Time Health Covid Brief Thursday, September 17, 2020
BY TARA LAW & ELIJAH WOLFSON sourced from Time Health www.time.com
What Does Vitamin-D Have to Do With Coronavirus?
Over the past few months, I’ve been really worried to see so many non-scientific posts on social media about ways to prevent COVID-19. Some have claimed coronavirus was created in a lab (it wasn’t) or that hydroxychloroquine can cure the disease (it can’t). So when I noticed that some non-doctors were promoting vitamin-D as a way to deal with COVID-19, I was skeptical. It seemed like a disingenuous way to convince people they didn’t need to wear a face mask—they just needed to buy some vitamin supplements.
After speaking to experts about vitamin-D, I still seriously doubt that it’s going to prove to be an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and I’m not putting away my cloth mask collection anytime soon. But I’m definitely more curious about what clinical trials will show us about vitamin-D and the virus in the coming months. The evidence that vitamin-D can treat or prevent COVID-19 is weak to nonexistent, but there is some decent evidence that it’s important to our immune systems and musculoskeletal health—which means even if we can’t say it can protect us from COVID-19, it might be useful to make sure if we’re getting enough vitamin-D for our general health anyway.
Fortunately, you might not need to change your lifestyle very much to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin-D. Healthy people should be able to get sufficient vitamin D by spending some time in the sun or eating foods that contain it, like fatty fish (salmon and tuna, for example) and mushrooms. However, for people with darker skin and those who can’t spend much time outside, it might make sense to think about taking a supplement (although it’s important not to take too much, which can be dangerous—check with your health care provider).
If you decide to take vitamin-D supplements, you’ll be in good company. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the long-time head of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and one of the nation’s foremost coronavirus experts, said last week that while he doesn’t recommend that people try out all the random “concoctions and herbs” on the market, he feels that vitamin-D is different, and is even taking it himself.
TODAY’S CORONAVIRUS OUTLOOK
The Global Situation
Nearly 29.8 million people around the world had been sickened by COVID-19 as of 1 a.m. E.T. today, and more than 939,400 people have died.
On Sept. 16, there were 205,186 new cases and 4,616 new deaths confirmed globally. Here’s how the world as a whole is currently trending:
Here is every country with over 350,000 confirmed cases to date (“per cap” is number per 100,000 people):
In the E.U., troubling spikes in cases are not abating, leading the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, to say earlier today that this needs to be a “wake up call” for the area. Trends in France and Spain are particularly worrying; both countries are setting new records for average daily cases every day.
According to France24, the number of COVID-19 patients treated in intensive care units rose yesterday for the 20th straight day, reaching a three-month high and putting a strain on hospital systems in some regions of the country. Similarly, in Spain, ICU doctors are worried about an impending bottleneck in hospital care due to the rising number of patients with serious coronavirus symptoms; one physician in Madrid described the situation to the Associated Press as “March in slow motion,” referring to the spring outbreak. The concerning reality, though, is this new outbreak appears to be even worse.
There was some promising news in the world of vaccine development. Moderna, the U.S-based drug company behind one of the most promising vaccines currently in trials, released a 350-page document detailing its strategies for final-stage testing of the product. The company also announced today that it had enrolled about 25,300 of a planned 30,000 volunteers, and more than 10,000 had already been vaccinated. Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel told Bloomberg that preliminary efficacy data would most likely be available in November. At this point, however, any target date is really just an estimate, as all data is blinded; Bancel said a third-party review board would analyze the vaccine’s efficacy after 53 participants have contracted the coronavirus, again at 106, and finally for the last time at 151.
The Situation in the U.S.
