Category Archives: Dr. Fauci

COVID Hospitalizations in the US Soar to More Than 100,000, Vaccines and The Idiocy regarding Ivermectin!

Ralph Ellis reminded us that more than 100,000 people in the United States were hospitalized with COVID-19 this past few weeks — a figure not reported since late January, when vaccines were not widely available.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed 100,317 COVID hospital patients on Wednesday, a figure that grew to 101,050 on Thursday. 

That’s about six times the number of COVID hospitalizations from about nine weeks ago, CNN says.

The HHS data shows COVID hospitalizations are highest across the Southeast, with more than 16,800 patients in Florida, 14,000 in Texas, 6,200 in Georgia, 3,000 in Alabama, and 2,300 in Missouri.

In comparison, California, the most populous state, has about 8,700 people hospitalized with COVID, the HHS said.

Alarmingly, many of these COVID patients are severely ill. About 30% of the nation’s intensive care unit beds are now occupied by COVID patients, HHS data shows.

Infections, deaths, and hospitalizations have increased since early summer as the Delta variant spread across the nation, especially in places with low vaccination rates. 

Health experts have said the majority of the hospitalized people are unvaccinated. Research shows that vaccinated people who become infected with the Delta variant generally don’t become as sick as unvaccinated people.

Paul Offit, MD, an FDA vaccine advisory committee member, said the current availability of the vaccine makes the high number of hospitalizations especially tragic.

“The numbers now…are actually in many ways worse than last August,” Offit said on CNN. “Last August, we had a fully susceptible population, (and) we didn’t have a vaccine. Now, we have half the country vaccinated…but nonetheless the numbers are worse. The Delta variant is one big game changer.”

Sources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Hospital Utilization.”

CNN: “With more than 100,000 people in the hospital with Covid-19 in the US, this August is worse than last, expert says.”

From Cancer to COVID: Is There a Fix for Willful Medical Ignorance?

Dr. H. Jack West pointed out something very interesting as he relayed an observation. He patient saw a patient for a second opinion after developing metastatic disease, but he’d initially been diagnosed with locally advanced non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). His oncologist had appropriately proposed treatment with concurrent chemoradiation followed by durvalumab. He listened to the rationale and the evidence, but he refused to pursue it, favoring alternative medicine instead.

A repeat scan several months later showed obvious progression. Even though it was potentially treatable — including with curative intent — he demurred again.

Several months down the line, he developed back pain heralding a new spinal metastasis. Only then did he accept that perhaps conventional, evidence-based anticancer therapy was worth pursuing. Of course, by that time the window of opportunity to treat with the hope of cure had closed.

But in other ways, it isn’t too late for him. He can at least benefit from subsequent treatments for advanced NSCLC. Too many other patients I’ve seen have eschewed conventional medicine so long that their poor performance status precludes standard therapies that would have been effective had they pursued them as something other than a final act of desperation.

Corollaries to Coronavirus                                                                                                                 Though this dynamic has existed for decades in oncology, the current rejection of the coronavirus vaccine, on a massive scale involving a significant minority of the US population, is a reflection of this same willful ignorance.

In 2008, I started a nonprofit organization — the Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education — dedicated to providing free, timely, and credible information to cancer patients and caregivers around the world.

It was based on the premise that if the lay public had access to the best information — in other words, the same content that informs experts and defines optimal patient management — patients would then be able to pursue these treatments to the extent that they were broadly available. And although this service and a growing number of similar efforts have since generated a virtual army of sophisticated patients (who have since become an important force in and of themselves), it has been humbling to recognize that this approach can’t help the many people who denigrate the very pursuit of evidence-based medicine.

The widespread rejection of COVID vaccines brings this into high relief for a couple of reasons. First, the selfishness of those who reject the vaccine affects not only the individual who makes that choice but the broader public. Their decision not only puts them at risk but also the unwitting person exposed to them later. At least with cancer, poor choices only affect those making them.

Another reason that COVID vaccination is such a flashpoint: everyone, including every public figure, now makes a public declaration of their support or suspicion of science and evidence-based medicine. And we are seeing an alarming fraction of people with access to very good information rejecting the evidence and our best opportunity to control the pandemic.

I am particularly disheartened that those who reject the science aren’t prone to change their views with better educational efforts. I recognize that there is a spectrum of resistance and that some of our colleagues have convinced family members and patients to reverse their prior anti-vaccine stance; but I wish it wasn’t so hard to overcome people’s biases against the establishment — biases that lead not only to self-harm but danger to the broader public.

We need to do more to understand what leads people to reject science, because it’s clearly not just ignorance and lack of better information. We have to recognize that this phenomenon is now a leading bottleneck in the progress of modern medicine, both in oncology and other settings.

I would love to learn what others think, including successes and more optimistic views — or to simply vent your frustrations with these issues.

Helping Patients Understand Breakthrough COVID Benefits Us All –Here’s how to approach the conversation.

I have been asked these questions multiple times about breakthrough infections from Covid by my patients and I thought that this would be a good time to review, especially recently with infection numbers and the discussion regarding booster shots. Dr. Gary C. Steben pointed out that the recent change in masking guidance from the CDC and reinstated public health measures from local and state governments have been met with frustration and defiance, with people understandably questioning why they got vaccinated if they have to go back to masking and distancing anyway. The answer is in the degree of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, and the explanation lies in the way vaccines work. We can help our patients understand this with three talking points:

1. The antibody levels in the bloodstream are completely helpless at preventing infection (saying it that way seems to get everybody’s attention!)

Neutralizing virus particles from the environment is the sole responsibility of the vaccine-induced antibodies in our respiratory, GI, and ocular secretions — our “frontline” defensive antibodies in our saliva, tears, nasal secretions, and pulmonary mucus. When exposed to airborne virus particles, these antibodies attach to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, physically preventing it from latching on to the ACE2 receptor on the surface of our respiratory epithelium and gaining entry to those cells to cause an infection. But that’s all we’ve got — if we are exposed to so many virus particles that all the antibodies in these secretions have attached themselves to virus particles, yet we continue to expose ourselves to new particles faster than we transport more antibodies into these secretions, our antibody defense gets overwhelmed, we inhale or come in contact with more virus particles than we are able to neutralize, and we get infected.

2. Circulating antibodies help to contain the infection

Once infected, the virus takes over the machinery of our cells to make more virus particles and release them, and that’s where our circulating vaccine-induced antibodies come in. They latch on to these newly minted particles to prevent them from infecting adjacent cells and from being exhaled. Therein, unfortunately, lies one of the Delta variant’s strong suits — it can reproduce itself so rapidly that our antibodies don’t slow it down much, and we see that when infected, vaccinated people are shedding virus similarly to unvaccinated folks.

3. Our vaccine-induced T-cell immunity limits disease severity

The third element of the response to the vaccine that you don’t hear as much about is the T-cell immunity that is induced. This arm of the immune system kills off our own infected cells — they’re a lost cause anyway, and will need to be replaced — and thereby limits the extent of disease. That’s why the vaccines remain effective at limiting the severity of disease, and the reason why we don’t see many vaccinated people among the hospitalized even as the number of vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant increases. That’s also why it’s so critical to get vaccinated — the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19. But it is not in the T-cell job description to go after viruses themselves. Vaccine-induced T-cells do not provide protection against getting infected; they only mitigate severity once infected.

So, the CDC revised its masking guidance because, as we’re seeing in places like Provincetown and Milwaukee’s Deer District, vaccinated people can both get and spread SARS-CoV-2. More and more vaccinated people are getting infected because they’re interpreting vaccination as carte blanche to return to pre-pandemic life without restriction and are exposing themselves to massive viral loads that overwhelm their immunity. Every single vaccinated person I spoke with during a telemedicine visit in July who got themselves infected at a Bucks championship game told me they would have taken more precautions had the meaning of vaccination been explained to them as I have above.

These principles add to the arguments surrounding whether to administer a third dose, as recently discussed. Many studies have shown that neutralizing antibody titers decline only slowly over months, while we continue to see blunted disease severity in those vaccinated individuals who get infected. Moreover, breakthrough infections are not only occurring in older people who are far out from their second dose. This suggests breakthrough infections may occur not so much because of waning immunity, but because of people’s behavior that exposes them to overwhelming viral loads, especially in the face of the new variants. If that’s the case, a third dose without behavior modification may not be enough to promote sufficient disease containment. We need data from our contact tracers on the circumstances under which breakthrough infections occurred to better inform the decision on a third dose.

I believe history will judge our response to the pandemic harshly for its reliance on mandates more than education. We physicians were not consulted appropriately early on in the pandemic for our expertise and community respect to help shape local and regional procedures tailored to maximize disease containment while mitigating economic impact. There remains no coordinated effort to promote local physician involvement in mitigation strategies, and we are seeing the fallout from that in the current surge. So we must take it upon ourselves to do everything we can to educate our patients by promoting evidence-based containment measures and offering common-sense explanations for COVID-19 and the vaccines.

This is the most important public health crisis of our careers and lifetimes, and the urgency of this situation will reach a whole new level if post-acute COVID syndrome (PACS) turns out to be a virus-triggered autoimmune response that intensifies with subsequent infections. I sure hope that will not be the case and there is no evidence for that yet, but we physicians don’t have the luxury of waiting to find out. We need to leverage the respect we’ve earned among our communities to do what we can to transcend the rhetoric and misinformation, and minimize the worsening catastrophe that we know COVID-19 can become. Now.

