Is there ANY good COVID-19 news? (Yes!)

Sean Commentary, Insights, Recent Highlights

Regardless of the day of the week, if you follow the news headlines long enough, it would be very easy to become quite discouraged. Obviously, the coronavirus story has many broad and adverse implications, both socially and economically. However, the stories that tend to dominate the headlines are those that are the scariest and most negative takes…because that’s what attracts attention. That’s not to say they aren’t accurate, but it is to say that it’s easy to lose perspective on some of the progress that is being made here or elsewhere. In no way wanting to be polyannaish, but with an aim toward being clear-eyed, I’ll try to keep track of a few of those stories that may give us an indication of where there this is going in the longer term and how things might get (or be getting) better. I’ll only post stories from sources I believe to be reputable (WHO, CDC, recognized scientists, experts in their respective fields, etc) or from other generally recognized and reputable news sources.

Financial Times: Tests on French health workers with mild forms of coronavirus show that 98 per cent of them developed antibodies powerful enough to neutralise the virus a month later. The study at two Strasbourg hospitals will help to ease scientific concerns that people with mild forms of the disease do not develop robust immunity to the Sars-Cov-2 virus.
Science Magazine: Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, has been conspicuously absent from the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. No longer. The company this morning announced it has cut deals to develop and manufacture two different COVID-19 vaccines and a much-discussed experimental antiviral compound that is already in early clinical trials. Researchers say the first human trial of a possible vaccine has been found to be safe and may effectively fight the virus. Scientists in China say 108 healthy adults were given a dose of adenovirus type 5 vectored COVID-19 (Ad5-nCoV) during the trial. The trial demonstrates that a single dose of the new adenovirus type 5 vectored COVID-19 (Ad5-nCoV) vaccine produces virus-specific antibodies and T cells in 14 days,” Professor Wei Chen of the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology said in a statement.
NYT: A New Entry in the Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine: Hope Scientists are increasingly optimistic that a vaccine can be produced in record time. But getting it manufactured and distributed will pose huge challenges.
From @mlipsitch (Harvard epidemiologist and microbiologist): A little good news. Survivors of SARS1 from 2003 retain neutralizing antibody 9-17 years later. So it is possible for functional antibody to a coronavirus to persist for longer than previously shown.
Stat News: A candidate vaccine for Covid-19 developed by the drug maker Moderna appears to generate an immune response similar to the response seen in people who have been infected by the virus and recovered, the company said Monday. The data were limited and from only a small number of participants in the trial, led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, but they are still likely to be seen as encouraging.
WSJ: There are some green shoots starting to show up in economic and activity data. Map requests on Apple Inc. devices fell 50% throughout the country between mid-January and the week ended April 9, but they have steadily climbed since then and are now down just 20%. While driving doesn’t necessarily equate to spending, retail visits show the same trend, according to Unacast, a mobility-data analytics company: off more than 50% in mid-April from a year earlier, but down just 32% this past week. Real-estate brokerage Redfin Corp. said home-buyer demand as measured by customers contacting affiliated agents, after plummeting by one-third, is now above prepandemic levels. Some companies also report a turning point. On May 7, Uber Technologies Inc. said rides had risen for three straight weeks, and were up more than 40% from the trough in large cities in Georgia and Texas, which are starting to reopen businesses shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. Fast-food chain Wendy’s Co. reported that same-store sales in the week ended May 3 were down just 2% from a year earlier. I suspect we'll see these and other numbers improve more as we enter June and state-level lockdowns decrease and people venture out more.
Barrons: Shanghai Disneyland reopened on Monday, after closing its gates nearly four months ago as the coronavirus spread across China and around the world. The reopening marks the first step of Walt Disney’s recovery, as the company weathers the closure of its other theme parks and resorts in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and the U.S. The reopening seems to have had a good start. Tickets for the reopening day sold out within minutes after booking started, signaling Chinese fans’ excitement over the magic kingdom’s return.
