Coronavirus News – March 20

U.S. hospital associations ask Congress for $100 billion in emergency funding

The American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association have sent a letter to Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and Kevin McCarthy seeking $100 billion in emergency funding. It reads in part, “The past few days have made a dramatic difference in the reality facing our nation due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak. There are dwindling supplies of N95 respirators, isolation gowns, isolation masks, surgical masks, eye protection equipment, ICU equipment and diagnostic testing supplies in areas that had the first community outbreaks… America is counting on Congress to provide direct funding to frontline healthcare personnel and providers, including nurses, physicians, hospitals and health systems, to respond to this pandemic.” Read the full letter here.

 U.S. automakers study medical manufacturing as coronavirus squeezes capacity

Ford and General Motors are looking into the possibility of shifting some of their production capacity to help make medical equipment, particularly ventilators. The U.S. government is actively looking for manufacturers to make medical supplies to assist with the COVID-19 outbreak and has asked the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to help find available capacity. European governments are taking similar steps. The switch to producing medical equipment will require new supply lines running to the manufacturing facilities with the components needed to assemble the needed products. Read more here from SupplyChainDive.

New blood tests for antibodies could show true scale of coronavirus pandemic

Labs and companies worldwide have raced to develop antibody tests. But large-scale data from such tests is still lacking or at least not public. Scientists hope that will change as more tests become available. Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and his colleagues posted a preprint yesterday describing a SARS-CoV-2 antibody test they have developed, and directions for replicating it. It’s one of the first such detailed protocols to be widely distributed and other labs could easily scale it up. Read more about it here from Science. 

Early CDC tests couldn’t distinguish between coronavirus and water

“As government authorities faced a looming coronavirus epidemic in February that has now turned into a full-blown crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention botched its development of testing kits, according to government emails seen by the Wall Street Journal. “In particular, some of the CDC’s tests wrongly detected the new coronavirus in laboratory-grade water. The email, sent from a CDC official to state public-health-lab officials, said some labs found “sporadic reactivity in the negative control of one of the three assay components.” Read more here.

FDA turns to Twitter to help track testing supply shortages

“The FDA is so desperate for information about shortages in coronavirus testing supplies that it is turning to an unlikely source of information: Twitter.
“Wading into the Wild West of social media for help during a global pandemic may seem unsophisticated for an agency charged with regulating the nation’s drugs and medical devices. But thanks to a decades-old law, the FDA cannot require device manufacturers to report shortages in the same way it can for drugmakers.
“This fundamental gap in the flow of information has made it difficult for the FDA to identify weaknesses in the supply chain for coronavirus testing and in the nationwide push to test hundreds of thousands of patients. The agency is responsible for regulating coronavirus tests used by U.S. laboratories.
“So the FDA is making plaintive appeals on Twitter, in addition to negotiating with companies behind the scenes…” Read more here.

Worldwide death toll tops 10,000, jobless numbers soar

Jobless numbers have soared as the global death toll hit 10,000. Economists warned that the suspension of ordinary commerce was already hurting businesses and producing record levels of job losses. The Labor Department reported a 30% increase in unemployment claims last week, one of the largest spikes on record. According to the New York Times, the Labor Department also asked state officials not to release precise numbers. The death toll in Italy has surpassed China’s reported death toll. The rest of Europe is bracing for a surge in cases. Read more here from the New York Times. 

California issues statewide stay-at-home order

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has given a statewide stay-at-home order to help combat the spread of coronavirus. The order went into effect for all 40 million California residents on Thursday night and asks them to leave their home only when necessary. It will remain in place until further notice. The statewide order came after officials in Los Angeles County ordered people to stay home except for essential needs or jobs and for indoor shopping malls and nonessential retail to close. San Francisco and surrounding counties had previously issued orders to stay at home. Grocery stores, convenience stores, delivery restaurants, gas stations, pharmacies, banks and laundromats will remain open. Read more here about California’s stay-at-home order.