Novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 COVID-19 News from Around the Web

NIH Launches $500 Million Contest to Produce Best COVID-19 Test

HealthDay - April 30, 2020

A competition between researchers is part of a $1.5 billion program that seeks to speed development of accurate, quick and easy-to-use COVID-19 tests, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced Wednesday. The NIH invites "all scientists and inventors with a rapid testing technology to compete in the COVID-19 testing challenge for a share of up to $500 million over all phases of development." The goal is to make millions of tests a week available to all Americans by the end of this summer, and to have even more in time for the flu season.

AstraZeneca teams up with Oxford University to develop COVID-19 vaccine

Reuters - April 30, 2020

Britain’s AstraZeneca joined forces with the University of Oxford on Thursday to help develop, produce and distribute a potential COVID-19 vaccine, as drugmakers around the world race to find a solution to the deadly disease. UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma welcomed the tie-up as a vital step to making the Oxford vaccine available as soon as possible if it succeeds in clinical trials. A team of British scientists last week dosed the first volunteers, and earlier this month said large-scale production capacity was being put in place to make millions of doses even before trials show whether it is effective. Only a handful of the vaccines in development have advanced to human trials, an indicator of safety and efficacy - and the stage where most vaccines fail. “Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can accelerate the globalisation of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation,” AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said.

AstraZeneca CEO says now is the time for taking COVID vaccine risk

Reuters - April 30, 2020

The head of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said now was the time to take risks by betting on a COVID-19 vaccine and he should know by June or July whether one from its University of Oxford partner will be effective or not.

Oxford scientists say a vaccine may be widely available by September

CBS News - April 30, 2020

In the global race to find a vaccine, Oxford University just jumped way ahead of the pack. Human testing is already underway, and scientists say they're hopeful a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available by September. Technology the lab had already developed in previous work on inoculations for other viruses, including a close relative of COVID-19, gave it a head start. "Well personally, I have a high degree of confidence about this vaccine, because it's technology that I've used before," said Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the university. The vaccine takes the coronavirus' genetic material and injects it into a common cold virus that has been neutralized so it cannot spread in people. The modified virus will mimic COVID-19, triggering the immune system to fight off the imposter and providing protection against the real thing. The experimental vaccine has reportedly worked in protecting rhesus macaque monkeys that were exposed to heavy quantities of COVID-19.

GSK boss does not see mass-produced coronavirus vaccine before mid-2021

Reuters - April 30, 2020

GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s largest vaccine maker, said the global push to develop an immunisation against the coronavirus would not lead to widely available products before the second half of next year. “If things go right ... to get to scale of manufacturing in the hundreds of millions (of doses) is going to be in the second half of next year,” CEO Emma Walmsley told a media briefing after the release of first-quarter results. This would require swift progress in global development efforts to show an experimental vaccine is safe, effective and dosed in the right way, she added.

Will Remdesivir Help COVID-19 Patients? Two Reports Provide Different Answers

HealthDay - April 30, 2020

Two new reports have produced conflicting results on the potential effectiveness of remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug considered to be one of the leading hopes in the fight against COVID-19. Disappointing results emerged from the first gold-standard clinical trial for remdesivir, which found that the drug did not help patients in China with severe COVID-19. Those findings were published April 29 in The Lancet medical journal. Earlier the same day, drugmaker Gilead Sciences announced positive early findings from a U.S.-designed clinical trial being conducted at 180 sites around the world. Gilead announced that the U.S. trial will show that COVID-19 patients treated earlier with remdesivir had better outcomes than those who received the drug later in the course of their illness. The trial also will show that people who take remdesivir for five days do as well as patients who take a 10-day course, Gilead said. Based on that promising data, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to announce as early as Wednesday an emergency use authorization for using remdesivir in treating coronavirus, The New York Times reported.

Data on Gilead drug raises hopes in pandemic fight, Fauci calls it ‘highly significant’

Reuters - April 30, 2020

The top U.S. infectious disease official said Gilead Sciences Inc’s experimental antiviral drug remdesivir will become the standard of care for COVID-19 after early clinical trial results on Wednesday showed it helped patients recover more quickly from the illness caused by the coronavirus. Preliminary results from a U.S. government trial showing that patients given remdesivir recovered 31% faster than those given a placebo, were hailed by Dr. Anthony Fauci as “highly significant.” “This is really quite important,” Fauci told reporters at the White House, likening it to a moment in 1986 “when we were struggling for drugs for HIV and we had nothing.”

‘Tip Of The Iceberg’: Economy Shrinks At 4.8% Pace, But Worst To Come

NPR - April 30, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to trigger the sharpest recession in the United States since the Great Depression. An early signal of that came Wednesday, when the Commerce Department said the economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first three months of the year — the first quarterly contraction since 2014 and the largest since the Great Recession. … The first-quarter drop was the biggest since an 8.4% dive in the fourth quarter of 2008. It marked a reversal from the 2019 fourth quarter's 2.1% growth rate.

