Hospitals Across America Strained by Coronavirus Surge
Hospitals across America were struggling on Tuesday as the new coronavirus struck with a vengeance in parts of the country that had been spared the worst in the early days of the pandemic.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has climbed an estimated 46 percent in the past month, straining the capacity of regional health care systems to respond to overwhelming demand, The New York Times reported.
Twenty-six states are at or near record numbers for new infections, the newspaper reported. More than 500,000 new cases have been announced in the past week, and no states are seeing sustained declines in case numbers.
Even the trend is COVID-19 deaths is starting to inch upward. About 800 deaths are now being recorded each day, fewer than in the spring but up from earlier this month, the Times reported.
The situation is grim in the Texas town of El Paso: The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has more than tripled over the past three weeks, and doctors at University Medical Center there have started airlifting some patients to hospitals as far away as San Antonio while treating others in a field hospital in a nearby parking lot, the Times reported.
Dr. German Hernandez, a nephrologist who has been caring for patients at several hospitals in El Paso, said the situation was so dire that patients on oxygen were being kept in rooms in the trauma area of University Medical Center.
States, cities and towns are responding to this latest coronavirus surge with new restrictions that range from a nightly business curfew in Newark, N.J., to a two-week stay-at-home order in El Paso to a halt to indoor dining in Chicago, the Times reported.
On Tuesday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he was stopping indoor dining and bar service in Chicago, effective Friday. The city joins New York and Wisconsin in issuing new restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Times reported.
Chicago is now averaging more than twice as many coronavirus-related hospital admissions per day as it was a month ago, Pritzker's office said, and the share of tests that are coming back positive has almost doubled since the beginning of October, the Times reported.
"We can't ignore what is happening around us," Pritzker said in a statement. "Because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring."
Eli Lilly Shelves Hospital Trial for COVID antibody treatment
Testing of Eli Lilly's antibody drug for hospitalized COVID-19 patients has been halted because the treatment doesn't help them recover from their infection.
Two weeks ago, enrollment in the study was paused because of a possible safety issue, the Associated Press reported. But the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which sponsored the Lilly study, pulled the plug on the trial Monday -- not because of any safety problem, but because there was only a slight chance that the drug would be effective, the AP said.
Although it is a setback for one of the most promising treatment approaches for COVID-19, Lilly said in a statement that the government is continuing a separate study testing the antibody drug in mild to moderately ill patients, to try to prevent hospitalization and severe illness.
A similar, two-antibody cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. was given to President Donald Trump on an emergency basis when he was sickened with the coronavirus. Earlier this month, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he had received Lilly's experimental treatment shortly after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, the Times reported.
Dr. Eric Topol, a clinical trial expert at the Scripps Research Institute who has been following the treatment's development, told the Times that the news "tells us they stopped the trial due to futility, as suspected," and that it "suggests that the timing of monoclonal antibody administration -- early [in the illness] -- will be important."
Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection invades the body ; they attach to a virus and help eliminate it. The experimental drugs are concentrated versions of one or two specific antibodies that worked best against the coronavirus in lab and animal tests, the AP reported.
Lilly and Regeneron have both asked for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration while late-stage studies continue. Lilly said this week that its request is based on other results suggesting that the drug helps patients who are not hospitalized, and that it will continue to seek the FDA's permission for emergency use.
Remdesivir gets full FDA approval to treat COVID-19
The antiviral drug remdesivir has received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The approval comes after the agency granted it emergency use authorization last spring. It is given intravenously to hospitalized patients.
California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. is selling the drug under the brand name Veklury. It cut the time to recovery from COVID-19 by five days -- from 15 days to 10, on average -- in a large study led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the FDA announced in a statement.
"Today's approval is supported by data from multiple clinical trials that the agency has rigorously assessed and represents an important scientific milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic," FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in an agency news release.
Veklury is approved for people aged 12 and older who weigh at least 88 pounds and are hospitalized for a COVID-19 infection. For patients younger than 12, the FDA will still allow the drug's use in certain cases under its previous emergency authorization.
The drug works by blocking the ability of the virus to replicate itself. Kidney and liver function tests are required before giving patients remdesivir, and the label warns against using it with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, because that can curb its effectiveness, the AP reported.
"We now have enough knowledge and a growing set of tools to help fight COVID-19," Gilead's chief medical officer, Dr. Merdad Parsey, said in a statement.
Remdesivir is either approved or has temporary authorization in about 50 countries, Parsey noted.
Its price has been controversial, costing between $2,000 and $3,000 for one course of treatment, given that no studies have yet found that it improves survival, according to the AP. Last week, a large study led by the World Health Organization found the drug did not help hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but that study did not include a placebo group and was less rigorous than previous ones that found a benefit, the AP reported.
So far, only steroids such as dexamethasone have been shown to cut the risk of dying of COVID-19, the AP reported. The FDA also has given emergency authorization to using the blood plasma of survivors, and two companies are seeking emergency authorization for experimental antibody drugs.
COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe
By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 8.8 million while the death toll passed 226,600, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Wednesday were: Texas with over 923,800; California with over 918,600; Florida with over 786,000; New York with over 503,000; and Illinois with more than 389,000.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
Several European countries are experiencing case surges as they struggle with another wave of coronavirus infections and hospital beds begin to fill up, the Washington Post reported.
In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instituted a three-tier lockdown in a bid to slow a startling spike in coronavirus cases across the country. In recent weeks, new coronavirus cases have quadrupled and there are now more COVID-19 patients hospitalized than before the government imposed a lockdown back in March, the Post reported.
Addressing the nation recently, Johnson warned Britons that the country's rise in cases was "flashing like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet."
Things are no better in India, where the coronavirus case count has passed 7.9 million, a Johns Hopkins tally showed.
More than 120,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India's younger and leaner population.
Still, the country's public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, Brazil passed 5.4 million cases and had nearly 158,000 deaths as of Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Cases are also spiking in Russia: The country's coronavirus case count has passed 1.5 million. As of Wednesday, the reported death toll in Russia was over 26,700, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 44 million on Wednesday, with over 1.1 million deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
SOURCES: Washington Post; The New York Times; Associated Press; CNN; U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release
Last Updated: Oct. 27, 2020
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