Coronavirus: Must-Know Info

Coronavirus Alert: CDC Approval for Kids Booster, NY Hospitalizations Double, and More

Here is the latest news, data, and expert insight?on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, May 20, 2022, 4:56 P.M. EDT

Booster for Kids Gets CDC Committee Approval

Two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster for children ages 5 to 11, a scientific advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended a third dose of the vaccine for kids in that age group, according to USA Today.?CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, is expected to quickly sign off on the recommendation, meaning parents could begin getting their children booster doses as early as the weekend.

CDC Advises Getting Tested Before Domestic Travel

The CDC?updated guidelines this week urging anyone traveling within the United States to consider getting tested as close to the time of departure as possible (no more than three days) before your trip. Previously, the CDC recommended getting tested for domestic travel only if you were not up to date on vaccinations. The health agency also says to get tested after travel if your trip involved situations with greater risk of exposure such as being in crowded places while not wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator.

COVID-19 Infections in North Korea Near 2 Million

The Korean Central News Agency reported that more than 1.98 million have been sickened with fever since the country recorded its very first case one week ago, according to the New York Post.?The country added more than a quarter-million infections to its tally on Thursday alone. North Korea had not previously acknowledged any coronavirus cases,?but health experts doubt that the country of 25 million could have actually avoided the outbreak for this long. The Associated Press said that state-run media is telling patients what remedies to take, such as honey tea.?France24?reported that North Korea has not vaccinated anyone, and lacks the capacity to conduct mass COVID-19 testing.

Pro-Trump Regions Still Have Higher Death Tolls

An analysis from NPR on Thursday found that residents of counties that went heavily for Donald Trump in the last presidential election are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than those that live in areas that went for President Biden.

Vaccine Skeptic Eric Clapton Postpones Shows After COVID-19 Diagnosis

As CNN reported, famed guitarist Eric Clapton, who has spoken out against vaccine mandates and lockdowns, has postponed some tour dates after testing positive for the coronavirus. His Facebook page said he will reschedule dates within the next six months.

Hospitalizations in NY Double in a Month

New York state COVID-19 hospitalizations are now nearing 3,000, more than doubling in the last month, according the NBC News.

Three-Quarters With Long COVID Were Never Hospitalized

The majority (75.8 percent) of patients diagnosed with a post-COVID condition had never been hospitalized for COVID-19, according to a?new study from FAIR Health.?Among patients with a post-COVID diagnosis, 81.6 percent of females had not had a COVID-19 hospitalization compared with 67.5 percent of males. The study results were based on analysis of private claims data from 78,252 patients diagnosed from October 1, 2021, to January 31, 2022. Of patients with a post-COVID condition, 30.7 percent had no identified preexisting chronic comorbidities. Most were likely to be between the ages of 36 and 50.

Shanghai Sees End of Lockdown in Sight

Reuters?on Wednesday said that Shanghai recorded no new infections outside quarantined areas for a fifth day in a row. Because of the improving numbers, authorities let more residents go out to shop for groceries for the first time in almost two months. The city plans to further loosen restrictions in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, May 19, 2022, 4:17 P.M. EDT

One-Third of U.S. Should Consider Wearing Masks, CDC Director Says

In a?White House press briefing on Wednesday, Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the CDC estimated that about one-third of Americans live in an area with a medium or high COVID-19 community level. “For areas currently with high COVID-19 community levels, we urge local leaders to encourage use of prevention strategies like masking in public indoor settings and increasing access to testing and to treatment,” said Dr. Walensky. “In areas with medium COVID-19 community levels, individuals should consider taking prevention measures based on their own risk, like avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, increasing their testing, especially before gathering with others indoors.”

Nearly Every State Is Expected to See Hospitalizations Rise

Based on newly updated data from the CDC, hospitalizations are expected to increase in almost every state in the United States over the next two weeks. The forecast also indicates that about 5,300 deaths will occur over the next two weeks. California, New York, Georgia, and Florida are projected to see the largest death tolls.

Use of COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid Jumps Dramatically

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shared data this week showing that demand for oral antiviral pills has significantly increased over the past month, with a 315 percent rise in Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) courses dispensed and a 200 percent rise in Lagevrio (molnupiravir) courses dispensed between April 10 and May 14. HHS stressed that these products are available and they can significantly reduce the chances of severe illness and hospitalization.

