More straight talk from infectious disease experts on the coronavirus pandemic


Update to Straight talk from an infectious disease expert on the coronavirus pandemic (updated):

Michael T. Osterholm is Regents professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and coauthor of “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs” (2017).

“I have the reputation as ‘Bad News Mike,’” said Osterholm. “But it’s not just bad news [in the book]. I’m also saying, ‘Wake up, there’s something you can do about it.’ I guess I’m at the age where I’m looking at what kind of world I’m leaving for my kids and grandkids, and I want to make sure we do what we can to stop disease.”

ICYMI, “Bad News Mike” was on Meet The Press recently to deliver another reality check for all that overly optimistic happy talk from the propagandists at the White House, and the “irrational exuberance” from investors on Wall Street for even the slightest hint of good news about a possible vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

“It’s biology, chemistry and physics, it’s not politics. We’ve got to understand that and we’re not understanding right now that at all.” Here is the VIDEO LINK.

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The look on Katy Tur’s face during this interview is a window into how her mind was having a difficult time processing Dr. Osterholm blowing up all of the the preconceived notions she assumed to be true.

Prepare to have your mind blown again, Katy. Today, Dr. William Haseltine, a top U.S. scientist behind groundbreaking research in cancer and HIV/AIDS is warning that a vaccine for the coronavirus may never be found. NBC News/Reuters reports, U.S. scientist warns coronavirus vaccine not guaranteed as worldwide cases hit 5 million:

Dr. William Haseltine, who has also worked on human genome projects, said that while a COVID-19 vaccine could be developed, “I wouldn’t count on it.” Instead, he told Reuters, countries beginning to reverse lockdown measures need to lean on careful tracing of infections and strict isolation measures to control the spread.

Such an approach has proved successful in some countries that have minimized the spread, but worldwide, the numbers continue to climb. More than 328,000 people have died due to the virus while 5,001,494 have been infected, according to Johns Hopkins University as of Thursday morning.

The United States accounts for 94,083 of those fatalities and more than 1.5 million cases, according to NBC News’ tracking — the highest reported totals for any one country.

A race to develop a vaccine is underway at labs across the globe. Britain’s Oxford University has trials underway that if successful could see a vaccine available by September, while in the U.S., Massachusetts-based firm Moderna announced this week its first round of testing of a vaccine were strong enough to move ahead to a larger second trial.

These developments are crucial. The World Health Organization announced Wednesday that the world saw its highest increase in reported cases in a 24-hour period with 106,000 new infections.

However, Haseltine cautioned vaccines developed for other types of coronavirus in the past failed to protect mucous membranes in the nose where the virus typically enters the body. And while tests on animals of some experimental COVID-19 vaccines had been able to reduce the viral load in organs like lungs, the infections remained.

Even without an effective treatment or vaccine, he said the virus can be controlled by identifying infections, finding people who have been exposed and isolating them. People should also wear masks, wash hands, clean surfaces and keep a distance, he said.

For treatment, there are more promising developments. Antibody-rich plasma donated by people who recovered from COVID-19 is being delivered to sick patients and drugmakers are working to produce refined and concentrated versions of that serum, known as hyperimmune globulin.

Haseltine believes those products are among the trials “where the first real treatments are going to be.”

In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly released a document this week on its website outlining recommendations for reopening restaurants, mass transit, schools and child care programs across the U.S.

It cautioned that not all businesses and institutions should reopen yet — depending on the number of coronavirus cases in their local areas — and instead recommended a three-phase approach, one more permissive than the last, provided rates of transmission do not spike.

China and South Korea — among the best countries at curbing infection rates according to Haseltine — began easing lockdowns last month. Although China has had to re-implement lockdowns in some areas last week due to upticks in infections.

And another reality check for all those Republican governors, mostly in the South, who rejected strict lockdown measures because “freedumb!White House’s Own Data Crunchers: Southern Counties About to Get Hit Hard:

A new analysis being reviewed by the White House shows southern states that moved too quickly to relax social distancing guidelines face significant risk for a resurgence of the coronavirus over the next several weeks. In several cases, counties will see hundreds of additional cases by June 17.

The study, which was put together by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is part of a data set being reviewed by top coronavirus task force officials and people working with the team, The Daily Beast reported earlier this month. A previous model by the PolicyLab predicted that if officials moved too quickly and too aggressively to reopen in mid-May, individual counties could witness hundreds, if not a thousand-plus, more coronavirus cases reported each day by August 1.

