Another Ray of Light Emerges – EOH 11/18/20

Another ray of light has emerged on the horizon: Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective. More details are coming soon. 

In other news:

  • In a high-profile speech before the Federalist Society, Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito expressed his concerns that the coronavirus pandemic “has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.”
  • Rules for thee but not for me: California Governor Gavin Newsom partied with friends in spite of his state’s own restrictions on social gatherings. 
  • Boston Magazine interviewed molecular biologist Alina Chan who has done extensive detective work into the origins of the coronavirus. 
  • Chan’s research suggests the virus was already well adapted for human transmission and will not rule out the possibility of an accidental lab release.
  • Japan is experiencing another surge of COVID-19 cases but this time, a high number of asymptomatic cases are reported compared to previous outbreaks. As of right now, the Japanese government has refrained from imposing a lockdown or declaring a state of emergency.

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Additionally, we just released an update on how COVID-19 is playing out on university campuses.

COVID News

2nd virus vaccine shows overwhelming success in U.S. tests

https://apnews.com/article/2nd-virus-vaccine-success-us-tests-5575a8a8ca3825a9bf39a5d234aba07b

Moderna said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine is proving highly effective in a major trial, a second ray of hope in the global race for a shot to tame a resurgent virus that is now killing more than 8,000 people a day worldwide.

The company said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from Moderna’s ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

The results are “truly striking,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases expert. Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.

U.S. Justice Alito says pandemic has led to ‘unimaginable’ curbs on liberty

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-supremecourt/u-s-justice-alito-says-pandemic-has-led-to-unimaginable-curbs-on-liberty-idUSKBN27T0LD

Nov 13 (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said the COVID-19 pandemic had led to “previously unimaginable” curbs on individual liberty, singling out restrictions on religious events.

The justice, who is seen as a conservative, told a meeting of the Federalist Society late on Thursday he was not underplaying the severity of the crisis or criticizing any officials for their response.

But he added: “We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”

“The COVID crisis has served as sort of a constitutional stress test,” he said during his address over a video link for the conservative organization’s annual conference. 

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYLZL4GZVbA 

California governor went to party, violated own virus rules

https://apnews.com/article/birthdays-coronavirus-pandemic-california-napa-gavin-newsom-9426bc09f958ae9865309dd71a04aa97

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — For months, Gov. Gavin Newsom has pleaded with Californians to resist the temptation to socialize with friends and relatives outside their household. Turns out, he’s the one who couldn’t resist.

Newsom acknowledged Friday he attended a birthday party with a dozen friends on Nov. 6 at the posh French Laundry restaurant in wine country north of San Francisco.

“While our family followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions, we should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner,” he said in a statement.

His choice to do so could harm his credibility and alter his messaging as the state of nearly 40 million enters a critical holiday stretch with virus cases surging and health officials blaming the increase on social gatherings.

Gov. DeSantis’ office pledges no lockdown in Florida as COVID cases spike

https://weartv.com/news/local/gov-desantis-office-pledges-no-lockdown-in-florida-as-covid-cases-spike

EST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Florida added more than 10,000 new COVID cases in a single day over the weekend, a number the state hasn’t seen since the summer surge.

CBS12 News obtained a copy of a recent White House report dated October 25, warning “Florida is in the red zone for cases.”

The report, which starts on page 11 of the attached file, highlights an increase in cases, case positivity, and no decline in week over week hospital admissions, which “suggests the early signals of expanding community spread that should be immediately addressed.”

As other governor’s across the country commit to new measures to slow the spread of the virus, like issuing statewide mask mandates and stay at home orders, Governor DeSantis’ office is pledging to keep Florida open.

Commentary/Analysis

Could COVID-19 Have Escaped from a Lab?

https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2020/09/09/alina-chan-broad-institute-coronavirus/

In January, as she watched the news about a novel virus spreading out of control in China, Alina Chan braced for a shutdown. The molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT started stockpiling medicine and supplies. By the time March rolled around and a quarantine seemed imminent, she’d bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of fillets from her favorite fishmonger in Cambridge and packed them into her freezer. Then she began to ramp down her projects in the lab, isolating her experimental cells from their cultures and freezing them in small tubes.

