Category Archives: Post-COVID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden Says We Should Restore the ACA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add a Public Option, but Not Medicare for All

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

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

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

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

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

Lower the Medicare Age

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

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

Provide Relief in the Covid-19 Pandemic

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

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

Prescription Drug Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Surprise Billing

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

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

Closely Monitor Healthcare Mergers

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

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

Overhaul Long-term Care

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

Restore Funding for Planned Parenthood

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

Boost Community Health Centers

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

Support Mental Health Parity

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

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

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

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

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

Reimbursements for Doctors Could Fall- No, Will Fall!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impact of COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Physicians Want Major Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biden-Sanders Task Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Nation Ready for Another Health Reform Battle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ACA Has Survived-But at What Cost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden Could Choose Issues Other Than Expanding Access

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even Without Reform, Expect Lower Reimbursements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump health officials “not aware” of how he would replace Obamacare; and what about the Vaccines?

Trump health officials “not aware” of how he would replace Obamacare; and what about the Vaccines?

It is truly amazing how out of touch the GOP and, I believe President Trump is, on health care, especially “after” or during this COVID pandemic. Consider the amount of monies spent on caring for the millions of patients diagnosed with COVID-19. One must remember that due to the EMTALA Act, which ensures public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. Think of all the COVID testing and ICU care that has been provided for all that needed it. This experience, etc. should convince, even the clueless that we need a type of universal health care policy.

They, the GOP and the President, promised us all that they would create, provide a wonderful healthcare for all, better than Obamacare. But have they? No!

And now is the time to produce a well-designed alternative, or consider Obamacare as a well thought out program, except for the lack of financial sustainability. And guess what happened after I had a phone call with a member of the Trump administration. He asked me what I thought Trump’s chances of winning re-election. I responded that I thought he had about a 20% chance of getting re-elected. He pressed me as what I thought that would increase his chances. My response was to finally reveal their, the GOP/Trump’s

, plan and I suggested that they should adopt the Affordable Care Act but outline a plan to sustainably finance the healthcare plan.

My suggestion- embrace the Affordable Care Act as a good starting point and use a federal sales tax to finance it instead of putting the onus on the young healthy workers.

 At a hearing on the coronavirus response, Senator Dick Durbin asked the Trump administration’s top health officials about the president’s comments touting a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They said they did not know about such a plan.

And a Republican victory in Supreme Court battle could mean millions lose health insurance in the middle of a pandemic.

John T. Bennett noted that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell could soon be forever linked if the late Supreme Court justice’s death leads to the termination of the 44th president’s signature domestic policy achievement: the Affordable Care Act

All sides in the coming battle royal over how to proceed with filling the high court seat she left behind are posturing and pressuring, floating strategic possibilities and offering creative versions of history and precedent. Most Republicans in the Senate want to hold a simple-majority floor vote on a nominee Mr. Trump says he will announce as soon as this week before the end of the calendar year. Democrats say they are hypocrites because the blocked a Barack Obama high court pick during his final year.

It appears Democrats have only extreme options as viable tactics from preventing confirmation hearings and a floor vote before this unprecedented year is up. Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday refused to rule bringing articles of impeachment against the president or even William Barr, his attorney general whom the Democrats say has improperly used his office to help Mr. Trump’s friends and use federal law enforcement unjustly against US citizens.

Unless Ms Pelosi pulls that politically dangerous lever, the maneuvering of the next few weeks most likely will end after Congress returns after the 3 November election with a high court with a 6-3 conservative bend. Analysts already are warning that conservatives appear months away from being able to partially criminalize abortion and also take down the 2011 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama care.

Democrats have sounded off since Ms. Ginsburg’s death to warn that millions of Americans could soon lose their health insurance, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Last year, 8.5m people signed up for coverage using the Affordable Care Act, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“Healthcare in this country hangs in the balance,” Joe Biden, who is the Democratic nominee for president and was vice president when Mr. Obama signed the health plan now linked to his name into law, said on Sunday.

Mr. Biden accused Republicans of playing a “game” by rushing the process to replace Ms. Ginsburg on the court because they are “trying to strip healthcare away from tens of millions of families.”

Doing so, he warned, would “strip away their peace of mind” because insurance providers would no longer be required to give some Americans policies. Should a 6-3 court decide to uphold a lower court’s ruling that the 2011 health law be taken down, those companies would “drop coverage completely for folks with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Biden warned in remarks from Philadelphia.

“If Donald Trump has his way, the complications from Covid-19 … would become the next deniable pre-existing condition for millions of Americans.” That means they would lose their health insurance and be forced to either pay for care out of their pocket or use credit lines. Both could force millions into medical bankruptcy or otherwise create dire financial hardships.

Mr. Trump about a month ago promised to release a new healthcare plan that, if ever passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law, would replace Obamacare.

So far, however, he has yet to unveil that alleged plan.

Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters last week that the White House’s Domestic Policy Council is leading the work on the plan. But when pressed for more details, she chose to pick a fight with a CNN reporter.

“I’m not going to give you a readout of what our healthcare plan looks like and who’s working on it,” Ms. McEnany said. “If you want to know, if you want to know, come work here at the White House.”

When pressed, Ms. McEnany said “stakeholders here in the White House” are working on a plan the president has promised for several years. “And, as I told you, our Domestic Policy Council and others in the White House are working on a healthcare plan,” she insisted, describing it as “the president’s vision for the next five years.”

The president frequently mentions healthcare during his rowdy campaign rallies, but only in general terms. He promises a sweeping plan that will bring costs down across the board and also protect those with pre-existing conditions. But he mostly brings it up to hammer Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden for pushing a flawed law that he has been forced to tinker with to make it function better for consumers.

Broad brush

His top spokeswoman echoed those broad strokes during a briefing on Wednesday. “In aggregate, it’s going to be a very comprehensive strategy, one where we’re saving healthcare while Democrats are trying to take healthcare away,” she told reporters. “We’re making healthcare better and cheaper, guaranteeing protections for people with preexisting conditions, stopping surprise medical billing, increasing transparency, defending the right to keep your doctor and your plan, fighting lobbyists and special interests, and making healthier and making, finding cures to diseases.”

If there is a substantive plan that would protect millions with pre-existing conditions and others affected by Covid-19, it would have made a fine backbone of Mr. Trump’s August Republican National Committee address in which he accepted his party’s presidential nomination for a second time. But healthcare was not the major focus, even though it ranks in the top two issues – along with the economy – in just about every poll that asks voters to rank their priorities in deciding between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden.

If there is a coming White House healthcare plan that would protect those with pre-existing conditions and prevent millions from losing coverage as the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing, the president is not using his campaign rallies at regional airport hangars to describe or promote it.

“We will strongly protect Medicare and Social Security and we will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” said at a campaign stop Saturday evening in Fayetteville, North Carolina, before pivoting to a completely unrelated topic: “America will land the first woman on the moon, and the United States will be the first nation to land an astronaut on Mars.”

The push to install a conservative to replace the liberal Ms. Ginsburg and the lack of any expectation Mr. Trump has a tangible plan has given Democrats a new election-year talking point less than two months before all votes must be cast.

“Whoever President Trump nominates will strike down the Affordable Care Act,” Hawaii Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono told MSNBC on Sunday. “It will throw millions of people off of healthcare, won’t protect people with pre-existing conditions. It will be disastrous. That’s why they want to rush this.”

 About 1 In 5 Households in U.S. Cities Miss Needed Medical Care During Pandemic

Patti Neighmond noted that when 28-year-old Katie Kinsey moved from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in early March, she didn’t expect the pandemic would affect her directly, at least not right away. But that’s exactly what happened.

She was still settling in and didn’t have a primary care doctor when she got sick with symptoms of what she feared was COVID-19.

“I had a sore throat and a debilitating cough,” she says, “and when I say debilitating, I mean I couldn’t talk without coughing.” She couldn’t lie down at night without coughing. She just wasn’t getting enough air into her lungs, she says.

Kinsey, who works as a federal consultant in nuclear defense technology, found herself coughing through phone meetings. And then things got worse. Her energy took a dive, and she felt achy all over, “so I was taking naps during the day.” She never got a fever but worried about the coronavirus and accelerated her effort to find a doctor.

No luck.

She called nearly a dozen doctors listed on her insurance card, but all were booked. “Some said they were flooded with patients and couldn’t take new patients. Others gave no explanation, and just said they were sorry and could put me on a waiting list.” All the waiting lists were two to three months’ long.

Eventually Kinsey went to an urgent care clinic, got an X-ray and a diagnosis of severe bronchitis — not COVID-19. Antibiotics helped her get better. But she says she might have avoided “months of illness and lost days of work” had she been able to see a doctor sooner. She was sick for three months.

Kinsey’s experience is just one way the pandemic has delayed medical care for Americans in the last several months. A poll of households in the four largest U.S. cities by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds roughly one in every five have had at least one member who was unable to get medical care or who has had to delay care for a serious medical problem during the pandemic (ranging from 19% of households in New York City to 27% in Houston).

We had people come in with heart attacks after having chest pain for three or four days, or stroke patients who had significant loss of function for several days, if not a week.

There were multiple reasons given. Many people reported, like Kinsey, that they could not find a doctor to see them as hospitals around the U.S. delayed or canceled certain medical procedures to focus resources on treating COVID-19.

Other patients avoided critically important medical care because of fears they would catch the coronavirus while in a hospital or medical office.

“One thing we didn’t expect from COVID was that we were going to drop 60% of our volume,” says Ryan Stanton, an emergency physician in Lexington, Ky., and member of the board of directors of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“We had people come in with heart attacks after having chest pain for three or four days,” Stanton says, “or stroke patients who had significant loss of function for several days, if not a week. And I’d ask them why they hadn’t come in, and they would say almost universally they were afraid of COVID.”

Stanton found that to be particularly frustrating, because his hospital had made a big effort to communicate with the community to “absolutely come to the hospital for true emergencies.”

He describes one patient who had suffered at home for weeks with what ended up being appendicitis. When the patient finally came to the emergency room, Stanton says, a procedure that normally would have been done on an outpatient basis “ended up being a very much more involved surgery with increased risk of complications because of that delay.”

