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This week in COVID-19 news, scientists tested how well various face coverings, including a neck gaiter, blocked respiratory droplets coming from the wearer's mouth and nose, authorities detected SARS-CoV-2 genetic material on frozen chicken wings, and researchers described a nasal spray they say could block viral infection. But you didn't see these headlines on Medscape. Here's why.
Researchers at Duke University developed a method to test how many respiratory droplets a person emits while wearing a face covering. The method employed a laser, a prism, a box, and a smartphone camera. They described the setup and their results from testing 14 different face coverings in the journal Science Advances. The particular tests, the authors write, "should serve only as a demonstration," because they expect different people would get different results wearing the same mask, owing to variation in factors such as their physiology, how well the mask fits, head position, and speech pattern.
But that's not what headlines said about this study. Many news outlets' coverage emphasized one of the tested face coverings: a neck fleece or gaiter. In the researchers' test, the speaker appears to have emitted slightly more droplets while wearing this face covering than when wearing no face covering, though the error bars overlap in the figure depicting the number of droplets emitted in the tests.
It takes a lot of extrapolation to make a claim about gaiters in general from the single test described in this study, and the researchers' overall point that face coverings vary in their effectiveness has been demonstrated previously. We mentioned this study ― and the discussion around it ― in our daily COVID-19 Update, but we didn't devote a full story to it because its findings are not novel.
Genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 was detected on the surface of frozen chicken wings imported to China from Brazil, local authorities said. CNN reported that the testing did not assess whether the virus was infectious. Health authorities traced people who could have been in contact with the frozen wings, and none tested positive for the virus.
This chicken report is not the first of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material apparently being found on frozen food, and it doesn't change the overall balance of evidence about how COVID-19 spreads ― mainly through person-to-person interaction with someone who is infected. We didn't think this story was a priority for our readers.
Antiviral Nasal Spray
In a preprint posted to bioRxiv.org, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, describe how they developed nanobodies ― like antibodies, but smaller ― that bind to the parts of SARS-CoV-2 that interact with a cell's receptors to enter and infect it. They report that the nanobodies they engineered "proved exceptionally potent" at neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 in vitro and could be aerosolized for potential delivery via a nasal spray or nebulizer.
"These properties may enable aerosol-mediated delivery of this potent neutralizer directly to the airway epithelia, promising to yield a widely deployable, patient-friendly prophylactic and/or early infection therapeutic agent to stem the worst pandemic in a century," the researchers write.
We hope so too, but there's a long road ahead. We didn't cover this because we don't want to hype an experimental treatment that may not have been tested in animal models yet, much less in clinical trials, before it's even out of the lab or peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.
Ellie Kincaid is Medscape's associate managing editor. She has previously written about healthcare for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Nature Medicine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ellie_kincaid.
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Cite this: The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: Gaiters, Chicken Wings, Nasal Spray - Medscape - Aug 14, 2020.