San Francisco’s lonely war against Covid-19

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/7/30/21331369/london-breed-coronavirus-covid-san-francisco-california-trump

On June 25, San Francisco Mayor London Breed was excited the city’s zoo would finally reopen after closing down for months in response to Covid-19. She visited the facilities, posting photos on social media with a mask on and giraffes in the background.

“I know people are eager to get back to some sense of normalcy, especially families and children,” she tweeted. And it looked like her city was taking a step toward it.

The day after the visit, Breed had to announce the sad news: San Francisco’s reopening plan — for the zoo and various other facilities, including hair salons and indoor museums — would have to be put on hold.

“COVID-19 cases are rising throughout CA. We’re now seeing a rise in cases in SF too. Our numbers are still low but rising rapidly,” she tweeted. “As a result, we’re temporarily delaying the re-openings that were scheduled for Monday.”

While state and local leaders nationwide were pushing ahead with reopening, Breed pulled back. “I listened to our public health experts,” she told me. “It’s hard. The last thing I want to do is go out there and say one thing and then have to say something else. But I think it’s important that people understand things can change. This is a fluid situation.”

The decision — taken weeks before California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s move to shut down risky indoor venues statewide in July — was emblematic of San Francisco’s cautious approach throughout the coronavirus crisis. The city joined a regional stay-at-home order in March, before the rest of the state and New York, which became a Covid-19 epicenter, imposed their own orders. It was also slower to reopen: When California started to close down indoor venues again, the order largely didn’t affect San Francisco — because the city never reopened bars and indoor dining, among other high-risk venues, in the first place.

By and large, the approach — aided by regional cooperation, with leadership from Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody, and widespread social distancing and mask-wearing by the public — has kept cases of Covid-19 manageable. In the spring, California and the Bay Area saw some of the first coronavirus cases, but quick action since then has let San Francisco and the surrounding region avoid turning into a major hot spot.

The increase in cases this summer has exceeded the April peak and fallen particularly hard on marginalized groups, especially Latin communities. But that, too, seems to be turning around: New cases started to fall by July 20 — almost a week before the state as a whole began to plateau. San Francisco has maintained less than 60 percent the Covid-19 cases per capita as California, and less than 30 percent the deaths per capita. Its caseload and death toll are lower than other large cities, including Washington, DC, and Columbus, Ohio, and far lower than current hot spots like Arizona and Florida.

“It’s doing as well as it can, given what’s going on around it,” Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California San Francisco, told me.

Experts and local officials say the summer increase in cases doesn’t take away from what San Francisco has done. What it shows, instead, is the limits of what a local government can do — and the risk of relying on a county-by-county, state-by-state approach to a truly national crisis.

“We have to accept that we are all interrelated in a pandemic,” Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at UCSF, told me. “We have to help each other out.”

The city’s leaders agree, pointing to some of the problems that have addled their response to the pandemic as the federal government did little — from a lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers to continued shortfalls in tests for Covid-19.

“We are not isolated; we are interconnected,” Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, told me. “The virus exploits that very interconnectedness of our society. Without a consistent, robust, and sustained federal response that is driven by science … eventually things cannot be sustained.

This is why, experts argue, federal leadership is so key: The federal government is the one entity that could address these problems on a large scale. But President Donald Trump has ceded his role to the states and private actors — what his administration called the “state authority handoff” and the New York Times described as “perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations.”

That’s left cities and states to fend for themselves. San Francisco has made the best of it, with the kind of model that experts argued could have prevented the current coronavirus resurgence if it had been followed nationally.

“There’s a value to being cautious,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “Any type of reopening is going to come with some increase in cases. That’s what we are learning in the pandemic. That’s what the infectious disease experts told us was going to happen. Places that thought they could just reopen without caution have really paid the price for it.”

San Francisco’s leaders were ahead on Covid-19

Breed started to really worry about the coronavirus in February, when she saw a glimpse of the future.

Stories of overwhelmed hospitals in Wuhan, China, showed that Covid-19 could cripple health care systems. But Breed believed, she said, that San Francisco’s larger, more advanced health care system could handle the blow. Then her advisers and experts told her differently — that a situation like Wuhan’s really could happen in San Francisco if she didn’t act.

“The shock I got,” Breed said. “We have all these hospitals, all these places where we have some of the most incredible doctors and research institutions. So in my mind, I’ve always thought this is where you want to be if something happens. To be told that here’s what our capacity is, here’s what happens if we do nothing, and what we need to prepare for, it really did blow my mind.”

At that point, she concluded, “We need to shut the city down to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

The virus has been the biggest challenge yet for Breed, who first became mayor in 2017 when her predecessor died, before she was elected to the role in 2018, having previously served on the Board of Supervisors.

But Breed, with the guidance of the Bay Area’s public health officials, has consistently kept the city ahead on Covid-19. The day before Trump claimed, falsely, that coronavirus cases would go from 15 to nearly zero in the US, Breed on February 25 declared a local state of emergency over the virus. Three days before California imposed a stay-at-home order and nearly a week before New York state did, San Francisco County, with Breed’s full backing, on March 16 joined the five other Bay Area counties in issuing the country’s first regional stay-at-home order.

Breed was ahead of not just much of the nation, but her progressive peers as well. On March 2, she warned on Twitter that the public should “prepare for possible disruption from an outbreak,” advising people to stock up on essential medications, make a child care plan in case a caregiver gets sick, and plan for school closures. The same day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, tweeted that he was “encouraging New Yorkers to go on with your lives + get out on the town despite Coronavirus.”

New York City would go on to suffer one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, with its total death rate standing, as of July 29, at 272 per 100,000 people — more than 45 times as high as San Francisco’s rate of 6 per 100,000. (De Blasio’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

San Francisco’s death toll is also fairly low compared to that of some other areas in California — a fraction of Los Angeles County’s 45 per 100,000 and Imperial County’s 103. San Mateo County, a Bay Area county that reopened more aggressively, has more than double the death rate, at 15 per 100,000. San Francisco looks even better compared to cities and counties beyond California — with less than a tenth the deaths per capita as Washington, DC, and about a sixth as many as Franklin County, Ohio, where Columbus is, and Fulton County, Georgia, where most of Atlanta is.

