Weekly Pulse, Aug 23-28: Trump COVID Plan Guided By Politics, Not Public Health; Hurricane Laura’s Aftermath

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.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn overstates the benefits of the convalescent plasma treatment; CDC silently changes quarantine and testing guidance, against Fauci’s guidance; a five-dollar, 15-minute COVID-19 antigen test; and more. (Prachatai / Flickr)

In this edition of The Weekly Pulse, we examine how the Trump administration’s COVID response is guided by politics, not public health, rundown recent updates to sexual and reproductive health, explain how and why young boys are coping better with the pandemic as well as hurricane health in the aftermath of Laura.

Pandemic Updates: Trump Administration Guided by Politics, Not Public Health 

+ Early this week, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for the use of convalescent plasma as a potential COVID-19 treatment. Although the treatment’s effectiveness has not yet been proven, Trump was quick to boast about it as a major “breakthrough,” after previously pressuring the FDA by tweeting “[t]he deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics.” However, just two days later, following backlash from scientists and doctors, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn apologized for overstating the benefits of the convalescent plasma treatment. 

+ The CDC quietly removed guidance on its website to self-quarantine for 14 days after traveling out of state or internationally. Instead, the updated “After You Travel” section states travelers should maintain social distancing, wash their hands often, wear a mask and monitor themselves for symptoms. Additionally, the CDC changed its testing guidance, recommending individuals who have attended large gatherings “do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual.” 

Both changes run contrary to scientific consensus calling for widespread testing—including potentially asymptomatic individuals—and quarantines for people who have traveled and/or were potentially exposed to COVID-19.

The New York Times reported the decision to update testing guidance took place after debate among the White House coronavirus task force. What’s more, Dr. Anthony Fauci—a trusted voice among the American public—was not present when the decision to change the guidelines was made. Dr. Fauci said he “has some concern” the new guidelines will lead people to wrongly believe asymptomatic individuals cannot spread the disease. 

The Trump administration’s meddling in the CDC’s decision making process is unsurprising, given the administration’s long running project to downplay the virus and the response required to get the pandemic under control. 

(Prachatai / Flickr)

+ The FDA granted Abbott Laboratories an emergency use authorization for its five-dollar, 15-minute COVID-19 antigen test. While antigen tests are less reliable than traditional coronavirus tests, the low-cost and quick turn-around time of Abbott’s new test is a “game changer.” 

Repro Rundown

+ On Wednesday, the Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reimpose a rule governing Mifeprex, a medication abortion pill used during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy.

Since 2000, the FDA has required the abortion pill be administered by a health care professional in a clinic, hospital or doctor’s office. But, in light of COVID-19, a team of doctors led by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) filed a lawsuit with the goal of relaxing unnecessary requirements, such as in-person visits and excessive travel with risk of infection. 

Federal District Court Judge Theodore Chuang agreed, ruling keeping the FDA’s regulation in place during the coronavirus pandemic would “place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a medication abortion.”

The Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reimpose a rule governing Mifeprex. (Robin Marty / Flickr)

+ Following a court agreement, a 2016 Indiana law—signed by then-Governor Mike Pence—requiring pregnant people seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound at least 18 hours before the procedure is set to return January 2021.

In July of 2016, Planned Parenthood sued the state, “saying the law placed undue burden on the patient.” Indiana’s defense “argued the law gives [patients] time to reflect on a momentous life decision.”  Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the 18-hour-rule “has nothing to do with patient safety” and “is only meant to to add another barrier in accessing abortion care.”

+ The U.S. has rejected the UN standard of “an assumed right to abortion” after the UN women’s rights panel noted “some U.S. states limited access to abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic, rejecting its interference and the notion of ‘an assumed right to abortion.'”

+ If you find yourself with questions about sexual health or contraceptive options, you are definitely not alone. A new study from OnePoll—on behalf of Paragard IUD—shows that less than half of people were actually taught about birth control. Sex education is not standardized across curriculums, so it’s no surprise that what you’re taught can vary from classroom to classroom. 

According to reporting from Forbes, the study found that, “less than half of women (47 percent) between the ages of 18 and 50 were taught about birth control. 56 percent said they don’t feel they were properly taught about sexual health and 69 percent said they were unaware that there are prescription birth control options that are hormone-free.”

Dr. Jessica Shepard, Dallas-based OBGYN and spokesperson for Paragard says:

“When conversations about birth control aren’t had, you miss bringing home the key point that being sexually active comes with responsibility. It’s a decision that requires planning and forethought in terms of relationships, intimacy and child planning. Therefore with no knowledge of birth control, it’ll increase the chances of unplanned pregnancies.” 

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Coronavirus’s Impact Varies Across Groups 

+ Men die due to COVID-19 at a higher rate than women. A new study found men have a weaker T-cell response than women—which is associated with worse disease outcomes. The finding is consistent with current knowledge that women have more robust immune systems, likely so their bodies can protect a fetus or newborn child from disease. An earlier Harvard study suggested men may die at higher rates due to social factors, pointing to the complex interplay between medicine, health and society.  

Men have a weaker T-cell response than women—which is associated with worse disease outcomes. (David Andrews / Flickr)

+ UNICEF released a report which estimates 463 million children globally are cut off from education due to the pandemic. Many children lack a remote learning option or the technology required for it. This number is merely an estimate, as many more children likely lack the social support necessary for effective online learning. On the significance of these findings, UNICEF’s executive director Henrietta Fore said, “The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come.”

+ Parents are observing their sons coping well with the pandemic because video games provide them with a social outlet. In 2019, Common Sense Media found boys spend an average of one hour and nineteen minutes per day playing video games, while girls spend fourteen minutes. Video game sales have soared during the pandemic, and even the WHO has encouraged playing video games as a way to stay connected while social distancing. 

Hurricane Health in the Aftermath of Laura

+ On Thursday, Hurricane Laura—one of the strongest ever to collide with the U.S.—made its way across Louisiana, “shearing off roofs and killing at least six people while carving a destructive path hundreds of miles inland.” 

Laura made landfall at 1 a.m. with “extreme winds and an expected ‘catastrophic’ storm surge in parts of Texas of Louisiana.” The center also said that Laura is an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 150—just 7 mph short of a Category 5.

+ In the aftermath of Laura, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Health Alert Network advisory warning of the risks for carbon monoxide poising

According to the CDC, due to thousands losing power, many homes and business have turned to “alternate power sources such as gasoline generators and may use propane or charcoal grills for cooking.” And if “used or placed improperly,” the CDC , “these sources can lead to CO build up inside buildings, garages or campers and poison the people and animals inside.” 

About and

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.
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.