Posted: April 24, 2021
Things have been looking up for the U.S. now than we have a responsible, knowledgeable president with competent advisers. But we we’re still in danger as long as the worldwide pandemic rages in other countries. Right now India isin the spotlight. We also need to deal with the anti-vaxxers and the Trumpists who refuse to accept vaccines. We’re also still learning about the long-term effects of Covid-19 as well as how the disease is transmitted.
How bad is this pandemic? Maybe worse than the 2018 flu, reports The New York Times: How Covid Upended a Century of Patterns in U.S. Deaths.
A surge in deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic created the largest gap between the actual and expected death rate in 2020 — what epidemiologists call “excess deaths,” or deaths above normal.
Aside from fatalities directly attributed to Covid-19, some excess deaths last year were most likely undercounts of the virus or misdiagnoses, or indirectly related to the pandemic otherwise. Preliminary federal data show that overdose deaths have also surged during the pandemic.
A New York Times analysis of U.S. death patterns for the past century shows how much 2020 deviated from the norm….
Since the 1918 pandemic, the country’s death rate has fallen steadily. But last year, the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted that trend, in spite of a century of improvements in medicine and public health.
In the first half of the 20th century, deaths were mainly dominated by infectious diseases. As medical advancements increased life expectancy, death rates also started to smooth out in the 1950s, and the mortality rate in recent decades — driven largely by chronic diseases — had continued to decline.
In 2020, however, the United States saw the largest single-year surge in the death rate since federal statistics became available. The rate increased 16 percent from 2019, even more than the 12 percent jump during the 1918 flu pandemic….
Combined with deaths in the first few months of this year, Covid-19 has now claimed more than half a million lives in the United States. The total number of Covid-19 deaths so far is on track to surpass the toll of the 1918 pandemic, which killed an estimated 675,000 nationwide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent of the deaths last year can be directly attributed to Covid-19, which overtook other leading causes of death — like chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries, such as car accidents and overdose deaths — to become the third biggest killer, after heart disease and cancer.
Read the rest at the NYT.
What about the today’s flu viruses? The New York Times: The Flu Vanished During Covid. What Will Its Return Look Like?
There have been fewer influenza cases in the United States this flu season than in any on record. About 2,000 cases have been recorded since late September, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, the average number of cases over the same period was about 206,000.
As measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus were implemented around the country in March 2020, influenza quickly disappeared, and it still has not returned. The latest flu season, which normally would have run until next month, essentially never happened.
After fears that a “twindemic” could batter the country, the absence of the flu was a much needed reprieve that eased the burden on an overwhelmed health care system. But the lack of exposure to the flu could also make the population more susceptible to the virus when it returns — and experts say its return is certain….
Experts are less certain about what will happen when the flu does return. In the coming months — as millions of people return to public transit, restaurants, schools and offices — influenza outbreaks could be more widespread than normal, they say, or could occur at unusual times of the year. But it’s also possible that the virus that returns is less dangerous, having not had the opportunity to evolve while it was on hiatus.
“We don’t really have a clue,” said Richard Webby, a virologist at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “We’re in uncharted territory. We haven’t had an influenza season this low, I think as long as we’ve been measuring it. So what the potential implications are is a bit unclear.”
One more from The New York Times: Patients With Long Covid Face Lingering Worrisome Health Risks, Study Finds.
The health effects of Covid-19 not only can stretch for months but appear to increase the risk of death and chronic medical conditions, even in people who were never sick enough to be hospitalized, a large new study finds.
In the study, published Thursday in the journal Nature, researchers looked at medical records of more than 73,000 people across the United States whose coronavirus infections did not require hospitalization. Between one and six months after becoming infected, those patients had a significantly greater risk of death — 60 percent higher — than people who had not been infected with the virus.
The research, based on records of patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, also found that nonhospitalized Covid survivors had a 20 percent greater chance of needing outpatient medical care over those six months than people who had not contracted the coronavirus.
The Covid survivors experienced a vast array of long-term medical problems that they had never had before — not just lung issues from the respiratory effects of the virus, but symptoms that could affect virtually any organ system or part of the body, from neurological to cardiovascular to gastrointestinal. They were also at greater risk of mental health problems, including anxiety and sleep disorders.
Click the link to read more about the study results.
We’re still learning about how the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. CNBC: MIT researchers say you’re no safer from Covid indoors at 6 feet or 60 feet in new study challenging social distancing policies.
