Coronavirus News Roundup: March 6–March 12
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For a digestible summary of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s “guidance for fully vaccinated people,” released 3/8/21, check out the lists near the end of in this 3/8/21 piece by Allison Aubrey and Rachel Treisman for NPR. The lists summarize “what fully vaccinated people can do” (including: visit indoors unmasked with other fully vaccinated people, and visit indoors and unmasked with unvaccinated people who are at low risk for severe COVID-19) as well as the precautions that fully vaccinated people should still take (including: wear a well-fitted mask and socially distance in public; avoid medium-sized and large gatherings; and wear masks, physically distance “and take other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households”).  

Helpful commentary with graphic illustrations of the new CDC guidance can be found in this 3/9/21 post by Katelyn Jetelina at Your Daily Epidemiologist. Jetelina, of the University of Texas Health Science Center, writes that she is “surprised (and happy)” that the CDC now says that fully vaccinated people can safely visit indoors with unvaccinated people who have a low risk for COVID-19 without wearing masks. Why the surprise? “Because the CDC doesn’t like risk,” she writes. She interprets the recommendation as indicating that the agency “is confident that vaccinated transmission is really low.” Jetelina cites an example of this type of interaction: “fully vaccinated grandparents can visit indoors with their unvaccinated healthy daughter.” And she writes, “Can grandparents can hug healthy grandkids? YES. YES. YES.”

Lena H. Sun at The Washington Post asked five public health and infectious-diseases experts how their lives have and have not changed post-vaccination, for a piece published 3/10/21. The new normal for a University of California at San Francisco expert has included hosting a dinner part, without masks or distancing; hugging friends; and eating indoors at restaurants (where she lives, “tables were distanced, doors were open to the outside to boost ventilation and the staff were all masked,” according to the expert who made this choice, the story states). A University of Alabama at Birmingham expert interviewed for the story says she is still not comfortable at restaurants and bar, but she went to a hair salon, and she and her partner recently hosted vaccinated friends and their two young children for dinner. A University of Maryland School of Public Health researcher says he is not going back to in-person grocery shopping, but he and his wife have resumed making routine and not-so-routine health-care appointments.

A website that is bilingual in English and Spanish offers a free service that matches up people with clinics that have leftover COVID-19 vaccines that are about to expire and would otherwise end up in the trash, reports Katie Thomas at The New York Times (3/9/21). The site, called Dr. B, is like a stand-by list for vaccines. The site states, as of this writing, that more than 1.3 million people have signed up for the service so far. People who sign up submit their birth date, job details, any underlying health conditions etc., Thomas reports. “If vaccine providers near them have extra doses, they will get notified via text message and have 15 minutes to respond. Then they must be willing to quickly travel to the vaccination site,” the story states. Data submitted to the site is not protected by HIPAA, the federal health care privacy law, Thomas reports.

Registries and research worldwide on women who tested positive for the new coronavirus while pregnant suggest that “pregnant women with COVID-19 are at a higher risk for hospitalization and severe disease” than women their age who are not pregnant, reports Nidhi Subbaraman at Nature (3/9/21). The better news is that the risks to babies are minimal — they are “mostly spared a severe respiratory infection, and do not often get sick,” Subbaraman writes. It appears that the virus only rarely crosses from the mother to the fetus. A graphic in the piece compares outcomes such as intensive-care admission and pre-term birth for pregnant women with and without COVID-19 across 77 studies. There’s still a lot left on this topic that researchers want to study more closely and figure out such as whether a mother’s immunity to the coronavirus passes to the baby.

Research to find effective COVID-19 treatments has yielded few clear winners to date (although there’s now good evidence that the steroid dexamethasone cuts COVID-19 deaths in hospitalized patients), and the “only global trial of potential COVID-19 treatments” currently is stalled and testing no drugs, reports Kai Kupferschmidt for Science (3/3/21). The story provides an overview of the impressive structure of the World Health Organization’s Solidarity trial — it allows “doctors around the world to take part, by randomizing patients to one of the study treatments,” enabling the large numbers of participants required to arrive at statistically significant results, Kupferschmidt writes. It sounds like the UK’s Recovery trial is the world’s second largest network for testing COVID-19 drugs and operates similarly. And both trials making it easy for researchers to enter data, which can encourage more participation and yield conclusive results faster. While the Recovery trial has scored some successes, the Solidarity trial currently has lost momentum and is paused, to the dismay of some researchers, the story states. And Solidarity keeps striking out, having found no significant drop in COVID-19 deaths in studies of 4 treatments: anti-viral remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, “interferon beta, and the HIV drug combination lopinavir and ritonavir,” Kupferschmidt reports (a smaller U.S. study found remdesivir cuts recovery time in hospitalized patients). The Recovery trial currently has experiments under way in more than 38,000 patients on five drugs: aspirin; colchicine, a gout treatment; a COVID-19-targeted antibody cocktail made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals; baricitinib, which treats rheumatoid arthritis; and dimethyl fumarate, a treatment for multiple sclerosis,” Kupferschmidt writes. Leaders of the Solidarity trial, which should be considered a success story, per a University of Oxford epidemiologist who helped design it, recently discussed drugs it plans to test next and should emerge soon from its “doldrums,” the story states.

This 2/26/21 AARP piece by Peter Urban and Barbar Stepko describes a variety of solutions for preventing the fogging of eyeglasses when wearing a face mask, including simply washing glasses with soap and water, leaving a film that blocks the condensation. The piece also describes antifog lens coatings, sprays and wipes, and a simple hack involving a folded tissue between your mouth and the mask. “The easiest, and least expensive, way to ensure that your glasses don’t fog is to wear a snug-fitting mask with a tight seal across the top that prevents your breath from escaping,” according to a University of Maryland School of Medicine ophthalmologist, the story states.

You might enjoy watching the winners of this year’s “Dance Your Ph.D.” Contest. Sofia Moutinho reports for Science that the winning team, whose rap song and choreography explain how atoms stick together to form clouds, adapted to the pandemic by shooting their videos outdoors or in empty laboratories (3/3/21).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Robin Lloyd

Robin Lloyd is a science writer based in New York City and a contributing editor at Scientific American.

Credit: Nick Higgins

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