Tuesday Reads: Coronavirus News

Frida in Flames, 1953-54

Frida in Flames, 1953-54

Good Afternoon!!

The illustrations in this post are by paintings by Frida Kahlo

I hate to focus another post on Covid-19, but honestly I think it’s the biggest story today. Cases are rising again, even in highly vaccinated states like Massachusetts. 

WCVB ABC 5: Massachusetts seeing COVID-19 surge; 717 new cases reported since Friday.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States, Massachusetts is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows an additional 717 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported Monday. The data includes new positive coronavirus cases reported since Friday.

The data shows the biggest percentage increase in cases was on Cape Cod, where 59 new cases were reported, or a 0.4% increase since Friday.

Middlesex County reported 147 new cases since Friday. Suffolk County reported 114 new cases, Worcester County reported 73 new cases and Norfolk County reported 59 new cases.

The COVID-19 positivity rate has also increase, from a seven-day weighted average low of 0.31% in mid-June to its current mark of 1.16%.

According to Monday’s report from the DPH, 106 patients with confirmed coronavirus cases were hospitalized in Massachusetts, of which 31 were reported to be in an intensive care unit.

The seven-day average of hospitalizations has increased every day since July 9, increasing from a low of 85 to its current number of 106.

Still Life with Roses

Still Life with Roses, 1925

Some of these cases and deaths are breakthrough cases. Boston NBC 10: Breakthrough COVID Cases in Massachusetts, Explained.

At least 79 people have died and more than over 300 have been hospitalized in Massachusetts due to COVID-19 breakthrough cases after they were fully vaccinated, state health officials say….

A vaccine breakthrough case occurs when a person tests positive for COVID-19 after they’ve been fully vaccinated against the disease.

A person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine….

Seventy-nine vaccinated residents in Massachusetts died from COVID-19, either without being hospitalized or following a hospital stay, DPH said. That death toll reflects 1.78% of the 4,450 confirmed breakthrough cases and 0.0019% of the 4,195,844 people fully vaccinated as of July 10.

“All available data continue to support that all 3 vaccines used in the US are highly protective against severe disease and death from all known variants of COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated,” the DPH said in a statement to The Boston Globe.

Stephen Collinson at CNN on the state of the pandemic in the U.S. as a whole: A day of reckoning shows America’s pandemic battle is sliding backward.

If Joe Biden’s July Fourth fireworks marked a moment to declare the darkest days of the pandemic over, Monday was the day when reality dawned that the nation’s fight against Covid-19 is quickly sliding back in the wrong direction.

A hybrid version of American life that will pass for normality for the foreseeable future is coming into view, in which most of the vaccinated live and many of those who refuse their shots get sick or die.

In a moment of stark symbolism, new schools guidance released Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing dashed hopes that kids robbed of a chunk of their childhoods by Covid-19 could go back to carefree schooldays this fall. The prospect of millions of youngsters over 2-years-old in face coverings in class epitomized how the nation is still under siege from the virus. It’s also likely to unleash yet another political culture war in some GOP states that abhor masking and have banned schools from seeking to protect the vulnerable that way.

thinking-about-death-1943.jpg!Large

Thinking about Death, 1943

In another shock to the national psyche on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 700 points in its biggest drop of the year as alarm over virulent Delta variant infections hammered travel, leisure and energy stocks that had been juiced by the idea of a summer of freedom.

And at the same time, eyes were drawn toward Tokyo, where more worries loom. So often, the Olympics forge cathartic national unity thanks to athletes inspired to go faster, higher, stronger. Such a moment has rarely been so needed. But these Games are unlikely to offer that feeling of escape, as they often do — a sheen of reflected glory for the White House….

All these developments, in many cases, represented a realization that hopes that the virus would be in the rearview mirror this summer were unfounded and that some kind of new national effort is warranted.

“If we don’t get a significant proportion of these recalcitrant people vaccinated, you’re going to be seeing a smoldering of this outbreak in our country for a considerable period of time,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday.

In fact, the Olympic games could still be cancelled. CNBC: Tokyo 2020 chief Muto doesn’t rule out 11th-hour cancellation of Olympic Games.

The chief of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee on Tuesday did not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the Olympics, as more athletes tested positive for COVID-19 and major sponsors ditched plans to attend Friday’s opening ceremony.

Asked at a news conference if the global sporting showpiece might still be cancelled, Toshiro Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and liaise with other organizers if necessary.

“We can’t predict what   will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” said Muto.

“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”

tunas-still-life-with-prickly-pear-fruit-1938.jpg!Large

Tunas. Still Life with Prickly Pear, 1938

Two new polls reveal discouraging news about the people who are refusing to be vaccinated. 

Yahoo News: Unvaccinated Americans say COVID vaccines are riskier than the virus, even as Delta surges among them.

When asked which poses a greater risk to their health, more unvaccinated Americans say the COVID-19 vaccines than say the virus itself, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — a view that contradicts all available science and data and underscores the challenges that the United States will continue to face as it struggles to stop a growing “pandemic of the unvaccinated” driven by the hyper-contagious Delta variant.

The survey of 1,715 U.S. adults, which was conducted from July 13 to 15, found that just 29 percent of unvaccinated Americans believe the virus poses a greater risk to their health than the vaccines — significantly less than the number who believe the vaccines represent the greater health risk (37 percent) or say they’re not sure (34 percent).

Over the last 18 months, COVID-19 has killed more than 4.1 million people worldwide, including more than 600,000 in the U.S. At the same time, more than 2 billion people worldwide — and more than 186 million Americans — have been at least partially vaccinated against the virus, and scientists who study data on their reported side effects continue to find that the vaccines are extraordinarily safe.

