With bubble-enclosed Santas and Zoom-enhanced family gatherings, much of the United States played it safe over Christmas while the coronavirus rampaged across the country.
But a significant number of Americans traveled, and uncounted gatherings took place, as they will over the New Year holiday.
And that, according to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, could mean new spikes in cases, on top of the existing surge.
“We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Year’s — surge,” Dr. Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We’re really at a very critical point,” he said. “If you put more pressure on the system by what might be a post-seasonal surge because of the traveling and the likely congregating of people for, you know, the good warm purposes of being together for the holidays, it’s very tough for people to not do that.”
On “Fox News Sunday,” Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the administration’s testing coordinator, noted that Thanksgiving travel did not lead to an increase of cases in all places, which suggested that many people heeded recommendations to wear masks and limit the size of gatherings.
“It really depends on what the travelers do when they get where they’re going,” Admiral Giroir said. “We know the actual physical act of traveling in airplanes, for example, can be quite safe because of the air purification systems. What we really worry about is the mingling of different bubbles once you get to your destination.”
Still, U.S. case numbers are about as high as they have ever been. Total infections surpassed 19 million on Saturday, meaning that at least 1 in 17 people have contracted the virus over the course of the pandemic. And the virus has killed more than 332,000 people — one in every thousand in the country.
Two of the year’s worst days for deaths have been during the past week. A number of states set death records on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23, including Alabama, Wisconsin, Arizona and West Virginia, according to The Times’s data.
And hospitalizations are hovering at a pandemic height of about 120,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Against that backdrop, millions of people in the United States have been traveling, though many fewer than usual.
About 3.8 million people passed through Transportation Safety Administration travel checkpoints between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, compared with 9.5 million on those days last year. Only a quarter of the number who flew on the day after Christmas last year did so on Friday, and Christmas Eve travel was down by one-third from 2019.
And AAA’s forecast that more than 81 million Americans would travel by car for the holiday period, from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, which would be about one-third fewer than last year.
For now, the U.S. is no longer seeing overall explosive growth, although California’s worsening outbreak has canceled out progress in other parts of the country. The state has added more than 300,000 cases in the seven-day period ending Dec. 22. And six Southern states have seen sustained case increases in the last week: Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.
Holiday reporting anomalies may obscure any post-Christmas spike until the second week of January. Testing was expected to decrease around Christmas and New Year’s, and many states said they would not report data on certain days.
On Christmas Day, numbers for new infections, 91,922, and deaths, 1,129, were significantly lower than the seven-day averages. But on Saturday, new infections jumped past 225,800 new cases and deaths rose past 1,640, an expected increase over Friday as some states reported numbers for two days post-Christmas.
Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package and $1.4 trillion government funding deal with several healthcare provisions, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Here are seven things to know about the relief aid and funding deal:
1. Congressional leaders have yet to release text of the COVID-19 legislation, but have shared a few key details on the measure, according to CNBC.Becker’s breaks down the information that has been released thus far.
2. The COVID-19 package includes $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, about $9 billion for vaccine distribution and about $22 billion to help states with testing, tracing and other COVID-19 mitigation programs, according to Politico.
3. Lawmakers are also expected to include a provision changing how providers can use their relief grants. In particular, the bill is expected to allow hospitals to calculate lost revenue by comparing budgeted revenue for 2020. Hospitals have said this tweak will allow them to keep more funding.
4. The agreement also allocates $284 billion for a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
5. The COVID-19 relief bill also provides$600 stimulus checks to Americans earning up to $75,000 per year and $600 for their children, according to NBC. It also provides a supplemental $300 per week in unemployment benefits.
6. The year-end spending bill includes a measure to ban surprise billing. Under the measure, hospitals and physicians would be banned from charging patients out-of-network costs their insurers would not cover. Instead, patients would only be required to pay their in-network cost-sharing amount when they see an out-of-network provider, according to The Hill.The agreement gives insurers 30 days to negotiate a payment on the outstanding bill. After that period, they can enter into arbitration to gain higher reimbursement.
7. Lawmakers plan to pass the relief bill and federal spending bill Dec. 21.
A Florida taxi driver and his wife had seen enough conspiracy theories online to believe the virus was overblown, maybe even a hoax. So no masks for them. Then they got sick. She died. A college lecturer had trouble refilling her lupus drug after the president promoted it as a treatment for the new disease. A hospital nurse broke down when an ICU patient insisted his illness was nothing worse than the flu, oblivious to the silence in beds next door.
