Tagged Trump Administration

Must-Reads Of The Week

Another week has gone by, and the biggest news remains that COVID numbers aren’t looking much better as the disease spreads quickly through Florida, Arizona, Texas and California.

Three million cases and 133,000 deaths in the United States. Testing still takes too long, KHN reported — the Atlanta mayor had to wait eight days for results! — and, no, more testing isn’t skewing the numbers.

With nearly 60,000 new cases in one day, the United States set another COVID record. The United States leads the world, but not in a good way, as a headline in a KHN morning newsletter put it this week. Indeed, it is quite possible that President Donald Trump’s recent rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, contributed to the spike, Reuters reported.

COVID News, Lots of It

The focus of the arguing this week was on back-to-school plans. School districts are trying to make that hard decision in order to protect children, staff members and parents. (Well, and the economy, for that matter.) The Atlantic published some suggestions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is under pressure from Trump to water down its reopening safety recommendations so, as Trump put it in a tweet Monday, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” Colleges are coming up with various plans to allow some students back on campus but offer few in-person classes.

Meanwhile, even more Americans have lost faith in Trump’s handling of the epidemic, according to a new poll released by ABC News/Ipsos: 33% approve, down from 41% three weeks ago.

The beleaguered World Health Organization, to which Trump says he will cut U.S. funding, got embroiled in a controversy over whether airborne particles transmit the coronavirus. Scientific American attempted to sort out a confusing story, while WHO acknowledges the evidence.

KHN published, with the Los Angeles Times, a very good story about how COVID-19 is starting to kill inmates on California’s death row at San Quentin. A prosecutor of one of the murderers who died wasn’t sympathetic. The Texas Tribune reports how the disease is ravaging Texas prisons and killing people who had very short sentences.

A few other stories from the week that shouldn’t be missed because they give you a good look at how government officials still struggle to get a handle on this crisis: Stat reports that the Food and Drug Administration “again risks being pulled into an ugly political fracas” over hydroxychloroquine. Jim Fallows at the Atlantic did a masterful job of telling the story of the inept coronavirus response, in the style of an aviation accident report. It’s well worth reading. This article in BMJ, the medical journal, is a little harder to read, but worth the effort for the provocative and contrary point it makes: The U.S. purchase of much of the world’s supply of the drug remdesivir, a possible COVID treatment, may be a boon to the rest of the world.

Put these two on your list for weekend reading, perhaps: The Washington Post’s horrific look inside a nursing home wracked with COVID infections and a New York Times story on the racial inequity of the coronavirus in a series of maps and graphics.

The Toolkit

Every week there are new online graphics and other visual displays of COVID data that make it easier to understand what is going on in the epidemic. A few that I and the KHN staff found:

A COVID vaccine progress tracker from The New York Times.

Another smart vaccine tracker, this one from the Milken Institute.

County-level data on COVID infections and risk calculations from the Harvard Global Health Institute. (Their server can be a bit slow. Be patient.)

Follow who is getting federal bailout money with this tool from ProPublica.

But wait: If you are assembling a toolkit, the great health reporter Charlie Ornstein of ProPublica has already done much of the work for you. Open up this Google Doc to find his very good collection.

Oddly Important News, More Odd Than Important

Well, for all the attention it was getting, some people seemed to think Kanye West running for president was big news. Forbes interviewed him, and here is one thing he said that was health care-related:

“It’s so many of our children that are being vaccinated and paralyzed. … So when they say the way we’re going to fix Covid is with a vaccine, I’m extremely cautious. That’s the mark of the beast. They want to put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven.”

The Italian Mafia has innovated in the health care industry. The Financial Times reports: “By corrupting local officials, organised criminals have been able to make vast profits from contracts given to their own front companies, establishing monopolies on services ranging from delivering patients in faulty ambulances to transporting blood to taking away the dead.”

Here’s a well-told story of a socialite spreading COVID at a party of fellow swells.

To end on an uplifting note, because that’s important in these times, a video of a light display over Seoul with 300 drones telling Koreans to wear masks and wash their hands. (And they do. Korea has one of the lowest infection rates in the world.)

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‘Please Tell Me My Life Is Worth A LITTLE Of Your Discomfort,’ Nurse Pleads

When an employee told a group of 20-somethings they needed face masks to enter his fast-food restaurant, one woman fired off a stream of expletives. “Isn’t this Orange County?” snapped a man in the group. “We don’t have to wear masks!”

The curses came as a shock, but not really a surprise, to Nilu Patel, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at nearby University of California-Irvine Medical Center, who observed the conflict while waiting for takeout. Health care workers suffer these angry encounters daily as they move between treacherous hospital settings and their communities, where mixed messaging from politicians has muddied common-sense public health precautions.

“Health care workers are scared, but we show up to work every single day,” Patel said. Wearing masks, she said, “is a very small thing to ask.”

Patel administers anesthesia to patients in the operating room, and her husband is also a health care worker. They’ve suffered sleepless nights worrying about how to keep their two young children safe and schooled at home. The small but vocal chorus of people who view face coverings as a violation of their rights makes it all worse, she said.

That resistance to the public health advice didn’t grow in a vacuum. Health care workers blame political leadership at all levels, from President Donald Trump on down, for issuing confusing and contradictory messages.