Anti-parasite drug for animals ivermectin flying off store shelves as COVID spikes- Ivermectin dispensing by retail pharmacies has increased’ the CDC says. After many hours of “discussions” with friends who have decided not to get vaccinated and instead an anti-parasitic drug used on horses, cows, sheep and dogs, I thought that it would be worth a discussion. Daniella Genovese reported that despite strict warnings from federal health officials, consumers around the country are still trying to get their hands on a drug commonly used to treat or prevent parasites in animals in order to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

The drug, ivermectin, has been reportedly flying off stores shelves in multiple states, including Texas and Oklahoma, even though it has not been approved for treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans. “Ivermectin dispensing by retail pharmacies has increased, as has use of veterinary formulations available over the counter but not intended for human use,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. “FDA has cautioned about the potential risks of use for prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the FDA said it has seen a “growing interest” in the drug and already received multiple reports of “patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses.” 

However, over a dozen stores in the Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas area have sold out of the medicine, The Dallas Morning News reported.  Noah Krzykowski, who manages the Irving Feed Store in Irving, Texas, told the outlet that he is seeing droves of new customers in search of the product.  “You can tell the difference between someone who has cattle and someone who doesn’t,” Krzykowski told the Morning News. “And we’re seeing a lot of people right now who don’t have cattle.” Meanwhile, Alex Gieger, who manages the Red Earth Feed and Tack in Oklahoma City, Kansas, told KOCO that the store has been flooded with requests for the drug. 

Scott Schaeffer, managing director of the Oklahoma Center Poison and Drug Information, told FOX Business they have already received seven calls this month regarding ivermectin. This is up from three calls in July.  “We’re more concerned that people are taking medication without the input of their physician/prescriber, and that there is no reliable evidence that ivermectin is effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID,” Schaeffer said. 

Ivermectin tablets are only approved by the FDA “to treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, two conditions caused by parasitic worms,” the agency said. According to the FDA, some forms of ivermectin are also approved to treat parasites like head lice and for skin conditions like rosacea while other forms are “used in animals to prevent heartworm disease and certain internal and external parasites.” 

The FDA said consumers should never use medications intended for animals. “It’s important to note that these products are different from the ones for people, and safe when used as prescribed for animals, only,” the FDA said. 

US Plans COVID-19 Booster Shots at 6 Months Instead of 8: WSJ

The Reuters Staff reported that U.S. health regulators could approve a third COVID-19 shot for adults beginning at least six months after full vaccination, instead of the previously announced eight-month gap, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Approval of boosters for three COVID-19 shots being administered in the United States — those manufactured by Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson — is expected in mid-September, the report said, citing a person familiar with the plans.

Pfizer and BioNTech have already started the application process for the approval of its booster shot in people 16 and older, saying it spurs a more than three-fold increase in antibodies against the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, U.S. regulators granted full approval to Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine. Moderna said on Wednesday it has completed the real-time review needed for a full approval for its jab in people 18 and above.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in her daily briefing that any such development would be under the purview of the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC said the government’s plan to administer booster shot depends on pending action from the Food and Drug Administration and recommendation to it from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The FDA, however, reiterated its joint statement from last week that said the government was gearing up to roll out the third shot from mid-September to Americans who had their initial course of two-dose vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer more than eight months ago.

The rollout would start if the FDA and the CDC decide that boosters are needed, U.S. officials had said.

But the next question is:

Are We Jumping the Gun on COVID Boosters?- Efficacy, safety, and ethical questions linger

Dr. Vinay Prasad points out that over the last weeks, the topic of COVID-19 booster shots — a third dose of mRNA vaccine for healthy Americans — has been thrust into the spotlight. The surgeon general, CDC director, Anthony Fauci, MD, and President Biden have announced that they wish for boosters to be available by late September for healthy adults who are 8 months out from their original two-dose series. While this will be contingent on an FDA evaluation to determine the “safety and effectiveness of the third dose,” a clear path forward has already been set. And just like everything else throughout the course of the pandemic, the choice has been made with a dearth of data and an abundance of political pressure.

Diminishing vaccine effectiveness supposedly makes the case for boosters. But there are two big questions here: First, what is current vaccine effectiveness? And second, what justifies boosters? Let’s consider these in turn.

What Is Vaccine Effectiveness Now?

We have to be honest, many vaccine effectiveness studies are poorly done. All studies compare the rate of getting a breakthrough infection among vaccinated people against the rate of infection in unvaccinated people. But there are some issues with this approach. First, as time goes on, more unvaccinated people have had and recovered from COVID-19 (and these individuals may be less likely to go on to get a shot). This means that their risk of getting COVID-19 a second time is far less than the typical unvaccinated person who has never been sick. Even if vaccines “work” as well as before, this factor alone will result in the appearance of diminishing vaccine effectiveness.

Second, the order of vaccination in all nations is non-random. The folks who got vaccinated first are often the oldest and most vulnerable people with frailty and senescent immune systems. Vaccine effectiveness after 6 months, 8 months, and 12 months increasingly compares older, frailer people who got vaccinated first against unvaccinated people. These older people may always have a slightly higher risk of breakthrough infections. This bias will also give the false appearance of diminishing vaccine effectiveness.

A third consideration: We’re looking at vaccine effectiveness, but for what? People don’t want to get severely ill from SARS-CoV-2 and don’t want to die, but it might be too much to ask that vaccines prevent the nucleotide sequence of SARS-CoV-2 from ever being in your nose. In other words, vaccine effectiveness against severe disease may be much higher than vaccine effectiveness against asymptomatic or mild infection. This matters a great deal — if the vaccines continue to be highly effective against risk of severe illness and death, is it really worth boosting people in the U.S. right now?

And putting this all together, the best estimates of vaccine effectiveness do, in fact, still show high protection against severe disease and death.

What Justifies Boosters?

No matter what vaccine effectiveness is against preventing COVID-19 illness generally, the important question for boosters is whether they further lower the risk of severe disease or death. The only way to show this is through randomized controlled trials of the size and duration to measure that outcome. It is entirely possible that vaccine effectiveness is not perfect over time, or slightly lower than initial trials, but it’s also possible that boosters do not further reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2. Only trials can answer this.

While emerging data from Israel suggest boosters may diminish the risk for COVID-19 infection and severe illness in people 60 and older, the data are not based on the types of studies we need. Pfizer has only submitted early trial results to the FDA to support their boosters, with phase III trial data forthcoming. But again, the data may be insufficient if severe outcomes are not captured.

Moreover, we have to consider the risk of new, compounding, and worse toxicity. Randomized trials and close observation will be needed to exclude worse safety signals, particularly increases in myocarditis and pericarditis. These rare adverse events are more common after the second mRNA dose — will they be even more common after dose three?

In short, diminished vaccine effectiveness does not make the case for boosters. A reduction in severe outcomes makes the case for boosters, but we have no such data to date.

Global Equity

There’s also the ethical question of how a wealthy nation can give its inhabitants a third dose when there are literally billions of vulnerable older people around the world who have not gotten any doses. The World Health Organization has begged nations not to do this, and history will judge us poorly if we pursue this. It is a human rights violation to direct limited mRNA supply and capabilities to third doses in the U.S. when the world remains vulnerable. Moreover, it is self-defeating. We are not safe from global variants.

Take a Step Back

Decisions about boosters have to be based in science and made by vaccine regulators. They should not be subject to the pressure of manufacturers, politicians, or political appointees. They should not be rushed. On Sunday television, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, was specifically asked if the third shot was safe. His response: “the plan is contingent on that…”

Excuse me? We don’t know that to be true, and yet, our top medical and public health experts are pushing for boosters? Drug safety expert Walid Gellad, MD, MPH, tweeted: “It was irresponsible to push for boosters in healthy people before safety review.”

Two days after the White House’s announcement, two people with knowledge of the FDA’s deliberation told The Washington Post that the agency was investigating myocarditis signal with the Moderna vaccination. Canadian data suggest the risk may be 2.5 times that of Pfizer’s vaccine. The timing of this internal information leaking to reporters naturally leads me to wonder if reviewers in the agency are attempting to counteract political pressure, and create space to conduct a thorough review of booster data.

Boosters are an important medical question. Their approval must have a favorable safety and efficacy profile. Only randomized trials measuring severe disease can show that. Still, recently the FDA that boosters for Pfizer is only recommended for people over 65 and those compromised.

Let’s wait for the next set of data from the Moderna post vaccination studies, which is expected by the end of November.

203 Doctors Told Us What They Actually Think Of COVID Vaccines, And Everyone Should Hear Their Answers

A growing refrain among vaccine skeptics is that they won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 because a handful of health scientists have told them they don’t have to.

Robert Malone, the self-proclaimed inventor of mRNA technology back in the 1980s, has been among those celebrated by the far right for voicing unproven concerns about COVID-19 vaccines to his 280,000-plus Twitter followers. While it’s easy to explain away an embittered, bruised-ego scientist, it’s much harder to dismiss the significant majority of healthcare professionals who support the vaccines and the preponderance of evidence backing them up.

Enter the anti-vaxxer’s latest unfounded claim: that most public health officials secretly don’t support vaccines. In fact, a friend of mine recently made a stunning declaration that she wholeheartedly believes: “Most experts are too afraid to speak up, but I suspect 9 out of 10 doctors would advise against COVID vaccines if you asked them privately.”

Though I could have readily dismissed such a callous and unsubstantiated statement, the journalist in me began to wonder whether I should.

After all, if a meaningful percentage of individuals with legitimate infectious disease and vaccination expertise were concerned, that would be worth reporting. Besides, I’d asked her to question her convictions, so shouldn’t I be willing to do the same?

With that in mind, I began researching epidemiologists, virologists, health department directors, pediatricians, infectious disease experts, and public health officials. I deemed it important to find such people in all 50 states and in counties that leaned both left and right in case politics had tainted anyone’s objectivity.