At the time of the initial stay-at-home order, Chin-Hong said, people wondered if Breed was overreacting. “Of course, in hindsight, she was very prescient. She knew what was coming.”

There’s good reason to believe that San Francisco’s early action, particularly its lockdown, helped. The research indicates that stay-at-home orders and similar measures worked, with one preliminary Health Affairs study concluding:

Adoption of government-imposed social distancing measures reduced the daily growth rate by 5.4 percentage points after 1–5 days, 6.8 after 6–10 days, 8.2 after 11–15 days, and 9.1 after 16–20 days. Holding the amount of voluntary social distancing constant, these results imply 10 times greater spread by April 27 without SIPOs (10 million cases) and more than 35 times greater spread without any of the four measures (35 million).

That’s not to say San Francisco performed flawlessly.

Even the experts who praised Breed simultaneously raised alarms about how the virus had disproportionately affected minority populations — with about half of confirmed Covid-19 cases affecting Latin people, even though they comprise about 15 percent of the local population. The city’s large homeless population is also a major point of concern, with a big outbreak at the largest local homeless shelter. These are the kinds of blind spots with Covid-19 that have shown up across the country — as minority groups, in particular, are more likely to work in the kind of job deemed “essential” — and San Francisco isn’t immune to them.

“Myself, just taking care of patients, I know that some of those patients are going back to work sick if they don’t have to be hospitalized,” Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease expert at Stanford, told me. “They can’t afford not to work.”

Local officials point out they have taken aggressive action to shield marginalized populations — creating support programs for them, fielding contact tracing calls in Spanish, and setting up more than 2,500 hotel rooms for the vulnerable, including homeless people. And the disproportionate case count for Latin people is from a baseline of cases that’s lower than other parts of the state and country with similar disparities. Out of 57 Covid-19 deaths in the city, only one was a homeless person.

Breed acknowledged the challenge, describing the city’s response to Covid-19 as a work in progress as she and other officials struggle with the uncertainty that surrounds a virus that’s still relatively new to humans.

“That’s hard,” Breed said. “We have to make the hard decisions. What we hope people will understand is why. We keep trying to call attention to what’s happening or could happen to any of us. It’s a constant struggle.”

That’s especially compounded by the massive sacrifices that people have to make as they’re forced to stay at home, potentially giving up income, child care, and social connections.

Breed is aware this is no easy task. On a personal level, she said, “I’m tired of being in the house. I’ll tell you that much.” She acknowledged that the shutdown has left many people struggling, “because their livelihoods are at stake, their ability to take care of themselves is at stake.”

But the alternative, she suggested, is much worse. It’s not just more Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — but harm to the economy if a major outbreak forces cities and states to shut down all over again. As a preliminary study of the 1918 flu pandemic found, the cities that came out economically stronger back then took more aggressive action that hindered economies in the short term but better kept infections and deaths down overall.

Experts echoed a similar sentiment. “Dead people don’t shop. They don’t spend money. They don’t invest in things,” Jade Pagkas-Bather, an infectious disease expert and doctor at the University of Chicago, told me. “When you fail to invest in the health of your population, then there are longitudinal downstream effects.”

Breed had a key ally in San Francisco: The public

Chin-Hong, who lives and works in the Bay Area, recalled a recent experience he had at the grocery store. With the place at full capacity, people were waiting outside the store in a line. One person joined the line without a mask on. People began to eye him disapprovingly. He grew visibly nervous, at one point pulling his shirt over his mouth. After a while, a store staff member came out and gave him a mask, which he quickly put on.

The story is emblematic of one of Breed’s key advantages as she has pushed forward with aggressive actions against the coronavirus: San Francisco’s public is by and large on board, with a lot of solidarity built around social distancing and masking.

“The politician is only as good as her constituents,” Chin-Hong said. “It’s a key factor in all of this.”

In some ways, the public was even ahead of Breed. In the weeks before Bay Area counties issued a stay-at-home order, major tech companies in the region, like Google and Microsoft, told employees to work from home. That partly reflects tech employees’ ability to work from home with fewer disruptions, but also a greater sense of vigilance for an industry with close ties to the countries in East Asia that saw Covid-19 cases earlier.

It wasn’t just the tech sector. Restaurant data from OpenTable shows San Francisco was starting to avoid dining out by the first week of March, while most other cities in the US saw at best small decreases, if any changes: On March 1, dining out via OpenTable was down 18 percent in San Francisco, compared to down 3 percent in Los Angeles, down 2 percent in New York City, up 2 percent in Houston, and up 21 percent in Philadelphia. From that point forward, San Francisco’s numbers steadily dropped, while much of the US fluctuated before the depth of the outbreak became clearer nationwide.

San Francisco has also been better than much of the country about mask-wearing.New York Times analysis found there’s a roughly 60 to 90 percent chance, depending on the part of the city, that everyone is masked in five random encounters in San Francisco. In other parts of the US, including cities, the percent chance can drop to as low as 20, 10, or the single digits.

Even in California, it wasn’t guaranteed things would go like this. Orange County’s chief health officer resigned in June due to public resistance against a mask-wearing order. Sheriffs in Orange, Riverside, Fresno, and Sacramento counties said they wouldn’t enforce Gov. Newsom’s June order requiring masks in public and high-risk areas. With Trump and other Republicans suggesting that social distancing and masking requirements were part of a broader overreaction to the pandemic and an attempt at government overreach, and people genuinely suffering due to the economic downturn, San Francisco could have taken a very different direction.

We don’t know for certain why San Francisco’s public is more aggressive about precautions against Covid-19. One advantage San Franciscans have is many of them, particularly those in the tech sector and other office jobs, can work from home much more easily than, say, “essential” agricultural employees. The city also has close ties to East Asia, including China, potentially offering personal connections — and an early warning — to the first coronavirus outbreaks and the value of masking. San Francisco is also very progressive and Democratic, which helps as physical distancing, masking, and related measures have become politically polarized. Perhaps Breed’s more aggressive communication paid off.

