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.
Political approval ratings surged during pandemic, could affect voting intentions
Approval ratings for political leaders around the world rose dramatically in the early days of the pandemic, with leaders experiencing, on average, a 14-point boost in popularity. U.S. President Donald Trump gained only four points, compared with the substantial 24- to 61-point boosts seen by leaders in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Australia. Justin Trudeau experienced a boost of around 40 points. The researchers don’t know how durable this “rally round the flag” effect will be but say it could help some incumbent governments win re-election.
Vaccines progressing quickly, but older people left out of trials
There are currently more than 180 vaccines for COVID-19 in various stages of clinical development around the world, and work is progressing quickly. The data so far suggests that a safe and effective vaccine could be available within months rather than years, according to a review of the work. But an analysis of the trials has found that half of treatment trials, and all vaccine trials, have excluded people older than 65. This will make it difficult to establish the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and determine the proper dosage, in the population that is most vulnerable to the virus.
COVID-19 is affecting our dreams
The anxiety and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic is invading our dreams, bringing more anxiety and negative emotions into dreams, and spurring dreams about the pandemic itself, according to a collection of four new studies. This supports the hypothesis that dreams reflect our waking concerns, rather than being an outlet for compensating for them. The studies also found that women’s dreams have been more strongly affected by the pandemic, possibly because women are bearing more of the burden of caregiving, job loss and other hardships.
Babies born to moms with COVID-19 do fine
Most infants born to mothers with COVID-19 showed few adverse outcomes after eight weeks, according to a study of 263 babies in the United States. The study found that problems such as preterm birth, neonatal intensive care admission and respiratory disease did not differ between those born to mothers testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 and those born to mothers testing negative.
United Kingdom effectively protected homeless people from COVID-19
Protective measures in the United Kingdom such as providing hotel rooms for homeless people and closing dormitory-style hostels are estimated to have prevented hundreds of deaths in this vulnerable population. A computer model of the pandemic in homeless populations in the first wave of the pandemic estimates that four per cent of the homeless population caught the virus by May 31, and 24 people died. But the model found that the preventative measures likely avoided more than 21,000 infections and 266 deaths.
Antibody rates remain low, even in hard-hit countries
Nationwide COVID-19 antibody surveys in Brazil and the U.S., two of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, have found that relatively few people have actually been infected so far, despite the strain placed on the health-care system. In the U.S., fewer than 10 per cent of people sampled had antibodies to the virus, while in Brazil the rate was just three per cent. Some significant variation was seen in both countries. People living in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighbourhoods in the U.S. experienced two- to four-times higher infection rates. In Brazil, the Amazon region was hit harder, with Indigenous communities particularly affected.
Social inequities in Canada increase likelihood of severe COVID-19
Black, South Asian and Indigenous populations from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds in Canada are nearly four times more likely than white people to have three or more medical conditions identified as risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19, such as diabetes, asthma or kidney disease. Other risk factors for having multiple medical conditions include being male, experiencing chronic pain, having a physical impairment, living without partners and a lifetime of smoking.
Children less susceptible, but role in transmission unclear
Children, especially those under the age of 10, are less susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2 than adults, according to an analysis of 32 existing studies. But there is still not enough evidence to determine what role children and teens play in the transmission of the virus.
Five factors needed to ease lockdown
An expert review of the successes and failures of lockdown easing in nine high-income countries — five in the Asia Pacific region and four in Europe — has identified five key factors for successful strategies to ease lockdown restrictions: knowledge of infection levels, community engagement, public-health capacity, health-system capacity and border control measures. The study found significant variation across countries, with those in Asia Pacific better prepared than European countries, where policies of economic austerity leading into the pandemic weakened the health-care system.
Common diagnoses down, and excess deaths up in the United Kingdom
Diagnoses of common conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental health conditions approximately halved in the city of Salford, near Manchester, during the U.K.’s COVID-19 lockdown, as fewer people were willing or able to see their doctors. Another study has identified more than 2,000 excess deaths in England and Wales due to heart disease and stroke during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, likely caused by people not seeking emergency treatment.