An Election Week Covid Surge, Vaccine Progress, and More

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Cases rise as election results come in, vaccines and treatments advance, and the reach of screening and tracing technology grows. Here’s what you should know:

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Cases soar to new highs as Americans await election results

In a dizzying confluence of events, this week’s days-long election has coincided with record-high coronavirus numbers in the US. There were 121,888 new cases Thursday, marking the third time this week that America topped its previous record. The number of hospitalizations and deaths is also increasing, especially in the South and Midwest. Regardless of the election outcome, Donald Trump will remain in the Oval Office until January 20, and given his track record on the pandemic, public health experts are concerned that 100,000 more American could die during that time.

Whoever the next president is, he will face the monumental task of getting the coronavirus pandemic under control. Cases are surging, face masks are again in short supply, and a bleak winter is ahead. But there are still things the country’s leaders can do now. Mitch McConnell adopted a new stance on coronavirus aid earlier this week, saying that Congress should approve a relief package before year’s end. And the director of the CDC has said that now is the ideal time for the US to develop a better strategy for identifying asymptomatic cases if this surge is to be controlled.

Vaccine and treatment development continue to move forward

AstraZeneca has announced on Thursday that its vaccine could be available at the start of the new year. The drug company plans to analyze Phase III trial data over the next two months. Provided those results look good, it will increase production and seek government approval. Moderna has said its vaccine won’t be ready until the spring, while Pfizer could seek emergency use authorization as soon as later this month. A CDC adviser confirmed yesterday that when vaccines are available in the US, they will almost certainly go to health care workers first. In order for a vaccine to gain widespread approval, experts are also working hard to drum up public trust, especially within communities of color, who have long been subjected to medical racism.

Research published yesterday also showed that a nasal spray developed at Columbia University successfully blocked SARS-CoV-2 from getting into the lungs and noses of ferrets. The study hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, nor has the spray been tested on humans. But researchers say it’s nontoxic and, if effective, could function like a daily vaccine. It’s also relatively cheap to make and requires no refrigeration. In the UK, aspirin is being investigated as a potential treatment for Covid-19. Researchers believe the inexpensive and widely available drug could lower the risk of blood clots.

Covid-19 screening and tracing technology expands, but not without hitches

Dozens of US school districts have purchased new technology to help fight the spread of Covid-19 using funds from the pandemic aid CARES Act. The devices use thermal cameras to screen students’ temperatures and facial recognition technology to tell whether they are wearing masks. While some see the facial recognition capabilities being useful even after the pandemic has ended, others are concerned that bringing this into schools could jeopardize the security and privacy of children’s biometric data.

Meanwhile, tracing technology in the UK hit a snag last week when software engineers working on the NHS’s Covid-19 app discovered that thousands who may have been exposed to the virus were not told to quarantine due to an error. The UK government has reportedly been in talks with the controversial US company Palantir about using its software to boost its struggling national test-and-trace program after a string of IT issues.

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