The risk of being exposed to Covid-19 indoors is as great at 60 feet as it is at 6 feet — even when wearing a mask, according to a new study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who challenge social distancing guidelines adopted across the world.
MIT professors Martin Z. Bazant, who teaches chemical engineering and applied mathematics, and John W.M. Bush, who teaches applied mathematics, developed a method of calculating exposure risk to Covid-19 in an indoor setting that factors in a variety of issues that could affect transmission, including the amount of time spent inside, air filtration and circulation, immunization, variant strains, mask use, and even respiratory activity such as breathing, eating, speaking or singing.
Bazant and Bush question long-held Covid-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization in a peer-reviewed study published earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America.
“We argue there really isn’t much of a benefit to the 6-foot rule, especially when people are wearing masks,” Bazant said in an interview. “It really has no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance.”
The important variable the CDC and the WHO have overlooked is the amount of time spent indoors, Bazant said. The longer someone is inside with an infected person, the greater the chance of transmission, he said.
Opening windows or installing new fans to keep the air moving could also be just as effective or more effective than spending large amounts of money on a new filtration system, he said.
Bazant also says that guidelines enforcing indoor occupancy caps are flawed. He said 20 people gathered inside for 1 minute is probably fine, but not over the course of several hours, he said.
“What our analysis continues to show is that many spaces that have been shut down in fact don’t need to be. Often times the space is large enough, the ventilation is good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity and the scientific support for reduced capacity in those spaces is really not very good,” Bazant said. “I think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces you’d find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions.”
I mentioned the disastrous situation in India. The Guardian: India’s daily Covid death toll hits new record amid oxygen shortages.
India’s daily coronavirus death toll passed a new record Saturday as the government battled to get oxygen supplies to hospitals overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of new daily cases.
Queues of Covid-19 patients and their fearful relatives are building up outside hospitals in major cities across India, the new world pandemic hotspot, which has reported nearly a million new cases in three days.
Another 2,624 deaths, a new daily record, were reported in 24 hours, taking the official toll to nearly 190,000 since the pandemic started.
More than 340,000 new cases were also reported, taking India’s total to 16.5 million, second only to the United States.
But many experts are predicting the current wave will not peak for at least three weeks and that the real death and case numbers are much higher.
India reported 346,786 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday — the third day in a row the country has set a world record for infections during the coronavirus pandemic, according to government and scientific tallies.
The related death toll for the previous 24 hours hit 2,624 — also a daily record for India — for 189,544 total fatalities.
The sky-rocketing Covid-19 infections are devastating India’s communities and hospitals. Everything is in short supply — intensive care unit beds, medicine, oxygen and ventilators. Bodies are piling up in morgues and crematoriums.
Twenty critically ill patients died at a Delhi hospital Friday night after its supply of oxygen was delayed by seven hours, according to Dr. DK Baluja, medical director at the Jaipur Golden Hospital.
“That happened last night. Everything we had was exhausted. The oxygen was not supplied on time. It was supposed to come in at 5 p.m. but it came around midnight. People who were critically ill needed oxygen,” said Baluja.
The hospital is currently scrambling to arrange more oxygen but has not received a fresh supply all Saturday morning. “We have only 15-20 minutes of oxygen left now. It may take hours to get another tanker,” Baluja told CNN.
Delhi hospitals have been facing a severe oxygen shortage as the number of Covid-19 cases have soared in the national capital in the past two weeks….
Delhi recorded 24,331 new cases Friday, including 348 deaths, according to the Covid-19 health bulletin issued by the Delhi government.
Countrywide, India has now recorded more than 16.6 million cases since the start of the pandemic, a CNN tally of figures from the Indian Ministry of Health reveals.
In contrast, Vietnam successfully limited the spread of the virus. The Verge: Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out. It worked.
As the pandemic took hold last year, travel restrictions quickly proliferated — they were the second-most-common policy governments adopted to combat Covid-19. According to one review, never in recorded history has global travel been curbed in “such an extreme manner”: a reduction of approximately 65 percent in the first half of 2020. More than a year later, as countries experiment with vaccine passports, travel bubbles, and a new round of measures to keep virus variants at bay, a maze of confusing, ever-changing restrictions remains firmly in place.
But few countries have gone as far as Vietnam, a one-party communist state with a GDP per capita of $2,700. The Haiphong checkpoints timed for Tet were the equivalent of closing off Los Angeles to Americans ahead of Thanksgiving — within a country that was already nearly hermetically sealed. Last March, the government canceled all inbound commercial flights for months on end, making it almost impossible to fly in, even for Vietnamese residents.
