COVID-19 Timeline: May 2020
October 1, 2021
At Bioethics.com we have kept up with the spread of COVID-19 and the related bioethical questions that this pandemic brings. The posts that follow highlights news from May 2020 and were originally posted at Bioethics.com. These posts focus on the bioethical issues that medical professionals, bioethicists, public health officials, and scientists grappled with as SARS-CoV-2 swept the globe.
May 1: “Explainer: What Does New Data Say About Gilead’s Experimental Coronavirus Drug?” by Nancy Lapid, Reuters
New clinical data on Gilead Sciences Inc’s experimental antiviral drug remdesivir has raised hopes it might be an effective treatment for the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 3 million people and killed over 225,000 worldwide. On Wednesday, partial data from three different trials of the drug were released, creating both excitement and confusion. Much analysis and more studies are needed to understand which COVID-19 patients are most likely to benefit from the drug if it is deemed effective, under what circumstance it should be given, and whether it has any impact on the death rate. The following is what we do know about the latest three studies.
May 1: “A Bioethicist on Why Reopening State Will Kill More Black People” by Fabiola Cineas, Vox
As of April 28, the United States surpassed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases. But this hasn’t stopped more than half of US states from partially reopening or making plans to reopen soon. Prematurely restarting businesses means that new virus cases will arise, health officials say, especially in the face of insufficient testing. This puts the country’s most vulnerable populations — black, Latinx, poor, elderly, disabled — at greater risk of infection and death. For the black community, the decision to reopen — despite the alarming data that shows they are disproportionately suffering from the disease (black people make up 30 percent of coronavirus cases, according to the CDC, even though they represent just 13 percent of the US population) — fuels the community’s distrust of government and health leadership.
May 4: “Indonesia Calls for ‘Equal Access’ to Coronavirus Medicine for Developing Countries” by Reuters
Indonesian President Joko Widodo called on Monday for “equal access” for developing countries to medicine to treat the new coronavirus, as global cases pass three million. “We need to fight for just and timely access to affordable COVID-19 medicine and vaccine,” Widodo said in a statement.
May 5: “Doctors Without Patients: ‘Our Waiting Rooms Are Like Ghost Towns’” by Reed Abelson, The New York Times
While there are no hard numbers, there are signs that many small groups are barely hanging on. Across the country, only half of primary care doctor practices say they have enough cash to stay open for the next four weeks, according to one study, and many are already laying off or furloughing workers.
May 5: “Coronavirus: Do Not Use Untested Remedies, WHO Africa Warns” by BBC
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning against people using untested remedies for coronavirus. Africans deserve access to medicines that have gone through proper trials even if they are derived from traditional treatments, it said. Its statement comes as Madagascar’s president is promoting a herbal tonic for treating Covid-19 patients. The African Union (AU) said it wanted to see the scientific data on the “safety and efficacy” of the product.
May 5: “New Studies Add to Evidence That Children May Transmit the Coronavirus” by Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times
Among the most important unanswered questions about Covid-19 is this: What role do children play in keeping the pandemic going? Fewer children seem to get infected by the coronavirus than adults, and most of those who do have mild symptoms, if any. But do they pass the virus on to adults and continue the chain of transmission?
May 5: “Pfizer Begins Human Testing for Experimental Coronavirus Vaccine in the US” by Berkeley Lovelace, Jr., CNBC
Pfizer said Tuesday it has begun testing an experimental vaccine to combat the coronavirus in the United States. The U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant, which is working alongside German drugmaker BioNTech, said the first human participants in the United States have been dosed with the potential vaccine, BNT162. They began human trials of the experimental vaccine late last month in Germany.
May 5: “Hospital ICUs Are Adapting to COVID-19 at ‘Light Speed’” by Jon Hamilton, NPR
Intensive care teams inside hospitals are rapidly altering the way they care for patients with COVID-19. The changes range from new protective gear to new treatment protocols aimed at preventing deadly blood clots. “Things are moving so fast within this pandemic, it’s hard to keep up” says Dr. Angela Hewlett, an infectious diseases physician at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and medical director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. To stay current, she says, ICUs are updating their practices “on an hourly basis.”
