Category Archives: COVID-19 Testing

The Pandemic Will Likely End In One Of These Four Ways; Social Media and More About Vaccines.

I am getting really frustrated having to try to convince friends and patients of the value of vaccinations for Covip-19. Vaccinations promise an end to the coronavirus pandemic in the US. What kind of ending, though, is up to us?

I “loved” the excuse that she knew that the GOVERNMENT was putting tracers in the vaccines to track our every move and racist thoughts.

And with the cases and deaths due to COVID increasing in such very high numbers, while Israel as a country is the only country that has reached herd immunity. Their vaccinations are over 80% of their population and their new cases are so very low.

Reporter Dan Vergano noted that if the White House’s vision goes according to plan, vaccinations will end the pandemic in the US in time for 4th of July fireworks. Or the pandemic won’t end, and these shots will be the first of many we’ll get for years. Or they’ll offer a brief summer respite — before a more severe version of the coronavirus catches fire.

A return to a life resembling normalcy looks closer than ever now that, as of Monday, vaccines are available to every adult in America. Around 80 million people are already fully vaccinated, and President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the US has already reached his goal of 200 million shots in the first 100 days of his administration, eight days early.

But with half of the population still unvaccinated and COVID-19 cases once more rising, just how close are we to the pandemic ending, both in the US and across the world?

Whether the pandemic ends in the US by Independence Day — or much further in the future — will depend on the vaccines, the virus, and decisions people make, experts say. The big questions include how long the vaccines’ protection lasts, how well they fight off new coronavirus variants, and whether the entire globe can hold off these emerging threats. Then there’s the X factor of how many people will be willing to get shots.

The benchmark for a successful vaccination campaign has long been considered to be “herd immunity” — having enough people vaccinated to keep sick ones from sparking outbreaks. That might require 80% of US adults getting vaccinated, according to infectious disease researcher William Schaffner of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Other experts have urged Americans to not obsess over herd immunity. “I can’t say it’s going to be ‘this’ percent,” Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this month, although he has previously floated percentages ranging from 70% to 85%. “We’ll know it when we see it. It’ll be obvious.”

Getting to that turning point could take very different routes, experts told BuzzFeed News. Although the summer everyone hopes for is within reach, worse outcomes are also possible. At this pivotal moment in the crisis, a lot depends on how willing people are to help themselves by continuing to wear masks and isolating until they are fully vaccinated — and to help people around the world get vaccinated too.

“It depends on decisions we make,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, a University of Texas epidemiologist, said this month at a Stanford University symposium about herd immunity.

Here are four ways that the pandemic could end in the US.

1. The Better Ending: Vaccination Returns Life Close to “Normal”

By June, most US adults get vaccinated. The shots halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2, even the more transmissible variants. And people feel safe shopping, traveling, and visiting each other, almost like they did before the pandemic.

This is the best outcome — and it isn’t completely far-fetched. Half of US adults have received at least one shot. Even with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine paused, more than 3 million shots are being administered a day; at that rate, every adult American could receive one by late June.

Israel offers a glimpse of this future. There, a fast-paced campaign had immunized more than half of the population by mid-April. The results have been striking in the country of 9 million, with new cases falling to around 200 a day, 2% of the January peak. Starting this weekend, an outdoor mask mandate will be lifted.

White House / Via whitehouse.gov

White House COVID-19 briefing slide, showing case drop with 62% vaccination

Similarly, in the US, new cases among nursing home residents dropped by 96% and deaths by 91% between December, when vaccinations started, and March. After a slow start, more than 4.8 million people in nursing facilities have received at least one shot.

Although case numbers have increased in recent weeks, Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, predicts “a smaller bump over the next couple months that should by the summer settle down to a pretty low level of cases.”

That doesn’t mean that masking would stop. It’s worth noting that the declines in both Israel and nursing homes happened while restrictions were maintained. Under current US plans, young teens won’t start getting shots until the fall and elementary school–age children in the winter of 2022, meaning that their schools will likely keep face coverings, some virtual classes, and other restrictions for the foreseeable future.

But most partial or full closures of shops, restaurants, universities, and bars could end this summer if US cases fall like they did in Israel.

The bottom line is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which make up the great majority of US shots, have proven 90% effective in real-world studies against COVID-19. Although some people have gotten infected despite vaccination, their numbers are small: about 6,000 cases out of 84 million fully vaccinated people, or .007%, according to CDC data.

“It is not unexpected — the vaccine is not 100% protective,” Scott Lindquist, a Washington state health department official, said in a recent press briefing about “breakthrough” infections there. “But what we saw were mostly very mild symptoms, if any at all.”

And existing vaccines appear to protect against new coronavirus variants, such as the B.1.1.7 strain, according to CDC data. “If you lose a little bit of protection to a variant, but the vaccine still keeps you safe, that’s still a good result,” Bhattacharya said. Vaccines aside, he noted that a sizable chunk of the population — more than 1 in 5 Americans by one recent estimate — also has some natural immunity from past infections, though studies suggest that this protection likely isn’t as long-lasting or robust as vaccination.

“I do think we’ll be OK by the summer,” said the immunologist, who is personally planning to travel to see his family in cities across the country. “Tickets booked for early July!”

In this future, the coronavirus cools down enough to be managed like the measles: a virus tamed by a vaccine that is added to childhood shot regimens, with occasional outbreaks in unvaccinated communities.

2. A Mixed Ending: Defanging, Not Defeating, the Virus

Mass vaccination delivers yet another future: the death rate from COVID-19 drops drastically, because the shots prevent severe and fatal illness, but outbreaks continue, largely among pockets of unvaccinated people, including younger people who are less targeted for vaccines or less worried about getting sick in the first place.

“A more realistic scenario is that older, more vulnerable individuals will receive a disproportionate number of doses,” said infectious disease modeler Jack Buckner of the University of California, Davis, by email. “Under these conditions additional outbreaks are more likely but the case fatality rate would be lower.”

Last month, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was asked whether a sharp decline in death rates, with case numbers remaining high over the summer, might lessen the public’s urgency to get vaccinated. She called it a concern, but noted that children are dying of COVID-19, albeit very rarely, and that long-term complications from infections, also known as “long COVID,” plague even people with mild cases. A recent study from Sweden, for example, found 1 in 10 healthcare workers who had mild cases have felt effects, like loss of smell and taste, fatigue, and breathing problems, for months after.

“We’re going to defang the virus rather than defeat it.”

In this mixed scenario, we dodge a summer surge of deaths, but outbreaks occur in some counties or states. Herd immunity is also never quite reached in this future, because variants circle the globe every year like variations of the seasonal flu. Post–mass vaccination, the coronavirus would then enter a “mild endemic state,” where SARS-CoV-2 is reduced to a childhood cold, said Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch at the recent Stanford symposium about herd immunity. “We’re going to defang the virus rather than defeat it,” he said. “We’ll make it a nuisance that makes people a bit ill, rather than something that kills people in large numbers and causes the hospital system to groan under the weight.”

A related possibility is that vaccination only delivers immunity for a year or two and requires regular booster shots for older and younger people alike, which the heads of Pfizer and Moderna have told investors might be the case. (On Sunday, Fauci said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the FDA and CDC — not vaccine makers — will decide by fall about boosters.)

“Even if we reach the herd immunity threshold in the US or in rich countries, this virus is going to continue to circulate,” said Lipsitch.

Right now, doses are only promised on the order of hundreds of millions, and the planet is home to 7.8 billion people. The World Health Organization has warned that global under vaccination would be a catastrophic moral failure, prolonging coronavirus transmission around the world.

3. A Worse Ending: A Fourth Surge for the Summer

The better outcomes are far from inevitable. White House officials regularly say that the US is in a race between vaccination and more contagious coronavirus variants. In this scenario, we lose the race. The result: a fourth surge.

The reasons for worry are plain in case numbers that have stopped declining and are instead trending upward again, now averaging around 67,000 newly-reported infections a day. The more transmissible and dangerous B.1.1.7 coronavirus strain is quickly becoming the predominant one nationwide, now accounting for 26% of all new cases.

“We remain in a complicated stage,” the CDC’s Walensky said Monday. “On the one hand, more people in the United States are being vaccinated every single day and at an accelerated pace. On the other hand, cases and hospitalizations are increasing in some areas of the country, and cases among younger people who have not yet been vaccinated are also increasing.”

If the US falls behind on vaccinations, then a second lockdown period might result. Rising hospital admissions could lead governors and mayors to shutter bars, restaurants, and stores once again.

“We are in real risk of throwing away all the gains we have made, and losing another summer,” Debra Furr-Holden, a Michigan State University epidemiologist, told BuzzFeed News.

Her state, as well as the rest of the Upper Midwest and the Northeast, is in the thick of massive outbreaks right now. Some counties reopened bars, gyms, and restaurants too early, Furr-Holden believes, which in her view should serve as a warning to the rest of the country.

Although 74% of US adults say they want a shot, up from half in September, that’s still not enough to achieve herd immunity, some suggest. “We have to get about 80% of adults vaccinated,” said Schaffner, the infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt. “We’ve never done that with any vaccine in the United States.”

Some areas of the country are also much more resistant to vaccination than others. In states like Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi, as many as 37% of people tell pollsters they don’t want a shot. Politics clearly plays a role. Older, rural conservatives express the most hesitation, and their fears are reinforced by misinformation and fearmongering on right-wing cable channels.

“We are running into people who have expressed some hesitancy, so we have to listen to them and address their concerns,” said Schaffner, who is based in Nashville. Walensky acknowledged this week that “the administration of vaccines across the country is not uniform.”

But Andy Slavitt, the senior White House COVID-19 adviser, said he was unwilling to entertain the idea of the federal vaccination campaign shifting doses to parts of the country clamoring for shots and sending less to ones in areas where they go unused. “We are not going to quote-unquote ‘punish’ less-ready areas,” Slavitt told BuzzFeed News during a briefing this week. The key, he said, is to convey to people that while vaccines were hard to get during the initial rollout, there are now more than 60,000 vaccination sites nationwide, and at least one of them is within 5 miles of where 95% of the population lives.

Whether enough Americans will take that message to heart remains to be seen. If not, we may only reach herd immunity after another painful surge.

4. The Bad Ending: After the Summer, Global Variants Revive the Pandemic

Then there’s the worst-case scenario. In a mostly unvaccinated world, a new and more deadly coronavirus variant — or variants — overpowers vaccines and restarts the global pandemic all over again. The US, along with everyone else, has to begin again with new vaccines.

“Coronavirus mutates a lot — they can do it in humans, they can do it in animals — and the question is how important are these mutants going to be,” Stanford University infectious disease expert Julie Parsonnet said at the herd immunity symposium held at her university. “We don’t live just in Palo Alto, or just in California, or just in the United States. We live in a world where there are a lot of unvaccinated people, and as long as we don’t focus on the world more globally, we’re going to have problems.”

For now, the available vaccines are effective against the variants circulating in the US. But experts are surprised at the speed at which more transmissible ones have arisen, said Bhattacharya of the University of Arizona. Their arrival reflects just how widely the coronavirus has spread from host to host, each acting as a lab for new mutations to emerge.

“The places where the variants are growing, they’re not growing because they are evading the immune system, they are going nuts because there aren’t enough people that are immune,” Bhattacharya said. “Obviously this isn’t the best situation, because the longer you let this go, the better the odds that you will get some weird thing that will eventually start to grow out because it can evade the immune system.”

Last week, the White House announced a $1.7 billion effort to detect such new strains. Pfizer, Moderna, and other vaccine makers are already testing prototype booster shots that are designed explicitly against variants, such as the B.1.1.7 strain.

In the face of this threat, a recent risk analysis led by George Ioannou, an expert on veteran care at the University of Washington, offers a framework for who should get prioritized for vaccines. To prevent deaths as much as possible, people with the most severe risk factors, such as diabetes, heart failure, or kidney failure, should be given shots first, this work suggests. At the same time, if there is enough supply, vaccines should be administered as quickly and widely as possible to combat the new variants.

“You really don’t want that threat just hanging around,” Bhattacharya said.

But even in this worst case, the silver lining is that the coronavirus has nevertheless proven amenable to vaccination, he and other experts noted, unlike HIV, which for decades has thwarted vaccines. A coronavirus strain that evades the current vaccines will almost certainly be susceptible to shots that have yet to be designed.

That means vaccines will at some point deliver an end to the pandemic, no matter how many changes in work, school, and daily life it leaves behind, said Yale sociologist Nicholas Christakis, author of Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.

“Eventually it will return to normal,” Christakis told BuzzFeed News. “Plagues end — they just do.”

Social Media: A Parasite on Our Pandemic Mental Health

Doctor Vinay Prasad reported that recently, a physician colleague of mine, someone whom I’ve met in person and with whom I’ve shared a laugh, began to tweet increasingly hostile barbs about me. In a certain respect, it was a typical social media interaction — an uncharitable reading of one’s point of view and a scornful reply. But it was also unusual, as we have met in person, face to face.

In my experience, online anger like this is summoned only when the other person has been depersonalized — just a face dissociated from a person. I’d rarely experienced it from someone who I knew in real life. Just as I started to wonder what might be going on, a mutual friend called to say they had seen the out-of-character barbs. Apparently, this colleague has been suffering from a serious medical illness and was going through a hard time. By the end of the call, I was left feeling sympathetic.

Later that day, I noticed that a professor whose tweets I greatly enjoyed had shut down their account. Poof! They, and their astute comments, were gone entirely. I sent them a note, mostly to let them know that I had been affected by their sharp thinking over the years, and was sorry to see them go. The person wrote back that the growing hostility had driven them away. Every time they said anything, they felt mobbed by a sea of increasingly angry voices. They didn’t need the stress.

Finally, the same day, a colleague from another university called me to ask for some advice. She had been on Twitter, and was troubled by increasingly hostile and negative feedback. The specifics were ugly, and I could tell from the tone in her voice that my colleague was pained. I gave the few tips I know and went for a long run to think.

What Is Going On?

In the best of times, social media is a double-edged sword. It is a great way to get a message to many people, but it is de-personal, and driven by the economy of attention. Anger, disgust, and outrage are the emotions that engage and addict the users. People, good people, can become disinhibited and say things they don’t truly mean, or would never say in real life. Of course, this is during the best of times.

We are not in the best of times. People have been cut off from friends, family, and co-workers, and many are living in isolation. In fact, it is the loneliest year in human history. The largest number of people in history (billions) have deprived themselves of, at least some, social interactions. Mental health is suffering, and physicians, healthcare workers, researchers are suffering alongside everyone else. When we are tired and angry we are not our best selves, and paired with the algorithms of social media, it is a recipe for disaster.

Where Are We Now?

Every day people go online and the difficulties of the last year loom large in our minds — over 500,000 dead Americans, disjointed and often incoherent policy responses, the list goes on. Some are angry that we didn’t do more, sooner. Others are angry about interventions and restrictions that were broadly implemented that might not have helped, and even hurt. Both groups might be right: we were unwilling to do some things that might have helped, and simultaneously pursued other interventions that didn’t, and unfortunately hurt less-fortunate Americans. It will take years to tease these apart, as I have written. Regardless, we are angry. So, we go online looking to vent that anger. If we felt the bigger error was not enough restrictions, we get angry when someone is critical of restrictions. And if vice versa, we find a different scapegoat. A philosopher recently told me, we get most angry when other people don’t follow restrictions that we are able to follow.

The angry train goes off the rails when we invent motivations for others. Folks who share our point of view are always good people who want to save lives, and folks who disagree with us are people indifferent to human beings, grifters, ideologues, or attention-seekers. But, if one steps back, how can that possibly be? Surely people on all sides of an issue — whether that be school reopening or best vaccination practices — have varied reasons for holding their view. A tiny fraction may have some ulterior motive, but surely the vast majority hold their view for the same reason folks who disagree hold their view — an alternative interpretation of facts and values. I suspect a year from now the idea that the world is full of strictly good and bad people will look particularly ridiculous.

How Can We Make It Better?

I don’t know how we can improve the situation on social media, and more critically, reverse the anguish so many are facing in real life — but I do have some tips about how we might help ourselves.

1. Get offline. The professor who deleted their account had the right idea. Each of us has to decide if social media serves our purposes and makes us better informed or happier, but probably all of us should use it less. Read it less, and post less.

2. Mute all notifications. I did this a few years ago, and I quickly found more joy in my life. Say what you have to say, and let it go. No need to reply to anyone, and the easiest way is to set the accounts to never disturb you again.

3. Don’t reply to others. If you read a point of view you disagree with, what value is there in replying to the other person? Just state your point of view in your terms on your feed. No need to pick a fight. Just make your point on your terms.

4. If you are having a hard time at home or work, don’t use social media. It is hard enough to manage when you wake up in a good mood, but when you are feeling tired, scared, afraid or sick, it is too much. Corollary: If you love someone, and they are hurting, suggest they do the same.

5. Meet or call someone every day. Social media thrives from our loneliness — it’s a cheap way to feel less lonely in the loneliest year of human history. But it is a neon light to the sun. Call someone. Visit someone. Interact more in real life.

6. Tell someone you don’t know you appreciate their thoughts. Perhaps the best thing we can do to combat negative emotions is to give some positive feedback to folks we appreciate. I have sent some emails to people, but perhaps I am not thinking big enough. I plan to go on social media and talk openly about people whose thinking delighted me over this last year. It is the least I can do to combat the animosity.

Toward More Productive Dialogue

When we are feeling powerless, getting angry at someone is seductive. It is a way to channel and reorient your energy. Unfortunately, it leaves all involved worse off. Instead, consider using your energy to articulate or refine your perspective, to push for positive change. That doesn’t mean that there are not real errors — but jumping on a single tweet by a minor character in a drama is unlikely to be the change-maker. My tips are just suggestions, but all meant to re-orient the compass toward productive dialogue.

Scientists Reveal How the AstraZeneca Vaccine Causes Unusual Clots

Brenda Goodman reported that scientists in Germany say they’ve worked out the two-step mechanism by which the AstraZeneca vaccine causes rare but devastating blood clots that gobble up the body’s supply of platelets.

So far, European regulators have reported more than 220 cases of unusual blood clots and low levels of platelets in patients who received the vaccine, called Vaxzevria, which was developed with funding from Operation Warp Speed as part of the race to develop a suite of vaccines to protect people from COVID-19. Vaxzevria has not yet been authorized for use in the United States.

“This is, in my opinion, rock-solid evidence,” said Andreas Greinacher, MD, head of the Institute of Immunology and Transfusion Medicine, University Hospital Greifswald, Germany, who was among the first scientists in the world to link the rare clots to antibodies against the platelet factor 4 protein.

Greinacher said he found the same mechanism using three different technologies to gather evidence: dynamic light scattering, super-resolution microscopy, and electron microscopy.

“This is what scientists usually think is confirmatory evidence,” he said in a call with reporters hours after publishing his study as a preprint ahead of peer review on the Research Square server.

Greinacher said he felt an urgent need to get the information out as soon as possible. He said his team had worked around the clock for 5 weeks to get answers, “because we are in the middle of the vaccination campaign. This was the driving force for us and the big motivation to provide these data as fast as any other possible,” he told reporters on the call.

Greinacher said that he believes the mechanism linking the vaccine with the rare clotting reactions is likely to apply to other vaccines that also use adenoviruses to ferry instructions for making the virus’s spike protein into cells.

“My assumption is, and that’s a hypothesis, that this is a class effect of vaccines using adenovirus,” he said. He added that he could not be certain because he only studied reactions to the Vaxzevria vaccine. But previous studies have shown that adenoviruses can cause the type of platelet activation he saw in the reactions he studied.

Greinacher said that he had worked out an agreement with Johnson & Johnson about an hour before the call to collaborate on studying its COVID-19 vaccine. The company had previously been unwilling to share information, he said.

At least seven cases of the same pattern of unusual clots have been documented in people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which also uses an adenovirus as its delivery vehicle. Over 7 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been given in the United States so far.

While the reactions are extremely rare, they can be serious. One person, a 45-year-old woman in Virginia, has died. That led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration to call for a pause on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week. The company also announced that it would hold clinical trials to get more answers about the reactions.

In his new study, Greinacher and colleagues describe a cascade of events that has to happen in the body before the vaccines broker these large clots. He explained that while everyone has the basic immune machinery that leads to the unusual clots, it is almost always kept in balance. The body uses a series of checks to prevent any step in the process from getting out of control.

In some cases, however, there’s a perfect storm where each stage progresses to the next and the end result is very hard to control. That autoimmune attack, which causes the body to go into a hyper-clotting state, typically burns itself out after a few weeks. So if patients can get rapid treatment, the condition nearly always goes away.

He said he only knew of one case of an autoimmune syndrome like this lasting 10 years, but that was in a patient who had taken the blood thinner heparin, which can cause a nearly identical syndrome.

Two-Step Process Leads to Clots

In the first step, the adenovirus shell in the vaccine, along with proteins from the cells where the vaccine is grown, come into contact with platelets from the blood.

Platelets are best known as colorless cell fragments that rush to the site of an infection or injury, helping the blood congeal to stop bleeding; they also play a key role in the body’s immune response.

When activated, they surround invaders like bacteria and change shape to release chemical signals they store in granules.

When platelets are activated en masse, as can happen rarely after a person takes the blood thinner heparin or gets the Vaxzevria vaccine, they release a flood of these signals, Greinacher explained. These blaring signals recruit an ancient and hard-to-control branch of the immune response.

“Imagine this is like a dragon in the cave who was sleeping for a long time [but] which now got alerted by someone’s throwing a stone on it,” he said. The chemical signals awaken B-cells that then produce massive amounts of antibodies against the platelet factor 4 protein, which helps coordinate blood clotting.

The body erroneously thinks it is reacting to massive amounts of pathogens in the body, so the immune system overshoots. The antibodies bind the platelets, the platelets recruit white blood cells, and “then the whole thing is exploding,” he said.

The second key step in these reactions is caused by EDTA, a calcium-binding agent and stabilizer that is added to the Vaxzevria vaccine.

EDTA is not listed as an ingredient in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

EDTA opens junctions between cells that form the walls of blood vessels, causing them to become leaky. This allows the giant complexes formed by proteins and platelets to enter the blood circulation, where they — on very rare occasions — trigger that bodywide alarm.

Asked if he thought there was anything that could be done to make the vaccine safer, Greinacher said his first thought would be to try to get rid of the EDTA, which causes the second step in the process. But he said he was not a vaccine developer and didn’t know how important it might be to its formulation.

Why might the Johnson & Johnson vaccine lead to similar types of clots, even though it doesn’t contain EDTA? Greinacher speculated that size might play a role.

When this reaction occurs in patients who have taken heparin, the size of the heparin molecule matters. With unfractionated heparin, the longest kind of molecule, the reaction is 10 times more common than when patients take smaller low-molecular weight heparins.

Other vaccines might form smaller antibody-protein complexes that generate smaller warning signals, making the reaction less likely.

As for why the reaction appeared to be more common in women, Greinacher said he was growing skeptical that there is a large gender bias. He pointed out that most of the first vaccine recipients in Europe had been healthcare workers, who are disproportionately women.

He noted that women might be slightly more susceptible because of hormones and because women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases, but that the risk was probably more balanced between men and women than it first seemed.

“It’s not a disease of young women,” he said.

Several European countries have changed or abandoned their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Last week, Denmark said it would no longer include Vaxzevria as part of its vaccination program. Italy has recommended that AstraZeneca vaccine only be used in people over age 60. UK officials said people under age 30 should be offered an alternative.

Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency said a warning about the risk of blood clots and low platelets should be added to product information for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

ACIP Green-Lights J&J Vax for All Adults

Finally, Molly Walker reported that the pause is lifted, and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is once again recommended for adults, according to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

In a 10-4 vote, with one abstention, ACIP said in updated interim guidance that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is recommended under FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) for all adults.

They ultimately decided that including a separate warning on the vaccine, as well as in an FDA EUA fact sheet and materials on the CDC website, was sufficient. One choice the committee chose not to vote on would have added language that women under age 50 should be aware of the increased risks of rare clotting events, and may opt for a different authorized COVID-19 vaccine. The committee agreed that any further qualifiers would be too cumbersome for local jurisdictions to implement and might contribute to vaccine hesitancy.

Johnson & Johnson researchers unveiled a proposed warning that the FDA agreed to add to the vaccine’s current EUA. It warns about the risks of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), and recommends that clinicians consult with the published American Society of Hematology guidance for diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

ACIP member Grace Lee, MD, of Stanford University School of Medicine, said that putting a qualifier for any demographic group would be “extremely confusing,” because every ACIP recommendation “is a benefit/risk balance.”

The committee believed that the benefits of one-dose vaccination outweighed the risks, as it makes this vaccine available for vulnerable populations, including people experiencing homelessness, incarcerated populations, and home-bound populations.

The “no” votes came from members who felt that younger women would not be adequately informed about the risks of this rare adverse event by a warning label and EUA fact sheet.

“I did not object to the recommendation. I objected to the absence of any kind of guidance from us,” said ACIP member, Sarah Long, MD, of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. “This is an age group that is most at risk and is getting the vaccine predominantly to save other people’s lives. I’m very sorry we haven’t chosen to put up front the knowledge we have that … there are options.”

