Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a zoonotic virus—one that spilled over from another species to infect and transmit among humans. We know that humans can infect other animals with SARS-CoV-2, such as domestic cats and even tigers in zoos. Oude Munnink et al. used whole-genome sequencing to show that SARS-CoV-2 infections were rife among mink farms in the southeastern Netherlands, all of which are destined to be closed by March 2021 (see the Perspective by Zhou and Shi). Toward the end of June 2020, 68% of mink farm workers tested positive for the virus or had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. These large clusters of infection were initiated by human COVID-19 cases with viruses that bear the D614G mutation. Sequencing has subsequently shown that mink-to-human transmission also occurred. More work must be done to understand whether there is a risk that mustelids may become a reservoir for SARS-CoV-2.
Amid untold suffering, the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 1.8 million people over the past year, has been an era of remarkable scientific breakthroughs, including record-breaking vaccine development programs.
As angry rioters and supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in a last stand for the outgoing president, the violence overshadowed a deadly day across the nation as the coronavirus pandemic continued its surge.
After an 18-hour flight from Dubai landed in Auckland, New Zealand, in September, local health authorities discovered evidence of an outbreak that most likely occurred during the trip. Using seat maps and genetic analysis, the new study determined that one passenger initiated a chain of infection that spread to four others en route. [Related CDC Study]
The review of blood samples from nearly 200 patients also saw that multiple elements of the immune system — not just antibodies — continued to be effective at recognizing and responding to the virus. The human body appears to retain a memory of the invader and is poised to generate a coordinated counterattack of antibodies and killer T cells quickly if exposed again.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19 all broke out in recent decades and are caused by different strains of coronavirus (CoV). These viruses are considered to originate from bats and to have been transmitted to humans through intermediate hosts. SARS-CoV was identified in palm civets in wildlife markets and MERS-CoV in dromedary camels (1), but the direct source of the COVID-19 causative agent, SARS-CoV-2, is still undetermined. On page 172 of this issue, Oude Munnink et al. (2) report an in-depth investigation of SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals and humans working or living in 16 mink farms in the Netherlands. SARS-CoV-2 infections were detected in 66 out of 97 (68%) of the owners, workers, and their close contacts. Some people were infected with viral strains with an animal sequence signature, providing evidence of SARS-CoV-2 spillover back and forth between animals and humans within mink farms.
Over time, viruses undergo mutations. In the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists around the globe have documented thousands of mutated versions of the coronavirus, called variants or strains. Several of these variants—in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Nigeria—are being closely monitored by health experts, including at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Since the beginning of this pandemic, experts and educators have feared that open schools would spread the coronavirus further, which is why so many classrooms remain closed. But a new, nationwide study suggests reopening schools may be safer than previously thought, at least in communities where the virus is not already spreading out of control.
Researchers race to determine why variants identified in Britain and South Africa spread so quickly and whether they’ll compromise vaccines.
Brazil, with more COVID-19 cases than any other country after the United States and India, is on the verge of having its first authorized vaccine for the pandemic disease. At a press conference today, Brazilian researchers reported that a vaccine made by a Chinese company, Sinovac, was safe and had 78% efficacy in preventing mild cases of COVID-19 in a study of more than 12,000 health care workers. It also completely prevented moderate and severe illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 infections, the team said. “The result we are seeing today is fantastic,” Rosana Richtmann, a physician from the Emilio Ribas Institute of Infectious Disease from São Paulo, said at the press conference.
Top leaders at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are pushing back against growing calls to alter the COVID-19 vaccine administration schedule that are accelerating amid a frustratingly slow vaccination rollout and documented U.S. community spread of a more transmissible coronavirus variant.
Official Reporting for January 8, 2021
World Health Organization
Confirmed Cases: 85 929 428
Deaths: 1 876 100
Confirmed Cases: 84 532 824
Deaths: 1 845 597
Confirmed Cases: 88,005,213
Total cases: 21,259,997 (+299,904 New Cases)
Total deaths: 359,849 (+3,844 New Deaths)
Science and Tech
Tests for detecting severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) were developed within days of the release of the virus genome (1). Multiple countries have been successful at controlling SARS-CoV-2 transmission by investing in large-scale testing capacity (2). Most testing has focused on quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays, which are capable of detecting minute amounts of viral RNA.
Psychological and Sociological Impact
I don’t really remember when I pulled the black Everlane pants out of the drawer and onto my body. Was it spring, after the lockdown started and we were still doing videoconference happy hours for fun? Or the summer, when the rhythms of remote work seemed to settle in? Or the fall, when I began to see my co-workers do things like put on earrings for a meeting while I was still trying to keep the camera off for as long as possible?
SARS-CoV-2 Transmission From People Without COVID-19 Symptoms – JAMA
Misinformation, Disinformation, and Conspiracy Theories
An article circulating on social media claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “holds patents of an HIV component used to create COVID-19”. This is false.
Coping in 2020 (and probably most of 2021)
Speaking of David Bowie, remember that time he and Freddie Mercury sang Under Pressure?