Slow the spread, save the economy—mask up

3 agency entries for New York governor's mask PSA | Campaign US

If Americans don’t believe public health officials or medical researchers, perhaps they’ll believe Wall Street. A new analysis released by the investment bank Goldman Sachs this week argues that implementing a national mask-wearing mandate is “worth” about 5 percent of US gross domestic product (GDP). Performing a regression analysis of reported masking behavior among residents of states with state-level mandates, as well as infection rates following the mandate implementation, Goldman’s analysts found that mask mandates result in a 25 percent reduction in the growth rate of infections, as well as a decline in COVID fatalities.

The analysis estimates that implementing a national mandate would increase the percentage of people who wear masks by 15 percentage points, with larger impact in states that currently have low levels of mask compliance. Goldman Sachs had previously constructed an “effective lockdown index”, estimating that the coronavirus pandemic subtracted 17 percent from US GDP between January and April.

Given spikes in COVID infections across Sun Belt states, the analysis found that avoiding potential lockdowns by instead implementing a mask mandate could avoid a further 5 percent decrease in GDP. Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that the general public wear masks, and a growing body of scientific research indicates that masking significantly reduces the spread of COVID.

Now the bankers have weighed in. We don’t know who still needs to hear this, but please wear a mask when you’re out and about this holiday weekend. Please.




America celebrates a grim milestone

Epidemic vs. Pandemic, What Is the Difference Between an Epidemic ...


As the nation headed into the 4th of July weekend, the number of new COVID cases hit a string of daily highs, reaching a record high of more than 55,000 on Thursday. States across the South and Sunbelt, especially those that lifted stay-at-home orders early, saw the worst spikes.

Florida broke a new record with more than 10,000 cases on Thursday, and Georgia also experienced a new daily high. Hospitalizations continued to rise sharply in several states as well. Many hospitals reported a shift in COVID admissions toward younger, otherwise healthy adults, reports borne out by the lower death rate than that experienced in the initial surge of cases in the Northeast. (Advances in the management of severely ill COVID patients have also brought death rates down.)

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, top White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the US was “not in total control” of the pandemic, and predicted that daily new case counts could top 100,000 if more stringent measures are not taken.

California, Florida, and other states took steps to roll back reopening efforts, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott abruptly reversed direction and ordered a statewide mask mandate. Welcome news, but likely too late to prevent cities like Houston from exceeding available ICU capacity. Cases in the city have skyrocketed across the past month, with its positive test rate hitting 20 percent yesterday; its cancer and children’s hospitals began admitting COVID-positive adults to provide added capacity.

With celebrations scheduled across the nation this weekend, including another large event today at Mount Rushmore to be attended by President Trump, where masking and social distancing will be optional, it seems certain that we will continue to reap the whirlwind of careless behavior and hasty reopening for the rest of this month and beyond.

And looming in just six weeks—students return to schools and colleges.

US coronavirus update: 2.7M cases; 130K deaths; 33.5M tests conducted.




Flu vs. Covid-19 Death Rate, by age

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U.S. coronavirus cases rise by nearly 50,000 in biggest one-day spike of pandemic

Dr Fauci warns US could see 100,000 new coronavirus cases PER DAY ...

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rose by nearly 50,000 on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, marking the biggest one-day spike since the start of the pandemic.

The record follows a warning by the government’s top infectious diseases expert that the number could soon double to 100,000 cases a day if Americans do not come together to take steps necessary to halt the virus’ resurgent spread, such as wearing masks when unable to practice social distancing.

In the first week of June, the United States added about 22,000 new coronavirus cases each day. But as the month progressed, hotspots began to emerge across the Sun Belt. In the last seven days of June, daily new infections almost doubled to 42,000 nationally.

Brazil is the only other country to report more than 50,000 new cases in one day. The United States reported at least 49,286 cases on Tuesday.

More than half of new U.S. cases each day come from Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, home to 30% of the country’s population. All four states plus 10 others saw new cases more than double in June.

The daily increase in new cases could reach 100,000 unless a nationwide push was made to tamp down the fast-spreading virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday.

“We can’t just focus on those areas that are having the surge. It puts the entire country at risk,” Fauci said.

The rise in cases is not just the result of more testing. Hospitalizations are also skyrocketing.

Nationally, 7% of coronavirus diagnostic tests came back positive last week, up from 5% the prior week, according to a Reuters analysis. Arizona’s positivity test rate was 24% last week, Florida’s was 16%. Nevada, South Carolina and Texas were all 15%, according to the analysis.

(Open in an external browser for a Reuters interactive)

Some of the recent increase traces back to Memorial Day holiday celebrations in late May. Health experts are worried about Independence Day celebrations this weekend, when Americans traditionally flock to beaches and campgrounds to watch fireworks displays.