Whatever the cause, there’s good reason to believe the public embrace of precautions helped the city. A review of the research published in The Lancet found that “evidence shows that physical distancing of more than 1 m is highly effective and that face masks are associated with protection, even in non-health-care settings.”

Again, it’s not perfect. Breed told me of a recent trip to a local store that was clearly far above the city’s reduced standards of capacity, with some of the staff and customers not wearing masks. “I was like, ‘What the heck is this? This is ridiculous,’” she said. “I called [the San Francisco Department of] Public Health, and they put a stop to it.”

More recently, Breed had to get tested for coronavirus after she went to an event attended by someone who reportedly knew they were positive. She used the moment to lightly admonish those who didn’t follow the recommended precautions: “I know people want to be out in public right now, but this disease is killing people. It’s simply reckless for those who have tested positive [to] go out and risk the lives of others,” she tweeted. “I cannot stress this enough: if you test positive, it’s on you to stay home and not expose others.” (Breed tested negative.)

But San Francisco’s public is seemingly better than much of the country at following the recommended precautions. Beyond Breed’s actions, that’s a potent explanation for why San Francisco has done relatively well — and why other parts of the state and country haven’t.

Local governments can only do so much about a pandemic

As successful as San Francisco has been relative to other parts of California and the US, it hasn’t escaped the recent rise in Covid-19 cases untouched. As of July 22 (the most recent reliable local data available), the city hit a seven-day average of 98 new cases a day — down from a peak of 120 several days prior but up from the previous peak of 48 in mid-April.

More than reflecting San Francisco’s own failures, experts said the upward swing in cases reflects the limits of what a local government can do when a virus spreads nationally and globally. When a virus can cross borders, there’s only so much San Francisco can do if its residents can drive an hour or two to a county where bars and indoor dining are open for service, or to meet with family members in an area that’s hit much harder by Covid-19.

“When you have different rules for different counties, it’s very confusing,” Maldonado said. “People lose the message.”

There are similar limitations to what even California can do. It can impose its own lockdown, but it has less control over cases from Arizona, Nevada, Mexico, or other parts of the globe. While the state has taken steps to build up its testing capacity — surpassing the benchmark of 150 tests per 100,000, which is the equivalent of 500,000 tests nationwide — it can only go so far if there are constraints around the country for testing.

The testing problem is especially acute now: With new outbreaks across the US, demand for tests climbed as supply constraints reappeared. That’s led to waiting periods of up to weeks for getting results back — making tests practically useless for confirming, tracing, and containing infections before they have time to spread.

But there are limits to what San Francisco or California can do if the bottlenecks for testing are originating in other parts of the country or world — whether they’re due to epidemics in Arizona and Florida, or because factories in the Northeast and South can’t produce enough swabs to collect samples or reagents to run tests.

“We need a national plan,” Cyrus Shahpar, a director at the global health advocacy group Resolve to Save Lives, told me. “In terms of the structures to improve the supply chain or procure more stuff for the whole country, that’s a federal level of support. You need that to be in place.”

The Trump administration, however, has explicitly left most of these issues for states to solve. The White House’s testing plan declared that the federal government is merely a “supplier of last resort,” leaving it to local and state governments and private actors to fix choke points along the testing supply chain. The New York Times explained this was part of a broader “state authority handoff” plan that would “shift responsibility for leading the fight against the pandemic from the White House to the states.”

To the extent the federal government has provided support, Trump has actively undermined it. When the federal government released a phased plan for state reopenings, Trump called on states to reopen faster — to supposedly “LIBERATE” them from economic calamity. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people in public wear masks, Trump said it was a personal choice, refused for months to wear a mask in public, and even suggested that people wear masks to spite him (although a recent tweet seemed to support masking). (The White House didn’t return a request for comment.)

In my interviews, local officials, health care workers, and experts repeatedly complained about the problems caused by federal inaction. Breed lamented that San Francisco, and California, couldn’t rely on federal support to get personal protective equipment for health care workers, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic. A San Francisco Department of Public Health spokesperson told me that testing took time to scale up while the federal government did little to address supply constraints, commenting that the mixed messaging and inaction from the federal government “are hampering local efforts to be as effective as we would like to be.”

Over time, even the once-proactive California let its guard down. As Gov. Newsom faced pressure from local governments and businesses to reopen the state quickly, he allowed counties to reopen at a quicker pace if they met certain metrics. That led to new outbreaks, particularly in Central and Southern California — each of which presented a risk of bleeding over to the Bay Area. As Bibbins-Domingo said, county-by-county variations “have not been helpful” for suppressing the virus in San Francisco or statewide.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said that, like everyone else, the state was still learning how to properly combat the pandemic. But he argued it does make sense to tailor local responses to Covid-19 to what’s happening locally — and that’s what the state tried to do as it let some counties move quicker than others, while keeping some oversight by enforcing certain criteria before counties moved ahead.

The state is still “figuring out … the balance between hundreds of different things,” Ghaly told me. That includes, he added, “how you support counties making local decisions while maintaining some level of cohesiveness at a regional and statewide level so we don’t erode gains.”

Still, the fractured nature of federalism doesn’t help for fighting a virus that ignores local, state, and national borders.

A recent study in Science backed that up. Running simulations for Europe, researchers concluded that better-coordinated action within the European Union can help suppress Covid-19 better than different countries acting in different ways. Drawing on that finding, the authors concluded:

The implications of our study extend well beyond Europe and COVID-19, broadly demonstrating the importance of communities coordinating easing of various [non-pharmaceutical interventions] for any potential pandemic. In the United States, [non-pharmaceutical interventions] have been generally implemented at the state-level, and because states will be strongly interconnected, our results emphasize national coordination of pandemic preparedness efforts moving forward.

