Thousands of scientists around the world are working on problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a summary of some recent research from peer-reviewed academic journals and scientific agencies:

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A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests critical-care capacity in the United States may not be enough to meet the demand created by COVID-19. Researchers first modelled what would happen without widespread self-isolation in communities. They found that in that case treating all critically ill cases at the height of the outbreak would require three times the number of existing ICU beds in the country. Self-isolation of 20 per cent of cases within 24 hours of symptoms would reduce demand for ICU beds by up to 75 per cent, although demand could still exceed existing capacity. The results suggest that COVID-19 is likely to overwhelm the U.S.'s existing critical-care system.

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The Canadian Medical Association has conducted a survey in which at least one in five doctors said they would run out of respirators, eye shields, face shields, goggles and glasses in two days or less if stock were not replenished. About three-quarters of doctors had ordered supplies within the last month, but only 13 per cent said the order had arrived. Few could think of alternate government supply sources. Of doctors who worked in hospitals, where most COVID-19 patients are directed, about three-quarters didn't know the state of their protective equipment stock.

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The journal Science has published a study that reveals the structure of an antibody capable of attaching itself to the novel coronavirus. The antibody was taken from the blood of a patient recovering from a SARS infection, caused by a similar virus. It’s been suggested that an antibody generated in response to that virus could be effective against COVID-19. The study finds that the antibody attaches itself when the novel coronavirus's proteins are in a specific position. Scientists don’t fully understand how the virus triggers an immune response, but the new finding could help design an antibody that mimics one.

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Surgical face masks may be a good way for those sick with seasonal coronaviruses and the flu to prevent infecting others, reports a paper published in Nature Medicine. Masks were shown to significantly reduce influenza viruses and seasonal coronaviruses in respiratory droplets and aerosols. Further research is needed to determine whether masks can specifically prevent the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

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A paper in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology suggests that aerosols — tiny droplets invisible to the naked eye — emitted during breathing and talking may help explain the large number of COVID-19 transmissions from people with no visible symptoms. Such particles are big enough to host viruses but small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs. A 10-minute conversation could create a cloud of up to 6,000 particles that could be inhaled by someone nearby. The paper says more research is needed into the role such aerosols may play in COVID-19 contagion.

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Research from Harvard University suggests that social distancing may have to be used several times over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper finds that one period of strict social distancing 20 weeks long could lead to a later resurgence of the virus even stronger than the first attack, since little immunity would be built up in the community. It suggests several periods of distancing, each long enough to keep the infection rate within the capability of the health system. Eventually, enough people would have immunity to prevent widespread sickness.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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