Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — July 14, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 316. Drug research advances to hasten the development of vaccines for the future.

         Q:  How can research be better prepared with more rapid vaccine development?

         A:   David Ho, M.D, was named as Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1996.  But that’s not why he’s now so important to all researchers studying the COVID-19 pandemic.  This world-famous virologist is the director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University. For many years, he has studied viral mutations.  His program examines many different disease-causing viruses, and places them under a variety of stresses, encouraging them to mutate.  As they replicate in the laboratory, he determines their attributes and identifies their genetic makeup.  It is through this process that the genetic codes of COVID-19 variants can be identified and used to create the mRNA vaccine formulations – even before these mutations show up in nature.   Dr. Ho’s work has led to an early ability to produce an even more effective vaccine for the highly infectious and more lethal Delta variation now spreading rapidly worldwide.

317. CDC has released new guidance for schools with an emphasis on full reopening.

         Q: Many parents want to let their kids go to school in September without wearing masks.  What does the CDC recommend?

         A: The CDC updated its guidance on school reopening this fall on July 9th.  Considering the delay and incomplete grade-level education most children have received over the last year and a half, The CDC recommends that full in-person classes be held in all schools this coming fall.  This recommendation is even if all the multiple mitigation steps have not yet been taken.  Each local community’s level of disease should be used as a guide.  For staff, teachers, and older students who have been vaccinated, there is no continuing recommendation that they wear masks.  (All unvaccinated personnel, including all students under age 12, are expected to continue to wear masks.)  This CDC ruling is seen favorably by those who are demanding that all children, regardless of age, should not have to wear masks in school.  For many parents, however, there is sharp criticism for the CDC leaving such a wide latitude for decision-making based on “local conditions.”  Throughout all this is the knowledge that the Delta variant is rapidly expanding.  The number of previously vaccinated people becoming infected with this variant is an emerging problem.  Also, few, if any, students under the age of 12 will be vaccinated when school opens.  These serve as risks that parents and school officials will be facing in just over two months.

318. A “bump” maybe not be a “surge” ahead in the expansion of COVID-19 cases.

         Q:  With such a high number of unvaccinated people still with us, aren’t we getting ready for another surge of cases?

         A:  Caroline Mimbs Nyce, senior associate editor of The Atlantic published an article that identified three factors at play at the present time:

  • COVID-19 in the U.S. is becoming more transmissible as the Delta variant expands;
  • Vaccinations are stalling; and
  • People are letting their guard down.

“Some kind of ‘bump’ is almost inevitable,” she writes.  A colleague indicated we should look to the southern states to see if there are prolonged or profound spikes of new cases, as these states have a higher percentage of unvaccinated people.

319. Data outlines how fast and how deeply the Delta variant is spreading.

         Q:  Is the Delta variant spreading throughout the U.S.?

         A:  In an online article published by National Geographic on July 10, the following was reported.  “There is a worrying uptick in cases as the Delta variant spreads swiftly across the country.  The most concerning trend is that hospitalizations and cases are rising in areas with low vaccinations.”   Delta is the most common variant responsible for more than 50 percent of new cases.  In the week ending June 19, Delta accounted for only 26% of the cases.  In regions of the Midwest and Mountain States, the Delta Variant was the cause of more than 80% of new cases.  Looking at the county level, of the roughly 170 counties with the highest case rates, less than 40% of the residents were vaccinated.  While all current vaccines are very effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, and death, data from the past few months suggest that 99.5% of the people who died in the U.S. were not vaccinated.

320. Genetics may play a role in severe cases of COVID-10

         Q:  Does a person’s genetic makeup affect the severity of a COVID-19 infection?

         A:  It is well known that if a person has a chronic disease or condition such as diabetes or obesity, this can lead to a more serious outcome from COVID-19.  In an international study published last Thursday in the Journal Nature, certain genetic factors also were found to increase the chance that someone infected with coronavirus-19 will end up with a more serious disease.  The study has more than 3,300 coauthors and was partly led by researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University.