It’s 2020. Now You Can Vote From Your Hospital Room.

While voter suppression efforts are making it harder to vote in places like Texas, Georgia and Florida, one strategy makes voting during the pandemic a little easier: voting from your hospital bed.

State rules and deadlines vary, but at least 38 states allow emergency absentee ballots for registered voters who unexpectedly cannot vote in person, including patients who are suddenly hospitalized. 

With Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations spiking, hospital-room voting has become especially relevant in 2020. 

Patients and family members staying with them are often surprised to learn that they can vote from the hospital, said Dr. Kelly Wong, resident physician in emergency medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and founder of Patient Voting, a nonpartisan organization that helps hospitalized patients and family members vote. 

As a medical student in her home state of South Dakota during the 2016 election, Wong noticed a surprising and potentially dangerous pattern: sick patients were delaying trips to the emergency room or arguing against being admitted to the hospital because they didn’t want to miss the chance to vote. 

Wong thought patients shouldn’t have to choose between voting and their health. 

But she didn’t know the process for registered voters to vote from the hospital; she didn’t even know there was a process. When she found it was possible, she realized how difficult it was to figure out how to do it.

She was not alone. 

“The biggest barrier to patient voting is that they don’t know they can,” Wong said. 

In 2018, she founded Patient Voting to close the knowledge gap—just in time for the midterm elections. 

The group now publishes state-specific processes for all 50 states, and operates with volunteers in 38 states. They partner with 25 medical schools and 15 hospitals in eight states—including battleground states of Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania where the 2020 presidential candidates are fighting for every vote.

Wong keeps the organization staunchly nonpartisan. Her motivation is to safeguard patients’ health. 

“I joke that in a selfish way, this is a way that patients don’t have to leave the hospital,” Wong said. “If they can accomplish their priorities while staying in the hospital, that’s good for their health.” 

This year, voting is a priority for many Americans. 

“This is a really defining moment in our history,” said Dr. Sarah Welsh, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island. “It is our duty as citizens not only to vote ourselves, but to lift our heads up and realize that there are others around us that we interact with on a daily basis that would have limitations.”

Hospitalized patients, or those who are in and out of hospitals with chronic illnesses, may be especially vulnerable to being disenfranchised, according to Dr. Alison Hayward, faculty advisor and board member of Patient Voting and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown. “Those people need to have their voices heard because there are huge issues at stake that will really affect their lives.”

A Small Army

In June, Brown University medical students Katie Barry and Meghan McCarthy, both 23, signed on as national medical student coordinators for Patient Voting. 

“We are really interested in helping to empower patients, especially those who otherwise might have their voices not heard or overlooked,” said Barry. She realized Covid-19 was not going to be gone by November. “I wanted to help out in any way I could.”

According to Barry and McCarthy, the current generation of doctors in training are especially focused on social determinants of health such as civil rights, housing, and food.

“Along with biology and science, there’s a big emphasis on the social factors that affect some patients’ health,” McCarthy said. “It’s hard to ignore once we get into the hospitals how all these factors affect your patients’ health.”

Barry agreed. “We realize now that in order to care for people, we need to do more than provide the medical care.” 

Going Digital

Patient Voting is getting some help to spread the word about hospital-room voting. At Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Patient Voting is newly embedded into the interface patients use to watch TV and get health and hospital information. 

GetWellNetwork, a patient engagement company that provides digital health technology and serves 10 million patients a year in 700 hospitals and clinics nationwide, operates that platform.

The company jumped on the opportunity to help enable parents vote so they wouldn’t have to leave their child’s bedside. GetWellNetwork incorporated Patient Voting into the platform within a day of hearing about the program.

“Our whole philosophy is to help people take an active role in their journey,” said Michael O’Neil, Jr., GetWellNetwork’s founder and CEO. 

The company takes what is a typically powerless human experience and uses digital tools to “put the patient in the pilot’s seat,” O’Neil said. 

Partnering to enable patient voting fits their philosophy. “It’s a perfect opportunity to spring into action and follow this notion of empowerment,” O’Neil said. “It just happens to be in the context of voting in this case.” 

It’s Not Too Late

In the run-up to the election, Patient Voting has experienced a frenzy of requests for help, though it’s not clear how many people vote this way. After the 2018 midterms, Wong and her team contacted state boards of elections to gather such data; they found that most states do not track the number of ballots from hospitalized voters. 

Wong herself is spending part of Monday requesting an emergency absentee ballot on behalf of a patient in Rhode Island. She wouldn’t be allowed to do that everywhere; in North Carolina, for example, healthcare employees are prohibited from witnessing emergency absentee ballots. 

“I see how thankful people are when they’re able to get the information they needed to be able to vote,” said Hayward, who has been responding to patient and family inquiries. “It feels really good to be involved in a nonpartisan effort in this time…Everyone wants to be able to vote and to have their voice heard.”

10 healthcare execs share predictions for nursing in the next 5 years

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/nursing/10-healthcare-execs-share-predictions-for-nursing-in-the-next-5-years.html?utm_medium=email

The future of nursing infographic | Cipherhealth

The pandemic put nurses on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 and caused shifts in the way they provide care.

During this year, nurses have adapted to increased adoption of telehealth and virtual patient monitoring, as well as constantly evolving staffing needs. 

These factors — and others, such as the physical and emotional conditions nurses have faced due to the public health crisis — are sure to affect nursing in the years to come. Here, 10 healthcare executives and leaders share their predictions for nursing in the next five years.

Editor’s note: Responses were edited lightly for length and clarity.

Beverly Bokovitz, DNP, RN. Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive of UC Health (Cincinnati): In the next five years, as we continue to encounter a national nursing shortage, I expect to see additional innovative strategies to complement the care provided at the bedside. 

One of these strategies will be some type of robot-assisted care. From delivery of medications to answering call lights — and completing simple tasks like needing a blanket or requesting that the heat be adjusted — we will see more electronic solutions. These solutions will allow for a better patient experience and help to exceed the expectations of our patients as customers.

Of course, nothing can take the place of skilled and compassionate bedside care, but many tasks could be automated — and will be — to supplement the professional nursing shortage.

Natalia Cineas, DNP, RN. Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive of NYC Health + Hospitals (New York City): Nurses will continue to play a vital role in addressing the health inequities and social determinants of health among vulnerable populations as the nursing workforce itself becomes more diverse and inclusive. As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce — with some 4 million nurses active in the U.S. — nurses represent the faces of the communities in which they serve. As America becomes a more diverse and inclusive society, so too will the nursing profession become more diverse and inclusive. Currently, industry estimates indicate that between one quarter to one-third of all U.S. nurses identify as a member of a minority group, with between 19 percent and 24 percent of U.S. nurses identifying themselves as Black/African-American; 5 percent to 9 percent identifying themselves as Hispanic; and about 3 percent identifying themselves as Asian. The percentage of minority nurses has been rising steadily for the past two decades and is expected to continue to climb in the coming years.

Blacks and underserved minority populations face numerous genetic, environmental, cultural and socioeconomic factors that account for health disparities, and the impact is particularly visible in the areas of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pregnancy and childbirth mortality, and cancer outcomes, as well as the enormous toll of the current novel coronavirus global pandemic, where communities of color have been among the hardest hit populations. 

In New York City alone, statistics compiled by the city’s health department show Blacks and Hispanics together account for 65 percent of all COVID-19 cases; represented 70 percent of all hospitalizations due to COVID-19; and, sadly, 68 percent of all deaths caused by COVID-19. As demonstrated during this pandemic, in the future, technology such as telehealth and virtual patient monitoring will play a major role in the care of patients. There will be a vast need to address social determinants of health by educating and providing resources to allow utilization of this technology such as using “wearable tech” to monitor ongoing health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions and other chronic illnesses.

Ryannon Frederick, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.): Nursing research will experience extraordinary demand and growth driven by a realization that both complex and unmet patient needs can often be best served by the role of a professional registered nurse. Nurses are uniquely positioned to implement symptom and self-management interventions for patients and their caregivers. Significant disruption in healthcare, including increasing use of technology, will lead to a dramatic shift to understand the role of the RN in improving patient outcomes and implementing interventions using novel approaches. Nursing researchers will provide a scientific body of evidence proving equivalent, if not better, patient care outcomes that can be obtained at a lower cost than traditional models, leading to an even greater demand for the role of the professional nurse in patient care. 

Karen Higdon, DNP, RN, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer of Baptist Health Louisville (Ky.): The value of nursing has never been more apparent. Nurses have led the front line during this pandemic. In the next five years, we must be flexible and creative in establishing new models of care, specifically around roles that support nursing, such as assistant and tech roles. Creating roles with clear role definition, that are attractive and meaningful for nursing support will help build consistent, high-quality models for nursing to lead. This consistency, along with IT capabilities that enhance workflow, will better allow nurses to work at the top of their scope.

Karen Hill, DNP, RN. COO and Chief Nursing Officer of Baptist Health Lexington (Ky.): 2020 was declared the “Year of the Nurse” and this reality has never been more true than realizing the personal and professional sacrifices of nurses in dealing with issues surrounding the pandemic. The next five years will require nursing professionals to be flexible to address new, unknown emerging issues in all settings, to be open to new opportunities for leadership in hospitals, schools and communities and to use technology and telehealth to provide safer care to patients. Nurses need to evaluate our practices and traditions that are value-added and leave behind the task orientation of the past. We need to honor our legacy and create our path.

Therese Hudson-Jinks, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Patient Experience Officer at Tufts Medical Center and Tufts Children’s Hospital (Boston): Over the next five years, I expect that the support and retention of clinical nurses will become the top priority of every CNO and executive team, given nurses’ direct impact on supporting the business of healthcare. This will be particularly critical because there will be a concerning shortage of experienced clinical nurses as a result of advancing technologies increasing complexity in care, additional nurse roles created outside traditional areas, fierce competition for talent between large healthcare systems, aging baby boom workforce retiring at higher rates year over year, and a lack of sufficient numbers of PhD-prepared nurses working in academia and supporting higher enrollments.

I also believe that CNOs will be laser-focused on creating the practice environment that enhances retention of top, talented clinical nurses, and we will put a greater emphasis on the influence of effective nursing leadership in reaching that goal. In addition, I fully expect that nurses will be seen more as individuals with talents and experience than ever before — not just a number on a team, but rather a professional with specific, unique, talents that are highly sought after in competitive markets.

Finally, I anticipate that nursing innovation will blossom, given the exposure of the “innovation/solutionist superpower” within nurses during the pandemic. Philanthropy will grow exponentially in support of nursing innovation as a result.

Carol Koeppel-Olsen, MSN, RN. Vice President of Patient Care Services at Abbott Northwestern Hospital (Minneapolis): During the COVID-19 pandemic nurses have been working in difficult physical and emotional conditions, which may lead to significant turnover after the pandemic resolves. Nurses have a commitment to serving others and will persevere until the crisis is past; however, when conditions improve, many nurses may decide to pursue careers outside acute care settings. A possible turnover, coupled with a service economy that has been devastated, may result in large numbers of former service workers seeking stable jobs in nursing. Hospitals will have to be nimble and creative to onboard an influx of new nurses that are not only new to the profession but new to healthcare. Tactics to onboard these new nurses may include the use of retired RNs as mentors, instructor-model clinical groups in the work setting, job shadowing and aptitude testing to determine the best clinical fit.

Jacalyn Liebowitz, DNP, RN. Senior Vice President and System Chief Nurse Officer of Adventist Health (Roseville, Calif.): Over the next five years, I see nurses providing more hospital-based care in the home using remote technology. Based on that shift, we will see lower-acuity patients move into home-based care, and higher-acuity care in hospitals will increase. With that, hospital beds will be used at a different level. My bold prediction is that we will not need as many beds, but we will need higher acute care in the hospitals.

Nurses will learn differently. As we are seeing now, nurses have not been able to train in the traditional way. They are already using more remote technology to educate, onboard and orient to their roles. It looks and feels vastly different, and nurses need to be comfortable with that.

As for patient care, I think data that can be gleaned from wearable biometrics, and the use of artificial intelligence will help predict patient care on a patient-by-patient basis. Nurses will work with AI as part of their thought process, instead of completely focusing on their own judgment and assessment. 

I also believe we are going to face a nursing shortage post-COVID for a few reasons. Due to the emotional and physical toll of responding to a pandemic, some nurses will decide to retire, and another group will leave based on the risks that go hand-in-hand with the profession. 

As for patient care, we are going to collaborate differently. There will be more video conferencing regarding collaboration around the patient. And I think in the future we will see that the full continuum of care will include a wellness plan.

Debi Pasley, MSN, RN. Senior Vice President Chief Nursing Officer of Christus Health (Irving, Texas): I believe the demand for nurses will become increasingly visible and newsworthy throughout the pandemic. This could drive increases in salaries and numbers of qualified candidates seeking nursing as a profession in the medium and long term. The shortage will, however, continue to be a factor, leading to more remote work options to both supplement nursing at the bedside and substitute for in-person care.

Denise Ray, RN. Chief Nursing Executive of Piedmont Healthcare (Atlanta): Nursing schools will need to focus on emergency management and critical care training utilizing a team nursing model. While nursing has become very specialty-driven, the pandemic has demonstrated gaps in our ability to adapt as quickly utilizing a team model where nurses lead and direct care teams. By implementing a team model and enhancing education in the areas of emergency management and critical care, nursing can adapt quickly to the ever-changing environment.

Also, communication with patients and families will take on different dimensions with wider use of tele-therapeutic communication. Nurses will be leaders and liaisons in the process, connecting physicians, patients and patient families virtually. Nurses will play a key role in integrating patient family members as true patient care partners — making sure they have the information they need to serve an active caregiving role for their family members during and after hospitalization. We’ll also see more nurses becoming advanced nurse practitioners, playing an expanded role in all healthcare settings.

An early pardon for overweight turkeys?

https://mailchi.mp/f2794551febb/the-weekly-gist-october-23-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Thanksgiving's new leftovers: Turkeys too big for farmers to sell - The  Washington Post

Overweight patients infected with COVID-19 have a higher risk of severe disease—but it turns out the pandemic may have brought a reprieve for overweight turkeys. According to a recent Washington Post piece, turkey farmers are facing a glut of, ahem, larger birds, as social distancing and reduced travel are expected to result in fewer people around the Thanksgiving dinner table, and fewer families springing for a 20-pound bird.

Farmers commit to their chicks as early as January, making a bet on the ratio of larger (male) toms versus smaller (female) hens to meet holiday demand, so many were locked into their plans before the pandemic hit. Demand for larger birds has also been hit by fewer orders for piece parts: with fall Renaissance festivals canceled, demand for turkey legs cratered. (Spare a thought for mead brewers as well.) Sadly, these soon-to-be-spared holiday heavyweights are unlikely to spend the winter roaming free—look for a rise in ground turkey supply a few months down the road. 

How to safely celebrate Thanksgiving during the pandemic

Smaller birds for smaller gatherings: just another way our “Pandemic Thanksgiving” will look like none we’ve experienced before.

Experts Slam The White House’s ‘Herd Immunity’ Plan

Experts warn Trump's misinformation about coronavirus is dangerous

The White House is reportedly embracing a herd-immunity approach focused on “protecting the elderly and the vulnerable” but experts are calling the plan dangerous, “unethical”, and equivalent to “mass murder”.

The news comes following a petition titled The Great Barrington Declaration, which argued against lockdowns and school and business closures and got almost 500,000 signatures – although some of them were fake.

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” the declaration states, adding, “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

Essentially, herd immunity is when enough people are immune to a disease, like Covid-19, that the disease can’t be transmitted as easily and thus provides indirect protection.

It’s been rumoured that the government has been leaning towards this plan of action for some time now, although this is the first real admission.

In response to today’s news, experts around the world have been voicing their concerns.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve heard experts say herd immunity is not a good idea.

For example, the head of the World Health Organization said Monday that allowing the novel coronavirus to spread in an attempt to reach herd immunity was “simply unethical.”

Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins also denounced herd immunity as a viable plan.

“What I worry about with this is it’s being presented as if it’s a major alternative view that’s held by large numbers of experts in the scientific community. That is not true. This is a fringe component of epidemiology. This is not mainstream science. It fits into the political views of certain parts of our confused political establishment,” he said in an interview.

Not to mention studies continue to show that Sweden’s attempts at herd immunity have failed and have resulted in a higher Covid-19 death toll than expected.

As more research comes out, scientists are starting to learn that Covid-19 immunity, even in those who were severely infected, can fade after a few weeks.

This is why we’ve seen cases of reinfection and why many experts are advising against a herd immunity plan.  

Currently less than 10% of the population in the U.S. are immune to Covid-19 but for herd immunity to be achieved most experts estimate between 40% to 80% of the population would need to be infected.

To put that into context, that means around 197 million people would need to be infected in America. And assuming that the Covid-19 fatality rate is somewhere between 0.5% and 1%, based on numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 million people would die – at minimum.

William Haseltine, Chair and President of ACCESS Health International, told CNN “herd immunity is another word for mass murder. We are looking at two to six million Americans dead – not just this year but every year.”  

