Longer Looks: Interesting Reads You Might Have Missed
Each week, KHN finds longer stories for you to sit back and enjoy. This week's selections include stories on covid treatments, vaccinations and traveling in the age of the coronavirus.
Merck’s Little Brown Pill Could Transform the Fight Against Covid
The story of what might become the next major breakthrough in Covid-19 treatment starts on a hotel hallway floor in January 2020, months before you were worried about the virus, weeks before you likely knew it existed. A scientist and a business executive were at a health-care conference in San Francisco, hatching a plan to get a promising drug out of academia and into research trials for regulatory approval. George Painter, president of the Emory Institute for Drug Development, and Wendy Holman, chief executive officer of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, had met at the Handlery Union Square Hotel to discuss a compound Painter had started developing with funding from the National Institutes of Health. They got so enthusiastic about the possibilities that their meeting ran long and a group of lawyers kicked them out of their room. So they continued on the hall floor, hours after they’d started. (Koons and Griffin, 3/25)
When Will It Be Over? 3 Key Numbers Scientists Are Watching To Track The Pandemic
A variety of metrics could indicate that the country is getting the pandemic under control, including the number of new daily cases and the number of deaths. But epidemiologists say three specific metrics are required to get a clear understanding of the country's overall response: the number of Covid-19-related hospitalizations, the virus's so-called reproduction number and the number of vaccinations administered. (Edwards, 3/18)
America’s Covid Swab Supply Depends on Two Cousins Who Hate Each Other
A year ago, on Friday, March 13, about 50 government officials and experts met for the first time to talk about a crucial problem: how to test more Americans to determine if they were infected with the novel coronavirus. Jared Kushner stopped by; Mike Pence made an appearance later that weekend. SARS-CoV-2 had spread to more than a hundred countries—Tom Hanks had been infected in Australia—and the death toll in the U.S. was expected to reach as high as 250,000. Offices, schools, and streets were emptying; stocks were plunging. The NBA had just suspended its season. It was the official start of the global pandemic. Admiral Brett Giroir, then an assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, had been put in charge of testing, and he had plenty of concerns. But on that afternoon he was mostly concerned about one essential component of the testing process: swabs. Specifically, the particular 6-inch swab flexible enough to sweep the depths of the nasopharynx where the coronavirus replicates, the one now known as the brain tickler, and the only one approved for testing for such respiratory viruses. The U.S. had enough of them to conduct about 8,000 tests a day. That was short by three orders of magnitude—the U.S. needed to do millions of tests a day. Kushner told the admiral to secure a billion swabs however he could and then left. (Carville, 3/18)
The Wall Street Journal:
You’re Vaccinated. Can You Finally Take A Vacation?
Peter Volny, a retired advertising executive, typically flies more than 100,000 airline miles annually with his wife, and has even been to offbeat places like North Korea and Tajikistan in his quest to visit every country on earth. Fully vaccinated at last, he’s determined to make up for the lost pandemic year. “We are decidedly sick of being homebound,” he said. On the calendar: a five-week Greek idyll, an African safari and a trek to the jungles of Suriname and Guyana. Getting the shot, Mr. Volny said, gave him the confidence that “I’m vaccinated and I’m not scared of anything.” After a year of isolation and oppressively endless Zoom sessions, many of the newly vaxxed feel the same way. But it’s not a get-out-of-jail-card quite yet: In Mr. Volny’s case, with the exception of Greece this fall, his journeys can’t happen until 2022. And that gets to the paradox of the vaccine rollout and hopes for a travel reboot: Most of the world isn’t ready to roll back testing and quarantine rules for travelers just yet. We’re still in a pandemic, after all, and only a small percentage of the world’s population has gotten the jab. (Peterson, 3/17)
A Cruise Executive On What He Will—And Won’t—Do For Customer Safety
U.S. airports are seeing more travelers than at any point throughout the pandemic, with daily passenger volumes consistently topping 1 million. Some hotels are selling out well past their peak seasons. The pent-up demand for travel is finally materializing into movement—whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approves or not. But one sector of the industry is still stuck in place. After a disastrous few months in early 2020, when large cruise ships became early superspreaders for Covid-19, the CDC has kept them moored until further notice, calling cruising a Level 4 (maximum) risk. (Ekstein, 3/23)
Building a Covid Travel Passport Is a Serious Tech Challenge
When Philippe Srour and his wife, Laurence, took an Air France flight to Paris from San Francisco in mid-March, they were given a novel opportunity to escape some of the madness of pandemic-era travel. In exchange for the promise of less hassle at border and security checks, the couple agreed to use a mobile app to display their Covid-19 test results. The trial wasn’t a total success. Srour, an engineer by training, initially couldn’t get the app to work, because it wouldn’t accept his leap-year date of birth: Feb. 29. Although the airport verification steps ultimately went smoothly, the glitch showed that the AOKpass system from travel-security company International SOS “might need a little more attention,” Srour said after stepping off his flight in Paris. (Patel and Drozdiak, 3/23)