Top news, reports and insights for today:
- Daily headline summaries for Thursday:
- Optimism about a coronavirus vaccine may be premature. Moderna safety study was only 8 patients and they won’t show anyone the data. Experts warn that despite the hopeful timetable, there is a long way to go before a vaccine is proven to be effective and can be mass produced and distributed (New York Times)
- At least 4 states (Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Vermont) have combined numbers from viral and antibody tests, providing a misleading picture of testing capacity and hampering our ability to track the epidemic (CNN)
- Brazilian health minister resigns after just weeks on the job after clashing with President Bolsonaro over coronavirus response. Today, Brazil reported its highest daily incidence to date of 19,951 new cases. Brazil now has the third most cases in the world as the epidemic begins to surge in South America. (Aljazeera)
- Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say that nearly half of the accounts tweeting about coronavirus are ‘bots’ rather than real people. Researchers have identified over 100 false narratives tied to these fake accounts. This is further evidence of the potential role of Chinese and Russian intelligence services in spreading mistrust and misinformation (NPR)
- U.S. cases are flat, deaths remain volatile
On Wednesday, the U.S. reported 22,368 new cases (up 1.4%) and 1,528 deaths (+1.8%). The recent trend in overall cases has been flat, while daily deaths have been quite volatile. The 7-day pattern has been fairly steady for cases (growth factor = 0.99) and a modest slowing of deaths (growth factor = 0.89). More regional patterns, as always, tell a better story. Growth in cases has slowed in the northeast, with cumulative cases rising less than 10% in New Jersey, New York and Vermont last week. Maryland saw the largest increase in cases in the region growing 22%. New cases grew by 25% or more in two midwest states (Minnesota and North Dakota) and in North Carolina. In the west, only Arizona saw cases rise by more than 20%.
- Rhode Island again leading the nation in testing. Overall, testing declines for the first time
Today’s headlines describe the practice in at least 5 states of combining reports of viral and antibody testing. Experts agree that this is a big problem because the two types of tests do very different things and should be kept separate. Treating antibody tests the same risks exaggerating the testing capacity of the state and doesn’t allow us to tell the fraction of people who have active infection. The latter is the information we need to assess reopening benchmarks and to track the resurgence of cases.
The figure below shows how each state is doing on testing. The bars show completed tests per 10,000 residents as of yesterday. Rhode Island continues to lead the nation by a wide margin, now having tested more than 11% of Rhode Islanders. The four states with the lowest testing rates are all in the West. Pennsylvania and Maine are the only northeast states that are below the national average of 339 per 10,000. States with patterned bars are likely to be doing less of the most important testing than this graph depicts. The magnitude of the problem is not known. Of particular concern are the three states near the bottom already (Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia) all of whom are experiencing significant rises in cases in recent weeks.
Why this matters? States that have moved toward reopening are under the microscope to determine whether infections surge. There is every epidemiological reason to expect they will. The political pressure to blunt the apparent impact of reopening is tremendous. Now is the worst possible time for states to play games with their numbers. Of greater concern is that despite the unanimous opinion of experts that more testing is needed, last week marks the first since the start of the epidemic that the number of COVID-19 tests actually declined (see the lower figure from the CDC website).