No one directed me where I should look nor which experts I could turn to; and I steered clear of anyone I’d seen making regular cable news appearances to ensure I was getting fresh perspectives from experts who may not have already spoken up.

In my research, I identified more than 200 such individuals, and, in the interest of taking up as little of their limited time as possible, decided to ask them all the same two yes or no questions with an invitation to elaborate if they chose to.

I also wanted them to know they could answer freely, so I offered anonymity — a condition that some appreciated and others waived.

My two questions were simply whether they believed the benefits of COVID-19 vaccinations outweigh any potential harms, and whether they’d recommended the shots to their own children if they had any in the 12–18-year-old age groups. Responses began pouring in almost immediately.

Over the next few days, I heard back from 203 of the doctors I’d reached out to. If my friend’s unfounded suspicions were correct, 183 of them should have recommended against vaccination.

Turns out the actual number against COVID vaccines was zero. And the number of vaccine experts who recommended the shots to me in our private, one-on-one interactions was a whopping 203.

None of the 203 responders raised a single concern about COVID vaccines for adults or for children. “The benefits outweigh the extremely rare harms by many miles,” one biostatistics researcher told me.

What’s more, many of the responders had a lot to say about the type of public health official who would use their academic credibility to steer people away from COVID-19 vaccines.

Abner told me she doesn’t actually know of any public health officials who have advocated against the vaccines; rather, the handful of fringe persons who have gained notoriety doing so are actually “lab scientists without any public health or epidemiological expertise. Being an expert in one area of science or medicine does not confer expertise in others.”

One health department director in Idaho put it even more bluntly: “Any public health official who discourages vaccination isn’t concerned about public health at all.”

CORRECTED-COVID SCIENCE-mRNA vaccines trigger backup immune response; some cancer drugs may help

Nancy Lapid summarized of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that have yet to be certified by peer review.

Antibodies wane but other immune defenses remain alert.

A new study may help explain why mRNA vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are more effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths than they are at preventing infection. Test-tube experiments on blood samples from 61 fully vaccinated adults showed that by six months, vaccine-induced antibodies that can immediately neutralize the virus had declined. But so-called memory B cells, which produce new antibodies if they encounter the virus later on, had increased and become better at recognizing viral variants, according to a report posted on Monday on bioRxiv https://bit.ly/3zoCSAY ahead of peer review. “Your immune system has a backup,” said study leader John Wherry of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. B-cell production of antibodies might take a few days to get underway, but then these memory B cells “kick into action and prevent severe disease,” Wherry added.

Early data favors certain cancer treatments during pandemic

Certain cancer drugs may help protect patients with malignancies from being infected with the new coronavirus, preliminary data suggests. The drugs, known as mTOR/PI3K inhibitors and antimetabolites, target the parts of cells that the virus uses to enter and make copies of itself, including a “gateway” protein on cell surfaces called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The study of 1,701 cancer patients found that after taking underlying risk factors into account, patients treated with mTOR/PI3K inhibitors or ACE2-lowering antimetabolites were 47% less likely to test positive for the virus than patients who received other drug therapies. Gemzar (gemcitabine) from Eli Lilly appeared to be particularly promising, according to the report in JAMA Oncology https://bit.ly/38icqN6 on Thursday. The study does not prove that the drugs lowered infection rates, however, and much more research is needed to confirm their potential for protecting cancer patients from the coronavirus.

One in four infected LA residents had been vaccinated

From May through July 2021, as the Delta variant spread, 43,127 residents of Los Angeles County in California were diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infections. One in four had been fully vaccinated, though these patients had lower rates of hospitalization (3.2% versus 7.6%), intensive care (0.5% versus 1.5%) and need for machines to help with breathing (0.2% versus 0.5%) than unvaccinated patients, public health officials reported on Tuesday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report https://bit.ly/2XWWZIx. During the study period, the prevalence of the Delta variant rose from less than 9% to at least 87%, the authors note. As of July 25, hospitalization rates were 29 times higher for unvaccinated patients, they estimated, “indicating that COVID-19 vaccination protects against severe COVID-19 in areas with increasing prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant.”

Infectious disease expert: Americans must ‘recalibrate’ vaccine expectations

Tim O’Donnell reiterated what I have been trying to educate my patients and friends that COVID-19 vaccines won’t eliminate the coronavirus, “no matter how many booster shots the United States gives,” Céline R. Gounder writes for The Atlantic. But that’s no reason to panic or lose confidence in them.

Grounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital in New York City, thinks public health messaging got out of hand early on during the vaccine drive, especially when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published real-world evidence that showed that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 90 percent effective at preventing infections, as opposed to just disease. After that, folks got excited, believing that full vaccination status meant you could only very rarely get infected or transmit the disease. But now that the efficacy appears to be lower, there’s a lot of anxiety.

Grounder tried to ease that, explaining that vaccines are typically more effective at protecting against infection outright when battling viruses that have longer incubation periods, like measles and smallpox. In those cases, the body is trained to kick the virus out before it can really establish itself. But the coronavirus and influenza, for example, don’t take as long to start replicating and can do so before a vaccinated defense system revs up. Once it does, though, the virus doesn’t have much room to operate and is usually blocked from progressing in the lungs and causing serious damage.

With that in mind, Grounder says Americans simply need to “recalibrate our expectations about what makes a vaccine successful.” While “the public discussion of the pandemic has become distorted by a presumption that vaccination can and should eliminate COVID-19 entirely,” that’s not an attainable standard, she argues. And it’s one that makes “each breakthrough infection” look “like evidence that the vaccines are not working,” even though they’re performing “extremely well” and reducing what may have been serious infections to either mild or asymptomatic ones. Read Grounder’s full piece at The Atlantic.

Let us take a few moments of silence for the service men and women and the other civilians who lost their lives last week to the horror of the ISIS bomber.

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.

Amid a public health crisis, Americans’ views on health care policy haven’t changed, survey says; And What will Biden do to Healthcare?

Rebecca Morin reported that over the past several weeks, the majority of Americans have had to alter their lives due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Face masks have become part of most people’s daily wardrobe. Social distancing restrictions are still being ordered in many of the states. And millions have lost their jobs, as well as their health insurance. 

Now that Joe Biden has been declared the next president, we need to consider what I have been saying, that if we have learned nothing else, a form of universal affordable health care is a necessity.

Despite the changes, the majority of Americans’ long-held beliefs surrounding health care haven’t changed, according to a new survey.

About half of Americans – 51% – said they agree that government-run health insurance should be provided to all Americans, according to a survey from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project. That’s just a 1 percentage point less than in February.

“The events themselves have not driven people to some radical new conclusions about whether the government should be providing certain types of services,” said Robert Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. “These are not attitudes that have suddenly changed overnight in response to political events that have occurred.”

The new survey comes amid a public health crisis, where most of the United States was closed down for more than a month to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. Over the past couple of months, more than 36 million people have sought jobless benefits. The Labor Department said Thursday that about 3 million Americans filed initial unemployment benefit claims last week.

Are lockdowns being relaxed in my state? Here’s how America is reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Half the states across the nation have also begun loosening social distancing restrictions over the past several weeks. Experts show that the curve showing the rate of new cases may be flattening, but they are estimating at least 60,000 more people will die from coronavirus by August. 

The Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project is a large-scale study of the American electorate. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, the researchers aim to conduct 500,000 interviews about policies and the presidential candidates. This survey was conducted between April 29 and May 6, with 6,366 Americans surveyed. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

Another policy view that hasn’t seen a lot of change? Subsidizing health insurance for lower-income people who are not receiving Medicare or Medicaid.

Sixty-three percent of Americans said that they agree with that – a 2 percentage-point drop from February. 

However, a majority of Americans believe there should be more short-term aid for those in need during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis on Nationscape Insights, a project of Democracy Fund, UCLA, and USA TODAY. 

Pandemic protocols: Safety measures vary from the White House to the Supreme Court

Griffin noted that during the pandemic, Americans are “much more flexible in terms of thinking about what types of policies they might consider,” even if their attitudes about basic policies haven’t shifted much.

Seventy-nine percent of Americans strongly or somewhat support increasing spending on health insurance and food aid for the poor during the coronavirus pandemic. When broken down between Democrats and Republicans, the majority of both also support to increase spending.

The coronavirus pandemic also hasn’t affected long-standing political norms for Republicans and Democrats, according to the survey.

Sixty-nine percent of Democrats said they agree with providing government-run health insurance to all Americans. In February, that number was at 68%. In terms of agreeing on subsidizing health insurance for lower income people who are not receiving Medicare or Medicaid, Democrats are at 78%, a 2-percentage point drop from February.

For Republicans, the numbers don’t change drastically either. Thirty percent of Republicans agree to providing government-run health insurance to all Americans, compared with 33% in February. There was also a three-point drop from February to May among Republicans when asked if they agree on subsidizing health insurance for lower income people who are not receiving Medicare or Medicaid, from 53% to 50%. 

Biden Wants to Lower Medicare Eligibility Age To 60, But Hospitals Push Back

Phil Galewitz reported that President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to lower the eligibility age for Medicare is popular among voters but is expected to face strong opposition on Capitol Hill.

Of his many plans to expand insurance coverage, President-elect Joe Biden’s simplest strategy is lowering the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60. Is this the first step to Medicare-for-All?

But the plan is sure to face long odds, even if the Democrats can snag control of the Senate in January by winning two runoff elections in Georgia.

Republicans, who fought the creation of Medicare in the 1960s and typically oppose expanding government entitlement programs, are not the biggest obstacle. Instead, the nation’s hospitals — a powerful political force — are poised to derail any effort. Hospitals fear adding millions of people to Medicare will cost them billions of dollars in revenue.

