Study Casts Doubt on Plasma as COVID Treatment


By Ernie Mundell

HealthDay Reporter


WEDNESDAY, Nov. 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, anecdotal reports suggested that infusing very sick patients with the blood plasma of people who’d survived the disease might help boost outcomes.


But study findings released Nov. 24 in the New England Journal of Medicine, along with disappointing results from prior trials, suggest that those initial hopes may have been unfounded.


The new study was conducted by researchers in Argentina. It compared outcomes for 228 hospitalized COVID-19 patients who got an infusion of so-called “convalescent plasma” against those of 105 patients who did not (the “placebo group”). All were so sick as to have developed pneumonia.


However, one month later, “no significant difference was noted between the convalescent plasma group and the placebo group” in terms of clinical outcomes, with about 11% of patients dying in both groups, according to a team led by Dr. V.A. Simonovich of the Italian Hospital of Buenos Aires.


The theory behind the use of survivors’ blood plasma in people battling COVID-19 is that plasma contains immune system agents that might aid recipients in their fight against the disease.


But a prior study from India — this time in patients with “moderate” COVID-19 — also found little benefit of the treatment in stopping illness from progressing to a more severe stage. That study was led by Dr. Anup Agarwal, of the Indian Council of Medical Research in New Delhi, and was published Oct. 22 in the BMJ.


According to one U.S. expert unconnected to either trial, it may be time to give up on convalescent plasma as a viable COVID-19 treatment.


“There have been several major trials that have shown the same results: Convalescent plasma does not seem to have an impact on the course of COVID-19,” said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan. She’s senior vice president and director of Critical Care Services at Northwell Health, in New Hyde Park, N.Y.


Narasimhan also noted that in the Argentinian trial, “even with good measurement of the amount of antibody they were giving people [in the transfusions], there was no benefit seen.”


She believes that other treatments should remain first-line options for severe COVID-19.


“The new monoclonal antibodies will give a more targeted and reliable antibody load to COVID-19 patients and may have an impact on the course of disease if given early after positive testing,” Narasimhan said.



More information


Find out more about how to treat coronavirus at home from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


SOURCES: New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 24, 2020; Mangala Narasimhan, DO, SVP, director of critical care services, Northwell Health, New Hyde Park, N.Y.





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Black hole’s structure possibly glimpsed as dust ring casts shadows and rays far across space — RT World News



Astronomers believe they are getting a glimpse of the structure of a black hole, after the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a collection of rays and shadows beaming out from the center of a galaxy millions of light-years away.

Black holes are the universe’s greatest monsters, rapidly consuming everything in their vicinity. Their gravity is so powerful that not even light can escape them, an extraordinary fact which also makes them invisible to us and thus incredibly hard to study.

However, experts have noticed vast shadows and narrow, bright rays stretching out from the center of the galaxy IC 5063, as if something enormous is standing in the way of the intense light. 

Experts believe this could be a black hole in the heart of the galaxy casting its shadow into space, and a quirk of alignment may be allowing them a glimpse of its structure.

Some shafts of light penetrate the gaps in the dust ring, creating bright rays that resemble the beams of light that can be seen radiating from the sun at sunset. 

“We think we’ve found evidence that there is probably dust all over the galaxy scattering light from the accreting black hole in the galaxy’s active nucleus, and that the light can illuminate almost the whole galaxy,” explained astronomer Peter Maksym of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Because scientists have never witnessed this phenomenon before, it may take them some time to definitively prove that a black hole is causing the strange shadows and beams. However, the development presents a tantalizing scientific discovery and a rich opportunity for further research.

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Trump’s controversial pick for U.S. Federal Reserve stalls after Kamala Harris casts a key vote


The nomination of U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for the Federal Reserve is stalled in the Senate after vice-president-elect Kamala Harris returned to the chamber to cast a key vote in a tally Tuesday.

Two key Republicans were absent because of COVID-related concerns. Chuck Grassley, 87, later revealed he has tested positive for the virus. 

