A growing number of Americans are going hungry

A growing number of Americans are going hungry – Washington Sources

26 million now say they don’t have enough to eat, as the pandemic worsens and holidays near.

It was 5 a.m., not a hint of sun in the Houston sky, as Randy Young and his mom pulled into the line for a free Thanksgiving meal. They were three hours early. Hundreds of cars and trucks already idled in front of them outside NRG Stadium. This was where Young worked before the pandemic. He was a stadium cook. Now, after losing his job and struggling to get by, he and his 80-year-old mother hoped to get enough food for a holiday meal.

“It’s a lot of people out here,” said Young, 58. “I was just telling my mom, ‘You look at people pulling up in Mercedes and stuff, come on.’ If a person driving a Mercedes is in need of food, you know it’s bad.”

More Americans are going hungry now than at any point during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, according to a Post analysis of new federal data — a problem created by an economic downturn that has tightened its grip on millions of Americans and compounded by government relief programs that expired or will terminate at the end of the year. Experts say it is likely that there’s more hunger in the United States today than at any point since 1998, when the Census Bureau began collecting comparable data about households’ ability to get enough food.

One in 8 Americans reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the past week, hitting nearly 26 million American adults, an increase several times greater than the most comparable pre-pandemic figure, according to Census Bureau survey data collected in late October and early November. That number climbed to more than 1 in 6 adults in households with children.

“It’s been driven by the virus and the unpredictable government response,” said Jeremy K. Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty in Waco, Tex.

Nowhere has there been a hunger surge worse than in Houston, with a metro-area population of 7 million people. Houston was pulverized in summer when the coronavirus overwhelmed hospitals, and the local economy was been particularly hard hit by weak oil prices, making matters worse.

More than 1 in 5 adults in Houston reported going hungry recently, including 3 in 10 adults in households with children. The growth in hunger rates has hit Hispanic and Black households harder than White ones, a devastating consequence of a weak economy that has left so many people trying to secure food even during dangerous conditions.

On Saturday, these statistics manifested themselves in the thousands of cars waiting in multiple lines outside NRG Stadium. The people in these cars represented much of the country. Old. Young. Black. White. Asian. Hispanic. Families. Neighbors. People all alone.

Inside a maroon Hyundai Santa Fe was Neicie Chatman, 68, who had been waiting since 6:20 a.m., listening to recordings of a minister’s sermon piped into large earphones.

“I’ve been feeding my spirit,” she said.

Her hours at her job as an administrator have been unsteady since the pandemic began. Her sister was laid off. They both live with their mother, who has been sick for the past year. She planned to take the food home to feed her family and share with her older neighbors.

“It’s been hard to survive. Money is low. No jobs. Hard to find work.”

— Randy Young

“I lost my business and I lost my dream.”

— Adriana Contreras

Now, a new wave of coronavirus infections threatens more economic pain.

Yet the hunger crisis seems to have escaped widespread notice in a nation where millions of households have weathered the pandemic relatively untouched. The stock market fell sharply in March before roaring back and has recovered all of its losses. This gave the White House and some lawmakers optimism about the economy’s condition. Congress left for its Thanksgiving break without making any progress on a new pandemic aid deal even as food banks across the country report a crush of demand heading into the holidays.

“The hardship is incredibly widespread. Large parts of America are saying, ‘I couldn’t afford food for my family,’ ” said Stacy Dean, who focuses on food-assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It’s disappointing this hasn’t broken through.”

No place has been spared. In one of the nation’s richest counties, not far from Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, Loudoun Hunger Relief provided food to a record 887 households in a single week recently. That’s three times the Leesburg, Va.-based group’s pre-pandemic normal.

“We are continuing to see people who have never used our services before,” said Jennifer Montgomery, the group’s executive director.

Hunger rates spiked nationwide after shutdowns in late March closed large chunks of the U.S. economy. The situation improved somewhat as businesses reopened and the benefits from a $2.2 trillion federal pandemic aid package flowed into people’s pockets, with beefed-up unemployment benefits, support for food programs and incentives for companies to keep workers on the payroll.

But those effects were short-lived. The bulk of the federal aid had faded by September. And more than 12 million workers stand to lose unemployment benefits before year’s end if Congress doesn’t extend key programs.

“Everything is a disaster,” said Northwestern University economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a leading expert on the economics of food insecurity. “I’m usually a pleasant person, but this is just crazy.”

