The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: Elon Musk, 'Pandemic' Scientist's Cure, Proof COVID-19 Was Not Man-Made 

Donavyn Coffey


April 03, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

This week in the coronavirus stories that inundated the internet, Elon Musk weighed in on the ventilator shortage, a famous scientist claimed he may have the cure, and researchers debunked a conspiracy theory. 

Elon Musk to the Rescue

The Tesla CEO has been weighing in on the anticipated ventilator shortage on Twitter. This week he offered tips to a Canadian anesthesiologist who rigged a ventilator to support nine patients instead of just one after watching a YouTube video. Musk, among others, recommended that he find a way to include valves for each patient to lower the risk of crossflow and personalize care. 

Musk also took to Twitter to announce that Tesla would build and deliver US Food and Drug Administration-approved ventilators to hospitals free of cost — delivery included. The only requirement, he said, was that the ventilators were needed immediately for patient care. 

Musk's contribution, like any and all efforts to increase hospitals' capacity to care for critically ill patients with COVID-19, is good news. But he is one of many companies and individuals making a contribution to the ventilator shortage — Musk's name just happens to make for catchier headlines.

Moreover, Musk has not offered specifics about how many ventilators Tesla has available or plans to manufacture, while the Ford Motor Company and General Electric have committed to manufacture 50,000 ventilators in the next 100 days. (Also, Musk's machines may not actually have been the type of ventilator hospitals really wanted.) Our readers are well aware of the impending shortage of beds and ventilators, and Musk's vague tweets didn't offer a novel solution, so we decided not to cover them.

TV Scientist Claims He Has a Cure

Jacob Glanville, PhD, a scientist featured in Netflix's docuseries "Pandemic," announced on Twitter that he's found a "candidate cure" for COVID-19 that works by "blocking the novel coronavirus from infecting human cells." According to news reports, Glanville and colleagues developed the potential treatment from antibodies known to bind and neutralize the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus from 2002 that they tweaked to work against SARS-CoV-2. 

The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases will test the antibodies against the virus, and human trials won't start until late summer, the reports say. Although a cure or any new treatment to help physicians combat COVID-19 would be wonderful, we look for more evidence, some methodological details, and ideally some kind of peer review before we will consider a treatment or "candidate cure" worthy of your time during a real pandemic. 

Conspiracy Debunked

SARS-CoV-2 naturally evolved and is not a creation of Chinese scientists, researchers report in a new study published in Nature Medicine. The conspiracy theory that the new coronavirus came from a lab stems from an unfortunate coincidence: the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research on coronaviruses has been conducted, is close to the fish market where the COVID-19 outbreak started. This fueled rumors that the virus was engineered and intentionally or accidentally released. 

Researchers' genetic analysis found the virus was not a combination of other human viruses, as would be expected if humans had engineered it. Instead, SARS-CoV-2 shows unique genetic features, some of which have only been identified in coronaviruses that infect pangolins, confirming it came from nature. 

Understanding the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is important, but this study doesn't change treatment protocols. Moreover, physicians overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients hardly have time to spend on conspiracy theories, so we decided this wasn't an essential piece of news for our readers. 

Donavyn Coffey is a freelance journalist in New York City. She interned for Medscape in the fall of 2019.

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