EXCERPT: On 8 December, during a regular Tuesday meeting about the spread of the pandemic coronavirus in the United Kingdom, scientists and public health experts saw a diagram that made them sit up straight. Kent, in southeastern England, was experiencing a surge in cases, and a phylogenetic tree showing viral sequences from the county looked very strange, says Nick Loman, a microbial genomicist at the University of Birmingham. Not only were half the cases caused by one specific variant of SARS-CoV-2, but that variant was sitting on a branch of the tree that literally stuck out from the rest of the data. “I’ve not seen a part of the tree that looks like this before,” Loman says.
Less than 2 weeks later, that variant is causing mayhem in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Yesterday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stricter lockdown measures, saying the strain, which goes by the name B.1.1.7, appears to be better at spreading between people. The news led many Londoners to leave the city today, before the new rules take effect, causing overcrowded railway stations. The Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy announced they were temporarily halting passenger flights from the United Kingdom. The Eurostar train between Brussels and London will stop running tonight at midnight, for at least 24 hours.
EXCERPT: If you become infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, you might wish there was a fast way to check your Neanderthal ancestry. A small but significant number of people have an ancient gene variant from the extinct hominin that may double, or even quadruple, their risk of serious complications from COVID-19.
The finding, posted last week as a preprint on bioRxiv, shines a light on an enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4). Scientists already know the protein allows another coronavirus, which causes Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS), to bind to and enter human cells. The new analysis, of DPP4 gene variants among COVID-19 patients, suggests the enzyme also provides SARS-CoV-2 with a second door into our cells, along with its usual infection route via the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor on cell surfaces.
EXCERPT: People who recover from COVID-19 sometimes later test positive for SARS-CoV-2, suggesting their immune systems could not ward off a second attack by the coronavirus or that they have a lingering infection. A study now hints at a different explanation in which the virus hides in an unexpected place. The work, only reported in a preprint, suggests the pandemic pathogen takes a page from HIV and other retroviruses and integrates its genetic code—but, importantly, just parts of it—into people’s chromosomes. The phenomenon, if true and frequent, could have profound implications that range from false signals of active infection to misleading results from COVID-19 treatment studies.
The current study only showed this integration in a lab dish, although it also cites published sequence data from humans infected with SARS-CoV-2 that suggest it has happened. The authors emphasize that their results don’t imply that SARS-CoV-2 establishes permanent genetic residence in human cells to keep pumping out new copies, as HIV does.
Here’s a sample illustration of how quickly and logarithmically COVID-19 can spread. It is now clear that the infection of about 100 people at a conference in Boston resulted in almost 300,000 cases globally:
It likely took just one of the 175 people gathered in February at a Biogen conference at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel to ignite a COVID-19 wildfire. Within a week, attendees began falling ill. More than 99 would ultimately test positive. By then, many of them had hopped aboard planes to head home or even attend other conferences. And the spread only exploded from there.
Between 205,000 and 300,000 COVID-19 cases across the nation and around the world can likely be traced back to the two-day Boston conference, according to Jacob Lemieux, the lead author of a new study published Thursday in the journal Science. The study estimates some 71,540 of the cases with a genetic link to the Biogen conference were discovered in Florida, more than 1,000 miles from the waterfront lobby and banquet rooms in Boston that served as the perfect incubator for an eager virus to multiply.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided opportunities for rumors, misinformation and disinformation to find fertile fields for spreading. At the same time, the lack of definitive, well-documented information and the shifting understand of the nature of the ailment and its rate of infection or death rate, who and how it attacks, have all combined to make people fearful and confused.
Pacifica will be providing the most up-to-date an accurate information we can find, including debates and corrections of previous erroneous ideas and misconceptions. We will also cover serious critiques of flaws in the practice of medicine and in the nature of western medicine, embedded as it is in the context of private enterprise, the insurance industry and Big Pharma. Medical racism has been in the spotlight because of the severe racial disparities in testing, treatment and deaths related to COVID-19.
The NY Times recently reported on possible dental consequences of COVID, perhaps due to the impact of inflammation on the gums, or of damage to blood vessels that serve the teeth, gums and nerves: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/26/health/covid-teeth-falling-out.html
“It’s extremely rare that teeth will literally fall out of their sockets,” said Dr. David Okano, a periodontist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
But existing dental problems may worsen as a result of Covid-19, he added, especially as patients recover from the acute infections and contend with its long-term effects.
