Coronavirus: Trump ‘enthusiastic’ about MyPillow CEO’s miracle ‘cure’

Welcome, dear readers, to my semi-regular coronavirus roundup.


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Trump’s new miracle cure?

Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, told CNN that Trump is “enthusiastic” about using oleandrin as a potential therapeutic for coronavirus. Oleandrin is an extract from the plant Nerium oleander. The raw oleander plant is highly toxic, and consumption of it can be fatal.

Trump confirmed he’s “heard about” oleandrin when asked Monday on the White House South Lawn, but still seemed to be in an information-gathering phase.

“Is it something people are talking about very strongly?” he asked the reporter.

“We’ll look at it, we’ll look at it, we’re looking at a lot of different things. I will say the FDA has been great. They are very close. We’re very close to a vaccine. Very close to a therapeutic. I have heard that name mentioned, we’ll find out,” the President said.

Last week, Lindell was added to the board of Phoenix Biotechnology, which makes oleandrin, and received a financial stake in the company. Anderson Cooper confronted Lindell about his promotion of the dangerous extract:

Lindell: “This thing works it’s the miracle of all time … You are just misconstrued because the media is trying to take away this amazing cure that works for everybody.”

Cooper: “Sir, just for our viewers, you have no medical background. You’re not a scientist. A guy called you in April, said he had this product. You are now on the board and going to make money from the sale of this product. … And you stand to make money from it. How do you sleep at night?” (video)

Less crazy, but not without controversy, Trump has pushed the FDA to issue an emergency authorization for blood plasma as a Covid-19 treatment. Dr. Fauci reportedly intervened to put the order on hold, cautioning that the data is still too weak.

The idea is that people who have been sickened with COVID-19 and then recovered will have antibodies in their blood that helped them fight off the infection. By giving that convalescent plasma to sick patients, those antibodies should in theory help a patient currently sick with COVID-19 recover.

However, it is unclear if plasma treatments are effective for people with COVID-19. The newest study lacked a control group, limiting the conclusions we can draw from its results. Other studies have failed to show a definitive benefit.

Trump was asked about the FDA pause, Trump suggested it was engineered to hurt his re-election chances:

“Well, I hear great things about it, that’s all I can tell you. It could be a political decision because you have a lot of people over there that don’t want to rush things because they want to do it after November 3.”(clip)

Testing slow down

Tests for the coronavirus are still too few and taking far too long, with some people waiting more than a week to get results. Supply shortages and backlogs at labs mean it’s too hard to trace contacts of newly confirmed cases and force patients into long waits under quarantine — or leave isolation too early.

  • Experts say results need to be returned in less than three days, optimally two, to be clinically meaningful. The results of a national survey showed that almost 40% of tests take longer than that.

To get the virus under control, some experts are pushing for the use of rapid tests and pooling samples. This requires a shift in thinking from prioritizing the accuracy of individual test results to prioritizing the ability of a testing system to reduce the rate of the virus in a given population — even if that results in more misdiagnoses.

A new saliva-based test that delivers quicker results has been approved by the FDA for emergency use. Instead of an invasive nasal swab, the test is conducted by having patients spit in a test tube. Results can be delivered in hours.

“Once somebody is infected, the amount of virus in their system can rise very rapidly. Unless we have a test that can give them results very quickly, by the time somebody finds out they are infected, they will have spread the virus,” said Rebecca Lee Smith, a professor of pathobiology at Illinois. “The faster we can notify people, the faster we can stop the spread.”

An even faster and cheaper paper test strip has been created, but faces significant obstacles to becoming commonplace.

It needs only some spit, a saline solution, and a small cup—and it can deliver a result in 15 minutes. Like a pregnancy test, the strip has a faint line across its lower third. If you expose the strip to a sample and it fills in with color, then the test is positive. It does not require a machine, a reagent, or a doctor to work.

The FDA is unlikely to approve such quick paper strip tests, however, because the FDA compares every test to PCR, and no antigen test, however advanced, can stand up to the accuracy and sensitivity of the PCR technique. While super sensitive, the PCR technique takes a long time to process and is in high demand, creating supply shortages.

…paper antigen tests aren’t SARS-CoV-2 tests at all, not like PCR tests are. They are rapid, cheap COVID-19 contagiousness tests. That shift in thinking, Mina argues, should undergird a shift in our national strategy.

