Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Antibody treatments have shown promise, but tens of thousands of doses are sitting unused in hospital refrigerators.

Amelia Nierenberg


Amelia Nierenberg

When President Trump fell ill with the coronavirus over two months ago, he took an antibody cocktail, made by Regeneron, and later promoted the treatment as a “cure.”

Now, even though federal regulators approved two antibody treatments for emergency use in November, the potentially lifesaving drugs sit unused in hospital refrigerators around the country, at a time when many places need them the most.

The federal government has shipped out 55 percent of nearly 532,000 available doses. But early data suggests that hospitals have administered only about 20 percent of their supply.

The treatments could keep people at risk of severe disease out of the hospital if administered soon after infection. They have shown promise and are for the most part free. So why is this rollout happening so slowly?

First: These drugs are new — and a little tricky.

Patients need to receive these treatments in a narrow window of time, within 10 days of when they start showing symptoms, but before they’re sick enough to be hospitalized. Some communities have set up referral systems and lotteries to reach patients who qualify, but those can get caught in logistical snarls.

Some experts are skeptical about the strength of the evidence from ongoing clinical trials. Some hospital officials said they wanted to see stronger data before devoting more of their resources to administering the treatments.

Second: Hospitals are overwhelmed.

Already, administrators have to help growing numbers of patients and distribute vaccines to workers. There are also communication problems. Testing delays and a lack of coordination between testing sites and hospitals have made it hard to identify eligible patients.

And these drugs take time to infuse. To administer them, crowded hospitals must find space for patients to receive the treatment over a period of hours without spreading the virus to others.

Third: Patients just aren’t asking for them.

The slew of high-profile politicians close to Mr. Trump who received the treatments — including Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey — may have actually deterred patients, who falsely perceive the treatments as expensive or meant for an elite.

And, with cases surging, many don’t want to head to hospitals unless they’re in distress, which is often too late for the treatments. Here’s more information about these therapies prepared by our Science desk.

As 2020 comes to a close, my colleagues on the National desk are revisiting people whose lives were affected by the pandemic to see how they’re doing now. Today, we published the first article in the series.

In April, Kalee Kamer spoke to my colleague Dan Levin about her struggle to stay sober during lockdown. Along with her boyfriend, Chris Keeton, she attended recovery meetings online. At the time, she hadn’t used heroin in 27 months.

After losing her waitressing job in March, Ms. Kamer started working at an outpatient drug treatment center in June. On Christmas Eve, she’ll celebrate three years without using substances.

It’s still been tough for Ms. Kamer. She lives in Portsmouth, Ohio, which in 2019 had the highest overdose death rate reported by any Ohio county ever. During the pandemic, she has lost count of the people she knows who have fatally overdosed. At home, Mr. Keeton relapsed in May, after more than five months sober. But he stopped using in early July, and they finally set a date for their wedding: May 1, 2021.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

  • Salt Lake City will reopen public schools after teachers get their second dose of the vaccine in the coming weeks.

  • About 869,000 people have filed new claims for jobless benefits — down from a week earlier but significantly above the level in early November, before a surge in coronavirus cases prompted a new round of layoffs.

  • Rampaging coronavirus infections at mink farms have caused scandal, scientific head-scratching and a search for a vaccine for the animals.

  • How confident can you be in a coronavirus test? The kind of test and the reason for taking it should factor into how much credence to give a positive or negative result.

  • The most dire predictions about the spread of the coronavirus in homeless populations did not come true. The isolation and lack of indoor shelter appear to have limited transmission.

  • Canada approved the Moderna vaccine, which will go to people in remote areas, because it is easier to ship and store than Pfizer’s.

More than 1,100 Times journalists have worked to bring readers the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic. Subscribers make it all possible — so if you are one already, thank you. If you’re not, please consider subscribing today.

Since we can’t be together for the holidays, my sister and her kids challenged us to a Nailed It style cake contest. Everyone age 7 through 47 is baking and molding fondant, butter cream and chocolate. We send each other time-lapse videos, and for every “reveal” we see the result unveiled live. It’s a fun way to feel connected and in the spirit. — Ryan O’Halloran, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

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Amelia Nierenberg