The U.S. divide on coronavirus masks

https://www.axios.com/political-divide-coronavirus-masks-1053d5bd-deb3-4cf4-9570-0ba492134f3e.html

Politics, not public health, drive Americans' attitudes toward ...

Mask-wearing has become the latest partisan division in an increasingly politically divided pandemic.

Why it matters: It’s becoming increasingly clear that wearing even a basic cloth mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But whether or not people are willing to wear one has less to do with the risk of the pandemic than their political affiliation.

By the numbers: Results from months of the Axios-Ipsos coronavirus polls show a clear and growing political divide between Democrats and Republicans on mask-wearing habits.

  • Nationally, the percentage of Democrats who reported wearing a mask all the time when leaving home rose from 49% between April 10 and May 4 to 65% between May 8 and June 22.
  • During the same time period, the percentage of Republicans who reported constant mask-wearing rose from 29% to just 35%.

Context: The political divide Americans are reporting on mask use echoes one seen within nearly all levels of the government.

  • President Trump has not been seen to wear a mask, and he told Axios last week that attendees at his Tulsa campaign event on June 20 should “do what they want” on masks, which were not required at the rally.
  • Governors in many red states like Nebraska have refused to mandate facial masks in public, even as cases have begun to rise in recent weeks. At the same time, leaders in blue states — especially those that grappled with large outbreaks of COVID-19 — have urged residents to wear masks, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom mandating their use last week as cases in the state passed 4,000 a day.
  • The situation is even more divided at the local level, with leaders of red towns in blue states pushing back against mask mandates, and vice versa.

Flashback: Some of the blame for the divide can be traced back to muddled public health messaging on mask use in the early stages of the pandemic, when Americans were urged not to go out and buy masks in bulk because of concerns that there wasn’t enough personal protective equipment for front-line health care workers.

  • Those fears were real, as government virus expert Anthony Fauci pointed out in congressional testimony on Tuesday. And public health officials worried that pushing masks would inadvertently encourage Americans to continue going out in public at a moment when lockdowns demanded they stay inside.
  • Like the divide among experts on whether mass protests would increase coronavirus cases, just the perception that health advice might be based on politics rather than science gives cover to those who would forego masks, especially since the outbreak itself initially seemed like a blue state problem.

Health experts now know that cloth masks are most effective not so much at protecting individuals from infection as protecting the community from infected individuals. But that makes masks as much about social signaling as they are about public health.

  • Conservatives who prize individual autonomy over social responsibility experience “a massive pushback of psychological resistance” when presented with mask mandates, says Steven Taylor, the author of “The Psychology of Pandemics.”
  • That reaction is reinforced “if leaders like Trump downplay the significance of COVID-19 or if they won’t wear masks,” says Taylor. As a result, wearing a mask in conservative communities means visibly going against public opinion, while the opposite is true in communities where mask use is common.
  • The Axios-Ipsos data reflects this reality, showing that while Republicans in blue states use masks less than Democrats, they wear them at higher rates than Republicans in red states, just as Democrats in red states use masks at lower rates than Democrats in blue states.

What to watch: The one factor that seems capable of breaking the political deadlock is the outbreak itself. As cases have skyrocketed in red states like Arizona recently, there’s been a significant increase in Google searches for masks.

 

 

 

 

Cartoon – Flattening the I.Q. Curve

Editorial cartoons

Mask-wearing becomes political even as some governors ease resistance

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/503456-mask-wearing-becomes-political-even-as-some-governors-ease-resistance?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=30821

More US states mandate wearing masks | The Canberra Times ...

Some state and local leaders are softening their resistance to issuing public masking requirements as emerging research shows face coverings can slow the spread of COVID-19, even as others are doubling down on their opposition.

The debate over whether to require face coverings in public has become increasingly politicized in recent weeks, even as COVID-19 cases have increased in the Sun Belt and some other parts of the country as lockdowns across the country have greatly eased.

Governors in southern, conservative states have been reluctant to issue statewide mandates on public mask-wearing, and in some cases have prevented local governments from taking stronger actions. 

