COVID-19: Recent updates on the coronavirus pandemic

Lauren Vogel | CMAJ | June 5, 2020

June 5: Lancet retracts hydroxychloroquine study 

  • Three of the authors of a controversial Lancet study that found hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death in patients with COVID-19 retracted the paper, citing concerns about the quality of data. According to the authors, Surgisphere, the company that provided the data, would not share the dataset for independent review. Dr. Sapan Desai, chief executive of Surgisphere and fourth author of the study, declined to comment on the retraction. 

June 5: SARS-CoV-2 not mutating in a dangerous way

  • According to a World Health Organization briefing, scientists around the world have identified more than 40,000 full genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2. However, none of these mutations have made the virus more virulent or more likely to cause severe disease. 

June 5: Most Canadians support universal testing for COVID-19

  • More than three in five Canadians said they support or somewhat support testing everyone in the country for COVID-19, according to a survey of 1,009 people conducted between May 26 and May 28. One in three respondents opposed the idea. Residents of Atlantic Canada and Ontario voice higher support for universal testing than those of Western Canada. 

June 5: Alberta saving samples of COVID-19 for research 

  • The Alberta government is building a $300,000 biorepository to store samples of SARS-CoV-2 for long-term research. More than 30 research projects across the province will need the samples to support investigations into point-of-care testing, drugs, antibody testing and genome sequencing.   

June 5: Saskatchewan likely won’t allow big crowds until 2021

  • Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer said restrictions on large gatherings would probably stay in place until next year. Next week, the province will increase the limit on smaller crowds to 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors. 

June 5: Blood pressure medicines linked to lower risk of death from COVID-19 

  • A study of nearly 2,900 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized in Wuhan, China, found that patients with hypertension had twice the risk of death and were more likely to need mechanical ventilation than those without hypertension. However, patients taking blood pressure medicines had a lower risk of death than those not treated for their hypertension, suggesting that patients with hypertension should not change their treatment unless instructed by a physician. 

June 5: Harvard physicians suggest wearing a mask during sex

  • According to a commentary by Harvard University physicians, people should wear masks and avoid kissing when having sex with someone they’re not living with to reduce the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2. All in-person sexual contact likely carries a risk of transmitting the virus, but health providers should counsel patients on ways to reduce their risk, the authors wrote. 

June 4: Ontario appoints interim manager at Vaughn care home

  • Ontario appointed William Osler Health System as an interim manager of a Vaughn long-term care facility. According to the provincial government, Woodbridge Vista Care Community has been unable to contain the spread of COVID-19, despite receiving hospital support. The announcement came the same day that the company operating Woodbridge Vista Care Community terminated a vice president after he allegedly made disparaging comments towards the families of residents during a telephone town hall about COVID-19. 

June 4: NDP urges end to blood donation ban for gay men

  • A New Democrat member of parliament called on the federal government to end the ban on blood donation by gay men and some other LGBTQ people, given shortages of blood and plasma donations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. British Columbia MP Randall Garrison says Health Canada and Hema-Quebec are missing out on blood and plasma donations to support COVID-19 research “for no reason founded in science.”


June 4: Hydroxychloroquine not effective at preventing COVID-19

  • A study of 821 people in the United States and Canada found that taking hydroxychloroquine within four days of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 did not prevent COVID-19or similar illness. Nearly 12% of patients who received the anti-malarial drug after exposure to the virus fell ill, compared to 14% of people who took a placebo. Side effects were also more common in patients who received hydroxychloroquine. The Canada-U.S. study is the first double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of hydroxychloroquine. The findings come as the World Health Organization announced it was resuming a clinical trial testing the drug as a treatment for COVID-19.

June 4: Tam warns against reopening “too much, too soon.”