The 47-50 vote against Judy Shelton came as the Republican-controlled Senate continues to focus its energies in the post-election lame-duck session on confirming Trump’s appointees.

Shelton is an unusually caustic critic of the Fed and was opposed by Republican senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s vote. Harris has been focused on the transition to the Biden administration but returned to the chamber for her first vote since winning the vice presidency.

Democratic senator-elect Mark Kelly is likely to join the Senate when the chamber returns from its Thanksgiving break. That could leave Shelton short of support for confirmation even if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seeks another vote next month.

Another Republican opponent, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, missed Tuesday’s vote, and his return could cement Shelton’s fate, even after Republicans Rick Scott and Grassley return to the chamber after quarantining because of the coronavirus.

Shelton, during her appearance before the Senate Banking Committee for a confirmation hearing, on Feb. 13. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

White House remains ‘confident’

McConnell initially voted “aye” but changed his vote to reserve the option to call a second tally if he can line up the votes.

All in all, accounting for absences and the arrival of Kelly, who defeated Republican Martha McSally, Shelton would appear to be one vote short, assuming there won’t be a re-vote this week. The Senate is slated to be recessed next week for Thanksgiving.

Trump spokesperson Judd Deere tweeted Tuesday that the White House remains “confident that Judy Shelton will be confirmed upon reconsideration.”

Shelton, a conservative economics commentator, is opposed by Senate Democrats, most economists and many former Fed officials for her past support of the gold standard and for writings that questioned the Fed’s political independence.

Under the gold standard, the U.S. dollar’s value is tied to gold. With that approach, the Fed has had less leeway to adjust interest rates, even in a severe recession.

Accused of flip-flopping

Shelton was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on a 13-12 party-line vote in July. Senate Democrats criticized her for appearing to flip-flop on many positions, including near-zero interest rates. She opposed ultra-low rates during Barack Obama’s presidency but supported them after Donald Trump took office and demanded that the Fed lower its short-term benchmark rate.

“Shelton has shown herself to be an economic weathervane, pointing whichever direction she believes the partisan winds are blowing,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

As a member of the Fed’s powerful board of governors, Shelton would vote on the Fed’s rate decisions and on banking regulation. The governors also vote on whether to institute emergency measures, such as the Fed’s decisions in March to start buying corporate bonds for the first time and institute a raft of programs to bolster financial markets.

Still, on her own, it’s unlikely that Shelton would have much effect on Fed policy, economists have pointed out.

The central bank operates by consensus and Fed governors rarely dissent from interest rate decisions, though Fed bank presidents do. For now, the Fed has pegged its benchmark rate to nearly zero and Fed officials have said they expect it to remain there until at least 2023.

Shelton has been picked to fill a term that expires in 2024.



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US presidential election: Trump casts vote in key state of Florida


President Trump has cast his vote for November”s presidential election early and in-person.

After completing his ballot in the key state of Florida, he spoke to reporters at the Palm Beach polling station, telling them: “I voted for a guy named Trump.”

He repeated his argument that that voting in person is more secure than by post – a claim which he’s never been backed up with any evidence.

“It was a very secure, but much more secure than when you send in a ballot, I can tell you that. Everything was very strict. Right by the rules. When you send in your ballot, it could never be like that,” he said.

The president switched his official residence from New York to his private Florida club last year, complaining that New York politicians had treated him badly. Since the switch, he has also voted twice by post.

Voters in New York also began to cast their ballots in person on Saturday, with thousands assembling early in the morning in Madison Square Garden.

More than 54 million votes have been cast so far, with around an additional 100 million expected before a winner is declared.

The election is officially held on November 3 but this year, with so many postal votes, the result may not be known for days or even weeks afterwards.



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Donald Trump casts early ballot in person in Florida


West Palm Beach is near his private Mar-a-Lago club. He used to vote in New York but changed his residency to Florida last year.

There were several hundred supporters gathered with flags and signs outside the library where he voted. And there were chants of “Four more years.”

The president wore a mask while voting but he took it off as he approached reporters afterward in the building.

