Coronavirus is (literally) shaking up how the world moves

April 2, 2020, 9:45 PM UTC

Happy Thursday, readers. And welcome to the first edition of The Capsule, formerly known as Brainstorm Health Daily. This is Sy, your writer then and now.

You’re getting this email because you subscribed to Brainstorm Health Daily. You can expect everything in The Capsule to be the same—new look, same great taste. As I mentioned to you all on Monday, we’re switching the newsletter to a weekly format, at least for the time being. You’ll get this newsletter in your inbox on Thursday afternoons ET.

Now onto our public health crisis… We’ve all become used to reading some bizarre headlines in these times. But I’m not sure anyone quite expected this.

My colleague Chris Morris, citing a fascinating study by Belgian scientists reported in the journal Nature, explores how the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders necessitated by coronavirus may have literally slowed down the movement of the globe (at least in certain regions).

The reason? A halt in human activity and transportation which has cut down on “seismic noice,” the vibrations which, en masse, extend to the crust of our planet itself.

You may be wondering, wait, is that good or just another element of concern? As it turns out, it could be quite helpful for geoscientists whose jobs are to detect earthquakes, volcanic activity, and the various tectonic shifts of our pale blue dot.

Read on for the week’s news, and see you again next Thursday.

Sy Mukherjee


New coronavirus tests are on the way. The COVID-19 diagnostics situation is shifting rapidly. Here are just a few updates from the past week (and I'll have a much broader set of pieces to share on this soon): Henry Schein announced it would begin distributing a rapid antibody coronavirus blood test for current and past cases which it says can deliver results in just 15 minutes at the point of care; Abbott Labs has what it says is a five-minute point-of-care test that will be first be deployed in Detroit; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Cellex which can detect antibodies in people who have recovered from COVID-19; at-home genetic testing specialist Color is building a new lab to handle coronavirus testing with the goal of being able to manage 10,000 tests per day in the coming weeks; and that's just a few of the recent developments. This has become an all-hands-on-deck effort.


Sanofi says it can produce millions of doses of a coronavirus treatment. French drug giant Sanofi tells Reuters it will be able to offer millions of doses of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (which has been touted on multiple occasions by President Trump as a promising drug candidate) should it prove successful in clinical trials. And within the latter point lies the rub—the decades-old treatment has decidedly limited evidence as a COVID-19 treatment and could cause serious side effects in certain patients. Overuse of the medicine could also limit its supply for malaria patients. (Reuters)


A ventilator shortage meets a specialist shortage. There's been a significant supply chain problem when it comes to protective medical equipment, particularly the ventilators essential to helping COVID-19 patients. There are many reasons for that—but even beyond the bottleneck, there's another issue at hand: A lack of medical specialists who can even use the ventilators available to them. “We already have a shortage of nurses and physicians in the United States,” Marcus Schabacker, CEO of ECRI, a patient-safety nonprofit organization, told my colleagues Maria Aspan and Naomi Xu Elegant. (Fortune)

Three insurance giants say they'll waive coronavirus-related out-of-pocket costs. At least three major insurers—Aetna, Humana, and Cigna—have announced they'll waive certain out-of-pocket costs borne by patients for COVID-19 treatment. In essence that means COVID-19 patients with qualifying health plans wouldn't have to pony up money for coronavirus treatment; but, given that a multi-day hospital stay is more expensive for insurers than it is for patients (insurance companies usually have to begin providing a larger share of coverage costs after someone hits their deductible, which may happen quickly with an extended hospital visit), this is also likely a PR move that could be followed up for a request for government funding to stem losses. (NPR)


Hospitals are running low on the most critical supply of all—oxygenby Jeremy Kahn

A record 6.6 million apply for unemployment benefitsby The Associated Press

Commentary: After coronavirus, we need to rethink densely populated citiesby Joel Kotkin

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