compliance with public health measures. In a survey of nearly 22,000 individuals in Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the UK, and the US over two different time periods (March and mid-April), findings revealed that women in all of these nations were more likely than men to take Covid-19 seriously during both time periods. With regard to behaviors, women were also more compliant to public health recommendations such as hand washing, physical distancing, avoiding public places, stopping visits with friends, wearing a face mask, wearing gloves, and leaving home less than once a day. Once again, this was true for all nations during both time periods. The researchers concluded “women’s more cautious behaviour may help explain why they are dying in much lower numbers than men in all countries. Furthermore, women’s higher compliance with rules such as wearing masks also implies that they are less likely to spread the disease than men, conditional on being infected.” The findings were published on the website VoxEU.org, a site run by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, featuring research-based policy analysis and commentary from the world’s leading economists. You can read the full article here: https://voxeu.org/article/gender-differences-covid-19-perception-and-compliance

5) This one will not be surprising to anyone who has been following the news throughout the pandemic, but it’s always good to have scientific proof: Covid-19 disproportionately affected low-income Black households in the US compared to other demographic groups. The research, published in peer-reviewed journal Socius, studied low-income Americans from March to mid-June. It found that while all low-income households struggled during this time, Black households were more likely to experience greater job loss, food and medicine insecurity, and higher indebtedness than low-income white or Hispanic households. In a press release about the study one of the authors, Dr. Adam Goldstein from Princeton University, said, “The survey results really reinforce the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has kneecapped those households who were already in a tenuous position near the poverty line. Research shows that these types of debts and unpaid bills — even small ones — can compound over time and trap low-income households in a cycle of financial distress. Even in a miraculous scenario where the pandemic ends in a few months and low-wage workers are rehired, tens of millions of households will still find themselves stuck in a financial hole without additional infusions of economic relief.” You can read the full study here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2378023120970794 and you can read the press release here: https://www.princeton.edu/news/2020/11/30/covid-19-shutdowns-disproportionately-affected-low-income-black-households

6) It was previously reported that the first confirmed case of Coronavirus in the US happened on January 20. New research published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, though, reports that the virus was in the US as early as December 13. The researchers examined blood samples collected by the American Red Cross from December 13, 2019 to January 17, 2020 in the states of California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin. Of the 7,389 blood samples, 106 tested positive for Coronavirus antibodies. Thirty-nine samples from California, Oregon, and Washington showed antibodies between December 13–16. An additional 67 samples from Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin tested positive for antibodies in early January, which was earlier than outbreaks were detected in those states. You can read the full study here: https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa1785/6012472

7) There have been several studies suggesting a mutation in the virus made it more contagious, and a newly published study in the peer-reviewed journal Cell confirms this. Based on genome sequence data from over 25,000 samples, the study concluded that the mutation (known as 614G) was associated with a higher viral load and a younger age of patients than the original version of the virus. The mutated version of the virus grew nearly 20% faster, lending credence to the notion that the mutated version is transmitted more quickly than its predecessor. In the UK, where the study was conducted, the first known version of the mutated virus was discovered on February 28. Other research has shown that by June the mutated version was nearly the only detectable version of the virus worldwide, comprising between 98%-100% of cases in most countries. You can read the full study here: https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)31537-3#secsectitle0010

8) Now for your world update. I’ll start with the UK, as this morning the very first Covid-19 vaccine (excluding the vaccines given to people in trials) was administered to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan at 6:45am in Coventry. The UK currently has 800,000 doses of the recently approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, enough to vaccinate 400,000 people. Care home residents and at-risk healthcare workers will be the first to receive the vaccine in the UK. In other UK news, the daily number of cases yesterday was 14,718, and over the past two weeks there has been a 21% decline in daily new cases.
— In the US, the number of daily new cases was over 200,000 in five of the last seven days. Yesterday the number was 202,268 and there has been a 16% two-week increase in the number of daily new cases. Deaths have increased 47% over the last two weeks and hospitalizations have increased by 23%. As of yesterday, there were 102,148 patients hospitalized for Covid in the US. For my Indiana readers, to put it bluntly the stat is not doing well. It is currently second in the nation for the number of cases per 100K people (Rhode Island is first). Over the past seven days the average number of new cases in Indiana is 6,908.
— Elsewhere, Hong Kong is experiencing a fourth wave of the virus and is set to impose new restrictions such as banning evening dining at restaurants and closing gyms. India has reported its lowest daily rise in the number of cases since July, with 26,567. China reported just 12 new Covid cases yesterday, down from 15 the day before.
Sources:
UK vaccinations: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/08/coventry-woman-90-first-patient-to-receive-covid-vaccine-in-nhs-campaign
UK numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/europe/united-kingdom-coronavirus-cases.html
US numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Indiana numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/indiana-coronavirus-cases.html
World information: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/dec/08/coronavirus-live-news-uk-to-start-vaccinations-on-tuesday-who-criticises-mandatory-vaccines

That’s all for this week. Please stay safe everyone!

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