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: Thanksgiving could become a “massive superspreader event”; experts grow “more and more concerned” as Trump stalls transition of power; a global rundown on the state of reproductive health and rights; and, a look at how school reopenings have been prioritized in Europe.
Pandemic Updates: Thanksgiving Could Become a “Massive Superspreader Event”
“We have not even come close to the peak and, as such, our hospitals are now being overrun. The next three to four months are going to be, by far, the darkest of the pandemic,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President-Elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force.
+ A leaked White House task force report deemed the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic “inadequate.” The report calls attention to the “aggressive, unrelenting, broad community spread across the country, without evidence of improvement but, rather, further deterioration.”
Since the election, Trump has remained largely out of public view, and is doing little to combat the pandemic or tend to his presidential duties. At the same time, the Trump administration refuses to cooperate with President Elect Joe Biden and the transition process, hurting the incoming administration’s ability to combat the pandemic.
+ Without any sign of federal coordination, governors and local elected leaders across the country are imposing new lockdowns and restrictions, including Republican governors who have resisted shutting down businesses and issuing mask mandates in the past.
In North Dakota, staffing shortages at hospitals overrun with COVID-19 patients prompted Governor Doug Burgum (R) to issue orders allowing doctors and nurses who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, but are asymptomatic, to continue working.
In Utah, a record number of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized this week, and hospitals in the state are at their “breaking point.” Likewise, small rural hospitals in Texas are struggling to care for patients in need of critical medical services because the larger facilities are already overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
+ Health experts are worried that Thanksgiving will become a “massive superspreader event” as people travel and hold gatherings with people from different households. In response to rising caseloads, the CDC is now advising people not to travel for the upcoming holiday.
According to the advisory, “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.” The increased number of travelers seeking COVID-19 tests are already leading to hours-long delays at testing sites, in addition to longer wait times for the results.
Take it from MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who on Thursday delivered an impassioned segment from her home in which she asked viewers to take the virus seriously. For the past two weeks, Maddow has been away from her show to care for her partner, Susan Mikula, who became seriously ill after testing positive for COVID-19.
Maddow stressed the importance of taking precautions to protect not just yourself, but those around you. “Don’t get this thing. Do whatever you can to keep from getting it.” She continued,
“For Thanksgiving next week, you really are just going to have it at home without people coming over. And yeah, that’s going to suck, but it’s going to suck so much less than you or somebody in your family getting this and getting sick. …
“I’m guessing that you might be willing to risk yourself, right? Especially after all these months and all this time, it’s so frustrating, right? … It won’t necessarily be you, it’ll be the person you most care about in the world and how can you bear that?
“And all you can do to stop that is move heaven and earth to not get it and to not transmit it. … I will just tell you personally, this thing is scary as hell. And whatever you’ve been willing to do to risk getting it—just don’t. Don’t do it.”— Rachel Maddow
Vaccine Updates: As Trump Stalls the Transition, Experts Grow “More and More Concerned”
A week after Pfizer unveiled promising results—91 percent efficacy in phase three of vaccine trials—Moderna announced that early results show their vaccine is 94.5 percent effective. Both vaccines are now reporting efficacy rates of nearly 95 percent.
Between the two, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar believes there will be roughly 40 million vaccine doses by the end of the year and plans to provide the vaccine to all Americans who wish to receive the vaccine by the second quarter of 2021.
+ Even with the exciting potential of vaccine distribution taking place in the very near future, we must also look at ways the current administration has—and is continuing to—derail progress in the fight against COVID-19. On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci made it clear that President Trump’s COVID task force has not been allowed to communicate with President-elect Biden’s transition team—a dangerous delay in efforts to curb the pandemic.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) noted on Twitter that the Trump administration’s vaccine distribution team “confirmed that they have not briefed anyone on President-Elect Biden’s team and have no plans to do so.” Murphy called this decision “potentially catastrophic” and Dr. Eric Goosby, another member of Biden’s task force, is growing “more and more concerned each day” the transition stalls.
Without formal approval from the General Services Administration, Biden’s coronavirus task force cannot coordinate with current federal government employees on the pandemic response and potential vaccine distribution.
“The fact that the GSA has not followed through with ascertainment of the election results is really a major impediment to us because we’re not able to be on the inside of these very important discussions in terms of how these different vaccines are going to be distributed,” Dr. Celine Gounder, who sits on Biden’s COVID panel and is an infectious disease specialist at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told CNBC.
+ Frustrations about the lack of cooperation aside, these are tremendous scientific breakthroughs for which we have many talented doctors, researchers, epidemiologists and immunologists to thank—as well as country superstar Dolly Parton who donated $1 million to the fight against the virus.
The official preliminary report on the Moderna vaccine now credits “the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund,” as well as a number of other organizations, with making their research go “ten times faster.”
“I’m just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the COVID fund, I just wanted it to do good. Evidently, it is. Let’s just hope we find a cure real soon,” Parton said during an interview with TODAY.
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Pandemic Response in European Countries Prioritize Children’s Education; Why Doesn’t the U.S.?
+ Elaine Weiss, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, astutely summed up school reopenings in the U.S.:
“We prioritized [opening] bars before giving resources to schools.”
For instance, Detroit announced a suspension on face-to-face school instruction, despite the fact that bars and restaurants can still operate at fifty percent capacity. This approach is having dire short and long-term consequences. Remote learning is causing students to fall behind the normal trajectory of academic progress, sometimes by as much as a full school year, according to new research.
Like other aspects of the pandemic, children of color and children from low-income families are suffering the most. While the average child is expected to fall behind by seven months, for Black children the number is 10 and for Latinx children it’s nine. For the approximately 1.5 million school-aged children who’ve experienced homelessness in the last three years, school closures have increased food insecurity and the likelihood of experiencing abuse. Children with disabilities have been left behind, too.
And remote learning hasn’t only hurt kids; it has also set back working mothers who have disproportionately shouldered child care responsibilities during the pandemic. Women’s workforce participation has decreased more than men’s due to both layoffs and quits. The gender wage gap incentivizes women, who tend to make less money than men, to sacrifice their careers (especially within white heterosexual families).
+ But it doesn’t have to be this way—in various European countries, governments have prioritized schools staying open over businesses like bars and restaurants. Emerging evidence shows no consistent relationship between schools reopening and increased virus transmission. Rather than viewing the situation as black and white, we can learn from the creative solutions educators in other countries have deployed. While there is no easy solution here, public health experts say we need to seriously consider the risks and benefits of school closures.
Repro Rundown: The Global State of Health and Rights
+ Since Oct. 22, hundreds of thousands of protesters have flocked to the streets in Poland, denouncing the government’s almost total ban on abortion. Even after the decision was made to delay the implementation of the court ruling, demonstrations have continued, and some are calling this a revolution.
According to a recent survey by the Kantar pollster, 70 percent of Poles support the ongoing protests. But even with the delay and support, the decision is already “having a chilling effect” as hospitals begin attempts to cancel scheduled abortion procedures.
“Some hospitals stopped performing legal abortions after the ruling, because they were afraid it is illegal,” said Kamila Ferenc, lawyer for Poland’s Federation for Women and Family Planning. “We approached the hospital directors … giving our legal opinion, and the abortions were performed eventually. But the system shouldn’t work like that.”
+ Argentinian President Alberto Fernández will soon present a bill to Congress to legalize abortion—making Argentina the largest country in Latin America to legalize the procedure. Fernández says the measure will help save lives, as 40,000 people are treated for botched illegal abortion procedures annually in the country.
In response, Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina, said:
“Activism and the unwavering efforts of the women’s movement have led to this historic moment: Today abortion is a central issue on the political agenda. The president has kept his word and has presented a draft bill to legalize abortion in Argentina. Now Congress must rise to the occasion and not miss the opportunity to recognize the rights of women, girls and others who can become pregnant to make free decisions about their bodies.
“After years of resilience spent waiting for this moment, we must guarantee access to legal abortion in Argentina without any further delay. Decision makers in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies must realize that it is now their turn to listen to the collective call of this unstoppable green wave. It’s time we said goodbye to decades of violations of sexual and reproductive rights. Legalizing abortion is a human rights imperative and a necessary step towards becoming, once and for all, a more equal society.”
+ On Wednesday, Power to Decide—an organization that works to ensure all young people have the power to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child—celebrated their eighth annual “Thanks, Birth Control” day to show the world why contraception matters and give thanks for the opportunities birth control has made possible for so many.
“Our work in reproductive health tells us that the pandemic and shift of the Supreme Court have contributed to the increase in people’s concerns over their ability to access the health care they need to stay healthy. We must harness all the increased support and appreciation reflected in our survey and continue to work towards ensuring that the full range of contraception options is available to all. Only then can we help reduce the challenges young people like Megan presently face,” Gillian Sealy, CEO of Power to Decide, wrote for Ms.
+ In a 33-7 vote, the Massachusetts Senate has approved use of the state’s annual budget to secure the right to an abortion in the state. The specific measure would allow patients to receive abortion care after 24 weeks for cases of “fatal fetal abnormalities” as well as lowering the age to obtain an abortion to 16 without parental consent.
“I am proud the Massachusetts State Senate has taken this step to further codify a woman’s right to the health care she deserves, and the right to choose if and when to begin a family,” state Senate President Karen Spilka (D) said in a statement after the vote. “A woman’s ability to control her reproductive future is fundamental to her freedom, her agency and her humanity.”
+ A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that the number of people with suicidal thoughts after giving birth has dramatically increased from 2006 to 2017. The study found that the largest spikes were among people who were younger, Black or had a lower income.
When applying the increased rates (.2 to .6 percent per 100) of suicidality and deliberate self-harm (.1 to .2 percent per 100) to the approximately four million births annually, that’s an increase of tens of thousands of suicidal cases and intentional self-harm.
“It shows a big problem and probably undercounts the magnitude of the problem, and the magnitude of the potential disparity,” said Katy Kozhimannil, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota and director of its rural health research center.
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