Coronavirus update: CDC says two masks better than one, a promising drug treatment

Photo (c) Adrienne Bresnahan - Getty Images

Expert says variants will soon be everywhere

Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 27,295,950 (27,200,718)

Total U.S. deaths: 471,956 (468,500)

Total global cases: 107,482,468 (107,048,380)

Total global deaths: 2,358,085 (2,345,737)

CDC endorses ‘double-masking’

As predicted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance that recommends people wear two face masks to protect against the emerging, more contagious variants of the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

But the agency stresses the importance of wearing a mask with a tight fit. It says “double-masking” can improve the effectiveness of most masks.

“CDC conducted experiments to assess two ways of improving the fit of medical procedure mask: fitting a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask, and knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face,” the agency said. “Each modification substantially improved source control and reduced wearer exposure.”

Roche drug shown to help COVID-19 patients

While the emphasis remains on distributing vaccines to prevent people from getting the coronavirus, pharmaceutical companies are reporting encouraging results on drugs to treat patients who get the virus. An existing drug from Roche is the latest to show promise.

Researchers at Oxford University report that tocilizumab, an intravenous drug to treat arthritis, also shortened patients’ length of stay at hospitals and reduced the need for a ventilator. It worked even better when combined with the steroid dexamethasone.

“Previous trials of tocilizumab had shown mixed results, and it was unclear which patients might benefit from the treatment,” Peter Horby, one of the Oxford researchers, said in a statement. “We now know that the benefits of tocilizumab extend to all COVID patients with low oxygen levels and significant inflammation.”

Expert warns British variant will ‘sweep the world’

If the mutated coronavirus first discovered in the U.K. hasn’t yet shown up in your town, just wait. A prominent geneticist predicts that it is destined to “sweep the world” and become the dominant strain of COVID-19.

Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics U.K. Consortium, says the key question is how the current vaccines will handle the variant. Both Pfizer and Moderna have said their research shows their vaccines will still be effective against the new strain.

Both the U.K. strain and the one identified in South Africa do not appear to cause a more severe or fatal illness. However, both appear to be much more contagious than the original virus.

New jobless claims fall but remain elevated

The unemployment picture remained a mixed bag last week. The Labor Department reports that initial claims for unemployment benefits totaled 793,000 last week.

That was fewer than the 812,000 claims in the previous week but more than the 760,000 that most economists expected. On the bright side, last week saw the lowest level in new claims in five weeks.

Analysts point out that unemployment claims have almost perfectly tracked the movement of coronavirus cases. Now that cases are on the decline, they say businesses are doing more hiring.

Pandemic has sparked large scale career changes

Because of the pandemic, many Americans have decided to move to other cities and towns, creating the largest migration in decades. It turns out the pandemic is also prompting many people to think about changing careers, according to a survey from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).

"Whether they've been directly affected by job losses and furloughs or not, consumers are clearly taking note of how the pandemic has disrupted the U.S. economy," said Geoffrey Brown, NAPFA CEO. "They are looking for ways to improve their financial security and not shying away from considering major life changes.”

As people reassess their professional lives, increasing their income is the top priority. Of those who've become more likely to find a new job or make a career change, 45 percent hope to make a higher salary in their new position. Thirty percent say they want to continue working from home.

Around the nation

  • New Jersey: Gov. Phil Murphy has gone into quarantine after a member of his family tested positive for COVID-19. The governor was tested Wednesday and received a negative result. The governor’s office said he is going into quarantine out of an abundance of caution.

  • Illinois: Despite nationwide shortages of the coronavirus vaccine, Illinois is expanding eligibility to receive the shot. The state expects to increase eligibility beginning Feb. 25, allowing for people with "a high-risk medical condition" or comorbidity to be vaccinated. 

  • California: Gov. Gavin Newsom has praised the vaccination effort in his state, reporting that 5 million Californians have received the vaccine so far. That’s approximately one in 10 residents. In a tweet, Newsom said that “hope is on the way.”

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