The poll finds a majority of households in leading U.S. cities who delayed medical care for serious problems say they had negative health consequences as a result (ranging from 55% in Chicago to 75% in Houston and 63% in Los Angeles).

Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer of the large public hospital Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, says the number of emergencies showing up in his hospital have been down during the pandemic, too, because patients have been fearful of catching the coronavirus there. One case that sticks in his mind was a middle aged woman with diabetes who fainted at home.

“Her blood sugar was really high, and she didn’t feel well — she was sweating,” the doctor recalls. “The family called the ambulance, and the ambulance came, and she said, ‘No, no, I don’t want to go to the hospital. I’ll be fine.’ “

By the next day the woman was even sicker. Her family took her to the hospital, where she was rushed to the catheterization lab. There doctors discovered and dissolved a clot in her heart. This was ultimately a successful ending for the patient, Mahajan says, “but you can see how this is very dangerous — to avoid going to the hospital if you have significant symptoms.”

He says worrisome reports from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office show the number of people who have died at home in the last few months is much higher than the average number of people who died in their homes before the pandemic.

“That’s yet another signal that something is going on where patients are not coming in for care,” Mahajan says. “And those folks who died at home may have died from COVID, but they may also have died from other conditions that they did not come in to get cared for.”

Like most hospitals nationwide, Harbor-UCLA canceled elective surgeries to make room for coronavirus patients — at least during the earliest months of the pandemic, and when cases surged.

In NPR’s survey of cities, about one-third of households in Chicago and Los Angeles and more than half in Houston and New York with a household member who couldn’t get surgeries or elective procedures said it resulted in negative health consequences for that person.

“Back in March and April the estimates were 80[%] to 90% of normal [in terms of screenings for cancer]” at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, says Dr. Jeffrey Drebin, who heads surgical oncology there.

“Things like mammograms, colonoscopies, PSA tests were not being done,” he says. At the height of the pandemic’s spring surge in New York City, Drebin says, he was seeing many more patients than usual who had advanced disease.

“Patients weren’t being found at routine colonoscopy,” he says. “They were coming in because they had a bleeding tumor or an obstructing tumor and needed to have something done right away.”

In June, during patients’ information sessions with the hospital, Drebin says patients typically asked if they could wait a few months before getting a cancer screening test.

“In some cases, you can, but there are certainly types of cancer that cannot have surgery delayed for a number of months,” he explains. With pancreatic or bladder cancer, for example, delaying even a month can dramatically reduce the opportunity for the best treatment or even a cure.

Reductions in cancer screening, Drebin says, are likely to translate to more illness and death down the road. “The estimate,” he says, “is that simply the reduction this year in mammography and colonoscopy [procedures] will create 10,000 additional deaths over the next few years.”

And even delays in treatment that aren’t a matter of life and death can make a big difference in the quality of a life.

For 12-year-old Nicolas Noblitt, who lives in Northridge, Calif., with his parents and two siblings, delays in treatment this year have dramatically reduced his mobility.

Nicolas has cerebral palsy and has relied on a wheelchair most of his life. The muscles in his thighs, hips, calves and even his feet and toes get extremely tight, and that “makes it hard for him to walk even a short distance with a walker,” says his mother, Natalie Noblitt. “So, keeping the spasticity under control has been a major project his whole life to keep him comfortable and try to help him gain the most mobility he can have.”

Before the pandemic, Nicolas was helped by regular Botox injections, which relaxed his tight muscles and enabled him to wear shoes.

As Nicolas says, “I do have these really cool shoes that have a zipper … and they really help me — because, one, they’re really easy to get on, and two, they’re cool shoes.” Best of all, he says they stabilize him enough so he can walk with a walker.

“I love those shoes and I think they sort of love me, too, when you think about it,” he tells NPR.

Nicolas was due to get a round of Botox injections in early March. But the doctors deemed it an elective procedure and canceled the appointment. That left him to go months without a treatment.

His muscles got so tight that his feet would uncontrollably curl.

“And when it happens and I’m trying to walk … it just makes everything worse,” Nicolas says, “from trying to get on the shoes to trying to walk in the walker.”

Today he is finally back on his Botox regimen and feeling more comfortable — happy to walk with a walker. Even so, says his mom, the lapse in treatment caused setbacks. Nicolas has to work harder now, both in day-to-day activities and in physical therapy.

‘Warp Speed’ Officials Debut Plan for Distributing Free Vaccines

Despite the president’s statements about military involvement in the vaccine rollout, officials said that for most people, “there will be no federal official who touches any of this vaccine.”

Katie Thomas reported that Federal officials outlined details Wednesday of their preparations to administer a future coronavirus vaccine to Americans, saying they would begin distribution within 24 hours of any approval or emergency authorization, and that their goal was that no American “has to pay a single dime” out of their own pocket.

The officials, who are part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed — the multiagency effort to quickly make a coronavirus vaccine available to Americans — also said the timing of a vaccine was still unclear, despite repeated statements by President Trump that one could be ready before the election on Nov. 3.

“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty. We don’t know the timing of when we’ll have a vaccine, we don’t know the quantities, we don’t know the efficacy of those vaccines,” said Paul Mango, the deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a really quite extraordinary, logistically complex undertaking, and a lot of uncertainties right now. I think the message we want you to leave with is, we are prepared for all of those uncertainties.”

The officials said they were planning for initial distribution of a vaccine — perhaps on an emergency basis, and to a limited group of high-priority people such as health care workers — in the final three months of this year and into next year. The Department of Defense is providing logistical support to plan how the vaccines will be shipped and stored, as well as how to keep track of who has gotten the vaccine and whether they have gotten one or two doses.

However, Mr. Mango said that there had been “a lot of confusion” about what the role of the Department of Defense would be, and that “for the overwhelming majority of Americans, there will be no federal official who touches any of this vaccine before it’s injected into Americans.”

Army Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski said Operation Warp Speed was working to link up existing databases so that, for example, a patient who received a vaccine at a public health center in January could go to a CVS pharmacy 28 days later in another state and be assured of getting the second dose of the right vaccine.

Three drug makers are testing vaccine candidates in late-stage trials in the United States. One of those companies, Pfizer, has said that it could apply for emergency authorization as early as October, while the other two, Moderna and AstraZeneca, have said they hope to have something before the end of the year.

Coronavirus vaccine study by Pfizer shows mild-to-moderate side effects

Pfizer Inc said on Tuesday participants were showing mostly mild-to-moderate side effects when given either the company’s experimental coronavirus vaccine or a placebo in an ongoing late-stage study.

The company said in a presentation to investors that side effects included fatigue, headache, chills and muscle pain. Some participants in the trial also developed fevers – including a few high fevers. The data is blinded, meaning Pfizer does not know which patients received the vaccine or a placebo. Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, stressed that the independent data monitoring committee “has access to unblinded data so they would notify us if they have any safety concerns and have not done so to date.”

The company has enrolled more than 29,000 people in its 44,000-volunteer trial to test the experimental COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with German partner BioNTech. Over 12,000 study participants had received a second dose of the vaccine, Pfizer executives said on an investor conference call.

The comments follow rival AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trials being put on hold worldwide on Sept. 6 after a serious side effect was reported in a volunteer in Britain.

AstraZeneca’s trials resumed in Britain and Brazil on Monday following the green light from British regulators, but remain on hold in the United States.

Pfizer expects it will likely have results on whether the vaccine works in October. “We do believe – given the very robust immune profile and also the preclinical profile … that vaccine efficacy is likely to be 60% or more,” Pfizer’s Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said.

Rushing the COVID-19 Vaccine Could Have Serious and Fatal Side Effects

Jason Silverstein noted that States have been told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention they should prepare for a coronavirus vaccine by “late October or early November,” according to reports last Wednesday. But an untested coronavirus vaccine may have serious and fatal side effects, could even make the disease worse, and may very well have an effect on the election.

What’s the worst that could happen if we give an untested vaccine to millions of people?

We received a reminder today, when one of the leading large coronavirus vaccine trials by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was paused due to a “suspected serious adverse reaction.” There are eight other potential coronavirus vaccines that have reached Phase 3, which is the phase that enrolls tens of thousands of people and compares how they do with the vaccine against people who only get a placebo. Those eight include China’s CanSino Biologics product that was approved for military use without proper testing back in July, and Russia’s coronavirus vaccine that has been tested in only 76 people.

If the CDC distributes an untested coronavirus vaccine this Fall, it would be the largest drug trial in history—with all of the risks and none of the safeguards.

“Approving a vaccine without testing would be like climbing into a plane that has never been tested,” said Tony Moody, MD, director of the Duke Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers. “It might work, but failure could be catastrophic.”

One concern about this vaccine is that it’s tracking to be an “October surprise.” From Henry Kissinger’s “peace is at hand” speech regarding a ceasefire in Vietnam less than two weeks before the 1972 election to former FBI Director James Comey’s letter that he would reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, October surprises have always had the potential to shift elections. But never before have they had the potential to catastrophically shift the health of an already fragile nation.

If there is an October surprise in the form of an untested coronavirus vaccine, it won’t be the first time that a vaccine was rushed out as a political stunt to increase an incumbent president’s election chances.

What happened with the last vaccine rush?

On March 24, 1976, in response to a swine flu outbreak, President Gerald Ford asked Congress for $135 million for “each and every American to receive an inoculation.”

How badly did the Swine Flu campaign of 1976 go? Well, one of the drug companies made two million doses of the wrong Swine Flu vaccine, vaccines weren’t exactly effective for people under 24, and insurance companies said, no way, they didn’t want to be liable for the science experiment of putting this vaccine into 120 million bodies.

By December, the Swine Flu vaccination program was suspended when people started to develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare neurological condition whose risk was seven times higher in people who got the vaccine and which paralyzed more than 500 people and killed at least 25.

What else can go wrong when vaccines are rushed

“Vaccines are some of the safest medical products in the world, but there can be serious side effects in some instances that are often only revealed by very large trials,” said Kate Langwig, Ph.D., an infectious disease ecologist at Virginia Tech.

One of the other possible side effects is known as vaccine enhancement, the very rare case when the body makes antibodies in response to a vaccine but the antibodies help a second infection get into cells, something that has been seen in dengue fever. “The vaccine, far from preventing Covid-19, might turn out to make a patient’s disease worse,” said Nir Eyal, D.Phil., a bioethics professor at Rutgers University.

