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COVID-19 NC: Reopening, Relief & Remdesivir

UNC School of Public Health
UNC Professor of Epidemiology Ralph Baric, PhD, has studied coronaviruses for more than 30 years and pioneered rapid-response approaches for the study of emerging viruses and the development of therapeutics.

BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News Founding Editor Rose Hoban about the metrics state health officials are monitoring, the discussions by state lawmakers working on a COVID-19 relief bill and (below) the NC connection to the newly approved COVID-19 drug therapy.

We have heard more talk about metrics this week as the state tries to figure out reopening if North Carolina can meet the benchmarks they've outlined. Can you help us unpack those metrics and how they fit into the testing, tracing, & trends equation?

RH: On Thursday HHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen presented a bunch of charts and graphs and you can see a lot of trends there. You always start with bad news first, right? So, the bad news is that there's been an uptick in the number of folks with symptoms of coven reporting to emergency departments. What I am not clear on is whether those symptoms that they're reporting include the newly expanded definition of a case that came out of the centers for disease control and prevention this week. The CDC out of these new symptoms that are being seen frequently and are now understood to be part of the list of symptoms associated with COVID-19, those are chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, repeated shaking with chills and loss of taste or smell. So that is, that is one piece of the puzzle. At the time of this recording, I had reached out to DHHS to ask if the case definition included those and I had not yet heard back.  

Also making news,  House and Senate negotiators have been hammering out the final details of the state's first coronavirus pandemic relief bill.   You have been covering this. What's the latest?

5/2 Update: (AP) The General Assembly on Saturday finalized a relief package to address the new coronavirus pandemic  in North Carolina, agreeing to send money to schools, hospitals, local governments, and researchers. A pair of bipartisan measures approved unanimously by the House and Senate direct how nearly $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 funds are distributed and how scores of government activities during the outbreak are deferred or delayed.

RH: What we do know is that the house and the Senate took different approaches to the money. The house put in a grand total of 1.7 billion, and in that was 125 million to help support hospitals. And that was broken up by 75 million for  rural hospitals, 25 million for teaching hospitals and 25 million for the rest. The Senate didn't have that. Their final bill had 61 million for a number of issues and a number of entities  and that included hardship grants for rural hospitals. So that would have only been part of it. There's also some differences in how the house and the Senate would pay for testing and treatment of people who don't have insurance. As you know, we're one of 14 States not to pass Medicaid expansion. So there's a big chunk of people who have no access to insurance and the way the department of health and human services was going to square that circle was they put in an application to the federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid services to have a temporary Medicaid waiver for low income people to get their testing and treatment covered.  The House supported that the Senate did not.

BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News Founding Editor Rose Hoban about the NC connection to the newly approved COVID-19 drug therapy

We have been hearing a lot about this in the national news,  about a drug treatment that has been researched here in North Carolina.

5/1 update FDA grants emergency authorization of remdesivir as a COVID-19 treatment

RH: Oh, this is so cool!  UNC researcher Ralph Baric has been working on coronavirus research for some time and he and his colleague Tim Sheahan had been working on this drug called remdesiver, which has made by Gilead Sciences. It's a California company. So Baric and Sheahan have been doing animal testing on this drug, which is an antiviral,  for about six years. And the idea was that it would be useful to have a drug to treat viral diseases that often get overlooked by the big drug companies. So Gilead approached them to do trials of remdesiver and during the 2018 Ebola outbreak in Africa, they tried it and they found that REM desert worked against Ebola virus in the lab, but it didn't work in patients. So, then they tried using the drug against coronaviruses.

What is North Carolina health news working on for next week?

RH: Well, right now in this country, the places where the biggest outbreaks are happening are in meat processing plants, prisons, and skilled nursing facilities. And we're doing stories on each of those.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
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