70 vaccines in progress; antibody testing begins — 7 COVID-19 updates

"We are nearing the peak right now," Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC, said of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic on "The Today Show" April 13. Dr. Redfield said cases appear to be stabilizing across the country, but "we'll know we are past the peak when the next day is less than the day before."

The U.S. now has the highest count of COVID-19 cases and related deaths in the world, with 558,999 known cases and 22,154 deaths reported as of 11:30 a.m. CDT April 13. Globally, 1,872,073 COVID-19 cases and 116,098 deaths have been reported, while 441,820 people have recovered from the illness.

Seven key updates: 

1. More than 3,600 U.S. deaths have been tied to COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the Associated Press reports. AP has kept a running tally based on reports from state health departments and the media, with the April 13 count of at least 3,621 deaths up from about 450 deaths April 3. The actual death toll is likely much higher because many patients could have died without being tested for COVID-19, AP notes.

2. The National Institutes of Health intends to test 10,000 Americans for COVID-19 antibodies, while the White House is considering "certificates of immunity," The New York Times reports. The antibody blood test can determine whether someone has ever been infected with COVID-19, and may allow people believed to be immune to return to work. NIH is recruiting 10,000 healthy volunteers nationwide for antibody testing to help determine the extent of the virus' spread.

"Within a period of a week or so, we are going to have a rather large number of tests that are available," Anthony Fauci, MD, said April 10. He also said the White House task force is considering "certificates of immunity" for those previously infected.

The CDC began testing blood samples for antibodies in one of its own three preliminary studies, an agency official told STAT April 4. 

3. Seventy COVID-19 vaccines are currently in development worldwide, and three candidates have already started human trials, according to a document from the World Health Organization. An experimental vaccine created by Hong Kong-based CanSino Biologics and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology is farthest along in phase 2 clinical trials. U.S.-based drugmakers Moderna and Inovio Pharmaceuticals also each have candidates in phase 1 trials. While it usually takes about 10 to 15 years to bring a new vaccine to market, drugmakers hope to accomplish this task within a year, according to Bloomberg.

4. Brazilian researchers halted a small clinical trial of chloroquine after 11 COVID-19 patients receiving high doses died, according to The New York Times. About half of the trial's 81 patients were prescribed 450 milligrams of the drug — which is closely related to the malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine — twice daily for five days. The remainder took 600 milligrams for 10 days. By day three, researchers noticed patients taking the higher dose developed irregular heart rates. They canceled the high-dose portion of the study on day six.

5. Foreign health workers attempting to work for U.S. hospitals have encountered bottlenecks, according to The New York Times. Nurses and physicians willing to work in U.S. hospitals amid the pandemic have reported challenges making visa appointments at U.S. consulates overseas or face travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic. Others already working in the U.S. are restricted under their visa terms and cannot leave the state they are in to work in COVID-19 hot spots.

6. Americans will begin to receive stimulus payments this week, Bloomberg reports. Part of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package, the IRS has started depositing the $1,200 payments directly into individuals' bank accounts, and will send the remainder out as checks. Checks are being sent first to those earning the least. It could take until September for every eligible individual to receive the money.

7. U.S. governors have asked Congress to approve a $500 billion aid package for all states, NPR reports. The joint call by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, National Governors Association chair, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signals a deepening economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More articles on public health:
Rate of COVID-19 cases, state by state
UChicago Medicine uses helmet-based ventilators for COVID-19 patients
Viewpoint: When pandemic ends, get ready for mass depression

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