The Weekly Pulse: A Rise of Anti-Asian Hate Crimes; New Bill Supports Maternal Health; Why Properly Masking Up is Crucial

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 report on the growing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans, look at a new bill aimed at improving Black maternal health, and provide the latest info on the pandemic and vaccination efforts—including updated guidance on double-masking.

Attacks on Asian Americans

+ Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, harassment and violence against Asian Americans has increased. Since January 28, there have been a growing number of attacks against older Asian Americans in New York and the Bay Area, among other locations. 

In the span of a week, a Thai man was attacked and killed in San Francisco; a Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed in San Jose; and a Filipino man was attacked with a box cutter on the New York City subway. Police in Oakland recently announced they arrested a suspect connected to the heinous attack of a 91-year-old man in Chinatown. 

“When President Trump began and insisted on using the term ‘China virus,’ we saw that hate speech really led to hate violence,” said Russell Jeung, chair of the Asian American studies department at San Francisco State University. “That sort of political rhetoric and that sort of anti-Asian climate has continued to this day.”

In an attempt to address the crisis, some cities have assigned extra officers to their Chinatowns keep the peace and protect their communities ahead of the Lunar New Year on Friday.

Repro Rundown

+ In an effort to combat health inequalities in Black maternal health, Rep. Lauren Underwood, along with other Democratic lawmakers, introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021

Containing 12 separate bills, the bundle is intended to address racial disparities in U.S. maternal health outcomes by strengthening research, funding and training among other issues. 

Rep. Underwood, who lost her friend Dr. Shalon Irving shortly after she gave birth in 2017, said in a statement:

“As maternal mortality rates continue to drop around the world, they are rising in the U.S., leaving behind devastated families and children who will grow up never knowing their moms. This crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers and all women of color and birthing people across the county. No mother should go through pregnancy, labor and delivery, or the postpartum period without the respectful care and comprehensive support they need and deserve. Together, we can—and must—take the bold actions that will be required to save our moms, end disparities, and achieve true maternal health justice.”

+ Democrats from the House Oversight Committee are asking the FDA to lift a “medically unnecessary” rule requiring people interested in medication abortion to acquire the pills in person.  In a letter to acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, representatives said that the agency must “immediately eliminate the medically unnecessary in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone.”

“Imposing this requirement in the midst of a deadly pandemic—one that has disproportionately impacted communities of color across the United States—needlessly places patients and providers in harm’s way, and further entrenches longstanding health inequities,” the group wrote.

+ On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a federal lawsuit against two anti-abortion activists, accusing them of illegally blocking access to a Planned Parenthood clinic and harassing both patients and staff. 

“For almost 50 years, Roe v. Wade has made clear the right of women to control their own bodies,” James said in a statement. “Despite the clear protections under the law, these individuals used violent and illegal tactics to harass, threaten, and block women from entering Planned Parenthood.”

+ Republican legislators in Arkansas passed a measure legally requiring anyone wishing to access an abortion to call a toll-free hotline before the procedure to learn about resources available to them if they stay pregnant. Bill sponsor and state Sen. Bob Ballinger (R) claims that the goal of the legislation is “empowering women in order to be able to make the choice to not have an abortion.”

+ In New Jersey, the Senate Health Committee advanced legislation requiring Medicaid to cover emergency contraceptives without requiring a prescription or other authorization. 

“While they are not intended to be used as a regular form of birth control, emergency contraceptives are a valuable tool in preventing unintended pregnancies,” said sponsor state Senator Shirley Turner (D). “As we work to expand access to all family planning methods, this legislation will remove barriers to ensure all New Jerseyans can access emergency contraceptives in a timely manner if they need them.”

+ South Carolina lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee voted 15-8 to pass a bill that will likely ban almost all abortions in the state. The South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act has already passed in the Senate and Gov. Henry McMaster promises he will sign it.

+ Researchers from Brown and Harvard Universities have found providing patients who had recently given birth access to long-acting, reversible methods of contraception could help them from unintentionally becoming pregnant soon after. 

“The ability to control whether and when you become pregnant is a basic human right, since pregnancy and childbirth have enormous implications for social and economic life trajectories,” said Maria Steenland, an assistant professor and researcher of population studies at Brown University affiliated with the Population Studies and Training Center.

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As Coronavirus Variants Spread, Make Sure You’re Wearing a Mask that Fits 

(@michcoll / Twitter)

+ First, the good news: In recent weeks, the pandemic in the U.S. has become less deadly. In the past month, new cases have dropped by 56 percent and hospitalizations are at the lowest level yet within the past three months. The seven day average of deaths has also been decreasing since mid-January, when we reached an all-time high of approximately 3,300 deaths per day. 

However, public health experts are keeping a close eye on the spread of more easily transmissible variants of the coronavirus, including the potential for a new surge in deaths in the coming weeks. “The concern right now is that while we’re seeing a decline in cases from the holiday surges, as we identify more transmission of the variants within the U.S., this could lead to another surge,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist, told The Wall Street Journal. 

+ As more transmissible variants of the virus spread, the CDC released a new report on the most effective way to wear masks. While the material of a mask does make a slight difference in its efficacy, the CDC emphasized the importance of wearing a properly fitting mask over both the nose and mouth. During lab tests, the CDC found “exposure to potentially infectious aerosols decreased by about 95% when [test dummies] wore tightly fitted masks.”

The CDC advises the public to make sure their masks “are well fitted to the contours of the face to prevent leakage of air around the masks’ edges.” The CDC website was also updated this week with new guidance advising people to wear cloth masks made with multiple layers of fabric, or to wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask (doublemasking). 

The CDC’s updated guidance reflects what research has been demonstrating for months, highlighting the ways in which the Trump administration’s decisions surrounding public health were guided by politics, not science.

In fact, a panel of researchers commissioned by The Lancet medical journal found 40 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided. The report largely credits our country’s “degraded” health care infrastructure, as well as Trump’s pandemic policies, for the staggering COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. compared with similarly situated countries. 

A Speedy Vaccination Effort is Crucial to Stopping Spread of Variants 

+ Given the possibility that our current iteration of COVID-19 vaccines could be less effective against new strains of the virus, a speedy vaccination effort is critical to saving lives. So far, vaccination efforts seem to be successfully driving down cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes, whose residents and workers were among the first to be vaccinated in January.

President Biden’s administration is working to increase vaccine supply, and is set to purchase enough vaccines to vaccinate most Americans by the end of the summer. This week, Dr. Fauci said the general public could expect to have access to COVID-19 vaccines in April. Meanwhile, the FDA is gearing up for the possibility that it may have to approve tweaks to vaccines as the virus mutates. 

+ Continued reporting shows Black and Brown Americans—who’ve died at disproportionate rates during the pandemic—are receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at a lower rate. The Biden administration has committed to an equitable distribution of the vaccine, but has been challenged with supply issues and combatting vaccine misinformation

+ A CDC report found that two-thirds of those who’ve already been vaccinated are women. The findings highlight the large number of women residents in nursing homes and the fact that most health care workers are women. Altogether, this illustrates the reality that women are disproportionately working on the front lines, and deserve access to basic benefits like paid sick leave and food stamp protections

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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.