May 6: “Patients Dying Fast, and Far from Family, Challenge Practice of Palliative Care” by Will Stone, NPR
Owens, like other palliative care specialists in COVID-19 hot spots around the country, has seen his professional duties transformed by the deadly virus. Patients and their families face abrupt decisions about the kind of care they want, and time for sensitive deliberation is scarce. Conversations once held in-person are now over the phone, with all the nuances of nonverbal communication lost. The comfort of family at the bedside of the dying is all but gone. This is the new reality for those who practice palliative medicine — a speciality focused on relieving pain and symptoms, improving quality of life, and providing support to patients and families during severe, chronic or fatal illness.
May 6: “A Coronavirus Vaccine Project Takes a Page from Gene Therapy” by Denise Grady, The New York Times
Researchers at two Harvard-affiliated hospitals are adapting a proven form of gene therapy to develop a coronavirus vaccine, which they expect to test in people later this year, they announced on Monday. Their work employs a method already used in gene therapy for two inherited diseases, including a form of blindness: It uses a harmless virus as a vector, or carrier, to bring DNA into the patient’s cells. In this case, the DNA should instruct the cells to make a coronavirus protein that would stimulate the immune system to fight off future infections.
May 6: “Doctors Lambaste Federal Process for Distributing Covid-19 Drug Remdesivir” by Eric Boodman and Casey Ross, STAT News
Hospitals and physicians around the country are sharply criticizing the federal government for the uneven and opaque way it is distributing its supply of the Covid-19 drug remdesivir. The experimental drug received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration last week, after preliminary data from a clinical trial showed that it reduced how long it took hospitalized Covid-19 patients to recover. Now, as the drug’s producer, Gilead Sciences, tries to ramp up production, the U.S. government is starting to distribute the limited number of vials that aren’t needed for ongoing research, so that patients can start to see the benefit outside of clinical trials.
May 6: “Researchers Report “Unprecedented Cluster” of Inflammatory Problems in Children Amide Pandemic” by Arman Azad, CNN
Researchers in the UK said Wednesday they have seen an “unprecedented cluster” of eight children with rare inflammatory problems amid the coronavirus pandemic. The cases, they said, resemble a severe form of Kawasaki disease — a rare condition that causes inflammation in the walls of the arteries and can limit blood flow to the heart. Separately on Wednesday, the New York State Department of Health reported 64 suspected cases of a similar syndrome, which they called “Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome Associated with COVID-19.”
May 6: “Kidney Transplant Patients at High Risk of Fatal COVID-19: Study” by E. J. Mundell, U.S. News & World Report
Because people who receive a donor kidney are often on immune-suppressing medications, they’re at extremely high risk of dying if COVID-19 strikes, a new report warns. The study, from doctors at Montefiore Medical Center in hard-hit New York City, looked at outcomes for 36 kidney transplant patients diagnosed with COVID-19 between March 16 and April 1. Nearly a third of these patients died from their infection with the new coronavirus, and in most cases COVID-19 worsened rapidly, according to a team of Montefiore physicians led by Dr. Enver Akalin.
May 7: “To Find a Coronavirus Vaccine Can We Ethically Infect People with a Disease with No Cure?” by Elizabeth Weise, U.S.A Today
Vaccine trials can take decades. In the race against COVID-19, we don’t even have years. To have a vaccine by next summer will require both luck and cutting corners never cut before, putting once seemingly academic questions about vaccine testing suddenly front and center. Current rules are meant to protect volunteers from harm, but with the global death count from the coronavirus over 250,000, scientists are asking: Is it acceptable to deliberately infect healthy people with a disease that could kill them, and for which there is no cure?
May 7: “A Flood of Coronavirus Apps Are Tracking Us. Now It’s Time to Keep Track of Them.” by Patrick Howell O’Neill, Tate Ryan-Mosley, and Bobbie Johnson, MIT Technology Review
As the covid-19 pandemic rages, technologists everywhere have been rushing to build apps, services, and systems for contact tracing: identifying and notifying all those who come in contact with a carrier. Some are lightweight and temporary, while others are pervasive and invasive: China’s system, for example, sucks up data including citizens’ identity, location, and even online payment history so that local police can watch for those who break quarantine rules. Some services are being produced locally by small groups of coders, while others are vast, global operations. Apple and Google are mobilizing huge teams to build their upcoming systems that notify people of potential exposure, which could be used by hundreds of millions of people almost immediately.