U.S. Is Set to Extend COVID-19 Emergency Past Mid-July

The Biden administration plans to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency beyond July 15 when it was due to expire, according to Bloomberg News.?By issuing this directive, the United States can grant emergency authorizations of drugs and vaccines and provide these products to millions of people at no out-of-pocket cost.

Biden Administration Presses for More COVID-19 Funding as Cases Keep Rising

In his first briefing as White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Ashish Jha, MD, warned that if Congress does not approve $22.5 billion in supplemental COVID-19 funding, the country may not have all the tools it needs to protect itself from a viral surge in the fall and winter of this year. If the funding does not come through, Dr. Jha said, “I think we would see a lot of unnecessary loss of life if that were to happen.”

Seniors May Overlook Symptoms of Long COVID

An investigation by Kaiser Health News published Wednesday found that many seniors may have difficulties recognizing the symptoms of long COVID and consider them as simply a part of the aging process.

Biden’s Daughter and Secretary of HHS Test Positive

The New York Times on Wednesday reported that President Biden’s daughter Ashley and Xavier Becerra, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, both tested positive for the coronavirus. Neither is considered a close contact to the President, according to the administration.

Jimmy Kimmel Gets COVID-19 for Second Time This Month

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel revealed on Twitter that he has tested positive for COVID-19 a second time. “I’m such a positive person, I tested positive AGAIN,” wrote Kimmel, who is fully vaccinated and boosted. He had contracted the virus for a first time in early May. Last time he was sick with the virus, Kimmel said, “I was tired. I had a little bit of a headache. But those are also the symptoms of having children. So, it may have been preexisting conditions, I don't know.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2022, 2:47 P.M. EDT

Cases Rise in 4 Regions Globally

In a media briefing on Tuesday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, told reporters that COVID-19 cases have risen in four out of the six WHO regions. Cases have been rising in the Africa and the Americas over the past few weeks, but now infections are also increasing in the Western Pacific and Eastern Mediterranean.

North Korea Outbreak Surges

North Korea on Tuesday revealed that the almost 1.5 million people were suspected of having COVID-19, according to The New York Times. State media has been reporting hundreds of thousands of people with fever every day. The country said it had identified its first case last week after not recording any cases during the entire pandemic.

Infections Rise Dramatically Among Kids

Latest figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics show that more than 93,000 additional child COVID-19 cases were reported for the week ending May 12, an increase of about 76 percent from two weeks ago. This marks the fifth consecutive weekly increase in reported child cases. Almost 13.2 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic according to available state reports; over 246,000 of these cases have been added in the past four weeks. Nearly 5.3 million reported cases have been added in 2022.

CDC Expected to Approve FDA Recommendation of Booster for Kids

The FDA on Tuesday expanded its emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot for COVID-19 to include children ages 5 to 11. These younger kids may now get the additional dose at least five months after completion of a primary series with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said that vaccine advisors for the CDC need to make a formal recommendation before the booster can be rolled out for this younger population. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is slated to meet on May 19, presumably to consider the booster dose recommendation.

Europe Scraps Masks on Planes

The European Union has dropped its mask mandate for passengers on flights and in airports. “Face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” said Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in a statement. “For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalization of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”

New Variants May Infect People Repeatedly

In an investigation by The New York Times, scientists said that the coronavirus is evolving and may reinfect individuals many times throughout their lives. Some may experience reinfection within months.

Machine Learning Helps Identify People at Risk of Long COVID

Using machine learning techniques, a National Institutes of Health (NIH)–supported research team has identified characteristics of people with long COVID and those likely to have it. The findings published this week in the Lancet Digital Health were based on analysis of medical records from more than 100,000 people likely long COVID cases as of October 2021. Risk factors included greater healthcare use, increasing age, and shortness of breath. Long COVID is marked by wide-ranging symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, fever, headaches, “brain fog” and other neurological problems. Such symptoms can last for many months or longer after an initial COVID-19 diagnosis.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022, 2:37 P.M. EDT

FDA Okays Pfizer Booster for Kids Ages 5 to 11

The FDA on Tuesday expanded its emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot for COVID-19 to include children ages 5 to 11. These younger kids may now get the additional dose at least five months after completion of a primary series with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer term effects, even following initially mild disease,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD. “The FDA is authorizing the use of a single booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for children 5 through 11 years of age to provide continued protection against COVID-19. Vaccination continues to be the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 and its severe consequences, and it is safe.”