Yet 93 percent of unvaccinated U.S. adults — the equivalent of 76 million people — say they will either “never” get vaccinated (51 percent); that they will keep waiting “to see what happens to others before deciding” (20 percent); or that they’re not sure (22 percent).

Read more details at the link.

Axios: Axios-Ipsos poll: Convincing the unvaccinated.

Most Americans who still aren’t vaccinated say nothing — not their own doctor administering it, a favorite celebrity’s endorsement or even paid time off — is likely to make them get the shot, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: The findings are more sobering evidence of just how tough it may be to reach herd immunity in the U.S. But they also offer a roadmap for trying — the public health equivalent of, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

What they’re saying: “There’s a part of that population that are nudge-able and another part that are unbudge-able,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs.

  • “From a public health standpoint they’ve got to figure out how you nudge the nudge-able.”

Details: 30% of U.S. adults in our national survey said they haven’t yet gotten the COVID-19 vaccine — half of them a hard no, saying they’re “not at all likely” to take it. We asked the unvaccinated about how likely they’d be to take it in a number of scenarios:

  • The best prospect was a scenario in which they could get the vaccine at their regular doctor’s office. But even then, 55% said they’d remain not at all likely and only 7% said they’d be “very likely” to do it. That leaves a combined 35% who are either somewhat likely or not very likely but haven’t ruled it out.
  • The Biden administration’s Olivia Rodrigo play won’t reach a lot of the holdouts, according to these results: 70% said the endorsement of a celebrity or public figure they like is “not at all likely” to get them to take a shot, and just 4% said they’d be “very likely” to do it. But another combined 24% could be somewhat in play.
  • What if your boss gave you paid time off to get the shot? 63% said they’d still be not at all likely to do it, while 5% said they’d be very likely. Another 30% combined are potentially but not eagerly gettable.
  • Similar majorities said they’d be unmoved by community volunteers coming to the door to discuss the vaccine, the option to get a shot at work or a mobile clinic, or being lobbied by friends or family members.

Again, go deeper at the Axios link.

At CNN Oliver Darcy reports on the horrifying vaccine hypocrisy at Fox News: Fox has quietly implemented its own version of a vaccine passport while its top personalities attack them.

Tucker Carlson has called the idea of vaccine passports the medical equivalent of “Jim Crow” laws. And other Fox News personalities have spent months both trafficking in anti-vaccine rhetoric and assailing the concept of showing proof of vaccination status.

But Fox Corporation, the right-wing talk channel’s parent company, has quietly implemented the concept of a vaccine passport as workers slowly return back to the company’s offices.

Fox employees, including those who work at Fox News, received an email, obtained by CNN Business, from the company’s Human Resources department in early June that said Fox had “developed a secure, voluntary way for employees to self-attest their vaccination status.”

fx1The system allows for employees to self-report to Fox the dates their shots were administered and which vaccines were used.

The company has encouraged employees to report their status, telling them that “providing this information to FOX will assist the company with space planning and contact tracing.”

Employees who report their status are allowed to bypass the otherwise required daily health screening, according to a follow-up email those who reported their vaccination status received.

“Thank you for providing FOX with your vaccination information,” the email said. “You no longer are required to complete your daily health screening through WorkCare/WorkMatters.”

The concept, which was first reported Monday by Ryan Grim on The Hill’s morning streaming show, is known internally as “FOX Clear Pass.”

While the “Fox Clear Pass” is voluntary for employees, and other companies have similar tools, it is still remarkable, given how vocal Fox’s top talent has been in criticizing the concept of vaccine passports.

There was a bit of good news yesterday in Indiana. The New York Times: A Federal Judge Upholds Indiana University’s Vaccine Requirement for Students.

In what appeared to be the first ruling upholding a coronavirus vaccine mandate by a university, a federal judge affirmed on Monday that Indiana University could require that its students be vaccinated against the virus.

A lawyer for eight student plaintiffs had argued that requiring the vaccine violated their right to bodily integrity and autonomy, and that the coronavirus vaccines have only emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, and should not be considered as part of the normal range of vaccinations schools require. He vowed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary….

He said that the appeal would be paid for by America’s Frontline Doctors, a conservative organization that has been pursuing an anti-vaccine agenda. Mr. Bopp, of Terre Haute, Ind., is known for his legal advocacy promoting conservative causes.

Mr. Bopp filed the lawsuit in June, after Indiana University announced the previous month that faculty, staff and students would be required to get coronavirus vaccinations before coming to school this fall.

viva-la-vida-watermelons 1954

Viva la Vida, 1954

The university, whose main campus is in Bloomington, Ind., said that students who did not comply would have their class registrations canceled and would be barred from campus activities.

The requirement permitted exemptions only for religious objections, documented allergies to the vaccine, medical deferrals and virtual class attendance.

On Monday, Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana said that while he recognized the students’ interest in refusing unwarranted medical treatment, such a right must be weighed against the state’s greater interest.

“The Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff,” his ruling said, also noting that the university had made exceptions for students who object.

Judge Leichty was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump.

Sorry for the boring post, but unless we get a grip on this pandemic, any chance of a return to “normal” life is going to disappear. 

As always, this is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Cat on a flowery Meadow, Bruno Liljefors

Cat on a Flowery Meadow, by Bruno Liljefors

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday I wrote about the latest revelations from some of the many Trump books that have been hitting the shelves, as well as an upcoming one by Susan Glasser and her husband NYT reporter Peter Baker. Yesterday Glasser spoke to CNN’s Jack Tapper. From Raw Story: ‘Most terrified I’ve ever been’: Reporter describes learning ‘extremely alarming’ details of Trump’s final days.

