COVID-19 Update: Feds Work with Private Sector to Produce Vaccine/Treatment, Social Distancing Smartwatches Make Debut, and More

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
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map of Michigan coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge, as of July 6

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

Federal Government – HHS and DOD Collaborate with Private Sector to Produce Investigational Vaccine and Treatment
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense today announced it is collaborating with private sector companies to produce an investigational COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.

On the vaccine front, the government announced a $1.6 billion agreement with Maryland’s Novavax Inc. to demonstrate commercial-scale manufacturing of the company’s COVID-19 investigational vaccine. By funding this manufacturing effort, the federal government will own the first 100 million doses of investigational vaccine expected to result from the demonstration projects.

The doses would become available for use in clinical trials or, if the FDA grants Emergency Use Authorization or licenses (approves) the investigational vaccine, the federal government could distribute the doses as part of a COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

“Operation Warp Speed is creating a portfolio of vaccines to increase the odds that we will have at least one safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year,” says Alex Azar, secretary of HHS. “Depending on success in clinical trials, today’s $1.6 billion investment supports our latest vaccine candidate, being developed by Novavax, all the way through clinical trials and manufacturing 100 million doses for the American people.”

This manufacturing demonstration project will take place while clinical trials are underway. Working in parallel this way shaves months off the traditional vaccine development timeline.

The government departments are working with New York’s Regeneron Inc. to demonstrate commercial-scale manufacturing of the company’s COVID-19 investigational anti-viral antibody treatment, REGN-COV2. Like with the vaccine program, by funding this manufacturing effort, the federal government will own the doses expected to result from the demonstration project.

The ongoing REGN-COV2 clinical studies are evaluating multiple dosages to help establish the exact number of potential treatment doses. The company estimates between 70,000 and 300,000 treatment doses could be available from this project, with the initial doses ready as early as end of summer and completed this fall. If the FDA grants Emergency Use Authorization or approves the treatment, the federal government would allocate these doses to treat COVID-19 patients.

“This agreement with Regeneron is the first of a number of Operation Warp Speed awards to support potential therapeutics all the way through to manufacturing, allowing faster distribution if trials are successful,” says Azar. “More good news about COVID-19 therapeutics is constantly emerging, and President Trump’s commitment to supporting lifesaving therapeutics will help deliver these products to American patients without a day’s delay.”

Social Distancing Smartwatches Help Restore Workplace Confidence
Many of the world’s largest factories, offices, and film production studios are turning to technology to provide employees peace of mind by implementing proper social distancing and safety procedures in the workplace.

Radiant RFID, a Texas-based technology solutions company, is deploying return-to-work strategies for companies in the automotive, aerospace, agricultural, CPG, entertainment, health care, manufacturing, oil and gas, and pharmaceutical industries. Radiant’s solution uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology and a smartwatch to detect and encourage proper social distancing through real-time notifications.

Initially developed in response to COVID-19 and the need to restart factory assembly lines, Radiant’s solution now is available to help offices, businesses, and organizations reduce interactions and maintain safety practices through automated social distancing notifications and contact tracing. On average, workplaces using Radiant’s solution see a 65 percent decrease in employee interactions within one week of implementation, according to the company.

Workers receive real-time notifications via vibrations and color-coded messages on company-issued wearables to notify them of proximity to coworkers. Employers can review workplace interaction history, and the resultant contact tracing can help avoid work stoppages and improve adherence to local, industry and CDC guidelines.

“We put our 15 years of experience in helping big businesses and state governments solve problems into action to develop, prototype and roll out automated contact tracing and social distancing technology,” says Kenneth Ratton, co-founder and CEO of Radiant. “Within a matter of weeks, we deployed a solution to help Americans returning to work in critical industries producing PPE and medical equipment for healthcare workers. Today, we have thousands of people using the solution in the workplace and are expanding our capabilities to support the nation’s return-to-work strategy.”

For more information, visit here.

The Biological Imagery of COVID-19
What exactly does the image of the coronavirus – a spherical mass with protruding red spikes – tell us about the virus?

Deb Gumucio, co-founder and director of the BioArtography Project at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says it looks like a “menacing alien machine,” but is an accurate depiction of the virus and explains why it’s called “coronavirus.”

