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5 things to know about COVID-19 this week

NYC children have been hospitalized with a COVID-associated syndrome, new research warns that the current strain may be more contagious than the original, and new studies examine children’s potential to transmit the virus.

As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues, new information is coming out constantly. Here are five important developments from the past week.

1. 15 children were hospitalized in New York City with an inflammatory syndrome that is possibly linked to COVID-19, the New York Times reports. The patients, whose ages range from 2 to 15, had been hospitalized in intensive care from April 17 to May 1 with symptoms associated with toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, a rare inflammatory syndrome typically affecting children under the age of 5. Many of the patients tested positive for COVID-19 or had been exposed to it.

More than half needed blood pressure support and five needed mechanical ventilation, but none died, according to the New York City Health Department. Less than half of those patients reported respiratory symptoms, but the department described their ailments as a “multi-system inflammatory syndrome potentially associated with COVID-19.”

Several European countries have reported similar cases.

2. The strain of COVID-19 that is now dominant could be more contagious than the original, according to scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory. It may also make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned.

It is important to note that BioRxiv, where the report was posted, is a site researchers use to share their work before it is peer-reviewed. Researchers are sharing their work on BioRxiv in an effort to speed up collaborations with scientists working on COVID-19 vaccines or treatments. Much of the existing research is based on earlier strains and might not be effective against the new one.

Initial evidence suggested that COVID-19 is not likely to mutate the way influenza does and require a new vaccine every year. This report, while not conclusive, could potentially render that assumption void.

3. House Democrats introduced a bill on Tuesday to forgive student debt for health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. If passed, the bill would establish a national forgiveness program for federal and private loans.

CBS News reports that under the proposed Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act, health care workers would be eligible for debt forgiveness if they have made “significant contributions” to the COVID-19 response. Hazard pay and financial support for medical workers seems to have broad bipartisan support from both the legislative and executive branches.

4. New studies are providing more evidence that children may transmit COVID-19. Fewer children seem to get infected than adults, and most of those who do have mild symptoms. The New York Times reports that one study published last week in the journal Science found that children in Shanghai and Wuhan, China, were about one-third as susceptible to coronavirus infection as adults were.

However, with schools open, the study found that those children had about three times as many contacts and opportunities to become infected as adults, which leveled out their risk. The researchers estimated that keeping schools closed could reduce the surge of cases by about 40 to 60%.

Another study, conducted in Germany, found that children who test positive harbor as much of the virus as adults do, and sometimes more, so they are presumably just as infectious.

5. As visits plummet because of the coronavirus, small physician practices are struggling to survive. A story published on Tuesday in the New York Times details the financial hardships many practices across the country are facing due to reduced clinic hours and patient visits. One practice in Arkansas reports that its revenues were down 40% in March and April.

Though Congress has sent tens of billions of dollars to the hospitals reporting large losses, and passed legislation to send more, practices in less profitable fields like primary care and pediatrics have yet to receive targeted aid.

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