We do not know whether a coronavirus vaccine might cause vaccine enhancement, but we need to. In 1966, a vaccine trial against respiratory syncytial virus, a disease that many infants get, caused more than 80 percent of infants and children who received the vaccine to be hospitalized and killed two.

All of these risks can be prevented, but safety takes patience, something that an American public which has had to bury more than 186,000 is understandably short on and Trump seems to be allergic to.

“To put this into perspective, the typical length of making a vaccine is fifteen to twenty years,” said Paul Offit, MD, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit’s laboratory developed a vaccine for rotavirus, a disease that kills infants. That process began in the 1980s and wasn’t completed until 2006. The first scientific papers behind the HPV vaccine, for example, were published in the early 1990’s, but the vaccine wasn’t licensed until 2006.

An untested vaccine may also prove a deadly distraction. “An ineffective vaccine could create a false sense of security and perhaps reduce the emphasis on social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene,” said Atul Malhotra, MD, a pulmonologist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Other issues with inadequately tested vaccines

Even worse, an untested vaccine may have consequences far beyond the present pandemic. Even today, one poll shows that only 57% of people would take a coronavirus vaccine. (Some experts argue that we need 55 to 82% to develop herd immunity.)

If we don’t get the vaccine right the first time, there may not be enough public trust for a next time. “Vaccines are a lot like social distancing. They are most effective if we work cooperatively and get a lot of people to take them,” said Langwig. “If we erode the public’s trust through the use of unsafe or ineffective vaccines, we may be less likely to convince people to be vaccinated in the future.”

“You don’t want to scare people off, because vaccines are our way out of this,” said Dr. Offit.

So, how will you be able to see through the fog of the vaccine war and know when a vaccine is safe to take? “Data,” said Dr. Moody, “to see if the vaccine did not cause serious side effects in those who got it, and that those who got the vaccine had a lower rate of disease, hospitalization, death, or any other metric that means it worked. And we really, really want to see that people who got the vaccine did not do worse than those who did not.

And finally, don’t forget to get your Flu vaccine, now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not necessarily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Spike in Telehealth Levels Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Did Sweden Flatten Its Curve Without a Lockdown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behavior Change

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

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

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

Masks were never required and aren’t commonly worn.

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

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

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

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

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

Immunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Path Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Americans Need to Understand About the Swedish Coronavirus Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political debate over masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vaccine coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Study Casts More Doubt on Swedish Coronavirus Immunity Hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘School is compulsory’- This is lunacy!!

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

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

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

No exceptions

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

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

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

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

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

Afraid of losing their kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers worry, too

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

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

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

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

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

Fauci: Next Few Weeks ‘Critical’ in COVID Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Officials Spar Over Rising COVID-19 Cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When will it all be over?

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.

When This War Is Over, Many of Us Will Leave Medicine and the Stresses of Healthcare Workers on All Fronts

One ER physician recounts the stress of constant intubations and PPE shortages

Michele Harper reviews the stress of our frontline healthcare workers and here is a case.

I couldn’t see. My face shield was blurred by a streaky haze. I tilted my neck back and forth in an effort to peer beyond it, beneath it, through it, whatever might work. Was it condensation? I started to raise my hands to my face to wipe it away before I remembered and yanked them back down: I cannot touch my face, can’t ever touch my face — neither inside this room nor outside it.

As I stood at the head of the patient’s bed in ER Room 3, her nurse, Kate, secured a mask over the patient’s face to deliver additional oxygen. I checked to ensure the oxygen was cranked up to the maximum flow rate while we waited for the respiratory therapist. Even with that increased oxygen, the patient was saturating 85% at best, and her blood pressure was dropping.

Ninety minutes earlier, the patient — a woman of 68 years with significant impairment from a stroke — had been fine. The nurse at her nursing home called to inform us they were sending the patient to the ER for evaluation of “altered mental status” because she was less “perky” than usual. Her oxygen level on arrival was normal with no shortness of breath. Her blood pressure was a little low, but her blood glucose read high. Nothing a little IV fluid couldn’t fix, and initially, it did.

I had requested a rectal temperature; it read 103 degrees. The combination of her being a nursing home resident and running a fever was a red flag during these coronavirus times. I placed her on respiratory isolation and asked Kate to be extra vigilant for any decline. I ordered broad-spectrum antibiotics to kill any likely source of infection while I awaited her chest X-ray, urine, and blood tests. Her portable chest X-ray was done first and revealed what I had already anticipated: diffuse atypical infiltrates, a presumed telltale sign of Covid-19. Although our understanding of this viral infection is ever-evolving, it seems the only observation we can reliably conclude is that we have not yet identified anything pathognomonic about it.

Seventy-five minutes later, another nurse, Charlene, called, “They need you in Room 3.”

“Okay,” I replied as I entered orders on the next chest pain patient with shortness of breath.

“Dr. Harper, they need you in Room 3 now,” Charlene called again.

“Room 3? The nursing home patient? I’ll be right there. What happened?”

“Her oxygen is at 67%.”

I asked the clerk to call respiratory therapy for intubation. I then turned back to Charlene to ask her to help Kate prepare for the procedure.

Then the personal protective equipment (PPE) sequence. I grabbed gloves to remove my N95 mask from its paper bag and placed it over my face, checking it was snug over my nose and lower jaw. After removing those gloves, I donned my face shield, then walked to the cart for a new gown. Lastly, a fresh set of gloves before entering the patient’s room.

I was scared, and I don’t get scared. Other doctors do, but not ER doctors. We don’t scare easily.

Now I waited for the respiratory therapist. It was good that she needed extra time to get the ventilator and then don her PPE because I had to figure out why I couldn’t see without manually manipulating my face shield. My thoughts were pierced by the sound of panting. I checked the patient who was taking the oxygen quietly, rapidly, ineffectively at regular intervals that didn’t register a sound. Her eyes remained closed—no flip of an eyelash, no wince of her forehead, no twitch in a limb. Despite her instability, the patient was in no visible distress. No heaving breath there. The nurse to my left was concentrating on the patient’s oxygen. I heard only the crinkle of her gown as she adjusted her stance. The panting wasn’t hers. The nurse to my right prepared to administer the intubation medications. He read out my orders — the name and dose of the medication in each syringe and the order in which they were to be pushed. His voice was steady. It wasn’t him hyperventilating. The nurse just outside of the room kept documentation of the procedure on scrap paper she used to carefully transcribe each detail onto her laptop. She was too far away to be heard unless she yelled, so that audible breathing certainly wasn’t hers.

The panting was my own.

A hailstorm of thoughts ensued. Was my breath the fog on my face shield? If so, my N95 mask had a leak. Unsuspecting, had I already inhaled the virus? Would I be intubated next?

The respiratory therapist had arrived with the ventilator and put on her face shield. She was almost ready, so there was little time to pull myself together.

Breathe in, I commanded myself: One, two, three. Breathe out. I obeyed: One, two, three, four.

Was I already short of breath? Had I not noticed my symptoms when I drove to work this morning? Yesterday? Last night?

Breathe in. One two, three. Breathe out. One, two, three, four.

I was scared, and I don’t get scared. Other doctors do, but not ER doctors. We don’t scare easily. We’re a type of special forces who step in when everything else has failed. Typically, we do our job anonymously then leave when the mission is complete. Any injury to ourselves incurred in the line of duty is dealt with after we’re off the clock.

Once in a while, however, there are circumstances when the capacity to compartmentalize is overwhelmed, when the chronic stress breaks through so that the fear works on you. Now, as I stood at the patient’s bed with the video laryngoscope blade in one hand and the endotracheal tube in the other, panic pushed its way through me in involuntary. forceful. rapid. shallow. breaths.

Breathe in on one, two, three. Breathe out on one, two, three, four.

The respiratory therapist slapped on her gloves and in moments was at my side. It was time for intubation.

Breathe in on three and out on four.

At last, my breathing was smooth, measured, sound.

I looked through my mask again. It wasn’t condensation. It was streaks from the sanitizing wipes because we had to reuse our equipment.

I adjusted my eyes to the clear spaces. Finally, I could see. My N95 mask fit. I could breathe.

The room was relatively quiet, what I like to call “ER calm.” All was still, save for the bagging of respiratory therapy, save for the swoosh of oxygen jetting from its port aerosolizing everything.

I requested that the intubation medications be administered then checked for a response. After visualizing the vocal cords easily with the video laryngoscope, I slid in the endotracheal tube, and respiratory connected it to the vent. The patient’s oxygen increased to 100% on the monitor.

Those of us who survive will return each day to battle. But when this war is over, this is why many of us will leave.

Doffing my gown and gloves, I put on new gloves to remove and sanitize my face shield. I couldn’t imagine there was a way to effectively clean the foam band across the forehead. I hoped to remove the streaks. I also hoped the impossible: to remove the virus, because it was the same shield I had to use repeatedly during my shift. I took off the N95. We’re now told that we can reuse it, too, numerous times before getting a new one due to the PPE shortages, so I put the contaminated mask back in the bag until I would need to do it again for the next patient.

This is how we get infected. This is how we die.

Those of us who survive will return each day to battle because we do not walk away from war until it’s done. But when this war is over, this is why many of us will leave.

I walked to the back of the ER to use the restroom in the seven minutes before the patient was ready for CT and saw my ER director standing in the lounge. I waved hello.

“How did it go?” she asked, her eyes gentle, her smile sympathetic.

“It went,” I replied.

“How did you feel in the PPE? Did you feel protected?”

I paused to regulate my answer. Her intentions were good. She was an ER doctor who did her best to walk the fine line between the docs on the front lines and the administrators who notified me that “doctors don’t get paid sick leave” and “thank you for your service,” which were graciously sent out in two separate emails. Just another reminder that we health care providers are regarded as more disposable than our PPE. But this wasn’t her fault, so I felt responsible, in that moment, for her feelings too.

I pulled in my tone. “No. That equipment doesn’t protect us. There’s no way that we’re not all covered in Covid, but we’re following the ‘guidelines.’”

She nodded and frowned.

