The kids are not all right

https://mailchi.mp/0e13b5a09ec5/the-weekly-gist-august-21-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Many children heading back to school—in whichever form that that may take this fall—have skipped their annual visit to the pediatrician. The graphic above highlights the sluggish rebound in pediatric ambulatory volume. While adult primary care visits have mostly bounced back, pediatric visits are still 26 percent below pre-COVID levels.

The drop in visits early in the pandemic also impacted immunizations, with 2.5M regular childhood vaccinations missed in the US during the first quarter of 2020—and early data suggests those seem to be rebounding at a similarly anemic rate.

This lack of pediatric routine care is particularly worrisome as COVID-19 cases in children are climbing, with a 90 percent increase from July to August. Though most of the nation’s largest public school districts have opted to begin the school year with online learning, some districts have already returned to in-person classes, and, unsurprisingly, new cases are already being reported.

While COVID-19 is normally neither severe nor fatal in children, infections among school-age kids put others at risk. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly a quarter of teachers (1.5M) are considered high-risk and almost six percent of seniors (3.3M) live with school-aged children.

Without the traditional back-to-school push for well-child visits, sports physicals, and immunization updates, healthcare providers must think creatively about how to give children with the care they need, whether through personalized communication from pediatricians that assuages parental concerns about office safety, or through more innovative means such as drive-thru vaccination services.

 

 

 

‘I’m fighting a war against COVID-19 and a war against stupidity,’ says CMO of Houston hospital

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-physician-relationships/i-m-fighting-a-war-against-covid-19-and-a-war-against-stupidity-says-cmo-of-houston-hospital.html?utm_medium=email

 

After two hours of sleep a night for four months and seeing a member of his team contract the virus, Joseph Varon, MD, is growing exasperated.

“I’m pretty much fighting two wars: A war against COVID and a war against stupidity,” Dr. Varon, MD, CMO and chief of critical care at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, told NBC News. “And the problem is the first one, I have some hope about winning. But the second one is becoming more and more difficult.”

Dr. Varon noted that whether it’s information backed by science or common sense, people throughout the U.S. are not listening. “The thing that annoys me the most is that we keep on doing our best to save all these people, and then you get another batch of people that are doing exactly the opposite of what you’re telling them to do.”

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Varon said he has woken up at dawn every day for the past four months and has headed to the hospital. There, he spends six to 12 hours on rounds before seeing new admissions. He then returns home to sleep two hours, at most.

He said his staff is physically and emotionally drained. 

UMMC nurse Christina Mathers spoke with NBC News from a hospital bed in the segment, noting that she had recently tested positive for COVID-19 after not feeling well during one of her shifts. “All the fighting, all the screaming, all the finger pointing — enough is enough,” Ms. Mathers told NBC. “People just need to listen to us. We’re not going to lie. Why would we lie?” 

Ms. Mathers has worked every other day since April 29, according to The Atlantic, which created a photo essay of Dr. Varon and the UMMC team at work.

 

 

The Constitution doesn’t have a problem with mask mandates

https://theconversation.com/the-constitution-doesnt-have-a-problem-with-mask-mandates-142335?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2022%202020%20-%201684316250&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2022%202020%20-%201684316250+Version+A+CID_3a4842bdc1542ab5ad1725fad090f099&utm_source=campaign_monitor_us&utm_term=The%20Constitution%20doesnt%20have%20a%20problem%20with%20mask%20mandates

The Constitution doesn't have a problem with mask mandates

Many public health professionals and politicians are urging or requiring citizens to wear face masks to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Some Americans have refused, wrongly claiming mask decrees violate the Constitution. An internet search turns up dozens of examples.

“Costco Karen,” for instance, staged a sit-in in a Costco entrance in Hillsboro, Oregon after she refused to wear a mask, yelling “I am an American … I have rights.”

A group called Health Freedom Idaho organized a protest against a Boise, Idaho, mask mandate. One protester said, “I’m afraid where this country is headed if we just all roll over and abide by control that goes against our constitutional rights.”

As one protester said, “The coronavirus doesn’t override the Constitution.”

Speaking as a constitutional law scholar, these objections are nonsense.

The objections

It is not always clear why anti-maskers think government orders requiring face coverings in public spaces or those put in place by private businesses violate their constitutional rights, much less what they think those rights are. But most of the mistaken objections fall into two categories:

Mandatory masks violate the First Amendment right to speech, assembly, and especially association and mandatory masks violate a person’s constitutional right to liberty and to make decisions about how to their own health and bodily integrity.

They’re not mutually exclusive claims:lawsuit filed by four Florida residents against Palm Beach County, for example, argues that mask mandates “interfere with … personal liberty and constitutional rights,” such as freedom of speech, right to privacy, due process, and the “constitutionally protected right to enjoy and defend life and liberty.” The lawsuit asks the court to issue a permanent injunction against the county’s mask mandate.

Responding to a reporter who asked why President Donald Trump appeared unconcerned about the absence of masks and social distancing at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Vice President Mike Pence said: “I want to remind you again freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble is in the Constitution of the U.S. Even in a health crisis, the American people don’t forfeit our constitutional rights.”