May 8: “Hong Kong Saliva Tests for Travelers Bring Bioethics into Question” by Jamie Tarabay, Macao Daily Times
In the global battle to curb Covid-19, governments have collected troves of data from testing and contact-tracing apps to try to find the disease and stop its spread. Even as many are willing to surrender personal information amid the crisis, privacy experts worry about who controls the data and what will happen to it after the crisis ends.
May 8: “Exclusive: Iran-Linked Hackers Recently Targeted Coronavirus Drugmaker Gilead—Sources” by Jack Stubbs and Christopher Bing, Reuters
Hackers linked to Iran have targeted staff at U.S. drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc in recent weeks, according to publicly-available web archives reviewed by Reuters and three cybersecurity researchers, as the company races to deploy a treatment for the COVID-19 virus.
May 8: “Routine Vaccinations for U.S. Children Have Plummeted During the Covid-19 Pandemic” by Helen Branswell, STAT News
Routine vaccination of children in the United States appeared to have declined dramatically in March and April, in the weeks after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic and the United States government declared a national emergency, a new study published Friday shows.
May 11: “Doctors Face ‘Nearly an Impossible Situation’ as They Ration Remdesivir” by Arman Azad and Elizabeth Cohen, CNN
As coronavirus cases surged across the United States earlier this year, doctors faced a harrowing prospect. Sometime soon, they worried, physicians might have to decide which patients would receive ventilators amid a projected shortage. It’s a crisis Italy faced and one the United States largely avoided. But already, doctors in the US are facing another difficult decision: How to ration limited supplies of an experimental drug shown to be effective against the virus.
May 12: “What Are the Ethics Behind Covid-19 ‘Immunity Passports’?” by Govind Persad and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, The Washington Post
Countries and companies are considering certifications that a person has contracted and recovered from covid-19, or received a vaccine. Some call these “immunity passports.” Would such programs divide society and stigmatize disfavored groups, exacerbating the inequalities that covid-19 has laid bare? Or might they help repair the tension between the public health imperative to save lives and the individual liberties of those — including the economically vulnerable — who want to travel, gather or return to work?
May 12: “As Deaths Mount, Coronavirus Testing Remains Wildly Inconsistent in Long-Term Care” by Laura Ungar, Kaiser Health News
As the coronavirus has raced through long-term care centers and killed thousands of America’s most vulnerable seniors, testing has varied widely across facilities, even within the same states and communities. There’s still no federal mandate to test, although President Donald Trump said he’d consider one. Rules about testing, and public reporting of results, differ from state to state and by type of facility. Shortages of test kits linger, and there’s no uniform standard on which entity should do the testing or how often.
May 12: “With Little Data, Doctors Struggle to Decide Which Covid-19 Patients Should Get Remdesivir” by Eric Boodman and Casey Ross, STAT News
Now that the federal government has begun distributing the experimental Covid-19 drug remdesivir, hospitals are in a bind. So far, it’s the only medication that has shown benefit for coronavirus patients in rigorous studies. But there isn’t enough for everyone who’s eligible. That leaves doctors with a wrenching ethical decision: Who gets the drug, and who doesn’t? As if the question wasn’t hard enough on moral grounds alone, it’s made even trickier by a dearth of data: Clinicians still don’t have the fine-grained study results showing which patients are most likely to benefit from the medication.
May 12: “WHO Conditionally Backs Covid-19 Vaccine Trials That Infect People” by Hannah Devlin, The Guardian
Controversial trials in which volunteers are intentionally infected with Covid-19 could accelerate vaccine development, according to the World Health Organization, which has released new guidance on how the approach could be ethically justified despite the potential dangers for participants. So-called challenge trials are a mainstream approach in vaccine development and have been used in malaria, typhoid and flu, but there are treatments available for these diseases if a volunteer becomes severely ill. For Covid-19, a safe dose of the virus has not been established and there are no failsafe treatments if things go wrong.
May 13: “Strains in Hard-Hit Mumbai Complicate India’s Virus Recovery” by Emily Schmall and Sheikh Saaliq, ABC News
As Indians await details of a huge coronavirus relief package Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced to jump-start the economy, the virus outbreak in the financial capital of Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra state is starting to overwhelm hospitals and slums, complicating any economic recovery plan.