Reporter Susan Glasser on Friday told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she felt personally unnerved while reporting out details of former President Donald Trump’s final days.

While discussing her most recent article in the New Yorker about Trump’s fights with General Mark Milley in the waning weeks of his administration, Glasser explained to Tapper that it was unprecedented for American military leaders to view the sitting commander-in-chief as a potential national security threat.

“You know, when I first learned about the level of alarm that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had through the election and all the way into January, I have to say it was probably the most terrified I’ve ever been as a reporter in several decades,” said Glasser, who has also reported from American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

She said she was relieved to see that Milley and other top military commanders had done their best to hold Trump in check, but still found it frightening just how far the twice-impeached former president was willing to go.

The question arises: why are we just now learning about these horrific events and those reported in other books? From The Washington Post: The media scramble at the heart of Trump Book Summer.

The peak of Trump Book Summer, the moment of maximum media intensity, may have come last Wednesday, when reporters scrambled to match a story about a story contained in one of those books.

Around 3 p.m. that day, New York magazine published an article based on a revelation its writer had discovered in the pages of “I Alone Can Fix It,” one of the entries in the current spate of Trump Studies, a copy of which the magazine said it had “obtained” before its official release.

The gist of the magazine’s report — that the book would reveal that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, feared Trump would precipitate a coup to maintain power — was so hot that it in turn triggered a nearly immediate follow-up report on CNN.com, written by no less than five reporters. Which in turn prompted The Washington Post to chase down the same nugget — which was kind of ironic considering the book that produced the scoop was written by two Post reporters and had already generated a prominent excerpt in the paper, with a second to come days later.

wyndham Lewis, A Woman with a Cat

Wyndham Lewis, A Woman with a Cat

The media-on-media scramble, a kind of Russian nesting doll of reportage, attested to both the profound import of the Milley anecdote and the cultural heat of the new syllabus of Trump books. On the same day, “I Alone,” written by The Post’s Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, was the best-selling book on Amazon, which includes preorders for not-yet-released books. The third and fourth bestsellers were also dishy Trump titles, “Landslide,” by the independent journalist Michael Wolff, and “Frankly, We Did Win This Election,” by the Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender, respectively. A fourth book, “Nightmare Scenario,” about Trump’s handling of the pandemic by two other Post reporters, Damian Paletta and Yasmeen Abutaleb, had climbed up the lists the week before….

This spurt doesn’t include another dozen or so Trump books that will be released over the next few months, including one co-authored by Washington Post veteran Bob Woodward, who has already written two Trump tomes, including last September’s predictably best-selling “Rage.”

So why is it OK for these reporters to keep shocking news to themselves so they can use it to sell their books later on? The answer is that newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times allow their reporters to go on leave while writing their books and their research is “walled off from from their daily beat responsibilities,” according to editor Sally Buzbee. 

“Basically, when staffers go on unpaid book leaves, which is the case here, there is an understanding that the reporting they are doing is for the book,” she said. “The Post typically publishes the book’s first excerpt, which gives our readers the first cut at the news. This is our long-standing practice and has served readers of The Post and the reporters well.”

Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933)

Painting by Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933)

New York Times editor Dean Baquet said he encourages his reporters to “keep in touch” with editors at the paper when they’re working on books, and to alert them when they come up with something worthy of daily publication.

“Sometimes we make the judgment that it is okay to hold [a big scoop], or at least to hold until we publish an excerpt,” he said. Book-writing and daily news reporting aren’t “church and state,” said Baquet, whose star White House reporter Maggie Haberman is at work on a Trump book, “and I do hope reporters break their big news in the Times.”

Rucker noted another constraint on real-time reporting of the news he and Leonnig uncovered: “Many of the officials we interviewed for ‘I Alone Can Fix It’ agreed to speak with us about these events only after Trump had left office and only for the purposes of this deeper history,” he said.

OK then. I have to admit I can’t resist reading these books, even though I’m troubled by reporters keeping these secrets. 

In other news, a Texas judge ruled that DACA is illegal. The Washington Post: U.S. judge blocks new applicants to program that protects undocumented ‘dreamers’ who arrived as children.

A federal judge in Texas has largely halted an Obama administration initiative that grants work permits and reprieves from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children — calling the program “unlawful” even as he allowed the more than 600,000 young people already in it to keep their protected status.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sided with Texas and other states in his ruling that President Barack Obama overstepped his executive authority when he created the program.

Hanen’s ruling called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an “illegally implemented program” and said “the public interest of the nation is always served by the cessation of a program that was created in violation of law.”

He prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from approving new applications, issued a permanent injunction vacating the memo that created DACA in 2012 — when President Biden was vice president — and remanded the issue to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for reconsideration.

Oskar Kokoschka

Painting by Oskar Kokoschka

President Biden said the DOJ will appeal the decision. The White House: Statement by President Joe Biden on DACA and Legislation for Dreamers.

In 2012, the Obama-Biden Administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which has allowed hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to remain in the United States, to live, study, and work in our communities. Nine years later, Congress has not acted to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

Yesterday’s Federal court ruling is deeply disappointing. While the court’s order does not now affect current DACA recipients, this decision nonetheless relegates hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to an uncertain future. The Department of Justice intends to appeal this decision in order to preserve and fortify DACA. And, as the court recognized, the Department of Homeland Security plans to issue a proposed rule concerning DACA in the near future.

But only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve. I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, and I now renew that call with the greatest urgency. It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.

