Wednesday COVID-19 Briefing

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. Daily headline summaries for Wednesday:
  • Scientists confirm that at least one person has been ‘reinfected’ months after first getting COVID-19. This is important because it tells us reinfection is possible. Experts also say it is most likely “very rare” (BBC Science Focus)
  • New survey from Franklin Templeton-Gallop finds that American adults are “dramatically misinformed” about the mortality risks of COVID-19. Many overestimate risk of death from coronavirus in young people and underestimate risk in the elderly (USA Today)
  • New poll shows more than half of Republican voters think 170,000-plus coronavirus deaths are ‘acceptable’. Ninety percent of Democrats and 67% of independents say the opposite. We remain a very divided nation (Vice)
  • Towson University (near my home) pivots to remote learning after 55 people test positive for COVID-19, a pattern that is repeating itself at colleges and universities across the nation as Fall approaches (CNN)
  • Obesity increases risk of COVID-19 death by 48%, new study finds. Not enough attention is being paid to obesity as a risk factor (The Guardian, See Figure A)
Figure A: From The Guardian, August 26, 2020.
  1. New U.S. cases continue to decline, weekly numbers dropping in 30 states
     The trend in U.S. daily new cases remains positive, as the 7-day average dips below 45,000 for the first time since July 1 (See Figure B). Having said that, over 268,000 new cases were reported in the past week. That number at the start of this month was 411,000. Yesterday was the lowest Wednesday total since the middle of June. If you have read this blog before, you might guess that the disease detective next asks whether this decline is real or a sign that testing has stalled. I will address that question in original analysis on Friday. Figure C shows what is behind the overall decline at the state level. Again, the news is fairly positive. The trend in recent weeks toward lower transmission intensity in hot spot states continues. The growth factors (ratio of cases in the last 7 days compared to the week before) are less than 1.00 (falling rates) in 30 states, a larger number than we have seen in several months. New cases are falling in hard-hit states like Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The only region where more states saw cases rise than fall was the Midwest, where cases rose more than 10% week-over-week in Iowa (+16%), North Dakota (+61%), and South Dakota (+45%).
    The bottom line: As we close out August, the data tells us that transmission intensity is declining and doing so robustly in the West, South and Northeast, while the picture is more mixed in the Midwest. But, we must pump the breaks on our enthusiasm. New daily cases are still over 34,000. Every state in the West, Midwest and South remains at more than 5 daily cases per 100,000 population over the last week. The so-called first wave of coronavirus is still rolling in the U.S.
Figure B
Figure C
  1. Deaths dip delicately
     After the traditional data blackout on Sunday and Monday, the U.S. recorded 1,136 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday. On a positive note, the recent numbers show that the 7-day moving average has dropped below 1,000 for the first time since this time last month (Figure C). That overall trend belies considerable churning when we look at how deaths are shifting in states (Figure D). Growth factors for weekly deaths show considerable volatility across states. Compared to two weeks ago, deaths fell significantly in Arizona (-20%), Washington (-28%), Indiana (-24%), Missouri (-58%), Ohio (-22%), Florida (-32%), New Jersey (-24%), New York (-78%), and Pennsylvania (-28%). Drops in the three Northeastern states are especially welcome because I was concerned that deaths might start surging there. On the other hand, deaths rose 20% or more in Idaho (+22%), Utah (+40%), Iowa (+20%), Arkansas (+74%), Kentucky (+36%), Tennessee (+30%), Virginia (+100%), Massachussetts (+27%), and my own state of Maryland (+20%). As a reminder, in Figure D, states with patterned bars reported weekly numbers that are too small to make the ratios trustworthy.
    What it means: Daily U.S. deaths are now falling but more slowly than are cases. At the state level, it’s a period of considerable whack-a-mole. Spikes in weekly deaths in Arkansas, Utah and Virginia are especially concerning.
Figure D
Figure E
  1. Quirky Qorner: French nudists ‘exposed’ to coronavirus during beach holiday
     The Guardian reported on an outbreak of COVID-19 at a naturist holiday resort on France’s Mediterranean coast. Regional health authorities, who said the outbreak was “very worrying”, discovered some 100 beach goers had been ‘exposed’ to the virus and were testing positive. That rate of infection was four times higher among naturists in the resort compared to the nearby village. The outbreak comes as France grapples with a recent surge of new cases, with almost 4,900 new cases reported in 24 hours on Sunday.

