The Weekly Pulse: Arkansas Is “Worst State for Trans Kids”; 1-in-3 COVID Survivors Diagnosed with Brain Disorder; The Future of the 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: Arkansas becomes “America’s worst state for trans kids” after lawmakers ban gender-affirming health care for minors; wins and losses in the fight for abortion rights; a new study shows one-in-three survivors of COVID-19 are diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months; and President Biden moved up his call for states to make all adults vaccine eligible from May 1 to April 19.

Arkansas Passes “First of its Kind” Anti-Trans Legislation

A ‘Protect Trans Kids’ demonstration in front of the White House in February 2017 to protest the non-science based policy of segregating LGBTQ children in public schools based on the schools’ determination of their gender identity. (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

In last week’s “Pulse,” we reported that Arkansas lawmakers passed an array of anti-trans legislation:

  • SB 354, banning transgender women and girls from participating in sports at the elementary, middle, high school and collegiate levels;
  • HB 1570, the first legislation of its kind, banning doctors from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender minors; and
  • SB 289, allowing health care professionals to deny nonemergency care based on religious, moral or ethical obligations. 

+ On Monday afternoon, in a shocking turn of events, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed HB 1570, the so-called “Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act.”

During a news conference, Hutchinson said

“If (the bill) becomes law, then we are creating new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.

“The bill is over broad, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment … In other words, the young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be without treatment when this law goes into effect.” 

+ Unfortunately, on Tuesday, the state House and Senate overrode Hutchinson’s veto, making Arkansas “America’s worst state for trans kids,” writes Jude Ellison Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear… and Why.

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David remarked:

“Despite opposition from even their own anti-LGBTQ governor, Arkansas legislators have denied transgender children access to medically-necessary and age-appropriate health care. This is the first law of its kind anywhere in the country, and it is immeasurably cruel to the transgender children who already suffer from higher risks of anxiety, depression, body dysphoria, and suicidal ideation and for whom those risks will only increase without medical care. This broadly unpopular bill is anti-science and dismisses the medical expertise of a wide range of child welfare advocates. Arkansas legislators, against the will of Governor Hutchinson, are not only inviting irreparable harm to their state’s transgender youth, but also economic and reputational consequences to all Arkansans.”

Repro Rundown: Abortion Under Attack

A pro-abortion rally in Philadelphia in 2019. (Joe Piette / Flickr)

+ The state of Tennessee is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate a 48-hour waiting period for those seeking abortions.  This motion comes after lower courts found the required waiting period unconstitutional, citing undue burden on a person’s right to end a pregnancy (a standard applied from Planned Parenthood v. Casey). 

+ In a 28-7 vote, the Idaho Senate approved legislation that would make most abortions illegal in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detected. 

SB 1183 would require doctors to attempt to find a heartbeat before performing an abortion as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, before many people even know they are pregnant. 

+ In Indiana, the Republican-dominated legislature voted Tuesday to advance a bill that aims to “tighten state abortion laws” by requiring physicians to provide patients with information that is not backed by science or approved by health care professionals. 

+ The Iowa Senate passed a revised version of a proposed amendment to the State Constitution that does not secure the right to abortion and it is now on its way back to the House for approval. With continued bicameral support, the amendment would be one step closer to the 2024 ballot. 

Some Good News…

+ An expansive anti-abortion bill—which would have made it a felony for doctors to terminate pregnancies because of a genetic abnormality—has failed in the Arizona Senate. 

+ An Ohio judge has temporarily put a stop to the enforcement of a law requiring fetal remains be buried or cremated after an abortion. SB 27 was set to go into effect on Tuesday, but Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Alison Hatheway’s order halted enforcement until 30 days after the Ohio Department of Health writes rules around the law (which would require public input). 

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The Future of the COVID-19 Pandemic

+ With multiple more transmissible variants of the coronavirus circulating, public health experts are worried about the possibility of a variant emerging that could evade our current vaccines and prolong the pandemic. Each time the virus is transmitted, the virus invades the newly infected person’s cells and makes copies of itself. The newly created virus copies then go on to invade other cells in the body, continuing the copying process and making the person sick. There is always a chance that an error in copying can occur, leading to a mutated version of the original virus. Most mutations are inconsequential, but sometimes, the mutation can create a more lethal and/or more transmissible version of the virus.

That’s why vaccinating people as quickly as possible is vital to ending the pandemic. If we can stop transmission, then we can stop mutations from occurring. Still, vaccine hesitancy remains an issue and the large population of white evangelicals who say they will not get the vaccine could threaten our nation’s progress against the pandemic.

+ As of this week, the B.1.1.7 variant accounts for 27 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States. Luckily, evidence so far suggests all three of the vaccines available in the U.S. provide at least some protection against the variants, and they’re all effective at preventing severe illness caused by the variants. Scientists are hopeful that they can develop booster shots if needed in order to protect against new variants as they emerge. 

However, even with the successful development of booster shots, manufacturing the shots will be a challenge. Currently, the U.S. does not have the capacity to manufacture booster vaccines alongside the original vaccines. With the supply chain already strained—including production errors that resulted in 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being scrapped—it’s unclear how quickly we would be able to rollout new vaccines. 

+ Confirming anecdotal evidence from early on in the pandemic, a new study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal found one in three COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months of recovering from the illness. The study was conducted via an analysis of more than 236,000 patient medical records, most of them Americans. Out of 14 disorders the researchers looked at, anxiety and depression were the most common diagnoses. Stroke and dementia were among some of the other neurological disorders that came up during the study, but the incidence of these were more rare and more likely to occur only after severe cases of COVID-19.

“Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial,” said Paul Harrison, a professor at Oxford University who co-led the study. The scope of the study did not include investigating the possible biological mechanisms behind the increased incidence of psychiatric disorders among COVID-19 survivors, but the authors of the study say the findings demonstrate the need for additional research, as well as more mental health services.

+ Here’s a quick rundown of other important pandemic developments: 

  • The CDC director confirmed 80 percent of teachers in the U.S. have received at least one vaccine dose, offering some optimism for school reopenings. 

  • In a short video, Dr. Fauci all but confirmed the vaccine is safe for pregnant people, saying, “there doesn’t seem to be any problem” for pregnant people who’ve already received the vaccine. He noted that studies confirming the safety of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancies are on-going, but will likely “be done soon.”

  • The CDC acknowledged the risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus by touching your face after touching a contaminated surface is “considered low compared with direct contact, droplet transmission, or airborne transmission.” The CDC cited multiple studies on how this particular virus is transmitted, concluding, “each contact with a contaminated surface has less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing an infection.” Hopefully, the new guidance signals the end of hygiene theater, which The Atlantic describes as “risk-reduction rituals that make us feel safer but don’t actually do much to reduce risk.”

  • Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. continue to trend downward. As of April 6, the seven-day average for daily COVID-19 deaths was 736, according to the CDC. 

  • Racial justice activists have called for an equitable vaccine rollout by vaccinating people of color first because they are about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. Last week, Vermont became the latest state to explicitly prioritize Black Americans. Attempting to distribute the vaccine in an equitable way has been bumpy in most states, to say the least. 

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.