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Scientists Link Covid-19 Risk to Genetic Variations

2020-06-04 09:40:09

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Variations at two spots in the human genome are associated with an increased risk of respiratory failure in patients with Covid-19, the researchers found. One of these spots includes the gene that determines blood types.

Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

The findings suggest that relatively unexplored factors may be playing a large role in who develops life-threatening Covid-19. The new study is currently going through peer review.

It’s not the first time Type A blood has turned up as a possible risk. Chinese scientists who examined patient blood types also found that those with Type A were more likely to develop a serious case of Covid-19. No one knows why.

“That is haunting me, quite honestly,” said Andre Franke, a molecular geneticist at the University of Kiel in Germany and a co-author of the new study.

While E.R. treatment for complaints of minor ailments were far fewer this year, agency officials pointed to a more disconcerting drop in the number of people seeking emergency care for chest pain, including those undergoing a heart attack. There were also declines in children requiring emergency help for conditions like asthma.

C.D.C. officials also said the drop in emergency room visits could affect people’s ability to get care when they have no other alternative sources.

The analysis of visits from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, which collects real-time electronic health data, representing nearly three quarters of all U.S. emergency room visits, was published in an early release of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the C.D.C.

The Senate gave final approval to a measure that would relax the terms of a federal loan program for small businesses struggling amid the pandemic, sending the bill to President Trump.

The measure, approved overwhelmingly by the House last week, would extend to 24 weeks from eight weeks the time that small businesses would have to spend the loan money.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, had previously objected to an attempt by Democrats to pass the legislation without a formal roll call vote.

Republicans said that they generally favored revamping the Paycheck Protection Program, which was created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill enacted in March, and that an agreement to do so could come as soon as later Wednesday.

But Mr. Johnson said he first wanted a letter clarifying that the time frame to spend the loan money would be extended until the end of the year, not the application period. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, submitted such a letter just after 7 p.m.

The program aims to help small businesses continue paying their workers by giving them access to government-backed loans that will be forgiven entirely if most of the money is spent on payroll costs. The House-passed bill would give companies greater flexibility to use the loan money on other business expenses, like utilities and rent, by lowering the amount required to be spent on payroll to 60 percent, from 75 percent.

U.s. Roundup

Police brutality, protests and unrest may have knocked the pandemic from the lead of many U.S. newscasts, but the outbreak is continuing to spread. Even as some Northeast states are seeing improvements, daily case numbers are reaching new highs in others.

That is partly a consequence of the country’s vastly expanded testing capacity. Earlier in the pandemic, when test kits were scarce, many people who contracted the virus were not tested and not included in official counts. Here is a look around the country.


Italy lifted travel restrictions on Wednesday, hoping to restore some of the tourism that usually makes up 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. But it is clear that some Italians have new skepticism about that level of economic dependence.

The country’s addiction to tourism has priced many residents out of historic centers and crowded out creativity, entrepreneurialism and authentic Italian life.

Of all Italy’s cities, Venice — a tourism cash cow worth €3 billion, or about $3.3 billion — changed most drastically during the months of lockdown.

Without visits by giant cruise ships and hordes of day-trippers, the city’s alleys, porticoes and campos reverberated with conversations in Italian, and even with the Venetian dialect. The lack of big boats reduced the waves on the canals, allowing residents to take their small boats and kayaks out on cleaner water. Some even ventured to St. Mark’s Square, which they usually avoid.

“This is a tragedy that has touched us all, but Covid could be an opportunity,” said Marco Baravalle, a leader of the anticruise ship movement in Venice who called the absence of big boats “magnificent.”

Here’s what else is happening around the world:

  • Germany will lift its travel ban on 29 European countries, including Britain and Iceland, on June 15 and replace it with travel advisories, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. According to the new rules, if regional infections should mount, bans to specific countries could be reinstated.

  • A powerful cyclone slammed into India’s coast, pushing thousands of people into shelters in the commercial hub of Mumbai, which is struggling to contain a rising number of infections. More than 100 Covid-19 patients were evacuated from a makeshift hospital to higher ground.

Long considered the world’s premier public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made missteps that undermined America’s response to the most urgent public health emergency in the agency’s 74-year history — a virus that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States.

A New York Times review of thousands of emails, and interviews with more than 100 state and federal officials, public health experts, C.D.C. employees and medical workers, revealed how the pandemic shook longstanding confidence in the agency and its leader, Dr. Robert R. Redfield. These are some of the key findings.

  • Aging data systems left the agency with blind spots. As the virus began to spread in the United States in January, the C.D.C.’s response was hampered by an antiquated data system and a fractured public health reporting system. The C.D.C. could not produce accurate counts of how many people were being tested, compile complete demographic information on confirmed cases or even keep timely tallies of deaths.

