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Coronavirus Files: How COVID Might Impact the November Election

Coronavirus Files: How COVID Might Impact the November Election

Picture of Lindzi  Wessel

The Center for Health Journalism has begun offering a special newsletter geared to journalists as they report on one of the biggest and most complex stories of our times. Each Monday, while the pandemic runs its course, The Coronavirus Files will provide tips and resources and highlight exemplary work to help you with your work. The Center for Health Journalism’s Coronavirus Files Monday newsletter is curated and reported by science writer Lindzi Wessel. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at editor@centerforhealthjournalism.org.

From the Center for Health Journalism: The Economy or Your Health?

 All 50 states are now reopening their economies in phases after an unprecedented lockdown and economic plunge not seen since the Great Depression. Officials have had to weigh the damage to workers and families from the ongoing shutdowns against the risks posed by the potentially deadly virus. Yet as more and more Americans head back to work and play, people are relaxing their vigilance and confirmed COVID-19 infections are soaring past previous records. New outbreaks in states such as Arizona and Texas are pushing hospitals to their limit, long before the feared “second wave” and the expected flu season this fall and winter. “I don’t think we’re going to see one, two and three waves,” said prominent epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm recently. “I think we’re going to just see one very, very difficult forest fire of cases.” In this webinar, we’ll look at where we stand in the reopening, what policies and practices might reduce health risks, and how journalists can tell urgent stories of workers and families forced to choose between their health and their economic survival. Sign up here for the July 8, 2020 webinar at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET.

The Health Divide & A Controversial July 4th

COVID’s Threat to a Fair Election
 
Long before the pandemic, certain groups in our country have faced disproportionate challenges when trying to vote. Black and Latino voters wait on average, around 45% longer to vote than white voters, for example, writes Adam Harris for The Atlantic. Laws that require specific forms of ID and restrictions to voting by mail also disproportionately pose obstacles for those with fewer resources, workplace flexibility or lacking easy access to transportation. But with the pandemic likely to still be with us, and fewer polling sites than normal likely, the November 2020 election will almost certainly be worse, writes Harris. We’ve already glimpsed a preview of the potential disaster to come in the form of the primaries, he writes, where voters across the country saw polling locations slashed to a fraction of what’d they’d been in previous years. Atlanta saw 80 polling sites shuttered, and in Milwaukee 180 polling locations were collapsed into just five, forcing some voters to suffer long waits outside during a hailstorm. 
 
Elsewhere too, advocates of strong vote-by-mail restrictions are not yielding in the face of the pandemic. In Oklahoma, absentee ballots must be notarized, a hoop that voters may well have to jump through this year as well, despite the problems that poses for social distancing. And in Texas, which allows for absentee voting only in limited circumstances, being at high risk for COVID complications will not be added as a valid reason.
 
Yet the average poll worker is over 60 years old, writes Harris, and thus also particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Not surprisingly, 7,000 poll workers in Wisconsin reported turning down poll work for the April primary because of fears of getting sick. 
 
A Tumultuous July 4th Weekend
 
Calls from President Trump to celebrate this Fourth of July weekend flew in the face of warnings from top health officials and many governors and congressional leaders, who urged Americans to stay home as coronavirus counts around the nation continue to rise. July 4th marked the 26th day in a row that the U.S. broke its own record for seven-day COVID case averages. But Trump didn’t let accelerating case counts deter his plans to host Independence Day Events — one Friday night at Mount Rushmore (despite pleas to stay away from leaders of local Native American tribes) and another on the White House’s South Lawn Saturday, where reporters observed few masks and little evidence of social distancing. In his Saturday address Trump praised the nation’s progress both in battling the coronavirus and “defeating the radical left” and falsely claimed that 99% of U.S. coronavirus cases are “totally harmless.”
 