What the First Amendment does – and doesn’t – do

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, petition, assembly and religion.

There are two reasons why mask mandates don’t violate the First Amendment.

First, a mask doesn’t keep you from expressing yourself. At most, it limits where and how you can speak. Constitutional law scholars and judges call these “time, place, and manner” restrictions. If they do not discriminate on the basis of the content of the speech, such restrictions do not violate the First Amendment. An example of a valid time, place and manner restriction would be a law that limits political campaigning within a certain distance of a voting booth.

Additionally, the First Amendment, like all liberties ensured by the Constitution, is not absolute.

All constitutional rights are subject to the goverment’s authority to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. This authority is called the “police power.” The Supreme Court has long held that protecting public health is sufficient reason to institute measures that might otherwise violate the First Amendment or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. In 1944, in the case of Prince v. Massachusetts, for example, the Supreme Court upheld a law that prohibited parents from using their children to distribute religious pamphlets on public streets.

The right to liberty

Some anti-maskers object that masks violate the right to liberty.

The right to liberty, including the right to make choices about one’s health and body, is essentially a constitutional principle of individual autonomy, neatly summarized as “My body, my choice.”

The 1905 case of Jacobsen v. Massachusetts shows why mask mandates don’t violate any constitutional right to privacy or health or bodily integrity. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a smallpox vaccination requirement in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The court said that the vaccination requirement did not violate Jacobsen’s right to liberty or “the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best.”

As the court wrote, “There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members.” In a 1995 New York case, a state court held that an individual with active tuberculosis could be forcibly detained in a hospital for appropriate medical treatment.

Even if you assume that mask mandates infringe upon what the Supreme Court calls “fundamental rights,” or rights that the court has called the “very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty,” it has consistently ruled states can act if the restrictions advance a compelling state interest and do so in the least restrictive manner.

Rights are conditional

As the Jacobsen ruling and the doctrine of time, place and manner make clear, the protection of all constitutional liberties rides upon certain necessary – but rarely examined – assumptions about communal and public life.

One is that is constitutional rights – whether to liberty, speech, assembly, freedom of movement or autonomy – are held on several conditions. The most basic and important of these conditions is that our exercise of rights must not endanger others (and in so doing violate their rights) or the public welfare. This is simply another version of the police power doctrine.

Unfortunately, a global pandemic in which a serious and deadly communicable disease can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers upsets that background and justifies a wide range of reasonable restrictions on our liberties. Believing otherwise makes the Constitution a suicide pact – and not just metaphorically.

 

 

 

 

Fitch: Nonprofit hospital margins unlikely to recover until COVID-19 vaccine

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/fitch-nonprofit-hospital-margins-unlikely-to-recover-until-covid-19-vaccine.html?utm_medium=email

What Happens When A Nonprofit Hospital Goes 'For-Profit' : Shots ...

Median financial ratios for nonprofit hospitals and health systems improved before the COVID-19 pandemic, which will provide some financial cushion to withstand financial pressures, according to a report from Fitch Ratings. 

The medians for 2019, based on 2018 data, showed the nonprofit hospital and health system sector stabilized after a period of operational softness. The medians for 2020, based on 2019 audited data, are expected to show improvement in operating margins driven by higher revenues, cost reductions and increased cash flow, Fitch said.

“We expect the 2020 medians will represent peak performance levels until the sector is able to recover from the effects of the pandemic on operations,” Fitch said. 

The credit rating agency said the nonprofit healthcare sector is unlikely to stabilize until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

“The sector has shown considerable resiliency over the years, weathering significant events such as the Great Recession and legislative changes to funding,” Fitch said. “However, the coronavirus presents entirely new and fundamental challenges for the sector in the short term in the form of volume and revenue disruption, and over the medium to longer term with expected deterioration of individual provider payor mixes and possible changes in the behavior of healthcare consumers.”

 

 

 

 

Public’s disconnect from COVID-19 reality worries experts

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/507334-publics-disconnect-from-covid-19-reality-worries-experts

Public's disconnect from COVID-19 reality worries experts | TheHill

The United States is being ravaged by a deadly pandemic that is growing exponentially, overwhelming health care systems and costing thousands of lives, to say nothing of an economic recession that threatens to plague the nation for years to come.

But the American public seems to be over the pandemic, eager to get kids back in schools, ready to hit the bar scene and hungry for Major League Baseball to play its abbreviated season.

 

The startling divergence between the brutal reality of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the fantasy land of a forthcoming return to normalcy has public health experts depressed and anxious about what is to come. The worst is not behind us, they say, by any stretch of the imagination.

 

“It’s an absolute disconnect between our perceived reality and our actual reality,” said Craig Spencer, a New York City emergency room doctor who directs global health in emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “To look at the COVID case count and the surge in cases and to think that we can have these discussions as we have uncontrolled spread, to think we can have some national strategy for reopening schools when we don’t even have one for reopening the country, it’s just crazy.”

The number of dead from the virus in the United States alone, almost 136,000, is roughly equal to the populations of Charleston, S.C., or Gainesville, Fla. If everyone in America who had been infected lived in the same city, that city would be the third-largest in the country, behind only New York and Los Angeles. More people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus than live in the state of Utah. By the weekend, there are likely to be more confirmed coronavirus cases than there are residents of Connecticut.