Thanks to all the misinformation Trump and his fans have spread about the Covid-19 and vaccines that prevent infections, we now appear to be entering a fourth wave of the deadly virus. USA Today: The fourth wave of COVID-19 cases is here. Will we escape the UK’s fate? It’s too soon to know, by Karen Weintraub.

A doubling of COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks suggests the United States has entered a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Beaver Meadow, Paul Sample

Beaver Meadow, by Paul Sample

No one knows what the next month or two will bring, but the example of the United Kingdom suggests the infection rate could get quite high, while hospitalizations and deaths stay relatively low.

Instead of the virus raging through entire communities, it is expected to target the unvaccinated, including children, and if rates are high enough, also the most vulnerable of the vaccinated – the elderly and the immunocompromised.

“Since the majority of our population is now immune, it’s unlikely that we’re going to return to the massive nationwide waves we saw back in January,” Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said in a Wednesday webinar with media.

But major outbreaks can still occur, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates.

“We’re going to be living in two pandemic worlds, the world that’s vaccinated and the world that’s unvaccinated,” said Dr. Luis Ostrosky,  chief of infectious diseases at UTHealth and an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston.

The three vaccines authorized for use in the United States, from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson, have all been shown to be highly effective against variants of the virus, including Delta, which now accounts for most of the cases in the U.S.

It’s a long article, so click the link to learn more.

Ed Yong at The Atlantic: Delta Is Driving a Wedge Through Missouri. For America as a whole, the pandemic might be fading. For some communities, this year will be worse than last.

The summer wasn’t meant to be like this. By April, Greene County, in southwestern Missouri, seemed to be past the worst of the pandemic. Intensive-care units that once overflowed had emptied. Vaccinations were rising. Health-care workers who had been fighting the coronavirus for months felt relieved—perhaps even hopeful. Then, in late May, cases started ticking up again. By July, the surge was so pronounced that “it took the wind out of everyone,” Erik Frederick, the chief administrative officer of Mercy Hospital Springfield, told me. “How did we end up back here again?”

Alice Neel

Painting by Alice Neel

The hospital is now busier than at any previous point during the pandemic. In just five weeks, it took in as many COVID-19 patients as it did over five months last year. Ten minutes away, another big hospital, Cox Medical Center South, has been inundated just as quickly. “We only get beds available when someone dies, which happens several times a day,” Terrence Coulter, the critical-care medical director at CoxHealth, told me.

Last week, Katie Towns, the acting director of the Springfield–Greene County Health Department, was concerned that the county’s daily cases were topping 250. On Wednesday, the daily count hit 405. This dramatic surge is the work of the super-contagious Delta variant, which now accounts for 95 percent of Greene County’s new cases, according to Towns. It is spreading easily because people have ditched their masks, crowded into indoor spaces, resumed travel, and resisted vaccinations. Just 40 percent of people in Greene County are fully vaccinated. In some nearby counties, less than 20 percent of people are.

Many experts have argued that, even with Delta, the United States is unlikely to revisit the horrors of last winter. Even now, the country’s hospitalizations are one-seventh as high as they were in mid-January. But national optimism glosses over local reality. For many communities, this year will be worse than last. Springfield’s health-care workers and public-health specialists are experiencing the same ordeals they thought they had left behind. “But it feels worse this time because we’ve seen it before,” Amelia Montgomery, a nurse at CoxHealth, told me. “Walking back into the COVID ICU was demoralizing.”

Those ICUs are also filling with younger patients, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, including many with no underlying health problems. In part, that’s because elderly people have been more likely to get vaccinated, leaving Delta with a younger pool of vulnerable hosts. While experts are still uncertain if Delta is deadlier than the original coronavirus, every physician and nurse in Missouri whom I spoke with told me that the 30- and 40-something COVID-19 patients they’re now seeing are much sicker than those they saw last year.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

I’ll add a few more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: The Pandemic Isn’t Over

Good Morning!!

Art in Digital Form by Jessica Johnson

Art in Digital Form by Jessica Johnson

Over the long Fourth of July weekend, many Americans celebrated as if the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. Unfortunately that’s not the case. The Delta variant of Covid-19 is establishing itself around the country, especially in the places where people have resisted getting vaccinated.  And now there’s a new strain of the virus, the Lambda variant, which originated in Peru and is now appearing in Europe.

Cases are rising in the U.S. now, even in states like Massachusetts where 70 percent of the population is vaccinated. Boston 25 News: Delta variant beginning to push MA COVID numbers up.

Actually, though things are pretty good, they are far from back to normal. In fact, COVID is once again going in the wrong direction in Massachusetts, according to the state’s numbers. While infections remain extremely low, they are suddenly on the upswing – very slightly.

From June 23 to June 27, the state confirmed 291 COVID cases. In the following five days, tests confirmed 376 cases. That was an increase of about 29%. And there’s something troubling behind the numbers.

Dr. Richard Ellison, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester said, across New England, about a quarter of the new cases have been traced to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

“So, Delta is here and there is an opportunity for it to increase,” Dr. Ellison said. “So New England’s the safest part of the country, but we’re going to have to watch it.”

And that’s in a place where most people aren’t denying the existence of Covid-19. Missouri is one of those places. ABC News: Missouri sees rise in severe COVID-19 cases among the young, unvaccinated as delta variant spreads.

Health care workers in southwest Missouri are sounding the alarm over a wave of young, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who are now filling hospital beds.

Leanne Handle, an assistant nurse manager of a medical surgical COVID-19 unit at CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, said she and her staff have seen the patient population over the past year go from elderly people who are immunocompromised or have multiple other conditions to, more recently, younger individuals who “don’t think COVID is real” and haven’t been vaccinated against the disease….