  • Further reading: (1) Cheap, frequent COVID tests could be ‘akin to vaccine,’ professor says. (2) We could control the coronavirus by winter if we start using rapid tests.

Spreading events

The federal government is not keeping track of school-linked COVID-19 cases and some states are not reporting how many outbreaks have occurred or how many students and staff members have been infected. Researchers say the absence of a comprehensive accounting is hampering efforts to identify which safety practices can best prevent cases in schools from spreading.

At least 9 states are not releasing data about coronavirus outbreaks in schools: Alabama, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Others, including Florida, Idaho, Illinois, and Utah, are deliberating whether to release data.

In the last two weeks of July, nearly 100,000 school-aged children tested positive for COVID. Out of almost 5 million reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than 338,000 were children.

In its first week open, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was forced to switch to online learning due to the coronavirus. Officials said 177 students had been isolated after testing as of Monday, and another 349 students were in quarantine because of possible exposure. In July, county health officials had urged the university to consider virtual classes for at least the first five weeks of the fall semester.

Florida Gov. DeSantis pressured schools to open with the threat of withholding state aid, while also directing schools not to close if students or staff show symptoms of coronavirus.

“It was very clear. If we do not follow their emergency order, we will be financially hindered,” Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis said [last] Thursday. “We would forfeit close to $200 million. We just can’t do that. That would bankrupt us. It would put us in a terrible situation financially.”

On a phone call with school district superintendents late last week, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran urged them to be “surgical” when dealing with covid-19 cases, as opposed to “sweeping” — and told them not to close a school without calling state officials first to discuss it.

More on school re-openings: “Iowa governor’s push to reopen schools descends into chaos,” AP. “White House guidance sends teachers into class even after COVID-19 exposure,” NBC News. “Evidence grows that children may play a larger role in transmission than previously believed,” WaPo.

The Sturgis motorcycle rally that took place in South Dakota last week has already been traced to over 20 of cases of COVID. At least 7 cases have been confirmed in Nebraska and 15 in Minnesota, stemming from those who attended the rally. Meanwhile, health officials in South Dakota confirmed Thursday that the state’s average number of daily new COVID-19 cases has increased by about 43% over the past two weeks.


Stories that didn’t fit in above categories…

The health care technology firm that is helping to manage the Trump administration’s new coronavirus database has refused to answer questions from Senate Democrats about its $10.2 million contract, citing a nondisclosure agreement it signed with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Government contracting experts were stumped. “The idea that the whole contract is under an NDA, and that they can’t, somehow, cooperate with Congress providing its constitutionally-authorized oversight duties — to me, that’s crazy,” said Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School who focuses on government procurement.

Nursing homes with safety problems deploy Trump-connected lobbyists seeking federal help that could increase their profits. Over 62,000 residents and staff have died from Covid-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, about 40 percent of the country’s virus fatalities.

Among the industry’s biggest goals is for the federal government to block residents and their families from suing nursing homes for wrongful deaths and other malpractice claims — even those that have nothing to do with Covid-19.

Louisiana’s Secretary of State wants to require a positive Covid-19 test if a voter wants to vote absentee over concerns about the virus. The proposal from Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, comes as Louisiana has seen lags in testing, meaning a voter could get tested and not have their results in time to be able to request a mail-in ballot. Gov. John Bel Edwards will not support the plan, leaving the election process up to the courts.

In a 2-1 decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s unilateral emergency actions to combat COVID-19, denying a legal challenge brought by the GOP-controlled state Legislature. The high stakes, historic case is expected to end up before the Michigan Supreme Court.

Many who have died of COVID-19 in Florida’s prisons were eligible for parole. The COVID-19 death toll inside Florida state prison has risen to 63 as the agency struggles to contain the virus. Of those, the Orlando Sentinel identified at least 14 in which the inmate had been eligible for parole.

Trump is still trying to claim that US coronavirus numbers “are better than almost all countries,” while data shows the pandemic has killed Americans at six times the average rate in other rich countries. Since July 1, 75% of all new cases and 69% of all deaths recorded anywhere in the rich world came in the U.S., which accounts for 27% of the group’s population.