The news this week did seem dominated a bit by President Donald Trump. And most of it was trivial: Do we believe he is really taking hydroxychloroquine? (Who knows?) How obese is he? (Not as obese as Nancy Pelosi said he was.) Would he wear a mask at the Ford plant he was touring? (He did when he wasn’t in public view.)
It should not go unnoticed that Jacinda Ardern, who has led New Zealand through the coronavirus pandemic with but a few deaths (21, per the tally by Johns Hopkins University researchers), is that country’s most popular prime minister in 100 years.
I’m Damon Darlin, your guest writer for this edition of the Friday Breeze. We will have a rotating cast of writers for a few weeks to give you a breezy rundown of the week’s health care news.
You know, there were other things happening this week that mattered a bit more. People are still dying of COVID-19. The toll is approaching 100,000 deaths in the United States. Many of the deceased aren’t being counted among the COVID-19 casualties, according to a number of analyses.
The New York Times reported, in one of the most attention-getting pieces this week, that 36,000 fewer people in the United States would have died if only the country had locked down just one week earlier. If the U.S. had done it two weeks earlier, on March 1, “the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided,” it reported.
Science magazine looked at the so-called superspreaders of the coronavirus. They examined a number of studies done across the globe in an attempt to understand how, if most people don’t transmit the virus, it spreads so much. It’s those circumstances in which it spreads massively that most intrigue the scientists.
The race for a vaccine to prevent further infections accelerated. So far, the results were mostly seen in the stock market. Moderna, a little-known drug company, announced preliminary results of its vaccine testing and its stock price soared. The federal government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the agency overseeing the rapid production of a vaccine, gave Moderna $438 million. (One of its board members, Moncef Slaoui, was appointed the nation’s new “vaccine czar,” and his financial ties to the industry are being questioned. The New York Times called them “vast.”)
Such publicity over vaccine development has raised the question of “science by press release.” KHN’s Jay Hancock took a look at how the pharmaceutical companies are trying to use publicity about their search for a vaccine to improve their damaged reputations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has faced withering criticism throughout this epidemic, came under fire again this week. This time, it was for messing up a pretty basic rule of epidemiology, supposedly its specialty. The federal agency was combining the results of two different kinds of tests for the coronavirus, viral and antibody, which would mess up crucial metrics needed to determine if it is safe to reopen a state. Virginia was doing this same thing. The Atlantic said Georgia, Texas and Pennsylvania were also misreporting data.
By the way, the head of the CDC, Robert Redfield, said he wasn’t being muzzled by the White House.
In other fiddling-with-the-data news, a data analyst working for the Florida state government said she was fired because, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, “her bosses told her to remove the raw data from the website, meaning that users could no longer download it for analysis.”
Meanwhile, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington said on Twitter that that state isn’t manipulating the data, just the graphic representation of it, so the results looked better.
North Carolina is trying to justify #Phase2, which starts on Friday. The top graph is from a few days ago, and the bottom graph is from today. They're no longer displaying any data before 4/18, and they've stretched out the x-axis so the shape of the curve looks flatter. pic.twitter.com/gekggd2qNO
— Julia Buck, PhD (@Buckette84) May 20, 2020
We aren’t done yet with the data category. An article that broke late last Friday night said that the Stanford University study you undoubtedly read about suggesting the coronavirus was not as deadly as was thought was sponsored by David Neeleman, the JetBlue Airways founder who has been saying the pandemic isn’t deadly enough to justify lockdowns. Stanford didn’t disclose the financial ties, according to BuzzFeed, or that scientists were concerned about the accuracy of the antibody tests the study was based on.
This report from NBC was intriguing. It casts strong doubts on the much-touted technology for washing and reusing face masks that health care workers use. The federal government contracted with an Ohio research company to be the nation’s laundromat. NBC said the potential cost to taxpayers is $413 million.
Finally, because it’s a national holiday on Monday — no, really, check your calendar, it’s Memorial Day — I leave you with a host of things to worry about as the country struggles to reopen.
- Wearing gloves may do more harm than good.
- Reopened office buildings may give you a disease.
- Then there are the risks in using shared bathrooms in public buildings.
- Loud talking, as people do in bars or restaurants, can leave the coronavirus in the air for 14 minutes.
Enjoy your long weekend. The ultraviolet light in sunshine is useful.