Today, flights are limited to select groups, like businesspeople or experts, from a few low-risk countries. Everybody who enters needs special government permission and must complete up to 21 days of state-monitored quarantine with PCR tests. (Positive cases are immediately isolated in hospitals, regardless of disease severity.)
This strict approach to travel, global health experts say, is directly connected to Vietnam’s seeming defeat of Covid-19. Thirty-five people have reportedly died in total, and a little more than 2,700 have been infected with the virus during three small waves that have all been quickly quashed. Even on the worst days of the pandemic, the country of 97 million has never recorded more than 110 new cases — a tiny fraction of the 68,000 daily case high in the United Kingdom, which has a population one-third smaller than Vietnam, or the record 300,000-plus cases per day only the US and India managed to tally.
Finally, The Daily Beast addresses the crazy anti-vaxxer situation: The Anti-Vaxxer Hunt for Dead People Is Getting Even Weirder.
Starting in mid-January, several social media channels and websites emerged as hubs for stories, generated by admins and users pulling together snippets from across the internet and crafting them into cohesive narratives and brief posts, linking reported deaths to COVID vaccinations. Several of these platforms have grown notably, and become more formalized, in recent weeks. Unsurprisingly, given the robust safety profile of the vaccines in use in the United States, they rarely detail how a vaccination supposedly caused a given death.
Posted: December 15, 2020
Yesterday “electors” affirmed that Joe Biden is our next president. After the votes in all 50 states, Biden addressed the nation. Fortunately, this time the winner of the popular vote also won in the outdated Electoral College.
President-elect Joe Biden declared Monday, hours after the Electoral College made his victory over President Donald Trump official, that “the rule of law, our Constitution and the will of the people prevailed” over Trump’s efforts to undo the results of the election.
“The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame,” Biden said.
In a speech Monday night in Delaware, Biden launched the most direct and detailed defense of his victory yet — and the harshest condemnation of Trump’s flailing efforts to change reality.
He catalogued the failures of Trump’s campaign and his allies in state and federal courts and state legislatures, and recounts that have not substantially changed vote tallies. He called efforts by Trump and his supporters to use the courts to overturn the election result “so extreme we’ve never seen it before.”
“Thankfully, a unanimous Supreme Court immediately and completely rejected this effort,” Biden said.
Biden’s speech came after the Electoral College had cast 306 votes for Biden and 232 for Trump, cementing Biden’s win. The Electoral College votes will now be sent to Congress to be counted formally next month. Though some House Republicans have indicated they will object to the results in key states, they can do little more than delay the process during a joint session of Congress on January 6. Then, Biden will be inaugurated at noon on January 20.
Aaron Rupar at Vox: Biden’s post-Electoral College speech was a stinging rebuke of Trump.
Over the past six weeks since Election Day, President-elect Joe Biden carried about his business while largely ignoring the circus surrounding President Donald Trump’s incessant lies about election fraud and refusal to concede. That changed a bit on Monday.
Speaking hours after the Electoral College officially voted to confirm his victory over Trump, Biden declared victory. He also criticized the president, whom he portrayed as on the wrong side of the struggle for democracy, for refusing to acknowledge the reality of his defeat.
“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,” Biden said. “We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And so now it is time to turn the page. To unite. To heal.”
At another point, Biden took an indirect shot at Trump, saying “the flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know that nothing — not even a pandemic, or an abuse of power — can extinguish that flame.”
Biden addressed the flood of failed lawsuits the Trump campaign has filed since the election and the Supreme Court’s refusal last week to take up a flimsy case that could’ve overturned his victory. He also praised state and local officials on both sides of the aisle for overseeing a fair election while refusing to be “bullied” by Trump.
“In America, when questions are raised about the legitimacy of elections, those questions are resolved through the legal processes. And that’s precisely what happened here,” he said. “All the counts were confirmed … none of this has stopped baseless claims.”
Later, Biden noted that “respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy,” adding that when Trump won four years ago, “it was my responsibility to announce the tally of the Electoral College votes to the joint session of Congress … I did my job.” [….]