ACIP chair, José Romero, MD, ultimately voted yes, but added that he thought there was a bit of a “selective interpretation” in terms of how much younger women would be informed. He urged vaccination sites to have a second vaccine available so that younger women are not forced to shop for vaccines.

“These events are rare, but they are serious,” Romero said.

The American Medical Association (AMA) reiterated their support for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and pledged to help inform patients about the rare adverse events.

“The AMA will continue to work with the FDA and the [CDC] to ensure physicians and patients are aware of the rare, but increased risk of [TTS] in women under the age of 50, as well as the appropriate treatment, so they can act quickly,” said AMA president Susan Bailey, MD, in a statement.

On April 13, CDC and FDA agreed to a “pause” on use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine out of an abundance of caution. At that point, there were six cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) with thrombocytopenia, one fatal. ACIP met on April 14, but agreed to wait to vote until more data accrued on the available cases, including potential risk factors.

As of April 21, the number of cases rose to 15, with three deaths. Seven patients remain hospitalized, including four in the ICU, while five were discharged home.

Thirteen of these cases were in women ages 18-49, with two in women older than 50. Based on these data, Tom Shimabukuro, MD, of the CDC, estimated that the rate of TTS was 7.0 per million doses in younger women, and 0.9 per million in older women. Seven cases of 15 were among women ages 30-39.

While all cases were in women, Shimabukuro noted that some data were still under review, “including potentially male cases,” although as of now, there were no cases reported in men.

Median patient age was 37, with a median time to onset of 8 days following vaccination. While 12 cases were CVST, three were other forms of thrombosis. Seven patients had obesity, while two patients apiece reported oral contraceptive use, hypothyroidism, or hypertension. No patients had established coagulation disorders.

All patients had thrombocytopenia, with 10 patients having severe thrombocytopenia, or platelet levels under 50,000. Of the 11 patients where a platelet factor 4 heparin-induced thrombocytopenia ELISA antibody test was performed, all were positive. Four patients did not have available results. Seven patients with CVST experienced intracerebral hemorrhage.

Non-heparin anticoagulants were used to treat 12 patients and intravenous immunoglobulin to treat eight patients, while platelet transfusion was used for seven patients and heparin for six patients. Shimabukuro noted that the six patients received heparin prior to the CDC Health Alert about treating this condition.

Shimabukuro said that cases under investigation may increase, as researchers plan to broaden their case definition to harmonize with the draft Brighton Collaboration case definition for TTS. This could include other thrombotic events, including venous thromboembolism, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, ischemic stroke, and acute myocardial infarction.

As I try to conquer my depression in my interaction with some of my patients who refuse to get vaccinated, I wonder if we, our country will ever reach herd immunity as Israel has accomplished. I am trying to figure out whether it is worth keeping these patients in my practice due to my concern for my staff, my other patients and our families.

Please get vaccinated!!

Throw Away Your Mask After COVID Vaccination or Not, What about the Mutations and Infection after Vaccination?

As our national mortality statistics reach over 500,000 and a third vaccine has been approved by the FDA I thought that we should examine the use of masks, etc. after vaccinations. This is an important question especially considering the increasing findings of more viral mutants.

 Recently, a spirited discussion was sparked on social media: is it acceptable to relax masking 14 days after the second COVID-19 vaccine dose? Doctor Vinay Prasad and Doctor David Aronoff, in this post will discuss the advice as to whether to continue wearing masks as well as social distancing, etc. after one completes their vaccination.

Doctor Prasad starts off by noting that having spent some time thinking about the topic, and discussing with colleagues, I have reached two conclusions. First, it is a tradeoff with residual uncertainties, and reasonable people can disagree. But also, I favor the view that generally, 14 days after vaccination, we can relax some restrictions.

The caveats

It is important to be upfront with the caveats. Everything I say applies to average people in the community — I am not speaking about enhanced precautions in high-risk settings like nursing homes or medical centers. My argument is contingent on there being no “vaccine escape,” that is, no mutation in the coronavirus that markedly reduces vaccine efficacy. If that happens, may God help us. I am not sure we will make it.

Finally, my argument is appropriate for most places and most times, but if health systems are overwhelmed, e.g., as we saw in places like southern California or New York City, it might be reasonable to temporarily increase precautions. Additionally, my guiding principle does not apply to businesses, such as grocery stores or pharmacies, which can and will enforce their own policies.

Now, having said that: for most people, once you get 14 days out of your second dose of vaccine, I believe you can ease up on masking or another restriction, such as visiting a loved one for lunch or having more than one person visit a nursing home at the same time, or a small gathering of vaccinated people for dinner without masks.

The data

There are three lines of evidence that I wish to offer for my claim. First, consider the efficacy of the vaccine. The efficacy of the two mRNA vaccines is superb, offering 95% reduction in the rate of acquisition of symptomatic COVID-19 in randomized trials. That is a remarkable result. But the key statistic here is one step beyond the vaccine efficacy. If you get two doses of the vaccine, and if you remain asymptomatic 14 days after the second dose, what is the probability you will develop COVID-19? For Moderna, the answer is there is a 99.92% chance that you won’t. Only 12 cases occurred after this time in 14,550 actively vaccinated people in the trial, while the control arm experienced nearly 3.5% cumulative incidence. For Pfizer, only eight cases occurred amongst people who had completed a second dose and went 7 days without symptoms, again a 99.95% chance of not getting COVID if one remained asymptomatic a week after the second dose. In other words, if you get 14 days past the second dose, and feel fine, the likelihood you will get COVID-19 in these studies is very low. Some argue that in the real world — where folks are not as motivated as trial participants — the rate of SARS-CoV-2 acquisition might be higher, and thus relaxing rules riskier. But this logic cuts both ways: if people in the real world are less compliant, then the rules might be relaxed no matter what we say.

Next, consider the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2 to others. That risk is in part driven by symptomatic infections which are exceedingly rare after second doses. Risk of spreading is diminished by the brisk immune response that occurs after symptomatic infection once someone is vaccinated. In the Moderna study, there were 30 cases of severe COVID overall and zero in the vaccination arm. Less symptomatic and less severe COVID will result in a lower propensity to propagate SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, studies of both recombinant antibody products speed viral clearance from airways. If the body is primed to manufacture anti-spike antibodies through vaccination, there is likely a similar rapid clearance and subsequent reduction in infectiousness occurs.

What about asymptomatic infection and so-called silent spread? In the Moderna trial, swabs taken from asymptomatic participants as they were receiving dose 2 showed a roughly 60% reduction in PCR positivity. It is likely that a second dose and longer asymptomatic period will result in greater reduction in PCR positivity. Preliminary data from AstraZeneca’s ChAdOx1 vaccine also showed reduced in asymptomatic PCR detection. In short, it is highly likely that receipt of vaccination and a 14-day asymptomatic period afterward results in both personal protection and reduced likelihood of ongoing viral propagation.

Third, what is the effect size of masks? More correctly — what is the effect size of masks 14 days after a vaccine with 95% efficacy? What is the effect of masks if PCR positivity is only 1 in 1,000 amongst asymptomatic people? I think we must confront a forgotten truth. Masks make sense not because we have perfect randomized controlled trial data showing they protect the wearer, or others, but based on bio-plausibility, and the precautionary principle, they were a reasonable public health measure to incorporate.

Authors of a 2020 update to the Cochrane review wrote, “Compared to no masks there was no reduction of influenza-like illness (ILI) cases (risk ratio 0.93, 95% CI 0.83-1.05) or influenza (risk ratio 0.84, 95% CI 0.61-1.17) for masks in the general population, nor in healthcare workers (risk ratio 0.37, 95% CI 0.05-2.50).” But the truth is none of these trials perfectly fits the moment. And we never did a cluster RCT of cloth masks — as they are used in the politically torn U.S. — to clarify the effect size with SARS-CoV-2.

The truth is I wear a cloth mask and I quite like it. But I have seen no data that can tell me the added benefit of masks 14 days after vaccination with 95% efficacy. It’s the biological equivalent of asking what happened before the Big Bang. If you ask, what is the evidence that it’s safe to stop wearing a mask, I say, what is the evidence that it’s still beneficial?

This same line of thinking applies to other restrictions that could be eased instead. What evidence supports restricting nursing home visitors, if all parties are vaccinated and masked? What evidence supports banning a small dinner, if everyone has had the vaccine? There is no evidence that supports these continued prohibitions.

Knowing these three facts allows us to put it all together. Is it reasonable to tell someone that, if they are asymptomatic 14 days after the second vaccine, they are highly unlikely to get COVID-19, and also less likely to spread the virus — both by having less severe disease, less asymptomatic carriage, clearing virus faster, stronger antibody responses, and fewer symptomatic cases? Absolutely, is my view.

It is then reasonable to say that the theoretical benefit of the mask may be so small that easing up on its use is fine. Alternatively, you might keep the mask, but ease up on something else, and, to be honest, most people might actually prefer a different concession. You might choose to see family instead, or have a gathering with your vaccinated friends. Getting vaccinated is like getting a stack of tickets at Chuck E. Cheese — you get to decide what to trade them in for!

The politics/sociology

Some contend my stance will undermine efforts to normalize masks, send mixed messages to the public. That’s possible, but it is also possible that my message empowers and excites people to get vaccinated, which is the only viable path out of the nightmare we find ourselves in. I think the less scientists manipulate their statements while trying to guess the response the better. I have tried to be fully transparent in my thinking on this topic. None of us knows the second or third order effects. If we distort the facts and bang on harder about prolonged mask use or other restrictions, will the world actually be better? Or will we provoke a deep backlash that has been brewing for some time? Do we risk losing some folks who might otherwise get vaccinated? I am not an incarnation of God, so I don’t know. I worry that the likes and retweets on social media encourage the fearful message rather than the correct one.

Public health experts have reminded me to talk about despair. We are all facing it, and when you clamp down on a society with restrictions, a free society can only bear it for so long. There must be a path out of it, and easing restrictions — particularly when the burden may outweigh the unproven, theoretical, and at best highly marginal benefit — is a great way to renew optimism. Folks who spend time doing boots on the ground public health share their view with me that this is a great place to start.

The last objection I want to discuss is that my policy is not the safest policy. It is not absolute safety. Indeed, I acknowledge this is true. But I disagree that wearing a mask is absolute safety. I disagree that only one nursing home visitor is the safest policy, and only having a picnic outside is safest. Only truly becoming a hermit is absolute safety. Lock yourself in home, and get all foodstuffs delivered. When you go out, always wear an N95, and do this even a year or two after vaccination. After all, who knows if the vaccine will wear off? None of us really wants absolute safety. We seek reasonable safety, and I will defend the proposition that is achieved merely by a prolonged asymptomatic period after second vaccination and after that something can be relaxed — and there are several options.

The end of COVID

COVID-19 will someday no longer be the topic of daily and breathless news coverage. The virus may always circulate, and some people may always get sick, but the real end will be when we stop thinking about it every moment of every day. That’s how this pandemic will end. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

People need to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel because there is.

Vaccination in the absence of viral escape is the way out of this. Once a person is a sufficient time and distance away from the second shot, and if they are feeling well, we can start to view them differently. They are less a vector for the transmission of a plague, and more a real person — with hopes and wants and desires and seeking connection. In such a moment, if they remove their mask to share a smile with me, I can promise you, I will lower my mask, and smile back.

And Opposing View-Now Is Not the Time to Relax COVID Restrictions

Doctor David Aronoff counters the argument with the facts that the COVID-19 pandemic has now raged on for more than a year. In the U.S., we have documented more than 24.5 million cases and 400,000 COVID-19-related deaths, with between 3,000 and 4,000 people dying each day. The CDC projects we will reach nearly 500,000 total deaths within the next month. COVID-19-related hospitalizations remain at an all-time high. America continues to suffer through a third wave of disease activity that has dwarfed the peaks of the Spring and Summer of 2020.

And, while COVID-19 is beating down on us, it could be worse, believe it or not. We have learned much about how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, easily, through our breath from one person to another. Most nefarious has been the extent to which transmission occurs silently, moving from infected individuals who feel well, look well, and have no idea that they are infected. However, we know that maintaining our distance from others protects against transmission, as does the use of cloth face-coverings. It has been through social distancing and mask use that we have, in the absence of vaccination and herd immunity, been able to limit the damage done by this horrible infectious disease.

Clearly, vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 are the light at the end of the tunnel, assuming that viral mutations do not escape our vaccines sooner than we can put out the fire. With estimates that more than 60% of the population will need to have immune protection against SARS-CoV-2 to benefit from herd immunity, we have a long way to go. While less than 10% of the U.S. population has been formally diagnosed with COVID-19, a recent estimate suggested that by November of 2020 we were at about 15% of the U.S. population immune to the virus. And while that figure may now exceed 20%, this leaves more than 250 million Americans without immune protection, and falls short of the roughly 200 million people who might need to be immune for herd immunity to take hold.

Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH, has authored a thoughtful, evidence-based commentary, making a strong case for why we can relax some restrictions following successful immunization against SARS-CoV-2. He succinctly lays out an argument about why and how immunization, in the absence of vaccine-escaping virus mutants, will confer strong enough protection to render tight adherence to wearing masks and other restrictions unnecessary. And, while I think he has the right idea (I would love to see more people’s faces right now and share a meal with my friends), it is premature to suggest that now is that time. It is OK for us to hold differing opinions (that’s what we do). Two well-intentioned scientists can both look at the same data and reach different policy conclusions. So, let me focus on the case for keeping our masks on, even as we roll our sleeves up. The same logic holds for other restrictions.

First, given how active COVID-19 is right now we need to be doing everything in our power to slow its spread. Lives hang in the balance. I really like the Swiss Cheese model of pandemic defense, popularized by Australian virologist Ian Mackay, PhD, which demonstrates the concept that each measure we implement to interrupt the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is imperfect yet when layered together they cooperatively reduce transmission risk.

Even immunization is not a perfect defense. Thus far, SARS-CoV-2 vaccination has not been shown to eliminate the risk that someone will get infected or pass the virus on to others. Studies published to date on the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccines show clear protection against developing symptomatic COVID-19. But they also show that some vaccinated people still develop symptomatic disease. And, given what we know about the disease in non-immune people, symptomatic infections represent a fraction of total infections. This predicts that despite immunization some people will develop asymptomatic infection. Do I think that SARS-CoV-2 immunization will significantly protect people against both asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19? Yes. Do I think the risk to an individual will be zero following successful immunization? No. Stated differently, removing masks from vaccinated people (or relaxing social distancing) is likely to increase the risk for propagating COVID-19 compared to maintaining these restrictions. And, even if that incremental risk is small, why take it, given where we are with the disease now?

There will be a time when immune people can let their guards down, allowing even non-immune people to do the same (a benefit of herd immunity). But that time is not now.

The issue of wearing masks has been a contentious one, not helped by mixed messaging from leaders in the federal and state government. This has translated into story after story of difficulty convincing people of the public health benefit of wearing face-coverings. What we do not need are more people out and about in public spaces without masks, which sends the wrong message at the wrong time. We cannot know if an unmasked person is unvaccinated or simply an anti-masker. Why provide fuel for people to skirt mask policies based on stating they have been vaccinated, when they might not have been? And the same holds for hosting dinner parties or participating in other gatherings.

To safely advise people that once they are immunized, they can leave their masks at home and relax other infection control measures we need to record sustained decreases in disease activity, hospitalizations, and deaths, to the point where leading infectious disease and public health experts are comfortable recommending that we can de-escalate these interventions. We also need to ensure widespread vaccine uptake, particularly among Black, indigenous, and people of color, who have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19. Recent data show that Black Americans, for example, are getting vaccinated at lower rates than white Americans.

We remain in the thick fog of a true healthcare emergency and need to be doing all we can, especially the simple things, to shut it down. Now is not the time to let up on masking, even for the relatively few who have been immunized. Abandoning mask-wearing and social distancing, even in immunized persons, is not the right thing to recommend, yet. We need masks on and sleeves up.

COVID-19 Variants: ‘The Virus Still Has Tricks Up Its Sleeve’

Now more on the counterpoint reported by Molly Walker who interviewed Dr. Warner Greene as followed: We are honored to be joined once again by Dr. Warner Greene. He’s senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes and a professor at University of California San Francisco. As we’ve discussed, COVID-19 variants are very much in the news. Can we go over what is the latest news about the variants, even today? What do we know about them and what’s the latest that’s been happening?

Variants are very much in the news. What we’re seeing is the slow but steady evolution of the coronavirus. There are now four major variants that are of concern. And, in fact, they call them variants of concern. The first recognized was the U.K. variant, recognized in the south of the United Kingdom. It has an increased transmission efficiency. And there are some reports that it may be somewhat more virulent, particularly in men over the age of 60.

Of even greater concern is the South African variant, which contains mutations that confer resistance to certain monoclonal antibodies, like one of the two monoclonal antibodies developed by Regeneron. The Eli Lily monoclonal antibody doesn’t seem to work against the South African variant and vaccine efficiency is also reduced with the South African variant.

Similarly, the Brazilian variant has basically the same set of mutations that are conferring antibody resistance, causing real concern. What it means for the vaccines, etc.: I think that both the South African and the Brazilian variants are a major concern. And it is possible that those variants as they spread, and they are in the United States now, we may need to revise the vaccines to account for these types of variants. That’s not clear yet, but better to be prepared, in case we do need to revise the vaccine.

And then there’s a fourth type of variant, which is just kind of emerging, less well-studied at this point, but out of California. So clearly there, the virus is searching for a lock and key mechanism trying to search for ways to allow itself to replicate better. We’re applying immune pressure. So, it’s mutating away from some of that immune pressure, and that’s why this antibody resistance is emerging.

So, what types of mutations does the SARS-CoV-2 virus have to go through to make it a variant?

Well, for example, the South African variant has 27 mutations, nine of which occur in the spike protein. The spike is the protein on the surface that binds to the ACE2 receptor and allows entry and fusion into the host cell. And, of course, that’s where most of the vaccines are focused, is on the spike. That’s where the monoclonal antibody therapeutics are focused, on the spike. And so the virus is looking for ways to avoid these types of immune pressures and it’s making mutations in its receptor binding domain and the internal domain that confer resistance to certain types of neutralizing antibodies.

Given that recent studies from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson last week found somewhat reduced clinical efficacy of vaccines against these variants, what type of booster modification is required for vaccines in order to better combat them with the mRNA and the viral vector vaccines? Is it different, is it the same?

I think the booster that, for example, Moderna and Pfizer are now working on is to take the genetic sequence of the variant and use that as the immunogen. So, there is a mutation at position 484 that is absolutely key for this loss of antibody protection. You would introduce an RNA that now has that same mutation at position 484 into the vaccine to create a vaccine that is really tailored to take that particular type of virus out. And that mutation is shared between the South African and the Brazilian variants.

And so it wouldn’t require a different type, depending on the type of vaccine, it would just be the same type of reformulation. It wouldn’t be mRNA, different than a viral vector, it would just be a different formula. It’s not anything to do with the type of vaccine. It still would be an mRNA-based vaccine. It would just contain a different RNA or more likely it will be a multi-valent vaccine that would be original virus, as well as a new virus.

It’s not clear exactly how that would be administered. It may be that we want to boost immunity against the old virus, as well as the new virus, so we would use a multi-valent approach in that case. But the mRNA vaccine platform is quite amenable to this type of updating. That’s a real advantage, much more so than the adenoviral vectors, the virus-delivered vaccines. It’s a more complicated process there.

If we could just look at the vaccines as we have them now against this wild-type strain, if for some reason we didn’t have any boosters, what type of progress could we make against the pandemic? Can we vaccinate our way out of the pandemic, even if we don’t have these boosters? Have these variants prevented that?

To be clear, these variants, the Brazilian and the South African variants, are only compromising the neutralizing antibody response against the coronavirus. The T-cell immune response presumably is fully intact and remains unevaluated. So it’s quite possible that these vaccines will stand up better than we expect or predict. Clearly the U.K. variant does not appear to be a threat, although the recent acquisition of the neutralizing mutation at 484 causes concern that the virus is evolving. Even the U.K. variant is evolving.

I would say that the one thing that is disturbing to me, or that causes me pause is the story in Manaus, Brazil. Manaus is in the Amazon basin, they had a huge outbreak in the spring. It was thought, as reported, that there would probably be herd immunity within the community up to about 75%. Then this variant comes in to the community and it’s just sweeping through, causing re-infection or what appears to be re-infection.

Now did the original immunity wane and these people were all sensitive? Is it just that the variant is able to avoid both the T-cell and the antibody response that was present in the herd in Manaus? That kind of real-time experiment is concerning in terms of the spread of this virus. And I think data like that and what’s going on in South Africa is what’s really prompting the vaccine companies to get prepared now. We don’t know the full dimensions of the problem, but better to overprepare at this point in time.

So, given what happened in Brazil, do you think that’s evidence of viral escape?

Certainly, the South African and Brazilian variants, the mutations they are acquiring in their spike protein are examples of escape from the antibody neutralization. These are mutating principal antibody-binding sites that are responsible for neutralization, so that these variants are emerging under the influence of immune pressure. It’s harder to get around the T-cell immunity though, because T-cell immunity differs from person to person based on the composition of our HLA genes and our immune response. And T-cells are really the major defense mechanism against viruses, so let’s hope that our T-cells fill in for any gaps that the antibodies might come up a little short on.

I’m not sure exactly what has happened in Manaus, whether there was really ever herd immunity, whether it’s waned, but I do know that the variant there is hitting hard. So, that’s a big question mark. I think Brazil holds the answers to a lot of the future of this pandemic. We need to understand precisely what is going on there.

What do we need to be studying in Brazil specifically? And what type of data would we need to be looking at and tracking, what types of real-world studies and epidemiological studies would you like to see out of what’s happening in Brazil to help us going forward?

I would like to know whether or not there was real herd immunity. Before this new variant began to spread, was there clear evidence of a good antibody response and retention of durable antibody responses against the original strain of “wild-type” virus. So, if, in fact, there was an intact immune response, and this virus was able to overwhelm that response, well that’s not good news, but if the response had waned or had never really developed fully, then that’s a less daunting problem.

Now on the positive side, you look at the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s not the world’s best at preventing you from becoming infected with or developing minor respiratory symptoms. But even with the South African variant, this vaccine protects you from severe disease, having to go to hospital and dying. And frankly, that’s what we want from a vaccine. That is fantastic. You may have a runny nose or a mild upper respiratory tract infection, but you’re not going to develop life-threatening pneumonia and require hospitalization, intubation, etc. And I’d sign up for that type of vaccine any day.

All we have from the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are these kinds of in vitro and in lab studies that if you expose them to these variants, this is what they’ll do, but do we need some type of clinical efficacy? Would you say at this point that we don’t have evidence of clinical efficacy against the variants with these two vaccines that are currently being distributed?

Exactly. The mRNA vaccines are not being tested extensively in areas where the variants are prospering, but one of the trial sites for Johnson & Johnson was in South Africa. So, they were able to see how their vaccines stood up against that variant and it fared very well in terms of prevention of serious disease.

When do you think that we are going to get these types of studies? Is that something that we’re going to see as the vaccine trials kind of evolve, and are we going to be able to get that from the mRNA vaccines? Are we just going to not know what their clinical efficacy is until we get a booster, we’re just going to only have the lab evidence?

It’s likely that the virus is probably replicating at higher levels or more virus is replicating in terms of country here in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world, in terms of the breadth of cases that we’ve had, etc. We just simply do not have the genomic surveillance types of apparatus to necessarily detect these variants. For example, we’re just now detecting the California variants. There may be many variants in the United States. We do know that the Brazilian, as well as the South African, variants are in the United States, and it’s possible that there is community spread of these variants. So, we just have to really ramp up our sequencing efforts to really track what’s happening within our pandemic within the country and what types of viruses that we’re dealing with.

And it’s in that kind of setting as variants begin to hold sway. For example, it’s suggested that the U.K. variant will become dominant in the United States by March. So, our prediction is that the current vaccines will do very well against that variant. Now, if that variant is replaced by, for example, a South African variant, which is more immunologically daunting, well then, we’re going to have to see how the mRNA vaccines hold up against that. And it’s that kind of real-world information that’s going to inform whether or not we need to boost the immune system with a third shot.

Are the variants occurring in regions due to the similarities in the genome of the regional population, causing the viral RNA to mutate in a specific direction, and do antigen tests pick up variants?

No, the antigen tests will not pick up the variants. You really have to do the sequencing to find these mutations. So, it’s clear that the virus has a set of mutations and it’s trying different combinations. All the virus wants to do is to replicate better. The U.K. variant has one mutation in the receptor binding domain, which confers tighter binding to the ACE2 receptor and a higher level of transmission by 40% to 70%. And that’s the variant that may become dominant here in the United States by March. In contrast, the South African and the Brazilian variants, they not only have the same mutation that the U.K. variant does, they’ve added to it. They’ve added at least two additional mutations that really take out these neutralizing antibodies.

Now, did these two variants arise independently? Some would say yes. I don’t think that we know precisely because one person coming from South Africa carrying the virus could seed the virus in Brazil. So, we don’t know, but there are subtle differences. The virus is working toward a solution here for avoiding the antibodies.