Coronavirus Has Now Killed More Americans Than Vietnam War

NPR - April 30, 2020

In not even three months since the first known U.S. deaths from COVID-19, more lives have now been lost to the coronavirus pandemic on U.S. soil than the 58,220 Americans who died over nearly two decades in Vietnam. Early Tuesday evening ET, the U.S. death toll reached 58,365, according to Johns Hopkins University. While the number of lives lost in the U.S. during the pandemic and the U.S. death toll in that war are roughly the same now, the death rate from the coronavirus in America is considerably higher. It now stands at about 17.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

The US now has 1 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus

USA Today - April 30, 2020

The United States topped 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus Tuesday – nearly a third of the world's cases – as health authorities here and around the globe try to understand the full scope of who is at risk and who has been infected. Reaching seven figures – 1,002,498 to be exact – is the latest milestone for the U.S., which has topped 57,000 deaths during the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University dashboard.

Trump orders U.S. meat-processing plants to stay open despite coronavirus fears

Reuters - April 30, 2020

President Donald Trump on Tuesday plans to order meat processing plants concerned about coronavirus outbreaks to stay open to protect the food supply in the United States, drawing a backlash from unions who said at-risk workers required more protection. With concerns about food shortages and supply chain disruptions, Trump is expected to sign an executive order using the Defense Production Act to mandate that the plants continue to function, a senior administration official said. … The world’s biggest meat companies, including Smithfield Foods Inc, Cargill Inc, JBS USA and Tyson Foods, have halted operations at about 20 slaughterhouses and processing plants in North America as workers fall ill, stoking global fears of a meat shortage.

U.S. coronavirus cases approach one million, one-third of global infections: Reuters tally

Reuters - April 30, 2020

U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus were approaching 1 million on Tuesday, having doubled in 18 days, and made up one-third of all infections in the world. More than 56,000 Americans have died of the highly contagious respiratory illness COVID-19 caused by the virus, an average of about 2,000 a day this month. The actual number of cases is thought to be higher. About 30% of the cases have occurred in New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, followed by New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania. Globally, coronavirus cases top 3 million since the outbreak began in China late last year.

Texas, Ohio among many states to take steps toward reopening

AP - April 30, 2020

Across the country, an ever-changing patchwork of loosening stay-home orders and business restrictions took shape Monday. Construction workers are being allowed back on the job in Vermont and other states. The much anticipated return to normalcy in Ohio will happen slowly, with the reopening of many health care offices on Friday. Retail stores will need to wait two weeks before they can open, the governor said Monday. He also imposed a strict mask requirement.

Trump hopes for 2 million tests per week by end of May — the low end of experts’ estimates of what’s needed to reopen

STAT - April 30, 2020

The Trump administration on Monday unveiled a “blueprint” to increase capacity for coronavirus tests nationwide, the latest step in the White House’s effort to help states gradually roll back dramatic lockdown measures. While the blueprint itself contains few specifics, a number of private companies, including CVS and Walgreens, pledged to work with the federal government to quickly add capacity to conduct millions of tests per month. Top Trump health aides pledged at Monday’s White House briefing that the new effort would create capacity to conduct as many as 2 million tests per week by the end of May. The 2-million-tests-per-week pledge would represent a dramatic testing capacity increase for the U.S., where roughly 5.4 million coronavirus tests have been conducted to date. Yet it also represents the low end of what many public health officials estimate the country will require to safely reopen.

Italy to ease the West’s longest coronavirus lockdown; Americans show signs of ‘quarantine fatigue’

Washington Post - April 30, 2020

The number of confirmed U.S. infections is approaching 1 million, with at least 54,000 reported deaths. Nearly 3 million confirmed cases and more than 200,000 deaths have been reported worldwide.

Nations, US states each chart their own path on reopening

AP - April 30, 2020

Nations and U.S. states have begun easing coronavirus lockdowns, each pursuing their own approach but all with a common goal: restarting their economies without triggering a new surge of infections. Restrictions are being lifted in a piecemeal fashion with no clear signs of coordination among countries. Some have restarted construction work, while others never shut down building sites in the first place. Hair salons and restaurants were reopening in some U.S. states, while elsewhere such steps are still weeks away. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was back at work Monday after a bout with the virus that by his own account nearly cost the 55-year-old leader his life. His government was resisting the trend toward reopening. Johnson said Britain was starting to “turn the tide” on the outbreak but added “it is also the moment of maximum risk” because easing the lockdown that now lasts until May 7 could produce a second spike in infections. “I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS (National Health Service),” he said. “I ask you to contain your impatience.” Technology is likely to play an important role in helping countries ease their restrictions, although the use of such apps is raising privacy concerns. In Australia, which has seen a particularly low number of COVID-19 deaths, Chief Health Officer Damian Murphy said Monday he was “really excited” by the early popularity of an app designed to accelerate contact tracing for coronavirus. Within 12 hours of the Australian-developed COVIDsafe app becoming available, 1.13 million of Australia’s 26 million people had downloaded it onto their smartphones, despite some privacy concerns. The government says at least 40% of Australia’s population needs to use the technology based on Singapore’s TraceTogether app for it to be effective. Authorities hope the app will help Australia safely reopen the economy by enabling health officials to quickly identify and contain new outbreaks.