Tag Archives: Coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Circulating antibodies help to contain the infection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the next question is:

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

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

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

What Is Vaccine Effectiveness Now?

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

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

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

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

What Justifies Boosters?

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

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

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

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

Global Equity

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

Take a Step Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antibodies wane but other immune defenses remain alert.

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

Early data favors certain cancer treatments during pandemic

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

One in four infected LA residents had been vaccinated

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

Infectious disease expert: Americans must ‘recalibrate’ vaccine expectations

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

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

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

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

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

Delta Variant Now Accounts for 83% of US Cases and Back to Mask Wearing, Even for Those Vaccinated!

Carolyn Crist reported that the nation’s top health officials said Tuesday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is racing through the country and now is responsible for 83% of all U.S. cases.

That’s a massive increase from a week ago, when Delta was seen as responsible for just more than half of new cases, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, told a Senate committee.

And listen to her carefully…is she actually suggesting a Federal Mandate to vaccinate everyone???

“The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have,” she said.

Meanwhile, several states in the South are reporting a large increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri are reporting full-fledged outbreaks, and neighboring states such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas are following behind.

“4th wave is here,” Thomas Dobbs, MD, the state health officer for Mississippi, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Dobbs posted a graph of hospitalizations in Mississippi, which showed numbers climbing dramatically in July after hitting a low in May and June.

“Very sad indeed,” he wrote. “Didn’t have to be this way.”

Mississippi reported more than 2,300 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, which is the state’s largest 3-day increase in cases since February, according to The Associated Press. Mississippi has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country.

Florida has become one of the country’s biggest COVID-19 hot spots, now accounting for a fifth of new infections in the U.S., according to NBC News.

In Jacksonville, UF Health broke its record for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, jumping from 86 patients on Sunday to 126 on Monday.

“We’re gaining cases at such a rapid rate, we don’t really know where it’s going to stop,” Chad Neilsen, the director of infection prevention at UF Health, told NBC News.

“We aren’t even thinking a couple of months,” he said. “We’re thinking what’s going to immediately happen in the next week.”

Hospitals in Arkansas and Missouri are also preparing for a surge of patients that could strain staff and resources again, according to NBC News. If hospitalizations triple in the next 2 weeks, as projected by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), it could feel like the chaotic period at the end of 2020.

“Right now, we’re managing OK, but we’re in surge mode,” Steppe Mette, MD, the CEO of the UAMS Medical Center, told NBC News.

“We’re putting patients in physical locations where we weren’t putting them normally because of that demand,” he said.

At Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, COIVD-19 hospitalizations have increased by 70% during the last week, according to the Houston Chronicle . On Monday, the hospital had 184 COVID-19 patients, which is double the number it had on July 1.

The Delta variant accounts for about 85% of the cases, and the hospital recorded its first hospitalization with the Lambda variant, the Chronicle reported. The Lambda variant, which was first identified in Peru, has been spreading throughout South America and is now reaching the U.S.

The Delta variant has been “running rampant” among unvaccinated people in Texas, Marc Boom, MD, the CEO of Houston Methodist, wrote in an email to hospital staff. The variant will account for nearly all COVID-19 cases in the area within the coming weeks, he said.

“It is the variant of concern in Houston,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is that Delta is far more infectious.”

Public health officials are grappling with the best way to move forward as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. Increasing vaccinations is key, but mandating or guilting people into getting a shot would likely backfire, NBC News reported.

“People have heard our messages ad nauseam, but to see patients struggling to breathe and wishing they got vaccinated, that may make a difference,” Mette told the news outlet.

“Those are real people who are getting real sick,” he said.

What Evidence Do We Need to Move Forward With COVID Boosters?

Dr. Vinay Prasad noted that a few weeks ago, on Monday, employees of Pfizer met with high level executives in the Biden administration to discuss the role of boosters — a.k.a. a third vaccination with an mRNA vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. Some have speculated that, as with the first two doses, the emergency use authorization pathway will again be used to market boosters. With the rise of the Delta variant and others, enthusiasm in the media and the Twitter commentariat for boosters is growing. However, there are certain criteria that must be met before we jump on the booster bandwagon. Some of these criteria apply at home, and others apply abroad. What does stand out is that more data, real data, and an evaluation of several factors at home and abroad will be key in moving forward.

Abroad

As a general rule, if your goal is to avoid variants — or mutated versions of a virus — you want the virus to replicate less. When it comes to variants, it doesn’t matter where the virus does the replicating. In a globally connected world, it is only a matter of time before an advantageous mutation finds its way to all parts of the world. As such, we in the U.S., are only as safe as the least safe place in the world.

What this means is that before we shift our manufacturing capacity to develop boosters for the current variants, we must make a real effort to ensure that the vaccines we do have get distributed to the greatest number of global citizens who will take them. I argued in April that, practically, this means that children in high income nations should be vaccinated after older citizens globally – this same logic extends to boosters.

Before we shift our manufacturing to booster production, we should make sure that we have manufactured adequate supplies of the original vaccine for all global citizens. Moreover, we need to put effort toward solving the last mile problem: how to deliver very cold mRNA vaccines to places in the world where it is difficult to deliver and keep things very cold. This is a technological problem well within our scope.

Efforts to manufacture and deliver vaccine boosters to already vaccinated individuals in high-income nations cannot take priority and must not interfere with efforts to vaccinate at-risk individuals around the world. In fact, it is in our best interest to vaccinate those at-risk first. If we pursue boosters in the U.S. without helping the rest of the world, then we might as well get ready for the fourth, fifth, and sixth boosters. We will watch rising death tolls around the world, while worrying that yet new variants may end up on our shores.