“Hospitals certainly are not going to be happy with it,” said Jonathan Oberlander, professor of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Medicare reimbursement rates for patients admitted to hospitals are on average half what commercial or employer-sponsored insurance plans pay.

“It will be a huge lift [in Congress] as the realities of lower Medicare reimbursement rates will activate some powerful interests against this,” said Josh Archambault, a senior fellow with the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability.

Biden, who turns 78 this month, said his plan will help Americans who retire early and those who are unemployed or can’t find jobs with health benefits.

“It reflects the reality that, even after the current crisis ends, older Americans are likely to find it difficult to secure jobs,” Biden wrote in April.

Lowering the Medicare eligibility age is popular. About 85% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans favor allowing those as young as 50 to buy into Medicare, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll from January 2019. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

Although opposition from the hospital industry is expected to be fierce, it is not the only obstacle to Biden’s plan.

Critics, especially Republicans on Capitol Hill, will point to the nation’s $3 trillion budget deficit as well as the dim outlook for the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund. That fund is on track to reach insolvency in 2024. That means there won’t be enough money to pay hospitals and nursing homes fully for inpatient care for Medicare beneficiaries.

It’s also unclear whether expanding Medicare will fit on the Democrats’ crowded health agenda, which includes dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly rescuing the Affordable Care Act (if the Supreme Court strikes down part or all of the law in a current case), expanding Obamacare subsidies and lowering drug costs.

Biden’s proposal is a nod to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which has advocated for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ government-run “Medicare for All” health system that would provide universal coverage. Biden opposed that effort, saying the nation could not afford it. He wanted to retain the private health insurance system, which covers 180 million people.

To expand coverage, Biden has proposed two major initiatives. In addition to the Medicare eligibility change, he wants Congress to approve a government-run health plan that people could buy into instead of purchasing coverage from insurance companies on their own or through the Obamacare marketplaces. Insurers helped beat back this “public option” initiative in 2009 during the congressional debate over the ACA.

The appeal of lowering Medicare eligibility to help those without insurance lies with leveraging a popular government program that has low administrative costs.

“It is hard to find a reform idea that is more popular than opening up Medicare” to people as young as 60, Oberlander said. He said early retirees would like the concept, as would employers, who could save on their health costs as workers gravitate to Medicare.

The eligibility age has been set at 65 since Medicare was created in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society reform package. It was designed to coincide with the age when people at that time qualified for Social Security. Today, people generally qualify for early, reduced Social Security benefits at age 62, but full benefits depend on the year you were born, ranging from age 66 to 67.

While people can qualify on the basis of other criteria, such as having a disability or end-stage renal disease, 85% of the 57 million Medicare enrollees are in the program simply because they’re old enough.

Lowering the age to 60 could add as many as 23 million people to Medicare, according to an analysis by the consulting firm Avalere Health. It’s unclear, however, if everyone who would be eligible would sign up or if Biden would limit the expansion to the 1.7 million people in that age range who are uninsured and the 3.2 million who buy coverage on their own.

Avalere says 3.2 million people in that age group buy coverage on the individual market.

While the 60-to-65 group has the lowest uninsured rate (8%) among adults, it has the highest health costs and pays the highest rates for individual coverage, said Cristina Boccuti, director of health policy at West Health, a nonpartisan research group.

About 13 million of those between 60 and 65 have coverage through their employer, according to Avalere. While they would not have to drop coverage to join Medicare, they could possibly opt to pay to join the federal program and use it as a wraparound for their existing coverage. Medicare might then pick up costs for some services that the consumers would have to shoulder out of pocket.

Some 4 million people between 60 and 65 are enrolled in Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income people. Shifting them to Medicare would make that their primary health insurer, a move that would save states money since they split Medicaid costs with the federal government.

Chris Pope, a senior fellow with the conservative Manhattan Institute, said getting health industry support, particularly from hospitals, will be vital for any health coverage expansion. “Hospitals are very aware about generous commercial rates being replaced by lower Medicare rates,” he said.

“Members of Congress, a lot of them are close to their hospitals and do not want to see them with a revenue hole,” he said.

President Barack Obama made a deal with the industry on the way to passing the ACA. In exchange for gaining millions of paying customers and lowering their uncompensated care by billions of dollars, the hospital industry agreed to give up future Medicare funds designed to help them cope with the uninsured. Showing the industry’s prowess on Capitol Hill, Congress has delayed those funding cuts for more than six years.

Jacob Hacker, a Yale University political scientist, noted that expanding Medicare would reduce the number of Americans who rely on employer-sponsored coverage. The pitfalls of the employer system were highlighted in 2020 as millions lost their jobs and their workplace health coverage.

Even if they can win the two Georgia seats and take control of the Senate with the vice president breaking any ties, Democrats would be unlikely to pass major legislation without GOP support — unless they are willing to jettison the long-standing filibuster rule so they can pass most legislation with a simple 51-vote majority instead of 60 votes.

Hacker said that slim margin would make it difficult for Democrats to deal with many health issues all at once.

“Congress is not good at parallel processing,” Hacker said, referring to handling multiple priorities at the same time. “And the window is relatively short.”

Biden has room on health care, though limited by Congress

Biden’s proposals for a public health insurance option and empowering Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices seem out of reach

President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to get sweeping health care changes through a closely divided Congress, but there’s a menu of narrower actions he can choose from to make a tangible difference on affordability and coverage for millions of people.

With the balance of power in the Senate hinging on a couple of Georgia races headed to a runoff, and Democrats losing seats in the House, Biden’s proposals for a public health insurance option and empowering Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices seem out of reach. Those would be tough fights even if Democrats controlled Congress with votes to spare.

But there’s bipartisan interest in prescription drug legislation to limit what Medicare recipients with high costs are asked to pay, and to restrain price increases generally. Biden also could nudge legislation to curb surprise medical bills over the finish line.

Moreover, millions of people already eligible for subsidized coverage through “Obamacare” remain uninsured. A determined effort to sign them up might make a difference, particularly in a pandemic. And just like the Trump administration, Biden is expected to aggressively wield the rule-making powers of the executive branch to address health insurance coverage and prescription drug costs.

With COVID-19 surging across the country, Biden’s top health care priority is whipping the federal government’s response into shape. In his victory speech Saturday, he pledged to “spare no effort, or commitment, to turn this pandemic around.” He appointed a pandemic task force to develop “an action blueprint” that could be put into place on Inauguration Day.

On broader health policy issues, Biden has signaled he will stick with his robust campaign platform, which called for covering all Americans by building on the Affordable Care Act, adding a new public insurance option modeled on Medicare and lowering the eligibility age for Medicare.

“We’re going to work quickly with the Congress to dramatically ramp up health care protections, get Americans universal coverage, lower health care costs, as soon as humanly possible,” the president-elect said earlier this week.

Progressives who drive the Democratic Party’s health care agenda say Biden must try as hard as he can to deliver, no matter if Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remains majority leader of the Senate.

“I would vote for anything that improves health care for the American public, but what we need to do is push boldly and clearly for progressive policies,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., first vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Khanna says he’d like to see a President Biden calling out McConnell in public. “Right at the State of the Union, he should say, ‘One person potentially stands in the way of this, and that is Mitch McConnell,’” said Khanna.

Not in the real world, Republicans say.

They say the only way Democrats could get a big health care bill through is to first win the two Senate seats in Georgia and then rely on a special budget procedure that would allow them to pass legislation in the Senate on a simple majority vote. Either that or change Senate rules to abolish the filibuster. None of that can be done with a snap of one’s fingers.

“I put the odds of large-scale comprehensive health care reform at almost zero,” said Brendan Buck, who served as a top adviser to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Biden’s to-do list on health care begins with new hires and a rewrite of Trump administration policies.

Democrats have a deep talent pool he can tap for top jobs. Among the leading contenders for health secretary is former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is a co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus task force. North Carolina state health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, another Obama administration alum, is also being promoted.

The rewrite project involves rescinding regulations and policies put in place by the Trump administration that allowed states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, barred family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, made it easier to market bare-bones health insurance and made other changes.

But Biden can also use the government’s rule-making powers proactively. Prescription drugs is one area. The Trump administration was unable to finalize a plan to rely on lower overseas prices to limit what Medicare pays for some drugs. It’s a concept that Democrats support and that Biden may be able to put into practice.

On Capitol Hill, there doesn’t seem to be a clear path.

A Republican advocate for action to curb prescription drug costs, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, is expected to take on a new role in the next Congress, with less direct influence over health care issues.

A factor that may work in Biden’s favor is that many Republicans want to change the subject on health care. Exhaustion has set in over the party’s decade long campaign to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which has left the main pillars of former President Barack Obama’s health law standing, while knocking off some parts.

Though not ready to embrace the ACA, “Republicans have tired of banging their heads against the wall in an effort to get rid of it,” said Buck.

Brian Blase, a former Trump White House health care adviser, says he thinks there is potential on prescription drugs.

“Biden, I think, will be pragmatic in this area,” Blase said.

He expects a Biden administration to wield its rule-making powers aggressively, looking at international prices to try to limit U.S. prescription drug costs.

Coronavirus relief legislation could provide an early vehicle for some broader health care changes.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the rollout of the ACA under Obama, says it’s not a question of all or nothing.

“Will it be as much progress as if we had had a big Senate win?” she asked.

It may not look that way.

“But can he make progress? I think he can.”

What You Need to Know About the ‘90% Effective’ COVID-19 Vaccine

There is promise—but there are also questions.

Marty Munson noted that on  Monday, a COVID-19 vaccine made by the drug company Pfizer in conjunction with BioNTech made headlines. An early analysis released by the drug maker suggested that the vaccine could be more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

No doubt it’s promising news—in fact, a CNN report says that Anthony Fauci, M.D., the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, texted CNN and called it “extraordinarily good news.”