Now, another question is, is the virus throwing everything at us right now that it’s got? Is this it and can we expect a pretty much static situation from here on out? And, you know, I don’t think so. I think the virus still has tricks up its sleeve, and will continue to evolve as we put additional immune pressures on it. So, that would be my guess, but we’re right at the cusp of the evolving science. And to think that where we were a year ago with no defense, no innate or no intrinsic immunity to this virus, and nothing really therapeutic or preventive. And now we’re in a situation where we have multiple, highly effective vaccines. It’s a true triumph of science.

Can you go into how else the virus could mutate? Is there any way that it could mutate that T-cell immunity that we have that would be compromised? Is that possible or is it just not that complex a virus?

Yeah, there may be the emergence of escape mutations that escape a cytotoxic T-cell, CD8 T-cell responses, or CD4 helper T-cell responses. We could certainly see that and it’s much harder to monitor for those types of immune reactions. So, certainly, like you get immune escape against antibodies, you can have immune escape against T-cell immunity as well.

California man tests positive for COVID-19 weeks after second jab: report

Edmund DeMarche reported that a California man said he was diagnosed with COVID-19 three weeks after he received his second dose of the vaccine, reports said.

CBS Los Angeles reported that Gary Micheal, who lives in Orange County’s Lake Forest, found out he had the virus after being tested for an unrelated health concern. His symptoms are relatively minor, the report said.

He received the Pfizer vaccine, the report said. Patch.com reported that he got his first dose on Dec. 28 and his second jab on Jan. 18.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease scientist, said the latest evidence indicates that the two vaccines being used in the U.S. — Pfizer’s and Moderna’s — are effective even against the new variants.

A doctor interviewed in the CBS report said that he was not surprised to hear about Michael’s diagnosis.

“I think I’ve heard of six or seven independent cases over the last three weeks of individuals that have been vaccinated with different timelines that have tested positive, and I think we’re going to continue to see that more and more,” Dr. Tirso del Junco Jr., chief medical officer of KPC Health, told the station.

Fauci has estimated that somewhere between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to get inoculated to stop the pandemic that has killed close to 470,000 Americans.

And Now Four people in Oregon who received both doses of vaccine test positive for coronavirus

Minyvonne Burke reported that four people in Oregon have tested positive for the coronavirus after receiving both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, health officials said.

There are two cases each in Yamhill and Lane counties, the state’s Health Authority said in a series of tweets on Friday. The cases are either mild or asymptomatic.

“We are working with our local and federal public health partners to investigate and determine case origin,” the agency said. “Genome sequencing is underway, and we expect results next week.”

The agency referred to the individuals who tested positive as “breakthrough cases,” meaning that they got sick with the virus at least 14 days after receiving both doses.

The Health Authority said more breakthrough cases could pop up.

“Clinical trials of both vaccines presently in use included breakthrough cases. In those cases, even though the participants got Covid, the vaccines reduced the severity of illness,” the agency said in a tweet.

“Based on what we know about vaccines for other diseases and early data from clinical trials, experts believe that getting a Covid-19 vaccine may also help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get the virus. … Getting as many Oregonians as possible vaccinated remains a critical objective to ending the pandemic.”

The agency’s announcement came the same day its health officer said there has been a decline of daily Covid-19 cases over the past several weeks. As of Friday, there were 149,576 cases in the state, according to the department’s count.

“These decreases are a testament to the actions all Oregonians are taking to slow the spread of Covid-19 and the sacrifices made – thank you,” health officer Dean Sidelinger said at a news conference Friday.

Another breakthrough case was reported in North Carolina, according to NBC affiliate WCNC-TV in Charlotte. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services told the outlet that the person had mild symptoms and did not need to be hospitalized.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that quarantining is not necessary for fully vaccinated people within three months of having received their last doses as long as they do not develop any symptoms.

They do, however, still need to practice certain safety measures such as wearing face masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds or poorly ventilated spaces.

“Fully vaccinated” means at least two weeks have passed since a person has completed their vaccination series and now we have the addition of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is a single dose with less effectivity but about the same activity of our yearly flu vaccine.

So, as I have said before, continue to wear your masks, whether one, two, three or whatever the number of masks that we are going to be advised with future “scientific” evidence.

Time to prepare for an even more deadly pandemic and Trump’s Healthcare Plan

What a confusing time and how disappointed can one be when one candidate running for President convinces a group of physicians to complain about Trump’s response to the Pandemic. I am embarrassed to say that they are in the same profession that I have been so proud to call my own. Can you blame the President for the pandemic as all the other countries that are experiencing the increased wave of COVID? Can you blame Trump for the lack of PPE’s when former President Obama and yes, Vice President Biden refused to restock the PPE’s used for the other SAR’s viruses?  What a pathetic situation where the average American is so hateful and, yes, the word is stupid, and with no agreement in our Congress except to make us all hate them. Where is the additional financial support, the stimulus package promised, for the poor Americans without jobs and huge debts? This is a difficult situation when we have such poor choices for the most important political office and can’t see through the media bias.

I just had to get all that off my chest as I am like many very frustrated. How did we get here and who do we believe as we hear more about Biden’s connection with his son’s foreign dealings?

Thomas J. Bollyky and Stewart M. Patrick reported that the winner of the presidential election, whether that is Donald Trump or Joe Biden, will need to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic — the worst international health emergency since the 1918 influenza outbreak — and also begin preparing the United States and the world for the next pandemic.

Think it is too soon to worry about another pandemic? World leaders have called the coronavirus outbreak a “once-in-100-year” crisis, but there is no reason to expect that to be true. A new outbreak could easily evolve into the next epidemic or a pandemic that spreads worldwide. As lethal as this coronavirus has been, a novel influenza could be worse, transmitting even more easily and killing millions more people.

Better preparation must begin with an unvarnished assessment of what has gone wrong in the U.S. and in the global response to the current pandemic and what can be done to prepare for the next one when it strikes, as it inevitably will.

Preparedness needs to start with investment. Despite multiple recent threats, from SARS (2003) to H5N1 (2007) to H1N1 (2009) to Ebola (2013-2016); many blue ribbon reports and numerous national intelligence assessments; international assistance for pandemic preparedness has never amounted to more than 1% of overall international aid for health.

The United States devoted an even smaller share of its foreign aid budget in 2019 — $374 million out of $39.2 billion — to prepare for a pandemic that has now cost the country trillions of dollars. Meanwhile, funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s support to states and territories has fallen by more than a quarter since 2002. Over the last decade, local public health departments have cut 56,360 staff positions because of lack of resources.

Preparation isn’t only about investing more money. It is also about embracing the public health fundamentals that allowed some nations to move rapidly and aggressively against the coronavirus. The United States has been hard hit by this pandemic, but all countries were dealt this hand.

But we can do better. Here are four measures, outlined in a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations, that would make Americans and the rest of the world safer.

First, the United States must remain a member of the World Health Organization, while working to reform it from within. The agency is hardly perfect, but it prompted China to notify the world of the coronavirus and it has coordinated the better-than-expected response to the pandemic in developing nations. Yet, the agency has no authority to make member states comply with their obligations and less than half of the annual budget of New York-Presbyterian Hospital. The WHO needs more dedicated funding for its Health Emergencies Program and should be required to report when governments fail to live up to their treaty commitments.

Second, we need a new global surveillance system to identify pandemic threats, one that is less reliant on self-reporting by early affected nations. An international sentinel surveillance network, founded on healthcare facilities rather than governments, could regularly share hospitalization data, using anonymized patient information. Public health agencies in nations participating in this network, including the CDC, can assess that data, identify unusual trends and more quickly respond to emerging health threats.

The U.S. should take the lead in forming a coalition to work alongside the WHO to develop this surveillance network. We should also work with like-minded G-20 partners, as well as private organizations, in this coalition to reduce unnecessary trade and border restrictions; increase the sharing of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; and work with international financial institutions to provide foreign aid and debt relief packages to hard-hit nations.

Third, responding to a deadly contagion requires a coordinated national approach. Too often in this pandemic, in the absence of federal leadership, states and cities competed for test kits and scarce medical supplies and adopted divergent policies on reopening their economies. The next administration needs to clarify the responsibilities of the federal government, states and 2,634 local and tribal public health departments in pandemic preparedness and response. Elected leaders, starting with the president, must also put public health officials at the forefront of communicating science-based guidance and defend those officials from political attacks.

Finally, the U.S. must do better by its most exposed and vulnerable citizens. More than 35% of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 have been nursing home residents. Many others have been essential workers, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx and from low-income communities. Federal, state and local governments should direct public health investments to these groups as a matter of social justice and preparedness for future threats.

All of this will require leadership and marshaling support at home and abroad. The next president need not be doomed to replay this current catastrophe — provided he acts on the tragic lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In search of President Trump’s mysterious health care plan

Hunter Walker responded to questions about President Trump’s healthcare plan noting that President Trump’s health care plan has become one of the most highly anticipated, hotly debated documents in Washington. And depending on whom you ask, it might not exist at all. 

The contents — and the whereabouts — of the health plan have been a growing mystery since 2017, when efforts to pass a White House-backed replacement for Obamacare stalled in the Senate. Since then, Trump has repeatedly vowed to unveil a new health plan. In July, it was said to be two weeks away. On Aug. 3, Trump said the plan would be revealed at the end of that month. Last month, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it would be released within two weeks. At other points, Trump has suggested the plan is already complete. That shifting schedule has lent Trump’s health plan an almost mythical status.

Let me state here that if President Trump doesn’t win this election his lack of a healthcare plan as well as the blame for the pandemic will be the deciding reason that even previous GOP supporters will vote for Biden. Hard to believe, right? In fact, weeks to months ago I related the need for the President to release his healthcare plan to further prove to the voters that he is fulfilling his promises.

The mystery surrounding the president’s vision for health care has added urgency because the Supreme Court is currently scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case that could decide the future of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law on Nov. 10, exactly one week after the election. That case was brought by Republican attorneys general and joined by the Trump administration. The argument that Obamacare is unconstitutional could lead to the current health care framework being struck down, but Trump has yet to present an alternative. 

With both the election and the court date looming, questions about Trump’s health care plan have intensified on the campaign trail. And the White House’s answers have only added to the uncertainty. 

During the first presidential debate last month, Trump was pressed by Fox News moderator Chris Wallace about the fact he has “never in these four years come up with a plan, a comprehensive plan, to replace Obamacare.”

“Yes, I have,” Trump replied. “Of course, I have.”

He was apparently referring to the Republican tax bill passed in 2017 that eliminated the tax penalty for individuals who did not purchase health insurance, or obtain it through their jobs or government assistance. That so-called individual mandate was a critical part of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, meant to ensure that even healthy people would buy health insurance and spread the costs out across the population. Other parts of the Affordable Care Act remain in place, but the Republican lawsuit argues that without the mandate the entire program should be overturned. 

That could end the most popular feature of Obamacare: the requirement that insurance companies provide affordable coverage for preexisting conditions. While Trump has repeatedly insisted, he wants to maintain that protection, any details of his plan or evidence of how he would do it have remained elusive.  

During the final debate last week, Democratic nominee Joe Biden argued that the administration “has no plan for health care.”

“He’s been promising a health care plan since he got elected. He has none,” Biden said of Trump. “Like almost everything else he talks about, he does not have a plan. He doesn’t have a plan. And the fact is, this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” 

The issue also came up during the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 7, when Vice President Mike Pence said, “President Trump and I have a plan to improve health care and protect preexisting conditions for every American.” 

“Obamacare was a disaster, and the American people remember it well,” Pence said.

But Trump seemed to admit during last week’s debate that his plan is more of a dream than a concrete proposal. 

“What I would like to do is a much better health care, much better,” he said, adding, “I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand-new, beautiful health care.”

However, by the end of last weekend, the idea of a written, completed Trump health plan was back on the table — literally. 

During the president’s contentious “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday, host Lesley Stahl asked Trump about his repeated promises of a health plan coming imminently.

“Why didn’t you develop a health plan?” Stahl asked.  

“It is developed,” Trump responded. “It is fully developed. It’s going to be announced very soon.”

And after Trump ended the interview and walked out on Stahl, McEnany, the White House press secretary, came in and handed the “60 Minutes” correspondent a massive binder.

“Lesley, the president wanted me to deliver his health care plan,” McEnany said. “It’s a little heavy.” 

Indeed, Stahl struggled with the huge book. The situation seemed reminiscent of other instances where Trump tried to dissuade debate by presenting massive piles of paper that didn’t stand up to scrutiny, and it sparked speculation that the contents of the massive binder were blank. However, the conservative Washington Examiner newspaper subsequently reported it contained more than 500 pages comprising “13 executive orders and 11 other pieces of healthcare legislation enacted under Trump.”

Stahl was unimpressed. After perusing the gigantic tome, she declared, “It was heavy, filled with executive orders, congressional initiatives, but no comprehensive health plan.”

McEnany took issue with that assessment and shot back with a tweet that declared, “@60Minutes is misleading you!!”

“Notice they don’t mention that I gave Leslie 2 documents: a book of all President @realDonaldTrump has done & a plan of all he is going to do on healthcare — the America First Healthcare Plan which will deliver lower costs, more choice, better care,” the press secretary wrote.

McEnany had implied one of Washington’s most wanted documents was printed, bound and ready for review. It even had a name! Were we really this close to seeing the Trump health plan?

Not exactly. 

After Yahoo News requested a copy of the “health care plan” that she presented to Stahl, McEnany provided a statement detailing the contents of the enormous binder.

“The book contains all of the executive orders and legislation President Trump has signed,” McEnany said.

She credited those actions with “lowering health care premiums and drug costs” compared with where they were under Obama and Vice President Biden. Trump has previously claimed premiums and costs have gone down during his administration, but these assertions aren’t entirely backed up by the data. And many of Trump’s executive orders on health care have been largely symbolic. 

McEnany also provided us with a copy of the second document that she described on Twitter and Stahl had supposedly ignored. It was a 10-page report (including front and back covers) with a large-print, bullet-pointed list of highlights from Trump’s previous actions on health care and slogans making promises for the future. 

“The America First Healthcare Plan lays out President Trump’s second term vision animated by the principles that have brought us lower cost, more choice and better care,” McEnany said. 

The White House’s immense binder clearly didn’t contain Trump’s “health care plan” as McEnany declared during the dramatic on-camera delivery. But it did hold a fragment of the president’s policy vision. 

Perhaps more pieces of the puzzle could be found on Capitol Hill. After all, in April 2019, Trump proclaimed on Twitter that “the Republicans … are developing a really great HealthCare Plan.” That comment followed reports that a group of Republican senators including Mitt Romney of Utah, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Rick Scott of Florida and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana were working on drafting a proposal. Trump said this plan would “be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare.” The president further suggested it would be complete and ready to be voted on “right after the election.”

So, is there a finished plan floating around Capitol Hill ready to make its debut in a matter of weeks? No.

A Republican Senate source who has been privy to the talks told Yahoo News that a group of GOP senators including Romney, Barrasso, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have been “exploring” an alternative to Obamacare “over the course of the past year and a half.” However, with the coronavirus pandemic and a Supreme Court confirmation dominating the agenda, the source, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations, suggested the planning had stalled.

“I don’t think they’ve talked about this stuff for months now due to other pressing issues,” the source said of the health care planning.

The source predicted that activity on health care would not resume until the outcome of the election and the Supreme Court’s Obamacare case are clear. 

“Depending on how things in November shake out and … what the Supreme Court does with the ACA, maybe those discussions will be revived,” the source said. “But there really has not been much going on of late.”

Nevertheless, the source contended that, even though there is no finished plan, Trump and his Republican allies on the Hill have made some real progress toward “a potential plan that would preserve private insurance but also seek to lower costs.” They suggested Senate efforts to lower drug prices and end surprise medical billing are part of the “frameworks,” as are some of the executive orders issued by Trump.

“There have been sort of piecemeal efforts in this area. … The executive branch has done what they can do within their authority to try to lower costs,” the source said. “There just hasn’t been … a wholesale piece of legislation or framework that everyone has coalesced around. That’s just something that has not come together.”

In the end, perhaps the truest answer to the ongoing mystery of Trump’s proposed Obamacare replacement came from the president himself during the “60 Minutes” interview. In the conversation, Trump suggested that his health plan exists in a realm beyond the bounds of space and time.

“A new plan will happen,” he said. “Will and is.” 

As you can tell from the lead in to this post, that many of us who can really think and put enough words together to make a understandable sentence our choices are not good but it is really important for us all to go and turn out to vote, either in person, with masks in place and socially distancing or by mail in or drop off ballots.

Also, make sure you all get your new flu shots!!

Election 2020: What Exactly Is Joe Biden’s Healthcare Plan? And Really, Telehealth to Care for Our Patients?

So, first I wanted to relate an experience, which exemplifies the failure of telehealth, or maybe the failure of healthcare workers who are taking advantage of the “new” health care system of patient care.

Consider the case a two weeks ago. As I was about to operate on a cancer surgery patient, I was asked to evaluate a patient healthcare conundrum. One of our nurse teammate’s husband was sick and no one knew what was the problem. He had lost 23 pounds over 3 ½ weeks, was dehydrated, appetite, sore throat, weak and needed to go to the emergency room multiple times for intravenous fluids. Each time he was told that they were very sorry but they had no idea what the problem was.

His Primary care physician would not see him in person, and he had another telehealth visit, which he was charged for and was prescribed an antibiotic with no improvement.

I asked if he had a COVID test which he did and it was negative.

I then asked if I could examine him or if she had any pictures. She had pictures, with no skin rashes except I noticed something interesting on the intraoral pictures, which showed left sided ulcers on his cheeks, left lateral posterior tongue and palate, again-only on the left side.

I asked if this was true in that the ulcers were only on one side of his mouth? When his wife responded with a yes to the question I then responded that he had intraoral shingles involving the nerve to the tongue, cheek, palate ( glossophyngeal nerve ) and sometimes also affected additional nearby cranial nerve, which is probably why he was having some of his stomach problem. She thought that was interesting and wanted to know what to do since he was about to have some gallbladder studies.

I outlined a treatment plan and low and behold he is getting better. My question is why didn’t anyone in the doc’s office or ER never complete a thorough physical exam? Oh, wait- how does one do a complete physical exam through the telehealth system? What about heart or lung disease patients, how does a nurse or physician listen to their heart or lungs, etc?? Are we physicians forgetting our teachings and training regarding the proper approach to physical diagnosis?

And now what about Biden’s proposal for health care?

Leigh Page pointed out that physicians — like all Americans — are trying to size up Joe Biden’s healthcare agenda, which the Democratic presidential nominee has outlined in speeches and on his official website.

Many healthcare professionals, patients, and voters of all political stripes think our current healthcare system is broken and in need of change, but they don’t agree on how it should change. In Part I of this article, we take a look at Biden’s proposals for changing the US healthcare system. Then, we include comments and analysis from physicians on both sides of the fence regarding the pros and cons of these proposed healthcare measures.

Part 1: An Overview of Biden’s Proposed Healthcare Plan

Biden’s proposed healthcare plan has many features. The main thrust is to expand access to healthcare and increase federal subsidies for health coverage.

If elected, “I’ll put your family first,” he said in a speech in June. “That will begin the dramatic expansion of health coverage and bold steps to lower healthcare costs.” He said he favored a plan that “lowers healthcare costs, gets us universal coverage quickly, when Americans desperately need it now.”

Below are Biden’s major proposals. They are followed by Part 2, which assesses the proposals on the basis of comments by doctors from across the political spectrum.

Biden Says We Should Restore the ACA

At a debate of the Democrat presidential candidates in June 2019, Biden argued that the best way to expand coverage is “to build on what we did during the Obama administration,” rather than create a whole new healthcare system, as many other Democratic candidates for president were proposing.

“I’m proud of the Affordable Care Act,” he said a year later in his June 2020 speech. “In addition to helping people with preexisting conditions, this is the law that delivered vital coverage for 20 million Americans who did not have health insurance.”

At the heart of the ACA are the health insurance marketplaces, where people can buy individual insurance that is often federally subsidized. Buyers select coverage at different levels ― Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Those willing to pay higher premiums for a Gold plan don’t have high deductibles, as they would with the Silver and Bronze plans.

Currently, federal subsidies are based on premiums on the Silver level, where premiums are lower but deductibles are higher than with the Gold plan. Biden would shift the subsidies to the Gold plan, where they would be more generous, because subsidies are pegged to the premiums.

In addition, Biden would remove the current limit on subsidies, under which only people with incomes less than 400% of the federal poverty level qualify for them. “Many families making more than 400% of the federal poverty level (about $50,000 for a single person and $100,000 for a family of four), and thus not qualifying for financial assistance, still struggle to afford health insurance,” the Biden for President website states.

Under the Biden plan, there would still be a limit on insurance payments as a percentage of income, but that percentage would drop, meaning that more people would qualify. Currently, the level is 9.86% or more of a person’s income; Biden would lower that level to 8.5%.

“We’re going to lower premiums for people buying coverage on their own by guaranteeing that no American ever has to spend more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance, and that number would be lower for lower-income people,” Biden said in the June speech.

Add a Public Option, but Not Medicare for All

In the primary, Biden parted company from rivals who backed Medicare for All, a single-payer health system that would make the government pay for everyone’s healthcare. “I understand the appeal of Medicare for All,” he said in a video released by his campaign. “But folks supporting it should be clear that it means getting rid of Obamacare, and I’m not for that.” But he nor anyone else who supported Obamacare has come up with a way to finance this type of healthcare system.

However, Biden embraced a “public option” that would allow people to buy into or be subsidized into “a Medicare-like” plan. It is unclear how similar the public option would be to regular Medicare coverage, but the Biden campaign has made it clear that it would not take funds from the Medicare trust fund, which is expected to start losing funds by 2026.

The more than 150 million Americans who have employer-sponsored insurance could keep it, but they could still buy into the public option if they wanted to. In addition, the public option would automatically enroll ― at no cost to them ― some 4.8 million low-income Americans who were excluded from the ACA’s Medicaid expansion when many states chose to opt out of the Medicaid expansion.

In addition, the 37 states that participate in expanded Medicaid could switch coverage to the new public option, provided that they continue to pay their current share of the costs. (In June, Oklahoma became the 37th state to allow the expansion, following the results of a ballot measure.)

“We need a public option now more than ever, especially when more than 20 million people are unemployed,” Biden said in the June speech. “That public option will allow every American, regardless of their employment status, the choice to get a Medicare-like plan.”

Lower the Medicare Age

In spring 2020, Biden proposed lowering the age to qualify for Medicare from 65 to 60. This provision is not included among the official policies listed on the Biden for President website, but it has been cited by many, including the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force.

This provision would bring almost 23 million people into Medicare, including 13.4 million from employer-sponsored coverage, according to one analysis. It’s not clear whether these people would buy into Medicare or simply be covered. Their care would not be paid for by the Medicare Trust Fund but would use tax dollars instead. Oh, finally, we find out that our taxes would go up. How much is the problem as we consider all the other programs that Biden and Harris have promoted.

Provide Relief in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Biden would cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and the cost of health coverage for people laid off during the pandemic.

“Testing unequivocally saves lives, and widespread testing is the key to opening our economy again,” Biden said in his June speech. “To fix the economy, we have to get control over the virus.”

Prescription Drug Reform

Biden would repeal a Bush-era exception that bars the Medicare program from negotiating prescription drug prices for the Part D prescription drug benefit. “There’s no justification for this except the power of prescription drug lobbying,” the Biden for President website states.

In addition, Biden’s prescription drug reform plan would do the following:

• Limit launch prices for drugs. The administration would establish an independent review board that would assess the value of new drugs and would have the power to set limits on their prices. Such drugs are “being abusively priced by manufacturers,” the Biden for President site says.

• Limit price increases to inflation. As a condition of participation in government programs, drug prices could not rise more than the general inflation rate. Biden would impose a tax penalty on drug makers whose prices surpassed inflation.

• Allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from other countries. Biden would allow consumers to import prescription drugs from other countries, provided the US Department of Health and Human Services certifies that those drugs are safe.

• Stop tax breaks for pharma ads: Biden would drop drug makers’ tax breaks for advertising, which amounted to $6 billion in 2016.

Stop Surprise Billing

Biden proposes to stop surprise billing, which occurs when patients receive care from a doctor or hospital that is not in their insurer’s network. In these situations, patients can be surprised with very high bills because no payment limit has been negotiated by the insurer.

Twenty-eight states have enacted consumer protections to address surprise medical billing, but Congress has not passed such a measure. One proposed solution is to require payers to pay for out-of-network services on the basis of a benchmark, such as the average Medicare rate for that service in a specific geographic area.

Closely Monitor Healthcare Mergers

Biden would take a more active stance in enforcing antitrust laws against mergers in the healthcare industry.

“The concentration of market power in the hands of a few corporations is occurring throughout our health care system, and this lack of competition is driving up prices for consumers,” the Biden for President website states.

Overhaul Long-term Care

Biden’s latest plan calls for a $775 billion overhaul of the nation’s caregiving infrastructure. Biden says he would help create new jobs, improve working conditions, and invest in new models of long-term care outside of traditional nursing homes.

Restore Funding for Planned Parenthood

Biden would reissue guidance barring states from refusing Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and other providers that refer for abortions or that provide related information, according to the Biden for President website. This action would reverse a Trump administration rule.

