Saturday, January 23, 2021

Things I read this week on COVID-19

Front page of the New York Times
for Tuesday, January 19, 2021: deaths 

Most of this ends up on my Twitter feed and some of it I post on my blog Facebook page, but here's a collection for your reference:

  • Just this morning, I read this interview in Der Spiegel with virologist Christian Drosten, who is among those advising the German government. I highly recommend reading it all--there's even a Douglas Adams reference!--but for the questions of schools, this is relevant: 

    DER SPIEGEL: The issue of school closures was the subject of hours of debate on Tuesday during the meeting between Merkel and the state governors. Why has it been so difficult for scientists to convince people on this issue?

    Drosten: To be honest, even without our study on viral loads in children, I would not have considered it likely that children would be spared by SARS-CoV-2. From a purely biological perspective, the mucous membrane doesn't change all that much during puberty. Which means that children can also get infected – and be contagious. That so many doubts about that fact have arisen was always, and still is, confusing to me.

  • The Danes are sequencing all samples of the coronavirus they get, and they are worried: 

    Like a speeding car whose brake lines have been cut, the coronavirus variant first spotted in Britain is spreading at an alarming rate and isn’t responding to established ways of slowing the pandemic, according to Danish scientists who have one of the world’s best views into the new, more contagious strain.

    Cases involving the variant are increasing 70 percent a week in Denmark, despite a strict lockdown, according to Denmark’s State Serum Institute, a government agency that tracks diseases and advises health policy.

    Note that the "strict lockdown" noted above includes even primary schools. They're discussing closing preschools

  • Referenced in that article and discusses further here, there's some concern that the variant that's been spreading from the U.K. is more deadly

    England’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, offered an example. He said that among 1,000 men in England age 60 or older who get infected, the original virus would kill 10. The new variant, he said, would kill 13 or 14. That would represent a 30 percent rise in mortality, though it is important to note that absolute risk of death remains low.

  • Here in the U.S., we (whew!) inaugurated a new president who got right to work on this. For coverage of what the actions mean for schools, I do recommend reading the actual executive order to the Secretary of Education issued by President Biden which directs delivery of:

    ...evidence-based guidance to assist States and elementary and secondary schools in deciding whether and how to reopen, and how to remain open, for in-person learning; and in safely conducting in-person learning...

    I've seen some online consternation at the word "whether" in that part, but, well, read the preceding. Good coverage of this, as always, from Chalkbeat, and more here from EdWeekwhich notes that the executive order is only a beginning; there's the vaccine rollout, major testing needed, and simply overall:

    More likely to be influential are the administration’s broader efforts to contain the virus’s spread and get Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible.

  • And speaking of vaccines, here's ten minutes with Dr. Anthony Fauci on vaccines and such, a satire piece on "Fauci unchained" and a reflection in the New England Journal of Medicine reflection on lessons from measles on vaccination of children.
    Note that the Moderna trial is looking for participants from ages 12-17 and one of the sites is in Worcester.
    There's concern about the national vaccine supply, and of course, the Massachusetts vaccine rollout has been slow and racially inequitable.
    In the meantime, there are things we can do to drive down the spread now.

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