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5 things to know about COVID-19 this week

The first vaccine tested in the U.S. moves on to the final phase of testing, high demand for COVID-19 tests is causing lab delays, and the CDC officially urges all Americans to wear masks.

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

1. The first COVID-19 vaccine tested in the U.S. boosts immune systems as hoped and is moving on to the final phase of testing, the AP reported on Tuesday. These results are based on data from 45 volunteers who received the vaccine, developed by Moderna, in March. There were no reported serious side effects from the two-dose vaccine, though some had flu-like symptoms, which are common following administration of other vaccines.

The next phase of development will begin around July 27, when a 30,000-person study will aim to verify that the vaccine can protect against the virus. It will be the largest global study yet for a COVID-19 vaccine.

2. High demand for COVID-19 tests has stressed the bandwidth of labs, delaying results, USA Today reported on Saturday. Even though many labs across the country are working 24/7, in communities where COVID-19 cases are currently surging, it can take a week or longer before testing results are processed. This makes spread containment efforts more difficult, as those who test positive are not aware for several days.

While Congress and private labs helped alleviate America’s initial pandemic testing lags in March and April, the recent resurgence in cases nationwide is once again straining the nation’s testing infrastructure.

“We did anticipate that the lab capacity would at some point in time come close to reaching a max,” Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, who is in charge of the Trump administration’s testing efforts, said on a press call. “I’m not saying it’s at a max now, but we’re certainly pushing the frontiers.”

3. The CDC officially called on all Americans to wear face masks, citing recent research that has shown that it can significantly limit the transmission of COVID-19. In a press release on Tuesday, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD, said cloth face coverings are “one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus.”

While some additional evidence has come to light that wearing masks may protect the wearer from the virus to some degree as well, the CDC says the main protection one gains from masking happens when it is done universally.

4. The CDC explained how two hair stylists in Missouri came down with COVID-19 in May, but did not spread it to any of their clients because the stylists and all of their clients wore face coverings. The agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (cited in the above press release) reported that based on contact tracing efforts by the Greene County Health Department, none of the 139 clients served by either stylist reported signs or symptoms of COVID-19.

About half volunteered to be tested, and all of those tests came back negative.

“Consistent and correct use of face coverings, when appropriate, is an important tool for minimizing spread of SARS-CoV-2 from presymptomatic, asymptomatic, and symptomatic persons,” the report stated.

5. Researchers have found that the novel coronavirus appears to bind to human cells 1,000 times tighter than its nearest relative, a bat coronavirus. Newsweek reported on a recent Nature study, which analyzed the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. The researchers found that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is much more stable than that of its closest relative, which means it can bind to human cells much more easily.

Researchers said in a statement that at some point in the evolution of the virus, it seems to have picked up changes that allowed it to infect humans. They went on to say their research does not provide a clearer picture for where precisely the virus originated, but may help explain how it evolved.

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