Boost Community Health Centers

Biden promises to double federal funding for community health centers, such as federally qualified health centers, that provide care to underserved populations.

Support Mental Health Parity

Biden says he supports mental health parity and would enforce the federal mental health parity law and expand funding for mental health services.

Part 2: Physicians’ Opinions on Biden’s Healthcare Plans: Pro and Con

Biden’s plans to expand coverage are at the heart of his healthcare platform, and many see these as the most controversial part of his legislative agenda.

Biden’s Medicare expansion is not Medicare for All, but it can be seen as “Medicare for all who want it.” Potentially, millions of people could enter Medicare or something like Medicare. If the Medicare eligibility age is dropped to 60, people could switch from their employer-sponsored plans, many of which have high deductibles. In addition, poor people who have no coverage because their states opted out of the Medicaid expansion would be included.

The possibility of such a mass movement to government-run healthcare alarms many people. “Biden’s proposals look moderate, but it is basically Medicare for All in sheep’s clothing,” said Cesar De Leon, DO, a family physician in Naples, Florida, and past president of the county’s medical society.

Reimbursements for Doctors Could Fall- No, Will Fall!

A shift of millions of people into Medicare would likely mean lower reimbursements for doctors. For example, the 13.4 million people aged 60 to 65 who would switch from employer-sponsored coverage to Medicare would be leaving some of the best-paying insurance plans, and their physicians would then be reimbursed at Medicare rates.

“Biden’s plan would lower payments to already cash-strapped doctors and hospitals, who have already seen a significant decrease in reimbursement over the past decade,” De Leon said. “He is trying to win the support of low-income voters by giving them lower healthcare prices, which doctors and hospitals would have to absorb.

“Yes, the US healthcare system is dysfunctional,” De Leon added, “but the basic system needs to be fixed before it is expanded to new groups of people.”

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons warns against Biden’s proposed government-run system. “We support expanding health insurance coverage, but the expansion should build on the existing employer-based system,” said Katie O. Orrico, director of the group’s Washington office. “We have consistently opposed a public option or Medicare for All.

“Shifting more Americans into government-sponsored healthcare will inevitably result in lower payments for physicians’ services,” Orrico added. “Reimbursement rates from Medicare, Medicaid, and many ACA exchange plans already do not adequately cover the costs of running a medical practice.”

Prospect of Higher Taxes- Absolutely, grab your wallets and your retirement funds!!

Paying for ambitious reforms means raising taxes. Biden’s plan would not make the Medicare trust fund pay for the expansions and would to some extent rely on payments from new beneficiaries. However, many new beneficiaries, such as people older than 60 and the poor, would be covered by tax dollars.

Altogether, Biden’s plan is expected to cost the federal government $800 billion over the next 10 years. To pay for it, Biden proposes reversing President Trump’s tax cuts, which disproportionately helped high earners, and eliminating capital gains tax loopholes for the wealthy.

“Rather than tax the average American, the Democrats will try to redistribute wealth,” De Leon said.

“The elephant in the room is that taxes would have to be raised to pay for all these programs,” said Gary Price, MD, president of the Physicians Foundation. Because no one likes higher taxes, he says, architects of the Biden plan would try to find ways to save money, such as tamping down reimbursements for physicians, to try to avoid a public backlash against the reforms.

“Physicians’ great fear is that efforts to keep taxes from getting too high will result in cutting physician reimbursement,” he said.

Impact of COVID-19

Perhaps an even larger barrier to Biden’s health reforms comes from the COVID-19 crisis, which didn’t exist last year, when health reform was the central issue in the presidential primary that pitted Biden against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the chief proponent of Medicare for All.

“The top two issues on voters’ minds right now are the pandemic and the economy,” said Daniel Derksen, MD, a family physician who is professor of public health policy at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Any other concerns are pushed down the list.”

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing the federal government to spend trillions of dollars to help businesses and individuals who have lost income because of the crisis. Will there be enough money left over to fund an ambitious set of health reforms?

“It’s not a good time to start reforms,” warned Kevin Campbell, MD, a cardiologist in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Given the current pressures that COVID-19 has placed on physicians, healthcare systems, and hospitals, I don’t believe that we can achieve meaningful change in the near term.”

However, supporters of Biden’s reforms think that now, during the COVID-19 crisis, is precisely the right time to enact healthcare reform. When millions of Americans lost their jobs because of the pandemic, they also lost their insurance coverage.

“COVID-19 has made Biden’s healthcare agenda all the more relevant and necessary,” said Don Berwick, MD, who led the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) under President Obama. “The COVID-19 recession has made people more aware of how vulnerable their coverage is.”

Orrico at the neurosurgeons group acknowledges this point. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some cracks in the US healthcare system,” she said. “Whether this will lead to new reforms is hard to say, but policymakers will likely take a closer look at issues related to unemployment, health insurance coverage, and healthcare costs due to the COVID-19 emergency.”

Many Physicians Want Major Reform

Although many doctors are skeptical of reform, others are impatient for reform to come and support Biden’s agenda ― especially its goal to expand coverage.

“Joe Biden’s goal is to get everyone covered,” said Alice Chen, MD, an internist who is a leader of Doctors for Biden, an independent group that is not part of the Biden campaign. “What brings Democrats together is that they are united in the belief that healthcare is a right.”

In January, the American College of Physicians (ACP) endorsed both Medicare for All and the public option. The US healthcare system “is ill and needs a bold new prescription,” the ACP stated.

The medical profession, once mostly Republican, now has more Democrats. In 2016, 35% of physicians identified themselves as Democrats, 27% as Republicans, and 36% as independents.

Many of the doctors behind reform appear to be younger physicians who are employed by large organizations. They are passionate about reforming the healthcare system, and as employees of large organizations, they would not be directly affected if reimbursements fell to Medicare levels ― although their institutions might subsequently have to adjust their salaries downward.

Chen, for example, is a young physician who says she has taken leave from her work as adjunct assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, to raise her young children.

She is the former executive director of Doctors for America, a movement of thousands of physicians and medical students “to bring their patients’ experiences to policymakers.”

“Doctors feel that they are unseen and unheard, that they often feel frankly used by large health systems and by insurance companies,” Chen said. “Biden wants to hear from them.”

Many idealistic young physicians look to health system leaders like Berwick. “I believe this nation needs to get universal coverage as fast as we can, and Biden’s policies present a path to get there,” the former CMS director said. “This would be done chiefly through Biden’s public option and his plans to expand coverage in states that have not adopted the ACA Medicaid expansion.”

But what about the potential effect of lowering reimbursement rates for doctors? “The exact rates will have to be worked out,” Berwick said, “but it’s not just about who pays physicians, it’s about how physicians get paid.” He thinks the current fee-for-service system needs to be replaced by a value-based payment system such as capitation, shared savings, and bundled payments.

The Biden-Sanders Task Force

Berwick was a member of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, which brings together supporters of Biden and Sanders to create a shared platform for the Biden campaign.

The task force issued a report in early July that recommended a variety of healthcare reforms in addition to expanding access to care. One of them was to find ways to address the social determinants of health, such as housing, hunger, transportation, and pollution, which can harm health outcomes.

Chen specifically cites this provision. “We need to focus on the social determinants of heath and try to encourage better health,” she said. “I remember as a doctor advising a patient who was a young mother with several small children that she needed to exercise more. She asked me, ‘When am I supposed to exercise, and who will watch my kids?’ I realized the predicament that she was in.”

Price is also glad to see the provision in Biden’s plan. “Social determinants of health has been a key focus of the Physicians Foundation,” he said. “To my knowledge, this is the first time that a political candidate’s healthcare policy has included this point.

“Physicians are not in control of the social determinants of health, even though they affect their reimbursements,” he said. Under Medicare’s Merit-based Incentive Payment System, for example, doctors are penalized when their patients don’t meet certain health standards, such as when diabetes patients can’t get their A1C levels under control, he says.

However, Price fears that Biden, in his efforts to make peace with Sanders supporters, may have to some degree abandoned his moderate stance on health reform.

Is the Nation Ready for Another Health Reform Battle?

Clearly, many Democrats are ready to reform the system, but is the nation ready? “Are American voters ready for another major, Democratic-led health reform initiative?” asked Patricia Salber, MD, an internist and healthcare consultant who runs a blog called The Doctor Weighs In.

“I’ve been around long enough to remember the fight over President Clinton’s health plan and then President Obama’s plan,” she said. Each time, she says, there seemed to be a great deal of momentum, and then there was a backlash. “If Biden is elected, I hope we don’t have to go through the same thing all over again,” Salber said.

Derksen believes Biden’s proposed healthcare reforms could come close to rivaling President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in ambition, cost, and controversy.

He shares Biden’s goal of extending coverage to all ― including paying the cost of covering low-income people. But the result is that “Biden’s agenda is going to be a ‘heavy lift,’ as they say in Washington,” he said. “He has some very ambitious plans to expand access to care.”

Derksen speaks from experience. He helped draft part of the ACA as a health policy fellow in Capitol Hill in 2009. Then in 2011, he was in charge of setting up the ACA’s insurance marketplace for the state of New Mexico.

Now Biden wants to begin a second wave of health reform. But Derksen thinks this second wave of reform could encounter opposition as formidable as those Obama faced.

“Assuming that Biden is elected, it would be tough to get this agenda passed ― even if he had solid Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate,” said Derksen,

According to polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 53% of Americans like the ACA, while 37% dislike it ― a split that has been relatively stable for the past 2 years, since the failed GOP effort to repeal the law.

In that KFF poll, the public option fared better ― 68% of Americans support the public option, including 42% of Republicans. These numbers help explain why the Biden campaign moved beyond its support of the ACA to embrace the public option as well.

Even when Democrats gain control of all the levers of power, as they did in 2009, they still have a very difficult time passing an ambitious healthcare reform bill. Derksen remembers how tough it was to get that massive bill through Congress.

The House bill’s public option might have prevailed in a reconciliation process between the two bills, but that process was cut short when Sen. Ted Kennedy died and Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority. The bill squeaked through as the Senate version, without the public option.

The ACA Has Survived-But at What Cost?

The ACA is much more complex piece of legislation than the public option.

“The ACA has survived for a decade, despite all efforts to dismantle it,” Salber said. “Biden wants to restore a law that the Republicans have been chipping away at. The Republicans eliminated the penalty for not having coverage. Think about it, a penalty of zero is not much of a deterrent.”

It was the loss of the ACA penalty in tax year 2019 that, paradoxically, formed the legal basis for the latest challenge of the ACA before the Supreme Court, in a suit brought by the Trump administration and 18 Republican state attorneys general.

The Supreme Court will make its ruling after the election, but Salber thinks the suit itself will boost both Biden and the ACA in the campaign. “I think most people are tired of all the attempts to repeal the ACA,” she said.

“The public now thinks of the US healthcare system as pathetically broken,” she added. “It used to be that Americans would say we have the best healthcare system in the world. I don’t hear that much anymore.”

Physicians who oppose the ACA hold exactly the opposite view. “Our healthcare system is in shambles after the Obamacare fiasco,” Campbell said. “Even if Biden has a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, I still don’t think that there would be enough votes to pass sweeping changes to healthcare.”

Biden Could Choose Issues Other Than Expanding Access

There are plenty of proposals in the Biden healthcare plan that don’t involve remaking the healthcare system.

These include making COVID-19 testing free, providing extra funding for community health centers, and stopping surprise billing. Proposals such as stepping up antitrust enforcement against mergers would involve administrative rather than Congressional action.

Some of these other proposals could be quite expensive, such as overhauling long-term care and paying for health insurance for laid-off workers. And another proposal ― limiting the prices of pharmaceuticals ― could be almost as contentious as expanding coverage.

“This proposal has been talked about for many years, but it has always met with strong resistance from drug makers,” said Robert Pearl, MD, former CEO of the Permanente Medical Group and now a faculty member at Stanford School of Medicine and Graduate School of Business.

Pearl thinks the first item in Biden’s drug plan ― to repeal a ban against Medicare negotiating drug prices with drug makers ― would meet with Congressional resistance, owing to heavy lobbying and campaign contributions by the drug companies.

In addition, Pearl thinks Biden’s plans to limit drug prices ― barring drug makers from raising their prices above the general inflation rate and limiting the launch prices for many drugs ― enter uncharted legal waters and could end up in the courts.

Even Without Reform, Expect Lower Reimbursements

Although many doctors are concerned that Biden’s healthcare reforms would reduce reimbursements, Pearl thinks reimbursements will decline even without reforms, owing in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employer-based health insurance has been the bedrock of the US healthcare system, but Pearl says many employers have long wanted to get rid of this obligation. Increasingly, they are pushing costs onto the employee by raising deductibles and through premium sharing.

Now, with the pandemic, employers are struggling just to stay in business, and health insurance has truly become a financial burden, he says. In addition, states will be unable to balance their budgets and will try to reduce their Medicaid obligations.

“Before COVID-19 hit, healthcare spending was supposed to grow by 5% a year, but that won’t happen for some time into the future,” Pearl said. “The COVID economic crisis is likely to continue for quite some time, forcing physicians to either accept much lower payments or find better ways to provide care.”

Like Berwick, Pearl believes healthcare will have to move to value-based payments. “Instead of producing more services, doctors will have to preserve resources, which is value-based healthcare,” he said. The primary form of value-based reimbursement, Pearl thinks, will be capitation, in which physicians agree to quality and service guarantees.

Even steadfast opponents of many of Biden’s reforms foresee value-based payments taking off. “Certainly, there are ways to improve the current healthcare system, such as moving to value-based care,” said Orrico at the neurosurgeons’ group.

In short, a wide swath of observers agree that doctors are facing major changes in the payment and delivery of healthcare, regardless of whether Biden is elected and succeeds with his health agenda.

Notice that no one has mentioned tort reform in healthcare. Why Not???????

The conspiracy theorists are wrong: Doctors are not inflating America’s COVID-19 death toll for cash. What about Herd Immunity and Oh, those Ignorant College Students!

As the terrible fires continue to burn and Nancy Pelosi says that Mother Nature is angry with us and the political atmosphere is all about hate, I sometimes don’t know who to believe, especially when it comes to the media. Andrew Romano reported that earlier this week, Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst became the first member of “the world’s greatest deliberative body” to embrace a false online conspiracy theory that seeks to minimize the danger of COVID-19 by claiming only a few thousand Americans have died from the virus — not the 185,000 reported by state and local health agencies and hospitals. 

Ernst, who described herself as “so skeptical” of the official death toll, even went so far as to echo the nonsense argument spread by QAnon and other right-wing conspiracy-mongers that medical providers who have risked their own lives and health to treat COVID-19 patients have been attributing non-COVID deaths to the virus to rake in extra cash from the federal government. 

“These health-care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” Ernst, who is facing a tight reelection race, said Monday at a campaign stop near Waterloo, Iowa, according to a report by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

“They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19,” Ernst added in an interview with the paper. “I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”

Since Ernst is “really curious,” here are the facts.

Yes, Medicare pays hospitals more for treating COVID-19 patients — 20 percent more than its designated rate, to be exact. Incidentally, this additional payment was approved 96-0 in the U.S. Senate — including by Joni Ernst. The reason Ernst (and all of her Senate colleagues) voted for it is simple: It helped keep U.S. hospitals open and operating during a worldwide emergency.

“This is no scandal,” Joseph Antos, a scholar in health care at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, explained in a recent PolitiFact fact-check. “The 20 percent was added by Congress because hospitals have lost revenue from routine care and elective surgeries that they can’t provide during this crisis, and because the cost of providing even routine services to COVID patients has jumped.”

In other words, no one is getting rich by misclassifying COVID-19 deaths.

It’s also fair to say that fewer than 185,000 Americans have died “singularly,” as Ernst put it, from COVID-19. According to a recent update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 94 percent of patients whose primary cause of death was listed as COVID-19 were also judged to have comorbidities — secondary conditions like diabetes that often exacerbate the virus’s effects. For the remaining 6 percent, COVID-19 was the only cause listed in conjunction with their deaths.

On Sunday, President Trump retweeted a QAnon backer who falsely claimed this meant that only 6 percent of reported COVID-19 deaths — that is, 10,000 or so — were actually caused by the virus. Perhaps this “report” is what Ernst was referring to when she agreed Monday with an audience member who theorized that COVID-19 deaths had been overcounted. “I heard the same thing on the news,” she said.

Yet Twitter quickly removed the tweet for spreading false information, and for good reason.   

Despite all the innuendo, there’s nothing unusual about the way the government is counting coronavirus deaths, as we have previously explained. In any crisis — whether it’s a pandemic or a hurricane — people with preexisting conditions will die. The standard for attributing such deaths to the pandemic is to determine whether those people would have died when they did if the current crisis had never happened.

When it comes to the coronavirus, the data is clear: COVID-19 is much more likely to kill you if your system has already been compromised by some other ailment, such as asthma, HIV, diabetes mellitus, chronic lung disease or cardiovascular disease. But that doesn’t mean patients with those health problems would have died this week (or last week, or next month) no matter what. The vast majority of them probably wouldn’t have. COVID-19 was the cause of death — the disease that killed them now, and not later.

A closer look at the CDC data, meanwhile, reveals that many of the comorbidities listed by medical providers are complications caused by COVID-19 rather than chronic conditions that predated infection: heart failure, renal failure, respiratory failure, sepsis and so on.

Feverishly creating a baseless fiction from two threads of unrelated information — the additional Medicare payments and the CDC update about comorbidities — is a classic conspiracy-theorist move. But that doesn’t make it true.

“Let there not be any confusion,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday. “It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180,000-plus deaths.”

“The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of [deaths] had nothing else but COVID,” Fauci continued. “That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19. They did.”

In reality, it’s more likely that the U.S. is undercounting rather than overcounting COVID-19 deaths. According to a recent New York Times analysis of CDC estimates, at least 200,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. between March and early August — meaning that the official COVID-19 death count, which hit 140,000 over the same period, is probably too low. 

In the Hawkeye State, COVID-19 had killed at least 1,125 as of Wednesday afternoon. Over the past week, the state has reported an average of 1,177 cases per day, an increase of 124 percent from the average two weeks earlier. Its positive testing rate has risen from 10 percent to 18.5 percent since then. 

So while Republican lawmakers such as Ernst seek to downplay the lethality of the virus, Theresa Greenfield, Iowa’s Democratic Senate candidate, seized on her opponent’s baseless claim to underscore the gravity of the situation in one of the only states in America where the pandemic is getting worse.    

“It’s appalling for you to say you’re ‘so skeptical’ of the toll this pandemic has on our families and communities across Iowa,” Greenfield tweeted Tuesday, addressing the senator. “We need leaders who will take this seriously.”

Why a herd immunity approach to COVID-19 could be a deadly disaster

Reporter Rebecca Corey noted that since the coronavirus pandemic began, herd immunity has been floated by some experts as a possible solution to the deadly virus that has so far killed over 865,000 people worldwide. 

Herd immunity is possible when enough people have contracted and become immune to a virus, providing community-wide protection by limiting the number of people who can spread it. And while the strategy is considered controversial and even downright dangerous by many public health experts, it is also reportedly gaining momentum in the White House.    

According to a report by the Washington Post, herd immunity is a strategy being pushed by Dr. Scott Atlas — a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases or epidemiology who recently joined the White House as a pandemic adviser. 

Atlas denied that he had encouraged the White House to adopt a herd immunity strategy, and on Wednesday White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci dismissed the idea that herd immunity was under consideration. An administration official, however, told CNN that the policies being promoted by Atlas are indeed akin to a herd immunity approach.   

Ordinarily, herd immunity would be acquired through a majority of the population being vaccinated — not through immunity acquired by natural infection. 

“Normally, when we talk about herd immunity, we talk about how much of the population needs to be vaccinated,” World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said on Aug. 27. “If we think about herd immunity in a natural sense of just letting a virus run, it’s very dangerous because you would need a lot of people to be infected.” 

It’s still uncertain what percentage of a population would need to be immune to the virus in order to attain herd immunity. According to Johns Hopkins University, in general, the answer is 70 to 90 percent of a population, depending on how contagious the infection is. But a model published last month in the magazine Science found that the threshold needed for coronavirus herd immunity could be as low as 43 percent. 

Proponents of herd immunity have looked to emulate Sweden’s more hands-off approach; unlike most countries in Europe, the Nordic country opted out of a nationwide lockdown and kept most businesses open. 

But Sweden’s strategy didn’t entail a total return to normalcy. The Swedish government implemented a ban on gatherings of 50 people or more, and many Swedes voluntarily followed social distancing guidelines. 

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted in an op-ed published on Aug. 30 that in addition to being much larger than Sweden (a country with a population the same size as North Carolina’s), the U.S. has a high rate of citizens with preexisting conditions, which can lead to a higher rate of COVID-19 complications; about 10 percent of Americans have diabetes, and 40 percent are considered obese. 

Moreover, Sweden’s pursuit of natural herd immunity doesn’t appear to be working. A study released in June by the country’s Health Agency showed that only 6 percent of Swedes had developed antibodies to the coronavirus — though a recent study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital suggests that immunity in Sweden may be higher than antibody tests indicate. 

The role of antibodies and how much of an impact they have on long-term immunity is still questionable. A U.K. study, which had not yet been peer-reviewed, found that antibodies may start to decline 20 to 30 days after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. And a Chinese study found that antibody levels in patients who had recovered from COVID-19 fell sharply within two to three months after infection. 

Falling antibody counts may not necessarily mean waning immunity; other immune responses such as T-cells could also affect how long immunity lasts. But the case for natural herd immunity is made even more improbable by reports of coronavirus reinfections in Hong Kong, Europe and the U.S. If natural immunity is as short-lived as a few months, that wouldn’t be stable enough to provide community or nationwide protection.    

Yahoo News Medical Correspondent Dr. Dara Kass says waiting to reach the minimal number of infections needed for natural herd immunity to work would not only take longer than waiting for a vaccine (which could come before the end of the year, according to the CDC) but would also likely cost more lives. Even if only 40 percent of the U.S. population needed to contract and recover from COVID-19 to reach natural herd immunity, Kass argues, that would mean another 126 million more Americans would still need to be infected.  

“It’s taken us six months to get to 6 million infections,” Kass says. “What if we just said, let’s live life like normal? Let’s not wear masks, let’s not socially distance, let’s ride the subways and go to work. How fast could we get to 126 million infections? One year? Two years? Three years? We don’t know. But what we know is, the faster we infect people, the more people will die.” 

“We’ve seen so far 185,000 Americans die of this coronavirus with 6 million people infected,” Kass continues. “If we want to intentionally infect another 126 million Americans, that means that over 1 million more Americans would die of this virus before we infected enough people to get to any possible natural herd immunity.” 

According to a Gallup poll conducted in late July, 35 percent of Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine even if it were FDA-approved and available to them at no cost. But Kass says a vaccine will likely be the key to any workable herd immunity strategy.

“The bottom line is, will herd immunity be the answer to this coronavirus pandemic? And the answer will be yes — but not natural herd immunity. We will get to herd immunity hopefully with the development of a safe, effective vaccine,” Kass says.  

“Until we have a safe and effective vaccine that is available to the hundreds of millions of Americans that still need to be exposed and recovered from this virus, we just need to continue to do the hard work, which means wear a mask, be socially distanced from people you don’t know, wash your hands multiple times a day and listen to the science.”

College Students Are Already Itching to Sue Frats Over COVID-19

So, is anyone surprised at the stupidity of college students returning to campus after this long imposed “lock-down?” Are you surprised at the number of positive COVID-19 tested students after all of their large parties?

Emily Shugerman reported that across the country, as college students return to campus with masks and hand sanitizer, fraternities and sororities are doing what they’ve always done: drinking and partying. 

At the University of Washington this summer, 137 students living in frat houses tested positive for the coronavirus after hosting raucous parties that violated their own internal guidelines. At the University of Alabama, students completed an entirely virtual rush process that ended with new members showing up in person to sorority houses, packing themselves together to take photos and then crowding the neighboring bars. The next week, the university announced more than 500 cases on campus.

For responsible students and their families, who could fall ill or have their classes canceled due to their classmates’ Greek Life antics, it all seems ripe for a lawsuit, right?

Not necessarily.

Two attorneys who specialize in litigation against frats told The Daily Beast they have received multiple inquiries from concerned students or parents wondering what their legal rights are when it comes to potential super-spreader events on their campus.

Attorney Douglas Fierberg said filing a lawsuit is absolutely an option, arguing that violating public health rules around coronavirus is no different than violating other safety rules, like a speed limit. 

“The violation of [safety rules] by someone with no excuse or justification renders them responsible for the harm that’s caused,” he told The Daily Beast. “That precedent has been around since the dawn of American jurisprudence.”

But David Bianchi, an attorney who helped draft Florida’s anti-hazing law, said it isn’t so simple. In order to win such a suit, the plaintiff would have to prove not only that the defendant acted negligently, but that the negligent behavior directly caused them harm. And in a pandemic—where the virus could be picked up anywhere from a frat house to a grocery store parking lot—that could be difficult to prove. 

“The defense lawyer will have a field day asking questions of the plaintiff about every single place they went for the seven days before the fraternity party, the seven days after the fraternity party, and they’re going to come up with a list of 50 places,” he said. “How do you prove that that’s not where they got it from?”