The early analysis is of a trial that involved nearly 44,000 subjects; half receiving a placebo and the other half receiving a two-dose regimen of the new vaccine. The report says that 94 people got COVID-19. It’s not clear how many of those received a placebo and not the vaccine, but it would have to be most of them for the reports to claim more than 90 percent efficacy.

The excitement among scientists and the financial sector isn’t just about the robustness of the results. This vaccine uses a new technology, known as mRNA, a gene-based drug technology that has never been used in a vaccine before. So, the potential success of this drug is also a huge success for science. The Wall Street Journal quotes Professor John Bell, a UK health-policy advisor involved in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as saying, “the most important message is that you can make a vaccine against this critter.”

What it means so far

The news is encouraging, but the vaccine is not a panacea yet. The New York Times pointed out on Tuesday that “independent scientists have cautioned against hyping early results before long-term safety and efficacy data has been collected. And no one knows how long the vaccine’s protection might last.”

Data hasn’t been released on whether any people in the trial developed milder forms of COVID-19, what kind of side effects are associated with it, and how long protection might last. A few more considerations that moderate enthusiasm for the results: The results were released by the company, not in a medical journal, and the trial hasn’t concluded, so the numbers may change, The New York Times report points out.

If the company does receive emergency authorization of the vaccine after it collects the required amount of safety data, there are still questions and concerns about whether it is effective in all populations, how much vaccine the company can produce and how quickly, who would get it first, how it will be transported and delivered and whether people will accept the vaccine and get it when it’s offered.

What else to know

The news is promising and especially with the latest information regarding the Moderna vaccine, but there’s more data to come out, and many more problems need to be solved before a vaccine is a reality for most Americans. The pandemic is far from over, and this news doesn’t change that yet. So for now, at a time when there have been about 110,000 COVID-19 cases a day surging in the U.S., it’s still important to wear masks and continue to use social distancing measures and common sense. It seems that we are all forgetting common sense.

So, as my favorite candidate for the presidency. Governor Larry Hogan, says-Wear the damn masks and…get your flu shots!!!!

Also, I have included a cartoon from Rick Kollinger who has suffered a setback in his fight with his cancer. But after my visit with him, and my harassment he has attempted to draw a few more cartoons for me and his fans. Thank you Rick and please get better!


 [r1]

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.”

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?

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.

Dr. Atlas and Others on coronavirus lockdowns: ‘The policy … is killing people’ and Not from the Corona virus!

As a physician I only stopped seeing my patients for two weeks during the pandemic. Why? I considered my patients cancer care a necessary demand. My cancer patients needed surgical procedures and the hospital didn’t consider those procedures urgent. So, I offered to do their surgical procedures in my office surgical suite under local anesthesia. If I didn’t the tumors would continue to grow and possibly metastasize or spread reducing their chances for cure. This brings up the important consideration that this pandemic is allowing our regular medical and surgical patient to result in delayed diagnoses and treatment. Victor Garcia reported that the Coronavirus lockdowns may be “killing” just as many people as the virus because as I mentioned, many people with serious conditions unrelated to the virus have been skipping treatment, Hoover Institution senior fellow Dr. Scott Atlas said Saturday on “Fox Report.”

“I think one thing that’s not somehow receiving attention is the CDC just came out with their fatality rates,” Atlas said. “And lo and behold, they verify what people have been saying for over a month now, including my Stanford epidemiology colleagues and everyone else in the world who’s done this analysis — and that is that the infection fatality rate is less than one-tenth of the original estimate.”

Even White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci is acknowledging the harm caused by the lockdown, Atlas said. “The policy itself is killing people. I mean, I think everyone’s heard about 650,000 people on cancer, chemo, half of whom didn’t come in. Two thirds of cancer screenings didn’t come in. 40 percent of stroke patients urgently needing care didn’t come in,” Atlas said. “And now we have over half the people, children in the United States not getting vaccinations. This is really what [Fauci] said was irreparable harm.”

More on Dr. Fauci later in this post.

“And I and my colleagues from other institutions have calculated the cost of the lockdown in terms of lives lost,” Atlas said. “Every month is about equal to the entire cost of lives lost during the COVID infection itself. This is a tragic, misguided public policy to extend this lockdown, whether or not it was justifiable in the beginning.”

Many states are currently reopening their economies slowly, while a few have pledged to extend the lockdowns through the summer.

The doctor also argued against keeping children out of schools, saying there’s no reason they can’t go back. “There’s no science whatsoever to keep K-through-12 schools closed, nor to have masks or social distancing on children, nor to keep summer programs closed,” Atlas said. “What we know now is that the risk of death and the risk of even a serious illness is nearly zero in people under 18.”

Lockdown measures have kept nearly 80 million children from receiving preventive vaccines

Caitlin McFall of Fox News reported that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in stay-at-home orders that are putting young children at risk of contracting measles, polio and diphtheria, according to a report released Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Routine childhood immunizations in at least 68 countries have been put on hold due to the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 worldwide, making children under the age of one more vulnerable.

More than half of 129 counties, where immunization data was readily available, reported moderate, severe or total suspensions of vaccinations during March and April.

“Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Disruption to immunization programs from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.”

The WHO has reported the reasons for reduced immunization rates vary. Some parents are afraid to leave the house due to travel restrictions relating to the coronavirus, whereas a lack of information regarding the importance of immunization remains a problem in some places.

Health workers are also less available because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Sabin Vaccine Institute, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance also contributed to the report.

Experts are worried that worldwide immunization rates, which have progressed since the 1970s, are now being threatened.

“More children in more countries are now protected against more vaccine-preventable diseases than at any point in history,” said Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley. “Due to COVID-19 this immense progress is now under threat.”

UNICEF has also reported a delay in vaccine deliveries because of coronavirus restrictions and is now “appealing to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others, to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines.”

Experts say that children need to receive their vaccines by the age of 2. And in the case of polio, 90 percent of the population need to be immunized in order to wipe out the disease. Polio is already making a comeback in some parts of the world, with more than a dozen African countries reporting polio outbreaks this year.

“We cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “We have effective vaccines against measles, polio and cholera,” she said. “While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another.”

Six Social Health System Teams to Encourage People to Seek Healthcare

Alexandra Wilson Pecci noted that the campaign, which aims to encourage people to get healthcare when they need it, comes as providers across the country have seen a dramatic drop in visits and revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Six of Los Angeles County’s largest nonprofit health systems with hospitals, clinics, and care facilities are teaming for BetterTogether.Health, a campaign that aims to encourage people to get healthcare when they need it, despite the current pandemic.

The campaign, from Cedars-SinaiDignity HealthProvidenceUCLA HealthKeck Medicine of USC, and Kaiser Permanente, comes as hospitals and healthcare provider offices across the country have seen a dramatic drop in visits and revenue.

“We know many patients who in the past dialed 911 for life-threatening emergencies are now not accessing these vital services quickly,” Julie Sprengel, President, Southwest Division of Dignity Health Hospitals, CommonSpirit Health, said in a statement. “We are instead seeing patients that delayed, postponed or cancelled care coming to emergency departments with serious conditions that should have been treated far earlier.”

Indeed, outpatient hospital visits experienced a record one-week 64% decline during the week of April 5-11, compared to pre-COVID-19 volumes, according to research from TransUnion Healthcare. In addition, hospital visit volumes further declined 33%-62% between the weeks of March 1-7 and April 12-18.

Those stats were echoed in a Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) survey last month showing that physician practices reported a 60% average decrease in patient volume and a 55% average decrease in revenue since the beginning of the public health emergency. 

In addition, nearly two-thirds of hospital executives expect full year revenues will decline by at least 15% due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, according to a Guidehouse analysis of a survey conducted by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA).

The campaign’s website and PSAs communicate messages like “Life may be on pause. Your health isn’t.,” “Thanks L.A. for doing your part.,” and “Get care when you need it.”

In addition to lost revenue, healthcare providers are warning of a “silent sub-epidemic” of those who are avoiding getting medical care when they need it, which could result in serious, negative health consequences that could be avoided.

“There is concern that patients with serious conditions are putting off critical treatments,” Tom Jackiewicz, CEO of Keck Medicine of USC, said in a statement. “We know that seeking immediate care for heart attacks and strokes can be life-saving and may minimize long-term effects. Our hospitals and health care providers are ready and open to serve your needs.”

The BetterTogether.Health public service effort combines those health systems’ resources to create a joint message that will include multi-language television and radio spots, and billboards, messages in newspapers, magazines, digital, and social media; online information, and links to healthcare resources.

It’s reminding people to seek care for things ranging from heart attack symptoms to keeping up with children’s immunization schedules.

“Receiving timely treatment by skilled medical professionals is essential to helping us achieve for our patients and communities the best possible outcomes,” Tom Priselac, President and CEO of Cedars-Sinai Health System. “Please do not delay getting your health care. We encourage you to call a trusted health care provider like your doctor’s office, hospital or urgent care center.”

Doctors raise alarm about health effects of continued coronavirus shutdown: ‘Mass casualty incident’

Furthermore, Tyler Olson reported something that most of us physicians realized as this pandemic continued that and that more than 600 doctors signed onto a letter sent to President Trump Tuesday pushing him to end the “national shutdown” aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, calling the widespread state orders keeping businesses closed and kids home from school a “mass casualty incident” with “exponentially growing health consequences.”

The letter what I stated in the beginning of this post, which outlines a variety of consequences that the doctors have observed resulting from the coronavirus shutdowns, including patients missing routine checkups that could detect things like heart problems or cancer, increases in substance and alcohol abuse, and increases in financial instability that could lead to “poverty and financial uncertainty,” which “is closely linked to poor health.”