“It gives you a fairly accurate picture of the way the virus is put together,” says Gumucio. “Those spikes on the outside are really there, and they’re what gave the virus its name. “Corona comes from the word crown in Latin, and those spikes bind to the receptor on a cell and allow the virus to enter it.”

Like each image that BioArtography produces, the coronavirus’ spiky ball tells a story, and that story has become an important visual cue about public health and safety.

“In the image (originally produced by the CDC), they added some orange and yellow-colored dots on the surface, which represent the myriad of proteins that the virus encodes,” Gumucio explains. “That’s why washing your hands with soap is so important — it denatures those proteins on the surface. If the virus does not have those proteins, it cannot infect a cell.”

She notes that the digital microscopic rendering of the virus is a good thing, and could actually serve as a constant public health reminder.

“Though the image doesn’t often come with an explanation, people should know that it is a visual representation of how they have the power to destroy those proteins if they wash their hands thoroughly,” she says.

According to Gumucio, the problem with the coronavirus image is that it is being treated as a brand for the virus, and not as the educational tool that it should be.

“I’d like to see more captions and more people talking about what the image can actually tell us,” she says. “BioArtography promotes the idea that every single image that we generate is unique and tells a unique story about the image researched.”

Gumucio says she would like people to think about the image in a different way the next time we see it.

“There is a lot of fear about the virus and the image that represents it,” she says. “If people had more information to help them understand it, I think they’d feel a bit more confident that there are ways to defeat it.”

Public Health Groups Urge HHS to Support CDC’s Role in Pandemic Response
The expertise of the CDC and all public health agencies is critical to protecting Americans’ health during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar from 347 health and public health organizations released today.

The authoring organizations, including the American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Big Cities Health Coalition, National Association of County and City Health Officials, and Trust for America’s Health,  expressed “deep concern” about increasing reports of resistance to evidence-based public health messages and threats to public health leaders and agencies, and called on the secretary to be an advocate for public health.

“At this sentinel moment, during the worst public health emergency in over a century, all of the nation’s leaders must resist any efforts that would undermine the critical role of the CDC to respond to the pandemic and must be an advocate for increased investment in public health,” wrote the letter signatories.

“Secretary Azar, we urge you to speak up and amplify the critical role of CDC and that of all public health agencies during this monumental crisis,” the letter said.

Public health leaders are calling attention to the need for the CDC to play a central role as the nation navigates the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis, the letter says, also has illuminated the ways in which racial inequities impact health. Higher rates of COVID-19 deaths within communities of color illustrate the importance of all of CDC’s work, including its focus on chronic disease prevention. It is not possible to effectively meet the needs of the American people if that scope is narrowed.

The letter furthermore calls on Azar to be an advocate for increased funding for CDC’s core budget. While emergency supplemental funding has been critical to begin to address the immediate COVID-19 response needs, robust, sustained, and predictable funding for its full public health mission is essential to sustain its public health activities and to prevent the next emergency, the leaders wrote. Increasing the federal investment in public health will be particularly important, as state and local government budgets are likely to be severely hampered in the coming fiscal year due to tax revenue losses during the COVID-19 related economic shutdown.

City of Detroit Government – Rec Centers Open to Provide Safe Relief from Heat
The city of Detroit is opening five of its recreation centers today through Thursday to provide air-conditioned relief from the region’s extreme temperatures.

The cooling centers will be open from noon to 8 p.m. and will require residents to wear masks or other face covering and observe physical distancing. To further ensure safety from the COVID-19, staff will conduct pre-screening questions and temperature checks. High-touch areas and restrooms will be disinfected every two hours, and maximum capacity limits at each site have been lowered. PPE and bottled water also will be provided.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures are expected to exceed 90 degrees this week in the Detroit area. Prior to this week, the centers were only being used for food distribution.

Detroit recreation centers serving as cooling centers for residents this summer include:

  • Adams-Butzel Recreation Complex (10500 Lyndon)
  • Crowell Recreation Center (16630 Lahser Road)
  • Farwell Recreation Center (2711 E. Outer Drive)
  • Kemeny Recreation Center (2260 S. Fort St.)
  • Patton Recreation Center (2301 Woodmere)

For tips to stay cool in extreme hot temperatures, visit here.

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