The new model shows that in southern counties, particularly in Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Virginia, the risk for resurgence is high over the next four weeks. These states have moved to reopen, at least partially, since the team published its last model in April.

The Washington Post adds, Experts warn of second coronavirus wave in Dallas, Houston, Alabama and parts of FloridaDallas, Houston, Southeast Florida’s Gold Coast, the entire state of Alabama and several other places in the South that have rapidly reopened are in danger of a second wave over the next four weeks, a research team says.

The data set now takes into consideration current levels of social distancing rather than projections about what would happen when local communities reopened. It also includes data for more than 200 additional counties across the country. The findings indicate that the risk for large second waves of outbreaks remains low if communities continue to implement cautious, incremental plans to reopening that limit crowding and travel to non-essential businesses. Doctors working on the study said that without vigilance in masking, hygiene, and disinfection, certain southern counties will remain high risk.

The new data, which has been presented to members of the White House’s coronavirus task force, is likely to validate fears by doctors and scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease official in the administration, that opening states too soon could have disastrous health consequences. The news comes as the Trump White House continues to promote the idea of local communities opening up for business, and as the president seeks to shuffle his coronavirus task force in a way that would allow members to focus on reopening the economy. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Florida, where he grabbed lunch at a burger joint where few patrons were wearing masks or practicing social distancing, according to photos of the event.

While the study does not measure the death toll, it does paint a worrisome picture for southern counties over the next month. It raises questions about how local officials will handle a second wave and whether they have enough supplies to handle a spike in daily coronavirus cases.

“The key now is understanding the resurgence risk as social distancing begins to change. The picture our models are painting for Texas and Florida provide ample evidence to others who would choose to move too quickly,” the doctors working on the study wrote in an analysis associated with Wednesday’s update. “We see these concerns even as we adjust for additional testing capacity that might have inflated our forecasts.”

Florida was one of the first states to reopen. Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed some beaches in the state to reopen in the middle of April even as other areas throughout the state were continuing to see an increasing number of coronavirus cases and related deaths. Since then, he allowed gyms, salons, and theme parks to open. Now, the governor is taking more drastic reopening measures, allowing Miami-Dade and Broward counties to reopen retails shops and salons.

As these communities reopen, individuals residing in Miami-Dade County will see the daily coronavirus case count spike from 232 to 785 over the next four weeks and from 68 to 211 in Broward County, according to the study’s projections.

Dallas County in Texas will see a similar spike, as will Mobile and Montgomery counties in Alabama, the study says. In Dallas, the daily case count is projected to jump from 233 to 715 by June 17. In Montgomery it’s projected to go from 35 to 216. And in Mobile County the case count is projected to spike by more than 300 cases from 31 to 366 in the next month.

While states in the southern part of the country may suffer a second wave in the next few weeks, counties in the northeast, including hotspot states like New York and New Jersey, will see a decline in the daily number of coronavirus cases. Doctors working on the study attribute that decline to implementing slow, safe reopening measures. In both New York and New Jersey, state officials have moved to reopen parks, outdoor activity facilities, and some construction sites but have avoided allowing mass gatherings. Both states will soon begin to allow more nonessential businesses to reopen, including some doctors offices and retail stores.

In Essex County, New Jersey, for example, a county with one of the highest coronavirus case counts and death tolls in the nation, the case count will drop from 54 to 10 by June 17. And in Queens County, New York, where doctors have in the last few months been inundated with coronavirus patients, the case count will drop from 243 to 74 in the next four weeks, according to the study.

The U.S. needs to be preparing for a “second wave” of COVID-19 this fall, learning from the historical lessons of the 1918 flu pandemic. ‘The 1918 Spanish flu’s second wave was even more devastating’: Americans brace for another coronavirus outbreak in the fall:

America is staring down a widespread COVID-19 testing shortage with no vaccine in sight. So what happens when coronavirus makes its unceremonious return?

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Financial Times that he “can’t guarantee” more stay-at-home requirements in the winter or the fall. “We are committed to using the time that we have now to get this nation as over-prepared as possible.”

“We’ve seen evidence that the concerns it would go south in the southern hemisphere like flu [are coming true], and you’re seeing what’s happening in Brazil now,” Redfield told the U.K. paper, “and then when the southern hemisphere is over I suspect it will re-ground itself in the north.”