New York City and Los Angeles Urge Residents to Mask Up Again as Cases Soar

As NBC News reported, New York City on Tuesday raised its COVID-19 alert level to “high” after being at the medium level since May 2. The city has hit two new dangerous thresholds — recording 200 infections per 100,000 each day and 10 new hospital admissions per 100,000 residents.

“As a city, we have the tools to blunt the impact of this wave, including distributing tests, masks, and promoting treatments,” said NYC Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan, MD, PhD. “Getting back to 'Low Risk' depends on everyone doing their part and if we follow guidance, our forecasts anticipate this wave’s peak will not last long. What we do now can make all the difference.”

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the highly infectious BA.2 subvariant and sublineages are fueling case and hospitalization increases there as well. The county public health department is now encouraging residents to layer safety protections such as masking, testing, and staying away from others when sick. The average number of daily new cases reported over the last seven days increased to 2,944 compared with the 1,071 reported one month ago, an increase of 175 percent.

“With the proliferation of highly infectious sublineages of omicron, it is easier for infected individuals to unknowingly pass along the virus, resulting in many of us experiencing more spread associated with our gatherings and travel,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, county director of public health, in a statement. “And while it is reassuring to note the relatively low rates of hospitalizations and deaths, getting infected for many is still very risky and something to be avoided wherever possible. As has been true throughout the pandemic, keeping others safe often requires that many of us align with sensible safety measures.”

A New Round of Free COVID-19 Tests Is Now Available

COVID.gov/tests on Monday announced that every home in America is now eligible to order a third round of free at-home COVID-19 tests. Each order contains eight rapid antigen tests. Those needing help placing an order can call 1-800-232-0233.

South Africa and Other Popular Tourist Spots Are Now on ‘High Risk’ List

The CDC has categorized several favorite travel destinations in Africa as high risk as of Monday, according to CNN. South Africa, Antigua and Barbuda, Lesotho, and Taiwan have all been moved into the column of countries having threatening levels of COVID-19 transmission. Many destinations in Europe have been stuck in the high risk category already, including France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland, Greece, and the United Kingdom.

'We Must Plan on Something Worse Than Omicron,' Expert Says

Eric Topol, MD, director of the Scripps Translational Research Institute, warned in an article on Sunday that rapidly transmitting variants of the coronavirus that evade vaccination protection demonstrate how the virus is evolving faster than ever and that we must take aggressive action to shield ourselves from potentially more aggressive variants to come. “As difficult it is to mentally confront, we must plan on something worse than Omicron in the months ahead,” he wrote. Dr. Topol endorses investing in next-generation vaccines that can help stop or slow transmission.

BA.4 and BA.5 Are Now Considered ‘Variants of Concern’

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) last week designated the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants as variants of concern (VOC) and said they could fuel increases in infections in the region in the weeks and months ahead, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. BA.4 already dominates in South Africa, and BA.5 accounts for 37 percent of new infections in Portugal as of May 8. With a 12 to 13 percent growth advantage over BA.2, BA.5 is expected to become the dominant variant in Portugal by May 22. Data so far does not suggest that these variants cause more severe illness but with wider spread, hospitalizations are still expected to rise.

FDA Authorizes First Nonprescription?Test to Detect COVID-19, Flu, and RSV

The FDA on Monday greenlighted the first nonprescription COVID-19 test that can also detect the flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). The test allows an individual to self-collect a nasal swab sample at home and then send that sample to Labcorp for testing that can identify and differentiate multiple respiratory viruses at the same time — influenza A and B (commonly known as the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (commonly known as RSV), along with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Results are delivered through an online portal, with follow-up from a healthcare provider for positive or invalid test results.