“We want to make sure that individual liberty is not infringed upon by government and hence government cannot require individuals to wear a mask,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday in an interview with Waco television station KWTX.

Abbott, who frequently recommends mask-wearing, has resisted calls from local leaders to require it, and has also prohibited them from enforcing local orders with civil or criminal penalties on individuals.

However, two Texas counties on Wednesday announced businesses must impose a mask rule on staff and customers or face fines of up to $1,000, which Abbott said would be allowed under his executive order.

“Businesses … they’ve always had the opportunity and the ability, just like they can require people to wear shoes and shirts, these businesses can require people to wear face masks if they come into their businesses. Now local officials are just now realizing that that was authorized,” he said.

Texas has experienced a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases that experts say is likely related to the state’s decision to lift lockdown measures ahead of Memorial Day. The state reported 3,129 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, its largest single-day increase. Nearly 2,800 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, a new high for the state.

In Arizona, which has also seen a surge in cases, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Wednesday again resisted calls to issue a statewide masking requirement, but in a reversal, said he would allow local governments to take their own actions. Larger cities including Phoenix and Tucson plan to do so.

“Every Arizonan should wear a face mask,” he said at a Wednesday press conference. “This is an issue of personal responsibility, and we’re asking Arizonans to make responsible decisions to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.” 

While a number of coastal states and cities led by Democrats have strict mask requirements when in public settings such as grocery stores, where staying six feet away from others may not be possible, some Republicans appear to see it as a restriction on freedom and have emphasized individual responsibility.

Trump has almost exclusively declined to wear a mask, and has criticized his political rival Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, for wearing one. 

“I see Biden. It’s like his whole face is covered,” Trump said in an interview published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal. “It’s like he put a knapsack over his face. He probably likes it that way. He feels good that way because he does. He seems to feel good in a mask, you know, feels better than he does without the mask, which is a strange situation.”

The debate of whether to wear masks has sparked division on Capitol Hill, where two Republicans this week refused to follow a new directive from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 

“I consider masks much more effective at spreading panic and much less effective at stopping a virus,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), during a hearing yesterday. He later put on a mask. 

Polls have shown Democrats are more likely to wear masks in public than Republicans; a Gallup poll conducted in April found 75 percent of Democrats have worn a mask in public, compared to half of Republicans.

However, emerging evidence shows face coverings can slow the transmission of COVID-19. A study published in Health Affairs this week found that mandated use of face masks in public was associated with a reduction in the daily COVID-19 growth rate in 15 states and Washington, D.C., compared to states that did not have such requirements.

Governors of other states experiencing outbreaks, including Henry McMaster (R) of South Carolina, have recommended but don’t require people to wear face masks in public. City council members in Columbia, S.C., however, are reportedly considering a requirement for the state’s largest city.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) hasn’t issued a statewide mask requirement for the public, but employees of certain businesses are required to wear them while working.

In Montgomery, Ala., which has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the state, Mayor Steven Reed (D) issued an executive order Wednesday requiring face coverings be worn in public after a similar ordinance failed to pass the city’s council.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has also resisted a statewide mask requirement, though localities can require their use in public. On Tuesday, he encouraged people to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible but said it would not be a requirement.

“In terms of forcing that under penalty of criminal law, we’re not going to be doing that. I think it would be applied unevenly and I just don’t think it would end up working,” DeSantis said at a press conference.

The state is also seeing an increase in cases, which DeSantis ties to increased testing. However, public health experts note that the percentage of tests coming back positive is also increasing, a sign of ongoing community transmission. 

In Nebraska, where the rate of COVID-19 transmission has been declining, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) encourages the use of masks in public but has threatened to withhold federal relief funding from localities that require their use in government buildings.

“The governor encourages people to wear a mask but does not believe that failure to wear a mask should be the basis for denying taxpayers’ services,” spokesman Taylor Gage told the Omaha World-Herald.

Not all Republican governors have resisted masking mandates. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker were early to issue wide-ranging mask requirements in their states.

Meanwhile, Democratic governors are mandating mask requirements or say they are seriously considering it. 