Lies infected America in 2020. The very worst were not just damaging, but deadly.
President Donald J. Trump fueled confusion and conspiracies from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. He embraced theories that COVID-19 accounted for only a small fraction of the thousands upon thousands of deaths. He undermined public health guidance for wearing masks and cast Dr. Anthony Fauci as an unreliable flip-flopper.
But the infodemic was not the work of a single person.
Anonymous bad actors offered up junk science. Online skeptics made bogus accusations that hospitals padded their coronavirus case numbers to generate bonus payments. Influential TV and radio opinion hosts told millions of viewers that social distancing was a joke and that states had all of the personal protective equipment they needed (when they didn’t).
It was a symphony of counter narrative, and Trump was the conductor, if not the composer. The message: The threat to your health was overhyped to hurt the political fortunes of the president.
Every year, PolitiFact editors review the year’s most inaccurate statements to elevate one as the Lie of the Year. The “award” goes to a statement, or a collection of claims, that prove to be of substantive consequence in undermining reality.
It has become harder and harder to choose when cynical pundits and politicians don’t pay much of a price for saying things that aren’t true. For the past month, unproven claims of massive election fraud have tested democratic institutions and certainly qualify as historic and dangerously bald-faced. Fortunately, the constitutional foundations that undergird American democracy are holding.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus has killed more than 300,000 in the United States, a crisis exacerbated by the reckless spread of falsehoods.
PolitiFact’s 2020 Lie of the Year: claims that deny, downplay or disinform about COVID-19.
‘I always wanted to play it down’
On Feb. 7, Trump leveled with book author Bob Woodward about the dangers of the new virus that was spreading across the world, originating in central China. He told the legendary reporter that the virus was airborne, tricky and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
Trump told the public something else. OnFeb. 26, the president appeared with his coronavirus task force in the crowded White House briefing room. A reporter asked if he was telling healthy Americans not to change their behavior.
“Wash your hands, stay clean. You don’t have to necessarily grab every handrail unless you have to,” he said, the room chuckling. “I mean, view this the same as the flu.”
Three weeks later, March 19, he acknowledged to Woodward: “To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down. Because I don’t want to create a panic.”
His acolytes in politics and the media were on the same page. Rush Limbaugh told his audience of about 15 million on Feb. 24 that coronavirus was being weaponized against Trump when it was just “the common cold, folks.” That’s wrong — even in the early weeks, it was clear the virus had a higher fatality rate than the common cold, with worse potential side effects, too.
As the virus was spreading, so was the message to downplay it.
“There are lots of sources of misinformation, and there are lots of elected officials besides Trump that have not taken the virus seriously or promoted misinformation,” said Brendan Nyhan, a government professor at Dartmouth College. “It’s not solely a Trump story — and it’s important to not take everyone else’s role out of the narrative.”
The skeptics cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data to claim that only 6% of COVID-19 deaths could actually be attributed to the virus. On Aug. 24, BlazeTV host Steve Deace amplified it on Facebook.
“Here’s the percentage of people who died OF or FROM Covid with no underlying comorbidity,” he said to his 120,000 followers. “According to CDC, that is just 6% of the deaths WITH Covid so far.”
That misrepresented the reality of coronavirus deaths. The CDC had always said people with underlying health problems — comorbidities — were most vulnerable if they caught COVID-19. The report was noting that 6% died even without being at obvious risk.
But for those skeptical of COVID-19, the narrative confirmed their beliefs. Facebook users copied and pasted language from influencers like Amiri King, who had 2.2 million Facebook followers before he was banned. The Gateway Pundit called it a “SHOCK REPORT.”
“I saw a statistic come out the other day, talking about only 6% of the people actually died from COVID, which is very interesting — that they died from other reasons,” Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Sept. 1.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the claim on “Good Morning America” the same day.
“The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of them had nothing else but just COVID,” he said. “That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19 — they did.”
False information moved between social media, Trump and TV, creating its own feedback loop.
“It’s an echo effect of sorts, where Donald Trump is certainly looking for information that resonates with his audiences and that supports his political objectives. And his audiences are looking to be amplified, so they’re incentivized to get him their information,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor and misinformation expert at the University of Washington.Weakening the armor: misleading on masks
At the start of the pandemic, the CDC told healthy people not to wear masks, saying they were needed for health care providers on the frontlines. But on April 3 the agency changed its guidelines, saying every American should wear non-medical cloth masks in public.