“We are alarmed at what appears to be the lack of consideration for the future health of our patients,” the doctors say in their letter. “The downstream health effects … are being massively under-estimated and under-reported. This is an order of magnitude error.”

The letter continues: “The millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. In youths it will be called financial instability, unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and abuse.

“Because the harm is diffuse, there are those who hold that it does not exist. We, the undersigned, know otherwise.”

The letter comes as the battle over when and how to lift coronavirus restrictions continues to rage on cable television, in the courts, in protests and among government officials. Those for lifting the restrictions have warned about the economic consequences of keeping the shutdowns in effect. Those advocating a more cautious approach say that having more people out and about will necessarily end with more people becoming infected, causing what National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci warned in a Senate hearing last week would be preventable “suffering and death.”

But these doctors point to others that are suffering, not from the economy or the virus, but simply from not being able to leave home. The doctors’ letter lists a handful of patients by their initials and details their experiences.

“Patient E.S. is a mother with two children whose office job was reduced to part-time and whose husband was furloughed,” the letter reads. “The father is drinking more, the mother is depressed and not managing her diabetes well, and the children are barely doing any schoolwork.”

“Patient A.F. has chronic but previously stable health conditions,” it continues. “Her elective hip replacement was delayed, which caused her to become nearly sedentary, resulting in a pulmonary embolism in April.”

 Dr. Mark McDonald, a psychiatrist, noted in a conversation with Fox News that a 31-year-old patient of his with a history of depression who was attending school to get a master’s degree in psychology died about two weeks ago of a fentanyl overdose. He blames the government-imposed shutdown.

“She had to stay in her apartment, essentially in-house arrest as most people here in [Los Angeles] were for weeks and weeks, she could not see her therapist — she could speak to the therapist over the phone but she couldn’t see her in person. She could not attend any of her group meetings, which were helping to maintain her abstinence from opiates … and she relapsed into depression.

“She was just too withdrawn to ask for help,” McDonald continued before noting that due to regulations only six people could be at her funeral. “She was simply trying to escape from her pain… I do blame these actions by the government for her death.”

Fox News asked McDonald, as well as three other doctors who were involved with the letter, if they thought the indirect effects of the shutdowns outweighed the likely direct consequences of lifting them — the preventable “suffering and death” Fauci referred to in last week’s Senate hearing. All four said that they believe they do.

“The very initial argument … which sounded reasonable three months ago, is that in order to limit the overwhelmed patient flux into hospitals that would prevent adequate care, we needed to spread out the infections and thus the deaths in specific locales that could become hotspots, particularly New York City… It was a valid argument at the beginning based on the models that were given,” McDonald said. “What we’ve seen now over the last three months is that no city — none, zero — outside of New York has even been significantly stressed.”

McDonald is referring to the misconception that business closures and stay-at-home orders aimed at “flattening the curve” are meant to reduce the total number of people who will fall ill because of the coronavirus. Rather, these curve-flattening measures are meant largely to reduce the number of people who are sick at any given time, thus avoiding a surge in cases that overwhelms the health care system and causes otherwise preventable deaths because not all patients are able to access lifesaving critical care.

McDonald said that “hospitals are not only not overwhelmed, they’re actually being shut down.” He noted that at one hospital in the Los Angeles area where Dr. Simone Gold, the head organizer of the letter, works “the technicians in the ER have been cut by 50 percent.”

Gold also said the effects of the shutdown are more serious for the vast majority of people than the potential virus spread if it is quickly lifted.

“When you look at the data of the deaths and the critically ill, they are patients who were very sick to begin with,” she said, “There’s always exceptions. … But when you look at the pure numbers, it’s overwhelmingly patients who are in nursing homes and patients with serious underlying conditions. Meaning, that that’s where our resources should be spent. I think it’s terribly unethical… part of the reason why we let [the virus] fly through the nursing homes is because we’re diverting resources across society at large. We have limited resources we should put them where it’s killed people.”

People of all ages, of course, have been shown to be able to catch the coronavirus. And there have been reported health complications in children that could potentially be linked to the disease. Fauci also warned about assuming that children are largely protected from the effects of the virus.

“We don’t know everything about this virus … especially when it comes to children,” Fauci said in a Senate hearing last week. “We ought to be careful and not cavalier.”

Newport Beach, Calif., concierge doctor Dr. Jeffrey Barke, who led the letter effort with Gold, also put an emphasis on the disparity in who the virus effects.

“There are thousands of us out there that don’t agree with the perspective of Dr. Fauci and [White House coronavirus response coordinator] Dr. Deborah Birx that believe, yes, this virus is deadly, it’s dangerous, and it’s contagious, but only to a select group of Americans,” he said. “The path forward is to allow the young and healthy, the so-called herd, to be exposed and to develop a degree of antibodies that both now is protective to them and also prevents the virus from spreading to the most vulnerable.”

Dr. Scott Barbour, an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, reflected the comments the other doctors made about how the medical system has been able to handle the coronavirus without being overwhelmed, but also noted that the reported mortality rates from the coronavirus might be off.

“The vast majority of the people that contract this disease are asymptomatic or so minimally symptomatic that they’re not even aware that they’re sick. And so the denominator in our calculation of mortality rate is far greater than we think,” he said. “The risk of dying from COVID is relatively small when we consider these facts.”

Gold, an emergency medicine specialist based in Los Angeles, led the letter on behalf of a new organization called A Doctor a Day.

A Doctor a Day has not yet formally launched but sent the letter, with hundreds of signatures from physicians nationwide, to the White House on Tuesday. Gold and the group’s co-founder, Barke, said they began the organization to advocate for patients against the government-imposed coronavirus shutdowns by elevating the voices of doctors who felt that the negative externalities of the shutdowns outweigh the potential downside of letting people resume their normal business.

To gather signatures for the letter, Gold and Barke partnered with the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a doctors’ group that advocates for less government interference in the relationship between doctors and patients, and notably has taken part in legal challenges against the Affordable Care Act and advocated to allow doctors to use hydroxychloroquine on themselves and their patients.

Gold, in a conversation with Fox News, lamented that the debate around hydroxychloroquine has become politicized, noting that it is taken as a preventative measure for other diseases and that the potentially harmful effects of the drug mainly affect people with heart issues.

The drug is approved to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but the Food and Drug Administration has said that “hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.”

The FDA has also warned health professionals that the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of hospital or research settings.

Gold said she has direct knowledge of physicians who are taking hydroxychloroquine and said that although “we will see” about its efficacy as it is studied more, there have been some indicators that it could be effective at preventing or mitigating COVID-19 and she could therefore understand why doctors might take the drug themselves or prescribe it to their patients.

There is also other research that appears to indicate hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for the coronavirus, which has largely informed the consensus that the risks of the drug outweigh the potential benefits.

Gold, who is a member of the national leadership council for the Save Our Country Coalition — an assortment of conservative groups that aim “to bring about a quick, safe and responsible reopening of US society” — also said she was concerned that her message about the harms of shutdowns is becoming politicized. She said that she agreed with the general principles of the coalition and decided to sign on when asked, but hasn’t done much work with it and is considering asking to have her name removed because people are largely associating her message on reopening the country with a conservative political point of view.

“I haven’t done anything other than that,” she said. “It’s causing a big misunderstanding about what I’m doing so I actually think I’m just going to take my name off because it’s not really supposed to be political.”

Gold also said she is not associated with the Trump reelection campaign in any way, referring to her inclusion in an Associated Press story about the Trump campaign’s efforts to recruit doctors to support the president’s message on lifting coronavirus restrictions. The AP story details a call organized CNP Action, also part of the Save Our Country Coalition, which involved a senior Trump campaign staffer and was aimed at recruiting “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to make television appearances calling for the reopening of the economy as quickly as possible.

Fauci says extended stay-home orders could cause ‘irreparable damage’

Just recently Dr. Fauci changed his view on stay-home orders. Dom Calicchio reported that stay-home orders that extend too long could cause the U.S. “irreparable damage,” Dr. Anthony Fauci finally warned Friday.

Strict crackdowns on large gatherings and other orders, such as for home quarantines, were needed when the coronavirus first hit the nation, but those rules can now begin to be lifted in many parts of the country, Fauci said during an interview on CNBC.

“I don’t want people to think that any of us feel that staying locked down for a prolonged period of time is the way to go,” the member of the White House coronavirus task force said.

“But now is the time, depending upon where you are and what your situation is, to begin to seriously look at reopening the economy, reopening the country to try to get back to some degree of normal.” He warned, however, against reckless reopenings and called for the use of “very significant precautions” as restrictions are lifted.

Fauci told CNBC that staying closed for too long could cause “irreparable damage.” He said the US had to institute severe measures because #Covid19 cases were exploding “But now is the time, depending upon where you are and what your situation is” to open.

“In general, I think most of the country is doing it in a prudent way,” he said. “There are obviously some situations where people might be jumping over that. I just say, ‘Please, proceed with caution if you’re going to do that.’”

Fauci’s comments came one day after two top Republicans – Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona – wrote in an op-ed that Fauci’s initial safety recommendations had “emasculated” the nation’s health care system and “ruined” its economy.

“Fauci and company have relied on models that were later found to be deficient. He even has suggested that he can’t rely, on any of the models, especially if the underlying assumptions are wrong,” the pair wrote in USA Today. “Yet, Fauci persists in advocating policies that have emasculated the medical care system and ruined the economy.”

They also pointed to Fauci’s testimony last week before a Senate committee that opening too soon would “result in needless suffering and death.”

“What about the countless stories of needless suffering and death produced by Fauci’s one-size-fits-all approach to public health?” Paul and Biggs asked.

They called for policies based on trusting the risk assessment of the American people rather than a federal government mandate.

