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COVID-19 Updates, July 16: Updates on People at Risk, Testing, Reopening, and a Vaccine

Even after months of navigating life in the COVID-19 era, keeping up with new information and news can be overwhelming. Below are some of the latest developments surrounding COVID-19 for the month of July.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on July 16, 2020. Further developments in what we know about the coronavirus are continuously emerging.

The CDC updates who is at risk

Previously, we heard that those at risk for severe COVID-19 are typically older adults and people who are immunocompromised. However, as we have learned more about the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has refined this list.

Age is still a factor for severe illness. While 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been in adults over the age of 65, this number does not represent a true cut-off for risk. Instead, the CDC suggests that risk generally increases with age. This means that someone who is in their 60s has a higher risk than someone in their 50s, and someone in their 50s has a higher risk than someone who is 40 years old. Those who are over 85 years old have the highest risk.1

The CDC also suggested a list of pre-existing medical conditions that may increase a person’s risk of getting severe COVID-19. These include:2

  • COPD
  • Obesity
  • Serious heart conditions including heart failure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Those who have a weakened immune system after an organ transplant

The CDC also clarified medical conditions that might increase risk, but more research is needed to know for sure. These include conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, liver disease, and generally being immunocompromised due to HIV, blood or bone marrow transplant, or taking immune-system-weakening medications including steroids.2

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Updates on testing

Two types of COVID-19 tests are currently available. These are viral tests and antibody tests. Viral tests detect if you currently have an active infection. Antibody tests determine if you may have been infected in the past.

As of early July, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, those who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, and those who had COVID-19 recently but no longer have symptoms, can receive the viral test. With the increased availability of testing, the CDC has since expanded this list. It now includes people who live in close quarters or areas vulnerable to infection (to prevent a future outbreak), and general population screening to track the spread of COVID-19.3

Viral testing for COVID-19

Viral testing for COVID-19 can either be recommended or prescribed by a doctor, or self-elected. Some pharmacies and other locations have opened drive-through testing sites for those who wish to get tested. In most cases, the cost of COVID-19 testing will be covered by insurance if it is deemed medically appropriate. Those without insurance may need to pay the full price for a test, or find a free or reduced cost testing location. Unlike testing, treatment for COVID-19 may not be fully covered by insurance and can be costly.4

Antibody testing for COVID-19

Some antibody tests may be covered or partially covered by insurance, depending on your provider. However, antibody tests have some limitations. They are not always accurate and may miss a past COVID-19 infection if taken too early before antibodies have developed. In addition, there is still some confusion on what a positive antibody test can mean. It could be a false positive and mean you have been infected with a virus similar to COVID-19 in the past, but not COVID-19.5

Even if you have been infected with COVID-19, it is not clear if or how long the COVID-19 antibodies will protect you.5 Further, not all antibody tests are created equally or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Before taking an antibody test on your own, contact your doctor to make sure it is a legitimate test.

Reopening plans

Facing growing financial and personal pressures, many areas of the United States are reopening businesses, restaurants, and entertainment sources. The results of these efforts have been mixed and vary based on location.

Some areas have slowly reopened and have been able to maintain their plans with minor adjustments. Others are quickly becoming new hotspot areas. Some of these areas with rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases have needed to scale back reopening efforts or shut back down. Every area of the country is quite different.6

Before changing your personal efforts or traveling, check the guidelines in your area.

The search for a vaccine

Although the process for making a vaccine is long, researchers are still on track to have an effective vaccine developed by the end of this year or early next year. As of early July, more than 140 vaccines were in the development process, but only about 20 of these are in the clinical trial stage. Researchers and manufacturers all over the world are trying different methods to create a successful vaccine. The good news is that the virus that causes COVID-19 does not seem to be changing much. This helps keep scientists’ efforts to target the virus with an effective vaccine on track.7,8

FDA announcements

On June 15, 2020, the FDA revoked the emergency use authorization (EUA) for chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The FDA found chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine ineffective in treating COVID-19 and that their serious side effects outweigh any potential benefits. Both drugs are still being studied in clinical trials. This announcement is meant to discourage doctors from prescribing these drugs off-label.9

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