“It is unclear how the President could be under [that] impression,” writes Maeve Reston for CNN. “There have now been at least 2.8 million cases of coronavirus in the U.S. according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 35% of cases are asymptomatic, those patients can still spread the virus. As of Saturday, Johns Hopkins estimated that the fatality rate for the U.S. was 4.6%.”
 
 Elsewhere the public response to the holiday was mixed. In some places, like Miami and Los Angeles, public orders meant beaches were eerily empty; in other sites, the shores were filled with celebrators. In California, some municipalities decided to go ahead with firework displays, despite Governor Newsom’s suggestion that they be cancelled in hard hit areas. And in dry Southern California, firefighters responded to thousands of emergency calls from residents who tried to fill the gap with private firework shows. Protesters, too, were active on the holiday. In New York’s Madison Square Garden, for example, about 1,000 people gathered to continue demonstrations originally sparked by George Floyd’s death in May. 
 
Years of Cuts to Public Health Systems Left Us Unprepared for COVID
 
America’s failure to reign in COVID-19, stems in part from the struggles of a public health system that’s long been woefully under resourced, write a team of reporters for a joint investigation from Kaiser Health News and The Associated Press. In most of the country, the budget for public health departments — charged with efforts like mosquito-surveillance programs, childhood vaccination campaigns, sexual health education and tackling outbreaks — has declined over the past decade. Now, public health departments around the country are struggling to redouble their efforts in order to deal with COVID while also maintaining their day-to-day duties. “Other health problems don’t just disappear because there is a pandemic,” the KHN-AP team writes. 
 
But many departments were already understaffed before the pandemic hit. One health worker, who fell ill with COVID herself, felt forced to continue her work from her hospital bed, because there was just no one to take over. Another reported struggling with burn out exacerbated by angry residents yelling about pandemic-related restrictions and mask ordinances. Many in these positions work in departments that “have salaries so low they qualify for public aid,” the investigation finds.
 
How Does Your County Stack Up?
 
Want to know how your county is faring when it comes to COVID-19? You can get a sense with this map, created by a group of scientists who wanted to compare counties across the country by the same metric. Colors on the map indicate how many new coronavirus cases have been detected per 100,000 people in each area. Remember, though, that these numbers represent the cases that have been detected, which is just a proxy for the actual number of people infected. 
 
From the Center for Health Journalism: COVID Roundup 
 
In case you missed them, here is some of our favorite coronavirus coverage from writers at The Center for Health Journalism: 
 
What most worries a child vaccine expert as immunization rates plummet during COVID-19
 
As people across the country try to avoid exposure to COVID by staying home, many are choosing to cancel doctor appointments they wouldn’t otherwise forego. In many cases this means young children are not getting vaccines. In this Q&A, Gils Bruce asks Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program director Dr. Kathryn Edwards if this could mean more epidemics to come. Read the conversation here. 
 
What I learned calling nursing homes across the country to ask about COVID-19 cases in their midst
 
About 30% of the U.S. coronavirus death toll has come from nursing homes. But precise data from individual homes has been hard to come by. That means it can be baffling and terrifying for families with relatives needing, or already receiving, round-the-clock care in one of these facilities to try to figure out whether their loved ones are likely to be safe. Trudy Lieberman called nursing homes in Arizona, Michigan and New York to see what information a concerned family member could expect to have available. See what she found out here
 
What we keep getting wrong when we talk about testing for COVID-19
 
As counties and states across the country lurch and stagger in reopening attempts, testing remains a key tool in trying to determine how we are doing. But testing efforts have been applied in an often haphazard way, meaning the information yielded must be carefully interpreted. Kellie Schmitt explains how imperfections in testing strategies and the tests themselves may complicate our public health response and how experts recommend we can better use tests. Read her piece here
 
And Don't Miss...
  • “WHO halts hydroxychloroquine trials after failure to reduce death.” The Hill
  • “Texas Governor Reverses Course and Orders Face Masks.” The New York Times 
  • “Native Americans are regularly undercounted in the census. COVID-19 will make it worse.” High Country News

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