As cases continue to climb in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said this state leaders are considering making mask-wearing in public settings mandatory but has not done so yet.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced Wednesday that people living in seven of the state’s counties will have to wear masks in public beginning June 24 as the state sees an increase in cases.

Democratic governors of states hit hard early in the pandemic including New York, Washington and New Jersey have required the use of face coverings in public for several weeks.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statewide mask order Thursday amid an increase in COVID-19 cases in his state.

“Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” Newsom said Thursday. “They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.” 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus drugmakers’ latest tactics: Science by press release

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/05/drugmakers-media-coronavirus-303895

Coronavirus drugmakers' latest tactics: Science by press release ...

Pharmaceutical companies are using the media to tout treatments that are still under review.

Vaccine maker Moderna attracted glowing headlines and bullish investors when it revealed that eight participants in a preliminary clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine had developed antibodies to the virus. The company’s share price jumped nearly 20 percent that day as it released a massive stock offering.

But the full results of the 45-person safety study haven’t been published, even though Moderna began a second, larger trial in late May aimed at determining whether the vaccine works. Several vaccine researchers say the scant public information on the earlier safety study is hard to evaluate because it addresses less than 20 percent of participants.

Call it science by press release — a tactic that pharmaceutical companies are increasingly relying upon to set their experimental coronavirus drugs and vaccines apart in a crowded field, shape public opinion and court regulators. Public health experts say the approach could increase political pressure on federal health officials to green-light drugs and vaccines before it is clear they are safe or effective, with potentially dangerous consequences.

“There’s a long history of pharmaceutical manufacturers putting out self-serving press releases related to clinical trial data that they’re developing that present an overly rosy picture of the data, usually with a boilerplate disclaimer at the end, which is fairly useless,” said Aaron Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies drug regulation and pricing.

There are already signs of hype and political pressure influencing the U.S.’ coronavirus response. The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in March without any proof that it was safe or effective for coronavirus patients — but with the backing of President Donald Trump, who had begun touting the treatment during daily White House briefings.

Subsequent studies have found that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t help those with Covid-19 and can cause potentially fatal side effects. And a top government scientist, Rick Bright, filed a whistleblower complaint in May alleging that he was ousted from his job leading the Biomedical Advanced Research Authority after he resisted political pressure to greenlight widespread use of the drug.

“The FDA has remained an unwavering, science-based voice helping to guide the all-of-government response,” agency Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement. “I have never felt any pressure to make decisions, other than the urgency of the situation around COVID-19.”

But observers aren’t so sure. “From the outside looking in, there seems to be more political pressure than ever,” said Marc Scheineson, a former associate commissioner at the FDA and head of the FDA group at Alston & Bird. “The example in the White House is trickling down and there is a lot of pressure on the FDA … to color information on the optimistic side for political purposes and that is a hugely disturbing trend.”

A spokesperson for Moderna, which has received nearly a half billion dollars from the U.S. government and praise from Trump, said the company previewed its vaccine trial results by press release because it was concerned that the data might leak. The National Institutes of Health’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, had hinted at the results in an interview with National Geographic, and data from a trial of the experimental drug remdesivir had leaked in April.

“You had this data moving widely around NIH and the remdesivir leak was also in our minds,” the Moderna spokesperson said.

But Peter Bach, director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes, said Moderna’s effort to preview its findings in the press “could be construed as an effort to make sure they are part of the conversation — and it worked on that front.”

Other groups have also previewed their hotly anticipated vaccine studies in the press. In late April, The New York Times revealed that six monkeys given a vaccine developed by researchers at the U.K.’s University of Oxford had stayed healthy for 28 days despite sustained exposure to the coronavirus. The article quoted Vincent Munster, a researcher at the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory, which conducted the monkey study at the British scientists’ behest.

The Oxford researchers, who signed a deal with AstraZeneca two days later to develop the experimental vaccine, did not publish a formal scientific analysis of the monkey data until mid-May. The study revealed that the noses of vaccinated monkeys and unvaccinated monkeys contained similar levels of coronavirus particles, suggesting that the vaccinated animals could still spread the disease — and the vaccine might not be as effective as the earlier data had hinted.