  • Canada could see “explosive growth” in new cases of COVID-19 if provinces lift pandemic restrictions too quickly, according to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam. She urged officials to keep a close eye on cases in the coming weeks to avoid a second wave of infections in the fall.
  • According to updated national modelling, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Canada could rise to 107,454 by June 15. Meanwhile, the country’s death toll could rise to 9,400. Ontario and Quebec have accounted for more than 90% of national COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days. There has been no community transmission on Prince Edward Island, or in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, and Nunavut has yet to report any cases. Nearly one in five cases of COVID-19 in Canada, and four in five deaths, have been linked to long-term care and retirement homes. To date, 94% of all deaths and 71% of hospital admissions related to COVID-19 in Canada have been among people aged 60 or older.

June 4: Canadian labs tracking COVID-19 mutations

  • A network of Canadian laboratories led by the Public Health Agency of Canada and Genome Canada is studying genetic mutationsin SARS-CoV-2 to track transmission patterns across the country and internationally. Most mutations in the virus do not modify its function or make it more dangerous, but these “silent” genetic difference may be used in the future to identify the source of new cases of COVID-19 when contact tracing is not possible.

June 4: Thousands volunteer to participate in vaccine trials

  • More than 28,000 people from over 100 countries have indicated their willingness tobe exposed to COVID-19 as part of a global campaign to speed up vaccine research. More than 1,000 Canadians have signed on to the 1 Day Sooner campaign, which is compiling a database of volunteers willing to participate in “challenge trials” in which they would be exposed to infection.

June 4: High unemployment due to pandemic could drive up suicides

  • University of Toronto researchers estimate that Canada could see as many as 2,114 additional suicidesabove the national average by the end of 2021 due to economic upheaval caused by the pandemic. They analyzed suicide rates from 2000 to 2018 and found that every percentage point increase in unemployment was linked with a 1% increase in suicide deaths. Crisis Service Canada has seen a 90% increase in calls to distress hotlines during the pandemic, including a 200% rise in calls where the person was in imminent danger.

June 4: Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll and Iran’s case count spike

  • Brazil reporteda record 2,600 deaths in 48 hours. The Pan American Health Organization warned that Brazil could see 88,000 deaths from COVID-19 by August unless the country takes drastic containment measures.
  • Meanwhile, Iran reported 3,574 new confirmedcases over the past 24 hours, raising concerns that the country is seeing a second wave of infections. It’s the third consecutive day the country had recorded more than 3,000 new infections.

June 4: U.S. picks five companies most likely to produce COVID-19 vaccine

  • The United States government has identified five drug companiesas the most likely to create a successful vaccine against SARS-CoV-2: Moderna Inc, AstraZeneca Plc, Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co Inc. According to the New York Times, the selected companies will receive additional government funding, help running clinical trials and other financial and logistical support. The U.S. is planning massive clinical trials involving 100,000 to 150,000 volunteers to start in July.

June 4: Half of U.K. has struggled with sleep 

  • A study of 2,254 residents of the United Kingdom found that more than half reported trouble sleepingduring the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. Two in five said they had more vivid dreams than usual. However, a quarter of participants reported sleeping more than usual and feeling better for it.

June 4: CDC director urges protesters to get tested for COVID-19

  • Anyone who has participated in recent mass protests against anti-black racism and police brutality should “highly consider” getting testedfor COVID-19, according to Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Redfield noted that the use of tear gas by police might spread the virus by causing people to cough.

June 3: Lancet commissions data audit of hydroxychloroquine study 

  • The Lancet acknowledged concerns about the integrity of a recent study published in the journal that found hydroxychloroquine increased risk of death in patients with COVID-19. After dozens of scientists raise concerns about the study’s methods and data integrity, the editors of the journal issued an “expression of concern,” noting they had commissioned an independent audit of the data.

June 3: Quebec long-term care recruitment drive draws 55,000 applicants

  • Some 55,000 people have applied to work in Quebec long-term care homes during the pandemic, as part of a sweeping recruitment campaign to train and employ workers to address staffing shortages in the sector. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and in good health. They must also have a Grade 9 education and no criminal record. Once they have completed their training, they will receive a starting annual salary of $49,000.