Economic conditions are the main driver behind rising rates of hunger, but other factors play a role, Schanzenbach said. In the Great Recession that began in 2008, people received almost two years of unemployment aid — which helped reduce hunger rates. Some long-term unemployed workers qualified for even more help.

But the less-generous benefits from the pandemic unemployment assistance programs passed by Congress in March have already disappeared or soon will for millions of Americans.

Even programs that Congress agreed to extend have stumbled. A program giving families additional cash assistance to replace school meals missed by students learning at home was renewed for a year on Oct. 1. But the payments were delayed because many states still needed to get the U.S. Agriculture Department’s approval for their plans. The benefit works out to only about $6 per student for each missed school day. But experts say the program has been a lifeline for struggling families.

One program that has continued to provide expanded emergency benefits is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Agriculture Department issued an emergency order allowing states to provide more families the maximum benefit and to suspend the time limit on benefits for younger unemployed adults without children.

The sharpest rise in hunger was reported by groups who have long experienced the highest levels of it, particularly Black Americans. Twenty-two percent of Black U.S. households reported going hungry in the past week, nearly twice the rate faced by all American adults and more than two-and-a-half times the rate for White Americans.

The Houston area was posting some of its lowest hunger rates before the pandemic, thanks to a booming economy and a strong energy sector, Everett said. Then, the pandemic hit. Hunger surged, concentrated among the city’s sizable low-income population, in a state that still allows for the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Houston’s hunger rates — like those nationwide — fell significantly after the $1,200 stimulus checks were mailed out in April and other pandemic aid plans took effect, Everett said.

But most of the effects of that aid are gone.

“Without sustained aid at the federal level, we’ll be hard pressed to keep up,” said Celia Call, chief executive of Feeding Texas, which advocates for 21 food banks in the state. “We’re just bracing for the worst.”

Schools are one of the most important sources of food for low-income families in Houston. The Houston Independent School District has 210,000 students — many of whom qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. But the pandemic closed schools in the spring. They reopened in the fall with less than half of the students choosing a hybrid model of in-school and at-home instruction. That has made feeding these children a difficult task.

“We’ve made an all-out effort to capture these kids and feed them,” said Betti Wiggins, the school district’s nutrition services officer.

The district provided curbside meal pickups outside schools. Anyone could come, not just schoolchildren. School staffers set up neighborhood distribution sites in the areas with the highest need. They started a program to serve meals to children living in apartment buildings. Sometimes the meal program required police escorts.

“I’m doing everything but serving in the gas station when they’re pumping the gas,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said the normal school meals program she ran before the pandemic has been transformed into providing food for entire families far beyond a school’s walls. She has noticed unfamiliar faces in her meal lines. The “new poor,” she calls them, parents who might have worked in the airline or energy industries crushed by the pandemic.

“I’m seeing folks who don’t know how to handle the poverty thing,” she said, adding that it became her mission to make sure they had food.

The Houston Food Bank is the nation’s largest, serving 18 counties in Southeast Texas with help from 1,500 partner agencies. Last month, the food bank distributed 20.6 million pounds of food — down from the 27.8 million pounds handed out in May, but still 45 percent more than what it distributed in October 2019, with no end in sight.

The biggest worry for food banks right now is finding enough food, said Brian Greene, president of the Houston Food Bank. Food banks buy bulk food with donations. They take in donated food items, too. Food banks also benefited from an Agriculture Department program that purchased excess food from U.S. farmers hurt by the ongoing trade war with China, typically apples, milk and pork products. But funding for that program ended in September. Other federal pandemic programs are still buying hundreds of millions of dollars in food and donating it to food banks. But Greene said he worries about facing “a commodity cliff” even as demand grows.

Teresa Croft, who volunteers at a food distribution site at a church in the Houston suburb of Manvel, said the need is still overwhelming. She handles the paperwork for people visiting the food bank for the first time. They’re often embarrassed, she said. They never expected to be there. Sometimes, Croft tries to make them feel better by telling her own story — how she started at the food bank as a client, but got back on her feet financially more than a decade ago and is now a food bank volunteer.

“They feel so bad they’re having to ask for help. I tell them they shouldn’t feel bad. We’re all in this together,” Croft said. “If you need it, you need it.”

The pandemic changed how the Houston Food Bank runs. Everything is drive-through and walk-up. Items are preselected and bagged. The food bank has held several food distribution events in the parking lots outside NRG Stadium — a $325 million, retractable-roof temple to sports and home to the National Football League’s Houston Texans.

Last weekend, instead of holding the 71st annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in Houston, the city and H-E-B supermarkets decided to sponsor the food bank’s distribution event at NRG Stadium. The plan was to feed 5,000 families.

