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Six unknown factors in coronavirus models and how they could affect predictions


Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, researchers have scrambled to develop and share models which can predict how the virus will spread. This is inherently tricky, as we know so little about the disease, and a model is only ever as good as the information you put into it.

Researchers at Imperial College London produced a model that predicted there could be more than 510,000 deaths in the UK in the absence of preventative measures by the government, assuming that each person with the virus would give it to between 2 and 2.6 other people.

There are many COVID-19 tests in the US – how are they being regulated?

COVID-19 testing

When it comes to COVID-19 testing in the United States, the situation is about as messy as it gets.

The U.S. went from having no tests, or assays, available for COVID-19 diagnostics to having multiple different tests available in a span of just a few weeks. Today more than 230 test developers have alerted the Food and Drug Administration that they are requesting emergency authorization for their tests; 20 have been granted. And 110 laboratories around the country, including my own, are also using their own tests. Having this number of diagnostic tests available to detect a single virus in such a short time frame is unprecedented.

What the coronavirus does to your body that makes it so deadly

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses belong to a group of viruses that infect animals, from peacocks to whales. They’re named for the bulb-tipped spikes that project from the virus’s surface and give the appearance of a corona surrounding it.

A coronavirus infection usually plays out one of two ways: as an infection in the lungs that includes some cases of what people would call the common cold, or as an infection in the gut that causes diarrhea. COVID-19 starts out in the lungs like the common cold coronaviruses, but then causes havoc with the immune system that can lead to long-term lung damage or death.

The Desperate Global Search for Treatments

Workers check on chloroquine phosphate

Habeeb Ahmad went through 2 failed courses of drugs for his COVID-19 infection. And then his family failed to get a third drug, remdesivir, theWashington Post reports.

The 41-year-old ophthalmologist and father of 3 remains intubated and unconscious in an ICU in Long Island, New York.

The desperate search for Ahmad reflects the global efforts to find treatments against COVID-19.

Test, Track, Treat

COVID-19 testing tent in Berlin

Countries that adopted a test, track and treat approach gained an early edge against COVID-19.

Germany jumped to develop a test by January—which, combined with its ample intensive care beds and early embrace of social distancing—could explain why it's seeing fewer deaths than its neighbors, according to the AP. Germany reports 775 deaths and 71,000 cases; compare that to Italy’s 12,400 deaths for 106,000 cases and Spain’s 9,000+ deaths­­­­­­­­­­­­­ and 102,000 cases.

Antibody tests: to get a grip on coronavirus, we need to know who’s already had it

Anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies tests

With much of society now effectively in lockdown, how will we know when it’s safe to resume something like normality?

It will largely depend on being able to say who is safe from contracting the coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease called COVID-19, and who still needs to stay out of harm’s way. A blood test to detect who has antibodies against the virus would be a crucial aid.

An antibody test – which would identify those whose immune systems have already encountered the virus, as opposed to current tests that reveal the presence of the virus itself – will be an important part of efforts to track the true extent of the outbreak.

Coronavirus weekly: as the world stays at home, where is the pandemic heading?

Tour Eiffel

From New York to Moscow, Johannesburg to Buenos Aires, the novel coronavirus continues its global journey. On March 30, almost three months after China announced the discovery of COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, more than 780,000 people have been infected and at least 37,000 have died.

While the epidemic appears to be under control in China, the US is now the country most affected by the pandemic. In Europe, it would appear containment measures and lock downs are beginning to bear fruit: in Italy, the figures indicate a slowdown in the number of infections.

How Can Hospitals Handle the Surge in COVID-19 Cases?

Doctors test hospital staff in a tent

Hospitals facing a possible need for 5X to 10X the number of beds they have. Doctors and nurses resorting to bandanas because they lack masks. Refrigerated trucks outside hospitals holding the dead.

It’s been more than a century since the US health care system has faced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenges confronting hospitals, doctors, and nurses will likely mount in the coming weeks, says Vivek Murthy, former US Surgeon General and current Distinguished Policy Scholar in Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Even so, Murthy finds encouraging signs of resilience.


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