Infection in the Vaccinated Produces Super Immune Response

Bloomberg this week reported on a pair of new studies demonstrating that vaccinated people who get infected with omicron have better protection from other variants than if they received booster shots. John Wherry, PhD, a professor and director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania, told Bloomberg, “We should think about breakthrough infections as essentially equivalent to another dose of vaccine.” One study author, Alexandra Walls, PhD, at the University of Washington, warned, however, that people should not seek out infection based on these findings.

Why Australia’s Death Rate Has Been Far Better Than U.S.

A feature in The New York Times examines why Australia’s death rate from COVID-19 has been one-tenth that of the rate in America. Among other factors, Australia has been more successful due to restricting travel and personal interaction until vaccinations were widely available, then maximizing vaccine uptake, prioritizing people who were most vulnerable before gradually opening up again.

More Than 1 in 10 Hospitalized With COVID-19 Are Readmitted

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that of Canadian patients who were discharged after hospitalization for COVID-19 were readmitted to the hospital or died within 30 days of discharge. “Despite fears of high rates of readmission after COVID-19 hospitalizations, we found that outcomes in the 30 days after discharge were consistent with admissions for other medical diagnoses,” wrote the authors. “Thus, current system approaches to transitioning patients from hospital to home do not appear to need adjustment.”

Monday, May 16, 2022, 4:38 P.M. EDT

1 Million U.S. Death Toll Reached

The United States reached a grim milestone: one million reported deaths from COVID-19, according to figures from the CDC. As reported by?The Hill, the true number of deaths from the coronavirus has likely been undercounted.

Virus Is Spreading at ‘Alarming Rate’ in U.S.

The New York Times on Monday presented data showing that the United States is now averaging 90,000 new infections per day — a 60 percent jump from two weeks ago. The report called the transmission rate “alarming,” saying that the Midwest and Northeast are experiencing the worst surge. Experts suspect that official numbers are much lower than the actual case count because results from many at-home virus tests are going unrecorded. Hospitalizations are also ticking up — the country saw a 23 percent rise from two weeks ago.

Most of New York Now at ‘High Alert’ Level

Most counties in New York have now reached “high” alert status for COVID-19, according to the CDC guidelines. The State Department of Health issued a statement on Friday urging all New Yorkers in high-risk counties — and those throughout the state with increased risk of severe disease due to underlying conditions — to wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. “As we closely monitor the numbers and as case levels remain high across the state, now is the time for every New Yorker to get vaccinated and boosted, test following exposure or symptoms, and stay home if unwell, even if you initially test negative on an at-home test. If you test positive, consult with your provider about treatments,” said New York State Health Commissioner of Heath Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH, in a press release.

Vaccine Prevented Hundreds of Thousand of Hospitalizations, Deaths

An analysis from Pfizer found that its vaccine prevented 690,000 hospitalizations, 110,000 deaths, and 8.7 million symptomatic cases, according to ABC News on Sunday. The report also estimated that immunization saved the healthcare system $30.4 billion in costs.

U.S. Faces Nursing Shortage

The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company estimated that the United States may confront a shortage of between 200,000 and 450,000 nurses (10 to 20 percent) by 2025. About 40 percent of American nurses polled said that they were more likely to leave their position because of the pandemic.

Syphilis Rises Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

Measures to help prevent the transmission of the coronavirus (mask-wearing, social distancing) have also helped to reduce the spread of other infectious diseases. That, however, has not been the case with syphilis, according to a report from GlobalData Healthcare on Monday. Recent data from the CDC found there were 133,945 diagnosed incident cases of syphilis in America in 2020, up by 3.3 percent since 2019. GlobalData said that this rise of congenital syphilis is due in large part to a lack of prenatal screening. An increasing number of women in the United States do not receive adequate prenatal care, and this issue has been exacerbated by disruptions to testing and treatment stemming from the pandemic.

Millions of Dollars to Help Underserved Communities Have Not Been Used

An investigation published by?Kaiser Health News on Monday revealed that dozens of state and county agencies have spent only a small fraction of $2.2 billion in federal grants awarded to address COVID-19 health disparities. The money was specifically allotted to help underserved communities hardest hit by the virus. Public health agencies have told KHN that they have been slow to use fund because it takes time to set up staff and programs that will put the money to good use.

