COVID-19 News Briefs for Wednesday, May 20, 2020

May 20, 2020

 The South Korean Center for Disease Control said that patients who retested positive after recovering from Covid-19 were no longer infectious — the recovered patients retested positive because the test, known as a diagnostic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, falsely identified dead viral matter as active Covid-19 infection. The Korean CDC concluded that coronavirus survivors therefore do not need to be quarantined for 2 weeks after hospital release as they are not infectious after recovery. It is unclear whether the country and PCR test manufacturers are working to fix this testing flaw, however, these finds could represent an important development in determining survivor immunity, which the US CDC says is still not yet understood

 French authorities have shut some schools just a week after many students returned because 70 new coronavirus cases were detected in classrooms. Also, in Iran, weeks after easing restrictions to help the economy, cases are spiking in 8 provinces — health experts said the resurgence was due to reopening before cases were consistently falling and before widespread testing and contact tracing was established

 Many companies, especially small businesses, have struggled to get coronavirus relief loans, and in a high-profile hearing yesterday, several senators criticized the Federal Reserve Chair Powell and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, for the execution of the stimulus program. In addition, there is growing concern with the design of the program. In much of the rest of the world, governments have temporarily paid the salaries of workers in order to prevent millions of layoffs. The US has instead created a complicated mix of different stimulus policies, including loans to businesses and checks to individuals, and has had a much sharper rise in unemployment that other countries. Many jobless Americans have also lost their health insurance in the midst of a medical pandemic. The House and Senate may be changing its approach and working on legislation which includes a new paycheck subsidy program, similar to other countries. At the hearing, Secretary Mnuchin expressed confidence that the economy will rebound late this year, while Fed Chair Powell was less certain, saying a true recovery won’t occur until Americans believe it is safe to dine out, shop, and travel

 New research has bolstered the hypothesis that summer’s heat, humidity, abundant sunshine, and opportunities for people to get outside should combine to inhibit — though certainly not halt — the spread of coronavirus. Swimming in a chlorinated pool should be safe if people maintain a 6-foot distance and face coverings should be worn, except while in the water. It was emphasized that people still can spread the virus in warm climates if they do not take precautions

 Pfizer, which is partnering with a German pharmaceutical company to develop a coronavirus vaccine, says it should have initial analysis from the clinical trial in June. The company is in stage 1 of testing the potential vaccine on 360 volunteers and stage 2 will add 8,000 volunteers. Pfizer says this vaccine is the first of its kind — produced without any actual biological material from the virus, and instead using a manufactured protein that tells your body to create antibodies to fight off the virus. A typical vaccine takes 10-15 years to take to market, however, Pfizer is hoping to roll one out by the end of the year and if the clinical trial is successful, would handle manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine. In anticipation, they are investing to allow the production of millions of doses in 2020 and hundreds of millions in 2021. Several other companies are also working to develop and test coronavirus vaccines

 The Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, now has the highest Covid-19 per capita infection rate in the US, surpassing even New York and New Jersey. It is also a sign of the disproportionate impact on minority communities — with a population of 173,667 and reported coronavirus cases of 4,002, the Native American territory has 2,304 cases per 100,000 people. New York has a rate of 1,806 cases per 100,000

 The US Justice Department sent a letter warning that California could be violating religious freedoms in its plan to reopen the state after the coronavirus stay-at-home order. They questioned why religious work was not considered essential while other sectors, including the entertainment and e-commerce industries, were allowed to continue operating. Federal officials also criticized the reopening plan for allowing restaurants, shopping malls, offices and manufacturing facilities to open under Phase 2 while religious institutions could not reopen for in-person services until Phase 3, which would occur later

 Assaults on workers at retail stores who are trying to enforce government mandates to wear a face covering have prompted some chains to be more lenient with patrons who flout the rules, or resort to calling law enforcement to handle. Retail chains are being forced to weigh public health requirements against the risk of putting their workers in harm’s way

 California’s coronavirus disaster relief website was flooded, causing it to crash on Monday, the first day undocumented workers could apply for a 1-time payment of $500 per individual or $1,000 per household if impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. $75 million was appropriated to assist a projected 150,000 workers who must show they have endured hardship due to the crisis

 Preliminary USC serology findings reported that nearly 5% of LA County residents might already have had coronavirus. The first large-scale study tracking the spread of Covid-19 found that 4.1% of adults have antibodies to the virus in their blood, an indication of past exposure. This translates to roughly 221,000-442,000 people, and the county had reported fewer than 8,000 at that time. The findings also suggest the fatality rate is much lower. But even though the virus may be more widespread, the infection rate still falls far short of herd immunity that, absent a vaccine, would be key to go back to normal life. Stanford researchers also found that the coronavirus appears to have circulated much more widely in Santa Clara County than previously thought

 There are growing signs that the coronavirus outbreak is ebbing in California, even as the death toll climbs to 3,400 and remains at an average of 500 per week. The number of newly identified Covid-19 cases across the state has declined last week from the previous week — notable given the amount of increased testing. And hospitalization has dropped more than 15% from the peak 6 weeks ago. However, health officials worry about a resurgence of disease in the fall and warn that Covid-19 may be with us until a widely available vaccine is developed

 The Los Angeles Surge Hospital, opened in April on the grounds of the shuttered St. Vincent Medical Center to treat coronavirus patients, will close in June after seeing relatively few patients — it was set up to handle 270 patients a day, but never had more than 25 at a time. The state had signed a $16 million lease for the site. Seton Medical Center in Central California, which was used to exclusively treat Covid-19 patients, is also ending its agreement with the state

 The LA County Board of Supervisors announced that the goal is to more fully reopen the economy by July 4, but said that it will be more difficult here than in other parts of the state less hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak. While deaths continue to be a major problem, officials said other measurements such as hospitalizations have been going down. The mission is to safely reopen retail businesses, restaurants, and malls but they noted that it will rely on data and science. Officials have also been aware of the devastating economic toll the stay-at-home orders are taking with more than 1 million unemployment claims and most layoffs among lower-income jobs, with the restaurant industry seeing 80% of jobs lost

 LA County reported 1,324 new cases and 57 deaths in the last 24 hours — totals are 40,857 cases and 1,970 deaths. City Breakouts (cases/deaths): City of LA 19,505/958; Long Beach 1,362/NA; Carson 359/20; El Segundo 32/0; Gardena 212/21; Hawthorne 329/9; Hermosa Beach 28/2; Inglewood 503/50; Lawndale 93/3; Lomita 46/6; Manhattan Beach 74/2; PV Estates 42/0; Rancho PV 81/10; Redondo Beach 128/7; Rolling Hills 2/0; Rolling Hills Estates 13/0; Torrance 345/43

Compiled by Charlene Nishimura

Media Sources: Los Angeles Times; New York Times; Washington Post; Wall Street Journal; Forbes Magazine; Business Insider; USA Today; CBS News; CNN; KTLA; OZY; ABC World News Tonight; Spectrum News 1; The; WebMD; AP, Politico, Newsweek, daily televised briefings from the White House, Governor Newsom, LA County Health Department, Mayor Garcetti; City of Torrance press releases; Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce press releases