What We're Reading: Pooled COVID-19 Test; Synairgen Drug Yields Positive Results; Doctor Shortages in Hospitals

July 20, 2020

The FDA has approved a new pooled method of testing individuals for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); early data show a drug developed by Synairgen yielded positive results in patients with COVID-19; some hospitals report shortages of young doctors, due in part to new visa restrictions enacted by the Trump administration.

FDA Approves Pooled COVID-19 Testing

The FDA granted emergency approval to a new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing method, which combines samples in batches, instead of confirming them one by one, in an effort to speed up the process, the AP reported. The pooled sample method, consisting of Quest Diagnostics tests, is the first of its kind to be authorized. Laboratories can now combine parts of samples from multiple people and test them together, while a negative test result would clear everyone in the batch. However, if the pool yields a positive result, each sample would have to be individually retested. The approval has the potential to further stretch laboratory supplies, reduce costs, and expand testing capacity to potentially asymptomatic Americans.

Preliminary Data Show Synairgen Drug Benefits COIVD-19 Patients

A drug developed by Synairgen helped reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 cases in hospitalized patients, according to data from over 100 individuals in the United Kingdom, Reuters reported. Individuals who received the drug, which included interferon beta, exhibited a 79% lower risk of developing severe forms of the disease compared with a placebo, while the patients who received the drug were also more than 2 times as likely to recover compared with the placebo arm. The body naturally produces interferon beta when it gets a viral infection, according to the BBC. The trial results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal and full data have not been made available.

Shortages of Young Doctors Reported in Some Hospitals

Due to President Donald Trump’s recent immigration policy changes, hundreds of young doctors have had their US visas put on hold indefinitely, ProPublica reported. Some hospitals across the country are acutely short staffed to deal with the current surge of COVID-19 patients and the impending second wave, expected to come within the next 6 months. On June 22, President Trump issued a proclamation barring most immigrants on work visas, preventing hundreds of doctors from starting their residencies on time. Although the measure excluded those involved in caring for patients with COVID-19, departments of State and Homeland Security were made responsible for issuing guidance in these cases, a responsibility that has been inconsistent and slow.