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HEALTH POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Health Policy Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with women’s health, the Affordable Care Act, Head Start, child care and child support services, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and federal food and drug policy. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the department of Health and Human Services, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Latest Health & Gender Posts

 

The Trump Administration Threatens Hospital Funding Over COVID-19 Reporting

Brief #82—Health
By Taylor J Smith
After the Trump Administration’s July announcement requiring all hospitals to submit COVID-19 data to private company, TeleTracking Technologies, exclusively sharing data with the Department of Health and Human Services, critics opposed the White House’s move to bypass the Centers for Disease Control, raising transparency concerns. However, the requirements have continued, and President Trump has become dissatisfied with the level of compliance amongst the nation’s hospitals.

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Coronavirus US and Global Update

Brief #74—Health and Gender
By Taylor J Smith
After the Memorial Day Holiday, where all fifty states had reopened in some capacity, the concern of a summer second wave looms. These fears are compounded by the National Institutes of Health announcement that warmer weather is unlikely to stop the spread of the virus, after previous hopes that the summer could provide some reprieve before flu season and a likely second wave.

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The Trump Administration Threatens Hospital Funding Over COVID-19 Reporting

The Trump Administration Threatens Hospital Funding Over COVID-19 Reporting

Brief #82 – Health and Gender

Author Taylor J Smith

The Policy

After the Trump Administration’s July announcement requiring all hospitals to submit COVID-19 data to private company, TeleTracking Technologies, exclusively sharing data with the Department of Health and Human Services, critics opposed the White House’s move to bypass the Centers for Disease Control, raising transparency concerns. However, the requirements have continued, and President Trump has become dissatisfied with the level of compliance amongst the nation’s hospitals. Such dissatisfaction has prompted an emergency rule threatening Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospitals’ non-compliance. Hospitals that fail to comply with federal requirements on COVID-19 and influenza data are at risk for losing U.S. funding. Hospitals will be given 14 weeks, from the late August announcement, to make adjustments and comply before enforcements take effect. Nursing homes and labs are also included under this rule and therefore subject to fines and punishments.

The information the White House wants completed is a general report on hospitals’ COVID-19 and influenza data. Among the data requested is the number of Covid-19 patients in each hospital and availability of medical equipment such as ventilators and protective gowns for employees. One of the most difficult requirements for hospitals, especially small ones, is that they are required to submit reported data every day, even on weekends. Should a hospital worker responsible for completing the form be sick or out of the hospital, partially fill out the form, or simply forget to complete the form, the hospital falls into noncompliance.

Previous to this crackdown, hospitals were participating in the voluntary reporting system, however, full compliance has been low, only 24% of hospitals reported all required elements every day. As mentioned, the Administration was not satisfied with the 86% reporting rate, by implementing this rule, Trump leaves hospitals no choice but to reach a 100% reporting rate.

Analysis:

Supporters of this rule emphasize how critical the data is in understanding the severity of the coronavirus and how central the data is for the national response to the pandemic. Seema Verma, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator, said the changes “represent a dramatic acceleration of our efforts to track and control the spread of COVID-19”.

However, withholding of Medicare and Medicaid funding would be a major blow to almost any hospital and would be too hard on the communities they serve, many experts say. For many hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid account for 40-60% of total funding and revenue. The American Hospital Association immediately denounced the rule, highlighting the risk of hospitals going out of business, and noting the penalty would be “too severe a penalty on a community”, a community that should not suffer because of subjective rules.

This rule is detrimental to the very institution serving as the American people’s first line of defense against the coronavirus. While the pursuit for COVID-19 and influenza data is just, the penalty is excessive and unnecessary. Such penalties jeopardize patient access to hospital care during a pandemic, likely resulting in widespread complications, suffering and/or deaths, which can only be exacerbated by the current pandemic.

Engagement Resources:

For concerns about COVID-19, please seek assistance with the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or local health officials.

Subscribe HERE to stay up to date with COVID-19

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of October 17, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 39,415,643 1,105,621
United States 8,052,978 218,618
India 7,432,680 112,998
Brazil 5,200,300 153,214
Russia 1,376,020 23,857
Argentina 965,609 25,723
Colombia 945,354 28,616
Spain 936,560 33,775
France 876,342 33,325
Peru 859,740 33,577
Mexico 841,661 85,705

 

Welfare Demand Peaks During the Pandemic

Welfare Demand Peaks During the Pandemic

Out of work for a year, Gail Doffifild of California said that the pandemic has put her job search on life support. Doffifild, a former substance abuse counselor, relies on public assistance to meet basic needs for housing and food, a first in her lifetime.

Along with business closings and job programs on hold that delay employment, a nationwide surge in new welfare applicants is creating bureaucratic delays for all recipients at local welfare offices.

On a recent weekday at noon, Doffifild queued up outside her local welfare office to talk with a caseworker for a few minutes using a phone bank inside. “I’m having to wait like everyone else for the help I need, said Doffifild, who is in her 50s.

Across the U.S., welfare offices report that the record demand for public assistance by new and returning recipients has yet to subside since the pandemic started in early spring.

  • More than 12.5 million American adults were unemployed in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many are turning to local welfare offices for help
  • Likewise, a record number of Americans have applied for food stamps in 2020. From February-May, the number of Americans receiving food stamps increased by 17 percent to 43 million.