“Honestly,” I continued, “and I hate to say this, but my feeling is that the majority of people will have contracted this virus. Most people will get through it, and others won’t. Many will die. I don’t want any of us to die, but many health care providers will. The thing is, it’s impossible to know which camp we’re in until it happens.”

She nodded again.

We smiled at each other, and I continued to the bathroom. I washed my hands, turning them over each other, lathering the soap along each finger, under each nail. As I dried my hands, I looked up at the mirror, noting that my breath was now imperceptible when my phone rang.

A FaceTime request from my nine-year-old nephew, Eli.

My policy used to be to not answer the phone at work unless it was critical. But this is a different era. Eli is sheltering-in-place at a military base in California while his mother, my sister, is away for deployment.

I swiped the phone to answer. “Hi, Eli!”

“Hello, Aunt,” he announced more softly than usual. His eyelids hovered low, and his eyes weren’t their typical bright.

“How are you, Eli?” I inquired, masking my concern.

“I’m good.” He smiled with sleepy eyes. “I just woke up.” He yawned; his bushy eyebrows raised high. Years ago, he said his eyebrows were the indisputable evidence that Frida Kahlo was his great, great grandmother so he had to meet her forthwith. Upon being told that she had already passed away, he cried for the woman he had decided was his long-lost ancestor. Now, as he yawned again, his thick eyelashes shut tight. His head drifted back and his mouth reeled open expelling the strongest exhale of the bravest lion cub.

Smiling to myself, I sighed easily.

He breathed.

I breathed.

Today we are OK.

Anxiety on the Frontlines of COVID-19 

It’s not just healthcare workers’ physical health but also their mental health that’s suffering

Richard van Zyl-Smit, M.D./PhD described to a friend this week the current feeling of being in the hospital with COVID-19, as like sitting under a 1,000V high-tension electricity cable: there is a constant humming above your head, which is unnerving and just does not go away.

Two years ago, he published a book called They Don’t Award Nobel Prizes to Dead People about my experience as an academic clinician with a stress-induced anxiety disorder. The context is very different now, but the lessons I learned in that time might be of help to those of you feeling this intangible “humming” — a sense of anxiety that is neither defined nor visible even with no COVID patient contact — and for those of you who are caring daily for COVID-19 patients.

The first and most important aspect of this time is to recognize that anxiety is real. This is not something you might have experienced before. For those of us who have previously or currently suffer from anxiety, it is easily recognizable for what it is, but you may never have experienced it quite like this. You are not losing your mind or losing control, you are experiencing a loss of control of your environment. In many ways, the daily changing updates, the ever-changing schedules and call rosters are unsettling at best and can be completely unnerving as we can’t be certain from one day to the next. There is not a lot you can do about it, except to acknowledge it and talk about it.

The second aspect relates directly to that gnawing “hum.”

I learned previously the benefit of and strongly believe in “downtime.” Getting away from the humming, which is not so easy anymore as we don’t have rugby or soccer scores to get excited or depressed about, we don’t have news about politics or current affairs — except COVID, COVID, COVID. I used to play Candy Crush to get my mind off work and to get away from the “hum,” but recognized that did not accomplish much — it just kept my mind going, and the anxiety was still there. I now try to be creative, to garden, draw, write, crochet (see below), paint, anything that I can do that takes the focus off my work.

Exercise is great too — but now restricted to indoors! I don’t look at the hundreds of WhatsApp group messages unless I am at work; the latest medical publication of how I should treat my ventilated COVID-19 patient on my next week on call is not important when I am at home.

I am convinced that switching off the social media, medical media, and media media when you are not working is vital for your mental health. For some, it might mean no social media, for others less, but getting out from under the electricity cable when you can, is an important way to ensure your own sustainability over the next few months.

The last aspect relates to relationships: physical distance is key — but find, and seek out the people who can support you; keep talking to each other, be kind to each other and to yourself, and talk about the anxiety, fears, worries, or stress. Professional services are available to those feeling very out of control, but simply talking with someone is a fantastic way to get the humming out of your head.

As much as we need to care for our COVID-19 patients and protect ourselves with PPE, we also need to look after ourselves and protect our mental health. It is not a sign of weakness but requires courage and bravery to ask for help.

“Asking for help is not giving up, it is refusing to give up.” — Charlie Mackesy

We are all in this together — we need to be kind to each other and to ourselves.

India coronavirus doctors: Notes on hope, fear and longing Reporter Vikas Pandey shows us how the Corona virus is affecting doctors in India. Dr Milind Baldi was on duty in a Covid-19 ward when a 46-year-old man was wheeled in  with severe breathing difficulty.

The man was scared for his life and kept repeating one question: “Will I survive?”

The question was followed by a plea: “Please save me, I don’t want to die.” Dr Baldi assured the man that he was going to do “everything possible to save him”.

These were the last words spoken between the two men. The patient was put on a ventilator, and died two days later. The doctor, who works in a hospital in the central Indian city of Indore, vividly remembers the 30 “terrifying minutes” after the patient was brought to his hospital.

“He kept holding my hands. His eyes were full of fear and pain. I will never forget his face.”

His death deeply affected Dr Baldi. “It ate away my soul from inside and left a lacuna in my heart.” Seeing patients die in critical care wards is not uncommon for doctors like him. But, he says, nothing can compare to the psychological stress of working in a Covid-19 ward.

Most coronavirus patients are kept in isolation, which means, if they become critically ill, doctors and nurses are the only people they see in their final hours.

“No doctor ever wants to be in this scenario,” says Dr A Fathahudeen, who heads the critical care department at Ernakulam Medical College in southern India.

Doctors say they usually share the emotional burden of treating someone with that person’s family. But Covid-19 doesn’t allow that. Dr Fathahudeen says he will never forget “the blankness in the eyes” of a Covid-19 patient who died in his hospital.

“He wasn’t able to talk. But his eyes reflected the pain and the fear he was experiencing.” Dr Fathahudeen felt helpless because the patient was going to die alone. But there was a tiny sliver of hope: the man’s wife was being treated for coronavirus in the same hospital.

So, Dr Fathahudeen brought her to the ward. She stood still and kept looking at him and said her goodbye. She never thought her 40-year marriage would end so abruptly.

The experienced doctor says the incident left him “emotionally consumed”. But, he adds, there was “some satisfaction that he didn’t die without seeing his wife”. “But that won’t always happen. The harsh truth is that some patients will die without saying goodbye to their loved ones.”

The emotional toll is made much worse as many doctors are themselves in a form of isolation – most are staying away from their families to protect them. As a result, Dr Mir Shahnawaz, who works at the Government Chest Hospital in Srinagar, says it’s “not just the disease we are fighting with”.

“Imagine not knowing when you will see your family next, add that to the constant fear that you may get infected and you will begin to understand what we are going through.”

Adding to the stress, is the fact that they also have to constantly deal with the emotional outbursts of patients. “They are very scared and we have to keep them calm – be their friend and doctor at the same time.”

And doctors also have to make phone calls to the families of patients, and deal with their fears too. The whole process, Dr Shahnawaz says, is emotionally draining.

“It hits you when you go back to your room in the night. Then there is the fear of the unknown – we don’t know how bad the situation will get.”

Doctors are used to saving lives, he adds, and “we will continue to do that no matter what”. “But the truth is that we are also human beings and we are also scared.” He says that the first coronavirus death in his hospital made his colleagues break down: it was when they realized that Covid-19 doesn’t afford the family a final glimpse of their loved one.

“Family members want to remember the final moments of a patient – a faint smile, a few last words, anything really to hold on to. But they can’t even give a proper burial to the dead.”

Dr Fathahudeen says such psychological pressure needs to be addressed and each hospital needs to have a psychiatrist – both for doctors and patients. “This is something I have done in my hospital. It’s important because otherwise the emotional scars will be too deep to heal. We are staring at cases of PTSD among frontline workers.”

Doorstep doctors

It is not just those working in Covid-19 wards who are on the front line, but also the doctors, community health workers and officials who are involved in contact tracing and screening suspected patients by going door-to-door in virus hotspots.

Dr Varsha Saxena, who works in the badly affected northern city of Jaipur, says she walks into grave danger knowingly every day. Her job is to screen people for possible symptoms. “There is no other option. It’s the fight of our lifetime, but one can’t ignore the risks,” she says. “But it poses great risk because we don’t know who among the ones, we are screening is actually positive,” she adds.

She says doctors like her don’t always get proper medical-grade personal protective equipment. “The fear of getting infected is always there and we have to live with it. It does play on our mind and we have to fight hard to keep such negative thoughts away.”

But her biggest fear, she says, is getting infected and not showing any symptoms. “Then the risk is that we may end up infecting others. That is why field doctors also need PPE,” she adds. And the stress, sometimes, also comes home.

“It’s so draining. My husband is also a doctor, most nights we don’t even have energy to cook and our dinner involves just bread.”

Aqueel Khan, a bureaucrat and a colleague of Dr Saxena, acknowledges that psychological stress is a reality for all frontline workers, including officers like him who are embedded with medical teams. The fear really comes home for these workers when somebody close to them dies.

“I lost my uncle and a friend recently. It shook me, I can’t stop thinking about them. You can’t stop thinking that it can easily happen to you,” he says.

Mr. Khan is also staying away from his family: this year is the first time he will miss his daughter’s birthday. “My heart says to go home and see her from far, but the mind tells me otherwise. This constant struggle is very stressful.

“But we can’t turn our backs on the job. We just have to just keep at it, hoping that we come out alive on the other side of this fight.” ‘The risk is always there’

There is no respite for doctors and nurses even when they are not directly involved in the fight against coronavirus. People with other ailments are continuing to come to hospitals. And there has also been a surge in the number of people who are turning up at hospitals with coronavirus-like symptoms.

Dr Mohsin Bin Mushtaq, who works at the GMC Hospital in Indian-administered Kashmir, says coronavirus has “fundamentally changed our lives”. “We are seeing patients every day for other ailments. But the risk is always there that some of them could be infected,” he said.

And it worries him even more when he reads about doctors getting infected despite wearing PPE and dying. A number of doctors have died in India and dozens have tested positive. There is nothing we can do about it, he says, adding that “we just have to be mentally strong and do our jobs”.

