Newsletter: The promise of remdesivir


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, April 30, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

In what may mark a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus, government researchers reported Wednesday that the antiviral medication remdesivir helped patients with advanced COVID-19 recover more quickly than a placebo treatment.

Dr. Anthony Fauci hailed the new findings as a “really quite important” milestone in the scramble to find any effective treatment for a pandemic that has upended the global economy and killed more than 224,000 people around the world. These early results come from a larger clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the organization that Fauci leads.

Why it matters


Options ranging from chloroquine to convalescent plasma have been looked at as potential treatments for COVID-19 patients, but the bottom line is that COVID-19 is a new disease and we don’t yet have any standard treatment for it that’s proven to be effective. These early results, though still modest, appear to “position the drug as the standard therapy for hospitalized COVID-19 patients going forward,” as science writer Melissa Healy explained it.

[Read the story: “Clinical trial of remdesivir may be a turning point in coronavirus fight” in the Los Angeles Times]

As Melissa explains in her story, Fauci likened the Wednesday’s findings to the 1986 discovery that the antiretroviral drug azidothymidine, or AZT, could suppress the HIV virus in patients with AIDS. That development of that drug “marked the beginning of a turnaround that transformed HIV infection from a death sentence into a manageable chronic health condition.”

With a vaccine still likely at least a year to 18 months away, finding an effective treatment for COVID-19 will be pivotal for reducing the potential strain on the hospital system during future surges, as well as potentially easing distancing restrictions. (“The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand” is one of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s six indicators for modifying the stay-at-home order in California.)

One way to wrap your head around how large the potential impact of remdesivir could be — and the weight of the expectations around it — is to look to the global financial markets. Despite a government report released Wednesday showing that the U.S. GDP in the first quarter of 2020 fell at a faster rate than any time since the Great Recession, stocks still rose around the world, with the still very early findings about remdesivir injecting a surge of optimism into markets.

But as Dr. Aneesh Mehta, an infectious diseases expert leading the trial at Emory University, stated, “It is very important to understand remdesivir and antivirals in general are not silver bullets.”


What is remdesivir?

Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral drug created by the California-based biotech company Gilead Sciences Inc. It was previously looked at as a potential therapy to treat Ebola, but it never entered full-scale production since it was less effective than other medications studied for that use.

But, as Melissa noted in her story, the new findings “are set against a backdrop of considerable uncertainty about remdesivir’s effectiveness.” The results of early studies have been promising, but mixed, and a separate study in China found that the drug appeared to make no significant difference in how sick patients became or how quickly they recovered.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Gov. Newsom may close beaches throughout the state to slow the spread of the coronavirus. A memo sent to California police chiefs said the governor intends to make the announcement Thursday. A law enforcement source confirmed to The Times that authorities were briefed on the plans and that might also include closure of some parks. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday that all L.A. County residents — even those without symptoms — can now get free coronavirus testing at city-run sites. Until now, only residents with symptoms as well as essential workers and those in institutional settings like nursing homes could be tested. Under the new guidelines, priority for the same- or next-day testing will still be given to people with symptoms and certain critical frontline workers who interact with the public. Los Angeles Times

Some scientists say our poop could be the key to determining when a community might consider easing health restrictions. From Stanford to the University of Arizona, from Australia to Paris, teams of researchers have been ramping up wastewater analyses to track the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Initial studies show that sewage monitoring, or “wastewater-based-epidemiology,” could not only tell us how much the virus might actually be spreading in a community — but also when the virus has finally gone away. Los Angeles Times


Dirty money is piling up in L.A. as the coronavirus cripples international money laundering. Los Angeles Times

An L.A. city councilman has proposed a ban on storage-unit evictions amid the coronavirus outbreak. Councilman David Ryu’s proposal, if adopted, would temporarily prevent storage companies within the city from putting units up for auction — a common practice that can happen within a few weeks of late payment — or throwing away the items inside. Los Angeles Times

The sale of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza to a local developer may bring offices, not housing, to the mall. The 869,000-square-foot mall with a Cinemark movie theater has been mostly closed since March because of the pandemic, but the struggling center had previously lost anchors Walmart and Sears, which together occupied about a third of the mall’s total space. Los Angeles Times

Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall in 2017
The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall in Los Angeles as seen from the intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards in 2017.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

What will a post-pandemic Hollywood look like? In this series, our entertainment reporters tackled a number of topics, from how movie theaters will make customers feel safe to how documentaries are still being made even though film production is shut down. Los Angeles Times

Netflix is making a comedy show set during the coronavirus pandemic. “Social Distance,” an upcoming anthology series from “Orange Is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan, will feature actors filming themselves in their homes while under quarantine. Los Angeles Times

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Six San Francisco Bay Area counties will allow all construction projects, real estate transactions and certain outdoor businesses to resume operations with certain conditions on Monday, while also largely retaining other stay-at-home restrictions through the month of May intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times

Tulare County’s largest school district will soon become one of the region’s biggest internet service providers. Visalia’s school district will bring high-speed internet to thousands of homes in an effort to close the digital divide that has prevented many San Joaquin Valley residents from accessing online learning materials. Visalia Times-Delta


Nearly half of the inmates at the federal prison at Terminal Island in San Pedro have tested positive for the coronavirus in what has become the nation’s worst outbreak in a federal penitentiary. Los Angeles Times


Fires are coming. But PG&E and some cities are holding up battery backups. Los Angeles Times

What science can tell us about the psychological impacts of coronavirus isolation: Research suggests that people forced to live in quarantine conditions face a greater risk of anxiety, depression, anger, irritability, insomnia and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Los Angeles Times


A family of strawberry growers had big dreams. Then came the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

The three L.A. sisters who make up the band Haim have dropped a new single, and they talked about life under quarantine with pop music critic Mikael Wood. Los Angeles Times

The COVID-19 crisis through the eyes of Central Valley teens: A high school teacher in Turlock asked her students to capture photos of what the stay-at-home orders look like to them. Turlock Journal


Craving a California road trip? These fourth-graders have you covered. Los Angeles Times

Three Cane Corso dogs were saved after roaming Angeles National Forest for weeks: Over the last few weeks, a dedicated group of people — volunteers from the Simi Valley-based Dog Days Search & Rescue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and the Sheriff Department’s Montrose Search and Rescue Team — came together to save three abandoned Cane Corsos that were seen wandering on Angeles Crest Highway. Los Angeles Times

In need of something sweet? Here are 11 easy desserts to make during quarantine. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Thursday: “Chaplinesque” by Hart Crane. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 80. San Diego: partly sunny, 71. San Francisco: windy, 64. San Jose: sunny, 75. Fresno: windy, 89. Sacramento: sunny, 84. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Edward Mitchell:

I lived in Fallbrook in San Diego County when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and everyone that lived there was a hardscrabble avocado or lemon farmer barely making a living, if they were not already off to war. I had a horse and I could ride her through avocado groves, across people’s yards or anywhere else to get where I was going. In those days we never followed the roads. Nobody cared and sometimes they would come out to yell hello even if I didn’t know them. Shortly after the war, wealthy city folks like doctors, lawyers and airline pilots moved to Fallbrook and bought existing groves. They brought their city outlook with them, which was, ‘This property is mine and you can’t tread on it.’ So if I rode the same path that I did a few years earlier, they would come out and yell at me and tell me to get off their property or they would call the cops and have me arrested. There were many changes that were positive then, but that was not one of them.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.