AstraZeneca has since inked a $1.2 billion deal with the U.S. government to provide 300 million vaccine doses, and a £65.5 million ($80 million) agreement with the U.K. government to supply 30 million doses.

Liz Derow, a spokesperson for Oxford’s Jenner Institute, where the vaccine researchers are based, said they did not give the monkey data to The New York Times. The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which operates the Rocky Mountain Laboratory, said it did not provide the data to the newspaper — but one of its researchers, Vincent Munster, spoke to a Times reporter about the monkey findings at the request of the Jenner Institute.

“I was really disturbed by not just Moderna, but the Oxford group as well, presenting a press release without data, without a scientific review, without knowing what the press release was based on,” said Barry Bloom, an immunologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “And very positively enough to raise the stock price so two days later officials within the company sold their stock and made a whole lot of money, whether or not the vaccine works.”

Four of the pharmaceutical firm’s top executives together saw gains of $29 million from prescheduled sales of shares in the company in the two days following the vaccine announcement. The company has not yet responded to a request for comment on the stock sales.

Neither the Oxford nor Moderna vaccines are available to the public. But some drugs whose safety and efficacy are now being studied have already been repurposed or authorized for emergency use during the pandemic. The rush to release snippets of information on drug trials to the press ahead of full results has left some doctors wondering how to best treat their patients.

After leaked data from a trial of Gilead’s experimental antiviral remdesivir suggested the drug might be the first shown to help coronavirus patients, the company put out a press release in late April teasing results from a larger, government-run study. Hours later, Fauci revealed some findings of the study during an Oval Office press spray.

But the full analysis of the NIAID trial results was not published until three weeks later. Until that point, frontline physicians had no way to know that patients on ventilators did not benefit from remdesivir treatment — meaning that doctors may have inadvertently wasted some of the United States’ limited stock of the drug.

This lack of understanding on how to use remdesivir was evident in a recent survey more than 250 hospitals by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which found that just 15 percent planned to use their remdesivir doses as described in the FDA’s emergency authorization for the drug.

Andre Kalil, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who led the NIAID trial, told POLITICO that physicians could have patterned their use of remdesivir on the dosages given during the trial.

Others say doctors using experimental treatments should have as much information as possible.

“If we want doctors to make rational medical decisions based on data, then before an authorized product reaches patients, the data should be available to review in some way, not just a press release,” said Walid Gellad, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing.

Kesselheim, too, said that clinical trial data should be made public alongside any emergency authorizations to give physicians “the maximum amount of help they need in figuring out how to prescribe the drug.”

Gilead did not respond to a request for comment. But NIAID said that the urgency of the coronavirus prompted Fauci to share initial results before a full analysis was ready for publication.

Ivan Oransky, a professor of medical journalism at New York University and co-founder of the blog Retraction Watch, which monitors errors and misconduct in scientific research, told POLITICO he fears that the temptation to conduct science by press release will get “worse before it gets better.”

The world is growing more desperate for drugs and vaccines that could bring the coronavirus to heel. And many members of the public and politicians are treating every scrap of scientific information about the pandemic equally, he said — whether data comes from a peer-reviewed study or a company press release.

“There have been mechanisms to review science critically that, given the speed of Covid, have gone out the window,” said Bloom.

And interpreting results of clinical trial data can be difficult under the best of circumstances — especially when that data concerns a virus that was unknown to science until December of last year. When to end a trial and which conclusions to highlight are in many cases a matter of discretion, said Scheineson.

“It’s an art, not a science, in that respect,” he said. “I, for one, will not be the first in line to the new Moderna vaccine.”

 

 

 

 

Axios-Ipsos poll: Americans fear a second wave

https://www.axios.com/axios-ipsos-coronavirus-index-second-wave-87c327c2-42bb-43a5-80b2-5f2f513a24b2.html

Axios-Ipsos poll: Americans fear a second wave - Axios

Eight in 10 Americans are worried about a second wave of the coronavirus, with large majorities saying they’ll resume social distancing, dial back shopping and keep their kids out of school if it happens, in Week 13 of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: Businesses and schools around the country are trying to assess how quickly and fully they should reopen based in part on what Americans will demand and tolerate. These findings underscore the challenges in predicting how they should proceed.