HEALTH SAFETY CONCERNS AT WELFARE OFFICES

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act — which expired Sept. 30, 2020 — allowed states to relax welfare and food stamp rules to meet the special need for assistance.  Food stamps are based on a USDA estimate on the costs to maintain an adequate and healthy diet. In 2019, the most recent statistics available, a family of three was eligible for up to $505 per month in food stamps. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act authorized states to provide emergency supplements to food stamps that raised limits on how much assistance could be provided. The Act:

  • Eased eligibility rules for food stamps;
  • Raised  the amount of food stamp benefits by 15 percent individuals can receive;
  • Increased emergency benefits from three to seven months;
  • Increased school meal benefits for income-eligible students.

STAYING FLEXIBLE TO THE NEEDS OF UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS

A newly released study by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute, describes as “unprecedented” the demand for food stamps, also known as SNAP, since special emergency legislation, in the form of disaster relief, was enacted by Congress in March 2020.

“The far-reaching health and economic effects of COVID-19 and widespread business closures to limit its spread have made it even more difficult for many low-income households to afford food, and data have shown a sharp increase in the number of families reporting difficulty in affording adequate food and other basic needs. SNAP is essential to helping these families put food on the table, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The center is urging the federal government to extend emergency welfare relief and remain flexible to the needs of Americans experiencing record  unemployment. Lawmakers are poised to do just that.

EMERGENCY WELFARE ASSISTANCE AWAITS FINAL PASSAGE

Lawmakers have included an extension to emergency food stamp benefits in new legislation known as the Heroes Act, which addresses a range of unemployment and job loss issues resulting from the pandemic.

The Heroes Act, which passed in the House in May, continues an emergency increase of 15 percent in food stamp amounts through September 2021, averaging about $25 per person more per month. The legislation has yet to advance to a final vote in the Senate. The bill puts a special focus on ensuring that income-eligible children continue to qualify for benefits, even during school closings and remote learning from home.

The influential Washington, D.C., political newspaper, The Hill, published an editorial this month urging the Senate to adopt the new legislation.

“In the few days left before senators head back to their states, they should immediately pass the updated HEROES Act, not only because families need it to survive, but also because it could spare children engaged in the juvenile justice system damage to their health, education and mental wellbeing,” The Hill stated in the Oct. 7, 2020, editorial.

Resistance Resources

  1. Understanding Food Stamps and How to Apply

Primer is a first step to learning about food stamps, including whether you and your family may be eligible.

https://www.usa.gov/food-help

  1. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has made recommendations on extending food stamp and special assistance during coronavirus pandemic. https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/states-are-using-much-needed-temporary-flexibility-in-snap-to-respond-to

  1. Families First Coronavirus Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided temporary new authority and broad flexibility for the Agriculture Department (USDA) and states to adapt the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to address the current public health emergency. The act expired Sept. 30, 20220.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6201/text

  1. The Heroes Act

The $1 trillion Heroes Act addresses job loss and provides economic assistance including additional welfare funding. The act is close to final passage and in committee in Congress.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6800

  1. The Hill.com

The Hill is an influential digital political newspaper published in Washington, D.C. It is owned by News Communications, Inc. Here is an editorial published in October urging passage of the Heroes Act, which in part extends emergency welfare assistance due to the pandemic.

https://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/520044-the-senate-must-pass-the-updated-heroes-act-to-protect-justice-involved

Convalescent Plasma is FDA Approved, and Vaccine Trials are Underway as the US Death Toll Passes 200,000

Convalescent Plasma is FDA Approved, and Vaccine Trials are Underway as the US Death Toll Passes 200,000

COVID-19’s Status in the US

As the US struggles to manage the outbreak of coronavirus, the US Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19. Reportedly, over 70,000 patients have been treated with the blood and plasma of those who previously recovered from the infection since the pandemic started and have responded positively to the new treatment.

While this authorization has been touted as a “historic breakthrough”, scientists say additional data is necessary, citing the misleading statements by Trump overstating the limited evidence behind the new therapy. Documented positive outcomes of individuals being treated with convalescent plasma is encouraging when developing therapies to treat COVID-19, but widespread emergency use is still uncertain

Operation Warp Speed (OWS), first introduced over the summer, is the Administration’s operational goal of creating a vaccine for the coronavirus at a considerably faster rate than traditional vaccines. Trump and his team are pushing for a vaccine to be effective and ready for mass distribution before the November 3rd election day. Such an accelerated timeline requires pharmaceuticals and manufactures to work faster and more funding to support their efforts, the Administration has already committed billions of dollars to the vaccine pursuit.

 

Manufacturers Country Type of Vaccine Current Phase Notes
Moderna and National Institutes of Health (NIH) USA Messenger RNA (mRNA) Phase III US Govt initially funded nearly $1 billion, was given an additional $1.5 billion in exchange for 100 million safe and effective doses.
University of Oxford & AstraZeneca UK & Sweden Viral Vector Phase III First vaccine to reach Phase III. The US awarded the two $1.2 billion in May and in Aug, the European Union ironed out a deal for 400 million vaccine doses.  On Sept 6 trials were halted after a participant experienced severe neurological symptoms, trials in the UK and Brazil resumed on Sept 12, others are still paused.
Johnson & Johnson, & Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center USA Viral Vector Phase I/II – moving to phase III in late Sept. In March, the two received $456 million from the US government and a contract of $1 billion for 100 million doses if the vaccine is approved, back in August.
Pfizer, BioNTech, & Fosun Pharma USA, Germany, & China Messenger RNA (mRNA) Phase II/III – there are currently two versions of the vaccine. Trump Administration awarded a $1.9 billion contract for 100 million doses by December, Japan made a deal for 120 million doses and the European Union arranged 200 million doses. Company executives said they should know by October if the vaccine works.
Sinopharm & Beijing Institute of Biological Products China Inactivated Coronavirus Phase III Given emergency approval in the United Arab Emirates on Sept 15. The vaccine is authorized to only be used on healthcare workers.
Gamaleya Research Institute Russia Viral Vector Phase III The vaccine, renamed Sputnik V, is approved for early use. At first, little was known or shared about this vaccine. The globe was surprised by Putin’s announcement that a vaccine had been approved when few knew one was being developed, back in August.

 

Recently CNN reports that nine vaccine makers say they have signed a joint pledge to uphold “high ethical standards,” suggesting they won’t seek premature government approval for any Covid-19 vaccines they develop. The companies that signed the pledge include AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Moderna, Pfizer, Novavax, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

Analysis:

The emergency authorization announcement came on the eve of the Republican National Convention, where Trump is attempting to resurrect his struggling polling numbers and popularity. It can be assumed that if Trump is viewed as finding a solution to the current pandemic, his favorability will increase, and the chances of reelection are higher. However, pushing a treatment before it has been fully tested can have disastrous effects, can dissuade supporters, and negatively impact future trust in treatments and vaccines. Scientists should explore this treatment as a viable option in treatment, but until a thorough study is conducted, it should not be touted by the President as a golden ticket out of the pandemic.

As with the emergency authorization of convalescent plasma, many see the rush for a vaccine as risky. While many of the manufacturers are reputable, the idea of cutting down a vaccine development process by half promotes uncertainty. This is particularly dangerous when it comes time for mass vaccinations.

AstraZeneca has come into the forefront of this race for a vaccine, but their trial  hit a small bump in the road. After a participant began experiencing severe spinal cord inflammation, the trial was tentatively halted. Following protocol, researchers were tasked with determining if the symptoms were a result of the vaccine or if this was an unrelated occurrence. This suspension comes after another participant was dismissed from the trial after too experiencing neurological symptoms. However, it was concluded that the participant had  anundiagnosed case of multiple sclerosis, and the vaccine was not to blame. The trial continued September 17th in the United Kingdom and Brazil, other nations where testing is underway are still on pause. Currently, there are plenty of vaccines racing to bring this pandemic to an end, until one is deemed safe and effective, and gain approval, the race shall continue.

Engagement Resources:

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of September 23, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 31,673,086 972,372
United States 6,902,930 201,120
India 5,646,010 90,020
Brazil 4,591,364 138,105
Russia 1,117,487 19,720
Colombia 777,537 24,570
Peru 776,546 31,568
Mexico 705,263 74,348
Spain 682,267 30,904
South Africa 663,282 16,118
Argentina 651,174 13,952

 

US and Global Coronavirus Update

US and Global Coronavirus Update

COVID-19’s Status in the US

As cases across the globe passes 27.6 million and over 6.5 million cases in the US, the death rate is not staying on pace, as many would expect. This phenomenon has yet to be fully understood by scientists and doctors. Some say this occurrence is because interventions are becoming more successful at treating complications; while others point to the clear trend that the COVID-19 is now becoming a “young person” disease. Where young adults are less likely to die or suffer from severe complications, more can be infected while keeping death rates relatively low. This comes after the disease ravaged nursing homes and the elderly population. Doctors are still adjusting to the seemingly changing affected demographic.

Schools across the nation are scrambling to manage how to keep students, faculty, and staff in the absence of a vaccine. Already, more than 37,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at colleges and universities. K-12 schools vary from in-person, virtual, and hybrid classrooms, a scattered approach that represents the lack of uniformity and varying opinions on the safest and best approach for education amid a global pandemic. Combatting a widespread misconception, researchers have stated that adolescents are equally capable of transmitting the virus as adult and age should not be considered an impervious shield to the virus. It is unclear how the rest of the school year will go as in-person learning communities experience massive outbreaks and parents are starting to go back to work.

COVID-19’s Status Internationally

Researchers in Hong Kong have documented the first case of virus reinfection. A 33-year-old patient was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Aug 15th, over four months after their first bout with the disease on March 26th. With this being the first case, there is an understanding that there could be more, researchers are now on high alert for more cases.

African nations have not gone untouched by the virus, but few nations are experiencing the peaks in both cases and deaths, that other nations have gone through. Some have attributed this to the relative youth of the continent, comparing it to Europe where more EU citizens are more likely to reach 80 years of age, and therefore more susceptible to COVID complications and deaths. Additionally, COVID-19 is known to have a higher mortality rate amongst those with health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are less common in the African nations. More populous nations like South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria COVID rates have slowed but increases have been present in Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.

After the first week in September, UK officials tallied the highest daily number of cases, 2,988, since May, and have had four days with over 2,000 new cases. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions to curb the spread and prevent a second lockdown.

New cases send India sprinting to third in world ranking of cases. Even with the new increasing deaths, 72,775, researchers suggest that all cases are not being reported and the numbers could be much higher. All cases are not being reported to the World Health Organization, in addition to states attributing deaths to underlying conditions instead of COVID-19, and discrepancies are being found in deaths reported and counts from crematoria and burial grounds, thus prompting uncertainty in the accuracy of India’s reported numbers.

Mexico, fourth in line for most COVID deaths, reported nearly 3,500 new cases of COVID-19 on last Monday. President Nicolas Maduro has announced the mysterious and locally licensed Russia vaccine will be distributed to Venezuela in late September for clinical trials and “other vaccines” come October.

Analysis:

The emergence of a virus reinfection case prompts concern regarding immunity. While experts suggested previously infected individuals likely carried antibodies and therefore had some level of immunity against the coronavirus, new findings suggest that immunity may only last for a few months.

The previously mentioned phenomenon of an increase in cases, but not in deaths is contributing to the misconception that this disease and virus are not deadly. Such an idea is spreading throughout the US and as a result people are no longer taking the disease seriously, prompting anti-mask protests, young people gathering for parties, and other practices that are incompatible with CDC recommendations.

Engagement Resources:

For concerns about COVID-19, please seek assistance with the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or local health officials.

Subscribe HERE to stay up to date with COVID-19

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of September 13, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 28,892,810 922,525
United States 6,519,249 194,069
India 4,754,356 78,586
Brazil 4,330,455 131,625
Russia 1,059,024 18,517
Peru 722,832 30,526
Colombia 708,964 22,734
Mexico 668,381 70,821
South Africa 649,793 15,447
Spain 566,326 29,747
Argentina 555,537 11,352

 

Medicaid Holdout States and the Covid-19 Crisis

Medicaid Holdout States and the Covid-19 Crisis

SUMMARY:

Medicaid is the primary government-funded health insurance for low-income Americans available in every state. An expansion of Medicaid  under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows more working Americans on low incomes to be eligible for coverage. Holdout states that have not increased Medicaid eligibility may be less prepared to diagnose, manage and treat patients during the Covid-19 crisis, according to recent studies by the government and nonprofit health advocacy organizations.

Before California, 34 other states and the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, Oakland resident Jamal Ali, like many other low-wage workers in the U.S., put off medical care unless he had an emergency.

Ali, 34, was not offered health insurance in his sales job and could not afford coverage on his own. A lung infection that caused his asthma to flare up prompted Ali to seek urgent care after he had trouble breathing and was at risk of pneumonia.

Ali got the expert medical care he needed plus antibiotics. But it came at a high cost without insurance: $250 in out of pocket costs. Now with Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act – formerly known as Obamacare – Ali says he does not worry about how he will afford treatment if he gets really sick again. “It’s all covered,” said Ali, who proudly showed his Medi-Cal benefits card, which he keeps handy in his wallet.

Ali is among more than 12 million Americans who have received coverage under Medicaid expansion since 2014, and those numbers continue to grow, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Affordable Care Act , or ACA, was signed into law by former President Obama in 2010, after much debate and controversy in Congress. But it quickly gained popularity with uninsured and under-insured Americans as well as the business community. The new law signaled the biggest Medicaid eligibility expansion since its inception more than 50 years ago. The ACA required states to expand Medicaid to include more working, low-income Americans, but a subsequent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has left the decision to the states.  Not all have followed but pressure by voters is changing that.

Nebraska recently expanded Medicaid, after voters approved a ballot initiative. Maine, Utah and Idaho also approved expansion by vote.

ANALYSIS

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that the ACA Medicaid expansion has many benefits. It has helped to close the gap in both quality and access to health care for people of color like Ali, who is African American.Most important during the pandemic, California and other Medicaid expansion states are better poised to respond to the Covid-19 crisis with testing, diagnosis and treatment. Many of the Americans covered by Medicaid under ACA are front-line workers, known as “essential” employees, including hospital workers, grocery stores clerks and cashiers, and home-health aides.

Experts estimate that expanding Medicaid to the holdout states would cover an additional four million Americans, which include 650,000 frontline workers.

Because of his asthma condition, for example, Ali would be at a greater risk of complications if he were to contract Covid-19. But this time around, if he gets seriously ill, Ali said he would not hesitate to seek treatment like he did previously, when he did not have a regular physician and delayed care until it was an emergency.

With many companies shutting down since the pandemic, millions of additional workers have lost employment in 2020, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation’s research found that if the remaining states expanded Medicaid eligibility under ACA, their economies would rebound faster as businesses begin to re-open, because of earlier diagnoses, better health outcomes and less financial hardship on individuals and families.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that “the lifesaving effects” of Medicaid expansion include people getting regular checkups, improved access to prescription drugs, and more early stage screenings for cancer.

NET SAVINGS FOR STATES

In 2020, the federal government pays 90 percent of the costs, which decreases the financial burden of charity care for uninsured hospital patients, which is passed along through higher health-care costs as well as steeper premiums for all consumers with coverage. Patients not only benefit from better outcomes but health-care providers are assured that they can depend on payment.

In addition, Congress adopted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which increases Medicaid costs the federal government will cover during the pandemic, easing the burden on holdout states. It also requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave, through December 2020.

California and other states are reporting a net savings in health-care costs after increasing Medicaid eligibility to include more low-income workers. So-called Medi-Cal brought in up to $3.5 billion in federal dollars in 2014, which grew to $4.5 billion in 2019, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. In California, a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research concluded that: “Medi-Cal expansion [makes] funding more stable for providers” who care for the uninsured, which improves access to care for low-income communities.