NYT: Patients with mild to moderate Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, appeared to improve more quickly if they were treated with a three-drug cocktail, compared with a group receiving just a two-drug combination, scientists reported on Friday. Included in the cocktail were three antiviral drugs: lopinavir-ritonavir (sold under the brand name Kaletra), taken orally; ribavirin, an antiviral drug used to treat hepatitis C, also taken orally; and interferon beta-1b, an injectable drug used to treat multiple sclerosis that regulates inflammation and suppresses viral growth.
NYT: Pfizer Begins Human Trials of Possible Coronavirus Vaccine. The drug company, along with a German partner, is running tests in healthy volunteers. It’s one of several companies on an accelerated timetable to try to find a safe, effective vaccine.
STAT News: A government-run study of Gilead’s remdesivir, perhaps the most closely watched experimental drug to treat the novel coronavirus, showed that the medicine is effective against Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. In a statement on Wednesday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is conducting the study, said preliminary data show patients who received remdesivir recovered faster than similar patients who received placebo. The preliminary data showed that the time to recovery was 11 days on remdesivir compared to 15 days for placebo, a 31% decrease. The mortality rate for the remdesivir group was 8%, compared to 11.6% for the placebo group.
Korea Herald / Inquirer: South Korea’s infectious disease experts said Thursday that dead virus fragments, NOT reinfections, were the likely cause of over 260 people here testing positive again for the novel coronavirus days and even weeks after marking full recoveries. Oh Myoung-don, who leads the central clinical committee for emerging disease control, said the committee members found little reason to believe that those cases could be COVID-19 reinfections or reactivations.
STAT News: A U.S. government-run study of Gilead’s remdesivir, perhaps the most closely watched experimental drug to treat the novel coronavirus, showed that the medicine is effective against Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. During an appearance alongside President Trump in the Oval Office, Anthony Fauci, the director of NIAID, said the data are a “very important proof of concept” and that there was reason for optimism, but cautioned the data were not a “knockout.”
NYT: Scientists at Oxford's Jenner Institute had a head start on a vaccine, having proved in previous trials that similar inoculations — including one last year against an earlier coronavirus. This headstart has enabled them to leap ahead and schedule tests of their new coronavirus vaccine involving more than 6,000 people by the end of next month, hoping to show not only that it is safe, but also that it works.
Science Magazine: For the first time, one of the many COVID-19 vaccines in development has protected an animal, rhesus macaques, from infection by the new coronavirus, scientists report. The vaccine, an old-fashioned formulation consisting of a chemically inactivated version of the virus, produced no obvious side effects in the monkeys, and human trials began on 16 April.
The fourth COVID-19 vaccine to enter human trials, this one in Germany, was announced yesterday by the Paul Ehrlich Institute. Two human trials are underway in the U.S; one in China; and now this one in Germany.
STAT News: Chicago hospital treating severe Covid-19 patients with Gilead Sciences’ antiviral medicine remdesivir in a closely watched clinical trial is seeing rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms, with nearly all patients discharged in less than a week.
CNBC: Abbott Labs is working on a fourth diagnostic test for the coronavirus: A “lateral flow” blood test that could provide mass testing to the general population. The company is on track to ship 4 million this month of its new antibody tests, which indicate whether a person has had Covid-19 in the past and was either asymptomatic or recovered, Abbott CEO Robert Ford said during an earnings conference call with investors Thursday. It plans to ramp up to 20 million shipments per month, beginning in June, he said, adding there’s a need to manufacture more tests.
TechCrunch: Apple and Google are working together to develop a contact tracking and tracing tool to help in the fight against COVID-19. This is a good example of companies taking steps toward a solution. I suspect we'll see more of these kinds of creative and helpful developments from many companies.
CNN: Antibody tests that would verify whether a person recently had the novel coronavirus could be available within a week, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert. (Sean's comment: I think widescale testing to see who's sick or who has been and recovered is going to be the most important element, short of a vaccine, to reopening the economy so this is VERY good news.)
