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Coronavirus update: U.S. surpasses 9 million cases as Election Day approaches

·Senior Reporter
·4 min read
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The U.S. is holding steady at more than 70,000 cases per day, causing widespread alarm among health experts and health providers as the newest surge takes hold.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said the daily tallies are probably undercounting the real total.

“We’re probably missing 70-80% of infections that are out there,” Jha told Yahoo Finance Monday, adding that in addition to cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise.

“We have gotten here much earlier than any of us expected we would, when we talked about that dreaded second wave in the fall and winter,” Jha said.

The U.S. has surged past 9 million cases and recorded a jump to more than 231,000 deaths. Globally, cases are swiftly increasing, nearing 47 million and surpassing 1.2 million deaths.

President Donald Trump is adding to health experts’ concerns by suggesting he could fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation’s top epidemiologist.

At a rally where attendees began chanting, “Fire Fauci,” Trump replied, “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait till a little bit after the election.”

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

Fauci has been credited with being one of the few government health officials to stand up publicly to Trump’s dismissal of the pandemic and his dangerous proclamations about unproven treatments.

Vaccine expert Dr. Peter Hotez recently noted some of the hardest hit states are seeing new cases equivalent to countries in Europe that have gone into lockdowns— a strategy the U.S. is unlikely to follow as Trump is focused on keeping the economy open.

Even with the steady increases in testing capacity, the U.S. is failing at providing accurate and necessary testing, and has not embraced contact tracing, in large part because of a lack of infrastructure, many public health advocates say.

Despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use process, inaccurate tests being relied on have let slip positive cases, in large part due to a relaxation of regulatory oversight of lab developed tests.

Adding to the problem is the recent revelation that insurance companies are increasingly denying COVID-19 testing, particularly for asymptomatic individuals, according to a letter from 54 lawmakers.

Congress is asking the U.S. Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar to clarify the changes in guidance that caused this confusion back in June.

“We urge HHS to clarify the June 23 tri-agency guidance to be consistent with congressional intent and, ultimately, so that individuals who need a test can receive one without cost-sharing, medical management, or prior authorization, and regardless of whether the individual is symptomatic,” the lawmakers said.

Treatments make slow progress

Meanwhile, hopes continue to be pinned on a vaccine, even as treatments are needed more immediately for a surge in hospitalized patients.

With vaccine frontrunners in observational periods for the next several weeks, there are still no overwhelmingly effective medications — aside from corticosteroids like dexamethasone.

Antibody treatments from Eli Lilly (LLY) and Regeneron (REGN) have taken a step back from the hospital treatment scene, after trials showed little effect, and are now pivoting to treatment for more moderate and mild cases. But the cost of administering antibody treatments could be a barrier — with estimates of about $1,000 per infusion.

Even if the doses were free, a problem exists, according to Dr. Walid Gellad, a physician and policy researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.

“But the free doses will run out. Moreover, the therapy consists of more than just the drug. All of the outpatient infusion and testing services have to be paid for too,” Gellad added.

And with high profile treatments and vaccines receiving significant investment and taking priority at clinical trial centers, there is little room left for smaller players.

Immunic (IMUX), which is developing an oral treatment for moderate COVID-19 patients, just finished enrolling for its Phase 2 trial with no clear timeline for Phase 3.

ANA Therapeutics, on the other hand, which has identified a treatment used for tapeworm as a potential COVID-19 treatment, just began its clinical trials last week.

CEO Akash Bakshi told Yahoo Finance the strain the vaccine race has placed on the clinical trial system has stifled potential for treatments.

“Phase 1 (sites) are booked out for ... the next 6 to 9 months,” Bakshi said, noting that it means no room for treatments to continue at a faster clip.

In addition, Bakshi noted that the drugs getting the most attention are the most expensive, such as monoclonal antibodies. Gilead Science’s (GILD) remdesivir, marketed as Veklury, also saw significant federal investment, despite showing mixed results. Gilead recently touted more than $870 million in sales of the antiviral in the third quarter of this year.

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