Archive for May 6th, 2020

Bing Liu: Chinese-born professor dies in US murder-suicide – BBC News

May 6th, 2020
Bing LiuImage copyright University of Pittsburgh
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The fatal shooting of a Chinese-born coronavirus researcher on US soil has fuelled conspiracy theories around the world.

Bing Liu, a 37-year-old assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was found dead in his house on Saturday.

Colleagues said he was close to making “significant findings” on his studies of Covid-19, sparking online speculation it was an assassination.

But police say it was a murder-suicide.

Why did Liu die?

He was found with multiple gunshot wounds to the head, neck, torso and extremities at his home in the Pittsburgh suburbs, according to the local police department.

The gunman was identified as 46-year-old software engineer Hao Gu. Authorities say he took his own life after returning to his car.

Liu and Gu knew each other, homicide detectives said.

The investigation has determined it was a murder-suicide resulting from “a lengthy dispute regarding an intimate partner”.

They said there was “zero evidence” the case was linked to Liu’s research work and the current public health crisis.

Who was Liu?

In a statement, Liu’s colleagues describe him as an outstanding researcher who “was on the verge of making very significant findings” towards understanding the cellular mechanisms of Covid-19 infection.

They mourned Liu’s passing and pledged to complete his research “in an effort to pay homage to his scientific excellence”.

Liu, a native of China, earned his Bachelor’s degree and PhD in computer science in Singapore before conducting research in the US.

According to his online CV, he had collaborated with biologists and clinicians to study human immunity.

What are the conspiracy theorists saying?

“Oh my god,” a user on the Chinese social media platform Weibo wrote. “This seems like coming straight out of Mission Impossible. Perhaps he found out that the virus originated from an American lab.”

Many similar comments suggested Liu was killed because he was supposedly about to unravel the mystery of coronavirus’ origin.

Chinese officials and state media had previously promoted a baseless claim that the virus originated in the US and was brought to Wuhan by American soldiers.

Some Weibo users said the case “seems too coincidental”.

“A very unusual case. There are likely secrets hidden in the dark,” one remark read.

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Media captionReality Check debunks coronavirus claims by politicians

Many Weibo comments suggested Liu’s Chinese background may have put him at risk in the US, though no evidence has emerged that Liu was targeted because of his ethnicity.

Global Times, a website affiliated with the Chinese state media, published an article various speculation surrounding Liu’s death.

On Twitter, meanwhile, some have speculated on unfounded claims that the Chinese government may have played a role in the case.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a variety of conspiracy theories about the virus and its origins continue to be spread on online platforms. Some unverified claims have been promoted by politicians and media outlets in both the US and China.


‘Just innocent endeavors’: Walla Walla County health officials retract claims of coronavirus parties –

May 6th, 2020

WALLA WALLA COUNTY, Wash. — Walla Walla County health officials are now walking back their claims that people in the county were holding “coronavirus parties” in an attempt to contract the disease.

County health officials had previously said they knew of multiple instances of people hosting these parties, thinking they would be infected with the disease then develop immunity. 

The story got widespread attention and was picked up by local media outlets like KREM, in which an official did an interview explaining the claims.. The story even got national attention, being picked up by publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press.

After the story ran on KREM on Wednesday, a Walla Walla County Health Department spokesperson reached out to “recall” their comments and explained that the parties weren’t intended to infect people.

The statement reads in full:

“I formally call back my interview today. After receiving further information, we have discovered that there were not intentional covid parties.  Just innocent endeavors. Please recall my interview.”

An official told KREM’s Tim Pham that the county would be releasing a full statement tomorrow.

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Smart home platform Wink will require a monthly subscription starting next week – The Verge

May 6th, 2020

Researchers watch hopefully as virus meets warmer weather –

May 6th, 2020

As much of the country looks forward to the possibility of rubbing shoulders again in summer, scientists are carefully watching for signs that the coronavirus transmission could slow in warm weather.

The consensus seems to be that the virus will be seasonal and endemic, meaning that, like the common cold, it will thrive in winter but will likely never go away. That doesn’t mean the United States will be in the clear come June.

“It is possible, that given how new the virus is and the number of people who are still susceptible, we may continue to see this virus spread even over the summer months, though at a lower level than the first wave, before returning for a second fall peak,” said Robert A. Bednarczyk, a global health professor at Emory University, by email.

Some researchers say it’s too early to tell if actual physical conditions, such as warmer, more humid air, or natural social distancing that comes with more time outdoors will throttle the spread of COVID-19.

“We haven’t lived with this virus or it with us long enough to actually observe what happens as the seasons change,” said Dr. David A. Relman, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, adding that the virus that causes COVID-19 was first detected in December.

In an exclusive interview, Paul Dabisch, a senior research scientist at the Department of Homeland Security’s biodefense research laboratory, said that initial lab tests show sunlight, higher temperatures and humidity are hurdles for the survival of the coronavirus.