The first cars arrived at the stadium around 1 a.m. Saturday, long before the gates opened for the 8 a.m. event. By the time Young and his mother drove up, the line of vehicles stretched into the distance. Organizers opened the gates early. The cars and trucks began to slowly snake through the stadium’s parking lot toward a series of white tents, where the food was loaded into trunks by volunteers. The boxes contained enough food for multiple meals during the holiday week, with canned vegetables such as corn and sweet potatoes, a package of rolls, cranberry sauce and a box of masks. People picking up food were also given a bag of cereal and some resealable bags, a ham, a gallon of milk, and finally a turkey and pumpkin pie.

The food for 5,000 families ran out. The Houston Food Bank — knowing that would not be enough — was able to assemble more.

It provided food to 7,160 vehicles and 261 people who walked up to the event.

Troy Coakley, 56, came to the event looking for food to feed his family for the week. He still had his job breaking apart molds at a plant that makes parts for oil field and water companies. But his hours were cut when the economy took a hit in March. Coakley went from working overtime to three days a week.

He was struggling. Behind on rent. Unsure what was to come.

But for the moment, his trunk filled with food, he had one less thing to worry about.

“Other than [the pandemic], we were doing just fine,” Coakley said. “But now it’s getting worse and worse.”

1 Million Covid Kids

https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/

More than half a million children in the U.S. have had COVID-19

State-level reports are the best publicly available data on child COVID-19 cases in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association are collaborating to collect and share all publicly available data from states on child COVID-19 cases (definition of “child” case is based on varying age ranges reported across states; see report Appendix for details and links to all data sources).

As of November 12th, over 1 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. The age distribution of reported COVID-19 cases was provided on the health department websites of 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Children represented 11.5% of all cases in states reporting cases by age.

A smaller subset of states reported on hospitalizations and mortality by age; the available data indicated that COVID-19-associated hospitalization and death is uncommon in children.

The number of new child COVID-19 cases reported this week, nearly 112,000, is by far the highest weekly increase since the pandemic began. At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children. However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.

Summary of Findings (data available as of 11/12/20) :

(Note: Data represent cumulative counts since states began reporting)

Cumulative Number of Child COVID-19 Cases*

  • 1,039,464 total child COVID-19 cases reported, and children represented 11.5% (1,039,464/9,037,991) of all cases
  • Overall rate: 1,381 cases per 100,000 children in the population

Change in Child COVID-19 Cases*

  • 111,946 new child COVID-19 cases were reported the past week from 11/5-11/12 (927,518 to 1,039,464)
  • Over two weeks, 10/29-11/12, there was a 22% increase in child COVID-19 cases (185,829 new cases (853,635 to 1,039,464))

Testing (10 states reported)*

  • Children made up between 5.0%-17.4% of total state tests, and between 3.9%-18.8% of children tested were tested positive

Hospitalizations (23 states and NYC reported)*

  • Children were 1.2%-3.3% of total reported hospitalizations, and between 0.5%-6.1% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization

Mortality (42 states and NYC reported)*

  • Children were 0.00%-0.21% of all COVID-19 deaths, and 16 states reported zero child deaths
  • In states reporting, 0.00%-0.15% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death

* Note: Data represent cumulative counts since states began reporting; All data reported by state/local health departments are preliminary and subject to change

Download Full Report  (11/12/2020) 

Download Full Report  (11/5/2020) 

Download Full Report  (10/29/2020) 

Additional Information

Coronavirus Update

The latest

The United States reported a record high of more than 90,000 new coronavirus infections on Friday, and today’s count is on pace to go even higher. The country has now exceeded 9 million cases since the outbreak began, with the last 1 million added in just the last two weeks.

More than 1,000 coronavirus deaths were also reported Thursday, a sadly frequent milestone, which the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. effectively dismissed Thursday night when he claimed in a Fox News interview that the death rate had dropped to “almost nothing.”

As evidence, Trump Jr. cited a misleading graph on his Instagram page – apparently compiled from incomplete and already outdated federal data – which was used as evidence to suggest that the “death rate” has been falling dramatically in the last two weeks. In fact, daily deaths are slightly rising after a long plateau, and the situation is expected to worsen in November as the virus takes its toll on the newly infected. “I realize I am naive,” Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, tweeted in response to the interview. “But I’m still shocked by the casualness by which our political and media leaders and their families dismiss the daily deaths of nearly a thousand Americans.”

