ABC - Health News

iStock/Eugeneonline(WASHINGTON) -- A new novel coronavirustest may make diagnosing COVID-19 as easy as the flu. The new point-of-care test, having just received an emergency-use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will be able to deliver results in as little as five minutes, according to the manufacturer.

This test from medical device company Abbott, which begins shipping April 1, may soon be available at your local urgent care clinic.

"This is going to be the fastest molecular point-of-care test to date," said John Frels, Ph.D., Abbott’s vice president of research and development, in an interview with ABC News. "It generates a positive result in 5 minutes and negative results in 13 minutes."

President Donald Trump called the test “a whole new ballgame” and in a recent tweet, Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, echoed these sentiments calling it "a game changer."

The test will run on the company’s existing ID NOW platform, a lightweight, portable machine around the size of a small toaster, which according to Abbott, is already the most widely available molecular point-of-care testing platform in the United States today and is used for illnesses like flu and strep. As a highly mobile platform, it can be used in a variety of healthcare settings, particularly physician offices and urgent care-type settings.

According to Frels, “what it's really going to be able to do is fill the void, which is rapid results where they’re needed for patients who need them the most.” Until this point, testing has been a fraught process in the U.S. -- with tests at first very difficult to come by and then results taking days. Testing has dramatically expanded since then, but results still take time.

The ID NOW machine can test samples one at a time. A health care provider would use a swab to take a sample from a sick patient's nose or throat and then mix the swab into a chemical solution that breaks open the virus and releases its genetic material. The sample is then placed into the ID NOW instrument, which uses a special “isothermal technology" to replicate and amplify, if present in the sample, the small section of the virus’ genetic sequences in order to quickly detect whether a person is positive or negative for COVID-19, according to Frels.

Frels said that such a test will allow frontline health care workers to see a patient, quickly diagnose them and make immediate decisions regarding treatment and care, helping prevent further transmission of the virus to other people. "Diagnostics in general, stepping back from this, play into about 70% of therapeutic directional decisions. It’s difficult to know where to go unless you have a test result in front of you,” Frels said.

According to Adm. Brett Giror, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, there are about “18,000 of these little toaster-sized machines” across doctor’s offices and hospitals across the country. The company does not expect all 18,000 machines to run the test. Abbott will initially supply 50,000 tests a day, with the goal to ramp up test supply to over a million a month. According to the company, the cost of the test is expected to be comparable to the ID NOW flu test and will be covered by most insurance plans.

"This will fill a great need that is not being well served at this point,” said Frels.

With the ID NOW machines already widely available across the country, the infrastructure is already in place to allow for a smooth integration of the rapid COVID-19 test into the health care sphere, which may help speed up and broaden testing and more effectively curb the pandemic. Abbott is working with the White House to deploy the first batches of tests to urgent care clinics, doctors’ offices, and emergency rooms in areas that are hardest hit.

Frels says that this test will "complement the other side of the equation,” referring to high volume, high throughput style COVID-19 diagnostic instruments, such as Abbott’s m2000 Real Time system, which received emergency use approval from the FDA last week. That system, which uses a standard molecular detection technology called PCR to detect COVID-19's genetic sequence in a sample, may take a number of hours to produce results, but can process more samples simultaneously (about 470 tests a day), making it suitable for large hospital settings with multiple patients who require testing.

Although the test has the potential to address the country’s testing shortage, healthcare workers still need personal protective equipment to protect themselves when administering these tests. This equipment, like masks, eye protection, and gowns, are still in short supply.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The coronavirus outbreak raced through four nursing homes over the weekend, infecting hundreds of residents at senior living facilities and killing at least five people.

At a press conference Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the outbreak in one senior home north of Baltimore “deeply concerning,” as the virus leaves a mounting toll at facilities around the country. At the 104-bed facility in Mt. Airy, Maryland, 66 residents tested positive, 11 have been hospitalized, and one elderly man died from the illness.

“As we have been warning for weeks, older Marylanders and those with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable and at a significantly higher risk of contracting this disease,” Hogan said in a statement. “Multiple state agencies are on the scene and working closely with the local health department and the facility as they take urgent steps to protect additional residents and staff who may have been exposed.”

Advocates for nursing home safety and the companies that run large national chains have been warning of the potential for the highly-contagious virus to wreak havoc on senior living communities – where vulnerable residents live in close quarters and containment options are limited. Most facilities instituted visitation bans weeks ago, and some designated isolation areas in hopes of halting a rapid spread.

But this weekend showed just how dangerous and lethal COVID-19 could be inside a nursing home. At Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation outside of Nashville, Tennessee, 115 residents tested positive for the illness and two died, according to local officials.

At the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Richmond, Virginia, 18 additional residents tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the facility's total to 37 residents and six healthcare workers. Two residents died on Friday.

And at the Sundale Nursing Home in Morgantown, West Virginia, several residents began experiencing fevers on Sunday, March 22. By the following day, the national guard was mobilized to help test for the cause. They found 21 residents and eight employees tested positive for COVID-19, out of the 98 people who live there.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told reporters the outbreak there “is the horror story that we absolutely didn’t want to have happen, at least from a nursing-home standpoint, because that’s a place, you know, that our elderly are at for sure.”

Nursing homes have been a source of deep concern from the first signs the virus had reached the U.S., when a senior center in Washington State saw a spree of infections, that have since lead to 35 deaths.

National figures have been more difficult to track. As of last week, at least 147 nursing homes across 27 states had at least one resident with COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. But the agency, which regulates nursing homes, has not responded to requests from ABC News for updated figures.

Because nursing homes are being overrun quickly, they are also putting stress on first responders – who have in several instances been called upon to move large numbers of ailing residents. Last week, officials in New Jersey evacuated the St. Joseph's Senior Home in the town of Woodbridge, after all 94 patients there were presumed positive for the infection.

On Saturday, Tennessee officials took the same drastic step at the Gallatin Center. The National Guard was called to move all of the residents there to a nearby hospital, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee ordered the facility temporarily closed for cleaning and disinfecting and sent staff members into quarantine.

Those working at nursing homes said the cases have been frightening to residents and wrenching to relatives who have not been permitted inside to visit their loved ones. Donna Tennant, the Marketing Director at Sundale in West Virginia said they are trying their best to protect those residents still on site – the ones who did not require hospitalization.

"We’re just trying to keep things isolated so we don’t continue to spread it," Tennant said.

Residents are remaining connected to their family members through cell phones and video chats, Tennant said, and hospice workers who are currently unable to enter the facility to work with residents have hoisted up a sign just outside that reads "Love and Hope" in bright pink letters.