At Home

Here in the U.S., there are also metrics that need to be met before we contemplate widespread dosing of hundreds of millions of people with booster shots. Specifically: show me the data! I have no doubt that a third mRNA shot will lead to higher neutralizing antibody titers. For that matter, I would guess six shots would outperform three on that metric. But the burden of evidence to accept boosters is not simply a change in antibody titer — or even demonstration of improved titers for rare variants.

We must show that boosters improve clinical endpoints before we ask Americans to roll up their sleeves again. A large randomized trial of vaccinated individuals powered for reduction in symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 or (better yet) severe COVID-19 is needed to justify the harms and inconvenience of boosters. If such a trial simply cannot be powered, or takes a very long time, due to the sparsity of serious infection in the U.S., then the argument for emergency use authorization is inherently flawed. When there’s too little disease to run the definitive trial, you are, by definition, no longer in an emergency. One way to solve this problem might be to deliver boosters only in elderly individuals or those who are immunocompromised. Here, a trial measuring COVID-19 outcomes may be possible.

Alternatively, a case for boosters can be made if evidence shows that boosters alter the epidemic course for a nation or the globe. Here, too, antibody titers are insufficient. Moreover, ironically, clinical trials would have to be larger and more complex to demonstrate this. For these reasons, I think the burden is on vaccine manufacturers to show that severe COVID-19 outcomes are averted.

Finally, we need to consider the second order effects of boosters. Would we gain more if we took the effort that would go into boosters and instead used it to try to increase vaccination uptake by those who are reluctant to get their first and second dose? Is the mere fact that news outlets and companies report the possible need for boosters a disincentive to be vaccinated? A skeptical person may now no longer see SARS-CoV-2 vaccines as the path out of the pandemic, but a recurring, and possibly someday yearly obligation that they may prefer to avoid altogether. We can’t ignore the potential impact of discussing boosters on vaccine acceptance.

Boosters Without Data

If we accept boosters in the U.S. while the rest of the world remains unvaccinated, and if we authorize them based on inevitable improved laboratory titers without clinical outcomes, we run the risk of creating a medical industrial perpetual motion machine.

We will continue to breed new variants outside of our nation, which will lead to calls for yet more boosters, and we will continue to get new boosters without any evidence they are necessary (i.e., lower severe COVID-19 outcomes). Our arms will ache, our hearts will hurt, our wallets will be empty, and so too will our brains, as we will have abandoned all principles of evidence-based medicine.

Lambda variant of COVID-19 identified at Texas hospital. Is it worse than delta?

Ryan W. Miller reported that a Houston hospital has its first case of the lambda variant of the coronavirus, but public health experts say it remains too soon to tell whether the variant will rise to the same level of concern as the delta variant currently raging across unvaccinated communities in the U.S.

About 83% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are from the delta variant and the vast majority of hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lambda variant, on the other hand, has been identified in less than 700 cases in the U.S. However, the World Health Organization in June called lambda a “variant of interest,” meaning it has genetic changes that affect the virus’ characteristics and has caused significant community spread or clusters of COVID-19 in multiple countries.

Dr. S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic biology at Houston Methodist, where the case was identified, said while lambda has some mutations that are similar to other variants that have raised concern, it does not appear to be nearly as transmissible as delta.

“I know there’s great interest in lambda, but I think people really need to be focused on delta,” Long said. “Most importantly, regardless of the variant, our best defense against all these variants is vaccination.

What is the lambda variant and how is it different from the delta variant?

The lambda variant is a specific strain of COVID-19 with specific mutations. It’s one of a handful of variants identified by the WHO as variants of concern or interest. Many other variants have arisen since the outbreak was first detected in late 2019 in central China.

“The natural trajectory of viruses is that they have a tendency to have mutations, and whenever we have a significant mutation that changes the virus … we get a new variant,” said Dr. Abhijit Duggal, a staff ICU physician and director for critical care research for the medical ICU at the Cleveland Clinic.

Some of the lambda mutations occur in its spike protein, which is the part of the virus that helps it penetrate cells in the human body and is also what the vaccines are targeting.

Mutations occurring there and in other parts of lambda are similar to those in variants of concern, like alpha and gamma, Long said. But even gamma, which never took hold in the U.S. to the same level as alpha or delta, has more concerning mutations than lambda, Long said.

Duggal said there hasn’t been anything specific with the lambda variant to spark concern about it becoming the dominant variant in the U.S., but “watchful waiting and being cautious is going to be the most important thing at this point.”

Where was the lambda variant first identified?

The lambda variant was first identified in Peru in December 2020. Since April, more than 80% of sequenced cases in the country have been identified as the lambda variant.

As of June, the WHO said it had identified the lambda variant in 29 countries. Argentina and Chile have also seen rising lambda cases, the WHO said.

However, the variant hasn’t spread nearly to the same level on a global scale as the delta variant. Lambda may have become so widespread in parts of South America largely because of a “founder effect,” Long said, wherein a few cases of the variant first took hold in a densely populated and geographically restricted area and slowly became the primary driver for the spread locally over time.

Long compared lambda to the gamma variant, which first was detected in Brazil and spread in similar ways.

Are COVID-19 vaccines effective against the lambda variant?

Studies have suggested the vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19 and death across multiple variants.

Duggal said while there is no reason to believe the vaccines will be ineffective against the lambda variant, more data is need to know exactly how effective it will be. The efficacy may lower some, but hospitalization may still be largely preventable in variant cases with vaccination, he said.

Remember ‘Nothing in this world is 100%’: Those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can be infected, but serious illness is rare.

However, a new study posted online Tuesday found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was not as effective at preventing symptomatic disease when faced with the delta and lambda variants. The study was not yet peer reviewed or published in a journal, but it aligned with studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine that conclude one dose of the vaccine is 33% effective against symptomatic disease of the delta variant.

Vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have shown to keep similar levels of effectiveness against several of the variants of concern. But, just announced, a new preprint study conducted by Pfizer-BioNTech found its vaccine efficacy could drop down to 84% within 6 months.

Getting vaccinated still remains the most important factor in stopping the virus’ deadly effects and slowing down new variants, Long said.

Mutations occur in the coronavirus as it spreads from person to person. Vaccination can help prevent symptomatic disease and decrease the spread in communities with high vaccinations rates, which can then prevent mutations from occurring and new variants from arising, Duggal added.

Delta’s threat: CDC reveals data on why masks are important for the vaccinated and unvaccinated

More on the Delta mutated variant, which is becoming a real problem for the un vaccinated portion of our population and why wearing masks are important for all. Adrianna Rodriquez reported that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had a busy week. 

Only a few days after announcing updated mask guidelines, the agency on Friday released new scientific data on the delta variant that gives a snapshot of how the highly contagious strain triggered a wave of coronavirus cases. 

The much-anticipated report comes a day after a presentation compiled by a doctor with the agency was leaked to the media and detailed the dangers of the delta variant and how mask-wearing is essential to bring it under control.

In a briefing Tuesday, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the new data spurred the agency to take immediate action by recommending fully vaccinated people to wear mask indoors in public settings where coronavirus transmission is high. 

“The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it,” she said earlier this week. “This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations.”

Here’s everything to know about the delta variant and how it impacts fully vaccinated people. 

‘Pivotal discovery’: What the new data says about delta variant, transmission 

Fully vaccinated people made up nearly three-quarters of COVID-19 infections that occurred in a Massachusetts town during and after Fourth of July festivities, according to a CDC study published Friday in the agency’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report.

Out of 469 cases that were identified in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, from July 3 to 17, the agency found 74% occurred in fully vaccinated people. The CDC sequenced samples taken from 133 patients and discovered 90% were caused by the delta variant. 

“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with delta can transmit the virus,” Walensky said in a statement sent to USA TODAY on Friday. “This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to the CDC’s mask recommendation.”

Health officials continue to reiterate the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs among the unvaccinated, not fully vaccinated people.

“Vaccinated individuals continue to represent a very small amount of transmission occurring around the country,” Walensky said. “We continue to estimate that the risk of breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the delta variant is reduced by sevenfold. The reduction is twentyfold for hospitalizations and death.” 

Four fully vaccinated people between the ages of 20 and 70 were hospitalized, two of whom had underlying medical conditions. No deaths were reported.  

The study found 79% of patients with breakthrough infection reported symptoms including cough, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, and fever. 

Remember also that: Breakthrough COVID-19 infections after vaccination can lead to long-haul symptoms, Israeli study shows.

Of the 346 breakthrough infections, 56% of people were vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 38% with Moderna and 7% with Johnson & Johnson. As of Friday, over 190 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine has been administered in the U.S., nearly 140 million of Moderna and 13.3 million of Johnson & Johnson, according to the CDC.

Health experts say the reason why more breakthrough infections occurred in the mRNA vaccines compared to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is because more people in the U.S. received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. 

“When you look at the data, it may concern some people that there appears to be a higher rate of breakthrough COVID infections in people fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, however, as a percentage of people who are fully vaccinated, more people have been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine,” said Dr. Teresa Murray Amato, chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, New York.

“It still appears that all three of the current vaccines with emergency use administration authorization in the United States are safe and effective against the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus,” she added. 

While study authors say evidence suggests fully vaccinated people exposed to the delta variant can contract and spread the virus, it is not sufficient to determine the vaccines’ effectiveness against the highly contagious strain. 

Delta substantially more contagious than other variants

Although the study didn’t specify if fully vaccinated people can transmit the virus to other fully vaccinated people, health experts say they should wear a mask and socially distance largely to protect those who haven’t been vaccinated or who have a weakened immune system and can’t get full protection from the vaccine. 

“The data makes a pretty compelling justification for why we need to go back to mask wearing and other public health measures,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. “I do think it’s because of the delta variant.”

The delta variant is known to be substantially more contagious than other variants – as contagious though deadlier than chicken pox, according to the CDC presentation. Among common infectious diseases, only measles is more contagious.

People may also be infectious for longer with the delta variant, 18 days instead of 13, the presentation says.

Vaccines remain effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19, though they worked better against the original strain and the alpha variant than they do against delta, data finds.

What do the CDC mask guidelines say?

The CDC is urging fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in areas of high or substantial coronavirus transmission. 

They’re also recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors inside schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, regardless of vaccination status. That aligns closely with guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommended this month that anyone older than 2 be required to wear a mask in school. 

The CDC and the AAP are still urging that children return to full-time in-person learning in the fall.

The goal behind the guidance may be to protect both the fully vaccinated and the unvaccinated, health experts say, especially vaccinated people who may be immunocompromised and children under 12 who aren’t yet eligible to get their shot.

But the reality is there’s hardly any transmission among fully vaccinated people to truly affect community spread, they say.

“It makes sense why they did it, but I don’t think it’s going to make a major difference in the large surge that we’re having,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island. “The real issue still is unvaccinated people who are not going around masked up. I have no reason to think that this guidance will get unvaccinated, unmasked people putting on masks. And that’s what we really need.”

Is there a test for the delta variant?

A traditional PCR test alone cannot differentiate the delta variant from the original virus.

The delta variant has distinctive mutations that serve as biological markers that can only be detected through genome sequencing.

Many U.S. laboratories sequence a small – but nationally representative – number of positive samples for epidemiological purposes. According to the CDC, more than 175,000 sequences have been collected through the agency’s surveillance program since Dec. 20.

People who test positive for COVID-19 aren’t made aware if they were infected by the delta variant, even if their sample was sequenced.

“Our patients will not learn if they have a variant or not,” said Dr. Christina Wojewoda, chair of College of American Pathologists Microbiology Committee. “It is for epidemiology purposes only and currently, there is no medical use for that result.”

However, the CDC said more than 80% of sequenced samples have the delta variant, which means people sick with COVID-19 were most likely infected with the highly contagious strain. 

“It is safe to assume in most places, if you are infected now, it is likely delta,” Wojewoda said. 

‘A Few Mutations Away’: The Threat of a
Vaccine-Proof Variant

Damian McNamara noted something that concerns me if we don’t get control of the virus using the best weapon that we have, vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, made a dire prediction during a media briefing this week that, if we weren’t already living within the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, would sound more like a pitch for a movie about a dystopian future.

“For the amount of virus circulating in this country right now largely among unvaccinated people, the largest concern that we in public health and science are worried about is that the virus…[becomes] a very transmissible virus that has the potential to evade our vaccines in terms of how it protects us from severe disease and death,” Walensky told reporters on Tuesday. 

A new, more elusive variant could be “just a few mutations away,” she said.

We are already reporting the lambda variant and I predict that next will be the gamma and then the kapa variant.

“That’s a very prescient comment,” Lewis Nelson, MD, professor and clinical chair of emergency medicine and chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, told Medscape Medical News.

“We’ve gone through a few mutations already that have been named, and each one of them gets a little more transmissible,” he said. “That’s normal, natural selection and what you would expect to happen as viruses mutate from one strain to another.”

“What we’ve mostly seen this virus do is evolve to become more infectious,” said Stuart Ray, MD, when also asked to comment. “That is the remarkable feature of Delta — that it is so infectious.”

He said that the SARS-CoV-2 has evolved largely as expected, at least so far. “The potential for this virus to mutate has been something that has been a concern from early on.”

“The viral evolution is a bit like a ticking clock. The more we allow infections to occur, the more likely changes will occur. When we have lots of people infected, we give more chances to the virus to diversify and then adapt to selective pressures,” said Ray, vice-chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics and professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

“The problem is if the virus changes in such a way that the spike protein — which the antibodies from the vaccine are directed against — are no longer effective at binding and destroying the virus, and the virus escapes immune surveillance,” Nelson said.

If this occurs, he added, “we will have an ineffective vaccine, essentially. And we’ll be back to where we were last March with a brand-new disease.”

Technology to the Rescue?

The flexibility of mRNA vaccines is one potential solution. These vaccines could be more easily and quickly adapted to respond to a new, more vaccine-elusive variant.

“That’s absolutely reassuring,” Nelson said. For example, if a mutation changes the spike protein and vaccines no longer recognize it, a manufacturer could identify the new protein and incorporate that in a new mRNA vaccine.

“The problem is that some people are not taking the current vaccine,” he added. “I’m not sure what is going to make them take the next vaccine.”

When asked how likely a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 could emerge that gets around vaccine protection, Nelson said, “I think [what] we’ve learned so far there is no way to predict anything” about this pandemic.

“The best way to prevent the virus from mutating is to prevent hosts, people, from getting sick with it,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important people should get immunized and wear masks.”

Both Nelson and Ray pointed out that it is in the best interest of the virus to evolve to be more transmissible and spread to more people. In contrast, a virus that causes people to get so sick that they isolate or die, thus halting transmission, works against viruses surviving evolutionarily.

Some viruses also mutate to become milder over time, but that has not been the case with SARS-CoV-2, Ray said.

Mutations are not the only concern!

Viruses have another mechanism that produces new strains, and it works even more quickly than mutations. Recombination, as it’s known, can occur when a person is infected with two different strains of the same virus. If the two versions enter the same cell, the viruses can swap genetic material and produce a third, altogether different strain.

Recombination has already been seen with influenza strains, where H and N genetic segments are swapped to yield H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2 versions of the flu, for example.

“In the early days of SARS-CoV-2 there was so little diversity that recombination did not matter,” Ray said. However, there are now distinct lineages of the virus circulating globally. If two of these lineages swap segments “this would make a very new viral sequence in one step without having to mutate to gain those differences.”

“The more diverse the strains that are circulating, the bigger a possibility this is,” Ray said.

Protected, for Now

Walensky’s sober warning came at the same time the CDC released new guidance calling for the wearing of masks indoors in schools and in any location in the country where COVID-19 cases surpass 50 people per 100,000, also known as substantial or high transmission areas.

On a positive note, Walensky said: “Right now, fortunately, we are not there. The vaccines operate really well in protecting us from severe disease and death.”

Records have been set nearly every day lately in Tokyo, but not all of them have been by athletes competing in the Olympics.

Japan’s capital has exceeded 4,000 coronavirus infections for the first time — 4,058 cases, to be exact. That’s a record high and nearly four times as many cases were reported just a week ago.

Tokyo set new case records every day from Monday to Wednesday, experiencing just a slight dip on Thursday, when they totaled 3,300 — still one of the city’s highest daily counts on record.

So, those of you, your friends, associates who haven’t been vaccinated, your best protection is still getting vaccinated.

Just do it, get vaccinated!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In search of President Trump’s mysterious health care plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not exactly. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All eyes on numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some reportable diseases rarely result in deaths, so CSTE directives have typically focused on how to count cases, not fatalities. Then came the coronavirus and a mushrooming death toll. The CDC acknowledged in early April that the death count was an “underestimation” because it included only fatalities in which the virus was laboratory confirmed. Testing shortages, people dying at home or in nursing homes, and spotty postmortem testing meant victims were overlooked.

“When the outbreak first started and we were all just counting lab-confirmed cases by default, it became clear that we were not going to be able to describe the burden of the pandemic because so many people were not being tested,” said Turner, lead author of the CSTE statement on covid-19.

