Happy Earth Day, everyone!!!

I hope you all got to enjoy the day and participate in one of the MANY virtual events, like those mentioned in this morning’s Rise and Shine, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this global celebration for our planet.

Believe it or not, this horrible, life-changing, and society-shaking event known as the novel coronavirus pandemic does have an upside for the Earth. The lock-downs are helping to stem some of the emissions that are having such a drastic impact on our climate, and if there is any sort of silver lining to be seen in this horrible moment in time, it is that.

There are a lot of lessons for us to learn from this experience. Lessons about paying attention to the events taking place in the world around us, lessons on preparation, lessons on the need to support the most vulnerable members of our community, and hopefully lessons on what it is to be a part of the community at risk for something to those who have never known that feeling before. Empathy and compassion. We can all use a little more of those.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

1) It turns out that the start of the pandemic was actually a lot earlier than we assumed. The first COVID-related death happened three weeks earlier before previously thought, with an autopsy clarifying that a person who passed away at home on Feb. 6 died of the illness.

The Santa Clara County medical examiner confirmed that there were, in fact, three of these early COVID deaths in California, with the other two occurring on Feb. 17 and March 6, respectively. Samples were taken at the time and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. But at that point, the CDC was testing those who had not only symptoms but also a history of travel abroad.

Before this, the first official death in the Bay Area took place on March 9, though as we continue to investigate it’s likely that we might push back the pandemic start date even earlier.

On Feb. 4, two days before this now first death, the CDC urged people to start upping their hygiene, washing their hands and using general precautions to prevent transmission of the virus – while still downplaying the threat of community spread within the U.S. This was also before the term “COVID-19” was used.

Within a month, President Trump was announcing that on Feb. 28 the first coronavirus death had occurred, a date he then amended to Feb. 26. Washington state officials from King County announced they had two deaths that could be attributed to the coronavirus on Feb. 26, and community spread was underway.

As of today, there have been 45,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., and over 825,000 confirmed cases.

2)  Remdesivir is currently part of a critical clinical study as a treatment of the novel coronavirus. The physicians and scientists leading the trial are working under extreme pressure, with the eyes of the world on them, anxiously waiting to be released from lockdown.

Dr. Andre Kalil, one of the leading investigators for the University of Nebraska Medical Center trial, acknowledged that they are working quickly while also trying to abide by all standard rules and regulations.

The trial has a control group and is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the developer of Remdesivir, Gilead Sciences. In previous studies, this antiviral drug was believed to work by finding the virus within the body and blocking it from replicating. However, all of those were either conducted on animals or not full studies, lacking significant components such as missing control groups.

Earlier this month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found the drug resulted in some improvement for the breathing of specific patients. But it was comprised of just 53 patients, and there were no control group comparisons to confirm any improvements could actually be attributed to Remdesivir.

Without that control group, it is impossible to tell if the gains were due to the drug, other treatments, or the patients’ own immune systems.

During any study, side effects must also be studied – and liver function abnormalities due to the drug have been noted previously, from mild to moderate. If Remdesivir is shown to be not only effective in treating the novel coronavirus but safe (meaning the benefits outweigh the possible side effects), other similar drugs will be studied as well. They can be compared to Remdesivir as the control.

If there are promising results, then a rheumatoid arthritis medication that is known for anti-inflammatory properties known as baricitinib is in line to be studied next. The thought is that this drug can work by minimizing inflammation, which will prevent the virus from spreading between cells. This is because the immune system automatically tries to autocorrect inflammation issues, but the balance is delicate, as it is possible to damage healthy cells in this process.

There are also treatments being studied that will treat the respiratory virus caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19. Soliris, an immunosuppressant, and Actemra, an arthritis drug, are both being studied for this. Also, being considered is a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, but that study so far has not shown any real benefits.

Clinical trials for other treatments for COVID-19, the illness that results from the novel coronavirus, have also begun.

3) Upstate distilleries have gotten great at making hand sanitizers. One of the largest – Black Button Distilling – is producing about 70,000 bottles of sanitizer a week, much of which is sent to essential businesses.

With the coronavirus still affecting so much of the supply chain, many distilleries have switched over to producing hand sanitizer only. They are making most of theirs at 80 percent ethanol alcohol, while the recommended amount to kill germs is at least 60 percent. Some distilleries are considering setting up a separate production line for sanitizers so they can begin easing back into producing alcohol.

Many places seem to think that the sanitizer production will continue at least through the holiday season…if existing alcohol plants are not seized and used for vaccination production when one is fully developed. Though most distilleries do not see that as a possibility, for now, many of them agree that six weeks ago, none of them foresaw being in the hand-sanitizer business, so they will rule nothing out.

4) Tomorrow, Thursday, April 23, the Red Cross is holding a blood drive known as the “Save a Life” blood drive. Reserves are desperately low right now, and anyone who can donate is encouraged to do so by appointment.

There are four locations across the Capital District. All will be open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Those locations are:

  • Bridge Christian Church, 735 Crane Street in Schenectady
  • Hilton Garden Inn, 235 Hoosick St in Troy
  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites, 400 Old Loudon Rd in Latham
  • Knights of Columbus, 50 Pine Rd in Saratoga Springs
  • Please note that even with an appointment, the Red Cross will be following all guidelines and protocols, including taking donors’ temperatures upon arrival.

    5) There was a protest outside of the state Capitol today, a scant couple hundred yards away from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefing. It was one of may such events that have been taking place across the country, calling for an end to the lock-down and a cry to reopen the economy now.

    Organizers and participants are calling their effort “Operation Gridlock: Reopen New York State.” Many held signs saying just that. They are all willing to take a risk of being exposed and infected to get their point across, and warn others to know the risk and stay in cars if they are nervous but want to make their voices heard.

    That’s it for tonight. On a personal note, Happy Birthday, Mom!! I love you, and can’t wait to be able to see and hug you…see you tonight for your Zoom bday party!!

    Photo credit: George Fazio.