“What we have found so far is that sunlight seems to be very detrimental to the virus,” he said.

William Bryan, the acting undersecretary for science and technology at Homeland Security, said during a White House briefing April 23, “The virus is dying at a much more rapid pace, just from exposure to higher temperatures and just from exposure to humidity.”

An analysis in Swiss Medical Weekly found that “seasonal variation in transmissibility has the potential to modulate” the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think it is highly likely that it will show winter peaks in temperate areas of the world,” co-author Jan Albert of Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital said by email.

But even with that finding comes caution: “The onset of spring and summer could, for example, give the impression that (the coronavirus) has been successfully contained, only for infections to increase again in 2020-2021 winter season,” the Swiss Medical Weekly paper said in March.

Other studies have drawn correlations between cooler climes and higher transmission rates, but socioeconomic factors can also be at play, including the quality of health care, underlying health conditions and social distancing protocols in a particular region, Relman said.

Although the coronavirus may not survive as well on laboratory surfaces in warmer, more humid weather, it might still be easily transmitted from person to person, the experts said.

Albert said the coronavirus “will become endemic” like the four strains associated with the common cold.

“Given the magnitude of the global spread, it is hard to see that it will be contained and disappear,” he said. “It is likely that it will become a fifth endemic coronavirus.”

Dr. Arnold S. Monto, an epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, argued there’s little evidence so far that this coronavirus will act like its endemic relatives and take a summer break.

“This pandemic virus is behaving differently,” he said by email. “The common viruses rarely cause severe disease, so we are not sure if they will behave similarly.”

As such, people should not expect to relax their precautions much in warmer months.

“It is important that individuals still do what they can to protect themselves and others, including wearing masks, washing their hands and maintaining appropriate physical distances,” said Bednarczyk of Emory University in Atlanta.

Stanford’s Relman said: “It may turn out the summer is a better time, but we don’t want to wait and hope and find out we’re wrong. It’s much more wise to say, ‘Let’s not count on it.'”


Canada reports 189 more deaths, more than 1,400 new coronavirus cases – Global News

May 6th, 2020

Canada reported an additional 1,450 cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, including 189 more deaths.

Wednesday’s numbers — which were tallied by Global News from both numbers released by provincial and federal health authorities — brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in Canada to 63,485.

As of May 6, the country’s death toll from the virus reached at least 4,232, with cases in Ontario and Quebec once again making up the brunt of Canada’s new infections.

READ MORE: How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

On Wednesday, Ontario reported 412 new cases and 68 more deaths, bringing its provincial total and death toll to 18,722 and 1,492, respectively.

A total of 13,222 people have since recovered from the disease caused by the virus, however, accounting for 70.6 per cent of all cases.

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Quebec, which remains the epicentre of Canada’s COVID-19 outbreak, announced an additional 112 deaths linked to the virus on Wednesday, alongside 910 more cases.

As of May 6, the province’s total cases and deaths account for more than half of Canada’s, with 34,327 cases and 2,150 deaths.

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New cases were also announced by all the other provinces except for P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada’s Northern territories.

British Columbia’s government outlined its plan today to reopen the province in steps, starting with an easing of measures beginning as early as mid-May.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Italian firm claims to have made a vaccine to contain coronavirus – Hindustan Times

May 6th, 2020

Italian researchers have claimed that they have successfully developed a vaccine to contain the coronavirus, which is likely to work on humans, Italian news agency ANSA has reported.

Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO of Takis, the firm that claims to have developed the vaccine, said that a coronavirus candidate vaccine has neutralised the virus in human cells for the first time, according to the news report.

The researchers experimented with the vaccine on mice that successfully developed antibodies that blocked the virus from infecting the cells. The tests were reportedly carried out at Spallanzani Hospital in Rome.

“This is the most advanced stage of testing of a candidate vaccine created in Italy. Human tests are expected after this summer,” Aurisicchio was quoted as saying by ANSA.

The researchers observed that five vaccine candidates generated a large number of antibodies, after which two were selected. The vaccine candidates being developed are based on the genetic material of DNA protein “spikes”, the molecular tips used by the coronavirus to enter human cells.

The researchers believe that this makes their vaccine particularly effective for generating functional antibodies against the “spike” protein. “To reach our goal, we need the support of national and international institutions and partners who may help us speed up the process,” the Takis CEO said.


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May 6th, 2020

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May 6th, 2020

The coronavirus appears to have mutated. What does that mean for contagiousness? – NBC News

May 6th, 2020

A new study has sparked fears that the coronavirus has mutated to become more contagious, but experts say there is no evidence these changes make it any more dangerous or transmissible than it already is.

“Viruses mutate all the time, [and] most mutations have no significance even if they spread,” said Adriana Heguy, director of the Genome Technology Center at New York University, who was not involved with the research.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

The study was posted on the preprint server bioRxiv on April 30. Preprints are studies that have not undergone the rigorous peer-review process required for publication in medical or scientific journals. In the rush to share new research on COVID-19, many scientists have been sharing their work online before undergoing the full review process.