Outsized, Overwhelming Impact of COVID-19

Outsized, Overwhelming Impact of COVID-19

“So, what we’re seeing now are the patients who are coming in who don’t think that they’re going to get sick from it, who aren’t mentally prepared to make life and death decisions of do they want to be intubated, do you want CPR if your heart should stop,” she added. “We have very few patients who have been admitted that have been vaccinated. So it has been proven to keep you at least out of the hospital, and from severe disease.”

Handle also noted a “scary trend” among younger patients with the spread of the so-called delta variant, a highly contagious strain of the virus that was first identified in India and has since been detected in more than 80 countries around the world as well as dozens of U.S. states, including Missouri.

“With the new variant in our area, these patients are getting sicker quicker,” she said. “They are progressing through this spectrum very, very quickly.”

From Today’s Washington Post: Their neighbors called covid-19 a hoax. Can these ICU nurses forgive them?

The hospital executives at the lectern called her a hero, and the struggle that had earned Emily Boucher that distinction showed on her face: in the pallor acquired over 12-hour shifts in the intensive care unit, the rings beneath eyes that watched almost every day as covid-19 patients gasped for their final breaths.

The pandemic had hit late but hard in the Appalachian highlands — the mountainous region that includes Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee — and over the winter many of its victims had ended up on ventilators tended by Boucher and her fellow nurses at Johnston Memorial Hospital.\They were enduring the traumas known to ICU workers across the world: days filled with death, nights ruined by dreams in which they found themselves at infected patients’ bedsides without masks. But they were also enduring a trauma that many doctors and nurses elsewhere were not: the suspicion and derision of those they risked their lives to protect.

Conspiracy theories about the pandemic and lies recited on social media — or at White House news conferences — had penetrated deep into their community. When refrigerated trailers were brought in to relieve local hospitals’ overflowing morgues, people said they were stage props. Agitated and unmasked relatives stood outside the ICU insisting that their intubated relatives only had the flu. Many believed the doctors and nurses hailed elsewhere for their sacrifices were conspiring to make money by falsifying covid-19 diagnoses.

Boucher and her colleagues were pained by those attacks — and infuriated by them.Unlike their exhaustion, that anger rarely showed on their faces, but it was often there: as they scrolled Facebook to see local ministers saying God was greater than any virus, or stood in line with unmasked grocery shoppers who joked loudly about the covid hoax.

Hope, by Alexander Allen. Man on beach with U.S. Naval Ship Comfort in the distance

Hope, by Alexander Allen. Man on beach with U.S. Naval Ship Comfort in the distance

All of us are endangered by these delusional people. CNN: These parts of the US could become ‘breeding grounds’ for potentially more Covid-19 variants, expert says.

Out of the Covid-19 pandemic, two Americas are emerging: One protected by vaccines and the other still vulnerable to infection — and experts say progress made across the entire US is being threatened by low-vaccinated regions.

“We’re already starting to see places with low vaccination rates starting to have relatively big spikes from the Delta variant. We’ve seen this in Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming … those are the places where we’re going to see more hospitalizations and deaths as well, unfortunately,” Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, told CNN.

“And any time you have large outbreaks, it does become a breeding ground for potentially more variants.”

Parts of the South, Southwest and Midwest are starting to see spikes in cases, and many of those states — like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — are among those with the lowest rates of vaccination, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent Covid-19 case rates are an average of three times higher in states that have vaccinated a smaller share of their residents than the United States overall, CDC data shows.

If there is another surge, Dr. Megan Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, said young unvaccinated adults could be a big part of the problem.

“We’ve already seen that the highest number of infections over the past few months have been in those younger adults,” Ranney said. “These are the people that thought they were invincible.”

David Axe at The Daily Beast: This Is What America’s Next Big COVID Wave Will Look Like.

“The Delta variant will likely become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of the summer,” Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University global health expert, told The Daily Beast. “It is entirely foreseeable that the U.S. will experience surges, particularly in states with relatively low vaccination coverage.”

Thanks to its sprawling pharmaceutical industry and carefully worded contracts between the vaccine-makers and the federal government, the United States is one of the few countries where supply of vaccine far exceeds willing recipients.

Virtually anyone in the U.S. can get vaccinated, for free, at any time. So far, 54 percent of all Americans have taken advantage of that rare privilege and have gotten at least one dose. But vaccination rates are uneven across U.S. states and, unsurprisingly in this polarized era, map fairly neatly on political alignment.

Colour Blind, by Sarah Racaniere, a poem by Duke Al Durham

Colour Blind, by Sarah Racaniere, a poem by Duke Al Durham

Vaccine uptake is high in states governed by Democrats. Consider California, where 61 percent of the population is at least partially vaccinated. In Republican states, uptake is generally low. Just 36 percent of Mississippi residents have gotten their first shot.

There’s a politically charged vaccination disparity in the United States, and the Delta lineage is taking advantage of it.

The new variant now accounts for around a quarter of all new infections in the U.S.. But it’s not evenly distributed. Five states where Delta is prevalent—Arkansas, Missouri, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming—are all seeing significant increases in new COVID cases, even though case rates are probably still flat on the national level.

Not surprisingly, those are the states where vaccination rates are lowest.

“When you have such a low level of vaccination superimposed upon a variant that has a high degree of efficiency of spread, what you are going to see among undervaccinated regions, be that states, cities or counties, you’re going to see these individual types of blips,” Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN.

“It’s almost like it’s going to be two Americas,” Fauci added.

Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he’s especially worried about Southern states. “The Deep South is a real concern, where political leadership was much too slow to endorse the science, and scientific literacy is lower than in many parts of the country,” Beyrer told The Daily Beast. “The more infectious variants, like Delta, will exploit these vulnerabilities. That’s what viruses do.”

There’s more at the link. But, as I wrote above, cases are rising even in states with high vaccination rates, and there’s a report from Israel on reduced effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant. What will happen as new variants continue to develop? What about the Lambda variant?

EuroNews: Lambda: What do we know about the latest COVID variant flagged by the WHO?

The latest variant to be highlighted by the World Health Organization, named Lambda, has now been found in at least 27 different countries.

It is especially widespread across South America, having first appeared in Peru in August last year, and is accounting for more and more cases in these countries.

Pipetting The Sample by Ali Al-Nasser

Pipetting The Sample by Ali Al-Nasser

Having found its way to Europe, where there is already an ongoing battle against the Delta variant, due to lack of study it is still unclear how major a cause of concern it might be.

The latest variant to be highlighted by the World Health Organization, named Lambda, has now been found in at least 27 different countries.

It is especially widespread across South America, having first appeared in Peru in August last year, and is accounting for more and more cases in these countries.

Having found its way to Europe, where there is already an ongoing battle against the Delta variant, due to lack of study it is still unclear how major a cause of concern it might be.

It is not yet listed as a ‘variant of concern’, rather a ‘variant of interest’ by the WHO, meaning it has been identified as causing transmission or detected in multiple countries.

Read more at the link.

We’ve learned that we will be affected by what is happening with the virus in other countries. Therefore, I want to call your attention to two longer articles–one about Russia and one about India.

Alexey Kovalev at Foreign Policy: The Shocking Enormity of Russia’s Botched Pandemic Response.

MOSCOW—As I write this, Russia is firmly in the grip of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, there are about 22,000 reported new infections—twice as many as during the peak of the first wave in May 2020—and more than 600 deaths. The new Delta variant of the virus, which Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says is responsible for 90 per cent of new infections in the Russian capital, has caught Russia almost completely unawares. Despite having access to the brain power and resources of one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Russian authorities have repeatedly squandered almost every chance to beat the pandemic. Their massive, bloated propaganda apparatus failed to do the one job it was designed for: Get the message out. Instead, the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of trust between the Russian government and citizens. Now, the campaign for parliamentary elections in September could make fighting the pandemic even harder, since the ruling United Russia party may be even more reluctant to impose unpopular measures such as lockdowns.

Russian independent observers and journalists—including me and my colleagues at Meduza—already knew something was terribly off with Russia’s handling of the pandemic in late spring of 2020. We had looked at the numbers and recognized that COVID-19 deaths were being underreported in many regions of Russia. According to the official statistics at the time, tens of thousands of Russians were dying in 2020 of a mysterious pneumonia epidemic unrelated to COVID-19. This was hardly plausible. The more likely explanation: Russian regional authorities were writing off the majority of COVID-19 cases as “community-acquired pneumonia.”

There is no evidence of a cover-up ordered from the top. More likely, regional governorates were simply being discreet to avoid being the bearer of bad news to the Kremlin. Underreporting COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the pandemic plausibly made many Russians question the existence of the virus or lulled them into a false sense of security, although there is no poll data to back this up. What’s certain is that by November 2020, according to independent polling institute Levada, the majority of Russians did not trust their government’s COVID-19 figures: 33 percent thought them too low, while 28 percent believed they were exaggerated.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Read the rest at Foreign Policy.

Naturarte by Angela Araujo, Sunsuet collage made from cuts from Nature covers

Naturarte by Angela Araujo, Sunsuet collage made from cuts from Nature covers

MIT Technology Review: What went so wrong with covid in India? Everything.

America may seem to be approaching the end of the pandemic, but covid-19 remains a surging catastrophe in India, with more than 30 million people infected and more than 400,000 deaths—official figures that many believe are far below the real numbers. A more likely scenario, the New York Times reported on May 25, is that 539 million people have been infected and more than 1.6 million are dead. On June 27, the Wall Street Journal published figures from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose modeling also suggests that India is undercounting. The institute estimates the death toll at over 1.1 million, or three times the official figure. 

But the crisis was not an unavoidable tragedy. Even the new delta variant discovered to be sweeping through the country was not some terrible random error. Instead, the catastrophe that has struck millions of Indians is the direct outcome of the government’s failures: its failure to plan ahead by increasing hospital capacity and acquiring medicines; its failure to figure out contact tracing, collect adequate data, and purchase vaccines. Even after it became clear that a second wave was inevitable, the government went ahead with superspreader events that served its own political purposes—and gave the virus a new opportunity. And at the center of the crisis—paying little attention to science, seemingly refusing to heed good advice, and appearing concerned primarily with holding on to power at any cost—stands India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist whose arrogance and underpreparedness have cost the country an incalculable amount. 

Read the rest at the Technology Review link.

NOTE: Read about the pandemic art works in this post in this Nature Medicine article: Art in a Pandemic: A Digital Gallery.

What else is happening? What stories have captured your interest today?

 
 


Thursday Reads

Laurette's head with a coffee cup,, Henri Matisse

Laurette’s head with a coffee cup, by Henri Matisse

Good Morning!!

I live in a 10th floor apartment that looks out at a busy street. Over the last year, I’ve looked out to see very little traffic, even in the rush hour. Now that Massachusetts has opened up again, the view of the street is nearly back to normal, with cars slowly moving slowly bumper to bumper in the hours when people are commuting to and from work. But is the pandemic really over? How much of a threat is the Delta variant of Covid-19? And what about the new variant, Delta Plus?