Earlier Friday, Fauci said it was “conceivable” that the U.S. could begin to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by December. “Back in January of this year when we started the phase 1 trial, I said it would likely be between a year and 18 months before we would have a vaccine,” Fauci said during an interview on NPR. “I think that schedule is still intact.

“I think it is conceivable,” he continued, “if we don’t run into things that are, as they say, unanticipated setbacks, that we could have a vaccine that we could be beginning to deploy at the end of this calendar year, December 2020, or into January, 2021.”

My question is what does the future of medicine look like going forward from this pandemic and how do we plan for a better healthcare system and assist in the recovery of our economy?

More on that in future posts.

Surprise medical bills, coronavirus and bad insurance: 3 arguments for Medicare for All’ Really?

As we saw Wednesday the WHO declared the Corona Virus/COID-19 a pandemic. We also heard the President role out plans for travel restrictions, increased testings and economic assistance. But what really gets me angry is that the Democrats in Congress are still making this a political battleground. Shame on them all! This is not the time for partisan politics so that they can embarrass the President and get their wishes and show the evilness of the political hate out there. Grow up Congress and let’s all get in on this battle to keep us all healthy and limit the death toll!! Philip Verhoef of USA Today reported that Congress is grappling with the problem of surprise medical bills, but will its Band-Aid approaches make a difference? As a physician, I’m trained to look beyond superficial symptoms to diagnose the underlying ailment. When patients pay thousands of dollars each year for “good” private insurance, how does a health care system allow them to walk away from a single hospital visit with debilitating medical debt? These concerns have become even more pressing with the spread of the new coronavirus and the costs associated with prevention, testing and treatment.

Most Americans assume that a commercial insurance card in their wallet protects them from unexpected medical bills. They pay their premiums and deductibles, scour the pages of insurance fine print and keep up with the revolving door of “in-network” doctors and hospitals. 

However, going to the “in-network” hospital is no guarantee that the emergency room doctor, radiologist or anesthesiologist will be “in-network.” Today, many hospitals no longer directly employ physicians but instead contract with physician staffing firms such as TeamHealth, which employs more than 16,000 clinicians at 3,300 medical facilities.

Caught unaware in a medical crisis

These agencies are extremely profitable, which is why private equity firms are so hungry to buy them. Contract physicians operate outside of insurance coverage agreements — they’re not part of any “network” — and can act like free agents, billing patients directly for services not covered by insurance, called “balance billing.”  

What does this mean for patients? Imagine you’re having a heart attack and call 911. Paramedics transport you to the nearest emergency room, which may or may not be in your insurer’s network. And because that hospital — or the ER doctor on duty —  does not have a contractual relationship with your insurer, they can essentially name their price and “balance bill” you for the amount the insurance company won’t cover. 

Here in Hawaii, many critically ill patients must use air ambulances for transportation from their home island to one that can provide emergency specialty services. For one of my patients, an air ambulance was a life-or-death necessity but deemed “out of network” by their insurance. Weeks later, the family received a balance bill for more than $25,000. They were forced to file bankruptcy and then enroll in Medicaid to cover subsequent health care costs — all with an insurance card in their wallet.

If this hasn’t happened to you, it’s just a matter of time. Over 40% of privately insured patients face surprise medical bills after visiting emergency rooms or getting admitted to hospitals. These bills punch a major hole in most family budgets: The average surprise hospital bill is $628 for emergency care and $2,040 for inpatient admission. That’s on top of the more than $20,000 families pay in premiums and deductibles each year just for the insurance policy.

If faced with a surprise $500 medical bill, half of Americans would either have to borrow money, go into debt or wouldn’t be able to pay it at all. Medical bills are a key contributor in two-thirds of personal bankruptcies, and yet the vast majority of households filing for medical bankruptcy have insurance. 

Medicare for All is the only solution-Really??

What is the value of commercial insurance if it can’t protect us from financial ruin? 

Lawmakers are considering a number of policies that would prohibit balance billing, cap the amount patients pay at out-of-network facilities and implement baseball-style arbitration when providers and insurance companies can’t agree on a payment. But surprise bills are not the real problem — they are merely one symptom of a dysfunctional system based on private insurance. And insurance companies only turn a profit by restricting patient choice, denying claims and passing costs onto enrollees.

The only policy that can end this scourge for good is single-payer Medicare for All, which would cover everyone in the nation for all medically necessary care. Medicare for All would eliminate out-of-network bills, because every doctor and hospital would be covered. Patients would never see a medical bill again, because Medicare for All would pay doctors and hospitals directly, with no deductibles, co-pays or insurance paperwork to get in the way.

Right now the current Medicare system is covering the costs of coronavirus testing, protecting patients just as it was designed to do. This health emergency is another argument for expanding such protections to all Americans.

Working in various hospitals across the country, I have met so many patients who delay or avoid needed care for fear of surprise bills and financial catastrophe. That’s risky for them and, in the face of a threat like coronavirus, for all of us. It doesn’t have to be this way. As a doctor, I prescribe Medicare for All. 

We are forgetting the huge cost of Medicare for All and the ineffectiveness and short comings of Medicare for All , which I have attempted to point out these last few weeks. Doesn’t any one read my posts?

America’s Health System Will Likely Make the Coronavirus Outbreak Worse

Abigail Abrams noted that as government officials race to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, fundamental elements of the U.S. health care system—deductibles, networks, and a complicated insurance bureaucracy—that already make it tough for many Americans to afford medical care under normal conditions will likely make the outbreak worse.

More than 140 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States so far, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker. But as the CDC makes the test for the virus more widely available, the structure of the U.S. health care system is complicating the response.

For one, people must actually choose to get tested—a potentially expensive prospect for millions of Americans. While the government will cover the cost of testing for Medicaid and Medicare patients, and for tests administered at federal, state and local public health labs, it’s unclear how much patients will be charged for testing at academic or commercial facilities, or whether those facilities must be in patients’ insurance networks. Just recently, a Miami man received a $3,270.75 bill after going to the hospital feeling sick following a work trip to China. (He tested positive for the seasonal flu, so did not have the new coronavirus, and was sent home to recover.)

Those who test positive for COVID-19 possibly face an even more financially harrowing path forward. Seeking out appropriate medical care or submitting to quarantines—critical in preventing the virus from spreading further—both come with potentially astronomical price tags in the U.S. Last month, a Pennsylvania man received $3,918 in bills after being released from a mandatory U.S. government quarantine after he and his daughter were evacuated from China. (Both the Miami and Pennsylvania patients saw their bills decrease after journalists reported on them, but they still owe thousands.)

More than 27 million Americans currently do not have health insurance of any kind, and even more are underinsured. But those who do have adequate health insurance are hardly out of the woods. Many current health plans feature massive deductibles—the amount you have to spend each year before your insurance kicks in. In 2019, 82% of workers with health insurance through their employer had an annual deductible, up from 63% a decade ago, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The average deductible for a single person with employer insurance has increased 162% in that time, from $533 in 2009 to $1,396 last year.

More than one quarter of employees, and nearly half of those at small companies, have an annual deductible of at least $2,000. Those who are covered by Obamacare marketplace plans face an even bigger hurdle: the average deductible for an individual bronze plan last year was $5,861, according to Health Pocket, a site that helps consumers shop for health insurance.

For many Americans, paying down an unexpected bill of that size is almost unthinkable. Nearly 40% of U.S. adults say they wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit card they could easily pay off, according to the Federal Reserve.

Research has shown that even in non-outbreak situations, high deductibles lead people to reduce their spending on health care and delay treatment or prescription drugs, which can pose particularly tough problems for patients with chronic illness or diseases that need early detection. The timing of the new coronavirus at the beginning of the year makes the outlook even worse: because most deductibles reset each January, millions of Americans will be paying thousands out of pocket before their insurance companies pay a cent.

“Most likely most people haven’t started paying down their deductible,” explains Adrianna McIntyre, a health policy researcher at Harvard. “For care they seek, unless it’s covered as zero dollar coverage before the deductible, they could be on the hook for the full cost of their visit, the diagnostic testing and other costs related to seeking care or diagnosis of coronavirus.”

Half of Americans report that they or a family member have put off care in the past because they couldn’t afford it. Others have gone without care because they couldn’t find an in-network provider, or couldn’t determine how much care would cost in advance, so decided not to risk seeking medical attention.

“When patients try to go to a doctor or hospital, they often don’t know how much it’s going to cost, so they get a bill that’s way more than expected,” says Christopher Whaley, a health economist at the RAND Corporation. “On a normal basis, that’s chaotic and challenging for patients. But when you add on top this situation where you have a potential pandemic, then that’s even worse.”

In the face of that kind of uncertainty, many patients may simply decide not to go to the doctor, he added, which is “exactly the opposite of what we want to happen in this type of situation.”

Public health experts and Democrats have also criticized the Trump administration’s decision to allow people to sidestep the Affordable Care Act’s rules and buy limited, short-term health insurance coverage. Such “junk plans,” said Senator Patty Murray, speaking at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Wednesday, are not required to cover diagnostic tests or vaccines.

The Trump administration’s embrace of such barebones plans “makes it much harder for people to get the care they need to keep this crisis under control,” she said. A large group of health, law and other experts also released a letter this week urging policymakers to “ensure comprehensive and affordable access to testing, including for the uninsured.”

Insurance industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans issued guidance on the coronavirus last week, but it did not recommend that insurance companies eliminate out-of-pocket costs related to the virus. It said insurers would be working with the CDC and “carefully monitoring the situation” to determine “whether policy changes are needed to ensure that people get essential care.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a directive on Monday requiring New York health insurers to waive cost sharing for testing of the coronavirus, including emergency room, urgent care and office visits. This could help New Yorkers who receive coverage through Medicaid and other state-regulated plans, but it won’t apply to the majority of employer-based health insurance, which is regulated by the federal government. Other states have similar limitations on the insurance plans they can regulate, according to McIntyre.

