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5 things to know about COVID-19 this week

A common steroid is shown to help save severely ill COVID-19 patients, many infected patients may carry antibodies up to 60 days later, and people under 20 are estimated to be half as likely to catch the virus.

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

1. Dexamethasone, a steroid, is the first drug shown to help save very sick COVID-19 patients, scientists in Britain say. The New York Times reports that scientists at the University of Oxford said that the affordable and readily available drug reduced deaths in patients with severe cases of COVID-19.
The Oxford study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published, found that the drug can reduce inflammation caused by the immune system in response to COVID-19, protecting tissues. Dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth, according to the study.
2. Researchers many patients infected with COVID-19 have antibodies up to 60 days later. Newsweek reports researchers found that people who have been infected with COVID-19 “have been found to carry antibodies to [the virus] for almost two months after falling sick,” but “it is unclear whether the antibodies could protect the patients from being reinfected.”

The researchers took blood samples from 177 COVID-19 patients. The vast majority of these patients had been ill enough to require hospitalization. They found that most patients had detectable levels of antibodies up to 60 days after infection, but 2-8.5% did not. The findings were shared on medRxiv, “meaning the study hasn’t been through the rigorous peer review process required to publish in scientific journals.”

The researchers also noted that their study doesn’t address whether patients with less severe cases of COVID-19 would carry antibodies as well.

3. People under 20 are estimated to be half as likely than those over 20 to catch COVID-19, according to a study published in Nature Medicine. CNN reports that researchers looked at epidemic data from China, Japan, Italy, Singapore, Canada and South Korea to come to this conclusion. The researchers also estimate that clinical symptoms of COVID-19 manifest in around 21% of those aged between 10-19 who are infected. This is also significantly lower than the estimated 69% in people aged 70 or over who are infected.

The study said more research on asymptomatic transmission is needed, but that interventions that are aimed at children might not have as large of an impact, especially if asymptomatic transmission is low.

4. Proposed bipartisan legislation seeks to make Medicare reimbursement for some telemedicine services permanent. Healthcare IT News reported the proposed legislation known as the Helping Ensure Access to Local TeleHealth, or HEALTH Act, would require the HHS Secretary to revise federal regulations to consider telehealth services from an eligible facility as a “visit.”

In the early days of the pandemic, CMS relaxed reimbursement requirements, which led to an increase in telemedicine visits. Now many are urging the agency to make those changes permanent.

5. Food producers are already preparing for a possible second wave of COVID-19. An ABC News story reports on the efforts that packaged food companies, including Campbell’s and a few smaller snack food packagers, are putting in place to ensure their supply chains are better equipped to handle another ripple effect of increased demand.

“We’ve really elevated our relationships and dialogue with our suppliers and identified a secondary supply. We took all inventories up about 50%,” T.J. McIntyre, the CEO of Bobo’s Oat Bars, told ABC News. “We can’t build finished food inventory, but we can definitely make sure that we have enough of our most important ingredients.”

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