Robert Redfield, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) thanked Americans today for being “selfless” 6 months into the nation’s continued fight against COVID-19. The comments were made during the agency’s first media briefing on the coronavirus in several weeks.
At the start of the pandemic, the CDC held weekly briefs on the growing outbreak, but since March has remained mostly silent as the agency continues to work to track the virus’ course across the country.
Despite flattening or plateauing the curve in many parts of the country, Redfield said Americans need to embrace recommendations made by the CDC as life returns to normal. “It continues to be extremely important to embrace recommendations of social distancing, hand washing, and wearing a cloth face covering in public,” Redfield said.
Redfield was joined by Jay Butler, MD, deputy director for infectious disease, to announce new common sense guidelines meant to help Americans make decisions about how to proceed with everyday activities that may now be open in their state, including going to the bank, eating at a restaurant, and attending an outdoor gathering at someone’s house.
“We are all getting tired of staying at home,” said Butler. “But we have to remember… Every activity that involves interacting with others has some degree of risk.”
“If cases begin to go up again, particularly if they go up dramatically, it’s important to recognize that more mitigation efforts such as what were implemented back in March may be needed again,” said Butler.
The CDC suggests people try to socialize and dine outdoors rather than inside, refrain from touching non-family members, and keep interactions brief. The CDC also recommends all Americans leave the house with a cloth mask, hand sanitizer containing 60% or more of alcohol, and tissues in tow.
The guidelines come as a new report on Americans’ attitudes about social distancing is published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The survey was conducted in New York City and Los Angeles between May 5 and 12, and also included a third cohort of participants selected from across the country. A total of 1,676 participants answered the survey from across the US, compared to 286 in the New York cohort, and 259 in the Los Angeles cohort.
Most surveyed (United States, 74.1%; New York City, 89.6%; and Los Angeles 89.8%) said they wore a cloth mask when in public, and most (United States, 79.5%; New York City, 86.7%; and Los Angeles, 81.5%) supported stay-at-home orders and the shuttering of non-essential businesses.
“There was broad support for stay-at-home orders, nonessential business closures, and adherence to public health recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in early- to mid-May 2020,” the authors concluded.
Also today, the CDC updated its fatality forecast, based on 17 models. The agency predicts that there will likely be between 124,000 and 140,000 total reported COVID-19 deaths by July 4th.
States see spikes, governors claim no relation to reopening
Across the country several states are reporting record high numbers of daily COVID-19 cases, or the highest numbers recorded in months, but governors are claiming that the spike in virus activity is not linked to reopening economies.
In South Carolina, health officials noted almost 700 new infections yesterday, while Florida saw nearly 1,700 new cases — the highest daily total since March. According to National Public Radio, cases are still soaring in Arizona, and Texas is still seeing more hospitalizations for severe cases of the virus.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the increase is because his state is conducting more than 30,000 tests per day. Health officials in South Carolina, however, said that state’s increase is likely tied to Memorial Day festivities that featured limited mask use and no social distancing protocols.
Other governors also said reopening was not linked to increasing case counts. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said, “Our data in Arkansas tells us that the growth rate in cases is not the result of lifting restrictions,” according to The Hill.
“Americans are on the move and they can’t be tied down and they can’t be restrained, unless they make a voluntary decision that this is right for me and my health or my family,” Hutchinson said.
According to the Arkansas Times, a hospital in Northwest Arkansas —Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville —issued a statement saying it has seen a 350% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and 156% increase in calls to its COVID-19 hotline over the past month.
“It is important for our community to understand that we are not seeing more hospitalizations simply because more testing is being done. We are seeing more hospitalizations because more people in our area are being infected with the virus,” the statement said.
Other governors, like Oregon’s Kate Brown, however, have seen rising case counts as a signal to slow down reopening. Brown announced a 1-week pause in reopening after 177 COVID-19 cases were reported yesterday,
The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker shows 2,033,003 cases in the United States today, including 114,126 fatalities.
Mayo Clinic announces new antibody test
Finally, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., announced yesterday they created a new antibody test that would be the first in the world to identify neutralizing antibodies, which signal protection from — and not just exposure to — COVID-19.
The test is currently available for use at Mayo now, and will be commercially available by the end of June. Mayo officials warn, however, that the test will not act as an “immunity passport,” as it is not yet known how many neutralizing antibodies are needed to protect against future infections of COVID-19.
