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.
Canada about average for trust in vaccines
A huge, multi-year, international survey on public trust in vaccines has found that public confidence varies widely between countries and regions. Canada’s numbers sit around the middle of the pack, with 67 per cent of respondents strongly agreeing that vaccines are safe, and 59 per cent saying they are effective. The survey, conducted multiple times between 2015 and 2019, showed that, for Canadians, both numbers increased over time.
Trust is improving slowly in parts of Europe, though it remains low in some countries such as France and the Netherlands. Several countries where political unrest or religious extremism are prevalent, such as Pakistan and Serbia, have seen an increase in scepticism. Another survey, conducted in the United States, asked specifically about a potential COVID-19 vaccine: it found that 70 per cent of respondents would likely get a vaccine.
US cases may have been hugely underestimated
The United States may have had as many as 6.4 million cases of COVID-19 by April 18 — nine times more than the 721,245 confirmed cases reported by that time, according to a new statistical analysis. The discrepancy is mainly because authorities focused on testing people in hospital, who tended to have more severe symptoms, thus missing the large number of people with mild or no symptoms.
Singing, especially loud and consonant-rich singing, releases a lot of droplets and aerosol particles that could carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In comparison to breathing or talking, far more droplets are released during singing, according to research in Sweden. The researchers found that physical distancing while singing, good ventilation and wearing masks can reduce the concentration of particles in the air.
Intensive care unit staff actually at lowest risk of infection
The risk of COVID-19 infection among hospital staff in the United Kingdom at the height of the pandemic in April was lowest among intensive care clinicians. The risk was highest among cleaners, acute and general medicine clinicians and ethnic minority staff. The researchers suggest that the results are likely due to differences in access to protective equipment and the type of equipment used.
Children’s mental health suffered under lockdown in China
A survey of children in China found an increase in mental health problems after three months of lockdown. Children aged 10 to 13 were asked about their mental health before the pandemic in November 2019, and again in May 2020 after being locked down from January to April. They reported significant increases in depression, self-harm and suicide attempts.
The huge costs of pandemic health care in poorer countries
It could cost low- and middle-income countries around US$52 billion every four weeks to provide an effective health-care response to COVID-19, according to a modelling study that looked at 73 countries. The analysis included direct health-care costs, but not the associated economic costs of quarantine or lockdown. It also showed that costs could rise significantly if transmission rates increase. The researchers say their analysis highlights the importance of pandemic preparedness and prevention. The Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future recommends that the world spend just US$4.5 billion each year to upgrade public health infrastructure and capabilities in poorer countries to prevent future outbreaks.
Fewer kids may be asymptomatic than adults
Asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 may be less common in children than in adults, according to a study in Italy. Researchers tested children and adults admitted to a hospital in Milan for non-COVID-19 reasons and found that around one per cent of children and nine per cent of adults without any symptoms tested positive for the virus.
People want a combination of apps and humans for contact tracing
People prefer COVID-19 contact tracing to be carried out by a combination of apps and humans, according to a study in the United Kingdom. Researchers found that people’s privacy concerns over who had access to their data were less important than their trust in the provider of the app. In this case, that meant people preferred a system in which the UK National Health Service was in charge, rather than the government.
Moral values influence COVID-19 misinformation
A person’s prevailing moral values influence their openness to correcting their erroneous beliefs about COVID-19. Researchers in the United States found that people with strong moral concerns for the well-being of others are more likely to update their existing beliefs when presented with new information, while people who place strong moral value on protecting group cohesion, and people who value protecting individual freedoms, are more likely to reject new information. The scientists suggest that educational campaigns should be framed differently for different people: for example, for people who value social cohesion, messaging could highlight mask wearing as a patriotic act. For people who value individual liberty, messaging could emphasize mask wearing as self-protection that enhances personal freedom to participate in work or recreational activities.
Coronavirus immunity may be short-lived
The duration of the body’s developed immunity against SARS-CoV-2 may be short-lived, according to a study of four other seasonal coronaviruses. A study that followed 10 people for 35 years found that they were frequently reinfected with the same seasonal coronavirus about one year after the initial infection. This suggests short immunity may be a common feature of all human coronaviruses, potentially including SARS-CoV-2.