May 13: “New Inflammatory Condition in Children Probably Linked to Coronavirus, Study Finds” by Pam Belluck, The New York Times
As concerns mount over children with a serious and potentially deadly inflammatory condition, a new study sheds light on the illness’s distinctive characteristics and provides the strongest evidence yet that the syndrome is linked to the coronavirus. The condition, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, has been reported in about 100 children in New York State, including three who died, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said this week. Cases have been reported in other states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and California, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it will soon issue an alert asking doctors to report cases of children with symptoms of the syndrome.
May 13: “Record Death Tolls in Mexico and Brazil Add to Fears of Covid-19 Surge in Latin America” by Dom Phillips, David Agren, Charis McGowan, and Sam Jones, The Guardian
Brazil and Mexico have logged their highest single-day coronavirus death tolls to date, raising fears the pandemic is surging across Latin America amid ambivalent and delayed reactions from the governments of its two most populous countries. In Brazil – where the president, Jair Bolsonaro, has dismissed the virus as “a little flu” – the health ministry reported a new grim record of 881 deaths in 24 hours on Tuesday night. It has now confirmed 12,461 deaths, the sixth-highest death toll in the world, and 178,214 cases. Mexico also reached a new landmark on Tuesday night, reporting 353 new deaths over the previous 24 hours and 1,997 new confirmed cases.
May 13: “The Pandemic Is Changing How We Die—And Not Just for COVID-19 Patients” by Pria Anand and Joanna Sharpless, TIME
Hospitals today face an impossible predicament regarding visitors for terminally ill patients. On one hand, a visitor might spread the virus within the hospital or become exposed and bring it home. On the other, depriving people of the chance to make life-and-death decisions and say goodbye in person is cruel and may even influence the choices they make. Many hospitals seek to walk this line by allowing visitors for dying patients, with stringent restrictions.
May 13: “Organ Transplantations Dropped Sharply During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Study Finds” by Gina Yu, CNN
During the coronavirus pandemic, the number of organ transplantations fell dramatically, according to a study published Monday. In early April, the number of deceased donor organ transplants dropped by 51.1% in the United States and 90.6% in France when compared to a month earlier, the study said. Kidney transplantations had the greatest decrease in numbers, but heart, lung and liver transplantations also had substantial reductions, the authors said.
May 14: “Coronavirus: Surge in Deaths Reported in Southern Yemen” by BBC
A dramatic rise has been reported in the number of people dying with coronavirus-like symptoms in the southern Yemeni city of Aden. Citing official figures, Save the Children said there had been at least 380 deaths in the past week. It is feared the number of coronavirus cases may be far higher than the few dozen that have been confirmed. The health system has been damaged by years of civil war and ventilators are in short supply.
May 14: “The Danger of Rushing Through Clinical Trials During the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker
I recently spoke by phone with Peter B. Bach, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he runs the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes, a health-care policy think tank. Bach is also an expert on clinical trials, and I asked him exactly what we know about remdesivir, as well as how we should be thinking about standards of evidence in the middle of a public-health catastrophe. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed what makes a good clinical trial, why a pandemic is not necessarily the time to speed up the drug-approval process, and the most important fixes for our health-care system.
May 14: “NIH Begins Clinical Trial of Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin to Treat COVID-19” by NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Medical Xpress
A clinical trial has begun to evaluate whether the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, given together with the antibiotic azithromycin, can prevent hospitalization and death from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, is sponsoring the trial, which is being conducted by the NIAID-funded AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG). Teva Pharmaceuticals is donating medications for the study.
May 15: “Mortality Rates Hint at Even Higher Coronavirus Death Toll” by Medical Xpress
The coronavirus has now taken 300,000 lives globally, according to official figures. But depending on the way deaths are counted, the real human cost could be far greater. The official figures include only those deaths attributed to coronavirus, but experts are increasingly looking at data comparing this year’s death rates with previous years—regardless of the official cause.
May 15: “T Cells Found in COVID-19 Patients ‘Bode Well’ for Long-Term Immunity” by Mitch Leslie, Science
Immune warriors known as T cells help us fight some viruses, but their importance for battling SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been unclear. Now, two studies reveal infected people harbor T cells that target the virus—and may help them recover. Both studies also found some people never infected with SARS-CoV-2 have these cellular defenses, most likely because they were previously infected with other coronaviruses.
