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 week’s health related news, we discuss the risks of reopening, update you on the coronavirus pandemic, breakdown recent reproductive wins and attacks, while tracking the ever-changing guidance on wearing face masks.
Coronavirus Pandemic Updates
+ Cases of coronavirus are surging across the country, leading to strains on the testing system such as long lines for testing. Some hospitals in the most affected areas are approaching maximum capacity.
On July 1, the number of new daily reported cases surpassed 50,000 in the U.S. for the first time, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned the day before that the number of new daily cases could soon reach 100,000. A vaccine is not expected to be ready until mid-2021.
+ Scientists are keeping a close look on a new strain of swine flu emerging in China with “pandemic potential.” So far, however, the new virus has only been observed spreading from pigs to humans in close contact with the animals. Human-to-human transmission has not been recorded.
Risks of Reopening
+ In response to rising pressures to get children back to school, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made major headlines with advice about reopening that appears to be somewhat at odds with what administrators are hearing from some federal and state health officials, and contradictory to the groups more conservative approach.
However, the CDC advised that remote learning is the safest option. This goes against AAP’s guidelines strongly recommending students be “physically present in school” as much as possible, and emphasizing the assortment of health, social and educational-related risks when children are made to stay at home.
+ Pressures to reopen the economy and individualistic reopening practices are a danger to those unable to protect themselves from the spread of COVID-19 and ignores that if cases surge in the summer months, a fall reopening is off the table.
German Lopez from Vox says:
“If you want to reopen schools this fall, then you need to get the spread of COVID-19 down, as close to zero as possible, this summer. And that means opting not to reopen—possibly at all and definitely not at full capacity—restaurants, bars, nightclubs, or other places that will lead to significantly more coronavirus spread but have less value to society than schools.”
To Mask or Not to Mask?
+ Early in the pandemic, health experts were still learning how the novel coronavirus was spreading. In late February, the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) recommendations for the general public did not include wearing masks because there was “no clear benefit from face mask use for people who are not sick.”
At the time, researchers had not yet come to a consensus on how the virus was spreading. Concerned about potential shortages of personal protective equipment for front-line health care workers, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams warned the public in a tweet to stop buying masks.
However, by April, the CDC began recommending people wear masks in public, citing the growing body of evidence supporting the efficacy of masks in preventing transmission of the virus. Researchers found the coronavirus can spread among people who are infected but asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.
In spite of the CDC’s guidelines and mounting scientific evidence in favor of wearing masks, President Trump continued to downplay the importance of wearing a mask and avoided wearing one for weeks. Wearing a mask quickly became politicized as a result.
+ Now, in late June, the tune from the White House is finally changing: The surgeon general is urging the public, “Please, please, please wear a face covering when you go out in public.”
Like President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence—head of White House Coronavirus Task Force—resisted wearing a mask until now. In a press conference on June 29, the vice president explained, “Where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea.”
On July 1, President Trump reversed his hostile stance towards wearing a mask, saying, “I’m all for masks. I think masks are good.” Even with cases surging, the president also said, “I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”
While the federal government has not mandated wearing masks in public—even though prominent politicians such as former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a growing number of Republican leaders support doing so—a growing number of state and local governments are mandating wearing a mask in public.
+ As we are coming to understand the importance of wearing a mask in the fight against the pandemic, disability advocates are calling for people to wear clear face masks. People who are deaf or hard of hearing often use lip reading to help them understand others—but opaque face masks make that impossible.
Some companies are selling clear face masks, while other organizations have provided free instructions on how to DIY these types of masks. The need for clear face masks demonstrates once again how the pandemic is not the “great equalizer” it was thought to be at first, but instead is affecting people in drastically different ways.
+ On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down an exploitative Louisiana law that had the potential to force all but one of the state’s abortion providers to close. This ruling comes as a major victory for abortion rights supporters and signals a (cautiously) hopeful message that the conservative-stacked bench will allow precedent to remain the rule.
In a 5-4 ruling, SCOTUS said the Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals created an “unconstitutional undue burden for patients seeking an abortion.”
+ In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that requires women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, once again attempting to institute a restriction similar to one struck down two years ago by the Iowa Supreme Court.
+ In another attempt for states to impede upon abortion access, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill requiring parental consent before minors can have abortions, a long-sought goal of abortion opponents in Florida.
In a statement, Stephanie Fraim—president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida—said:
“This law will put already at-risk young people in even greater danger at the worst possible time. What’s worse, it could open the door to a reinterpretation of our constitutional right to privacy and the right to a safe and legal abortion in Florida.”
+ According to findings released on Wednesday by the Guttmacher Institute, one in three women struggled to get their birth control, had to delay a doctor’s visit for sexual or reproductive health care, or had to cancel a visit entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic. And early on in the outbreak, research was showing that access to reproductive care like birth control was more negatively impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic than the 2008 recession.