A federal program to inspect nursing homes in the early days of the U.S. outbreak cleared nearly 80 percent of them of any infection-control violations, including some facilities that were experiencing covid-19 outbreaks during the inspections. “All told, homes that received a clean bill of health earlier this year had about 290,000 coronavirus cases and 43,000 deaths among residents and staff, state and federal data shows,” our Business desk reported.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans will have coronavirus infections on Election Day, and options are dwindling for those who intend to vote. “Some will be required to get doctor’s notes or enlist family members to help,” our Investigations desk reported. “Others, in isolation, will need to have a witness present while they vote. Planned accommodations — such as officials hand-delivering ballots — may prove inadequate or could be strained beyond limits.”

Coronavirus surge threatens to shut schools down again

The nationwide surge in coronavirus cases is forcing many school districts to pull back from in-person instruction, Axios’ Marisa Fernandez reports.

Why it matters: Remote learning is a burden on parents, teachers and students. But the wave of new infections, and its strain on some hospitals’ capacity, makes all forms of reopening harder to justify.

Where it stands: Over 60% of U.S. public school students will be attending schools with in-person options, up 20% from Labor Day, Education Dive reports. But some of those districts are pulling back.

  • Spikes in COVID-19 cases are forcing two Salt Lake County high schools to close their doors and switch to online-only instruction — in a district where half the high schools were already closed, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
  • Both Boston and Chicago’s public school districts shut down in-person learning as health officials investigate outbreaks in nearby suburbs.
  • Nineteen Minnesota counties are on the verge of closing their K-12 schools for the foreseeable future because of rising coronavirus cases, the Pioneer Press reports.
  • high school in Milwaukee had to close after six staff members had to quarantine this week.

The other side: Early evidence suggests that in-person school reopenings have been safe — and fears that they’d become hotspots haven’t come to pass.

  • Some experts say local governments trying to contain their outbreaks should close bars and restaurants first, shutting down schools only as a last resort.
  • That’s the approach Germany took this week. The government will allow schools and day cares to remain open while paying bars and restaurants to shut down, in an effort to curb the rise in cases.

The bottom line: School districts are in a tough spot as they try to juggle the safety of their staff, frustrated parents and the needs of their students.

The Flu Shot

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

“Last night I shared a post on Facebook that said, ‘Hey, the flu shot isn’t about you.’ Sitting here, soaking up every ounce of caffeine before my night shift, I figured I should elaborate.

The flu shot is for Influenza, a severe respiratory illness that can lead to death. Have you ever had it? I have, and it’s awful. You spike fevers, every bone and muscle in your body aches, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to catch your breath.

You get the flu shot not always for you, but for those around you. For the grandparents, whose bodies are not what they used to be, and they just can’t kick an illness in the butt like when they were young.

For the 30 year old, with HIV or AIDS, who has a weakened immune system.

For the 25-year-old mother of 3 who has cancer. She has absolutely zero immune system because of chemotherapy.

For the newborn baby who was just welcomed into the world, and isn’t quite strong enough to fight off infections on his own.

For the nurses and doctors that take care of you. If they get sick, they can’t go to work and take care of the countless patients that need them.

For the 50-year-old husband who needs a medication for his chronic illness, and that medication also weakens his immune system.

For the pregnant mom that has been trying to get pregnant for years, and now she’s trying to stay healthy for her unborn baby.

For the single dad who can’t take any more sick days and needs to provide for his kids.

For the 7-year-old boy that just wants to play with his friends. But he has a disease that puts him at a higher risk for infection, so he has to stay inside.

The flu shot is NOT always about you. It’s about protecting those around you, who cannot always protect themselves. I have been in the room as a patient has passed away, because of influenza. I have watched patients struggle to breathe, because of influenza. I have busted my butt to provide tylenol, warm blankets, nebulizers, etc. to keep that patient comfortable and fighting a terrible respiratory infection.

Herd immunity is a thing.

Influenza killing people is a thing.

You getting the flu shot, should be a thing.

Credit: Nurse Amanda Catherine Bitz

Cartoon – Coronavirus Projections

Cartoon – Coronavirus Projections | HENRY KOTULA

Administration’s new pandemic adviser pushes controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy, worrying public health officials

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-coronavirus-scott-atlas-herd-immunity/2020/08/30/925e68fe-e93b-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most

 

 

One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial “herd immunity” strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The administration has already begun to implement some policies along these lines, according to current and former officials as well as experts, particularly with regard to testing.

