COVID-19: Light at the End of the Tunnel
We are starting to see evidence that the pandemic is coming under control, and that most communities and states are beginning to reopen their businesses and allow the public to return to a more normal life. A few urban hot spots will remain locked down to reduce the risk of overwhelming their local health care system, but the majority of the United States will be reopening for business. Even New York City has now seen a decrease in hospital admissions and deaths from COVID-19.
We seem to have flattened the curve and not overwhelmed the health care system.
This week a great deal of good news has come out about the virus and the world’s cooperation to understand, treat, and prevent this outbreak.
- The antiviral drug remdesivir has been shown to reduce the time to recovery for seriously ill patients. This preliminary analysis from an international COVID-19 trial showed a significant positive effect.
- Reports from South Korea indicate that the concern for reinfection or reactivation with the virus was due to errors in the testing and not due to reinfection.
- Increased antibody testing seems to indicate that a much larger percentage of the population has been infected and was asymptomatic. This means the estimated mortality rate for the virus may well be much lower than originally predicted.
One of the most encouraging things in the midst of this crisis has been the unprecedented collaboration between the government, corporations, and nations.
- Research and development was fast-tracked, and within 6 weeks over 50 diagnostic tests were developed and approved by the FDA under the COVID Emergency Use Authorization.
- There are currently over 70 active trials of therapeutic agents to treat COVID-19 under the FDA’s COVID Treatment Acceleration Program.
- Many companies have repurposed production lines to manufacture essential medical equipment that is in short supply. (Ford, GM, Tesla, and Mercedes producing ventilators.) (Ralph Lauren, GAP producing personal protective equipment (PPE))
- Physicians and nurses from other states have been volunteering in New York City where their hospitals have been overwhelmed.
- Several states who have not seen significant hospitalizations have sent unused ventilators to hot spots.
Modern Technology and Artificial Intelligence
Modern technology and Artificial Intelligence have been important in developing early detection, diagnostics, and new drug discovery during the crisis. Chinese scientists sequenced the COVID-19 virus genome and made it public one month after the first case was reported. A synthetic copy of the virus was created one month after the genomic data was published. This allowed for deep analysis with AI of the virus characteristics, and for designing treatments and vaccines.
Artificial Intelligence analyzed this information and the existing universe of current drugs to see which might have effectiveness against COVID-19, and be repurposed for more expedited treatment. Examples are remdesivir for Ebola, Rebif for multiple sclerosis, and Actemra for rheumatoid arthritis.
Numerous technology solutions have been implemented to help during the pandemic. Robots are being used in hospitals to clean, sterilize, and deliver medical supplies. Algorithms have been developed to help doctors triage patients and to help hospitals manage increased patient volume. Up to 50% of physicians are using telemedicine to deliver health care. (up from 18% in 2018)
Governments, corporations, scientists, and physicians all over the world have focused their efforts to solve the many issues caused by the virus.
It has been encouraging to see the cooperation and kindness everywhere the last few months. It makes me hopeful for the future.
As always, we are here for you. Please email or call if you want to set up a Zoom videoconference meeting or talk by phone.
Ralph Broadwater, MD, CFP®
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