ScienceDaily: A recent analysis from the University of Göttingen suggests that countries have only discovered on average about 6% (1 in 16) of actual coronavirus infections and the true number of infected people worldwide may already have reached several tens of millions. Using differences in mortality statistics across countries, they estimate that South Korea has detected about 50% of its infected population, Germany 16%, Spain and Italy less than 3%, and the U.S. and the UK, less than 2%. If so, this is a very positive development in that it means the infection fatality rate may be much lower than initially thought (although the virus still very dangerous given that no uninfected patients have immunity to the disease.)
Mercury News: Stanford is currently doing public testing of a newly developed serological COVID-19 antibody test. The university is also working on a second test that will be deployed for more widespread use. U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval is imminent – “within hours, not days,” said California Gov. Newsom.
ScienceDaily: An international team led by University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Josef Penninger has found a trial drug that effectively blocks the cellular door SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect its hosts. The findings, published today in Cell, hold promise as a treatment capable of stopping early infection of the novel coronavirus.
ScienceDaily: Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have announced a potential vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. When tested in mice, the vaccine -- delivered through a fingertip-sized patch -- produces antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities thought to be sufficient for neutralizing the virus.
As we've seen, the COVID-19 pandemic is unleashing what looks to be a global, if not necessarily well-coordinated, Manhattan Project-level of scientific effort and innovation. Here's a look at the many COVID-19-related therapeutic drug trials going on right now.
...and here is a list of the trials related to various diagnostic protocols and approaches.
...and, finally, a summary of vacination-related efforts underway around the globe.
This is encouraging bounce-back data, although still early. China manufacturing economy bounces back strongly after lockdown China’s official manufacturing PMI in March was 52, back from an all-time low in February and higher than forecasts Strong recovery comes amid fears of a second economic hit, with demand set to collapse in export markets under coronavirus lockdown
From CNN: This is a good use of underutilized manufacturing capcacity. Ford plans to make as many as 50,000 simple ventilators for coronavirus patients within 100 days and plans to continue producing 30,000 per month after that, the company announced Monday.
Johnson & Johnson said Monday human testing of its experimental vaccine for the coronavirus will begin by September and it could be available for emergency use authorization in early 2021.
Bloomberg: Abbott Laboratories is unveiling a coronavirus test that can tell if someone is infected in as little as five minutes, and is so small and portable it can be used in almost any health-care setting. The medical-device maker plans to supply 50,000 tests a day starting April 1, said John Frels, vice president of research and development at Abbott Diagnostics.
Starbucks has reopened 95% of the stores that were shuttered in China, including four or five in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first tracked.
CNN Business: James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, has designed a new ventilator in 10 days. He's making 15,000 for the pandemic fight.
Calculated Risk: U.S. testing numbers continue to rise (146,000 yesterday). Need more but heading the right direction.
YouTube: Funny remake ("My Corona") of the original 80s hit My Sharona. [Language Warning]
NYT: Not all bad. Some things companies around the U.S. are doing to make a difference in the coronavirus effort.
WaPo: The coronavirus isn’t mutating quickly, suggesting a vaccine would offer lasting protection
NYT: South Korea has shown that it is possible to contain the coronavirus without shutting down the economy, and that's a hopeful sign, but probably not until our numbers in the U.S. are MUCH lower than what we're currently seeing.
CNBC: Ford partners with GE, 3M to begin manufacturing protective equipment, ventilators
@Liz AnnSonders: Not sure how this isn't / can't be done here, ut South Korean authorities said Wednesday they were looking at whether country had sufficient stockpiles of #coronavirus test kits to expand exports to US @Reuters
Vanity Fair: (Yes, it's Vanity Fair, but in my defense, it's about the Chinese box office reopening): The Chinese film industry is finally moving forward after weeks of devastating news due to the spread of COVID-19. According to Variety, more than 500 cinema screens have reopened in China, where the number of coronavirus infections is dropping daily.
NYT: Scientists Identify 69 Drugs to Test Against the Coronavirus Two dozen of the medicines are already under investigation. Also on the list: chloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria.