Trump announced the CDC’s guidance, then gutted it.
“So it’s voluntary. You don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time, but this is voluntary,” Trump said at a press briefing. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”
Rather than an advance in best practices on coronavirus prevention, face masks turned into a dividing line between Trump’s political calculations and his decision-making as president. Americans didn’t see Trump wearing a mask until a July visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
In September, the CDC reported a correlation between people who went to bars and restaurants, where masks can’t consistently be worn, and positive COVID-19 test results. Bloggers and skeptical news outlets countered with a misleading report about masks.
On Oct. 13, the story landed on Fox News’ flagship show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” During the show, Carlson claimed “almost everyone — 85% — who got the coronavirus in July was wearing a mask.”
“So clearly (wearing a mask) doesn’t work the way they tell us it works,” Carlson said.
That’s wrong, and it misrepresented a small sample of people who tested positive. Public health officials and infectious disease experts have been consistent since April in saying that face masks are among the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But two days later, Trump repeated the 85% stat during a rally and at a town hall with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.
“I tell people, wear masks,” he said at the town hall. “But just the other day, they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it.”
The assault on hospitals
On March 24, registered nurse Melissa Steiner worked her first shift in the new COVID-19 ICU of her southeast Michigan hospital. After her 13-hour day caring for two critically ill patients on ventilators, she posted a tearful video.
“Honestly, guys, it felt like I was working in a war zone,” Steiner said. “(I was) completely isolated from my team members, limited resources, limited supplies, limited responses from physicians because they’re just as overwhelmed.”
“I’m already breaking, so for f—’s sake, people, please take this seriously. This is so bad.”
Steiner’s post was one of manyemotionalpleas offered by overwhelmed hospital workers last spring urging people to take the threat seriously. The denialists mounted a counter offensive.
On March 28, Todd Starnes, a conservative radio host and commentator, tweeted a video from outside Brooklyn Hospital Center. There were few people or cars in sight.
“This is the ‘war zone’ outside the hospital in my Brooklyn neighborhood,” Starnes said sarcastically. The video racked up more than 1.5 million views.
Starnes’ video was one of the first examples of #FilmYourHospital, a conspiratorial social media trend that pushed back on the idea that hospitals had been strained by a rapid influx of coronavirus patients.
Several internet personalities asked people to go out and shoot their own videos. The result: a series of user-generated clips taken outside hospitals, where the response to the pandemic was not easily seen. Over the course of a week, #FilmYourHospital videos were uploaded to YouTube and posted tens of thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook.
Nearly two weeks and more than 10,000 deaths later, Fox News featured a guest who opened a new misinformation assault on hospitals.
Dr. Scott Jensen, a Minnesota physician and Republican state senator, told Ingraham that, because hospitals were receiving more money for COVID-19 patients on Medicare — a result of a coronavirus stimulus bill — they were overcounting COVID-19 cases. He had no proof of fraud, but the cynical story took off.
Trump used the false report on the campaign trail to continue to minimize the death toll.
“Our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Waterford, Mich., Oct. 30. “You know that, right? I mean, our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, everybody dies of COVID.’”
The real fake news: The Plandemic
The most viral disinformation of the pandemic was styled to look like it had the blessing of people Americans trust: scientists and doctors.
In a 26-minute video called “Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind COVID-19,” a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute claimed that the virus was manipulated in a lab, hydroxychloroquine is effective against coronaviruses, and face masks make people sick.
Judy Mikovits’ conspiracies received more than 8 million views in May thanks in part to the online outrage machine — anti-vaccine activists, anti-lockdown groups and QAnon supporters — that push disinformation into the mainstream. The video was circulated in a coordinated effort to promote Mikovits’ book release.
A couple of months later, a similar effort propelled another video of fact-averse doctors to millions of people in only a few hours.
On July 27, Breitbart publisheda clipof a press conference hosted by a group called America’s Frontline Doctors in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Looking authoritative in white lab coats, these doctors discouraged mask wearing and falsely said there was already a cure in hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Trump, who had been talking up the drug since March and claimed to be taking it himself as a preventive measure in May, retweeted clips of the event before Twitter removed them as misinformation about COVID-19. He defended the “very respected doctors” in a July 28 press conference.
When Olga Lucia Torres, a lecturer at Columbia University, heard Trump touting the drug in March, she knew it didn’t bode well for her own prescription. Sure enough, the misinformation led to a run on hydroxychloroquine, creating a shortage for Americans like her who needed the drug for chronic conditions.