There are signs that the outbreak is getting worse, not better. The 10 days with the highest number of new coronavirus infections in the United States have come in the past 11 days.

Case counts, hospitalizations and even deaths are on the rise across the nation, not only in Southern states that were slow to embrace lockdowns in March and April.

California, the first state to completely lock down, has reported more than 54,000 new cases over both of the last two weeks. Nevada, about one-thirteenth the size of California, reported 5,200 new cases last week. States where early lockdowns helped limit the initial peak like Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio are all seeing case counts grow and hospital beds fill up.

Only two states — Maine and New Jersey — have seen their case counts decline for two consecutive weeks.

 

“We are nearing the point where pretty much most of the gains we had achieved have been lost,” said Christine Petersen, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa. “All of us are hoping we magically get our acts together and we can look like Europe in two months. But all the data shows we are not doing that right now.”

It is in that dismal context that schools are preparing some sort of return to learning, whether in person or remote. President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have threatened schools that do not fully reopen.

But even though the coronavirus appears to have less severe consequences among children, sending them back to schools en masse does not carry zero risk. Children have died from the virus, and the more who are exposed mean more opportunities for the virus to kill again, even before considering the millions of teachers who may be vulnerable or the parents and grandparents asymptomatic children might be exposed to.

Already, school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego have delayed reopening plans as case counts rise.

“We do know that kids can get sick and they can even die. It’s definitely a much lower number,” Petersen said. “Even if they aren’t as infectious, if there are millions of them gathering in schools not having great hygiene, it’s a multiplier effect.”

 

The painful lockdowns that were supposed to reduce viral transmissions bought time to bolster testing and hospital capacity, to speed production of the equipment needed to test patients and protect front-line health care workers.

But that hasn’t happened; laboratories in the United States have tested as many as 823,000 people in a day, a record number but far shy of the millions a day necessary to wrestle the virus under control. Arizona and Los Angeles have canceled testing appointments for lack of supplies. Hospitals are reporting new shortages of protective gear and N95 masks.

The Trump administration used the Defense Production Act to order meat processing plants to stay open; it has only awarded contracts sufficient to produce 300 million N95 masks by the end of the year, far short of what health experts believe will be necessary to protect health care workers.

 

“A failure of national leadership has led us to a place where we are back where we were before, no national testing strategy, no national strategy for supply,” said Kelli Drenner, who teaches public health at the University of Houston. “States are still on their own to scramble for reagents and swabs and PPE and all of that, still competing against each other and against nations for those resources.”

There are troubling signs that the promise of a vaccine may not be the cure-all for which many had hoped. Early studies suggest that the immune system only retains coronavirus antibodies for a few months, or perhaps a year, raising the prospect that people could become reinfected even after they recover. A growing, if still fringe, movement of anti-vaccination activists may refuse a vaccine altogether, putting others at risk.

“A vaccine is not going to solve this. People die of vaccine-preventable diseases every day. All the failures with testing and diagnostics and all the inequities and access to care with those are going to be the same things that are going to be magnified with a vaccine,” said Nita Bharti, a biologist at Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics.

 

More than a dozen states hit hardest by the latest wave of disease have paused or reversed their reopening processes. But only 24 states and the District of Columbia have ordered residents to wear masks in public, and compliance varies widely by both geography and political affiliation.

“This is the critical time. If we are going to try to reverse this, we have to get back to the mental space and the resolute action we had in March. I’m not sure we have the energy and the wherewithal to do it,” Petersen said.

 

Without a dramatic recommitment to conquering the virus, health officials warn, the new normal in which the country exists will be one of serious and widespread illness, and a steady drumbeat of death.

“None of this was inevitable. None of this should be acceptable. There are ways we can do better,” Spencer said. “This will continue to be our reality for as long as we don’t take it seriously.”

But after months of repeating the same warnings — wear a mask, stay socially distant, stay home if possible, avoid places where people congregate in tight quarters — some health experts worry their message has been lost amid a sea of doubt, skepticism and mixed signals.

“It’s like a learned helplessness when we’re not helpless,” Drenner said. “There are some pretty effective strategies, but we don’t seem to have the political will to do it.”

 

 

 

 

Fauci: Surge States Must Pause Reopening

https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/87527?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Weekly%20Review%202020-07-12&utm_term=NL_DHE_Weekly_Active

Fauci: Surge States Must Pause Reopening | MedPage Today

NIAID chief pins hopes for long-term containment on vaccine.

States facing COVID-19 surges must hit “pause” on their reopenings and begin to truly follow the CDC guidelines for mitigating its spread, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, MD, told The Hill during an online webinar hosted by the website on Thursday.

Cases in the U.S. peaked in April but instead of falling to near zero, as happened in many European countries, new daily diagnoses plateaued at about 20,000 per day.

That ended in late May, when new cases began rising again, driven by big increases in California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. The national rate has been topping 50,000 per day; the widely cited Johns Hopkins University tracker’s count spiked by 113,000 in the 24 hours ending at 8:00 a.m. ET Friday.

“We need to get our arms around that … and we need to do something about it quickly,” Fauci said.

One major challenge is the nature of the virus itself, which is “spectacularly transmissible,” he noted.

But the other problem is that some states ignored public health experts’ advice.

“We went from shutting down to opening up in a way that essentially skipped over all the guideposts,” he said, referring to the benchmarks for each phase of the reopening process. “That’s not the way to go.”

Fauci said he hopes it won’t be necessary for sunbelt states to return to a total shutdown.

“We’ve got to get them to do very fundamental things: closing bars, avoiding congregations of large numbers of people, getting the citizenry in those states to wear masks, maintain six-foot distance, washing hands,” he said. “If we can do that consistently, I will tell you almost certainly you’re going to see a down curve of those infections.”

Fauci also offered his projections for vaccine development.

“We’re really cautiously optimistic that things are moving along quite well with more than one candidate.”

He said the Moderna vaccine, which the NIH helped to develop, “will very likely be going into advanced phase III clinical trials, by the end of this month, July.”

Other “equally promising” vaccine candidates will begin these trials “a little bit later.”

“[W]ith any vaccine development program you never can guarantee success … but the early signs are proving favorable,” he said.

Fauci said he hopes “by the end of this calendar year and the beginning of 2021, that we will have a vaccine that we will be able to begin to deploy to people who need it.”

 

 

 

 

Providence, Humana back ad campaign urging patients to stop ‘medical distancing’

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/providence-humana-back-ad-campaign-urging-patients-to-stop-medical-distan/581172/

Dive Brief:

  • A coalition of providers, payers and other healthcare organizations on Tuesday launched an ad campaign to encourage patients not to put off important care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The announcement encourages people to continue social distancing but not “medical distancing” by putting off routine care or avoiding checking on concerning symptoms. That could be either through telemedicine or an in-person visit.
  • The campaign will be on TV, in print and across social media. The 11 organizations behind it include Providence, Humana, Baylor Scott & White, LabCorp and Walgreens.

Dive Insight:

While some hospitals in hotspots in Texas, Florida, California and Arizona have had to once again put off non-emergency procedures, providers in other areas of the country are trying to ramp up regular patient volumes as the number of positive cases eases.

Surveys show, however, that people are wary of returning to the doctor’s office, either because they worry about exposure to the novel coronavirus or have lost coverage to help pay for care.

The new ad campaign seeks to ease these concerns. No dollar figure was attached to the plan, which advertising agency MullenLowe U.S. took on pro bono. It follows an ad the American Hospital Association launched in May to ensure the public facilities are still available for non-COVID-19 care.

Since the pandemic’s onset in the United States, health officials have been concerned about the short- and long-term consequences of routine and preventive care being delayed or put off entirely. Chronic diseases that are caught early can be managed more easily and less expensively.

Also, research shows even some crucial services aren’t being sought even for issues such as strokes and heart attacks. In April, emergency room visits nationwide dropped more than 40%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health experts are also beginning to fear vaccinations may be avoided, which could cause trouble with the upcoming flu season.

For providers the reduction in patient volumes has meant a major revenue loss. Some patient volume has been recaptured, but that rolled back again in recent weeks with hospitals in large states like Texas and Florida again reaching capacity with a COVID-19 surge.

At the end of June, hospital traffic in Arizona, New York and Texas was down week over week, according to an analysis from Jefferies.

Primary care has particularly suffered. Visits to medical offices were down nearly 60% in March and April, meaning losses to those practices could top $15 billion this year, according to a recent Health Affairs study.

The ad campaign stresses that providers have guidelines in place to keep patients safe, such as isolation of those suspected of having COVID-19 and increased virtual options.

“While we understand the fears that many people have around contracting the virus, our country’s medical facilities have adopted CDC guidelines and best practices and even telemedicine options to make your visit as safe as possible to prevent the spread of the virus,” Humana CMO William Shrank said in a statement. “The intent of the campaign is to let people know that protecting yourself against getting this virus does not need to come at the expense of your overall health.”

 

 

 

 

Re-examining the delivery of high-value care through COVID-19

https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/502851-examining-the-delivery-of-high-value-care-through-covid-19#bottom-story-socials

Re-examining the delivery of high-value care through COVID-19 ...

Over the past months, the country and the economy have radically shifted to unchartered territory. Now more than ever, we must reexamine how we spend health care dollars. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed challenges with health care in America, we see two overarching opportunities for change:

1) the under-delivery of evidence-based care that materially improves the lives and well-being of Americans and

2) the over-delivery of unnecessary and, sometimes, harmful care.

The implications of reallocating our health care spending to high-value services are far-ranging, from improving health to economic recovery. 

To prepare for coronavirus patients and preserve protective equipment, clinicians and hospitals across the country halted non-urgent visits and procedures. This has led to a substantial reduction in high-value care: emergency care for strokes or heart attacks, childhood vaccinations, and routine chronic disease management. However, one silver lining to this near shutdown is that a similarly dramatic reduction in the use of low-value services has also ensued.

