Racing to understand Covid-19 immunity
Nine drug companies pledged today to “stand with science” and not release a coronavirus vaccine until it met rigorous safety and efficacy standards. Normally in competition with one another, the companies banded together in an effort to reassure the public that they would not bow to pressure from the Trump administration and prematurely rush out a vaccine.
The promise came after repeated claims from President Trump that a vaccine could be available by Election Day. “We’ll have the vaccine soon, maybe before a special date,” he said just yesterday. “You know what date I’m talking about.”
The companies said they would follow guidance from agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and complete large clinical trials before any potential vaccine was released.
But until the day that the first vaccine arrives, your face covering could act as a stand-in. Researchers have proposed the new theory that masks might offer a crude form of immunization, by allowing some but not all virus particles to be breathed in, lowering people’s chances of getting sick while potentially provoking an immune response to fight the pathogens. Though outside experts were intrigued by the idea, they were reluctant to embrace it, in part because trying to prove the theory would involve unethical experiments that expose masked and unmasked people to the virus.
Immune systems may be an important driver of risk for older Covid-19 patients. Some scientists suggest that aging can prompt the immune system to enter a heightened state of alert, increasing inflammation and depleting certain disease-fighting cells. That could help explain why people who are 80 and over are hundreds of times more likely to die from the virus than those under 40.
The long-haul patients: For some, battling Covid-19 can mean daily fevers, fatigue and other grueling physical symptoms that last months. But the long bouts of illness can also prompt mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Back to school tips
For millions of American schoolchildren, the Tuesday after Labor Day traditionally marks the return to their classrooms. This year, instead of boarding buses and lugging backpacks, most of those students are opening their laptops at home.
If you’re among the parents, students or teachers trying to navigate this new educational landscape, we’ve got some resources that may be helpful:
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated September 4, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot, though some people don’t show many symptoms at all. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome and received supplemental oxygen. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms.
Why is it safer to spend time together outside?
- Outdoor gatherings lower risk because wind disperses viral droplets, and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up in concentrated amounts and being inhaled, which can happen when infected people exhale in a confined space for long stretches of time, said Dr. Julian W. Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.
What else we’re following
What you’re doing
I started restoring old rusted tools that had been in the garage for years. The repetitive manual activity over many hours of scrubbing, sanding and polishing has a calming effect. One item was a handsaw that belonged to my grandfather. It was made in 1917. It survived the 1918 Spanish flu and has now found a new “life” during Covid-19.
— Walter Doubell, Gauteng, South Africa
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