COVID-19: Is this the week the second wave hits?

By Physician Sense
Published June 7, 2020

Key Takeaways

Monday will mark two weeks since the killing of George Floyd, and the subsequent eruption of protests over racism and police brutality in the United States. As we wrote last week, the nation finds itself confronting two crises simultaneously: systemic racism and a pandemic. Both are public health issues. Both are related. And the extent of the interrelation will be revealed in the weeks ahead. But more on that later. Here’s what you might have missed this weekend.

Weekend headlines

  • The killing of George Floyd shows us the same underlying problems revealed by COVID-19, the New York Times reports. Both have demonstrated the extent of which police brutality, unemployment, and sickness have disproportionately affected people of color in the United States. “I’m just as likely to die from a cop as I am from COVID,” said Mike Griffin, a Minneapolis community organizer quoted in the report.

  • Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has pulled months of COVID-19 data from the country’s official sources, the BBC reports. Now, health officials only will provide data from the last 24 hours. Brazil lags only the U.S. in confirmed cases and may soon follow suit in the death toll. Like President Trump, Bolsonaro has been critical of WHO lockdown recommendations. He is also threatening to withdraw from the WHO.

  • An expansive Buzzfeed report explains all of the complicating factors in developing a viable COVID-19 vaccine. Some of the greatest challenges include determining the most effective type of vaccine, expediency of clinical trials (which often require more participants as members of initial study groups drop), and the limitations of animal studies. 

  • The New York Times reports on a U.K. lab that is taking a non-profit approach to developing a COVID-19 vaccine. The lab’s vaccine would be offered at low or no cost in Britain and developing countries.

  • AstraZeneca is making progress on an antibody therapy, the Guardian reports. The therapy uses cloned antibodies to trigger an immune response.

These are the trends we’re watching this week.

Looking ahead

Watching the data

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that the George Floyd protests amount to a “perfect recipe” for spreading COVID-19. Think about what we know about the virus. It thrives in urban settings. Transmission is amplified by proximity. Chemical agents, such as tear gas, will increase mucosal secretions that carry the virus. 

The nature of protest makes social distancing impossible. Many of the largest demonstrations are taking place in the nation’s urban centers, including New York, the epicenter of the epidemic. Scan the faces of demonstrators and you’ll see few masks. 

Perhaps the risks of protesting outweigh the risks of not protesting. It’s undeniable that these mass gatherings have done the work of highlighting the racism that pervades America. Regardless, the weeks ahead will begin to reveal how effective social distancing has been in curtailing the number of circulating cases.

As we reach the two-week mark since George Floyd’s death and the onset of the protests, we also reach the far end of COVID-19’s incubation period. If there is a second wave coming, it’s likely that we may begin to see it this week -- perhaps in the settings where the outbreak began. The most current CDC data show a slight upward trend in new cases by day since May 25.

What’s a physician to do? A New York Times report highlights the complexity of the problem. In New York City, where the virus hit hardest, physicians and healthcare workers are joining the protest movement, seeing police brutality and systemic racism as inseparable components of a greater public health issue. For example, the Pew Research Center reports that while black Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population, they represent 24% of COVID-19 deaths. Some states don’t even collect data pertaining to the effects of the virus on people of color. The Trump administration made this mandatory on Thursday.

There’s also some underlying mistrust of healthcare and medicine among black Americans. According to Pew, “35% of black Americans have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the public interest, compared with 43% of white adults.”

For physicians, much work remains in the fight against COVID-19 and systemic racism.

The takeaway: This week, we’ll likely begin to see if protests are promoting the spread of COVID-19.

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