"You pull up and you see that sign and think 'You know, thank you, there is good in the world,’" Tennant said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


jackscoldsweat/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Southwest Airlines snapped a photo of 29 health care professionals making their way to New York City to aid overwhelmed medical staff during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The picture shows nurses and doctors holding their hands up in the shape of a heart as the flight prepares for takeoff from Atlanta. Several broke out their masks and gloves for the journey.

"These brave souls soldier on in the midst of tremendous risk and exposure, constantly putting the needs of others above their own," the company wrote. "Their selfless sacrifice is a beacon of light during such a dark time in our world, and no amount of gratitude and praise would ever be enough."

The photo, originally shared on the airlines Instagram page on Sunday night, has now garnered thousands of likes and comments across social media, with many users praising the health care workers' sacrifice and bravery.

Happy Doctors Day! Thank you to all the docs, nurses and @SouthwestAir , my fave for this tremendous effort! #Brave

— Amy Fenton Parker (@Amy_Parker456) March 30, 2020

If you need proof that there’s still good in the world, 76,000 healthcare workers to date have answered @NYGovCuomo’s call for volunteers. Here’s a plane full of doctors & nurses headed to NY on @SouthwestAir via Atlanta ♥️🙏😍 #heroes #godspeed

— Jeηi Chua (@JeniChua) March 30, 2020

Doctors and nurses on a Southwest Airlines flight headed to NY to help. This is why America is great!

— Beau (@beau3161) March 29, 2020

Southwest Airlines spokesmen Derek Hubbard explained the photo was taken by an Atlanta ramp agent who wanted to capture the group of medical professionals on the regularly scheduled flight.

He added the flight crew "thanked them for their service" and "wished them well on their journey ahead."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


NataliaSokko/iStock(LONDON) -- The Mercedes-AMG Formula One team is breaking records again.

It took fewer than 100 hours for engineers at Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains and University College London Hospital (UCLH) to produce a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), a type of breathing aid that can assist COVID-19 patients, from the teams' initial meeting on March 18.

Engineers analyzed and disassembled an off-patent device and deployed computer simulations to enhance the device's design for state-of-the-art mass production.

Now, 100 breathing aids will be delivered to UCLH for clinical trials with the goal of a rapid rollout in the coming weeks.

Hundreds of thousands of patients infected with novel coronavirus have flooded hospitals around the world, many of them unable to breathe.

CPAPs deliver air and oxygen into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate, increasing the amount of oxygen into the lungs. They have been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China and have been shown to help patients avoid the need for invasive mechanical ventilation.

"These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill," UCLH critical care consultant Mervyn Singer said in a statement. "We hope they will make a real difference to hospitals across the U.K. by reducing demand on intensive care staff and beds, as well as helping patients recover without the need for more invasive ventilation."

Andy Cowell, managing director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, added, "The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support, coming together in the 'Project Pitlane' collective to support the national need at this time across a number of different projects. We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe."

Seven Formula One teams have united for "Project Pitlane," an industry-wide effort in the U.K. to manufacture and deliver respiratory devices to COVID-19 patients. According to Formula One, the project will "pool the resources and capabilities of its member teams to greatest effect, focusing on the core skills of the F1 industry: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly."

McLaren Racing said Sunday it was manufacturing components for ventilators at its machine shop as part of the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, a collaboration of industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors to produce medical ventilators for the U.K.

McLaren Group, together with all UK based F1 teams and other automotive companies, will produce medical ventilators with a consortium of significant UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors.

— McLaren Group (@McLarenGroup) March 30, 2020

💪🏼 Project Pitlane.
Seven @F1 teams committed to the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium to try and save lives producing respiratory devices and equipment for hospitals to fight against COVID-19. Really proud of @McLarenF1

— Carlos Sainz (@Carlossainz55) March 30, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has put an indefinite hold on the 2020 F1 season. The next two races -- the Dutch Grand Prix and the Spanish Grand Prix -- are scheduled for May and F1 officials have signaled both could be postponed.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


wellesenterprises/iStock(NEW YORK) -- 3M, the maker of tens of millions of respirator masks to be purchased by the U.S. government for health care workers battling the novel coronavirus, was accused several years ago of knowingly selling defective earplugs to the military in a federal lawsuit settled with the U.S. Justice Department.

The St. Paul, Minnesota-headquartered company denies any wrongdoing and maintains the earplugs were not defective. To settle the case, first brought by a competitor and joined by the Defense Logistic Agency, the company agreed to pay the federal government $9 million in 2018 but did not admit any liability.

Aearo Technologies, the group that originally designed the earplugs, was acquired by 3M in 2008 for $1.2 billion. Aearo was already delivering earplugs to the military and the complaint alleged that 3M continued to knowingly make false claims about their product’s features.

“3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world, and their safety is our priority,” the company said in a statement to ABC News. “We have a long history of partnering with the U.S. military, and we continue to make products to help protect our troops and support their missions.”

Fanna Haile-Selassie, a spokesperson for 3M, said the company continues to sell an updated version to the U.S. military today.

Haile-Selassie said the company worked closely with the military on the earplug design. But the lawsuit alleged the company failed to disclose a flawed design and testing method.

The complaint accuses the company of violating the False Claims Act by making and presenting false statements and conspiring to defraud the government.

Since the settlement, more than 7,400 personal injury lawsuits have been brought against 3M relating to the earplugs, according to federal court data compiled by researchers at Syracuse University. Some cases were consolidated last year, and they continue to be brought by veterans across the country.

“We deny this product was defectively designed and caused injuries, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against such allegations,” Haile-Selassie in a statement to ABC News.

With footholds in various industries, 3M makes a massive range of products under a number of brands, such as the original “Post-it” sticky notes. The company also manufactures more than 1,100 different types of medical supplies including bandages, stethoscopes and protective coveralls.

3M is now the recipient of about $5 million in contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services to produce N95 respirators, the masks in short supply in New York City and elsewhere across the country as the respiratory virus known as COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm hospitals and nursing homes.

Last week, 3M announced it would dedicate resources toward making nearly two billion respirators over the next 12 months.

At a press conference at the White House last week, Vice President Mike Pence said a stimulus bill signed into law last week would enable companies, including 3M, to ramp up production and sales to hospitals by limiting liability.

Under the new law, companies are shielded from personal injury lawsuits involving the masks. That includes claims of physical or mental injury, illness or disability as a result of problems with the design, development or manufacturing of the respirators. However, companies are not immune from claims of intentional or criminal misconduct.