That the US has by and large stuck to a state-by-state and county-by-county approach to public health — an approach that predates the coronavirus pandemic — can help explain, then, why the country has continued to fail to control Covid-19 in the same way countries with strong national plans and, in some cases, international cooperation haven’t. To this day, America reports among the highest rates of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.

In that context, with outbreaks raging around San Francisco and California, there’s only so much any single local or state government could do. “When you look at success stories of countries on Covid, you had a strong central voice,” Chin-Hong said.

So while San Francisco has done a lot right, it will take the rest of the country adopting a similar approach for the city, the broader Bay Area, or anywhere else in the US to really be safe from the coronavirus.

 

 

 

 

What ‘Racism Is a Public Health Issue’ Means

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-racism-public-health-issue-means-180975326/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200720-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43001584&spUserID=MTA5MDI1MDg0MjgxOQS2&spJobID=1801530184&spReportId=MTgwMTUzMDE4NAS2&fbclid=IwAR027OjpNcyZKM6Jd5aTYhgVaTzaO5lBqI4hCl1xsrKgQRL1bFYH538YIMA

What 'Racism Is a Public Health Issue' Means | Science ...

Epidemiologist Sharrelle Barber discusses the racial inequalities that exist for COVID-19 and many other health conditions.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whether cases are flaring up, slowing to a simmer, or back on the rise in areas across the United States, the data makes one fact apparent: The viral disease has disproportionally sickened and killed marginalized communities. A New York Times analysis of data from almost 1,000 counties that reported racial breakdowns of COVID-19 cases and fatalities revealed that, compared to white Americans, African Americans and Hispanics were three times more likely to experience and two times more likely to die from the illness. The Navajo Nation has, per capita, more confirmed cases and deaths than any of the 50 states.

Many factors, like access to healthcare and testing, household size, or essential worker status, likely contribute to the pandemic’s outsized toll on communities of color, but experts see a common root: the far-reaching effects of systemic racism.

That racism would have such an insidious effect on health isn’t a revelation to social epidemiologists. For decades, public health experts have discussed “weathering,” or the toll that repeated stressors experienced by people of color take on their health. Studies have demonstrated the link between such chronic stress and high blood pressure, the increased maternal mortality rate among black and indigenous women, and the elevated prevalence of diabetes in black, Latino and especially Native American populations. The pandemic has laid bare these inequities. At the same time, outcry over systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans has roiled the nation, and the phrase, “Racism is a public health issue” has become an internet refrain.

What exactly is the nebulous concept of “public health”? According to Sharrelle Barber, a Drexel University assistant professor of epidemiology, the concept goes beyond the healthcare setting to take a more holistic look at health in different populations. “The charge of public health,” Barber told Smithsonian, “is really to prevent disease, prevent death, and you prevent those things by having a proper diagnosis of why certain groups might have higher rates of mortality, higher rates of morbidity, et cetera.”

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Smithsonian’s conversation with Barber, who studies how anti-black racism impacts health, about the many ways in which racism is a public health crisis:

When people say, “Racism is a public health problem,” what, in broad strokes, do they mean?

We’ve been observing racial inequities in health for decades in this country. W.E.B. DuBois, who was a sociologist, in The Philadelphia Negro showed mortality rates by race and where people lived in the city of Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century and found striking inequalities based on race. Fast forward to 1985, 35 years ago, and we have the [Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored] Heckler Report, one of the most comprehensive studies the country had undertaken, which again found striking inequalities across a wide range of health outcomes: infant mortality, cancer, stroke, et cetera.

There are various explanations for why these racial inequalities exist, and a lot of those have erroneously focused on either biology or genetics or behavioral aspects, but it’s important to examine the root causes of those inequities, which is structural racism…Racism is a public health problem, meaning racism is at the root of the inequities in health that we see, particularly for blacks in this country. So whether it’s housing, criminal justice, education, wealth, economic opportunities, healthcare, all of these interlocking systems of racism really are the main fundamental drivers of the racial inequities that we see among black Americans.

What are some specific factors or policies that have set the foundations for these health inequities?

Any conversation about racial inequities has to start with a conversation about slavery. We have to go back 400-plus years and really recognize the ways in which the enslavement of African people and people of African descent is the initial insult that set up the system of racism within this country. One of the major drivers that I actually study is the link between racial residential segregation, particularly in our large urban areas, and health inequities. Racial residential segregation is rooted in racist policies that date back at least to the 1930s. Practices such as redlining, which devalued black communities and led to the disinvestment in black communities, were then propped up by practices and policies at the local, the state and federal level, for example, things like restrictive covenants, where blacks were not allowed to move into certain communities; racial terror, where blacks were literally intimidated and run out of white communities when they tried to or attempted to move into better communities; and so many other policies. Even when you get the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the system finds a way to reinvent itself to still perpetuate and maintain racism.

Within segregated communities, you have so many adverse exposures, like poor quality housing or lack of access to affordable, healthy foods, lack of access to quality healthcare, and the list goes on. The chronic stressors within these communities are compounded in segregated communities, which then can lead to a wide array of health outcomes that are detrimental. So for example, in the city of Philadelphia, there’s been work that has shown upwards of a 15-year life expectancy difference between racially and economically segregated communities, black communities and wealthier white communities.

I imagine that sometimes you might get pushback from people who ask about whether you can separate the effects of socioeconomic status and race in these differences in health outcomes.

Yeah, that’s a false dichotomy in some ways. Racism does lead to, in many aspects, lower income, education, wealth. So they’re inextricably linked. However, racism as a system goes beyond socioeconomic status. If we look at what we see in terms of racial inequities in maternal mortality for black women, they are three times times more likely to die compared to white women. This disparity or this inequity is actually seen for black women who have a college degree or more. The disparity is wide, even when you control for socioeconomic status.

Let’s talk about the COVID-19 pandemic. How does racism shape the current health crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic has literally just exposed what me and so many of my colleagues have known for decades, but it just puts it in such sharp focus. When you see the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having, particularly for blacks, but also we’re seeing emerging data on Indigenous folks, it is just laying bare the ways racism is operating in this moment to produce those inequities.