The U.S. had recorded more than 6.6 million coronavirus cases as of 1 a.m. E.T. today. Nearly 197,000 people have died. Here’s where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:
On Sept. 16, there were 36,782 new cases and 977 new deaths confirmed in the U.S. Here’s how the country as a whole is currently trending:
Outbreaks continue to pop up in different parts of the country. For example, Wyoming set a new daily case record yesterday with 126 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins . That doesn’t sound like much, but relative to the sparse population of the state, it’s fairly significant. Consider it in per capita terms: the current spike in Wyoming has driven its average daily case rate to 11.6 per 100,000 residents, which is currently just about the same as the U.S. average as a whole. The spike is concerning for a state that has long stayed nearly coronavirus-free; concerning enough, at least, that governor Mark Gordon earlier this week announced an extension of Wyoming’s COVID-19 health orders through the end of the month.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today yet another delay to the start of in-person learning for students in the country’s largest public school system. When the day started, parents expected kids to restart in-person classes on Sept. 21, this coming Monday. Now, that will only be true of pre-K and some special education students. The majority of elementary school students will continue to do only remote learning until Sept. 29; middle and high school will restart in-person learning Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump yet again contradicted the scientists working for his own Administration. Yesterday, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a Senate committee that a vaccine would not be broadly available until the spring or summer of 2021. That timeline chimes with most expert opinions: even if a vaccine is approved by this December, it will first go to high-risk groups and then will roll out to the wider U.S. population.
However, at a press conference last evening, Trump said, “I think he made a mistake when he said that. It’s just incorrect information.” The President went on to say that the vaccine “could be announced in October” and would be distributed immediately. This displays a fundamental misunderstanding or willful distortion of the reality: in the highly unlikely event a vaccine were to be announced that soon, it would still, as Redfield said, take months to be distributed to the public at large.
Trump, of course, desperately wants a vaccine to arrive before Election Day to bolster public confidence in an economic recovery. On that front, the latest jobs report, out today, showed a slight decrease in first-time unemployment claims, falling from 893,000 to 860,000 this past week. In addition, continuing unemployment claims fell about 900,000 week over week. That’s good news, of course, though the overall recovery from the pandemic-created recession remains slow; continuing unemployment claims still totaled 12.63 million this past week, compared to about 1.5 million in the same time period last year.
All numbers unless otherwise specified are from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and are accurate as of September 17, 1 a.m. eastern time. To see larger, interactive versions of these maps and charts, click here.
WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW
Senior Year of College During the Pandemic, From the Perspective of a Senior in College During the Pandemic
Jimin Kang, a senior at Princeton University, offers a compelling, inside view into what it’s like to have campus life ripped away from you in the last year of college. Read more here.
Inside the U.S. Postal Service’s Struggle to Manage Trump and a Pandemic
The Washington Post obtained some 10,000 pages of documents under the Freedom of Information Act, which show how, in the spring, the USPS was already scrambling to survive as mail carriers worried about the safety of their families and themselves; the Trump administration threatened its existence as a public agency; and executives worried that Amazon might take its business elsewhere. Read more here.
Trump Tries to Change His Health Care Record
During the 2018 midterm elections in the U.S., health care was often cited as the number one issue among voters, which helped drive the “blue wave” that gave Democrats the majority in the House of Representatives. As TIME’s Abigail Abrams reports, the pandemic has only increased voter concerns about health issues, and Trump is now throwing up Hail Marys to convince the U.S. public that they can trust him on this front. Read more here.
Why There Are Still N95 Mask Shortages in the U.S.
Earlier this year, companies rushed to make relatively simple goods like face shields and respirators. However, as NPR reports, the U.S. is still short on the more complex N95 masks and other vital personal protective equipment—and may be missing out on a golden opportunity to bring jobs to the U.S. Read more here.
Young Adults Are Spreading Coronavirus—But Not for the Reasons You Think
Many have been quick to blame millennials and Gen Z for going out to bars and parties and perpetuating the COVID-19 pandemic. But as Rebecca Renner reports for National Geographic, the real reason the younger generations are spreading the virus may be because they are more likely to be stuck working low-wage jobs that can’t be done from home. Read more here.
Thanks for reading. We hope you find the Coronavirus Brief newsletter to be a helpful tool to navigate this very complex situation, and welcome feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Today’s newsletter was written by Tara Law and Elijah Wolfson.