This is an unmitigated disaster for our country – to have people at the highest levels of our government countermanding our best public health officials. We know this epidemic can be put under control. Other countries have done it. We are doing the opposite.”

Covid-19 has killed more police officers this year than all other causes combined, data shows

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/09/02/coronavirus-deaths-police-officers-2020/?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR3KWZcuMmVXy_R7mDh_m58_BLdQkz6rw5iU9nsii950Bx46lwc0nbfC3p4

By one estimate, coronavirus deaths among law enforcement are likely to surpass those of 9/11.

In a speech this week in Pittsburgh, Joe Biden linked the Trump administration’s mismanagement of the coronavirus to its handling of protests and riots with a surprising statistic: “More cops have died from covid this year than have been killed on patrol,” he said.

The Democratic presidential nominee’s claim is true, according to data compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, two nonprofits that have tracked law enforcement fatalities for decades.

As of Sept. 2, on-the-job coronavirus infections were responsible for a least 100 officer deaths, more than gun violence, car accidents and all other causes combined, according to the Officer Down group. NLEOMF reported a nearly identical number of covid-related law enforcement deaths.

NLEOMF reported a nearly identical number of covid-related law enforcement deaths. It also noted that fatalities due to non-covid causes are actually down year-over-year, undermining President Trump’s claims that “law enforcement has become the target of a dangerous assault by the radical left.”

Both organizations only count covid deaths “if it is determined that the officer died as a result of exposure to the virus while performing official duties,” as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund put it. “Substantive evidence will be required to show the death was more than likely due to the direct and proximate result of a duty-related incident.”

In addition to the 100 confirmed coronavirus fatalities listed on the Officer Down website, the nonprofit said it is in the process of verifying an additional 150 officer deaths due to covid-19 and presumed to have been contracted in the line of duty, said Chris Cosgriff, executive director of ODMP, in an email.

“By the end of this pandemic, it is very likely that COVID will surpass 9/11 as the single largest incident cause of death for law enforcement officers,” he wrote. Seventy-one officers were killed in the attacks on the twin towers, one officer was killed on United Flight 93, and more than 300 have passed away since then as a result of cancer contracted in the wake of the attacks, according to ODMP.

At the state level, Texas stands out for having the highest number of law enforcement covid fatalities with at least 21, according to NLEOMF. At least 16 of those represent officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which manages the state’s correctional facilities. Louisiana has 12 covid-related officer deaths. Florida, New Jersey and Illinois round out the top five with eight each.

According to both organizations, officers in correctional facilities account for a substantial number of covid-related law enforcement deaths, reflecting the dire epidemiological situation in many of the nation’s prisons and jails.

“Corrections officers and Corrections Departments have been hit harder than regular police agencies,” Cosgriff said. According to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit criminal justice news site, more than 100,000 U.S. prison inmates have tested positive for coronavirus and at least 928 have died. There have been an additional 24,000 cases and 72 deaths among prison staff.

ODMP’s tally includes police officers, sheriff’s deputies, correctional officers, federal law enforcement officers and military police officers killed outside of military conflict. NLEOMF’s inclusion criteria are similar.

This year, Trump signed the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act of 2020, which guarantees law enforcement officers and their survivors federal benefits if the officer is killed or disabled by covid. For legal purposes, the legislation presumes that covid cases among officers were contracted in the line of duty.

 

 

 

 

San Francisco’s lonely war against Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco’s leaders were ahead on Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not to say San Francisco performed flawlessly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breed had a key ally in San Francisco: The public

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local governments can only do so much about a pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

U.S. advisory group lays out detailed recommendations on how to prioritize Covid-19 vaccine

U.S. advisory group lays out detailed recommendations on how to prioritize Covid-19 vaccine

A new report that aims to prioritize groups to receive Covid-19 vaccine lays out detailed recommendations on who should be at the front of the line, starting with health care workers in high-risk settings, followed by adults of any age who have medical conditions that put them at significantly higher risk of having severe disease.

Also toward the front of the line would be older adults living in long-term care homes or other crowded settings.

The draft report, which runs 114 pages, was released Tuesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which was tasked with the work by Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A virtual public meeting on the recommendations will be held Wednesday afternoon, and the committee’s final report will be submitted later in September.

When Covid-19 vaccines are approved for use, initial supplies will be tight — potentially in the tens of millions of doses. Most of the vaccines under development will require two doses per person: a priming dose followed by a booster either three or four weeks later.

The report suggests that a second phase of vaccinations should involve critical risk workers — people in industries essential to the functioning of society — as well as teachers and school staff; people of all ages with an underlying health problem that increases the risk of severe Covid-19; all older adults not vaccinated in the first phase; people in homeless shelters and group homes, and prisons; and staff working in these facilities.

Young adults, children, and workers in essential industries not vaccinated previously would make up the third priority group. Remaining Americans who were not vaccinated in the first three groups would be offered vaccine during a fourth and final phase.

The report is meant to serve as a guide for more detailed prioritization plans on the order in which Americans will be offered vaccine. That more granular work is already being conducted by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an expert panel that crafts vaccination guidance for the CDC, and by state, local, and tribal health authorities, who must identify the actual people in their regions who fall into the priority groups.

There has been discussion of prioritizing people of color, who have been disproportionately badly hit in this pandemic. But the report does not recommend that Black, Hispanic, Latinx people, or American Indians or Alaskan natives be treated as a distinct priority group.

The committee suggested that there does not appear to be a biological reason for why these communities are more seriously affected by the pandemic. Instead, it argues, the high rates of infections and deaths in these communities are due to systemic racism that leads to higher levels of poor health and socioeconomic factors such as working in jobs that cannot be done from home or living in crowded settings.

The report therefore prioritized other factors — people with underlying medical problems, people living in crowded environments, for instance — rather than creating priority categories for racial or ethnic groups.

The ACIP’s recommendations will go to the CDC. It remains unclear, however, whether the CDC, Operation Warp Speed — the task force set up to fast-track development of Covid-19 vaccines, drugs and diagnostics — or the White House will make the final determinations on who will be vaccinated first.

The task of determining who should be at the front of the vaccines line is not an easy one, and must be made without key pieces of information. It’s not yet known how many vaccines will prove to be successful, when they will be approved for use and in what quantities. Critically, some vaccines may prove to be more effective in key groups — the elderly, for instance — than others. Knowing that in advance could influence the recommendations, but people working on the priority groups cannot wait for that information to become available.

Initial discussions suggest large numbers of Americans would qualify as members of priority groups, a reality that will likely require additional tough decisions to be made.

CDC estimates that there are between 17 million and 20 million health care workers in the country, and roughly 100 million people with medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe illness if they contract Covid-19. There are roughly 53 million Americans aged 65 and older and 100 million people in jobs designated as essential services. There is some overlap among these groups — health workers, for instance, are also essential workers.

report released last month by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security recommended dividing priority groups into two tiers, with health workers and others essential to the Covid-19 response in the first tier and other health workers in the second.

In that report, people at greatest risk and their caregivers, and workers most essential to maintaining core societal functions would also be designated to be in the first tier.

 

 

 

 

2020 Health Care Legislative Guide

2020 Health Care Legislative Guide

Pennsylvania 2020 Health Care Legislative Guide - United States of Care

ABOUT THE UNITES STATES OF CARE

United States of Care is a nonpartisan nonprofit working to ensure every person in America has access to
quality, affordable health care regardless of health status, social need or income. USofCare works with elected
officials and other state partners across the country by connecting with our extensive health care expert
network and other state leaders; providing technical policy assistance; and providing strategic communications
and political support. Contact USofCare at help@usofcare.org

Health care remains one of the most important problems facing America.

Voters are concerned about access to and the cost for health care and insurance.

Health Care During the COVID Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the need for effective solutions that address both the immediate
challenges and the long-term gaps in our health care systems to ensure people can access quality health care
they can afford. Americans are feeling a mix of emotions related to the pandemic, and those emotions are
overwhelmingly negative.*

In addition, the pandemic has illuminated deficiencies of our health care system.

People feel that the U.S. was caught unprepared to handle the pandemic and our losses have
been greater than those of other countries.

People blame government for the inadequate pandemic response, not health care systems.

Health Care During the COVID Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the need for effective solutions that address both the immediate challenges and the long-term gaps in our health care systems to ensure people can access quality health care they can afford. In the wake of COVID, policymakers have a critical opportunity to enact solutions to meet their constituents’ short- and long-term health care needs. The 2020 Health Care Legislative Candidate Guide provides candidates with public opinion data, state-specific health care information, key messages and ideas for your health care platform.

Key Messages for Candidates:

  • Acknowledge the moment: “Our country is at a pivotal moment. The pandemic, economic recession, and national discussion on race have created a renewed call for action. They have also magnified the critical problems that exist in our health care system.”
  • Take an active stance: “It is long past time to examine our systems and address gaps that have existed for decades. We must find solutions and common ground to build a health care system that serves everyone.”
  • Commit to prioritizing people’s needs: “I will put people’s health care needs first and I’m already formalizing the ways I gather input and work with community and business leaders to put effective solutions in place.”
  • Commit to addressing disparities and finding common ground: “The health care system, as it’s currently structured, isn’t working for far too many. I will work to address the lack of fairness and shared needs to build a health care system that works for all of us.”

Click to access USC_Generic_CandidateEducationGuide.pdf

 

 

Promising State Policies to Respond to People’s Health Care Needs

In the wake of COVID, policymakers have a critical opportunity to enact solutions to meet their constituents’
short- and long-term health care needs. Shared needs and expectations are emerging in response to the
pandemic, including the desire for solutions that:

Ensure individuals are able to provide for themselves and their loved ones, especially those worried about
the financial impact of the pandemic.

• Protect against high out-of-pocket costs.
• Expand access to telehealth services for people who prefer it to improve access to care.
• Extend Medicaid coverage for new moms to remove financial barriers to care to support healthier moms
and babies.

Ensure a reliable health care system that is fully resourced to support essential workers and available when
it is needed, both now and after the pandemic.

• Ensure safe workplaces for front-line health care workers and essential workers and increase the capacity to
maintain a quality health care workforce.
• Support hospitals and other health care providers, particularly those in rural or distressed areas.
• Expand mental health services and community workforce to meet increased need.

Ensure a health care system that cares for everyone, including people who are vulnerable and those who
were already struggling before the pandemic hit.

• Adopt an integrated approach to people’s overall health by coordinating people’s physical health, behavioral health
and social service needs.
• Establish coordinated data collection to quickly address needs and gaps in care, especially in vulnerable
communities.

Provide accurate information and clear recommendations on the virus and how to stay healthy and safe.
• Build and maintain capacity for detailed and effective testing and surveillance of the virus.
• Resource and implement contact tracing by utilizing existing programs in state health departments, pursuing
public-private partnerships, or app-based solutions while also ensuring strong privacy protections.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

The pandemic is showing different impacts for people across the country
that point to larger challenges individuals and families are grappling.

A disproportionate number of those infected by COVID-19 are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. According to recent CDC data, 31.4% of cases and 17% of deaths are among Latino residents and 19.9% of cases and 22.4% of deaths were among Black residents.ix They make up 18.5% and 13.4% of the total population, respectively.

Seniors are at greatest risk. According to a CDC estimate on August 1, 2020, 80% of COVID-19 deaths were among patients ages 65 and older. In 2018, only 16% of Americans were in this age range.

Access to health care in rural areas has only become more challenging during the pandemic and will likely have lasting impacts on rural communities.

The economic fallout of the pandemic has caused nearly 27 million Americans to lose their employer-based health insurance. An estimated 12.7 million would be eligible for Medicaid; 8.4 million could qualify for subsidies on exchanges; leaving 5.7 million who would need to cover the cost of health insurance policies (COBRA policies averaged $7,188 for a single person to $20,576 for a family of four) or remain uninsured.

 

Diabetes highlights two Americas: One where COVID is easily beaten, the other where it’s often devastating

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/07/27/diabetes-and-covid-two-americas-health-problems/5445836002/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202020-07-27%20Healthcare%20Dive%20%5Bissue:28706%5D&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive

What You Need to Know about Diabetes and the Coronavirus | diaTribe

Dr. Anne Peters splits her mostly virtual workweek between a diabetes clinic on the west side of Los Angeles and one on the east side of the sprawling city. 

Three days a week she treats people whose diabetes is well-controlled. They have insurance, so they can afford the newest medications and blood monitoring devices. They can exercise and eat well.  Those generally more affluent West L.A. patients who have gotten COVID-19 have developed mild to moderate symptoms – feeling miserable, she said – but treatable, with close follow-up at home.

“By all rights they should do much worse, and yet most don’t even go to the hospital,” said Peters, director of the USC Clinical Diabetes Programs.

On the other two days of her workweek, it’s a different story.

In East L.A., many patients didn’t have insurance even before the pandemic. Now, with widespread layoffs, even fewer do. They live in “food deserts,” lacking a car or gas money to reach a grocery store stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. They can’t stay home, because they’re essential workers in grocery stores, health care facilities and delivery services. And they live in multi-generational homes, so even if older people stay put, they are likely to be infected by a younger relative who can’t.

They tend to get COVID-19 more often and do worse if they get sick, with more symptoms and a higher likelihood of ending up in the hospital or dying, said Peters, also a member of the leadership council of Beyond Type 1, a diabetes research and advocacy organization. 

“It doesn’t mean my East Side patients are all doomed,” she emphasized.

But it does suggest COVID-19 has an unequal impact, striking people who are poor and already in ill health far harder than healthier, better off people on the other side of town.

Tracey Brown has known that for years.

“What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is shined a very bright light on this existing and pervasive problem,” said Brown, CEO of the American Diabetes Association. Along with about 32 million others – roughly 1 in 10 Americans – Brown has diabetes herself.

“We’re in 2020, and every 5 minutes, someone is losing a limb” to diabetes, she said. “Every 10 minutes, somebody is having kidney failure.”

Americans with diabetes and related health conditions are 12 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those without such conditions, she said. Roughly 90% of Americans who die of COVID-19 have diabetes or other underlying conditions. And people of color are over-represented among the very sick and the dead.

Diabetes and COVID: Coronavirus highlights America's health problems

Diabetes increases COVID risk

The data is clear: People with diabetes are at increased risk of having a bad case of COVID-19, and diabetics with poorly controlled blood sugar are at even higher risk, said Liam Smeeth, dean of the faculty of epidemiology and population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He and his colleagues combed data on 17 million people in the U.K. to come to their conclusions.

Diabetes often comes paired with other health problems – obesity and high blood pressure, for instance. Add smoking, Smeeth said, and “for someone with diabetes in particular, those can really mount up.”

People with diabetes are more vulnerable to many types infections, Peters said, because their white blood cells don’t work as well when blood sugar levels are high. 

“In a test tube, you can see the infection-fighting cells working less well if the sugars are higher,” she said.

Peters recently saw a patient whose diabetes was triggered by COVID-19, a finding supported by one recent study.

Going into the hospital with any viral illness can trigger a spike in blood sugar, whether someone has diabetes or not. Some medications used to treat serious cases of COVID-19 can “shoot your sugars up,” Peters said.

In patients who catch COVID-19 but aren’t hospitalized, Peters said, she often has to reduce their insulin to compensate for the fact that they aren’t eating as much.

Low income seems to be a risk factor for a bad case of COVID-19, even independent of age, weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, Smeeth said. “We see strong links with poverty.”

Some of that is driven by occupational risks, with poorer people unable to work from home or avoid high-risk jobs. Some is related to housing conditions and crowding into apartments to save money. And some, may be related to underlying health conditions.

But the connection, he said, is unmistakable.

Peters recently watched a longtime friend lose her husband. Age 60 and diabetic, he was laid off due to COVID, which cost him his health insurance. He developed a foot ulcer that he couldn’t afford to treat. He ignored it until he couldn’t stand anymore and then went to the hospital.

After surgery, he was released to a rehabilitation facility where he contracted COVID. He was transferred back to the hospital, where he died four days later.

“He died, not because of COVID and not because of diabetes, but because he didn’t have access to health care when he needed it to prevent that whole process from happening,” Peters said, adding that he couldn’t see his family in his final days and died alone. “It just breaks your heart.”

Taking action on diabetes– personally and nationally

Now is a great time to improve diabetes control, Peters added. With many restaurants and most bars closed, people can have more control over what they eat. No commuting leaves more time for exercise.

That’s what David Miller has managed to do. Miller, 65, of Austin, Texas, said he has stepped up his exercise routine, walking for 40 minutes four mornings a week at a nearby high school track. It’s cool enough at that hour, and the track’s not crowded, said Miller, an insurance agent, who has been able to work from home during the pandemic. “That’s more consistent exercise than I’ve ever done.”

His blood sugar is still not where he wants it to be, he said, but his new fitness routine has helped him lose a little weight and bring his blood sugar under better control. Eating less remains a challenge. “I’m one of those middle-aged guys who’s gotten into the habit of eating for two,” he said. “That can be a hard habit to shake.”

Miller said he isn’t too worried about getting COVID-19.

“I’ve tried to limit my exposure within reason,” he said, noting that he wears a mask when he can in public. “I honestly don’t feel particularly more vulnerable than anybody else.”

Smeeth, the British epidemiologist, said even though they’re at higher risk for bad outcomes, people with diabetes should know that they’re not helpless. 

“The traditional public health messages – don’t be overweight, give up smoking, keep active  – are still valid for COVID,” he said. Plus, people with diabetes should prioritize getting a flu vaccine this fall, he said, to avoid compounding their risk.

(For more practical recommendations for those living with diabetes during the pandemic, go to coronavirusdiabetes.org.)

In Los Angeles, Peters said, the county has made access to diabetes medication much easier for people with low incomes. They can now get three months of medication, instead of only one. “We refill everybody’s medicine that we can to make sure people have the tools,” she said, adding that diabetes advocates are also doing what they can to help people get health insurance.

Controlling blood sugar will help everyone, not just those with diabetes, Peters said. Someone hospitalized with uncontrolled blood sugar takes up a bed that could otherwise be used for a COVID-19 patient. 

Brown, of the American Diabetes Association, has been advocating for those measures on a national level, as well as ramping up testing in low-income communities. Right now, most testing centers are in wealthier neighborhoods, she said, and many are drive-thrus, assuming that everyone who needs testing has a car.

Her organization is also lobbying for continuity of health insurance coverage if someone with diabetes loses their job, as well as legislation to remove co-pays for diabetes medication.

“The last thing we want to have happen is that during this economically challenged time, people start rationing or skipping their doses of insulin or other prescription drugs,” Brown said. That leads to unmanaged diabetes and complications like ulcers and amputations. “Diabetes is one of those diseases where you can control it. You shouldn’t have to suffer and you shouldn’t have to die.”

 

 

‘The virus doesn’t care about excuses’: US faces terrifying autumn as Covid-19 surges

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/18/us-coronavirus-fall-second-wave-autumn

The breathing space afforded by lockdowns in the spring has been squandered, with new cases running at five times the rate of the whole of Europe. Things will only get worse, experts warn.

In early June, the United States awoke from a months-long nightmare.

Coronavirus had brutalized the north-east, with New York City alone recording more than 20,000 deaths, the bodies piling up in refrigerated trucks. Thousands sheltered at home. Rice, flour and toilet paper ran out. Millions of jobs disappeared.

But then the national curve flattened, governors declared success and patrons returned to restaurants, bars and beaches. “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” vice-president Mike Pence wrote in a 16 June op-ed, titled, “There isn’t a coronavirus ‘second wave’.”

Except, in truth, the nightmare was not over – the country was not awake – and a new wave of cases was gathering with terrifying force.

As Pence was writing, the virus was spreading across the American south and interior, finding thousands of untouched communities and infecting millions of new bodies. Except for the precipitous drop in New York cases, the curve was not flat at all. It was surging, in line with epidemiological predictions.

Now, four months into the pandemic, with test results delayed, contact tracing scarce, protective equipment dwindling and emergency rooms once again filling, the United States finds itself in a fight for its life: swamped by partisanship, mistrustful of science, engulfed in mask wars and led by a president whose incompetence is rivaled only by his indifference to Americans’ suffering.

With flu season on the horizon and Donald Trump demanding that millions of students return to school in the fall – not to mention a presidential election quickly approaching – the country appears at risk of being torn apart.

“I feel like it’s March all over again,” said William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “There is no way in which a large number of cases of disease, and indeed a large number of deaths, are going to be avoided.”

The problem facing the United States is plain. New cases nationally are up a remarkable 50% over the last two weeks and the daily death toll is up 42% over the same period. Cases are on the rise in 40 out of 50 states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Last week America recorded more than 75,000 new cases daily – five times the rate of all Europe.

“We are unfortunately seeing more higher daily case numbers than we’ve ever seen, even exceeding pre-lockdown times,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The number of new cases that occur each day in the US are greater than we’ve yet experienced. So this is obviously a very worrisome direction that we’re headed in.”

The mayor of Houston, Texas, proposed a “two-week shutdown” last week after cases in the state climbed by tens of thousands. The governor of California reclosed restaurants, churches and bars, while the governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Montana made mask-wearing in public compulsory.

“Today I am sounding the alarm,” Governor Kate Brown said. “We are at risk of Covid-19 getting out of control in Oregon.”

As dire as the current position seems, the months ahead look even worse. The country anticipates hundred of thousands of hospitalizations, if the annual averages hold, during the upcoming flu season. Those hospitalizations will further strain the capacity of overstretched clinics.

But a flu outbreak could also hamper the country’s ability to fight coronavirus in other ways. Because the two viruses have similar symptoms – fever, chills, diarrhea, fatigue – mistaken diagnoses could delay care for some patients until it’s too late, and make outbreaks harder to catch, one of the country’s top health officials has warned.

“I am worried,” Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said last week. “I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are probably going to be one of the most difficult times that we have experienced in American public health because of … the co-occurrence of Covid and influenza.”

Other factors will be in play. A precipitous reopening of schools in the fall, as demanded by Trump and the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, without safety measures recommended by the CDC, could create new superspreader events, with unknown consequences for children.

“We would expect that to be throwing fuel on the fire,” said Hanage of blanket school reopenings. “So it’s going to be bad over the next month or so. You can pretty much expect it to be getting worse in the fall.”

The list of aggravating circumstances goes on and on. A federal unemployment assistance program that gave each claimant an extra $600 a week is set to expire at the end of July. A new coronavirus relief package is being held up in Congress by Republicans’ accusations that states are wasting money, and their insistence that any new legislation include liability protections for businesses that reopen during the pandemic.

