The Morning: Two virus stories- A Very Mixed Picture


There are two very different coronavirus stories happening now.


The first story is grim: Worldwide, the virus is spreading more rapidly than at any other point. The U.S. and Europe are both setting records for new confirmed cases, while South America, North Africa, India and other regions are coping with serious outbreaks.


The spread is bad enough that harsh measures — like again shutting some restaurants or banning indoor gatherings — may be necessary to get it under control. Much of Europe has taken such steps in recent weeks.


President Trump has opposed them.


But President-elect Joe Biden, in appointing a 13-member virus task force yesterday, emphasized that he would take a radically different approach and base his policy on scientists’ advice.


“These are some of the smartest people in infectious diseases."

my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter, said about the task force’s members.


Biden, who has worn a mask in public for months, may also be able to increase mask-wearing by delivering a more consistent message about it than Trump has, Apoorva added.


Yesterday, Biden implored Americans to wear masks, saying:

“Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor.”

No matter what, though, much of the world will probably be coping with severe outbreaks — and thousands more deaths each day — for months to come.


The second story is much more encouraging. It’s the rapid progress that medical researchers are making on both potential vaccines and treatments that can ameliorate the virus’s worst symptoms.


Pfizer announced yesterday that early data showed its vaccine prevented Covid-19 in more than 90 percent of trial volunteers. Other companies, including Moderna and Novavax have also reported encouraging news about their vaccines. (The Times’s Carl Zimmer and Katie Thomas answer some common vaccine questions here.)


Even before any vaccine becomes widely available, virus treatment is already improving, thanks to earlier diagnoses and drugs like dexamethasone and remdesivir. The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization yesterday to an Eli Lilly treatment that doctors recently gave to Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor.


The improving quality of treatments is evident in the death rate: Only about 1.5 percent of diagnosed cases have been fatal in recent weeks, compared with 1.7 percent in late July and early August, and 7 percent during the virus’s initial surge in the early spring.


As these charts show, U.S. deaths have stayed in a narrow range — albeit at a terribly high level — even though cases have been surging since September:

The full picture, via Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s public health school: “We all need to keep two seemingly contradictory facts in mind: 1. We are entering the hardest days of the pandemic. The next two months will see a lot of infections and deaths; 2. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Today, that light got a bit brighter.”


Source: New York Times

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