Compiled by veteran medical journalist Brian Owens, this roundup of some of the newest science on the COVID-19 pandemic, straight from the scientific journals, is presented by Hakai Magazine in partnership with The Tyee.
Income inequality linked to COVID-19 deaths
U.S. states with the highest levels of income inequality have had higher numbers of COVID-19 deaths than those with lower income inequality. New York, the nation’s most unequal state, had a mortality rate of 51.7 per 100,000 people. That is 125 times greater than Utah, which has had the lowest levels of deaths, at 0.41 per 100,000. Other states with high inequality and death rates were Louisiana and Connecticut, while North and South Dakota had low death rates and low inequality. The more unequal states are also the ones that tend to be the most racially diverse.
Child abuse surges during pandemic
There has been a massive surge in domestic child abuse during the pandemic, according to a study at one specialist children’s hospital in the United Kingdom. In just one month — beginning March 23, when lockdown started — the number of new cases of head injury in very young children caused by physical abuse rose by 1,493 per cent compared with the same period in the previous three years. The figures are likely to be an underestimate, the researchers warn, as parents avoid visiting the hospital over fears of the virus, and children have less contact with other people who can raise the alarm.
More infectious strain of SARS-CoV-2 dominates global infections, but it’s not necessarily more dangerous
A new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has become the dominant strain of the virus around the world. A mutation that made a small change to the spike protein that the virus uses to enter cells has allowed it to infect cells more easily and replicate faster. But infectiousness is not the same as how contagious the disease is. Whether this version of the virus can move between people more easily, or whether it can cause more severe disease, remains unclear.
Older people not reacting to pandemic as expected
Despite their increased risk of severe illness and death, a survey of more than 70,000 people in 27 countries shows that elderly people are not more willing to isolate when asked, and are not more compliant with some preventative measures such as hand washing or mask wearing. Older people are, however, more likely to avoid public transportation and to avoid small gatherings or having guests over.
Lack of lockdown increased deaths in Sweden
The controversial decision in Sweden not to go into lockdown led to more deaths and greater health-care demand than in countries with earlier, stricter controls. As of May 15, Sweden’s death rate was 35 per 100,000, while Denmark’s was 9.3, Finland’s 5.2 and Norway’s 4.7. All three neighbouring countries enacted stricter policies. Even the U.S., with its largely ineffective response, had fewer deaths at 24 per 100,000 as of May 15. But Sweden still did better than some hard-hit countries, like the United Kingdom and Spain, and was roughly on par with France and Italy.
Antibody tests miss up to one-third of infections
A review of dozens of studies on antibody tests for COVID-19 has found that they range in accuracy from 66 per cent to 97 per cent for correctly detecting whether someone has previously been infected. This means that as many as one-third of those tested would receive a false negative result, telling them they had not had the disease when they really had. The researchers also found that up to three per cent would get a false positive, which would lead them to falsely believe they were immune. Commercial tests and those performed outside a laboratory were particularly unreliable. This includes the lateral flow immunoassay test that is being considered for “immunity passports” in some countries.
Testing throat swabs may reduce false negatives from nasal swabs
Testing mucus and saliva collected from the back of the throat may help reduce the number of false negative results from nasal swab testing of patients who have seemingly recovered from COVID-19. Researchers in China found that a small number of patients who had tested negative with nasal swabs and were about to be discharged from hospital were still infected with the virus when tested with throat swabs. Pairing the two tests may be a more effective way of determining when someone has recovered from the disease.