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Coronavirus Files: Parents lied about kids’ COVID, and cheap drug may cut long COVID risk

Coronavirus Files: Parents lied about kids’ COVID, and cheap drug may cut long COVID risk

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A parent helps his three-year-old daughter with a COVID test in Chicago in late 2020.
A parent helps his three-year-old daughter with a COVID test in Chicago in late 2020.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

One-quarter of parents told lies about kids at height of pandemic

Rampant COVID-related deceptions likely contributed to the pandemic’s spread and death toll, according to the authors of a new study in JAMA Network Open

The researchers, from several states and the United Kingdom, surveyed 580 U.S. parents in December 2021 and found nearly 26% had told some sort of falsehood about their kids, such as hiding the child’s COVID-positive status or lying about age to acquire a vaccine early, reports Chia-Yi Hou at The Hill

Most commonly, parents didn’t tell a close contact of their child about the kid’s known or suspected case of COVID, or they let the child break quarantine rules. 

Parents cited personal freedom most often as the reason for their actions.

“The goal of the study is to make policymakers aware of how rampant this is,” senior author Angela Fagerlin, a psychologist at the University of Utah, told Angie Leventis Lourgos at the Chicago Tribune

Some parents reported they sent their child to school despite COVID illness or exposure because they had to go to work, highlighting the difficulties of working parents during the pandemic.

“I think it’s important that we support families so that parents can make the best decisions for their families, but also for their communities,” Fagerlin said. 

The team previously reported that almost 42% of U.S. adults had bent the truth about their COVID status or protective measures, or avoided testing or quarantine when they should have done so.

Study finds nonwhite people suffered more from COVID

A UK-based research team, after examining 77 studies from around the world, found widespread ethnic inequalities in the outcomes of COVID-19.

The team sought to link known inequalities in severe disease and death with infection risk and prognosis. They amassed data on more than 200 million people from studies conducted across six continents, for what they call the “most comprehensive summary of ethnic inequalities in a range of outcomes, during the first few years of the pandemic.” 

The data the team analyzed was all collected before October 4, 2022, so these infections mostly took place during a time without widespread immunity. The researchers wrote they would likely follow up by analyzing groups with different immunity levels, from different vaccines or exposure to different variants.

“We observed large differences in infection risk for minoritized ethnic groups,” the authors write in their paper in eClinicalMedicine. Black, South Asian, and mixed-race people were more likely to test positive than white individuals. The biggest difference was among South Asian populations, where people were three times as likely to test positive compared to white majority populations.

Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people were more likely to require hospitalization, and death was more likely for Hispanic, mixed-race, and Indigenous groups.

“Response and recovery interventions must focus on tackling drivers of ethnic inequalities which increase exposure risk and vulnerabilities to severe disease, including structural racism and racial discrimination,” write the authors.

Experts tell Congress lab leak warrants more investigation

House Republicans investigated the origins of the coronavirus in their first hearing on March 8.

The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic heard testimony from former CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, international relations expert Jamie F. Metzl, and former New York Times journalist Nicholas Wade.

No witnesses offered any new evidence, reports Trevor Hughes at USA Today, “but instead cited events, grant proposals and other incidents as too coincidental to ignore.”

Redfield argued for a “moratorium” on so-called “gain-of-function” virology research, reports Sarah Owermohle at STAT. “I think it’s caused the greatest pandemic we’ve ever seen,” he told the subcommittee.

Simply put, gain-of-function research is a term borrowed from genetics that means giving organisms new abilities, though the term has only been applied to virology recently, often in politically charged contexts. Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology near the pandemic’s epicenter had conducted such studies with U.S. funding before the pandemic began.

The subcommittee’s Democrats also called on Dr. Paul Auwaerter of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He stressed that the origins may never be uncovered, and that claims unsubstantiated by data fuel mistrust.

“We can still learn valuable information from these investigations,” said Auwaerter. “We should use that information to prevent outbreaks and pandemics with environment or human based origins.”

Diabetes drug reduces long COVID risk

The medication metformin is safe, cheap, and available in good supply — and it could prevent long COVID, according to the results of a preprint, not yet peer-reviewed, posted March 6 by The Lancet

The researchers randomized more than 1,000 participants to take one of three drugs within less than seven days of COVID symptom onset. They tested metformin, a diabetes drug; ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug; and fluvoxamine, an antidepressant; a combination of metformin plus one or the other drug; and placebo controls.

People who took metformin were 42% less likely to later be diagnosed with long COVID than people who got the placebo. If they took it within four days of symptom onset, their risk dropped by 50%. Ivermectin and fluvoxamine didn’t make a difference.

Scripps Research physician Dr. Eric Topol, who wasn’t involved in the study, expressed excitement on his Ground Truths newsletter. He noted metformin costs as little as $1 to $2 per week and is unlikely to cause side effects if taken for just two weeks, as in the trial.

“If I got COVID, I’d take metformin,” he wrote.

Not everyone might see the same level of reduced risk, notes Ingrid Hein at MedPage Today. Unvaccinated individuals were responsible for the majority of benefit observed in the study.

The study also focused on adults who were overweight or obese, and the drug might work better in that population, said author Dr. Carolyn Bramante of the University of Minnesota. The coronavirus may hide out in fat tissue, and metformin can reduce inflammation in fat. So, Bramante reasoned, people with more fat might be more likely to benefit from the treatment. 

Metformin also boosts T cell immunity, so it might help immunocompromised people, Bramante speculated.

The study took place during the omicron era, when some studies suggest long COVID was already less of a risk than with earlier variants. In unpublished research that will be presented at a conference in April, researchers found that people infected during omicron were no more likely to report ongoing symptoms than people who never had COVID, reports Alice Park at Time.

Paxlovid can also reduce risk one’s chances of long COVID, notes Carly Severn at KQED. The drug cut risk by 25% in a Veterans Affairs study released as a preprint last fall.

That may be because Paxlovid minimizes the time the immune system has to react to the virus in the bloodstream, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong of UCSF.

Chin-Hong urged people to assume they qualify for Paxlovid and consider taking it.

From the Center for Health Journalism

2023 Domestic Violence Symposium and Impact Reporting Fund

The Center’s two-day symposium will provide reporters with a roadmap for covering this public health epidemic with nuance and sensitivity. The first day will take place on the USC campus on Friday, March 17. The Center has a limited number of travel stipends available. Journalists attending the symposium will be eligible to apply for a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000.

Find more info here!

What we’re reading

  • “COVID backlash hobbles public health and future pandemic response,” by Lauren Weber and Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post

  • “The winter COVID-19 surge that wasn’t,” by Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder, U.S. News & World Report

  • “Why it’s so hard to get answers on long COVID,” by Keren Landman, Vox

  • “Indoor air is full of flu and COVID viruses. Will countries clean it up?” by Dyani Lewis, Nature

  • “Orphaned by COVID: A hidden pandemic leaving widows and children in tragedy,” by Linda Gaudino, NBC New York

  • “Schools want to close the COVID learning gap before federal funds run out — here’s how it’s going,” by Jessica Dickler, CNBC

Events & Resources


The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.

The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 Symposium on Domestic Violence provides reporters with a roadmap for covering this public health epidemic with nuance and sensitivity. The next session will be offered virtually on Friday, March 31. Journalists attending the symposium will be eligible to apply for a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000 from our Domestic Violence Impact Reporting Fund. Find more info here!


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