“We usually don’t approach a death separately from a case, but in this situation, we decided it was needed,” she said.

The CSTE recommended reporting probable and confirmed cases and deaths on April 5. The CDC’s written response to the recommendations, which was shared with The Post, said the agency “concurs” and that adoption by states is “very important” for covid-19 record-keeping. On April 14, the CDC noted on its website that the national tally includes probables, although the agency did not at that time provide a state-by state breakdown. The CDC also modified the form states use for coronavirus reports, adding boxes that can be checked to indicate a “lab-confirmed” case or “probable” case.

Probable cases were defined as showing symptoms and having contact with an infected person, or meeting one of those criteria and testing positive for coronavirus antibodies, rather than for the virus itself. Probable deaths meant those who were never tested for the virus but whose death certificates listed covid-19 as the cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death.

The CSTE statement also says that confirmed and probable counts should be included in the tallies “released outside the public health agency,” which could mean a state website or written report, according to the organization.

“When states are using different approaches, it always begs the question: ‘Why does one state choose one over another? Why a more conservative approach over a more sensitive one?’’’ asked Lorna Thorpe, director of the division of epidemiology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “That’s the reason we have standards and guidance that are technically sound.”

Information varies

The erratic reporting of coronavirus cases and deaths means that what residents can learn about the extent of the pandemic in their community varies widely.

Ohio was one the first states to begin disclosing probable cases and deaths in early April. “It usually is a given when CSTE makes a recommendation like that,” said Brian Fowler, chief data officer for the Ohio Department of Health. “When they made that recommendation, we looked at it and said, okay, well this is what we need to use.”

As of June 5, Ohio’s website showed 2,117 confirmed deaths and 222 probables. By breaking out the numbers separately, Fowler said, “you can’t be accused of hiding information and you can’t be accused of inflating numbers — it’s all out there.”

The transition to counting probables was not “a huge lift,” Fowler said. Epidemiologists at the health department were already reviewing all suspected coronavirus cases.

Some health officials were candid about how adding probable deaths would boost the overall tally. “I want to make sure that everyone understands that these are not new deaths,” Indiana Health Commissioner Kristina Box said at an April 20 news conference. “Rather, we are capturing the deaths that have occurred really since this pandemic began.” Box suggested other states would do the same: “Indiana — like every other state — will include these deaths in our reporting in order to better capture the toll that covid-19 has truly taken.”

One week earlier, Michigan officials had said they intended to begin disclosing probable cases and deaths. When the state finally began doing that on June 5, more than 5,000 cases and 200 deaths were added to coronavirus totals.

California’s state health department is reviewing the process to track probable deaths and “working to provide as much data as possible about COVID 19 while ensuring that the data are valid and useful for understanding the pandemic,” according to a May 20 email to The Post.

Hilda Solis, a supervisor in Los Angeles County who represents a heavily Hispanic and impoverished district, said she was surprised that the state is not following national recommendations on counting coronavirus deaths. She has called for more post-mortem testing by the medical examiner. “A lot of people are dying at home. Poor people are dying at home. Homeless people are dying,” said Solis, a former U.S. labor secretary under President Barack Obama. “I do believe covid-19 is being underreported and that we need to take more responsibility.”

The scale of undercounting that results from reporting only confirmed cases became clear when New York City on April 14 added more than 3,700 probable deaths to its numbers, sending the city’s tally over 10,000.

The city that sits at the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States still is not counting probable cases, however. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat praised for his command of daily news briefings during the pandemic, has indicated skepticism about recording probable cases. “Probable is different than confirmed,” he said at a news conference in late May. “Probable is ‘probable, but I have to check, I don’t know, I have to do further testing.’ We’ve had many cases that were probable coronavirus and turned out not to be coronavirus and that’s why they call them probable.” Covid-19 websites for New York and New Jersey include probable deaths at nursing homes, but those numbers are not included in the states’ overall death totals. A spokesperson for North Carolina’s health department said the state is not reporting probables because of wariness about the reliability of antibody tests, and because of concerns that the CSTE’s definition of a probable case is overly broad. Officials in Florida did not respond to repeated requests for comment about why the state isn’t following federal guidelines.

People behind ‘probables’

Behind each probable death is a person. Barnes O’Neal, 83, checked into the Brightmoor Nursing Center in Georgia in March to recover from a 10-day hospitalization. Less than a month into his stay at the facility about 40 miles south of Atlanta, a coronavirus outbreak forced a lockdown. O’Neal developed a fever and pneumonia. His daughter, Natalie Turner, pleaded with her father’s caretakers and the state health department for a coronavirus test. She said she wanted his illness on the record.

On April 20, just hours after Turner had spoken with him by phone, O’Neal died. He was never tested, but Turner said his doctor told her there was “zero doubt” it was covid-19 and wrote it on her father’s death certificate.

Still, her father, a frequent volunteer at the local soup kitchen, would not be included in the death toll on the state website because he was never tested. “It’s just important to me because my dad’s life counted,” Turner said. “I feel like there’s a face behind every statistic, and that’s forgotten many times.”

And now the pandemic’s overall death toll in U.S. has exceeded 100,000, but what are the real numbers?

Second U.S. Virus Wave Emerges as Cases Top 2 Million

Emma Court and David Baker noted that a second wave of coronavirus cases is emerging in the U.S., raising alarms as new infections push the overall count past 2 million Americans. Texas on Wednesday reported 2,504 new coronavirus cases, the highest one-day total since the pandemic emerged. A month into its reopening, Florida this week reported 8,553 new cases — the most of any seven-day period. California’s hospitalizations are at their highest since May 13 and have risen in nine of the past 10 days.