  • The C.D.C. clashed with White House aides who viewed them as the “deep state.” As the crisis deepened, tensions between the agency and the White House increased, with aides to Mr. Trump referring to the scientists at the C.D.C. as members of the “deep state” who were eager to wound him politically by leaking to the press. At the same time, some C.D.C. employees watched with growing alarm as Mr. Trump, facing criticism for his administration’s response, repeatedly undermined the agency. And they paled at what they saw as meddling by politically motivated Trump aides.

  • The C.D.C.’s culture slowed its response. The culture at the C.D.C. — risk-averse, perfectionist and ill suited to improvising in a quickly evolving crisis — shaped its scientists’ ambitions and contributed to some of its failures as it tried to respond to the pandemic.

  • Redfield felt he was ‘on an island’ between his agency and the White House. The pandemic underscored the need for Dr. Redfield to manage the mercurial demands of the president who appointed him and the expectations of the career scientists at the agency he leads. Although he is on the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Redfield soon found himself eclipsed by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s chief — and most famous — infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, an AIDS expert and former C.D.C. physician.

  • Confusing guidance left doctors, public officials and others to look elsewhere. The C.D.C. struggled at times to provide clear and timely guidance, leading many to say they looked to universities, mailing lists or online research articles for detailed recommendations about how to safely care for infected patients.

The union wants more games because the players agreed in March to take their 2020 salaries on a prorated basis. The owners and the M.L.B. commissioner, Rob Manfred, have essentially said the players would get prorated salaries — if they play a drastically compressed schedule.

Like most major U.S. sports organizations, the N.B.A. and M.L.B. shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. At the time, they were in very different positions, the N.B.A. deep into its 82-game regular season and just weeks away starting the playoffs, while M.L.B. was in spring training, two weeks from its first official game of the year.

On Wednesday, Major League Soccer players ratified a new labor agreement and agreed to turn this season into a tournament at the site the N.B.A. has also chosen, the Disney World sports complex. The National Hockey League and the National Women’s Soccer League had previously announced plans for abbreviated seasons. All of the plans to play hinge on approval from public health officials.

As the pandemic upends work and home life, women have carried an outsized share of the burden: They are more likely to lose a job and more likely to shoulder the responsibilities of closed schools and day care. The gradual reopening threatens to compound their problems — forcing them out of the labor force or into part-time jobs while increasing their duties at home.

In February, right before the outbreak began to spread in the United States, working women passed a milestone: making up more than half of the nation’s civilian nonfarm labor force. But the effects of the pandemic could last a lifetime, reducing their earning potential and work opportunities.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the buses and subways, and Mayor Bill de Blasio have outlined their visions, but many details remain to be worked out.

On Wednesday, for instance, Mr. de Blasio reiterated his request that social distancing be enforced by limiting seating. “It is crucial that every other seat be blocked off so that it’s clear that you never end up sitting next to someone,” he said.

The agency dismissed the proposal.

“Like many of the mayor’s ideas, this is nice in theory but utterly unworkable,” an M.T.A. spokeswoman said in a statement. “The mayor’s plan would allow us to serve only a tiny percentage of our riders — likely around 8 percent.”

On Tuesday, in an open letter to the mayor, the agency released some elements of its plan: Full service will resume across the system on Monday, though subways will still close for nightly disinfecting from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Social-distancing floor markings will be set at stations. Workers known as “platform controllers” will try to reduce crowding.

Under the first phase of the city’s reopening, curbside retail pickup and nonessential construction and manufacturing can restart. The mayor has said he expected that at least 200,000 people would begin returning to work.

But the M.T.A.’s plan said that during that phase, subway and bus service would remain for “essential trips only.”

Mr. de Blasio had also asked that trains and buses skip stops if they are over capacity and that the agency “temporarily close stations when needed during peak hours,” which could make slow commuting. The agency’s letter to the mayor did not address either request.

Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed, Reed Abelson, Liz Alderman, Yousur Al-Hlou, Mike Baker, Emily Cochrane, Michael Cooper, Andrew Curry, Melissa Eddy, Thomas Erdbrink, Sheri Fink, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Abby Goodnough, Denise Grady, Javier C. Hernández, Jason Horowitz, Tyler Kepner, Patrick Kingsley, Eric Lipton, Patricia Mazzei, Apoorva Mandavilli, Sarah Mervosh, Benjamin Mueller, Andy Newman, Najim Rahim, Luis Ferré Sadurní, Dagny Salas, David E. Sanger, Christopher F. Schuetze, Michael D. Shear, Kaly Soto, Marc Stein, Tracey Tully, Megan Twohey, Mark Walker, Noah Weiland, Carl Zimmer and Karen Zraick. Albee Zhang contributed research.


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