Research Roundup: Coronavirus mutations, COVID-19 in children, and research at risk
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Several recent news articles have claimed that new strains of COVID-19 have appeared that are more virulent or transmissible. These claims, however, should be highly scrutinized. Though some forms of COVID-19 with specific mutations have spread more widely, this is more likely due to chance and the movement and interactions of their human hosts, rather than evolutionary changes impacting the virus’s transmissibility or virulence.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) launched a longitudinal study this week to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on children. The study will enroll 6,000 children from 2,000 families in 11 cities across the United States. Since only a fraction of COVID-19 patients to-date have been children, the study aims to assess whether children are more resistant or less likely to develop symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 infection. It will also investigate whether people with asthma or allergies are more resistant to COVID-19. Researchers will collect bi-weekly nasal swabs and questionnaire data on social distancing practices and potential exposures. For family members that indicate potential infection, researchers will collect blood and stool samples.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused labs across the country to shutter, disrupting countless research programs and threatening the careers of young academics. In particular, researchers' work that requires long start-up times—such as when animals are involved—could be set back by months or even years. This is especially worrisome for early-career academics who were planning to finish their graduate programs or who are losing critical work that would have laid the foundation for future projects.