Biden, who sounded noticeably hoarse throughout, closed by noting that the joy of his win “is tempered by the pain so many of us are feeling today. Our nation [today] passed a grim milestone: 300,000 deaths due to this Covid virus. My heart goes out to each of you during this dark winter of the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Trump is still filled with self-pity and ignoring the desperate situation in the country he is supposed to be leading. Jonathan Swan at Axios: Scoop: Trump’s frenetic, fanciful, bitter final plea.
Right up to Monday’s Electoral College vote, President Trump held the false hope that Republican-controlled state legislatures would replace electors with allies who’d overturn Joe Biden’s win, two people who discussed the matter with him told Axios.
The big picture: Through the past week, the sources said, the president browbeat GOP legislators in multiple states, launched tirades against Republican Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia, vowed to make Fox News “pay” for accurately calling the race, and tested ways to say he didn’t win without acknowledging he had lost.
Behind the scenes: One source who talked to Trump over the weekend said the president continued to insist that there was significant fraud in multiple states, paraphrasing him: “Do you think if the legislatures know this is all true, they would just act to overturn this?'”
There’s more at the link, but who cares? Trump is finished and we won’t have to put up with his childish behavior much longer.
Yesterday was also a turning point in the coronavirus pandemic, as the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine began. Peter Baker at The New York Times: A Day That Settled an Election and Brought Hope for Defeating a Pandemic.
When future historians close the books on the misery of 2020, a grueling year of disease, death, racial strife, street violence, economic collapse and political discord the likes of which have not been seen in the United States in generations, they may look back on Monday, Dec. 14, as a pivotal juncture.
It was on that day that Americans began rolling up their sleeves for a vaccine produced in record time to defeat a virus even as the death toll crossed 300,000. And it was on that day that members of the Electoral College gathered in each of the 50 states to ratify the end of the most polarized election in more than a century.
None of that erases the enormous damage of the past 12 months, nor does it mean there will not be pain and protest to come. Many Americans will get sick and die in the months before the vaccine is universally available. Many Americans will remain aggrieved by the result of an election they wish had gone the other way. It is still an era of hardship and division. But after so much uncertainty, after so much doubt, the way forward appears clearer at least in two major respects….
The day played out in a remarkable fashion as television viewers watched images of health care workers receiving lifesaving injections juxtaposed with live shots from state capitals around the country showing electors casting votes formally confirming the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris.
It was the definitiveness of both developments that stood out after months of political, medical and economic turmoil: At last, Americans can look ahead to the day when they will be immunized from the Covid-19 virus even if takes until spring. And now they know despite all the postelection noise from the White House and its allies who will be president on Jan. 20.
Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that the Trump administration refused to order more vaccines from Pfizer in November. Mediaite: Former FDA Director Scott Gottlieb: Trump Administration Declined More Pfizer Vaccines as Recently as November.
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, now on the board of Pfizer, said that the United States was offered more of the company’s successful coronavirus vaccine as recently as November — but didn’t take the deal.
“There were multiple conversations with the U.S. government about taking more supply in the second quarter” of 2021, Gottlieb said. “The company wasn’t taken up on the offer as recently as November.”
The New York Times reported last week that Pfizer offered the Trump administration the chance to buy more than the 100 million doses agreed upon over the summer. In a baffling move, the Trump administration never made the deal.
Gottlieb, who was Trump’s FDA chief until April 2019, noted that the U.S. government said that the conversations with Pfizer happened in July, but that there was an offer for more vaccines on the table as recently as last month.
Gottlieb said other countries ended up taking those vaccines after the U.S. passed.
Another vaccine will soon be available from Moderna. The New York Times: Moderna Vaccine Is Highly Protective and Prevents Severe Covid-19, Data Show.
Newly released data confirmed on Tuesday that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is highly protective, setting the stage for its emergency authorization this week by federal regulators and the start of its distribution across the country.
The Food and Drug Administration intends to authorize use of the vaccine on Friday, people familiar with the agency’s plans said. The decision would give millions of Americans access to a second coronavirus vaccine beginning as early as Monday.
The review by the F.D.A. confirms Moderna’s earlier assessment that its vaccine had an efficacy rate of 94.1 percent in a trial of 30,000 people. Side effects, including fever, headache and fatigue, were unpleasant but not dangerous, the agency found.
The success of Moderna’s vaccine has become all the more crucial to fighting the pandemic as other vaccine efforts have faltered. The hopeful news arrives at a time of record-breaking numbers of coronavirus cases that are overwhelming hospitals and of an ever-increasing death toll, which reached a bleak milestone of 300,000 on Monday.
