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Opinion

Operating in crisis mode

James A. Hayward, CEO of Applied DNA Sciences,

James A. Hayward, CEO of Applied DNA Sciences, shown here in his Stony Brook lab, says the firm is working with Rome-based Takis Biotech on four potential vaccines. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Daily Point

Deadly serious mathematics

The coronavirus killed a reported 954 people across the nation Monday. It was almost certainly the third most common cause of death in the nation for that one day. Only heart disease (1,774) and cancer (1,641) take more lives in each 24-hour period, on average.

It’s a daunting statistic. And we are so far from the height of this pandemic, in New York and, later, the rest of the nation, that it suggests the death rate from this plague is going to be almost unthinkably disturbing. That same day, 332 lives were lost statewide, 15 in Nassau County and nine in Suffolk County.

The statistics were compiled by assistedlivingfacilities.org using information on causes of death from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and projections on coronavirus deaths from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the source of the federal government and the state of New York’s most frequently cited estimates.

At its peak, the coronavirus is expected to be the leading daily cause of death in the United States, according to the IMHE model. That projection estimates that the highest daily number of coronavirus fatalities will come on April 16, when 2,644 will pass away. That’s 50% more people than die from heart disease each day on average (1,774), and six times as many as are killed by accidents (466). 

If the final fatality numbers come in at the very low end of the current predictions, based on strong adherence to social-distancing guidelines and restrictions (100,000), the coronavirus will kill nearly twice as many Americans this year as the Vietnam War (58,000). If it comes in at the high end of those predictions (240,000), the coronavirus will kill twice as many Americans this year as died in World War I (116,000).

And then there are the worst-case projections shared in a White House news conference earlier this week. These numbers, projections of how many Americans could die if social-distancing and lockdown rules are not strictly adhered to, are so staggering that the comparisons they create are nearly incomprehensible. 

But they were relevant enough to be shared with the public by the federal government, perhaps in an attempt to encourage, or terrify the populace into, compliance.

The White House displayed models that showed a range of coronavirus fatalities from 1 million to 2.2 million if residents do not closely follow the guidelines. That would make the coronavirus by far the most deadly event in the history of the United States.

The Civil War, by comparison, is believed to have killed about 750,000 military members and civilians, while World War II killed 405,000 Americans.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Shifting gears

The region’s focus on biotechnology has perhaps never been more important than it is now. Several of Long Island’s smaller biotech companies have turned their attention to ways they can address the coronavirus pandemic. Some are looking at testing, or therapeutics, or vaccination. 

Then there’s Applied DNA Sciences in Stony Brook, which is working on testing, vaccination and the personal protective equipment supply chain. 

Chief executive James Hayward told The Point this week that about 75 percent of the company’s work now has become concentrated on the virus. 

Applied DNA has long focused on DNA manufacturing and technology that can help in pharmaceuticals, security and other fields. Now, it’s turning that expertise into efforts to develop a DNA-based vaccine that could allow a patient’s own body to manufacture the antigen to the virus. The company reported Thursday that it now has five vaccine candidates, all of which it’s producing in its Stony Brook facilities. 

The plan, Hayward told The Point, is to start preclinical animal testing in Italy later this month. Human testing could begin by the fall. 

Applied DNA also is designing a new coronavirus test that could detect as many as 74 mutations of the virus. It plans to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization, so the test can be up and running faster.

Beyond that, the company is creating a way to trace personal protective equipment, using a DNA tagging system it developed earlier for other products, to make sure it’s coming from high-quality, established manufacturers.

“Our goal was to contribute to the health and safety of our nation,” Hayward told The Point. “We knew immediately [our work] was directly relevant to this virus.”

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Escape plan

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Final Point

Doing whatever is necessary

As the number of coronavirus cases in Nassau and Suffolk counties continues to rise at a rapid clip, Northwell Health is trying to add beds to its system, increasing capacity by 60% — going beyond the state’s mandate of 50%. 

And Northwell is getting creative.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

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