Quick Visual Summary of Covid-19 in the United States

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Cases skyrocketing among communities of color

Coronavirus cases skyrocketing among communities of color - Axios

Counties populated by larger numbers of people of color tend to have more coronavirus cases than those with higher shares of white people.

What we’re watching: As the outbreak worsens throughout the South and the West, caseloads are growing fastest in counties with large communities of color.

The big picture: The southern and southwestern parts of the U.S. — the new epicenters of the outbreak — have higher Black and Latino or Hispanic populations to begin with.

  • People of color have seen disproportionate rates of infection, hospitalization and death throughout the pandemic.

Between the lines: These inequities stem from pre-existing racial disparities throughout society, and have been exacerbated by the U.S. coronavirus response.

  • Black and Hispanic or Latino communities have had less access to diagnostic testing, and people of color are also more likely to be essential workers. That means the virus is able to enter and spread throughout a community without adequate detection, often with disastrous results.

The bottom line: Until we plug the huge holes in the American coronavirus response — like inadequate testing and contact tracing and a lack of protection for essential workers — people of color will continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Go deeper: People of color have less access to coronavirus testing




The lessons of California

California Coronavirus Map and Case Count - The New York Times

Although California appeared to be on track in March to become a coronavirus disaster, the state managed to turn things around — only to find cases skyrocketing three months later.

Between the lines: It’s obvious what caused the problem in states like Arizona, Texas and Florida, where the warnings of public health officials were largely disregarded. But in California, there’s not just one clear-cut explanation, the MIT Technology Review reports.

What happened:

  1. There are large ethnic disparities, with infections concentrated within low-income communities.
  2. People became lax about safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing.
  3. There’s a large number of prison cases.
  4. Some patients are coming from other places, including Mexico.

Yes, but: California avoided becoming a hotspot early on, but cases had been steadily rising long before they began rapidly spiking, as my colleagues Andrew Witherspoon and Sam Baker reported.



Six months in, coronavirus failures outweigh successes

Covid-19 news: UK deaths fall below five-year average | New Scientist

In the six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) detected a cluster of atypical pneumonia cases at a hospital in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus pandemic has touched every corner of the globe, carving a trail of death and despair as humankind races to catch up.

At least 10.4 million confirmed cases have been diagnosed worldwide, and the true toll is likely multiples of that figure. In the United States, health officials believe more than 20 million people have likely been infected.

A staggering 500,000 people around the globe have died in just six months. More people have succumbed to the virus in the U.S. — 126,000 — than the number of American troops who died in World War I.

But even after months of painful lockdowns worldwide, the virus is no closer to containment in many countries. Public health officials say the pandemic is getting worse, fueled by new victims in both nations that have robust medical systems and poorer developing countries.

“We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. “Globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up.”

In the U.S., the fierce urgency of March and April has given way to the complacency of summer, as bars and restaurants teem with young people who appear largely convinced the virus poses no threat to them. New outbreaks, especially among younger Americans, have forced 16 states to pause or roll back their reopening plans.

“This is a really challenging point in time. It’s challenging because people are tired of the restrictions on their activity, people are tired of not being able to socialize, not being able to go to work,” said Richard Besser, a former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who now heads the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“You have people who have reached that point of pandemic fatigue where they just don’t want to hear it anymore, they just want to go back to their life,” he added.

The number of new U.S. cases has risen sharply in recent weeks, led disproportionately by states in the South, the Midwest and the Sun Belt. More than a quarter-million people tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and more than 40,000 tested positive on three consecutive days over the weekend.

“We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

Public health experts now worry that a rising tide of death is about to crest across the United States. Officials in Alabama, Arizona, California, Mississippi and Texas are reporting a surging number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, leading to fears that health systems could soon be overrun.

“If you’re over the hospital capacity, people will start dying faster,” said Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

Already, Arizona has reported more coronavirus deaths per million residents in the last week, at 4.77, than any nation on Earth except Chile and Peru.

The response to the coronavirus pandemic has varied widely, and in some parts of the world, both wealthy and developing nations have brought it under control. In the U.S., some states hit hard early on have wrangled transmission under control.

But even in states that have achieved some measure of success, the spikes in cases stand in stark contrast to countries that have bent the epidemiological curves to manageable levels.

Mass screenings in South Korea crushed the spread, and quick action to identify and isolate contacts in more recent hot spots have meant new outbreaks are quickly contained. South Korea, with a population of 51 million, has reported just 316 new cases in the past week, fewer than the number of new cases reported in Rhode Island, a state with slightly more than 1 million residents.

Germany raced to protect its elderly population and rapidly expanded its hospital capacity. It deployed the world’s most successful diagnostics test, developed at a Berlin hospital, on a massive scale. With a population of 83 million, the country has reported 78 coronavirus deaths in the past week; Mississippi, population 3 million, reported 96 coronavirus-related deaths during the same period.

