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: Trump tests positive for COVID while 90 percent of Americans are still vulnerable; stigma against substance abuse won’t just ‘go away’; our health on the 2020 ballot; and a rundown of reproductive health wins and losses.
Trump Tests Positive for Coronavirus
+ Late Thursday night, news broke that President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19. According to the White House Chief of Staff, the president is experiencing “mild symptoms.” After months of downplaying the virus, the irony of the situation is obvious. Some are concerned coverage of the president’s bout with COVID could drown out coverage of other important issues—like access to abortion and affordable health care.
+ Former Vice President Joe Biden tested negative for the virus after sharing a debate stage with the president for 90 minutes earlier this week.
90% of Americans Are Still Vulnerable to COVID-19
+ Only around 10 percent of Americans have developed antibodies to COVID-19, according to a cross-sectional study published by The Lancet. Clearly, this crisis is far from over, even if Trump and his allies make false promises that we’re “rounding the corner” of the pandemic. Worldwide, the coronavirus has taken over one million lives—and about one-fifth of those fatalities occurred in the U.S., despite the fact that we account for just five percent of the global population.
+ A study conducted in India found, as other studies have, children can be infected with the coronavirus and spread it to others. Still, school re-openings have continued across the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the rate of coronavirus cases among children is rising.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to spread misleading information during the first presidential debate this week, saying, “Young children aren’t [vulnerable].” In fact, the White House pressured the CDC to downplay the risks of reopening schools. While (so far) the health outcomes for children are more favorable than other groups generally, some children do face serious complications and others are still spreading the virus.
+ The Supreme Court is set to hear a case that will determine whether or not the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is constitutional one week after the presidential election. The tax plan signed by Trump in 2017 made the individual mandate penalty $0. Now, a coalition of Republican-led states and the White House are trying to argue that without a tax penalty, the entire ACA is unconstitutional.
The recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has given the GOP the chance to add another ultraconservative member to the SCOTUS—likely ensuring the end of the ACA. Trump is already celebrating victory, tweeting the elimination of the ACA “Would be a big WIN for the USA!” Without the ACA, 20 million people would lose their health insurance—in the middle of a pandemic. Great.
+ Moreover, eliminating the ACA would remove protections for the estimated 133 million people with pre-existing conditions. And, if COVID-19 is deemed a pre-existing condition by insurance companies, even more people will be unable to access health insurance.
The Stigma Against Substance Use Disorder Just Won’t Go Away
+ During this week’s presidential debate, President Trump attacked former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, falsely claiming he was “dishonorably discharged for cocaine use.” Joe Biden seized the opportunity, saying, “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”
The intense exchange brought to light a common struggle for so many—one that’s especially salient during this pandemic: substance use disorder. As we’ve previously reported, rates of opioid abuse skyrocketed this year, as did opioid-related deaths.
+ More generally, overdose deaths in the first four months of this year were up 11 percent from 2019. The pandemic has created the perfect conditions for the 20 million Americans suffering from substance use disorder to relapse or increase current usage.
Social distance, isolation or quarantine are essential measures to help prevent coronavirus transmission—however, these strategies, and the pandemic outbreak itself, have been associated with negative emotions, such as irritability, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger or boredom. These conditions are known to trigger relapse, even in those long-term abstainers, or intensify drug consumption.Ornell, et al., 2020
+ The debate reminded us how damaging the stigma against substance use disorders can be because it, among other things, makes it more difficult for individuals to seek out care. Studies have also suggested stigma may increase an individual’s use of substances. There remains a tinge of hope, however, as the shift to telemedicine during the pandemic has given many increased access to care.
Our Health is on the Ballot
At Ms., we’re focused on a wide array of ballot measures this November could advance the rights of women, people of color, voters, workers and LGBTQ people—or take them away.
We wanted to share with you some of the health-related measures we’re keeping an eye on:
+ In Colorado, Proposition 115, an anti-abortion initiative, would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after 22 weeks’ gestational age—except in cases of “immediate” risk to a pregnant woman’s life. Medical professionals found guilty of performing an illegal abortion would face misdemeanor charges and a three-year suspension of their medical license. Colorado is currently one of the few states in the country that allows outpatient abortion up to 26 weeks and in certain cases up to 34 weeks, and it has become an important destination for women seeking abortion care.
+ In Louisiana, Amendment 1 seeks to add language to the state constitution declaring “to protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Three other states—West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama— have passed similar amendments. If passed, Amendment One will: directly take away citizen’s civil liberties, reject any exceptions to the new amendment—including rape, incest and at-risk pregnancies—and eliminate any abortion-protections in the state of Louisiana, making it nearly impossible to implement any progressive reproductive rights legislation for decades to come.
+ In Washington state, Senate Bill 5395 was passed by the legislature in signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in March. However, those opposing the bill collected enough signatures to place the Sex Education in Public Schools Measure back on the ballot as Referendum 90, putting the bill on hold until the election. Referendum 90 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education for all students, while offering the option for parents to excuse their children if requested.
The measure would require education on “affirmative consent and bystander training” among other topics for other students, as well as “social and emotional learning” for children in younger grades. Opponents of the measure include the State Senate and House Republican Caucuses, as well as various school districts, anti-abortion and Catholic organizations.
+ In several states, marijuana legalization is on the ballot. Arizona (Proposition 207, Marijuana Legalization Initiative), Montana (I-190, Marijuana Legalization Initiative), and New Jersey (Public Question 1, Marijuana Legalization Amendment) all have measures that if passed, would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for persons over 21 years of age. Montana’s measure would also allow for the “resentencing or expungement of marijuana-related crimes.”
+ Mississippi (Measure 1, Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A, Medical Marijuana Amendment) and South Dakota (Measure 26, Medical Marijuana Initiative) have measures on the ballot that would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes only (with restrictions on which medical conditions permit use).
+ And Oregon (Measure 109, Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative) and the District of Columbia (Initiative 81, Entheogenic Plants and Fungus Measure) will both vote on the legalization of psilocybin mushrooms and entheogenic plants in some capacities.
Oregon’s measure would support the establishment of a program that would “permit licensed service providers to administer psilocybin-producing mushroom and fungi products to individuals 21 years of age or older.”
Notably, D.C.’s initiative would relegate non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi to among the lowest law enforcement priorities.
+ According to new data from the NBC/SurveyMonkey poll, a majority of Americans (66 percent) say they do not support the Supreme Court’s potential overturn of Roe v. Wade, compared to 29 percent who call to completely overturn Roe.
+ On Friday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled legislation designed to codify Roe into state law and expand abortion services in light of looming fears of losing Roe.
“I hope to God that doesn’t happen, but we don’t want to take a chance that it could happen,” Murphy said in an interview with NPR.
+ Conversely, Ohio plans to push through a bill that would ban all abortions in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned—known as a “trigger bill.”
If passed, doctors performing abortion in the state could face fourth degree felony charges and up to 18 months in prison.
+ On Tuesday, the Trump administration dropped the fight to block pregnant, undocumented teenagers in government custody from accessing abortion care, announcing an official change in policy.
“After three years of battling in court alongside brave young women, we are relieved that the government finally abandoned its attempts to block young people in its custody from accessing abortion,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “Today’s policy change rights one of the wrongs this administration has committed against immigrants in detention, but their health and safety are still very much at stake.” (Listen to Amiri on an episode of the Ms. podcast “On the Issues” here.)
+ On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis is weighing the fate of a Missouri abortion law, including a provision that prohibits a patient from having an abortion because the fetus has Down syndrome.
Missouri is among several conservative states in recent years that have passed abortion restrictions in hopes that the increasingly conservative Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe.