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Stocking up for the next COVID surge

Merck Molnupiravir is an oral antiviral pill that can be taken at home to keep COVID-19 patients out of the hospital.
Merck & Co Inc.
Merck Molnupiravir is an oral antiviral pill that can be taken at home to keep COVID-19 patients out of the hospital.

With COVID-19 easing for the moment, doctors and hospitals are stocking up for the next surge with new tools to treat and care for the ill.

When COVID hit two years ago, doctors had no tools to identify and treat whatever it was that they were facing. There were no tests, no obvious drugs, no vaccinations. Infectious Disease expert Dr. John Crane said about all that was available was oxygen to help people breathe.

"If they had to come into the hospital and they needed supplemental oxygen, that's what we did," he said. "We did that for everybody and after a while they just said we don't need to keep calling Infectious Diseases to ask them, because this is all we have. When a specialist, it helps more if you have multiple different options that you have to choose from, with pluses and minuses."

As the pandemic battered the world, tests appeared, new drugs appeared and older drugs were repurposed for COVID care. Now there are also treatment pills diagnosed people can take and at-home tests to avoid the hospital and what have often been overflowing units.

Crane said there are still problems, like a shortage of a key chemical for virus testing.

"We can never get enough reagent," Crane said. "There's one that we use a lot, because it's a rapid test, but it's PCR. It's called LIAT, which stands for Laboratory In A Tube, and it tests for COVID Influenza A and Influenza B."

Crane, a professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo's Jacobs Medical School, said he is expecting another variant surge later this year and wants all the tools ready to deal with it.

"I hope that they keep building up the stockpile of these drugs — the oral as well as the IV, the monoclonal antibodies — so that we have them in case that there's more [cases]," he said. "I don't think anybody thinks that we've all seen the last of COVID or heard the last of COVID."

Being ready includes making sure there are enough masks, something which has been a chronic problem all during the pandemic.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.