June 3: Privacy concerns over Ontario emergency orders

  • Privacy advocates and public health workers warned that Ontario’s pandemic emergency orders are too broad and violate privacy. Under the current emergency orders, first responders can access the personal health information of Ontarians who have tested positive for COVID-19, which some fear will lead to discrimination. In one recent case, Toronto transit officials told drivers not to pick up a black, homeless woman because she had COVID-19.

June 3: Mass testing in Wuhan uncovers asymptomatic cases

  • The Chinese city of Wuhan identified just 300 SARS-CoV-2-positive people in a 19-day campaign to test nearly 10 million people. None of the people who tested positive had symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, and none of their close contacts tested positive, easing concerns about asymptomatic cases spreading the virus.

June 3: U.S. prepares for final trials of a potential vaccine against COVID-19

  • The United States should have 100 million doses of a candidate vaccine against COVID-19 by the end of the year, according to the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Preparations are underway for a Phase III trial of an experimental vaccine developed by Moderna in partnership with the U.S. government.

June 3: Brazil to test Oxford vaccine candidate 

  • As COVID-19 wanes in Europe, vaccine developers and researchers are turning to countries in Latin America and Africa, where case counts continue to rise, to test experimental vaccines against the virus. Brazil authorized a clinical trial of a vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford. Some 2,000 people will participate in the trial.

June 3: Saskatchewan’s Synchrotron focusing on COVID-19 research

  • The Canadian Light Source Synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan is dedicating its resources entirely to COVID-19 research, with 13 new projects in the pipeline. Typically, health research makes up about 20% of the facility’s operations. One of the projects will use the particle accelerator to examine the molecular structure of the virus.

June 3: Study examines using ibuprofen to treat a complication of COVID-19

  • Researchers in the United Kingdom are studying the use of a lipid capsule form of ibuprofen to treat breathing difficulties in people with COVID-19. Studies in animals suggest the anti-inflammatory drug might treat acute respiratory distress syndrome – a complication of severe COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, France’s health minister raised concerns about the safety of using ibuprofen to treat COVID-19, but a review later concluded it was safe.

June 2: Canada reports lowest COVID-19 death toll in months

  • Health officials across Canada reported 31 new deaths due to COVID-19, the lowest daily death toll the country has seen in two months. Every province and territory in Canada have now relaxed some pandemic restrictions.

June 2: Feds orders syringes to prepare for mass vaccinations

  • The federal government has ordered 37 million syringes looking forward to the day when a successful vaccine against COVID-19 becomes available. Supply chains for essential medical equipment have stabilized, according to Procurement Minister Anita Anand. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the government is also planning how to prioritize who will get priority access to a successful vaccine.

June 2: Mass protests spark public health warnings

June 2: Chinese government delayed releasing information on COVID-19

  • China delayed releasing the genetic map of SARS-CoV-2 for more than a week after three government labs had decoded the genome of the virus, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press. The Chinese government also stalled at least two weeks before providing detailed data about cases of COVID-19, according to recordings of internal meetings held by the World Health Organization. International law obliges countries to report information to the WHO that could have an impact on public health, but the agency has no enforcement powers and cannot independently investigate epidemics.

June 2: Proteins in blood could predict severity of COVID-19

  • Researchers from England and Germany identified 27 proteins that were present in the blood of patients with COVID-19 and varied with the severity of symptoms. The researchers said it might be possible to use these markers in the future to predict which patients will become seriously ill with COVID-19. Three of the proteins were linked with interleukin IL-6, a protein known to cause inflammation.

June 2: Risk of death from COVID-19 higher for ethnic minorities in England

  • Ethnic minorities in England had a 10-50% higher risk of death from COVID-19 compared to white Britons, but the reasons why remain unclear, according to a report by Public Health England. Death rates were highest among people of Black and Asian ethnic groups, with people of Bangladeshi ethnicity facing twice the risk of death compared to white Britons.