And some experts say that doctors and dentists need to be open to such possibilities, especially because more than 47 percent of adults 30 years or older have some form of periodontal disease, including infections and inflammation of the gums and bone that surround teeth, according to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are now beginning to examine some of the bewildering and sometimes disabling symptoms that patients are suffering months after they’ve recovered from Covid,” including these accounts of dental issues and teeth loss, said Dr. William W. Li, president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a nonprofit that studies the health and disease of blood vessels.
Here’s reporting from the Washington Post about how the US is lagging many countries, including the UK, New Zealand and Iceland, in doing genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Such sequencing allows scientists to develop a much clearer of where and how it is spreading and to recommend policies and practices that will slow or stop the spread.
Nearly 10 months after infections began surfacing in the United States, the country has sequenced just 0.4 percent of its more than 7 million coronavirus cases — a proportion surpassed by 40 other countries. By contrast, the U.K., which has conducted genetic analysis for roughly 12 percent of its outbreak, ranks 6th. Even greater percentages of cases have been sequenced in Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand and Iceland.
While U.K. scientists, backed by their government, began work early to create a centralized tracking system that could benefit researchers around the country, the U.S. effort has remained more diffuse and disorganized, conducted largely by an ad hoc group of scientists scattered across the country. They often have found themselves hamstrung by a fragmented health care system, a fractured pandemic response, lack of national coordination and a shortage of federal dollars.
Interview with Michael Osterholm, formerly of the CDC, a renowned and respected epidemiologist
EXCERPT: MO: First of all, the Sweden model no longer exists. It was a myth to begin with. And it now is even being heavily criticized within Sweden to the point where there’s actually a criminal investigation going on about what did or didn’t happen in their long-term care. Sweden has one of the highest death rates in the world in terms of number of people that have died per population. They have not advanced any meaningful way towards a herd immunity level [60-70% having been infected–PCTF] and are not much higher than the United States is right now. And they recognize in retrospect that maybe they didn’t accomplish all that they thought they were going to.
The adjoining countries of Denmark, Finland, and Norway – who did go into more extensive lockdown activities — have kept their death rates significantly lower than Sweden has. And they’re bringing back the economy, very similar to Sweden is doing. So, I think that one of the problems we have is everybody seems to have a magic answer for what’s going on. And my response is that it might be a magic answer today, but let’s wait a week and see what happens. And that has happened time and time again. We’ve heard about how China was successful in tamping down that initial outbreak in Wuhan and throughout Hubei. But now we see they’re having a resurgence of infection with large parts of Wuhan now being tested again and other major outbreaks in China. So everyone may have a perfect solution today, but following my leaky bucket concept it may not be that way tomorrow at all.
DB: So we should be continuing to lockdown and wear masks and proceed with caution.
MO: I think one of the things we have to understand is we can’t just lockdown. I look at this with two guardrails. On one side is a guardrail where we are locked down for 18 months to try to get us all to a vaccine without anyone having to get infected or die. We will destroy not just the economy but society as we know that if we try to do that. The other guardrail is to just let it go and see what happens. We will see the kinds of deaths we just talked about and we will see healthcare systems that will literally implode. And not just for COVID-19 care, but for heart attack, stroke, and all other causes of disease in our communities. That’s not acceptable.
And so we’ve got to thread the rope through the needle in the middle. The very question you asked me about, what do we recommend to our older citizens of this country — our parents, our grandparents — what do we tell them? That’s the part that we haven’t done a good job of addressing. We have to learn not only how to die with this virus, which tragically we’ve had to do, but we also have to learn how to live with it.
Those are the kinds of discussions we need to have now. If we’re not going to lock up and we’re not going to open up willy-nilly, then what is the approach? And what we’ve been trying to do is facilitate those very discussions so that people can make hard choices. What are the things that we can do to change society that will help us maintain society to the best we know but at the same time also reduce transmission? That’s a key activity right now that public health needs to be playing a very important role in.
Here’s an example of the imperative need for transparent, replicable studies as the basis for any decision making or resource allocation in the effort to prevent and treat COVID-19 infections:
Unreliable data: how doubt snowballed over Covid-19 drug research that swept the world
So the same journal offering unverified clinical experience favoring one anti-parasite drug to treat COVID-19 was the sourve for the supposedly convincing proof that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, promoted by Trump, is useless against COVID, Unfortunately both findings now seem suspect, underlining the need for serious, peer-reviewed, falsifiable research that other independent researchers can attempt to replicate. Otherwise, we are dealing with speculation, or even self-serving fabrication, and people trying to dress up something else with the aura and prestige of science and medicine.