As offices and hospitals re-open, we have a once in a century opportunity to align incentives for providers and consumers, so patients get more high-value services in high-value settings, while minimizing the resurgence of low-value care. For example, the use of pre-operative testing in low-risk patients should not accompany the return of elective procedures such as cataract removal. Conversely, benefit designs should permanently remove barriers to high-value settings and services, like patients receiving dialysis at home or phone calls with mental health providers.   

People with low incomes and multiple chronic conditions are of particular concern as unemployment rises and more Americans lose their health care coverage. Suboptimal access and affordability to high-value chronic disease care prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was well documented  As financially distressed providers re-open to a new normal, hopeful to regain their financial footing, highly profitable services are likely to be prioritized.

Unfortunately, clinical impact and profitability are frequently not linked. The post-COVID reopening should build on existing quality-driven payment models and increase reimbursement for high-value care to ensure that compensation better aligns with patient-centered outcomes.

At the same time, the dramatic fall in “non-essential care” included a significant reduction in services that we know to be harmful or useless. Billions are spent annually in the US on routinely delivered care that does not improve health; a recent study from 4 states reports that patients pay a substantial proportion (>10 percent) of this tab out-of-pocket. This type of low-value care can lead to direct harm to patients — physically or financially or both — as well as cascading iatrogenic harm, which can amplify the total cost of just one low-value service by up to 10 fold. Health care leaders, through the Smarter Health Care Coalition, have hence called on the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Azar to halt Medicare payments for services deemed low-value or harmful by the USPSTF. 

As offices and hospitals reopen with unprecedented clinical unmet needs, we have a unique opportunity to rebuild a flawed system. Payment policies should drive incentives to improve individual and population health, not the volume of services delivered. We emphasize that no given service is inherently high- or low-value, but that it depends heavily on the individual context. Thus, the implementation of new financial incentives for providers and patients needs to be nuanced and flexible to allow for patient-level variability. The added expenditures required for higher reimbursement rates for highly valuable services can be fully paid for by reducing the use of and reimbursement for low-value services.  

The delivery of evidence-based care should be the foundation of the new normal. We all agree that there is more than enough money in U.S. health care; it’s time that we start spending it on services that will make us a healthier nation.

 

 

 

A few superspreaders transmit the majority of coronavirus cases

https://theconversation.com/a-few-superspreaders-transmit-the-majority-of-coronavirus-cases-139950?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20June%2012%202020%20-%201650015873&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20June%2012%202020%20-%201650015873+Version+A+CID_db6d6c973ccfe2fa9f80ca414a282efe&utm_source=campaign_monitor_us&utm_term=A%20few%20superspreaders%20transmit%20the%20majority%20of%20coronavirus%20cases

Corona A few superspreaders transmit the majority of coronavirus ...

The coronavirus has traveled the globe, infecting one person at a time. Some sick people might not spread the virus much further, but some people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 are what epidemiologists call “superspreaders.”

Elizabeth McGraw, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, explains the evidence and why superspreaders can be crucial to a disease’s transmission.

What is a superspreader?

Early in the outbreak, researchers estimated that a person carrying SARS-CoV-2 would, on average, infect another two to three people. More recent studies have argued, however, that this number may actually be higher.

As early as January, though, there were reports out of Wuhan, China, of a single patient who infected 14 health care workers. That qualifies him as a super spreader: someone who is responsible for infecting an especially large number of other people.

Since then, epidemiologists have tracked a number of other instances of SARS-CoV-2 superspreading. In South Korea, around 40 people who attended a single church service were infected at the same time. At a choir practice of 61 people in Washington state, 32 attendees contracted confirmed COVID-19 and 20 more came down with probable cases. In Chicago, before social distancing was in place, one person that attended a dinner, a funeral and then a birthday party was responsible for 15 new infections.

During any disease outbreak, epidemiologists want to quickly figure out whether superspreaders are part of the picture. Their existence can accelerate the rate of new infections or substantially expand the geographic distribution of the disease.

 

What are the characteristics of a superspreader?

Whether someone is a superspreader or not will depend on some combination of the pathogen, the patient’s biology and their environment or behavior.

Some infected individuals might shed more virus into the environment than others if their immune system has trouble subduing the invader. Additionally, asymptomatic individuals – up to 50% of all those who get COVID-19 – will continue their normal activities, inadvertently infecting more people. Even people who ultimately do show symptoms are capable of transmitting the virus during a pre-symptomatic phase.

A person’s behaviors, travel patterns and degree of contact with others can also contribute to superspreading. An infected shopkeeper might come in contact with a large number of people and goods each day. An international business traveler may crisscross the globe in a short period of time. A sick health care worker might come in contact with large numbers of people who are especially susceptible, given the presence of other underlying illnesses.

Public protests – where it’s challenging to keep social distance and people might be raising their voices or coughing from tear gas – are conducive to superspreading.

 

How big a part of COVID-19 are superspreaders?

Several recent preprint studies, which haven’t yet been peer-reviewed, have shed light on the role of superspreading in COVID-19’s dispersion around the globe.

Researchers in Hong Kong examined a number of disease clusters by using contact tracing to track down everyone with whom individual COVID-19 patients had interacted. In the process, they identified multiple situations where a single person was responsible for as many as six or eight new infections.

The researchers estimated that only 20% of all those infected with SARS-CoV-2 were responsible for 80% of all local transmission. Importantly, they also showed that these transmission events were associated with people who had more social contacts – beyond just family members – highlighting the need to rapidly isolate people as soon as they test positive or show symptoms.

Another study by researchers in Israel took a different approach. They compared the genetic sequences of coronavirus samples from patients inside the country to those from other places. Based on how different the genomes were, they could identify each time SARS-CoV-2 entered Israel and then follow how it spread domestically.

These scientists estimated that 80% of community transmission events – one person spreading the coronavirus to another – could be tracked back to just 1-10% of sick individuals.

And when another research group modeled the variation in how many other SARS-CoV-2 infections a single infected person tends to cause, they also found there were occasionally individuals who were very infectious. These people accounted for over 80% of transmissions in a population.

 

When have superspreaders played a key role in an outbreak?

There are a number of historical examples of superspreaders. The most famous is Typhoid Mary, who in the early 20th century purportedly infected 51 people with typhoid through the food she prepared as a cook.

During the last two decades, superspreaders have started a number of measles outbreaks in the United States. Sick, unvaccinated individuals visited densely crowded places like schools, hospitals, airplanes and theme parks where they infected many others.

Superspreaders have also played a key role in the outbreaks of other coronaviruses, including SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2015. For both SARS and MERS, superspreading mainly occurred in hospitals, with scores of people being infected at a time.

 

Can superspreading occur in all infectious diseases?

Yes. Researchers have identified superspreaders in outbreaks of diseases caused by bacteria, such as tuberculosis, as well as those caused by viruses, including measles and Ebola. Just as appears to be the case with the coronavirus, some scientists estimate that in an outbreak of any given pathogen, 20% of the population is usually responsible for causing over 80% of all cases of the disease.

The good news is that the right control practices specific to how pathogens are transmitted – hand-washing, masks, quarantine, vaccination, reducing social contacts and so on – can slow the transmission rate and halt a pandemic.

 

 

 

U.S. Passes 2 Million Coronavirus Cases as States Lift Restrictions, Raising Fears of a Second Wave

https://www.democracynow.org/2020/6/11/dr_craig_spencer?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=a7a0b2232c-Daily_Digest_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-a7a0b2232c-192434661

U.S. Reaches More Than 2 Million Coronavirus Cases - YouTube

The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases has officially topped 2 million as states continue to ease stay-at-home orders and reopen their economies and more than a dozen see a surge in new infections. “I worry that what we’ve seen so far is an undercount and what we’re seeing now is really just the beginning of another wave of infections spreading across the country,” says Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.

AMY GOODMAN: I certainly look forward to the day you’re sitting here in the studio right next to me, but right now the numbers are grim. The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases has officially topped 2 million in the United States, the highest number in the world by far, but public health officials say the true number of infections is certain to be many times greater. Officially, the U.S. death toll is nearing 113,000, but that number is expected to be way higher, as well.

This comes as President Trump has announced plans to hold campaign rallies in several states that are battling new surges of infections, including Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Arizona — which saw cases rise from nearly 200 a day last month to more than 1,400 a day this week.

On Tuesday, the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, called the coronavirus his worst nightmare.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Now we have something that indeed turned out to be my worst nightmare: something that’s highly transmissible, and in a period — if you just think about it — in a period of four months, it has devastated the world. … And it isn’t over yet.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Vice President Mike Pence tweeted — then deleted — a photo of himself on Wednesday greeting scores of Trump 2020 campaign staffers, all of whom were packed tightly together, indoors, wearing no masks, in contravention of CDC guidelines to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Well, for more, we’re going directly to Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. His recent piece in The Washington Post is headlined “The strange new quiet in New York emergency rooms.”

Dr. Spencer, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with this, though this day is a very painful one. Cases in the United States have just topped 2 million, though that number is expected to be far higher, with the number of deaths at well over 113,000, we believe, Harvard University predicting that that number could almost double by the end of September. Dr. Craig Spencer, your thoughts on the reopening of this country and what these numbers mean?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER: That’s a really good question. So, when you think about those numbers, remember that very early on, in March, in April, when I was seeing this huge surge in New York City emergency departments, we weren’t testing. We were testing people that were only being admitted to the hospital, so we were knowingly sending home, all across the epicenter, people that were undoubtedly infected with coronavirus, that are not included in that case total. So you’re right: The likely number is much, much higher, maybe 5, 10 times higher than that.

In addition, we know that that’s true for the death count, as well. This has become this political flashpoint, talking about how many people have died. We know that it’s an incredible and incalculable toll, over 100,000. Within the next few days, we’ll have more people that have died from COVID than died during World War I here in the United States. So that’s absolutely incredible.

We know that, also, just because New York City was bad, other places across the country might not get as bad, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not bad. So, we had this huge surge, of a bunch of deaths in New York City, you know, over 200,000 cases, tens of thousands of deaths. What we’re seeing now is we’re seeing this virus continue to roll across this country, causing these localized outbreaks.