Vietnam imposed mandatory quarantines on contacts, including international travelers, in government-run centers to stop the spread. Among its 95 million residents, Vietnam has confirmed 355 total cases since the outbreak began. Alabama, population 4.9 million, reported 358 cases on Sunday alone.

Those countries have begun loosening restrictions on their populations and their economies, with few signs of major flare-ups.

The United States has begun to open up too but without bending the curve downward, and the results have been disastrous. The number of daily confirmed cases has more than doubled in nine states over the past two weeks and has increased by more than half in 17 more.

“I have really grave concerns that viral transmission is going to get out of control,” Besser said.

In interviews, public health experts and epidemiologists confess to feelings of depression and disgust over the state of the nation’s response. Some remain exasperated that there is still no coordinated national response from the White House or federal agencies.

President Trump has rarely mentioned the virus in recent weeks, aside from using racial epithets and suggesting his administration would slow testing to reduce the number of confirmed cases. He later said he was joking.

“There should be some sort of federal leadership,” Feigl-Ding said. “Every state’s on its own, for the most part.”

Left to their own devices, some states are trending in the right direction. Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and the District of Columbia have seen their case counts decline for two consecutive weeks or more. New York reported 4,591 new cases in the last week — a startlingly high figure but only a fraction of the 65,000 cases infecting the state during its worst week, in early April.

States with their numbers on the decline have benefited from fast action and strict measures. They’re also viewed as role models for states that are now experiencing surges.

“States who are now on the rapid upslope need to act quickly, take the advice and example of states that have already been through this,” said Abraar Karan, an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “We know what needs to be done to win this in the short run, and we are working on what needs to happen for the longer term.”

If there is a silver lining, it is that the number of tests American states are conducting on a daily basis has grown to about 600,000, on its way toward the millions the nation likely needs to fully control the spread.

But that silver lining frames a darkening cloud: As the virus spreads, even the higher testing capacity has been strained, and state and local governments are hitting their limits and running low on supplies.

The greater number of tests does not account for the speed of the spread, as Trump has suggested. The share of tests that come back positive has averaged almost 7 percent over the last week, according to The Hill’s analysis of national figures; in the first week of June, just 4.6 percent of tests were coming back positive.

If greater testing were responsible for more cases, the percentage coming back positive should decrease rather than increase. The higher positive rates are an indication the virus is spreading more rapidly.

As with so much else in American life, the coronavirus has become a political battleground. The new front is over face masks, which studies show dramatically reduce transmission. States that have mandated wearing masks in public saw the number of new cases decline by a quarter between the first and third weeks of June; states that do not require masks in any setting saw the number of cases rise by 84 percent over that same span.

“From a public health perspective, it’s demoralizing, it’s tragic … because our public health leaders know what to do to get this under control, but we’re in a situation where the CDC is not out front in a leadership role. We’re not hearing from them every day. They’re not explaining and capturing people’s hearts and minds,” said Besser, the former CDC chief. “If we have a vaccine, that will be terrific if it’s safe and effective. But until that point, these are the only tools we have, these tools of public health, and they’re very crude tools.”






In the Pandemic Era, Is It Safe to Go to Work?

In the Pandemic Era, Is It Safe to Go to Work?

Waiter serves meal to customers wearing PPE

A waiter wearing a face shield and mask to protect himself and others from the coronavirus serves diners at a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, on June 21, 2020. Photo: David Livingston / Getty Images

Stories that caught our attention.

It’s a scary thing to go back and know you have low immunity.

—Patti Hanks, Virginia furniture store worker

Twelve million adults who are not working live with those higher risks in households with at least one full-time worker, thereby exposing them indirectly to the infection risks of housemates doing customer-facing or other service jobs during a pandemic.

The ability to earn income from home is a privilege, and the “impossible choice between lives and livelihoods falls mainly to lower-wage workers in service industries,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman wrote in Axios. Here’s what it’s like to work in four jobs that require face-to-face interaction during the worsening COVID-19 crisis.

Patti Hanks, Virginia

Soon after finishing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, Patti Hanks had to go back to her job processing transactions at a furniture and appliance store in Virginia. She was nervous about returning to work during the pandemic, but she couldn’t afford to lose employer-sponsored health insurance.

“It’s a scary thing to go back and know you have low immunity,” Hanks, 62, told Sarah Kliff in the New York Times. “But when it all boils down to it, I don’t think COVID-19 is going away any time soon. I don’t think you can hide from it.”

Nearly 60% of Americans under 65 have employer health coverage, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. For people like Hanks, that makes work and health interdependent. Even without her furniture store job, she likely makes too much income from other sources (rental properties and raising cattle) to qualify for Medicaid.