The approach’s chief proponent is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist from Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who joined the White House earlier this month as a pandemic adviser. He has advocated that the United States adopt the model Sweden has used to respond to the virus outbreak, according to these officials, which relies on lifting restrictions so the healthy can build up immunity to the disease rather than limiting social and business interactions to prevent the virus from spreading.

Sweden’s handling of the pandemic has been heavily criticized by public health officials and infectious-disease experts as reckless — the country has among the highest infection and death rates in the world. It also hasn’t escaped the deep economic problems resulting from the pandemic.

But Sweden’s approach has gained support among some conservatives who argue that social distancing restrictions are crushing the economy and infringing on people’s liberties.

That this approach is even being discussed inside the White House is drawing concern from experts inside and outside the government who note that a herd immunity strategy could lead to the country suffering hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lost lives.

“The administration faces some pretty serious hurdles in making this argument. One is a lot of people will die, even if you can protect people in nursing homes,” said Paul Romer, a professor at New York University who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2018. “Once it’s out in the community, we’ve seen over and over again, it ends up spreading everywhere.”

Atlas, who does not have a background in infectious diseases or epidemiology, has expanded his influence inside the White House by advocating policies that appeal to Trump’s desire to move past the pandemic and get the economy going, distressing health officials on the White House coronavirus task force and throughout the administration who worry that their advice is being followed less and less.

Atlas declined several interview requests in recent days. After the publication of this story, he released a statement through the White House: “There is no policy of the President or this administration of achieving herd immunity. There never has been any such policy recommended to the President or to anyone else from me.”

White House communications director Alyssa Farah said there is no change in the White House’s approach toward combatting the pandemic.

“President Trump is fully focused on defeating the virus through therapeutics and ultimately a vaccine. There is no discussion about changing our strategy,” she said in a statement. “We have initiated an unprecedented effort under Operation Warp Speed to safely bring a vaccine to market in record time — ending this virus through medicine is our top focus.”

White House officials said Trump has asked questions about herd immunity but has not formally embraced the strategy. The president, however, has made public comments that advocate a similar approach.

“We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk, especially the elderly, while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and to school, and we want to see so many of those great states be open,” he said during his address to the Republican National Convention Thursday night. “We want them to be open. They have to be open. They have to get back to work.”

Atlas has fashioned himself as the “anti-Dr. Fauci,” one senior administration official said, referring to Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, who has repeatedly been at odds with the president over his public comments about the threat posed by the virus. He has clashed with Fauci as well as Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, over the administration’s pandemic response.

Atlas has argued both internally and in public that an increased case count will move the nation more quickly to herd immunity and won’t lead to more deaths if the vulnerable are protected. But infectious-disease experts strongly dispute that, noting that more than 25,000 people younger than 65 have died of the virus in the United States. In addition, the United States has a higher number of vulnerable people of all ages because of high rates of heart and lung disease and obesity, and millions of vulnerable people live outside nursing homes — many in the same households with children, whom Atlas believes should return to school.

“When younger, healthier people get the disease, they don’t have a problem with the disease. I’m not sure why that’s so difficult for everyone to acknowledge,” Atlas said in an interview with Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade in July. “These people getting the infection is not really a problem and in fact, as we said months ago, when you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you’re prolonging the problem because you’re preventing population immunity. Low-risk groups getting the infection is not a problem.”

Atlas has said that lockdowns and social distancing restrictions during the pandemic have had a health cost as well, noting the problems associated with unemployment and people forgoing health care because they are afraid to visit a doctor.

“From personal communications with neurosurgery colleagues, about half of their patients have not appeared for treatment of disease which, left untreated, risks brain hemorrhage, paralysis or death,” he wrote in The Hill newspaper in May

The White House has left many of the day-to-day decisions regarding the pandemic to governors and local officials, many of whom have disregarded Trump’s advice, making it unclear how many states would embrace the Swedish model, or elements of it, if Trump begins to aggressively push for it to be adopted.

But two senior administration officials and one former official, as well as medical experts, noted that the administration is already taking steps to move the country in this direction.

The Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, invoked the Defense Production Act earlier this month to expedite the shipment of tests to nursing homes — but the administration has not significantly ramped up spending on testing elsewhere, despite persistent shortages. Trump and top White House aides, including Atlas, have also repeatedly pushed to reopen schools and lift lockdown orders, despite outbreaks in several schools that attempted to resume in-person classes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated its testing guidance last week to say that those who are asymptomatic do not necessarily have to be tested. That prompted an outcry from medical groups, infectious-disease experts and local health officials, who said the change meant that asymptomatic people who had contact with an infected person would not be tested. The CDC estimates that about 40 percent of people infected with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are asymptomatic, and experts said much of the summer surge in infections was due to asymptomatic spread among young, healthy people.

