Cartoon – State of the Union (Vaccine Hesitancy)

May be a cartoon of text that says 'JON ADAMS @CITYCYCLOPS "Honey, come look! I've found some information all the world's top scientists and doctors missed."'

Healthcare will expand and deal with the fallout of COVID-19 for decades, says Fitch

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/healthcare-will-expand-and-deal-fallout-covid-19-decades-says-fitch

The U.S. may have entered into a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the public health crisis is far from over. The nation’s hospitals and health systems will likely be dealing with its after effects for decades, according to new findings from Fitch Ratings.

Specifically, health implications related to the coronavirus will drive elevated health system utilization long after the acute phase of the pandemic has ended, likely leading to increasing costs and higher insurance premiums for years to come. 

These costs will emerge from the necessary addition to outpatient capacity to deal with the ongoing treatment of chronic conditions related to what may be permanent damage caused by the virus.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

It’s nigh impossible to determine the magnitude of these effects, said Fitch. It will be dependent on tangential health issues related to deferred diagnostic testing and treatment during the pandemic. Since related conditions are likely to develop over time, Fitch doesn’t anticipate these issues to directly affect the credit profile of issuers in the U.S. healthcare system.

In the near term, health insurers have been able to incorporate expanding COVID-19 claims data, estimates of infection trends and pent-up demand for previously deferred care into 2021 premium rates, which should benefit cost management and pricing this year and next. 

However, for healthcare providers, the expansion of the healthcare system over the long term will likely exacerbate traditional pressures on operating performance, such as tight labor and wage markets for experienced staff, rising pharmaceutical expenses and supply costs in general.

Although the U.S. has glimpsed signs of the pandemic’s potential end over the past couple of months, the ultimate story of the pandemic is still being told. 

The infection rate is once again trending up, presumably due to a combination of factors, including a dramatic reduction in demand for new vaccinations, the rapid spread of the more infectious Delta variant and the reduction in mitigation measures.

THE LARGER TREND

The rising numbers of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are occurring mostly in communities with low rates of vaccinations, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky saying in July that “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” 

Data published by USA Today shows that cases are rising in all 50 states, with some startling increases in certain areas. Rhode Island, for example, saw cases almost triple in a one-week period, with Maine and Vermont following closely behind. Massachusetts, Alaska and Kentucky have seen their cases more than double in that time, followed by Minnesota, Florida and Texas.

Cases are rising fastest in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Nevada, all of which have low vaccination rates, according to Market Watch. In all four of those states, less than half of residents are fully vaccinated.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a problem, with many Americans reluctant to get their shots or unwilling to do so. In May, a Sermo poll showed that more than 72% of physicians surveyed said that patients continue to voice concerns over vaccine side effects.

Still others have reported ongoing misinformation discouraging people from getting vaccines. And close to 30% of physicians reported encountering patients who have skipped their second dose due to unpleasant side effects from the first dose, or concerns over side effects.

A quarter of the country won’t get the coronavirus vaccine

We’re a year into the coronavirus pandemic, so the math that undergirds its risks should by now be familiar. We all should know, for example, that the ability of the virus to spread depends on it being able to find a host, someone who is not protected against infection. If you have a group of 10 people, one of whom is infected and nine of whom are immune to the virus, it’s not going to be able to spread anywhere.

That calculus is well known, but there is still some uncertainty at play. To achieve herd immunity — the state where the population of immune people is dense enough to stamp out new infections — how many people need to be protected against the virus? And how good is natural immunity, resistance to infection built through exposure to the virus and contracting covid-19, the disease it causes?

The safe way to increase the number of immune people, thereby probably protecting everyone by limiting the ability of the virus to spread, is through vaccination. More vaccinated people means fewer new infections and fewer infections needed to get close to herd immunity. The closer we get to herd immunity, the safer people are who can’t get vaccinated, such as young children (at least for now).

The challenge the world faces is that the rollout of vaccines has been slow, relatively speaking. The coronavirus vaccines were developed at a lightning pace, but many parts of the world are still waiting for supplies sufficient to broadly immunize their populations. In the United States, the challenge is different: About a quarter of adult Americans say they aren’t planning on getting vaccinated against the virus, according to Economist-YouGov polling released last week.

That’s problematic in part because it means we’re less likely to get to herd immunity without millions more Americans becoming infected. Again, it’s not clear how effective natural immunity will be over the long term as new variants of the virus emerge. So we might continue to see tens of thousands of new infections each day, keeping the population at risk broadly by delaying herd immunity and continuing to add to the pandemic’s death toll in this country.