May 18: “Loss of Smell, Confusion, Strokes: Does Covid-19 Target the Nervous System?” by Greg Miller, Knowable Magazine
The loss of smell (or taste) is one of many emerging hints that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may affect the nervous system. Physicians around the world have documented neurological symptoms in a significant fraction of Covid-19 patients. Some patients have experienced headaches, dizziness and other relatively minor symptoms, while others have had more serious problems like confusion and impaired movement, and even seizures and strokes.
May 18: “How to Address the Coronavirus’s Outsized Toll on People of Color” by Nidhi Subbaraman, Nature
As figures emerge about the disproportionate toll that COVID-19 is taking on people of colour in the United States, scientists are suggesting measures to help mitigate the inequalities. They say that better data are needed on the incidence of the disease, that testing needs to be ramped up and that hospitals serving people at-risk need to better prepare. Researchers and some US lawmakers are now calling for a national commission devoted to identifying racial disparities in health that would act as a unified voice in trying to overcome them.
May 18: “Ukraine’s Overburdened Doctors’ Desperate Virus Fight” by Mstyslav Chernov and Yuras Karmanau, Associated Press
The deplorable conditions — broken or substandard equipment, a lack of drugs, low wages — reflects the meltdown of Ukraine’s health care system, which has been quickly overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic even with the country’s relatively low number of cases. Ukraine’s corruption-plagued economy has been weakened by six years of war with Russia-backed separatists in the east. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s year-old administration inherited an underfunded health care system that was further crippled by a reform launched by his predecessor that drastically cut state subsidies.
May 19: “Vaccine Experts Say Moderna Didn’t Produce Data Critical to Assessing Covid-19 Vaccine” by Helen Branswell, STAT News
Heavy hearts soared Monday with news that Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate — the frontrunner in the American market — seemed to be generating an immune response in Phase 1 trial subjects. The company’s stock valuation also surged, hitting $29 billion, an astonishing feat for a company that currently sells zero products. But was there good reason for so much enthusiasm? Several vaccine experts asked by STAT concluded that, based on the information made available by the Cambridge, Mass.-based company, there’s really no way to know how impressive — or not — the vaccine may be.
May 19: “Global Trial to Assess Chloroquine Against COVID-19 in Health Workers” by Brian P. Dunleavy, UPI
More than 50,000 healthcare workers worldwide will be enrolled in a clinical trial to assess chloroquine’s potential in protecting against COVID-19, researchers at the Washington University of St. Louis School of Medicine announced Monday. The U.S. arm of the study, which will begin enrolling participants later this month, is being led by the school. Results are expected in early 2021, researchers said.
May 20: “Colombian Police Use Drones to Detect High Body Temperatures” by Luis Jaime Acosta, Reuters
It is not a bird, a plane or Superman: the aircraft humming in the skies above Colombia’s capital Bogota are instead police drones that are meant to detect people with high temperatures or those violating the country’s coronavirus quarantine. If a drone detects someone with a potential fever it sends the location to a medical team that seeks out the person to determine if they have coronavirus symptoms, officials said on Wednesday.
May 20: “A New Entry in the Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine: Hope” by Carl Zimmer, Knuval Sheikh, and Noah Weiland, The New York Times
In a medical research project nearly unrivaled in its ambition and scope, volunteers worldwide are rolling up their sleeves to receive experimental vaccines against the coronavirus — only months after the virus was identified. Companies like Inovio and Pfizer have begun early tests of candidates in people to determine whether their vaccines are safe. Researchers at the University of Oxford in England are testing vaccines in human subjects, too, and say they could have one ready for emergency use as soon as September. Moderna on Monday announced encouraging results of a safety trial of its vaccine in eight volunteers. There were no published data, but the news alone sent hopes soaring.
May 21: “US Begins Crackdown on Unvetted Virus Blood Tests” by Matthew Perrone, ABC News
U.S. regulators are moving ahead with a crackdown on scores of antibody tests for the coronavirus that have not yet been shown to work. The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday published a list of more than two dozen test makers that have failed to file applications to remain on the market or already pulled their products.
May 21: “Ethics of Controlled Human Infection to Address COVID-19” by Seema K. Shah et al., Science
Development of an effective vaccine is the clearest path to controlling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. To accelerate vaccine development, some researchers are pursuing, and thousands of people have expressed interest in participating in, controlled human infection studies (CHIs) with severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) In CHIs, a small number of participants are deliberately exposed to a pathogen to study infection and gather preliminary efficacy data on experimental vaccines or treatments. We have been developing a comprehensive, state-of-the-art ethical framework for CHIs that emphasizes their social value as fundamental to justifying these studies.