WSJ: The U.S. central bank signaled it would do practically anything—extending loans to big and small businesses and purchasing unlimited amounts of government debt—to help an American economy in a race against time.
LAT: Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist, began analyzing the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide in January and correctly calculated that China would get through the worst of its coronavirus outbreak long before many health experts had predicted. Now he foresees a similar outcome in the United States and the rest of the world.
@DrDenaGrayson: Awesome news! The FDA approved the first #coronavirus test that can be performed entirely at the point-of-care for a patient (such as a doctor’s office) — and **deliver results in just 45 minutes**.
@LizAnnSonders: @DrTedros (WHO) notes that Wuhan reported no new cases for the first time since outbreak started. "Wuhan provides hope for the rest of the world, that even the most severe situation can be turned around."
@MarriottIntl: Click for video, but this sobering video from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson is an example of extraordinary leadership. From the 4:05 mark: "If there is any good news visible today, it is the signs of early recovery in greater China. China appears to have succeeded in reducing the spread of Covid-19 through strong counteractions...We are seeing early signs of lodging demands begin to return...If this holds, this may bode well for the course of this epidemic in other parts of the world."
CalculatedRisk: Tests per day is a key number to track (along with actual cases and, sadly, deaths). But total tests were a key for South Korea slowing the spread of COVID-19. South Korea has been conducting 15,000 tests per day with a 51 million population, so the US needs to test around 100,000 per day. The US conducted 34,644 tests in the last 24 hours. That is progress.
China's market, through March 17th, was down ONLY 8.9% YTD, despite being in lockdown for two months. This presumably due the market responding to the country's aggressive approach and its apparent effectiveness. Click for chart.
Positive signs in China’s economy where large firms back to work & operating at levels > pre-virus rates, however, impact of quarantine on consumption services & household behaviour only beginning to be revealed
Quite a one-two-punch from 2 #COVID19 papers released today. First, a @ScienceMagazine paper estimates that most COVID19 infections are undocumented and unidentified through regular surveillance because they experience no, or only mild, symptoms. (This seems like a good news / bad news kind of thing due to transmission issues.)
WSJ: The Food and Drug Administration said late Monday that it will allow private companies to begin marketing coronavirus test kits directly to the public, in a new initiative to ease a chronic shortage of test kits.
The first testing in humans of an experimental vaccine for the new coronavirus began on Monday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced.
Through testing and retesting of all 3,300 inhabitants of the town of Vò, near Venice, regardless of whether they were exhibiting symptoms, and rigorous quarantining of their contacts once infection was confirmed, health authorities have been able to completely stop the spread of the illness there.
Q: How far away is a vaccine? @mvankerkhove (of WHO) says WHO is working to accelerate development. At least 20 vaccines in development for #covid19, she says.
Not coronavirus related directly, but stocks are getting very close to as cheap (relative to bonds) as they were at the bottom of the 2008-9 bear market (from LPL Research)
Let's hope! From Science Magazine: "dozens of diseases wax and wane with the seasons—and will COVID-19?"
Apple has announced it is reopening all 42 stores in China after the two-month shutdown in the Chinese economy.
Paul Lem, the founder and chief executive of Spartan Bioscience, for one. A few weeks ago, he and his fellow scientists pivoted abruptly from ongoing projects to focus on what seems the perfect application for one of its technology platforms — a way of quickly determining who has contracted the COVID-19 virus. Lem said he expects within weeks to have a hand-held product capable of identifying the COVID-19 virus within 30 to 45 minutes, a speedy result made possible because the necessary analysis is done on-site. It does not have to go to a laboratory for processing, as is the case with most other DNA test technology. If the Spartan device works as expected, it would be ideal for use at border crossings, remote communities, physicians’ offices, among other venues.
It's a small study and is probably getting too much airplay some experts have said, but fom the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases: "Conclusions Hydroxychloroquine was found to be more potent than chloroquine to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 in vitro."
A randomized, controlled clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the investigational antiviral remdesivir in hospitalized adults diagnosed with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has begun at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha.