Weekly Pulse: COVID-19 Cases Swell in Midwest; Aid on the Way?; U.S. Signs Anti-Abortion Declaration

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 front of the U.S. Supreme Court for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt pro-abortion demonstration in June 2016. (Wikimedia Commons)

This week, we’re bringing you the news on the latest affronts to reproductive rights, as well as an update on the pandemicincluding the swelling of coronavirus cases in the Midwest and Trump’s recent attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Repro Rundown

+ The United States signed an international anti-abortion declaration as part of the Trump administration’s conservative foreign policy agenda. The “Geneva Consensus Declaration” claims to support the “full enjoyment of all human rights and equal opportunity for women at all levels of political, economic, and public life.” But at the same time, the declaration promotes achieving “the highest attainable standard of health, without including abortion.” 

News Flashreproductive rights, including abortion, are human rights. Having bodily autonomy is a matter of basic dignity, and abortions will happen regardless of how many restrictions are imposed. Furthermore, a new report by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found babies are more likely to be born healthy in states with less restrictions on reproductive rights. Supporting people’s right to choose when and how to have a baby is vital to ensure the growth of healthy communities. 

+ There’s good news coming out of Tennessee this week: A federal judge struck down a Tennessee law which required those seeking abortions to wait 48 hours after an initial clinic visit before the could receive the procedure. The judge called the mandatory waiting period “gratuitously demeaning to women who have decided to have an abortion.”

“Defendants’ suggestion that women are overly emotional and must be required to cool off or calm down before having a medical procedure they have decided they want to have, and that they are constitutionally entitled to have, is highly insulting and paternalistic—and all the more so given that no such waiting periods apply to men.”  

— Judge Bernard A. Friedman
A rally in support of Planned Parenthood in New York City in September 2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

+ In South Carolina, Medicaid recipients will continue to be able to receive health care from Planned Parenthood after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision. The case stems from a 2018 executive order signed by Gov. Henry McMaster which barred clinics offering family planning services from receiving Medicaid funding. 

+ In Indiana, a federal judge upheld several of the state’s restrictions on abortion. Some of the provisions that were upheld by the court’s decision require abortion clinics to receive a state liscense and doctors performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Indiana also requires doctors to perform an ultrasound at least 18 hours before the abortion. 

Similarly, an appeals court upheld a Kentucky law requiring abortion clinics to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital and emergency services. The ruling reversed a decision from 2018 that found the law violated the constitutional right to due process.

The restrictions in Indiana and Kentucky are quintessential TRAP laws—”restrictions on abortion providers designed to close them down rather than make them safer for [pregnant people].” 

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Pandemic Updates: Case Numbers Up, Especially in Rural Communities

+ Across the U.S., the daily number of new coronavirus cases has increased by more than 30 percent, compared with two weeks ago. The new daily average is approximately 55,000 cases per day, and while that’s an improvement from July (when we saw cases peak at around 75,000 on a single day), the current rate is still worrisome heading into winter. Winter brings flu season, along with people spending more time inside, where the virus can spread more easily

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University; Credit: Alyson Hurt and Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR.

+ Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also on the rise. According to the COVID Tracking Project, hospitalizations have increased by 5 percent in 42 states. The Midwest and Great Plains are being hit the hardest, especially now that the virus has reached rural communities. As many as one in four rural hospitals are at risk for closing.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Kimberly Wyss, from Ventura, Calif., dons surgical gloves aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy in March. (U.S. Pacific Fleet / Flickr)

In a Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb, an overflow medical facility was recently set up to respond to the influx of new COVID patients. Hospitals in other states—such as North Dakota and Nebraska—are nearing full capacity, too, leaving health care workers strained and hospital administrators worried

+ The uptick in cases is at least in part due to college campus reopenings, accounting for an estimated 3,200 new COVID-19 cases per day in the U.S.

Students traveling to attend school—combined with living in close proximity to others—has made it difficult for school officials to contain outbreaks, even when safety precautions are put in place, as Nicholas Bagley, law professor at the University of Michigan, points out:

For instance, at the University of Michigan, students were placed under a two week stay-at-home order from the campus after an outbreak. Students made up 61 percent percent of the 600 new cases recorded last week in the county where the university is located.

But Wait—There’s Good News, Too!

+ Even though the number of infections and hospitalizations are increasing, the death rate has remained stable for the past few weeks. This is likely because the virus is affecting younger people, who are less likely to die from COVID-19, as well as an increased capacity to treat the disease. This week, the FDA approved the intravenous drug remdesivir for use in treating COVID-19. It’s been shown to reduce recovery time for some hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

A COVID-19 vaccine probably won’t be available to the general public until at least April of next year. (Pixnio)

+ Finally, several pharmaceutical companies working on a COVID-19 vaccine are on track to have sufficient data to determine whether their vaccine is effective by the end of the year. Keep in mind however, that a vaccine probably won’t be available to the general public until at least April of next year.

While many Americans are understandably hesitant to take a vaccine approved by the Trump administration, let’s all take a deep breath and remember that “the scientific community will not remain silent if there’s any doubt,” as Kiera Butler put it for Mother Jones.

+ Democrats and the White House are coming closer to agreeing on a new coronavirus relief package. In an interview, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “I want people to know help is on the way. It will be bigger, it will be better, it will be safer and it will be retroactive.” Pelosi’s goal is for the aid will be ready in time to help Americans “pay the November rent.”

President Trump Attacks Science

Achieving herd immunity naturally would lead to an estimated 2 million deaths in the U.S. (ILO.org)

+ Herd immunity is the lie that just won’t die. During a White House phone call, two of Trump’s senior administration officials referred to a declaration calling for “those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.” 

A strategy of herd immunity is the functional equivalent of mass murder—achieving herd immunity via infection would lead to an estimated two million unnecessary deaths in the U.S. The declaration was supposedly signed by 15,000 medical and scientific professions, but fake names like “Dr. Person Fakename” and “Dr. Johnny Bananas” are included among the signatures. 

Unsurprisingly, President Trump seems to be embracing herd immunity as well, telling his supporters at a rally, “I feel so powerful. I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience.” He also falsely suggested those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 are permanently immune to the disease, despite the fact that multiple cases of coronavirus reinfection have been documented.

+ Even Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, admitted, “I should have worn a mask,” after suffering from a serious case of COVID-19. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Christie wrote:

“[Masks are] not a partisan or cultural symbol, not a sign of weakness or virtue. It’s simply a good method—not a perfect one, but a proven one—to contain a cough or prevent the virus from getting in your mouth or nose. Wear it or you may regret it—as I did.”

+ In a campaign phone call, Trump called Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the U.S., a “disaster.” In an attempt to make an excuse for his failure to adequately respond to the pandemic, Trump said, “People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.” 

“I was worried that [President Trump] was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask. When I saw that on TV, I said, ‘Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come outta that, that’s gotta be a problem.’ And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci on Trump’s coronavirus infection

Trump’s attacks on Dr. Fauci are nothing new. However, in an interview with 60 Minutes, Dr. Fauci confirmed the White House has been restricting his media appearances. During the same interview, Dr. Fauci said he was “absolutely not” surprised when the president contracted COVID.

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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.