He called it “a very secure vote. Much more secure than when you send in a ballot, I can tell you that.”

Democrat Joe Biden hasn’t voted yet and it likely to do so in person in Delaware on Election Day, November 3. Delaware doesn’t offer early, in-person voting like Florida.

Trump said at a Florida rally on Friday that he likes being able to vote in person.

“I’m old fashioned, I guess,” he said.

The president has a busy Saturday, with rallies scheduled in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.



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Michael Gunner casts NT election as a ‘life and death’ choice on coronavirus leadership


The Northern Territory Chief Minister says his constituents will make a life-or-death decision when they vote on whether to return his government to power this month.

“Sometimes you choose the campaign; sometimes the campaign chooses you,” Michael Gunner said.

“That’s the choice that Territorians have on August 22 about who they choose to protect them, who they choose to keep the borders secure.”

The Labor leader’s coronavirus rhetoric has come under repeated attack from opposition parties this week.

They’ve accused him of “scaremongering” over rival coronavirus plans and secondly of using confusing language in a national media interview this week when he said “hard border” controls could remain in place in the NT for 18 months.

“It’s clear that this Chief Minister is desperate in the dying days of his government, and is politicising COVID, which is a disgrace,” Country Liberal Party leader Lia Finocchiaro today said.

“He is the Chief Minister and perhaps if the pressure of this election is getting to him, he needs to hand over responsibility for all COVID announcements to the Chief Health Officer, so that Territorians can get the actual facts.”

But Mr Gunner today rejected questions about the blurring of politics and coronavirus policy and doubled down on the rhetoric for which he was earlier criticised.

“I’m asking you to back me in so we can keep doing everything we can — whatever it takes — to protect your life and protect your job,” he said.

Votes cast as funding questions stump hopefuls

More than one in 10 Territorians have already cast their votes in the first three days of early voting for the upcoming election — a rate tipped by ABC election analyst Antony Green to set an early voting record.

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While many Territorians have already voted, candidates on the campaign trail have stumbled over questions about how parties would deliver on their commitments.

Fledgling party Territory Alliance yesterday said it would seek funding from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to offset payroll tax, which is estimated to boost Northern Territory coffers by more than $200 million each year.

Federal minister Keith Pitt, whose Northern Australia portfolio oversees the Commonwealth loan facility, rejected the proposal as an “election thought bubble” — but Territory Alliance’s Port Darwin candidate Gary Strachan was this morning unable to say how the policy would instead be funded.

“What we’re going to do is give it a good go,” he said.

“We’re going to put our case forward and say why we need to use that money.”

In the same ABC Radio Darwin roundtable, the seat’s CLP candidate, Toby George, said how his party would fund its own commitment to scrap that tax was a “good question”.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily incumbent on every single candidate to understand how each and every policy and initiative is costed,” he said.

Lia Finocchiaro dressed in orange stands at a lectern at Wharf One on the Darwin Waterfront
Lia Finocchiaro is vying to win back government after the CLP was reduced to just two seats in 2016.(ABC News: Felicity James)

Ms Finocchiaro unveiled a suite of agricultural policies but could not confirm a funding source.

“Whilst we don’t have a budget because the Gunner Government has hidden the books from Territorians, we will work out ways to fund these commitments because it’s too important not to do it,” she said.

Territory Alliance has also vowed to re-introduce mandatory rehabilitation for alcoholics, a program found to be costly and have few long-term health benefits before it was repealed in 2017.

The Government has postponed its budget until November later this year, citing uncertainties related to coronavirus.

But a budget update, released in late July, projected the NT’s net debt would blow out from $6.9 billion to $8.2 billion this financial year.



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Councillor casts shade on Jetty carpark plan


TO go ahead with construction of the Stage 5 Jetty Carpark now, would be premature, Coffs Harbour City Councillor Paul Amos has warned.

The carpark is slated for land where the carboot market is held, east of the railway just back from the beach, north of Marina Drive.

The matter was up for discussion at the recent Council meeting with the carpark one of two projects selected for funding from the Federal Government’s $500 million Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program.