Trump has previously floated “going herd” before being convinced by Fauci and others that it was not a good idea, according to one official.

The discussions come as at least 5.9 million infections have been reported and at least 179,000 have died from the virus this year and as public opinion polls show that Trump’s biggest liability with voters in his contest against Democratic nominee Joe Biden is his handling of the pandemic. The United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, with far more casualties and infections than any other developed nation.

The nations that have most successfully managed the coronavirus outbreak imposed stringent lockdown measures that a vast majority of the country abided by, quickly ramped up testing and contact tracing, and imposed mask mandates.

Atlas meets with Trump almost every day, far more than any other health official, and inside the White House is viewed as aligned with the president and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on how to handle the outbreak, according to three senior administration officials.

In meetings, Atlas has argued that metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago and New Orleans have already reached herd immunity, according to two senior administration officials. But Birx and Fauci have disputed that, arguing that even cities that peaked to potential herd immunity levels experience similar levels of infection if they reopen too quickly, the officials said.

Trump asked Birx in a meeting last month whether New York and New Jersey had reached herd immunity, according to a senior administration official. Birx told the president there was not enough data to support that conclusion.

Atlas has supporters who argue that his presence in the White House is a good thing and that he brings a new perspective.

“Epidemiology is not the only discipline that matters for public policy here. That is a fundamentally wrong way to think about this whole situation,” said Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, a think tank that researches market-based solutions to help low-income Americans. “You have to think about what are the costs of lockdowns, what are the trade-offs, and those are fundamentally subjective judgments policymakers have to make.”

It remains unclear how large a percentage of the population must become infected to achieve “herd immunity,” which is when enough people become immune to a disease that it slows its spread, even among those who have not been infected. That can occur either through mass vaccination efforts, or when enough people in the population become infected with coronavirus and develop antibodies that protect them against future infection.

Estimates have ranged from 20 percent to 70 percent for how much of a population would need to be infected. Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, said given the transmissibility of the novel coronavirus, it is likely that about 65 to 70 percent of the population would need to become infected for there to be herd immunity.

With a population of 328 million in the United States, it may require 2.13 million deaths to reach a 65 percent threshold of herd immunity, assuming the virus has a 1 percent fatality rate, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

It also remains unclear whether people who recover from covid-19 have long-term immunity to the virus or can become reinfected, and scientists are still learning who is vulnerable to the disease. From a practical standpoint, it is also nearly impossible to sufficiently isolate people at most risk of dying due to the virus from the younger, healthier population, according to public health experts.

Atlas has argued that the country should only be testing people with symptoms, despite the fact that asymptomatic carriers spread the virus. He has also repeatedly pushed to reopen schools and advocated for college sports to resume. Atlas has said, without evidence, that children do not spread the virus and do not have any real risk from covid-19, arguing that more children die of influenza — an argument he has made in television and radio interviews.

Atlas’s appointment comes after Trump earlier this summer encouraged his White House advisers to find a new doctor who would argue an alternative point of view from Birx and Fauci, whom the president has grown increasingly annoyed with for public comments that he believes contradict his own assertions that the threat of the virus is receding. Advisers sought a doctor with Ivy League or top university credentials who could make the case on television that the virus is a receding threat.

Atlas caught Trump’s attention with a spate of Fox News appearances in recent months, and the president has found a more simpatico figure in the Stanford doctor for his push to reopen the country so he can focus on his reelection. Atlas now often sits in the briefing room with Trump during his coronavirus news conferences, even as other doctors do not. He has given the president somewhat of a medical imprimatur for his statements and regularly helps draft the administration’s coronavirus talking points from his West Wing office as well as the slides that Trump often relies on for his argument of a diminishing threat.

Atlas has also said he is unsure “scientifically” whether masks make sense, despite broad consensus among scientists that they are effective. He has selectively presented research and findings that support his argument for herd immunity and his other ideas, two senior administration officials said.

Fauci and Birx have both said the virus is a threat in every part of the country. They have also put forward policy recommendations that the president views as too draconian, including mask mandates and partial lockdowns in areas experiencing surges of the virus.

Birx has been at odds with Atlas on several occasions, with one disagreement growing so heated at a coronavirus meeting earlier this month that other administration officials grew uncomfortable, according to a senior administration official.

