Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

Shared expectations lead to predictability.

61. Coronavirus-19 Mutations

Q: Have any mutations been detected in coronavirus-19?

A: In 1918, when The Great Influenza Pandemic first emerged, those who contracted the disease were mildly affected. During the 1919 second wave when it returned to the US, the fatality rate was very much higher. Scientists learned that the virus had mutated as it spread around the world. This history has caused today’s scientists to critically look for this possibility with coronavirus-19. A recent U.S. study by Scripps Research has identified one mutation that has occurred. This mutation has resulted in an increase in the number of “spikes” on the surface of each single virus particle called a virion. “The number of functional spikes on the virus is 4 or 5 times greater due to this mutation,” said Hyeryun Choe, a senior researcher. The spikes are the structures that allow the virion to enter host cells to reproduce – causing the person to become infected. It appears that this mutation increases the rate of infection – the ease with which the disease can be passed from one person to another. This research may explain why early outbreaks in some parts of the world did not overwhelm hospitals and health systems as much as others, such as Italy and New York. Concern is growing that this mutation is becoming the dominant agent of infection over time. This study has been presented for peer-review publication and advance notice has been given to encourage further research efforts. Other mutation studies are underway around the world and have already found different mutations. Future studies will focus on increased disease severity, mortality, and resistance to antibodies resulting from other mutations.

62. Latest on vaccine development – China

Q: Everyone is focused on having a vaccine. Are other countries at work on this?

A: Concern has recently been expressed over a recent report in the Philippine newspaper The Manila Times that China is widely testing one of its new vaccines. The article stated that the World Health Organization has identified 17 candidate vaccinations of which more than half involve Chinese companies or organizations. The specific vaccine being reported was developed by CanSino Biologies jointly with the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences. It is claimed to have a “good safety profile” and a potential to prevent the disease caused by coronavirus-19. The current third phase testing has been authorized by China’s Central Military Commission for a period of up to one year and may include all members of the extensive Chinese military before testing is concluded. The report stated, “Its use cannot be expanded without further approvals.” The Chinese Military Defense authorities have refused reporters’ questions for clarification. The newspaper also reported, “CanSino added that it cannot guarantee the vaccine will ultimately be commercialized.”

All of this has led to widespread speculation that China’s strategy is to increase its military’s immunity from the disease without allowing the vaccine to be used by other country’s military leaders. It also raises the economic benefit to China if it can sell to others at a monopoly-level expanded price. The military and economic impact on international relations could be tremendous.

63. Fraud alert: scam contact tracing

Q: I received a call telling me I was in contact with someone who tested positive. I was asked to state my Medicare Number to verify that I was the person contacted. Is this appropriate?

A: A recent warning was released jointly by the US Department of Justice the US Health and Human Services and the US Trade Commission. “COVID-19 fraud is rapidly expanding. Operating contact tracing schemes is just one method that criminals use to target unsuspecting patients nationwide, attempting to steal their personal information and commit healthcare fraud,” said HHS Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary Cantrell, Asking for Medicare or Social Security Numbers is not part of legitimate contact tracing.

64. Mitigation processes in North Central Connecticut

Q. Is there a relationship between federal mitigation efforts and local officials?

A. In Connecticut, planning for disaster and emergencies since 2007 has been facilitated by five designated regions. Unlike most other states, Connecticut has no county government, and these five regions were created to be the focus for coordinating local programs and resources under the state-level program. The north-central region is called the Capitol Region Emergency Planning Council (CREPC). This region is made up of 41 towns centered around Hartford. The current pandemic is considered a health emergency, and each level of government (local, regional, state, and federal) have emergency management sections organized to lead specific responses. Thus, within the region in which Manchester, Vernon, Ellington, Hartford, and 37 other towns belong, the health and medical section has identified the local needs for personal protective equipment (PPE).” This includes face masks, gloves and gowns. The needs of hospitals, nursing homes, local health departments, and ambulance providers in the 41 towns and cities were included. This information is then sent to the state level Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS). The state then consolidates the requests for all five regions and gives it to the national-level FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). This is an elaborate, but familiar system for those who frequently use it to manage disasters.

In a recent report from the north-central Connecticut emergency planning group (CREPC), the following information was provided: “The regional distribution center in West Hartford was opened on March 25 and operates every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The site continues to receive, stage, and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) as it becomes available.” Trained volunteers and staff members from various towns and organizations organize the logistics of sorting and loading allocated supplies onto vehicles sent by the different local groups requesting these items. “Last week… we distributed 2.7 million pieces of PPE to first responder (fire, police, and EMS) agencies within the 41 communities, 99 long term care and assisted living (nursing home) facilities, and 37 home care and hospice agencies.” (In addition,) to date there have been 1.07 million pieces of PPE distributed to the 14 local public health agencies in (North Central Connecticut) Region 3.”

It is significant to note that many local people, groups, and agencies are effectively at work in Connecticut positively contributing to successful mitigation efforts during this pandemic.

65. “and one more thing…”

Q: What are some of the other coronavirus-19 bits of information people are talking about?

A: First, Crisis Standard of Care: When hospital capacity cannot meet the increasing demands of people in need, the usual standard of care cannot be provided.

  • In Texas, it was reported last week that ambulances bringing in COVID, as well as trauma, cardiac and other patients, are being held in the parking lot outside the emergency department entrance before the crew can bring the patient inside to be seen by a physician. This wait sometimes takes more than an hour, delaying medical care as well as tying up the ambulance from being available for other calls. This, with an increasing number of EMTs and paramedics becoming infected reduces the EMS responder’s ability to respond to other calls and the level of pre-hospital care available to a community.
  • In other jurisdictions, it is reported that ambulance crews responding to patients who are in cardiac arrest are directed not to perform CPR. Instead, they are to make themselves available for other calls. As a result, it will be up to the family or others calling 911 to arrange for the removal of the body.

Secondly, Waiver of liability at colleges: Heidi Li Feildman, a law professor at Georgetown University, published a column in the Los Angeles Times (reprinted in the July 2 edition of the local Journal Inquirer). She strongly urges readers to NOT to sign any COVID-19 waiver of liability for students entering college. From the college’s viewpoint, such waivers protect against possibly expensive judgments that could threaten the future of the institution. But Heidi points out that “the technical term for this sort of defense is “primary assumption of risk.” This prevents lawsuits from even being considered when the college fails to conform to CDC and other standards of prevention. This in turn may reduce the vigilance of college officials to strictly enforce appropriate standards. Heidi concludes, “under no circumstances should anyone sign a waiver for harm inflicted by COVID-19 caused by their college’s policies.” It could be said the same advice should apply to waivers requested by any group or agency providing a service to the consumer.