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Tracking the Evolving Profile of COVID-19

COVID-19 Insights April 28, 2020
COVID-19 Insights April 28, 2020

 

As North American authorities weigh a reopening of their economies, massive testing will become critical to understanding the evolving profile of infection from COVID-19, Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer for WebMD, told a BMO Capital Markets conference call this week.

Citing from a report by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose mission is to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world, Dr. Whyte said testing for the virus will need to be ramped up to some 30 million per week, compared to the 3 million tests done since the outbreak began.

“So testing does remain a critical concern, we really need to ramp-up testing,” said Dr. Whyte, who prior to WebMD served as the Director of Professional Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the USFDA. “Can we get to 30 million a week by June? I'm not sure. But let's start thinking about how we use it on a wider scale,” he said.

Global Toll

Globally there are now over 3 million cases of coronavirus, resulting in over 200,000 deaths.

In Canada, there have been 46,898 cases, with 2,560 deaths, but evidence of recent days has shown the spread of the virus is slowing, with the death toll rising by less than 10 percent per day for the last nine days in a row.

“So we’re really seeing a flattening of the curve, or as some in Canada are saying, planking of the curve,” said Dr. Whyte, “So there’s tremendous progress in Canada in terms of infections and cases.”

In the United States there is also evidence that the spread of the virus has slowed, although figures vary from state to state and even from city to city. As of Monday, the country had reported nearly 1 million cases of COVID-19 infection, with over 55,000 deaths, more than half of them concentrated in the hotspots of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois and California.

Some 40 percent of Americans now say they know someone who has either tested positive for the virus or who think they have had it, and 10 percent say they know someone who has died from complications resulting from coronavirus.

Reopening

“We’re hearing a lot of talk now about reopening,” said Dr. Whyte, pointing at some differences in Canada and the United States. “But the reality is we will likely have some measure of social distancing throughout the summer, probably not what it looks like today. But some measures.”

US Vice-President Michael Pence has said publicly that the virus should be behind us by Memorial Day (May 25).

For any sort of return to normal, Dr. Whyte said, testing will need to become more comprehensive and more efficient, and there are signs of progress being made.

There is now a saliva test to diagnose coronavirus and which health experts believe is as accurate as a nasal swab. Authorities are still learning whether the presence of antibodies in a person’s system means immunity, but Dr. Whyte expects that will be proven out as more data is assessed.

“It’s more likely than not that we develop some sense of immunity after infection,” he said.

Getting Back to Work

Businesses are sufficiently encouraged with declining rates of infection to have begun talking in earnest about what a return to normal might look like, especially with respect to the use of office space. Will offices need to be retrofitted? Will heating and air conditioning need to be reconsidered? Should businesses look at how to time-shift people's work in the office?

Just as important as turning to science to protect people’s physical health, is the mental health of individuals, and making sure they feel safe in returning to their jobs and daily routines, Dr. Whyte said. 

“I'm optimistic that we're sorting out a strategy to reopening. We're talking about it from a scientific, risk-based approach.”

 

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