President Donald Trump said this week that HHS is delivering millions of respirators and surgical masks in an effort to patch up shortages across the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that most people not use masks outside of the workplace or enclosed environments, with some exceptions including those who are sick, or those who care for someone who is ill or immunocompromised. Wearing a mask unnecessarily could allow the virus to spread when the mask is adjusted or removed improperly.

The CDC continues to emphasize the importance of social distancing, handwashing and avoiding public areas whenever possible. The nation’s hospitals and other health care facilities are urgently scrambling to obtain protective gear for their workers.

"It's particularly masks and the protective gear that we need desperately -- both to protect ourselves from patients but also patients from others," Dr. David Bell, a physician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told ABC News.

It’s not just hospital workers desperate for masks. Jared Rosenberg, Paramedic Supervisor with the Greenberg, New York, Police Department, told reporters this week that his department has resorted to collecting masks from the public.

"So far, over 195 [N95] masks and over 1,000 surgical masks have been donated by the local residents,” Rosenberg said. “We're grateful for it, but this is no way to prepare for an uptick in cases. We need these masks and we need them now, and we need the federal government to pay for these masks because we can't afford them at this rate.”

HHS has predicted in congressional testimony that demand could go as high as one billion masks in the next 6 months.

This month alone, HHS has signed industry contracts worth some $500 million in the hopes of procuring 600 million N95 masks in the next 18 months. That includes a $4.8 million contract with 3M for the respirators.

The office of Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), who represents the district where 3M is based, said they have “every confidence” in the company, despite the prior allegations.

“We are very proud of 3M and their remarkable response thus far to ensure they’re meeting the safety needs of health care workers all across America,” a McCollum spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News.

HHS referred requests for comment to FEMA, which has taken the lead role in coordinating the government response. FEMA did not immediately respond to questions.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bilanol/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The orders were straightforward and immediate: pick up the supplies, ride through the streets of New York City and make the deliveries.

There would be no detours, no diversions. The clock was ticking.

On March 21, Ryan Snelson and three other motorcycle riders geared up, divided up the supplies and took off from Montauk, New York, to meet their receivers in Tribeca and Queens. The supplies strapped to their bikes would help protect the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals battling the deadly novel coronavirus pandemic. New York City hospitals were running out of personal protective equipment (PPE) as the number of sick grew each day. The masks, gloves and gowns Snelson and his crew were in possession of could save patients' -- and doctors' -- lives.

Snelson, a longtime biker, took action against the virus the only way he knew how: by calling on his fellow bikers to join him in the cause.

"We're just regular people who have bikes and have regular jobs in the city," he told ABC News. "The motorcycle community is very active in New York."

Snelson was intrigued after learning about Masks for Docs, a grassroots campaign that was started two weeks ago by Chad Loder, a computer security researcher and entrepreneur in the Los Angeles area. Masks for Docs, which is in the process of being recognized as a 501 (c) charity organization, connects people who have PPE with hospitals and health clinics around the country. Donors and receivers fill out an online questionnaire and Masks for Docs then shares the info with its local volunteer chapters to verify the applicants and distribute the supplies quickly to the requisite facilities.

"We're getting photos from doctors and nurses who are wearing trash bags and bandanas [for protection]," Loder told ABC News. "We've had hospitals say they cannot accept donations but doctors are privately reaching out to us. We have to move faster than the virus."

Individuals can donate surgical, construction and N95 masks, hand sanitizers, hazmat suits, disposable scrubs, face shields and gowns on the Masks for Docs site. Loder said local chapters are given guidance on acceptable donations as well as safety precautions when picking up and dropping off the PPE.

More than 60 riders have joined the New York "moto squad," according to Snelson, and supplies have been delivered to all five New York City boroughs as well as northern New Jersey.

"It all happened so fast," Snelson noted. "We're figuring it out as we go ... and we can start and stop based on our schedules."

Meredith Balkus, who joined Snelson on the group's first mission, recalled how eerie and still the city's streets were that Saturday night, a "surreal" experience for the riders involved, she said.

"When this opportunity came up I was so excited," she told ABC News. "We all understand the gravity of the situation and it's really rewarding to help doctors who are on the front lines. It's really dire in New York and there's a lot of hunger out there to help."

At least 776 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and more than half of New York state's cases, or 33,768, are in the city. Nearly 8,500 state residents are currently hospitalized. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned Sunday in an interview on CNN that hospitals have only one week's worth of medical supplies.

Snelson said his team is cognizant of the infection risks and closely adheres to the safety guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We are so smart every step of the way," added Balkus. "We're wearing a full face helmet and a mask underneath. We always stay six feet apart from each other."

Moto squad's riders will do whatever it takes to stop the outbreak and slow down the rate of transmission, Snelson said.

"The motorcycle community will help -- always," he said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Noemi Orofino(NEW YORK) -- A 28-year-old who said she and her boyfriend tested positive for the novel coronavirus is speaking out in hopes to remind the public that young, healthy adults are still at risk.

Noemi Orofino and her boyfriend Julian, 31, are now in recovery after fighting the COVID-19 virus, the new respiratory illness in which hundreds of thousands have been diagnosed globally, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Orofino, who works in fashion, began documenting her journey on Instagram after revealing she was positive.

"I started getting so many questions about the virus," Orofino told ABC News' Good Morning America. "I have so many friends in America and the U.K. They didn't think it affected young people like me. They thought it was an elderly disease."

"When I was going through it, I was emotional and lonely," she added. "I want to spread the severity of this issue."

Orofino was born in Italy and raised in the U.S. She and Julian, who requested GMA holds his surname for privacy reasons, currently reside in the United Kingdom, where there's at least 17,325 confirmed cases.

Orofino and Julian began feeling symptoms including weakness, muscles aches and shortness of breath on March 1 and 2, Orofino said.

"I kind of knew I had it right away. I've never felt so sick," she added. "When Julian started to feel sick too, we got tested."

"I was very far away from my family and I didn't know so much about the U.K. health system," she added. "I knew the illness impacted your lungs ... I was very worried for our lives at the time."

Orofino suspects she contracted the COVID-19 virus from two friends visiting from Italy, who later showed symptoms as well.

She said she and Julian went to a local hospital for treatment. They were examined, sent home to recover and told to take a fever reducer.

"I think because we are younger and they were confident that we were OK," Orofino said. "I don't think they were ready for what was coming, a COVID-19 room or floor, or [proper] equipment."

Dr. Eric Johnson, an anesthesiologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, who treats people with COVID-19 but has not treated Orofino or Julian, said institutions around the country are likely developing new protocols as there's an influx of patients.

"As a medical community we're behind the curve on adequately testing patients and preparing for a surge of patients like we've never seen before," Johnson told GMA. "It's a very non-discriminatory virus. There's been several patients in their 20s, 30s and 40s. When in the early stages of this we were concerned with older patients, whereas younger patients are ending up in the ICU on ventilators [also]."