Essential workers who had to continue to work during periods of stay at home orders across the country were disproportionately black and Latino. These are also often low wage workers. They weren’t given personal protective equipment, paid sick leave, hazard pay, and really had to choose between being exposed and protecting themselves and having an income during this period. So that’s one way racism operates.

Then we know that those individuals aren’t isolated, that they return to homes that often are crowded because of the lack of affordable housing. Again, another system of racism that compounds the effect. Then you think about places like Flint, Michigan, or places that don’t have access to clean water. When we were telling people, “Wash your hands, social distance,” all of those things, there were people who literally could not adhere to those basic public health prevention measures and still can’t.

So many things were working in tandem together to then increase the risk, and what was frustrating for myself and colleagues was this kind of “blame the victim” narrative that emerged at the very onset, when we saw the racial disparities emerge and folks were saying, “Blacks aren’t washing their hands,” or, “Blacks need to eat better so they have better outcomes in terms of comorbidities and underlying chronic conditions,” when again, all of that’s structured by racism. To go back to your original question, that’s why racism is a public health issue and fundamental, because in the middle of a pandemic, the worst public health crisis in a century, we’re seeing racism operate and racism produce the inequities in this pandemic, and those inequities are striking…

If we had a structural racism lens going into this pandemic, perhaps we would have done things differently. For example, get testing to communities that we know are going to be more susceptible to the virus. We would have done that early on as opposed to waiting, or we would have said, “Well, folks need to have personal protective equipment and paid sick leave and hazard pay.” We would have made that a priority…

The framing [of systemic racism as a public health concern] also dictates the solutions you come up with in order to actually prevent death and suffering. But if your orientation is, “Oh, it’s a personal responsibility” or “It’s behavioral,” then you create messages to black communities to say, “Wash your hands; wear a mask,” and all of these other things that, again, do not address the fundamental structural drivers of the inequities. That’s why it’s a public health issue, because if public health is designed to prevent disease, prevent suffering, then you have to address racism to have the biggest impact.

Can you talk about how police brutality fits into the public health picture?

We have to deal with the literal deaths that happen at the hands of the police, because of a system that is rooted in slavery, but I also think we have to pay attention to the collective trauma that it causes to black communities. In the midst of a pandemic that’s already traumatic to watch the deaths due to COVID-19, [communities] then have to bear witness to literal lynchings and murders and that trauma. There’s really good scholarship on the kind of spillover effects of police brutality that impact the lives of whole communities because of the trauma of having to witness this kind of violence that then does not get met with any kind of justice.

It reinforces this idea that one, our lives are disposable, that black lives really don’t matter, because the whole system upholds this kind of violence and this kind of oppression, particularly for black folks. I’ve done studies on allostatic load [the wear and tear on the body as a result of chronic stress] and what it does, the dysregulation that happens. So just think about living in a society that’s a constant source of stress, chronic stress, and how that wreaks havoc on blacks and other marginalized racial groups as well.

 

 

 

 

U.S. Coronavirus Response: We blew it

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-america-blew-it-b3d84ea3-78b3-4fe0-8dce-1c4ed0ec0a4c.html

We blew it: Why America still hasn't gotten the coronavirus under ...

America spent the spring building a bridge to August, spending trillions and shutting down major parts of society. The expanse was to be a bent coronavirus curve, and the other side some semblance of normal, where kids would go to school and their parents to work.

The bottom line: We blew it, building a pier instead.

There will be books written about America’s lost five months of 2020, but here’s what we know:

We blew testing. President Trump regularly brags and complains about the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in the U.S., but America hasn’t built the infrastructure necessary to process and trace the results.

  • Quest Diagnostics says its average turnaround time for a COVID-19 test has lengthened to “seven or more days” — thus decreasing the chance that asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers will self-quarantine.
  • The testing delays also make it harder for public health officials to understand current conditions, let alone implement effective contact tracing.
  • Speaking of contact tracing, it remains a haphazard and uncoordinated process in many parts of the country.

We blew schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act, but that was aimed at maintaining status quo services in the face of plummeting tax revenue.

There was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, nor to hire additional teachers who might be needed to staff smaller class sizes and hybrid learning days.

  • U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was not among the 27 officials included in the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
  • The administration insists that schools should reopen this fall because kids are less likely to get very sick from the virus, but it has not yet offered detailed plans to protect older teachers, at-risk family members, or students with pre-existing respiratory or immune conditions.
  • Silicon Valley provided some free services to schools, but there was no coordinated effort to create a streamlined virtual learning platform. There also continue to be millions of schoolkids without access to broadband and/or Internet-connected devices.

We blew economics. The CARES Act was bold and bipartisan, a massive stimulus to meet the moment.

  • It’s running out, without an extension plan not yet in place.
  • Expanded unemployment benefits expire in days. Many small businesses have already exhausted their Paycheck Protection Program loans, including some that reopened but have been forced to close again.
  • There has been no national effort to pause residential or commercial evictions, nor to give landlords breathing room on their mortgage payments.

We blew public health. There’s obviously a lot here, but just stick with face masks. Had we all been directed to wear them in March — and done so, even makeshift ones while manufacturing ramped up — you might not be reading this post.

We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good.

  • But many millions of other Americans didn’t. Some were essential workers. Some were deemed essential workers but really weren’t. Some just didn’t care, or didn’t believe the threat. Some ultimately decided that protesting centuries of racial injustice was a worthy trade-off.
  • All of this was complicated by mixed messages from federal and state leaders. Top of that list was President Trump, who claimed to adopt a wartime footing without clearly asking Americans to make sacrifices necessary to defeat the enemy.
  • Five months later, many of those who followed the “rules” are furious at what they perceive to be the selfishness of others.

The bottom line: America has gotten many things right since March, including the development of more effective hospital treatments for COVID-19 patients.

  • But we’re hitting daily infection records, daily deaths hover around 900, and many ICUs reports more patients than beds. It didn’t have to be this way.