A lupus patient, she went to her local pharmacy to request a 90-day supply of the medication. But she was told they were only granting partial refills. It took her three weeks to get her medication through the mail.
“What about all the people who were silenced and just lost access to their staple medication because people ran to their doctors and begged to take it?” Torres said.No sickbed conversion
On Sept. 26, Trump hosted a Rose Garden ceremony to announce his nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. More than 150 people attended the event introducing Amy Coney Barrett. Few wore masks, and the chairs weren’t spaced out.
In the weeks after, more than two dozen people close to Trump and the White House became infected with COVID-19. Early Oct. 2, Trump announced his positive test.
Those hoping the experience and Trump’s successful treatment at Walter Reed might inform his view of the coronavirus were disappointed.
Trump snapped back into minimizing the threat during his first moments back at the White House. He yanked off his mask and recorded a video.
“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it,” he said, describing experimental and out-of-reach therapies he received. “You’re going to beat it.”
In Trump’s telling, his hospitalization was not the product of poor judgment about large gatherings like the Rose Garden event, but the consequence of leading with bravery. Plus, now, he claimed, he was immune from the virus.
On the morning after he returned from Walter Reed, Trump tweeted a seasonal flu death count of 100,000 lives and added that COVID-19 was “far less lethal” for most populations. More false claims at odds with data — the U.S. average for flu deaths over the past decade is 36,000, and experts said COVID-19 is more deadly for each age group over 30.
When Trump left the hospital, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 was more than 200,000. Today it is more than 300,000. Meanwhile, this month the president has gone ahead with a series of indoor holiday parties.
The vaccine war
The vaccine disinformation campaign started in the spring but is still underway.
In April, blogs and social media users falsely claimed Democrats and powerful figures like Bill Gates wanted to use microchips to track which Americans had been vaccinated for the coronavirus. Now, false claims are taking aim at vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and other companies.
A blogger claimed Pfizer’s head of research said the coronavirus vaccine could cause female infertility. That’s false.
An alternative health website wrote that the vaccine could cause an array of life-threatening side effects, and that the FDA knew about it. The list included all possible — not confirmed— side effects.
Social media users speculated that the federal government would force Americans to receive the vaccine. Neither Trump nor President-elect Joe Biden has advocated for that, and the federal government doesn’t have the power to mandate vaccines, anyway.
As is often the case with disinformation, the strategy is to deliver it with a charade of certainty.
“People are anxious and scared right now,” said Dr. Seema Yasmin, director of research and education programs at the Stanford Health Communication Initiative. “They’re looking for a whole picture.”
Most polls have shown far from universal acceptance of vaccines, with only 50% to 70% of respondents willing to take the vaccine. Black and Hispanic Americans are even less likely to take it so far.
Meanwhile, the future course of the coronavirus in the U.S. depends on whether Americans take public health guidance to heart. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected that, without mask mandates or a rapid vaccine rollout, the death toll could rise to more than 500,000 by April 2021.
“How can we come to terms with all that when people are living in separate informational realities?” Starbird said.
The first confirmed coronavirus case in the U.S. was reported on Jan. 19 in a Washington man after returning from Wuhan, China, where the first outbreak of COVID-19 occurred.
Now, data from a new government study paints a different picture — the coronavirus may have been silently spreading in America as early as December 2019.
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected 7,389 blood samples from routine donations to the American Red Cross between Dec. 13, 2019 and Jan. 17, 2020.
Of the samples, 106 contained coronavirus antibodies, suggesting those individuals’ immune systems battled COVID-19 at some point.
A total of 39 donations carrying coronavirus antibodies came from residents in the western states of California, Oregon and Washington and 67 samples from the more eastern states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
The study, published Monday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, adds to growing evidence that the coronavirus had been spreading right under our noses long before testing could confirm it.
“The presence of these serum antibodies indicate that isolated SARS-CoV-2 infections may have occurred in the western portion of the United States earlier than previously recognized or that a small portion of the population may have pre-existing antibodies that bind SARS-CoV-2,” the study reads.
However, the researchers say “widespread community transmission was not likely until late February.”
Some of these early infections may have gone unnoticed because patients with mild or asymptomatic cases may not have sought medical care at the time, the researchers explain in the study. Sick patients with symptoms who did visit a doctor may not have had a respiratory sample collected, so appropriate testing may not have been conducted.