Dr Mehnaz Bhat and Dr Sartaz Bhat also work in the same hospital, and they say that the “fear among patients is too much”. Dr Sartaz says people with a slight cold end up thinking they have coronavirus, and rush to the hospital. “So apart from treating them, we also have to deal with their fear,” Dr Sartaz adds.

He recently diagnosed Covid-19 symptoms in a patient and advised him to go for testing. But his family refused and took him away. The patient was brought back to the hospital after Dr Sartaz called the police. He says he had never imagined doing something like this in his medical career. “This is the new normal.”

The way patients are examined has also changed for some doctors. “We really have to try and limit close interactions with patients,” Dr Mehnaz Bhat says. “But it’s not what we have been trained for. So much has changed so quickly, it’s stressful,” she says.

And several attacks on doctors and nurses across the country have made them even more worried. She says it’s difficult to understand why anybody would attack doctors. “We are saving lives, risking our lives every day. We need love, not fear.” she adds.

And even worse:

E.R. doc on COVID-19 ‘front lines’ died by suicide                             To show how serious the stress is seen in this report by Cory Siemaszko reported that a New York City emergency room doctor who was on the “front lines” of the fight against the coronavirus has died by suicide, police said Monday. Dr. Lorna Breen, 49, who worked at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, was in Virginia when she died on Sunday, said Tyler Hawn, a spokesman for the Charlottesville Police Department.

“The victim was taken to U.V.A. Hospital for treatment, but later succumbed to self-inflicted injuries,” Hawn said.

It was her father, Dr. Phillip Breen, who revealed the first details about his daughter’s tragic death. “She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he told The New York Times. “She was truly in the trenches of the front line.”

He said his daughter seemed very detached of late and that she had described some of the horrors she had witnessed at the hospital while battling the virus. “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was,” Phillip Breen said. “She’s a casualty just as much as anybody else who has died.”

The hospital confirmed Lorna Breen’s death in a statement released by chief spokesperson Lucky Tran, but gave few other details. “Words cannot convey the sense of loss we feel today,” the statement said. “Dr. Breen is a hero who brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department. Our focus today is to provide support to her family, friends, and colleagues as they cope with this news during what is already an extraordinarily difficult time.”

NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital has 200 beds, is in northern Manhattan and is one of the seven hospitals that make up NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Infectious Disease Expert Makes Chilling Prediction for States Reopening Amid Pandemic                                                                 Reporter Lee Moran noted that infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm warned that the states starting to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic “will pay a big price later on.”

Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday that states like Georgia, Colorado and others that are easing social distancing restrictions were “putting gasoline on fire.”

“I think right now, this is one of the things we’ve learned, if we’re going to learn to live with this, then you just don’t walk in the face of it and spit in its eye, because it will hit you,” said Osterholm. “And I think that that’s a really important issue right now,” he continued. “When we have transmission increasing, when our hospitals are not able to take care of it and we don’t have enough testing to even know what’s going on, then that’s not the time to loosen up.”

Osterholm suggested it was “the worst example of how to start this discussion” about the “loosening” of society. “I wouldn’t do it,” he added. “I fear that these states will have to pay a big price later on because of what they’re doing.”

COVID-19: National Psychiatrist-Run Hotline Offers Docs Emotional PPE                                                                                              Emily Sohn reported that Mona Masood, DO, a Philadelphia-area psychiatrist and moderator of a Facebook forum called the COVID-19 Physicians Group, reviewed post after post about her colleagues’ fears, anxieties, and the crushing pressure to act like a hero, inspiration struck. Would it be possible, she wondered, to create a resource through which psychiatrists would be available to provide frontline physicians with some emotional personal protective equipment (PPE)?

She floated the idea in the Facebook forum, which has more than 30,000 members. The response was immediate. “All these psychiatrists just started contacting me, saying, ‘Please let me be a part of this. I want to volunteer,’ ” she told Medscape Medical News.

On March 30, Masood launched the Physician Support Line, a free mental health hotline exclusively for doctors. Within the first 3 weeks, the hotline logged more than 3000 minutes of call time. Some physicians have called repeatedly, and early feedback suggests the resource is meeting a vast need.

“Most of the cases have a lot of emotion from both sides. There are a lot of tears, a lot of relief,” said Masood.

“If Not Me, Then Who?”

Physicians have been facing mental health challenges long before the pandemic, and doctors have long struggled with stigma in seeking psychological help, says Katherine Gold, MD, a family medicine physician at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who studies physician well-being, suicide, and mental health.

As a whole, physicians tend to be perfectionists and have high expectations of themselves. That combination can set them up for mental distress, Gold notes. Studies that have focused mainly on medical students and residents show that nearly 30% have experienced depression. Physicians are also at significant risk of dying by suicide.

Compounding the issue is the fact that physicians are also often reluctant to seek help, and institutional stigma is one persistent reason, Gold says. Many states require annual license renewal applications in which physicians are asked questions about mental health. Doctors fear they’ll lose their licenses if they seek psychological help, so they don’t pursue it.

A study conducted by Gold and colleagues that analyzed data from 2003 to 2008 showed that compared to the general public, physicians who died by suicide were less likely to have consulted mental health experts, less likely to have been diagnosed with mental health problems, and less likely to have antidepressants in their system at the time of death.

The COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate these trends, suggests a recent study from China in which investigators surveyed 1257 healthcare workers in January and February.

Results revealed that a significant proportion of respondents had symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress. This was especially true among women, nurses, those in Wuhan, and frontline healthcare workers who were directly engaged in diagnosing, treating, or caring for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

As Masood watched similar concerns accumulate on the COVID-19 Physicians Group Facebook forum, she decided to take action. She says her mentality was, “If not me, then who?”

Assisted by a team of experts, she created the hotline without any funding but with pro bono contributions of legal and ethical work, and she received a heavy discount from a company called Telzio, which developed the hotline app.

The hotline is open daily from 8:00 AM to midnight Eastern Time, and calls are free. Services are available only to physicians, in part because as a group, doctors tend to harbor guilt about asking for help that someone else might need more, Masood says.

When other types of healthcare workers call in, volunteers redirect them to hotlines set up for first responders and other healthcare providers.

So far, more than 600 psychiatrists have volunteered. They sign up for hour-long shifts, which they fit in between their own patients. Two or three psychiatrists are available each hour. Calls come directly through the app to their phones. There is no time limit on calls. If calls run long, psychiatrists either stay on past their shifts or pass the call to another volunteer.

Since its launch, the number of calls has steadily increased, Masood says. Callers include ICU doctors, anesthesiologists, surgeons, emergency department doctors, and some physicians in private practice who, Masood says, often express guilt for not being on the front lines.

Some physicians call in every week at a certain time as part of their self-care routine. Others call late at night after their families are in bed. If indicated, psychiatrists refer callers for follow-up care to a website that has compiled a list of psychiatrists across the United States who offer telehealth services.

There are no rules about what physicians can discuss when they call the hotline, and popular topics have evolved over time, says Masood. In the first week after the hotline’s launch, many callers were anxious about what the future held, and they saw other hospitals becoming overwhelmed. They worried about how they could prepare themselves and protect their families.

By the second week, when more doctors were in the thick of the pandemic and were working long hours, sometimes alone or covering shifts for infected colleagues, there were concerns about coworkers. Some were grieving the loss of patients and family members. The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), says Masood, has been a common topic of conversation from the beginning.

Given the many unknowns about the virus, physicians have also grappled with the uncertainty around safety protocols for patients and for themselves.

On a deeper level, physicians have expressed a desire to run away, to stop going to work, or to quit medicine altogether. These escape fantasies are a normal part of the fight-or-flight response to stress, Masood says.

Doctors often feel they can’t share their fears, even with family members, in part because of societal pressures to act like heroes on the front lines of what has been framed as a war, she adds.

Heroes aren’t supposed to complain or show vulnerability, Masood says, and this can make it hard for physicians to get the support they need. Through the hotline, psychiatrists give doctors permission to feel what they are feeling, and that can help motivate them to go back to work.

“They don’t want to look like cowards, because that’s the opposite of a hero,” she said. “Saying it to another doctor feels much better because we get it, and we normalize that for them. It’s normal to feel that way.”

Each week, Masood conducts debriefing sessions with volunteers, who talk about conversations filled with raw emotion. When conversations wind down, most physicians express gratitude.

They tell volunteers that just knowing the hotline is there provides them with an emotional safety net. Masood says many physicians tell volunteers, “I know that if anything’s going wrong, I can just call and somebody will be there.” Volunteers, too, say they are benefiting from being involved.

“We are all really having this desperate need to be there for one another right now. We truly feel like no one gets it as much as we get one another,” said Masood.

Long-term Fallout

The need for psychiatric care is unlikely to end after the pandemic retreats, and Masood’s plan is to keep the hotline running as long as it’s needed. Like the rest of the world, physicians are in survival mode, but she expects a wave of grief to hit when the immediate danger ends. Some might blame themselves for patient deaths or question what they could have done differently. The long-term impact of trauma is definitely a concern, Gold says. Physicians in the ER and ICU are seeing many patients who decline quickly and die alone, and they witness young, previously healthy people succumb to the virus.

They’re seeing these kinds of cases over and over, and they’re often doing it in an environment where they don’t feel safe or supported while people in many places stage protests against the measures they feel are helping protect them.

Like veterans returning from war, they will need to reflect on what they’ve experienced after the adrenaline is gone and there is time to think.

“Even when things calm down, it will be great to have resources like this still functioning that can help folks think back through what they’ve been through and how to process that,” Gold said. “Things are going to remind them of experiences they had during COVID, and they can’t predict that right now. There will be a need for the support to go on.”

Masood is optimistic that the pandemic will bring the issue of physicians’ mental health out of the shadows.

“We have a really deep feeling of hope that that there’s going to be a lot more empathy for one another after this,” she said. “There’s going to be a willingness to not take mental health for granted. Doctors are people, too.”

We understand about those on the frontline of this pandemic. But do you all realize that many physicians and nurses are being furloughed during this pandemic due to elimination of elective surgery, many of which are necessary such as transplants and cancer treatments and surgery as well as limitation of their practice during this pandemic.

How do physicians pay their malpractice insurance and pay their staff and overhead and their huge education loans?

