The novel coronavirus may be mutating — learning, in a sense — to defeat human protective measures such as masks, soap and perhaps even vaccines, according to the largest genetic study of the virus conducted in the United States.
The study, led by scientists in Houston and released Wednesday before being peer-reviewed, found that the constantly evolving virus has produced a rapidly spreading mutant strain that appears to be especially contagious. “It is well within the realm of possibility that … when our population-level immunity gets high enough, this coronavirus will find a way to get around our immunity,” a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told The Washington Post. “If that happened, we’d be in the same situation as with flu. We’ll have to chase the virus and, as it mutates, we’ll have to tinker with our vaccine.”
A different study brings more hopeful news: A Brown University survey of U.S. schools found extremely low rates of infection among students and teachers since classes resumed. While it's still early in the semester, many schools remain closed and the data is not consistent across the country, the findings suggest that reopening classrooms may not be as risky as many scientists feared.
A fourth experimental vaccine — this one manufactured by Johnson & Johnson — has entered its final stage of trials. The results aren't expected until the end of the year, but if approved, the vaccine would be much easier to store and administer than the other three experimental candidates, whose final trials began weeks ago.
A disarmingly honest and perhaps too-bold reader recently emailed to say that, while he enjoyed this newsletter, “I always cringe when I see your picture. It looks like you are hung over or took too many sleeping pills. How about a new one?” My response is that I would like to, but my profile photo was taken before the pandemic, and my appearance has only deteriorated since then. On the other hand, our Style desk reports that some people are actually managing to get hotter in quarantine. I suggest you look at their pictures instead.
Other important news
Democratic lawmakers have called for an investigation after The Post reported that the Defense Department diverted most of a $1 billion coronavirus fund to defense contractors, where it was spent on items such as drones, body armor and dress uniforms.
During a discussion about herd immunity at a Senate hearing Wednesday, the nation's top infectious-diseases expert, Anthony S. Fauci, finally lost his patience with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
A Business Roundtable survey of 149 members, including the chief executives of Apple and JPMorgan Chase, found that a quarter of the chief executives expect their businesses to have financially recovered before the end of the year.
A Republican state lawmaker from Virginia informed his church that he had covid-19, but neglected to tell his legislative colleagues.
A megachurch pastor facing charges for repeatedly violating Louisiana's ban on mass gatherings, as well as allegedly driving a church bus backward toward a protester, missed his court hearing because he refused to wear a mask inside the room.
The National Restaurant Association has a new training program for workers to help them deal with enraged patrons who refuse to wear masks.