“This simple respiratory viral pathogen has really brought my nation to its knees, and the reality is, it’s no one particular person’s fault,” he added. (A Columbia University study released this week said up to 36,000 lives could have been saved had U.S. economy shut down even one week earlier.)

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for more than three decades, previously declared, “We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.” He previously said the “ultimate game changer” will be a vaccine, but that could take 12 to 18 months.

While we are preparing for a “second wave” we had better start thinking about this new development (much like the 1918 flu pandemic). Bloomberg reports, China’s New Outbreak Shows Signs the Virus Could Be Changing (snippet):

Chinese doctors are seeing the coronavirus manifest differently among patients in its new cluster of cases in the northeast region compared to the original outbreak in Wuhan, suggesting that the pathogen may be changing in unknown ways and complicating efforts to stamp it out.

[T]he findings suggest that the remaining uncertainty over how the virus manifests will hinder governments’ efforts to curb its spread and re-open their battered economies. China has one of the most comprehensive virus detection and testing regimes globally and yet is still struggling to contain its new cluster.

As The Guardian reports, Exclusive: US has three months to rebuild medical supplies stockpile, Obama administration scientists warn:

Nine top scientists who advised Barack Obama in the White House are warning that the US has just three months to rebuild its national stockpile of emergency medical supplies or risk further drastic shortages of testing kits and protective gear should coronavirus strike again in the fall.

The dramatic warning from Obama’s former science advisers contains an implicit criticism of Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic. In a seven-page missive, the group says that federal government preparations for a possible resurgence of the disease must be triggered immediately if a repeat of the “extraordinary shortage of supplies” that was seen in March and April is to be avoided.

“Preparation for a resurgence needs to be initiated now. It needs to be at a national level, in close collaboration and coordination with state and local officials,” the letter says.

The nine authors, led by John Holdren, Obama’s White House science adviser throughout his two terms in office, criticise the Trump administration for failing to act on numerous studies urging replenishment of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in preparation for just the kind of health emergency unfolding today.

“The United States was unprepared for the supply needs of the spring 2020 Covid-19 pandemic,” the group says.

The scientists add: “There has been a persistent shortage of ventilators, testing kits, masks and other PPE [personal protective equipment] … In recent years the nation has let down its guard.”

The group of nine are among the most pre-eminent scientists in the country. All nine were members of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology assembled by Obama at the start of his presidency. Between 2009 and 2016 they co-wrote six reports for the president that touched on viral pandemics.

* * *

The group of nine sees its mission as offering practical advice to a wide group of officials and politicians about how to prepare for future waves of Covid-19 in the US. The letter is being circulated to senior Trump administration officials, key members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democratic governors and mayors, Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and non-governmental opinion leaders.

In their new paper, the scientists recap how the Trump administration failed to act on congressional advice that the stockpile should be replenished. Emergency reserves of surgical and N95 respirator masks had been depleted during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, leading to a shortfall of millions of units.

The failure of the federal government to revive the stockpile was compounded by similar failings at state level, the authors say.

The group also points out that in April 2020 the Trump administration dramatically downgraded the remit of the national stockpile. Until then, it was billed as the “nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency” with “enough supplies to respond to multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously”.

In April that wording was drastically rewritten. Its newly enervated purpose was to “supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies” and to provide a “short-term stopgap buffer”.

Looking to the future, the missive calls for a quick-start 30-day plan that would see the rebuilding of the stockpile with the aid of $30bn from Congress. Over the next five years there would be regular reviews to ensure that once back up at scale the supplies are sustained into the future.

The scientists see their paper as the first in a series. Over the next couple of months they plan to put out advice on contact tracing, serology and antibody tests, and data management.

In what promises to be their most controversial move, the nine are also considering chronicling the advice they produced under Obama relating to pandemics. Part of that work would be to explore what happened to the recommendations, which might make uncomfortable reading for Trump and his inner circle.

Oh, we know what happened, it was ignored by the Trump administration because “Obama!” (derangement syndrome).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell falsely accused the Obama administration of failing to leave the Trump administration “any kind of game plan” for something like the coronavirus pandemic. Fact check: Obama left Trump a pandemic response playbook.

May they all rot in hell.

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