The Daily Dose: COVID-19 lays bare the new colonialism; NASA designs a disposable ventilator

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In a short period of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of governments, national philosophies, and social norms. From Chinese government opacity to America’s individualism at all costs, defects are now measured by the cruelest of indicators: morbidity and mortality figures. Another fissure, formerly hidden but now self-evident is the international pecking order in healthcare. A commentary in Lancet Global Health highlights some of the problems and how they are made manifest. “But with many borders closed and wealthy nations increasingly looking inwards, we are reminded of the asymmetrical power structures that still dominate the largely high-income-country concept of global health and development, and the dangers of the poorest countries being left in the dark as traditional powers shift their focus to the overwhelming problems at home.” It is colonialism, only without the physical territory.

With all the media focus on Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir and its potential use as a COVID-19 therapy, it’s helpful to have an understanding of how the drug actually works on a cellular level. A paper published in Science breaks down how the drug interferes with SARS-CoV-2’s ability to replicate by first elucidating the virus’ polymerase (RdRp) structure. “Here we report the cryo-EM structure of the SARS-CoV-2 RdRp either in the apo form at 2.8 Å resolution or in complex with a 50-base template-primer RNA and Remdesivir at 2.5 Å resolution. The complex structure reveals that the partial double-stranded RNA template is inserted into the central channel of the RdRp where Remdesivir is covalently incorporated into the primer strand at the first replicated base pair and terminates chain elongation.“

NASA has designed a new ventilator in order to help alleviate current and future shortages of ventilators in light of e current pandemic. The new device is called VITAL, (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally). The high-pressure device was developed by engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and is designed specifically for COVID-19 patients. VITAL is more of a stop-gap measure, only meant to function for 3-4 months. As per FierceBiotech, “The FDA’s green light allows the device to be used specifically for COVID-19 patients. In addition, it is constructed with components from outside the medical device supply chain, according to the agency, to lessen the impact on the supplies needed for currently made ventilators.”

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to give rise to unexpected conditions that extend beyond the now-outdated symptoms of fever, cough, and trouble breathing. The virus is taking a considerable mental toll on everyone from frontline workers to people quarantined at home. STAT took a closer look at the phenomenon. According to the article, “In the last three weeks of March, the St. Louis hotline recorded 396 callers with suicidal thoughts, of which 65, or 16%, mentioned Covid-19, said Amanda Galloway, a spokeswoman for the center. In April, the number of suicidal callers who were distraught over the coronavirus quintupled. Of 1,018 suicidal callers, 346, or 34%, named the virus as their main reason for calling.”

Finally, a recent study in PLOS One adds to the data that indicates men are more likely to suffer from serious COVID-19 infections than women. According to the authors, “In the present study, we analyzed 168 severe patients with COVID-19, including 86 males and 82 females, and 48 patients (28.6%) were diagnosed as critically ill. Of 86 male patients, 12.8% (11/86) died and 75.6% (65/86) were discharged; of 82 female patients, 7.3% (6/82) died and 86.6% (71/82) were discharged.” While the study’s sample is somewhat small, the paper does line up with other evidence, clinical and anecdotal.

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