“Our leaders have not been pushing that this is something really serious,” said Jewell Harris Jordan, a 47-year-old registered nurse at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in Oakland, California. She’s distraught that some Americans see mandates for face coverings as an infringement upon their rights instead of a show of solidarity with health care workers. (Kaiser Health News produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Jewell Harris Jordan is a registered nurse in the labor and delivery department at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center. In the midst of a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, she says, the public’s refusal to don a face covering in public feels like a “slap in the face.” (Courtesy of Jewell Harris Jordan)

“If you come into the hospital and you’re sick, I’m going to take care of you,” Jordan said. “But damn, you would think you would want to try to protect the people that are trying to keep you safe.”

In Orange County, where Patel works, mask orders are particularly controversial. The county’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, resigned June 8 after being threatened for requiring residents to wear them in public. Three days later, county officials rescinded the requirement. On June 18, a few days after Patel visited the restaurant, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide mandate.

Meanwhile, cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in Orange County.

The county’s flip-flop illustrates the national conflict over masks. When the coronavirus outbreak emerged in February, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged the public from buying masks, which were needed by health care workers. It wasn’t until April that federal officials began advising most everyone to wear cloth face coverings in public.

One recent study showed that masks can reduce the risk of coronavirus infection, especially in combination with physical distancing. Another study linked policies in 15 states and Washington, D.C., mandating community use of face coverings with a decline in the daily COVID-19 growth rate and estimated that as many as 450,000 cases had been prevented as of May 22.

Dr. Megan Hall went viral on Facebook after publishing photos that showed her oxygen saturation levels remained consistent no matter what type of face mask she wore. The pediatrician hopes that both the public and officials have a “change of heart” about face coverings. (Courtesy of Megan Hall)

But the use of masks has become politicized. Trump’s inconsistency and nonchalance about them sowed doubt in the minds of millions who respect him, said Jordan, the Oakland nurse. That has led to “very disheartening and really disrespectful” rejection of masks.

“They truly should have just made masks mandatory throughout the country, period,” said Jordan, 47. Out of fear of infecting her family with the virus, she hasn’t flown to see her mother or two adult children on the East Coast during the pandemic, Jordan said.

But a mandate doesn’t necessarily mean authorities have the ability or will to enforce it. In California, where the governor left enforcement up to local governments, some sheriff’s departments have said it would be inappropriate to penalize mask violations. This has prompted some health care workers to make personal appeals to the public.

After the Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office announced it didn’t have the resources to enforce Newsom’s mandate, Amy Arlund, a 45-year-old nurse at the COVID unit at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center, took to her Facebook account to plead with friends and family about the need to wear masks.

Amy Arlund is a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center’s dedicated COVID-19 unit. She lives in a separate zone of her house to protect the rest of her family from potential exposure to the coronavirus, and says that her husband was recently ridiculed for wearing a mask at a hardware store. (Courtesy of Amy Arlund)

“If I’m wrong, you wore a silly mask and you didn’t like it,” she posted on June 23. “If I’m right and you don’t wear a mask, you better pray that all the nurses aren’t already out sick or dead because people chose not to wear a mask. Please tell me my life is worth a LITTLE of your discomfort?”

To protect her family, Arlund lives in a “zone” of her house that no other member may enter. When she must interact with her 9-year-old daughter to help her with school assignments, they each wear masks and sit 3 feet apart.

Every negative interaction about masks stings in the light of her family’s sacrifices, said Arlund. She cites a woman who approached her husband at a local hardware store to say he looked “ridiculous” in the N95 mask he was wearing.

“It’s like mask-shaming, and we’re shaming in the wrong direction,” Arlund said. “He does it to protect you, you cranky hag!”

After seeing a Facebook comment alleging that face masks can cause low oxygen levels, Dr. Megan Hall decided to publish a small experiment. Hall, a pediatrician at the Conway Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, wore different kinds of medical masks for five minutes and then took photos of her oxygen saturation levels, as measured by her pulse oximeter. As she predicted, there was no appreciable difference in oxygen levels. She posted the photo collection on June 22, and it quickly went viral.

Cynthia Butler is a floating registered nurse at the Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida, who is also a COVID-19 survivor. Despite skyrocketing case numbers, Butler estimates that about 75% of residents in her community do not wear masks in public. She doesn’t feel she has the time or energy to educate people about the risk. (Courtesy of Cynthia Butler)

“Some of our officials and leaders have not taken the best precautions,” said Hall, who hopes for “a change of heart” about masks among local officials and the public. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has urged residents to wear face coverings in public, but he said a statewide mandate was unenforceable.

In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted calls for a statewide order on masks despite a massive surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Cynthia Butler, 62, recently asked a young man at the register of a pet store why he wasn’t wearing a mask.

“His tone was more like, this whole mask thing is ridiculous,” said Butler, a registered nurse at Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte. She didn’t tell him that she had just recovered from a COVID-19 infection contracted at work. The exchange saddened her, but she hasn’t the time to lecture everyone she encounters without a mask — about three-quarters of her community, Butler estimated.

“They may think you’re stepping on their rights,” she said. “It’s not anything I want to get shot over.”

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