And this is, I think, going to be our reality, until we take this serious, until we actually take the actions necessary to stop this virus from spreading. Opening up, like we’ve seen in Arizona and many other places, is exactly counter to what we need to be doing to keep this virus under control. So, yeah, I worry that what we’ve seen so far is an undercount and what we’re seeing now is really just the beginning of another wave of infections spreading across the country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dr. Spencer, I want to ask — it’s not just in the U.S. that cases have hit this dreadful milestone. Worldwide, cases have now topped 7 million, although, like the U.S., the number is likely to be much higher because of inadequate testing all over the world. But I’d like to focus on the racial dimension of the impact of coronavirus, not just in the U.S., but also worldwide. Just as one example, in Brazil — and this is a really stunning statistic — that in Rio’s favelas, more people have died than in 15 states in Brazil combined. So, could you talk about this, both in the context of the U.S., and explain whether that is still the case, and what you expect in terms of this racial differential, how it will play out as this virus spreads?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER: Absolutely. What we’re seeing, not just in the United States, but all over the world, is coronavirus is amplifying these racial and ethnic inequities. It is impacting disproportionately vulnerable and already marginalized populations.

Starting here in the U.S., if you think about the fact, in New York City, the likelihood of dying from coronavirus was double if you’re Black or African American or Latino or Hispanic, double than what it was for white or Asian New Yorkers, so we already know that this disproportionate impact on already marginalized and vulnerable communities exists here in the United States, in the financial capital of the world. It’s the same throughout the U.S. A lot of the data that we’re seeing over the past few days, as we’re getting this disaggregated data by race and ethnic background, is that it is hitting these communities much harder than it is hitting white and other communities in the United States.

The statistics that you give for Brazil are being played out all over the world. We know that communities that already lack access to good healthcare or don’t have the same economic ability to stay home and participate in social distancing are being disproportionately impacted.

That is why we need to focus on and think about, in our public health messaging and in our public health efforts, to think about those communities that are already on the margins, that are already vulnerable, that are already suffering from chronic health conditions that may make them more likely to get infected with and die from this disease. We need to think about that as part of our response, not just in New York, not just in the U.S., but in Brazil, in Peru, in Ecuador, in South Africa, in many other countries, where we’re seeing the disproportionate number of cases coming from now.

We’re seeing — you know, I think it was just pointed out that three-quarters of all the new cases, the record-high cases, over 136,000 this past weekend on one day, three-quarters of those are coming from just 10 countries. And we know that that will continue, and it will burn through those countries and will continue through many more.

As of right now, we haven’t seen huge numbers in places like West Africa and East Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, where many people were concerned about initially. Part of that is because they have in place a lot of the tools from previous outbreaks, especially in West Africa around Ebola. But it may be that we need more testing. It may be that we’re still waiting to see the big increase in cases that may eventually hit there, as well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Spencer, you mentioned that on Sunday — it was Sunday where there were 136,000 new infections, which was a first. It was the highest number since the virus began. But even as the virus is spreading, much like states opening in the U.S., countries are also starting to reopen around the world, including countries that have now among the highest outbreaks. Brazil is now second only to the U.S. in the number of infections, and Russia is third, and these countries are opening, along with India and so on. So, could you — I mean, there are various reasons that countries are opening. A lot of them are not able — large numbers of people are not able to survive as long as the country is closed, like, in fact, Brazil and India. So what are the steps that countries can take to reopen safely? What is necessary to arrest the spread of the virus and allow people at the same time to be out?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER: It’s tough, because we know that this virus cannot infect you if this virus does not find you. If there’s going to be people in close proximity, whether it’s in India or Illinois, this virus will pass and will infect you. I have a lot of concern, much as you pointed out, places like India, 1.3 billion people, where they’re starting to open up after a longer period of being locked down, and case numbers are steadily increasing.

You’re right that a lot of people around the world don’t have access to multitrillion-dollar stimulus plans like we do in the United States, the ability to provide at least some sustenance during this time that people are being forced at home. Many people, if they don’t go outside, don’t eat. If they don’t work, you know, their families can’t pay rent or really just can’t live.

What do we do? We rely on the exact same tools that we should be relying on here, which is good public health principles. You need to be able to locate those people who are sick, isolate them, remove them from the community, and try to do contact tracing to see who they potentially have exposed. Otherwise, we’re going to continue to have people circulating with this virus that can continue to infect other people.

It’s much harder in places where people may not have access to a phone or may not have an address or may not have the same infrastructure that we have here in the United States. But it’s absolutely possible. We’ve done this with smallpox eradication decades ago. We need to be doing this good, simple, bread-and-butter, basic public health work all around the world. But that takes a lot of commitment, it takes a lot of money, and it takes a lot of time.