"We cannot emphasize enough how important this quarantine and social isolation is, even though it can generate those feelings of loneliness," Johnson added. "It's the best tool in our arsenal now -- maintaining quarantine, avoiding large crowds, washing hands -- all of those CDC guidelines."

The World Health Organization (WHO) says people of all ages can be infected by COVID-19. Older people, and people with preexisting medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves such as good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

While older adults have been hit hardest by the virus, Italy reported that a quarter of its cases so far were among people ages 19 to 50. In Spain, a third are under age 44.

Among U.S. patients with known age, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 29% were 20 to 44.

Julian said he didn't think he and Orofino would be at risk, given their ages.

"Everyone reacts differently to the virus so even if you're young and healthy and in good shape, you may be unlucky and it may have a life-changing or even life-ending consequence," Julian told GMA. "Everyone should really take this seriously."

While Julian said he has fully recovered from the virus, Orofino is enduring her fourth week. She said she feels better each day, and is experiencing fewer symptoms since being diagnosed earlier this month.

While documenting her health progress on Instagram, she urges others to stay home and lends an ear to those feeling stress during the pandemic.

"Every day I found a new symptom, I wished I had someone to talk to for emotional support as well as informative [support]," she said. "I received so many messages from people saying, 'I started self-isolating after reading this.'"

"Everyone is caught up with not catching it, but I think cause a lot of psychological damage, trauma -- even to those who aren't affected by the virus," Orofino added.

The CDC says the outbreak of COVID-19 may cause fear and anxiety in some people.

Dr. Alexander Sanchez, a psychiatrist working in New York City, agreed -- telling ABC News, "I expect an increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms to come when the experience of social distancing and isolation becomes more routine. We are trying to adjust to a new way of maintaining social connections virtually. There will be some psychic pain while we adjust."

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources on how to seek mental help during these uncertain times.

For mental health crisis, call NAMI's HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI (6264) Monday through Friday, between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm EST for mental health resources.

Virtual support communities like Emotions Anonymous offer in person and online weekly meetings available in more than 30 countries with 600 active groups worldwide. The EA is nonprofessional and can be a complement to therapy, NAMI says.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts in response to the outbreak, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK ) -- Despite repeated warnings from health experts about the risk of social interaction over novel coronavirus, governors in at least three states have exempted houses of worship from statewide bans on mass gatherings, and this weekend will offer a first test to see if any congregations forge ahead despite the warnings.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has banned gatherings of 50 or more and signed a statewide stay-at-home order on Monday. But both mandates explicitly exempt houses of worship from the misdemeanor penalty for violators.

"That’s an area we don’t have the ability to directly enforce or control," Whitmer said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

She said she felt pressure from Republicans in the state legislature to include the exemption and said her hands were tied by the separation of church and state.

Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly tightened restrictions on mass gatherings in her state to no more than 10 people. But much like with Michigan, she exempted houses of worship as long as congregants engage in appropriate social distancing. Ohio officials carved out exemptions for religious gatherings, including weddings and funerals, from its stay-at-home order, on top of a broad exemption for any gathering "for the purpose of the expression of First Amendment protected speech."

Not everyone believes that imposing constraints on religious gatherings would run afoul of constitutional protections.

Rachel Laser, the president and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said the governors are misinterpreting restrictions on impeding religious expression. She says the Constitution actually requires religious and secular institutions be treated the same.

"The Constitution not only permits it, but demands it," she said in a statement. "Such restrictions do not violate religious freedom; they ensure religious freedom is not misused in ways that risk people’s lives."

Laser’s organization has tracked mass gathering bans by state, and cites numerous instances in which COVID-19 has spread through congregations, sometimes resulting in deaths.

"We recognize that many people find solace in attending religious services, especially during uncertain times such as these, and thus share in the deep sorrow that the already challenging coronavirus situation also means temporarily halting in-person religious services," Laser said.

This handout illustration image taken with a scanning electron microscope shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow) also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19isolated emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab.

She applauded the houses of worship that are taking creative approaches to maintaining their fellowship in this time of social distancing, including streaming services online.

"We may be physically apart, but we will get through this public health crisis together -- even if it’s together in new ways," Laser said.

In Michigan, Whitmer has been urging houses of worship not to host services, despite the exemption. But last weekend some churches in the state were still holding services. Greater Grace Temple in Detroit welcomed about 200 worshipers last Sunday – four times more than the state’s mass gatherings ban allows, but far fewer than the 4,000-seat sanctuary can hold.

"Unless you were a couple or a parent and children, everyone was sitting about four to five seats separated from each other," Bishop Charles H. Ellis III of Greater Grace Temple told ABC News in a phone interview.

On Tuesday, following the governor’s stay-at-home order, Greater Grace Temple suspended worship services for at least three weeks.

"We want to certainly cooperate and do our best to adhere to what she's asking us to do," Ellis said. "We certainly don't want to be above the system."

Even in states with strict bans on mass gatherings of any kind, some faith groups are continuing to worship together.

In New York, which is now the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, local news reports indicate many ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have anguished over the ban, with many refusing to comply. Last week, The New York Times reported that the fire department had to be called to break up hundreds of revelers celebrating at a Hasidic wedding in Brooklyn.

In Louisiana, the pastor at the Life Tabernacle Church outside of Baton Rouge, vowed to continue worship services for a congregation of more than 1,000 members, according to news reports. The Rev. Tony Spell told CNN, "If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors. But you can't say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith."

About a dozen states still have not banned mass gatherings at all.

One of those states is Arkansas, where a parish in the small town of Greers Ferry is mourning the loss of a 91-year-old door greeter after 34 members of the 80-person congregation became infected with COVID-19 at a church gathering.

President Donald Trump has told the American people he is holding on to the hope that normal life will resume by Easter, so there can be "packed churches all over our country."

Back in Michigan, one church has found a new way to safely worship. All God’s People Church in Roseville is hosting what Rev. W.J. Rideout III calls "drive-in" service in the parking lot where parishioners stay in their cars.

"I’m the only one outside preaching and ministering God’s words to people for safety measures," he said, adding, "Ecclesiastes says, you know, 'There's a time to embrace and there's a time to refrain from the embracing.' So this is that moment."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK) -- As health care providers across the nation continuing testing for the novel coronavirus, many medical supplies are in high demand and short supply. In particular, there's a dire shortage of nasal swabs used for testing.

A team at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, might have a solution: a publicly available template for 3D-printed nasal swabs.

