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COVID-19’s Best Analog Is the 1930s Dust Bowl, Not the 1918 Flu

Young women model masks worn during America’s Dust Bowl disaster, circa 1935.

COVID-19 is a precedent-shattering monster of a pandemic. There’s never been anything quite like it.

Historians of public health have struggled mightily to find apt comparisons to our current pandemic. They’ve landed most often on the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. On the surface, their reasoning makes sense: A lethal virus quickly spreads globally and infects millions.

2 Vaccines: So Far, So Good

Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial

It’s still early days for 2 coronavirus vaccine candidates, but trial results published yesterday in The Lancet earned promising (though qualified) results.

The first vaccine, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and sporting the catchy name of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, safely generated strong immune responses in a trial involving 1,000+ patients, according to a Lancet article reported on by The Washington Post.

Larger phase 3 trials of the vaccine are already underway in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa with results expected sometime this fall, STAT reports.

An Independent Panel... Led By Insiders

The Latest Global Numbers cases deaths recovered

WHO is enlisting an independent panel to evaluate its global COVID-19 response, the agency announced yesterday.

The evaluation, the WHO emphasized, is a response to a request from member states in May—not to scrutiny from the US, whose President Trump has accused the agency of kowtowing to China.

2 female former heads of state—former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—will lead the panel and choose its members.

Both women already have strong ties to the WHO, Reuters reports.

The Fight for PPE Persists

Protective masks

Frontline health workers report a frustrating return to shortages of protective gear.

The White House’s suggestion? Reuse their face masks and personal protective equipment, reports Fox News, citing Vice President Mike Pence’s comments yesterday.

National Nurses United expressed alarm over the persistent shortages and message to reuse their gear. "We’re five months into this and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks," says its president, Deborah Burger.

Scientists Press WHO on Airborne Transmission

N95 mask

Evidence is mounting that tiny, infectious COVID-19 droplets linger in the air longer than once thought, according to a group of scientists urging the WHO to update its guidance, The Washington Post reports.

200+ scientists from 30 countries collaborated on an open letter—set to be published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease—directed at the agency, which has maintained that SARS-CoV-2 is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that quickly sink to the floor.

6 Months in, and the “Worst is Yet to Come”

A man protects his son

The "worst is yet to come" with COVID-19—and our "divided world" is accelerating its spread, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference yesterday marking 6 months since the first case was announced in China.

A look back at GHN headlines reveals how the virus snowballed into a tragic pandemic—from the first inkling that this could be the big one, to the resignation that the virus would cause the world’s wealthiest countries to buckle:

COVID-19: Could gut bacteria be involved?

Gut bacteria

The authors of a recent paper ask what role gut bacteria might play in COVID-19. They outline strands of existing evidence and conclude that a link between the two is plausible, but that more research is necessary.

Scientists have implicated gut bacteria in a number of conditions. From type 2 diabetes to depression, researchers have observed relationships between a wide range of disease states and the organisms that live in our gastrointestinal tract.

Why COVID-19 ICU patients may face risk of heart issues

Covid-19 patient

A new study suggests that COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICU) are more likely to suffer from cardiac arrests or arrhythmias caused by systemic issues.

New research found that COVID-19 patients in ICU were 10 times more likely to experience arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms) than COVID-19 patients hospitalized but not admitted to ICU.

Steroid Sparks Hope and Skepticism

dexametazona

Preliminary results showing that a cheap steroid reduces the risk of death among gravely ill COIVD-19 patients is inspiring hope and skepticism.

The finding has not been peer-reviewed, but University of Oxford researchers announced the steroid dexamethasone—when given to patients on ventilators for up to 10 days—cut the risk of death by a third, CNN reports.

The risk of death for patients on oxygen but not on ventilators was reduced by a fifth, but the steroid made no difference among patients who didn’t require either.

But:

1 in 5 at Greater Risk of Severe COVID-19

severe illness-covid

An estimated 22% of people globally—1.7 billion—have at least one condition that puts them at a greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 if infected, according to a new study in The Lancet Global Health.

The most prevalent conditions in those aged 50+: chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.

"Not everyone with a condition will progress to a hospital," first author Andrew Clark of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told The New York Times.

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