May 22: “Coronavirus: Yemen’s Healthcare System ‘In Effect Collapsed’” by BBC
War-torn Yemen’s healthcare system has “in effect collapsed” and coronavirus is spreading across the country, the United Nations has warned. Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), described the situation as “extremely alarming”. He said people were being turned away from treatment centres partly because staff lacked protective equipment.
May 22: “Exclusive: Russian Ventilators Reached U.S. States Without Oversight” by Marisa Taylor and Gleb Stolyarov, Reuters
Russian-made ventilators now under investigation for causing deaths in Russia were not authorized by U.S. health regulators before the same model was sent to New York and New Jersey at the height of their coronavirus outbreaks, Reuters has learned.
May 22: “How to Improve and Protect Nursing Homes from Outbreaks” by Paula Span, The New York Times
The doctors, researchers and advocates who have been paying close attention for years are appalled at the way the coronavirus has devastated the nation’s nursing homes — but they’re not shocked. “Every geriatrician knew what was coming,” said Dr. Mike Wasserman, a geriatrician and president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine. Robyn Grant, the director of public policy and advocacy for the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care: “The sheer numbers are horrifying. The underlying factors that have contributed are no surprise; they’ve been issues of concern for a long time.”
May 22: “What a Big New Study on Malaria Drugs as Covid-19 Treatments Tells Us—And What It Doesn’t” by Matthew Herper, STAT News
A new study underlines safety concerns about using the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat Covid-19, and heightens questions about whether or not the drugs are effective at all. The study, which was published in the Lancet, cannot answer the question of whether or not hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can help patients fight off Covid-19 or whether the drugs increase or decrease the death rates in those patients. Those answers can only come from large studies in which patients are randomly assigned to either receive the drugs or a placebo. Dozens of such studies are ongoing.
May 22: “Virus Deaths Five Times Higher Among Poor in Spanish Region” by Joan Faus, Reuters
The coronavirus mortality rate among some of the poorest Catalans is five times higher than among the wealthiest residents of the Spanish region, a study showed, in the latest evidence of how COVID-19 hits the needy hardest. The northeastern region of Catalonia, which makes up a sixth of Spain’s 47 million population, has the second highest number of registered coronavirus cases and deaths among regions.
May 22: “South America Is a New COVID ‘Epicentre’, African Deaths Still Low: WHO” by Reuters
South America has become a new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil hardest-hit, while cases are rising in some African countries that so far have a relatively low death toll, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday. “In a sense South America has become a new epicentre for the disease,” Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, told a news conference, adding Brazil is “clearly the most affected”.
May 25: “Study Tells ‘Remarkable Story’ About COVID-19’s Deadly Rampage Through a South African Hospital” by Linda Nordling, ABC News
Now, scientists at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have published a detailed reconstruction of how the virus spread from ward to ward and between patients, doctors, and nurses, based on floor maps of the hospital, analyses of staff and patient movements, and viral genomes. Their 37-page analysis, posted on the university’s website on 22 May, is the most extensive study of any hospital outbreak of COVID-19 so far. It suggests all of the cases originated from a single introduction, and that patients rarely infected other patients. Instead, the virus was mostly carried around the hospital by staff and on the surfaces of medical equipment.
May 25: “When a COVID-19 Vaccine Becomes Available, Who Should Get It First?” by Sandeep Jauhar, STAT News
The ethical challenges that have arisen so far in the coronavirus pandemic largely boil down to the age-old struggle between individual freedoms and the public good. Issues like restricting movement and commerce to protect community health or requiring health care workers to treat infected patients, even at the risk of getting infected themselves, are specific examples of this larger dilemma. These debates, even in the United States where rugged individualism is celebrated, have been settled for the most part in favor of the common good. Ethical questions in the next phase of the pandemic are bound to be more fractious. They will turn from our common goal of maximizing the greater good to brokering disagreements between individual groups that may not be so easy to resolve.
