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On Saturday, June 6, Pennsylvania's Bucks County reported 33 new COVID-19 cases. Of those, 11 — or one-third — of these cases were traced back to a person who had spread the virus at recent Jersey Shore beach house gatherings. Another case reported on Friday, June 5th was also traced back to the same person: a New Jersey resident who over the course of two weeks went to several house gatherings at the Jersey Shore.

In a press release, Dr. David Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department, reminded residents that it is still important to wear face coverings when attending small gatherings with people not in the same household.

"This is exactly why we can't let our guard down now, even if it feels `safe' to be at the beach," Dr. Damsker said. "One unlucky exposure can lead to a large cascade of cases down the line. We want everyone to enjoy the warmer weather and have fun, but let's keep in mind that COVID is still circulating in the community at baseline levels."

Dr. Damsker said there are likely to be additional infections among family members of the new cases.

Read the full release here.

Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have developed a new COVID-19 diagnostic test that only takes 10 minutes to complete. The test does not use advanced laboratory equipment commonly used to amplify genetic material for diagnostic testing.

The test begins by taking a nasal swab or saliva sample from a patient. Once the sample is obtained, RNA is extracted from the sample in a process that takes about 10 minutes. The test uses uses highly specific molecules attached to gold nanoparticles to scan the extracted RNA and detect genetic material that is unique to the coronavirus. When coronavirus RNA is present, the test's biosensor binds to the specific part of the coronavirus and the test turns from purple to blue.

"Based on our preliminary results, we believe this promising new test may detect RNA material from the virus as early as the first day of infection. Additional studies are needed, however, to confirm whether this is indeed the case," said study leader Dipanjan Pan, PhD, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and Pediatrics at the UMSOM, in a press release.

The next step is to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization (EUA). While more clinical studies are warranted to determine the efficacy of the test, researchers hope that the test will be a quicker and less expensive alternative to the standard COVID-19 lab test.

Read the press release.

Researchers at the biotechnology company Novavax have begun enrollment in a clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine called NVX-CoV2373. The vaccine will be tested in the trial's Phase 1 portion for safety and immunogenicity, which is its ability to provoke an immune response in the body.

If the results of the trial show promise, Phase 2 testing will follow later in the summer.

NVX-CoV2373 is a vaccine engineered from the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It contains an antigen derived from the coronavirus spike protein, a viral protein highly recognized by the body's immune system. It also contains Matrix-M™, an adjuvant created by Novavax used to enhance the body's immune system's reaction to the vaccine.

In preliminary testing of animal models, the vaccine showed high immunogenicity and high levels of neutralizing antibodies (antibodies needed to successfully fight the virus), according to a press release. Researchers are hopeful the vaccine will also be successful in humans.

In Phase 1 of the trial, 130 healthy participants between the ages of 18 and 59 will be enrolled at two sites in Australia. Participants will receive either the vaccine or a placebo. The study will also test the vaccine with and without the Matrix-M™ adjuvant as well as in two dose sizes, 5 and 25 micrograms.

Phase 2 of the clinical trial is expected to take place in multiple countries, including the United States. It will continue to assess immune response and safety as well as COVID-19 disease reduction in a broader age range.

"Administering our vaccine in the first participants of this clinical trial is a significant achievement, bringing us one step closer toward addressing the fundamental need for a vaccine in the fight against the global COVID‑19 pandemic," said Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer of Novavax, in a press release.

The trial is being conducted in a Phase 1/2 approach that will allow for rapid advancement between the phases. Results from Phase 1 are expected in July 2020.

Read more about the vaccine trial.

A recent report from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes how two COVID-positive attendees of a rural Arkansas church impacted their congregation and community.

In the May 19 report, researchers looked at information from attendees of a rural Arkansas church from March 6-11. Two symptomatic individuals who later tested positive for COVID-19 attended local church events during this time period. They are thought to be the primary cases of COVID-19 in the spread at the church.

The church pastor and his wife also attended the church events during March 6-8, and they both developed nonspecific respiratory symptoms and fever on March 10 (the wife) and March 11 (the pastor). It is likely they were infected at the church events during March 6-8, and the pastor might have exposed other people to COVID-19 while he was presymptomatic during a Bible study event he attended on March 11.

Among 92 attendees who went to these events, 35 later developed laboratory-confirmed COVID-19. Three people eventually died. At least 26 additional cases in the community tracing back to the church cases were confirmed, with one death.

The risk of symptomatic infection among adults over 65 years old was not higher than among adults ages 19-65 years. However, of the church attendees, six of the seven individuals hospitalized were over 65 years and the three deaths occurred in individuals over 65 years, backing U.S. data indicating higher hospitalization and death rates among individuals 65 years or older.

In addition, the report shares findings that are consistent with other reports regarding COVID-19 in children. Children represented 35% of the church's attendees, but accounted for only 18% of those tested and only 6% of confirmed cases. This is consistent with other reports that demonstrate children with COVID-19 are more asymptomatic and have lower hospitalization rates. The role of asymptomatic children in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown. This information is an important consideration when thinking about opening public spaces, such as churches, that have high numbers of children as participants.