Council was allocated $1.38m from the fund to spend on infrastructure projects ready to be executed before June 30, 2021, as a form of rapid injection of cash into the local economy.

The focus of the grant is the enhancement of existing, or creation of new, Council infrastructure which has a direct community benefit.

Cr Paul Amos (at left) with Cr John Arkan in the background at a meeting last year.

The two projects deemed to best fit the criteria were the Jetty Foreshores Stage 5 Carpark and the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden Glasshouse Project.

The report before Councillors on Thursday evening suggested allocating $600,000 for the carpark and $782,096 for the glasshouse.

But Clr Amos argued that the “missing link” West Coffs cycle way (Stage 4 – 6) should be funded to the tune of $615,000 instead of the carpark.

Fish sculpture at Jetty foreshores park.06 April 2020

Fish sculpture at Jetty foreshores park.06 April 2020 TREVOR VEALE

He faced strong opposition from Clr George Cecato who has long championed the Jetty as the jewel in the crown of our city.

He spoke of the personal attacks he has received over the years for pushing to see the area revitalised.

“I have been spat at and called all kinds of names…because I was standing up for the facts.

“And now the fact is this (the Jetty revitalisation so far) is one of the most successful projects that this Council has undertaken in the last 20-odd years.”

Clr George Cecato at a meeting with Clr Sally Townley. Photo by Trevor Veale.

Clr George Cecato at a meeting with Clr Sally Townley. Photo by Trevor Veale.

Stages 2-4 of the revitalisation project involved the construction of an ‘open plaza’ area with wide shallow steps onto the northern end of Jetty Beach; the market and events space; and boardwalk around the dunes and vegetation, linking all the elements to the historic Jetty.

But Clr Amos said it would be premature to build the Stage 5 carpark given State Government plans for the area have yet to be finalised and that completion of the West Coffs cycle way was long overdue.

Clr Townley also expressed concerns that drainage and the potential impact on the market space to the south of Marina Drive could be impacted if the project was rushed.

Ultimately Clr Amos was unable to alter the motion and all remaining Clrs voted to support the original motion to fund the Stage 5 Carpark and a new glasshouse at the Botanic Garden.





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The Bachelor: US reality show casts its first black lead | Ents & Arts News


US reality show The Bachelor has chosen its first black lead to front the show.

Matt James, 28, will front the hugely popular dating programme when it airs next year.

The ABC show has aired for 18 years without having an African-American man in the main role.

It came after lawyer Rachel Lindsay – who was the first black woman to lead spin-off The Bachelorette in 2017 – threatened to distance herself from the show unless it received a “diversity makeover”.

Image:
Colton Underwood was the lead for the 2019 series of The Bachelor

Speaking about his casting on Good Morning America, James, an estate agent and entrepreneur, said it was a “step in the right direction”.

“When Rachel speaks, we listen,” he said. “She has a very important voice in all of this, being the first black woman/person of colour to have a lead.

“So I think that we’re all following suit in that conversation, and this is hopefully the first of many black men to be in the position that I’m at now.”

The Bachelor features a single man who has to choose between a pool of women, with the ultimate goal of getting married.

It is a pop culture phenomenon in the US, but has attracted mounting criticism for a perceived lack of diversity.

:: Listen to the Backstage podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

Ahead of the 25th season in 2021, fans launched a petition demanding a black lead as well as having at least 35% black, indigenous and people of colour as contestants each season.

Following the news of James’ casting, the show’s executive producers said they will make “significant changes” to address the lack of diversity.

They added: “We are taking positive steps to expand diversity in our cast, in our staff and, most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television.

“We can and will do better to reflect the world around us and show all of its beautiful stories.”

Race and Revolution: Is Change Going to Come?

Sky News will broadcast a global debate show on Tuesday night at 8pm – looking at the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter protests, and examining institutional racism and how we fix it.

If you would like to be part of our virtual audience, and have a chance of putting a question to our panel, please send your name, location and question to newsdebates@sky.uk



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