The Latest

Total Tests Performed — 1,715,177 — Data as of 6/21 (3:05PM)

Confirmed Cases — 111,601

Active Cases — 40,920

Hospitalizations — 3,409

Fatalities — 2,182

Recovered Cases — 68,499

Some Positive News on the Economy

With all the negative news over the last few days and weeks, there are some slightly positive developments in the state and the country as we continue to maneuver through the pandemic.  The unemployment rate in Texas actually fell to 13% for the month of May, a slight drop from the 13.5% April figure.  Texas added an additional 237,800 to the workforce in May due to the continued reopening of the economy.  Bars, restaurants, and retail establishments can now operate at 75% capacity.
Delta Airlines announced today it would resume flights between Seattle and Shanghai, China starting on June 25th.  Operations between the two countries have been suspended since February.
New York City enters the next phase of reopening as the city begins its rebound.  Starting Monday, restaurants will be able to offer dining at outdoor tables.  Also, Retail stores can open to in store shopping, offices may reopen, as well as barber and personal care establishments.  The city estimates that an additional 300,000 workers will return to their jobs this week in the nation’s largest city.

Abbott Taking Heat from Conservatives for Local Face Mask Directives

After Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Friday ordered businesses and customers to wear face masks — without opposition from Gov. Abbott — many local jurisdictions followed suit.  Travis, Harris, Hidalgo, Cameron, and El Paso Counties all issued directives that mandated businesses require face masks or risk fines of up to $1,000.  Abbott claims that his executive orders banned local governments from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who don’t wear masks, but they can require businesses to to require masks.
The backlash from the local governments and elected officials in the Governor’s own party has been swift.  Local officials expressed frustration that Abbott did not explicitly tell them they had the power to require businesses to wear face masks, thus allowing some people to be more lax in the wearing of face masks and social distancing practices.  On the other hand, Republican House and Senate members criticized the Governor for now placing enforcement responsibilities on business owners, the same business owners that were shut down for several months.  Other criticism from the Republicans centered on the belief that these new local orders are an infringement of a person’s right to make their own decision.

Abbott Responds to Rise in Cases

At a news conference today in Austin, Gov. Abbott discussed the recent increase in cases in the state.  He said the rate of increase is now unacceptable, but stressed that there is ample hospital capacity and the state health related agencies are working closely with all local governments to ensure all those infected that need treatment will be adequately served.  Furthermore, Abbott called on all Texans to be more diligent in social distance protocols and strongly encouraged everyone to wear face coverings when out in public.  The plea from Abbott and the health professionals present at the news conference is to ensure that more stringent attention to these practices will ensure the slowdown of the spread of Covid 19.  Abbott also said that we are at a  very crucial time, and that returning to stay at home policies would be considered only as a last option.

Good News on Covid-19 Treatments

This past week brought fresh news on Covid-19 treatments—most of it good, and all of it hard to pronounce. On Tuesday, researchers in England announced that a cheap, widely available corticosteroid called dexamethasone was shown to reduce deaths in severely ill hospital patients. It works by reducing inflammation brought on by the body’s response to the virus.  Earlier in the week, the Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency-use authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, calling them “unlikely to be effective in treating Covid-19.” Malaria pills are out, in other words.Geoffrey Porges, a doctor and biotech analyst at SVB Leerink tells me there are now three proven treatments for Covid-19. Remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences (ticker: GILD) drug, is a broad-spectrum antiviral that works by blocking virus replication and was shown in a trial to reduce hospital stays.Comparing that with dexamethasone, the steroid, is apples and oranges, because the two do completely different things. But Porges breaks it down into terms even a failed mushroomologist can understand. For remdesivir, he says, “the level of effect is somewhere in the range of 30% to 40%, depending upon what you’re measuring,” whereas for dexamethasone, it’s 25% to 30%.The third treatment is convalescent plasma therapy, and involves transferring a component of the blood of recovered patients to sick ones. Porges puts the level of effect there at 30% to 60%, and adds that doctors might be able to stack these treatments. “There is no reason to believe that a combination of remdesivir and dexamethasone and convalescent plasma might not give additive benefits such that you could be reducing the mortality by 60% or 70%, not 30% or 40%,” says Porges.Research on these treatments continues. Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day told me this past week that the company is investigating whether it can bring remdesivir, now administered as an injection in hospitals, to patients sooner. “We may be able to provide this in an inhaled version, which would be less invasive, of course, and potentially more in an outpatient setting,” he says.All of these treatments existed before Covid-19 and are now being put to new use. There are also companies developing novel drugs made specifically for the disease, and these have potential to be more effective. Earlier this month, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) became the first such company to start its drug in trials. Porges says that early results might be available by September, but that even if the news is good, not to expect the drug to be widely available until the first half of next year. He says a vaccine and herd immunity are likely 2022 events, mostly because vaccines take so long to test. That makes sense; giving a last-hope drug to the critically ill carries less risk than giving a shot to everyone, including the healthy, so regulators must be especially strict with vaccine approvals. But they might approve one for nurses, say, or meat-plant workers, before doing so for everyone.