 

 

 

 

What happens if Covid-19 symptoms don’t go away? Doctors are trying to figure it out.

https://www.vox.com/2020/7/14/21324201/covid-19-long-term-effects-symptoms-treatment

Covid-19 long-term effects: People with persistent symptoms ...

People with long-term Covid-19 complications are meanwhile struggling to get care.

In late March, when Covid-19 was first surging, Jake Suett, a doctor of anesthesiology and intensive care medicine with the National Health Service in Norfolk, England, had seen plenty of patients with the disease — and intubated a few of them.

Then one day, he started to feel unwell, tired, with a sore throat. He pushed through it, continuing to work for five days until he developed a dry cough and fever. “Eventually, I got to the point where I was gasping for air literally doing nothing, lying on my bed.”

At the hospital, his chest X-rays and oxygen levels were normal — except he was gasping for air. After he was sent home, he continued to experience trouble breathing and developed severe cardiac-type chest pain.

Because of a shortage of Covid-19 tests, Suett wasn’t immediately tested; when he was able to get a test, 24 days after he got sick, it came back negative. PCR tests, which are most commonly used, can only detect acute infections, and because of testing shortages, not everyone has been able to get a test when they need one.

It’s now been 14 weeks since Suett’s presumed infection and he still has symptoms, including trouble concentrating, known as brain fog. (One recent study in Spain found that a majority of 841 hospitalized Covid-19 patients had neurological symptoms, including headaches and seizures.) “I don’t know what my future holds anymore,” Suett says.

Some doctors have dismissed some of his ongoing symptoms. One doctor suggested his intense breathing difficulties might be related to anxiety. “I found that really surprising,” Suett says. “As a doctor, I wanted to tell people, ‘Maybe we’re missing something here.’” He’s concerned not just for himself, but that many Covid-19 survivors with long-term symptoms aren’t being acknowledged or treated.

Suett says that even if the proportion of people who don’t eventually fully recover is small, there’s still a significant population who will need long-term care — and they’re having trouble getting it. “It’s a huge, unreported problem, and it’s crazy no one is shouting this from rooftops.”

In the US, a number of specialized centers are popping up at hospitals to help treat — and study — ongoing Covid-19 symptoms. The most successful draw on existing post-ICU protocols and a wide range of experts, from pulmonologists to psychiatrists. Yet even as care improves, patients are also running into familiar challenges in finding treatment: accessing and being able to pay for it.

What’s causing these long-term symptoms?

Scientists are still learning about the many ways the virus that causes Covid-19 impacts the body — both during initial infection and as symptoms persist.

One of the researchers studying them is Michael Peluso, a clinical fellow in infectious diseases at the University of California San Francisco, who is currently enrolling Covid-19 patients in San Francisco in a two-year study to study the disease’s long-term effects. The goal is to better understand what symptoms people are developing, how long they last, and eventually, the mechanisms that cause them. This could help scientists answer questions like how antibodies and immune cells called T-cells respond to the virus, and how different individuals might have different immune responses, leading to longer or shorter recovery times.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, “the assumption was that people would get better, and then it was over,” Peluso says. “But we know from lots of other viral infections that there is almost always a subset of people who experience longer-term consequences.” He explains these can be due to damage to the body during the initial illness, the result of lingering viral infection, or because of complex immunological responses that occur after the initial disease.

“People sick enough to be hospitalized are likely to experience prolonged recovery, but with Covid-19, we’re seeing tremendous variability,” he says. It’s not necessarily just the sickest patients who experience long-term symptoms, but often people who weren’t even initially hospitalized.

That’s why long-term studies of large numbers of Covid-19 patients are so important, Peluso says. Once researchers can find what might be causing long-term symptoms, they can start targeting treatments to help people feel better. “I hope that a few months from now, we’ll have a sense if there is a biological target for managing some of these long-term symptoms.”

Lekshmi Santhosh, a physician lead and founder of the new post-Covid OPTIMAL Clinic at UCSF, says many of her patients are reporting the same kinds of problems. “The majority of patients have either persistent shortness of breath and/or fatigue for weeks to months,” she says.

Additionally, Timothy Henrich, a virologist and viral immunologist at UCSF who is also a principal investigator in the study, says that getting better at managing the initial illness may also help. “More effective acute treatments may also help reduce severity and duration of post-infectious symptoms.”

In the meantime, doctors can already help patients by treating some of their lingering symptoms. But the first step, Peluso explains, is not dismissing them. “It is important that patients know — and that doctors send the message — that they can help manage these symptoms, even if they are incompletely understood,” he says. “It sounds like many people may not be being told that.”

Long-term symptoms, long-term consequences

Even though we have a lot to learn about the specific damage Covid-19 can cause, doctors already know quite a bit about recovery from other viruses: namely, how complex and challenging a task long-term recovery from any serious infection can be for many patients.

Generally, it’s common for patients who have been hospitalized, intubated, or ventilated — as is common with severe Covid-19 — to have a long recovery. Being bed-bound can cause muscle weakness, known as deconditioning, which can result in prolonged shortness of breath. After a severe illness, many people also experience anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

A stay in the ICU not uncommonly leads to delirium, a serious mental disorder sometimes resulting in confused thinking, hallucinations, and reduced awareness of surroundings. But Covid-19 has created a “delirium factory,” says Santhosh at UCSF. This is because the illness has meant long hospital stays, interactions only with staff in full PPE, and the absence of family or other visitors.

Theodore Iwashyna, an ICU physician-scientist at the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor, is involved with the CAIRO Network, a group of 40 post-intensive care clinics on four continents. In general, after patients are discharged from ICUs, he says, “about half of people have some substantial new disability, and half will never get back to work. Maybe a third of people will have some degree of cognitive impairment. And a third have emotional problems.” And it’s common for them to have difficulty getting care for their ongoing symptoms after being discharged.

In working with Covid-19 patients, says Santhosh, she tells patients, “We believe you … and we are going to work on the mind and body together.”

