Masks take the spotlight as new data emerges, showing a large portion of the United States at risk for severe COVID complications, while natural immunity amongst recovered patients remains in question.
New Data On COVID-19 Risk and Recovery as Trump Urges Mask Wearing
Nearly six months after the Trump administration declared COVID-19 a public health emergency, new data has emerged regarding the percentage of Americans at risk for severe COVID-related complications. Meanwhile, researchers continue to explore the efficacy of coronavirus antibodies to ward off reinfection. With the U.S. now reporting 4 million cases, President Trump has come out more strongly in favor of mask-wearing, and the efficacy of the controversial hydroxychloroquine is receiving new press.
40 percent of Americans at Risk for Severe COVID-19 Complications
A brand new report by the CDC says that roughly 40 percent of Americans have at least one underlying health condition that puts them at risk for severe complications due to the novel coronavirus. These chronic conditions include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Early in the pandemic, data emerged showing the COVID-related death rate to be as much as 12 times higher amongst those with chronic health conditions compared to those without. Underlying conditions also significantly increase hospitalization rates.
Such chronic medical conditions where found to be more widespread in rural areas, and according to the study, “Counties with the highest prevalences of any condition were concentrated in Southeastern states, particularly in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia, as well as some counties in Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and northern Michigan.”
Studies Suggest a Moderate Level of COVID-19 Antibody Protection
Early research has also suggested that those who recover from COVID-19 may lose their immunity within a matter of months, casting doubt on the development of herd immunity in the population. In some milder cases, no antibodies were detectable after 50 days. However, a more recent study out of Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York gives a somewhat more optimistic picture. Of nearly 20,000 people with mild or moderate illness, nearly 90% showed an antibody response of at least three months. According to Florian Krammer, a scientist in the study, “It’s reasonable to assume that there will be protection for a time frame of one to three years.”
Nevertheless, scientists are still looking to an eventual vaccine as the best hope for widespread immunity. Adrian Hill, the principal investigator for a promising vaccine study out of the University of Oxford, says, “We know from many other infections, the vaccine response can be much more durable than the natural infection response. I’m pretty confident that in COVID we’re going to see the vaccines are more durable than a natural COVID infection. But again, we don’t know yet. We need to wait and see.”
Trump Promotes Mask-Wearing
As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, President Trump, who did not appear publicly in a mask until July, has recently become more vocal about the importance of mask-wearing. During a recent press conference, Trump spoke of the uptick in cases, saying, “It will likely unfortunately get worse before it gets better,” and voiced his support for masks, saying, “Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact.”
The president also tweeted a picture of himself wearing a mask, calling mask-wearing “patriotic.” While cloth masks for the general public have become easier to find than they were in the early days of the pandemic, supply of hospital-grade masks, such as the N95, remain a great concern for many medical facilities and first responders in light of recent surges. Blueflame Medical is amongst those who have stepped into the fray to procure and distribute these high-demand pieces of PPE.
Meanwhile, the drug hydroxychloroquin, touted by Trump, decried by others, has received new press. Harvey Risch, professor of epidemiology at the Yale school of Public Health, penned a piece advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine to improve health outcomes for COVID-19 patients, saying, “When this inexpensive oral medication is given very early in the course of illness, before the virus has had time to multiply beyond control, it has shown to be highly effective, especially when given in combination with the antibiotics azithromycin or doxycycline and the nutritional supplement zinc.”
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons has also filed new evidence with a federal court in an attempt to prevent FDA and Department of Health and Human Services interference with doctors’ use of the drug, saying, “As confirmed by another recent study of thousands of patients at the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, HCQ is both very safe and highly effective in treating COVID-19, reducing mortality by 50%. Countries with underdeveloped health care systems are using HCQ early and attaining far lower mortality than in the United States, where [HHS and the FDA] impede access to HCQ.”
On the other hand, a study led by researchers out of Brazil and published in The New England Journal of Medicine claims the use of hydroxychloroquine does help COVID patients.
A Serious Situation
What is clear is that the novel coronavirus pandemic remains a serious situation that scientists, doctors, and politicians are trying to understand and deal with in real time. Also evident is the fact that life will not return to normal for a while, making the need for masks and PPE a long-term, critical need.