"With the COVID-19 virus, our best weapon against it right now is widespread testing," said Dr. Todd Goldstein, director of 3D Design and Innovation at Northwell Health. "This swab is the first line of defense, so to speak, against the coronavirus, because we need to test people and know if they're positive or not. And in order to do that, we have to collect samples."

Northwell Health is now 3D printing around 2,000 to 3,000 nasal swabs a day for immediate use on the front lines of this pandemic. Northwell Health teamed up with the University of South Florida in Tampa and Formlabs in Somerville, Massachusetts, and began 3D printing the novel nasal swabs.

By releasing their design to the public, Northwell Health is looking to decentralize production from strained manufacturers.

"Anyone who has these printers and materials -- we're talking dental labs, university hospitals, high schools, middle schools, universities, engineering schools, even companies that use these printers for prototyping ... if they get the correct resin, they can also make these swabs and help with the shortages," said Goldstein.

Nasal swabs can't be made from common materials like cotton or wood, instead, they're typically made from polyester. The 3D-printed nasal swabs are created from plastic, a perfectly acceptable material to use to make nasal swabs that's also ideal for 3D printing.

While the Food and Drug Administration cautioned against the usage of 3D printing for protective medical supplies on March 26, Goldstein clarified that nasal swabs are not considered "protective" equipment, so Northwell is free to continue printing nasal swabs without any regulatory hang-ups.

"It's an interesting situation where we're able to repurpose the materials for this, and there is an abundance of supply" of those materials, said Goldstein. Because many hospitals have stopped elective surgeries, plastic is readily available.

As the health care industry works tirelessly during this pandemic, collaboration is key to support our health care system, said Goldstein.

"We have engineers from all over the spectrum working to help produce these things," he said. "With all of us together, we'll be able to get over this."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW ORLEANS) -- In Louisiana, amid skyrocketing rates of the novel coronavirus and a statewide stay-at-home order, scientists are finding themselves face-to-face with the virus they hope to develop a vaccine for.

At the Tulane National Primate Research Center (TNPRC), scientists from across the United States are coordinating their research in nonhuman primates, like rhesus macaques, to develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

These scientists are on the front lines of fighting COVID-19. Like health care workers and first responders across the country, they understand how fast they have to work to save as many lives as possible and are facing many of the same challenges.

“I think we’re pretty busy,” said Dr. Rudolph “Skip” Bohm, associate director of the TNPRC about 40 miles outside New Orleans. “The thing is, though, that in order to win this battle against the COVID pandemic, the research we’re doing is essential. So what we know is that if we push and we’re busy, it’s the only way we’re going to find therapies or vaccines that are going to save thousands of lives worldwide.

“All of us are of that mindset that we got to push through this and ramp it up and get this done because that is what we do,” he said.

As of Saturday morning, there were at least 601,478 cases of COVID-19 and 27,862 deaths globally, with 104,837 cases and 1,711 deaths in the United States.

On Thursday, the scientists entered a new phase in their search for a COVID-19 vaccine when they inoculated four monkeys — two rhesus macaques and two African green monkeys — with the virus. Bohm said they decided on four through a statistical model that determined that’s how many they’d need “to answer the questions we needed” while also using the fewest number of animals possible.

Every few days moving forward, they plan on analyzing the animals with X-Rays and taking blood, fluid and, eventually, tissue samples in an effort to see how the virus works inside their bodies. If the results are as they expect, the infection in the monkeys will mimic that in humans, Bohm said.

“Once we show that the disease looks the same — so the same percentage of animals get sick as in the human population, they have the same sort of illness and the same sort of symptoms as humans — then we can use them to test vaccines or develop treatments,” Bohm said.

A vaccine wouldn’t be available for at least a year, Bohm said.

“That’s actually pretty rapid, believe it or not, to be able to do these things in that fashion,” he said, noting the steps they need to take to launch on the study, from designing it to getting federal approval.

Earlier this month, a federally funded phase 1 clinical trial on an experimental COVID-19 vaccine began in Seattle, where four volunteers were given jabs at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. There will be a total of 45 people enrolled in the trial.

The clinical trial is using a vaccine that had been developed to prevent SARS and MERS, two other pathogens that fall in the coronavirus family. Bohm said the researchers working on the vaccine were able to move quickly into human clinical trials because the vaccine had already been tested in animals and proven safe.

“That’s fortunate that there was a vaccine developed and [it] never went into production because now they could pick it up where they left off,” he said.

A phase 1 clinical human trial for a COVID-19 vaccine also began in China on March 19.

At the TNPRC, researchers are starting essentially from scratch, studying the “coronavirus that is causing the disease right now,” COVID-19, Bohm said.

He said the National Institutes of Health, which funds the center, is just now “opening up the possibility for acquiring grants to study the coronavirus.” A typical study involving up to six monkeys can cost between $300,000 and $600,000 per vaccine and that their animal model study alone will cost an estimated $345,000 in internal funds.

Angie Birnbaum, director of biosafety at Tulane University, is responsible for the safety of not only those working inside the laboratories where these tests on COVID-19 are being done but also those outside of them, working to ensure the pathogens they work with stay inside the labs.

“These laboratories are incredibly specialized so when you look in a space like this, you’re going to see, basically, a tight seal offering maximum containment,” Birnbaum explained.

The labs, she said, are pressure tested to ensure there aren’t any hidden holes through which the virus can escape. Specially designed ventilation systems prevent the virus from spreading throughout the building.

There are different levels of protocols necessary for the researchers to enter different labs, too. In some, they may not be allowed to wear street clothes under their personal protective gear, Birnbaum said. They might have to wear double layers of gloves or a mask that pushes air out so that a virus can’t accidentally reach their mouth, nose or eyes. As they leave, they also have to go through the proper decontamination and sterilization procedures, Bohm said.

The TNPRC has only just begun testing the monkeys with COVID-19. And while Birnbaum says they have enough supplies to handle upcoming studies, like personal protective equipment, pipettes, plates and other research materials, she expressed concern over the supply chain. Everything is backordered, she said.

After meetings with the other national primate centers around the U.S., she said this is an issue they could face, too.

“The same struggles we are having here, we can also see that other institutions are struggling,” Birnbaum said. “Things like personal protective equipment deficits, shortages which can really impact our ability to do this type of protective way in high containment… This is a very unique pandemic situation in the sense that normally you don’t have this type of massive loss of those types of resources.”

“So, we’re really trying to think outside the box and figure out ways to carry this on because we’re all heart and soul into it,” she continued. “But, you know, there are so many things that are flying at us and the other centers are dealing with that, too.”

