May 18, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: First coronavirus vaccine shows promise in humans, early data suggests

Daily Briefing

    A new study finds the simple act of talking can release air droplets that linger for more than eight minutes, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology partner to develop a face mask that can detect Covid-19, and more.

    Covid-19 weekly webinar: What health care leaders need to know

    • 23andMe on Wednesday announced it is expanding its genetics study of the new coronavirus to include patients who have been hospitalized with severe cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. The study, which 23andMe first began on April 6, aims to determine whether genetic factors play a part in which patients experience the worst cases of Covid-19. So far, the study—which only includes current 23andMe customers—has more than 500,000 participants, and 7,000 have been diagnosed with Covid-19 (Robbins, STAT News, 5/13; Regalado, MIT Technology Review, 5/13; 23andMeBlog, 5/13).

    • Abbott Laboratories on Thursday announced it is changing the instructions for its ID NOW rapid diagnostic test for the new coronavirus for a second time, after preliminary data from a recent study found the test may fail to detect up to half of positive infections from the virus. According to the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, the test missed positive coronavirus cases in one third of samples collected with nasopharyngeal swabs and 48% of samples collected with dry nasal swabs. Based on the results, the researchers deemed the test "unacceptable" for use in a clinical setting. However, Abbott said it's possible the researchers misused the samples, which in turn could increase the test's rate of false-negative results. FDA on Thursday said it will review data submitted by Abbott from follow-up studies on the test. In the meantime, Abbott's new instructions will inform users to consider negative results as "presumptive" and to verify them with another test (Weaver, Wall Street Journal, 5/14; Weixel, The Hill, 5/13; Johnson/Mufson, Washington Post, 5/13; Weaver/Ballhaus, Wall Street Journal, 5/13; Perrone, Associated Press, 5/15).

    • Amazon on Thursday announced that engineers from the company's mechanical design and hardware teams are developing face shields that will be sold to frontline medical workers at one-third the price of reusable face shields that are currently on the market. Amazon said the NIH-approved design is more comfortable than previous face shield designs. Amazon said it will initially limit sales of the face shields to frontline workers but plans to make the shields available to the public in the future (Axelrod, The Hill, 5/14; Palmer, CNBC, 5/14).

    • As part of its efforts to revamp the way it provides care in response to Covid-19, Banner Health is partnering with technology company LifeLink to launch virtual waiting rooms for its 300 Banner Medical Group practices. The waiting rooms will use mobile chatbots to help patients remotely fill out paperwork and check-in for their in-person and telehealth appointments. Patients can access the virtual waiting rooms through their computers or mobile devices (Landi, FierceHealthcare, 5/14).

    • CVS Health on Thursday announced it will launch more than 50 drive-thru testing sites for the new coronavirus in five states. The sites will use self-swab tests and provide results to consumers in about three days. The company said it will erect the testing sites at multiple pharmacy drive-thru locations in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. CVS plans to launch up to 1,000 drive-thru testing sites by the end of May, the company said (Maddipatla, Reuters, 5/14; Kelley, The Hill, 5/14).

    • Researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working to develop a face mask that can detect if a user is infected with the novel coronavirus. Jim Collins, a researcher for MIT, said the team is working to adapt sensors they previously developed to detect the Ebola virus to now detect the new coronavirus. If a sensor in the mask detects that a user is positive for the new coronavirus, the mask would emit a fluorescent signal when the user coughs, breathes, or sneezes. The project is still in the "very early stages," Collins said (Klar, The Hill, 5/13).

    • On Monday, Moderna announced that its new coronavirus vaccine appears to be safe in humans and able to generate antibodies that can stop the new coronavirus from replicating. The preliminary data is based on results from eight people who received two doses of the vaccine in March. Moderna now plans to accelerate the timeline for the second phase of its trial which will involve 600 people (Grady, New York Times, 5/18).

    • Mount Sinai Health System on Wednesday opened a post-Covid-19 care center to help patients who are recovering from the disease. The Center for Post-COVID Care will provide ongoing comprehensive clinical care that will help patients transition from the hospital to home. Barbara Murphy, chair of the department of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said the center will see a "wide spectrum of patients," including those who were recently diagnosed with Covid-19 and patients who were never hospitalized for the disease but who are struggling to recover at home (Mount Sinai Health System release, 5/13; Vaidya, Becker's Hospital Review, 5/14; Reed, FierceHealthcare, 5/13).

    • NIH and Nvidia have designed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that detects Covid-19 using patients' lung scans. NIH said it developed the system using a database of more than 3,000 patient images, 2,000 of which were from patients with confirmed cases of Covid-19. The organizations said the AI system detects the disease with more than 90% accuracy. Brad Wood, chief of interventional radiology at the NIH Clinical Center and a leader of the project, said the system could be used as a supplement for traditional Covid-19 diagnostic tests (Council, Wall Street Journal, 5/14).

    • A study published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that speech can generate respiratory droplets that can linger in the air for more than eight minutes. Researchers used laser lights to detect the droplets and found that "loud speech can emit thousands of oral fluid droplets per second," according to the study. The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach writes that the findings could shed light on why outbreaks of the new coronavirus tend to occur in confined spaces like nursing homes, cruise ships, and conferences (Achenbach, Washington Post, 5/13).

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