COVID-19 News Briefs - Week of March 16-22

ConnectLocal provides a curated list of COVID-19-related, verified and cited news briefs, including regional, state, national and international headlines and lesser-publicized information from the last week.

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last week that the Federal Housing Administration is enacting an “immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages” for the next 60 days. The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced on March 18 that it is directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for “at least 60 days.” According to the FHFA, the foreclosure and eviction suspension applies to homeowners whose single-family mortgage is backed by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

  • U.S. taxpayers will have a three-month extension to file their taxes because of the coronavirus pandemic, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on March 19.

  • On March 20, The U.S. Department of Education announced that people with federal student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for at least the next 60 days.

  • Effective Saturday, March 20, Canada’s shared border with the United States has officially closed to non-essential travel as part of a mutual effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

  • On March 18, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced regulations limiting “nonessential elective medical and surgical procedures, including dental procedures” in order to help prioritize essential health activities.

  • “In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020,” states a March 20 US Department of State press release.

  • The Georgia Department of Labor temporarily closed all Career Centers on March 18. Claims will continue to be processed, and filing is available online or by phone.

  • Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler has ordered that employers must file unemployment claims on behalf of employees “whenever it is necessary to temporarily reduce work hours or there is no work available for a short period.”

  • The Georgia Department of Labor has published a YouTube video regarding filing for unemployment benefits for loss of work due to COVID-19.

  • On March 18, “The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation on Wednesday providing … free testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law,” states a Reuters article. “The exact cost has not been tallied, but the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the sick leave and family leave provisions alone would cost $105 billion.”

  • Honda, Ford, GM, Fiat-Chrysler, Tesla, Volvo, Volkswagen, Subaru and Toyota have called for temporary suspension of North American production, according to a March 20 Car & Driver report.

  • Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States are doubling every three days, according to charts provided by OurWorldInData.Org. Worldwide, cases are doubling every seven days, and the rate in China shows doubling of cases has slowed to every 41 days. The number of deaths in the US double every two days. The data used in the charts is provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

  • According to Fortune Magazine, “On Monday, March 23, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) will close its trading floor indefinitely, with traders and market makers working remotely as concerns of contagion continue to disrupt every facet of the financial markets.”

  • Banks across the country are closing down some branch services, while trying to maintain drive-through, online and phone services, according to a US News & World Report article that provides information on COVID-19 policies for a number of banks.

  • Illinois, New York, Connecticut and Nevada, and California governors issued various levels of mandatory “stay-at-home orders late last week.

  • United Airlines is threatening massive employee layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts if Congress doesn't pass a coronavirus economic relief package by the end of this month., according to an NPR report.

  • Oxford Economics expects the U.S. economy to shrink at an annual rate of 12% between April and June, JPMorgan Chase sees a second-quarter contraction of 14%, Goldman Sachs warns of a 24% drop in S&P 500. During the worst quarter of the Great Recession in late 2008, the economy shrank by 8.4 percent.

  • A study from Germany, although based on the study of only nine people infected with COVID-19, and not yet peer reviewed, supports observations of the virus’ behavior in China. According to the study, “early and potentially highly efficient transmission of the virus occurs before clinical symptoms or in conjunction with the very first mild symptoms,” said said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy. “The study also noted that people who are infected begin to develop antibodies to the virus quickly, typically within six to 12 days. The rapid rise of antibodies may explain why about 80 percent of people infected with the virus do not develop severe disease.”

  • On March 16, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) to: Hologic for its Panther Fusion SARS-COV-2 Assay, and Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) for its COVID-19 RT-PCR test. FDA emergency use authorization is not the same as approval or clearance. It only lasts for the duration of the FDA-declared emergency period and can be terminated or revoked earlier, according to the agency.

  • “Hospital, public health and reference laboratories can perform the test on Hologic’s Panther Fusion system, a fully automated, high-throughput molecular diagnostic platform that is widely used across the United States. Each Panther Fusion system can provide results in less than three hours and process up to 1,150 coronavirus tests in a 24-hour period,” states a Hologic press release. “Early diagnosis of the coronavirus is critical both to managing infected patients, and to mitigating the spread of the disease,” said Maurice Exner, Vice President of Research and Development and Clinical Affairs at Hologic. “The EUA for our SARS-CoV-2 assay on the Panther Fusion system allows laboratories to run many more tests per day than they can on manual systems, enhancing the public health fight.” The automated Panther high-throughput system is widely used across the U.S., can provide results in less than three hours and process up to 1,150 coronavirus tests in a 24-hour period, according to the company, investor relations website. Starting in April, Hologic expects to produce nearly 600,000 SARS-CoV-2 tests per month, representing a 12-fold increase in the company’s prior manufacturing capacity for similar tests that run on the Panther Fusion system.