A spokesperson for the TNPRC said the facility has historically received PPE through private distributors and companies and that it would continue to do so as long as they continue to meet their needs.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered all residents of the state to stay home on Sunday, March 22, the same day that he said during a press conference that the state had seen faster growth in the number of COVID-19 cases in the first 13 days than any other state or country in the world. By Saturday morning, Louisiana had 2,746 confirmed cases of the infection and 119 deaths.

Bohm said that due to the speed at which they have to work and because they can’t cut corners in their testing, they’re ramping up the hours they’re putting into their work. At the same time, he said the TNPRC had not previously seen an infection spread through his community like COVID-19 has, and that it’s created special challenges.

“The effect of the disease is pretty profound in our ability to do the research because of staffing and people having to work from home,” Bohm said, noting that if people on staff become ill, they may have to readjust schedules or even train other scientists on how to work in certain labs.

Nobody on the facility’s staff was sick as of Friday evening, a spokesperson for the TNPRC said.

Bohm is also concerned for the monkeys. With 4,500 monkeys living on the property, he said there’s a “high suspicion” that rhesus macaques are susceptible to the novel coronavirus based on preliminary data.

“What that means is that our breeding colony is susceptible to infections for humans — from our workers,” Bohm said. “Knowing that sometimes people are sharing the virus or infectious before they get sick is a real concern of ours. … If they are infected and get sick, and they recover, they most likely can’t be used in any coronavirus research.”

Bohm said his facility has been “fielding calls every single day and having lots of meetings with scientists” from around the country who have vaccines, therapies and diagnostic tests that they want to develop.

“So, we’ll be doing as many of those as we can. But with a network of seven primate research centers, we’re all contributing to that effort to get this done. … This is what the primate centers and other research facilities were designed for — when something happens,” Bohm said. “And so, we’re prepared to do that.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK) -- As government and health care officials plead for expanded access to high-speed COVID-19 tests, health care companies across the country began mobilizing their resources to meet the growing demands with direct-to-consumer kits.

The benefits of such kits could be substantial, allowing everyday people to test themselves for COVID-19 in the privacy of their homes instead of visiting a hospital, potentially exposing health care workers and other healthy individuals. If the test came back negative, it could allow them to go back to work without fear of infecting others.

But the path to commercialization has been a bumpy one. On March 16, the Food and Drug Administration issued new, loosened guidelines meant to help accelerate the availability of different types of COVID-19 diagnostic tests. Under the new policy, laboratories approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) were allowed to manufacture and distribute a validated COVID-19 test for 15 days before submitting official Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.

Gail Javitt, director of the Hyman Phelps and McNamara Center, told ABC News that the FDA's relaxed rules were not intended to last forever.

"Emergency use authorization is not approval," she said. "Once an emergency is over, distribution has to cease."

Nevertheless, the relaxed regulatory process effectively gave companies and independent laboratories the green light to start scaling up small COVID-19 testing kits to be shipped to individual homes.

Several companies, such as Everlywell and Nurx, had already started distributing their at-home kits when the FDA issued a surprise notice on March 20.

In that note, the FDA said it had "not authorized any test that is available to purchase for testing yourself at home" and urged people to avoid at-home COVID-19 tests. In part, the FDA took action because the agency was trying to protect consumers from "fraudulent" test kits - scammers selling fake kits.

The following day, the FDA further clarified that the at-home COVID-19 testing, "including self-collection of samples to be sent to a clinical laboratory," were not included in the updated EUA policy exemptions issued on March 16.

Companies that had been ramping up at home COVID-19 tests are in regulatory limbo, and many have decided to tap the brakes on production.

Javitt said some of the companies that pulled back production were specifically distributing at-home collection kits. Consumers would collect a specimen at home, but the test itself would be done in a certified laboratory. The FDA took issue with a non-health care provider collecting the specimen.

"What was being distributed was just a collection device, and the FDA said it was not permitted to distribute those collection devices for specimens," said Javitt.

The San Francisco-based health startup Nurx launched its at-home COVID-19 testing kits on Friday but when "the FDA issued new guidance on Saturday specific to self-collection tests like the one we offer, exempting them from the EUA, we and our partner lab decided to make the responsible decision and pause our service for the time being."

Meanwhile, Texas-based Everywell, a company that has been offering more than 35 different kinds of at-home health test kits, built the infrastructure to start direct-to-consumer COVID-19 testing. Following the FDA's announcement, Everywell said it would switch gears and provide its kits to hospitals and health care companies until further notice.

"I do think many of the companies are being cautious because they are worried or cautious with the increased regulatory oversight going on with regards to them," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Health Security Center.

Nurx and Everywell, among other health care startups now in limbo waiting for more clarity as to whether or not they can resume manufacturing and distributing their at-home tests.

"Certainly, there are competing considerations. We do not want fraudulent kits out there," said Javitt in regards to FDA's warning against at-home test kits. "At the same time, there are some legitimate reasons and obvious public health value to keeping people out of the public clinics, out of the hospitals and at home, whether they are negative or positive."

The FDA admits that safe and accurate home collection tests would expand availability of COVID-19 testing. The agency said it is working to "help in meeting the increasing demands for tests is "are actively working with test developers in this space." Such language suggests that COVID19 collection kits may in fact reach a person's front door in the near future.

Adalja agrees, admitting that the FDA's regulations are somewhat ambiguous.

"The home collection kits are not truly home test kits." For example, Everywell's at-home kit only provides a special swab that allows a user to collect a specimen from their nose at home. But you don't get the results right then and there. Instead, the specimen is sent to a lab for actual testing for COVID-19.

According to Everywell, "Our COVID-19 partner labs are CLIA-certified labs—many of which already offered infectious disease assays, including tests for other respiratory viruses. Many of these labs also already conduct diagnostic COVID-19 tests for hospitals and clinics in their regions."

Companies like Everywell have the existing diagnostic capacity, but the FDA is concerned with the integrity of at home specimen collection. The agency worries that patients won't be able to adequately collect samples with the potential to lead to false negatives.

In response to these concerns, a Texas-based company called MicrogenDX has validated a laboratory test that can detect the virus through coughed up saliva.

"Collecting a nasal swab, should be done by a health care provider because it really should go deep into the sinuses, but there is no health care provider involved in sputum collection," MicrogenDX CEO Rick Martin said in an interview with ABC News.

MicrogenDX is set to launch a new service where patients could directly request a COVID-19 kit online at home. While patients may have the option to send their saliva samples from the comfort of their own home, MicrogenDX says they are not a home collection kit. They say a physician must first authorize the test before a patient can order it online.

"It's up to the physician and the patient where they are going to collect that specimen," said Martin.