Dhruv Khullar at The New Yorker: The Delta Variant Is a Grave Danger to the Unvaccinated.

Lineage B.1.617.2, now known as the Delta variant, was first detected in India, in December, 2020. An evolved version of sars-CoV-2, Delta has at least a dozen mutations, including several on its spike protein that make it vastly more contagious and possibly more lethal and vaccine-resistant than other strains. In India, the Delta variant contributed to the most devastating coronavirus wave the world has seen so far; now, it has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. In the U.S., it accounts for a minority of cases—but it is rapidly outcompeting other variants, and will likely soon become our dominant lineage.

Much of what we know about Delta is preliminary, and based on reports from India and, more recently, the U.K., where it now accounts for more than ninety per cent of new cases. Four-fifths of British adults have received at least one shot of a covid-19 vaccine, and more than half are fully vaccinated—but the variant has spread widely enough among those who remain vulnerable to fuel a quadrupling of cases and a doubling of hospitalizations in the past month. The vast majority of Delta-variant cases seem to have occurred in adults under fifty, whose rates of vaccination remain lower than those of older people. Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K.’s full reopening, originally scheduled for June 21st, would be postponed.

Earlier this year, scientists estimated that lineage B.1.1.7—the Alpha variant, first isolated in England—could be some sixty per cent more transmissible than the original version of sars-CoV-2. Now, experts believe that the Delta variant is sixty per cent more transmissible than Alpha—making it far more contagious than the virus that tore through the world in 2020. It hasn’t yet been conclusively shown that Delta is more lethal, but early evidence from the U.K. suggests that, compared to Alpha, it doubles the risk of a person’s being hospitalized. Even if the variant turns out to be no deadlier within any one person, its greater transmissibility means that it can inflict far more damage across a population, depending on how many people remain unvaccinated when it strikes.

It’s a long article, so check it out if you’re interested. Here’s the conclusion:

In a sense, Delta is the first post-vaccination variant. Pockets of the human race—perhaps five hundred million people out of 7.6 billion—are protected against it, despite its transmissibility; for them, the pandemic’s newest chapter is something of an epilogue, since the main story has, in effect, already concluded. But, for those who remain unvaccinated, by choice or by chance, Delta represents the latest installment in an ongoing series of horrors. It’s a threat more sinister than any other—one that imperils whatever precarious equilibrium has taken root. In a partially vaccinated world, Delta exposes the duality in which we now live and die.

From the BBC article:

India’s health ministry says studies showed that the so-called Delta plus variant – also known as AY.1 – spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralise the virus.

The variant is related to the Delta, an existing variant of concern, which was first identified in India last year and is thought to have driven the deadly second wave of infections this summer in India.\The health ministry says the Delta plus variant, first found in India in April, has been detected in around 40 samples from six districts in three states – Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. At least 16 of these samples were found in Maharashtra, one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic.

Delta plus has also been found in nine other countries – USA, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, Russia and China – compared to the original highly contagious Delta strain, which has now spread to 80 countries.

The Cup of Tea, Mary Cassatt

The Cup of Tea, Mary Cassatt

It’s still not clear how serious the thread of Delta Plus is.

“You need biological and clinical information in order to consider whether it is truly a variant of concern.”

This means India needs more data to determine whether the variant is neutralised by antibodies generated by available vaccines or infection by another variant of the coronavirus.

Also, extensive data is needed about the increase in transmissibility, diagnostic failures – routine tests not picking up the variant – and whether the variant is causing more severe disease.

“You need to study a few hundred patients who are sick with this condition and variant and find out whether they are at greater risk of greater disease than the ancestral variant,” Dr Kang said.

Still, in places in the U.S. where many people are unvaccinated, it seems that these variants are nothing to fool around with. There’s much more information at the BBC link.

This is from Science Magazine: Delta variant triggers dangerous new phase in the pandemic.

When the coronavirus variant now called Delta first appeared in December 2020, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, it did not seem all that remarkable. But when it descended on New Delhi a few months later, its impact was devastating, with almost 30,000 cases reported daily in late April. “Suddenly … it is dominant and completely sweeps away Alpha,” which until then was most prevalent in the city, says Anurag Agrawal, who leads the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.

New Delhi seemed unlikely to suffer a big new outbreak because so many of its residents had already been infected or vaccinated, Agrawal says. But those protections seemed to barely slow Delta, which is more transmissible and may evade immunity, he says: “It went from a 10-foot wall around the city to a 2-foot wall you could just walk over.”

From New Delhi, the variant has quickly spread, and it now looks set to sweep the globe in what could be a devastating new wave. In the United Kingdom, Delta already makes up more than 90% of all infections; it has driven COVID-19 case numbers up again after a dramatic decline and led the government last week to postpone the final stage of its reopening plan. A Delta-driven resurgence in Lisbon prompted the Portuguese government to enact a 3-day travel ban between the city and the rest of the country. The variant may account for 90% of all COVID-19 cases in the European Union by the end of August, Andrea Ammon, the head of the European Centre for Disease

Prevention and Control, warned today. “It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination,” she said. “This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.“

Melinda L. Cootsona, Black Coffee Ode to RD

Melinda L. Cootsona, Black Coffee Ode to RD

Delta also appears also to be causing surges in Russia, Indonesia, and many other countries. In the United States, where its prevalence is now estimated to be at least 14%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Delta a “variant of concern” on 15 June.

Read the rest at the link.