  • The RT-PCR test from LabCorp detects the presence of the underlying virus that causes COVID-19 and is approved for use in patients who meet current guidance for evaluation of COVID-19 infection. The company originally announced they would have the ability to perform more than 20,000 tests per day by the end of March. On March 19, they announced they would reach that capacity by the following day, March 20. “Test results will be available in 3-4 days from the pickup of the specimen to release of the test result,” states LabCorps data.

  • On March 13, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Roche’s cobas SARS-CoV-2 test under Emergency Use Authorization. The new test can provide results in about three-and-a-half hours and is designed to run up to 4,128 test results per day. Hospitals and laboratories will be able to run the test on Roche’s fully automated cobas 6800 and cobas 8800 Systems, which are already in wide use in the U.S. and internationally. The Emergency Use Authorization allows the test to be conducted in the U.S. and in countries that accept the CE mark showing they conform to European standards.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products. These products are unapproved drugs that pose significant risks to patient health and violate federal law.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) jointly issued warning letters to Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-Ergetics, GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, and The Jim Bakker Show for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products. The products cited in these warning letters are teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver.

  • “While there are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19, there are several FDA-approved treatments that may help ease the symptoms from a supportive care perspective. The FDA is working closely with innovators in their work to expedite these efforts, including leveraging scientific information about the virus and trials currently being conducted in other countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Italy as well as in the U.S., an FDA press release stated,

  • On Wednesday, March 18, President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act. The law contains a section that authorizes the president to control the production and distribution of scarce materials deemed "essential to the national defense. In his executive order, Trump delegates his authority to carry out the law "to the Secretary of Health and Human Services with respect to all health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 within the United States." The Act has been invoked multiple times to help the federal government for a range of emergencies including war, hurricanes and terrorism prevention. The act gives the federal government broad authority to direct private companies to meet the needs of the national defense.The act authorizes the president to require companies to prioritize government contracts and orders seen as necessary for the national defense, with the goal of ensuring that the private sector is producing enough goods needed to meet a war effort or other national emergency. Other provisions authorize the federal government to establish voluntary agreements with private industry and to block foreign mergers and acquisitions seen as harmful to national security. Although Trump invoked the Act, he has yet to utilize it.

  • On March 22, President Donald Trump gave auto executives the “go ahead” to make ventilators to help address the shortages resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Ford, General Motors and Tesla have initiated talks regarding the manufacturing of ventilators, according to an NPR report. Ventilators are machines that help people breathe when they can’t breathe on their own. Air is delivered through a tube in the patient’s windpipe into the lungs. According to the New York Times, there are about 170,000 ventilators in the US, while the American Hospital Association estimates 960,000 people will need them over the course of the pandemic.

  • In early March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a joint Emergency Use Authorization to make more respirators available to health care personnel, authorizing certain respirators not currently regulated by the FDA to be used in a health care setting by health care personnel during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, on March 20, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy stated that the CDC had released, on March 19, the second new official guideline for healthcare providers regarding the use of face masks, including N95 respirators and surgical masks, while treating COVID-19. "In settings where face masks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE [personal protective equipment], since their capability to protect [healthcare professionals] is unknown," the CDC said.

  • On March 17, Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Switzerland, announced the creation of the Novartis COVID-19 Response Fund that will provide grants of up to $1 million to support communities around the world most impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak. Novartis also announced its intent to join the COVID 19 Therapeutics Accelerator initiative. In early March, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Wellcome and Mastercard announced they were launching a $125 million initiative, COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, to help speed up the development of therapies to treat coronavirus.

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are currently no medications or vaccines proven to be effective for the treatment or prevention of the 2019 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). However, there are numerous therapies being tested and, according to a Science Magazine article, on March 18, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a large global trial, called Solidarity, which could include many thousands of patients in dozens of countries, will test the four most promising of those therapies; Remdesivir, Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, Ritonavir/lopinavir, and Ritonavir/lopinavir + interferon beta.


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