COVID-19 Update: Reopening vs Risk, First Antibody Quantity Tests

Victoria Giardina

August 03, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Here are the coronavirus stories Medscape's editors around the globe think you need to know about today:

Reopening vs Risk

How to weigh the urgency to reopen from quarantine with potential health risks is still a matter of heated debate. While health is a high priority for some, bioethicist Art Caplan, PhD, of NYU's Division of Medical Ethics, points out that freedom and getting people back to work are also important.

"We have to be more sensible and compromising," he said in a Medscape commentary. "That's what ethics is all about. You have two goods — health and liberty — and then you have to find a balance between them not by being political about it but by being sensible about it."

FDA Approves First Antibody Quantity Tests

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first two COVID-19 serology tests that generate an estimated quantity of antibodies present in a person's blood.

Catherine Troisi, PhD, infectious disease epidemiologist with UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, told Medscape Medical News that the tests will add information because the previous antibody tests, licensed under an emergency use authorization, have simply indicated whether a person has the antibodies or not, not how many they have.

CDC New Pandemic Prediction

In its latest forecast, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that COVID-19 deaths could increase to 11,000 weekly by late August.

The forecast includes predictions from 32 groups about US deaths in coming weeks. During the week of August 16-22, deaths could increase to 5000 to 11,000 new deaths. Overall, the total death count for the US could reach 168,000 to 182,000 deaths by August 22.

How Many COVID-19 Hospitalizations?

In mid-July, the Trump administration instructed hospitals to change the way they reported data on their coronavirus patients, promising the new approach would provide better, more up-to-the-minute information about the virus' toll and allow resources and supplies to be quickly dispatched across the country.

Instead, the move has created widespread confusion, leaving some states in the dark about their hospitals' remaining bed and intensive care capacity and, at least temporarily, removing this information from public view. As a result, it has been unclear how many people are in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 at a time when the number of infected patients nationally has been soaring, ProPublica reports.

"The most pernicious portion of it is that at the state level and at the regional level we lost our situational awareness," said Dave Dillon, spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association. "At the end of this, we may have a fantastic data product out of HHS. I will not beat them up for trying to do something positive about the data, but the rollout of this has been absolutely a catastrophe."

Call to Extend Deadline for Medicare Repayment

The American Medical Association (AMA) has asked federal officials to extend the deadline for repaying Medicare money advanced earlier this year to help clinicians manage financial shortfalls from the COVID-19 pandemic.

CMS approved almost 24,000 applications totaling $40.4 billion in advance Medicare payments to physicians and other healthcare professionals in the early weeks of the pandemic, the AMA said in a letter to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. Current terms call for repayment to start at 120 days after the advance was issued, which can be as early as the first week of August for some clinicians, according to the AMA.

Separately, on July 31, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the extension of deadlines for clinicians who have many patients enrolled in Medicaid, Medicaid managed care, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to apply for a pool of federal aid. 

Why Are We Still Talking About HCQ?

Scientists have been debating the usefulness of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. But now, with the increasing number of well-done, evidence-based trials showing minimal-to-no benefit, if the evidence supporting its use were to be put through the standard FDA approval panels, "it wouldn't have a chance," writes neurologist Allan M. Block, MD.

"With an implacable enemy such as COVID-19 at the door, money and effort need to be focused on finding what works, not on putting stale milk back in the refrigerator and hoping it comes out fresh," Block writes.

Fauci Optimistic Despite Scientific Worries for a Vaccine

In the race to develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, scientists have many worries. Some worry that the immune protection provided by a vaccine could fade, as studies have shown antibodies disappear from the blood of COVID-19 survivors. Another worry is that the protection from vaccines may be limited, and people may need to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 

Plus, the leading vaccine candidates are based on new approaches that have not yet resulted in a licensed vaccine. 

Yet in an interview with Kaiser Health News, the country's top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, MD, said he's "cautiously optimistic" that researchers will overcome such obstacles.

"We know the body can make an adequate response against this virus" after two shots of a vaccine being tested, Fauci said. "There's no reason to believe that we won't be able to develop a vaccine against it."

AMA #MaskUp Campaign

The AMA has launched a #MaskUp social media campaign to normalize mask-wearing and debunk myths in the fight against COVID-19, the association announced in a press release. The campaign will provide messaging and guidance to patients and aids to help physicians reinforce the need for masks.

"COVID-19 respects no geographic, demographic, or ideological boundaries, and unfortunately it shows no signs of going away any time soon," AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, said. "By wearing a cloth mask, practicing social distancing, and regularly washing our hands, we can all prevent the spread of COVID-19."

In Memoriam

As frontline healthcare workers care for patients with COVID-19, they commit themselves to difficult, draining work and also put themselves at risk for infection. Thousands throughout the world have died. 

Medscape has published a memorial list to commemorate them. We will continue updating this list as, sadly, needed. Please help us ensure this list is complete by submitting names with an age, profession or specialty, and location through this form

If you would like to share any other experiences, stories, or concerns related to the pandemic, please join the conversation here.

Victoria Giardina is Medscape's editorial intern. She has previously written for The Dr. Oz Show and is currently a national lifestyle writer for Her Campus . She can be reached at vgiardina@webmd.net or on Twitter @VickyRGiardina .

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