June 1: Physical distancing, masks reduce risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection

  • Physical distancing and wearing a mask and eye protection can reduce a person’s risk of becoming infected with SARS-Cov-2, according to a meta-analysis published in the Lancet. Standing at least one metre away from others was found to reduce the likelihood of infection from 12.8% to 2.6%. Wearing a mask reduced the chance of infection from 17.4% to 3.1%, while wearing eye protection reduced the risk from 16% to 5.5%.

June 1: Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 missing from Ontario’s count

  • Two Toronto hospitals did not report hundreds of cases of COVID-19 because each thought the other was responsible for notifying public health officials. Most of the cases have now been counted but an extra 430 will be added to Ontario’s public health database in the coming days.

June 1: Diabetes linked with COVID-19 deaths

  • A French study of 1,300 patients with diabetes who were hospitalized with COVID-19, most of whom had Type 2 diabetes, found that 1 in 5 needed a ventilator and 1 in 10 died within a week of hospitalization. The average age of the patients was 70 and most of the patients were men. Similar research in the United Kingdom has found that both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are “independently associated with a significant increased risk of in-hospital death with COVID-19.”

June 1: Provinces reopening as cities face funding shortfall

  • Schools reopened in British Columbia on a part-time basis and daycares in Montreal reopened at reduced capacity. Manitoba and Prince Edward Island lifted bans on visiting residents at care homes and reopened recreational venues and dine-in restaurants.
  • Meanwhile, Ontario reopened provincial parks, drive-in movie theatres and batting cages. Premier Doug Ford is pushing to extend the province’s state of emergency until June 30, and will allow regions with fewer cases of COVID-19 to reopen earlier than the Greater Toronto Area, which is where two-thirds of the province’s deaths have occurred.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to fast-track $2.2 billion in funding for municipalities to support infrastructure projects as cities overhaul their services to safely reopen. However, municipalities argued they need additional emergency operating funding to cover $10-15 billion in lost revenue due to the pandemic.

June 1: Ontario reports COVID-19 cases among migrant workers

  • Eighty-five of 404 new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario are among migrant workers in Norfolk County. Premier Doug Ford said he would address the outbreak with public health officials to ensure the testing and safety of migrant workers on Ontario farms.

 June 1: Patients with COVID-19 face higher risk of death after surgery

  • A study of 1,100 patients with COVID-19 who underwent surgery found that half developed pulmonary complications within a month of the surgery and one in four died. Rates of death were much higher for patients with COVID-19 than for other patients across every surgical category. Typically, less than 1% of patients undergoing minor or elective operations die within a month of their procedures; for patients with COVID-19, the death rates for minor surgery and elective surgery were 16.3% and 18.9%, respectively.

June 1: Toronto antibody study to test 10,000 people

  • Toronto researchers will test more than 10,000 people for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 to get a better picture of immunity in the general public. In the first phase of the study, participants will complete an online questionnaire about their experience with COVID-19. In the second phase, a random group of those who agree to blood testing will receive an at-home blood collection kit and send samples for testing at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

June 1: Studies examine nitric oxide to treat COVID-19

  • Canadian researchers are studying the experimental use of nitric oxide nasal sprays and gargles to prevent and treat COVID-19. Research shows that the gas, produced naturally in the cells that line the blood vessels, can open airways in the lungs. A British Columbia trial studying the use of nitric oxide to treat people with mild COVID-19 is expanding to Quebec. Another study at University Health Network in Toronto is testing whether high dose inhaled nitric oxide can improve breathing for patients with COVID-19 on ventilators.

June 1: Uproar over doctor’s claim that virus “no longer exists” in Italy

  • The head of an Italian hospital sparked controversy by claiming that COVID-19 “clinically no longer exists in Italy,” saying recent tests show that patients have lower SARS-CoV-2 viral loads than earlier in the pandemic. However, Italian health officials warned there is no evidence that the virus has mutated or become less virulent, with some experts noting that the persistent number of daily new cases in Italy suggests that the virus is still circulating there.

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Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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