Six million doses of the Moderna vaccine could begin distribution next week. Read more details at the NYT link.
Two more momentous events happened yesterday. Bill Barr is leaving and news broke of a new Russian hack of multiple U.S. government agencies.
Ruth Marcus on Bill Barr: Barr failed at his job. His bootlicking resignation letter made that clear.
Posted: November 14, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is worsening by the day, and the Trump administration refuses to do anything about it. Yesterday, the defeated “president” emerged from his hidey hole for an appearance in the former Rose Garden. He proceeded to falsely claim credit for the Pfizer vaccine and pretend that the election is still undecided.
Maeve Reston at CNN thinks Trump is beginning to accept reality: Trump wavers between reality and election fiction with eye on his legacy during Rose Garden vaccine address.
President Donald Trump had an eye on his legacy as he strode to the microphone in the White House Rose Garden Friday and touted the administration’s “unequaled and unrivaled” efforts to help produce a coronavirus vaccine through Operation Warp Speed. Then, for a brief moment, he seemed close to acknowledging the reality that his presidency is almost over.
“I will not — this administration will not be doing a lockdown,” Trump said, speaking for the first time in a week as coronavirus cases in the US shatter records and hospitalizations are surging. “Hopefully whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be — I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown.”
It was a fleeting shift in tone suggesting that the reality of President-elect Joe Biden’s substantial win is seeping into Trump’s psyche even as he and his advisers publicly deny it.
The Democrat now has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 as a result of wins in two longtime Republican states, Arizona and Georgia, CNN projects — far above the 270 threshold that Biden needed to clinch the presidency. But the indisputable math has not prevented the President from continuing to try to whip up outrage among his supporters on Twitter with unfounded accusations that the election has been stolen from him.
Friday’s speech in the Rose Garden was a portrait of a President clinging to power as his legal challenges to the election results crumble around him, mindful that he ought to show Americans what he’s been doing with the power of government as he spends his days tweeting conspiracy theories about lost or deleted votes in the midst of a pandemic that is coursing through the United States.
Except he isn’t really doing anything about the most pressing problem facing the country–the pandemic. Philip Bump at The Washington Post: Trump also refuses to admit he lost the fight against the coronavirus.
“Case levels are high, but a lot of the case levels are high because of the fact that we have the best testing program anywhere in the world,” he said. “We’ve developed the most and the best tests, and we test far more than any other country. So it shows obviously more cases.”
This is false for a variety of reasons. The most obvious misstatement is that the current surge in new cases, leading to 1 in every 350 Americans contracting the virus in the past week, is solely a function of more testing. In reality, the number of new cases during this surge (which began around Sept. 12) has easily outpaced the increase in the number of tests being conducted. The rate at which tests are coming back positive is more than 9 percent at the moment, twice what it was a month ago.
It’s also important to remember that the United States has conducted so many tests because we’ve had to. Countries like South Korea effectively contained the virus and therefore didn’t have to keep testing hundreds of thousands of people a week. It’s our failure to contain the virus that necessitates a broad deployment of testing….
“The federal government has 22,000 beds immediately available for states and jurisdictions that need additional capacity,” Trump said Friday. “But we think that it’s going to start going down possibly very quickly. We’ll see what happens. But with the vaccine, you’ll see numbers going down within a matter of months. And it’ll go down very rapidly.”
There’s no indication that the need for hospital capacity is going to go down quickly. It’s also not clear where that federal capacity is or how states can access it. It may be the case that the vaccine will drive down new infections and hospitalizations, but even limited distribution of the vaccine is weeks away. For most Americans, it’s months away, and cases are surging now.
Read more at the WaPo.
As I wrote in a comment yesterday, I think Trump should be prosecuted for negligent homicide. At Alternet, via Raw Story, Cory Fenwick writes: The Trump plan for mass death is unfolding before our eyes.
On Friday, the COVID Tracking Project reported that the number of positive coronavirus infections in the last day had reached 170,000, the highest record ever and a number that was, just a few months ago, hard to imagine. It’s now our daily reality, and it’s likely to only get worse.
Other figures are just as frightening. Hospitalizations — one of the clearest signs of the seriousness of the out break —have reached a new high at 69,000, according to the project. Deaths are at a disturbing 1,300, though that rate is almost certain to spike in recent weeks following the more recent spike in cases. And as the newest and largest wave yet engulfs the country, reports have begun to appear of hospitals being overwhelmed with patients, which is almost certainly a precursor to a spike in the case fatality rate.