But we also see from the Economist-YouGov poll the same thing we saw in Gallup polling earlier this month: The people who are least interested in being vaccinated are also the people who are least likely to be concerned about the virus and to take other steps aimed at preventing it from spreading.

In the Economist-YouGov poll, nearly three-quarters of those who say they don’t plan on being vaccinated when they’re eligible also say they’re not too or not at all worried about the virus.

That makes some perverse sense: If you don’t see the virus as a risk, you won’t see the need to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, it also means you’re going to be less likely to do things like wear a mask in public.

Or you might be more likely to view as unnecessary precautions such as avoiding close-quarter contact with friends and family or traveling out of state.

About a quarter of adults hold the view that they won’t be vaccinated when eligible. That’s equivalent to about 64 million Americans.

Who are they? As prior polls have shown, they’re disproportionately political conservatives. At the outset of the pandemic, there was concern that vaccine skepticism would heavily be centered in non-White populations. At the moment, though, the rate of skepticism among those who say they voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and among Republicans is substantially higher than skepticism overall.

That shows up in another way in the Economist poll. Respondents were asked whose medical advice they trusted. Among those who say they don’t plan to get the vaccine, half say they trust Trump’s advice a lot or somewhat — far more than the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the country’s top infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci.

If we look only at Republican skeptics, the difference is much larger: Half of Republican skeptics say they have a lot of trust in Trump’s medical advice.

The irony, of course, is that Trump sees the vaccine as his positive legacy on the pandemic. He’s eager to seize credit for vaccine development and has — sporadically — advocated for Americans to get the vaccine. (He got it himself while still president, without advertising that fact.) It’s his supporters, though, who are most hostile to the idea.

Trump bears most of the responsibility for that, too. Over the course of 2020, worried about reelection, he undercut containment efforts and downplayed the danger of the virus. He undermined experts such as Fauci largely out of concern that continuing to limit economic activity would erode his main argument for his reelection. Over and over, he insisted that the virus was going away without the vaccine, that it was not terribly dangerous and that America should just go about its business as usual — and his supporters heard that message.

They’re still listening to it, as the Economist poll shows. One result may be that the United States doesn’t reach herd immunity through vaccinations and, instead, some large chunk of those tens of millions of skeptics end up being exposed to the virus. Some of them will die. Some may risk repeat infections from new variants against which a vaccine offers better protection. Some of those unable to get vaccinated may also become sick from the virus because we haven’t achieved herd immunity, suffering long-term complications from covid-19.

Trump wants his legacy to be the rollout of the vaccine. His legacy will also probably include fostering skepticism about the vaccine that limits its utility in containing the pandemic.

Fauci: Lack of facts ‘likely did’ cost lives in coronavirus fight

Fauci: Lack of facts 'likely did' cost lives in coronavirus fight | TheHill

Anthony Fauci on Friday said that a lack of facts “likely did” cost lives over the last year in the nation’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

In an appearance on CNN, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert was directly asked whether a “lack of candor or facts” contributed to the number of lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic over the past year.

“You know it very likely did,” Fauci said. “You know I don’t want that … to be a sound bite, but I think if you just look at that, you can see that when you’re starting to go down paths that are not based on any science at all, that is not helpful at all, and particularly when you’re in a situation of almost being in a crisis with the number of cases and hospitalizations and deaths that we have.”

“When you start talking about things that make no sense medically and no sense scientifically, that clearly is not helpful,” he continued.

President Biden on Thursday unveiled a new national coronavirus strategy that is, in part, aimed at “restoring trust in the American people.”

When asked why that was important, Fauci recognized that the past year of dealing with the pandemic had been filled with divisiveness.

“There’s no secret. We’ve had a lot of divisiveness, we’ve had facts that were very, very clear that were questioned. People were not trusting what health officials were saying, there was great divisiveness, masks became a political issue,” Fauci said.

“So what the president was saying right from the get-go was, ‘Let’s reset this. Let everybody get on the same page, trust each other, let the science speak.’”

Fauci, who was thrust into the national spotlight last year as part of former President Trump‘s coronavirus task force, often found himself at odds with the former president. Trump frequently downplayed the severity of the virus and clashed publicly with Fauci.

Speaking during a White House press briefing on Thursday, Fauci said it was “liberating” to be working in the Biden administration.

There have been more than 24,600,000 coronavirus infections in the U.S. since the pandemic began, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University. More than 410,000 people have died.

