September 8, 2020

bits and pieces

Two bits of news caught my attention today.

One is the study that estimates that 260,000 cases, or 19% of the 1.2 million infections that occurred in the US between August 2 and September 2, are connected to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The researchers out of University of California San Diego are basing it on cellphone data and case reports. One caveat, the study has not yet been peer reviewed. Other reasons for increased infections may have contributed to the increase in infections, but the data and charts are pretty compelling. The link is below. The same researchers had earlier analyzed to see if there were increases from the Black Lives Matter protests and Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa. Those did not show an increase in cases, but when you look at behavior you can see the differences. The protests were outdoors, almost everyone wore masks, and people didn’t congregate in indoors. For the campaign rally, even though people mostly were not masked, the arena was not packed full and it had a high ceiling with good air circulation. A few infections were connected to it, but not the big increase public health officials were concerned about probably due to the venue not being packed. In Sturgis, people did not wear masks and also went to packed restaurants, bars, and concert venues, textbook superspreader sites.

Labor Day weekend just finished with TSA reporting the most travelers since the pandemic began. I predict that there will be an explosion of infections in a few weeks from these superspreader events that people celebrated over the weekends. I understand the desire to be around others and act as if it will all be OK, but then I start to think about how I would feel if I infected someone else. This data is pretty compelling on what behaviors work to keep the spread down. Mask wearing, being outdoors or in a well ventilated space, just a few people, not compacted together is safest. It reinforces to me that I am not ready to go eat in a restaurant, especially indoors. Food to go is what I will do for the time being, so we can still support our favorite restaurants.

The other news is that a Coronavirus vaccine trial was halted by the company AstraZenica to investigate a possible reaction. I am not surprised that this happened. This is exactly what should occur in the trials of any new vaccine or drug. Any unusual adverse effect causes a “clinical hold” until other causes of the effects can be ruled in or out. The good news is the subject is expected to recover. This is one of 9 vaccine candidates in Phase 3 clinical trials and the company will continue to look for efficacy and safety if they release the clinical hold. The others are expected to do the same.

I was lucky enough to be able to be an investigator of clinical trials for HIV and Hepatitis C drugs when I worked in Santa Fe. It gave me a birds eye view into this area of medicine and research. Attention to detail is absolutely critical, and our research coordinators worked hard to keep on track and elicit any possible changes to our patients’ health. The confidence we have in our vaccine and drug approval system is based on this ethic. Even though the clinical hold may seem like a set back in the quest for an effective vaccine, it is a win for science, research, and our ability to trust the safety and efficacy of a vaccine when it is approved.

In the meantime, wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, and beware superspreader events.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2020-09-08/sturgis-motorcycle-rally-may-have-caused-over-250-000-coronavirus-cases-report

https://www.foxnews.com/health/sturgis-motorcycle-rally-coronavirus-cases-south-dakota

https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/airline-news/2020/09/08/tsa-labor-day-weekend-numbers-pandemic-record/5747078002/

http://ftp.iza.org/dp13670.pdf

https://www.statnews.com/2020/09/08/astrazeneca-covid-19-vaccine-study-put-on-hold-due-to-suspected-adverse-reaction-in-participant-in-the-u-k/