The federal government, on the other hand, could step in. The Trump Administration is considering using a national disaster recovery program to reimburse hospitals and doctors for treating uninsured COVID-19 patients. And even Republicans, who have traditionally opposed health care paid for by the government, are warming to the idea. “You can look at it as socialized medicine,” Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, who has vocally opposed the Affordable Care Act, told HuffPost this week. “But in the face of an outbreak, a pandemic, what’s your options?”

But even if the federal government takes steps to eliminate deductibles or other cost-sharing related to the coronavirus, experts say that Americans should brace themselves for long wait times to see providers, or for having to see doctors who are out-of-network, due to the limited capacity of providers and hospitals.

Those who don’t need to be treated at a hospital may still be impacted. The CDC has recommended that people maintain a supply of necessary medications in case they are quarantined, for example. But many insurance companies do not allow patients to refill prescriptions until they are almost out. The CDC also recommends that people to stay home from work if they experience symptoms of respiratory illness, but a lack of federally mandated sick leave makes it impossible for many workers to afford to take time off.

These consequences of the country’s fragmented health care system become more visible in times of stress, says Whaley. “In a pandemic type situation, that’s harmful both for patients,” he says, “and also for the members of society.

”Coronavirus: US ‘past the point of containment’ in battle to stop outbreak spreading

Tim Wyatt reported that America is “past the point of containment” in its battle against the coronavirus, senior health officials have admitted.

There are now more than 550 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States and at least 22 deaths linked to the outbreak.

Now, the government’s strategy had to change from trying to hold the virus at bay to actively seeking to minimise its impact and slow its spread, experts said.

Speaking on US television, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr Scott Gottlieb, said everything had changed.

“We’re past the point of containment. We have to implement broad mitigation strategies. The next two weeks are really going to change the complexion in this country.

“We’ll get through this, but it’s going to be a hard period. We’re looking at two months, probably, of difficulty.”

A similar message came from the Surgeon General Jerome Adams who warned it was time to consider cancelling large gatherings, including sporting events, and closing schools.

Each community might take a different approach to mitigating Covid-19, but inaction was not longer an option he cautioned while speaking to CNN. “Communities need to have that conversation and prepare for more cases so we can prevent more deaths,” he said.

Those in the most at-risk groups, including the elderly or unwell, should refrain from spending time in confined spaces with large numbers of the public, Dr Adams added.“Average age of death for people from coronavirus is 80. Average age of people who need medical attention is age 60. “We want people who are older, people who have medical conditions, to take steps to protect themselves, including avoiding crowded spaces, including thinking very carefully about whether or not now is the time to get on that cruise ship, whether now is the time to take that long haul flight,” he said.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed this advice. “If you are an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable,” he told NBC.“So it’s our responsibility to protect the vulnerable. When I say protect, I mean right now. Not wait until things get worse. Say no large crowds, no long trips. And above all, don’t get on a cruise ship.”

A swathe of conferences, including many tech-focused events in California, have already been cancelled over fears flying in thousands of delegates from across the country and world would exacerbate the spread of Covid-19. Some schools in the US are already closing, with major sporting events such as the Indian Wells tennis tournament being cancelled.

The comments from senior Trump administration health officials marks a shift from an earlier tone of calm. Several people, including the president, had sought to downplay fears about the coronavirus, insisting it probably would not turn into a full-blown epidemic in America.

Dr Fauci even suggested limited lockdowns could be imposed on regions or towns where a serious outbreak occurs, saying the government was ready to take “whatever action is appropriate” to try and mitigate the crisis.’We’re gearing up for something extremely significant’: 

Top hospitals across the US told us how they’re preparing for the coronavirus outbreak

Lydia Ramsey and Zachary Tracer reviewed the U.S. hospitals preparation for this pandemic. Hospitals around the US are preparing for the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened more than 200 people in the US and 100,000 worldwide.

They want to make sure workers and equipment are ready to go in the event of a worst-case scenario. “We’ve not yet seen an epidemic or pandemic in our lifetimes of this size and scope,” said Becca Bartles, the executive director of infectious disease prevention at Providence St. Joseph Health System. “We’re gearing up for something extremely significant.”

When the first case of novel coronavirus showed up in the US in January, Becca Bartles was ready for it. 

As the executive director of infectious disease prevention at Providence St. Joseph Health System, she had been preparing for years. Bartles helps prepare Providence, which runs 51 hospitals across the West Coast, for potential outbreaks by keeping an eye out for new pathogens that could hit the communities the health system serves. 

“We’ve not yet seen an epidemic or pandemic in our lifetimes of this size and scope,” Bartles said.  “We’re gearing up for something extremely significant.”

Hospitals and healthcare workers are already starting to feel the effects of the coronavirus outbreak as it hits communities around the US. The US has reported more than 200 cases of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19.  More than 100,000 people have come down the virus worldwide, mainly in China.

And they’re preparing for the outbreak to get worse. Some of the hospitals Bartles works with are in the Seattle area and are already treating coronavirus patients. She said the virus is positioned to be the biggest outbreaks we’ve seen in recent US history.

‘It will stretch our capacity to provide healthcare overall in the US’

“I don’t think we can appreciate, based on what we’ve seen in our lifetimes, how big that’s going to be,” Bartles said. “That does cause me significant concern.” “It will stretch our capacity to provide healthcare overall in the US,” she added.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported symptoms related to the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, appearing within 14 days of exposure to the virus.

In a presentation hosted by the American Hospital Association, which represents thousands of hospitals and health systems, one expert projected there could be as many as 96 million cases in the US, 4.8 million hospitalizations, and 480,000 deaths associated with the novel coronavirus. The American Hospital Association said the webinar reflects the views of the experts who spoke on it, not its own. 

Preparing for the worst 

Health systems like Providence perform drills and trainings in anticipation of outbreaks like the novel coronavirus. The goal is to make sure employees, especially those working in the emergency department or who might care for critically ill patients, are trained correctly and have the right protective equipment.

And they’re ramping those up now. In Philadelphia, Jefferson Health has been conducting extra protective-equipment trainings, focused on intensive care unit clinicians who might treat people with the coronavirus.

The 14-hospital system also started a coronavirus task force this week and is readying its outbreak plans. The idea is to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

“We’re saying, look, let’s plan as if there’s going to be a lot of cases, it’s going to be overwhelming to our hospital,” said Dr. Edward Jasper, an emergency medicine physician who leads the task force. “We don’t think that’s going to happen. And then whatever else comes, it’s going to be nothing compared to that. So we’re prepared.”

For now, Jasper said he’s not expecting the worst. “We watch it so closely and right now it’s not triggering keeping me awake at night,” he said.

At Providence, Bartles said leaders within the organization are now meeting multiple times a day to discuss issues like making sure the hospitals have enough supplies on hand, especially protective equipment for those working in emergency departments. 

The goal of the meetings is also to inform other hospitals across Providence’s network of what’s going on in Washington, which has been hit hard with the virus. 

How the largest health system in New York is preparing

The senior leadership at New York’s Northwell Health System, which operates 23 hospitals, has been meeting continuously for the last several weeks, chief quality officer Dr. Mark Jarrett told Business Insider.  The discussions cover what happens if one individual comes in with symptoms all the way to a pandemic. 

Northwell’s relying on some of the preparation it did in advance of the SARS epidemic in 2003, and its response to the H1N1, or Swine Flu pandemic in 2009. But, Jarrett said, the hospital has changed a lot since then.  Northwell, New York’s largest health system by revenue and the state’s largest private employer, has been steadily moving more of its services outside the four walls of a hospital. 

That means the health system will have to account for patients showing up for care in places other than the main hospital in a community — places like urgent care centers and primary care clinics.

Readying hospitals for a surge of patients

Should the outbreak intensify, hospitals are grappling with how to prepare for the surge in coronavirus patients while also keeping other patients safe. At first, hospitals will isolate patients with the coronavirus, but if lots of patients come down with the virus, hospitals will probably put them in rooms together, said Kelly Zabriskie, Jefferson’s director of infection prevention.

Dr. Kathleen Jordan, a vice president at CommonSpirit Health, a 142-hospital health system and chief medical officer at the system’s Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, told Business Insider that the health system is having conversations about what might happen if they’re confronted with an influx of patients. 

That might include setting up tents, building out larger emergency rooms or adding more beds for patients who need to stay at the hospital. For now, the health system has a few cases of the novel coronavirus under investigation.  Eventually, hospitals might have to consider reducing or pausing elective procedures to make room for the surge in patients, Northwell’s Jarrett said.  Hospitals are also thinking about staff being out, either due to the virus itself, or in the event that they have to care for their family.

Northwell on Tuesday told its employees that it’s restricting travel for business both internationally and domestically through the end of March. That’s a move other hospitals are making as well. “These updated travel guidelines are designed to help us remain in good physical health so we can most effectively care for the patients and families we serve,” Northwell said in an email to employees.  

But you shouldn’t rush to the emergency room if you start having flu symptoms.  Bartles said the plan is to focus on following CDC recommendations. As the virus continues to spread in communities, it will be harder to distinguish what might be flu from coronavirus. 

Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, said hospitals are encouraging patients to call ahead or use an online doctor visit, rather than show up to an emergency room with potential coronavirus. That can help prevent them from infecting others, and let hospitals focus their resources on the most serious cases.

And lastly, few have mentioned that in China they are already taking down some of the temporary housing for the quarantined patients as the infection rate decreases. Important to note as we prepare for the worst!

And next week we should discuss the economic issues resulting from the pandemic!