High transmission rates of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been reported from hospitals, long-term care facilities, family gatherings and choir practices. This report underscores how church events also represent a new opportunity for transmission. The report encourages faith-based groups organizing in-person operations — such as services, funerals or community events — to be aware of the high potential for transmission. Church organizers should work with local health officials to determine how to implement U.S. government guidelines for modifying said activities.

Read the full report.

Researchers at UCLA are conducting a trial at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and at other VA sites across the country to study if temporarily suppressing male hormones reduces the severity of COVID-19 illness in men.

Men are more likely to get infected and die of COVID-19 when compared to women, and researchers believe that this information may be helpful for developing future therapeutic interventions. Specifically, scientists are studying a protein receptor called TMPRSS2. This protein is abnormal in half of prostate cancer patients and is the same receptor researchers believe the virus uses to enter and attack the lungs. When men take the medication degarelix, an FDA-approved hormone suppresser used for prostate cancer, the body temporarily shuts down the production of TMPRSS2, which may block the virus from entering lung tissue.

"It's kind of like a lock and key," said Matthew Rettig, MD, professor of medicine and urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, in a press release."If the virus was the key and its receptor is the lock, then the virus inserts into the lock and can gain entry into the lung while the male hormones makes that lock more accessible to the virus. By suppressing the male hormones, it's kind of like putting a piece of masking tape over the lock so that the key won't fit in."

The medication will be used in COVID-positive men in hopes of reducing deaths and shortening hospital stays.

Read more about the trial.

Researchers at UC Davis Health are providing a medication called senicapoc to a team at Aarhus University in Denmark for clinical research in a COVID-19 study. The study will determine if the drug can help COVID-19 patients with lung damage.

Senicapoc was originally developed as a treatment for sickle cell anemia. Although the drug was found to be safe, it did not work to reduce severe symptoms of sickle cell anemia and was shelved. Later, senicapoc was shown to reduce inflammation in the brain in animals, and it is currently being studied for Alzheimer's treatment at UC Davis. Now, it is thought that the anti-inflammatory effects could help alleviate lung damage in COVID-19 patients.

The clinical trial in Denmark will evaluate 46 patients in the intensive care unit setting with low blood oxygen saturation levels. Researchers hope to share details of the study in the next few months.

"When a person is infected with COVID-19, the worst-case scenario is that they will suffer severe lung disease that could lead to death," said Ulf Simonsen, professor and doctor of medical science and lead clinical researcher of the Aarhus University trial, in a press release. "This is the situation where the need for treatment with a ventilator occurs. It's also here that we hope the senicapoc treatment can make a difference — if only so that the patients require a shorter period on a ventilator."

Read more about the trial.

Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University have partnered with the Jefferson Clinical Research Institute to begin a trial evaluating the safety of a migraine medication from Biohaven Pharmaceuticals called Vazegepant for use as a potential COVID-19 treatment. The medication — which was just cleared for a phase 3 trial by the FDA for its use on migraines — will be tested in hospitalized COVID-19 patients who require supplemental oxygen.

Vazegepant blocks an enzyme thought to cause inflammation in the brain. Researchers hope that the medication also has the potential to reduce inflammation in the lungs, a severe symptom that often results from COVID-19.

In the study, researchers hope to recruit 120 patients who are COVID-19-positive but not yet on a respirator. The trial will be placebo-controlled, meaning some participants will receive treatment with intranasal Vazegepant for two weeks, while others will receive no medication. The primary goal of this trial is study the safety and efficacy of Vazegepant.

Read the press release.

Researchers at Stanford University have begun a new study to test a medication called Peginterferon Lambda-1a, also called Lambda, as a potential COVID-19 treatment.

Lambda is a medication that is part of a drug class called interferons and has been used to treat viral hepatitis. Interferon medications have antiviral activity. Specifically, they work by stopping viral replication without promoting inflammation. This is ideal because COVID-19 damage is often caused by the body's own inflammatory effects. Plus, unlike other medications in the same drug class, Lambda has fewer side effects.

In their trial, researchers are recruiting participants who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and have mild symptoms. Participants will either receive one dose of Lambda or one dose of a placebo. In addition, participants will have their temperature and oxygen levels checked each day at home. They will be given a blood test to see how their immune system has reacted to the virus.

Patients will also receive serial testing to detect how long they are shedding the virus. Shedding the virus through mucus or air droplets can give information about how long someone is contagious. The primary outcome researchers are interested in is the duration of viral shedding in respiratory secretions in 28 days of follow-up.

"We hope the results of the trial will give important new information about how to treat coronavirus infections for the many people who get the disease," notes the page advertising the research study on Stanford Medicine's website. Further research will determine if Lambda improves patient outcomes.

Read more about the study.

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