Singapore Organizations Adopt AI, ML Amid COVID-19 Induced Uncertainties
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore businesses are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to manage consumer credit risk and deal with economic uncertainties, according to a new research by information services company Experian.
Experian, which surveyed 3,000 consumers and 900 executives working in retail banking, e-commerce, consumer technology and telecommunications, found that COVID-19 has accelerated adoption of digital solutions.
Singapore organizations in particular are embracing AI and ML at a much faster pace than their international peers, with 78% of organizations already using AI to cope with today’s marketplace unpredictability while 79% are leveraging ML. These are higher than the global figure of 69%.
S&P Global Ratings estimates that Asia Pacific (APAC) financial institutions will be hit with US$1.4 trillion in additional nonperforming assets and additional credit costs of about US$440 million as risks associated with COVID-19 and market volatility take hold.
Against this backdrop, 25% of Singapore-based respondents are planning to use on-demand cloud-based decisioning applications, policy rules (25%) and automated decision management (24%) to help them effectively determine which consumers can be safely given extended credit. Over the next 12 months, 69% will be allocating resources towards building their analytics capabilities to assess customer creditworthiness, the survey found.
Online shopping and e-commerce on the rise
Singaporean businesses’ willingness to invest in and adopt digital solutions comes at a time when consumers are demanding better digital-first experiences. A research conducted in June by market research consultancy Blackbox and survey firm Toluna found that while consumers spent more online during the pandemic, about four in ten Singaporeans said they were not satisfied with their e-commerce experience, noting that delivery costs, product prices and delivery time could be better improved.
That being said, global marketing research firm Nielsen expects the penetration of users venturing into e-commerce to continue to rise. Nielsen’s COVID-19 dipstick in March 2020 found that 69% of Singaporean people surveyed who bought household goods online for the first time during COVID-19 will do so again in the next 12 months.
Similarly, Standard Chartered, which polled 12,000 consumers across 12 markets in August 2020, found that, amid COVID-19, Singaporean consumers that prefer online purchases to in-person card or cash payments increased to 50%, up from 35% before the pandemic.
Changing spending habits
Globally, the COVID-19 crisis and its ramifications have disrupted markets and deteriorated the health and economic welfare of consumers. In Singapore, 23% of respondents still face challenges in paying credit card bills, while 20% are encountering difficulties paying their utility bills, the Experian research found. This has prompted many consumers to rethink their spending habits, shifting to essentials and cutting back on most discretionary categories.
In Singapore, consumers are taking steps to manage these financial challenges by reducing their expenditure on non-essentials (22%), saving more (22%), and starting a personal budget (17%), the study found.
According to the Standard Chartered survey, consumers in the city-state are spending about 15-52% more on groceries, digital devices and healthcare, but spend less on clothes, experiences and travel or holidays.
Almost eight in ten respondents in Singapore said they would like to be better at managing their finances, and six in ten said the pandemic has made them more likely to track their spending. Most of the respondents are either user or interested in using budgeting as well as finance tracking tools.
Jeremy Soo, head of consumer banking at DBS Bank, told Fintech News Singapore in September, that, amid COVID-19, people were starting financial planning earlier. Since the bank launched its new digital financial planning tool, NAV Planner, back in April, over one million customers had used it, Soo said.
Featured Image: Pexels
Nitric oxide as a potential treatment for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus
Researchers explore the potential antiviral effects of nitric oxide against the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, scientists all over the world are racing to find a safe and effective vaccine or treatment. The speed and severity of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus’s spread around the world has placed an urgent need for an effective therapy. Unfortunately, to date, there are still no effective therapies for preventing an infection with the virus infection or for treating COVID-19.
Nitric oxide (NO) is a naturally occurring compound that is also produced in the body known to have a wide range of antimicrobial activity against bacteria, fungi, and viruses among other things. Previously, nitric oxide has been shown as an effective agent against SARS-CoV (the coronavirus responsible for the 2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome – SARS) in lab cell studies and in a small clinical trial involving inhalation of the compound. During the SARS outbreak, nitric oxide was given as an inhaled gas to treat SARS patients with success, particularly because of nitric oxide’s ability to decrease lung inflammation in these patients. The success seen in previous studies with nitric oxide against the SARS coronavirus suggests the potential for similar success against SARS-CoV-2.
