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Good and bad news on potential coronavirus vaccine

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Hello, everyone! Welcome to the next edition of Insider Today. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so here. Lots to discuss this Monday… Stocks surging on promising vaccine study. How easy is it to catch coronavirus on a plane?  Trump advisor blasts Trump’s CDC. Your tax dollars used to walk the Secretary of State’s dog. Emily Blunt’s potato recipe so popular it crashed a popular food site. And more. Thank you for reading!


Good (and bad) vaccine news 

Moderna vaccine

Scientist Xinhua Yan works in the lab at Moderna in Cambridge, MA on Feb. 28, 2020.

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images


Stocks are surging today after good news from the first human trials of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

As Andy Dunn writes in Insider, Moderna reports that its first vaccine candidate stimulated antibody responses similar to those found in people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. This was a tiny safety trial of the vaccine, which was developed using a new messenger RNA method. The mRNA vaccine will go into a larger mid-stage trial shortly, and a late-stage trial by July. The trial did not show that the vaccine prevented infection by coronavirus.

On the other hand, the Moderna report follows by just a few days a more gloomy set of preliminary results from a different vaccine trial in monkeys. When Oxford University’s ChAdOx1 vaccine, which is not an mRNA vaccine, was given to rhesus monkeys, the monkeys still were infected by the coronavirus. The researchers did find that disease symptoms were milder in the vaccinated animals than in the controls, suggesting that it might provide some kind of protective effect. 

On the third hand, an earlier trial of a different Chinese vaccine that’s similar to the Oxford vaccine did appear to prevent infection in monkeys. 

All of which is to say: The path to a vaccine will likely not be straight, short, or easy. — DP

How easily can you catch the coronavirus on a plane?

airplane cabin cough droplets



Qingyan Chen/Purdue University School of Mechanical Engineering


Flying seems a particularly risky behavior in the age of coronavirus. This video, for example, shows how quickly droplets from a single cough get blown around the cabin.

We don’t know of any studies yet that have specifically analyzed the spread of coronavirus on planes (if you do, please send!). But a study from the SARS epidemic may be relevant here.

As the CEO, doctor, and author Atul Gawande recently noted in the New Yorker, researchers studied this question back in 2003.

The researchers looked at three flights with confirmed SARS cases aboard. 

The first flight, a 90-minute flight on a Boeing 777 with 315 passengers, had a pre-symptomatic SARS carrier. No one else was infected on the plane.

On the second flight, however—a 3-hour flight on a 737 with 120 people aboard—one symptomatic SARS carrier is believed to have infected a staggering 22 additional passengers. 

As this diagram shows, the passengers (and flight attendant) near the “index patient” in the plane, particularly in the few rows ahead, seemed most at risk. But some of those who got sick were many rows ahead or behind him.

plane virus SARS




Olson et al.



The third flight, another 90-minute flight on a 777, had four symptomatic SARS carriers aboard. Of the 166 other passengers on the flight who were later interviewed, only one developed SARS-like symptoms. 

The SARS study confirms that respiratory viruses like the coronavirus can spread on planes, sometimes alarmingly easily. It also shows that they don’t always spread. 

What were the differences between these flights? Why did “Flight Two” become a plague ship, while flights one and three led to only one probable infection between them?

The researchers did not address this. Differences in the design of the 737 and 777 might have played a role (the 777 is a much bigger plane). The longer duration of Flight Two —three hours vs. 90 minutes—and the infectiousness of the particular “index patients” seem more likely explanations.

In his New Yorker article, Gawande notes that duration of proximity to infected people can make a big difference in coronavirus transmission. The CDC considers “prolonged” exposure to be greater than 15 minutes.

Gawande also observes that particular people at particular times can be wildly infectious, as in a case in Washington State in March. In this coronavirus “super-spreader” event, one woman with “cold-like” symptoms at a choir rehearsal appears to have infected 52 of 60 other singers in the choir.

In any case, unless/until we get other evidence to the contrary, that long flight that led to 22 SARS infections sets a sobering precedent. —HB

The other reason the firing of the State Department IG is a scandal 

President Trump whacked State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Friday, and replaced him with a reliable ally. Linick is the fourth inspector general Trump has suddenly fired in the past month, ensuring that he has lapdogs where there had been watchdogs.