Yet it’s currently impossible to predict who will have long-lasting symptoms from Covid-19. “People who are older and frailer with more comorbidities are more likely to have longer physical recovery. However, I’ve seen a lot of young people be really, really sick,” Santhosh says. “They will have a long tail of recovery too.”

Who can access care?

At the new OPTIMAL Clinic at UCSF, doctors are seeing patients who were hospitalized for Covid-19 at the UCSF health system, as well as taking referrals of other patients with persistent pulmonary symptoms. For ongoing cough and chest tightness, the clinic is providing inhalers, as well as pulmonary rehabilitation, including gradual aerobic exercise with oxygen monitoring. They’re also connecting patients with mental health resources.

“Normalizing those symptoms, as well as plugging people into mental health care, is really critical,” says Santhosh, who is also the physician lead and founder of the clinic. “I want people to know this is real. It’s not ‘in their heads.’”

Neeta Thakur, a pulmonary specialist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center who has been providing care for Covid-19 patients in the ICU, just opened a similar outpatient clinic for post-Covid care. Thakur has also arranged a multidisciplinary approach, including occupational and physical therapy, as well as expedited referrals to neurology colleagues for rehabilitation for the muscles and nerves that can often be compressed when patients are prone for long periods in the ICU. But she’s most concerned by the cognitive impairments she’s seeing, especially as she’s dealing with a lot of younger patients.

These California centers join new post-Covid-19 clinics in major cities across the country, including Mount Sinai in New York and National Jewish Health Hospital in Denver. As more and more hospitals begin to focus on post-Covid care, Iwashyna suggests patients try to seek treatment where they were hospitalized, if possible, because of the difficulty in transferring sufficient medical records.

Santosh recommends that patients with persistent symptoms call their closest hospital, or nearest academic medical center’s pulmonary division, and ask if they can participate in any clinical trials. Many of the new clinics are enrolling patients in studies to try to better understand the long-term consequences of the disease. Fortunately, treatment associated with research is often free, and sometimes also offers financial incentives to participants.

But otherwise, one of the biggest challenges in post-Covid-19 treatment is — like so much of American health care — being able to pay for it.

Outside of clinical trials, cost can be a barrier to treatment. It can be tricky to get insurance to cover long-term care, Iwashyna notes. After being discharged from an ICU, he says, “Recovery depends on [patients’] social support, and how broke they are afterward.” Many struggle to cover the costs of treatment. “Our patient population is all underinsured,” says Thakur, noting that her hospital works with patients to try to help cover costs.

Lasting health impacts can also affect a person’s ability to go back to work. In Iwashyna’s experience, many patients quickly run through their guaranteed 12 weeks of leave under the Family Medical and Leave Act, which isn’t required to be paid. Eve Leckie, a 39-year-old ICU nurse in New Hampshire, came down with Covid-19 on March 15. Since then, Leckie has experienced symptom relapses and still can’t even get a drink of water without help.

“I’m typing this to you from my bed, because I’m too short of breath today to get out,” they say. “This could disable me for the rest of my life, and I have no idea how much that would cost, or at what point I will lose my insurance, since it’s dependent on my employment, and I’m incapable of working.” Leckie was the sole wage earner for their five children, and was facing eviction when their partner “essentially rescued us,” allowing them to move in.

These long-term burdens are not being felt equally. At Thakur’s hospital in San Francisco, “The population [admitted] here is younger and Latinx, a disparity which reflects who gets exposed,” she says. She worries that during the pandemic, “social and structural determinants of health will just widen disparities across the board.” People of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus, in part because they are less likely to be able to work from home.

Black people are also more likely to be hospitalized if they get Covid-19, both because of higher rates of preexisting conditions — which are the result of structural inequality — and because of lack of access to health care.

“If you are more likely to be exposed because of your job, and likely to seek care later because of fear of cost, or needing to work, you’re more likely to have severe disease,” Thakur says. “As a result, you’re more likely to have long-term consequences. Depending on what that looks like, your ability to work and economic opportunities will be hindered. It’s a very striking example of how social determinants of health can really impact someone over their lifetime.”

If policies don’t support people with persistent symptoms in getting the care they need, ongoing Covid-19 challenges will deepen what’s already a clear crisis of inequality.

Iwashyna explains that a lot of extended treatment for Covid-19 patients is “going to be about interactions with health care systems that are not well-designed. The correctable problems often involve helping people navigate a horribly fragmented health care system.

“We can fix that, but we’re not going to fix that tomorrow. These patients need help now.”

 

 

 

The burden on teachers

https://www.axios.com/teachers-worry-school-reopening-coronavirus-4f173e1b-f48f-49ad-a319-0b053ddd7295.html

The burden on teachers in reopening the schools - Axios

The debate over whether and how much to re-open schools in the fall has put teachers in the precarious position of choosing between their own safety and the pressures from some parents and local officials.

Why it matters: Teachers are the core of K-12 education. The people we depend on to educate our society’s children may end up bearing the brunt of both the risk and the workload.

What’s happening: With coronavirus cases spiking in many parts of the U.S., districts are weighing the feasibility of keeping classes all virtual, as Los Angeles and San Diego are doing, or conducting a rotation of in-person and remote lessons.

While all back-to-school options have pros and cons, there are specific worries for teachers.

1. Exposure: Despite a child’s overall low health risk if they contract COVID-19, scientists still do not conclusively know if schools could become hotspots for more vulnerable populations.

  • Schools are on a time and money crunch for better ventilation, more disinfectant and masks and proper social distancing techniques. If a cluster of cases do occur, teachers and parents are short on answers about how to isolate students and contact trace.
  • Districts were already facing staffing shortages before the pandemic. And nearly 1.5 million teachers have a condition that puts them at increased risk of serious illness from coronavirus, per a Kaiser Family Foundation study. A separate KFF study out today found that 3.3 million adults age 65 or older live in a household with school-age children.
  • A study in Germany found that infections in schools had not led to outbreaks in the community. But an analysis of a surge of cases in Israel found that nearly half the reported cases in June were traced back to illness in schools.