It appears that some people can become chronically ill with COVID, for a length of time that is not yet clear. There are people who became symptomatic in March who are still suffering waves of debilitating symptoms — yet not bad enough or progressing to require hospitalization — now in June, with no end in sight. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/06/covid-19-coronavirus-longterm-symptoms-months/612679/
We may print here, or interview on the air, people with diametrically opposed views about many issues that are still open to debate and clarification. A case is point is the dispute between journalist Sam Husseini and Black Agenda Report analysts K. J. Noh and Claudia Chaufan over whether the SARS-CoV2 virus originated in a laboratory or in nature:
Why Is Sam Husseini Channeling Neo-Con Conspiracy Theories on COVID-19?
The authors charge a progressive journalist with acting as a “shill” for neocon propaganda and disinformation on China. (Husseini’s article is also published, below.)
“Husseini is mistaken–or deeply dishonest–in suggesting that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was doing biowarfare research.”
Journalist Sam Husseini was once known for challenging the Neocon warmongers on the Iraq War in a former lifetime. He now seems to have joined them, becoming a promoter of anti-China neo-con conspiracy theories on the origins of Covid-19.
Husseini recently wrote a series of articles that recycle a large amount of right wing disinformation–alt-right fecal matter–and smeared them inside a juicy little hamburger of truth: the fact that the US engages in dangerous biowarfare research.
Husseini’s article is reprinted on the Black Agenda Report website linked to above, but here’s the link to Husseinin’s own blog:
The Long History of Accidental Laboratory Releases of Potential Pandemic Pathogens
Is Being Ignored In the COVID-19 Media Coverage
by Sam Husseini
EXCERPT: Many people are dismissing the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic might have come from a lab. It is possible that they are unaware of the frequency of biohazards escaping from laboratories.
On Feb. 11, I asked Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s Principal Deputy Director, at the National Press Club if it were a “complete coincidence ” that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus happened in Wuhan, a center of China’s declared biowarfare/biodefence capacity. I got an answer that was remarkably evasive. She wouldn’t answer my followup question about whether the claimed “zoonotic origin” precluded the outbreak from being caused by pathogens from nature that then could be accidentally leaked from the labs.
But neither are the facts always being provided to the public. A search on “Democracy Now” shows that the first time the program mentioned “Wuhan” and “lab ” or “laboratory ” was on April 6 — to credit “the Wuhan lab that identified the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.” Mainstream outlets at least reported the existence of the lab to their audiences in a somewhat timely manner, even if they distorted the information.
EXCERPT: A small community of volunteers, currently led by The Atlantic staff writer Alexis Madrigal, launched The COVID Tracking Project in an effort to aggregate and make sense of numerous and confusing data sources. It then partnered with the Antiracist Center to found The COVID Racial Data Tracker. “This outbreak will not affect everyone equally,” says Madrigal. “It is moving through [US] institutional structures and socioeconomic realities. The COVID Racial Data Tracker is really to track racism, not to track race.”
Indeed, predominately Black counties have experienced three times the infection rate and six times the deaths as predominately White counties during the virus’s initial wave, which hit big cities hard. In L.A., for example, Latinx people made up 44% of the population, but 65% of the deaths.
Many states are not reporting infections among Native Americans—whose history already includes being ravaged by infections, such as smallpox and tuberculosis, carried by Europeans. But what we do know looks grim. Though Native Americans make up just 6% of Arizona’s population, they account for 16% of the state’s deaths. In New Mexico, they comprise 11% of the population, but 31% of deaths.
[But though communities of color are facing greater impact, testing resources have gone elsewhere.] In mid-April, an analysis by the New York Post found that 3.8 out of every 100 residents of Staten Island had been tested, as compared to only 2.9 per 100 in the Bronx and 2.5 per 100 in Queens. Staten Island is 75% white; the Bronx and Queens consist primarily of people of color. 22 of the 30 ZIP codes where the greatest numbers of COVID tests were conducted were either Whiter or wealthier than the city as a whole.
Data in depth here: https://covidtracking.com/race