I fear that we may see a mass quitting/retirement of many nurses and physicians in our country and maybe world wide or many suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome).

What then happens to our healthcare system? Will this pandemic force Congress to finally get serious regarding improving our healthcare system for All?

What It’s Like to Watch Your Business Fail? The New Labor Movement and Comicon!

I discussed previously regarding the stress and anxiety of self-isolation, state-wide lockdowns and quarantine, but what about the effect on business owners? Chris Thompson noted that his wife’s job has always been to keep people relaxed. The stress of keeping that dream alive is agonizing. Chris Thompson noted that the widespread crumbling of American small businesses in the year 2020 will ultimately be a second- or third-order concern, at best, as millions of people are infected by the novel coronavirus and some horrifying percentage succumb to Covid-19. It’s worth observing, though, that just as the ultimate tally of lives lost will be bloated by a slapdash governmental response that left many folks to balance for themselves the danger of multiple existential threats, so too will the eventual failure of hundreds of thousands of small businesses reflect the confusion, incompetence, and indifference of the people whose job it is to manage this crisis.

My wife has owned and operated a boutique day spa in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. for going on 15 years now. A dozen practitioners tend to rosters of dedicated clients; a small handful of support and administrative staffers keep things organized. Because it’s a very small operation, my wife is both the main administrator and also a practitioner who sees clients. It’s a demanding job, and it eats up much more of her time than a full-time job in someone else’s spa would, but she’s very good at it and is fulfilled by the opportunity to execute her own vision of how a spa should operate.

Turns out when a novel virus leaps oceans and uses close human contact to navigate its way to the most vulnerable, businesses that make their money via direct physical contact between workers and customers are put in a uniquely difficult situation. The spa industry is loaded down with standards designed to limit the transmission of diseases between parties, but zero transmission is not possible, and this isn’t the common cold. Somewhere around 200 people come into the spa each week, and all 200 are in direct physical contact with a staff person; half or more are there to have another person’s hands and fingers directly applied to their face for an hour or longer, in services where steam is applied and hangs in the air. There is no such thing as social distancing inside a spa. Even with every safety measure applied as fastidiously as possible, two perfectly healthy seeming clients sharing a waiting room can trade illnesses in the time it takes to fill out a single-page intake form.

The spa industry is loaded down with standards designed to limit the transmission of diseases between parties, but zero transmission is not possible, and this isn’t the common cold.

The right thing to do, then, is to suspend operations at least until widespread testing has begun, if not until the spread of the virus is fully understood and the brunt of the pandemic has been absorbed. While no one knows who the hell has the virus and while hospitals are having their asses kicked by the surge of infections, operating a serene little coronavirus distribution center in a densely populated area would be a very shitty thing to do for the public good.

But closing the business, even for just a few weeks, presents some immediate challenges. Practitioners depend upon commissions from services in order to pay their bills. A cut of service income is set aside to pay administrative staff. Shuttering the business for a couple of months means coming up with tens of thousands of dollars to help keep these people afloat, or setting them adrift to fend for themselves. And there are other expenses applying considerable pressure to that primary concern: Lease payments are due on expensive machinery; professional insurance cannot be allowed to lapse; the landlord is expecting another rent payment, and another, and then another.

The Trump administration directed the Small Business Administration on March 12 to offer a special reduced interest rate on get-me-over “recovery” loans to businesses affected by the pandemic, money that at least in theory could provide a source of cash with which to pay staffers to stay home. But there’s a rub—or several. For absolutely no good reason, the disaster rate is contingent on a given state’s emergency posture. So, for example, if your business is in, say, Kansas, where prominent politicians have said coronavirus is not a threat because there is not a large Chinese population, you would not qualify for the disaster rate without a statewide disaster declaration. If you want to do the right thing for your staff and community and temporarily suspend the operations of your small business ahead of this declaration, any loans you seek to increase your cash on hand will not be protected from predatory rates.

As it happens, Virginia declared a state of emergency on March 12, which meant the “recovery loans” should’ve been available within hours of the executive directive to the SBA. But here we encounter the second and third rubs. First, it turns out no one at the SBA had been given much direction about what exact governmental declaration qualified businesses in a given state for the special rate, and so no one at the SBA and none of the SBA-linked banks could say for sure whether a Virginia small business qualified. Second, and most horrifying of all, the recovery loans were not available for businesses “with credit available elsewhere.” If the SBA determined that a business had opportunities to borrow money without its protections, it was happy to dropkick that business out into the wilderness.

It’s worth noting how backward and screwy it is that a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic would force otherwise perfectly successful small businesses to take on crippling debt and pay interest to lenders, in order to provide disaster pay to workers who, like their employers, did absolutely nothing wrong. If there’s going to be a thing called a Small Business Administration — hell, if there’s going to be a thing called a federal government — it ought to have better tools at its disposal than a Rolodex of carrion-circling lenders and a negotiated interest rate. In fact, it does! It’s just that the real help is being shifted to billion-dollar companies with tycoon CEOs, while small businesses are being fed to the sharks.

The next-best option for my wife’s efforts at keeping her staff on their feet involved emptying savings accounts used for reserving money for taxes and liabilities (think gift certificates, which accrue impressively but which are not payment for services rendered, cannot expire, and are refundable). A day spa, even a reasonably successful one, is a low-margin business: A savings account reserved for liabilities holds roughly $10,000; another savings account reserving estimated tax money holds another $4,500; one single payroll for half a month’s regular work runs $23,000 to $32,000. Emptying those accounts would mean dealing a grievous self-wound for very fleeting, dubious benefits. It would cover somewhere around half of a paycheck per staff person but would make it far more likely that the business would fold before the end of the current crisis, depriving these people of a job to which they would otherwise happily return.

So, this is all pointing at layoffs — a strategic termination so that her people could collect unemployment and the company could still be around to gather them back up again in a few months. But first, my wife had to see if she could lower her non-payroll expenses to as close to zero as possible if she was to have any chance of avoiding the devastating defeat of cutting loose a good and loyal and dedicated staff of excellent people, many of whom have families to support. This meant seeking forbearance from lenders, banks, and the landlord.

The only thing that seems to matter to anyone with any power is whether money continues to flow upward. It only ever flows upward; the only thing that trickles down is pressure.

The first two calls were to lenders, and they were not encouraging. The first lender said my wife could go through the usual payment deferral process, but that her interest rate would increase and penalties would accrue, and there would be an eventual balloon payment at the end of her loan period. The second lender had disconnected their telephone and was unreachable for four days. Both lenders ultimately settled on limited forbearance through April — payments could be missed, but hundreds of dollars in penalties would accrue per payment missed, and the sum of missed payments, plus penalties, would be added to payments beginning in May. Her interest rate would jump, per the original agreement, to reflect missed payments.

The word from the landlord was even more troubling. My wife pays $4,500 in monthly rent to a developer that manages an impressive spread of commercial real estate. Their representative announced in a bemused tone that they had not even considered whether they would need to offer any sort of relief or forbearance to their tenants. After having the situation explained to them, their best offer was one month of forbearance in exchange for extending the lease period by a full year, and they indicated they’d be offering this deal to their tenants on a case-by-case basis. Two days later, they sent a form email to their tenants announcing that the deal would, in fact, be two months of forbearance in exchange for two years added to existing leases.

What has been lacking in all this is firm direction from the federal government. It has been in their power all along to suspend collection of rent, mortgage, and debt payments, and to mandate two or three months of social distancing and a halt on all nonessential business. Hilariously, they’ve managed to suspend rent payments for airlines at airport terminals, once again directing relief at massively profitable, publicly-traded, billion-dollar businesses and ignoring everyone else. They’ve left it up to governors and mayors to determine how much traffic and business to permit; they’ve left it up to banks and landlords to determine how much relief is appropriate; they’ve left it up to business owners to figure out how to balance the threat to the public of staying open versus the threat to the business of shutting down; they’ve left it up to individuals to hammer out arrangements for keeping a roof overhead and food on the table. There are no right answers. The only thing that seems to matter to anyone with any power is whether money continues to flow upward. It only ever flows upward; the only thing that trickles down is pressure.

What is likely to finally kill my wife’s business, in a blast of dark cosmic humor, will be the administration’s favoring of the market over public health. While society was settled on indefinite self-isolation and a hiatus for all nonessential work — something the federal government never quite got around to championing but which was nonetheless taken for granted by all nonsociopaths — it was possible to make limited headway negotiating forbearance from banks and lenders and landlords, using phrases like “act of God” and “force majeure.” If and when the president arbitrarily declares the battle won after a few short weeks of half-assed social distancing — long before a framework for widespread testing has been established, to say nothing of any formal measures to quickly increase the stockpile of masks and ventilators — small businesses will be forced to ignore the urgent pleas of the scientific and medical communities and reopen for business or face down creditors and landlords without the backing of an official mandate. Small businesses will have to choose between operating as coronavirus distribution centers or sinking immediately under the weight of debt.

Here is where things stand for my wife and her business: Her rent has been deferred for one month, at the cost of another full year on her lease; her two loans have been deferred for two months each, but not without penalty. Insurance for her company and its practitioners has not been deferred. Bills will begin piling up in earnest, thousands and tens of thousands of dollars at a time, beginning [checks watch] uhh yesterday. An end to social distancing is months and possibly a year away; Virginia’s current stay-at-home order runs into June. There is no telling how soon it will be anything other than catastrophically reckless to reopen her doors and accept business, but the people upstream have drawn their line. The clock is ticking.

Most painfully, the staffers who could not survive without immediate income have agreed to have their employment terminated, so that they can collect unemployment and seek Medicaid. My wife, who is a good practitioner and a good business owner and has not done anything wrong to put her business at risk, is in an impossible, untenable position. Because she will have to start paying rent again in one month, and because she will have to start making loan payments by summertime, and because she has several very talented and qualified and hardworking staff people in the wind, there will be enormous pressure on her to turn the lights back on before the end of April. If she does, she and all the other small businesses forced into the same position will be active vectors for coronavirus, despite every possible effort. If she doesn’t, it is very likely she never will again.

America Is About to Witness the Biggest Labor Movement It’s Seen in Decades

It took 40 years and a pandemic to stir up a worker revolution that’s about to hit corporate America!

