The Weekly Pulse, June 5-12: Health News You Should Know

For The Weekly Pulse (a revisit of an old Ms. column!), we’ve scoured the most trusted journalistic sources—and, of course, our Twitter feeds—to bring you this week’s most important news stories related to health and wellness.

In this edition of The Weekly Pulse, we take a look at updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of balancing public health amidst protest and the continued fight for abortion rights.

On June 3, hundreds of Indiana University Medical School students, residents and faculty gathered on campus to stand as White Coats for Black Lives. (@IUPUI / Twitter)

Updates on the Coronavirus Pandemic 

+ The total number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. has now surpassed two million, and week-over-week case counts are on the rise in half of all states—yet many continue risking reopening to salvage their economies.

Public health officials across the country warn government leaders that reopening too soon—especially without directing the public to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing—will cause a second wave of the virus to hit. 

+ On May 29, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO) and redirect funds elsewhere. The president claims Chinese authorities “pressured the World Health Organization to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered.” 

In response to this announcement, a group of civil society organizations, including Action for Global Health, among others, released a joint statement condemning the president’s decision. The statement warns: “Challenging WHO’s mandate in these difficult times will cost lives,” and that the “only way to end the pandemic is to bring us closer together” because “the current pandemic affects every one of us, and does not respect borders.” The statement calls for “collaboration, constructive criticism and redoubling our efforts to fight this disease.”

Balancing Public Health Amidst Protest 

+ Amidst nation-wide protests ignited by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, combined with crowded Memorial Day scenes, some doctors and public health officials worry the mass gatherings will cause spikes in cases of COVID-19, as the virus can be spread via asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers of the disease.

While many protesters have been wearing masks and continue to abide by the rules of social distancing, police brutality against protestors may be exacerbating the threat of the coronavirus.

At many protests, police have resorted to using pepper spray and tear gas against protestors—both of which can induce pain, coughing, sneezing and the buildup of mucus in the eyes, nose and throat. And due to the well-known fact that coronavirus spreads via respiratory droplets in the air, using these chemicals against protestors increases the chance for the virus to spread. Furthermore, inhaling tear gas can compromise the body’s antiviral defenses, making it easier for viruses to enter cells. 

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+ Still, it is important to point out that racism itself is a public health issue—because African American communities experience enormous health disparities in regards to life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality, chronic health conditions and acute illness outcomes.

Further, studies show experiences of racism have significant negative effects on both physical and mental health outcomes for Black Americans—from stress and anxiety, to “perceptions of lack of control, internalization and avoidance of valued action.”

+ Rather than condemning the protests against racial injustice, some public health officials are empathizing with the protesters.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Dr. Scott Lee, a faculty member at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and an orbital and ophthalmic surgeon, admits he is “conflicted” about the protests because “the dangerous and contagious coronavirus means we need to stay at home to protect ourselves and the vulnerable.” However, Lee also acknowledges “deep rooted racism” as an “an enormous public health problem.” 

Similarly, 1,288 health professionals and community leaders signed an open letter “advocating for an anti-racist public health response to demonstrations against systemic injustice occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The letter states support for social distancing, wearing masks and staying home when possible. However, the letter also recognizes systemic racism’s effect on the health of Black communities, including the “disproportionate burden of COVID-19,” and injuries or death resulting from police violence. 

The Fight for Abortion Rights Continues 

+ The ACLU is suing the federal government for restricting abortion services via telemedicine. This action comes after the Trump administration urged health care workers to provide medical services via telephone in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but still required patients to pick up self-administered abortion medications in person rather than through the mail. 

+ With yet another attempt to restrict abortion access, Colorado’s November ballot will include an initiative to ban abortions after 22 weeks, backed by anti-abortion group Due Date Too Late. And unless it’s considered a life-saving procedure, performing an abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy would be classified as a misdemeanor

+ In a 71-22 vote, the Tennessee House of Representatives advanced an abortion ‘reversal’ bill—a proposal requiring health care providers to inform patients that medicated abortions may be halted halfway. And while this may at first seem like a positive plan by making more information available regarding the treatment, medical professionals say the claim is not backed by science because there is not enough research about the reversal’s safety. 

+ Finally, something to celebrate: A federal appellate court agreed with the ruling of a district judge who struck down a Kentucky abortion law banning physicians from performing a common abortion procedure—often referred to as “dilation and evacuation”—on patients who are 11 weeks or more into a pregnancy. 

Following in suit, Missouri’s only abortion clinic—a St. Louis Planned Parenthood—will remain open following a yearlong battle with the state.

By striking down the procedural ban and safeguarding the availability of time-sensitive services, pregnant patients will to access safe, legal abortion services throughout their pregnancy—but, we must also keep an eye on those looking to control, not protect. This includes keeping an eye on the Supreme Court of the United States as they decide on June Medical v. Russo and reminding our justices that a clear majority of Americans support reproductive freedom and want to keep Roe v. Wade in tact.

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About and

Corinne Ahrens is a recent graduate of The American University where she studied Political Science with a specialization in Gender, Race, & Politics as well as Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Corinne has been writing for Ms. since October 2019 and is a former Ms. editorial intern. She currently works at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy in their Philadelphia office.
Giselle Hengst recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Women's & Gender Studies and Medicine, Health, & Society. She is currently an editorial and social media intern at Ms. magazine.