Javitt says this system -- a physician-prescribed at-home test, rather than one you order directly as a consumer -- falls into a regulatory "gray area."

"The FDA does not regulate the practice of medicine; they regulate product, and so once a physician has made a decision to send a kit there is some ambiguity where FDA authority would end," she said.

"At this point, I'm not allowing patients to order kits as a test kit. I'm allowing physicians to order them to be sent to patients," Martin said. If a patient wants a test they must receive a signature from their doctor. Once the doctor approves, the patient will receive an online code that will allow them to order the test online.

MicroGenDX's kit would cost $125 with a $10 shipping fee. Patient samples would be shipped overnight to their main lab in Lubbock, Texas, and receive their results through their doctor the following morning.

"We want maximal flexibility, within the bounds of what's feasible in the current FDA regulatory regime in order to get as many of these tests into people's hands as possible," said Adalja. Home test collection kits may be key in doing so, but as health and federal authors face an unprecedented public health emergency the regulations are working on catching up with the needs.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working with Amazon, for example, to offer home COVID-19 testing kits to people in the Seattle area, an area that has been particularly hard hit with COVID-19 cases. This initiative -- which is also supported by the University of Washington -- is meant to increase access to testing and help public health officials learn more about how the virus spreads.

Adalja notes that even outside the current COVID-19 pandemic, advocates and public health experts have been pushing for better access to at-home testing.

"The coronavirus pandemic, which has been marked by lack of diagnostic capacity, will underscore the need for these types of tests available in general," he said. "This will give us a pathway to increase diagnostic capacity very rapidly and also keeps people out of hospitals, doctors offices, emergency departments where they could potentially infect other people and create crowding."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK) -- When Dr. Darien Sutton saw what was happening in Italy, he braced himself.

Sutton, an emergency medicine physician in Queens, New York, anticipated that the reality in Italy during the novel coronavirus pandemic -- not enough hospital beds, a lack of protective gear -- would soon become the reality in the U.S.

In New York City, he was right.

"Right now, looking at a large hospital in Queens, the medical intensive care unit is already at capacity," Sutton told ABC News on Friday.

He hopes it will serve as a wake-up call for other communities throughout the country on how to respond.

"We should use this as an igniting event," Sutton said, encouraging other communities to test early and actively push for social distancing even if they aren't in a dire situation right now.

Currently, there are more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and at least 46,000 in New York. More than 26,000 of the state's cases are in New York City and at least 450 city residents have died. A breakdown of where the cases are shows that the areas with the most patients testing positive are in six neighborhoods in Queens and nine neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

The city's density has helped aid the spread of the virus, according to health experts. There are 27,000 people per square mile, the densest metropolitan area in the U.S.

"As soon as a virus that is this transmissible gets into a population density that's this urban, you're gonna see exponential growth," Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, director of global health at Northwell Health, told ABC News.

In Queens, Sutton said there has been a higher rate of cases than in the other boroughs because it's home to two major airports -- John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport -- and because many residents there don't have access to health care.

"What we've seen is that when you don't have instructions, medical care or help, you increase the likelihood of transferring it to other people in your community," he said. "If you're looking at New York City, you really have to get into the grid."

Health experts also noted that the numbers in New York are just a snapshot of the virus' spread.

The rate of testing has to be accounted for, as well. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that New York is completing more testing than other states, leading to a rise in the numbers.

And with all eyes on the city, more people are aware of the situation and residents may seek out testing at higher rates than in other areas, according to Dr. Jon Zelner, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.

Heightened anxiety around coronavirus in the city is certainly on the rise. On Thursday, the New York City Fire Department handled more than 6,000 911 calls, on what was the busiest day ever for FDNY paramedics in terms of individual medical incidents, according to the department.

The record-high call volume was largely driven by calls from people who are scared or concerned they have coronavirus.

There are more than half a million health care workers in the city, according to a report released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. He feared that many didn't have the proper equipment, noting that he heard stories from nurses who have only one mask because there aren't enough to go around.

Stringer also noted that these workers are ones who "are too often ignored, underpaid, and overworked."

Though they are the ones protecting the city, 18% are living below twice the poverty line, according to city data. The New York City poverty threshold was $33,562 in 2017.

As for hospital beds, there were 53,000 hospital beds, but Cuomo said the city would need 143,000. ICU beds were also lacking. The 3,000 currently in place don't match up to the predicted 40,000 needed, according to Cuomo. The USNS Comfort and a military hospital established at the Javits Center are both expected to take non-COVID-19 patients soon in order to free up beds in the city for those who are sick.

Sutton said the notion that there is equal need across all five boroughs is a misconception.

In Queens, there are just 1.5 beds for every 1,000 people. But in Manhattan, there are 5.4 beds for every 1,000 people, according to Sutton.

"This is a humongous difference," he said.

Those differences need to be taken into account when looking at the city as an example, Sutton said.

And as the city continues its uphill battle in facing the pandemic, Sutton pointed out that other communities could soon experience the same suffering.

"It's a mess. It's really a mess," he said. "You may walk around being naive. I just want you to know that we are already at a point of critical mass."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK) -- In the months since the novel coronavirus exploded into a pandemic, we have heard a range of stories about those who have been stricken by the disease -- the vast majority with mild symptoms, but an increasing number needing to be hospitalized.

But what about those who were reported to have recovered from the illness, which has no inoculation or cure?

While the telltale symptoms of coronavirus, including fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, have been well-publicized, there's been less information about the long-term health of people who contract COVID-19 and recover.

In part, that's because the virus is new. The first cases emerged in Wuhan, China, in December, so even the very first people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered are less than six months out from when they were initially infected.

Roughly 80% of COVID-19 cases reported in China, were considered mild, according to the CDC.

Dr. Shu-Yuan Xiao, a pathology professor at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, stressed that most patients who have mild illness should recover "with no lasting effect."

Patients who have a more severe illness, but recover without needing to be put on a ventilator, should also be free of long-term side effects, he added.

"For the 16-20% of symptomatic patients who eventually need ICU care, it is difficult to predict," he said, referring to the percentage of those hospitalized who will need critical care.

Patients who go into the intensive care unit and need ventilators are more likely to have lung damage, and to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a severe lung condition in which fluid collects in the lungs' air sacs.

"Based on experience from SARS and MERS, some patients may develop lung fibrosis," Xiao said, though he noted that lung fibrosis, which is when lung tissue becomes scarred, has not been observed in the limited studies we have so far about COVID-19.

"In China, some patients eventually needed to be on [an ECMO life-support machine], to temporarily support the patients while they regain lung function," he said. "However, some of them [may] never regain lung function."

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association published in February, which examined 138 patients in Wuhan, China, 10% of those in ICU care were eventually switched to ECMO machines, which remove the blood from the body, oxygenate it and then return it to the body.

While those long-term effects sound frightening, the reality is that lingering health consequences among people who contract severe respiratory diseases are common.

"It’s the same general thing that you have with any type of phenomena that's severe enough to land you in the ICU," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease and critical care expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"There’s a lot in common with what we do for non-COVID respiratory failure that’s going to be applicable here," Adalja said.

For people who are put on a mechanical ventilator, it's likely to be several months to a year before they recover full lung function, he explained. Some may never recover that functionality.

"It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation," Adalja said. "How much lung tissue was destroyed by the virus? That would translate into having increased shortness of breath."

Both Xiao and Adalja emphasized that much more research is needed before we know how recovered COVID-19 patients severe disease fare months or years out.

"I hope there [will] be more autopsies performed on patients who died of the disease, to provide better knowledge," Xiao said.

"Currently, we know so little about the spectrum of COVID-19 pathology."

Despite those figures, "severe illness leading to hospitalization, including ICU admission and death, can occur in adults of any age with COVID-19," the report notes.

The long-term effects of being put on a ventilator could become a reality for hundreds of thousands of Americans. The Society of Critical Care Medicine projects that as many as 960,000 Americans may need to be put on ventilators during the course of the outbreak in a worst-case scenario.

That doesn't mean everyone who needs a ventilator will get one.

As it stands, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security estimates that there are only 160,000 ventilators currently available for patient care, and 8,900 in the national stockpile.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK) -- As health experts and public officials have warned that confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are likely nowhere near the actual number of people infected, medical professionals in Boston have created a website to help close the gap.

"COVID Near You" allows the public to report coronavirus-related symptoms. The site asks users how they are feeling with the options of "Great, thanks!" and "Not feeling well" as answers.

Those who answer that they're not feeling well are asked to identify their symptoms and answer a series of questions, such as when they began to feel ill, if they have been in quarantine or isolation and whether they have traveled outside of the United States.

Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital who helped develop the website, said that with more data it would be easier to identify emerging hotspots.

He told ABC News that most people experience mild illnesses, so they often won't go to a health care provider.

"It's so important to understand the mild illness," said Brownstein, an ABC News Medical Unit contributor. "A mild illness in the community ... that is what ends up leading to more complicated issues."

There are more than 590,000 cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in the world, and at least 26,943 people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

A map on the website shows the number of people in the U.S. who have reported experiencing coronavirus symptoms, which can range from mild, like a slight cough, to more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The website was created by employees at HealthMap, a medical data tool at Boston Children's Hospital, and is similar to one developed to track the flu.

While Brownstein noted that it was possible for false information to slip through the cracks, they have established protections to limit it.

"COVID Near You" collects a zip code and IP address from those who use it, which, Brownstein said, make it easier to determine if one person is continuously entering incorrect data.

And while the site has limitations -- it will not give someone a diagnosis of coronavirus -- Brownstein said he believes local officials will find it a very useful tool.

"We're putting the 'public' back in public health," he said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


narvikk/iStock(NEW YORK) -- It's a critical, urgent question in the battle to save American lives -- and one that a growing number of institutions, including one of New York's preeminent medical centers, will attempt to answer.

Dr. David Reich, the president of Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, said his team of experts is in the process of tracking down possible donors -- recovered patients whose blood antibodies could potentially curb the virus in the sickest patients.

“It’s great that we have some avenues and some options to try to improve the treatment of our patients,” Reich said in an exclusive television interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer. “And we certainly hope the crisis in New York will abate soon and that we can save as many people as possible from this terrible disease.”

With an approved vaccine still months away at best, the experimental treatment offers a ray of hope for medical professionals and patients alike. The premise is simple: plasma isolated from blood donated by those recovered patients is transferred to a sick patient using an IV, which may then boost a patient with COVID-19's own defenses.

“Am I right that you are about to see if the antibodies of a recovering person can save the life of someone who is critically ill?” Sawyer asked.

“That is concept, Diane,” Reich said. “The idea is that -- as has been done in multiple previous epidemics -- if you give the plasma, the portion of the blood that contains the antibodies, from someone recovering from an illness, a viral illness like COVID-19 or Ebola -- it may help the patient overcome the disease.”

The practice is called convalescent plasma, and medical professionals in China have already used it on at least five critically ill patients with COVID-19, according to results published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The clinical data in China shows the five patients were in critical condition before the plasma infusion. Afterwards, according to the study, they began to recover.

“These preliminary findings raise the possibility that convalescent plasma transfusion may be helpful in the treatment of critically ill patients with COVID-19 and ARDS, but this approach requires evaluation in randomized clinical trials,” the JAMA study concluded.

Mount Sinai is not alone in this endeavor. A group of the nation’s top academic institutions recently launched a website with protocols for those interested in experimenting with convalescent plasma. A spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration said Friday that a small but growing number of institutions are developing protocols for the procedure.

“We believe it can be disease-modifying and reduce duration and severity in some patients,” said Dr. Michael Joyner, a physiologist and anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic, one of the institutions mobilizing to start this.

Healthcare providers in the United States are optimistic, but the experimental therapy will take time to fully develop and is not without risk – and should not be perceived as a “magic bullet,” Reich warned.

“We can never know with a new therapy if we’re causing more good than harm or more harm than good, and that’s going to be always a concern for us, but we believe based upon the history of this therapy that it is the right and ethical and moral thing it to do in the face of a growing crisis,” he said.

Even so, Mount Sinai and others are moving forward. Reich said his team will aim to begin convalescent plasma treatments in the coming days, but the first order of business for medical staff is to find recovered patients – ideally those with a particularly high antibody count that could support more than one current patient.

A lab team at Mount Sinai has been working around the clock in recent days to find candidates, according to Reich. Prospective donors must be at least 21 days removed from the initial symptoms and be able to provide documentation of a positive case.

So far, the community has responded: the hospital says it has already received thousands of offers to donate blood. One of those recovered patients is 31-year-old Rich Bahrenburg.

“It feels like at least if I have to go through this and I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to be on a ventilator, one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to be at the hospital, I feel like I owe it to people as a whole to try and give back if I can,” Rich told ABC News.

Reich and his Mount Sinai team are hoping others like Rich follow suit.

“I think that it’s beautiful if people who are recovering from the illness can, in the spirit of donation and helping others -- that some of them will have that capacity in having very high levels of immunity,” Reich said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Listener Poll
No question right now. Stay tuned to Stillwater Radio for Corona Virus News.
Add a Comment
(Fields are Optional)

Your email address is never published.

Find Us On Facebook