A fresh onslaught of the novel coronavirus is bringing challenges for residents and the economy in pockets across the U.S. The localized surges have raised concerns among experts even as the nation’s overall case count early this week rose just under 1%, the smallest increase since March.

“There is a new wave coming in parts of the country,” said Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s small and it’s distant so far, but it’s coming.”

Though the outbreaks come weeks into state reopenings, it’s not clear that they’re linked to increased economic activity. And health experts say it’s still too soon to tell whether the massive protests against police brutality that have erupted in the past two weeks have led to more infections.

In Georgia, where hair salons, tattoo parlors and gyms have been operating for a month and a half, case numbers have plateaued, flummoxing experts.

Puzzling differences show up even within states. In California, which imposed a stay-at-home order in late March, San Francisco saw zero cases for three consecutive days this week, while Los Angeles County reported well over half of the state’s new cases. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has yet to see any relationship between reopening and increased cases of Covid-19, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on a podcast.

But in some states, rising numbers outpace increases in testing, raising concerns about whether the virus can be controlled. It will take a couple of weeks to know, Toner said, but by then “it’s going to be pretty late” to respond.

Since the pandemic initially swept the U.S. starting early this year, 2 million people have been infected and more than 112,000 have died.

After a national shutdown that arrested the spread, rising illness had been expected as restrictions loosened. The trend has been observed across 22 states in recent weeks, though many increases are steady but slow.

In New York, the state hardest hit by Covid-19, Governor Andrew Cuomo only recently started reopening by region. New York City, the epicenter, began the first of four phases Monday.

“We know as a fact that reopening other states, we’re seeing significant problems,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “Just because you reopen does not mean you will have a spike, but if you are not smart, you can have a spike.”

Experts see evidence of a second wave building in Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. Arizona “sticks out like a sore thumb in terms of a major problem,” said Jeffrey Morris, director of the division of biostatistics at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Arizona Spike

Arizona’s daily tally of new cases has abruptly spiked in the last two weeks, hitting an all-time high of 1,187 on June 2.

This week, its Department of Health Services urged hospitals to activate emergency plans. Director Cara Christ, told a Phoenix television station that she was concerned about the rising case count and percentage of people tested who are found to be positive.

Valleywise Health, the public hospital system in Phoenix, has seen an increase in Covid-19 cases during the past two weeks. It’s expanded its intensive-care capacity and those beds are 87% full, about half with Covid patients, according to Michael White, the chief medical officer.

White said Valleywise has adequate protective gear for staff, but hospitals aren’t getting their entire orders. A surge in Covid cases could put that supply under stress, he said.

The increase in transmission follows steps to resume business and public life as well as the riots and protests.

“Within Phoenix, we’ve been more relaxed than I’ve seen in some of the other parts of the country,” White said, with some people disregarding advice to wear masks and maintain six feet of distance from others. “People are coming together in environments where social distancing is challenging.”

Texas on Wednesday reported a 4.7% jump in hospitalizations to 2,153, the fourth consecutive daily increase. The latest figures showing an escalation came as Governor Greg Abbott tweeted a public service announcement featuring baseball legend Nolan Ryan urging Texans to wash their hands and to not be “a knucklehead.”

Abbott was criticized for an aggressive reopening last month. Mobile-phone data show activity by residents is rebounding toward pre-Covid levels, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab.

That could reflect a perception that the virus wasn’t “ever a big threat,” said Morris, who recently moved to Philadelphia after 20 years in Houston.

Florida’s health department said in a statement that it attributes the increase in cases to “greatly expanded efforts in testing,” and noted that overall positivity rates remain low, at about 5.5%.

Bucking the trend is Georgia, which was the first U.S. state to reopen. Covid cases there have plateaued. Despite local outbreaks in the state, “their sea levels did not rise,” said David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab, which has been modeling the virus’ spread. “They’ve kind of held this fragile equilibrium.”

Creeping In

California was the earliest state to shut down its economy over the coronavirus, after one of the nation’s first outbreaks in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has been slower than most to reopen.

Even so, the state has also seen the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 rebound in the past two weeks, as commerce accelerates. Case counts are climbing too, although officials attribute that to increased testing and say it’s a sign of preparation.

In part, rising numbers represent the virus spreading into places that largely avoided the first round of infections, including rural Imperial County in California’s southeastern desert. Yet the contagion remains present in places that bore the brunt of the first wave, including Los Angeles County. Hospitalizations there are lower than at the start of May, but deaths remain stubbornly high, with 500 in the past week alone.

Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director, said the region has likely not seen the end of the first wave. And despite concerns about infections coming out of mass demonstrations in the sprawling city, she thinks the reopening of the economy will have a bigger impact.

“We’re not at the tail end of anything,” Ferrer said. “We never had a huge peak. We’ve kind of been within this band. We’re not in decline, we’re kind of holding our own in ways that protect the health-care system.” But, she added, “go to Venice and see the crowds, and you’ll understand why I have concerns.”

Another Onslaught

The U.S. has long been bracing for another wave, but future outbreaks are likely to take a different shape. Social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as careful behavior by individuals, are likely to have staying power even as economies reopen.

Experts are steeling for autumn, when changes in weather and back-to-school plans could have damaging repercussions.

“The second wave isn’t going to mirror the first wave exactly,” said Lance Waller, a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta. “It’s not snapping back to exactly the same thing as before, because we’re not exactly the way we were before.”

Daniel Lucey, a fellow at the Infectious Diseases Society of America, compared the virus’ new paradigm with a day at the beach: The U.S. has been bracing for another “high tide” like the one that engulfed New York City. Today is a low tide, but “the waves are always coming in.”

ICU doctor warns: ‘We could lose control of the virus again’, Especially with the George Floyd protests! What About AI to Help in the Post Pandemic Planning!

