Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines have become widely available across the United States, and states are hoping to return to business as usual. But what does returning to usual economic activity mean for hospitalizations and deaths while many are not still fully vaccinated? In a new IU study, done in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, researchers examined U.S. trends in COVID-19-associated hospitalizations and mortality rates before and after states re-opened their economies in summer 2020. Following a study of 47 states between April 16 and July 31, 2020, researchers found that the daily trend in hospitalizations increased following reopening – resulting in over 5,300 new people being hospitalized for COVID-19 each day. IUPUI economist Sumedha Gupta says one basic concern throughout the pandemic has always been about overwhelming the health care system, which is what we are continuing to see globally with new variants and surges. IU Bloomington health economist Kosali Simon says many policies put in place in spring 2020 were designed to flatten the curve and prevent hospitals and intensive care units from being overwhelmed. These policies, she says, were done in an effort to give everyone an equal chance of getting to the hospital and being treated. Gupta says understanding how economic re-openings impacted hospitalizations and mortality is crucial in helping guide future health policy as states make decisions on whether to open or close activities in response to this pandemic and future public health crises. Because hospitals are a scarce resource, Gupta says, they need to be used optimally in a pandemic environment.
In other news, scientists from the IU School of Medicine have created a new way to study how the retina transmits information to the brain, potentially providing a foundation to understand how our visual system develops and how its cells are damaged in diseases. The researchers used human stem cells to derive nerve cells of the retina and brain, and then assembled them to model the cellular makeup of the human visual system in a dish, demonstrating how multiple areas of the brain and different cell types interact. Much of their research investigated how retinal ganglion cells, which are the sole connection between the eye and the brain, extend into the brain and transmit visual information. If that connection becomes severed or damaged, it can result in vision loss and blindness. Jason Meyer, an associate professor of medical and molecular genetics at the IU School of Medicine, says it’s important to study how different components of the visual system develop and interact together. This study, Meyer says, will further research into how retinal ganglion cells are compromised in blinding diseases – like glaucoma, a degenerative disease estimated to affect 70 million people worldwide – potentially leading to the development of new therapeutic approaches.