So Hanks continues reporting to work. She wears a mask in the store, maintains distance from customers, and sanitizes shared objects like chairs and pens frequently. Still, there’s only so much she can control. The store has been busy since Virginia began lifting stay-at-home restrictions in May, and Hanks has assisted at least one customer who appeared to be unwell.

“You can’t crawl into a hole,” she told Kliff. “I think we’ve done everything we can to protect ourselves. . . . So I’ll just keep going.”

David Smith, Michigan

In normal times, David Smith, co-owner of the European-style eatery Café Muse in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, has one of his younger employees seat customers for dine-in service. But times are certainly not normal — nor are interactions with customers.

“I’ve been trying to do most of the seating, because it’s just really difficult when you have like an 18- or 19-year-old [employee] at the front having to enforce mask wearing,” he told Brenna Houck for her article in Eater Detroit.

The restaurant has been open for dine-in service for a only few weeks, and Smith has already had to call the police on an irate customer who refused to wear a mask when picking up a to-go order. Smith’s business partner, Greg Reyner, stepped in to ask the customer to wait for his food outside, and when the man refused, Reyner asked him to leave. The customer later called the restaurant and allegedly threatened the staff, leading Smith and Reyner to call the police.

The state of Michigan allowed restaurants and bars to reopen for indoor and outdoor dine-in service on June 8. Governor Gretchen Whitmer mandated that each customer must “wear a face covering over his or her nose and mouth . . . when in any enclosed public space, unless the individual is unable medically to tolerate a face covering.” Additionally, businesses are permitted to deny entry or access to anyone who refuses to comply with the mask rule.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy or pleasant to enforce the rule for the safety of staff and customers. “It is very upsetting,” Smith told Houck. “You’re shaking after having these conversations with people, because you just don’t know. What if someone got killed because they told [a customer] to wear a mask? You worry about it all the time.”

Amanda, Missouri

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are hot spots for COVID-19 cases. Amanda (who asked that her last name be withheld) is a receptionist at a nursing home in St. Louis, and the last few months have been extremely stressful as she and her colleagues work to keep the facility free of COVID-19.

“I can’t sleep nowadays because I dream about being the cause of people dying,” she told Vox’s Luke Winkie. “That’s a horrifying thought for me. I’ve written up my resignation several times. But I don’t have the heart to do it because they need me there.”

So far, the nursing home has not had any cases, and Amanda attributes this to the facility’s early adoption of safety precautions. In February, the administrators advised staff to use personal protective equipment at work, regularly disinfect surfaces, and shelter in place at home when they weren’t working. The facility stopped admitting visitors, and when families dropped off presents for Mother’s Day, staff put the presents on hold for 24 to 72 hours before giving them to the residents.

[My family and I] never even hugged one another when I went to the emergency department because I don’t want to infect them.

—Marcial Reyes, emergency room nurse

Amanda and her colleagues take precautions not only at work, but also at home. “I won’t let my kids see their friends,” she told Winkie. “A lot of people are letting their kids see other kids, but I nipped that in the bud right away. My colleagues have done the same.”

As states reopen, Amanda is increasingly worried about the health of senior citizens like the ones she cares for. “I believe that our government hasn’t done anything,” she said. “Why don’t we have rapid testing in our facility right now? They should be in every hospital, every nursing home, and they should continue to produce them until they’re in schools and courthouses.”

Marcial Reyes, California

Fourteen years ago, Marcial Reyes emigrated from the Philippines to the US on a work visa to become a nurse. He’s been a US citizen for eight years. He was working as an emergency room nurse in Fontana, California, when the COVID-19 crisis struck, Josie Huang reported in LAist.

Reyes knew he was at high risk of contracting the coronavirus. When he started experiencing shortness of breath, he quarantined himself on the first floor of his house, away from his wife Rowena, who is also a nurse, and their five-year-old son. But the symptoms kept getting worse, and eventually he drove himself to the hospital — to the same emergency room where he usually cares for patients.

His health deteriorated so rapidly over the next few days that his doctors put him in a medically induced coma and hooked him up to a ventilator for 10 days. “[My family and I] never even hugged one another when I went to the emergency department because I don’t want to infect them,” he told Huang.

In California, nearly one in five registered nurses is of Filipino descent, according to a 2016 survey (PDF) by the California Board of Registered Nursing. California hospitals have recruited heavily from the Philippines for more than a century. Filipino nurses have stepped up to work in underserved areas and work on the front lines of health crises like the AIDS epidemic and COVID-19.

“It’s not uncommon for many Filipino families to produce multiple health care workers,” Huang wrote. The Reyes family is just one such example. Rowena Reyes and their son both also tested positive for COVID-19, though they recovered without hospitalization.

Marcial Reyes’ recovery will be much slower and more complicated. He needs to regain strength in his legs, and he still struggles with writing, Huang reported. Still, he is looking forward to the day when he can return to the emergency room as a nurse.