I am concerned about what I see in society, what I am calling pandemic fatigue and its effect on the behavior of the average bored, anxious and moderately depressed citizens. Adriana Belmonte reported that the U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases around the world, but the rate of infections has declined in several parts of the country as a result of social distancing restrictions.

Dr. Lakshmana Swamy, an ICU physician at Boston Medical Center, warned what could happen if people take too much of a lackadaisical approach towards the pandemic.

“What are people seeing across the country in our numbers?” Swamy said on Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker recently. “They’re seeing coronavirus cases go down. That’s fantastic.” 

But, he added, “what you’re not seeing is that the hospital is still jam-packed with people that were deferring care, who were staying at home, scared of coming in. So, the hospital is still really busy. No one’s getting a break here. It’s terrifying to think that now on top of this, as we start to reopen, we could lose control of the virus again.”

‘What I’m seeing in Alabama … terrifies me’

There are currently 20 states experiencing an increase in the number of coronavirus cases. Most of these states — including Alabama, Florida, and Georgia — were among the first ones to reopen their economies over the last month. 

“What I’m seeing in Alabama, of course, terrifies me, as it does so many people,” Swamy said. “We’re all suffering from lockdown. It’s a huge hit, of course, to the economy, to individual people, to health, to everything. But it pales in comparison to the cost that the virus takes when it runs free.” 

Although many are calling for an end to social distancing restrictions because of its impact on the economy, research from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has indicated that reopening the economy “will have a much smaller-than-expected impact.”

“You look across the country where people haven’t been hit as hard, thank god,” Swamy said. “But you see that people don’t get it. It’s a really abstract concept. It’s hard to believe in that, right? It takes a lot of trust to believe what you’re seeing and hearing.”

“The masks are sort of a symbol of it,” he continued. “The bigger thing is social distancing. I mean, crowds together in open spaces, or especially in closed spaces, it’s terrifying. And it takes weeks to see the effects of that. So people will feel like ‘oh, look, we did that. It’s no problem. Hey, look, they did it over there. We can do it here, too.’”

Although there is still a lot to be known about the coronavirus, one thing that Swamy said he pretty much knows for certain is that there doesn’t seem to be herd immunity, which would mean that enough people had the coronavirus that they wouldn’t be able to get it and transmit it again.

“It’s a lot of science that’s unknown there,” he said. “But I think what we know is that we can’t rely on the virus not being able to hop around and catch like wildfire, even in Boston.” 

‘We’re going to see a spike in COVID-19’

Adding to the stress are the recent protests against police brutality that have taken place over the past week in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. 

Large crowds amassed in major cities across the country, and although many of the participants wore face masks, they were still in close proximity to others protesting. Some health officials worry this could cause a new spike in coronavirus cases.

“I am deeply concerned about a super-spreader type of incident,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on Saturday. “We’re going to see a spike in COVID-19. It’s inevitable.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio voiced similar concerns during recent press conferences, with Cuomo urging people to “demonstrate with a mask on.”

“It’s heartbreaking, because what we see over and over again is two to three weeks later, the cases start hitting and you see a surge and you see spikes,” Swamy said. “I hope that doesn’t happen anywhere else. But the virus is here. It’s everywhere. So it’s heartbreaking. I hope we can get to people before the virus does.”

Health officials worry about second coronavirus wave after George Floyd

Edmund DeMarche of Fox News was also concerned about another spike in the pandemic especially in light of the George Floyd protests. Health officials in the U.S. have new concerns that the nationwide protests over the George Floyd death in police custody could spark a wider spread of the coronavirus after many cities reported bringing the virus under control.

Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that there are still some “pockets of spread” in communities. He said there has been an uptick in new coronavirus cases in recent days at the epicenter of the protests.

Minnesota Health Department Spokesman Doug Schultz said Sunday that any spike from the protests will not be seen until six to 10 days after its transmission, the Star Tribune reported. The report pointed out that the Minneapolis provided hundreds of masks for protesters.

Gov. Tim Walz said, according to the paper, that he is “deeply concerned about a super-spreader type of incident … after this. We are going to see a spike in COVID-19. It’s inevitable.”

The U.S. has seen more than 1.7 million infections and over 104,000 deaths in the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected racial minorities. Protests over Floyd’s death have shaken the U.S. from New York to Los Angeles.

“There’s no question that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity, when we have got this virus all over the streets … it’s not healthy,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Demonstrators are packed, many without masks, many chanting, shouting or singing. The virus is dispersed by microscopic droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze, talk or sing.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told the New York Times that the “outdoor air dilutes the virus and reduces the infectious dose that might be out there, and if there are breezes blowing, that further dilutes the virus in the air. There was literally a lot of running around, which means they’re exhaling more profoundly, but also passing each other very quickly.”

Despite much of the protest and riots taking place outdoors, looters ransacked stores in various cities. The virus is notoriously transmitted by asymptomatic carriers. The Times reported that Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, told those out protesting to “go get a COVID test this week.”

Fauci Estimates That 100,000 To 200,000 Americans Could Die From The

And now look at Dr. Fauci’s prediction for ultimate mortality rate. Bobby Allyn reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force says the pandemic could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans and infect millions.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said based on modeling of the current pace of the coronavirus’ spread in the U.S., “between 100,000 and 200,000” people may die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Fauci’s comments on CNN’s State of the Union underscore just how far away the U.S. is from the peak of the outbreak based on predictions from top federal officials. As of early Sunday afternoon, there were 125,000 cases in the U.S. and nearly 2,200 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Public health experts say that because of undocumented chains of transmission in many parts of the country, the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. is set to keep surging as more and more test results become known.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says there could potentially be between 100,000 to 200,000 deaths related to the coronavirus and millions of cases. “I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target, that you could so easily be wrong,” he

Fauci said the 100,000-to-200,000 death figure is a middle-of-the-road estimate, much lower than worse-case-scenario predictions.