But the researchers wonder if the detection of antibodies in these patient samples really does indicate a past coronavirus infection, and not of another pathogen in the coronavirus family, such as the common cold.
Scientists behind the finding say this “memory” of viruses past could explain why some people are only slightly affected by COVID-19, while others get severely sick.
The researchers call this phenomenon “cross reactivity,” but they note it’s just one of several limitations to their study. The team also said they can’t tell if the COVID-19 cases were community- or travel-associated and that none of the antibody results can be considered “true positives.”
“A true positive would only be collected from an individual with a positive molecular diagnostic test,” the researchers wrote in the study.
The first two cases — with known travel to China — in France were reported Jan. 24, but after testing frozen samples from earlier patient records, doctors realized a man with no recent travel had the coronavirus in December.
The United States recorded 90,481 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 Nov. 26, marking the 17th consecutive day of record hospitalizations and the first time the daily count topped 90,000, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The Project has noted that several data points will likely “wobble” over the next several days due to the Thanksgiving holiday, which may cause data points for COVID-19 testing, new cases and deaths to flatten or drop for several days before spiking. It is unlikely that Thanksgiving infections will be clearly visible in official case data until at least the second week of December.
However, the Project’s staff has noted that the new admissions metric in the public hospitalization dataset from HHS shows only moderate volatility and will likely be an additional source of useful data through the expected holiday dip and subsequent spike in test, case and death data.
“If you’re a reporter covering COVID-19, we recommend focusing on current hospitalizations and new admissions as the most reliable indicator of what is actually happening in your area and in the country as a whole,” reads the Nov. 24 blog from The COVID Tracking Project.
On her day off not long ago, emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval sat with her husband and watched her favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. She’s off every other Sunday, and even during the coronavirus pandemic, this is something of a ritual. Jane and Carlos watch, cheer, yell — just one couple’s method of escape.
“It makes people feel normal,” she says.
For Sandoval, though, it has become more and more difficult to enjoy as the season — and the pandemic — wears on. Early in the season, the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan was one of five coaches fined for violating the league’s requirement that all sideline personnel wear face coverings. Jane noticed, even as coronavirus cases surged again in California and across the United States, that Levi’s Stadium was considering admitting fans to watch games.
But the hardest thing to ignore, Sandoval says, is that when it comes to coronavirus testing, this is a nation of haves and have-nots.
Among the haves are professional and college athletes, in particular those who play football. From Nov. 8 to 14, the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees. Major college football programs supply dozens of tests each day, an attempt — futile as it has been — to maintain health and prevent schedule interruptions. Major League Soccer administered nearly 5,000 tests last week, and Major League Baseball conducted some 170,000 tests during its truncated season.
Sandoval, meanwhile, is a 58-year-old front-line worker who regularly treats patients either suspected or confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus. In eight months, she has never been tested. She says her employer, California Pacific Medical Center, refuses to provide testing for its medical staff even after possible exposure.
Watching sports, then, no longer represents an escape from reality for Sandoval. Instead, she says, it’s a signal of what the nation prioritizes.
“There’s an endless supply in the sports world,” she says of coronavirus tests. “You’re throwing your arms up. I like sports as much as the next person. But the disparity between who gets tested and who doesn’t, it doesn’t make any sense.”
This month, registered nurses gathered in Los Angeles to protest the fact that UCLA’s athletic department conducted 1,248 tests in a single week while health-care workers at UCLA hospitals were denied testing. Last week National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, released the results of a survey of more than 15,000 members. About two-thirds reported they had never been tested.
Since August, when NFL training camps opened, the nation’s most popular and powerful sports league — one that generates more than $15 billion in annual revenue — has conducted roughly 645,000 coronavirus tests.
“These athletes and teams have a stockpile of covid testing, enough to test them at will,” says Michelle Gutierrez Vo, another registered nurse and sports fan in California. “And it’s painful to watch. It seemed like nobody else mattered or their lives are more important than ours.”
Months into the pandemic, and with vaccines nearing distribution, testing in the United States remains something of a luxury. Testing sites are crowded, and some patients still report waiting days for results. Sandoval said nurses who suspect they’ve been exposed are expected to seek out a testing site on their own, at their expense, and take unpaid time while they wait for results — in effect choosing between their paycheck and their health and potentially that of others.