It’s our horrifying new status quo, and one that experts and observers have been warning would unfold this fall for months. But the ming-boggling truth is that for the Trump administration, everything is pretty much going as planned.
Ever since the first wave in the spring, President Donald Trump has seemed increasingly drawn to the so-called (and, indeed, misleadingly named) “herd immunity” approach to the pandemic. On this approach, you reject government restrictions meant to stop people from getting the virus. What advocates of this strategy believe is that it’s best that more people get the virus, because eventually, enough people will have had it, they’ll immune, and life will return to normal.
Click the link to read the rest.
This piece by Ed Yong at The Atlantic is a must read: ‘No One Is Listening to Us.’ More people than ever are hospitalized with COVID-19. Health-care workers can’t go on like this.
In the months since March, many Americans have habituated to the horrors of the pandemic. They process the election’s ramifications. They plan for the holidays. But health-care workers do not have the luxury of looking away: They’re facing a third pandemic surge that is bigger and broader than the previous two. In the U.S., states now report more people in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other point this year—and 40 percent more than just two weeks ago.
Emergency rooms are starting to fill again with COVID-19 patients. Utah, where Nathan Hatton is a pulmonary specialist at the University of Utah Hospital, is currently reporting 2,500 confirmed cases a day, roughly four times its summer peak. Hatton says that his intensive-care unit is housing twice as many patients as it normally does. His shifts usually last 12 to 24 hours, but can stretch to 36. “There are times I’ll come in in the morning, see patients, work that night, work all the next day, and then go home,” he told me. I asked him how many such shifts he has had to do. “Too many,” he said.
Hospitals have put their pandemic plans into action, adding more beds and creating makeshift COVID-19 wards. But in the hardest-hit areas, there are simply not enough doctors, nurses, and other specialists to staff those beds. Some health-care workers told me that COVID-19 patients are the sickest people they’ve ever cared for: They require twice as much attention as a typical intensive-care-unit patient, for three times the normal length of stay. “It was doable over the summer, but now it’s just too much,” says Whitney Neville, a nurse based in Iowa. “Last Monday we had 25 patients waiting in the emergency department. They had been admitted but there was no one to take care of them.” I asked her how much slack the system has left. “There is none,” she said.
The entire state of Iowa is now out of staffed beds, Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Iowa, told me. Worse is coming. Iowa is accumulating more than 3,600 confirmed cases every day; relative to its population, that’s more than twice the rate Arizona experienced during its summer peak, “when their system was near collapse,” Perencevich said. With only lax policies in place, those cases will continue to rise. Hospitalizations lag behind cases by about two weeks; by Thanksgiving, today’s soaring cases will be overwhelming hospitals that already cannot cope. “The wave hasn’t even crashed down on us yet,” Perencevich said. “It keeps rising and rising, and we’re all running on fear. The health-care system in Iowa is going to collapse, no question.”
There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.
It’s so sad to see North Dakota, my birthplace and the state where my parents were born and raised, experiencing such a terrible health emergency. USA Today: The Dakotas are ‘as bad as it gets anywhere in the world’ for COVID-19.
South Dakota welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to a massive motorcycle rally this summer, declined to cancel the state fair and still doesn’t require masks. Now its hospitals are filling up and the state’s current COVID-19 death rate is among the worst in the world.
The situation is similarly dire in North Dakota, with the state’s governor recently moving to allow health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 to continue working if they don’t show symptoms. It’s a controversial policy recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a crisis situation where hospitals are short-staffed.
And now — after months of resisting a statewide mask mandate — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum changed course late Friday, ordering masks to be worn statewide and imposing several business restrictions.
“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Burgum said in a video message posted at 10 p.m. Friday. Doctors and nurses “need our help, and they need it now,” he said.
Both North and South Dakota now face a predictably tragic reality that health experts tell USA TODAY could have been largely prevented with earlier public health actions.
Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota is still resisting. Sioux Falls Argus Leader: If Joe Biden enacts mask mandates, lockdowns, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem won’t enforce them.
The office of Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement to the Argus Leader Friday that the first-term governor, who’s risen to stardom in the Republican party for her hands-off approach to managing the pandemic, has no intention of using state resources to enforce any federal COVID-19 orders.
