During the pandemic, Ars has done its best to keep you on top of the most important news. But there are definitely gaps in our coverage: small updates to stories we’ve covered, or news that we’ve decided wasn’t worth the time to report deeply. Focusing on breaking news also limits our opportunity to provide bigger-picture perspective. To make up for this, we’re going to try doing a series of Monday updates to help keep you informed.
Current counts: 3.5 million confirmed cases globally; 1.15 million of those in the United States. 250,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19; 62,000 deaths in the US.
On Friday, the World Health Organization extended its declaration of global health emergency. SARS-CoV-2 is now being actively transmitted on every inhabited continent, and many new cases are occurring in developing nations in Africa and South America, which have more limited health care systems and far less testing capacity. Thus, it’s difficult to tell just how much the virus is spreading in these countries (to be fair, it’s difficult to tell how fast it’s spreading in many developed nations as well).
In Europe, the picture is mixed. Russia has seen over 10,000 new cases diagnosed in a single day, a record for that country. Meanwhile, a number of countries that were hit very hard in the early period of the pandemic appear to have gotten new infections under control. France, Italy, and Spain have now seen their daily fatality count drop to numbers not seen since early March, allowing them to start planning the lifting of some restrictions on public life.
Last week, we covered the announcement of a clinical trial that found that a drug called remdesivir reduces the recovery time of patients with COVID-19. On May 1, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the drug. This will allow hospitals to administer it to patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. Cases have to be deemed severe, and the drug will be administered intravenously. There are fact sheets for patients and health care workers linked on that page that contain information on dosing and side effects.
A huge US consortium (with some assists from France and the UK) has figured out all the human proteins we might target with drugs in order to treat COVID-19. In order to reproduce, the virus has to rely on human proteins. To find out which ones, the authors tagged 26 of the 29 proteins encoded by SARS-CoV-2, then used them to pull out any human proteins the virus’ proteins interacted with. This resulted in a list of 332 human proteins that the virus may need to reproduce. Of that number, 66 are already targeted by drugs; 29 of those are already approved for human use, and 12 are in clinical trials for other disorders.
This doesn’t mean these drugs will do anything to SARS-CoV-2 or that they’ll even be safe to use in COVID-19 patients, but it does help provide a rational reason to expedite further screening.
For several weeks, the Trump administration had touted its ability to keep the number of deaths in the United States below some the predictions of some models, which placed the low end of possible fatalities at 60,000. With that number having been exceeded last week, President Trump on Sunday used a virtual town hall to acknowledge things would be worse but hopefully not much worse. Trump placed his new estimate at between 75,000 and 100,000 fatalities in total. With many states showing a long plateau of cases, the low end of that estimate is already looking unrealistic.
To see where your state stands on both government orders and number of cases, The New York Times has put together a tracker page.
Last week, ongoing tension over Congressional oversight of the administration spilled over to the pandemic response for the first time. Congress had requested testimony from Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the Trump administration has now refused to make him available for testimony. Fauci has been a leading spokesman for the government’s response, and his accurate information and low-key delivery has made him a trusted source and allowed him to correct misstatements by Trump without obvious consequence. The administration says that Fauci’s time is better spent focused on the pandemic itself.