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Coronavirus update: Hopeful news about treatments and prevention, why nursing homes have suffered so much death

Could mouthwash help prevent the virus?

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 1,491,547 (1,468,577)

Total U.S. deaths: 89,666 (88.811)

Total global cases: 4,748,937 (4,662,534)

Total global deaths: 316,277 (312,274)

Antibodies may be key to treating and preventing COVID-19

Scientists report rapid progress in treating the coronavirus (COVID-19) as well as promising test results of a new vaccine. Developments on both fronts are happening faster than health experts predicted.

Doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital say that when they gave antibodies from recovered patients to 25 critically ill patients, nearly 75 percent quickly improved. It raises hope that a simple blood transfusion could prevent patients from suffering the worst effects of the virus or dying.

In other encouraging news, Moderna reports that preliminary results of its Phase 1 clinical trial of an experimental vaccine showed that it can create antibodies in test subjects. Those antibodies may be effective in preventing the disease.

Why nursing homes have been hard-hit

Employees and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have accounted for about one-third of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. University of Michigan researchers say there’s a very good reason why that’s the case.

Sheria Robinson-Lane, a gerontologist and assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, says some of our most vulnerable adults live in nursing homes. To be admitted, a patient must require 24-hour nursing care.

More than 90 percent of the older adults in nursing care centers have at least one chronic disease, and more than 70 percent suffer from two chronic conditions. As a result, people in nursing homes generally do not have optimal immune system functioning, so it’s a lot easier for them to get sick.

Gargling may slow the virus, researchers say

Mouthwash may do more than simply fight bad breath. Researchers at the American Physiological Society say many of these products might also be a deterrent against the coronavirus.

In a new review article published in Function, the scientists say readily available dental mouthwashes have the potential to destroy the lipid envelope of coronaviruses, combating virus replication in the mouth and throat. They say there is an urgent need to test the effectiveness of this approach in clinical trials.

“Emerging studies increasingly demonstrate the importance of the throat and salivary glands as sites of virus replication and transmission in early COVID-19 disease,” the researchers wrote. 

They say COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, characterized by an outer lipid membrane derived from the host cell from which it buds. While it is highly sensitive to agents that disrupt lipid bio-membranes, they say there has been no discussion about the potential role of oral rinsing in preventing transmission.

Ford initiating new testing protocol

As Detroit automakers begin to open their vehicle production facilities, Ford has announced that it has contracted with health systems in four metro areas with major company facilities to set up ways to test hourly and salaried employees with suspected symptoms of COVID-19.

The tests will be administered to Ford workers in Southeast Michigan, Louisville, Kansas City, and Chicago. The move is meant to ensure that there are no flare ups of the virus on the assembly line.

“Fast and accurate testing is a key tool in the effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Walter Talamonti, Ford’s medical director. “These contracts will allow us to test employees with suspected symptoms and have results back within 24 hours. If they test positive, we can quickly identify close contact employees who may have been exposed and ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days.”

Offices may never be the same

Stores and restaurants have begun to reopen, but offices are still closed in many parts of the country. Companies have discovered over the last six weeks that employees can work efficiently from home and, in a few cases, have increased their productivity.

Offices that reopen may look a lot different in the future. Marc Spector, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and principal at Spectorgroup, tells CNBC that office spaces will be designed to be “safer,” with more closed-off space for individual workers.

The changes he sees in corporate workspaces include reoriented workstations so people aren’t facing one another, removing tables and seating in conference rooms and other communal areas to create space, and the elimination of personal effects in offices or on desks.

Around the nation

  • Missouri: The state saw its smallest weekly increase in coronavirus cases last week since March, the state health department reported. State health officials reported 945 new cases of the virus between May 11 and May 17.  

  • Colorado: Colorado has lifted its initial stay-at-home order, but the state isn’t opening quickly enough for some protestors who gathered at the state capital Sunday. Gov. Jared Polis says he’s just following the reopening guidelines specified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Maine: Restaurants in 12 mostly rural counties are being allowed to reopen their dining rooms, which have been shut down for more than six weeks. The restaurants will be allowed to seat patrons outside with limited indoor seating to maintain social distancing.

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