Cartoon – History Repeating Itself (Covid-19)

Editorial Cartoon: COVID-19 returns | Opinion | dailyastorian.com

Cartoon – Less “I” and more “US.”

Trump's coronavirus press conference less than inspiring - The San Diego  Union-Tribune

Storming of Capitol was textbook potential coronavirus superspreader, experts say

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/01/08/capitol-coronavirus/

Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol did not just overshadow one of the deadliest days of the coronavirus pandemic — it could have contributed to the crisis as a textbook potential superspreader, health experts warn.

Thousands of Trump supporters dismissive of the virus’s threat packed together with few face coverings — shouting, jostling and forcing their way indoors to halt certification of the election results, many converging from out of town at the president’s urging. Police rushed members of Congress to crowded quarters where legislators say some of their colleagues refused to wear masks as well.

“This was in so many ways an extraordinarily dangerous event yesterday, not only from the security aspects but from the public health aspects, and there will be a fair amount of disease that comes from it,” said Eric Toner, senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Experts said that resulting infections will be near-impossible to track, with massive crowds fanning out around the country and few rioters detained and identified. They also wondered if even a significant number of cases would register in a nation overwhelmed by the coronavirus. As Americans shared their shock and anger at the Capitol breach Thursday, the United States reported more than 132,000 people hospitalized with the virus, and more than 4,000 deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — making it the highest single-day tally yet.

“It is a very real possibility that this will lead to a major outbreak but one that we may or may not be able to recognize,” Toner said. “All the cases to likely derive from this event will likely be lost in the huge number of cases we have in the country right now.”

Trump devotees who flocked to the capital this week said they were unconcerned by the virus, belittling common precautions known to slow its spread and echoing the president’s dismissive attitude toward rising case counts. Trump had encouraged them to gather in defiance of his election loss: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” he tweeted last month. “Be there, will be wild!”

Mike Hebert, 73, drove two days from Kansas to participate. Marching toward the Capitol on Wednesday with an American flag, he said he did not feel the need to wear a face covering.

“I am as scared of the virus as I am of a butterfly,” said Hebert, adding that he is a veteran who was shot twice in Vietnam.

Sisters Courtney and Haley Stone left New York at 11 p.m. to make it to the Capitol by morning so they could quietly counterprotest, draped in Biden gear. “Do you want a mask? I have one,” Haley, 22, asked a Trump supporter, only to be rebuffed.

“Oh, you believe in the mask hoax?” the woman replied.

Health experts predicted Wednesday’s events will contribute to an ongoing case surge in the greater Washington region. The average number of daily new infections in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia reached a record high Thursday, and current covid-19 hospitalizations in the District have risen 19 percent in the past week.

They also noted differences with other large gatherings such as Black Lives Matter protests. Fewer people wore masks during the Capitol protests and riot, they said, and crowds were indoors.

“If you wanted to organize an event to maximize the spread of covid it would be difficult to find one better than the one we witnessed yesterday,” said Jonathan Fielding, a professor at the schools of Public Health and Medicine at UCLA.

“You have the drivers of spreading at a time when we are bearing the heaviest burden of this terrible virus and terrible pandemic,” he said.

Calling in to CBS News Wednesday, Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) described her evacuation to a “crowded” undisclosed location with 300 to 400 other people.

“It’s what I would call a covid superspreader event,” she said. “About half the people in the room are not wearing masks, even though they’ve been offered surgical masks. They’ve refused to wear them.”

She did not identify the lawmakers forgoing face coverings beyond saying they were Republicans, including some freshmen. The Committee on House Administration says it is a “critical necessity” to mask up while indoors at the Capitol, and D.C. has a strict mask mandate.

“It’s certainly exactly the kind of situation that we’ve been told by the medical doctors not to be in,” Wild said.

“We weren’t even allowed to get together with our families for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she said, “and now we’re in a room with people who are flaunting the rules.”

At least one member of Congress has tested positive since the mob spurred an hours-long lockdown. Newly elected Rep. Jacob LaTurner (R-Kan.) tested positive for the coronavirus late Wednesday evening, according to a statement posted on his Twitter account. It said he is not experiencing symptoms.

“LaTurner is following the advice of the House physician and CDC guidelines and, therefore, does not plan to return to the House floor for votes until he is cleared to do so,” the statement said.

Luke Letlow, a 41-year-old congressman-elect from Louisiana, died of covid-19 last month.