Resistance Resources: The following are nonprofit organizations and government agencies that provide information on Medicaid access and eligibility under ACA and on health coverage during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Corona Virus Update:The US Death Toll Reaches 150,000

Corona Virus Update:The US Death Toll Reaches 150,000

COVID-19’s Status in the US

As the coronavirus continues spread, cases are rapidly increasing in in at least 29 states. New hotspots are Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas. High hospitalizations, especially in the four mentioned states, have led to a shortage of hospital beds. As a result, cities and states are shattering previously set records: Los Angeles reported the highest number of hospitalizations in a day (2,216), Georgia and North Carolina highest single-day increase of cases (4,688 and 2,522), Arizona had its highest deaths in a day (147) and Florida has broken its single-day case increase repeatedly over the past few weeks.

Contentiously, President Donald Trump has ordered all US hospitals to report COVID-19 data directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, bypassing the Center for Disease Control. This decision comes on the heels of statements by the President saying less testing needs to be done; such a move is likely a result of the American people’s dissatisfaction with his management of the pandemic and him wanting to keep the worsening condition out of the public eye.

Vaccines are a major hope as mask wearing is uncommon in parts of the country. The final phase of Moderna’s vaccine trial is currently underway, where there will be around 30,000 participants based out of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Oxford University’s vaccine has had promising outcomes partnered with caution, as phased trials have commenced. One issue facing all manufacturers is the commonality of adverse effects.

There have been over 16.8 million cases and over 660,000 deaths worldwide. Medical experts warn that US deaths will skyrocket into the hundreds of thousands if the nation does not get the virus under control.

 

COVID-19’s Status Internationally

The virus has continued to rage in Latin America. Colombia recently surpassed 200,000 cases, as Mexico reported at least 300 deaths in a day, their highest. Brazilian President, and frequent opposer of COVID-19 preventative measures, Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive for the disease as the country surpassed 2 million cases and 80,000 deaths.

After a survey, it was found that less than a quarter of citizens in Japan are in favor of hosting the previously postponed 2021 Olympic Games planned in Tokyo. This is after Japan saw the highest daily spike of 981 new cases. An estimated 23% of residents, or 4 million people, have had the coronavirus, according to recent data. Hong Kong has experienced eight straight days of over 100 new cases per day, causing great concern.

After five days of negotiations, European Union leaders have reached an agreement on a $858 billion coronavirus stimulus package. The money is intended to fund the bloc’s recovery from the pandemic, with a focus on countries most severely hit. Since the June 21st quarantine lift, Spain has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, with hotspots being in the region of Catalonia and Aragon.

New Zealand has reported their first two cases of coronavirus, after lifting restrictions and declaring the country was “virus-free” on June 8th. These cases are currently being held off the coast and are being treated in isolation.

South Africa has the fifth highest number of cases across the globe, with an aggressive case acceleration of about 30% in the last week. Iraq hit a new daily record with just under 3,000 new COVID cases. India is experiencing a surge in cases, as the total number of cases surpasses 1.5 million, with more than half a million new cases recorded in just twelve days.

United States passport holders will find that their passports are essentially useless as countries close their borders. The US has seen a spike in nearly every state and as a result, other nations are weary of allowing Americans to visit.

Analysis:

While  multiple vaccine trials are underway and countries are funneling money for vaccine efforts, there is little hope for a quick vaccine. The German Health Ministry estimated the earliest a vaccine could be available is mid-2021. The concern regarding an accelerated vaccine, that would be available sooner, is mainly over the side effects and its effectiveness. Recent trial participants have experienced prolonged discomfort, citing headaches, sore arms, fatigue, a fever and chills; all of which are common symptoms of COVID-19. It can be expected that multiple trials, with fewer side effects, will be needed to reassure people, not only in America, to take a newly developed vaccine.

On July 14th, Trump ordered all hospitals to report COVID-19 data to the Department of Health and Human Services and not to the CDC. Such a move eliminates roughly any transparency regarding this highly communicable virus. It is imperative to have reliable and transparent data when dealing with a global pandemic. The move to circumvent the proper channels from a trustworthy and science-driven organization like the CDC to the vocally anti-science Administration will undoubtedly harm the American people. Additionally, continuing to be untrustworthy in its management of Covid-19 will likely hurt the Administration and other governments when it comes time for mass vaccinations. Americans will be understandably hesitant in accepting a, presumably mandated, vaccine from the federal government after previously shrouding critical COVID-19 data.

States that have recently reopened after state-issued stay-at-home orders, are reevaluating options in the wake of an onslaught of new cases. Such backtracking in legislation is causing conflict in regions that were already opposed to the initial lockdown. Opponents of reclosure cite the economy’s fragile state as their biggest concern. Nevertheless, states must consider public health when proposing reopening. Experts predict a second wave similar to what the nation experienced in late spring, to come in the winter, during flu season. Experts, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, have made it very clear that three things are needed in order to slow the spread and ultimately save lives. Those three things being: washing hands or sanitizing, masks or face coverings, and social distancing. Rejection of these solutions by state leaders is what has caused the virus to run rampant, as seen by comparing the US to nations where such solutions were prioritized.

