NEW: Covid Tracks
February 4, 2021
Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first edition of the Boiling Point’s bi-weekly column on the Covid-19 pandemic. Compiled by BP science reporter Juliet Wiener from official government websites and briefings along with national news sources and original reporting, Covid Tracks will be published on the opposite weeks from the Covid Tracker, the BP’s bi-weekly survey of cases and vaccines reaching the Shalhevet community.
We hope you’ll rely on Covid Tracks for the latest local and national statistics; progress in testing, treatments and vaccines; and actions taken by national, local and Shalhevet leaders and individuals in light of the challenge of Covid-19.
BY THE NUMBERS
Numbers in Los Angeles County (Source: Los Angeles Times)
- Over the last seven days, 37,602 new Covid cases were reported in Los Angeles County.
Covid spread per 100,000 residents by neighborhood since the beginning of the pandemic:
- Beverlywood: There have been 5,800 cases per 100,000 residents.
- Crestview (Pico-Robertson area): There have been 7,609 cases per 100,000 residents.
- Hancock Park: There have been 5,352 cases per 100,000 residents.
- Westwood: There have been 4,110 cases per 100,000 residents.
- Valley Village: There have been 7,189 cases per 100,000 residents.
- Brentwood: There have been 4,180 cases per 100,000 residents.
- As of Feb. 4, 952,634 vaccines have been administered in Los Angeles County. SOURCE(Source: Los Angeles Times)
- 54 out of 136, or 39.7% percent, of Shalhevet students and faculty members surveyed had received either one or both doses of the vaccine as of Jan 27. (Source: Boiling Point Covid Tracker Jan. 26-27)
- Over the next three weeks, California is expecting to receive more than 30 million more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. (Source: press briefing by the White House on Jan. 27)
- Extreme allergic reactions to the COVID vaccine — the most serious vaccine side effect reported so far — are rare, with only 6.2 cases per 1 million people given the Pfizer vaccine and 2.1 cases per 1 million doses given of the Moderna vaccine.
In contrast, the risk of death from catching COVID-19 is much higher: approximately 16,500 for every 1 million people diagnosed will die. (Source: press briefing by the White House on Jan. 27)
- Today there are 5,165 COVID patients currently in LA County hospitals with 1,415 of them being in the ICU (intensive care unit). This is a 28.2% decrease from two weeks ago. Source (Source: LA County Daily Covid-19 Data)
- Many of these hospitals remain at or above their maximum ICU capacity, with Cedars Sinai being the most overcrowded hospital in the county at a 127% occupancy. (Source: Los Angeles Times)
- Due to overflow, some LA County hospitals are treating COVID-19 patients in hospital gift shops and conference rooms. (Source: abc7 Eyewitness News)
Three main coronavirus variants– mutated COVID-19 strains– have now been detected in the US: B117 (British variant), P1 (Brazilian variant), and B1351 (South African variant). Some of these variants are thought to be more contagious and possibly more deadly.
- So far, 113 cases of the B117 and zero cases of B1351 have been identified in the state of California.
- In a surprise announcement at the Feb. 1 White House coronavirus briefing Monday, Andy Slavitt, President Biden’s senior advisor for COVID-19 response, announced that an over-the-counter at-home COVID testing kit will soon be available, supplied by the digital diagnostics company Ellume. The kits are roughly 95% accurate and take about 15 minutes to yield results; you swab your nose, apply the swab to a sensor and receive an answer on your smartphone, and the test works for people with and without symptoms, Slavitt said.
- Ellume was planning to ship 100,000 test kits per month beginning in February, but the Biden Administration has used the Defense Production Act to increase production to over 19 million test kits per month by the end of 2021, of which 8.5 million will be guaranteed to the United States, Slavitt said.
- Aplidin, a drug that is currently used to fight multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells), has been found in a non-human study to be 27.5 times more effective in treating COVID-19 than Remdesivir, the only fully approved drug for treating the COVID-19 illness. (Source: The Week)
- Aplidin is derived from a small marine plant-like creature called a sea squirt. While it has not yet been tested in humans, it was found effective in laboratory studies using human kidney and lung cells infected with COVID-19. It was also successful in studies using lab mice infected with the virus.
- According to The Week, this treatment — which was discovered by an international committee of university scientists who had been looking for treatments among existing drugs instead of inventing new ones — has completed the first two phases of trial testing, beginning its third trial in the near future.
- Two additional vaccines reported results from their Phase 3 trials this week and are now seeking FDA emergency approval — the Novavax vaccine and Johnson and Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. (Source: press briefing by the White House on Jan. 29)
- The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is anticipated to become the third vaccine approved for mass use in the US, with 66% effectiveness in COVID prevention overall and 85% effectiveness in preventing severe cases of the virus. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is not an mRNA vaccine but rather an Adenovirus-based vaccine and requires only one dose.
- Novavax completed three trial phases in the UK which revealed that the vaccine is 89.3% effective in COVID prevention. Novavax is not an mRNA vaccine but rather a soluble protein vaccine.
- While the effectiveness percentages of these two vaccines were found to be lower than Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, officials said that it was because the newer vaccines were being tested in places where the new variants were spreading. Those variants did not yet exist when Pfizer and Moderna were first being tested.
- As variants continue to evolve, they may pose a larger threat to the effectiveness of existing vaccines. Vaccine developers plan to develop mRNA booster shots, in addition to the two-dose vaccines, that will contain immunogens aimed towards combating specific COVID-19 mutations.
Last week, The White House announced its pandemic plan of action to provide all Americans with easy access to vaccinations as soon as possible.
President Joseph Biden declared his commitment to administer 100 million vaccines in 100 days. Now, the average number of people being vaccinated daily in the US has reached 1.3 million.
To accelerate the availability of vaccines in the US, the Biden administration is also establishing community vaccination centers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is supplying $1 billion to support state vaccination sites.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith was appointed to lead the new White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force which was created to ensure that underserved communities have access to COVID-19 vaccinations and health care.
Last week, the Defense Production Act was invoked to increase the supply of vaccines across the US, and Pfizer and Moderna are planning to distribute 200 million vaccine doses by the end of March. Moreover, the President announced plans to purchase an additional 200 million vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna by summer which will be enough to vaccinate every American over the age of 16.
To help these efforts, any retired doctor or nurse whose license to administer vaccines has expired within the past five years is now permitted by the Department of Health and Human Services to vaccinate others for COVID-19, under a new amendment to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.
Finally, now is not a safe time to travel, according to new CDC Director Dr. Rachel Walensky, as case numbers across the country are still extremely high and, minimizing the spread of variants is crucial.
For the first time this school year, the administration required Shalhevet students attending on-campus learning to test for COVID-19 beforehand in order to limit potential spreading. According to an email sent to the Shalhevet community on Feb. 3, out of around 185 tests, only one result came back positive for COVID-19.
In addition, last night school officials announced in an email to the Shalhevet community that beginning next Monday, Feb. 8, on-campus learning will be available to two grades at a time, meaning that each grade will be allowed on campus for two days a week instead of one.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Dr. Anthony Fauci said people shouldn’t worry about which vaccine they’re getting, or how well it will protect them against new variants of the coronavirus. Stopping illness is the best way to stop the pandemic, he said:
You need to get vaccinated when it becomes available… there is a fact that permeates virology and that is that viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate. And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures you put on it, you will not get mutations.