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DAILY DOSE: COVID-19 test made for schools ready to roll out; Volunteers making a difference in Thailand.

As students return to school this fall, parents are understandably concerned about their unvaccinated children being in close proximity. Beyond masking and proper ventilation to reduce transmission, frequent testing plays a key role in catching infections before they turn into raging outbreaks. It goes without saying that diagnostics companies need to be at the top of their games. Unfortunately, they had been in the process of ramping down production when it seemed the COVID-19 pandemic was abating. Things have changed. That has left them needing to get production back on line quickly. Per FierceBiotech, “Among those scrambling to ramp production back up is LumiraDx. Barely two weeks after slashing the value of its proposed reverse merger with blank check company CA Healthcare Acquisition by almost half, citing the short-lived slow down in test purchases, the U.K.-based diagnostics maker has added a new COVID-19 assay to its U.S. offerings. The antigen test kit is designed solely for use in monitoring outbreaks among schools, workplaces and other groups and organizations in real-time. It does so by testing up to five samples at once on LumiraDx’s portable, hand-held analyzer and returning results within about 12 minutes. Depending on the quantity of tests ordered, the cost per sample can fall as low as $4.” More of this please, coming from a concerned parent.

Herd immunity and endemic disease are two terms most of us never thought would enter the mainstream psyche, but here we are in 2021 well into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. An article by the Australian Broadcast Company looked at India’s current disease trends and explores whether COVID-19 has already become endemic. Per ABC, “The number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths in India has dropped dramatically since a second wave of the virus peaked in May. First the Alpha and then the Delta variant — which was first detected in India and is now causing strife elsewhere in the world — ravaged the country. But the seven-day average of daily reported cases this week is just a tenth of the 400,000 recorded during the peak. Reported deaths are down, too, with an average of fewer than 500 per day, down from more than 4,000 per day. According to health authorities, more than 439,000 people in India have now died with the virus.  The relatively stable numbers, which lasted throughout August, prompted the World Health Organization’s chief scientist to suggest India may have reached a state of ‘endemicity’. That is, it may be endemic or constantly present in a particular place.” If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, time will tell.

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There’s no shortage of data available. The problem lies in determining the quality of information and which set to choose. Canada’s top public health official is learning that lesson first hand. Per the Globe and Mail, “Premier Jason Kenney and his Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw, pointed to data out of Britain as proof that infections had become “decoupled” from severe outcomes; in other words, a spike in COVID-19 cases would no longer result in a similar increase in hospital admissions. But Mr. Kenney was forced last week to admit those predictions did not come to pass in Alberta – a miscalculation that now threatens to push hospital admissions past the peak of any previous wave and bring the health care system closer to a breaking point.” Of course, hindsight is pretty easy.

Scientists are divided on the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, albeit not evenly. Most virologists favor a natural animal to human leap over the so-called lab leak hypothesis. A recent article in Science looks at the way many scientists believe that a lab leak is highly unlikely. That’s fine. However, this one excerpt from the Science article tells you everything you need to know about the debate: “… David Relman, a Stanford University microbiome researcher who also co-signed the Science letter, questions the ‘hopelessly impoverished’ data on the earliest COVID-19 cases. ‘I just don’t think we have enough right now to say anything with great confidence,’ Relman says.” Until better quality data becomes available — ahem, CCP — the uncertainty will remain.

For those of us anxious about a future dystopia wherein humans are lordered over by more intelligent and efficient robots, we can thank Singapore for the latest glimpse into the future. Per Reuters, “Singapore has started trialing robots to patrol public areas and deter poor social behaviour in its latest effort to further augment its strong portfolio of surveillance tools. Ranked one of the safest countries in the world, Singapore has put two autonomous robots on trial to detect bad behaviour such as flouting of COVID-19 safety measures, smoking in prohibited areas and the improper parking of bicycles, Singapore’s Home Team Science and Technology Agency said in a statement on Sunday. It said the two patrol robots, named Xavier, are equipped with cameras that can detect bad social behaviour and trigger real-time alerts to the command and control centre.”

Since the Singaporean robot news is so dispiriting, we want to end on a high note. If you’ve been following the news, the COVID-19 pandemic has really shaken Thailand with its tourist industry slowing to a trickle. This means that a lot of people have lost their ability to earn a living and put food on the table. The government hasn’t performed well. Enter kind-hearted volunteers. One such organization, Bancock Community Help, is featured by Reuters. According to the article, “Donations come from corporations, individuals and even governments. Some give meals they’ve prepared themselves, others packaged goods or cash. Rice in survival packages recently distributed in the slums near Bangkok’s main commercial port facilities was paid for through Australian Aid; apples were donated by the New Zealand-Thai Chamber of Commerce. When hospitals became so overcrowded that COVID-19 patients couldn’t get admitted, volunteer doctors and others brought oxygen to their homes, hoping to keep them alive long enough for an ICU bed to become free.” It’s really a great story that I’m certain the Twitteratti will still somehow dump on.



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