Most recently, Trump contradicted experts and blatantly lied during his most recent press conference. He revived his push for hydroxychloroquine use, supported a quack doctor, and incorrectly claimed that most of America is “COVID free”. This virus is currently running through the US with unabated vigor with an average of 64,000+ cases per day in the past seven days. Effective and trustworthy leadership is necessary to combat this disease and to prevent further harm on the American people.

 

Keywords:

Healthcare, health, COVID-19, virus, coronavirus, epidemic, pandemic, infection, vaccine.

Engagement Resources:

For concerns about COVID-19, please seek assistance with the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or local health officials.

 

Subscribe HERE to stay up to date with COVID-19

 

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of July 29, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

 

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 16,940,174 664,748
United States 4,414,834 150,447
Brazil 2,552,265 90,134
India 1,531,669 34,193
Russia 827,509 13,650
South Africa 471,123 7,497
Mexico 402,697 44,876
Peru 395,005 18,612
Chile 351,575 9,278
United Kingdom 303,058 46,046
Iran 298,909 16,343

 

Supreme Court Issues Major Ruling in Abortion Rights

Supreme Court Issues Major Ruling in Abortion Rights

The Policy

The Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that would have closed all but a single abortion clinic in the state. The 5-4 decision of June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo annulled an anti-abortion law limiting admitting privileges. Under this law, doctors who performed abortions were no longer permitted to have admitting privileges for nearby hospitals. At minimum, two of the three abortion clinics in the state would be forced to close, requiring women to drive farther and wait longer for the single doctor that would be left to meet the demand of 10,000 abortions women in Louisiana seek each year.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the nearly identical 2016 case out of Texas set a precedent for the outcome of June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo. This case also centered on doctors performing abortions not being allowed admitting practices at surrounding hospitals. While the prior rule was made with a ruling of 5-3, in the months after the death of Justice Antonio Scalia, the same conditions were found in and ultimately applied to June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, resulting in the same outcome despite the current make up of the court. After this decision, Louisiana’s three remaining abortion clinics are permitted to stay open.

Analysis:

While some find this to be a shock, given the conservative-leaning majority of the court, others call this case “Supreme Court 101” saying that it was nearly a no-brainer, citing the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling where states cannot place an undue burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion. Consequently, a law like this in Louisiana, that places a significant undue burden on a woman’s ability to have an abortion, would be easily struck down.

From fetal heartbeat bills, to the ectopic pregnancy bill, cases directly targeting a women’s right to abortion access have been making headlines in recent months. With the appointment of conservative justices by Trump, many anti-abortionists see this as an opportunity to take a case and challenge Roe v. Wade. While this law does not upend Roe v. Wade, it is part of a broader strategy of implementing restrictive state laws, that when put together, threaten overall access and the validity of the monumental 1973 case.

The deciding member of the Court was Chief Justice Roberts, who joined the liberal wing and upended the Louisiana law. Conservatives were quick to condemn both the ruling and Chief Justice Roberts, notably, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany were against the ruling.

Striking down this law increases access to abortions in the state of Louisiana, specifically for two marginalized demographics, those who have a lower income and women of color. About 8,000 abortions were performed in Louisiana in 2018, according to state statistics and more than two-thirds of abortion patients there are women of color. Limiting access will do exactly what the Court vowed to prevent, placing undue burden on women’s access to abortion care.

Engagement Resources:

The Supreme Court and Trump Administration Offer Conflicting Opinions on Transgender Rights in a Matter of Days

The Supreme Court and Trump Administration Offer Conflicting Opinions on Transgender Rights in a Matter of Days

The Policy

On the four-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, where 49 LGBTQ+ (majority latinx) individuals were shot and killed in a Florida night club, the Trump Administration finalized a rule rescinding nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in healthcare. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted in 2010, “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disabilities in certain health programs or activities”. In 2016, under President Obama, the rule redefined discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include gender identity and termination of pregnancy, with gender identity being defined as “one’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, or neither, or a combination of male and female”.

The reversal of this rule, follows prior regulations of the Trump Administration that defines “sex discrimination” as only applying when someone faces discrimination for being male or female, and does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While the previous 2016 rule did not include sexual orientation in the definition of sex, gender identity was, and such a reversal severely impacts the protections of those who do not identify as what some would define as “traditionally” or biologically male or female. With such changes, the health care system is expected to save over $2.9 million. The rule is set to go in effect by mid-August.

This Rule change comes days prior to the monumental Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace. In a 6-3 decision that stated, “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law”. The Supreme Court decided on the cases of a skydiving instructor who was fired in 2010 after he told a client he was gay, a funeral home director who was fired after she came out as transgender in 2013, and a child-aid worker who was fired, also in 2013, after he joined a gay softball league.

Analysis:

The key reason driving , given by the Trump administration, the need for Section 1557’s amendment is cost efficiency. Cutting costs is a frequently used defense in instances where civil rights are impacted, or where minorities are severely affected. The Rule’s finalization is expected to save roughly $2.9 billion over the next five years. While this may benefit the pockets of Americans, it will most certainly negatively impact LGBTQ+ individuals, specifically, trans individuals.

