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Allen Family Foundation donates to COVID-19 causes

WA Food Fund at work
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation donated $1 million to the WA Food Fund, a statewide food relief program. (WA Food Fund / Philanthropy Northwest Photo)

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced two contributions to support people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington state, adding up to $2.2 million.

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A call for earlier testing and treatment for COVID-19

Home testing
The Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network relies on at-home sample collection from a wide spectrum of Seattle-area residents. (Photo via SCAN / Seattle-King County Public Health)

Scientists from Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington say the search for COVID-19 treatments should widen its focus from hospitalized patients to people who are just starting to experience symptoms.

They’re calling for a shift in strategy in an article published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases. “A golden opportunity to intervene early is being missed,” they write.

There’s already been some success in the hunt for drugs that can treat COVID-19. Preliminary results suggest that an experimental antiviral drug called remdesivir can reduce the recovery time for hospitalized patients, while a low-cost steroid known as dexamethasone can reduce the death rate among patients who experience respiratory distress.

But the researchers from the Seattle area, which was ground zero for America’s coronavirus outbreak, say the hunt should be expanded beyond hospitals.

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Low-cost steroid could reduce COVID-19 death rate

A study involving thousands of COVID-19 patients in Britain suggests that a low-cost steroid drug known as dexamethasone could significantly reduce the death rate for those sick enough to require respiratory support.

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COVID-19 projections show higher death tolls ahead

Coronavirus models
This chart shows the daily U.S. death toll due to COVID-19 as a solid red line on the left, with a dotted line that traces the seven-day rolling average. To the right, the gray area shows the range of uncertainty in today’s projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, with a dashed trend line that stabilizes and then rises sharply. The pink area shows the range of uncertainty for Youyang Gu’s C19Pro projection, with a dotted trend line that gradually rises and then falls. (IHME / COVID19-Projections.com Graphics)

The latest projections for the course of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. suggest that there’s going to be an upswing in the daily death toll, but they differ in how that upswing will develop.

If you go by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose computer models have been closely watched since the early days of the pandemic, the trend appears likely to stabilize at somewhere between 650 and 750 COVID-related deaths per day nationwide through the start of September. Then the model calls for a steady rise to more than 1,400 daily deaths by October.

The institute’s best guess is that the cumulative U.S. death toll will exceed 200,000 on Oct. 1. The current U.S. death toll, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus dashboard, is just over 116,000.

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FDA ends authorization to use hydroxychloroquine

Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin
Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are the focus of clinical trials. (UW Medicine Photo)

The Food and Drug Administration today revoked its emergency authorization for two related antimalarial drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, to be used for treating COVID-19.

Citing emerging scientific data, the FDA said that the drugs were “unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19” and that the potential benefits don’t outweigh the known risks, including the incidence of serious cardiac events. For those reasons, the legal criteria for issuing an emergency use authorization “are no longer met,” the FDA said.

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Protests haven’t driven up COVID-19 cases … yet

Protest march
Thousands of protesters take part in a “March of Silence” in Seattle on Friday afternoon, the vast majority wearing masks. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says it’s seeing no evidence so far that protesters are testing positive for COVID-19 at higher rates than normal after attending protests.

In an online update, mayoral spokesperson Kamaria Hightower wrote that “results are in from UW Medicine, and out of 3,000 tests, fewer than 1% were positive.”

Hightower provided further detail in a follow-up email to GeekWire. “For the free citywide testing results, less than 1% have returned positive,” she wrote. “Individuals are not required to share their history of attending demonstrations; however, a field on the appointment software form does ask your reason for attending, and some have cited their reasoning as having attended a protest.”

For the past two weeks, demonstrators have been gathering in Seattle daily to protest police brutality in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Thousands turned out today for a “March of Silence” from Seattle’s Central District to the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

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How genomics can revolutionize public health

Coronavirus evolutionary tree
A phylogenetic tree tracks the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as it spread throughout the United States. An orange dot at lower left indicates WA-1, the first confirmed case in the U.S., which was detected in Washington state. (Nextstrain / GISAID Graphic)

From the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, genetic sleuths have been at the forefront in the global effort to monitor SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. By comparing the molecular fingerprints of different virus samples collected in Washington state, they were able to track down the first signs of community spread in the U.S.

In a paper published today by Nature Medicine, some of the pioneers of genomic epidemiology have laid out a 10-point plan for creating a well-supported scientific ecosystem — not only to fight COVID-19, but to head off future pandemics as well.

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Adaptive joins Microsoft to track virus-fighting cells

Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies and Microsoft have launched an open-access database called ImmuneCODE to catalog the many ways in which our immune systems fight off a coronavirus infection.

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SCAN resumes COVID-19 tests after resolving snag

Test in lab
The Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network says that it’s resuming sample collection after resolving a regulatory snag. (Public Health – Seattle & King County via Twitter)

The Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network today resumed its at-home COVID-19 testing campaign, nearly a month after the program was suspended due to regulatory snags.

Public Health – Seattle & King County announced that the research study could go forward with the approval of an institutional review board and oversight by the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

“SCAN continues to provide an important and unique window into the COVID-19 outbreak across King County, and in its next phase will also help us expand access to testing for at-risk groups,” Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said in a blog posting. “This data can inform public health decisions in the weeks and months to come as King County takes steps to increase activities and get back to work.”

Winning the review board’s approval cleared up an issue that led SCAN’s organizers to put the project on pause on May 12.

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Virus forecasts converge, but will there be a surge?

COVID-19 deaths
This chart shows the daily COVID-19 death count in the U.S. as a dark red line, with the rolling average as a dotted line, up to the present. Looking ahead, the projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation calls for a steady decline (light red dotted line), while the projection from data scientist Youyang Gu calls for a slight increase in daily deaths (dark red dotted line). Both projections see the rate largely stabilizing in August. IHME’s model calls for a plateau at about 550 deaths per day, while Youyang Gu’s model builds to a peak of more than 900 daily deaths. (IHME / COVID19-projections. com)

Dueling projections for the course of the COVID-19 pandemic are converging on a narrower range of estimates for this summer, as expected, but the longer-term outlook doesn’t call for coronavirus infections to fade away quickly.

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