The Weekly Pulse: U.S. Enters the “Most Deadly Phase of This Pandemic”

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: We face the most concerning and deadly phase of the COVID-19 pandemic; voters across the country approve ballot measures legalizing and decriminalizing drugs; abortion amendments in the aftermath of Election Day as the fight for reproductive rights continues; and pregnant workers need protection.

“The Most Concerning and Most Deadly Phase of This Pandemic”

The Weekly Pulse: U.S. Enters the "Most Deadly Phase of This Pandemic"
(New York Times)

+ This week has been the worst of the pandemic by far. For the first time, the U.S. recorded more than 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day on Wednesday. The following day, the country passed an even grimmer milestone: over 120,000 infections in a single day.

Hospitalizations are increasing in many parts of the country, as are deaths. Currently, the CDC reports over nine million confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and more than 233,000 fatalities. 

The Weekly Pulse: U.S. Enters the "Most Deadly Phase of This Pandemic"
(New York Times / Sources: State and local health agencies; population and demographic data from Census Bureau.)

+ White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, issued a dire warning this week in a private memo to other White House officials.

“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic. This is not about lockdowns—it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.” 

The memo went on to say, “Cases are rapidly rising in nearly 30 percent of all USA counties, the highest number of county hotspots we have seen with this pandemic.” Birx also called for “consistent messaging about uniform use of masks, physical distancing and hand washing with profound limitation on indoor gatherings especially with family and friends.”

The Weekly Pulse: U.S. Enters the "Most Deadly Phase of This Pandemic"
In Queens, New York City on April 28. (Informed Images / Flickr)

+ The pandemic is worsening in European countries as well, including Italy, which on Thursday recorded 34,505 cases, and Germany, which nearly reached a record 20,000 cases in one day. Greece and Britain have instituted new lockdowns in an attempt to control the surge in cases and hospitalizations. In Paris, France, hospital capacity is at 92 percent.

+ Trump continued to hold super-spreader rallies in the lead up to Election Day, leading to as many as 700 deaths. Behind the scenes, career officials have continued to urge the president to take the pandemic seriously. 

Voters Approve Ballot Measures to Legalize and Decriminalize Drugs

+ Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved ballot measures to legalize cannabis possession among adults. In Mississippi and South Dakota, voters approved cannabis for medical use.

In Oregon, multiple ballot measures concerning drug use were on the ballot. Oregon voters chose to decriminalize the possession of hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Instead of jail time, those found with hard drugs can instead choose to pay a $100 fine and attend an addiction recovery program. Additionally, voters in the state legalized the use of psilocybin (the compound found in “magic mushrooms”) for therapeutic purposes.

These state ballot measures are part of an effort to end the war on drugs—which fuels mass incarceration and disproportionately harms Black and brown communities.

(Here’s how *all* the state ballot initiatives we followed shook out.)

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Pregnant Workers Need Protection

+ A new CDC report found pregnant people are at an increased risk of mortality from COVID-19. The new report built on evidence from a study in June finding that pregnant people are more likely to face medical complications from COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, the U.S. ranked 55th in terms of maternal mortality rate. 

Furthermore, women of color have a substantially higher risk of death during pregnancy or birth due to systemic racism in health care. The pandemic only worsens the hardships faced by pregnant workers in the U.S., many of whom are frontline workers and do not have access to paid maternity leave.

In September, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support. It has yet to be taken up in the Republican-held Senate. 

Abortion Amendments in the Aftermath

+ Colorado’s Proposition 115—a potential ban on most abortions at 22 weeks or later—has been defeated.

About 1.6 million voters, or 59.2 percent, rejected Proposition 115 with 83 percent of the vote counted, while 1.1 million, or 40.8 percent, supported it.

“For the fourth time in 12 years, Coloradans have rejected attempts to ban abortion at the ballot, trusting patients and families to make the personal medical decisions that are right for them, without interference from politicians,” Lucy Olena, campaign manager for the No on 115 campaign, said in a statement.

+ Louisiana’s predatory, anti-abortion Amendment 1 has passed. The state constitution will now include language saying that there is no right to abortion in the state. But even with Amendment 1 in place, abortion is still legal in Louisiana.

Three other states—West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama—have passed similar amendments.

Repro Rundown: The Fight Continues

+ Poland’s government has delayed implementation of a near-total ban on abortions following two weeks of large-scale protests. 

“A discussion is ongoing,” said Michal Dworczyk, the head of the prime minister’s office. “In this situation, which is difficult and causes a lot of emotions, it is good to give ourselves a bit of time for dialogue and for working out a new position.”

+ Washington state voters approved Referendum 90—the nation’s first sex education referendum to be decided on the ballot. 

Referendum 90 requires public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education for all students, as well as requiring students to be excused if requested by their parents.

“I think it’s sending a message that voters want factual, honest information,” said Courtney Normand, director of a Planned Parenthood-affiliated political group in the state who is leading the campaign in support of the sex ed bill. “If you’re not going to have an honest fight about that or not an honest discussion about it, then voters can see through that.”

+ With reproductive rights “under threat” at the national level, state lawmakers are acting with urgency as they vote to debate on on “long-stalled bill” that would affirm abortion rights in Massachusetts. 

The bill—the ROE Act—would enshrine the right to abortion in state law, lift restrictions requiring parental or judicial consent for people under 18 and, in certain cases, allow abortions after 24 weeks.

“We are very concerned that Massachusetts’s women’s reproductive rights are under threat at the national level. We are therefore committed to debate measures in the House and Senate this session that would remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka said in a joint statement Monday night.

+ Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a Kentucky law that would ban most abortions in the commonwealth after 11 weeks.

House Bill 454—Kentucky’s Live Dismemberment Abortion Law—easily passed the General Assembly in 2018 and was signed into law by former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

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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.