Steve LeVine remembered that in September 1945, a little-remembered frenzy erupted in the United States. Japan had surrendered, ending World War II, but American meat packers, steelworkers, telephone installers, telegraph operators, and auto assemblers had something different from partying in mind. In rolling actions, they went on strike. After years of patriotic silence on the home front, these workers, along with unhappy roughnecks, lumberjacks, railroad engineers, and elevator operators — some 6 million workers in all — shut down their industries and some entire cities. Mainly they were seeking higher pay — and they got it, averaging 18% increases.

The era of raucous labor is long past, and worker chutzpah along with it. That is, it was — until now. Desperately needed to staff the basic economy while the rest of us remain secluded from Covid-19, ordinarily little-noticed workers are wielding unusual leverage. Across the country, cashiers, truckers, nurses, burger flippers, stock replenishers, meat plant workers, and warehouse hands are suddenly seen as heroic, and they are successfully protesting. For the previous generation of labor, the goal post was the 40-hour week. New labor’s immediate aims are much more prosaic: a sensible face mask, a bottle of sanitizer, and some sick days.

The question is what happens next. Are we watching a startling but fleeting moment for newly muscular labor? Or, once the coronavirus is beaten, do companies face a future of vocal workers aiming to rebuild lost decades of wage increases and regained influence in boardrooms and the halls of power?

For now at least, some of the country’s most powerful CEOs are clearly nervous. Late last month, Apple, faced with reporters asking about a company decision to furlough hundreds of contract workers without pay, did a quick about-face. Those employees, Apple now said, would receive their hourly wages. A few weeks earlier, after Amazon warehouse workers demanded better benefits during the virus pandemic, that company also reversed course, offering paid sick days and unlimited unpaid time off.

The backdrop is a country at a standstill and uncertain over which businesses will survive the current economic shakeout, and in what form. With some notable exceptions, very few companies seem prepared to risk riling their employees, especially given broad popular support for workers at their grocery stores, nurses at their hospitals, and drivers who are keeping supply arteries open.

The past four decades have been perhaps labor’s weakest since the Industrial Age.

But if companies are responding to those who are protesting, they might also think ahead and preempt festering trouble down the road. “I like to believe people will say, ‘We treat these people as disposable, but they are pretty indispensable. Maybe we should do what we can to recognize their contribution,’” says David Autor, a labor economist at MIT and co-director of the school’s Work of the Future Task Force.

Until the 1980s, layoffs were barely a thing, writes Louis Uchitelle in The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences. Companies tended to avoid large-scale dismissals, because they violated a red line of publicly accepted practice and also could finger the company for blame. The United States was still in the age of company as community and societal patron, and even when workers went on strike, they were generally not replaced, because the optics would be bad.

But in 1981, President Ronald Reagan changed all that. Some 12,000 air traffic controllers went on strike, demanding higher pay and a shorter workweek. In a breathtaking decision, Reagan fired all but a few hundred of them. The Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the controllers’ union entirely. The era of strong labor was over.

In the subsequent age of the no-excuses layoff, the number of major strikes has plunged. Starting in 1947, when the government began keeping such data, there were almost always anywhere from 200 to more than 400 big strikes every year. But in 1982, the year after the air traffic controllers debacle, the number for the first time fell below 100. In 2017, there were just seven. “There was damage to self-esteem every time there was a layoff. It took the militancy out of organized labor, and I don’t think it ever recovered,” Uchitelle says.

The past four decades have been perhaps labor’s weakest since the Industrial Age. For a half century, those working for hourly wages have won almost no real gains. The real average hourly wage in 2018 dollars adjusted for inflation was $22.65 in 2018, compared with $20.27 in 1964 — just an 11.7% gain, according to Pew Research. Real median hourly wages rose by only another 0.6% last year despite the sharp tightening of the job market and an increase in the minimum wage across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The current revival of worker activism precedes Covid-19 in the unlikeliest of places. In 2018, West Virginia teachers, among the lowest paid in the nation and four years without a raise, went on strike for nine days in a demand for higher pay. That they won a 5% increase was one astonishing thing. But the walkout itself was stunning, specifically because of the state where it occurred — a former bedrock of ultramilitant coal miners who had repeatedly gone to actual war for better pay and safety but more recently were a bastion of worker passivity.

If teachers are an indicator of what is coming, Amazon, fast food restaurants, hospitals, and gig companies have a long, hot few years ahead.

Last year, the West Virginia teachers were on the picket lines again. This time, they stopped the state legislature from funding private schools in what they saw as an attempt to weaken their newly revived strength. Officials buckled after just a day. The strikes meanwhile spread to a dozen red and blue cities and states. Often wearing red shirts as the symbol of the strikes, the teachers were demanding more money — from 2000 to 2017, teachers’ real salaries actually shrunk by 1.6% nationally, according to the National Center for Health Statistics — as well as more supplies and help in the classroom. In Arizona, teachers won a 20% raise, and Los Angeles teachers won a 6% raise. That triggered more strikes through much of 2019, with Chicago teachers, for one, winning a 16% pay raise. Strikes seemed likely this year, too, in Detroit and Philadelphia, for starters.

If teachers are an indicator of what is coming, Amazon, fast food restaurants, hospitals, and gig companies have a long, hot few years ahead. On April 6 alone, the employees of a Los Angeles McDonald’s walked out when a co-worker was diagnosed positive for the coronavirus. For the second time in a month, workers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse went on strike after 26 co-workers came down with the virus. And outside Chicago, employees of two plants walked out because management failed to immediately announce that co-workers had been diagnosed with Covid-19.

Across the country, workers are on the march over safety, pay, and sick days. The picture is jarring at a time when 16 million people are newly out of work. Companies and CEOs need to prepare for a new post-Covid-19 reality where workers will recognize their power — and use it.

 “Business models based on ridiculous labor rates plus arbitrage where you foist all your costs onto the employee are coming to an end.”

When the virus struck Hilton Hotels starting in January, its global occupancy plummeted to somewhere between 10% and 15%, and most of its 6,100 managed and franchised properties closed. Executives were convinced that the travel industry would eventually rebound, but from there they faced a conundrum: They did not want to lose a trained workforce, but they also knew they and their franchisees could not afford to keep their approximately 260,000 employees on the payroll. So, on March 24, the decision was announced to, in effect, loan them out.

Staff in Hilton’s human relations unit contacted counterparts at Amazon, Albertson’s, CVS, and Walgreens, says Nigel Glennie, vice president of corporate communications at Hilton. These retailers were experiencing Covid-19 boomlets and, combined, were in the market for hundreds of thousands of workers. Were they interested in some already trained workers, Hilton asked, who are expert specifically in catering to exceedingly particular customers? So an expedited hiring portal was set up, ultimately connecting Hilton’s workforce with 28 retailers that were suddenly responsible for almost the entire working economy.

The outcome was ideal for Hilton: It would not lay off but instead furlough its workers, thus allowing them to collect unemployment checks or work elsewhere. Once the crisis ended, they could return to Hilton. “We have a commercial interest in this decision. We know we have well-trained people who we want back,” Glennie says. “We wanted to make sure they were looked after. We want to do the right thing by our people.”

Jeff Lackey, vice president of talent acquisition for CVS Health, says his company was seeking 50,000 new employees at the time. Albertson’s says it was hiring 30,000. Neither know exactly how many of Hilton’s workforce are now working for their respective companies, but Lackey says the hiring process was being completed in as little as a single day. “I understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck,” he says.

Less flattering attention has gone to companies that have violated an unwritten set of rules that have emerged for corporate behavior. Hospital management has been upbraided for suspending nurses who try to protect themselves by buying their own equipment and disciplining those who speak out. Former employees of Bird, the scooter company, described drawn-out hours of uninformed dread prior to an announced Zoom meeting, followed by a short announcement by someone they did not know. And Dig Inn, the fast-casual chain, sprung the news by text.

Sephora, too, has been faulted publicly by recently laid-off employees. At first, the retail beauty chain closed but promised to keep paying everyone for as long as the stores remained shuttered. Then, on March 31, it laid off part-time staff anyway. The decision caught a lot of Sephora employees by surprise. In tweets and online videos, some workers said they had been on calls with their managers that very day discussing the opposite — how they would go ahead in the new environment. Suddenly, though, employees received texts saying that in 15 minutes, they were to participate in a mandatory audio call.

When Lydia Cymone, a Sephora makeup artist in Alpharetta, Georgia, heard the call, she was right in the middle of videotaping a makeup tutorial and posted the tearful video. Brittney Coorpender, who did facial treatments at a Sephora store in San Jose, California, told me in an email exchange that she felt misled. “Women/men who forgot to mute themselves could be heard sobbing right before I ended the call,” Coorpender wrote. “They promised and promised us we were fine and gave zero indication we weren’t, until that call.”

In response to a request for comment, Sephora sent the March 31 statement it posted to its website. Dan Davenport, president of recruiter Randstad RiseSmart, says, “If you’re making a statement that you’re not going to be laying anyone off, you better be right about that.”

If corporate America does face a post-Covid-19 reckoning from workers, the gig economy seems like one of the top probable targets. Jim Chanos, president of Kynikos Associates, a hedge fund that shorts stocks, was made famous in the early 1990s for blowing the whistle on Enron. Today, Chanos is shorting Uber and Grubhub, among other gig companies. In an interview, he said he had already been shorting the two companies but has added to these bets since the virus struck.

What makes them weak, in Chanos’ view, is the optics of their business model, which is based on paying an arguably miserly cut of revenue to their workers and a refusal to make them actual employees. While allowing these companies to avoid a lot of the conventional costs of doing business, the strategy has also always left the gig companies at risk of their workers and the public turning against them. Chanos predicts that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the post-coronavirus era. The public is “going to look askance” at companies that have relied on taxpayers to fully cover their workers’ jobless benefits, since they do not pay into unemployment insurance funds. “Business models based on ridiculous labor rates plus arbitrage where you foist all your costs onto the employee are coming to an end,” he says.

Until the virus, the notion of unionized tech workers was just that — a notion that seemed to violate the very spirit of Silicon Valley. It’s still hard to imagine unionized software engineers. But it’s equally difficult to say where the boundaries of the possible lie.

