Virus notes: Baker orders child care shift

Biotech: Treatment months away, vaccine at least a year

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Wednesday moved to address the childcare needs of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak, ordering all existing early education and childcare centers to shut down on Monday and authorizing state officials to set up a new network of centers catering primarily to emergency personnel, medical staff, and others.

Dr. Jarone Lee, who works in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, said last Friday on the Codcast that, next to the danger of infection itself, the need for child care is one of the biggest concerns among medical staff trying to prepare for a surge in patients.

“Child care is a big issue,” Lee said. “We have a lot of two physician families here. Everyone is trying to figure that out.”

Baker, in a press briefing at the State House, ordered all existing child care facilities to shut down at the end of the day on Sunday and not reopen until Monday April 6. Those facilities, which serve thousands of children across the state, had been exempted from the governor’s order on Sunday shutting down all schools for three weeks. Many child care workers said the facilities should have been included to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While shutting existing child care facilities, Baker authorized the state Department of Early Education and Care to open a network of facilities across the state that would cater to parents of children dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. “Vulnerable children and children of families who work to maintain the health, safety, and welfare of all Commonwealth residents shall receive priority access to such emergency child care programs,” the governor’s order said.

Baker said the emergency program could repurpose existing facilities or create entirely new ones, and it would probably tap workers at existing child care facilities. He said his aides already have a good idea of who will do what.

Child care facilities shutting down will continue to receive subsidy payments from the state.

Treatment months away, vaccine at least a year

Officials from leading biotech companies said Wednesday that a treatment for COVID-19 remains months away, while a vaccine will take at least year.

In a conference call organized by PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry trade association, biotech executives said companies are sharing information in the quest to develop ways to test for, treat, and vaccinate against coronavirus. But they noted that it takes time to develop new therapies.

Stephen Ubl, president and CEO of PhRMA, noted that when the SARS epidemic broke out, it took two years for a vaccine to reach clinical trials, while here it has taken weeks for one vaccine to begin clinical trials and others to get near that point.

Julie Kim, president of plasma-derived therapies for Takeda, said her company is developing a treatment that she hopes could be available in nine to 18 months. The therapy would be made from plasma donated by patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and developed antibodies. Since the availability of the therapy will depend on the amount of plasma donated, Kim said it would be narrowly targeted for patients with severe symptoms or who are at high risk.

Daniel Skovronsky, chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories, said his company is developing an antibody treatment it hopes to test within four months, which he called “the fastest we’ve ever been able to achieve such a goal.”

The most advanced treatment currently is being tested by Gilead, which is in Phase III of clinical trials, the final stage before FDA approval, with the anti-viral drug remdesivir. 

Stephen Ubl, president and CEO of PhRMA, said data could be available from those trials as soon as April. It is not clear how long it would take for the drug to be approved and manufactured.

Ubl said there are more than 80 ongoing clinical trials related to treating COVID-19. Once a medicine is tested, he said, drug companies will work together to expand their manufacturing capability.

On the vaccine side, the first potential coronavirus vaccine was injected into healthy volunteers this week. But experts say it will still take 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to be widely available.

Thomas Breuer, senior vice president and chief medical officer of GSK Vaccines, which is working on a vaccine, said a year is actually a short time to develop a vaccine, then scale it up, and produce hundreds of millions of doses. 

Multiple companies are working on potential vaccines. Sanofi is using a method similar to how it makes the influenza vaccine to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Clement Lewin, associate vice president at Sanofi, said the company has a manufacturing facility in New York that could potentially produce between 100 million and 600 million doses.

The companies have not said how much they will charge for any new therapies.  But Ubl said “companies have a track record of pricing responsibly during a pandemic, and we don’t expect affordability to be an issue.”

House employee tests positive

An employee of the Massachusetts House of Representatives has tested positive for the coronavirus-caused COVID-19 illness.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office said he wrote to all 160 representatives, their office staffs, and other House employees Wednesday morning informing them that someone who works in the branch received a presumptive positive result.

Citing federal and state restrictions on confidential health information, DeLeo did not identify the employee, but Gov. Charlie Baker at a later press briefing said the person was a House staffer. The employee, who appears to be the first confirmed case at the State House, had worked in the building until starting sick leave on Thursday, DeLeo said.

“Specific offices/office suites which this employee visited prior to commencing sick leave on March 12th have been notified, and those offices (as well as the affected employee’s work area) will receive a comprehensive environmental cleaning before members and employees will be permitted to return to those spaces,” DeLeo wrote in his letter. “If you have not been notified that the affected employee visited your office prior to the affected employee commencing sick leave on March 12, 2020 then we have no reason to believe that the affected employee visited your office/office suite.”

Running the numbers

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Massachusetts increased by 38 to 256 as of Wednesday morning. The vast majority — 151, or 59 percent — were not hospitalized. Only 27, or 10.5 percent, were hospitalized, and the rest are under investigation. There have been no deaths from the coronavirus in Massachusetts. 

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Meet the Author

Chris Lisinski

Reporter, State House News Service
Middlesex County saw its number of confirmed cases jump from 89 to 100, Suffolk increased from 42 to 51, and Essex rose from 8 to 14.

Interestingly, the number of cases traced to the Biogen conference fell from 102 on Tuesday to 97 on Wednesday.