Bianchi said half a dozen parents called his office asking about the possibility of filing a lawsuit, and he told them not to bother.

“I call ’em like I see ’em, and I just don’t see it here,” he said.

Lawsuits against Greek organizations, for everything from wrongful death to sexual assault, are big business for personal injury attorneys. (In 2018, the parents of a freshman at Northern Illinois University won a historic $14 million settlement after their son died at a fraternity party.) 

And there’s no question that some are bracing for suits against fraternal organizations: Holmes Murphy, an independent insurance brokerage with a specialty in frats, wrote a blog post on how clients could avoid trouble.

“We’ve received many questions about whether or not a house corporation has a duty to do anything,” the post said. “This is a question that will ultimately be tested after a case and spread within a house occurs. There is certainly no shortage of lawsuits as a result of the pandemic. Ultimately, doing the right thing comes first. Start with the basics. That may be all you can do. But it is better than doing nothing.”

What’s hazier is the prospect for coronavirus lawsuits in general. Thousands of suits have been filed since the pandemic started—against schools, businesses, prisons, and pretty much anywhere else you can pick up a virus—but few have been decided. Some legislators have also pushed for laws giving businesses widespread legal immunity, in hopes of getting the economy back up and running. 

On college campuses, Fierberg said, legal actions may not happen right away—classes have only just started, and it takes time for someone to get infected, suffer a grievous injury, and find a lawyer. He predicted a rash of such suits in the next six months to a year.

“The time period that this is incubating is now,” he said. “What’s gonna happen in that experiment is yet to entirely show itself. If it comes out as Frankenstein then that’s one thing. If it comes out as something nice… well that’s a different thing.”

Why a Vaccine Won’t Be a Quick Fix for COVID-19

Medscape’s Brenda Goodman noted that nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all exhausted, stressed out, and looking for the exit, so hopes for a vaccine are high. Not only are we all stressed out but with the election only weeks away there is pressure to have a vaccine so that President Trump sees a bump in his numbers for re-election possibilities.

Numerous efforts are underway around the world to test, manufacture, and distribute billions of doses. A table maintained by the World Health Organization (WHO) lists 33 vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, currently being tested in people, with another 143 candidates in preclinical testing and I just reviewed an article which noted that there were actually 210 vaccines being studied.

The effort is so critical, the U.S. government is spending billions to make doses of vaccine that may be wasted if clinical trials don’t show them to be safe and effective. The goal of this massive operation, dubbed Warp Speed, is to deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines by January 2021.

As important as a vaccine will be, some experts are already trying to temper expectations for how much it will be able to do.

“We all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said at an Aug. 3 news briefing. “However, there is no silver bullet at the moment, and there might never be.”

Barry Bloom, PhD, an expert in infectious diseases and immunology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is even more direct: The idea that a vaccine will end the pandemic just isn’t realistic.

“That’s not going to happen,” he says. First, not enough people will get the vaccine. Second, for those who do take it, the vaccine may only offer partial protection from the virus.

“I am worried about incomplete availability, incomplete protection, unwillingness of a portion of a country to be vaccinated,” Bloom says.

At least at first, not enough people will get the vaccine for the world to achieve herd immunity, or community protection. Community protection robs the virus of the chance to spread easily. It occurs when enough people become immune, either because they’ve recovered from the infection or been vaccinated against it. This high level of immunity in a population cuts the chances that someone without immunity ― say an infant or someone who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons ― will be exposed to the virus and get sick.

Typically, the herd immunity threshold for an infection is somewhere between 70% and 90% of the population. We don’t yet know where the threshold is for COVID-19 because there are still big unanswered questions about how our bodies respond to the virus or a vaccine against it: Do most people respond in a way that protects them in the future? If so, how long does that protection typically last?

Even at the low end of the typical range for community protection ― 70% ― we’re still far short of that mark.

Recent studies checking blood samples submitted to commercial labs suggest that 5% to 10% of the population has recovered from a COVID-19 infection in the U.S. That’s just an average. The real number varies widely across the U.S., ranging from a low of about 1% in San Francisco to a high of about 20% in New York City, according to CDC data. Most of the country is still in the 3%-5% range ― still a long way from community protection against the virus.

So, most of the immunity needed to reach a level that would provide community protection would have to come from a vaccine.

“It’s not just getting a vaccine. It’s using it and using it appropriately,” Bloom says. “Vaccines don’t prevent anything. Vaccination does.”

Getting enough doses to enough people will take a while, even after a vaccine becomes available, for several reasons.

When vaccines against COVID are first approved, supplies will be tight. Initially, there may be enough doses for 10 million to 15 million people in the U.S. The first shots will be reserved for the people who need them most.

Just this week, the National Academy of Sciences came up with a draft plan for how to fairly distribute the vaccine, which would unfold in four phases. Those phases will take time to execute.

The first phase recommends that the first doses go to health care workers and first responders, with the next batch going to people with health conditions that put them at highest risk of dying from COVID, and to seniors living in group homes. Those groups make up just 15% of the population, according to the report.

Phase two, which covers about 30% of the population, calls for vaccination of essential workers at “substantially high risk of exposure,” teachers, people with health conditions that put them at moderate risk from the disease, people living in close contact with others (like prisoners and those staying in homeless shelters), and seniors who weren’t covered in phase one.

The largest chunk of the population, including children, who can be infected but may show few signs of illness, aren’t a priority until phase three, which also includes other essential workers. Phase three accounts for about 40% of the population. The last phase, everyone else, makes up about 5%.

Among those who are eligible for vaccination, not everyone is likely to agree to get one.

A recent poll by Gallup found that 35% of Americans ― or about one in three ― don’t plan on getting a COVID-19 vaccine, even if it’s free. Among the two-thirds of Americans who say they will be immunized, a large number plan to wait. A recent survey by STAT found that 71% will wait at least 9 months to get their shots.

Those numbers align with a recent poll by WebMD, which found that 73% of readers said they would wait at least 3 months to get a vaccine when one becomes available.

“I don’t find that shocking. I would think for people who are rational, wouldn’t you want to see what the data are on safety and efficacy before you made a decision?” Bloom says. “I’m worried about the 25% who, no matter what happens, won’t take the vaccine. Those are the people who really worry me.”

Vaccine hesitancy ― fear of getting any vaccine ― is growing. The WHO recently listed it as one of the top threats to global health, pointing to the recent resurgence in measles. Many countries have recently seen large outbreaks of measles. These outbreaks have been caused by an increasing number of parents refusing to vaccinate their kids.

Experts are worried that vaccine hesitancy will play a large role in whether the U.S. and other countries reach herd immunity thresholds. The Gallup poll found Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats, and nonwhite Americans ― the group being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections ― are less likely to be vaccinated than whites.

Bloom and others believe that right now, we should be working on a way to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

“Policymakers have to start focusing on this,” says Robert Litan, PhD, JD, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

He thinks we shouldn’t try to overcome hesitancy by forcing people to take the vaccine. Instead, he wants the government to pay people to take it ― $1,000 each, or $4,000 for a family of four.

“That’s a lot of money,” especially now with the economy sagging and so many people out of work, Litan says. “I think a thousand dollars would get a lot of people to take the shot who would otherwise not take it.”

Litan ran the numbers, looking at various scenarios of how many people would take it and how effective the vaccine might be. He says he realized not enough people would be protected to fully reopen the country.

He says he’s not sure $1,000 is the right sum, but it should be generous because if people think the amount could go up, they will wait until it does, which would defeat the purpose of the incentive.

“I can’t think of anything else,” he says. “You either have carrots or sticks, and we can’t use sticks. It won’t work.” How Well Will It Work?

Getting enough people to take it is only one piece of the puzzle. We still don’t know how well any of the shots might work, or for how long that protection lasts.

Researchers have now confirmed at least four cases of COVID-19 reinfection, proving that the virus infected the same person twice.

We still don’t know how common reinfection is, but these cases suggest that some people may need a booster dose of vaccine before they’re fully protected against the virus, says Gregory Poland, MD, an expert in immunity and vaccine responses at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

That’s similar to the way we dole out vaccines for seasonal flu, with people urged to get the shot every year, he says.

That’s another reason it could take a while to reach herd immunity.

It’s also not clear how effective a vaccine may be.

The FDA and WHO have said that a vaccine should be at least 50% more effective than a placebo to be approved. But that could mean that a shot merely decreases how bad an infection is but doesn’t stop it. That would be an important effect, Bloom says, but it could mean that even vaccinated people would continue to spread the infection.

“If it prevents disease, but doesn’t prevent growth in the upper respiratory tract, there is a possibility there will be a group of people who will be infected and not get sick because of the vaccine but still have the virus in their respiratory tract and be able to transit,” Bloom says. “That would not be the ideal for a vaccine, but it would protect against disease and death.”

He says the first studies will probably measure how sick vaccinated people get and whether or not they need to be hospitalized.

Longer studies will be required to see if vaccinated people are still able to pass the virus to others.

How effective any vaccine may be will also depend on age. In general, older adults ― the ones who most need protection against COVID-19 ― don’t respond as well to vaccines.

Our immune systems get weaker as we get older, a phenomenon called immunosenescence.

Seniors may need specially formulated vaccines ― with added ingredients, called adjuvants ― to get the same response to vaccines that a younger person might have.

Lastly, there’s the problem of reintroduction. As long as the virus continues to spread anywhere in the world, there’s a risk that it could reenter the U.S. and reignite infections here.

That’s what happens every year with measles. In most states, more than 90% of people are vaccinated against measles. The measles vaccine is one of the most effective ever made. It gives people substantial and long-lasting protection against a highly contagious virus that can stay in the air for long periods. You can catch it by walking through the same room an infected person was in hours before.

Every year, travelers come to the U.S. carrying measles. If they go to a crowded place, like a theme park, it increases the chances that initial infection will touch off many more. As vaccine hesitancy has increased in the U.S. and around the world, those imported cases have sparked outbreaks that have been harder and harder for public health officials to extinguish, raising the risk that the measles virus could become endemic again in countries like the U.S.

For the world to be rid of COVID-19, most of the world has to be vaccinated against it. There’s an effort underway ― called COVAX ― to pay for vaccinations for poorer countries. So far, 76 of the world’s wealthier countries have chipped in to fund the effort. The U.S. has not. The Trump administration says it won’t join because of the WHO’s involvement in the effort, a move that may place the plan in jeopardy.

For all these reasons, it will probably be necessary to continue to spread out, wear masks, and be vigilant with hand hygiene to protect yourself and others for the foreseeable future.

“For now, stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control,” Tedros said.

We may get a vaccine, but we will still need to be able to test enough people for the virus, warn their contacts, and isolate those who are infectious to keep the epidemic under control, or, as Tedros has urged, “Do it all.”

Pandemic fears are boosting demand for trustworthy news; And What Have We Learned from Sweden’s Experience?

During these last few months of the pandemic one of my concerns is the lack consistent reliable data with which the media pundits of all sorts deliver their predictions and many times with false knowledge and predictions. Question, what is the correct social distancing length? Studies keep on changing! One of the key features of the web is its ability to turn regular people into citizen journalists. The cost of publishing text on the web is almost nil. The barriers to entry in the media industry are low, too. And many readers are not picky about where their news comes from: the stories that go viral can come from amateur scribes or veteran ones, media startups or established outfits. But this is not always the case. New research suggests that when a crisis hits, readers turn to reliable sources.

In 2018 Paul Resnick and James Park, two researchers at the University of Michigan, devised a pair of tools for measuring the popularity of English-language news stories on Facebook and Twitter. The first, dubbed the “Mainstream Quotient”, measured the proportion of highly-shared links that came from mainstream news sources, such as the New York Times, the BBC and, yes, The Economist. The second, the “Iffy Quotient”, measured the share originating from less trustworthy sources, based on ratings provided by NewsGuard, a company that tracks misinformation published online.

Both indices have shifted significantly during the pandemic. Beginning in February, when the coronavirus started to spread outside China, traffic to traditional media outlets and news sites surged, whereas dodgier sites attracted fewer readers. The Mainstream Quotient rose steadily during this period, a phenomenon Messrs Resnick and Park call a “flight to quality”. The Iffy Quotient, meanwhile, tumbled. The drop was particularly steep during March, when many countries instituted lockdown measures (see chart).

The researchers argue that consumers seek out reliable news sources during times of uncertainty, in the same way that fearful investors turn to gold. Whether these patterns will last remain unclear. The Iffy Quotient has already started to creep back up, for both Facebook and Twitter. And recent efforts by social-media platforms to crack down on fake news may prove only temporary. Once the pandemic subsides, demand for unreliable news may return to pre-covid levels. For now, at least, the flight to quality has taken off.

Pandemic Spike in Telehealth Levels Off

Crystal Phend of MedPage pointed out that Telehealth’s early bonanza during the pandemic has given way to persistently elevated use in primary care, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report showed.

Analysis of Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) data showed an increase in Medicare primary care visits from 0.1% of all primary care in February to 43.5% in April, representing an increase from about 2,000 to 1.28 million telehealth visits per week.

Meanwhile, there was a “precipitous” drop in in-person visits for primary care in mid-March as COVID-19 took hold in the U.S., then a rise from mid-April through May, according to the report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

Use of telehealth in primary care “declined somewhat but appears to have leveled off at a persistent and significant level by the beginning of June,” the report noted. It still accounted for 22.7% of Medicare beneficiaries’ primary care visits as of June 3rd.

Overall, weekly primary care visit rates have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“Based on early experience with Medicare primary care telehealth at the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency, there is evidence that Medicare’s new telehealth flexibilities played a critical role in helping to maintain access to primary health care services — when many beneficiaries and providers were concerned with transmission of COVID-19,” the authors noted. “The stable and sustained use of telehealth after in-person primary care visits started to resume in mid-April suggests there may be continued demand for telehealth in Medicare, even after the pandemic ends.”

The findings overall match those from healthcare provider databases suggesting a 60% to 70% drop in health care office visits, partially offset by telehealth visits, with the start of the pandemic. Drug market research firm IQVIA has reported from physician surveys that about 9% of patient interactions were via telehealth prior to the pandemic but 51% during the shutdown, with expectation of a 21% rate after the pandemic, the HHS report noted.

There have been calls for Medicare to make the loosened rules around telemedicine permanent, and some legislative movement in that direction, but private insurers have signaled the opposite.

Fred Pelzman, MD, an internal medicine physician at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City (and MedPage Today columnist), said an informal survey of his patients indicated they would be willing to do up to 50% of their care via video tools.

“We went from a handful of video visits in our practice to several thousand over the course of the months,” he said. “It’s a great way to take care of people, kept a lot of people safe, we think. What has happened is that as we started to open our practice back up again and offer appointments, the floodgates have opened and patients are declining video visits.”

Those patients opting for in-person visits tend to be older, braving what feels like a quiet time in the pandemic for the state to take care of necessary visits, he noted. “I think ultimately that we’ll plateau. It will probably come down a little more.”

The study included Medicare FFS Part B claims from January through May 2020 for primary care services along with preliminary Medicare Part B primary care claims data up to June 3. Primary care services included evaluation and management, preventive services, and advance care planning.

Telehealth usage increased most in urban counties early in the pandemic and saw smaller declines in May compared with rural counties across the country. Among cities, Boston had the greatest proportion of primary care visits by telehealth (73.1%) and Phoenix the lowest (37%).

Notably, the rate “was not strongly associated with differences in COVID-19 severity across cities as measured by rate of hospitalizations per thousand Medicare FFS beneficiaries,” the report pointed out.

I read an article predicting that telehealth visits are the future of medicine. This is truly worrisome due to the many incorrect diagnoses as well as poor control of chronic diseases that I have seen coming through my office alone. Physical diagnosis is made by looking at the patient, listening to the patient, hearing what the patient is really saying, touching the patient and using the different diagnostic tools such stethoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, otoscopes, percussion hammers, etc. to make the correct diagnoses and to follow our patients. How is that done virtually? The only ones benefitting the most from these virtually visits are the practices and the electronic medical record companies selling the practices additional software to utilize telehealth. And patients are finding that not all telehealth “visits” are paid for by their insurance companies.

How Did Sweden Flatten Its Curve Without a Lockdown?

One expert credits a “good-enough strategy”; others worry that it won’t last. Who is correct?

Kristina Fiore, Director of Enterprise & Investigative Reporting, MedPage reported that

Despite never implementing a full-scale lockdown, Sweden has managed to flatten its curve, prompting its health leadership to claim victory — but others question the cost of the strategy, as the country has a far higher death toll than its Scandinavian neighbors.

In late July, Sweden’s 7-day moving average of new cases was about 200, down from a peak of around 1,140 in mid-June. Its daily death totals have been in the single digits for two weeks, well below its mid-April peak of 115 deaths in a single day.

However, on a per-capita basis, Sweden far outpaces its Scandinavian neighbors in COVID deaths, with 567 deaths per million people compared with Denmark’s 106 deaths per million, Finland’s 59 deaths per million, and Norway’s 47 deaths per million. The Swedish figure is closer to Italy’s 581 deaths per million.

While the positive trends have led Anders Tegnell, PhD, chief epidemiologist at the Swedish Public Health Agency and architect of Sweden’s coronavirus strategy, to state that the “Swedish strategy is working,” others have criticized the approach, including two dozen Swedish academics who published a recent USA Today editorial.

“In Sweden, the strategy has led to death, grief, and suffering,” they wrote. “On top of that, there are no indications that the Swedish economy has fared better than in many other countries. At the moment, we have set an example for the rest of the world on how not to deal with a deadly infectious disease.”

The Swedish Public Health Agency has not openly stated that herd immunity was its goal, though many suspect that this was the intention. Tegnell told reporters last week he thought the recent trends indicated that immunity was now widespread in the country. But with rates of antibody positivity around 10%, that seems impossible. (Officials at the agency did not respond to MedPage Today‘s request for comment.)

So how has Sweden managed to get its outbreak under control?

Behavior Change

While Sweden didn’t officially lock down, many in the country have described a locked-down “feeling” that has eased in the summer months.

At the start of the outbreak, only high schools and universities closed; daycare and elementary schools have been open. Businesses have also remained open, but typically at reduced hours, and restaurants have functioned at reduced capacity.

Swedes have been asked to keep their distance in public, refrain from non-essential travel, and work from home when possible. Gatherings of more than 50 people are also banned. People age 70 and over are advised to stay away from others as much as possible.

Masks were never required and aren’t commonly worn.

This response hasn’t changed over time, through the June surge and into today’s decline, so there’s no definitive explanation for the flattening, though, and experts have several theories.

“Swedes in general have changed their behavior to a great extent during the pandemic and the practice of social distancing as well as physical distancing in public places and at work has been widespread,” said Maria Furberg, MD, PhD, an infectious diseases expert at Umea University Hospital in northeastern Sweden.

“During the months of March to early June, all shops were practically empty, people stopped dining with friends, and families stopped seeing even their closest relatives,” Furberg told MedPage Today. “A lock-down could not have been more effective. Handwashing, excessive use of hand sanitizers, and staying home at the first sign of a cold became the new normal very quickly.”

Mozhu Ding, PhD, an epidemiologist at the famed Karolinska Institute, said the decline is “likely to be a combination of measures taken by individuals, businesses and a widespread information campaign launched by the government.”

“Even without a strict lockdown order, many businesses allowed employees to work from home, and universities are offering distance courses to the students,” Ding told MedPage Today. “Individuals are also taking personal hygiene more seriously, as items like hand sanitizers and single-use gloves are often sold out in pharmacies and grocery stores.”

Immunity

Experts told MedPage Today there weren’t clear data to prove Tegnell’s assertion of widespread immunity in Sweden.

Furberg said there is likely “some sort of unspecific immunity that protects parts of the population from contracting COVID-19” but it’s not necessarily secondary to SARS-CoV-2 exposure.

For instance, a study by the Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital recently found that about 30% of people with mild or asymptomatic COVID showed T-cell-mediated immunity to the virus, even though they tested negative for antibodies.

“This figure is [more than] twice as high as the previous antibody tests, meaning that the public immunity to COVID-19 is probably much higher than what antibody studies have suggested,” Ding told MedPage Today. “This is of course very good news from a public health perspective, as it shows that people with negative antibody test results could still be immune to the virus at a cellular level.”

Indeed, T-cell immunity is coming into focus as a potentially important factor in COVID infection. A paper published in Nature in mid-July found that among 37 healthy people who had no history of either the first or current SARS virus, more than half had T cells that recognized one or more of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins.

Another 36 people who had mild-to-severe COVID-19 were all found to have T-cell responses to several SARS-CoV-2 proteins, and another 23 people who had SARS-CoV-1 (the virus responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003) all had lasting memory T cells — even 17 years later — that also recognized parts of SARS-CoV-2.

It could be that T cell immunity is the result of a previous infection with common cold coronaviruses, but this hasn’t yet been established; nor is it certain that T cell immunity is driving Sweden’s decline in COVID cases.

Path Forward

Summertime is another factor that may account for the decline, which began around late June — not directly because of the weather, but social factors related to it.

Swedes are “outdoors more, and students are not at school,” said Anne Spurkland, MD, a professor of immunology at the University of Oslo in Norway.

Also, “perhaps Sweden has finally gotten better control over the disastrous spread of the virus in nursing homes which to some extent can explain their relatively high death rates,” Spurkland told MedPage Today. About half of Sweden’s 5,730 deaths occurred among those in elder care homes.

Norway is still requiring that Swedes quarantine for 10 days when coming into Norway, and Denmark has not fully reopened its borders to its neighbor yet either.

That doesn’t bode well for the Swedish economy. If the goal of avoiding a lockdown was to spare economic woe, its success has been limited.

According to Business Insider, “international tourism and trade are decimated. … Sweden’s National Institute of Economic Research predicts Sweden’s GDP will fall 5.4% in 2020, after predicting a 1% rise [in] December 2019. It also expects unemployment to rise around three percentage points, to 9.6%, between the end of 2019 and the end of 2021.”

Spurkland said it’s still “too early yet to conclude whether the Swedish approach was the wisest over all,” as it remains to be seen whether Norway and other countries that did lock down will avoid a second wave of infections in the fall.

Yet she cautions that choosing to take on a higher case load may have health consequences far beyond the immediate infection.

“What we have learned these months is that COVID-19 is not only about death, it is also about ill health,” Spurkland said. “Quite a number of people going through the infection have long-term symptoms, that may be stopping them from resuming their daily life. We do not know yet how large a proportion of those who get the virus will fall into this category, but it is certainly a concern.”

“So, when deciding on taking a herd immunity approach to handle a totally new virus we do not know anything about,” she said, “the Swedish government has also unknowingly put the general population at risk for much long-term ill-health caused by the virus.”

Furberg doesn’t see it that way: “I am very proud of the way Swedes have adapted to the restrictions and regulations and I believe the Public Health Agency of Sweden has picked a good-enough strategy for our country.”

What Americans Need to Understand About the Swedish Coronavirus Experiment

Sweden made headlines for never shutting down. Here’s what’s really happening there.

Matthew Zeitlin pointed out that Tooutsiders, life in Stockholm, Sweden, appears perfectly normal: Walk down a cobblestone street, and you may see two friends sitting at a cafe enjoying the spring air or a group of kids kicking a soccer ball in the park. Cars and bicyclists may zip by; a family may walk past you on their afternoon stroll.

Whereas most of the Western world has been in lockdown for weeks, Sweden has opted to forgo any sort of shelter-in-place policy in response to the coronavirus and instead allow businesses and parks to stay open and groups of under 50 to gather.

That’s not to say the country hasn’t been proactive at all. The policy in effect in Sweden is similar to what had been implemented in much of the United States before shelter-in-place orders were issued — and the one that will soon be in place in states that reopen. The Swedish government has recommended that people wash their hands frequently, maintain social distance, work from home if they can, and those who are elderly or more susceptible to Covid-19 stay home. The government recommended that universities switch to online teaching; they quickly followed course. Social distance is required by law in restaurants, and bar service is banned. The government changed its sick leave rules to encourage anyone who is feeling symptoms to stay home. “Instead of saying ‘close down all of society,’ we have looked at society and closed down… aspects of society,” where the disease is most likely to spread, Anders Tegnell, the epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency in charge of recommending policy to the government, told The Daily Show. “I think that’s had a great effect.”

Sweden may not be so much an alternative, as a glimpse of the future.

Sweden’s approach has been hailed by critics of American and European pandemic policies as a less restrictive — and less economically devastating — alternative to state or national shutdowns, but it’s also been lambasted by others as an unnecessarily risky strategy that has led Sweden to have the highest Covid-19 death toll among the Nordic nations. As more and more areas of the United States reopen, Sweden may not be so much an alternative as a glimpse of the future.

As of Sunday afternoon, the country had 25,921 confirmed cases and3,220deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. These are much higher figures than those of the country’s neighbors, but lower than those in some other wealthy Western European countries on both an overall and population-adjusted basis. Sweden also has suffered problems familiar to residents of countries that have had more severe outbreaks and stricter policies. Nursing homes have been hard hit, and Tegnell described Sweden’s failure to protect nursing home residents as its greatest shortcoming so far. Immigrant and ethnic minority communities also have suffered, due in part to their larger households. Just over half of all households in Sweden in 2016 consisted of only one person, while immigrants were substantially more likely than native-born residents to live in overcrowded conditions or multigenerational household.

Even with the less aggressive containment measures, the economic effects of the virus have been severe for the country. Sweden’s National Institute for Economic Research projected that gross domestic product would contract by 7% in 2020 and the unemployment rate would rise to just over 10%. The large fall in consumer and business confidence, the institute said in a release, point “to a rapid and severe downturn, not least in large parts of the service sector.”

“The economy will shrink both due to a drop in exports and is already contracting due to lower consumption. But the underlying causes differ: The export sector is mostly affected by the international situation, whereas the drop in consumption is directly related to the government’s recommendation of social distancing,” said Lina Maria Ellegård, an economist at Lund University.

In the first three months of the year, the Swedish economy contracted by less than 1% — less than the United States’ fall — but the production of both goods and services declined in March. The car industry — one of Sweden’s major export sectors — along with real estate, hospitality, and restaurants led the way.

That’s because even without lockdowns or orders, the behavior of Swedes still changed — to an extent. According to data collected by Google and Apple, Swedes have cut back on their travel to places like stores and restaurants and decreased their use of transit-like buses substantially, though not as dramatically as their Nordic neighbors in Denmark. Still, travel over the Easter holiday fell by 90%, Tegnell said on The Daily Show.

Multiple experts in Sweden I spoke to agreed that because a recommendation made by Swedish leadership is culturally viewed as more of a demand, the freedoms allowed have not resulted in free-for-alls. “There’s a basic misconception that there’s one big huge after-ski party,” said Lars Trägårdh, a Swedish historian. “That’s not true.”

Sweden’s voluntary restrictions policy is made possible by the high levels of trust throughout Swedish society. “We have a lot of social trust and a lot of trust in the institutions, and the institutions have confidence in the citizens,” said Trägårdh. “That’s why we decided to have this voluntary approach as opposed to one that’s more hardcore.”

The photos circulating online don’t fully represent the broader reality on the ground either. “I’ve seen pictures in the newspapers and news media of what looks to be crowded restaurants in Stockholm. What I’ve seen is mostly pretty sparse restaurants. Every other table is empty, and there’s very little business,” said Bo Becker, an economist at the Stockholm School of Economics. “Life doesn’t go on as usual, but maybe the lockdown is less severe than in other countries.”

But even if Sweden’s policy of allowing businesses to open and people to move out and about is not that different from some policies American states have or will soon implement, there’s been one major difference: the schools. Schools for children up to age 15 have remained open, all the way down to daycares and preschool. “That makes a world of difference,” Trägårdh told me. “It’s a gender issue.”

Sweden has one of the highest rates of female participation in the labor force for rich countries. Forcing young children to stay home would put many mothers in a bind or even knock them out of the workforce entirely.

“Closing down schools works well if you are in a well-to-do, middle-class family that has a house and a garden and can afford to have one person staying at home,” Trägårdh said. “That may not look like a doable proposition if you are a single parent or do not make a lot of money.”

Shutting down daycare and schools could increase risk as well, Erik Angner, a philosopher and economist at Stockholm University, explained, by leading working parents to turn to their own parents for help. “If you close daycares, then either one parent has to stop working or grandma or grandpa shows up,” he said. But since the elderly are most at risk, it was even more important to keep schools and daycares open

As other countries work through their peak infections, they will have to figure out how to reach a new status quo where the disease’s spread is still slow but restrictions can be lightened. “Now that everybody else is starting to shift toward opening up, people are talking about Sweden,” said Trägårdh. “Other Nordics are realizing you can’t keep schools closed forever. We’re in the long run here. It’s not a 60-meter race, it’s more like a marathon.”

While Sweden has a higher death rate than its Nordic neighbors and other wealthy European nations like Germany, it has been lower than rates in the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom. According to the Financial Times’ figures, Sweden has seen an 18% jump in excess deaths since the start of the outbreak, while Denmark has seen a 5% rise. Excess deaths in England and Wales are up 37%.

“The data out of Finland, Norway, and Denmark looks much better,” said Angner. “But everything will hinge on what will happen next.”

There’s some evidence that Sweden has managed to take the heaviest blow from the virus already — about a fourth or fifth of the population of Stockholm may have been infected, which would put the infection rate at a level similar to that found in New York City, which has had many more deaths and been under a near-total lockdown for almost two months. On Tuesday, health officials in Stockholm said the number of new deaths linked to Covid-19 was slowly decreasing from one week to the next.

The Swedish example carries both optimistic and pessimistic tidings for the United States as it embraces a partial, scattered reopening cheered on by the White House. It suggests that, even without punitive mandates, people can and will take measures to keep themselves safe from the disease. But even though people are protecting themselves without formal orders, the economy will be only slightly better off than it was under lockdown. Meanwhile, the American push to reopen is being driven by distrust of the government combined with the absence of robust safety-net programs to stem the economic bleeding. In the American context, Sweden’s example may be no example at all.

As a paper that was just accepted for publication, written by this author and two coauthors, we need reliable data to evaluate our progress as well as our failures to predict, based on appropriate statistical models and in order to lead us all in the correct path for future strategies for this pandemic and future crises.

Coronavirus update: Florida spike raises doubts over reopening strategy; mask debate gets more political. Then there is the Brazil and Sweden Experience! When will we Learn?

Senior reporter Anjalee Khemlani reported that recently Florida became the focus of rising fears it could become the next U.S. coronavirus hotspot, with surging cases in the West and South leading to increased safety measures, and fanning doubts about nationwide plans to reopen.

Globally cases have surged past 8.5 million, and more than 454,000 have died. In the U.S. nearly 2.2. million cases have been reported, and more than 118,000 are dead. On Friday, the Sunshine State reported a rise in COVID-19 cases of 4.4%, sharply higher than the previous 7-day average of 3.2%.

The relentless climb in domestic cases prompted California’s governor to require mask-wearing in public, while Texas and Arizona recently began to ok enforcing masks in public, amid a spike in new diagnoses in those states. The question is who is going to enforce these regulations? More to come.

Meanwhile, the economy has sent mixed signals about the trajectory of a recovery, according to Morgan Stanley data, underscoring volatility in markets hopeful for a “V-shaped” rebound.

“We note a continuous upward inflection in eating out in restaurants to 26% (from 17% two weeks ago), mainly driven by the South region and rural areas. Visits to the mall, albeit still low, are up to 13% from 8% a month ago,” the bank wrote on Friday.

Political debate over masks

As the debate over wearing face coverings in public gets increasingly political, critics point out that several areas have been lax with mask and distancing measures. The mask controversy — which took center stage in a debate over President Donald Trump’s weekend rally in Tulsa — is rooted in a perceived infringement on individual freedom, and disputed claims about face masks reducing the intake of oxygen.

Yet public health experts point to the success in New York and New Jersey, two former epicenters that are now relaxing stay-at-home orders, in implementing such measures to control the outbreak. Actually, if you want to see success, look at the Maryland strategy regarding the management, restrictions, etc. of the coronavirus complexities.

Public health experts expressed concerns with AMC’s (AMC) plan to reopen theaters without enforcing masks Thursday. The company’s CEO explained he wanted to avoid the politically controversial topic of mask-wearing — a decision that sparked more debate.

The company reversed the decision Friday, announcing in a statement that moviegoers will be required to wear masks.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Public Health Institute, said on Twitter the politicizing of masks will create more confusion and a “dilemma” for businesses eager to return to normal.

“It may feel easier to let customer choose. But long run success requires companies courageously undertake evidence-based actions that keep customers safe,” Jha said.

Separately, Japan has lifted all coronavirus restrictions for businesses, marking another country’s full reopening this month. The country has had fewer than 100 cases daily in the past month.

Vaccine coverage

China appeared to gain a leg up in the worldwide race for a COVID-19 vaccine, announcing on Friday that one of its pharmaceutical companies could begin the next phase of human tests as early as the fall.

Senior U.S. government officials said this week that any successful COVID-19 vaccine was likely to be free to “vulnerable” individuals who can’t afford them.

In addition, health plans are likely to cover at no cost to members— similar to the coverage of testing and inpatient services, which has seen bills as high as $1.1 million settled between insurers and funding from Congress.

Vulnerable individuals, those without insurance or on Medicaid, belong to a largely underserved population. Some providers refuse to accept Medicaid because of its traditionally low reimbursement for care.

The CARES Act has provisions, along with the preventative coverage mandates of the Affordable Care Act, that could address some pockets of accessibility. The bill includes language “to cover (without cost-sharing) any qualifying coronavirus preventive service” for commercial insurers.

For Medicare, in addition to the flu vaccine, the law now includes “COVID–19 vaccine and its administration,” and for Medicaid, states are required to cover “any testing services and treatments for COVID– 19, including vaccines, specialized equipment, and therapies” without cost-sharing.

But it still leaves out self-insured and uninsured — which make up more than half of the U.S. population. At least 56% of the population is on self-insured plans, which have had the option to cover. members’ COVID-19 testing and hospital visits during the pandemic.

As states see coronavirus surges, health officials say combination of factors responsible

So, what is the cause of these surges? Bryn McCarthy reported that this past week, states throughout the nation have seen surges in coronavirus cases, with the average number of new cases per day increasing by about 20 percent to nearly 24,000 cases per day. Health officials say a combination of factors is likely responsible for these increases.

“It’s multifactorial,” said Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, family and emergency medicine physician and medical director of CityMD, said. “The initial wave of COVID-19 is still with us, hitting each state at different points in time. We see more cases because we are doing more testing. Also, the country is reopening, which means an increase in mobility of people, which by nature means we will have more cases.”

States reopening, increased testing and “quarantine fatigue” are largely responsible for these surges, according to experts. Dr. Marty Makary, professor of surgery, health policy and management at Johns Hopkins and Fox News medical contributor, said the disregard for distancing and use of masks in some parts of the country has greatly influenced the hospitalization highs of late. “We are seeing increases in hospitalizations in Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona, Florida, Arkansas and other states resulting not from institutional spread, such as nursing homes and meatpacking outbreaks,” Makary said, “but instead from daily activity.”

Health officials stress the importance of hospitalization rates and number of deaths over the number of positive cases. Over the past week, there were, on average, about 660 deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. Over the past three days there were on average about deaths 770. “This is very concerning because we are seeing these increases amidst an expected seasonal decline associated with entering the summer,” Makary said. “I’m concerned we’ll have a lot of cases seeding the next wave in the fall. If you think about it, the current wave was seeded by a few dozen cases in January and early February. We may be seeding the next wave with 100,000-200,000 cases going into the next cold season.”

A model produced by the University of Washington predicts that the United States will have over 201,000 COVID-19 deaths by Oct. 1. Nesheiwat feels this prediction is accurate. “We have roughly 600 to 700 cases per day,” Nesheiwat said. “Mobility increases transmission of COVID, for example, the protests where we had massive large crowd gatherings with people shouting and screaming spewing viral particles into the air close in contact with each other, or Mother’s Day church gatherings, or states that opened without following recommended guidelines.”

So how can we bring these numbers back down? “Aggressive case management is the way to bring down case numbers and hospitalizations,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, infectious disease doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The virus is with us. People need to take actions realizing that there is nothing that is without risk. It will be important to think about social distancing as we go through this pandemic without a vaccine.” He says the best way for people to decrease their risk of becoming infected is by decreasing their physical interaction with others, observing social distancing norms, handwashing frequently, avoiding highly congregated places and possibly wearing face shields.

Makary said it’s all about slowing the spread. “More important than creating new regulations is convincing people to practice good behavior around best practices,” Makary said. “I would say that complacency is our greatest threat going into the fall.”

Health experts are urging people to reconsider nonessential activities in areas where cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. “For example, schools can hold classes but should consider postponing nonessential field trips and contact sports this year in areas with active infections,” Makary said. “National organizations should postpone their in-person conferences since travel is a well-known vector of transmission. Retail should attempt to move their activities outdoors if feasible to do so.”

While health officials recognize that humans are, by nature, social creatures who crave interaction with others, the novel virus and its deathly effects are not exaggerated, as some have started to believe. “COVID is not an exaggeration,” Nesheiwat said. “I have seen firsthand patients dying in my arms. It is heart-wrenching to see someone’s life taken too soon. The virus can affect anyone at any age. It is still here and it’s deadly.”

Makary agreed, reiterating how the virus affects all of society, especially the most vulnerable members, such as children, those with disabilities and the elderly. But nonetheless he remains optimistic and urges others to do the same. “This is not a fate we have to accept, but one we can impact,” Makary said.

Brazil’s coronavirus cases top 1 million as the virus spreads

Caitlin McFall noted that Brazil’s government announced Friday that its coronavirus outbreak has surpassed a million cases, making it second-leading nation in the world to the United States in coronavirus infection rates. “Almost half of the cases reported were from the Americas,” World Health Organization General-Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing. “The world is in a new and dangerous phase … the virus is still spreading fast, it is still deadly, and most people are still susceptible.”

The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro maintains that the repercussions from social distancing measures still outweigh the severity of the virus in the country. Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the virus, referring to the coronavirus as a “little flu,” and told reporters earlier this month that he “regret[s] all the dead but it is everyone’s destiny.”

The United States, which has a population 56 percent bigger than Brazil, has reported over 2.2 million cases. But health experts believe that the infection rate could be as much as seven times higher in Brazil. Johns Hopkins University has reported that Brazil is conducting 14 tests a day for every 100,000 people, but medical officials say the number of tests is up to 20 percent less than what they should be to accurately track the virus. Although data shows that the virus is reaching a plateau in the cities near the Atlantic in the north, the rural countryside towns, which are less equipped to deal with the crisis, are seeing a spike in cases.

“There is a lot of regional inequality in our public health system and a shortage of professionals in the interior,” Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies. said. “That creates many health care deserts, with people going long distances to get attention. When they leave the hospital, the virus can go with them,” Lago added.

Brazil, which has seen 50,000 deaths according to their Ministry of Health, has struggled to maintain a health minister during the crisis. Former Health Minister Dr. Nelson Teich resigned in May, after serving in office for only month. Reports later surfaced of his disagreements with Bolsonaro on social distancing measures and whether or not the anti-malaria drug, chloroquine, should be distributed. Teich referred to the drug as “an uncertainty” and differed with the president over how to balance the economy with the crisis.

His predecessor, Luiz Henrique, was fired from his position of health minister after also disagreeing with the president on how to handle the pandemic. Bolsonaro has not yet filled the health minster role, even as the country has evolved into the new epicenter of the coronavirus.

California county sheriff says he won’t enforce Newsom’s coronavirus mask order

Remember my question at the beginning of this post, who will enforce the mask and then stay-at home orders? Nick Givas reported that the sheriff’s office for Sacramento County announced on Friday that it will not enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus order, which requires residents to wear masks or facial coverings while they are out in public. Can you blame them?

The announcement came just one day after Newsom, a Democrat, issued the statewide order mandating the use of facemasks.

In a statement posted to Facebook, the sheriff’s office said residents should be “exercising safe practices” in the face of COVID-19, including the use of masks, but it also deemed the idea of enforcement to be “inappropriate,” because it would criminalize average Americans for a relatively small infraction.

“Due to the minor nature of the offense, the potential for negative outcomes during enforcement encounters, and anticipating the various ways in which the order may be violated, it would be inappropriate for deputies to criminally enforce the Governor’s mandate,” Sheriff Scott Jones’ statement read. Deputies will instead work “in an educational capacity,” alongside health officials, to avoid any further escalation between bystanders and law enforcement.

Jones added, however, that employees will comply with the governor’s order as much as is pragmatically possible. “As for the Sheriff’s Office and its employees, we will comply with the Governor’s mask recommendations to the extent feasible,” the message concluded.

Newsom said in his initial statement that, “Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” and “they are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.” This news comes as California gets ready to broadly reopen the state economy. People can now shop, dine in at restaurants, get their hair done and go to church in most counties. Overall, there have been 157,000 reported cases of coronavirus in the state and more than 5,200 deaths, as of Thursday.

New Study Casts More Doubt on Swedish Coronavirus Immunity Hopes

Johan Ahlander reported that Sweden’s hopes of getting help from herd immunity in combating the coronavirus received a fresh blow on Thursday, when a new study showed fewer than anticipated had developed antibodies.

Sweden’s has opted for a more liberal strategy during the pandemic, keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open as much of Europe hunkered down behind closed doors.

While Health Agency officials have stressed so-called herd immunity is not a goal in itself, it has also said the strategy is only to slow the virus enough for health services to cope, not suppress it altogether.

However, the study, the most comprehensive in Sweden yet, showed only around 6.1% of Swedes had developed antibodies, well below levels deemed enough to achieve even partial herd immunity.

“The spread is lower than we have thought but not a lot lower,” Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference, adding that the virus spread in clusters and was not behaving like prior diseases.

“We have different levels of immunity on different parts of the population at this stage, from 4 to 5% to 20 to 25%,” he said.

Herd immunity, where enough people in a population have developed immunity to an infection to be able to effectively stop that disease from spreading, is untested for the novel coronavirus and the extent and duration of immunity among recovered patients is equally uncertain as well.

Sweden surpassed 5,000 deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, many times higher per capita than its Nordic neighbors but also lower than some countries that opted for strict lockdowns, such as Britain, Spain and Italy.

Now No-lockdown Sweden is compelling parents to send their children to school. Some fear their kids could ultimately be taken away if they refuse.

Sweden has kept schools open for children under 15, part of its policy of avoiding a widespread lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Its policy is that students must physically attend school in almost all circumstances, including students with conditions that some evidence suggests may make them more at risk of catching COVID-19.

Business Insider spoke to parents across Sweden who are disobeying the rules to keep their kids home. Many say local officials have threatened to involve social services if the parents do not relent and send their children to school. Some parents say their ultimate fear is having their children taken away.

Swedish officials told Business Insider they would not usually resort to such an extreme measure, though did not deny that it is a possibility. Sweden is compelling parents to keep sending their children to school — including students with conditions that some evidence suggests may make them more at risk of catching COVID-19 — as part of its policy to avoid a full scale lockdown in response to the coronavirus.

While school systems in other countries have ceased or greatly restricted in-person learning, Sweden says that anyone under 15 should keep going to school. There are almost no exceptions. Some parents have refused to comply, sparking a stand-off with state officials. They worry this could eventually end with their children being taken away — the ultimate reprisal from the government — though officials stress that this would only happen in extreme scenarios.

Business Insider spoke to seven parents and teachers across Sweden, many of whom have decided to keep their children home despite instructions from the government to the contrary. For some, it is their children who they believe are at elevated risk for COVID-19, while others consider themselves vulnerable and fear their children could bring the disease home. In each case, Business Insider contacted officials responsible for the child’s education, but none offered a response by the time of publication. Mikaela Rydberg and Eva Panarese are both mothers in Stockholm who are keeping their children home.

Ryberg’s son Isac, who is eight years old, has cerebral palsy and suffers badly from respiratory illnesses. Rydberg said he had been hospitalized before with colds and flu. However, her efforts to persuade his school that he should be kept home to shield from COVID-19 have not been successful.

Swedish health officials do not consider children as a group to be at risk from the coronavirus — even children like Isac. As this is the official advice, doctors have declined to give Isac a medical exemption from school. Instead, Rydberg has kept him home since March against the school’s instructions, which she said prompted local government officials to tell her that they may have to involve social services. 

The school did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, while the local government, Upplands Väsby, said, “We follow the recommendations from our authorities and we do not give comments on individual cases.” She said that because it is a question of her child’s welfare, she is not worried about what could follow. “I am so certain myself that I am right, I am not worried about what they threaten me with,” she said.

“Unless you can 100% reassure me that he won’t be really, really sick or worse by this virus, then I will not let him go to school.”

‘School is compulsory’- This is lunacy!!

Eva Panarese is a mother of two. She is keeping her son home to minimize exposure to her husband, who has recently suffered from pneumonia. Panarese said she reluctantly sent her daughter back to school because exam seasons is approaching and she felt there was no other option.

Emails from the child’s school reviewed by Business Insider insist that children come to school during the pandemic, citing government policy. One message, sent in April, said: “We need to emphasize again that school is compulsory.”

Panarese said her situation shows that it isn’t possible to protect some members of a household if others are still obliged to go to school and risk infection. “I don’t know who will be right or wrong but I don’t want the risk,” she said. “I don’t want to be part of a grand experiment.” The school did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

No exceptions

Sweden’s Public Health Agency says there is “no scientific evidence” that closing schools would help mitigate the spread of the virus. The agency said doing so “would have a negative impact on society” by leaving essential workers struggling to find childcare. It said such a policy might put other groups of people — like grandparents — at increased risk if they care for children.

Sweden has strong beliefs in the rights of the child, which includes the right to education, and typically does not allow that learning to take place outside of school. Only staff or children with symptoms should stay home, the Public Health Agency says.

Sweden does not include children as an at-risk group, even children who have conditions that they acknowledge increase the vulnerability of adults, like diabetes, blood cancers, immunosuppressive conditions, or ongoing cancer treatments.

Studies suggest children are generally less at-risk than other groups, but most countries have nonetheless closed schools, or radically changed the way they operate. New effects of the virus on children are also being discovered as the pandemic progresses.

The government is continuing its usual policy, which says that when children are repeatedly absent, schools are supposed to investigate and, in some cases, report the situation to local authorities, which can involve social services. Fears over the coronavirus is not considered a valid reason for keeping children home.

Afraid of losing their kids

Ia Almström lives in Kungälv, around half an hour’s drive from Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg. Authorities there have threatened to take her to court if her kids remain out of school. Almström has three children, whom she has kept home since April because she faces an increased risk from the virus because of her asthma. She received a letter from the local government on May 5, seen by Business Insider, which said that she could be referred to social services, where she could face a court order or a fine.

The authority in question, Kungälvs Kommun, declined to comment on Almström’s case. Almström said: “It is heartless how Sweden treats us. They do not take our fears seriously. We get no help, only threats.” Almström said she and many parents “are afraid to lose our children or something.” “That is what they do when they think that parents [cannot] take care of the children. Then they move the children away. So that’s something we are afraid of.”

Last resort. Read on This is more than lunacy!!

A spokeswoman for Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare said that taking a child away is the government’s last resort. She said: “Normally, the social services will talk to the child, parents, and the school – trying to find out the underlying problem.” “It is a big step to take a child away from the parents – not only school absence will normally be a reason to place a child in residential care or in foster home,” she said, implying that other issues with how the children are being treated or raised would need to be found for the action to take place.

However, escalation is not the only way out — some parents reach a compromise with their schools. Jennifer Luetz, who is originally from Germany, lives some 100 miles from Stockholm in the town of Norrköping. She said she contacted her children’s school on March 12 to say they would be staying home, as she has a weakened immune system.

She said the school was “understanding” and helped her children to work at home. The officials, she said, decided not to escalate her case as she what she described as a “valid reason” to keep her them at home.

Other parents have struggled to reach similar agreements. And Luetz said she is still worried by Sweden’s public health approach, and has faced social consequences for her decision. “My Swedish support network basically dried up overnight,” she said. “My Swedish friends stopped talking to me.” 

Teachers worry, too

One teacher in Stockholm, who asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak, said that they agree with many of the parents keeping their children away.

The teacher told Business Insider: “I do not believe that a good epidemiologist would make us send our children to school when many homes have at-risk people living in the same household.” The teacher is originally from the US but has lived in Stockholm for six years, and said their spouse is in a risk group. The teacher said they worry for the health of older teachers and parents who are elderly or otherwise vulnerable. 

Andreia Rodrigues, a preschool teacher who also works in Stockholm, called the government’s plan “unacceptable.” She said it leaves parents having “to decide if they want to take on a fight with the school and then take the consequences.” “Even if kids have parents who are confirmed to have COVID-19 at home, they are still allowed to be there,” she said. “We cannot refuse taking kids, even if the parents come to us and admit ‘I have COVID-19.'” ‘We have been lucky not to be reported yet’

Lisa Meyler, who lives in Stockholm, said she has been keeping her 11-year-old daughter home since March. Meyler has an autoimmune disease while her husband is asthmatic. “We refuse to knowingly put our daughter’s health and life at risk,” Meyler said, saying she will “not let her be a part of this herd immunity experiment.” “We have been lucky not to be reported yet, but it has been made clear that it is not an option to let her stay home after the summer holidays.”

The school that her daughter attends did not respond to Business Insider’s request to clarify its policy. She said having “children taken away is the ultimate fear” for parents.

Fauci: Next Few Weeks ‘Critical’ in COVID Fight

I think that Dr. Fauci is correct in his comments before the House panel. Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before a House panel Tuesday, and his assessment of the coronavirus fight is notably darker than President Trump’s. Fauci summed it up as a “mixed bag,” citing progress in states such as New York but a “disturbing surge in infections” elsewhere, in part because of “community spread.” That’s in contrast to statements from Trump and Mike Pence chalking up the rise to increased testing, reports the Washington Post. Fauci’s warning: “The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges we are seeing in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and other states,” he said, per the New York Times.