Supporters of the change point to benefits of cost effectiveness and the need for correcting the “blatant executive overreach by President Obama”. Additionally, supporters claim the change will also reduce confusion regarding the legal meaning of “sex discrimination”. Critics argue the rule will further harm one of the most vulnerable populations, transgender people. The rule could also mean that those seeking an abortion could be denied care if performing the procedure violates the provider’s moral or religious beliefs. This rule opens the door for discrimination and protections for those who discriminate under religious freedom. In addition to the risk of discrimination, the signing of this rule produces a chilling effect, as seen in the Public Charge proposal, it is likely that transgender or non-binary people will be less willing to go to the doctor’s office out of fear and suffer health complications as a result. This comes during a pandemic where marginalized communities are severely impacted and to now add this layer of discrimination will inevitably result in preventable deaths. LGBTQ rights groups quickly and vocally condemned the rule change, calling the move “heartless”, “encouraging discrimination”, and “deadly consequences”. The Administration has made it clear with this rule, both in its contents and its signing date, that the LGBTQ+ community is a target and will lose rights.

However, the Supreme Court ruling provides workplace protections that help millions. Conservatives have strong opposition to  this ruling and to the apparent abandoning of conservative-values by the conservative Justices that sided with liberal Justices; this ruling not only established LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace, it likely set the foundation for addition alprotections down the line.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the Court’s opinion based on a matter of logic when refuting the argument that the writers of the Civil Rights Act did not mention, nor intended on including sexual orientation of transgender status, when it protected against discrimination on the basis of sex. Gorsuch wrote “discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first can not happen without the second.” While there is much to celebrate, many point to the widespread practice of “at-will employment”, where most employers do not need a reason for firing someone, thus rendering the decision meaningless. Title VII covers employees in workplaces with 15 or more employees and religiously-affiliated employers. While there are some exemptions, including ministers or other individuals whose job involves teaching or leading the faith, largely, this ruling applies to all job positions.

How do these two rulings interact with each other?

In a matter of four days, two branches of government gave conflicting orders prompting confusion about LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.  Both the Affordable Care Act and Title IX ban discrimination “on the basis of sex.” Although this language is different from the statutory language in Bostock, the Supreme Court case, which forbids discrimination “because of … sex,” the Court has indicated that the words “on the basis of” and “because of” have the same meaning. The Bostock ruling may have focused solely on employment discrimination, but legal scholars say the language will likely force an expansion of civil rights in countless areas of daily life for LGBTQ+ members and beyond.

The Administration has attempted to, and succeeded in some areas, to narrow the definition of sex in order to erase the rights of the LGBTQ+ population, but this ruling will likely upend this pursuit, protecting rights already federally protected in housing, healthcare, education, and credit. Importantly, the logic described in Justice Gorsuch’s opinion will be key, and will likely be applied to similar provisions, protections, and policies.  With this precedent, there is an expectation that any future cases ruling in favor of sex rights will expand the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

While the Supreme Court ruling does not automatically invalidate the new healthcare rule, it makes it significantly more difficult to defend in court. Legal scholars, however, do not see the Bostock ruling impacting Trump’s Military Transgender Ban. The next challenge in sex discrimination is likely to be found in an anticipated policy to allow homeless shelters to consider biological sex rather than gender identity in placement decisions, even if that puts the LGBTQ+ individuals in harm’s way Another legal challenges will likely occur on the Administration’s argument that adoption services should be able to reject same-sex couples from adopting. The true strength of the Supreme Court ruling will be revealed in due time, likely highlighting more conflict with the Administration.

Engagement Resources:

  • American Civil Liberties Union A national organization working to defend civil liberties across the United States.
  • Human Rights Campaign : America’s largest civil rights organization, working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality.
  • Lambda Legal A national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBT community as well as those living with HIV/AIDS through litigation, societal education, and public policy work.
  • National Center for Transgender Equality : The nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people

Reach out to your senators and representatives to take action!

Coronavirus US and Global Update

Coronavirus US and Global Update

COVID-19’s Status in the US

After the Memorial Day Holiday, where all fifty states had reopened in some capacity, the concern of a summer second wave looms. These fears are compounded by the National Institutes of Health announcement that warmer weather is unlikely to stop the spread of the virus, after previous hopes that the summer could provide some reprieve before flu season and a likely second wave. Fears of additional cases come on the heals of national outrage and protests demanding justice for a killed unarmed black man, George Floyd. Masses gathered in the thousands across every state in the US, it is hard for such gatherings and social distancing to coexist. Legislators are still contemplating another round of stimulus checks and business bailouts, with an agreement expected no earlier than July. The United States has already passed 1.8 million cases and over 100,000 deaths.

-Head to the Washington Post to see state by state restrictions-

COVID-19’s Status Internationally

South and Central America are experiencing an onslaught of cases. However many previously ravished nations appear to be controlling the virus, with the exceptions of the United States and United Kingdom.

Iran reported nearly 3,000 new cases on Monday, the highest daily rise in two months, prompting concern the nation will have another wave shortly. New Zealand is set to reduce restrictions after the nation passes eleven days with no reported cases.

After mass testing in Wuhan, China, officials report they have detected a mere 300 asymptomatic carriers and no new COVID cases. The first Rohingya refugee death has been reported after it was confirmed a 71 year-old refugee living in the densely populated Cox’s Bazar camp.

Analysis:

With businesses reopening and social distancing measures still in place, COVID-19 is expected to be a staple for the American people. Hope is found in the 133 current vaccines being developed across the globe. About 7 in 10 Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine should one be developed and was both free and available for everyone, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. While President Trump has set a goal for millions of doses of the vaccine to be available by the end of 2020, scientist counter the ambitious claim as being unrealistic even with researchers around the globe scrambling for a safe and effective vaccine. States will likely see if the reopening of businesses will be for the best or result in an influx of new cases.