  • But getting Americans to swallow a second round of 14-day self-quarantining could be tougher than getting them to go back to social distancing, with one in three saying they likely won’t do it.
  • The biggest factor is partisan identification, with 81% of Democrats but only 49% of Republicans saying they’ll self-quarantine if a second wave hits.

The big picture: The latest installment of our national weekly survey shows a renewed sense of risk following reports of new hospitalizations since states began lifting stay-at-home orders — but quarantine fatigue is still driving people to take their chances.

  • People’s assessment of large or moderate risk grew last week for each of these categories: returning to their normal workplace, dining out, retail shopping, going to the hair salon or participating in protests.
  • But the share of those going out to eat rose from 31% to 41%. Those visiting friends or relatives rose from 56% to 60%. Those getting their hair done rose from 26% to 31%. Those attending demonstrations rose from 11% to 14%.

What they’re saying: “People are starting to be concerned about it again,” said pollster Chris Jackson, senior vice president for Ipsos Public Affairs. “We’re not yet seeing changes in the patterns of their behavior yet, though.”

  • Their behaviors are not really catching up to their concern level.”

By the numbers: 81% say they’re concerned about a second wave — including those who are extremely (30%), very (26%) or somewhat (24%) concerned.

  • 64% of those surveyed say returning to their normal pre-coronavirus life represents a large or moderate risk, up from 57% a week ago.
  • The share of people extremely or very concerned about getting sick rose from 32% to 40% last week. Those fearing U.S. economic collapse rose from 48% to 54%.
  • There also were upticks in people’s concerns about job security and the government’s response to the outbreak.
  • Americans’ ability to afford household goods also decreased.
  • One in 10 surveyed say they’ve been collecting unemployment benefits in recent weeks.
  • 35% of Americans now know someone who’s tested positive, a new high for the survey.

Between the lines: The survey suggests an evolving understanding of the racial disparities in the pandemic.

  • The share of those saying they are extremely or very concerned that the coronavirus is doing greater damage to people of color rose from 36% to 42%.
  • The share of those extremely or very concerned that official responses are biased against certain groups also rose from 36% to 42%.

 

 

 

 

Cartoon – Sheep at a Crossroads

Florida needs an executive order requiring wearing of face masks

Masks Help Stop The Spread Of Coronavirus, Studies Say—But Wearing Them Still A Political Issue

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahhansen/2020/06/13/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-studies-say-but-wearing-them-still-a-political-issue/#1d0be5a0604e

Trump administration and Cuomo finally agree on one thing ...

TOPLINE

Despite a raft of data suggesting that wearing face masks (in conjunction with hand washing and social distancing) is effective in preventing person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus, the practice is still a partisan political issue in some places even as new cases continue to rise. 

 

KEY FACTS

new review published in The Lancet looked at 172 observational studies and found that masks are effective in many settings in preventing the spread of the coronavirus (though the results cannot be treated with absolute certainty since they were not obtained through randomized trials, the Washington Post notes).

Another recent study found that wearing a mask was the most effective way to reduce the transmission of the virus.

90% of Americans now say they’re wearing a mask in compliance with the CDC’s recommendations, up from 78% in April, according to a new poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Data Foundation.

But despite the conclusive research and what seems to be a public consensus, masks remain a divisive subject. 

As new coronavirus cases surge in Arizona, where cases have jumped 300% since the beginning of May, for instance, Governor Doug Ducey has not made it mandatory to wear masks in public, and in Orange County, California, officials on Friday rescinded a mask mandate after public backlash, even as cases rise; when cases peaked in April, on the other hand, New York made wearing a mask mandatory when people could not socially distance from others, and other states passed similar restrictions.

Part of the politicization of masks may have to do with resistance to heavy-handed government mandates, which in this case could cause people who are already skeptical of wearing face coverings to dig in their heels.