In a recent study published in Redox Biology, scientists in Sweden explored nitric oxide’s potential as a treatment against the coronavirus in laboratory cell studies. The scientists specifically focused on examining the antiviral effects nitric oxide had on cells infected with SARS-CoV-2. They found that nitric oxide inhibited the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in infected cells in a dose dependent manner, proving that nitric oxide possesses antiviral effects on the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, in a manner likely similar to its antiviral effects against SARS-CoV. The scientists also identified a potential target – SARS-CoV-2 main protease – for future therapeutic developments, including nitric oxide.
While this present study highlights the antiviral potential of nitric oxide on the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, there is much more research to be investigated and studied before any recommendations on the clinical use of nitric oxide in patients diagnosed with COVID-19 can be made. The researchers’ next steps are to study whether the antiviral benefits of nitric oxide as seen in this present study are the same when it is inhaled as a gas.
Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD
Akaberi, D., Krambrich, J., Ling, J., Luni, C., Hedenstierna, G., Järhult, J. D., . . . Lundkvist, Å. (2020). Mitigation of the replication of SARS-CoV-2 by nitric oxide in vitro. Redox Biology, 37, 101734. doi:10.1016/j.redox.2020.101734
Nitric oxide a possible treatment for COVID-19. (2020, October 2). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/uu-noa100220.php
Image by visuals3Dde from Pixabay
Air Travel High: TSA Screens 1 Million For First Time Since March
How’s this for an October surprise? Despite a significant rise in COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country, it appears that more people are flying on commercial jetliners than at any time over the last seven months.
More than one million people were screened by the Transportation Security Administration at airport security checkpoints Sunday. It’s the first time the TSA’s daily traveler count has topped the one million mark since March 16.
And this wasn’t just a one-day surge in air travel. The TSA’s daily throughput figure has topped 900,000 eight times already this month, and the TSA reports that the 6.1 million people passing through U.S. airport checkpoints between Oct. 12 and Oct. 18 was the greatest weekly traveler volume measured since the start of the pandemic.
But experts say there is a lot of pent-up demand for air travel and it’s important to note that despite the modest increase, the number of people flying is still down more than 60% from the 2.6 million who flew on the same October Sunday last year.
Still, it’s a bit of good news at a time the nation’s airlines are burning through tens of millions of dollars a day and reporting huge financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. Delta and United both reported last week that they lost billions in the third quarter, as fewer people than expected dared to get onto airplanes in July, August and September. American and Southwest report their third-quarter results later this week, but are also expected to show billions in losses after many would be passengers canceled summer travel plans or drove to their destinations instead of flying.
The industry group Airlines for America says airlines are in desperate need for additional federal coronavirus relief, as they are collectively losing $5 billion a month.
Last year and into January and February of this year, airlines were setting passenger volume records. The TSA reported screening between 2.5 and 2.7 million people on the busiest travel days, which are usually Fridays and Sundays. But as the coronavirus outbreak spiked last March, companies halted business travel and millions canceled vacations and weekend getaways.
By mid-April, the number of travelers passing through security checkpoints plummeted to under 100,000, a decline of 96%. Other than the days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the group Airlines for America says there hadn’t been that few people flying since the dawn of the jet airplane age in the 1950s.
There were short-lived upticks in air travel demand in early summer, especially around the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holiday weekends. But the number of COVID-19 cases spiked after each holiday, especially in parts of the country that rushed to reopen bars, restaurants and other gathering places. Lingering concerns about spreading the viral illness dampened demand for air travel during the later summer months.
As welcome as this month’s surprising rise in air travel is, there is still a lot of uncertainty over whether the trend will continue, especially heading into the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, which is usually a busy air travel period.
Most airlines have significantly reduced their schedules as demand remains weak, and some have suspended service to smaller cities. In late September, bookings for travel in November were just a fraction of last year’s level, according to the airline data firm OAG.
And with what appears to be a new wave of COVID-19 cases surging, especially in the Midwest, several states are setting records for the daily number of infections being reported. Public health officials in many states are urging residents to stay home to celebrate the holidays in small family groups.
“COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live, and play, and will now change how we plan to celebrate the holidays,” said Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who added that “the safest way to celebrate is with members of your household and connecting with others virtually.”
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