“We as teachers prepare for active shooters, tornadoes, fires and I’m fully prepared to take a bullet or shield a child from falling debris during a tornado. But if I somehow get it and I’m asymptomatic and I get a student sick and something happens to them or one of their family members, that’s a guilt I would carry with me forever.”

— Michelle Albright, a second grade teacher from northwest Indiana

2. Difficulty of a hybrid approach: Many school districts like New York City are opting to split school between in-person and online to minimize exposure. That’s an effective but more burdensome approach for teachers, top teachers union chief Randi Weingarten told Axios’ Dan Primack Monday.

  • In-person contact with a teacher can make a big difference for students struggling with a concept or who need one-on-one time.
  • But many teachers will have to prepare virtual and in-person lessons and ensure the same learning outcomes for students in both settings — a tall order.

3. Child care availability: Teachers with children of their own are concerned about how to care for them when they are teaching.

  • States could choose to provide child care services for educators as essential employees, but it’s unclear what non-school child care options will be available in areas with high infection rates or where day care centers have struggled to stay in business.

4. Concerns of other school staff: Bus drivers, custodians, classroom aides, administrative staff, cafeteria workers, school nurses and substitute teachers may come in contact with more children throughout the day because they are less likely than teachers to be confined to a single classroom.

What to watch: School districts ought to be finding other roles for teachers who are not comfortable returning to the classroom, such as reassigning them to virtual-only roles or providing one-on-one online tutoring sessions with students, said John Bailey, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former domestic policy adviser during the George W. Bush administration.

  • But there’s not much time to sort that out on top of getting teachers the professional development they need for effective remote learning.
  • “What I worry about is that we squandered the few months we had to make sure we can think through these challenges,” Bailey said. “This was one of the most obvious challenges facing schools with reopening and we should have been thinking about that for the last several months. Instead it’s creeping up on districts.”

The bottom line: Due to the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, teachers are worried about the uncertainties and, in some cases, lack of clear planning should conditions worsen. That may drive some to quit teaching altogether.

  • “You’ve got 25% of teachers who may be in either a high-risk situation because of pre-existing conditions or because of age, and a lot of them, if they can, they may just check out and say ‘nobody’s taking care of me. I can’t go back,'” Weingarten said.

 

 

 

 

More young people are getting — and spreading — the coronavirus

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-young-people-spread-5a0cd9e0-1b25-4c42-9ef9-da9d9ebce367.html

More young people are getting — and spreading — the coronavirus ...

More young people are being infected with the coronavirus, and even though they’re less likely to die from it, experts warn the virus’ spread among young adults may further fuel outbreaks across the United States.

Why it matters: Some people in their 20s and 30s face serious health complications from COVID-19, and a surge in cases among young people gives the virus a bigger foothold, increasing the risk of infection for more vulnerable people.

  • We may see a pattern of younger people being affected initially, but then, in a number of weeks from now, we’re going to see a more deadly pandemic spreading to elderly people,” says Alison Galvani, an epidemiologist at Yale University.

People can transmit the virus without knowing they have it, and younger people, in particular, could be unknowingly spreading the disease.

  • A study in Italy, yet to be peer reviewed, found the probability of having symptoms increased with age and that among 20–39-year-olds only about 22% had a fever or respiratory symptoms (compared to about 35% of 60–79-year-olds).
  • About half of the clusters in a study in Japan were traced back to people ages 20–39 at karaoke bars, offices and restaurants — and 41% of them did not have symptoms at the time.
  • “Younger people are at lower risk for serious COVID outcomes but are disproportionately responsible for asymptomatic transmission,” says Galvani, who published a study earlier this week that found the majority of COVID-19 transmission is from silent carriers who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic.

By the numbers: From Arizona to Allegheny County, Pa., young people increasingly account for COVID-19 cases.

  • In the county of Los Angeles, nearly 50% of cases are now in people under 40 (compared to about 30% in April), per the LA Times.
  • In Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, 43% of the 40,000 cases are in people ages 20–39, as of yesterday.
  • In Florida, the median age of confirmed cases is hovering in the mid- to late-30s, compared to age 65 in March.

And the proportion of young people hospitalized for COVID-19 has also grown.

  • 40% of hospitalizations for COVID-19 at the end of June were for people 18–49-years-old, compared to 26% at the end of March, according to the COVID-NET database of hospitalizations in 14 states that represent about 10% of the U.S. population.

Between the lines: Yes, young people are going to bars and parties — but also to work.

  • 42% of people ages 18–39 said they had socialized without social distancing compared to 26% of people over 40, in a survey last month from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape.
  • 64% of frontline workers (grocery store clerks, health care workers, delivery drivers and other essential workers) are under 50.
  • There’s a need for better education so that young people choose to take steps to prevent infection, says Lauren Ancel Meyers, a mathematical epidemiologist at UT Austin.
  • “But it also might come down to policies or regulations that get employers to ensure they are providing a safe workplace or resources to protect 20, 30 and other age groups that are working for them.”

Where it stands: Young people are still much less likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus than people older than 60.

  • Yes, but: They can and do get very sick with the disease — from dangerous blood clots in their lungs to inflammation of the heart, lungs and even brain.
  • And the long-term consequences are unknown.
  • The risk is higher for young people of color: For example, the majority of coronavirus hospitalizations among Latino/Hispanic Americans are in people ages 18–49, my Axios colleague Caitlin Owens reported.

“The death rate among the young is not zero, and it is particularly not zero for people who have at least one co-morbid condition. This is not a completely benign disease of the young.”

— Joshua Schiffer, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center

What to watch: “If hospitals are strained now dealing with younger cases, they are going to be all the more taxed when the age distribution of infections shifts to the elderly,” Galvani says.

 

 

 

 

 

Cases skyrocketing among communities of color

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-e9aa531d-4ef5-46ec-aedb-56f2bc9a77c9.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

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

 

 

 

Cartoon – Current State of the Union

Plain Talk: Refusing to wear a mask isn't patriotic, it's just ...