 

CRUCIAL QUOTE

Lindsay Wiley, an American University Washington College of Law professor specializing in public health law and ethics, told NPR last month that stringent mask requirements “can actually cause people who are skeptical of wearing masks to double down.” And in turn, that “reinforce[s] what they perceive to be a positive association with refusing to wear a mask … that they love freedom, that they’re smart and skeptical of public health recommendations.” 

 

KEY BACKGROUND

Masks have also become a heavily politicized issue in recent weeks: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last month voiced his support of mask wearing in public, for instance, in contrast to President Trump and other GOP leaders who have portrayed masks as a sign of weakness. Trump infamously refused to wear a face mask as he toured a Ford facility in Michigan last month. When asked about the mask, he said that he wore one in private but “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has  voiced her support for the practice: “real men wear masks,” she said earlier this month.

 

TANGENT

A video posted to Twitter on Friday showed a street in New York City’s East Village that was packed with people ignoring social distancing guidelines, most of whom were not wearing masks, drew widespread criticism. “When there’s a new spike people will blame the (masked) protests, but it’s really gonna be maskless crap like this,” one Twitter user wrote. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even weighed in on the scene. “Don’t make me come down there,” he tweeted.

 

 

 

 

Fauci Says ‘Real Normality’ Unlikely For A Year As U.S. Continues Pandemic Slog

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2020/06/14/fauci-says-real-normality-unlikely-for-a-year-as-us-continues-pandemic-slog/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailydozen&cdlcid=5d2c97df953109375e4d8b68#2511f59a1855

Fauci Says 'Real Normality' Unlikely For A Year As U.S. Continues ...

TOPLINE

Dr. Anthony Fauci told a British newspaper Sunday that something resembling normal life in the U.S. would likely return in “a year or so,” with the coronavirus pandemic expected to require social distancing and other mitigation efforts through the fall and winter, although political divisiveness, reopening efforts and the George Floyd protests could add more layers of difficulty to the country’s recovery.

KEY FACTS

“I would hope to get to some degree of real normality within a year or so. But I don’t think it’s this winter or fall,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Telegraph Sunday.

Fauci also told the newspaper that the travel ban from the U.K., the European Union, China and Brazil will likely stay in place for “months,” based on “what’s going on with the infection rate.”

Within the U.S., Florida, California and Texas hit all-time daily highs in reported Covid-19 cases, while the Centers for Disease Control predicted six states (Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, North Carolina, Utah and Vermont) will see higher death tolls over the next month.

U.S., where states that aren’t making them mandatory, like California, are seeing cases spike while New York, where the protective gear is required, has the country’s lowest spread rate.

“We’re seeing several states, as they try to reopen and get back to normal, starting to see early indications [that] infections are higher than previously,” Fauci said.

BIG NUMBER

Over 2 million. That’s how many confirmed coronavirus cases are in the U.S., which leads the world both in the number of infections and casualties from the disease, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Despite Fauci’s immediate conservative outlook on when life can return to normal, he’s hopeful that multiple Covid-19 vaccines could be found by the end of 2020. “We have potential vaccines making significant progress. We have maybe four or five,” he told The Telegraph. Although “you can never guarantee success with a vaccine,” Fauci added, from “everything we have seen from early results, it’s conceivable we get two or three vaccines that are successful.”

SURPRISING FACT

The U.S. is not facing a second wave of coronavirus. “We really never quite finished the first wave,” according to Dr. Ashish Jha, a global health professor at Harvard. In an NPR interview, Jha said the first wave is unlikely to be finished “anytime soon.”

KEY BACKGROUND

The World Health Organization designated the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. As of Sunday, the pandemic is approaching its fifth month, and few countries have had success in beating back their outbreaks. New Zealand has essentially returned to normal life after eliminating coronavirus, while countries like the U.S., the U.K. and Brazil, among others, continue to see new cases and report deaths.

Within the U.S., efforts to reduce cases and deaths, like mask wearing, have become partisan political issues. Desires both from elected officials and some citizens to reopen economies have also impacted the pandemic, as states that reopened earlier, like Florida, are seeing numbers of cases spike. Concerns that recent protests sparked by George Floyd’s killing will also further spread the coronavirus are present, but have not yet been proven, as symptoms can take up to 14 days to develop.