May 6, 202001:39

The authors, who included researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, analyzed the genetic sequences of samples of the virus gathered worldwide, zeroing in on a mutation called D614G.

“We were concerned that if the D614G mutation can increase transmissibility,” the study authors wrote, “it might also impact severity of disease.”

The corresponding author at the Los Alamos National Laboratory did not respond to an interview request from NBC News.

The hypothesis is concerning for a virus that has already infected millions and is responsible for more than 260,000 deaths worldwide.

But outside experts were quick to point out that changes in viruses — especially coronaviruses — are common, and may mean nothing at all.

Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota, explained viral mutations using the analogy of an automobile.

“If the mutation takes out your carburetor, the car can no longer operate,” Poland said. “On the other hand, if the mutation changes one spark plug, the car can still operate.”

What’s unclear is whether the D614G mutation slows or speeds the viral “car” or, in fact, does nothing.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Heguy said the D614G mutation had already been identified in viral sequences from around the globe, particularly in Europe.

The researchers “used that for their model to see if there was an indication that this particular mutation … would make it more transmissible. According to their model, it is possible,” Heguy said. “Having said that, it is only a model.”

That is, models only reflect what could possibly happen in the future. Scientists have not found the virus has evolved to become any more dangerous or deadly in people.

Mutations are common in viruses, but the coronavirus “so far has been pretty darn stable with little mutations around the edges,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said.

“That’s what these investigators are looking at,” Schaffner said. “They’re trying to determine whether these little mutations have implications for how well it’s transmitted.” But, there is “no evidence that this is happening that I can see clinically,” he added.

Dr. Robert Gallo, the co-founder and director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said “the paper, I believe, is a strong paper by a quality group.”

But, he said, “no conclusions can be made about biology or functionality” of the virus based on this study.

Potential implications

While the research may not be reflective of any impact on patients, scientists say it’s still incredibly useful as a way to track how the virus acts over time.

Poland noted that experts tracking the virus through its genetic sequencing have found that while it is changing, it’s not doing so very quickly.

“Unlike influenza, this virus accumulates mutations more slowly, which is a good thing,” he said. “It gives us time to track it and to understand what’s happening.”

Rapidly mutating viruses make it more difficult for researchers to develop vaccines. Flu vaccines, for example, are notoriously difficult to get right because the various strains of influenza have a tendency to change and mutate quickly.

If this virus were to follow suit, it might mean trouble for ongoing COVID-19 vaccine research.

“It’s possible that you’ll get vaccines early enough and quick enough to prevent [a person’s] first infection with the coronavirus,” Gallo said. “We may look like heroes that stop this early on.”

But, if the virus mutates too much, and the vaccine proves to be a poor match to future strains of the coronavirus, “we may be chasing our tail like with influenza. And that’s not a bright prospect with a virus that is already so infectious.”

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Tonya Bauer and Judy Silverman contributed.


Coronavirus Chicago: Kids sick with mysterious illness possibly linked to COVID-19; symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease, TSS – WLS-TV

May 6th, 2020
CHICAGO (WLS) — There are cases in Chicago of a mysterious illness impacting children that may be connected to COVID-19. The symptoms are very similar to toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease, a rare sickness that involves inflammation of blood vessels.

Coronavirus in Illinois: Latest news on COVID-19 cases, Chicago area impact

While they may carry the virus, most children have not shown any symptoms of the novel coronavirus. However, there are kids in hospitals, including here in the Chicago area, being treated for a mysterious inflammatory disease that may be linked to COVID-19.

“These kids are testing negative with the nasal swab, but they are testing positive for antibodies in the bloodstream, which shows they had past infection, but their parents may not known that,” said Dr. Frank Belmonte, Chief Medical Officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

RELATED: Doctors flag mysterious illness in children possibly linked to COVID-19

Advocate Children’s Hospital is treating one patient with the syndrome. Dr. Belmonte said in known cases elsewhere, symptoms show up weeks after the coronavirus peaked.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, rash, vomiting, diarrhea, red eyes and swollen lymph nodes.

“These children are presenting extremely ill,” said Dr. Anne Rowley, an infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “A parent is not going to miss this. This is a very ill child.”

Dr. Rowley said the symptoms of this mysterious inflammatory syndrome are similar to Kawasaki disease.

“At our hospital, Lurie Children’s, we have one newly-diagnosed child with Kawasaki each week,” she said.

But, Dr. Rowley said children with this new syndrome are not experiencing inflammation of the coronary arteries, something that is a specific symptom of Kawasaki disease. That’s why Rowley also believes the syndrome may be COVID-related.

“While kids are getting very sick, the inflammatory syndrome has been treatable,” Dr. Rowley said.

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