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.
Many parents are OK with less rigorous vaccine testing
Almost half of parents say they would accept less rigorous testing and a faster approval of a COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers, including a team from the University of British Columbia, surveyed parents who visited hospital emergency departments around the world between March and June and found that 43 per cent said they would be comfortable with a faster, less stringent vaccine testing process. Parents whose children were already up to date on their vaccinations, and who planned to vaccinate their children for COVID-19 when one becomes available, were more likely to accept an expedited process. Fathers were also more likely to suggest modifying the approval standards than mothers.
COVID-19-free hospital areas can keep surgery safe
Setting up COVID-19-free areas in hospitals for surgical patients could save lives and allow elective surgeries to continue safely during the second wave of the pandemic. A study of surgical patients in 55 countries found that pulmonary complications and rates of death were lower for those who had their treatment in COVID-19-free areas — where strict policies ensured that no patients treated for COVID-19 were mixed with those undergoing surgery.
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients younger than those with flu
People hospitalized with COVID-19 tend to be younger and healthier compared with those hospitalized for flu, according to a study of more than 34,000 patients around the world. But the disease still predominantly affects older people: in the United States and Spain, the most common age group among those hospitalized for COVID-19 was 60 to 75.
Canadians give government low, but passing, grade on COVID-19 response
The Canadian government scored 61 out of 100 on an evaluation of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers asked people to judge 10 different aspects of their government’s response such as assistance with income, food and shelter; co-operation with other countries and international organizations; and access to COVID-19 testing. Canadians rated the government’s communications efforts highest, and provision of mental health services lowest. Of the 18 other countries surveyed, China ranked highest overall, with a score of 80.48, and Ecuador ranked lowest with a score of 35.76. The United States scored 50.57. The average score for each country was strongly associated with the level of trust in government.
Determining people’s motivations for and against physical distancing
A desire to protect others and themselves, and a feeling of responsibility to protect the community, were the most commonly cited motivations for engaging in physical distancing, according to a survey of people in North America by researchers at the University of Calgary. The most frequently cited barriers to physical distancing were the presence of too many people on the streets, family and friends who needed errands run for them, and a lack of trust in government. Adherence to physical distancing guidelines ranged from 45 per cent for “working from home,” to 90 per cent for “avoiding crowds and non-essential travel.” Men and younger people were less likely to comply with the guidelines.
Trust in information sources varies, and affects pandemic behaviour and death rates
Gender, age, education level and political affiliation predict where people will turn for information about COVID-19, and which sources they trust is linked to their beliefs and behaviour during the pandemic. A survey of people in the United States found that traditional media sources were the most common source of information, followed by government websites and social media. Social media was the least trusted source, but trust in government sources dropped dramatically between March and April, with men and those over 40 less likely to trust the government.
Which traditional news source people rely on also affects both their beliefs about the pandemic and how likely they are to engage in risky behaviours. People who relied on CNN were more likely to say that COVID-19 is worse than the flu, were more likely to take precautions such as wearing a mask, and less likely to take risks such as going to a bar. In contrast, people who relied on Fox News were more likely to believe COVID-19 was an act of bioterrorism, less likely to take precautions, and more likely to take risks.
Researchers at McGill University also found that trust in public institutions is linked to mortality rates around the world. Countries where people lack confidence in state institutions had higher death rates. The researchers also found that higher levels of income inequality are associated with more deaths.
Symptoms last a long time for pregnant women
COVID-19 symptoms can last for two months or longer for many pregnant women. A study of almost 600 pregnant women with COVID-19 in San Francisco found that half of the participants still had symptoms after three weeks, and 25 per cent had symptoms after eight weeks. Most of the women in the study had mild cases and were not hospitalized.
Black and Asian patients have increased risk at different disease stages
While Black and Asian people face greater risks from COVID-19 than white people, that risk comes at different stages of the disease for each group. A study in the United Kingdom found that Black patients are more likely to require hospitalization for the disease, while Asian patients have a higher risk of requiring intensive care and dying in hospital. The study suggests that both social and biological factors may contribute to these disparities.
COVID-19 immunity remains complicated
How our immune system reacts to COVID-19, and how long immunity might last, are important factors for understanding how long the pandemic might last. But the picture remains complicated. We have previously reported that immunity to COVID-19 might be short-lived, but two new studies have now found that some antibodies can persist in the blood and saliva for at least three months.
However, those results must be tempered by the report of another case of a person catching COVID-19 twice. A 25-year-old man in Nevada has become the fourth person confirmed to have been reinfected with the virus after recovering from the initial infection. In this latest case, the symptoms were more severe in the second infection.
Prevention is expensive, but it’s cheaper than the cure
Providing adequate protective equipment for health-care workers around the world would require an initial investment of almost US$10 billion, but the return on that investment could be as much as 8,000 per cent in productivity gains, yielding $755.3-billion in benefits to society. This highlights the importance of preventative measures to not only save lives, but also to save money in the long-term. A separate study estimates that the total cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to the United States alone could be more than $16 trillion — and that is based on the optimistic assumption that it will be totally contained by September 2021. The estimate combines both direct losses from lower GDP, as well as the indirect costs associated with premature deaths, long-term health impairment and mental health problems.
Noise exposure cut in half during lockdown
People’s exposure to environmental noise dropped by nearly half during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when stay-at-home orders were in effect. Data on noise exposure collected from volunteers wearing an Apple watch in New York, California, Texas and Florida found that daily average sound levels dropped approximately three decibels during March and April compared with January and February — a reduction that could have a large effect on people’s overall health over time, say the researchers.
Pandemic stress leaves people less engaged at work, but bosses can help
The more people think about COVID-19-related deaths and their own mortality, the less engaged they are at work. But the right kind of boss can help their employees reduce their anxiety and channel their stress into positive behaviours. The study found that people whose bosses exhibit “servant leadership” — those who prioritize fulfilment of others’ needs, attend to employees’ emotional suffering, work to empower employees and emphasize serving the community — had less stress and were more productive.