One of the main points of tension between the two is over school reopenings. Atlas has pushed to reopen schools and Birx is more cautious.

“This is really unfortunate to have this fellow Scott Atlas, who was basically recruited to crowd out Tony Fauci and the voice of reason,” said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego. “Not only do we not embrace the science, but we repudiate the science by our president, and that has extended by bringing in another unreliable misinformation vector.”

 

US surpasses 6 million coronavirus cases nationwide

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/514364-us-passes-6-million-coronavirus-cases-nationwide

US surpasses 6 million coronavirus cases nationwide | TheHill

The United States has passed six million confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The country has also passed 183,000 deaths nationwide.

President Trump and his 2020 Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, have battled for months over the U.S.’s coronavirus response, with allies of the Democratic nominee hammering the administration over the U.S.’s status as the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world.

In July, Biden accused Trump of giving up on the U.S.’s efforts to control the disease’s spread, claiming that the president “raised the white flag.”

“He has no idea what to do. It’s zero. It’s only one thing he has in mind — how does he win reelection? And it doesn’t matter how many people get COVID and or die from COVID because he fears that if the economy is strapped as badly as it is today that, in fact, he is going to be in trouble,” the former vice president told MSNBC.

Trump, meanwhile, has struck an optimistic tone on the virus when addressing it in recent months and claimed that he believes a vaccine could be available before the election. He also claimed in a recent Axios interview that the virus is “under control as much as you can control it” in the U.S.

“They are dying, that’s true. And you have — it is what it is,” Trump said earlier in August. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague.”

 

 

 

 

COVID-related controversy and hope amid a week of politics

https://mailchi.mp/95e826d2e3bc/the-weekly-gist-august-28-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Democracy vs. disease: the role of freedom in facing pandemics | University  of Nevada, Reno

Week two of the 2020 Pre-Recorded Virtual Presidential Convention-thon wrapped up Thursday night, albeit with a decidedly less Zoom-Webex-FaceTimey feel for this week’s Republicans compared to last week’s Democrats. As delegates and VIPs sat cheek-by-jowl at several in-person events, with scarce masking and plenty of loud cheering, the viewer was left hoping that a rigorous attendee COVID testing protocol was being used.

That hope may have been dashed by a significant change to testing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reversed course on Monday by recommending asymptomatic people who have been exposed to the coronavirus should no longer be tested.

The altered guidance drew sharp rebukes from doctors and infectious disease experts, who worried that it would undermine the ability to track the spread of the virus, which has now claimed more than 181,000 American lives. The flap over testing guidelines came at the same time as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn was forced to apologize for misleading claims he made over the weekend about the efficacy of convalescent plasma in treating COVID patients. In announcing an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the treatment, Hahn dramatically overstated evidence supporting the lifesaving ability of the therapy. The missteps by CDC and FDA officials were undoubtedly an unwelcome distraction for the Trump administration, overshadowing the president’s bold promise in his acceptance speech that a COVID vaccine would be available before the end of the year.

There was hopeful news on the COVID front this week as well. In what was quickly hailed as a “game changer” in solving the nation’s faltering ability to deliver timely test results, Abbott Laboratories was granted its own EUA for a 15-minute, $5 rapid antigen test, which does not require laboratory analysis. The company plans to produce tens of millions of the new BinaxNOW test kits in the next month, and the US government has agreed to acquire nearly all of the 150M tests the company will produce by the end of the year, at a $760M purchase price. Although some antigen tests have been cited for accuracy problems, the FDA said that the new Abbott test delivers correct positive tests 97.1 percent of the time, and correct negative tests 98.5 percent of the time.

Rapid, reliable point-of-care testing could allow for safer return to schools, workplaces, and public gatherings, and if successfully deployed will be an essential tool in managing the impact of the virus until effective vaccines are fully developed, launched, and administered. A genuine ray of hope as the nation looks ahead to the fall and winter.

US coronavirus update: 5.9M cases; 181K deaths; 81.8M tests conducted.

 

 

Patchwork approach to contact tracing hampers national recovery

https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/514233-patchwork-approach-to-contact-tracing-hampers-national-recovery

Patchwork approach to contact tracing hampers national recovery | TheHill

A patchwork approach to contact tracing across state health departments is making it increasingly difficult to know where people are getting exposed to COVID-19.

While some states like Louisiana and Washington state publicly track detailed data related to COVID-19 cases in bars, camps, daycares, churches, worksites and restaurants, most states do not, creating obstacles to preventing future cases.