White-collar tech activism goes back two years, when Google workers around the world walked off the job in a protest against sexual harassment. More workers are griping now. Last month, some Instacart workers walked off the job in a bid for a higher share of the revenue and better safety; in some cities, they are starting to join unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers local in Chicago. In San Francisco, Uber and Lyft drivers protested last month in front of Uber headquarters.

The tremors, though, will be felt not just in the gig economy but also tech at large: In February, employees at Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, voted to unionize, becoming the first white-collar tech company staff to do so, according to a database at Cal Berkeley. The Teamsters are making an open run at organizing other Silicon Valley workers. If you put Covid-19 out of your mind, the move is mind-blowing. Until the virus, the notion of unionized tech workers was just that — a notion that seemed to violate the very spirit of Silicon Valley. It’s still hard to imagine unionized software engineers. But it’s equally difficult to say where the boundaries of the possible lie.

The biggest fish of all in terms of tech unionization is Amazon. The e-commerce giant is beset with worker complaints just as it has begun to transcend its barbarian image, repositioning itself as a public good at the very center of the U.S. economy. An issue that has drawn particular heat is its decision on March 30 to fire Chris Smalls, a worker at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island who loudly complained about health safety. On April 8, a group of Democratic U.S. senators wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos raising skeptical questions about Smalls’ dismissal and Covid-19 safety generally at company warehouses. Amazon has seemed generally conflicted: On one hand, it has responded with added pay and off-days for sick employees. But Amazon has also repeatedly fired workers it has deemed disloyal — three employees just over the past week who had criticized health conditions. Whole Foods, too, owned by Amazon and run by John Mackey, the devotee of “conscious capitalism,” faced a sick-out in March and look, now a number of Amazon facilities are seeing sick outs. In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the points raised in the senators’ letter were unfounded and that Smalls was dismissed for violations of social distancing guidelines. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our teams,” the spokesperson said.

Robert Shiller, the Nobel Prize–winning economist at Yale, compares labor’s newfound position to its stature in the Great Depression, when workers also suddenly were conferred with vast public sympathy.

While complaints and denunciation of Amazon abound, no one has gone so far as to try an old-style shutdown of any of the company’s operations — the kind of display of strength that typified unions in their heyday. For that matter, no rabble-rousing worker is known to have recently banged on the desk of a major company executive — or a leading politician — and demanded the production of a plant be kept open and workers on the job. Even if one did, would the public go along? Would large numbers of people stop shopping at Amazon? If they did, Amazon would have to concede quickly, just as railroad workers shut down transportation across the country in labor’s peak. “If you could really shut down a warehouse, that would really shock Amazon and get them to address the worker concerns,” says Steven Greenhouse, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up, a history of American labor.

Robert Shiller, the Nobel Prize–winning economist at Yale, compares labor’s newfound position to its stature in the Great Depression, when workers also suddenly were conferred with vast public sympathy. “The narrative was that it wasn’t their fault. There was something in the system,” Shiller told me. “This is another case where obviously it’s not their fault. And there is heroism in how they are delivering to us through this.”

In a way, labor’s resurgence is not all that surprising. The age of Trump and Brexit is, at its crux, an uprising against globalization, the movement that, after Reagan and his contemporaneous British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, diminished labor and championed worldly capitalism at whatever the local cost. If we are spurning globalization, it stands to reason that the local comes back into focus. And what is more local than the grocery bagger, the postman, the nurse?

Where workers have advantage today has been in keeping their demands modest, drawing the public to their side, and making it very difficult for management to refuse. Worker efforts could be blunted by high unemployment, at least until jobs return. But their pluck, beaten out of them by the years of layoffs, has returned with Covid-19.

A class war? A global power shift? A world isolated? How experts see the future after coronavirus.

Joel Shannon noted that what will “normal” be like after coronavirus? Experts imagine a different world.

The coming weeks hold plenty of uncertainty as the world reels from the coronavirus pandemic, but some experts are already thinking about how the current crisis will impact society for years to come.

A report from Deloitte and Salesforce released this month presents four scenarios for the next three to five years — and they all tell a story of a world radically changed by the virus with the intent of helping leaders prepare for a variety of possible futures. “Even their best-case scenario looks pretty bad,” trends expert and keynote speaker Daniel Levine told USA TODAY.

Rather than making specific predictions, the scenarios in “The world remade by COVID-19” report focus on what we don’t know at this time, Andrew Blau — managing director of Deloitte Consulting and a leader on the project — told USA TODAY.

When will life return to normal? Expert says US testing is too far behind to know, expects second wave of cases. The end result: An intentionally fuzzy picture of several possible futures, varying based on how several unknowns — such as the duration of the pandemic — unfold. Those possible futures highlight trends that may soon define our times.

On one end of the spectrum: A short-lived pandemic that will batter small and medium-sized businesses. It leaves consumers — grateful to once again gather with friends, loved ones and coworkers in person — reevaluating some of their pre-pandemic habits. On the other end: A prolonged, nearly impossible to contain virus that leaves the world isolated, distrustful and suffering.

Levine, who was not involved with the project, said the report approached the difficult task of looking years into the future the right way. While none of the scenarios described in the report are likely to pan out as authors imagine them today, Levine said the future will likely hold a mix of them. 

Here’s the authors’ four scenarios:

The passing storm

In this possible future, our fight against the virus goes better than expected — but still at great economic cost, especially to the middle class and small businesses.

The pandemic “leaves its mark on society, but doesn’t change everything,” Blau said. 

Governments’ plans to contain the virus generally work and citizens comply with the measures. The success leads to a greater trust in our institutions, but class tensions simmer as the lower and middle classes bear the brunt of the economic damage. 

What might life be like in this future? In many ways, daily life would remain relatively stable, Blau said. Life under lockdown will remind many people about the value of community and companionship. Weeks of increased teleworking and online retail will lead many people to alter some of their behaviors. 

Sunrise in the east

Authors note the possibility that China and other East Asian counties will be able to manage the virus more effectively, through what western nations may see as heavy-handed tactics. Aggressively enforced lockdowns and surveillance technology have shown promise in multiple East Asian countries’ fight against the virus. If western countries’ uneven response proves less effective, global power could shift to China and its neighbors, authors speculated.

What might life be like in this future? The political impacts of this are hard to pin down for Blau, although he suspects eastern Asian countries would be looked to as a positive example in how western governments are run. Clearer to him: Our relationship with technology could change. For years, many people have held deep privacy concerns and a suspicion of artificial intelligence. If technology proves invaluable in our fight against the virus, those perceptions could evolve.

Good company

This scenario imagines a world where many factors — such as the severity of the disease and the economic impacts — are not as bad as they could be, but only because corporations stepped up when governments were ineffective.

It’s an expansion of a trend seen to some extent in the today — public-private partnerships where big corporations step in when governments can’t handle the crisis alone. There are threads of this in the daily news of today: Tech companies fixing broken ventilators for the government; Apple and Google developing apps to help fight the pandemic.

What might life be like in this future? Corporations would play an even bigger role in our lives than they currently do — and Blau suspects we would come to embrace that, since those companies helped us through the crisis. The report says this future could lead to an era of greater corporate responsibility and trust.

Lone wolves

This is the future “no one wants to happen,” Blau said. This scenario could happen if the virus proves impossible to contain and spreads in long-lasting waves around the globe. “Mounting deaths, social unrest, and economic freefall become prominent,” the report says. 

As a result, nations turn inward and limit contact with the outside world in the interest of national security. It’s a future where even allies feel like they cannot trust each other.

What might life be like in this future? Different nations will feel the impacts in different ways, but Blau imagines we’d live in a less connected, less trusting, less prosperous world, focused on survival. It’s a “dark scenario” where technology is used for surveillance and control, nations limit trade with each other and paranoia is common among citizens.

Will any of these scenarios actually happen?

The good news: The future isn’t written yet, and we have a say in how it plays out.

Report authors listed how citizens of nations responded to the crisis as one of their top unknowns. Nations that work together and “think big and act fast” will fare better, they predicted.

The scenarios in the report are meant to confront you with a possible reality that might surprise or unsettle you — and that’s part of the point, Blau said. The goal is to get readers thinking and mentally preparing for a wide variety of possible futures, even ones that don’t seem intuitive.

Instead of believing specific predictions for the future, he suggested embracing the uncertainty we are all living at this moment.

“We’re all imagining the future,” Blau said. “None of us actually know.” 

Coronavirus Forces Organizers to Cancel San Diego Comic-Con

Brakkton Booker reported that the continued spread of the coronavirus claimed yet another big event on the 2020 entertainment calendar this Friday, when the San Diego Comic-Con announced the annual entertainment and comic book convention would be postponed until 2021.

In a statement on its website, organizers said it is “with deep regret that there will be no Comic-Con in 2020,” marking the first time in the event’s 50-year history it would not be held.

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and while we are saddened to take this action, we know it is the right decision,” said Comic-Con spokesperson David Glanzer. “We eagerly look forward to the time when we can all meet again and share in the community we all love and enjoy.”

The event, which was expected to draw more than 100,000 people, was scheduled to be held July 23-26. It will now take place almost a year to the day later, kicking off July 22-25, 2021.

Comic-Con — which launched as a small comic-book themed event — is now a powerhouse summer festival that attracts major figures from movies and television. It’s one of the biggest fan events of the year; last year more than 135,000 people attended, and not just for comics, but for interactive experiences, signings and big announcements about the latest Marvel movies.

SDCC officials said fans who bought passes for Comic-Con 2020 can either request a refund or transfer their badges to next year. The same offer is being made to the event’s exhibitors.

Organizers also announced that a previously postponed event, Anaheim WonderCon — originally set for April 10-12 — will also be pushed to 2021. It will be held at California’s Anaheim Convention Center from March 26-28.

The spread of the coronavirus has decimated the festival and sporting calendar, with many states implementing broad social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders that have shuttered all but essential businesses from operating.

In March, California governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order, and banned gatherings of more than 250 people.

What will happen next as more and more states consider “getting back to “normal” and as more and more groups push back with non-social gathering demonstrations. Don’t be idiots and follow science and our public healthcare teams!

The questions are when will this end, which prediction model do we believe and what will the new normal be?