May 25: “Ten Reasons Why Immunity Passports Are a Bad Idea” by Natalie Kofler and Françoise Baylis, Nature
Imagine a world where your ability to get a job, housing or a loan depends on passing a blood test. You are confined to your home and locked out of society if you lack certain antibodies. It has happened before. For most of the nineteenth century, immunity to yellow fever divided people in New Orleans, Louisiana, between the ‘acclimated’ who had survived yellow fever and the ‘unacclimated’, who had not had the disease. Lack of immunity dictated whom people could marry, where they could work, and, for those forced into slavery, how much they were worth. Presumed immunity concentrated political and economic power in the hands of the wealthy elite, and was weaponized to justify white supremacy.
May 26: “New Research Rewrites History of When Covid-19 Arrived in U.S.—And Points to Missed Chances to Stop It” by Helen Branswell, STAT News
New research has poured cold water on the theory that the Covid-19 outbreak in Washington state — the country’s first — was triggered by the very first confirmed case of the infection in the country. Instead, it suggests the person who ignited the first chain of sustained transmission in the United States probably returned to the country in mid-February, a month later. The work adds to evidence that the United States missed opportunities to stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from taking root in this country — and that those opportunities persisted for longer than has been recognized up until now.
May 26: “As Covid-19 Tears Through Navajo Nation, Young People Step Up to Protect Their Elders” by Mona Gable, STAT News
In recent weeks, similar messages have resounded across the Navajo Nation, as younger generations have come to play a pivotal grassroots role in the pandemic response. They have moved quickly for good reason. Navajo residents have been devastated as the virus has swept through a reservation that spans four states. Already, 4,633 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 153 have died as of May 23, a staggering toll in a population of 356,000 — and the highest infection rate of anywhere in the U.S. Young Navajos are motivated, in large part, by a desire to protect their elders — many of whom have underlying health conditions and who are at high risk of Covid-19 — and the vital cultural knowledge they carry.
May 26: “Chile’s Hospital ICUs Near Full Capacity as Pandemic Rages” by Eva Vergara, ABC News
Intensive care units in Chile’s hospitals are nearly at capacity amid a flood of coronavirus patients, authorities said Tuesday, and doctors are having to make wrenching choices over which patients should get available beds. Health officials said 95% of the country’s 2,400 ICU beds are occupied even after a doubling of capacity from the levels in March. They announced plans to add 400 more critical care beds in the coming days.
May 27: “British Regulator Says ‘COPCOV’ Hydroxychloroquine Trial Paused” by Reuters
An international hydroxychloroquine trial led by the University of Oxford has been paused, Britain’s pharmaceutical regulator said on Wednesday, less than a week after the trial started, amid fresh safety concerns over the drug. The French government on Wednesday cancelled a decree allowing hospital doctors to administer hydroxychloroquine as a treatment to patients suffering severe forms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
May 29: “Big Gene Therapy Names Line Up Behind Experimental Covid-19 Vaccine” by Matthew Herper, STAT News
An early stage vaccine against Covid-19 based on the same basic technology used in gene therapy is gaining some support from some of that field’s biggest names. Earlier this year, James Wilson, a gene therapy pioneer, got a call from Luk Vandenberghe, who had been a graduate student in Wilson’s lab two decades ago. Vandenberghe wondered if a virus they had worked on as a potential component of gene therapies might work as part of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
May 29: “Hunger, Infection, and Repression: Venezuela’s Coronavirus Calamity” by Stephania Taladrid, The New Yorker
“Fear took hold of every one of us,” González recalled. Many people around her broke into tears. Others asked how a country where most hospitals lack running water, electricity, and soap could combat such an illness. González’s thoughts drifted away from the meeting room. She feared for her seventy-year-old mother, who suffers from hypertension; her three children, ages twenty-one, eighteen, and eleven; and her granddaughter, who has been in González’s charge since her daughter-in-law fled to Peru, in search of work. With a joint income of ten dollars per month, González and her partner support the entire family. Sheltering in place was not an option for them, nor for millions in Venezuela, a country where the poor line up outside slaughterhouses to fill buckets with cow blood, the only protein they can afford.
May 29: “When Did the Coronavirus Start Spreading in the U.S.? Likely in January, CDC Analysis Suggests” by Helen Branswell, STAT News
How early did local transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus begin in the United States? For the second time this week, scientists have proposed a new estimate. This one, from scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests transmission likely began in late January or early February and that the virus spread undetected for more than a month.