With U.S. Deaths Topping 63,000, a Breakthrough in Hunt for Covid-19 Treatment, But “Not A Magic Cure”

Recovery time: A large clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows that patients sickened by Covid-19 tend to recover more quickly with the antiviral medication remdesivir than those given a placebo treatment, Melissa Healy reports for the Los Angeles Times. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who leads the institute, celebrated the news, and said it would become the new “standard of care” for infected patients. However, other experts are more tempered in their enthusiasm. “When you look at the numbers in terms of what it can do, you’re not likely to be blown away by it,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent. The impact on mortality rates, for example, was so slight that it wasn’t statistically significant:  8 percent of patients who took remdesivir died compared to 11 percent of patients who received the placebo. Also, remdesivir needs to be administered through an IV by medical professionals, which means it will probably be used for the most serious cases, even though it is more effective when administered early in the course of the disease, Zachary Brennan and Sarah Owermohle report for Politico. “This is not a magic cure,” said Jeffrey Gold, a doctor and chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the lead researcher in the NIAID remdesivir study. But “if you marry that to more testing, contact tracing and the ability to identify earlier patients … all that adds into a ray of light and seeing our way through this.” Gilead Sciences, the drug maker that produces remdesivir, wants to make the drug accessible and affordable to as many people as possible once it is approved, said CEO Daniel O’Day.

  • Also: Worldwide more than 3.2 million people have contracted coronavirus, and more than 234,000 have died, including confirmed and probable cases.

The blame game: As President Trump escalates his campaign to blame China for the pandemic, senior administration officials have been pressuring American spy agencies to look for evidence to support the unsubstantiated theory that the coronavirus outbreak came from a government lab in Wuhan, China, The New York Times reports. Scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say it most likely leapt from animal to human outside a laboratory, as in the cases of H.I.V., Ebola, and SARS. “There’s a lot of theories,” the president said during a press conference Thursday, “but we have people looking at it very, very strongly. Scientific people, intelligence people and others.” Previously, Trump ordered a suspension of U.S. support for the World Health Organization, claiming that it had mismanaged the pandemic and been too trusting of China.

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The big scramble: The Treasury Department is scrambling to figure out how to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars from big companies that successfully applied for loans meant to provide relief for small and mom-and-pop businesses,  Alan Rappeport writes for The New York Times–including that famously small business, the Los Angeles Lakers. Other big companies with big names that received loans include Shake Shack, Potbelly, and AutoNation. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has now threatened to hold big companies criminally liable if they cannot prove that they needed the money, and says the administration could audit any company that received more than $2 million, although it’s questionable whether that is feasible or likely, especially when the eligibility rules were so broad and vague that the big companies probably did qualify. Some businesses, including the Lakers and Shake Shack, have announced that they are returning the funds. More than 100 companies received $2 million or more in loans, and most are keeping the money, Rappeport reports.

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The big squeeze: City and state workers are getting axed from payrolls as governments tighten spending, at the cost of education, sanitation, and public health and safety, Tony Romm writes for The Washington Post. The National League of Cities estimates that between 300,000 and one million public sector workers could soon be out of a job or furloughed without pay, affecting all aspects of municipal life. The Post’s Andrew Van Dam has analyzed unemployment claims from states that break them down by industry to show how the crisis has affected different industries in waves: first, service industries that rely on face-to-face contact, then manufacturing and construction work that relies on group labor, and then trade and trucking and all of the administrative work that goes into making other parts of the economy run properly. The two most recent waves of unemployment have impacted white collar and public sector workers. The public sector used to keep the economy going when times were tough, Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, tells Van Dam, but no longer. “Over the last couple of recessions, the public sector hasn’t played that traditional role,” Zipperer said. “As a result, we’ve seen steeper recessions and slower recoveries.”

  • Also:  Reversing steady gains in living standards in the developing world, the World Bank has warned that global poverty will rise for the first time since 1998 because of the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reports. Some 8 percent of the world’s population–a half billion people–could be driven into destitution by the end of the year. In Bangladesh, one million garment workers have already lost their jobs as the global supply chain has ground to a halt.

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Essential, or expendable? The economic slowdown hasn’t put the brakes on the Trump administration’s campaign to ease environmental rules. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed loosening a rule meant to prevent farmworker exposure to pesticides, Chris Richard reports for Civil Eats. Under the current rule, pesticides cannot be applied when there are people within a certain radius, even if that radius extends off the property. Some growers have complained that this results in delays and that they shouldn’t be held responsible for the movement of people offsite. The EPA has heard those complaints and proposed ending restrictions at the property line. The change could affect people living and working nearby, but farmworkers are among those most likely to be affected by the change. Many already suffer consequences from pesticide drift even under the current rules. “What happened to me could have happened to anybody,” says Rogelina Sánchez, a farmworker who was exposed to insecticides being sprayed in a nearby orchard while working in a vineyard in California’s Central Valley. “We need more regulation, not less.”

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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