He said preparing for 1 million to 2 million Americans to die from the coronavirus is “almost certainly off the chart,” adding: “Now it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”

However, Fauci cautioned people not to put too much emphasis on predictions, noting that “it’s such a moving target that you could so easily be wrong and mislead people.”

What we do know, he says, is that “we’ve got a serious problem in New York, we’ve got a serious problem in New Orleans and we’re going to have serious problems in other areas.”

Fauci’s coronavirus fatality estimate comes as the White House considers ways to reopen the economy, including easing social distancing guidelines that officials have set forth to curb the spread of the fast-moving virus.

One in three Americans is now being asked to stay indoors as new cases soar, especially in New York, which accounts for nearly half of the country’s cases.

When asked if it is the right time to begin relaxing some of the social distancing measures, Fauci said not until the curve of new infections starts flattening out.

He refused to guess when exactly that may occur.

“The virus itself determines that timetable,” Fauci said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seasonal flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 people a year since 2010. The coronavirus death rate is far greater than the flu’s. For the elderly population, the coronavirus has been found to be six times as deadly.

There is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus. Experts say developing a vaccine for the virus could take at least a year.

Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare: A Post-Pandemic Prescription

David Nash noted that in what now seems a distant pre-pandemic period, excitement about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare was already escalating. From the academic and clinical fields to the healthcare business and entrepreneurial sectors, there was a remarkable proliferation of AI — e.g., attention-based learning, neural networks, online-meets-offline, and the Internet of Things. The reason for all this activity is clear — AI presents a game-changing opportunity for improving healthcare quality and safety, making care delivery more efficient, and reducing the overall cost of care.

Well before COVID-19 began to challenge our healthcare system and give rise to a greater demand for AI, thought leaders were offering cautionary advice. Robert Pearl, MD, a well-known advocate for technologically advanced care delivery, recently wrote in Forbes that because technology developers tend to focus on what will sell, many heavily marketed AI applications have failed to elevate the health of the population, improve patient safety, or reduce healthcare costs. “If AI is to live up to its hype in the healthcare industry the products must first address fundamental human problems,” Pearl wrote.

In a December 2019 symposium addressing the “human-in-the-middle” perspective on AI in healthcare, internationally acclaimed medical ethicist Aimee van Wynsberghe made the case that ethics are integral to the product design process from its inception. In other words, human values and protections should be central to the business model for AI in healthcare.

Health equity should be a driving principle for how AI is designed and used; however, some models may inadvertently introduce bias and divert resources away from patients in greatest need. Case in point, a predictive AI model was built into a health system’s electronic health record (EHR) to address the issue of “no-show” patients by means of overbooking. Researchers determined that the use of personal characteristics from the EHR (ethnicity, financial class, religion, body mass index) could result in systematic diversion of resources from marginalized individuals. Even a prior pattern of “no-show” was likely to correlate with socioeconomic status and chronic conditions.

Fast forward to today when AI seems to be a permanent fixture in national news coverage. Noting that journalists often overstate the tasks AI can perform, exaggerate claims of its effectiveness, neglect the level of human involvement, and fail to consider related risks, self-professed skeptic Alex Engler offered what I believe are important considerations in his recent article for the Brookings Institution. Here are a few:

  • AI is only helpful when applied judiciously by subject-matter experts who are experienced with the problem at hand. Deciding what to predict and framing those predictions is key; algorithms and big data can’t effectively predict a badly defined problem. In the case of predicting the spread of COVID-19, look to the epidemiologists who are building statistical AI models that explicitly incorporate a century of scientific discovery.
  • AI alone can’t predict the spread of new pandemics because there is no database of prior COVID-19 outbreaks as there is for the flu. Some companies are marketing products (e.g., video analysis software, AI systems that claim to detect COVID-19 “fever”) without the necessary extensive data and diverse sampling. “Questioning data sources is always a meaningful way to assess the viability of an AI system,” Engler wrote.
  • Real-world deployment degrades AI performance. For instance, in evaluating CT scans, an AI model that can differentiate between healthy people and those with COVID-19 might start to fail when it encounters patients who are sick with the regular flu. Regarding claims that AI can be used to measure body temperature, real-world environmental factors lead to measurements that are more imperfect than laboratory conditions.
  • Unintended consequences will occur secondary to AI implementation. Consolidation of market power, insecure data accumulation, and surveillance concerns are very common byproducts of AI use. In the case of AI for fighting COVID-19, the surveillance issues have been pervasive in countries throughout the world.
  • Although models are often perceived as objective and neutral, AI will be biased. Bias in AI models results in skewed estimates across different subgroups. For example, using biomarkers and behavioral characteristics to predict the mortality risk of COVID-19 patients can lead to biased estimates that do not accurately represent mortality risk. “If an AI model has no documented and evaluated biases, it should increase a skeptic’s certainty that they remain hidden, unresolved, and pernicious,” said Engler.

Based on what we’ve learned about the limitations and potential harms of AI in healthcare — much of which has been amplified by COVID-19 — what treatment plan would I prescribe going forward? First, I would encourage all healthcare AI developers and vendors to involve ethicists, clinical informatics experts, and operational experts from the inception of product development.

Second, I would recommend that healthcare AI be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny. Because AI is often “built in” by a trusted business partner and easily implemented, objective evaluation may be waived. As data science techniques become increasingly complex, serious consideration must be given to multidisciplinary oversight of all AI in healthcare.

Another paper that I am working reviews the need for a more complete method to contact trace and follow-up the recovered as well as those not infected on a large scale so that we can predict the next spike early. This way we can avoid the horrid effect of a second pandemic and the ultimate effect on healthcare and the economy.

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.