As of yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized that COVID-19 can linger in the air of crowded indoor spaces. This announcement came after increasing evidence demonstrated that the virus is able to float in the air inside for hours, which caused over 200 scientists to encourage the WHO to change their messaging. The agency went on to say that this type of transmission is probably responsible for “outbreaks of COVID-19 reported in some closed settings, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking or singing.”
Also, in the statement, the WHO said, “Infected people can transmit the virus both when they have symptoms and when they don’t have symptoms.” This is different from its previously held belief that asymptomatic transmission was most likely “very rare.” In order to prevent the spread of the virus, the agency has indicated that people should “avoid crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.” While scientists were pleased that the organization updated its viewpoints, many feel that it was long overdue.
The change in the WHO’s stance comes as the daily death toll in the United States has started to increase after a period of decline. There have been over 4,200 deaths in the past seven days. Public health experts are warning that this number will only get worse because the number of cases is rising at such a fast pace. Just yesterday, the country reported its highest single-day quantity of infections with more than 67,000 new cases.
Hospitals in hotspots across the country are becoming overwhelmed. The number of daily hospitalizations has risen in 26 states since last week. In some areas, temporary hospitals are having to be reopened to create space for the influx of patients. Georgia is one of these states, which plans to turn the Georgia World Congress Center back into a hospital after clearing it out when overflow was deemed unnecessary a short time ago.
As the virus is gaining momentum, it’s impacting different aspects of the community in different ways. One of these areas that we don’t know much about is how it affects pregnant women. Back in April, Dr. Denise Jamieson, chairwoman of gynecology and obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine and member of the Covid-19 task force at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said, “Even basic questions, such as whether or not pregnant women are more severely affected by COVID-19, remain unanswered.” In the three months since then, not much has changed.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its first report about pregnant women and COVID-19 last month. The study included 8,000 pregnant women and concluded that they might be at an elevated risk for severe illness from the virus. However, experts point out that the study actually created more questions than it provided answers to. Other countries have also found that pregnant women might be at an elevated risk of severe complications from the virus.
One of the reasons that public health experts feel we don’t have enough data on pregnant women and COVID-19 is due to the inability to accurately track everyone who is infected. Instead, researchers are having to rely on reports that are put forth voluntarily. The other issue is that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so when forms are being filled out, they aren’t always done so completely because clinicians are focused on taking care of patients, as they should be, rather than forms.
Some experts feel that the US needs a more centralized healthcare monitoring system, like they have in the United Kingdom, which allowed them to quickly get information about pregnant women. In March, this idea led doctors at the Universities of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and San Francisco (UCSF), to create a nationwide registry for pregnant or postpartum women who’ve suspected or confirmed that they’ve had COVID-19. To participate, women fill out questionnaires and give consent to access their medical records. In some cases, this includes biospecimens, such as breast milk, blood, placenta and amniotic fluid. So far, 950 women have enrolled and about 60% have the virus. By having women choose to participate, hopefully, it’ll provide more accurate data without relying solely on reporting doctors to report information.
In addition, UCSF has started another large, national study for pregnant women in their first trimester. It’s called ASPIRE and will follow roughly 10,000 women and their babies from the start of pregnancy through delivery and up to 18 months postpartum. The hope is that the information gathered from these studies will help to fill in the missing data from the CDC’s research. Scientists do point out that in order for ASPIRE to be the most helpful there should also be a control group of pregnant women who aren’t affected. This would allow for the true impacts of the virus on this vulnerable population to be best understood.