One more lengthy story to check out at CNBC: Covid is already deadlier this year than all of 2020. So why do many in U.S. think the problem’s over?

As the U.S. pushes ahead with its reopening, easing mask mandates and lifting public health restrictions, much of the rest of the world is seeing an alarming surge in the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths.

The stark contrast underscores how unevenly the coronavirus pandemic has spread, now hitting low-income nations harder as they struggle with access to vaccines, the rapid spread of new variants and heavily burdened health-care systems.

It also shows why, even with nations such as the U.S., China and the U.K. recording relatively low Covid infections and fatalities thanks to a mass vaccination drive, the global health crisis is still far from over.

To be sure, more people have died from Covid this year than in all of 2020, according to data compiled by the World Health Organization. The official global death toll stood at 1,813,188 at the end of 2020. More than 2 million people have died as a result of Covid so far this year.

There’s much more at the link. I’m very glad I’m fully vaccinated, but I’m still not going to keep taking precautions.

In other news, we’re learning more about the Trump gang’s efforts to use the justice department to attack their political enemies. 

The Guardian: House investigates possible shadow operation in Trump justice department.

Top Democrats in the House are investigating whether Trump justice department officials ran an unlawful shadow operation to target political enemies of the former president to hunt down leaks of classified information, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The House judiciary committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, is centering his investigation on the apparent violation of internal policies by the justice department, when it issued subpoenas against Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell in 2018.

Simon Quadrat Man Drinking Tea

Simon Quadrat, Man Drinking Tea

The use of subpoenas to secretly seize data from the two Democrats on the House intelligence committee – and fierce critics of Donald Trump – would ordinarily require authorization from the highest levels of the justice department and notably, the attorney general.

But with the former Trump attorneys general Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions denying any knowledge of the subpoenas, Democrats are focused on whether rogue officials abused the vast power of the federal government to target Trump’s perceived political opponents, the source said.

That kind of shadow operation – reminiscent of the shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that led to Trump’s first impeachment – would be significant because it could render the subpoenas unlawful, the source said.

And if the subpoenas were issued without proper authorization from the attorney general level, it could also leave the officials involved in the effort open to prosecution for false operating with the imprimatur of law enforcement.

The sharpening contours of the House judiciary committee’s investigation into the Trump justice department reflects Democrats’ determination to uncover potential politicization at the department.

And from Media Matters: “From POTUS”: Trump wanted Justice Department to investigate a QAnon-linked election conspiracy theory.

The ongoing release of materials on former President Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election has shown the extent to which the White House pushed for the Department of Justice to investigate far-out conspiracy theories linked to the QAnon movement. And the latest example might also show that false stories circulated in far-right media made their way to Trump himself.

The Detroit News reported last week on emails recently released by the House oversight committee showing some of the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. On December 14 — the same day when the members of the Electoral College met across the country to formalize Joe Biden’s victory — White House aide Molly Michael sent an email to acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen with the subject “From POTUS.”

Peasant Girl drinking her coffee, Camille Pissarro

Peasant Girl drinking her coffee, Camille Pissarro

The email contained a PDF file of a report from a right-wing investigator on an election counting error in the small locale of Antrim County, Michigan, and a set of talking points apparently written by the report’s author declaring that “Michigan cannot certify for Biden” due to a “seditious conspiracy to undermine the election process and the will of the American people.”

Two minutes after that email was sent to Rosen, another unnamed person in the attorney general’s office forwarded the documents to the U.S. attorneys in Michigan, asking them to “see attachments per Rich Donoghue,” Trump’s newly appointed deputy attorney general….

According to The New York Times, the private group that conducted this report, Allied Security Operations Group, is a sponsor and financial backer of the website Everylegalvote.com, which had also “posted content from a source with links to” the QAnon conspiracy theory. The author of the report was also a former Republican candidate for Congress from Texas, having lost in a primary in 2016.

Meanwhile, a new poll by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group shows how deluded Republicans are about the 2020 election: Theft Perception. Examining the Views of Americans Who Believe the 2020 Election was Stolen.

Key Findings

  • Republicans widely support Donald Trump and believe his claims about a stolen election. While Republicans support all elements of the ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative in high numbers, the overall electorate largely rejects these claims and propositions.
  • Among Republicans, 85 percent believe it was appropriate for Trump to file lawsuits challenging election results in several states, and the same proportion believe that vote-by-mail increases vote fraud; 46 percent of Republicans believe it was appropriate for legislators in states won by Joe Biden to try to assign their state’s electoral votes to Trump.
  • Republicans most committed to both Trump and the narrative of election fraud share a few other views in common: extreme antipathy toward Democrats and immigrants, belief that racism is not a problem, support for nationalism, belief in traditional family values and gender roles, and preference for a very limited role for government in the economy.
  • While a voter’s willingness to reject an election without evidence of fraud might suggest an embrace of authoritarianism, a key measure of authoritarian leanings — support for a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections” — is only weakly correlated to support for Trump and for the stolen election narrative.

More stories to check out today:

The Washington Post: In sentencing regretful Capitol protester, federal judge rebukes Republicans.

CNN: New videos show Capitol rioters attacking police line from officers’ point of view.

The Washington Post: Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from covid-19.

The Washington Post: Tension grips Michigan as Trump’s election attacks continue to reverberate.

NBC News: Michigan Republicans eviscerate Trump voter fraud claims in scathing report.

Raw Story: Florida students required to register political views with the state to promote ‘intellectual diversity’

Task and Purpose: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is tired of ignorant bullsh*t from people who don’t like to read.

That’s all I have for you today. Have a terrific Thursday everyone!