Any infections among members of Congress and their staff will be far easier to contact-trace than those among rioters, said Angela Rasmussen, an affiliate at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University.

“It certainly would have been easier if they were detained by Capitol police and identified, but testing suspects may be something to consider as law enforcement begins to identify them,” Rasmussen said in an email.

She noted that some may try to evade identification and criminal charges, and said she is deeply concerned for the households and communities they might expose.

“I think really rigorous contact tracing of people who are not identified as being present on Capitol grounds will not be possible,” she said.

The deadliest year in U.S. history didn’t have to be so deadly

If you decided to read the names of every American who is known to have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at a rate of one per second starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, you would not finish until a bit after 10 a.m. Saturday. Except, of course, that’s only including the deaths known as of writing; by then, we can expect 8,000 more deaths, pushing the recitation past noon.

Preliminary federal figures indicate that more than 3.2 million Americans will die over the course of 2020, the highest figure on record. It’s just a bit shy of 1 percent of the total population as of July 1, and about 1 in 10 of those deaths will be a result of covid-19.

That’s the primary context in which any discussion about how the pandemic has affected the United States should occur. Secondarily, we should consider how the number of new coronavirus infections correlates to that figure. At the moment, nearly two people are dying of covid-19 each minute, a function of a massive surge in the number of new infections that began in mid-September.

The surge and the deaths are inextricable. For months, the number of new deaths on any given day has been about 1.8 percent of new cases several weeks prior. Allowing the virus to spread wildly means allowing more Americans to die.

In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, one of the architects of the decision to let the virus spread, former White House adviser Scott Atlas, blames the scale of the pandemic on the media. It’s the “politicization” of the virus, he argues, that has led to the dire outcomes we see, and that’s largely due to “media distortion.”

It’s hard to overstate both how dishonest Atlas’s argument is and how ironic it is that he should point the blame elsewhere. He makes false assertions about where states have been successful and suggests that mitigation efforts that weren’t 100 percent effective shouldn’t be used. He boasts that the effort to combat the spread of the virus was left to states — which is precisely the criticism aimed at President Trump’s administration. When Trump (and Atlas) undercut efforts to slow the spread of the virus, Trump supporters — including state leaders — picked up on that approach, contributing to the current spread.

Trump and Atlas shared the view that allowing the virus to spread was beneficial, as doing so increased population immunity. That another result would be surging deaths was met with a shrug or silence.

At the end of March, Trump offered one of his only forceful endorsements of slowing the spread of the virus. Having been presented with research indicating that as many as 2.2 million Americans would die of the virus if no effort was taken to limit its spread, he endorsed stay-at-home measures aimed at preventing new infections. His team suggested that implementing such mitigation efforts would keep the death toll under 240,000, with the added benefit of preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed.

This was one of Atlas’s arguments, too: Let the virus spread but backstop hospitals to prevent them from being flooded. The government accomplished the first goal, at least.

So we’ve raced past the 240,000-death mark, passing 300,000 deaths this month.

It’s important to remember, too, how often Trump himself promised this wasn’t going to be the country’s future. As the virus was spreading without detection — in part thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s failure to develop a working test — Trump repeatedly downplayed how bad things would get. There were thousands of deaths around the world, he noted in early March, but less than a dozen in the United States. He compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu and to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, an event that had the politically useful characteristic of having occurred while Trump’s eventual opponent in the presidential election was vice president.

Over and over, Trump predicted a high-water mark for coronavirus deaths. Over and over, the country surged past his predictions. As the election approached, he began simply comparing the death toll to that 2.2-million-death figure he’d first introduced in March.

The United States will not reach 2.2 million coronavirus deaths over the course of the pandemic. We probably won’t reach 500,000, assuming that the national vaccination effort — the far-safer way to spread immunity — progresses without significant problems.

Right now, though, thousands of people are dying every day and tens of thousands more are on an inevitable path to the same result. More robust efforts to prevent new infections could have reduced these numbers, as robust efforts did elsewhere (contrary to Atlas’s theories). A consistent, forceful message from a president whose base is devoutly supportive of him would unquestionably have reshaped the virus’s spread. Had Trump embraced the expertise of government virologists, instead of a radiologist he saw on Fox News, it would have perhaps pushed the curve depicting the number of deaths each day back down instead of driving it higher.

This was the deadliest year in American history. Perhaps it would inevitably have been, given the size of the population (particularly the elderly population) and the emergence of covid-19. But it unquestionably didn’t have to be as deadly as it was.