The extensive spread of the virus, combined with the country’s 50-state approach to pandemic response, has led to a dearth of information about where transmissions are occurring. Those shortcomings are in turn complicating efforts to safely open the economy and to understand the risks associated with certain activities and settings.

Experts know COVID-19 spreads in crowded indoor spaces, but more specifics could help state and local lawmakers strike a better balance between public health needs and those of the economy.

“If you want to take a more targeted approach to public health measures, the more information you have the better,” said Joshua Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation and an infectious disease epidemiologist.

“Rather than have a blunt, close-everything-down approach, you could be a bit more targeted and surgical about how you implement certain measures,” he added.

The Hill asked every state for information about the data they collect and share as part of their contact tracing programs, one of the main tools public health officials have to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most states release information about outbreaks and cases at congregate settings like nursing homes, meatpacking plants, and prisons, which comprise the majority of cases. But there is less information publicly available about the numbers of cases or outbreaks tied to other settings commonly visited by people.

A handful of states including ArkansasColoradoKansasLouisianaMaryland, Michigan, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington track and publicly release data on the settings where COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring, according to responses from state health departments.

For example, Louisiana has tied 468 cases to bars in the state, but most of the new cases in the past week have been tied to food processing plants.

In The Hill’s review of publicly available state data, other settings for COVID-19 transmission include restaurants, childcare centers, gyms, colleges and schools, churches, retailers, weddings and other private social events. It is not clear how widely those settings contributed to infections because widespread transmission of the virus means many people who get sick do not get interviewed by contact tracers — over the past week, there has been an average of 42,000 confirmed cases, though many more are likely going undetected.

State health departments in Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia told The Hill they don’t track location data.

Utah tracks outbreaks and cases tied to workplaces and schools, but not restaurants or bars.

Arizona, California, Delaware, Indiana, Oregon and Pennsylvania track infection locations, but don’t release it to the public.

“The number of people getting COVID-19 from isolated, identifiable outbreaks, such as those in long term care facilities, is decreasing, and more people are contracting COVID-19 from being out and about in their community, such as when visiting restaurants and bars,” said Maggi Mumma, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Bars, indoor dining and gyms are still closed in most of New York and New Jersey, so there is no current data to track for those settings.

But the state health departments also don’t release data on outbreaks or cases tied to other settings like childcare or retail stores.

MinnesotaMontanaNorth Dakota and Wisconsin release the number of cases tied to outbreaks in the community but do not go into specifics about possible transmission sites.

For example, Minnesota lists nearly 7,000 cases as being tied to “community” exposure, but that includes settings like restaurants, bars and workspaces.

In Iowa, a state health department spokesperson said the agency is working on extracting and sharing this type of data on its website, while Maine would not say if they track by specific location.

The remaining state health departments did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Hill and don’t have information about outbreaks or exposure settings on their websites.

Several states said local health departments may be tracking infection locations even if the state is not.

Experts said such a decentralized approach can miss outbreaks if local departments aren’t communicating with each other, meaning any data should be public.

“I do think it would be very valuable for states to make that information public,” said Crystal Watson, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“It helps us collectively get a better understanding as policymakers, as people trying to help in the response. It can also help with personal decision making for people to understand … where it’s most dangerous to go related to getting infected,” Watson said.

The disparities between state health departments are partially due to a lack of federal guidance.

There are no federal requirements on the information contact tracers collect; guidelines vary from state to state, and sometimes from county to county.

Tracking data about where people are getting sick would allow states to take a “cluster busting” approach, experts said, by working backwards from confirmed cases to find where patients might have first contracted the disease, potentially stopping future outbreaks.

That approach requires a change in mindset for contact tracers, who typically focus on reaching close contacts of confirmed cases who might have been exposed to the virus. But research shows between 10 and 20 percent of people are responsible for about 80 percent of new infections, mostly through so-called super-spreader events.

“We know that the way this virus has transmitted is highly clustered groups and anytime you have settings where a lot of people are together in one place,” said Kaiser’s Michaud.

“Collecting good information on this — the cluster busting approach — is a good way to find out where your prevention efforts can have the best bang for your buck,” he said.

At the same time, some state programs are still not operating at full force and are struggling to keep up with widespread infections.

“I think that many parts of the country, especially outside of the Northeast … simply have too many cases to use contact tracing as the primary public health measure to control cases,”  said Stephen Kissler, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health.

“It’s just not enough,” he said. “We just don’t have enough resources, and in a lot of these places enough contact tracers, to follow up on all of the cases.”