Tests have been delayed and in short supply as the United States surpassed 5.4 million cases, leaving many uncertain about their risk of spreading the virus. And as researchers rush to develop vaccines, they’ve had little evidence to tell if antibodies that protect against Covid-19 last long enough to get the virus under control. But developments from researchers Monday brought optimistic outlooks to both fronts.
SalivaDirect, a test that does not require specialized supplies and can deliver results in less than three hours, could be available to the public in a matter of weeks, according to Anne Wyllie, an epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health who was part of the team responsible for the protocol.
“It skips so many steps up front, so it makes it much more amenable to be used as a surveillance tool like in schools or universities,” Dr. Brett Giroir, the White House coronavirus testing coordinator, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday.
And though many are in early stages and have not been peer-reviewed, a recent batch of studies show that humans — even those with mild symptoms — have a “robust” immune response to coronavirus that could provide evidence that a vaccine could protect the public for more than just a short period of time, said Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
“This is very good news and it’s optimistic,” Lipkin said Monday. “You know, it is a bit of blue sky that we’ve been looking for.”
How long that protection lasts is still unclear, but the studies indicate it could last for months.
The news comes as the White House coronavirus task force coordinator said Monday she wished the early days of coronavirus in the US looked more like it did in Italy: strict lockdowns keeping people home as infections spread.
The outbreaks at universities continue
Campus life is returning to full swing as college students come back to school — and now several universities are reporting coronavirus outbreaks.
Add North Carolina State University, where eight people involved with Greek life have tested positive for the virus, to the list of schools with outbreaks on or near campus.
Officials at the the school said they were notified by the Wake County Health Department of the cluster at an off-campus housing facility. The health department said reports indicated there was a gathering there August 6.
As part of the university’s contact tracing program, close contacts have been advised to quarantine for 14 days, which in some cases could mean the entire house being quarantined, school spokeswoman Lauren Barker said in a statement.
Not far away, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the university abruptly decided this week it will no longer hold in-person undergraduate classes on campus, starting Wednesday, after about 130 students tested positive for Covid-19 in the first week since classes began.
In Indiana, the University of Notre Dame reopened 15 days ago and 147 people have tested positive for the virus, according to a school dashboard. Eighty positive tests were reported Monday as part of that total with the positivity rate for that batch of samples being about 19%. The school has about 12,000 students.
The university announced Tuesday that undergraduate students will shift to online classes for the next two weeks.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of positive cases of Covid-19 in your first weeks back on campus,” the Rev. John I. Jenkins, university president, said. “The spike in cases is very serious. And we must take serious steps to address it.”
Analysis from contact tracers has shown that most infections have been the result of off campus gatherings, Jenkins said.
Some K-12 school districts are seeing outbreaks too.
In Florida, more than 25 districts are due to have started in-person instruction by week’s end. Three districts — those of Baker, Bradford and Martin counties — reported having to place students in quarantine after a week of in-person classes. Martin County alone has quarantined 292 students, district spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo said Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, meanwhile, says it will provide regular Covid-19 testing and contact tracing to all students and staff, and to families of those who test positive.
The school district — the country’s second-largest with more than 600,000 students — is beginning the new school year without in-person classes. The hope, Superintendent Austin Beutner told CNN Tuesday, is to build a foundation for when the district opens for in-person learning.
“If we want to keep schools from becoming a petri dish and we want to keep all in the school community safe, we need to test and trace at schools,” he said.
Study: No apparent racial difference in Covid-19 death rates if there’s equal access to health care
If Black coronavirus patients are given the same access to hospital care as White patients, their death rates in the hospital appear not to be different, according to research published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The research found no difference in mortality among Black and White patients hospitalized for coronavirus infection, after adjusting for sociodemographic and clinical factors.
Dr. Baligh Yehia of Ascension Health in Missouri and colleagues studied 11,210 adult coronavirus patients between February and May in 92 hospitals across 12 states. They found no statistical difference in the risk of mortality between White and Black patients, after adjusting for age, sex, insurance status, comorbidity, neighborhood deprivation and site of care.
Of the 11,210 patients, 37.3% were Black. Black patients were younger, more likely to be women and more likely to have Medicaid insurance than their White counterparts. Black patients were also more likely to have other health conditions such as asthma, cancer, chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
About 63.7% of patients were hospitalized and 39.4% were Black. After adjusting for outside factors, the team found that mortality was 19.2% among Black patients and 23.1% among White patients. The overall mortality rate was 20.3%.
Similar rates of Black and White patients needed an intensive care unit. Among those in the ICU, 35.2% of Black patients died and 36.4% of White patients died.
The researchers note that across the US, Black people have experienced higher Covid-19 case rates and death rates.
“Although current reports suggest that Black patients represent a disproportionate share of COVID-19 infections and death in the United States, in this study, mortality for those able to access hospital care did not differ between Black and White patients after adjusting for sociodemographic factors and comorbidities.”
They called for additional research on coronavirus mortality by race.