North Korea Calls on Military to Fight Outbreak

As CNN reported, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has ordered the medical arm of the nation’s military to help stabilize conditions as the country battles a COVID-19 outbreak. Figures from Saturday and Sunday indicate that 392,920 new cases of “fever” and eight deaths were recorded. CNN says that new cases there now total 1.2 million, with 648,000 recovered and 50 dead. The number is dramatic considering the North Korea announced its first COVID-19 cases ever last Wednesday. Public health officials are skeptical that the country of 25 million has avoided the virus up till now.

Shanghai Aims for June 1 to End Lockdown

Reuters said that Shanghai revealed plans on Monday to reopen in stages with a goal of returning to normal life by June 1. Most restrictions are to remain in place through May 21 to assure there is not a rebound in infections. The full lockdown in Shanghai and severe curbs in other Chinese cities have led to a plunge in retail sales and industrial output.

Friday, May 13, 2022, 2:21 P.M. EDT

President Biden Commemorated 1 Million Lives Lost

In remarks opening the second Global COVID Summit Thursday, President Joe Biden recognized the grim milestone of one million Americans dying due to COVID-19, according to CBS News. “Today we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States: One million COVID deaths,” said Biden. “One million empty chairs around the family dinner table. Each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses. Each leaving behind a family, a community, forever changed because of this pandemic. My heart goes out to all of those who are struggling.” The President also issued a proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on May 16.

More Seniors Need to Get Boosted, Experts Say

A Kaiser Health News (KHN) report based on data from the CDC revealed that about 1 in 3 Americans 65 and older who completed their initial vaccination round still have not gotten a first booster shot. Scientists stress the importance of immunization for this age group because they are at the highest risk for serious illness and death from COVID-19. Individuals age 65 and up make up about 75 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths. Research has shown that the likelihood of dying from the virus drops by 79 percent for those seniors who get boosted. Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told KHN that the failure to boost more of this group has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives. “This is one of the most important issues for the American pandemic, and it has been mismanaged,” he said.

White House COVID-19 Projections Face Skepticism

Ashish Jha, MD, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, recently predicted that 100 million new infections could flood the United States in the fall and winter. The Biden administration, however, has not released the underlying data that supports this forecast, drawing criticism from some experts. The University of Minnesota's Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, told CNN that the modeling data needs to be more transparent and that there are too many unknowns six months out, including changes in the virus that can emerge suddenly. He also said he was concerned that the warning may be part of a desire to pressure Congress to approve the funding request.

The Situation Worsens in South Africa

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy shared data from the WHO showing that daily COVID-19 cases in South Africa topped 10,000 on Thursday. Infections in the continent have climbed for the third week straight. The spike is largely being driven by Southern Africa, which accounted for 87 percent of the continent’s recorded cases, breaking a two-month long decline in recorded infections. Hospitalizations are still low, but in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, hospitalizations and deaths have jumped 90 to 100 percent in two weeks.

“This uptick in cases is an early warning sign [that] we are closely monitoring,” said Abdou Salam Gueye, MD, the WHO regional office's emergency preparedness director. “Now is the time for countries to step up preparedness and ensure that they can mount an effective response in the event of a fresh pandemic wave.”

More Than Half of Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients Had Symptoms 2 Years Later

Two years after infection with COVID-19, over half of patients who were admitted to hospital still had at least one symptom, according to the longest follow-up study to date, published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. The investigation followed 1,192 participants in China infected with the coronavirus during the first phase of the pandemic in 2020. Although physical and mental health improved over time regardless of disease severity, 55 percent of patients reported at least one symptom caused by the initial infection at two years compared with 68 percent at six months. Around half of study participants had symptoms of long COVID — such as fatigue and sleep difficulties — at two years, and experienced poorer quality of life and ability to exercise, more mental health issues, and increased use of healthcare services compared with those without symptoms of long COVID.

Bill Gates Has COVID-19

Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced on Twitter this week that he tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. “I am following the experts’ advice by isolating until I'm healthy again,” he wrote. “I’m fortunate to be vaccinated and boosted and have access to testing and great medical care.”

