Weekly Pulse: Fires Pose Health Risk Across Western U.S.; Trump Admits to Downplaying Virus Threat

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: Wildfires pose health risks across the Western United States; President Trump admits to downplaying virus threats; talking Title X; and your weekly dose of COVID-19 updates.

Fires Pose Health Risk Across Western United States 

+ Almost one hundred fires across the Western United States are posing a serious health risk to millions of people. California, Oregon and Washington states are bearing the brunt of this crisis. So far this fire season, at least fourteen people have died. In Oregon, 500,000 people have had to evacuate. 

+ Experts attribute the increase in the number of fires and their intensity to the climate crisis. Warmer weather, prolonged droughts and drier soil are leading to longer and longer fire seasons. While over 80 percent of fires are caused by human activity, the conditions caused by climate change are making the fires more difficult to control and put out. 

+ Besides the threat of the fires themselves to people and property, the resulting air pollution also poses a risk to people’s health. Fine particles in the smoke released by fires can cause a range of immediate issues, including burning eyes, irritated throat and a runny nose. Extensive exposure to these pollutants can also exacerbate chronic heart, lung and certain skin problems.

Moreover, smoke from wildfires can cause more harm to children and teenagers because their respiratory systems are not yet fully developed and they are more likely to be active outdoors. Elderly people and pregnant people are also at increased risk for problems caused by smoke pollution. 

+ To prepare for wildfires, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends developing a family disaster plan. Additionally, they recommend keeping seven to ten days worth of prescription medication on hand. The CDC also advises limiting time spent outside, and installing air filters in your home. You can stay up to date on the air quality in your area by visiting the Air Quality Index website.

Trump Admits to Downplaying Virus Threat

+ This week, investigative journalist Bob Woodward released an audio recording of President Trump admitting he downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus. On Feb. 7, Trump is on tape telling Woodward:

“I wanted to always play [the novel coronavirus] down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Currently, over 190,000 Americans are dead due to COVID-19. Many of these deaths were preventable, had Trump taken actions early on to encourage social distancing and mask wearing. Instead, as we’ve documented in past editions of the Weekly Pulse, he and his administration minimized the threat of the virus, trafficked conspiracy theories, politicized mask wearing and applauded anti-lockdown demonstrators

+ Following school reopenings across the country, more children are becoming infected with the virus. Both hospitalization and death rates for children and teens are increasing faster than among the general population. In Des Moines, Iowa, schools are refusing to comply with the governor’s school reopening order. 

Currently, Iowa is the state with the third highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita in the U.S. By refusing to follow the governor’s order, the schools are risking state funding, as well as leaving it unclear as to whether online classes will count as credit for students. However, school officials say the governor’s reopening order is putting public safety at risk. 

+ With no real national strategy to address the pandemic, President Trump has continued to promise a COVID-19 vaccine will soon be released. We recently posted an in-depth article running down everything you need to know about a potential COVID-19 vaccine. 

Talking Title X

+ The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Maryland has permanently blocked the Trump administration’s Title X rules preventing doctors (and other medical providers) who receive government funding from referring patients for abortion services. Title X—a federal planning program—is the main issue being disputed at the case’s heart. 

The federal appeals court believes the Trump administration has “failed to recognize and address the ethical concerns of literally every major medical organization in the country, and it arbitrarily estimated the cost [associated with the new regulations.]”


+ New data from the Guttmacher Institute shows the Trump administration’s “gag rule” slashed Title X patient capacity in half. The data shows that changes from Title X “reduced the network’s capacity to provide [patients] with contraceptive services by at least 46 percent.” This jeopardizes care for 1.6 million patients nationwide. 

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.