The Weekly Pulse: Biden’s Plan for COVID and Health Care; New Research About Mask-Wearing

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 of The Weekly Pulse: New research offers evidence that masks protect the mask wearer, not just those around them; early data from Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trials show promising results; a look at the future of women’s health under the incoming Biden administration; and a rundown on the state of reproductive rights.

COVID in the U.S. Updates: New Research Shows Masks Protect the Wearer, Too 

+ When it comes to the pandemic, health experts warn that the worst is yet to come. Cases are way up: Every day this past week, there has been over 128,000 cases per day—a 69 percent increase compared to two weeks ago.

With more than 10.3 million cases of coronavirus, the U.S. accounts for one-fifth of the world’s 52 million cases. Over 240,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. so far, and the number of deaths per day is rising in 39 states.

The coronavirus pandemic has reached record-high levels this week. (The New York Times)

Health experts are calling for a renewed commitment to mask wearing and social distancing in order to prevent lockdowns, especially with the likelihood that upcoming holiday gatherings will worsen the pandemic. 

“With the holidays quickly approaching, each of us must do everything possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Failing to do our part will prolong the suffering and disruption to our lives and inevitably lead to more deaths of our friends, neighbors and loved ones.”

American Medical Association President Susan Bailey.

+ While it was previously believed wearing a mask primarily helped reduce the transmission of disease to others, new research has shown wearing a mask can protect the wearer from infection as well, according to a CDC briefing released on Tuesday. While further research is needed, the CDC contends, “Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.”

A growing number of states, counties and cities across the country are issuing or extending mask mandates, restrictions on gatherings and reduced customer capacity at businesses, including restaurants. Utah, a state whose governor has previously resisted a mask mandate, implemented one this week due to surging case numbers. 

+ The pharmaceutical company Pfizer released promising data from its COVID-19 vaccine trials, showing their vaccine to be 90 percent effective. Still, the data is only preliminary and it will likely be months before the vaccine is distributed, assuming Pfizer is granted emergency use authorization by the FDA. Additionally, as we’ve previously reported, the federal government plans to roll-out any vaccine to “prioritized populations” before it’s made available to the general population.

Repro Rundown: Abortion Under Attack

+ For the third week in a row, Polish protestors have taken to the streets, openly criticizing the government’s almost total ban on abortion. These are the largest demonstrations Poland has seen in over 30 years following the fall of communism. 

Hillary Margolis, senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, says the ban is just the latest attack on civil rights from Poland’s Law and Justice Party.

“It calls itself pro-family, but really what it is, is anti-women’s rights and anti-LGBT people. And it’s using the idea of rights and the idea of family to undermine maliciously the actual human rights of significant groups of people throughout the country.”

+ All eyes are on the Supreme Court as they have once again delayed a decision on whether or not to review a previous ruling from a 2018 Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights successfully blocked the lower court’s ruling as unconstitutional, and according to Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, they “are hopeful that the court will accept [the] case and allow Mississippi to defend innocent life as the Legislature and people of this great state intend.” 

This comes at a time when the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett has abortion opponents zealous with the probability of her voting against abortion rights.

+ It seems that the Massachusetts House of Representatives will use the state’s annual budget to advance an amendment that codifies abortion rights into state law. Rep. Claire Chronin, co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, filed Amendment 759 (a version of the ROE Act) within the annual budget at a time where many are fearful the court’s conservative majority could jeopardize abortion rights across the nation. 

“Following last week’s joint statement with Senate President Spilka, in which we expressed concern over the threat to women’s reproductive rights on the national level, it is urgent that the House take up an immediate measure to remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement.

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Women’s Health Under a Biden Administration

The Weekly Pulse: Biden's Plan for COVID and Health Care; New Research About Mask-Wearing
Joe Biden during a discussion on protecting the Affordable Care Act in Lancaster, Pa., on June 25. (Adam Schultz / Biden for President)

In a swift fashion, President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to pursue an “aggressive and comprehensive plan to further women’s economic and physical security and ensure that women can fully exercise their civil rights.”

This week, Ms. launched “What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency“—the first of a multi-part series covering President-Elect Biden’s platform for women. This week’s installment focuses on the former vice president’s health care agenda, which includes specific protections for Black, Native and disabled women, plus a plan to codify Roe v. Wade.

How the Incoming Biden Administration Plans to Tackle the Pandemic

+ The Biden-Harris transition team is moving swiftly to tackle the pandemic. On Monday, the transition team announced a 13-member COVID-19 Advisory Board, which will be co-chaired by Drs. Marcella Nunez-Smith, David Kessler and Vivek Murthy. The advisory board will work on developing and implementing policies to combat the pandemic.

The Biden-Harris administration laid out a robust plan to combat the surge of COVID-19 cases across the country—including increasing access to testing, ensuring health care professionals have needed personal protective equipment, providing evidence-based guidance to communities, calling on Congress to provide emergency relief to schools, helping small businesses, implementing a mask mandate nationwide and overseeing an equitable distribution of vaccines.

+ Still, there are weeks to go until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects an estimated 372,000 people in the U.S. will have died due to COVID-19 by inauguration day if current trends continue. What can the president-elect do in the meantime to help mitigate the pandemic?

While Biden currently lacks the legal authority to take action, he does have “moral authority,” according to Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and Visiting Professor of Health Policy and Management at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

Wen said that members of the Biden administration can practice mask-wearing and social distancing in order to set an example for the American public to follow—a stark contrast to those in the Trump White House, who continue to host gatherings that result in attendees testing positive for the virus. She also suggested Biden adopt the “21st-century equivalent of fireside chats” to build trust because “his policies are not going to be effective if he cannot get the American people to follow his direction.”

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About and

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.
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.