Sunday COVID-19 Briefing

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. Daily headline summaries for Sunday:
  • Two tropical storms are expected to hit the Gulf Coast in rapid succession this week, compounding public health concerns in states fighting to gain traction against the coronavirus epidemic (Washington Post)
  • Good news: COVID-19 spit test is faster, cheaper will reduce supply shortages and might improve testing dramatically (ARS Technica)
  • Good news: Dr. Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force says the CDC is working on a new “revolutionary” data system that could bring hospital reporting back into the CDC where it belongs (NPR)
  • Good news: New study from a randomized clinical trial comparing treatment with Remdesivir vs. standard care shows that patients with moderate COVID-19 had significantly better clinical status on day 11 (JAMA)
  • South America has now passed North America as the region with the fastest rate of growth in the pandemic (most daily confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people). Asia remains the region where cases are growing most slowly (, See Figure A)
Figure A: From, August 23, 2020
  1. New U.S. COVID-19 cases still falling, but more slowly. Next half million cases added, but more slowly
     Here are three pieces of guardedly good news. First, daily cases are still trending down (See Figure B). As of Friday, the (red) 7-day moving average line dipped below 45,000 for the first time since July 2. It is not quite clear which way the data is going in the last 3 days; we will have to wait till Wednesday when the weekend blackout ends. For the first time since June, we added fewer than 300,000 cases last week.
     The second hopeful nugget (Figure C) is that we are seeing fewer states with more than 20 new daily cases per 500,000 population than anytime since June. Out West, only Nevada (+21) is above that benchmark. In the Midwest, Kansas (+20) and North Dakota (+24) remain high. While 11 of 13 Southern states were >20 last week, now only Georgia (+23), Mississippi (+27), Tennessee (+22) and Texas (+22) are in the danger area. No Northeast state is above 11, while 8 states were below the 5 cases per 100K benchmark. Unfortunately, the news is not all good as no state in the South, West or Midwest has achieved a case growth of less than 5.
     The cumulative case total passed 5,500,000 on Friday (Figure D). A final glimmer of hope is that the latest 500,000 cases took 11 days, compared to fewer than 10 days since the 3 million mark (July 8).
     Bottom line: Together, the data are giving us three positive signs. All reflect a modest slow-down in the rate of new cases but we will take all signs of progress where we can find it.
Figure B
Figure C
Figure D
  1. Daily U.S. COVID-19 deaths stay stubbornly above 1,000
     We are glad that we are not seeing the numbers of deaths we were seeing back in April in May despite the heavy rise in cases. Having said that, coronavirus fatalities have not diminished at this moment in light of the fall in new cases (Figure E). No doubt that will take some time. We are seeing about half the total number of deaths we were seeing each day during the peak during the dark days (Mid-April to Mid-May). We scratch our heads as disease detectives because we were only recording 25-30,000 daily cases then, about 20,000 fewer cases. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in coming briefings. The persistence of the death toll is due to rising weekly deaths in Iowa (+21%), Illinois (+56%), Minnesota (+22%), Missouri (+76%), Oklahoma (+26%), Arkansas (+14%), Kentucky (+61%), Tennessee (+68%), and Delaware (+75%).
    What it means: Deaths remain stubbornly stable at over 1,000 a day. This is because while some states are moving in the right direction, we are seeing fairly large jumps in 8 states. The big picture adds to our confidence that the Mid-west will once again find itself in the pandemic’s cross-hairs. The resurgence of deaths in hard-hit Illinois is especially concerning.
Figure E
  1. Quirky Qorner: Just do….nothing! Nike launches ANTI-sneakers designed for quarantine to help us relax at home
     If you are like me, one of the hardest thing about this pandemic is just how shitty it feels to just do so much nothing. When I am in a hopeful frame of mind, I find myself wondering if SARS-CoV-2 is perhaps trying to teach us to rethink our frantic, workaholic lifestyles. How are you doing with this? Well, the Daily Mail has a story about a new shoe from Nike that is here to help.
Figure F:

Top pick of the day: Friday

Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19

Article by Ed Yong, online at The Atlantic, August 19, 2020. See also an interview with Mr. Yong about this story also in The Atlantic.

Ed Yong at The Atlantic has consistently delivered some of the best coverage and analysis throughout the COVID-19 saga. Here he takes a deeper dive into an area that I have been particularly focused on in the last few weeks. I have received numerous requests from readers of this blog for more information on this topic. So-called “long-haulers” are those patients who experience COVID-19 symptoms that stubbornly persist for weeks or months. While it is a hot topic among researchers, studies are just underway and careful scientific analyses will have to wait. Until then, journalists are perhaps our best way to tap into this unexpected facet of the pandemic.

Today’s bite-sized, handpicked selection of important news, information or science for all who want to know where this epidemic is going and what we should do.