On Monday, the United States surpassed its 10 millionth coronavirus case. The current surge in volume is concerning, especially when you consider there were one million new infections in the last 10 days. Record numbers of cases are being recorded in 28 states, with the hardest-hit areas being suburban and rural areas.
Unfortunately, when cases rise, so do hospitalizations and deaths. Yesterday, the number of people newly hospitalized in a single day reached a new record of 61,694. On average, there are 1,661 new hospitalizations per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project. This level is far higher than the rates were in the spring when the pandemic first started. Just as they were concerned then, many public health officials are worried now about hospital capacity. Some areas are close to running out of space and staff.
The number of deaths reported yesterday was over 1,300. Per data from John Hopkins University, the total number of deaths is now over 239,000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that figure will grow by 20,000 in the next few weeks. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation calculates another 110,000 or more deaths in the next two months.
As the pandemic is intensifying, some scientists are looking at the impacts the disease is having on those who’ve been infected and have “recovered.” One recent study has examined the connection between COVID-19 and mental health. Researchers from the University of Oxford looked at the medical records of 69 million people in the United States between January 20th and August 1st. Of those, 62,000 individuals had contracted COVID-19. They found that in the three months after testing positive, one in five were diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, such as anxiety or depression. This was almost twice as likely when compared to groups of patients with different illnesses and conditions during the same period that was analyzed as part of the study.
Understanding the reason for the prevalence wasn’t part of the study. Experts say it could be explained by many factors, like a direct neurological/biological effect of the virus, the medications used to treat it, the anxiety caused by contracting it, and wider concerns about the pandemic as a whole. It’s also possible that the data didn’t sufficiently report the socioeconomic or behavioral factors that could explain the link. Whatever the reason, scientists agree that further study is needed to understand it better.
While some experts are studying the effects the virus is having on those infected, others are trying to find ways to treat it. Eli Lilly’s investigational monoclonal antibody drug, bamlanivimab, just received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat recently diagnosed patients over the age of 12 at high-risk of hospitalization or progressing into a severe course of the disease. It works by attaching to the virus and blocking its entry into cells, which helps the person clear the virus. Both Eli Lilly and the FDA said the medication should be given as soon as possible after a positive diagnosis and within 10 days of symptoms starting.
The approval of the treatment is good news, but there’ll be challenges in administering. The infusion takes one hour and patients are monitored an additional hour to see if they have an adverse reaction to it. Since the goal is to prevent people from being hospitalized, this would have to be done in an outpatient setting. To do this, facilities need to have appropriate staffing, training, and equipment to administer it. Getting to that point is going to take time, something we don’t really have.