“It’s a good day for freedom. Joe Biden realizes that the president doesn’t have the authority to institute a mask mandate,” said Ian Fury, communications specialist for Noem. “For that matter, neither does Governor Noem, which is why she has provided her citizens with the full scope of the science and trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones.”
Famous last words?
More stories to check out today:
The New York Times: It’s Traumatizing: Coronavirus Deaths are Climbing Again.
Susan Rice at The New York Times: Here’s How Trump’s Stalling Risks Our National Security.
The New York Times: Christopher Krebs Hasn’t Been Fired, Yet.
Have a nice weekend, Sky Dancers!
Posted: February 3, 2015
The Midwest and Northeast were hit with another huge snowstorm yesterday, and there could be another one on the way. I may never get my car out of the driveway again. The strange thing is that it is also incredibly cold, in the single numbers again this morning. I’m going to wait until it gets into the 20s before I start trying to get my front door open and start digging out. I’m also struggling with a cold, so I’m going to have to shovel slowly.
The measles outbreak and the vaccine “controversy” are the stories topping the news today, after several politicians weighed in yesterday. I’m going to focus on those stories again today.
First up, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. From Jeffrey Kluger at Time Magazine: Chris Christie’s Terrible Vaccine Advice.
Last I checked, Chris Christie isn’t a licensed commercial pilot, which is one reason he probably doesn’t phone the cockpit with instructions when his flight encounters turbulence. Chances are, he doesn’t tell his plow operators how to clear a road when New Jersey gets hit by a snow storm either. But when it comes to medicine, the current Governor, former prosecutor and never doctor evidently feels pretty free to dispense advice. And doncha’ know it? That advice turns out to be terrible.
Asked about the ongoing 14-state outbreak of measles that has been linked to falling vaccination rates, Christie—the man who prides himself on chin-jutting certainty—went all squishy. “Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” he said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
The Governor then went further, taking off his family doctor hat and putting on his epidemiologist hat. “Not every vaccine is created equal,” he said, “and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”
He was not specific about which diseases fall below his public-health threat threshold, but New Jerseyans are free to guess. Would it be polio, which paralyzed or killed tens of thousands of American children every year before a vaccine against it was developed? Would it be whooping cough, which results in hospitalization for 50% of all infants who contract it and death for 2%, and is now making a comeback in California due to the state’s low vaccination rates? Are we going to have mandatory HSV 2 testing? Or would it be measles, which still kills nearly 150,000 people—mostly children—worldwide every year?
Christie later tried to walk back his remarks about vaccines, but he has a history of pandering to anti-vaxxers. During his 2009 campaign for governor, Christie wrote the following in a letter to supporters:
“Many of these families have expressed their concern over New Jersey’s highest-in-the nation vaccine mandates. I stand with them now, and will stand with them as their governor in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect their children.”
Next up, Senator Rand Paul. At the Washington Post, Jose A. DelReal writes: Rand Paul, M.D., says most vaccines should be ‘voluntary.’
“I’m not anti-vaccine at all but…most of them ought to be voluntary,” Paul told Laura Ingraham on her radio show Monday. “I think there are times in which there can be some rules but for the most part it ought to be voluntary.”
Paul pointed to a 2007 effort by then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is also considering a 2016 run for the Republican nomination, that would have required young girls to receive a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). That move was sharply attacked by social conservatives who said requiring vaccination against HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease, would encourage promiscuity. The Texas legislature eventually overturned the mandate. Perry later called the order “a mistake.”
“While I think it’s a good idea to take the vaccine, I think that’s a personal decision for individual’s to take,” Paul said, attempting to strike a balance between responsible medical protocols and personal choice.
Like Christie, Paul made sure his own children were vaccinated. But Paul really went off the deep end later on Monday.
Speaking on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” later Monday, Paul said that there should be increased public awareness that vaccines are good for children, but reiterated that vaccines should be voluntary, as he said they were in the past.
“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul said. “I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing. But I think parents should have some input. The state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom and public health.”
Parents “own their children?” WTF?! And what are these “profound mental disorders?” Who are these children and what vaccines did they get? I can’t believe the media lets this man get away with throwing out these evidence-free claims.
At The Week, Ryan Cooper explains the immorality of Christie’s and Paul’s positions.
…this entire argumentative frame misses the greatest benefit of vaccines: herd immunity. A population vaccinated to a high enough level becomes largely impervious to the disease by sheer statistics, and that protects the vulnerable ones who can’t be vaccinated, or those whose vaccines didn’t take root. Vaccines are not just about preventing personal illness, but stopping them from spreading. Done systematically enough, it can eradicate diseases completely. The elimination of smallpox, which killed something like 300 million people in the 20th century alone, ranks high on the list of human accomplishments.
