US reopens amid new protocol and shortages – Times of India


WASHINGTON: Two important scientific discoveries relating to the coronavirus, coming amid a declining death count from the pandemic, is indicating the worst could be behind us, although experts are warning that taking the foot off-key mitigation measures will result in a spike or a second wave of infections.
In one breakthrough, researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) have reported discovering a mutation to the coronavirus that mirrored a change in the genetically similar SARS virus in 2003, eventually making it less potent and ending its virulent spread five months later. In a separate advance, scientists in Europe said they have discovered an antibody could block infection by the novel coronavirus.
In a paper titled “An 81 nucleotide deletion in SARS-CoV-2 ORF7a identified from sentinel surveillance in Arizona,” published in the Journal of Virology, ASU researchers said out of the 382 nasal swab samples they examined from coronavirus patients in the state, one sample was missing a significant chunk of its genome: 81 of the letters were permanently deleted, in the same way, it occurred in the 2003 SARS outbreak that led to its eventual fading out.
The scientists say it is still too early to say if the deletion of such a small sequence will make Covid-19 less lethal, but is the first time such an event has been observed in the 16,000 genomes that have been sequenced to date. As sequencing expands, similar deletions could be detected elsewhere.
In a separate advance, scientists from Utretch University said they have discovered an antibody known as 47D11 that targets the novel coronavirus’s infamous ‘spike protein’, which it uses to hook onto cells and insert its genetic material. Tests in mice cells showed that 47D11 binds to this protein and prevents it from hooking on – effectively neutralising it.
These incremental advances came even as the daily US death count from the pandemic dropped to half its peak of 2500 deaths per day, even though the overall toll crossed 70,000 on Tuesday and infections continued to rise at more than 2 per cent per day. Health experts are also warning of resurgence or a second wave of deaths if mitigation measures are relaxed too soon or too recklessly — as is happening in some parts of the country — including new projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of forecasting 134,000 virus deaths by August, nearly double its previous prediction.
Although the daily death toll has once again dropped below 2000, a leaked FEMA estimate warned it could spike back to 3,000 per day by June. But President Trump dismissed it as “fake news” as he threw his weight behind protestors seeking a return to normal transactions and a re-opening of America for business, even though his own experts keep urging caution.
“Exciting to see our Country starting to open up again!” the US President tweeted on Tuesday morning as he headed out for his first cross country trip in over a month to Arizona, where he will be visiting a Honeywell International Inc. plant that makes medical masks. All eyes will be on whether he will himself wear a mask and follow personal protocols experts have recommended for Americans, including abjuring handshakes and observing social distancing.
Much of America is following these protocols in what now appears to be the new normal. An ophthalmology appointment this correspondent went for on Monday involved wearing a mandatory face mask, temperature check at the door of the clinic, co-payment and other transaction made through a sneeze guard, a re-arranged waiting room with wide spaces between seats, and other protocol. A grocery store stopover following that involved regulated entry leading to a long queue outside, the now-familiar rationing or shortage of disinfectants, toilet paper, meats, flour etc., and glass or plastic shields at the checkout counter between cashiers and customers.
Malls and restaurants are re-opening in several states but the footfall has been modest, with many establishments still working on instituting new distancing norms in terms of aisle space, seating etc. Some restaurants reported opening at 25 per cent capacity, partly because of fewer tables forced by distancing requirements. Disposable menus and single-use items and condiments are now the norm. Offices across the country are now grappling with re-orienting spaces with the predicted demise of the open floor design.


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