Daily COVID-19 Briefing: 5/13/20

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. Daily headline summaries for Wednesday:
  • Lebanon, Iran, South Korea, Germany and Wuhan China move to reimpose lockdown restrictions due to resurgence of the virus after easing restrictions (The Washington Post)
  • Preliminary results from best-in-class seroprevalence study of 90,000 persons in Spain shows approximately 5% have been infected. This suggests a CFR about 1.5% (New York Times)
  • Antibody tests don’t yet answer the immunity question. Widely used tests may deliver false negative results 15-40% of the time. Rushing to get an antibody test may not be warranted now (CNN)
  • Abstinence didn’t work for HIV or addiction. Growing quarantine fatigue shows that it doesn’t work for COVID-19 either. We should focus on risk reduction strategies that are sustainable (The Atlantic)
  • The technical challenges and political minefields inherent in counting deaths in an epidemic are constants going back at least to the plague in 17th century England. Then as now, counting the dead is a frought but vital tool for those managing disease outbreaks (WIRED Opinion)
  1. U.S. cases and deaths rose on Tuesday, but less than past 4 weeks
    On Tuesday as expected, cases and deaths rose due to the weekend lag in reporting. New cases rose 1.6% adding 21,475 yesterday; an additional 1,581 Americans were reported dead from COVID-19, a rise of 2.1%. While the Tuesday death toll was almost double the Monday report, this week’s Tuesday spike was less than the past 6 weeks. The 7-day trend in new cases continues to decline while deaths remain too unstable to characterize. Last week, new cases grew by 30% or more in four mid-western states: Kansas (+30%), Minnesota (+59%), Nebraska (+35%) and South Dakota (+35%). Last week, deaths rose substantially in 11 states including Arizona (+46%), New Mexico (+35%), Utah (+30%), Iowa (+40%), Minnesota (+35%), Missouri (+39%), North Dakota (+51%), South Dakota (+61%), Alabama (+40%), Mississippi (+34%), and New Hampshire (+54%). Less than 10% growth in deaths were seen in Hawaii, Montana, Maine, and Vermont. New York, Louisiana and Michigan, the states with the worst initial waves all reported small increases in both deaths and new cases.
  1. Meat-processing plants are infection incubators
    Attention has focused in recent weeks on outbreaks of coronavirus tied to meat-processing plants. A story in Business Insider on May 11 documents over 4,500 COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths related to plants owned by Tyson foods across 15 states. The company has taken recent steps to protect workers including requiring face masks, additional cleaning and taking temperatures. Like most meat processing companies, Tyson does not offer paid sick leave but requires employees to take short term disability, which disincentives sick workers from staying home. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, there were at least 12,500 COVID-19 cases and 53 deaths in the meatpacking industry across 29 plants in 20 states as of yesterday. Slaughterhouses have become hot spots in many states. For example, in Texas, the highest infection rates are not in Houston or Dallas, but in rural Moore County, far north in the panhandle. With just 20,000 residents, it now has 2,454 infections per 100,000, a rate that is 10-fold greater than Dallas and one of the highest in the country. It also has one of the largest beef processing plants in the nation, which cleans up to 5,000 cattle carcasses a day and has been the epicenter of a case cluster under investigation by the state. In Cass County, Indiana at least 900 Tyson workers tested positive, boosting the number of known cases from 50 to more than 1,400 over three weeks. 
    Some context: On April 28, President Trump signed an execute order requiring meat-processing plants to stay open to avoid shortages. That hasn’t stopped them from closing anyway. Those that remain open place workers in a difficult position. More than half of workers in the meat-processing industry are immigrants; 44% are Latino and 25% are African-Americans. Thus, the meat-processing industry is one explanation for the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on people of color. According to Politico, Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services has been among the government officials who claim workers are getting infected at home and not at work, despite mounting evidence that infection rates are higher in communities with meat-processing facilities. Data has been hard to get; companies, states and some unions have refused to release the numbers. A May 8 CDC report in MMWR reported less than half the cases and deaths found on the MCIR site.
    Why this matters: The reasons why meat-processing plants are so risky is not yet clear. Large numbers of workers spending prolonged periods in close quarters in enclosed areas with fast moving air currents may be one key. Such workplace outbreaks are some of the best evidence we have yet that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may be spreading from airborne droplets. An influential study in China found that viable virus could be found in the ventilation system of hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. Taken together, meat-processing plants have been incubators for the epidemic, helping to ignite chains of transmission in rural America and driving the racial and ethnic disparities in suffering and deaths.

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