What’s particularly demoralizing is the apparent reason Linick was axed. According to congressional sources, Linick was investigating reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was using State Department employees to walk his dog and fetch his dry cleaning. 

Trump practices the politics of resentment better than anyone in American history, and the very heart of his message is: They think they’re better than you. There’s a spoiled elite that’s looking down on you, taking advantage of you, and laughing all the way to Aspen. 

And yet his administration is thick with examples of privileged, snotty entitlement from public servants. Before Pompeo, there was EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who took first class travel, solicited special favors for his wife, and used his aides — government employees — for all kinds of shady personal benefit. Tom Price, former HHS secretary, billed us for his private jet travel to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Again and again we find it’s the administration insiders who are the spoiled elite, who are using our tax money and their inside access for special gain. They are treating our government as a piggy bank and a valet. — DP

Sure blame the CDC for the US’s coronavirus failures. But who does the CDC work for?

Trump, CDC

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a news conference at the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 29, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong/Getty Images


It’s not surprising that the CDC was savaged on Meet the Press this weekend: “Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing.”  

What was surprising was who said this: White House advisor Peter Navarro

Navarro wasn’t wrong: The federal government’s epidemiologists have botched their response to the pandemic. (Today has brought new doubts about whether the CDC’s national testing data is even accurate.)

So, yes, White House advisor Navarro makes a good point! 

But wait: Isn’t Navarro’s boss, President Trump…in charge of the CDC?  

Americans have lived with this president long enough to know he never takes responsibility for any mistake. That’s how he’s built. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing that the Trump administration is unwilling to stop the buck for this catastrophe. 

In March, the president notoriously said, “I take no responsibility at all” for testing failures. That could be his pandemic motto. When the federal government botches something, the administration blames the agency that underperformed — as Navarro did the CDC — making the poor performance somehow the result of incompetence or a deep state conspiracy. More insidiously, the administration often blames any failure on some unspecified shortcoming of the Obama administration, even though that ended more than three years ago.

Government scientists and bureaucrats in other nations, who aren’t any smarter or more committed than American government employees, have shined during the pandemic. The difference, clearly, is leadership.  

Of course, the administration hasn’t ducked all responsibility during the pandemic. The president is prepared to take credit for good deeds he’s only partly responsible for. To Trump’s credit, the emergency response packages he signed into law have cushioned the blow to the economy.  When Congress appropriated billions of dollars to send stimulus cash to American households, President Trump made sure his name was on the check. — DP


Justin Amash

Rep. Justin Amash

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File


Rep. Justin Amash won’t run for president as a Libertarian. Amash, Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Libertarian, decided not to make a third-party challenge to President Trump, which means we’ll never know if he would have hurt Trump or Biden more.  

COVID-19 deaths in the US and Italy could be twice the official total. New research suggests there are thousands of “excess deaths” that haven’t been classified as pandemic related.


dior store closed coronavirus

Closed and boarded up store fronts of luxury fashion brands Versace and Dior during Coronavirus crisis, Chicago.

Ruth Hytry Sinclair/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


Fed Chair says economic downturn could last till late 2021. Jerome Powell squashes hope of a V-shaped recovery. 

Pharma-bro Martin Shkreli asked for early release from prison so he could make a COVID-19 cure.  The judge said no.


milk



Reuters/Ho New


How to prolong the shelf life of eggs, milk, yeast, and vegetables. Maybe you stocked up on them because they were in short supply. Here’s how to make them last longer.

Emily Blunt’s recipe for English roasted potatoes was so popular that it crashed Ina Garten’s web site. Insider’s Anneta Konstantinides made it. Now we know what all the fuss is about!


new york city park social distance coronavirus

Pedestrians walk through Fort Greene Park where a “Keep This Far Apart” social distance guideline sign is seen on April 23, 2020 in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images


Riskiest to least risky coronavirus activities ranked. Shopping, eating out, seeing friends, seeing family, going to bars… Insider asked an infectious disease expert what’s (relatively) safe and what isn’t. Stay away from the bars.

Matrix creator tells Elon Musk, Ivanka Trump: ‘F— both of you’ for using the ‘red pill’ phrase that’s become a right-wing meme.  Lilly Wachowski was responding to a strange twitter exchange. 

Lisa Kudrow disses Friends’ all-white cast . She says the show would be completely different if it were made today.

*The most popular stories on Insider today.


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