 

 

Public Health Officials Face Wave Of Threats, Pressure Amid Coronavirus Response

Public Health Officials Face Wave Of Threats, Pressure Amid Coronavirus Response

Public health officials face wave of threats, pressure amid ...

Emily Brown was director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in Colorado until May 22, when the county commissioners fired her after battling with her over coronavirus restrictions. “They finally were tired of me not going along the line they wanted me to go along,” she says.

Emily Brown was stretched thin.

As the director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in rural Colorado, she was working 12- and 14-hour days, struggling to respond to the pandemic with only five full-time employees for more than 11,000 residents. Case counts were rising.

She was already at odds with county commissioners, who were pushing to loosen public health restrictions in late May, against her advice. She had previously clashed with them over data releases and had haggled over a variance regarding reopening businesses.

But she reasoned that standing up for public health principles was worth it, even if she risked losing the job that allowed her to live close to her hometown and help her parents with their farm.

Then came the Facebook post: a photo of her and other health officials with comments about their weight and references to “armed citizens” and “bodies swinging from trees.”

The commissioners had asked her to meet with them the next day. She intended to ask them for more support. Instead, she was fired.

“They finally were tired of me not going along the line they wanted me to go along,” she said.

In the battle against COVID-19, public health workers spread across states, cities and small towns make up an invisible army on the front lines. But that army, which has suffered neglect for decades, is under assault when it’s needed most.

Officials who usually work behind the scenes managing everything from immunizations to water quality inspections have found themselves center stage. Elected officials and members of the public who are frustrated with the lockdowns and safety restrictions have at times turned public health workers into politicized punching bags, battering them with countless angry calls and even physical threats.

On Thursday, Ohio’s state health director, who had armed protesters come to her house, resigned. The health officer for Orange County, California, quit Monday after weeks of criticism and personal threats from residents and other public officials over an order requiring face coverings in public.

As the pressure and scrutiny rise, many more health officials have chosen to leave or been pushed out of their jobs. A review by KHN and The Associated Press finds at least 27 state and local health leaders have resigned, retired or been fired since April across 13 states.

In California, senior health officials from seven counties, including the Orange County officer, have resigned or retired since March 15. Dr. Charity Dean, the second in command at the state Department of Public Health, submitted her resignation June 4.

These officials have left their posts due to a mix of backlash and stressful, nonstop working conditions, all while dealing with chronic staffing and funding shortages.

Some health officials have not been up to the job during the biggest health crisis in a century. Others previously had plans to leave or cited their own health issues.

But Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said the majority of what she calls an “alarming” exodus resulted from increasing pressure as states reopen. Three of those 27 were members of her board and well known in the public health community — Rio Grande County’s Brown; Detroit’s senior public health adviser, Dr. Kanzoni Asabigi; and the head of North Carolina’s Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services, Chris Dobbins.

Asabigi’s sudden retirement, considering his stature in the public health community, shocked Freeman. She also was upset to hear about the departure of Dobbins, who was chosen as health director of the year for North Carolina in 2017. Asabigi and Dobbins did not reply to requests for comment.

“They just don’t leave like that,” Freeman said.

Public health officials are “really getting tired of the ongoing pressures and the blame game,” Freeman said. She warned that more departures could be expected in the coming days and weeks as political pressure trickles down from the federal to the state to the local level.

From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, federal public health officials have complained of being sidelined or politicized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been marginalized; a government whistleblower said he faced retaliation because he opposed a White House directive to allow widespread access to the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.

In Hawaii, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called on the governor to fire his top public health officials, saying she believed they were too slow on testing, contact tracing and travel restrictions. In Wisconsin, several Republican lawmakers have repeatedly demanded that the state’s health services secretary resign, and the state’s conservative Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that she had exceeded her authority by extending a stay-at-home order.

With the increased public scrutiny, security details — like those seen on a federal level for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert — have been assigned to state health leaders, including Georgia’s Dr. Kathleen Toomey after she was threatened. Ohio’s Dr. Amy Acton, who also had a security detail assigned after armed protesters showed up at her home, resigned Thursday.