AMY GOODMAN: It looks like President Trump is reading the rules and just doing the opposite — I mean, everything from pulling out of the World Health Organization, which — and if you could talk about the significance of this? You’re a world health expert. You yourself survived Ebola after working in Africa around that disease. And also here at home, I mean, pulling out of Charlotte, the Republican convention, because the governor wouldn’t agree to no social distancing, and he didn’t want those that came to the convention to wear masks. If you can talk about the significance, what might seem trite to some people, but what exactly masks do? And also, in this country, the states we see that have relaxed so much — he might move, announce tomorrow, the convention to Florida. There’s surges there. There’s surges in Arizona, extremely desperate question of whether a lockdown will be reimposed there. What has to happen? What exactly, when we say testing, should be available? And do you have enough masks even where you work?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER: Great. Yes. So, let me answer each of those. I think, first, on the World Health Organization, and really the rhetoric that is coming from the White House, it needs to be one of global solidarity right now. We are not going to beat this alone. I think that that’s been proven. This idea of American exceptionalism now is only true in that we have the most cases of anywhere in the world. We are not going to beat this alone. No country is going to beat this alone. As Dr. Fauci said, this is his worst nightmare. It’s my worst nightmare, as well. This is a virus that was first discovered just months ago, and has now really taken over the world. We need organizations like the World Health Organization, even if it isn’t perfect. And I’ve had qualms with it in the past. I’ve written about it, I’ve spoken about it, about the response as part of the West Africa Ebola outbreak that I witnessed firsthand. But at the end of the day, they do really, really good work, and they do the work that other organizations, including the United States, are not doing around the world, and that protects us. So, we absolutely, despite their imperfections, need to further invest and support them.

In terms of masks, masks may be, in addition to social distancing, one of the few things that really, really helps us and has proven to decrease transmission. We know that if a significant proportion of society — you know, 60, 70, 80% of people — are wearing masks, that will significantly decrease the amount of transmission and can prevent this virus from spreading very rapidly. Everyone should be wearing masks. I think, in the United States right now, we should consider the whole country as a hot zone. And the risk of transmission being very high, regardless of whether you’re in New York or North Dakota, people should be wearing a mask when they’re going outside and when they’re interacting with others that they generally don’t interact with.

We know the science is good. I will say that from a public health perspective, there was some initial reluctance and, really, I guess, some confusion early on about whether people should be using masks. We didn’t have a lot of the science to know whether it would help. We do now. And thankfully, we’re changing our recommendations.

We also were concerned about the availability of masks early on. As you mentioned, there was questions around availability of personal protective equipment, whether we had enough in hospitals to provide care while keeping providers safe. It’s better now, but there are still a lot of people who are saying that they’re reusing masks, that we still need more personal protective equipment. So, for the moment, everyone should be wearing a mask.

AMY GOODMAN: And for the protests outside?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER: Absolutely. Yeah, of course. Just because I think we have personal passions around public health crises, that doesn’t prevent us from being infected. From a public health perspective, of course I have concerns that people who are close and are yelling and are being tear-gassed and are not wearing masks, if that’s all the case, it’s certainly an environment where the coronavirus could spread.

So, what I’ve been telling everyone that’s protesting is exercise your right to protest — I think that’s great — but be safe. We are in a pandemic. We’re in a public health emergency. Wear a mask. Socially distance as much as you possibly can. Wash your hands.

AMY GOODMAN: And are you telling the authorities to stop tear-gassing and pepper-spraying the protesters?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER: I mean, well, one, it’s illegal. You should definitely stop tear-gassing. We know that what happens when people get tear-gassed is they cough, and it increases the secretions, which increases the risk. It increases the transmissibility of this virus.

In addition to that, you know, holding people and arresting them and putting them into small cells with others without masks is also, as we’ve seen from this huge number of cases in places like meatpacking plants or in jails, in prisons, the number of cases have been extremely high in those places. Putting people into holding cells for a prolonged period of time is not going to help; it’s definitely going to increase the transmissibility of this virus.

So, yes, everyone should be wearing a mask. I think everyone should have a mask on when you’re anywhere that your interacting with others can potentially spread this.

I think your other question was around testing. We know that right now testing has significantly increased in the U.S. Is it adequate? No, I don’t think so. I know I hear from a lot of people who say they still have to drive two to three hours to get a test. We still have questions around the reliability of some of serology tests, or the antibody tests. Those are the tests that will tell you whether or not you’ve been previously exposed and now have antibodies to the disease. Some of the more readily available tests just aren’t that great. And so, we can’t use them yet to make really widespread decisions on who might have antibodies, who might have protection and who can maybe more safely go back into society without the fear of being infected.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Spencer, we just have 30 seconds. Very quickly, there are 135 vaccines in development. What’s your prognosis? When will there be a vaccine or a drug treatment?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER: We have one drug that shortens the time that people are sick. We don’t know about the impact on mortality. There are other treatments that are in process now. Hopefully some of them work.

In terms of vaccines, we will have a vaccine, very likely, that we know is effective, probably at some time later this year. The bigger process is going to be how do we scale it up to make hundreds of millions of doses; how do we do it in a way that we can get it to all of the people that deserve it, not just the people that can pay for it. I think these are going to be some of the bigger questions and bigger problems that we’re going to face, going forward. But I’m optimistic that we’ll have a vaccine or many vaccines, hopefully, in the next year.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Craig Spencer, we want to thank you so much for being with us, director of global health in emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. And thank you so much for your work as an essential worker. Dr. Spencer’s recent piece, we’ll link to at democracynow.org. It’s in The Washington Post, headlined “The strange new quiet in New York emergency rooms.”

When we come back, George Floyd’s brother testifies before Congress, a day after he laid his brother to rest. Stay with us.