UT Southwestern Scientists Investigate Possible COVID-19 Treatment

As officials continue to monitor the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and new guidance is issued ahead of the July Fourth holiday, there’s a lot of information to keep up with. Here are today’s bullet points:

  • UT Southwestern Scientists investigate possible COVID-19 treatment; 
  • Dallas County reports 544 more COVID-19 cases, seven more deaths;
  • Texas triggers additional unemployment benefit extension period;
  • UIL recommends schools consider closing summer workouts, rehearsals, practices, instruction July 3-12;
  • Abbott’s Office, MLB Hall-Of-Famer Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez release new COVID-19 PSA.
UT Southwestern Scientists Investigate Possible COVID-19 Treatment 

The Dallas Morning News reported that UT Southwestern Medical Center scientists identified a possible treatment for COVID-19 that may soon be tested in the area.

Atovaquone, which is best known for its use treating pneumonia in HIV patients, prevents the virus that causes COVID-19 from replicating in cells, the paper reports.

While computer models suggest atovaquone binds to an important part of the virus, the researchers haven’t confirmed this in the lab, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The preliminary reports posted online have not been reviewed for potential errors.

The results do not confirm efficacy in animal models or in humans, but rather serve as a starting point for testing the antiviral potential of select FDA-approved drugs, either individually or in combination.

Scientists have reportedly been working to determine which FDA-approved drugs could potentially be used to treat symptoms in COVID-19 patients, with mixed results.

Dallas County Reports 544 More COVID-19 Cases, Seven More Deaths

Dallas County Health and Human Services Wednesday reported 544 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total case count in Dallas County to 21,882, as well as an additional seven deaths.

The additional deaths reported Wednesday include a 20-something-year-old Dallas woman with no underlying health conditions, a 40-something-year-old Dallas woman who had underlying health conditions, a 50-something-year-old Dallas man without underlying health conditions, a 60-something-year-old DeSoto man who had underlying health conditions, and an 80-something-year-old Dallas woman who had underlying health conditions, officials say. Each of them had been hospitalized. Additionally, the county reports a 60-something-year-old Dallas woman who had underlying health conditions was found dead at her home, and a 70-something-year-old man who lived at a long-term care facility in Seagoville who had been hospitalized was also among the additional deaths reported Wednesday.

Of the 380 total deaths reported to date, over a third have been associated with long-term care facilities.  

The county reports an increasing proportion of COVID-19 cases are being diagnosed in young adults between 18 and 39 years of age, such that of all cases reported after June 1, more than half have been in this age group. 

More than 54 confirmed COVID-19 cases in children and staff have been reported from 26 separate daycares in Dallas County since June 1, including one staff member requiring ICU hospitalization.

Increasing reports of cases are continuing to be associated with multiple large recreational and social gatherings since the beginning of June, including house parties. More than two-thirds of cases requiring hospitalization have been under 65 years of age, and about half do not have any high-risk chronic health conditions. 

Diabetes has been an underlying high-risk health condition reported in about a third of all hospitalized patients with COVID-19. 

The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for the novel coronavirus increased to 26.9% of symptomatic patients presenting to area hospitals in week 25.  

More than 80% of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment have been critical infrastructure workers, with a broad range of affected occupational sectors, including: healthcare, transportation, food and agriculture, public works, finance, communications, clergy, first responders and other essential functions. 

The county reports 532 COVID-19 patients were in acute care for the period ending June 30, which is substantially lower than it has been recently because of an issue related to reporting.

Additionally, the county reports 691 emergency room visits  for COVID-19-like symptoms in the 24-hour period ending June 30, which represents 34% of all emergency department visits in Dallas County according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.  

Mayor Eric Johnson shared Wednesday that 25 hospitals reported their bed and ventilator capacity. Of 6,083 total beds, 70% were occupied, of 943 total ICU beds, 70% were occupied, and of 958 total ventilators, 363 (38%) were in use.

Statewide, 1,921,948 tests have been administered as of June 30, with 168,062 testing positive in 244 counties, and 2,481 deaths reported. There are also 6,904 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the state. 

“Today’s seven deaths include a woman in her 20’s and a man in his 50’s with no underlying health conditions, a somber reminder of the dangerous nature of COVID-19 on everyone. Many people are making plans for the Fourth of July weekend. We cannot afford another deviation from making good decisions like we saw during Easter/Passover and Memorial Day given the surge in cases we are now seeing,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Wednesday. “It was nearly two months from the time I declared a state of emergency and instituted ‘Safer at Home,’ until the daily case numbers began to go down. It was over five weeks from the time the Governor stopped ‘Safer at Home,’ removed requirements, and began opening many more businesses before we began to see a large surge in cases. The only time we’ve seen huge change happen in less than a month has been the increase in the number of cases we saw two weeks after Easter/Passover and two weeks after Memorial Day. That must not happen for this weekend. If it does, our hospitals are at risk of being overrun later, many more people will get sick and die, and our economy will be set back for months.

Please celebrate the Fourth of July with your families and only be around people that you are in close contact with daily. When you are around people other than your family, please wear a mask and keep 6-foot distance at all times. It’s going to be up to all of us to have a safer Fourth of July weekend than we achieved together as a community for Easter/Passover and Memorial Day. Lives depend on it.

I need you, your family needs you, and your community needs you to make strong choices. If you lead a family, please ensure that everyone in your family practices a safe 4th of July by being around only those people you are in close contact with daily and wearing a mask and maintaining 6-foot distancing. Our Public Health Authority emphasizes that indoor gatherings should be limited to no more than 10 persons, and it is strongly encouraged that these groups be limited to close household members.”

Additional information on risk-level monitoring data is available here

Texas Triggers Additional Unemployment Benefit Extension Period

The Department of Labor notified the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) June 26 that the state triggered onto High Unemployment Period (HUP). Beginning July 5, HUP will allow for up to an additional seven weeks, or 30% of the regular maximum balance, immediately following the conclusion of state extended benefits (State EB). The first week TWC anticipates individuals transitioning to HUP is the week ending October 3.

HUP was triggered when the seasonally adjusted total unemployment rates (TUR) exceeded 8% and were greater than 110% of the corresponding rate in both prior years. In May, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Texas was 13%.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation), passed as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), previously extended unemployment benefits for 13 weeks starting March 29. State EB, triggered on May 31, provided up to an additional 13 weeks starting July 4. Those qualifying for 13 weeks of State EB would transition to HUP the week ending October 3.  

While triggered on, HUP increases the maximum potential number of weeks for claimants on regular unemployment to 59 weeks and individuals on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance from 39 weeks to 46 weeks. 

Since the week ending in March 13, TWC has taken 3.6 million initial claims and paid out $16.1 billion in unemployment benefits.

UIL Recommends Schools Consider Closing Summer Workouts, Rehearsals, Practices, Instruction July 3-12

The University Interscholastic League shared a statement on social media Wednesday recommending schools consider closing summer workouts, rehearsals, practices, and instruction July 3-12 to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“For schools in areas experiencing community spread of COVID-19, this temporary suspension will reduce risk of exposure and provide an opportunity to review current plans and re-evaluate local context in order to make informed decisions moving forward,” the statement read.

Abbott’s Office, MLB Hall-Of-Famer Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez Release New COVID-19 PSA

Lastly, as usual, we end today’s digest with a light reminder to follow health guidelines. The Office Of The Governor and Major League Baseball Hall-Of-Famer Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez Wednesday issued a new public service announcement (PSA) on the importance of wearing a mask to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In the PSA, Rodríguez urges Texans to wear a mask in public to protect themselves and others from the virus.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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