In Orange County, in late May, nearly a hundred people attended a county supervisors meeting, waiting hours to speak against an order requiring face coverings. One person suggested that the order might make it necessary to invoke Second Amendment rights to bear arms, while another read aloud the home address of the order’s author — the county’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick — as well as the name of her boyfriend.

Quick, attending by phone, left the meeting. In a statement, the sheriff’s office later said Quick had expressed concern for her safety following “several threatening statements both in public comment and online.” She was given personal protection by the sheriff.

But Monday, after yet another public meeting that included criticism from members of the board of supervisors, Quick resigned. She could not be reached for comment. Earlier, the county’s deputy director of public health services, David Souleles, retired abruptly.

An official in another California county also has been given a security detail, said Kat DeBurgh, the executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, declining to name the county or official because the threats have not been made public.

DeBurgh is worried about the impact these events will have on recruiting people into public health leadership.

“It’s disheartening to see people who disagree with the order go from attacking the order to attacking the officer to questioning their motivation, expertise and patriotism,” said DeBurgh. “That’s not something that should ever happen.”

Many local health leaders, accustomed to relative anonymity as they work to protect the public’s health, have been shocked by the growing threats, said Theresa Anselmo, the executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials.

After polling local health directors across the state at a meeting last month, Anselmo found about 80% said they or their personal property had been threatened since the pandemic began. About 80% also said they’d encountered threats to pull funding from their department or other forms of political pressure.

To Anselmo, the ugly politics and threats are a result of the politicization of the pandemic from the start. So far in Colorado, six top local health officials have retired, resigned or been fired. A handful of state and local health department staff members have left as well, she said.

“It’s just appalling that in this country that spends as much as we do on health care that we’re facing these really difficult ethical dilemmas: Do I stay in my job and risk threats, or do I leave because it’s not worth it?” Anselmo asked.

Some of the online abuse has been going on for years, said Bill Snook, a spokesperson for the health department in Kansas City, Missouri. He has seen instances in which people took a health inspector’s name and made a meme out of it, or said a health worker should be strung up or killed. He said opponents of vaccinations, known as anti-vaxxers, have called staffers “baby killers.”

The pandemic, though, has brought such behavior to another level.

In Ohio, the Delaware General Health District has had two lockdowns since the pandemic began — one after an angry individual came to the health department. Fortunately, the doors were locked, said Dustin Kent, program manager for the department’s residential services unit.

Angry calls over contact tracing continue to pour in, Kent said.

In Colorado, the Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties near Denver, has also been getting hundreds of calls and emails from frustrated citizens, deputy director Jennifer Ludwig said.

Some have been angry their businesses could not open and blamed the health department for depriving them of their livelihood. Others were furious with neighbors who were not wearing masks outside. It’s a constant wave of “confusion and angst and anxiety and anger,” she said.

Then in April and May, rocks were thrown at one of their office’s windows — three separate times. The office was tagged with obscene graffiti. The department also received an email calling members of the department “tyrants,” adding “you’re about to start a hot-shooting … civil war.”  Health department workers decamped to another office.

Although the police determined there was no imminent threat, Ludwig stressed how proud she was of her staff, who weathered the pressure while working round-the-clock.

“It does wear on you, but at the same time we know what we need to do to keep moving to keep our community safe,” she said. “Despite the complaints, the grievances, the threats, the vandalism — the staff have really excelled and stood up.”

The threats didn’t end there, however: Someone asked on the health department’s Facebook page how many people would like to know the home addresses of the Tri-County Health Department leadership. “You want to make this a war??? No problem,” the poster wrote.

Back in Colorado’s Rio Grande County, some members of the community have rallied in support of Brown with public comments and a letter to the editor of a local paper. Meanwhile, COVID-19 case counts have jumped from 14 to 49 as of Wednesday.

Brown is grappling with what she should do next: dive back into another strenuous public health job in a pandemic, or take a moment to recoup?

When she told her 6-year-old son she no longer had a job, he responded: “Good — now you can spend more time with us.”