As prepared as she was for the shutdown, though, she found herself unprepared for the frustration of being frozen out of work. She paced the walls of her tiny apartment feeling bored and useless. Chan has been a puzzle demon since childhood, which was precisely what she loved about her work—the chance to solve fiendishly difficult problems about how viruses operate and how, through gene therapy, they could be repurposed to help cure devastating genetic diseases. Staring out her window at the eerily quiet streets of her Inman Square neighborhood, she groaned at the thought that it could be months before she was at it again. Her mind wandered back to 2003, when she was a teenager growing up in Singapore and the first SARS virus, a close relative of this coronavirus, appeared in Asia. It hadn’t been anything like this. That one had been relatively easy to corral. How had this virus come out of nowhere and shut down the planet? Why was it so different? she asked herself.

A Lack of Transparency Is Undermining Pandemic Policy

https://www.wired.com/story/a-lack-of-transparency-is-undermining-pandemic-policy/

New Yorkers are still puzzling over a new, state-wide rule that bars, restaurants, and gyms must close at 10 pm to stop the spread of Covid. Was this based on some brand-new evidence that the virus mutates like a gremlin, getting worse at night? You wouldn’t know it from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement, which did not cite any research whatsoever that might justify this policy. The announcement did claim, however, that New York uses “more science than any state in the nation.”

I’ve seen this happen again and again since the start of the pandemic: a new, “science-based” Covid-19 measure is prescribed, but the science in support of it is either vague or missing altogether. Just last week, for example, I was working on a story about the latest research into quarantine procedures. The best data to this point suggests that an eight-day stretch of quarantine, combined with a Covid test, provides the same level of protection as the traditional 14-day quarantine. But then I saw New York state’s new policy: Some people who arrived from out of state are allowed to quarantine for just four days. I asked New York’s Department of Health how they’d come to this decision, and they sent me another statement from Cuomo, in which he said only that he’d “worked with global health experts” on the plan. A formal guidance from the state health department gave no research citations, either, but it did find space to boast about New York’s record of “strict adherence to data-driven, evidence-based protocols.”

Research

SARS-CoV-2 is well adapted for humans. What does this mean for re-emergence?

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.01.073262v1

Abstract:

In a side-by-side comparison of evolutionary dynamics between the 2019/2020 SARS-CoV-2 and the 2003 SARS-CoV, we were surprised to find that SARS-CoV-2 resembles SARS-CoV in the late phase of the 2003 epidemic after SARS-CoV had developed several advantageous adaptations for human transmission. Our observations suggest that by the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV. However, no precursors or branches of evolution stemming from a less human-adapted SARS-CoV-2-like virus have been detected. The sudden appearance of a highly infectious SARS-CoV-2 presents a major cause for concern that should motivate stronger international efforts to identify the source and prevent near future re-emergence. Any existing pools of SARS-CoV-2 progenitors would be particularly dangerous if similarly well adapted for human transmission. To look for clues regarding intermediate hosts, we analyze recent key findings relating to how SARS-CoV-2 could have evolved and adapted for human transmission, and examine the environmental samples from the Wuhan Huanan seafood market. Importantly, the market samples are genetically identical to human SARS-CoV-2 isolates and were therefore most likely from human sources. We conclude by describing and advocating for measured and effective approaches implemented in the 2002-2004 SARS outbreaks to identify lingering population(s) of progenitor virus.

Charts and Graphics

Gallup Poll: Americans Less Amenable to Another COVID-19 Lockdown

Schools have been fully open in Florida for months without a surge in cases

International News

Japan faces another coronavirus wave, but this one’s different

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/11/13/national/social-issues/japans-next-novel-coronavirus-wave/

Another wave of COVID-19 appears to be gathering momentum in Japan, but a high number of asymptomatic cases compared to previous outbreaks and transmissions occurring in households and workplaces are forcing officials to reconsider the way they trace cluster infections and reinforcing the need for comprehensive testing.

Authorities recorded 1,660 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday — beating the previous record of 1,597 infections logged on Aug. 7 — following upticks in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Aichi, Hyogo, Ibaraki and Osaka prefectures, among others.

“The central government is working with prefectural governors to prevent an explosive increase in new infections,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday morning.

Suga insisted that, at that point in time, there was no need for the nation to declare a state of emergency, or for select prefectures to be removed from the Go To Travel campaign, an ongoing government program created to incentivize domestic travel.