Engagement Resources:

 

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of June 2, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 6,339,005 378,266
United States 1,828,736 106,046
Brazil 526,447 29,937
Russia 423,186 5,031
United Kingdom 279,391 39,452
Spain 239,932 27,127
Italy 233,515 33,530
India 207,183 5,829
France 188,450 28,943
Germany 183,879 8,563
Peru 170,039 4,634

 

April 27th UPDATE: Coronavirus

April 27th UPDATE: Coronavirus

COVID-19’s Status in the US

The global count of COVID-19 cases has topped 2 million with just over a million being in the Unites States, where US deaths have surged to over 55,000. The number of confirmed cases in the United States appears to be doubling every three weeks. Officials have accepted the fact that the US is now a global hotspot and have shifted efforts of containing the virus to now focusing on mitigating the virus’ damage and spread.

An additional 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits just last week as businesses stay closed. Economists estimate the national unemployment rate to be between 15 and 20 percent. With businesses closed and people out of work, protestors have taken to States’ capitals with military grade weapons and demands to reopen businesses on the heels of Trump’s statements also wanting America to open. This has created standoffs between hospital workers and protesters who have carried out demonstrations like “operation gridlock” in Denver, where traffic was halted and access to hospitals was restricted. A spike is expected due to recent protests where demonstrators did not wear protective gear, nor abide by social distancing rules. Critics in support of social distancing also point to the recent Wisconsin election where mail-in ballots were prohibited by the courts, thus mandating citizens to break social distancing or not vote. Currently, thirty-six voters and poll workers have tested positive for COVID-19 after the April 7th primary.

On the economic front, an additional $310 billion is being added to the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses and hospitals. This comes after the initial small business package of $349 billion passed early April, was siphoned dry by chain restaurants and larger businesses, after two weeks, before small businesses saw any of the money. Some businesses like Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers, have returned the funds after finding out that small businesses were left out of the payout.

On April 7th, Trump threatened to withdraw funding to the World Health Organization. After repeatedly attacking the organization, calling it pro-Chinese {and therefore anti-American} and blaming the organization for understating the threat of the virus. In contrast to his threats, other international leaders are stepping up and making this pandemic a collaborative international issue.

COVID-19’s Status Internationally

Oxford University of the U.K. has made immense progress in developing a vaccine for COVID-19. After its creation, scientists in Montana gave six macaque monkeys the vaccine and then exposed them to the virus. Nearly a month later, and the macaques are all still healthy. Additionally, China has created a vaccine that resulted in promising outcomes with macaques, and those scientists have started a clinical trial with 144 participants.

In response to Trump’s statements of funding withdrawal from the WHO, the European Union announced it would release 15 billion Euros to help poorer countries fight the coronavirus. In response, the United Kingdom also pledged 200 million Pounds  to help the poorer countries via international organizations like the WHO, Red Cross and UN.

Analysis:

The withdrawing of funds threat by the Trump Administration would be both cruel and counterproductive. As seen in his reduction in funding for national emergency response systems, resulting in a lack of preparedness in America, defunding the WHO will only result in this pandemic lasting longer than it needs to, with more preventable deaths, and likely a stronger second wave of cases to hit the US. If the Trump Administration was serious about curbing the spread of the virus, we, like other nations, should be bolstering up public health systems and disease containment strategies. This threat to defund the World Health Organization is simply abhorrent and is a direct threat to the health and safety of the globe.

With many counties having stay at home orders ending in the coming days, the threat of an inundation of new COVID-19 cases is a very real possibility. Against the recommendations of scientists, Governors and state leaders are pushing for America to be reopened. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman wants to “reopen the casinos and let the free market decide who lives.” In viral interview with Anderson Cooper the Mayor repeatedly stated that she wanted Las Vegas up and running, as one of the biggest US tourism capitals. Georgia’s shelter in place will remain in effect until April 30th, while some businesses like barber shops, salons and restaurants for dining service already opened back up last Friday. Some are arguing that the benefits of opening and restarting the economy outweigh the human toll of the pandemic. Such thinking is allowing a minority to suffer, while letting a majority benefit. However, the majority will likely suffer greatly if this pandemic reaches every person in the US as it ravages prematurely opened communities. This is an unethical proposition to sacrifice a portion of the population so the rest can enjoy the amenities of pre COVID-19.

A list of open states and precautions for customers and staff can be found here.

Best practices to protect yourself and others from getting and spreading the coronavirus:

  • Wash your hand thoroughly and frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • If you cannot wash your hands, use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Cough into your elbow or a tissue, immediately throw the tissue away and wash your hands
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Keep a safe distance from others, 6 feet is recommended
  • Stay home if you can and avoid going out unless it is necessary
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces
  • Wear a face mask when out in public spaces, it is not recommended to wear latex gloves.

Engagement Resources:

Numbers as of April 27, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

 

Top Ten Nations with Cases

Nation Confirmed Cases

April 27

Deaths
Globally 3,063,814 212,345
United States 990,135 56,475
Spain 232,128 23,822
Italy 199,414 26,977
France 164,589 23,293
Germany 159,038 6,161
United Kingdom 157,149 21,092
Turkey 112,261 2,900
Russia 93,558 867
Iran 91,472 5,806
China 83,912 4,637

 

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