Cable broadcasts and social media have been filled, meanwhile, with video clips of furious confrontations on sidewalks, in stores and streets over wearing facial masks. In Michigan, a sheriff’s deputy shot dead a man who had stabbed another man for challenging him about not wearing a mask at a convenience store. In Georgia, the Republican governor sued the Democratic mayor of Atlanta for issuing a city-wide mask mandate.

The partisan divide on masks is slowly closing as the outbreaks intensify. The share of Republicans saying they wear masks whenever they leave home rose 10 points to 45% in the first two weeks of July, while 78% of Democrats reported doing so, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll.

Another divide has proven tragically resilient. As hotspots have shifted south, the virus continues to affect Black and Latinx communities disproportionately. Members of those communities are three times as likely to become infected and twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, according to data from early July.

The raging virus has prompted speculation in some corners that the only way out for the United States is through some kind of “herd immunity” achieved by simply giving up. But that grossly underestimates the human tragedy such a scenario would involve, epidemiologists say, in the form of tens of millions of new cases and unknown thousands of deaths.

“I think that every single serology study that’s been done to date suggests that the vast majority of Americans have not yet been exposed to this virus,” Nuzzo said. “So we’re still very much in the early stages.

“Which is good, that’s actually really good news. I don’t want to strive for herd immunity, because that means the vast majority of us will get sick and that will mean many, many more deaths. The point is to slow the spread as much as possible, protect ourselves as much as possible, until we have other tools.”

But the ability of the US to take that basic step – to slow the spread, as dozens of other countries have done – is in perilous doubt. After half a year, the Trump administration has made no effort to establish a national protocol for testing, contact tracing and supported isolation – the same proven three-pronged strategy by which other countries control their outbreaks.

Critics say that instead, Trump has dithered and denied as the national death toll climbed to almost 140,000. The Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, who is hoping to unseat Trump in November, blasted the president for refusing until recently to wear a mask in public.

“He wasted four months that Americans have been making sacrifices by stoking divisions and actively discouraging people from taking a very basic step to protect each other,” Biden said in a statement last weekend.

Meanwhile the White House has attacked Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s foremost expert on infectious diseases whose refusal to lie to the public has enraged Trump, by publishing an op-ed signed by one of the president’s top aides titled “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on” and by releasing a file of opposition research to the Washington Post.

Trump claimed the number of cases was a function of unusually robust testing, though experts said that positivity rates of 20% in multiple states suggested that the United States is testing too little – and that in any case closing one’s eyes to the problem by testing less would not make it go away.

“We’ve done 45 million tests,” Trump said this week, padding the figure only slightly. “If we did half that number, you’d have half the cases, probably around that number. If we did another half of that, you’d have half the numbers. Everyone would be saying we’re doing well on cases.”

Such statements by Trump have encouraged unfavorable comparisons of the US pandemic response with those in countries such as Italy, which recorded just 169 new cases on Monday after a horrific spring, and South Korea, which has kept cases in the low double-digits since April.

But the United States could also look to many African countries for lessons in pandemic response, said Amanda McClelland, who runs a global epidemic prevention program at Resolve to Save Lives.

“We’ve seen some good success in countries like Ghana, who have really focused on contact tracing, and being able to follow up superspreading events,” said McClelland. “We see Ethiopia: they kept their borders open for a lot longer than other countries, but they have really aggressive testing and active case-finding to make sure that they’re not missing cases.

“I think what we’ve seen is that you need not just a strong health system but strong leadership and governance to be able to manage the outbreak, and we’ve seen countries that have all three do well.”

But in America, the large laboratories that process Covid-19 tests are unable to keep up with demand. Quest Diagnostics announced on Tuesday that the turnaround time for most non-emergency test results was at least seven days.

“We want patients and healthcare providers to know that we will not be in a position to reduce our turnaround times as long as cases of Covid-19 continue to increase dramatically,” the lab said.

“You can’t have unlimited lab capacity, and what we’ve done is allow, to some extent, cases to go beyond our capacity,” said McClelland. “We’re never going to be able to treat and track and trace uncontrolled transmission. This outbreak is just too infectious.”

Public health experts emphasize that the United States does not have to accept as its fate a cascade of tens of millions of new cases, and tens of thousands of deaths, in the months ahead. Focused leadership and individual resolve could yet help the country follow in the footsteps of other nations that have successfully faced serious outbreaks – and brought them under control.

But it is clear that the most vulnerable Americans, including the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, face grave danger. Republicans have argued in recent weeks that while cases in the US have soared, death rates are not climbing so quickly, because the new cases are disproportionately affecting younger adults.

That is a false reassurance, health experts say, because deaths are a lagging indicator – cases necessarily rise before deaths do – and because large outbreaks among any demographic group speeds the virus’s ability to get inside nursing homes, care facilities and other places where residents are most vulnerable.

“If we don’t do anything to stop the virus, it’s going to be very difficult to prevent it from getting to people who will die,” said Nuzzo.

There is a question of whether the United States, for all its wealth and expertise – and its self-regard as an exceptional actor on the world stage – can summon the will to keep up the fight. People are tired of fighting the virus, and of fighting each other.

“I think unfortunately people are emotionally exhausted from having to think about and worry about this virus,” said Nuzzo. “They feel like they’ve already sacrificed a lot. So the worry that I have is, what willingness is there left, to do what it takes?”

It is as if the country is “treading water in the middle of the ocean”, Hanage said.

“People tend to be shuffling very quickly between denial and fatalism,” he said. “That’s really not helpful. There are a number of things that can be done.

“What I would hope is that this marks a point when the United States finally wakes up and realizes that this is a pandemic and starts taking it seriously.

“Folks tend to look at what has happened elsewhere and then they make up some kind of magical reason why it’s not going to happen to them.

“People keep making these excuses, and the virus doesn’t care about the excuses. The virus just keeps going. If you give it the opportunity, it will take it.”