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Some Light at the End of the Tunnel

COVID-19 Insights April 15, 2020
COVID-19 Insights April 15, 2020
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After weeks of building infection and fatality rates in North America, the evidence suggests that the COVID-19 outbreak is reaching peaks in Canada and the United States, as social and physical distancing measures have an impact, Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer for WebMD, told a BMO Capital Markets conference call this week.

“We most likely have reached our peak in many regions in North America,” said Dr. Whyte, who prior to WebMd served as the Director of Professional Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the USFDA. “It doesn’t mean every particular county or town or province, but the reality is many of those have reached a peak and that’s an important point because now we are going to talk about, ‘how do we modify our mitigation strategies.’” 

As of April 14, there were 1.9 million cases of coronavirus reported globally, with 120,000 deaths.

In Canada, there had been 25,700 cases of coronavirus, with over 780 deaths occurring, mostly in the country’s most populous provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

In the United States, there had been some 582,000 cases of COVID-19, with over 23,000 people dying from the disease, nearly half of them in New York State. 

Different parts of the country are at different places on the curve, and Dr. Whyte said that as well as seeing peaks in high-contagion areas like New York, there is evidence that other states will see peak infection and mortality at some point this month, earlier than previous forecasts for that not to happen until May.

“We are starting see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Whyte. “I think this is the first time that I have started to feel that we are getting to that point.”

With reason to believe that the worst may have passed, government officials can start to discuss how to open their economies to business again, albeit gradually.

In the United States, governors on the East and West coasts are talking about forming regional pacts to work jointly on how to reopen the economy, potentially in waves, and come off strict stay-at-home orders. 

“You are going to start to see certain regions open up, with some mitigation efforts that are going to remain in place, but (still asking) how do we start allowing the economy to come back,” Dr. Whyte said. “What I would say is that we really have seen that social distancing, physical distancing and other strategies really are working.”

US Cases as of April 14, 2020
Cases as of April 14th, 2020
Treatments and Testing

Dr. Whyte said there has been progress in treating the symptoms of the disease, with more than 70 drugs currently in testing.

One of the biggest areas of discussion has been around antibody testing, which has been authorized rather than approved by the FDA, but further work needs to be done, Dr. Whyte said.

Whereas earlier in the pandemic patients put on ventilators were nearly all dying, some are recovering now as new treatments are employed.

There is some talk in the United States about bringing in certificates of immunity that would allow some people to go back to work, although Dr. Whyte said a lot more testing is necessary before such a measure could be seriously considered.

“That's what you're going to hear more and more about in the next few days and few weeks, about an effort to get back to work.”

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