“The current [presidential] administration did not focus on tests and instead focused on the vaccine,” says Mara Aspinall, a professor of biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University. “We should have focused with the same kind of ‘warp speed’ on testing. Would we still have needed a vaccine? Yes, but we would’ve saved more lives in that process and given more confidence to people to go to work.”
After a four-month shutdown amid the pandemic’s opening wave, professional sports returned in July. More than just a contest on television, it was, in a most unusual year, a symbol of comfort and routine. But as the sports calendar has advanced and dramatic adjustments have been made, it has become nearly impossible to ignore how different everything looks, sounds and feels.
Stadiums are empty, or mostly empty, while some sports have bubbles and others just pretend their spheres are impermeable. Coaches stand on the sideline with fogged-up face shields; rosters and schedules are constantly reshuffled. On Saturday, the college football game between Clemson and Florida State was called off three hours before kickoff. Dodger Stadium, home of the World Series champions, is a massive testing site, with lines of cars snaking across the parking lot.
Sports, in other words, aren’t a distraction from a polarized nation and its response to a global pandemic. They have become a constant reminder of them.And when some nurses turn to sports for an attempt at escape, instead it’s just one more image of who gets priority for tests and, often, who does not.
“There is a disconnect when you watch sports now. It’s not the same. Covid changed everything,” says Gutierrez Vo, who works for Kaiser Permanente in Fremont, Calif. “I try not to think about it.”
Sandoval tries the same, telling herself that watching a game is among the few things that make it feel like February again. Back then, the coronavirus was a distant threat and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl.
That night, Sandoval had a shift in the ER, and between patients, she would duck into the break room or huddle next to a colleague checking the score on the phone. The 49ers were playing the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sandoval would recall that her favorite team blowing a double-digit lead represented the mightiest stress that day.
Now during shifts, Sandoval sometimes argues with patients who insist the virus that has infected them is a media-driven hoax. She masks up and wears a face shield even if a patient hasn’t been confirmed with the coronavirus, though she can’t help second-guessing herself.
“Did I wash my hands? Did I touch my glasses? Was I extra careful?” she says.
If Sandoval suspects she has been exposed, she says, she doesn’t bother requesting a test. She says the hospital will say there aren’t enough. So instead she self-monitors and loads up on vitamin C and zinc, hoping the tickle in her throat disappears. If symptoms persist, which she says hasn’t happened yet, she plans to locate a testing site on her own. But that would mean taking unpaid time, paying for costs out of pocket and staying home — and forfeiting a paycheck — until results arrive.
National Nurses United says some of its members are being told to report to work anyway as they wait for results that can take three to five days. Sutter Health, the hospital system that oversees California Pacific Medical Center, said in a statement to The Washington Post that it offers tests to employees whose exposure is deemed high-risk and to any employee experiencing symptoms. Symptomatic employees are placed on paid leave while awaiting test results, according to the statement.
“As long as an essential healthcare worker is asymptomatic,” Sutter’s statement read, “they can continue to work and self-monitor while awaiting the test result.”
Sandoval said employees have been told the hospital’s employee health division will contact anyone who has been exposed. Though she believes she’s exposed during every shift, Sandoval says employee health has never contacted her to offer a test or conduct contact tracing.
“If you feel like you need to get tested, you do that on your own,” she says. Sandoval suspects the imbalance is economic. In September, Forbes reported NFL team revenue was up 7 percent despite the pandemic. Last week Sutter Health reported a $607 million loss through the first nine months of 2020.
Sandoval tries to avoid thinking about that, so she keeps heading back to work and hoping for the best. Though she says her passion for sports is less intense now, she nonetheless likes to talk sports when a patient wears a team logo. She asks about a star player or a recent game. She says she is looking forward to the 49ers’ next contest and the 2021 baseball season.
Sometimes, Sandoval says, patients ask about her job and the ways she avoids contracting the coronavirus. She must be tested most every day, Sandoval says the patients always say.
And she just rolls her eyes and chuckles. That, she says, only happens if you’re an athlete.
Sanford Health’s CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft is leaving the top exec role after almost 25 years, according to a Tuesday announcement from the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based system, following controversial statements the outgoing CEO made about mask wearing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Krabbenhoft, who has served as CEO since 1996, sent an internal memo to Sanford’s 50,000 employees on Wednesday arguing wearing a mask would defeat its purpose, as he’d already contracted COVID-19 and was therefore immune for at least seven months, as first reported by Forum News Service.