3 States See Record High in Daily Coronavirus Infections After Reopening; and What About the Rest of the World?

Many were waiting whether lockdowns were the answer to this pandemic, especially when we learned that Sweden didn’t mandate lockdowns or self-quarantines. But low and behold we learn of the spike in infections and deaths at the end of last week. In the article by Meghan Roos, 6/12/2020, In Sweden, Where No Lockdown was Ever Implemented, there was an increase one day spike of 1,474 on Thursday, 6/11/2020. Swedish health officials reported 49,684 infections and 4,854 deaths by Friday 6/12/2020. This country now has one of the highest per capita fatality rates in the world with an estimate 10 per cent of all COVID-19 cases resulting in death, accounting to date from John Hopkins University.

Now, as Nick Visser reported that Texas, Arizona and Florida all reported their highest daily increases in new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, even after all three states implemented and later lifted stay-at-home orders meant to stop the spread of infections.

State officials in Florida reported 2,783 new cases, in Texas, 2,622, and in Arizona, 2,392. All three states have seen social distancing regulations relaxed for weeks, and most businesses have been allowed to reopen in some capacity.

The figures come amid ongoing efforts by President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders to downplay the ongoing spread of the virus. At least 21 states have seen rates of new cases increase over the last two weeks as a majority of the country reopens.

At the same time, Trump has been pushing misleading claims that infections are only increasing because there’s more testing, going so far as to claim Monday, without evidence, that “if we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”

The president is also preparing to hold a massive rally in Oklahoma this weekend with 20,000 attendees at an indoor arena, despite pleas from local officials and health professionals that the event could quickly lead to a renewed outbreak in the state. Infection rates in Oklahoma rose 68% in the second week of June. 

“I’m extremely concerned,” Bruce Dart, the executive director of the Tulsa health department, told the Tulsa World. “I think we have the responsibility to stand up when things are happening that I think are going to be dangerous for our community, which it will be. It hurts my heart to think about the aftermath of what’s going to happen.”

Other state leaders have pushed back their own reopening efforts as cases have surged, including the governors of Utah and Oregon.

But in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said he was not considering another shutdown despite the surge in cases. He also rolled out the White House’s misleading talking point that cases were rising only because of increased testing.

“We’re not rolling back,” DeSantis said during a press briefing, according to the Miami Herald. “The reason we did the mitigation was to protect the hospital system.”

“You have to have society function,” he added. “To suppress a lot of working-age people at this point I don’t think would be very effective.”

In Arizona, some health officials were already reporting a strain on hospitals’ intensive care capacity due to a spike in coronavirus cases, even as Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said any concern was “misinformation” and said the facilities were prepared to handle an influx in patients.

And in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that, despite his own state’s figures, hospital capacity remained “abundant.”

“The more Texans protect their own health, the safer our state will be and the more we will be able to open up for business,” he said Tuesday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said that, despite the attempts to alleviate any concern, some states jumped the gun on reopening before meeting White House criteria on case levels.

“There certainly were states that did not strictly follow the guidelines that we put out about opening America again,” Fauci said in an interview with NPR. “Clearly there were states that ― left to their own decision about that ― went ahead and opened to a varying degree … certainly before they got to the benchmarks that they needed to get.”

Recent news report is that multiple Florida hospitals have run out of ICU beds as the Coronavirus cases continue to spike.

In This State, the Virus Is ‘Spreading Like Wildfire’

Jenn Gidman noted that as states start to reopen, as well as the recent ongoing protests, amid the pandemic, there’s a red flag rising out of the Southwest. Business Insider reports the coronavirus outbreak “is going very badly” in Arizona, with more than 4,400 new cases over the weekend, bringing the total number of cases in the state to more than 37,500 as of Sunday, with nearly 1,200 deaths. Per Healthline, there’s been a 300% increase in reported cases since May 1. Tucson.com reports that in just one week (from May 31 to June 6), the state saw its biggest week-to-week increase yet: 7,121 new coronavirus patients, or about a 54% increase from the previous week. Meanwhile, the Arizona Republic reports that hospitalizations are on the rise as well, with two straight weeks of statewide hospitalizations surpassing 1,000 daily—the highest number since state reporting began in the beginning of April. Will Humble, a former director of the state’s Department of Health Services, says the spike is “definitely related” to the state’s stay-at-home order being dropped on May 15, per Newsweek. More on the Grand Canyon State:

Eyewitness to tragedy: CBS 5 talked to one doctor who works at two Phoenix hospitals, and he described what he’s been seeing in ERs and ICUs. “He asked if he could make a call in the hospital,” he says of one elderly patient. “It was very tragic to hear him say goodbye to his godkids and grandchildren, who you could really tell loved him.”

Texas Governor Says ‘No Reason Today to Be Alarmed’ As Coronavirus Cases Set Record

One question that I have is if states or cities declare a lockdown whether people will adhere to the lockdown?  Laurel Wamsley reported that Texas has seen a recent uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases, with a record level of new cases and hospitalizations announced Tuesday. People are seen here Monday along the San Antonio River Walk.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday the state’s highest-ever number of new COVID-19 cases: 2,622.

He also reported a second record high: 2,518 people hospitalized with the virus in Texas, up from 2,326 a day earlier.

Despite the concerning uptick in people sick with the virus, Abbott said that the reason for his news conference was to let Texans know about the “abundant” hospital capacity for treating people with COVID-19. He and other officials spent much of the briefing touting the state’s hospital bed availability.

Disclosing the new record high number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19, Abbott emphasized that figure is “really a very small percentage of all the beds that are available.” Texas has so far been spared the high case numbers in other populous states. While it’s the second-largest state by population, Texas currently ranks sixth in terms of cumulative case numbers.

Before releasing the number of new cases, Abbott delved into what he said accounted for the previous daily high on June 10, which had 2,504 new cases. The governor said that spike could be largely attributed to 520 positive tests of inmates in Texas prisons being reported at once as well as a data error in a rural county.

He said there are also reasons for why Tuesday’s new case count was so high: tests results coming from an assisted living facility near Plano; a county south of Austin where positive cases seemed to be reported in batches; and 104 cases in one East Texas county that appear to be primarily from tests at a prison.

But he also pointed to uncareful behavior as a possible driver in some of the new cases. Abbott said there were a number of counties where a majority of those who tested positive for the coronavirus were under the age of 30, which he attributed to people going to “bar-type” settings or Memorial Day celebrations and not taking health precautions.

Abbott said that measures such as wearing masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing are what make it possible to reopen the state’s economy and Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, struck the same note.

“The message is we are seeing some increase in the number of COVID patients in the state. We expected this,” he said. “But we are seeing it occurring at a manageable level. I really want to stress that the continued success is up to the people of the state of Texas.”

Despite Abbott’s emphasis on the importance of masks, he has barred Texas cities from implementing any rules that would require face coverings. Abbott signed an executive order on April 27 that says while individuals are encouraged to wear face masks, “no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.”

On Tuesday, the mayors of nine Texas cities — including Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and El Paso — sent a letter to the governor asking for the authority to set the rules and regulations on the use of face coverings.

“A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option. We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy. And if mayors are given the opportunity to require face coverings, we believe our cities will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease,” they wrote. “If you do not have plans to mandate face coverings statewide, we ask that you restore the ability for local authorities to enforce the wearing of face coverings in public venues where physical distancing cannot be practiced.”

Abbott said Tuesday that judges and local officials have other tools available for enforcement such as issuing fines for gatherings that don’t follow state protocols.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler extended a stay-at-home warning on Monday amid the news of rising cases – but that warning could only be advice to residents and not an order due to the state’s preemption.

“People are confused,” Adler told NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Tuesday. “They just don’t know at this point if it’s really important to wear face coverings or not, because I think they’re feeling like they’re getting mixed messaging — not only from state leadership but from national leadership. So, we’re just not getting the vigilance that we need on these efforts.”

And the Surges In COVID-19 Cases Cause Friction Between Local Leaders, Governors

In Austin, Adler said, you’ll see most everyone wearing a mask in grocery stores but not in restaurants or music clubs: “When we started opening up the economy and when the governor took away from cities the ability to make it mandatory, more and more people stopped wearing them.”

Adler said he agreed with Abbott that face coverings are key to reopening parts of the economy, even if they’re unpleasant for wearers.

“I know it’s inconvenient. I know it’s hot. I know it’s a nuisance,” Adler said. “And it’s hard to do, and people don’t like it. But at the same time, our community has to decide just how much we value the lives of folks in our community that are over 65 and older. We have to decide how much we value the lives of the communities of color that are suffering disproportionately because of this virus.”

Florida Officials Spar Over Rising COVID-19 Cases

Greg Allen reported that in Florida, where there’s a surge of new COVID-19 cases, officials are divided over what to do about it. The state saw 2,783 new cases Tuesday. It was the third time in the past seven days that Florida set a new daily record.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican officials, including President Trump, say the rising number of new cases was expected and is mostly the result of increased testing. Florida is now testing more than 200,000 people a week, more than double the number tested weekly in mid-May.

But local officials and public health experts are concerned about other statistics that show that the coronavirus is still spreading in Florida. The state’s Department of Health reports that the number of people showing up in hospital emergency rooms with symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 is rising. Also, worrisome — the percentage of people who are testing positive for the virus is going up, total positive residents are 63,374 with 11,008 hospitalizations and 2,712 deaths.

In Palm Beach County, health director Alina Alonso says the rising positivity rate is a clear sign that the new cases can’t just be attributed to increased testing. Since Palm Beach County began allowing businesses to reopen, Alonso says, the percentage of people testing positive has jumped from 4.9% to 8.9%. “The fact that these are going up means there’s more community spread,” she says. “The virus now has food out there. It has people that are out there without masks, without maintaining distancing. So, it’s infecting more people.”

Alonso say the number of people hospitalized for the coronavirus has also gone up in Palm Beach County. “The numbers are very concerning to the hospitals,” she says. So far, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has remained low. But Alonso says deaths lag behind new recorded cases by about six weeks. She thinks the number of deaths will also rise. “We need to be cautious at this time. Wait a little bit until we see whether or not that happens,” she says. “If we go forward without waiting to see what is going on … by the time we get those deaths, it will be too late.”

Palm Beach County currently isn’t requiring residents to wear face coverings when in public places. County commissioners are now considering following the lead of Broward and Miami-Dade counties and making face masks mandatory.

In Tallahassee, DeSantis held a news conference where he responded to concerns about the rising positivity rate. Much of it, he said, is related to outbreaks among farmworkers and people in prison. Among the incidents he highlighted — a watermelon farm near Gainesville where, out of 100 workers tested, 90 were positive. DeSantis said, “When you have 90 out of 100 that test positive, what that does to positivity — that’s huge numbers.” Some of the other localized outbreaks among farmworkers, he noted, were in Palm Beach County.

DeSantis said there’s no reason to consider rolling back the rules allowing businesses to reopen at the moment. He has encouraged the resumption of sports events and attended a NASCAR race in Homestead, Fla., on Sunday with a few hundred other spectators. And he successfully lobbied for Florida to host President Trump’s acceptance speech at a Republican National Convention event in Jacksonville. That gathering is expected to draw thousands.

Democrats have become increasingly critical, saying DeSantis is ignoring important data that favor a more cautious response. Florida’s top elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, said, “Refusing to acknowledge the alarming patterns in cases, hospitalizations and positivity is not only arrogant but will cost lives, public health and our economy.”

Asymptomatic coronavirus transmission appears worse than SARS or influenza — a runner can leave a ‘slipstream’ of 30 feet

Quentin Fottrell reported that the WHO currently estimates that 16% of people are asymptomatic and can transmit the novel coronavirus, while other data show that 40% of coronavirus transmission is due to carriers not displaying symptoms of the illness. One study says that asymptomatic transmission “is the Achilles” heel of COVID-19 pandemic control. How worried should you be about asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19?

 hours earlier that transmission of the novel coronavirus in carriers who don’t show apparent symptoms happened in “very rare” cases.

Maria Van Kerkhove said it was a “misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare,” and that her comments during a WHO news briefing had been based on “a very small subset of studies.” “I was just responding to a question; I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO,” she said.

The WHO currently estimates that 16% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and can transmit the coronavirus, while other data show that 40% of coronavirus transmission is due to carriers not displaying symptoms of the illness.

Public-health officials have advised people to keep a distance of six feet from one another. Face masks are designed to prevent the wearer, who may be infected with COVID-19 but have very mild or no symptoms, from spreading invisible droplets to another person and thereby infecting them too. But “there’s nothing magic about six feet,” said Gregory Poland, who studies the immunogenetics of vaccine response in adults and children at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and is an expert with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“The virus can’t measure,” he told MarketWatch. “For example, the viral cloud while speaking will extend 27 feet and linger in the air for about 30 minutes. This is more like influenza in the sense that people transmit the virus prior to experiencing any symptoms and some people, of course, will not get sick.”

Asymptomatic transmission “is the Achilles’ heel of COVID-19 pandemic control through the public-health strategies we have currently deployed,” according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco published May 28 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of COVID-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities … strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate,” researchers Monica Gandhi, Deborah Yokoe and Diane Havlir wrote.

Brazil is on track to lead the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, and it still doesn’t have a plan for tackling the outbreak

Amanda Perobelli reported that Brazil could surpass the US in coronavirus cases and deaths by the end of July, according to estimates from the University of Washington.

The country recorded a daily record of 34,918 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, according to Reuters. And despite the growing number of cases, the country has not created a plan to tackle the outbreak. Brazil could surpass the US in both coronavirus infections and deaths by the end of July, according to the main coronavirus tracking model from the University of Washington.

The country, which has yet to impose a national coronavirus lockdown, is on its way to registering more than 4,000 daily deaths, The Washington Post reported, citing the university. As of Tuesday, Brazil had more than 923,000 coronavirus infections and more than 45,000 deaths. Experts told Reuters the true number of cases was most likely higher.

As The Post noted, the country doesn’t have the same infrastructure to help it handle such a large outbreak as the US. But that hasn’t stopped President Jair Bolsonaro from largely dismissing the crisis the novel coronavirus is causing. In fact, he’s even attacked governors who chose to impose restrictions and threatened to host large barbecues in spite of public-health advice, The Post reported.

Brazil has not initiated a national testing campaign, has not implemented a national lockdown, and is dealing with insufficient healthcare expansion. Reuters reported that that country counted 34,918 new daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

In a report in early May, Carlos Machado, a senior scientist with Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, and his team warned that without a lockdown in Rio de Janeiro, the outcome would be “in a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.” He now says had his warnings been taken seriously, the outcome would not have been so bleak.

“From the point of view of public health, it’s incomprehensible that more-rigorous measures weren’t adopted,” Machado told The Post. “We could have avoided many of the deaths and cases and everything else that is happening in Rio de Janeiro. It was an opportunity lost.”

Scientists in the country told The Post that the country was veering into unknown territory. “We are doing something that no one else has done,” Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas, told The Post. “We’re getting near the curve’s peak, and it’s like we are almost challenging the virus. ‘Let’s see how many people you can infect. We want to see how strong you are.’ Like this is a game of poker, and we’re all in.”

Bolsonaro’s approach has been to ignore the problem and sideline health experts

Reuters reported that senior officials leading Brazil’s coronavirus response had claimed the outbreak was under control.

“There is a crisis, we sympathize with bereaved families, but it is managed,” said Braga Netto, who spoke during a webinar held by the Commercial Association of Rio de Janeiro.

The World Health Organization’s regional director Carissa Etienne said Brazil was a major concern, Reuters reported. “We are not seeing transmission slowing down” in Brazil, Etienne said. Etienne said the country accounted for about 4 million coronavirus cases in the Americas and about 25% of the deaths.

The Post described Bolsonaro’s approach as being to ignore and sideline health experts. The Brazilian president fired Luiz Henrique Mandetta, his first health minister, after disagreements on social distancing, and then he fired his replacement, Nelson Teich, because he disagreed with the use of chloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus.

Similar to US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has boosted the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past. On Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration revoked the emergency-use authorization issued for the antimalarial drug.

One expert said even the public in Brazil did not heed public-health advice to limit the spread of the virus and continued to congregate without any safety measures implemented.

“It was a failure,” Ligia Bahia, a professor of public health at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told The Post. “We didn’t have enough political force to impose another way. The scientists alone, we couldn’t do it. There’s a sense of profound sadness that this wasn’t realized.”

Presently there is only one country that has declared it COVID-19 cleared, that is Montenegro. New Zealand has declared their country COVID-19 free and then two cases turned up as two people from Europe who traveled to New Zealand tested positive and are now quarantined.

Look at the recent world numbers where the total cases are 8,174,327 with 443,500 deaths. Way too many!

When will it all be over?

Mood darkens in Sweden as high death rate raises tough questions over lack of lockdown, and Now A Second Wave and a Possible Kids’ Epidemic!

Richard Orange noted that Sweden, in deference to the rest of the countries believing in the strategy to lockdown their populace, decided not to use stay-at-home or lockdowns except for the elderly.  Sweden’s opposition has attacked the government for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with the stubbornly high death rate fueling questions over the decision not to impose a lockdown. 

Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the populist Sweden Democrats, first called for Anders Tegnell, the architect of Sweden’s less restrictive coronavirus strategy, to resign. The attacks continued in heated televised leaders’ debate on Sunday night.  

“The strategy in Sweden was not to try to hold back the infection, but instead to try to limit it at the same time as protecting risk groups,” Mr Akesson wrote in a debate article in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

“By that measure, it has failed miserably. Anders Tegnell should therefore resign. Only then will he show the Swedish people that he takes responsibility for the mistakes FHM [Public Health Agency of Sweden] has made.”

During a party leaders’ debate on Sunday evening, Ebba Busch-Thor, leader of the Christian Democrat party, blamed Sweden’s strategy – and by extension the government that allowed it – for some of the 4,659 deaths due to the virus. 

“What we can say about Sweden is that many of those who are mourning over those they have lost this spring are doing so because Sweden knowingly and deliberately allowed a large spread of the infection,” she said.  

Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the Moderate Party, the biggest party on the Centre-Right, held back from joining Mrs. Busch-Thor’s attack on the strategy, instead attacking the implementation of it.

“I had no problem with the strategy. It was a bit slow but, when it was in place, I had nothing against it,” he said. “But the government didn’t put any power behind the words.”

The Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, continued to back Sweden’s strategic decision not to impose a lockdown, instead laying the blame for the death rate on failures within elderly care. 

“I think the strategy is the right one,” he said. “But it has transpired that that very many people, in certain areas, have died in elderly care. There’s no doubt that elderly care needs to be improved.” 

Mr Akesson faced an immediate counter-attack from Johan Carlsson, the director of FHM, who dismissed his call as “almost pathetic”. 

Dagens Nyheter’s political commentator Ewa Stenberg wrote on Sunday that the debate marked an end to the “borgsfred”, or “castle truce”, in Sweden.

“The tone was harsh and quite contrary to how it was when the virus hit the country. Then all the parties backed the government’s decision to let the Public Health Authority take the lead,” she wrote.

However, the return of political opposition does not yet seem to reflect a loss of support for the government among the public.

Kids During Lockdown: Is Another Epidemic About to be Revealed?

Ingrid Walker-Descartes noted that even in non-pandemic years, the summertime “back-to-school” rush of appointments in many pediatric practices can be a logistical challenge. This year could be even more hectic after many families delayed routine appointments during quarantine. Hoping to return to their routines, children and teens will need vaccines, physical exams for sports clearances and school forms, and all the regular developmental and emotional surveillance that is so important to keep them healthy.

As pediatricians, we should be adding another layer to our checklists in these visits this year. For many children, this visit may be the first time in weeks or months that someone outside their immediate family has had eyes on them.

We must be careful to listen, very carefully, to what the children and parents tell us, both in their words and in other signs. How has the family coped with the stress of being stuck at home? Are there financial struggles? Food insecurity? Other stresses? As a child abuse pediatrician, I know all of these things can put tremendous stress on a family, and ultimately can lead to a child being maltreated or abused. We have a real opportunity right now to intervene and provide critical support to families, and to protect children.

Sadly, we know from previous disasters that during these times of intense emotional and economic stress, rates of child abuse and neglect increase. Injuries and deaths among infants due to abusive head trauma increase during times of economic stress, and scattered reports among physicians at children’s hospitals in various states are reporting that is happening now, too. For example, a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and a hospital in Philadelphia, are reporting an increase in the number of severe physical abuse cases. Many times, this abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver is frustrated or at the “end of their rope,” and in a moment of anger, makes a devastating choice that injures a child.

For the past few months, during sheltering in place, children have lacked many of the people who often step forward as protectors — the aunt they may confide in, a teacher who sees a bruise, or a physician who notices an injury where there reasonably should be none. Reports to child abuse hotlines and child protective services have declined during the pandemic, but this is not necessarily because fewer children are being injured. We know that teachers and school counselors are the most frequent reporters of suspected abuse, and for months children have not had access to these trusted protectors. Many of them have not seen their pediatrician, either. These combined realities have left some of our most vulnerable children without several much-needed layers of protection.

As a pediatrician who specializes in diagnosing abuse and protecting children from further abuse, I am well versed in talking with children to understand what happened to cause their injuries. Some may convey lessons learned from their choices made due to curiosity or naivete. Others struggle to elaborate on marks or scars made in anger by a caregiver. Post COVID-19, it will be important for all pediatricians to have a careful approach as they are talking with families, listening and observing to understand what children experienced during the pandemic, and how we can help them and their families be safe and healthy.

Some families may benefit from a referral to a nutrition program, caregiver support program, parental counseling, or other resources. In other cases, a pediatrician may notice a sign of potential abuse that should be reported to the relevant child protection agencies. This is always difficult, but it can be the first step to making sure a child is safe and protected while a family gets the support they need.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently provided a webinar guide on how to identify child abuse during the pandemic, and additional resources are provided on the AAP website, including a list of child abuse programs across the country to help support you in this difficult role.

The stress on families and children will not end when the stay-at-home orders lift. Let’s be prepared to help all our children emerge healthy and strong, and ready to learn.

CDC wants states to count ‘probable’ coronavirus cases and deaths, but most aren’t doing it

Reinhard, Emma Brown Reis Thebault and Lena H. Sun reported that fewer than half the states are following federal recommendations to report probable novel coronavirus cases and deaths, marking what experts say is an unusual break with public health practices that leads to inconsistent data collection and undercounts of the disease’s impact.

A Washington Post review found that the states not disclosing probable cases and deaths include some of the largest: California, Florida, North Carolina and New York. That is one reason government officials and public health experts say the virus’s true toll is above the U.S. tally as of Sunday of about 1.9 million coronavirus cases and 109,000 deaths — benchmarks that shape policymaking and public opinion on the pandemic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works closely with a group of health officials called the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists to issue guidelines for tracking certain illnesses. The guidelines are voluntary, though states generally comply. The goal: solid comparisons between states and accurate national statistics that inform public health decision-making.

In April, as coronavirus infections multiplied and laboratory testing was limited, the CSTE and the CDC advised states to count both probable cases and deaths — where symptoms and exposure pointed to infection — along with those confirmed by tests.

Yet weeks after the guidance was handed down to standardize coronavirus reporting, a Post review found states as of early June counting cases and deaths in all sorts of ways.

At least 24 states are not heeding the national guidelines on reporting probable cases and deaths, despite previously identifying probable cases in other national outbreaks, including H1N1 flu during the country’s last pandemic in 2009.

The failure of many states to document probable coronavirus cases and deaths is “historic in many ways because there are lots of probable case classifications and probables are regularly and normally reported on,” said Janet Hamilton, the CSTE executive director. “We are definitely concerned about the undercounting of covid-19 deaths and cases.”

New Jersey says it began reporting probable cases and deaths to the CDC on May 15 but does not disclose them publicly on its website. Georgia says it tracks the information internally but is not reporting those numbers on its website or to the CDC.

“We do have intentions of sharing them but not yet,” said Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health, who said as of late May the department had tracked 1,658 probable cases and potentially dozens of probable deaths.

Officials in Montana, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia say they haven’t reported any probable cases or deaths because they have not had any, citing low numbers or the wide availability of testing.

Seven states did not respond to The Post’s requests for a breakdown of cases and death counts. Five of those are not reporting probable cases or deaths, according to data the CDC began publishing June 2. South Dakota reports probable deaths but not cases.

Officials in the remaining 17 states say they are reporting probable and confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths on their websites and to the CDC. Some states distinguish between probable and confirmed while others group them.

In some states not reporting probable cases, officials cite the demands of an unprecedented crisis in which Americans press for daily updates from public health data systems that are chronically underfunded and outdated.

In Washington state, where many of the nation’s first deaths occurred, health department spokeswoman Lisa Stromme Warren said documenting probable cases and deaths “is one of many urgent priorities.” The state has identified about 100 people whose death certificates list covid-19 but were never tested, so they are not included in the public death count or reported to the CDC.

“We suspect that we are actually more likely to be undercounting deaths than overcounting them,” Katie Hutchinson, the health department’s health statistics manager, said during a recent briefing.

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said that the agency is working with health departments to improve the flow of data. “In pandemic circumstances, such as with covid-19, collecting complete information on each case is challenging,” Nordlund said. “The current case and deaths counts reported to CDC are likely an undercount.”

