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Coronavirus Files: Cases Surpass 3 Million in the U.S.

Coronavirus Files: Cases Surpass 3 Million in the U.S.

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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.

Coronavirus Cases Surpass 3 Million in the US

The United States now has more than 3 million cases of coronavirus, according to a database compiled by The New York Times. Several states also reported record highs for new daily case numbers and deaths this week, potentially signaling an end to the three-month decline in the national death rate.

Florida, South Carolina, and other states that reopened in early May are now seeing the biggest spikes in COVID-19. Florida shattered the national record for new cases in a single day, reporting over 15,000 people tested positive for coronavirus on July 12. The numbers are also particularly alarming in Texas, which surpassed 10,000 new cases in a single day – two months after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott pushed for one of the fastest reopenings in the country, writes Paul J. Weber of AP.

Yet, even as case numbers soar and more counties are cracking down on social distancing and mask use, 54% of Americans said they’re worried about lax attitudes toward social distancing in their area, according to a poll conducted by Gallup. Most Americans are now wearing masks,

with 86% saying they’ve worn one in the past week. That’s a sharp uptick from the 41% who reported doing so in early June. However, 98% of Democrats reported wearing a mask in the past week, compared to 66% of Republicans. “Wearing a face covering when out in public has been a politically charged issue since President Donald Trump said in early April that he would not wear a mask despite the guidance from the CDC,” writes Megan Brenan for Gallup. Mr. Trump wore a mask publicly for the first time when he visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center earlier this week.

Coronavirus in the Classroom

With the beginning of a new school year fast approaching, schools across the country are debating if and how students should return in the fall. 

International students attending US colleges may be forced to leave the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, released new regulations stating that international students cannot take online classes if they intend to stay in the country. 

“As college students across the United States and around the world contemplate what their upcoming semester might look like, the federal guidance limits options for international students and leaves them with an uncomfortable choice: attend in-person classes during a pandemic or take them online from another country,” writes Rachel Treisman for NPR. For students attending a university that plans to operate fully online (about 9%, according to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education) they have two options. Students can attend online classes from their home country, or transfer to a university with on-campus classes. “Under the new rules, the State Department will not issue them visas, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow them to enter the country,” writes Treisman.

The new regulation is already receiving considerable backlash. Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit against ICE two days after the new rules were announced, and the University of California system quickly followed suit. Harvard and MIT “say the move "reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes," regardless of what's best for community safety,” writes Colin Dwyer for NPR. Harvard plans to be fully online for the 2020-2021 school year; MIT has proposed a hybrid model with most classes online and a few on campus.

From high school to kindergarten, schools are under pressure to reopen in the fall as well as President Trump threatens to cut federal funding for those that don’t reopen. Mr. Trump has also criticized the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines to keep children safe at school, which outline steps including wearing masks, keeping desks six feet apart, and sanitizing classrooms. But, even with proper health precautions, being safe and feeling safe are different issues, each with very severe consequences, write Stanford scientists Barry Svigals and Sam Seidel for The Washington Post. COVID-19 precautions and social distancing in the classroom are important, they argue, but those solutions overlook the emotional burden of feeling unsafe. “If we fail to understand this distinction, our schools will lose their meaning: students cannot learn if they don’t feel safe,” they write. 

‘Desperation Science’ in the Rush for a Coronavirus Drug 

The vaccine wait continues. This week, the federal government pledged $2 billion to test and produce potential COVID-19 treatments. About $1.6 billion went to Novavax Inc. for clinical trials of an experimental vaccine. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals received $450 million to produce an experimental drug that uses antibodies, after the company was given over $167 million in federal dollars earlier this year. “The new funding shows the federal government is taking steps to try to ensure that more effective tools against the pandemic are ready by fall and winter,” write Peter Loftus and Joseph Walker for The Wall Street Journal. “But there is no guarantee that the drug and vaccine will work safely in clinical trials.”

As outbreaks worsen across the country, the search for new coronavirus treatments or a vaccine feels even more urgent. But that desperation may be impeding a scientific research process that wasn’t designed to move this quickly. “As deaths from the coronavirus relentlessly mounted into the hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands of doctors and patients rushed to use drugs before they could be proved safe or effective. A slew of low-quality studies clouded the picture even more,” as did politics, writes Marilynn Marchione for AP. The quick rise and fall of the anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, is a prime example of how politics can trump science.

Compressed timelines and huge expectations are also leading to growing pains in some leading players in the vaccine race. Reuters reported a clash between government scientists and Moderna Inc., a Massachusetts-based biotech firm that received half a billion in federal funding and is now starting the first large-scale human trials of an experimental coronavirus vaccine. Tension between the two groups has “contributed to a delay of more than two weeks in launching the trial of the Moderna’s vaccine candidate, now expected in late July,” Marisa Taylor and Robin Respaut write for Reuters

COVID-19 Roundup: The Pandemic’s Ripple Effects

As the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent economic crisis worsen, the pandemic is exposing severe but long-ignored issues across the country.

The pandemic is worsening another health disparity: ‘period poverty’

Access to menstrual products isn’t a guarantee for many in the U.S., especially those in lower-income households. These products aren’t covered by national food stamp programs, and people who can’t afford enough period products are forced to reuse pads, use tampons for longer than intended, or make do with cloths or extra underwear, writes Theresa Gaffney for STAT. It’s not a new issue. “But the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn that followed have only exacerbated the problem, leaving marginalized populations who were already struggling to afford menstrual products at even more of a loss,” she writes. Read her piece here.

How the Covid-19 pandemic exposed America’s affordable housing market crisis

“America’s renters were already vulnerable before the coronavirus arrived,” writes Jen Kirby for Vox, and the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn exacerbated the crisis. The CARES Act passed by Congress in March helped some pay their bills, with a $1,200 stimulus check to individuals who make less than $99,000 and a $600 weekly stipend for those on unemployment. The act’s temporary moratorium on evictions also eased the burden. But the clock is ticking on these stopgap measures, and “if nothing is done, it will be disastrous,” writes Kirby. Yet some activists see it as a moment to reimagine our housing system, creating an affordable and equitable way of life. Read the full investigation into the housing crisis during the pandemic here. 

‘The pandemic experts are not okay’

Public health experts are getting tired, frustrated, and dispirited as America is seeing more and more severe outbreaks. “America isn’t just facing a shortfall of testing kits, masks, or health-care workers. It is also looking at a drought of expertise, as the very people whose skills are sorely needed to handle the pandemic are on the verge of burning out,” writes Ed Yong for The Atlantic.

 

Resources 

  • Stay updated on U.S. college’s plans for the fall term with this list from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking over 1,000 colleges as they decide if and how students will return to campus.
  • See how the pandemic is displacing people across the country, according to this survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Over a third of people whose living situation has changed due to the pandemic are ages 18 to 29 and moving because of college shutdowns, a desire to be near family, job losses or other financial reasons.
  • The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project tallies coronavirus tests, cases and deaths nationwide and by state. Now, the Project has teamed with Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research to break down that data by race. 

 

And Don’t Miss … 

  • “Young San Diegans willing to be exposed to coronavirus to help with vaccine trials.” Los Angeles Times
  • “FDA official casts doubt on ‘challenge trials’ for Covid vaccine.” Politico
  • “Biden vows to reverse Trump WHO withdrawal.” BBC News
  • “A plasma shot could prevent coronavirus. But feds and makers won’t act, scientists say.” Los Angeles Times

 

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