Viral ‘Ghosts’ in the Gut May be Linked to Long COVID

Scientists have found that pieces of the coronavirus can linger in the gut for months after an initial infection, leading them to believe that these fragments — referred to as “ghosts” — could be linked to long COVID, as reported in the journal Nature this week.

Massachusetts Schools Encourage Masks as Cases Rise

CBS News on Thursday said that a growing number of Massachusetts school districts are suggesting, but not mandating, that students put masks on, since virus numbers are climbing.

Thursday, May 12, 2022, 1:47 P.M. EDT

Infections Keep Rising in U.S. and Africa

The WHO's?weekly pandemic report indicated that during the week of May 2 through 8, COVID-19 cases rose 14 percent in the region of the Americas and 12 percent in Africa compared with the week prior. While deaths were not rising in the Americas (North and South), they skyrocketed by 84 percent in Africa. The WHO has said that rises in both regions have been fueled by omicron subvariants, including BA.4 and BA.5, which were first identified in South Africa, and BA.2.12.1, which was first identified in New York. The five countries that reported the most cases were the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, and South Korea.

Major U.S. Health Groups Call for Extension of Health Emergency

A total of 16 prominent health organizations in the United States, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, National Rural Health Association, and American Health Care Association, sent a letter on May 10 urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to extend the public health emergency that is set to expire in mid-July. The letter states that, “Continuing the public health emergency promotes a state of readiness by ensuring hospitals, health systems, doctors' offices, nursing homes, clinical laboratories, and other providers have the ability to rapidly increase their capacity to care for patients, most effectively utilize their workforce, and pivot to caring for both COVID-19 patients and those in need of ongoing care.”

FDA Approves Treatment for Severe COVID-19

Ely Lilly announced on Wednesday that the FDA approved Olumiant (baricitinib) for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized adults requiring supplemental oxygen, noninvasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Some extreme cases of COVID-19 require ECMO, where blood is pumped outside of the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back into the body. The recommended dose of Olumiant is 4 milligrams once daily for 14 days or until hospital discharge, whichever comes first.

Studies have found that Olumiant when added to treatment with remdesivir cuts recovery times by about a day. “More than two years into the pandemic, COVID-19 is still hospitalizing many people and burdening our healthcare system,” said principal investigator Andre Kalil, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in a press release. “I'm grateful to have Olumiant as a treatment option for those who require various degrees of respiratory support, from supplemental oxygen to mechanical ventilation or ECMO.”

A Spike in Infections Spurs Some Johns Hopkins Students to Take Exams Online

According to the Washington Post, an outbreak of more than 500 coronavirus cases on the Johns Hopkins University campus in Baltimore in the last week has led some students to call for taking exams online. Some students have expressed concerns that an indoor concert set off the outbreak.

Baltimore Recommends Indoor Masking

As COVID-19 cases have recently increased dramatically in Baltimore, the city’s health commissioner, Letitia Dzirasa, MD, this week strongly advised everyone to wear a mask indoors regardless of their vaccination status, according to the Baltimore Sun.

National Emergency Declared as North Korea Confirms First COVID-19 Case

After North Korean identified its first COVID-19 infection this week, the country declared a national emergency, reported CNN. The state-run news agency KCNA reported on Thursday that a few cases of the omicron variant have now been found in the capital Pyongyang. North Korea had not previously acknowledged any coronavirus cases, but health experts doubt that the country of 25 million could have actually avoided the outbreak for this long.

Masks No Longer Mandatory on European Flights

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued an update to the health safety measures for air travel on Wednesday, eliminating the mandate to wear medical masks on board a flight as of May 16, but noting that a face mask is still one of the best protections against the transmission of COVID-19. “Flights to or from a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transport should continue to encourage mask wearing,” the guidance says. “Vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask, which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.”

Half of Shanghai Reaches 'Zero COVID' but Tight Restrictions Remain

After six weeks in an extreme lockdown, Shanghai public health officials reported Wednesday that half the city had achieved “zero COVID” status, but super tight restrictions would remain in place because the risk of rebound remains, according to Reuters. One resident told The Guardian, “We had thought the lockdown could be eased this month, but now there’s no end in sight again.”