During the H1N1 flu pandemic, states initially counted probable and confirmed cases individually. But about three months into the outbreak, the CDC said those individual counts represented “only a fraction of the true burden” of the disease. The agency stopped collecting individual case reports and instead began publishing estimates based on hospitalizations, symptoms and other data.

The CDC is planning to come up with similar estimates for the coronavirus but has no immediate plans to stop counting individual cases. “CDC is actively working on a model to address and assess the true burden of covid-19 in the U.S.,” Nordlund said.

All eyes on numbers

For government officials assessing how quickly to reopen the economy and individuals deciding what risks to take, their daily judgment calls are based, in part, on the case and death counts publicized on television and computer screens.

That has propelled the pandemic counts into the contentious political arena, where some allies of President Trump and conservative voices on social media have claimed that the covid-19 death toll is inflated. The debate over whether counts of probables are crucial or misleading extends beyond the nation’s capital.

In Illinois, two Republican lawmakers and three businesses have sued the Democratic governor over coronavirus disaster orders. A spokeswoman for the health department, Melaney Arnold, said the state is not divulging probable deaths on its website “because there is concern from the public that the number of deaths is being inflated. . . . We need the public to have confidence in the data and therefore are reporting only those deaths that are laboratory confirmed.”

The state website lists about 5,700 deaths as of June 5, excluding the approximately 185 probable deaths tracked internally as of that day and reported to the CDC.

But a resident looking at a state chart and then turning to the CDC might not find the same numbers. The newly posted CDC table does not reflect the probables that officials in some states said they have reported. Officials say that’s because the reports sent to the CDC include those with confirmed cases in one figure and because the national update can run slightly behind state websites.

Since the 1950s, CSTE has recommended which diseases states should track and what those reports to the federal government should look like. The CDC works closely with the epidemiologists’ council and adopts its guidelines to “enable public health officials to classify and count cases consistently across reporting jurisdictions,” according to the CDC website.

States usually follow these recommendations and report the incidence of dozens of different diseases to the CDC, with some exceptions. A state may not report cases of a disease that does not occur within its borders, yet may track another illness found only in its part of the country.

Hawaii, for example, does not report Lyme disease, as every other state does, but it does report hallucinogenic fish poisoning.

“It’s more of a handshake agreement between the states and CDC that we will send you the data in this way so that you can then aggregate it,” said Kathy Turner, Idaho’s deputy epidemiologist. “In general, there’s no argument. We all do it because we realize the importance of being able to look at a disease on a national level.”

Some reportable diseases rarely result in deaths, so CSTE directives have typically focused on how to count cases, not fatalities. Then came the coronavirus and a mushrooming death toll. The CDC acknowledged in early April that the death count was an “underestimation” because it included only fatalities in which the virus was laboratory confirmed. Testing shortages, people dying at home or in nursing homes, and spotty postmortem testing meant victims were overlooked.

“When the outbreak first started and we were all just counting lab-confirmed cases by default, it became clear that we were not going to be able to describe the burden of the pandemic because so many people were not being tested,” said Turner, lead author of the CSTE statement on covid-19.

“We usually don’t approach a death separately from a case, but in this situation, we decided it was needed,” she said.

The CSTE recommended reporting probable and confirmed cases and deaths on April 5. The CDC’s written response to the recommendations, which was shared with The Post, said the agency “concurs” and that adoption by states is “very important” for covid-19 record-keeping. On April 14, the CDC noted on its website that the national tally includes probables, although the agency did not at that time provide a state-by state breakdown. The CDC also modified the form states use for coronavirus reports, adding boxes that can be checked to indicate a “lab-confirmed” case or “probable” case.

Probable cases were defined as showing symptoms and having contact with an infected person, or meeting one of those criteria and testing positive for coronavirus antibodies, rather than for the virus itself. Probable deaths meant those who were never tested for the virus but whose death certificates listed covid-19 as the cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death.

The CSTE statement also says that confirmed and probable counts should be included in the tallies “released outside the public health agency,” which could mean a state website or written report, according to the organization.

“When states are using different approaches, it always begs the question: ‘Why does one state choose one over another? Why a more conservative approach over a more sensitive one?’’’ asked Lorna Thorpe, director of the division of epidemiology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “That’s the reason we have standards and guidance that are technically sound.”

Information varies

The erratic reporting of coronavirus cases and deaths means that what residents can learn about the extent of the pandemic in their community varies widely.

Ohio was one the first states to begin disclosing probable cases and deaths in early April. “It usually is a given when CSTE makes a recommendation like that,” said Brian Fowler, chief data officer for the Ohio Department of Health. “When they made that recommendation, we looked at it and said, okay, well this is what we need to use.”

As of June 5, Ohio’s website showed 2,117 confirmed deaths and 222 probables. By breaking out the numbers separately, Fowler said, “you can’t be accused of hiding information and you can’t be accused of inflating numbers — it’s all out there.”

The transition to counting probables was not “a huge lift,” Fowler said. Epidemiologists at the health department were already reviewing all suspected coronavirus cases.

Some health officials were candid about how adding probable deaths would boost the overall tally. “I want to make sure that everyone understands that these are not new deaths,” Indiana Health Commissioner Kristina Box said at an April 20 news conference. “Rather, we are capturing the deaths that have occurred really since this pandemic began.” Box suggested other states would do the same: “Indiana — like every other state — will include these deaths in our reporting in order to better capture the toll that covid-19 has truly taken.”

One week earlier, Michigan officials had said they intended to begin disclosing probable cases and deaths. When the state finally began doing that on June 5, more than 5,000 cases and 200 deaths were added to coronavirus totals.

California’s state health department is reviewing the process to track probable deaths and “working to provide as much data as possible about COVID 19 while ensuring that the data are valid and useful for understanding the pandemic,” according to a May 20 email to The Post.

Hilda Solis, a supervisor in Los Angeles County who represents a heavily Hispanic and impoverished district, said she was surprised that the state is not following national recommendations on counting coronavirus deaths. She has called for more post-mortem testing by the medical examiner. “A lot of people are dying at home. Poor people are dying at home. Homeless people are dying,” said Solis, a former U.S. labor secretary under President Barack Obama. “I do believe covid-19 is being underreported and that we need to take more responsibility.”

The scale of undercounting that results from reporting only confirmed cases became clear when New York City on April 14 added more than 3,700 probable deaths to its numbers, sending the city’s tally over 10,000.

The city that sits at the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States still is not counting probable cases, however. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat praised for his command of daily news briefings during the pandemic, has indicated skepticism about recording probable cases. “Probable is different than confirmed,” he said at a news conference in late May. “Probable is ‘probable, but I have to check, I don’t know, I have to do further testing.’ We’ve had many cases that were probable coronavirus and turned out not to be coronavirus and that’s why they call them probable.” Covid-19 websites for New York and New Jersey include probable deaths at nursing homes, but those numbers are not included in the states’ overall death totals. A spokesperson for North Carolina’s health department said the state is not reporting probables because of wariness about the reliability of antibody tests, and because of concerns that the CSTE’s definition of a probable case is overly broad. Officials in Florida did not respond to repeated requests for comment about why the state isn’t following federal guidelines.

People behind ‘probables’

Behind each probable death is a person. Barnes O’Neal, 83, checked into the Brightmoor Nursing Center in Georgia in March to recover from a 10-day hospitalization. Less than a month into his stay at the facility about 40 miles south of Atlanta, a coronavirus outbreak forced a lockdown. O’Neal developed a fever and pneumonia. His daughter, Natalie Turner, pleaded with her father’s caretakers and the state health department for a coronavirus test. She said she wanted his illness on the record.

On April 20, just hours after Turner had spoken with him by phone, O’Neal died. He was never tested, but Turner said his doctor told her there was “zero doubt” it was covid-19 and wrote it on her father’s death certificate.

Still, her father, a frequent volunteer at the local soup kitchen, would not be included in the death toll on the state website because he was never tested. “It’s just important to me because my dad’s life counted,” Turner said. “I feel like there’s a face behind every statistic, and that’s forgotten many times.”

And now the pandemic’s overall death toll in U.S. has exceeded 100,000, but what are the real numbers?

Second U.S. Virus Wave Emerges as Cases Top 2 Million

Emma Court and David Baker noted that a second wave of coronavirus cases is emerging in the U.S., raising alarms as new infections push the overall count past 2 million Americans. Texas on Wednesday reported 2,504 new coronavirus cases, the highest one-day total since the pandemic emerged. A month into its reopening, Florida this week reported 8,553 new cases — the most of any seven-day period. California’s hospitalizations are at their highest since May 13 and have risen in nine of the past 10 days.

A fresh onslaught of the novel coronavirus is bringing challenges for residents and the economy in pockets across the U.S. The localized surges have raised concerns among experts even as the nation’s overall case count early this week rose just under 1%, the smallest increase since March.

“There is a new wave coming in parts of the country,” said Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s small and it’s distant so far, but it’s coming.”

Though the outbreaks come weeks into state reopenings, it’s not clear that they’re linked to increased economic activity. And health experts say it’s still too soon to tell whether the massive protests against police brutality that have erupted in the past two weeks have led to more infections.

In Georgia, where hair salons, tattoo parlors and gyms have been operating for a month and a half, case numbers have plateaued, flummoxing experts.

Puzzling differences show up even within states. In California, which imposed a stay-at-home order in late March, San Francisco saw zero cases for three consecutive days this week, while Los Angeles County reported well over half of the state’s new cases. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has yet to see any relationship between reopening and increased cases of Covid-19, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on a podcast.

But in some states, rising numbers outpace increases in testing, raising concerns about whether the virus can be controlled. It will take a couple of weeks to know, Toner said, but by then “it’s going to be pretty late” to respond.

Since the pandemic initially swept the U.S. starting early this year, 2 million people have been infected and more than 112,000 have died.

After a national shutdown that arrested the spread, rising illness had been expected as restrictions loosened. The trend has been observed across 22 states in recent weeks, though many increases are steady but slow.

In New York, the state hardest hit by Covid-19, Governor Andrew Cuomo only recently started reopening by region. New York City, the epicenter, began the first of four phases Monday.

“We know as a fact that reopening other states, we’re seeing significant problems,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “Just because you reopen does not mean you will have a spike, but if you are not smart, you can have a spike.”

Experts see evidence of a second wave building in Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. Arizona “sticks out like a sore thumb in terms of a major problem,” said Jeffrey Morris, director of the division of biostatistics at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Arizona Spike

Arizona’s daily tally of new cases has abruptly spiked in the last two weeks, hitting an all-time high of 1,187 on June 2.

This week, its Department of Health Services urged hospitals to activate emergency plans. Director Cara Christ, told a Phoenix television station that she was concerned about the rising case count and percentage of people tested who are found to be positive.

Valleywise Health, the public hospital system in Phoenix, has seen an increase in Covid-19 cases during the past two weeks. It’s expanded its intensive-care capacity and those beds are 87% full, about half with Covid patients, according to Michael White, the chief medical officer.

White said Valleywise has adequate protective gear for staff, but hospitals aren’t getting their entire orders. A surge in Covid cases could put that supply under stress, he said.

The increase in transmission follows steps to resume business and public life as well as the riots and protests.

“Within Phoenix, we’ve been more relaxed than I’ve seen in some of the other parts of the country,” White said, with some people disregarding advice to wear masks and maintain six feet of distance from others. “People are coming together in environments where social distancing is challenging.”

Texas on Wednesday reported a 4.7% jump in hospitalizations to 2,153, the fourth consecutive daily increase. The latest figures showing an escalation came as Governor Greg Abbott tweeted a public service announcement featuring baseball legend Nolan Ryan urging Texans to wash their hands and to not be “a knucklehead.”

Abbott was criticized for an aggressive reopening last month. Mobile-phone data show activity by residents is rebounding toward pre-Covid levels, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab.

That could reflect a perception that the virus wasn’t “ever a big threat,” said Morris, who recently moved to Philadelphia after 20 years in Houston.

Florida’s health department said in a statement that it attributes the increase in cases to “greatly expanded efforts in testing,” and noted that overall positivity rates remain low, at about 5.5%.

Bucking the trend is Georgia, which was the first U.S. state to reopen. Covid cases there have plateaued. Despite local outbreaks in the state, “their sea levels did not rise,” said David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab, which has been modeling the virus’ spread. “They’ve kind of held this fragile equilibrium.”

Creeping In

California was the earliest state to shut down its economy over the coronavirus, after one of the nation’s first outbreaks in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has been slower than most to reopen.

Even so, the state has also seen the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 rebound in the past two weeks, as commerce accelerates. Case counts are climbing too, although officials attribute that to increased testing and say it’s a sign of preparation.

In part, rising numbers represent the virus spreading into places that largely avoided the first round of infections, including rural Imperial County in California’s southeastern desert. Yet the contagion remains present in places that bore the brunt of the first wave, including Los Angeles County. Hospitalizations there are lower than at the start of May, but deaths remain stubbornly high, with 500 in the past week alone.

Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director, said the region has likely not seen the end of the first wave. And despite concerns about infections coming out of mass demonstrations in the sprawling city, she thinks the reopening of the economy will have a bigger impact.

“We’re not at the tail end of anything,” Ferrer said. “We never had a huge peak. We’ve kind of been within this band. We’re not in decline, we’re kind of holding our own in ways that protect the health-care system.” But, she added, “go to Venice and see the crowds, and you’ll understand why I have concerns.”

Another Onslaught

The U.S. has long been bracing for another wave, but future outbreaks are likely to take a different shape. Social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as careful behavior by individuals, are likely to have staying power even as economies reopen.

Experts are steeling for autumn, when changes in weather and back-to-school plans could have damaging repercussions.

“The second wave isn’t going to mirror the first wave exactly,” said Lance Waller, a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta. “It’s not snapping back to exactly the same thing as before, because we’re not exactly the way we were before.”

Daniel Lucey, a fellow at the Infectious Diseases Society of America, compared the virus’ new paradigm with a day at the beach: The U.S. has been bracing for another “high tide” like the one that engulfed New York City. Today is a low tide, but “the waves are always coming in.”

ICU doctor warns: ‘We could lose control of the virus again’, Especially with the George Floyd protests! What About AI to Help in the Post Pandemic Planning!

I am concerned about what I see in society, what I am calling pandemic fatigue and its effect on the behavior of the average bored, anxious and moderately depressed citizens. Adriana Belmonte reported that the U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases around the world, but the rate of infections has declined in several parts of the country as a result of social distancing restrictions.

Dr. Lakshmana Swamy, an ICU physician at Boston Medical Center, warned what could happen if people take too much of a lackadaisical approach towards the pandemic.

“What are people seeing across the country in our numbers?” Swamy said on Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker recently. “They’re seeing coronavirus cases go down. That’s fantastic.” 

But, he added, “what you’re not seeing is that the hospital is still jam-packed with people that were deferring care, who were staying at home, scared of coming in. So, the hospital is still really busy. No one’s getting a break here. It’s terrifying to think that now on top of this, as we start to reopen, we could lose control of the virus again.”

‘What I’m seeing in Alabama … terrifies me’

There are currently 20 states experiencing an increase in the number of coronavirus cases. Most of these states — including Alabama, Florida, and Georgia — were among the first ones to reopen their economies over the last month. 

“What I’m seeing in Alabama, of course, terrifies me, as it does so many people,” Swamy said. “We’re all suffering from lockdown. It’s a huge hit, of course, to the economy, to individual people, to health, to everything. But it pales in comparison to the cost that the virus takes when it runs free.” 

Although many are calling for an end to social distancing restrictions because of its impact on the economy, research from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has indicated that reopening the economy “will have a much smaller-than-expected impact.”

“You look across the country where people haven’t been hit as hard, thank god,” Swamy said. “But you see that people don’t get it. It’s a really abstract concept. It’s hard to believe in that, right? It takes a lot of trust to believe what you’re seeing and hearing.”

“The masks are sort of a symbol of it,” he continued. “The bigger thing is social distancing. I mean, crowds together in open spaces, or especially in closed spaces, it’s terrifying. And it takes weeks to see the effects of that. So people will feel like ‘oh, look, we did that. It’s no problem. Hey, look, they did it over there. We can do it here, too.’”

Although there is still a lot to be known about the coronavirus, one thing that Swamy said he pretty much knows for certain is that there doesn’t seem to be herd immunity, which would mean that enough people had the coronavirus that they wouldn’t be able to get it and transmit it again.

“It’s a lot of science that’s unknown there,” he said. “But I think what we know is that we can’t rely on the virus not being able to hop around and catch like wildfire, even in Boston.” 

‘We’re going to see a spike in COVID-19’

Adding to the stress are the recent protests against police brutality that have taken place over the past week in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. 

Large crowds amassed in major cities across the country, and although many of the participants wore face masks, they were still in close proximity to others protesting. Some health officials worry this could cause a new spike in coronavirus cases.

“I am deeply concerned about a super-spreader type of incident,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on Saturday. “We’re going to see a spike in COVID-19. It’s inevitable.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio voiced similar concerns during recent press conferences, with Cuomo urging people to “demonstrate with a mask on.”

“It’s heartbreaking, because what we see over and over again is two to three weeks later, the cases start hitting and you see a surge and you see spikes,” Swamy said. “I hope that doesn’t happen anywhere else. But the virus is here. It’s everywhere. So it’s heartbreaking. I hope we can get to people before the virus does.”

Health officials worry about second coronavirus wave after George Floyd

Edmund DeMarche of Fox News was also concerned about another spike in the pandemic especially in light of the George Floyd protests. Health officials in the U.S. have new concerns that the nationwide protests over the George Floyd death in police custody could spark a wider spread of the coronavirus after many cities reported bringing the virus under control.

Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that there are still some “pockets of spread” in communities. He said there has been an uptick in new coronavirus cases in recent days at the epicenter of the protests.

Minnesota Health Department Spokesman Doug Schultz said Sunday that any spike from the protests will not be seen until six to 10 days after its transmission, the Star Tribune reported. The report pointed out that the Minneapolis provided hundreds of masks for protesters.

Gov. Tim Walz said, according to the paper, that he is “deeply concerned about a super-spreader type of incident … after this. We are going to see a spike in COVID-19. It’s inevitable.”

The U.S. has seen more than 1.7 million infections and over 104,000 deaths in the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected racial minorities. Protests over Floyd’s death have shaken the U.S. from New York to Los Angeles.

“There’s no question that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity, when we have got this virus all over the streets … it’s not healthy,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Demonstrators are packed, many without masks, many chanting, shouting or singing. The virus is dispersed by microscopic droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze, talk or sing.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told the New York Times that the “outdoor air dilutes the virus and reduces the infectious dose that might be out there, and if there are breezes blowing, that further dilutes the virus in the air. There was literally a lot of running around, which means they’re exhaling more profoundly, but also passing each other very quickly.”

Despite much of the protest and riots taking place outdoors, looters ransacked stores in various cities. The virus is notoriously transmitted by asymptomatic carriers. The Times reported that Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, told those out protesting to “go get a COVID test this week.”

Fauci Estimates That 100,000 To 200,000 Americans Could Die From The

And now look at Dr. Fauci’s prediction for ultimate mortality rate. Bobby Allyn reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force says the pandemic could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans and infect millions.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said based on modeling of the current pace of the coronavirus’ spread in the U.S., “between 100,000 and 200,000” people may die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Fauci’s comments on CNN’s State of the Union underscore just how far away the U.S. is from the peak of the outbreak based on predictions from top federal officials. As of early Sunday afternoon, there were 125,000 cases in the U.S. and nearly 2,200 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Public health experts say that because of undocumented chains of transmission in many parts of the country, the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. is set to keep surging as more and more test results become known.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says there could potentially be between 100,000 to 200,000 deaths related to the coronavirus and millions of cases. “I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target, that you could so easily be wrong,” he

Fauci said the 100,000-to-200,000 death figure is a middle-of-the-road estimate, much lower than worse-case-scenario predictions.

He said preparing for 1 million to 2 million Americans to die from the coronavirus is “almost certainly off the chart,” adding: “Now it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”

However, Fauci cautioned people not to put too much emphasis on predictions, noting that “it’s such a moving target that you could so easily be wrong and mislead people.”

What we do know, he says, is that “we’ve got a serious problem in New York, we’ve got a serious problem in New Orleans and we’re going to have serious problems in other areas.”

Fauci’s coronavirus fatality estimate comes as the White House considers ways to reopen the economy, including easing social distancing guidelines that officials have set forth to curb the spread of the fast-moving virus.

One in three Americans is now being asked to stay indoors as new cases soar, especially in New York, which accounts for nearly half of the country’s cases.

When asked if it is the right time to begin relaxing some of the social distancing measures, Fauci said not until the curve of new infections starts flattening out.

He refused to guess when exactly that may occur.

“The virus itself determines that timetable,” Fauci said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seasonal flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 people a year since 2010. The coronavirus death rate is far greater than the flu’s. For the elderly population, the coronavirus has been found to be six times as deadly.

There is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus. Experts say developing a vaccine for the virus could take at least a year.

Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare: A Post-Pandemic Prescription

David Nash noted that in what now seems a distant pre-pandemic period, excitement about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare was already escalating. From the academic and clinical fields to the healthcare business and entrepreneurial sectors, there was a remarkable proliferation of AI — e.g., attention-based learning, neural networks, online-meets-offline, and the Internet of Things. The reason for all this activity is clear — AI presents a game-changing opportunity for improving healthcare quality and safety, making care delivery more efficient, and reducing the overall cost of care.

Well before COVID-19 began to challenge our healthcare system and give rise to a greater demand for AI, thought leaders were offering cautionary advice. Robert Pearl, MD, a well-known advocate for technologically advanced care delivery, recently wrote in Forbes that because technology developers tend to focus on what will sell, many heavily marketed AI applications have failed to elevate the health of the population, improve patient safety, or reduce healthcare costs. “If AI is to live up to its hype in the healthcare industry the products must first address fundamental human problems,” Pearl wrote.

In a December 2019 symposium addressing the “human-in-the-middle” perspective on AI in healthcare, internationally acclaimed medical ethicist Aimee van Wynsberghe made the case that ethics are integral to the product design process from its inception. In other words, human values and protections should be central to the business model for AI in healthcare.

Health equity should be a driving principle for how AI is designed and used; however, some models may inadvertently introduce bias and divert resources away from patients in greatest need. Case in point, a predictive AI model was built into a health system’s electronic health record (EHR) to address the issue of “no-show” patients by means of overbooking. Researchers determined that the use of personal characteristics from the EHR (ethnicity, financial class, religion, body mass index) could result in systematic diversion of resources from marginalized individuals. Even a prior pattern of “no-show” was likely to correlate with socioeconomic status and chronic conditions.

Fast forward to today when AI seems to be a permanent fixture in national news coverage. Noting that journalists often overstate the tasks AI can perform, exaggerate claims of its effectiveness, neglect the level of human involvement, and fail to consider related risks, self-professed skeptic Alex Engler offered what I believe are important considerations in his recent article for the Brookings Institution. Here are a few:

  • AI is only helpful when applied judiciously by subject-matter experts who are experienced with the problem at hand. Deciding what to predict and framing those predictions is key; algorithms and big data can’t effectively predict a badly defined problem. In the case of predicting the spread of COVID-19, look to the epidemiologists who are building statistical AI models that explicitly incorporate a century of scientific discovery.
  • AI alone can’t predict the spread of new pandemics because there is no database of prior COVID-19 outbreaks as there is for the flu. Some companies are marketing products (e.g., video analysis software, AI systems that claim to detect COVID-19 “fever”) without the necessary extensive data and diverse sampling. “Questioning data sources is always a meaningful way to assess the viability of an AI system,” Engler wrote.
  • Real-world deployment degrades AI performance. For instance, in evaluating CT scans, an AI model that can differentiate between healthy people and those with COVID-19 might start to fail when it encounters patients who are sick with the regular flu. Regarding claims that AI can be used to measure body temperature, real-world environmental factors lead to measurements that are more imperfect than laboratory conditions.
  • Unintended consequences will occur secondary to AI implementation. Consolidation of market power, insecure data accumulation, and surveillance concerns are very common byproducts of AI use. In the case of AI for fighting COVID-19, the surveillance issues have been pervasive in countries throughout the world.
  • Although models are often perceived as objective and neutral, AI will be biased. Bias in AI models results in skewed estimates across different subgroups. For example, using biomarkers and behavioral characteristics to predict the mortality risk of COVID-19 patients can lead to biased estimates that do not accurately represent mortality risk. “If an AI model has no documented and evaluated biases, it should increase a skeptic’s certainty that they remain hidden, unresolved, and pernicious,” said Engler.

Based on what we’ve learned about the limitations and potential harms of AI in healthcare — much of which has been amplified by COVID-19 — what treatment plan would I prescribe going forward? First, I would encourage all healthcare AI developers and vendors to involve ethicists, clinical informatics experts, and operational experts from the inception of product development.

Second, I would recommend that healthcare AI be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny. Because AI is often “built in” by a trusted business partner and easily implemented, objective evaluation may be waived. As data science techniques become increasingly complex, serious consideration must be given to multidisciplinary oversight of all AI in healthcare.

Another paper that I am working reviews the need for a more complete method to contact trace and follow-up the recovered as well as those not infected on a large scale so that we can predict the next spike early. This way we can avoid the horrid effect of a second pandemic and the ultimate effect on healthcare and the economy.