Experts dispute, however, that people previously infected with the novel coronavirus are entirely immune, as the data is not yet definitive. Other Sanford executives sent an email to employees Friday recommending mask wearing and contradicting Krabbenhoft’s claims.
On the heels of the news, Sanford’s board of trustees and Krabbenhoft have now “mutually agreed to part ways,” according to the release. The turnover comes at an acutely crucial time for the major Midwest health system, as it signed a letter of intent last month to merge with Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare.
If the deal closes, the two would operate 70 hospitals and 435 clinics — many of which will be located in rural communities across the country — and insure 1.1 million people. The merger would form one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems with more than $13 billion in combined annual revenue. It’s expected to close in 2021, pending regulatory approvals.
While Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison is slated to lead the combined organization, Krabbenhoft was poised to serve as president emeritus. It’s unclear what the plans are now after Krabbenhoft’s exit.
Sanford, which operates 46 hospitals in 26 states, did not reply to requests for comment by time of publication.
BLINKING RED: This is a critical week in the coronavirus pandemic. Economists are nervously watching as much of the nation experiences a worsening fall wave, with U.S. case counts near 200,000 a day and record hospitalizations in many parts of the country, my colleagues Paulina Firozi, Lena H. Sun and Hannah Knowles report.
Whether a crest arrives soon could largely be determined by the Thanksgiving holiday, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health experts warn against traveling and many of the once commonplace rituals of family gatherings.
Early data doesn’t look great:More than 1 million people went through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in the nation’s airports on Friday —that’s the second-highest single-day rush since March 16. Meanwhile, nearly 80 percent of epidemiologists surveyed recently by the New York Times said they were having Thanksgiving celebrations with people only in their households or not at all.
One bright spot: A third vaccine, made by AstraZeneca, is 90 percent effective if administered in two doses (a half-dose followed by a full-dose booster) and is easier to store than vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, my colleagues reported this morning.
“The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is likely to be cheaper than those made by Pfizer and Moderna, and it does not need to be stored at subzero temperatures but can be kept in ordinary refrigerators in pharmacies and doctor’s offices,” they wrote.
The frightening, post-election COVID surge is making everything feel strange, different and unsettled all over again.
Why it matters: With Thanksgiving canceled, doctors quitting their practices and grocers limiting purchase quantities (again), Americans have the ambient sense that our safety net is unraveling. Not only are things not returning to normal, they may not return to normal for a long time.
The people and institutions we look toward for guidance and leadership — like elected officials and medical authorities — seem as flummoxed by the pandemic as we are. They issue new rules day by day (closing schools, restricting shopping, issuing curfews), yet look helpless and flailing as infections rise.
Our comforting touch points, like family get-togethers and holiday rituals, are suddenly off-limits.
There are fewer entertainments and distractions, with movie theaters closed and our appetites for TV bingeing satiated a long time ago.
For those who derive comfort from their faith, remote worship offers less fulfillment.
Strangely, CEOs and corporate America have been serving as a rare anchor in this unmoored reality, attempting to provide some moral suasion and fueling the engine behind the stock market’s rally.
Companies like Pfizer and Moderna are looking like the heroes of the day — though their vaccines can’t come soon enough to allay our worst fears.
Meanwhile, the restaurateurs and merchants who form the pillars of our communities are suffering with growing intensity before our eyes.
Economically, the nation is heading into uncharted territory, with COVID-related uncertainty obliterating all forecast attempts.
While many Americans are doing fine financially, it’s hard not to think that a lot of people’s personal finances may be poised to head off a cliff — and the promise of federal help is looking questionable.
Politically, the standoff between President Trump and the rightfully elected new administration has left a vacuum.
By all accounts, the situation is thwarting efforts to attack the coronavirus.
Socially, we feel isolated and trapped in our pandemic ruts, not even permitted to savor the promise of holidays we’ve been looking forward to.
Doctors say pandemic-induced loneliness will shorten life expectancies.
Culturally and intellectually, the arts, concerts, films and literary output that we rely on to enhance our lives are dampened or depressed by pandemic strictures.
Emotionally, we worry about ourselves, our loved ones and all of our futures. How will the pandemic stunt my child’s education, my career trajectory, my experience of the world? And what if I get sick and there’s no hospital bed available?
“Thousands of medical practices have closed during the pandemic,”per the NYT.
What’s next: “Next Thanksgiving will be different,” Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday.
Americans who persevere through 2021 will, we can all hope, weather this turmoil and see flourishing times ahead.