That is why this is as much a moral issue as a scientific one. The appalling selfishness inherent in the idea of “vaccine choice” was starkly illustrated in a recent CNN story. After the measles outbreak at Disneyland, CNN talked to a family whose 10-month old baby had contracted the disease. They’re terrified he’ll pass it on to their 3-year-old daughter, who has leukemia and can’t get the vaccine — but might be killed by the disease. Here’s the response of a refusenik parent:
CNN asked Wolfson if he could live with himself if his unvaccinated child got another child gravely ill. “I could live with myself easily,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child.” [CNN]
In other words, it’s okay to cause the death of another child if your kid wants to go to Disneyland. And that’s leaving aside the risk to Wolfson’s own kids, who are put at risk by his atrocious parenting.
Every person depends on society to function. From public roads, to sanitation, to clean water, to the very economic system itself — your day is made possible by millions of other people doing their small part to maintain our civilization. When it comes to violently contagious diseases, it is not possible to speak meaningfully of choice divorced from the needs of those people.
Here’s a little more on Dr. Wolfson from Terrence McCoy at The Washington Post: Amid measles outbreak, anti-vaccine doctor revels in his notoriety.
“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth about vaccines,” Wolfson said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “Be mad at yourself, because you’re, frankly, a bad mother. You didn’t ask once about those vaccines. You didn’t ask about the chemicals in them. You didn’t ask about all the harmful things in those vaccines…. People need to learn the facts.”
But whose facts is he talking about? Every respectable expert totally disagrees with him and his anti-vaccine movement and, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urges parents to get their kids vaccinated. And Wolfson himself, who has quickly become something of a spokesman for the anti-vaxxers, is in no way an expert on vaccines or infectious diseases. He’s cardiologist who now does holistic medicine.
What the experts say: “The measles vaccine is one of the most highly effective vaccines that we have against any virus or any microbe, and it is safe, number one,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS. “Number two, measles is one of the top two most contagious infectious viruses that we know of…. So you have a highly infectious virus and you have an extraordinarily effective vaccine.”
Despite the measles outbreak that has spread to at least 14 states, Wolfson’s advice to parents is:
Wolfson actively urges people to avoid vaccines. “We should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, these are the rights of our children to get it,” he told the Arizona Republic. “We do not need to inject chemicals into ourselves and into our children in order to boost our immune system.” He added: “I’m a big fan of what’s called paleo-nutrition, so our children eat foods that our ancestors have been eating for millions of years…. That’s the best way to protect.”
Should kids have polio too?
McCoy also wrote recently about Andrew Wakefield the British doctor who started the vaccine panic:
If the [measles] outbreak proves anything, it’s Wakefield’s enduring legacy. Even years after he lost his medical license, years after he was shown to have committed numerous ethical violations, and years after the retraction of a medical paper that alleged a vaccine-autism link, his message resonates. Facebook is populated by pages like “Dr. Wakefield’s Work Must Continue.” There’s the Web site called “We Support Andrew Wakefield,” which peddles the Wakefieldian doctrine. And thousands sign petitions pledging support….
Wakefield’s defenders frequently harbor a deep distrust of government. “They often suggest that vaccination is motivated by profit and is an infringement of personal liberty and choice; vaccines violate the laws and nature and are temporary or ineffective; and good hygiene is sufficient to protect against disease,” said a 2008 editorial in Nature.
And in Wakefield, who still preaches the gospel of anti-vaccination from Texas, such individuals find a true martyr — a man who has sacrificed everything to take on powerful pharmaceutical companies and the biggest villain of all: the government. Those who came to hear him speak in 2011 at Graceview Baptish Church in Tomball, Texas, left messages of encouragement, according to the New York Times: “We stand by you!” and “Thank you for the many sacrifices you have made for the cause!” Another person, suddenly aware that a reporter was in the midst, warned the writer she better be careful. “Be nice to him,” the woman said. “Or we will hurt you.
“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” J.B. Handley, co-founder of a group that disputes vaccine safety, told the Times. “He is a symbol of how all of us feel.”
Read much more about Wakefield and his discredited research at the WaPo link.
Meanwhile measles continues to spread from coast to coast. Here’s a map of reported cases at the NYT.
What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!