COVID-19: Social distancing, drug trials offer hope

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THE number of COVID-19 cases around the world has just passed 1 million, and it may seem as though this pandemic will never go away. It is important to remember that, in their labs, scientists are making quiet progress every day — helping untangle the causes of this crisis and inching closer to stopping it. Researchers are working at breakneck speed to come up with ways of treating and preventing COVID-19. A couple of weeks ago, Medical News Today first rounded up emerging evidence that gave us reasons to be cautiously hopeful. Social distancing measures work A new study by Prof. Chaolong Wang and colleagues from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in Wuhan, China, suggests that the social distancing measures implemented by Chinese officials prevented more than 90% of possible infections between January 23 and February 18, 2020. Prof. Wang and the team reached this conclusion after having developed a method of predicting virus transmission patterns by looking at population movement, unconfirmed cases, and people in quarantine. The study also predicted that nearly 60% of the people carrying the virus had no symptoms and were not self-isolating. This may have contributed to the quick spread of the virus. These findings are consistent with those of other studies, such as one published in Eurosurveillance that looked at the spread of the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Prof. Gerardo Chowell, a co-author of this study, highlights the importance of social distancing as the only way to block the chain of contagion in the context of asymptomatic cases. “Implementing strong social distancing measures is the only way to stop the virus from spreading.” ‘Megatrial’ of 4 potential new treatments The World Health Organization (WHO) have launched SOLIDARITY, an international megatrial of four possible ways to treat COVID-19. The first trial will look at repurposing remdesivir, a drug that was developed to treat Ebola but proved ineffective for this purpose. Repurposed drug could prevent deaths As COVID-19 is placing an increasing strain on healthcare systems across the world, researchers led by Dr. Michael Yaffe — a David H. Koch Professor of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge — say that repurposing a blood-thinning drug could reduce COVID-19 deaths and the demand for ventilators.